Archive

19th century

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The Enlightenment, with its emphasis on rationality and inquiry, and its belief in human ‘perfectibility’, disturbed the religious and cultural underpinning of the European socio-political order. Voltaire and Diderot in France, like David Hume and Jeremy Bentham in Britain, explored the human and secural bases of governmental power. These thinkers prepared the ground for the emergence of democracy as a viable system of government. Others rejected universal suffrage as a first step towards fragmentation. Awareness of disintegration in the workplace was raised when Adam Smith introduced the term and concept of division of labour in The Wealth of Nations (1776).

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Adam Ferguson warned of the dangers implicit in the system. While Smith feared the effect of specialization on the individual, Ferguson argued that excessive division of labour would strain the social ties that bind society together. Progress would deteriorate into a process of atomization. Specialization also affected science and the arts. Already in his day, Goethe complained that the sciences were pigeon-holed. Universities created a multitude of disciplines without offering an integrated world-view. Too many specialisms caused the part to obscure the whole, and information to replace wisdom. Once divorced from architecture, the arts that were traditionally tied to building (sculpture, painting, and even music) developed into independent branches of creative endeavour. This particularization divorced them from their social purpose. The demand of originality dealt a final blow to stylistic unity or continuity within the creative domain that splintered into a plenitude of aggresively combative groups or -isms succeeding each other at an ever accelerating rate. Time and again critics applied phrases such as ‘cultural anarchy’ or ‘decadence’ to describe the perceived state of fragmentation into which the creative domain had fallen. Subjectivity was seen as the hallmark of disintegration.

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These observations were made at the same time that an unstoppable process of centralization took place in Europe. All roads and railways led from the provinces to the capital. Napoleon was a key figure in pushing the development towards a single authority of law- and policymaking forward. The French Revolution had swept away most remaining medieval and feudal laws. A truly national law code was established. Paris is the cause of the destruction of all the old bounds of provinces and jurisdictions, ecclesiastical and secular, Edmund Burke observed in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). The ‘strength of Paris thus formed, will appear a system of general weakness’. Critics such as Mme de Staël or Alphonse de Lamartine claimed that centralization would be disastrous from a cultural perpective. They hailed the vibrancy of Italian or German cities competing to emulate and outdo each other in artistic achievements, or, as Hippolyte Taine put it in 1866, in Renaissance Italy, ‘[une] cité était une élite, et non, comme chez nous, une multitude’. It was widely feared that individual regions would forfeit their cultural traditions and the consequent loss of regional identities would undermine the nation’s strength as a whole.

04That is why George Eliot insisted in Middlemarch (1871/2) that an intelligent provincial man with a grain of public spirit, should do what he can ‘to resist the rush of everything that is a little better than common towards London. Any valid professional aims may often find a freer, if not a richer field, in the provinces’. Cities may be centres of innovation and knowledge transfer, but over-centralization or the coming together of all cultural facilities in one place, carries the dangers of homogenizing art (and language) and killing off diversity. Many of our standard handbooks of literature and art seem to suggest that outside the metropolis cultural life is stagnant or non-existent. The attitude is summarized by the figure of Sir Ernold in François de Neufchâteau’s comedy Pamela, ou La vertue recompense (1795): ‘Hors de Paris, vraiment, le goût n’existe pas’. That, of course, is an outrageous statement.

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Like it was the case for a number of other European cities, Rouen’s modern history has been a painful one. During the nineteenth century its main industry was textile and cotton. Manufacturies were established in the Cailly and Robec valleys as well as on the left bank of the Seine. Endless rows of brick houses were built to lodge the influx of migrant workers. The poor living conditions of the working classes caused social unrest. In April 1848 the city was full of barricades although the insurrection was quickly and brutally put down. During the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, Rouen was occupied by the Prussians. During the First World War the city was a support base for the front line and saw the arrival of many refugees from Northern France and Belgium, before the landing and stationing of British troops. World War ii brought serious suffering to the city. The Germans entered Rouen on the 9 June 1940. The area of the city most affected by combat was located between the cathedral and the river which burned for a week as the Germans refused to allow the fire service access. Rouen was to remain under Nazi control for four long years during which time the city was bombed regularly and recklessly. The worst Allied attack took place during the week from 30 May to 5 June 1944 when 400 bombs hit Rouen killing 1,500 people, damaging the Cathedral, Saint-Maclou and the Palais de Justice and completely destroying a large part of the left bank.

06When the Canadians liberated Rouen on the 30 August 1944 they entered a devastated city. Cityscapes and photographs now serve as a memory of old Rouen. One of the streets obliterated by bombing during the war was Rue de l’Épicerie, literally: street of grocery stores, a bustling market street near to the cathedral. French artist Marcel Augis (pseudonym of Henri Dupont) was one a number of First World War French and Belgian artists that trod the Western Front during the Great War. They recorded the devastation of the battlefields and the areas that contained Allied troops. Many of these etchings/aquatints would have been sold to soldiers returning home after the War or subsequently purchased on battlefield remembrance tours that took place in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1916/7 Augis produced five or six scenes of Rouen. The etching of ‘La Rue de l’Épicerie, Rouen’ dates from 1917 shows a street full of grocery speciality shops of spices from the Far East with the cathedral is in the background.

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The city is associated with three major artistic movements, namely Realism in literature and Romanticism and Impressionism in painting. From a literary point of view, Rouen is first and foremost associated with novelist Gustave Flaubert. The author was born in the city on 12 December 1821 and educated at the Lycée Pierre Corneille (the dramatist was also born in Rouen). In 1840 he went to Paris to study law, but hated the legal profession and found the city distasteful. From 1846 to 1854, Flaubert had a relationship with the poet Louise Colet. After leaving Paris, he returned to Croisset, near the Seine and close to Rouen, and lived with his mother in their home for the rest of his life. He never married. The affair with Louise was his only serious relationship.

08His 1856 novel Madame Bovary is set in the sleepy town of Tostes (now Tôtes), near Rouen, and focuses on a doctor’s wife, Emma Bovary, who has adulterous affairs and lives beyond her means in order to escape the emptiness of provincial life. Trapped in a banal marriage to Charles Bovary, a man without drive or ambition, and living in provincial surroundings, infidelity and Rouen are her only means of escape. To her, Paris represents the culmination of all dreams. Her reality however is life in a dull town, an existence of bitterness and discontent. The town of Tôtes also figures in another classic of French literature, Guy de Maupassant’s Boule de Suif. Set during the Franco-Prussian War, the story tells the cowardly betrayal of prostitute Elisabeth Rousset by a group of upright citizens from Rouen in order to save their own skins. De Maupassant himself was educated at a boarding school in the city. 09 Nestling in a meander of the river, the capital of Normandy has always held a fascination for artists. A number of English painters found inspiration in the old town. Richard Parkes Bonington, an Anglo-French painter of coastal scenes with a fine handling of light and atmosphere, painted the famous Rue du Gros-Horloge. Critics consider this work a masterpiece of Romantic lithography.

Turner created a well-known watercolour of Rouen Cathedral and, like Pissarro would do many years later, he compared the city to Venice. Paul Huet painted his splendid ‘Vue générale de Rouen, prise du Mont-aux-Malades’ in 1831. During three trips to Normandy in 1829, 1830 and 1833, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot produced various views of and landscapes around the Seine as seen from Rouen. Théodore Géricault was born and educated in Rouen before settling in Paris. From a historical perspective, a dramatic moment in the turn from Neoclassicism to Romanticism was the exhibition of one of Géricault’s paintings at the Salon of 1819 in Paris. In June 1816, the French frigate ‘Méduse’ had departed from Rochefort bound for Senegal. The ship drifted off course and ran aground on a sandbank off the West African coast. Passengers and crew tried to travel the sixty miles to the African coast in the frigate’s six boats. Although she was carrying 400 people, there was space for just about 250 of them in the boats. The others were piled onto a hastily-built raft. For sustenance the crew had no more than a bag of ship’s biscuits and two casks of water. The journey carried the survivors to the edge of human experience. Crazed and starved, they slaughtered mutineers, ate their dead companions, and killed the weakest amongst them. After thirteen days at sea, the raft was rescued. Fifteen men were still alive. The others had been thrown overboard, died of starvation, or drowned themselves in despair.

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The disaster inspired Théodore Géricault to create ‘Le radeau de la Méduse’. The painting depicts the moment that survivors view a ship approaching from a distance. The artist was obsessed by the subject-matter. He undertook extensive research, interviewed survivors, and constructed a scale model of the raft. His efforts took him to morgues and hospitals where he could view the dying and dead. He was said to be spellbound with the stiffness of corpses. He brought severed limbs back to his studio to investigate their decay, and stored a severed head borrowed from a lunatic asylum on his studio roof. Despite their drudging reputation, fixed routines are an indispensable tool to artists of all kinds. The creative process demands discipline. Géricault drove this awareness to the extreme. During the eight months of creation, the painter lived a monastic existence, working in methodical fashion and complete silence. The painting established the artist’s international reputation and the disturbing image became an icon of French Romanticism.

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Johan Barthold Jongkind visited Paris in 1860 where his Dutch watercolours of land- and seascapes enjoyed enormous successs. He decided to stay and paintings such as a ‘Vue de Rouen’ or ‘La Seine près de Rouen’ (both paintings date from 1865) which record the mood and atmospherics of the moment became influential in the push towards new aesthetic ideals. The Impressionists were regular visitors to Rouen. In fact, it was in Normandy that Claude Monet in 1872 painted his famous ‘Impression, soleil levant’, a painting that gave the movement its name. It would, however, be another twenty years before the artist turned his attention to Rouen’s Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame. Painted from the first floor of a ladies’ lingerie shop, he worked on up to fourteen canvases at a time, determined to capture each and every atmospheric detail. The final result consists of twenty-eight views of the impressive facade which includes ‘La Rue de l’Épicerie à Rouen’ (1892).

13Monet finished the works in his studio at Giverny, carefully adjusting the pictures both independently and in relation to each other. In 1895, he successfully exhibited twenty of his cathedral pictures at Durand-Ruel’s gallery in Paris. In the autumn of 1883, Paul Gauguin moved his family from Paris to Rouen. In desperate financial trouble, he combined painting with selling life insurances and other part-time jobs in order to survive before moving to Copenhagen where his Danish wife Mette tried to keep the family afloat by teaching French to Danish students. During his short spell in Rouen, Gauguin painted a number of street- and city-scenes which includes ‘Rue Jouvenet à Rouen’ (Rouen-born Jean Jouvenet was appointed to the post of Director of the Royal Acadamy in 1705).

14Léon-Jules Lemaître produced some stunning paintings of the area. In his oil painting ‘Palais de Justice de Rouen’ Lemaître masterly captures the atmosphere of the Law Courts’ Renaissance courtyard. His 1890 painting of the Rouen’s Gros Horloge, one of Europe’s oldest working medieval clocks, is an outstanding example of his interest in the cityscape. Lemaître is one of a handful of a group of artists that became known as the ‘École de Rouen’. The term was coined in 1902 by the French critic Arsène Alexandre and refers to a group of post-Impressionist artists who followed in the footsteps of Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Alfred Sisley. The members of the School of Rouen were drawn to the city as an escape from the strict academic attitudes found in the salons and galleries of Paris at the time. Their efforts culminated in two legendary exhibitions: the first, held in 1907, brought together works by Fauvist artists such as Dufy, Matisse and Braque; the second, organised on the Ile Lacroix in 1912, was addressed by Apollinaire who gave a lecture on ‘Orphic Cubism’.

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Pissarro was famous for his portrayal of Rouen, a city he once described ‘as beautiful as Venice’. He first worked there in 1883. An admirer of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series, he painted several views of the quays along the Seine. He tended to work at the spot to capture the atmosphere and activity there and then. In 1893, following treatment on an eye, his doctor warned him not to expose himself to dusty conditions. He returned to Rouen in 1896 and in 1898 for three extended painting campaigns. By working from an elevated position, Pissarro found a perfect solution to the problem of capturing the hustle and bustle of the city, its linear and aerial perspectives, without the impracticalities of installing himself in the street. From the third floor of his room at the Hôtel de Paris which overlooked the Seine, he painted different views of the Pont Boïeldieu, at sunset, on an overcast day, in the fog. The bridge joined the old Gothic city in the north with the new southern industrial areas of Sainte-Sever. On the far bank we see boats docking and unloading cargo, with the urban landscape in the distance. It is this juxtaposition of mist and smoke, of the industrial and the historical, that gives his cityscapes its intriguing character. An exhibition of his work at Paul Durand-Ruel’s gallery in Paris in April/May 1896 included eleven Rouen paintings which were critically appreciated and found buyers giving him financial security at last. It allowed him to return to Rouen in September 1896. This time he stayed at the Hôtel d’Angleterre on the other side of the bridge, where his fifth-floor room offered panoramas of the city’s three bridges. In 1898 he travelled to Rouen for a fourth time, painting more views of the bridges, as well as of the Gare d’Orléans and the Quai de la Bourse.

16On 19 August 1898, Pissarro wrote to his son Lucien that he had found an excellent place from which to paint the Rue de l’Épicerie and the Friday market in the Place de la Haute-Vieille-Tour. He made various paintings of the street under different atmospheric conditions, be it in bright sunshine or on a grey morning. Like fellow Impressionists he liked to experiment with the effects of light. Depicting light and the play of shadow has always been a challenge to painters. The Impressionists abolished the traditional use of neutral tones and black and grays for creating shadow by applying purples and yellows instead to suggest coloured shadows and reflected light. Pissarro’s paintings of the old street are a reminder of the cruel damage World War ii had inflicted on Europe’s heritage. His views of Rouen total a number of forty-seven. They vastly exceed the numbers of any other series he created. Cityscapes dominate his oeuvre. Rouen’s rich artistic history in the meantime shows that there is life outside the capital after all.

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Bishopsgate was anciently divided into Bishopsgate Street Within (i.e. within the walls of London) and Bishopsgate Street Without, and derives its name from an ancient gate in the city walls which is attributed to Erkenwald, elected Bishop of London in 675. Throughout its history this street in Camden has been one of the City’s main commercial centres. A specific nineteenth century addition to the history of city- and streetscapes is the dimension of industrial and commercial activity. This, the age in which religion was replaced by economics, opened up an urban imagery of ports, docks, industrial sites, smoke stacks, factories and shop fronts in painting, poetry and fiction.

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Walter Riddle may not be a household name in the annals of English painting, but the Guildhall Art Gallery holds a few interesting canvases by him. One of these paintings, created in 1872, is entitled ‘Bishopsgate in 1871’. The image shows a busy commercial street with in the centre the warehouse of Moore & Moore, pianoforte manufacturers. The firm started production in London in 1837 and was taken over by the Kemble group in 1933. Whatever the quality of their pianos may have been, the firm was part of a lively history of making musical instruments in the capital.

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Having arrived from Switzerland in 1718 as a simple journeyman joiner, Burkat Shudi set up his own workshop as a harpsichord maker in 1728. It was the foundation of the famous business now known as John Broadwood & Sons. Some time in the 1720s Burkat Shudi became apprenticed to Hermann Tabel, a Fleming who had learned the art of harpsichord making in the famous Antwerp house of the Ruckers dynasty of instrument makers. He was the first person who built harpsichords in London where he resided between 1680 and 1720. Little is known about Tabel, but a harpsichord made by him is in the possession of Helena, Countess of Radnor, and bears the inscription ‘Hermannus Tabel fecit Londini, 1721’. Another London pupil of Tabel was the German immigrant Jacob Kirkman, who set up a rival workshop producing harpsichords of equal quality to those of Shudi. Later, both Broadwood and Kirkman became leading manufacturers of pianos (between 1771 and 1851 no fewer than 103,750 pianos were produced by Broadwood, one of the main London employers at the time).

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The piano was first demonstrated in London by the multi-talented Charles Dibdin (composer, singer, actor, novelist), who is most famous for his sea songs. Between the acts of a performance of The Beggar’s Opera at Covent Garden, on 16 May 1767, he accompanied Miss Bricklet on the ‘new pianoforte’. Dibden lived in Arlington Road, Camden Town, and it was there that the piano industry blossomed. Camden was a suitable centre for its manufacture. Transport conditions by water and rail were ideal. By the middle of the century, London had over two hundred piano making firms, three quarters of them north of the river. Some firms made instruments on a mass production system, as Collard & Collard (originally established as Longman & Broderip in 1767) did in their famous circular factory in Oval Road. Others were merely small assembly shops. Besides manufacturers there were part makers, such as piano key makers; wrench pin makers; hammer coverers; truss carvers; gilders; marquetry workers; veneer, timber and ivory suppliers; makers of piano castors; piano stool makers, piano-back makers; piano tuners and others. All these professionals found a living in and around Bishopsgate.

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The London Tavern was once situated at the western side of Bishopsgate Street. The house was destroyed during a terrifying blaze that took place on 7 November 1765. The fire broke out at a peruque-maker’s shop opposite. The flames were carried by a high wind across the street to the property immediately adjoining the tavern, quickly spreading to other streets. Fifty houses and buildings were destroyed or damaged. The new London Tavern was designed by architect Richard Jupp and re-opened in September 1768. The size of the place was phenomenal. The dining room, known as the ‘Pillar Room’ for its Corinthian columns, was decorated with medallions and garlands. At the top of the building there was a ballroom that extended over the full length of the structure which, if laid out as a banqueting area, offered room to hundreds of people. The walls were covered with paintings. The cellars occupied the whole basement of the building. They were filled with barrels of porter, pipes of port, and butts of sherry. At any time some 1,200 bottles of champagne were kept in store, in addition to six or seven hundred bottles of claret and ‘floods’ of other wines. The original purpose of the tavern was not so much to create a venue for feasting, but to offer space for public meetings.

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In 1817, Robert Owen was determined to publicize his conversion from philanthropic cotton prince to socialist campaigner. He spent much of his time in London organizing public meetings. On 14 August he made his most notable address before an audience of hundreds of politicians, intellectuals, and followers at the London Tavern. The new religion of terrestrial paradise was promised in the tavern. In 1848, the London Chest Hospital was founded here at a meeting held by a group of nineteen City merchants and philanthropic bankers (which at the time was not a contradiction in terms), thirteen of whom were Quakers. Tuberculosis or consumption was then the major endemic killing disease, accounting for twenty per cent of all fatal illnesses. Charles Dickens presided here at the 1851 annual dinner for the General Theatrical Fund. Especially during the spring season meetings were numerous and these often concluded with a sumptuous dinner and entertainment. The London Tavern employed an army of sixty to seventy servants at any time. The majority of City companies held there banquets there; there were la large number of annual balls; Masonic Lodges met in the London Tavern, etc. Business was booming.

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The London Tavern holds a niche in the history of English late eighteenth century music. Dublin-born John Field was the eldest son of violinist Robert Field. He studied first with his father and his grandfather, John Field, a church organist. In 1793, the family moved to London where John Field entered an apprenticeship for seven years with Muzio Clementi, the Italian composer, pianist, and publisher who had settled in the capital. John’s first public appearance in England took place at the London Tavern on 12 December 1793, when he played a ‘Lesson on the new Grand Piano Forte’ at a benefit concert under the patronage of the Prince of Wales. In return for his instruction, Field had to work as a salesman-demonstrator in Clementi’s piano warehouse (the latter had created a successful association with the Collard family under the name of Clementi & Company; Munzio retired in 1815 after which the firm was called Collard & Collard). Field’s early talent as a composer was put to use by his Clementi who published several of young John’s piano pieces anonymously. Field’s professional career as a composer was launched on 7 February 1799 with the performance of his Piano Concerto No. 1 at the King’s Theatre. His apprenticeship expired shortly thereafter, and for the next two years he was in great demand as a concert pianist. Field’s Opus 1 Piano Sonatas was published in 1801. It was dedicated to Clementi. Field’s creation of the ‘Nocturne’ as a genre is his substantial contribution to music. Having experimented with titles such as Pastorale, Serenade, and Romance, he settled on the name when Nocturne No. 1 was published in 1812. In conception and style, Field anticipated Chopin by nearly two decades. Liszt, Mendelssohn, and other composers were influenced by the Nocturnes. These pieces strengthened the Romantic belief that music is the language of emotion that begins where words fail. They were the first ‘songs without words’. Celestial music for piano found its first expression in the London Tavern.

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A successful undertaking as the London Tavern depended heavily on master chefs and cooks. And management hired the best. John Farley is a figure about whom little is known apart from his best-selling book, The London Art of Cookery published in 1783 (it went into twelve editions by 1811). His claim to fame rests on this book, although ninety per cent of the text was compiled – ‘stolen’ – from two culinary best-sellers of the eighteenth century, Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747) and Elizabeth Raffald’s The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769). In 1792 Farley was listed as being cook at the London Tavern.

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What about the food at the famous tavern? The house was above all appreciated for its turtle soup. There were a number of London outlets where turtles were presented as a speciality. Of specific interest in this context is the Ship and Turtle tavern in Leadenhall Street. It has been claimed that the house dated back to 1377. The tavern was the meeting place of numerous Masonic lodges and a sought-after venue for corporation and companies’ livery dinners. Inevitably, management prided itself upon the quality of its turtle soup. Another house was the Queens Arms Tavern at St Paul’s Churchyard which was popular with City politicians and booksellers. Great numbers of turtles of differing sizes were being dressed at the tavern. In 1787, the New, Complete and Universal Body, or System, of Natural History describes three turtles being prepared at the tavern, ‘two of which together did not weigh three ounces, and the other exceeded nine hundred pounds in weight’. The London Tavern however enjoyed a supreme reputation when it came to turtles.

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For a long time turtle had been considered synonymous with filth. The word ‘tortoise’ (tartarus) means ‘resident of hell’. Turtle was not considered fit for food. The shell however was used for medicinal purposes and promoted as an aphrodisiac. At sea it was a different matter altogether. During the seventeenth century, the edibility of the giant sea turtle had been exploited by mariners and whalers. Turtles were stored on deck and would remain alive for up to a year without feeding, thus providing fresh meat for long voyages. During the nineteenth century however turtle meat developed into a delicacy wreaking havoc on the species from which it has never fully recovered. Soup was made from the green cartilage that lines the shell of the turtle. These reptiles were kept in massive tanks, which occupied a whole vault. Gastronomical wisdom at the time dictated that turtles will live well in cellars for three months as long as they were kept in the same water in which they had been transported. Changing the water would lessen the weight of the turtle and affect is flavour. An estimated 15,000 turtles were imported to London yearly. When, as a consequence, the turtle became rarer as a species, soup prices shot up dramatically to a level of imported luxuries like truffles or caviar today.

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Mock turtle soup was introduced by the early 1800s. This was a consommé with a calf’s head and maybe a calf’s foot, hooves or tail, and root vegetables like turnips and carrots. The non-muscular meat was used to imitate that of the turtle. This is why the John Tenniel’s illustration of ‘Alice with the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon’ in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is depicted as a collection of creatures that make up the ingredients of mock turtle soup. The illustration shows the Mock Turtle with the body of a turtle, and the head, hooves, and tail of a calf. ’Turtle Soup’, as sung by the Mock Turtle in the story, makes it clear that special pots were created for this soup:

Beautiful soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!

A turtle soup tureen could hold up to six litres of soup in its body. Interestingly, ‘Mockturtlesuppe’ is a traditional meal in Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen). In 1714 the House of Hanover had succeeded the House of Stuart as monarchs of Great Britain and Ireland. Up to 1837 the Kingdom of Hanover and Britain were joined in a personal union, thus sharing the same person as their respective head of state. The union was ended when different succession laws resulted in Queen Victoria ascending the British throne and her uncle Ernest Augustus that of Hanover. During that period of close contact both the recipe and the name for the dish were transported from England to the northern part of Germany. Did mock turtle soup enhance the mutual understanding of the two nations? It certainly is a challenging question for socio-political researchers to answer. History is a lady with a wicked sense of humour.

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The Forum Romanum, at the heart of Ancient Rome, was in the seventeenth century populated by cows, goats and cattle traders – hence the name Campo Vaccino, the ‘field of cows’. In his 1636 ‘Vue du Campo Vaccino’, Claude Lorrain painted the hustle and bustle as seen from Capitoline Hill, with the Colosseum in the distance on the left. This is Claude’s only topographically correct cityscape that has been recorded.

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French painter and engraver Claude Lorrain – born Claude Gellée, dit le Lorrain – is one of the great painters of the French Baroque. Along with his friend Nicolas Poussin, he defined the classicizing tendencies of the era. Claude was born into a peasant family in the Duchy of Lorraine which, at the time, was an independent region. His childhood was marred by the mounting hostilities with invading France. Jean and Anne Gellée were the owners of a small plot of land and unable to give their son the privilege of an academic education. His training was not in the art of painting. Young Claude was initially apprenticed to a pastry cook. Throughout his life, he experienced difficulty reading and writing. He left home in 1612 and travelled to Germany, before moving on to Rome where he became a studio assistant to landscapist Agostino Tassi. He visited Naples and returned to Nancy before settling permanently in Rome around 1628.

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Building on the foundation laid for him by northern European immigrant artists such as Titian, Elsheimer, Paul Bril, Claude became a leading seventeenth century landscapist. His paintings are points of reference in this particular genre. He was also a superior draftsman, and his spontaneous sketches of nature are equally appreciated amongst critics and art lovers. Over 1,000 extant drawings have been attributed to him. Some of his most interesting drawings include those he executed for his Liber veritatis (Book of Truth), now in the British Museum. In 1635/6 he had started cataloguing his works, making tinted outline drawings of all his pictures on the back of which he made a note of the purchase’s name. It was a shrewd effort by this French farmer’s son to keep an increasing number of forgers of his work at bay. The Liber veritatis was the first document of its kind in the history of art.

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In Rome, it was not until the mid-seventeenth century that landscapes were deemed fit for serious painting. Northern Europeans working there had made such views pre-eminent in some of their paintings, but it was not until the efforts of Annibale Carracci that landscape became the focus of a major Italian artist. In ‘The Sacrifice of Abraham’ (ca.1600) the subject that justifies the title occupies a minor place.
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The centrepiece is a tree growing at the edge of a precipitous bluff, whilst great attention is given to the mountains in the distance, and to the clouds floating over the horizon. The scene of Abraham about to bring down his dagger over the neck of the kneeling Isaac is lodged in the top left corner, almost as an addition. Carracci’s disciple Domenico Zampieri, known as Il Domenichino, reserved an even more modest space for ‘The Flight to Egypt’ (1621/3). A tiny Mary riding a donkey, followed by Joseph, appears in a corner at the bottom of the composition. Religion seems an excuse to a painter who is eager to depict nature as he sees it. Nevertheless, the stated themes of the paintings remain religious.

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Albrecht Dürer may have drawn some of the most superb landscapes of European art, but most painters rejected landscape as un-classical and secular. The former quality was not in line with Renaissance art which tried to emulate the work of the ancients. The second quality found little patronage in Counter-Reformation Rome, which – with papal interference – demanded grand subjects worthy of ‘high painting’. Landscape for its own sake reflected an aesthetic approach regarded as lacking in moral seriousness. Rome, the theological centre of Italian and European art, fought to hold on to the past. A hierarchy of subjects, which included classical, religious, mythological and allegorical themes, placed history painting above all other genres. Portraits, scenes of everyday life, still life, and landscapes were seen as inferior topics. Even as landscapes became accepted as subjects in the course of the seventeenth century, they were still often created as settings for biblical, mythological, or historical scenes. The narrative was of overriding importance.

Since Antiquity, artists had gone to Rome to complete their training, but by the end of the sixteenth century different developments combined to give rise to a new profane genre. Crucial factors were the presence of a cosmopolitan community of artists (especially from the Low Countries); the attraction of Rome to visitors and the emergence of ‘tourism’; the impact of printmaking on the circulation of images (with Antwerp as a centre of European distribution); the increasing interest in works by Renaissance masters; and the growing commercial success of landscape painting. By the mid-seventeenth century, the genre had become a category in its own right. Claude Lorrain stood at the centre of these changes. His style of painting and the subjects he favoured are consistent throughout his oeuvre, but that is not to say that there is no evolution in his art. His early paintings are steeped in the northern European landscape tradition, complete with a variety of picturesque details. Young Claude spent long days roaming the Roman countryside, making numerous sketches which formed the basis for oil paintings to be completed in his studio. As he matured his paintings became increasingly classical in tone and theme.
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Later works exude a more melancholic atmosphere than his bustling early pictures. He painted a pastoral world of fields and valleys not distant from castles and towns. If the ocean horizon is represented, it is from the setting of a busy port. Perhaps to feed the public’s desire for paintings with noble themes, his pictures include demi-gods, heroes and saints. Even though his sketchbooks prove that he was more interested in pure scenography, Claude cunningly met this demand. Claude’s paintings flattered the culture of his clients by alluding to the Classics or Bible, while at the same time teeming with anachronisms in order to more closely resemble contemporary Roman landscapes for their nostalgic enjoyment.

In ‘Paysage avec l’embarquement de Sainte Paule à Ostie’ (1639), for example, the port is filled with modern ships that sailed around the Italian coast. European painting is full of similar anachronisms in the depiction of historical themes. As late as the early twentieth century Giorgio de Chirico introduced his deceptive ‘exploitations of tradition’ by inserting modern smoke stacks and trains into the background of seemingly ancient cityscapes.
In the second quarter of the seventeenth century, European landscape painting took two opposite directions. Artists like Claude went in for ‘ideal’ views of an eternal Arcadia, while the Dutch masters of the genre (the word landscape is borrowed from the Dutch ‘landschap’) closely observed nature. The introduction of the term was logical because the Netherlands was one of the first places that landscape had become a popular subject for painting.
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The rising Protestant middle class sought secular art for their homes, creating the need for new subjects to meet their tastes. Landscapes helped fill this need. Claude Lorrain’s paintings on the other hand exemplify the genre labelled as ‘idealized’ landscape. They are rooted in a strong naturalism, but at the same time beautified and idealized. A sense of nostalgia is evoked by the presence of ancient ruins and figures in antique togas. The palette is one of blues (using ultramarine, the most expensive pigment of his day made from lapis lazuli, a rare precious stone), greens and greys. Much like the later Impressionists, Claude was fascinated by the effects of light. His preference was for harmonious scenes of dawn or twilight, whilst never showing nature’s brute realities. He searched for perfection, an image of nature as it should be. He created ‘une mythologie douce’, an aesthetic that chooses the bucolic over the shocking, and withdrawal from the world over the torments of war. He desired the peaceful song of the flute rather than the military sound of drums. This kind of approach appealed to his audience. Landscape painting may have been perceived as a lesser genre in certain circles, but Claude Lorrain achieved enormous success in his lifetime, garnering commissions from aristocrats, popes, and the King of Spain Philip IV.
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Scottish and English travellers on the eighteenth-century Grand Tour bought many of his works. As a consequence, Claude exerted considerable influence on English landscape artists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Turner was especially indebted to him, and – in a classic case of creative rivalry – tried to outdo Claude’s grand compositions. The Turner Bequest is the name given to the gift of a large number of paintings and drawings which the artist made posthumously to the nation. Most of these works are now in Tate Britain and some are hung in the National Gallery. In his will the artist specified that he wanted his ‘Dido building Carthage’ to be hung between Claude’s
‘L’Embarquement de la Reine de Saba’ and ‘Le marriage d’Isaac et Rebecca’ – works which formed the prime inspiration for his painting.
The late development of ‘pure’ landscape painting justifies the conclusion that the genre was preceded by the cityscape. In retrospect, that is not surprising. Buildings, streets and cities are man-made, manifestations of human pride and hubris. An inhabitant of Florence, Antwerp or Bruges would be eager to boast the achievement of builders, sculptors and artists who had contributed to the beauty of his/her city. Mankind was on the move – for the first time the proud notion of progress entered our thinking. Moreover, the artist attempting to depict the elegant architecture and buzzing street life of his day was not burdened by this load of religious or mythological baggage that the landscapist carried with him. He was not concerned with moral seriousness or religious high-mindedness. His eyes were focused on the here and now, on the beauty that surrounded him, on the energy that captivated him. Painting was an expression of civic pride. Such urban pride was also reflected in a different type of cityscape. Between the mid-sixteenth and the early nineteenth century, many of the great cities of Europe applied the artistic tradition of the cityscape to their coins and medals – the most circulated art medium. These coins not only expressed urban pride and civic power, but also showcased exquisite skills of engraving. The images feature churches, citadels, fortifications, harbours, and civic buildings, emphasizing military or commercial power, and above all, divine protection and favour. Again, Antwerp stood at the centre of developments.
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The Roman Catholic Roettiers family of engravers, goldsmiths and medallists came to prominence with Philip Roettiers (born in 1596). He was a goldsmith by training and a medallist by specialty. Philip was the founder of a dynasty of engravers and medallists who for two centuries were of service in various capacities to the kings of England, Spain, and France.

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The Rua das Flores is a narrow steep street in the old town of Lisbon. Two monuments stand close together at the southern end of the Bairro Alto, the statue of Luis de Camões, the celebrated poet, and, a few steps down the Rua do Alecrim, that of Eça de Queiróz, the national novelist, looking serenely over the female figure of Truth. Ever since Bernini created his famous sculpture (Borghese Palace in Rome) truth has been personified as a naked woman. De Queiróz’s fictional output tends to suggest that the naked body may well be the moment of truth, but the naked truth itself is something we prefer to ignore. The unmasking of hypocrisy in bourgeois society was one of his main motivations for putting pen to paper.

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In 1703 England and Portugal signed the Methuen Treaty. At the start of the War of the Spanish Succession Portugal allied with France because the French had guaranteed naval protection. However, in 1702 the British Navy sailed close to Lisbon on the way to and from Cadiz, proving to the Portuguese authorities that the French could not keep their promise. Talks with the Grand Alliance about switching sides began soon after. The resulting treaty was negotiated by John Methuen, the British Ambassador to Portugal. It established closer trading relations between the two nations, allowing English woolen cloth to be admitted into Portugal free of duty and, in return, Portuguese wines imported into England would be subject to a third less taxation than those brought in from elsewhere. Port was about to hit Britain. The real impact was felt during and after the Napoleonic Wars when French products were virtually unobtainable. Soon British wine merchants migrated to Portugal and established the famous port houses of Cockburn, Croft, Dow, Graham, Osborne, Sandeman, Taylor and Warre. The British aristocracy became addicted to port and afflicted by gout, whilst English poets fell in love with Portugal – and with Sintra in particular.

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The name Sintra evokes a series of cultural memories. In 1825, Almeida Garret published his poem ‘Camões’. It signalled the beginning of the Romantic obsession with the village of Sintra in Estremadura, near Lisbon. Sintra had been part of the itinerary of English Grand Tourists. William Beckford, a wealthy aristocrat, art collector, and author of the Gothic (spiced up with Oriental elements) novel Vathek, landed in Lisbon in 1787. Having spent time at Sintra he praised the area as a ‘vast temple of nature’. The following decade he rented the estate that would later be known as the Palace of Montserrate (having been expelled from Britain for sodomy). Robert Southey spent some years in Portugal.

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In his 1808 Letters Written during a Journey in Spain and a Short Residence in Portugal he describes Sintra as ‘the most blessed spot on the whole inhabitable globe’. Lord Byron visited Sintra in 1809. In a letter of 16 July he refers to the village as ‘the most beautiful perhaps in the world’. He subsequently immortalized the place in ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ as a paradise on earth (‘Cintra’s glorious Eden’). What makes the place so special and atmospheric? The sudden eruption of Sintra’s steep hills in an otherwise flat landscape has an effect on its climate. The mellow mists that shroud it through much of the summer have attracted rich Lisboans for centuries as an escape from heat in the city. Mistiness lends its ruins their special charm. The medieval Capucin monastery with cork-lined walls (known as the Cork Convent) is hardly ever exposed to sun light. The gardens of Montserrate offer vegetation in rainforest humidity. Even now, many of art shops in town sell engravings by English artist William Burnett who, in the 1830s, captured the splendour of the area.

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Few Portuguese artists on the other hand were attracted to settling in Britain – with one notable exception. Novelist José Maria Eça de Queiróz was a master of realism. Many contemporary authors admired his work. Émile Zola rated his fiction higher than that of Gustave Flaubert. Others compared the novelist to Dickens, Balzac or Tolstoy. Born an illegitimate child in 1845, he was officially recorded as the son of José Maria de Almeida Teixeira de Queiróz, a Brazilian judge and an unknown mother. He studied law at the University of Coimbra, the oldest academic institution in Portugal and one of the earliest universities in Europe. Eça’s first known work was a series of prose poems, published in the Gazeta de Portugal, which eventually appeared in a posthumous collection edited by Batalha Reis entitled Prosas bárbaras.

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In 1869/70, Eça travelled to Egypt where he was present at the opening of the Suez Canal. The experience left a mark on several of his works, most notably the murder mystery O Mistério da Estrada de Sintra (The Mystery of the Sintra Road, 1870), written in collaboration with Ramalho Ortigão. The novel was turned into a film in 2007. When he took up a post in Leiria to work as a municipal administrator, Eça de Queiróz wrote his first realist novel, O Crime do Padre Amore (The Sin of Father Amaro), which is set in the city and first appeared in 1875. In his fiction the author regularly attacked Christianity and was highly critical of the role of the Catholic Church plays in society.

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Eça made his way up in the Portuguese consular service and spent two years in Havana before being posted in England. For five years, between 1874 and 1879, he was stationed at no. 53 Grey Street in Newcastle upon Tyne from where he dispatched his diplomatic reports on British affairs and industrial conditions. In spite of a dislike of country and climate, his long stay proved to be productive from an artistic point of view. His output included a series of ‘Cartas de Londres’ (London Letters) which were printed in the Lisbon daily newspaper Diário de Notícias and afterwards appeared in book form as Cartas de Inglaterra. As early as 1878 he had at least given a name to his masterpiece Os Maias (The Maias), though this novel was largely written during his later residence in Bristol and published a decade later. All in all, Eça stayed in England for some fifteen years, suffering the damp weather and the ‘indecent manner of cooking vegetables’, which nevertheless stimulated a considerable creative output. Whilst in Manchester, Friedrich Engels formulated his social criticism by observing the excesses of capitalism and its disastrous effects on the working population. Accordingly, Eça found a cutting edge to his fictional social realism by reporting on the appalling industrial conditions in the North-East of the country. In 1888, he finally moved to his beloved France becoming Portuguese Consul-General in Paris where he died in 1900.

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Written between 1877 and 1878, the manuscript of A tragédia da Rua das Flores (The Tragedy of the Street of Flowers) was discovered amongst the author’s papers after his death. For more than a hundred years it remained in the hands of Eça’s family who judged the contents to be shocking and refused its publication. It was only in 1980, when the author’s estate was handed to the Biblioteca Nacional, that (two) editions of the embryonic novel were published in quick succession. The first English translation was timed to coincide with the centenary of Eça’s death. One night at the theatre, Vitor da Silva, a young law graduate, sees a strikingly beautiful woman: Genoveva de Molineux. She claims to have been born in Madeira and to have lived for many years in Paris. The truth about her past gradually begins to surface, as does the dark secret that lies behind the deep mutual attraction between her and Vitor. The Rua das Flores is not mentioned until the second half of the novel and appears when Genoveva’s sugar daddy Dâmasio sets her up in a third floor apartment on the corner of the street. Whilst the house was fitted out for her the couple – much to the anger of Vitor – spent some time away at Sintra’s famous Lawrence hotel. The tragedy at the street is Genoveva’s suicide (one of numerous cases of female suicide in late nineteenth century fiction) when she learns the awful truth about the real relationship between herself and Vitor and jumps from her balcony.
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The tragic side of the story does not preclude humour and caricature. The author masterly dissects a world in which only surface counts by providing a gripping portrayal of a class consumed by hypocrisy and greed, drawing such characters as the fat pleasure-seeking libertine; the love-sick gin-drinking middle-aged English governess; the maid of many lovers; the aspirant painter who changes his aesthetic theories more often than his pants; the poetically inclined lawyer whose masterpiece is published in a women’s magazine, and the classy concubine short of cash but with aristocratic mannerisms. Within a framework of very precise topography and geographical location (one can literally follow Vitor’s footsteps) Eça’s Lisbon society is a colourful mosaic of vanity, self-delusion, and sexual intrigue. His fiction is characterized by great narrative fluency, a sharp eye for detail, and ruthless satire. Life is dominated by sordid affairs, corruption and a cheap moralism. To this rich mixture, his later writing added a new dimension. The theme that dominates both The Maias (his most acclaimed novel) and The Tragedy of the Street of Flowers is incest. The dynamic of both novels derives from the inevitability of a relationship between lovers who are unaware of their blood ties.

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In Oedipus Rex Sophocles turned a tale from Greek mythology into a play in which the title character unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother. Freud introduced the concept into his psycho-analytical framework. De Queiroz’s plot to his novel can be read as reiteration of the catastrophe enshrined by Sophocles in Oedipus Rex. While the dramatist presented only the fact of the unnatural crime, De Queiroz describes all its allure and physicality. In The Maias, the protagonists are brother and sister; in The Tragedy of the Street of Flowers, they are mother and son. Incest appears regularly in the nineteenth century novel, although rarely in explicit terms. It is a suggestion, an undertone. In William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel Pendennis (1848/50) however the theme of incest is blatantly evident. Helen Pendennis, mother of the main character Arthur, seems to lust after her son. A lonely but sexually alluring widow, she is aware that the object of her desire is her own boy. She broods over his affairs, even throwing one young lady into the street because of her flirting with him. She sabotages any opportunity Arthur might have at an affair. In line with other Thackeray’s works, Pendennis offers a satiric picture of human character and aristocratic society. Both tone and subject-matter of his writing would have been appreciated by Eça de Queiróz. It is most likely that he read this novel during his stay as a diplomat in England.

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Near Place Pigalle is a leafy cul-de-sac, closed by a wrought iron secured gate, which is called Avenue Frochot. Developed in the 1830s, the avenue has an enticing artistic history. Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo lived here at one time; Toulouse-Lautrec had a studio at no. 15 which at the entrance shows a fine example of Art Deco stain glass; Théodore Chassériau, residing at no. 26, was neighbour to Gustave Moreau. Later film director Jean Renoir and gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt settled in the avenue. Composer Victor Masse died at number no.1. The property, partly visible from outside the gates, is supposed to be a haunted house, because of an unresolved murder and various unexplained deaths.

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Pablo Picasso with his partner and model Fernande Olivier (real name: Amélie Lang – Picasso painted some sixty portraits of her) had started their stay in Paris at a Bateau Lavoir apartment. The Bateau was a gloomy mass of dirty premises made of beams and planks where between 1904 and 1914 a number of artists and poets would settle. In September 1909 however the couple moved from there into a furnished place on the Boulevard de Clichy with two windows overlooking the gardens of Avenue Frochot. There he painted ‘L’avenue Frochot, vu de l’atelier de Picasso’.

Nearby Rue Frochot is less exclusive, but certainly more lively. For a start, the street has a place in the history of the artist’s portrayal of onstage performers and performances. In 1886, twenty-two-year-old Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec entered the Dihau apartment at no. 6 Rue Frochot. He had come there to meet his cousins, and to gaze at a painting that had been given to the Dihau family fifteen years earlier by its creator, Edgar Degas.

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The painting was ‘L’orchestre de l’Opéra’. Its central subject was bassoonist Désiré Hippolyte Dihau. Toulouse-Lautrec was inspired by the canvas. Within the decade, he would try his own hand at three portraits of the musician. Both Degas and Lautrec portrayed Dihau playing his bassoon. Both subsequently turned from music to stage and dance – ballet and cabaret – for subjects in their creative work. At one time, no. 4 Rue Frochot was the location of one of the most famous salons in Paris. A salon was a gathering of people who were invited by an inspiring hostess. Such social meetings were held for the refinement of taste and knowledge through conversation and exchange of ideas. The salon was an Italian invention of the sixteenth century. The word ‘salon’ first appeared in France in 1664 (from the Italian word salone which itself is derived from sala or reception hall). Before the end of the seventeenth century, such gatherings were often held in the bedroom of the lady of the house. Reclining on her luxurious bed, she invited close friends who would gather around her. The salon flourished in Paris throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and served as a meeting ground for political, social, and cultural discussion. And there was plenty to discuss between 1770 through 1830, years in which France experienced a plethora of change and growth, politically, socially, and culturally. The arrival and departure of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the Restoration, each left their marks on the Parisian salon. The presence of a beautiful and educated patroness gave additional charm to the concept of the salon. Aristocratic and upper bourgeoisie women known as salonnières organized salons from their homes.

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The first renowned salon in France was the Hôtel de Rambouillet (formerly the Hôtel de Pisani), close to the Louvre, where from 1607 until her death Rome-born Catherine de Vivonne, marquise de Rambouillet, entertained her guests. She received her visitors in a salon painted in blue, the ‘chambre bleue’. Almost all major personages of the French aristocracy and literature of the time frequented her salon, including Corneille, Malherbe, Jean de La Fontaine, Madame de Sévigné, Paul Scarron, and many other prominent figures in social and cultural life of the age. The gatherings at the Hôtel de Rambouillet established the salon’s rules of etiquette which resembled the earlier codes of Italian chivalry.

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Molière’s satire Précieuses ridicules was levelled at the numerous coteries which in the course of years had sprung up in imitation of Rambouillet. The idea of the salon and the role of the ‘salonnière’ were from the beginning controversial. Some argued that the salon offered women an education and a way out from the shadows of a pre-determined place in society. It granted her independence. To others, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, these ladies represented the corruption, idleness and emptiness of aristocratic life. The controversy lingers on in contemporary historical debate.

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The salon persisted into the nineteenth century, not just in Paris but in most European capitals (Berlin, Vienna, and elsewhere), and became woven into the fabric of cultural and political life. The role of salonnière however was increasingly taken over by a different type of lady. By the late nineteenth century courtesans – the ‘grandes horizontales’ – had reached a level of social acceptance in many circles and settings. As a figure, the courtisan appeared widely in a fictional context.

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Honoré de Balzac wrote about the Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes; Alexandre Dumas fils published La dame aux camélias which centres around the courtesan Marguerite Gautier (Verdi chaged her name to Violetta Valéry in his opera version of the novel – ‘La Traviata’ translates as the Wayward One); Émile Zola introduced Nana into fiction; and Marcel Proust gave immortality to Odette Swann. In real life a number of courtesans started hosting a salon. Esther Lachmann, later Mme Villoing, later Mme la Marquise de Païva, later Countess Henckel von Donnersmarck, a lady of Polish Jewish descent born in a Moscow ghetto where her father worked as a weaver, was the most successful of nineteenth century courtesans.

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When sharing a bed with the celebrated pianist Henri Herz in Paris, she invited various guests to attend her salon – these included Richard Wagner, Hans von Bülow, Théophile Gautier and Émile de Giradin. At a Baden spa she met Portuguese marquis Albino Francesco de Païva-Araujo. She married him on 5 June 1851, acquiring a fortune, a title, and her nickname, ‘La Païva’. She left him the next day. Her final conquest was Prussian Count Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck (who gave her the famous yellow Donnersmarck diamonds). With his money, she erected the elegant Hôtel de Païva at the Champs-Élysées (designed by Pierre Manguin), a mansion notorious for lush parties that became symbolic for the decadent taste of the Second Empire.

Adolphe Monticelli’s painting ‘Une soireé chez La Païva’ gives an indication of the sumptuous surroundings in which these gatherings took place. Apollonie Sabatier, nicknamed ‘La Présidente’ by Edmond de Goncourt, was a bohémienne and courtesan who during the 1850s hosted a splendid salon at no. 4 Rue Frochot, a spacious apartment consisting of seven rooms built in 1838. There she met and entertained the élite of French art at the time, from Gérard de Nerval to Gustave Flaubert, Maxime Du Camp, Alfred de Musset, Hector Berlioz, Victor Hugo, Sainte-Beuve Jules de Barbey d’Aurevilly, and Édouard Manet.

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Between 1852 and 1854 Charles Baudelaire addressed a number of poems to Apollonie, celebrating her as his Madonna and Muse (later collected in Les fleurs du mal). Gustave Flaubert and Théophile Gautier dedicated articles to her, fashionable Vincent Vidal painted her portrait, and in 1847 Auguste Clésinger sculpted her figure in marble as ‘Femme piquée par un serpent’ (woman bitten by a snake) which created a scandal at the Salon of that year. Belgian aristocrat and industrialist Alfred Mosselman who had made a fortune in civil engineering paid her bills (this eventually caused his bankruptcy which forced him to auction his famous art collection in the early 1860s). Gustave Courbet portrayed the pair in his famous painting ‘L’atelier du peintre’. After Mosselman’s death, Sabatier became mistress to art collector Sir Richard Wallace. Over the years she had developed a fine and costly feeling for aesthetics.

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The name Frochot holds an honourable place in the annals of Parisian history. In the Middle-Ages, one of the Eastern hills near the capital was named ‘Champ-l’Evêque’ because it belonged to the Bishop of Paris. In 1626 the Jesuits acquired the land and property which they turned into a convalescence home. François d’Aix, Seigneur de La Chaise, also known as the Père Lachaise, spent most of his time in the Jesuits’ house and contributed to its beauty by creating idyllic gardens. The Jesuits left in 1762. The domain was acquired by Count Nicolas Frochot who, at the time, was prefect of Paris (in 1806 his portrait was painted by Andrea Appiani the Elder). He decided to use it as a burial ground.

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The cemetery was designed by leading architect Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart. Originally simply known as ‘cimétìère de l’Est’, it became soon known as the ‘Père Lachaise’, in loving memory of the confessor of Louis XIV. The cemetery was styled in the shape of an English garden and its broad avenues were decorated with lime and chestnut trees. When it opened for business on 21 May 1804, it was meant for Parisians living in one of the four districts of the Right Bank. However, affluent people did not want to be buried in what was considered a poor district. Many traditional superstitions concerning interment remained unchanged. Christians refused to have their graves dug in a place that had not been blessed by the Church. The opening of a new graveyard posed a particular challenge. No one would volunteer one of their deceased relatives to be the first to be interred, because of the widespread belief that the Devil would claim the soul of that particular corpse for himself.

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The seventeen hectares of the cemetery remained empty until, in 1817, Frochot decided to take the initiative of transferring the ashes of Héloïse and Abélard there, as well as those of Jean de La Fontaine and Molière. The latter had died from pulmonary tuberculosis, possibly contracted when he was imprisoned for debt as a young man. His death had become a legendary tale: on 17 February 1617 he collapsed on stage in a fit of coughing and haemorrhaging while performing in his last play, which ironically was entitled Le malade imaginaire. He insisted on completing his performance. Afterwards he collapsed again before being taken home, where he died a few hours later, without receiving the last rites because two priests refused to visit an actor while a third arrived too late. The superstition that yellow brings bad luck to actors may originate from the colour of the clothing Molière was wearing at the time of his demise (in medieval religious plays yellow was the colour worn by the actor playing the devil). The Church refused to bury actors on consecrated ground, just like heretics, sorcerers or usurers. The stage was considered suspicious. Molière’s widow asked Louis XIV if her spouse could be granted a ‘normal’ funeral at night. The King quietly agreed. Molière was most probably buried in a dark corner of Saint Joseph Cemetery which had been reserved for those who had committed suicide or those who had not been baptized.

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To remove Molière from St Joseph to Père Lachaise therefore presented the authorities with a particular problem: which one was his corpse? It has been suggested that the commissioners in charge simply dug up a random skeleton from the plot and introduced him as Molière. The same was done for De La Fontaine (despite the fact that the poet had been buried in a different cemetery). Molière’s sarcophagus in Père Lachaise bears his name but does not contain his body. The alleged tooth, jawbone, and vertebra of the playwright, which had once been honoured as relics, probably were taken from the ‘false’ Molière as well.

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Nicholas Frochot’s plan worked out well. In the years 1820 to 1830, the cemetery became fashionable amongst the Parisian upper middle class. Everyone wanted to be seen dead in Père Lachaise. Among the famous residents stand the tombs of Honoré de Balzac, Guillaume Apollinaire, Frédéric Chopin, Jim Morrison, Alfred de Musset, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Marcel Proust and, of course, Frochot himself. Apollonie Sabatier is buried in the old cemetery of Neuilly-sur-Seine, but many of the celebreties who frequented her salon on Rue Frochot were later buried at Père Lachaise. If life is indeed a preparation for death, then Sabatier assisted her guests in a fine manner for their departure and final meeting with Frochot/Lachaise.

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In 1934 Edward Hopper created his oil painting ‘Sun on Prospect Street’. Its subject is an ordinary street in an ordinary American seaside town. The geometric image showing a row of houses and three parked cars is completely devoid of people. The architecture on Prospect Street is recorded with detailed precision. The artist has removed all superfluous elements of the scene, inviting the viewer to add the narrative to an image that is both familiar and strangely foreign. The painting typifies Hopper’s style. Trained by William Merritt Chase, an impressionist; Kenneth Hayes Miller, an urban realist; and Robert Henri, the inspiration behind the Ashcan realists, Hopper is often defined as an American scene painter in line with his predecessors who depicted aspects of everyday city life. Hopper’s intensely personal art, however, does not fit well into this category. His contemplative and introspective figures appear to be alienated from life and society. They occupy a world devoid of interaction and communication, provoking questions about human relationships, the social roles people play, and about the meaning of life itself.
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Born on 22 July 1882 in Nyack, New York, Hopper was a loner who experienced acute discomfort in interpersonal relationships. From the outset, his work permeates isolation. He enrolled at the New York School of Art (Chase School), and between 1906 and 1910 made three trips to Europe where he admired the work of Gustave Courbet and Edgar Degas. He was especially drawn to artists whose work included ordinary scenes of people in mundane situations. In 1924 Hopper married Josephine [Jo] Nivison. The couple honeymooned in Gloucester, Massachusetts, a landscape that would become a favourite subject for the painter. They made Greenwich Village their home, sharing time between city and country. During the 1920s Hopper’s career started to take shape. Hooked on travel, he frequently treated themes related to transience such as lodging rooms, restaurants, and trains. His interest in the hotel lobby, a temporary space where strangers briefly congregate but rarely communicate, was sparked by films and novels, especially the detective-story depiction of this area as a meeting place for the protagonists.
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In 1941 the second version of The Maltese Falcon appeared on screen. Starring Humphrey Bogart, it is a mystery thriller in which the private-eye confronts the gangster in a hotel lobby. Hopper was attracted to this style of filming with its shadowy settings, eerie lighting, and complex plots. All these elements came together in the 1943 painting ‘Hotel Lobby’, one of his more intriguing works.
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The emphasis on a dysfunctional relationship in this painting is not unusual for Hopper. The theme of discontented couples returns regularly in his work. Alternatively, the detailed architectural qualities of Hopper’s painting influenced film makers. His ‘House by the Railroad’ (1925), an ugly dwelling in an uninspiring setting, inspired Hitchcock’s choice of location for Psycho. The painting’s grey mansion is a melancholic reminder of the damage inflicted on the countryside by the demands of progress. At the time railroad tracks were associated with the rapid and noisy change of modern life, but this scene is curiously silent. It is as if the maelstrom of industrialization has passed it by.
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Hopper, working in the period between two world wars, feared that urbanization would wipe out the pastoral character of the New World. In the picture, the railway track has been given the colour of earth as if taking the place of the pleasant stream that once formed the background of the American landscape. The painting expresses a tone of regret that reminds one of John Ruskin’s famous outbursts against the industrial pollution of the English countryside.
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By the end of the nineteenth century streetscapes had become associated with Paris and the Impressionists. Napoleon III had appointed Georges Haussmann to realize the ambitious project of turning the French capital into a modern metropolis. Once this massive task was completed, the revitalized city turned into one of the favourite pictorial subjects. From Édouard Manet to Gustave Caillebotte, from Pierre Auguste Renoir to Camille Pissarro, Parisian boulevards were considered the ultimate source of inspiration by many outstanding painters of the era.They grasped the atmosphere and dynamics of everyday life on the newly created boulevards and avenues. The cityscape was exported from Paris to America by such talented painters as James McNeill Whistler and Childe Hassam who preceded the artists of the Ashcan School.
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As American society became increasingly urbanized, art took a grittier and less romantic direction. Ashcan artists focused on depicting everyday life in Manhattan and the bustling streets of early twentieth-century New York. Leading figures such as Robert Henri, John Sloan, Everett Shinn, and George Bellows, insisted that artists should face urban realities to find their subject matter. They urged young painters to step aside from sterile academic orthodoxy and develop a harsh style reflecting the essence of metropolitan life. Earlier paintings of New York were characterized by distance, being either impressionistic blurs or bird’s-eye views of the city. By contrast, Ashcan artists looked for street level realism. Their gaze was directed at the perspectives of the street itself, their ambition to communicate the ‘theatre’ of inner city streets.
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In the commemoration of ordinary lives, the Ashcanners put New York on the artistic map as the city that defines metropolitanism. In their images the crowd effectively becomes the city itself and serves as its primary imagery. Ashcan art offers an intimate feeling for the pressures of inner-city life. The best of these paintings are evocative observations of day to day experiences presented in such a manner that the viewer can emphasize with the ordinariness of the subject matter. The anonymity of city life may be stressed, but the image invites the viewer to participate, to become involved, and to enter into a dialogue. These snapshots of city life are dramatized stories of a struggle for survival in the urban jungle. As such, critics tend to consider the Ashcan creative output as a visual equivalent of Walt Whitman’s poetry.
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George Bellows was a student of Robert Henri at the New York School of Art. When he died in 1925, aged only forty-two, Bellows was hailed as one of the greatest artists America had yet produced. His paintings and drawings of tenement children and New York street scenes are iconic images of the modern city. These were produced during an extraordinary period of creativity that began shortly after he left his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, for New York in 1904. He selected contemporary subjects that challenged prevailing standards of taste, depicting the city’s impoverished immigrant population in ‘River Rats’ (1906) and other paintings. Bellows’s New York scenes portrayed the crudity of deprived neighbourhoods. Fascinated with the full spectrum of life of the urban working classes, he chronicled a variety of subjects and applied an array of palettes and painting techniques. From 1907 through 1915, he executed a series of paintings depicting New York City under snowfall. To the artist, these paintings were a testing ground in which he developed a strong sense of light and visual texture. However, his signature contributions to art history are the paintings recording brutal boxing bouts.
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To circumvent a state ban on public boxing, fights were illegally organized by private clubs in New York at that time. In three acclaimed masterpieces, ‘Club Night (1907), ‘Stag at Sharkey’s’ (1909), and ‘Both Members of This Club’ (1909), Bellows’s slashing brushwork matches the violent action of the fight itself, and relates the aggressive participation of a grim-faced and chain-smoking audience. These pictures are powerful and disturbing – raw reflections on life in the metropolis. They have become iconic depictions of the American inner-city struggle. The spirit of tough desperation these paintings evoke has been maintained by Paul Simon in his celebrated 1968 song ‘The Boxer’ (first recorded by Simon & Garfunkel).
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European Impressionists (and their American followers) created a model of visuality that has been associated with the figure of the disinterested flâneur, the prototypical urban spectator celebrated artistically by Charles Baudelaire or Louis Couperus and critically by Walter Benjamin. The flâneur was a gentleman-dandy whose independent means allowed him to cultivate the arts and rise above the crowd. He would stroll about town without particular direction, purpose, or destination, infiltrating society to see up close and yet maintaining his distance. For Baudelaire, this detached but inquisitive gaze embodied the urban human condition. It originated in the need to protect individual integrity against the threat of metropolitan anonymity. Ashcan painters focused on the city’s inhabitants for their diagnosis of the nature of modern life. They were part of a wider group of urban observers such as Walt Whitman or Stephen Crane who felt involved with the people they depicted. Art was engaged and a statement of social commitment. However, viewing the street as theatre carries with it the dangers of artistic license and misrepresentation. Both sentimentalism and sensationalism are part and parcel of the process. Scenes of poverty, crime, and immigrant life were often described as picturesque scenes and ‘entertaining’ sights.
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Slumming became a pastime for a number of curious New Yorkers. A few decades earlier a parallel process had taken place in London where urban deprivation was associated with the East End. The area was by all accounts a social nightmare, a gothic tale of contemporary suffering.
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One of the more bizarre aspects of London’s poverty was that by the 1890s the idea of ‘slumming it’ in the dark East End had become a leisure activity of the urban rich. Oscar Wilde’s hedonistic Dorian Gray gave the idea a literary status. The hero of the novel travels into Whitechapel’s shady alleys to sample the rude delights of entertainment that were on offer there. Various studies on London’s poorest districts provided both images of dreadful social conditions and descriptions of crude merriment in clubs and caves.
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The most outstanding work of this type was London: a Pilgrimage, published in 1872 by playwright and journalist (William) Blanchard Jerrold. The word ‘pilgrimage’ is a reminder of the fact that such a journey was considered to be one of great moral significance. Illustrated by Gustave Doré, the book is a hellish vision of East End poverty. Doré’s London, with its stark contrasts between affluence and apocalyptic misery, captured the public mood at the time. Of the many social investigations undertaken in the Victorian era, the Pilgrimage had the most enduring appeal. Vincent van Gogh’s admiration for these illustrations led him to paint a version of Doré’s haunting image of dehumanized convicts circling a bleak exercise yard.

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The New York Ashcanners were contemporaries of the Camden Town Group in London. Yet there are telling differences between the two traditions. Camden realists were keen to dispel all elements of sympathy or dialogue from their painting. They were interested in the systems and structures of the city to the point of exclusion of the human presence in their paintings. Their outlook was harsher, more clinical, and at the same time more anxious. The cause of this crisis feeling was not war or economic depression, but the speed of change that took place within urbanized society. Anxiety and city images are frequently paired in Camden art. The treatment of urban subjects projects the vitality of the city, but also expresses unease at the effect of massification.

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People are cut off from one another, isolated, alienated. The city-dweller has lost his identity. Hopper went a step further. His most intriguing works are his interiors (which links him to the Camden realists). Composed like stage sets, these paintings depict everyday scenes populated with introspective figures that seem oblivious to their surroundings. They suggest a sense of abandonment and uncomfortable repose. The rat race has stopped. Thrown into the isolation of the night people sit back, alone, seemingly questioning the meaning of it all. Stillness pervades – the paralysis of despair. In 1900, young Hopper had made a pen and ink drawing of a ‘Dutch Girl’ in traditional costume with hat and wooden shoes. She personifies the innocence of childhood, yet she is an isolated observer, surveying a scene in which she does not participate. The image indicates that as a student Hopper was already preoccupied with Dutch art (he may have been of Dutch descent himself). The young girl has a prim demeanour – very much like the maidens Vermeer portrayed.

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In his famous streetscape, through an extraordinary economy of means, Vermeer succeeded in creating an atmosphere of stillness and puritanical dignity. In painting the street he protects its dwellers – façades of a house show the viewer nothing but the outside of its intimate existence. The artist keeps his distance as if not to interrupt the locals in their daily routine. It is a technique that Hopper applies in a similar manner. Vermeer casts his endearing images in a beautifully warm light. Hopper by contrast presents his isolated characters in a glare of electricity that exposes a brutal urban milieu. The scenes created by Vermeer are tranquil and harmonious, those painted by Hopper ominous and threatening. Hopper is the Vermeer of the contemporary streetscape.

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The Rue des Moulins dates back to 1624 and is located in the first arrondissement of the city. Two windmills once stood on the hill – hence Rue des Moulins and nearby Rue Saint-Honoré which is dedicated to the patron saint (Honorius of Amiens) of millers, bakers, pastry chefs, and confectioners. One of the windmills, the Moulin Radet was dismantled and rebuilt at the junction of Rue Lepic and Rue Girardon in Monmartre. The notoriety of the street was established during the last decade of the nineteenth century. That was largely due to the work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a post-Impressionist painter and illustrator whose immersion in the theatrical life of Paris yielded a series of provocative images of the extravagant 1890s life-style of the capital. Prostitution is central to his oeuvre.

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Prostitutes play a central role in the European novel of the nineteenth-century century. There are Defoe’s Moll Flanders, Dickens’s Nancy, Collins’s Mercy Merrick, Gaskell’s Ruth, Hugo’s Fantine, Dumas’s Marguerite Gautier, De Maupassant’s Elisabeth Rousset, Zola’s Nana, Fontane’s Effi Briest, Wedekind’s Lulu, to mention but a few of the ‘fallen women’ that appear in realistic and naturalistic novels of the age. Prostitutes inspired many negative stereotypes. However, as victims of a culture that marginalized her, the prostitute offered a perfect vehicle for writers to criticize bourgeois hypocrisy. The interest in the world of brothels and courtisanes extends well into the twentieth century and is not limited to literature.
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Hungarian photographer and filmmaker George Brassaï (real name: Gyula Halász) published photographs of brothels in his 1935 book Voluptés de Paris. In 1952, Robert Miquet (using the pseudonym Romi) published a voluminous illustrated work on Maisons closes: l’histoire, l’art, la littérature, les moeurs. Released in 2002, the Parisian Musée de l’Érotisme exhibits Polissons et galipettes (Rascals and somersaults), Michel Reilhac’s compilation of film clips from silent pornographic films made between 1905 and 1930 in France that were intended to be shown in brothels.

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Ever since the works of Titian and Giorgione, paintings of brothels and prostitutes appear frequently over the centuries. In many cases the bond between artist and sitter was a close one. Margaret Lemans was of Flemish descent and had settled in London some time in 1629. Little is known of her life, even the spelling of her name is in doubt – but her image will last. She was probably still in her teens and working as a prostitute when Anthony van Dyck made Margaret his mistress allowing her to preside over his grand properties in Blackfriars and Eltham where he entertained Charles I and many noble patrons.

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Van Dyck has been the most successful immigrant artist ever to arrive on British soil. The English were so overwhelmed by his talent that they were willing to forgive his Catholicism. In fact, most of his clients were Puritans and nobody more so than Philip, Lord Wharton, who bought no less than twenty paintings of the master. While noble women were queuing up to have their portrait painted by Van Dyck, the master himself was completely taken in by an ordinary Flemish girl who had been forced to make a living out of prostitution. He painted her image over and again. Twelve of the paintings for which she posed survive, five of which are portraits. It is not the subject matter that is relevant in this context, but the intimacy between artist and model. It appears that such a caring relationship is in no way exceptional. Artists identify with prostitutes because the creative mind tends to be abused by society in a similarly exploitative and disposable fashion. There is an element of mutual recognition, the artist realizing that Anch’io sono [una] puttana.

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Toulouse-Lautrec was born in 1864 into the provincial interbred aristocracy of Albi, in south-western France. At the age of thirteen, he broke his left femur, and a year later, he broke his right, after which his legs stopped growing (possibly a consequence of pyknodysostosis, a genetic disease of the bone, related to his family’s consanguineous marriages). During his long convalescence, he spent much of his time drawing and painting. He persuaded his parents to allow him to go to Paris. In 1882 he entered the atelier of Léon Bonnat, transferring later to Fernand Cormon’s studio where he met his lifelong friends Louis Anquetin, Émile Bernard and Vincent van Gogh.
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His first illustrations were published in 1886 in the Montmartrois journals Le Courrier français and Le Mirliton. His subsequent work is intimately connected to this lively Parisian district where he focused on the life of the dance halls, cafés and concert halls. He created his first lithograph, the famous poster ‘La Goulue’, for the Moulin Rouge in December 1891 and went on to design a further twenty-nine posters as well as hundreds of prints, drawings and paintings.
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Catalan-born bookmaker Joseph Oller (inventor of ‘Parimutuel’ betting which spread across most race tracks around the world) lived in Paris for most of his life. From 1876 onwards, he focused his attention on the entertainment industry. He opened various venues such as Fantaisies Oller, La Bombonnière, Théâtre des Nouveautés, Nouveau Cirque, Montagnes Russes, and Olympia (the first music-hall in Paris). In 1889 he inaugurated the famous Moulin Rouge. He also managed Le Jardin de Paris, a café-concert on the Champs Élysées, which was the summer outpost of the Moulin Rouge. Both establishments are associated with Jane Avril and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
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Lautrec portrayed Jane’s debut at the Jardin. A beautiful and extremely thin girl with pale skin and tresses of red gold hair, Jane Avril soon became infamous for performing the cancan at the Jardin. Lautrec had been employed to produce an advertising illustration. The couple, in spite of their different backgrounds, soon became close friends. Jane (originally named Jeanne) was said to be the daughter of a courtesan, with an absent father rumoured to have been a foreign aristocrat. Her youth was an unhappy and abusive one. She left home when she was thirteen years old, soon afterwards ending up in the care of the Salpêtrière psychiatric hospital in Paris, a desperate place where many ‘bad’ women were imprisoned without trial or sent by their families. Throughout her life she suffered from nervous disorders. These however did not interrupt a glittering career.
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Lautrec painted her time and again, and in various moods and poses, glamorous, graceful, melancholic, tired, or nervous. It is doubtful that the two ever became lovers. Lautrec had his own inhibitions and insecurities. In 1899, suffering from the effects of alcoholism and syphilis, he was institutionalized for several months at an asylum near Paris but he returned to drinking soon after his release. On 9 September 1901, he suffered a stroke and died at his mother’s estate, the Château de Malromé, aged thirty-six.
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For a period Lautrec resided at no. 24 Rue des Moulins. This was the address of a luxurious brothel, a ‘grande tolérance’ consisting of ornate rooms including a Chinese salon, a Gothic chamber, and a domed Moorish Hall. It was a well-run business, operated to strict rules of conduct, and proper schedules. Despite his aristocratic upbringing, Toulouse-Lautrec found a way to accept and feel accepted by the entertainment industry. Sex workers were his friends, and he treated them as equals.
He produced more than forty paintings and drawings of the inhabitants of Rue des Moulins. It must be the most famous brothel in the world.

By the end of the nineteenth century, there were some 34,000 professional ‘filles à numéro’ (prostitutes) registered in Paris. The brothels were licensed and monitored by the police, while sex workers were subject to routine medical inspections by the ‘dispensaire de salubrité’. The majority of women were forced into prostitution in order to look after themselves and/or family. Job prospects were scarce. Alexandre Parent-Duchatlet noted in his famous 1836 study De la prostitution dans la ville de Paris that few professions were open to women. For many, prostitution was sheer survivalism. Prostitution was a profitable trade by which women improved their circumstances, helped to educate siblings and often saved enough to open a shop or lodging house.
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At one time, a job as a seamstress was a respected position. Honour was an important draw as it could help to better marriage prospects. More often than not, seamstresses worked out of their own homes, choosing which assignments to take or leave. The down sides to becoming a seamstress were poor pay and a two year apprenticeship. Many families who needed their daughters to work could not afford two years of lost wages. Hence, the job of a seamstress was reserved to the relatively well-to-do. All that changed after the (belated) industrialization of France. Mechanization and foreign competition led the demise of the skilled artisans who were previously employed in those trades. This change occurred first and most dramatically in the textile industry in centres such as Normandy and Rouen. The skilled and gentle seamstress of former days now became a low class factory worker often with questionable morals. For many decades, the seamstress had been romanticized as a paragon of female virtue. The idealized image would soon be shattered. Hardship took its toll. Prostitution offered a far more profitable trade which took considerable moral strength to resist. The figure of the whore hovered behind the poverty-stricken seamstress, and they ultimately represented two halves of the same whole.

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The connection is highlighted by Guy de Maupassant in La Maison Tellier (1881). The brothel is located in the small town of Fécamp, Normandy. Madame herself came of a respectable peasant family. The town accepts her business without moral condemnation. Locals simply say: ‘It is a paying profession’. The irony of the story is located in the interplay between the notion of ‘a good job’ and the conventional accusation of immorality. The revealing remark is that Madame had accepted her position as a bordello-keeper without prejudice, as if she might have taken up that of a milliner or a seamstress. The association of the profession with prostitution is also suggested by Jean Béraud in his delightful (undated) Impressionist painting ‘La modiste sur Les Champs Élysées’.

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Toulouse Lautrec’s painting‘L’inspection médicale, Rue des Moulins’ dates from 1894. He created this scene from personal observations. In a room richly decorated with autumnal colours and Chinese patterns, two women stand in line. One is blonde and more mature than her smaller red-haired colleague. Both have lifted their chemises above their knee-length stockings to reveal naked buttocks and thighs. With her dress gathered in front to preserve what remains of her dignity, the blonde looks tired and resigned. The younger woman is more assertive. With bright red hair and rouged cheeks she approaches her assignation without inhibition. A third woman in a turquoise kimono walks away from them towards a group of people below a large window through which can be seen a clock tower (perhaps the nearby Bibliothèque Nationale!).

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Lautrec paints these women without moralism, sentimentality, or contempt. Despite his personal carnal pursuits as a paying client in the house, there is no erotic exploitation, no sensationalism. He simply records the medical routine to which these women were submitted. Physical examinations served to protect upright citizens from the physical and mental ravages of syphilis, one of the blessings Columbus had brought back to Europe from the New World. The first written records of an outbreak of syphilis in Europe occurred in 1494/5 in Naples during a French invasion. The disease may have been transmitted to the French via Spanish mercenaries serving under King Charles during that siege. During the Renaissance syphilis, generally known as the ‘French disease’, was a major cause of death in Europe. The term was first applied in 1530 by physician and poet Girolamo Fracastoro in his epic poem Syphilis sive morbus gallicus. There, the shepherd Syphilis is punished by Apollo with the disease for his defiant attitude. From this character the poet derived the medical term which he introduced in his medical study on contagious diseases De contagionibus. Other names in circulation were great pox, lues venereal, or Cupid’s disease. It was not until 1905 that the causative organism was first identified which led to more effective forms of treatment. Until the advent of penicillin in 1943, ‘cures’ for syphilis were based on the use of heavy metals such as mercury or, as the saying goes, ‘a night in the arms of Venus leads to a lifetime on Mercury’.
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In Europe during the nineteenth century syphilis took on epidemic forms. More than fifteen per cent of the adult population and seventy per cent of sex workers were estimated to have been infected with the disease. In Britain, this led to moral panic during the 1850s and 1860s. The response was a sustained campaign to drive ‘fallen women’ from the streets by representing them as a depraved element in society, doomed to disease and death. Refuges were opened and men like future Prime Minister W. E. Gladstone patrolled at night to persuade girls to leave their life of ‘vice’. The introduction of the Contagious Diseases Acts whereby prostitute women were medically examined and detained if deemed to suffer from venereal disease gave rise to a notable reform campaign. Josephine Butler’s anti-contagious diseases movement argued that enforced medical examinations effectively encouraged prostitution and did not prevent the curse of syphilis. In the nineteenth century syphilis was known as the artist’s disease. A whole alphabet of outstanding creators and thinkers suffered or died from the affliction, Baudelaire, Beau Brummell, Delius, Donizetti, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Heine, Keats, Manet, De Maupassant, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Schubert, Smetana, Tolstoy, Vrubel, Wilde, Wolf, and many others. Toulouse-Lautrec painted this world which prompted Edgar Degas to make the crude observation that some of Toulouse-Lautrec’s female portraits ‘stank of syphilis’.

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