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Diana Vreeland (1903-1989. Known as the Empress of Fashion

Diana Vreeland (1903-1989), the Empress of Fashion. ca. 1932

Before her career as editor and columnist at fashion magazines Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, Diana Vreeland, like other society women of her class, ran a little lingerie shop near Berkeley Square in London. She often traveled to Paris where she would buy her clothes, notably, Chanel. She remembered one such trip in the summer of 1932:

“One night in Paris, after I was married, a friend and I went to a little theatre above Montmartre to see a German[-French] movie called “L’Atlantide,” with a wonderful actress in it called Brigitte Helm, who played the Queen of the Lost Continent. It was the middle of July. It was hot. The only seats in the theatre were in the third balcony, under the rafters, where it was even hotter. There were four seats in a row, and we took two.

L'Atlantide poster 1932

“We sat there, the movie started…and I became totally intoxicated by it. I was mesmerized! …I was absorbed by these three lost Foreign Legion soldiers with their camels, their woes…they’re so tired, they’re delirious with dehydration…And then you see the fata morgana [mirage]. That means that if you desire a woman, you see a woman, if you desire water, you see water – everything you dream, you see. But you never reach it. It’s all an illusion.

“Then…a sign of an oasis! There’s a palm…and more palms. Then they’re in the oasis, where they see Brigitte Helm, this divine looking woman seated on a throne – surrounded by cheetahs! The cheetahs bask in the sun. She fixes her eyes on the soldiers. One of them approaches her. She gives him a glass of champagne and he drinks it. Then she takes the glass from him, breaks it, cuts his throat with it…

Brigette Helm as the Queen of Atlantis, the Lost Continent, shown here with one of her screen cheetahs.  "L'Atlantide" (1932)

Brigette Helm as the Queen of Atlantis, the Lost Continent, shown here with one of her screen cheetahs. “L’Atlantide” (1932)

“This goes on and on. I hadn’t moved an inch. At some point I moved my hand…to here…where it stayed for the rest of the movie. I was spellbound because the mood was so sustained. I was sucked in, seduced by this thing of the desert, seduced by the Queen of the Lost Continent, the wickedest woman who had ever lived…and her cheetahs!

The essence of movie-ism.

“Then…the lights went on, and I felt a slight movement under my hand. I looked down – and it was a cheetah! And beside the cheetah was Josephine Baker!”

Josephine Baker was a hit in Paris cabarets, singing, dancing, and goofing around. In the 1930s, she was the most successful American entertainer in Paris. She got rich fast and was a superstar. She is wearing her notorious silly but erotic banana skirt. ca. 1925

When Josephine Baker began performing her exotic, erotic, and peculiar dances in Paris cabarets in 1925, she became an instant hit, a superstar. In the thirties, she was the most successful American entertainer working in France. She was known as “The Black Pearl” and “The Bronze Venus.” Whether sitting high up in a giant bird cage covered with peacock feathers or dancing semi-nude in a skirt of dangling fabric bananas, audiences were captivated by her infectious charm. ca. 1925

Meanwhile, back to our story:

Diana Vreeland was chatting with Josephine Baker in the balcony of a hot theater, looking at a cheetah.

Diana says to Josephine:

“‘Oh,” I said, ‘you’ve brought your cheetah to see the cheetahs!’

“Yes,” she said,’ that’s exactly what I did.’

“She was alone with the cheetah on a lead. She was so beautifully dressed.  She was wearing a marvelous little short black skirt and a little Vionnet shirt – no sleeves, no back, no front, just crossed bars on the bias. Don’t forget how hot it was, and, of course, the great thing was to get out of this theatre we were in. The cheetah, naturally, took the lead, and Josephine, with those long black legs, was dragged down three flights of stairs as fast as she could go, and that’s fast.

“Out in the street there was an enormous white-and-silver Rolls-Royce waiting for her. The driver opened the door; she let go of the lead; the cheetah whooped, took one leap into the back of the Rolls, with Josephine right behind; the door closed…and they were off!

…Ah! Style was a great thing in those days.” (1)

American entertainer Josephine Baker (1906-1936) often performed onstage in Paris nightclubs with pet cheetah Chiquita. Chiquita wore a diamond collar. Sometimes, during a performance, Chiquita would decide to jump off the stage and into the orchestra pit, causing quite a ruckus. Early 1930s. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

American entertainer Josephine Baker (1906-1936) often performed onstage in Paris nightclubs with pet cheetah Chiquita. Chiquita wore a diamond collar. Sometimes, during a performance, Chiquita would decide to jump off the stage and into the orchestra pit, causing quite a ruckus. ca. 1931. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

Heads turned when entertainer Josephine Baker took her pet cheetah Chiquita on a walk, sometimes down the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Ca. 1930

Heads turned when entertainer Josephine Baker took her pet cheetah Chiquita on a walk, sometimes down the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Ca. 1930

Sheet music with Josephine Baker and Chiquita

Sheet music with Josephine Baker and Chiquita.

Comparing Josephine Baker to a beautiful Egyptian queen,  artist Pablo Picasso dubbed her “the Nefertiti of Now.” She posed for him in all her glory: “tall, coffee skin, ebony eyes, legs of paradise, a smile to end all smiles.” (2)

Gorgeous, talented, and funny Josephine Baker, an original. Undated photo, ca. 1930

Gorgeous, talented, and funny Josephine Baker, an original. Undated photo, ca. 1930

(1)Vreeland, Diana. D.V. New York: Da Capo Press, 1984

(2) Picasso quote

 

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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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Pablo Picasso and sister Lola, 1888. (What’s up with the haircut, Pablo?)
Spanish painter Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) could draw before he could walk. According to his mother, 
 

his first word was piz, short for the Spanish word lapiz, meaning pencil. 
“Pablito” asked for a pencil constantly and, once he got one in hand, would draw for hours, covering entire sheets of paper with countless spirals. (1)   

   

A Spanish "caracola" filled with candied fruit and iced with a confectioner's sugar glaze

In later interviews, Picasso revealed that his passion for spirals came from the caracolaor Spanish sticky bun, his favorite pastry. “Caracola” means “snail” in Spanish. Caracolas started with a single strip of dough wound tightly around the center, creating a spiraling snail-like design in the cake. Caracolas were served hot in the market stalls in Málaga, Spain, Picasso’s home for his first ten years.  

Pablo found artistic inspiration in nature as well as at the breakfast table. With Málaga situated on the Costa Del Sol, Pablo would walk on the beach with his father, finding dazzling variety in the shells washing up on the Mediterranean shore.     

Málaga, Spain

There were so many patterns, he discovered, spiralling and more!  

 
 

Shells found on a beach in Málaga, Spain, Pablo Picasso's birthplace. 2010

Pablo was entranced. From a young age, Pablo became a voracious collector of seashells as well as peach pits, pebbles, cherry stems, and leaves.   

Picasso grew up and became very famous, but he never lost his early love for spirals and curvy, coiling lines. 

 
 
 

Picasso Draws a Centaur, 1949

As an adult artist, he used spirals over and over again in his drawing and painting.  

An undated Picasso line drawing of a Harlequin. image from book, Pablo Picasso, by Ernest Raboff)

"Two Dressed Models and a Sculpture of a Head" by Pablo Picasso, 1933. Notice the cascade of spiraling vines on all 3 heads.

 Often Picasso’s predilection for curves and spirals would show up in his paintings of women’s breasts. (3)     

"Girl in Front of Mirror," by Pablo PIcasso, 1932

(1) McNeese, Tim. Pablo Picasso. New York: Chelsea House, 2006.      

(2) Lepscky, Ibi. Pablo Picasso. New York: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., 1984.      

(3) Penrose, Roland. Picasso, His Life and Work. Berkeley: The University of California, Icon Editions, 1973.     

  

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