Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Elijah's Mermaid Deep Waters. Dark Secrets. by Essie Fox: A Review

Since she was found as a baby, floating in the Thames one foggy night, the web-toed Pearl has been brought up in a brothel known as the House of Mermaids. Cosseted and pampered there, it is only when her fourteenth birthday approaches that Pearl realises she is to be sold to the highest bidder. 

Meanwhile, the orphaned twins, Lily and Elijah, have shared an idyllic childhood, raised in a secluded country house with their grandfather, Augustus Lamb. But when Lily and Elijah go on a visit to London, a chance meeting with the ethereal Pearl will have repercussions for all of them, binding their fates together in a dark and dangerous way...

In this bewitching, sensual novel, Essie Fox has written another tale of obsessive love and betrayal, moving from the respectable worlds of Victorian art and literature, and into the shadowy demi-monde of brothels, asylums and freak show tents - a world in which nothing and no-one is quite what they seem to be.

 J.W. Waterhouse's Mermaid, 1900

"Will they find me again - those ghosts? Will they follow and watch when I walk on the water? Look! I am doing it now. You might think me mad to say such things but my thoughts are so clear as the beads of light that gleam on the stone of the obelisk, that sparkle like gems in bare branches of trees, so bright that I have to lift my hands to  protect my eyes from the glare of the sun - the white jewel that has turned the whole wide world into this dreamland of ice and stone."  Pearl

Elijah's Mermaid is broken up into four parts, with three young protagonists: Pearl, Elijah, and Lily taking turns telling their story. The setting is Victorian London. Essie Fox again, in this her second novel, proliferates each page with such realistic Victorian dialogue and an enchanting writing style the reader feels as if they are walking along Cheyne Walk in Chelsea when Pearl is found in The Thames and later on with The Lamb's at their residence, Kingsland House, Kingsland, Herefordshire, England around 1855.

Not only does Essie Fox know the Victorian era, she knows her Pre-Raphaelites as well; her passion leaps off every page. Some names are obvious i.e. Gabriel, Millais, and Rossetti mentioned but physical and descriptive hints could be found if you are familiar with such notables of The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (Brethren) Indeed!  It could just be me reading too much into it but grandfather of Lily and Elijah's Augustus Lamb was reminiscent of grandfather to his granddaughter and grandson Sir Edward Burne-Jones! Even The Lamb's loving glimpses of conversations between Lily and Augustus reminded me so much of Three Houses by Angela Thirkell!

Water is the primary element holding the basis of the story together for good reason which is later explained as the story of Pearl intertwines with Lily and Elijah once the story gets darker and more Gothic. Mermaid is in the title for specific reasons as Essie Fox first introduces the reader to a young woman found drowned in The Thames; then baby Pearl is discovered in 1850 and I just loved how she later describes herself, 'the bastard child saved by the river by Tip that night when my mother drowned herself for shame’ – who was brought up in a brothel by the rather whimsical name of The House of Mermaids. This was a ‘most prestigious Chelsea abode’, where the owner of the house, Mrs Hibbert, indulged the ‘every whim of those men wishing to use the brothel’s services.' 

There are brothels, beautiful gardens and freak shows that appear as the story gets darker; more characters are there to 'guide' Lily and Elijah i.e. the absolutely horrible and hated Osbourne Black, the ever present Mrs. Hibbert and Uncle Frederick Hall etc. They are needed as numerous red herrings, twists, turns abound in this luscious Victorian Gothic tale. Pay attention and keep your wits about you for not everything is as it appears! 

In closing, if you dear reader find yourself at a loss or just confused with these characters and their motives, fear not, for Essie Fox writes a helpful 'summation' of sorts at the end entitled, 'The Real Historical Characters Who Have Influenced Those In Elijah's Mermaid' along with a vocabulary list of Victorian Slang. 

In fairness, I did not find much lacking in Elijah's Mermaid. I feel I must say something so any readers who are not used to reading Victorian era slang and 19th century dialogue might be put off or find themselves growing impatient. There are also numerous characters, London locations and places mentioned so again it might be off-putting. However, I revel in this sort of Victorian cultural and Gothic tale. I rarely find such a beautifully written one, as well. 

I highly recommend Elijah's Mermaid by Essie Fox. This her second novel is even more entertaining and engaging than her first effort The Somnambulist, though, I loved it as well!   

Elijah's Mermaid by Essie Fox is out now available in the United Kingdom. This was my purchase and not a free copy. 

Please leave comments, I love hearing from you!

Monday, November 26, 2012

The King's Agent by Donna Russo Morin: A Review

The King’s Agent is based loosely on the life of Battista della Palla-a patriotic plunderer, a religious rogue-of the 16th century, a lifelong friend to the great Michelangelo.

As the cloistered ward of the Marquess of Mantua, Lady Aurelia is a woman with a profound duty, and a longing for adventure. In search of a relic intended for the King of France, Battista and Aurelia cross the breathtaking landscape of Renaissance Italy. Clues hide in great works of art, political forces collide, secret societies and enemies abound, and danger lurks in every challenge, those that mirror the passages of Dante's Divine Comedy. It is an adventurous quest with undercurrents of the supernatural, powers that could change the balance of supremacy throughout Europe.

To the casual observer, Battista della Paglia is an avid art collector, or perhaps a nimble thief. In reality, the cunning Italian is an agent for François, the King of France, for whom he procures the greatest masterpieces of the day by any means necessary. Embroiled in a power struggle with Charles V, the King of Spain, François resolves to rule Europe's burgeoning cultural world. When he sets his sights on a mysterious sculpture, Battista's search for the elusive objet d'art leads him to a captivating woman on a mission of her own. . .

Having spent her life under the controlling eye of her protector, the Marquess of Mantua, Aurelia longs for freedom. And she finds it in Battista. Together, they embark on a journey to find the clues that will lead him to the sculpture-- a venture so perilous it might have spilled from the pen of Dante himself. From the smoldering depths of Rome to a castle in the sky, the harrowing quest draws them inextricably together. But Aurelia guards a dark secret that could tear them apart--and change the course of history. . .

 My Thoughts
The King's Agent is the first of Donna Russo Morin's books I've read but it surely won't be the last! Immediately, I was swept up in the beauty of Italy, the intrigue, the action-packed story itself made me want to keep reading. Morin has a vivacious sense of writing style that is descriptive yet engaging. I found myself laughing at times and wanting to literally hit Battista della Palla over the head with something hard and sharp! I kept saying to myself, who is this man, why does his name sound familiar? After a Google search, and my a ha moment, I ran to my bookshelf for my much dogeared copy of Vasari's Lives of the Artists! I also found myself looking through my old tour programs from my trips to Italy,especially The Vatican and Michelangelo's books as well.

Reading The King's Agent reminded me of Umberto Eco's 'The Name of the Rose' meets 'The DaVinci Code' with hints of romantic fiction thrown in! If you love Italian Renaissance art and its culture, you will enjoy The King's Agent.

Morin brilliantly weaves clues from Dante's 'The Divine Comedy' using it as a sort of treasure map for Battista, the art thief who steals a statue supposedly for the King of France. On this journey, along for the ride is the mysterious Aurelia where they meet an Italian painter named Michelangelo. I won't say how the adventure ends or what happens because you must read it for yourself!

I will definitely read more of Donna Russo Morin's novels. The only thing I will say is that if there is a downside to The King's Agent there was a bit too much detail and specifics in the action scenes. Unfortunately, this almost made me want to skip over bits but I didn't because when reading an adventure story, you do not want to miss any clues! 

Please feel free to leave comments,

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Bid Time Return for Somewhere in Time you will Come Back To Me

IT ALL STARTED WITH A NOVEL, ‘Bid Time Return’ by Richard Matheson in 1975..
In Bid Time Return, Richard Collier is a writer dying of an inoperable brain tumor. Following a sudden, inexplicable urge to escape his life, Collier finds himself checking into a grand old seaside hotel. Here he sees a photograph of Elise McKenna, star actress from the turn of the century, and falls in love. By the strength of his love and desire, Collier manages to will himself back in time to find Elise.  Richard Matheson also wrote the screenplay for the 1980 film titled Somewhere in Time starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. Matheson is well known for his many novels, short stories and television and movie screenplays.  He also authored the novels The Incredible Shrinking Man, I Am Legend,and Hell House, all of which were made into classic Sci Fi/horror films. Also,What Dreams May Come which inspired the movie starring Robin Williams.

In Bid Time Return, Matheson evokes a mood very similar to that of Finney's Time And Again - a somewhat wistful and sentimental longing for an escape to the past - only to discover that the past is not the simpler, happier time he thought it would be.

 'Bid Time Return' is out of print and very hard to find. The now mass market movie paperback, 'Somewhere in Time' is available worldwide.  

Somewhere in Time is the story of a young writer who sacrifices his life in the present to find happiness in the past, where true love awaits him. Young Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) is approached by an elderly woman who gives him an antique gold watch and who pleads with him to return in time with her when she tells him, ‘Come Back To Me’. Years later, Richard Collier is overwhelmed by a photograph of a beautiful young woman (Jane Seymour). Another picture of this woman in her later years reveals to him that she is the same woman who had given him the gold watch. Collier then becomes obsessed with returning to 1912 and the beautiful young woman who awaits him there.

 Elise's Soliloquy
"The man of my dreams has almost faded now.
The one I have created in my mind.
The sort of man each woman dreams of in the deepest
and most secret reaches of her heart.
I can almost see him now before me.
What would I say to him, if he were really here?
Forgive me, I have never known this feeling . . .
I've lived without it all my life.
Is it any wonder, then, that I failed to
recognize you?
You . . . who brought it to me for the first time.
Is there any way I can tell you how my life has changed?
Any way at all to let you know what sweetness you have given me?
There is so much to say . . . I cannot find the words.
Except for these. . .
I love you.
Such would I say to him,
. . . if he were really here."

   So what do the book and the movie have in common? One woman…that turn of the century actress for which Richard Collier falls desperately in love.  Her name was Maude Adams.  


Actress, Jane Seymour as Elise McKenna on the left and inspiration, theatre turn of the century actress Maude Adams on the right. Do you see how almost identical the white dress they're wearing is?

I have always wanted to do some research to find out who this turn of the century theatre actress, Maude Adams was and why her life held such interest for author, Richard Matheson and his character Richard Collier.  

                                                                Actress Maude Adams [1872-1953] Billy Rose Theatre Collection photograph file / Personalities / A / Maude Adams The New York Public Library Theatre Division

"I believe the only way to study for the stage is on the stage. If I had gone to school as they wanted me to until now, I couldn't bend myself to the life as I do now. I would have been formed, you see." Maude Adams from Maude Adams by Acton Davis, 1911 edition

Maude (Kiskadden) Adams was born in Salt Lake City, Utah on November 11, 1872. Her parents were James Kiskadden and stock actress Annie Adams. Maude was only a few months old when she made her stage debut during one of her mother’s performances. From 1877-1887 she played children’s roles in twenty-six plays. In 1890, both mother and daughter joined a new stock company at New York’s Empire Theatre. 

Miss Adams eventually became John Drew’s leading lady, made a great hit in The Masked Ball, and was fortuitously cast in J.M. Barrie’s The Little Minister. She met with incredible success as Lady Babbie and went on to become the quintessential Barrie heroine in What Every Woman Knows, Quality Street, The Legend of Leonora, and, of course, Peter Pan. Among her many other successes were roles in L’Aiglon, Chantecler, and The Jesters.

For years Miss Adams not only performed in New York but also took many of her productions on tour along the East Coast and abroad. When she retired from the stage in 1918, she focused on perfecting stage lighting and became interested in color photography for motion pictures. She returned to the stage twice: in 1931 to play Portia in The Merchant of Venice and in 1934 to play Maria in Twelfth Night.

In 1937, at the at the age of 65, she accepted a teaching position at Stephens College in Missouri where she developed an acting program and directed student productions. In 1950, when she was no longer physically able to continue her activities, she returned to her home in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. where she died in 1953 at the age of 81.

Maude Adams at Stephens College
Billy Rose Theatre Collection photograph file / Personalities / A / Maude AdamsLocation: The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts / Billy Rose Theatre

Please feel free to leave comments,

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson and Pre-Raphaelite Art

Why haven't I done this before? Here I have chosen some of my favorite Alfred Lord Tennyson poems along with some beautiful Pre-Raphaelite paintings and illustrations. I even threw in Julia Margaret Cameron!

A sketch of The Merman by John William Waterhouse

               The Merman

    WHO would be
    A merman bold,
    Sitting alone
    Singing alone
    Under the sea,
    With a crown of gold,
    On a throne?
        I would be a merman bold,
    I would sit and sing the whole of the day;
    I would fill the sea-halls with a voice of power;
    But at night I would roam abroad and play
    With the mermaids in and out of the rocks,
    Dressing their hair with the white sea-flower;
    And holding them back by their flowing locks
    I would kiss them often under the sea,
    And kiss them again till they kiss'd me
        Laughingly, laughingly;
    And then we would wander away, away,
    To the pale-green sea-groves straight and high,
        Chasing each other merrily.
    There would be neither moon nor star;
    But the wave would make music above us afar --
    Low thunder and light in the magic night --
        Neither moon nor star.
    We would call aloud in the dreamy dells,
    Call to each other and whoop and cry
        All night, merrily, merrily.
    They would pelt me with starry spangles and shells,
    Laughing and clapping their hands between,
        All night, merrily, merrily,
    But I would throw to them back in mine
    Turkis and agate and almondine;
    Then leaping out upon them unseen
    I would kiss them often under the sea,
    And kiss them again till they kiss'd me
        Laughingly, laughingly.
    O, what a happy life where mine
    Under the hollow-hung ocean green!
    Soft are the moss-beds under the sea;
    We would live merrily, merrily.
    Alfred, Lord Tennyson

                           Sketch Mermaid by JW Waterhouse, 1892    

    The Mermaid by JW Waterhouse, 1900

     The Mermaid

    WHO would be
    A mermaid fair,
    Singing alone,
    Combing her hair
    Under the sea,
    In a golden curl
    With a comb of pearl,
    On a throne?
        I would be a mermaid fair;
    I would sing to myself the whole of the day;
    With a comb of pearl I would comb my hair;
    And still as I comb'd I would sing and say,
    'Who is it loves me? who loves not me?'
    I would comb my hair till my ringlets would fall
            Low adown, low adown,
    From under my starry sea-bud crown
            Low adown and around,
    And I should look like a fountain of gold
            Springing alone
        With a shrill inner sound
            Over the throne
        In the midst of the hall;
    Till that great sea-snake under the sea
    From his coiled sleeps in the central deeps
    Would slowly trail himself sevenfold
    Round the hall where I sate, and look in at the gate
    With his large calm eyes for the love of me.
    And all the mermen under the sea
    Would feel their immortality
    Die in their hearts for the love of me.
    But at night I would wander away, away,
        I would fling on each side my low-flowing locks,
    And lightly vault from the throne and play
        With the mermen in and out of the rocks;
    We would run to and fro, and hide and seek,
        On the broad sea-wolds in the crimson shells,
    Whose silvery spikes are nighest the sea.
    But if any came near I would call and shriek,
    And adown the steep like a wave I would leap
        From the diamond-ledges that jut from the dells;
    For I would not be kiss'd by all who would list
    Of the bold merry mermen under the sea.
    They would sue me, and woo me, and flatter me,
    In the purple twilights under the sea;
    But the king of them all would carry me,
    Woo me, and win me, and marry me,
    In the branching jaspers under the sea.
    Then all the dry-pied things that be
    In the hueless mosses under the sea
    Would curl round my silver feet silently,
    All looking up for the love of me.
    And if I should carol aloud, from aloft
    All things that are forked, and horned, and soft
    Would lean out from the hollow sphere of the sea,
    All looking down for the love of me.
    Alfred, Lord Tennyson
     Illustration of The Mermaid from The poetical works of Alfred Tennyson
    Sea Fairies by Emma Florence Harrison 

    The Sea Maidens by Evelyn De Morgan

    Mariana by Julia Margaret Cameron


    WITH blackest moss the flower-plots
      Were thickly crusted, one and all:
    The rusted nails fell from the knots
      That held the pear to the gable-wall.
    The broken sheds look'd sad and strange:        
      Unlifted was the clinking latch;
      Weeded and worn the ancient thatch
    Upon the lonely moated grange.
        She only said, 'My life is dreary,
          He cometh not,' she said; 
        She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
          I would that I were dead!'
    Her tears fell with the dews at even;
      Her tears fell ere the dews were dried;
    She could not look on the sweet heaven, 
      Either at morn or eventide.
    After the flitting of the bats,
      When thickest dark did trance the sky,
      She drew her casement-curtain by,
    And glanced athwart the glooming flats. 
        She only said, 'The night is dreary,
          He cometh not,' she said;
        She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
          I would that I were dead!'
    Upon the middle of the night, 
      Waking she heard the night-fowl crow:
    The cock sung out an hour ere light:
      From the dark fen the oxen's low
    Came to her: without hope of change,
      In sleep she seem'd to walk forlorn, 
      Till cold winds woke the gray-eyed morn
    About the lonely moated grange.
        She only said, 'The day is dreary,
          He cometh not,' she said;
        She said, 'I am aweary, aweary, 
          I would that I were dead!'
    About a stone-cast from the wall
      A sluice with blacken'd waters slept,
    And o'er it many, round and small,
      The cluster'd marish-mosses crept. 
    Hard by a poplar shook alway,
      All silver-green with gnarlèd bark:
      For leagues no other tree did mark
    The level waste, the rounding gray.
        She only said, 'My life is dreary, 
          He cometh not,' she said;
        She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
          I would that I were dead!'
    And ever when the moon was low,
      And the shrill winds were up and away, 
    In the white curtain, to and fro,
      She saw the gusty shadow sway.
    But when the moon was very low,
      And wild winds bound within their cell,
      The shadow of the poplar fell 
    Upon her bed, across her brow.
        She only said, 'The night is dreary,
          He cometh not,' she said;
        She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
          I would that I were dead!' 
    All day within the dreamy house,
      The doors upon their hinges creak'd;
    The blue fly sung in the pane; the mouse
      Behind the mouldering wainscot shriek'd,
    Or from the crevice peer'd about. 
      Old faces glimmer'd thro' the doors,
      Old footsteps trod the upper floors,
    Old voices call'd her from without.
        She only said, 'My life is dreary,
          He cometh not,' she said; 
        She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,'
          I would that I were dead!'
    The sparrow's chirrup on the roof,
      The slow clock ticking, and the sound
    Which to the wooing wind aloof 
      The poplar made, did all confound
    Her sense; but most she loathed the hour
      When the thick-moted sunbeam lay
      Athwart the chambers, and the day
    Was sloping toward his western bower. 
        Then, said she, 'I am very dreary,
          He will not come,' she said;
        She wept, 'I am aweary, aweary,
          O God, that I were dead!'
    Mariana illustrated by J.E. Millais from The Poetical Works of Alfred Tennyson, 1882 Edition
    Mariana painted by J.E. Millais, 1851
    Of course, this collection would not be complete without The Lady of Shalott, one of many Tennyson masterpieces. 
    J.W. Waterhouse painted three versions of her while Holman-Hunt joined in along with William Breakspeare and Sidney Harold Meteyard...
                      J.W Waterhouse painted the most recognizable depiction of The Lady of Shalott in 1888

    Part I

    On either side the river lie
    Long fields of barley and of rye,
    That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
    And through the field the road runs by
                To many-towered Camelot;
    And up and down the people go,
    Gazing where the lilies blow
    Round an island there below,
                The island of Shalott.

    Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
    Little breezes dusk and shiver
    Through the wave that runs for ever
    By the island in the river
                Flowing down to Camelot.
    Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
    Overlook a space of flowers,
    And the silent isle imbowers
                The Lady of Shalott.

    By the margin, willow veiled
    Slide the heavy barges trailed
    By slow horses; and unhailed
    The shallop flitteth silken-sailed
    Skimming down to Camelot:
                But who hath seen her wave her hand?
    Or at the casement seen her stand?             
     Or is she known in all the land,
                The Lady of Shalott?

    Only reapers, reaping early
    In among the bearded barley,
    Hear a song that echoes cheerly
    From the river winding clearly,
                Down to towered Camelot:
    And by the moon the reaper weary,
    Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
    Listening, whispers "'Tis the fairy
                Lady of Shalott."

    Part II

    There she weaves by night and day
    A magic web with colours gay.
    She has heard a whisper say,
    A curse is on her if she stay
                To look down to Camelot.
    She knows not what the curse may be,
    And so she weaveth steadily,
    And little other care hath she,
                The Lady of Shalott.

    And moving through a mirror clear
    That hangs before her all the year,
    Shadows of the world appear.
    There she sees the highway near
                Winding down to Camelot:  
     There the river eddy whirls,
    And there the curly village-churls,
    And the red cloaks of market girls,
                Pass onward from Shalott.

    Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
    An abbot on an ambling pad,
    Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
    Or long-haired page in crimson clad,
                Goes by to towered Camelot;
    And sometimes through the mirror blue
    The knights come riding two and two:
    She hath no loyal knight and true,
                The Lady of Shalott.

    But in her web she still delights
    To weave the mirror's magic sights,
    For often through the silent nights
    A funeral, with plumes and lights
                And music, went to Camelot:
    Or when the moon was overhead,
    Came two young lovers lately wed;
    "I am half sick of shadows," said
                The Lady of Shalott.

    Part III

    A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
    He rode between the barley-sheaves,
    The sun came dazzling through the leaves,  
     And flamed upon the brazen greaves
                Of bold Sir Lancelot.
    A red-cross knight for ever kneeled
    To a lady in his shield,
    That sparkled on the yellow field,
                Beside remote Shalott.

    The gemmy bridle glittered free,
    Like to some branch of stars we see
    Hung in the golden Galaxy.
    The bridle bells rang merrily
                As he rode down to Camelot:
    And from his blazoned baldric slung
    A mighty silver bugle hung,
    And as he rode his armour rung,
                Beside remote Shalott.

    All in the blue unclouded weather
    Thick-jewelled shone the saddle-leather,
    The helmet and the helmet-feather
    Burned like one burning flame together,
                As he rode down to Camelot.
    As often through the purple night,
    Below the starry clusters bright,
    Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
                Moves over still Shalott.

    His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;   
     On burnished hooves his war-horse trode;
    From underneath his helmet flowed
    His coal-black curls as on he rode,
                As he rode down to Camelot.
    From the bank and from the river
    He flashed into the crystal mirror,
    "Tirra lira," by the river
                Sang Sir Lancelot.
    She left the web, she left the loom,
    She made three paces through the room,
    She saw the water-lily bloom,
    She saw the helmet and the plume,
                She looked down to Camelot.
    Out flew the web and floated wide;
    The mirror cracked from side to side;
    "The curse is come upon me," cried
                The Lady of Shalott.

    Part IV

    In the stormy east-wind straining,
    The pale yellow woods were waning,
    The broad stream in his banks complaining,
    Heavily the low sky raining
                Over towered Camelot;
    Down she came and found a boat
    Beneath a willow left afloat,
    And round about the prow she wrote  
     The Lady of Shalott.

    And down the river's dim expanse
    Like some bold seer in a trance,
    Seeing all his own mischance —
    With a glassy countenance
                Did she look to Camelot.
    And at the closing of the day
    She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
    The broad stream bore her far away,
                The Lady of Shalott.

    Lying, robed in snowy white
    That loosely flew to left and right —
    The leaves upon her falling light —
    Through the noises of the night
                She floated down to Camelot:
    And as the boat-head wound along
    The willowy hills and fields among,
    They heard her singing her last song,
                The Lady of Shalott.

    Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
    Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
    Till her blood was frozen slowly,
    And her eyes were darkened wholly,
                Turned to towered Camelot.
    For ere she reached upon the tide  
     The first house by the water-side,
    Singing in her song she died,
                The Lady of Shalott.

    Under tower and balcony,
    By garden-wall and gallery,
    A gleaming shape she floated by,
    Dead-pale between the houses high,
                Silent into Camelot.
    Out upon the wharfs they came,
    Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
    And round the prow they read her name,
                The Lady of Shalott.

    Who is this? and what is here?
    And in the lighted palace near
    Died the sound of royal cheer;
    And they crossed themselves for fear,
                All the knights at Camelot:
    But Lancelot mused a little space;
    He said, "She has a lovely face;
    God in his mercy lend her grace,
                The Lady of Shalott."

     The Lady of Shalott by William A. Breakspeare (1872-1903)

    Sidney Harold Meteyard - I Am Half-Sick of Shadows," Said the Lady of Shalott 1913
      Please feel free to leave comments,

Monday, November 12, 2012

Happy Birthday Monsieur François-Auguste-René Rodin (1840-1917)

‘Admiration is not spent as a marble wears away. To the poets, to the seekers, to the quiet artists, in the heart of the city’s tumult, you give long moments of refuge.  Ode to Venus by Auguste Rodin, written by him around 1912


Auguste Rodin was born on 12 November, 1840, and died on 17 November, 1917.  He was a French sculptor born in Paris, France. Rodin attended art school at a young age, but unable to advance to a higher education in art, he spent much of his early life working as a craftsman, doing decorative, architectural work.  It wasn’t until receiving a modest museum commission in 1880 that he was able to dedicate himself to his own art full-time.  By 1900, his dominating artistic career was well-established.  A prodigious worker, he remains best known for singular sculptures like The Thinker and The Kiss and his monuments to French writers Honore de Balzac and Victor Hugo. While Rodin’s works can be found in museum collections and on public display in cities around the world, the Musee Rodin opened in Paris in his former residence in 1919 and continues to hold the largest single collection of the artist’s work. 
 AN EXCERPT FROM RODIN’S VENUSpublished in 1912. It is sculptor Auguste Rodin’s passionate ode to one of art’s great masterpieces, the Venus de Milo, now in the Louvre Museum in Paris. 

“Man may be the forger of his happiness. The Antique and Nature are bound by the same mystery. The Antique it is the human workman arrived at a suprreme degree of mastery. But nature is above him. The mystery of Nature is even more insoluble than that of genius. The glory of the Antique is in having understood Nature. 

O, Venus of Melos, the prodigious sculptor that fashioned you knew how to make the thrill of that generous nature flow in you, the thrill of life itself O, Venus, arch of the triumph of life, bridge of truth, circle of grace!

What splendor in your beautiful torso seated firmly on your solid legs, and in those half tones that sleep upon your breasts, upon your splendid belly, large like the sea! It is the rhythmic beauty of the sea without end…You are in truth the mother of gods and of men.
The generative profile of that torso helps us to understand, reveals to us the proportions of the world. And the miracle is in this, that the assembled profiles, in the sense of depth, of length, and of width, express, by an incomprehensible magic, the human soul and its passions, and the character that shapes the heart of beings.

The ancients have obtained by a minimum of gesture, by their modeling, both the individual character and the grace borrowed from grandeur that relates the human form to the forms of the universal life. 

Modelled by the sea, which is the reservoir of all forces, you enchant us and you sway us by that grace and by that calm which strength alone possesses, and you bestow on us your serenity. It prevails like the charm of melodies powerful and deep. What triumphant amplitude! What vigorous shadows! From the boundaries of the two worlds throngs come to contemplate you, venerated marble; and the twilight deepens in the room that you may be more clearly seen, shining alone, while the silent hours pass, heavy with admiration. Still, you hear your clamors, immortal Venus! Having loved your contemporaries, you belong to us, now, to all of us, to the universe. The twenty-five centuries of your life seem only to have consecrated your invincible youth. And the generations, those waves of the ocean of the ages, to you, victorious over time, come and come again, attracted and recalled irresistibly.’

 Harry C. Ellis, Rodin in front of the showcases of the Pavillon de l’Alma, Meudon, circa 1902

 'You asked me to tell you in a few lines what I think of Rodin. You know what I think, but to say, I would have a talent that I do not own, write to me, not my job. But what I want to tell you, this is my grande admiration for he is unique in time and great among the greatest. The exhibition of his work will be an event.' Claude Monet

Here now are just a few of my favorite Rodin sculptures, mostly well-known and well-loved.

Rodin in his studio, leaning on The Kiss, circa 1888-1889

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)

The Kiss

Circa 1882
H. 181.5 cm ; W. 112.5 cm ; D. 117 cm
S.1002 /Lux.132
Commissioned by the French state in 1888, carved between 1888 and 1898. Joined the collections of the Musée du Luxembourg in 1901; transferred to the Musée Rodin in 1919.

The Kiss originally represented Paolo and Francesca, two characters borrowed, once again, from Dante’s Divine Comedy: slain by Francesca’s husband who surprised them as they exchanged their first kiss, the two lovers were condemned to wander eternally through Hell. This group, designed in the early stages of the elaboration of The Gates , was given a prominent position on the lower left door, opposite Ugolino , until 1886, when Rodin decided that this depiction of happiness and sensuality was incongruous with the theme of his vast project.

He therefore transformed the group into an independent work and exhibited it in 1887. The fluid, smooth modelling, the very dynamic composition and the charming theme made this group an instant success. Since no anecdotal detail identified the lovers, the public called it The Kiss, an abstract title that expressed its universal character very well. The French state commissioned an enlarged version in marble, which Rodin took nearly ten years to deliver. Not until 1898 did he agree to exhibit what he called his “huge knick-knack” as a companion piece to his audacious Balzac , as if The Kiss would make it easier for the public to accept his portrait of the writer.

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)

Monument to Balzac

1898, Musee Rodin, Paris, France, Bronze, H. 270 cm ; W. 120.5 cm ; D. 128 cm
S.1296. Cast by Alexis Rudier, 1935, for the museum collections.

Having conducted his research into Balzac’s body and head simultaneously, Rodin ended up with an assemblage in which these two elements conveyed their own values. While the head had evolved from a portrait resembling the writer into a concentration of expressive features , the body had moved in the opposite direction, veering towards a dilution of form in a symphony of nuances materialized in the fluid surface of the dressing gown .

What Rodin finally produced in 1897, after six years of labour, was a revolutionary monument. Stripped of the writer’s usual attributes (armchair, pen,book…), his Balzac was not so much a portrait but a powerful evocation of the visionary genius whose gaze dominated the world, of the inspired creator draped in the monk’s habit he used to wear when writing.

This overly innovative monument caused such an outrage when it was unveiled in 1898 that the commission was cancelled. Rodin never saw his monument cast in bronze.

Final Study of the Monument to Balzac, modeled 1897, this bronze cast 1972 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917), Bronz,H. 41 3/4 in. (106 cm) Gift of Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, 1984 (1984.364.15)

This study differs little from the finished Monument to Balzac except that it is less than half the size. It was preceded by studies of the dressing gown alone, a simulation of one that Balzac preferred to wear when writing. A study of the full figure wrapped in the dressing gown followed. The final study, simplified and more a symbol than a portrait, attempted to convey a strength of character analogous to the power of Balzac's prose. It has been said that in the attempt, Rodin created the first truly modern sculpture.

 Edward Steichen (1879-1973)

Rodin, the "Monument to Victor Hugo" and "The Thinker"

Bichromated-gelatin print
H. 26 cm ; W. 32.2 cm
Signed : STEICHEN / MDCCCCII (1902)

In 1901, Steichen’s dream came true when he was allowed to make several portraits of Rodin in his studio. He would have liked to photograph the sculptor posing beside two of his major works, Monument to Victor Hugo and The Thinker , all on the same plate. But lack of space made this impossible. The following year, he therefore showed Rodin a photomontage composed of two different images.The sculptor was very impressed by the result: a profile view of him opposite The Thinker  and Victor Hugo .

He laughed at his biographer Judith Clavel’s turn of phrase, “Rodin, between God and the devil”. The photograph was published twice in 1905-06, in the periodical Camera Work, mouthpiece of the American Pictorialist photography movement.The concept behind the picture was highly innovative for the period in which it was taken, since it defied the idea of “realistic illusion”, based on the veracity and accuracy of the content, the underlying canon of 19th-century photography. The Pictorialist image here no longer resembled a conventional photograph and this appealed to Rodin, for montages and assemblages were part of his own working method: “I sketch an arm, a leg, the head. And I stop there… Little by little, the body to which that leg, that arm, that head could be adapted outlines itself in my mind.” (Rodin, 1910).

Marcel Hutin photograph, Unveiling of The Thinker outside the Panthéon, 1906.
The Thinker is erected outside the Panthéon.

My photograph of Rodin's The Burghers of Calais, (French, 1840–1917), Bronze, housed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. 

The Burghers of Calais, commemorating an episode during the Hundred Years' War between England and France, is probably the best and certainly the most successful of Rodin's public monuments. Rodin closely followed the account of the French chronicler Jean Froissart (1333 or 1337–after 1400) stating that six of the principal citizens of Calais were ordered to come out of their besieged city with head and feet bare, ropes around their necks, and the keys of the town and the caste in their hands. They were brought before the English king Edward III (1312–1377), who ordered their beheading. Rodin has portrayed them at the moment of departure from their city led by Eustache de Saint-Pierre, the bearded man in the middle of the group. At his side, Jean d'Aire carries a giant-sized key. Their oversized feet are bare, many have ropes around their necks, and all are in various states of despair, expecting imminent death and unaware that their lives will ultimately be saved by the intercession of the English queen Philippa. The arrangement of the group, with its unorthodox massing and subtle internal rhythms, was not easily settled, and the completed monument, cast in bronze by the Le Blanc-Barbedienne foundry, was not unveiled in Calais until 1895. The Metropolitan Museum's bronze is a lost-wax casting made from the plaster model in the Musée Rodin in Paris.

My photograph of Eternal Spring by Auguste Rodin. (French, 1840–1917), Marbl. Housed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. 

The torso of the woman in this group is recognizable as that of a model named Adèle Abruzzezzi. Rodin used it repeatedly, and it appears, for example, in a very different context in The Gates of Hell. Eternal Spring is in a lighter vein, however, full of awakening sensuality and implying neither guilt nor punishment to come. The sculpture was extremely popular, and Rodin repeated it often both in marble and in bronze. In 1898, he sold his plaster foundry models with the reproduction rights for this sculpture and its spiritual twin, The Kiss, to the firm of Ferdinand Barbedienne, the commercial foundry. This marble, commissioned from Rodin in 1906 and finished in March 1907, displays the sensuous, veiled quality of carving that creates an impressionistic play of light and shade on the surface of the medium characteristic of the marbles of Rodin's later career.

Please feel free to leave any comments,

My Review of Arresting Beauty by Heather Cooper

‘Beggars can’t be choosers. They really can’t.’ Based on true historical events,  Arresting Beauty  follows the extraordinary story of Mary ...