X. Books Do Furnish a Room
After the war, Nick returns to university to write a book about Robert Burton, but finds the return of his memories of undergraduate years oddly depressing. “The odd thing was how distant the recent past had also become, the army now as stylized in the mind—to compare another triumphal frieze—as the legionaries of Trajan’s Column, exercising, sacrificing, sweating at their antique fatigues, silent files on eternal parade to soundless military music.” [BDFR 1].
Nick is comparing his memory of military service during the war to war’s representation on Trajan’s Column, erected in AD 113 in the Trajan Forum in Rome. It was built to commemorate and glorify the Emporer Trajan’s two victorious campagns against the Dacians, a people living in what is now Moldova, Romania, and parts of neighboring Ukraine, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Hungary .
The monument stands 35 meters high, a column of Cararra marble carved in an upward-winding spiral with a continuous, elegant freize depicting episodes from the campaigns in bas relief. The labors of war are depicted in exquisite detail, but the chaos and heartache of war are replaced by stylized order and rhythmic beauty. Originally, a bronze statue of Trajan stood at the top of column; it was replaced in the sixteenth century by a bronze Saint Peter.
Nick has not told us about any travel to Rome. Perhaps, he knew Trajan’s column from the full size plaster cast, made in 1864, that is displayed in London at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Because of effects of time and pollution on the original column, the detail is better studied on the plaster cast reproduction.
The incised script at the base of the column is as stylized as the bas relief army. This inscription is the preeminent example of the elegant Roman capital alphabet.
In the later twentieth century, this Roman capital script has been adapted into one of the more popular digital fonts, shown at left.
Trajan’s glorification of victory has many descendants: Trajan type face in the titles of epic movies, plaster cast bas reliefs in museums, imitative columns all over the world. Our last post from MP left Nick depressed at the memorial service in Saint Paul’s; at the beginning of BDFR, his post-war depression continues, and he fears that actual painful memories of war will be distorted or obscured in the idealized images of memorial art. We suspect that Nick’s anxiety is that memory itself is the art that necessarily stylizes our most painful experiences into stories that we can bear to tell ourselves.
The Anatomy of Melancholy
In describing his own state of irresolute depression after the war, Nick invokes Robert Burton’s seventeenth century treatise on the condition, The Anatomy of Melancholy. Nick cites Burton’s own copious descriptors of the magnum opus itself, and then describes its famous frontispiece:
“The title page showed not only Burton’s own portrait in ruff and skullcap, but also figures illustrative of his theme; love-madness; hypocondriasis, religious melancholy. The emblems of jealously and solitude were there too, together with those sovereign cures for melancholy and madness, borage [bottom left] and hellebore [bottom right]. Burton had long been a favorite of mine.” [BDFR 6-7/2]
Burton first published The Anatomy of Melancholy in 1621, but no original manuscript now exists. The text was reprinted five times in Burton’s own lifetime and in numerous versions and revisions since. The title page Nick refers to dates from the third edition (1628) and is attributed to one Christian Le Blon, about whose work we found no examples but this. It appears to be a wood engraving that would have served to furnish sufficient copies for a limited edition of the Anatomy. For the 1632 edition, Burton added an “Argument of the Frontispiece,” in verse to explain the meaning of each of the 10 “Squares.” Le Blon’s technical execution is quite refined, but his drawing style is somewhat rustic, even a bit loopy or jokey, which might have suited Burton’s opus well, alternating as it does between scientific text and parody of the exhaustive and exhausting tone of such texts.
Jenkins describes Sillery:
Perhaps illusorily, his body and face had shrunk, physical contraction giving him a more simian look than formerly, though of no ordinary monkey; Brueghel’s Antwerp apes (admired by Pennistone) rather than the Douanier’s homely denizens of Tropiques, which Soper, the Division Catering officer, had resembled. [BDFR 11/7]
Jenkins has previously mentioned Pennistone’s admiration of Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s Two Monkeys, which he had seen in Berlin. Here Jenkins refers to another Brueghel singerie, this one by Jan Brueghel the Elder, Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s son. Jan Brueghel’s painting anthromorphizes the monkeys, satirizing human folly.
The picture is currently in the Rubens Museum (Rubenshuis) in Antwerp, the city where Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel lived and collaborated (Woollet and Suchtellen Rubens and Brueghel: A Working Friendship). Barely discernible at the upper right, just above the door, is a copy of Rubens and Frans Snyders’ Ceres and Pan (1620), which is currently in the Prado. The contrast between the cultivating goddess Ceres and the passionate god Pan is a comment on the tension between human culture and the wild monkeys; however, we perceive the always wily Sillery as now wizened rather than wild.
The Douanier is the nickname of the French painter Henri Rousseau (1844-1910). A douanier is a toll or tax collector, which was Rousseau’s occupation from 1871 until about 1893. He started painting seriously about the mid 1880s, in an unschooled manner that seemed primitive to his contemporaries but sophisticated to today’s eyes. He never left France, observing the foliage for his tropical paintings chiefly in Paris’ botanical garden, the Jardin des Plantes.
Picasso introduced Rousseau to many rising artists of the School of Paris, who were influenced by his distinctive style. When he died, Appolinaire wrote his epitaph, which was chiseled into the grave stone by Brancusi: “We salute you Gentle Rousseau. You can hear us, Delaunay, his wife, Monsieur Queval, and myself. Let our luggage pass duty free through the gates of heaven. We will bring you brushes, paints, and canvas that you may spend your sacred leisure in the light of truth painting, as you once did, my portrait facing the stars.”
Perhaps Powell saw Tropiques (The Tropics, also known as Apes in the Orange Grove) on a trip to New York. Adelaide Milton de Groot owned it in France and first lent it to the Metropolitan Museum in about 1936. Incidentally, shortly after BDFR was published (1971), Tropiques made news when the Met sold it back into private hands. Another Rousseau simian scene, Tropical Forest with Monkeys (2010), is owned by the National Gallery, Washington. Rousseau’s monkeys have flat, deadpan, perhaps sad, faces, nothing like the varied distinct personalities shown by Brueghel.
We have already noted Jenkins’ interest in public monuments like those in St. Paul’s and the tension between his devotion to Modernism and his nostalgia for the unapologetic patriotism of earlier generations. Now we will turn to more personal memorials. Within a few months, Jenkins attended the funerals first for George Tolland and later for Erridge at the family church, where the family’s memorials went back to the mid eighteenth century, starting with “a tomb in white marble, ornate but elegant, surrounded by sepulchral urns and trophies of arms” for the 1st Earl of Warminster and including a “portrait medallion, like gray marble against an alabaster background, of the so-called ‘chemist-Earl,’ depicted in bas relief with side whiskers and a high collar…” [BDFR 48-49/42-43].
These monuments are, of course, fictictious. We show, at right, a Victorian portrait medallion memorializing another scientist, the botantist Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker. The medallion that we show is Wedgewood and served as the model for a marble medallion of Hooker in Westminster Abbey.
In TKBR Powell gives a more detailed example of the cultural and historical significance of the memorials in a local church and reveals that he, like Jenkins, sees these monuments as both a manifestation of the evolution of modern visual art and an evocative expression of strong emotions. Powell recounts that a family, the Horners, had been resident for years in a Manor House at Mells, England, near Powell’s country house, and buried their dead at St. Andrew’s Church in Mells [TKBR 342-344].
In the first three centuries, they built few monuments in the church; however, between the late nineteenth century and the aftermath of the first war, they built three memorials in which Powell saw a “haunting sense of their time;” he sees an 1886 mural tablet to Laura Lyttelton, by Edward Burne-Jones, as an example of the way that late nineteenth century work was “heralding the explosion” of Modernism and contrasts the Lyttelton memorial with the more traditional memorial to Edward Horner and the simpler memorial to Raymond Asquith, who both lost their lives in the First World War, as examples of changing styles of artistic patriotic expression. The Asquith memorial has been despoiled by looters, so we cannot show what moved Powell:
“Something about the whole conception of the memorial — which would have been different a few years earlier or a few years later, one could almost say a few months in each case — bring back with a force comparable to no other monument I can thing of an overwhelming sense of the first war, its idealisms, its agonies, its tragedies. [TKBR 344] “
After George died, Erridge took up George’s project of commissioning a memorial stained glass window to their grandfather [BDFR 95/89]. Perhaps the Tolland brothers envisioned a window like that shown behind the Horner equestrian statue. That window was designed by William Nicholson (1872-1949) as part of the Horner memorial
A Painting of the First Jubilee
Wandering the back rooms of Thrubworth, Alfred Tolland identified some of the found objects: “That oil painting on its side’s the First Jubilee. Very old fashioned in style. Nobody paints like that now.” [BDFR 74/ ]
The first jubilee, of course, was Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, as opposed to her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. The jubilees were commemorated with innumerable paintings, busts, coins, plates and other curios, which became so commonplace that even today most have little value as antiques. No wonder that the painting was not on display at Thrubworth in 1946.
We show a painting of the first jubilee by William Ewart Lockhart, 1846-1900, a fellow of the Royal Scottish Academy, who spent 3 years completing the painting. Lockhart’s work has been described as”marked by considerable bravura of execution and much brilliance of colour, but are rather wanting in refinement and subtlety, (Caw in Dictionary of National Biography, 1901). ” The painting cast aside at Thrubworth may have been even less distinguished than Lockhart’s, but we suspect that Alfred Tolland’s comment, “very old fashioned in style,” referred not to the refinement or subtlety of the work but rather to the realistic representation that was predominant at the time but was being replaced by the evolving styles of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Realistic painting was being eclipsed by photographs. In homes less prosperous than Thrubworth, a photographic portrait of Victoria, like those of Alexander Bassano (1829-1913), was one of the common mementos of the Queen’s Jubilee.
Two Tall Oriental Vases
At Thrubworth, after Erridge’s funeral, Pamela Widmerpool is going to be sick and looks about her: “She glanced round about, her eyes coming to rest on the two tall oriental vessels, which Lord Huntercomb had disparaged as nineteenth-century copies. Standing about five foot high, patterned in blue, boats sailed across their surface on calm sheets of water out of which rose houses on stilts, in the distance a range of jagged mountain peaks. It was a peaceful scene, very different from the emergency in the passage . . . .” [BDFR 90/83]
We cannot know the true identity or provenance of these ill-fated vessels, one of which is to become the victim of Pamela’s malevolent malaise, but their type is not hard to imagine. Since the sixteenth century, the refinement of Chinese porcelain was prized by European collectors and its popularity stimulated the production of decorative styles in China meant for export to Europe. Among these was the blue and white pictorial style made with hand-painted cobalt oxide pigments in floral/geometric patterns and landscape motifs of the sort Nick describes at Thrubworth. By the eighteenth century these Chinese exports were so valued by Europeans that several European imitations were introduced, most notably Meissen, Delft and Worcester.
Today, these eighteenth-century European homages to Chinese artistry are themselves highly valued antiques, to be distinguished from successively degraded versions of Chinoiserie that followed from them, ultimately to the ubiquitous willow pattern china to be found in every Chinese restaurant in the land.
No doubt Erridge’s huge urns were distinguished enough in design and manufacture to be taken as eighteenth-century Chinese by all but the eagle eyes of Lord Huntercomb on his visit to Thrubworth [BDFR 74/67]. The vases that we show above are neither floor standing nor as huge as those at Thrubworth, but their landscape decoration nearly matches Nick’s description. Whether they are authentically eighteen-century Chinese as described, or lesser knock-offs of a later era, we leave to the Lord Huntercombs among our readership.
Jenkins, talking with Rosie Manasch about the sale of Donners’ pictures by his widow, observes, “If I’d been Matilda, I’d have kept the Toulouse Lautrec.” [BDFR 109/ 101]
Do you realize that a relation of mine — Isadore Manasch — was painted by Lautrec? A café scene, in the gallery at Albi. Isadore’s slumped on the chair in the background. [BDFR 110/ 101]
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) was born in Albi in southern France. He broke both legs as a teenager due to a bone disease and grew to only 5’1″ with a full sized trunk on pathologically shortened legs. He painted in brothels, nightclubs like the Moulin Rouge, and other parts of Montmarte. Jenkins’ admiration for Toulouse-Lautrec was shared by Powell, who described “his power to impart, by wit, flourish, a sense of design, beauty and universality to themes in themselves sinister and tawdry.” [TKBR 363]
We have not been able to fully explore the collection of the Musée Toulouse Lautrec, founded in Albi in 1922; the man whom we show slumped in a chair is Monsieur Delaporte rather than Isadore Manasch.
Jenkins imagines Rosie as a model for Lautrec:
At forty or so, she herself was not unthinkable in terms of Lautrec’s brush, more alluring certainly than the ladies awaiting custom on the banquettes of the Rue des Moulins, though with something of their resignation. A hint of the seraglio, and its secrets, that attached to her suggested oriental custume in one of the masked ball scenes. [BDFR 110/ 101]
The scene above left probably actually shows a brothel, with interior design perhaps evoking a harem room, at Rue d’Ambroise, not Rue des Moulins. Lautrec favored Mireille, the prostitute in the foreground.
Jenkins describes Rosie as having plump little hands, so perhaps he purposefully chose to compare her to the woman with ample buttocks, shown above right at the masked ball. The man in the painting, ogling her bottom, is modeled on Lautrec’s cousin. With this caricature, Lautrec is teasing his cousin for behavior much more staid than this own. Powell classed Toulouse-Lautrec among the famous men “whose lives are so picturesque that legend obscures any balanced picture of them…” [SPA 262]. Toulouse-Lautrec died before this thirty-seventh birthday of alcoholism and syphilis, which he purportedly contracted from one of his favorites, prostitute and model Carmen Gaudin, also known as Rosa La Rouge .
Gauguin and Rimbaud
The critic Bernard Shernmaker is teasing Quiggen about his mercenary considerations as editor of Fission: “Gauguin abandoned business for art, JG, you’re like Rimbaud, who abandoned art for business.” [BDFR 148/138]
Readers probably need no introduction to the painter Paul Gauguin (French 1948-1903), who abandoned his job as a stockbroker (not to mention his failed marriage and five children, abandoned even earlier) in order to pursue his fabled career in painting and printmaking. Nor is there any work of art to cite here, but it is probably worth mentioning that Gauguin seemed to live prominently in Powell’s imagination. On the opening page of his memoir, To Keep the Ball Rolling, Powell ponders his own unpromising beginnings thus: “Why, one wonders, did it all come about? Like Gauguin’s picture: D’ou´ venon-nous? Que sommes-nous? Ou´ venons nous?; a journey in my own case, tackled under the momentum of a slow pulse, lowish blood pressure, slightly subnormal temperature.”
In Gauguin’s masterpiece, now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, a slow pulse and lowish blood pressure seem to be the perks of an idyllic island existence that Gauguin helped mythologize.
Arthur Rimbaud (French 1854-1891) began his career as a precocious poet wunderkind and precursor of Symbolism and Surrealism, and ended it as a coffee merchant in the Middle East. His name also appears in Powell’s memoir, but perhaps only as a reminder of Powell’s omniverous reading habits and deep cultural literacy.
Jenkins visits his brother-in-law Roddy Cutts at the House of Commons:
Callot-like figures pervaded labyrinthine corridors. Cavernous alcoves were littered with paraphernalia of scaffolding and ropes, Piranesian frameworks hinting of torture and execution, but devised only to repair bomb damage to structure and interior ornaments. [BDFR 181-2/170 ]
The Houses of Parliament were damaged by German bombs on 14 occasions, the worst destroying the Chamber of the House of Commons on the night of May 10-11 1941. When Jenkins visits in 1946, repairs are still in progress. The architect of the restoration was Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who also designed the classic British red telephone kiosk. The Chamber did not reopen until October, 1950.
Jacques Callot (1592 -1635) was a printmaker and engraver from the Duchy of Lorraine. He studied in Florence and Rome and made a number of important technical contributions to the art of etching. He produced thousands of preparatory drawings and more than 1,400 etchings, most no more than six inches in greatest dimension. His precisely drawn figures were rarely more than two inches tall. Among his best known works is a series of 18 etchings, Les Grandes Misères de la Guerre, published in 1633, showing the effect of the Thirty Years War on the populace. We show Le Pilage, plate 5 from this series, even though it shows destruction rather than construction; it is a fine example of Callot’s small, detailed men and women busy in a chamber of horrors.
Speaking of scaffolding and ropes, pull the image close to study the human carcass suspended over the fire in the background right. Each etching is accompanied by a verse, attributed to Abbé Marolles, describing the abhorent acts.
Jenkins has previously evoked Piranesi’s masterful depiction of ruins when he described the rundown precincts of Shepherd Market. Here, in the House of Commons, hints of “torture and execution” direct us to another portion of Piranesi’s work, Le Carceri d’Invenzione. Piranesi published two series of etchings, illustrating his fantasies of prisons (carceri), 14 in 1750 and a reworked series of 16 in 1761.
Here Powell is using visual art at his best. He directs us to powerful, but not universally known, works by Old Masters to create new tropes for contemporary calamity.
The Roosevelt Statue
In the House of Commons, Jenkins and Cutts happen upon Widmerpool, who says:
I’m glad to come on you both. First of all, my dear Cutts, I wanted to approach you regarding a little non-party project I have on hand — no, no, not the Roosevelt statue — it is connected with an Eastern European cultural organisation in which I am interested. [BDFR 182-183/171 ]
There is more than one memorial to President Franklin Roosevelt ( 1882 -1945) in London, but here Widmerpool is undoubtedly referring to the statue in Grosvenor Square, near the American Embassy, that shows Roosevelt standing with a cane. The memorial was funded in 1946, just about the time of this encounter with Widmerpool, by public subscription. Over six days, 160,000 memorial booklets were sold at five shillings each. The sculptor was Sir William Reid Dick, whom we have previously mentioned as the designer of a memorial to Kitchener. The architect B.W.L. Gallanaugh redesigned Grosvenor Square for the siting. The work was dedicated December 4, 1948 by Eleanor Roosevelt and King George VI.
The Modigliani Drawing
Jenkins and Roddy Cutts return with Widmerpool to his flat. Pamela Fitton is not up and about yet.
Widmerpool glanced around the room and made a gesture of simulated exasperation.
‘She’s been altering the pictures again. Pam loves doing that — especially shifting around that drawing that her uncle Charles Stringham left her. I can never remember the artist’s name. An Italian.’
‘Modigliani.’ [BDFR 188/176]
We will learn about the travels of this drawing as it accompanies Pamela in her escapades, but in BDFR Jenkins describes it in no more detail [ BDFR 192/180, 204/191, 241/227]. We know the provenance of this drawing back only to the summer of 1933, when Jenkins saw it in Stringham’s flat. Provenance here is not trivial since Modigliani counterfeits are common. The drawing seems incongruous with Stringham’s collection of family memorablia and aristocratic sporting prints.
Modigliani (1884-1920) initially studied in Rome, Florence, and Venice, then moved to Paris in 1906. He reportedly could produce a hundred sketches a day but destroyed or lost many of them. No one knows what became of many that he gave to girl friends.
From 1910 t0 1912 his great love was Anna Akhmatova, a famous Russian ballerina. He drew her at least 16 times, but most of the drawings have been lost. Three, including Kneeling Blue Caryatid, were shown in 2015 at the Estorick Collection of Italian art in London.
Modigliani had a remarkable visual memory. He and Akhamatova visited the Louvre together; then he returned to his studio to draw her, modeled on an Egyptian sculpture of a kneeling Isis. Modigliani gave this drawing to his friend Dr. Paul Alexandre and its subsequent provenance is well documented, so we know that it was never in Stringham’s possession.
Modigliani’s only one-man exhibition opened in Paris in December, 1917, but was shut down within in days by the police, who found his nudes obscene.
Modigliani was known for depicting elongated torsos and faces, as shown in the drawing below, which belonged to Sir Jacob Epstein.
Like Toulouse Lautrec, who influenced him artistically, Modigliani abused hashish, alcohol and absinthe; he died penniless of tuberculous meningitis in 1920. His pregnant mistress, Jeanne Hebuterne, committed suicide a few days later.
Modigliani’s reputation when Stringham would have acquired the work was more for his flamboyant bohemian life style than for his art; however, early in his career his genius was appreciated by British artists of Powell’s set, like Sir Jacob Epstein and Nina Hamnett, whose relationship with Modigliani is the source of many anecdotes.(TKBR 137, 161-2). Maybe it is these sexy bits that attach Pamela Fitton to the drawing.
King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid
Jenkins visits Trapnel and Pamela Fitton in their apartment:
He [Trapnel] gave her one of those ‘adoring looks’ that Lermontov says means so little to women. Pamela stared back at him with an expression of complete detachment. I thought of King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid, though Pamela was far from a Pre-Raphaelite type or a maid, and, socially speaking, the boot was, in anything, on the other foot. … All the same, he sitting on the divan, she standing above him, the somehow recalled the picture. [BDFR 205/193]
The painting of King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid by Edward Burne-Jones shows the pose that Jenkins describes. The painting portrays the myth of an African King choosing a poor girl as his true love.
Her arms across her breast she laid;
She was more fair than words can say;
Barefooted came the beggar maid
Before the king Cophetua.
In robe and crown the king stept down,
To meet and greet her on her way;
‘It is no wonder,’ said the lords,
‘She is more beautiful than day.’
As shines the moon in clouded skies,
She in her poor attire was seen;
One praised her ancles, one her eyes,
One her dark hair and lovesome mien.
So sweet a face, such angel grace,
In all that land had never been.
Cophetua sware a royal oath:
‘This beggar maid shall be my queen!’ (Alfred, Lord Tennyson)
The Beggar Maid of the story, retold by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, portrayed by other Victorian artists, and referenced in many other novels, is a clear contrast to the fickle and moneyed Miss Flitton.