Alphonse Mucha was so wildly prolific, and his work maintained such a consistently high standard, that book collections tend to focus on the popular Art Nouveau prints and posters to the exclusion of everything else. This short study of Mucha’s career was published in 1897 when the Nouveau style was becoming a dominant trend in Continental Europe, thanks in part to the promotion of art journals like La Plume, as well as to Mucha himself. The reproductions are all monochrome halftones but they include many sketches, illustrations and smaller works that are either never seen elsewhere or are marginalised by his advertising graphics and the designs for Sarah Bernhardt. Browse the book here or download it here.
One of the recent weekend posts linked to a Kickstarter page for a reprinting of Le Pater, one of several books designed and illustrated by Alphonse Mucha. Two years before Le Pater Mucha had created an equally sumptuous volume, Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli. The Mucha Foundation describes the book thus:
Based on Edmond Rostand’s La Princesse Lointaine, written for Sarah Bernhardt in 1895, L’Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli was commissioned from the author Robert de Flers by the Parisian publisher Henri Piazza.
By the time De Flers had completed his manuscript, Mucha had only three months to prepare 134 coloured lithographs before the edition was due to go to print. (more)
I’ve often wondered how Mucha managed to create so many posters and other designs—never mind books—in a short space of time, even if he used assistants now and then. Judging by this example he could work fast without diminishing his flair or invention. The pages here are from Gallica where the scans seem to be improving in quality. The whole of Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli is available for viewing or downloading, as is their copy of Le Pater and many other Mucha prints and illustrations.
Poster design by Mishka Westell for this month’s Austin Psych Fest. Billy Gibbons’ pre-ZZ Top psychedelic outfit, The Moving Sidewalks, surprised everyone by reforming for a New York gig last month, their first performance together in 44 years.
• Pye Corner Audio played the Boiler Room, London, last week, and remixed a track from FC Judd’s Electronics Without Tears. Also on the latter is Chris Carter who talks about his own remix (and the “Radiophonic” Mr Judd) here.
Drugs and the Mind (ii), a cover design from 1957 by Eric Fraser (1902–1983) whose illustrations and designs are in exhibition at the Chris Beetles gallery, London.
• At Ubuweb: William S. Burroughs + Brion Gysin + Genesis P-Orridge – Cold Spring Tape (1989).
• The World According to John Coltrane, an hour-long documentary.
• Neko Font: for when you need a word made of cats.
Monsieur Jullian as seen on the back cover of Dreamers of Decadence (1971).
Here at last is the long-promised (and long!) piece about the life and work of Philippe Jullian (1919–1977), a French writer and illustrator who’s become something of a cult figure of mine in recent years. Why the fascination? First and foremost because at the end of the 1960s he wrote Esthètes et Magiciens, or Dreamers of Decadence as it’s known to English readers, a book which effectively launched the Symbolist art revival and which remains the best introduction to Symbolist art and the aesthetic hothouse that was the 1890s. If I had to choose five favourite books Dreamers of Decadence would always be on the list. This point of obsession, and Philip Core’s account of the writer, made me curious about the rest of Jullian’s career.
An illustration from Wilson & Jullian’s For Whom the Cloche Tolls (1953). “Tata has called these his Krafft-Ebbing (sic) pictures of his friend Kuno, whatever that means.”
Philip Core was friends with Philippe Jullian, and Core’s essential Camp: The Lie that Tells the Truth (1984) has Jullian as one of its dedicatees. It’s to Core’s appraisal that we have to turn for details of the man’s life. There is an autobiography, La Brocante (1975), but, like a number of other Jullian works, this doesn’t seem to have been translated and my French is dismally pauvre. Core’s piece begins:
Philippe Jullian, born to the intellectual family of Bordeaux Protestants which produced the well-known French historian, Camille Jullian, was a last and lasting example of pre-war camp. His career began as an artist in Paris with a reputation for drag-acts parodying English spinsters. Snobbery, a talent for sensitive daydreaming, and a consuming passion for antiques, obscure art and social history, made a very different figure out of the thin and dreamy young man. Jullian suffered terribly during the Second World War; he managed to survive by visiting some disapproving cousins dressed as a maiden aunt, whom they were happy to feed. However, he made a mark in the world of Violet Trefusis, Natalie Barney and Vita Sackville-West by illustrating their books with his wiry and delicate doodles; this led to a social connection in England, where he produced many book jackets and covers for Vogue throughout the 1950s.
Having only seen Jullian in his besuited and bespectacled guise it’s difficult to imagine him dragged up, but the cross-dressing interest is apparent in his humorous collaboration with Angus Wilson and in a later novel, Flight into Egypt. As for the wiry and delicate doodles, they’re very much of their time, in style often resembling a less-assured Ronald Searle. One early commission in 1945 was for the first of what would become a celebrated series of artist labels for Château Mouton Rothschild. Later cover illustrations included a run for Penguin Books some of which can be found at Flickr.
Philip Core continues the story:
Elegant in the austerely tweedy way the French imagine to be English, Jullian exploited his very considerable talents as a writer, producing a series of camp novels throughout the 1950s (Scraps, Milord) which deal frankly but amusingly with the vicissitudes of handsome young men and face-lifted ladies, grey-haired antique dealers and criminals. One of the first to reconsider Symbolist painting, Jullian reached an enormous public in the 1960s with his gorgeous book, Dreamers of Decadence – where an encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre and its accompanying literature helped to create the boom in fin de siècle revivalism among dealers and museums.
An acerbic wit accompanied this vast worldly success; always docile to duchesses, Jullian could easily remark to a hostess who offered him a chocolate and cream pudding called Nègre en chemise, “I prefer them without.” Less kindly, to a gay friend who objected to Jullian’s poodles accompanying them into a country food shop by saying “Think where their noses have been”, he could also retort “Yes, that’s what I think whenever I see you kiss your mother.”
More Wildeana. It’s taken me over two decades to watch this film, and while I can’t really say it was worth the wait it was more entertaining than I expected. Salome’s Last Dance was directed in 1988 by Ken Russell and is his own typically mannered adaptation of the Wilde play. It appeared around the same time as his adaptation of another Victorian work, Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm, and it was the latter film which caused me to lose my patience with Russell’s excesses and so ignore this one. In Salome’s Last Dance we have Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas visiting Alfred Taylor’s London brothel one night in 1892 where Taylor and company stage a performance of Wilde’s banned play.
Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations appear in the title sequence.
If you’re a Wilde enthusiast there are at least two ways you may take this; you can be appalled by Russell’s “translation” of Wilde’s words (Salomé was written in French then translated for English publication in 1894; there’s no reason to re-translate a version the author approved), a translation which is really more of an adaptation, with much of the poetic monologue removed and the tone lowered for a general audience—Wilde’s “Iokannen” is vulgarised to “John the Baptist” throughout. Or you can try and enjoy what is at least a complete performance of the play, even though it more often resembles Carry On Salomé than anything one might have expected Sarah Bernhardt to perform. Injecting a Symbolist drama with slapstick and grotesquery is probably inevitable given the director (Russell is also co-writer and he plays—badly—the role of the Cappadocian). I found it impossible to decide whether Russell was sending up the play because he found it too pompous or whether he felt that an audience wouldn’t sit still for it otherwise. Whatever his intention, the premise is intriguing enough to inspire speculation as to how it might have been treated by other hands.