THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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82 posts categorized "Visual arts"

23 March 2017

From Cubism to concentration camp: the life and death of Josef Čapek

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Many English speakers who claim that they do not know a word of Czech would be surprised to hear that at least one has found a firm place in their vocabulary: robot. Those who are aware of its origins might confidently state that it owed them to Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), first performed in 1920. However, he declared that he had merely given it currency, and the term had actually been coined by his elder brother Josef Čapek (1887-1945).

CapekSelf-portrait Self-portrait from Co má člověk z umění a jiné úvahy (Prague, 1946) 07812.m.41.

The two brothers had been born in the Bohemian town of Hronov as the sons of a doctor, and enjoyed a happy childhood there with their older sister Helena, who later remembered them affectionately in her memoir Moji milí bratři (‘My dear brothers’: Prague, 1962; 11880.r.19). All three siblings showed talent as writers from an early age, but Josef also displayed a gift for painting and drawing, and it was as an artist that he found his true vocation, studying at the Uměleckoprůmyslová škola in Prague and the Académie Colarossi in Paris. In later life he often illustrated the writings of Karel and Helena, but the paintings which initially made his name were in a very different style with a strong Cubist element, even in portrayals of Czech peasant life which recall the angular and bizarrely-coloured figures who people Chagall’s Vitebsk.

CapekHnedakrajinaJosef Čapek, Hnědá krajina (1936) from Josef Čapek, ed. Emil Filla and Bedřich Fučik  (Prague, 1937) X.0423/14.(63.)

Josef possessed considerable creative versatility, however, and developed not only a variety of idioms appropriate to the authors whose works he illustrated but a literary career of his own. He collaborated with Karel on the play Ze života hmyzu (‘The Insect Play’: Prague, 1921; Cup.408.z.53). Its satirical parallels between human society and that of various species of insects, from the bourgeois Crickets to the totalitarian world of the Ants, were universally applicable, and two years later it was translated by Paul Selver and ‘adapted for the English stage’ as The Life of the Insects (London, 1923; 11758.a.40.) Under his own name he published the utopian play Země mnoha jmen (‘The Land of Many Names’), which was also translated into English in 1923. However, one of his best-loved works was a charming collection of tales about a dog and cat who set up house together, Povídaní o pejskovi a kočičce (‘The Tale of Pup and Puss’), which is still a firm favourite with Czech children.

CAPEKPOVIDANINEWTitle-page from Povídaní o pejskovi a kočičce (Prague, 1929) X.992/1488)

He also had the capacity to provide humorous illustrations which matched the style of the comic authors such as Eduard Bass as well as Karel’s fairy tales and stories for young readers; though both brothers married, Josef had only one daughter, Alena, and Karel no children, but they were both adept at creating books for them whose wit and fantasy were in no way inferior to their works for adults.

However, as the 1930s progressed, political events provided sharper and bleaker matter for Josef to portray. He had had many years of experience as a journalist, initially as a critic and the editor of various art periodicals, including Umělecký měsíčník (Prague, 1911-14; ZA.9.b.1513), the journal of the Skupina výtvarných umělců (Group of Representational Artists), which he had co-founded in 1911. From 1918 to 1921 he acted as editor of Národní listy (MFM.MF641) which he left to spend 18 years as the editor and art critic of Lidové noviny (MFM.MF623). The caricatures which he provided for the newspaper became increasingly pointed and bitter in the period leading up to the annexation of Czechoslovakia by the Nazis in 1938, and on 1 September 1939 he was seized and imprisoned by the Gestapo. Eight days later he was transferred to Dachau, and thence to Buchenwald, where he spent two and a half years. His artistic gifts led him to be assigned to a calligraphic workshop where, along with other artists including Emil Filla, he was given the task of painting the family trees of SS officers.

CapekDiktatorskieBotyA drawing from the cycle Diktátorské boty (‘The Boots of the Dictator’: 1937), reproduced in Josef Čapek, ed. Emil Filla and Bedřich Fučik  (Prague, 1937) X.0423/14.(63).

His creative spirit remained undaunted even after his removal to Sachsenhausen on 26 June 1942, where he not only translated English, Spanish and Norwegian poetry but wrote and illustrated a long poem dedicated to his brother Karel and circulated further poems in manuscript. However, on 25 February 1945 he was moved yet again – this time to Bergen-Belsen, where typhus had broken out. In his weakened state after five years of incarceration Josef soon fell victim to the disease, and although some witnesses claimed that he was still alive in April, he died shortly before the camp was liberated, and as his body was never recovered he was officially declared in 1948 to have died on 30 April 1947. Karel had died at Christmas 1938, having contracted pneumonia after working in his beloved garden, and with his spirit crushed by the fate of his country; he is buried in Prague’s Vyšehrad cemetery, where a monument also commemorates the brother whose last resting-place remains unknown.

Perhaps less well known in the English-speaking world than his brother, Josef Čapek deserves to be remembered on the 130th anniversary of his birth for the original and many-sided vitality of an artistic spirit which remained unquenched even in the grim circumstances of his final months.

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Services

02 February 2017

The art of wrecking a friendship 2: Henrik Pontoppidan, L. A. Ring and Nattevagt

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Over a century ago there lived a famous author who, inspired by his strong social conscience, embarked on a series of novels in which he depicted in vivid and unsparing detail the conditions of his times. Among his friends he numbered a painter who shared his revolutionary ideals and his concern for social justice. However, he was unwise enough to use this friend as a model for an unflattering character in a novel about the artistic life, and the latter, deeply hurt and offended by this betrayal, ended their friendship with no further explanation.

At this point our readers may be suspecting that inspiration is running short and they are about to read a recycled version of an earlier post. However, a very similar drama was played out just a few years after Cézanne’s rupture with Zola in 1886. This time the year was 1894 and the place was Denmark.

The novel in question was Nattevagt (‘The Night Watch’, 1894; 012581.aaa.73), the work of Henrik Pontoppidan (1857-1943), of whom we shall hear more this year, as in 1917 he was to share the Nobel Prize in Literature with Karl Gjellerup. However, in the earlier part of his career he concentrated on pithy short stories set in the Danish countryside; they recall Maupassant’s mordant sketches of the avaricious and crafty Norman peasantry in their refusal to idealize rural life. These culminated in a collection named Skyer (‘Clouds’, 1890; 012581.e.23), a searing attack on the oppression of Denmark by the Conservatives and the apathy with which many Danes greeted it. The following year he began a series of three novels portraying Denmark in the era of the constitutional struggle between Conservatives and Liberals, the growth of industrialization, cultural conflict and the rise of revolutionary movements: Det forjættede Land (‘The Promised Land’, 1891–95; 12582.b.40), Lykke-Per (‘Lucky Per’,1898–1904; 012581.dd.8.), and De dødes Rige (‘The Realm of the Dead’, 1912–16; 012582.cc.35.). In writing these he made a deliberate break with his privileged family background and its clerical tradition; he himself had taught in an elementary school before turning to journalism and literature.

HenrikPontoppidanPortrait011853s46

 Portrait of Henrik Pontoppidan from Vilhelm Andersen, Henrik Pontoppidan: et nydansk forfatterskab (Copenhagen, 1937) 011853.s.46

His friend, the artist L. A. Ring (1854-1933), had also grown up in the country, though in less prosperous circumstances. While Pontoppidan’s father had been a pastor, Ring’s was a wheelwright and carpenter. Originally known as Laurits Andersen, he renamed himself after his native village of Ring in Zealand in 1881. While living and working in Copenhagen Ring’s opposition to the repressive conservatism of the 1880s led him to join a student rifle corps and also to paint not only landscapes but scenes of rural poverty, industrialization and backbreaking labour, as in his studies of a railway guard (1884) and workers in the Ladby tile factory (1892).

Ring Tile factory

 I Teglværket. Ladby Teglværk (1892) from Cai Mogens Woel, L. A. Ring. Et Levnedsrids (Copenhagen, 1937) 7813.ee.6/2.

In Pontoppidan’s novel we meet two members of the Scandinavian artists’ colony in Rome, ‘Red’ Jørgen Hallager, so called because of his politics as well as the colour of his hair and beard, and his friend Thorkild Drehling. At first the latter slavishly imitates Hallager’s paintings of industrial subjects, as when Hallager’s portrayal of a worn-out labourer buried under a fall of marl and crying in vain for help (‘A Martyr’) inspires Drehling the following year to create a pastel drawing, ‘The Last Comforter’: ‘There was no difference except that in this one there was a poor woman who, in the middle of a bleak, comfortless landscape, had sunk down under the weight of a heavy burden of kindling, while out on the horizon, [instead of Jørgen’s] elegant carriage with a liveried coachman and footmen, there could be seen a misty, indistinct figure representing Death…’ No-one familiar with Ring’s work could fail to catch the allusion to his painting Evening: The old woman and death (1887).

Ring Evening

 Aften. Den gamle kone og døden, 1887, from Peter Hertz: Maleren L. A. Ring (Copenhagen, 1934; 7862.v.21.)

Later in the story there is a confrontation between Drehling and Hallager, who accuses him of pandering to popular taste and creating ‘chocolate-box’ art in his new works whose ‘riot of colour must surprise anyone who was accustomed to see Drehling as a faithful imitator of Hallager’s powerful but strictly restrained way of painting’, with an even more startling choice of subjects: ‘fantasies, dream pictures, strange and mysterious sights’ culminating in a large painting of the legend of the merman gazing wistfully from the sea to the church where his earthly bride Agnete sits.

However, it was not the depiction of Drehling as a failed revolutionary and exponent of the ‘lyricism’ despised by Hallager which wounded Ring. In the novel Drehling falls in love with Ursula Branth, the only child of a wealthy state counsellor and connoisseur, but before he can summon the courage to declare himself, Hallager claims her in marriage despite her father’s misgivings. Hallager’s fanatical political views lead to a scene at the Scandinavian artists’ gathering and a growing distance between the couple which culminates in Ursula’s sudden death from a cerebral aneurysm. For many years Ring had been in love with Johanne Wilde, the wife of his friend Alexander Wilde, an amateur painter. As he approached forty, realizing that the relationship could never develop further, he broke with the Wildes and travelled to Italy on a study grant in 1893.

When Nattvagt appeared the following year, Ring was alarmed by the possibility that it could be read as an allusion to his hopeless love for Johanne. This would not only have created a scandal but jeopardized his growing attachment to Sigrid Kähler, a painter half his age, whom he married in 1896. Despite the age gap, the marriage was a happy one, producing three children and enduring until Sigrid’s death in 1923. Sadly, however, the relationship between Pontoppidan and Ring was irreparably damaged; Pontoppidan gained the Nobel Prize, but forfeited forever the regard of his former friend.

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Services

19 January 2017

The art of ruining a friendship: Zola, Cézanne and L’Œuvre

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Once again Christmas is over, and many of us will have been fortunate enough to receive a book among our presents. Some may be a delight, others a disappointment, as in the case of the gift which Stephen Leacock’s young Hoodoo McFiggin found in his Christmas stocking:

‘It’s a book,’ he said, as he unwrapped it. ‘I wonder if it is fairy stories or adventures. Oh, I hope it’s adventures! I’ll read it all morning.' No, Hoodoo, it was not precisely adventures. It was a small family Bible. […] After that he took his book and read some adventures called ‘Genesis’ till breakfast-time. (Literary Lapses: Montreal, 1910; British Library 012331.e.44)

Unlike Hoodoo, most of us have the option of returning and exchanging a book which might not have been quite what we had hoped for. Although this may require tact, it is rare for an unwelcome gift to produce such drastic consequences as the one which Paul Cézanne received from his friend Émile Zola in 1886.

As part of his Rougon-Macquart cycle, a series of twenty novels chronicling the ‘natural and social history of a family under the Second Empire’, Zola had begun work earlier that year on a story entitled L’Œuvre (translated into English as His Masterpiece: London, 1902; 1094.k.8). Although he was initially inspired by Balzac’s cycle La Comédie humaine, Zola planned not merely to depict contemporary society but the workings of environment and heredity among the many members of a single family.

Zola Oeuvre 12517.e.33
Émile Zola, L’Œuvre (Paris, 1886) 12517.e.33.

In earlier books Zola had portrayed life in Paris and the provinces and the fortunes of market traders, miners, prostitutes, absinthe addicts and the staff of a department store. Here, though, he turned his attention to the world of art, with which he was well acquainted through his friendship with Cézanne. The two had known each other since their boyhood in Aix-en-Provence, the model for Zola’s Plassans, home to Adélaïde Fouque, founder of the three branches of the Rougon-Macquart dynasty and great-grandmother of Claude Lantier, the protagonist of L’Œuvre.

Zola Cézanne letter
An illustrated letter from Cézanne to Zola written in 1866. Reproduced in John Rewald, Cézanne: sa vie - son œuvre - son amitié pour Zola (Paris, 1939) 010655.i.24.

Unlike other members of the Macquart family who become labourers, soldiers or farmers, Claude Lantier shows artistic talent and settles in Paris to pursue his career as a painter. He has less in common with his murderous engine-driver brother Jacques (La Bête humaine) and half-sister, the notorious prostitute Nana, than with his second brother, the activist miner Étienne (Germinal); however, Claude’s revolutionary spirit manifests itself not in the struggle against corrupt industrialists but against another kind of conservatism – the stifling influence of academicism on art.

Zola suggested titles 1
A list of titles which Zola considered for L’Œuvre. Reproduced in Émile Zola and the Arts, ed. Jean-Max Guieu and Alison Hilton (Washington D.C, 1988)

We are given a glimpse of Claude’s revolt against convention when, in the novel’s opening pages, he takes in a young woman, Christine Hallegrain, stranded late at night in Paris on her way to a post in Passy:

What especially frightened her were some sketches in oils that hung frameless from the walls, a serried array of sketches reaching to the floor […] She had never seen such terrible painting, so coarse, so glaring, showing a violence of colour that jarred upon her nerves like a carter’s oath heard on the doorstep of an inn.

Clearly this is something very different from the staid historical, mythological and Biblical subjects favoured by the establishment, and it is not surprising that Claude’s work fails to find acceptance into the annual Salon of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. When a group of rejected artists sets up a Salon des Refusés to display their paintings, his Plein Air creates a sensation, recalling Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe in its juxtaposition of clothed male and nude female figures, the latter modelled on Christine, who becomes his mistress, the mother of his son Jacques, and finally his wife. They move to the country in an attempt to draw inspiration from the rural surroundings, but this proves a failure, and at Christine’s instigation he returns to Paris. After repeated rejections he embarks on a gigantic painting of the Île de la Cité which becomes an obsession as he constantly revises and repaints it even as his neglected young son lies dying. It is not this painting but a study of the dead boy, ‘a masterpiece of limpidity and power to which was added a note of boundless melancholy’, which is accepted for the Salon, though arousing such controversy that Claude is driven back to his ‘masterpiece’, the huge landscape which is never completed and ultimately costs him his marriage, his friendships and his life as he hangs himself in his studio.

Zola Ouevre KTC.35.b.5.
Cartoon of Zola, representing L’Œuvre, from: H. Lebourgeois, L'Œuvre de Zola : 16 simili aquarelles (Paris, 1898) KTC.35.b.5.

The one friend who attends his funeral is Pierre Sandoz, a novelist who, like Zola, is engaged on a cycle of Naturalist novels charting the fortunes of an extended family. Zola himself had written many articles on painting as a young journalist and had promoted the work of Manet in particular, and when Cézanne received his copy of L’Œuvre it was not difficult for him to interpret Sandoz as a self-portrait of the author and Lantier as a study of Cézanne himself. Another Claude, Monet, felt impelled to write an open letter shortly after the novel’s publication declaring that he did not recognize himself or any of his fellow Impressionists in it. However, the damage was done; with impeccable politeness Cézanne penned a thank-you letter to Zola, parcelled up the book, returned it to the author, and broke off all contact with him.

As she sits for the nude in the ill-fated ‘masterpiece’, Christine reflects bitterly on Claude’s first painting of her which had been the source of all her misfortunes: ‘It had come to life again, it rose from the dead, endowed with greater vitality than herself, to finish killing her…’ It may not be fanciful to see here a foreshadowing of another ominous portrait in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, which appeared four years later (London, 1890; Eccles 395). Sadly, in human terms L’Œuvre possessed a far greater destructive power than Zola had ever imagined.

Susan Halstead,Content Specialist (Humanities & Social Sciences) Research Services

13 January 2017

Science, Art and Insects: Maria Sibylla Merian

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Maria Sibylla Merian, who died 300 years ago today is justly remembered both as a pioneering naturalist and an entomological and botanical artist, and as a woman who made her mark in both art and science at a time when these fields were dominated by men.

Maria was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1647 into an artistic family. Her father was the engraver and publisher Matthäus Merian, but his death when Maria was just three years old meant that her own talent was mainly fostered by her stepfather Jacob Marrel. As well as being encouraged to draw and paint, the young Maria developed a fascination with insects and began collecting, studying and drawing them.

In 1675 Maria published a book of botanical illustrations, the Neues Blumenbuch. Four years later, the first part of a new work appeared. Der Raupen wunderbarer Verwandlung und sonderbare Blumennahrung (‘The Wonderful Transformation and Strange Floral Food of Caterpillars’ – a second part followed in 1683) drew on Maria’s interest in and close observation of caterpillars and butterflies, illustrating and describing the stages of the different species’ lives and also the specific plants that they fed on.

Maria Sibylla Raupen tp
Title-page of Der Raupen wunderbarer Verwandlung... (Nuremberg, 1679) Britsh Library 445.c.15. 

It was not until 1705 that Maria published another book, but for lovers of both science and art it was worth the wait. In 1699 she had travelled  from her home in Amsterdam to Suriname with her daughter Dorothea to record the insect life of the country, then a Dutch colony. The resulting work Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium appeared in 1705 and combines careful observation and detailed recording of the insects’ habitats, lives and behaviour with aesthetic skill in depicting the different stages of the life-cycles and their favoured plants. The British Library holds a splendidly hand-coloured copy of the 1726 edition (649.c.20) from which the pictures below are taken.

In Suriname, as in Frankfurt, Maria’s primary interest was in butterflies:

Maria Sibylla 2
Plate 2 from Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium

Maria Sibylla 15Plate 15 (The rather plump larva about to feast on a watermelon here might remind the modern reader somewhat of Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar)

 Details of individual butterflies show Maria’s talents:

Maria Sibylla 20 detail  Maria Sibylla 44 detail

Maria Sibylla 34 detail
Details (clockwise from top left) from plates 20, 44 and 34

But as well as butterflies, Maria also depicted and described other insects as in these images.

Maria Sibylla 24
Plate 24

Maria Sibylla 50
Plate 50. The painter here has used gold to capture the iridescence of the fly in the bottom right-hand corner

She also portrayed spiders (for the sake of sensitive arachnophobes I merely add a link), snakes and lizards:

Maria Sibylla 14
Plate 14

Maria Sibylla 69
Plate 69, the famous image of a caiman attacking a snake which is trying to steal its eggs as the young hatch

In one image she even shows a mammal, a tree-rat carrying its young on its back, although her hand seems a little less sure here than with the insects: 

  Maria Sybilla 66
Plate 66

Like many fine-printed books of its day, our 1626 edition of Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium has a fine engraved frontispiece which has also been hand coloured. It shows a woman instructing an eager group of botanising putti, with a Surinamese landscape in the background.

Maria Sibylla frontis

The artist of the frontispiece clearly knew the work he was illustrating. The open book in the bottom left-hand corner of the picture shows one of Maria’s plates, in a nice tribute to the original creator of the work. 

Maria Sibylla frontis detail

Detail from the frontispiece (above) and plate 29 (below)

Maria Sibylla 29

I hope the gallery above will likewise act as a tribute to a woman who is justly celebrated  today for her achievements as both artist and natural historian.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

 

25 December 2016

The Universe in ‘the Galosh of Happiness’: Halia Mazurenko

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Anyone who wants to see the construction of the artistic phenomenon in the space of the artist and poet Halia Mazurenko’s syncretic meaning and metaphor has to understand the aesthetic nature of her artistic heritage. Her childhood and youth were full of sharp collisions and spiritual dramas, which in her later years gave corresponding emotional material for deep philosophical reflections.

Halia Mazurenko was born on 25 December 1901 in St Petersburg into the family of a Russian landowner, Sergei Bogoliubov, and Elyzaveta Mazurenko, the descendant of a Ukrainian Cossack family. Her godmother was the Russian poet Zinaida Gippius. But soon the circumstances Halia’s life changed: her parents divorced, and the mother and daughter returned to their family in Ekaterinoslav/Katerynoslav (now Dnipro).

GalyaMazurenko

 Cover of Vybrane (Selected works) by Halia Mazurenko (Kyiv, 2002). YF.2005.a.20221

Young Halia spoke French fluently and started to write poems at an early age. Her first poem was dedicated to Ukraine. At the same time she also studied drawing and sculpture in the private studio of the well-known Ukrainian impressionist Viacheslav Koreniev. At the age of 14, she started to work in the Ekaterinoslav Historical Museum, which held a valuable collection of Ukrainian Cossack artefacts. Its director, Dmytro Iavornytskyi, commissioned her to sculpt the heads of Ukrainian Hetmans for the facade of the museum building. But Halia went to join her uncle at the front during the First World War, and later joined the Ukrainian liberation struggle in the army of Symon Petliura.

After the end of the War, Halia continued her studies in Warsaw and Berlin, where in 1921 she presented her sculpture at the Exhibition of Ukrainian Art Students, together with Mykola Hlushchenko, Ivan Babii, Mykola Butovych and Fedir Iemets. After this she moved to Prague, where in 1926 she published the first collection of her poems Akvareli (‘Watercolours’). At the same time she became a student at the Ukrainian Studio of Plastic Arts, where her supervisors were the painter Ivan Kulets', the sculptor Kostiantyn Stakhovskyi, and the graphic artist Robert Lisovskyi. She also prepared her dissertation on the psychology of colour in the work of Vincent van Gogh, as well as collaborating on the literary journals Literaturno-Naukovyi Visnyk (L'viv, 1892-1932; Ac.762/4) and Proboiem (Prague, 1935-1937; ZL.9.a.159).

Being in difficult financial circumstances she married, but soon after the birth of her daughter she was divorced. Halia’s mother persuaded her to continue her studies in Prague, and took the grand-daughter Maryna with her to Ukraine. Halia would never see her child again: in 1937 she received a message about the arrest and execution of her mother. Only at the end of her life in London did she find that Maryna had been rescued by her mother’s neighbour and grew up in a strange family under the name of Goncharova. This was not the end of difficult circumstances in Halia’s life; in the 1930s she married the literary critic Baikov, and had a son and a daughter. With two small children she survived the bombardment of Prague, and after the Second World War she moved to London with her family, where she worked actively in the fields of literature and art. From 1961 to 1973 there were nine personal exhibitions of her work in the USA, Iceland, Wales, Pakistan, and London.

MazurenkoMemoirsNeToiKozak

Cover of autobiographical novel by Halia Mazurenko Ne toi kozak, khto poborov, a toi kozak, khto ‘vyvernetsia’(‘A true Cossack not so much defeats the enemy as knows how to escape from his clutches’) London, 1974; X.908/28914.

The majority of her works were watercolours, mixed graphic techniques, and enamels. The subjects of her works were symbolic landscapes, floral and animal motifs, sketches for psychological portraits, and mystical scenes. In London she published at her own expense collections of her poetry, often illustrated with her own drawings. The most famous of them are Kliuchi (‘The keys’, London, 1969; X.908/19768), Zelena iashchirka (‘The Green Lizard’, London, 1971; X.900/5253), Skyt poetiv (‘Poets’ retreat’, London, 1971; X.908/24280), Try misiatsi v literi zhyttia (‘Three months in the alphabet of life’, London, 1973’ X.108/12821) and Pivnich na vulytsi (‘Midnight on the street’, London, 1980; X.950/2914; cover below).

MazurenkoPivnicnavulytsiCover

For decades, working in her modest accommodation in London’s Belsize Square, she built her unique imaginary world, and as she wrote in one of her poems, ‘The Galosh of Happiness’ creating her own milieu. As well as making thousands of drawings, paintings and enamels, hundreds of poems (some in English), and her albums of memoirs, she also taught pupils at her private art studio ‘Tuesday Group’.

MazurenkoSilentMelodiesTitle-page
Title-page of Silent melodies (London, 1982). X.955/1928

She died on May 27, 2000, leaving a massive heritage, which we can describe in her own words ‘In philosophy I am interested firstly in the moral strength of humans… The moral height of a strong personality which did not bend under circumstances was always the inspiration for my work’.

MazurenkoЗ новим роком

  Handwritten message Z Novym Rokom! (Happy New New!) by Halia Mazurenko (From the private archive of Roman Yatsiv, reproduced with his kind permission).


Dr Roman Yatsiv, Pro-Rector, Lviv National Art Academy

Further reading:

25 poetiv ukrains’koi diaspory (Kyiv, 2006). YF.2007.a.23877

Ihor Kachurovskyi,  Promenysti syl’vety (Kyiv, 2008). YF.2011.a.17413

Halia Mazurenko. (Lviv, 1991). YA.2000.a.13341

03 October 2016

Pavlo Kovzhun or ‘adopt his enthusiasm...’

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When Filippo Tommaso Marinetti explained his view of the beauty of the contemporary world, in his first Manifesto of Futurism (1909), Pavlo Kovzhun was only thirteen. A few years later he already considered himself to be a Futurist, but at the same time did not care for the radical Italian’s desire to “exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap”.

In a short time this fact became the main point of difference in the experience of Ukrainian and Italian Modernism. However this was never a point of contention between Western European and Ukrainian artists – later Kovzhun, already an experienced artist, promoted Italian artistic classics of the 1900-1910s with admiration, showing his understanding of the audacity of this avant-garde movement.

In the history of Ukrainian modern art it is difficult to find a figure with equal enthusiasm and devotion to his art as Pavlo Kovzhun. The inheritance which he took from his idol Heorhii Narbut committed him to the exhausting work which drove him to his grave at the age of 43. But the scale of his creative work is enormous compared to the shortness of his life.

PavloKovzhunPortraitPavlo Kovzhun was born on October 3, 1896 in the village of Kostiushky in the Zhytomyr region. He studied at  the Kyiv Art College from 1911-1915, where his teachers were Hanna Kliuer-Prakhova, Mykola Murashko, and Ivan Seleznov. From 1913 he began to show his works in exhibitions. Aged 18 he was one of the founders of the Futurist Literary Artistic Group.

His first artistic works (mostly graphic) were under the influence of the St Petersburg artistic group Mir Iskusstva, and its leading representative, Heorhii Narbut. The direction introduced by this outstanding graphic master appealed to the young artist – the recreation of the heritage of the old Ukrainian engravers. Kovzhun wholeheartedly shared the ideas of the young Kyiv intellectuals that new qualities of Ukrainian art should be built on the spiritual and aesthetic basis created in former times. This appeal to the period of the climax of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, recognized throughout Europe, seemed to Pavlo Kovzhun and some of his student friends (Robert Lisovs'kyi, Vasyl' Kryzhanivs'kyi and Anatol' Petryts'kyi) the best choice as a basis for their art. Later Kovzhun developed this idea theoretically, analysing some aspects of contemporary Ukrainian graphics, and also presented his own formal-aesthetic arguments to prove it. His first graphic works, marked by modernist stylistics, appeared in the prestigious St Petersburg journal Apollon (British Library P.P.1931.pmf), and in some periodicals in Kyiv.

With the start of the First World War, and the Ukrainian National Liberation struggle, Kovzhun was at the front, creating printed matter for the army units, promoting Ukrainian national identity. He was one of the co-founders of the Hrunt publishing house and the Muzahet literary-artistic group. After the retreat with army troops and the government of the UNR (Ukrainian People’s Republic), in 1921 he edited the satirical humorous journal Izhak (Hedgehog) in Stanislav (then in Poland; now Ivano-Frankivsk). In the same year he moved to Lviv. ‘From now I begin to work,’ he wrote in a letter to the Ukrainian poet and intellectual  Mykola Voronyi. ‘I nearly lost my faith. I lived through the war in fire and revolution in blood, but still holding our banner. This is my nature. Now there is no blood, no fire, I pulled up my sleeves and took my brush and pen.’

In Lviv he initially worked on some private commissions (interior design, artistic decoration). In 1922 he became a member of the literary-artistic group Mytusa, and was a founder member and Secretary of the Group of Representatives of Ukrainian Art. As well as taking part in numerous art exhibitions, he cooperated with the editors of the periodicals Mytusa, Moloda Ukraina, Budiak, Masky, Zyz, Kul'tura, Nova Kul'tura, Svit, Mystetstvo, Universal'nyi Zhurnal, and Nova Heneratsiia. He was a member of the artistic group ‘Artes’ (Lviv, early 1930s), co-founder of the Association of Independent Ukrainian Artists (1931), of which he was also Secretary.

PAVLOKOVZHUNAWARDEXLIBRISDSC_2994Exlibris of the Ivan Franko  Society of Writers and Journalists by Pavlo Kovzhun. From: Ekslibris. Zbirnyk asotsiatsii nezalezhnykh ukrainskykh mysttsiv. Pershyi vypusk. (L'viv, 1932) Cup. 936/2190) 

Kovzhun’s artistic legacy consists of hundreds of graphic works, dozens of paintings, and more than a hundred publications on art. In cooperation (mostly with M. Osin'chuk) he created frescoes in twelve churches in Galicia, which became exemplars of this type of work for his contemporaries, and have not lost their artistic value even at the start of the 21st century. But the most remarkable contribution of Kovzhun is in the area of book illustration and periodical design. He was responsible for the design of the most prestigious books published in Ukraine between the wars: books by Ivan Franko, Volodymyr Vynnychenko, Pavlo Tychyna, Osyp Makovei, Borys Hrinchenko, Mykhailo Staryts'kyi, Mykola Holubets' and others, and dozens of calendars and periodicals. Among his works are posters, caricatures, book-plates, publishers' logos and emblems, theatre designs and more.

PACLOKOVZHUNBOOKCOVERSDSC_2985Covers of books designed by Pavlo Kovzhun from the British Library's collections: Chykalenko, Ievhen. Spohady (L'viv, 1925-1926).20003.f.45 (on the left) and Franko, Ivan. Boryslav smiiet'sia (L'viv-Kyiv, 1922) YA.1988.a.15528 (on the right).

In his stylistic designs Kovzhun’s graphic works absorb in themselves a combination of the leading concepts of European visual art between the wars: Futurism, Expressionism and Constructivism. The basis of his artistic creations which he developed systematically as plastic equivalents of Ukrainian national style, was the concept of Neo-Baroque. In combination with these leading universal styles the majority of Kovzhun’s works are marked by his interpretation of Art Deco, which was recognized by famous artists and critics: articles about Kovzhun appeared in prestigious art journals, such as Grafika (Poland), Umeni Slovanu (Czechoslovakia), Gebrauchsgraphik (Germany) and others.

PAVLOKOVZHUNBACLEXLIBRIS2DSC_2993Bookplates for various Ukrainian authors designed by Pavlo Kovzhun (from: Ekslibris. Zbirnyk asotsiatsii nezalezhnykh ukrainskykh mysttsiv. Pershyi vypusk. L'viv, 1932. Cup. 936/2190) 

Pavlo Kovzhun died on May 15, 1939 in Lviv, and was buried in the historic Lychakiv Cemetery . He left a huge and varied artistic and theoretical legacy. His art and his mentality were full of the pathos of the creation of new values in Ukrainian aesthetic culture, which unites with the realities of 21st century art.

PAVLOKOVZHUNMOSTRECENTBOOKTITLEPAGEDSC_2989Title page of Pavlo Kovzhun. Tvorcha spadshchyna khudozhnyka: materialy, biobibliohrafichnyi dovidnyk. (L’viv, 2010). YF.2012.b.406

Dr Roman Yatsiv, Pro-Rector, Lviv National Art Academy

Further reading:

Sviatoslav Hordynskyi. Pavlo Kovzhun. 1896-1939. (Krakiv-Lviv, 1943). Available at: http://www.ovruch.info/svyatoslav-hordynskyj-pavlo-kovzhun/

Roman Iatsiv. “Pereimemo ioho entuziazm..”. In Dzvin, issue 12/1991, pp. 93-98. P.P.4842.dpt

Myttsi Ukrainy. Entsyklopedychnyi dovidnyk (Kyiv, 1992). YA.1999.a.172

Syrota L. Literaturna hrupa “Mytusa” i Pavlo Kovzhun. In : Narodoznavchi Zozhyty. Issue 5/1998. ZA.9.b.1768

Kis-Fedoruk, O. Knyzhkova hrafika Pavla Kovzhuna. In : Narodoznavchi Zoshyty. Issue 1/2000. ZA.9.b.1768

Kis-Fedoruk, O. Z istorii vzaiemyn Pavla Kovzhuna i Mykoly Voronoho. In : Vidkrytyi arkhiv. Tom 1, 2004. ZF.9.a.3222

Pavlo Kovzhun. Tvorcha spadshchyna khudozhnyka: materialy, biobibliohrafichnyi dovidnyk. (L’viv, 2010). YF.2012.b.406

Mitchenko, Vitaliĭ. Estetyka ukraïnsʹkoho rukopysnoho shryftu. (Kyiv, 2007). YF.2008.b.2188

17 August 2016

Umberto Boccioni 1882-1916

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On 17 August 1916 the Italian artist Umberto Boccioni, who was stationed in an artillery regiment near Verona, died from the injuries he suffered after he was trampled by his horse in a riding accident.

CM Boccioni Fig.1
A photograph of Boccioni taken shortly before his death. Reproduced in Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), genio e memoria, Edited by Francesca Rossi. (Milan, 2016). British Library LF.31.b.11722.

His untimely death – he was only 33 – deprived the Futurist movement of one of its key members. To mark the centenary of Boccioni’s death a major exhibition, “Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), genio e memoria”, was organised in Milan earlier this year, accompanied by a remarkable catalogue.

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Cover of the catalogue Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), genio e memoria

It was worthy tribute paid to the artist by the city he celebrated in some of his greatest paintings, making it the symbol of the modern metropolis. The rapid transformation and expansion of Milan can be seen in a series of works Boccioni painted between 1908 and 1911, which include his famous self-portrait showing him on the balcony of his apartment in Via Castel Morrone, in the Porta Venezia area.

  CM Boccioni Fig.3
Boccioni, Self portrait (1908) Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera.

In the background can be seen, in what were still the outskirts of city, several recently-erected buildings, one of them still under scaffolding. A similar urban landscape also features in two works painted in 1909 and 1910, Twilight and Factories at Porta Romana.

  
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Above: Twilight (Crepuscolo) 1909. Private Collection; Below: Factories at Porta Romana (Officine a Porta Romana) 1909-10. Milan, Gallerie d’Italia –Piazza Scala.

CM Boccioni Fig.5

Sharing an identical viewpoint, this time from the balcony of the apartment in 23 Via Adige, in the Porta Romana area, where Boccioni now lived with his mother and sister, but painted a few months apart, they show the rapid changes in the city. “The city rises” (to mention the title of one of Boccioni’s most famous paintings) so to speak in front of our very eyes. By the time Boccioni painted The Street enters the House (1911), showing his mother looking from the balcony into the the street below, the area has been even more dramatically transformed. The mood of this celebration of the modern city, full of dynamism, movement and activity, is not unlike that of several early Impressionist depictions of Baron Haussmann’s Paris.

CM Boccioni Fig.6
The Street enters the house
(La Strada entra nella casa), 1911. Hanover, Sprengel Museum. 

The exhibition in Milan (which will also be shown in Rovereto this autumn) demonstrated the enormous variety of Boccioni’s output both before and after he joined the Futurist movement in late 1909 or early 1910 becoming, with Marinetti, its major theorist. It also showcased two major recent discoveries of Boccioniana, both of them among the papers of Guido Valeriano Callegari, Boccioni’s brother-in-law, bequeathed to the Biblioteca Civica di Bologna in 1955 by his widow, Boccioni’s sister Amelia. Callegari was a noted scholar of Pre-Colombian America and the Boccioni material had remained unnoticed and uncatalogued among his papers for over half a century until it was discovered in 2009 on the occasion of a small exhibition the library organised to commemorate the centenary of the first Futurist manifesto. As well as books from Boccioni’s own library, it also includes a group of 22 large sheets pasted on cardboard, on which were mounted 216 cuttings from illustrated magazines reproducing works of art.

CM Boccioni Fig.7
A sheet from the ‘Memory Atlas’, reproduced in Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), genio e memoria

The images in this compilation – now called ‘Atlante della Memoria’ (‘Memory Atlas’) and reproduced in their entirety in the catalogue of the exhibition – a range from Medieval and Renaissance works of art to contemporary paintings and show the variety of visual influences on Boccioni between 1899 and 1909. Several works featured in the Atlas were included in the exhibition, where they were juxtaposed with works by Boccioni. After 1909 the compilation of the Atlas stopped and was replaced by a collection of cuttings of hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles about Futurist events, similarly pasted on large cardboard sheets. They were kept in three folders, the third of which was compiled after Boccioni’s death perhaps by his sister and brother-in-law.

Chris Michaelides, Curator Romance Collections

References:

Chris Michaelides, ‘Umberto Boccioni, Milan and Rovereto’, The Burlington Magazine, July 2016, CLVIII, pp. 578-80. P.P.1931.pcs.

Maurizio Calvesi, Ester Coen, Boccioni (Milan, 1983). LB.31.b.279.

Roberto Longhi, Umberto Boccioni (Florence, 1914). 7875.dd.31.

12 August 2016

Delacroix, Chassériau and Shakespeare

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The popularity of Shakespeare’s plays in France in the 1840s can be gauged by the fact that two albums of Shakespeare illustrations, Eugène Delacroix’s Hamlet, and Théodore Chassériau’s Othello,were published within a few months of each other, in 1843 and 1844. Though now considered to be masterpieces, the initial critical response to both publications was generally negative. Delacroix’s work was compared unfavourably to his earlier Faust illustrations (Paris, 1828; British Library 1875.b.9.) while Chassériau’s volume was judged to be an imitation of the older artist’s recently-published album.

Delacroix’s lithograhic suite comprised 13 plates executed between 1834 and 1843. It had a print run of 80 and was published by the artist himself. Its commercial failure did not deter Paul Meurice, who acquired the lithographic stones of the work at the posthumous sale of Delacroix’s studio, from publishing a second edition in 1864, a year after the artist’s death. Meurice was a collector of Delacroix’s work and his personal association with Hamlet – he had co-authored an adaptation of the play with Alexandre Dumas père – may have contributed to this decision. The new edition incorporated three additional plates which Delacroix had left out of the 1843 edition.

CM DELACROIX 1
Eugène Delacroix, Hamlet: seize sujets.(Paris, 1864) 1872.c.28.

Hamlet was a constant source of inspiration for Delacroix who, to a certain extent, identified with Shakespeare’s hero. An early self-portrait is thought to represent the artist as Hamlet (although Walter Scott’s Ravenswood or Byron’s Childe Harold have also been proposed). During his stay in London in 1825 Delacroix may have seen Edmund Kean perform Hamlet. In the same year he painted one of his first works inspired by Shakespeare, Hamlet and the King. Delacroix saw the play again two years later when it was performed by Charles Kemble’s company at the Odéon theatre in Paris in 1827. Scenes from Hamlet would inspire several works over the following 30 years, the 1843 lithographic suite occupying a central position, some of its plates being reworkings of earlier compositions, while they themselves served for the elaboration of later works. Plate 3, for example, dated 1843, which shows the ghost of Hamlet’s father asking Hamlet to avenge his death, is closely based on the 1825 painting.

   CM DELACROIX 2  CM DELACROIX 3
Lithograph, ‘Je suis l’esprit de ton père’, Plate 3 from Delacroix’s Hamlet and the 1825 painting Hamlet and the King  (Krakow, Jagiellonian University Museum)

Likewise, the composition of Plate 13, dated 1843, showing the death of Ophelia had already been used in a virtually monochromatic 1838 painting, now in Munich, and was re-used in 1844 (Winterthur, Oskar Reinhart Collection), and, again (but in reverse), in the 1853 Louvre version.

CM DELACROIX 5
Above
: Lithograph; ‘Et d’abord ses habits étalés et flottants, la soutiennent sur l’eau pendant quelques instants’ (Plate 13 from Delacroix’s Hamlet). Below: Two painted versions of the same subject from 1838 (Munich, Neue Pinakothek) and 1853 (Paris. Musée du Louvre).

CM DELACROIX 6  CM DELACROIX 7

The composition of Plate 14, showing Hamlet and Horatio with the gravedigger holding Yorick’s skull (Act 5, scene 1), dated 1843, had also been used in a 1839 painting.

   CM DELACROIX 8  CM DELACROIX 9
‘C’est la caboche d’Yorick, fou du roi’ (Plate 14 from Delacroix’s Hamlet) and the 1839 painting Hamlet and Horatio in the Graveyard (Paris. Musée du Louvre).

Delacroix’s last Hamlet work was the 1859 painting which combines the scene with Yorick’s skull with that of Ophelia’s funeral. On this occasion Delacroix went back even further, to his first Hamlet –inspired work, a lithograph he published in 1828


CM DELACROIX 9a
Eugène Delacroix, Hamlet and Horatio in the graveyard, 1859. (Paris, Musée du Louvre)

Like Delacroix, Théodore Chassériau (1819-56) was a great admirer of Shakespeare and produced a number of paintings inspired by Othello, King Lear and Macbeth. The originality and special qualities of his work were understood by few of his contemporaries; most saw his early works as imitations of Ingres (his teacher) and his later ones of Delacroix. Chassériau’s most important graphic work, his Othello prints, a series of 15 etchings published in September 1844, were naturally seen as an example of the latter tendency, even though they differ in both mood and technique. The contrast between the contemplative mood of Chassériau’s etchings with their emphasis on intense emotion, as opposed to the narrative action and dramatic power of Delacroix’s lithographs, was recognised by later critics.

The publication was commissioned by Eugène Piot, art historian, collector, antiquary, and publisher and editor of Le Cabinet de l'amateur et de l'antiquaire, an illustrated journal published between 1842 and 1846 (P.P.1916). Chassériau’s work was published in an edition of 25 copies as a separate album under the imprint of the Cabinet de l’amateur, not in the journal itself as is often claimed. 

    CM DELACROIX 10 CHASSERIAU Othello et Desdemone  CM DELACROIX 12
Théodore Chassériau, Othello and Desdemona in Venice, 1850. (Paris, Musée du Louvre), and the lithograph ‘Elle me remercia et me dit …She thanked me and bade me…’ (plate 2 from Othello, reproduced in Jay M. Fisher, Théodore Chassériau, illustrations for Othello (Baltimore, 1979). X.425/4729.

Like Delacroix, Chassériau re-used compositions from his etchings. Two paintings of 1849 and 1850, both now in the Louvre – Othello and Desdemona in Venice (illustrating Act 1, scene 3 of the play), and Desdemona (Act 4, scene 3) – are, respectively, variations of plates 2 and 8.

    CM DELACROIX 11 Chassériau_-_Le_coucher_de_Desdémone_(1849)  CM DELACROIX 13 Chasseriau Othello Clark Desd Emilia
Théodore Chassériau, Desdemona, 1849. (Paris, Musée du Louvre) and ‘Si je meurs avant toi … If I do die before thee…’ (plate 8 from Othello)

A complete reassessment of Chassériau’s work had to wait, however, until the last quarter of the 20th century, when the catalogue raisonné of his paintings and prints was published in 1974, followed by a remarkable catalogue of the Othello etchings in 1979, to accompany an exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art. The great retrospective exhibition in Paris, Strasbourg, and New York in 2002-03, and its monumental catalogue, finally revealed the full range of Chassériau’s achievements – as a graphic artist, a painter of decorations for public buildings, an orientalist and an artist whose work is not only an amalgam of Ingres and Delacroix but also a prefiguration of Gustave Moreau and Puvis de Chavannes.

Chris Michaelides, Curator Romance Collections

References:

Lee Johnson, The Paintings of Eugène Delacroix: a critical catalogue. (Oxford, 1981-) YV.1987.b.591.(vols 3 and 4)

Lee Johnson, ‘Delacroix, Dumas and “Hamlet”’, The Burlington Magazine, vol.123, no 945 (Dec. 1981), 717-723. P.P.1931.pcs.

Arlette Sérullaz & Yves Bonnefoy, Delacroix & Hamlet (Paris, 1993). YA.1994.a.12419.

Paul Joannides, ‘Delacroix and modern literature’, in The Cambridge Companion to Delacroix (ed. Beth Wright). (Cambridge, 2001), pp. 130-153. YC.2001.b.973.

Marc Sandoz, Théodore Chassériau, 1819-1856 : catalogue raisonné des peintures et estampes (Paris, 1974). X.423/2498

Chassériau, un autre romantisme, ed. Stéphane Guégan, Vincent Pomarède, Louis-Antoine Prat (Paris, 2002). LB.31.b.25724. (English ed. Théodore Chassériau, 1819-1856 : the unknown romantic. (New York, New Haven, 2002). LC.31.b.161)

 

03 August 2016

'A Lifelong Touchstone': Delacroix and Shakespeare

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Shakespeare was a lifelong touchstone for the painter Eugène Delacroix’s reflections on art. This was first inspired by the French Romantics’ espousal of Shakespeare as a ‘modern’, his drama, passion, lyricism, crudity, mix of genres and swings of dramatic mood seeming, to the generation of the 1820s, a refreshing counterweight to the symmetry, restraint, understatement and generic absolutism of French neoclassicism. Soon after his visit to London in 1825, he drafted notes on the beautiful in which Shylock, Caliban, Iago and Gloucester – characters in the very plays that he had seen there – serve as models of the power and beauty of ostensibly repulsive characters, a trait which he compares to the paintings of Rembrandt (Journal, 1476).

Delacroix 2 portrait 10663bb11
Eugène Delacroix, portrait from Amédée Cantaloube, Eugène Delacroix, l'homme et l'artiste, ses amis et ses critiques (Paris, 1864) British Library 10663.bb.11.

But Shakespeare remained with Delacroix long after the Romantic vogue of the 1820s. Right up to the end of his life he thought about Shakespeare: in his very unevenness, his mix of tragic and comic, Shakespeare transmitted, in Delacroix’s view, a powerful sense of the real, and developped the passions and the action in such a way as to create a logic or unity more natural than the false conventions of neoclassicism (Journal, 893-94, 25 March 1855). He believed that Shakespeare’s characters seem to us individuals rather than abstract types: when Hamlet, amid declaiming about his grief and his plans for vengeance, starts joking with Polonius or amusing himself instructing the players, he behaves with the changeability and impulsiveness of someone we know in the world, not with the coherence and conformity of a fictional character (Journal, 893, 25 March 1855). Although Delacroix painted neither of these scenes, he did depict the similar episode of Hamlet’s bantering with the gravedigger in Act V, scene i. Shakespeare taught him that‘life’ was a primary element of beauty (Journal, 1479).

Delacroix 2 Hamlet and Horatio
Eugène Delacroix, Hamlet and Horatio in the Graveyard, 1839. Oil on canvas.  Musée du Louvre. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Delacroix stated repeatedly that this quality was unique to Shakespeare and that imitators never succeeded. ‘Shakespeare has an art completely his own’, he wrote in 1857 (Journal, 1074); ‘Shakespeare has a genius proper to himself’ (Journal, 1225, 23 February 1858). One wonders how this most ‘Shakespearean’ of artists, as Delacroix was frequently characterized in his lifetime, thought of his own activity as a prolific interpreter of Shakespeare. For this activity did not subside. Indeed,  an 1855 performance of Othello, which reminded him of his London stay, did, as he predicted, ‘bear fruit in his mind’, sparking a renewal of interest in Shakespeare in his final years: He he filled a sketchbook with drawings from the performance and later painted a Death of Desdemona, left unfinished at his own death.

Delacroix 2 Death of Desdemona
The Death of Desdemona (unfinished), 1858.  Oil on canvas.  Private collection  (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

In 1860 he Delacroix reread Antony and Cleopatra and noted quotations from it in his journal; he had already treated the subject of Cleopatra and the Peasant from this play three times, including a stunning version from 1838. Also in 1860 he drew up a long list of subjects from Romeo and Juliet, a play from which had previously drawn just two paintings

Delacroix 2 Cleopatra
Above, Cleopatra and the Peasant, 1838.  Oil on canvas.  Ackland Memorial Art Center, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Image from Wikimedia Commons). Below, Les Adieux de Roméo et Juliette, 1845.  Oil on canvas. (Courtesy Christie’s New York, and with thanks to Deirdre Spencer)

Delacroix Romeo & Juliet

In 1863, when a new staging of Jules Lacroix’s verse translation of Macbeth (Paris, 1840; 11764.p.36) relaunched the public debate in France about Shakespeare – whether he could be adequately translated, how he should be staged, how he related to French ideas of ‘taste’ – Delacroix, despite his failing health, followed it closely, praising the translation and discussing the production with a friend (Journal, 1409, 17 April 1863). In one of the last notes in his diary, he is still thinking about Shakespeare’s force, the clarity of his intentions and the grand scale of his creations, qualities which ensure, in his view, that aspects shocking to the French, such as the mixture of comic and tragic, seem right, whereas they fail utterly in works by lesser writers (Journal, 1410, 4 May 1863).

In this year in which London has hosted major exhibitions of on Delacroix (National Gallery, closed 22 May) and Shakespeare (British Library, 15 April-6 September), it is worth recalling that France’s foremost interpreter of the bard was a painter whose vision was profoundly affected by his experience of the London stage in 1825.

Michèle Hannoosh, University of Michigan

References/Further reading:

Eugène Delacroix, Journal, ed. Michèle Hannoosh, 2 vols, (Paris, 2009) YF 2009.a.27250

Lee Johnson, The Paintings of Eugène Delacroix. A Critical Catalogue, 7 vols (Oxford, , 1982-2000). X.425/2163; Cup.410.g.771; YC.2003.b.2380

Une Passion pour Delacroix : la collection Karen B. Cohen, ed. Christophe Léribault (Paris, 2009) YF.2010.b.1019

 

22 July 2016

Delacroix, Shakespeare and the London Stage in 1825

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29 June 1855. Othello. Pleasure sublime and total; the tragic force, the succession of scenes and the gradual build-up of interest fill me with an admiration which will bear fruit in my mind. I saw once again that same Wallack whom I saw in London exactly thirty years ago (and maybe to the day, for I was there in June) in the role of Faust. Seeing that play which, however altered, was extremely well arranged, gave me the idea of doing my lithographs.  Terry who played the devil was perfect.  (Eugène Delacroix, Journal, I, 917-918)

Eugène Delacroix never forgot his experience of the London stage in the summer of 1825.  Seeing James William Wallack in a performance of Othello in Paris in 1855 transported him back 30 years to the many evenings which he had spent at the theatre during his three-month stay. As he indicates in this journal entry, an adaptation of Goethe’s Faust by George Soane and Daniel Terry entitled The Devil and Dr Faustus that he saw at Drury Lane, with Terry playing Mephistopheles and Wallack as Faust, inspired his famous series of 18 lithographs, published as illustrations to Albert Stapfer’s translation of Faust in 1828. The British Library has a fine copy of this important work, considered one of the jewels in the history of the illustrated book.

MH fig. 1 Delacroix Mephistopheles
Eugène Delacroix, ‘Méphistophélès’, lithograph, from Faust. Tragédie de M. de Gœthe (Paris, 1828) British Library 1875.b.9

But Delacroix’s stay in London was especially filled with Shakespeare. His interest in Shakespeare had begun long before, perhaps in connection with his friend Charles-Raymond Soulier, who as the son of émigrés had been raised in London and later gave Delacroix English lessons. In 1819 Delacroix had attempted a translation of Richard III which at the time he considered one of Shakespeare’s best plays for showing ‘the tallent of the author in the living painting and investigation of secret motions of human heart’ (Lettres intimes, 84-85). Given the poor quality of his English, it is fortunate that he gave up translating and read Shakespeare largely in Letourneur’s French translation, published in 1821 (British Library 840.f.2-8). But seeing Shakespeare played live on stage sparked a fascination that would become one of the most prominent elements of Delacroix’s art and thought: dozens of paintings and prints on Shakespearean subjects, and a lifetime of reflecting on what Shakespeare represented for the history of art and aesthetics — for concepts such as realism, the sublime, unity, beauty and naturalness.

The London stage in 1825 was a heady mix of sublimity and melodrama. On the one hand, one could attend a play nearly every evening and see actors who have since entered the annals of Shakespearean performance – Edmund Kean, Wallack, Charles Mayne Young, Daniel Terry. On the other hand, productions often altered the originals, performances were rowdy and the plays were paired with vaudeville-like pastoral ballets, pantomimes and musical farces. 

The British Library’s collections of playbills and theatrical journals allow us to identify what and whom Delacroix saw. Frequenting the two main theatres of the time – Drury Lane and the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden – he went to openings of Richard III on 20  June, with Kean as Richard and Wallack as Henry, The Tempest on the 22nd with Young in the role of Prospero, Othello on the 25th with Kean as Othello and Wallack as Iago and The Merchant of Venice on 2 July with Kean as Shylock and Wallack as Bassanio.

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Playbills for the performances that Delacroix saw of Othello (above; Playbills 21, p. 204) and The Merchant of Venice (below; Playbills 100, p. 210)

MH fig. 3 Merchant of Venice playbill

Although he missed Hamlet with Young in the title role on 27 June, the resemblance of Delacroix’s Macbeth, in his 1825 lithograph, to illustrations of Kean in this role suggests that he saw Kean play Macbeth on the 30th.

MH fig. 4 Delacroix Macbeth BM high res

Above: Eugène Delacroix, Macbeth, lithograph, 1825.  © The Trustees of the British Museum (Creative Commons license); Below: C. Williams, Kean as Macbeth, engraving from The Theatrical Inquisitor, 2 January 1815 PP. 5210

MH fig. 5 Kean as Macbeth

Like Byron and Keats, Delacroix was very impressed by the passionate, expressive and sensational Kean, especially in the role of Shylock, which he called ‘admirable’. Contemporary prints show that a drawing of Delacroix’s bearing the date of the performance of The Merchant of Venice (2 July) indeed represents Kean in this role, despite a false annotation, with the elopement of Lorenzo and Jessica suggested in the background.  

MH fig. 6 Delacroix Kean as Shylock RF9214
Eugène Delacroix, Kean as Shylock, graphite on paper, 2 July 1825.  (Musée du Louvre)
 

Kean was then at the height of his fame, popularity and indeed notoriety. In January he had gone through a very public trial for adultery which had seen him pilloried in the Times for immorality and had inspired riotous reactions – by both opponents and supporters – in the theatres. The irony of his playing the seemingly aggrieved husband Othello provoked especially raucous responses: the Morning Post (29 January 1825) reported ‘Kean forever’ banners in the gallery, groans and hisses in the pit, so much shouting that Wallack (as Iago) could not be heard and so much interruption that many speeches had to be dropped; the manager came onstage to calm the uproar, and Kean himself offered to withdraw (to cries of ‘No!, No!’).

By the time of Delacroix’s visit the scandal had abated somewhat, but Kean continued to have a highly emotional relationship with his audience: the Richard III that Delacroix attended was the Kean’s first appearance after a long absence and the papers report the rapturous applause and cries of appreciation that, in the curtain calls, kept him from being heard. Of his Othello on the 25th the Theatrical Observer gushed, ‘There is a grandeur of conception, a boldness of execution, and an overpowering reality of tenderness which we are quite unable to withstand’ (27 June). Kean’s acting itself had an electrifying, terror-inspiring quality such as Delacroix had never previously seen. 

MH fig. 7 Kean as Shylock BM
Henry Meyer after Walter Henry Watts, Kean in the character of Shylock, mezzotint, 1814.  © The Trustees of the British Museum (Creative Commons license)

The London plays seem to have led Delacroix immediately to some first attempts at Shakespearean subjects: in addition to the Shylock drawing and the Macbeth lithograph, he painted a Desdemona and Emilia based on Othello.

In the following years, he painted over 30 works on episodes from Shakespeare, notably from Hamlet, Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Macbeth.  He also produced an important series of lithographs from Hamlet (1843) of which the British Library has a full set of the second edition (Paris, 1864; 1872.c.28). 

Michèle Hannoosh, University of Michigan

References:

Eugène Delacroix, Lettres intimes, ed. Alfred Dupont (Paris, 1995). YA.1995.a.23416

Eugène Delacroix, Journal, ed. Michèle Hannoosh (Paris, 2009). YF 2009.a.27250