Vanity vs The Beautiful Lady Without Mercy

[Left: Vanity (1907) oil on panel 57 x 38 cm Diploma work accepted 1936 Royal Academy] [Right: La Belle Dame Sans Merci (AkaThe Beautiful Lady Without Mercy“) (1926) canvas 102 x 97 cm private collection, London]

English painter and portrait  illustrator Frank Cadogan Cowper was born in Wicken, Northamptonshire on 6 October 1877. He was the son of the author and early pioneer of coastal cruising in yachts, Frank Cowper, and grandson of the Rector of Wicken.

  • Cadogan Cowper first studied art at St John’s Wood Art School in 1896 and continued at the Royal Academy Schools from 1897-1902.
  • He is referred to as “The last of the Pre-Raphaelites” as he continued painting Arthurian knights and damsels in distress at the Royal Academy well into the 20th Century.

Cowper first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1899, and spent six months studying under Edwin Austin Abbey before travelling to Italy.

As an artist, he worked in both watercolours and oils; and as an illustrator; provided the illustrations for Sir Sidney Lee’s The Imperial Shakespeare. He contributed to a mural in the Houses of Parliament in 1910 along with Byam Shaw, Ernest Board and Henry Arthur Payne. He died on 17 November 1958.

  • The record price for a Cowper painting at sale is £469,250 for “Our Lady of the Fruits of the Earth” (1917) at Christie‘s in London on 17 December 2011.

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Take Potluck or be Thunderstruck

[Above: Two issues of Pluck and Luck: Complete Stories of Adventure]

  • Left: Issue No. 76  November 15, 1899. “The Rocket or Adventures in the Air” by Allyn Draper. Frustrated pursuers stand agape as their quarry lifts off for a trip to the moon in a whirligig rocket. “The rocket mounted up in the air, and soared away. “Good-by” cried Harry.  Tell the justice I’ll report next year for sentence. I live in the Moon.” The three men were dumbfounded.”
  • Right: Issue No.231 November 5, 1902. (Price: 5 cents). “Jack Wright and His Electric Air Schooner or The Mystery of a Magic Mine” by “Noname”. This is looking more seaworthy than airworthy. Jack Wright’s electric schooner saves two adventurers from agitated savages. “The crater dwellers  who had pursued them down the rocks, were guided to their location by their shouts and while the Sky Rocket was rushing through the air to their rescue the savages were climbing up the rocks from the plateau below, with the intention of attacking them.”

Pluck and Luck was an American magazine and the longest-running dime novel first published by Frank Tousey. The principal series character was Jack Wright. It primarily featured stories of adventure covering subjects including fire fighters, railroads, the American Revolution, the American Civil War, frontier life, finance and success, temperance, circus, science fiction and travel and exploration. All the stories were reprints from Tousey story papers Boys of New York, Golden Weekly, Happy Days and Young Men of America.

  • Authors included Cecil Burleigh, Augustus Comstock, Francis W. Doughty, Thomas W. Hanshaw, Walter Fenton Mott, Dennis O’Sullivan, Luis Senarens, Harvey K. Shackleford, Cornelius Shea, George G. Small, William Howard Van Orden and others writing under house names, like ‘NoName‘.
  • Pluck and Luck numbered 1605 issues from January 12, 1898 to March 5, 1929. The 32-page magazine was semi-monthly for the first 22 issues and then became weekly. Its size was 8 x 11 inches (through No. 1144) and 6 x 9 inches thereafter, featuring  colour covers. Issues No. 1002-1464 were published by Harry Wolff and the rest by Westbury.

Don’t be a sitting duck | Go read Pluck & Luck

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Tax on Delivery

Cuneiform Tablet[Cuneiform Tablet: Southern Mesopotamia c. 2050 BC.]

Cuneiform writing was developed by the ancient culture of Sumer (which is now in the region of modern-day Iraq) and was one of the first scripts used to record information.

It was written on dampened hand-shaped clay tablets, using a wedged stick (cunea being Latin for wedge), which were then sun-dried or fired. The earliest tablets, from around the end of the 4th millennium, record the transactions of tax collectors and merchants. They later began to record laws and texts on astronomy, literature, medicine and mathematics.

  • The tablet (featured above) records the delivery of taxes, paid in sheep and goats in the 10th month of the 46th year of Shulgi, (Second King of the Third Dynasty of Ur).

Proof to the age old saying “There are two certainties in life – Death and Taxes” (attributed to Benjamin Franklin)

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Gerard of the Night (Painter By Day)

[The Happy Musician (De Vrolijke Speelman) 108 x 89 cm Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam]

Dutch Golden Age artist, “Gerard of the Night” (Gerard van Honthorst, Gerrit van Honthorst) was born on 4th November 1592 in Utrecht. Early in his career he visited Rome, where he began to paint in a style which was influenced by Caravaggio. He stayed in Italy for 10 years before returning home. Following his return to the Netherlands, he became a leading portrait painter.

  • He is noted for his depiction of artificially lit scenes, eventually receiving the Italian nickname Gherardo delle Notti (“Gerard of the Night”).

With his portraits of ordinary folk such as the Happy Musician, he gained great fame in the Netherlands and Berlin where he was a court painter and influenced for a long time the stream of painting which has become known as the Utrecht School.

Obviously, Gerard of the Night, didn’t give up his day job!

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Where the Hammock Swung | When the World Was Young

[“In the Hammock“,  (1886) by Hans Thoma]

German artist Hans Thoma, was born on October 2, 1839 in Bernau within the Black Forest region of Germany.  In 1859, at the age of 20, having started life as a painter of clock faces; Thoma entered the Karlsruhe Academy, where he studied under Johann Wilhelm Schirmer and Ludwig des Coudres.

  • His art work is based on early impressions of the simple idyllic life of his native district, where  he displays affinities with the Pre-Raphaelite movement.
  • Thoma continued study and work in Düsseldorf, Paris Frankfurt and in many cities in Italy, prior to a successful exhibition of some thirty paintings in Munich.

He died in Karlsruhe on November 7, 1924 at the age of 85.

Ah, the apple trees
Sunlit memories
Where the hammock swung
On our backs we’d lie
(from When the World Was Young by Bob Dylan)

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Kiss Me Tootsie and Then Do It Over Again

[Untitled (1990) glass sculpture by Toots Zynsky]

Mary Ann ‘Toots’ Zynsky was born in Boston, Massachusetts on 25 March, 1951.  She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence (1973). During her studies, Zynsky became one of a group of pioneering artists studying with Dale Chihuly, who made studio glass a worldwide phenomenon.

  • Today, Zynsky’s glass vessels are represented in over 70 international museum collections.

Zynsky developed her distinctive heat-formed filet de verre (glass thread) vessels, using streaks and ribbons of strong contrasting colours and pulling heated rods of glass through a machine developed especially for her studio practice. She then arranged them in rods using a concave mould. As a consequence, her glass-works often evoke the brilliant plumage of exotic birds which reflect the influence of traditional South African and South American textiles.

  • Zynsky once quoted: “When I hear music, it translates into colour“.

Kiss Me Tootsie and Then Do It Over Again” derives from the lyrics of the Al Jolson song “Toot, Toot, Tootsie! Goodbye”

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Feeling a Little Jaded?

In 1968, two complete jade burial suits were discovered in the tomb of Han Prince Liu Sheng and Princess Dou Wan in Mancheng, Hebei, China. They were the first of a number of jade suits that would be found in other Han tombs around China. The Han Dynasty is the only time in Chinese history that they have been utilised in burials.

The Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) was one of the longest of China’s major dynasties. With only minor interruptions it lasted a span of over four centuries and was considered a golden age in Chinese history especially in arts, politics and technology.

  • Today jade suits seem an implausible extravagance, but in ancient China they were believed to preserve the body.
  • The honour of burial in a jade suit was restricted to the Imperial family and nobles.
  • Even the thread that bound the pieces together (gold, silver, copper or silk) denotes their status.
  • Jade was also treasured for its hardness, durability and subtle beauty.

This suit is on display at the Museum of Chinese Australian History at 22 Cohen Place, in the heart of Melbourne’s thriving Chinatown. Established in 1985, the museum occupies 5 floors of an old warehouse and contains artifacts relating to Chinese Australian history, the Victorian gold rush, a Dragon Gallery and other special exhibitions.

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Two Huge Fans of Kempinas’ Art

[Double O  by Žilvinas Kempinas (2008) video tape, fans, ed. 6/6; Gift- Loti & Victor Smorgon Fund, National Gallery of Victoria, (NGV).]

Žilvinas Kempinas (born in 1969 in Plungė, Lithuania) is an artist living and working in New York City. He completed an MFA at Hunter College, City University of New York, in 2002, after receiving a BFA from Vilnius Academy of Art, Lithuania, in 1993.

  • Kempinas is best known for kinetic works such as Double O which combine loops of videotape with electric fans, which use the physics of air and motion to create loops of tape which rotate and twist and remain suspended in midair through the force of the fans.
  • In  a constant state of flux, it transforms the physical space and challenges the viewer’s visual and spatial senses. Incorporating readily available, everyday materials, Kempinas harnesses motion in a way that is both beguiling and miraculous.

Kempinas’ first New York shows took place at PS1 Contemporary Art Center in 2003 and Spencer Brownstone Gallery in 2001. He earned international acclaim since then with his entire second show at Spencer Brownstone  (Columns and Bike Messenger) was purchased by The Margulies Collection in 2006 and exhibited during Art Basel Miami Beach that same year.

  • Kempinas is represented in New York City and Paris by Yvon Lambert Gallery in Vilnius by Vartai Gallery; and in Brazil by Galeria Leme.

FAN-Tastic!

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Cake Stool or Fake Stool?

[Above: ‘Cake Stool‘ (2008) by Humberto and Fernando Campana (Designers) and Estudio Campana (Manufacturer) from Sao Paolo, Brazil.  (Made from soft toys, steel, and canvas).]

Brazilian designers, “The Campana Brothers” are Humberto Campana, (b. 1953) and Fernando Campana, (b. 1961).  In 1983, the two teamed up to make furniture made of ordinary materials including scrap and waste products such as cardboard, rope, cloth and wood scraps, plastic tubes and aluminium wire.

They draw inspiration from Brazil’s street life and carnival culture, by combining ‘found’ objects (such as scraps of wood, furry toys and fabric off cuts); with advanced technologies, to create a vibrant energetic and definitively Brazilian approach to design. The brothers refer to this as ‘zest for life’ which celebrates the discarded and mundane.

In 1998 they became the first Brazilian artists to exhibit their work at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, along with work from the German lighting designer Ingo Maurer.

  • The Campana Brothers are currently represented by Friedman Benda in New York, Carpenters Workshop Gallery in London and Paris, as well as Galleria O in Rome.

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Time Fur Breakfast

[Object (or Breakfast) in Fur, (1936) is Méret Oppenheim’s famous cup, saucer and teaspoon covered with Chinese gazelle fur].

German-born, Swiss Surrealist artist and photographer, Méret Elisabeth Oppenheim was born on 6 October 1913 in Berlin. She was raised by her grandparents in Switzerland during WW1. At the age of 18 Oppenheim went to Paris where she enrolled at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere. She presented her 3D objects to the Surrealist Exhibition (1933) which helped establish her as a leading figure in the Surrealist art movement.

  • On one occasion, Oppenheim staged a banquet in which a nude female formed the centerpiece of the table decoration.
  • In her paintings and sculptures, she often explored female sexuality. This typified much of her later work in which ordinary everyday objects were transformed into articles with fetishistic or sado-masochistic undertones.
  • Oppenheim’s best known piece is [Object or (Breakfast in Fur)] which was purchased by Alfred Barr for the collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and included in the museum’s first Surrealist exhibition Fantastic Art: Dada and Surrealism in 1936.

Oppenheim kept careful notes about which patrons and colleagues she liked and where her works ended up. She died in Basel, Switzerland on 15 November 1985 at the age of 72. An archive of most of Oppenheim’s artwork has been entrusted to institutions in Bern, Switzerland, including the Museum of Fine Arts and the National Library.

  • At Oppenheim’s acceptance speech in 1975 upon receiving the City of Basel Art Award, she declared “Freedom is not given to you — you have to take it.”

And I say, “If you do not think that this is your ‘cup of tea’ –  you might need to fake it.”

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There is Nothing Finer Than the Chimes of the Clinaman

[Featured – Clinamen (2013) MDF floor, PVC liner, water pump, heating device, porcelain bowls, water]. Paula Cooper Gallery New York and Galerie Xippas, Paris. This installation is generously supported at the NGV by the Loti and Victor Smorgon Fund.

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot is a French artist born in Nice in 1961. After training as a musician and composer, he formed an art experience that merges both visual and auditory sensors which allows us to experience the intangible and abstract at the same time.

Based on these principles Boursier-Mougenot creates large-scale acoustic installations drawing upon the laws of nature and the rhythms of everyday life; to produce new forms of art and music.

  • Clinamen encourages a form of multi-sensory or ‘synesthetic’ engagement, whilst creating a social space for reflection and contemplation.
  • Its white porcelain bowls float on the surface of an intensely blue pool.
  • Circulating gently and swept along by sub-maritime currents, the floating ‘crockery’ acts as a percussive instrument; creating a resonant, chiming acoustic soundscape providing an unorthodox musical sound.
  • As the floating plates move about the pool, they create a visible score, translating the aural into the pictorial and establishing a visual equivalent to the act of listening.

Hear Clinamen chimes

May the Clinamen Chime-a-momento to your heart

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Katnjupayi Benson | A Tale of Two Sittings

Katnjupayi Benson (Ngaanyatjarra) born c. 1933 comes from Papulankutja (Blackstone Community, 300 kms west of the Western Australia (W.A.), Northern Territory and South Australia borders); and spends time between Blackstone and the Docker River communities. She began to make baskets and animal sculptures in 1995 due to a weaving project within the community.

  • Wati Kutjara – Trans. Two Men. (2003) Papulankutja, (W.A.), (Wool, wire, human hair, raffia, gauze, found objects, spinifex and woolybutt) are two woven Tjanpi figures representing the Wati Kutjara Tjukurrpa; an important narrative associated with the artist. The Two Men were ancestral beings with special powers who came all the way from Perth and camped briefly near Blackstone before visiting Kuli Pirtin and Bang Mana Milpin near Blackstone. Then they went on to Docker River, 200 kms North East of Blackstone where another man killed them.
  • Bush Banana (2003) Papulankutja, (WA). (Wool, wire, human hair, raffia, gauze, found objects, spinifex, woollybutt, and grass). These three woven Tjanpi figures represent the Bush Banana Tjukurra; a dark narrative associated with the artists Country, which concerns a mother and her two children, a boy and a girl, who are used to stop camp and eat the bush bananas. One day the mother leaves the children at camp while she goes to collect some bananas. Two men are hiding in nearby bushes watching her and one throws his boomerang at her, hitting her across the back of her neck and kills her. He then followed her tracks back to camp and found the children. He threw the boomerang at the boy; hit him on back of his legs and killed him. He then chased the young girl and killed her too.

Kantjupayi is a respected senior Ngaanyatjarra law woman who has a son and two daughters. Both her son and one daughter are blind and Kantjupayi contributes all of her income from her art to these children.

Her fibre work was featured strongly in the national touring exhibitions Straight From the Heart (1998); Manguri Weaving (2001); and Seven Sisters: Fibre Works Arising from the West, Craftwest Centre for Contemporary Craft and Design, Perth, (2004).

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The Crusader, The Thief, The Nun & The Unknown

St Michan’s Church of Ireland is located in the heart of inner-city Dublin, where worship has existed on this site since 1095, when it was originally built by the Vikings who dedicated it after a Danish bishop. The Church encountered a rebuild in 1685 and a large pipe organ was installed in 1724, on which Handel is said to have first played the Messiah when he visited Dublin during 1741-1742.

Most of St. Michan’s visitors come to view the crypts underneath the church where there are five long burial vaults containing the mummified remains of many of Dublin’s most influential 17th, 18th and 19th century families, including the legendary Sheare’s brothers  who were executed by the British in response to the Rising of 1798. There are also the highly decorated coffins of the Earls’ of Leitrim.

There are a number of theories as to why the corpses in the crypts have been preserved over time. One is that the basement contains limestone, making it particularly dry and ideal for mummification and the preservation of the coffins. Another is that the church was built on former swamp land and that methane gas is acting as a kind of preservative for the bodies. Regardless of the reason, whatever is preserving the mummies is also disintegrating their coffins. After a certain amount of time the wood falls away and a well-preserved mummy comes tumbling out.

Only two of the crypts are open to the public for viewing. The most visible mummies are The Big Four, four mummified corpses which have no lids on their coffins and are displayed together. On the right is a woman, known as The Unknown. The one in the middle is referred to as The Thief  because he is missing parts of both feet and a hand, (some say the hand was cut off as punishment). Next to him on the left lies a small woman known as The Nun.

Another vault contains the remains of the Crusader, claimed to belong to an 800 year old mummy.  It is believed that he was a soldier who either died in the Crusades, or returned and died shortly afterwards. The Crusader was quite tall for his time (six and a half feet tall), and his legs were broken and folded up under him to fit him into his small coffin. He lies with one of his hands stretching slightly out of the casket and in the air. Legend has it that those who touch his finger will have good fortune.

  • As of July 2017, you can no longer touch any of the mummies, so I am lucky to say that I rubbed the Crusader’s finger, before the ban.
  • Nevertheless, a visit to the Crypts to see the historic mummies is a remarkable experience.

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With a Huffin’ and a Puffin’ These Covers Will Blow You Away

[Above: Book covers for Puffin Story Books published in 1951. Gloria Freedman’s front and back cover (The Secret Garden) and John Harwood’s covers for Fairy Tales From the Isle of Man.]

Four years after Australian paperback publisher Penguin Books had been founded by Sir Allen Lane, the idea for Puffin Books was hatched. In 1939, Noel Carrington (an editor for Country Life books), met Lane and proposed a series of children’s non-fiction picture books; inspired by the brightly coloured lithographed books, mass-produced at the time for Soviet children. Lane saw the potential and the first of the picture book series were published the following year.

The name “Puffin” was a natural companion to the existing Penguin and Pelican books. Many continued to be reprinted right into the 1970s. A fiction list soon followed when Puffin secured the paperback rights to Barbara Euphan Todd’s 1936 story Worzel Gummidge and brought it out as the first Puffin Story (PS) book in 1941, which was illustrated by John Harwood.

John Harwood illustrated 11 books for Puffin paperbacks including:

  • Baby Puffin (BP) books Puffin Rhymes (BP3) and The Old Woman and Her Pig (BP4)
  • Junior (J) books – Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp (J1)
  • Puffin Picture Books (PP) A Christmas Manger (PP103) and The Yuletide Cottage (PP107)
  • Puffin Story (PS) books including Worzel Gummidge (PS1); My Friend Mr Leakey by JBS Haldane (PS16); No Other White Men by Julia Davis (PS29); Worzel Gummidge and Saucy Nancy by Barbara Euphan Todd (PS30); Fairy Tales From the Isle of Man by Dora Broome (PS59); and A Moor of Spain by Richard Parker (PS78).

Gloria Freedman illustrated two Puffin Story books:

  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson-Burnett (PS69); and
  • A Puffin Book of Verse compiled by Eleanor Graham (PS72).

Many well-known illustrators and artists illustrated covers for Puffin including Charles Tunniliffe, Ronald Searle and Edward Ardizzone.

“with a huff and a puff I’ll blow your covers away”

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Bathing or Resting But Never Protesting

[Francois Boucher The Surprised Bather (1736) and Diana Resting After Leaving Her Bath]

French Rococo style artist Pompidour François Boucher was born in Paris on 29 September 1703, the son of lace designer Nicolas Boucher.

Boucher is known for his idyllic and voluptuous paintings on classical themes, reflecting inspiration gained from artists such as Watteau and Rubens. His early work celebrates the idyllic and tranquil; portraying nature and landscape with great élan.

  • Typical of the French Rococo style, Boucher was a court painter at the time of Louis XV and enjoyed the patronage of Madame de Pompadour.
  • His art portrayed scenes with a definitive style of eroticism and his mythological scenes were considered passionate and intimately amorous.
  • Along with his painting, Boucher also designed theatre costumes and sets, closely parallel his own style of painting.

Boucher died on 30 May, 1770, in Paris.

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