The Marchesa Casati: Portrait of a Muse
An original dramatic presentation by
Scot D. Ryersson & Michael Orlando Yaccarino
Based on their award-winning biography
Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati
'Elizabeth Shepherd is spellbinding. The piece is completely brilliant–a real tour de force. I loved every minute of it!'
– Selina Hastings, author of Evelyn Waugh: A Biography
'Ryersson and Yaccarino's brilliant telling of Casati's story finds its dramatic distillation in Elizabeth Shepherd's bravura performance.'
– Patrick Garland, author and director of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own
'The authors' way with language is both elegant and wonderful. Elizabeth Shepherd is terrific. And the show...simply marvellous!'
– Charles Busch, author of the Broadway hit The Tale of the Allergist's Wife
'Miss Shepherd caught the temperament and style of my grandmother, the Marchesa Casati, quite perfectly: her readings and renditions evoke the era and atmosphere created by Scot D. Ryersson and Michael Orlando Yaccarino in the most wonderful way.'
– Lady Moorea-Black
At the start of the twentieth century, the Marchesa Luisa Casati decided to achieve one goal–to become a living work of art. She succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. Casati's singular life and important artistic legacy are explored in extravagant detail through the eyes of those individuals who drew inspiration from this most captivating of muses. The distinguished British actress Elizabeth Shepherd astonished sold-out audiences in New York City, Toronto and London with this special event.
A Triumph in Belgrave Square
The Italian Cultural Institute
39 Belgrave Square, London
15 January 2001
Exactly a century ago, the Marchesa Luisa Casati decided to achieve one goal, to become a living work of art. She succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. In a quest for immortality, Casati had herself painted, sculpted, photographed and dressed by some of the twentieth century's most important artists. To celebrate the official British publication of Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati, the first full-length biography of Luisa Casati, the Italian Cultural Institute in London staged Infinite Variety: Portrait of a Muse.
Distinguished British actress Elizabeth Shepherd gave the U.K. premiere of this original dramatic one-woman presentation written by the authors of Infinite Variety, Scot D. Ryersson and Michael Orlando Yaccarino. Through unforgettable first-hand accounts by those who knew her, Luisa Casati's singular life and captivating artistic legacy were explored. A leading actress of the West End, Broadway and the Stratford and Shaw Festivals, Elizabeth Shepherd appears frequently in film, television and on stage.
The London premiere of Infinite Variety: Portrait of a Muse was enjoyed by a full-capacity audience, several members of which travelled from France; Austria; Spain; North America, including Mexico; and throughout England to be part of this special night. Among them were those who had actually known Casati, most notably, the late Lady Moorea Black, the Marchesa's granddaughter and only living direct descendant. Following a tremendous ovation, Elizabeth Shepherd expressed her honour to enact the piece for this very important guest. In reply, Lady Moorea lauded her performance before the spectators by noting: "I do not believe that anyone else could have brought the Marchesa to life more magnificently than you." A sold-out book signing, reception and private dinner at the Institute followed.
The Italian Cultural Institute event in London follows the November 1999 invited staged reading of Infinite Variety: Portrait of a Muse by the New York City ministry of the same organisation, and its January 2000 Canadian premiere on the Jackman Hall stage of the Art Gallery of Ontario in co-operation with the Italian Cultural Institute in Toronto. The latter presentation received major newspaper coverage and was the subject of an international television entertainment programme. At these earlier venues as well, Ms Shepherd's performances were wildly received by sold-out audiences. Based upon the unanimous success of those evenings, Messrs Ryersson and Yaccarino expanded the piece for its U.K. premiere to include their latest discoveries on the Marchesa Casati.
The Princess of Wax
Scot D. Ryersson & Michael Orlando Yaccarino
Text in English and French
French Translation by
With Illustrations by
But it was within the fragile limbs and reed-like torso, all exquisitely sculpted of wax, that the true magic lie—the ashes of a ballerina, who danced a century before; hollow bones from a sparrow’s wing; and seawater to fill the tiny stained-glass orbs that were her eyes. And set deeper still, set at the core, was a silver reliquary…
—Excerpt from The Princess of Wax
In April 2003, Neil Zukerman and CFM Gallery, New York City, published The Princess of Wax—A Cruel Tale/La Princesse de cire—Un Conte cruel written by Scot D. Ryersson and Michael Orlando Yaccarino with illustrations by acclaimed artist Anne Bachelier. This strange fairy tale and Bachelier’s ravishing visual interpretation of it are inspired by the extraordinary, real-life subject of the authors’ worldwide critically-acclaimed biography Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati. Still available exclusively from CFM Gallery, The Princess of Wax was released as a deluxe limited edition book with text in both English and French. In April-May 2003, CFM Gallery mounted a splendid five-week exhibition of Bachelier’s artwork, featuring a remarkable series of oil paintings inspired by The Princess of Wax. Originally heralded in the February 2003 issue of Vanity Fair, the book received immediate laudatory notices upon its publication. So in addition to featured coverage in Gallery & Studio, Art World News, IN New York and Night Magazine, Gallery Guide dubbed The Princess of Wax 'an innovative, dark fairy tale,' while WHERE New York called it 'a sumptuous limited-edition volume,' and Grazia D'Annunzio of Vogue Italia praised the work as 'an intriguing, never-ending journey through eccentricity, obsession, love, cruelty, glamour and destiny.'
A wicked noblewoman presides over a decadent court of masked revelers. The most beautiful of waxen automatons is brought to life by a sorceress, her very heart hiding a deadly secret. And then love triumphs, if but for a single moment, before a sudden and terrifying finale. This is the bizarre world of The Princess of Wax.
Authors Scot D. Ryersson and Michael Orlando Yaccarino constructed the work in the style of the classic French conte cruel—a literary form typified by the use of a timeless, fairy-tale setting; a baroque storyline combining the beautiful and the grotesque; and an unexpectedly horrific conclusion. Woven into the sinister work, Ryersson and Yaccarino have fancifully incorporated some of the more outlandish elements associated with the life and eccentric persona of the Marchesa Luisa Casati (1881-1957). As one of the most influential and artistically represented figures of the early 20th century international arts scene, Casati was the basis for numerous fictional characters during and after her lifetime. With her passion for the weird and wonderful, the Marchesa would have surely been intrigued by The Princess of Wax and her vital role as muse in its invention.
About the Illustrator
I envision the universe of La Princesse de cire to be an endless danse macabre broken by moments of tenderness.
Bachelier was our only choice to visually conceive this tale of love, magic and the fantastic. Indeed, we wrote it for her. The magnificent work she has created for the project has more than exceeded our expectations—Bachelier has astonished us.
—Scot D. Ryersson & Michael Orlando Yaccarino
For more than twenty-five years, contemporary French Surrealist artist Anne Bachelier has captured dreams on canvas. She has been dubbed ‘art’s enchanting Scheherazade’ (Gallery & Studio), a reputation established through international exhibitions of an ever-growing gallery of sorceresses, chimeras and other mythical creatures.
Born on February 20, 1949 in Louvigne du Desert, France, Bachelier studied art formally from 1966 to 1969 at the École des Beaux-Arts, La Seyne-sur-Mer, before serving an apprenticeship at an engraving shop in Valence from 1974 to 1975. Since 1989, she has been exhibited frequently throughout France and on both coasts of the United States. Painter, printmaker, ballet designer and illustrator, Bachelier is also a wife, mother of three and has three grandchildren. She lives and works near Grenoble, France.
Although Bachelier’s work has been admirably compared to that of Goya, Moreau, Magritte, and Fini, she has undeniably produced an artistic cosmos both enchanted and completely her own. With the stroke of a paintbrush, Bachelier invites the viewer to join what she calls her ‘thought-beings’ in perpetual rituals of revelation and transformation. In the insightful essay ‘Bound to Earth, Yearning for Immortality’ (Sunstorm/Fine Art, fall 1993), Barbara King successfully endeavors to define Bachelier’s incomparable artistry:
Her personages present archetypes engaging in matters of great import and on a grand scale. The spectator witnesses the unfolding of a drama that evokes a dream-like mystery; an intangible, ethereal otherworldliness that is simultaneously powerful, peaceful, and protective. The visions of Anne Bachelier capture the macabre with grandeur, power, and riveting beauty.
About the Translator
The Princess of Wax—A Cruel Tale (or La Princesse de cire—Un Conte cruel) contains a text in both English and French. Renowned translator Guy Leclercq has prepared the latter. A professor of the Sorbonne, Leclercq teaches at the École Supérieure d’Interprètes et de Traducteurs (L’ESIT), Paris. Notable career highlights include: the first French translation of John Dryden’s King Arthur, Edward Lear’s Nonsense Poetry for the collection Femmes a-sensées (Éditions Autrement) and more than thirty poetry translations and studies ranging from Shakespeare to Poe and E. E. Cummings. His celebrated version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Au Bord des Continents) will be followed by its sequel Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (Au Bord des Continents). Equally adept at French-to-English translation, Leclercq has concentrated on the texts of such Decadent and Modern writers as Baudelaire, Verlaine, Desnos, Prévert, Queneau, Vian and Tardieu. It is noteworthy that Leclercq is the translator of the French-language version of Ryersson and Yaccarino’s Infinite Variety released by Éditions Assouline in January 2003.
Artist and author-signed copies of the book, as well a selection of the original Bachelier mixed-media illustrations for and oil paintings inspired by The Princess of Wax, are still available from:
CLICK HERE to order book.
Bachelier Exhibition Celebrates History’s
Most Legendary Artistic Muse
For a spring night, the evening of Thursday, 3 April 2003, was an unusually wintry one. Although, the changeable clouds and chill winds lent a fitting atmosphere to a soirée promising a series of marvellous delights. For this was the premiere of Anne Bachelier’s spring 2003 exhibition, as well as the book launch for The Princess of Wax/La Princesse de cire, written by Messrs Ryersson and Yaccarino and illustrated by the artist. Neil Zukerman gave the exhibition and book presentation at his gallery, CFM, located in New York City’s SoHo district at the time of this event. And no one fortunate enough to attend this unforgettable revelry would leave less than captivated.
It was precisely 6:00 PM when the by-invitation-only guests were allowed entry. For the previous three days, the gallery doors and windows had been tantalizingly covered so that not even a glimpse of the exhibition could be seen from Greene Street. Certainly, there was a palpable sense of anticipation as the first invitees crossed the threshold. As they did so, each received a small programme providing biographies of the artist and authors, as well as that of Yolande Bavan, the notable actress and jazz singer, who was to give a reading of the bizarre fairy tale later that evening.
Curtain Going Up!
An Enchantment in SoHo
It would be foolhardy to even attempt to convey the astonishment viewers experienced upon seeing Mme Bachelier’s latest offering for the first time. Featured among nearly forty new works were paintings evoking the uncanny world of The Princess of Wax, a story inspired by the cultural icon, the Marchesa Luisa Casati, and one written expressly for the artist. Messrs Ryersson and Yaccarino are the authors of Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati, the official study of the daring art patroness that has achieved a worldwide success. There was one corner of the reception area devoted to the early-20th century fascinatrix. In addition to a superb Bachelier drawing, displayed here was a photograph of La Casati by de Meyer, as well as a description of the extraordinary exploits of the dashing aristocratic.
Perhaps Mr Ed McCormack’s cover-story on the CFM exhibition and book project for Gallery & Studio (March-April 2003) best describes this visual feast of the fantastic: ‘The central figures in Bachelier’s new oils have absorbed some of the flamboyant spirit of La Marchesa Luisa Casati…they appear more assertive, robust, even dangerous…they have blossomed into full-fledged femmes fatales with more than one trick up their silken sleeves.’ In the spirit of decadence conjured up by the paintings, guests refreshed themselves from a seemingly endless supply of vintage champagne and luscious chocolate confections.
Then, as the eight o’clock hour approached, all attention turned to a small stage and podium arranged at the centre of the gallery. By this time, the assembly had grown considerable enough to make it nearly difficult to tilt a champagne flute! Finally, Miss Bavan was summoned to the stage. The extravagant cheetah-print fabrics and golden pleated scarves that draped the podium gave away only a scant hint of the exotic entertainment about to unfold. Indeed, as this was the official launch of The Princess of Wax, the weird narrative had been hitherto unknown save only to the collaborators in its creation.
A hush descended upon the gathering as the chiming of bells began to sound. To be sure, it seemed as if they echoed from across some watery expanse, setting an appropriately haunting mood and signaling the start of the performance. What followed was Miss Bavan’s inimitable rendering of The Princess of Wax. With a gorgeously lyrical voice and movements remarkable for their feline grace, the supernatural tragedy of the tale’s star-crossed, mixed-race lovers was brought to vivid life. And no better backdrop for the reading could have been concocted than Mme Bachelier’s exquisite paintings that surrounded the spellbound audience. A well-earned and thunderous ovation followed.
In addition to the pleasure of her delectable vocal performance, Miss Bavan provided visual thrills as well. Devastatingly soignée, she was attired in a cocktail dress of black satin and lace, its sash set aglow by a glinting diamanté buckle, from the spring 2003 collection of John Galliano (Paris). Indeed, the eminent designer personally provided this discreetly provocative garment for the affair. And it should be recalled that Mr Galliano has often cited the Marchesa Casati as an inspiring force, most dramatically expressed in his renowned spring/summer 1998 collection for Dior that was completely based upon her.
The festivities flowed on, as did the champagne, well past the gallery’s intended closing time. Although before then, several of the most monumental of Mme Bachelier’s works, as well as numerous copies of the sumptuously fashioned book, were acquired by lucky admirers. And during this time, attendees were given the opportunity to chat with the artist and authors. Among the many charming guests was Joan T. Rosasco, noted international fine art exhibition coordinator and author of Voies de l’imagination proustienne. The ever-elegant Miss Rosasco offered a fitting précis to the successful fête: ‘This strange, magical conte cruel cast a spell in the gallery that seemed to be hung with windows into another world. Anne Bachelier’s work is magnificent. And Yolande Bavan’s unforgettable performance incarnated the spirit of the peculiar tale.’
Also sharing in the festivities was Grazia D’Annunzio, the prominent international journalist and Special Projects Editor for Vogue Italia. She just also happens to be the great-grandniece of Gabriele D’Annunzio, the notorious writer who shared an amour with the Marchesa Casati in those quainter days before the Great War.
The vivacious Sig.na D’Annunzio was among the first at the reception to set eyes on the book of The Princess of Wax. ‘What a mesmerizing tale! In this Edgar Allan Poe-esque nightmare, Venice and La Casati have never been so enchanting and decadent,’ Sig.na D’Annunzio proclaimed. ‘Anne Bachelier’s illustrations, so surreal and so wonderfully rich in detail, are the perfect visualization of an intriguing, never-ending journey through eccentricity, obsession, love, cruelty, glamour and destiny.’
Further artworks and books were snapped up by wise collectors during an all-day book-signing with Mme Bachelier and Messrs Ryersson and Yaccarino on the following Saturday at the gallery. This trend continued throughout the remainder of a truly magical five-week exhibition that will not be long forgotten. And although not present at the previously described events, Lady Moorea Black, granddaughter to and only living direct descendent of the Marchesa Casati, graciously commented on The Princess of Wax from her home in London. ‘This is a beautiful and marvellously produced book,’ the late Lady Moorea praised, ‘and quite a wonderful fairy tale, too.’ One cannot help but believe that her truly unique grandmother would join Lady Moorea in this blessing.
All Artwork © Anne Bachelier