the Sartorialist*—1850s edition

High collars, tall hats, slim tailoring, a flamboyant touch of plaid, these fellows have got it going on. Stylists and men's designers take note:

California News, c.1851
The top-hatted fellow listening to the latest news about the Gold Rush is the attraction for me here. The dove gray beaver hat, and light vest and cravat are a nice contrast to the suit, all sharply accessorized with a walking stick and teeny tiny spectacles. Notice the extreme curve of the hat brim— this ain't Abe Lincoln's stovepipe. Also note the spotted ascot of the chap in the middle.

I like the long disheveled hair with the proper high cravat (it trumps an obligatory flaccid tie any day, no?) and light-colored, shawl-collar waistcoat. He looks somewhat nervous-tempered, like a pianist.

Looking more like a French Symbolist or character out of Dostoyevsky, American painter and architect Rembrandt Lockwood seems wary and nearly overcome by weltschmerz. He sports a variation of the oiled "wave" or pompadour hairstyle common at the time. His high buttoned coat with broad contrast collar, wide sleeves and large decorative buttons has an oddly loose fit—all the better to stash that phial of laudanum.

Pairing the soft, salmon-colored cravat (loosely bow tied over a spread collar shirt) with a corn-colored silk waistcoat is genius. The slightly worn hat (suede? felt?) and frock coat are the perfect counterpoint to the dandified embellishments. His earring and modified goatee add a frisson of the Roma to the casual but still carefully crafted look.

William Sydney Mount, genre painter (see below)
I'm not usually one for abundant facial hair but there's something rakishly appealing going on here— dude is a player. It's difficult to tell exactly, but he appears to have on a flashy silk neckerchief in a small pattern and large paisley (?) border. I don't love the wide, tubular cut of the trousers, nor the fit of the oddly abbreviated jacket (it's not a cutaway coat because we dont see any evidence of tails) but he manages to cut a dashing figure never the less. Note that behind the left leg (his right) you can see the stand of the photographer's head brace.

George Cunnabell Howard, actor
Inventive layering, and a narrow, slope-shoulder silhouette, carried off with great aplomb. Love the long fitted sleeve. Impeccable.

Another full-whiskered gentleman. A careful study in contrast, his casual hat and bushy locks seem to be at odds with the slim-shoulder coat, high spread collar and fine kid gloves. The outfit is subdued but not without flourish: black silk neckerchief fixed with a (ivory?) pin, extremely wide lapels, down-played check trousers and dandyish long cuffs.

Pimpin'! Junior Orson Welles is working the plaid on plaid.

paintings by William Sydney Mount
California News
, above
(his self portrait is at front right) and The Bone Player, top 

*Oh of course it's not the real Sartorialist. 
 All daguerreotype images from Library of Congress, except top, from, Art and the Empire City, New York 1825-1861.


Soane House Proud

Amazing to note that the typical-looking dun-colored London townhouse is...light tan under 200 years of soot

The Dome (above and belowe) with plaster cast of Apollo Belvedere
The Picture Room houses Hogarth's A Rake's Progress


Soane Museum Director Tim Knox with mummified cats
(From what I've seen in World of Interiors magazine Knox's own house is phenomenal)


The Breakfast Room.

One of Soane's architectural devices— a shallow dome used on his mausoleum among other structures, which Soane preferred to call a canopy— is the inspiration for London's iconic telephone booth.

The Dulwich Picture Gallery
designed by Soane and opened to the public in 1817 as the first public art gallery in Britain

Time was when Sir John Soane's Museum, the late 18th/early 19th century architect and collector's house in London's Lincoln's Inn Fields, used to be a fairly sleepy, almost secret, destination. A longtime favorite of mine, it's sort of a museum-goers museum. One could go for the house tour, or for the architecture of the house, the art in the collection, or for the manner in which the art was displayed... the museum offers layers of experience.

The "secret" out; there is now a coffee table book (which I just got*), a new
"Historical and Sustainable Architecture Masters Program" offered by NYU in conjunction with the Museum, and a £6 million "Opening up the Soane" renovation project, launched to return the Museum back to the original design. The Soane is definitely having its moment in the limelight.

John Soane, the son of a bricklayer, trained under George Dance the Younger (one of the earliest Neo-Classicists) before entering the Royal Academy. In 1778 he went to Italy where he studied, surveyed and sketched ancient sites, and met the influential classical fantasist, Piranesi.

One of Piranesi's involuted imagined views

Soane toured private collections and made excursions to eccentric villas, along the way developing an enduring fascination with the distinctive quality of Mediterranean light. Back in London, Soane married well, and happily. In 1792 he bought 12 Lincoln's Inn Fields, and between 1794 and 1824 he remodeled and extended the house, acquiring two neighboring properties in the process. There he experimented with architectural schemes, ran his business, and housed his growing collection of antiquities and architectural salvage. His practice prospered but his wife's inheritance also helped push the couple's annual income to a comfortable £11,695 (or the equivalent of $588k) around 1800. Soane was thus able to add to his collection with ease, acquiring the sarcophagus of Seti I, Roman bronzes from Pompeii, classical and medieval statuary and casts, mummified cats, several Canalettos and a collection of paintings by Hogarth, among other things...

Soane transformed space with idiosyncratic pass-throughs, corridors and double-height areas, and with his densely layered displays but it is his experimentation with lighting and optical devices that continues to resonate with modern architects. His use of skylights, clerestories, convex and concave mirrors and colored glass panels (some of which were employed in an attempt to recreate Mediterranean light.. In London. Hmmm I think one would need a bit more than yellow glass). In the evening he had his collections lit dramatically with candle and lantern. (It is a particular pleasure to go the Soane on their late night—first Tuesday of the month— to experience the place lit with candles. I don't think that could happen in the US...)

Soane established the house as a Museum in an 1833 Act of Parliament and asked that the museum, in number 13, should be "kept as nearly as possible" in the state in which he left it.

* How I wish I could say the Soane book was fantastic. The historical background and information are very worthwhile but alas, in my opinion, the heart of the book—its photography—is poor and poorly reproduced: murky shadows lack detail, color is disappointingly pallid, many oddly framed shots and lots of lens distortion.


Peepshows of a different sort

an 18th century rarekiek or peep show box

Piranesi's view of the Piazza del Popolo, and (below) the peepshow illuminated nighttime view

I came upon the startling and thoroughly engrossing Early Visual Media a while back. An exploratorium of "Early Vintage Visual Media Archeology" and veritable online cabinet of curiosities, it comprises forays into magic lanterns, optical toys, early cinema, fairground art, as well as related and not-so related fields ("Prestidigitation, Conjuring Arts, Illusions, Magic, Physique Amusante, l' Escamotage... etc.")

The site is dizzying and disorienting: phrases that appear linked are not, images that seem static are animated, recursive links lead to blind alleys and others lead to yet deeper immersion into someone's scholarly obsession. That someone is Belgian autodidact and independent academic
Thomas Weynants whose delightful trains of thought meander and cross in a trail of foreign-inflected English and polylingual expressions ("Jules Richard was passionated by women. He build his own 'folie'").

Shown here, a sampling of Weynant's introduction to the Peepshow Box (also referred to as the
boite optique, rarekiek, and "raree show" and not to be confused with the Zograscope...) — a 17th and 18th century optical illusion viewer for engravings. Figures mounted on overlapping slides or back-mounted silhouettes were combined with the engravings to evoke an illusion of depth and perspective. Night views were pierced along appropriate details such as lanterns, windows, stars and fireworks, and backed with colored transparent paper. With light from four interior candles, the rarekiek conjured enchanting jewel-box scenes, presumably when it didnt cause alarming jewel-box conflagrations.


screen gems

Normally I try to stay away from posts that simply showcase some nice things with a link— but in this case I don't know what more curatorial added-value I can impart. Herewith, a delicious, if spotty, collection of movie title stills engagingly catalogued and displayed by a (Belgian?) web designer named Christian Annyas— a breathtaking resource of type inspiration.


type distortion

Graphis cover by Eberhard Rensch, 1965

advertisement for fruit essences, 1962
(funny how sterile, unfruitlike and German it is. Geschmack!)

brochure cover by Ivan Chermayeff, 1960advertisement for a Milan-based printer, 1964type studies, above and below, 1994 by me
I found a couple old Graphis magazines (very serious Swiss "bastion of excellence in design" since 1944) at my local flea market for a couple bucks apiece. This one, from 1965, was a gem. The issue featured an article about Geigy, the legendary Swiss chemical/pharmaceutical company whose brilliant and prescient attention to all things graphic was influential and, well, very Swiss (more in a future post). In addition, it also included samples from "the most ambitious typographic exhibition ever staged" Typomundus 20, which opened in New York, October 1965. There are many examples of stretched, distorted and generally groovy manipulated type, much of it reminding me of film effects in tv or old film (you know, the "hippy party scene with the wild cavorting dancers" effect, or the "you are getting very sleepy" waves). Of course this makes sense with the times: psychedelia, Op Art, and experimentation of many kinds.

I started thinking about how all this was done back in the old analog days, before you could choose a warp or fisheye filter and be done with it. This Graphis cover, by someone named Eberhard Rensch, is described as "a typographic composition that was then photographed through glass structures." How crafty it all was and had to be. Designers were ripping and pasting together images of type or developing type on acetate film, twisting and crunching it and then rephotographing, or manipulating things on stat cameras . (In a recent lecture I went to about book jacket design at Knopf Chip Kidd and Barbara de Wilde went on and on about the stat camera; it seemed to be the magic box of tricks for all their early work.)

I rooted through my old design sample folders to find these sketches I'd done (15 years ago!) Now Photoshop was around then, it debuted in 1990, but I think we just didnt have it at my office or maybe I was afraid of it. At the time I was doing a poster and brochure/checklist for an exhibit of mid-19th century railroad documentary photography called "Tracking the West." I set the title in ITC Machine and played with a printout on the xerox, moving it slightly as the light scanned. I liked the ghostly ephemeral "tracks shifting in the sand" idea but I didnt end up using it as the rationale didnt seem right: they were talking, in part, about railroad tracks!


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