Alfred Stevens

Van Gogh, 1BKVan Gogh, 2BK

Last Friday night, together with my students, I visited the Alfred Stevens exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum, here in Amsterdam.  Stevens, originally Belgian, made career in Paris during the Second Empire of Napoleon III, and afterwards. While he originally painted moral, a bit heavy scenes, he shifted to interior scenes of well-to-do Parisian women within their homely surroundings. Emotions yes, but restrained, confirming the ‘imprisonment and boredom female upper-class life. On the other and, it also shows that a modern woman could be shown in her interior without any historical or mythological narrative to legitimate the subject, just like the interior scenes of Vermeer and De Hooch. But while the study of 17th century paintings is still surrounded by moralism and iconology, the paintings by Stevens seem to focus more on a kind of modern haptical, tactile kind of painting.  The expression of the silks and velvets of the dresses, the ways the textiles are folded, the use of red in the cashmere shawls, the deep blue of a velvet dress, the accessories on a dress such as silver clips and chains, and the oriental objets d’art an upperclass woman could cherish,  point at a unabashed display for the viewer.  Some of the paintings though place the characters in the shadow, while light refers to spaces only partly visible, the rest being offscreen.  Visconti’s costume designer Marcel Escoffier used Stevens’ work to design the costumes for Alida Valli in Senso (1954).  It is not hard to understand why he preferred Stevens’ paintings to 19th century fashion stamps.

We also witnessed a tableau vivant-like performance by designer Catta Donkersloot. Elegantly dressed fashion models (fashion 20th century) paraded through the museum and took frozen poses at the entrance of the exhibition. They referred to the minimal narratives of Stevens, such as a woman reading saddening letters,  or a group portrait of three females, lost in thought.

Stevens La dame en rose 1866Stevens L'Atelier 1869

~ by Ivo Blom on September 27, 2009.

One Response to “Alfred Stevens”

  1. Gentile prof. Ivo Blom
    ho avuto modo recentemente di intervistare Piero Tosi a proposito
    del suo lavoro con Visconti, e proprio Tosi mi ha ampiamente raccontato di questa qualità tattile che l’opera di Stevens gli suggeriva per la scelta dei costumi di Senso e Il Gattopardo.
    Ho avuto modo di leggere con grande apprezzamento i suoi studi sul rapporto tra il cinema di Visconti e la pittura, che in questo momento sono anche i miei studi ( seppure io sia una storica dell’arte più che del cinema) e ho trovato alcuni curiosi aspetti (quale il rapporto con la pittura del divisionismo romano), che se è interessato mi impegnerò ad documentare.
    Un sincero saluto

    rosanna ruscio

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