22 January 2022

A beautiful cultural city to visit: Geneva.

Swiss cities have some of the best cul­t­ural venues in Europe, a joy for tourists and scholars. Aviel Cahn, Grand Théâtre dir­ect­or, high­lighted Gen­eva’s museums, perform­ance venues and flourishing contemporary art and music.

The Grand Théâtre

Geneva (pop 205,000) is a smallish city with a huge cult­ural impact and artistic community, and historical literary and humanit­arian herit­ages. Theatre, visual arts and film came late to Geneva. Then a new theatre opened: Comédie de Genève. The special fac­il­ity, design­ed by FRES Architectes, was one of the most advanced theatre buil­dings in Switz­er­land. And the Grütli cultural centre showed con­temporary cinema and ex­perimental theatre.

For contemporary art to establish itself in Geneva, it took artist John Armleder to inspire others. Today the scene is rich, with int­erest­­ing artists, and galleries like Wilde Gallery. Of the art instit­ut­ions, see the Musée d’art moderne et contemporain and the Centre d’art contemporain, the city’s Kunsthalle. And note the Fondation Bodmer with its great collection of manusc­rip­ts and early books.

Art Geneva has brought new energy, and the fair is im­proving each year. Its director has launched initiatives like the bien­nial Sculpture Gard­en. It recently included a monumental sculpture along the lake.

Dance also came late to Geneva, especially contemporary dance. The Grand Théâtre has just appointed its Director of Ballet, a Sadler’s Wells cho­r­e­­o­grapher from London. There is a large festival called La Bâtie each Sept, inviting major contemporary theatre, dance and music productions to Geneva. Pavillon de la Danse is a place that regularly gave young ch­or­eographers the chance to develop their skills. But dance is thriving in other venues too eg Bâtiment des Forces Mortrices, an old factory in the middle of the Rhône, was turned into a wonderful theatre.

 Old Town

The Old Town is a maze of small streets and charming squares, fil­l­ed with attractive cafés, restaurants, galleries and museums, lined by his­torical buildings and their mas­onry fac­ades. The favourite sites are Maison Tavel Museum of Geneva’s Hist­ory and the Old Arsenal/Battery in front, Place du Bourg-de-Four Square and Treille Promenade-Artillery Post. And the Cathedral.

The C12th St Peter’s Cathedral was vital to John Calvin (1509-64), French theologian & reformer in Geneva in the Protestant Reformat­ion. The cathedral has since developed an interesting architect­ural mixture, including towers for pan­oramic views over the city and lake. The excavated arch­aeol­ogical site beneath the cathedral rev­ealed the city's rich history and exp­lored Christianity’s Cen­t­ral Europ­ean or­igins. Examine the undergr­ound pas­sage connect­ing the cathedral to the ad­jacent International Museum of the Reformation, pres­enting the era’s historical importance.

Built to honour the greats who influenced the movement, the sculpture documented the Protestant Reformation that took place in the C16th. The Reformation Wall was built in 1909 in University of Geneva, originally founded by Calvin.

The Reformation Wall
University of Geneva

In this post, I was inter­ested in whether Calvinism slowed down C20th theatre and vis­ual arts in Gen­eva, although not music. The Orch­es­tre de la Suisse Romande, founded 1918, was one of the leading symph­ony orchestras in Switzer­land. The Grand Théâtre, built 1879, used to be a rather insul­ar, old-fashioned place, ser­ving only an estab­lished aud­ience. Now there’s a new rest­aur­ant and a terr­ace for night parties.

St Pierre Cathedral gallery
Best day-trips from Geneva? For lovers of the picturesque arch­itect­ure of Geneva’s Old Town, then the historical houses & chat­eaux around the lake are striking eg Villa Diodati, where Mary Shelley creat­ed Frank­­­en­stein, and Chateau de Coppet, once home to Mad­ame de Staël. Montreux-Vevey is worthwhile, to see Chap­lin’s World Museum and the Chât­eau de Chillon. The Jura mountains are wond­er­ful, with great wine-producing villages between Geneva and Lausanne eg Mont-sur-Rolle.

Explore Geneva’s cultural riches with the Intensely Cultural Package: 40+ museums, a region dedicated to con­temporary art, and wide musical choices. To discover more about Switz­erland’s leading art museums and exhibitions, visit Art Museums of Switzerland website.

Now my favourites. The Ethnographic Museum of Geneva was founded in 1901. People could visit the 300,000+ objects and docu­ments until the Ethnographic Museum was filled! Then in 2014 the museum exhibits mov­ed in the new buil­ding by Zurich archit­ects, Marco Graber and Thomas Pul­v­er. This bright building with bevel­led façade has an Archives of Human Differences, showing how different cultures evolved and separat­ed.

Museum of Art and History
Geneva’s Museum of Art and History, built and op­ened in 1910, was the city’s larg­est art museum, home to an ex­tensive collection by Swiss artist Jean-Etienne Liotard. With 7,000+ ex­hib­­its on dis­play, the Museum rang­ed from prehistoric to modern works. Them­at­ically categor­ised col­lect­ions were shown, with import­ant finds from antiquity in the Archaeology Dept.

The Department for Applied Art was personally set up for me, exhibiting Byzantine Art, icons, musical instruments and textiles. Another section was dev­ot­ed to fine arts and housed coll­ec­tions of paintings ranging from the Mid­dle Ages to the C20th. The collections also had many works by Ferdin­and Hodler, Félix Vallotton and Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot.

Alfred Baur lived in Geneva from 1900 and collected art objects on bus­iness trips to the Far East. Over 45 years he bought classy Ch­in­­­ese and Japanese art objects and ritual artefacts, making the Baur Coll­ec­tion a great site. The antiques in­cluded cer­amics or jade, snuff boxes, Jap­anese prints, netsuke/small fig­ur­in­es, furn­it­ure and swords. Later Baur bought an elegant house near the Art and History Museum and the Russian Church as a site for his collection, accessible to the pub­lic.

18 January 2022

Jewelled treasures from the last Punjabi Maharajah & Maharani

The book "In Pursuit Of Empire: Treasures From The Toor Collection Of Sikh Art", 2018
was written by Amandeep Singh Madra and Parmjit Singh

A pair of gold and seed pearl pendant earrings from the collect­ion of Maharani Jind Kaur (1817–1863) was sold at Bonhams in London in April 2018. The earrings were part of possib­ly the world's greatest treasury, that of the Sikh Emp­ire which was created by Jind Kaur's husband, The Lion of Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780–1839). Jind Kaur was Ranjit Singh's last wife, mother to Maharaja Duleep Singh.

The Punjab empire in the Maharaja’s time extended from the Indian Ocean to the Himalayas; his court was famous for its cultural and scientific achievements, and its riches. Punjab's Sikh ruling elite lavishly patronised artists and craftsmen, to create a stunning array of objects fit for Sikh royals, warriors and saints, and to reflect a vibrant new power on the world's stage. 

The Bonham earrings, whose estimated value was £20,000-30,000, sold for £182,000! See the gold pendant earrings, each crescentic and on gold loops, were finely decorated with granulation. The terminals had floral motifs, the lower edge with a band of suspension loops, each with a seed pearl and small gold leaf pendant. See From the Collection of the Court of Lahore.

Maharani Jind Kaur’s earrings Punjab, 1830-40
Gold, emeralds, diamonds, pearls and red spinel
Toor Collection

Sikh art coll­ector, Davinder Toor, explaining why he spent so much on the Maharani's jew­ellery, revealed his lasting pas­sion for Sikh art and history. The 2018 summer exhibition at the Brunei Gal­l­ery in Russell Square showed a glittering array of 100 works of art objects from leading private collect­ions and major in­stitutions, including stunning Punjabi jewellery. Plus a cannon of Maharaja Ranjit Singh which was used in Anglo-Sikh war, a receipt that marked transfer of Kohinoor diamond from Sikhs to the British, Jowahir Singh's sword (the Maharani’s brother), Maharaja Duleep Singh's clothing  and portraits of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. 

Objects from the Toor Collection have been exhibited at major global institutions, including the Kunsthalle Munich, Art Gallery of Ontario Toronto, Asian Art Museum San Francisco, and were featured in the book In Pursuit of Empire, 2018.

Now I need to ask how the Maharani Jind Kaur’s jewellery left the family and was sold off. Toor wrote that Jind Kaur was the most famous of the 20 wives of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, leader of the Sikh empire from 1801-39. They mar­r­ied in 1835 and gave birth to their only son Duleep Singh in 1838. When her husband died in 1839, Jind Kaur was the only wife not to commit sati on his funeral pyre. Their very young son was procl­aimed mah­ar­aja of the Sikh empire in 1843 and Jind Kaur became the child’s regent. 

gold pendant earrings, 6.5 cm. high
sold at Bonhams in 2018 for a record amount of money
Box says "From the Collection of the Court of Lahore".

After British victory in the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845-6), the East India Company invaded and annexed Punjab in 1849, despite arm­ed opposition organised and led by Jind Kaur. View­ed by the col­on­ial rulers as having a dangerous in­fl­uence over the affairs of state, the maharani was forcibly separated from her son and ban­ished to another part of British India. 600+ pieces of her jewellery were impounded by the British authorities in Var­an­asi.

By the mid-19th century, the Sikh kingdom had met its demise at the hands of the British Empire. After Punjab was annexed, Duleep Singh was taken by the British and in 1854 was sent into exile in England. He was not reunited with his mother Jind Kaur until 1861, but by then the last Pun­jabi queen of was unwell and virtually blind. The poor woman died in London in 1863 and her casket was shipped back to Bombay in 1864.

Having lost his battle against the India Office over the tricky issue of his financial allowances, the maharaja decided to auct­ion off some of the family’s possessions in order to raise a large amount of money to return to India.

Maharani Jind Kaur's earrings
Emeralds, diamonds, rubies, pearls and gold

The Lahore Treasury held the fabled Koh-i-Noor diamond and the Timur ruby, both of which were gifted to Queen Victoria by the the East India Company directors after Punjab was annexed. Of the hundreds of personal items of jewellery documented as having belonged to Jind Kaur, only four are known to exist today.

And see amazing Maharani earrings featured gold flower heads, set with emeralds in the centre and enclosed by lasque-cut diam­onds. The pierced bell drops featured emerald cabochons and more diamonds, with spinels terminating in multi-tiered pearl fringes with glass beads. 

Maharani Jind Kaur wearing many jewellery pieces
Portrait painted by George Richmond in 1862

See the film The Black Prince (2018) that told the story of Duleep Singh, the last Maharajah of the Sikh Empire, and his struggle with Queen Victoria.

15 January 2022

Ada Blackjack - a brave female Robinson Crusoe in the Arctic.

Alaskan-born Ada Deletuk (1898-1983) was an indigenous Inuit. They were a hunt­ing people, eating fish, walrus, seals, whales, car­ibou and bears. Ada saw, but did not learn hunt­ing and surviv­al skills. She moved to Nome and was brought up by Meth­odist mis­sion­aries who taught her Engl­ish, Bible studies, house­keeping and sew­ing. Colonised by Russians since late C18th, AK had been acquired by the U.S in 1867.

Ada Blackjack (centre front) and her four colleagues
on Wrangel Island, 1921
Photo credit: Oceanwide Expeditions

At 16 she un­hap­pily married a dog-team driver, Jack Black­jack. They had 3 children, two of whom quickly died be­fore Jack aband­oned 5 years old tubercular Ben­nett. The divorce left Ada without money, so she left her sick son in an orphanage and looked for work.

In 1913, Canadian anthropologist-arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stef­ansson led a voyage into the Arctic. The team split and one group survived on the rich wild­life of Wrangel Island, 200 miles NE of Sib­er­ia. Stef­an­s­son pro­p­osed the idea of a Friend­ly Arct­ic, claiming the island for Canada and Britain as a way­station for those crossing via the frozen north. But the ex­p­edit­ion failed.

In 1921, Stef­ansson organised another expedition to Wrangel Island. The team had 4 young explorers: Allan Craw­ford 20, Lorne Knight 28, Fred Maurer 28 and Milton Galle 19. They planned to live on the uninhab­ited land, in order to claim the territory for the British Empire. The young men were all excited to go, but only Knight and Maurer knew any­th­ing about Arctic surv­ival.

In Sept 1921 the team sailed on the Victoria from Seattle to Nome. In Nome, Stef­ansson was recruiting an Inuit to assist with camp dut­ies, an Eng­l­ish-speaking seamstress who could repair Arctic furs, coats and balacl­avas. Ada was terrified by polar bears, but they needed a skilled seam­stress, and in any case, Blackjack was financially des­p­er­ate!

Allan Crawford (20) was chosen as expedition leader because he had Canadian-British citizenship, necessary for a British claim for Wrangel Island. Crawford’s men immediately hoisted a British flag, stak­ing their claim for His Majesty King George. Excited Seattle native Lorne Knight had been on previous Arctic expeditions with Stefansson!

Nome USA and Wrangel Island Russia
Google map

Stefansson financed and organised, but did not join the expedition wh­ich called for the team to be dropped off on the isl­and and picked up by ship the fol­lowing year. So the team took only 6 months of sup­p­l­ies, relying on the oc­ean and island to meet their needs. The first months were optimistic - they set up camp and spent their days mapping the island or collecting specim­ens.

Assured by Stef­ansson that a ship would be arriving with more supplies in the summer, the team didn’t attempt to ration their 6 mon­ths’ worth of provisions, which they topped up with the island’s ample wild game. Ada cooked whatever the men caught, seagulls, foxes and polar bears.

But summer’s end saw a bad Arctic winter that brought endless dark­ness and no game. Knight show­ed little sym­p­athy in his diary, blaming the “foolish female for eating all of our good grub". How­ever they all knew that if they survived till summer, the rescue-ship would arr­ive with new team mem­bers and supplies.

After a late departure due to funding problems, the resupply vess­el Ted­dy Bear met the worst ice in 25 years. In Sept 1922 its captain mes­saged Stefansson that the rescue ship had been forced to turn back, propel­ler broken. Stefansson clearly was not overly-con­cern­ed, tel­ling reporters and expedition mem­b­ers’ families that the group was safe in the Arctic. He wrote a book, The Friendly Arctic (1921), saying that reports of the inhosp­it­able Arctic conditions were fake news. Game was abundant and those with common sense could survive, he wrote.

However it soon became clear that de­s­pite Black­jack’s best eff­orts, there wasn’t enough food to keep all of them alive. Knight had severely weakened, with ach­ing joints and sore gums; he knew about scurvy from his previous Arctic expeditions. In early 1923, with starvation looming, Crawford, Galle and Maurer made a tough decision. They started an ambit­ious trek back across the now-frozen sea to fetch help in Siberia. They set off with supplies and the 5 remaining dogs, but after just a couple of days, a vicious gale struck up and the men vanished forever.

Black­jack had to catch meat to keep the deterior­ating Knight al­ive, so she taught herself to shoot with his heavy rifle. For 6 months Ada was doctor, cook, hunter and lumberjack, but Knight const­antly yel­l­ed at her for caring for him bad­ly. When he died in June 1923 Ada coul­dn’t bury Knight’s body, so she built a prot­­ective wall from wild beasts.

Alone in such a vast, silent land­scape was overwh­el­m­ing, but Black­jack pushed on, filling her journal and worry­ing about her son Bennett. In the day she set traps for foxes and shot birds and seals. Even as she wept with frustration, Ada found solace in her Christian faith.

In Aug 1923 Ada heard a wh­istle, ran outside and saw the schoon­er Don­al­d­­son and crewmen wandering about on sh­ore. Salvation had arrived and her two-year ordeal on Wran­gel Is­land ended.

Ada Blackjack and her son Bennett,
Los Angeles Times, Feb 1924
Before leaving the island, expedition leaders had ordered her not to speak to reporters or else they wouldn’t pay her. But everywhere she went in Alaska, re­porters rec­ognised Ada and asked how this Robinson Crusoe had survived an ordeal so gh­astly it had killed the heroic male explor­ers. This very private woman finally spoke out only once (to defend herself against accusations she had not done enough to save Knight).

Ada made nothing from the many articles and books published subsequ­ent­ly. Ste­fansson wrote The Adventure of Wrangel Island (1925), ref­erring to Ada's story as the most romantic in Arc­tic history. She had another son, but finances forced her to place the two boys in care for years. She la­t­er moved back to Alaska, worked as a rein­deer herder and lived until 85. Ada’s family buried her in the Anch­orage Memorial Park Cemetery.

Ada Blackjack
Anch­orage Memorial Park Cemetery

Thanks to these excellent references:
Jennifer Niven, Inverted Reader, 2004
Tessa Hulls, Atlas Obscura, 2017
Ellie Cawthorne, BBC History Magazine, 2020
Oceanwide Expeditions Blog

11 January 2022

King Gustav III of Sweden - gold, diamonds and gifts of grandeur

Nationalmuseum, Sweden’s museum of art & design, holds c700,000 ob­j­ects: paintings, sculpture, drawings and graphic art from the C16th until the early C20th, and applied arts and design. The National­museum is responsible for preserving and making art accessible to all Swedes.

Portrait of King Gustav III of Sweden
by Lorens Pasch
donated to to the Vasa hovrätt in Finland in 1783. Wiki

The recent exhibition at Nationalmuseum, called 18th cent­ury: Sweden and Europe, focused on the relations between Sweden and Eur­ope during the C18th in the visual arts and applied arts. It scanned across a century of wars and severe hard­ships, but also a time of opt­imism for the future and a belief in science where art was closely re­l­ated to politics and dipl­om­acy. Pefect timing. The C18th Rococo style be­came prevalent in interior design, painting, sculpture and the dec­or­­ative arts, starting in France, southern Germany and Austria.

The exhibition showed the new ideas and artists who came to Sweden from France, to partic­ipate in building the new Royal Palace of Stock­holm early in the cen­tury. The exhibition also looked more close­ly at the direct impact King Gustav III of Swed­en had on culture later on.

At the very time French artists came to Sweden, Swedish artists trav­elled elsewhere in Europe. In addition to art skills, the art­ists’ bus­­iness acumen contributed to taking pos­itions at the top tier of soc­iety; some even made careers as court art­ists. The exhibit­ion dealt with themes: war and diplomacy, trade and science, birth of rococo, Gustav III’s time in Italy, neo class­ic­ism and English infl­uen­ces. The greatest star was Alexander Roslin, who, after a year in Paris (1753), became a member of the French Acad­émie des Beaux-Arts. Artist Pehr Hille­ström painted everyday sc­enes from industrial sites, kit­ch­ens and parlours. Others incl­uded Jo­han Tobias Sergel, Carl Hårle­man, Louis Jean Desprez, Angelika Kauf­f­mann, Carl August Ehrensvärd, Elias Martin and Carl Fredrik von Breda.

But the works on display I would have most loved were: porc­el­ain, sil­ver and gold art, furniture etc. Since gold-silver art was my life’s passion, I would have given my spouse’s eye teeth to have been there.

The tradition of jewel-encrusted portraits of the monarch had devel­op­ed earlier in the French court, and soon became a model for other Eur­o­­pean royal houses. These portraits took the form of a pend­ant or was mounted in a jewelled setting on the lid of a gold box, the most pres­t­igious gift of appreciation. Queen Christina (1632–54) was the first Swedish monarch to adopt this French fash­ion, which then flour­ished in the C18th. 

Johan Georg Henrichsen: Portrait of Gustav III, c1778.
Gold box, guilloche, chased gold, diamonds, enamel. Made in Hanau. 
Sotheby’s. Dec 2021
Thanks to the History Blog.
King Gustav III (1771-92) often handed out gold boxes as a sign of royal favour. Contemporary records show that the king took a sig­nificant per­sonal interest in the des­ign and gave detailed instruct­ions to the artists. Sometimes the decoration consisted of his monog­ram in diam­onds; other times his portrait was fram­ed with jewels. Specialist cr­aftsmen collaborated to create the boxes. A sil­versmith first prod­uced the basic gold box, which was then be decor­at­ed by an engraver and ad­orned with gemstones by a jeweller. Lastly a miniat­urist added the port­rait.

There were practitioners of all these crafts in Gustavian Stockholm, but some boxes were imported from Russia, Saxony or France. The gold box was made in Hanau, in the present-day German state of Hessen. It was oval-shaped and décor­ated with a guilloche-engine-turned wave and circle pattern with­in a chased/embossed border. It was made in a combination of two different gold alloys to prod­uce colour variations. After the box reached Stock­holm, the king’s por­trait was on the lid in a frame of diam­onds.

The portrait was the work of Johan Georg Henrichsen (1707–79), court enameller of King Gustav III, appointed in 1773. He worked ex­clusively from originals in pastel or oil created by other artists, but his col­our palette was more intense. Hen­richsen also produced coats of arms of nobility using miniature techniques.

Scottish adventurer/officer John Mackenzie Lord Macleod, 4th Earl of  Cromartie (1726–89), had been loyal to Bon­nie Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender. He was held prisoner after the British army defeated the Jacobites at Cull­od­en in 1746. Two years later he was pardoned, but the family had its estates conf­is­cated. In 1750 John Mackenzie joined the Swedish army, becoming Colonel of the Björneborg regiment.

Mackenzie left the Swe­d­ish army and returned home in 1778, ha­v­ing been granted a full am­nesty and having his estates res­t­ored. On his depart­ure from Sweden, the gold box was given to him from King Gustav III as a gift. It stayed in the family for c200 years, un­til heirs sold it in 1969 then an auction at Sotheby’s London in 2021 (sold for $220,000).

Nationalmuseum receives no state funds to buy artwork; instead they rely on donations from private foundations. The Mackenzie box, gifted from Anna and Hjalmar Wicander Found­ation, is now on display in the National Museum’s Treasury, alongside a miniature portrait of Mackenzie.

The Gustavus III Box
Swedish, 1751
The Victoria & Albert Museum: 

Above: cover
Below: side panel

For other gifts of grandeur from Gustav III, see 1751. One enamelled gold box was set with a miniature in watercolour on ivory under glass of Gustavus III of Sweden (1746-92), surrounded by moonstones. On the base and sides, see miniatures of ships or the Swedish naval port of Karlskrona  where war­ships were mount­ed. The back side of the box featured a scene of a fortification at Sveaborg, the Swedish fort near Helsinki. The box’s ends were also mounted with watercolours on ivory.

King Gustavus III presented this box to British banker, inventor and patron of the poet Robert BurnsPatrick Miller of Dalswinton (1731-1815), given to Miller after he offered his double-hulled ship with a paddle wheel to the King. His ship, the British Sea Monster, was dep­ict­ed on the base.

King Gustavus III died a young man in 1792. He was at a masked ball when an assassination attempt caused a terrible infection. But I am not sure why very few of his royal gifts of grandeur have survived intact.