Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Danish Venus: Model by Konstantin Hansen

Hvilende (Model) (1839)

Carl Christian Konstantin Hansen was born in Rome on November 3, 1804. His father, the portrait painter Hans Hansen moved the family to Vienna shortly afterwards where Mozart's widow became his godmother.

Carl Christian Konstantin Hansen 1804-1880

The family moved back to Copenhagen where he entered the architecture school of the Royal Danish Academy of Art at 12 years of age, but he changed his course to painting at the age of 21. He studied under Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg. In the late 1820s both his parents died of typhoid and he had to support his remaining family, taking over some of his father's commissions.

Et selskap af danske kunstnere i Rom (A group of Danish Artists in Rome) (1837)

From 1835 until 1838 he travelled through Germany and Italy with some other Danish artists, Roed, Købke and Hilker, eventually staying in Italy for eight years. Returning to Denmark he worked on many mythological paintings; producing frescos for the University of Copenhagen with Hilker and also producing works for Roskilde Cathedral.

Flyvende måge, Klovvig (1924) by Elise Konstntin Hansen

He married in 1846, and had nine children. One of his daughters, Kristiane Konstantin Hansen, became a tapestry weaver and another Elise Konstantin Hansen, became a recognized painter, producing some good landscapes, often featuring birds.

He died in 1880.

The nude "model" is unusual for the period in including pubic and underarm hair. This suggests that it was an exercise or, possibly, a private commission. It dates from his Rome period so she was probably an Italian girl. I am not aware of any other Hansen nudes so this is a sole, but nice, example.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Pin-up Venus: 1 Red, White and Blue by David Wright

Red, white and blue by David Wright

About eight months ago we were in John Lewis in Oxford Street when we were very taken by a set of mugs depicting pin-up girls from the nineteen forties. We bought the one featuring this painting: Red, white and blue (1945) which originally appeared in The Sketch magazine.

These pictures were the work of British pin-up artist David Wright (1912-1967). Both Wright's parents were artists and the father believed himself to have been descended from Joseph Wright of Derby. Wright's uncle was an artist too and it was with him that David first started work. He began as an illustrator for fashion magazines but his talent for drawing beautiful women atracted the interest of The Sketch magaazine who, in 1941, commissioned him to do a series of pin-up pictures known as "lovelies". The Sketch was an illustrated newspaper published by the Illustrated London News company which featured society and royal news, short stories (Agatha Christie was first published in The Sketch) and features on the theatre, cinema and art. It ran from 1893 until 1959. Wright continued to provide his "lovelies" for ten years eventually completing 169 paintings for the magazine.

Illustration March 1952 Men Only

He also did a series of slightly racier pictures for Men Only in the fifties.

During World War 2, at a time when the great pin-up artists were all based in America, he established himself as one of the most popular in the world. During the War he served as an armed forces driving instructor in Wales as the army realised that he could contribute much more to the war effort by painting pin-ups than by going into combat. His pictures adorned barrack room walls up and down the country and it would be fair to say that he was the British equivalent of Vargas.

Wright often used his wife, Esme, as a model and had a more painterly style than many of his contemporaries (including Vargas) who were using the new airbrushes.

Jo (or Jose in this French Canadian version)

Later in the fifties he created a number of comic strips: Kit Carson (1952), Judy (1953) and Jo (1955). His most famous strip was Carol Day, about a model, which ran in the Daily Mail from 1956 until 1967.

Carol Day

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Equine Venus: Gisele Bündchen

We found another nice picture of a lady on a horse. In this case it is Brazilian model Gisele Bündchen (28). Recently married to an American Footballer she is rumoured to be the highest paid model in the world.

Easily passes the "does she look nice in a vest?" test.

In all her glory, photgraphed by Irving Penn

She is a worthy addition to our heirs to Lady Godiva.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

American Venus: Elizabeth Ann Roberts

Miss January 1958

Twenty-one years after the death of Chabas another furore erupted in Chicago regarding public decency. Hugh Hefner had been publishing Playboy there for just over four years and the authorities had constantly tried to stop him. His Playmate of the Month for January 1958 gave them another chance to have a go at him.

Elizabeth as college girl

Rather naively, Playboy though that because a mother gave permission for her daughter to pose and because she accompanied her to the photo session no-one would care that college girl Elizabeth Ann Roberts was only 17 at the time (some even say 16 -it does look like her mother claimed she was 18). Her pictorial's title of "Schoolmate playmate" probably didn't help.

She does look pretty young

As a result both Playboy and her mother were charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Now, one of these is art and one of these is a teenage girl with a nice arse

Hefner planned to defend himself using the fact that the model for September Morn by Chabas was also a young girl (possibly only 15, as we have seen in our previous entry).

It sounds perilously close to the "it's art therefore it's permissable" defence. In this case we are not sure how well it would have worked.

In the end he didn't get the chance as the case was dropped for lack of evidence. Playboy had learned its lesson, however, and immediately insisted all its models had to be 18 years or over from then on.

Elizabeth looks pensive. Not quite sure what her mother was thinking but it probably had dollar signs in it somewhere

Would you like to twiddle my knobs?

French Venus: September Morn by Paul Émile Chabas

Matinee Septembre (1912) by Paul Émile Chabas

Paul Émile Chabas was born on March 7, 1869 in Nantes and had trained under William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Tony Robert-Fleury. He first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1890 and was awarded a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1900. Although he painted portraits he was best known for his pictures of young girls bathing in lakes and pools.

The Bathers (1910)

Chabas took three years, working during the summers, to finish his most famous painting of a young girl posing in what look like chilly waters. The setting was Lake Annecy in the mountains of Savoie.

Lake Annecy today

He finished the painting one morning in September 1912, hence the name. Who the model for the painting was has never been clear. In one version the figure is said to have been modelled on two girls. A local peasant girl provided the body whilst the head belonged to a young American girl Julie Philipps who Chabas had sketched whilst she sat in a Paris cafe. However, Chabas always kept the identity of the model secret until just before he died when rumours were circulating that his model was destitute. He said "She is now 41, married to a rich French industrialist, and the mother of three lovely children. She is no longer so slender as she was 25 years ago."

Suzanne Delve

After Chabas’ death, however, a Hearst reporter allegedly found the model, who was then a middle-aged divorced (and childless) Parisian named Suzanne Delve. She claimed that she posed for Chabas in his Parisian studio (only the background was painted on location) at the age of fifteen. Both her mother and Chabas’ wife were also present at the sitting. She described how nervous she was and how Mme Chabas had played the piano to calm her nerves. She assumed the pose naturally, rather than under direction, and Chabas asked her to hold it.

Whatever the truth, the painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1912 where it won the Medaille d’Honneur to critical acclaim. What happened next, however, was completely unprecedented and led to the picture playing a significant role in an early American censorship battle.

In those days popular paintings were often reproduced as prints. In March 1913 one of these reproductions was being displayed in the window of Fred Jackson’s Art Store in Chicago. A passing policeman saw it, decided it was obscene, and ordered Jackson to remove the picture from his window. This he did but soon put it back. Spotting this the police returned, bought a copy of the picture and presented it to the Mayor, Carter Harrison Jr. Harrison was a reformer and in 1911 had established the Chicago Vice Commission. The brothel districts were so notorious at this time that printed maps were provided to tourists so that they could work their way from establishment to establishment.

Mayor Harrison and his wife in 1913

Mayor Harrison agreed that the picture violated the municipal code which banned the exhibit of “any lewd picture or other thing whatever of an immoral or scandalous nature.” They prosecuted Jackson, much to the outrage of the local artistic community. Despite testimony from local worthies that the picture was immoral and shouldn’t be viewed by children under fourteen the jury, after only thirty minutes deliberation, unanimously acquitted Jackson who immediately presented each juror with a copy of the painting which they all gratefully received. This decision led to numerous shops displaying the picture so that the city had to specifically forbid the display of “nude pictures in any window, except at art or educational exhibitions.” Needless to say this just increased interest in the painting. The city appealed but in May 1914 the First District Appelate Court ruled that the picture was not indecent although they made cutting comments regarding its exploitation.

Only two months after the initial Chicago controversy, in May 1913, a similar furore took place in New York. Tipped off, it is said, by a school teacher Anthony Comstock, the head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice entered the Braun & Co art dealers’ showroom where September Morn was on display in the window. He ordered the removal of the picture. James Kelly the salesman on duty informed Comstock that the picture was “the famous September Morning”. Kelly allegedly replied that “There’s too little morning and too much maid.” Kelly’s boss then later ordered the picture back in the window where it remained for five days whilst the gallery expected the return of Comstock any day. In the end Braun & Co took the picture down themselves as the crowds it was drawing were interfering with normal customers. The manager of the gallery wrote an incensed letter to the New York Times and discussion raged about the picture all over America.

In December 1914 the students of a college in Ohio publicly burnt copies of the picture along with other erotic literature and other questionable (by their standards) pictures.

Ann Pennington

All of this just generated huge publicity for the picture. Millions of prints (some estimate as many as seven million) were sold and it was reproduced on postcards, bottle openers, cigar bands, umbrellas, watch fobs, chocolate boxes and many others. A song was written about it, there was a recreation of it in the Ziegfield Follies (by the petite 4’10”dancer Ann Pennington) and it was even the subject of a Broadway musical. It is generally believed to have been the first calendar nude.

Chabas himself never made any money from all these reproductions although he did sell the original to a Russian collector, Leon Mantacheff, for $10,000. After the Russian Revolution it reappeared in the Gulbenkian collection and was bought by Philadelphia collector William Coxe Wright. He donated it to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, where it still hangs, in 1957 because the Philadelphia Museum of Art had turned the picture down because it had “no significance”.

Paul Chabas was the president of the Société des Artistes Français from 1925 to 1935 and was awarded the Légion d’honneur in 1928. He died in Paris on May 10th 1937 at the age of 68.

Many credit the controversies surrounding the picture as having had a positive effect on the censorship of art in the United States. Twenty-one years after Chabas’ death September Morn would be the subject of another indecency trial, oddly also with a Chicago connection. But that is another entry altogether.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Equine Venuses: Lady Godiva in the Cinema 1: Maureen O'Hara

Moving into the world of films we continue our look at the world's most famous naked lady on a horse.

Actually, according to Hollywood in 1955 she was the world's most famous ride (and you thought that was Marilyn Monroe).

Maureen aged 22 in The Black Swan

Irish (really!) born Maureen O'Hara (FitzSimons, to give her her real name) was utterly gorgeous in one of Agent Triple P's favourite pirate films, the Black Swan (1942) with Tyrone Power.

She was, however, (by Hollywood standards) getting on a bit (35) when she made Lady Godiva of Coventry (to give it its full name). Nevertheless, her cheekbones saw her in good stead and that was about all you could see given her cover-all wig.

The only colour still we could find.

Here she is preparing to be filmed for the riding sequence itself. It was filmed on a closed set with only 14 technicians; 11 of whom were women.

Maureen still looking good at 35

Maureen is still around and now 88 years old.

Maureen four years ago at the age of 84. Can't beat good cheekbones!