Monthly Archives: May 2016

‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas’ at the NYBG

peony, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Peony at the NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

If gardens represent a fount of life, revealing some of humankind’s and nature’s finest living creative achievements, artists throughout the centuries have been inspired to recreate on canvas the fanciful delight of blooming plants selected and arranged to display the best of life’s natural pageantry.

As part of the 125th year celebration of the NYBG, the dynamic NYBG team (scores collaborated to mount this exhibition), are paying tribute to the gardens that inspired American Impressionist painters (a brand of impressionism that revolves around subject, not painterly style).

The showpieces of “Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas” receive an exquisite rendering in a unique floral exhibit at the Enid. A. Haupt Conservatory, and complementary display of more than 20 paintings and sculptures in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Art Gallery.

roses, NYBG Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas, Enid A. Haupt Conservatory

Roses at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG exhibit, ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Foxgloves at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG's 'Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.' Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Foxgloves at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Both the art work at the gallery and the show gardens in the conservatory capture American historical trends in painting (in plein air, influenced by French impressionism), around the turn of the 20th century and reflect the renewed interest in Colonial Revival gardens found in private residences and art colonies in the Hamptons and Old Lyme Connecticut.

The vibrant impressionist paintings and the radiant, ebullient floral showcase in the conservatory are mirror images of one another. The paintings reflect the subject American Impressionists were most enthralled by, American gardens.

Daniel Putnam Brinley, 'The Peony Garden,' Matilda Browne, in Voorhees's Garden, William Chadwick, Irises, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Counterclockwise from top: Matilda Browne, “In Voorhees’s Garden,’ William Chadwick, ‘Irises,’ Daniel Putnam Brinley, ‘The Peony Garden,’ NYBG exhibit, ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas, John H. Twachtman, Wildflowers, Theodore Wores, Thomas Moran's House (East Hampton, Long Island), Edmund William Greacen, In Miss Florence's Garden

Counterclockwise from top: Edmund William Greacen, ‘In Miss Florence’s Garden,’ John H. Twachtman, ‘Wildflowers,’ Theodore Wores, ‘Thomas Moran’s House (East Hampton, Long Island)’ NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Artists appreciated that the gardens of the time uniquely characterized the domestic experience on the East Coast. They highlighted how middle and upper middle class Americans turned to their gardens for respite, relaxation, emotional uplift and sanctuary from the confusion of the cities, the unhealthful effects of pollution with heavy industrialization and unsettling urbanization.

The entire exhibition encompassing both venues reveals the marriage between the artists’ impressionism and their veneration of floral homespun, of gardens whose symbolism acknowledged a unique, national character distinct from the formal European gardens of France and the heavy-handed Victorian gardens of the gilded age. Americans seemed to have a desire for such subjects, though every now and then artists honed in on the more formal garden aspect sometimes for utilitarian reasons.

John Singer Sargent, The Fountain of Oceanus, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

John Singer Sargent, ‘The Fountain of Oceanus,’ (1917), NYBG exhibit, ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo Carole Di Tosti

John Singer Sargent, Vase Fountain, Pocantico, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

John Singer Sargent, ‘Vase Fountain Pocantico,’ NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

John Singer Sargent painted The Fountain of Oceanus (1917) and Terrace, Vizcaya (1917), when he was visiting two wealthy families to complete portrait commissions. (both paintings are at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Art Gallery)  William de Leftwich Dodge built a studio house on Long Island in an airy classical style and created a series of Impressionist paintings to magnify his design of the terraced formal gardens and intricate pergolas. (His painting The Artist’s Garden [1916] may also be viewed at the Library Art Gallery)

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti


NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas, Enid A. Haupt Conservatory

NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

At the time (1890s-up to WW I), there was a burgeoning interest in gardening and horticulture. Avid gardeners from spring to fall embraced planting multiple flowering species, so that when segments of flowers finished their growing seasons, others timed with sowings and plantings would be exploding into an exuberant cornucopia of petals as the earlier plantings waned. Thus, the gardens would always or nearly always be in a rainbow of blooms.

Concurrently, artists influenced by European impressionism were returning to America where they evolved their own cultural impressionism centered around intimate American lifestyle subjects.

NYBG, American Gardens on Canvas

NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

They eschewed the panoramic landscapes of the frontier style paintings of the golden west and expansive, mountain stained vistas. They supplanted images of vastness with the discrete, intimate, homely patchwork of every day life in the East. Our impressionists (like the French impressionists), painted urban scenes, old farms, villages with colonial styled homes, picturesque public parks and unpretentious homestyle gardens where the gardeners themselves were nature artists. But these were uniquely American.

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas, Childe Hassam, Old House and Garden, East Hampton, Long Island

Child Hassam, ‘Old House and Garden, East Hampton, Long Island,’ (1898) at NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

persian buttercup, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas, NYBG

Persian buttercup at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG exhibit, ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

There was a synergy that occurred by happenstance. Following French Impressionist Claude Monet’s example at Giverney, some artists (Hugh Henry Breckenridge, John H. Twachtman, Maria Oakey Dewing, William de Leftwich Dodge), planted their own gardens to evoke inspiration, then applied paint to canvas distilling the picturesque living arrangement they had effected in an intriguing unity of aesthetics. The conceptualization was that the gardens were echoes of their canvas counterparts; they were living paintings. What the artist did was to telescope the natural beauty not with a realistic style of painting, but one that was restive, evocative, with heavier brushstrokes. The thickness of paint teased out amorphous shapes and these hinted at the innate virtuosity of animate flowers. Artists could glorify an expansive color palette which reflected life’s infinite variety and emphasized an explosive riot of colors bursts.

Gardens like Ceilia Thaxter’s (Appledore Island, Maine), provided a wealthy subject for artists like Childe Hassum, who was a regular visitor to Thaxter’s seaside garden.

Childe Hassam, Celia Thaxter's Garden, Appledore, Isles of Shoals, NYBG Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Childe Hassam, ‘Celia Thaxter’s Garden, Appledore, Isles of Shoals’ (1890), NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Floral show at the NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

He painted in plein air and enjoyed the luminosity of the sunlight bouncing off the alternate churning ocean waves and smooth glassine waters. Thaxter was a poet, writer, gardener and quasi-horticulturalist whose informal summer artist colony was frequented by renowned romantic/abolitionist/regional writers (i.e. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Greenleaf Whittier, Sarah Orne Jewett), and painters (William Morris Hunt and Childe Hassum), both of whom painted her and her colorful botanical evolutions.

Thaxter’s grounds, like other artist/gardeners of the period made sure her beds  were replete with quaint and strikingly picturesque old-fashioned floral favorites of grandma’s “thrown-together” garden.

Through various seasons, these might include spiking blooms of phlox, hollyhock, lupines, piquant snap dragons and pointed delphiniums, the popular, tasty sweet peas, puff-ball hydrangeas, carpeting forget-me-nots, bachelor buttons and sweet-faced violas, that ran like pixies up to the edge of porches and backdoors and nooks and crannies.

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Iris at the NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Iris planted by the cottage at the NYBG exhibit, ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

And in corners blue and yellow iris might appear to their finest advantage. From spring to fall, an exquisite luxuriance of flowers blossomed. Examples of these species may currently be seen blooming in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory floral showcase.

These widely planted varieties along with roses, peonies, cleomes (spider flowers), baby’s breath, cosmos, strawflowers, poppies, and golden tickweed at various times of spring and summer months flourished in wide swaths of varicolored beds planted to imbue a non-formal seemingly random outgrowth. Conscious gardeners intentioned the appearance of  helter skelter, profuse arrangements, as if the plants themselves decided which spots suited them best and plopped there unceremoniously to stretch out and take the sun and rain with ease.

Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

American gardens at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG exhibit, ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Country cottage at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

Attention was given to colonial revivalist styles where gardens were utilitarian, intimate and incorporated the lifestyle arrangements of the family so that the matron of the house, for example, could fling open the backdoor and pick the heavenly scented lavender to create sachets or go to the side of the house to pick peonies for a table arrangement.

Beginning with inspiration from the artists whose adoration of vintage gardens as a throwback to a more gentile and nostalgic time, Guest Curator Linda S. Ferber applied her expertise to investigate seminal works, some known, some from less renowned American impressionists.

Poppies and sunflowers at the NYBG's 'Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.' Photo Carole Di Tosti

Poppies and sunflowers at the NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo Carole Di Tosti

Strawflower, hot bikini, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Strawflower ‘hot bikini’ at the NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

From the guest curator’s selections which included one formal garden, the predominance of works encompassed the artistic loveliness of dooryard gardens of homes in various locales in the East, some in Pennsylvania and Maine and some in the Hamptons, New York which picture grey shingled houses festooned by splashes of variegated hued plants.

The various works then provided the creative heart for Francisca Coelho and the horticultural staff to gain their inspiration and provide the doorway into recreating a three season garden encapsulating the style, elegant simplicity and peace-filled homey comfort these American gardens exuded.

Their splendid result abides in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory even to the recreation of the grey clapboard, white shuttered country cottage that one would adore living in to escape the frenetic pace of the city. The cottage has a porch with rocking chairs and if you sit in one and look out on the hollyhocks, foxgloves, delphiniums, sweet peas, beauteous painted tongue and all the flowers previously mentioned here (you need to take an up close and personal view to catch them all), you will exhale a deep breath and allow the fragrances and mystical plenitude of nature to incite your senses and move you to a peaceful sense of well being.

This splendid exhibit at the New York Botanical Gardens runs from May 14th through September 11, 2016. To purchase tickets and check programming for the event and throughout the summer click the website HERE.

A facsimile of this article appears on Blogcritics at this site.










‘Parity Productions Champions Women and Transgender Artists’


Parity Productions, Gramercy Park

Through the window onto a new reality. Parity Productions launch was hosted by Janos Aranyi and Theresa Llorente in their beautiful home overlooking Gramercy Park. Photo by Carole Di Tosti


Criticism of women advocating for equal pay, equal voice and equal command over their destiny has been easily dismissed by men and their willing women sycophants who have slimed women with the “F” word as “feminist” ideologues. Any momentum to provide women with the opportunity to excel has always been demeaned as “unnecessary” and has been met with resistance.

That is as it should be. Resistance is more productive than hypocritical co-optation which lulls individuals into believing they have made progress when actually they have been running the perimeters of zero.

In the arts, in live theater and in film there has been tremendous resistance to hire women behind the scenes as directors, playwrights, designers, technicians, et. al. And gender inequality is rife in front of the camera as well, with male dominated film subjects, lead characters, stories and well funded blockbusters taking all of the pie and male dominated companies reaping heavy proceeds leaving the crumbs to women lackeys lining up at the back of the bus. (Jennifer Lawrence is in a minority of one with few female colleagues even nearing her status)

A recent Variety article identified gender inequality is not only a plague in the US film and entertainment industry but it is as endemic in Europe as well.  If we don’t understand why and how this has happened, we stand the chance of never equalizing gender roles in the arts.

Parity Productions launch, Ludovica Villar-Hauser

There was a cocktail hour where guests mingled and were welcomed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser and her team of collaborators at Parity Productions.

Paul Feig (Spy, Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters), who was honored at the 6th Annual Athena Film Festival  with their “Leading Man Award” because of his outspoken stance and support for women, spoke about the under-representation of women in the arts. He labeled it as the “banality of evil.” In other words this has not been an overtly “wicked” and intentional act on the part of men in power.

Feig implied that gender inequity has been borne out of negligence, out of a lack of attention to necessity…the necessity to recognize and reward women for their incredible talents and contributions. That banality is part of the continuance of gender dominance and the comfort of the “young/old boy’s network,” which speaks a “common language” as it comfortably objectifies women. It is these issues and others that have spurred on an unconscious dismissal of women and the passing over of those who are not ready gender cronies.

As for those who have an active mentor or help-meet to give them the 10 legs up they need to begin to compete? There are vastly too few men willing to act as mentors. Women are the ones who must mentor each other as has been occurring with conferences like Women in the World.

Ludovica Villar-Hauser, Parity Productions

Opening remarks by Founder and Artistic Director of Parity Productions, Ludovica Villar-Hauser. Photo Carole Di Tosti


Indeed, the government is taking notice. There has been a call to investigate gender discrimination against women directors in the film industry which hopefully will be carried over into theater and the entertainment arts, though the recent cry has been that things have been getting better for women in the theater. Really?

Thanks to the resistance in the entertainment industry, whether intentional or not, women are joining advocacy groups and creating their own teams to combat the gender inequality in the entertainment arts like never before.

We Do It Together is an example of a global non-profit which has been created to finance and produce films centered around women and dedicated to the empowerment of women.

Others groups like Parity Productions are NYC based with a global reach. They are organizing and strengthening themselves with unity and coherence of purpose by establishing their own opportunities increasing women and transgender representation in the arts so that gender equality is the rule, not the exception.

Ludovica Villar=Hauser, Founder and Artistic Director, Parity Productions, Antoinette LeVecchia, Village Stories, Parity Productions launch

(L to R): Ludovica Villar-Hauser, Founder and Artistic Director, Parity Productions, actress Elizabeth Jasicki, getting ready to present from her one woman tour-de-force ‘Village Stories’ at the Parity Productions launch. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The launch of Parity Productions on Monday May 16, 2016, is noteworthy because it is one of the more accessible ventures in a city known for being difficult to break into at all levels of the entertainment matrix. Parity Productions according to its Founder and Artistic Director, Ludovica Villar-Hauser is the “first organization to combine the art of theater with advocacy for women and transgender artists.” The company mission looks to produce new works and has pledged to hire at least 50% women and transgender artists on every production as well as supporting other productions that have pledged to do the same.

Parity Productions has been blessed that the estate of Sylvia Sleigh has made a donation of 25 rare works of art in the name of Sylvia Sleigh who was a progressive, Welsh-American artist. Sleigh represented equality of subject and treatment of men and women in her art. Her works are being offered for sale as part of the fund raising initiative and can be purchased through the Parity Store (click here).

Shows that Parity Productions will be presenting for the 2016 season are the delightful Village Stories in the summer and the historical Household Words in the fall. Both represent an intriguing and complex look into the place of women striving against paternalism  in the past and how that perspective has ramifications for both men and women in the present. To get a heads up on ticket sales, click HERE.

A Million Daffodils, Celebrating NYBG’s 125 Anniversary

NYBG, 125th Anniversary NYBG, one million daffodials initiative

Project 1 million daffodils at the NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The past week and one-half has been deary, cloudy and rainy as the cold front lingered. However, the week before, Earth Day weekend festivities at the NYBG sported good weather. The sun peeked out and it was warmer from noon on, just in time to appreciate the daffodil blooms at their height as well as the wine tastings and  interesting wine and distilled spirit selections from upstate and around the city (The City Winery).

NYBG, Daffodil initiative

NYBG planters with the colors of spring, daffodils and violets. Photo, Carole Di Tosti

To celebrate the 126th anniversary, the NYBG is planting 1,000,000 daffodils and I had the opportunity of seeing their initial efforts which began with the expansion of the historic Narcissus collection at Daffodil Hill where staff planted 150,000 bulbs in October 2015.

On that Earth Day Daffodil Sunday, walking the by-ways past the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden into the farther reaches where I had never gone before, the daffodils were in heady bloom along with the flowering cherries and other blooming trees.

NYBG, one million daffodil project

            NYBG one million daffodil initiative. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

It was spectacular. I was glad that I arrived earlier in the day because I knew the crowds would be thick as they meandered with drinks and cameras in hand stopping for photos or sitting on the grassy areas in the sun to enjoy the wine and light snacks that were available for purchase.

NYBG, the one million daffodil initiative, 125th Annerversary Celebration

                            Daffodils and flowering cherry trees at the NYBG.

The initial planting is now on the increase and over the next six years, staff, volunteers and members will be adding more plantings (in the tens of thousands), each year in October until that magical number is reached. British romantic poet William Wordsworth wrote about the spiritual renewal we feel through nature’s beauty.

one million daffodil project, NYBG

NYBG daffodils part of the ongoing 1 million daffodils project over the next 5 years. Photo Carole Di Tosti

In a famous poem of his, “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud,” the narrator/Wordsworth discusses his feeling disconsolate and alone as he took long walks seeking to be uplifting in his soul. But it was only when he came across a dazzling array of golden of daffodils that stretched as far as his eyes could see, that his heart and spirits regenerated.  And whenever those downcast feelings would arise, he had only to see “in his mind’s eye” that vision of the joyful daffodils “dancing in the breeze” to become restored to a state of balance and contentment.

NYBG, Daffodil Hill

NYBG near Daffodil Hill. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

When this daffodil initiative is completed in the next years our experience will recall Wordsworth’s. It will be breathtaking  to see daffodils that span the lawns and Daffodil Hill in a great swath of yellow, gold, tricolor and cream yellow in a multitude of varieties. After the project is completed in a few years, for those who visit Daffodil Hill at the NYBG, as they look in the distance and turn around in every direction, they will see daffodils, thick and lush in the landscape, smiling and dancing in the breeze. Like Wordsworth it will be a picture that one can recall to remembrance in the heft of winter as a heavenly uplift that spring is on its way.

The pictures that follow represent the initial stages of the one million daffodil project. Daffodils which symbolize rebirth and are known elsewhere as the “Lent Lilly” because they grow and burgeon during Lent are a lovely choice to recognize and appreciate the NYBG’s 125th year in the Bronx.

NYBG, Daffodil Hill, one million daffodil initiative

Flowering cherry tree at the NYBG near Daffodil Hill. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Daffodil Hill

 NYBG near Daffodil Hill. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, one million daffodil initiative

 NYBG, Daffodil Hill, one million daffodil initiative. Photo, Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Daffodil Hill

 NYBG Daffodil Hill, one million daffodil initiative. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, 125th Anniversary, one million daffodil initiative

 NYBG, Daffodil Hill, one million daffodil initiative. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, 125th Anniversary, Daffodil Weekend, one million daffodil initiative

Along the wine tasting trail at the NYBG, 125th Anniversary Celebration and Daffodil weekend. Photo, Carole Di Tosti

The wineries who displayed their selections at the NYBG were from upstate New York. Some are featured below and their websites are listed if you click on the name:  PALAIA WINERY.

NYBG Wine Tasting at the 125th Anniversary Celebration during Daffodil weekend. Photo, Carole Di Tosti

NYBG Wine Tasting at the 125th Anniversary Celebration during Daffodil weekend. Featured are Palaia Winery wines.  Photo by Carole Di Tosti



NYBG Wine Tasting at the 125th Anniversary Celebration of the one million daffodil initiative. Featured are wines from Brimstone Hill Winery. Photo by Carole Di Tosti


NYBG Wine Tasting, Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery, one million daffodil initiative, 125th Anniversary

NYBG Wine Tasting and 125th Anniversary Celebration with the one million daffodil initiative. Featured wines by Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery. Photo by Carole Di Tosti.


NYBG Wine Tasting, Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery (Black Dirt Distillery). Photo, Carole Di Tosti

NYBG Wine Tasting, Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery (Black Dirt Distillery). Photo, Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Daffodil initiative, 125th Anniversary

More daffodils at the NYBG one million daffodil initiative. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The NYBG is offering an opportunity to become a part of the legacy. A contribution of $25.00 will support the planting of five daffodil bulbs that will be contribute to the one million daffodil display in the next few years. Gifts can be made in honor or memory of a loved one and the family member or honoree may be notified of your thoughtful gift with a card. To make a gift, be a part of the one million daffodil initiative or learn about other dedication opportunities call Lisa Sifre at 718-817-8545 or e-mail Or visit

Talking With Ralph Fiennes About ‘A Bigger Splash’

Ralph Fiennes, A Bigger Splash

The irrepressible Ralph Fiennes press day NYC for ‘A Bigger Splash.’ Photo by Carole Di tosti

Ralph Fiennes was at the NYC press day held at the Park Hyatt to discuss A Bigger Splash. In the film which also stars Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson, Fiennes gives an energetic, profound, and spot-on portrayal as Harry Hawkes, music producer who seeks out his former love Marianne (Tilda Swinton), a rock star who is recuperating from voice surgery. Marianne and Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), are luxuriating on sultry, wind-wily Pantelleria, the island between Italy and Africa. Pantelleria plays an intriguing and unpredictable character in the film, especially as a contrasting presence to the main characters who are well off and revel in their high-end getaway.

Fiennes’ Harry is an amazing personality. He is frenetic, electric, exciting with shades of irrepressible abandon. He is an admixture of winds, like those on the island: he is incapable of drawing lines of propriety when it comes to restoring his love with Marianne; yet he combines his desires for salvation by her with an acute and keen sense of authenticity and blunt truthfulness that is admirable. The character of Harry is quite unlike his film portrayal of Gustav, the honorable, reserved, always impeccable and soulfully noble concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Fiennes’ virtuoso acting skills which are also legion on the stage, allow him to pull out all the stops in his complex, exceptional portrayal of Harry. He discussed Harry and entertained six of us with his effervescent story telling skills during the roundtable. The versatile stage and film actor is also a director and at the end of the interview, Fiennes shared his latest multiple endeavors.

Last time we saw you was in The Grand Budapest Hotel. You were wonderful. I was hoping that the film would receive the Academy Award. It was a phenomenal film.

(Ralph Fiennes shyly smiles.) Good, good. Thank you.

Tilda Swinton, A Bigger Splash

Tilda Swinton is Marianne Lane in ‘A Bigger Splash.’ At NYC press day. Photo by Carole Di Tosti


Great contrast in portrayals from The Grand Budapest to A Bigger Splash. It was an inspiration to see you move from that character to Harry Hawkes. Could you feel physically, the difference between these two characters?

Oh, Yes. Very much. In The Grand Budagest, there’s a sort of upright postural thing going on which I think I identified early on as I remember. And of course Harry moves completely differently.

They are like night and day.

It seems to me that they are. Everything about Gustav from his costume to his upright posture is different from Harry. Harry is a rock and roller. (Ralph smiles)


Could you talk about the shoot on Pantelleria as an intriguing location which created its own dynamic?

Yeah, Pantelleria. I didn’t know what I was going to encounter there. I had a sense of some place sunny in the Mediterranean. It’s quite an odd place because there is no other island near it, and it’s volcanic. It must be that it’s sort of on a massive finger of rock that sticks up because the water encircling it is very deep. There are no beaches. And it’s very windy. And it doesn’t feel like Italy. It’s closer to Africa, I think. Odd place, odd because it’s quite rugged even though there is this August summer holiday-like thing happening. But that’s only in August.

It’s quite an eccentric place and the winds are unsettling. They sort of nag at you. They tug at you. It’s not that restful. When the winds stop and you feel the heat, it can be very calm. But the winds change direction all the time. Constantly. Because there are no beaches, you’re conscious of there being these homes. Dammusi is the name. And a single house is a dammuso. And lots of wealthy Italians have their holiday homes there. Armani is famous for being there and has a house there and he’s there precisely for the whole of August.

Ralph Fiennes, NYC press day at the Park Hyatt. He plays Harry Hawkes in 'A Bigger Splash,' directed by Luca Guadagnino. Photo, Carole Di Tosti

Ralph Fiennes, NYC press day at the Park Hyatt. He plays Harry Hawkes in ‘A Bigger Splash,’ directed by Luca Guadagnino. Photo, Carole Di Tosti

I remember a couple of times I went out with this local fisherman called Mimo in his little boat composed of flakey wood. Mimo’s a classic local fisherman with his little bottle of wine, offering up some olives and bread. And we jumped over the    side into the water with our masks and the boat would chug, chug, chug along quite slowly.

Once we anchored in a little lagoon. Then suddenly I heard this sort of low throb of an engine. And there was this long, long, sleek, state of the art motor boat that drifted into view. There in the back was…gray hair…sunglasses…Giorgio. And there were all of these beautiful people, men and women, all sort of draped around the boat. And there they sat in the water (Ralph makes a purring noise of the boat engines…smiling at the humor of the incident). And Mimo said, (in Ralph’s best Italian accent), “Hey Gorgio.” And they sat and watched us, with me and a couple of friends looking a bit messy. They sat and hovered in the water (thrummmm), and went away again. Very funny to see all these sunglasses switching to a view in one direction. (we laugh at Ralph’s acutely humorous visual description and innate story telling skills)

Your character is not really likable. But he is charming and witty and is intelligent about a myriad of different subjects, but he’s so self-centered and narcissistic. What was it like reading him in a script and then portraying him on the screen? Do you like him?

I do like him. I like him for all the reasons you said. There’s an honesty about him. I think you can take the view that these four people are privileged people and are sitting in their own dysfunction. For Harry…there is something malign and something benign. He’s a sort of devil figure, like a satyr. He’s there to provoke people into self-recognition. He’s got his own demons. And I agree he is narcissistic to some extent. But I like the things he says. I love the lines where he says, “The men have had their chances. It’s the women’s chance to run the world now.” There’s another great line that he says, “We’re all obscene, but we love each other anyway.”

I think he wants no bullshit connection with people. But he’s also a muddled man. The best of Harry is someone who is very direct and doesn’t bullshit. He’s mercilessly honest. And though the film doesn’t show this, I believe he’s a very, very good music producer. Actually, in the room with an artist, he’s brilliant. He really knows his stuff. But he’s a bit of a lost soul. For all his verbosity and provocative antics, underneath, he’s actually a lost person. That’s why he wants Marianne to give him some kind of anchoring.

In the evolution of his character…how you evolved him through the film, when he first goes to the island, does he sense that there’s any impulse to destroy himself?

Good question. I think it might be unconscious (Ralph contemplates), unconscious. Because I think that it is quite a provocative thing to do. To push yourself in on someone’s private holiday. You have to really willfully ignore all the norms. I wonder what a psychotherapist would say about that sort of behavior? It strikes me that it’s unconsciously self-destructive.

You mention about how important it is that he’s a brilliant music producer. A music producer has a different role from a producer in a film. A music producer takes what’s buried in the music and takes what’s best about the musician and, not imposing his will, the producer gets the musician to channel the best performance      

He’s brilliant at that.                                                                                                                  

Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, A Bigger Splash

Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson in ‘A Bigger Splash.’ Photo by Jack Engish, Twentieth Century Fox and Fox Searchlight.

Could you talk about what you might have learned from the role. If you met some music producers now, what questions would you ask as a result of the film?

My brother’s a music producer. I sat with him in recording studios and I’ve worked with music producers on films I’ve directed. I’ve seen music producers guide musicians with a language I don’t know, but I can see how they are shaping musicians. And when I was directing these two films, I was able to say, though I’ve not much musical or technical knowledge, I would be able to say, “Can it be more like this?” And they would understand what I was trying to say and they would have the skills to say, “No we need to do this or play that on a lower key, and don’t come in too quick on that.”

So I sort of got a sense of what that would involve. And I was reading these books about The Rolling Stones that were helpful background reading. One was about Keith Richards’ life and the other was a book called The True Stories of The Rolling Stones by an American journalist on the Altamont Tour. He was present at the Muscle Shoals’ recording of “Sticky Fingers” and he was there to hear “Wild Horses” being recorded and put down. That was very useful to connect my own little, tiny experience being in recording studios to understand, you know, how musicians go on and on and on playing, and have breaks, have a row and suddenly the magic is there. Or the producer says, “Try doing this,” or “Try playing in that key.” And I thought that’s what Harry’s really good at. Sadly, the film doesn’t show this. But it helped me to know it (Ralph laughs).

Did you collaborate with Mick Jagger?

No, no I didn’t. I understood that the material was sent to them, meaning their representatives. And they knew about it and we got notes on the story. And they were happy for us to, as it were, incorporate the story for Harry. But it was based on a true story of a producer’s. The name I can’t remember right now, but it is a true story. This producer did say, “Try playing the percussion on the trash can in the recording in Dublin for Voodoo Lounge.”

A Bigger Splash, film poster

Poster of ‘A Bigger Splash,’ courtesy of the film. Photo by Carole Di Tosti, taken NYC press day at the Park Hyatt.

Did you and Tilda work out the characters’ history? It’s such a long and toxic tumultuous relationship.

We talked about it a bit. But I don’t remember talking about it at huge length. We would share our own sense of what our backstory was. But it was quite clear from the script what it was. I think we did talk about it, but it just fell into place quite quickly. All four of us quite quickly seemed to be playing who we are. Luca is not one, and I think he would agree with me, he’s not one given to exhaustive analysis and discussion. There are directors who will pick away in detail at the backstory. I think Luca just got his cast and wants to let the energy unfold between them and doesn’t want to interfere too much.

How do you see your relationship with Penelope? Is he using her to get back on Marianne? There is a lot of ambiguity between them but at the same time there is a good dynamic also.

He believes, as I imagined it, that this is his daughter as a result of an affair or a fling he had 18 years before. I’m not sure whether Harry knows her real age. I imagine the daughter said to her mother, “I want to meet my father.” She had been a model or whatever…Penelope/Dakota had her backstory. Anyway, the mother rings up, we have a daughter of 18 years, or maybe he knows about the daughter but he’s never met her.  It moves to “Our daughter wants to meet you.” So he says, “Cool. Fine. Let’s meet.” He’s been with Penelope the last month or so traveling around Italy. And I think he’s enjoying the experience. Harry is someone who’s open to what that experience will be and who she is. He hasn’t pushed her away or closed her off. And I think he’s gotten to like her, finds her interesting. She challenges him and he says in a scene…of course she’s sexy, a young, sexy girl and he can deal with that.

I don’t think he’s tried anything transgressive or incestuous with her, but I think because they’ve never experienced each other as a child or baby or young adolescent, I think they enjoy this slightly flirty vibe that they have. But I don’t think it’s fucked up in any way. I think, as you say, it’s ambivalent. Dakota and I seemed to find it quickly whatever this thing is. She’ll sing “Unforgettable” with him and she’ll enjoy the vibe of sort of flirtatious proximity. I don’t think that Harry’s trying to get into bed with her. Not at all. Not remotely. In fact I think he likes to feel that energy, but he will never cross that line. I think he’s actually quite protective of her.

Any more directing for you?

Yeah. I’m developing some screenplays to direct, but it won’t be for a while.

Any chance you’ll come to Broadway? I’ve seen everything you’ve done there and loved it.

Well, I was hoping to come to Broadway this autumn with The Masterbuilder.


But actually the producers…well, it’s a sellout in London.

Of course. I’ve read that it is.

I don’t know. I think it will come here in the next couple of years.

I hope so.


This article first appeared on Blogcritics.

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