28 November 2020

Open green areas in London's East End? - Carlton Square

Carlton Square

My paternal gran lived in London’s East End, and alth­ough the two adults, 10 children and one uncle lived together in a two bed­room flat in Whitechapel, she said she had a great life. How­ev­er I believed that she didn’t see a tree, back garden, park or veget­able garden before arriving in Australia. 

Now 62andthenext10pathways has shown that parts of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets had been very spacious and green. Beginning in the late C17th, small clusters of houses and terr­aces appeared along Mile End Rd when there was already a Sp­anish Port­uguese comm­un­ity. A new suburban neighbourhood was developing in the early C18th, inhabited by a wealthy class of merch­ants and sea capt­ains in larger houses. Only with the development of open land did the wealthier families begin to move away.

But it wasn’t until the Pemberton Barnes Trust, which owned the op­en fields, begun letting them in 1853 that new clusters of lar­ge scale suburban developments appeared along the Mile End Rd. 

Long before the Carlton Square Conservation Area was formally des­ignated in Sept 1987, we need to examine how the conservation ar­ea was protect­ed. It had an ir­reg­ular boundary, extending from Mass­ingham St and Bancroft Rd to the north, to Mile End Rd to the south. It in­cluded the terraces of Tollet St along its western bound­ary, and the Grant­ley St terraces to the east.

With the wealthier inhabitants leaving Mile End, and a large Jewish community of migrants moving into this area, it prom­pt­ed cultural changes. A col­lection of synagogues and cultural institutions were built, including founding the Hospital for Spanish and Portuguese Jews in Mile End Rd by 1799. Mile End Rd was no longer considered a very desirable place of resid­ence; it was becoming a commercial hub, forming the basis for the mix of ten­ure. When the hamlet of Mile End Old Town was assumed by the Borough of Step­ney by 1899, the area had its own workhouse and vestry hall (later library) on Ban­croft Rd.

The mid C19th saw large scale building to provide cheap, sanitary hous­ing for the working classes. The houses were dev­eloped by William Pemberton Barnes Trust on open land known as Globe Fields. The Trust began let­ting the houses from 1853 and later sold 200 properties to the Peabody Trust, now the major landown­ers. There were some areas of later Victor­ian houses built after the first phase, especially south of Alderney Rd, Bancroft Rd and Grantley St.

In the 1960s, the clearing of housing formed a public open space. The conservation area was char­act­erised by its cohesive group of mid-late Victorian housing, which remain lar­gely intact. 
Mile End Hospital

The Victorian terrace houses were generally 2-storeys and raised on a semi-basement. To the front of earlier properties, parapets extend­ing the length of the terrace concealed uniform London roofs. Later properties had overhanging eaves but the original man­sard roofs had disappeared. Originally these houses had been front­ed by ornate-cast iron rail­ings, protecting small front gardens. But by 1993 they had entirely disappeared (perhaps in WW2). 

The only houses which have been lost were in the two streets north of Mass­ing­ham St, the terr­aces at Bancroft Rd’s north­ern end and the houses on Globe Rd. 

Some of the civic buildings along Bancroft Rd have changed use, but the public buildings of historical & architectural sig­nificance were preserved. The Conservation Area included 3 Grade II listed facil­it­ies, 1] the Library, 2] mid C19th Mile End Hospital and 3] two disused burial grounds.

The first of the listed build­ings was Mile End Hos­pital, built in Jacobean style with 3-storeys in red brick, white stone dres­s­ings and geom­etric designs. Its centre had balust­raded bay windows over 2-storeys, surmounted by Flemish gables.

The second, further south along Bancroft Rd, was the Tower Hamlets Library. The library was built in two parts, with the north­ern end built in 1865 and the southern part a bit earlier. The library was reconstructed of white stone with heavy eaves cornice. Presented with banding between the 2-st­oreys, the ground floor had cen­­tral, round ar­ched windows and a door flanked by Tuscan pilasters.

The third was the Jewish Burial Ground opened in 1657, estab­lish­ed by Spanish & Portuguese Jews. The oldest Jewish burial grounds in Britain, note the C18th per­i­m­eter brick wall, with rendered plinth and brick cap­ping. South of Carlton Square Gardens, the Jewish Cemeteries formed a group of open spaces. Burials took place there until 1758. 

Jewish Burial Ground
used 1657-1758

3-bedroom flats
Argyle St

Carlton Square and the adjoining Carlton Square Gardens were the open spaces that were surrounded by rows of terraces. Argyle Rd, Tol­l­et St, Holton St, Portelet Rd and Grantley St generally con­sisted of mid C19th, 2-storey terraces. High­er 3-stor­ey properties with basements existed along Bancroft Rd and Alderney Rd. Their importance was reflected in their later protection against devel­opment above ground, by the 1931 London Squares Preservation Act. 

Views in the area were framed along existing resid­ent­ial streets, where the character of the C19th terrace housing created quality views. Other views existed towards the open garden spaces. This was such an area of special arch­itectural and historic interest that Carlton Square Conservation Area complied perfectly with the Plan­ning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.

Arnold Circus, Bethnal Green

Finally let me mention Arnold Circus, the famous bandstand at the centre of what was once the worst slum in London. Construction began in 1890 on new flats in Bethnal Green, which would eventually be recognised as the city’s first public housing project. The new development opened in 1896; its 19 blocks of five-storey tenements surrounded the beautiful Arnold Circus gardens and bandstand, constructed from materials from the demolished flats.

Note Mile End and Bethnal Green

24 November 2020

Roman Vishniac's art photography exhibition of Berlin and eastern Europe

A Berlin street, 1933 
See swastika flag over the door on left

Roman Vishniac Rediscovered was the first UK retro­sp­ective of this photographer. Curated by U.S photography scholar Maya Benton, and spread across two London sites: the Photo­graphers’ Gallery and the Jewish Museum, the exhibition ended in Feb 2019. Many of his most iconic works from the Roman Vishniac Archive at the International Center of Photography NY were included.

Roman Vishniac (1897–1990) was born to a Jewish family in a small Russian town, then his parents moved to Moscow. The parents must have been wealthy or influential, be­cause Jews were normally not allowed outside the Pale of Settle­ment. As a child Roman received a camera and a microscope which began his love of photography and science.

After the Russian Revolution, Roman and his young wife Luta arrived in Berlin via Moscow and Riga. There Vishniac was reunited with his wealthy parents, who had already left Russia, and he and Luta were married again in a proper Jewish ceremony. The story of their trip westward was part of Vishniac’s amazing life, which was lived out against Europe’s turbulent early-to-mid C20th history.

Thus their new life began in Berlin,  a city that Vish­niac called “a living whole … the centre of western Europe”.  There Vishniac joined some of  the many flourishing cam­era clubs. Inspired by the cosmopolitanism and rich cultural exper­imentation in Berlin, Vishniac used photographs to doc­ument his surroundings. This early body of work reflected the infl­uence of European modernism - his framing, sharp angles and dramatic use of light and shade.

In Berlin, his interest in street photography and social docum­entary arose, just as the nation was experiencing huge political changes. His images showed an unsettling visual foreboding of the growing signs of oppression, loss of rights for Jews, rise of Nazism in Ger­many, insidious propaganda swastika flags and military parades. By the mid 1930s, he was catching the daily ebb and flow of the German capital, his outsider’s eye locating the details that told an increasingly ominous story.

Berlin was a society in which ordinary life was becoming more ex­treme before Nazi rule. Social and political docum­ent­ation quickly became a focal point of his work and drew the att­ention of organisations wanting to raise awareness and support for the Jewish population. In 1935, Vishniac was commissioned by JDC, the large Jewish relief organisation American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, to photo­graph impoverished Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. In fact he did dozens of trips to eastern Europe over 4 years, to Poland, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania and Latvia. These images were intended to support relief efforts, used in fund­raising campaigns for an American audience.

Taken from Vishniac’s photo archives, this London exhibition was a new presentation. Since the publication A Vanished World: Jewish Cities, Jewish People in 1947, he's been primarily known for his documentation of life and culture in the Jewish shtetls of East Europe in 1935-9, pre-Holocaust. His photographs almost immediately became part of the collective memory of what had been destroyed. I received this book as a bat mitzvah present back in the early 1960s, as did many of my schoolfriends.

German Jews routinely had their businesses boycotted, were banned from many public places and were expelled from Aryanised schools. They were also being eased out from practising law, medic­ine and teaching, among many other loss of civil lib­erties. Vishniac recorded this painful new reality with im­ages showing Jewish soup kitchens, schools and hospitals, immigr­ation offices and Zionist agrarian training camps. His photos tracked the speed with which Berlin changed from an open, intel­l­ectual society to one where militarism and fascism were closing in.
A Polish school for Jewish boys, 1936

A Polish couple shopping, 1938 

When the war broke out a few years later, his photos served urgent refugee efforts. Vishniac left Europe and arrived in New York with his fam­ily in late 1941. He continued to record the impact of WW2 in the USA, focusing on the arrival of Jewish refugees and other immigrants to the USA. In 1947 he returned home to document refugees and relief efforts in Jewish Displaced Persons camps, and to witness the ruins of his adopted hometown, Berlin. Post-war, Vishniac’s images became the most comprehensive photographic record of a world that had disappeared. 

The London retrospective presented a timely reappraisal of Vishniac’s vast photographic legacy. It brought together his complete works, including recently discovered vintage prints, rare and lost film footage from the early 1920s on, contact sheets, personal correspondence, original magazine publications and newly created exhibition prints. 

Berlin Street, 1933

See Books & Boots for the exhibition section that I barely mentioned: Immigrants, refugees and New York Jewish community. Read Terror in focus: the photographer who captured the rise of Nazism by Sean O’Hagan.

21 November 2020

A beachy town in Russia - Berdyansk

  The coast, beach and port

My grandfather and his many siblings, nieces and nephews lived in two adjoining Russian cities on the Sea of Azov, Berdyansk and Mariupol. I had published all the family photos and letters from Mariupol, so now I need to thank the Ukrainian Tourist Bureau for its material on Berdyansk.

The Russian Imperial government began to plan a sea port on the Northern Azov in 1824 when the Governor General of the Cauc­asus Viceroyalty sent an expedition to the Azov Sea. Its task was to find a place to build a new seaport to assist in the defence of Russia's southern borders. Soon merchants moved in and built priv­ate wooden quays. In 1836 the first foreign ships entered the port of Berdyansk so a modern stone lighthouse was soon built by Italian merchants. By 1883, the oil lamps were replaced by elec­t­ric lights.

In 1841 the settlement at Berdyansk Bay received the city stat­us and under the first mayor, the small township turned into a growing city with many foreign companies' offices and active international trade. He had built the first stone houses in the town and the famous Winter Theatre, which was destroyed in WW2. Some foreign grain purchasing representatives moved their offices to Berdyansk, from Mariupol and Odessa.

Map of Ukraine, 1991
Note Odessa, Berdyansk, Mariupol

In April 1862 Tsar Alexander II formally approved a city district plan for Berdyansk. In the plan the streets were/are straight and led to the sea. It was forbidden to build houses above the second floor. Fine buildings decorate Berdyansk: Winter Theatre, City Hall, Hotel Bristol/House of Culture factory, Ascen­sion Cathedral, Lutheran Church etc.

In Berdyansk the main employer was still the seaport, and in 1869 the breakwater was ordered. This stone building is 640 metres long with two port lights on the ends – pointers to the harbour, located 859 metres from the shore. The increasing importance of the port was becoming clear.

In 1876 the Town Governor and Port Chief did much to promote the development of both port and city. Soon there were small industrial enterprises and banks opening in the city. Italians constructed the city power station, and 2 daily newspapers, 3 libraries and 4 book­shops were established. Electric lighting covered the city.

Azov Avenue
Central city housing, fountains, gardens and seating

Berdyansk University

Russian Orthodox Church

In 1899 Berdyansk was linked to the railway and new residents flooded in. There were 10 churches, 3 Jewish synagogues, boys & girls' high schools, nautical classes and a college. In addition to an extensive export trade in mainly grain & flour, Berdyansk became a substantial distributive market for goods received over a wide area.

In the new century, the sea port had clients from across the world - metal processing, scrap metal, grain, coal, ore, clay, sunflower-seed oil, industrial oils, iron, fert­il­isers and mineral oil. The container terminal was quickly linked to the railway depot.

Berdyansk was also an important fisheries centre which was an int­eg­ral part of the city's food industry. There is also a scientific organisation which does fish research in reservoirs of the Azov basin. The city is located on the smoothly rising coast, so there are many of inter­est­ing places to visit eg the Berdyansk spit, which cuts into the Azov Sea for 20 km. In many sanatoriums, rec­reation centres and spa salons in the city, there are mud bath treatments from the lakes and estuaries. It makes sense that the sights of Berdyansk are mostly connect­ed with the sea eg boat trips to the islands, visits to the light houses, the zoo and dol­ph­inarium, fine sandy beaches and a fresh, very warm sea.

My grandfather and his brothers knew Berdyansk’s two most famous citizens. Isaac Brodsky (1883-1939) was born in a village near Berdyansk. He studied at Odessa Art Academy and the Imperial Acad­emy of Arts in St Petersburg. In 1916, he joined the Jewish Soc­iety for the Encouragement of the Arts. Brodsky was on good terms with many leading Russian painters, including his mentor, Ilya Rep­in. He was an avid art collector who donated numerous first-class paintings to museums in Russia and elsewhere.

In 1934 Brodsky became Director of the All-Russian Academy of Arts. After his death, his Arts Square flat in St Petersburg was de­c­lared a national museum. And the Brodsky Museum in Berdyansk has 4,500 works of painting, sculpture, graphics and applied art.

Joel Engel (1868—1927) was also born in Berdyansk. He studied law at the Khar­kov National University, and later, with Tchaikovsky’s encouragement, he entered Moscow Conservatory to pursue his passion for composing. After graduation, Engel worked as the music critic of an influential Russian newspaper and supported composers who wrote in the increasingly popular Russian nationalist style.

Engel had no interest in Jewish music until an eventful meeting in 1899 with Vladimir Stasov, art critic and leading proponent of Rus­sian nationalism in art and music. When asked about his pride in his own people, Engel apparently experienced an revelation, and took a deep interest in his Jewish musical roots. In 1900, Engel returned home to Berdyansk, and collected Yiddish folk melod­ies. Then he organised lecture-concerts which included performances of the songs he had recorded and arranged.
Brodsky Art Museum, Berdyansk

In 1922, the Society sent Engel on a mission to Germany, to promote the new Jewish music movement. Engel organised concerts in Berlin and Leipzig, performing songs and instrum­ental works by himself and by other Russians. Engel opened Yuval Publishing House in Berlin in 1923, becoming the main pub­lish­­er for the Society’s composers.

Ukraine officially declared itself an independent country in 1991, including Berdyansk (pop 120,000).

20 November 2020

Apollo Art Awards 2020: winner of the Exhibition of the Year

The Annunciation, Jan van Eyck, c1425. 
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Apollo is proud to announce the winners of its annual awards. Dating back to 1992, the Apollo Awards celebrate major achievements in the art and museum worlds.

1.Aberdeen Art Gallery
Reopened November 2019

A renovation & expansion costing £34.6m almost doubled the number of permanent galleries and allowed 3 times as many objects to go on display. The history & wealth of Aberdeen’s civic collections, from founding collector Alexander Macdonald’s Victorian portrait gal­lery to recent acquisitions of Scottish silver, are now hand­some­ly presented.

2.The Box, Plymouth
Opened September 2020

One of few capital projects to have steamrollered its way through the pandemic this year (at a cost of £40m), the Box draws together the old civic art museum and library, their renovated buildings linked by a large extension that includes on-site collection storage in the box that caps off the structure.

3.British Galleries, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Reopened March 2020

The renovation of these galleries, the Met’s flagship project in its 150th year, has involved a reconsideration of the global contexts of six centuries of British decorative arts. Around a quarter of the objects here were acquired with the new display in mind.

4.Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden
Reopened February 2020

This €50m project has done much to improve facilities, but has also reintegrated sculpture and painting in the galleries and increased the sense of spectacle in the display of these great collections. Extensive conservation has been carried out on some 200 paintings and 300 frames.

5.KBR Museum, Brussels
Opened September 2020

This new museum for the Royal Library of Belgium, displays manu­scripts from the collection of the dukes of Burgundy. c100 of them are shown across two floors, alongside armour, prints, sculpture and paintings, with the appreciation and interpretation of manuscript illumination at the heart of the museum’s mission.

6.Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art, Ibeju-Lekki
Opened October 2019

The first dedicated university art museum in Nigeria is named after Prince Yemisi Shyllon who has donated c1,000 works it – a founding collection that ranges from pre-colonial objects to modern and contemporary works by Ben Enwonwu, Nike Davies-Okundaye etc. Shyl­lon has also committed to funding the museum for at least 15 years.

Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution
Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent

by Thomas Marks, editor of Apollo

Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution
Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent

Ambition and intimacy are not the most natural of bedfellows. But the achievement of Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution was that its curators realised the grandest imaginable exhibition on its subject, in scope and scale, while allowing visitors a beguiling proximity to so many paintings by Jan van Eyck. Of 22 works ascribed to him, 13 were on display here; anchoring portraits and devotional works on loan from European and American collections were the eight restored outer panels of the Ghent Altarpiece, as well as the Adam and Eve from the upper register of its interior (the versos of the central outer panels).

Through 13 galleries, the exhibition provided what Apollo’s reviewer described as near perfect conditions for close looking. In splitting up the panels from St Bavo’s Cathedral, and displaying them at eye level, it gave visitors the chance to scrutinise Van Eyck’s sur­fac­es, his feeling for light and his mastery of de­tail, and to revel in the honest humanity of his vision. While the dis­play con­textualised Van Eyck with contemporaneous objects and Italian paint­ings, it mis­sed no trick in creating moments of intense drama in the juxtaposit­ion of his works: the two versions of St Francis Receiving the Stig­mata shown side by side; The Annunciat­ion from Washington, with its jazzy archangel, in the same room as the cor­responding pan­els from the Ghent Altarpiece; and, in the penultimate gallery, five of Van Eyck’s portraits with the panels depicting the altarpiece’s donors.

Beyond that drama was a sense of integrity, of an exhibition in the right place at the right time. Since 2012, the MSK Ghent has hosted the restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece. In parallel with that proj­ect, the Closer to Van Eyck website has gathered and made publicly available high-resolution images, including those using scientific imaging techniques, of most of the artist’s works. In this context, Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution felt like the dividend of local and international collaboration: several loaned paintings had been newly conserved for the exhibition; its robust catalogue contains 19 essays by leading Van Eyck scholars.

130,000 people could visit the exhibition before it closed due to the pandemic, halfway through its scheduled run in mid March. For many of them, the memory of it will have provided much consol­at­ion in the months that followed.