Monday, March 21, 2016


Vigee Le Brun Self Portrait 1790
Marie Antoinette may have lost her head but the renowned French portraitist, Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun kept her own by fleeing France during one of the most eventful, turbulent periods in European history. An autodidact with exceptional skills she was trained exclusively in portraiture, a properly feminine pursuit.  Le Brun (1755-1842) became one of the finest 18th-century French painters and stands among the most important of all women artists.
      VIGEE LE BRUN; WOMAN ARTIST IN REVOLUTIONARY FRANCE is the first retrospective and only the second exhibition devoted to the artist in modern times. France's last great royal portraitist on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art presents 80 works of paintings and a few pastels from European and American public and private collections through May 15, 2016
       In her teens Mademoiselle Vigee, chaperoned by her mother, was already working independently as a portraitist and contributing to the support of her family.  The seeds of training had begun with her father, a professional pastel portraitist who died when she was 12 years old and by the time she was nineteen she exhibited publicly for the first time at the Salon of the Academie de Saint-Luc. It's a familiar story of female exploitation. While she garnered high fees for her work, at first, Vigee Le Brun's stepfather made off with much of her earnings.  Then, too, critics at large said that her work was too good to have actually been done by a woman, in fact, that it must have been done by a man.
Queen Marie Antoinette wih a Rose 1783
      In 1776, escaping into a marriage of convenience, she married the principal art dealer and expert in 18th-century Paris, Jean Baptiste Pierre Le Brun, with whom she had a daughter, Julie. She often portrayed Julie, her favorite subject as well as other children, a skill that was even more difficult than being one of the first major female artists. 
    At 23, Vigee Le Brun was summoned to Versailles to paint Marie Antoinette (1755-1793). The Queen and the painter were only a few months apart in age and the fact that both had lost a child during the time they were together may have forged a sympathy between them. Nonetheless, Vigee Le Brun, a pastel portraitist daughter, was hardly considered a peer. Don't miss the earliest of three full-length portraits of the queen: Marie Antoinette in Court Dress and the most important painting of the queen, commissioned as a propaganda piece for the monarchy, Marie Antoinette and Her Children in which she is presented as a regal mother with the dauphin and his two siblings.  Previously denied entry to the august The Academie Royal because her husband was a dealer and association with trade was prohibited, Vigee Le Brun was able to gain access only when Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI intervened.
       Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun saw the tides were changing in 1789 when crowds of 7,000 pitchfork-waving rebels marched on Versailles. She was forced to flee France because of her association with the queen and traveled with her daughter to Italy.
Baronne de Crussol Florensac, 1785
 In 1790, she was elected to membership in The Academia di San Luca, Rome. Independently her royal brush found its way to Florence, Naples, Vienna, St. Petersburg, and Berlin. She amassed a fortune painting, among many others, the queen of Naples and her children, Louis XVI's aunts, and Napoleon's sister Caroline, who became queen of Naples. She took sittings from members of the family of Catherine the Great and from the former king of Poland.

    Vigee Le Brun finally returned to France in 1805 and later published her memoirs, giving voice to details about her art and life in late 18th-century Europe. 
     Hob-nobbing with royal patrons she painted females, males and children gaining world recognition. Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun is among the most important of all women artists.
    Ta Ta Darlings!! This is a delightful show of portraiture. Additional information about the exhibition and accompanying programs are available on the Museum website as well as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using #VigeeLeBrun.  Fan mail always welcome please contact Polly at Visit for access to links in the left-hand column to Polly's other Blogs: womendeterminedtosucceed, visionarymen, poetryfromtheheart, and storytellingessays.

Monday, March 14, 2016

WIDOWERS' HOUSES Opening: Review by Polly Guerin

PollyTalk's Theater Pick of the Week:

      The official opening last night of the WIDOWERS' HOUSES, a TACT/Gingold production at The Beckett Theatre took the subject of Bernard Shaw's play on a high note of accelerated action. 

      The comedy gripped the attention of the audience while pressing forward with a message about sex, greed and real estate, a subject that resonates with audiences today.
      The spirited rhetoric by a cast of stellar performers with their strong individual presence in  period costumes (circa 1892 the year Bernard Shaw's play made its debut to London audiences) is as relevant today as it was in the Victorian era.
        Director, David Staller, founder of the Gingold Theatrical Group puts a spin on this production that keeps the action moving into the still annoying relevant issues that will resonate with you, and at the same time enlighten and entertain.
        The limited engagement runs from March 15 to April 2 @ $47.75, use discount code: TRWH2 at Theatre Row Box Office, 212.947.8844, Beckett Theatre, 410 West 42nd St. 

COUNTESS CONSTANCE MARKIEVICZ: Fought for Irish Freedom By Polly Guerin

Constance Georgina de Marievicz
Who was this high born woman whose name and deeds blazed across the Irish skies? From what noble Gaelic stock did she emerge to become the legendary heroine in  Ireland's fight for freedom from British rule?
     It's hard to believe that on April 24, we will celebrate the 100th birthday of the Irish Republic. Ireland's Easter Rising, also known as the Easter Rebellion, an armed insurrection to end British rule in Ireland and establish an Independent Irish Republic, took place Easter Week, 1916.
      Although the rebellion was crushed, the British handed the rebels a further propaganda coup by executing all nine of the rebellion's leaders including the severely wounded James Connelly. Although the fearless fighter Countess Markievicz fought with  the leaders of the rebellion her life was spared. Popular support then swung behind the rebels, allowing the successful War of Independence three years later.
     Georgina de Markievicz, nee Gore-Booth was the eldest daughter of the Arctic explorer and adventurer Sir Henry Gore-Booth, 5th Baronet, an Anglo-Irish landlord who administered a huge estate. and his wife Lady Georgina Booth nee Hill.
     Born to power and privilege her pedigree ranked among the finest of the old Gaelic aristocracy, yet her amazing ascendancy as a national heroine blazed across the Irish skies in the momentous years of the early 20th Century. 
         Markievicz's destiny as a revolutionary nationalist, suffragette and soldier belongs to the pages of a romantic noveI. I discovered Constance several years ago when I attended the Yeats International Summer School's poetry workshop in Sligo, Ireland. Her metamorphosis from society beauty to philanthropic benefactor, soldiering on to glory are documented at Lissadell House, the Gore-Booth's family’s mansion, I visited one day in the north of County Sligo in the north-west of Ireland.
      Legend has it that she was a beautiful, headstrong girl who rode fast horses over the thousands of acres on the estate owned by her father Sir Henry-Gore Booth. She was presented at the court of Queen Victoria and dubbed the darling of the Dublin Castle set. It all seemed like an idyllic fairytale.
Lissadell House, Sligo, Ireland fairy tale. 
Born to power and privilege she could have remained isolated from the trials and tribulations of the common man, the dreadful conditions of tenant farmers, but led by her father's example of providing free food for the tenants on his estate, she developed  deep concern for working people and the poor. John Butler Yeats was was a friend of the family and frequently visited her family home Lissadell House, and Constance and her sister Eva were influenced by his artistic and political ideas.
      The Gore-Booths were known as model landlords in Sligo but as a young girl Constance was overcome by the destitute conditions of her father’s tenants and high rents they paid and she asked her father, Sir Henry, for an explanation. With nothing of consequence coming forward from her father she vowed that one day she would make amends for her family’s deeds. She said much later in life that her activities were, ‘only a small atonement for her ancestors’ sins in plundering the Irish people.
       Constance’s upbringing in such an atmosphere of despair and neglect of the common people forged a compassion for the lives of the poor dispossessed Irish families and it impressed upon her mind the inequities of society. Constance reminisced in later life, “We lived on a beautiful, enchanted West Coast, where we grew up intimate with the soft mists and the colored mountains, and where each morning you woke to the sound of wild birds, no one was interested in politics in our house. Irish history was also taboo…”  The frequent guest to their estate, a young William Butler Yeats, later in a poem spoke of Constance and her sister Eva as, “Two girls in silk Kimonos, both beautiful, one a gazelle.”
       Despite all the trappings of social privilege Constance was not aspiring to the ornamental life of a “society beauty,” and she became weary of aristocratic privileges. Hoping to carve out a life of her own she had ambition to become an artist and went to London to study at the Slade School and later in Paris she attended the Julian school. It was there in Paris that she met and married, Count Casmir Dunin Markievicz, an artist from a wealthy Polish family. This union was short lived and they separated amicably. The course of her life was now heading in a totally different direction.
      In 1907, Constance first became known to British intelligence for her role in helping to found Na Fianna Eireann, a nationalist scout’s organization whose purpose was to teach young boys in military drill and the use of firearms. These youths would later become the volunteers during the Easter uprising.
       In 1908, Markievicz became actively involved in nationalist politics in Ireland. A head strong and inspired activist Constance joined Sinn Fein and the women’s group, Inghinidhe na hEireann  (Daughters of Ireland), a revolutionary women's movement founded by the actress Maud Gonne, muse of William Butler Yeats. 
      By 1911, she was now an executive member of  both organizations and went to jail for the first time for her part in a demonstration against the visit of George V. Her compassion was evident in the 1913 lockout when she ran a soup kitchen to provide food for the worker's families.
    The Citizens Army drilled regularly and one soldier remarked, “She was lovely in uniform. I can remember seeing her marching at the head of the Citizen army with James Connolly and Michael Mallin at a parade one Sunday afternoon. My God, she was it!” 
      As WWI began, Constance was in the center of social and political upheaval that was building in Dublin. On April, 24h, 1916, tensions exploded in the streets of Dublin and war soon erupted in the streets of the capital. While most women in the movement participated in the Rising as nurses and messengers Constance Markievicz, who had joined Connolly's Citizen Army, was second in command to Michael Mallin in St Stepen's Green and was active in a fighting capacity throughout the week. She had supervised the setting up of barricades as the Rising began and was in the middle of the fighting all around Stephen;s Green.
       Mallin and Markievicz and their men held on to Stephen’s Green for six days, finally giving up when the British brought them a copy of Patrick Pearse’s surrender order. They were taken to Dublin Castle and Constance was the only woman put in solitary confinement in Kilmainham Goal. She fully expected to be executed. As she prepared to die, alone in her cell, she heard the firing squad put one bullet in the heads of Patrick Pearse, Thomas Clarke and Thomas MacDonagh and others. At her court martial she declared, “I did what was right, and I stand by it.” The verdict in her case was: “Guilty, Death by being shot,” but General Maxwell commuted this to life in prison, “Solely on account of her sex.” Always the fiery revolutionary she told the officer who brought her the news, “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.” Constance was released from prison during the General Amnesty of 1917.
      Her heroic endurance during several prison terms stand her as an Irish heroine of unprecedented record. In the general election, December 1918, Countess Markievicz became not just the first woman ever elected to the British Parliament, but was appointed Minister of Labour, the first Cabinet Minister in Europe.  She died in 1927 from complications related to appendicitis, long years of hunger strikes, police brutality, and guerrilla warfare that had weakened her body significantly. She was 59.  Throughout her life the Countess had intentionally risked her life for the common people.  In tribute to her courage, daring and sacrifice as many as 300,000 turned out and lined the streets of Dublin for the funeral of the Countess of Irish freedom.
      Ta Ta Darlings, for more information about the Easter Rising contact the WB Yeats Society of New York at They are having "A Taste of Yeats Summer School in New York on Saturday April 2, at NYU Glucksman Ireland House and several lectures cover topics including "Easter Rising---The Poets' Rebellion.:.  Fan mail always welcome at  Visit Polly's Blogs at and click in the left had column on the Blog that resonates with your interest on fashion, visionary men, poetry and womendeterminedtosucceed.

Monday, March 7, 2016


The Met Breuer on Madison Avenue and 75th St.
At the MET Breuer's exhibition "Unfinished: Thoughts left Visible,"it is interesting to observe hat many great artists and some lesser known contemporaries, were often confronted with the dilemma, "When is a work of art truly finished?"  
     The answer is really quite simple. Often an artist loses interest in a subject, and abandons it for another day or never takes up the brush again. Maybe the individual died before the work was completed or worse was not paid for the commission.  The complex reasons may not be as simple as all that, but the concept reminds me that even inventors and other brilliant minds as well as private individuals sometimes lose the fortitude of perseverance and leave works unfinished and do not complete the work in progress, leaving others with stronger conviction to finish the job and reap the benefits.
      The Metropolitan Museum of Art invites the public to celebrate the opening of The Met Breuer with three days of special programs inaugurating its new space dedicated to modern and contemporary art.  UNFINISHED presents over 190 works from the Renaissance to the present and opens to the public March 18th through September 4, 2016. It takes place in the former,  Whitney Museum building, that has been renovated and restored with architect Marcel Breuer's original design vision.
WHY DOES UNFINISHED MATTER?  A portrait was a significant way to record important events for posterity. Case in point; Unfinished displays, in a framed portrait. a major historical event in the founding of our country. This brings to mind the unfinished copy of Benjamin West's portrait by an unknown artist of the American Peace Commissioners (1782). This is a significant painting as it depicts John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Henry Laurens. the American Peace commissioners who posed to commemorate the major event that signed off from British rule--"The Treaty of Paris" formally ended the American Revolutionary War, and launched the world's newest nation--- a story that is depicted and written about in my book, The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York 1785-2015: A History. published by History Press. April 2015. The figure behind Franklin is his grandson William Temple Franklin who served as secretary. But not the blank unfinished portion of the portrait. As for the two missing individuals, two British counterparts, one refused to sit and another claimed to be ill. 
      Then there is Anton Raphael Mengs' portrait of Marianne di Silva y Sarmiento (1740-1794). Mengs was a prominent painter in his time---papal commissions and so forth---and it isn't clear why his wedding portrait of the Lady with ghost dog and blurred face wasn't finished, except that one might surmise that the lady may have changed her mind or the commission wasn't paid for.
Pablo Picasso's "Harlequin" UnFinished
One wonders why Pablo Picasso did not finish the portrait of The Jester and why some masters intentionally left works unfinished in an aesthetic pursuit. Some of history's greatest artists explored such a premise among them Titian, Rembrandt, Turner and Cezanne. And one finds Unfinished in contemporary artist such as Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Janine Antoni and others.

     The Met Breuer will host a special family day on Sunday, March 20 (10 a.m-5 p.m.) with special programs and events for visitors of all ages.
     Ta ta Darlings!!! There's a fascinating predicament in UNFINISHED, and it poses the question "Just when is a work of art complete?" Similarly that is a question that we often are confronted with in your daily activities, "When is the project we are working on finished, or did we abandon the project because we lost interest or worst "Did we fall ill, or was payment not forthcoming." These are dilemmas that face not only artists but anyone who is involved in the creative process. Fan mail welcome at  Visit Polly's Blogs at and click on the Blog in the left hand column that resonates with your interest.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


Preview Update by Polly Guerin/pollytalkfromnewyork. 
The Full review was sent to you Feb. 8th

Breaking News:  

Widowers' Houses preview last night, at the Beckett Theatre, may have appeared to be a pristine Victorian drama, but morphed into a play that presents issues  of moral raising consciousness with comedic relief on sex, greed and real estate. 
     This play is a Tact/Gingold production of George Bernard Shaw's prescient first play, Widower's Houses.  It takes on a fresh spin as directed by David Staller, founder of the Gingold Theatrical Group, an organization that presents works using the humanitarian precepts of George Bernard Shaw as its platform.   
     The play's spirited rhetoric by a cast of stellar performers in period costumes (circa 1892)  against a minimal stage background, take center stage with their strong individual presence. They keep the action moving into the still annoying relevant issues that will resonate with you, and at the same time enlighten and entertain.
    You can see previews from 3/2-3/12 only @ $26.25, use discount code TRWHXP, or from 3/15 to 4/2 @ $47.75, use discount code TRHL2 at Theatre Row Box Office 212.947.8844. Beckett Theatre, 210 West 42nd St.