Archive

20th century

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Heddon Street is a small side-street and alleyway off Regent Street, close to Piccadilly Circus. Yet, the Handbook Guide to Rock and Pop (1997) lists the street as an historic London music site. The reason is David Bowie. His 1972 concept album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was based on a story of a fictional rock star named Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy is the human manifestation of a ‘space invader’. He is also the definitive rock star: sexually promiscuous, hooked on drugs, but with a message of peace and love. He is destroyed by his own excesses and by the fans he inspired. A film of the same name, directed by D.A. Pennebaker, was released in 1973. The cover of the album shows Bowie posing as Ziggie in front of no. 23 Heddon Street. Photographer Brian Ward created the photograph for the cover. Originally shot in black and white, Ward tinted the photographs to achieve the storybook style of the album sleeve. More importantly, however, it was in the basement at no. 9 Heddon Street that in 1912 England’s first cabaret club opened its doors.

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The concept of cabaret is a Continental one. The first modern nightclub, the Chat Noir, opened in Montmartre in 1881. The club presented itself as a ‘cabaret artistique’, a new kind of public meeting place for writers, poets and artists. In an obituary of its founder Louis Rodolphe Salis, the New York Times of 23 March 1897 specifically referred to the artistic clientèle of the Chat Noir: ‘Here Alfred de Musset, Alphonse Daudet, and the frères de Goncourt assembled to write verses and eat their dinners, including wine, for twenty sous. Here Guy de Maupassant came nightly, brooding alone, at a table apart from the others. Paul Verlaine wrote verses here, seated at a marble table, with ink and a bottle of wine before him, and a quill pen in his hand’. The Chat Noir staged the integration of the artist as a social outcast, the ‘poète maudit’, into the gallery of criminals, revolutionaries, and libertines long associated with the shady underworld of pubs and clubs.
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This, the first modern nightclub, was both a place of adversarial culture and a shrewdly planned commercial venture. Almost as soon as the Chat Noir opened in 1881, Salis turned the club into a money making enterprise, in part to advance the careers of writers and artists associated with the club. The Chat Noir exploited the medium of print to disseminate its brand of bohemianism. The club published its own weekly journal in tabloid format, with a print run that grew from 300 to 20,000 copies per week in a matter of seven years. Other publications included the Chat Noir Guide, a brochure listing art works that were for sale at the club; the Album du Chat Noir, a portfolio of drawings to be sold by subscription; song sheets of lyrics recited or sung at the club, and collections of stories concerning the club. Bohemianism was good business.
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A significant aspect of the new nightclub was the design of its interior. Again, the Chat Noir had set a precedent. Its rooms were decorated seemingly at random. In reality, the cabaret’s environment had been carefully planned. It featured furniture and artifacts of the Louis XIII period, but arranged in such grotesque settings as to make them incongruous. Walls were covered with green paper or drapes. Panels were made with glazed doors of Louis XIII design. On all available wall space were hung paintings and prints created by the cabaret’s resident artists (the ‘artist-in-residence’ was also a new concept). Pots, plants, plates, and antiques hung from the ceiling or were stacked in corners and niches. The deliberate attempt was to mix the ancient and the modern, to blend the rococo and the commonplace, to combine the luxurious and the obnoxious, to fuse style and kitsch. Many clubs adapted themselves to specific themes.
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One of the more outrageous attempts was made at the Cabaret du Ciel. Waiters were dressed as angels with wings and wigs. As guests sipped on the ‘ambrosia of the gods’, they were treated to ‘mystical illusions and celestial music’ while beholding burlesque religious rites (striptease in other words). Heaven was situated on the second floor of the house. The 1903 Pleasure Guide to Paris describes this abode in the following terms: ‘It is a vast grotto, in which hang stalactites of a golden colour. Here Saint Peter is represented by a robust mulatto, armed with a long key, with which he opens the door for the elect … Gorgeous transformations now take place in a mysterious manner, so as to favour the illusion that it is no longer this sad earth of ours, but a region ethereal and serene where all the angels are represented by women’.
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At the Café du Néant visitors entered a dark chamber lit only by wax tapers suspended on a chandelier composed of human skulls and arms. Customers were welcomed by waiters dressed as undertakers and seated at tables made of coffins, from where they could ponder images of death, carnage and assassination that adorned the walls. After drinking ‘les microbes de la mort’, clients would be directed to the Hall of Incineration where they could enjoy a spectacle of death and decay. A chosen member from the audience was placed in an upright coffin. Using a projected image, glass and mirrors an illusion was cast to make it appear as if that person was slowly decomposing into a skeleton.
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In 1885, Aristide Bruant opened a club called Le Mirliton. Its famous owner – the man in the red scarf and black cape featuring on Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters – composed and performed accusatory songs in Parisian slang about the fate of the poor and downtrodden, and about crime and violence in the city. His mix of song, satire and entertainment was popular with the affluent classes slumming in the Montmartre district. The ‘chanson réaliste’ made an instant impact and became part of the repertoire of most cabaret performers in the European capitals. This repertoire consisted of poems of loss and hopelessness. It listed songs that dealt with the struggle for life in poorest parts of the city, and with the thugs, pimps, and tarts that called them home. Its themes were poverty, abandonment, deprivation, combined with socio-political commentary. Novelists had been a major influence on the development of the genre which had been preceded by such literary movements as Realism and Naturalism. Later, the art form was performed mainly by female vocalists. It was brought to perfection by Édith Piaf.

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Once the madness of the Great War was behind them, Parisians rebounded in a carnival of cosmopolitan hedonism known as ‘les années folles’. There was a new aspect to this particular orgy of pleasure: the influx of American youngsters who were sick of prohibition and puritanical small-mindedness back home. Some of them had plenty of dollars in their pockets taking advantage of the strong exchange rate, while others arrived with the sole ambition of making it as an artist. Many nightclubs cultivated a deliberately coarse and promiscuous atmosphere. In Berlin, these were known as ‘Tingeltangel’ clubs.

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The sleazy atmosphere of such establishments is captured in Josef von Sternberg’s 1930 film Der blaue Engel (based upon a novel by Heinrich Mann) with lusty Marlene Dietrich as the chanteuse Lola Lola.
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The story line was inspired by clubs such as Zum hungrigen Pegasus (opened in Berlin in October 1901 by artist Max Karl Tilke), where one could enjoy performances by a poet named Dolorosa (real name: Maria Eichhorn) reciting erotic and sadomasochistic verses, or artists performing ‘niggersongs’.
The identification of jazz with the ‘spirit of the times’ formed the essence of many articles and essays during the 1920s. When in May 1938 Hans Severus Ziegler organized the ‘Entartete Musik’ exhibition in Düsseldorf, he included work by Schönberg, Kurt Weill, Hindemith, Stravinsky, Mahler, Krenek, and many others. He specifically turned against the Berlin craze for jazz. Ernst Krenek had incorporated jazz influences into his opera Jonny spielt auf (1926). Paul Hindemith and Kurt Weill were interested in the means of expression found in jazz, but in the Nazi interpretation of German high culture there was no place for ‘Niggermusik’.

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With an audience consisting of artists, scholars, writers, financiers, well-connected ladies, prostitutes, and criminals, the nightclub was a place where middle-class citizens could pretend to be bohemians and, for one night at least, release themselves of all shackles of respectability. These weekend bohemians introduced the recreational practice of ‘slumming’. Middle-class city dwellers visiting naughty clubs in marginal neighbourhoods became an ingredient in the allure of modern European urban nightlife. The OED dates the first use of the word ‘slumming’ to 1884. Social commentators and reformers visited London slum neighbourhoods in order to observe social life in those parts. Once Oscar Wilde incorporated the theme of ‘slumming it’ in The Picture of Dorian Gray the idea became fashionable and held a fascination for authors and artists alike. Nocturnal club life added spice to the concept.

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Outside France, the authorities looked at such developments with a degree of concern. The presence of cabaret performer Hans Hyan, the owner of Zur Silbernen Punschterrine (The Silver Punchbowl) which had opened in Berlin in November 1901, was closely watched by the police. After all, Hyan had a criminal record. In 1891 he had been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for aggravated burglary; ten years later he was (unsuccessfully) investigated for robbery. He was fined for libel and suspected of writing and publishing pornography. For a while, Hyan was the talk of the town. He was celebrated as Berlin’s counterpart to Aristide Bruant.

Like his French model, he used local slang, sang songs about criminals and outcasts, and verbally insulted the curious audience that came to see his cabaret. To be treated rudely and abused aggressively was all part of the fun of slumming. Hans Hyan was a master of this game. He had the skill to imitate the speech of various social groups in the city, in particular the slang of the criminal fraternity. His command of the Berlin dialect was masterful. No one less than Kurt Tucholsky remembered Hyan for his capacity of capturing phonetically the ‘Berlin manner of thought, the Berlin soul’. Hans was Berlin, Berlin was Hyan. The relationship with the authorities worsened when Dolorosa started to perform regularly at the Punschterrine. Her list of explicitly erotic and masochistic songs, of which ‘The Song of Songs of Pain and Torture’ was a particular favourite of the club’s clients, became morally intolerable to many respectable observers. Cabaret had become a celebration of immorality. The club was finally shut down in 1904.


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Frida Strindberg was very much a product of the European avant-garde of the early twentieth century. Born in Austria as the daughter of the editor of the Wiener Zeitung, Frida Uhl worked as a writer and translator in Vienna. In 1893, at the tender age of twenty years, she met forty-three year old Swedish writer and dramatist August Strindberg, who had achieved fame as the author of more than twenty plays, several novels, autobiographical works and collections of stories, poems and essays. He was a controversial figure whose sexually frank works had incurred the intervention of Swedish and German censors. Fame was not accompanied by money. At the time Strindberg proposed to Frida, the writer was heavily in debt and being pursued by his first wife for child support payments. Friedrich Uhl opposed the marriage, doubting the author’s ability to support his daughter.

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Frida and August married soon after their first meeting in spite of her father’s disapproval. Strindberg’s reputation allowed her access to the bohemian circles he frequented, and make lasting contacts with some outstanding artists of her day. In marrying Strindberg, a morose misogynist if ever there was one, she sacrificed not only the relationship with her family but also her career as a writer and critic. Taking his financial affairs in hand, she at once tried to organize a production of his work in England. However, Strindberg did not approve of the active role Frida was taking in his business affairs, and the marriage in which one daughter was born ended in divorce in 1895. It has been suggested that their stormy relationship inspired Strindberg’s tirades against women in general and against married women in particular. Frank Wedekind, the German playwright who in his work laid bare the shams of sexual morality in his time, was the father of Frida’s second child. She sent both her children away to be cared for by her parents.

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Fin de siècle Vienna was a major centre for arts and culture. It was the most exciting period in the capital’s cultural history. The literary and artistic movement known as ‘Jung Wien’ (Young Vienna) was composed of such remarkable artists as Gustav Mahler, Arthur Schnitzler, Gustav Klimt, Adolf Loos, and others. Frida was closely involved with several writers of the Young Vienna movement, such as the poet Peter Altenberg for whom she organized a subscription, and the journalist and outstanding satirist Karl Kraus whom she convinced to sponsor a reading of Wedekind’s Pandora’s Box. Her affair with the writer Werner von Oesteren was particularly problematic. She threatened him on two separate occasions with a revolver. Details of this relationship were made public in 1905 when she sued Werner for harassing a detective she had hired to follow him. In 1908, on New Year’s Day, she fired a gun in a Viennese hotel. This may have been an attempt to take her life.
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The event caused such publicity in her native town that she decided to move to London where, in 1912, she opened the Cave of the Golden Calf (named after one of the rooms in the Parisian Chat Noir) at no. 9 Heddon Street, off Regent Street, England’s first ‘Cabaret Club’ housed in a large basement below a warehouse. She intended her club to be a meeting place for writers and artists, an avant-garde rival to the nearby Café Royal where Oscar Wilde once was one of the regulars. The club offered a cheap meal and reduced admission to young artists. The Cave served as a kind of avant-garde soup kitchen. For better-off clients, of course, there was lobster salad on the menu.
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The Continental inspiration for the club, apart from the Chat Noir, was the Kaberett Fledermaus in her native Vienna. In her ‘Preliminary Prospectus’ to the opening of the club, issued in April 1912, Frida proudly announced that the interior of the establishment would be ‘entirely and exclusively’ decorated by ‘leading young British artists’. The ‘Prospectus’ was illustrated with woodcuts by Wyndham Lewis. It claimed that the cabaret would do away with the necessity of crossing the Channel in order ‘to laugh freely and sit up after nursery hours’. As this comment suggests, the Cave of the Golden Calf looked to the Chat Noir for inspiration. Moreover, the Cave opened only three months after Marinetti’s notorious first visit to London, which gave an added Futurist impetus to Frida’s plans for her club. Among its ‘resident’ artists were Jacob Epstein, Eric Gill and Wyndham Lewis. Frida insisted that the club presented itself properly in print, from its ‘Preliminary Prospectus’ to programs, announcements and menus.

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Typography was essential. All printed materials were designed by Wyndham Lewis according to the latest Continental styles. Sculptor Jacob Epstein transformed the cellar’s structural columns into plaster female figures described by Ford Madox Ford in his 1923 novel The Marsden Case as ‘white caryatids with heads of hawks, cats, and camels picked out in red’. Opening night saw performances by Norwegian cabaret singer and founder of the Oslo Chat Noir Bokken Lasson, shadow plays by Wyndham Lewis, an actor reciting Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince, and, in true cabaret fashion, a young cockney shouting foul mouthed abuse at the audience.

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Ezra Pound admired Frida’s achievement. Other luminaries who frequented the establishment included Katherine Mansfield, Ford Madox Ford, and – of course – Augustus John. The Cave attracted London’s bohemian set, the mad, bad and decadent. It contributed to the erosion of class identities in the capital. Here guests could enjoy the full cabaret repertoire, plays and poetry, jazz and ragtime music, song and dance, with champagne served until dawn. The Cave went bankrupt in 1914, but not before Strindberg herself had become disappointed by its failure as an artistic experiment. It proved nevertheless to be an influential venture and became the model for a number of nightclubs of the 1920s. The Cave of the Golden Calf had certainly made a contribution to modernism in Britain. The club had served as the after-hours headquarters for what would become the vanguard movement of Vorticism. London’s first avant-garde movement was born in Frida Strindberg’s nightclub. After closure of her club, Frida left for the United States, where she secured a job with Fox Film.

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Nollendorfplatz is a square in the Schöneberg district, one of Berlin’s oldest gay neighbourhoods, colloquially called ‘Nolli’. It is dominated by the ornate Metropol Theatre which started life in 1906 as the Neue Schauspielhaus. The adjacent area in the south around Motzstrasse is the city’s most prominent pink village. Already the camp capital of Europe by the late 1920s, Berlin had at least 160 gay bars and clubs. Uncertainty of the future, at an era suspended between the hedonism of the waning Weimar era and the ominous shadow of Nazism, created a ‘so what’ atmosphere. Berlin was an extraordinary place in an extraordinary time.

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In Schöneberg, theatres, cabarets, and clubs catered to homosexuals, lesbians, transsexuals, and sadomasochists of Berlin’s liberated sub-culture. The Nazis attempted to eliminate all traces of that sub-culture, but today the district is once again a centre of gay life. A small memorial plaque near the south entrance of Nollendorfplatz U-Bahn station commemorates homosexual victims of the Nazi era.

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Photographs from the early twentieth century show Nollendorfplatz as a bustling urban square filled with people on parade. It was this kind of libertine atmosphere that enticed gay novelist Christopher Isherwood. On 29 November 1929 he had packed two suitcases and a rucksack and set off for Berlin on a one-way ticket, rejecting his upper-middle-class background and the social values to which his mother, widowed in the First World War, was desperately clinging.

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Isherwood had dramatized the family quarrel in his first novel, All the Conspirators, published in 1928. In Berlin he would work on a second novel, The Memorial, which further explored the gulf between the generations caused by the war. It was, however, the novels he wrote about Berlin, Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) and Goodbye to Berlin (1939), that made his reputation as one of the leading writers of his generation, providing an indelible tragic-comic portrait of a city teetering on the brink of catastrophe as Fascism gained in popular support.
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To Isherwood, ‘Berlin meant boys’. Boys he could find aplenty in bars such as the Eldorado, on the corner of Motzstrasse and Kalckreuthstrasse, haunt of a demi-monde that included Marlene Dietrich and chanteuse Claire Waldorff. The Kleist Casino, between Nollendorfplatz and Wittenbergplatz, just a stone’s throw away from Isherwood’s lodgings, was perhaps the oldest gay bar in Europe, and remained in operation until a decade ago. Isherwood was attracted to Berlin by the ready availability of homosexual partners, but he also communicated a strong sense that he was experiencing historical changes around him. In Berlin he observed ‘a brew’ of history in the making. This brew seethed with unemployment, hunger, prostitution, stock market panic, hatred of the Versailles Treaty and other potentially explosive ingredients. With his portrayal of Berlin between the late 1920s and early 1930s Isherwood has left us images that are still associated with this period. The Berlin novels look at history at street level, showing how ordinary people were affected. His eye for physical detail and human oddity means that his characters are never merely representative of their class or condition. Many of them live on in the memory.

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In the feckless cabaret singer Sally Bowles (on whose story the stage musical Cabaret was later based) Isherwood created one of literature’s lasting figures. Her character was based on Jean Ross, the young British actress whom Isherwood met in 1930, when he moved into a boarding house at no. 17 Nollendorfstrasse, owned by Fräulein Thurau. The apricot-coloured house still stands.

07Depictions of the city in the paintings of German Expressionists employ abstract formal elements such as distortions of perspective and unnatural colour in order to convey the artist’s emotional reaction to the city. The treatments of urban subjects project a sense of the speed, energy and vitality of the city, but also express fear of the effect of urbanization upon individual city dwellers.

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Depictions of the city in the paintings of German Expressionists employ abstract formal elements such as distortions of perspective and unnatural colour in order to convey the artist’s emotional reaction to the city. The treatments of urban subjects project a sense of the speed, energy and vitality of the city, but also express fear of the effect of urbanization upon individual city dwellers.

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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s 1912 oil painting ‘Nollendorfplatz’ shows a busy junction with converging trams. Its composition is filled with stark tensions. The painting features a crowd of people, but the lack of individuation of these small figures (many of them are nothing more than a single brush stroke) brings out the anonymity of urban living. Kirchner’s city-dweller has lost his identity. The urban area the figures inhabit causes a feeling of unease by its colouring and distorted perspective. The image suggests speed, motion, and congestion – but trams and people seem to be running in circles lacking any purpose or direction.

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Plaza Dorrego is a square in the heart of San Telmo, the oldest barrio (district) of the city. It is named after statesman and soldier Manuel Dorrego who, in the 1820s, twice acted as Governor of Buenos Aires. In the nineteenth century, it was the main residential area of the city and Plaza Dorrego was its focal point. Located at the intersection of Humberto Primero and Defensa streets, its surroundings are full of bars where musicians and dancers perform tango exhibitions. Both the 1997 drama film The Tango Lesson by British director Sally Potter, and the 2002 crime film Assassination Tango produced and directed by Robert Duvall (who also stars in the movie), were shot in the locality.

The sensual plasticity of the tango has inspired numerous contemporary painters. Brazilian-born Juarez Machado settled in Rio de Janeiro in 1966. In a number of paintings he has been able to grasp the grace and embrace of the dance. One of the strongest painted images is Mariano Otero’s ‘Tango de Passion’.


Born in Madrid but living in France, the tango is a recurring theme in his works. Apparently, he is unable to dance the tango himself, but he has captured its essence with an understanding touch. The intimacy of the dance is reflected in an idiomatic expression. It takes two to tango (at times used with negative connotations) suggests that certain activities cannot be performed alone, making love, fighting a duel, playing ping pong, or dance the tango. The 1952 song ‘Takes Two to Tango’ was written by Al Hoffman and Dick Manning. It has the following catching refrain:

Takes two to tango, two to tango
Two to really get the feeling of romance.
Lets do the tango, do the tango
Do the dance of love.


Two different versions, one by Pearl Bailey and the other by Louis Armstrong, made it a hit in that same year. In Australia, during the 1930s, the phrase was used to indicate premarital sex. Tango and eroticism are inextricably linked.

Tango is the manifestation of an immigrant culture. It is impossible to reconstruct its history, because there are no written sources. Its roots are multiple. Both tango music and dance have indirect African, Cuban, and Andalusian influences, added to regional music and popular lyrics. The word itself is of African origin, meaning drums or dance. The Argentine Tango developed between 1860 and 1890 in Buenos Aires. It emerged out of the immigrant culture of Argentina’s dockside slums, on the shores of the Riachuelo River, and in clubs and brothels of southern Buenos Aires. The social class in which it developed was a mixture of regional people and European immigrants made up by sailors, craftsmen and workers. They frequented the establishments to escape the daily pressures of life and loneliness and identified with lyrics that expressed the hardship of life. It was danced by pairs of men, sometimes by prostitutes and their companions. The steps are sexual and aggressive, the music permeated with longing and despair, as the dancers act out the ritualistic relationship of prostitute and pimp. Buenos Aires society considered tango to be a ‘reptile from the brothels’, an indecent entertainment associated with violence and illicit sex. Clubs where the tango was danced were raided and closed by police. But its progress was unstoppable. The first tango bands were trios, which included a flute, violin and guitar players.

Towards the end of 1890 the bandoneon (a German import) was added to the line-up, sometimes replacing the flute. However, it appears to be that bands changed constantly and they were formed by whoever showed up on the day of the performance. The first tangos lacked lyrics and the musicians improvized them on the spot. The words were more often than not vulgar or obscene. The tango was a song of the streets. Some time later it spread to the city and arrived at places like the Café Tarana, known as Café Hansen, and other more upmarket resorts. It was only then that women started to take part in the dance. In 1904, the legendary Casimiro Ain (son of a Basque immigrant) appeared at the Opera Theatre in Buenos Aires as a dancer of tango joined by his wife. The dance had gained some respectability at last – but it would take some time for the tango to lose its familiar associations with brawls and brothels.

French-born immigrant Carlos (Charles) Gardel is a prominent figure in the history of the tango. He was born in December 1890 out of wedlock. Berthe Gardès left Toulouse not long after in order to escape the social stigma of being an unmarried mother. She and baby arrived in Buenos Aires on 11 March 1893. Carlos grew up and spent most of his life in the Abasto area of the city where, outside the Abasto Market, a statue honours his career and legacy (the local underground station carries his name as well). During his lifetime he was known as ‘El Morocho del Abasto’ (the dark-haired guy from Abasto). Together with lyricist and long-time collaborator Alfredo Le Pera, Gardel wrote many classic tangos. His baritone voice and dramatic phrasing of lyrics made an enormous impact on his audience (on women in particular). With more than 800 records to his name he was the soul of tango and a cultural hero who made the dance Argentina’s national treasure. Gardel died in an airplane crash at the height of his career (and so did Le Pera). Millions of his fans went into mourning. The popularity of the tango hit Europe just before World War One. Its introduction into France, England and elsewhere sparked a controversy that had been at the heart of European musical appreciation throughout the ages.

Boethius’s De institutione musica was one of the first musical works to be printed in Venice in 1491/2. It was written toward the beginning of the sixth century and shaped music in Europe for several centuries. Boethius came to be viewed as a primary authority on Greek musical thought. In the first chapter of De musica, the author stresses that music can both establish and destroy morality. The ears are a direct path to the soul for the formation of a moral awareness. When rhythms and modes have penetrated the soul, they affect the psyche with their own character. For that reason, socio-cultural observers have treated music and dance with suspicion. An effective means for disrupting civilized society is through a music that inordinately stimulates the passions. The Christian Church has been a persistent critic of song and dance. Early penance books more often than not contain admonishments against such forms of entertainment. Associating dance with promiscuity, Protestant reformers viewed it with a mixture of fear and resentment. Shoes were made for walking, not dancing. Dance cannot be enjoyed without ‘evil communications’. Hence, music was the work of the devil, and its demoniac power had caught many – especially women – by means of a disturbing sensual power. The nineteenth century novel presents the reader with a procession of women who are seduced into adultery under the influence of music (Wagner’s music in particular). Many cultural critics paid tribute to Plato who had banished music from his commonwealth.

The history of dance is a confrontational one. With its introduction in Europe jazz was regularly identified with the ‘spirit of the times’. Jazz as an expression of the age formed the essence of many articles and essays during the 1920s. Precisely the same had happened in earlier days with the introduction of other styles of music and dance such as the waltz, polka, and tango. Music reflected the acceleration of life, the intensity of urban existence, the sexualization of society. Composers established the link between creative activity and the demands of modernity. In 1869, C. Apitius created a waltz (opus 37) which he called ‘Der Zeitgeist’. The catalogue of copyright entries for the year 1909 of the Library of Congress makes mention of the ‘Zeitgeist Walzer’ for piano solo by G. Marschal-Loepke. The growing passion for music and dance since the nineteenth century was symptomatic of a more general craving for excitement. Critics pointed to the danger of a culture that elevates the hearing of sound over the listening to sense. Linguists argued that the word ‘ball’ is a corruption of brawl: during the Renaissance the French court dance, the ‘branle’, was known in England as the brawl or brawle. Time and again, dance ignited social controversy. Puritans had related dance to the devil, later social observers were shocked by the wickedness of the waltz, the wildness of the polka, or the lustfulness of the Charleston. Dancing, it was feared, would break all sexual taboos. When in the summer of 1816, for the first time, the waltz was included at a ball given by the Price Regent, an editorial in The Times protested that this intoxicating import from the Continent was an ‘obscene display … confined to prostitutes and adulteresses’.

Traditionally there have been various links between music and literature. It is unusual (although not exceptional) that we can identify literary influences that have shaped the history of dance. The first recorded use of the word ‘walzen’ goes back to the second act of a comedy written by the Viennese author Johann Joseph Felix von Kurz entitled Bernardon auf der Gelseninsel (1750). However, the European passion for the waltz was ignited by the immense success of Goethe’s epistolary novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774). The novel was held responsible for popularizing the waltz and for bringing the fashion to France during the years preceding the Revolution. The hero and narrator of the novel dances a waltz and falls in love with Lotte, a young lady engaged to another man. The ecstasy of the dance and the pain of passionate but unfulfilled love is the cause of Werther’s sufferings. The theme of the novel gave rise to a wide debate on ‘Werther-walzer’ in which sensuality, moral corruption and mental health were the main issues of contention.

In 1913, a new fashion swept over Europe. It had all started in Buenos Aires, took America by storm, before arriving in Paris. Tangomania grabbed the Continent: 1913 was the Year of the Tango. One of the musicians responsible for the rage for this dance in Paris was Casimiro Ain. That year he had left Buenos Aires with three other musicians on board the steamship ‘Sierra Ventana’ and sailed to France. They travelled from Boulogne sur Mer to Paris and went straight to Monmartre. They entered the first cabaret club they came across and were invited to perform. They were lucky. The club was ‘La Princesse’ which would later become the famous ‘El Garròn’, run by Argentinian musician Manuel Pizarro and his brothers. The young went mad with enthusiasm; the critics red with outrage. The issue of the Mercure de France of 16 February 1914 called the tango ‘la danse des filles publiques’.

The Argentinian ambassador in Paris, Enrique Rodriguez Laretta, was furious: ‘In Buenos Aires tango is found only in whorehouse and filthy taverns. It is never danced in the respectables lounges, nor between civilized men and women for tango is crude to the ear of any Argentinian worthy of his nation’. King Ludwig of Bavaria forbade his officers to dance the tango, while the Duchess of Norfolk pronounced it to be contrary to English character and manners. The Vatican issued a circular warning the faithful that the tango was ‘offensive to the purity of every right-minded person’. Pope Pius X barred what he called ‘this barbarian dance’. He had his moral instincts in a twist. Shortly after the ban, war broke out. Europe was about to witness levels of barbarity it had never seen before.

The Spiegelgasse, a narrow street in the Old Town of Zurich, has been home to a number of fascinating figures – most of them immigrants. Switzerland is the last country one would associate with revolutionary thinking, but this street proves differently.

‘Die Revolution muss aufhören, und die Republik muss anfangen’ (The revolution must cease and the republic must begin), is a famous sentence taken from Georg Büchner’s 1835 political play Dantons Tod (act i, sc. i). Büchner, a young German doctor and dramatist with revolutionary sentiments who had made a spectacular appearance on the literary scene, is often viewed as a sort of proto-Marxist. His writings are filled with premonitions of class struggle. Late 1836, the author was appointed as a lecturer in anatomy at the University of Zurich. He settled at no. 12 Spiegelgasse where he spent his final months writing and teaching until, in 1837, he died of typhus aged just twenty-four. In 1916/17 the house next door (no. 14, second floor) was home to Vladimir Iljitsch Uljanow, better known as Lenin. The authorities were not particularly concerned about the Russian refugee and allowed him to read, write, and speak (in good German) unhindered. They did not consider him a threat.

In London, printers Francis Meynell and Stanley Morison established the Guild of the Pope’s Peace in 1916. Pius X had died in 1914 and was succeeded by Benedict XV. The latter was apalled by the war and condemned the continuation of the slaughter. The Guild was set up to print and distribute Benedict’s political appeals and his attempts to end the bloodshed. The world, including the Catholic world, did not listen. People preferred to lend their ear to the jingoïsm of Lloyd George Kitchener or the Kaiser. The situation was symptomatic for the rest of Europe. Sensitive minds tried to escape from the collective madness. Zurich was a gathering place for European refugees, a place where people came to find peace and stability. It was also a relatively permissive environment that enjoyed a history of allowing the expression of revolutionary ideas by Europe’s disillusioned intellectuals. Artists, activists, intellectuals, and other refugees swarmed to Zurich and met in bars and cafés, discussing the precarious future of Europe, and planning political or artistic revolutions. Romanian Jews escaping ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic tendencies, German and French citizens escaping conscription, they all gathered in neutral Switzerland. Pacifist poets such as Schickele, Leonhard Frank, and Franz Werfel lived in the city. Among the refugees were German poets Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings, Romanian poet Tristan Tzara and painter Marcel Janco, the Alsiatian painter Jean Arp.

Repelled by the utter madness with which the young were rushed to trenches of senseless slaughter, these artists had lost their faith in European bourgeois culture. The copying of external reality and the creation of a self-contained work of beauty no longer seemed to make sense to them. They were united by a conviction that the horrors around them were rooted in outdated morals and values. Throwing overboard all conventions and traditional sentimentalities, they sought an alternative unity of art and life. In order to do so, they aimed at establishing – in the words of Hugo Ball – a ‘playground of crazy emotions’. With that ambition in mind, Hugo Ball contacted Jan Ephraim, an elderly Dutch sailor and patron of the Holländische Meierei (Dutch dairy inn) who made a backroom available for a cabaret with singing, theatrics, music, visual art exhibitions, and all sorts of other performances that would disturb bourgeois feelings.

On 15 February 1916 Cabaret Voltaire opened its doors for the first time at no.1 Spiegelgasse. The press release – dated 2 February 1916 – which announced the opening of the nightclub is rather tame. It reads: ‘Cabaret Voltaire. Under this name a group of young artists and writers has formed with the object of becoming a centre for artistic entertainment. In principle, the Cabaret will be run by artists, permanent guests, who, following their daily reunions, will give musical or literary performances. Young Zurich artists, of all tendencies, are invited to join us with suggestions and proposals’. Ball took as his model the cabaret tradition of Paris and Berlin before the war. Voltaire, the philosopher who in his time was at war with the ‘spirit of the age’, was chosen as the godfather for the new movement. Refugee artists from all over Europe quickly besieged the new establishment.

Emmy Hennings, Hugo Ball’s partner, sang her own songs as well as many from the repertoires of cabaret legends such as Aristide Bruant, Erich Mühsam, and Frank Wedekind. A spirit of mockery soon took over. Each evening at the Cabaret included a succession of spectacles, dance, song, plays, a balalaika orchestra, etc. The French or Russian evenings were occasions for readings of poems by Max Jacob and Jules Laforgue, of extracts of Ubu Roi, as well as texts by Ivan Turgenev and Anton Chekhov. This was the age of manifestos – at times some twenty people read out declarations of various sorts simultaneously.

All visitors were welcome to take part in the performances which were presented to a noisy, mainly young audience. On 15 June 1916, with a print run of 500 copies, the only edition of the magazine Cabaret Voltaire appeared, edited both in French and German. In thirty-two pages, it included a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire, texts by Kandinsky, ‘Parole in libertà’ by Marinetti, the reproduction of a poster by Marcel Janco and a drawing by Arp (on the cover). Ball and Tzara took the opportunity to announce the future publication of a magazine entitled Dada. Thus the word Dada appeared here for the very first time in print.


The Cabaret closed in June 1916, but Dadaïsm was just beginning. The Dadaists rented a room for one night at a guildhall named Zunfthaus zur Waag where they held their celebrated 14 July Dada Soirée which officially launched the movement with Ball’s now famous manifesto. In French, he explained, dada means hobby horse. What the poet did not mention is the fact that the word dada appears in a bawdy French song performed on various occasions by Eça de Queiroz’s marvellous creation of the shameless concubine Genoveva in his novel A tragédia da rua das Flores (The Tragedy of the Street of Flowers; written between 1877 and 1878, but published many years after the author’s death). All three nouns here are synonyms, although dada in this context would be best translated as stud-horse or stallion:

Chaque femme a sa toquade,
Sa marotte et son dada.

In German dada means good-bye, be seeing you sometime. In Romanian: yes indeed, you are right. With that declaration Hugo Ball launched Dadaïsm. The legend goes that the name was adopted by randomly sticking a knife into a dictionary and finding under the blade the noun dada. That night, Tzara read aloud his own first manifesto, Richard Huelsenbeck performed a phonetic poem, there were absurdist literary readings, works of art on display, and general chaos. Every gesture and every move was calculated to shock the audience with the aim of destroying traditional understanding of art and aesthetics. Dada was anti-art, and these performances were meant to be hideous, like horrors of war.

That same year, Tristan Tzara’s La première aventure céleste de M. Antipyrine, with coloured wood-cuts by Marcel Janco, was published in the ‘Collection Dada’. By 1917 the excitement generated by the Cabaret Voltaire had fizzled out and artists moved on to other places in Zurich such as the Galerie Dada at no. 19 Bahnhofstrasse (an initiative by Tzara), then later to Paris and Berlin. Politically, many of the personalities involved, and Ball in particular, were admirers of Russian radical Mikhail Bakunin who, in 1843, had also spent time in Zurich. Bakunin’s anarchism, to Hugo Ball, was ‘Dada in political disguise’. But it was another Russian political thinker who, in physical terms at least, found himself much nearer to the Cabaret Voltaire.

When Lenin arrived in Switzerland in 1914, he informed the authorities that he was neither an army deserter nor a coward, but a political exile. He had little difficulty gaining entry to the country. With his wife Nadia Krupskaya, he settled in bourgeois Bern. Politically, he did not win over any friends or comrades. In February 1916 he was granted permission to move to Zurich where he had access to the central library. The couple rented a two-room flat at no. 14 Spiegelgasse. It was here that he finished his work Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (the study was influenced by John Hobson’s thinking on the subject) – in spite of bad smells. Nadia wrote in her memoirs that the yard was filled with the stink of a nearby sausage factory. Did Lenin visit the Cabaret? Hugo Ball does not mention Lenin amongst the people attending the performances, but Huelsenbeck claims to have encountered Lenin in Zurich (ironically, the local police were more suspicious of the Dadaïsts than of the revolutionary thinker). Marcel Janco circulated stories according to which the shows were attended by Lenin and by another famous inhabitant of the city, Carl Jung. Self-promotion has always been one of the stronger aspects of the movement. In his Lénine Dada (1989) French writer Dominique Noguez imagined Lenin as a member of the Dada group and suggests how the meeting of minds influenced and transformed his vision of society. Leninism is a product of Dada. Noguez based his book on this intriguing question: could Lenin have been Dada incarnate? In 1917, with the help of Swiss representatives of the political left, Lenin received permission to return to St Petersburg. In April of that year he left the Spiegelgasse for good. Six months later, following the October Revolution, the Bolsheviks seized control.

This then is the remarkable chain of events. In February 1916 Lenin and his wife settled at no. 14 Spiegelgasse. Cabaret Voltaire opened its doors at no. 1 Spiegelgasse on 15 February of that same year. In Tom Stoppard’s Travesties (1974) Lenin and Tzara stand opposed. The name of Spiegelgasse (the German ‘Spiegel’ means mirror) functions as structural and thematic base for the play which opposes two revolutionary characters, one who transformed the political, the other the artistic status quo. The mirror image postulates sameness and difference. One can look at this mirror image from a different angle. In one street, in the same month of the same year, two contrasting personifications of the idea of ‘avant-garde’, Tristan Tzara and Vladimir Lenin, stand shoulder to shoulder, staying virtually next door to one another, the one representing the artistic, the other the political interpretation of this controversial concept.

Henri de Saint-Simon was a leading social theorist in the post-Revolutionary period. In his vision of society, scientists play a dominant role. It was in this context that Saint-Simon introduced the notion of avant-garde. In a Mémoire sur la science de l’homme (1813), the author encourages contemporary scientists of rendering their services to the elevation of mankind, thus functioning as a ‘scientific avant-garde’. From the outset, Saint-Simon regarded the arts as a crucial part of his social system. Writers had to develop the poetic part of his new social system and influence public opinion. The anonymously published Opinions littéraires, philosophiques et industrielles (1825) concludes with a dialogue between an artist and a scientist in which the former pledges that ‘we, artists, will serve you as your avant-garde’. The political use of the military metaphor preceded the artistic one which can be traced back to the 1790s. The word was adopted in left-wing utopian ideology. In the progression from Saint-Simonian to French socialist thinking, avant-garde became solely related to the historic task of ‘working class parties’. A number of newspapers adopted the word in their title. Lenin applied the word avant-garde in his account of What Is to Be Done? (1902).

Napoleon exercised an enormous influence on the arts. Balzac was dazzled by Bonaparte and so was Charles Augustine Sainte-Beuve, the greatest French critic of his age. What makes Sainte-Beuve’s jargon intriguing is his intimate knowledge of military matters. In a letter to Hugo (5 May 1845), he compared the early Romantics to the officers of the ‘Corps of Engineers who are sent ahead to clear the way, to lay a road for the army following behind’. Sainte-Beuve, biographer of Napoleon’s strategist Antoine-Henri Jomini (published in 1869), was well-read into military textbooks. His 1854 Stendhal essay reads like a lecture on military tactics, describing the author as some hussar in the vanguard who gallops up to the enemy’s position, but who also, no sooner has he got back to his own lines, needles the other troops to speed up their advance. When the critic refers to Stendhal as a ‘cheveau-léger d’avant-garde’, he used the metaphor in a well-considered manner. The cultural meaning of the term avant-garde originates in Sainte-Beuve’s critical imagery.

In aesthetics, the military metaphor of avant-garde gradually came to overshadow earlier metaphors of poetic exploration or artistic gamesmanship. The shift from explorer or athlete to soldier underlines the changing conditions under which the artist committed himself to his task. The first metaphors are part of Classicist thinking, as much as the latter constitutes an integral aspect of modernist attitudes. Contemporary critics have interpreted avant-garde in terms of a breach between artist and public, as a ‘tradition’ of heterodoxy and resistance. During the 1970s historians tended to confuse the political with the artistic use of the term. Avant-garde in art was judged to be left-wing, disruptive and anarchic. In the final analysis, the avant-gardist, like the colonist or athlete, metaphorically represents the mobility of the creative mind. The metaphor of avant-garde has been fertile in a sense that both artists and political utopians found a way of integrating the term in their belief-systems. One root, different branches. Two apartments, same street.

 

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.

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‘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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Friedrichstrasse is a major business and shopping street in central Berlin, forming the core of the Friedrichstadt neighbourhood. It runs for three and a half kilometres through the heart of the city in north-southerly direction from the old Mitte to the Hallesches Tor in the Kreuzberg district. During the Cold War it was bisected by the Berlin Wall and formed the location of Checkpoint Charlie.

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Since the nineteenth century the area has been renowned for the dense conglomeration of theatres. The options run from classical works at the Berliner Ensemble, founded by Bertold Brecht, to political cabaret at the Distel Theatre, to costume spectaculars at the Friedrichstadtpalast. The most northern section of Friedrichstrasse was a lively bar and club district. Almost every second building housed some sort of entertainment venue, including numerous brothels. Paul Boldt’s poem ‘Friedrichstrassendirnen’ dates from 1913/4 and deals with the street walkers of the famous street:

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Sie liegen immer in den Nebengassen,
Wie Fischerschuten gleich und gleich getakelt,
Vom Blick befühlt und kennerisch bemakelt,
Indes sie sich wie Schwäne schwimmen lassen.

Im Strom der Menge, auf des Fisches Route.
Ein Glatzkopf äugt, ein Rotaug‘ spürt Tortur,
Da schiesst ein Grünling vor, hängt an der Schnur
Und schnellt an Deck einer bemalten Schute,
Gespannt von Wollust wie ein Projektil!

Die reissen sie aus ihm wie Eingeweide,
Gleich groben Küchenfrauen ohne viel
Von Sentiment. Dann rüsten sie schon wieder
Den neuen Fang. Sie schnallen sich in Seide
Und steigen ernst mit ihrem Lächeln nieder.

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Some have called Friedrichstrasse Berlin’s own Champs-Elysées. The street may lack the grandeur of the Parisian boulevard, but it makes up for it in its history, its sheer variety and vitality that made recovery possible after the disasters of war and subsequent Communist neglect. Friedrichstrasse stops at the Oranienburger Tor, a gateway to another nightlife district that came into its own after the Wall tumbled. The history of the Friedrichstrasse station dates back to 1878. It was built adjacent to the point where the street crosses the Spree River. In Mr Norris Changes Trains, novelist Christopher Isherwood has William Bradshaw eating ham and eggs with Arthur Norris at the first class restaurant of the station. The atmosphere inside the station was captured by Georg Grosz in his 1912 ‘Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse, Berlin’ (pen and ink on paper). The city was buzzing at the time.

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Politically, at the time, Germany was a unified nation. The economy was strong. By the beginning of World War I, industry was responsible for more than half of the nation’s gross national product and its industrial sector was the largest in Europe. The speed of change, the rapid modernization, industrialization and urbanization around the turn of the century, caused feelings of anxiety and alienation which were expressed in art and literature. The nature of this crisis feeling was not a war or catastrophe or economic depression, but the rapidity of change that took place within society. Such disquiet was not limited to the German artists. There was a mood of despair among intellectuals that infected popular opinion on much of the Continent at the beginning of the twentieth century. The machine has brought about change in habit and the circumstances of life at a rate for which we have no parallel, F.R. Leavis wrote in Mass Civilization and Minority Culture (1930). Change has been so catastrophic that the generations find it hard to adjust themselves to each other, and parents are helpless to deal with their children. One prominent target of this reaction to modernity was urbanization. A mood of anxiety and images of cities are frequently paired in Expressionist art. Street scenes combine a feeling of unease with a suggestion of energy. This ambivalence is characteristic of Expressionism in general. Paintings or poems however do not represent a polemic against the metropolis. Expressionist art work does not simply embody or reflect ideas, but it provides an emotional attitude towards ideas that effectively interiorizes them.

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For Kirchner, the street was an abstraction, a blur of buzzing anonymity. There are hints of architecture, but in general the streets are runways for prostitutes and their clients. In his painting ‘Friedrichstrasse’ the two women depicted pose with chilly hauteur whilst an ‘endless chain’ of mechanically moving men descend diagonally in their direction. These women are not the gross characters of George Grosz or Otto Dix. They are glamorous and aloof. Eroticism and fashion go hand in hand. Within his staccato style of painting, Kirchner details plumed hats, colourful scarves, fashionable jackets, transparent blouses, and slit skirts. In his work, women are – as it were – on display. In the midst of growing prosperity, Berlin had developed a passion for luxury. During the early decades of the twentieth century, art, fashion, consumerism, and the increasing sexualization of everyday life, were hotly debated. Moralists feared an excess of lust and luxury. The young had to be protected from immorality. Cultural critics called for legal action and increased censorship in order to combat an explosion of eroticism in art and advertising. The commercial aspect is intriguing. The focus of attention was on the ‘liberties’ taken by the display windows of the big stores in Berlin’s main streets – and on the appearance of mannequins in particular.

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In March 1913 a new fashion house named Kersten & Tuteur had opened its doors to the public in the Leipziger Strasse (near to the Potsdamer Platz). The house took particular pride in their display windows as a cultivation of luxury at its lyrical best. The erotic element was pushed to a new limit by showing mannequins dressed in corsets or revealing negligees that attracted a whole new form of voyeurism. Other shops quickly followed suit in order to share in the enormous curiosity these windows attracted. The more suggestive the ‘tableaux’ on display, the more clients would enter the store. Kirchner was fully aware of this new development in consumer behaviour. Many of his images seem to refer directly to the current debate on corset and corruption, on commercial display and depravity, on fashion and frivolity. It made his paintings more controversial (he had his fair share of difficulties with the censor) and topical.

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