The Beauty of Life

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As Monet’s Woman with a Parasol, (facing right) comes into view, I see a moment in time. I see a moment of glowing harmony. I see a moment of exhilarating motion. I see life.

The atmosphere of the painting is one composed of tranquility. There is a calming swirl of energy in the artwork, as the fluffy clouds in the blue sky shimmer in the invisible breeze, serenely encircling the woman with a parasol in the center. The long, continuous brushstrokes merge the ethereal, sparkling clouds together—the light (seemingly transparent), whitened hues twirling in a dance with the hues of peach.

The atmosphere of the painting is one composed of movement. The woman with a parasol stands on a sprouting ground of multicolored animation. The grasses and blossoms of the land effloresce in the same invisible breeze. With rapid, shortened brushstrokes moving in different directions, with the colors of orange, green, pink, purple, and more mixing together in a conglomeration of flourishing vivacity, there is such breathtaking motion to the terrain.

The atmosphere of the painting is one composed of life. The forces of tranquility and movement unite in a relationship that breathes, that radiates, that lives—the clouds of the azure and the blossoms of the land blend together, erasing any lined boundary between sky and earth.

The woman with a parasol stands in this moment, in the dazzling rays of the sun. As her lightweight scarf flows amongst the clouds, as her dress mingles with the colors of nature’s terrain, she becomes one with this living atmosphere. And with a blurred, unidentifiable face, it is as if you, the viewer, are invited to become this woman with a parasol. You are invited to identify as her. You are invited to enter and experience the beauty of life.

Into the Depths of Modernity

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As my favorite painting, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass) has appeared on my blog on multiple occasions. There is just so much to say about this daring artwork by Manet. When I look at this memorable creation, I can’t help but admire its breathtaking evocation of modernity, its mesmerizing rendering of the truths of the contemporary mid-19th C. city. Echoing the writings of Baudelaire, the French poet and art critic, Manet paints a work that delves into the concept of beauty being of the present. Manet renders the world and the people of his day.

This becomes evident when one gazes at the figure of Victorine Meurent. Victorine Meurent, an artist’s model and an artist in her own right, is painted in the nude, surrounded by men fully clothed. Rather than be covered up, her blue hued garments are cast off to the side, as her naked light skin glistens in the glow of an invisible light source. Rather than be portrayed uncomfortable, her posture indicates a sense of freedom and relaxation, with her elbow leaning against her knee and her hand cupping her chin in thought. Rather than be timid and fearful, she is bold and not ashamed. She is shown as a modern woman of the city, someone who does not abide by the gender norms of the past.

Manet does not depict a scene that conforms to academic traditionality, but chooses to depict a scene of authenticity, of everyday 19th C. life.

With a thick usage of paint, the dark, powerful eyes of Meurent look at you, the viewer, directly. Heightened by a slight upturn of the lips, her countenance evokes this sense of confidence and knowledge about the world and the people who reside within in it. Her gaze is a gaze of art’s future, of modernity, of a rejection of the conservative, of the truth. She does not look down. She looks up.

The Woman Behind the Painting…Ellen Andrée

A free-spirit of the arts and in life…

A free-spirit is someone who ignores the restraints of society, someone who acts based on his or her own fascinating mixture of ideas, emotions, and goals. This person is a person of independence, a person who is unafraid of the moral codes of daily existence. Conventions and judgments do not travel into the mind and soul–confining rules do not apply. A free-spirit is someone who pursues personal interests. The individual is not tied down to custom; rather, the individual believes in the freedom to do what is desired in life.

Ellen Andrée was a popular model and actress during the late 1800s. She was a talented, independent woman who was always herself, a woman who was not afraid to speak her mind, to act as her own person–to be her natural self. Born as Hélène Andrée, Ellen Andrée changed her name in the beginning of her life. Supposed to be a teacher, Ellen Andrée threw away this option to pursue her true interests and passions. She did not wish to be confined to the restrictive gender norms set out before her. She did not want to live the typical life pushed towards her direction. She had no desire to do something she did not wish to do. Andrée decided to gravitate and embrace her real loves in life, her love for strength, her love for theater, her love for the arts.

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Starting at a young age, Andrée interacted with many of the Impressionist artists of the time. She acted in comical vaudeville productions. She became a pantomime actress in the Folies Bergère. She was a significant actress in André Antoine’s naturalist theater. Ellen Andrée was supposed to be someone else in life–someone who hopelessly carried on an unwanted existence of gender constriction. However, Ellen Andrée did not accept this future planned for her. She lived her life through her own recognized free-will and natural charm. She lived her life through her wittiness and spoken actions and words. She lived her life based on her own desires. She lived her life as a free-spirit.

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Before pursuing her acting career, Ellen Andrée was a model for a wide range of Impressionist painters. She posed for Manet, Renoir, Degas, Henri Gervex, and more. The paintings of her reveal her powerful spirit and delightful strength. They reveal her true modern qualities. Andrée was a woman who was not afraid to pose provocatively. She was not nervous to live a life of artistic wonder and pursuit. These artistic pieces capture her individuality, her contemporary state of mind.

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In this beautiful work entitled La Parisienne by Édouard Manet, Ellen Andrée stands with a purpose, with a power that is very much recognizable. She stands as the modern woman of Paris and of everyday society. In an exquisite black day dress, Andrée is the embodiment of dauntlessness and breathtaking determination. The dark, magnificent gown accentuates her form of vitality and her mind and actions of vivacity. In this outfit, with the bold blackened shaped hat, with the sparkling, grand necklace, with the proud, white-trimmed high-neck, with the cascading ruffles on view for all to see, Ellen Andrée radiates–her free-spirited artistic fearlessness speaks out. The model, the actress, rises to the surface.

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Ellen Andrée’s internal and external beauty is captured magically in this stunning Renoir portrait. Wearing a light, rosy gown accented with a trail of floral details that travel down the front, Andrée’s wonderful presence is made clear. In this shimmering garment of elegance, with a slight smile gracing her lively, blushed face, Ellen Andrée sits with a purpose, with knowledge of who she is and what she can achieve in the world. What she wears only heightens her confidence and natural poise. She recognizes her potential. She embraces her artistic present and the future she wishes to make for herself. She knows who she is.

…and her name was Ellen Andrée.

The Woman Behind the Painting- Kathleen Newton

There is a sparkling, absorbing beauty to romance, a magical, emotional attachment that binds two people together. Fascination and devotion cannot help but arise, as love sweeps in and caresses the mind and soul. Instinctual connections thrive in the glowing atmosphere of compassionate beauty and attractive passion…

There is a glorious, affirmative independence to choice, a liberating, open variety to decisions and opinions of your own.  Dreams are allowed to rise to the glistening surface and personal hopes are given the chance to explore, wonder, and act. A bold being contains a power to be oneself…

And Kathleen Newton and James Jacques Tissot discovered both of these wonderful aspects of the world through their life experiences. They combined them together, forming something wonderful.

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Kathleen Irene Ashburnham Kelly was the Irish mistress, muse, model, and true love of the French artist James Jacques Tissot. Born in 1854, she grew up in the cities of Lahore and Agra, in India. Charles, her father, worked with the East India Company. At the young age of 17, her father desired her to marry Isaac Newton, a surgeon with the Indian Civil Service and set up the match. With no say in the male-dominated, constraining atmosphere, she was forcibly destined to a loveless marriage. During her journey, a man named Captain Palliser became enraptured by her magnificent charm; however, she did not accept his advances. Before the consummation of her marriage to Newton, with a strong faith and honest mind, Kathleen explained the attempt at her innocence by the captain.  Considering her damaged and of no more use, Newton instituted divorce proceedings almost immediately. With little of her own money, Kathleen hopelessly agreed on a deal with the captain that he would pay for her way home only if she would become his mistress. Even though she became pregnant, Kathleen refused to marry him, for she did not care for him. Her courage soared . Her daughter was born. Her divorce was finalized. And she met the love of her life, James Jacques Tissot.

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Tissot fought in the Franco-Prussian War and following the brutal, suppressing events of the Paris commune in 1871, he changed his name to James and moved to London to seek new opportunities. He became a painter of very high critical and commercial success with an undeniable artistic eye for color, design, and detail. He had an ability to depict striking fashions with care and energy. While in London, he met the alluring Kathleen and was attracted to her instantly. The rose of their romance blossomed and the core of their euphoria was embraced. Moving into his home in 1876 and having another child, a son, which is believed to have been Tissot’s, the two lived in, as Tissot called it, “domestic bliss.” For 6 years of creative awakening and delightful fascination, Kathleen became the main subject of Tissot’s daily and artistic life, modeling for many of his famous artworks. As a couple, they publicly defied Victorian society by showing their unconventional romance. They made the choice to be together, to be happy, and to be in love. This love is depicted readily in many of Tissot’s fashionable paintings of Kathleen…

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Known to Tissot as ‘Mavourneen,’ “my beloved,” as well as ‘Ravissante Irlandaise,’ “delightful Irish,” Kathleen was depicted in a manner that is absolutely breathtaking. In this artwork entitled Seaside, Kathleen’s beauty is highlighted enchantingly with the outside light brushing gracefully against her smooth cheeks. An intimacy is captured as she casually lounges on the flowered seating. And the fashions she wears emphasizes this extraordinary closeness as she radiates in an airy white summer dress that lacks the customary outerwear petticoats of the time. Kathleen shines in a loose, relaxing creation of dazzling pleats and glistening yellow ribbons. With an aura of seaside loveliness, the romance between James and Kathleen lives within the artwork.

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In this splendidly elegant painting entitled, Mavourneen, the courageous attributes of Kathleen are shown. She stands with a poise of bravery, a confident purpose that is only heightened by her sumptuous, dark fur-lined coat and matching accented fur hat. Dressed in these grand fashions, in this rich, dignified outfit of grace, Kathleen Newton is depicted as the woman she always was…a woman who was unafraid of criticism, a woman who made her own decisions, a woman who succeeded in finding true love.

Unfortunately, at only the age of 28, Kathleen Newton contracted tuberculosis. Dying before his very eyes, Tissot was overcome with a painful gloom and heartbreak. No longer capable of watching the man she loved sink into this horrible depression, Kathleen committed suicide by overdosing on laudanum. Although a tragedy, the two of them together were able to, if only for a few short years, live out their dreams of a fulfilling life of family, choice, and romance.

And Kathleen was able to live a contented existence of independence and freedom.

The Woman Behind the Painting

While looking at an artistic masterpiece, fascination cannot help but arise within me when I take a look at the painted persons in the work that move with such an unforgettable presence, that speak with magnificent tones, that feel the surroundings, relationships, and emotions that live amongst them, that stare with storytelling eyes of depth, that travel on journeys to breathtaking lands, and that wear fashions that are significant in the themes and stories they notably emanate. Fascination cannot help but arise within me, especially when I take a deeper look at these painted persons, when I take a look at the females behind the painting, the female models that dazzle with a vital presence.

The models that are painted in artistic works have always captured my attention–who were they? Where were they from? What is their story? I have always been mesmerized by the lives of these interesting females, always intrigued by their movements and sights in daily life…the historic moments that they witnessed, the talents that they came across, the occupations that they delved into, the lives they carried out. I have always been mesmerized by these models who wear fashions that are so important to works of art…fashions of embroidered, velvet gowns, as well as feminine, airy summer dresses, fashions of magnificently wide, patterned skirts, as well as modernly defined, freshly cut slacks, fashions of conservative evening wears, as well as coquettish, bold undergarments.

Victorine Meurent is one of these models that capture my attention.

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Manet, Edouard (1832-1883) - The Street Singer, 1862, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Victorine Meurent was a famous model for painters such as Edgar Degas, Alfred Stevens, and especially, Édouard Manet. Born to a family of artisans, Meurent came from a poor, working-class background. She began modeling at the age of sixteen with Thomas Couture, as well as performing musically in cafés during her years. And she had a powerful desire and firm ambition to make a name for herself as a female artist (which she did succeed in fulfilling by taking painting classes at the Académie Julian and having her works appear at the 1876 Salon and other future exhibitions). Meurent was known as Manet’s favorite model, appearing in numerous, gender-breaking works, that defied the constraints and moral commonalities of society. In these works, the modern desires and personalities of both Meurent and Manet rise to the surface. Meurent’s own independence appears, her desire to tear away at gender norms and to succeed in a profession not readily acceptant of women, her desire to live a life uncommon for women at the time in society and to paint freely, without restriction. Manet’s naturalistic depiction of the world appears, his creative, avant-garde mindset that wanted to challenge the traditional rules around him.

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The fashions in these works help to further reveal these thoughts of autonomy and conviction and these actions of rebellion and defiance. In Manet’s works such as Young Lady in 1866…(shown above), Victorine Meurent is depicted wearing a pale pink, satin dressing gown, a peignoir, that is only meant to be seen and worn indoors. This visibly intimate article of undress and Meurent’s teasing pose help to signify both Meurent’s and Manet’s modern outlooks on society and life, in general. Meurent is not painted with the following and praise of conservative, customary guidelines–Meurent is painted as a woman with a brazen attitude and a seductive stance, a woman of a modern era. With the fashionable item of the peignoir worn, the alluring quality of boldness within Meurent is shown.

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In Manet’s works such as Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l’herbe)…(as previously shown in my May inspiration post, Barriers and Constraints are Broken), Meurent is depicted as a woman unafraid of judgements and established traditions. She is depicted as a woman who is proud of herself, her mind and her body, and uncaring of the rules society enforces. Meurent’s lack of clothing, along with the background female’s sheer white day dress, contrasting with the full contemporary day wear fashions of constrictive black coats and collard shirts worn by the surrounding men, further emphasizes Meurent’s own personal desire to break gender restrictions and Manet’s wish to remove restrictive moral conventionalities from expression. Victorine Meurent stares at the viewer with an aura of calmness, confidence, and modernity, demolishing female stereotypes and embracing liberation.

The female figures are fascinating in artistic works…

And the lives these women (models) behind the paintings really lived are just as fascinating.

A Geometric Circle and a Slanted Line

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the world was changing. Restriction was turning into looseness. Conventional lifestyle was turning into radical change. The expected was turning into the unexpected. Mundane simplicity was turning into a thrilling controversy. Backward motions were turning around and traveling forward, into the future. Modernism was taking its hold on everyday life in society, bringing with it monumental changes, changes that spanned the globe and affected the human mindset and action. Technology was on the rise, captivating the attention of many. Photographs were being taken of woman and men, woman dressed in luxe, bell-shaped skirts, men dressed in three-piece suits with matching waistcoats. Short films were being taken of little children scurrying around in their frilly, puffed sleeve dresses and sailor suits. Voices were being recorded and heard. Airplanes and cars, respectively, were flying and driving into a new, fantastically advanced era.

Between the years of 1907 and 1914, there was a significant art movement that prospered in response to these dramatic changes. This movement gained inspiration from the native lands of Africa, the primitive, cultural art styles of the Africans, Micronesians, and Native Americans. It gained inspiration from the works of Paul Cézanne, the wonderful post-Impressionistic painter who relished in the plurality of sight and the allure of simplicity and discovery. And this art movement was called Cubism. Created by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in Paris, Cubist art was a true revolution, adding to the modern qualities already being absorbed into society. Cubism encompassed the artistry of the linear form, the beauty of the geometric landscape. The artworks put emphasis on differing viewpoints, on changing angles construed by individual minds. Cubism looked down upon tradition and conventionality and rather, looked up to seemingly disorderly magnificence and obsessive alteration. With abstract, varying scenes of lines and shapes, Cubism is a form of art that is unforgettable.

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And Nicole and Michael Colovos of Helmut Lang, for their Fall 2013 collection, took and absorbed Cubism in their pieces, letting it geometrically shine…

Reflecting upon the black and white Cubist paintings of Pablo Picasso, the collection from Helmut Lang is incredible. Taking Picasso’s loves of defined structure, edgy linearity, monochromatic color, and radical shape, the pieces on the runway emphasize the wonderful combination of both minimalistic and chaotic fury and power. The hues of the collection are very simple, working mainly in Picasso’s famous color palette of black, gray, and white/cream. The pieces reflect upon the complexities and wonders of both indirect and direct design. The pieces, in their entirety, take the Cubist elements of multiple pattern and unique architectural shape. And with them, the fashions intensify even more.

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The pieces in the collection are simple, yet elegant. The silhouettes are defined, angled, polished, sharpened, and structured. There are slim fitted, sparkling slacks, sheer tights of black and white, and baggy pants. There are accented mesh and abstract short sleeve tops. There are dresses of boxy shape and belted emphasis. There are solid and printed skirts. There are lush, fur jackets, double-breasted coats, long trenches, and blazers with dramatic, long lapels. With a wide array of fabrics such as, rubber, leather, wool, and felt, the collection stands out in all its glory.

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With elements of Cubism and with fashions of structured grace…

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The modern world of fashion continues to emerge and prosper.

Photo Credits: Vogue