Showing posts from September, 2012

Frans Hals: Two Boys Singing

Unlike many traditional Baroque artists, Hals did not paint completely objectively. He would create an atmosphere and a different sense of composure for each subject to convey a true sense of self in his paintings. In this way he would accentuate not only their status in society through various symbolic gestures and dress but also portray features of the sitter that made them human. Furthermore, Hals was noted for his bright pictures and he seemed to love the vivid sheens and clarity of images in daylight.

Frans Hal's first private works were of the ordinary society of Haarlem. The earliest one noted is of two boys singing and playing. He would use these free subjects as a means of practice for his intense draughtmanship and painting style. The 'tavern' or lower classes were not limited in their expressions like the upper classes were and through these subjects that Hals could find new ways of creating and defining character in his subjects.

Rereading: Truman Capote's In Cold Blood

Following the fanfare that accompanied the publication of In Cold Blood in 1965, Truman Capote, ever the consummate self-publicist, claimed to have written a book that was truly different and original – even, perhaps, the first of its kind. For many critics, the "non-fiction novel", as Capote was calling it, belonged to a tradition dating back to Daniel Defoe's The Storm (1704), in which Defoe used the voices of real people to tell his story, a tradition that boasted many exponents, among them Mark Twain, Dickens, Steinbeck, James Agee and Lillian Ross. But Capote was adamant that his own blend of "immaculately factual" reportage and fictional techniques represented the discovery of a new form; it tallied with Capote's "quest to be self-generated", as Harold Bloom puts it, not related to Faulkner, Eudora Welty or Carson McCullers, not influenced by any other writer, but a talent in his own right, unique in the world of American letters.

Capote ha…

Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1954)

Director: Luis Buñuel
Writers: Daniel Defoe (novel),
Stars: Dan O'Herlihy, Jaime Fernández, Felipe de Alba

Aventuras de Robinson Crusoe, is a film by director Luis Buñuel, based on the novel Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.
Lead actor Dan O'Herlihy, playing Crusoe, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Exiled from his Spanish homeland, director Luis Bunuel set up shop in Mexico. Here he made his only American-financed film, The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. This is a reasonably reliable version of the Daniel Defoe's novel about a 17th century shipwreck victim (Dan O'Herlihy) and his "Man Friday" (James Fernandez). Bunuel cannot resist tossing in his occasional barbs against the smugness of Society--though not so many as to scare away customers.

Girton College Library, Girton College, University of Cambridge

In memory of my favourite writers Geroge Eliot and Virginia Woolf!

Lucas Cranach the Elder: Adam and Eve, 1533

German painter and printmaker, one of the major representatives of the northern Renaissance. Lucas the Elder was the father of Hans and Lucas Cranach the Younger, also painters.

Cranach was the eldest of nine children. His father, Hans Maler, a painter himself, must have given him his first lessons. Lucas adopted the name Cranach when he was already over 30. It refers to his place of birth, the current town Kronach.

He moved to Vienna in 1501, and to Wittenberg in 1505, after he had been appointed to the court of Frederic III, elector of Saxony.

Experts often see a breach of styles after the move to Wittenberg. His Vienna works were full of expression and very dynamic. After the move, his style became more static.

In Wittenberg Cranach met the reformer Martin Luther, whom he portrayed many times. Besides being a painter Cranach also sold medicines and paper, ran a wine pub and printed books. In 1522 he printed the first editions of Luther's German translation of the New Testament…

EM Forster and his 'wondrous muddle'

For 40 years, EM Forster and the policeman Bob Buckingham were in a loving relationship. Buckingham was 28, Forster 51, when the two met. They shared holidays, friends, interests, and – on many weekends – a domestic and sexual life in Forster's Brunswick Square flat. But this was a relationship in which there were three people. In his memoir My Father and Myself, Forster's great friend JR Ackerley wrote that the problem of the girlfriend was "all too liable to be found in the lives of normal boys … Since women could not be excluded they had to be admitted ... the Ideal Friend could have a girl or wife if he wished, so long as she did not interfere with me. No wife ever failed to interfere with me." The same was true for Forster, but the wife who "interfered" in his life – Buckingham's wife, May – also became his friend and nursemaid. Perhaps this is not so surprising for the writer who valued personal relationships above all else, and for whom the mott…

William Makepeace Thackeray: Essay On Jonathan Swift

[Footnote 1: From 'The English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century.']

In treating of the English humourists of the past age, it is of the men and of their lives, rather than of their books, that I ask permission to speak to you; and in doing so, you are aware that I cannot hope to entertain you with a merely humorous or facetious story. Harlequin without his mask is known to present a very sober countenance, and was himself, the story goes, the melancholy patient whom the Doctor advised to go and see Harlequin - a man full of cares and perplexities like the rest of us, whose Self must always be serious to him, under whatever mask or disguise or uniform he presents it to the public. And as all of you here must needs be grave when you think of your own past and present, you will not look to find, in the histories of those whose lives and feelings I am going to try and describe to you, a story that is otherwise than serious, and often very sad. If Humour only meant laughter, yo…

Lisztomania, Trailer

Director: Ken Russell
Writer: Ken Russell
Stars: Roger Daltrey, Sara Kestelman, Paul Nicholas

Although the films of Ken Russell have always exhibited a strong penchant for the cinefantastique- from his earliest short subjects for the BBC and through the subsequent theatrical features- the deliberate use of fantasy as an integral facet of Russell’s cinematic vocabulary and style has become increasingly overt until, with films like Tommy and Lisztomania (and to a certain degree, the earlier Mahler), all barriers between the realistic and the fantastic modes have virtually ceased to exist.

At its most obvious Lisztomania is a wildly free-form biography of the nineteenth-century piano virtuoso and composer, Franz Liszt (1811- 1886). As such the film is a direct descendent of Russell’s BBC biographies Elgar (1962), Bartok (1964), The Debussy Film (1965), Song of Summer (1968), a chronicle of the last years of Frederick Delius, of the explosively controversial treatment of Richard Strauss,…

William Butler Yeats: Synge And The Ireland Of His Time

At times during Synge's last illness, Lady Gregory and I would speak of his work and always find some pleasure in the thought that unlike ourselves, who had made our experiments in public, he would leave to the world nothing to be wished away--nothing that was not beautiful or powerful in itself, or necessary as an expression of his life and thought. When he died we were in much anxiety, for a letter written before his last illness, and printed in the selection of his poems published at the Cuala Press, had shown that he was anxious about the fate of his manuscripts and scattered writings. On the evening of the night he died he had asked that I might come to him the next day; and my diary of the days following his death shows how great was our anxiety. Presently however, all seemed to have come right, for the Executors sent me the following letter that had been found among his papers, and promised to carry out his wishes.
'May 4th, 1908
'Dear Yeats,
'This is only to g…

The life of Ford Madox Ford

This year’s television adaptation of Parade’s End has led to an extraordinary surge of interest in Ford Madox Ford. The ingenious adaptation by Sir Tom Stoppard; the stellar cast, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, Alan Howard, Rupert Everett, Miranda Richardson, Roger Allam; the flawlessly intelligent direction by award-winning Susanna White, have not only created a critical success, but reached Ford’s widest audience for perhaps fifty years. BBC2 drama doubled its share of the viewing figures. Reviewers have repeatedly described Parade’s End as a masterpiece and Ford as a neglected Modernist master. Those involved in the production found him a ‘revelation’, and White and Hall are reported as saying that they were embarrassed that their Oxbridge educations had left them unaware of Ford’s work. After this autumn, fewer people interested in literature and modernism and the First World War are likely to ask the question posed by the title of Alan Yentob’s ‘Culture Show’ inve…

Charles Lamb: Detached Thoughts on Books And Reading

To mind the inside of a book is to entertain one's self with the forced product of another man's brain. Now I think a man of quality and breeding may be much amused with the natural sprouts of his own.
-- Lord Foppington in the Relapse.

AN ingenious acquaintance of my own was so much struck with this bright sally of his Lordship, that he has left off reading altogether, to the great improvement of his originality. At the hazard of losing some credit on this head, I must confess that I dedicate no inconsiderable portion of my time to other people's thoughts. I dream away my life in others' speculations. I love to lose myself in other men's minds. When I am not walking, I am reading; I cannot sit and think. Books think for me.

I have no repugnances. Shaftesbury is not too genteel for me, nor Jonathan Wild too low. I can read any thing which I call a book. There are things in that shape which I cannot allow for such.

In this catalogue of books which are no books -- b…

Paul Cezanne: Portrait of Chocquet

"VICTOR CHOCQUET WAS A FRIEND of the Impressionists who has become a historical figure through his pure devotion to contemporary art. A minor government employee, without great means, he was caught by the beauty of Renoir's and Cézanne's works and collected these while they were still ridiculed by the critics and public. Both artists painted his portrait several times.

"In Renoir's portraits, Chocquet appears a soft receptive nature, perfectly relaxed; he gazes gently at the observer. In Cézanne's painting, the features are no less sensitive, but there is in the bearing of the head, turned sharply to the side and culminating in the high mane of hair, an accent of grandeur, a reminiscence of the near-romantic portraits of the Napoleonic age. Such idealization is foreign to Impressionist portraiture; but we have seen before in the portrait of Boyer how Cézanne endows a friend with a romantic aura. Chocquet is conceived as a lean Quixotic type. The lengthening …

Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve: What Is a Classic?

A DELICATE question, to which somewhat diverse solutions might be given according to times and seasons. An intelligent man suggests it to me, and I intend to try, if not to solve it, at least to examine and discuss it face to face with my readers, were it only to persuade them to answer it for themselves, and, if I can, to make their opinion and mine on the point clear. And why, in criticism, should we not, from time to time, venture to treat some of those subjects which are not personal, in which we no longer speak of some one but of some thing? Our neighbours, the English, have well succeeded in making of it a special division of literature under the modest title of “Essays.” It is true that in writing of such subjects, always slightly abstract and moral, it is advisable to speak of them in a season of quiet, to make sure of our own attention and of that of others, to seize one of those moments of calm moderation and leisure seldom granted our amiable France; even when she is desir…

Bittersweet symphonies

In 1855 Johannes Brahms wrote the pianist Clara Schumann a naked cry of frustration: "I can do nothing but think of you... What have you done to me? Can't you remove the spell you have cast over me?" The situation between them at the time was messy - very messy. Clara was 35, Brahms 21, she famous, he rather more infamous. She was married to the composer Robert Schumann, and the pair had seven young children. On the other hand, for more than a year, Clara's husband had been in an asylum and Clara had not been allowed to see him. When Robert fell off the edge, Brahms had hastened to her side.

Now Brahms, Robert's protege and discovery, was helplessly in love with Robert's wife. They had not expected it, didn't want it, and so on. Brahms loved and admired Robert. Shortly before jumping in the Rhine to escape the demonic oratorios in his head, Robert had made the name Brahms known across Europe, declaring this student from Hamburg the coming saviour of Germ…

Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece

Henry James's great, humane masterpiece, The Portrait of a Lady (1881), the story of a young, spirited American woman "affronting her destiny", is many readers' favourite of his books. All his critics and biographers put it at the centre of his life and work. It is his turning-point. From being a popular and promising author specialising in Americans in Europe (Daisy Miller, The Europeans, The American), he became an important, renowned figure, acknowledged as a "master" of consciousness, cultural perceptions, humour, subtlety and depth. But Portrait can also be seen as a point of no return. After that came the harsh, unpopular novels of social analysis (The Bostonians, The Princess Casamassima), the ill-fated involvement with the theatre, the awkward, darkly complex novels of the 1890s (What Maisie Knew, The Awkward Age), the epic, inward-looking subtleties of the mighty late works, and the financial catastrophe of the New York edition. Isabel Archer start…

Georges Braque: Violin and Candlestick, 1910

This work embodies the dynamic and energetic qualities of Analytic Cubism, a revolutionary artistic style pioneered by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso to depict three-dimensional objects on a flat canvas without the use of traditional Renaissance perspective. In this conceptual approach to painting, perceived forms are broken down, fractured, flattened, and then reconstructed in multiple-point perspective within a shallow space. Braque described this kind of fragmentation as "a technique for getting closer to the object."

Here, still-life props (some recognizable and some impossible to identify) are clustered toward the center of a gridlike armature. Braque united the objects and the background by opening up and covering over the boundaries of the black-outlined objects, and by using the same earth-toned colors for the entire painting. He transformed volumes in the still life to accommodate their multiple surfaces on a flat plane, thereby allowing the viewer to see more of…

Anna Karenina, Suicide Scene, Film with Greta Garbo (1935)

Director: Clarence Brown
Writers: Leo Tolstoy (from the novel by), Clemence Dane (screen play),
 Stars: Greta Garbo, Fredric March,Freddie Bartholomew

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
Chapter 30

“Yes, I’m very much worried, and that’s what reason was given me for, to escape; so then one must escape: why not put out the light when there’s nothing more to look at, when it’s sickening to look at it all? But how?

“No, I won’t let you make me miserable,” she thought menacingly, addressing not him, not herself, but the power that made her suffer, and she walked along the platform.“

She quickened her pace and walked away from them to the edge of the platform. A luggage train was coming in. The platform began to sway, and she fancied she was in the train again.

And all at once she thought of the man crushed by the train the day she had first met Vronsky, and she knew what she had to do. With a rapid, light step she went down the steps that led from the tank to the rails and stopped quite near t…

Why we don’t understand Kafka

On September 23 it will be 100 years exactly since Franz Kafka wrote his breakthrough story, “The Judgement”. We are probably no nearer to understanding that or any other of his works today than his first readers were, nor should we expect to be. These books help to show us why.

Eighteen months earlier, on March 26, 1911, Kafka noted in his diary: “Theosophical lectures by Dr Rudolf Steiner, Berlin”. After commenting on Steiner’s rhetorical strategy of giving full weight to the views of his opponents, so that “the listener now considers any refutation to be completely impossible and is more than satisfied with a cursory description of the possibility of a defence”, he goes on:

“Continual looking at the palm of the extended hand. – Omission of the period. In general, the spoken sentence starts off from the speaker with its initial capital letter, curves in its course, as far as it can, out to the audience, and returns with the period to the speaker. But if the period is omitted then t…

Natalia Nikolaevna Pushkina-Lanskaya (née Goncharova), wife of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin.

Natalie (as she was familiarly known) met Alexander Pushkin at the age of 16, when she was one of the most talked-about beauties of Moscow. After many hesitations, Natalya eventually accepted Pushkin's proposal in April 1830, but not before she received assurances that the tsarist government had no intentions to persecute the libertine poet. They were officially engaged on 6 May 1830, and sent out wedding invitations. Due to the outbreak of cholera and other circumstances, the wedding was delayed for a year. The ceremony took place on 18 February 1831 (Old Style) in the Great Ascension Church on Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street in Moscow.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Hangover (Portrait of Suzanne Valadon)

French artist Suzanne Valadon (1865–1938) was an artist's model before becoming a respected painter herself. Part of a circle of artists living and working in Paris's Montmartre neighborhood at the turn of the twentieth century, Valadon was one of the most notable female artists of the period. Valadon is also remembered for her many love affairs and as the mother of prominent French painter Maurice Utrillo.

The Life of George Eliot

By John Morley

The illustrious woman who is the subject of these volumes makes a remark to her publisher which is at least as relevant now as it was then. Can nothing be done, she asks, by dispassionate criticism towards the reform of our national habits in the matter of literary biography? 'Is it anything short of odious that as soon as a man is dead his desk should be raked, and every insignificant memorandum which he never meant for the public be printed for the gossiping amusement of people too idle to reread his books?' Autobiography, she says, at least saves a man or a woman that the world is curious about, from the publication of a string of mistakes called Memoirs. Even to autobiography, however, she confesses her deep repugnance unless it can be written so as to involve neither self-glorification nor impeachment of others—a condition, by the way, with which hardly any, save Mill's, can be said to comply. 'I like,' she proceeds, 'that He being dead yet…

William Hazlitt: On genius and common sense

We hear it maintained by people of more gravity than understanding, that genius and taste are strictly reducible to rules, and that there is a rule for everything. So far is it from being true that the finest breath of fancy is a definable thing, that the plainest common sense is only what Mr. Locke would have called a mixed mode —, subject to a particular sort of acquired and an definable tact. It is asked, “If you do not know the rule by which a thing is done, how can you be sure of doing it a second time?” And the answer is, “If you do not know the muscles by the help of which you walk, how is to you do not fall down at every step you take?” In art, in taste, in life, in speech, you decide from feeling, and not from reason; that is, from the impression of a number of things on the mind, which impression is true and well founded, though you may not be able to analyze or account for it in the several particulars. In a gesture you use, in a look you see, in a tone you hear, you judge …