30 September 2009

A Night At The Czech Opera: guest blog

I saw my first opera when I was ten, and ever since then, the opera has always been magical for me, regardless of which side of the hall I'm facing. There's a shiver that runs down my spine as I enter a hall, and the wonderful smells of slowly-decaying fabric and paper, faint ancient food and body odours, sometimes the smell of too-hot electrical wiring, burning dust, makeup, hairspray, and all the other elements that make up the smell of an opera house gently tug at my memories.

Estates Opera Theatre, Prague

I moved to Czechoslovakia at age 35, able to say only “beer” and “please”, knowing how to count, and a few musical terms. As a young musician, I was thrilled; as a history buff, I was too excited to blink, afraid I might miss some monument or statue; as an art buff, I was ecstatic. There was always a romance for me about Central Europe: the castles, the politics, the historical legends, the noble famil­ies, the traditions, the grand villas, even the trebuchet projectiles from the 30 Years' War still stuck in the city fortifications. Czechs have always been famous for their architecture; from the Romanesque fortifications, to the Gothic and Baroque churches, to the plague columns, to the avant-garde exhibition centre in Brno, there's no architecture like Czech architecture. Therefore the Czechs, in their enthusiasm for all things architectural, have endowed Prague with not one opera house, but three.

And so you can imagine I was overwhelmed when I got the chance to travel to Prague to attend a performance of Don Giovanni in the Estates Opera theatre where Mozart first conducted its premiere. The Stavovské divadlo had the cornerstone laid on 7th June 1781, opened in 1783, and was financed by František Antonín Count Nostic–Rieneck (1725-1794) and elaborated by the Prague Court builder Antonín Hafenecker; the motto inscribed at the top reads Patriae et Musis/Country and the Muses. This was the Enlightenment, when theatre buildings were thought to be “moral institutions demonstrating the cultural standard of a nation.” (Estates theatre website) The statue in front of the theatre is called “Commendatore” after the character in Don Giovanni. It's called the “Estates Theatre” because it was financed by a noble, and, in 1797 the boxes were bought up in perp­etuity by the noble families, one of the three original “estates”: clergy, nobility, peasantry. A long train ride from Brno notwith­standing, I was eager to get to the right neighbourhood, in the Stare Mesto, about halfway between the main train station and the river, and let the opera and the theatre work their magic. The Stavovské divadlo stands in the former fruit market, Ovocný trh.

A feeling I very often get when standing in historical places is that I am connected now in time and space to the past, as if the boundaries of time were thin, and the Stavovské divadlo was no different. As soon as I arrived, I was enchanted.

The exterior is a golden cream colour with pale green and gilt accents, built in Palladian style. The pediment is straight out of ancient Greece and the keystone archways which provide shelter from the elements as you wait in line echo the curves of the front of the building, the fan windows, and even the ornate wrought-iron balconies that garland the sides of the theatre.

This theatre is one of the very few in Europe that remains largely unchanged from its original state, and when I walked in, there in all its neoclassical glory was everything the romantic in me had hoped for—the original velvet seats in wooden frames, boxes with gilt plaster trim, statues and chandeliers. Of course the candel­abra had been exchanged for electric lighting, and there were wheel-chair ramps and facilities for the hard-of-hearing, but otherwise I felt as if I had stepped straight into the late C18th.

Examine the interior of the Stavovské divadlo. If the interior looks familiar to you, the Czech film director Miloš Forman used this theatre as part of the setting for the Oscar-winning Amadeus. The rectangular interior with two box rows, a gallery and floor seating, can accomodate about a thousand audience members. The ceiling is heavily adorned in neoclassical style, and lavishly décor­ated with gilt plaster. Contrary to the commonplace red and gold in­teriors which usually adorn opera houses and theatres, this interior breathes C18th elegance with dark teal, turquoise and gilt. Every­thing about this building's interior is the physical embodiment of the elevation of the arts, culture, and the social order; to exper­ience this first-hand is to be transported out of oneself and into a higher plane.

Ceiling, Stavovské divadlo

Old opera houses are often tall, with the boxes and galleries ascend­ing three and sometimes four stories. In the old days, the nobility watched the opera from the boxes, the hoi polloi below in the general seating. Operas then were not such formal affairs as they are today, but rather the C18th equivalent of a drive-in. People ate, drank, talked, laughed, watched others to see who was glancing flirtatiously at whom, and in general had a good time. You can still do all that—quietly—in a box. There's a wonderful feeling of privacy in an opera box and while the view may not be the best in the house, it's the totality of the experience that makes opera what it is. Here the boxes both shelter you and put you on display for the hoi polloi to admire.

Opera boxes with gilt plaster trim

The acoustics, for an C18th hall, are stunning. The sound appears to soar over your head and wrap around you in a surprisingly intimate way. With good opera glasses, you can see the details of the costumes and sets from the box, and even the expressions on the faces of the singers.

The theatre itself has a rich and thrilling artistic history: Carl Maria von Weber, Anton Rubinstein, Karl Goldmark, and Gustav Mahler conducted at the Stavovské divadlo. Native Czech operas and plays were staged here as early as 1785. Niccolò Paganini performed here. And of course, the theatre is intimately connected with Mozart: in addition to the October 29, 1787 premiere of Don Giovanni, in 1791 La Clemenza di Tito was staged in public here for the first time in celebration of the coronation of Emperor Leopold II. Mozart was a friend of the Dusek family, and regularly visited Prague to conduct his operas. The Stavovské divadlo is the only theatre where Mozart performed still standing.

This theatre is also the first place the song Kde domov můj, which was later to become the Czech national anthem, was performed as part of the comic opera Fidlovacka in Dec 1834, and was the home theatre of many of the Czech dramatists and opera composers. The politics of Czech culture is too complex for a single blog post, but suffice it to say that the Czech language and regional culture was subservient to the German and Austrian culture in the C18th and C19th. Having a theatre that routinely supported local artists on Sundays and at matinée performances eventually led to a revolution of culture and a transformational emphasis on regional language, music and culture that spread throughout Europe in the C19th and C20th.

There are many things that contribute to this opera hall's success. The graceful design with its beautiful curves and imposing entrance, neoclassical balance, and Corinthian columns draw the eye up and around. The gorgeous interiors with the original details are a delight to contemplate. But what makes this hall a success, ultimately, is the historical significance of this place for art, for history, and for music. It is the nurturing incubator for all that we have to celebrate about the resurgence of pride in regional culture, both in the Czech Republic and around the world.

Cynthia Wunsch
Strike The Right Note

28 September 2009

C18th Pleasure Gardens: Love in a Cool Climate

Pleasure gardens in a cool climate could only have been used for a short season each year. In Copenhagen, for example, locals and tour­ists knew exactly the dates when Tivoli Gardens opened and closed each year. Yet I cannot find the definitive seasonal dates for Vauxhaul or Ran­elagh and only one source even suggested an opening date each year (1st May). I will write to Vic at Jane Austen's World for information.

In the meantime, many questions remain:
a] how did potential customers know when the gardens were open? Was there advertising in general newspapers? In more exclusive sites?

b] if it rained or was too cold on a particular summer evening, did the customers not turn up? If they turned up anyhow, were there spaces in­side warm buildings where they could eat, drink and listen to music?

c] if the season each year was too short, how did owners make enough money to keep the gardens fully functioning?

d] only one source mentioned a handsome banqueting room where, pres­umably, people would eat as if it was a large, public restaurant. This was very different from an intimate box for 8 people where Sam­uel Johnson and his intimate friends used to sup together.

e] how did the gardens’ owners maintain a high standard of clientele? Was there a guard at the entrance, asking people in tacky clothing to go home? Was the entrance fee high enough to keep out all but the most comfortable of families.

Ran­elagh Gardens Chelsea, in The Gentleman's Magazine c1760, Published by Sylvanus Urban Gent., London

The Early American Gardens blog provided some useful answers. “Since you have read Green Retreats & other sources, you know that the gardens were usually owned by those who also had a hand in other businesses, especially entertainment enterprises. They factored the weather into their operating expenses.

Audiences in London had been accustomed to going out to entert­ain­ments in large numbers for decades before 1660. In 1600, there were about 200,000 people living in London and its environs. By that year, there were several public playhouses (including The Globe) and per­for­mances at court, plus troupes of transient players passing through. A conservative estimate has over 3,000 Londoners attending the theater each day, 15,000 per week.

The public pleasure garden with its drinks, skits and games would be an additional venue for a public which had a tradition of going out and which had lived under some strict social controls for a while. Seems like 1660 was just the perfect year to open a public pleasure garden and begin celebrating. Emblems in Commercial Pleasure Gardens is interesting reading.

26 September 2009

Georgian Pleasure Gardens; fashions, food, drink, dancing, music

The latter C17th was the heyday of the Covent Garden coffee-houses, the best known being Wills in Great Russell St. Wills achieved great fame when it became the haunt of London's lit­erati, with the poet John Dryden being the resident man of letters. For 30 years, Dryden ser­ved as an inspiration to literary men in Lon­don: including Pepys and Pope, but not Jonathan Swift who apparently dis­liked Wills. In add­it­ion to ser­ious discussion of lit­erature, Dryden did satirical entertainment for the other patrons.

Coffee houses located in Westminster were frequented by polit­icians. Co­ffee houses near St Paul's Cathed­ral were loved by clergy and intellectuals who gathered to discuss theology and philo­sophy. But there were two great problems with the coffee houses. Firstly they were most suited to day time, intellectual activities, and were rather unsuited to night time, social activities. And secondly the so­cial code of the period excluded women from coffee-houses. [Later in the C18th, cof­fee houses declined but that was because regular gent­lemen's clubs arose in their stead, offering better facil­ities].

Which were Britain’s first Pleasure Gardens? The New Springs Gardens (later Vauxhall), south of the Thames, were probably opened in 1660, in perfect time to cele­b­rate the restoration of the monarchy. Admis­sion was free in the early years, with food and drink being sold to support the venture. There was one compulsory cost; the gardens could only be reached by water via a 6d boat ride, at least until West­min­s­t­er Bridge was built later on.

The new entertainment centres took hold in the public imagination very quickly and within a year or two, Samuel Pepys was already charm­ed by pleasure gardens in his diary. A very pleas­ant evening of danc­ing, strolling & watching fireworks, said he, would end with tea.

In 1729 merchant Jonathan Tyers bought the Vauxhall Gardens, built supper boxes, painted blinds and raised thousands of lamps.  In a rotunda designed by James Paine, an orchestra performed new pieces. The Gardens were central to the dissemination of Rococo in the public fancy, gentle and romantic.

The fashions at Vauxhall, by Thomas Rowlandson, 1779

The pleasure gardens of Ranelagh, in Chelsea, also opened for private pleasure in the C17th. But it wasn’t until 1741 that Ranelagh’s house and grounds were purchased by a group headed by owner of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and subsequently opened to the pub­lic.

Early American Gardens blog was a fine source of inform­ation about British pleasure gardens. Considered more fashion­able than Vauxhall, and with a more expensive entrance fee, Ranelagh was influent­ial, introd­ucing the masquerade to the new middle class. Like Vaux­hall, Ranelagh was in the Rocco style, and featured an impressive rotunda and a Chinese pavilion as well as several walks and a lake. More than Vauxhall, it had a reputation for being a convenient and popular place for courtship and romantic assignations. But Vauxhall had tightrope walkers, hot air balloon ascents, fireworks and a totally modern rococo Turkish tent.

The rotunda and Ranelagh, by Canaletto, 1754

Ranelagh featured a circle of boxes in the rotunda interior, as you can see in the Canaletto painting, which was decorated with paint­ings and lamps. Above the first level, another tier of boxes could seat 8 people and were lit by a circle of 60 upper level wind­ows. The centre was discovered to be poor placement for the orchestra, and so from the beginning was used instead as a fireplace for cool even­ings. The Rotunda at Ranelagh Gardens was always an important venue for musical concerts, so it was a terrible shame when the rotunda was finally closed in 1803 and soon demolished.

George Frideric Handel might have been born German, but his works flourished in Brit­ain. In 1738 the whole of cultivated London flocked to New Springs, by now called Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, to ad­mire a statue erected to their beloved compos­er. His greatest works, written in the 1730s-40s, were triumph­antly acclaimed in Ox­ford, London and Dublin eg Esther, Messiah, Zadok the Priest.

Huge crowds could be accommodated at Vauxhall. In 1749 a rehearsal of Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks attracted 12,000 very well dressed citizens. Many of the best known musicians and singers of the day performed at the Gardens. Social life was very pleasant for the nobility and the gen­try; the pleasure gardens in London provided the same pleas­ant walks and amusements as the Tivoli Gardens did for Copenhagen.

A French visitor (published in The Gentleman's Magazine 1742) raved. He noted in particular a magnificent orchestra that rose to the roof, from which hung several large branches holding thousands of candles enclosed in crystal-glasses, to light and adorn the spacious rotunda. Behind a handsome banqueting room, he said, a pavilion beggared all description, noble in design and elegant in its decorations.

Regency Reader blog suggested that cheap admission and accessibility by a burgeoning middle class made Vauxhall a hot spot during the Regency era. Fountains, cascades and walkways were illum­inated with colourful lights. Orchestras played, fireworks often sounded, and light refreshments and cold suppers were served from menus. People could enjoy in supper alcoves, decorated with cont­emp­orary paintings like those of Hogarth. Why Hogarth? Hogarth pro­moted native English artists, like himself, over imported contin­ental tal­ent. Importantly for this topic, Hogarth help­ed to decorate Vaux­hall Gar­dens, giving artists public exposure before art museums arrived.

Graphic Arts noted Thomas Row­land­son's figures were caricatured but ident­if­iable, including Mrs Weichsel singing from the balcony and Mr Barthel­emon leading the orch­estra. Below was a supper party with James Bos­well, Dr Samuel Johns­on, Mrs Thrale and Oliver Goldsmith. We know Boswell did indeed frequent Vauxhall and said “I am a great friend to pubic amusements; for they keep people from vice.” Play wright and columnist Captain Topham was looking through a spyglass at the Duch­ess of Dev­onshire and her sister, Lady Duncannon. At right the Prince of Wales/later George IV flirted with his ex-mistress, actress Perdita Robinson, who remained rather coyly on the arm of her husband.

Other pleasure gardens opened. Marybone Gardens were officially opened as a venue for concerts and other entertainments in 1738 by a tavern owner, although the site had been used as a private pleasure garden since the restoration of the monarchy. Jane Austen’s World said there were at least 200 outdoor pleasure gardens and tea gardens around London by the Edwardian era! Open only for a short season each year, proprietors of the less spectacular gardens had to earn enough income to keep their establishments open and competitive.

"A view of the Or­ches­t­ra with the Band of Music, the Grand Walk &c in Marybone Gardens", engraving from a drawing by J Donowell, 1761.

Possible references:
1] Coke, David and Alan Borg Vauxhall Gardens 1661-1859, Yale UP, 2011
2] Downing, Sarah J English Pleasure Garden 1660-1860, Shire, 2009.
3] Scott, Walter Green retreats; story of Vauxhall Gardens, 1661–1859, Odhams Press, London, 1955
4] "A letter from a Foreigner to his friend in Paris", in The Gentleman's Magazine, Vol 12, August 1742.
5] Ranelagh Garden 1764 Fireworks, painted by Joseph Wright of Derby,

23 September 2009

Let's Do the Time Warp Again: Gothic Ideology .... .... Guest blog

 Let’s do the time warp again: the Gothic as exemplar of the dispersed time consciousness of modernity.

Today my topic is that most enchanting, mysterious, and, I’m going to argue, revelatory of phenomenon: the Gothic. The term “Gothic” is most usefully and least problematically used to refer to an archit­ectural movement which flourished during the High Middle Ages (from cC13th). In my head, and in many others who wouldn’t know what a flying buttress or an ogive is: the Gothic style is still the archetype in our heads of a cathedral. At the same time, the term (which arises here as a pej­or­ative term from an age that had become enamoured with neo-classical architecture) also names, today, a literary genre some of whose most famous exemplars can be found on celluloid. But more than this, the Gothic is a metaphor for the modern world. It is a style that cannot be assigned to a definite period precisely because there is something about the Gothic that points to the limits of all periodising, to something ghostly or uncanny about time, as if time is out of joint.

The word Gothic, in its original and straightforward sense means simply Germanic, as in the expression “Gothic script”, or the reference to the Goths who so frequently threatened the borders of the Roman Empire. What is interesting about the term, is that it is often correctly associated with another equally evocative, but even more contested term: Romantic. When we juxtapose these two terms with each other we see something interesting: i.e. each term seems to point to the other from a diff­erent geographical vantage. Explaining: the term Romantic suggests that “Romances” are a product of the parts of Europe (France, Italy, Spain) whose languages were derived from Latin.

“Romantic” is thus an Anglo-German term, referring to a phenomena whose origins are associated with Italy, France, Spain, and particularly the high and latish Medieval Romances of Guillaume de Lorris and Chrétien de Troyes. And indeed, in pre-unification Germany, the motifs that we come to associate with the ‘gothic’ were associated with French and above all Italian progenitors both real and imaginary. In Latin countries, “Gothic” motifs were – as the name implies – associated instead with Germans: as if the ‘Gothic’ in fiction designated an egregious, ultimately barbarous Teutonic import.

But the most familiar sense of the word ‘Gothic’ is to be found in pop culture, where the term evokes principally the gothic novel or short story: an expression that should instantly bring to mind tales of vampires and werewolves, ghosts and goblins; nubile virgins in white nightdresses screaming their attractive heads off while telltale hearts beat beneath lace bodices and creaky floorboards. From this usage comes the self-designation of a black wearing Anne Rice reading youth subculture: “Goths”.

But what do ‘Goths’ and gothic novels possibly have to do with the ‘Gothic’ as the term is used in architecture? It is worth explain­ing. In architecture, the term ‘gothic’ tends to be used in relation to a definitively Medieval style, perhaps even to refer to the style that is supposed to define the Middle Ages. When Varsari, refers to this style of architecture as “Gothic” he is condemning the art of the Middle Ages as the art of a superstitious and barbarous age; an age that is brought to a close in the time and by the works of the artists (including Raphael and da Vinci) whose lives he will so charmingly chronicle.

Gothic: Notre Dame de Paris, largely built 1163-1240s

In the light of this, we might reasonably assume that ‘gothic novels’are ‘Gothic, insofar as they invoke medieval motifs of the spirit world, and thus recall ‘Gothic architecture’, the Gothic’ cathedral with its looming spires, crepuscular gloominess, punctuated, but not dispelled by light from stained glass windows. While this is a perf­ectly reasonable assumption, it is not, by any means, the whole story. To get to the real story, i.e. to really understand the phil­osophical dimensions of the word ‘Gothic’ we need to remember the term ‘neo-Gothic’, and the fact that throughout Eur­ope in the C19th there is a surge of buildings (particularly churches and government buildings like the British Houses of Parliament built by Augustus W.N. Pugin and Charles Barry) that are made to look Med­ieval (Gothic) and thus like something that would have been execrated in the neo-classical C18th as much as by the C16th Florentine.To see the links between all the different senses of the word Gothic we need to have an idea of what prompted the Gothic Revival in which Pugin’s Houses of Parliament can serve as an exemplar. The Gothic revival is inextricably concerned with the rise of Romant­icism, that nebulously defined, but nonetheless, earth-shattering, literary movement that owes its philosophical heritage to the Schleg­el brothers Athanäum journal and that has its first efflorescence in English to Wordworth’s and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads.

But Romant­ic­ism also owes much to a man who was in many ways as much of a class­ic­ist as any of his other C18th contemporaries: the Sparta worship­ping, Cato adoring watchmaker’s son Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau scholars will rightly protest that it is not right to call Rousseau a Romantic thinker without qualification. Nonetheless, it is Rousseau more than anyone else who most deserves the title of the prog­enitor of Romant­ic­ism, even if he bequeaths some but not all of his features to his intellectual progeny. Despite the fact that there are many reasons why we might not want to too hastily identify Rousseau as the first Romantic so many of his attitudes: his constant insistence on the importance of feeling over reason as a source of human action and community; on love as the highest state that can be achieved by the mutilated members of a mutilating society, his scepticism about C18th doctrines of progress and enlightenment and about the flourishing natural sciences all forge a path that – via the C18th cult of sen­s­ib­ility that Jane Austen is so fond of subjecting to elegant mockery – Romanticism will eventually use to reach its mountains, lakes, and the gem-filled mines in which the German tradition will see an externalisation of our unconscious nature.

Further: Romanticism is something that inflects all of mid- and late C19th thought. Even where it is most noisily disavowed (as in the works of Bentham and James Mill) it is still present as a pow­er­ful force to react against. Nonetheless, the feature of Romanticism that is most important for our coming to understand the Gothic, is Romanticism’s doubt about ideas of humanity’s progress through civ­ilisation: specifically, the idea that modern science, technology, industry and commerce have made us happier, more free than ever before. It is true, of course, that there are defiant, Promethean motifs in Romantic thought (Shelley is the obvious example), but it is also true that for every Romantic thinker who writes a “Prometheus Unbound” there is another figure (Percy Shelley’s brilliant wife Mary) who writes a story, a poem, or an allegory about how Promethean ambitions unleash forces that are be beyond good and evil, and that have a tragic tendency to slip out of our control. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (an allegory of imagination and its products, of science and its attempts to conquer the world) is, of course, subtitled The Modern Prometheus, and if Mary shared her husband’s belief in a Promethean Revolt of the imagination, Percy Shelley must have also occasionally suffered doubts about whether the lightning unleashed by humanity would be harnessed in the name of the right (in his case social-revolutionary) cause.

One of the immediate effects of Romantic critique or Romantic ambiv­alence about ideas of progress is a marked tendency in Romantic thought to turn back to the past, not only to provide eternal arch­etypes of virtue and of vice, but to provide a vision of the future, of how the present might transcend itself and thus escape its ugliest or least bearable aspects. To simplify or to condense the profound reflections of a whole hosts of pamphlets, poems, and novels into a few glib sen­tences: the Romantic motif that runs through Ruskin, Carlyle, William Morris, Dickens, Balzac, Schiller, Percy and Mary Shelley is that the modern world is somehow scarred by unnatural divisions: reason has lost contact with the heart, the mind has lost touch with the body, the members of society have lost touch with each other, leaving Vic­torian society and its immediate predecessor like a man suffering from an electric shock: numb, stupefied, lost, desiccated caricatures of human beings.

In England, it is probably Carlyle who does more than anyone else to pioneer the Victorian love for Medieval architecture. The Middle Ages provide the artificially divided modern world with a vision of harmony, balance, and above all of the wholeness that the Victorians in particular will feel that they have lost in the very midst of the technological vindication of the doc­trine of progress. The Gothic cathedral is not, like most C18th archi­tecture the artificial deference of an isolated art (archit­ect­ure) to an artificial classical lexicon: instead, it is, for Carlyle, a way of building that reflects a way of dwelling: the style is not approved of abstractly, but emerges naturally from the lives of the people who built it and worshipped in it: it is a worldview, a way of feeling about existence erected in stone and stained glass.

In France, Victor Hugo’s novel Notre Dame de Paris, did much to advance the case for Gothic architecture in a world of prevailing neo-classical sensibilities. In the novel, the cathedral is the living, breathing, heart of the city: not a monument to some classical image, but a part of its life, something that seems to sigh and groan the way the ordinary people of Paris do, something that soars heavenwards like their dreams, through whose windows light penetrates the darkness which is at once peaceful and melancholy but that also represents the dark place of the mind and the heart exemplified by Hugo’s remarkable villain Claude Frollo.

It is true that many of the pioneers of the Gothic (like Pugin in England) were eventual converts to Catholicism, or at least ‘high church’ Anglicans. But the Gothic Revival is not so much the result of Catholic revival in Protestant countries as the cause of all kinds of denominational musical chairs. When we look to all those English luminaries who went down the road from Anglicanism to Anglo-Catholicism and perhaps to “hardcore” Roman Catholicism, we very often see Romantic protest as the first way station on the journey back to Rome. From the belief that the age is divided against itself comes a belief that what defines the age (in its coldness, its calculation, its ‘bourgeois indifference) is what it most scorns.

Neo-Gothic: British Houses of Parliament, 1840-70.

Years of anti-Catholic animus in places like England pave the way for Catholicism providing precisely in English hearts the image of a faith, and of a world that seems desirable precisely for seeming so distant from the C19th industrial world that will be the constant stimulus for Romantic protest. To look on the Middle Ages as a time more harmonious less divided against itself than one’s own is potentially to look favourably on an idealised vision of the pre-Reformation Church (this gives some explanation as to why even a much later Catholic convert like Evelyn Waugh hated Vatican II, the vernacular mass and so on). But what is really going on here is that people were being moved to look away from their own time to an idealised past that was also seen by many converts might to provide an image of a more humane future. In Catholic countries, the defenders of the Gothic may well have been often Protestants.

At its most simple, the term ‘Gothic’ in architecture and in anything else is a term that “the moderns” use for the Medieval. But this de­f­inition is not quite right. This is because the Gothic is not simply the genre that deals with Medieval things (and thus the folklore of Medieval peasants with ghosts, vampires and the like). Instead, the ‘gothic novel’ is genre (whose heyday stretches from the C19th to the present) dealing with ghosts and other apparitions suddenly making an untimely appearance in a modern world that has long since disavowed belief in such things. Thus, the “Gothic” refers not principally to the Medieval, but to the intransigence, or the continuation of the Medieval in the modern world that is built on its ruins. The Gothic is therefore, in psychoanalytic parlance, about the return of the repressed: at the level of psychology, but also at the level of history.

This is why, a Gothic tale is not so much defined by the mere presence of goblins, werewolves and other sundry intermediary beings – beings that would have been standard fare for the German peasant of the C13th sitting beside her fire -- it is rather that the creatures of Medieval folklore start to break into the sober drawing rooms and cosy bedrooms of an age of Reason: demonic possession in an age of psychology, folklore monsters in the age of the triumph of the bourgeoisie, gods and monsters in the age of industrialisation, of railroads and robber barons, the age of capital and of Capital, of positivism, Darwin, Sherlock Holmes and the Crystal Palace.

Philosophically, in my thesis the importance of the Gothic lies in the way that it reveals a peculiar, but extremely important aspect of what Habermas calls the ‘time consciousness of modernity’. When Habermas uses this term he is, in the first instance, referring to Baudeliare’s idea that modern men and women experience time in terms of heightened moments of experience in which the ‘eternal becomes [manifest in] the instant’. One of the defining beliefs of our age is the belief in the importance of experience. Ours is an age of empirical science over a priori deduction, an age that lays moral and political stress on the idea that each person must find the truth on her own rather than have it told to her by an authority. As such, the modern world is an endless source of experiences: of shocks, revelations, moments of rapture. In fact our experience is so frequently overwhelmed by stimulus that we need to cultivate a degree of “desensitisation” simply to survive in the modern world: this is the ‘blasé attitude’ that Georg Simmel thought marked the mental life of the modern metropolis.

In the age of experience, we seek catatonia as much as we seek ecstasy: we are both overwhelmed to dullness (and thus perpetually in search of excitement) and overwhelmed to the point of shock (and thus in search of peace, rest, quiet.) Modernity, therefore, is the epoch (however nebulous its borders) which rejects above all things the ancient idea that the ephemeral is less real than the eternal. A concomitant of this idea is the notion that anything in motion is something less real than something at rest. But modern time-consciousness owes much to the modern ‘space-consciousness’ in the sense that we are heirs of the idea (mentioned in Bruno, and then demonstrated by Galileo) that we live in an ‘infinite universe’, instead of a ‘closed world’ (or cosmos): a universe where motion (as Hobbes said after visiting Galileo) is the natural state of things rather than the state of rest to which the ancients thought all motion strove towards. In the light of such things, what we call the “Gothic” names the anxiety of the modern consciousness of time, the fact that we are (as Nietzsche said) oppressed by a sense of history, even, and arguably especially at our most amnesiac. The Gothic is about the insistent memory but also about the glib forgetfulness of the modern world. Even more it is a representation of the way that the modern world fears (at least unconsciously) that all that it has left behind will one day catch up with it. The Gothic, with its unquiet dead, is a genre (and a style) concerned pre-eminently with ghosts. And what is a ghost, if not something that is ambiguously present precisely because its presence is also (dizzyingly) the presence of something past within the present? The ghost’s presence is a half presence, a ghostly presence.

The genre of the Gothic suggests a world haunted by a past that we would ratherhave forgotten, a “modernity” whose creation myth is a story of progress and enlightenment that nonetheless retains because of thissame myth uncomfortable, half repressed memories of violence, of repression: of terrible things that were done in order to bring theorder of reason and progress about. The Gothic, then is the ultimatesymbol of the anxiety of the modern world about its origins, about its past, and –following on from these -- about its future. It is an artefact of the emerging modern consciousness of time.

To explain this: if the term ‘modern’ is anything more than a linguistic shifter (like ‘this’, ‘now’, a term that could have been and in fact was used in the C3rd AD to describe the pagan world and then used of every epoch of itself) it must name some kind of rupture with that which went before. A sense of modernity is, therefore, a sense that something came before us with which we have now broken, that we are defined by what we have left behind in (but also as) our past. But the ‘Gothic’ is about that past catching up to us, it is the genre that is born from our anxiety about not being able to escape the past, from our sense that history is a nightmare from which we might never wake up.

In conclusion, I want to suggest that every instance of the word Gothic is to some extent an instance of the neo-Gothic: even the ‘originally’ Gothic (the properly Medieval as opposed to the Medievalrevived) is an image, for us, of the uncanny survival of lost (and indeed abandoned) things into our own forgetful epoch. A ghost, after all, is something that inappropriately survives its own death: it is that which remains restless in a state that should by rights be defined by rest. In the end, the Gothic provides us with the lesson put beautifully by William Faulkner, namely, that “The past isn’t dead; it’s not even passed.” Requiescat in Pace.

Guestblogger Mal would like to thank Professor Peter Otto of Melbourne University for his Gothic lecture several years ago. See Maladjusted's blog Drowning In Vitriol blog.

21 September 2009

Plunder of the Arts: the Monuments Men

The students and I are fascinated by the legal and moral issues raised by stolen art objects. Historically I have been most involved in Trevor-Roper’s era i.e the plunder of the Arts in the 17th cent­ury: English King Charles I, Gonzaga rulers of Mantua, Spanish King Philip IV, Queen Christina of Swed­en, Cardinal Mazarin in Paris, Leo­­pold Will­iam in Brussels and other winners and losers.

Recently I became very interested in The Rape of Europa 2008, a film directed by Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen and Nicole Newnham and based on the excellent book of the same name by Lynn H. Nicholas. This film about World War Two specifically paid homage to the Allies' Monuments Men, whose job it was to minimise the damage done by advancing armies and track down stolen works of art. Evacuation of The Louvre and The Hermitage, as seen in the film, was both well organised (by humans) and miraculous.

So I knew a lot about stolen art. But who were these Monuments Men?

Journey of a Bookseller blog discussed The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel. During WW2 a particular individual had felt that art was important and should be preserved. He wasn’t an important military man, and it wasn’t until he met like-minded people that it became possible to develop a small team.

The team gathered in Europe, but didn’t seem to be given much official protection or military funding. In fact The Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives “battalion” was hardly known. Eventually 345 men and women from thirteen Allied nations were trying to save art that hadn't been desecrated in the war zones, bringing back any objects that were transportable for preservation purposes. Eventually, they hoped to return the art to the rightful owners, if the works had been stolen from galleries. Or, if the owners had been individual Jewish families, it was probable that they and their children had been exterminated. The problem of locating the rightful owners' heirs, in this case, would be more difficult.

The Clever Pup blog added another important issue in writing about The Monuments Men: motivation. Frequently entering liberated towns ahead of ground troops, Monuments Men worked quickly to assess damage and make temporary repairs to paintings, sculpture and decorative art objects, before moving on through conquered Nazi territory with the Allied Armies. In the last years of the war, these museum directors, curators, art historians and educators tracked and located more than 5 million art and cultural items stolen by the Nazis. They were not soldiers, bombers, pilots, tank drivers or machine gunners! In fact some of The Monuments Men remained in Europe for years after other soldiers were demobilised, to facilitate and supervise the return of stolen works of art.

Appropriately I think, Running Rabbit blog notes that the work of The Monument Men isn't finished yet. By 2009 many of the stolen pieces have not yet been found and many other stolen pieces, located and clearly identified, have still not been returned. If the original owners were gassed or shot in 1939-45, their children are now elderly themselves. The grandchildren or grandnephews and nieces will soon be the only heirs.

Recommended reading:

Edsel, Robert The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, Hachette Books, 2009.

Nicholas, Lynne The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War, Vintage, 1995

Trevor-Roper, H Plunder of the Arts in 17th Century, Jarrold, Norwich, 1970.

19 September 2009

Emil Nolde: a troubling Expressionist

George Grosz, Emil Nol­de, Otto Dix, Max Beck­mann, Käthe Kollwitz, Egon Schiele, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Franz Marc, Max Ernst etc were German ex­press­ionists, and these avant-garde artists were indeed branded as a threat to the German nation. Edvard Munch, Oskar Kokoschka, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee were not German, but were equally reviled by the Nazi decision-makers. Sanct­ions against Degenerate Artists included being dismissed from teaching positions, being forbidden to exhibit or to sell their art, or being forbidden to produce art entirely. George Grosz's German citizenship was taken away while he was abroad; the Bauh­aus school was closed down; Käthe Kollwitz was expelled from the Prussian Academy of Arts.

The Goldsmiths, 1919

Most at-risk artists worth their moral salt left Germany as soon as they could, at least for the duration of the war. Those who remained in Germany were forbidden to work at universities and were subject to Gestapo raids, to ensure that they were not producing artwork. Yet Emil Nolde (1867-1956) was one of the only artists who remained in Germany during the war volunt­ar­ily.

There are two ironies here. Firstly, as Samuel Gruber’s Jewish Art & Monuments blog wrote in Restitution: Settlement on Emil Nolde Work in Swedish Museum, Nolde in his lifetime was known for his anti-Semitic views. He disliked leading Jewish luminaries in Berlin and European art world, especially Max Lieberman, President of the Berlin Academy of Art, and Paul Cassirer, leading modern art dealer. A 7-year legal battle has finally been settled in Sweden where the Moderna Museet has agreed to return to a Nolde painting to the family of Otto Nathan Deutsch, a Jew who fled Germany just before World War Two broke out in 1939. Or to compensate the family for the loss.

Masks II, 1920

But more than that. Nolde was a supporter of the Nazi party from well before the 1930s, having been a member of its Danish section. He was born and raised in Schleswig-Holstein that was then on the Danish border. Nolde saw no conflict between his art and Nazism, since he believed Expres­s­­ion­ism was an intrinsicly German style of art.

When Nolde's work was officially condemned by the Nazi regime as deg­en­er­ate, his paintings were of course removed from public museums. Some were even included in the Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich in 1937, presumably because of his strong colours, primitivism and grotesque visions. Or because he helped found the New Secession in Berlin. Nolde was beside himself and wrote protest letter after protest letter, appealing the injustice of his fate. He did not want to be hung alongside the artists whose work repelled him. However nothing saved him – his endless protests fell on deaf Nazi ears.

After the war, bellebyrd blog noted, The Brücke group was quickly rehabilitated, and there was an attempt to stylise Emil Nolde as a resistance figure. Noted West German art historian Werner Haftmann (not Austrian art historian Werner Hofmann) celebrated Nolde, the artist of inner emigration, as an existential antifascist. Even more than those who were racially persecuted, Haftmann said, Nolde refused political strictures and intensified his own work. It must have worked because after the war, in 1952, Nolde was awarded the German Order of Merit.

Lost Paradis, 1921

Yet another art historical problem remains. I agree with the blog author who wrote that Emil NOLDE added a special, mystical dimension to German Expressionism. His career illustrated a number of the moral dilemmas which faced German modernists of the new century, since his instincts were nat­ionalist and conservative. In Germany, these were usually anti-Semitic values. So examine the blog HEIRS which makes a provocative ob­servation in NOLDE IN THE NEWS: Emil Nolde’s avant-garde modern work was coveted by many Jewish art coll­ectors during the 1920s and 30s in Europe, including the connoisseur collector Dr Fred Julius of Hamburg. With hindsight, one wonders why that was so.

Visit New York’s Neue Galerie, 86th Street and Fifth Avenue, which opened for business in 2001. One storey concentrates on early C20th Vienna: painters (Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka etc), architects (Adolf Loos, Otto Wagner) and the decorative artists (Josef Hoffmann, Koloman Moser, Dagobert Peche etc).  And one storey for German art of the same time (August Macke, Franz Marc, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Pechstein, Emil Nolde); the Bauhaus (Lyonel Feininger, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, Oskar Schlemmer, Vasily Kandinsky); the expressionists (Otto Dix, George Grosz); as well as applied artists (Peter Behrens, Marianne Brandt, Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Wilhelm Wagenfeld etc). Art Blog by Bob discussed the Neue Galerie in relation to Otto Dix, but it is equally applicable to Emil Nolde. And to Ernst Kirchner, as displayed by Intelliblog.

Some good reading can be found at Lang, G and Lang, K "Banishing the past: The German avant-garde and Nazi Art" in Qualitative Sociology, 19, 3, 1996.

A new book called Emil Nolde: Artist of the Elements has been written by Averil King and published by Philip Wilson Publishers in 2013. It is much more sympathetic to Nolde than I was, suggesting he was superb colourist who created beautiful paintings and was far more interesting than his contemporary Edvard Munch.

King said that Nolde had been on good terms with the (Jewish) president of the Berlin Secession Max Liebermann and with the (Jewish) gallery owner/art publisher Paul Cassirer who warmly promoted Nolde's art.  But when these two Jews refused to show Nolde's Pentacost in 1910, Nolde write a bitter letter to the Kunst and Kunstler journal, criticising the Secession for attacking modern German artists. Furthermore, when Nolde joined the Nazi Party in 1934, he had no inkling of how Hitler's policies would unfold.

17 September 2009

My Dream Home II : water frontage

Childhood in Australia was very often spent on the beach, partic­ul­arly during the long summer holidays each December, January and into February. If families had enough money (in the 1950s and 60s), they rented a holiday house as close to the sand as possible. If families were short of cash, they took the children to a tent or caravan holiday site for a fortnight. Families tended to go back to the same beach resort, year after year after year. For Melbourne families, that would have been Rosebud, Dromana, Frankston, Anglesea, Ocean Grove or Torquay.

Dartmouth real estate ad.

But these were simple holidays. Children used to be marched off to the communal shower blocks every evening, in their dressing gowns and carrying their toiletries in a bag. The need to be near the ocean faded, as Australia became more sophisticated. By the 1970s, we were staying in motels! And not necessarily in Rosebud every year!

Now, decades later, I am coming back to the idea of beach-frontage once again.
A close friend of mine died at 53, hit on his motor cycle by a bus coming in the opposite direction. Everyone has lost grandparents, aunts, uncles, even parents and although it is very sad, it seems “natural” to lose the older generations. Losing a peer was devastating. He was healthy, fit, worked hard in business, had a fine wife and children, and was looking forward to spending more quality leisure time in the near future.

This death made me reassess my own priorities in life. I decided that living in a house that faced the ocean would be peaceful, healthy and fun to share with family and friends. I still dream of sitting out on the veranda after work, watching the sun go down over the water, with perhaps a glass of vodka and orange juice in hand.

It must be a popular dream – there is a blog called 43Things whose most popular post was to live by the ocean. My favourite was Welcome to My Beach Cottage Fantasy in the Beach Cottage Love blog, but dream home, beach moments, sundry thoughts blog is also intriguing.

Devon real estate ad.

However there are two main problems to be negotiated. Firstly ocean frontage costs an absolute fortune. And secondly, because the block of land is likely to be small, I would have to give up my dream of being self-sufficient in fruit, vegetables and herbs.

15 September 2009

Sir Nicholas Winton: ordinary man, extraordinary story

My husband was born in 1947 in Czechoslovakia. My Czech father-in-law lost every single family member during the war; my Czech mother-in-law’s family survived marginally better. Clearly I have a vested interest in this story.

Czech children leaving Prague, 1939

In 1938 Nicholas Winton (1909-), then a young office worker in Britain, was asked by a friend to travel to Prague where he would find an exciting and worthwhile project to get involved in. The BBC said his friend was Martin Blake, a master at Westminster School and an ambassador for the British Committee for Czech Refugees, which was helping adults escape. War was imminent. Only two months earlier, Hitler's troops had occupied the disputed territory of Sudetenland, on Czechoslovakia's border with Germany.

Nicholas Winton, 1940

In other countries, refugee organisations had begun organising the Kindertransports, long trains that could carry thousands of Jewish children out of central Europe. It was not clear why Czech­os­lovakian children weren’t being rescued, but once Winton visited refugee camps outside Prague, he quickly realised that there was a mission with his name on it.

People had warned him that the British government would never allow refugee children to flood into Britain, especially since there were no organisations in London and in Prague to deal with virtually orphaned children. People also warned him that Jewish parents in Czechoslovakia were unlikely to send their precious children away. But in both cases, people were wrong.

BBC map of the trip from Prague to London

Winton immediately started raising money to save the children, and on his return to Britain, began finding homes and organising visas for them. This was not an easy task since Londoners, especially children and new mothers, were being evacuated OUT of the city, into the safety of the countryside in 1939.

After recruiting a team to organise the train trips, Winton returned to the UK to obtain permits for the children and to find foster homes for them. Nicholas raised enough money to give each foster family £50, hardly enough to look after the children until the age of 17. But decent families did respond. Winton found homes for all 669 Jewish children.

Nosey Parker and Make A Difference In The World – Be The Change! blogs noted that the only other country that would take these children, apart from Britain, was Sweden. Some of the children were indeed sent to foster homes in Sweden.

Throughout early 1939, Winton trains carried 669 children to safety. Parents stood at the railway station in Prague, bravely waving goodbye to their babies, presumably for the last time. Only one planned trip failed. The last train, with 250 children on board, was due to leave on 1st of September 1939, the day war broke out. At the last minute German troops intervened; the children were taken off the train and never seen again. They, and most of the families left behind, were eventually exterminated.

Sir Nicholas Winton’s heroic acts were unknown, until his wife Grete found an old scrapbook in an attic, detailing his mission forty years after WW2 ended. I find it incredible that he had never told his beloved wife the story!

Lancaster Unity blog showed how Survivors gathered to pay tribute to 'British Schindler' (although the comparison between Schindler and Winton seems to be unfair to Winton). The Czech Railways ran a train so that the Winton children could retrace their 1938 journey. 100 people travelled between Prague and London; among them 20 of Winton's Children, now with children and grandchildren of their own. These now-elderly Winton Children were determined that their own grandchildren should under­stand how much they owe to an otherwise ordinary man. What is even more amazing is that Winton, now 100, stood at the platform at Liverpool St station to welcome them.. again.

Christina’s This and That found a powerful film detailing the story of Winton's Children called “All My Loved Ones” by David Silberstein. And schoolchildren in the Czech Republic will see Matej Minac's film called "Nicholas Winton - The Power of Good."

Statue on platform of Prague's Central Railway station

In retirement, Winton continued to live in Maidenhead and to raise money for worthy causes; the Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead is 42 ks to the west of central London. In 1983 he won an MBE for his work with the Abbeyfield Housing Association, whose retirement village in Windsor was appropriately named Winton House.

There is even an art connection or two. Since 2003, there has been a bronze statue outside Liverpool St station, perfectly depicting the children who were rescued. A thousand ks away, the new Statue of Sir Nicholas Winton in Prague shows a bronze statue holding two of the children he helped escape. The two sculpture pieces rightly stand in the two railways stations where the epic rescue project started and ended. And in 2010, a bronze life sized statue was placed on the platform at Maidenhead railway station. The sculpture showed Sir Nicholas reading a book that contained images of the Jewish children he saved. And it showed the trains he used to transport them from Czechosl­ovakia to Britain in 1939.

Statue outside Liverpool St Railway Station, London

History Today magazine (March 2004) has a wonderful review of the rescue programme called Kindertransport: terror, trauma and triumph. Written by Caroline Sharples, the article mentioned Sir Nicholas Winton but focused largely on what happened to the children once they found foster families in the UK.

12 September 2009

Elegant Shopping II: QVB Sydney

By the late 19th century, the old George St Markets in Sydney were no longer suitable for the centre of a grand, bustling city. Architect George McRae was asked to design a large commercial building on that very site, in an elaborate late Victorian style. He had plenty of skilled craftsmen to chose from, because the terrible depression of the early 1890s had devastated the states’ economies. The work was completed in 1898 and promptly called the Queen Victoria Building.

Queen Victoria Building, 1898

The dominant feature was and is the central dome. You cannot see the interior glass dome and a copper-sheathed exterior, but you can see the large domed cupola from the outside. And you can see smaller dom­es along the length of the roofline, including the small end domes. Stained glass windows were inserted to encouraged natural light into the central business area. The Queen Victoria Building, according to the Living in Mexico blog had an impressive façade: a great Romanesque Revival pile of dun-coloured stone, meant to suggest the might and permanence of the British Empire. Lulo Designs blog in Queen Victoria Building in Sydney, Australia has the most beautiful photos of the interior, particularly the stained glass.

QVB main entrance and Victoria's statue

Once completed, the original building included offices and shops for trades people, showrooms and a concert hall. In the inter war period (1935) new interior fittings were installed, including lights, balustrades, new doors, new windows, supporting columns and better air circulation. And the concert hall was sacrificed for a city library and offices for Sydney City Council.

In the 1950s, when deteriorating 19th century buildings were being torn down and replaced by modernist concrete blocks, the Queen Vic­toria Building was slated for demolition. Miraculously, as a result of professional and public uproar, the derelict building was restored in the mid 1980s. Street Traveller blog in Sydney Queen Victoria Building noted the new shopfronts, glass signage, glazed balustrades, mirrored escalators connecting ground, first and second levels and new colour schemes. Now used for very classy shops, QVB has four main shopping floors, the top ones surrounded by neo-Victorian cast-iron lace work. Much of the original tilework was saved. There are arched skylights running from the central dome along the length of the building, but I cannot tell if they were original, from the 1935 improvements or the 1980s rebuilding.

QVB Interior, 2009. Note the clock with Australian historical images, the original tiles, sky lights and cast iron bulastrades.

Style and Relax blog was very impressed with the royal feeling of today's building. In Royal Shopping in Sydney - Queen Victoria Building, she recommended that shoppers could bask on the glorious sights of stained glass windows, painted ceilings, majestic and intricate clocks that were given to the Queen, an antique lift and regal staircases.

09 September 2009

Elegant Shopping I: Burlington Arcade

Britain’s oldest shopping arcade, according to English Buildings, is The Royal Opera Arcade, near Pall Mall in central London . It was designed in 1815.

Almost immediately after The Royal Opera Arcade opened for business, The Burlington Arcade became a covered shopping arcade in London that ran from Piccadilly on one side to the Burlington Gardens on the other. From the first moment, the arcade was built "for the sale of jewellery and fancy articles of fashionable demand, for the grat­if­ication of the public". And for Lord Burlington! But not for your Great Unwashed English Public.

Burlington Arcade entrance, 1819

The arcade was built for Lord George Cavendish, younger brother of 5th Duke of Devonshire. He had inherited the adjacent Burlington House, on what had been the side garden of the house, and was trying to prevent Londoners from spoiling his lovely home. His architect was Samuel Ware. Opened in 1819, the Arcade consisted of a single straight top-lit walkway lined with 72 small two storey units. Some of the units have now been combined, reducing the number of shops somewhat. You can best see the interiors in Tired of London, Tired of Life.

By the way, Burlington House was a Palladian home, built at the very end of the 17th century. Since the Burlingtons owned it, the main building has housed the Royal Academy of Arts, while five scholarly organisations occupy the two wings of the courtyard and the southern Piccadilly wing.

Anyhow, the pedestrian arcade has always been an upmarket retail location. It is patrolled by Burlington Arcade beadles in over-the-top uniforms. The original beadles were all former members of Lord George Cavendish's regiment, the 10th Hussars. But were they to keep dirty, squalid Londoners from coming in off the street, spoiling the pleasure of the well-heeled shoppers?

Galerie Vivienne, Paris, 1826

The arcade has well-designed shop fronts on both sides, under a glazed roof. Respectable, staid and quietly moneyed, so there are no discount shops here. Rather the shops specialise in good clothing and accessories, elegant art rooms, jewellers and dealers in antique silver. London blog in Window Shopping at Burlington Arcade stressed the arcade’s opulence. Sleevehead blog concentrated on Winter looks: Between Savile Row and Burlington Arcade – smart men’s wear.

Galleria Vitorio II, Milan, 1865-77

It is said that Burlington Arcade was one of the precursors of the gorgeous mid-C19th glassy shopping galleries that emerged across Europe and to the New World. apartmentsramblas blog said Galerie Vivienne in Paris is special. The floor is covered in mosaic, the staircase is made of wrought iron and the stain-glass windows are original. Beautiful ornaments complete the design of the gallery which opened in 1826 and remained the Parisians’ favourite place to go shopping until the Second Empire. Spice of Life blog compared Galerie Vivienne to a stage set for a romantic opera!

Galleria Umberto I, Naples, 1887-91

Consider in particular Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan 1865-77 or the somewhat later Galleria Umberto I in Naples 1887–91. And it is not too far-fetched to see the antecedents of Melbourne’s Royal Arcade 1870 and Sydney's Queen Victoria Building 1898 in Burlington as well, as we will see in two later posts.

I have barely considered the façade of Burlington Arcade, or indeed of any other of the shopping arcades that followed Burlington. That is because a façade was easily changed. The Burlington Arcade façade was added in the early 20th century, too bulky for the original, more delicate decoration inside.

Burlington, Picadilly entrance, 20th century elaboration

For the later and more colourful Royal Arcade 1879 in Old Bond St Mayfair, visit TiredofLondonTiredofLife blog.

For a photo of Burlington Arcade beautifully dressed for Christnas 2009, see WIDN. But do it quickly. The American and European owners of Burlington Arcade apparently want to transform the Regency space into a more brightly lit, stainless steal affair, populated with brand names. The Georgian Group is sustaining objections to what they call brash development. As of December 2011,

06 September 2009

House Museum of Anna Ticho (1894-1980)

This post was updated and expanded, then published on the 5/3/2019.

03 September 2009

Art Deco and the American Diner

Art Deco always seemed to work best on small architecture like houses, blocks of flats, cinemas, train and bus depots, theatres, petrol stations and war memorials. Architects could use angular and clean lines, with stepped back facades, symmet­rical or asym­metrical massing and strong vertical accenting. They loved geometric patterns, abstracted natural forms, modern industrial symbols and ancient Mayan, Egyptian and Indigenous American themes.

That is not to say that huge buildings could not be lovely. The RCA building in Rockefeller Centre New York has fine Art Deco features but, except for the elegant motifs that decorated the entrance archway and elevator doors, who could have seen those features? The best thing about small buildings (like diners) was that the art deco architectural elements could be seen by people at ground level.

Being an Australian, I had never seen a diner. Since the Depression, small roadside diners came to symbol­ise the working-class Amer­ican who didn’t have the time or mon­ey to eat in a more posh place. But for me, they represented small architecture that was ideal for art deco treatment, inside and out.

The original style diner was long and narrow, presumably to make it possible to drive the diner along the road. This may have been a legacy from the original diners which were never intended to remain stationary. As art deco taste grew stronger across the world after the Paris Exposition of 1925, the sharper shapes of the early diners were smoothed out, rounded and stream­lined.

Salem Diner Massechusetts

In American Car Culture blog, Michael Witzel wrote a History of the American Diner. During the 1930s, prefabricated diners reached the height of roadside design when manufacturers built beautiful, stream-lined structures. JB Judkins produced a curvy model called the Sterling Streamliner and the Worcester Lunch Car Co. created a fast, angle-ended building. Eventually roadside restaurants looked very snazzy indeed. Why streamline? Because this was the design that identified with fast modes of transportation and the efficiency of the machine age. Like trains or planes, the diners looked sleek and aerodynamic.

The 11th St Diner in Miami had a style that was compatible with the local buildings in Miami Beach. Curvilinear streamlined structure, glass bricks, gleam­ing stainless steel and detailed design elements eg the repeated circular medallions and the type face for Diner, all identify this portable structure as Art Deco. Once again, modern materials were incorporated into streamline forms to symbolise speed and mobility. Rosie’s Diner in New Jersey 1932 had the all-stainless-steel exterior, dis­tinctive curved roofline, rounded glass block cor­ners and a neon sign.

Rosie's Diner (originally NJ, now Michigan)

Neon signs (invented in France in 1902) became symbols of glamour & pro­g­ress, a way of show­ing the world you were up to date. Set on vertical blades and mar­quee porches over the foot­path, neon appeared on many art deco buildings. Plus neon was a per­fect fit for the streamline moderne archit­ec­t­ural craze for sweeping curves, glass walls and chrome. These were even more important for late-night workers who, having no meal outlet, needed to find a place to be able to eat while still in their work clothes.

neon lighting on the Olympia Diner, Connecticut

Could a shop­-front restaurant be considered a diner? Tom Breneman Hollywood 1937 clearly thought so. This struct­ure was a grand example of the Streamline Moderne style diner with its sweeping curves, glass blocks, a blade with the diner’s name in bold neon and the splendid marquee porch.

Tom Breneman Hollywood

Over time the dining space became more streamlined and pleasant, copying the appearance of rail dining cars. Many had a curved barrel vault roof-line. Brand new materials were quickly adopted, like sleek and colourful Formica and glass blocks. The Daily Politics blog wrote in AMERICAN DINER that diner manufacturers smooth­ed the lines of the restaurant, cov­er­ed the wooden frame in silver and added coloured neon even inside the diner. The sleek, streamlined and silver diner had black-and-white vinyl floor and a long shiny grill for the short-order chefs to work on. Pastel colours were never seen; everything was silver with regular splashes of bold colours.

It is probable that stools would have saved space and made for speed­ier meals, but it is unlikely that women would be happy squatting on top of a stool. Thus installing tables throughout the length of the diner would make it more family-friendly. Some stools were left up against the counter, but most space was allocated to booths.

stools and booths in Wilson’s Diner, Waltham MA

A question remains. The good times and Art Deco largely ended in 1939 when WW2 started. Clearly diners of the 1950s were created long after the Deco era had ended, so why were stain­less steel, neon lights and other art deco elements retained, even though the central role of the counter may have been lost? Examine the 1950s diners in the blog called Diners, Drive-in Restaurants and other road­side stuff eg Diner Hotline’s Top 10 Massachusetts Diners. Also see the blog Diner News and History.

Pres­umably the firm connection between diners and Art Deco had been so strongly forged in the earlier decades that the emergence of a new era was no excuse to mess around with beloved diners. Four elements were important: friendly service, speed, decent-ish food and Deco decor.