Conceived for walking, the shoe is an essential everyday object, but its aesthetic qualities can elevate it to the status of art. As art objects, shoes say a lot about their creator’s personality, but above all they express the ideas and manual skill of the shoemaker, whether famous or anonymous. Shoes are also inexhaustible sources of iconography that have nourished the imagination of artists throughout the world, throughout time, in drawing and sculpture and in the decorative and plastic arts. This part of the book is therefore primarily visual, devoted to the contemplation of selected works from the countless examples of shoes transformed by artistic inspiration.
In 1832, Delacroix travelled to North Africa, a major episode in his career that transformed his vision, his technique, and his aesthetic. Maurice Serullaz, in his book on Delacroix, lists the various items the artist brought back, as indicated by the notes in Delacroix’s travel journal:
“Five pair of slippers; eleven pairs of slippers with double soles; two small pairs; one small women’s pair; common woman’s slipper; man’s slipper without quarter; four pairs of boots” (Maurice Serullaz, Delacroix, Ch. VII, “Living Antiquity”, Light and its Coloured Reflections).
Delacroix shared his shoe observations in a letter he wrote to Félix Grullemardet as he approached Tangiers on January 24, 1832:
“After a lengthy crossing of thirteen long days, dear friend, I am damp facing the African river and with a view of this town, the first in the Moroccan empire with which we communicate. This morning I had the pleasure of watching a boatload of Moroccans come aside our corvette to bring over our consul whom we had contacted. These people exhibit a mélange of fascinating costumes: several were a little like the Barbary coast outfits one sees in Paris, except the men have bare legMarie-Josèphe Bossans and feet: only the lords wear slippers” (Maurice Serullaz, Delacroix, Ch. VIII, “Living Antiquity” Light and its Reflections).
Delacroix hardly considered shoes a superfluous accessory. According to what he wrote to George Sand in 1838, he felt quite the contrary: “I had to run to both ends of Paris all day… I will try to come see you tonight and put on your shoes; I love the slippers, stockings, and legs (in the Arab fashion). Send word if I cannot see you and kindest regards.”
As Maurice Serullaz points out: “And he signed with a visual pun he rarely used: Eugène 2, the musical note la, and a cross,” which sounded out his name when spoken in French: deux, la, croix. (Maurice Serullaz, Delacroix, Ch. X, Les bibliothèques du Palais-Bourbon et du Palais du Luxembourg 1838-1848).
Henri Terres was born in Oran in 1948 and devoted himself to drawing and lithography under the influence of surrealism before exhibiting his first sculptures in 1990. Primarily metal works (iron, steel, and bronze), these sculptures were decidedly figurative. At first the artist assembled his pieces by welding recycled materials that he had re-cut and polished. An important final stage involving polychrome resulted in truly painted sculptures. When recycled materials seemed to offer him a limited and repetitious formal vocabulary, Terres abandoned their use in 1992, turning instead to thick slabs of sheet metal. The two themes most frequently depicted are the human face and bestiaries.
In 1995, Terres exhibited a sculpture series at the International Shoe Museum, Romans. Humorously entitled “Fancy Shoes,” the theme was the seven deadly sins. The exhibition consisted of bas-reliefs made from a mixture of crushed stone and resin, which had been patinated with polychrome or painted with acrylics before receiving a final polish. Frames, formed during the first stage of the work and painted along with the bas-relief, were an integral part of each sculpture.
That year Terres also participated in a group exhibition called “Roger Vivier and his world,” at Galerie Enrico Navarra in Paris. This exhibit brought together the work of a number of artists, including César.
The Berluti firm retains over three thousand wood forms crafted for famous and anonymous clients.
Today, Olga is restoring and adorning them with fabric and embroidery chosen to match the personality of each client represented. The shoe forms have been transformed into votive offerings by her inspired hand. Art objects in their own right, they tremble with life.
For twenty years a costume designer for the film industry (another facet of her great talent) Olga Berluti, finds her inspiration to immortalize the uniqueness of these individuals constantly renewed…
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