Monday, April 30, 2018

Mannequins in the Studio - Part IV

Paul Huot
Female Mannequin
ca. 1816
wood, metal, horsehair, wax, silk, cotton, painted papier mâché
Museumslandschaft Hessen, Kassel

"Interestingly, Barillet gives barely a passing mention to one of the most sought-after mannequin-makers in Europe, Paul Huot, except to say that he followed in the footsteps of Ansiaume.  Beyond this, nothing is known of Huot's life, but the reputation of his extraordinary mannequins assured his posthumous fame.  By 1790, Huot's life-sized, stuffed figures were already being sold as far afield as St. Petersburg, and in 1817 the little-known genre painter August von der Embde (1780-1862) also had one sent to Kassel from Paris at the significant cost of 1,000 francs (transport included).  After passing through the possession of the artist's painter-descendants, this figure was eventually given to the museum at Kassel, and although it has undergone various phases of restoration, the original is comparatively well-preserved.  X-rays taken at the time of restoration show a complex, if somewhat irregular construction in wood and metal, upholstered in what appears to be a mixture of horsehair and tow, covered with a double layer of cotton stockinette.  The exposed area of the décolleté is made of wax, presumably to achieve optimal simulation of the flesh, while the papier mâché head is pierced with holes so as to allow a wig or hat to be attached; further holes around the neck would have enabled the costume to be securely fitted to its inanimate support.  Huot proudly signed his creation in large letters on the upper part of the throat section, hidden by the head, once fitted.  'Madame Huot', as she is affectionately known, was delivered to the owner complete with a three-page pamphlet of instructions for use, written in French and German by Heinrich von Bezold, an artists' supplier who in 1830 procured a second mannequin for the sculptor Johann Martin von Wagner.  The booklet contains such important advice as how to mount the mannequin on its stand and fix the arms and thighs in position, how to cover it to protect it from dust and, in a final paragraph, how to make the figure pose like the Venus de' Medici."

T.B. Bitter
In the Studio
ca. 1820-30
oil on canvas
Musée Carnavalet, Paris

"The little-known French painter T.B. Bitter's self-portrait in his own studio presents a highly romantic view of the artist's working environment.  Dressed in a dapper cravat and morning coat, a loaded palette in his hand, the painter sits before an open fire, its warmth radiating out onto his trouser legs.  His outward glance invites the viewer to contemplate the picturesque clutter of the studio: a pile of books, bottle and glass on the table beside him, a vase with a solitary flower on the elaborate mantelpiece behind, and walls closely hung with anatomical plasters, framed and unframed portraits and sketches which we take to be his.  On a large easel on the right, partially covered, is Bitter's painting The Clemency of François I, which was exhibited at the Salon of 1819; opposite, two young female students attentively draw what appears to be a model in the centre of the room, fashionably dressed in an elegant satin gown with white gloves, a matching feather hat and voluminous red shawl.  However, the lavish detail of her dress serves more than a decorative purpose, for it is with this figure that Bitter wishes to have a little fun.  A closer look – which he so actively encourages us to take – shows that the figure is in fact a well-padded mannequin perfectionné, not dissimilar to those made by Paul Huot, a maker who, as we have seen, was in particular demand in just those years." 

Gustave Courbet
Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine
oil on canvas
Petit Palais, Paris

"Misdirected realism was one of the numerous criticisms levelled at Gustave Courbet's painting Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine, his first genre scene representing contemporary urban life, when it was shown at the Salon in 1857.  The painting famously proved controversial for the lascivious poses of the skimpily clad young women, too readily identified as grisettes, or part-time prostitutes, but it also disappointed Courbet's supporters who considered it an inexplicable diversion from the more complex, socially engaged realist subjects he had painted up to that point.  However, focusing on modern city life and modern women gave Courbet the opportunity to indulge in painting once of the facets that best defined the contemporary parisienne: her dress, or, in this case, her equally fashionable under-dress.  . . .  [In a caricature of this painting, Félix Nadar drew attention] to the unnatural and graceless quality of the figures, splayed out awkwardly on the riverbank like disarticulated artists' or dressmakers' dummies, their bland expressionless faces detached from each other and their surroundings: woman and mannequin are conflated – both display fashion, and are at the same time themselves goods on display." 

Gustave Courbet
Young Ladies of the Village
oil on canvas
Leeds Museums and Galleries

Earlier in the decade, when Courbet had exhibited Young Ladies of the Village, the figures were similarly said to have "the air of crudely carved and shabbily dressed dolls, placed in an equally unrealistic landscape setting populated by cattle on wheels that seemed 'a world apart'."  

Gustave Courbet
The Artist's Studio
oil on canvas
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

". . . there is no documentary evidence that Courbet used mannequins for any of these paintings, although one – clearly padded like a Huot-type figure, if not necessarily perfectionné  appears prominently in the left-hand side of his painting The Artist's Studio: A Real Allegory Determining Seven Years of My Life as an Artist.  Suspended behind the painter's easel and half in shadow, the mannequin is shown in the contorted pose of a St Sebastian figure, with a piece of drapery loosely thrown over its forearm; seated to its left, apparently dozing, is an undertaker in a top hat, and between them a skull, described by Courbet as 'a death's head on a newspaper'; a trilogy of lifelessness that passes from the suspended animation of sleep to the inanimate mannequin and the definitively  and allegorically  dead.  Boime has suggested that we are to understand the presence of the mannequin as an allusion to the demise of classicism, but, by extension, it might also be considered a condemnation of the stultifying effect of its overuse in academic art; certainly, Courbet places it among the figures he identifies as representing what might be roughly described as his opponents, 'the other world of trivial life, the people, misery, poverty, wealth, the exploited, the exploiters, people who live from death'.  Yet a photograph by Eugène Feyen of Courbet's studio in Ornans [below] taken in 1864 and showing a life-size mannequin slumped in the far corner of the room between a mirror and a cabinet, amongst piles of unframed canvases, might contradict, or at least qualify, this reading.  But for the evidence of the breasts, it would be tempting to assume it was the mannequin that earlier 'posed' for St Sebastian; however, it appears that Courbet owned one of each sex."  

Eugène Feyen
Courbet's Studio in Ornans
Institut Gustave Courbet, Ornans

Frederic Leighton
Cimabue's celebrated Madonna
oil on canvas
National Gallery, London

Frederic Leighton
The Feigned Death of Juliet
oil on canvas
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

Frederic Leighton
The Invocation
ca. 1889
oil on canvas
private collection

"For devotees such as Frederic Leighton, president of the Royal Academy from 1878 to his death in 1896, the lay figure was an essential aid to rendering the extravagant, highly decorative and supremely non-naturalistic drapery that became something of a trademark of his paintings from the 1870s.  As Daniel Robbins has shown, Leighton took infinite pains in preparing his voluminous and elaborately disposed drapery prior to painting.  This involved laying the fabric out on the floor and supporting the folds with pads of cotton wool, or – following Renaissance practice using small figurines – dipping the material into a plaster mix that was then laid on the life-size mannequin, so that the shape of the folds was preserved as the plaster dried.  However, at times not even the most sophisticated lay figure could give Leighton the results he needed.  In 1889, for his painting The Invocation, he commissioned the promising young sculptor Henry Peagram (1862-1937) to make a full-scale model in clay in a pose too physically demanding for a living model to retain for the requisite time, and which he found could not be adequately replicated by the mannequin.  This arrangement fixed the fabric in place long enough for him to be able to reproduce the extraordinarily subtle effects of white light filtering through a white veil which – notional subject apart – lay at the aesthetic heart of the painting." 

John Everett Millais
The Black Brunswicker
oil on canvas
Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool

"Moral scruples . . . intervened in the case of Millais' most famous use of a lay figure, for his painting of The Black Brunswicker.  As models for his protagonists' features, Millais took Charles Dickens' daughter Kate, and a private in the Life Guards, whom he had personally selected for his good looks.  Propriety dictated that two unacquainted members of the opposite sexes could not assume so intimate a pose in real life, so the models sat at different times and a mannequin was called in, leaving the Life Guard to embrace a (presumably stuffed) lay figure, while his 'fair lady', Miss Dickens, 'leant on the bosom of a man of wood'.  . . .  Generally a fast worker, Millais laboured over The Black Brunswicker for three months, and the huge popular and financial recognition he received when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1860 suggested his efforts had not been in vain.  . . .  Certainly, the mannequin contributed silently, but significantly, to an aspect of Millais' painting that was most regularly admired in the 1850s and 1860s: his exquisite rendering of fabrics, costume and dress.  One of the features of the The Black Brunswicker that elicited most critical acclaim, for example, was the 'full deep and plump' quality of the white satin dress that occupies well over a quarter of the picture surface and dramatically offsets the soldier's black uniform."

John Everett Millais
ca. 1865-66
oil on canvas
private collection

"A decade after the success of The Black Brunswicker, it was satin again, in the form of the couvre-pied at the foot of the child's bed in his enchanting painting of his youngest daughter, Sleeping, that struck contemporary critics as particularly brilliant and daring.  Indeed, with its companion, Waking, depicting another of his daughters, Mary, this affectionate genre-portrait has subsequently been compared to the tonal harmonies of Whistler's paintings of the period.  It seems highly probable that for both these paintings a child mannequin was as close a collaborator as his daughters."

John Everett Millais
ca. 1865-66
oil on canvas
Perth Museum and Art Gallery

John Everett Millais
The Crown of Love
oil on canvas-
Pérez Simon Collection, Mexico

"In later years, however, after abandoning the Pre-Raphaelite principles of fidelity to nature and turning to more anecdotal subject painting, even the hugely gifted Millais proved fallible.  His painting The Crown of Love, based on a poem of the same title by George Meredith, was poorly received when exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1875, the stiffness of the female figure understandably being compared to an artist's dummy." 

John Ferguson Weir
His Favourite Model
ca. 1886
oil on canvas
Yale University Art Gallery

"John Ferguson Weir shows artist and mannequin hand in hand, in perfect collusion, mutually supportive in the most literal sense.  Although this is not a self-portrait, Weir is known to have acquired his father's mannequins in 1876 and to have used the artists' supplier Prang, who imported both French and Spanish mannequins into the United States.  . . .  Weir's part-portrait may be read as a candid acknowledgement of the artifice of picture-making.  Despite the physical rapprochement of artist and mannequin and the allusion to their collaborative partnership, Weir's remains a study of difference.  The dapperly dressed painter – whose identity is unknown – looks out of the canvas and engages directly with the viewer; by contrast, the mannequin's detachable papier mâché head is turned awkwardly on its frame so that it gazes vacantly, if benignly, into an undefined space." 

Edgar Degas
Portrait of Henri Michel-Lévy in his studio
ca. 1878
oil on canvas
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon

"Like Weir's studio scene, Degas' is a frank and multi-layered avowal of pictorial artifice.  Contrary to their painted appearance, the 'naturalistic' outdoor scenes by Michel-Lévy that hang on the walls on either side of their author were not painted en plein air, Degas shows us, but were instead fanciful products of the imagination, executed in the studio, a 'revelation' entirely consistent with Degas' belief that landscape painters were deluded in their attempts to recreate nature by going to paint in front of it: 'the air you breathe in a picture is not necessarily the same as the air out of doors'.  Similarly, the inelegantly slouched female figure leaning on the tree in the painting on the left is shown to have been modelled not from a real woman, but from the lay figure at Michel-Lévy's feet – one simulated life used in the creation of another.  Michel-Lévy's own pose seems to invite us to unravel the ruse: a witty play of bent elbows and casually crossed legs allies painter, mannequin and her painted replica, and draws attention to his own transformative power as creator."

– quoted texts are from Silent Partners: Artist and Mannequin from Function to Fetish by Jane Munro, published by Yale University Press in 2014 to accompany an exhibition organized by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge