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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

The art of Edmond van Offel, 1871–1959

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Edmond van Offel was a Belgian artist who Philippe Jullian features in two of his books about Symbolist art but whose work I’d not seen anywhere else—at least until now. All the pictures here are from a collection published in Paris in 1902 which may be the one Jullian used for his selections. The book contains both Jullian drawings together with a great deal of other work comprising illustrations, vignettes, bookplates and also some of the artist’s writings. Offel’s combination of detailed line-work and attenuated figures is reminiscent of Charles Ricketts who may have been an influence.

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Symbolist Temptations

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The Temptation of St Anthony (1883) by Fernand Khnopff.

This should really be more Symbolist Temptations since Odilon Redon belongs among these artists. Redon may have devoted more of his time than anyone else to the saint’s travails but other artists also took up the theme. Fernand Khnopff seldom depicted religious subjects but his painting—an early work—is remarkable for the way it reduces the phantasmagoric pageants of previous centuries to a simple face-to-face confrontation.

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The Temptation of St Anthony (1878) by Félicien Rops.

Félicien Rops, on the other hand, can always be relied upon to be vulgar and blasphemous in equal measure. The Devil lurking behind the cross was probably added to balance the composition but that silly expression makes the picture seem more comical than shocking. Similar skull-faced cherubs may be found in other Rops prints.

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Odilon Redon’s Temptations

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Saint-Antoine: Au secours, mon Dieu! (Saint Anthony: Help me, O my God!)

St. Anthony and his temptations provide another connection between the Surrealists and the Symbolists via Gustave Flaubert and his phantasmagoric drama. Flaubert’s The Temptation of St Anthony (1874) doesn’t quite stand in relation to the art of the time as does Oscar Wilde’s Salomé but, with its predominant themes of sex, death and spiritual transcendence, it both suited and pre-empted the concerns of the Decadence. Odilon Redon was particularly taken with the book, and from 1888 to 1896 produced three sets of lithograph illustrations. The examples here are from the final set of 24 images. A few of these are the ones you see most often in Symbolist studies, often in poor reproductions, but the other sets have some memorable moments. What’s most notable about all the drawings is how little the saint appears in them, Redon choosing to depict either the visions or the subjects of Flaubert’s philosophical discussions. See the complete set here.

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Et partout ce sont des Colonnes de basalte, … la lumière tombe des voûtes (And on every side are columns of basalt, … the light falls from the vaulted roof)

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Mes baisers ont le gout d’un fruit qui se fondrait dans ton cœur! … Tu me dédaignes! Adieu! (My kisses have the taste of fruit which would melt in your heart! … You distain me! Farewell!)

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Des fleurs tombent, et la tête d’un python paraît (Flowers fall and the head of a python appears)

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Temptations

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Exhibition catalogue.

In one of the many recent features about Leonora Carrington I noticed a mention of her Temptation of St Anthony painting from 1945 (see below). This was one of eleven works on the theme submitted by different artists for a competition staged to promote Albert Lewin’s The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947), a film adaptation of the Guy de Maupassant novel. Carrington is often mentioned when this competition is discussed, along with the other big names, Max Ernst (the winner) and Salvador Dalí. But you seldom see mention of any of the other competitors, hence this post, an attempt to find all of the competition entries.

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Leonora Carrington. St. Anthony is often shown with a pig companion but only Carrington depicted the animal for this competition. When asked why the saint had three heads, she replied “Why not?”

Albert Lewin didn’t make many films but he had a predilection for arty subjects, The Private Affairs of Bel Ami being preceded by adaptations of The Moon and Sixpence (1942) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). All three films star George Sanders, and all feature special colour sequences when a painting is revealed. 1945 was the peak of America’s brief infatuation with Surrealism (Hitchcock had Dalí working on Spellbound at this time) so Lewin asked a number of Surrealists to take up the challenge. I was surprised to find that Stanley Spencer was one of the entrants, a name you almost never see in this company; less surprising was Ivan Albright whose painting of the decayed Dorian Gray is one of the highlights of Lewin’s earlier film. Leonor Fini was also asked to take part but she didn’t produce anything. The judges were Marcel Duchamp, Alfred J. Barr, Jr, director of the Museum of Modern Art, and art dealer Sidney Janis. Ernst won a cash prize variously reported as $2500–3000, while the other entrants received smaller sums. The paintings toured the USA and Britain during 1946–7.

As to the film, I can’t say what this is like because it’s one I’ve yet to see but Self-Styled Siren’s witty review goes into some detail. Hollywood apparently had problems with the adult subject matter (Sanders’ character is described as a sexually predatory social climber), and Lewin was forced to tone things down.

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Ivan Albright.

Albright’s contribution is so frenzied and detailed it approaches psychedelia. Best seen in this large view at Flickr.

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Weekend links 255

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The Owls by Carlo Farneti for a 1935 edition of Les Fleurs du Mal. Via Beautiful Century although the scans probably came originally from 50 Watts.

• “…a project that seemed under a curse comprising greed, peculiar French copyright laws, jealousies and grudges, bad judgment, complicated ownership disagreements, a messy estate, and a list of individuals who believed they had some legal, financial, moral, or artistic right to the film itself.” Josh Karp on the tangled history of The Other Side of the Wind, always the most interesting of Orson Welles’ unfinished feature films.

• Producer Conny Plank is remembered for his work with a host of German artists but he also recorded a session with Duke Ellington and His Orchestra in 1970. Grönland Records is releasing the session in July, and they’ve posted Afrique (take 3 vocal) as a taster.

• “And that’s what a lot of social media by authors is starting to look like, to feel like: being smacked in the face, repeatedly, by hundreds of fish.” Delilah S. Dawson wants authors to leave off the incessant self-promotion.

“In everybody, there is an inner bestiary,” she claimed, and her pictures are overrun with animals and animal-headed creatures; sometimes sinister, sometimes acting as guides to the unconscious, as in The Pomps of the Subsoil (1947). As her interests grew more hermetic her paintings abandoned all trace of the world beyond. If the figures occupy any sort of space it’s rarely more than the planes of a room in muted browns or greys, and in many the surface is overlaid with geometric patterns that seem to imply some mystical framework.

Alice Spawls on the art and life of Leonora Carrington

• “How a pro-domme, a Russian diplomat, US intelligence and Mary Tyler Moore’s landscaper conspired to create a dance classic.” Dave Tompkins on The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight.

• “Battersea, in fact, is a fairly simple climb, made ready by the builders who are destroying it.” Katherine Rundell on climbing Battersea Power Station at night.

• Mixes of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 148 by Mlada Fronta, and The Ivy-Strangled Path, Volume V, by David Colohan.

Erté illustrates a gay romance in Lytton Strachey’s Ermyntrude and Esmeralda (1913 but not published until 1969).

• Dangerous Minds looks back at “The most unusual magazine ever published”, Man, Myth & Magic.

David Chase on the writing, directing and editing of the final scene of The Sopranos.

Magic Man (1969) by Caravan | The Myth (1982) by Giorgio Moroder | Magick Power (1987) by Opal

 


 




 

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Penda's Fen by David Rudkin