Girl in green cap

There is something quite satisfying about being able to write about the artists that I like on this blog. Especially because most the artists that I like usually get little to no media attention and are often unknown to the general public. Everyone knows about the Degas, the Picassos and the Warhols and while their art has undoubtedly earned its place in the lime light, I like to think there is plenty more wonderful art to discover hidden in the shadows.

The other day, flipping through (the “shadows” of) a wonderful library book I found on the Harlem Renaissance, I came across a beautiful painting by an artist called Laura Wheeler Waring – a wonderful yet little known African-American artist. The painting is of a gorgeous young lady in a black dress and a dramatic white puffy blouse, her neck adorned with a heavy green bead necklace.

girl in green cap (1943)
Girl in green cap (1943)
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I love how soft the painting is, the gentle strokes the artists used and the muted colours that surround the sitter. I couldn’t find out anything about the pretty sitter but there is something about her that I find really appealing. It could be the air of nonchalance about her. But can you imagine being nonchalant about having my portrait painted? I certainly wouldn’t be!

On closer inspection, I noticed the furrow in her brow. Perhaps it’s not “nonchalance” she is emitting but dejection or melancholy. She looks tired and, if you imagine what her life as an African American woman in 1940s America must have been like, you can certainly understand why.

Whatever mood she was in while this painting was being made, whether nonchalant or melancholy, she also exudes a grace and peace that I felt immediately drawn to. I googled Laura Wheeler Waring and I seem to get the same feeling from many of her paintings – calm, grace, peace, tainted by a slight melancholy air.

I can’t quite put my finger on what is so appealing but I really like them and I hope you do, too.

The curious girl

I’ve been visiting more art museums than usual lately. This is certainly not the best of news for my “ballet-burdened” bank account but, I’m afraid, sometimes it simply can’t helped. Like the last exhibition I went to. I HAD to go because everywhere I went in town, they were displaying posters for it. I couldn’t have ignored them, right? 😉

Posters of Albertina Museum, ViennaVienna, Albertina Musuem postersPosters of Albertina Museum, Vienna

Jokes aside, the exhibition was really worth the visit. It was a collection of paintings and sculptures from Henri Matisse and his fellow “Fauves”, on loan from museums and private owners from around the world. Photos were not allowed, which was a shame, but I did jot down the names of the ones I liked the most.

Albertina Musuem, Vienna
The Albertina Museum where the exhibition was held

Wondering through the exhibition was like walking through the middle of a rainbow. The Fauves are known for their use of vivid colours and simplified representations of life but I don’t think I ever really understood just how colourful the paintings are until I saw them. The brush strokes they used are amazing, too. If you get really close (not too close or the guards will be at you), you can see how aggressively and “wildly” they painted (part of the reason for their name “Fauves” or the “wild beasts” in English).

The Gypsy, Henri Matisse
The Gypsy, Henri Matisse (1905/06)
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Seated Nude, Georges Braque (1906)
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Without a doubt my favourite painting from the exhibition was by Kees van Dongen. I’ve loved his portraits of women since the time my sister sent me a birthday card with the painting “Woman at the Balustrade” on it (that card hung over my dressing table for years, until I moved in with D).

The women in his portraits (socialites and it-girls of the day were van Dongen’s forté) have the most stunning eyes – large and heavily made-up – and wonderfully full red lips.

I was so excited to see one of my favourite portraits on display at the exhibition – “The Curious Girl” (also known as “the Gypsy”). Painted sometime around 1910, the portrait is usually housed in the Musée de l’Annonciade in Saint Tropez so I was lucky to see it in my home town.

The Curious Girl, Kees van Dongen
The Curious Girl, Kees van Dongen (1910/11)
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Look at her gorgeous eyes and pouty lips – I think van Dongen could have had a successful career as a make-up artist had he wanted to, don’t you?

Lady in yellow dress

I have a confession to make. I love museums. I always have and I believe I always will. There’s something sacred about about them – people behave differently and the most mundane things become magical and “worth looking at” (Duchamp’s “Pissoir” comes to mind).

As a museum lover, there are few better cities to live in than beautiful Vienna where I currently reside. Of all the museums the city has to offer (over 100), I have a few personal favourites that I visit whenever I need inspiration or some quiet thinking/daydreaming time. One of these is the wonderful “Vienna Museum at Karlsplatz” (Wien Museum, Karlsplatz) which houses a unique mixture historical artefacts from the city as well as key works from local artists such as Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.

The museum is also home to one of my favourite (albeit 2-dimensional) ladies in Vienna.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to the lovely “Lady in Yellow Dress”. Isn’t she stunning?

Max Kurzweil, Lady in Yellow Dress, Dame im gelben Kleid

When I first visited the Vienna Museum at Karlsplatz this painting literally stopped me in my tracks. It’s quite big and was fittingly placed at the very end of a long hall. I fell in love with her instantly and visit the painting every now and then.

I just love her body language and how she’s sitting – it’s so unconventional for the time it was painted (1899). She’s not some shy, demure little lady. She is a confident, feisty woman in a fabulous dress. You may be looking at her but she’s looking right back at you asking “what are you looking at?” – she is just amazing. I wonder if the artist Maximillian Kurzweil (Austrian artist and print-maker) told her to pose that way or if she decided to herself.

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I couldn’t find any information about her other than the fact that she’s the artist’s wife. But somehow I think it’s better that way – the story I’ve made up for her is probably far more entertaining. 🙂

Madame Lwoffa

The introspective nature of my last post seriously influenced the days that followed. My mind has been restlessly jumping from question to question and I seem to be philosophising about the silliest things from why I love coffee so much to why the train is always late on days when I am running late (very annoying but true).

Looking through one of my favourite art books last night, my mind was still restless. I came across a painting I had never noticed before. It was the sitter’s eyes that drew me in, she looked as restless as I did and as though her mind was racing through a thousand questions of her own.

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I haven’t been able to find out a lot about her. I know she was the cousin of the artist, she was a married woman at the time the portrait was taken and her maiden name was Maria Iakovlena Simonovitch. The portrait is entitlted Madame Lwoffa so I guess she was married to a certain Mr. Lwoff (great detective skills, I know).

The artist who painted Madame Lwoffa is Valentin Aleksandrovich Serov (1865-1911), the son of composer parents Aleksander Serov and Valentina Bergman. Serov is best known for his portraits in which he strove to express the psychological complexity of his sitters (usually actors, artists and writers). His portait of Madame Lwoffa is certainly not his most famous but it is my favrouite.

I love this painting because you can almost hear the internal dialogue she is having with her self. This is not the usual portrait of a pretty yet two-dimentional woman. The artist has captured so much more, he’s captured her internal state.

I wish I could meet her – perhaps we could unburden our restless minds together.

At the dressing table

Ever since I can remember I’ve felt drawn to portraits of women. Something about them fascinated me and I found myself making up long and intricate stories to go with them. Who was this women, what had she done right before sitting for the portrait and most importantly, what was it about her that moved someone to dedicate an entire canvas/frame to her image.

Some of my favourite female portraits were painted by the talented, turn-of-the-century Russian artist Zinaida Yevgenyevna Serebriakova (1884-1967). A descendant of an aristocratic, artsy family, Serebriakova lost her fortune (and her dear husband) during the Russian revolution, forcing her into exile in Paris. She spent the rest of her life in near-poverty and her talents were only recognised posthumously. Amazingly, despite all that she went through, her paintings emit a sense of hope and a very simple, un-superficial sense of happiness. There is a wonderful slideshow of her work here: http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/zinaida-serebriakova/

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Of all her paintings, my favourite is her self-portrait “At the Dressing Table”.

The painting is bright, fresh and strangely modern considering it was painted over a hundred years ago.

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“At the Dressing Table” (1909)

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I love the youthful energy the painting emits and the gorgeous little details she choose to include – look at those beautiful bottles, fluffy powder puff and delicate lace details! Where is she going – for a rendezvous with her paramour? I wish I could ask her, don’t you?