Artists & Perfumers: 90 posts

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

Postcard from Ukraine : Lavra and Cornflowers

One of my first rituals on returning to Kyiv is to visit the Kyivo-Pecherska Lavra, the 11th century Monastery of the Caves, to see the painting of Ukrainian artist Kateryna Bilokur (1900-1961) in The Museum of Ukrainian Decorative Folk Art. At a time when the only acceptable art style was socialist realist, her paintings of flowers were subversive. She was refused admittance to art school or even a transfer out of her village, although her paintings were exhibited abroad as a showcase for the success of Communism–“see, even our peasants can create art.” Pablo Picasso once said of her work, “If we had an artist of this level of skill, we would make the whole world talking about her!”

Those of you who shall be joining me on the Ukrainian Scent and Taste Adventure this year will be discovering more about Ukrainian art as part of the trip. And those who are planning a trip to Kyiv shouldn’t miss a visit to the Lavra complex. I recommend setting aside a whole day for it, because besides The Museum of Ukrainian Decorative Folk Art and the stunning churches (each with different wall paintings), you can descend into the caves bearing the remnants of the saints who came to this hill above the Dnieper River as early as 1057.

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What Does Rembrandt’s Chiaroscuro Smell Like?

Her golden hair, her pearly skin, and her melancholy face emerge out of the shadows. Bathsheba, an Old Testament heroine desired by King David enough to conspire the murder of her husband, has been painted by many artists, but few have rendered her beauty and her story with as much nuance as did Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.  As Rembrandt’s Bathsheba holds the fateful letter from David summoning her, she is torn between the loyalty towards her spouse and the need to obey king’s command. The duality pervades the entire work, from the subject’s moral dilemma to the drama of the light and shadows.

Born in 1606, Rembrandt remains the emblematic figure of the 17th century Dutch Baroque, and his remarkable use of light continues to beguile. As this year marks the 350th anniversary of the artist’s death, museums around the world stage exhibits devoted to his works. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam presents his paintings alongside other Dutch and Spanish masters such as Diego Velázquez, Frans Hals, and Francisco Zurbarán.  The Dulwich Picture Gallery in London focuses on his masterful use of chiaroscuro, highlighting the theatrical effects of the Baroque style.

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Power to the Pumpkin in Art and Perfume

“My love of pumpkins stretches back to when I was a little child,” says artist Yayoi Kusama. “I have always found them to be such tender things to touch and so wonderfully humorous, humble and appealing.” A recurring motif in her artworks, her pumpkins are cast in bronze, covered in polka dots – as with the 10m-high inflatable version that recently popped up in Paris’s Place Vendôme – or lit by a warm glow. The effect is both whimsical and eerie, resonating with childhood memories of Halloween and autumnal stillness. In my recent article in FT magazine, Power to the Pumpkin, I explore the Japanese artist’s way with pumpkins–as well as that of perfumers. Both are fun and surprising.

When it comes to the taste and smell of this fruit masquerading as a vegetable, most people find it hard to describe, but a bite of pumpkin pie or a whiff of roasted squash brings comforting associations. Fruity, with a hint of apricot and orange, pumpkin also smells of earthy green melon. Some varieties, like the Japanese kabocha that inspires Kusama, have a milky scent, but subtlety is the common characteristic. To continue reading, please click here.

Do you know any other scents with pumpkin?

Tamara Toumanova’s Perfume Collection

Called “the Black Pearl of the Russian Ballet” for her glamorous look and dramatic beauty, Tamara Toumanova (1919-1996) was as memorable on stage as she was behind the curtains. I very much like this photo showing the ballerina before a performance surrounded by icons, flowers and perfume bottles. It reminded of the gift that the American avant-garde artist Joseph Cornell presented to her in 1968.

Called Untitled, the box contained eleven perfume bottles filled with objects that captured the essence of Toumanova’s performances. Some bottles contain fragments of the costumes she wore to dance Don Quixote and Les Sylphides. Another one includes fragments of painted eggs, colored beads and gold threads, referring to Easter rites and the importance of the Orthodox faith for the dancer. Looking at the photo above, I can see why Cornell’s was an ideal gift for Toumanova.

Anyone care to guess the names of the perfumes on her vanity table?

Frida Kahlo and Shalimar

“They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality,” Frida Kahlo once said. An artist is inseparable from their art, and this idea is particularly dramatic in the case of Kahlo, whose body of work is based on the explorations of self. Of the 143 paintings Kahlo left behind, 55 are self-portraits, brutal, honest, startling. What’s more, Kahlo was conscious of the power of the image, and she also fashioned self through her choice of clothes, colors and accessories.

I admit that I didn’t appreciate the importance that Kahlo assigned to her clothes, jewelry and perfume until I saw the exhibit of the artist’s possessions at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The image of the Mexican artist—the colorful skirts, the flower-decorated braids, the unibrow—entered pop culture to the point that we risk forgetting the artist behind a fashion icon. In order to understand her art, is it necessary to know that Frida Kahlo wore Guerlain’s Shalimar and Schiaparelli’s Shocking and draped herself in Mexican dresses and Chinese silk?

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