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Arabian Nights was one of my favorite stories as a child. It’s also one of the most fantastically illustrated stories of all time. I love the variety of interpretations of each story by so many different illustrators, so I’ve collected a few to share. Here, you’ll see three stories as portrayed by several artists from the 19th and 20th centuries in near chronological order. Enjoy the eye candy!
Tale of the Fisherman and the Genie
and for good measure…
About a year ago I bought a lovely little reproduction painting at the Alameda antique faire in northern California. It had a romantic softness to it, a fresh, greet the day sort of romance. It looked old, too, and reminded me somehow of a fantasy novel. Mists of Avalon, maybe. Something girly and epic.
Fast forward to today: I’m reading an interview with an author, Patrick Rothfuss, with whom I am currently a bit enamored. He’s been entertaining me for weeks with the first two books of his Kingkiller trilogy (fantasy, a bit Harry Potter-esque but more adult and a bit more fresh) and he mentions this painter, JW Waterhouse. Naturally, I google him, and what do I find but that very same painting I found at the antique faire… !! (I also find that Waterhouse is incredibly famous and I should have been aware of his existence ages ago, but alas, better late than never.)
This is the painting: Destiny (1900)
John William Waterhouse painted in the late 19th/early 20th century. His works draw mostly on Greek myth and women of the Arthurian legends (no wonder I was reminded of Mists of Avalon.)
Here are a few more that I adore:
Voices of Light is a pretty recent musical composition (1994) that was inspired by the French silent film “La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc” (1928) recommended to me by a friend. Written by Richard Einhorn and performed by Anonymous 4 (an all female a capella group as the voice of Jeanne) and the Netherlands Radio Choir and philharmonic, it provides an incredible accompaniment to the original film.
The acting in the film is otherworldly. The music tells its own story. It’s a tall order, about an hour and a half, but totally worth the watch.
Remedios Varo was a surrealist painter working at around the same time as Frida Kahlo (mid 20th century). She was born in Spain but eventually moved to Mexico (via Paris) as a result of the Spanish Civil War and Nazi occupation of France. Her paintings are a beautiful blend of new and old schools of art. She mixes classical elements with her dreamy and surreal style which makes her work feel timeless to me.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Roberto Ferri is a young Italian artist whose work seems to be inspired by Romanticism and Baroque art a la Caravaggio. This tickles my fancy. I love to see this style come out of someone who was born in 1978.
His paintings remind me a bit of Auguste Rodin… the way he paints the male back, specifically. Some of his paintings are painfully evocative, others are just beautiful.
These are my favorites from the gallery on his website. Each one fascinates me for different reasons. It’s so rare to find an artist whose work prods at so many parts of your artistic taste.
I love the vertical tension in Apollo e Dafne. The woman hangs like a carcass as the man pulls her down towards him while craning his neck upwards and arching his body back… all soft lines that look like human desperation to me. Also, the realism with which the woman’s back is painted is in such stark contrast to her head, neck and leg…
Donato is all body and no head, no man, just human. I like the use of light in this one. The way it dehumanizes and humanizes all at the same time.
Eros Anteros is actually the painting which I was the least excited about visually, but I had to include because of my initial response. I immediately fell into the painting… meaning, I sympathize. She looks not only horribly uncomfortable but also really vulnerable (yes, the vulnerability is a bit BDSM, but it’s there and it’s powerful.)
Euterpe is the essence of a classical Baroque nude and the addition of the violin makes me happy.
La Sorgente I like simply for its delicacy.
This one’s is all about the hand grab and the contrast of skin color. It’s real to me.
Uniforms for the Dedicated is a men’s clothing line/art/music/film project that seems to dabble in just about everything. I don’t know anything about them at all aside from the fact that they made this damn neat video that I think you should watch.
Arthur Rackham was a turn of the 20th century book illustrator. Some of his more popular works include the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, Wagner’s “The Ring”, “Gulliver’s Travels”, and “Alice in Wonderland”.
Book illustration is a lost art. I’m always blown away when each illustration looks like a painting that could be hanging on a museum wall. These are so expressive and the colors somehow remind me of my childhood in Odessa (Ukraine) where memories, like photographs, take on a vintage hue.
Franz von Stuck (1863-1928) was a German symbolist painter and sculptor that lived and taught in Munich. He was known for his erotic representation of Greek myth.
Below (Sin) is his most well-known work:
Symbolism flourished out of a darker side of the romantic movement and generally represented dream or idealistic worlds. Rather than using common human symbols/icons, artists used more personal symbolism as a means to self-expression. According to Jean Moréas (author of the Symbolist Manifesto), the goal of symbolism was “to express the Ideal” through indirect metaphor: “In this art, scenes from nature, human activities, and all other real world phenomena will not be described for their own sake; here, they are perceptible surfaces created to represent their esoteric affinities with the primordial Ideals.”