Typefaces of the occult revival

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Man, Myth & Magic #1, January 1970; McCall’s, March 1970.

The announcement last week of the death of British character actor Geoffrey Bayldon prompted some discussion here about the typeface used for the titles of Bayldon’s TV series from the early 1970s, Catweazle. This was a humorous drama in which the actor portrayed a warlock transplanted by a time portal from the Norman era to the present day, a comic counterpart to another occult-themed series, Ace of Wands (1970–72). Being aimed at children, both Catweazle and Ace of Wands are at the lighter end of the great flourishing of occult-related media that runs in parallel with the rise and fall of psychedelic culture, a period roughly spanning the years 1965 to 1975. The two trends reflected and fed off each other; the hippie movement stimulated interest in the occult (Aleister Crowley is on the cover of Sgt Pepper) while giving to the commercial propagators of the supernatural a range of aesthetics lifted from the 19th century.

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Muller, 1972; TIME, June 1972.

Among the graphic signifiers is a small collection of typefaces from the Victorian or Edwardian eras, designs which vanished from sight after 1920 only to surface 50 years later in very different settings to their previous deployment. I’m always fascinated by the way context changes the perception of a typeface, and the repurposing of Art Nouveau fonts—which hadn’t previously been associated with diabolism—to signify witchcraft or sorcery is a good example of this. In the case of the occult revival this was partly opportunism: the commercial application of post-psychedelic style made the previously untouchable trendy again, decoration and elaborate stylisation was no longer taboo. But it was also a solution to the problem of signifying the sorcerous with typography when there were no off-the-peg solutions as there were for, say, Westerns or stories about the Space Race. As well as carrying with them a flavour of old books, some of the more curious letterforms were reminiscent of the glyphs of magical alphabets which no doubt explains their popularity.

What follows is a chronological selection of the more striking examples (or my favourites…) which conveniently begins with Ringlet, the Catweazle font. With the trend being towards Art Nouveau you find popular Nouveau styles such as Arnold Bocklin also being used in the 1970s but I’ve avoided these in favour of the less common choices.

Ringlet (1882) by Hermann Ihlenburg

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Pall Mall, 1971.

Jullian’s landmark study of the Symbolist movement isn’t an occult text but it is a great favourite of mine whose original title—Esthètes et Magiciens—puts it in the right sphere. Inside, the author touches on the spiritual concerns of many of the artists which included Theosophy and fashionable Satanism.

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Duckworth, 1973.

Aleister Crowley is represented here with the first reprinting of his erotic poetry, produced in a limited run by the venerable London house of Duckworth.

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Rise Above Records, 2016.

Blood Ceremony are Canadians devoted to the occult rock of previous decades. Their presentation matches songs with titles like The Great God Pan and Morning Of The Magicians.

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Weekend links 259

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The Endlessness (2012) by Emma Bennett.

• “Clearly if you’re familiar with The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin you’ve got a leg up on what Rivette and company are up to. […] Like all Rivette works, it’s obsessed with the interrelationship between theater and life—reality and fantasy.” David Ehrenstein makes Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 sound even more intriguing. The 729-minute film is being reissued later this year.

• “It’s all your artistic friends. They frighten me…they seem evil, somehow—somehow unhealthy. And when you’re with them, dear, you change…” Steven Cordova reviews To the Dark Tower (1946), the debut novel by gay writer Francis King.

• “Sex isn’t a subtext in The Bloody Chamber, but the text itself. (Carter would explain that she was only making explicit a ‘latent content’ that is ‘violently sexual.’)” Laura Miller on Angela Carter’s re-told fairy tales.

Yet, as a citizen, and especially as an artist, [Chimamanda Ngozi] Adichie refuses to censor herself. “There is already enough silencing in public discourse,” says Adichie, and this is certainly true when the topic is race, and especially when the conversation is in America. It is our addiction to comfort that demands our silence regarding certain truths. Too often in America, Adichie claimed, “the goal of public discourse is comfort, not truth.” Comfort, Adichie said, also demands “international digestibility,” a reduction of complicated stories to a simple narrative. In the lecture, Adichie also warned of the silencing that is sometimes a product of social media outrage.

Kay Iguh on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture at the PEN World Voices Festival

• New books: The Strangers and Other Writings by Robert Aickman, and Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesús Franco by Stephen Thrower & Julian Grainger.

• The world is rediscovering Mad Max and George Miller’s prowess for action cinema so Anne Billson posted a transcript of her 1985 interview with the director.

• Mixes of the week: Dmytro Fedorenko presents artists from Ukrainian record label Kvitnu, and The Ivy-Strangled Path Vol. VII by David Colohan.

Assault on Precinct 13 goes disco: The End (John Anthony’s New Scratch Mix) (1983) by “John Carpenter” (The Splash Band).

John Coltrane talked to Frank Kofsky for an hour in November 1966.

• Sleazy Cinema: A guide to Peter Christopherson‘s music videos.

Six hours of women in electronic music.

The weird world of Alfred Kubin.

Giallo Magic Orchestra

Blood (1972) by Annette Peacock | Blood On The Moon (1981) by Chrome | Blood From The Air (1986) by Coil

New Life for the Decadents by Philippe Jullian

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This essay by cult writer Philippe Jullian appeared in an edition of the Observer colour supplement in 1971, shortly after Jullian’s chef d’oeuvre, Dreamers of Decadence, had been published in Britain. Esthètes et Magiciens (1969), as Jullian’s study was titled in France, was instrumental in raising the profile of the many Symbolist artists whose work had been either disparaged or ignored since the First World War. A year after the Observer piece, the Hayward Gallery in London staged a major exhibition of Symbolist art with an emphasis on the paintings of Gustave Moreau; Jullian alludes to the exhibition in his article, and also wrote the foreword to the catalogue. His Observer article is necessarily shorter and less detailed than his introductory essay, emphasising the reader-friendly “Decadence” over the more evasive “Symbolist”. But as a primer to a mysterious and neglected area of art the piece would have served its purpose for a general reader.

Many thanks to Nick for the recommendation, and to Alistair who went to the trouble of providing high-res scans that I could run through the OCR. The translators of the article, Francis King and John Haylock, had previously translated Jullian’s biography of Robert de Montesquiou.

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New Life for the Decadents

The end of the nineteenth century was the Age of Decadence in the arts. The painters of that time (who have since influenced Pop art) and poets (echoed in pop songs) are back in favour: Philippe Jullian, chronicler of the Decadent period, explains why.

AS THE nineteenth century drew to a close, a number of the finer spirits of the time wondered if progress, increasing mechanisation and democratic aspirations were fulfilling their promises. Horrified by the direction in which Western civilisation was moving, they called themselves “The Decadents” in protest against a society that was too organised, an art that was too academic and a literature that was too realistic.

The Decadents produced some delightful symbolist poets, particularly Belgian and Austrian; at least one musician of genius, Debussy; and a number of painters who, having been despised for many years, are now at last beginning to be admired by a generation surfeited with Impressionists in museums and abstract paintings in galleries.

The genius of these Decadent painters, like that of the Decadent poets, only came to full bloom in the 1890s, when they themselves were in their twenties. Never were painting, music and poetry so close to one another. The gods of the Decadents were primarily Wagner and Baudelaire, then Swinburne and Poe. The Decadent movement, so active all over Europe, turned towards two great sources of inspiration: the Pre-Raphaelites, and a French painter whose glory was for a while eclipsed by the Impressionists but who is now once again accorded his place among the great—Gustave Moreau.

The women whom the Decadents loved and of whom they dreamt resembled the women created 30 years previously by Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Moreau.

Nothing could be more naturalistic than the artistic style elaborated by the Pre-Raphaelites in the middle of the nineteenth century. Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s model, inspiration, mistress and finally wife was the sweet and sad Elizabeth Siddal, on whom so many fin-de-siècle ladies had to model themselves on the Continent as did all the aesthetic ladies of England in the 1880s. She posed for Rossetti as Beatrix and as the Belle Dame sans Merci.

She was a rare spirit, about whom everything was nebulous and evanescent: the thick, wild hair; the tunic of a simplicity to challenge the elaboration of the crinolines then in vogue; the frail hands burdened with lilies; the gaze turned towards eternity. She also posed, fully dressed and lying in a bath, her hair outspread around her bloodless face, as Ophelia for another Pre-Raphaelite, Millais. Elizabeth died of pulmonary tuberculosis in 1862.

A macabre episode, which might have been imagined by Poe, was the exhumation of a sheaf of Rossetti’s poems that had been buried in Elizabeth Siddal’s coffin. When this symbol of the New Woman died, the grief-stricken poet had insisted on placing the poems inspired by her under her long hair before the coffin was sealed.

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Beata Beatrix (1864–1870) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

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Philippe Jullian, connoisseur of the exotic

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Monsieur Jullian as seen on the back cover of Dreamers of Decadence (1971).

Here at last is the long-promised (and long!) piece about the life and work of Philippe Jullian (1919–1977), a French writer and illustrator who’s become something of a cult figure of mine in recent years. Why the fascination? First and foremost because at the end of the 1960s he wrote Esthètes et Magiciens, or Dreamers of Decadence as it’s known to English readers, a book which effectively launched the Symbolist art revival and which remains the best introduction to Symbolist art and the aesthetic hothouse that was the 1890s. If I had to choose five favourite books Dreamers of Decadence would always be on the list. This point of obsession, and Philip Core’s account of the writer, made me curious about the rest of Jullian’s career.

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left: An illustration from Wilson & Jullian’s For Whom the Cloche Tolls (1953). “Tata has called these his Krafft-Ebbing (sic) pictures of his friend Kuno, whatever that means.”

Philip Core was friends with Philippe Jullian, and Core’s essential Camp: The Lie that Tells the Truth (1984) has Jullian as one of its dedicatees. It’s to Core’s appraisal that we have to turn for details of the man’s life. There is an autobiography, La Brocante (1975), but, like a number of other Jullian works, this doesn’t seem to have been translated and my French is dismally pauvre. Core’s piece begins:

Philippe Jullian, born to the intellectual family of Bordeaux Protestants which produced the well-known French historian, Camille Jullian, was a last and lasting example of pre-war camp. His career began as an artist in Paris with a reputation for drag-acts parodying English spinsters. Snobbery, a talent for sensitive daydreaming, and a consuming passion for antiques, obscure art and social history, made a very different figure out of the thin and dreamy young man. Jullian suffered terribly during the Second World War; he managed to survive by visiting some disapproving cousins dressed as a maiden aunt, whom they were happy to feed. However, he made a mark in the world of Violet Trefusis, Natalie Barney and Vita Sackville-West by illustrating their books with his wiry and delicate doodles; this led to a social connection in England, where he produced many book jackets and covers for Vogue throughout the 1950s.

Having only seen Jullian in his besuited and bespectacled guise it’s difficult to imagine him dragged up, but the cross-dressing interest is apparent in his humorous collaboration with Angus Wilson and in a later novel, Flight into Egypt. As for the wiry and delicate doodles, they’re very much of their time, in style often resembling a less-assured Ronald Searle. One early commission in 1945 was for the first of what would become a celebrated series of artist labels for Château Mouton Rothschild. Later cover illustrations included a run for Penguin Books some of which can be found at Flickr.

Philip Core continues the story:

Elegant in the austerely tweedy way the French imagine to be English, Jullian exploited his very considerable talents as a writer, producing a series of camp novels throughout the 1950s (Scraps, Milord) which deal frankly but amusingly with the vicissitudes of handsome young men and face-lifted ladies, grey-haired antique dealers and criminals. One of the first to reconsider Symbolist painting, Jullian reached an enormous public in the 1960s with his gorgeous book, Dreamers of Decadence – where an encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre and its accompanying literature helped to create the boom in fin de siècle revivalism among dealers and museums.

An acerbic wit accompanied this vast worldly success; always docile to duchesses, Jullian could easily remark to a hostess who offered him a chocolate and cream pudding called Nègre en chemise, “I prefer them without.” Less kindly, to a gay friend who objected to Jullian’s poodles accompanying them into a country food shop by saying “Think where their noses have been”, he could also retort “Yes, that’s what I think whenever I see you kiss your mother.”

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