David Bruce: The Coolest People in Art — Dance, Death

Dance

• On 12 December 1952, a very young Allegra Kent made her debut with other young dancers on the New York stage. Unfortunately, she didn’t know how to use make-up, so in the dressing room she watched what the dancer on her right did with her make-up and imitated her, then she watched what the dancer on her left did with her make-up and imitated her. The unpleasant result was that the two sides of her face were made-up in two different ways, making her look like a Picasso cubist painting.

• Choreographer Bella Lewitzky is her own person. When Rose Eichenbaum was ready to take Ms. Lewitzky’s photograph for her book Masters of Movement: Portraits of America’s Great Choreographers, she asked her if she needed to fix her hair or put on lipstick. Ms. Lewitzky replied, “No, I’m fine as I am.” And when Ms. Eichenbaum told her to be herself for the photograph, she replied, “I don’t know how to be anyone else.”

Death

• Claude Monet worked hard, painting outdoors in very bad weather and sometimes-dangerous locations. Art critic Léon Billot wrote about him in the Journal de Havreon 9 October 1868, “It was during winter, after several snowy days … [and the] desire to see the countryside beneath its white shroud had led us across the fields. It was cold enough to split rocks. We glimpsed a little heater, then an easel, then a gentleman, swathed in three overcoats, with gloved hands, his face half-frozen. It was [Monsieur] Monet, studying an aspect of the snow. We must confess that this pleased us. Art has some courageous soldiers.” Monet painted on the Normandy Coast, including the Manneporte arch at Etretat. Some people had been trapped under the arch at high tide and then washed out to sea and drowned. In November 1885 Monet himself almost died there. While he was painting, a large wave struck and slammed him and his canvas and his paints against a cliff and then swept them into the sea. Monet wrote Alice, his wife, “My immediate thought was that I was done for, as the water dragged me down, but in the end I managed to clamber out on all fours.”

• Near the end of his life, the heart of Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco grew weaker, and his cardiologist, Dr. Ignacio Chávez, recommended that he stop the strenuous work of painting huge murals and instead concentrate on the less strenuous work of creating easel paintings. However, Mr. Orozco refused to take this advice. Instead, he remarked to his wife, “I’m not going to do as the doctor says and abandon mural painting. I prefer physical death to the moral death that would be the equivalent of giving up mural painting.”

• Claude Monet used brilliant colors and flowers in his paintings. When Monet lay dying, a telegram was sent to friend Dr. Georges Clemenceau, who travelled 700 kilometers (approximately 435 miles) to see him. He arrived too late to see him alive; the undertakers were putting Monet’s body in the coffin. Seeing that the undertakers were about to put a black cloth over Monet’s face, Dr. Clemenceau pushed them aside. He tore from a window a flowered curtain and placed it over Monet’s face, crying, “No black for Claude Monet!” Art critic Jean-Paul Crespelle writes, “There could have been no better epitaph.”

• A couple of women — tenor Leo Slezak, whose story this is, calls them Fräulein Meier and Fräulein Schulze — hated each other. One day, Fräulein Meier was lunching with wealthy artist Bela Haas, and she asked what would happen to his money when he died. Because Mr. Haas disliked any mention of death, he replied, “I’ve made my will, and I’m leaving all my money to Fräulein Schulze.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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THE COOLEST PEOPLE IN ART

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