Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Démasquée" by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

The Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela came to Paris in 1884. He soon found himself dragged into the midst of the bohemian lifestyle of artists living and working in the Quartier Latin and Monmartre. At cafés such as the "Momus" or the "Brasserie des Martyrs" he would meet other famous artists and writers of the time who were opposed to every form of conventionality in life and in art. In the smoke filled rooms, discussions and exchanges of views and ideas, fueled by excessive absinthe consumption, would drag on to the early hours of the morning.  

One of his paintings, inspired by that period in Paris, is a painting called "Démasquée" (Unmasked). In a bohemian styled room, which could be Gallen-Kallela's own rented premises in Paris at the time, a model sits on a canape covered with a Finnish ryijy weaved rug. She is staring back at us, with a cigarette in her hand, smoking. A guitar is lying next to her feet on the carpet which partially covers the parquet floor. A skull can also be seen in the background behind the floor vase with the milk white lilies. The El Greco paleness of the model's body is in tune with the faded tapestry colors surrounding her. The enigmatic expression in her face almost hypnotises the viewer or, as someone put it, it's a "fin-de-siecle expression of playful exhaustion and nervous vividness." There is a hint of a smile there. A kind of dark, calm Mona Lisa playfulness that is also reflected in the mysteriously languid eyes.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela managed in this painting to capture the essence of this bohemian way of life. Revolt and decadence are both present as the masks of propriety fall. Beneath the façades and veneer of society's norms stands nakedness and fragile beauty revealed by the artist. The brevity of life that should be enjoyed to the full.   

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