Friday, October 9, 2009

Bessie Smith and someone like Bessie Smith

Here are two tempera illustrations discovered in an early- to mid-1960s sketchpad in the Flora collection. The more refined of the two works has a title: Bessie Smith, presumably a vignette of the soulful, bawdy 1920s and '30s Empress of the Blues. The pianist (great hat!) is unidentified, and we can't vouch for the historical accuracy of Smith performing with her nipples exposed:

The second work, pages away in the same sketchpad, is untitled but appears to be an unfinished draft of the same scene:

It appears that Bessie gained quite a bit of weight between conception and refinement. Then again, Flora might not have had Smith in mind for the pencil and tempera draft. He often changed titles of near-identical works; many sketches were untitled, or assigned working titles which were altered for subsequent variations. A 1940s pencil sketch tagged "Boss Crump" evolved into a painting titled Self-Portrait. We'll never know at what point the artist decided that his resemblance to the legendary Tenneesse pol E. H. Crump was undeniable. A 1942 illustration for Columbia Records depicted conductor Fritz Reiner with four arms, three eyes, two noses and dueling mouths. The exact same figure was revisited in 1998—the similarity is unmistakable—but retitled Daniel Berenboim, another legendary conductor.

1 comment:

Ernie said...

I think the pianist is unaware of the show going on behind him. He's entirely too intent on the music.

These are both really good bits, the first one especially. There's just so much going on in that pianist's face, and yes, it is a great hat. Glasses are good too!