Perfumers & Artists: 69 posts

Articles about perfumers, artists and other interesting personalities. Also, please see Interviews.

“I’m Dying of Love for You” : The Letters of Isabella von Parma

I returned from my recent trip to Vienna bring back not only an obsession with Johann Georg Pinsel, but also with Isabella von Parma (1741-1763), who lived at the same time as the mysterious 18th century sculptor. Isabella was one of the most remarkable personalities of the 18th century, admired for her achievements in art, music, and philosophy. The reason I became fascinated with her, however, was an excerpt from a letter she wrote to her sister-in-law, Marie Christine of Austria. “I am told that the day begins with God. I, however, begin the day by thinking of the object of my love, for I think of her incessantly.”

I am once again struck by the narrow lenses through which we see women in history. In many books Isabella is repeatedly described as “mad,” “tragic,” or “odd.” People search for the roots of her melancholy moods in the family tree and discuss at length the mental problems of her father and her mother’s cold attitude. What about the fact that princesses in the 18th century were little more than breeding mares, and Isabella had half a dozen miscarriages during her short marriage to Joseph II of Austria? The couple was under enormous pressure to produce a male offspring to the Hapsburgs.

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The Passion of Johann Georg Pinsel

It’s not often that a sculptor causes me to crisscross Europe in search of his traces. But Johann Georg Pinsel did just that. I took rickety marshrutka buses to distant Ukrainian villages to see his work at local churches. I visited many a palace where fragments of his sculptures were displayed–a wing of an angel, a headless saint, a saint motioning one to come closer and listen to the revelation. Finally, I made it to Lviv, a western Ukrainian city, and later to Vienna, the center that once exerted considerable political power over Lviv. These journeys spanned almost a year, intertwined as they were around other trips and exploration, but somehow, Pinsel, a mysterious 18th century master, was the leitmotif.

Very little is known about Pinsel. His name was only established with certainty in the 1990s. Where was he born? With whom he did study? The area where he chose to work was the Lviv region, at the time a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and after the first Partition of Poland in 1772, a part of the Habsburg Empire. After Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany in 1939, these territories once again exchanged hands and ended up in the Soviet Union. This bloody and brutal history had consequences for the master who has been dead for almost two centuries–he was forgotten.

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The Invention of Minimalism

A group of students was standing in front of the Mark Rothko painting taking notes as the museum guide talked about the artist’s life and his inspirations. I would have walked past the crowd had the curator not suddenly dropped one phrase, “As we all know, minimalism in art was invented in the West.” I was admiring Rothko’s use of vermilion red, an intense hue that made me think of Indian kumkum (the crimson powder Hindu women use to draw a mark on their foreheads) and Russian lacquers, when the West claimed Minimalism.

nishapur-bowl

Leaving aside the absurdity of referring to Rothko as a “minimalist”–a label he would have rejected outright, it’s senseless to separate artistic achievements by arbitrary parameters. To see why, one should leave the halls devoted to 20th century art and walk through, say, the expositions usually housed in the Eastern wings. If the museum in question is the Met in New York, then the Department of Islamic Art is where I would take you.

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The Layered World of Anand Ram Mukhlis

Bureaucracy rarely conjures positive associations in most people’s minds, and for someone who faces far too much of it, I may not seem like the kind of person who goes into raptures over bureaucrats. Yet, Anand Ram Mukhlis (1699-1750)* is an exception, and he is easily one of my favorite historical personages. Born into a Hindu family in the north of India, he practiced a trade that wouldn’t be out of place in Washington DC or Brussels. Like his grandfather and father, he was a personal representative at the Delhi imperial court for the prime minister and for the governor of  Lahore and Multan provinces. A lobbyist, if you will.

muhammad shah

Emperor Muhammad Shah with courtiers, ca. 1730

The most lasting achievement of Anand Ram Mukhlis was in his scholarly and creative work. He wrote poetry, chronicled contemporary events and compiled manuals on the proper use of Persian. His mastery of the language was such that the emperor Muhammad Shah himself requested his services as a letter writer when he wanted to communicate with the Safavid court in Iran. One of the images I used to illustrate this article is a copy of Mukhlis’s advice on developing one’s writing style in Persian. It’s titled “Fairy House,” which gives you a clue as to the ornate stylistic tools he proposed.

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Catherine Deneuve’s Beauty and Perfume Routine

Celebrity perfumes come and go, but Deneuve, created by the French screen goddess, remains a legend. More than any other discontinued perfume, this green leather-chypre, an heir to Miss Dior and No 19, comes up in readers’ queries time and again. Catherine Deneuve is the ultimate perfume lover; Bois de Jasmin even has a Catherine Deneuve tag as a testament to her scent obsession and my admiration. I’m pleased to add another item to my list: the Into the Gloss article, in which Deneuve describes her beauty routine, her love for Cle de Peau powder, Carnal Flower and Francis Kurkdjian’s nose.

“When I start a film, I like to have a special fragrance to wear for it. So, I’m starting a film tomorrow and I’m going to wear Frederic Malle’s Eau de Magnolia—I like it because with every perfume, he works with a different person to do something special. After the film, I keep the perfume, and when I wear it I remember the experience. It’s not something I’ve always done, but I’ve been doing it for a few years. And also I like very much the perfume of Francis Kurkdjian, becaue he’s very special. He’s the one who did the first perfume of Jean Paul Gaultier but now he’s doing perfume for himself. I like his nose.

In the summer, I love to wear jasmine. It’s a very natural, floral scent, but at the same time, has something a little deeper. There’s a musk from Frederic Malle—Carnal Flower—that he also makes as a Hair Mist which I love. Also orange blossom—that’s lovely. Read more.”

Another interesting read is Catherine Deneuve on Her Favorite Perfume and Other Fragrance Topics. The woman is a perfumista, I tell you.

Photograph of Catherine Deneuve via Cineteve, from Anne Andreu’s biography released in 2010. Also highly recommended.

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