It's that time again...

Happy New Year!
Herewith, a highly subjective list of the most notable events of 1910

May 20th – Funeral for Britain's King Edward VII— technically ending what was later termed the Edwardian Era, however years up to 1914 or even 1919 are often included

June 9th – A passenger on SS Arawatta throws bottle with note overboard. Bottle is found June 6, 1983.

June 19th – Father's Day celebrated for 1st time (Spokane, Wash) 

June 20th – Krazy Kat debuts in the New York Journal comic strip "The Dingbat Family" by George Herriman

July 4th – African-American boxer Jack Johnson defeats James J. Jeffries, "the Great White Hope," in a heavyweight boxing match, sparking race riots across the United States.

August 9th – Alva Fisher patents the electric washing machine

September 1st – The Vatican introduces a compulsory oath against modernism, to be taken by all priests upon ordination. [note: I realize "modernism" here means something specifically relating to the Catholic Church but I have to say it doesnt seem far-fetched to me at all that the Vatican would be requiring an oath against Les Demoiselles d'Avignon or the Prairie Style.]

November 27thPennsylvania Station, designed by McKim, Mead & White, opens as world's largest railway terminal.
[It is demolished 53 years later, in one of the most infamous and benighted planning decisions, ever.]

December 3rd – Neon lights displayed publicly for the first time at the Paris Auto Show in the Grand Palais


corvus corax

This is one of my favorite Van Goghs, everything in this world vibrates. The sky and wheat goad the birds into joining the kinetic intensity. I do not see this as a troubled picture necessarily although I think it was the last he painted before he died.

From top: Raven, Crow, Robin, Jay from Studer's Ornithology 1881; Common American Crow, JJ Audubon, early 1840s; Hill and Ploughed Field near Dresden, Caspar David Friedrich, 1824-25; Magpie and Snow near Honfleur, Claude Monet, 1868; Wheat field under theatening skies, Van Gogh, 1890; The Raven, illustration by Gustave Doré, 1884

 photo by Edward Rhys

 photo of rooks by Messent

Ravens, rooks, jackdaws, crows, magpies, choughs, jays, Corvids all, and my favorite type of bird— although in Park Slope Brooklyn I mainly see just the crows (corvus corax). Historically crows represented longevity, and marital fidelity, they were augurs of the future, or straight out harbingers of death. Whether known as a witch's familiar, chthonic messengers or petty thieves they are intelligent, wiley, playful. Like starlings, another favorite, I feel like I see the dinosaur in them.

I just read-- well browsed through-- a slim book of history, myth and lore about crows. Its part of an unusual Animals Series by British publisher Reaktion Books that includes such winning editions as Fly, Oyster and Rat. If Crow (by the magnificently named Boria Sax) is any indication of the series' quality, the rest should be wonderfully diverting. Thoroughly researched, far-reaching and densely referenced, the book remained eminently readable without slipping into slangy informality. Even better, there is no hint of catering to children, cute-mongers, or to the New Agey/Wiccan Bohemian Complex which it would undoubtedly be forced to do if it were an American publication. (Thank god for the British or I'd complain about everything.)


crafty wishes

The computer goes in for servicing and my whole routine goes out the window. 
All is right now so I hope to catch up with posts as well. 
Happy Holidays!

* * *
Below: Artists' homemade Christmas cards from Smithsonian.com

Dan Flavin, 1962
Kay Page, 1962 
(this one reveals more tension than intended— the artist committed suicide that January)

Frederick Hammersley, no date


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.


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