THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

112 posts categorized "Visual arts"

16 October 2018

Václav Hübschmann’s satirical illustrations in the magazine Kopřivy.

Add comment

Humour and satire played an important role during the First World War and in recent research have been called “the art of survival” (as in Libby Murphy’s 2016 study). Jaroslav Hašek’s comic masterpiece The Adventures of The Good Soldier Švejk, which was published in 1923, remains the most read and best known example of the Czech humour. Hašek definitely experienced many influences of the European tradition of satirical magazines, which were thriving from as early as the mid-19th century, such as the Italian L'Asino, the French Le Charivari, the German Simplicissimus, or the British Punch, to name just a few. However, here I would like to give a glimpse of the Czechs’ own tradition of satire and humour, which might not feature so prominently outside Czech and Slovak culture.

The three satirical magazines established before the first Czechoslovak republic (1918- 1938) were the conservative Humoristické listy (‘Humourist Pages’), the Social-Democratic Kopřivy - list satirický (‘The Nettle: satirical pages’) – both produced in Prague, and Rašplí (‘Rasps’) published in Brno. Several other, probably less established magazines, like Malé humory (Little Humour), Košťátko (Broom) and Mládeneček (Baby), were published in Austria.

Of these titles, the British Library, unfortunately, holds only an incomplete set of Kopřivy (PP.8006.cu). The magazine was launched in Prague in 1909 and ran through the inter-war years until 1937. While flicking through the 1913 issues, I noticed that illustrations by one artist appeared in almost every one. This artist was Václav Hübschmann, who was born in Prague in 1886 and died in Prčice in 1917. The surname Hübschmann is better known even to art historians in relation to Václav’s elder brother, the architect Bohumil Hübschmann (Hypšman after 1945,). Václav Hübschmann also worked as a theatre designer, and therefore his short biography is recorded in a volume on the Czech theatre. Some of his works are held in galleries and museums (e.g. the Moravian Gallery in Brno), but I could not find much about this artist who died at the age of 31.

Here are some of his illustrations from Kopřivy, which I hope our readers will like and enjoy as much as I did.

Untitled_03082018_134606

Poor prospects. “Daddy, will we be fasting for the whole year, so that we see the golden piggy-bank that the caretaker didn’t allow in last year?”

Untitled_03082018_134633In the Hotel “Bulgaria”: Would you like your breakfast or travel first, Sir?

Untitled_03082018_134706Poem “A young proletarian”

Untitled_03082018_134740

State care for emigrants: “Why should I not go to America, where I’m not going to be a soldier? – It hurts, lad, as you want to avoid a war tax”.

Untitled_03082018_134812Talk to the deaf person. Taxpayer: “So, what would you say? Who stole the money? I’m calling the police…” – Dr Groš: Nothing happened” (Karel Groš (1865-1938) – a Czech politician and statesman, mayor of Prague (1906-1918).

Untitled_03082018_134846Elections in Prague. “The devil owes us these elections. So that one would keep thinking for fourteen days what new promises should I make”.

  Untitled_03082018_134933Dr Groš to the honourable members of the racing club. “See, how I raced to glory… It’s all for a couple of thousand, which contributors paid with just one hand…”

Untitled_03082018_135007

Intercession of the Tsar-peacemaker. “Brothers, stop shedding Slavic blood… Don’t create dirty competition”

Untitled_03082018_135046A contemporary politician is depicted leading a troop of legendary warriors prophesied to come to the aid the Czechs in their hour of need

Untitled_03082018_135213Confiscation of confiscated. “A what is this title, Sir? There is nothing…”

Untitled_03082018_135246“I’m really sorry for you, Mrs Brázdová, that your husband is a socialist. And yet, you are a good Catholic.” – “You know, Father, he wanted to teach me socialism as well, but I told him: you cannot teach an old dog new tricks”.

 

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

References/further reading

Libby Murphy, The Art of Survival: France and the Great War picaresque (New Haven, CT, 2016) YC.2017.a.12777

Oldřich Toman, Politická karikatura Mikoláše Alše v brněnské Rašpli roku 1890 (Brno, 1983) X.809/64015.

Jiří Valenta (ed.), Malované opony divadel českých zemí. (Prague, 2010) YF.2011.b.1490

24 September 2018

War-Painting: the End of Futurism

Add comment

We have recently added a new book to our Italian Futurist collection. Guerrapittura is an important example of the synergy of text and graphics in Italian Futurist books. Some other acquisitions were made for the exhibition Breaking the Rules. The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937 in 2008, and our collections are constantly growing.

Guerrapittura CoverCarlo Carra’, Guerrapittura: futurismo politico, dinamismo plastico, 12 disegni guerreschi, parole in libertà (Milan, 1915) RF.2018.b.187

The Italian painter Carlo Carra’ wrote Guerrapittura (‘War-painting’) in 1915, when the First World War had started but Italy had not yet entered the conflict. His words are an important contribution to the interventismo (interventionism), where artists and intellectuals played a huge role in lobbying the public opinion to enter the War.

Guerrapittura is Carra’s last contribution to the Futurist movement. From 1917 he joined the painter Giorgio De Chirico on his conception of pittura metafisica. His patriotic views are expressed quite strongly in Guerrapittura, the war being an ‘incentive to creativity’ and a way to celebrate the ‘Italian creative genius’. The War is seen as the climax of the futurist way of thinking, an encounter between art and life, the last step towards an industrialized world. Literature and painting meet in the book, which features the iconic leaflet ‘Sintesi futurista della guerra’, authored on 29 September 1914 by Carra’, together with Marinetti, Boccioni, Piatti and Russolo. The ‘words in freedom’ in the leaflet celebrate FUTURISM vs TRADITIONALISM. Futurism is represented by Russia, France, Belgium, Serbia, Italy, Japan, Montenegro, Great Britain, against the traditionalism of Germany and Austria.

Sintesi futurista della Guerra‘Sintesi futurista della Guerra’, from Guerrapittura, p. 109

The violence and ugliness of war are ignored in his words and in those of his fellow futurists, like in the magazine Lacerba, whose intolerant and anti-democratic views mirror those of Carra’ in Guerrapittura. Lacerba’s short life was linked to the interventismo from 1913-1915 and its reason to exist ceased when the war started. The last issue of Lacerba, dated 1915, celebrates Italy entering the War.

LacerbacoverLacerba, 15 May 1915, from the facsimile reprint Lacerba. Firenze, 1913-1915 (Rome, 1970). L.45/2625

The acquisition of Guerrapittura has been made possible by the Mirella De Sanctis special fund for the purchase of Italian books.

Valentina Mirabella, Curator, Romance Collections

Further reading

Breaking the Rules: the Printed Face of the European Avant Garde, 1900-1937 (London, 2007) YC.2008.b.251.

Mirella Bentivoglio ‘Innovative Artist’s Books of Italian Futurism’ in International Futurism in Arts and Literature, edited by Günter Berghaus (Berlin, 2000), pp. 473-486. YA.2002.a.8247.

Futurismo & Futurismi (Milan, 1986) YV.1986.b.694. [English edition (London, 1986) at YV.1987.b.2043.]

 

14 September 2018

‘In constant movement without an end’: the warp and weft of fashion research

Add comment

Today marks the opening of the 35th London Fashion Week. The event will feature over 250 designers, whose avant-garde and experimental ideas will once again trickle down to our own wardrobes. ‘Where do designers find inspiration?’ we ask ourselves time and again. Can the key to finding new ideas for fashion design be found in library collections?

Image 1 Under the Northern Lights collection by Elisabeth Nilsson - London Graduate Fashion Week, June 2018 (reproduced with permission).

Research is the foundation of any design process and a library is a wonderful resource to begin the search. While looking through a book or magazine, you may stumble on an image or a subject you may not have initially considered. There is something special about leafing, smelling or touching the book; experiencing the full potential of the visual stimulus it can offer. After all, books are objects that are themselves crafted and designed. Designers are always looking for something to utilise, from visual and literary to conceptual or narrative sources; obscure references that will make their work unique.

‘Things don’t come out of nowhere, they must come out of somewhere!’ says Vivienne Westwood, the iconic fashion designer. As an avid reader herself, in her 2017 talk at the British Library, Reading is important: Get a life!, Westwood reveals that she thrives on curiosity, finding out everything possible around any given subject, from classical Chinese poetry to mythical anthropology.

Last year the British Library organised a masterclass and show-and-tell to attract fashion students and for them to take part in the fashion design competition. They were encouraged to explore the Library’s collections for their inspiration and research. A final year student from University of the Creative Arts in Epsom, Elisabeth Nilsson, delved into the British Library European Studies Collections. Being Swedish herself, it was no surprise that Nordic themes were main inspiration for her two collections, Once Upon a Time and Under the Northern Lights.

Image 2

 Portrait of John Bauer from John Bauers bästa: Ett urval sagor ur Bland tomtar och troll, åren 1907-1915 (Stockholm, 1937) L.R.400.c.6.

The Once upon a Time collection was inspired by the life of Swedish illustrator John Bauer  and his curious folklore painting, his family, and the jewellery that appear frequently in his illustrations. The collection features a masculine silhouette with subtle feminine undertones. The bold and structured shapes create the angular gaps that let the lighter fabrics flow through. Deep tones of black and blue colours are directly drawn from the illustrations of midnight, starry skies, while the texture is informed by Bauer’s portrayal of grotesque but humorous trolls.

Image 3

 ‘Riddern rider’ (‘The knight rides’), from Harald Torsten Viking Schiller, John Bauer sagotecknaren (Stockholm, 1935) Ac.4624.

John Bauer was best known for his illustrations of the first eight volumes of Bland Tomtar och Troll (‘Among Gnomes and Trolls’), first published in 1907. He was born in 1882, in Jönköping. Throughout his life he suffered with depression and struggled with the direction in life. It is evident that Bauer was a prolific researcher himself, as some details of his work can be traced to the original folk costumes and medieval ironworks. Renaissance Italian painting was major influence on his artistic style. Furthermore, his work was greatly informed by his travels throughout Germany, Italy and Lapland, where he spend time with the Sami people. In 1918 John Bauer’s somewhat troubled life came to an abrupt end when the boat he and his family were travelling in sank.

Image 4

Design development and an illustration for the Once Upon a Time collection by Elisabeth Nilsson (reproduced with permission).

Elisabeth’s examination of every aspect of Bauer’s work and life is reflected in the sombre mood of the collection. She captures minute details, such as the artist’s tailored clothing, or jewels worn by trolls. It is precisely those details that trigger further searches for new references. Such as luxurious and finely crafted Art Deco style jewellery popular at that time. The bold combinations of well-defined lines and geometric shapes featured in decorative pieces, lend themselves well to Elisabeth’s further development of ideas and forms.

Image 5Inspirational images of Art Deco jewellery and trolls for the Once Upon a Time collection by Elisabeth Nilsson  (reproduced with permission.)

Inspired by Bauer, Elisabeth continued her exploration of the semi-nomadic Sami people. For over thousands of years, this indigenous ethnic group has inhabited Sápmi, the region that stretches across Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. The first detailed description of Sami culture can be found in Johannes Schefferus’ Lapponia, published in 1673. The Sami are mostly associated with reindeer-herding, but their crafts – duodji, and traditional clothing, gákti  – are worth noting. Colours, patterns, ribboning and embroidery are used to personalise the characteristics of the wearer, such as their family background or marital status.

Image 6

 Title-page of Johannes Schefferus, Lapponia, id est, regionis Lapponum et gentis nova et verissima descriptio … (Frankfurt, 1673). 1477.b.9.

The Under the Northern Lights collection is informed by the innovative approach to the traditional Sami way of life. The juxtaposition of modern and traditional is reflected in the experimentation with fabrics and textures. Man-made reflective fabrics and metallic fibres are combined with natural wool and fur. This is further emphasised with the use of appliqué, embellishment and pleats. The Nordic concept is tightly held together by limited palette of blue, grey and white colours. The oversized silhouette is exaggerated by playful use of giant zig-zag embellishment and inside-out details. Perhaps Elisabeth’s approach to fashion research and design development echoes ‘the traditional Sami conceptions of time as a circle, to be cyclical and in constant movement without an end’ (Lundström: p. 14).

Image 7

Under the Northern Lights collection by Elisabeth Nilsson - London Graduate Fashion Week, June 2018 (reproduced with permission)

Lora Afric, Languages Cataloguing Manager

References/further reading:

Richard Sorger, Jenny Udale, The fundamentals of fashion design (London, 2017) YC.2018.a.9712

Simon Seivewright, Richard Sorger, Research and design for fashion (New York, 2017) YC.2017.a.12940

Martin Allwood (ed.), Herman och Ove Ekelund berättar om Torestorp och John Bauer i Mullsjö (Mullsjö, 1971) X.419/471.

Elsa Olenius (comp.), Great Swedish fairy tales. Illustrated by John Bauer (London, 1974) X.990/4150.

Cornelie Holzach (ed.), Art Déco Schmuck und Accessoires : ein neuer Stil für eine neue Welt = Art Déco jewellery and accessories : a new style for a new world (Stuttgart, 2008) YF.2009.b.395

Jan-Erik Lundström, Contemporary Sami art and design (Stockholm, 2015) YD.2016.a.180

Consuelo, Griggio, Sápmi skyar = Sápmi skies (Harads, 2015) LD.31.b.3978

30 August 2018

A diary as a form of art: Jiří Kolář

Add comment

The Czech poet, writer and artist Jiří Kolář (1914-2002) does not need a long introduction. He was one of the most prominent figures of the Czech avant-garde of the 1950s-70s and along with Ladislav Nová, Bohumila Grögerová, and her partner Josef Hiršal, one of the four founders of post-war Czechoslovak experimental poetry. Given his aesthetic views it is not surprising that Kolář, like many Czechoslovak intellectuals who lived through the communist regime, was a signatory of Charter 77 .

Having published his first collection of poems Křestní list (‘Birth Certificate’; YA.1996.a.15846) in 1941, by the mid-1950s Kolář started exploring new potentials of lyrical forms, reducing verbal expression to a bare minimum and concentrating on the capacities of visual expression. By the 1960s he developed his unique artistic style, using collage that would incorporate text as well as images as his main medium.

Kolar Self-portraitSelf Portrait by Kolář in Očitý svědek: deník z roku 1949 (Munich, 1983) X.958/30382

Having lived through all the major historical events with his nation, Kolář was very sensitive to them. Czech and Slovaks shared the turbulent history of Europe in the 20th century by marking it with events that were for some reason seemed to happen in the 8th year of decades: gaining independence in 1918, losing it to Nazi Germany in 1938, falling under the control of the Stalinist USSR in 1948 through a communist coup d’état, and unsuccessfully trying to shake off Soviet dominance in 1968. This strange coincidence makes this year extremely memorable for the Czech and Slovak republics. Only the Velvet Revolution of 1989 does not fit this pattern, but this means that we will have the whole of next year to dedicate to this great achievement.

It is especially interesting to note how the poet and artist developed a special interest in diaries and was meticulously devoted to this form. One of his critics observed that “considering Kolář’s permanent, insatiable thirst for facts, his undying passion for documenting the true pace of events and the truthfulness of impressions, we must admit that this autobiographical nature, this diary principle, committed to factography, permeates both his work and his deeds”. And this is very true. Kolář documented the year 1949, the beginning of the communist rule with a literary diary in verse and prose called Očitý svědek: deník z roku 1949 (‘Eyewitness, a diary of the year 1949’).

Kolar Ocity Svedek X.958-30382Cover of Očitý svědek 

The diary of the artists’s thoughts and emotions gives the readers the most faithful and honest impression of the time. On 11 July 1949 the diary entry begins:

Mě udolají snadno, neumím lhat, podobám se už červu, kterého přepůlili jen tak, pro podívanou a svíjím se. (I’m easy to destroy, /I cannot lie, / I’m like a worm, / Who was cut just so / for the show, and I’m curdling, / the soul is separate from the body).

In 1968, Kolář expressed himself through a series of 52 collages (one per week) that became an amazing artistic document of the year leading to the Prague Spring and its aftermath.

Kolar Tydenik 1968 YA.1994.b.1036 Title page of Týdeník 1968 = Newsreel 1968 (Prague, 1993) YA.1994.b.1036

The book is in a way a political pamphlet and reflects life in all its hectic variety, for example:

Week 2: Each day in the new year is a puzzle. Especially when one’s head is in a wire.
Week 10: Antonín Tomalík (a Czech artist) is Dead
Week 15: A liquid triumph of death [is] available at every crossroad. Take your pick!
Week 27: Homage to Ingres … or, the banner of a students’ revolt.
Week 39: Birthday. I was born in the First World War and guns have not fallen silent since.
Week 48: A week of Hands. A rejected hand often turns into a clenched fist.
Week 52: A Face of 1969. Alas, I am a poor prophet – and Utopia? Old men used to usher the world into Paradise. Our masters have long been drowned in mud.

The diary that documented the 1980s is Kolář’s correspondence. The two-volume publication of his letters Psáno na pohlednice (‘Written on postcards’) has the subtitle ‘correspondence in the form of a diary’, as it contains postcards that were sent every day over several years from Paris, where Kolář lived in exile, to his wife in Prague.

Kolar Psano na pohlednice YF.2004.a.6387
One of Kolář’s postcards, reproduced on the endpapers of Psáno na pohlednice (Prague, 2000). YF.2004.a.6387

More books by Jiří Kolář, material about him and catalogues of his works can be found in the British Library catalogue and consulted in the reading rooms.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

Further reading:

A. J. Samuels. ‘Jiří Kolář: The Czech Poet's Life, Work & Cultural Significance’ .

Arsén Pohribný, ‘Jiří Kolář’s Tower of Babel’, afterword in Týdeník 1968 (cited above).

13 August 2018

Signs of different times: French First World War posters

Add comment

From under one of the British Library’s unassuming shelfmarks ‘Tab.11748.a’, a fascinating portal into the First World War emerges. It references a collection of some 350 French posters dating from 1914 to 1918, which were in the Library’s possession by 1920. While a few have been displayed in exhibitions or included in the British Library’s World War One website  and Europeana 1914-1918, the majority have waited, neatly stored in their sturdy red wooden boxes, for nearly a century. As part of the Library’s PhD research placement programme , I began delving into this wonderfully rich collection, with the aim of bringing to light these pages of history for researchers, historians and the wider public.

The Great War is considered the first ‘total war’ in that not only armies but whole nations were mobilised to support the war effort. The streets of towns and cities quite literally bore its signs. The posters in this collection are the tangible artefacts of the urban environment of those who lived through the war; they informed, persuaded, warned, entertained, prescribed and prohibited. The images and messages they convey are those which ordinary French people saw, read, leaned against, walked by, tore down and pasted over. As well as offering testimony to the dramatic upheavals for people across France, they also bear witness to the burgeoning visual vocabulary of poster advertising and mass publicity.

1. Paris Street The call for mobilisation, posted at 4 p.m. on the rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs, Paris, 1 August 1914. (Image © Préfecture de Police, Service de l'Identité judiciaire/BHVP/Roger-Viollet)

2. Colonne MorrisColonne Morris, December 1914, (Image © Charles Lansiaux/BHVP/Roger-Viollet)

Eric Fisher Wood, an American in Paris at the outbreak of the war, remarks in his journal entry of 23 August 1914, ‘Here in Paris, extraordinary as it may seem, we have had no real news of the progress of the war. The Official Communiqués carry to a fine point the art of saying nothing of any importance.’ Naturally, people would have been desperate for information and one can imagine Parisians gathered around posters to read the speeches, announcements and call-ups.

These bills would have been posted on walls, hoardings, monuments and on the iconic Morris columns. These ubiquitous pieces of urban architecture, named after the printer Gabriel Morris, began to sprout up across France’s cities from 1855 and still pepper its streets, palimpsests of publicity and print culture.

The effectiveness of posters relied not only on key developments in industrialised production and chromolithography but also on mass literacy; for text-based posters to work, everyone needs to be able to read them. By the early 20th century, widespread literacy had been assured in France. Guizot’s law  of 1833 on primary education paved the way for Jules Ferry’s more comprehensive education act of 1882  which brought obligatory, free and secular primary education to children in France.

And what was being seen and read by French people across the country? This collection represents a cross section of the kinds of posters displayed during the war, varying from vibrant image-based posters to densely-printed transcripts of speeches and decrees. A wide range of themes are touched upon, from propaganda to appeals for donations, to local council announcements, each a unique prism through which to gain insight into the realities, norms and concerns of the time. Some highlight the startling difference between then and now, while others seem to reach across and reveal just how similar our realities are.

In contrast to Britain and the USA, France’s soldiers were not recruits but conscripts, so there are no equivalents of Kitchener’s or Uncle Sam’s famous pointing fingers in this collection. General mobilisation was announced in France in the first days of August 1914, solemnly calling up all men of fighting age:

3. General mobilisation
 Official government announcement for general mobilisation. 2 August 1914. République française. (All poster images are taken from the collection at Tab.11748.a. A complete listing with fuller shelfmark details is in preparation.)

However, even though service was obligatory, there were still attempts to boost morale and stir national pride. This poster uses patriotic, energetic imagery to encourage Frenchmen to sign up for training programmes to arrive fit and ready for the front.

4. Military Preparation

Poster for pre-military training programmes for future troops, 1918. Ministère de la guerre.

One of the most interesting kinds of posters, albeit less visually scintillating, are the state-issued posters for public dissemination announcing decrees and regulations under military law. They are to do with requisitions of all kinds of property including cars, horses, mules and even carrier pigeons for military use, summons to public commemoration such as the transference of the remains of Rouget de l’Isle, author of ‘La Marseillaise’, to the Hôtel des Invalides, and a great number are related to the sale of alcohol, absinthe in particular.

5. Pigeon requisition Announcement for requisition of carrier pigeons in the Seine department, 1917. République française.

6. La Marseillaise
Commemoration of the transference of Rouget de l’Isle’s remains to the Hôtel des Invalides, Paris, 1915.

7. Absinthe
 Regulations on the sale of alcohol and prohibition of absinthe, Paris, October 1914. Préfecture de police.

Among the more artistically appealing are the posters advertising war bonds. These raised the means to fund the war and later to help rebuild the country through liberty bonds. Each bank issued its own posters, sometimes engaging well-known artists to urge individuals to lend what they could to the state, at low fixed-interest rates. Their imagery is direct, persuasive and unabashedly patriotic.

8. Flag bonds Poster resembling the French flag advertising war bonds, Paris c. 1915, Compagnie des agents de change.

9. On les a
‘On les a’, ‘We’ve got them’. Poster for liberty bonds featuring French poilu, a Scottish highlander and an American soldier. London County & Westminster Bank (Paris), Firmin Bouisset, 1918.  

Posters appealing for funds and donations make up another substantial part of the collection, advertising galas, concerts and art exhibitions for various causes. They reveal the proliferation of charities and aid organisations from the outset of the war, all raising funds for different groups of people adversely affected by the war: orphans, wounded soldiers, POWs, families of soldiers killed in action, refugees and the poor.

10. Croix-verte

 Poster for ‘La Croix-Verte’, a charity for wounded and returning soldiers, Paris, c. 1915.

11. Reconstitution du foyer
Poster for the charity ‘Reconstitution du foyer’, calling for donations of household furniture and objects. Paris, c. 1916.

There is of course a number of anti-German propaganda posters, describing the cruelty and barbarism of the ‘Huns’, their violation of international treaties and their violence against civilian populations, often comparing them with the moral irreproachability of the allies.

12. PangermanismFrom the pamphlet ‘…et LA LUMIÈRE se fait…’ Law and justice versus the egotism and pride of Pangermanism. Paris, 1914-1918.

13. Anti-German poster
 Anti-German poster detailing the atrocities committed by its government and armies arranged under nine headings. Paris 1915-1918.

There are also posters which have a more tangential connection to the war, such as this remarkable advert by Henri Montassier  for a serial by Régis Gignoux and Roland Dorgelès. His anthropomorphised tank takes less inspiration from contemporary tanks than those in H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Another is the striking poster for ‘L’Exportateur français’, with its imposing silhouette and vibrant orange sky, an early example of the stylised art deco posters of the 20s and 30s.

14. L'HeurePoster advertising the serial La machine à finir la guerre. Henri Montassier, Paris Atelier Charles Didier, c. 1917.

15. War of the worlds L.45-3317
Henrique Alvim-Corea’s artwork for H. G. Wells, La guerre des mondes, translated by Henry-D. Davray (Brussels, 1906). L.45/3317

16. L'Exportateur francais
Poster for L’Exportateur français, by Marc, Atelier Pichon, Imprimerie Joseph Charles, Paris, c. 1918.

In Paris and cities throughout France, the sites that displayed these posters continue their functions, as do the Morris Columns, now adapted for cities’ evolving needs. They were taken over in 1986 by advertising giants JCDecaux, and have gradually been repurposed with dual functions; they are toilets, phone boxes, and some are even equipped with pollution-absorbing devices; ultra-modern but concretely connected to the past. Now, a century after the end of the war, the posters they once displayed reanimate the visual landscape and invite us to reimagine France’s urban theatres and the lives that took place within them.

Phoebe Weston-Evans, PhD placement student, BL European and American Collections – University of Melbourne

References

James Aulich, War Posters: Weapons of Mass Communication (London, 2007). LC.31.b.9601

John Barnicoat, A Concise History of Posters (London, 1972). X.429/5360

Rosalind Ormiston, First World War Posters (London, 2013). YKL.2015.a.2857

 Eric Fisher Wood, The Note-Book of an Attaché. Seven Months in the War Zone (New York, 1940). 9082.ff.28

Christine Vial Kayser and Géraldine Chopin, Allons enfants! Publicité et propagande 1914-1918 (Louveciennes, 2014). YF.2017.a.11967

Charles Lansiaux, Paris 14-18: la guerre au quotidien. Photographies de Charles Lanciaux (Paris, 2013). LF.31.a.5681

 

23 July 2018

‘A work of art must be as logical as a machine’

Add comment

Blok title page

The British Library has recently acquired two issues of a rare Polish avant-garde journal Blok: czasopismo awangardy artystycznej, issue 3-4 (Warsaw, 1924; RF.2018.b.75). The journal was issued by the first constructivist group of artists in Poland bearing the same name, whose theory can be summed up in the quotation above. The Blok was formed in 1924 and consolidated around the issue of construction in a work of art. It included such prominent artists as Władysław Strzemiński, Mieczysław Szczuka and Teresa Żarnower.

Blok Zarnower

The journal was edited primarily by Szczuka and Strzemiński and addressed a wide range of topics from art theory, architecture and theatre to music and literature. The controversies between the two main leaders Strzemiński and Szczuka led to the break-up of the group and cessation of the journal in 1926. Only 11 issues were published in total.

Blok 2

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

19 July 2018

A Right Royal Gift Book: ‘The Wedding at Windsor’

Add comment

On 26 and 27 April 2018, the British Library and the National Portrait Gallery played host to scholars and members of the Anglo-Danish Society who gathered together to learn about the portraits and patronage of five fascinating royals: Anna of Denmark (1574-1619), Queen Consort to James VI and I; George of Denmark (1653-1708), Prince Consort to Queen Anne; Louisa of Britain (1724-1751), Queen Consort to Frederik V of Denmark and daughter to George II; Caroline-Mathilde of Britain (1751-1775), Queen Consort to Christian VII of Denmark and sister to George III; and Alexandra of Denmark (1844-1925), Queen Consort to Edward VII. Two very special British Library items that were shown as part of the event are detailed in two blog posts. First, Dr Sara Ayres, the event organiser and formerly Queen Margarethe II Carlsberg Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Portrait Gallery, takes us back 150 years to a very familiar occasion.

Following the excitement swirling around the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex) in May of this year, it is perhaps as good a moment as any to cast a glance back into the past upon another royal wedding, which brought another beautiful bride over the sea, to marry a son of Queen Victoria. The groom was Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and the bride, Princess Alexandra of Denmark. The Princess’s carriage ride through London on her way to Windsor Castle to prepare for her marriage in St George’s Chapel on 10 March 1863 was attended by a riotous outpouring of popular celebration. Indeed, the Victorian crowds which surged to meet this Danish bride were more numerous and rather less orderly than the waving well-wishers lining the televised procession of Saturday 19 May 2018.

Bricklayer's Arms stationA respectful audience for the arrival of the new Queen at the old Bricklayers’ Arms Station. From The Wedding at Windsor: A Memorial of the Marriage of ... Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and ... Alexandra, Princess of Denmark (London, 1864) 1754.d.32

Both the marriage and the Princess’s landing at Gravesend and royal entry into London were commemorated in a lavish volume entitled The Wedding at Windsor. The text was crafted by none other than William Howard Russell, a veteran journalist who had won fame, if not fortune, reporting on the Crimean War for the London Times. This heavy folio volume is richly illustrated with chromolithographs of the procession, the wedding and the many, lavish bridal gifts. It is these beautiful prints designed by the artist Robert Dudley and realised by lithographers to the Queen, Messrs. Day and Sons, which lift this official publication out of the ordinary and into the realms of print history.

Title PageTitle Page from The Wedding at Windsor

Chromolithography occupies a brief and singular moment in the history of colour printing, quickly eclipsed by the rise of fully automatic processes for mechanical reproduction. Chromolithography demanded expertise; its processes were minutely analysed by the printer’s eye and aligned by hand, and used as many colours as the client’s means afforded. The application of such intensely focused skill produced results with an extraordinary sense of material presence. Dudley’s illustrations of the wedding gifts seem almost to vibrate off the page, their intense reality effect investing the precious objects with a second life inside the book.

Temple BarCrowds line the streets at Temple Bar, the Union Jack flyring side by side with the Dannebrog 

Dudley’s illustrations of the procession of 7 March 1863 fascinate with their detail of the ephemeral decorations which lined the Princess’s route. Triumphal arches, countless flags, royal portraits and allegorical sculptures recreated the most famous thoroughfares of London as heraldic heterotopias, which both narrated and celebrated the continuance of the long and storied relationship between Denmark and Britain.

The Mansion HouseThe Mansion House

Dudley’s topographies of London Bridge, Mansion House and Temple Bar teem with crowds filling the streets and the windows, balconies and rooftops of every building along the way. The Princess is reduced to a speck of print lost in the swirling masses. The crowds are orderly spectators, contained by iconic architectures and regulated by highlights of regal red and gold. But the reality of the procession was rather different. Too few policemen and a lack of coordination between the various authorities involved in organising the procession coupled with a huge desire on the part of the public to participate in the day's events produced crowds which were neither orderly nor contained. As Russell writes in the accompanying text:

[The people] cheered as she came near, then gazed upon her face, and then cheered more loudly than ever. Too eagerly for the ease of the Royal Bride, they pressed against the horses and carriage-wheels, caught hold of the sides of the vehicle, stretched out their hands, and in one struggling shouting turmoil, with waving hands and arms, and open throats, shifting and clinging like figures in a nightmare, they strove and contended to hold place and get nearest to the carriage which contained her.

Windsor Castle must have seemed like the calmest of safe havens to this young Princess and her family upon their arrival, following this most eventful of royal processions.

Gold OrnamentsA lavish gift list - gold ornaments beautifully illustrated

PorcelainAnd some fine porcelain for the lucky married couple

This illustrations in this important and fascinating book perhaps preserve the royal wedding celebrations of 1863 as they ought to have been, rather than as they were exactly. Despite the decorous veil they cast over the events portrayed, they still provide us with an evocative glimpse into the past. To re-examine them in the light of the more recent celebrations, is to sense the pattern of our most common rituals framed in the specificities of uncommon times.

16 July 2018

Antoine Vérard’s early printed books in the British Library

Add comment

The library of the English King Henry VII contained about 40 copies of editions produced by the Parisian publisher and bookseller Antoine Vérard, most of them on vellum and illuminated, although only a minority of those contain marks of provenance such as textual modifications, the heraldic arms of England, the HR monogram, or numbers from the later inventories of the Royal Library made at Richmond Castle or Westminster Palace in 1535 and 1542. At the time, these copies on vellum were bound in red, blue or black velvet, and though most of the original bindings have disappeared, the later British Museum bindings have replicated this feature.

Fig 1 C.22.d.1
Prologue to Vincent de Beauvais, Miroir Historial, tr. Jean de Vignay (Paris: A. Vérard, 1495-96) C.22.d.1.

In 1492, Henry VII appointed Quentin Poulet, a scribe and illuminator from Lille, as official librarian, keeper of the newly founded Royal Library. Poulet’s ornate signature features at the end of the paper copy of the 1499 edition of the prose version by Jean Gallopes of Guillaume de Diguleville’s Pelerinage de l’ame (IB.41186).

Fig 2 IB.41186
Last leaf of Pelerinage de l’ame with Poulet’s signature

Illuminated copies of Vérard’s editions printed on vellum were produced for individuals such as Charles VIII of France, his most important patron, as well as other members of the French royal family and aristocracy: Charles d’Angoulème, Louise de Savoie, etc. In a few cases, the name ‘Charles VIII’, ‘roy de France’, which features in many prologues of Vérard’s editions, has been manually replaced by ‘Henry VII’, ‘roy d'Engleterre’ in the copy made for him, as in the opening of the 1494 vellum copy of the French version of Boethius’ De Consolatione philosophiae.

Fig 3 C.22.f.8
Prologue in the British Library vellum copy of De Consolatione philosophiae (Paris, 1494) C.22.f.8

Vérard also produced a few editions for the British market, such as an English translation of a book first published in French in 1492, The book intitulyd the art of good lyvyng and good deyng (1503; C.70.g.14.) and a Book of Hours for the use of Salisbury (Horae ad usum Sarum, c. 1505), whose profuse illustration in quarto format needed an impressive amount and assemblage of woodcuts. The British Library copy (C.35.e.4) bears traces of the Reformation (several images of saints have been crossed out) but has ironically been rebound with paper waste made of several leaves of the Protestant Book of Common Prayer. Although Vérard almost only used woodcuts to illustrate his editions, he occasionally combined them with metalcuts, as demonstrated by the different types of damage to the blocks visible in these images. While woodcuts tend to crack, metalcuts bend and are distorted (probably through human manipulation rather than the pressure of the press).

Fig 4 damage
Examples of woodcut (blue) / metalcut (red) damage from Horae ad usum Sarum, C.35.e.4, f. e1

Vérard’s printed books are well known for the importance of their illustrations but also for the widespread reuse of woodcuts, which was facilitated by the use of generic scenes. It can create meaningful associations, or lead to discrepancies between texts and images. Vérard did not always produce illuminated editions on vellum with a particular patron in mind (he probably had some ready to be purchased in his Paris bookshop), but when he travelled to England himself in 1502, he probably offered some to the English king in person: there is a record for a payment made to ‘Anthony Verard’ for a paper copy of the Jardin de santé. In this encyclopaedic text (a French translation of the Hortus Sanitatis) published between 1499 and 1502, while the familiar strawberries are accurately depicted, the woodcut used for the peach tree is more generic and reused for all kinds of exotic trees bearing fruits (C.22.f.9).

Fig 5 C.22.f.9
‘De fragaria/freizier’ , the strawberry plant (part 1, r1v) and ‘De Cozula’, the peach tree (part 1, n2) from Jardin de santé (C.22.f.9)

Vérard worked with many artists and engravers. Among them, the styles of Jean d’Ypres and Guérard Louf are very representative of the Parisian aesthetics of that time. Apart from designs for woodcuts and metalcuts, the workshop of Jean d’Ypres produced illuminated manuscripts and tapestry and stained glass designs. Guérard Louf and his collaborators, who also produced illuminated manuscripts, were inspired by northern French and Flemish painters. This group of artists was responsible for more than half of the 2000 woodcuts and metalcuts used in Vérard’s editions. Woodcuts could be modified in order to fit better the text they accompanied. Vérard’s edition of the Bataille judaïque by Flavius Josephus, printed after December 1492, contains a woodcut showing Bishop Ananus leading his troops. The bishop’s mitre was erased and replaced with a crown, to represent King Gontran meeting his nephew, in the 1493 edition of the Chroniques de France. This crown was then transformed back into a hat around 1502, so that the main character could be recognized as the Duke of Burgundy organising a meeting in Vérard’s first edition of Enguerrand de Monstrelet’s Chroniques.

Fig 6 modifications
Alterations to woodcuts (BnF, Rés. H 10, f. a8v; BnF, Rés. FOL L35 7 (1), f. h4v; BnF, Rés. Fol. LA14-1 (1), f. x3v)

For his copies on vellum, Vérard employed artists such as the Master of Jacques de Besançon (recently identified as François, the son of Maître François / François le Barbier), the Master of Robert de Gaguin or the Master of Philippe de Gueldre, who best known for their manuscript illuminations while their contribution to the illustration of books printed on vellum has often been neglected. Many of the illuminations in Vérard’s vellum copies still lack artistic attributions. The practice of collaborative work, the homogeneity of style, and the commonplace use of illustration templates within Vérard’s workshop all accentuate the difficulty in identifying the artists involved.

Fig 7 C.22.d.6 8 and IC.41248
Copies of Enguerrand de Monstrelet, Chroniques on paper (IC.41248; left) and vellum (C.22.d.6,8; right)

The use of illumination brought different degrees of modification to the illustrations produced for the paper copies: in some cases, the woodcut is printed and hand-coloured, in others, the design is modified by the illuminator, or a completely new scene is produced, whether the underlying woodcut is printed or not (as in the frontispiece of the vellum copy of Vérard’s 1498 Merlin). In longer narrative works like romances or chronicles, vellum copies include extra illuminations located in the spaces used for chapter headings in the paper copies. This is not systematic but greatly increases the number of illustrations and can lead to a new (though often stereotyped) iconography. The nature and location of the illustrations varies from one vellum copy to the other, as in the two illuminated British Library copies of the  Monstrelet’s Chroniques published between 1501 and 1503. While the execution of Jehan Coustain, Philip of Burgundy’s Master of the Wardrobe, accused in 1462 of plotting to poison the Count of Charolais, is dramatically depicted at the bottom of folio 222 in IC.41248 (the image uses the space of the lower margin, and the chapter heading has been copied by hand on the right), it has not been illustrated in the royal copy, C.22.d.8.

Louis-Gabriel Bonicoli (NY State University, Albany)
Irène Fabry-Tehranchi (Romance collections, British Library)

This blog was written in relation with a workshop on Antoine Vérard’s French early printed books held on 28 June 2018 at the British Library, in collaboration with the Early Modern Book Project. It was organised by Louis-Gabriel Bonicoli (NY State University at Albany), Irène Fabry-Tehranchi (BL) and Karen Limper-Herz (BL), and received the support of the Friends of the British Library.

References/Further Reading:

Guy Bechtel, Catalogue des gothiques français. 1476-1560 (Paris, 2008). RAR 094.20944

T. A. Birrell, English Monarchs and Their Books: From Henry VII to Charles II (London, 1987) 2719.e.1586

Louis-Gabriel Bonicoli, La production du libraire-éditeur parisien Antoine Vérard (1485-1512): nature, fonctions et circulation des images dans les premiers livres imprimés illustrés (unpublished), 3 vol., 2015.

James P. Carley, The Books of King Henry VIII and His Wives (London, 2004) YC.2005.a.7799

P. R. Harris, A History of the British Museum Library, 1753-1973 (London, 1998) 2719.k.2164

Libraries within the Library: The Origins of the British Library’s Printed Collections. Edited by Giles Mandelbrote and Barry Taylor (London, 2009) YC.2010.a.1356

The Library of the British Museum: Retrospective Essays on the Department of Printed Books, Edited by P. R. Harris (London, 1991) YC.1992.b.1600

John Macfarlane, Antoine Vérard (London, 1900) Ac.9670/2.

Ina Nettekoven, Der Meister der Apokalypsenrose der Sainte Chapelle und die Pariser Buchkunst um 1500 (Turnhout, 2004) YF.2005.b.1304

Myra Orth, Renaissance Manuscripts: the Sixteenth Century (London, 2015) LC.31.b.15376 & LC.31.b.15377

Short-title catalogue of books printed in France and of French books printed in other countries from 1470 to 1600 in the British Library (London, 1983). Supplement, 1986.

Mary Beth Winn, Anthoine Vérard: Parisian Publisher 1485-1512 (Geneva, 1997) WP.A.31/313

Caroline Zöhl, Jean Pichore: Buchmaler, Graphiker und Verleger in Paris um 1500 (Turnhout, 2004) YF.2006.b.341

BnF, Base des éditions parisiennes du 16ème siècle, BP16

Incunabula Short Title Catalogue, ISTC 

09 July 2018

Funding Victory: French posters from the end of the First World War

Add comment

The British Library holds an important collection of French propaganda posters from the First World War. This striking material, often of high artistic quality, constitutes a fascinating means to reflect on the values and motivations as well as the challenges faced by French society at the time. Many posters dating from the end of the war call for the financial support of French civilians by subscribing to ‘Liberation Loans’, first to finance victory and, after the war, to fund ongoing reconstruction. These were government bonds issued through banks, given by individuals to the state at a fixed, low interest rate and redeemable after a given period. Subscribing to them was presented as an integral part of the war effort. The posters advertising them highlight a situation of economic strain (high government debt, inflation and currency devaluation), and its social and political repercussions, stressing the financial responsibility of civilians to support soldiers on the frontline.

1 (2)
‘Souscrivez à l’emprunt de la Libération’, Tab. 11748.a., Box 5, No. 319.

The poster ‘Souscrivez à l’emprunt de la Libération’, illustrated by the artist and caricaturist Édouard-Alexandre Bernard, was issued in 1918 by the Comité national de prévoyance et d’économie, led by members of the government, businessmen and industrialists, academics and Church representatives, whose names are listed on the left-hand side: their authority and expertise support the poster’s message. The promotion of Liberation Loans links the relative strengths of the French and German currencies to the two countries’ military situations. On one side, the one franc coin seems to climb effortlessly up a slope, leading the way for a group of allied soldiers to ascend. The caption indicates that since the whole world trusts France's credit, the franc strengthens; meanwhile, since nobody trusts Germany's credit, its currency weakens. On the other side, a one mark coin rolls down a cliff. Barely supported by the soldiers who attempt to prevent its downfall, the wayward coin appears about to crush them.

2 (2)
‘Souscrivez pour la Victoire’, Tab. 11748.a., Box 3, No. 250.

In these posters, subscription to war loans is presented as essential to support the army and hasten the victory of the French troops. The poster ‘Souscrivez pour la Victoire’, by Richard Gutz, advertises subscriptions through the Banque nationale de crédit. It displays in the sunset, a female allegory of Victory, winged, in armour and wrapped in the French flag, leading through the air cavalry and infantry who bear French, British, Japanese, American and Serbian flags. The perspective of their triumphant charge contrasts with the scene below, depicting a mass of wounded and dead soldiers on the battlefield. The poster thus also highlights the cooperation of the allied forces.

3subscribe-loan-central-company-provincial-banks
Souscrivez à l’emprunt à la Société centrale des banques de province’, Tab. 11748.a., Box 3, No 236. 

A poster by the illustrator and painter Eugène Courboin, ‘Souscrivez à l’emprunt à la Société centrale des banques de province’, reminds the viewer of the historical links between France and America and the need for reciprocal help. It shows a colourful Uncle Sam shaking hands with a statue of the Marquis de Lafayette, the French general who fought for the Americans in the War of Independence of 1776.

4 (2)
‘La Marseillaise’, Tab. 11748.a., Box 2, No. 241.

Historical references and national symbols were a powerful way of exalting French patriotism, as in Jacques Carlu’s 1918 poster, dominated by the colours blue, white and red. La Marseillaise, the national revolutionary anthem written in Strasbourg in 1792 by Rouget de L’Isle (who features at the centre of the picture, one hand raised and the other on his chest), is described as returning triumphantly in 1918 with the allied armies (depicted behind Rouget). National and regional pride are stirred up by the allusion to Marseille and the reference to Alsace as a long-standing part of France. In the bottom left is a quote by the French Prime Minister Georges Clémenceau, ‘Allons donc enfants de la Patrie, allons achever de libérer les peuples’, which rewrites the national anthem by giving it an international scope: the liberation of the peoples.

5algerian-company-liberation-loan
‘Compagnie algérienne’, Tab. 11748.a., Box 6, No. 325. 

A Liberation loan poster from the Paris headquarters of the Compagnie algérienne was made by the Belgian artist Maurice Romberg de Vaucorbeil who had travelled to Morocco and created an extensive body of work in North Africa. It depicts a heroic Algerian warrior in traditional costume riding a beautiful black stallion, with an elaborate script and the Arabic inscription ‘In the name of God’. It reminds us of the crucial role played by the French colonies and French colonial troops during the war.

6 (2)
‘Emprunt de la Libération’, Tab. 11748.a., Box 5 No. 289.

The posters also give insights into the hope for peace and reconstruction, with the return of demobilised troops after the war. The poster ‘Emprunt de la Libération’, 1918, signed by ‘Perbural’, advertised for subscriptions to the Société Marseillaise for industrial and commercial credit and deposits. A woman in regional dress reaches up to gather laurel leaves which fall as crowns on a crowd of French soldiers returning under the sunshine with the word ‘victory’ above them. Despite the importance of regional elements like the laurel and the traditional dress, if you look closely at this poster you can see that the Marseille address has been covered over by that of the Paris offices.

7 (2)
‘Emprunt de la Libération, Chambre des notaires de Beauvais’, Tab. 11748.a, Box 6, No. 286.

Another poster advertising Liberation loans was issued by the Chambre des notaires de Beauvais. It features a black and white drawing by Lucien Jonas, an established painter who worked for the French Army and Navy during the war. In this case, the image does not depict armies but a single soldier bringing home two small girls. The elder wears a traditional Alsatian outfit (including the distinctive black bow headdress) and holding a French flag, while the younger wears the Lorraine cross and white bonnet. The image illustrates verses by Jules Favre, a statesman at the beginning of the Third French Republic, about the recovery of Alsace and Lorraine lost during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Through liberation and victory, the happy scene, reminiscent of a joyful family reunion, embodies the territorial reunification of France at the end of the conflict.

Visual sources and ephemera are essential to our understanding of the First World War. Displaying nationalistic posters advertising the collecting of funds for the war effort to enable victory and support reconstruction at the time of the liberation of France emphasised the economic underpinning of the war and its monetary and social consequences. The posters illustrate the importance of financial history which is crucial to our understanding of the funding of the war and the social consequences of the economic situation. They carry powerful imagery and strong patriotic symbolism at regional, national and international levels. Although they display optimism and hope after the hardships of the war, the loan posters, which before and after the armistice appeal to civilian populations for the support of the army and the reconstruction of the country, demonstrate ongoing economic challenges and can also be seen to foreshadow indirectly the financial and political crises of the interwar period.

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator, Romance Collections

References/Further reading

Jim Aulich and John Hewitt, Seduction or instruction? First World War posters in Britain and Europe (Manchester, 2007)

James Aulich, War posters : weapons of mass communication (London, 2007). fm08/.1008

Pearl James, Picture this : World War I posters and visual culture (Lincoln, 2009). YD.2012.a.2087

Allons enfants : publicité et propagande, 1914-1918, dir. Christine Vial Kayser et Géraldine Chopin (Louveciennes, 2014) YD.2012.a.2087

Krieg auf Plakaten = La guerre par l'affiche, bearbeitet, übersetzt und erweitert von Franz Maier auf der Grundlage der französischen Fassung von Sylvain Chimello und Charles Hiegel (Koblenz, 2000) SF.279[Bd.85]

La guerre des affiches : 1914-1918, la Grande Guerre racontée par les images de propagande, dir. Laurent Giordano (Grenoble, 2013) LF.31.b.11339

Benjamin Gilles et Arndt Weinrich, Une guerre des images : 1914-1918 : France-Allemagne (Paris, 2014) YF.2016.b.2117

Rémy Paillard, Affiches 14-18 (Reims, 1986). Cup.921/88

British Library contribution to Europeana 1914-1918 

British Library World War One Learning Website 

 

08 May 2018

“A rogue and a madman”: August Strindberg's Antibarbarus

Add comment

In his anti-literary 1890s, August Strindberg took to the laboratory to experiment in alchemy, and some of his thoughts led to a peculiar book published in Germany in 1894 called Antibarbarus I: oder Die Welt für sich und die Welt für mich (YA.1990.a.22668). His discovery of the process of transmuting lead into gold was conjecture and anti-scientific, if anti-anything, but 13 years later, this simple pamphlet, first published in Germany, transmuted into one of the finest luxury editions printed in Sweden.

Antibarbarus - coverCover of August Strindberg,  Antibarbarus: Det är en vidlyftig undersökning om grundämnenas natur och ett nytt betraktelsesätt af de kemiska operationernas förlopp enligt den rådande monist-teorien om naturens allhet & enhet, sådan den af Darwin och Hæckel tillämpats på de andra naturvetenskaperna (Stockholm: 1906) Cup.408.I.20.)

Strindberg composed Antibarbarus as a series of letters written in the second person, addressing an unidentified correspondent on diverse scientific principles. His first letter was entitled, ‘The ontogeny of sulphur’, the second, ‘On the transmutation of matter, transformist chemistry, or everything in everything’, the third, ‘Thoughts on the composition of air and water’, and a fourth, simply ‘Paralipomena’. He himself thought he ‘simply drew all the logical conclusions inherent in Transformism and Monism,’ (letter to Torsten Hedlund, 23 July 1894) that is, the belief that all matter has a single shared substance and elements differ only in their properties and not as entities, to paraphrase his first letter.

What he did not account for was the mixture of bemusement and vehement criticism that the publication received. In a letter to Georg Brandes, soliciting the great critic’s help in reviewing it favourably in Denmark, Strindberg writes that his work ‘has caused the Swedes to depict me as a rogue and a madman […] There is in fact not a single paper in Sweden honourable enough to print a word in my defence’, ultimately surprised ‘to see a whole country’s chemists so blinded by jealousy that they cannot acknowledge their own views when they see them put forward by someone they find offensive!’ (31 May 1894). Even his friend and the translator of his Swedish manuscript into German, Bengt Lidforss, reviewed it harshly in Dagens Nyheter—albeit under a pseudonym, which was scant consolation.

Antibarbarus - title pageTitle page of  Antibarbarus

Five years later, the magazine Nordisk Boktryckarekonst (Stockholm, 1900-1925; PP.1622.h.) was established by Hugo and Carl Lagerström, who subsequently set up a publishing house, with aim of inaugurating an authentic Nordic style of book design. They sought a work with which to begin a series of bibliophile editions and Arthur Sjögren was enlisted both to produce the book and to convince Strindberg to volunteer the first idea for the series. Sjögren, who had worked with Strindberg, arrived at Strindberg’s studio to find a chemist’s laboratory in disarray and the author-cum-goldmaker deep into experiments. With Strindberg only thinking about scientific works, they eventually landed on Antibarbarus. The Antibarbarus manuscript had been under perpetual revision and expansion since 1894 and, with Strindberg’s encouragement, the Lagerströms decided to take it on.

Antibarbarus - fascicle 1Fascicle 1, Antibarbarus

Taking nearly a year to produce, Antibarbarus had a limited print run of 299, each copy priced at 30 Krona. To put it in context, very few books cost over 10 Krona and Strindberg’s luxury edition of Ordalek och småkonst, which came out a year earlier in 1905, cost 8.50. No expense was spared from the light-brown leather binding incorporating the same decorative coils and knots that frame the text throughout, to the thick hand-made paper from Grycksbo  with a specially designed watermark by Sjögren, depicting a four-leaf clover over a three-leaf clover. The coiled dragon-tail ornamentation that envelops the title-page is derived from Viking picture stone iconography, which speaks to the National Romantic ethos of the new publishers, but by no means renders William Morris’s decorative influence any less obvious. The portrait of a Faustian Strindberg facing the title-page takes us back to Sjöberg’s encounter with the author in his laboratory, while drawing comparisons with Goethe, as a similar polymathic genius.

Like his illustrated works before this, Strindberg’s manuscript influenced the artistic design and the drop capitals and annotations set within the body of the text appear to be original to the author. Notes are literally indicated by a red hand pointing and paragraphs are marked by red pilcrows, rather than spaced out. Connoisseurs did not particularly warm to these latter innovations in the layout but the book has been acknowledged to be one of the most exquisite Swedish books ever produced. Georg Svensson considers it Sjögren’s best.

Antibarbarus - slaying the dragonSlaying the dragon, Antibarbarus

Ultimately, we might say the design is in harmony with the content. One critic, G. Bargum, reads the work as the creative scientist’s labyrinthine search for a greater truth where each path is a dead end. He suggests that what is stabbed in the final ornamental image is a many-headed Hydra, who constricts the courageous opponent, so that he will never escape. A review in Dagens Nyheter (cited in Samlade Verk) prefers to see the dragon finally slain by a Sigurd figure and the obstacles triumphantly overcome. While Strindberg never made gold and never did conquer the world of science as his anti-barbarian persona might have wished, his creative genius – with all its delusions and idiosyncrasies – is still wonderfully celebrated in this book, paradoxically ensuring a legacy for his failure.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References/Further Reading

August Strindberg, Naturvetenskapliga skrifter I [August Strindberg’s Samlade Verk, vol. 35] (Stockholm, 2009), YF.2011.a.4183

August Strindberg, Strindberg’s Letters [selected, edited and compiled by Michael Robinson] (London, 1992), 92/19967-8

G. Bargum, ‘Der neue Antibarbarus’, in Zeitschrift für Bücherfreunde (10:6), 1906, p. 253, P.P.6548.c.