London ruins

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Soane’s Bank of England as a Ruin (1830) by Joseph Gandy.

Joseph Gandy’s painting of the Bank of England does indeed show the building as a ruin but the painting was also intended to show the architectural layout of the place, hence the intact quarters in the lower left. The architect, John Soane, was a friend of Gandy’s, and owned the painting which usually hangs in the Soane Museum, one of my favourite places in London. Gandy’s painting is currently on display at Tate Britain as part of a new exhibition, Ruin Lust, which also features some other favourites of mine including John Martin’s The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum (1822), and Cornelia Parker’s Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991), a work which really needs to be seen in situ. Soane’s Bank of England, incidentally, had a less Romantic ending when it was demolished in the 20th century to make way for a newer building.

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The New Zealander (1872) by Gustave Doré.

Also included in the exhibition is Gustave Doré’s surprising view of London in the distant future, the last plate in London: A Pilgrimage (1872). Visitors to Italy and Greece in the 18th and 19th century were fascinated by the idea that a city with the former splendour of Rome could have been reduced to a handful of marble ruins. This prompted the obvious thought that equally splendid cities such as London—in Doré’s time the most populous city in the world—would themselves be reduced to ruin one day. Doré’s picture illustrates a fleeting reference in Blanchard Jerrold’s text to a passage by Thomas Babington Macaulay concerning the longevity of the Roman Catholic Church. At the end of a lengthy paragraph Macaulay writes:

And she [the Church] may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.

I hadn’t traced this quote before but can see now that Doré was evidently familiar with it since he’s given his future New Zealander a sketch book. It’s typical of Doré to expand on a tiny detail in this way. There are plenty of recent views of London in ruins but this is a rare example from an earlier century. If anyone knows of any others then please leave a comment.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Mérigot’s Ruins of Rome
Pleasure of Ruins
Vedute di Roma

Albert Goodwin’s fantasies

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Viriconium (Millennium/Gollancz, 2000). Painting: The Gates of the Inferno (no date).

The web continues to be an incomparable treat for anyone interested in art history. One of the great advantages of the BBC’s Your Paintings site is having the opportunity to see pictures by artists whose output would rarely be deemed important enough to appear in a book. Albert Goodwin (1845–1932) is one such artist, a painter of landscapes and seascapes with a sideline in fantastic scenes, some of which may have been inspired by the apocalyptic canvases of John Martin. The cover of the Viriconium anthology was my first sighting of anything by Goodwin. That particular painting appears to be in private hands so to date this is the only copy I’ve seen. The combination of minatory architecture and a nebulous atmosphere is just the kind of thing I enjoy so it’s disappointing to not find him producing anything similar.

The paintings below show some of Goodwin’s other forays into the fantastic, mostly illustration of one sort or another. The two final pictures wouldn’t be out-of-place on a collection of William Hope Hodgson sea stories; the devastated Armada isn’t fantastical per se but it reminds me of Hodgson’s descriptions of the Sargasso Sea.

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Apocalypse (1903).

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Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1901).

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Sinbad Entering the Cavern (1879).

Continue reading “Albert Goodwin’s fantasies”

Witches

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Scene of Witchcraft (1510) by Hans Baldung Grien.

Earlier this year Pam Grossman declared 2013 to be the Year of the Witch, so in honour of that (and the season) here’s a handful of sorceresses through the ages. Most can be found in higher quality at the Google Art Project but a couple are from other sources. I’ve taken the liberty of attributing the drawing below to Hans Baldung Grien, not Albrecht Dürer as Google has it. Not only is this the attribution I’ve always seen for this picture but Baldung’s “HBG” monogram is clearly visible beneath the sprawling woman.

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New Year’s Greeting with Three Witches (1514) by Hans Baldung Grien.

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The Witches’ Sabbath (c.1640–1649) by Salvator Rosa.

Salvator Rosa specialised in lurid depictions of bandits, executions and—as here—witches. The excessive imagery appealed to later generations, especially the Romantics. This painting is even more grotesque than usual with its flayed-bird abominations (below) looming out of the shadows.

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Continue reading “Witches”

The art of Thomas Cole, 1801–1848

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The Titan’s Goblet (1833).

Thomas Cole’s Titan’s Goblet isn’t featured at the Google Art Project, unfortunately, but the following paintings are, and all benefit from being able to explore their details. Cole’s colossal vessel predates Surrealism by a century, and is one of many paintings which always has me mentally labelling him as the American John Martin (1789–1854). Having thought of him for years as an American artist–not least because he founded the Hudson River School–it’s a surprise to learn he was born in Bolton, a town not far from Manchester, with his parents emigrating to the US when he was 17. John Martin also grew up in the north of England so there’s another similarity, although the more important comparison concerns their use of painting to convey the spectacularly vast and unreal scenes common to the imaginative side of Romantic art. The Titan’s Goblet is unusual in not having any particular symbolic or moral significance, unlike the pictures below, it’s Magritte-like in its careful depiction of the impossible. The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge, on the other hand, could be exhibited beside Francis Danby’s The Deluge (1840) for a “before and after” effect. Like Martin, Cole enjoyed painting architecture of an exaggerated scale. The Architect’s Dream features an Egyptian temple of stupendous size, while the pyramid looming in the background is closer to William Hope Hodgson’s seven-mile-high Last Redoubt than any structure on the Nile plain.

Of equal interest are Cole’s two well-known series: The Course of Empire (1833–36) and The Voyage of Life (1842), both of which I’d love to see at Art Project size.

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Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (1828).

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The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge (1829).

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The Architect’s Dream (1840).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The fantastic art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
John Martin’s musical afterlife
Albert Bierstadt in Yosemite
Danby’s Deluge
John Martin: Heaven & Hell
Darkness visible
Two American paintings
The apocalyptic art of Francis Danby

Weekend links 117

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Illustration and design by Karlheinz Dobsky.

Above and below: samples from Die Lux-Lesebogen-Sammlung, an exhibition of booklets for young people published by Sebastian Lux from 1946–1964. All were designed and illustrated by Karlheinz Dobsky.

• At The American Scholar: “Vladimir Nabokov’s understanding of human nature anticipated the advances in psychology since his day,” says Nabokov biographer Brian Boyd, and An Unquenchable Gaiety of Mind: “On visits to Cambridge University late in life, Jorge Luis Borges offered revealing last thoughts about his reading and writing,” says George Watson.

• The British Library releases The Spoken Word: “A rare collection of recordings featuring the American writer William S Burroughs and the British-born artist Brion Gysin.” Related: Interzone – A William Burroughs Mix by Timewriter.

• Charting the Outlaws: Christopher Bram (again) talking to Frank Pizzoli about his recent study Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America.

• The BBC asks “Where are you on the global fat scale?” I’ve always been thin but was still surprised to find my BMI at the very bottom of the scale.

The “otherness” of Ballard, his mesmeric glazedness, is always attributed to the two years he spent in a Japanese internment camp in Shanghai (1943–45). That experience, I think, should be seen in combination, or in synergy, with the two years he spent dissecting cadavers as a medical student in Cambridge (1949–51). Again the dichotomy: as a man he was ebulliently social (and humorous), but as an artist he is fiercely solitary (and humourless). The outcome, in any event, is a genius for the perverse and the obsessional, realised in a prose style of hypnotically varied vowel sounds (its diction enriched by a wide range of technical vocabularies). In the end, the tensile strength of The Drowned World derives not from its action but from its poetry.

Martin Amis on The Drowned World by JG Ballard.

The Chickens and the Bulls: “The rise and incredible fall of a vicious extortion ring that preyed on prominent gay men in the 1960s.”

• It’s that Zone again: Jacob Mikanowski on Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker and Geoff Dyer’s Zona.

• Scans of the rare film programme for London screenings of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

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Illustration and design by Karlheinz Dobsky.

• “The web is a Library of Babel that could go the way of the Library of Alexandria.

Fila Arcana: alchemy- and occult-themed embroidery by Mina Sewell Mancuso.

A Very Edgy Alice In A Very Weird Wonderland: illustrations by Pat Andrea.

Malka Spigel reveals a new track from her third solo album.

John Martin and the Theatre of Subversion.

Olafur Eliasson: Little Sun at Tate Modern.

• Meanwhile, back in 1972: Mahavishnu Orchestra live at the BBC (30 mins), and the complete performance of the MC5 on Beat Club (29 mins).