Archive for the ‘Women’ Category

To Motherhood   Leave a comment

One of the most vivid images I encountered at the Art Institute of Chicago museum actually fits quite well with today being Mother’s Day.

Perhaps you are well acquainted with the work of artist Mary Cassatt, and if not, she is definitely worth some investigation.  Having been born in 1844 into a fairly prosperous Pittsburgh family, it was certainly not her parents’ intent for her to make a career as an artist.  As you might imagine, in those times it was not quite considered a proper path for a young lady….or rather it was considered a more unusual path.  However, Mary was a very determined and independent soul and pursued her art and art training without much moral support from her family in the early part of her career.  She moved to Paris, where she felt most at home and where she could study the great pieces in the museums. She suffered the usual problems faced by many of the accomplished women artists of her time: difficulty in obtaining inclusion into the male dominated, but all important world of the Salon exhibits…and a general view at the time that womens’ artwork rarely equaled that of  their male counterparts.  Obtaining quality art training for women was also a thorny path at times.  Still she did not give up, but kept working. With her unusual talent, she did manage later on to gain entrance into the Salons,  and a friendship and working relationship (but not a romantic one by all indications )with Edgar Degas proved to be a catalyst for further career development and acclaim.  She traveled in and exhibited with the Independent circle of what we now call the Impressionists, and counted Monet, Berthe Morisot and others as her friends. Still, she stayed true to her own artistic vision and style.

Mary”s best known works are executed in oils, pastels, or through printmaking techniques. A major body of work, and perhaps her most famous, consists of portraying the world of women and children and the tender relationships between the two.  The piece of work that commanded my attention at the Art Institute of Chicago is one that is often reproduced, but like all the really great pieces of artwork, is really unreproducible.  I was struck by that obvious fact as I stood transfixed.  The piece truly seemed alive.  Although I did my best to photograph it, just like in all the textbook depictions, it defies being captured on film.  One just cannot capture the life of the paint itself and the three-dimensionality of the image. I have seen other Cassatts in other museums, but this one is a masterpiece…in composition, color and technique.  Here is my meager attempt to show you what it looks like….

Entitled “The Bath”, it was painted in 1892, executed in oil.

Below is a detail of the upper torsos of mother and child.  As I said, the palpable tenderness between woman and child, as well as the vivacity of the brushwork just cannot truly be captured.

A further detail of brushwork in the linens….

I hope at some point you will have the opportunity to see this work in person. It certainly captivated me!

Another group of feminine images I found during my museum visit, were the Figures From the Scarf Dance, done in what I would assume to be porcelain in Sevres, France. Although I only photographed two of them, as I remember there were at least two more.  Each of them stood approximately 14 to 16 inches in height and each had exquisite detail.  They date from 1901-1902, and were of course behind glass!  Very beautiful.  So much motion and grace in the figure below…

A closer look…

The second figure…..

And a closer look…..so much attention to detail, magnificent craftsmanship.

Whether these figures are soft-paste or hard-paste porcelain, I do not know.  Hard-paste perhaps, because of the date.  But I do know that Sevres porcelain was a favorite of the French King Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour!

And now….

A final look at a tender image of mother and child from long ago….a daguerreotype from about 1850, from the George Eastman House Collection.

Here’s to remembering all mothers…..past and present.

Have a great day.

Juxtaposing Opposites….or What a Difference 50 Years Can Make!   3 comments

As an artist, I am fond of drawing comparisons between images and the elements they contain.  On the most basic level, one can talk about the elements of color, composition, value, rhythm, lighting and on and on, but actually today my interest was sparked by taking a more philosophical look at contemporary images of women vs. what would be considered vintage images of women.

Vogue magazine has long been held up as a benchmark of what is worthwhile and exciting in the world of women’s fashion and general appearance.  It was, and probably still is,  considered to reflect the best in good taste as regards to how women should aspire to present themselves in public.  As a subscriber to Vogue, I would have to say that the magazine still has the undercurrent of its former self, but naturally as the world changes, so must Vogue in order to stay viable.

I have no problem with change, and in terms of aesthetics I believe we must always be moving forward.  But I have to say, on a non-artistic basis, it seems as if our fashions and the depiction of what is desirable in our appearance seems to still be on the fast track back in the direction of the cave man….back when woman’s primary function was sexual satisfaction of the male.  I’m not so naive nor prudish to believe that primal instincts are not important…indeed they are, but it makes me wonder who is running the show here?  Are we really dressing for ourselves anymore? Do women really want to look like the last wench off the pirate ship 24 hours a day?  Is it really that attractive to flaunt most of what you’ve got…even in daytime?   Is it somehow important to look like one has just had a tumble in the hayloft with one’s boyfriend/husband/etc. every time one steps out of the house or into the office?  Is this liberating?  I suppose the advertisers would want us to think so, and perhaps for some, it is.  But to me,  there is much more allure,  style  and mystery about a person when she is dressing with an objective other than to snag a man.  Oftentimes the men are more attracted because of what remains left to the imagination.  We all know that.  They knew it back in the 50’s and prior.  Why don’t the fashion magazines revisit that notion?  And for goodness sakes, why don’t the advertisers!  Although I see a bit of evidence that elegance is making a slow return in some of the fashion spreads, much of the advertising is still stuck on the Playboy/Playgirl channel. A little is fine, but too much gets predictable and routine, just like a bad lover.

Life is so much more fun with a bit of mystery and intrigue attached to it…and yes, elegance!  Whoops!  I said I wouldn’t give an opinion!

Oh well….let’s take a look at a few images.  See what you think…are we better off with what was considered proper and alluring dress back in the day?  Or are we better off now because we are more free to expose what we wish?   Image number one….from Vogue 1955….feminine in a refined way, the model sports a smile that indicates she is confident in herself and in her ability to attract….but in a quiet more subliminal way.

Here’s a very similar pose with the contemporary point of view….the model is confident, but obviously has only one thing on her mind….or should have only one thing on her mind according to the advertiser.  It’s the “last wench off the pirate ship” look.  As is the bottom line of most advertising, the not so hidden message is:  “If you buy this bag (or these clothes, etc.)  you’ll be this woman…and you should want to be this woman.”  Come to think of it, maybe she doesn’t look all that confident.  You decide.

OK,  here’s another interesting comparison.  Again from my vintage Vogue issue….a perfume ad for a well known vintage fragrance with a wild side connotation.

And a contemporary version of a perfume ad.  I’m sorry, this is just plain scaaarrrry…or funny…or both…lol!   This is supposed to be a vixen?   Come on, you can do better than that, Donatella (Versace)!  Ad-wise, this is just plain boring. Way too obvious.  Does it get the message across?  Of course.  But I’m very weary of so many of these poses where the model is either open-mouthed or sitting spread-eagled…or both.  It’s been the fashion for the last 15 to 20 years, but it’s old now…move on, already.  There must be a more creative way to express the “huntress” attitude…or whatever it is they want you to think you are when wearing Versus.

What a difference 50 years can make!  But I guess that’s the nature of change, right?  Personally, I think that sexuality tempered with elegance is far more attractive than outright blatant sexuality in both dressing and advertising. I’m on the bandwagon with Vogue ’55 in that regard.  I like the mystery of things.

Do you have any strong opinions one way or the other?

Enjoy your day!

Posted April 27, 2010 by freshairfour in Advertisements, Fashion, Women

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