"the beautiful arts"

Truly Exceptional! Without Peer!
rarely greeting the light of day in
over 150 years!
Eye-Entrancing Discoveries
assembled during recent hours of idleness
from the
Cavernous Electro-Telegraphic Stores
of that
Unparalleled Repository
The Library of Congress.

From the collections of Ephemera and Advertising.
School of design, 1859; Phrenology chart; sheet music, 1880, 1863, 1873, c.1880s; "Soft Ones a Specialty", 1907; from the pamphlet "8 United Mastodon Shows by Maybury, Pullman & Hamilton", 1882.


a gorey specimen

I recently retrieved all three of my Amphigoreys from storage and in poring over them page by page, I have been struck once again by his hand-lettering. Here, a selection of his titles and lettering (Romans, tuscans, rustics!). Directly above are three of his book jackets from the 1950s from a good selection found here. All the text is obsessively– ingeniously– hand-lettered. (I had never been quite sure and used to study and compare "s"s or "n"s.)

I got the first Amphigorey collection when I was about 10 years old and it made such an impression– I loved it so much– I didn't know what to do with myself. Has anyone else ever had this? When there is something that leaves you so awe-struck, so full of wonder– something that feels so perfect in every respect, so exactly what you, yourself, would want to do if only you could–that you want to live in it, be it. I was wholly enveloped by the flamboyant peculiarity, the play of image and word, the morbid density (see horror vacui) followed by a radical graphic spareness. And of course there was Gorey's consummate parceling of story, line by line, epigrammatic, often non sequitur, that was particularly appealing to me. Much later I learned that Gorey modeled his visual style,
somewhat, on 19th century engravings (though his characters appear to drift perpetually in a 30 year time period roughly between 1890s high Victorian through Edwardian and occasionally showing up in Flapper regalia). His prose style somehow conflated the portentous air of 19th century schoolbooks and comically bleak children's religious instruction primers with a sly voluptuary's wit.

I find myself still not quite sure how to process my emotional mix of envy and worship.


furniture and fantabulism

I was not aware of Carlo Bugatti when I saw (a version of) this desk (top) at the Art+Design Show at the Armory this past Thursday. The name was vaguely familiar–race cars wasn't it?* or motorcycles? But not furniture. Certainly not this slightly disturbing crenellated fantasy in walnut, copper, vellum, and mother of pearl. Why disturbing? because it was almost animalistic. And I couldn't place it– definitely Arts and Crafts-ish, sort of Eastlakean, but as though interpreted by an alien. Japanese? Indian Raj? Moorish? Arab? Yes!

Bugatti was born in Milan in 1856. He studied at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts and began making furniture in the 1880s. The earlier furniture's rectilinear asymmetry and exotic materials--encrusted and embellished--recalled the Orientalism of the time; the later sinuous
forms were influenced by Art Nouveau. But the aggressively hybrid vision was truly, singularly his. Gaudi is the only other designer of the time I can think of who was as profoundly bizarre.

Bugatti gained international attention at the Exposition of Decorative Arts in Turin in 1902 with his "Snail Room." The tantalizing but maddeningly indistinct photo directly above is all I could find of the exhibit. His "Cobra chairs" (above the Snail image, right), created for the Turin exhibit, are entirely covered in vellum-- as was much of his later furniture. At some point his furniture also graced the Waldorf Astoria’s Turkish Salon, where, it is said, coffee was served by an actual Turk complete with a boy attendant...

Extravagant, daring, bewildering, excessive and fascinating, Bugatti's work was renowned for meticulous craftsmanship and eccentricity but was
never truly popular. Perhaps because, as the Cleveland Museum of Art notes, it was extremely "challenging."

His design star was occluded by the time he died, in relative obscurity, in 1940.

*His son Ettore went on to found the automobile company.
Bugatti's designs are like ceremonial furnishings for some alien royal court. Something about the spikey "tribal" regalia draping many of Bugatti's pieces reminds me of Frank Frazetta.


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