Showing posts from December, 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…