Ladies Take the Lead

By Karen Parr-Moody

 

Women have long been depicted through art and artisan wares to lovely effect. There’s something about a Grecian bust, a Sèvres portrait plate – why, even a Wedgewood teapot featuring Queen Elizabeth II’s profile – that pleases the eye.

 

Since prehistory, the figures of women have been carved into stone. An early example is the 4.25-inch Woman of Willendorf, which was carved out of limestone during the Paleolithic period of 30,000 BCE, possibly as a fertility totem. In ancient Greece and Rome women graced marble; their figures were carved into the façades of buildings as mythical ideals.

 

In recent decades the female form has appeared in a variety of mediums, from René Lalique’s 1920s hood ornaments “Vitesse” and “Victoire” to Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe silkscreens of 1964.

 

The David Routon pastel portrait in a Belgium frame, photo right, is currently on view at GasLamp Too and is hard to pass by without lingering to gaze (photo, right; $395, T-504). Routon is a contemporary painter who was born in 1931 in Jackson, Tennessee. He taught at various universities until retiring in Lincoln, Nebraska, after teaching for 21 years at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

 

Routon’s subject matter tends to be the human figure, which he captures by studying models or photographs. He has said of his work, I enjoy rendering the straightforward realism of conventional portraiture, because I admire some of the work in the tradition of that genre.”

 

The Art Nouveau style of the early 1900s – with its flowing and sensuous female forms inspired by nature – gave way to Art Deco following World War I. Art Deco swept across all of the decorative and fine arts, touching almost every item in its wake.

 

Women depicted in Art Deco art and sculpture – as with this bronze figure in the photo, left, at GasLamp Too – were tall and slender, as well as stylish … when they were wearing clothes ($275; Booth T-707).

 

They were also evocative of the Roaring Twenties’s embrace of modernity; they were often poised with bow and arrow in hand, like modern Diana figures, reaching to the sky in exuberance or performing a daring dance step. Famous examples of this style are seen in Ouillon Carrère’s sculptures “Dancer” and “Awakening” and Marcel André Bouraine’s “Dancer with Discs” and “Archer.”

 

What is particularly charming about this Art Deco stature at GasLamp Too is its fairy wings, which have their whimsical roots in the Art Nouveau period works of Czech artist Alfons Mucha and Belgium artist Henri Privat-Livemont.

 

At GasLamp Too, Elizabeth Crocket’s booth T-701 features a pair of colorful prints that include depictions of Victorian girls. The one in the photo, right, depicts a charming lass with a young boy; they are both infatuated with a lamb. The other (not shown here) is of a Victorian girl with two dogs. These prints are created through lithography, a printing technique commonly used in antique posters, including those that advertised movies and carnivals of the early 1900s ($35 for the pair).

The lithography process allows for a vibrant finished product created from deep, rich colors, depending on the thickness of the ink. The young lady with her lamb is a nice example of this vibrancy.

 

I have a beautiful daughter, Stella Lucy, and when the time comes I hope to get GasLamp Too art dealer Ann Cowdon to paint her portrait, as she has done with the young girl in the photo, left. Cowdon counts as her “heroes” the painters Anders Zorn, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, Cecilia Beaux and William Merritt Chase. It shows. Her brushwork is comprised of lush and loose strokes that borrow from the Impressionistic style of Cassatt’s portraiture while retaining some of the formalism of Sargent.

 

The large artwork, photo right, is actually a section of antique wallpaper that has been cut out and framed (currently on sale for $625 from the original $1,250 at the original GasLamp at Booth 1003). This earthy lady celebrating her grapes reminds me of an Art Nouveau wine label; I could see it hanging in someone’s dining room.

 

This portrait of the lady wrapped in a red shawl, photo left, is actually a print that someone has brushed over with a clear coat to make it appear to have brushstrokes. But when one gets close enough to examine the “painting” – and the $95 price tag – one realizes the mistake. Nonetheless, it is a lovely piece in a gilt frame for someone who loves classical portraiture but doesn’t have the budget for it ($95; W-101).

 

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