The familiar characters of the Commedia dell’arte—Harlequin, Columbine, Pierrot et al—are depicted here by British illustrator John Austen for The Adventures of Harlequin (1923), a prose recounting by Francis Bickley of events in the life of the trickster character. Or a life… Since Harlequin has only ever been a theatrical archetype Bickley has to employ considerable invention to flesh out the details. The enterprise may be a questionable one but I’m always happy to see another book illustrated by Austen, especially when so many of his illustrated editions remain difficult to find. A Pierrot figure appeared in the first of these, The Little Ape and Other Stories, at a time when Austen’s drawing style was closer to Harry Clarke in its use of decorative detail. His style continued to evolve throughout the 1920s. Here it’s closer to George Barbier, the French artist who drew his own Commedia dell’arte trio when illustrating Michel Fokine’s Carnaval for a ballet portfolio, Designs on the Dances of Vaslav Nijinsky.
Continue reading “John Austen’s Harlequin”
La Belle Dame Sans Merci (1921) by George Barbier.
• “Organic Music Theatre goes beyond jazz into something else entirely—an ecstatic, openhearted melding of cultures. It is the first live recording of Don and Moki’s ‘organic music’ concept, a holistic blend of the arts and education. It is an album that everyone should own, an absolute marvel.” Geeta Dayal on Don and Moki Cherry’s Organic Music Theatre: Festival de jazz de Chateauvallon 1972.
• DJ Food continues his dig into the history of London’s Middle Earth venue with an account of a Magical Mystery Tour that ended up being more mystery than magic.
• The Lamp Magazine is running a Christmas Ghost Story contest with a first prize of publication in the Christmas issue of the magazine, plus $1000.
• Dennis Cooper‘s favourite fiction, poetry, non-fiction, film, art, and internet of 2021 so far. Thanks again for the link here!
• From sport to sex: Louis Staples on how the jockstrap became part of gay culture.
• At Wormwoodiana: Mark Valentine on the weird fiction of AE Coppard.
• “How vinyl records are trying to go green.” Trying…
• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 701 by 40 Winks.
• New music: Rushes Recede by Sarah Davachi.
• Lisa Gerrard‘s favourite music.
• RIP Peter Zinovieff.
• Organic (1982) by Philip Glass | Core (Organic) (1995) by Main | Organic Mango (1996) by HAT
It’s always satisfying when one perennial subject here connects to another. Imaginary Lives is a story collection by Symbolist writer Marcel Schwob that George Barbier lavishly illustrated in a new edition published in 1929. Wikipedia has a précis which conveniently explains the connection:
Imaginary Lives (original French title: Vies imaginaires) is a collection of twenty-two semi-biographical short stories by Marcel Schwob, first published in book form in 1896. Mixing known and fantastical elements, it was one of the first works in the genre of biographical fiction. The book is an acknowledged influence in Jorge Luis Borges’s first book A Universal History of Infamy (1935). Borges also translated the last story “Burke and Hare, Assassins” into Spanish.
This is one of the best of Barbier’s illustrated editions, and the only one which allows him to combine his favoured references to the graphic styles of the ancient world with those of later centuries. The nude figures are also more explicitly detailed than in his earlier drawings, something only seen previously in his illustrations for an overtly erotic title, Les Chansons de Bilitis by Pierre Louÿs. The final full-page illustration is a further departure for the generally light-hearted Barbier, a drawing that so closely resembles something from Edgar Allan Poe it makes me wish he might have attempted a Poe edition of his own.
Empedocles, Supposed God.
Continue reading “George Barbier’s Imaginary Lives”
The haute couture of the 1920s has been the subject of my latest work-related research so I’ve been going through back issues of Gazette du Bon Ton, an expensive French fashion magazine which used pochoir prints of drawings by a variety of illustrators to depict the latest dress designs from Paris. One of the regular Bon Ton contributors was George Barbier (1882–1932), an artist whose work has appeared in several posts here, and who I look for now and then when browsing library archives. Searching for new Barbier may be at an end, however, since the more recent uploads at Gallica include almost all of the books that he illustrated. It’s no surprise that these have turned up eventually—it was only a matter of time—but among the cache there’s a unique item that I’d never have expected to see.
Dessinateurs et humoristes is a scrapbook of odds and ends covering Barbier’s career from 1912 to 1924, mostly humorous illustrations for magazines such as La Vie Parisienne, but the collection also includes handwritten material together with many sketches and drafts for unfinished drawings. This is part of Gallica’s “Collection Jaquet”, 113 scrapbooks collecting magazine work by French illustrators. I’ve not had the time to go through the rest of the collection but there are many familiar names in the list, each with books of their own: Albert Robida, Théophile Steinlen, two volumes dedicated to the prolific Gustave Doré, etc. Gallica’s information about these items is minimal so for now the identity of “Jaquet” remains a mystery. As for the Barbier scrapbook, if you like the artist’s drawings this is a delight to look through, a cornucopia of camp frivolity replete with all the usual crinolined ladies, powdered wigs, mischievous Cupids, tiny dogs, and almost as many nude males as there are females. There’s also a picture bearing the title “The Great God Pan” although as a representation of the deity it’s closer to Aubrey Beardsley than anything from Arthur Machen.
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The work of French artist and designer George Barbier is no stranger to these pages but this is a book of his I hadn’t seen before. Richard Le Gallienne is a name familiar to anyone acquainted with the London literary scene of the 1890s—he was friends with Oscar Wilde and contributed to The Yellow Book—but unlike many of his less fortunate contemporaries he also had a life and career that lasted beyond the Mauve Decade. The Romance of Perfume (1928) is one of his last books, a short history of the perfumer’s art which could well have been written thirty years earlier. George Barbier’s illustrations aren’t as carefully designed as in some of his earlier works but the pair are well-matched.
Continue reading “The Romance of Perfume”