|The bath, a riot of peach and plastic flowers. Ornate brass taps, Art Deco screen. Brilliant blue glass, candlesticks and pearly plastic grapes.|
|Looking down from the gallery into the studio, arranged into its separate “rooms”|
I don’t often do art-related posts, but I realised I had never shared my passion for the work of Gustav Adolf Mossa with you all. A few years ago I was on holiday in Nice and took a trip to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which I would highly recommend if you are ever visiting.
I was enjoying myself, I usually do, but had just been sweetened to death by a roomful of sickly, twee watercolours by someone I can’t remember (why on earth would I?). I swiftly turned a corner, and entered a new room. Everything stopped still. My thought process was something like “these are very beautiful … these are very intricate … I’m going to look closer … oh my word, these are a bit dark … oh wow, these are utterly terrifyingly twisted and even more beautiful for it”. I had entered the world of Gustav Adolf Mossa.
Born in 1883 in Nice, Mossa was the son of Alexis Mossa – an accomplished artist in his own right, and trained at l’École des Arts Décoratifs de Nice. Mossa was inspired by the Symbolist movement, and clearly by the ongoing Art Nouveau style of the time. Until he abandoned his distinctive symbolist style in 1911, in favour of more primitive Flemish-style works, he created some of the most disturbing and intricate paintings I have ever seen.
There’s something rather deliciously twisted about them, possibly the reason he hid them from public view until his death in 1971. They invite study and, as a woman, questions about their subject matter. Are the women in his works femme fatales? Are they figures of evil or is Mossa trying to show their potential strength in his imposing, vampish and often gory depictions. I see them as the work of someone who is captivated, and possibly a little terrified, of them, rather than that of a misogynist (which is something of which he has often been accused).
I’m also not averse to contemplating the fact that many women actually are as dark and demonic as some men portray them. I think we all have it within us, but our fear of our dark side makes us instinctively defensive against male depictions of women in this way. If Mossa had been a woman, would we look upon his work more favourably?
Away from that, they are simply inspirational in their colour, detail and shapes. Like nothing I’ve ever seen before, almost cartoon-like in comparison to many artists of the Belle Epoque but greater in detail than any I’ve seen before or since. I’m not sure I actually want to inhabit the paintings in terms of the situations, but if life could be as beautiful, rich and soulful as a Mossa painting, then I’d be very happy.
This may, at first, look like the laziest book review in the world. I can be a lazy person, tis true, but I couldn’t really think of a better way to review such an extraordinary book. It needs to be possessed, to be pored over, to be appreciated en masse and to be studied in fine detail.
Lifestyle Illustrations of the ’60s by Rian Hughes is one man’s personal project to bring those unsung illustrators of the period to the attention of the wider world. If you’re anything like me, they are a source of great fascination and inspiration when you flick through a vintage copy of Honey or Petticoat. And if you were reading Womans Own et al back in the day, they would certainly have inspired daydreams from their fleeting representations of the magazine’s romantic short stories. They are often small in size, but incredible in skill, style and social comment. The timeline element of the book also allows you to see the development of social aspirations, fashion styles, illustration styles and inspirations (the clear references to art deco and art nouveau styles) and attitudes to morals and relationships.
When I find them in the magazines, I try to remember to scan them in. But I’m a bit forgetful, so this doesn’t always happen. When I first laid my eyes and hands on this book, it was like heaven. Someone else has gone to the trouble of scanning them in, cleaning them up and collating them by date and crediting the artist where possible. Consequently, it feels a bit weird to scan in pages and individual illustrations to illustrate my review. Firstly, there are just way too many and my scanner is a bit fiddly (coupled with a big heavy book, whose spine I’d rather not break just yet). Secondly, because I want you to go out and get a copy yourselves. Words and scans can’t really demonstrate what it’s like to flick through such a book. Each page inspires a cry of ‘ooooh, pretty’. Well, that’s my reaction anyway. Scans wouldn’t do it justice.
So I decided to sit and flick and take photographs of the most ‘ooh’-inspiring pages. Of course I had to give up after about 20 photos because I realised I would end up photographing the entire thing. But here are the collated images, just casually snapped so you get some feeling of what it’s like. Unsurprisingly, I’m most taken with the later period with the psychedelic, art deco and art nouveau influences, but I’ve tried to show you a cross-section of the entire book.
Now all they need is to put on an exhibition. There’s something lovely about having them all collated into a book, but it can lessen the impact of some solitary works of art. I would dearly love to see them displayed as large prints.