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Stravinsky's Lunch (2001)

by Drusilla Modjeska

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1371153,048 (4)10
"Stravinsky's Lunch tells the stories of two extraordinary women, both born close to the turn of the century in Australia and both destined to make important contributions to Australian painting. Stella Bowen went to London to make her career, then became a bohemian and the longtime mistress of Ford Madox Ford. Grace Cossington Smith, a spinster who never strayed far from her childhood home on the outskirts of Sydney, became one of the first Australian modernists. Their distinctive stories speak volumes about how love, art, and life intersect."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)
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Women artists were leaders in the Modernist movement in Australia between the two World Wars. This books looks at two, whose lives are like a mirror image of each other, Stella Bowen and Grace Cossington Smith. More than a straightforward biography, it addresses the dilemma of love and art. Do women have to sacrifice one for the other?
Modjeska's motif is a story she first heard from a friend. She says: "It isn't much of a story, simply that when Stravinsky was in mid-composition, he insisted that his family ate lunch in silence. The slightest sound, a murmur, even a whisper, could ruin his concentration and destroy an entire work."

"It's not a particularly unusual story - great male artists have demanded more than that in the name of Art - and yet it has worked on me, and in me, in ways that it has taken me a long time to understand. What began, for me, as an argument has become taken into my life as a kind of meditation."

At the time Bowen and Smith were developing as artists, Virginia Woolf was writing that in order for a woman to succeed as an artist she needed A Room Of One's Own and 500 pounds a year - ie an income sufficient for self-support.

Stella Bowen was born in 1893, Grace Cossington Smith in 1892. They led extremely different lives. Bowen went to europe, met and fell in love with a writer, Ford Madox Ford, spent a decade keeping house for him, and raising their child (which she continued to do after they separated). She lived in England and France from the evee of WW1, and never returned to Australia. Smith, on the other hand, lived for most of her life in a (then) semi-rural, outer suburb of Sydeny, bucolicly middle-class. She had the financial support of her encouraging family, who facilitated her art. One sister remained unmarried, and for most of the time kept house.

Modjeska said in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald:

"It is very tough to be a woman and an artist. It has always been tough to be a woman and an artist. I have had a pretty good run as a writer, but even I have tasted enough of it to know what it has been like for women before. Life intrudes. Love intrudes. Women don't seem to be able to separate the two, women don't seem to be permitted to separate the two, like the blokes are able to do. And what is interesting, the more I explored this, the more I realised that women are complicit in the whole thing, too. The whole question became very complex."

The book is beautifully illustrated, with colour plates that are a pleasurable enhancement to the text. It is an engrossing and highly engaging read. ( )
  saliero | Jun 15, 2007 |
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For Amy, for Maya, and for Erica Loewe
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Let us begin with two sisters dressed for a ball.
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"Stravinsky's Lunch tells the stories of two extraordinary women, both born close to the turn of the century in Australia and both destined to make important contributions to Australian painting. Stella Bowen went to London to make her career, then became a bohemian and the longtime mistress of Ford Madox Ford. Grace Cossington Smith, a spinster who never strayed far from her childhood home on the outskirts of Sydney, became one of the first Australian modernists. Their distinctive stories speak volumes about how love, art, and life intersect."--BOOK JACKET.

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