In the series Dialectics of the Sexes: no. 14
… Et, vertigineuse douceur!
A travers ces lèvres nouvelles,
Plus éclatantes et plus belles,
T’infuser mon venin, ma sœur!
Baudelaire, Les fleurs du mal
When I entered The Van Gogh Museum through its new entrance, I considered my visit to the exhibition Easy Virtue – prostitution in French Art, 1850-1910 as a pastime. Our Ladies of ill repute, Madonna’s of the Night… There was some time to kill, at end of the afternoon I was to see Musorgsky’s opera Khovanshchina. I then did not know then that the Musée d’Orsay was its true author.
A superb exhibition, which once again proves that painting has often been an alibi to depict naked women (sometimes men) – mostly for a petit bourgeois audience, people who would not so easily and perkily throw off their own clothes.
One is also being schooled in observing paintings. Behold how Van Dongen, who was good in showing us some exciting bitches, could also paint bloody well. His Nini – solid as a rock, a body in one piece, cut from the same moral tissue.
Van Dongen: Nini 1907/8
To all appearance, Kupka seems to have had the conceit that he could emulate Van Dongen’s style. Alas, not only gives his Gallien’s Girl the impression of being decapitated, her head also seems to be screwed on a dummy, the wrong way.
Kupka: Gallien’s Girl 1909/10
One is reminded of De Chirico’s paintings with the dressmaker’s dolls:
Kupka’s uneasy easy woman also brings back to mind Scola’s Nuit de Varennes, featuring the grand scene of the chambermaid, who kneels before a dummy that is dressed in the King’s robe, his headdress askew on a head which already seems to have been guillotined.
The many exhibits of Toulouse-Lautrec are first class. Beautiful brothel scenes, tenderly depicted, magnificent whores and ditto matures. Behold this draughtsman’s report of total carnal exhaustion:
However, the sociological and medical approach of the Musée d’Orsay should not obscure the fact that even for the post-modern man and woman some images are not only painterly fine works of art, but also simply horny – or perhaps both.
One thing also becomes clear. Our Lord – if such Creator exists –lashed each era with its own scourge as far as sins of the flesh are concerned. Today it is aids. Although the other and older diseases still mix with carnal pleasures, these are now curable.
Then, in times covered by the exhibition, it was incurable syphilis: The Pox its name, a bundling of syf and gonorrhea. This disease was called by Germans and Englishmen French pox, for the Russians it was Polish illness, for Poles German disease, for the French Neapolitan disease, for the Portuguese, the North-Africans and the Dutch The Spanish disease andfor the Japanese The Chinese ulcer.
A bit like Putin once claimed that aids does not belong in Russia and therefore does not exist in that country…
Syphilis marked people, then killed them – diseased women of easy virtue in particular. After having seen all these fine paintings, such medical images take away some of the aesthetic luster of all this brilliant art.
However, you may return once more, make a second round. And there they are: Both the painting and the woman in it. What splendour!
Anquetin: Woman with veil 1891
Sierksma Haarlem 7.3.16