The German born American photographer Ruth Bernhard stunning nude study of a dreaming women, sleeping inside a box that is positioned in the foreground of a depthless space thematically and technically recalls the work of Man Ray (Dreams of Desire 4 (Homage to De Sade), Dreams of Desire 25 (Return to Reason), Jacques-Andre Boiffard (Dreams of Desire 13 (Serene Beauty) and others from the Golden Age of Surrealism.
Dreams of Desire 39 (Sleeping Venus)
Another troubling erotic reverie by Paul Delvaux, that features a trademark sensuously reclining nude against an oppressive night-time setting. Delvaux later explained that it was painted during the wartime Nazi occupation of Brussels and he wanted to contrast the anguish of the period with the calm of Venus.
Also notable is the presence of the skeleton, another frequent motif in Delvaux’s work, and references the Death and the Maiden theme that has been a feature of Western Art since the Renaissance and is related to the memento mori and vanitas genres.
Dreams of Desire 38 (Night Train)
Paul Delvaux the obsessive painter of nudes was briefly associated with the Surrealist movement in the mid 1930’s and the dream-world presented in his canvases shows the influence of De Chirico (the originator of so many Surrealist careers) and his fellow Belgian Rene Magritte in the use of a dry academic painterly style and bizarre juxtapositions. However his vision of a silent Belle Epoque city frozen in time and filled with statuesque nudes reclining or walking down colonnaded streets past skeletons or bowler hatted men is uniquely his own and produces a vague sensation of unease and anxiety.
Dreams of Desire 36 (Girl with Braid)
In the early 1930’s a young salesman who lived on Utopia Parkway, Queens, while browsing in a bookstore, as was his habit when he had some spare time, came across a book that was to forever change his life . It was Max Ernst’s collage novel La Femme 100 Tetes, and from it’s marvellous pages, the shy and dreamy young man, whose name was Joseph Cornell realised that you didn’t have to be a trained painter to be an artist; art could be made out of everyday objects with the aid of a pair of scissors and a pot of glue. Inspired Cornell would create collages late at night after his mother and his beloved brother Robert, who had cerebral palsy and Joseph cared for, went to bed.
From collages Joseph Cornell went on to assemble his fabulous, intricate glass-paned shadow boxes that create in miniature beautiful and sublimely mysterious dream-worlds.
The above collage conveys Cornell intense and yearning romanticism. Although in many respects Cornell had a highly successful artistic career and everyone in the art world would visit Cornell when in New York, he remained a reserved and reclusive figure. He never married and remained in his mother’s modest house on Utopia Parkway until his death in 1972.
Dreams of Desire 35 (Lee Miller by Lee Miller)
When British Vogue sent staff over to Man Ray’s Montparnasse studio in 1929 they were greeted by his new assistant, who was also doubling up as his receptionist, Lee Miller. She was ‘…a vision so lovely they forgot why they had come.’
Lee Miller had left her very successful modelling career in New York at the age of 21 to become a photographer in Paris, then the centre of the art world. She had set her sights on learning the craft from her fellow American, the pioneering photographer, film-maker and painter Man Ray. Approaching him in a cafe she told him her name and that she was his new student. Man Ray answered that he didn’t take students and besides he was going to Biarritz the next day. Miller answered that is where she was going too. Man Ray, unsurprisingly, was captivated and they did indeed go to Biarritz, the start of an incredibly intense artistic and romantic relationship.
Man Ray soon realised her talent and their artistic relationship was reciprocal. It was Miller who, by letting in the light on the darkroom, discovered the technique of solarization (see Dreams of Desire 31 (Solarization)) that became a Man Ray trademark. In fact it is hard sometimes to distinguish their work from this period apart, as Miller herself commented, “We were almost the same person when we were working.”
Self Portrait is from the period immediately after the bitter break-up of 1932 (see Dreams of Desire 12 (The Lovers)). The classical pose generates a muscular tension that accentuates her astounding beauty. As an aside, there exists a brand of champagne glass shaped from a mould of Miller’s left breast.