Showing posts from 2011

Oskar Schlemmer (1888-1943) - the Bauhaus Stairway and the Dessau Bauhaus

German born artist and choreographer Oskar Schlemmer is best known for his Triadic Ballet, in which the performers are transformed into geometric shapes. The work had its first performance in Stuttgart in 1922 and became the most frequently performed avant garde dance show of the time. 

The ballet was created at the Bauhaus, the influential school of art, architecture and design, which began its life in Weimar in 1919, before moving to Dessau, where it remained until 1932, and then dismantled shortly after. During this period it had been under attack from the far-right for its robotic and supposedly Marxist images. 

Schlemmer's painting Bauhaus Stairway is seen as his farewell to the Bauhaus. It depicts an ordinary day in the last year of Bauhaus in its modern Dessau building. In the picture we see the students walking up the stairs, away from us. Except, that is, for one figure, walking towards us, a symbol of hope, in sharp contrast to the stark realism in another depiction of the…

Thomas Nast : Good old Mr Santa Claus!

So, it's that time of year again - Christmas! The supermarkets are serenading their shoppers with Merry Xmas Everybody by Slade, and John and Yoko's Merry Christmas (War is Over); the chirpy carol singers are out in the shopping centres with their joy and their bonhomie - except, that is, in the English town of Hemel Hempstead, where they've been banned for health and safety reasons (is it to protect them from us or us from them?); and the jolly Santas are filling their grottos with the sound of their merry, Yuletide laughter - though not the one that recently attacked his employer brandishing a knife.

The cult of Father Christmas most likely owes its origins t0 Dutch folklore and the figure Sinterklaas, anglicised into Santa Claus, and refined into his modern image by German-born American political cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840-1902). It was Nash that gave Santa his red coat and his chubby profile, and also, in the many illustrations that Nast did for the magazine Harper…

Who was Moliere?

We're used to the controversial and sometimes provocative assertions that William Shakespeare was not the author of the plays that bear his name, so it's perhaps not surprising that there should be similar arguments d'outre Manche about France's own literary and theatrical hero, Jean Baptiste Poquelin, a.k.a. Molière.

It all began in 1919 when French poet Pierre Louÿs became intrigued by what he percieved as the stylistic disparities in some of Molière's plays. He published a series of articles on the subject, before deciding that the great comedies (Tartuffe; Don Juan; The Misanthrope; The Miser) were not from the pen of Molière but were the work of Pierre Corneille, tragedian and author of El Cid.

He went further and compared the chronology of the two men and discovered that their paths had crossed on more than one occasion, leading him to affirm that 'Corneille dominated Molière's entire life'. He then posed the same predicable and indispensable questi…

Viva l'Italia! (But mind your bottoms, ladies!)

Every nationality has its own quirks and characteristics. The Irish are famed for their songs and their storytelling; the French for their individuality (it is the reason there are so many political parties in France); Americans for their work ethic; Germans for their lack of humour (a little unfairly that one); and the British for their stiff upper lip and their understatement. (There is the story of the jet airliner crashing headlong into the sea from 30,000 feet, passengers screaming and praying, and the Englishman looks out of the window as one of the engines falls off and says: “The captain seems to be having a spot of bother”.) And there’s the Italians….

Italians are famed for their passionate and excitable natures (naturally!), and also for having the dubious distinction of being the goosing champions of western Europe, inspired perhaps by their recent prime-goosing minister Signor Berlusconi. If the European Union were to ever appoint a Minister of Sex, no contest, il Berluscon…

Nineteenth Century Photographs of Promenade des Anglais, Nice


Exotic Botanical Garden of Menton (Jardin botanique exotique du Val Rahmeh)

Located in the Alpes-Maritimes department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region of south-east France, the town of Menton (population 28,833 in 2008) began its journey to international tourist status in the nineteenth century when it was 'discovered' by wealthy English and Russian aristocrats in search of a winter destination in which to idle away their privileged lives.

It is located close to the French-Italian border and is famous, among other things, for its many gardens, among which the beautiful Jardin botanique exotique de Menton, also known as Le Val Rahmeh, after the spouse of its first owner, Sir Percy Radcliffe, in 1905.

Lord Radcliffe created the garden on several levels, and brought there a large number of exotic fruit plants, such as Kiwi, avocado and banana trees. But the botanical aspect of the garden was introduced by a later owner in the 1950s, the exotically named Miss Maybud Campbell, who also added a second garden in which she installed a pond for water…

The Restoration Playgoer - Samuel Pepys's theatre

When the London theatres reopened in 1660 after being closed for eighteen years by the Puritans during England's brief dalliance with republicanism, one of the first playgoers was the famous diarist, woman groper and Admiralty official Samuel Pepys. He was such an avid spectator of plays that he limited the number of times he would permit himself to go, in order to devote more time to his important Navy work, and to his constant battles with his arch enemy Admiral Sir William Penn, and incompetent colleagues Sir J. Minnes and Sir W. Batten, a knave and a fool respectively. He also enjoyed the theatres for the attractive women he saw there. On one occasion a lady accidentally spat on him, '...But after seeing her to be a very pretty lady, I was not troubled at it at all...'. [Diary entry 28 January 1661]

Despite his regular oaths to avoid plays, Pepys managed to visit the theatres on no fewer than 351 occasions during the nine years and five months of the Diary. He was a big…

Artists of the Promenade des Anglais, Nice

Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) is best known for his iconic work of anxiety and despair The Scream. But the artists also painted pictures that you'd want to hang on your bedroom wall or have as your screensaver, like his depiction here of Nice's beautiful Promenade des Anglais in 1892.

The famous walk has attracted many artists, the most notable of which was Raoul Dufy who lived for many years in the city. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted the promenade, as did less well known artists like Angelo Garino (1860-1945) in this painting below from 1922. The location is close to the Jardin Albert 1er with its fine esplanade and which once bore the name of le jardin Paradis (Paradise Garden).

German Max Beckmann (1884-1950) was another artist that was attracted to the charm of La Prom. In his work from 1947 called simply Promenade des Anglais in Nizza (Nizza is the Italian name for Nice which was once an Italian possession) we look down from the Colline du Chatêau, or Castle…

Famous theatrical flops

Every writer has his or her flops, even the most renowned of them  all - William Shakespeare.  Measure for Measure, for instance, his story of a corrupt deputy, a phoney monk and a hysterical nun, placed among the Comedies in the First Folio but now regarded as a 'problem play' (along with Troilus and Cressida and the  ironically titled Alls Well That Ends Well). During the dramatist's lifetime the play has only one recorded performance, in 1604, when it was given before James I. It was revived in 1662 under the title The Law Against Lovers, an adaptation which included characters from Much Ado About Nothing, along with music and dancing. (Samuel Pepys saw the production and thought it 'a good play and well acted, especially the little girl's...dancing and singing, and were it not for her, the loss of Roxalana would spoil the house'). And in a 1699 version is was retitled once more, this time called Beauty the Best Advocate, with the most interesting bits (the …

Where did William Shakespeare live in London?

Where did Shakespeare lodge in London? On 15 November 1597 the Petty Collectors [of Taxes] for Bishopsgate stated in their accounts the names of certain persons who had avoided, for whatever reason, payment of their taxes. Among the names for St. Helen's parish (Bishopsgate) was that of William Shakespeare, assessed five shillings on goods valued at £5, the assessment made in October 1596 and falling due in February 1597. So we can conclude that sometime before October 1596 Shakespeare was living in the St. Helen's parish of Bishopsgate, perhaps near the church which is still standing. What we don't know, however, is whether he paid his five shillings taxes.
Our next sighting of the poet was again through the tax collectors when he was assessed thirteen shilling and four pence on goods valued at £5, the assessment made on 1 October 1598. On 6 October 1660 the amount due was still outstanding, and the Court of Exchequer referred the arrears to the Bishop of Winchester who ha…

Mr Anonymous : Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604)

"Here's one I wrote earlier, guv".  [Edward de Vere]So Hollywood has a new 'Shakespeare' movie coming out. Well, well, nearly 400 years dead and still good for business! The latest well-hyped offering is titled Anonymous and is based on the life of the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere (1550-1604), whom the film hails as the ‘true author’ of Shakespeare’s plays. This is the also the view of a handful of crackpot Shakespearean actors and academics, though it may have been thought that the fact that de Vere inconveniently died before many of the plays had been written (Macbeth, The Winter’s Tale, Coriolanus, The Tempest) might have deterred them just a little.

One of the arguments they put forward against Shakespeare's authorship is that he did not attend a university and so would not have had the classical education needed to write the plays, many of which are based on stories from the Roman writer Ovid. But Shakespeare almost certainly attended Stratford Gra…

Notre Dame de la Garde, Marseille

Atop the highest point in the city, overlooking the Vieux Port (Old port), stands Marseille's most striking landmark, the majestic neo-Byzantine basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde.

Arriving in the city by train, your first sight of the edifice is from the top of le Grand escalier, the broad steps that lead down from the station to the city spread at its feet. From this viewpoint the basilica is a mere silhouette on the horizon, and between you and it, hidden in a cove, is Marseille's Old Port and the site of the original Greek settlement from circa 600 BC.

Descend the steps with their striking sculptures and follow the Boulevard d'Athènes until it reaches a crossroads with La Canebière, the famous road which English sailors in the early 20th century dubbed 'the can o' beer', by virtue of the large number of bars that could be found there. La Canebière leads straight to the Vieux Port, and then onwards and upwards to the 'guardian and protector of the city'…

"Quick! Quick! The Mona Lisa. I'm double-parked!"

Whether or not the Louvre art museum in Paris is the best in the world is a matter of debate and local pride and prejudice, but it is apparently the most visited, and many visitors will be there for one reason only, to see it's most famous attraction, the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.

It was painted some time between 1503 and 1519 and is variously known as La Gioconda, La Jaconde, and Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo. Though now regarded as the most famous painting in the world, it was not generally known until the middle of the Nineteenth Century, since when its reputation has soared, and is now an unmistakable icon of western art.

In 1911 the picture was stolen and suspicion fell on two of the leading artistic figures of the time, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the painter Pablo Picasso. In the event the culprit was discovered to be someone much more banal, a certain Vincenzo Peruggia, an employee at the Louvre and an Italian patriot who wanted to …

Biker Babes Goin' Wild in Valence

A look at Valence (Drôme, France) from a political, economic and social standpoint, and definitely not dumbed down.

In order to respond to a mean, nasty, malicious and low-minded comment that this blog is dumbing down, we are now presenting this wholly serious posting on the French town of Valence, where I once spent 15 miserable hours due to the rain which never stopped the whole time, with the result that I left the place as ignorant as when I arrived.  So I'm now going back, digitally speaking, with the help of information and images graciously borrowed from the Internet, for a serious look at the socio-politico-economic activity of this important and vibrant community.

We'll begin with the geography. Valence is a commune in the south-east of France and a prefecture in the department of the Drôme in the Rhône-Alpes region. It is the fifth most populated commune of the region with a population of 64,484 at the 2008 census. It is often referred to as 'the gateway to the Sou…

Piccadilly Circus, London

They used to say that if you stood at London's Piccadilly Circus long enough then you would bump into everyone that you'd ever met in your life. It is not only the centre of London (though technically this is the nearby statue of Charles I mounted on a horse on the south side of Trafalgar Square), in former times it was also regarded as the hub of the Empire.

Of course one thing that you won't find there is a circus, at least not in the modern sense of the word, viz. a travelling company of performers. It is a circus in the original Middle English sense of a rounded open space where several streets converge, and which comes from the Latin for 'ring or circus', with echoes of an ancient Roman arena for equestrian and sporting events.

At the centre is the Shaftsbury Memorial Fountain with its famous statue of Anteros, in Greek mythology the god of requited love, though  the figure on the fountain is popularly known as Eros, the god of sensual love, known to the Romans …