The art of Antoon van Welie, 1866–1956

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The Artists’ Studio (1906).

This week’s post is another by Sander Bink about a neglected artist of the Dutch fin de siècle. There’s no need for me to add a great deal to Sander’s appraisal below other than to point out the evident debt that Antoon Van Welie seems to owe to the Pre-Raphaelites for whom Ophelia was a popular subject. British artists of the 19th century have often been criticised for adding little to the evolution of Continental art but the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts movement pervades European Symbolism. My thanks again to Sander for the post.

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Antoon van Welie (Dutch Wikipedia only) was a Dutch painter known mainly for his portraits of the rich and famous. Around 1900 his work was praised by writers and critics such as Camille Mauclair, Jean Lorrain and Anatole France. He had studios in The Hague, London, Paris and The Vatican. There’s not much information about him in English, and for a long time there wasn’t a great deal in Dutch either, since during his lifetime he was already more or less forgotten. His being openly gay could have been one of the reasons. Male beauty is one of his subjects, as illustrated by The Artists’ Studio. His preference for depicting Catholic priests and flamboyant society ladies might also have been a little too extravagant for Dutch artistic standards of the period. The influence of Symbolism and mysticism on his work sets him a little apart from the crowd as well. All this does make him somewhat of a “decadent” or fin de siècle artist. What surely did not help his posthumous fame was a portrait of Mussolini he painted in 1921, and apparently he later also made one of Hitler. But in 2003 he was rescued from art-historical oblivion by the good people of the Louis Couperus Museum in The Hague. An exhibition there was followed in 2007 by a larger one at Museum Het Valkhoff in Nijmegen: The Last Decadent Painter. The book published for the occasion gives an extensive overview of Van Welie’s life and oeuvre but is unfortunately only available in Dutch.

The portraits which made him famous in his day are, in my opinion, technically not that great and sometimes tend toward kitsch. More subtle and beautiful are his early Symbolist works which, like those by Simon Moulijn, are strongly influenced by Maeterlinck’s neo-mystical writings.

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Aglavaine en Sélysette (1899).

Some quite refined examples are the lithograph Aglavaine en Sélysette and the pastel Les Princesses de Légende, both directly inspired by Maeterlinck’s plays.

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Les Princesses de Légende (1899).

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Ophelia.

Literature was an important influence, as it was for many other Symbolist painters, and Van Welie duly produced the pastel Ophelia in 1898–’99. The same goes for musical themes, an example of which is the serene pastel Holy Cecilia with Lyre.

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Holy Cecilia with Lyre (1899).

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He also designed book covers like the one for Jean Lorrain’s novel Ellen from 1906.

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La Douleur (1895).

But his most attractive work and as far as I am concerned one of the finest works of 1890s Dutch art is the chalk drawing La Douleur. Although the title emphasizes the young lady’s suffering, she also seems to be in a (sexual) ecstasy. A paradoxical beauty like Baudelaire’s femmes damnées: “de terribles plaisirs et d’affreuses douceurs”.

Sander Bink

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The gay artists archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Simon Moulijn, 1866–1948
René Gockinga revisited
Gockinga’s Bacchanal and an unknown portrait of Fritz Klein
More from the Decadent Dutch

Weekend links 357

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Ruth St Denis (2010) by Agnieszka Brzezanska.

As Above, So Below: Portals, Visions, Spirits & Mystics is an exhibition of occult-oriented art at IMMA, Dublin. “An alternative history of art of the last century,” says Aidan Dunne.

THIS IS THE SALiVATION ARMY: a Tumblr archive of Scott Treleavan’s queer-pagan-punk zine, 1996–1999.

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• Valdimar Ásmundsson’s Icelandic translation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula has been translated back to English.

• First evidence for higher state of consciousness found (thanks to psychedelic drugs).

• At Bibliothèque Gay: Narkiss (1908) by Jean Lorrain.

Boyd White on finding Arthur Machen’s bookplate.

Barry Adamson’s favourite albums.

John Waters: By the Book.

Dread: Lustmord in dub.

XXY Oscilloscope

Vampire (1976) by Devon Irons | Keep On Dubbing (1976) by Augustus Pablo | African Dub (1977) by The Silvertones

Monsieur de Bougrelon by Jean Lorrain

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A reprint edition from 1909.

In 1881 there arrived from Normandy a good-looking young man with an unfortunate habit of painting his face: Jean Lorrain. He spent five years of his life in Montmartre, five years that were also the most dazzling ones for the hill whose chronicler he became. A brilliant journalist with an eye that missed no blemish, no absurdity, but could fill with tears on seeing beauty in a picture, a profile, a gown. From his first poems, Modernités, this fin-de-siècle Petronius evoked the whole life of Montmartre: transvestites, lesbians, go-betweens, outrageous bluestockings, failed poets declining into pimps, wrestlers, part-time gigolos for either sex.

Philippe Jullian in Montmartre (1977)

Among the books that Philippe Jullian wrote about notable fin-de-siècle personalities is a biography of Jean Lorrain (1855–1906), a volume which—to my continual frustration—has yet to be translated into English. If Lorrain is a neglected figure in contemporary France, he’s hardly known at all in the Anglophone world which is why the news last month of the first English translation of Monsieur de Bougrelon was so welcome.

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Jean Lorrain (1898) by Antonio de la Gandara.

I say that Lorrain is unknown but only to the general reader; to anyone familiar with fin-de-siècle Paris he’s an unavoidable presence, a chronicler of the city’s excesses and also one of the great characters of the period. Portraits and cartoons show the dandy but fail to communicate the reek of ether—he was an addict throughout his later years—which attended his presence. His drug-taking helped contribute to an early death at the age of 55 but, like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Lorrain managed to combine several years of indulgent pleasure-seeking with serious industry, producing over 40 literary works. Like Fassbinder he was also open about his homosexuality. The Paris of the 1890s wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about this but the Code Napoléon had never made homosexual acts a crime which is one of many reasons that Paris (and France in general) was a haven for the beleaguered British. In his sexual proclivities, his dandyism, and his aesthetic connoisseurship Lorrain is a good contender for a French equivalent of Oscar Wilde, another of Philippe Jullian’s biographical subjects. Lorrain wrote novels, plays and poetry, while his columns of journalism combined gossip and satire with tips for the aesthetically minded. His taste in people was (again) Fassbinderesque:

I have a great fondness for hoodlums, fairground wrestlers, butcher-boys and assorted pimps, both ordinary and extraordinary, who, along with some absolutely exquisite women and some men of talent, such as yourself, are the only company that I keep in Paris.

This life, and some of the author’s character, is reflected in Monsieur de Bougrelon, a short novel published in 1897. The story is narrated from the point of view of a pair of unnamed French visitors to Amsterdam who encounter their extraordinary compatriot when he makes a dramatic entrance into a cheap bordello. Monsieur de Bougrelon is an aged roué and purported aristocrat whose startling antique dress sense is dandyism gone to seed: swathed in old furs, bedizened with fake jewellery, and with dripping face-paint that prefigures another tragic figure in a city of canals, Thomas Mann’s Von Aschenbach. The French tourists have been made despondent by the dreariness of Amsterdam in winter so they welcome Monsieur de Bougrelon’s offer to lead them around the city, taking in museums, the city’s docks and the less reputable areas. While Monsieur de Bougrelon is present he maintains a running commentary, offering his opinions on the sights—Dutch art is amusingly dismissed as “bourgeois”—the people (“ugly”) and his own splendid life and lost loves. His tales about himself are tall and eventually verge on the improbable, but his presence engages the Parisians with its parade of lively invention, “imaginary pleasures” and phantom presences. Chief among the latter is Monsieur de Mortimer, de Bougrelon’s life-long friend, now dead and possibly the love of de Bougrelon’s life.

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This last matter is explored in an afterword by Eva Richter, the translator. While Monsieur de Bougrelon claims to be interested in women he has always been devoted to Monsieur de Mortimer, and the pair survive various affairs and obsessions to remain in each other’s company. Lorrain alludes to the true nature of the relationship when de Bougrelon compares himself and de Mortimer to Achilles and Patroclus. The surnames also offer clues with Mortimer signalling death while Bougrelon is a combination of the French name Bouglon and the word “bougre” whose equivalent in English is “bugger”. The French may have been more accepting of certain behaviours than the British but there were still limits, and Lorrain’s dallying with obscenity and homosexuality is decades in advance of Proust, Gide and Genet. But this isn’t the full substance of the novel. Monsieur de Bougrelon may be short but it contains some marvellous flights of fancy and torrents of description; it’s also blackly humorous in parts, although the dominant tone is of melancholy and a nostalgic regret for vanished days and lives. Melancholy and the omnipresence of death is a common theme in Decadent literature; Lorrain alludes in passing to another short melancholy story set in a city of canals, George Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-Morte (1892).

Spurl Editions are to be commended for resurrecting this neglected novel which is diligently translated and annotated. Monsieur de Bougrelon will be published on November 1st when it will join Monsieur de Phocas and Nightmares of an Ether-Drinker (aka The Soul-Drinker and Other Decadent Fantasies) in being one of the few works available in English from an exotic bloom of the French fin de siècle.

Previously on { feuilleton }
New Life for the Decadents by Philippe Jullian
Philippe Jullian, connoisseur of the exotic
Ma Petite Ville

Weekend links 332

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Suspiria (2012) by Jessica Seamans.

Matthew Sperling on Tom Phillips’ “treated Victorian novel” A Humument, which he calls “a multimedia masterpiece”. Phillips’ sixth and final edition of the book is published by Thames & Hudson next month.

Strange Flowers on Monsieur de Bougrelon (1897), a short novel by Jean Lorrain which will be published next month by Spurl Editions. The book is currently on my to-be-read-next pile.

Theodore Carter finds images of skulls by artists through the ages. I’d have included Giacometti’s almost abstract Head-Skull (1934) or his sketch of 1923.

• The horror stories of EF Benson contain “enough nastiness to give you just the right kind of frisson for the time of year,” says Nicholas Lezard.

• Covers for One, an American magazine of the 50s and 60s dedicated to “the homosexual viewpoint”.

Kelly Sullivan takes a close look at the illustrations and stained-glass work of the great Harry Clarke.

• Lost Moomins cartoon strips will be shown in the first UK Tove Jansson exhibition.

• The extravagant homes of Ludwig II of Bavaria are in urgent need of restoration.

• Mix of the week: The Nine Ten Never Sleep Again Mix by The Curiosity Pipe.

Ténéré Tàqqàl (what has become of the Ténéré), a new song by Tinariwen.

• The King of Weird: Joyce Carol Oates on HP Lovecraft.

• Charting the legacy of cult 1970s band, Big Star.

Falling (1992) by Miranda Sex Garden | Inferno (Version II) (1993) by Miranda Sex Garden | Peep Show (1994) by Miranda Sex Garden

Weekend links 325

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08-30-16 from the Everydays series by Beeple.

• “Monsieur de Bougrelon is a unique character: loquacious, proud, a leftover from an earlier age, wearing garish outfits and makeup that drips. To his speechless audience, he waxes nostalgic about his life as an exile in Holland, as well as what he calls “imaginary pleasures” – obsessions with incongruous people, animals, and objects. These obsessions are often sexual or border on the sexual, leading to shocking, surreal scenes. Monsieur de Bougrelon also enthuses over his beautiful friend Monsieur de Mortimer, making this novella one of the rare works of the nineteenth century to broach homosexuality in a meaningful way, years before Jean Cocteau and Jean Genet.” Monsieur de Bougrelon (1897) by Jean Lorrain will receive its first English publication by Spurl Editions in November.

• “…The Future seems in retrospect to have been no more than a spectacle, created by the optimistic few for the optimistic many, the readily gulled multitudes who had faith in technological seers just as an earlier generation had had faith in Great Men.” Jonathan Meades reviews Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture by Douglas Murphy.

In the Woods & On the Heath is a collection of 48 pieces of erotic prose and poetry by 24 writers, all of them illustrated by Van Rijn.

Borneman was widely read in European literature and, once settled in London, wasted no time bringing himself up to speed with developments in English-language writing, discovering a particular affinity with Hemingway and Joyce, not to mention American crime writers such as Carroll John Daly and Dashiell Hammett. This presumably explains the distinctive, sometimes highly eccentric style of The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor, which despite being set in an English film studio of the 1930s (which evokes images, perhaps, of genteel musical comedies performed in perfect RP accents), combines laconic, hardboiled dialogue with extended stream-of-consciousness passages, all filtered through the skewed phraseology of someone whose acquisition of English was still, to some extent, a work in progress.

Jonathan Coe on the mysteries of The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor, a novel by “Cameron McCabe” (Ernest Borneman)

• How Oscar Wilde paved the way for gay rights in the arts. Wilde will be honoured with a major exhibition in Paris later this month.

Noisy Rain is a free online publication dedicated to “artists working with the male figure and homo-eroticism”.

Dennis Cooper’s blog returns. The truth about Google’s deletion of the Blogspot account has finally emerged.

Peel Away The Ivy by The Pattern Forms will be release number 26 on the Ghost Box label in October.

• Glam Rock & Yorkshire Occult: Ben Myers on his novel Turning Blue.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 195 by Jake Meginsky.

• At Phantasmaphile: Unarius: We Are Not Alone.

Blokdust is a browser-based musical instrument.

• Official trailer for David Lynch: The Art Life.

Future Dub (1994) by Mouse On Mars | Future Proof (2003) by Massive Attack | Future Past Perfect pt 01 by Carsten Nicolai