SCHWITTERS AND JARRY AT THE GABERBOCCHUS PRESS | Randolph Avenue (Maida Vale)

Franciszka Weinles was born on 28 June 1907 in Warsaw, the daughter of the Jewish artist Jakub Weinles. She graduated from the Academy of Fine Art in Warsaw in 1931. Stefan Themerson was born on 25 January 1910 in Plock, Poland (then part of the Russian Empire). His Jewish father was a physician and social reformer. Stefan studied physics and then architecture at Warsaw University, but his real early interest was photography and film making. The two met in 1929 and were married two years later.

Living in Warsaw until 1935, Stefan wrote children book that were illustrated by Franciszka. Together they produced a number of short experimental films. In the winter of 1937/8 the couple moved to Paris joining an international circle of artists and writers. Stefan wrote for various Polish publications in Paris; Franciszka illustrated children’s books for Flammarion. 

With the declaration of war in 1939, both enlisted. Stefan joined the Polish army; Franciszka was seconded as a cartographer to the Polish Government in Exile, first in France and from 1940 in London. With the German invasion and the Allied collapse, Stefan found himself desperately trying to escape from France. Towards the end of 1942 he succeeded to make his way to Lisbon and was transported to Britain by the RAF. 

Having been reunited with his wife, he joined the film unit of the Polish Ministry of Information and Documentation. There he and Franciszka produced Calling Mr Smith, an account of Nazi atrocities in Poland. In 1944 the Themersons moved to the West London district of Maida Vale, where they would stay for the rest of their lives. At the time of their naturalisation on 13 April 1954, the couple lived at no. 49 Randolph Avenue. 

Stefan and Franciszka established the Gaberbocchus Press in 1948. The choice of name was inspired by the Latinised version of Lewis Carroll’s inventive nonsense poem ‘Jabberwocky’ that was included in his 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass.

With Franciszka as artistic director and Stefan as editor, the Press was active until 1979 and published fifty-nine titles. In the typical private press tradition, work began from home by printing their first books on a hand-press using hand-made paper. As the press developed the titles were professionally printed. They kept an office in Formosa Street where, from 1957 to 1959, they also ran the Gaberbocchus Common Room which was a meeting place for artists, scientists, and members of the public to exchange ideas and enjoy readings, music performances, and film screenings. 

A characteristic of all the Press’s publications was the intimate relationship between image and text as an expression of content. The output included works by Apollinaire, Jankel Adler, and Bertrand Russell’s The Good Citizen’s Alphabet. Gaberbocchus also introduced Kurt Schwitters to an English audience. 

Born in June 1887 in Hanover and educated at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Dresden, Schwitters was conscripted into the army between March and June 1917, but was declared unfit for active service. The senseless slaughter of war had shaken his faith in the cultural norms of his generation. He became a prominent figure within the Dada movement, but his status was undermined with the rise of Hitler. 

In 1937, four of his works were included in the notorious Entartete Kunst (‘Degenerate art’) exhibition. Thirteen other works were removed from German museums. Forced to leave Germany he settled at Lysaker, near Oslo. When German forces attacked Norway he fled to Britain, arriving in Edinburgh in 1940. 

Kurt’s Dadaist reputation meant nothing in England. Singled out as an enemy alien, he was interned at Douglas on the Isle of Man. Behind barbed wire, Hutchinson Internment Camp held so many academics and artists that it functioned as a kind of university-in-exile. Kurt Schwitters performed his poems there and painted portraits. 

After obtaining his freedom he returned to London and moved into an attic flat at no. 3 St Stephen Crescent, Paddington. He exhibited in several galleries, but with little success. At his first solo exhibition at the Modern Art Gallery in December 1944, forty works were displayed but only one was sold. An outsider, he remained virtually unknown as an artist. In 1944, he met Edith ‘Wanty’ Thomas. In 1945 they moved to Ambleside in the Lake District. On 7 January 1948 Schwitters received news that he had been granted British citizenship. He died the day after.

Themerson first met Schwitters in 1943 at a London meeting of the PEN Club. Kindred spirits, they became friends. In 1958, the Gaberbocchus Press published Schwitters in England: 1940-1948, the first presentation of the author’s prose and poems in English. In his introduction Stefan praises Kurt’s art of collage as a conscious attempt to ‘make havoc’ of cultural conventions. The presentation of the book was a fitting tribute. Its unorthodox design with multi-coloured papers and striking cover reflects a rejection of established procedures that Schwitters would have appreciated.

Averse of the vulgar commerciality of publishing, a key objective of the Press was to produce ‘best lookers rather than best sellers’. A refusal to conform is best illustrated by the 1951 publication of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi.

Hallmarks of the playwright’s style are absurdity and irreverence, characteristics that inspired the Themerson edition. Printed on yellow paper, Barbara Wright produced her translation by hand on lithographic plates to which Franciszka added the witty drawings that capture the spirit of the play. For its presentation and design, it became the most acclaimed book of the Gaberbocchus Press.

In 1952, Franciszka created masks for a reading of the play at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London; she also designed life-size puppets for s stage performance by the Stockholm’s Marionetteatern in 1964, and finally drew ninety episodes of a comic-strip version of Ubu in 1969. 

At Themerson’s invitation, the Gaberbocchus Press was taken over by De Harmonie publishers in Amsterdam in 1979. Two years later, Stefan delivered the annual Huizinga Lecture at Leiden University and it was through this strong Dutch connection that some of his novels gained recognition in the English-reading world. In 1985, De Bezige Bij in Amsterdam published a translation of an English manuscript which they titled Euclides was een ezel (‘Euclid was an ass’). It motivated Faber & Faber to publish an English version in 1986, now called The Mystery of the Sardine.

Franciszka died in London in June 1988. Stefan passed away in September that same year. Together, they had spent more than four creative decades in exile, underscoring Stefan’s credo that writers carry their culture with them wherever the city of refuge may be. Having to resist threats of patriotic fervour and nationalism, exile – be it externally or self-imposed – is the artist’s natural condition.      

Jaap Harskamp, PhD at Amsterdam University (Comparative Literature), Researcher at European University Institute (Florence), Curator Dutch & Flemish Collections at British Library (retired), Researcher at Cambridge UL. His work has been published by the Wellcome Institute, British Library, and Brill. He writes a weekly blog for the New York Almanack at

www.newyorkalmanack.com/author/jharskamp/

A Belgian at the Bodley

The Victorian establishment preached that art and literature fulfilled crucial ethical roles in society. If a creator dared to stray from the moral code, he was taken to court to be punished for his audacity – and so was his publisher. Critics of Émile Zola despised his ‘lavatorial’ literature and he felt the full power of repugnance when his novels were rendered into English. In 1888/9 publisher Henry Vizetelly of Catherine Street, Strand, was twice convictedof indecency for issuing two-shilling translations. The issue of ‘Corrupt Literature’ was discussed in the House of Commons in May 1888. Zola was rejected as an ‘apostle of the gutter’. To politicians and press barons, the moral health of the nation was at stake. The establishment was shocked when authors and artists of the Aesthetic Movement challenged the status quo by celebrating artistic, sexual, and socio-political experimentation. Having separated art from morality, they demanded an art for its own sake, that is: the disinterested pursuit of beauty. 

Our textbook narrative runs as follows: by the 1890s the term decadence had become fashionable and was used in connection with aestheticism. It originated from Paris and was used to describe the poetry of Baudelaire or Gautier with connotations of refinement, artificiality, ennui, and decline. Decadence was the complex literature of a society that had grown over-luxurious. From France, the movement spread to England thanks to the intervention of figures such as Walter Pater, Arthur Symons, and Oscar Wilde. For a literary movement driven forward by foreign inspiration, however, a number of conditions have to come together. First and foremost, there is a simultaneous emergence (a ‘generation’) of talented representatives; then there is the essential support of a publisher prepared to take risks; and finally, there is the need for publicity (a ‘succès á scandale’ if possible). For such a movement to find wider acceptance and lasting significance in a hostile environment, the presence of a foreign ‘ambassador’ is of particular value. All these elements came together at a property in Vigo Street, Mayfair. Running between Regent Street and the junction of Burlington Gardens and Savile Row, this street was named after the Anglo-Dutch naval victory over the French and Spanish in the 1702 Battle of Vigo Bay during the War of the Spanish Succession. 

In 1887 Exeter bookseller Elkin Mathews and Devon-born John Lane formed a partnership in London to trade in antiquarian and second hand books. They established themselves at no. 6B Vigo Street, Mayfair. Over the shop door was a sign depicting Rembrandt’s head, which had been the insignia of the previous business on the site. Its new owners decided to replace the sign with that of Thomas Bodley, the Exeter-born founder of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and call their business The Bodley Head. Initially, Lane was the silent partner, but by 1892 he became actively involved in the running of the firm. From dealing in antiquarian books the partners changed direction and began to publish contemporary ‘decadent’ poetry. The Bodley Head became a sign of modernism. Nowadays, the house is associated with Ernest Dowson and The Book of the Rhymers’ Club (1892), with Aubrey Beardsley and the cover design of Oscar Wilde’s Poems (1892), and in particular with publication of the stunning Yellow Book series (1894/7; edited by Beardsley and Henry Harland). A contributor to the periodical was George Egerton (real name: Mary Chavelia Dunne). Her Keynotes (1893) caused a sensation by tackling controversial themes including sexual freedom, alcoholism, and suicide. In the public mind, whipped up by the popular press, Vigo Street smelled of immorality. When details about Oscar Wilde’s trial became widely known in April 1895, the premises of The Bodley Head were attacked by a stone-throwing mob.

Disagreements about the running of the firm led to the partnership to be dissolved in September 1894. Lane took the sign of The Bodley Head and moved to new premises in the Albany, Piccadilly. Mathews remained in Vigo Street and published the first editions of a number of important literary works, including Yeats’s The Wind among the Reeds in 1899, and James Joyce’s Chamber Music in 1907. Lane now concentrated mainly on publishing fiction. When he died in February 1925, control of the company passed to Allen Lane, a distant cousin who had learned the book trade from his uncle. He would become the founder and creator of Penguin Books. John Lane’s ‘ambassador’ was a man whose aesthetic outlook and artistic practice were formed by avant garde movements in Antwerp, Brussels, and Paris. The Bodley Head helped push the career of a Belgian poet and illustrator and, in doing so, integrate Continental modernism into mainstream British art and literature. 

Jean de Bosschère was born on 5 July 1878 in Ukkel (Uccle) in the Brussels region. He spent his childhood in Lier and studied art in Antwerp during the late 1890s when the city’s cultural scene was dominated by Art Nouveau. He began writing essays and monographs on (Flemish) art. He published his first collection of poetry Béâle-Gryne in 1909 to which he added his own illustrations in the style of Aubrey Beardsley. He also drew inspiration from Paul Claudel’s spiritual (Catholic) writing and the (French) symbolist poetry of his friend Max Elskamp. The theme of his first ‘poem-novel’ Dolorine et les ombres (1911) is the opposition between life and dream, between divine and profane love. Its content provoked an accusation of Satanism. The book was printed by Paul Buschmann (the ‘house printer’ of the Antwerp Society of Bibliophiles) in a limited edition of 250 copies. His approach was inspired by William Morris’s Kelmscott Press in its ambition to create a perfect harmony between page, typography, and illustration. The Antwerp-based artist René Leclercq provided the novel with a portrait of the author. The impeccable presentation of this novel, aimed at a limited audience, set a precedent for all his later publications.

When World War I broke out, De Bosschère fled to London and settled in Hampstead. John Lane recognised his talent as a poet-illustrator and appreciated the hothouse temperature and erotic sophistication of his creative endeavour. In 1917 The Bodley Head published a collection of his poems under the title of The Closed Door. The translator of these poems was a significant figure. Frank Stuart [F.S.] Flint was a prominent member of the Imagist group. A poet and translator with a sound knowledge of French modernist literature, he ‘competed’ with Ezra Pound for being the brains behind the Imagist movement. The collection made an impact and the poet was admitted to the London elite of modernists. He influenced T.S. Eliot and befriended Pound, Joyce, Huxley, and others. In 1922, tribute was paid to his work by the American translator and Romanist Samuel Putnam in The World of Jean de Bosschère, published in an edition of 100 luxurious copies (with a letter of introduction by Paul Valéry). It cemented his place in the English-speaking world. 

A period of intense activity would follow. He illustrated classic works by Aristophanes, Ovid, Strato, and Apuleius, but he was very much involved with contemporary literature too. In 1927, he illustrated the Boni & Liveright edition (New York) of The Poems of Oscar Wilde. In 1928 he produced the plates for Baudelaire’s Little Poems in Prose, translated by Aleister Crowley, and published in a limited edition of 800 copies. Two years later, he enriched Richard Aldington’s translation (from the French) of Boccaccio’s Decameron with fifteen full-page colour plates. His distinctive, often grotesque style of fantasy illustration (with reminders of Jeroen Bosch) fitted children’s books as well. He authored and illustrated The City Curious (published by Heinemann in 1920), a masterpiece that rivals the achievements of Lewis Carroll. The choice of material indicates that his work was marked by a fascination with the erotic, the obscure, the child-like, and the occult. The pioneering technique of chromolithography as a method of colour printing which was developed in Paris by Godefroy Engelmann and refined by his son Godefroy II during the latter decades of the nineteenth century, did lend itself very well for his work and he applied the technique with great skill. It made him was one of the great colour-plate artists of the early twentieth century.

Apart from The Closed Door, John Lane published four more of books in which Jean de Bosschère participated:

1922: 550 copies of De Bosschère’s Job le Pauvre with fourteen illustrations by the author; frontispiece by Wyndham Lewis; text in French & English.

1923: 3,000 copies of The Golden Asse of Lucius Apuleius; translated by William Adlington; introduction by Edward Bolland Osborn; illustrated by De Bosschère. 

1924: 3,000 copies of Gustave Flaubert’s The First Temptation of Saint Anthony; translated by René Francis from the 1849/56 manuscripts; illustrated by De Bosschère.

1925: 3,000 copies ofThe Love Books of Ovid; a translation of Ars Amatoria by J. Lewis May; illustrated by De Bosschère.

The author and illustrator himself was back in continental Europe by then. His love affair with the translator Vera Anne Hamilton had blossomed in 1920, but she died two years later. He left London towards the end of 1922, spending the remaining years of his life in Paris, Brussels, and Sienna, where he worked on his novels and poetry collections. He remained a prolific artist, but his days of glory were gone. With the darkening socio-political atmosphere of the 1930s, modernist artists came under attack. The general movement was away from individual vision towards joined values. Contemporary society was attacked for the disintegration of principles and decline of moral authority. The brutality of Nazism, the fury of Fascism, and the emergence of Bolshevik realism, dealt a mortal blow to modernist exploration. De Bosschère’s work sunk into relative obscurity. He died in January 1953 in France. From 1946 onwards, he kept a diary titled Journal d’un rebelle solitaire (as yet unpublished). Jean de Bosschère’s work deserves a catalogue raisonné – urgently.

Art, Smoke and Bubbles 

In 1807 Andrew Pears started a small factory just of Oxford Street producing transparent soap. It proved a huge success in an age that became aware of the social value of hygiene. Pears Soap became a household name not in the last because of the firm’s brand marketing strategy introduced by the inspirational figure of Thomas J. Barratt, the ‘father of modern advertising’ (and son-in-law of the company’s founder). 

It all started with the commissioning of sculptor Giovanni Focardi. Born in Florence around 1843 and having studied under Enrico Pazzi, he moved to London in 1875 where he spent most of his working years at no. 10 Auriol Road, Baron’s Court. For the Pears Company he produced his most famous creation, a group of mother and child titled You Dirty Boy.

This statue of a ragged young boy having his ears washed was exhibited at the Paris Exhibition Universelle in 1878 where it was greatly appreciated. It was also part of Pears’s soap stand at London’s International Health Exhibition in 1884 under the patronage of Queen Victoria.

Pears had purchased the copyright to produce copies of the statue as advertisements for their products. They were made for shop counter displays in terracotta, plaster, or metal, and sold worldwide. Pears became famous for other advertising drives involving artists. Its campaign using John Everett Millais’s painting Bubbles (1886) continued over many decades. Art entered the domain of commerce.

Through the late 1800s Spitalfields, Whitechapel, and Bethnal Green were home to the tobacco industry. Production was driven by immigrants. The decline of the Dutch economy had prompted many skilled Amsterdam Jews to settle in London. Jewish immigrants from Germany were also involved in the industry. Samuel Gluckstein was born on 4 January 1821 in Rheinberg. He moved to London in 1841, starting his own business in Crown Street, Soho, in 1855. His two sons Isidore and Montague joined the firm. His daughter Helena married Barnett Salmon, also a tobacco salesman. The Salmon & Gluckstein firm was established in 1873.

By the turn of the century it was the world’s largest retail tobacconist (taken over by Imperial Tobacco in 1902). In 1887 Montague Gluckstein put forward the idea of providing catering services for large exhibitions that had become fashionable. Family members gave their consent on condition that their name would not be used in such a ‘vulgar’ enterprise. 

Montague employed Joseph Lyons, a water-colour artist, who had experience in dealing with exhibition authorities. In 1894 the company started a teashop in Piccadilly. Within a couple of decades a chain of so-called Lyons’ Corner Houses was established, including a number of huge restaurants on four or five levels. Each floor had its own eatery and all had orchestras playing to its diners. Corner Houses were treasures of Art Deco. This style of building in Britain was introduced by Oliver Percy Bernard. Having acted as technical director of the British Pavilion at the influential 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (from which Art Deco took its name), he operated as consultant for Lyons and designed the interior for their iconic Oxford Street and Coventry Street establishments. In 1929, he conceived an Art Deco entrance to the illustrious Strand Palace Hotel. Dresden-born refugee Hans Arnold Rothholz who had been trained in the Bauhaus tradition, also worked on behalf of the company and created a mural for the Lyons Corner House restaurant at Marble Arch.

There is an even more immediate link between tobacco and Art Deco. Bernhard Baron was born on 5 December 1850 in the Russian town of Brest Litovsk into a Jewish family of French descent. In 1867 Baron moved to New York where he manufactured handmade cigarettes. He later moved his business to Baltimore. In 1872 Baron took out his first patent for a cigarette making machine. In 1895 he visited London to sell the patent rights of his invention. Attracted by business opportunities, he decided to settle at St James’ Place, Aldgate, where he established the Baron Cigarette Machine Company. In 1903 he joined the board of Carreras Limited, becoming its managing director and chairman. He held both positions until his death in August 1929. Carreras’s cigarettes, notably their Black Cat brand, proved popular. 

Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun made a huge impact on art and architecture. The 1925 Paris Exhibition extended the vogue. Egypt-o-mania was in full swing. The country was also a major cigarette manufacturer. After British (BTE) troops were stationed in Egypt in 1882, soldiers developed a liking for local tobacco. Soon this ‘sophisticated’ smoke was in demand throughout the country. Tobacco companies adopted Egyptian motifs in their advertising to cash in on this all-gender fashion. Kate Chopin presented an image of the new ‘progressive’ woman in her story ‘An Egyptian Cigarette’, published in Vogue Magazine in April 1902. During the First World War smoking increased sharply and the Carreras Company came to the fore in supplying cigarettes to the armed forces. In 1920 the business moved to new premises, the Arcadia Works at City Road, Moorgate. Six years later, architects Collins & Porri were commissioned to design a new factory to be built on Mornington Crescent’s communal garden. The white building’s ornamentation included a solar disc to the Sun-god Ra, two effigies of black cats flanking the entrance, and colourful painted details. The plant was opened in style in 1928. The pavements were covered with ‘desert’ sand; there was a procession of cast members from a production of Verdi’s Aida; a performance was given by actors in Egyptian costume; and a chariot race was held on Hampstead Road. The Carreras factory is one of London’s finest surviving Art Deco designs.

The success of the Lyons and Carrera companies points at growing ties between business and design. Romantic thinkers feared the corrupting impact of commerce on the creative impulse. During the last decades of the nineteenth century this perspective changed, at least within the visual arts (Symbolist poets stubbornly defended their art against all intrusions from the ‘market’). Department stores and restaurants redefined the bond between commerce and aesthetics. Eye-catching design boosted sales. Increased profitability provided commissions to aspiring artists. The age of graphic art and advertising was born. With it, the artist modified the interpretation of his position in society. Much of the Romantic humbug of his ‘leading’ role was dumped. Simplification became the new catchword. An idealistic aspect (especially amongst the pupils of Bauhaus) remained a feature of socially engaged design, but even Utopia acquired a more human dimension. During man’s brief spell on earth, architecture and design could make his journey physically more pleasant and aesthetically more pleasing. Style became equated with wellbeing.

Highgate Road (Kentish Town)

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Boost, Baste and Lambast (How to Poach a Periodical)
On 27 January 1990 a ninety-three year old man named Alfred John Barret died in the cathedral city of Wells in Somerset. He was cremated and his ashes scattered. Having moved from London in 1952/3, he had lived in Wells for some four decades with his Scottish wife, leading an unassuming life in a modest red brick housing estate. His death went unnoticed.

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Alfred Perlès was born in 1897 in Vienna. His father was an affluent Czech Jew; his mother French and Catholic; his education Austro-German in the tradition of Goethe, Hölderin, and Mozart. As a young man he had the ambition of becoming a writer and, according to his own memoirs, he had sold a German-language film synopsis shortly before the outbreak of war – his only pre-war publication. Apparently there were several novels (or fragments thereof) written in German, but these were never published. During World War I he served as a junior officer in the Austrian army. Having been sent into action in Romania, he was court-martialled for a serious dereliction of duty and spent the remaining years of the war in an asylum. After the war he left Vienna never to return. The first phase of his life had ended in disgrace.

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Carrying a Czech passport and very little money, he roamed through the streets of Berlin, Copenhagen and Amsterdam, before arriving in Paris around 1920. When his affluent parents realised that their son had falsely told them that he was studying medicine at the Sorbonne, they stopped sending him money. Battling extreme poverty, he held a variety of odd jobs and survived in the margin of society, acquiring a ‘wolf nature’ (his own term) with a street instinct for securing shelter and food. He lived the life of the wandering artist: exiled, rootless, and assuming numerous identities (his aliases were Alf and Joey and Joe and Fredl; he was the infamous Carl of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Quiet Days in Clichy). Perlès was one of the ‘Internationale’ of drifters in Paris – possessing an amazing ability to adapt to new socio-cultural surroundings. He quickly began writing in French and thought of himself as standing in the tradition of Joseph Conrad, Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, or William Saroyan. They all had adopted a foreign tongue and made creative use of it. To Perlès it was a condition of modernism: writing in another language intensifies one’s consciousness, opens new horizons, and deepens the range of feelings and sensations.
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Perlès met Henry Miller when the latter first visited Paris in April 1928, but it was not until early 1930 that their close friendship began. At the time, Perlès was scraping together a living as a journalist, writing feature stories for the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune. Miller once described Perlès’s existence in the metropolis as the ‘life of a cockroach’. Miller himself was in an even worse state, broke, starving, and homeless. Perlès offered him all the help he could afford. They became roommates in Clichy, a poor district just outside Paris. Six years older than his companion, Perlès was Miller’s mentor in how to survive hardship and be an artist. Miller memorised the experience in Quiet Days in Clichy (written in 1940; published in 1956). Together they penned a pseudo-manifesto called ‘The New Instinctivism: A Duet in Creative Violence’ (1930). In 1936 Perlès wrote his first French novel Sentiments limitrophes. Creatively, these intimate friends and artistic rivals spurred each other on.

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In 1934 Perlès was made unemployed once again with the closure of the Chicago Tribune office. Soon after, an unexpected opportunity came his way. Situated about twenty miles east of Paris, the American Country Club of France had been founded by elderly businessman Elmer Prather for the pleasure of affluent Anglo-American expats and a handful of local lovers of the game. The Club also provided its members with tennis facilities and a swimming pool. Prather launched a monthly magazine with club notices, sporting news, and advertisements for golf clubs, waterproof clothing, etc. Lacking editorial expertise, he decided to delegate the job to a professional. In 1937, he handed over ownership to Perlès on condition that the magazine’s old name be kept and its connection to the Country Club maintained by printing in each number two pages of golf news. For Prahter it seemed a shrewd move. The editorial responsibility was given to a proper writer whom he did not have to pay. At the same time he would have his notices published for free and the Club’s name would benefit from its association with a quality magazine.
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It was a golden opportunity for Perlès & Friends. Together with Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, and Anaïs Nin, he poached the journal and turned it into an avant-garde enterprise (in English & French). Modernism was the motivator. In a letter soliciting subscriptions, Henry Miller announced that the editors were planning to ‘boost, baste and lambast when and wherever possible. Mostly we shall boost. We like to boost, and of course to begin with we are going to boost ourselves’. In the wider Parisian artistic scene, the modernist idea had been pushed forward in countless manifestos that were diffused in a flow of little magazines. Manifestos were battle cries, not sets of rules and regulations. One of the ambitions of the movement was to abolish all directives that had been imposed upon writers and artists. Modernist art was spontaneous rather than ‘programmed’. The Booster took a unique place in that tradition. Its starting team was impressive: managing editor: Alfred Perlès; society editor: Anaïs Nin; sports editor: Charles Nordon (Lawrence Durrell); butter news editor: Walter Lowenfels; department of metaphysics and metapsychosis: Michael Fraenkel; fashion editor: Earl of Selvage (Henry Miller); literary editors: Lawrence Durrell and William Saroyan.
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Since the magazine was dependent on advertising patronage of the golfing elite, a measured approach would have been a pragmatic position to take. The opposite was the case. The editorial stance was uncompromising and subversive. Financial backing soon dried up and was halted with the publication of Nukarpiartekak, a Greenland saga which had been brought to European attention in 1884 by the Danish explorer Gustav Holm.* It tells the tale of an old bachelor, a lustful Eskimo, who disappears entirely in the vagina of a young woman. What is left of him is a small skeleton she passes into the snow the next morning. The publication was publicly denounced as obscene by the Club’s president. The magazine changed its name to Delta. It ran for another three issues before being discontinued. Boosting was no longer acceptable.
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In 1938 Alfred published his second French novel Le quatour en ré majeur. Soon after, the band of friends broke up. Miller moved to Greece and Perlès fled to London. The Bohemian stage of his life came to an end. After coming to England in December 1938, he was briefly interned (he recorded his experiences in 1944 in Alien Corn). On his release he joined the British Pioneer Corps helping to clean up rubble after the Blitz. He turned into a British patriot, concerned about the future of humanity and with an intense hatred of Nazi Germany. He expressed a moralistic seriousness which his friends of old greeted with dismay. He suggested in writing that he ‘had conquered the futility’ of his existence and emerged on ‘a higher plane of life’. He may have regretted his wild years in Paris, but there remains at least a linguistic link between his involvement in the avant-garde and his activities in the Pioneer Corps. By the mid-fourteenth century the word ‘pioneer’ (of French origin) referred to foot soldiers who marched ahead of their regiment to prepare the way, dig trenches, clear roads and terrain, with their picks and shovels. Pioneers were send in advance of the army. Napoleon’s use of the term avant-garde was identical before it became a cultural metaphor. 007
In 1943 Perlès published his first novel in English, entitled The Renegade. Around this time, he met Anne Barret who became his partner and later, in 1950, his wife. At the time of his naturalisation on 11 November 1947, he was living at Lissenden Mansions, Highgate Road in Kentish Town. By then he had changed his name to Alfred John Barret. In 1952 the couple moved to Wells. Perlès and Miller maintained a lifelong friendship. Miller visited Perlès in Britain and Perlès went out to see Miller in 1954/5 in Big Sur, California, where he wrote My Friend Henry Miller. In 1979, Miller composed a tribute to Perlès in the memoir Joey (the name given to him by Miller and Nin). The latter’s autobiography Scenes of a Floating Life is out of print (and should be re-issued). His relative quietness as an author in Britain and his disappearance from public life is intriguing and goes deeper than a more ‘mature’ outlook at life.

Ironically, it was the friendship with Miller that lies at the bottom of Alfred’s reduced creative powers. Perlès was a floater, an individual who was able to assume a variety of identities and act out different parts without ever belonging to any specific cultural group. He drifted from Vienna, to Paris, to London, writing in German, French, and English, but was unable to find a sense of totality or personal completeness. His psychological make up was as bewildering to himself as it was to others. He never showed the force of character to channel his creative talent. Young Miller was of a different disposition. Working in Paris on his first novel Tropic of Cancer, he submitted himself to a set of rules which were formulated in the process. It was a program of obsessive work based on a regime of relentless self-discipline. Sustained creation is not possible, but work always necessary (Miller was the fastest typist Perlès had ever met in his life). In the end, Miller’s sheer creative power inhibited his friend. It proved impossible to wrench himself free from the presence of genius. Perlès was acutely aware that his younger roommate would overshadow him in creative achievement – in the domain of ultimate human pride. He withdrew into the quiet splendour of England’s smallest city.
Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1939–1947

* Nukarpiartekak – Modernist Magazines Project – Magazine Viewer
http://www.modernistmagazines.com/magazine_viewer.php?gallery…article_id=681

JAMES JOYCE AND THE BERGSON BROTHERS Ordnance Road (Marylebone)

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In 1727, Alexander Pope coined the literary term bathos in his short polemic essay ‘Peri Bathous, or The Art of Sinking in Poetry’. To him, the word meant a failed attempt at sublimity, or a sudden transition from a lofty style or grand topic to a common or vulgar one. The effect is one of anti-climax. For Pope, it violated ‘decorum’ and the fittingness of subject. In a modernist context bathos suggests an irreverent attitude towards our cultural heritage; it is mixing learning with bawdiness and confronting the serious with the frivolous, the lofty with the vulgar, or the revered with the ridiculous. James Joyce was a master of the bathetic.

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Leopold Bloom in Ulysses is a middle-aged Jewish advertising salesman who seeks commissions from small businesses, designs imagery and copy, and negotiates its placing in Dublin newspapers. At the same time, he has literary ambitions. Explaining the term ‘metempsychosis’ to his wife Molly who had come across the word in a popular novel, he points to a picture named ‘The Bath of the Nymph’ which is framed above the marital bed in order to illuminate the finer detail of his argument. The print itself, in spite of its Classical allusion, was a handout given to those who had bought the Easter number of the softcore weekly magazine Photo Bits – Joyce uses pornography in aid of exploring Greek philosophy. The intellectual high and low are entangled in a single passage. Time and again, Joyce counter-balanced erudition with aspects of popular urban culture such as sexy peephole machines, music-hall tunes, or naughty images – Ulysses may follow the structure of Homer’s Odyssey, but it is the (erotic) vibrancy of the modern city not a legendary past that captured the author’s creative attention.

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Bathos in Ulysses works at a more subtle level. A particular reference in the ‘Calypso’ episode is a literary one, its location less elevated. Seated on the loo, Leopold Bloom opens an old issue of the penny weekly Titbits, taking his time to read the columns of its main story, and allowing his bowels to release the constipation he had suffered from the previous day: ‘Asquat on the cuckstool he folded out his paper, turning its pages over on his bared knees. Something new and easy. No great hurry. Keep it a bit. Our prize titbit: Matcham’s Masterstroke. Written by Mr Philip Beaufoy, Playgoers’ Club, London. Payment at the rate of one guinea a column has been made to the writer. Three and a half. Three pounds three. Three pounds, thirteen and six’. Bloom admires Beaufoy. He dreams of writing a story himself and of emulating the author of a series of prize-winning contributions. The magazine was known for sponsoring competitions. P.G. Wodehouse, Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, and D.H. Lawrence all submitted stories seduced by the financial reward (young Joyce himself once planned to contribute a story). The wish to write a story returns in the ‘Circe’ episode. Bloom imagines a literary trial against him in which he is attacked by Beaufoy for being a plagiarist and a fake author.

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The real Philip Beaufoy was a hack, a writer of shoddy and melodramatic prose, of books for children, the author of practical handbooks such as How to Succeed as a Writer, and he was indeed a member of the Playgoers’ Club on the Strand (founded in 1884 with the aim of raising the status of traditionally rowdy playgoers). Beaufoy contributed articles, stories, and letters to various other periodicals at the turn of the century. He was a prolific writer of immediately forgettable fiction – the kind of author Joyce would have despised. And yet he was given a portrait in the Dublin gallery of characters to which Joyce introduced his readers. Who then was this Philip Beaufoy (also known as Philip Beaufoy Barry)? The family history is an extraordinary one.

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Composer and piano teacher Michael Bergson was born Michał Bereksohn in Warsaw on 20 May 1820 into a prominent Jewish family. His great-grandfather Szmul Jakubowicz Sonnenberg, called Zbytkower, was a prominent banker and a protégé of Stanisław August Poniatowski, King of Poland from 1764 to 1795. He studied in Dessau and Berlin (under Chopin?) and started his career in Italy. In 1865 he was appointed Professor of Music at the Conservatory of Geneva. On the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, and living in Paris at the time, he took his family to London where he would stay for the rest of his life. He initially settled at no. 1 Ordnance Road, Marylebone (now: Ordnance Hill, St John’s Wood). In 1881 the family lived at no. 92 Percy Road, Hammersmith; by 1891 they had moved to no. 50 Alexander Road, Willesden. He worked as a piano teacher, composed, and promoted Chopin in Britain. His composition A Dream Wish was played at a Promenade concert in 1875. He wrote two operas and a large number of songs. One of his best-known pieces is the ‘Scena ed Aria’ for clarinet, was played by military bands throughout the world. His Islington-born wife Catherine [Kate] Levison, daughter of a Yorkshire surgeon and dentist, was from an Anglo-Irish Jewish background. The couple had seven children, three of which are worth mentioning in this context.

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Mina [Minna] Bergson was born on 28 February 1865 in Geneva. She was still young when the family moved from Paris to Ordnance Road, Marylebone. At the age of fifteen Mina was admitted to the Slade School of Art, she shared a studio with Beatrice Offor, and became close friends with Annie Horniman who would later sponsor her research in the occult. In 1887 she met Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers [S.L. Mathers] who she married three years later in the library of the Horniman Museum, changing her name to Moina Mathers. Her partner was the founder of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn of which she was the first initiate in March 1888. In their occult partnership, her husband was described as the ‘evoker of spirits’ and Moina as the clairvoyant ‘seeress’. In 1918, when her husband died, Moina took over the Rosicrucian Order of the Alpha et Omega, a successor organisation to the Golden Dawn, as its Imperatrix. 

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Mina’s younger brother Zaleq Philip Bergson was born in 1878 in London and educated at the City of London School. One of the great benefactors of the school had been Henry Benjamin Hanbury Beaufoy, a wealthy London distiller, Member of Parliament for Hackney Wick, and collector of books (copies from his library of the First Four Folio Editions of Shakespeare were auctioned separately by Christies in July 1912). The ambitious young author most likely considered this figure a role model and took his nom de plume from him. Both in the 1891 and 1901 census Philip was living at home at no. 92 Percy Street, Hammersmith. By then, his career as an author and journalist had taken off (he is mentioned in the 1933 edition of Who’s Who in Literature under the name of BARRY, Philip Beaufoy). There is evidence that there was some musical collaboration with his father. Beaufoy, the ‘old hag’ as he is referred to in Ulysses, made a prosperous career out of creating literary garbage. A notice of his death on 19 January 1947 in the London Gazette mentions his residence as the Heathfield Hotel in Guilford Street, Bloomsbury. He had previously resided at no. 31 Regent Square, Bloomsbury, one of London’s most desirable areas. James Joyce, the novelist who revolutionised fiction, had died six years earlier, half-blind and in poverty.

The Bergson clan that moved to Ordnance Road in 1870 included an eleven year old son. Henri Bergson had been born in Paris on 18 January 1859 (the year Darwin published On the Origin of Species) at Rue Lamartine, close to the Palais Garnier, the old opera house in the capital. Having entered the Lycée Fontanes (renamed Lycée Condorcet in 1883) in 1868, he returned to Paris to complete his studies and maintained his French citizenship. By 1900 he was a Professor at the Collège de France and one of Europe’s outstanding intellectuals. His mother being English, he was familiar with the language from an early age and he remained in close contact with Britain. 

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In 1889 Bergson published his doctoral thesis Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience. The study was translated by Frank L. Pogson into English in 1910 as Time and Free Will. It established Bergson’s international reputation as a highly original thinker – 1911 was a crucial year in the process. That year L’évolution créatrice was translated into English (Creative Evolution) and Joseph Solomon published his groundbreaking study on Bergson. One of his dedicated supporters was Herbert Hildon Carr, Professor of Philosophy at King’s College London, who published Henri Bergson: The Philosophy of Change (1911) and was involved in the organisation of Bergson’s first series of lectures in Britain. These included two lectures at Oxford University on The Perception of Change, and the Huxley Lecture delivered at the University of Birmingham on Life and Consciousness, published in the Hibbert Journal in October 1911. He also delivered four lectures at the University of London on The Nature of the Soul. Just before the outbreak of the Great War, Bergson was invited to deliver the prestigious Gifford lectures at several universities in Scotland. He presented the first series of eleven lectures on The Problem of Personality at the University of Edinburgh, but the outbreak of the war prevented his second lecture series. In 1913 he had been appointed President of The Society for Psychical Research (SPR). Founded in London in 1882, early members of this Society for investigating paranormal phenomena had included psychologist Edmund Gurney; poet and philologist Frederic W.H. Myers (who coined the term telepathy); philosopher Henry Sidgwick; physicist William Fletcher Barret; and journalist Edmund Dawson Rogers. During the early twentieth century other prominent members were Oliver Lodge and Arthur Conan Doyle. The escapologist Harry Houdini also had links to the Society. Mina’s Bergson interest in the occult was shared by her elder brother.

Joyce was a devotee of Bergson’s philosophy. He had a copy of L’évolution créatrice in his bookcase (and also of The Meaning of War, published in 1915) as well as Solomon’s study on the philosopher. The crucial influence of Bergson’s theories on the development of British literary modernism has frequently been discussed. In the early twentieth century his work was widely read and debated. His notion of ‘pure duration’, that is: the subjective and qualitative experience of time as set against the ‘spurious’ concept of time that is quantified into countable units, made a profound impact and left an imprint on modernist fiction and film. The psychological concept was developed by William James who described consciousness as ‘a teeming multiplicity of objects and relations’. Nothing is jointed; everything ‘flows’. James and Bergson contributed to developing the narrative device of a ‘stream of consciousness’. This stylistic process, masterly applied by Joyce, eliminates narratorial mediation in order to transfer a direct ‘quotation’ of the character’s mind, either in loose interior monologue or in relation to sensory reactions to external occurrences. Joyce’s literary technique owes a great deal to Henri Bergson’s erudite philosophy, but it is his brother Philip, the author of shoddy and melodramatic tales, who is represented in the narrative of Ulysses. Would it be too much to suggest that Joyce knew exactly what he was doing here? The author does not refer to the sophistication of thought to which the novel owes much of its structure, but instead he focuses on vulgar titbits penned down by an old hag for which he is richly rewarded by the word, the column, and the page. Two Bergson brothers representing extremes of the sublime and the vulgar. This is Joycean bathos in all its bravura.

James Joyce with Nora Barnacle

Litany of Bitterness: George Street (Marylebone)

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Art dealer and gallery owner Heinrich Robert [Harry] Fischer was born in Vienna on 30 August 1903. By the mid-1930s he was running one of the city’s largest bookshops. The Nazi annexation of Austria forced him to flee to Britain. In 1946, he opened his first art gallery on Old Bond Street with fellow Viennese refugee Frank Lloyd (born: Franz Kurt Levai). They named it Marlborough Fine Art for its aristocratic connotations. Between 1960 and 1970 Marlborough Gallery expanded into an international force with branches in New York, London, Rome, Zurich and other cities.

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Lloyd and Fisher dissolved their partnership in the early 1970s, after which Harry Fisher established Fisher Fine Arts in London. He died in London in April 1977. In 1996 Elfriede Fischer donated his collection of books and catalogues to the V&A’s National Art Library. The collection (sixty-nine books in total) includes works by George Grosz, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Oscar Kokoschka, Emil Nolde and Kurt Schwitters, among others.

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The Fischer Collection holds the only known copy of a complete inventory of ‘Entartete Kunst’ confiscated by the Nazi regime from public institutions in Germany, mostly during 1937 and 1938. The list of more than 16,000 art works was produced by the Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda around 1942. The inventory was compiled as a final record after the sales and disposals of the seized works of art had been completed in the summer of 1941. The inventory’s two typescript volumes provide crucial information about the provenance, exhibition history, and fate of each artwork.

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The painter George Grosz suffered badly from the Nazi madness. Their officials confiscated nearly three hundred of his works in museums and galleries, some were looted, some sold, and others burned. About seventy paintings vanished without a trace. One of the paintings labelled ‘degenerate’ was Grosz’s stunning portrait of his friend, the poet Max [Macke] Herrmann-Neisse.

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The latter was born Max Herrmann in 1886 in Neisse (in Polish: Nysa), Silesia, into a family of small innkeepers. He was a physically disabled and deformed child. A continuous sense of otherness was part of his intellectual development and he started writing at a young age. He studied literature and history of art in Munich and Breslau, then turned to journalism and writing. He created mainly poetry and, influenced by Expressionism, contributed to avant-garde periodicals such as Die Aktion, Pan, and Die weissen Blätter.
In 1914 S. Fischer Verlag published his first collection of poems entitled Sie und die Stadt. The poet’s future looked bright, but the First World War brought disaster. It ruined the business of his parents. His father died in 1916 and his mother drowned herself shortly after.

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Herrmann-Neisse married a local girl named Leni Gebek in May 1917 and the couple settled in Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm where they involved themselves in the city’s vibrant mix of artistic, socialist and anarchist movements. From that time onwards he added his place of birth to his name. He and his wife were a very visible and often photographed couple in bohemian Berlin. Herrmann-Neisse was known in most cafés, bars, studios, theatres, seedy cabarets and brothels in town. He was the Toulouse Lautrec of Berlin. He shared the same radical politics, sense of humour, and cynical outlook as his friend George Grosz. At the same time he created an ever growing number of poems, stories, essays and cabaret pieces. He was awarded the Eichendorff-Preis in 1924 and the Gerhart Hauptmann-Preis in 1927.

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Five years later his situation changed dramatically. Grosz’s portrait of the poet with his hunched back and bald head had first been shown at the Neue Sachlichkeit Exhibition in Mannheim, 1925. The Nazis confiscated the portrait from the Flechtheim Gallery in Berlin in 1933 and displayed the work as a prime example of degenerate art. Two days after the Reichstag fire in February 1933, Max and Leni fled Berlin. Via Switzerland and the Netherlands they arrived in London in September that same year. A few months later, the Nazis burned his books.

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Unable to speak English, living in the poorest of conditions, and deprived of his German citizenship in 1938, his poetry soon became an expression of utter isolation. Sometimes one may detect a tone of defiance like that in the poem ‘Ewige Heimat’: the homeland will live on ‘in the song of its banished sons’ (‘in dem Lied verstossner Söhne’). He applied for British citizenship, but the request was refused. In 1936 he published a collection of poems in Zurich entitled Um uns die Fremde (with a preface by Thomas Mann), but by then his personal life was becoming increasingly bizarre and intolerable. From 1936 onwards, he and his wife lived in a ménage à trois with Leni’s lover, the Greek-born Jewish jeweller and diamond dealer Alphonse Aron Sondheimer, who supported the three.

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They occupied an exclusive flat owned by Sondheimer at no. 82 Bryanston Court, George Street in Marylebone (another apartment in the block was occupied by the American socialite Mrs Wallis Simpson: it was here at Flat 5B, first floor, that the love affair between her and Edward VIII had started in 1933). The arrangement lasted until Herrmann-Neisse’s death from a heart attack on 8 April 1941. He was buried at East Finchley Cemetery in East End Road. There he rests in a lonely grave, a soon forgotten immigrant, far from his beloved Berlin. Leni subsequently married Sondheimer (who became a British citizen in June 1947) and committed suicide when he died in 1961.

During his years of exile Hermann-Neisse continued to write poetry. Some of the poems are counted among his best. Shortly before his death he wrote ‘Litanei der Bitterness’, which is both a reflection on his life in exile and the painful awareness of the affair of his wife and his dependence on the goodwill of her lover:

Bitter ist es, das Brot der Fremde zu essen,
bittrer noch das Gnadenbrot,
und dem Nächsten eine Last zu sein.

The old anarchist lived a total paradox in later life. Not capable of earning a living and deprived of any outlets to publish his work, he resided amidst the decadence and senseless wealth of one of London’s most exclusive residential areas. Consumed by bitterness, the poet suffered all the pains of physical and linguistic exile. As a young man he had touched virtually every brick of every bar within reach while staggering through the streets of Berlin. Socially and psychologically he was inextricably bound up with the city as any of the stones in any of its buildings. Without the architecture of that structure, its use and meaning completely changed. For Herrmann-Neisse the building had collapsed completely. Death may have come as a relief. The psychoses dubbed ‘bacillus emigraticus’, the virus of homesickness, hits every exile at some time to a varying degree. It broke Hermann-Neisse.
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Shoe Lane (City of London)

 

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Photographer and collector Felix Hans Man was born Hans Felix Sigismund Baumann on 30 November 1893 in Freiburg im Breisgau. His father had been born in Riga, then in imperial Russia, where he was a music critic for the Rigaer Tageblatt. Felix enjoyed a musical background, but graphic art was to dominate his artistic life.

It was not until 1927/8 that he turned to photography changing his name to avoid confusion with another photographer called Baumann. In 1929 he met Simon Gutmann, owner of the photographic agency Dephot (Deutscher Photo Dienst). Gutmann was one of the first to understand the nature of the ‘picture story’ which was to revolutionise magazines worldwide. Man became Gutmann’s chief photographer providing numerous photo-stories for Ullstein’s Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung and other publications during the period between 1929 and 1933. He also formed a long-lasting friendship with Stefan Lorant, a Hungarian Jew like Gutmann, who became editor of the Münchener Illustrierte Presse.

In 1933 the Nazis took over the Jewish-owned Ullstein Press. Lorant left for London and although not Jewish himself, Man too emigrated to England. The change in Man’s career came in 1938 when Lorant persuaded newspaper proprietor Edward Hulton to start the Picture Post. The successful magazine was produced at no.43/4 Shoe Lane. Man became a major contributor. He was interned briefly on the Isle of Man in the early days of the Second World War and became a naturalised British subject in 1948.

Between 1945 and 1948 he took few photographs, concentrating on his fine collection of lithographs. The climax of his collecting career came in 1971 when the Victoria and Albert Museum staged the exhibition ‘Homage to Senefelder’ entirely from his collection. In this masterly lithographic portrait (1969), David Hockney captured the personality of this passionate collector. Felix Man died in January 1985. He was one of the first photo-journalists and to many critics he remains the greatest.

The Print Collector (Portrait of Felix Man) 1969 by David Hockney born 1937
The Print Collector (Portrait of Felix Man) 1969 David Hockney born 1937 Presented by Curwen Studio through the Institute of Contemporary Prints 1975 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P06289

New Oxford Street (Bloomsbury)

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.

sah-oved-1950b

Heddon Street (London)

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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.

Nollendorfplatz (Berlin)

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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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