From 2 October to 9 November 2012 at Mayfair Gallery Stair Sainty, art lovers will have the opportunity to see a major retrospective of Spanish artist Federico Beltran-Masses. Stair Sainty will be exhibiting at the inaugural Frieze Masters in Regents Park from 11-14 October 2012.
Cuban-born Spanish painter Federico Beltran-Masses (1885- 1949) who trained under Sorolla in Barcelona, painted Ballet Russes dancers, royalty and movie stars, portraying some of the most iconic figures of his day. Collectors of his work included stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Charlie Chaplin and Rudolf Valentino, as well as King Alfonso XII of Spain and William Randolph Hearst. This exhibition includes portraits from 1920s Hollywood, which are new to the art market, as well as two rare costumes worn by his sitters.
Beltran-Masses enjoyed great successes with exhibitions in Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, London, New York, Palm Beach and Los Angeles in the 1920s and 30s. His work features in the collections of several major museums including the Centre Pompidou, Jeu de Paume and Petit Palais in Paris, and the Centre Reina Sofia in Madrid, while he won countless awards and accolades. His name however is today not as familiar as that of his contemporaries Tamara de Lempicka and Kees Van Dongen, the latter a close friend, nor society portraitists such as Sargent and Boldini. Stair Sainty gallery jointly with Paris dealer Alan Blondel, who has long specialized in artists of this period, have brought together paintings by Beltran-Masses of the beautiful and the damned of Jazz Age Paris and 1920s Hollywood, and will show them in the same season as F. Scott Fitzgerald?s The Great Gatsby, the definitive novel of that era, is bought to life again on the big screen. The current cinematic fascination with the 1920s is exemplified by Woody Allen?s Midnight in Paris, and multiple Oscar- winning The Artist, whose lead character George Valentin was loosely based on screen legend Douglas Fairbanks Sr, a friend of Beltran-Masses.
Beltran-Masses spent time in Hollywood with a fast and fabulous group of movie stars, dancers and socialites, capturing on canvas the star quality, visible on screen, of many of his good friends. The backdrops of the artist?s paintings are almost wholly nocturnal –romantic and atmospheric settings that depict Venetian canals or starlit deep blue open skies in tones of what became known as ?Beltran blue?. Beltran-Masses?s close friend Valentino played such diverse roles as Sheik, Bullfighter and Russian Cossack on film; the artist painted similarly exotic roles in his works, creating in them fantasy that reflected the exotic and passionate imaginings of 1920s escapist cinema. The exhibition at Stair Sainty of paintings and photographs should see a renewed interest in the work of this gifted painter, and provide a unique insight into the social circles of Hollywood and Paris in the Roaring Twenties and Thirties.
On display for the first time will be a selection of photographs documenting the beautiful people in Beltran-Masses? clique. He was friends with some of the greatest stars of the 1920s including; Douglas Fairbanks Sr and Jr, Joan Crawford (who was described by F. Scott Fitzgerald as the ultimate modern flapper girl), William Randolph Hearst (the inspiration for Citizen Kane) and his mistress the actress Marion Davies, actress Merle Oberon, actress Pola Negri, gossip columnist Louella Parsons, Sunset Boulevard star Gloria Swanson, lothario Rudolf Valentino, and silent film legend Charlie Chaplin.
Beltran-Masses?s paintings were often controversial, and his portrait of Salome was withdrawn from an exhibition at Burlington Galleries in London in 1929 for being too risqué. Beltran-Masses also portrayed Valentino in the erotic fantasy Don Juan?s dream, which will be included in the exhibition, as well as a painting of Valentino as a gypsy, and as the adoring admirer of his sometime lover, the actress Pola Negri.
An intriguing backstory permeates the paintings and photographs in this exhibition: a web of affairs and relationships between the artist?s circles of friends is documented. Joan Crawford, painted with her husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr. by the artist, broke off her marriage soon after the Venetian holiday on which they were depicted, for the actor Clark Gable; he in turn went on to marry the widow of Douglas Fairbanks Sr.
Actress Gloria Swanson famously feuded with another Beltran sitter, Pola Negri, the richest actress in Hollywood at the time; however, Charlie Chaplin, one of Pola Negri?s lovers, remembered in his autobiography this feud as “a mélange of cooked-up jealousies and quarrels.”
Several Sapphic paintings feature in the exhibition including Aube, perhaps refer to actress and film director Alla Nakimova, who was renowned for seducing young starlets, and had affairs with two of Valentino?s wives.
These actresses, and most women in Beltran-Masses?s paintings are formidable, self-assured (often wearing daring ensembles) and meet with a confident gaze the viewer?s. Beltran depicted Ballet Russes dancer Alice Nikitina (for whom Braque designed costume) brandishing a sword, in a revealing outfit displaying her long limbed physique. In Portrait of Madame Bonnardel, a society figure and accomplished aviatrix, the sitter wears an alluring dress with sheer top, and a vampish red cape, which will be exhibited next to the painting. Rudolph Valentino?s costume from his film The Sheik will be exhibited in the same manner.
Beltran-Masses painting of Joan Crawford presents an immaculately groomed, red-lipped Crawford, resplendent in puff-sleeved gown with cheeky peekaboo jacket, set against a dreamy Venetian backdrop. A Beltran-Masses heroine is certainly no victim, indeed Crawford married Douglas Fairbanks Jr at the tender age of 19 when she was 24, just as another sitter, Bertha Capel (sister of Coco Chanel?s great love, Boy Capel), married the 19 years old 2nd Lord Michelham at age 38.
Another accomplished woman painted by Beltran-Masses was Madame Wellington-Koo, voted best- dressed Chinese Woman of 1920-40?s by Vogue. The wife of a sometime president of China, ambassador and founder signatory of the United Nations, she was widely revered as a representative of Chinese fashion, and in the portrait by Beltran-Masses wears the Manchu style of dress, that she adapted and made stylish in the Paris of her day.
Although the oeuvre of Beltran-Masses was often shocking and considered avant-garde at the time, he was classically trained, and studied Spanish and European masters at the Prado during his early career. During that prolific career, Beltran-Masses received many awards including the Order of Isabella the Catholic in 1924, and was made a chevalier of the Legion d?Honneur. He was decorated by the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts Paris in 1916, and was admitted to the Orders of Malta and the Holy Sepulchre. His work features in the collections of several major museums including the Centre Pompidou, Jeu de Paume and Petit Palais in Paris, and the Centre Reina Sofia in Madrid.
The gallery is working closely with the foremost scholar on the artist for the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue.