The Last Ritual

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Starting the new year with a new cover, and another from the plethora I was working on last year. Art Deco occultism is the theme this time, a satisfying combination since the rectilinear Deco style is a good match for the sigils and thaumaturgic diagrams you find in grimoires. The publisher is Aconyte Books, a new imprint launched a year ago to produce novels that complement the games created by parent company, Asmodee UK. Arkham Horror is an Asmodee game with a Lovecraftian theme, and S.A. Sidor’s novel is set in the game’s world:

Aspiring painter Alden Oakes is invited to join a mysterious art commune in Arkham: the New Colony. When celebrated Spanish surrealist Juan Hugo Balthazarr visits the colony, Alden and the other artists quickly fall under his charismatic spell. Balthazarr throws a string of decadent parties for Arkham’s social elite, conjuring arcane illusions which blur the boundaries between nightmare and reality. Only slowly does Alden come to suspect that Balthazarr’s mock rituals are intended to break through those walls and free what lies beyond. Alden must act, but it might already be too late to save himself, let alone Arkham (more).

The design of the cover combines the look of much Art Deco metalwork, especially bronze door and grille designs, with the kind of inlay you see on Deco furniture and the more lavish leatherbound books of the period. Part of the brief was to show a magic ritual taking place but I thought it wouldn’t do to make the figures look too realistic, hence the stylised poses; Georges Barbier rather than Weird Tales. Another request in the brief was to incorporate the Yog-Sothoth sigil from the Simon Necronomicon (the bronze circle under the title). I think I’ve said before that the symbols in the Simon Necronomicon tend to be used a lot today as though they’re the only ones available, even though the book is only one of several unofficial attempts to imagine the contents of Lovecraft’s notorious grimoire. I’ve always favoured the George Hay-edited Necronomicon so the symbol at the top of the cover is the Yog-Sothoth sigil from the Hay volume.

The Last Ritual will be published in August 2020.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Psychetecture

Opium dens

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The Opium Den (1881) by William Lamb Picknell.

The romantic side of the addiction business. Needless to say, there’s a lot more of this kind of thing. The ultimate opium-related pictorial art is still Attila Sassy’s remarkable Opium Dreams from 1909, a series of drawings which can be seen at 50 Watts in high-quality scans.

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The Opium Den (no date) by Vincent G. Stiepevich.

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Chez la Marchande de Pavots (The House of the Poppy Merchant, 1920) by Georges Barbier.

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Opium den from Fantasio (1915) by Georges Barbier.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Opium fiends
La Morphine by Victorien du Saussay
Haschisch Hallucinations by HE Gowers
The Dark Ledger
Demon rum leads to heroin
German opium smokers, 1900

Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes

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Ida Rubinstein as Zobeide and Vaslav Nijinsky as the Golden Slave in Schéhérazade (1913) by Georges Barbier.

Another great exhibition at the V&A, London, Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes gathers a wealth of costumes, stage designs, photographs and ephemera—including some of Stravinsky’s manuscripts—to present a history of the legendary ballet company and their visionary impresario. For those who can’t get to London the museum website shows some of the items which will be on display, and there’s also a blog about the installing of the exhibition. The enormous frontcloth from 1924 based on Picasso’s Two Women Running on the Beach received a flurry of attention in the press here but my own attention was caught by the picture of Natalia Goncharova‘s even more enormous backcloth for The Firebird. The exhibition runs to January 9, 2011.

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Cover of Le Théatre showing Tamara Karsavina in costume as the Firebird, May 1911.

While we’re on the subject, a new biography of the impresario, Diaghilev: A Life by Sjeng Scheijen, was reviewed last week in the New York Times:

Diaghilev loved beautiful young men, and at a time when the fashion in ballet was to exchange patronage for sex, his company provided a bounty. Scheijen dexterously plays his sources against one another to examine the erotic and professional dynamics between Diaghilev and his stars.

For a fictional (and necessarily heterosexual) account of those erotic and professional dynamics, I recommend Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (1948) which not only has a central character based on Diaghilev but includes among the cast of real dancers Léonide Massine, dancer and principal choreographer of the Ballets Russes from 1915 to 1921.

See also:
Russian Ballet History | An archive and documentary site.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Pamela Colman Smith’s Russian Ballet
The art of Ivan Bilibin, 1876–1942
Jack Cardiff, 1914–2009
Magic carpet ride
Le Sacre du Printemps
Images of Nijinsky