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The artist at work in his studio. Self-portraits by Jean-Léon Gérôme.

Read the article “Fin de partie: A Group of Self-Portraits by Jean-Léon Gérôme” by Susan Waller in Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide.

Hello dear blog, the weekend just passed has seen me move beyond my comfort zone of NW1 and enter both unexplored territory and places from the distance past.  A Mile End jungle party called for my alter ego Chief Drink-a-Lot to down rum in a wading pool  and belt out 99 Luftballons (yes, in German!) into the  dark tropical night.  A global music festival in Ealing went down slightly more civilized,  with Rumanian folk music and a Yiddish twist orchestra forming an antidote to my hangover. And a mini Saturday excursion went to the fields of Knockhult where I praised the ingenuity of the eco-system whilst indulging in berries in the best goblin-like manner. I am now feeling amazingly reinvigorated, despite minor bodily damages.

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries-
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheeked peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries–
All ripe together
In summer weather–
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy;
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye,
Come buy, come buy.”

(Goblin Market, C. Rossetti)

In 1847, two Botticelli paintings depicting Venus were acquired by the National Gallery. The authenticity of the picture now called ‘An Allegory’ (which was bought at a considerably larger sum than the other) was eventually brought into question by critics and curators.  The subject bear close resemblance to both ‘Venus and Mars’  and  ‘Venus and Three Putti’ (now in the Louvre), the later generally attributed to the workshop of Botticelli, but is stylistically and technically different, placing the painting outside of the Botticelli realm. While fears have arisen that the piece might be a masterly done fake, recent technological investigation has proven the painting to be a genuine late 15th or early 16th century painting.

While losing the high status of a Botticelli, and being downgraded to an unknown nobody, in the National Gallery’s exhibition “Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries” it has been brought out into the limelight once again.

Unknown Italian, ‘An Allegory’, about 1500

Nothing beats a bit of mystery or myth surrounding a piece of art, whether it be the artists himself or the artwork and its owners. ‘Close Examination’ is an absolutely wonderful exhibition that looks at art forgery, imitations, alterations and restorations within the Gallery’s collection. Using human expertise and high-tech scientific examination, it uncovers the hidden truths (or lies) underneath those layers of paint.

Botticelli, ‘Venus and Mars’, about 1485

Another take on Salome as she is being presented with the head of St John the Baptist….

The artist is François de Nomé who (often placed under the pseudonym Monsù Desiderio together with Didier Barra) was a French Baroque painter, living and working in Italy.  I love his architectural dreamscapes of towering palaces under threatening dramatic skies, creating  apocalyptic atmospheres that breathes danger and doom. The subjects are highly imaginative but, I would guess, draw upon Biblical themes. The crumbling pillars and heaving grounds are like the cities and houses that fall in the Revelation, where ‘the sun blackened and the moon turned to blood’. Or T.S Eliot’s Unreal cities, where in a cyclical history, civilisations rise and fall:

What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London
Unreal

 

 

 

This has been a most spectacular week, theatre-wise. Starting at the Barbican, Nevermore – the Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe was just pure magic. Ok, I am bias here. I am a sucker for musical theatre, especially the dark, unhappy kind. And that, my friend, is something that does not come along very often so this was a real treat. With Poe’s own words “all that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream” guiding the aesthetic direction, Nevermore is the life (and dreams) of Edgar Allan Poe told like a gothic puppet show reminiscing Tim Burton and Lemony Snicket, containing more death and calamity than your average Greek tragedy (it has to be admitted; I pulled a cardigan over my head more than once). Poe himself is slightly one-dimensional but I think there is a point in that. Being more about telling than showing, it is the music that is the star of the show and the Poesque verse is both witty and harrowing.

Moving on now to Hampstead Theatre and Oscar Wilde’s Salome. Sigh, what to say? I get that it must be very tempting to do classics in modern dress these days and camouflage, machine guns, sand and oil appears to be the favoured choice (as if it was common duty to draw Iraqi parallels wherever possible). And with no taboos these days restricting the action, nakedness and sex on stage is more rule than exception. Now, while as a general idea this is getting a bit drab, it does quite often work well or possibly less well. In the case of Salome it just did not work at all. While it fits the basic (Biblical) story, Wilde’s Salome is pure poetry, evocative and sensual. This production is in-your-face and aggressive rather than suggestive, and Wilde’s lines are completely corrupted in orgiastic tomfoolery and masturbatory frenzy. But hey, it gets a point for trying.

Carbón Club, part of the National’s Watch This Space Festival, wins the prize for most excellent catholic imagery with its priest walking through the audience carrying a burning bible. Me like. And the show was jam-packed with these ingenious tricks of fire, explosions and what not. Full-on action performed very intimately, making the audience duck under everything from blowtorches to champagne showers. Now, while this is all very well I have to say, as a cabaret, the song and dance acts did just not come together all that well. Lots of poignant points (mining accidents, rape and lost love) were unevenly balanced by repeated jokes. One wish that less energy had been spent on special effects and more on the real extravaganza which, in comparison, costs no money. Nonetheless, new and interesting and so great to be outside and do something a little bit unusual.

Here my friend, are some gorgeous Salomes…(and not a Beardsley in sight, I’m sorry to say but I do find him tiresome.)

(Corinth; von Stuck; Strathman; Dessau-Gottein)

I never see that prettiest thing-
A cherry bough gone white with Spring-
But what I think, “How gay ‘twould be
To hang me from a flowering tree.

(Dorothy Parker)

(Denis; Benson; Sargent)

Despite being a hard-core Ishiguro-fan, I’m not too keen on Never Let Me Go and, frankly, found it quite bland. Someone said he does not do female characters very well and that might just be the case. It lacks those hidden, suppressed layers that makes his other novels so compelling.  I know most people disagree with me and think it is a most clever book (which it is, only that’s not necessarily a good thing, is it?).  They have now brought the novel onto the big screen and judging by the trailer, it is actually looking quite promising.

What is life? A fighting

In heart and brain with trolls.

Poetry? That means writing

Doomsday accounts of our souls.

Ibsen

Munch The Sun

Jonna Lee has lifted the veil  and the image certainly satisfies. Latest from iamamiwhoami…