Thursday, January 23, 2020

Louise Brooks and Women of the 1920s: Style, Glamour, and the Avant-Garde

I finally got a copy of a recently published book, Women of the 1920s: Style, Glamour, and the Avant-Garde by Thomas Bleitner. This 176 page book, which was published in September in the United States by Abbeville, looks at the lives of seventeen influential women of the Jazz Age including Louise Brooks. A bit more information about the book can be found HERE.

According to the publisher, "It was a time of unimagined new freedoms. From the cafés of Paris to Hollywood's silver screen, women were exploring new modes of expression and new lifestyles. In countless aspects of life, they dared to challenge accepted notions of a “fairer sex,” and opened new doors for the generations to come. What’s more, they did it with joy, humor, and unapologetic charm.

Exploring the lives of seventeen artists, writers, designers, dancers, adventurers, and athletes, this splendidly illustrated book brings together dozens of photographs with an engaging text. In these pages, readers will meet such iconoclastic women as the lively satirist Dorothy Parker, the avant-garde muse and artist Kiki de Montparnasse, and aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, whose stories continue to offer inspiration for our time. Women of the 1920s is a daring and stylish addition to any bookshelf of women's history."

Among the other notable women profiles in Women of the 1920s: Style, Glamour, and the Avant-Garde are Zelda Fitzgerald, Nancy Cunard, Tamara de Lempicka, Lee Miller, Claude Cahun, Clara Bow, Anita Berber, Josephine Baker, and Elisa Schiaparelli. Early on, Lee Miller saw Brooks dance when Brooks was a member of Denishawn. Once Brooks entered the movies, she became acquainted with Clara Bow, and later met Zelda Fitzgerald and Josephine Baker (and possibly Dorothy Parker).

The illustrated eight page chapter on Louise Brooks is, frankly, a superficial look at the actress' career. No new information is offered, and curiously, French director Rene Clair is referenced as "author Rene Clair."

Women of the 1920s: Style, Glamour, and the Avant-Garde does present Brooks as a glamorous style icon, but does not really establish any links to the avant-garde (which do exist). For example, Brooks was admired by the Surrealists (and her films were shown alongside Surrealist efforts); she was the subject of a portrait by a Bauhaus artist, was acquainted with individuals associated with modernism (aside from Edward Steichen, George Gershwin, and Jean Patou, who are noted), etc.... When mentioning Brooks tenure with the Denishawn Dance Company, the book fails to note Denishawn as a modernist enterprise. The only linkage to anything avant-garde is the correct, the loose association of Brooks' three European films with expressionism. (Want to see an expressionist film, watch The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, or G.W. Pabst's Secrets of a Soul.)

For the general interest reader, Bleitner's Women of the 1920s: Style, Glamour, and the Avant-Garde is a satisfactory introduction to a fascinating period in gender and social history. The book contains a number of 'swonderful and appropriate images and illustrations - except, curiously, that the selection related to Brooks seem to be the those least satisfactorily reproduced.


Want to read more about Louise Brooks and the avant-garde, check out this earlier LBS blog Louise Brooks, Modernism, the Surrealists, and the Paris of 1930.

Herbert Bayer's "Facing Profiles."

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