Thursday, 9 January 2014

Painting Challenge and the Verdun Project: Mata Hari



As part of Curt’s Analogue Hobbies Painting Competition I wanted to prepare an entry for the second themed round, the title of which was “Villains”. After some thought, I decided I wanted to try to keep all my themed entries focused loosely on the battle of Verdun in 1916. I hit upon the idea of preparing a couple of models for perhaps the most famous villain(ess) of the Great War, Margaretha Geertruida Zelle – better known as Mata Hari.



There’s a huge amount about Mata Hari on the internet, and I’m guessing everyone here knows the story of the Dutch exotic dancer whose provocative and flirtatious dancing became famous before the War started, and whose later career during the War became one of a courtesan embroiled in espionage and scandal.

Her story is pretty remarkable. Reading more about her, I felt Mata Hari deserved not one but three images for the “Villains” theme. I had purchased a couple of models of Mata Hari a few years back from Alex Bagosy via the always-excellent Lead Adventure Forum. That gave me the chance to prepare a series of Mata Hari models, each one focusing on different parts of her story, and mix at least one of them with a little “Alternative History”.

Here’s what I came up with…..



The first figure is Mata Hari as she became famous in Paris before the Great War – the City of light, of champagne, of laughter and of dubious morality. Here she’s depicted on the stage of the Musée Guimet in 1905, a bouquet of trumpet lilies at her feet. And, as I knew Curt would like it, she’s painted in greyscale, perhaps to offset the lurid gas-lights of the Parisian stage. The base is built up with "grey stuff" putty, including the lilies, which I struggled with quite a bit. My wife really likes these flowers, but looking at them in a vase, I admit that I've only really managed a rough representation of them.

Next, we see Mata Hari dancing in more private surroundings during the War. Perhaps for Captain Vadime de Masloff (her historical lover) or perhaps for a French general ensnared in Mata Hari’s web of seduction and betrayal, his be-medalled tunic, letters and High Command despatches lying thoughtlessly discarded on the carpeted floor of a hotel close to the Gare du Nord. The base was built up with "grey stuff" floorboards and carpet, with some very inexpensive plastic doll's house furniture which I found on eBay for a couple of pounds. I'd had the gramophone for a while ( it narrowly avoided being British "trench loot" for German trench raiders a couple of years back), and I thought it would be ideal for Mata Hari's hotel room. I added the carelessly discarded trench map out of the foil from an old wine bottle top, and then added more "grey stuff", this time in the form of a French General officer's uniform complete with medal. A spaniel completed the somewhat eclectic scene in the Gare du Nord hotel.


I drew the line at including the French General in the hotel bed waiting for his lover. This is, after all, a family blog!

And finally, in the last vignette, and in a blast of Alternative History, the terrible result of Mata Hari’s espionage is clear for all to see. A discarded copy of "Le Petit Parisien" (no doubt dropped by a stunned and shocked veteran of the 1870 campaign close to a Paris Metro station) announces in sombre tones the fall of Verdun to the Germans on a cold Autumnal day in 1916. A copy of the newspaper, and stolen, confidential or purloined despatches are placed on the back seat of Mata Hari’s limousine as she quietly leaves Paris, with fallen leaves and doubtless a fallen French Government in her wake.





The car is a lavish 1910 Mercedes, complete with liveried chauffeur, picked up from Ebay for a couple of pounds with a couple of changes such as adding transparent plasticard for the front windows. Both Mata Hari and chauffeur are from Sloppy Jalopy, although Mata Hari was converted with a new hat, matching the one she was wearing while arrested in 1917. 





The base was built up from non-warping marine plywood, with a plasticard set of paving stones. The lamppost was scratch built using two plastic rods, and topped with a plasticard sign and a plastic lamp fixture from one of my daughter's old toys. I wanted to try and creat a Parisian "feel" to the scene - a sense of a time and place. I thought about producing additional figures, or a small building, but it was hard to think of anything quite as evocative as a sign for the Paris Metro. 


 
I also wanted to try and create the background of the fictional fall of Verdun. This was perhaps the most fun thing of all to do. I found a copy of “Le Petit Parisien” newspaper from 1910 online and photoshopped a new headline onto it – “Verdun Pris Par Les Allemands". I then reduced the photoshopped page to a tiny size, and cut it out. I tinted the paper with a wash of paint, and then crumpled it slightly and painted the whole with a glaze of PVA glue to keep its shape so that it would look as if a Parisian had been so shocked by the news he had simply dropped the newspaper on the street. Quelle horreur!





To try and echo the devastating news, I made a second newspaper for the back of the limousine, and added a brace of letters - perhaps stolen letters from a lover in the Deuxieme Bureau, or messages from Mata Hari's own spymaster - on the back seat of her limousine.


The autumn leaves we're added with more PVA glue. I bought a small pack a long time ago from Antenocitti's Workshop, and they are still going strong! Trying to get the right colours to stand out against the grey base was a good way to spend half an hour.



And that was about it for the third vignette. It was a lot of fun to do, perhaps especially because of the chance to weave Alternative History into a model. I'm on the lookout for other ideas like this from the Great War, so with luck I may be able to do something like this again - ideally with a model from the front line. 




Next up will hopefully be some veteran hardened French infantry from the battlefields of Verdun, although this will have to wait for a few days following being submitted for Curt's Challenge. In the meantime, I'll try and post on the blog some of the handouts I've been mentioning for some time.

66 comments:

  1. The attention to detail and level of skill is just astounding. Can't wait to see any WW1 French coming up!

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    1. Thanks very much! Thanks for dropping by!

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  2. Magnificent work, Sydney, all around, from the choice of topics (a very apropos choice given your France in the Great War interest) to the execution and the narrative at the end (a much more pleasing one to imagine, at least for her if not for France, than her actual end in front of a firing squad). Quite brilliant - I am sure it will do well in the Challenge.
    Incidentally, while Sylvia Kristel is famous for portraying Mata Hari, my favourite screen version of her is Greta Garbo - the Garbo film has what may be one of the worst lines in movie history, when her lover exclaims, "Why, what's the matter, Mata?" They don't write 'em like that anymore.
    Bravo,
    Michael

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    1. Michael, thanks so much! The more I read about Mata Hari, the more I realised just how tragic her story was. Her glory days were really before the outbreak of the First World War, although by 1916 she was apparently famous enough (in an age without widespread visual media) to be recognisable throughout France. By the time of her arrest she seems to simply have been trapped and overwhelmed by the forces arrayed against her. So, yes, I am quite sure that she would have preferred a departure from Paris in a limousine as against a police van!

      I almost posted the Greta Garbo film poster on those Blog post, and would certainly have done so had I known about THAT line from the film!! Magnifique!!

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  3. That car is superb! Excellent work on that one!

    Greetings
    Peter

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  4. An inspired creation Sidney. Top work. The car diorama is wonderfully executed.

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    1. Thanks Dave, that's kind. On to the next themed challenge now!

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  5. Fantastic work! Your little vignettes are so full of live and little details...

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    1. Thanks! Glad you've enjoyed them! More to come!

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  6. Just top class work...and great imagination.

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    1. It was a lot of fun to do, to be honest. I almost laughed when I had the idea of doing the newspaper. That really was fun to do :)

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  7. That diorama is simply outstanding Sid! Great work.

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  8. Wow. This entry just blew me away.

    I am in awe.

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    1. No need for awe, Tim. I'm distinctly and very ordinary! But thanks anyway!!

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  9. An incredible set of models; I hope you don't assume that when I say it's one of the finest sets of conversions I've ever seen that it's trite hyperbole, they really are lovely models that should take pride of place in your collection.

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    1. Ed, thank you so much. That really is very kind. I'm just really glad you liked them.

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  10. Fantastic work all around! You have to find a way to sneak that car into one of your gorgeous games.

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    1. I won't say too much Monty, but there is a game I have planned (very vaguely) where she may come in very useful. It may not be for quite a few months as I need a few more figures and some more terrain.....but you'll smile if I ever get around to it!!

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  11. Fantastic work Sydney, just fantastic!

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  12. That is a terrific piece of art! Your attention to the details is magnifique!

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    1. Thank you so much Jonathan. That's very kind! Merci!

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  13. Love it - them! Fantastic. Not only superb vigenettes but with a delightful historical background. Truly something to behold.

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    1. Thanks Paul. I really appreciate that. Trying to add some specific historical background to the figures is something which was a lot of fun -so much so I'm trying to think of other examples to try.

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  14. Tryly stunning work Sidney !!!

    I´m very impressed by all the work you seems to have put in to this build ! Love the way you made the newspapers.

    Lovely !!!

    Best regards Michael

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    1. The newspapers were a lot of fun to do. And they were really easy. If you don't have photoshop, you can do exactly the same in PowerPoint. Thanks for dropping by!

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  15. Just awesome Sidney! This is truly fantastic!

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    1. Thanks Rodger - really glad you liked it!

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  16. Fan-flippin'-tastic.
    Great work on all three.

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  17. That's a wonderful post, fantastic work on the car, very inspired, love the beautiful details!

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  18. I'm always impressed by your work, Sidney - but this is truly amazing.

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    1. That's very kind indeed. I really enjoyed doing them, and I'm very pleased you liked them!

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  19. Blinkin' brilliant work. I find the thought process behind the making of the model fascinating.

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    1. Thanks Matt. I thought people might find it interesting (and probably deeply troubling) to know what goes on inside my head!

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  20. Truly remarkable creation! So much lovely details.

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  21. Outstanding Sidney, absolutely outstanding; as all your work is! I love the idea of a story attached to the figures and that they aren't typical fighting miniatures.

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    1. Alex, thanks so much. I really appreciate you dropping by and saying that. Having a story running alongside the miniatures, and perhaps especially an Alternate History storyline, was a lot of fun to think through.

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    2. No problem Sidney, it's always a pleasure to see what you have on the painting table and the results are always jaw dropping for me!

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    3. Hopefully, plenty more to come if I can ever get out of the office!!!

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  22. WOW! so goood, Sidney you're the king!

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    1. Benito, thanks so much. Not sure exactly what I'm the King of....but best not go there!!

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  23. The finest entry so far, so much thought and effort into these with amazing results

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    1. Not sure about that, Phyllion! There have been some stonking entries in the Painting Contest so far. I was just relieved to get it all done in time! But thank you, Sir, all the same!

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  24. I thought this was a thing of beauty when I saw it on the challenge. Having now seen and read how it came about I'm utterly gobsmacked. Well done Sidney and thanks for sharing the story behind how you put the entry together.

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    1. Thanks Millsy. I thought your Heinrich Kremmler was wonderful as well. I enjoyed thinking about the entries almost as much as building them!

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  25. Fabulous work Sidney! I love these ancillary vignettes as they have such a life of their own and do not require the brash and bluster of the battlefield. Beautiful.

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    1. Very kind, Curt. It was a lot of fun to do. I have to say, though, that your frost-bitten Grognards were more than a worthy stablemate in the themed contest. Beautiful as well!

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  26. You really have outdone yourself this time. Outstanding work, a veritable cornucopia of skill and imagination.

    Of course, you will not be surprised if I ask about the basing. May I ask what greys you used for the road, I presume the texture is Carrs 2mm gravel.
    Pat

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    1. Thank you Pat - that means a great deal coming from you. Thank you very much indeed!

      I mentioned on the more recent post here on the Blog that the gravel is almost identical to Carr's Ballast but is sold in small packets by 4D Models in East London (http://modelshop.co.uk/). The grey of the road is Plaka Grey, with a small amount (about 15%) Vallejo Model Colour Black. I progressively dry brushed up to the neat Plaka Grey, with very soft highlights of Plaka Grey with a little Vallejo Model Colour White.

      The plasticard paving, and lighting was all from 4D Models (at an inexpensive price).

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  28. Astounding litte works of art mate. These are fantastic, composition, painting, the way they work as a contained visual narrative, the whole caboodle. Really breathtaking stuff mate, you should be well chuffed!

    Ben

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    1. Ben! Many thanks indeed, mate! I am really pleased you liked it. I felt sure you'd love the Alt-History slant on the battle for Verdun! Hopefully I can add a bit more like this over the next few weeks!

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  29. I have just downloaded iStripper, and now I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my taskbar.

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