Monthly Archives: April 2015

Esther, Charles Rennie, Mr Mac and Me

With a name culminating in Freud one would suspect the fifty-one year old British author may have an interesting lineage – and one would be spot on. Yes, she is the great-granddaughter of the game-changing psychoanalyst and the offspring of artist Lucien. Growing up, she didn’t know all this, only getting to know her father, notoriously anti-family, as an adult. Esther would then often pose for him, sometimes for his nude studies. Her mother, commencing at eighteen, spent a few short years with the then thirty-eight years old dauber, providing him with two offspring. He had fourteen known in all to a variety of women. Her sister Bella is an acclaimed fashion designer. Before Freud senior passed on he’d read and advised on all of his daughter’s literary oeuvre to that point – so he did mellow in later years – her first being what she is best known for, ‘Hideous Kinky’. Her latest is ‘Mr Mac and Me’.


Charles Rennie Mackintosh is now recognised as Scotland’s greatest architect. In some quarters his triumph, the Glasgow School of Arts, is regarded as the UK’s most perfectly planned edifice. As well, he was a painter and designer – Britain’s most notable contributor to the Art Nouveau movement. Behind every great man…and Charles had his Margaret, a fellow artist who has only recently emerged from his shadow. He considered his wife a genius and her influence on his own style beyond measure.


Although Mackintosh died in 1928, he, Margaret and Esther F are unified by the fact that they all spent/spend part of their lives in the village of Walberswick on that part of the Suffolk coast that was/is crumbling into the briny. One village building was prominent in linking the trio – the Anchor Inn. It houses Esther and her husband, actor David Morrissey, when they come down from their other home in North London. And for a time, back in the day, it also housed the architect.

At one stage in his career Charles left the security of an established firm to strike out on his own. Due to the tough economic times in the lead up to the Great War, his ambitions were thwarted, the business failed and he retreated to Walberswick, a known haven for artists. There he licked his wounds. In 1915 he was caught up in anti-German hysteria and arrested as a spy. It was not done to be wandering the strands at night with lamp and binoculars. He and his muse stayed on in the seaside location until 1923, after which they decamped to France. They returned to London, he in desperate health, one year before his death.

John Rennie Mackintosh: little-known architectural gem near Helensburgh.   E.O. Hopp /Corbis

So it is perhaps apt that my only concession to the hoopla that is going on with the centenary of an event that occurred on the Turkish coast is that I have read this gently moving novel of life in a British coastal village. It’s also set one hundred years ago. Being Suffolk, though, the souls that feature in Freud’s loving tome can hear the cannon fire from across the water. Their closeness to Flanders require the townsfolk to billet soldiers en route to the slaughter fields and house some of the poor Belgian civilians fleeing the same. And yes, Zeppelins pass overhead to launch mayhem on the capital, as Thomas Maggs, the club-footed son of the publican reports – ‘I run with the airship back across the beach, up over the dunes, following it along the street and past the church. If there was someone on the flat roof of the tower, then I could shout to them and they might, just this once, jangle their bells or, better, aim a rifle at it, but there is no-one in the church yard, only my family of starlings, keeping watch over our grave.’

Soon, though, the blimp is indeed shot down, giving the novel a few pages during which the pulse quickens. For the rest of it the narrative clips along at a more sedate pace, being not in the least less engrossing for that.

Its story is relayed to us through the voice of the boy Maggs. For a while he is wary of the stranger he comes to call Mr Mac and his activities in town. The two come together through a love of drawing, with eventually Thomas becoming a part of the furniture in the Mackintosh residence. Margaret has to spend much time away for family and health reasons with the lad becoming the conduit via which letters are transferred from Mac’s hand to the post office. As the author’s means for us to peruse the actual correspondence between the two devoted artists, Ms Freud has her youthful protagonist steam them open and read, before resealing and sending them on their way.

Of course there is much else going on in young Magg’s world other than Mr Mac’s trials and tribulations. There’s his father’s alcoholism and the developing feelings for the herring girl who comes down from the Scottish Isles each season to gut the ‘silver darlings’. There’s his sister’s love life and illness to worry about. There’s also stormy sea rescues, as well, to get involved in.


The New York Times describes Esther Freud as ‘A superbly gifted writer.’ This mere scribbler can but concur. Little of huge import occurs in ‘Mr Mac and Me’ – but it is still a wonderful homage to life as it once was. At times it is tough and uncompromising as Thomas battles his lameness to be all things to those who rely on him. At times there are paragraphs of utmost tenderness – the artist’s devotion to getting his sketches of the local flora just right, the dash Margaret must make down from London to free her befuddled, perplexed husband away from the arms of the law. It’s all terrific stuff from a wordsmith who warrants a higher profile in these parts.



The history of the event that spawned the legend is as hazy as the newspaper reports of it back in the day. Yet it shaped the life of a young Oklahoma lass and indelibly imprinted her name into the lore of the West. The question is, though, did she go on to shop her man? We’ll perhaps never get to the bottom of that – but thanks to Rusty Young her notoriety lives on with his musical tribute.

Here’s what we think we know. At some date in 1879 she was was born in the town of Ingalls in her home state, initially a member of a dirt poor family. Her mother later remarried a prominent town citizen and that changed her circumstances, if not her wild ways. The stepfather was probably the reason her name was erased from the official and press reports of the incident at the time – that and her youth.

rose of cimarron

Rose Dunn had several elder brothers – sources are vague on the exact number – but by the time their sister attained teenagerhood the boys had strayed to the wrong side of the law. They were hanging out with a gang of ne’er-do-wells at a secret hideaway by a river on the outskirts of town. Rose spent time with them there too, learning how to rope, ride and shoot – and by all accounts becoming more than proficient at all three, thus adding to the legend. Some of these skills were surely required in order to survive the ordeal that lay not too far ahead of our Rose. Soon her brothers decided that the other side of the tracks just wasn’t advancing them very much at all financially. They left their crim pals to join the side of justice, becoming bounty hunters. Rose stayed on. The gang by now numbered a half dozen or so and was being led by the Doolin Brothers. This motley crew later became known, in the endless list of banditry existing in the Old West, as the ‘Wild Bunch’. The reason Rose did not stray from them too is that, at fifteen, she was now very intimate with one of the rogues, George Newcomb, better known as Bitter Creek. She supplied him and his cronies with all the victuals they needed from the stores in her burb as, by now being wanted men, it was in their best interests not to be seen there in broad daylight.

We know not what bought them out and about on the streets of that Oklahoma town one September day back in 1893. But ride in they did, only to be corralled by a posse of thirteen US marshals waiting for them. The resulting gunfight became known as the Battle of Ingalls. Bitter Creek was wounded very early in the shoot-out and from her vantage point Rose could see he was out of ammo, making him vulnerable in the extreme. She was able to get a rifle to her man enabling him to continue the fight. Exactly how is a moot point. All evidence comes from eye-witnesses recalling the ‘battle’, long after the event, so verifying it all is difficult. One source stated she simply dashed to his side, relying on the fact that true gentlemen would never shoot at a woman, let alone a young girl. Another, there on the occasion, stated she was trapped in an upstairs room of the OK Hotel, lowering the rifle down by a bed sheet, following herself by the same method. There seems to be some evidence she may have defended her lover by returning fire herself. All recollect she was vital in allowing BC to escape the scene, despite his wounds. Two deputies were killed, but most of the Wild Bunch escaped, albeit with several carrying lead. They headed to their riverside refuge where Rose nursed them back to health. Soon after Rose became disenchanted with life on the run – either that or her ardour for her man cooled – so she returned to the family home in Ingalls. Was Bitter Creek pining for her so much that, despite the $5000 dollar reward on his head, he decided to pay her a visit – or did he have revenge on his mind? We don’t know the reason, but her brothers were waiting to ambush and as he dismounted his stead, they shot him dead. From this has emerged the notion that Rose knew he was coming and betrayed him. The bounty was duly collected. Did she share in the reward? Again, it’s not recorded.

For the rest of her days Rose kept her role in the affray to herself. She’d had enough excitement for one lifespan and desired a less frenetic existence. She went on marry a local politician, became a respectable law-abiding citizen, dying far away in Washington state, aged seventy-six.

She, however, lives on in the ethos of the Wild West, carrying attached to her name that of the river on the outskirts of her town- the hiding place for the Wild Bunch. For all time she’ll remain the Rose of Cimarron. But how did her legend spread?

In 1915 a Bill Tilghman gave the story to a newspaperman and it was he who gave the tale its first airing in print, based on Bill’s recollections as a former lawman. His tale was included in a slight compilation of such yarns entitled ‘Oklahoma Outlaws’. Over subsequent decades the saga was rehashed in many publications, but it took until 1952 for the real life Ms Dunn to become linked with the legendary Rose. This was down to some skilful detective work by author James D Horan in preparing for his tome ‘Desperate Women’. Hollywood came calling and tried to track her down, but she couldn’t be found. No Facebook, etc, back then! The movie version of the ‘Rose Of Cimarron’, tale that eventually emerged, had no parallel to the events centred on Rose and Bitter Creek. But, of course, we have the song.

The members of Poco, along with the likes of Gram Parsons and the Byrds, were prominent in the early days of West Coast country rock genre that reached its peak with the Eagles. A constant in their ever-changing line-up, right till 2013, has been Rusty Young. Back in 1973, on tour in Oklahoma, Rusty picked up a publication that featured the story of Rose and her deeds in days of yore. On that basis he crafted the tune in her memory – a tune that became his band’s signature song.


Those of you who know this scribbler well also know my adoration of Emmylou Harris. In 1981 she covered the song on her ‘Cimarron’ album. When she left Warner Brothers, in the nineties, the honchos there released a cobbled together collection of some of her country classics, including the Young penned tune. This album, despite it being a mishmash, still stands up well, including, as it does, such chestnuts as ‘I’ll Be Your San Antone Rose’, ‘Queen of the Silver Dollar’ and ‘The Sweetheart of the Rodeo’. But to me ‘Rose of Cimarron’ is the stand-out.

The song takes us back to the day when ‘…the misspent lead was hitting in the streets like a hard rain on dusty ground’ and Rose Dunn, at only fifteen, staked her claim as a true legend of the Old West. Think of her as you click over to YouTube to check out Poco’s original version, or when having a listen to Emmylou’s take on it. Both are classics!


Lyrics to Rose of Cimarron =

YouTube – Poco =

YouTube – Emmylou Harris =

Eddie and Omar

I like Eddie. One of the joys of watching the second season of ‘Ray Donovan’, as the Lovely Leigh and your scribe are currently experiencing, is seeing Eddie Marsan in the role of Ray’s brother, Terry. He’s perhaps the only remotely sane member of the Donovan clan, although he has his moments. For this Donovan life is pretty dour, the ex-boxer being affected by Parkinson’s. At least he can pride himself in having never thrown a fight. There’s little pride left for his siblings and crim father Mickey, though. For Terry there is a woman involved, his only salvation – we’re both hoping it turns out well for him. The two series have so far been compulsive viewing – and there’s a third on the way. Eddie was also exceptional in last year’s big screen minimalist treat ‘Still Life’. His performance was so nuanced and so ultimately moving.

In the new release, ‘X+Y’, Eddie M plays the genial coordinator of a group of teenage nerds billeted in Taiwan and about to represent the UK in the International Mathematics Olympiad. Eddie is not the lead here, nor is the role a stretch for the gifted character thesp, but his presence adds to the allure of this gem. Asa Butterfield, of ‘Hugo’ and ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ fame, as Nathan, gives a stellar performance, being the focus of the movie. He’s an autistic social misfit who can only make sense of his world in mathematical terms. So when love enters the equation, in the form of his Taipei exchange partner Zhang Mei (Jo Tang), he has no means to cope. This junior version of ‘A Beautiful Mind’ – in fact the film was rebranded ‘A Brilliant Young Mind’ for its US release – is choc full of struggling souls. There’s Nathan’s mother (Sally Hawkins), still reeling from the tragic death of her husband, the only person to really have a handle on Nathan. Enter a damaged, by disease and alcohol, teacher (Rafe Spall) who emerges as a love interest for the long-suffering mum. Then there are the various teens who accompany the maths freak to foreign shores – all seem to be carrying their own demons at an early age. Hawkins manages, as usual, to light up the screen in this, even if she’s devoid of all glamour. Young Jo Yang is the perfect foil for Nathan – how could he possibly not fall for her?


I like Omar. It would be impossible to do otherwise after his exuberant, larger than life force of nature turn in ‘The Intouchables’, the French super-hit of a few years back. Since then he’s been trying his luck in Hollywood, but returned to his home country to take the lead in the eponymous ‘Samba’. Although, in this offering, Omar Sy has a less effusive impact, his role is none the less magnetic. Sy’s character has managed to survive in Paris for ten years now, struggling to negotiate the red tape involved to achieve permanent residency whilst, at the same time, keeping a low profile. This means staying on the right side of the law. He dreads being shipped back to his native Senegal. In France the system offers hope for its illegals – something we in Oz could take a lesson from. Still, for Samba, it’s a hand to mouth existence, but hope is offered by novice immigration worker Alice, the always radiant Charlotte Gainsbourg. She’s recovering from a melt down of volcanic proportions – watch for the scene with the suits and their mobiles – and is not in a fit state to counter Samba’s overwhelming charms. At first their relationship is at arm’s length, but when he manages to get in deep do-do with the authorities and requires her assistance, they become more intimate.

There’s interest to be found in the underground economy of the cash-in-hand jobs Samba and his mates are forced to take on. For our vertigo afflicted lead, the one involving cleaning the windows of Parisian high-rises provides some light relief. Another delight is a free spirited performance from Tahar Rahim, so good in ‘The Past’, as his ‘Brazilian’ pal Wilson.


But it is Omar S’s performance that constantly dominates the screen with his hulking frame. It put me in mind of Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts’ Alain in ‘Rust and Bone’. Both have that certain something up there on the screen, but their future star vehicles will need to be tailored to their uniquely individual strengths.

The directors of both these movies (James Graham ‘X+Y’, Oliver Nakache and Eric Toledano ‘Samba’) take their art house audiences along the two narrative trails at a leisurely pace, minus the bells and whistles of much present day product. What they have come up with, though, are both out and out crowd-pleasers and will charm the socks off you. Do yourself a favour, eschew the hoopla of mega-budgeted multiplexes and take a look at this duo of quiet wonder.

‘X + Y’ Official movie Trailer =

‘Samba’ official movie trailer =


Mark R and the Kids

The kids didn’t grate, they honestly didn’t grate. The lovely Leigh and I discussed this fact as we drove homewards after seeing the movie ‘Infinitely Polar Bear’. Why didn’t they grate? Was I getting more tolerant in my dotage – or perhaps it was that American and film-makers world-wide are now looking for more from their junior-thesps than cutesypieness, as Leigh suggested. The two kids in this production – Imogene Wolodarsky as Amelia Stuart and Ashley Aufderheide as her sister Faith – expertly played just being kids. They weren’t perfect goody two-shoes. They had spats and they had tantrums. They were believable and increased my enjoyment of the offering – rather than, as in the past, detracting. Turns out young Imogene is the daughter of its writer/director, Maya Forbes.


I was certainly charmed by the pair of lasses, but what really caught my attention and impressed was a performance I felt up there with the Oscar nominated boys this year. I now realise that Mark Ruffalo has passed under my radar for years, not seeing his turns in the recent ‘Foxcatcher’ or the ‘Avengers’ franchise. His face was familiar, so checking out the forty-seven year old actor’s filmography, I discovered I had seen him up on the screen in that marvellous ensemble piece ‘The Kids are All Right’ from 2010, as well as, further back, in ‘My Life Without Me’ and the Jane Campion offering, ‘In the Cut’. I have the latter on DVD somewhere so must watch it again.

As written, I thought Mark Ruffalo was sensational in ‘Infinitely Polar Bear’ – see the movie and if you’re attentive you’ll pick up the origins of the title. This Wisconsin born is of mixed Italian/French Canadian heritage and was a wrestling champ at school – thus his casting in ‘Foxcatcher’? He worked in minor movies through the nineties, hitting the big-time alongside Laura Linney in 2000’s ‘You Can Count on Me’. He has been in demand ever since. He also takes to the stage on occasion and has tried his hand at directing. He now resides in NYC, has a couple of daughters – so he’s no stranger to that species – and a son, being married to French actress Sunrise Coigney for thirteen years. Politically active, he is a strong campaigner for pro-choice and anti-fracking – good on him.


In ‘IPB’ he plays Cam and he’s a bit of a plonker. But it’s not his fault – you see he’s afflicted with the curse of bi-polar. He is unable to hold down a job, boozes and constantly has a fag dangling from his lips – not a great role model for his girls, but they love him – for good reason. In contrast, long suffering missus, Maggie (Zoe Saldana), is struggling to cope with him. When she is forced to leave Boston, for better employment opportunities in New York, she has no choice but to make Cam responsible for the two girls. Mayhem ensues. But it’s Cam’s ability to stick his head above his usual hopelessness that charms the audience, if not so much his wife. Whatever his failings, we’re left in no doubt of his love for her and devotion to the kids. With a manic father, this family is battling against the odds. Will it all fall apart or can they finally make it work? Well, this is Hollywood, after all, so what would you think? But even so, this is a journey well worth taking and for my money Ruffalo surely proves he has real star power. So take it from me, I’ll be off to see him whenever his name appears up there in lights – although I’ll draw a line at ‘Avengers Age of Ultron’. I am not that enthusiastic about him!

Infinitely Polar Bear’ – official trailer =

Fish 'n' Chips

I don’t see how they can be allowed to get away with it – what with truth in advertising and all that. Claim they have the best chips – or is it fries – in the nation. Some sun-drenched, stereotypically knockabout Aussie beach-type lads walking towards a car, skylarking over a cup of chips (or fries), with a voice over making that claim. The good life = KFC chips. How can they be the most delectable in the country – what proof is there? What surveys have been done? Just gives me the pip.

Advertising is yet another reason free to air television annoys the heebies out of me – well at least on the commercial channels. It’s no wonder the punters are turning off in droves. And now it seems you cannot enjoy a quarter of footy without them trying to squeeze in not one, but two, ads after each goal. To my mind people would be so peed off that they’d deliberately not go out and buy that product. Sure there are ads with a modicum of intelligence about them – the Jeep campaign for instance – but any effectiveness they might have are killed off by repeated exposure. But having inanities shouted at you after each six-pointer – that is just beyond the pale. But enough of railing about that – I’m off topic. That rubbish from the Colonel – that’s what I need to be focused on.

I suppose, really, I should put it to the test and actually buy some of them before I rant away – but I haven’t been in a KFC, or a Maccas, this century and I don’t plan to start now. I do not have a great deal of respect for my stomach in terms of what I put in it, but going to any one of those generic fast-food outlets is a step too far over to the dark side. But I like fish ‘n’ chips, I really do. I envy Dave O’Neil who, when he’s not scribing about all the great pub rock bands he saw back in the day when he and they were in their pomp, he’s rattling on about what he can stick in his ample gut. He’s a great columnist though, I reckon. He usually raises a smile or more from me. Living, as he does, in Melbourne, he can still seek out the old fashioned variety of fish ‘n’ chips – the type I yearn for. He has to drive a distance for it, though, to get to a place where ‘…the man behind the counter dumped a big load of flake and chips on the paper and shaked salt over the fried goodness.’ Read the attached article ‘Fish and Chip Heartbreak Served Without Salt’. If you’re pining, like me, for the good ol’ days, it’ll take you back. It sure took me back.


I’m a Burnie boy and proud of it. But back when I was a lad every ‘burb, big or small, had them – the take-away shop, usually run by Greeks or Italians. These served up fish ‘n’ chips in the way that has all but disappeared. Salt, of course, was a given – the only choice then was vinegar or no vinegar. I remember the one I used to frequent, way back in the mists when I was in primary school. I can picture it now. After class had finished for the day I made a beeline for it. You could never see what was on offer from the outside as the plate glass was so steamed up from the hot expectant breath of dozens of children waiting, the younger ones repeatedly forced to the back by the pushy grade sixers. Then there were the super hot vats of boiling, infrequently-changed, oil to increase the fug. But you didn’t need to see in – just open the door, feel the exhale of warmth, particularly if it was winter, then make your way, as best you could, to order your shilling’s worth at the counter. Flake was not affordable, reserved for family occasions on the weekend. There would be dark haired, swarthy men in singlets serving it all out, the sweat oozing down from hairy armpits, what with the effort required to keep up with demand. It was like the six o’clock swill in the pubs of the day. A bob’s worth in the chilly season would keep you toasty all the way up the hill to home – no helicopter parenting in those days. And they were wrapped in raw newspaper, soon to be punctured at the top for hand dipping. In cold weather you would tuck the package under your jacket. This would serve two purposes – firstly to protect it from the elements and secondly, to warm you from the chill winds. You’d wonder how the chips would be on any given occasion. Would they be exquisitely soggy, or deliciously crunch-inducing? If you came up with a particularly long one you’d show it to your mates to see if they could outdo it from their yesterday’s news package. Some chips would invariably have big black spots of god only knows what on their skins. The finicky would chuck them – I wasn’t finicky. And when you had scoffed them all down, at the bottom would be more delight – the salty, oily scrag ends and crumbs.


During my uni days, in the seventies, it was still possible to enjoy the same binge as I had the previous decade. From my residential hall there was the ten o’clock nightly run down to the Monaco on Sandy Bay Road. There’d be a rota, orders were taken and if it was your turn, off you’d go, returning with a steaming mass of chip orders. If you were flush, added to it would be dim sims, chicko rolls and flake. If not, probably a potato cake or two. A scallop was pure ecstasy

When I finally moved back to Hobs, a few years ago now, there was a place along the Main Road, at Austin’s Ferry, that still retained a semblance of the old ways. From his stock, though, you could tell the sole owner was struggling. He eventually merged with the pizza place next door, but the last time I looked both had gone the way of so many small businesses these days.

maning reef

Yes, ‘…slices of lemon are the new potato cakes and it all comes in small cardboard boxes.’ Leigh and I have gone with the flow and now frequent a ‘Fish and Chippery’, as Dave puts it. Ours isn’t bad. Sure, it’s not like the old days, but the blokes who run it, John Caire and Giovanni Bertelle, are friendly, the prices are not over-inflated and what they produce is tasty – not old-fashioned tasty, but good enough. It still warms the cockles and is probably a darn sight healthier. And it also takes me back to Sandy Bay Road – 479 in fact. Like Dave O’N’s new place, it is a bit of a drive from our abode by the river in Bridgewater, but we combine lunch there with a trip to the casino once every couple of months or so. Leigh can have a flutter and I take my newspapers to enjoy the river views from the Sportsman’s Bar. If you’re in those parts you could do worse that a cheap repast at the old petrol station, the site for our tucker on such occasions. Leigh reckons their pizzas are pretty delectable as well, but I’ll stick to my simple ‘two pieces of flake, battered, with chips.’ The light tempura batter is not the same as the floury overload of earlier times. Its all fried in cotton seed oil, regularly changed, which I guess is a bonus on the cholesterol. And I’ve even taken to their sweet potato cakes. Despite my yearnings, Maning Reef Cafe, licensed, does it for me. I’ll see if they’re interested in putting Thai fish cakes with dill sauce on the menu.

Dave O’Neil’s column =

Maning Reef Cafe website =

De Lempicka, The Last Nude and Ms Abel

She ‘...set down her drawing board, and leaned forward. When I felt her hair wisping against my face again, I inhaled sharply. When she kissed me I sighed….I had never kissed lips so soft. She stood and lifted the scarf off me. Her eyes were like silver. ‘Oh?’ she said, holding the scarf in the air, the pale chiffon with its darker, wet bull’s eye. I closed my eyes, abashed. I couldn’t open them. I heard Tamara set her rings deliberately on the table before she said, ‘What’s going on here?

I know where there are a couple of stands of them in the city – one in the foyer of the State Library, the other at the entrance to the Long Gallery, Salamanca. It was at the latter I spotted those particular cards as I mounted the stairs to see an exhibition. I instantly recognised the artist’s work on them – or, at least, I thought I did. ‘I wonder why they’re advertising de Lempicka,’ I thought to myself.

Avant postcards are in similar stands at numerous locations all around the country. They give notice of upcoming events or, more excitingly for me, feature the work of artists and photographers trying to get their name out there into the public domain. As I reached for a handful of the cards I’d spotted, I soon saw they weren’t an example of the oeuvre of the artist I had in mind, but the work of another entirely. You could see, though, this painter was under de Lempicka’s spell, as I have been for some time now.

Think paintings that best represent the art deco style and more and more art fans think of the ‘baroness with the brush’, Tamara de Lempicka. She was the most fashionable portraitist of her generation. Celebrities lined up to be painted by her, but the Depression saw her popularity wane, only to be revived in the final three decades of the last century and into our new millennium. She is well and truly back in vogue, her daubings instantly recognisable and these days, ubiquitous.

de lempika

The artist was born Maria Górska in Warsaw in 1898. She was of Jewish background surrounded by wealth. The future Tamara de L attended boarding school in Switzerland and during her formative years lived in a variety of places, including the French Riviera and St Petersburg. She spotted the man she intended to marry at age fifteen and did so three years later – Tadeusz Lempicki. He wanted her for her money – not a recipe for success.

Come the Revolution and the couple were forced to flee to Paris, minus a significant proportion of their assets. Here Tamara gave birth to her daughter Kizette and became immersed in the bohemian life of the city, soon entranced by Picasso and the Cubists. She took to the brush to try and make a crust – something her layabout hubby thought beneath him. She was a quick worker, soon finding a populist approach to her renderings – one that would readily sell, it turned out. After 1925 she was exhibiting all over Europe and was charging top dollar for her portraits to boot. She fell in lust with many of her sitters. Even the notorious Gabriele D’Annunzio came under her spell, although it seems he failed to bed her.

She owned the Roaring Twenties like few others. If Gatsby was the male epitome, she was the female. She mixed with Cocteau and Gide, Collette and Sackville-West. She was also flamboyantly bisexual, neglecting not only the wastrel Tadeusz but also her daughter. She soon had a rich man as both her patron and sugar daddy. Travelling to the US was also on her agenda – here she fell in with de Kooning and Georgia O’Keeffe. Later on she married her older suitor, Raoul Kuffner, thus gaining her title, Baroness. With the advent of the second great war her star had well and truly diminished but, undeterred, she kept painting, trying out new styles to an unresponsive public. She also moved permanently to America, paralleling a move into prickly old age. The end saw her residing in Mexico where she died of a stroke in 1980. Her ashes were spread on Popocatepetl. She did live long enough to see her work reassessed by the artistic trendsetters, who declared that owning one or more of her works definitely put you front and centre amongst the in-crowd. These days her collectors include Madonna, Jack Nicholson and Barbra Streisand.

de lempika02

The opening paragraph of this scribbling is taken from ‘The Last Nude’ and are the initial sentences to a description of a lesbian coupling between the painter and one of her models – what follows is very saucy indeed. Ellis Avery’s novel is based on the main facts of the great woman’s life, but the gaps are filled in by supposition. The work received, on publication, rave reviews and several prestigious gongs in the United States. Reading the four pages of recommendations that prefaced the story in the book, as I perused it in a Melbourne bookshop, I felt I must be in for a real treat and rushed to the counter to purchase. I enjoy novels that do add made up substance to fact, plus it was about a favourite heroine, so what could go wrong?

AveryEllislast nude

Although I did manage to finish it, I really had to force myself to turn each page and refrain from skimming. I found it dirgeful, the writing uninspiring. Sad to say that the only time it came alive was with its few erotic passages – not enough to keep this customer satisfied. But it obviously struck a chord in America – so much so that Lempickaphiles can take a tour of Paris around its featured sites!

The major part of Avery’s offering is taken from the point of view of Rafaela Fano, an escapee from tight American strictures, enjoying the freedom the French capital affords. But she finds it struggletown too, even despite the seventeen year old’s willingness to use her body to achieve her ends. Life changes markedly when she is discovered by de Lempicka who offers to pay her to pose. Soon it is posing minus garments, apart from a well placed scarf – and before too long the two are intimately exploring each other’s body parts. As time proceeds both end up having much else on the boil as well, with the result that, at times, the plot and who was who lost me. I just wasn’t interested enough in all their scheming and machinations. The final part features the portraitist in her old age, contrary and cantankerous, with some her and Rafaela’s back story filled as bonus. The Washington Post describes ‘The Last Nude’ as ‘A compulsively readable novel.’ I found it anything but.

But the positive spin-off is that I discovered the postcards and through them, at the top of the stairs in the Salamanca Arts Centre, Catherine Abel. The card I initially took to be a de Lempicka was in fact Abel’s ‘La Femme en Soie’, an example of her expertise from only last year. It features a cool blonde, presumably from the Flapper Age, peering out at the viewer, draped in striped silk (soie), bejewelled and enticing. Up in the ether I found much more to like from this artist who readily admits the debt she owes to the daubing baroness, as well as to Picasso, Braque and Dali. This Australian has indeed honed her experience by travelling to Paris and has been a finalist for the Archibalds. She describes her infatuation with de Lempicka by likening her to ‘…the teacher I never had.’ It was seeing the Baroness’ masterpieces during her overseas sojourns that inspired her to attempt to paint for a living. As well as Abel’s figurative work, there are still lifes and landscapes to be viewed on-line. But its certainly her stunning capturings of the feminine form that stand-out, as is the case with her role model. So if you too fancy the work of the icon of the twenties, check out her modern day acolyte. Beware – for, as with de Lempicka, some of her product is NSFW.

abel la femme catherine

So the disappointment of the book has been offset by discovering a new artist to follow the progress of with interest. And if for me Avery’s book didn’t capture the spirit of T de L, Catherine Abel certainly does.


Gallery of Catherine Abel’s work =

Gallery of Tamara de Lempicka’s work =

Ellis Avery Website =

A ‘Last Nude’ tour of Paris =

Love and Woolies' Odd Bunches

Wendy Squires, invariably in her columns, strikes a chord with me. She did it again this week in her latest – this time it was her way with words on fruit and veg. She’s not talking so much about the sleek, succulent examples we have for the taking on the supermarket shelves of the Big Two, which, once bought home, more often than not, soon start to shrivel. No, she’s pontificating on the ones overlooked – those thrown on the scrap heap, left to rot or ploughed back into the farmers’ fields. Such wastage with so much of the world hungry! Now one of the Two has seen the light and is offering imperfection at a reduced price. Woolies is following the trend in the UK, championed by Jamie Oliver, that has gone gangbusters there – let’s hope it does here. Squires not only likened these second grade carrots and apples to her own physical imperfections, but also to Ronnie and Jean, a Canadian couple she met in an Auckland hotel – an older pair living their dream before it all becomes too late.

Now I am about to take Wendy’s analogy one step further and liken a couple we can meet in the movie ‘Love is Strange’ to these not beautiful enough products of agrarian is strange

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are gay, still in love after decades together, but with age starting to become an impediment – neither are as beautiful as they once were. But they also decide to live the dream too. Unlike our own country with its Dark Ages politicians, more and more US states are freeing up repressive laws and allowing same sex couples to marry. Our two imperfects decide to similarly formally commit. Soon their happiness turns sour when, for George, this decision is crossing the line for his employer. He’s a teacher of music in a school and although they have known about his sexual orientation, openly marrying is not favoured by the Catholic Church and he is immediately dismissed. This causes a financial crisis for the duo and they are forced to give up their Manhattan apartment. For a while it seems, until fortunes change, the only alternative is couch surfing with family and friends. They both struggle to cope with apartness, their hosts struggle to cope with each of them.

Director Ira Sachs produces for us a fine film that has as much to do about ageing and the fragility of life as it does about gaydom and attitudes towards it. It is an offering of muted pace and muted tones, but the performances from the two leads are brave, heartfelt and nuanced – as we would expect from these two seasoned thesps. It’s not played for the appearance of hankies and tissues, even when one of the pair doesn’t make it through to that change of fortune. The production has garnered gongs world wide for what the New York Daily News describes as its ‘…thoughtful, intelligent reserve.’ I couldn’t put it better.

Film Set - 'Love Is Strange'

As well as Lithgow and Molina, for me the other stand-out performance was from young Charlie Tahan as Joey, the put upon teen who is forced to share his confined bedroom with his gay great-uncle Ben. The lad understandably resents the intrusion and all sorts of friction ensues. But in the development of a positive relationship between the two, as well as Joey’s struggles to develop relationships of his own, we have one of this movie’s true joys.

Yes George and Ben, along with Ronnie and Jean, as well as undoubtedly yours truly, are of an age where, as imperfections increase and we generally fade from view to join the plethora of similarly invisible baby-boomers, there are still films such as this and increasingly many others – cite the ‘Exotic Marigold Hotel’ franchise. It all serves to remind the rest that old people, like disfigured fruit and vegetables, still have some worth.

Wendy Squires article =

Official trailer for ‘Love is Strange’ =

Of the Madame and the Eye of the Granddaughter

Madame_de_Staël by  Firmin Massot

As you may judge from Firmin Massot’s portrait, Germaine de Staël (that’s the abbreviated version – her title in full is Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker, Baronne de Staël-Holstein) was not conventionally beautiful for those times or even ours. But she had a certain something – call it charisma, call it money, call it intelligence, call it needfulness, call it notoriety – it all came with her territory. She was always in the news, such as that was in those times, getting up the nose of the powerful. She took on Napoleon and saw him off. Her views on liberalism, divorce, the superiority of the British and German character and the virtues of Protestantism didn’t make her flavour of the month in Catholic France. In the end her ruffling of feathers saw her banished from the place. But despite this, or maybe because of it, she attracted men like moths to a flame. And she didn’t like letting go once she got her clutches in – all of her conquests were expected to tend to her sexually for life. It was not uncommon for her to have five live-in lovers on the go at once. These men were writers, philosophers, soldiers – even the occasional statesman. Her voraciousness in the bedroom became legendary, but it was through a granddaughter’s eye that I discovered her – out there in the ether.

There is what I consider to be a stunning Facebook page, that I am constantly exploring, called the ‘Musetouch Visual Arts Magazine’. It caters to those of us, probably the most of us, who are partial to timeless feminine beauty – and associated objects. On this day it was merely a segment of a work of art that caught my attention. There was a blue-irised eye framing a dilated pupil, with what I took to be a come-hither look. There was an abundance of alabaster skin and a finger crooked enticingly under chin. A folded digit wore a narrow gold band. There was the hint of a garment of blue satin. I had to know more.

 comtesse d'haussonville

From the fine print I established her name and a link to her portrait in full. The subject was Louise, Princesse de Broglie, Comtesse d’Haussonville – what fine titles these ladies possessed back then – and she was the granddaughter, the information was quick to point out, of Madame de Staël. I had vaguely heard of her, so I determined to investigate her more fully once I was done with Louise.

These days the granddaughter, if she has any fame at all, it is as the woman gracing a glorious Ingres’ 1845 rendering. Louise was born in 1818, married off at 18 to a member of the French Academy, thus, as with her grandmother, ensuring she moved in rarefied circles. Though she never achieved her ancestor’s high station in history, Louise was no slouch, publishing several tomes, most notably a biography of Byron. She devoured books herself, regularly attended the opera and was inspired by her acquaintance with Chopin to master the piano. She was also a dab hand with the paintbrush. And reportedly, she was down to earth and most approachable for a woman of her standing in society.

And as for the painting itself – well neo-classicist Ingres (1780-1867) was a perfectionist and prepared with numerous sketches of the lady before he committed to canvas. Even so, the great man considered this to be a side-project and kept interrupting its completion to attend to what he considered greater works. This was not aided by Louise’s travels combined with, to Ingres, an unfortunate pregnancy. The artist completed his first sketch for it in 1842 when the sitter was just 24. The whole shebang was not completed till three years later. It was immediately a hit with Louise’s family and her set – it is now regarded as one of the master’s masterpieces. If one reads the art-wank, the pose can be traced back to Roman times with ‘…the chin supported by the hand, the gaze that looks not so much at us but through us (so much for my come-hither assertion), the look of a privileged and uninterrupted abstraction.’ (John Russell, New York Times)


Much of what was on-line referred to the painting and not what I was I was really interested in – the woman herself – so my thoughts returned to the grandmother. Why was Louise’s relationship to her noted by every commentator I read under Google’s banner? She must be worthy of a look. Judging by my opening paragraph, she certainly was.

Massot (1766-1849) was certainly no Ingres, but this Genevan dauber was operating around Lakes Geneva and Lausanne at the time de Staël was in residence there, so he was the best to be had. The Madame invited him to attend to her villa and stay awhile in 1794. Were they lovers, given her proclivities? That is not recorded, but we do know that the following year Firmin, aged 28, took a seventeen year old as his bride. But, given the era, we cannot read too much into that. Interestingly, he and his subject were exactly the same age as she too was born in 1766.

Her father was a finance minister to Louis XVI, her mother an icily formal leading light in the salons of Paris with little interest in her daughter. Young Germaine grew up simply besotted with her father. At twenty she was married off to a Swedish diplomat, allowing her to attain the de Staël-Holstein part to her appellation. It was a loveless affair – he got his kicks elsewhere as did she in spades. He rarely shared her boudoir with only only one offspring being produced. She was frequently pregnant to other lovers but the good man was always by her side to keep up appearances out in public. She produced another four children in amongst miscarriage and stillbirth. The most intense relationship of her life was with Benjamin Constant, a Swiss writer who hung around her for twelve tumultuous years, most spent spatting with de Staël. He based his best known novel, ‘Adolphe’, on her.

As her hubby was ambassador during the Revolution, her diplomatic immunity enabled her to survive the Terror unscathed. To Germaine’s credit she was instrumental in organising the flight of many royalists away from the blades of Madame Guillotine. Many of these aristocrats were to join her in exile in Switzerland when her outspoken views enraged the Little Corporal. Even in a foreign country Napoleon’s spies kept watch on her, so dangerous was she perceived to be to the state. Her husband’s death did not slow her down as she remarried, this time to an Italian soldier twenty years her junior. On the demise of Bonaparte she returned to Paris but could raise little enthusiasm for the Restoration. By now she was addicted to opium and in 1817 all her excesses caught up with her. She died in her sleep of a stroke.

Her writing, of course, lives on – even recently, for the literary purists, coming back in vogue. Her best known publication is 1802’s ‘Delphine’. It was a huge success when it hit the stands, telling of a beautiful woman who sought happiness through love. Unfortunately its popularity caused the Emperor to read it. He was singularly unimpressed by the outbreak of feminism it contained, so it contributed to her banishment. These days her works are viewed by those in the know as from ‘…the struggle of an exceptional intellect trying to the transcend the social and creative constraints imposed on women of her time.’

These were two remarkable women, Louise and the Madame. One’s beauty will live forever due to the efforts of a great artist, the other’s creativity and zest for life will ensure history remembers her. And, as I cast my own eye back over that sublime image that first attracted me to their tales, I wonder what either would make of the advances of their gender in our own century – not that misogyny has been completely eradicated. I am sure, though, they would be rightly gobsmacked. They helped set the scene.

Woman on the Rise x2

I am quite partial to ‘Antiques Roadshow’. Its not television that I hang out for, nor do I sit down and watch it each time it is on. It is something I can dip into when I am preparing or partaking of the evening meal whilst it’s in its present ABC timeslot. I like the woman of a certain age (Fiona Bruce) who hosts it. I like the looks on the faces of those who found an old painting up in the attic or who purchased a bit of crockery for 25p at a second hand shop and are gobsmacked when the valuer informs them of the multiples of thousands their finding is worth. And I like the back history of some of the items presented.

A couple of nights ago I was watching one of the show’s co-hosts, a very personable chap, waxed lyrical about a late Seventeenth Century teapot afore him for valuation. During a description of its provenance he remarked that the introduction of tea into British society was the first step on the long road to women achieving equality with menfolk – a road that still hasn’t fully arrived at its destination.

Previous to the transformation the humble tea leaf caused, a respectable woman could not enter the ale or coffee houses of the time and of course were completely subjugated in wedlock – emphasis on the lock. The arrival of this new beverage gave the mistress of the house a renewed purpose and allowed for some minor independence from hubby’s control. Drawing rooms could be opened up and gossip could be had around the intricate preparation then involved in making a cuppa. It was a matter of pride, getting the mixture of green and black teas used exactly right to create a signature blend. Chairs were no longer positioned around walls, but rather circled small tables designed especially for the serving of the refreshing hot liquid. As tea became more affordable and the drinking of it spread down the social strata, so women opened up their formerly underused front rooms for the commercial selling of the brewed product – thus gaining a modicum of financial security in isolation from their spouses. Women were on their way.

Around the same time tea was revolutionising the balance between the sexes across the Channel, a great palace was being built in the countryside around Paris – and here a singular woman was attempting to also break through the glass ceiling of the time – or as one commentator put it, more like a stone ceiling – Madame Sabina De Bara (Kate Winslet). Along my lovely Leigh and I went to view the film of her story this week. It turned out to be a good saga.

De Bara was a creation of the mind of Alan Rickman, the director of ‘A Little Chaos’. Now I am also quite partial to Alan Rickman – he enhances every project he is involved in. Of course a large amount of his recent time has been taken up by the Harry Potter franchise, but my favourite of his many offerings was the 2006 Canadian indie ‘Snow Cake’. Here he plays a man involved in a fatal car crash, thus causing a major attack of the guilts resulting in a life changing experience, a reawakening. It was the loveliest of movies.


In ‘A Little Chaos’ he also plays the role of Louise XIV, the Sun King. He is heavily involved in matters of state as well as attempting to build said palace, Versailles, together with its magnificent gardens. Mattias Schoenaerts, so revealing in his amazing previous outing, ‘Rust and Bone’, has a more subdued role here as the king’s gardener, André Le Nôtre – and this guy really existed too, although he was considerably older than the age of the hunk the Belgian actor portrayed in the movie. Madame De Barra, sadly, never existed. It would have been unthinkable back then for a real woman to crack that stone ceiling and be responsible for part of the landscaping under Le Nôtre. Still, without her, it would have been a dull old tale and the fictional she certainly caused consternation among the vested interests as portrayed in this cinematic product. Both Winslet and Schoenaerts are serviceable in their roles, as is Helen McCory as the scheming wife of the head gardener. Leigh could not understand how the handsome young fellow could be hitched to such a vile, much older creation – but they did things differently back then.

For me the movie doesn’t quiet work. The story line plods along – some judicious editing could have sped it up somewhat. Also there was seemingly no need to insert a back story towards the end to interrupt the flow – surely the audience would be intelligent enough to work out that widow Sabine bought a shit load of baggage into her relationship with André, once they eventually got around to acting on their feelings. Enough hints had been dropped. Broad English accents did not entirely sit well with such a period piece set in France.

It’s only when Rickman is on screen that proceedings liven up. He was delightful when, freeing himself from the remorse caused by the death of his wife and dispensing of his regal attire, he retires to his pear arbour only to meet Sabine. She decides he is just another horticultural type, causing confusion before the penny dropped – and then friendship. And I loved the bit where he explains the reasoning behind the building of Versailles was to take the children away from the temptations of city life. There are also some attractive performances from the lesser lights – Stanley Tucci as the king’s gay brother, for instance. His missus’ (Paula Paul) acceptance to Sabine of the fact her prince swings the other way is a quiet gem. ‘Silk’s’ Rupert Penry Jones is similarly very becoming in his small role as De Barra’s first friendly face at court. Rickman was very concerned that the fashions of the day – the gowns, frock coats, make-up etc – be as realistic to the times as possible, rather than a modern day type gloss over. It all largely gives the former impression despite the perfect teeth. And I did enjoy the ending, despite it being complete Hollywood mush.

All in all there is an opportunity missed here, but it still was a reasonably pleasurable way to while away a couple of hours – despite the distraction of some overly effective air-conditioning at the State turning our viewing room into an ice-box.

Fast forward now to the last century. Within the lifetimes of many of us, advancement for the female gender still had not made much headway on what De Barra had encountered. In Eisenhower’s America, on the sun-dappled coast of Northern California we find the Keanes, a couple riding a wave of fortune due to wife Margaret’s talent for kitsch and hubby Walter’s head for business acumen. The only trouble in their version of Camelot was that Walter was a fraudster – and the victim was Margaret. Claiming to be as equally endowed with artistic gifts as his spouse, Walter imported cheesy Parisian streetscapes to peddle as his own work at local markets and this is how he met his wife to be. On that occasion she was set up in a neighbouring stall, selling her own artwork, trying to make a buck after escaping misogynist husband number one. Her oeuvre on show consisted of small children with overly large eyes. After a whirlwind romance she was so charmed by the oily Walter Keane that nuptials soon ensued. Soon the man of the house was arranging joint showings of their artistic output, but hers, through a combination of events, took off and his knock-offs were being ignored. ‘No worries,’ he no doubt thought, ‘I’ll just pretend they’re mine as well.’ Word spread and Margaret’s work, signed by Walter, was soon flavour of the month with the punters, despite being derided by the critics. When Walter hit on the bright idea of turning her originals into thousands of prints so Average Joe and Josephine could afford them, they were on a roll. But at all costs the secret of their true origin had to be kept. As the marriage wore on and Walter’s behaviour developed peculiarity, Margaret became more incensed at her situation. She wasn’t going to take her subservience any longer, so she escaped to Hawaii and let the cat out of the bag. All hell broke loose, so over to the lawyers.

big eyes01

Initially ‘Big Eyes’ was a project intended to be a vehicle for Kate Hudson and Thomas Hayden Church. I wished it had remained that way. Whist I had no issues with Amy Adams in the role of Margaret, Christoph Waltz, as her over-bearing spouse, simply gave me the irits. No doubt this was intentional on the part of director Tim Burton, but when the proverbial hit the fan and Walter attempted to defend his own actions in court, the whole thing descended into farce. Waltz, clearly enjoying himself as a fellow going off his rocker, hammed it up for all it was worth and the film completely lost its way. Up until then I was thinking it was an interesting yarn. Burton, in an outing unusually taking him into the real world, should have exercised the control the ffilm’s courtroom judge was too inept to. It spoilt the exercise for me.


Still the movie certainly shed more light on the treatment of women during the early ‘Mad Men’ era – and it was lovely seeing actor Adams and the real artist Margaret together as the closing credits came down.

Unfortunately there are still men like Walter Keane here in our current century. Daily headlines constantly shout at us of ongoing mistreatment of women in all manner of ways – in the workforce, on our streets and behind the facades of suburbia. But whilst we have the modern equivalents of Sabine and Margaret ready to declaim ‘Enough’ and shatter glass ceilings, the fight will go on until the road reaches its destination.

‘A Little Chaos’ Official Trailer =

‘Big Eyes Official Trailer =

A Margaret Keane Gallery =