17 May 2022

Dr Marie Stopes: UK scientist who saved women from unwanted pregnancies.

Dr Marie Stopes, 1914

Marie Stopes (1880-1958) was born in Scotland, daughter of a leading archaeologist and a literature scholar. In 1902, she graduated with a BSc at the Uni College London in only 2 years, winning the Gold Medal for biology. In her mid-20s, she crawled into haz­ardous coal mines in Lancashire, collect­ing spectacular ancient plant fossils. Her labour illum­inated the origin of coal, the British Empire fuel!

Her Prof Francis Oliver was progressing in plant ev­ol­ution. Also pas­sionate for scien­t­ific research, Stopes went to the Uni of Munich to study the sex­ual habits of prim­itive plants, learn­ed German and earned her PhD in paleo-botany in 1904. And an­oth­er PhD from Uni Col­l­ege Lon­don! Then Stopes became the first fem­ale lecturer at the Uni of Man­chester.

In 1907 Britain's respected scientific institution, The Royal Soc­iety of London, sent Stopes on an 18-month expedition to Japan. She was to solve a problem that had earlier mys­t­ified Ch­ar­les Dar­win: the evolutionary origin of flowers. Stopes left for nor­thern Hokk­aido Island where she dug up fossils that perfectly addressed Darwin's dilemma.

Stopes was British science’s rising star. In 1910 the Can­adian Government invited her to resol­ve a dis­pute about the age of New Brunswick rocks. Analysing the Canadian fossils back at the British Museum London, she cut th­r­ough years of confusion and resolved the dispute! Men were astounded.

In 1911 Stop­es married a fellow scientist, Reginald Gates but their dis­as­t­rous marriage collaps­ed in a year and was annulled. Also in 1911 she found many books about human sex­uality lock­ed in a cup­board at the British Mus­eum. Rifling through, she finally understood Gates’ im­potence. She had been an educated scientist who was naïve about her own sex life!!

How did this young palaeont­ol­ogist change Western society? Stopes became committed to increasing her kn­ow­ledge of sexual ethics and reproductive physiology. A seminal in­fl­uence was Havelock Ellis (1859–1939).

She met American pioneer Margaret Sanger in London’s Fabian Hall in July 1915, as later dis­c­us­sed in Sanger’s book My Fight for Birth Control. The rivalry between Stopes and Sanger began when Sanger wanted to open a contraceptive clinic in London, after her newly opened clinic in the US was raided by police.

Stopes’ sad marriage justified her campaign for sexual reform and led to the first sex man­ual written in the UK, Married Love (1918). But it took another two years before she could find a printer. On the book’s release, Stopes’ fame boomed. Many letters, writ­ten by women thank­ing Stopes for her work, have since been arch­ived.

In 1918, Stopes married Humphrey Roe and happily had a son, Harry Stopes-Roe. Humphrey shared her interest in contraception; as a manufact­uring magnate, he had seen the effects unplanned child­­bearing had on his female workforce.

The success of Married Love was quickly followed by Wise Pa­r­enthood, a guide to contraception. Then Radiant Mot­h­er­hood (1920) and later End­uring Pass­ion. She used physiolog­ical terms for the first time in popul­ar works, to give the books gravitas.

Stopes opened the first UK family planning clinic on Mar 1921 in Mar­­l­borough Rd North London. The Mothers’ Clinic for Constructive Birth Control was financed by the couple, hiring only female doctors and nurses to make patients more comfortable. The clin­ic off­er­ed a free service to married women, dis­pensed rubber cerv­ic­al caps and dis­t­rib­uted contraceptives by mail order.

The first London family planning clinic opened in 1921  

Marie Stopes with nurses, Mothers' Clinic in Hollo­way
Photo credit: Marie Stopes: a biography
A mobile contraceptive clinic

Naturally Stopes faced opposition from the Anglican and Cath­olic Churches and medical community. She responded by dist­rib­­uting pamph­l­ets and making public speeches. In 1923, Catholic Dr Halliday Suth­erland lib­elled Stopes in his book Birth Control. He argued that birth controllers were using the poor for scientific ex­perimentat­ion. Stopes sued Halliday but lost the case amongst bitt­erly divis­ive publicity.

In the 1920s Stopes opened other clinics, including in a fully equipped caravan. In 1930 she formed the National Birth Control Council/later Family Planning Association.

University College London Bloomsbury was where the cont­ributions Fran­cis Galton etc made to biometrics, genetics and archaeol­ogy were famous. Less well known was their cont­ribution to estab­lish­ing and legitimising eugenics i.e the science of improving human populat­ions via select­ive breeding. In fact Gal­t­on coined the term eugenics in 1883, the roots of the movement being at UCL, not Nazi Germany.

Stopes was a product of her age, when intel­l­ect­ual life in Britain was already col­oured by eugenics. Stopes had been friend­ly with Fr­ancis Galton since childhood, so she joined the Eug­en­ics Education Society early and became a life fellow in 1921.

Poster advertising a public lecture by Stopes, 1927
Stopes adv­oc­ated for the sterilisation of people seen as unfit for parenthood. Her views were being promoted by the Nazis, so in 1935 she attended a Nazi Congress for Population Science in Berlin. And in 1939 she wrote a gushy personal letter to Adolf Hitler, enclos­ing her love poetry.

She wanted to improve the quality of Britain’s genetics so she called for new laws that allowed the “hopelessly rotten and racially diseased” to be sterilised and wrote strongly against interracial marriage.

Dr Marie Stopes died from breast cancer in 1958. That year Anglican Bishops at the Lambeth Conference accepted that procreation was not the sole purpose of Ch­ris­tian marriage. Her legacy was represented through the organis­at­ion Marie Stopes International which provided reprod­uctive health services to millions of people in 35+ countries.

Thankfully her works on repr­od­uctive rights and femin­ism were heroic.  She had defied the churches and the male-dominated medical estab­lish­ment!!

Her leg­acy is marked by an English Heritage blue plaque 
on her Upper Nor­wood London home.






14 May 2022

Man Ray: the most expensive art photo at auction ever?

Violon d’Ingres 1924
starring Kiki de Montparnasse, Christie's
to be auctioned in New York in May 2022

The eldest of 4 children, Emmanuel Radnitzky, was born in Phil­ad­el­phia in 1890 to East European immigrants. When Emmanuel was 7, the family moved to Brooklyn, where both of his parents worked as tail­ors. In 1912 the family changed their last name to Ray due to incr­easing anti-Semitism in the US eg they faced quotas on en­rolment and teaching positions in universities. Emmanuel became Man Ray

While Ray’s parents expected him to go to university after Brooklyn Boy’s High School, he dreamed of being an artist. And so, much to their disappointment, he turned down an architecture sc­h­olar­ship. Nonetheless his parents helped Ray turn his bedroom into a studio.

While living in New York, Ray frequently visited Stieglitz’s 291 gallery and took classes at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League of New York. Then, in 1915, he met the artist Marcel Duchamp. The two forged a tight bond, discovered the New York Dada movement and collab­or­ated together. But if Ray’s friendships with male colleagues were mutually supportive and a source of positivity, his relationships with women were not.

Noire et Blanche 1926
auctioned in Paris in 2017

In 1921 at 30 Ray was drawn to Paris. There he met and made friends with Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Heming­way, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein. He also met and loved his assis­tant Lee Mil­l­er, a talented photographer. Theirs was a tumultuous affair that inspired Ray’s readymade works of art.

Ray was showing a provocative attitude toward women in some of his art. And yet, many of the women in Ray’s life, including Miller, loved him long after their romances ended. Such was the case with the nightclub singer, actress, painter and model Alice Prin/Kiki de Montparnasse. In the portrait Le Violon d’Ingres 1924, Montparnasse had a violin’s characteristic f-holes superimposed on her back.

The artist's natural affinity for the Surrealist style. Even before the movement had coalesced in the mid 1920s, his work was influenced by Marcel Duchamp with its Surrealist undertones. He would continue to draw on the movement's ideas throughout his life and was very im­portant in popularising Surrealism with others.

Back in the U.S in 1940, Man Ray stepped off a boat in New Jersey, safe from the Nazi occupation of France. Man Ray had been a signif­icant contrib­utor to Dada, Surrealist and avant-garde move­ments.

In 1948, Ray met Juliet Browner and fell in love, marrying in a double wedding with their close friends, artists Max Ernst and Dor­o­thea Tann­ing. The couple returned to France in 1951, where they re­mained toget­h­er until Ray died from a lung infection in 1976. He was buried in Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris.

Surrealist brotherhood
Top row: Paul Eluard, Jean Arp, Yves Tanguy, Rene Clevel.
bottom row: Tristan Tzara, Andre Breton, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Man Ray
Credit: theartstory

Now leap forward to May 2022. Man Ray’s Le Violon d’Ingres 1924, a famed photograph of a nude woman’s back that’s overlaid with a violin’s f-holes, will be auct­ioned and should fetch $5-7 million!! If it sells within that range, it will become the most expensive photograph ever sold at auction.

The famous photograph, depicting his muse Kiki de Mont­parnasse, was rare since it was made when its corresponding negative was first produced. This made it very valuable for photographic experts.

The current record for a photograph by Man Ray was set in 2017, when an original edition of Noire et Blanche 1926 sold for $3 million in Paris Christie’s (see photo above). The Violin photograph is now the top lot to be off­­ered from the holdings of New York collectors Melvin and Rosa­lind Gersten Jacobs, fashion retailers who had deep ties to Surreal­ist circles. The Jacobs bought Le Violon d’Ingres directly from Man Ray in 1962, and kept it. The live sale will be de­dicated to the Jacobs’ Surrealist art collection at Christie’s NY.

Rosalind, a long time Macy’s executive, died in 2019 at 94. The coup­­­­le’s daughter and executor, Peggy Jacobs Bader, said that the works being sold reflected her parents’ playfulness. Highlights from the collection, including works by René Magritte and William Cop­ley, will tour London, Paris and Hong Kong before finally returning to New York. There they’ll be on view at Christie’s Rockefeller centre space, before the May auction.

Man Ray works have sold well at recent auctions. In 2021 200+ objects by Man Ray and artists in his circle was sold from the es­tate of his late assist­ant, Lucien Triellard. Held at Christie’s in Paris, the sales total­led $7.1 million, despite claims from the Man Ray Trust that some art objects were obtained illegally. 

Man Ray, Glass Tears.
1932 photography. Paris. Wiki

There is an irony here. Although Ray worked with different media, he saw himself prim­arily a painter. His American legacy was his photograph­y, which annoy­ed him – even when he died, photography was still considered a 2nd-class art form. Still Arthur Lubow, in Man Ray: The Artist and His Shadows 2021, str­uct­ur­ed his book around those who were closest to Ray i.e photo­grapher-gallerist Alfred Stieglitz and lovers Kiki de Mont­par­nas­se and Meret Oppenheim.  What a talented, well connected man Man Ray was.

10 May 2022

José Ferrer, Oscars & Senator Joseph McCarthy

Jose Ferrer as Toulouse-lautrec, in knee shoes
by Bettmann, 1952

Joseph McCarthy (1908–57) was a Republican Senator from Wiscon­sin from 1947. By 1950 everyone in the U.S knew McCar­thy, at the very time when the Senator both promoted and tack­led Cold War fears of nation-wide Communist treason. As might have been expected, he argued over and over again that many fellow-trav­ellers had in­filtrated the Federal govern­ment. The term Mc­Car­thyism was soon applied to many dodgy right wing actions from that era.

But how did McCarthyism try to control the film industry? José Ferrer (1912–92) was born into an accomplished, educated family in Puerto Rico. They emigrated to the USA when José was in primary school where he played piano at a very skilled level, and got into Princeton at a very young age. Then he studied for a year in a Swiss boarding school.

Back in America, when Ferrer wasn’t working, he supported various progressive causes. He fought against segregation in DC, attended crisis meetings on atomic energy and foreign policy, and signed a letter in 1947 condemning the House of Un-American Activities Com­mittee aka HUAC. Remember this letter! It denigrated the HUAC in­vest­ig­ations into Hollywood which was already building up a black­list of entertainers with so-called communist leanings.

After finishing university, Ferrer began working in theatre, start­ing as a stage manager then moving up as an actor in Broadway. He had a small role in a 1940 comedy, but it was playing Iago in a 1943 prod­uct­ion of Othello, with Paul Robeson, that made Ferrer’s name well known.

Af­t­er impressive successes on stage, Ferrer broke into Hollywood five years later, with his perf­orm­ance as the Dauphin in the 1948 film Joan of Arc. It was his first film role, and he was immediate­ly nom­inated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in 1949. 

Lloyd Corrigan and José Ferrer (right) in Cyrano de Bergerac, 1950 

It was Cyrano de Bergerac that got José Ferrer an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in 1951. But his career was threatened by the anti-Communist hysteria in the 1950s, led by the said Sen Jos­eph McCarthy. Mag­az­in­es had spec­ulated in the lead-up to the Acad­emy Awards that para­n­oia about Communism could influence the out­come for the first time in Oscar history. This was even more prob­able, once a teach­ers’ as­sociation rescinded an award to Ferrer for his Cyrano per­formance. Note, however, that many papers argued the problem for Hispanics who were nominated for Academy Awards concerned their ethnic origins, and had nothing to do with their politics.

On the night of the 1951 Oscar ceremony, José Ferrer was in New York, re­hearsing his next show with Gloria Swanson. So when Helen Hayes an­n­ounced that he had won Best Actor for his role in Cyrano de Berg­er­ac, Ferrer delivered his very proud acceptance speech from a night­club in Manhattan.

Yet Ferrer’s future in Hollywood remained ambivalent. Just as he was being handed Hol­lywood’s highest honour, making him the first Spanish speaking actor to win an Oscar, Ferrer was being in­vest­igated by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Appar­ent­ly he was consid­ered too left-wing, too prog­ress­ive, too difficult, too intellectual.

When Ferrer was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, he was repeatedly questioned about his support for the Republican cause in Spain. Did he give a fund-raising speech for the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee back in 1944? Did he appear at the Spanish Refugee Appeal in 1945? Was he a sponsor of the American Committee for Spanish Freedom in 1946?

The 1951 hearings, Senator McCarthy labelled many wit­ness­es as Fifth Amendment Communists. After the Supreme Court ruled that in­voking The Fifth was not per­missible, witnesses had to choose be­t­ween defending their past act­ions and implicating other people – inform on family and colleagues Vs face a prison sentence. The HUAC called 90 witnesses in 1951, including Jose Ferrer.

Ferrer’s name already appeared in Red Channels, a booklet pub­lished for the first time in 1950 that listed names of ent­ert­ain­ment ind­us­try professionals suspected of communist sympathies. Walter Winchell and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper kept a file on Ferrer’s political activities and suggested new names to add to Red Channels.
Red Channels: Report Of Communist Influence In Radio And Television
1950, Biblio

Ferrer had to defend his "communist beliefs" in 1951 when he was subpoenaed by the HUAC. He clearly understood that the HUAC could ruin an ind­ivid­ual’s career. So at his hearing he told them he recognised that some of the organisat­ions he’d supported in the past might have been connected to com­munism. But he knew nothing of their links. Ultimately Ferrer was “cleared”. Now I wonder why.

But it didn’t help. Ferrer still struggled to find con­sistent work and he knew that he was seen as a box-office problem. Yet sometimes he starred - in 1953 he was nominated again for the Best Actor Aw­ard, this time for Moulin Rouge.    

When Sen McCarthy named his black list, Jose Ferrer refused to co-operate. 

Home life was also unstable. Ferrer married Rosemary Clooney twice (1961 & 1967), amongst his five weddings. But he continued acting and directing into his 70s, and received many other honours, including the National Medal of Arts. Alas Ferrer’s treatment in Hollywood was never predictable.

Conclusion The Academy wanted to be culturally inclus­ive but when Ferrer won an Oscar in 1951 with an un-Anglicised name, he was the first His­panic to do so. So why has the Academy been so intract­able to this day? Ferrer might’ve seen his award as a vote of confidence in his very special acting skills, but Hollywood clearly disagreed. McCarthyism was a more powerful deciding factor. 

Read McCarthyism at the Oscars, Kristin Hunt, Jstor 2020. 

07 May 2022

Walter Sickert's Victorian art - vice, nudity, sex, violence, death.

Jack the Ripper's Bedroom
by Walter Sickert, 1906, Tate

Walter Sickert
(1860-1942) was born in Munich and moved to London when young. In 1888, when he was an actor and artist, 5 women were murd­er­ed in Wh­ite­chapel streets from Aug-Nov. The women had cut throats, faces sl­ashed or organs removed. For Vict­orians, it was primitive and very grue­some.

I analysed the question of who was Jack the Ripper in a blog post. Now here’s only one more piece of evidence. Sic­kert had written a series of letters to the police, using his macabre drawing skills. In 2002 The Tate asked a paper analyst to compare Sick­ert’s corresp­ond­ence with some of the Ripper letters, and they matched! Now Ripperologists think the confus­ion was an unfortunate combination of 1] Sick­ert’s own brutal paintings of naked women and 2] his fascination with lurid newspaper stories. 

Now to the major Tate Britain exhibition, April-Sept 2022. Sick­ert was an actor and showman from the start. His artist-father Os­w­ald persuaded him of the uncertainty of an artist’s life, so the lad spent 3 years performing with Sir Henry Irving’s Stage Com­pany, be­fore going in 1881 to st­udy art at the Slade School London.

Thus Sickert was an admirer of disg­uise, showing how his early stage car­eer drove his changing paintings. This exhibition rep­resented every phase of his career, starting with a small sketch from 1882, found in Islington’s Local History Centre. The work done under Whist­ler’s inf­luence appeared, then  Degas was influential.

Sickert, Gallery of the Old Bedford, 1894, 
Nat Museums Liverpool

 In the 1880s and 1890s, music halls faced moral sc­rut­iny. Critics cal­l­ed them Victorian dens of vice, but Sickert often visited and painted them eg The Bedford. That early music hall work influen­ced his art i.e the young actor trans­form­ed the emotional glitter of life in the spot­light into the theatricality of his art.

Sickert’s early visions of music halls preserved the popular entert­ain­­ment, portraying its stars, fans, architecture and atmos­ph­ere. The power of perform­ance was seen the mom­ent when the audience gave it­s­elf over to the per­former and became lost in the songs, enth­ralling Sickert! See Bonnet et Cl­aque: Ada Lundberg at the Marylebone Music Hall c1887, show­ed a singer in full-blown performance. But she was crowded by crazy grins, ghoulish eyes, collap­sed noses.

One purpose of this exhibition was to emphasise the French in­f­l­uence on the artist. Sickert spent much of his time in Dieppe where he was art­is­tically happy in the com­p­any of Degas, Cour­bet and Bonnard. His pre­occup­at­ions were the same, whether in France or in Camden Town i.e the Imp­r­ess­ionist task was to repres­ent the lives of or­d­inary people and en­vir­onments, but to make it look special.

The influence of French Impressionists on Sickert’s nudes was indecent in UK, a nation that was still loving its prudish pre-Raphaelite era. But not indecent to Degas; Sick­ert was reacting against the ideal­is­ed nude prom­ot­ed in Britain, which he saw as too polite. So he dev­el­oped a more British version of French Impressionism, with more solemn colours.

Sickert ardently wanted to show the naked female without ideal­is­at­ion. In La Hollandaise 1906 he easily achieved his goal of showing a naked woman in poor surroundings. 

How much of his view was inspired by news­paper coverage of current st­ories? Walter created Jack the Ripper’s Bed Room in 1907, in Man­ch­ester Art Gallery. Sickert was an eccentric macabre man; he of­ten foc­used on shadowy interiors and lower class Victor­iana. But it was the art that suggested viol­ence ag­ain­st women that horrified. Sickert said he was merely showing the unglamorous nature of everyday life.

Against the dark walls of the Tate, in fierce lighting, the women were laid out. In The Camden Town Murder 1908, the despairing man sat while the nude on the iron bed turned her face away. Was she crying? Had he strangled her? Her awkwardly placed hand suggested the second. 

Sickert, Camden Town Murder, 1908 

Sickert Juvenile Lead (Self Portrait), 1908.
Southampton City Art Gall

In Murder in Camden Town 1909, a man stood over an inert female on a bed. She was a pink, moist form, like meat in a butch­er’s window so was the male onlooker a killer enjoying his success, just as  Sick­ert’s title suggested and just as the newspapers discussed?

Sickert, Murder in Camden Town

I’d assumed that he couldn’t deal with women because they found him re­pulsive. But no, he’d married Ellen Cobden (1885-99); Ch­ris­tine Angus (1911-20); and artist Thérèse Lessore (1926-42). Perh­aps it was about syphilis; after all, many Edwardian art­ists obsessed about it. Or he’d been made impotent by painful childhood operations for a penile fistula. In either theory, pain or impotency had scarred him emotionally and had left him path­ol­og­ically hating women.

Sickert might have been con­sumed with guilt, confused about sex, angry about women. But in his mus­ic hall paintings, most of the men were ug­ly! The exhibition ack­nowled­ged that these were shocking images and are still shocking now. But not so shocking they couldn’t in­fluence Lucian Freud (1922–2011).

The artist’s crime scenes and ugly nudes were, Sickert suggested, a symptom of his curiosity about his vice-filled city and not evidence of his mor­al deprav­ity. Yet even those who knew him cl­aim­ed that it was imp­ossible to discover real the man behind his many fac­es. Contemporaries quickly iden­t­ified the sordid poverty of prostit­ut­ion, but in most, there was an undeniable erotic or tragic aspect. Fasc­inated by the murders yes, but his art told another story.
Lucian Freud, 1996
Portrait on a Grey Cover
National Portrait Gallery

Many thanks to Walter Sickert (Tate 2022), Pallant House Gallery Bookshop. 

If your comments don't appear, post them to me at helenw@bigpond.net.au