The Mysterious Face of Fifty Portraits

Jules Pascin, Maria Lani, not dated. Charcoal on paper, 26 1/4 x 20 3/4 in. Gift of Jean Goriany, 1943. The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

Cruising through our collection on the Google Art Project, I came across this charcoal portrait of a woman who called herself Maria Lani by Jules Pascin. I was drawn in by her confrontational pose, the arched brows, her offered jaw and aligned bobbed hair. Consulting the library’s copy of the always entertaining Kiki’s Paris: Artists and Lovers 1900-1930, I found the kind of good story I was hoping for.

Lani was a mysterious woman of Polish descent (she also went by the name Maria Ilyin) who arrived in 1920s Montparnasse with her husband, a Russian man named Maximilien Abramovitch. Though without a cent, the pair had a story of wanting to produce a film, starring Lani, and featuring a collection of portraits that would menacingly come to life. Using her intellect and beauty, Lani was able to persuade a shocking number of artists into painting, drawing, and sculpting her likeness, including Jules Pascin. The apotheosis of her apparent scheme were gallery shows of over fifty of the works. A Berlin show at Alfred Flechtheim’s gallery included works by Braque, Chagall, De Chirico, Cocteau, Derain, Dufy, Léger, and Matisse, just to name a few! (The book notes that Picasso was one of the only artists to turn her down.)

After a 1930 show in Paris at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, apparently Lani disappeared with all of the works and needless to say, the film was never made. There is still not a great deal known about Lani; a Google search reveals quite a few images, but not much biographical information, not even an obituary. (Though the book referenced an article in Paris Match in 1954 when she died.) You can find a YouTube video of John Galliano’s Spring/Summer Ready-to-Wear 2011 collection in which he cites Lani as his inspiration. At 1:11 in the video, you can hear him tell her story. Something about this woman made her a popular muse.

Style Profile: Raphaela Guzman

Three images of Raphaela Guzzman modeling an outfit.

Photos: Josh Navarro

Josh Navarro: How would you describe your style?

Raphaela Guzman: Part of me always tries to keep it classy, but I’m incapable of taking myself seriously. My weakness for florals and the bright colors usually runs the show, so my style ends up being kind of kooky. Sometimes I pick certain colors or patterns because they are evocative of things I wore as a kid, and I take comfort in them.

JN: Any favorite shops around town?

RG: My favorite places are two quirky little shops in Takoma Park called Now and Then and S&A Beads. I always walk away with an awesome handmade scarf or bracelet, or a witty bag.

JN: What are you wearing in this shoot?

RG: A J.Crew chambray shirt, Silence + Noise floral skirt, red tights from Modcloth, grey and white Dr. Marten’s oxfords, a periwinkle Casio watch, and François Pinton glasses.


Photos: Josh Navarro

Photos: Josh Navarro

I chose to photograph Omar Masri, the friendly face of Tryst at the Phillips, because he gets to dress like himself at work. His casual style is always visible.

Josh Navarro: How would you describe your style?

Omar Masri: Omar’s style: European sensibility that’s progressed into a hipster aesthetic. I have over 20 pairs of shoes, from sneakers to oxfords and toms. I grew up in a family that is fashion forward and dresses up for every occasion, from going to the grocery store to cocktail parties or just lounging at the house. Everyone was always dressed up. I feel that way about my style with a relaxed flair; throwing on a pair of comfortable Asics Onitsuka Tigers or Adidas Sambas, Levi 511 jeans or shorts, and Penguin shirts.

JN: Any favorite shops in the city?

OM: You can never go wrong with Buffalo Exchange for last minute ideas before a party or dress it up at All Saints in Georgetown.

JN: What are you wearing in this shoot?

OM: Penguin shirt, 511 navy blue jeans, and black and white Adidas Sambas.