Connie Gilchrist: A Little Victorian Superstar

Before the age of broadcast media a child’s best hope of becoming famous was either through acting or modeling, sometimes both.  One such star was Connie Gilchrist, who made her name by first modelling for Pre-Raphaelite painter supreme Lord Frederic Leighton at the tender age of 6 (the same age another English Connie made her big splash in more recent times).  Her first major assignment was for Leighton’s “Little Fatima”:

frederic-lord-leighton-little-fatima-1875

Frederic Lord Leighton – Little Fatima (1875)

Gilchrist posed again for Leighton for the line of little girls at the front of the procession in “The Daphnephoria”. All of the little girls were modeled after her.

Frederic Lord Leighton - The Daphnephoria (1876)

Frederic Lord Leighton – The Daphnephoria (1876)

Frederic Lord Leighton - The Daphnephoria (detail) (1876)

Frederic Lord Leighton – The Daphnephoria (detail) (1876)

And again for the child in “The Music Lesson”:

Frederic Lord Leighton - The Music Lesson (1877)

Frederic Lord Leighton – The Music Lesson (1877)

Frederic Lord Leighton - The Music Lesson (detail) (1877)

Frederic Lord Leighton – The Music Lesson (detail) (1877)

Around this time she began her career as an actress at the Gaiety Theatre, and Leighton would soon move on to other models.  Not long after, she caught the attention of Lewis Carroll, an avid theater-goer, in one of her roles.  Carroll described her in January 1877 as “one of the most beautiful children, in face and figure, that I have ever seen” and wished to capture her on camera.  As far as I know he never did.  He did, however, take her on a date of sorts to the Royal Academy, where she was able to observe the painting of herself in “The Music Lesson”—something, according to Carroll, she got quite a kick out of.  However, Carroll’s fascination with this particular child friend seems to have waned quickly, for only a year later he said of her: “She is losing her beauty, and can’t act,” a comment that was in my opinion undeserved, at least in terms of her beauty; I can’t vouch for her acting.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler had attended some of shows at the Gaiety Theatre and captured the child in one of her most notable and beloved performances, the so-called skipping rope dance, which Carroll did like despite his scathing critique of her otherwise.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler - Harmony in Yellow and Gold - Gold Girl - Connie Gilchrist (1877)

James Abbott McNeill Whistler – Harmony in Yellow and Gold – Gold Girl – Connie Gilchrist (1877)

Whistler painted her again in a more formal context a couple years later.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler - The Blue Girl - Portrait of Connie Gilchrist (1879)

James Abbott McNeill Whistler – The Blue Girl – Portrait of Connie Gilchrist (1879)

Several theatrical photographs of Gilchrist were made over the span of her acting career.

Artist Unknown - Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (1)

Artist Unknown – Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (1)

Artist Unknown - Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (2)

Artist Unknown – Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (2)

Artist Unknown - Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (3)

Artist Unknown – Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (3)

CIS:S.135:355-2007

Artist Unknown – Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (4)

CIS:S.135:351-2007

Artist Unknown – Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (5)

Artist Unknown - Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (5)

Artist Unknown – Guy Little Theatrical Photograph of Connie Gilchrist (6)

Wikipedia: Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton

Wikipedia: James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Google Books: Dictionary of Artist’s Models: Connie Gilchrist

A Kirchner Sculpture

In my article on Fränzi Fehrmann I mentioned how Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was occasionally a sculptor. Here’s one of his sculpted pieces, though it dates from several years past the Fränzi era.  What fascinates me most about the sculpture is how the mother looks dejected and downcast while the little girl appears optimistic and excited.

I thought at first it might be that Fränzi was the model for the mother, posing with one of her two daughters; the expression on the mother’s face coincides with Kirchner’s observations of her as an adult, as recounted in Johanna Brade’s description of her life in the Dictionary of Artist’s Models:

“When Kirchner visited Fehrmann again in Dresden, on 12 February 1926, she had two illegitimate children. Kirchner noted in his sketchbook: ‘Fränzi herself is very sad and gloomy because of her misfortune with the children. Her youthful memories, of Moritzburg, etc., are the happiest part of her life.’ An album containing photographs from these early years, which Fehrmann had at that time and which would now be of tremendous documentary value has not been found.”

The problem is that the sculpture dates from 1924, about two years before Kirchner’s visit to Fehrmann.

ernst-ludwig-kirchner-mother-and-child-woman-and-girl-1924

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Mother and Child (Woman and Girl) (1924)

Wikipedia: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Virgil Finlay

One of my favorite illustrators of all time, Virgil Finlay was an undisputed master of pen and ink (a medium I also work in).  Largely overlooked in his own time because he primarily focused on illustrating for sci-fi, fantasy and horror pulp magazines, he has since been elevated to a prominent place in the chronicles of illustration history.  His work has been collected into several books which are well worth seeking out.

virgil-finlay-school-days

Virgil Finlay – School Days (1953)

Virgil Finlay - Horns of Elfland (1938)

Virgil Finlay – Horns of Elfland (1938)

Virgil Finlay - The Shadowy Third (1951)

Virgil Finlay – The Shadowy Third (1951)

Virgil Finlay - Baby Face (1945)

Virgil Finlay – Baby Face (1945)

Virgil Finlay - The Monitor

Virgil Finlay – The Monitor

Wikipedia: Virgil Finlay

Fränzi: Portrait of a Muse

Many artists have muses, a particular model or models who inspire them and with whom they prefer to work.  For the German Expressionist group known as Die Brücke, one such muse was a child.  Lina Franziska Fehrmann, better known as Fränzi, featured frequently in the paintings of Erich Heckel, Max Pechstein and especially Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.  These three men met the girl in 1909 and worked with her (as well as a slightly older girl named Marcella Sprentzel, though not nearly as frequently) for about three years.  Here’s a bit on Fränzi from the Llamarinth blog:

“Johanna Brade traces Fränzi Fehrmann’s life in some detail in the Dictionary of Artists’ Models. ‘The artists were fascinated by the naturalness of the girls’ movements and the unconscious eroticism they radiated,’ she writes. ‘Further, the angular form of their slender bodies conformed to the primitive art that had had a decisive influence on Die Brücke’s Expressionist idiom since around 1909. Fränzi Fehrmann and Marzella were not nice, gentle girls. The pictures often show them with a sceptical, shy look. Their nudity is unposed. This makes them seem, on the one hand, vulnerable and extremely childlike, and, on the other hand, like erotic Lolitas.'”

The recognition by these artists of the “unconscious eroticism” of the young girl was not that unusual for its time and place.  It would inform the work not only of German artists but also the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.  There was a general movement blossoming in Germany in the early part of the 20th century towards sexual openness and naturalism (which peaked in the Weimar era), a fact later labeled by Hitler and the Nazis as debauchery and corruption needing to be stamped out by the State.  Today Kirchner and his contemporaries, in simply recognizing that Fränzi possessed erotic qualities, would likely be labeled pedophiles and child exploiters–and indeed the accusation has been made in recent years–even though there’s no evidence that they ever exploited her or any other children.  This is a fine point that seems to be missed in the current environment of paranoia and simplistic thinking with regard to children and sex.

Kirchner was not only a painter but an amateur photographer and even, from time to time, a sculptor.  Here are some photographs wherein we can see precisely these paradoxical qualities in Fränzi which drew these members of Die Brücke to her:

ernst-ludwig-kirchner-f6

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Fränzi Fehrmann und Peter (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Porträt Fränzi Fehrmann (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Porträt Fränzi Fehrmann (1910)

Kirchner and Heckel drew and painted Fränzi nude more often as not.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Kauerndes Mädchen (Fränzi) (1909)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Kauerndes Mädchen (Fränzi) (1909)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Kleine Fränzi (1909)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Kleine Fränzi (1909)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Fränzi, am Wasser liegend (1909-10)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Fränzi, am Wasser liegend (1909-10)

Erich Heckel - Fränzi liegend (Schwarz-Rot) (1910)

Erich Heckel – Fränzi liegend (Schwarz-Rot) (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Mädchen mit Katze (Fränzi) (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Mädchen mit Katze (Fränzi) (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Fränzi und Marcella im Atelier (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Fränzi und Marcella im Atelier (1910)

Heckel and Kirchner both did portraits of one another posing with Fränzi:

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Liegende Fränzi im Gespräch mit Erich Heckel (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Liegende Fränzi im Gespräch mit Erich Heckel (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Heckel und Fränzi auf Sofa

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Heckel und Fränzi auf Sofa

Erich Heckel - (Title Unknown) (a sketch of Kirchner and Fränzi)

Erich Heckel – (Title Unknown) (a sketch of Kirchner and Fränzi)

One of Kirchner’s favorite items to depict the girl with was the bow and arrow, as he did several such drawings and paintings:

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Fränzi mit Bogen und Akt (1910) (2)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Fränzi mit Bogen und Akt (1910) (1)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Fränzi mit Bogen und Akt (1910) (1)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Fränzi mit Bogen und Akt (1910) (1)

One of Heckel’s works featuring Fränzi made it onto a German stamp in 2005:

Erich Heckel - Sitzende Fränzi (1910) (stamp issued 2005)

Erich Heckel – Sitzende Fränzi (1910) (stamp issued 2005)

Erich Heckel - Kinder (auf der Bank) (1910)

Erich Heckel – Kinder (auf der Bank) (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Fränzi vor geschnitztem Stuhl (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Fränzi vor geschnitztem Stuhl (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Sitzendes Mädchen (Fränzi Fehrmann) (1910)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Sitzendes Mädchen (Fränzi Fehrmann) (1910)

Max Pechstein - Das gelbschwarze Trikot (1909)

Max Pechstein – Das gelbschwarze Trikot (1909)

Wikipedia: Lina Franziska Fehrmann (Page is in German)

Wikipedia: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Wikipedia: Erich Heckel

Wikipedia: Max Pechstein

And here is an interesting article regarding Fränzi’s relationship with Die Brücke:

The German Times: The secret of Fränzi and Marcella

See also: A Kirchner Sculpture

*Addendum: Ray Harris has since covered the same subject on his blog, Novel Activist, and did an exemplary job of it, I think: The naked child in art: Franzi and Die Brucke

Mondrian and the Young Girl

I’ve always found this interesting. Piet Mondrian isn’t exactly remembered for his portraits. His name is pretty much synonymous with rectangles and thick black lines. But, in fact, Mondrian attempted a variety of styles throughout his life, following the trends of his day, from Impressionism, to Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, and finally the grid-like abstract paintings he’s most famous for. Here is a sketch of a nude girl by Mondrian which looks to date from right around his Post-Impressionist/Fauvist period (very early 1900s):

piet-mondrian-nude-girl

A somewhat more famous work is this Fauvist painting, entitled “Evolution Tryptich”:

Piet Mondrian - Evolution Triptych (1911)

Mondrian was a follower of Theosophist Rudolf Steiner, who had some rather peculiar ideas about young girls—he thought they possessed mystical powers. This was supposed to be apparent in the fact that their breasts didn’t yet point at the ground or some such nonsense. (This isn’t precisely relevant to this blog, but I found it to be an interesting little tidbit about Steiner.)

Finally, one of Mondrian’s more traditional paintings of a little girl:

Piet Mondrian - Little Girl (1901)

Artchive: Piet Mondrian (An interesting read if you’re at all curious about the motivations underlying Mondrian’s work.)

Wikipedia: Piet Mondrian

Witkin’s “Nude with Mask”

My college photography teacher introduced me to the work of Joel-Peter Witkin.  His photographs are odd both in style and subject matter.  He frequently gives them a grungy vintage feel by deliberately scratching the negatives; that, combined with the fact that he tends to photograph damaged and misshapen humans, often gives the viewer the impression he is looking at casting photos for Tod Browning’s Freaks.  Among his oddities there is this little gem, Nude with Mask, an image of a little girl sprawled across a chair and naked save for a cat mask; her pose seems to be a conscious parody of classic erotica.  Witkin’s photos, including this one, were partly the inspiration for the award-nominated music video “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails. (Note: you’ll need a Youtube account to watch the video, as it is rife with sexual imagery and some nudity.)

Joel-Peter Witkin – Nude with Mask (1988)

Wikipedia: Joel-Peter Witkin