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20th century

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Picture frame maker Abdon Ercolani was born Sant’Angelo in Vado (in the province of Urbino) in 1853/4. He moved to London around 1897 in search of work, and was joined by his family in 1898. He settled at no. 27 Claremont Road, Walthamstow. Given that his death has not been traced in Britain, it is possible that he retired to Italy, leaving his sons to continue the business as cabinet manufacturers until the eve of the Second World War.

His son Lucian Randolph Ercolani, furniture designer, was born in St Angelo, Tuscany, on 8 May 1888. Lucian Ercolani attended a Salvation Army school in East London. By 1906, he was working in the Salvation Army joinery department, producing staircases and handrails. In 1910, Frederick Parker employed him at his furniture workshops in High Wycombe (the ‘furniture capital’ of England). In 1920, he joined a local consortium there known as Furniture Industries. In the late 1940s, Ercolani developed a range of mass-produced which became a household name in post-war Britain (and which continues today). Lucian died in June 1976.

1897-1976

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Durex is the world’s best-selling condom brand. The history of the term may remain obscure but, over time, condoms have been given interesting euphemistic names such as Johnnies, French letters (purses, ticklers), English raincoats, and a range of slang words that fill page after page of the Urban Dictionary. Such exotic references obscure the fact that the first branded sheaths came from Germany. The initial promotion of condoms was a matter of the military. The German army was the first to encourage its use among soldiers, beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century. German manufacturers would become the main producers of condoms and exported their products to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the rest of Europe. World War I interrupted the trade, but even its continuation elsewhere had a German dimension. Julius Schmidt was born on 17 March 1865 in Schondorf and moved to New York in 1882, changing his name to Schmid. He founded Schmid Laboratories in New Jersey in 1883 and later became the main supplier of condoms to the European Allies. By the early 1920s, however, most of Europe’s condoms were once again made in Germany.

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Syphilis was the urban scourge of the late nineteenth century and yet a taboo subject. Ibsen’s treatment of the subject in his play Ghosts was judged to be shocking and indecent. It sparked an outcry of moral indignation. In London the play was performed by Jack Grein’s Independent Theatre at the Royalty Theatre, at no. 73 Dean Street, Soho, on 13 March 1891. More than 3,000 people applied for tickets, and the production became a cause célèbre. In the press it was considered to be repulsive, coarse, and vulgar (The Daily Telegraph referred to the play as an ‘open drain: a loathsome sore unbandaged; a dirty act done publicly’), but amongst the audience were literary figures such as George Moore, Oscar Wilde, John Gray, and artists such as Charles Shannon and Reginald Savage – all of them standing in the vanguard in the battle against oppressive Victorian values and hypocrisy. The pressures of war swept all secrecy and concealment aside.

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Family planning was one aspect of consideration in the debate about the use of condoms, but to the authorities the physical health of soldiers was a more urgent issue. During the First World War, venereal disease caused over 400,000 hospital admissions among British troops. Roughly five percent of all the men who enlisted in Britain’s armies became infected. In 1918, there were over 60,000 hospital admissions for VD in France and Flanders alone. By contrast, only some 74,000 cases of Trench Foot (caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp, unsanitary, and cold conditions) were treated by Franco-Flemish hospitals during the whole of the war. Venereal patients required on average a month of intensive hospital treatment which caused a huge drain on the army’s resources. It was not until 1905 that the causative organism was first identified which led to more effective forms of treatment. Until the advent of penicillin in 1943, ‘cures’ for syphilis were based on the use of heavy metals such as mercury or, as the saying goes, ‘a night in the arms of Venus leads to a lifetime on Mercury’. Safe sex and sexual wellbeing were burning issues at the time.

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Jewish Law has traditionally opposed the practice of birth control. The first mitzvah (commandment) in the Torah is to ‘be fertile and increase’. Condoms are unacceptable, because they block the passage of semen. That did not stop Jewish merchants from getting involved in the profitable rubber trade. Chemist Julius [Israel] Fromm, born on 4 March 1883, was an immigrant of Polish-Jewish descent into Germany. He invented the process for making condoms of liquefied rubber. Launched shortly after the First World War in Berlin, so-called ‘Fromms’ (synonym for condom) came to dominate the market. Mass production started in 1922; his invention of the condom vending machine followed later. Crown on the Condom Empire was his commission in 1930 of a flagship factory designed by avant-garde architects Arthur Korn and Siegfried Weitzman in the Berlin suburb of Köpenick – condoms in the style of Neue Sachlichkeit. In 1938, on the grounds that his supplies of rubber were needed for the war effort, Fromm was forced to sell his business at a fraction of its value to Baroness Elisabeth von Epenstein, Hermann Göring’s godmother. Fromm ended his productive life as a religious refugee in Hampstead Gardens Suburb where he died days after the collapse of the Reich.

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Hairdresser and tobacconist Siegmund Jacoby was born around 1835 in Berlin into a Jewish family. He married Henrietta [Jetta] Meyers and the couple moved to London at some time in the 1860s. His son Daniel followed him in the same profession. A year after the death of his father in September 1885, Daniel and four others were charged with violent robbery at the Euston Road business of the elderly Jewish diamond merchant Julius Tabak. He was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. He was released and, a reformed character, set out to build a career and start a family. The 1891 census shows him living at no. 95 High Street, St Pancras. His son Lionel Alfred Jacoby was born in 1894, and he too took up the same line of work. In 1915, having his name changed to Lionel Alfred Jackson, he founded the London Rubber Company, selling condoms and barber supplies that were imported from Germany and America. He operated the firm from his father’s hairdresser and tobacconist shop. By 1920, he had opened a shop at no. 3 Mincing Lane and a wholesale surgical rubber business at no. 183 Aldersgate Street. There is some irony in the name of the first location: it is a corruption of Mynchen Lane, so-called from the tenements held there by the Benedictine ‘mynchens’ (nuns) of the nearby St Helen’s Bishopsgate church.

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Why a barber/tobacconist? Condoms could be openly marketed as birth control devices in Britain, but there were social factors that inhibited sales. Condoms were available at local chemists that usually had female shop assistants. Many men were embarrassed by asking a young woman for a packet of condoms and bought them at the barber shop. They were generally requested with the euphemism ‘a little something for the weekend’. Boots, the largest pharmacy chain in Britain, stopped selling condoms altogether in the 1920s, a policy that was not reversed until the 1960s. Business was brisk, in spite of opposition to the product – and there were some prominent critics of condoms. Moralists rejected all methods of contraception. At the 1920 Lambeth Conference the Church of England condemned ‘unnatural means of conception avoidance’. The Bishop of London complained of pollution, because of the huge number of condoms discarded in alleyways and parks, especially after weekends and holidays. Feminists resisted all ‘male-controlled’ contraceptives. Freud disapproved of birth control methods on the grounds that failure rates were high and that their use diminished sexual pleasure. Concerned about falling birth rates after the First World War, the French government outlawed all contraceptives, including condoms. Contraception was also illegal in Spain and Ireland. European militaries nevertheless continued to provide condoms to their members for disease protection, even in countries where they were illegal for the general population.

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Jackson was greatly helped by the 1930 Church of England ruling that birth control could be used by married couples. London Rubber’s first latex condom for sale in Britain was an export from the American Youngs Rubber Company in 1929. By 1932, London Rubber had become Europe’s first manufacturer of such condoms using the latest liquid latex dipping technology. These were made at their factory in Shore Road, Hackney, and branded Durex. The name was formed from the first two letters of the words DUrability, REliability, and EXcellence. Lionel Jackson died in 1934 and his brother Elkan (born: Maurice Elkan Jacoby) became Managing Director of the company. In 1937 the London Rubber Company moved to Chingford. At this time the company had about fifty percent of the British condom market. With the outbreak of World War II, it became impossible to acquire condoms from Germany. London Rubber Company expanded at enormous pace to meet the high demand for Durex condoms that were issued by the government to British servicemen. In 1968, the company was the largest manufacturer of dipped rubber goods (balloons, rubber gloves, paint brushes, surgical footwear, toothbrushes, soaps, and other products) in the world, employing over 2,000 people. In 2007 its last remaining condom factory was closed and production moved to China, India and Thailand. From the East End to the Far East – Durex has stretched itself from one end of the globe to the other.

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Jeweller and watchmaker Mosheh Oved was born in 1885 in Russian Poland. He settled in London around 1902 where he became involved in the jewellery trade and founded his own shop, Cameo Corner (originally Good’s Cameo Corner). Cameo Corner was the principal centre for the sale of jewellery in London for the first half of the twentieth century. It was located first at no. 1 New Oxford Street and after the Second World War in Museum Street – always within easy reach of the British Museum.

 

1987-294Mosheh Oved (alias Edward Good) was a well-known figure in London’s Jewish community and a founder member of the Ben Uri Jewish Art Society. He designed and made his own jewellery and metalwork, and was also interested in sculpture; he was a friend of Jacob Epstein, whose work he collected. He wrote several books on aspects of his life and Jewry in Europe, and especially a series of memoirs, assembled in a single volume Visions and Jewels published first in Hebrew, then in an English translation (1952).

His wife Sah Oved was born Gwendolyn Ethel Rendle in 1900. She served her apprenticeship with the Arts and Crafts jeweller John Paul Cooper until 1923 and subsequently created some of the most original and striking jewellery designs before the Second World War. In 1961 a collection of her jewellery designs was shown in the First International Jewellery Exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Mosheh had died three years previously.

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Gauden Road (Clapham)
Chess player Vera Menchik was born on 16 February 1906 in Moscow. Her father was Bohemian and the manager of several estates owned by the nobility in Russia. His English wife Olga worked a governess. After the Revolution her father lost his livelihood.

The marriage broke down and in the autumn of 1921 Olga and her two daughters returned to Hastings to live with her mother. Vera joined the Hastings Chess Club in March 1923. In January 1926 she won the first Girls’ Open Championship at the Imperial Club in London with her younger sister Olga coming third. She won the first Women’s World Championship in 1927 and successfully defended her title six times in every other championship held during her lifetime (losing only one game). She was a member of the West London Chess Club.

In 1944 Vera still held the title of women’s world champion. On 27 June of that year Vera, Olga, and their mother were killed in a German bomb attack which destroyed their home at no. 47 Gauden Road, Clapham. The trophy for the winning team in the Women’s Chess Olympiad is now known as the Vera Menchik Cup.

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The twin approach to this blog is to track the development of the street- and cityscape through the history of Western painting and identify as many urban themes in art, literature, photography and film as can be managed within the structure of this undertaking. As is clear from the sequence of previous entries, the cosmopolitan nature of the metropolis provided a wide variety of images for artists. Themes of urban entertainment for example are rooted in French nineteenth century art. Circus, theatre, ballet, cabaret and café-concert became part of a rich patchwork of subjects ranging from Manet’s interest in the audience and spectators to Toulouse- Lautrec’s obsession with outcasts such prostitutes, clowns and bohemians. By the 1920s, Berlin had become the entertainment capital of the world and mass culture played an important role in distracting a society traumatized by war and humiliation. Artists depicted scenes of leisure, entertainment and city life at night. By portraying the city’s seedy underbelly, they broke down the wall between serious art and popular culture. Cityscape and urban entertainment are beautifully fused to be discussed in this wide-ranging overview.

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Broadway equals showbiz. The avenue runs through almost the entire length of Manhattan Island and continues northward through the Bronx. It is the oldest north-south thoroughfare in the city. Broadway was originally the Wickquasgeck Trail which, mapped out by Native Americans, snaked through swamps and rocks. Upon the arrival of the Dutch, the trail soon became the main road through the island from ‘Nieuw Amsterdam’ at its southern tip. The name Broadway is a literal translation of ‘Breede Weg’. Today, a stretch of Broadway is known worldwide as the heart of the theatre industry. The name of the avenue appears in an endless number of poems and songs.

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Born in the Dutch provincial town of Amersfoort in 1872, Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan grew up in a strict Protestant household. His father often neglected his family in favour of service to the church. His mother was sickly, and it fell to Mondrian’s elder sister to take charge of her four brothers. His miserable childhood and unstable life at home made the future artist introspective and bitter. Art became for Mondrian a way to escape day-to-day reality and immerse himself in the world of his imagination. Young Mondriaan (between 1905 and 1907 he changed the spelling of his name into Mondrian) painted traditional subjects in an increasingly non-representational style. In 1911, he attended a Georges Braque exhibition. The work of the Cubist painter impressed him greatly, as it paralleled much of what he had been experimenting with on his own. Fascinated by the artistic innovations being introduced in Paris, he decided to pay a visit to the French capital. However, arriving there in the winter of the same year, the artist made no attempt to contact any of the local modernists. Though he followed the development of their art and theory, he had no wish to enter their circles. Instead, Mondrian rented a small studio and went on with his experimentation in private. He was and remained an outsider. Socially, Mondrian tended to distance himself from other people and he enjoyed few lasting relationships. He did make one attempt to settle down. In 1914, he became engaged to Greet Heybroek and the two married soon afterwards. The relationship lasted only three years. Mondrian was not made for marriage.

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The Dutch review De Stijl was founded in 1917 by Theo van Doesburg, and the name has come to represent the common aims and utopian vision of a loose affiliation of Dutch and international artists and architects. Mondrian soon became one of the central figures of De Stijl. The idea underlying De Stijl’s utopian program was the creation of a universal aesthetic language based in part on a rejection of the decorative excesses of Art Nouveau in favour of a style that emphasized construction and function, one that would be appropriate for every aspect of modern life. It was posited on the fundamental principle of the geometry of the straight line, the square, and the rectangle, combined with a strong asymmetricality; the predominant use of pure primary colours with black and white; and the relationship between positive and negative elements in an arrangement of non-objective forms and lines. Mondrian adopted a totally abstract motif, employing an irregular checkerboard drawn with black lines, and with the spaces paints mostly white or sometimes in the primary colours of blue, red and yellow. Between 1917 and 1944 he created some 250 abstract paintings. He named his style ‘neo-plasticism’ (from the Dutch ‘nieuwe beelding’ meaning new image). In 1938, as the political situation in Europe began to grow tense, Mondrian abandoned the Continent for London where he stayed with the British artists Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. In 1940, with France fallen to Nazi Germany, and England suffering daily air raids, the artist took a ship to New York, despite the risk of U-boats.

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Mondrian settled in New York where he spent the last four years of his life. He held a number of exhibitions together with other European abstract artists who had escaped the war and the brutal Nazi regime that viewed modern art as an aberration. The metropolis, its size, scale and exuberance, fascinated him and inspired his ‘New York, New York’ (1941/2). His subsequent creation ‘New York City I’ (1942) can be read as an elegant abstraction of the Manhattan gridiron whereby streets are represented in primary colours (red, blue, yellow) and blocks in white. Another interpretation of this painting is an abstracted ‘snapshot’ of built form in Manhattan, whereby primary colours represent vertical construction elements (post, beams and/or floors) and white represents the space or window framed within these load-bearing elements. In his final painting ‘Broadway Boogie Woogie’ (1943) the checkerboard lines, previously black, are now painted blue, gray, red and yellow (inspired by New York’s Yellow cabs).

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The craze for boogie-woogie (the etymology of the term is unclear) in New York had reached fever point in those years. In 1938 and 1939 producer John Hammond promoted the ‘From Spirituals to Swing’ concerts at Carnegie Hall. The success of these events inspired many swing bands (Tom Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Will Bradley) to incorporate the boogie-woogie beat into some of their music. The Andrew Sisters sang boogies. The floodgates had opened. Every big band included boogie numbers in their repertoire, as the dancers were learning to jitterbug (derived from the slang term ‘jitters’ or delirium tremens – an American critic of the exploding jazz scene had made the observation that ‘just when they made delirium tremens unconstitutional, jazz came along and gave us dancing tremens’) and do the Harlem inspired Lindy Hop.

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Critics consider ‘Broadway Boogie Woogie’ to be Mondrian’s masterpiece, and a culmination of his aesthetic. Compared to his earlier work, the canvas is divided into a much larger number of squares. The painting was inspired by the city grid of Manhattan, and the jazz music to which the artist loved to dance. New York painter and printmaker Robert Motherwell grasped the essence of this remarkable painting and its significance in the history of the cityscape: ‘The Modern City! Precise, rectangular, squared, whether seen from above, below, or on the side; bright lights and sterilized life; Broadway, whites and blacks; and boogie-woogie; the underground music of the at once resigned and rebellious’.

Mondrian was a man of complex contrasts. Artistically he was a precise technician and the creator of austere pictures, in life he was a chaotic dreamer and a withdrawn romantic. He was a lucid intellectual who, at the same time, was attracted to the mysticism of Mme Blavatsky, Annie Besant and Rudolf Steiner. He joined the Theosophical Society in 1909. In Art and Act Peter Gay locates Mondrian’s creative impulse not in some rational aesthetic concept of pictorial form, but in the artist’s flight from sentiment and sensuality, in his dread of desire. For Mondrian – as was the case for Albert Einstein – creativity was partly motivated by a desire to escape from day to day reality in order to find a harmony and balance that he could not find in private life. Withdrawn, anxious, and fastidious to the point of obsession, Piet Mondrian painted cool geometric abstractions for intensely personal reasons. No sentiment, no curves, no touching – that is how he lived and that is what his abstract paintings proclaim. Beauty was wrested from anxiety. That gives such significance to the title and execution of Mondrian’s last painting which contrasts the square severity of Broadway with the nerve and restlessness of jazz as an expression of modern life.

 

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Mondrian’s boogie woogie supplies a rhythmic finale to this festival of street art. This does not mean that Mondrian stands at the end of a tradition or that the possibilities of further developing this genre have been exhausted. It certainly is a fact that during the twentieth century attention was largely focused on abstract and conceptual art. The interest in cityscapes declined as a result of that development. The revival of figurative art at the end of the century however heralded a revaluation of the urban landscape. Gerhard Richter’s townscapes – and those of Milan in particular – have been influential. An important contribution to the genre was made by photo-realist painters. An already classic example is the view of Madrid’s ‘Gran Via’ which Spanish artist Antonio López painted from life during innumerable sessions across a seven years period (1974/81). Since his arrival in 1980, Martin Kostler has produced some fine cityscapes of Washington DC. Richard Estes is based in New York. His 2010 painting ‘Broadway Bus Stop’ has given the genre a new impetus. Over the years, Leon Kossoff has produced a number of splendid London landscapes. Some of the most intriguing post-war cityscapes have been created by Frank Auerbach. As a youngster he was sent to England from his home city, Berlin, shortly before his eighth birthday and the outbreak of war. Both his Jewish parents were killed in the concentration camps and Auerbach made London his new home where from 1947 to 1952 he was an art student. The capital at the time was badly scarred by war wounds. The Blitz had levelled whole areas of the metropolis and left numerous buildings severely damaged. During the post-war years large numbers of workmen were involved in clearing the debris and excavating new foundations. Once again, London was in the process of transforming itself. For Auerbach, this changing urban landscape made the most compelling of contemporary subjects. He remembered London after the war as a ‘marvellous landscape with precipice and mountains and crags, full of drama’.

(c) Frank Auerbach; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

His uncompromising painting ‘Building Site, Earls Court Road: Winter’ is one of an extraordinary group of paintings of post-war London building sites. This series of fourteen works was created in the decade between 1952 and 1962 and are among the most profound responses made by any artist to the post-war urban landscape. The painful irony is that the Blitz – like the Great Fire had done previously – offered London the opportunity for renewed ‘planning’. It either had damaged poor districts and shabby property in need of redevelopment, or opened up hidden architectural treasures that once again could be made visible. Bomb damage was the spur to reconstruction. London’s post-war revival is not only proof of the urban resilience in overcoming disaster, but also of the creative potential to harness and maintain its distinctive character.

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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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