Here we go with the first Dress-down Friday for the year, and at the risk of being the boy who cried “fabulous!”, I have to say this one is pretty special.
That’s because we’re pawing through the armoire of artist and writer Elisàr von Kupffer (1872-1942). It’s not a name that excites much recognition in the present day, and it was unknown to me until a few weeks ago. But I think you’ll agree that these pictures outline a story that demands closer reading.
Like the equally singular Count Eric Stenbock, Kupffer was born to the Baltic German nobility; both grew up in ostentatious neo-classical manors in northern Estonia. In his early 20s Kupffer experienced the diversity and vitality of imperial Germany’s avant-garde as it tried out new forms, new lifestyles, new creeds. His own paintings and written work were infected with this same reforming zeal which finally found expression in Clarism, a kind of homoerotic chivalric order embodying Kupffer’s highly idiosyncratic belief system.
Kupffer and his partner Eduard von Mayer established a utopian community of two on the shores of Lago Maggiore, close to where Gusto Gräser launched the long-running experiment in alternative living, Monte Verità. Kupffer frequently used himself as the basis for his paintings and a number of the studies below are preparatory photos for these works. Even the comely young men of Kupffer’s acquaintance who served as models, similarly preserved in beyond-camp poses, usually bore a resemblance to the artist himself.
There is much that delights here, from Saint Sebastian to the homemade priestly robes to go with Kupffer’s DIY Clarist faith. Not forgetting the shorty sailor suit teamed with dark socks and sandals (in case his German heritage was ever in doubt). I’ll definitely be returning to Elisàr von Kupffer, but for now…enjoy.