The Call of Cthulhu (1988): in the upper half there’s the big sun from Bob Peak’s poster for Apocalypse Now, in the lower half a radical reworking of Arnold Böcklin’s The Isle of the Dead.

In 1990, shortly after the first season of Twin Peaks had finished showing in the US, Video Watchdog magazine ran a feature by Tim Lucas which attempted to trace all the various cultural allusions in the character names and dialogue: references to old TV shows, song lyrics and the like. This was done in a spirit of celebration with Lucas and other contributors welcoming the opportunity to dig deeper into something they’d already enjoyed. This week we’ve had a similar unravelling of textual borrowings in a TV series, only now we have the internet which, with its boundless appetite for accusing and shaming, can often seem like something from the grand old days of the Cultural Revolution.


The Call of Cthulhu (1988): a more subtle allusion to Apocalypse Now.

The latest culprit ushered to the front of the assembly for the Great Internet Struggle Session is Nic Pizzolatto whose script for True Detective has indeed been celebrated for its nods to Robert Chambers and The King in Yellow. It’s also in the process of being condemned for having borrowed phrases or aphorisms from Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (2011). See this post for chapter and verse.


The Call of Cthulhu (1988): It’s not very clear but that’s a boat from The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

If I find it difficult to get worked up over all this pearl-clutching it’s because a) it shows a misunderstanding of art and the way many artists work, b) True Detective was an outstanding series, and I’d love to see more from Pizzolatto and co, and c) I’ve done more than enough borrowing of my own in a variety of media, as these samples from my adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu demonstrate, a 33-page comic strip where there’s a reference to a painting, artist or film on almost all the pages, sometimes several on the same page.


The Call of Cthulhu (1988): Ophelia by Millais.

Cthulhu is a good choice here since Pizzolatto’s story edged towards Lovecraft via the repeated “Carcosa” references. You’d think a Lovecraft zine of all things would know better than to haul someone over the coals for borrowing from another writer when Lovecraft himself borrowed from Robert Chambers (and Arthur Machen and others), while “Carcosa” isn’t even original to Chambers’ The King in Yellow but a borrowing from an Ambrose Bierce story, An Inhabitant of Carcosa (1886). Furthermore, Lovecraft famously complained about his own tendencies to pastiche other writers in a 1929 letter to Elizabeth Toldridge: “There are my ‘Poe’ pieces and my ‘Dunsany pieces’—but alas—where are any Lovecraft pieces?”

Continue reading “Intertextuality”



Twelve Months of Flowers: June (no date) by Jacob van Huysum.

The month of June in paintings is overburdened by bland pastoral scenes and views of battles, the summer months being favourable ones for warfare. Pastoral content is still present in the following selection albeit with an attempt to show some variety. Leighton’s Flaming June is the most famous picture here. It’s also the most popular of the artist’s paintings, understandably so given its radiating an atmosphere of luscious (and possibly inadvertent) eroticism that he seldom achieved elsewhere.


From Croham Fields, Croydon, Surrey, Just before the First Thunderstorm, Tuesday 28 June 1892 (1892) by William Henry Hope.


June in the Austrian Tyrol (1892) by John MacWhirter.


Flaming June (1895) by Frederic Leighton.

Continue reading “June”

Aubrey Beardsley in The Studio


Aubrey Beardsley in the year 1893 was 21, and on the threshold of being catapulted to fame (and notoriety) via his illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s Salomé. Some of Beardsley’s drawings in the distinctive style he called “Japanesque” had already appeared in The Pall Mall Magazine, and he was hard at work on some 600 illustrations and embellishments for Dent’s Le Morte D’Arthur which began publication in 1894. Some of those illustrations are featured in the glowing introduction by Joseph Pennell which appeared in the first issue of The Studio magazine in April 1893 (when Beardsley was still only 20), a title that became the leading showcase for the British end of the Art Nouveau movement in the 1890s. Pennell’s appreciation also included Beardsley’s Joan of Arc’s Entry into Orleans, a piece which showed how much the artist’s early work owed to Mantegna, and the first drawing of Salomé which later helped secure the Wilde commission. The Joan of Arc picture was reproduced as a fold-out supplement in the magazine’s second issue.


All the major Beardsley books refer to Pennell’s article but I’ve never had the opportunity to see it in full until now, thanks to the excellent online archives at the University of Heidelberg. There are many volumes of the international editions of The Studio at the Internet Archive but for some reason these don’t include the early numbers; at Heidelberg we can now browse the missing issues. In the first volume in addition to Beardsley there’s a piece about Frederic Leighton’s clay studies for paintings and sculptures, illustrations by Walter Crane and Robert Anning Bell, and an article on whether nude photography can be considered art. In this last piece several of the examples happen to be provided by Frederick Rolfe aka Baron Corvo, and Wilhelm von Gloeden, two men who we now know had other things on their mind when they were photographing Italian youths.

The collected volumes of The Studio from 1893 to 1898 may be browsed or downloaded here. I’ve not had time to go through the rest of these so I’m looking forward to discovering what else they may contain.




Detail from Joan of Arc’s Entry into Orleans.


Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Aubrey Beardsley archive

The recurrent pose 47


After subjecting Frederic Leighton to undignified speculation yesterday, his work is now ushered into the homoerotic environs of the Recurrent Pose Archive. These engravings are from a Leighton-themed edition of The Art Annual which is undated but which refers to The Sluggard as being a work in progress so that would date it to 1894 or 95. Despite throwing barbs at Leighton, I bought the bound copy of four issues mainly for the feature on the artist’s work and his extraordinary home. The three other artists represented—Millais in his horribly dull post-PRB phase, Alma-Tadema and Meissonier—can’t compete with Leighton’s academic flamboyance.

Cymon And Iphigenia (1884) can be seen in all its splendour at the Google Art Project, not the only painting of Leighton’s where the depiction of drapery seems to be the principal concern. The figure caught in the Flandrin pose is robed and tucked away in the background.


Frederic Leighton’s sculptures


An Athlete Wrestling with a Python (1877).

The python wrestler by Frederic Leighton (1830–1896) has appeared here before, and it’s one sculpture that always catches my eye for having appeared in my adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu in 1988. It’s now one of the Leighton works available for close viewing at the Google Art Project although only from a single angle, something that seems a flaw in web presentation of three-dimensional art.


The Sluggard (c. 1895).

In the same collection is a copy of Leighton’s The Sluggard from the Yale Center for British Art. What’s notable about this piece is that it’s generally offered as Exhibit A for the homo-prosecution during discussion of the artist’s sexuality. The Sluggard to which most people refer is the life-size bronze which is a lot more robust and muscular than this lithe and twinky specimen. According to a note at the V&A Yale’s copy is one of many cast from the clay model for the life-size version. What was excused at the time as a late Victorian exercise in contrapossto looks even more camp—in the Philip Core definition—than the finished piece which makes me wonder whether Leighton beefed up the original to disguise something. Core defined camp as “the lie that tells the truth”; camp art always pretends to be one thing whilst simultaneously telegraphing a very different message about its creator. Leighton’s sexuality is a source of continual speculation which means it’s unlikely now to be resolved in any direction, and the artist himself would loathe our prurience, but it’s only by reappraising works in this way that we’re able to show that gay people didn’t magically erupt via some process of spontaneous generation in 1967. If Leighton had any dalliances whilst holidaying in the gay resort of Capri then he was perfectly circumspect. Back at home, as a President of the Royal Academy he had a rather pompous and remote reputation, being memorably described by Violet Paget as “something between an Olympian Jove and a head waiter.” For more camp, see The Narcissus Hall in the artist’s incredibly lavish home, Leighton House in London, where 1st Baron Leighton, PRA, lived splendidly alone.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Angelo Colarossi and son
Men with snakes