Category Archives: art

Yeats, Eliot and the Modern Spirit

From Richard Elllman’s fantastic work on Yeats (The identity fo Yeats)

In modern poetry, Yeats and T.S. Eliot stand at opposite poles. for, while both see life as incomplete, Eliot puts his faith in spiritual perfection, the ultimate conversion of sense to spirit. Yeats, on the other hand, stands with Michelangelo, for “profane perfection of mankind” in which sense and spirit are fully and harmoniously exploited and “body is not bruised to pleasure soul”.  So strongly does he hold this view that he projects sensuality into heaven to keep heaven from being ethereal and abstract. He presents this faith with such power and richness that Eliot’s religion, in spite of its honesty and loftiness, is pale and infertile in comparison.

I see what he means, even though I am a fan of E.iot’s religious poetry.

Have You Played Hamlet?

I have not. And sadly, I do no think I will haver get the chance. Sadly because of this comment from Edward Fox

Which book changed your life?
Shakespeare changes one’s life. They say that if you play Hamlet once, you are never the same actor again and it’s perfectly true.

Fox, you may recall, played the Jackal back in 1973.

Image result for Day of the Jackal

He was utterly convincing as the highly trained and single-minded assassin.

So why would playing Hamlet change on’s life? It may be because Hamlet is a character who fits in nowhere. He finds every avenue to connection blocked. His father is dead, his mother swooning for his uncle (who murdered his father), his beloved goes mad. He is trapped within a set of circumstances where the there is no obvious solution.

That might change a fellow! Meanwhile, you might check out Edward Fox as the Jackal. It is one of the great films, you k now.

Revisiting The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes

Robert Hughes was a most engaging fellow.

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And he had quite a lot to say about modernity. He did not like all that he saw. And in his book “The Shock of the New”, distilled from a TV series by the same name, he laid out his way of thinking. It is one of the more interesting books I have read. It came out in 1980, just as I was starting to practice law.

The first chapter is “The Mechanical paradise”. It starts off this way

In 1913, the French writer Charles Péguy remarked that ” the world has changed less since the time of Jesus Christ than it has in the last thirty years.” He was speaking of all the conditions of Western capitalist society: its idea of itself, its sense of history, its beliefs, pieties, and modes of production – and its art. In Péguy’s time, the time of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers, the visual arts had a kind of social importance they can no longer claim today, and they seemed to be in a state of utter convulsion. Did cultural turmoil predict social tumult? Many people thought so then; today we are not so sure, but that is because we live at the end of modernism, whereas they were alive at its beginning. Between 1880 and 1930, one of the supreme cultural experiments in the history of the world was enacted in Europe and America. After 1940 it was refined upon, developed here and explained there, and finally turned into a kind of entropic, institutionalized parody of its old self.  Many think that the modernist laboratory is now vacant. It has become less an arena for significant experiment and more like a period room in a museum, a historical space that we can enter, look at, but no longer be part of. In art, we are at the end of the modernist era, but this is not  – but this is not – as some critics apparently think a matter for self-congratulation. What has our culture lost in 1980 that the avant-garde had in 1890? Ebullience, idealism, confidence, the belief that there was plenty of territory to explore, and above all, the sense that art, in the most disinterested and noble way, could find the necessary metaphors by which a radically changing culture could be explained to its inhabitants.

It is a paragraph that is not for the faint of heart. Was Hughes right? Was modernism essentially over?  Did art lose its stature? And if so, what has replaced it? Interesting questions I will be thinking of these as I re-read Hughes tome. BTW, Huges wrote these words more than 35 years ago. Have things changed so much since then?


Easter 1892, What to Give the Empress?

That was the dilemma of Tsar Alexander III.  Here is the king

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Oddly, he does look a bit like he is pondering the question. The Empress was actually Danish

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Princess Dagmar.

Of course! A Faberge egg! In fact, the Tsar had gone this route before.

(He gifted( the Danish Palaces Egg … to Maria Feodorovna on Easter, 1890. The surprise inside was a ten-panel folding screen with miniatures of the Tsarina’s favorite Danish and Russian palaces.

The Danish theme was a nice touch. And in 1892, the Tsar returned to it in his second Faberge Egg gift

… the Diamond Trellis Egg held an elephant surprise that was a virtually identical replica of the badge of the Order of the Elephant, Denmark’s highest chivalric order. The only differences are the materials — Fabergé used ivory instead of white enamel — and the automaton mechanism.

Here is the Diamond Trellis Egg

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And here is the surprise

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Things get a bit dicey after the gift. Alexander died two years later in 1894. BTW, he was the father of Nicholas II, who then became tsar — the last one.Then came the revolution.

The Diamond Trellis Egg and its elephant were confiscated from the Anichkov Palace in St. Petersburg, Maria Feodorovna’s home base, by the Bolsheviks in 1917. It was sold in 1930 by the Antikvariat, the agency tasked with selling off Russia’s cultural patrimony to raise money for the Soviet government, probably to Emanuel Wartski, although there are no records of the sale.

At some point in the saga the three parts of the egg, the base (now lost), the elephant and the egg got separated. In 1935 King George V bought the little elephant without knowing it was part of an Imperial Egg or even that it was made by Fabergé. It has been in the Royal Collection ever since, on display in one of the state rooms for decades.

And now for the first time, elephant surprise and egg have been reunited.


When Natalie Clifford Barney Met Oscar Wilde

Barney, you may know, was an expat American writer who lived in Paris. She held a famous salon for over 60 years at 20 rue Jacob, and championed some radical causes.

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I find this story to be rather charming

When Barney was five years old her family spent the summer at New York’s Long Beach Hotel where Oscar Wilde happened to be speaking on his American lecture tour. Wilde scooped her up as she ran past him fleeing a group of small boys, held her out of their reach then sat her down on his knee and told her a story.[7] The next day he joined Barney and her mother on the beach, where their conversation changed the course of Alice’s life, inspiring her to pursue art seriously, despite, years later, her husband’s disapproval.[8] She later studied under Carolus-Duran and James McNeill Whistler.[9] Many of Alice Pike Barney’s paintings are now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.[10]

Barney was indeed, quite a character. And her residence at 20 rue Jacob was quite a place

The pavillon at 20, rue Jacob, Paris. For over 60 years, Natalie Clifford Barney hosted a literary salon, a weekly gathering at which people met to socialize and discuss literature, art, music and any other topic of interest. Barney strove to feature...

It was a magical place

What made No. 20 a kind of miracle on the Left Bank was its garden, a small oasis in a jungle of tightly packed streets, and a remnant of the great seventeenth- and eighteenth-century gardens which once stretched from the rue Jacob down to the Seine. It contained a tiny Doric “Temple d’Amitie,” now decreed a national monument and probably built during the First Empire or the Restoration, and a disused well which Natalie Barney never bothered to explore. The Germans cleared it out during World War II and found that it led to an underground cave and a passage going underneath the Seine to the Louvre.

Here is an image from inside

The most popular biography of Natalie is called “Wild Heart“.

She is included in Nomadic Matt’s tour of “Paris in the 20’s”.