It’s one thing to take pictures (of whatever artistic merit) of other families, but it’s another to get a glimpse of the private life of an artist himself.
Robert Frank passed away only a few months ago.
It’s one thing to take pictures (of whatever artistic merit) of other families, but it’s another to get a glimpse of the private life of an artist himself.
Robert Frank passed away only a few months ago.
This photograph is from a collection documenting life in the German city of Mehrow. Thus these are really snapshots and not images from a professional photographer. You can read here account here. But once again it helps illustrate the attitudes of different people in different times.
Of course, strictly speaking, Ms. Böhm would not really be the photographer since she is simply recounting her childhood, but rather one of her family members or friends, perhaps Falko.
Like so many other artists, Berit Alits does commercial work (weddings and child portraiture) to make ends meet. Despite the documentary nature of the work, there is always a creative impulse to satisfy. The image shown here is hardly documentary.
The artist identifies the model as Courtney and there are other shots of the same girl on her creative photography page.
In the course of doing research for Pip on artists featured in photographic anthologies, it seems there was a book by Time-Life called Photographing Children. There were many reprints which added and removed artists in an attempt to be more relevant and bring attention to newer artists.
I apologize for not noting which edition it was. I had intended to do a dedicated post but there really is not much on Johnny Alterman (1942–2012) online. But his collected works are housed at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona where one can see a list of archived photographs. His work did include nudes including some of his own daughter. The example in this post not only illustrates the legitimacy of the child nude but its very telling title demonstrates that it is possible to do so with dignity.
If I manage to find in which edition this photograph appears, I will share it. In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I am not 100% sure of the title and am basing that on another edition housed in the PIgtails Archive which does not cover Alterman’s work.
[Thank you to those below who provided the correct information. -Ed]
I am going to do my best to clear out Pip’s backlog of collected images from the internet. Artists with a one-off interesting photograph will be posted as a random image and those with a more extensive featuring of girls or children will be added to the ‘Artists by Name’ page slated for an eventual dedicated post.
Ida Wyman‘s (1926–2019) photographs can be clearly classified as street photography and is remarkable in her ability to capture candid shots, a practice that is often restricted today due to laws protecting people’s privacy.
For a few years I have been astonished to find no article in Pigtails in Paint devoted to the paintings by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825–1905), since most of them represent women and girls. The closest to it is the humorous piece “Bouguereau Remastered” by Pip, about contemporary works incorporating parts of paintings by Bouguereau in a totally different setting, usually with some satirical bent.
Although he is today not widely known by the large public, and he has been reviled by the modern art establishment throughout the 20th century, in his lifetime Bouguereau was considered as one of the greatest painters in the world. In his own country, France, he received many awards and official distinctions, and he presided over several academies and art salons; in the USA many millionaires eagerly bought his works.
He belongs to the tradition of classical academic art, later derisively called in France “art pompier,” which translates as “fireman art.” This term probably comes from the shiny metallic helmets with horse-hair tails worn by French firemen in the 19th century, which are similar to those worn by heroes of Graeco-Roman mythology and history in such paintings. It also evokes the adjectives “Pompeian” or “pompous.” It suggests unimaginative and conventional academic art showing repeatedly stereotyped allegorical, mythological or historical scenes, or glorifying the powerful (in particular the emperor Napoleon), following the tradition of the two great French classicist painters Jacques-Louis David and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.
Although Bouguereau’s early works followed academic conventions, he progressively developed his own lively personal style, with subjects looking like real persons, not a painting on a canvas. Look at the pictures in this article, the girls in them seem to be looking at you. In my view, his best works were made between 1870 and 1900, and indeed the eight paintings by him that I selected belong to that period.
Despite his reputation as one of the best painters ever, he was never satisfied with his work. He relentlessly pursued perfection and strove to endlessly correct and perfect his techniques and methods. He worked six days a week from six o’clock until nightfall, never stopping, even in old age. Although each painting took weeks to be completed, 828 paintings by him have been identified. For a detailed discussion of his techniques, see the article “Bouguereau at Work” by Mark Walker.
Bouguereau truly loved women, and many of his works depict women and girls, sometimes in a very sensuous manner, as in Nymphes et Satire, Naissance de Venus, La Vague, and La Perle. He also championed the integration of women in ateliers and official art courses, and helped open academies and salons to women painters.
William Bouguereau was born on November 30, 1825, in La Rochelle, a coastal town in the department of Charente Maritime, southwest of France. At the age of 12, he went to stay with his uncle Eugène Bouguereau, a priest who had just been given a church in the parish of Mortagne sur Gironde. As a surrogate father and mentor, Eugène encouraged William’s interest in classical culture. In 1839, Eugène decided to send his nephew to study the classics at the college of Pons, where William received drawing lessons from Louis Sage, a young professor who had been a pupil of Ingres and was a committed classicist. He became convinced that persistent hard work was necessary in order to gain mastery over technical problems.
In 1841, the Bouguereau family moved to Bordeaux. William’s father intended to end his studies, so that he would train for bookkeeping for the family business. But with the support of his mother and friends, William could convince his father to let him enroll at the Bordeaux municipal art school. He gained admission directly into the senior class taught by Jean-Paul Alaux, attending morning classes, then working. Nevertheless, he soon won the 1844 prize for “Best Historical Painting,” although he was competing against older students who were enrolled full-time. Then William obtained his father’s permission to go to Paris to enter the École des Beaux-Arts. To pay his costs, he spent three months in the region painting oil portraits of the notable personalities of Saintonge.
With a letter of recommendation from Alaux to the painter François-Édouard Picot, he joined the latter’s studio, where he worked like a slave. In April 1846, Bouguereau was barely admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts, ranking 99th out of the 100 admitted. In 1848 he was allowed to make submissions in the three preliminary stages of the competition for the famous “Grand Prix de Rome.” Unable to decide between the two best candidates, the members of the Académie awarded two second Grands Prix, one to Bouguereau and the other to Gustave Boulanger. The following year he again entered the competition, but his painting did not even get a mention while Boulanger received the first Grand Prix. Finally, in 1850, Bouguereau competed for the third time and won the Premier Grand Prix.
The prize allowed the winner to spend an all-expenses paid year to study in the Villa Medici in Rome, administered by the painter Jean Alaux. There Bouguereau met several older artists, and he was able to study the Italian old masters and also Greek, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities. For his work assignments, he painted his first masterpieces.
He returned afterwards to Bordeaux, where he painted first a few family portraits, then left for La Rochelle to decorate the villa of wealthy relatives. At the end of 1854, he settled down in Paris, decorating rooms. The Salon of 1857 bestowed the Medal of Honour on Bouguereau. The Emperor Napoleon III then commissioned him to paint his portrait as well as one of the Empress. From that point on, Bouguereau became a young celebrity. In 1857, he began teaching students of his own.
In 1862, he totally altered his painting technique as he laboured relentlessly, looking for new approaches in the use of color. From the late 1860s forward his greatest body of work commenced, along with the style and subjects for which he is well known.
In 1872, Bouguereau secured a part-time teaching post at the Academy Julian, and in 1875, he became part of the permanent staff of that institution. In 1876, after twelve prior attempts, he was elected to the highest titular rank of the Institute’s Académie des Beaux-Arts. In 1881, the Société des Artistes Français was founded in order to manage the annual arts Salon; Bouguereau was elected the first president of the Painting section.
In 1882, he bought a house in La Rochelle, where he spent his summers. In 1886, he attended a reception at the college in Pons as president of the alumni association; in the course of the festivities, he offered a self-portrait to his first professor Louis Sage and reminded him of the debt of gratitude he owed him.
Following a dispute with the painter Meissonier and his supporters over a detail in regulations, Bouguereau resigned as president of the Société des Artistes Français, but there was a split, and the breakaway Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts was founded, with its own Salon held at the Champ de Mars.
Bouguereau married twice. In 1856, William began living with one of his models, Nelly Monchablon, aged 19. Their liaison remained first secret, and the couple married on May 24, 1866. They had five children, but four of them died in William Bouguereau’s lifetime; only his eldest daughter Henriette outlived him. Nelly herself died on April 3, 1877. The grief from the death of his children inspired some of his his most beautiful religious works, such as Pieta and Vierge Consolatrice.
Among his pupils was Elizabeth Jane Gardner, an American expatriate. After the death of Nelly, he wanted to marry her, but his mother made him swear he would not remarry within her lifetime. They were secretly engaged in May 1879. Finally, after his mother’s death, he and Elizabeth married in Paris in June 1896. She worked as his private secretary, and as a painter herself, she had always strove to emulate William’s style.
By 1900, the loss of a fourth child, his 32-year-old son Paul, dealt a severe blow to his mind and body. Exhausted by years of hard work, heavy smoking, and excessive eating and drinking, he began to age very quickly. One can indeed see a decline in the quality of his paintings from that year.
In 1903, he was made a Grand Officer de la Légion d’Honneur, the highest French official distinction. He was invited to Rome to participate in the centenary of the Villa Medici, he made the trip with Elizabeth. By the end of that year, it proved too difficult for him to hold a pencil or a paintbrush and he found himself nearly unable to work. Sensing that the end was near, he left Paris in the middle of the night on July the 31st, 1905, to return to his beloved La Rochelle, where he died on August 19. He is buried with Nelly and his children at the family vault at Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.
Although Bouguereau knew glory in his lifetime, he also had his adversaries in the world of art, mainly in the new schools of “modern art,” starting with impressionism. Edgar Degas invented the verb “bouguereauter” to designate the academic technique of licked finish to smooth the surface of a painting and make the brushstrokes invisible, a characteristic feature of Bouguereau’s painting. Indeed, the impressionists preferred a rougher result, with visible brushstrokes. The writer Joris-Karl Huysmans compared his painting to the “soft flesh of an octopus.” Paul Gauguin loathed Bouguereau and mocked him in his writings. His opponents included also one of his former pupils; according to the biography of William Bouguereau by Damien Bartoli with Fred Ross:
Some students, however, caused problems. The most famous of these was Matisse, who quickly dropped out of Bouguereau’s studio. From the start, the benevolent master tried to encourage Matisse, but soon threw up his hands in exasperation, noting the young man’s weaknesses, “You badly need to learn perspective,” he said to him, “But first, you need to know how to hold a pencil. You will never know how to draw.”
After World War I and the rise of expressionism, Dadaism, cubism, then non-figurative painting or “abstract expressionism,” Bouguereau became reviled by art critics. He was accused of “mawkishness” and “lubricity,” of painting to satisfy the tastes of rich buyers, etc. He progressively got out of art manuals, except as a counter-example of what should not be done. His works were less and less exhibited, and he became largely unknown by the public.
According to Fred Ross, the businessman and art collector who founded the Art Renewal Center, Bouguereau’s works were selling for an average of $500 to $1500 in 1960. He himself owns 13 Bouguereau works, and he said that when he bought his first one in 1977 (for about $4,000), they could be purchased for $10,000. This rejection by the art market extended to much of 19th century classical painting. According to Dalya Alberge, in 1965 a painting by John William Waterhouse was sold by the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro to a private collector for £200 (about $300).
Since the 1980’s there has been a revival of interest in Bouguereau, exhibitions were organised, and in parallel, the prices of his works rose steadily. The highest known to date is that of La Charité, sold $3,520,000 at Christie’s in May 2000. This is nevertheless much lower than the prices of the 89 most expensive paintings (all above $60,000,000). This list clearly excludes classical painting, since in chronological order after a Rembrandt of 1634, the next one is by the American realist painter Thomas Eakins, dated 1875. Afterwards there are only works from the various schools of “modern art,” starting with impressionists and ending with non-figurative paintings and pop art; moreover, these make the overwhelming majority of the list.
One of the earliest 20th century defenders of Bouguereau was the Spanish painter Salvador Dali. In his 1956 pamphlet Les cocus du vieil art moderne (“The cuckolds of the old modern art”) published by Grasset & Fasquelles, the first chapter counter-poses modern ugliness, headed by Picasso, to Bouguereau.
Beside Stalinists, he identifies two types of “cuckolds” in art: the Dadaist who has wanted to assassinate painting, and the dithyrambic modern art critics, self-cocufying through the former, married to the old modern painting and forever cheated by it. Hating classicism, these critics became attracted by ugliness and found a new beauty in it. So, to keep attuned with critics, painters strove to make ugly works in order to be modern. Now “Picasso, who fears everything, was making ugly things for fear of Bouguereau.” An editor’s footnote relates that one day Picasso showed to a friend his latest work, a collage of newspaper pieces, and told his voiceless friend “This is maybe not sublime, but, anyway, it is no Bouguereau.” Dali adds that contrarily to others, Picasso made ugly things on purpose, cuckolding thus those dithyrambic critics.
But, as Picasso is an anarchist, after having half stabbed Bouguereau, he would give the puntilla, and dispatch modern art with one blow, by making uglier himself alone in a single day than all others gathered in several years.
(The puntilla is a knife with a short and wide blade, used to dispatch the bull in the corrida.) Indeed, Dali asserts that contrarily to many others, Picasso, like Raphael, knows where real beauty is. I also quote now from a telegram he sent to Picasso:
Thanks Pablo! Your latest ignominious paintings have killed modern art. Without you, with the taste and restraint that are the very virtues of French caution, we would have had ever uglier painting, for at least a hundred years, until one reached your sublime adfesios esperpentos. You, with all the violence of your Iberian anarchism, in a few weeks you reached the limits and last consequences of abomination.
(The expression adfesios esperpentos designates ugly and ridiculous characters, like scarecrows.) Finally, on a side panel, Dali makes the following prediction:
Within ten years, one will say that, as a painter, Picasso was not so good as that, and Bouguereau was not so bad as that.
I am usually not very fond of pronouncements by Dali, as they usually consist of a mixture of narcissism and purposeful extravagance, but here his words resonate with me. I don’t like any painting by Picasso, except his early realistic works, and to me, the so-called “abstract expressionism” of Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, or Barnett Newman, as well as a large part of the so-called “contemporary art” represents a repugnant antithesis to art.
It has been argued that “abstract art” is neither abstract nor art. The word “abstraction” refers first to extracting key features and relations from a concrete situation, discarding others. If also means abstract concepts that can represent many different concrete instances, as in mathematics. But “abstract expressionism” does not represent any idea or reality, even in a symbolic form, it is just meaningless. Jackson Pollock creates his paintings by just randomly dribbling, spraying and splashing paint on a canvas.
Moreover, the word “art” usually implies skill and craftsmanship. But no skills are necessary here. The post “The Blind Art Collector” by Ron presents a 4-year-old girl named Marla Olmstead who spontaneously paints in the “abstract expressionist” style. It has also a link to a 2014 YouTube video devoted to Aelita Andre, a girl who at age 5, without any formal training, painted in the manner of Jackson Pollock, her works selling for thousands of dollars; in it, she called her style “abstract,” and she made a live painting performance in front of an audience of 20,000. She has her own official YouTube channel and website, in which a former director of an academy is quoted saying “Aelita Andre is Modern Art.”
To me, this does not represent real child prodigies—although these girls have a gift—but the infantilisation of art. No child, even with intensive training, ever painted like Rembrandt at age 5. In fact, such an art does not even require a human being to be created, indeed great apes have painted in the “abstract expressionist” style: the chimpanzee Congo, and orangutans in several zoos, in particular the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and the New Mexico BioPark Society, where several other animal species, in particular gorillas, created “abstract” art. Primate art is sold at charities in order to raise funds for wildlife conservation projects.
Non-figurative painting has inspired several hoaxes. The most famous one is the 1910 painting Et le soleil s’endormit sur l’Adriatique (“And the sun fell asleep over the Adriatic sea”) attributed to an unknown artist named Joachim-Raphaël Boronali. In fact, it had been made by attaching a paintbrush to the tail of an ass named Lolo, and Boronali is an anagram of Aliboron, the ass in a poem by Jean de La Fontaine. In February 1964, four paintings by a previously unknown avant-garde French artist named Pierre Brassau were exhibited at an art show in Göteborg, Sweden. Many critics praised them, but they were in fact the works of a chimpanzee named Peter from Sweden’s Boras zoo.
It is time to forget caricatures of art and to return to the two ideals revered by Bouguereau: truth and beauty. And as his life shows, achieving them requires discipline and hard work.
Note on the sources: I downloaded from the website of the Art Renewal Center the painting by Elizabeth Gardner and the first two by William Bouguereau. Saving images there at their original size (1000 pixels in the highest dimension) requires careful use of Firefox tools. High-definition images are available to subscribers. Generally, their images have a soft aspect, which reminds of the technique of glazing. All other Bouguereau images used here come from The Athenaeum. In that site, they are generally larger, with bright colours and a vivid contrast. Many images are also available on WikiArt, but the references given there are not always accurate. Bouguereau’s paintings are often given titles in English, but the French title of many of them can be found on the French Wikipedia.
For the artist’s life, I followed mainly the article “Biography of William Bouguereau” by Damien Bartoli with Fred Ross. Complementary information was found in the English and French Wikipedia pages on Bouguereau.
Readers interested in Bouguereau’s technique may consult the article “Bouguereau at Work” by Mark Walker. I did not use it.
For Dali’s pamphlet, I used the 2013 reprint by Grasset. All quotes by him were in French, I translated them into English myself. The drawing from Picasso was downloaded from artnet.
This Bulgarian-born French artist is known today for his paintings, mostly portraits of women, and his erotic drawings; but he also practised caricature and illustrated books. His style varied, from fauvism to expressionism, with a very short attempt at cubism, and ended in soft pearly compositions suiting the tastes of art dealers.
Pascin (to be pronounced phonetically, Paskinn) loved women, all women, from young nymphets to worn-out prostitutes, and they feature prominently in his works. His art mixed with his sex life, indeed he got the nickname “the Caliph” and was reputed to have 367 models: his wife Hermine, his mistress Lucy, as well as one concubine for each day of the year. He was also called “prince des trois monts” (prince of the three mounts) in reference to the two locations Montparnasse and Montmartre in Paris, then to Mont de Vénus (mons Veneris).
Although he earned a lot of money from his paintings and caricatures, he was always in a hurry to spend it, holding feasts, paying for drinks all round in bars, and also helping friends in need. He loved the nightlife in slums, befriending the underworld, but also getting involved in brawls.
He was born on March 31, 1885, in Vidin, Bulgaria, and named Julius Mordecai Pincas. His parents, Sofie and Marcus Pincas, were Sephardic Jews. His father, a rich grain trader, behaved as a household tyrant, terrorising his family and abusing his servants, whipping and even raping maids. The young Julius found solace in drawing, and soon got his lasting interest for the female body in Turkish baths, but also by trading to a maid one of his drawings for a view under her skirts. He finally fled from home.
At age 16, he got his first mistress, Fanoriatal, twice his age. She headed a luxury brothel in Bucharest, and her sex workers became his models. From this time comes his frequent practice of drawing brothel scenes and sex orgies. Below is a drawing with a young girl being presented to a procuress for a job in a brothel.
Julius started to draw caricatures, many of them with an explicit sexual content, for Simplicissimus, a satirical magazine published in Munich, the capital of Bavaria, a province that wanted to distinguish itself from stern Prussia. They immediately got a big success, and this activity would bring him a lot of money for the rest of his life. In March 1905, he went to Munich. Disapproving of his work, his father forbade him to use the name Pincas. So he chose the anagram Pascin (pronounced Paskinn). After all, his grandfather had changed the family name from Pinas to Pincas. Although one generally refers to him as Jules Pascin, he signed his works “pascin” with a lowercase “p” and without a first name.
On Christmas Eve 1905, he arrived in Paris. His fame had preceded him, so he was welcomed by a delegation of artists and personalities. In September 1907 he met Hermine David, a young painter, it was love at first sight, and they would remain together for the rest of his life; and she would tolerate his endless sexual adventures.
Encouraged by Hermine, he started painting himself, with bright colours in the manner of Fauvism. He also continued his erotic drawings, much appreciated by the Bavarians, taking inspiration from his own nightlife. The sharp lines of caricature gave way to smoother ones, free and elegant.
In 1909 he met the 18-year-old Cécile Vidil, who had left home. She changed her first name to Lucy. A beautiful woman, she became a model for artists at the Matisse Academy. The Norwegian painter Per Krohg was there; he fell in love and they would eventually marry and have a son, the artist Guy Krohg. She also sat for Pascin, and probably had an affair with him at that time. She would later become his mistress, while being still married to Krohg.
In June 1914, just before the outbreak of World War I, fearing that he would have to serve in the Bulgarian army on the side of Germany, he left for London (via Brussels). In October, he crossed the Atlantic and arrived in New York City, without Hermine, who feared long journeys across the ocean. Although living in the Jewish neighbourhood of Brooklyn, he preferred Harlem, the Black neighbourhood, its free lifestyle suiting him better. Hermine joined him six months later. They travelled a lot, visiting the South. From Florida, Pascin headed to Cuba, but without Hermine. Throughout this period, he made many drawings of street scenes, families, or even landscapes.
Through their mutual influence, their painting and drawing styles were getting ever closer. So Pascin and Hermine made a moral contract, to which they would abide scrupulously: Hermine would make landscapes, and Pascin the human figure. They married on September 25, 1918, in New York City, probably to please Hermine. He obtained US citizenship on September 20, 1918.
They returned then to France. Pascin fell in love with Lucy, who was still with Krohg and had a son from him. She became his mistress, and soon quite openly. They loved each other until his death. He was practically bigamous, and his two partners, Hermine and Lucy, became friends.
Throughout the 1920s, Pascin travelled in various countries, sometimes with Lucy. Otherwise he lived in Paris in his paint workshop, which was never furnished properly as a home. A Martinican woman, Julie Luce, settled with her daughter Simone at his place. She would serve as model, nurse and household keeper for the painter, and she would even be the one able to calm him during his violent fits after binge drinking: “Tu nous fait chier, Pascin! Maintenant va dormir.” (You make us shit, Pascin! Now go to sleep.)
He disliked luxury women, he often chose street girls or young dancers as models, and paid them well. And there was always food and drink available for them. Sometimes models would stay in the evening for a feast. Although he sold his paintings at a high price, they always found buyers in a short time, and often collectors would come at his place to find that nothing was available.
His nights were often spent in feasts, at his place, in restaurants or cabarets, sometimes involving 200 guests. Every Friday, he would lock himself in his workshop to make a painting to the taste of art dealers, which would sell at a high price. So on Saturday he would spend the money earned in this way.
Throughout his career, his style had evolved from the harsh lines of the caricatures of the Bavarian period to soft compositions with fancy colours. They became ever more nacreous and misty, in a style that suited his rich patrons. Under contract with the Bernheim-Jeune brothers, paid to paint what they liked, he increasingly felt that he was always doing the same type of picture. He felt disgusted with himself, like a procurer of painting, paid to sell women who sat for him. This was far from the ambitions of his youth.
His body worn out by his continuous excesses, his spirit weakened by the trials of life and love, and having the feeling of being sold out as an artist, on the second night of June 1930 he slit both his wrists, wrote with his blood a farewell to Lucy on the wall, and as death was not coming fast enough, he hung himself to the latch of his door. Lucy found his body three days later. She always blamed herself for not having been there on the eve of his suicide, as she might have prevented it.
In his will, Pascin had bequeathed all his property to Hermine and Lucy, equally. On the morning of June 7, a procession of one thousand marchers accompanied his coffin through the streets of Montmartre, towards the cemetery of Saint-Ouen. At the head were Lucy, accompanied by Per Krohg, followed by Julie Luce and Simone comforting Hermine. Then all his friends, artists, writers and publishers, art traders, dozens of models, bar and restaurant managers, and the little people of slums. At the end was a neat old tramp, sent as delegate by the beggars of Boulevard de Clichy.
Lucy’s marriage with Krohg was dissolved in 1934. Hermine and Lucy never married again, keeping the memory of Pascin. The writer Pierre Mac Orlan summarised Pascin’s personality by the words:
The freest man in the world who belonged to this world only through imaginary links.
(In French: “L’homme le plus libre du monde qui n’appartenait à ce monde que par des liens imaginaires.”)
Sources: My article is mainly based on the following book:
Alexandre Dupouy, Pascin, Parkstone International Press, New York (2014).
I completed it with details from the French and English Wikipedia pages.
All above images, except the last one, come from The Athenaeum. Of all art sites, this one gives the greatest number of works by Pascin, and in the highest quality.
The last image above comes from a site trading imitations of known paintings by contemporary Chinese artists. I have not found in any reputable art site a confirmation of the authorship of this painting by Pascin.
I end by including an image from Wikimedia Commons, which gives an unusual example of the portrayal of nude women by Pascin:
The Catholic Church has much to answer for which is not surprising for an institution that has wielded so much power and wealth for such a long time. However, The Church should be given some credit for its attempts to survive in an ever-changing political climate. In the case of the Nazi Occupation of France, The Church’s error was placing their bets on the losing side. When the Nazis were finally defeated, there was a strong desire to reinvigorate French customs, rituals and institutions. One such effort was the photographic work of a rural priest, probably operating in the Auvergne.
So many amateurs have embraced new technologies and used it to try their hand at one artform or another. Photography—and later, videography—has been a panacea. After the war, an unidentified rural priest documented the pagentry of the children of his parish in the manner of local traditions.
When the roughly 50 photographs were discovered in 2002, this priest was counted among the many skilled amateurs of Found Photography, discovered work later to be coveted by collectors. Because of the Catholic Church’s history with children, the seller considered the work disreputable and was reluctant to identify the priest or say exactly where the photos were produced. They were found among the priest’s personal effects a few years after his death. The entire collection was purchased by the Charles Nes Gallery in New York and about half the images were exhibited in Manhattan from November 7–December 17, 2003.
And any photographic gesture, repeated often enough, begins to look like obsession. Yet the pictures don’t tell a story of prurient manipulation. Above all, they reveal how complex a role photography can play, even as a mere hobby practiced in an out-of-the-way village. Lyle Rexer, ‘Mysterious Photo Album Of a Country Priest’, The New York Times, Arts & Leisure, Sunday, December 7, 2003.
The collection is comprised mostly of girls aged 4 to 16, but there is also one album with boys. Given the range of ages, all the children were probably classmates in a one-room school, then common in rural France. Many would have been in the priest’s catechism class. He knew them all very well and they knew him.
Whatever he may have been as a curate, as a photographer the priest was a careful and affectionate amateur, experimenting with props, poses, backdrops and even print formats. Lyle Rexer, ‘Mysterious Photo Album Of a Country Priest’, The New York Times, Arts & Leisure, Sunday, December 7, 2003.
He experimented with different picture sizes and formats, posing them in complete shade for even lighting. It seems likely that the images were meant to be displayed and perhaps distributed to the respective families. Engaging in this photography may have been a private indulgence, but they provided an important public and ceremonial presence.
Nearly all the girls are posed either in dance postures, in half-curtseys or in religious tableaus, dressed in angels’ wings and in costumes of the Virgin Mary. Given the widespread disruption in France after World War II this may have been an effort, conscious or otherwise, to reassert French culture, not only in the aftermath of Nazi occupation but in the presence of American and British influence afterward. According to John Merriman, professor of French history at Yale University, the photos can be seen as an attempt to strengthen the local credibility of a church tarnished by its support for the Nazi-backed Vichy government. “The priest could be trying to place himself at or near the center of rebuilding French institutions in the widest sense,’’ said Merriman.
Unless the subjects—who would now be in their 70s or 80s—come forward after seeing themselves in these pictures, we will never know the exact circumstances of their creation. Nonetheless, the priest was a serious amateur evidenced by the results that went beyond mere documentation. He used props as photographers did nearly a century before: posing the girls with prie-dieus, high-backed chairs and oriental rugs.
Some have compared his efforts with those of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) but, quite opposite to Dodgson, he preferred that his subjects have a taller stature by balancing them on a rock or book. Rexer felt that he served as, “part anthropologist, part yearbook photographer, part aesthete.”
And the girls were not only subjects; they make the pictures come alive. Perhaps because the priest knew them all and—if the pictures can be taken as evidence—had a deep affection for them, they engage the camera with a directness and joy that is common in snapshots but so rare in art. Lyle Rexer, ‘Mysterious Photo Album Of a Country Priest’, The New York Times, Arts & Leisure, Sunday, December 7, 2003.
The purpose of the album may be personal, and ultimately indecipherable, but throughout its pages the images are a wondrous curiosity centred on faith. Charles Nes Gallery Press Release, “Oui, Mon Père”: A rural priest’s photographs of children c.1950, 2003.
When the article was published, Lyle Rexer was in the process of publishing How to Look at Outsider Art (2005). Unfortunately, because the book does not cover photography, it does not discuss this work. However, there was some interesting information on Morton Bartlett and Henry Darger to be covered in a future post.
Ewa Ludwiczak is a professional artist based in Berlin, Germany. Born in Nowa Sol, Poland in 1988, she always loved to draw. At the age of 19 she moved to Germany and started studying at a private art school, learning the importance of drawing.
She mostly expresses herself through watercolour painting, but she also practices drawing, in particular for storybook illustration. She frequently paints nude adult women, but she also painted or drew portraits of various people, in particular children.
I present below a selection of nine portraits of girls, downloaded from her blog. I start with my two favourite ones. See here the beauty of a smile enhanced by the harmony of colours: tawny eyes, tawny hair, pink face and a pink dress with tawny shades, how lovely!
The beautiful eyes, soft nose and mouth, impressive forehead and lovely hair of this little girl fascinate me.
In the next painting, the blue dress and the dark blue background highlight the sadness in the girl’s eyes.
Now a gorgeous little girl, all dressed up in white, with a majestic white hat.
In the following portrait, the pink face gets reflected on the pink dress … or is it the other way around? The wide open eyes seem to open on a world of mysteries and secrets.
Here the girl’s resolute look gives the meaning of her folded arms: she says ‘no.’ The harmony of her brown hair, her brown dress and the brownish background enhance that effect.
Now, the dripping paint bottom right seems to prolong the stripes of the dress.
This girl’s white dress fades into the background, and the top of her hat seems to melt like ice cream.
Here both the girl and her doll have brown hair with a few red strokes.
Many works by Ewa Ludwiczak can be seen on her blog and on her personal website. The latter also contains a brief presentation of the artist, and some of her works can be bought there. She is also on Facebook and Instagram.
I am a regular reader of the French blog Les Éditions du Faune devoted to art and literature. On September 27 it published a good article on an interesting Swedish painter, Ivar Arosenius, who lived only 30 years.
Born on October 8, 1878, he started to study art at age 17; as an independent mind, he attended different schools until he returned to his old teacher who respected his freedom to explore his own fantasy and imagination.
Arosenius mostly painted in watercolours, experimenting with motion, texture and colour. He showed a surreal world which mixed fantasy and reality; in particular he illustrated fairy tales. He also worked for the press by producing satirical caricatures of Swedish society; however he never got a secure place with a journal, as his works, appearing as simple humour, were probably too subversive for a conservative society.
His family paintings show a completely different side of the artist, soft and tender. He often represented his wife Ida Andrea Cecilia (nicknamed Eva) as a fairytale princess or as a Madonna holding their child. He also lovingly painted their only daughter Eva Benedikta Elisabeth (1906–2004), better known by her nickname Lillan.
Arosenius’ most famous work is an illustrated tale that he wrote for Lillan: Kattresan (The Cat Journey), about the adventures of a little girl riding on her cat and discovering the world. A scan of it can be seen on the Swedish Literature Database (see the links on the right for the navigation through its 42 pages). I show a few pages from it; clearly the little girl looks like Lillan.
His wife and friends urged him to publish the book, so he set to improve the drawings, but he could not finish this work, as he died in the night from January the 1st to the 2nd, 1909 from the complications of haemophilia. The book was published posthumously the same year, and it brought fame to Arosenius. Indeed, in May, the Academy of Arts organised at last an exhibition of his work.
I found out that Arosenius made another version of Kattresan for Lillan’s twin cousins, one of whom was named Johanna, or simply Hanna or Hansan. Her grandson published 8 images on his blog from it.
Finally I show two pictures of Lillan in her teens. First a painting of Lillan with her cousin Hanna:
Next an undated photograph of Lillan from around the same time: