XI. Temporary Kings
Temporary Kings starts in Venice, where the artistic delights include many works by Tiepolo and other eighteenth century artists who contributed to the Second Golden Age of Venetian painting; the First Golden Age in the sixteenth century is represented in Dance only by Veronese, unless we count The Titian Hotel that became the Polish Headquarters during the War (MP). Later in TK, Daniel Tokenhouse tries to practice Socialist Realism, a sad contrast to Venetian glory.
Jenkins listens to a Venetian singer with Dr. Emily Brightman and reflects:
At the beginning of the century, Marinetti and the Futurists had wanted to make a fresh start — whatever that might mean — advocating, among other projects, filling up the Venetian canals with the rubble of the Venetian palaces. Now, the Futurists, with their sentimentality about the future, primitive machinery, vintage motor-cars, seemed as antiquely picturesque as the Doge in the Bucentaur, wedding his bride the Sea, almost as distant in time; … [TK 8/4]
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944) was an Italian poet, editor, and prose author, best known as one of the founders of Futurism. In 1923, he married the painter Benedetta Cappa. Although he himself was not primarily a visual artist, he wrote poems using “words in freedom (parole in liberta)” to add a second dimension to the power of his work. We have previously quoted the Manifesto of the Futurist Painters. In the passage above, Jenkins is referring to Marinetti’s “Manifesto Against Past-Loving Venice” (1910) in which he advocated “fill(ing) the small, stinking canals with the rubble from the old, collapsing and leprous palaces.”
The bucentaur (bucintoro, after a mythical beast half man and half bull) was the Doge’s galley on which he would sail on Ascension Day, leading a procession of boats to a ceremony in which he would wed Venice to the sea by dropping a ring in the water. The last bucentaur was completed in 1729 and pillaged by the French about 1798.
Francesco Lazzaro Guardi (1712-1793) was a Venetian painter known for his vedute or vistas, large scale cityscapes or seascapes. He created a series of 12 paintings of the bucentaur, ten of which are now in The Louvre. Guardi rivaled Canaletto, who also painted the bucentaur, in his portrayals of Venice. Canaletto is known for his accurate, formal and precise depictions of the city. Guardi brought more energy, color, and imagination to his scenes.
Of course, Marinetti’s vision of the future has not been fulfilled, and Jenkins could still enjoy the pleasures of Venice. By italicizing the bucentaur, referring us to art works and not just the ship, Powell foreshadows that eighteenth century Venetian painting is an important part of the pleasure of Temporary Kings.
Veronese at Villa Barbaro
Jenkins recalls his first meeting of Russell Gwinnett: “These banquets were usually linked with some national treasure, or place of historic interest, occasions to some extent justifying the promise of Members that we should ‘live like kings’. . . . Through the medium of one of these jaunts, which took place at a villa on the Brenta, famous for its frescoes by Veronese, Gwinnett and I had met. [TK 24/20]”
The villa in question is the Villa Barbaro, often called Villa di Maser for the village of its location in the Veneto mainland northwest of Venice. Villa Barbaro is one of the finest creations of the architect and builder Andrea Palladio (Italian 1508-1580), whose masterpieces distinguish the Veneto region. The originality, beauty, and efficiency of Palladio’s designs, which adopted classical Greek and Roman building vocabulary into a refined Italianate elegance, is hard to appreciate today , simply because Palladio’s influence has so thoroughly permeated the centuries of architecture that followed them. For example, in America, Thomas Jefferson’s veneration of Palladian design is responsible for the adoption in the 18th century of a neo-Palladian building vocabulary as the official style of the young United States.
The site of Jenkins’ first meeting with Gwinnett is a villa commissioned of Palladio by the patriarchs of the Barbaro family in the 16th century. Palladio in turn commissioned the young Paolo Veronese (Italian 1528-1588) to paint a series of frescoes around which six rooms on the piano nobile were designed. We last read about Paolo Veronese when his name was attached to “the Dogdene Veronese” , a fictitious version of “The Sacrifice of Iphigenia”. Veronese’s frescoes at Villa Barbaro are no fiction, however, and proved influential throughout the Veneto for centuries to come. The various panels wed classical humanist themes with those of Christian devotion, plus there are portraits of the two Barbaro patriarchs and charming trompe-l’oiel effects of architecture and park-like vistas.
Pictured here are several wall panels in the Sala a Crociera, where Veronese’s sense of invention is evident, as well as his mastery of trompe-l’oiel perspective in both architecture and human figures.
Tiepolo I: Iphigenia
Gwinnett is musing on Iphigenia in Veronese’s depiction of her sacrifice: “Tiepolo painted an Iphigenia too, more than once, though I’ve only seen the one at Villa Valmarana.” [TK 26-7/23]
This is not the only time that Powell refers to this fictional Veronese (see Constable, Pepys, and Veronese at Dogdene); the Tiepolo, however, is real.
As this is the first of many references to Tiepolo in Temporary Kings, it is worth taking a moment to get acquainted with this pillar of 18th century Venetian painting. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Italian, 1696-1770, also known as Gian Battista or Giambattista) was the son of a middle-class Venetian family and trained from an early age to become a painter in the workshop of Gregorio Lazzarini. Tiepolo’s early mastery of drawing, design and paint craftsmanship enabled him to strike out on his own and win commissions from the Doge, the church and private aristocratic patrons not only in Venice but throughout the Veneto.
Tiepolo’s subjects include both Old and New Testament scenes, the lives of saints, both Roman and Greek mythology and allegories of the virtues. Though he is not known as a portraitist, he famously included portraits of himself and other notables among the throngs that populate his paintings. Visitors to Venice (including Powell at the 1958 literary conference that gave him the setting for TK [TKBR 419]) marvel at Tiepolo’s majestic and fantastic ceiling frescoes: apotheoses and allegories that transform roofs into celestial panoramas. His prodigious command of perspective and pictorial organization make his name synonymous with this spectacular Roccoco form.
By the middle of the 18th century Tiepolo’s fame was such that he won commissions for royal residences beyond the Veneto, first in Germany and then in Spain, where he died in 1770. Among Tiepolo’s nine children, his sons Gian Domenico and Gian Lorenzo also won acclaim as painters and printmakers, but their names are not to be confused with that of Gian Battista Tiepolo, a giant of the age.
Gian Battista may have been the most prolific painter of the sacrifice of Iphegenia. His second best known painting of the sacrifice was for the Palazzo Giustiniani Recanti in Vicenza. One painting of the sacrifice that was once attributed to him is now credited to Gian Domenico.
Gwinnett recalls Tiepolo’s fresco at Villa Valmarana in Vicenza, west of Venice. Tiepolo’s Greek classicism here is Roman-flavored in costume and architecture, much favored by Italians of the 18th century. In this depiction, Iphigenia’s father, Agamemnon, stands behind the alter on which his daughter is to be sacrificed to Artemis. That goddess must be placated if winds favorable to Greek ships will blow, allowing them to retrieve the beautiful Helen from her Trojan in-laws. Iphigenia was said to agree to her own sacrifice for the good of Greek unity, and is revered as a heroine for her courage. In Tiepolo’s depiction, a putto flutters at the left with a deer in tow, which Artemis will substitute for Iphigenia at the last minute, whisking the girl off to become a priestess of Artemis’ cult.
Tiepolo’s painting of this drama is tightly fitted into an orange and blue complimentary scheme in pale values, filling it with sunlight and delicate breezes wafting in off the Adriatic. Though the moral weight of Greek tragedy is certainly in evidence here, Tiepolo’s set design is more of a piece with Greek mythology’s incorporation into Italian opera and its sensuous delights.
Adams or Addams
Dr. Brightman analyzes Russell Gwinett for Jenkins:
Brightman: “He is a small fragment detached from the extensive and cavernous grottoes of gothic America. He is part of an Old America — the oldest — yet has become in some respects the New America. I hardly know how to put it.”
Jenkins: “Halfway between Henry Adams and Charles Addams.”
Brightman: “Not bad. In fact alpha plus, insomuch as Henry Adams says that true eccentricity is in a tone … [TK 53/48-49]
Charles Addams was one of Powell’s favorite cartoonists, according to Powell’s wife Lady Violet. Addams was born in New Jersey in 1912; he began publishing cartoons in the New Yorker in 1935 and published over 1300 cartoons in his life time.
When he died, the New York Times obituary headline was “ Charles Addams Dead at 76; Found Humor in the Macabre.” Whether his personality was as strange as his sense of humor was a frequent subject of debate.
We show a couple Addams’ tributes to Edgar Allan Poe because Dr. Brightman says about Gwinett: “If there is a superfluity of Edgar Allan Poe brought up to date, there is also a touch of Edwin Arlington Robinson.” (We have so far not established the original publication sights or copyright status of these cartoons, so please click the thumbnails if you want to see more detail.)
Mona Lisa Stolen from The Louvre
Jenkins recalls his father’s aesthetic tastes: “He never stood in front of the Mona Lisa without remarking that, in the eyes of trivial people, the chief interest of Leonardo’s masterpiece was to have once been stolen from the Louvre.” [TK 58/53]
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) painted the Mona Lisa between 1503 and 1506. In the last century, it has become the most famous painting in world, so much so that when Anne Umfraville, at Sir Magnus’ dinner party, boasts of being compared to it, we are immediately reminded of her superficiality. However, the painting was less well-known for the first 500 years of its existence. Leonardo brought it to France in 1516 and sold it to King Francis I. It was placed in the Louvre at the time of the French Revolution, hung for at time in Napoleon’s bedroom, and later returned to the Louvre. In the 1860s Leonardo received increasing critical acclaim and by 1878 Baedeker listed the painting among the Louvre’s attractions; however, it was far from a world-wide icon.
On August 21, 1911, the painting was stolen from the Louvre. On September 7, 1911 the gendarmes detained the poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire as a suspect. Apollinaire had previously suggested burning down the Louvre. They soon also arrested Pablo Picasso. Picasso was released after brief retention, but Apollinaire was jailed for almost a week and remained a suspect for months. The painting was recovered in 1913 when one of the thieves, a Louvre employee and Italian patriot, rather than a modern artist, tried to sell it to a Florentine art dealer.
We barely registered this mention of Mona Lisa when we first read it, but now that we know the back story, we see it as another instance of Powell’s interest in how tastes change.
The role of Apollinaire and Picasso in the story reminds us that the growing adulation of Leonardo occurred simultaneously with Modernism’s influence on changing perceptions of artists generally. The artist who is credited with making the Mona Lisa was a polymath perfectionist genius, stationed well above the rest of humanity. The doubting public did not yet recognize the genius of Picasso or of Apollinaire and increasingly saw modern artists as madcap pranksters willing to undertake any outrage to bring publicity to their own careers. To the conservative critics and the uninitiated masses, ever suspicious of charlatanism, an assault on the Mona Lisa was emblematic of Modernism’s assault on the artistic verities of the past. And they were right to be worried: only a few years later Marcel Duchamp was to exhibit “L.H.O.O.Q.”
Pennell’s Life of Whistler
In Venice, Jenkins reminisces about being there as a boy with his parents. This leads to an anecdote about his father’s two volume set of Pennell’s Life of Whistler, “a painter he admired,” which he bought in Paris because the French edition had the same illustrations as the English edition but was cheaper. [TK 59/54]
Mr. Deacon referred to Whistler (1843-1903) in A Buyer’s Market. We have also mentioned Whistler when Jenkins reflected on Proust’s Balbec. Here we show a Whistler self portrait because a reproduction of it is the frontispiece of The Life Of James McNeill Whistler by Elizabeth Pennell and Joseph Pennell (1908), which includes numerous illustrations. Joseph Pennell (1857-1926) was an American artist distinguished for his work in lithography and etching. Joseph and his wife Elizabeth (1855-1936) met Whistler after they moved to London in 1884. The three became close friends, and Whistler asked the Pennells to write Whistler’s biography, to which he contributed suggestions. To sample the reverential tone of the biography read the beginning of volume 2, where Joseph recalls first meeting Whistler. The Pennells donated their collection of Whistleriana to the Library of Congress in 1917.
The Cubist Blocks
Gwinnett tells Jenkins that Louis Glober is staying at the Bragadin Palazzo, which prompts Jenkins to recall meeting Glober in London in the late 1920s. Glober visited Duckworth’s to discuss a project with Daniel Tokenhouse. “The suggestion was to produce generously illustrated, cheaply produced studies of these [Cubist] painters, blocks to be made in Holland or Germany by some newly devised process.” [TK 70/64]
Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso are credited with jointly developing Cubism, starting in 1906. Some of Braque’s earliest pieces were done during his summer stay at the French fishing village of Estaque. (The original oil painting that is akin to the print at left is at the Hermann and Margrit Rupf Foundation in Bern Switzerland.) Their abstract style using angular planes, eschewing or distorting perspective, and avoiding bright colors was dubbed Cubism in 1908 and initially derided by traditionalists in Paris. However, Braque and Picasso were soon joined by Leger, Gris, and others and championed by critics, like Apollinaire, and by their dealer Kannweiler, in his book in German, Der Weg zum Kubism (1920). We are unsure what ‘newly derived process’ Glober had in mind, but Kannweiler illustrated his book with zinkatzungen, prints made using zinc plates, a process call zincography, which was developed in the nineteenth century and is cheaper than limestone lithography.
In the 1920s and 30s, when the Cubists had become less controversial in France, Anne Stepney could talk of Braque, and Jenkins and Barnby could joke about Cubist collages. Moreland was familiar with work of Albert Gleizes, another early cubist who wrote a text on cubist theory. However, Jenkins recalls that when he first met Glober, “the Cubists were still generally regarded as wild men…” [TK 70/64] in both Britain and the United States. Mr. Deacon’s suspicion of Cubism was a prevailing view in Britain and the United States between the wars, long after his other betes noires like Impressionism had become mainstream.
Cubism and other forms of avant garde art were first shown in the United States at the New York Armory Show of 1913. The work was not appreciated by most American critics. One of the most lampooned works was Marcel Duchamp’s cubist Nude Descending a Staircase (shown right.) Our favorite newspaper cartoon mocking the piece is The Rude Descending a Staircase (shown below left). By 1936, Cubism had enough acceptance in America that the New York Museum of Modern Art had a Cubist exhibition. However, despite advocates, such as the British critic and collector Douglas Cooper, the general acceptance of Cubism in Britain was delayed. Kannweiler’s Der weg zum Kubism (1920) (The Rise of Cubism) was not published in English until 1949.
The first major exhibition in Britain devoted to Cubism was not held until 1958 when the Tate showed “The Essential Cubism: Braque, Picasso and Their Friends, 1907-1920.” This delay of British appreciation of the Cubists until the 1950s is reflected later in TK when Ada Leintwardine suggests that her husband’s publishing house might now be interested in acquiring the rights to the still unpublished Cubist blocks from Tokenhouse [TK 138/131 ].
The Old Curiosity Shop
Louis Glober first meets Jenkins in his publishing office, which Jenkins describes as having “walls grimly lined with file copies,” “almost as comfortless as the waiting room,” and marked by “frugality of surroundings. ”
[Glober] sat down in the collapsed armchair, and looked about him.
‘You’ve got a real Dickensian place here.’
[Jenkins] ‘Bleak House?’
Glober laughed his attractive laugh.
‘The Old Curiosity Shop,’ he said. ‘In the illustration.’ [TK 71-72/66]
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) originally published Bleak House (1852-3) and The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1) as serials. The illustrations for the monthly installments of Bleak House were from steel etchings by Halbot Browne (who signed himself as Phiz). The closest thing to an office illustration in the set is Attorney and Client, shown at right. The illustrations of the weekly installments of The Old Curiosity Shop were from wood blocks by Phiz, George Cattermole, and others. Cattermole did most of the interior scenes. We show below the opening illustration from the first installment, published in the weekly Master Humphrey’s Clock, 1840.
The narrator of The Old Curiosity Shop describes the shop when he first sees it as “one of those receptacles of old and curious things which seem to crouch in odd corners of this town, and to hide their musty treasures from the public eye in jealousy and distrust.” In contrast to Nick’s sense of his own milieu as drab, “frugal” and “comfortless,” this is a vision of a secluded but fascinating treasure chest. Is Glober mis-remembering his Dickens, or is it his charming attempt to soften the barb of his “Dickensian” remark?
Jenkins recalls being 22 or 23 years old (i.e., in about 1927 or 28) when he first met Glober, who at that time wanted to buy an Augustus John drawing. [TK 72/66 ]. Jenkins arranged for him to meet Mopsy Pontner, who was trying to sell one:
Glober bought the Augustus John drawing on sight. He made no demur about the price, a fairly steep one in the then market. It was a three-quarter length of a model called La Conchita, a gipsy type Barnby, too, sometimes employed. [TK 76/70]
We have previously mentioned Augustus John (1878-1961) in regard to Sir Magnus Donners’ collection of drawings. The National Portrait Gallery owns 33 portraits by John of varied aristocratic or otherwise distinguished contemporaries; however, we surmise that Glober, like Donners, wanted a John nude for his collection. La Conchita (the little seashell in Spanish), after all, is not only a legitimate, if exotic, girl’s name, but also vulgar slang for part of the female anatomy, and in the paragraphs that follow, Powell is at his bawdiest in describing Glober’s sexual proclivities with Mopsy.
Referring to art works in the Bragadin Palazzo, Dr. Brightman says. “These Luca Giordano will keep them most of them quiet for the time being.” [TK 80]
Jenkins adds, “Gwinett, preferring to go over the Palazzo at his own speed, strolled away to examine the Roman emperors on their plinths. He may also have had an interest in Luca Giordano [TK 80/81]
Luca Giordano (1634-1705) was a Neapolitan painter and etcher. Until he was eclipsed by Picasso, he was the most prolific known artist. He spent much of his working life in Naples, Rome, and Florence. For a decade, he was court painter to Charles II in Spain. He was probably in Venice about 1667 but at other times sold his works to Venetian patrons. For example, his Annunciation, now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, apparently was first displayed in the church San Daniele in Venice from 1674 to 1809.
We show two of Giordano’s versions of Venus and Mars because we will soon be discussing a Venus and Mars by Tiepolo. In Venus, Cupid, and Mars, the earlier version (shown above), the pasty flesh reminds us of heavy, tasteless, braided cookie dough, but Giordano learned from many of his contemporaries, including Veronese. By the time by painted Venus and Mars Captured by Vulcan, he had adopted a lighter frothy style, so he is sometimes called the “proto-Tiepolo.”
For the Baroque bust of a Roman Emperor we show the “Vitellio Grimani.” When Domenico Grimani gave it to the Venetian Serenissima in 1523, copied from a second century Roman bust, it was considered a portrait of the Emperor Vitellius. Tintoretto studied it in his studio and sketched it. The head has now be re-identified as a court official from Hadrian’s time.
A rococo ballroom of the villa had “white walls, festooned with gold foliage and rams’ heads, making a background for Longhi caricatures, savants and punchinellos with hugh spectacles and bulbous noses.” [TK 82/76]
Pietro Longhi (1701/2 – 1785) played the position of genre painter on the All Star team of eighteenth century Venetian painters. Powell has already introduced him when describing Mrs. Erdleigh in The Kindly Ones.
The Pharmacist (shown left) is the best we have found so far for a Longhi image of a bespectacled savant, but the spectacles are not all that big.
Punchinello (Pulcinello in Italian) was a popular character in commedia del’arte, the sixteenth and seventeenth Italian tradition of travelling troupes bringing masked plays to the rural population. By the eighteenth century, the troupes had waned, but individual Punchinellos would perform in Venetian piazzas or appear at masked balls in characteristic costume as a paunchy hunchback wearing baggy pants and a high peaked hat. The bulbous nose combined phallic symbolism with a suggestion that he was descended from chickens. If you look closely at The Ridotto in Venice (see our prior Longhi post), just right of center is a masked Punchinello with the iconic hat; there is not quite enough detail to study the nose.
However, the Tiepolos, Gian Battista and his son Gian Domenico, were the true afficionados of Punchinello. [If you follow the link to the interesting essay by Erika Esau (1991), be aware that the captions for Figures 4 and 5 are reversed.] The elder Tiepollo did a number of etchings of fantasies and folk figures in his Capricci and Scherzi. His son did 104 Punchinello drawings as Divertimento per li regazzi (entertainment for children) and between 1759 and 1797 painted a series of Punchinello frescos for the family villa at Zianigo, near Venice. These were removed from the villa in 1906 and many of them now hang in the Ca’ Rezzonico, a Venetian palazzo that has been converted to a museum of the eighteenth century.
Dr. Brightman, seeing the caricatures, says, “How much they resemble our fellow members of the Conference.” [TK 82/76] Perhaps she was referring to the savants, but the mythic lechery of Punchinello foreshadows some of what follows.
The Drunkenness of Lot
Rushing to see the Candaules and Gyges fresco, Dr. Brightman provides ongoing commentary:
These tapestries must be Florentine — look, The Drunkenness of Lot. The daughter on the left greatly resembles a pupil of mine, but we must not tarry, or the mob will be upon us again. [TK 82/76]
We have not been able to find an image of this particular tapestry; it could well be another invention by Powell, but we will comment briefly on the medium and the message.
In 1545 Cosimo I de’ Medici started tapestry workshops in Florence, using designs by Italian artists. The Medici workshops continued into the seventeenth century.
There are numerous paintings on the biblical theme of The Drunkenness of Lot. We show Domenico Maroli’s Lot and His Daughters not necessarily for its artistic superiority but rather as a painting that might have been available to the Medici workshop. Maroli (1612-1676) was born in Sicily but spent part of his career painting in Venice and other parts of northern Italy. According to Genesis, Lot’s daughters plied their father with drink and slept with him on successive nights, intending to get pregnant. Some read this as the girls raping their father; for others, it as the daughters’ revenge for prior abuse (Genesis 19:8) The life of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, is rich in moral ambiguity, and the fleeting reference to this tapestry hints at the sexual escapades that follow both in the picture of Candaules and Gyges and in the plot of Dance.
Powell was interested in the issue of sexual censorship. He attended and reported on the trial at the Old Bailey in 1960 that acquitted Penguin Books of obscenity for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover. In an interview, he was asked whether relaxation of the censorship laws made it easier to describe the sexuality of Pamela Fitton in the later volumes of Dance. Powell replied by citing Philip Larkin’s poem Annus Mirabilis:
Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.
We benefit from the end of the ban, as we proceed to see Candaules and Gyges
Tiepolo II: Candaules and Gyges
We have anticipated seeing Candaules and Gyges. Earlier in TK, Nick discussed the day’s extra-curricular activities with Russell Gwinnett and Dr. Emily Brightman. We learned that the Venitian palazzo of the socialite Jacky Bragadin, distant descendant of Marcantonio Bragadin, the patron of Giacomo Casanova, harboured a Tiepolo ceiling almost never on view to the public. Dr. Brightman described the ceiling as “‘One of the painter’s classical scenes—Candaules and Gyges. The subject, thought to have some contemporary reference, caused trouble at the time the ceiling was painted. That’s why the tradition of playing the picture down, keeping it almost a secret, has persisted almost to the present day.’” Gwinnett added, “”I’ve been told it’s not unlike the Villa Valmarana Iphigenia in composition . . . The owner won’t allow it to be photographed.’” [TK 41-43]
As with several others of Dance’s most evocative works of art (e.g., The Seven Deadly Sins tapestries at Stourwater [BM 199/190]), this one also is Powell’s fiction, a convincing synthesis of art-historical clues and clever plot drivers. There is a Bragadin palazzo in Venice, now made into a boutique hotel that boasts Marcantonio and Casanova as former occupants of the building. And of course, Venice is home to many Tiepolo ceilings, but none anywhere depicting Candaules and Gyges, a somewhat obscure tale of sexual intrigue and betrayal.
We learn at length, and soon enough, the image content of Tiepolo’s ceiling and the extended tale on which it is based [TK 81-90], so there is no need to spoil the reader’s fun by revealing it here. But it is worth remarking on the cleverness of Powell’s conceit that this painting is said to be similar in composition to Tiepolo’s Sacrifice of Iphigenia, for it allows Powell to describe in the most vivid terms this imaginary ceiling while looking at its alleged real-life look-alike in the Villa Valmarana, which we have documented earlier. [TK 26-27/22-23] This extended evocation of a glorious–if imaginary– work of art stands out from Powell’s usual brief, deceptively casual, artistic references. Here Powell rivals the majesty of his ekphrasis of the Poussin painting that sets in motion the entire enterprise of the Dance. The prominence of this description of Candaules and Gyges announces its importance as a metaphor in Temporary Kings and reminds us of Powell’s deep conviction of art’s power to assign meaning to life’s apparent chaos.
Even Tiepolo’s sublime color palette is harnessed to Powell’s enterprise. Nick looks from the colors on the ceiling to Pamela Fitton’s costume:
White trousers, thin as gauze, stretched skintight across elegantly compact small haunches, challengingly exhibited, yet elegantly formed; hard, pointed breasts, no less contentious and smally compassed, under a shirt patterned in crimson and peacock blue, stuck out like delicately shaped bosses of a shield. These colours might have been expressly designed — by dissonance as much as harmony — for juxtaposition against those pouring down in brilliant rays of light from the Tiepolo; subtle yet penetrating pinks and greys, light blue turning almost to lavender, rich saffrons and cinnamons melting into bronze and gold. [TK 88]
We wonder if this passage is another Powellian homage to Proust, who was so enchanted by Tiepolo’s colors that he used them to describe the clothes of the women about whom he obsessed — Odette, the Duchesse of Guermantes, and Albertine. Albertine wore a Fortuny gown with sleeves of “cherry pink which is so peculiarly Venetian that it is called Tiepolo pink.” (quoted in Karpeles Paintings in Proust, p. 260). We like to imagine that the crimson of Pamela’s shirt rivaled the “cloak of a magnificent Tiepolo red” worn by the Duchesse. (quoted by Stebbins Ruskin, Proust, and Carpaccio in Venice in MacDonald and Proulx Proust and the Arts, p. 85)
Finally, while a painted episode from the tale of Candaules and Gyges by Tiepolo is a fictional feature of the Dance, the scene of King Candaules offering his naked wife to the secret view of his friend Gyges is the dramatic subject of at least three other paintings that we have identified. The earliest is by Jacob Jordaens (Flemish 1593-1678) and is notable for its recruitment of the viewer into the voyeurism attributed to Gyges and his enabler, Candaules.
A second Candaules and Gyges is by William Etty (British 1787-1849) and resides currently in the Tate Britain. It shows passages of expert rendering of flesh, but to our eyes a very awkward pictorial arrangement.
Finally, a rendition of the same scene in 1859 by the academic Jean-Léon Gérôme (French 1824-1904) is more stately and balanced, if lacking in the drama the scene suggests.
In the preface to Album, Powell wrote:
I had always found the relationship of Caudaules and Gyges of peculiar fascination. … Part of its interest consisted in supposing, so far as I knew, it had never been used by any of the Old Masters.
After I had introduced the incident into Dance I found that, on the contrary, not only had several French painters used Caudaules and Gyges as a subject for their brush, but even our own Etty, and that I must have seen the picture by Jordaens … when I went around to the Gallery in Stockholm not so many years ago. Somehow it had completely passed from my memory, though it came at once when I saw the photograph [shown in Album].
The Jordaens is in every respect the antithesis of what the Tiepolo would have been. Caudaules’s Queen, a strapping Netherlands vrow, a Flanders mare if ever there was one, is stepping stark naked over the chamber pot on the way to bed. On the right, low in the picture, two lubricious boors, the King and the Captain of his Guard, peer through a gap in the arras. It is. in fact, the story reduced to its lowest common denominator.
Given these less than compelling existing paintings of Caudaules and Gyges, Powell was right to simply invent the painting that would combine Tiepolo’s ethereal color, elegant figures, movement-filled stage management and titillating wit to serve as the central motif in the unravelling mystery of Pamela and Kenneth Widmerpool’s marriage.
Tiepolo III: Mars and Venus, Moses saved from the Water, Cleopatra
Upon their discovery of Tiepolo’s Candaules and Gyges ceiling, Dr. Brightman begins to lecture Nick: “As Russell Gwinnett said, one is a little reminded of Iphigenia in the Villa Valmarana, or the Mars and Venus there. The usual consummate skill in handling aerial perspectives. The wife of Candaules—Gautier calls her Nyssia, but I suspect the name invented by him—is obviously the same model as Pharoah’s daughter in Moses saved from the water at Edinburgh, also the lady in all the Antony and Cleopatra sequences, such as those at the Labia Palace, which I was once lucky enough to see.” [TK 83/77]
Here Powell is using his thorough knowledge of art history to inform our vision of his imaginary Tiepolo (Candaules and Gyges) by likening it to Teipolo’s well-known real paintings. We have already inspected The Sacrifice of Iphigenia at Villa Valmarana. In the Guest House, or Foresteria, of that splendid villa near Vicenza are frescoes by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s son, Giovanni Domenico. The sole painting there by the father is the one Dr. Brightman cites, known as Mars, Venus and Amor.
Powell’s cleverness even allows us to form an image of Candaules’ wife, by having Dr. Brightman identify her as the same model Tiepolo used for the real paintings of Pharoah’s daughter and of Cleopatra.
Pharoah’s daughter appears in a painting known as The Finding of Moses, now in the National Gallery of Scotland. And as Dr. Brightman insists, she is a ringer for the Cleopatra meeting Antony, part of his Antony and Cleopatra series in the Palazzo Labia in Venice.
Her face is easier to study in a preparatory sketch for this fresco, now in the National Museum of Scotland. Soon, in Powell’s imagination, she will be doffing her clothes to pose as King Candaules’ queen.
Tiepolo IV: Guardi’s Sister and The Agony in the Garden
Continuing her reflections on Tiepolo’s Candaules and Gyges, Dr. Brightman muses, “I wonder whether the model was the painter’s wife . . . If so, she was Guardi’s sister. Gyges looks rather like the soldier in The Agony in the Garden, who so much resembles General Rommel.” [TK 92/85]
Here it seems Powell’s cluster of art-historical allusions serves to illustrate Dr. Brightman’s erudition rather than advance the plot of Temporary Kings. She drops the name of Guardi as if he were her faculty colleague. Actually, the Guardi name might describe the three brothers Francesco, Nicolo, and Giovanni Antonio Guardi, whose sister, Maria Cecilia, married Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and bore his nine children. Francesco (Italian 1712-1793) is usually the cited as the Guardi of record, but in fact it was a workshop that included all three brothers which produced the glorious paintings of the Guardi brand. They include panoramic scenes of 18th century Venice that vie with those of Canaletto for majesty and clarity of detail, but unlike Canaletto, Guardi also produced religious works of great distinction.
Dr. Brightman is not the only one to speculate on the identity of Tiepolo’s models. Maria Cecilia Guardi was often his model. See for example, Alexander the Great and Campaspe in the Studio of Apelles (1740) now in the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. To us, the woman in this picture closely resembles Tiepolo’s Cleopatra; however, others have speculated that Cleopatra, whom Dr. Brightman earlier compared to Candaules wife, was based on the patroness of the Villa Labia or on Cristina, the daughter of a Venetian gondolier, for whom Tiepolo abandoned Maria Cecilia when he was 66 (see J. Anderson Tiepolo’s Cleopatra)
Like all survivors of World War II, Dr. Brightman must have had the name and likeness of General Erwin Rommel (German 1891-1944) vividly in memory. Known as “The Desert Fox” for his brilliant command of Nazi forces in North Africa, Rommel was esteemed by Axis and Allied observers alike. His implication in a plot to assassinate Hitler and his own forced suicide as a consequence must have kept his photo appearing often in British newspapers toward the end of the war.
The same renown does not extend to the soldier in Tiepolo’s Agony in the Garden, which is also known as Christ in the Garden of Gethesmane, which is the garden where Jesus went after the Last Supper and where he was arrested.
The Agony motif does not require the presence of a soldier, and if one of the two hazy figures at the right in Tiepolo’s Agony is indeed a Roman soldier who looks like Rommel, it is only a brilliant scholar like Dr. Brightman who would notice it. But then, who better than an invention such as Dr. Brightman to give voice to Powell’s own wit and erudition in Temporary Kings?
The centrality of Tiepolo’s work in Temporary Kings serves as a kind of complement to the classicism of Nicolas Poussin, that other giant of the eighteenth century upon whom Powell relies for his animating metaphors. Poussin’s Dance is a stately round of rising and falling fortunes. Powell invokes Tiepolo to remind us how sexual desire, lust for power, hubris and nemesis distort and complicate that stately parade.
Torso of a Turk
In the Palazzo Bragadin, Gwinnett is temporarily distracted from the Tiepolo ceiling. ”He was on the other side of the room, in front of a highly coloured piece of Venetian eighteenth-century sculpture, torso of a Turk. Gwinnett was examining the elaborate folds of the marble turban.” [TK 118/111]
At first we were at a complete loss to identify the kind of sculpture Gwinnett might have been examining, as figurative marble sculpture of eighteenth-century Venetian production seems barely in evidence, let alone polychrome marble figures of Turks. But it occurs to us that this may be a case in which Powell conflated memories of his personal visits to Venice with his art- historical awareness of the long and complicated relationship of the Venetian and Ottoman empires.
As a visitor to Venice, Powell would have seen innumerable figures of the type called blackamoors, which started appearing in the eighteenth century and proliferated up until the twentieth. These consisted of sculpted figures, or figurines, depicting a turbaned black-skinned man of unspecified origin in the pose of a servant or guardian. These blackamoor figures might be polychrome marble, though more often are carved of wood or plaster, painted colorfully and sometimes encrusted with jewels to depict the costumed servant of a rich household.
Rather than depicting a particular ethnicity, the blackamoor figure is regarded by historians as an expression of Eurocentrism in general, orientalism in particular, and a tendency to regard all non-Europeans as the exotic “other.” Powell himself may have succumbed to this tendency when he remembered one or another blackmoor sculpture from his travels and then recast this memory into the marble-turbanned Turk that captures Gwinnett’s attention.
Tokenhouse I: Before the Second War
Chapter three of TK finds Jenkins visiting Daniel Tokenhouse, his former employer in publishing, now an expatriate in Venice, devoting himself to art. “The Camden Town Group had been wholly superceded, utterly swept away, so far as the art of Daniel Tokenhouse was concerned.” [TK 128/121]
Daniel Tokenhouse’s life prior to the Second War is based strongly to the life of Thomas Balston (1883-1967), a friend of Powell’s father since their days together at Sandhurst and Powell’s employer at Gerald Duckworth & Co. [”Maisky” Compare the Markists. 1. Daniel Tokenhouse, Anthony Powell Society Newsletter #57, Winter, 2014] . Powell mentions Balston frequently in TKBR but does not introduce his alter ego Tokenhouse into Dance until TK, published after Balston’s death. When Jenkins visits Tokenhouse in Venice, he still has some of the military bearing that we see in the portrait of Balston at left, painted when he was more than 30 years younger: “His body seemed made of gristle rather than flesh … He peered alertly, rather peevishly through gold rimmed spectacles set well forward on a long redish nose. An all enveloping chilliness of manner hung about him …” [TK 127/120]. Like Tokenhouse, Balston was an amateur painter, who retired from publishing in the 1930s to paint full time, including landscapes. [TK 62-63/56] Their histories diverged at the start of the war years, when Balston rejoined the army, whereas, Tokenhouse spent the early years of the war as a patient in a psychiatric clinic.
The Camden Town Group was a group of 16 artists, including Lucien Pisarro, Augustus John, Spencer Gore, Robert Bevan, Harold Gilman, and Malcolm Drummond, who coalesced about 1911 around Walter Sickert. They were bound more by friendship and physical proximity than by a unifying style; some Camden Town landscapes showed a Post Impressionist pastel version of realistic scenes that might have influenced Balston and Tokenhouse.
Tokenhouse II: Four Priests Rigging a Miracle
Tokenhouse shows Jenkins three of his canvases, a series on “Four Priests Rigging a Miracle.” Jenkins saw the paintings as a “sort of neo-primitivism” and “felt compelled to make a pronouncement, however insipid.
“The garage scene has considerable force. Its colour emotive too, limiting yourself in that way to an almost regular monotone, picked out with passages of flat heavy black.”
Jenkins adds a bit later:
“The browns, greys, and blacks seem to create an effective recession.” [TK 128/ ]
Recession is the illusion of three dimensionality created by the painter. Tokenhouse objected to Jenkins’ analysis: “I am no longer interested in such purely technical achievements as correct recession …” His goal was the political message of the painting, recalling a quote: “A painting is an act of Socialism.”
Primitivism is sometimes used to refer to art that references non-European indigenous artists, like those of Africa, Oceania, or Australia. This type of primitivism grew from the late nineteenth century; a prime example is the work of Paul Gauguin. Primitivism can also refer to “outsider” art, done by those who are self taught or who do not use traditional techniques, exemplified by the work of The Douanier, Henri Rousseau.
Neo-primitivism was a pre-revolutionary Russian art movement led by Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962), her lover Mikhail Larionov (1881-1964), and Alexsandr Shevchenko (1883-1948), described in his book ‘Neo-primitivizm’ (1910). The artists often paid homage Russian folk art and Russian Orthodox icons. A khorodov, as shown in Goncharova’s canvas, is a Russian folk dance.
Tokenhouse’s neo-primitivism (no caps) does not identify him with a specific art movement but indicates his desire to be his own kind of outsider. Nick’s description of Tokenhouse’s painting as an example of “neo-primitivism” is apparently the least damning epithet he can come up with in the face of its muddy-colored incompetence. Naturally, we have not been able to find the image of a celebrated neo-primitive painting that would do justice to the source of Nick’s dismay in this droll scene, so once again Powell has left plenty of room for our imaginations
Tokenhouse III: Plein Air, Formalism, Political Symbolism
Tokenhouse, ever the intellectual, describes the evolution of his painting style. “I began taking the bus over the bridge to Mestre, and attempting some plein air studies.” [TK 129/ 122] His plan to paint a hydroelectric plant was stymied when he was accused of industrial espionage.
Painting outside, or as the French say en plein air, was not invented by or limited to the Impressionists, but they were plein air enthusiasts. We could show any number of Impressionist landscapes, especially the series, like those of Monet, that emphasize the constant fluidity of outdoor scenes. Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party recalls the sociality of the Impressionists, who would gather to paint in the summer along the Seine outside Paris. Tokenhouse is a loner and much more interested in politics than in beauty. He says, “Much more important that the interfering attitudes of the authorities [who accused him of spying] was my own fear that Impressionist errors were creeping back, just as fallaciously as if I was one of the old ladies sitting on a camp-stool in front of the Salute.” [TK 129-130/122]
Tokenhouse describes his efforts to avoid Formalism. Jenkins cannot tell if a canvas is Formalist or Reformed: “This latest canvas, vermillion and light cobalt, showed origins of the fresco technique in representing what were evidently factory workers, stripped to the waist, pushing over a precipice a disordered groups of kings and bishops, easily recognizable by their crowns and mitres.” [TK 131/124] Formalism emphasizes color, techniques, and composition over content. The style of Cezanne, whose work is conducive to Formalist analysis, might not have caught the terror on the faces of the deposed that Tokenhouse showed.
Symbolism refers to work that emphasizes ideas rather than realistic depictions; figures are often icongraphic. The work of Gauguin is often cited as an example. Not all Symbolist work is political. Tokenhouse’s “wooden” figures were more symbolic than realistic, but he told Jenkins that he found “Politico-Symbolism, for a person of my imaginative faculties, a cul de sac.” [TK 131/124]
Tokenhouse IV : At the Venice Biennale — The Soviet Pavillion
At the Venice Biennale with Jenkins, Tokenhouse says:
“I guarantee that the only sanctuary from subjectless bric-à-brac here will be in the national pavilions of what you no doubt term the Iron Curtain countries. We will visit the USSR first.”
The white pinnacled kiosk-like architecture of a small building, no doubt dating from pre-Revolutionary times, seemed by its outward church-like style to renew the ecclesiological atmosphere that pursued Tokenhouse throughout life. Within, total embargo on aesthetic abstraction proved his forecast correct. We loitered for a while over Black Sea mutineers and tractor-driving peasants….. [TK 134/127]
The Soviet pavilion for the 29th Biennale in 1958 showed works by Sergio Gherassimov, Alessio Grizai, Kukryniksy, Giorgio Nisski, Juri Pimie Vladinov, Arcadio Plastov, Eugenio Samsonov, Vladimiro Serov, Michele Trufanov, Oganes Zardaian, Alessandra Briedis, Nicola Tomski , Vucetic, Michele Deregus, Alfredo Oia, Alessio Pachomov, and Leonida Soifertis. (These are the Italian transliterations of their names from the Catalogue: 29th Biennale Internationale dArte; for example, Gherassimov in Italian becomes Gerasimov in English)
The artists are not limited to painters. For example, Kukryniksy was a collective of poster artists; a collection of their anti-Nazi posters has been exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago. Nikolai Tomsky did monumental sculpture of Soviet heroes.
Arkady Alexandrovich Plastov (1893-1972) was known for his paintings of the peasants from the village of Prislonikha where he was born. His painting of tractor drivers (see Supper of the Tractor Drivers) was made into a Soviet postage stamp, but we have chosen to show the painting above because the woman with the red kerchief reminds one of Gypsy Jones, who appeared at Erridge’s funeral with “her hair tied up in a red hankerchief, somehow calling to mind Soviet posters celebrating the Five Year Plan.” [BDFR /45] Other women with red kerchiefs are common in Plastov’s work. Plastov was awarded two Orders of Lenin, the Stalin Prize, and the Lenin Prize for his painting.
Tokenhouse, despite his politics, could not completely escape his intellectual bourgeois roots: “Never able wholly to control a taste for antagonism, even against his own recently voiced opinions, Tokenhouse shook his head more than once over these images of a way of life he approved, here found wanting in executive ability.” [TK 134/127]
The French Pavilion at the Biennale
In the French pavilion at the Biennale, Jenkins sees “a massive work, seven of eight feet high, chiefly constructed from tin or zinc, horsehair, patent leather and cardboard.” Ada Leintwardine is discussing the work with Louis Glober: “Mr. Glober sees African overtones, influenced by Ernst. To me the work is much more redolent of Samurai armour designed by Schwitters.” [TK 134-135/132]
Max Ernst (1891-1976) was a German born artist who had a long career in Germany, France, and the United States. In 1954 he won the Grand Prize for painting at the Biennale. Early on, he was entranced with Dada and Surrealism. The Elephant Celebes (1921) from this period shows Ernst’s whimsy; it’s African connection is that the torso of the elephant is based on a photo, which Ernst saw in an anthopology journal, of a corn bin used by Konkombwa tribe of the southern Sudan. He turned to sculpture in 1934; we show The King Playing with the Queen (1945). The double entendre of that title and the connection of The Elephant Celebes to a bawdy German children’s song show that Ernst’s sense of humor was both visual and verbal.
Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), like Ernst, was born in Germany, worked in multiple media, and was an early Dadist. Exiled from Germany, he spent time in Norway but by 1941 was part of the London art scene, so his work would likely be known to Jenkins, Leintwardine, and their ilk. Schwitters’ sculpture tends toward abstract organic forms, but his collages included multiple diverse media, like the work that Jenkins sees. Schwitters work, priced at a few guineas, did not sell well in London during the Second War, but Ja — Was? Bild sold for nearly 14 million pounds sterling at auction in 2014.
Sculptural works in the French pavilion at the 1958 Biennale included 14 pieces by Antoine Pevsner (1884-1962). He was born in Russia, first visited France in 1911, and became a French citizen in 1930. Like Ernst, Schwitters, and many other members of the School of Paris, he was adept at many visual arts, including painting, graphics, and sculpture. In 1920 he and his brother Naum Gabo (who later was a contemporary of Schwitters in London) wrote the Realistic Manifesto, advocating Constructivism or an art based on space and time, quite unlike the helter skelter of Dada and Surrealism.
Many of the pieces that Pevsner showed at the 1958 Biennale were quite abstract. Although his earlier Torso, which we show above left, might remind some of samurai armor, Pevsner’s work is clearly not what Jenkins describes in this passage. Powell’s intent is not to report factually on the contents of the pavilion but to present an imaginary straw man or, perhaps, straight man, to set up Ada Leintwardine’s tongue-in-cheek commentary on the craziness of some avant-garde art. In this setting the playful incoherence of Dada and the Surrealists is particularly apt.
Tokenhouse V: Socialist Realism — Svatogh? Gaponenko? Toidze?
Tokenhouse and Ada Leintwardine discuss Socialist Realism. [TK143/136] Ada mentions “Svatogh? Gaponenko? Toidze? [TK 144/136-7 ],” citing an article in Fission by Len Pugsley.
We have already examined Socialist Realist work at the Soviet pavilion. Socialist Realism is the name given realistic art that, from the 1920s until the early 1960s, was the state-approved look of art allowed in the Soviet Union. The aim of the works was to show proletarian life, with works relevant to workers, and supporting the aims of the Communist Party and the State. Now that the movement is mentioned, we see that it has been the standard against which Tokenhouse has been judging others, as when he accuses the Surrealists of being “Pseudo-Realists.” [TK 129/122]
Svatogh is probably a misspelled or misremembered reference to Svarogh or Svarog (Spurling, p. 587). Svarog was the Slavic counterpart of Vulcan, the blacksmith god, but here it is the pseudonym taken by a Russian painter and graphic artist, Vassily Semeonovich Korcihkin (1883-1946). His Socialist Realist credentials include membership in the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia and founding the Mitrofan Grekov Studio of War Art.
Taras Gur’evich Gaponenko (1906-1993 ) was a well recognized Soviet artist, best known for his genre scenes of village life and later for his canvases showing the glories and sufferings of World War II.
The painter and graphic artist Irakli Moiseevitch Toidze (1902-1985) is best known for his World War II poster, The Motherland Calls (1941). He won numerous Soviet appointments and awards. He said that the expression of Mother Russia was inspired by the look on his wife’s face when she ran into his studio to tell him that Germany had attacked the Soviet Union. Outlined against the bright red of the revolution is the Soviet Army oath.
Tokenhouse VI: Orozco, Rivera
Glober looks at Tokenhouse’s paintings and asks” “Do I detect the influence of Diego Rivera, Mr. Tokenhouse? … Or is it José Clemente Orozco, who did those frescoes at Dartmouth?” [TK 148/141]
Diego Rivera (1886-1957) is the best known of the Mexican muralists who covered walls in Mexico and elsewhere with a sophisticated blend of Social Realism and European high Modernism, showing the life of the downtrodden and poor. Tokenhouse was “in ecstasies” when Glober made the connection, because Rivera was a Marxist and champion of peasants and other workers. His fresco Man at the Crossroads was commissioned for Rockefeller Center in New York but was chiseled off the wall because of its controversial political themes including an image of Lenin. Liberation of the Peon (above) shows Rivera’s depiction of Mexican revolutionaries trying to help a tortured peon.
José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949), was another of the Mexican muralists; his work often illustrated the lives of the poor and oppressed. Between 1932 and 1934 he painted a series of frescoes at Dartmouth college, showing the history of the Western Hemisphere from before the Aztecs through industrialization. Powell might have seen these frescoes when he lectured at Dartmouth in 1962; today, the Dartmouth Digital Orozco allows you to explore all 360 degrees of the room full of frescoes.
Powell has drawn a comic caricature of Tokenhouse in Venice, quite different from Tokenhouse before the war. Despite his intellect, he is naive, easily flattered, easily duped, with a political monomania that distorts his artistry.
Landscapes at the Soviet Embassy
Jenkins describes the dining room of the Soviet embassy: “Here again was a faint sense of austerity, an impression of off-white walls sparsely decorated with pictures, landscapes light in tone — the steppe — birch tress — sunset on the snow — nothing in the least reminiscent of Tokenhouse and his school ” [TK 221/~215]
Arkhip Ivanovich Kuindzi (1842-1910) showed the vastness of the steppe in a number of canvases that catch the play of light across the land.
Soviet era landscape painting at times included Socialist Realist themes, glorifying agricultural workers or war heroes; however, scenes showing love of the Motherland were allowed by authorities, so painters like Aleksei Mikhailovich Gritsai (1914-1998) could paint birches without political overtones, scenes not “reminiscent of Tokenhouse and his school.” Gritsai was one of the artists shown at the Soviet pavilion at the 1958 Biennale (Italian transliteration Alessio Grizai); among his honors were two Stalin prizes and election to the USSR Academy of Arts.
Mrs. Erdleigh Compared to a Whistlerian Nocturne
Jenkins describes Mrs. Erdleigh in her old age: “Lighter than air, disembodied from a material world, the swirl of capes, hoods, stoles, scarves, veils, as usual encompassed her from head to foot, all seeming of so light a texture that, far from bringing an impression of accretion, their blurring of hard outlines produced a positively spectral effect, a Whistlerian nocturne in portraiture, sage greens, somber blues, almost frivolous greys, sprinkled with gold.” (TK 246/241)
The harmonious colors of Whistler’s portraits could be wonderful. We have seen the Portrait of Lady Meux, (shown left) alternatively titled as a Harmony or as a Nocturne. It is only one of many of Whistler’s sumptuous portraits of Victorian women that evoke Mrs. Erdleigh’s other- worldly elegance and, as far as we know, the only one sometimes called a Nocturne.
Mrs. Erdleigh always has dimensions beyond the mere corporeal; in this description of a disembodied Mrs. Erdleigh nearing the end of her life, Jenkins is also recalling the almost abstract quality of Whistler’s nightscapes. About 1871, he began to paint scenes of the Thames, which he called Nocturnes, works with veiled light and carefully blended muted colors, set at dusk or in the night; see Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Chelsea 1871, now in the Tate. (American Paintings in the Detroit Institute of Arts Vol. 3). Whistler took the name from the music of Chopin, according to a note he wrote in 1872 to Frederick Leyland, a Chopin devotee:
“I say I can’t thank you too much for the name ‘Nocturne’ as a title for my moonlights! You have no idea what an irritation it proves to the critics and consequent pleasure to me—besides it is really so charming and does so poetically say all that I want to say and no more than I wish.”
The chief among those critics was Ruskin, who wrote that with Nocturne in Black and Gold (shown below) Whistler was “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” Whistler sued Ruskin for libel and won the suit but was awarded a trivial damage payment, much less than his share of the court costs. Later Whistler got more substantial satisfaction, selling the picture for 800 guineas.
In addition to Nocturne, Whistler often used other musical terms, like Symphony or Harmony, to title his paintings. We recall Jenkin’s description of Pamela Fitton’s crimson and peacock blue blouse contrasting with Tiepolo’s colors with “dissonance as much as harmony” [TK 88] and wonder if Powell was thinking of Whistler when he wrote this description. Of course, harmony has shades of meaning, which Powell explores in the last volumes of Dance.
Jenkins visits Moreland, now terminally ill, in his hospital bed. Moreland recalls a time when Sir Magnus had been erroneously told that he had a year to live. Moreland said, “I now find myself in a stronger position than in those days for vividly imagining what it felt like to be the man in the van Gogh picture, so to speak Donners-on-the-brink-of-Eternity.” [TK 275/271]
Van Gogh painted At Eternity’s Gate in May, 1890, just as he was recovering from a two month illness, caused by or at least accompanied by severe depression, and two months before his apparent suicide.
Moreland, nearing death, was looking back to others’ response to our universal mortality and thinking how the approach of death changed the view. Van Gogh was also looking back, referencing his own earlier works, which started as a pencil drawing of a resident of an almshouse and evolved to a lithograph. At the lower left of the lithograph, reportedly in Van Gogh’s own hand, is the inscription “At Eternity’s Gate.”
Statue of Boadicea
Walking near Westminster bridge, Jenkins pauses by the statue of Boadicea to watch the passing vintage cars:
The chariot horses recalled what a squalid part the philosopher Seneca, with his shady horse-dealing, had played in that affair. Below was inscribed the pay-off for the Romans.
Regions Caesar never knew
Thy posterity shall sway. [TK 281/277]
The statue of Boadicea was commisioned by Prince Albert as a tribute to Queen Victoria. The sculptor, Thomas Thornycroft (1815-1885), was known for monuments, including an equestrian statute of Queen Victoria shown at the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, and memorials to Prince Albert, including the Commerce group on the Albert Memorial.
Boadicea was queen of the Iceni tribe of Britons. Her name means victory, but she failed in her rebellion against the Romans. (For more history, including the role of Seneca in the story, see www.historynet.com.) The inscription at the base, extolling the British empire, is from Boadicea. An Ode. by Thomas Cowper (1731-1800).