The mantra of all kind of collecting is "condition, condition, condition..." Well, I've never been quite so sure and I think, actually, there are a lot of collectors out there of all kinds of things who would agree with me. I'm particularly keen on photographs and ephemera that 'show' they've had a bit of a life. These scraps of paper fell from a completely unremarkable, in fact frankly a bit crappy, copy of The Wind in the Willows. They are nothing more than someone's copies of E. H.Shepard's original illustrations for the book but they record maybe a couple of happy hours someone once spent doing something of no real consequence... the definition of ephemera!
Thursday, February 27, 2014
2014 marks the twentieth anniversary of film-maker, diarist, activist, painter, gardener, saint and poet, Derek Jarman: one of the greatest Queer figures of the Twentieth Century. A number of events are planned but, as far as I can tell, this is the only publication to mark the anniversary.
I have said it before, and no doubt will say it again, Derek Jarman's published writings are some of my favourite books, period. For a man with such a fierce and righteous anger at the established forms of religion, the diaries are perhaps some of the most spiritual books I have ever read. Amazing then to discover that there was also a book of poetry. A Finger in the Fishes Mouth. There are poems inserted into almost all of the published diaries but, back in 1972 a small selection of his poems were put together with images from his postcard collection. That seventies edition is now almost unfindable but it is reproduced here in facsimile by the Test Centre Press who have done a great job reproducing the text and images with just enough topping and tailing in the form of both comment and information.
The poems themselves have an imagist sense of stillness at times. There is a real wit beneath many of them enough to make the reader smile and they exhibit an almost unrepeating volcabulary that rises sometimes to a near Shakespearean playfulness.
Test Centre is to be congratulated on a really important and beautiful contribution to remembering Jarman in this anniversary year.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
John Gambril Nicholson was a Uranian poet, a schoolmaster and a photographer. But, intriguing though his life and work is, not even his greatest fans would argue that he was a major literary figure. So when one comes across a photograph of a character like this, they can be quite scarce things. How disappointing then to see it so ravaged by time. 'Silvering' is a process that can happen to any silver-based photographic emulsion on paper over time: the silver leeches out of the emulsion and disfigures the image. So although clearly labelled and dated, the images is gone. Or is it...
The photograph below was one I have just taken of the back of the paper when it is held up to the light at an angle. It turns out that JGN, in 1894, wasn't an unhandsome twenty-eight year old!
Sunday, February 23, 2014
John Kettelwell is not the most well-known of illustrators but I've had this copy of The Story of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (Knopf, New York: 1928) for many years and have meant to share it here for almost as long. I don't really know why I haven't until now except that each time I pick the book up I become more interested in enjoying the illustrations and the story than in writing about it. Anyway, the other day I came across an illustrated copy of Stephen Leacock's Nonsense Novels and recognised the style instantly as Mr Kettelwell, so I was prompted, finally, to post some scans of this wonderful book. Too easy to say he's like Beardsley, he's no imitator, there is real imagination and style here all of his own.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
The secondhand booktrade is awash with books on 'how to draw', and in particular, 'how to draw people'. One of the things I intend to protest about should I ever reach the pearly gates along with why I never learnt to tap-dance, is why was I never any good at drawing. Books like this don't help! I assume they must be helpful to some people or they wouldn't continually be produced but I just can't see it.
This one, however, stood out. Not because it magically transformed me into da Vinci: I've not picked up a drawing pencil for years. Rather because, for once, the example drawings had some real style about them. This is Drawing the Human Figure by Arthur ZaidenBerg published in New York in 1944, which explains the somewhat Art Deco tone to the drawings. The photographs are rather accomplished too and have a separate credit on the title page to Berenice Abbott which is unsurprising given the status of this standout photographer known for her views of New York architecture and her portraits of the European literati of the 1920s
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Every now and again you pick up an illustrated book and see something you haven't seen before. This seems to be happening to me with increasing frequency at the moment. Today it was this little number by John Masefield, South and East, a long and suitably fanciful Arthurian poem of quests and faeries and fantasy. It is illustrated by Jacynth Parsons. Parsons was born about 1912 and this book, published in 1929. This would be remarkable enough but is made astounding by the fact that before this book, she had already illustrated published editions of W H Davies Forty Nine Poems and William Blake's Songs of Innocence. She was hailed from the age of 15 as a prodigy and a genius as it was at that time she had her first exhibition, attended and patronised by Queen Mary. There is perhaps something a little 'girlish' in these paintings... but not much! I am always astounded at the ability of both Masefield and Walter de la Mare to attract the most amazing rosta of illustrators but Ms Parsons is one I shall be looking out for from now on.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
At the edge of Dartmoor is a small hamlet with a name that makes it sound like an angel from an obscure and apocryphal book of the Bible: Manaton. In fact it does have a rather pleasant church, most noted for it's rood screen, a delicate and extensive piece of Medieval carving and painting on which the vandals of the reformation did their work by gouging out the faces of every last saint depicted on it.
It was the rood screen, mentioned in the visitors book of the cottage I was staying in recently that first prompted my friend Mark and I to take a stroll up the hill to visit. The rood screen was certainly impressive enough but I was rather taken by a window in the Southwestern corner. It had deep, rich colours and almost pre-Raphaelite figures. It looked something special and since Mark wanted to take some photos of the rood screen and hadn't brought his camera, we resolved to return later in our week's stay. Like any good holiday cottage, the place we were staying was well stocked with local guide books and I confess a little pride to discover that my eye had been good, the window was something special: design by renowned muralist and book illustrator Frank Brangwyn.
We returned later in the week and I discovered in the gloom of the unlit church what I had missed the first time, that the window had a notice beneath it telling the visitor who had designed it. But this time I was able to take in the details of the text at the bottom of the window. It is a memorial to Esmond Moore Hunt, son of Cecil Arthur and Phyllis Clara Hunt. He died on 7th February 1927 at the age of nineteen. This, in itself seemed worth some thought: such a large and impressive window by such a well-known artist for one so young, that seemed unusual. Also, had the window been dated 1917 or 1940, it might have been easily assumed that the young man was a victim of war.
In fact, Esmond had Down Syndrome. His death was reported as by septic pneumonia at his school in Hastings. He came to be memorialised by one of the greatest muralists of the age because of his father, a lawyer turned artist and good friend of Brangwyn. It seemed sad to me that this glorious window is now more noticed for its artist and even it's crafter than it is for the young man to whom it was dedicated. There is nothing in the church, nor in any of the books about the area that mention the window which gives any more information than there is in the window itself. This includes Pevsner, who is wonderfully sniffy as always describing the choirboys in the window as "disturbing", and I suppose he had a point, but they did reflect a young man's fascination with music. It is said that the central boy is a portrait of Esmond and the cloaked figure behind is a protective St Cecilia, patron saint of music. I am delighted to say, however, that Esmond's story is now properly told as part of a catalogue raisonne of Brangwyn's stained glass on DVD by Libby Horner, and the section on this window is the one that was chosen as an online preview and is available here through Vimeo. It is well worth ten minutes of your time to remember a sweet young man who was obviously much loved.
Frank Brangwyn Stained Glass - Manaton from Libby Horner on Vimeo.
I was very grateful in my digging around on this subject for the use of Mark's photographs and for the excellent lateral thinking skill of my friend Sue.
Monday, February 17, 2014
The venerable old chap on the right is Major R. Raven-Hart, an astonishing character who, after a military career which spanned two world wars and garnered him an OBE and various foreign decorations, retired to his passion which was canoeing. To say he was well-travelled would be something of an understatement. He wrote thirteen languages and spoke five. He canoed his way down nearly every major European river (Canoe Errant, 1935), down the Nile (Canoe Errant on the Nile, 1936), down the Mississippi (Canoe Errant on the Mississippi, 1938), the Irrawaddy (Canoe to Mandalay, 1939) to name just a few. The books he wrote about his adventures may not be in the best, flowing prose but they are readable and interesting and, as one bookseller put it 'you would be hard pressed to find a page on which the word boy doesn't appear'. Everywhere the Major went he found a suitable young man to accompany him. The innocence and naivete with which he talks about his companions and his complete fascination with them is utterly charming and compelling at the same time. He is so blithely unaware of what is so wonderfully obvious to any sensible reader that it gives all of his books an underlying note of humour but one which was unintended but which any reader would appreciate with affection not with mockery. There are people working on a more detailed account of his life and it is to be hoped that they may be able to shed some more light on his defiantly homo-social lifestyle but for now we must content ourselves with one of the Major's stories.
My jaw dropped as I read this. In the Canoe Errant on the Nile, as he travels, the Major attempts to wheedle local folk tales out of the boys he is travelling with and three times he interrupts the narrative of his journey with an "Interlude" to retell one of these stories. The teller of this tale was "a handsome Nubian of about seventeen" who had been taken from his village at about the age of twelve by an Englishman with whom he lived for about four years, "No, not only as his servant! We were also very good friends" The Major was clearly as much taken with the teller as the tale, "[in] the more descriptive moments, when he raised his chin, emphasising the clean lines of his almost Greek neck and jaw, and half shut his translucent black-brown eyes, and almost sang the words as if he were reading them from an invisible score". The tale itself is just wonderful and in its most anachronistic moments feels almost a little Steampunk. And the tale he told was:
THE STORY OF THE EMPEROR AND ANTONY
It is related that in those days there was an Emperor of Rome who came to Egypt for the winter. He came all the way up the Nile in his own steamer, with his own cooks and servants and slaves. Antony was one of his slaves, but the Emperor loved him very much: he was very beautiful, he had curly yellow hair like the shavings of a plane, but soft like wool, and his eyes were blue like the turquoise in my ring, and his skin was white and very smooth, like polished ivory. He had narrow ankles like a woman, so that he could wear the anklets of a dancing-girl, and his wrists were small also. But his chest was arched like the chest of a stallion, and he was strong as a young bull. Also he had a good spirit and loved the Emperor very much, and not only for the favours he had given him.
One night the Emperor heard that a fortune-teller who used the sand lived near where the ship was anchored for the night (this was a long way from here, below Asyut), and so after supper he was rowed to the shore, and went on foot, with Antony only, to find the sorcerer. He lived in a ruined temple, full of bats. When he saw the Emperor in his robes and crown he was very afraid at first, but then he drew the sand for him. And then he was more afraid still, and said: "If I had good fortune to tell you, you would have given me the gold fountain-pen with the jewelled clip that I see in your girdle; but now I have no good things to tell you, and you will have me thrown to the jackals." But the Emperor told him not to be afraid, and that he should have the gold fountain-pen anyhow, even if the fortune was not good.
So at last he said: "The sand tells me that you must lose here to the Nile something that you are most fond of, or the Nile will take your dead body before you get back to Cairo."
The Emperor was very pleased that the fortune was not as bad as he thought it was going to be, and the sorcerer the fountain-pen and a purse of gold as well, and went back with Antony to the bank where the others were waiting, and was rowed back to his streamer.
Now, on of the things that the Emperor most loved was a golden pencil, set with diamonds and pearls and rubies; and there was an emerald in it, and when he looked through this emerald he saw many small photographs of Rome - his palace, and Saint Peter's, and the Railway Station and many more. It was a wonderful emerald because these photographs were so small that you could not see them unless you looked through the emerald, but then they were quite clear and large, and reminded the Emperor of his home.
So he took it up on deck, and threw it over the railing and said: "Nile, here is a sacrifice to you of something that I most love!" And then he went down to his cabin again and went to bed.
Next morning Antony was sitting beside the Emperor and they were amusing themselves by fishing over the rail before the steamer started. They often did this, but they hardly ever caught anything. But this morning the Emperor caught a big fish, so big that he told the cook to prepare it for breakfast. The cook took it away, but he came back almost at once, very frightened, and showed the Emperor the golden pencil that he had found inside the fish. So the Emperor knew that this was not the sacrifice that the Nile wanted.
Now another thing that the Emperor loved much much, perhaps more even than the pencil, was a camera that the King of Germany had given him. It was made in Germany, and was all gold and silver, and it took very good pictures. The Emperor had used it on all this journey, on the steamer from Rome to Port Said, and then on the train to Cairo, and then on his own steamer on the Nile, and all the photographs he had taken were good ones, so that he did not like at all to throw it away. In fact, he could think of nothing he loved more than this camera, and he couldn't throw it into the water himself, he gave it to Antony to throw in, and he almost cried when he heard it splash. But Anthony reminded him when he came down to the cabin again that he could always ask the King of Germany for another one when they got back to Rome; or he could even telegraph to him and ask for another one to be sent out to Cairo, and the Emperor decided to do this, promising the King three young slave girls and a bag of gold dust and some emeralds in exchange.
This was now the next night, after the night when they had visited the sorcerer; but in the morning when they lifted the anchor the camera was hooked by its strap to the anchor chain, so the Emperor knew that this was not the sacrifice the Nile wanted, which was a pity, as the water had spoilt it anyway.
And all that day the Emperor tried to think what he had on the steamer that he loved more than the pencil or the camera, and could not think of anything: it was not his robe, because this was only a cheap one for travelling, his good one was in Rome; and it was not his crown, because he hated wearing it. And he went to bed very unhappy.
In the night Antony slid out of bed without waking the Emperor, and kissed him, and wrote a note to say that perhaps he was the sacrifice the Nile wanted, and if not it would not matter since in that case the river would not drown him. And he left the note on the blanket, just under the Emperor's chin.
Then he went up on the deck, and went right to the end of the boat where the paddle-wheel was, and out on top of this, and took off all his clothes, and stood there naked and very white in the moon against the black cliffs and the black water; and he arched himself into a bow and dived so silently into the river that no one heard the splash.
In the morning the Emperor found the letter when he woke, and they brought him the clothes from above the paddle-wheel, trembling. And he mourned for many days, and fasted, and gave money to the poor; and he built a city in honour of his dead friend, and gave it his name. Also he had the best sculptors make statues of Antony as he had been when he was alive, many of them, but none of them satisfied the Emperor because none of them were like him or beautiful enough.
He never had another friend, and his heart turned to stone. When he died when they were making him into a mummy they found his heart all hard except where "Antony" was written on it; and the Pope, who was there because it was the mummy of an Emperor that was being made, wondered very much when he saw this, and had all the story told to him. And when he heard the story, he made Antony into a Saint and built churches to him, because he had laid down his life for his friend.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
I am enjoying these 1950s postcards with panoramic aerial views of the Alps. I've always admired the skill involved in being able to draw an 'aerial' image like this without, probably, having seen it for real. Of course, by the 1950s there's every chance of flying over the mountains, or working from photographs. But there is a much longer history of aerial views that dates back centuries before the first human flew.. I am thinking of amazing views of Venice for example, and other city 'maps' done in that style. Anyway, for now, my 1950s postcards making me very happy.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Kudos to R today for finding this wonder and knowing that he should bring it home. Initially it looks interesting enough: a public school story in full early twentieth century chummy gear. And of course, simply from the point of view of our interest in vintage swimwear this is interesting enough. But open it up and ta dah! Book box! and who doesn't love one of those? But it gets even better as the constructor of this little gem has decorated the inside of the box with chapter headings.. all of which register pretty high on the innuendo scale... "'Arold Reveals a Secret", "A Fettered Slave", "The Cock House Rebellion", "A Midnight Disturbance". And, in wonderfully cryptic mood, the creator of this box has also clipped just one quote from the book, a piece of direct speech: "No, you chaps, men love cause their deeds are evil".
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
These are some of the illustrations for Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales by Dugald Stewart Walker. I'm sure for some of you reading this blog that must be a very familiar name but I confess, until today, I hadn't come across any of his work before: perhaps because as an American he is not so well known here in the UK. The Fairy Tales are illustrated with colour plates throughout but as usual my eye is drawn to the black and white work, of which there is a huge amount as well from full-page illustrations like these to story headers and illustrations in the text.
I may be doing the man a disservice in my selection here because they are not all like this. There are plenty that have just a single figure with huge amounts of white space, like early Heath Robinson illustrations. But these ultra detailed black and white illustrations are quite something. It's always the done thing to compare illustrators to each other and to attempt to put them in a 'tradition' and it is certainly true that there is something of Heath Robinson and something of Harry Clarke about this chap, but he really is his own man as well and quite the best 'new' discovery I've made by simply picking up a book and flicking through it for a long time.