Wednesday, 31 October 2012

James Joyce Tower & Museum, Sandycove

Reproduction of James Joyce's room and bed
James Joyce Tower & Museum, Sandycove

The James Joyce Tower & Museum in Sandycove is housed in one of the Martello towers built during the Napoleonic wars as a defence against a French invasion. It later became a residence, and for a single week in September 1904, James Joyce shared the tower with Oliver St. John Gogarty. The brief stay was later immortalised in the opening chapter of Ulysses, though for the purpose of the story Joyce re-dated the period to June.

Joyce's week in the Tower was marked by a dramatic incident. Gogarty had been lending money to Joyce all year, and on the morning of 15 September 1904 there was, according to Gogarty, some horseplay involving a gun, which sent Joyce fleeing for his life, and thence into his self-imposed exile from Ireland.

Included in the Museum are letters, photographs and rare book editions, in addition to a reproduction of the room in which Joyce slept and in which the gun incident apparently occurred.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Pablo Picasso and William Shakespeare

In days gone by Cambridge University Press adorned the covers of their New Shakespeare with a drawing of Shakespeare by Picasso. Pictured here is Othello from 1969.

The inspiration for the drawing was British art patron Roland Penrose, who visited the artist in November 1963 and suggested that he do a portrait of Shakespeare to mark the quatercentenary of the poet's birth to be celebrated the following year. Picasso was amused by the suggestion and asked for some images of the poet to work from. He then produced three sketches, measuring 10 x 8 inches, spending no more than five minutes on each.

One of the drawings was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery (London) where the deputy keeper, Dr Roy Strong, described it as "magnificent", adding "It's a remarkable piece of art all right". And Roland Penrose said that it "made Shakespeare the great observer of life".

At the same time, Picasso also made a series of drawings on the theme of Hamlet, which were published in 1965 in Louis Aragon's Shakespeare.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770)

'Death of Chatterton' by Henry Wallis.
First exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856 where it caused a sensation.

The clock strikes eight; the taper dully shines;
Farewell my Muse, nor think of further lines;
Nine leaves, and in two hours, or something odd,
Shut up the book; it is enough by God !
                                       [Conversations, 47-50]

Thomas Chatterton was born in Bristol on 20 November 1752. His father had died shortly before his birth, and his mother, who was 21 years old at the time, lived by keeping a 'dame-school' and by taking in sewing.

In his early years Chatterton was sullen and brooding. He would learn nothing, refused to play with other boys, and was  expelled from his first school as little more than an idiot. Then, during his seventh year, he underwent a considerable transformation. According to the story, his mother was tearing up for waste paper some old music folios, when Chatterton, to quote his mother, 'fell in love' with the illuminated capitals. Encouraged by his aroused interest, with the aid of the manuscript she taught him to read, and he soon progressed to the Bible, and thence to any books he could obtain. He would spend hours in the attic, reading and drawing, and became intensely proud, so much so that he would hide from his mother so as to avoid having to run errands. 

In August 1760 he was enrolled in Colston's Hospital, a charity-school founded in 1708 by Edward Colston, a bachelor businessman whose motto in life was 'Every helpless Widow is my wife, and distressed orphans my children'. He left his inheritors a school which was run like a prison with any suspicions of religious non-conformity among the children punished by expulsion. It was probably the worst possible environment for Chatterton, and he became more sullen and delinquent. His pride, too, increased. One day he came home from school and announced to his mother that henceforth he would no longer eat meat. A little later he announced he would eat nothing but bread and drink nothing but water. 

At the age of ten Chatterton began to write poetry. He began with the kind of religious verses that would have been acceptable to his school. Then he developed a satirical vein, evident in the poem Apostate Will, written when he was eleven. (See Appendices)

At about the same time Chatterton befriended a teacher at the school by the name of Thomas Phillips, and one day presented him with a 'medieval' poem, written on parchment in barely legible caligraphy, which he claimed to have 'found'. Philips apparently accepted the manuscript as genuine, though lost interest when his attempts to decipher it were unsuccessful. It was Chatterton's first step into literary forgery and his sole motive appears to have been the pleasure at fooling his dull friend.

In 1767, when he approaching fifteen, Chatterton left school and was apprenticed to John Lambert, an attorney. The drudge of copying legal documents made him sulky and sardonic, and he found escape in writing poetry and chasing girls with the other apprentices. He also enjoyed fooling the culturally obtuse clients of his employer, among them Henry Burgum, a partner in the firm of 'Burgum and Catcott, Pewterers and Worm-makers [Screw-makers]', who he tricked into believing that he had discovered a pedigree showing the noble descent of the Burgum family. He produced artificially 'aged' documents, and Burgum was duly duped, until he sent the pedigree for authentication to the Royal College of Heralds, when the hoax was uncovered.

Chatterton was now proving to be a wholly unsatisfactory apprentice. He whiled away his time in drawing and writing, and on one occasion Lambert returned home late to find him attempting to raise spirits with a book of magical incantations. At the same time another apprentice, with whom Chatterton shared a room, was disconcerted with his habit of sleeping only four hours a night. Unconcerned, Chatterton continued his forging. In 1768 his target was a local magistrate, to whom he presented another 'medieval' document, this one relating to local history. Then he began selling 'medieval' poems to George Catcott, his employer's partner, that he claimed to have 'found' amongst old papers in the Church of St. Mary Redcliff. And to a local surgeon and amateur historian, William Barrett, who was writing a History of Bristol, he supplied 'documents' with exciting 'evidence' about the history of the city. Barrett accepted the documents, though he may also have recognized them as a hoax, but chose to turn a blind eye for the sake of his book.

Desperate to get free of his apprentiship, Chatterton decided he needed a patron for his literary ambitions, and in his naivety chose Horace Walpole as the one. Walpole had recently published a volume of art history, Anecdotes of Painting, so Chatterton sent him a 'transcript' of work on The Ryse of Peyncteynge yn Englande [The Rise of Painting in England], which he attributed to a fictitious fifteenth century Bristol priest by the name of Sir Thomas Rowley. Walpole also was duped and wrote enthusiastically to Chatterton, who sent more poems, and expressed his desire to devote his life to literature, but that he lacked the means to do so. But Walpole became suspicious, some bad-tempered correspondence was exchanged, until finally Walpole returned the manuscripts to Chatterton. Chatterton's response was to write one of his most ill-tempered and bitter poems, To Horace Walpole. 
(See Appendices)

In the meantime, poems which Chatterton acknowledged as his own were having success, with some being published in Town and Country Magazine in London. So in 1769 he decided it was time to ditch the attorney's office and head for the capital to pursue the life of a professional writer. But there was the problem of his indentures which tied him to his employer. He became desperate and openly talked of suicide. After one such suicide threat he was given a lecture on the sin of self-destruction. But Chatterton was unperturbed, and on 14 April 1770, 'between 11 and 2 o'clock Saturday, in the utmost distress of mind', wrote his Last Will and Testament. (See Appendices) The threat in the Will that he would be dead 'tomorrow night before eight o'clock', was too serious to ignore, and his indentures were cancelled. Free at last, Chatterton set out for London at the end of April.

In London Chatterton lodged with relatives in Shoreditch, and began visiting the offices of magazines and had several of his satirical verses and prose pieces accepted for publication. With the small amounts of money he made, he sent presents as his mother and sister back home in Bristol, as a display of his prosperity. He persuaded the Lord Mayor of London to be his patron for a libretto he would write, and when the mayor unhelpfully died before the work was commissioned, he wrote and sold a eulogy on the mayor, and contented himself with at least getting something out of the old man's demise. 

But things were not as well as they seemed. Payments from the magazines were small and slow in being made. He remained as proud as ever, and disliked being called 'Cousin Tommy' by his relatives in Shoreditch, considering that it was no fitting name for a poet. In June he moved to new lodgings in Brook Street. He was half-starved, and too proud to return to Bristol a failure. So on 24 August 1770, after refusing the offer of an evening meal from his compassionate landlady, he locked himself in his room, where he poisoned himself by drinking arsenic in water. The next morning he was found dead on his bed.

The records of the inquest have not survived, but as a suicide victim he would have been buried in an unmarked grave, the location of which is now impossible to ascertain. 


Apostate Will

In days of old, when Wesley's power
Gather'd new strength by ev'ry hour;
Apostate Will, jusg sunk in trade,
Resolv'd his bargain should be made;
Then straight to Wesley he repairs,
And puts on grave and solemn airs,
Then thus the pious man addressed:
"Good sir, I think your doctrine best;
Your servant will a Wesley be,
Therefore the principles teach me."
The preacher then instructions gave,
How he in this world should behave:
He hears, assents, and gives a nod,
Says ev'ry word's the word of God,
Then lifting his dissembling eyes,
"How blessed is he sect!" he cries;
"Nor Bingham, Young, nor Stillingfleet (1)
Shall make me from this sect retreat."
He then his circumstance declar'd,
How hardly with him matters far'd,
Begg'd him next morning for to make
A small collection for his sake.
The preacher said "Do not repine,
The whole collection shall be thine."
With looks demure and cringing bows,
About his business straight he goes.
His outward acts her grave and prim,
The Methodist appear'd in him.
But, be his outward what it will,
His heart was an apostate's still.
He'd oft profess an hallow'd frame,
And everywhere preach'd Wesley's name;
He was a preacher, and what not,
As long as money could be got;
He'd oft profess, with holy fire,
"The labourer's worthy of his hire."
   It happened once upon a time,
When all his works were in their prime,
A noble place appear'd in view;
Then - to the Methodist's, adieu!
A Methodiest no more he'll be,
The Protestants serve best for he.
Then to the curate straight he ran,
And thus address'd the rev'rend man:
"I was a Methodist, 'tis true,
With penitence I turn to you.
O that it were your bounteous will
That I the vacant place might fill!
With just I'd myself acquit,
Do ev'ry thing that's right and fit."
The curate straightway gave consent -
To take the place he quickly went.
Accordingly he took the place,
And keeps it with dissembling grace.

(1) Ecclesiastical historians and partisans of the Church of England.

To Horace Walpole

Walpole, I thought not I should ever see
So mean a heart as thine has prov'd to be.
Thou who, in luxury nurst, beholdst with scorn
The boy, who friendless, penniless, forlorn,
Asks thy high favour - thou mayst call me cheat.
Say, didst thou never practice such deceit?
Who wrote Otranto?(1) but I will not chide:
Scorn I'll repay with scorn, and pride with pride.
Still, Walpole, still they prosy chapters write,
And twaddling letters to some fair indite.......

Had I the gifts of wealth and luxury shar'd,
Not poor and mean, Walpole! thou hadst not dar'd
Thus to insult. But I shall live and stand
By Rowley's side, when thou art dead and damn'd.

Intended to have sent the above to Mr. Walpole but my Sister perswaded me out of it. T.C.

(1) Gothic novel written by Walpole which he claimed to be a translation of an old Italian manuscript. 

Extracts of Chatterton's Will

This is the last Will and Testament of me, Thomas Chatterton, of the city of Bristol; being sound in body, or it is the fault of my last surgeon; the soundness of my mind, the coroner and jury are to be the judges of, desiring them to take notice,, that the most perfect masters of human nature in Bristol distinguish me by the title of Mad Genius; therefore, if I do a mad action, it is conformable to every action of my life, which all savoured of insanity.
Item. I give all my vigour and fire of youth to Mr. George Catcott, being sensible he is most in want of it.
Item. From the same charitable motive, I give and bequeath unto the Reverend Mr. Camplin, senior, all my humility. To Mr. Burgum all my prosody and grammar, - likewise one moiety of my modesty; the other to any young lady who can prove without blushing that she wants that valuable commodity. To Bristol, all my spirit and disinterestedness; parcels of goods unknown on her quays since the days of Canning and Rowley! 'Tis true, a charitable gentleman, one Mr Colston, smuggled a considerable quantity of it, but it being proved that he was a papist, the Worshipful Society of Aldermen endeavoured to throttle him with the Oath of Allegiance. I leave also my religion to Dr. Cutts Barton, Dean of Bristol, hereby empowering the sub-sacrist to strike him on the head when he goes to sleep in church. 
I leave the Reverend Mr. Catcott some little of my free-thinking, that he may put on spectacles of Reason, and see how vilely he is duped in believing the Scriptures literally. 
Item. I give and bequeath to Mr. Matthew Mease a mourning ring with the motto, 'Alas, poor Chatterton!' provided he pays for it himself. Item. I leave the young ladies all the items they have had from me, assuring them that they be under no apprehensions from the appearance of my ghost, for I die for none of them.
Item. I leave my mother and sister to the protection of my friends, if I have any.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Jean Béraud (1849 - 1936) - Paris street life in the Belle Epoque

La Modiste sur les Champs Elysées
(The Milliner on the Champs Elysées)

French Impressionist artist Jean Béraud was born in St. Petersburg in 1849. Upon the death of his father, a sculptor by profession and also called Jean, the family moved to Paris, where Jean fils studied under Léon Bonnat. He began his painting career working in portraits, but at the end of the 1870s, during the period known as the Belle Epoque, he set to work on his series of charming Parisian street scenes, for which he is most remembered today.

Paris Kiosk

Jeune femme traversant le boulevard
(Young Woman crossing the Boulevard)

Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Elizabethan Underworld

16th Century woodcut of a beggar being whipped through the streets of Elizabethan England

Sometime after 1584 William Shakespeare packed his belongings and took the highway to London. And as a boy from the provinces he would have needed all his wits about him when he got there, for the metropolis had a thriving underworld of criminals intent on divesting the greenhorn newcomer of his purse, his horse, and even the very clothes on his back.

According to one contemporary account, there were no fewer than 23 categories of thieves and swindlers listed by the authorities. Aside from the regulation pickpockets and cutpurses, there were the confidence tricksters, known as ‘coney-catchers*’; the horse thieves, called ‘priggers of pransers’; the ‘anglers’, adept at removing clothing from washing lines with long poles; and the 'setters', thieves' accomplices in the fleecing of innocent travellers.

* The Conny-catchers, apparalled like honest ciull gentlemen, or good fellows, with a smooth face, as if butter would not melt in their mouthes, after dinner when the clients are come from Westminster hal and are at leisure to walke vp and downe Paules, Fleet-street, Holborne, the sttrond, and such common hanted places, where these cosning companions attend onely to spie out a praie: who as soone as they see a plaine cuntry felow well and cleanly apparelled, either in a coat of home spun russet, or of freeze, as the time requires, and a side pouch at his side, there is a connie, saith one. At that word out flies the Setter, and ouertaking the man, begins to salute him thus: Sir, God saue you, you are welcom to London, how doth all our good friends in the countrie, I hope they be all in health? The countrie man seeing a man so curteous he knoweth not, halfe in a browne studie at this strange salutation, perhaps makes him this aunswere....[Robert Greene: A Notable Discovery of Coosnage, 1591]

The greenhorn would also need to be wary of the professional beggars, some of whom posed as discharged sailors (whipjacks) or claimed to be deaf and dumb (drummers), or that they had lost all their worldly possessions in a fire (demanders for glimmer). And he should be alert, too, for honey traps in the shape of women known as ‘kinchin morts’, who enticed the victim down a dark alley where her accomplice lay in waiting.

The law divided crime into three levels of rising severity - misdemeanours, such as libel and perjury; felony, including rape, murder, witchcraft and theft; and treason, divided into high-treason and petty-treason, and including counterfeiting the coin of the realm. Punishments could range from fines to floggings for a misdemeanour, death by hanging for a felony, and death by beheading, and possible drawing and quartering, for treason.

Yet despite everything it seems in practice that the streets of Elizabethan London would have been relatively safe for the newly arrived man from Stratford. And indeed the contrary may have been the case, for on one occasion, in 1596, one William Waite petitioned for sureties of the peace 'for fear of death' against Shakespeare himself! But that's another story...

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Carlo Gesualdo, or The Cuckold's Revenge

In the year of the world 1590 Don Carlo Gesualdo was the son of the Prince of Venosa and one of the most renowned composers of his time. But when he learned that his wife Maria had been cuckolding him for two years, he decided to set a trap for her and her lover, Fabrizio Carafa, the Duke of Andria, and assassinate them both.

He tells Maria that he going hunting and will be gone two days. She implores him not to go, asks him to hurry back, tells him that their bed will be cold without him. But the moment he leaves she sends for her lover who hastens to his mistress’s side.

The lover arrives and they slip into the marriage bed, make love, and then fall asleep in each other’s embrace. To protect himself from the cold of the night, the duke wears one of Maria’s night dresses. Then, around midnight, Carlo returns with three henchmen, all armed. He leads them to Maria’s chambers, and rings his valet, Bartodo, for something to drink. The servant is surprised that his master should be back so soon from his hunting. “You’ll see what quarry I’m after”, his master tells him, then arms himself with a dagger, a sword and a small harquebus.

The cuckold-husband and his servant join the three henchmen and they force their way into Maria’s apartments. Bartado deals with a nurse and a maid, while Carlo and his friends enter Maria’s boudoir where the unsuspecting lovers are blissfully sleeping. Later Bartado is to testify that he heard gunshots and insults, and then minutes later saw the three henchmen come out, followed by his master, his hands bloodied. Carlo asks the women servants where Laura is, the go-between of Maria and her lover, but happily for Laura she is absent that night. Then Carlo goes back into Maria’s chamber, followed by Bartado, to discover that his wife, though grievously wounded, is still alive. “Not quite dead, eh?” he says, and finishes her off. The duke is dead next to her, shot several times through the head. Then, according to legend, Carlo has the two mutilated bodies tossed into the street for all to see.

Carlo is not pursued by the justice system because of his high position in the Naples nobility. But he feels uneasy, fearing that his wife’s or her lover’s family will seek vengeance on him. So he seeks refuge in the family home and begins composing once more. 

In 1584 Carlo becomes Prince of Venosa on the death of his father. He remarries, his wife gives birth to a boy, Alfonsino, who dies at the age of five, and rumours are rife that his wife has many lovers. Carlo himself takes a mistress, but he is tormented by his murder of Maria, and finds expiation for his deed by being flagellated by young men. In 1613 another son, Emannuele, is killed when he falls from his horse. Carlo is devastated by the death of his heir apparent, and he withdraws to his private chambers, surrounded by his demons. His only comfort is the flagellations to which he submits himself. Then, after almost three weeks, he is found dead, his body severely lacerated. 

And so ended the life of Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, composer, musician, cuckold, murderer and masochist. 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Richard Burbage and the Burbage family

Painting of Richard Burbage thought to be a self-portrait

No more young Hamlett, ould Hieronymoe,
King Leer, the greued Moore and more beside,
That liued in him, haue now for ever dy'de.
Oft haue I seene him leap into the graue,
Suiting the person which he seem'd to haue
Of a sadd louer with soe true an eye,
That theer I would have sworne, he meant to dye.
[Funeral elogy for Richard Burbage]

Richard Burbage was born in 1568, the son of James Burbage, 'the first builder of playhouses',* whose workmen began the construction of a custom-built open air playhouse, called the Theatre, in the spring of 1576 in the parish of St. Leonard's, Shoreditch, about half a mile outside the Bishopsgate entrance to the city of London in an area known as the Liberty of Halliwell (or Holywell). James had previously been an actor in the Earl of Leicester's troupe, and his two sons, Cuthbert and Richard, followed him into the profession,  although Cuthbert's contribution was as share-holder (or sharer) and administrator, and not as an actor. 

* 'The father of us, Cuthbert and Richard Burbage, was the first builder of playhouses, and was himself in his younger years a player. The Theatre was built with many hundred pounds taken up at interest. The players that lived in those first times had only the profits arising from the doors, but now the players receive all the comings-in at the doors to themselves and half the galleries from the house-keepers. He built the house upon leased ground, by which means the landlord and he had a great suit in law, and by his death, the like troubles fell on us, his sons; we then bethought us of altering from thence, and at great expense built the Globe with more sums of money taken up at interest. [Cuthbert Burbage]

James Burbage died in January 1597, and on 13 April of the same year the lease on the troupe's permanent home at the Theatre expired, and they moved into a theatre nearby called the Curtain. Cuthbert tried to negotiate a new lease with the landlord, Giles Allen, but the negotiations floundered, with Allen intent on pulling down the playhouse 'to convert the wood and timber thereof to some better use'. But the Burbage brothers got wind of his scheme, and on the night of 28 December 1598, with Allen absent from London, they assembled a party of a dozen of so workmen, along with their chief carpenter Peter Street and their financial backer William Smith, and set about dismantling the theatre, as permitted by a covenant of the expired lease. They ferried the timber across the river and created a new playhouse in Southwark and called it the Globe.

View of the city of London from the North towards the South
c1598 showing the Theatre on the left and the flag of the
Curtain on the right.

Richard by this time had also become the leading actor in the company, and from the roll call of parts cited in the funeral elogy, we can see that he performed or was to perform as Hamlet, King Lear and Othello, as well as the major role of Hieronimo in Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, one of the most phenomenally successful plays of the age. And then as now there were compensations in being a star performer, namely the presence of female admirers. There is the oft recounted anecdote of the lady who was very taken with Burbage in the role of Richard III and sent message that she would be glad of his company after the play. But Shakespeare overheard the conversation and went to the lady's house before his renowned colleague and was 'at his game' when Burbage arrived. When the servant brought news that Richard III was at the door, Shakespeare sent him back with the message that William the Conqueror was before Richard III.*

* Story related by law student Edward Curle to John Manningham who recorded it in his Diary on 13 March 1602

Richard Burbage died in 1619, and when his elder brother Cuthbert died in 1636 at the ripe old age of 71, the theatrical Burbage family came to an end.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Constable Dogberry - Shakespeare's most endearing officer of the law

Dogberry's Charge to the Watch
by Henry Stacy Marks

Able-bodied citizens charged with preserving the Queen’s peace were a great source of comic fun for Shakespeare, and none more than Constable Dogberry of Much Ado About Nothing. 

Much of the fun in this comically incompetent constable is in his humorous malapropisms, such as his claim to have ‘comprehended two auspicious persons’, when he means ‘apprehended two suspicious persons’. This must have been especially amusing to the playgoers of the Globe familiar with the character-type portrayed on the stage, particularly if he was based on an individual familiar to them.

Constables at the time were elected, and any man who refused to serve could face a fine of £5. Besides their duties of keeping the peace, they were also charged with dealing with absences from church, and had the thoroughly thankless task of filling the role of a fire brigade, fighting the flames with leather buckets and hooked-poles to pull apart the wooden buildings to prevent the fire from spreading.

The first actor to portray Dogberry was Will Kemp (or Kempe), whose actual name appears in the speech prefixes for Dogberry in an early printing of the play in 1600. Over the succeeding years many comic actors have successfully acted the part, among them the Scottish actor Gerard Kelly, whose interpretation of the role in a production of 1993, with Mark Rylance as Benedick, was quite outstanding. But in Kenneth Branagh’s screen version of the play, also in 1993, the interpretation of Dogberry by Michael Keaton was embarrassingly awful, though to be fair to him, he should never have been cast in the part. 

(The ideal actor for the film would have been Victor Spinetti, whose role of the army sergeant in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour was pure comic genius.)

Much Ado remains one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, and much of the popularity must be due to the clownish antics of his lovable constable, for when Dogberry walks onto the stage the audience knows that laughter cannot be far behind.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Bardot and van Dongen - The Sex Icon and the Wild Beast

BB regards the work in progress

In 1959, Franco-Dutch artist Kees van Dongen painted a portrait of French cinema icon Brigitte Bardot. 25-year old BB was on the verge of becoming the sex symbol of the new decade, while 82-year old van Dongen was coming to the end of his illustrious career. 

In 1950, at the age of 15, Bardot appeared on the front cover of Elle magazine, and in 1956 starred in the international success Et Dieu... crea la femme [And God Created Woman]. Over 50 years earlier van Dongen was one of the avant garde group of artists known as fauvists, or wild beasts, and in the course of his career painted many portraits. In addition to BB, he painted King Leopold III of Belgium, and the popular French singer and entertainer Maurice Chevalier.

The finished work

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Modern Art Circle - Six Gentleman in Search of an Artist(s)

'The Le Havre collectors visiting an art gallery around 1910'
by Robert Fremond

In 1906, six passionate art collectors from the French city of Le Havre - Olivier Senn, Charles-Auguste Marande, Pieter van der Velde, Georges Dussueil, Oscar Schmitz and Franz-Edouard Luthy - formed an association which they called The Modern Art Circle, with the aim of promoting the work of living artists of their time.

They sought out works by Dufy, Braque, Matisse, Cézanne, Pissarro, Renoir, and others, and organised exhibitions of their works in Le Havre, and in the process made the industrial city into an important centre for avant garde art.

Their collection was later dispersed to art galleries in London, New York, and around Europe, but has now been reunited for an exhibition in Paris at the Musée du Luxembourg, where it will be until 6 January 2013.

L'Anse des pilotes au Havre, haute mer, après-midi, soleil  (1903)
by Camille Pissarro

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Le Beau Mariage - A Good Marriage

Beatrice Romand and Arielle Dombasile as Sabine and Clarisse

Le beau mariage is a delightful film that encompasses many of the features of a Shakespeare romantic comedy. 

The action  centres around Sabine, the plucky, self-confident heroine, who abruptly ends an affair with Simon, a married man, and embarks upon a quest to find a husband. Like Rosalind in As You Like It, Sabine has an inseparable friend, Clarisse, in whom she confides her deepest feelings. At first Clarisse is bemused by Sabine's impulsive decision, then later she introduces Sabine to her cousin Edmond, a 35 year old lawyer. Sabine decides on the instant that Edmond is the one. Unfortunately for Sabine, Edmond has other plans.

Sabine tells her mother of her decision to marry Edmond, and in shocked when her mother suggests that they live together rather than marry. It is not the suggestion per se that shocks Sabine, after all had she not just ended an adulterous affair with a married man? What shocked Sabine was that the suggestion should come from her mother.

The rest of the film is devoted to Sabine's pursuit of the unwilling Edmond. She invites him to her birthday party, but he has to leave abruptly. She bombards him with telephone calls, but he is never available. Then, in a final act, she confronts him in his office in Paris, where Edmond tells her the blunt reality that he is not in love with her and does not want to marry her.

Sabine responds in the time-honoured manner of the romantic heroine. "Who said anything about marriage?" she demands, and in an outburst of feminine fickleness tells Edmond that if she did wish to marry there are millions of men who are younger, handsomer and more interesting that he. She calls him a hypocrite, and then she storms out of his office, brusquely pushing aside one of his lady clients in the process.

But her quest to find a husband is undaunted, and the film ends with Sabine on a train from her home in Le Mans to Paris, exchanging furtive glances with a young man sitting opposite.

The film was written and directed by Eric Rohmer, with Beatrice Romand as Sabine, André Dussolier as Edmond, and Arielle Dombasile as Clarisse.