Archive

19th century

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.
Image

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.

Image

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.
08

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.
10
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.
11

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.
12

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.

nigredo

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.
Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image
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.

Image

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.

Image

Image

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.
Image

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.
Image

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.
Image

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.
Image

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.
Image

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.
Image

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.
Image

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.
Image

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.
Image

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).
Image

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.
Image

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.
Image

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.
Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

001

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.

Image

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.
Image

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.

005

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.
Image

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.
Image

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.
Image

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.
Image

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.
Image

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.
Image

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.

Image

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’.

Image

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!).

Image

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’.
Image

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’.

Image

Glasgow High Street is the city’s oldest and historically most significant street that formed a direct north-south artery between the Cathedral of St Mungo (patron saint of the city – later: Glasgow Cathedral) in the north, to Glasgow Cross (location of the Tolbooth Steeple where the public hangings in the city took place) and the banks of the River Clyde. East of the Cathedral is the Necropolis, one of Britain’s largest Victorian cemeteries – some 3,500 monuments – which one enters by crossing the Bridge of Sighs (named after its Venetian predecessor). Built at the time (1831) that Glasgow was the second city of the Empire, it is a memorial to the merchant patriarchs of the city and contains the remnants of almost every eminent Glaswegian of its day.

Predating the cemetery by a handful of years is the statue of John Knox who, sitting on a column on top of the hill, keeps a Presbyterian eye over the Cathedral and High Street. From 1460 to 1864, the original buildings of the University of Glasgow (established on 4 January 1450 with a Bull granted to Bishop William Turnbull by Pope Nicholas) were located at the junction of High Street and Duke Street, before moving to the West End. The old college buildings and grounds were sold to the City Union Railway Company and the proceedings used for new premises at Gilmorehill. The remains of the old gateway and the gilded arms of Charles II are incorporated into the gatehouse of the new university campus. With industrialization and the massive expansion of the city, the importance of High Street and the medieval heart of Old Glasgow diminished as the administrative functions of the city moved westwards into what is now known as the Merchant City area.

The old town soon fell into neglect. After the city passed an act through Parliament to demolish the run-down districts of central Glasgow in 1866, Fife-born photographer Thomas Annan was asked to record the buildings that were coming down. The area had become one of the worst urban slums in Britain and Annan worked in dark and dank conditions as bad for photography as they were for human beings. Between 1868 and 1871 he produced thirty-five photographs of the closes and wynds (Scots word for a narrow path) of old Glasgow.

The series is the first record of slum housing in the history of photography. Most of the images show dark, narrow passages between damp and dirty buildings in overpopulated streets of extreme deprivation. Annan initially printed his wet-plate collodion negatives onto albumen and carbon paper, but in 1900 issued them as photogravures (a technique to make prints that would not fade, by creating photographic images on plates that could then be etched and printed using a traditional press) in The Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow on which his posthumous reputation rests. Through his dispassionate attention to visual detail, Annan initiated what later came to be known as the documentary tradition. He recorded various shots of the old High Street.

Early ballads were narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Gallows songs, printed for sale at public executions, were a popular form of broadside. There were hundreds of such songs in circulation telling the stories of murderers, pirates, traitors and other felons. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term ‘ballad’ applied broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse. In London, the Seven Dials area was the major centre for broadside production in the nineteenth century.

Glasgow’s equivalent was the Saltmarket which had long been a centre of the cheap print trade, whether for chapbooks, speeches, religious tracts, garlands or broadside ballads. At the end of the eighteenth-century chapbooks seem to have been the most popular production, but by the middle of the nineteenth century broadsides (known as ‘slips’) had taken over in public demand. Broadside printers were in the wholesale market. Many people were involved in the trade: the poet who composed the ballad, the wood-engraver who illustrated it, and the printer. The retail side was handled by the pedlars who bought ballads in the Saltmarket to sing in the Trongate and Gallowgate, or to carry to markets and fairs in the other towns of Scotland. Pedlars, as evidenced by Hieronymus Bosch’s painting of a ‘Marskramer’, usually travelled on foot, carrying their wares.

To sell a ballad one had to create an audience. Successful pedlars were adept at street theatre. They were orators and comedians, selling themselves as much as their products. They were often rag-pickers as well. Rags were collected for the making of paper used in the production of cheap print. Of all the nineteenth-century Glasgow pedlars the most famous was William Cameron, better known by his nickname ‘Hawkie’. He was born near Saint Ninians, Stirlingshire, around 1790. Lame through a childhood accident, he was first apprenticed to the tailor’s trade, but he gave this up to become an evangelical field preacher. It was on his return journey from a preaching trip to Newcastle miners in 1815 that Cameron first begged for a living, and thus started his career as a ‘gangrel’ (Scots word for a drifter). Despite his decrepit appearance (as caught on the 1913 tipped-in halftone print of Hawkie), he became a well-known character on the streets of Glasgow and in the High Street in particular.

Cameron began to sell ‘speeches’ and other cheap print after his arrival in Glasgow in 1818. He was inspired by the success of Glaswegian street character ‘Jamie Blue’ McIndoe. Hawkie either bought ready-made stock at Saltmarket printers or wrote his own pieces. It was from one of the latter, a satirical response to the prophecy of the destruction of Glasgow made by a tailor called Ross, that he earned his nickname. It was written in the character of ‘Hawkie, a twa-year-auld quey [cow] frae Aberdour’ who prophesied the destruction of the Briggate area of Glasgow under a tide of whisky. The name ‘Hawkie’ stuck to the author ever after. He travelled to sell his wares in other towns of Scotland such as Paisley and Edinburgh, but his home patch (after an agreement with Jamie Blue, who worked the Saltmarket and Gallowgate) was Glasgow High Street and the Trongate. He clearly made a success of this trade, largely through his talents as a showman. Examples of his wit and street ‘patter’ feature in many memoirs of the city, including Glasgow Characters (1875) by the editor of the Reformer’s Gazette, Peter Mackenzie (known as ‘Loyal Peter’).

In the 1840s Hawkie spent increasing amounts of time in prison or hospital, both occasioned by his chronic alcoholism. He died in Glasgow City Poorhouse in September 1851. A lively insight into Hawkie’s life is supplied by his own autobiography. Although he wrote the story of his life at the request of David Robertson, a Glasgow bookseller, while he was a winter inmate of the Glasgow Town’s Hospital between 1840 and 1850, the text was not to reach the general public till 1888, when John Strathesk (real name: John Tod) edited it. This meant that the manuscript inevitably underwent editorial (linguistic) interventions. Nevertheless, the Autobiography of a Gangrel is both a rich source of information on the production and selling of street literature and a detailed guide of how to survive in a condition of extreme urban poverty.

 

The Boulevard de Rochechouart is situated at the foot of Monmartre and named after Marguerite de Rochechouart de Montpipeau, Abbess of Montmartre. The street has a rich cultural history. No. 72 was the former site of the Elysée Montmartre which was a popular ballroom originally dating back to 1807.

Twelve doors down the road was the original location of the famous cabaret Le Chat Noir opened by the painter Rodolphe Salis on 18 November 1881. Hungarian painter Francois Gall became an impressionist painter in the French tradition after he moved to Paris in 1936. He admired the first generation of impressionists and adopted their concepts for his own interpretations. Parisian scenes and boulevards – of which his ‘Boulevard de Rochechouart’ is one – were among his preferred subjects.

Pleyel and Company is a French piano manufacturing firm founded by Austrian-born French composer Ignace Joseph Pleyel who had moved to Paris in 1795. In 1797 he set up a business as a music publisher, which among other works produced a complete edition of Haydn’s string quartets in 1801. The publishing business lasted for some forty years and published about 4,000 works. In 1807, Pleyel became a manufacturer of pianos. His firm also ran a concert hall, the Salle Pleyel.

It was there that Chopin performed his first and his final Paris concerts. By 1834 the company had purchased a construction workshop and sale room in the Rue Rue Rochechouart. At that time, it boasted 250 employees and an annual production of 1,000 pianos. Pleyel pianos were the choice of composers such as Debussy, Saint-Saëns, Ravel, Stravinsky, and many other outstanding musicians. The Salle Pleyel opened its doors in December 1839 at no.22 Rue Rochechouart. It became central to nineteenth century concert life in the capital. Chopin, Liszt, Thalberg, Rubinstein, César Franck had all appeared there by the mid-1840s. Over the years it saw the premieres of many important works, including the second (1868) and fifth (1896) piano concertos by Saint-Saëns, and Ravel’s ‘Pavane pour une infant défunte’.

In 1927, a new Salle Pleyel was opened at no. 252 Rue du Faubourg St Honoré. Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel both conducted their own works as part of the inaugural concert on 18 October of that year. For the occasion, André Devambez painted a charming 1928 oil painting of the ‘Salle Pleyel’ for the magazine L’Illustration.

The Boulevard de Rochechouart has a noble reputation in the history of music. In literature however the street was known for its noise levels. To young French romantics of the late 1820s art meant protest. Protest involves noise and agitation. Artistic evolution from the nineteenth into the twentieth century is one of ever increasing noise and loudness. Blast was the perfect title for a literary magazine. The Italian futurists went a step further. Noise is art. This development from public posturing to poetic expression can be shown in a set of contrasting anecdotes involving the intervention of neighbours. Closeness is a dominating feature of city life.

Contemporary historians, in their grand designs, have not been kind to the anecdotal tale. Like Voltaire before them, they have been dismissive about including anecdotes in their narrative. The anecdote comes into play when emphasis is put on ‘couleur locale’ and physiognomy, an approach that focuses on the characters, customs, and habits particular to a country (region), period in time, or movement in art. If one takes a wider overview of historical accounts, the anecdote has often stood in a close relation to more elaborate narratives of history, sometimes in a supportive function, as examples and illustrations, sometimes in a challenging role, as the ‘petite histoire’ that is all too often ignored by authors. Prosper Mérimée was a dramatist and historian, best known for his novella Carmen which inspired Bizet’s opera.

In 1829 he published La chronique du temps de Charles IX, a historical novel set at the French court at the time of the St Bartholomew massacre. In his introduction to the story the author wrote: ‘Je n’aime dans l’histoire que des anecdotes, et parmi les anecdotes je préfère celles où j’imagine trouver une peinture vraie des moeurs et des caractères à une époque donnée.’ [I like nothing in history but its anecdotes; and of all anecdotes, I prefer those, which strike me as presenting a correct picture of the manners and characters of any given period]. The use of anecdote may no longer be considered a scholarly method, but it can nevertheless by an effective way in characterizing the tone of a period. After all, every age speaks its own language, creates its own music, and makes its own noise.

The Romantics were the first to raise the noise level in art and literature. Artists and poets were young, loud and disrespectful. Being young was a critical value in itself. In a society in flux youth seemed to be called upon to play a decisive role. Poet Pétrus Borel was spokesman for an eccentric group of Parisian students and artists, known as Le Petit Cénacle, who were dedicated to the fight against Classicism and artistic stagnation. Among its members were Célestin Nanteuil, Philothée O’Neddy, Gérard de Nerval, Théophile Gautier, and others. As was the case for so many Bohemians, Borel’s lodgings were poor and small. In 1831, he and his followers moved from the Latin Quarter to the corner of Boulevard de Rochechouart. Since they could not afford the cost of an entire house, they rented a room which opened into a garden and named their base ‘Le Camp des Tartares’. They changed their group name as well and proudly called themselves Les Jeunes France, suggesting that they were the nation’s future. They intended to fight all forms of philistinism that symbolized the regime of Louis Philippe.

Borel and his band of artists made a social nuisance of themselves. They gathered naked in the garden until outraged neighbours called in the police. The practice had to stop under threat of court action for outrageous behaviour. Garden concerts given by the artists were not aimed at evoking a sense of tonal harmony, but were staged for the purpose of making as much noise as possible. To them, music meant creating a cacophony of sound. In the end, their rowdy behaviour led to arrests (even a gentle soul such as De Nerval spent time inside). The landlord decided to terminate the lease. Neighbours had convinced him that the presence of these non-conformist youngsters lowered the prestige of the neighbourhood. Borel then found a tiny house in the Quartier Latin. Appropriately, the street was called La Rue d’Enfer. He celebrated the move with a house-warming party that may still count as one of the wildest orgies ever celebrated in the French capital. Once again, the physical move brought a new name to the group. A term of abuse in the press became a banner of pride (in much the same way as the label Impressionism was introduced some decades later).

The artists adopted the name of Bousingos (‘faiseurs de bousin’ = brawlers). As Charles Asselineau mentions in his Mélanges tirés d’une petite bibliothèque romantique (1866), they even planned to publish a joint collection of short stories under the title Les contes du Bousingo – par une camaraderie. The project never materialized, Gérard de Nerval being the only author who contributed a story. Borel and his circle of bousingo’s formed the link between Bohemia and Romanticism. Hugo naturally turned to him when recruiting his ‘Romantic Army’ on the eve of the performance of Hernani, the play that would prove to be the decisive blow in the battle between Classicists and Romantics (artistic relations at the time were described in military terms, indicating a sharpening of competitive relationships).

Futurist artists were a loud lot. Noise was their trademark. Excessive noise, they argued, is a by-product of modern industrial and technological society to which art has to respond. To them, it served both to shatter older forms of perception based on notions of order and harmony, and to instantiate the violence the Futurists believed was inherent in matter as well as in social life. L’arte dei rumori (The Art of Noises) is a 1913 manifesto written by Luigi Russolo. In it, the author argues that as the human ear has become accustomed to the speed and noise of the urban soundscape, musical instrumentation and composition has to adept itself to new technologies and create an intoxicating orchestra of noise. Futurism, of course, was rooted in poetry. From the outset, the renovation of language was its ultimate aim. In the process the notion of New Typography was developed. The initiative goes back to F.T. Marinetti who, since 1905, advocated in the pages of his magazine Poesia the idea of free verse (verso libero) which gradually evolved into the idea of words-in-freedom (parole in libertà). In 1913 Marinetti published his manifesto ‘Destruction of Syntax / Imagination without Strings / Words-in-Freedom’ where he argued that the futurist experiment was ‘grounded in the complete renewal of human sensibility that has generated our pictorial dynamism, our anti-graceful music in its free, irregular rhythms, our noise-art and our words-in-freedom’. By an imagination without strings the poet meant the absolute freedom of images or analogies, expressed with unhampered words and without connecting strings of syntax or punctuation. Adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions were to be banished from poetry.

 

His theories were given shape and form in his masterpiece Zang Tumb Tumb in 1914. Marinetti’s efforts were central to subsequent typographical experiments in European poetry. Book-making would never be the same.

Marinetti visited London in 1910 as part of a series of lectures aimed at galvanizing support across Europe for the Italian avant-garde. In his presentation at the Lyceum Club, he addressed his British audience as victims of ‘traditionalism and its medieval trappings’. His attack on John Ruskin was devastating. Ruskin – Marinetti thundered – with his morbid dream of rustic life, his nostalgia for Homeric cheeses and legendary wool-winders, and his hatred for the machine, is like a man who, after having reached maturity, wants to sleep in his cradle and feed himself at the breast of his decrepit old nurse in order to recover his infancy. Marinetti electrified some of the assembled English avant-garde with his performance. Others were more reserved about, if not shell-shocked by the Italian’s cultural extremism.

One of those was young Richard Aldington. It is an irony of Aldington’s career that he is chiefly remembered for his involvement in a modernist movement he quickly disowned. Aldington was only twenty when Ezra Pound launched him as a leading light of the Imagistes, who fought Victorian poetics with the ideal of clear imagery and flexible rhythms. Hardness as of cut stone, as Aldington phrased the ambition himself. However, Marinetti confused him. He appreciated his artistic radicalism, but abhorred the Italian’s derision of traditional culture and civilization. In his memoirs Life for Life’s Sake (1941) Richard Aldington has left an amusing description of an evening that a party of poets consisting of Ezra Pound, Thomas Sturge Moore, Yeats, and himself, spent with Marinetti. Communication was difficult as Marinetti spoke no English and Yeats would not talk a language of which he was not a master. Yeats read some poems which Marinetti would have thought disgustingly passéistes if he had understood them. Marinetti was requested to recite something of his. He sprang up and in a stentorian Milanese voice began bawling:

Automobile,
Ivre d’espace,
Qui piétine d’angoise, etc.

Yeats had to ask him to stop his performance because neighbours were knocking in protest on the floor, ceiling and walls. In art and literature, England was slow to adopt modernist trends that were manifest on the Continent. Fear of neighbours maybe?

ImageThe Oosterpark is the first large park laid (in 1891) out by the municipality of Amsterdam. It was designed on the principles of an English garden by Leonard Springer. The ‘Oosterparkbuurt’ in its current shape was constructed at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1926, a corner of the park was used to house a newly built museum. The Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen (Royal Tropical Institute) was established in Haarlem in 1864. It was then known as the Colonial Museum, founded to house the collection of artefacts brought back from the Dutch colonies in the East. Its mission included the scientific study of plants and products derived from the colonies. Today, the collection is housed in the Tropenmuseum with its entrance on the Linnaeusstraat, one of the main streets in the district.

Image

‘De Linnaeusstraat in Amsterdam, gezien vanaf de Middenweg’ produced by Heertje van Doornik, a painter who had settled in the capital in 1891, supplies a fine image of the street.

Image

Impressionist painter and photographer Willem Witsen lived in the area. His house at no. 82 Oosterpark is now a museum (Witsenhuis) – it was here that Paul Verlaine stayed during his brief visit to the Netherlands.
Image

There is one Dutch author whose work is closely associated with the East of Amsterdam. Nescio (Latin for ‘I don’t know’) is a pseudonym for Jan Hendrik Frederik Grönloh who made a professional career for himself at the Holland-Bombay Trade Company in Amsterdam and was a talented author at the same time. He hated his job, but felt unable to fully commit himself to his creative endeavours. The Nescio corpus includes stories, unfinished compositions, a nature diary and correspondence, but the works for which he is remembered consist essentially of three extensive prose-poems: De uitvreter (The Freeloader, 1911), Titaantjes (Young Titans, 1915) and Dichtertje (Little Poet, 1918). The translation of a collection of stories by Damion Searles was published in the New York Review Books Classics series under the appropriate title of Amsterdam Stories. Aptness of title, and quality of the first sentence, are crucial aspects of any novel.

Image

In his 2011 study How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One, Stanley Fish devoted an entire chapter to memorable English opening sentences. If his approach had been multi-lingual, he would certainly have included the start of De uitvreter which announces the author’s unique style and idiosyncratic manner of storytelling. As a story this is an evocative mix in which dreams and youthful rebelliousness are beaten down by an indifferent world. Although set in the city, there are lyrical descriptions of the Dutch landscape, often triggered by author’s fascination with water (a Dutch theme if ever there was one). Nescio stresses the Dutch dichotomy of money-mindedness with the visionary wealth of Jeroen Bosch, Multatuli, or Vincent van Gogh. The dominating tone is one of an aching melancholy. Grönloh himself was careful to keep his business and creative identities separate. He only revealed true name in 1933, over twenty years after the publication of De uitvreter.

Image

Samuel Sarphati was a physician and city planner. He descended from Portuguese Sephardi Jews who had settled in Amsterdam during the seventeenth century. Having qualified in medicine at the University of Leiden, he became a practitioner in the capital where he initiated projects to improve the quality of hygiene in the poorer parts of the city. The Sarphatistraat is named after him and runs between Frederiksplein and Oostenburgergracht. To many locals the name Sarphati means little nowadays. It is just an ordinary Amsterdam street. However, to those familiar with Dutch literature, the Sarphatistraat has made an indelible impression. Why? Because of Nescio first sentence in De uitvreter: ‘Behalve den man die de Sarphatistraat de mooiste plek van Europa vond, heb ik nooit een wonderlijker kerel gekend dan den uitvreter’ (Except for the man who thought Sarphatistraat was the most beautiful place in Europe, I’ve never met anyone more peculiar than the freeloader). To me, as an utterly biased reader, this remains a classic opening.

Image

Tramline no. 7 connects the short distance between Sarphatistraat and Linnaeusstraat. From 1735 to 1739, young Carl Linnaeus lived in the Netherlands. This was an important period in his life. He defended his doctoral thesis at the University of Harderwijk in 1735 and met with many Dutch scientists during his visits to the Amsterdam botanical gardens. Among them was one figure who took a central place in the development of the young Swedish botanist. George Clifford III was a wealthy Amsterdam banker and one of the directors of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). He was known for his interest in plants and gardens.

Image

His estate the Hartekamp had a rich variety of plants and he engaged Linnaeus to write the Hortus Cliffortianus, a masterpiece of early botanical literature. Many specimens from Clifford’s garden were also studied by Linnaeus for his two-volume study Species plantarum (1753), a work that laid the foundation for plant nomenclature as we know it today. The Clifford dynasty originated from East Anglia. The first recorded member of the family was Richard Clifford who studied at Corpus Christi, Cambridge, which at the time was an important training-institution for Anglican clergy. In 1569 he was appointed rector of Landbeach, a fen-edge village near Ely, just north of Cambridge (beach most likely means ‘shore’ here: both Landbeach and nearby Waterbeach were at one time situated at the edge of the estuary named The Wash).

Image

Henry Clifford was born in Landbeach. Like his father, he studied at Corpus Christi. He named his son George. Somewhere between 1634 and 1640 George Clifford I moved to Amsterdam and lived the rest of his life on the Zeedijk. Six of his children were baptized in Amsterdam’s historical Presbyterian Church at the Begijnhof, and two in the Oude Kerk. He established the family business in the city and, in 1664, is recorded as owning a sugar plantation in Barbados.

Image

George Clifford II was born in 1657. He continued in the trade his father had started. Business prospered and, in 1709, he was able to buy the Hartekamp (for the substantial amount of 22,000 guilders), an estate with a formal garden and conservatory in Heemstede, just outside Bennebroek, near to the coastal dunes and close the famous Dutch bulb fields. The original house had been built by Johan Hinlopen in 1693. The latter had been in charge of running the lucrative postal route between Amsterdam and Antwerp. Hinlopen designed the basic garden and built the orangery. His grandfather had been of Flemish origin, one of the countless cosmopolitan merchants who left Antwerp after the Spanish suppression of the city. A trader in cloth and Indian ware he was a co-founder of the Dutch East India Company in 1602. His son Jan Jacobszoon expanded the business and became an important art collector and supporter of Rembrandt, Gabriel Metsu, and others.

Image

George Clifford III was born in 1685 into by what at that time had become an extremely wealthy Anglo-Dutch merchant dynasty. The family business entered banking at the start of the eighteenth century and established an international reputation lending money to royalty, the Vatican, and to the English and Danish governments. George III also was a Governor of the Dutch East India Company (but not, as is often stated, at any time Burgomaster of Amsterdam) and a keen botanist. On the Hartekamp he accumulated a famous living- and dried plant collection. He gave the garden its international reputation, acquiring specimens of new species from all over the world. He acted as patron of the young Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus whom he employed in the double capacity of ‘hortulanus’ (supervisor) of his collection and of physician (the master of the house was somewhat of a hypochondriac).

Image

Linnaeus had been introduced to Clifford by Johannes Burman, Director of the Amsterdam Botanic Garden and Professor of Botany, who was a supplier of tropical plants to the Clifford collection through his close connections with the East India Company. Linnaeus named after him the Burmannia, a family of chiefly tropical herbs with basal leaves and small flowers. The meeting between the two men turned out well for both of them. Linnaeus was overwhelmed by the botanical riches of the gardens and in particular by the ‘houses of Adonis’ (hothouses) where he encountered a bewildering variety of plants from Southern Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Clifford on the other hand was impressed by Linnaeus’s effortless ability to classify plants that were new to him. Clifford offered Linnaeus free board and lodging, and a financial allowance of one ducat a day, or 1,000 florins per annum. The young scientist was overjoyed. By the time he took up his employment in 1735 the estate contained in addition to the garden, a large collection of animals, an orangery and four heated greenhouses. Through the activities of eminent botanists such as Herman Boerhaave, Adriaan van Royen and others, many exotic plants were added to Clifford’s collection and dried plants were exchanged as herbarium sheets. International cooperation between collectors and scientists contributed to the rapid development of plant systematic, both in terms of taxonomy and of practical knowledge of the world’s botanical wealth and variety.

Image

The herbarium played an important role in the development of scientific botany. The preparation of herbarium specimens goes far back to the Egyptians, but the systematic technique for keeping plants as dried reference specimens began in Tuscany during the sixteenth century. Luca Ghini, founder of the first botanical garden in the world at Pisa, introduced this method to his students at the University of Bologna. Initially herbaria were bound together to form books, such as that of the apothecary Petrus Cadé, the oldest herbarium known in the Low Countries.

In the eighteenth century botanists started to keep the individual herbarium sheets separate which allowed systematic ordering rearrangement according to developing systematic ideas. Thus it became possible to lend individual herbarium sheets and exchange duplicates. Because of such exchanges it was no longer immediately clear who the owner of a particular specimen actually was. This is perhaps the reason – apart from mere aesthetics – why ornamentations such as pots, medallions, pennants, or cartouches were printed onto the sheets and thus acted as a kind of ex libris for the owner. The tradition of using ornamentations in herbaria is of Dutch origin. It dates back to the 1720s and had gone out of fashion by the end of the century. Clifford’s herbarium consists of 3,461 sheets. Many of the specimens are mounted in such a manner that they appear to be growing out of engraved paper urns, and are held down by ribbons and their names inscribed on ornate labels. In 1791, Clifford’s herbarium was acquired by botanist Joseph Banks, Director of Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens, and President of the Royal Society of London, at the sale of the collections. It is now part of the collections of the Natural History Museum.

Image

At the time of Linnaeus’s inventory, the garden at Hartekamp had 1,251 living plant species in the greenhouses, gardens and woods. Linnaeus catalogued the family’s complete collection of plants, herbarium and library. The result was his book Hortus Cliffortianus, whose publication was paid for by George Clifford III. Linnaeus compiled his study with astonishing speed. It took him nine months to prepare the manuscript. Until this time the individual herbarium sheets owned by Clifford were arranged according to the system applied by Boerhaave in his Index alter plantarum. Linnaeus ranked the plant species according to a sexual system which he himself had designed. The system is based on the number and shape of both male and female reproductive parts which determine the class into which the plant species is placed. Within this system every species is placed in a genus and given its own unique Latin adjective. The Hortus Cliffortianus formed the basis for all of Linnaeus’s subsequent work. Many of his plant descriptions are repeated in the Species plantarum which appeared some fifteen year later. In this book Linnaeus introduced the consistent use of the binomial nomenclatural system with a genus name and a species epithet. The many samples taken from the Clifford collection were type specimens for Linnaeus’s new systematic ordering.

The Hortus Cliffortianus came into existence through the collaboration of a brilliant scientist and an outstanding botanical artist. In 1735 German painter and draughtsman George Ehret had travelled to England with glowing letters of introduction to patrons including Hans Sloane and Philip Miller, curator of the Chelsea Physic Garden. In the spring of 1736 Ehret spent three months in the Netherlands and stayed for several weeks at the Hartekamp where he made the majority of the illustrations. He then returned to England to settle in Chelsea from where he sent the remainder of the illustrations. His efforts proved indispensable for the rapid dissemination of the underlying concepts of Linnaeus’s new systematic ordering. Through his famous illustrations, Ehret made Linnaeus’s new system more intelligible. Ehretia, a genus of flowering plants in the borage family (Boraginaceae – containing some fifty species) was named in his honour. Ehret’s plates served as the basis for the etchings of Jan Wandelaar who made the final prints for the book. The latter also produced the outstanding baroque cover, the symbolism of which includes a young Apollo with Linnaeus’s features who brings light into the darkness (of ignorance). Jan Wandelaar – literally: Johnny Walker – is perhaps best remembered for his cooperation with the surgeon and anatomist Bernard Siegfried Albinus. Teaching anatomy at Leiden University, Albinus was famous for his studies of bones and muscles, and for his attempts at improving the accuracy of anatomical illustration. He used Wandelaar’s considerable artistic talent to achieve that aim. The artist’s earlier involvement with Clifford and Ehret had established his reputation. Clifford used the Hortus as a splendid gift for his contacts within the plant-exchange network. Boerhaave and Van Royen were the first to receive a copy.

In 1760 Pieter Clifford, the oldest son of George, inherited the Hartekamp, but he lacked his father’s passion for plants and the importance of the garden declined. After his death the estate was auctioned on 2 June 1788, probably due to financial problems relating to the bankruptcy of the Clifford Bank in 1772. It was the final chapter in what had been a grand Anglo-Dutch-Swedish undertaking in which natural beauty, science and art had been harmoniously merged. Linnaeus in the meantime became a legendary figure in the Netherlands. In 1853, Hendrik Hollander painted the scientist in Laponian costume. The painting is part of the Hartekamp Estate, but a replica is in possession of the University of Amsterdam.

Image

From 1814 until April 1818 Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond and his family lived in an eighteenth century mansion in a street near the Blanchisserie de la Fontaine in Brussels (the laundry was situated close to a fountain). The Duke was in command of a reserve force that was protecting the city from an invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte. The mansion, located at no. 23 Rue de la Blanchisserie, was an elegant but simple building with six rooms, a hall and a staircase. There were two floors, an attic and a large basement. To the left of the main entrance had been a workshop with the Richmonds initially transformed into a playroom for the children and subsequently into a ballroom.

Image

It was there that three nights before the Battle of Waterloo the Duchess of Richmond gave a ball where many officers of the allied English, Prussian and Dutch armies (including the Prince of Orange) were invited. A majority of Europe’s military and diplomatic elite gathered together under one roof – if Napoleon had known about this history would have taken an entirely different course. The occasion inspired various artists. Robert Hillingford captured the splendour of the occasion in his painting ‘The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball’. Thackeray made dramatic use of the event in his novel Vanity Fair. But it was Lord Byron who recorded the occasion in the most colourful terms.

Image

In the section of Childe Harold which is entitled ‘The Eve of Waterloo’ the poet related the events that took place on the night before the Battle of Quatre Bras which was fought on 16 June 1815 as a preliminary of the real Battle of Waterloo two days later. With the ball at its height a messenger brings word to Wellington that Napoleon is advancing towards Brussels. The news comes as a shock on a festive occasion that, until that fateful moment, had been all smiles and sparkling white teeth:

Ah! then and there was hurrying to and fro,
And gathering tears, and trembling of distress,
And cheeks all pale, which but an hour ago
Blushed at the praise of their own loveliness

Neither Thackeray nor Byron attended the ball, but they were the two writers who turned that night into the most glittering ball in history.

Image

The night of 18 June 1815 was a momentous one. After twenty-three years of war in Europe, Napoleon faced the combined might of the allied forces at Waterloo. When the battle was over, the French were defeated and 50,000 men lay dead or wounded on the field of slaughter. Waterloo lifted the spirit of the British. It soon became an indispensable topic in the poetry of Walter Scott, Robert Southey or William Wordsworth. This was inspiring and uplifting verse giving the notion of Britishness a new dimension. Waterloo became the attraction par excellence for the emerging tourist industry, a must for everyone to see. Little interest was shown in Flemish culture itself. Even Rubens was judged to be vulgar and coarse (read Rossetti, Thackeray, Henry James, Ruskin and others). Wellington was hailed as an English hero in spite of the fact that he was born and raised in Ireland and educated in Paris. In 1816, Lord Byron stayed briefly in Brussels. He visited the battlefield at Waterloo and told the story in the third canto of Childe Harold. The poet had been preceded by a stream of other visitors.

Image

Landscape painter Robert Hills made his way to the battlefield in the summer of 1815. He produced a series of sketches there which formed the basis for fifty-three aquatints which were published as Sketches in Flanders and Holland (1816). Hill emerges as a curiously dispassionate observer of the aftermath of the bloody battle. Young Newman Smith had undertaken the journey to Flanders for health reasons, hoping that the sea trip would improve his weak constitution. When in Brussels, he heard of Bonaparte’s surprise advance and even ran into the Duke of Wellington. Smith promptly resolved to travel to the scene of battle. He arrived there at its immediate aftermath. Walking among the dead and dying, he picked up a ‘tolerably good cuirass’ from the field, only to be forced by a Brussels gendarme to return it. It is an early account of our obsession with violence and the instruments of torture. Smith published an account of this visit in his Flying Sketches from the Battle of Waterloo, Brussels, Holland &c, in June 1815 (although the book was not published until 1852).

Image

By strange coincidence, All Smiles is a family dentistry in Waterloo, New York. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries people dreaded losing their teeth. The toothless had sunken cheeks and looked old before their time. Replacement teeth were traditionally made from ivory (hippopotamus, walrus, or elephant) which deteriorated quicker than real teeth. More costly dentures were made with an ivory base and then set with real human teeth. The biggest purveyors of teeth were the resurrectionists who stole corpses to sell to medical schools. A set of teeth was one of the perks of the job. Even if they dug up a body too far gone for the anatomy lesson, they could still sell the teeth. Unfortunately for some unlucky recipients, syphilis and tuberculosis were unknowingly transmitted into their mouths from infected donors. When the fighting at Waterloo ended, night was closing in. Battlefield scavengers flitted from corpse to corpse, gathering up weapons and looking for valuables. The final act of desecration followed. They pulled and pocketed any intact front teeth. As a result, the sudden flood of teeth onto the market was enormous. Dentures made from second-hand teeth acquired a new name – Waterloo teeth. Far from putting clients off, this was a selling point. Better to have teeth from a soldier killed in battle than those plucked from the jaws of a decaying corpse or a hanged person. Apparently, Waterloo teeth still appeared in dental supply catalogues of the 1860s.

Image

Image

The Boulevard du Temple runs from the Place de la République to the Place Pasdeloup. The name refers to the nearby temple of the Knights Templars where they established their Paris priory. The street follows the path of the city wall that was constructed by Charles V and demolished during the reign of Louis XIV. Louis Daguerre’s 1838 image of the ‘Boulevard du Temple’ is a landmark in the history of photography. It is the earliest known picture that contains a human being. The image shows the length of the boulevard, but because of the lengthy exposure time (over ten minutes) the moving traffic does not appear. At the lower left of the photograph, however, the figures of a person having his boots polished by a young bootblack were motionless enough for their images to be captured. They are the first two nameless heroes of photography.

Image

Ever since the reign of Louis XIV, the Boulevard du Temple was a fashionable place (from 1856 to 1869 Gustave Flaubert lived at no. 42), known especially for its number of local theatres. In the nineteenth century the boulevard was given the nickname of ‘Boulevard du Crime’ because of the many wicked dramas that were performed in its playhouses. It had been a shocking scene of real crime as well. On this very boulevard, on 28 July 1835, Corsica-born Giuseppe Fieschi made an attempt on the life of Louis-Philippe and his three sons with a home-made ‘super gun’.

Image

The attempt failed, but the shooting resulted in eighteen dead and many injured. The Boulevard du Temple was eventually destroyed during Haussmann’s renovation scheme. With the exception of the Folies-Mayer, all theatres were flattened to make way for the new Place de la République. However, memories of the sensation dramas performed at the Boulevard du Crime lingered on and were rekindled by Oscar Méténier. An admirer of Émile Zola, the dramatist made his name with Naturalist plays set among vagrants, criminals, and prostitutes. The dialogue was expressed in the language of the street. Méténier was a frequent target of the censor for depicting a milieu that had never appeared on stage previously. In 1897, he bought a theatre at the end of the Impasse Chaptal, a cul-de-sac in the Pigalle district, to present his controversial plays. This, the smallest playhouse in Paris, was the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol.

Image
It had been a chapel originally and contained less than three hundred seats – the theatre quickly acquired of the ‘Chapel of Gore & Psychosis’. Two large angels hung above the orchestra and the boxes, with their iron railings, looked like confessionals. Even the choice of the name was provoking. It refers to a popular French puppet character whose original incarnation was that of a social commentator and spokesperson for the silk workers of Lyon (known as ‘canuts’ – on account of extremely poor working conditions, they staged a number of uprisings, known as the Canut Revolts). Early Guignol puppet shows were frequently censored by Napoleon III’s secret police.

Image

One of the Grand-Guignol’s first plays, Méténier’s adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s short story Mademoiselle Fifi, was temporarily shut down by police censors. It presented the first ever prostitute on the French stage. His subsequent play Lui! brought together a whore and a criminal in the enclosed space of a hotel room. The formula of the Grand-Guignol play was thus established: a broad combination of the erotic and the violent. The Théâtre du Grand-Guignol was an immediate success. In 1898, Max Maurey took over as director and turned the theatre into a house of horror. It became notorious for its gruesome scenes of violence. Night after night, people would gather and watch in fascination as screaming heroines were lowered into acid vats, as eyeballs were bisected by long silver blades, or as bodies were torn limb from limb spraying blood in all directions. With the help of ingenious special effects and gallons of fake blood, the shocked audience was led to believe that torture was actually taking place in front of their eyes. Maurey measured the success of a play by the number of people who fainted during its performance, and in order to attract a maximum of publicity he employed a house doctor to treat fainthearted spectators.

Image
It was Maurey who discovered the work of André de Latour, Comte de Lorde, who became known in the 1920s as the ‘Prince de la Terreur’. Between 1901 and 1926 he wrote some 150 plays devoted to the exploitation of terror. During the day he worked as a librarian in the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal where, a century earlier, Charles Nodier had been one of his predecessors. Among the rich holdings of the library are the archives of the Bastille which comprise many prisoner dossiers, including those of the Marquis de Sade. Under the influence of De Lorde insanity became the most popular theme of the theatre’s repertoire. At a time when insanity was just beginning to be scientifically explored, the Grand-Guignol staged countless manias and ‘special tastes’.

Image
There is necrophilia in L’homme de nuit which was based upon the case of Sergeant Bertrand, a man sentenced in 1849 for violating tombs and mutilating corpses; L’horrible passion depicts a nanny who cruelly strangled the children in her care. De Lorde’s work was a regular target of the censor, especially in England where scheduled touring productions of two of his plays were cancelled by the Lord Chamberlain’s censors. Fear of ‘the other’ appears in countless dramatic variations: fear of the proletariat, fear of the unknown, fear of the foreign, fear of contagion, etc. Disease is rife. Leprosy and syphilis were but two of the maladies that were introduced to the stage. Maurey also showed a keen interest in the change in states of consciousness through drugs or hypnosis. The passage from one state to another was the crux of the genre. Plays dealing with such themes were repeatedly included in the repertoire. Inevitably, the guillotine was erected on stage. The last convulsions played out on the decapitated face were closely scrutinized.

Image

From 1914 to 1930, Camille Choisy directed the theatre. He was a master of special effects in both lighting and sound. Staging overtook text. He introduced the actress Paula Maxa, the ‘Sarah Bernhardt of the Impasse Chaptal’ and the most ‘assassinated woman in the world’. She was exposed to a range of tortures unique in theatrical history. She was shot with a rifle and with a revolver, she was scalped, strangled, disemboweled, raped, guillotined, hanged, quartered, burned, cut apart with surgical tools, cut into eighty-three pieces by an invisible Spanish dagger, stung by a scorpion, poisoned with arsenic, devoured by a puma, strangled by a pearl necklace, and whipped.

Image

With the arrival of Jack Jouvin, who was in charge of the theater from 1930 to 1937, the repertoire shifted from gore to psychological drama. However, Jouvin’s lack of talent and vision triggered the eventual downfall of the Grand-Guignol. The abundance of terrifying elements in the later plays made them no longer believable, but it was World War II the final death blow to the theatre. Reality overtook fiction. In an interview conducted immediately after the closure of Grand-Guignol in 1962, Charles Nonon, its last director, explained that is was not possible to compete with Buchenwald. Before the war, everyone believed that what happened on stage was purely imaginary. The war proved that man’s penchant for cruelty was limitless.

Image

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 573 other followers