Guilty Pleasures


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I thought I might start a thread on those works of art or artists who we feel to be something of "guilty pleasures"... that we enjoy despite understanding that they are not generally held in high regard, or are seen as unusual, cliche, kitsch, or just weird.

A Guilty Pleasure: Rococo


- François Boucher: Mademoiselle O'Murphy

At the height of Impressionism, Pierre Renoir was the target of negative comments concerning his paintings of voluptuous nudes. Monet famously quipped (to an effect): “You must forgive our dear Renoir, for he’s been seen again in the company of Parisian women.” Monet’s comment had a double-meaning. “Parisian Women” could certainly refer to attractive women of less-than-upstanding moral character… even prostitutes. At the same time, it undoubtedly was intended as a slightly disproving witticism aimed at Renoir’s known admiration for the salacious nudes paintings by Rococo masters such as Fragonard and Boucher to be found in the Louvre.


- Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Bathers

From the very start, the Rococo was the target of criticism based more upon questions of morality than aesthetics. While the art of the Baroque focused upon high-minded religious and mythological themes, the Rococo was an eminent aristocratic art… an art clearly for the upper-middle-classes and the wealthy. The artists of the Rococo satisfied this audience’ dedication to fashionable style, refined taste, wit, intimacy, and delicacy.

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-Jean-Frederic Schall: Lovers

Following the French Revolution, the art of the Rococo was denounced for its excessive luxuriousness, its shallowness, its lack of “seriousness”… and for shamelessly pandering to the tastes of the aristocracy… as if Peter Paul Rubens, Michelangelo, and Titian were employed by the masses and sought their approval.


- François Boucher: The Love Letters

Similar criticisms were leveled by later Modernist Marxist and Feminist critics, while the influential Immanuel Kant had questioned the merits any art in which the subject matter itself seduced, and Adolph Loos argued that all ornament was crime… and surely nothing could be more “ornamental” than the decorative art of the Rococo... well that and the art of his arch-nemesis: Gustav Klimt.


-Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre: Abduction of Europa

Denis Diderot, the philosopher/writer/art critic and contemporary of the great Rococo painters admitted to the seductiveness and “beauty” of paintings by artists such as Boucher: “What colors! What variety! What wealth of objects and ideas!… There is no part of his compositions which, if separated from the others, doesn’t please; even the whole seduces you.” But this alone, was not enough for Diderot: “This man has everything except truth… He is made to dazzle two kinds of people; his elegance, cuteness, romanesque chivalry, coquettishness, taste, ease, variety, daring, his made-up incarnations, his debauchery, should captivate the little artisans, little women, the young, the socialites, the host of people who don’t know true taste, truth, fair ideas, the severity of art; how would such people resist the licentiousness, the pomp, the pompons, the bosoms, the derrières, the epigram of Boucher?”

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-Jean-Antoine Watteau: The Departure from Cythera

One might not wish to make a full diet of Antemann’s sweet visual confections... we can't live on chocolate alone, can we? But the Rococo certainly offers the viewer some much-needed eye-candy in contrast to a great majority of the pretentious, angst-laden, and simply ugly art that dominates much of what shows up in the major galleries today.


- Claude Michel Clodion: Nymph & Satyr
A Guilty Pleasure: Bat Woman


Like a good many my age, I grew up with comic books and they ranked among my first serious artistic passions. With the passage of the years, this passion waned somewhat... until I came into contact with several other artists who still kept the fire for comic books and made strong arguments for their continued relevance. One pointed out that many of the comic book heroes... and villains... fit within classic archetypes we might also find in religious texts, mythology, and classic faerie tales. How far removed from Apollo are Jesus and Superman? Might we not see Batman as akin to Darth Vader or the Black Knight? I might include
the whole of comic books... or at least those I am well-versed in... among my "guilty pleasures"... but I thought I'd start with a single comic character.

Kate Kane... armed with a passion for social justice and a flair for speaking her mind, soars onto the streets of Gotham as Batwoman, an out lesbian and highly trained street fighter primed to snuff out the failing city's criminal resurgence. What's not to love? :love::oops: Honestly, it was the stunning graphics of these comics, illustrated by J.H. Williams III, that first captivated me.










Oh yes! And RED! It might also have been all that RED! 👄👠🍓
We have such different guilty pleasures, but maybe it gets a little closer when it comes to Bat Woman. I'm a Wonder Woman fan myself ;)
Who is Mrs. Peel?

I like certain actresses over comic book women any day. I've always had a crush on Cate Blanchet and she was normally blonde, which is interesting. But it's her face I've always found attractive, or interesting rather. I don't think it's ever been sexual. If you really want to know, my super crush is Tig Notaro, but she's married. As for men, I've always liked ones that can make me laugh, which Tig Notaro does. I don't care about what people look like for Christ sakes. I'm in love with Michael and think he's the most attractive person I've ever laid eyes on, and he keeps me laughing constantly.
Mrs. Emma Peel was one half of a tongue in cheek British spy duo in a great 60s TV show called The Avengers. She was played by Diana Rigg.

There was not a red-blooded straight teenage boy in America who didn't have a crush on Mrs. Peel. Nothing like her had ever been seen on TV before. She had it all, brains, beauty, brawn and leather jump suits. She was arguably TVs first feminist heroine. A certified genius, in between writing her post grad papers on nuclear physics and engaging in numerous artistic hobbies, she and her partner John Steed, played by the wonderfully dapper and droll Patrick MacNee, undertook various and often bizarre assignments for a unnamed intelligence agency. Mrs. Peel was the brains of the duo, but kicked serious butt. Her favorite opening strike against men was a double slap to the face-- about as humiliating a blow as possible to a male. She was also a fashion icon, and is still considered an icon of 60s pop culture in general.

I still have a crush on her. A few birthdays ago, my sweetie got me the EEEE box set-- Every Emma Episode Ever. Mrs. Peel was preceded by Kathy Gale (Honor Blackman, the future Pussy Galore) and succeeded by Tara King (Linda Thorsen). But Emma rules.



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Beautiful, witty, charming, classy, kickass and sexy as all get out.

If you've never seen this show you definitely should. It's great. Very, very clever. The best seasons are 65 and 66, all black and white. MacNee is just as wonderful as John Steed, but it was Rigg who made this show, or rather, the interaction between them (opinions vary on whether Steed and Mrs. Peel, whose explorer husband had vanished during an expedition to the Amazon, were getting it on... prior to becoming a spy, Mrs. Peel ran an industrial corporation founded by her father under her birth name, Emma Knight).

It also had one of the great themes of the 60s, right up there with The Prisoner. This clip includes some footage from the infamous episode "A Touch of Brimstone," with Mrs. Peel wearing her Queen of Sin outfit, designed by Dame Diana herself. Supposedly she was never comfortable being an international sex symbol, but she sure didn't help deter that idea with this. Oy gevalt! Needless to say, this was the most watched episode ever on original airing.

Theme from the Avengers

I am serious... we all had a crush on Mrs. Peel. Far as I'm concerned, she still puts all those comic book superheroines in the shade. She was above all capable. Though Steed came to her rescue on numerous occasions, she was just as likely to come to his. She was truly rad for the time. Diana Rigg is one of the great actresses of her era, trained in the Royal Shakespeare Company.
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I will check out the Avengers. I know of the show of course, but never watched it as it was before my time. I did see a couple of the first episodes of the Prisoner though. I couldn't get into it at the time because I was leading a busy life at the time in my twenties (music) when I started renting the episodes, but it looked like it was up my alley.
Definitely check it out. It's held up very well. Just a fun show. The chemistry between Rigg and MacNee is fab.

The Prisoner is, well, The Prisoner.
"The Avengers" been aired in Germany in my childhood (the 1970s) and of course, back then I didn't get the sexiness of Emma Peel. What stroke me most, as far as I remember, was that extreme "Britishness" about it, with the man's umbrella and bowler-hat and a certain stiffness.
Oh, definitely a Brit show. Americans could never could up with anything like it. Stiff I don't think so, but arch, yes. It made no pretense at being real life; it was a contrived show, a confection. We watched a few episodes last night. Mrs. Peel still rules.
While I'm puttering about on the computer working out painting ideas, I thought I'd return to the original idea of this thread... not that I'm against digressions or going off on a tangent. Still... the initial idea here was to explore those works of art that we like/love... and yet we suspect are "guilty pleasures"... art works that are not generally held in high regard, or are seen as unusual, cliche, kitsch, or just weird.

Since I tossed up that Hula Girl pinup over on my post about my painting See No Evil I might as well admit that the classic old pinups rank among my guilty pleasures. My father worked for the Ridge Tool Company. They used to pass out pinup calendars by the old school pinup artist, George Petty:



These date well before my time... but my Dad had a number of these laying about. Along with comic book characters (Wonder Woman!) and the odd Playboy that I found stashed away from my innocent eyes, these old pinups were among my first exposure to the female body... and to the notion of the nude (or near-nude) as art.

Alberto Varga(s) was probably the first pinup artist I saw enough to recognize. His work popped up frequently in my Dad's and Uncle's old Playboy magazines. He has a fascinating that perhaps I'll explore more when I make a post devoted to him alone.



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I would be intrigued years later by the manner in which Vargas employed poses that consciously alluded to classical nudes... including various Greek sculpture and Michelangelo's figures. I'm also quite impressed by the fact that Vargas' nudes were almost exclusively painted using watercolors! 😲

Most aficionados of the classic pinups agree that Gil Elvgren was the greatest pinup artist. He studied under Haddon Sundblom, famous for his illustrations of Santa Claus made Coke


Sundblom was also among the first American painters of the classic pinups:


Gil Elvgren learned a great deal from Sundblom's use of a creamy impasto oil painting rooted in the work of Flemish and Dutch OLd Masters such as Rubens, Van Dyck, Jacob Jordaens, and Frans Hals. Elvgren's girls tended to be sweet and innocent while the situations they were found in suggested just a hint of naughtiness. They were All-American Sweethearts:

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It is quite enlightening to compare the reference photos that Elvgren worked from with the finished paintings:


Many of the pinup artists of the era used live and photographed models... including many famous Hollywood actresses.


Marilyn Monroe was among these:

Another interesting aspect of the classic pinup artists is just how many women were involved. Bunny Yeagar was one of the leading pinup models and photographers. She was famous for her photos of Betty Page.


Within the field of pinup painters, there were more than a few women including Joyce Ballantyne... perhaps most famous for her painting of the Coppertone Girl...


... and Zoe Mozert... who produced pinups with an incredible sense of atmosphere:


The leading pinup artist today might actually be a woman: Olivia Berardinis:



Like Alberto Vargas, she is especially known for her work for Playboy.

Beyond the obvious, I am intrigued with the manner in which the old school pinups embrace popular culture... and yet (maybe?) are not wholly removed from the classic nudes of the old masters: