Sunday, 17 October 2010

A Man with a Blue Scarf…and an Enthralling Book

I’ve just finished reading Martin Gayford’s Man with a Blue Scarf. On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud. A book which is part memoir, part biography and part art history. Gayford, an established art critic, has known Freud for several years and was surprised, but also thrilled, when the artist agreed to paint a portrait of him. Over the eight months of endless sittings Gayford studied and conversed with Freud, discovering from a unique perspective the working methods and artistic beliefs of unarguably one of our greatest living painters.

Freud is notorious for taking months, sometimes years, to complete a picture. A constant niggle in Gayford’s mind is that he might suddenly abandon the portrait, an occurrence which is not unknown with Freud. The gradual development of the picture, from a simple charcoal outline to the layered and complex oil of the finished work, is a fascinating process and highlights the artist’s working practices. The exact shade of the blue scarf is agonised over; blue is a strong colour for Freud and mustn’t upset the balance of the picture. The pink shirt is repeatedly repainted. The face is reshaped and slimmed down so it resonates perfectly with the ground. Freud’s absorbing attention to his sitter, both physically and mentally, is a timely lesson to us all of the value of close study and understanding of the people and objects which surround us.

Skewbald Mare, by Lucian Freud, 2004 (Chatsworth House Trust, LFA/John Riddy)

Slowly the painting is completed. All the while, through Freud and Gayford’s lively conversations and the writer’s reflections, we learn about Freud (he doesn’t like Leonardo and Vermeer, but he greatly admires Titian and Chardin), about his work (Freud allows very little distinction between the portrait of Gayford and an oil of a Skewbald Mare done at the same time – both are portraits in the true sense of the word), about portraiture (‘What, then, is a portrait painter painting? An individual who persists through time, or merely the way a ceaselessly mutating human organism appears in a particular time and place?’) and about the artist’s place in the historical canon (Gayford places Freud firmly, alongside Francis Bacon, in the Western tradition of art, inheritor of Van Gogh and Gaugin, Picasso and Matisse, and before that El Greco and Rembrandt).

 Lucian Freud, Man with a Blue Scarf and Martin Gayford, 14 June 2004 (Photo: David Dawson)

 The reader is carried through the portrait process towards the enthralling denouement when the picture is finished and the work passes from the private studio space into the public realm. And whilst Freud has created his oil painting, Gayford has created something just as valuable – a portrait in words of a great artist.

(Man with a Blue Scarf. On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud, by Martin Gayford, Thames & Hudson, London, 2010)

Monday, 5 July 2010

Pucci Post

Just published is Taschen's new book Emilio Pucci. There's been nothing significant in print on Pucci for some time so this new luxury tome measuring 36 x 36 cm, with 416 pages and bearing the hefty price tag of £135 is sure to be greeted with joy by Italian style aficionados. The illustrations (including photos, drawings and snapshots) are sumptuous and generous, spanning the breath of the brand's sixty year history.

The cover or, more accurately, covers are cloth-bound with a selection of recent Pucci fabrics. A devise borrowed from Pucci. A Renaissance in Fashion (Shirley Kennedy & Emilio Pucci, Abbeville Press, New York, 1991) - a wonderfully rich and insightful survey co-written by Emilio Pucci himself, just before his death.

This book is certainly one for the coffee table but with Taschen's statement that it is a 'Limited edition of 10,000 copies; each unique copy is bound with one of a selection of recent print fabrics from the Pucci collection.' you have to wonder how 'unique' it is.

(Emilio Pucci, by Vanessa Friedman, Taschen, 2010)

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Darling Grace

Grace and glamour come to the Victoria and Albert Museum this weekend with the opening of their latest fashion exhibiton ‘Grace Kelly. Style Icon’.

From the V&A’s website – ‘This exhibition explores, through her surviving clothes, the story of her transformation from Hollywood actress to a princess of one of Europe's oldest royal families. Examining her enduring appeal as a style icon, it features her film costumes, the much-publicised dresses made for her trousseau and wedding, and the French haute couture - a different kind of costume - that she required for her subsequent role as Princess of Monaco.’

An accompanying book has been published entitled Grace Kelly Style. Fashion for Hollywood’s Princess. “Style”, “Fashion”, “Hollywood”, “Princess” – all words that sum up this twentieth century icon. It is not strictly a catalogue of the exhibition and does not contain a listing of the exhibits. A foreword by HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, is followed by three chapters on ‘The Actress’, ‘The Bride’ and ‘The Princess’, with mini biographies of the key couture designers interspersed. The text is accompanied by archive photographs and modern shots of the dresses and their details (although there don’t seem enough of these). A great structure and typically informative but with only 112 pages this book feels slightly meagre and the closeness and busyness of images and text fails to deliver the feeling of rich glamour that a book on Princess Grace deserves.

(Grace Kelly Style. Fashion for Hollywood’s Princess, by Kristina Haugland with Jenny Lister and Samantha Erin Safer, V&A Publications, London, 2010)

Another book on the Princess that has been sitting on my shelves for a couple of years is Grace. Princess of Monaco. A Tribute to the Life and Legacy of Grace Kelly. Published by the Consulate General of Monaco in New York in conjunction with Sotheby’s it is also linked to an exhibition. Compared with the V&A book there are a lot more photos, a lot more jewellery and the layout is clean and stylish. The beauty of the illustrations speak for themselves. The text is mainly confined to captions but once again there is a foreword by Prince Albert. However this isn’t the only familiar aspect. The dresses exhibited are uncunningly similar to those examples featured in ‘Grace Kelly Style’. I’m not aware of the history of the V&A exhibition and where the collection comes from but it appears that New York’s exhibition has come across the pond in a familiar guise.

(Grace. Princess of Monaco. A Tribute to the Life and Legacy of Grace Kelly, Consulate General of Monaco, New York, 2007)

For a truly indulgent Grace fix I would turn to The Grace Kelly Years. Princess of Monaco. This is yet another exhibition book but is almost double in size compared to the first two titles. The exhibition at the Grimaldi Forum, Monaco in 2007 was not confined to Grace’s wardrobe, although it did feature heavily – of course! Childhood, family and personal snapshots, official photographs, clothes, jewellery, letters and archival media were all on display. This is reflected in the content of the book which is essentially a rich visual scrapbook of Grace’s life and style. We see the dress, then we see Grace wearing the dress, then we see the magazine showing the picture of Grace wearing the dress.

(The Grace Kelly Years. Princess of Monaco, by Frédéric Mitterrand and Bertrand Meyer-Stabley, Skira Editore, 2007)

But certainly the prize for the best cover does go to the V&A. Erwin Blumenfeld’s portrait of 1955 is exquisite.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

A Maastricht Wish List

I’m just back from a few fun Flemish days in Maastricht, visiting The European Fine Art Fair or TEFAF 2010.

Gilt and Gold and Jewels and Rarities and Masterpieces. The treasures combine into a wondrous pop-up museum, the best part being that all these wonders are for sale.

Every year I put together my wish list and every year the sums just don’t add up. So if I can’t afford the real thing I’ll have to make do with the book.

Coupelle a l’Oiseau by Diego Giacometti - On the stand of L’Arc en Seine, a gallery in New York and Paris specialising in decorative arts of the 20th century, there was a charming bronze by Diego Giacometti. A delightful bird perches on a simple tea-bowl shaped vessel. Is it about to take flight? Is it searching for water? At just a few inches high it is an object of exquisite beauty and desirability; a miniature masterpiece of ironwork.

The bird graces the cover of one of the definitive monographs on the artist, Diego Giacometti by Christian Boutonnet and Rafael Ortiz (Editions de l’Amateur, Paris, 2003). This book was actually co-published with L’Arc en Seine, clearly your first port of call for a Giacometti sculpture.

You can take a virtual tour of the gallery’s stand on the Maastricht website. Scroll to the right and the little bird sits patiently in the second niche from the bottom.

Photo - Pelham Galleries

La Visite de Louis XIV au Château de Juvisy by Pierre-Denis Martin – One of the most exciting exhibits on display graced the walls of antique-dealer Pelham Galleries. Thought lost and not exhibited for over 60 years this remarkable topographical landscape measuring 165 x 265cm was painted by Pierre-Dennis Martin in circa 1700. Martin was a peintre du roi and painted many of the great palaces of France during his life-time, including Trianon and Fontainebleau. The painting shows the visit of Louis XIV to the Château du Juvisy, a vast house and garden a short distance from Paris (the capital is just visible in the far distance).

Pelhams have produced a fascinating and well-researched pamphlet to document the history of the painting and the subject it depicts. Sadly the chateau was destroyed by bombs in the Second World War and the gardens have been subsumed by the Parisian suburbs. Only the curving sweep of the once magnificent fountain remains. There is no firm evidence as to whom the architects of the palace and grounds were, but the painting does offer some clues to back-up established theories. Jean Thiriot built the chateau, André Le Nôtre planned the formal gardens and Nicolas-François Blondel designed the Fer à Cheval fountain and exquisite Pavilion.

(A la Recherche d’un Paysage Perdu. La Visite de Louis XIV au Château de Juvisy. A painting by Pierre-Denis Martin, by Alan Rubin & Dennis Harrington, Pelham, London, 2010)

Photo - Leslie Smith Gallery

Roses in a Glass by Henri Fantin-Latour (1872) – This is a painting I would never tire of. It’s not bold, it doesn’t challenge but it does have a serenity that reaches into you and calms the soul. Its simplicity of colour and subject belies a complexity of texture, composition and tonal resonance.

Fantin-Latour’s floral still-lifes, in the realist tradition of the Old Masters, were hugely admired by the artistic circles of the 19th century. This led me to search inside Paintings of Proust by Eric Karpeles (Thames & Hudson, London, 2008). Subtitled A Visual Companion to In Search of Lost Time this delightful book illustrates and references every work of art alluded to by the author. Proust was a fan of Fantin-Latour and in the Guermantes Way he ridicules the upper-class socialites for their ‘negation of true taste’ – ‘And he asked her whether she had seen the flower paintings by Fantin-Latour which had recently been exhibited.
“They are first class, the work, as they say nowadays, of a fine painter, one of the masters of the palette,” declared M. de Norpois. “Nevertheless, in my opinion, they cannot stand comparison with those of Mme de Villeparisis, which give a better idea of the colour of the flower.”’ (pages 158-9).

Now I suspect that Mme de Villeparisis flower studies weren’t a patch on Roses in a Glass!

The painting can be seen at the Leslie Smith Gallery in Amsterdam.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Sneaky Peak: John Stefanidis. An Island Sanctuary

In John Stefanidis’ fourth book we finally get that personal tour around his Greek retreat which we’ve all been waiting for. This book does for his Patmos house what Living by Design (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1997) did for his Dorset home, Cock Crow.

Fabulous photographs explore each room and then lead the reader out onto the terrace, through the olive groves and into the deep blue Aegean Sea. Stefanidis’ decorative hand is evident on every surface and multi-cultural objects from across the globe have been lovingly assembled to create the most wonderful interiors.

At the heart of the design is a deep-set love of the island. It is a space that has been moulded over time by its milieu, with the gentle genius touch of John Stefanidis.

The book is due out next month

(An Island Sanctuary. A House in Greece, by John Stefanidis, text by Susanna Moore, photographs by Fritz von der Schulenberg, Rizzoli, New York, 2010)