Portraits of Alma Mahler, The most Beautiful Girl in Vienna

A socialite and amateur composer known for her beauty and verve, Alma Mahler (1879 – 1964) was married to composer Gustav Mahler, architect Walter Gropius, and novelist Franz Werfel. She also undertook a strong flirtation with Gustav Klimt and affairs with numerous artists. She is often regaled as the definitive femme fatale of the early 20th century (source).

When she married Gustav Mahler in 1902, he was nineteen years her senior and the director of the Vienna Court Opera. The terms of Alma’s marriage with Gustav were that she would abandon her own interest in composing. Artistically stifled herself, she embraced her role as a loving wife and supporter of Gustav’s music.

Later in their marriage, after becoming severely depressed in the wake of her daughter´s death, she began an affair with the young architect Walter Gropius (later head of the Bauhaus), whom she met during a rest at a spa. On seeking advice from Sigmund Freud, who cited Mahler’s curtailing of Alma’s musical career as a major marital obstacle, and following the emotional crisis in their marriage after Gustav’s discovery of the affair, Gustav began to take a serious interest in Alma’s musical compositions, regretting his earlier dismissive attitude and taking promotional actions, including editing and re-orchestrating some of her works.

Upon his urging, and under his guidance, she prepared five of her songs for publication (they were issued in 1910, by Gustav’s own publisher, Universal Edition). Alltogether she was the composer of at least seventeen songs for voice and piano.

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Alma Mahler (1900)

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Alma Mahler

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Alma Mahler (1900)

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Alma Mahler (1900)

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Two Drawings of Louise Chéruit by Paul César Helleu

Madame Louise Chéruit (1866-1955) was among the foremost couturiers of her generation, and one of the first women to control a major French fashion house. Her salon operated in the Place Vendôme in Paris under the name Chéruit from 1906 to 1935.

Chéruit is best remembered today as the subject of a number of portraits by artist Paul César Helleu, with whom she conducted an affair before opening her couture house and for the appearance of her name in two celebrated works of literature, Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (1910) and Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies (1930).

Her name is also frequently associated with the fashion photography of Edward Steichen whose favorite model, Marion Morehouse, often wore gowns from the house of Chéruit for Vogue magazine in the 1920s. One particular Steichen image has become iconic: Morehouse in a jet-beaded black net Chéruit dress, first published in 1927.

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Louise Chéruit by  Paul César Helleu (1859-1927)

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« Madame Chéruit », drypoint etching by Paul-César Helleu, reproduced as plate XXIX in: Montesquiou, Robert de (1913), Paul Helleu, Peintre et Graveur, Paris: H. Floury (circa 1900)

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Vintage Celebrity Portraits by Benjamin J. Falk

When photographer Napoleon Sarony died in 1896, Benjamin J. Falk ascended to the first place in the world of performing arts photography.

Born on October 14th, 1853, Benjamin J. Falk grew up in New York City. He graduated from the College of the City of New York with a B.S. in 1872, while concurrently serving as a technician under photographer George Rockwood. His first ambition was to be a graphic artist, so he attended classes at the NY Academy of Design while maintaining a studio with Jacob Schloss:

“Being naturally of an investigating turn of mind he interested himself in scientific studies. After making crayons for five years, he enlarged his studio into a photographic gallery. In 1881 he moved to Broadway, where the business grew rapidly, developing largely in the line of portraits of celebrities” (source).

He often experimented with his images, using curious juxtapositions, unusual poses, and lighting highlights to convey distinctiveness of personality. He did many portraits against blank walls or bleached out backcloths. He began the fashion for faces and figures suspended in a milky white ground that became ubiquitous shortly after 1900.

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Lillian Russell, bust portrait, facing front by Benjamin J. Falk (1889)

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Lillian Russell, 1861-1922, full length, standing, facing left; in elegant gown by Benjamin J. Falk (1904)

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Dancer and pioneer Loïe Fuller by Benjamin J. Falk (1896)

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Dancer and pioneer Loïe Fuller by Benjamin J. Falk (1896)

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British actress Lillie Langtry by Benjamin J. Falk (1881)

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British actress Lillie Langtry by Benjamin J. Falk (1881)

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Illustrations by Charles Dana Gibson

Charles Dana Gibson (1867 – 1944) was an American graphic artist, best known for his creation of the Gibson Girl, an iconic representation of the beautiful and independent American woman at the turn of the 20th century.

The artist saw his creation as representing the composite of “thousands of American girls.”The Gibson Girl image combined elements of older American images of caucasian female beauty, such as the “fragile lady” and the “voluptuous woman”. From the “fragile lady” she took the basic slender lines, and a sense of respectability. From the “voluptuous woman” she took a large bust and hips, but was not vulgar or lewd, as previous images of women with large busts and hips had been depicted. From this combination emerged the Gibson Girl, who was tall and slender, yet with ample bosom, hips and buttocks. She had an exaggerated S-curve torso shape achieved by wearing a swan-bill corset. Images of her epitomized the late 19th- and early 20th-century Western preoccupation with youthful features and ephemeral beauty. Her neck was thin and her hair piled high upon her head in the contemporary bouffant, pompadour, and chignon (“waterfall of curls”) fashions. The statuesque, narrow-waisted ideal feminine figure was portrayed as being at ease and stylish.

Many models posed for Gibson Girl-style illustrations, including Gibson’s wife, Irene Langhorne who may have been the original model, and was a sister of Viscountess Nancy (Langhorne) Astor. Other models included Evelyn Nesbit. The most famous Gibson Girl was probably the Belgian-American stage actress, Camille Clifford, whose high coiffure and long, elegant gowns that wrapped around her hourglass figure and tightly corseted wasp waist defined the style

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Charles Dana Gibson, The Gibson Girl, Pen and ink on paper, 12.5 x 9.5 in.

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Charles Dana Gibson, A daughter of the south, 1909. Pen and ink, 57 x 40 cm

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Charles Dana Gibson, Well-Dressed Woman, Ink on paper 17 x 12 in.

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Charles Dana Gibson, Sweetest story ever told, 1910. Pen and ink over graphite under drawing ; 57.7 x 43.5 cm

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Charles Dana Gibson pen and ink on paper illustration for Collier’s Weekly; published in the artist’s collection Our Neighbors (1905)

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Charles Dana Gibson, Patience, 1910

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Photos of Picturesque Socialite Rita de Acosta Lydig

Cuban-American socialite Rita de Acosta Lydig (1875 – 1929) was in her heyday one of the foremost women of high society –  photographed by Adolf de Meyer, Edward Steichen and Gertrude Käsebier, she was regarded:

“the most picturesque woman in America.”

She was sculpted in alabaster by Malvina Hoffman and  painted by Giovanni Boldini and John Singer Sargent. Isabella Stewart Gardner, the creator of the Gardner museum in Boston, once asked their mutual friend, John Singer Sargent, why Rita had never expressed herself artistically. “Why should she?” Sargent answered, “She herself is art.”

Lydig was famous for her extravagant lifestyle, :

“…Rita was equally welcomed in Paris, where she spent parts of each year. She would arrive at the Ritz with a hairdresser, masseuse, chauffeur, secretary, maid,… and forty Louis Vuitton trunks…”

Saddly her overspending into heavy debt and she was declared bankrupt – shortly afterwards she died of pernicious anaemia at the age of 54.

Later her personal wardrobe became the basis for the start of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Rita de Acosta Lydig by Edward Steichen (1905)

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Rita de Acosta Lydig (1875-1929) photographed by Gertrude Käsebier (1852-1934). Illustration in “Camera work”, n° 10, April 1905.

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Rita de Acosta Lydig’ by Adolphe de Meyer, 1913

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Rita de Acosta Lydig’ by Adolphe de Meyer, 1913

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Grace Kelly for The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)

The Bridges at Toko-Ri is a 1954 American war film about the Korean War and stars William Holden, Grace Kelly, Fredric March, Mickey Rooney, and Robert Strauss.

The screenplay is based on the novel The Bridges at Toko-Ri by Pulitzer Prize winner James Michener. The story, which closely follows the novel, is about the U.S. Navy pilots assigned to bomb a group of heavily defended bridges in North Korea. It emphasizes the lives of the pilots and crew in the context of the War; a conflict that seems remote to all except those who fight in Korea.

In the film Grace Kelly stars as Nancy, wife of  U.S. Navy Lieutenant Harry Brubaker played by William Holden.

American actress Grace (Patricia) Kelly, later Princess Grace of Monaco (1929 - 1982).

Grace Kelly for The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)

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Grace Kelly for The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)

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