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Posts Tagged ‘biographies of artists’

Richard Taylor and Elizabeth Burton. Undated photo

Richard Taylor and Elizabeth Burton. Undated photo

On July 4, 1973, American film actress Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) issued the following press release:

“I am convinced it would be a good and constructive idea if Richard [Burton] and I separated for a while. Maybe we loved each other too much. I never believed such a thing was possible. But we have been in each other’s pockets constantly, never being apart but for matters of life and death, and I believe it has caused a temporary breakdown of communication.

I believe with all my heart that the separation will ultimately bring us back to where we should be – and that’s together. I think in a few days’ time I shall return to California, because my mother is there, and I have old and true friends there, too.” (1)

Leaving Richard at the Long Island estate of his lawyer Aaron Frosch, Elizabeth checked out of her room at the Regency Hotel, Park Avenue, New York and flew to Los Angeles. She had to put distance between herself and Richard’s endless drinking, their endless quarreling. She hid from the paparazzi at the Hollywood home of her old and dear friend, Edith Head, the legendary fashion designer for Paramount Pictures. Upon Elizabeth’s arrival, “Edie” got out the bottle of Jack Daniels  for the two of them to share.

Elizabeth considered Edith to be like a second mother to her. Edith returned the affection. In her Spanish-style home in Coldwater Canyon that she shared with her husband Bill, she had placed a plaque at the bottom of the stairwell that read,

ELIZABETH TAYLOR SLEEPS HERE

 

Edith Head designed costumes at Paramount Pictures for 43 years. (1952)

Edith Head designed costumes at Paramount Pictures for 43 years. (1952)

Edith Head (1897-1981) had won one of her eight Oscars for best costume design for “A Place in the Sun” (1951) in which Elizabeth played socialite Angela Vickers. Taylor’s costumes were so beautiful in that film that they set fashion trends for prom and ball gowns that year. (2)

One evening gown, in particular, was a huge sensation and remains an iconic dress today. It was strapless, to show off Elizabeth’s gorgeous shoulders, which Edith considered one of her best assets, with a sweetheart neckline that showed just a trace of virginal décolletage.

An Edith Head sketch of Elizabeth Taylor's white tulle gown in "A Place in the Sun." (1952)

An Edith Head sketch of Elizabeth Taylor’s white tulle gown in “A Place in the Sun.” (1952)

The bodice was highlighted by clusters of tiny fabric violets. Below the nipped in waist, a full skirt erupted in countless yards of white tulle studded with white velvet violets. It was a flattering silhouette for Elizabeth who Edith considered “one of the prettiest human beings I’ve ever seen.”

Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in "A Place in the Sun." (1952)

Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in “A Place in the Sun.” (1952)

Eighteen years later, Elizabeth wore another of Edith’s designs to the 1970 Academy Awards, at which she presented the Best Picture Award to “Midnight Cowboy.” It was a chiffon dress – in violet, to match Elizabeth’s famous violet eyes – with a plunging V-neckline. Nestled in Elizabeth’s tanned cleavage was the famous 69-carat, pear-shaped Taylor-Burton diamond, a diamond as big as the Ritz that cost well over a million dollars. It was one of many outstanding pieces in the Elizabeth Taylor Jewelry Collection.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor arrive at the 1970 Academy Awards. Burton was nominated for Best Actor in "Anne of a Thousand Days" but did not win.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor arrive at the 1970 Academy Awards. Burton was nominated for Best Actor in “Anne of a Thousand Days” but did not win.

Elizabeth had a love affair with jewelry. She had long admired one piece that Edith Head often wore, a gold and ivory necklace made up of Victorian opera tokens.

Edith Head with sketch

Film costume designer Edith Head wearing her Victorian opera token necklace.

The Edith Head Necklace

The Edith Head Necklace

In 1981, Edith passed away, leaving her necklace to Elizabeth in her will.

E Taylor and e Head necklace

Elizabeth Taylor wears a Victorian opera token necklace of ivory and gold, a gift from her friend Edith Head. Undated photo

I had the opportunity to see the Edith Head Necklace in 2011 at the Christie’s auction of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry collection in New York. It was my favorite piece of all of Elizabeth’s jewelry. The necklace was estimated to sell at between $1,500 and $2,000, but it sold for $314,500!

(1) Kashner, Sam and Schoenberger, Nancy. Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010.

(2) Jorgensen, Jay. Edith Head: The Fifty Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer. New York: Lifetime Media, 2010.

Readers: For more on Elizabeth Taylor, click here. For more on Edith Head, click here.

 

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Pigeons gather in a square in Barcelona.

Note: Pigeons and doves form the bird family Columbidae, of which there are 300 species. Ornithologically, there is no simple way to distinguish a pigeon from a dove. Some specialists refer to the smaller species as “doves” and the larger ones as “pigeons,” but this is not consistently applied.

Collared Doves can be tamed in urban areas, such as these two being handfed in Poland.

Collared doves can be tamed in urban areas, such as these two sweeties being handfed in Poland.

In reference to the works of Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, the issue is further muddled. The titles of many of his works include the Spanish word la paloma, which means both “pigeon” and “dove,” so we aren’t sure which bird he intended to depict, if, indeed, he did intend to create such a distinction.

Finally, Picasso biographers, art curators, and translators have added their own layers of confusion. For example, the painting, “Child Holding a Dove,” (National Gallery, London) has been given two different French title translations: “L’Enfant A La Colombe” (Child With the Dove)  and “L’Enfant Au Pigeon” (Child With A Pigeon).

Therefore, for the purpose of this article, the terms, “pigeon” and “dove,” are used interchangeably, as is common practice, except when otherwise explicitly stated.

Now for our story:

“Picasso in Underwear,” photo by David Douglas Duncan, 1957. From the earliest age, the most famous artist of the 20th Century did whatever he wanted, which might include posing in his jockeys on his front doorstep at age 76.

Famed Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) grew up around pigeons. His father, José Ruiz Blasco, an artist in his own right, bred pigeons (rock doves), which became his favorite subject to paint. Ruiz became known as El Palomero (The Pigeon Fancier). Pablo’s father taught him how to paint pigeons. (1)

In Pablo’s hometown of Málaga, Spain, pigeons roosted in the sycamore trees in the Plaza de la Merced, where he and his sisters played. While the girls frolicked in the square, Pablo used a stick to make bird drawings in the dirt. (2)

Much to the dismay of his elementary school teachers, Little Pablo, or “Pablito,” drew constantly. Every once in a while, he brought a pigeon to class and spent his time sketching it rather than doing his assigned schoolwork.

Pablo used every inch of his drawing paper, covering the page with scenes of his favorite subjects: bullfights and pigeons. (3)

Guided by his father, Picasso received professional art instruction. His talent grew and was recognized. By the age of 15, he was successfully exhibiting his artwork. By 1901, he was splitting his time between Barcelona and Paris, falling increasingly in the company of artists heavily influenced by post-impressionists such as Vincent Van Gogh.

That same year, at the age of 20, Picasso had become so respected an artist that he had a Paris show in the Galerie Vollard almost to himself, sharing it with another Basque. At this exhibition, Picasso

sold 15 of his 65 paintings and drawings before the exhibition had even opened.” (4)

Through all these changes, however, pigeons still charmed him, as is evident in his sentimental 1901 painting, “Child Holding a Dove” (1901), a piece that ushered in his somber Blue Period.

Pigeons even appeared during his cubist period, as in “Woman With Pigeons” ( 1930).

“Woman With Pigeons,” by Pablo Picasso, 1930.

Before 1937, Picasso had not used his art for political expression. It was in that year, though, that he was to create his most famous work. Commissioned by the Spanish Republican government, Picasso created an enormous mural called “Guernica.” It was named after a Spanish town in the Basque country that had been firebombed by Nazis, backers of the Nationalist forces of General Franco during the Spanish Civil War (1937-1939).

Guernica, Spain, after the April 26, 1937, aerial bombing by Nazis. It was market day and the quiet village was filled with women and children. There were few men left in Guernica, as most were off fighting in the Spanish Civil War against Franco. The Nazis bombed the town for two hours, slaughtering hundreds of innocents. When the town caught fire, those not burned to death tried to escape the inferno by taking refuge in the outskirts of town. Yet there was no escape, as they found themselves trapped all around by bombed-out bridges and roads. Some of these women and children were gunned down by aerialists. The Nazis supported the rebel forces of General Franco to test out war tactics and weapons. Although there was a military target outside Guernica, a munitions factory, it was left unscathed by the April 1937 bombing. It is believed that the bombing was used to intimidate those in opposition to Franco’s impending rule.

After the painting “Guernica” (see below) was exhibited in the Paris International Exhibition (1937), it toured Europe and the U.S., drawing international attention to the Spanish Civil War and the horrors of war.

“Guernica,” by Pablo Picasso. (1937)

 “Guernica” gained monumental status, becoming a potent anti-war symbol and thrusting Pablo Picasso to the forefront of the Peace Movement. In May of 1940, Hitler invaded France. Throughout WWII, Picasso lived in Nazi-occupied Paris, where he was continually harassed by the Gestapo who were familiar with his anti-Nazi mural.

Picasso continued to paint and draw pigeons and doves. In 1949, author Louis Aragon chose the artist’s lithograph, “La Colombe,” (The Dove) for the poster commemorating the Peace Conference in Paris. (5)

“La Colombe” (The Dove) by Picasso, 1949

Posters of “La Colombe” were all over Paris when Picasso’s daughter was born that April so he named his daughter Paloma (Spanish for dove).

In this 1951 image, Pablo Picasso is shown with 2 of his 4 children, whose mother was Francoise Gilot: Paloma (b. 1949) in his arms and Claude (b. 1947) Photo Edward Quinn, © edwardquinn.com

The model for the famous “peace dove” was one of artist Henri Matisse ‘s doves.

Henri Matisse in his studio with his doves. Vence, France. 1944. photo by Henri-Cartier Bresson

Matisse and Picasso had known each other since 1904 when they were introduced at the Paris salon of Gertrude Stein, an important collector of art, particularly Matisse’s. Matisse and Picasso had a profound influence on one another and their art.

After Matisse died in 1954, Picasso was deeply saddened. He moved his family to a large villa near Cannes in the south of France and painted a series called “Studio” in homage to Matisse. He painted almost a dozen canvases of the same view from his third floor studio window – with the lush background of sky and garden and sea – while, in the foreground, “white doves” (6) nested and played in a dovecote Picasso had built on his terrace. Picasso did not ordinarily paint what he saw; he drew upon his imagination for artistic inspiration. It was his old friend Matisse who drew from nature. Therein lay Picasso’s tribute to Matisse.

“The Studio (Pigeons),” by Picasso, 1957, is painted in a style reminiscent of Matisse.

Meanwhile, the “Dove of Peace” Picasso had created for the 1949 Paris Peace Conference had caught on. It had become a symbol for the peace movement, the Communist Party, and other liberal groups. In the years that followed, Picasso agreed to create other peace doves for conferences across Europe.

The modern peace dove is a more whimsical bird than the 1949 original. This proud bird is portrayed in happy flight, bearing numerous bouquets of olive branches and flowers in its wings, beak, and feet.

one of the many versions of Picasso’s iconic “Dove of Peace”

(1)”Lines That Kept Moving and Knew No Boundaries,” by Smith, Roberta. New York Times, October 7, 2011.

(2) Hart, Tony. Famous Children: Picasso. New York: Barron’s Educational Series, 1994.

(3) Krull, Kathleen. Lives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes (and What the Neighbors Thought). New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995.

(4) link

(5) Clark, Hiro. Picasso: In His Words. New York: Welcome Books, 2002.

(6) Douglas, David. Viva Picasso: A Centennial Celebration 1881-1981. Studio, 1980.

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Diego Rivera shown with wife, Frida Kahlo. Frida's mother called them "the Elephant and the Dove."

Elvis Presley at his shiniest

What did Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and rock sensation Elvis Presley have in common?

They both had twin brothers who died.

Diego Rivera and his twin brother Carlos were born on December 8, 1886 in Guanajato, Mexico. Carlos, however, died eighteen months later.

"The Flower Carrier" by Diego Rivera (1886-1957)

On January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, Gladys Presley gave birth to identical twin boys. The first one, Jesse Garon Presley, was stillborn. Thirty-five minutes later, Elvis Aaron (Aron) Presley entered this world. Gladys told Elvis that, as the surviving twin, he had been destined for great things.

READERS: For more posts on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, click here.

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“Portrait of My Father,” (1951), Mexican artist Frida Kahlo shows us her photographer father Guillermo Kahlo with the tool of his trade – a camera.

From an early age, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) identified with her German-born father, Guillermo Kahlo, a portrait photographer. In her diary, she wrote (in Spanish):

“My childhood was marvelous because, although my father was a sick man [ he had epilepsy], he was an immense example to me of tenderness, of work (photographer and also painter)….”

Frida Kahlo as photographed by her father, Guillermo Kahlo (1872-1941) in 1926 at about age 19. This was taken after Frida's horrific bus accident.

Guillermo Kahlo taught young Frida how to use a camera and how to develop, retouch, and color photographs. He adored Frida and photographed her often. Perhaps this is when Frida developed her obsession for self-portraiture.

Frida Kahlo (l) at about age 19 with her family (c. 1927)

Definitely, by this time, Frida Kahlo had discovered how to seduce the camera. In this 1927 (perhaps 1924?) family photo, Frida appears androgynous, flouting convention by wearing a man’s suit and slicking back her hair. She was quite the rebel. Meanwhile, her sisters and mother pose demurely nearby in period flapper attire. Frida, however, has adopted a jaunty pose and an expression that says:

“Don’t look at them. Look at me!”

We can’t help staring at her.  At 19 she is already an exotic creature. Thus began Frida Kahlo’s long and celebrated career of using personal dress as theatre.

READERS: For more posts on Frida Kahlo, click here.

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Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

At the age of six, Frida Kahlo was stricken with polio. It affected her right leg. She spent nine months in bed.

“‘It all began with a horrible pain in my right leg from the muscle downward,” she remembered. ‘They washed my little leg in a small tub with walnut water and small hot towels.'”

Once she was out of bed, her doctor insisted that Frida exercise to build up her weaker leg. Her father got her involved in all kinds of sports, a decidedly male domain in 1914 Mexico. However, Frida played soccer, boxed, wrestled, and became a champion swimmer. (1) She climbed trees, rowed on the lakes of Chapultepec Park, and played ball.

Frida Kahlo is shown at far right, with sister Cristina (l) and best friend Isabel Campos (c). The photo was taken by Frida’s father, Guillermo Kahlo, in 1919, when Frida was about 12.

Despite her best efforts, her right leg remained very skinny. To disguise that fact, she wore three or four socks on her thin calf and shoes with a built-up right heel. While some of her friends admired her stamina despite her deformity, other children teased her:

“Frida’s childhood friend, the painter Aurora Reyes, says: ‘We were quite cruel about her leg. When she was riding her bicycle, we would yell at her, ‘Frida, pata de palo!’ [Frida, peg leg], and she would respond furiously with lots of curses.'”

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at a demonstration of the Syndicate of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors, May 1, 1929

In this photo, Frida is shown marching in a skirt that hits below the knee – thus exposing her obviously thinner right calf. Not long after this photo was taken, Frida began to wear elaborate, floor-length skirts –  to hide her emaciated leg from public view.

Frida Kahlo with pigeons, ca. 1940s by Juan Guzmán.

(1) Herrera, Hayden. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. New York, Harper, 1983.

Now read: “Frida Kahlo Had Childhood Polio Part 2.”

READERS: For even more posts on Frida Kahlo, click here.

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Frida Kahlo sits on a white bench, wearing traditional Mexican clothing, in her heavily ornamented and embroidered signature look. Photographed in 1939 in New York by her friend and lover, Nickolas Muray.

Frida Kahlo, New York, 1939, photo by Nicholas Muray. She sits on a white bench, wearing traditional Mexican clothes in the heavily ornamented and embroidered style that became her signature.

“Frida was often heard to say, ‘I look like a lot of people and a few things,’ as if everything that made up her personal appearance was a matter of chance. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Dressing each day was an almost ceremonial affair during which she would try innumerable combinations of blouses and skirts. Her clothes were always immaculately clean and freshly ironed; she was meticulous about the appearance of her pleated petticoats, pure white and starched. She wore native Mexican costumes long after her sophisticated friends had given up this nationalistic gesture, in part for the long skirts that hid her thin leg [from childhood polio] and orthopedic shoe [from a bus accident]….

Frida selected her jewelry each day with equal care, especially the rings she wore on the fingers of both hands. She meticulously applied her make-up and painted her fingernails, sometimes purple, green, or orange….Only a little over 5′ 2″ tall, she seemed taller bcause of the heightening effect of her long skirts, accentuated even more by her elegantly long neck and her upswept hairdo with bows and flowers arranged on top of her head. Her olive skin was covered with a light fuzz; her upper lip had a pronounced moustache, which she made obvious in her self-portraits. The heavy dark eyebrows that grew together across her forehead she turned into a trademark….

When she was finally finished dressing, she looked “like a princess, like an empress’….Scrupulously clean and heavily perfumed…” (1)

Frida Kahlo smoking,  photograph by her friend and lover Nickolas Muray, ca. 1940

Frida Kahlo smoking, photo by her friend and lover, Nickolas Muray, ca. 1940

Frida was a heavy smoker and is often photographed holding a lit, unfiltered cigarette. She seldom smiled for the camera – with good reason. The few photos that have caught her laughing reveal blackened teeth.

(1) Zamora, Martha. Frida Kahlo: The Brush of Anguish. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1990.

READERS: For more posts on Frida Kahlo, click here.

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Frida Kahlo photographed by New York art dealer, Julien Levy (1938)

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo as photographed by New York art dealer, Julien Levy (1938)

“I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy as long as I can paint.”

To Julien Levy, who prepared Frida Kahlo‘s 1938 New York art exhibition, Frida wrote (in English):

“I never thought of painting until 1926, when I was in bed on account of an automobile accident. I was bored as hell in bed with a plaster cast (I had a fracture in the spine and several in other places), so I decided to do something. I stoled [sic] from my father some oil paints, and my mother ordered for me a special easel because I couldn’t sit down [she means “sit up”], and I started to paint.” (1)

Frida Kahlo paints in bed.

Frida Kahlo paints in bed.

(1) Herrera, Hayden. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1983.

READERS: For more posts on Frida Kahlo, click here.

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