The imaginative and expertly crafted art of Claude Lalanne (1925–2019) and François-Xavier Lalanne (1927–2008) reflects their belief that the human, animal, and vegetal worlds share a profound kinship. Throughout their long careers they looked to nature for inspiration, creating sculpture, furniture, and other works that morph natural objects into unexpected inventions that play with the boundaries between form and function. The married couple rarely collaborated on objects, but from 1966 on they referred to themselves jointly as “Les Lalanne” and to their works as “Lalannes.” They always exhibited together and over many years created a rich and diverse body of work. Both artists were prolific; François-Xavier was active up to his death in 2008, after which Claude continued to work in her studio every day through the rest of her life. This is the first American art museum exhibition dedicated to the couple in over forty years, and the first museum exhibition since the death of Claude in April 2019. The selection of work focuses on the ways both artists transformed nature through surreal combinations of flora and fauna, shifts of scale, and flights of fancy, creating hybrid objects that are at once sculptural and, often, functional. Combining technical expertise with wild inventiveness, the Lalannes created art that celebrates the world in which we live.
The Lalannes moved to their house and studio in the town near Fontainebleau, Claude’s birthplace, in 1967 – the year they were married – and lived and worked under the same roof for fifty years. Filled with decades-worth of their art, seamlessly integrated into a warm home, the house and its grounds provided a fantastic source of inspiration for the couple.
Above all, they shared a love of nature that they each celebrated in their own way: Claude used the plants and flowers from the garden as a blueprint for her creations, while François-Xavier often incorporated animal imagery into his unique furniture pieces.
She-Oak and Sunlight: Australian Impressionism is a large-scale exhibition of more than 250 artworks drawn from major public and private collections around Australia, including the NGV Collection. Featuring some of the most widely recognisable and celebrated works by Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, Jane Sutherland, Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder, Clara Southern, John Russell and E. Phillips Fox, the exhibition also brings to light lesser-known paintings by Iso Rae, May Vale, Jane Price and Ina Gregory. She-Oak and Sunlight presents these works in new and surprising contexts, exploring the impact of personal relationships, international influences and the importance of place on the trajectory of the movement.
Highlights from the exhibition include Tom Roberts’s iconic Shearing the rams, 1890, which depicts sheep shearers plying their trade in a timber shearing shed, and Clara Southern’s An old bee farm, Warrandyte, c.1900, a nostalgic vision of the landscape, painted in a soft palette of twilight tones. Following a complex conservation treatment, visitors are also able to appreciate the newly vivid colours of the Hawkesbury River as depicted in Arthur Streeton’s The purple noon’s transparent might, 1896.
She-Oak and Sunlight charts the creative exchanges between the movement’s leading figures in Australia, by presenting artworks in thought provoking groups and pairings. The exhibition also considers the broader global context, personal relationships and artistic synergies of Australian Impressionists and those working internationally, by juxtaposing Australian artworks with more than 50 works from the groundbreaking ‘9 by 5 Impression Exhibition’ held in Melbourne in 1889, and named after the cigar box lids on which many of the works were painted.
In the winter of 1889, Roberts and his young friends, Arthur Streeton and Charles Conder, determined to present an exhibition of ‘Impressions’ in Melbourne at Buxton’s Rooms in Swanston Street, a prominent venue located opposite the Town Hall.
When developing this plan, the artists were clearly influenced by Whistler, whose London exhibitions were renowned for being conceived as ‘total works of art’. Whistler coordinated every aspect, from the harmonious décor and framing of the works, to the specially designed catalogues, and all these features were adopted in the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition.
At Buxton’s, these small works of art were strikingly displayed in wide timber frames, many of them stained, or embellished with metallic paint or decoration. The room itself was elegantly furnished in the Aesthetic style with silk draperies and Japanese accessories creating what one contemporary described as‘a most harmonious arrangement of colour’.
Whistler’s flair for publicity was also copied – a series of articles and press interviews tantalised Melbourne’s public with promises that at last it would‘have an opportunity of judging for itself what Impressionism truly is’.(Excerpted from Small Pictures, Big Legacy: The 9 x 5 Exhibition Then and now. Pursuit, 15 June 2017).
Works by Monet, Sisley and Whistler from the NGV’s collection are also on view, highlighting the influence of European artists of the late 19th century on their Australian contemporaries.
She-Oak and Sunlight: Australian Impressionism is guest curated by Dr Anne Gray AM with the NGV Australian Art Department.
SHE-OAK AND SUNLIGHT: AUSTRALIAN IMPRESSIONISM Exhibition Catalogue
Publisher: National Gallery of Victoria and Thames & Hudson Australia 290 x 230 mm (portrait), 306 pages, hardback bound in printed Wibalin ISBN: 9781760761905 Category: Impressionist art, Australian art RRP: $59.99 Publication date: April 2021
Hosios Loukas is an historic walled monastery situated near the town of Distomo, in Boeotia, Greece. It is one of the most important monuments of Middle Byzantine architecture and art, and has been listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
The monastery of Hosios Loukas is situated at a scenic site on the slopes of Mount Helicon. It was founded in the early 10th century AD by the hermit, Venerable Luke of Steiris, whose relics are kept in the monastery to this day. The monastery derived its wealth (including funds required for construction) from the fact that the relics of St. Luke were said to have exuded myron, a sort of perfumed oil which produced healing miracles. Pilgrims hoping for miraculous help were encouraged to sleep by the side of the tomb in order to be healed by incubation. The mosaics around the tomb represent not only St. Luke himself, but also hegumen Philotheos offering a likeness of the newly built church to the saint.
The crypt contains frescoes on the entryway and its vault, eight lunettes around the walls with depictions of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, and forty medallion portraits of apostles, martyrs and holy men, abbots including Philotheos, as well as numerous inscriptions. C.L. Connor claims it has “the most complete program of wall paintings surviving from the Middle Byzantine period.” – Hosios Loukas. 2021 February 17. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hosios_Loukas
Mosaic was a popular art form that enlivened both Christian churches and Islamic mosques during the Middle Ages. Mosaics are images made from little pieces of colored stone or glass, called tesserae. They most frequently decorate architectural settings. This ancient technique was popular in classical Rome but reached new heights during the Middle Ages. While Roman mosaics typically used stone tesserae in muted colors, medieval mosaics glitter thanks to brightly-colored glass and gold tesserae. Imagine how they would have sparkled during candlelit church services! In the classical world, mosaics were primarily floor decorations, but medieval artists covered the walls and ceilings with them instead. Mosaics flourished as Christianity grew and prospered starting in the fifth century CE, when they replaced murals as church decoration. This tradition took hold particularly strongly in the Byzantine Empire, especially Turkey and Greece, and in Byzantine-influenced Italy. –Alexandra Kiely, Daily Art Magazine
Kees Van Dongen (1877 – 1968) was a Dutch-French painter known for his radical use of form and color. He exhibited in Paris, and participated in the controversial 1905 Salon d’Automne exhibition along with Henri Matisse, André Derain, Albert Marquet, Maurice de Vlaminck, Charles Camoin, and Jean Puy. The bright colours of this group of artists led to them being called Fauves (‘Wild Beasts’) by art critic Louis Vauxcelles. Van Dongen was also briefly a member of the German Expressionist group Die Brücke.
He fell in with the Marquise Luisa Casati and her friend Jasmy Jacob, who introduced him to the so-called beau monde of Paris. The lush colors of his Fauvist style are what earned him a solid reputation with the French bourgeoisie and upper class, where he was in demand for his portraits. He was one of the ‘Roaring Twenties’ leading figures on the trendy Paris scene. He referred to the scene as the “cocktail period”, and he devoted himself exclusively to the new elite; the literary men and women and stars of stage and screen for whom he also organised sumptuous parties and costume balls on many occasions.
In addition to selling his paintings, Van Dongen also gained an income by selling satirical sketches to the newspaper Revue Blanche (which during its early years was associated with Marcel Proust) and journal L’Assiette au beurre.
As his fame began to wane in his later years, he turned to illustration and contributed to several publications: Les Lépreuses(1946) by Henry de Montherlant, La Princesse de Babylone(1948) by Voltaire, La Révolte des anges(1951) by Anatole France and Le livre des mille et une nuits(1955) by Dr Mardrus, and, of course, A la recherche du temps perdu (1947).
In 1947, the publisher Gallimard released a luxury edition of the novel A la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust, bound by Paul Bonet and illustrated with 77 reproductions of aquarelles by the fauvist, Kees Van Dongen, made especially for this publication. Van Dongen’s aquarelles depict balls, seaside resorts, salons, large diners, gatherings of high society in public parks and on the avenues, and many splendid costumes. Despite the international fame of its two main contributors, this edition has remained largely unknown to literary scholars and art historians (Verlick). Several of the original aquarelle paintings were gifted by the artist to the Proust family and have recently come on the market.
The two lavishly illustrated inventories belonging to Grand Duchess Ksenia form an itemised record of jewellery received between 1880 and 1912. While the slimmer volume contains earlier and more modest personal donations presented by close family, the heavier tome details large-scale presentations made from the year of her wedding; to the Grand Duke Alexander Mihailovich,(1894) onwards. Presented together, the 925 entries provide a fascinating insight into the private wealth of the Romanovs, their personal taste and family relationships. In the albums, we find notations likely to be in Ksenia’s own hand of pieces given to her daughter. Later gifts to her sons and other family members are also noted. The albums illustrate the manner in which important occasions were marked, and offer a crucial link to proving attribution and provenance for so many pieces later gifted, sold on by the Grand Duchess or seized by the Soviet authorities.
Following the discovery of Nicholas II’s jewellery albums featuring more rudimentary illustrations, Alexander von Solodkoff offered further insight into Grand Duchess Ksenia in The Jewel Album of Nicholas II, Ermitage, 1997. As the daughter of a reigning monarch, Ksenia’s wedding celebrations marked one of the last times the Crown commissioned jewellery from the Treasury. Alexander III ordered four complete parures several years before the wedding, visiting the repository of the Imperial Cabinet to select emeralds. This administrative institution’s principal purpose was to oversee the care of Imperial jewels, pay for purchases ordered by the Tsar and for goods supplied to the court. Here were stored the most beautiful loose stones collected over the years by various Tsars and which belonged to the Treasury. Following the Imperial visit, Fabergé, Bolin and Ewing were each commissioned to design a parure for the wedding from which the Tsar finalised a choice. Nicholls and Ewing of Nevsky Prospect created an astonishing parure of emeralds and diamonds consisting of a necklace formed as a series of oval and rectangular cabochon emeralds, each surrounded by circular-cut diamonds, from each of which hung a pear-shaped cabochon emerald, a floral designed coronet entirely set with diamonds supporting pear-shaped cabochon emeralds and a large brooch with cabochon emeralds mounted in a double ring of diamonds, which could also be used as a centrepiece in the necklace. The inscription for No. 51-53 in the album reads ‘from Mama and Papa for the wedding’.
At the same time, Bolin worked on an important commission from Ksenia’s mother, Maria Feodorovna, to create a parure consisting of a tiara, necklace and large brooch in diamonds and rubies (No. 37-39). The stones which were particularly rare and carefully matched in colour also came from the repository of the Imperial Cabinet. Their selection was entrusted to Bolin with the collaboration of Ewing.
In addition, the Tsar and Tsarina presented their daughter with two large diamond rivière necklaces and a wonderful tiara also created by Bolin, entirely decorated with briolette-cut diamonds which quivered with every movement of the head. There was also a diamond brooch that included three pear-shaped diamonds reminiscent of some owned by the Empress (No. 35). Her parents’ gifts were completed by a parure of cabochon sapphires and diamonds and a five-stranded pearl collier de chien with a large button pearl clasp. The groom presented a splendid collier russe (No. 34) in diamonds by Bolin which could also be worn as a tiara. It was accompanied by a brooch with a naturalistic design of two vine leaves in diamonds which supported a drop cabochon emerald. The brooch (No. 36) was later given by Ksenia to her daughter Irina when she married Prince Felix in 1914.
In this image of Grand Duchess Ksenia at the Boyar Ball of 1903, she wears jewelry received for her wedding. Around the neck, her two diamond rivière necklaces are arranged as a collier de chien with a string of large white oriental pearls in the centre. Also visible is the collier russe given by Sandro. Her emerald and diamond necklace has a large emerald and diamond brooch en-suite as its centrepiece. The cabochon emeralds from the tiara in the parure with the necklace are sewn to her headdress. Further precious stones enrich the embroidery on the brocade of her dress.
Other entries in the albums, while less lavish, provide a crucial insight into what was in vogue and illustrate forms no longer in use, such as the chatelaine and adornment set into elaborate coiffures. While St. Petersburg looked to Western Europe for stylistic influences, the Grand Duchess’ personal jewels show designs that have been interpreted through the prism of Russian taste. Red gold was favoured over the yellowish hues and often densely set with cabochon sapphires, rubies or emeralds. These are more often represented in the albums than faceted stones. Semi-precious stones such as moonstones and mecca stones are in evidence as are those typical of the Russian territories. Agate with moss-like inclusions were popular and diamonds were usually tightly set rose-cut borders around a larger stone (No. 45).
Pearls were considered particularly valuable and are only present in a few of the illustrations. In a rare instance amongst the notations, Grand Duchess Ksenia expands her pencil entry for a necklace by carefully recording the number of pearls per row. Alongside the extravagant wedding emeralds and prized pearls are dozens of entries featuring enamel. These were valued for their technical mastery and were synonymous with Fabergé.
Cloisonné is noticeably absent and champlevé is incorporated into a design for a brooch in the form of a flag. The lavish hues of translucent enamel over engine-turned ground speak to the unmistakable signature of Fabergé guilloché work. As the albums evolve, so too do the stylistic influences as Art Nouveau takes hold. The taste for languid forms inspired by plants and animals travelled into Russia from Darmstadt when a Jugendstil colony was founded there in 1899 and gained an international foothold during the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900. Still further into the inventory, the Art Deco style is represented in the rectilinear geometry of early 20th century design.
Both inventories illustrate that the Grand Duchess appreciated the symbolism of jewellery. Her interest in the language of stones is evidenced by opening notes in the smaller album attributing birthstones to their respective months. Designs drawn from such diverse sources as the Monomach Cap, Imperial Eagle, Royal Standard and crowned cyphers support the Imperial provenance but auspicious, romantic and other metaphors such as the horseshoe, clover, swastika, owl and elephant show Ksenia fully in step with the fashion of her times. Private in-jokes and references employ bibelots as couriers. A curiously shaped object (the Fabergé potato charm) presented by ‘Georgi’ resembling a potato, issued to all members of the ‘Potato Society’ at Gatchina Palace is documented and serves as a sort of visual shorthand for the secret society which counted Ksenia and her brother among its members. Further research should uncover the meaning of some of the most private and perhaps evocative of Ksenia’s trinkets and talismans.
It was in 1914 that Ksenia’s only daughter, the 19-year-old Princess Irina, married Prince Felix Yussupov. Xenia gave the bride her own emerald brooch with diamonds and rubies; she also bought her sapphires, three pearl sprays and a diamond chain from Cartier.
Her two jewelry albums, were a souvenir of former times that she bequeathed to her children.
Jewels passed down and eventually sold at auction:
This rare large quarto is delightful fun, with four hand-colored lithograph plates (imprinted 12 November 1840) each with multiple figures for a total of forty-six illustrations, from John Leech’s 1840 satire with text by Percival Leigh.
The armorial bookplates of George William Mercer Henderson on front paste-down and the Duke of Gloucester on front endleaf indicate this was once housed in the private libraries of the haute monde. One wonders if they appreciated this book for the satire or the sartorial splendor.
“…The French fashion plates created the right spring-board for this satire; the French caricaturist Gavarni was a fashion illustrator for Le Journal des Gens du Monde, 1831, so that the humour and accuracy in costume caricature often went together. Leech was very quick to spot this and produced in 1840, a witty explosion of designs entitled The Fiddle Faddle Fashion Book and Beau Monde A La Francaise containing “numerous Highly-Coloured Figures of Lady-Like Gentlemen”. The text was by his friend Leigh and the engraved plates showed a sort of unisex costume where dandies in ringlets and waisted coats actually appeared like women!… The early Victorian period was the scene for great beauty in female dress and male costume was neither as drab nor as dreary as is often supposed. Early on in his career… he produced The Fiddle-Faddle Fashion Book and the early lithographs pay great attention to both the dandy and the fashionable lady. Leech’s acutely observant eye was always watching out for the over-fastidious, the superfinely frivolous, so that he could engage their foibles with his pencil. Fiddle-Faddle was done under the influence of [George] Cruikshank, and particularly under that side of Cruikshank that had created the Monstrosities plates of the late ‘twenties. Leech’s approach to fashion was therefore tinged with Regency satire but more liberally diluted with straightforward Victorian incredulity and disapproval! His attitude to caricaturing fashion can be seen very clearly if one looks closely at Leech himself as the fashionable man.” Simon Houfe. John Leech and the Victorian Scene, pp. 39 & 139.
Here Leech skewers foppery, dandyism, and the eccentricities of “fashionable boobies” that are feminizing men in London and Paris, while Leigh takes comic aim at contemporary literary absurdities “consisting mainly of a thrilling story of brigand life, the blood-curdling tenor of which may be imagined from the title, Grabalotti the Bandit; or, The Emerald Monster of the Deep Dell” (Frith); a parody of the popular novels of fashionable life, and more.
“It was one of Leech’s special delights to caricature the absurd fashions of the day in dress, language, manners and literature” (Field).
John Leech (29 August 1817 – 29 October 1864) was a British caricaturist and illustrator. He was best known for his work for Punch, a humorous magazine for a broad middle-class audience, combining verbal and graphic political satire with light social comedy. Leech was a hard-working and meticulous illustrator whose images suited the tone of the publication. During his time at Punch he produced some three-thousand drawings and in the process, he gave us ‘the cartoon’ as we know it today. Prior to Leech, cartoons were not called cartoons. They were simply thought of as humorous drawings. His social observations, whether highlighting the plight of the poor and forgotten; or the daily humour of family life and leisure in Victorian England, formed the tone and set the standard globally of how readers identified Punch magazine (and Great Britain) and what the English aspired to be. Beautifully detailed images in the tradition of Hogarth and Gustav Doré show a great affection for his subjects and a celebration of the Victorian Era.
Percival Leigh was a satirist, initially educated for the medical profession at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London where he became friends with the illustrator John Leech. He and Leech found their real calling in comic literature, and they banded together in 1840 to produce three books: The Comic Latin Grammar, The Comic English Grammar, and The Fiddle-Faddle Fashion Book. Leigh and Leech were recruited to Punch on its formation in 1841 and Leigh went on to become its deputy editor under Mark Lemon.
Baron von Stieglitz was the most prominent Russian financier, industrialist and philanthropist of his day in addition to being Governor of the State Bank of Russia, Privy Counselor, founder of the Central School of Technical Drawing and donor of its subsequent museum.
In 1859 Baron von Stieglitz commissioned prominent architect Alexander Krakau to design a magnificent waterfront mansion in the Renaissance Revival style at 68 The English Embankment, the street named after the British Embassy and English church located there. It has been historically one of the most fashionable streets in Saint Petersburg, and in the 19th century was called by the French term, Promenade des Anglais. No expense was spared on this luxurious home and he spent a staggering 3.5 million rubles, which is reflected in the splendid décor of the interiors.
Five years after the palace’s completion, Stieglitz commissioned drawings of the sumptuous interiors by the Italian painter Luigi Premazzi. The master produced seventeen watercolors documenting the décor in minute detail which has been preserved as an album in the Hermitage collection.
To adorn the state rooms in his residence, Baron Stieglitz bought and commissioned paintings by contemporary German and Austrian artists. The works, which differ in genre, manner and standard of execution, were produced by both acknowledged masters and painters just starting their careers, who belonged to the most important artistic schools of Vienna, Munich and Dresden. In this way Baron Stieglitz became the owner of some of the earliest works (today extremely rare) by Makart, Marées and a pair of artists who worked in tandem – Alexander von Liezen-Mayer and Alexander von Wagner.
Hans Makart (1840–1884), who by the end of his life had become Austria-Hungary’s foremost painter, produced one of his first monumental canvases for the Baron, on a subject from the life of Marie de’ Medici. Since the ceiling paintings and enormous historical canvases that later made Makart world-famous have tended to remain in the palaces and public buildings for which they were created, the existence in Russia of the large-format Siesta at the Court of the Medici (1863–64) can be considered great good fortune. It was paired in the mansion’s state dining-room with Return from the Hunt (1864) by the creative partnership of Alexander von Wagner (1838–1919) and Alexander von Liezen-Mayer (1839–1898).
The enigmatic and contradictory artist Hans von Marées (1837–1887) could not have been described as a famous or fashionable painter, but that did not prevent Baron Stieglitz from purchasing his Courtyard with the Grotto in the Munich Royal Residence (1862–63) for his collection. This painting, which is not typical for Marées’s mature work, provides a rare opportunity to see the sources of his artistry and the school of painting that lay behind it.
The Baron’s acquisitions also included works by venerable painters. Moritz von Schwind (1804–1871) was professor of history painting at the Academy of Arts in Munich, the creator of many monumental murals in residences, theatres and cathedrals, and retained his exalted status to the end of his days. Diana Hunting (1867), a work from his mature years, was placed in a carved wooden frame above the fireplace in the grand dining-room of the St Petersburg mansion.
While Marées, who remained in the shadow of contemporaries throughout his life, was properly appreciated in the following century, the landscape-painter brothers Albert (1808–1888) and Richard (1820–1875) Zimmermann became forgotten and are today known only to specialists. Their canvases After the Storm (1860s) and Landscape with Harvesting (1864) with their restrained palettes represent the Dresden school of landscape painting in the Stieglitz collection.
In 1903, Emperor Nicholas II of Russia held a luxurious costume ball in honor of the 290th anniversary of the House of the Romanovs. It was held in the Winter Palace, Saint Petersburg, in two stages. For the first gathering on February 11, guests were invited to the Hermitage Romanov Gallery for a spectacular evening of world class entertainment. The main performances were excerpts from the opera “Boris Godunov” by M. P. Mussorgsky and the ballets “Bayadere” by L. Minkus and “Swan Lake” by P. I. Tchaikovsky. Such primas and grandees of that time as the opera singer Fyodor Shalyapin and the ballerina Anna Pavlova played the main roles in those scenes.
For the second gathering on February 13, Emperor Nicholas II invited his 390 guests to the palace for a historic costume masquerade. They arrived bejeweled in authentic 17th-century style costumes, made from designs by the artist Sergey Solomko, in collaboration with historical experts. Guests at the ball paid a fortune for them, as many were made with real jewelry.
In her memoirs Grand Duchess Olga, sister of Tsar Nicholas II, describes the attire of the Imperial couple for the 1903 ball:
All of us appeared in seventeenth-century court dress. Nicky wore the dress of Alexis, the second Romanov Tsar, all raspberry, gold and silver, and some of the things were brought specially from the Kremlin. Alicky was just stunning. She was Maria Miloslavskaya, Alexis’s first wife. She wore a sarafan of gold brocade trimmed with emeralds and silver thread, and her earrings were so heavy that she could not bend her head. (Vorres, Ian, The Last Grand Duchess, 1964, p. 94)
*Noteworthy: Empress Alexandra wore a Fabergé necklace and the emerald pendant probably mounted by Fabergé.
Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovitch recalled the occasion as “the last spectacular ball in the history of the empire … [but] a new and hostile Russia glared through the large windows of the palace … while we danced, the workers were striking and the clouds in the Far East were hanging dangerously low.”
Misia Sert (born Maria Zofia Olga Zenajda Godebska; 30 March 1872 – 15 October 1950) was a pianist of Polish descent who hosted an artistic salon in Paris. She was a patron and friend of numerous artists, for whom she regularly posed.
Maria Zofia Olga Zenajda Godebska was born on 30 March 1872 in Tsarskoye Selo, outside of Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire. Her father, Cyprian Godebski was a renowned Polish sculptor and professor at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. Her mother, Zofia Servais, of Russian-Belgian extraction, was the daughter of noted Belgian cellist, Adrien-François Servais. It was a musical household which hosted concerts performed by noted musicians. Franz Liszt was a friend of the family.It was in this environment that Sert received her musical education, her grandfather teaching her to read music while she was not much more than an infant. Under his mentorship, she became a gifted pianist.
At age 21, Sert married her twenty-year-old cousin Thadée (Tadeusz) Natanson, a Polish émigré art connoisseur and businessman.Natanson frequented the haunts favored by the artistic and intellectual circles of Paris.
Image: Thadée Natanson and his wife Misia Godebska in the garden of their country home, ‘Le Relais’, c.1899 (b/w photo), French Photographer / Collection Annette Vaillant, France / The Bridgeman Art Library
The Natanson home on the Rue St. Florentine became a gathering place, for such cultural lights as Marcel Proust, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Odilon Redon, Paul Signac, Claude Debussy, Stéphane Mallarmé, and André Gide. The entertainment was lavish. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec enjoyed playing bartender at Natanson’s parties, and became known for serving a potent cocktail— a drink of colorful layered liqueurs dubbed the Pousse-Café. All were mesmerized by the charm and youth of their hostess.
The creative minds of the Belle Époque were at her fingertips. Claude Debussy aired his compositions on Misia’s piano at 9 rue Saint-Florentin. Mallarmé, an old friend, presented her with a poem handwritten on a Japanese fan. Colette and her exploitative husband Willy were frequent callers to her salon. Situated near Place de la Concorde, the Natansons’ apartment was a riot of colour and pattern. Vuillard couldn’t wait to paint Misia in her hotchpotch surroundings. He was spellbound by her, and his adoration for his muse infused all his work during the most lucrative part of his career.
Marcel Proust used Misia as the prototype for the characters of “Princess Yourbeletieff” and “Madame Verdurin” in his novel In Search of Lost Time. She was “la reine de Paris” at the turn of the 20th century, painted by Lautrec, Renoir, Vuillard, Vallotton, adored by writers who also were indebted to her like Paul Verlaine and Stéphane Mallarmé.
Maurice Ravel dedicated Le Cygne (The Swan) in “Histoires naturelles” and La Valse (The Waltz) to her.
In 1889, Thadée Natanson and his brothers debuted La Revue blanche, a periodical committed to nurturing new talent and showcasing the work of the post-Impressionists, Les Nabis. Sert became the muse and symbol of La Revue blanche, appearing in advertising posters created by Toulouse-Lautrec, Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard.
The Revue Blanche was one of the most influential artistic and literary journals in Europe at the turn of the century. The journal was published in twelve editions and appeared between 1891 and 1903. It was a tremendously influential vehicle for Symbolist writers and Post-Impressionist painters. Contributors to La Revue Blanche included Alfred Jarry, Marcel Proust, Stéphane Mallarmé, André Gide and Guillaume Apollinaire. Illustrations by Les Nabis painters Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard graced its pages, with Toulouse-Lautrec’s portrait of Misia skating across the cover of issue 60.
Many of the visual artists whose work appeared in La Revue Blanche were members of the Nabis. Inspired by Paul Gauguin and the Synthetic style developed within his circle in the late 1880s-early 1890s, the Nabis sought to simplify forms through flat areas of subjective, non-descriptive color bordered by linear patterns. Printmaking was a very important part of their artistic activity and they contributed prints for publication as covers and illustrations for La Revue Blanche and other like-minded periodicals. Along with their contemporary, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, many of the artists turned their enormously sophisticated manipulation of color lithography to the service of commercial advertising projects.
She had a long friendship and business association with Sergi Diaghilev and was involved in all creative aspects of the Ballets Russes – from friendships with its dancers, to input on costume designs, to choreography.
She introduced Diaghilev to Ravel, and they worked together on Daphnis et Chloé, which premiered in 1912. She then brought together the collaborative team of Erik Satie, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, and Léonide Massine, who created the surrealist ballet Parade in 1917. Her greatest contribution to the Ballets Russes was the masterful combinations of composers and artists that she brought together and into Diaghilev’s circle. Misia also introduced Diaghilev to Coco Chanel, and Chanel began to work with the Ballets Russes as well.
Through the years she supplied funds for the often financially distressed ballet company. On the opening night of “Petrushka”, she came to the rescue with the 4000 francs needed to prevent repossession of the costumes. When Diaghilev lay dying in Venice she was at his side and, after his death in August 1929, she paid for his funeral, honoring the man who had been such an important influence in the world of ballet.