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The family name Gollancz originates from the town of Golancz in west-central Poland. It is also the name of a prominent Jewish dynasty of London immigrants which has a varied but distinct literary reputation. 

Rabbi and scholar Hermann Gollancz was born at Bremen on 30 November 1852. He came to England when his father was appointed rabbi of the Hambro Synagogue in Leadenhall Street, City of London. Hermann was the first Jew to obtain the degree of Doctor of Literature at London University. In 1902 he was elected Goldsmid Professor of Hebrew at University College London. He was the first British rabbi to be granted a knighthood. On retirement he presented his valuable library of Hebraica and Judaica to the University (which is housed as a separate collection within the splendid Mocatta Library). 


His younger brother Israel Gollancz was born in London. A Shakespeare scholar, he was Professor of English Language and Literature at King’s College from 1903 to 1930, and a founder member and the first Secretary of the British Academy. He edited the so-called ‘Temple’ Shakespeare, a uniform edition of the complete works in pocket size volumes. It was the most popular Shakespeare edition of its day. 

Hermann and Israel were brothers to Alexander Gollancz, a wholesale jeweller, who was father to publisher Victor Gollancz, born on 9 April 1893 at no. 256 Elgin Avenue, Maida Vale. Having rejected the orthodoxy of his parents, Victor became an independent thinker and an advocate of women’s rights. In 1918 he joined the publishing house of Benn Brothers (founded by the liberal politician John Benn: Gollancz recruited H.G. Wells for his employers), before starting his own firm in 1928. His publishing methods were revolutionary. 


In collaboration with Stanley Morison, he devised a striking typographical dust jacket featuring black and magenta on a brilliant yellow background, which was used on most of his titles. Gollancz was primarily an educationist, and his main concern as a publisher was to encourage an awareness of current affairs and, above all, send a socialist message. In 1933 George Orwell issued his debut novel Down and Out in London and Paris with Gollancz, his first publisher.


A significant undertaking that involved Gollancz was the foundation of the Left Book Club (LBC) in 1936. Housed at no. 14 Henrietta Street, it aimed at combating the dual threats of Nazism and Fascism in which authors like Arthur Koestler and George Orwell took part at a time when the need for the dissemination of left-wing politics was keenly felt among British intellectuals. The venture was an immediate success on its establishment, with 6,000 subscriptions after a month and a membership of 40,000 by the end of its first year. Gollancz was also actively engaged with a number of German writers in exile in London during the war (including Hilde Meisel).


The Free German League of Culture (FGLC = Freie Deutsche Kulturbund) was founded in 1939 at an informal meeting held at the Hampstead home of the Jewish refugee lawyer and painter Manfred [Fred] Uhlman. Aiming to represent all German exiles irrespective of religion or race, it was the foremost cultural and socio-political organisation representing anti-Nazism in Britain during the war. On arrival, these refugees were considered enemy aliens and most of them had suffered the pain of internment, either in the Isle of Man or as far adrift as Canada or Australia. At its peak, the League had some 1,500 members. It included a youth wing, the Freie Deutsche Jugend; it created a university in exile, the Freie Deutsche Hochschule; and it formed the core of the Free German Movement which planned for a democratic post-war Germany. The League was formally constituted at a meeting on 1 March 1939, when Uhlman was appointed chairman (later that year he was replaced by the novelist Hans Flesch-Brunninger), and four honorary presidents were elected: the painter Oskar Kokoschka, the drama critic Alfred Kerr, the novelist Stefan Zweig and the film director Berthold Viertel. The FGLC was advertised as politically neutral (to avoid interference from the British authorities), describing itself as an ‘anti-Nazi, anti-Fascist, non-party, refugee organisation’. From December 1939, the FGLC had premises of its own, at no. 36a Upper Park Road, Belsize Park. It was wound up in 1946.


In 1960 Gollancz published Fred Uhlman’s autobiography The Making of an Englishman whose ironical title points to the author’s struggle, as a Jewish intellectual from Stuttgart, to adapt to a life of exile in a British environment that felt completely alien to him. The book contains a vivid account of his internment experiences as an enemy alien at Hutchinson camp, Isle of Man (where he befriended Kurt Schwitters), a description of the depression and frustration he suffered, which was fuelled – even in retrospect – by a sense of outrage at the injustice of his treatment.

A prominent member of the German League was the communist author Jan Petersen. Born Hans Schwalm on 2 July 1906 in Berlin, he led a resistance group of anti-Fascist writers between 1933 and 1935. Being placed on the Nazi death list, he was forced to emigrate to Switzerland, France, and then to England. He was deprived of his German citizenship in 1938. Between 1940 and 1942 he was interned in Canada as an enemy alien by the British authorities. 

Petersen is remembered for an extraordinary act of bravery. In 1934 he had finished the manuscript of his novel Unsere Strasse, a true story about life on Wallstrasse in the Berlin district of Charlottenburg and an account of left wing resistance to Nazism just before Hitler’s ascension to Chancellor. To get this ‘explosive’ manuscript safely out of Germany was a huge problem. He made two copies, sending one to Hamburg where it was to be taken to England by a German soldier, but was eventually thrown into the Channel to avoid discovery. Friends failed to smuggle a second copy into Czechoslovakia. Finally, Petersen pulled off a dangerous trick himself. Dressed in ski clothes to look as though he was going on holiday, he set off for Prague. At the border, the SS guards searched his rucksack, only to find two tasty fruit cakes. Baked inside was the manuscript which remained undetected. The creative process demands courage and commitment. Few authors would have pushed the limits as far as Petersen dared. Translated into English as Our Street, the novel was published in 1938 by Gollancz’s Left Book Club. Petersen returned to East Berlin in 1946 where he was awarded a number of literary prizes in the course of his career. There he died in November 1969. His novel was republished by Faber & Faber in 2010.

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In the London geography of migration Soho played a central part. Its population has always been heterogeneous. Originally an undisturbed area of rural grassland and fields, once urbanised Soho attracted waves of immigrants who tended to congregate together with their compatriots in close-knit ethnic enclaves. Greek Street is just one reminder of the many people (escaping Ottoman persecution) who were forced to make London their new home. Soho’s Frenchness since the arrival of large numbers of Huguenot refugees has been well documented. Until the 1950s, the area took its character mainly from French immigrants. They had their own school in Lisle Street, a hospital and dispensary on Shaftesbury Avenue, a number of churches, and an abundance of restaurants, cafés, boucheries, boulangeries, patisseries, chocolateries, and fromageries. The signs were in French and so was the language between staff and customers.

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Daniel Nicholas Thévenon was born in 1833 in Burgundy where he started his career as a coach-builder. In 1854 he married Célestine Lacoste and in the mid-1850s they bought a wine shop from a relative.  The business did not succeed. Facing bankruptcy, the couple fled France for London in October 1863.  He assumed the name of Daniel Nicols. Lodging in Soho, he took on odd jobs while his wife worked as a seamstress. By 1865 they took over an oilcloth shop at no. 19 Glasshouse Street, turning it into Café Restaurant Nicols.  Having enlarged the premises in 1867, they renamed it the Café Royal. After the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/1, many French political refugees settled in or near Soho, and congregated at the Café Royal. Nicols invited his nephew Eugène Lacoste to stock the wine cellar. He laid down London’s finest collection of vintage wines and brandy. The decoration of the café with mirrors, crimson velvet and gilt, evoked the atmosphere of the Paris of the Second Empire. Georges Pigache, a lace maker and political Bonapartist living in London, designed the iconic emblem for the Café Royal with the French imperial crown and the letter N (for Nicols, but also for Napoleon). The sign was displayed on all the glass, china, napkins, and menus. Increasingly, the café attracted a bohemian clientele. Calling themselves the Café-Royalistes, artists such as James McNeill Whistler, Augustus John, and Auguste Rodin met here. During the early 1890s the café was frequented by Oscar Wilde and his circle of friends. By 1892 it was advertising itself as ‘the largest, most brilliant, and best known Anglo-French café in the world’.

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Victor Aimé Berlemont ran the Restaurant Européen in Dean Street, Soho. At the outbreak of World War I he bought the pub next door from a German owner who feared internment. By then he was the only foreign landlord left in London. The Berlemont family was in fact Belgian, though it suited them to allow people to think that they were French. The pub, renamed Victor Berlemont until Watneys acquired the freehold after the war and, typically, came up with the boring name York Minster, was universally known as the French pub, or simply ‘The French’. In the 1920s its clientele included singer Edith Piaf, boxer Georges Carpentier, and many ladies of the night (known as Fifis). During World War II the pub a gathering place for the Free French forces and proved to be a valuable centre for communication, as Berlemont kept an unofficial register of the French who passed through London. Whisky could be obtained only under the counter, with a request for vin blanc écossais’. The story that Charles de Gaulle wrote his appeal to resist the Nazis after a good lunch in the upstairs dining-room is a myth, but the General certainly visited the pub at least once. The visit was not a success. The English clients in the pub kept quiet and the Free French stood to attention, while De Gaulle drank a glass of wine.

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Victor Berlemont died in 1951. His son Gaston continued the business. He had luxuriant handlebar moustaches and was extremely gallant to women. Beer was dispensed only in half-pint glasses, to discourage its consumption in favour of the more profitable wine that Gaston imported and bottled himself. Those who drank in the house included Dylan Thomas, who unconcernedly left behind the manuscript of Under Milk Wood one night, knowing it would still be there in the morning; Brendan Behan, who was said to have disgusted Gaston by eating his ‘boeuf bourguignon’ with both hands; Augustus John, Max Beerbohm, Nina Hamnet, and Stephen Spender. Later customers were a roll-call of bohemian Soho: Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Caroline Blackwood, the Bernard brothers, and many others. On 14 July 1989 Soho gathered on the pavement outside ‘The French’, not to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, but to mark Gaston’s retirement, aged seventy-five.

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The bar in ‘The French’ boasted a superb water urn with twin taps that emitted a trickle of water for pastis or for the absinthe that Gaston was said to keep for his regular Soho Francophiles. From the mid-nineteenth century onwards absinthe had become associated with bohemian Paris. It featured frequently in paintings by such artists as Manet, Van Gogh and Picasso. They drank it in large quantities, joined by such poets as Charles Baudelaire and Paul Verlaine. Spurred on by an odd but vocal alliance of social conservatives, prohibitionists, and winemakers’ associations, the consumption of absinthe became associated with social disorder and degeneration. In 1905, Swiss farmer Jean Lanfray murdered his wife in a drunken rage. His trial became known as the ‘Absinthe Murder’. After a referendum in July 1908, the drink was banned from Switzerland. Belgium (1906), The Netherlands (1909) and the United States (1912) followed the Swiss example. France held out until 1914 (the same year that Pablo Picasso created his cubist sculpture Le verre d’absinthe). Britain never banned absinthe. The reason is clear. The drink was only enjoyed by a tiny number of people (mainly artists) whose spiritual home was Paris rather than London. One of those ‘absintheurs’ was George Orwell. Having arrived in Paris in 1928, he soon learned to dance with the Green Fairy (a lively description of the drinking habit in Paris can be found in chapter seventeen of Down and Out in London and Paris). He brought his liking for absinthe back to London. Bateman Street is a short stroll away from Dean Street and home to a tavern named The Dog and Duck. It was here that the landlord had ‘mysteriously acquired a cache of real absinthe’, and although sugar was rationed, he allowed Orwell and his friends to drink it the traditional way, with water that dripped slowly on to it through a sugar cube.

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London owes a great deal of gratitude to French immigrants. They taught beer-drinking England the delights of wine, champagne and brandy. They were connoisseurs and educators. Paris-born André Louis Simon deserves a statue. In 1899 he began an apprenticeship with the champagne house of Pommery & Greno (Rheims) and was sent to London in 1902 to become the firm’s agent. In 1905 he published the first of more than 100 books and pamphlets entitled The History of the Champagne Trade in England, followed by his substantial History of the Wine Trade in England (1906/9) in three volumes. He was a co-founder of the Wine Trade Club in 1908. In 1919 he issued the delightful Bibliotheca vinaria, a catalogue of books he had collected for the Club. Simon believed that ‘a man dies too young if he leaves any wine in his cellar’, and in keeping with that philosophy, only two magnums of claret remained in his basement when he died at the age of ninety-three.

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Travels from France to Italy through the Lepontine Alps, 1800,

Engraver and landscape painter was born at Chambéry in 1755. He entered the engineering school at Mezières and, in 1775, joined the Sardinian army as an engineer. At this time Sardinian territory extended into what is now Provence, and Beaumont was working as a hydraulic engineer at Nice, where he met the Duke of Gloucester who engaged him in 1780 as a teacher of mathematics to his children.

Beaumont then accompanied the Duke on his travels in the Alps. A few years later he travelled through the Maritime Alps from Cuneo in Italy to Nice by the newly constructed road across the pass of Lanslebourg. In the 1790s he went through the Lepontine Alps, from Lyons to Turin. Beaumont’s accounts of these journeys show a lively interest in the classical and geographical history of the area. Published in folio, these accounts are embellished with maps drawn by himself and by drawings in simple and sepia-washed versions, the latter coloured by Bernard Lory the elder.

The books were printed in London by C. Clarke and sold by the bookselling firm of Thomas and John Egerton at their office at no. 32 Charing Cross (opposite the Admiralty). Once settled in London, Beaumont went into partnership with Thomas Gowland and employed Dutch artist and diplomat Cornelius Apostool as engraver. Between 1787 and 1806 he published a series of views Switzerland, Mediterranean France, and Piedmont. He afterwards took to landscape painting. Under the Empire he retired to La Vernaz in the Haute Savoie where he reared sheep. He died in 1812.

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Botanist and mathematician Henry Fox Talbot produced his first successful photographic images in 1834, without a camera, by placing objects onto paper brushed with light-sensitive silver chloride, which he then exposed to sunlight. By 1840, Talbot had succeeded in producing photogenic drawings in a camera, with short exposures yielding an invisible or ‘latent’ image that could be developed to produce a usable negative. This made his process a practical tool for subjects such as portraiture and was patented as the ‘calotype’ in 1841. Talbot’s negative-positive process formed the basis of almost all photography on paper up to the digital age. His work was certainly not a solo effort. Major inventions rarely are.

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Nicolaas Henneman was born in Heemskerk in the Netherlands on 8 November 1813. Having worked in Paris for a while, he arrived in England around 1835. He was employed as valet to Fox Talbot at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, where he assisted the photographer in preparations and printing, and he took many photographs himself. He accompanied Talbot on expeditions around Britain, and in 1843 the pair ventured into France, securing important photographs later published in The Pencil of Nature (1844/6: the first commercially published book illustrated with photographs).

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Later that year, Henneman left Talbot’s employ to set up the world’s first dedicated photographic printing works at no. 8 Russell Terrace in Reading. Unable to sustain that operation he moved to London in 1847, this time in a business largely owned by Talbot, but called Nicolaas Henneman’s ‘Sun Picture Rooms’ at no. 122 Regent Street. In 1848 he was joined by the young chemist Thomas Augustine Malone, and by the next year Henneman & Malone were billing themselves as ‘Photographers to the Queen’. While Henneman taught many successful photographers, he never achieved true artistry himself. In the increasingly competitive world of the 1850s he lost out. By 1859 financial difficulties forced him to shut down his business.

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His lasting claim to fame is his involvement in the publication of the first photographically illustrated book on art. To the three volumes of text of William Stirling’s Annals of the Artists of Spain (1848) was added a limited edition volume of sixty-six photographic illustrations. These were the first photographs ever published of Spanish paintings, drawings, sculpture and prints, by artists including El Greco, Velázquez, Murillo, Zurbarán, Ribera and Goya, in addition to examples of architectural designs and book illustrations. The photographs were taken by Henneman who used the Calotype process invented by Talbot. The book has become extremely rare. Only fifty copies of the Annals were produced, and their deterioration, due to daylight, chemicals and other factors, began immediately.

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Henneman was not the only immigrant from Northern Europe who made an impact on the history of the photography book in Britain. Oscar Gustaf Rejlander was born in 1813 in Sweden, but nothing is known about his early life. He apparently studied art in Rome in the 1830s and supported himself there by working as a portrait painter and copyist of old masters. He was in England by 1841.

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In 1845 he had settled at no. 42 Darlington Street, Wolverhampton, where he opened a painter’s studio. He took up photography in 1853 and two years later began to exhibit his photographic compositions consisting of portraits, landscapes, nudes, anatomical studies, and subject pictures. His genre photographs earned him the reputation as one of Britain’s leading photographers. His ‘Night in Town’ (also known as ‘Homeless’), depicting a child in rags huddled on a doorstep, was used by the Shaftesbury Society for over a hundred years to highlight the plight of homeless children.

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In the spring of 1862 Rejlander moved to London and settled in Malden Road, Chalk Farm. On the relationship between photography and painting, he insisted that artists had as much to learn from photography about observation and draughtsmanship as photographers had to learn from painting about composition and expression. Contemporary critics described him as ‘the father of art photography’. As a portraitist Rejlander photographed several illustrious sitters, including Alfred Tennyson, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), Henry Taylor, Charles Darwin, Gustave Doré, and Prince Albert.

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In 1868 he opened a richly furnished studio opposite Victoria Station. It was soon after this move that Charles Darwin entered his shop and asked for his cooperation. Rejlander was commissioned to supply Darwin with nine illustrations depicting people in various emotional states for The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).

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The photograph illustrating ‘mental distress’, that of an agitated infant boy dubbed ‘Ginx’s Baby’ by critics, became a best-seller after Rejlander also created versions on cartes-de-visite and cabinet cards. The title for the photograph was taken from a popular satirical novel about an orphaned boy by radical Victorian author John Edward Jenkins. The striking image of this helpless working class child soon became part and parcel of the Victorian social and political debate on poverty, charity and social justice. Photography took on a new relevance. It suddenly dawned upon critics and observers that certain photographic images have the power to influence public opinion and determine or change its course. A single shot can strike deeper than a million words.

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Painter Ford Madox Brown was born in Calais in 1821. His parents had moved there to cut living costs when struck by poverty. He studied art at Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Rome and Paris before returning to England in 1845.

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Emma Hill, the illiterate child of a bricklayer, was one of his models and became his mistress. In 1848 they settled together at no. 17 Newman Street, Fitzrovia, close to Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s studio, though the relationship remained a secret from all but his closest friends. In November 1850 she gave birth to a daughter. Brown taught Emma to read and write, and they were married at St Dunstan-in-the-West on 5 April 1853, in the presence only of Rossetti and another friend, the landscape painter Thomas Seddon.

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In 1852, Brown had been lodging in Heath Street, at a time that Hampstead was expanding dramatically with the wholesale development of its large estates. Adelaide Road and South Hampstead were developed from the 1840s, Kilburn and Belsize in the 1850s, Lyndhurst Terrace in the 1860s. Gas lighting began to be introduced in the 1840s. Hampstead’s population grew from 10,000 in 1841 to 15,000 in 1851 and 19,000 in 1861. Brown witnessed this intense activity which transformed a largely rural area into a London suburb. In Heath Street he spotted a gang of navvies (manual workers on major civil engineering projects – mostly Irish immigrants) digging up the road for the laying of a sewage system. This lively scene of men at work fascinated him and he judged the activity of a navvy in full swing (in his own words) ‘at least as worthy of the powers of the English painter, as the fisherman of the Adriatic, the peasant of the Campagna, or the Neapolitan lazzarone’. Soon after, Brown began work on what has been called the first serious attempt by a British artist to represent the working class in an urban environment. Thirteen years later he completed the picture which he called Work.

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Brown’s painting has been interpreted as one of the most didactic and moralistic paintings of his age. Despite the fact that he was never considered a true member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the painting made a considerable contribution to the intellectual orientation of the movement. Brown created a ‘realist’ painting utilising a composition crowded with figures that represent various types of workers and citizens in Victorian society. Every character tells its own story. The image is an odd combination of navvies digging a hole (representing the nobility of physical work); an orphan girl wearing her dead mother’s dress looking after brothers and sisters whilst her father is in the pub (the plight of neglected children); a flower seller from the country stuck in the city (the curse of urbanisation); standing against a railing there is a group of apparently jobless people (the plight of poverty); and, further to the right, there appear the figures of Frederick Maurice, leader of the Christian Socialist movement, and of Thomas Carlyle, the social critic.

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They represent the ‘brainworkers’ and – in a Saint-Simonian sense – the social responsibility of the intellectual elite. Brown had been influenced by Carlyle’s view of the ‘nobleness and even sacredness of work’. In the painting he attempted to capture the dignity of the British worker. The women on the left, in fine dress and parasols, represent members of the middle class. One of the women is distributing pamphlets regarding the Temperance movement (the curse of alcoholism). Two well-dressed figures on horseback are placed towards the back of the painting (the idleness of the leisure class). Brown focuses the sunlight in the painting on the labouring figures, whereas the middle class members are painted in shadowy light. This contrast of labour and idleness continues on the gold frame which contains Biblical quotations about to the virtue of hard work.

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The image is – to put it mildly – a confusing one. In 1848, as revolutions swept continental Europe and a Chartist movement for social reform unsettled England, at a time of industrialism and urbanisation, of newspapers and expanding means of communication, seven rebellious young London artists formed a secret society. They called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Disenchanted with contemporary academic painting, members of the Brotherhood were inspired by late medieval and early Renaissance art up to the time of Raphael. This art was characterised by minute description of detail and by subject matter of a noble, religious or moralising nature. Late medieval ideals in mid-nineteenth century England – the concept appears an aberration: interesting, impressive at times, but a weird anachronism none the less. This is historicity at it most absurd, a retreat into the past.

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To many artists and intellectuals of the nineteenth century the Middle Ages offered an asylum in which to hide from the relentlessly changing present. A similar symptom of European intellectual escapism during the late 1900s and early twentieth century was the cult of the Renaissance. The veneration of this period by such thinkers as Gobineau, Nietzsche, Taine, Jacob Burckhardt, or John Addington Symonds, was associated with an intense contempt for the present. While being swept into an uncertain future, men sought counterbalance in the past. Yet, each of these retrospective strands also reflected different attitudes towards the present. History, after all, was not read for history’s sake, but as a lesson for the here and now. The past should teach the present, preferably with concrete examples to be followed or avoided. The standard had been set by Thomas Carlyle’s Past and Present (1843). This ‘flight into the past’ was not a matter of pure escapism. Most idolaters of Europe’s great tradition had an agenda that concerned their own time. Nostalgia is by implication socio-cultural criticism. Victorian medievalists pitted their glorified past against the reality of capitalism and gross materialism. Pre-Raphaelite painters depicted medieval, Renaissance and Romantic themes mixed with contemporary subjects and criticism of society, including exploitation, poverty, and taboos such as prostitution, suppressed sexuality or homosexuality. They countered the reality of Victorian orthodoxy by celebrating neo-pagan and hedonistic lifestyles, and setting alternative ethical and aesthetic values.

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All that however is philosophy, not reality. It is quite astonishing that the labels of ‘social realism’ and ‘urban observation’ are still used to describe Brown’s odd picture. The working conditions of navvies in particular were squalid. The men were paid daily and their pay reputedly went on drink, leaving little for food. The building of Britain’s infrastructure, roads, canals, railways, has an often painful history. It takes some leap of the imagination to associate Brown’s men who are digging sewers with the sacredness of work. For all its aesthetic qualities this is a strange painting, one of muddled imagery and confused thinking. In an age that work was increasingly divided, mechanised, and degraded, philosophers and moralists sang the praises of labour, whilst artists and poets ignored the drudgery of machines and instead observed the muscles of digging men with an almost Soviet like admiration. Brown and the Pre-Raphaelites were not of this world – they were nostalgic dreamers at best and sloppy sentimentalists at worst. There was no nobility in work. There was factory labour, mechanised labour, child labour, slave labour. There were greedy owners, relentless hours, low pay, dirty factories, and poor conditions. There was oil and grease. Life was black. There was but one escape: drink.

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One of the workmen in Brown’s painting is draining a pewter pot of porter. In front of him stands the potboy from one of the local pubs. He is dressed in bowtie and waistcoat, wearing a publican’s apron, and in his left hand he carries the pot-board (beer tray) which bore up to ten beer pots and, on the top, clay pipes for those who wanted a smoke with their beer. The introduction of this figure stresses the anachronistic nature of the image. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word ‘potboy’ was first used in an anonymous book published around 1662 entitled The Life and Death of Mrs Mary Frith, Commonly Called Moll Cutpurse. A potboy was a young man employed at a public house to fill orders for those wanting beer at home, or delivering porter for an aristocratic household’s servants to drink with their meals, or bring beer to those who were working in the building trade or repairing the roads. His shout of ‘beer-ho’ was once one of the familiar cries of London. Madox Brown painted Work at a time when the institution of the potboy had become mere memory. Gin had replaced beer as the cheap and common drink amongst the working poor. The contented workmen drinking tankards of foaming beer in Hogarth’s moral image of Beer Street (which includes a potboy) had made way for the chaos and drunkenness of Gin Street.
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The English passion for gin dates back to the Glorious Revolution. On 24 August 1689 William III banned all trade with France. Low levels of duty on liquor or cider established by statute in 1690 were introduced in an attempt to encourage native alternatives to French wines. As a possible substitute, William encouraged the distilling of Dutch ‘jenever’ (geneva) or gin as it was known in England. This politically motivated economic move heralded the beginning of an urban gin addiction. The effect was such that in London, despite some real improvements in sanitation and health care, the population of the metropolis actually fel in numbers. Londoners were drinking themselves to death. There was an alarming increase in the number of ‘gin shops’, many of which were former public houses that had been converted. George Dodd, in The Food of London, published in 1856, observed that many small pubs were being transformed into gin houses, ‘from painted deal to polished mahogany, from small crooked panes of glass to magnificent crystal sheets, from plain useful fittings to costly luxurious adornments’. The success of the gin-shops coincided with developments in plate glass production and gas lighting which were employed to the full, creating a dazzling spectacle of light and reflection. In the dark city streets these places stood out like beacons. To the poor they were palaces – Gin Palaces. At the time of its exhibition, Madox Brown’s Work was timeworn in almost every detail of the painting. A jug of stale beer.

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Strand, often called the Strand, is a major thoroughfare in Westminster running from its western origin at Trafalgar Square to its eastern end at Temple Bar, where it continues into Fleet Street, marking Westminster’s boundary with the City of London. The Old English word strand means shore, referring to the bank of the Thames before construction of the Victoria Embankment.
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The name was later applied to the road itself. In Roman times the route of the Strand was part of Iter VIII on the Antonine Itinerary, the road map of Roman Britain. Part of it was known in the thirteenth century as Densemanestret (Street of Danes). Immigration has been a continuous aspect of the capital. During the Middle Ages it was the principal route between the separate settlements of the City of London (the civil and commercial centre) and the Palace of Westminster (the political centre). By then, large mansions lined the Strand, including several palaces and townhouses inhabited by bishops and royal courtiers.
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Once the high and mighty had left for other parts of inner London, the character of the Strand changed fundamentally. It became synonymous with pleasure, entertainment, and artistic performance. Palaces and estates were replaced by theatres, clubs, coffee houses, taverns, and brothels. The Strand and a taste of tea are inseparable. The first tea samples reached England in the early 1650s. On 25 September 1660 Samuel Pepys enjoyed a ‘cupp of tee’ for the very first time.

John Ovington's Tea Essay, 1699

John Ovington’s Tea Essay, 1699

John Ovington published his Essay on Tea in 1699 (containing a woodcut of the plant). Tea mania swept across the nation. Having been apprenticed to an East India merchant, Thomas Twining acquired Tom’s Coffee House at no. 216 Strand, Devereux Court, in 1706. Thanks to his enterprising efforts and hospitality, tea drinking became an everyday part of London life. Still at the same address on the Strand, the firm holds the world’s oldest company logo and is longest-standing rate-payer in the metropolis. 05 Around the same time, the Strand had become a focus of music publishing and instrument making. François [Francis] Vaillant, who had fled Saumur for London on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, started his bookseller’s business at no. 82 Strand (opposite Southampton Street) in 1686. Specialised in foreign books, he was also involved in the sale of music and music books. There are a number of books in British libraries with a label stating: ‘London, sold by Francis Vaillant, French bookseller in the Strand, where you may be furnished with all sorts of musick’.
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Thomas Cahusac (probably of French extraction as well) was a music publisher who, as early as 1755, ran his business at the sign of the ‘Two Flutes and Violin’ opposite St Clement’s Church in the Strand. After 1784 the firm moved to no. 196 Strand. His younger son William carried on the business as Cahusac & Co. up until 1819. The family did not make instruments themselves, but employed outworkers. Flutes, recorders and flageolets with their name stamped on them show a range of quality, from very cheap work to instruments made entirely from ivory. The violins carrying their name also appear to show a range of different hands. William [‘Old’] Foster set up the firm of musical instrument makers and publishers that from 1785 onwards traded at no. 348 Strand. Trumpet maker Richard Woodham resided at no. 12 Exeter Court, Strand, from 1774 until his death around 1797/8. Music printers John Preston & Son were active in the 1790s at no. 97 Strand.
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In the early nineteenth century Charles Wheatstone ran an imposing music warehouse at no. 436 Strand. The most important figure at the time was music publisher and instrument maker John Walsh. Of Irish descent, he had established himself in Catherine Street, just off the Strand, by around 1690. He began publishing music in 1695, at which time he had few rivals in the trade. His firm was soon printing engraved music on a scale previously unknown in England. In addition to English composers, he published a good deal of music by foreign composers, mostly copied from Dutch editions (from 1716 onwards he worked closely together with Estienne Roger in Amsterdam).
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From 1711 onwards his name became associated with Handel. Around 1730 his son John took control of the business, and was responsible for developing the firm’s relationship with Handel from that time onward. In 1739 he was granted a monopoly on Handel’s music for fourteen years. John Walsh played another part in English musical life which was totally unforeseen and yet of lasting importance. 09 Violin maker Daniel Parker is a mysterious figure. Active from around 1700 to 1725, there is no trace about his birth or background and no record can be found of any apprenticeship. The little that can be discovered about his life has to be inferred from studying his thirty or so known violins and violas and the labels and dates that some of them bear. He worked mainly for the trade in the City of London, having no retail establishment of his own. His contribution can be seen in the instruments of Edward Lewis, Barak Norman, Richard Meares and John Hare, all of whom ran music shops on the northern edge of St Paul’s Churchyard at one time or another. Prior to 1700, there were few violin makers in England and they were in the process of developing their skill. Only a precious few Amati instruments were available to study and imitate.

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A number of the early instrument makers were immigrants. Jacob Rayman was born in Füssen, Bavaria, in about 1596. He arrived in London in 1620, having come from s’Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands according to court papers of the time. He settled first at Blackman Street, then at Bell Yard, Southwark. Rayman was active till about 1650. He was not the first violin maker in this country. Various craftsmen were busy making violins amongst all sorts of other instruments by the end of the sixteenth century. However, no actual surviving work earlier than Rayman’s has been securely identified. His violins maintain many of the characteristics of Jacob Stainer’s Tyrolean design, tending to be rough on the exterior, with flat arching, and a fine varnish, all contributing to a dark sound.

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The skill level was raised dramatically in the first decade of the eighteenth century. What caused this sudden progress? Virtuoso violinist and composer Gasparo Visconti was born in Cremona in January 1683 into a noble family. Details of his life and career are sketchy. He was a dilettante who pursued a musical career not out of economic necessity, but for its artistic delights. He had been, according to his own testimony, a pupil of Arcangelo Corelli for five years. The Corellian manner of his first published music, the six violin sonatas of Opus 1 (Amsterdam: Estienne Roger, 1703), appears to bear out the truth of that claim. He resided in London from 1702 to 1705, where he regularly performed as a solo violinist or together with his friend the French flautist Jacques Paisible. His sonatas for violin and flute were widely appreciated in England. His compositions were published by John Walsh who had connections with the violin trade and apparently with Daniel Parker himself. Visconti also had a scientific interest in the sound of the violin and is almost certain to have come to England with knowledge Stradivari’s working methods. In London he assisted Frederick and Christian Steffkin, the prominent viol players at the Royal Court, in acoustical demonstrations in July 1705 at the Royal Society. Since the Fire of London, meetings of the Royal Society took place at Arundel House, London home of the Dukes of Norfolk in the Strand near St Clement Danes (in 1710, under the Presidency of Isaac Newton, the Society acquired its own base in Crane Court, off the Strand). 11 In 1704 Visconti married Christina Steffkin. To celebrate the marriage, he commissioned a violin from Stradivari for his wife, and the original template for the neck of this instrument remains in the Stradivari museum in Cremona, inscribed with her name.

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Parker presumably gained access to the Visconti violin and was the first craftsman to realise the high quality of the workmanship of Stradivari. He made patterns of the instrument, and from then on his violins were firmly rooted in Stradivari’s work of the period 1690-1700. The Cremonese model became the central inspiration for a new generation of English violin makers who were located around St Paul’s Churchyard. Whatever happened to Visconti after 1705 is poorly documented. It is certain that he returned to his native city by 1713, the year his daughter was born. He was the teacher of the violinist and composer Carlo Zuccari which indicates that he continued to be active in Cremona during the late 1710s and early 1720s (Zuccari left for Vienna in 1723). Parker’s standing in the meantime was established during his lifetime. The last known violin by Daniel Parker is a fine example of collaboration with Barak Norman, dated 1723. Norman died in the following year, and the once-populous community of instrument makers in St Paul’s Churchyard dwindled as Piccadilly became the new focus for English musical culture. His legacy was confirmed when Fritz Kreisler at the end of his 1910/11 tour of Britain (when he premiered the violin concerto that Edward Elgar had written for and dedicated to him) bought one of violins from W.E. Hill & Sons. Made in the early eighteenth century, its modelling and construction showed that Parker had grasped the Stradivarian principles of instrument making. Kreisler played the violin frequently during his career and referred to it as his ‘Parker Strad’.

(c) The Fitzwilliam Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) The Fitzwilliam Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The art of performing string instruments in England in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century was also refined by the arrival of immigrants from Italy. Once again, the Strand figures in the narrative. Violinist and composer Nicola Matteis was of Neapolitan descent, describing himself as ‘Napolitano’ in several of his works. Nothing is known about his origins or education. He arrived in London in the early 1670s. On 20 November 1674 John Evelyn made an enthusiastic note in his diary. He had dined at the Strand home of Henry Slingsby, Master of the Mint, and was treated to a private concert in which Nicola Matteis excelled (a Frenchman played the lute, an Italian the harpsichord, and a German the viol d’amore: music in London was largely a Continental experience). The violinist was actively supported by such eminent men as Roger L’Estrange, William Waldegrave and William Bridgeman, all of whom had strong interests in music (and were sympathetic to the Roman Church). He became the earliest notable Italian Baroque violinist active in the capital. Initially very much his own promoter, Matteis published his Arie diverse per il violin in 1676, a collection of 120 pieces for solo violin and continuo bass. A second edition with an English title-page together with a second part containing a further seventy pieces appeared two years later. These self-published volumes helped establish in England the skill and technology of engraving music. In 1685, he published the third and fourth parts of the Ayres for the Violin, which was followed two years later by an expanded second edition. His portrait was painted by Godfrey Kneller in 1682. Matteis teamed up with John Walsh in 1696 enjoying great artistic and commercial success with his published music. He married a rich widow in 1700 and retired from the London musical scene. Having squandered his wealth, he died in poverty sometime after 1713. Matteis is credited with changing the English taste for violin playing from the French to the Italian style. Burney stressed his importance in the English history of violin playing, stating that the virtuoso ‘had polished and refined our ears, and made them fit and eager for the sonatas of Corelli’.

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Stradivari’s reputation in Britain was cemented in the Strand. A veritable cult of Cremona would follow. The Stradivarius violin became a metaphor for perfection attained by individual genius, consummate skill, and close attention to details. Little is known about Antonio Stradivari’s life. Contemporaries did not deem it necessary to eulogise a productive craftsman and chronicle his deeds as was done for Renaissance painters or sculptors. No authentic portrait has survived. After all, he was only a craftsman. It only contributed to nineteenth century myth making (the most persistent and prominent one is that of the ‘secret’ and ‘lost’ varnish recipe). In literature it led to the creation of a new leading role, that of the craftsman-hero. Painter Edgar Bundy specialised in historical paintings in oil and watercolour, usually in a very detailed and narrative style, a genre that was popular amongst the Edwardians. In 1893 he produced Antonio Stradivari at work in his studio, a painting that typifies the mystique surrounding the figure of the violin maker. It is the kind of sugar pill Romanticism which created many nonsensical notions about the artist, his craft and the creative process that have remained in circulation to this day. Such was the Stradivari hero-worship that in 1902 the three Hill brothers, owners of a violin and bow-making firm in New Bond Street and leading experts on the work of Stradivari, published a detailed study of the master’s work and productivity. According to their figures Stradivari produced a total of 1,116 instruments, most of which were violins – 540 violins, 50 cellos, and 12 violas could be accounted for. They went out their way to separate the legend from the reality of the workshop. The Hills were emphatic in asserting that Stradivari had no individual secrets in the craft of violin making. He was just a gifted and diligent artisan. It was the skill factor – not the genius, divine inspiration, or any other claptrap – that Daniel Parker recognised in the Stradivari’s craftsmanship. He used the master’s work as a starting point, developing his own results from a set of ideas that were familiar to Cremonese instrument makers without sacrificing useful elements which he had acquired during his traditional London training.

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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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