Thursday, May 28, 2015

Corporate Purpose in the 1940s

These sparkly 1940s images are yet more from the brilliant Courier magazines that I picked up a while ago and which have featured here a lot of late. These are by the artist sisters Anna and Doris Zinkeisen and they couldn't be more 'of their period' - and all the more wonderful for that. There were commissioned by the United Steel Company as an effort in corporate jingoism to encourage the same spirit of "impatient energy and restless effort that staved off invasion in 1940" to put it to work towards the rebuilding. The titles of the paintings are a long way from poetic being, from top to bottom on this post "Unity of Purpose", "Training and Education", "Planning for Continuity" and "Training for Executives". It's possible to see here the beginnings of a Soviet style monumentalism but as we know, society, economics and art diverged and it's not a road we followed in the west, still, there is something rather enlivening about these mad, almost surrealist images of corporate 'benevolence'!?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Front Free Endpaper 10 Years Old Today

Normally I don't make a big deal about the birthday of this blog, in fact, on a number of years recently I have forgotten even to mention it. However, as it was ten years ago today that I first sat down to pen a few lines on this blog I thought it would be appropriate just to pause and say thank you.

I remember the first year and bit of this blog as being like whispering in a hurricane, there was this distinct feeling that I was saying nothing very much and no one was listening. There were never any comments on blog posts and I was writing what was effectively just a personal diary. It was only a couple of years in that I began to realise that most of the 'action' of this blog took place outside its long white pages. And if I was going to give anyone a single piece of advice about starting a blog it would be to remember that: for a long time it feel pointless and then, suddenly, you will count up all the people you have met as a result of it, all the things you have learnt, all the projects which it has been the catalyst for and realise what has been going on all this time. Nowadays I regularly meet people in the real life world of bookdealing and introduce myself and hear 'oh, I read your blog' which is both, of course, wonderfully stroking of the ego but also is a great reminder of just how many people can be reached by what one types on a page.

There are numbers of course. A few months ago this blog passed a million page views in its lifetime. As a visitor you are one of about 200 people who will come this way today. Most of the people who read this blog come from Germany(!), just pipping readers from The US, the UK and then Greece, France, Israel, Russia and the Ukraine! The top search request to Google that results in people being here, after my name, is predictable and rest assured those people go away disappointed.  A number that doesn't come from Google's stats is that I think at least 20 books, probably more, wouldn't have been published if it wasn't for people making first contact with me through this blog.

Anyway, at this time, I would just like to say thank you to all of you who come and read these sometimes interesting, sometimes inane, sometimes simply an "excuse-for-the-pretty" posts. Thank you whether you are in touch with me, or are simply a regular reader I know nothing about. Writing the blog has been an enormously enriching part of life for me and that's largely down to the people, not the screen.

Thank you...

Here's to the next 10 years!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Two into One: Fantastic Creatures

Among the many things I bought today I have a particular fondness for these cards. There's no indication of what they we drawn for but they are all original little drawings that combine two animals into one new and fantastic creature. No artist either... just a lovely little pointless mystery.

Three Paintings of Men

A rather random post, but when you edit a blog like this one you find yourself squirreling bits and piece on your hard drive in the hope that one day they will make a post. These three images all ended up with me in that way and the only things they have in common is that they were auctioned in real-world auction houses in the last few years, they were all sold without attribution or further information and they all caught my eye as having some quality about them. I have admitted defeat in the optimistic thought that they might one day be identified and blogged more effectively and so I am sharing them tonight simply as random paintings of men - for your pleasure!

Callum James Short Lists

This is the cover of Short List #18 that I sent out to people on my mailing list a few days ago. The illustration on the cover is a detail from a digitally inverted scan, of a paper negative, of a photo of a wall painting by Frederick Rolfe Baron Corvo. The image was used in the first edition of A. J. A. Symons's A Quest for Corvo but the reproduction was poor and this negative print shows far more detail. This negative was, in all likelihood, made for that book production and found its way, probably via Julian Symons, into Donald Weeks's collection and thence into my short list, from whence it was bought a couple of days ago.

If you would like to be in with a chance of buying such little treasures... it's simple.. use the 'email me' link to the top right of the posts on this blog and just ask to be added. The short lists have anywhere from 20-40 items of new stock and are sent out once every couple of months, sometimes more often, sometimes less. None of the items on the lists are offered for sale publicly by me until after they have been seen by my subscribers. If you enjoy what you see in Front Free Endpaper then you are likely to enjoy the contents of my short lists. Browsers are welcome and I try and keep a spread of items so there are things for every budget.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Kate Seredy Illustrates her own book: The Good Master

Sometimes a book just falls into your hands off a shelf in a shop or out of a mixed box and, whilst there is no question of you actually reading it, something about it, an inscription, the illustrations, the binding... something charms you. This is what happened with The Good Master a children's book written an illustrated by Hungarian born Kate Seredy (1899-1975). I once heard an antiques expert say that the most desirable antiques are always those which speak very loudly of their own period, and I'm sure this is true of books and illustration too. The 1930s sing out of these illustrations, particularly I think in the Pegasus towards the bottom and also the two men working the fields. The story itself is a compendium of Hungarian folk-stories woven around Jansci and his cousin Kate, although it is not autobiographical. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Philip Core

This self portrait of a somewhat intense and guarded young man is Philip Core (1951-1989), an American by birth who spent most of his life in the UK, an artist whose enormous potential was never quite realised. He grew up in New Orleans and was sent to school first at the military academy there and then from 1963 to ultra-conservative Middlesex School at Concord, Massachussets. These bastions of discipline and tradition must have had a hard time coping with this intransigent and subversive pupil despite his obvious brilliance. He moved further from home still to attend Harvard where he won every prize going in the fields of art and literature and, after a year or so in Paris working with Philippe Jullian on his book The Symbolists, came back to Harvard to complete an honours thesis on Belgian symbolist Fernand Khnopff. He graduated cum laude in 1973. George Melly says of him at this time he was, "an exaggerated child of that extraordinary decade, he made experimental films, bought and designed for a New York boutique, illustrated rather outrĂ© books published in limited editions, and worked  on an extreme persona. He was untypical only in his lack of interest in  drugs. As someone for whom hallucinatory powers were already part of his  armoury, and for whom work is of primary importance, chemical stimulae appeared not only unnecessary, but a threat to creation."

After Harvard he attended the Ruskin School of Drawing in Oxford, and then the Academia degli Belli  Arti in Florence before in 1975 coming to London where he settled permanently, still only in his mid-twenties. It was a fairly grim time, economically, to be attempting to make a living as an unsupported artist. A lot of the financial slack must have been taken up with his work for gay magazines and publishers who soon noticed the homoerotic charge present in most of this young artists work. He was also able to support himself simply from his encyclopedic knowledge of the bye-ways of twentieth century culture. Articulate and knowledgeable he was a perfect contributor on radio and made several contributions to the Radio 4 programme Kaleidoscope. He was also brought into journalism by James Fergusson, the editor of The Independent who commissioned Core to write obituaries on the likes of Robert Mapplethorpe  and Jean-Michel Basquiat. He was also the photography critic for the same paper.

There were a few exhibitions and some rather nice commissions: he painted a mural for the Ritz hotel depicting a range of guests over the 75 year history of the hotel; the cast of the TV adaptation of Brideshead had him paint a huge collage of all the characters in the story to be presented to the director.

Core lived in a flat in Elephant and Castle that was painted completely black. He wore his hair bleached blond, possibly in conscious tribute to Andy Warhol, and in 1985 the Gay Mens' Press published a book of his paintings of the last ten years. He ought to have matured at this point, created a few acknowledged masterpieces, become a cult underground figure and eventually an elder statesman of his generation. Instead, he became one of the first to be diagnosed with AIDS in the UK at a time when the disease was hardly known here. He died in November 1989 at the Westminster Hospital in London.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has recognised Core with an entry and they quote a note he wrote about himself in the catalogue of an exhibition at the Waterman's Art Centre:

"I am not a great artist, only someone who loves painting, drawing and making things with his hands above all else; someone who has, by some curious gift of heredity, become possessed of articulacy and intransigence in equal degree; someone who knows what they love and feels no shame about it."

Core needs a fuller and more sustained biographical treatment. I would very much like to hear from anyone who knew him. [Thank you to John Coulthart for help in gathering together the information for this post]

Monday, May 18, 2015

Kazumasa Nagai at Swann Auction Galleries

I had meant to put something on the blog about the auction of Modernist Posters at the Swann Auction Galleries before the sale, but I failed I'm afraid. Still, it was a remarkable catalogue of some really amazing images and well worth perusing even though the sale is now over. There were so many items that took my eye but I have picked out this run of lots of posters by the Japanese designer Kazumasa Nagai from the 1970s. Kazumasa is now in his mid eighties but has just been celebrated in a retrospective exhibition, a collection of clothes by Issey Miyake was inspired by his designs just last year, and a book has been published. Most of his commercial work was done in the 60s, 70s and 80s but he is still working and still eschew the digital age, doing all his work by hand!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Vintage Photo: An Odd Hug

This excruciatingly odd but also amusing vintage photo arrived in the post today. One to make up your own stories about I think!

A Previously Unpublished Snippet of Rolfe

I have today come across a transcription of a rather amusing letter by Frederick Rolfe, and since it has not been published in any way I thought I would share it here. The letter was in the possession of Anthony D'Offay in the 1960s but goodness knows what has become of it now. There is no date, no recipients indicated, not a place of sending: nonetheless it is an amusing snippet that displays some of the Rolfe's often underrated sense of humour.

"Dear Sir,

I regret that I have not received from you the Subject promised for Wesnesday of Thursday.

Meanwhile I suggest a list of bankrupt peers, to be entitled, "Burke's Stranded Gentry".

Yours faithfully,

Baron Corvo.
Thursday night."

Monday, May 11, 2015

1840s Scrapbook: Murder, Lightning Storms, Wills and Dr Dee

On the face of it these two buff coloured card books don't look very enticing with nothing but newprint inside, but I have spent a fascinating hour or so looking through these two scrapbooks that date from the 1840s and 1850s. It's always fascinating to get an insight into another person's mind, even if you don't know who they were and the selection and curation of these articles presents a picture of a man with a wide range of interests. I have learnt about a heavy snowstorm that went on for days and about one of the biggest electrical storms in living memory that dashed hail stones through the glass roofs of Buckingham Palace among other famous buildings. The compiler was obviously very taken with the story of a horrible murder perpetrated by a bookseller (or bookbinder, the report is unlear) on one of his customers, gory details of dismemberment and chunks of body stuffed up the chimney are presented with some glee in the two or three long articles that our compiler has clipped. Also here is the report of the proving of William Beckford's will, "whose singular history is well known" - let the reader understand.

And perhaps most interesting of all is the reporting of the sale of Strawberry Hill House, the gothic mansion of Horace Walpole, in the course of the coverage we are told about the polished kennel coal (actually obsidian) mirror that Dr Dee used for the summoning of spirits. And something like that, of course, leads to Google which then leads us to the website of the Lewis Walpole Library.

Fascinating stuff...

Thursday, May 07, 2015

R Clayton Skate Illustrates a 1930s 'Ghost Story'

These rather fine woodcuts are by R. Clayton Skate from, once again, a late 1930s edition of the Courier magazine. They accompanied a short and anonymous 'ghost' story called The Red-Headed Woman in which the chap on the bank above is 'lured' back into the water after a swim by the eponymous and very nude lady and then she vanishes and he nearly drowns. Later, of course, the locals tell him that the woman died a long time before and they were unable to find her body to give her a Christian burial. A much used trope but rather better than average illustrations I thought.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

1930s Caricatures by SIM

Yet more from these wonderful 1930s editions of the Courier magazine, and more caricatures, this time of theatre folks. I'm sure this is one of those things that is easy if you know it but I'm afraid I just haven't been able to work out who is hiding behind the SIM pseudonym.

I can tell you though that these are, from top to bottom: George Arliss, Gracie Fields, Charles Laughton and Cicely Courtneige. (And wow! look at the colours on those top two.)

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Kimon Evan Marengo aka Kem: Caricatures

Kimon Evan Marengo (1904-1988) was born and raised in Egypt, in Alexandria, and as a very young man of just 19, for a number of years he was editing and contributing to a weekly political magazine there critical of local politics and public life. He moved to Paris and by his mid-Twenties was illustrating for an impressive range of international papers. He found himself in England at the outbreak of war and was quickly seconded to the foreign office as a Middle East advisor, given the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and ran the 'KEM' Unit which put out propaganda material to the Middle East. Wikipedia suggests he may, in the course of the war drawn and designed 5,000 leaflets, posters and other material in various languages including dialects of Arabic and Persian. His contribution to the war has been judged very considerable and yes, in essence, all he did was to draw and paint pictures. Hardly surprising then that his Doctoral thesis, which he completed after the war was on the cartoon as a political weapon.

These colourful and slightly insane caricatures are from the pre-war 1930s magazines I bought recently, Courier, "Picturing To-Day. Fact. Fiction. Art and Satire". From top to bottom they are David Lloyd George, Hugh Cecil Lowther, Neville Chamberlain, and Alec Baldwin.

More from Courier to come...

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