Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Vertical Gardens of Patrick Blanc

Patrick Blanc has has the wonderful vision to grow gardens vertically. How beneficial this  must be for air we breathe by cycling and recycling air in usually-stagnant public buildings and offices.

Patrick Blanc was born in June of '53 in the fittingly-named Clinique des Fleurs in Issy-les-Moulineaux. Blanc had his first tropical aquarium in 1960. In the early 70s he visited Malaysia and Thailand and was no doubt inspired by the rain-forest conditions encountered there. During the 80s and 90s Blanc was an award-winning botanist.

Patrick Blanc created his first famous vertical green wall at Paris' Pershing Hall Hotel. He's responsible for the living, breathing exterior at the Musee du Quai Branly, Paris.

Here's a link to his site. He definitely has a vision. I even found a picture of him with green hair.

Patrick's work reminded me of my own ivy (actually Virginia Creeper) covered house above. The bees love it mid-July. The whole wall just buzzes. Sparrows make it home too.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Misia - Another Red-headed Muse, Part Three

Photo of Misia by Vuillard, 1897
Misia by Renoir 1904

In 1907 Misia’s marriage to Alfred Edwards was in tatters. Misia was extremely jealous of her husband's mistress Genevieve Lantelme, and said in her memoirs "I had contrived to get a photograph of Lantelme; it adorned my dressing-table, and I made desperate efforts to look like her, dress my hair in the same way, wear the same clothes."

Genevieve Lantelme

Genevieve Lantelme and Edwards married but in 1911 Lantelme drowned after falling off Edwards’ yactht.

Around 1909 Misia began an affair with the lusty Spanish Painter José Maria Sert; she married him in 1920. Sert’s murals achieved international recognition. His work adorns the assembly hall of the League of Nations, the Waldorf-Astoria in New York and his mural at the Rockefeller Center replaced the one painted by Diego Rivera which was dismantled after Rockefeller objected to its subject matter.

José Maria Sert
Sert had been working at the Ballets Russes painting sets and creating the dancer's costumes. He was a colourful, fiery man with enough money to keep Misia in the style to which she had been accustomed. They decorated their apartment on the Rue de Rivoli in an unorthodox but staggeringly grand way. Massive pieces of rock crystal were placed in front of the fire to refract light. Tables were made of tortoiseshell or the semi-precious malachite.

Mural by Sert, Rockefeller Center

In the meantime thanks to Serge Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes, Misia’s drawing-room on the Rue de Rivoli became home away from home for the Russians. She opened her door to him while he broadened her horizons. When Igor Stravinsky first played the score of Le Sacre du Printemps to Diaghilev, the event inevitably took place in Misia’s apartment.

Serge Diaghilev

Misia loved José Sert, saying she was the only man who truly “satisfied” her. But Misia had a way of attracting younger, prettier women into her circle who threatened to steal her man. This time Roussy Mdivani was the thief.

Roussy managed to crawl into the Sert’s bedroom the last time José made love to Misia. Misia didn't hold a grudge, "The poor girl was not responsible for the feeling she had for you." she wrote Sert. "I found it very natural that she should adore you."

Misia was weirdly fond and protective of Roussy Mdivani, inviting her everywhere and tending to her health. All three were taking drugs; Sert had always used cocaine, Misia was finding release in morphine, Roussy was willing to try anything. The triangle lasted for as long as Misia’s pride allowed. They divorced in 1927.

In Misia’s circle between the wars, fashion steadily got the edge on art. In 1916 Misia met Coco Chanel who was to become her closest female friend. Apparently Misia, although morphine-addicted, created bonsai-like table-top trees out of rock-crystal and semi-precious stones. It’s uncertain if she made the trees herself but she certainly designed them. She designed dresses for a New York City fashion house around the same time.

When Sert finally cut ties with Misia, she consoled herself with the company of Coco Chanel, who was to now assume the dominant role in Misia’s life. Jean Cocteau dramatized their friendship in Les Monstres Sacrés but apparently he really never understood their relationship.

After Roussy’s early death, José Sert moved back in with Misia. During World War II Misia did her best to save artist Max Jacob’s life, She tried to pull every string to save him from the Nazis.
At her post-war soirées she invited collaborators and résistants on different days, but if they happened to bump into each other by chance she left them to sort it out. Her close friend Coco was arrested for a short time, suspected of being a Nazi collaborator.

Misia lived until 1950. She survives only in the works of others.

photo of Lantelme found at
top photo of Misia by Vuillard found at the great website

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Misia - Another Red-headed Muse, Part Two

Pierre Bonnard
Pierre Bonnard
Edouard Vuillard

In 1900 Misia was a voluptous 28 years old. The Paris Exposition was on. Misia was about to lose her good friend Toulouse-Lautrec. Her husband, Thadée Natanson, began taking more of an interest in politics. He found le Revue Blanche boring and entered into new and not-so-lucrative ventures. And the newspaper magnate Alfred Edwards fanatically pursued Misia like Pépé le Pew pursued the little black and white cat.

Photo of Misia and Thadée by Edouard Vuillard

Misia was offended and a little afraid of the extremely boorish, powerful Edwards. Misia’s husband found her attitude childish and urged her to use her charm to secure financial backing from him.

His plan backfired. Alfred Edwards did in fact help ease Thadée Natanson's financial woes, but Edwards was so obsessed with Misia that having her as a mistress was not enough. He wanted her as his wife. The fact that he already had a wife didn’t seem to matter.

Alfred Edwards

Once again Thadée had bungled his affairs. He resigned himself to the situation between Edwards and his wife and cabled Misia to “arrange everything.” Misia now saw Thadée as a tarnished knight - Edwards as the dragon. Perhaps by marrying the dragon she would no longer need protection. Misia began to feel “the agitation which strongly resembles love”. She began living with Alfred Edwards in 1903 and married him a few years later.

Misia acquired new friends in the Parisian musical and artistic circles. She was a confidante of Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau and an early and devoted patron of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. She was an inspiration to Proust and Apollinaire.

Maurice Ravel dedicated "Le Cygne" to her. When Ravel failed for the third time to win the Prix de Rome, Misia used her new husband’s clout to make the director of the Conservatoire resign. Gabriel Fauré, Misia’s childhood piano teacher took over the postion.

Misia played the piano for Caruso while he sang Neapolitan songs, and told him to pipe down when she’s had enough.

Misia was a close friend of designer Coco Chanel. Coco said "Misia never read a book"; however, she was always surrounded by people who were pure culture.”

Many of her friends from the old days stayed close and at least one grew even closer. Renoir didn’t pick sides. He was a deeply moral man and approved of Misia’s gift for bringing life alive.

Renoir longed to paint Misia’s famous breasts naked, but she would never bare them, probably because Edwards was lurking jealously despite the fact that Renoir was badly crippled with arthritis. Misia once rewarded Renoir for a portrait by giving him a blank cheque. He filled it out with the going rate. Apparently Renoir wrote love letters to her, but on the advice of her literary agent, deeming them as “too silly”, Misia destroyed them before her death.

Misia by Renoir

Misia lost Edwards to the gorgeous actress Genevieve Lantelme. As the break-up took a long time Misia was able to continue enjoying a large income. In the early stages of the breakup she headed for the coast to get away from it all. Marcel Proust was on hand to observe that Misia had ended up sharing a stretch of beach with her husband and his new mistress and her ex-husband Thadée.

More to come. (including a third husband)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Misia - Another Red-headed Muse, Part One

Portrait of Misia - Henri-Toulouse Lautrec

I had never heard of Misia until G-Pup bought me the book Misia, The Life of Misia Sert, by Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, second hand.

It turns out that Misia is one of the most inspirational muses and patrons of the Parisian avant-garde. Artists, musicians, writers and dancers at the turn of the (last) century were beguiled by her. A beauty in her time, Misia was painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, by Bonnard and Vuillard, and according to her memoirs, 7 or 8 times by Renoir.

She’s another in my series of red-headed muses and this gingersnap of a woman seemed to have her finger in all pies.

Misia Godebska, was born in 1872 in Russia. Her mother died in childbirth. Her father, the sculptor Cyprien Godebska, was engaged in the reconstruction of the Tsar’s palace. Remarried, he sent her off to live with family. She had a few idyllic years living with her grandmother in Belgium where she was found be a gifted pianist, only to be reunited with her distant father and step-mother in Paris. There Misia grew up in amongst the upper crust of French society, but she was shunted off to a succession of boarding schools and family members.

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec

She married early, at the age of 16, to Thadée Natanson, a Polish ex-pat politician and journalist. Later he became the editor of the Paris arts magazine la Revue Blanche, focusing on the circle of the Paris avant-garde.

La Revue Blanche was published from 1891 to 1902. One had to know Misia before being published in the magazine and in turn, Misia only wanted to know those who were gifted. She knew almost everyone who mattered in Paris’s artistic circles. Her taste was original and discerning. Probably a true bohemian, she was unwilling to desert her money and her class.

The painters (Vuillard, Bonnard, Lautrec and Renoir) painted her and the composers debuted their masterpieces at her piano. Ravel and Debussy were frequent guests. Vuillard adored her. Stéphane Mallarmé wrote poetry for her.

Photo by Édouard Vuillard

Although I don’t find her particularly striking, the painters thought her looks miraculous, with a legendary pair of legs and a dreamy bosom. Colette revolved around this group too, sporting a waistline almost as small as Misia’s.

At a party of 300, thrown by Misia’s brother-in-law to celebrate the completion of nine large panels painted by Vuillard, Toulouse-Lautrec was the barman.

Misia ate up her husband Thadée’s money; as a patron she required plenty of material items. With the help of Thadée and his money she was able to entertain at their homes in the country as well. At one of these country parties, Misia caught the eye of the vulgar newspaper baron Alfred Edwards, editor of Le Matin.

Thadée Natanson was facing bankruptcy. Edwards bailed him out, on condition that he surrender his wife. Thadée and la Revue Blanche were saved and Misia was the price...

More to follow.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Muse That Blew The Fuse

Back in the 80s when I used to visit the Art Gallery of Ontario, one of my favourite paintings to see was the Marchesa Casati; a fiery red head with a smoldering gaze. Painted by Augustus John, the Marchesa was largely a mystery to me. This was in the pre-internet days.

Fast forward to the early 90s and the day when I took my love to see my favourite painting. It was gone. I was momentarily deflated but the intelligent people at the AGO had launched a retrospective on the Marchesa Casati that very week and just a few feet away was all the information I could absorb about the naughty lady in her negligee.

The Marchesa was born into a rich Italian family in 1881. The early deaths of her parents made Luisa and her elder sister the wealthiest heiresses in Italy and then she into married an equally rich family. She was a women born ahead of her time who probably never should have married. Predictably, when the shackles of marriage had begun to frustrate her, Luisa began an affair - with poet and dramatist Gabriele D’Annunzio as her subject.

She began to live an extravagant and eccentric lifestyle, living separately from her husband and throwing the most elaborate parties money could buy. This society girl of the early 1900s became the most notorious celebrity of her circle. She was as free and bohemian as a 21st Century party girl; except she was very rich. Gilded nude servants waited at her table. She wore live snakes as jewelry and walked through Paris with cheetahs on diamond studded leashes.

She became the muse of many painters and photographers, leaving many lovers in her wake. Augustus John, painter of the portrait I was so enamoured with, was one of them. He is credited with saying, “Luisa Casati should be shot, stuffed and displayed in a glass case."

Besides Augustus John, Luisa Casati was painted by Giovanni Boldini, Kees Van Dongen, Romaine Brooks; sculpted by Giacomo Balla, and Jacob Epstein; and photographed by Man Ray and Cecil Beaton. More than 130 images of her would be completed before she became destitute.

She had an amazing rose-coloured marble palazzo that lay just outside Paris featuring a a private art gallery where she herself was the star attraction. At the her Villa San Michele on the Isle of Capri, she partied with the likes of Jean Cocteau, Serge Diaghilev, and the Art Deco painter, Tamara de Lempicka.

At one of her later and more extravagant parties she wore a costume covered with electric lights. She blew the fuses.

Though the masquerades and the commissions seemed endless, Luisa's fortunes were not. Little by little her money ran out. By 1930, Casati had amassed a debt of twenty-five million U.S. dollars. She ended her days in London where she was rumoured to be seen rummaging in bins searching for feathers to decorate her hair She died in 1957 in her London bed-sit.

Several years ago, Augustus John's 1919 painting of Casati was voted the most popular work in the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. My husband found a poster of the beloved picture in a bin for $2.00. $200 worth of framing later the picture hangs in my hall.

I bought the book Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa, by by Scot D. Ryersson and Michael Orlando Yaccarino when it first came out in 1999. If I’ve piqued your interest, the book is well worth getting your hands on. Ryersson and Yaccarino also have an incredibly lush and detailed website dedicated to their favourite subject.