Saturday, June 29, 2013

Pre-Raphaelites in Moscow

If you're a fan of Pre-Raphaelite art and you happen to be in Moscow this summer, you're in luck because
the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts is hosting some of the greatest works by the Brotherhood. The exhibition, dubbed "Victorian Avant-garde", is quite spectacular. The space is not large, just one floor, but it has most of the greatest masterpieces and a few lesser-known works from Tate and a few private collections.

I saw it last week and was blown away. An online image or a picture in a catalog could never come close to the brilliant colors, the scope and the beauty of the original paintings. The details are remarkable. And some paintings are so life-like that it's almost eerie.

Here are a few of my absolute Pre-Raphaelite favorites:

"Huguenot Lovers on St. Bartholomew's Day" by John Everett Millais, 1852 

St. Bartholomew's Day in 1572 was the date of a massacre of French protestants known as Huguenots. Roman Catholics, who were doing the killing, would wear white armbands to signal to each other where their own allegiance lay. The context makes the somewhat trite image of a young couple embracing very poignant. The painting itself is vivid in color. The girl's face is so realistic you almost expect her to turn around and look at you. Her dress usually looks plain black in reproductions, but it's actually covered by an intricate design that you can only see on the original.

"Christ in the House of His Parents" by John Everett Millais, 1849-50 

The painting depicts Jesus as a child in the home of his carpenter father Joseph. The little boy bringing in water is probably John the Baptist, while the elderly woman removing the nail from the board is most likely St. Anne. Unlike most religious paintings, this one lacks all exaltation. Everything looks simple to the point of poverty. I also like the painting because of a scandal it caused. When it was first exhibited people were outraged by this depiction of Jesus, his family and their environment. Most critics couldn't stomach that the Lord and Savior would spend his childhood in poverty and obscurity.

"Ophelia" by John Everett Millais, 1851–1852 

This painting seems to have become the official "face" of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. It depictions Ophelia from Shakespeare's Hamlet in the process of drowning herself after her father had been murdered and she had lost her mind. It's quite interesting that drowning Ophelia has become one of the favorite go-to subjects for various artists. Considering that the scene is never shown on stage, but instead is related by Hamlet's mother; artists have a morbid fascination with her suicide. I like it for reasons of personal vanity. I have been told that I look a little like her. (Not sure whether "hey, you look like an insane drowned woman from a play" is really a compliment or an insult)

"The Vale of Rest" by John Everett Millais, 1858-59

Speaking of morbid, this is by far my favorite Pre-Raphaelite painting. Why? I don't know. Maybe because it's just so darn mysterious. Who are these nuns? Why is one working and the other one is just sitting there? Why is she looking out of the canvas? What does she want? Whose grave is it? Why do I exist? It's just a lot of unanswered questions. The original painting is magnificent. The background looks so realistic that you can't quite believe that it was created with paint and a brush. And I do like the haunting gaze of the nun at rest.

"Sidonia von Bork" by Edward Burne-Jones, 1860 

The only non-Millais painting (do you see a pattern here?) that I count among my favorites is this one by Burne-Jones. Sidonia is a witch from a Gothic romance where she is a typical femme fatale, scheming, plotting and killing. The romance was popular among the Brotherhood and they produced several works based on it, this one included. What I found astounding was the work is very small, about the size of an A4 or a little smaller. Sidonia's snake dress seems to have inspired Miranda Richardson's gown from Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow".

So what's your favorite Pre-Raphaelite painting?

You can see these, and many other works, at the Pushkin Museum until September 22nd . Or, for the lucky ones who live in London, most of these painting are kept at Tate Britain.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Make-up History from Madeleine Marsh & Lisa Eldridge

Madeleine Marsh is a writer and historian, and I've had an eye on her book 'The History of Compacts and Cosmetics: Beauty From Victorian Times to the Present Day' for a while. So imagine my pleasure when I came across these YouTube videos from makeup artist Lisa Eldridge where she talks to Marsh about the history of makeup and goes through her very extensive collection of vintage lipsticks, compacts and rouge boxes.


I loved what Marsh said about Victorian era: when makeup was frowned upon, fashion and hair became a substitute for makeup and allowed women to express their personal style.

Camille Clifford, a lady with a tiny waist and big hair.

Though we all know that even then women used all sorts of ointments and some discrete rouge to enhance their features. And certainly actresses did not shy away from makeup both on and off stage.

The second video trances the history of makeup form the harsh times of wartime rationing to the hyper-feminine styles of the 50s (love the little novelty compacts!) to the make-love-not-war freedom of the 60s.    

What I enjoyed most about these videos is that they use actual collectibles to illustrate what makeup and attitudes to makeup were like at different time periods. I'm almost tempted to start collecting vintage makeup myself. Just look at this cute Pierrot compact. Isn't it just the bee's knees?

TOKALON Paris gilded compact, Etsy
The only vintage-looking makeup I own is this lovely little eye shadow by Bourjois Paris from their 2008 Vintage Collection Little Round Pots. The color is a beautiful shimmering brown which is perfect for evenings out. I bought this many years ago when I was visiting France and I still can't forgive myself for not getting all of the limited edition pots with the cute 19th - early 20th century designs.

My very own Bourjois Vintage Collection Little Pot in Marron Glace 

Bourjois Vintage Collection, 2008 

If you want to emulate some of these vintage makeup styles, check out Lisa Eldridge's video tutorials. Take a look at these Tippi Hedren, Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn looks. And she has a lot of contemporary makeup tips and tricks on her website.       

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

BBC Recreates the Netherfield Ball

To celebrate the bicentennial of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, BBC decided to recreate one of the pivotal moments in the book, the Netherfield ball. The ball, held by Mr. Bingley, becomes the venue for our Lizzy Bennet's many embarrassments and misunderstandings.

Every savage can dance. Source: BBC News
The hour and a half Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball documentary with Amanda Vickery and Alastair Sooke is a wonderfully detailed recreation of the food, fashions, manners and dances of the Regency. While a lot of this is not ground breaking material,  for anyone who wants a crash-course in Regency fine living or looking to understand the nuances of Jane Austen's writing, this program is the perfect place to start.    

The food at a 1813 ball would have been highly ornate and grand. But to our modern sensibilities it would have also looked slightly disgusting. My favorite weird food was the whole chicken with legs and head, beak and all, still in place and a jello with about six little crayfish inside.

Whole chicken was quite a delicacy. Source: BBC News 
Regency fashion, unlike our contemporary duds, was not mass produced. Most dresses were made at home or with the help of a seamstress. That would have meant that at a ball one would see a much broader range of fabrics, patterns, flounces and styles than one could possibly find at any modern party. The individual style of the wearer would be that much more visible. And so good or bad taste would be that much more important.

All  dressed up and ready to party. Source: BBC News

Fun fact about candles during the time is that they were sold by length. There were four hour or six hour candles. So just by looking at the candles the guests would know how long the party was going to last. The rich could afford beeswax candles that gave off more light, while the poor had to be content with tallow candles that were made of animal fat and smelled foul.

Beeswax candles - a real status symbol. Source: BBC News
Balls in period films often look like stately affairs, with lots of slow, pristine gliding around the rooms. But most English country dances actually involved a lot of complicated steps and quite a bit of jumping and prancing that would leave even modern professional dancers slightly out of breath. What's more, some dances were so complicated that special paper fans were available with little cheat-sheets on the back, that showed the music and the steps that one had to follow.

Are they feeling warm or trying to memorize dance steps? Source: BBC News 
You can watch the the whole documentary here. Or visit the BBC website for more fun facts and mini-documentaries.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Thrifty Finds

I'm a huge fan of thrift stores and flea markets, and so I thought it would be fun to share some of my recent finds with you.

Cobalt and gold tea cups (Imperial Lomonosov Porcelain Factory) from Frida Marina 

I already had a Lomonosov cobalt teapot, and so when I saw these pretty cups, I just new I had to get them for a set. Now all I need is a sugar bowl.  

 Fresh Spirit by Ellos dress from UFF

I really love the pattern on this cotton tunic dress. It has large yellow roses and smaller pink flowers on a green background. The cotton is very thin, so it will be perfect for hot summer days.

Belt from UFF

I got this brown studded belt on sale for just 1 Euro  It needed a little fix-up, but nothing some leather glue couldn't mend. It also doubles as a really cool bracelet.

Tirol dirndl from UFF

I saved the best for last. I got this dark pink Tirol dirndl for 3 Euros. I already have two Tirol skirts, one dress and a woolen vest. They're all handmade and the quality of fabric and stitching is very good. The dress has a cute pattern made up of red and blue lines with little light pink 'flowers' in the middle of each square. I'm loving its faux 19th century peasant look.   
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