A Night at the Opera

I would have spared you of yet more photos of the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center had it not been for this exquisite costume designed for Birgit Nilsson, for the 1961 production of Turandot, by the multi talented Mr. Cecil Beaton.

I had ample time to be bedazzled as I used the intermission to join that familiar long line to the Ladies Room. Gazing at her headpiece, it thought it was matched only by the Sputnik chandeliers in sparkle.

But, while Turandot is my favourite opera (and Nessun Dorma my favourite aria of all times), that evening we were there to enjoy the ever so charming Die Zauberflöte. It was as grand as a Metropolitan Opera production was expected to be.  Birgit Nilsson in Turandot, 1961. Photo from the Metropolitan Opera Archives


September 30th, 2017

Eloise at the Museum

So what if I haven’t read any of her stories? Who wouldn’t want to meet Eloise, a mischievous, annoying, adorable little girl, a native New Yawker, and one who lives in the “room on the tippy-top floor” of the Plaza with her Nanny, her dog Weenie and her turtle Skipperdee, at that. So, put on your comfy slacks and your fancy pink flats, and let’s go see what she has in store for us, shall we? Hilary Knight
Study for ”I have a dog that looks like a cat”, 1955
Pen and ink on paper


Hilary Knight
After Clayton Knight (1891-1969) and Katharine Sturges Knight (1890-1979)
Cover of The New Yorker, April 17, 1926, 1996
Gouache

Knight’s father, Clayton, specialised in aviation art. A pilot with the British Royal Air Force in World War I, he survived a crash landing in 1918 and went on to illustrate and write numerous books on the history of aviation. Clayton often collaborated with his wife, as in their cover for The New Yorker. Years later, Knight’s colour scheme for Eloise echoed its palette. His hand-painted copy of the cover is an homage to his parents’ work.


Hilary Knight
Eloise, 1956
Tempera on paper

A mystery surrounds this Eloise portrait. Painted in 1956 as a birthday gift for Kay Thompson, it vanished from the Plaza Hotel on November 23, 1960, the night of a Junior League debutante ball. ”Eloise kidnapped!” announced Walter Cronkite on CBS Evening News. In spite of Thompson’s offer of a reward, the painted failed to surface.

Two years later, Hilary Knight received a call. A muffled voice told him where his artwork was: in a dumpster, ripped to pieces. Devastated, he retrieved the ruined work and put in a closet.

But the puzzle remained. Who stole Eloise? In retrospect, Thompson herself was the only person who benefited from its disappearance. This may have been the stunt of her career, giving her ample press and a dramatic exit for the character she was done with. Staging a media moment and destroying Knight’s work underlined the primacy of the author’s voice. A final clue came when Thompson confessed in a 1993 interview that she had found the portrait ”on Eight-something Street… torn up.” There’s so much we’ll never know about Kay Thompson – and that’s just how she liked it.


Richard Avedon
Kay Thompson, 1951
Photograph

For her session with Richard Avedon, Thompson held a sequinned fan made by Knight. But the had not met yet! D.D. Dixon, Avedon’s assistant for the shoot, had borrowed the prop from Knight, her across-the-hall neighbour. Four years later, Dixon suggested to Thompson that her Eloise voice might make a good book, if she could find the right illustrator. She introduced Knight to Thompson at the Plaza’s Persian Room, in December 1954.


Kay Thompson and Evelyn Rudie, publicity still from the Playhouse 90 movie Eloise, 1956


Hilary Knight
Final illustration for ”I always stay at the National whenever I am in Moscow”, 1959
Pen &brush and ink & graphite on paper


Hilary Knight
Final illustration for ”Here’s what we did a lot of”, 1959
Graphite & pen and brush & ink with gouache on paper


rawther fluzzery picture, don’t you see?


Hilary Knight
Cover illustration for Truman Capote’s manuscript Can a Pig Fly?, 1958
Pen and ink and watercolour on paper

A curious project that never saw publication was Knight’s collaboration with the Truman Capote. The success of Dr. Seuss’ easy reader The Cat in the Hat in 1957 prompted the editors at Random House, its publisher, to ask their entire author list to try this popular new form. None made it to completion, but Knight and Capote enjoyed working together on sketches and notes.


Don Freeman
Kay Thompson, 1951
Lithograph on paper


Unidentified photographer
Kay Thompson and the Williams Brothers, ca. 1948

Eight songs, forty minutes and no encore. Thompson’s athletic act with the Williams Brothers was innovative, witty, and a smash success. Taking the concept of the overhead boom mike used on movie sets, Thompson had microphones strung all over the ceiling to allow the five performers to move freely about the stage. ”There’d never been an act like it”, Andy Williams said.


Edith Head
Kay Thompson’s office costume for Funny Face, 1956
Pen, ink and watercolour on paper

This meticulously detailed working drawing from Edith Head’s studio documents the cost of Thompson’s office outfit: $480 and another $65 for accessories.


Hilary Knight
Sketch for ”I AM ELOISE”, 1996
Watercolour, brush and ink, crayon and graphite on Bristol board


Eloise is the alter ego of cabaret star Kay Thompson (1909–1998), best known for her role as fashion magazine editor in Funny Face (1957), and her collaboration with writer and illustrator Hilary Knight (b. 1926), best known as the Man who Drew Eloise.

These and many more objects, manuscript pages, sketchbooks, portraits, photographs and vintage dolls were on view at the New-York Historical Society, back in 2017. If you missed it fret not. Think Pink and head over to the Plaza. You may just catch a glimpse of the elusive enfant terrible skibbling down the hallway. 

New-York Historical Society

September 23rd, 2017

Fighting War with Art || Arthur Szyk: A Soldier in Art

The work of a Polish artist on show at the New-York Historical Society?  That seemed strange at first, but a quick read of the introduction shed light on the artist’s relation with the United States and his deep admiration of, and dedication to American democratic values – those same values that are under thread today, shaking American society to its core.

Arthur Szyk fought the demons of WWII in his own creative way, by focusing on political cartooning and producing works that were published as magazine covers, reproduced as posters, and exhibited in art galleries. Among the many admirers of his work during this period was Eleanor Roosevelt, who wrote in her newspaper column My Day: “In its way [Szyk’s work] fights the war against Hitlerism as truly as any of us who cannot actually be on the fighting fronts today.” [source]

Arthur Szyk was so dedicated to American democratic values that he actually became an American citizen in 1948. These are some of the artworks he made during his years in New York City.  FDR’s Soldier in Art, 1944
Pencil, watercolour, pen and ink on paper

Szyk’s lively portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) conveyed the artist’s reverence for the US and its principles of freedom and justice, and his belief that the president would lead the Allies – United States, Great Britain and Russia – in defeating the Axis powers. He dedicated the portrait to Eleanor Roosevelt in 1946 following the president’s death. Mrs. Roosevelt admired Szyk and mentioned his artistic crusade in her newspaper columns on several occasions.


We’re running short of Jews!…, 1943
Ink and graphite on paper

The drawing responded to an announcement made by the World Jewish Congress in November 1942 that confirmed the Nazis’ plan to annihilate Europe’s Jewish population. Szyk later dedicated the drawing to his mother, who died at the Chelmno extermination camp near the Łódź ghetto.


De Profundis. Cain, where is Abel thy Brother?, 1943
Ink and graphite on board


Palestine Restricted, 1944
Pen, ink and pencil on paper

Palestine Restricted furthered Szyk’s condemnation of the White Paper by likening it to a fierce vulture descending on masses of dead and dying men, women and children. The notation, March 31, 1944, marks the date when the British further tightened Jewish immigration, requiring the consent of Palestinian Arabs.


To be shot, as Dangerous Enemies of the Third Reich!, 1943
Ink and graphite on card

Szyk’s biting depiction of Heinrich Himmler declaring innocent Jewish children as enemies of the Third Reich emphasized the senselessness of Nazi anti-Semitism.


Modern Moses, 1944
Pen, ink and pencil on paper


Untitled (The Silent Partner), September 1941
Watercolour, gouache, ink and graphite on paper

Szyk anticipated the US entry into WWII and Hitler’s eventual downfall in this depiction of a decorated figure of Death observing a dangerous poker game between Hitler and ”Ivan”, a pre-Soviet Union Russian leader. Gambling with the fate of the world, Hitler’s cards represent his alliance with Italy, Japan and Vichy France. Ivan’s hand includes the US and Great Britain. Seven puppets, the collaborating leaders of Hungary, Finland, Japan, Italy, Vichy France and Spain, hang from Hitler’s belt. The painting appeared on the cover of Collier’s on November 1, 1941, one month before the US entered the war.


Murder Incorporated: Hirohito, Hitlerhito, Benito, December 1941
Watercolour and gouache on paper


Offset lithograph. Here, Szyk characterizes Mussolini, Hirohito and Hitler as venereal diseases, offering perfect incentive to stay healthy and fight in the war effort.


More than 40 artworks by illustrator and miniaturist Arthur Szyk (1894–1951), were on view at the New-York Historical Society between September 2017 and January 2018.

New-York Historical Society

September 23rd, 2017

Jack & Jackie

(and Ethel & Bob)

Photos from happy times, when life was a field of infinite possibilities.

Orlando Suero (b. 1928)
Jack and Jackie stroll with Ethel Kennedy in Georgetown, Washington D.C., May 8, 1954

Prior to meeting Jack, Jackie worked for the Washington Times-Herald as a reporter and photographer for a daily Q&A feature. Previously, she had studied at the University of Grenoble in France, the Sorbonne in Paris and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in French literature from George Washington University.


Unidentified photographer
Traveling to Europe on break from college, The Hague, 1937

During high school Kennedy’s instructors often remarked that he was a disorganized student whose work rarely matched his abilities, but an astute teacher noted: ”When he grows up enough to gain seriousness of purpose, he will make a real contribution.”


Paul Schutzer (1930-1967)
Jacqueline Kennedy watching the forth Kennedy-Nixon debate from the wings, New York City, October 21, 1960

The Kennedy-Nixon debates were the first to be televised, striking a new an indivisible union between politics and media. Kennedy later acknowledged that ”It was TV more than anything else that turned the tide.”


Jacques Lowe (1930-2001)
Bobby and Ethel Kennedy casting their votes, Hyannis Port, November 8, 1960


Abbie Rowe (1905-1967)
Opening of the Mona Lisa Exhibit, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., January 8, 1963


Jacqueline Kennedy and the French Minister of Cultural Affairs, André Malraux, facilitated the loan of the Mona Lisa to Washington D.C. for an historic three-week exhibition. This was the first time the painting traveled to America.

Then, on Monday February 4, 1963 – exactly 56 years ago today – the masterpiece entered the Metropolitan Museum of Art where it remained for three and half weeks.

Nearly two million people clamoured to view the Mona Lisa during her short stay in America.

Photos were on view in the New-York Historical Society

September 23rd, 2017

The Scintillating Gardens of Tiffany Studios

These Tiffany artifacts don’t necessarily involve breakfast. Equally brilliant, precious and a tad more colourful, they are at their best and brightest at dinner. They are also part of the New-York Historical Society’s permanent collection and light up an entire – recently renovated – floor. 

The New-York Historical Society’s extensive collection of Tiffany Studios lamps was the gift of pioneering collector Dr. Egon Neustadt (1898-1984), an Austrian immigrant an orthodontist. Along with his wife, Hildegard Steininger (1911-1961), Neustadt began buying Tiffany lamps at a time when Americans scorned them as passé. Shortly after their marriage in 1935, the couple, looking for affordable furnishings for their Queens home, found a ”strange, old-fashioned” Daffodil lamp in  Greenwich Village antique shop and purchased it for $12.50. That modest discovery sparked a decades-long quest in which the Neustadts amassed more than 200 Tiffany lamps, perhaps the largest and most encyclopedic collection in the world. 

September 23rd, 2017

The Duchess of Carnegie Hall

Ashley Montagu (1905-1999), undated
Gelatin silver print

Montagu was a humanist and anthropologist who studied human character and issues of race and gender. Among matters he addressed were the meaning of race as a defining term and what he saw as the superiority of women over men. About death, he famously said that ”the idea is to die young as late as possible.”


Joe DiMaggio (1914-1999), 1955
Gavelux print

Joe DiMaggio, also known as ”The Yankee Clipper”, played baseball for the New York Yankees from 1936 until 1951 (with a four year gap between 1943 and 1947 when he served in the military). He led the Yankees to nine world championships.


Gertrude Lawrence (1898-1952), undated
Gelatin silver print

British actor Gertrude Lawrence played Anna in the first production of The King and I, a role created expressly for her. This was not the first time – Noël Coward, a longtime friend, wrote the play Private Lives (1931) specifically for her.


Lillian Gish (1893-1993), undated
Gelatin silver print

Lillian Gish first appeared on the stage when she was just six years old. She met director D. W. Griffith in 1912 and made over twenty-five silent films with him in the next few years. Gish turned to the stage when ”talkies” took over Hollywood in the 1920s but became involved with film again in the 1940s,


Julie Newmar (b. 1933), undated
Gelatin silver print

Julie Newmar grew up in Los Angeles and came to New York City in 1955 to pursue a career on Broadway. Eventually she would also turn to movies and television and was cast as Catwoman in the Batman television series which premiered in 1966.


Tilda Swinton (b. 1960), undated
Gelatin silver print

Oscar winner Tilda Swinton has been acting since she was a student at Cambridge University. Among her credits are the Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2006), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) and Trainwreck (2014).


Bill Blass (1922-2002)
Dress an feather trim, ca. 1970
Silk (pile velvet exterior), synthetic (lining), polychrome and gilded feathers adhered to silk

The feather ”shawl” was originally a trim at the bottom edge of this dress. Sherman had it cut off and used it as a shawl.


Exhibit note:

Portraitist Editta Sherman (1912-2013) was ”the duchess of Carnegie Hall” – a moniker, by some accounts, dreamed up by fellow-photographer Bill Cunningham, her longtime friend and neighbour at the Carnegie Hall Studios. ”A seasoned human being and a seasoned performer” in the words of the New York Times, she had a career that spanned over a half-century and a larger-than-life persona that also transcended the ages.

Born in Philadelphia in 1912 to Italian immigrants, she learned her trade from her father, also a portrait photographer. She turned  professional in the 1940s to help support her family after her husband Harold fell ill. He ventured out seeking sitters, first on Martha’s Vineyard where they opened their first photography studio and then in New York City. Although constantly worried about food and lodging, they were able to hold it together, raising five children, until the early 1950s when they found a healthier environment for the children outside the city. Their hopes were to reunite the family when finances permitted. Harold died in 1954 and, relying on his contacts while tirelessly drumming up new business, Sherman once remarked, ”the general feeling at that time was that women were amateurs, no matter how well-known you were.” She thus tried to look order ”and very professional.”. Editta Sherman lived and performed feminism. Although she faced a constant struggle, eventually her reputation as a premier portrait photographer grew and, with it, her business.

Sherman loved being in front of the camera as much as behind it. Her free spirit dominated the photographs of Bill Cunningham’s eight-year project ”Façades”, a series that depicted Sherman in period costume juxtaposed against New York City’s architectural masterpieces.

You can read more about Façades on one of my earlier posts on ”Lia in Brussels”. 

Extracts from “The Duchess of Carnegie Hall”, New-York Historical Society, August-October 2017

September 23rd, 2017

Bear in mind

They come in peace

1/Installation courtesy of Q Florist
2/”Ursus”, the gigantic bronze sculpture by Dan Ostermiller was inviting visitors to cross the monumental entrance of St. John the Divine Cathedral. Inside, more wild creatures had taken their places all over the Cathedral in celebration of ”A Summer of Sculpture” – an exhibition that ran through September 2017.

More photos from ”A Summer of Sculpture” coming up tomorrow.

June 29th, 2017

Socializing

in Lincoln Center.

With music and drinks, followed by more music in an evening tagged as ”born of ice and fire”.

With the New York Premiers of Finnish composer Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Wing on Wing, written for and featuring soprano sisters Anu and Piia Komsi, and Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s etherial Aeriality (ice) –

and a superb performance by the New York Philharmonic’s Artist-in-Residence for 2016-2017, renowned violinist Leonidas Kavakos, who played Brahms’ Violin Concerto (fire).

After the concert, we were joined by some of the Philharmonic musicians who, following the ”obligatory” Q&A session, simply mingled with the guests for some more music and drinks.

No, Mr. Kavakos was not among them.

#nyppolaris

May 20th, 2017

The Magic Flute

Well, French Horn actually…

This tiny handbag had me look twice. A sales attendant helpfully informed me of its unique features – handcrafted and handpainted by local artisans in the Philippines, carved from acacia trees, produced in limited numbers – that would explain its hefty price tag. Still, I thought it looked better on the shelf than in my hands, too tiny to hold the essentials, let alone my opera binoculars. By the way, production doesn’t seem to be very limited – one year later, the purse is still available in the shop and online.

Shop @ the Metropolitan Opera House

May 14th, 2017