Monday, 27 December 2010

Venus with a snake 6: Rachel Weisz

Today's news that current James Bond Daniel Craig is now going out with Rachel Wiesz is a good excuse for us to post this lovely photograph of her and a very big snake indeed.  She was photographed for the cover of the April 2004 edition of Esquire magazine by James White.

Agent Triple P can remember exactly when he first became aware of the luscious Rachel; surely the very quintessence of the yummy mummy. It was 20th January 1993 and Triple P was watching an episode of Oxford set crime drama Inspector Morse. Playing the daughter of one of the characters was an actress so luminously beautiful that we sat through the credits to see who she was.  It was a twenty-two year old Rachel Weisz in only her second role.

Now, amazingly, forty years old, we confess that other than the two Mummy films we haven't seen her in any of her other roles but we will be interested to see how her career continues given her "difficult age".

There is something vaguely reptilian about this marvellous photograph of her as well, but it comes more from her expression and slinky body than the texture of her (extremely effective) outfit!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas Venuses

Bettie Page  for January 1955

Here we present a baker's dozen of December Venuses with a Christmas theme from Playboy.  It would seem obvious to have a Christmas themed centrefold in the December issue you would have thought.  In fact, Playboy's first (and easily most famous) Christmas centrefold came in the January 1955 issue when Bettie Page winked herself into immortality for the lens of Bunny Yeager.  Despite the proliferation of naughty Santa's since then (we remember, fondly, K's little outfit) she is the only Playmate to actually be shown wearing any part of the traditional Christmas attire.

Janet Pilgrim for December 1955

1955 became the only year to have two Christmas themed centrefolds as the magazine switched to the December issue for their sporadic festive efforts. Playboy staffer (she worked in the circulation department) Janet Pilgrim (real name Charlaine Karalus) had already appeared in the magazine as Playmate of the Month for July that year (she would appear for a record third time in October 1956).  Thuis picture was also used for the annual Playboy subscription cards.

Ellen Stratton for December 1959

It was four years before Playboy ran another Christmas-themed centrefold picture but here, bringing their launch decade to a close, is legal secretary Ellen Stratton.  Photographed by William Graham her visible strands of fluff were, of course, airbrushed out in the magazine version of the centrefold.  The following year she became Playboy's first ever Playmate of the Year.

Carol Eden for December 1960

A year later William Graham, again,  produced a very similar centrefold picture for Carol Eden loading it with even more festive imagery.  Ten years later Carol would give birth to a daughter, Simone, who became Playmate of the Month for February 1989.

Susan Bernard for December 1966

If Triple P could wish for one of these Christmas crackers under his tree it would definitely be the squeezable Miss Bernard.  Mario Casilli lights her to emphasise all her soft contours and creates prbably the most seductive Christmas Playmate of them all.  Susan Bernard was the daughter of holocaust survivor Bruno Bernard, better known as Bernard of Hollywood, photographer to the stars. Eighteen years old at the time, her father contributed some of the (clothed) black and white pictures of her in her pictorial.  At the time of this pictorial she had just finished what would become the cult Russ Meyer film Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965).  Latterly she has written a book about her father's photographs of Marilyn Monroe.

Cynthia Myers for December 1968

Just about qulifying as a Christmas centrefold (because of the presence of the white bear with his holly bow tie) is Cynthia Myers.  What do you mean you didn't notice the bear?  Now Triple P is not a bust man but good grief!  Cynthia was soon displaying her 39DD-24-35 assets in another Russ Meyer film, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). Something of a classic for retro centrefold spotters the film also features Playboy playmate Dolly Read (May 1966) and much of the music was by Penthouse Pet of the Month Lynn Carey (December 1972).

Erica, Jaclyn and Nicole Dahm for December 1998

Apart from a few winter, rather than Christmas, themed centrefolds it would be thirty years  before there was any festive element in a centrefold.  To make up for these barren three decades Playboy gave us three presents in the lissome forms of triplets Erica, Jaclyn and Nicole Dahm.  They later went on to success in home improvement reality TV shows and some drama series including Triple P guilty pleasure, Relic Hunter.

Lani Todd for December 2002

This time it was only a four year wait and we got a fully-fledged Christmas centrefold for Lani Todd by Arny Freytag.  It had been forty years since we had seen Playboy going quite so festive.  Lani had previously been a Playboy Cyber girl but her pictorial was pulled when she appeared as Playmate of the Month. For more see our previous post on her here.

Tiffany Fallon for December 2004

Christmas centrefolds returned with a vengeance in the noughties with Tiffany's main pictorial also featuring her in this Christams setting.  Tiffany, a former Miss Georgia, developed a good career in the entertainment industry and married a country music star.

Kia Drayton for December 2006

Another two year gap and then another Christmas tree for Kia Drayton photographed by Stephen Wayda.  The following year she was arrested with her boyfriend for having a kilogramme of cocaine in their hotel room.  He got ten years but charges against her were dropped.  The wrong sort of snow,obviously.

Sasckya Porto for December 2007

A lovely, retro-looking Christmas presentation by Arny Freytag in our only horizontal format Christmas centrefold.  Freytag had shot his first Playmate centrefold thirty years before and brings a lot of seventies boudoir style to this picture of leggy (5'10") Brazilian bombshell Sasckya Porto.  A former Miss Brazil USA she is a successful catwalk model and is our second favourite Christmas cracker here.

Crystal Harris for December 2009

The last Playmate of the noughties saw Crystal Harris photographed by Stephen Wayda with more festive nostalgia with holly decorated fifties hat and retro Christmas LP records; Sinatra of course.   Harris was born in Arizona to British parents and is currently the latest in a long, long line of Playmates that can count themselves as Hugh Hefner's girlfriend.  Curiously, Playboy still uses the hopelessly old fashioned and coy term "dating" for what goes on between the 84 year old Hefner and his, (in this case, 24 year old) girlfriends.

Ashley Hobbs for December 2010

Finally, we come right up to date with this month's plum pudding, 21 year old Miss Ashley Hobbs, who has some Hawaiian blood, which may explain her exotic and enticing eyes.

So, six out of the 12 December Christmas Playmate centrefolds have come in the last ten years.  Let's hope Playboy magazine survives (which is far from certain) to provide many more tinsel enhanced Christmas treats.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Venus with a Dove by Léon-Jean Bazille Perrault

Venus  a la Colombe (1908)

We like to have an actual Venus on Venus Observations so here is one by French painter Léon-Jean Bazille Perrault (1832-1908).

Perrault, the son of a tailor, was born in Poitiers and first attended art school at the age of 10.  He won many local competitions but as his family was poor he had to take  a job as a decorator at the age of 14, working on, amongst other things, the restoration of the murals in the Sainte-Radegonde church in Poitiers.  At the age of 19 the city of Poitiers awarded him a 600 Franc grant which enabled him to enroll in the Ecole des Beaux-Artes in Paris.

Vanitas (1886)

He studied under Picot and then Bougereau who became a lifelong friend.  Initially, he had some setbacks, particularly failures at the Prix de Rome.  However, success at the Paris Salon followed.  In 1866 Napoleon III bought his picture The Brood and his success was assured, as was a long career producing paintings of children.  He was awarded the Légion d'honneur in 1887.

Léon-Jean Bazille Perrault (1832-1908)

Reproductions of his work became very popular, especially in the United States where many of his paintings still reside in private collections.

A Water Nymph (1898)

Today he is not nearly as well known as Bougereau but we think that this painting. as well as A Water Nymph are more than competent.  Nudes make up a much smaller proportion of his work than Bougereau's so we suspect that whilst these remain timeless his sentimental pictures of children and mythological scenes have fallen out of favour.

La Baigneuse (1875)

Probably his most sensuous painting is La Baigneuse of a young lady in a hammock which seems to have very little to do with bathing other than the fact that she is naked.

Following several years with heart problems Perrault died in the resort town of Royan where he spent much of the final years of his life.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

November Venus: Paige Young

 Paige Young, December 1968

Time (alright, past time) for our monthly review of Playmate centrefolds through the years.  Now we have had a number of suggestions as to who should feature in these posts but we must emphasise that we are purely looking at the quality of the centrefold photograph not the girl in general.  For example, November contains Veronica Gamba, one of our favourite Playmates of all time, but her centrefold is dull so she doesn't make the cut!

Peter Gowland photographs an earlier Playmate, Jean Jani, in 1957

Another rather weak month this time but just sneaking in to our number one spot is Miss November 1968, Paige Young.  Her pictorial was the last of the ten photographed for Playboy by Peter Gowland who was a top fashion photographer who originally started out as an actor (he had a small part in Citizen Kane).  Gowland shot over 1,000 magazine covers (including six for Playboy) in his six decade career and had worked with Playboy since the fifties.  He invented the twin lens Gowlandflex camera which used 4" x 5" film for very high resolution and has been used by photographers such as Annie Leibovitz as well as the FBI, US Army and US Navy.  He died in March 2010 at the age of 93.  Gowland was one of the best photographers who ever worked for Playboy and his pictures often show interesting and well thought out composition.  What makes this picture is the tip of Miss Young's tongue just peeking out.  It makes her look rather naughtier than most!  Paige was a talented artist but, tragically, died of an overdose of sleeping pills in 1974 at the age of thirty.

 Joni Mattis, Novenber 1960

Next we have the petite (5'2" and 33-18-32!) Joni Mattis from 1960.  She was a Chicago resident and was a regular on Hugh Hefner's short-lived Playboy's Penthouse TV show.  She was one of Hefner's many girlfriends but remained friends with him afterwards and embarked on a forty year career with Playboy, as Hefner's West Coast secretary and model booker.

Joni with Hefner on the set of Playboy's Penthouse in 1961

Her centrefold picture was photographed by Jerry White and was his only Playmate shoot, although he had done a couple of covers for the magazine in the late fifties. Mattis herself reckoned it must have been one of the most unpopular centrefolds ever because she "didn't show anything" and only got one fan letter. We have to say that she is wrong.  She exudes a lovely rumpled sensuality and looks good to go for a second session.  The striped sheets are interesting without being distracting and the fact that one is stuffed between her legs helps the auto-eroticism no end. Mattis died in 1999 at the age of sixty.

 Terre Tucker, November 1963

Next, from the Mad Men era we have the fabulosly named Terre (pronounced "Terry") Tucker.  She was originally a stewardess but went to Chicago to become a Bunny Girl at the Chicago Playboy Club. 

Terre in Bunny mode in Chicago

This was one of only four centrefolds shot (although he shot 13 covers) by Stan Malinowski who would later become much more associated with Penthouse.  What makes this shot is the fabulous chiaroscuro lighting and the neutral, unfussy background.  Terre died in 1990.

 Lisa Baker, November 1966

Also from the sixties, we have leggy (5'8") Texan Lisa Baker from 1966 in a centrefold by Bill Figge who would go on to shoot her again when she became Playmate of the Year for 1967.  This centrefold is really the encapsulation of what Playboy was about in the early to mid sixties.  The two glasses hint at the ever popular "unseen male presence".  The cheesboard is there to look all hip and European. The shag pile carpet and fur hint at potential floor-level naughtiness and the strewn jazz records sum up the sound of Playboy.  Definitive.

Baker by Figge with her Playmate of the Year prize car in the tasteful shade of pink the poor girls had to put up with

Figge, who worked with his wife Nicaraguan born wife Melba on many of his shoots, discovered Baker whilst she was working as a barmaid at a wedding they were photographing.  Figge, who had been a combat photographer in World War 2 (he was the first American photographer into Hitler's bunker in Berlin), shot 27 Playboy Playmates before his death in 1976.

Jeana Tomasino, November 1980

Finally, we have Jeana Tomasino from 1980 photographed by Richard Fegley who shot over 90  Playmates over a thirty year career at the magazine which began with Miss July 1972, Carol O'Neale.  When he applied for the freelance job at Playboy in 1972 he had never shot a model in his life but the magazine liked his artistic style.  Fegley died in 2001 after a long illness.  Fegley drapes Tomsino's long, elegant form over a piano but what makes the shot is the hand mirror reflecting her beautiful face whilst we can also see her perfect profile.  Hypnotic!

Fegly shoots Tomasino for the centrefold

Jeana had a minor TV and film career before marrying a professional baseball player. Recently she was recently seen appearing on the US TV reality show The Real Housewives of Orange County.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Redheaded Venus of the Week 11: Misha in front of windows

This Russian model goes under the name of Misha (or, sometimes, Masha).  She has a lovely, elfin-like quality as she reclines on a suggestively rumpled bed.

Agent Triple P's first proper girlfriend was a redhead with identical colouring to this.  We were amazed and delighted the first time we saw her bright orange pubic hair.  Since then there have been a number of redheads who have varied in shade from a reddish brown  colour through ginger marmalade colour to the aforesaid orange.  All of them delightful!

These two painterly pictures, taken in front of windows, very much remind us of C: the mark 1 redhead (especially the top one).  Sadly, for much of our relationship, given that Triple P's bedroom at college was unheated (he only had a small gas fire in his living room), there was not the opportunity for her to lounge around seductively like this!

Venus with a snake 5: Woman Bitten by a Snake by Auguste Clésinger

Auguste Clésinger, Femme piquée par un serpent (1847)

Time for another woman with a snake with this sculpture by the French artist Auguste Clésinger.  This sculpture caused a huge scandal when it was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1847.  There were two aspects of the work that outraged Parisians: primarily it was the sensuously abandoned form of the female figure sprawled in a way that had not been seen before. 

Secondly, Clésinger, in order to perfect the pose, had used a full body cast of his model from which to work.  So not only was the female figure depicted in an erotic pose but was a direct representation of a real woman rather than a classically idealised form; she even has cellulite!  Needless to say it did wonders for Clésinger's reputation and fame.

Jean-Baptiste Auguste Clésinger (1814-1883)

Jean-Baptiste Auguste Clésinger, to give him his full name, was born in Besançon on 22nd October 1814. His father, Georges-Philippe Clésinger was also a sculptor and he  trained his son.  Clésinger first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1843 but it wasn't until Woman with a Snake that his fame was assured.

Solange Clésinger (1828-1899)

The same year that the sculpture was exhibited he married George Sand's daughter Solange Dudevant but they seperated in 1855 and shortly afterwards their only child died at the age of seven. 

Clésinger figure of Euterpe, the muse of music, tops Chopin's monument in Paris

In 1859 he made Chopin's death mask and sculpted the figure for the composer's funerary monument at the  Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.  He had been awarded the Légion d'honneur in 1849 and became an officer of the order in 1864.

Auguste Clésinger Marianne modellled by Berthe de Courrière

Later in his life  Clésinger took as his mistress and model Berthe de Courrière who was 38 years his junior. A generously proportioned lady who had already been the mistress of General Georges Boulanger who later, as a politician, was on the point of launching a coup d'état in Paris n 1889 but, at the last minute, decided to go the democratic route.  In the meantime the French authorities ordered his arrest, he fled to Jersey and only returned to mainland Europe to committ suicide on the grave of another of his mistresses, Madame de Bonnemains.  Berthe then went on to be the mistress of several French ministers before Clésinger. 

Berthe de Courrière by Clésinger

Clésinger called her, rather ungallantly,  la grande dame ("the big woman") or Berthe aux grands pieds ("Bigfoot Bertha").  Clésinger left his entire estate to her, making her a rich woman.  Three years after Clésinger's death she became the mistress of the French writer and critic Remy de Gourmont.  He left his entire estate to her as well but she died only a year later in 1916 and was bured alongside Clésinger. Berthe was the model for Clésinger's sculpture of the Marianne in the French Senate. 

Apollonie Sabatier by Vincent Vidal

The model who had her body cast for Woman Bitten by a Snake was another colourful inhabitant of Parisian society at the time, the salonnière (a polite word for a high class courtesan) Apollonie Sabatier  (born Josephine Savatier Aglaia ). She was the illegitimate daughter of   Etienne Louis Harms, Viscount Abancourt and a laundress.  She moved to Paris, changed her name and became friends with many of the writers and artists of the day including Théophile Gautier, Alfred de Musset , Gustave Flaubert,  Édouard Manet, Hector Berlioz and Alexandre Dumas pere.  

Gustave Courbet's (1819-1877) The Artist's Studio (1855) At the far right of the painting are (l to r) Apollonia Sabatier, Alfred Mosselman and Charles Baudelaire

She became  Baudelaire's secret mistress and is depicted with the writer, posed with her lover, the Belgian businessman Alfred Mosselman, in Courbet's The Artist's Studio.  Mosselman actually commissioned Woman Bitten by a Snake and owned it until he sold it in 1863.  Clésinger also produced a portrait bust of Sabatier the same year that Woman Bitten by a Snake was exhibited although it is noticeable that the generous proportions of her actual bust have been reduced for the more classical and less realistic head and shoulders portrait.  After Mosselman's death in 1867 she became the mistress of famous Paris-based English art collector Sir Richard Wallace whose eponymous art collection is now housed in his former house in Manchester Square, London.

Auguste Clésinger Madame Sabatier (1847)

The sculpture itself depicts a woman writhing in agony following the effect of a snakebite although, as we know that the original title of the work was supposed to be Dream of Love it suggests that the woman is writhing about for entirely different reasons.  It was this sensuality that scandalised the public on its exhibition. 

Woman Bitten by a Snake - Height 56.5; Width 180; Depth 70 cm

The critics were scandalised for other reasons.  They felt that the use of a life cast was, somehow, cheating and evidence of a lack of integrity on the part of the sculptor although, to be fair, the figure still needed to be carved from marble. Delacroix, who was the first major artist to use photographs as reference later on, sniffily called it a "sculpted daguerreotype".   However, the real thing that offended was the fact that the figure was a direct representation of an actual body rather than a classical idealisation.  Mme Sabatier's  generous proprtions are a long way from a classical sylph.

The figure's generous breasts and belly were groundbreaking but controversial

Interestingly, the snake itself is a tiny creature depicted as being wrapped around the figure's left wrist suggesting that the title was, indeed, something of an afterthought (see below). However not all were scandalised by this new, realistic depiction of the female body. The French poet Théophile Gautier said that Clésinger had made "beauty without cuteness, without affectation, without mannerism, with a head and a body of our own time".   

The snake is just visible on the left wrist

A year later Clésinger produced a similar sculpture of an equally abondoned looking female figure.  This time the contorted figure is depicted on a bed of vine leaves and bunches of grapes and is, if anything, even more sensual than Woman Bitten by a Snake.

Auguste Clésinger, Bacchante (1848)

Again, Clésinger models a woman with  a large bust, not the neat hemispheres of the classical approach, complete with erect nipples.  The ruffled material of her carelessly discarded dress caresses her pubic mound.

Bacchante (1848)

Clésinger's later sculptures (which included many religious ones for Parisian churches) were more conventional, especially as regards his depiction of women.  He even revisted the woman with sbnake theme with the much more classically inspired Woman and Snake.

Femme et Serpent (1863)

However, whilst Clésinger did not return to his "realistic" style other sculptors, no doubt hoping to gain the same notoriety, produced a series of abondoned, contorted women in their works.  Also in the Musée d'Orsay is Reclining Bacchante (1892) by Augustine-Jean Moreau Vauthier (1831-1893).

Reclining Bacchante (1892) by Augustine-Jean Moreau Vauthier

Augustin-Jean Moreau-Vauthier was originally  an ivory carver but later went on to study sculpture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts from 1850 under Armand Toussaint. He became a professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1885.  His reclining Bacchante owes everything to Clésinger's earlier work and nothing to Moreau-Vauthier's earlier style where he worked in ivory.

Augustin-Jean Moreau-Vauthier, La Peinture Ivory figurine

Completing the trio of sprawling women in the Musée d'Orsay is Young Tarentine by Pierre-Alexandre Schoenewerk (1820-1885)

Pierre-Alexandre Schoenewerk, Young Tarentine (1871)

Although Schoenewerk  was French his parents were German and so he was barred from competing at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He began his career  in the studios of Henri-Joseph-François, Baron de Triqueti and David d’Angers and exhibited plaster religious and biblical pieces at the Paris Salon between 1841 and 1847.  It is no coincidence that in 1848, the year after Clésinger's Woman Bitten by a Snake was exhibited, he turned to mildly erotic mythological subjects. Young Tarentine depicts the drowned body of a girl from the poem of the same name by André Chénier.

In a way Clésinger's work, with its accurate depiction of a contemporary body and its complex and arousing pose is a precursor of the contorted figures of Rodin and is more influential than is generally recognised today.