Nicole Farhi: Writing Heads @ The Fine Art Society in Edinburgh – unique, literary-inspired, mini masterpieces

Nicole Farhi is a multi-talented artist in every sense of the word.  From excelling as a world renowned fashion designer, and also a home stylist – furniture, kitchenware, accessories – today she is a sculptor extraordinaire.

Nicole Farhi

Born in Nice, she brought a chic French style and continental flair to the British fashion industry. The shift in career from clothes to clay was, as she says, “It’s like falling in love. You don’t know why .. your life is going to change.” In 2012 she turned away from the cat walk and now concentrates solely on sculpture. For Farhi it was a natural progression to study the human figure in a different perspective, to craft and shape a face, head and hands.

Nicole Farhi at work

This most impressive and inspiring showcase,“Writing Heads”  takes pride of place at the elegant space of the Fine Art Society this summer, as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival: Twenty-five immaculate miniature busts of internationally renowned authors – philosophers, travel writers, essayists, novelists, playwrights and poets.

“I started thinking of the books I had loved reading while growing up in France.. but then also foreign authors like Hemingway, Patricia Highsmith and Doris Lessing. At the end, I had a gallery of faces, all full of humour and authority ..  insight and intelligence.”   Nicole Farhi

These famous faces are lined up in rows on two long shelf-like tables, so that you can walk all the way around for a close up view.  The Heads are creatively constructed of ciment fondu ( a French invention – strong, quickly setting cement made from a mixture of limestone and bauxite) and acrylic.

This must be a most malleable combination of materials as Farhi has perfected an extraordinary likeness in each distinctive facial expression, skin tone, hair and clothing. They have such a tactile quality, one is tempted to touch (but of course would not!).

Let’s take a short stroll around to spot a few of these famous writers – I was so inspired that I have been dipping into a few of my favourite books to reflect on their literary life and work.

Toni Morrison, who passed away age 88 on 5th August, 2019, received The Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.  Her novel, “Beloved,” based on the true story of an African American female slave won the Pulitzer, and she continued to chronicle the African American experience over five decades.

Here she is with her mane of steel grey, spiral curled, Afro hair and a proud sense of race and womanhood in her calm, composed expression.

Toni Morrison

A quote from her novel, “Beloved”

Ernest Hemingway, with thick white beard and craggy lined face, is wrapped up in a thick seafaring sweater as if he just stepped off his fishing boat,  reminiscent of his famous character, the Old Man.

Ernest Hemingway

“The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles I the back of his neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks” “The Old Man and the Sea” – Ernest Hemingway

Edinburgh’s own Muriel Spark is captured as a pretty young woman,  copper hair, red jacket, red lipstick. She escaped her short marriage to Sidney Spark, (his name was the only part of him she liked and kept),  to seek the freedom to write.  There would be 22 novels in total, with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, regarded as her milch cow. She was Scottish through topography and geography but European in cultural, social and political spirit.

Muriel Spark

“Hold up your books” said Miss Brodie. “If there are any intruders, we are doing our history lesson, …our poetry, … English grammar. Meantime I will tell you about my last summer holiday .. about the Frenchman I met in the train to Biarritz, .. and about the Italian paintings I saw.” “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” – Muriel Spark.

Another avid traveller is Graham Greene, hair slicked back, a quizzical look about his piercing, perceptive eyes. His stories located in hot and dusty tropical places such as Mexico, West Africa, Vietnam, Cuba, Haiti, and Argentina, led to the expression “Greeneland.”

Graham Greene

“I became aware that our love was doomed; love had turned into a love affair with a beginning and an end. I could name the very moment when it had begun, and one day I knew I should be able to name the final hour”  “The End of the Affair” – Graham Greene

One of the most innovative, modernist and feminist writers, Virginia Woolf is portrayed by Farhi with a subtle sense of quiet beauty – her angular face, severe hairstyle and gentle eyes, in thoughtful, distant mood.

Virginia Woolf

With her passion for vocabulary and language, she created her own style of lyrical poetry- prose narrative as a way to enter imagination of her characters.

“She enjoyed life immensely. It was her nature to enjoy. She enjoyed practically everything. …in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.  ”Mrs Dalloway, -Virginia Woolf

With her fashionably androgynous look of ther period, short wavy hair and masculine-styled shirt collar, the bust of Daphne du Maurier expresses her tomboyish denial of femininity.

Daphne du Maurier

The seed of the Rebecca story lay in her jealousy of her husband’s first fiancée:

“ If there was some woman in London that Maxim visited, dined with, slept with, I could fight her.. One day the woman would grow old and Maxim would not love her anymore. But Rebecca would never grow old.  She was too strong for me.”  “ Rebecca” – Daphne du Maurier

In 1954, aged 18, Francoise Sagan became an overnight sensation on the publication of “Bonjour Tristesse, ” an amoral tale of a schoolgirl’s summer romance which scandalised French society.  The sculpture here shows her shock of blond hair, with a half smile, seductively playing around her mouth.

Francoise Sagan

Always a rebel, her wild Bohemian lifestyle was mirrored in her depiction of fictional love affairs and loss.

“I do not know if the desire to attract others comes from a superabundance of vitality, possessiveness, or the hidden, unspoken need to be reassured.” “Bonjour Tristesse” – Francoise Sagan

W. H. Auden is remembered for his wisdom and wit – his first book, Poems was published in 1930, with the help of T. S. Eliot.  With a deeply lined face and furrowed brow, the sculptured image here recalls photographs of the man at work, cigarette in hand. Close friend and creative collaborator, Benjamin Britten described his startling personality and remarkably fine brain.

“He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.”

Funeral Blues – W. H. Auden

W H Auden

This is just a glimpse of the twenty five Writing Heads on show – all the ciment fondu sculptures are for sale (Edition of 7 with 3 APs each, and hand painted Bronze editions are available to be cast on request.

In the downstairs gallery is an enchanting selection of serene and soulful Portraits, entitled Intimate, by a wide range of artists from mid 19th century to the present day.

Do visit the Fine Art Society soon to see this remarkable, richly rewarding exhibition, an absolute highlight of the Edinburgh Art Festival.

Nicole Farhi: Writing Heads

25 July to 31 August, 2019

The Fine Art Society in Edinburgh,

6 Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ

Tel. 0131 557 4050

Jennifer McRae – “Past, Present, future – tracing the female line”

Photo credits:

Nicole Farhi – Louise Long

Individual  images of “Talking Heads” – Iona Wolff




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About vivdevlin

I am an international travel writer, specialising in luxury travel, hotels, restaurants, city guides, cruises, islands, train and literary-inspired journeys. I review dance and theatre, Arts Festivals and love the visual arts. I have just experienced an epic voyage, circumnavigating the globe, following in the wake of Captain Cook, Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson.

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