Weekend links 523

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One of Ian Miller‘s drawings from the illustrated edition of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, 1979.

• “I always said we were kind of an electronic punk band, really. We were never New Romantics, I don’t like it when we get lumped in with that.” Dave Ball of Soft Cell and The Grid talking to Duncan Seaman about his autobiography, Electronic Boy: My Life In and Out of Soft Cell. I’ll now be waiting impatiently for the unreleased Robert Fripp/Grid album to appear.

• “[Patricia] Highsmith’s writing—often eviscerating, always uncomfortable—has never been more relevant,” says Sarah Hilary.

• Ron Peck’s debut feature, Nighthawks (1978), is “a nuanced look at gay life in London,” says Melissa Anderson.

And then there are those figures who seem to flit around the edges of movements without ever being fully involved in any of them, who pursue their own eccentric paths no matter what is going on around them. These are the writers who make up the secret history of literature, the hidden history that’s not easily reduced to movements or trends, and who always waver on the verge of invisibility until you stumble by accident onto one of their books and realize how good they actually are, and wonder, Why wasn’t I told to read this before? But of course you already know the answer: You were not told because it doesn’t fit smoothly into the story those in authority made up about what literature is—it disrupts, it can’t be reduced to the literary equivalent of a meme.

That’s the kind of writer Pierre Klossowski (1905–2001) is. He is not a joiner. He has his own particular and often peculiar concerns, and pursues them. He does not particularly welcome you in. The content of his writing, too, has the feel of a gnostic text, as if you are reading something that, if only you were properly initiated, you would understand in a different way. In that sense his work has an esoteric or occult quality to it—and likewise in the sense that it returns again and again to the intersection of religion and pornography, the sacred and the profane.

Brian Evenson on The Suspended Vocation by Pierre Klossowski

• Chad Van Gaalen creates a psychedelic animation for Seductive Fantasy by the Sun Ra Arkestra.

• More sneak peeks from the forthcoming The Art Of The Occult by S. Elizabeth.

• More Robert Fripp: Richard Metzger on Fripp’s sui generis solo album, Exposure.

Pamela Hutchinson on the pleasures of David Lynch’s YouTube channel.

• Mix of the week: a second Jon Hassell tribute mix by Dave Maier.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Ferdinand presents…Dark Entries Day.

15 fascinating art documentaries to watch now.

Soft Power by Patten.

• RIP Milton Glaser.

hauntología

Aquarium (1992) by The Grid (with Robert Fripp) | Soft Power (2005) by Ladytron | The Martian Chronicles (2007) by Dimension X

Weekend links 514

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Athanasius Kircher welcoming two guests to the Collegio Romano, a detail from the frontispiece to his Romani Collegii Societatis Jesu Musaeum celeberrimum (1678).

Opium (1919) by Robert Reinert: “A Chinese opium dealer takes revenge on Westerners who have corrupted his wife.” With Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt a year before their pairing in The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari.

Aubrey Beardsley at Tate Britain: in which the gallery thinks that 7 minutes is enough to give us a taste of a major exhibition that we can’t otherwise see.

Joe Pulver (RIP): His Highness in Yellow. A memorial piece that includes artist Michael Hutter talking about his paintings of Carcosa.

Court Mann on the strange history of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, 50 years old this month.

• “Invisible Little Worms”: Athanasius Kircher’s Study of the Plague by John Glassie.

Sophie Monks Kaufman on why literary lesbians are having a moment on screen.

• Photographer Ryan McGinley: “I was taught to believe in Satan. It scared me.”

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Ellen Burstyn Day, and the ghostly novels of WG Sebald.

Dorian Lynskey on where to start with Nina Simone’s back catalogue.

• Wie funktioniert ein Synthesizer? (1972). Bruno Spoerri explains.

• Banham avec Ballard: On style and violence by Mark Dorrian.

John Boardley on the most dangerous book in the world.

Improvisation for Sonic Cure by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

• The Strange World of…JG Thirlwell.

Diet Of Worms (1979) by This Heat | Stomach Worm (1992) by Stereolab | Heartworms (1998) by Coil

ER Herman’s Fables

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I: The Persons of the Tale.

The Fables in question are the short pieces by Robert Louis Stevenson that first appeared in a collected edition in 1896. These illustrations by British artist ER Herman are from a 1914 edition that I hadn’t encountered before until I received an email asking if I knew anything about the artist. I didn’t, and neither does anybody else it seems; Herman’s life and other works are a complete mystery, as are his forenames (he does seem to be a he, however, going by a review in The Bookman). I suspect the ominous date of publication may be a clue: Herman could well have died in the First World War without having the opportunity to publish anything else. On the other hand, a couple of biographical entries have 1890–1930 as birth and death dates, although this makes the absence of other artwork even more striking. And given such vagueness, it’s still possible that ER Herman could have been a woman who gave up her art career to raise a family, as my mother did in the 1950s.

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II: The Sinking Ship.

Regarding the drawings, The Bookman review identifies a Beardsley influence which is immediately evident in the use of pictorial space, the masses of black and white, and the parallel shading lines. So too with the treatment of clothing; Herman’s figures, however, are his (or her) own. It makes a change seeing illustrations for a Stevenson book that isn’t Treasure Island or A Child’s Garden of Verses. Fables includes The Persons of the Tale, a surprisingly early piece of metafiction in which Long John Silver and Captain Smollett briefly step out of the pages of Treasure Island to smoke their pipes and discuss the likely outcome of the story. “But there’s the ink-bottle opening. To quarters!”

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III: The Two Matches.

My thanks to Duncan for alerting me to these drawings which may be seen at a larger size here. If anyone has any details about ER Herman’s life or other work, please leave a comment.

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IV: The Sick Man and the Fireman.

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V: The Devil and the Innkeeper.

Continue reading “ER Herman’s Fables”

Sculptured Melodies by Mera Sett

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Another week, another link to the Internet Archive. It’s hard to resist reporting these discoveries when so many are either surprising, much-needed, or—as in this case—fantastically rare and obscure. Sculptured Melodies (1922) was a book of short stories published privately in Britain in an edition of 500 copies. The possibly pseudonymous author and illustrator, Mera Sett, is so off the map that almost all the available information seems to derive from a series of posts about the book by John Hirschhorn Smith of Side Real Press. (The Internet Archive scan is also from Smith’s own copy of the book.) Each story is inspired by a piece of music, and written “in a decadent style reminiscent of Pierre Louÿs”; Orientalist or Ancient World exotica is the predominant tone.

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Whoever the author was, he (it does at least seem to be a he) illustrated his stories in the post-Beardsley idiom that continued to a feature of publishing in the 1920s. The drawings are very much the work of an enthusiastic amateur, although the same might be said of Sett’s better-known contemporary, Alastair (Hans Henning Voigt), another follower in Beardsley’s wake who compensated for his uneven figure drawing with copious decoration and outrageous costumes. Sett also uses decoration to disguise his shortcomings, borrowing some of Aubrey’s Japonisme peacocks along with other motifs from Persian and Indian art. The latter details suggest an unexplored artistic avenue that blends Beardsley’s black-and-white style with the tableaux of Persian miniatures.

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Continue reading “Sculptured Melodies by Mera Sett”

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