European studies blog

147 posts categorized "Visual arts"

29 July 2021

Inheritance Books: Annelies Dogterom, Cataloguer West European Languages

This post is part of our 'Inheritance Books' series, where colleagues choose an 'inherited' item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to 'pass on' to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they're important to us.

When I started as a cataloguer, the debut novel De avonden by Simon van het Reve, pseudonym of Gerard van het Reve, was already in the collection. The subtitle ‘een winterverhaal’ (a winter’s tale) suggests sitting around a warm fireside telling stories of legends. Instead of being set in homely surroundings, the novel is set against the cold of winter outside and characters forever lighting a stove inside. The protagonist is called ‘de held van deze geschiedenis’ (‘the hero of this story’) but he is not heroic. The tone of the novel would have been much darker if it was not for the irony and humour as expressed by the subtitle and continued throughout the novel.

Cover of De avonden by Simon van het Reve showing a person entering a building

Cover of De avonden by Simon van het Reve (Amsterdam, 1947). YA.1991.a.15442

The story describes ten days in the life of Frits van Egters, a 23 year old office clerk, during December 1946. These ten days are written in ten chapters and are also the last ten days and evenings of the year. The strength of the novel lies in how it has been written rather than what happens. Ironically the ‘narrative’ of the story is that nothing happens: there is no action, everything is static ‘de lege uren’ (empty hours) and expressed for instance by constantly checking clocks and watches that hardly seem to move. It is static because the focus is on the introspection and self-analysis of the protagonist. This leads to a sense of entrapment, disillusionment, loneliness and is exaggerated by Frits’s cynicism. Much of this negativity is expressed in his relationship to animals and his parents but also in disturbing dreams. What makes the novel interesting is the way it has been written with a clear focus on realistic detail.

Portrait of Van het Reve

Portrait of Van het Reve (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Although De avonden has much to offer to any reader in any language, it took nearly 70 years for the novel to be translated into English. Tim Parks, novelist and translator, ends his review of the translation: “So, huge respect to Pushkin Press for finally doing the business, and in particular to Sam Garrett for a translation that avoids a thousand pitfalls to give us this enfant terrible of Dutch genius in an entirely convincing English.”

In the 15 years that I have been cataloguing Dutch books, there is one publication that stands out in particular. It is a six volume work of the complete letters by Vincent van Gogh: De brieven: de volledige, geïllustreerde en geannoteerde uitgave. This edition is the product of 15 years of research by the Van Gogh Museum  and the Huygens Institute.

There is also a freely available web edition of Van Gogh’s complete letters. All letters have been translated into English and are extensively annotated and set in their biographical and historical context.

Van Gogh regularly embellished a letter with a small drawing or enclosed a freehand sketch. “The value of the sketches lies in the fact that they forced him to depict the essence of a drawing or painting. He usually drew them with ordinary writing ink, and in some cases he added colour notations, which can be compared to the actual paintings.”

In a letter of 6 April 1885, addressed to his brother Theo, he wrote, “I desire nothing other than to live deep in the country and to paint peasant life … I plan to make a start this week on that thing with the peasants around a dish of potatoes”. In a letter written 3 days later, he includes a small drawing of the ‘Potato Eaters’.

Sketch of Potato Eaters in a letter

Sketch of Potato Eaters in a letter of 9 April 1885

The scene is set in Nuenen in his home country of the Netherlands. The colours are dark and earthy unlike the bright canvases that most people are familiar with and that belong to his later works. In this same letter, Van Gogh shows an awareness of characteristics of his work that will come to define in particular his later works. He writes: “I see a chance of giving a felt impression of what I see. Not always literally exactly — rather never exactly — for one sees nature through one’s own temperament”.

A good example of a ‘felt impression’ of what Van Gogh saw is the painting of his bedroom. Vincent was living in Arles, France at the time. In a letter to Theo of 16 October 1888, he gave a very detailed description of his bedroom in particular of the colours used and also included a detailed sketch:

The walls are of a pale violet. The floor — is of red tiles.
The bedstead and the chairs are fresh butter yellow.
The sheet and the pillows very bright lemon green.
The blanket scarlet red.
The window green.
The dressing table orange, the basin blue.
The doors lilac.

Sketch of bedroom by Van Gogh

Sketch of bedroom in a letter of 16 October 1888

Vincent van Gogh died on 29 July 1890. In the last few years before his death, the range and intensity of colours in his paintings increased dramatically confirming what he had stated five years earlier: “for one sees nature through one’s own temperament.”

References:

Gerard Reve, The Evenings: a Winter’s Tale, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett (London, 2016). Nov.2018/1916

Tim Parks, “The Evenings by Gerard Reve review – a masterpiece, translated at long last” (The Guardian, 9 November 2016) 

Vincent van Gogh, De brieven: de volledige, geïllustreerde en geannoteerde uitgave, onder redactie van Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten en Nienke Bakker (Amsterdam, 2009). LF.31.b.6957

 

28 May 2021

The Fiery End of the Paris Commune

This is the third in a series of blog posts marking the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune, a radical, popular led government in power between 18 March and 28 May 1871. Discover the first two posts (A Burglarious Attempt to Declaw the Lion and The Toppling of the Vendôme Column) on our blog. 

On the evening of 21 May, Versaillais troops climbed over the tattered south-western fortifications of Paris, and the week which would define the Commune began. Known as la semaine sanglante, or Bloody Week, Paris would suffer a ferocious bloodletting.

By the next morning, the Arc de Triomphe flew a tricolour rather than the Commune’s red flag. While the communards had hastily built hundreds of poorly-constructed barricades in the boulevards, some 110,000 troops marched through the city, amongst which were thousands of prisoners of war released by Prussia.

The communards grew disillusioned with the situation. Attempts to trade prisoners with Thiers had been repeatedly denied. The Parisians sought Auguste Blanqui, a legendary figure of French radicalism through the nineteenth century, in exchange for all 74 prisoners held by the Commune, including the liberal archbishop of Paris, Georges Darboy. The repeated rejections, as well as continuous reports on the brutality of the Versaillais troops, saw Darboy and five fellow clerics killed on the night of 24 May. These executions provoked outrage.

The death of Darboy is a key point of anti-Commune propaganda, but it was far from the only one. A slew of reports and images followed the Versaillais march through Paris, as myth-making began to efface the thousands who were killed by the encroaching troops.

Fires which could be seen for miles around engulfed Paris and accompanied the march. Historians generally believe the initial fires to have been started by the missiles launched into Paris by the Versaillais, as well as some being set by Parisians to cover their retreats further into the north-western arrondissements as the army slowly took the city back. They left the city in ruins, with several of the city’s key cultural sites including the Tuileries Palace, the Hotel de Ville and Louvre, partially or completely destroyed.

Anti-Communard print depicting a Petroleuse

‘A Pétroleuse: Ah! If her man saw it’, Paris: Imprimerie J. Moronval, (1871)

The denigration of the Commune rose from the ashes of la semaine sanglante. After the final conflicts around Belleville in the north-west of the city, a wave of conservative imagery made clear who they thought were responsible for the fires. Laying the blame of the destruction of Paris on the so-called ‘pétroleuses’, the image above captures the essence of this discourse. We see a woman with almost pig-like features, almost certainly an artistic device to dehumanise her. She carries a torch and a can of petrol, presumably looking for some cultural asset to destroy or some aspect of natural order to subvert.

The caption further indicates the double crime these women were accused of committing – first, the crime against the state and the status quo, and secondly, the crime against her family, her husband and the natural order. The pétroleuse is amongst the most prominent devices of anti-Communard prints, and she is repeatedly invoked to remind viewers of the supposed horrors of women who did not conform to gendered expectations.

Anti-Communard print

‘After the Prussians… My sons with the stranger’ By Emile Gogny, Paris: Imprimerie Lemercier et Cie (1871)

The crimes of the Commune are made clear in this wonderfully macabre print. An aghast female warrior grasping her broken sword looks down at the ground in front of her, to see a range of incendiary devices. Around her, a deluge of destruction emphasises the various aspects of the Commune’s sins.

To the left, we see a communard about to use a holy relic to smash Jesus on the crucifix. Above this morbid scene are soldiers in combat on the boulevards of Paris. To the right we see the corpses of clergymen, punctured by bayonets. In the top right, we see the infamous pétroleuses, setting fire to the buildings of Paris. At the top, we see Death, looking down upon all that is his, scythe in hand. This is a powerful image that reminds us of the forcefulness of anti-Commune propaganda, and that the caricature and print collection at the British Library (14001.g.41, Cup.1001.i.1, Cup.648.b.2 and Cup. 648.b.8) does not just contain humorous lampoons of political figures, the public, and their idiosyncrasies.

Absurd bloodshed marked the end of the Commune. The remaining embers of resistance were routed on 28 May, and thousands of prisoners were executed in public sites which today remain, often without a trace of this barbarity. One of the few memorials is at Père Lachaise cemetery, resting place of Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde, where a simple plaque commemorates 174 National Guard members shot against the wall, and the rest of the deaths through la semaine sanglante. The four thousand who survived were transported across globe to live in France’s penal colony, New Caledonia, before a general amnesty in 1880.

The Commune did not die on 28 May, 1871. The myth of the female fire starters fuelled fears of social revolution across the globe for decades after the fires of Paris, and the pétroleuse is still synonymous with 1871. The Commune itself has a complex role in the French memory. Through this year, Paris’s municipal government has controversially staged events to commemorate the Commune. It remains prescient that people will die for a cause they believe in while others prioritise of cultural and social losses over the losses of human life. Far beyond dying, 150 years later the Commune still leaves no one neutral.

Anthony Chapman, CDP Student at the British Library and Royal Holloway, University of London

Further reading:

Morna Daniels, ‘Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune’, Electronic British Library Journal, (2005), pp. 1-19, 

Gay Gullickson, Unruly Women of Paris: Images of the Commune, (Ithaca, 1996), YC.1997.a.1077

John Milner, Art, War and Revolution in France, 1870-1871: Myth, Reportage and Reality, (New Haven, 2000). Document Supply m00/44939

David A. Shafer, The Paris Commune, (Basingstoke, 2005). YC.2006.a.16941

Robert Tombs, The Paris Commune, 1871, (London, 1999). YC.1999.a.3641

 

22 April 2021

The Toppling of the Vendôme Column

This is the second in a series of blog posts marking the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune, a radical, popular led government in power between 18 March and 28 May 1871.

Following Adolphe Thiers’s botched attempt to neutralize Paris as detailed in our first blog, by the middle of April, 1871, the Paris Commune was in full swing. The municipal government, elected on 26 March, almost immediately cancelled rent arrears accumulated during the Prussian siege, proclaimed the separation of church and state, and imposed a maximum salary of 6,000 francs for public employees.

However, the communards were not satisfied with attempts to redress only economic and social inequalities. Seeing itself as a vehicle to remold the space of the city in its own image, on 12 April, the Commune decreed that the Vendôme Column, raised in 1810 as a celebration of Napoléon’s victory at Austerlitz five years earlier, was to be pulled down. Living with the destructive legacies of Haussmann’s glittering metropolis, the Commune’s decree was to be one of its most emotionally resonant for both those it infuriated and those it amazed.

Topped by a statue of Napoleon dressed in the robes of Caesar, for the communards, the column represented an intolerable history of imperialism, false glory and a perpetual threat to international fraternity. In short, the Commune’s decision to remove the statue is reflective of its attempts to restart history, a history not born in blood and brutality.

Photograph of the statue of Napoleon I after the Fall of the Vendôme Column

Statue of Napoleon I after the Fall of the Vendôme Column, Picture by Bruno Braquehais, from Wikipedia Commons

The column was taken down on 16 May. It was a day of spectacle for the communards, who organised music and speeches following the toppling of the monument. For those who were infuriated by the destruction of the monument, the event was repeatedly used as a reference point of loss, considering it an attack on the heart and soul of their France. On the eve of leading his troops into Paris the following month, General MacMahon made clear that not even the Prussians, who had spent the winter bombarding the city with shells, had dared to take the column down.

The toppling constituted one of the most symbolic moments of the Commune, and artists from various disciplines used it as a touchstone for their work. This is particularly true for caricaturists, who employed their skills as polemicists to great effect in a moment that emphasised the great divide.

Gustave Courbet, realist artist and member of the Commune government, was neither the first to suggest that the column should be pulled down, nor was he the most strident supporter of the decree. Nevertheless, this did not save him from the pencils of the anti-Communard caricaturists who savaged him repeatedly.

Anti-Communard caricature of Gustave Courbet

Signs of the Zodiac, by Nerác, from Morna Daniel’s eBLJ article

This piece drawn by Nerác is located in Volume 5 in the largest set of the British Library’s collection of caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (14001.g.41). It is part of a set which depicts famous communards as various signs of the Zodiac, with others including the Commune and Prussia as the twin evils of Gemini.

Courbet, le Taureau (the bull, Taurus), is dressed in garb reminiscent of a circus performer, while balancing the inverted Vendôme Column on his thumb. On his other arm, he balances an expensive-looking home equipped with a fountain, entitled Place St. Georges. This is most likely a reference to the home of Adolphe Thiers, ceremonially destroyed a day before the toppling of the monument as a reprisal for the shelling of the city by the Versaillais army.

The bottom text similarly reads like an enticing advertisement for the circus, willing us into paying attention to the very dangerous acts being performed in front of us. The caricature warns us to beware of not only Courbet, but also of the courbatures (body aches) involved in such balancing acts.

These caricatures are ironically juxtaposed to acts of wanton destruction the Versaillais committed to both property and, more importantly, on the thousands of people they massacred when taking back the city. The communards did not have a monopoly on destruction of public space for their own ends. A new column on Place Vendôme was raised in 1874, for which Courbet was charged the fee of 323,000 francs – a fee he obviously could not pay, and thus he fled to Switzerland, dying in alone and in poverty in 1877.

Another permanent reminder came when the founding stone of the Sacré-Cœur was laid on Montmartre in the summer of 1875. The basilica, still overlooking the city almost 150 years later, was intended as a constant reminder of the so-called ‘crimes of the Commune’. In a time where people are once again rightfully questioning aspects of the public space they exist within, we are reminded that there are brutal remnants of the past everywhere we look.

Anthony Chapman, CDP Student at the British Library and Royal Holloway, University of London

Further reading:

Morna Daniels, ‘Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune’, Electronic British Library Journal, (2005), pp. 1-19, Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune - Morna Daniels (bl.uk)

Gay Gullickson, Unruly Women of Paris: Images of the Commune, (Ithaca, 1996), YC.1997.a.1077

John Milner, Art, War and Revolution in France, 1870-1871: Myth, Reportage and Reality, (New Haven, 2000). Document Supply m00/44939

David A. Shafer, The Paris Commune, (Basingstoke, 2005). YC.2006.a.16941

Robert Tombs, The Paris Commune, 1871, (London, 1999). YC.1999.a.3641

18 March 2021

A Burglarious Attempt to Declaw the Lion

This is the first in a series of blog posts marking the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune, a radical, popular led government in power between 18 March and 28 May 1871.

Parisians woke up on 18 March 1871 to a military operation well underway. Incited by fear of insurrection after a desolate winter of siege, starvation and eventual capitulation to the Prussians, Adolphe Thiers sought to render Paris impotent by removing the cannons littered around the working-class districts of the city.

The sortie to prise away the arms of Belleville and Montmartre would be an utter failure. Arriving at Montmartre at 5:30am, a 6,000-strong force under the direction of General Claude Lecomte overran the National Guardsmen watching over the cannons. However, the troops had not brought a sufficient number of horses to help haul the arms away, and rather comically, were rendered impotent themselves.

By the more reasonable hours of the morning, Parisians had gathered in large numbers. They implored the inert soldiers to ignore their superiors’ orders to fire upon the crowd. Some handed over their rifles and sang ‘arm in arm’ with civilians. When what was happening became apparent, Thiers departed from the Invalides and headed to Versailles, but not before decreeing the army’s complete withdrawal from the capital.

A mass exodus followed, but not everyone got out of Paris. General Lecomte had been seized, as had General Jacques Léon Clément-Thomas. The latter, a prominent figure though the government’s repressions in 1848, had been recognised near one of the newly-erected barricades thrown together across the city. Both men were summarily executed by a crowd which included Lecomte’s former soldiers, National Guardsmen, and local civilians, though not in the solemn manner depicted in the staged photo below by Ernest Eugène Appert, which was not taken until June, 1871.

Staged photo depicting the assassination of Generals Clément-Thomas and Lecomte

Staged photo depicting the assassination of Generals Clément-Thomas and Lecomte. Picture by Ernest Eugène Appert. Source: Wikipedia Commons

This tumultuous period inspired a boom in the production, distribution and consumption of visual imagery and art of all forms. The British Library holds a rich collection of caricatures and images (14001.g.41, Cup.1001.i.1, Cup.648.b.2 and Cup. 648.b.8) produced during l’année terrible. Most are of French provenance, but the collections include prints from other European locales, most significantly Germany. The illustrations are impressive in terms of their artistic quality but also their sharp critique of a wide range of topics, as no social mœurs, political moment or figure escapes their remit.

The volumes are especially marked by the existence of similar collections across different libraries, including digitised collections at Cambridge and Heidelberg. The bindings and title pages of these collections imply they were each collected and curated by German-born Frederick Justen, who moved to London in 1851 and worked as a bookseller for Dulau & Co, one of the British Museum Library’s suppliers of foreign books at the time.

Though the production of satirical prints had been dominated by journals such as Le Charivari through the 19th century, the fall of Napoleon III and the subsequent winter of despair in the city meant that feuilles volantes, or single sheets, became the premier mode of printing illustrations. Despite this, prints were often produced in sets, and collected together in the years following. Here we see a lithograph, published as the first of a set a three in March 1871, from a printing house on rue du Croissant in the second arrondissement.

Caricature depicting Thiers and Paris as a lion

'Theirs le Dompteur!!!!', Heidelberg University Library: Collection de caricatures et de charges pour servir à l'histoire de la guerre et de la révolution de 1870-1871, [s.l.], [ca. 1872], Bd. 4, S. 133.

Approaching Paris, here depicted as a majestic lion, resting amongst its weaponry on Montmartre, Thiers looks down at the ground in a deferential manner. He tells Paris that ‘he’s not like the other trainers’ (“je ne suis pas Dompteur comme les autres”). However, behind his back he holds a decree, perhaps a reference to the document of surrender to the Prussians, but more likely to the laws passed by the National Assembly which harshly affected Parisians. For instance, a law passed earlier in March mandated the end of moratoriums on rent and overdue bills accrued in the city during the four months of the Prussian siege. The eagle-eyed amongst you will see that in his right hand, as well as poorly-hidden chains, his trainer’s whip is detailed with the word ‘armée’. No translation necessary.

Paris sees through this vain attempt at nullification. In the final two images of the set, the lion savages Thiers, forcing him to flee to Versailles bloodied and screaming for allies to come to his aid. The whip and decree stay firmly underneath the lion’s paws, and in the final image, a red flag flies next to the victorious Paris, who warns Thiers that next time he will not escape the lion’s claws.

Anthony Chapman, CDP Student at the British Library and Royal Holloway, University of London

Further reading:

The Toppling of the Vendôme Column - European studies blog

Morna Daniels, ‘Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune’, Electronic British Library Journal, (2005), pp. 1-19, Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune - Morna Daniels (bl.uk)

Irene Fabry-Tehranchi, ‘Cambridge caricatures of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (1870-1871), European Collections, (2019), Cambridge caricatures of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (1870-71) | (wordpress.com)

Gay Gullickson, Unruly Women of Paris: Images of the Commune, (Ithaca, 1996), YC.1997.a.1077

Bettina Muller, ‘The Collections of French caricatures in Heidelberg: The English connection’, French Studies Library Group: Annual Review issue 8 (2011-2012), pp. 39-42, annual-review-issue-8-2011-12-current.pdf (wordpress.com)

David A. Shafer, The Paris Commune, (Basingstoke, 2005). YC.2006.a.16941

Bertrand Tillier, La Commune de Paris: Révolution sans images? (Paris, 2004). YF.2004.a.14526

Robert Tombs, The Paris Commune, 1871, (London, 1999). YC.1999.a.3641

 

14 December 2020

Clothes mean more than bodies

‘If we should not judge books by their cover, can we judge people by their clothes?’ In anticipation of the fashion competition due to be launched by the British Library and British Fashion Council in the New Year, here are some thoughts on the importance of fashion. For those looking for the inspiration, it can be found anywhere: mythology, paintings, even literature.

In mythology, Strife threw an apple marked ‘To the fairest’ among three goddesses: Juno (queen of the divinities), Pallas Minerva (goddess of war and learning) and Venus (goddess of love). To settle the matter they went to the shepherd Paris, who reasonably said he couldn’t judge their beauty with their clothes on.

For the artists of the Renaissance such as Rubens, this was an excellent excuse for studies in the nude.

The Judgement of Paris by Peter Paul Rubens 

The Judgement of Paris by Peter Paul Rubens 

But not everyone thought like Rubens. One contemporary critic said that Rubens had made the goddesses ‘too naked’.

Among the poets, Ovid has no description of the goddesses. Fifteen hundred or so years later the Valencian poet Joan Roís de Corella wrote his version of the Judgment of Paris. Corella (or doubtless his sources) tells it as follows.

Paris says, ‘It will not be possible for me to judge this case unless I can contemplate your persons without any veil …’

First up is Pallas Minerva, who says,

‘As the ambition of vanity of human praise has captured us and made us subject to the judgment of this young man, we are obliged to obey the laws which he as judge determines.’

And, while talking, she began to untie the belt of a skirt of dark red damask, whose decoration was picked out with great skill in emeralds, which, mixed with sapphires, dazzling human sight, transported her from this world. And the skirt was sprinkled with foliage of green and fertile olive; the olives, covered with black and green enamels, which invited the viewers to stretch out their hands to take the fruit of the painted tree. And on her shoes, of purple satin, were embroidered sharp-flowered thistles, which made show of true spikes, so that you would not dare to pick the raised olives from the broad skirt. And a motto in golden letters among the thorns clearly read, ‘Open your eyes to the harm which can ensue.’ And the excellent queen bore on her bosom a gleaming carbuncle which hung from her neck on a cord of golden thread, so fine that human sight could grasp only its colour and not its quantity.

The other goddesses follow suit. Juno feels that as queen of Olympus she shouldn’t have to demean herself before younger women: but she still wants to be the fairest. Venus locks eyes with Paris as she drops her cloak. You’ll remember that Venus cheated by promising Paris Helen of Troy. And that led to the Trojan War.

Medieval depiction of the Judgement of Paris, with the three goddesses fully clothed

Detail of a miniature of the Judgement of Paris, between Athena, Juno and Venus, in Christine de Pizan ‘L’Épître Othéa’. Harley 4431, f. 128v

So it’s clear that although Paris thought the goddesses’ beauty was in their bodies, for Corella their clothes were much more worthy of attention. I think this isn’t unusual in medieval texts, probably because the medievals thought clothes could bear social or symbolic meaning which bodies couldn’t. Corella says nothing about the body, he says little about the cut of the clothes (which by the way are medieval rather than classical), he says little about the cloth that makes the clothes, but says a lot about the metals and jewels which adorn them, and even endows each garment with a verbal message picked out in gold.

So that’s the importance of fashion.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References:

Joan Roís de Corella, Proses mitològiques, ed. J. L. Martos (Alacant, 2001) YA.2002.a.20285

Marisa Astor Landete, Valencia en los siglos XIV y XV: indumentaria e imagen (Valencia, 1999) YA.2002.a.17891

Isidra Maranges i Prat, La indumentària civil catalana, segles XIII-XV (Barcelona, 1991) Ac.138.dc.[41]

Fashion competition details will be available in January, via this link, which also has information about previous years’ competitions and related activities.

15 October 2020

Solidarity in satire

This is the last post in a series of blogs on the Solidarity movement published to commemorate its 40th anniversary. You can read about the 21 Gdánsk demands here, the poet Jadwiga Piątkowska here, and 'Mały Konspirator', a manual to anti-government activity in 1980s Poland, here

The British Library collection of Polish underground ephemeral publications [BL shelf mark Sol. 764] includes a significant number of posters, photographs, cartoons and humorous ephemera created by artists involved in various opposition groups. The ephemeral publications best reflected a rapidly changing reality in 1980s Poland. They were particularly effective in conveying Solidarity ideas, documenting its activities and informing about crucial social and cultural events of the time. Both simple in form and laconic, these visual materials carried powerful and indirect commentaries on the political situation as well as delivering witty, amusing and comforting messages. Most of them were produced anonymously and only some had features that later allowed for identifying their designers.

Lenin with Mohawk punk graffiti

Lenin with Mohawk punk graffiti (1987) designed by Dariusz Paczkowski, a street art and graffiti artist. It was created to mock the leader of the Russian Revolution of 1917, whose image was widely used in communist propaganda.

A mock ‘wanted’ poster for General Wojciech Jaruzelski

Arrest warrant – the society hunts a national enemy (ca. 1982). A mock ‘wanted’ poster for General Wojciech Jaruzelski, responsible for proclaiming martial law in Poland in December 1981, with a description and an offer of a reward for his capture.

An image of a wolf dressed as Red Riding Hood’s grandmother with a police baton; an image of General Jaruzelski and a red star

I love PZPR (the Polish United Workers’ Party) – an image of a wolf dressed as Red Riding Hood’s grandmother with a police baton; I love the USSR – an image of General Jaruzelski and a red star; I love ZOMO (Motorized Reserves of the Citizens’ Militia) – para-military formations particularly brutal during the period of martial law in 1981-1983.  At the right bottom corner – Solidarity wins!

The next two images are examples of ephemera discouraging Polish citizens from voting in elections and must have been created either in October 1985 for the parliamentary elections, or in June 1988 for the election to the National Councils.

A sticker styled after a telegram

A sticker styled after a telegram: “Stay at home / stop / Gorbachev votes in your place anyway / stop”.

A mock election list with drawings of pigs as candidates

Election List. Candidate no. 1 the Polish United Workers’ Party, Candidate no. 2 the Alliance of Democrats, Candidate no. 3 the United People's Party, Candidate no. 4 the Christian Social Association. *Fill in missing data.”

Drawing of a person sitting on a TV and reading the journal «Solidarność»

A poster advertising the University of Poznań Solidarity journal Serwis Informacyjny Komisji Zakładowej NSZZ «Solidarność» przy UAM w Poznaniu. Created in 1981.

Drawing of Lech Wałęsa with his hand coming through a TV

New Year’s wishes with the image of Lech Wałęsa, the future first democratically elected president of Poland and 1983 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Created in the 1980s.

Poster with the logo of A Cappella

The Military Song Festival in Kołobrzeg 88. The festival began in 1969. Part of the official propaganda, it was organised by the Main Political Directorate of the Polish Army and its aim was to instill patriotism and promote the image of a heroic soldier. In 1988 a group of activists from Ruch Wolność i Pokój (Freedom and Peace Movement) planned to disrupt the festival carrying with them 30 posters. Stopped and searched by secret service agents they managed to leave behind this poster which features the logo of A Cappella, a periodical published by Ruch Wolność i Pokój.

Poster with a dove/peace sign

A poster by Ruch Wolność i Pokój advertising an International Seminar on Peace taking place in Warsaw on 7-9 May 1987. Ruch Wolność i Pokój was a peaceful anti-government movement and advocated non-violent resistance. Its programme included support for conscientious objectors, protection of the environment, international cooperation, protection of the rights of minorities, abolition of capital punishment, and withdrawal of the Soviet army from Poland. It carried out numerous protests including hunger strikes, occupational strikes, marches, happenings and public burning of draft cards.

A poster with the logo of A Cappella
 

“A teddy bear is better than a machine gun”. A poster with the logo of A Cappella published by Ruch Wolność i Pokój

Zuzanna Krzemień, Ela Kucharska-Beard and Magda Szkuta, Curators of East European Collections

21 July 2020

Inheritance Books: Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

This post is part of our 'Inheritance Books' series with the Americas blog, where colleagues choose an 'inherited' item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to 'pass on' to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they're important to us. This week, we hear from Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator of East European Collections. 

What my predecessor Dr Christine Thomas left for me was unprecedented: in a small Slavonic book, offered to the British Library by a rare books dealer, she recognised a copy of the first dated Slavonic Primer (Azbuka C.104.dd.11(1)) printed in Lviv in 1574. It was not just another copy – it turned out to be the second surviving copy of this book. The second in the world, and nobody had known about its very existence! Before the British Library acquired this book in 1982 on Chris’s recommendation, only one surviving copy had been recorded at Harvard University Library. A facsimile edition of the Primer had been published just several years earlier, and therefore Chris could match the items and could not believe her luck.

Of course, to be completely honest, this wonderful curatorial success story has been a constant source of melancholy envy for me. On the other hand, it was a real present from Chris, as it provided me with a wide variety of creative opportunities. I can proudly report that I followed in my predecessor’s footsteps by writing an article and a couple of blogs promoting and interpreting this collection item and co-organising a conference Revisiting Ivan Fedorov’s Legacy (UCL SSEES-British Library, 2014). In the digital environment it was only natural that, as part of the conference outcomes, the Primer was fully digitised and is now available via the BL catalogue. During the lockdown, when I suddenly had more time on my hands, my colleagues suggested a tool that can cope with OCR, and I decided to give it a try. This is a new and exciting skill to acquire and I am really enjoying the project. I hope the text will be available alongside the images very soon.

Screenshot showing work on the Primer in Transkribus

Working on transcribing the Primer using Transkibus

One of my memorable acquisitions is linked to one of the strengths of our collections – Russian futurist and constructivist books. There was no mystery or drama associated with this acquisition, although the story is quite sad, like many stories that originate from the period of early Soviet history.

The Soviet propaganda journal USSR in Construction (P.P.7500) is probably quite well known, not only among those who have a special interest in Soviet history. The style of the journal was visual and cinematographic, and became iconic among designers. Not only were photographs ‘constructed’ using photomontage as a major tool, but some of the issues were really ‘assembled’ containing, for example, pieces of fabric, aluminium foil or vinyl disks.

I acquired a set of the magazine that was a ‘little brother’ of the famous USSR in Construction project. This Soviet art-illustrated monthly magazine has a long and peculiar title Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov (‘At the Construction of Machine Tractor Stations and State Farms’; HS.74/2243). It did not have international editions in various languages and was quite short-lived: 1934-1937. However, despite this, full sets are extremely rare in library collections.

Eight front covers of Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov

Front covers of Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov.

The magazine covered just one sector – Soviet agriculture. It specialized in promoting the achievements of state farms and collective farms and stood out as a separate edition of the magazine USSR in Construction. Magazine photo essays advocated ‘the best examples of honest work on the farm, the best examples of organizational activity in the MTS and state farms, and the best achievements in raising agriculture, culture and life of the collective and state farms’. Seven issues were designed by El Lissitzky.

The bold and powerful covers by talented artists and designers, and the essays written by gifted journalists and writers tell lies about life in the Soviet Union. The lives of these artists and writers tell a more truthful story about this time:

Semen Borisovich Uritskii (chief editor) – arrested in 1938 and executed in 1940;
Petr Petrovich Kriuchkov (author) – executed in 1938;
Artemii Bagratovich Khalatov (author) - executed in 1938;
Boris Fedorovich Malkin (member of the editorial board) – executed in 1938.

Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov has been already researched and cited, but certainly lends itself to further enquiries.

Further reading:

Christine Thomas. 'Two East Slavonic Primers: Lvov, 1574 and Moscow, 1637'. eBLJ, 1984. https://www.bl.uk/eblj/1984articles/article2.html

Ivan the Terrible, primers, ballet and the joys of curatorship https://blogs.bl.uk/european/2014/05/ivan-the-terrible-primers-ballet-and-the-joys-of-curatorship-.html

Classroom curiosities https://blogs.bl.uk/european/2013/11/classroom-curiosities-.html

E. Rogatchevskaia. ‘“A Beautiful, Tremendous Russian Book, and Other Things Too”:
An Overview of Rare Russian Books from the Diaghilev-Lifar Collection in the British Library.’ Canadian-American Slavic Studies (2017, 51:2-3) https://brill.com/view/journals/css/51/2-3/article-p376_10.xml?language=en

Victoria E. Bonnell, Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters Under Lenin and Stalin (Berkeley, 1997) YC.1998.b.1122 (Limited preview available)

Margarita Tupitsyn, Matthew Drutt, El Lissitzky, Ulrich Pohlmann. El Lissitzky: Beyond the Abstract Cabinet: Photography, Design, Collaboration (New Haven, 1999) LB.31.b.17233 (Limited preview available)

Victoria Bonnell. “Peasant women in Political posters of the 1930s” In: Public Sociology at Berkeley, 2nd edition (1997) https://publicsociology.berkeley.edu/publications/producing/bonnell.pdf

Erika Wolf, ‘When Photographs Speak, To Whom Do They Talk? The Origins and Audience of SSSR na stroike (USSR in Construction)’ Left History, Vol 6 No 2 (1999) ZA.9.a.9420 https://lh.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/lh/article/view/5382/4577

04 May 2020

Alfons Mucha and his Art Nouveau books

There is nothing more frustrating than being constantly told how successful you are, while deep inside you feel that you’ve never fulfilled your potential. At least, that’s how Alfons Mucha felt about himself.

Having been rejected by the Prague Academy of Arts (with the well-meant advice that he should look for a different career), Mucha persisted in his wish to become an artist. His resilience paid off: after his first poster of Sarah Bernhardt’s theatre performance was hung all over Paris, he became famous overnight. New commissions came in profusion, and brought a considerable income to Mucha, who spent his time designing beer, biscuit and cigarette adverts, theatre posters, and book and magazine illustrations.

Beer advert by Alfons Mucha featuring a woman drinking beer

Beer advert by Alfons Mucha. Wikimedia Commons 

He worked constantly. When the Parisian publisher Henri Piazza commissioned Robert de Flers to write L’Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli for Sarah Bernhardt, Mucha had only three months to prepare 134 illustrations before the date set for printing. He had to work on four lithographs at a time in order to meet the deadline. The edition turned out to be a great success and was subsequently reprinted in Czech and German.

A page from Ilséa, princezna tripolisská with Art Nouveau illustrations by Alfons Mucha

A page from Ilséa, princezna tripolisská by Robert de Flers (Prague, 1901) Cup.410.c.305. Wikimedia Commons 

A page from Ilséa, princezna tripolisská with Art Nouveau illustrations by Alfons Mucha

A page from Ilséa, princezna tripolisská

But while Mucha managed to achieve financial success and become a well-known figure within Art Nouveau, he felt that he was wasting his talent on trifling jobs carried out in a style for which he did not have much respect: “(…) I am crushed almost to blood by the cogwheels of this life, by this torrent which has got hold of me, robbing me of my time and forcing me to do things that are so alien to those I dream about.”

While his professional life revolved around commercial advertising, Mucha turned to mysticism. He joined the Parisian Masonic Lodge, became involved in conducting séances, and, just as he did in his personal life, he longed to devote himself to a spiritual task in his work. In 1899 Mucha embarked on a project that he considered worthy of him: being a devout Catholic, he set out to publish his own edition of the Lord’s Prayer, Otčenáš, in which every line of text was accompanied by a whole-page illustration and Mucha’s commentary. In Mucha’s edition, God is presented as a protective, maternal force and the whole work abounded in Masonic and cabalistic symbols. By rendering the content of each line of the prayer in the form of an image, he aimed to present humanity’s struggle to achieve a higher spiritual state.

Illustration to “Lead us not into temptation” from Otčenáš

Illustration to “Lead us not into temptation” from Otčenáš (Prague, 1902) Cup.410.g.427. Wikimedia Commons 

Illustration to “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” from Otčenáš

Illustration to “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” from Otčenáš Wikimedia Commons 

Page with “Hallowed be thy name” verse from Otčenáš

Page with “Hallowed be thy name” verse from Otčenáš

Mucha issued the book in only 510 copies and expressed a wish for it never to be published again. As he saw Otčenáš as his greatest printed masterpiece and an embodiment of his religious credo, he did not want it to become yet another mass-produced commercial enterprise.

Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections 

References:

Jiří Mucha, Alphonse Maria Mucha: His Life and Art (New York, 1989) f89/0298

“Alphonse Mucha and Ilsee, Princess of Tripoli”, available at https://davidbarnettgallery.com/experience-the-story-of-ilsee-princess-of-tripoli

Peter Davison, “Alphonse Mucha: Art, Music And Spirituality”, available at: https://corymbus.co.uk/alphonse-mucha-art-music-and-spirituality/

http://www.muchafoundation.org/

 

29 April 2020

Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman – a most unlucky printer

Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman never was the luckiest of men. He lost his father at a young age and during his career as a printer he fell on hard times a couple of times. He always managed to overcome his problems with creativity and optimism, but on 29 April 1945, barely three weeks before his 63rd birthday and only three days before Groningen was liberated, Werkman was executed together with nine others. At the same time most of his works were destroyed in the battle for Groningen that raged at that moment.

Undoubtedly the best source of information about Werkman and the British Library’s holdings of his work is Anna Simoni’s article from 1976 in the British Library Journal, which is available for free online. Simoni, herself an exile from Nazi Germany, was curator for Dutch Collections from 1950 to 1981. It is thanks to her that the Library holds such an extensive collection of Werkman’s work and his clandestine works from the Second World War in particular.

Werkman was a painter before he was a printer. He was a member of the Groningen artists’ group De Ploeg (‘The Plough’) and took part in a exhibition of their work in 1938.

Self-portrait of H.N. Werkman
Self-portrait of Werkman from the catalouge of the 1938 exhibition, Lustrum tentoonstelling van schilderijen en zwart wit werken van leden van “De Ploeg” in de zalen van “Pictura” van 25 Sept. tot 10 Oct. 1938 ... (Groningen , 1938). Cup.406.b.97

His printed works are just as artistic as his paintings. They were called ‘druksels’, a word sitting halfway between modesty and irony. The word belies the work that went into them and the innovative techniques Werkman applied to them. Most titles are only a few pages long. They range from translations of the Psalms, and other religious texts to poems from the Eighty Years’ War and specially-written poems by both Dutch and foreign writers. The Library owns 41 titles Werkman published clandestinely between 1940 and 1944. Because of the scarcity of paper he used other materials, such as brown packing paper.

Print runs ranged from ‘a few copies’ to 40 to 150. As Simoni notes in her article (page 72) not all copies are the same. Hand pressed from several templates, Werkman would shift them slightly to make another version. The Royal Library (KB) in The Hague carried out a systematic research project on their own collection of ‘Werkmaniana’ which showed similar deviations in many copies. This makes them unique works, rather than part of a print run.

Hopefully similar research will be carried out on our collections, to see whether our copies differ from those at the Royal Library. Unfortunately for the time being this will have to wait.

Plate from 'Chassidische legenden' showing four figures in front of houses and trees
Suite 1, plate 2 from H.S. Werkman, Chassidische legenden [1942]. (Image from the website of the Dutch Royal Library)

With no access to our collections at the moment I refer to the webpages on Werkman on the Royal Library website for examples of images of his work. The Chassidische legenden (‘Hasidic Legends’) are among his most famous work. The British Library holds a facsimile edition of Werkman’s original of 1942/3 consisting of two sequences of ten loose druksels, each with the text of passages from Buber’s Die Legenden des Baalschem from the edition published in Berlin, 1932, in German, with F. R. A. Henkel’s commentary in Dutch. It was published in Haarlem in 1967 (C.160.c.15).

Later in 1945 a friend of Werkman’s, Willem Sandberg, then at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam held an exhibition about Werkman. Other exhibitions would follow, the latest one was held in 2015 at the Groningen Museum.


Cover of a book about Werkman with the title superimposed on one of Werkman's pictures
Cover of H.N. Werkman, 1882-1945: leven & werk. (Zwolle, 2015) LF.31.b.11054

Marja Kingma, Curator, Germanic Collections

References and further reading

More on H.N. Werkman at the Royal Library, The Hague. https://www.kb.nl/themas/boekkunst-en-geillustreerde-boeken/de-blauwe-schuit-en-hn-werkman-1941-1944

Catalogus. H. N. Werkman, drukker-schilder, Groningen. Tentoonstelling, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, 24 november tot 17 december 1945 ([Amsterdam, 1945]) X.805/2781.

Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman, Brieven rond De Blauwe Schuit, 1940-1945 (Amsterdam, 2008) YF.2010.a.9693

Anna E. C. Simoni, ‘Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman and the Werkmaniana in the British Library’, British Library Journal, vol. 2 (1976) 70-87

Dieuwertje Dekkers, Jikke van der Spek, Anneke de Vries, H.N. Werkman: het complete oeuvre (Rotterdam, 2008) LF.31.b.4972.

Willem Sandberg, Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman, 1882-1945 (Sacramento, 2004) RF.2019.b.31.

Het verborgen woord: drukken van Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman en andere clandestiene publikaties uit de collectie *** / samenstelling Marieke van Delft (The Hague, 1995) YA.1995.a.22294.

09 April 2020

PhD Studentship Opportunity - Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune

We are delighted to announce that The British Library, in collaboration with The Department of History at Royal Holloway, is offering a fully-funded PhD studentship (fees and maintenance) on the theme: Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune, 1870-71. The project will be co-supervised by Sophie Defrance and Teresa Vernon (British Library), and Robert Priest (Royal Holloway).

Caricature of a French soldier looking in a shop window

French caricature from the Franco-Prussian War, British Library Collections

The British Library holds a world-class collection of (mostly) French and (some) German caricatures in three separate collections bound in 55 volumes. There is also a small number of war-themed Italian, Swedish and Dutch illustrations and caricatures. The successful student will develop a PhD project that draws on this rich resource of over 5,000 caricatures and images produced during the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune. Part of the collection was discussed in two blog posts here and here

This fascinating primary material represents a wealth of visual sources dealing with the War and the Commune. The caricatures, most of them coloured, touch on a wide variety of subjects, making fun of famous people and politicians, soldiers and civil populations. The project will add a new dimension to our understanding of several processes at key moments in French (and German) history: the development of French (and German) national identity, the creation of a modern popular culture, and the development of caricature as a medium. The forthcoming 150th anniversary of the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune in 2020-21 offers us the chance to promote and foster scholarship based on an exceptional collection of visual primary sources. Students will be invited to propose a project that uses one or more of the following themes to bring this rich collection into a wider European context, such as ‘Prints as sources for a Franco-German history of 1870-1’ or ‘the international public for printed satire’. The project will also investigate the provenance and formation of the British Library’s collections: there are other known sets in the world, are in the V&A, Cambridge, Oxford, Heidelberg, Baton Rouge (Louisiana) and Minneapolis, and perhaps more to be discovered.

Drawing depicting the arrival of French prisoners

Arrival of French prisoners at Ingolstadt, 10 August 1870, British Library Collections

The project is part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) scheme, which offers doctoral studentships as part of collaborations between a Higher Education Institution and an organisation in the museums, libraries, archives and heritage sector. The doctoral grant will cover fees and pay the student a stipend; the British Library will also provide a research allowance of up to £1,000 a year for agreed research-related costs. In addition to being able to draw on the researcher development opportunities and postgraduate community in both the Department of History and the Doctoral School at Royal Holloway, the successful student will become part of a vibrant cohort of collaborative doctoral researchers at the British Library, and benefit from staff-level access to its collections, resources and training programmes such as the Digital Scholarship Training Programme

The deadline for applications is 5pm on Monday 4 May 2020. All applicants must have a good reading knowledge of French and meet the standard UKRI residency requirements for Training Grants. The successful student will be expected to begin on 1 October 2020.

For further details of the studentship, and the CDP programme, see the British Library Research Collaboration page or download the advert directly on the Royal Holloway website.

To discuss the project further, potential candidates are very welcome to contact Sophie Defrance (sophie.defrance@bl.uk) or Robert Priest (robert.priest@rhul.ac.uk) in advance of submitting an application.

Additional reading:

Morna Daniels, ‘Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune’, Electronic British Library Journal, 2005.

Bettina Müller, ‘The collection of French caricatures in Heidelberg: The English connection’, French Studies Library Group Annual Review, 8 (2011-2012), p. 39-42.

W. Jack Rhoden, ‘French caricatures of the Franco-Prussian War and Commune at the British Library’, French Studies Library Group Annual Review, 6 (2009-2010), p. 22-24.

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