Tag Archives: Matisse

20th Century Art in Scents – 1905

On average, art reflects society but sometimes an artist can jump ahead of their time (like Turner, Picasso or early Tracy Emin). Perfume doesn’t mirror life, it sums up epochs (it takes more time to develop a scent than to make a painting), but a genius Nose can also catch a whiff of the future. This post is the first in the series that juxtaposes art and scents. Need your feedback — I don’t know if this idea would work out.

1905. L’Origan de Coty

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In L’Origan, Coty pioneered synthetic ingredients in a mix with natural materials (carnation, orange flower, violet), creating an oriental floral scent.

The perfume summarised Belle Epoque, its opulence, prosperity, its asymmetric designs based on natural forms and the exuberant show-off of the bourgeois class, just as the epoch was drawing to a terrible finale.

Change, or rather desire for change, was in the air, and could be felt in all walks of life.

In 1903, Isedora Duncan developed free dance, revolutionising the way people moved and inadvertently pushing fashion towards accommodating the new movements (but it will take a while for the new shapes to pick up). Same year, Salon d’Automne opens in Paris with future cubists, fauvists, dadaists, and expressionists lining up the walls with their first attempts to break away from both classicism and the decorative traditions of Art Nouveau.

And as the highly decorative Art Nouveau style was about to yield way to the industrial and futuristic Art Deco, L’Origan hit Parisian stores.

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If I were to choose an artist to represent L’Origan, it would be Mucha, because if Art Nouveau were a brand, he would be its marketing & creative director. Mucha’s art never ventured into anything new or mildly novel, just as L’Origan failed to see the explosion of crazy styles that would smash the art world to pieces in the next ten years.

Matisse’s wife, dressed to the latest Belle Epoque fashion standard, looks back at her husband, wondering, perhaps, why his new painting style (soon to be branded wild and beastly) is not accompanied by a new fragrance for her. Well, there wouldn’t be no new scents (really new, not just variations of the existing ones) for the next 12 years, when the same perfumer, Coty, delivered Chypre. So….

1917 Chypre de Coty is coming next!

P.S. Perfume experts say the industry now has circled back to 1900’s “floriental” scents. Are we nearing the end of our own, past WWII, Belle Epoque?

 

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Two Masterpieces from Must-see Show in Moscow

The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow has put together a show of art collections of Schukin brothers, kings of the Russian textile industry at the beginning of the last century. Thanks to one of them Russia boasts a great collection of (post)impressionists, fauvists, and cubists. It was split between Moscow and The Hermitage in St.Petersburg in 1948 and is now reunited and exhibited to mimic the way Sergey Schukin hung his paintings.

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While critics applaud this decision, I can’t see real value here. Yes, most Russian avant-guarde artists got introduced to Western art when visiting Schukin’s home, and it might be interesting to see their “starting point” through “their eyes”, but something tells me it was not the hanging that inspired them, but the paintings themselves, and most likely, not as a group, but individually. Gauguin was striving to recreate a paradise lost, but I don’t think he would view his objective accomplished only after a buyer builds a wall out of his work.

All this travesty of Gauguin tapestry ended up with one of Van Gogh’s most amazing portraits, that of Dr.Felix Rey, being hung near the ceiling, where it can’t be seen properly. The portrait was rejected originally (being used to mend a chicken coop), and now it is pigeonholed as a painting which quality is somewhat below Gauguin’s works by hanging it to fill an empty spot above them.

This portrait is worth its own wall. Van Gogh painted it as a form of gratitude, immediately upon his release from Saint-Paul asylum. He portrayed the closest and most caring person in his life at the time. It is an icon of compassion and hope.

Look at the blue whites of his eyes! Look at the Monalisian smile created by his mustache! Look at the sensual lips an Instagram diva would kill for today! This young intern would become a world famous tuberculosis doctor…

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I wrote a bit about the secret to Van Gogh’s portraiture, and I can write a lot more about Van Gogh’s portraits, but let’s get back to the show, and, specifically Matisse.

We all know, thanks to Picasso, that great artists don’t copy, they steal. What is left unsaid, I believe, is that the theft must me meaningful: the stolen stuff needs to be processed and transformed by the artist into something new (even if Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst believe that out-of-court settlement would alone suffice, it would not). Matisse and Picasso were both thieves. They stole from Gauguin, from Cezanne, and from each other. Today, for the way they integrated African art into their own, they’d be facing cultural appropriation backlash on twitter. That thievery is well documented and appreciated. Yet, there was an artist in Italy from whom Matisse stole in broad daylight, and no one has noticed.

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Antonio del Pollaiuolo, 15th c., the Battle of Ten Nude Men. The etching reflects the idea that men can’t but fight each other. Matisse’s Dance is about love and harmony that men can achieve if they stop fighting and include women into their circle. One can see some violent vibes in Matisse’s Satyr, of course, but it was painted a year before the Dance, so let’s not exclude the possibility that the man in this painting leans down to wake up and invite the sleeping nymph to a dance.

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Matisse steals figures, alters them, and mirrors them, but his message is new and polar to that of Pollaiuolo.

Fortunately, the Dance is given its own – huge – space at the exhibition, but art appreciation is invariably spoiled by people queuing to have their photo taken in front of it:

IMG_20190618_204748 Matisse was a visionary, but he failed to foresee Facebook or Instagram. Were this painting a photograph or even a more realistic painting, it would be banned on both platforms, by the way.

Mental chair for Sunday evening

I have already quoted Matisse once on his idea of art providing a “mental chair” to the observer, but here it is, shown in all its glory in a small painting of a reclining woman (1946).

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What’s unusual about it?

The woman is taken from above, as if Matisse were hovering over her with his easel. The perspective is twisted so much the room resembles a capsule or a cocoon. The girl is totally relaxed: look at the way Matisse painted her legs.

She appears to be both lying down and flying with the chair cover becoming her wings.

Do you recall Cezanne’s theorem that everything is made of cyliners, pyramids, balls and boxes? Matisse says, at least in this painting, that everything’s built mostly of hearts, a blue box and a black square.

And if the hearts are more or less an obvious though sentimental choice, what’s the role of the black box (linked to the chair by the red border)? And what about the space of green and yellow dots that resembles a field with flowers behind the chair?

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Is it a door to this warped room of calm soaring? A black square that the observer can use to come and leave?

And what about the plant that resembles a birdview of a palm tree? It does help to build up the flying sensation, but was it its sole purpose?

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Any ideas? I’d love to hear what you think.

Doors

Doors.

For a few, this word is the simplest psychological test to see if you are a dedicated fan of Jim Morrison. This is not a post about the Doors, guys.

For most, doors are about keeping pets inside and thieves outside.

In arts, doors function differently.

In fiction, doors are a conventional plot device.

A simple door can trigger an engaging plot by transferring the protagonist to a miraculous new world. A door creaks at the height of a passionate moment, and – bang! – Prince Charming now needs to make a formal proposal to the blushing daughter of Evil Queen who just stepped in. Andy McNab, an ex-SAS commando, has made a career in crime fiction by explaining that not only you don’t smash doors when infiltrating a building with terrorists inside (you open ’em doors very carefully), you have to close the door just as carefully after you entered the room, because you don’t want anyone to spring up on you from behind. I am sorry that you won’t enjoy reading Andy McNab now that I’ve revealed his plot structure.

In literature, doors offer endless possibilities with plot development, much more so than windows.

In visual arts windows dominate over doors. Windows create stories by establishing a conflict between the inside and the outside of a room. Painting a window is an easy way to make the painting interesting. Doors, and especially closed doors, are more complicated and less obvious devices to weave a plot, because the observers can’t see what’s behind them, and have to imagine it.

Woman of Cairo at her Door (Girl in Oriental Costume) 1897 - Jean-Leon Gerome

Woman of Cairo at her Door (Girl in Oriental Costume) 1897 – Jean-Leon Gerome

In this painting of a hopelessly classic French painter the door makes you imagine the world this Woman of Cairo represents. Your imagination is, of course, carefully guided by the artist. The caged bird, the contrast between live flowers and the design of the carpet that hangs over the entrance, the seductive pose and look of the girl: everything makes you think of the magic Oriental world into which you get teleported if you step through this door. Again, you don’t know for certain what you are going to find there. Perhaps, you’d get tea and a relaxing massage? Or you’d get caged as the bird above the door?

Doors raise questions, and instead of giving answers they make promises. That’s why, unlike windows, doors are ambiguous (you don’t always know what’s behind).

This is also why doors are employed by modern and contemporary painters, sculptors, and critics, who love to compensate their lack of ideas by complexity and ambiguity.

Paintings by Barnett Newman, one of the biggest names in American abstract expressionism are often described as “portals to the sublime”. A portal rolls in the mouth better than a door if you decide to go metaphysical, and “the sublime” (or its sister, “transcendence”) is a wildcard kind of word that critics use whenever they don’t really know what the heck they are talking about.

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I am sure if Newman’s work is watched for an hour, some of the lines start pulsating, and their lights suddenly flicker, giving you the feeling of a door creaking open for you. That is, if your legs don’t kill you first. I, like most people, prefer other ways to achieve the same kind of nirvana,

I am sure many of my readers have remembered Rothko by now. A lot of people believe that Rothko’s doors are the best in class in terms of teleporting the viewer in a sour or cheerful mood (depending on the colour scheme, of course), but Rothko would probably strangle anyone who would compare his colour fields to a door with his bare hands, so I skip Rothko and go directly to Matisse.

His door of 1914 was one of the biggest door-related surprises this year (besides the time when I didn’t have keys to my own home and no one was there). In 1914, he stepped aside from his Fauvist cheerfulness into pessimistic dark blends, and I am sure you can feel it even in this photograph. The reflection in the glass is me. It gives a scale to the painting, and also jabs an accusing finger at Centre Pompidou who can’t be bothered to frame a modern masterpiece in museum-quality non-reflective glass.

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Imagine yourself standing in front of it. Imagine you need to decide on whether you step through or walk past. Imagine what is waiting for you inside.

Once you’ve done the imaginings, you’d understand that Abstract Expressionism was not a revolutionary American invention but a concept that a Frenchman had once played with for a couple of years before dumping it as a waste of time and effort, and going back to his optimistically pure colours.

Life’s too short to make art that makes it gloomier than it already is.

Perhaps, contemporary artists have come up with new approaches to doors and the related metaphysics? (I am asking it with my tongue so deep in my cheek I appear to have a serious dental problem to an outside observer) 

Let’s take the work of Steven Claydon, a contemporary British artist who is famous for both his sculptural work and playing pipes as a member of the Weird Sisters band in a Harry Potter movie:

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He puts different doors on uniform metal fences hoping, as I understand, to create different meaning about the physically empty spaces that exist behind. Well, yes, it works, but I am not sure I am excited about this. Magritte said it all about closed doors opening up into different spaces, leaving us with so many doors one can spend a lifetime opening them all.

Magritte, 1935

Magritite, 1935

Are you aware of a contemporary artist who has produced a new plot using the door device? I mean, really new, and not a repetition of a century-old idea.  Please let me know!

Also, please share with me anything recent and interesting you know about doors in paintings or sculpture! Or just the doors you love for some reason. 

Miss Venus, tell me about your modelling career

She modelled for hundreds of artists. Her first-hand experience of art is invaluable. It took me some years to arrange an interview, given her extremely busy schedule, and the fact that her personal assistant behaves like a 9-year-old boy who just got a toy bow for his birthday.


I: Miss Venus, you’ve modelled for most of the greatest artists in these parts of the universe, and my readers would love to know what it was like. Who was your favourite artist?

Venus: Modelling for God was, perhaps, most rewarding and memorable.

I: You mean God that created the real you?

V: Oh, no. I was born out of sea-foam. It was rather an accident than a plan. Sitting for God was my first modelling job. I had a breakdown when I saw the result. He came up with a perfect sphere, and I thought God thought I was fat.

I: Is it a lost sculpture? I have not been aware of it until this very moment.

V: You have always been aware of it. It’s high up in the sky, the second planet from the sun. God has an extraordinary sense of humour, you know. And he’s a better artist than most of your greatest ones, except, perhaps, Matisse. God was the top minimalist before minimalism was invented! I remember Him telling me, “Sweetie, you’re so sexy I’m gonna make ya the hottest planet”. And he did, even though Mercury is closer to the sun than me! Mercury would bitch about this for ages. 

I: God a minimalist? Well, the scale of his work can hardly be classified as minimal. Miss Venus, before we get to Matisse, can we talk about his predecessors? Let’s begin with the Classic epoch. Venus de Milo and her Greek and Roman “sisters”.

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Venus de Milo, by Alexandros of Antioch, Between 130 and 100 BC

V: I loved modelling for the Greeks. It was fun to sit for someone who desired you, but was afraid you’d notice he did: the side effect of being a goddess. It helped to control the quality though: sculptors knew if I didn’t like their work, I could do something terrible to them. The problem with them, as I see it now, was they were too afraid to improvise. I guess the god for economy and finance is frustrated with the Greeks for the same reason nowadays.

I: I understand there was a gap in your modelling career for some twelve hundred years, until the Renaissance took hold of Italy. Old gods fell out of favour for quite some time. Was it a difficult time for you?

V: Believe me, old gods, and especially goddesses, can reach a very amicable understanding with any new ones. It was my own decision: I was tired of the Roman Classicism and wanted something new, someone new, unafraid of me as a goddess. I got Sandro at last. I remember Botticelli was very ambitious and stubborn. I kept telling him the shell was totally off, but he insisted a giant spiral one would look like a twisted vagina and “we want a more subtle metaphor here”.

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Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1484-1486

I: Did Botticelli have any doubts about showing nudity?

V: Never. He was so full of bullshit ideas about divine intellectual love, that he gave me the head of a different woman. Divine love… People with PhDs call it Neoplatonism, and uneducated masses get to know it as a striptease show.

Making me wear Simonetta’s face! I’d turn a Greek sculptor into stone for that, but I just couldn’t be angry with a blue-eyed man with golden locks. Besides, it was partially my fault. I let Cupid loose once, when I was sitting for Sandro, and he made Ms Vespucci femme fatale for all the men he could reach with his arrows.

I: So, were you dissatisfied with the painting?

V: No, I got full of ideas instead. I thought I’d love to see myself change the pose, for one thing. Sandro wanted me to stand in the same old classical way which I’d grown to hate already. I looked around and thought I could knock on Giorgione’s door. 

Giorgione, Sleeping_Venus, c.1510

Giorgione, Sleeping_Venus, c.1510

I: He put you to sleep, launching the reclining nude tradition that would dominate the male- controlled art world for centuries.

V: It was a very novel idea back then! A sleeping goddess is almost accessible, she can’t turn you into a frog for staring. But she is not sexually available. Very few men think of having sex with a sleeping woman: they want to wake her up first. But they won’t dare to wake up a goddess. It’s a bit circular: you can stare at me as much as you want, but you know you’d never have any physical contact with me. All of your glossy magazine culture is built around the concept. I didn’t even want to cover myself, but he said observers needed one more reminder of the “look but don’t touch” principle. 

I: So this is how you met Titian I guess: he worked on the landscape in Giorgione’s painting, and then, some thirty years later, he asked you to model for him. In his painting, he woke you up. Some people say you stopped being a goddess in  this painting, because you’d opened your eyes. Why did you agree to become an ordinary woman for Titian?

Titian, Venus of Urbino, 1538

V: I guess we both felt platonic love had plateau’ed out. Protestants were marching across Europe making life a self-inflicted misery for most people along the way, and we thought we could take a stand for natural passion. Besides, Titian hated lies. No sane woman would agree to sleep naked in the woods. And if she’s really asleep, she won’t cover herself the way I did for Giorgione. Titian promised he’d take Giorgione’s Venus and make her alive. So he put me to bed, but painted me very much awake. 

I: In Titian’s painting, you are aware of the observer looking at you, and you look playful and welcoming. You are presented to the observer as a sex object, not  a goddess. Did that make you uneasy at the time?

V: Quite the opposite. I and Titian wanted to tell women that the best strategy for a mortal woman was to become a personal goddess to the man she fell in love with. I’ve always believed the death of a feminist is on the tip of a Cupid’s arrow, but instead of the end, it should be a new beginning, a transformation. I met a young artist in Venice some ten years after working for Titian, Paolo Veronese. He understood that concept.  

I: He mostly painted you in a conflict situation with a man, with you subtly having the upper hand in it. at least temporary.

V: Yes, Veronese made a point of living here and now. Titian painted me with Adonis at the moment when Adonis was leaving me to die on his stupid hunt. The lure of the worldly affairs turned out to be more powerful than love. I told Titian I won’t be modelling for the scene and he cut my neck in half. Just look at the painting! He was angry and jealous I was modelling for Paolo.

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Titian, Venus and Adonis, ca.1553

And Paolo painted me at the moment of happiness. If you can’t change a man, enjoy him unchanged while you can, I say.

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Paolo Veronese, Venus and Adonis, 1580

With all Paolo’s love for theatrical effects, I’d say he empowered women with his art, as much as was possible then.

I: Did you model for Cranach? He made quite a number of Venuses at the time.

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V: You could as well ask if I modelled for Balthus. Do I look like a teenage girl about to lose her virginity?

I: No, you certainly don’t. After Venice, what was your next modelling job?

V: It was Rubens, of course, but we didn’t quite manage to pull it off. He was at the other extremity to Cranach: I quit when I realised he was offering me unlimited cakes to make me closer to his ideals. It took me another thirty years to get back to form after sessions with him. 

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Rubens, Venus at a Mirror, 1615

I: So, who was the next lucky artist after you’d dieted your way back to slenderness?

V: It was that moustached Spaniard, Velazquez, who mostly had to paint the Spanish Royal family. He had an idea that I thought quite revolutionary at the time. He didn’t want my face to be seen. So he painted me from the back, looking into the mirror, but the observer can’t really see my face clearly. 

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Diego Velazquez, Venus, 1647-51

I: Was it because of poor quality mirrors?

V: You can’t be serious. It is because we wanted to enable the observer to imagine the face they believed to be ideally beautiful. 

I: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I personally put Velazquez’s version of you above Titian’s. I can also see you’ve changed your hair.

V: I hated being blond for Rubens. I pretty much hated everything about myself that was, you know, Rubens’ legacy. Besides, Diego thought dark hair, pale body, and dark sheets would make for a much better image of beauty than my sun-tanned body against the white Titian’s bed. One needs contrast to see beauty. Diego was convinced he needed red, for passion, and grey to make the body look alive against it. He was centuries ahead of his time in terms of using colours.

I: Yes, the French book on simultaneous colours that influenced Impressionists was almost two hundred years away.

So, Velazques was creating ideal beauty not on the canvas, but in the mind of the beholder. This sounds very much like the art of the 20th century. Did you meet any interesting artist between Diego and, if I understood you right, Matisse?

V: It is painful to admit, but for a time, I was infatuated with Cabanel. Until I realised it was going backwards, to Classical Greece, but with a rotten flavour of bourgeois debauchery. It was a dead-end. He turned me into a common whore and I thought to cut off his manhood. Instead, I cut inspiration off him for the rest of his life.

Alexandre Cabanel, The Birth of Venus, 1863

Alexandre Cabanel, The Birth of Venus, 1863

I: This is why he is now famous for not allowing Manet to exhibit at the official Salon more than for his art. But did you sit for Manet instead? I mean his Olympia?

V: As much as I loved Eduard, I only modelled for works with my name on it. No, it was that famous courtesan, Olympia, exactly as “it says on the tin”.

I: So, who was your next favourite? Picasso?

V: Picasso was a first-class fetishist when it came to a female body. I said I didn’t have enough anuses to model for him. He laughed. And then he used Cranach and Rubens as his inspiration. And that was totally wrong, you know now it was not me. 

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Dali tried to approach me, but I just couldn’t stand his wife, Gala. It was all about suppressed desires, Freud, and Gala’s ideas of group sex as if I were indeed the woman that Cabanel had painted. I mean I’d seen it all in the good old Greece and Rome. It was boring two millenia before their crazy family decided it was news. Dali was a vengeful man. I am sure you saw his photograph, the Dream of Venus?

Murray Korman with Salvador Dali, Dream of Venus, 1939

Murray Korman with Salvador Dali, Dream of Venus, 1939

I: And then came the turn of Matisse.

V: Matisse was my 20th-century genius. God sculpted me as a sphere, but that was so conceptual I am still not quite sure I get the idea. Matisse came very close to abstraction. He cut my head off, he cut my arms and legs off, but it is my essence that he showed. It is my 20th century concept.

Matisse, Venus, 1952

Matisse, Venus, 1952

I: I am sure many people would say it may remind the observer of a female body, but ideal beauty?

V: Then you’d have to explain why it is the ideal of beauty. I need to go and see a very promising artist now. 

I: Anyone I know?

V: No, but I hope not yet.

Slightly frayed billion bucks

The single ultimate argument to visit Russia is the Hermitage in St.Petersburg. If Russia sells its contents to Qatar or China, it can buy out all of its neighbours without firing a single shot, and restore the Soviet Union to its former glory (minus the Hermitage, of course). Each room inside it is a treasure trove worth of a stand-alone gallery.

Take one of Matisse rooms.

The Dance takes one of the walls.

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The opposite wall displays the Music.

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There’s a half-dozen other major paintings scattered around, but just these two could easily fetch a billion dollars.

Now look at the frame.

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It is a frayed base board holding together a $500-million painting.

I wonder if the director of the Hermitage should be sacked on the spot, or promoted to the Deputy Minister of Culture (Contemporary art department) for the inordinate feat of not giving a damn about the past.

Original research on Matisse (if you missed it):

Matisse’s Icarus
Matisse’s Dance
Matisse’s Serenity
Matisse’s Last Will – The Snail

To sample this blog, click on About at the top. It has links to some of my best or typical posts. There’s an Art & Fun shelf if you feel like in need of a laugh.

An object lesson from Matisse

Etienne de Silhouette was the kind of finance minister that people love to see hanged publicly. He was all about financial austerity. Not surprisingly, the cheapest way to get yourself a portrait (which was a paper cutout of a person’s profile in the 18th century) got his name.

For a couple of centuries, artists had been playing with silhouettes, making the misery method a rich art form as legit as painting or sculpture. And then came photography. And photographers.

This is when it got out of hand.

A bazillion of embracing couples against sunsets. Firemen against fires. Birds against the skies.

The art of silhouette has been devalued, but it still may come back. Silhouette is waiting for an innovator.

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Lanvin launched a silhouette line this year (it’s on me, and no, I didn’t buy it for myself) that makes the wearer a great target for street muggers. I mean if someone is wearing a pink hand from Lanvin at the front, there must be some fat wallet in the back pocket.

This silhouette sweater is an ideal outfit to wear back to front, if you want to ask someone for a favour. “Scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” becomes a pinky friendly message, and not an offer legally classified as corruption. It is important to stay away from areas where people love scratching each other’s backs for the sheer pleasure of it.

This glamorous hand reminded me of Matisse and his cutouts. Matisse discovered that a 2-dimensional silhouette in colour could be perceived as a 3-dimensional sculpture.  Look at this silhouette of a woman carrying an amphora (that’s clever for a jar) on her head.

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The rhyme of shapes makes it poetry, and there’s a bit of drama in it. Note the gap between the head and the jar, She rose her arms to steady the jar, but some fruit fell down. The only problem is that this silhouetted poem lacks volume. There’s no sense of distance, no depth.

It is not there, because I cropped it. Matisse makes the whole story 3-dimensional by a single vertical bar:

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If there is a small god of silhouette art he probably is laughing right now at the small god of silhouette photography (I don’t doubt the existence of the latter).

I am getting over to the Silhouette Photo Challenge, to see if that sneering is justified. Quite possibly, it is not, and the sihouette god would be shamed.

P.S. You may wonder what is the role of the yellowish square at the background. Let me know why it is there, I’ve heard different opinions on that one. Let’s compare our impressions!

UPDATE: THE YELLOW RECTANGLE 

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The rectangle creates a ship-like space for the girl who moves – despte the disturbance with the jar – with a cruiser’s grace towards the observer. Note the shape of her legs and feet: it is the bow of a ship.

The ship-like space protrudes into the bubble of the observer, and with the fruit falling out of HER space into the observer’s universe, the observer has to react.

It is not just a 3-D picture, it is a moving 3-D picture, and you don’t need special glasses to see it, just your imagination.