Sunday, September 9, 2012

Five Women that I Live With

It’s the dawn of a new art season and it is time for me to look around the gallery and assess the inventory.  There are 5 ladies there who don’t necessarily live together since 3 are French and 2 are German spanning over a century but I love them all.

The earliest that I wish to present you with is a Revolutionary woman who lived during The Reign Terror in France (1793-1794). Her attire indicates that she is  a political activist on the side of those operating the guillotine, known as the “National Razor,”, and an unlikely victim. The Republican women did not get the axe!  We do not know her name but the revolutionary cockade on her turban headdress identifies her as one of the female activists in the early years of the French Revolution.  The artist, who shows her here in profile in this relief portrait, was kind enough to sign his name, Joseph Chinard (1756-1813), and his style is quite distinctive.  At that time he did this relief he was working in Rome but his support of the Revolutionary cause in France landed him in the Vatican jail!

In spite of her chaste appearance, the second woman was probably not such a highly idealistic female.  Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-1887) often found his models from the  “demimonde”, courtesans and actresses.  This terracotta is signed A. Carrier, bearing the signature he used early in his career.  He liked to sculpt his women in a very serious and dignified manner.  We do not know who she is but there is something very sympathetic about her and we might feel some compassion for her should we happen upon her in the street after the theater.

The next terracotta is also signed by the artist using his later signature, Carrier-Belleuse.  In this case, she is a woman of total fantasy, a mythical being known as a bacchante, the follower of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine.  Bacchus and his followers are much appreciated in our family and we drink to them almost every night!  Our Bacchante is one of the most famous of Carrier-Belleuse’s sculptures and was extremely popular in its time.  We know of several terra cotta examples and a marble, signed and dated 1868, that was sold at Sotheby’s on December 10, 2002.

For #4 we must cross the Rhine into Germany and the Meissen Porcelain factory near Dresden.  The factory was established by Augustus the Strong in 1710 and was the first to be able to replicate the hard paste porcelain formula that had been developed in China and was desperately sought by the royalty of Europe.

The factory also has the distinction of having been in continuous existence since that time.  They still replicate the old molds but they also continue to come up with contemporary designs and images.

The lady in question was modeled by Professor Paul Boener (1888—1970) between 1935-1939.  After studying in Meissen, Dresden and Florence he was appointed as a painter and later as director of the painting and design studios at the Meissen factory.  With half-closed eyes my dreamy lady seems self-absorbed.

The material that was used actually was one that preceded the discovery of hard paste porcelain and is a stoneware product.  The inventor was Johann Friedrich Böttger (1882-1719), a German Alchemist.  Instead of turning base metal into gold he was given the assignment by Augustus the Strong to produce the hard paste porcelain that was being sought after in Europe and he became the first head of the Meissen factory.

Last but not least, and one of my favorites, is a Balinese woman also made of red stoneware in the Meissen factory.   The model dates between 1924 and 1926 and was modeled by Wili Münch-Khe.  The sculpture illustrates the European fascination with oriental exoticism and particularly the Indo-China region.

All my women demonstrate how the three-dimensional art of sculpture can show off the individual in ways that are not conveyed in two-dimensional art.  For me they become more accessible and more alive.

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