Happy New Year: The Art and Life of JC Leyendecker

German born Joseph Christian Leyendecker (1874-1951) became one of the best known American illustrators of the early twentieth century. After studying at the Chicago Art Institute he trained in Paris for a year where he was exposed to Jules Chéret's poster art, Toulouse-Lautrec's prints and Alphonse Mucha'a decorative art. Upon Leyendecker's return to Chicago he began doing covers for The Saturday Evening Post including his iconic New Year's Eve Baby. After moving to New York City his work expanded to the apparel industry and he helped create the visual image for The Arrow Collar Man advertisements that ran from 1905 through 1930. The inspiration for this handsome male figure that resembled a character in a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel was Canadian Charles Beach (1886–1952), Leyendecker's companion. Beach also modeled for other apparel ads that his partner was commissioned to do; Interwoven Socks, Hartmarx, and Kuppenheimer. The couple lived together for fifty years, separated in death by only a year.

The Original Cat Woman: Colette

 There are no ordinary cats. Colette

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954), the French novelist known as Colette, loved cats. Along with an assortment of husbands and lovers, she enjoyed the company of her Chartreux cats. The "blue cats of France" have wooly fur and copper eyes; they originally worked as farm cats hunting rodents. They were also valued for their pelts and faced extinction in the early twentieth century. Perhaps Colette identified with the cats' hard beginnings which they overcame to become pampered pets of Paris. At twenty the author married the older Henry Gauthier-Villars (1859 -1931), a philandering, writer and music critic. Under his nom de plume, Willy, he published Colette's first novels, the Claudine series. After she left her unfaithful husband she initially earned a living in the music halls of Paris. Among her roles, Colette appeared as a cat in La Chatte Amoureuse. In 1934 the German born photographer, Walter Limot (1902-1984) captured Colette's writing hand and one of her Chartreux cats. Perhaps this cat was the inspiration for the character of Saha, the Chartreux in Colette's 1933 novel La Chatte.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Fayal Boutell:
Halloween 2003~Winter Solstice 2010

The Pale Unsatisfied Ones: The Magi

Now as at all times I can see in the mind's eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary's turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.
The Magi by William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) who was a part of The Irish Celtic Revival, goes beyond the traditional Biblical story in The Magi. Seeing both the mystery of Christ's birth and the turbulence of his death, these wise men are left unsatisfied and continue to search the sky for another star. More traditional images of The Magi can be found in the visual arts. The sixth century Basilica of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy shows a mosaic of Balthazar, Melchior, and Casper bearing gifts for the Christ child. Italian painter Gentile da Fabriano (1370-1427) was a propionate of the International Gothic style and depicts the three wise men in elaborate Renaissance costumes of brocade, gold and precious stones. John Duncan (1866-1945) like Yeats was fascinated by Celtic culture. The Symbolist Scottish painter rendered the Magi's "stiff, painted clothes" with Celtic motifs.

Girls of Winter: The Dreamer of Dreams, The Snow Maiden and The Snow Queen

Everything about her was white,
glistening and shining
The Dreamer of Dreams by the Queen of Romania

Marie of Romania (1875–1938) was the English born consort to Ferdinand l of Romainia. The granddaughter of Britain's Queen Victoria, her marriage was unhappy but she embraced her adopted country and its culture. Marie who enjoyed wearing brilliant colors was captured by Hungarian portrait artist Philip Alexius de László (1869-1937). The flamboyant and promiscuous queen wrote her own version of classic Romanian fairy tales including The Dreamer of Dreams which was illustrated by French book illustrator Edmund Dulac (1882-1953). The ethereal white figure resembles the mythic Snow Maiden or Snegurochka who was the granddaughter of Ded Moroz, the Russian Santa Claus. Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov (1848-1926) the Russian artist who specialized in traditional subjects of his homeland shows the ephemeral snow maiden who brings gifts to children. In contrast to this benevolent figure, The Snow Queen of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale is an evil character. She resides in a frozen palace where French symbolist painter Edgar Maxence (1871-1954) depicts her as a cold and calculating ruler.

Boys of Winter: Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin and Carl Larsson

Russian illustrator and stage designer Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (1876-1942) was inspired by Slavic folklore, Russian folk art and traditional Japanese prints. He visually interpreted classic Russian folk tales including an illustration of Ded Moroz or Father Frost. Originally the grandfatherly figure was a sinister sorcerer who turned adults into ice and kidnapped children, carrying them away in a large sack. He evolved into the Russian Santa Claus who brings presents in his sack for children, warming their spirits in the cold of winter. A young Bilibin was portrayed by Russian painter and stage designer Boris Mikhaylovich Kustodiev. Swedish painter and interior designer Carl Larsson (1853-1919) depicted a mid winter legend from Norse mythology, Midvinterblot. It is the story of King Domalde who's kingdom had suffered three years of famine and starvation. The first year the Swedes sacrificed oxen to the Norse gods, the second year men and the third year the king was killed. Domalde's blood was sprinkled as an offering to the gods to insure fruitfulness. Larsson who is shown in a self portrait considered the finished mural his finest work. The figure study is of the ill fated king.

Melun Diptych: Jean Fouquet, Agnès Sorel and Étienne Chevalier

The Melun diptych by French court painter Jean Fouquet (1420-1481) features a right wing showing a Virgin and Child surrounded by shiny, chubby red and blue cherubs. The pale, beautiful Madonna is a portrait of Agnès Sorel (1421-1450). Known as Dame de beauté, she was the favorite mistress of King Charles VII of France. The left wing of the Melun diptych portrays Étienne Chevalier, treasurer to the king being presented to the Virgin and Child by his patron saint, Stephen. Fouquet, the illegitimate son of a priest was trained in Paris and Rome. He was a master of panel panting, illuminated manuscripts and the apparent inventor of the portrait miniature. His own self-portrait medallion may be the earliest example of the genre. Chevalier commissioned the Melun diptych for the church of his birthplace in 1452. Sorel, who he loved had died two years previously at the age of twenty-eight from mercury poisoning. Fouquet immortalized the Dame de beauté and Chevalier's unrequited love for her.