Painting in the Wallace Collection, London

Hilary Spurling: “Anthony Powell”, p 280

“In the bottom corners of the canvas two baby boys play with grown-up toys (Time’s hour-glass, and an equally symbolic clay pipe for blowing bubbles). Two even tinier figures at the top represent a couple of Greek gods – Dawn leading the Sun in his chariot – both decidedly insignificant against the magnificent skyscape of dark tumbling rain clouds that infuses the whole canvas with threat and drama. Poussin’s non-committal approach to classical allegory remains now as then essentially modern. “The one thing certain is that the four main figures depicted are dancing to Time’s tune,” said Tony.”

The Military Philosophers

Handwritten note from Colonel Denis Capel-Dunn to Captain Anthony Powell, 12th May, 1943:

“Dear Tony….although I am very sorry that our experiment was unsuccessful, I much enjoyed it while it lasted. Nobody could have been a nicer colleague. I only regret that my impetuousness in dragging you into a job for which you were not suited must have exposed you to some distress. I hope we may soon meet again. Yours ever, Denis.”

Further adventures on the Overground

I’m reading Hilary Spurling’s biography of Anthony “the English Proust” Powell on the train to Hoxton when the ticket inspector reaches my side. As I rummage for my debit card to show I’ve paid, he notices the book and asks if it’s good (it really is): “Very good writer. I’ve read all twelve volumes of “A Dance to the Music of Time”.”. I can only respond: “I haven’t met many who can say that.”.

Hoxton Station lies just behind my destination, the Geffrye Museum of the Home. My return journey, however, will include a short walk along Dalston Lane – of which more later – to reach Hackney Central Station.

In my post of January 11th, I was learning about Edward III and livery badges. Today I discover that the Ironmongers’ Company is ranked tenth in precedence among the Great Twelve Livery Companies of the City of London. Of the one hundred and eight Livery Companies, these twelve represent those which have almost completely lost contact with their original trades, and now work mainly in the administration of charitable trusts (and in the pageantry of the City). They are called Livery Companies because in the early 14th Century many of them assumed distinctive dress, and Edward III was known to have been clothed in his livery when attending the Merchant Taylors.

Sir Robert Geffery (spelling varies) was twice Master of the Company and was Lord Mayor of London in 1685. He is said by some to have been a Turkey Merchant, and by others to have been in the East India trade – and the distinction matters. James Mather writes:

“The great trading companies that originated in early modern Europe are often seen as pioneers of western imperialism. The Levant Company was different. The East India Company began life as a modest condominium of London merchants but it grew into an imperial leviathan.”.

The Levant Company was formed in 1592 by the merger of the Venice Company and the Turkey Company when their charters expired. Its initial charter, good for seven years, had been approved on 11th September 1581 by Queen Elizabeth I as part of her diplomacy with the Ottoman Empire. Then, in 1588, the Levant Company was converted to a regulated monopoly on an established trade route, from its initial character as a joint-stock Company. A member of the company was known as a Turkey Merchant.

By one means or another, Sir Robert had made a fortune from overseas trade by the time he died in 1704. He left a substantial endowment for almshouses, which were built in Shoreditch, on land in Kingsland Road (a stretch of the A10, which was once Ermine Street, a Roman Road) purchased for the purpose by the Company. The fourteen almshouses and chapel, surrounded by gardens, were sold in 1910 to London County Council and now house the Geffrye Museum. In 1972, the Company built new almshouses in Mottingham, Kent (modelled on Morden College, Blackheath), which were in turn sold to Greater London Council. Today, Sir Robert Geffery’s Trust owns two almshouses in Hampshire, one at Hook and the other at Basingstoke.

Furniture making went on in Shoreditch from the 18th Century, probably reaching its zenith in the mid 19th Century, and as late as the 1980s companies supplying veneers from around the world were still operating in or near Curtain Road and Kingsland Road.

The Geffrye Museum is closed for development until Spring 2020. In the meantime, I join a guided tour of one of the almshouses, restored, which provide “a rare glimpse into the lives of London’s poor and elderly in the 1780s and 1880s”.

After lunch, I ride eight stops on the 242 bus in the direction of Homerton Hospital (opened in 1870 as Homerton Fever Hospital), and walk for five minutes along Greenwood Road to view Navarino Mansions.

British History Online notes that:

“…the middle section of Dalston Lane attracted charitable institutions: at the east end a school of industry in 1803 and among the houses along the middle section an orphans’ asylum in 1832, succeeded by the German hospital in 1845, and a girls’ refuge at Manor House in 1849. The middle and eastern sections of the Lane were largely cut off from the south by the N.L.R. branch line but were linked more directly with the high road by Ridley Road. The land at the western end came to be largely industrial after the opening of Dalston Junction and its diverging railway lines in 1865.”.

Four paragraphs on, we read:

“The 20th Century brought little change until the Second World War. Houses at the corner of Dalston Lane and Navarino Road made way for Navarino Mansions, 300 flats completed in 1905 by the Four Per Cent Industrial Dwellings Co., for Jews from London’s east end. Dalston Lane lost its last spaces with the replacement of the girls’ refuge by the five-storeyed Samuel Lewis Trust Dwellings in 1924 and further building for the German Hospital. Kingsland High Street underwent such normal changes as the provision of cinemas and the refronting of shops. The slums of Frederick Place were planned for clearance in 1937. On the border with Lower Clapton the L.C.C. compulsorily purchased c. 20 a. for its Pembury Estate, a small part of which was opened in 1938.

Bombing made room for Hackney M.B.’s first estates in Dalston.”.

The Navarino Mansions were refurbished in the 1990s by Hunt Thompson Associates, whose site relates:

“Originally built in 1904 by the philanthropic association of the Four Per Cent Industrial Dwellings Company to accommodate 300 Jewish artisans from London’s East End, these buildings, and the community they housed represent a key moment in social housing history……Navarino Mansions has been owned by the same organisation from construction until the present day and IDS see the estate as the jewel in its portfolio. Its striking architecture saw a move away from “utilitarian” model home design as promoted by the Prince Regent in the 1851 Great Exhibition which focussed on health and modesty. Instead the “in house” architect, Nathan S Joseph, focussed on beauty and the best of the opulent contemporary Art Nouveau/Arts and Crafts Style. The buildings are a strong statement about the power of design and its importance in social housing and contributed to creating a settled population who held huge affection and pride in where they lived.”.

(The Battle of Navarino was fought on 20th October 1827, during the Greek War of Independence, in the Ionian Sea. Allied forces from Britain, France and Russia decisively defeated Ottoman and Egyptian forces trying to suppress the Greeks.)

A A Milne writes of the Teddy Bear who is concerned about his figure:

“He gets what exercise he can

By falling off the ottoman “.

No teddy bear Eddie Izzard. In 2016, at the age of 54, he ran the equivalent of 27 marathons in 27 days. His 707 mile journey to Pretoria was a tribute to the 27 years Nelson Mandela spent in prison, and raised over £1m for Sport Relief. He is principally known as a comedian:

“So in Europe, we had empires. Everyone had them – France and Spain and Britain and Turkey! The Ottoman Empire, full of furniture for some reason.”.

“Because a fire was in my head”*

*W B Yeats: “The Song of Wandering Aengus”

Last October, I attended a screening of Cocteau’s 1950 film, “Orphee”. In my post of 15th December 2018, I wrote:

“Jean Cocteau, the artist of the avant garde, was asked in a 1951 radio interview by Andre Fraigneau what precious object he would save from his home if it were burning. He replied that he would carry away the fire. As Garson O’Toole has commented, “Taking the fire would save the valuable items. In addition, the action alludes to Promethean inspiration.”.”.

On that occasion I was attending the Little Bulb Theatre production of “Orpheus”, set in 1930s Paris, where legendary musician Django Reinhardt has been cast in the lead of a new production of Orpheus.

My visit today, in this Triduum Pascal of the “Semaine Sainte” of 2019, is to the Church of Notre Dame de France, a Francophone (“Non civil parish”) church lying two minutes’ walk from Leicester Square Underground Station. At 20h this evening, the Vigile Pascale will commence, and members of the congregation are making preparations. The Rector with the name of the season, Fr Pascal, is circulating amongst them.

Historic England gives a full account of how a rotunda, used as a panorama, and constructed in 1793-4, was adapted from 1865 for use as a church for the French Catholic population of London, which was concentrated in Soho.

Within the building, the Chapelle de la Vierge houses murals – of the Annunciation, Crucifixion, and Assumption- by Jean Cocteau. It comes as no surprise to read that Cocteau’s Catholicism was highly unorthodox – he was said to be Grand Master of the secret society, the Priory of Sion – and in the later part of his life he redecorated churches. This, his first and only commission in the UK, began with preparatory drawings which were completed in October 1959. Princess Margaret liked them, and they were offered to her as a wedding present.

I recommend at this point the short film on the Frieze website: “Cocteau in Soho”.

Cocteau loved Villefranche sur Mer on the Côte d’Azur, where he cured his opium addiction. In the 1950s, members of the “Prud’hommie des Pecheurs”, the town’s fishermen’s association, encouraged him in his idea of decorating the Chapelle Saint-Pierre, on the jetty, with frescoes. Cocteau covered the 14th Century Romanesque Chapel with paintings which have been described as looking like rock paintings in a sea cavern. Peter Aspden writes: “There is a vibrant scene, tucked just inside the entrance, of gypsies celebrating. The guitarist looks familiar: it is a homage to Django Reinhardt by the jazz loving artist.”.

Cocteau carried out the work on his Soho murals in just over a week in November 1959, at a time when his films were enjoying huge success in London.

Aspden again:

“(Cocteau) was introduced as a young man to the Empress Eugenie, nonagenarian widow of Napoleon III, and studied her face. “It looked as though an unhappy young woman had buried her face in her hands too often and that in the end the shape of her fingers had left their imprint upon it,” he wrote…”.”.

Niall McDevitt reflects on the Crucifixion mural:

“The beautifully coloured line drawing….is arguably more striking for what is not there than for what is. Conspicuous by his absence is the King of the Jews, or at least his head, torso, and arms. All we see on the cross are his legs: knees, shins and feet. The feet bleed onto a giant rose below.”

I feel I read somewhere that the legs could belong to anyone. I can’t find the reference: perhaps it was my own thought.

“A Mural to Music, and Time to Come:…

….the future in “A Dance to the Music of Time” “: John A Gould.

“Imagine a man about to paint a mural. The wall before him is still under construction, being erected panel by panel, yet he walks back along its most recent sections and carefully begins painting images of Eton and Oxford and London between the wars. It is constructed from the lumber of all his experience, this wall. Anyone can see the similarities between the life etched on it and the mural overlaid; yet as he paints, he alters details, inventing or omitting events, conflating characters, revisioning even his own successive self portraits. The wall offers structure and images for the mural, but it does not dictate precisely what the man will paint. The wall is history, the mural art.

At one point the muralist moves backwards along the wall quite near its beginning to fill in an earlier scene, then returns to where he left off – by now images of World War II – and resumes work. After a long while he arrives at the last panel completed when he began (roughly 1950); then he continues over the more recently constructed surface, finally painting his way almost to his present (1971) and thus to conclusion. He stands back, silver haired and elegant, no trace of his labor on his hands or his clothes. The wall is still being constructed ahead; but he – and we – gaze back at the long mural stretching behind him, enamels gleaming, the work entire, finished.”

Auric and Erno

My reading matter for the Overground journey to Hampstead Heath Rail Station is David Kynaston’s “A World to Build: Austerity Britain 1945-48”. In Chapter II, “Broad Vistas and All That”, he notes George Orwell’s view of the suburbs:

“In his last pre war novel, “Coming Up for Air”, he wrote contemptuously of “long, long rows of little semi detached houses”, of “the stucco front, the creosoted gate, the privet hedge, the green front door”…”.

The Ham & High of 10 April 2013 recounts:

“In the mid 1930s Orwell found himself working part time in a bookshop in Hampstead, called Booklover’s Corner, situated where Pond Street and South End Road meet. The shop was run by a relaxed couple, the Westropes, who gave him accommodation at their home in Warwick Mansions, Pond Street. Orwell shared the job with the journalist Jon Kimche (1909-1994), who also lodged with the Westropes, and was only required to work in the afternoons, leaving the mornings free for writing and the evenings for social activity. It was during this period that he met his wife to be, Eileen, and wrote his third novel, “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” (1936).”.

By 7th February, 1947, Orwell could write an approving review of Peter Hunot’s “Man About the House” that noted the author “does not, like the author of another book in my possession, tell you how to mend Venetian blinds while ignoring electrical fittings.”.

In the interests of raising a breakfast bowl of coffee to Orwell’s memory, I walk five minutes from the station to “Le Pain Quotidien”, the current occupant of the former bookshop’s premises.

Another seven minutes by foot brings me to 1-3, Willow Road. The Historic England entry tells us that, of this terrace by Erno Goldfinger, “No. 2 has the largest and most important interior, surviving with a richness of detailing as continually evolved by Goldfinger himself, who lived there until his death in 1987, and his artist wife Ursula…This terrace replaced an C18 row of cottages in what Goldfinger called “an adaptation of C18 style”, based on a hierarchy of spaces that follows the Classical divisions; basement, piano nobile and attic.”.

John Ezard wrote for the Guardian in 2005 of :

“The story of Erno Goldfinger’s vehement reaction when the author Ian Fleming appropriated his name – and aspects of his character- with deliberate savagery for the villain and title of the James Bond novel…when Erno’s business associate Jacob Blacker was asked for his opinion….he told Erno ironically that he could find only one substantial difference: “You’re called Erno and he’s called Auric.”

Erno Goldfinger was one of the 20th century’s prime advocates of London tower blocks. He designed the often reviled Alexander Fleming House at the Elephant and Castle, Trellick Tower in Ladbroke Grove and Balfron Tower in Tower Hamlets.

One story explaining Fleming’s animosity is that he lived for a time in Hampstead and disliked Erno’s design for….Willow Road….Fleming knew of Erno through a golfing friend who was related to Erno’s wife.”.

On the release in 2016 of the film “High Rise”, based on J G Ballard’s 1975 novel of the same name, Oliver Wainwright wrote the Guardian’s architecture column for Sunday 13th March. He observes in the film “strains too of the otherworldly, angular concrete forms of London’s Thamesmead estate (itself used as a set for “A Clockwork Orange”)…..Other shots recall the walkways of the Balfron Tower, whose architect, Ernö Goldfinger, lived on the 24th floor of his masterpiece for a while, just like (the character Anthony) Royal…..The experiment lasted two months, before the architect and his wife retreated to their Hampstead nest on Willow Road.”.

Kynaston recounts in Chapter VII, “Glad to Sit at Home”, how the young J G Ballard arrived in Southampton in Spring 1946, having spent most of the war in a Japanese civilian camp, and travelled via London to relatives in Birmingham. Many years later he recalled the prevailing mindset:

“It was impossible to have any kind of dialogue about the rights and wrongs of the National Health Service, which was about to come in, they talked as if this Labour government was an occupying power, that the Bolsheviks had arrived and were to strip them of everything they owned.”.

Chapter VI, “Farewell Squalor”, records that Goldfinger, “ultra modernist and left wing”, received a commission just after the war to convert a bomb damaged Victorian warehouse in Farringdon into new premises for the Communist Party’s newspaper, the “Daily Worker”:

“The end result won many architectural plaudits, but the journalists who had to work there every day soon identified two major flaws: the unpleasantly noisy main newsroom, built in a pioneering open plan style, and the very low toilets, unrepentantly justified by Goldfinger on the grounds that the nearer one got to squatting Continental fashion over elephant’s feet, the more complete the bowel evacuation. “The journalists,” according to his biographer, “were not convinced.”.

the dexter Dark Blue…..the sinister Light Blue*

*heraldic description of oars in coat of arms of Richmond upon Thames

The annual Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race takes place this afternoon, and at The Cricketers pub on Richmond Green, where as yet I’m surrounded by Sunday morning peace, you will be able to view it on either of their flatscreen televisions. Another option is to travel four stops by District Line to Stamford Brook, and wander in good time to Chiswick Mall for a prime view of the live event.

In 1933, Eric Ravilious painted the “River Thames at Hammersmith”; about halfway along the 4.2 mile Championship Course, just around the Surrey Bend from Hammersmith Bridge. (He would die at the age of 39, in 1942, serving as an official war artist.) Ravilious created several series of artworks for ceramics by Wedgwood, including “Boat Race Day” in 1938.

Boat Race Day turns inevitably to Boat Race Night. In George Bernard Shaw’s work of 1911, “Fanny’s First Play”, Act II of the play within the play sees the Knoxes learn that their daughter Margaret has been in prison when she returns home after being away for a fortnight. On the night of the Boat Race she and a young French officer called Duvallet she was with got into a fight with the police. Margaret feels liberated by the experience and wishes to tell everyone about it. The Knoxes are mortified.

In P G Wodehouse’s “Right ho, Jeeves”, Bertie Wooster asks rhetorically, “Who was it who, when gripped by the arm of the law on Boat Race Night not so many years ago and hauled off to Vine Street police station, assumed in a flash the identity of Eustace H Plimsoll…?”

Wodehouse’s father was a magistrate resident in the British colony of Hong Kong. His wife was visiting her sister in Guildford in 1881 when their third son, Pelham Grenville, prematurely entered the world. For his first two years he and his two older brothers were raised in Hong Kong by a Chinese amah. The three brothers were then brought to England, where an English nanny cared for them in a house adjoining that of their maternal grandparents. Wodehouse wrote of his childhood, “it went like a breeze from start to finish, with everybody I met understanding me perfectly.”.

By 1891, Wodehouse was at his third school, Malvern House Preparatory School in Kent. In fiction, he would have Bertie Wooster attend a “penitentiary…with the outward guise of a prep school” called Malvern House.

At the age of 12, he proceeded to Dulwich College: “To me the years between 1894 and 1900 were like heaven.” He won a senior classical scholarship in 1897.

Richard Usborne argues that “only a writer who was himself a scholar and had had his face ground into Latin and Greek (especially Thucydides) as a boy” could sustain the complex sequences of subordinate clauses sometimes found in Wodehouse’s comic prose.

Christopher Hitchens comments of Wodehouse’s biographer: “McCrum takes too little account of the mumps that struck Wodehouse in adolescence…the high price he paid for the protective Eden that he never escaped.”.

Dr Sophie Ratcliffe quotes from a Jeeves story the words “soaping a meditative foot”, and notes: “The shifting of affect, from mind to limb, is not only absurdly incongruous, it has the effect of holding the emotion in question at arm’s (or leg’s) length.”.

Wodehouse was a resident of Le Touquet when the German invasion came in 1940. He was interned first at Huy, then at Tost. In June 1941, he was interrupted during a game of camp cricket and taken to Berlin.

In 2001, Robert McCrum met Bob Whitby, then aged 80, who had been interned alongside Wodehouse: “Whitby’s account is of special interest because it casts new light on Wodehouse’s deep humanity in extremis…behind the insouciant moonshine of the Wodehouse world, and the studied nonchalance of Wodehouse’s broadcast pronouncements, there is rather more pain, even suffering, than the writer himself liked to admit.”.

Nicholas G Round of the University of Sheffield notes the challenges to the Spanish translator of “Right ho, Jeeves” (“De acuerdo, Jeeves”): for instance, that “allusions have, in the first instance, to be recognised…..”Boat-race night” is rationally but wrongly “una noche de regatas”.”.

Wodehouse lived until 1975. In a late letter, he said of the fictional world he created, “…it is non existent. It has gone with the wind and is one with Nineveh and Tyre. In a word, it has had it.”.

Roger Alton writes in The Spectator:

“A few years back, television picked up a cox saying “It’s time to fucking attack them.” My colleague Patrick Kidd observed at the time, “Viewers were shocked. Fancy someone with all that education using a split infinitive.”. “.

“No light, but rather darkness visible”*

*Book I of Milton’s “Paradise Lost”

At Limehouse a year and a week ago I was reflecting here on R S Thomas’s poem, “Threshold”, taking in the Harrowing of Hell along the way. Then, in mid May, I recalled Seamus Heaney’s description of poetry as “more a threshold than a path”.

Today I’m at Pitzhanger Manor, Ealing, which was owned from 1800-1810 by the architect John Soane, who radically rebuilt it, intending it to serve as his country villa for entertaining. A £12m building programme has returned the Manor to Soane’s original design. The newly created Pitzhanger Gallery is showing for its inaugural exhibition a series of sculptures by Anish Kapoor, the Bombay born British sculptor. They “echo Soane’s complex use of mirrors and light to double and dissolve space.”. For further background, read Matthew Collings’s recent Evening Standard review of 12th March.

A Tate biographical note on Kapoor says that his work “explores polarities such as light and dark, substance and emptiness, place and placelessness…”. Kapoor himself said, “I am interested in sculpture that manipulates the viewer into a specific relation with space and time.”.

My thoughts turn to his “Descent into Limbo”. Last August, an unfortunate visitor to this installation was manipulated into a very specific relation with space and time as he succumbed to “l’appel du vide” of the eight foot deep pit, painted black to give the illusion of an endless chasm. (His resulting visit to hospital was brief.) Jonathan Jones observed at the time that “Installation art can put us at real risk, as if we were climbing a mountain or exploring a cave.”.

In Catholic theology, Limbo (Latin limbus, edge or boundary, referring to the “edge” of Hell) is a doctrine concerning the afterlife condition of those who die in original sin without being assigned to the Hell of the Damned.

Kapoor has said of his work that separating the object from its object-hood is

“…a sort of descent into limbo, a sort of going below, going beneath, going underground….At the heart of this is darkness.”

The Caribbean novelist, playwright and scholar, Jan Carew, spoke in his 1978 paper “The Caribbean Writer and Exile” of classical Akan theatre in which the archetypal middle-man stood between powerful spirits opposing each other:

“These spirits were involved in eternal conflicts which could only be resolved if the human being periodically renewed contact with communal wellsprings of rhythm, creation, and life.

The Caribbean writer today is a creature balanced between limbo and nothingness, exile abroad and homelessness at home, between the people on the one hand and the creole and the coloniser on the other.”.

Post colonial scholar Professor Simon Gikandi points us to the other use of the word “limbo”, closer in this sense to “limber”:

“The most dramatic metaphor for this process of cultural transformation is the limbo dance. Edward Brathwaite, who sees the limbo dance as a metacode for New World writing in general, speculates that the dance evolved on the slave ships in the middle passage as a therapy for the cramped conditions in the holds: it was a creative way of using limited dancing space.”

Barbadian poet Brathwaite asks in his poem “Limbo”:

“Who will suggest a new tentative frontier?”.

In her review (“This is a book out of the unconscious, where the best novels come from.”) of Hilary Mantel’s 2005 novel, “Beyond Black”, Fay Weldon observed: “Hilary Mantel has done something extraordinary. She has taken that ethereal halfway house between heaven and hell, between the living and the dead, and nailed it on the page.”.

“Nothing happened but the wallpaper”

The digital image above with its surrealistic elements typifies the work of Kinga Britschgi, a Hungarian artist who moved to the USA in 1995 and now lives in Boise, Idaho. It’s 881 miles by road from there to Sedona, Arizona, where Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst, a primary pioneer of the Dada movement and of Surrealism, began to build a house and a marriage (they had a double wedding in Hollywood in 1946 with Man Ray and Juliet Browner). Tanning was an American painter, printmaker, sculptor, writer and poet. To make the journey by Greyhound Bus requires changing at Salt Lake City and Las Vegas and, Google Maps informs me, “your destination is in a different time zone”.

Ernst enrolled in the University of Bonn in 1909 to read philosophy, art history, literature, psychology and psychiatry. He visited asylums and became fascinated with the art work of those in poor mental health, himself beginning to paint in that year.

The title of this post is taken from Tanning’s autobiography and describes her adolescence in Galesburg, Illinois. Her escape to other worlds lay through Gothic novels and poetry. The title of her 1944 oil painting, “A Mrs Radcliffe Called Today” is a reference to Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823), an English author of Gothic fiction.

In the mid 1960s, Tanning began to create soft fabric sculptures. I’m at London’s Bankside to see Tate Modern’s major retrospective of Tanning’s work, and am able to gaze into the sculptural installation of 1970-3, “Hotel du Pavot, Chambre 202”. (Pavot is French for poppy, and Tanning was making reference to a song from her childhood, “In Room 202”.) The caption describes the work as a “claustrophobic, uncanny diorama ….Tanning said she wanted the work to appear as if “the wallpaper will further tear with screams”, yet for the scene to maintain “an odd banality”.”.

Another soft sculpture, “Emma 1970”, was named after the eponymous character of Flaubert’s 1856 novel “Madame Bovary”, who, bored and constrained by the roles of wife and mother, escapes through literature and affairs.

Lara Feigel comments:

“The Tate show’s curator Alyce Mahon makes a compelling case for late surrealism in the catalogue, reminding us that it was a movement that continued to flourish and to mutate after the Second World War.”

Surrealism, building on the anti-rational tradition of Dada, was founded by the poet André Breton in Paris in 1924. Breton had studied medicine and psychiatry and was well versed in the writings of Freud. He was particularly interested in the idea that the unconscious mind was the source not merely of dreams but of artistic creativity. Automatism, a practice akin to free association and stream of consciousness, gave the Surrealists the means to produce unconscious artwork.

Jon Mann writes:

“By 1937, however, most of the major figures in Surrealism had been forced to leave Europe to escape Nazi persecution. Max Ernst’s “Europe After the Rain II” (1940-42) reflects this fraught moment with a post-apocalyptic vision created at the height of World War II. A partially abstract work formed by “decalcomania” – a technique that entailed painting on glass, then pressing that painted glass to the canvas to allow chance elements to remain – “Europe After the Rain” suggests bombed-out buildings, the corpses of humans and animals, and eroded geological formations in the aftermath of a great cataclysm.”

Its theme of the attitudes towards women’s mental and physical health in the 19th Century earned “The Yellow Wall-paper. A Story” a place amongst important early works of American feminist literature. Its author was Charlotte Perkins Gilman and it first appeared in the January 1892 issue of The New England Magazine.

An A level student of 2014 writing as bookeros for the Guardian said of the story:

“Through this short story Perkins intents to explore the way female psycho synthesis is being affected by the constrictions which the patriarchal society sets on women. It is a first person narration by the female patient herself with the structure being very loose and thus making it look more like a stream of consciousness which becomes more complex as the text develops and the woman is being driven to absolute madness.

*hint: Edgar Allan Poe’s fans, this book is for you!

I am afraid that I cannot tell you what the yellow wallpaper stands for, you will have to find this out on your own!!!”

Lara Feigel goes on:

“That late Surrealism still needs rescuing by curators and critics is perhaps not a sign of its defeat but of the breadth and pervasiveness of its triumph. Could we have Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollock without Surrealism? What about David Lynch, JG Ballard or Angela Carter?”.

As Frida Kahlo said: “I never knew I was a surrealist till André Breton came to Mexico and told me I was.”.

Night and delusion, and darkling confusion

The eldest son of James Boswell of Auchinleck, biographer of Samuel Johnson, grew to be Sir Alexander Boswell, 1st Baronet. At the age of forty six, he was challenged to a duel by James Stuart of Dunearn. They met for the purpose on 26th March, 1822. Boswell deliberately fired wide, but Stuart, who had never before handled a gun, shot Boswell in the collarbone; it shattered, and Boswell died the following day.

Boswell, a poet and bibliophile who counted Walter Scott among his friends, wrote some popular Scottish songs, including “Jenny’s Bawbee” and “Jenny dang the Weaver”. In Leipzig, while making the tour of Europe, he wrote “Taste Life’s Glad Moments”.

Today is St Patrick’s Day, and the title of this post is taken from Boswell’s lines, “The Pulse of an Irishman”, one of the songs he contributed to George Thomson’s “Select Collection of Original Irish Airs”, published in Edinburgh in 1814.

George Thomson was a noted collector of the music of Scotland, and a friend of Robert Burns. He published folk song arrangements by Haydn and Hummel, and many by Ludwig van Beethoven. Thomson commissioned Beethoven to arrange some songs as sets of variations for flute or violin and piano, emphasising that they needed to be easy.

The “Unheard Beethoven” blog recounts how there was a problem with the third variation of what would become op 107 nr 4, on the song “St Patrick’s Day” or “The Pulse of an Irishman”. Thomson wrote to Beethoven in January 1819:

“The effect that this variation produces does not satisfy me; it is, so to speak, too meager, and would not be appreciated by the public. I therefore request that you give me another one, in a more singing manner and in a style more brilliant, or flowing; and since the theme is a very favourite air, that you give me the pleasure of adding another variation, since the piece is a bit short.”

“Unheard Beethoven” comments (with accompanying midi file):

“Regrettably, nothing appears to remain of the replaced variation other than a brief segment….The loss is particularly sad because it’s clear Beethoven was trying out some rhythmic innovations….while sending the bright F major melody into a grim F minor key….It very well might have sounded somewhat meager to the ears of amateur Scottish ladies (sic), but even this tiny glimpse at a lost piece demonstrates Beethoven’s creativity when turning out these potboiler compositions.”

However, a guest review in the 12/2001 edition of “Gramophone”, of the album “Beethoven Irish, Welsh and Scottish Songs”, finds The Pulse of an Irishman “both rumbustious and delicate in its fun”.

The reviewer enthuses:

“….”work” is exactly what it does not sound like. It sounds as though (Beethoven) met these tunes…..took to them like magic, found something in each that warmed his heart or set him dancing round the room, and eventually, sorry when the verses had run out, made him add a ritornello or coda like a pat on the back to send each on its way.”.