Friday, November 26, 2010

100 Years and Still Writing

Harry Bernstein, author of our next book, The Invisible Wall, is a man with a plan.  Having celebrated his 100th birthday this year, Mr. Bernstein's plan for 2010 is to finish his fourth book, based on his older sister, Rose.  The Invisible Wall was his first major publication which came to print in 2007 when he was 96.  Since then he has written two more memoirs, The Dream, about his family's immigrant life in the United States, and The Golden Willow, about his 67 year happy marriage to this wife, Ruby.

Ruby's death in 2002 precipitated a dark spell of grief for Mr. Bernstein, but he states, "I had this gap to fill.  Writing was sort of therapy.  When you're old, it seems you have no future.  Where are you going to go?  But I could go back to my past." The Invisible Wall takes the reader back to Harry's earliest memories of life with his hard-bitten family in an English mill town in the early 1900's.  Bernstein credits old photographs with bringing back a flood of memories which he then turned into his family's story of poverty, prejudice, cruelty and love.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

X-Rays of Madame X

Technical analysis completed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and published in 2005 reveals some very interesting data about John Singer Sargent's struggle with the composition and shading of Mme. Pierre Gautreau's portrait before and after it was debuted at the Paris Salon of 1884. Museum conservator, Dorothy Mahon, and associate research scientist, Silvia Centeno, demonstrate through X-radiography that Sargent reworked Gautreau's profile at least eight times.

The placement of her arms was changed from a completely different pose, and the angle of the tabletop was revised after the Salon exhibition. Most notably, Sargent altered the falling strap after it had been exhibited, as we know both anecdotally and from a black and white photograph of the Salon painting.  X-ray imaging shows the fallen strap underneath the repainted right arm of the sitter. As the article explains, Singer also changed the color background.

John Singer Sargent sold this portrait to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1916. Photographs in this posting are from the article cited:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Freudian Slip of the Strap?

Saturday Samplers will discuss Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X by Deborah Davis on Saturday, November 6, at 3:30 p.m. in the Community Room of the library.

Strapless tells the fascinating story behind John Singer Sargent's famous portrait of Mme. Gautreau. This life-size oil painting caused an absolute sensation at the Paris Salon of 1884. Exhibited alongside hundreds of paintings by renowned and aspiring artists, Portrait de Mme *** singularly attracted the disdain of both art critics and the Parisian public.

Why should this particular painting of a Belle Epoch socialite arouse such instantaneous revulsion and criticism? After all, Mme. Gautreau was considered to be an exotically beautiful young woman known for her remarkable neckline and figure. Why should John Singer Sargent's work be so reviled when he had successfully exhibited paintings at previous Salons? Could the artist's placement of her loose dress strap be enough to inflame the French or were there other factors behind their general disdain for what is now considered to be a masterpiece? In Strapless, Sargent's career is examined in terms of the impact this portrait had on both the artist and the sitter, Madame X.