A Czech Machen

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Cover art is a detail from A Woman on a Path by a Cottage (1882) by John Atkinson Grimshaw.

The fiction of Arthur Machen doesn’t inspire a great deal of illustration, probably because his best writing is more concerned with the description of particular places and the feelings those places evoke, rather than the depiction of illustratable scenes or events. I did make the attempt myself, however, when I started a series of illustrations in 1990 that were intended for a Savoy Books edition of The White People. This never materialised for a variety of reasons, and I never finished the series of drawings although the work did yield one picture (below), that I’ve always been pleased with.

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Some of these drawings may now be seen in Temnota nepomíjí, an edition of Machen’s stories from Czech publisher, Malvern, almost all of which are appearing for the first time in translation. I’m told by the translator, Patrik Linhart, that the title in English would be “Darkness is undying”. As for the cover art, I approve the choice of John Atkinson Grimshaw, a painter whose sombre, autumnal views could cover an entire series of Machen books. His work is often seen today in connection with MR James but being a predominantly urban artist his work seems a better match for the Apostle of Wonder.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Ibrahim Ineke’s The White People
The White People
The Bowmen by Arthur Machen
Rex Ingram’s The Magician
The Great God Pan

Weekend links 501

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Cover art by Michael Ashman, 1979.

• RIP Terry Jones, not only a writer, actor and director but also a presenter of the BBC’s short-lived Paperbacks series in 1981, a programme that included Angela Carter among its guests. Related: The Box (1981), a short film directed by Micky Dolenz, based on a play by Terry Jones and Michael Palin.

• “[David] Lynch in a suit and tie that echoes the formal dress of Twin Peaks’ FBI Agent Cooper, presses a small capuchin monkey, called Jack Cruz, to confess to the murder of Max.” What Did Jack Do?

• The week in Ghost Box: Flying Lotus and Julian House collaborate on a promo for the Moog Subsequent 25 synthesizer, while at Grave Goods Jim Jupp answers questions from beyond.

Bruce Sterling: “This is an essay about lists of moral principles for the creators of Artificial Intelligence. I collect these lists, and I have to confess that I find them funny.”

• A campaign to protect and maintain Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage.

• Winners of the Wiki Loves Monuments 2019 photo competition.

• Mix of the week: Sehnsucht by The Ephemeral Man.

• Susan Schulten on Emma Willard’s Maps of Time.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Roland Topor’s Brains.

• At Strange Flowers: 20 books for 2020.

Beat Box (1984) by Art Of Noise | Glory Box (1994) by Portishead | Black Box (1995) by Scorn

L’Autoportrait d’un Pornographe

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L’Autoportrait d’un Pornographe (1972) is a short film co-written by director Robert Swaim and Roland Topor in which Topor’s Surrealist cruelties and black humour are tempered to present a sardonic and sentimental tribute to a dying breed, the small-time Parisian pornographer. Daniel Langlet is the photographer who also sells his views of unclothed women from a coat whose lining is pocketed with prints.

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Swaim and Topor compare this declining trade to the vanished street merchants of the city; the film dates from a time when “le sex shop” was a new arrival on the streets of Paris, and a competitor with which a purveyor of black-and-white soft porn could never hope to compete. Topor himself makes a cameo appearance, and there’s a possible reference to Cocteau’s Orphée (and another vanishing trade) in the glass cutter we see in the street.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Les Temps Morts by René Laloux

Weekend links 500

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Projet onirique (tombeau pour un poète) (1901) by Henry Provensal.

• “20 years later, Sexy Beast remains something of an oddity…It offers a deconstruction of the genre, which is then reconstructed to marry the unhinged, convulsive beauty of surrealism with sturdy, universal storytelling.” Thomas H. Sheriff looks back at Jonathan Glazer’s debut feature.

Blau Gers, a new piece by The Alvaret Ensemble: Greg Haines (piano), Jan Kleefstra (voice, poems), Romke Kleefstra (guitar, bass and effects) and Sytze Pruiksma (percussion).

Wendy Carlos: A Biography by Amanda Sewell, the first study of the life and work of the electronic composer, is out in March.

The prejudice against writing sex in Anglo-American literature is something that utterly baffles me. What a bizarre thing it is to claim that this central, profound territory of human life is off-limits to literary or artistic representation. Sex seems to me one of the densest and most intense human phenomena, one of the things I find it hardest to think about—and so something I want to think about in art. The biggest surprise to me about the reception of my first book—other than the fact of there being any reception at all—was how much discussion there was about the sex in it. There isn’t very much sex in it! It said something about the culture of mainstream publishing in America in 2016 that a novel with maybe three or four pages of explicit sex between men could seem surprising.

Garth Greenwell talking to Ilya Kaminsky about literature and life

• Some (but not all) of the museums of Paris have made thousands of artworks available for free online.

• The Work of Fate: AS Hamrah introduces a screening of Jean Cocteau’s Orphée.

La Labyrinthèque: Histoire de l’art jouissive & enchantements littéraires.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins on the art of the (book) cover.

Tom Huddleston on 10 great stressful films.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Malcolm Le Grice Day.

François de Nomé’s Imaginary Ruins.

Sexy Sadie (1968) by The Beatles | Sexy Photograph (1995) by Ui | Sexy Boy (1998) by Air

Aubrey fakery

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Cover of Fifty Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley (1920).

I’ve long been fascinated by fakes and forgeries especially those one finds in the art world, when the ability to imitate another artist’s work succumbs to the temptation to defraud. Artistic forgeries succeed best when there are convenient gaps in an artist’s career, and when the historical record is vague enough to plausibly allow the existence of a lost or neglected work. The fake Aubrey Beardsley drawings that were presented by HS Nichols to the New York art world in 1919 are unusual for offending both these criteria. Beardsley and his work will be subject to renewed attention in March when Tate Britain stages the largest exhibition of his drawings for 50 years, and it was news of this that reminded me of the Nichols fakes. I know the drawings from an appendix in The Collected Works of Aubrey Beardsley (1967), edited by Bruce S. Harris, which presents almost everything that Nichols published in a subscriber-only collection, Fifty Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley, in 1920. Nichols had been in the Beardsley milieu in the London of the 1890s, and was for a short time a partner of Leonard Smithers, the publisher and pornographer who not only published Beardsley’s later works along with The Savoy magazine, but also commissioned the notoriously “obscene” Lysistrata drawings. Smithers was, by Victorian standards, a scoundrel, but also an aesthete, whereas Nichols seems to lack any redeeming qualities. One of the curators of the Tate exhibition, Stephen Calloway, describes Nichols in his 1998 study, Aubrey Beardsley, as “scurrilous”, and provides an account of the Nichols fakes:

That Beardsley’s style was more or less inimitable was sadly proved by almost all those, and there were many, who attempted to fake his work. From the period immediately after the First World War, at a time when AE Callatin and a number of other American collectors were beginning, really for the first time, to make Beardsley originals more valuable, forgeries began to abound. In 1919 a celebrated fraud was attempted when HS Nichols reappeared on the scene, claiming to have an important and sizeable cache of previously unknown Beardsley drawings. They were put on a show in New York. Considerable excitement was generated, especially when doubts about the authenticity of the works began to be voiced in several important quarters.

Denounced as fakes by Callatin, Joseph Pennell and other connoisseurs, these hopelessly inept specimens of the forger’s pen were vigorously defended by Nichols, who claimed in the New York Evening Post, “I know a great deal more about Beardsley than either Mr Pennell or Mr Callatin, but I absolutely decline to make known to the world what I do know”. In fact, he claimed to have had more intimate dealings with the artist than even his erstwhile partner Smithers. The drawings, fifty in number, were published in an expensively produced album, like the Van Meegeren Vermeers; it is difficult now, with hindsight, to see how anyone could possibly have been taken in even then. But, in spite of a useful essay on How to Detect Beardsley Forgeries by the great Beardsley scholar RA Walker, which specifically alludes to these efforts at deception, examples from this very group and others of their like still circulate and surface from time to time.

The note in the Harris book refers to a dismissal of the fakes by Oliver Brenning in the September 1919 edition of Vanity Fair, an article which may be read here (PDF). As for the Nichols book, this turned up recently at the Internet Archive so it’s now possible to see all the fakes in one place. Whoever was responsible for the Nichols drawings (I’ve seen Nichols himself credited) isn’t merely a bad imitator but is also a bad artist, with many of the drawings being remarkably graceless and inept. Beardsley’s art, especially his early work, is often grotesque (“I am nothing if I am not grotesque,” he once said) but it is never ugly. When they’re not being ugly the Nichols fakes assault one’s credulity by showing a pair of young women wearing clothes of a style unknown in the 1890s (Plate 15: “The Twins”), or plagiarising Alphonse Mucha (Plate 49: “Design for a Church Window”). I haven’t checked but I think another of the drawings may be a copy of a piece by Eugène Grasset.

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Whistler by unknown artist (not by Aubrey Beardsley, despite the signature).

Stephen Calloway is correct when he says that the fakes continue to circulate today, mechanical (and digital) reproduction having given them a life they really don’t deserve. (This post might be accused of extending that lifespan.) The Whistler portrait above is one of the more convincing examples which no doubt explains why it was credited to Beardsley in Nick Meglin’s The Art of Humorous Illustration (1973), a book from a reputable New York publisher, Watson-Guptil.

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When Virago published Keynotes & Discords by George Egerton in 1995 they used another of the fakes on the cover. This was particularly ironic when Egerton’s stories had been first published in John Lane’s Keynotes series, a line of books that not only took their name from the first Egerton volume but which were illustrated by Beardsley himself. The worst example of proliferation I’ve seen in print was the Beardsley postcard book published by Taschen in the 1990s which scattered the Nichols fakes among genuine Beardsleys, thus ensuring that the uninitiated would continue to litter the world with the things. Today we have Pinterest, home of the erroneous credit. I doubt the Tate exhibition will draw any attention to the fakes but now that Nichols’ book is online it’s easier for those who suspect an attribution to assuage (or confirm) their suspicions.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Under the Hill by Aubrey Beardsley
Aubrey Beardsley and His World
After Beardsley by Ryan Cho
Aubrey Beardsley’s Keynotes
Antony Little’s echoes of Aubrey
Aubrey in LIFE
Beardsley reviewed
Aubrey Beardsley in The Studio
Ads for The Yellow Book
Beardsley and His Work
Further echoes of Aubrey
A Wilde Night
Echoes of Aubrey
After Beardsley by Chris James
Illustrating Poe #1: Aubrey Beardsley
Beardsley’s Rape of the Lock
The Savoy magazine
Beardsley at the V&A
Merely fanciful or grotesque
Aubrey Beardsley’s musical afterlife
Aubrey by John Selwyn Gilbert
“Weirdsley Daubery”: Beardsley and Punch
Alla Nazimova’s Salomé