Kupka in Cocorico

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As noted yesterday, Czech artist František Kupka produced a cover for French magazine Cocorico together with this handful of interior illustrations, all of which date from around 1900. Kupka was living in Paris at the time, and several of these drawings reflect his connections to the Symbolist movement. I’ve posted his Poe illustration before but everything else here is new to me. The most striking piece is Terre de Songe (Land of Dreams) which illustrates a text piece with the same title. Kupka aficionados will recognise this as a variation on a print he made in 1903, Resistance, or The Black Idol, a drawing which today seems to be his most popular (or most visible) work. I’ve wondered a few times whether a tiny speck visible in The Black Idol was meant to be a human figure, something which Terre de Songe confirms. A fantastic drawing in all senses of the word.

The four pictures which follow Terre de Songe are less impressive, a series of double-page satirical drawings whose obscure meaning isn’t helped by their being folded into the centre of the magazine. They’re included here for the sake of completeness.

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Magic.

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The Conqueror Worm (after Edgar Allan Poe).

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Land of Dreams.

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Cocorico covers

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Alphonse Mucha.

For a while now I’ve been waiting for several French journals of the fin de siècle to turn up online but humour magazine Cocorico has never been among them. I knew that Alphonse Mucha had contributed a handful of covers and some other graphics to Cocorico, notably the frontispiece (below) which ran in every issue. What I didn’t realise was that this title was effectively the French counterpart to Jugend magazine which had been running for two years when the first issue of Cocorico appeared in December 1898. Both magazines share the same mix of humorous articles, cartoons, serious art pieces and poetry, all connected by some very fine Art Nouveau graphics.

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Alphonse Mucha.

Jugend has the edge when it comes to the graphics, some of which are very strange, but Cocorico looks much more like a humour magazine to contemporary eyes, with many cartoons that resemble those drawn today. Cocorico is also mostly free of the Jugend brand of satire which is often little more than nationalist rabble-rousing. Cocorico ran for 63 issues to 1902 by which time its format had changed and the florid graphics had been abandoned for a more sober layout. What follows is a selection of cover designs, many of which are Mucha’s work, and all of which follow the Jugend template of varying the art style and title design. There’s also one by František Kupka (or François as he was credited here) who also contributed interior illustrations in the later issues. There’ll be more about him tomorrow.

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Alphonse Mucha.

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Le Cantique des Cantiques

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An oddity from the career of František Kupka, Le Cantique des Cantiques (1905) in this version is a stage presentation of the Song of Solomon by Jean de Bonnefon. Kupka provided a series of illustrations in a style similar to his Symbolist paintings which in the original printing are decorated with coloured borders. The copies here are from a bad scan at Gallica whose page I’ve been unable to find again. For the moment there are better copies to be seen at eBay. The drama is very much oriented towards the sexual exotica which Oscar Wilde had rendered notorious in Salomé, and which underpins so many of the obsessions of the period. A few years after this Kupka was in a different world entirely, following new directions into abstract art.

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Symbolist cinema

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Symbolist? Arguably. Decadent? Certainly. Watching Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (1992) again this weekend I thought it worth making note of some of these resonances. The real age of Symbolist cinema was the Silent Era from around 1910 onwards, something I discussed in more detail here. That being so, several films made since can be taken as Symbolist (more usually Decadent) productions even if this was never their original intention. Kenneth Anger‘s Magic Lantern Cycle comes immediately to mind, so too Sergei Parajanov’s The Colour of Pomegranates.

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Bram Stoker’s novel was published in 1897 at the ebbing of the fin de siècle but vampires and vampirism were already recurrent Symbolist themes. Aesthetic magus Walter Pater wrote of the Mona Lisa in 1893, “She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave…” Dracula almost demands a Symbolist interpretation, and for now Coppola’s production is the closest we get. I’ve found this makes the film more satisfying in a way: you can ignore the shoddy performances by secondary characters and concentrate on the decor and details (and the tremendous score by Wojciech Kilar). Some of the following screen grabs argue my point.

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Oh look, peacock feathers. I loved the artificiality of this film, the excessive palette, the obvious models and miniatures, the layering of images. The dissolve from a peacock feather to Jonathan Harker’s infernal train journey is a great moment.

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Illustrating Poe #5: Among the others

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The Conqueror Worm (c. 1900) by František Kupka.

Poe’s illustrators are legion, you could easily devote an entire blog to nothing but depictions of his stories and poems. By way of rounding off this week of posts I thought I’d point to some of the works which have caught my attention over the years, several of them being obscure enough to warrant further investigation.

František Kupka’s drawing is, as far as I can gather, one of a series based on Poe’s poem; this seems to be a related piece. As with many Symbolists artists, you can spend a great deal of time scouring the available resources to find more of their work. We’re told that one of Kupka’s more well-known paintings, The Way of Silence (1903), was inspired by the poem Dream-land.

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Berenice (1905) by Alberto Martini.

Alberto Martini (1876–1954) is a fascinating artist whose work bridges the decline of Symbolism and the rise of Surrealism. He’s also another talent whose work is woefully underrepresented on the web so let’s hope that changes soon. Wikipedia describes him as having produced 135 Poe illustrations of which only a small handful are visible online, and most of the ones that are go unlabelled. I know this one is for Berenice since I have it in a book but any Poe reader should guess the title from those blazing teeth. A few more of Martini’s drawings can be seen here.

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