Category Archives: Essays

Edwardian Encounters: Jacob Kramer – A Study in Resolvable Contradictions

Self-Portrait by Jacob Kramer, 1930

Self-Portrait by Jacob Kramer, 1930

Since July 2, 2015, the Ben Uri Gallery has been celebrating its hundredth year in London. Founded in July, 1915, by a Russian Jew, the gallery has, in the course of a century, exhibited the work of Eastern European (largely Pale-of-Settlement born) Jewish painters living in England.

In “Ben Uri at 100”, David Herman splits these painters into two groups (roughly pre- and post-World War II) and notes the “variety and vitality of modern Jewish art and its complicated relationship with modern Jewish history”. Herman argues that the so-called “Whitechapel Boys,” who came of age at the turn of the century, among them the Vorticist fellow-traveler Mark Gertler, Isaac Rosenberg, and Jacob Kramer, expressed clear interest in Jewish-identified themes. Conversely, the post-war, post-Holocaust generation, which featured such luminaries as Lucien Freud and Frank Auerbach, fought shy of Jewish content and only, somehow, expressed Jewishness through formal “darkness.”

Jacob Kramer clearly does not fit into the generational or identitarian binaries outlined by Herman. Continue reading

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Edwardian Encounters: ‘The Glimpse’ by Arnold Bennett

'Self-Portrait' by Charles Conder (Tullie House) [Charles Conder is one of several artists mentioned in 'The Glimpse']

‘Self-Portrait’ by Charles Conder (Tullie House) [Charles Conder is one of several artists mentioned in ‘The Glimpse’]

Arnold Bennett, The Glimpse, (London: Chapman and Hall, 1909)

Arnold Bennett has been described as a materialist, a realist, a writer whose novels have ‘a narrative emphasis on the drab, the squalid and the mundane’. [1] He was, however, also capable of dreaming. In one such dream, he writes that he ‘stood by my own dead body and saw the pennies upon my eyes. I cannot remember at this distance of time what the rest of the dream was, but it had to do with the adventures of a soul after death’.[2]

Never one to waste good material, Bennett immediately saw the potential for a story, and in May 1908 he wrote the short story ‘The Glimpse’ about the proprietor of a Staffordshire earthenware factory who has an out-of-body experience whilst lying in bed close to death. Bennett quickly came to the view that the material of the story was capable of being much more fully developed into a full-length novel with sound commercial prospects. Belief in Spiritualism was widespread, so the story of a soul’s adventures at the point of death would not lack a potential audience. Bennett wrote and published his approximately 70,000 word novel The Glimpse in 1909, between his two longer and better-known acknowledged masterpieces The Old Wives’ Tale (1908) and Clayhanger (1910). Continue reading

Edwardian Encounters: The Edwardian Bookplate

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The Edwardian era coincided with “a steady expansion of British reading habits”, with the number of books published and made available to readers – through the establishment of new public libraries, Workers’ Educational Associations and book clubs – showing remarkable advances from the turn of the century to the mid 1910s. [1] Beyond this trend lay an improvement in family incomes and a rising level of literacy, in addition to vast population growth and increase in life expectancy.[2] The fastidiousness and inequality of Victorian Britain resonated strongly with this new Edwardian society, generating a soar in fiction on social realism and the fantasies of romantic adventure, the spirit of childhood and outdoor life.[3] Continue reading

Edwardian Encounters: Richard Strauss in London in 1903

Programme cover for the December 1903 recital

Programme cover for the December 1903 recital

In 1903 one of the world’s leading composers came to London to perform an evening of his own ground-breaking songs.  In today’s parlance this was what could well be called ‘a dream recital’, and yet amazingly it met with a marked detachment from both contemporary critics and the concert-going public as a whole.  Such aloof disinterest, I would say, reveals much about the insular attitudes towards foreign music in Britain at the time.

Richard Strauss (1864-1949) was born in Munich and by the turn of the last century he had become a composer of Lieder and tone poems of international significance.  In 1894 he had married the German soprano, Pauline de Ahna (1863-1950), and together they formed a formidable performing couple, touring extensively across the whole of Europe.  It was the London-based concert manager, Hugo Görlitz, who organised the visit of the Strausses to Britain at the end of 1903, primarily so that Strauss could conduct a Berlioz Centenary Concert at the Queen’s Hall on 11 December that year.  How enterprising it would be, Görlitz no doubt thought, to arrange for Pauline to sing some of her husband’s sensational songs while they were here. Continue reading

Essay: Bennett Amongst the Modernists

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On October 17th-18th, the Edwardian Culture Network will host a symposium entitled ‘Arnold Bennett and his Circle’ (see our ‘events’ pages for more details). In the following short essay, Dr. Andrew Glazzard, one of the co-organizers, anticipates some of the issues we intend to cover in our discussions.

I’d like to try a thought experiment – a game of matching the novel with the writer. Take two novels, both written in 1922 – ‘the year of Modernism’. One is set in a city, but very little happens. This novel is narrated with ironic detachment, and dwells on the drab lives of ordinary people who fail to understand each other. The other is an adventure story, set on the French coast during the Napoleonic Wars. It is about a pirate, features buried treasure, includes a love story between a dashing soldier and a beautiful woman, and ends with an exciting chase featuring Horatio Nelson.

One of these novels was written by an early modernist – an innovator who remains a fixture on university syllabuses, and has been widely acknowledged for his technical achievements and for bringing a sceptical, disillusioned world-view to British fiction. The other writer became immensely popular in his lifetime, was regarded by his younger contemporaries as an exemplar of everything that was wrong about the Edwardian novel, and today in the world of academic Eng.Lit is almost completely disregarded. Which author do you think wrote which novel? Continue reading

Edwardian Encounters: Laurel Leaves and Swimming Pools

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Sprays of laurel and oak leaves surround the head of Edward VII, king and emperor, looking so wise and benign in this finely sculptured likeness created, not as one might expect by an artist from the British Empire, but by an Austrian, Emil Fuchs. Here at the highest level, and yet at the most mundane, is an emblem of nationhood, proclaiming a country that – superficially at least – sees itself as cultured, unshakably monarchist, and ultimately pacific. Continue reading

Edwardian Encounters: ‘A Fancy Dress Dinner Party’ by Charles Ricketts

'A Fancy Dress Dinner Party' by Charles Ricketts, c.1904

‘A Fancy Dress Dinner Party’ by Charles Ricketts, c.1904

A small canvas in the Tullie House Gallery, Carlisle, offers a fascinating insight into the social life of a small group of Edwardian artists. The painting, by the multi-talented Charles Ricketts, depicts seven guests assembled at 11-13 Lansdowne Road, Holland Park, the house of Sir Edmund and Lady Mary Davis, on the 10th December 1904.

The Australian-born Edmund Davis was a highly successful businessman, who made most of his money in various South African ventures; not least gold and diamond mining. In 1889 he moved to London and married the talented Mary Halford, who encouraged his interest in art, which the couple started collecting in the late 1890s. Their tastes ranged widely, incorporating Old Master paintings, eighteenth century sculpture and contemporary works by the likes of Rodin (it is said that Edmund ‘liked to exercise surrounded by Rodin statues’). Continue reading