La fille au parapluie

I rather like umbrellas, and have ended up becoming sidetracked with a tale about umbrellas in early twentieth century Paris in the monograph I am writing.

They are really rather magical things. Their beauty seems almost universal and might, in different artistic contexts, be read from the apparent simple perfection of its form in its various states of furling, its perfect symmetries and combinations of lines and curves, or even the possibility of artisanal perfection. And then there are there enchanting anamorphic properties. Whether as the star of the piece or as a distinguished, charming, often barely noticeable incidental, the umbrellas of, say, Hélion (the master, surely, of the parapluie), of Seurat, of Gervex, of Caillebotte, of Mirò all differ quite fundamentally, but all seem to express a beauty in spite of the very different technical, conceptual, and aesthetic values at stake in their realisation. Sometimes ornate and perfectly suited to realist exposition, sometimes possessing an almost graphic quality that might lend it to abstract expression, sometimes bearing a clarity of form that lends itself to photographic composition – and Kertesz here is obviously a striking example – and sometimes revealing an interesting spatial work that lends itself to the plastic arts, the umbrella surely seems to possess a perfect form for all seasins. Here we might recall Lautréamont’s attempt to redefine beauty as the dissonant combination of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table, a combination that simultaneously recentres beauty as a literary value and that fetishises form (for their being laid on a dissecting table emphasises the completeness of their form that has not yet been dissected).

Here, then, is my humble hommage to beauty – not that I would claim my shot is beautiful – and to the umbrella.



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