A European Fountain in the Middle of Pittsburgh: Edmond Amateis’ Mellon Park Masterpiece

It’s not literally a European fountain, but there is something distinctly European in the Art Deco fountain Edmond Amateis constructed for Mellon Park, a small park in the Shadyside neighborhood of downtown Pittsburgh. The park was once the grounds of Richard Beatty Mellon‘s estate. Mellon was a wealthy industrialist and banker, whose 65-room mansion was the largest residence in Pittsburgh at the time of its construction.The house was apparently torn down in 1941 (a mere thirty years after its construction), though there seems to be no ready explanation as to why.

Artist Unknown – R. B. Mellon Residence (postcard)

The land was later appropriated by the city and became Mellon Park, now book-ended by the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and the Phipps Garden Center. The fountain, which sits at the western end of the Walled Garden, was built in 1927, six years before Mellon passed away. One of the walls in the Walled Garden (likely the one opposite the fountain) is all that remains of what once was Mellon’s grand home.

Google Maps – Mellon Park (1)

Google Maps – Mellon Park (2)

Google Maps – Mellon Park (3)

As for the fountain, there’s a good reason why it emanates a European sensibility: Amateis’s father, Louis Amateis, was a well-respected sculptor in his own right who had immigrated to America from Italy. Edmond himself was born in Rome, though well after Louis had come to America (so likely during a visit with family). He would later study sculpting at the Académie Julian in Paris and at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design in New York City, the latter school specializing in the style of the French École des Beaux-Arts.

Edmond Amateis – Fountain (Mellon Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) (1)

Edmond Amateis – Fountain (Mellon Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) (2)

Edmond Amateis – Fountain (Mellon Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) (3)

As one can see from the image below, the fountain is in need of some minor repairs.

Edmond Amateis – Fountain (Mellon Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) (4)

Edmond Amateis – Fountain (Mellon Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) (5)

Edmond Amateis – Fountain (Mellon Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) (6)

I count a total of seven children around the fountain, with only two of them being boys and the remaining five being girls, an unusual choice. I suspect this was because the artist did not want to portray male genitalia (you can see that both boys have their midsections blocked), and there were not many options he could take without repeating himself. Girls did not present the same problem for the sculptor. Whatever the motivation, it’s a delightful choice.

One can see nearly the entirety of the Walled Garden in this next shot.

Edmond Amateis – Fountain (Mellon Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) (7)

Edmond Amateis – Fountain (Mellon Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) (8)

Edmond Amateis – Fountain (Mellon Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) (9)

The eighth side of the octagonal fountain simply has a squirrel instead of a child.

Edmond Amateis – Fountain (Mellon Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) (10)

Edmond Amateis – Fountain (Mellon Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) (11)

Edmond Amateis – Fountain (Mellon Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) (12)

Edmond Amateis – Fountain (Mellon Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) (13)

This is not part of the Mellon Park fountain, but it’s a nice little piece using the same Art Deco style, and I decided to toss it in here at the end as a bonus.

Edmond Amateis – A Putto Riding a Dolphin

The M83 Music Video Trilogy – Midnight City, Reunion and Wait.

While some may debate whether music videos can be a form of art I believe that they can be and this is because they are able to have a plot, even though it is within a considerably shorter time frame than a full-length film. Additionally, they can create wonderful images, more so when there is a big budget, which the following videos have. Finally, they do make you think about what is happening or what the visuals and lyrics mean, something that I was doing when watching the third video in this article.

Five music videos have already been mentioned on the Pigtails website and I have decided to add a few more. The following three videos were created by the directors Fleur & Manu with music and lyrics written by M83, more commonly known as Anthony Gonzalez. The videos are of the narrative style and can be watched either as a loosely strung together trilogy or can be viewed as individual, though basic stories. The lyrics that appear in the videos are not related to the videos in any way, though I do recommend listening to them as well. The lyrics for Wait in particular are very moving and after reading the comment section this seems to be a widely-held feeling. Other than being artworks, these videos belong to this website due to the depiction of female children in them.

In the first video, entitled Midnight City, we are introduced to the main characters of the story and what they can do. At the beginning of the video we see a young boy being walked through a classroom full of children. On closer observation the children appear to have telekinetic abilities with one levitating objects while others read minds and distort television signals.

M83, Fleur & Manu – Still from ‘Midnight City’ (2011) (1)

The boy clearly does not want to be there so, using his telepathic abilities, he tells the other children they are going to escape. In the next scene it is now nighttime and the children are standing in front of a door, which they destroy and then run out of the building.

M83, Fleur & Manu – Still from ‘Midnight City’ (2011) (2)

Running through the woods they are chased by some of the scientists, however they escape and by the time morning arrives they have discovered an abandoned warehouse. They enter and proceed to run amok, using their powers to move around objects, the youngest child finds the biggest object there, a caravan, picks it up and throws it into a wall.

M83, Fleur & Manu – Still from ‘Midnight City’ (2011) (3)

They eventually make it onto the roof where they perform their biggest show of power: they make the sun set; this is the final scene and it moves on to the next music video.

M83, Fleur & Manu – Still from ‘Midnight City’ (2011) (4)

While the first video focuses little on the female characters—they are simply individuals within the larger group—in the second video, entitled Reunion, a female child takes the lead role. In this film the story continues and we find out that one individual, a girl, was left behind and she is being controlled by the scientists; it is not revealed whether this control is through intense brainwashing or via the machines that are connected to her.

M83, Fleur & Manu – Still from ‘Reunion’ (2011) (1)

The mind-controlled girl, whom I will refer to as Apollonia, takes possession of the weakest of the runaways and lights her up like a beacon, which simultaneously sends a signal to the scientists control room and reveals the location of the runaway.

M83, Fleur & Manu – Still from ‘Reunion’ (2011) (2)

The scientists send a team of people out to canvas the area where the signal came from to hopefully find them. Meanwhile the children start to run again; one girl tries to stay with the now unconscious female child but is convinced to leave her behind. There is then a chase scene which is limited to only thirty seconds (the full video length is less than five minutes). When the runaways are finally cornered, the boy who encouraged the escape in the first video, tells everyone to stop and fight the chasing car. Unfortunately for the runaways the girl possesses the car driver, which in turn gives him telekinetic abilities. The car driver then gets out of the car, levitates it above himself and throws the car at the runaways. They successfully stop it, however, this now creates a tug-of-war situation with the car hovering between the runaways and driver.

M83, Fleur & Manu – Still from ‘Reunion’ (2011) (3)

The scene also shows that Apollonia’s powers are equal to several of the other children’s abilities, something that is important to know when watching the third video. The escapees win the battle and launch the car back at the driver, crushing the driver and simultaneously breaking the mind control of the other girl. They then enter a church and light themselves up—though you need to watch the third video to find out what is happening.

M83, Fleur & Manu – Still from ‘Reunion’ (2011) (4)

The third video, entitled Wait, is by far the best video and can be watched as a stand-alone story. The highly professional acting continues and as the story is no longer restricted to the city we get to see some impressive cinematography, with large scale landscape scenes; this further enhances the argument that these music videos can be a form of art. As the music video is only five minutes long, the behind-the-scenes video, which is also five minutes long, should be viewed to get further insight into what is happening.

The first minute and twenty seconds of the music video shows where the runaways have gone, they are within futuristic pyramids that are floating in space, therefore they have all survived the previous video.

M83, Fleur & Manu – Still from ‘Wait’ (2011) (1)

Apollonia has been left behind on Earth, which is now in a state of decay. From the behind-the-scenes documentary, we can presume several dozen or maybe hundreds of years have passed since the second music video, although the child has not aged.

M83, Fleur & Manu – Still from ‘Wait’ (2011) (2)

We then get to see the remaining humans fighting each other and there is a large explosion, not caused by the remaining girl as we next see her within an an undamaged landscape dressing herself in a sheet she has just found. Several thousand years pass and Apollonia is shown walking though a desert landscape (good cinematography here) where she catches and saves the last drop of water on Earth, as stated in the behind-the-scenes documentary.

M83, Fleur & Manu – Still from ‘Wait’ (2011) (3)

The documentary also states that the video is about cycles of decay and regeneration and as we are now in regeneration mode the pyramid containing the boy starts travelling back to Earth. The rest of the film show the boy travelling back and crash-landing on the planet while the girl waits for him.

M83, Fleur & Manu – Still from ‘Wait’ (2011) (4)

What isn’t mentioned is how much is natural decay then regeneration or how much is caused by Apollonia, it would be nice to think of her, a young girl, being Mother Nature. Another reason I chose to mention these artworks are because of modern society’s desire to find and display powerful females and with this one possibly destroying then rebuilding an entire planet; it would be hard to find a more powerful creature.
These three singles come from the album ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming‘, released by M83 in 2011.

End of Year in Brussels

Alphonse de Tombay - La Fillette à la Coquille

Alphonse de Tombay – La Fillette à la Coquille (1901) (1)

Between Christmas and the New Year I spent a few days in Brussels to see my family and settle some personal matter. In the remaining time I visited some interesting places, such as the Belgian Comic Strip Center or, for earthly pleasures, the Maison Antoine in Place Jourdan, reputed to serve the best Belgian fries in town—or even in the world if one believes the New York Times. I also went to see some statues of little girls.

Most people associate Brussels with the famous Manneken Pis, the 400-year-old statue of a little urinating boy, whose derived products fill tourist shops. Lesser known is his little sister Jeanneke Pis, a half-metre-high bronze statue located in Impasse de la Fidélité/Getrouwheidsgang (Fidelity Alley). It was sculpted by Denis-Adrien Debouvrie in 1985 and erected in 1987. It is usually locked behind red bars, so to photograph it I had to put the camera’s lens between two bars. I show first a picture taken without a flash:

Jeanneke Pis

Denis-Adrien Debouvrie – Jeanneke Pis (1985) (1)

Taking a photograph with a flash highlights the bronze colour:

Jeanneke Pis

Denis-Adrien Debouvrie – Jeanneke Pis (1985) (2)

Following the name of the street where the statue lies, the legend says that it symbolises fidelity, so people throw coins in the basin under the pedestal in order to prove their commitment to their loved one.

I went then to the Brussels Park in order to photograph the statue La Fillette à la Coquille (The Little Girl with the Shell) by Alphonse de Tombay. It was sculpted in 1898, then placed in 1901 on the top of a small column above a fountain designed to allow children to drink. Small bronze rings can still be seen near the top of the column, they held drinking cups. Now no water flows anymore from that fountain.

Alphonse de Tombay - La Fillette à la Coquille

Alphonse de Tombay – La Fillette à la Coquille (1901) (2)

Alphonse de Tombay - La Fillette à la Coquille

Alphonse de Tombay – La Fillette à la Coquille (1901) (3)

Alphonse de Tombay - La Fillette à la Coquille

Alphonse de Tombay – La Fillette à la Coquille (1901) (4)

Alphonse de Tombay - La Fillette à la Coquille

Alphonse de Tombay – La Fillette à la Coquille (1901) (5)

A beautiful photograph of that statue, taken in a sunnier time of the year, can be found on Wikimedia Commons. An alchemical interpretation (in French) of the park and of the statue can be found here.

I am willing to share my full set of photographs in large size (2000×2992) with interested readers.

That God May Be Approached Through Beauty

Those title words were spoken by Kenneth Clark in the landmark BBC series Civilisation (1969). It was meant to refer to the principles of art during the Counter Reformation. I have heard them many times but, last summer, they had a special resonance as I watched and listened this time in the company of Graham Ovenden. Only a few trusted associates knew that Graham and I have become good friends, much to my own surprise. Like my late friend Poli before, it seems disingenuous to refer to him any longer in my usual detached professionalism as merely “Ovenden”. Graham says it is brave of me to admit my association with this currently notorious man. And if I had been a career politician, I may have seen fit to steer clear as a few of his fair-weather friends have done.

Graham at His Computer (Summer 2018)

My first sense of Graham’s vision, attitude and sincerity came a few years ago while reading the introduction to States of Grace which included a testimonial from one of his models:

One of the things that’s very important, I feel, is that the work is very honest. However erotic the pictures are, however they are provocative, they are honest pictures. We were there. We did those things. It’s not like someone’s faked it. I know that Graham’s an artist, and not to take anything away from him, of course, but the thing is, the people are there. So, it exists and you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist and sexuality doesn’t exist. So the honesty, I think, is really important and I think people are just stuffy and have a lot of fears about what’s okay and get confused about what’s okay … It was a very safe environment. -Model quote from the Introduction to States of Grace by Graham Ovenden, 1992.

The text did not say it in so many words, but the essential thing I gleaned from it was that Graham respected each model as a complete person. Sure, many of the images may be deemed erotic but one’s sexuality is only one integral component of every human being. And if these girls happen to be expressing a kind of sexuality, after a fashion, it would offend the dignity of their personhood to see only that one aspect and ignore the beautiful whole. This philosophy has strongly informed how I manage Pigtails in Paint which is why readers will always observe us upholding the legitimacy of the child nude while at the same time censuring those that would only look upon these girls as mere sex objects, brazenly and ignorantly flaunting their own sexual pathologies.

Graham Ovenden – Sophie (1970)

One of Graham’s many expressions of his friendship was gifting me this POP print of Sophie. This is a somewhat iconic image because it is the one that appears on the cover of States of Grace. The magenta and purple tinge one sees in many of the images in that book are the result of a special method called the Printing-Out Process (POP). Specially treated paper is overlaid with a negative and the sun’s energy is used to develop the image. This is one of many experimental processes invented by Graham earning him the nickname, “The Mad Alchemist of Bodmin”. Lamentably, this kind of paper is no longer available so those few images that were made using this kind of POP are quite rare.

The things that bind us go well beyond the mere reverence for the young girl—Graham’s having a strong spiritual resonance and mine a more scientific fascination. We are both Renaissance Men in the modern sense of the word with a mutual love of music (mostly Classical and Jazz), film, history, politics and art. I have opened my mind to his instruction about poetry, painting, printmaking, literature, engineering and the principles of design. I have often thought how some of our conversations resemble a Bill Moyers interview. Since he has never made a habit of watching television, I was delighted to enrich his world by introducing him to some of the finer documentaries produced in the past few decades.

Precious Volumes (2018)

And now for a tour of his home. A reflection of Graham’s interest in the arts, is his ardent collecting of rare books. He is not often satisfied with just any copy but prefers to own first editions of the highest quality. He has been fortunate to find things before their value is fully realized and they become overpriced. He has often lent parts of his collection to museums and libraries. Given the feast-or-famine lifestyle of artists, he sometimes had to sell off one of his valuable items to raise funds—always with regret. Many of these rare volumes are housed in this antique bookcase. Last year, Graham celebrated his 75th birthday. To commemorate, Brian Partridge produced the color version of ‘Domino’ you see on top as a birthday card.

The Corner with the Good Light (2018)

One of the things I find most remarkable about our friendship is how much we get along in closed quarters. Graham now lives in a one-bedroom flat in East Cornwall which is comfortable for one person, but not really two. I have always found the company of most people tiresome after only a short time, so being comfortable staying there is rather astounding. Whenever I stay with Graham, my cot lies just below this work station in a corner which gets good light from the south and east. I must be careful not to jostle things when I retire at night or rise the next morning.

Painting in Progress (2018)

Graham adores his painting and has been quite productive of late. I do feel a bit guilty that during my visits, he has to temporarily refrain from painting to make a little space for me. And yet, he does not seem to resent that fact and enjoys it all the more when he can return to his routine. The rough sketch you see above was just completed as a painting a couple of weeks ago.

Graham Ovenden – Jane (1976/2018) [oil on paper]

Graham’s Favorite Painting et al (2018)

This is a shot of the west wall. Every wall in the place is covered with fine collectibles with, unfortunately, many others mouldering away in storage because of this flat’s modest size. Graham’s favorite painting is the large one by MacGilvary reviewed earlier. Also, being an artist who wants to make the world a more beautiful place, he has had a long-time interest in fine design. We often take for granted the decor—both mundane and elegant—we find in our domestic spaces and forget that the forms they take today have a history. It is all too easy to make light of these things because they are not “fine art”, but Graham reminds us that it is a mistake to disregard the serious aesthetic and engineering efforts of past designers. You will note the presence of framed tiles on most of the walls from designers like Christopher Dresser, Augustus Pugin, Lewis F. Day and J.P. Seddon.

Unfinished Paintings Concealing Graham’s Phonograph Collection (2018)

Space is at a premium, so Graham has devised a system where his paintings can dry out as they undergo each stage of painting. Each painting takes several months to complete but the work is spread out over a number of canvasses that he works on concurrently. This layering of paint in stages creates a subtle effect which cannot be captured well in photographs or scans. Most remarkable is the effect of translucency observed in his landscapes and figures. As mentioned before, Graham is generous is giving prints or paintings to friends. The one shown below (also seen in the previous photo) was given to me and I regard as a sort of credential that I am indeed one of his dear friends.

Graham Ovenden – (Untitled) (2018)

There was some drama in the early days of our relationship which I would like to share, not only because of the human interest value but the circumstances make the fact of our current friendship all-the-more remarkable.

I never dreamed after examining States of Grace that I would ever have the privilege of meeting Graham. I did have a sense that we were kindred spirits, even though saying so certainly seems presumptuous. In 2012, I had begun working with Pip on this website and was actively doing research and trying to dig out facts that I found interesting and wanted to share with readers. I cannot now remember what the specifics were, but I had a conundrum: the only person who would know the answer to one particular question was Graham Ovenden. I had no idea how easy or difficult it would be to reach him and I was not even aware of his impending trial. Out of the blue, an artist’s agent wrote to me, giving me Graham’s home phone number! I was both exhilarated and petrified. Was it OK to just cold-call him? After all, he did not know me from Adam! Finally in November, I screwed up the courage and called. At the time, he was living in ‘The Garage’ of Barley Splatt in Bodmin. I was amazed how personable he was and certainly no one would accuse him of being a primadonna. We talked for 45 minutes during that first call! He was at a certain disadvantage because although he was well-known, he did not know the first thing about me. At the end of the conversation, he instructed me to do two things before calling him again: 1) I was to contact one of his best friends who lived in the U.S. so he could “size me up” and 2) I was to write him a letter sharing my personal details so he could get a better idea what I was about. This seemed a promising development; after all, I was a sincere and honest person myself and we had hit it off so well, but circumstances were conspiring against us.

Reaching out to his American friend seemed to go well, but the fact that I was working on Pigtails was a point of concern and, unbeknownst to me, the friend actually advised Graham to cut off communication and not risk having a loose cannon about during his impending trial. Also unbeknownst to me, Graham did not receive my letter; at the time, Graham’s son had taken to intercepting his mail which included mine. So after a reasonable period when I called again, Graham had to tell me the bad news and yet, we still had an engaging hour-long conversation. Despite the problems, he could sense that I was “the real deal” and that some kind of relationship ought to be maintained. After a half dozen phone conversations, he informed me that we would have to cut off contact indefinitely because of his trial. I reluctantly complied but could at least show my appreciation by making sure his side of the story would appear on Pigtails. After that, I did not have direct contact with Graham for the next few months, but a few of his friends came out of the woodwork and graciously shared valuable inside information making the post ‘Fall from Grace?’ possible.

Entrance Hallway (2018)

Because of the stresses of the trial and Graham’s uncertain disposition, I had no idea if I would ever speak with him again. There was some solace in the fact that a few of his friends were able to stay in touch and provide updates (thus the 10 revisions of ‘Fall from Grace?’). I had not realized that I had made any impression on Graham and it certainly helped that he was pleased with Pigtails’ coverage of his case. One day, seemingly out of the nowhere, I received a letter from him saying his prison term was completed and that he had settled down in a small flat in East Cornwall. And thus the phone calls resumed. It became clear that there was a strong collaboration developing between Graham and me and it made sense that working out certain details would be easier when conducted in person and so in 2016, I paid my first visit despite my vision problems and having little experience with international travel.

The Garage Press Library et al (2018)

Graham had an excellent criminal defense team, but the deceptions and manipulations of the prosecution made a equitable trial impossible. However, his legal counsel did have the presence of mind to take two key actions: 1) Request that the police release documents pertaining to the Ovenden case and 2) File an appeal to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC). Roughly analogous to the US Supreme Court, the CCRC can review cases and make a final ruling upholding the verdict, ordering a retrial or overruling the conviction and having the defendant’s record cleared. The fact that solicitors and QCs have taken this case pro bono shows how much confidence they have in the outcome. The police records are quite damning and show a clear conspiracy to frame Graham for misconduct. Given the scope of Graham’s reputation—and if everything goes as planned—a fair settlement is bound to be substantial. Graham has long wanted to have an outlet to tell his side of things on the internet and, thanks to Rainbow Digital Media, he recently established a personal website. Some of his time is spent examining the police records in detail and publishing their implications in the Afterword.

If it feels like I am taking the attacks on Graham somewhat personally, it is only because in spending time with this man, I realize we are alike both in our temperament and our aesthetic. Neither Graham nor I have it in our makeup to do the kinds of things he has been accused of and so there is always an implicit trust underlying our relationship. Some might ask if I am too close to the subject to be objective. It is conceivable of course but—and I have told him this—if Graham Ovenden is really the monster the police and media have made him out to be, then he would have to be the greatest confidence artist I have ever heard of! And incidentally, I might add that despite his limited fixed income as a pensioner, he makes £10 monthly donations to The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

This post has been a personal account focusing on the evolution of a new friendship but there are many details to ferret out about our future collaboration so my next post will be a kind of sequel explaining Garage Press (and Pigtails’ role in all this) and how serious collectors might get access to the finest reproductions of fine art and relevant historical documentation.

Maiden Voyages: January 2019

A Thousand Decisions: Another year gone. I was definitely not as productive producing posts as I would like to have been. Rest assured, dear readers, that a lot has been going on behind the scenes. It kind of reminds me of Brad Bird’s commentary on the original The Incredibles DVD. As director, one department or another would be hounding him with questions. He would give an answer but it was as if the decision went into some black hole never to be seen again and then, suddenly, all his decisions appeared as the film was being produced; there really was someone at the other end carrying our those decisions. That is how 2018 felt for me. It is my resolution that much of the fruit of those decisions will begin seeing the light of day in the coming year.

Fitting Punishment? When I was a kid, I got bullied a lot and, apparently, the experience is even more traumatic for girls. I remember reading something about a new website designed for young girls where they could get advice on fashion and whatnot. The surprise was that the staff ended up fielding a lot of questions about bullying; this was a top concern for many girls. An associate shared this interesting video of a father who made his 10-year-old daughter walk—while being videotaped—the five miles to school. This was the second time she was kicked off the bus for bullying other girls and this is what the father came up with. As he says in the video, there will probably be those who praise him and others who will condemn him. Viewers can take sides if they want but, as is often the case, the real point has been lost. Was there any effort to understand why this is happening? Is the father going to take any responsibility for his own culpability in this situation of just go on showboating?

Sterner Addendum: Pip wrote a perfectly complete post on Albert Sterner a while back but a reader came forward with another example housed in The Whittle Collection and sent a picture. Thank you.

Albert Sterner – (Titile Unknown) (c1890)

Polder Girl or Girls in the Polder?

Photographer unknown – Girl on skates in the Duivenvoordse-Veenzijdse Polder (1960-70)

Here are some more images of this polder and girl in blue jacket. It is probably all three times the same girl named Erna Verhoeve.

Photographer unknown – Dogs are welcome in the Polder of Kruibeke (around 2018)

Here is a somewhat funny explanation that dogs are thus welcome in this polder, but not everyone feels comfortable with dogs, and also polder animals (like cows, sheep, horses) can be frightened by “our four-legged friends” although dogs do “nothing” so keep dogs on a leash, and do not forget to clean up their poop.

A polder is the kind of typical Dutch landscape, drained, won from the sea, or nearby rivers, by dikes and pumps. Recently I came upon two stories about two girls. The one about Sofie happened in a polder without particular reference to that term. What happened to Sofie could have happened anywhere, where traffic bars can go high. The story about Floortje actually plays with the word ‘polder’: Maseratis in the Polder. First I wrote two posts by themselves, about Sofie and about Floortje. Later on I wanted to illustrate the word ‘polder’ (with girls) and wrote this post or is it ‘Girls in the Polder’? Is there such a thing as a ‘Polder Girl’?

I found a Fashion Brand named Polder, with a line for women, and one for girls, named Polder Girl. And I got the idea to add some rather traditional Dutch images of girls connected to polders. The Dutch word has no other translation into English than ‘polder’. I would say, it is a landscape. But in Holland, in the Netherlands, one can also call it a so-called ‘Heimat’ or terrain like forests in Germany, mountains in Austria, moors in England and prairies in the United States. As a noun ‘polder’ can also be seen as a metaphor for the Netherlands.

To polder is also a verb, namely, creating these landscapes. And figuratively speaking, it has become a way of doing and governing: doing it together, governing in a democratic and rather egalitarian way and making decisions or compromises by deliberation—The ‘Polder Model’. Maybe it was inevitable that girls should join this model.

Polder Girl. About this fashion brand I cite as I could not say it better myself:

Polder was created by two sisters, Madelon (Lanteri-Laura) and Natalie (Vodegel), who were born and raised in the Netherlands. They spent their childhood living in an area where they overlooked polders that stretched out as far as the eye could see. In January 2008, in Paris, they presented “April showers by polder”, which is now known as Polder Girl. This label shows a mix of a Nordic spirit, with a French touch of vintage. The handmade components, bring a unique and hand-crafted quality to the collection. Shapes are extremely pure, and the prints, materials and finish make them a strong and acknowledgeable product.

Polder Girl was first named ‘April Showers’, changed in 2017 (or 2016). The two sisters’ own site is here. But there I could not find anything about Polder Girl. Using Google images I found only this, presumably a part of their site, but seemingly not reachable through their homepage.

The clothing line is described as:

sophisticated and modern. Strong minimalist design. Very contemporary and with a bohemian spirit.

And as

the typical effortless style that we love so much of French fashion.

And here with a

cool, laid-back Parisian chíc


a little Dutch touch.

Has the polder in the mean time been left behind? What is there in a name? I would say, “what does it matter?” I would not say that something is typically ‘polder’ or that this is ‘polder lookalike’. It is as if these girl models come directly from some polder in Holland. But then, these girls could be seen in the polder, as well as in Amsterdam, Utrecht, Paris, Lille, Cannes and the Belgian mass-tourist coach. The clothes are not too expensive and to my eyes ‘western’ in general. One cannot expect that the two couturiers would really create some ‘polder look’. What would that be? And it would probably hamper their creativity and what is fashionable at the moment. So, this kind of ‘Polder Girl’ does not really exist. Let’s just have a look at their work and models. These pictures are most probably taken in a studio, with a soft light, which gives it a kind of soft, ‘natural’ touch, which may have helped create the kinds of impressions mentioned above.

Photographer unknown – April Showers (Summer 2014)

Photographer Unknown – April Showers (Summer 2014)

Photographer unkown – Dress Dune Sand (around 2017)

Photographer unknown – Dress Dune Sand 2 (around 2017)

Photographer unknown – Caroline Mustard Poldergirl Dress (around 2017)

Photographer unknown – Polder Girl Dress Caroline Mustard (around 2017)

Is anywhere the Polder Girl, really in the polder, to be found in tradition, in costume, as if from a movie? In Polder Costume? There was and there still is in Holland. More or less like the USA has its Amish and Germany their Dirndls, with that difference that these ‘traditional’ way of dressing can still be seen now and then in Germany or Holland, perhaps mainly within still-existing (or in recollections of)  ‘traditional communities’ such as the Amish in the States. I would not be surprised if in the US, at certain celebrations, people dress themselves as in the time when ‘the West was won’. Dressing in costume at special occasions is a popular western pattern. These are topics for another post.

Has Dutch (polder) costume been given a new, better life? For instance, here at the Keukenhof, a yearly Dutch grand garden in the spring, or as a set of dresser drawers at the Zuiderzee Museum.

Photographer unknown – Dutch Province of Zeeland Isle of Walcheren (year unknown)

Photographer unknown – Young generation in costume during Tulip Weekend in the Keukenhof (2009)

Photographer unknown – Dressing up Cabinet (year unknown)

Photographer unknown – Mill Sight Volendam (year unknown)

Paul Cuvelier: Comic Strip or Fine Art?

It was 40 years ago on the 5th of July that the Belgian painter and drawer of comics Paul Cuvelier died. He painted and sketched mainly women and girl nudes as well as in comics, but not comics in the humorous sense. There is some confusion about the proper terminology here so maybe it is better to say he produced graphic novels or engaged in graphic storytelling. But for the sake of convenience, I will mostly use the term comics, especially since Paul Cuvelier had a difficult relationship with that medium.
This post is in English, but is about a Belgian from the French-speaking part of Belgium, Wallonia. In French the term for graphic storytelling is ‘bande dessinée’, which Google translates as ‘cartoon’. So that offers no help. ‘Bande’ translates as ‘strip’ into Dutch (my native language), which is in fact the general term in Dutch for graphic storytelling. Thus it is a ‘strip’ of drawings, telling a story, with the text in balloons or underneath the drawing, serving as subtitles.

It was sometime in my puberty that I discovered Paul Cuvelier, first as the artist of a graphic novel series, Corentin, about a boy from Brittany having all kinds of adventures mainly in ‘the Orient’. Around that time I also read a biography about Cuvelier entitled (in Dutch) Corentin en de wegen van het wonderlijke (Corentin and the Paths of the Miraculous) by Philippe Goddin, who was a specialist on Tintin. And I discovered, by the same author, a study titled Jonge Afrodites (Young Aphrodites) about Cuvelier’s other or rather main art, the classical nude. I remember that my mother discovered this book and made a comment about it to me! I replied at the time that ‘it is art!’ And that was the end of the discussion forever. I did not realise back then that I would wish to write about this artist and others who portrayed ‘Young Aphrodites’.

Here is an example of Cuvelier’s work I referred to.

Paul Cuvelier – The Fantastic Adventures of Corentin (1946-1947)

He was born the 22nd of November 1923 in the village Mont-sur-Marchienne, near Charleroi, capital of Wallonia. The first example of one of his girl nudes was probably shown at an exposition in 1977 with the theme: Les Nymphettes. The theme was inspired by the type of the child-woman described by Nabokov, namely Lolita and was titled: Young Aphrodites. Cuvelier wanted to have a second exposition with the same theme, but death kept him from fulfilling it. On the one hand, there was the Nymphet, the Young Aphrodite—according to his biographer Philippe Goddin—chosen as the theme of his last exposition, to show the thematic and artistic context in his work. And on the other hand, Cuvelier had just begun a new artistic adventure. His girl nudes I associate with the Greek goddess of eternal youth, Hebe—but we must never forget also his “comic” heros nor his delightful horses.

Paul Cuvelier – No title (year unknown)

In his youth he told stories to his younger brothers, illustrated by drawings, among others about Corentin. Corentin became his main graphic novel. Paul was discovered by George Remi, also known as Hergé, creator of Tintin, and invited to join the staff of a new youth comics magazine, also titled Tintin. He was only 20 and didn’t believe Hergé when he told him that he had nothing more to teach the young artist in drawing technique. Here we have Corentin himself.

Paul Cuvelier – Corentin Feldoë (around 1948)

And with his main friends Kim, Belzébub, Sas-Kya and Moloch:

Paul Cuvelier – Corentin, Kim, Belzébub, Sas-Kya and Moloch (1958)

And here we have another example of Corentin and Kim with the oriental princess Sas-Kya, on a sketch for the front page of Tintin, the magazine mentioned earlier.

Paul Cuvelier – Corentin, Kim, Sas-Kya (1958)

And here Line, another girl heroine of Paul, or in Dutch, Dientje.

Paul Cuvelier – Line or Dientje (1963)

In all, Paul Cuvelier had several such series in graphic noveling: Corentin, Line and a few more. So, he was invited to jump in while still very young; it was his main living. But doing this sort of work had never really been his dream except for introducing certain inventions such as the so-called ‘Miraculous’ of Corentin, its ‘orientalism’. The world of classical art, nude art and drawings of mainly women and girls—rather more girls than women—was his main dream. Also important were his animals—mainly horses. This was his main impulse: the animated body, the soul in the flesh, its movement, its gestures and expressions. Here are some more Young Aphrodites, in oil—in fact, I have found none of these from Goddin’s book anywhere else on the internet.

Paul Cuvelier – No title (year unknown)

Paul Cuvelier – No title (year unknown)

Paul Cuvelier – No title (year unknown)

Brigitte, his last model, is sketched here. Though already 18 years old, she had in the artist’s eyes this ‘Lolita quality’.

Paul Cuvelier – Brigitte with Doudoune (Brussels, 1977)

Paul Cuvelier – From his last sketch book (Brussels, 1978)

Paul Cuvelier – From his last sketch book (Brussels, 1978)

Paul Cuvelier – Brigitte. Atelier study (1977)

Comics or graphic noveling became too strict, too narrow for him. He missed—and probably suffered because of it—an artistic freedom. At first, he’d found that his work was not that commercial, but over time he felt a great uneasiness regarding the potential of his talents. And this was the case in his graphic noveling with frequent delays and incessant changes by scriptwriters. In the very beginning of his career, he wrote the stories himself, being the spiritual father of Corentin. He eventually became so unmotivated by this work, that he almost never read the script in advance. He would draw directly from whatever novel the story was based on, sometimes mistakenly drawing something that was not part of the script.

There was one escape for him with graphic noveling, Epoxy, an erotic graphic novel taking place in ancient Greece where he could express his main theme abundantly. Here’s an example, with a close-up.

Paul Cuvelier – Epoxy (1968)

Paul Cuvelier – Epoxy (1968)

He lived his life and finally died in Brussels, on the 5th of July 1978, in a time of his life after he had quit graphic noveling and was drawing comics for youth. It was a time when he was strongly on his artistic path. As said earlier, there was one expo on ‘Young Aphrodites’ and so I offer a few more examples of this kind of work, somewhat sentimentally from Philippe Goddin’s book of the same name.

Paul Cuvelier – Four Girls before the Sea (date unknown)

Near the end just before his untimely death, his work with the 18-year-old Brigitte developed. Although Brigitte is described by Goddin as a young woman, she was also a child still, not perfectly grown-up like adult women models. Thus she had a natural charm and grace—perhaps something like his heroine Line.

The two biographical works about Paul Cuvelier, written by Philippe Goddin, are informative with respect to biography and art. But I feel they are a bit too poetic or sentimental, especially Young Aphrodites. What do I mean by “Too poetic”? Isn’t this ‘Gypsy girl’—like those well-known sentimental Gypsy children—a poem in and of herself?

Paul Cuvelier – Gypsy Girl (year unknown)

Maybe it would be good if a new biography were written. There is one site, in French, that is reasonably complete about Paul Cuvelier. However, there is a dearth of material from Young Aphrodites there; only one or two appear there. What would be the reason for that? Inquiries by email have yielded no response. There still needs to be more development there.

Until now, I could not find out where his originals are. Apparently many pieces are in private collections including family members. Are there any on display? I will inform readers later in the comments, should I find out. I am glad that more attention can be given to this artist. He is a well-known name in European comics and, paradoxically, he may not have been that well-known as an artist had he not been a graphic novelist.

At the moment his legacy in media is mainly in paper media, a heritage of the last 40, 50, 60 years—mainly out-of-print. He deserves more attention on the internet and I conclude with a few quotes from Philippe Goddin’s biography (translated into English) from July–August 1973.

I have made comics. By happenstance, the encounter with Hergé, I have made my profession of it. I have done this because I could draw. I loved drawing, but not so much the comics as such. I have drawn comics as a living.
In any case my work has acquired some publicity (particularly with Corentin), that comes probably from a certain quality of my drawing. My talent is unique and supports me in my artistic endeavors, just like drawing comics.
Drawing in all its forms means my life.
Art helps me to win myself back, to justify myself, to restore myself in honor in my own eyes. It makes it possible for me to bear my tough existence rather philosophically and helps me to continue the struggle.
My talent is innate. So it is not instinctive. It develops especially out of an extraordinary sensitivity for every form of nature that can move and is animated. A sharp sensitivity that results from intuition, from a quick and far-reaching understanding the inner structures due to observation. A sensitivity for every developed and organised life form. So sensitivity for the animal life form, for the human body, thus for the essence.
I must admit that my creations remain limited to the realistic imagination of the animal life form and, preferably, of the ‘Anima in Animale’: human being.
My drawing art will always have to suffer by the fact that I, since my youth and constantly thereafter, was not able to study nude bodies in all forms and all ages. I would have eagerly put half my working time into studying them, to draw them over and over again, to devote myself afterwards to real creation.
But yet, if it would be somewhat possible to study nature, with sketches drawn from life, certainly would have helped me more easily and quickly draw good, realistic comics. But I lack the material means to pay the numerous and suitable models that are necessary for such an enterprise. Especially because I would need these models for the whole period of the creation of a story. My drawings would certainly become more realistic, richer and more beautiful by this. Maybe though they would also lose part of their power of communication and calling, for such an enterprise might be able to undermine the power of creation. So although I cannot claim that I can make all the characters of a story after a model, I do avoid coincidental use of a sketch so as not to lower the level of my drawings, and to not get discouraged by comparisons. So I stick to pure imagination, even to the point that I refuse the help of a mirror (by which I could study this or that movement or perspective of myself).
One major exception to make things easy for myself was to learn from a sketch or a document that fits a certain image.
Yes, except for these rare exceptions I have great regret that I cannot claim that in my displayed work I have drawn absolutely everything from the imagination. It is however nearly true, and I know how much it has cost me. -Philippe Goddin, Corentin en de wegen van het wonderlijke. Paul Cuvelier en de strip (Corentin and the Paths of Miracle. Paul Cuvelier and the Graphic Novel), Extracts from 112-119, Brussel, 1984

Goddin then wrote:

After he had put his back into graphic noveling Paul Cuvelier engaged in a painful struggle between 1973 and 1978 … He devoted all his powers to the practice of his art. Without doubt he has worked less in service of his public image and his career, than in the function of his personal commitment. Marked by a tormented life and undermined by sickness Paul Cuvelier died on 5th July 1978, surrounded by his family. -Philippe Goddin, Corentin en de wegen van het wonderlijke. Paul Cuvelier en de strip (Corentin and the Paths of Miracle. Paul Cuvelier and the Graphic Novel), 119, Brussel, 1984

Maybe I can locate Goddin in order to speak with him about Paul Cuvelier’s place in art history and where his Nymphets or Young Aphrodites may be found.

Paul Cuvelier – Female Centaur (year unknown)

‘Anima in Animale.’

A Christmas Greeting

I am not usually one for expressing holiday sentiments but this year, Christian was thoughtful enough to send me this on-topic card. The illustration is by Peggy Nille and distributed by Zazous Editions. Thank you and Joyeux Noël, Christian. And best wishes for the New Year to all our readers. -Ron

Unfortunately, silver foil does not render well with a scanner. Still, a lovely scene, no?

Girls in the Art of Egypt’s New Kingdom

Egypt is one of the world’s oldest civilizations and one of the most enduring. Narmer, who united Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt to become the first Pharaoh, began his reign in about 3100 BC. Cleopatra VII died in 30 BC, over three thousand years later. We are closer in time to Cleopatra than Cleopatra was to the first King of Egypt.

The period known as the New Kingdom, approximately 1560 BC to 1070 BC, is to me the most interesting time in Egyptian history. The New Kingdom is the Egypt of the Book of Exodus and of King Tut. It was when Egypt became a world power. It was the time of the heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten who sought to replace Egypt’s religion with the monotheistic worship of Aten. Art was at its height during the New Kingdom.

Egyptian painting was very distinctive. The purpose of painting in ancient Egypt was to convey information, rather than produce works of artistic merit. Fortunately, it often did both. Paintings on the walls of tombs were thought to help the deceased enjoy the activities portrayed in the paintings. Therefore, we have some very informative pictures of life in ancient Egypt, including family life.

Paintings are generally flat, without perspective or shading. The background is either omitted, or shown in a way that everything the painter wants to show is clearly visible. Faces are almost always shown in profile, but eyes are shown as if seen from the front. Bodies are also in profile, but shoulders are shown frontally. This allows the painter to depict each arm clearly and completely. It allows the painter to give the viewer a detailed picture of what the subject is doing with each arm. The proportions of the human figure are fairly constant; children are usually shown as miniature adults.

The first painting of family life in the New Kingdom is from the tomb of Inherkau. Inherkau is seated in his home with his wife, surrounded by their four daughters. He holds a curl of one daughter’s elaborate hair-do, and pats her gently on the head. I find this to be an endearing representation of a loving family from over three thousand years ago.

Anonymous – Family of Inherkau (circa 1100 B.C.)

The next is a family outing to the marshes from the tomb of Menna. Menna, his wife, a grown daughter, a young daughter and a young son are on a papyrus raft. Hunting scenes show more of the surroundings than other paintings because the artist wants to present the rich bounty of wildlife in the marsh. Menna is hunting ducks, holding live ducks for a decoy in one hand and a throwing stick in the other. His wife stands behind him, and their grown daughter stands behind her mother. A second, sitting image of the older daughter is in the upper left. A young daughter is beside Menna, leaning over the raft to gather lotus flowers. A young son holding ducks stands in front of Menna.

Anonymous – Hunting Scene from the Tomb of Menna (circa 1400- 1352 B.C.)

Social status is represented by the height of each figure. Menna is the tallest, his wife slightly shorter, the grown daughter is still shorter, and the two younger children are the lowest. However, if you were to straighten out the youngest daughter and put her in a standing position, she would be slightly taller than the grown daughter. The young daughter’s head is in a lower position, and that is enough to show her status. The artist may not have wanted her to appear too tiny in her bent posture, like the young girl in the tomb painting from the tomb of Pashedu.

Anonymous – Young Girl from the Tomb of Pashedu (circa 1279 – 1213 B.C.)

Another scene of a family in the marsh is from the tomb of Nakht. It is similar to the previous marsh scene in that it portrays a husband, a wife, an older daughter, a younger daughter, and a son. A strange thing about this painting is that Nakht has his arms positioned as if he is holding a fishing spear, and yet no spear is visible. It appears that for some unknown reason, the spear was never painted.

Anonymous -Fishing Scene from the Tomb of Nakht (circa 1500 B.C.)

The bas-relief below shows the royal family of Pharaoh Akhenaten, Queen Nefertiti, and three of their children. This depiction of a happy family is similar to that of Inherkhau. Nefertiti and Akhenaten had a total of six children, all girls. Akhenaten has a long face, skinny arms, and a pot belly. Pharaohs were normally depicted in an idealized fashion, but during the reign of Akhenaten there was a movement toward more realistic art. This is why the deformed heads of the girls are also shown realistically. We know from study of mummies of the family that the deformity was real. The unusual shape of the heads are also shown on the fragment of a tomb painting and the statue below.

Anonymous – Family of Pharaoh Akhenaten (circa 1353 – 1336 B.C.)


Anonymous – Two Daughters of Pharaoh Akhenaten (circa 1353 – 1336 B.C.)

The little statue, slightly over one foot high, is believed to be Princess Ankhesenpaaten, the third daughter of Nefertiti and Akhenaten. The statue is one of over 1,000 artifacts that was stolen or destroyed in August 2013 when a mob looted the Mallawi City Museum. Fortunately, it has been recovered. It is an enigmatic little statue; it appears that the sculptor was going to carve another face on the side of the head. I can’t decide if her expression is supposed to be serene or arrogant. What is that ball she holds?

Anonymous – Princess Ankhesenpaaten (circa 1353 – 1336 B.C.)

The following bas-relief depicts Akhenaten, Nefertiti, Meriaten (their eldest daughter), and another princess adoring Aten, the solar disc. Meriaten holds a sistrum, and wears the same style robe as her mother. In the previous examples of New Kingdom art, the young girls were depicted in the nude. It is common for children to be nude in Egyptian art, but we know that they were sometimes clothed. Children’s clothing has been recovered from archeological sites. It gets too cold in Egyptian winters to always go without clothes. Egyptologists think that girls went naked part of the time, but that it was an artistic convention to show them nude nearly all of the time.

Anonymous-Family of Pharaoh Akhenaten Adoring Aten(circa 1353 – 1336 B.C.)

Dr. Gay Robins devotes a section in her book Women in Ancient Egypt to the “naked adolescent girl” motif in New Kingdom art. She states that there is a sexual connotation to the motif. Sometimes, however, it is not obvious today that there is anything sexual implied. The next two examples of New Kingdom art were included in that section of Women in Ancient Egypt. The first is a cosmetics container in the likeness of a young girl carrying a burden. It appears to be merely a cute little girl, but the sexual connotation is supposed to be evident to an ancient Egyptian because the girl wears an amulet depicting the God Bes, and Bes is associated with sexuality.

Anonymous – Cosmetics Container (circa 1370 B.C.)

The second example from Dr. Robins’ book is this banquet scene from the tomb of Nebamun. Nude serving girls are attending to the guests at the party. Note that all of the guests in this painting are women. Note also that although the serving girls are nude, the serving boys are clothed. If the purpose of the nudity were to titillate the guests, shouldn’t the boys be nude too? Is it possible that the girls are nude merely because it is a custom without any sexual connotation?

Anonymous – Feast for Nebamun (circa 1350 B.C.)

The next two paintings also show girls at work, but they are working at a job that seems very strange today. They are professional mourners. They were paid to cry and wail at their client’s funeral. Most of the mourners are adults, but there is a girl in the painting from the tomb of Pharaoh Ramose, and four girls in the painting from the tomb of Khonsuemheb.

Anonymous – Mourners from the Tomb of Ramose (circa 1375 B.C.)

Anonymous – Mourners from the Tomb of Khonsuemheb (circa 1292 – 1069 B.C.)

The final Egyptian girl in this post was in a musical band. Four women in the band have instruments, but the girl does not. Nevertheless, her enthusiasm for the music is apparent even in the flat, conventional style of New Kingdom painting.

Anonymous – Musicians from the Tomb of Djeserkaraseneb, Thebes (circa 1450 B.C.)


Random Scenes: Desire

The criteria for whether a film portraying a little girl gets reviewed is pretty straightforward: they are the lead of the film or are in an important role as a catalyst to the story. Sometimes there are noteworthy short scenes (or montages) in films—usually in the form of flashbacks—which are important in informing the story. Many of these are worth mentioning but do not really warrant a full film review.

In this case, because of a recent controversy, I have the materials for Desire (Desearas: Al Hombre De Tu Hermana, 2017) on hand and thought I would begin with it. The film is an Argentinian erotic thriller directed by Diego Kaplan. Predictably, the director got into hot water for shooting a scene with two little girls—one of which is depicted as experiencing her first orgasm. A reasonable argument can be made for including the scene as it informs the motivations of one of the protagonists in the rest of the film which, after all, it is an erotic drama.

There is an article by Erin Nyren in which Kaplan responds to accusations of child pornography. In it, he insists that the girls had no idea what they were portraying and were properly supervised at all times. One of the director’s statements is quite apt:

Everything works inside the spectators’ heads, and how you think this scene was filmed will depend on your level of depravity. -Diego Kaplan, Variety, June 30, 2018

Two sisters, Ofelia and Lucia, are watching a John Ford film.

Erika Halvorsen and Diego Kaplan – Desearas: Al Hombre De Tu Hermana (2017) (1)

Erika Halvorsen and Diego Kaplan – Desearas: Al Hombre De Tu Hermana (2017) (2)

One of them gets the idea to build a horse out of pillows and begins riding. The sister follows suit, somewhat less enthusiastically.

Erika Halvorsen and Diego Kaplan – Desearas: Al Hombre De Tu Hermana (2017) (3)

Erika Halvorsen and Diego Kaplan – Desearas: Al Hombre De Tu Hermana (2017) (4)

The sister is confused and alarmed by the behavior and reaction of the other girl. When the girl (rather comically) falls of her ‘horse’, mother is called.

Erika Halvorsen and Diego Kaplan – Desearas: Al Hombre De Tu Hermana (2017) (5)

Believing the girl had an epileptic seizure, mother rushes her to the hospital. In the narration, the protagonist explains that after that day, she has been seeking that experience of ‘fire’ ever since.

Far from being child pornography, as some claim, the scene does nonetheless make some valid comments about sexuality: 1) girls often do experience their first orgasm at such an age—sometimes incidentally while riding horses, 2) in the story, it is explained that the girl was medicated and that speaks to how our society pathologizes sexuality, 3) the reference to an epileptic seizure is also interesting because it is now understood that, biochemically and neurologically, such a seizure closely resembles that of a real orgasm. Some speculate that epilepsy is simply part of the normal orgasm reflex gone haywire.