241 Things

1000 Things is a subjective encyclopedia of inspirational ideas, things, people, and events.

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

"The most perfect, most versatile, most famous of American models, whose face and figure have inspired thousands of modern masterpieces of sculpture and painting."

At the turn of the 19th century, the socialite Audrey Munson, known also as Miss Manhattan, was the muse of many and the most sought after model of all New York, becoming a ubiquitous figure on canvas, tapestries and stone. Still, her likeness graces many corners of Manhattan: from the Pulitzer fountain to the Civic Fame statue atop the Manhattan Municipal building, the city's largest sculpted figure after the Statue of Liberty.

Civic Fame building, NYC

Her fame and popularity had grown so vast that during the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibition, it was her image that was cast onto nearly every work shown.

In 1915, Audrey moved to New York to California to extend her career into the brand new film industry and boarded at the house of a doctor. His wife sent Audrey away when she began to suspect that the doctor had fallen in love with her. When his wife was found murdered not long later, the doctor was convicted of murder in the first degree. He hung himself before they could take him to the electric chair.

SStill from the silent film, Inspiration

After the scandal, her reputation was destroyed and her career fell flat prompting the downwards spiral into which she would descend. She blamed “powerful forces” for the disintegration of her career, and fabricated an engagement to a certain Joseph J. Stevenson. When, according to her, the non-existent Stevenson broke off their betrothal, she ingested a solution of mercury to try and end her life.

Melvin Memorial, Massachussets

Although she recovered from her suicide attempt, her mental health would continue to deteriorate and she was placed in a mental ward at 39. Here, she would reside for the next sixty-five years, and pass away in 1996 at the age of 105.

Pulitzer Fountain, NYC
Castle, nightclub, palazzo.

Esquire, duke, baron.

Industrialists and rock chic.

Jazz pianists, acrobats, Coco Chanel.

Eight hundred quart bottles of the finest champagne, sparkling in the morning sun.

The soft caress of mink and sable furs.

Tuxedo and black tie.

Celebrities flanked by a leashed cheetah or lion cub.

The squirrel monkey painted blue on the shoulder of the host, the dazed boa constrictor nestled in the bosom of the marquis.

Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin and Christian Dior.

Salvador Dali’s walking stick of old Catalan walnut, tapping the beat of a waltz; red ants crawling between the space in the double glazing of his spectacles, Amanda Lear at his side.

Walking, arm in arm, with Kees van Dongen, Tristan Tzara and Marcel Duchamp: the Count and Countess of Noialles.

‘A lost world,’ as Nicholas Foulkes describes the costumed balls once popular in the world of the old nobility, haute bourgeoisie and artists.

‘Holding a ball is not the same as having a ball’’, Baron De Rothschild declared in the memoirs he wrote towards the end of his life as a banker. The wealthy lover of extravaganza carefully summed up each step necessary in the preparations for a successful costumed ball; from the table arrangements to the flower pieces, the proper lighting and decorations to the choice of invitees and the menu. As Rothschild describes, it appears that the organisation of a high concept party is equally complex and complicated to that of a museum exhibition, military operation, or theatre piece.

The host or hostess must never lose sight of the ultimate goal: the escape from grim reality through jubilant escapism. ‘Is it not our duty to,’ wrote Rothschild, “each to their own style and taste, enrich life with all that is superfluous and lush, and to embellish it with those few short flashing moments of elusive beauty?’

The ball as a carefully orchestrated moment of ecstasy, a whirlwind of luxury, beauté, volupté, a hyper stylized flight into another time, a finely construed Gesammtkunstwerk, as ephemeral as the thin fragrance of a jasmine perfume from the Shanghai delta... to escape one’s self is to live twice as intensely.

Style is everything, wrote gutter poet Charles Bukowski (‘Style is the difference, a way of doing, a way of being done./Six herons standing quietly in a pool of water,/ or you, naked, walking out of the bathroom without seeing me.’)

Style is what makes the ball’s invitees different from the ordinary man.

Style is what restrains the partygoers in their costly costumes from degenerating into a dishevelled drunken stupor.

You won’t find them in a back alley with their black tie hanging at their navels and besmirched with stains from the evening's lobster meal, torn spaghetti straps fluttering in the cool morning breeze, shouting from rooftops or stumbling through hysterical androgynous declarations of love for Amanda Lear.

In his erudite study of the sociology of the ball, Nicholas Foulkes comes to the conclusion that he who dons the costume of a seventeenth century sun king, disguises himself as Baron Charlus from Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, or she who makes herself up to be a mysterious princess from beyond the Bosphorus finds their delirium within the perfection of their stylization.

He selected photographs from parties including the Romanov Ball in 1903 in Saint Petersburg, where almost every guest was a member of the Russian nobility, and the Proust Ball, organised by Rothschild in 1971 where a curious mix of low nobility, pop stars, children of the Extremely Rich (‘spoiled brats’) and famous writers and movie stars dotted the ballroom.

The Proust Ball is where royal photographer and aesthete Cecil Beaton viciously mentioned Elizabeth Taylor’s shockingly vulgar appearance, ‘a geriatric Cinderella with plump, rough hands and an oversized diamond hanging around her neck.’

After this, Rothschild said, it seemed as if an end had come to an era.

The temporary nature of the ball is similar to the temporary nature of intoxication. All that remains is, cliché of clichés, the memories. The after images that nestle themselves within the hard disk of the mind are those of the hypnotic mise-en-scène, the decor that immerses the guest into another time period, not to mention the artful delights produced by the Chef, the blindingly beautiful costumes and the quicksilver je-ne-sais quois sensation so characteristic of all festive occasions where champagne flows freely.

It’s precisely this fleeting, short-lived moment that photographers like Man Ray, Cecil Beaton, Baron de Meyer and Horst P. Horst managed to capture, in a way so very different from the average party.

Take a look at the footage reminiscent of Eyes Wide Shut, shot by Jacqueline de Ribes, cousin of Count Étienne de Beaumont, the mastermind behind many widely spoken about balls from 1915 to 1955. At Don Carlos de Bestegui she appeared thrice, flanked by two women of the same height and posture, hidden behind identical masks, dressed in the same gowns, adorned with the same jewels and headdress. An impressive feat at styling, a perfect disappearing act of the ego, a true work of art ‘that comes to life for merely a few hours, that illuminates the night in all its multicoloured splendour and is doused by the first light of the slowly creeping grey-pink dawn’. And that’s exactly how it must have been. What a shame we weren’t there.

*Nicholas Foulkes, Legendary Costume Balls of the Twentieth Century. Assouline Publishing, New York, 2011.

Foulkes wrote the luxuriously published Legendary Costume Balls of the Twentieth Century, in which nine legendary balls are examined in word and image.

Galina Ustvolskaya is no ordinary hero. She is an anti-hero. She’s done everything to keep herself from becoming known, let alone famous. She was unsuccessful. Ustvolskaya’s music is too unavoidably overwhelming to not be remembered.

Galina Ustvolskaya

Twenty-five works of hers remain, in total six hours of music. But each work is a monument, literally and figuratively. In 1996, the Koninklijke Concertgebouw Orkest, led by Mstislav Rostropovitch, performed Symphony number 2 by Galina Ustvolskaya. After the concert was over, the audience was literally dumbfounded. They were so completely astounded by the performance that they were silent for minutes before breaking into applause. For Ustvolskaya, music was the only important thing and all else was vanity. For this reason, and for the fabulous power of her music, she is a hero to me.

In Cherry Duyns’ documentary, Reinbert de Leeuw visits the withdrawn composer (Ich bin menschenscheu) and we catch a glimpse of the building and her tiny flat where she spent most of her life.