How to Support my Work

For those of you who appreciate my writing, please consider four ways of indirectly assisting me.

  1. Consider subscribing to the journals I most regularly write for. Two outlets have recently requested renewed support to continue their work. They are The Jackdaw (“independent views on the visual arts”, featuring journalism, news, artist profiles, exhibition and book reviews and contributor letters, six issues per year) and The Salisbury Review (“the quarterly magazine of conservative thought”, featuring discursive articles on politics, culture, history and biography, with art, book and media reviews, four issues per year). The websites are here The Jackdaw and The Salisbury Review. The pieces that I publish in these outlets appear nowhere else, so you will be receiving unique content. You will also be supporting independent journalism.
  2. Consider purchasing my books. Culture War: Art, Identity Politics and Cultural Entryism (Societas/Imprint Academic) is available through bookstores in the UK and USA, Amazon, other online stores and the website of the publisher. Iconoclasm, Identity Politics and the Erasure of History (Societas/Imprint Academic) is published on 6 October 2020, available through bookstores in the UK and USA, Amazon, other online stores and the website of the publisher. Other books by me include fiction, verse and art published by Aloes Books, Golconda, Bottle of Smoke Press and Pig Ear Press. These books can be found on Amazon and other online websites. UPDATE: You can purchase new copies of books of verse/art by me from Ragged Lion Press (eBay link: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/402304017970) Ragged Lion Press can also be contacted directly about AA books in stock here: https://www.raggedlionpress.co.uk/contact
  3. Sharing my online articles. I write regularly for the websites Spiked Online and The Critic. I also publish articles on this site. Please consider liking and sharing these articles. Even small efforts like this raise my profile and make websites and publishers more likely to commission future articles and books.
  4. Rating my books on Amazon, Goodreads and other websites.

Thank you again for your support.

AA

The Decadence and Darkness of Symbolism

“Berlin’s Alte Nationalgalerie exhibition of Belgian Symbolists, Decadence and Dark Dreams: Belgian Symbolism, closed last month. As few were able to attend, for obvious reasons, this article will review the exhibition from the catalogue.

“Symbolism – like its precursor, Romanticism – is a school that thrived, and had its premier exponents reside, in Northern Europe. Belgium produced some of the best Symbolist art in the era 1860-1914. Artists of the new nation of Belgium in search of an identity reached back to the Flemish Primitives as a strong regional model and nation achievement.

Symbolism was a rejection of the deracinating impact of greater homogeneity in industrial production, education, and news dissemination, and the dwindling of traditional religion, farming and attachment to the land and homeland

“Symbolism was a rejection of the deracinating impact of greater homogeneity in industrial production, education, and news dissemination, and the dwindling of traditional religion, farming and attachment to the land and homeland. In the same way the Arts & Crafts movement was a reaction against industrialisation, Symbolism was a reaction against rationalism…”

To read the full article visit The Brazen Head here: https://brazen-head.org/2021/02/26/the-decadence-and-darkness-of-symbolism/

Essays by Albert Camus

“Albert Camus (1913-1960) confessed that he had one wellspring of inspiration: his Algerian childhood. His silent unlettered mother, his absent father (killed in the Great War) and the ever-present warmth of the sun and the presence of the sea: all these were the foundations for his insights into the world:

A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened. This is why, perhaps, after working and producing for twenty years, I still live with the idea that my work has not even begun.

“Ironically, Camus would be dead less than two years later, not even 50, killed in a car accident.

“This idea of a return to an immutable emotional locus is something Camus reprises in the 1958 introduction to The Wrong Side and the Right Side, some of his earliest writings. This is the first part of Personal Writings, which also includes the 1939 collection Nuptials (Noces) and Summer (L’Été) of 1954. The essays of The Wrong Side and the Right Side (L’Envers et l’Endroit, previously translated as Betwixt and Between) were written 1935-6 and published in 1937 in Algeria…”

To read the full review on The Brazen Head, click here: https://brazen-head.org/2021/02/26/the-rights-of-the-human-heart-essays-by-camus/

Notice: Leonor Fini: Catalogue Raisonné

NB: This is a notice, not a review. It is derived from the final version on PDF, not a published copy of the book. Hence, I cannot provide a complete review as I am unable to discuss print quality, binding, etc. All information below is accurate to the PDF I have viewed.

Leonor Fini (1907-1996) was an Argentinian-born Italian Surrealist painter. She grew up in Trieste and received no formal training as an artist, teaching herself. She joined the Surrealists in 1933. She was part of the oneiric (or dreamlike) strand of Surrealism, led by Dalí, who became a friend, although it would not be until 1938 that she would produce her first mature Surrealist paintings. These feature women in elegant dresses inhabiting fantastic invented settings, with mythological references. Throughout her career, invented female portraits and self-portraits would be a major part of her oeuvre. Her art would centre on women, sensuality and sexuality. She portrayed male lovers nude and painted scenes of lesbianism in later years. The atmosphere of her scenes is mysterious and often sinister. Her art developed through different phases. In the 1950s, her art became more decorative and abstract, with figures floating in fields of organic patterning. These verge on the psychedelic. In the 1960s and 1970s, Fini’s figures become paler and less modelled. The increasing stylisation, flattened forms, area of strong colour and shallower picture plane indicate the influence of Pop Art. In the 1980s the backgrounds darkened and her art becomes more serene and less playful. She painted until a few months before her death in 18 January 1996.    

This catalogue raisonné is in two volumes. The first volume contains essays on various aspects of the life and art of Fini, with illustrations including photographs of the artist, her famous ball costumes and sketches, along with a selection of colour plates of paintings. The second volume contains a catalogue of all Fini’s known paintings, with colour images and information, concluding with a detailed chronology, bibliography, exhibition list and other source data. The texts are informative and thorough, with Overstreet and Webb already proven Fini experts. The bibliography is extensive but not complete. The illustrations (judging from the digital file) are high quality. This publication will be a vital resource for collectors and dealers, though its price will put it out of the reach of many enthusiasts.

Richard Overstreet and Neil Zukerman (eds.), with Peter Webb and Rowland Weinstein, Leonor Fini: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, Scheidegger & Spiess, 2021, hardback, 2 vols. in slipcase, 648pp, 1082 col., 339 mono illus., €350, ISBN 978-3-85881-843-0

(c) 2021 Alexander Adams

To view my art and books visit www.alexanderadams.art

Piranesi Unbound

In Piranesi Unbound Carolyn Yearkes and Heather Hyde Minor reframe discussion of Piranesi not as solely or principally as a printmaker/artist but “as a writer, illustrator, printer, and publisher of books”. They posit that the product was ultimately the book rather than individual prints or – in our age of catalogues raisonnés and universal access to a lifetime’s oeuvre – a body of prints, and that consequently it was the individual books that provided Piranesi’s a metric of his own success. Our consumption of Piranesi’s art has distorted our appreciation of it and left us ill-equipped to understand how Piranesi saw his work.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) arrived from Venice aged 20, with an ambition to become an architect. His skill for as an architectural draughtsman led to him recording the ruins of Rome in his painterly, exaggerated picturesque style in drawings and etchings. His books of etchings – mainly the Views of Rome and Imaginary Prisons – presented architectural views and fragments of antiquity, which came from Piranesi’s efforts as an archaeologist-antiquarian.

Piranesi produced prints for authors but soon moved to producing prints of his own subjects, both individually and bound as books. He collaborated with scholars on texts for his books, later writing alone. The texts assisted in selling bound collections of prints by adding intellectual coherence to views of disparate buildings and antiquities. The authors outline Piranesi’s career and method of operation. His drawing on the spot before motifs was complemented by invented and observed figures. Piranesi etchings often have diminutive figures to demonstrate the size of buildings; they also exhort viewers to behold the wonders of the ancients. Numerous illustrations show us sketches where the artist refines ideas and improvises.

The authors analyse Piranesi as a book producer. A chapter covers the way Piranesi used off-prints, faulty sheets and test proofs as waste paper on which he would sketch. (Over 60 sketches on printed sheets are extant.) It is significant that Piranesi had to send sheets to a book printer in order to have text printed. Although specialist engravers could cut letters on to figural plates, for whole pages of text, moveable type was required, which was under the purview of a text printer. “No matter how successful he became, Piranesi never owned a letterpress. Printing with movable type set in trays and printing from copperplates were two distinct specialities in eighteenth-century Rome, requiring different presses and teams of skilled laborers.” Type printing was relief matrix and copperplate was intaglio (recessed) matrix.

The printed sheets used for sketches are analysed, with sources identified. (Not all the sources are Piranesi’s books.) The artist designed his own letterforms and etched decorative vignettes of initial capital letters. The authors note that cataloguers have paid inconsistent attention to these vignettes, the plates for which have been lost. “Reference works on Piranesi’s prints typically divorce images from their texts, summarizing his books as lists of illustrations, and organizational problems abound within them.”

Copies of Piranesi’s books were bound once they were sold, with presumably sample books held by Piranesi’s publisher-bookseller. Many collectors had books bound to their own specifications, sometimes with a family escutcheon. There is discussion of the various patrons who supported Piranesi. Many were British gentlemen on the Grand Tour. Researchers will welcome the list of dedicatees of extant (and some lost) copies of Lettere di giustificazione scritte a Milord Charlemont (1757), which forms a summary of Piranesi’s patrons. “From the individual copies emerges a sweeping panorama of the artist’s professional world. Patrons and clients, printers and artists, nobles and clergy: all of them appear within the small frame of Piranesi’s dedicatory print.” Thumbnail biographies are accompanied by portraits. Fittingly, Piranesi Unbound is profusely illustrated and well designed.

The author’s note the way Piranesi reflected objects of antiquity and cast letters (from Roman inset inscriptions and contemporary cast type) in his prints, playing with illusionism. This is also seen in Piranesi’s texts illustrated as carved inscriptions on ruined stonework. On the title page of Lapides Capitolini sive Fasti Consulares Triumphalesque Romanorum (1762) has the form of a carved tablet with seals and coins placed on it. “When Piranesi etched or engraved a coin, he almost always showed it life-sized, or near life-sized, reveling in the verisimilitude of having an impressed object appear as if set down on the paper.” Piranesi was forever etching real and invented inscriptions on depictions of objects, demonstrating his playful creativity and visual wit.     

Hampering appreciated of Piranesi as book maker is the fact that many books have been split up and pages either separated for display or dispersed. Piranesi himself sold individual sheets to buyers who did not want or could not afford entire books. The chapter on the binding of Piranesi’s books includes photographs of the sumptuous bindings: leather with gilded figures and borders. There is a photograph of a copy that has had most of its pages cut out. These are aptly called “carcasses”. A chapter deals with the fate of prints, books and plates following the artist’s death. It seems Piranesi’s books were acquired by antiquarians, historians and numismatical experts, as well as by artists and architects.

There is a point here that applies to all art. We are becoming accustomed to the dematerialised digitised art work. Even if we are consuming art on the printed page, the image has been through digitisation and tweaking. Sizes have been adjusted to suit the page, tones altered to be optimised through a printing press, margins have been trimmed and straightened. Viewing art on a computer screen may allow greater flexibility in viewing and increased resolution, but it further translates a physical item into an arrangement of pixels. Even those of us who have seen or handled original prints, there is a certain relief about the printed illustration or computer file. We do not have to take care handling a printed sheet; we do not have to make an appointment and travel to a library to study an image; we can flip instantly between pictures and access unique works we could never see in person. There is a certain eager resignation to accept that art-as-object can be viably supplanted by art-as-image and there are advantages that cannot be gainsaid in the advances in printing and internet image access.

Piranesi Unbound is a thoroughly researched and stimulating discursive study of Piranesi as a creator and seller of books. This will be a valuable book for students of Piranesi, book arts and patronage in Eighteenth-Century Rome.  

Carolyn Yearkes and Heather Hyde Minor, Piranesi Unbound, Princeton University Press, 2020, hardback, 240pp, fully illus., $65/£54, ISBN 978 0 691 20610 3

(c) 2021 Alexander Adams

To see my art and books visit www.alexanderadams.art


[i] P. 4

[ii] P. 15

[iii] P. 72

[iv] P. 125

[v] P. 110

Claude Cahun: Paper Bullets


he life stories of Suzanne Malherbe (1892-1972) and Lucy Schwob (1894-1954) are the stuff of fiction. Jeffrey H. Jackson’s Paper Bullets: Two Artists Who Risked Their Lives to Defy the Nazis is a new telling of a tale that has received increasing attention in the last two decades.

The Schwob and Malherbe families were friends and their daughters played together. Suzanne was a talented artist and Lucy wrote prolifically from childhood onwards. They collaborated on a book of drawings (Suzanne) and poems (Lucy), published in 1919. The book was published pseudonymously.

Professionally, Schwob adopted the gender-ambiguous name Claude Cahun; Malherbe chose the masculine nom-de-plume Marcel Moore. They would be professionally known by those names, though their everyday and legal names remained unchanged. As this review is biographical rather than artistic, I, like Jackson, will use their given forenames. Jackson is alive to the way the pair have been appropriated as cons of transgenderism. He points out that although they presented themselves in ambiguous ways (Cahun shaving her head), “they always talked about themselves as women” and used female pronouns. Suzanne and Lucy arrived in the early 1920s from Nantes in search of fulfilment; mainly artistic and literary….

Read the full review of Jeffrey H. Jackson, Paper Bullets: Two Artists Who Risked Their Lives to Defy the Nazis, Algonquin Books, 2020 here: https://thecritic.co.uk/heroes-but-not-trans-heroes-how-two-female-artists-defied-the-nazis/

The Naked Truth: Viennese Modernism and the Body

In The Naked Truth: Viennese Modernism and the Body Alys George, a specialist in German culture at New York University, applies an interdisciplinary approach to the thesis that conceptions of the body were central to the up swelling of avant-garde culture during the period of Viennese Modernism.

George defines the Viennese fin de siècle as 1870-1938, contrasting with the usual definition as 1870/80 to 1914. Nominating the Anschluss as the cut-off of the beaux-arts period implies a level of continuity between pre-war and post-war periods in Vienna that diverges from the way other countries are assessed. The classification suggests Viennese society had not adjusted to its loss of empire and was still strongly attached to its pre-war culture, something reflecting Austria’s naturally conservative culture. It is paradoxical, of course, that the Vienna that was so critical of Modernism, clung to pre-war Jugendstil, Symbolism and Expressionism when much of Europe sought new styles and new political paradigms. Defeat shattered German society, yet that same defeat seemed to entrench and isolate Vienna in its pre-war culture, almost a rejection of defeat. However, Vienna’s reputation as the cockpit of Modernism (especially in Jugendstil and Expressionism) decreased dramatically, with attention increasingly focused on Paris during the inter-war period.  

The central concern of Viennese modernism is, according to Werner Hofmann and Hilde Spiel, “to recognize the flesh, to apprehend the human being in its creatureliness”. George claims the materialism of contemporary Viennese science centres culture of that location on the body. Vienna was a centre of medicine and the nascent science of psychology/psychotherapy, as well as anthropological criminology. One of the leading criminolgists was Italian Cesare Lombroso. Criminology was intimately associated with physiological and psychological research that ranged from the soundly evidence led to the crank pseudo-science such as physiognomy and racial classification. Sexology developed in Vienna in this period specifically so that normative sexual behaviour could be classed as legal and deviant behaviour classed as illegal. Study of disease, hygiene, exercise and naturism were interlinked, mixing science with fad, frequently crossed into areas of law-making, public policy and discussion of sex (both sexual activity and the innate characteristics of the two sexes).

Anthropometry and phsysiognomy flourished. Reproduced in the book is a page of head types drawn by Egon Schiele for a scientific textbook in 1917. Ethnography and anthropology were used to advance knowledge and to categorise races. George discusses the 1896 public presentation of an Ashanti village – transported from the Gold Coast, complete with wood-and-thatch huts and natives in traditional garb – set up in the Prater, the zoological park, in Vienna. It did booming business, with 15,000 visitors on the opening afternoon. Berlin took up the model by setting up an Abyssinian village in 1905. While George presents the range of responses to the event – more public spectacle than scientific demonstration – and inferences that can be drawn, she is rather too forward with her contemporary moral position than some readers will wish.

A comparative display was the 1906 General Hygienic Exhibition, also held in Vienna, one of many held in European cities. “Such large-scale exhibits aimed to reach the broadest possible audience by combining medical science about the body and hygiene, targeted at laypeople, with concrete directives about how to best improve one’s physical constitution.” This was a widespread drive for self-improvement through science and pseudo-science. “The notion of reforming the body included several branches: personal hygiene; naturopathy, nutrition reform, abstinence, and drug prevention; physical education and sports movements, including gymnastics, alpinism, and dance; clothing reform; spa and bathhouse culture; and nudism (the latter often subsumed under the rubric of Freikörperkultur, literally, “free body culture”).” It included not only advice, information and models, its exhibits acted as a trade fair for commercial wares in the expanding health-improvement-device market. Scientism and fads mingle easily – and sometimes indistinguishably – with science and technological advances.

There is a chapter on bodies in Viennese literature, centring on Arthur Schnitzler, Marie Pappenheim, Joseph Roth, Carry Hauser and Ödön von Horváth. (The first two were medical doctors as well as authors.) Robert Musil saw himself as a vivisector. Sigmund Freud, the most influential of Viennese Modernist writer, analysed the overlap between culture and body and the constant struggle between restraint and expression and the resultant dysfunction. Schnitzler’s depictions of dissecting rooms were from personal experience and his attempt to lay bare the malaises at the heart of modern life was akin to a medical diagnosis. Pappenheim also wrote a poem about a dissecting room. Journalist Joseph Roth wrote of the plight of the underclass – including the Kriegsbeschädigte (“the war damaged”) – in his articles in the years of deprivation. Horváth’s 1932 play is set in the Anatomical Institute, Vienna. George neatly summarises the bodily-focus of the texts but does not draw an overarching conclusion.

George discusses the position of working-class women as the subjects of medical institutions and research in Viennese medicine. She mentions Klimt’s murals for the university, including one for the discipline of medicine, which featured a pregnant woman nude. She also discusses controversies over abortion in the inter-war period.

George writes well of Schiele’s drawings made at the Women’s Clinic. “His drawings of mothers-to-be exude a candid, radical corporeality, an unaesetheticized physicality that sets them apart from even Klimt’s paintings of the same theme […] Schiele’s drawings call attention to questions regarding women’s sexuality, social marginality, and the more general problem of scopic power in fin-de-siècle Vienna.” George notes that these privileges for artists tells us about the thinking of physicians and senior hospital administrators. “[…] the access of artists to patients in Viennese clinical settings must be read together with concurrent efforts to put the clinics themselves and their modernity on display to the public. A modern type of medical architecture that emerged around the fin de siècle blurred the boundaries between private and public, while facilitating the production of images that could later be deployed in nonclinical settings.”

However, this seems too clear cut. For instance, the people who granted access for Schiele and Mime van Osen probably did not expect that art to become public – after all, there was no appetite at the time for public display of such images. How official was their access? Was it not a case of senior staff sympathetic to artists (who would be undertaking private research not expected to be shown directly to the public) offering access in return for a drawing or a portrait? To what degree was the institution itself sanctioning artist access? George assumes that the access was known and approved by authorities but this may not be the case. For example, John Richardson states that Picasso probably gained access to confined prostitutes in Paris during his Blue Period due to the ministrations of a doctor who had treated one of Picasso’s mistresses. Favours or payment in kind may have played more of a part than official policy, especially if it were tacitly understood that the artists would not display their art or mention where they met the subjects.

A chapter discusses the role of gesture in theatre, mime, dance and silent film. This is framed through the theories of Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Long, flowing clothing was used to emphasise movement; some dancers were photographed nude, taking the expressiveness to new heights by abandoning the conventions of modesty. This relates to naturism and the advent of art photography. The New School for Movement Art operated in Vienna, covering “rhythmic gymnastics and calisthenics, dance, ballet technique, and acrobatics, [also] anatomy and physiology, pedagogy and psychology, instruction in form and harmony, the history of art, music, dance, and gymnastics, costume art, and figural and ornamental drawing.” Expressionism in Austria and Germany involved cinema, theatre and dance, which involved a lot attention to communication through form, gesture and movement.

Overall, The Naked Truth provides a thoughtful and intelligent overview of the role of the body in Viennese science and culture of the fin-de-siècle and modern periods.

Alys X. George, The Naked Truth: Viennese Modernism and the Body, Chicago University Press, 2020, hardback, 322pp + xi, 43 mono illus., $45, ISBN 978 0 226 669984

© 2021 Alexander Adams

To view my art and books visit www.alexanderadams.art


Paul Delvaux: The Man who Loved Trains

Paul Delvaux (1897-1994) is best known as the painter of female nudes, but his second most favoured motif was the train and railway station. So often did Delvaux paint trains and stations that he has become known in some quarters as a “train-station painter”. Indeed, when the curator of Museum Delvaux (at St-Idesbald, on the Flanders coast) discussed visitors with a British art historian, he noted that the majority of British visitors were train enthusiasts rather than art connoisseurs.  

In the last decades of the Nineteenth Century, railways developed extensively across Belgium, accelerated by – and aiding – in the country’s advanced heavy industries of coal, iron and textile production. Anyone growing up in the Edwardian age, as Delvaux did, would have been aware of the great freedom train travel offered all but the very poorest. The network allowed one to reach the very edges of civilisation from one’s home district, had one the fare. Trains, railways and railway stations became nodes in the romantic imagination – highways to adventure, sophisticated metropolises, distant lands and amorous intrigues.

Camille Brasseur is the scientific director of collections at Fondation Paul Delvaux, St.-Idesbald. She has combed Delvaux’s archives, museum and art works, piecing together Delvaux’s deep fascination for trains. Brasseur outlines Delvaux’s student days and his early career, moving between realism and Impressionism. At times, Delvaux felt the tug of Symbolism, classicism and fantastic art – not least the illustrations of Jules Vernes novels – which gave him a sense that art could be more than a range of styles depicting the real.

Train stations appear in Delvaux’s paintings in 1921. They are accurate depictions of stations in central Brussels, such as Gare du Quartier-Léopold and Gare du Luxembourg. He adopted mainly high viewpoints (on bridges) and concentrated on freight carriages. The attention he paid to the rail workers (labourers and freight handlers rather than guards) puts him in the tradition of Constantin Meunier and the social realists. The evening light, smoke haze and palette overwhelmed by earth hues, all contributed to a stylistic correlation to social realism, though Delvaux never had a commitment to depicting the lives of the working class with a view to disseminating information about their plight or effecting political change. Delvaux was never a socially engaged artist.

In the 1930s, Delvaux made views of rural stations near Huy, the region of his birth. “Often going against traditional clichés, Delvaux chooses not to represent the station façades, but is interested instead in the interior views and the circulation of the machines. The equipment represented essentially consists of wagons and locomotives used for the transportation of goods.” Delvaux’s attention was captured by the least poetic and picaresque aspects of railway stations: the tracks, shunting yards, signals and freight wagons. The romance of travel and the opportunity for human comedy and drama in the form of interactions between passengers is entirely absent from these pictures.

When train stations reappeared in Delvaux’s art, it was in the late 1940s, at a point when Delvaux had established his Surrealist-Symbolist dreamlike repertoire and clearer style and palette. This time the stations foyers and waiting rooms were the settings for scenes occupied by nude women. The dirt and danger of clinker, smoke and heavy machinery has been banished; instead, belle-époque interiors function as theatrical sets for reveries of strange incongruity and erotic contemplation.

Brasseur notes that Delvaux’s house in Boitsfort (bought in 1954) was close to the station and railway (the Brussels-Namur line) and that his subsequent paintings used motifs that were drawn from life. Delvaux’s engines, wagons and signals were accurate and can be found in contemporary photographs or preserved items. Blueprints of wagons attest to Delvaux zeal for correctness. Vintage postcards provide evidence on how Delvaux adapted the locales to the necessities of his art. In the 1950s, the exterior of provincial stations started to feature in settings. The painter reduced the emotional intensity and spatial concentration by opening up his paintings. No longer are interiors and platforms under roofs central; instead, we are outside, in small country towns at night, under empty, cloudless skies, inhabiting sparsely populated squares or generously broad paths. The compositions become more diffuse. We get views across train tracks that run parallel to the picture plane.

The Last Wagon (1975) was one of the few Delvaux paintings set inside a train. The platforms, lamps and awnings of railways of Delvaux’s youth – he always preferred the old to the recent – appear detached from their origins in many scenes, the way in dreams objects become separated from their sources. Reproduced in this book are photographs of lanterns, signals, buildings and stations that Delvaux used in his pictures. His collection of authentic objects and models is viewable in his museum at St-Idesbald. Some of it is reproduced here.

It was to be expected that, considering Delvaux’s attachment to trains and his success, he would be commissioned to produce paintings for the national rail network in Belgium. The four paintings of 1963 are not his best nor most imaginative, but they form a set that will please rail enthusiasts. They were reproduced as stamps. He was commissioned to produce a great mural for the casino at Knokke, called The Legendary Journey (1973-4), which featured a railway. In 1984, Delvaux was made honorary stationmaster of St-Idesbald station. A peculiar omission – the only fault in this fine and thorough book – is the failure to discuss Delvaux’s mural for La Bourse metro station, Brussels, executed in 1978. Although it depicts trams rather than trains, it is the last flourishing in his art of track-based-transport imagery.

Overall, this book forms an excellent explanation of the role and extent of railway and train imagery Delvaux’s art. It also comprises a good discussion of Delvaux as a whole. Considering the dearth of good commentary in English on this artist, Brasseur’s contribution is an essential purchase for all Anglophone fans of Delvaux’s art.

Camille Brasseur, Paul Delvaux: The Man Who Loved Trains, Snoeck, 2019, 240pp, 200 illus., hardback, €34, ISBN 978 9 461 615732. English edition, French and Dutch editions available.

(c) 2021 Alexander Adams

To view my art and books, visit www.alexanderadams.art


Francis Bacon: Francophile

Francis Bacon: Francophile is the first book dedicated to photographs of Bacon taken in France. Bacon first visited Paris in 1926, then again in 1927, to learn French and become acquainted with French culture. The book is edited and introduced by Majid Boustany, founder of the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, Monaco. The foundation houses many documents and photographs relating to the artist. This handsome book gathers the best of these with photographs by other photographers which are better known. Boustany sets Bacon’s contacts and esteem for French life and culture in context. Eddy Batache (with Reinhard Hassert, good friends of Bacon’s in Paris) writes about Bacon’s everyday responses to Paris and French cuisine and wine, so important to the artist. Yves Peyré writes about Bacon’s reading in French.

The photographs range from casual holiday snapshots to appearances at vernissages up to formal portrait photographs by professional photographers. The first photographs are by Bacon’s cousin Diana Watson, with whom he travelled to Paris in 1932. There are few photos until 1971, when the selection becomes richer with Bacon’s Grand Palais retrospective. The photographs of 26 October 1971 are a psychological profile of Bacon as he greets friends and dignitaries at the opening, all the time knowing that his lover was lying dead in a hotel bathroom. The private views for exhibitions in commercial galleries were big social events, with crowds pressed up against Bacon in order to get signatures.

There are many photographs taken by Batache and Hassert, not only at Bacon’s Paris flat in the Marais, but in visits to other parts of France. Seeing Bacon in chateaux gardens or wine cellars makes a change from the usual studio and museum settings. Visitors noted that Bacon kept his Paris studio apartment much cleaner than his London studio, not least because he slept and lived in a single room. We see Bacon posing on the street or seemingly caught unawares, wearing a glossy black overcoat. Some of the cultural luminaries of the period are seen with him, including Miró, Masson, Hayter and others. Michel Leiris was a personal friend and one of the writers whose general works and essays on Bacon himself Bacon most valued.  

The edition is limited to 206 copies, each sold with a loose photographic print by André Ostier enclosed. It is available only from the Foundation. Francophile is an attractive book sure to be snapped up by Baconophiles.

Majid Boustany (ed.), Francis Bacon: Francophile, Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, hardback, cloth spine, 308pp, over 150 illus., 2020, €295, ISBN 978 2 9552115 33

(c) 2021 Alexander Adams

To view my art and books visit www.alexanderadams.art

“Why you should hold on to your DVDs”

“Donald Trump has been deplatformed. He was removed from Twitter, his email service provider cut his service, and even Deutsche Bank said it would no longer work with him. Now, in true Orwellian fashion, he is facing depersonning. When the idea of digitally removing or replacing Trump’s cameo in Home Alone 2 was put forward, it was meant as a joke. But that joke almost immediately became a serious suggestion. Even Macaulay Culkin, the star of the movie, agreed that Trump should be deleted. There has already been a version made that edits out Trump’s appearance. That was broadcast on CBC in Canada, although CBC claimed that the edited version was made in 2014, and that there was no political agenda behind it.

“In this time of hypernormalisation – when satire and reality merge, and the cycle of approved/forbidden accelerates exponentially – you might have need of your DVDs as a reminder of the pre-censored reality of this or that film or TV show….”

Read the rest of my article in full for free on Spiked here: https://www.spiked-online.com/2021/01/19/why-you-should-hold-on-to-your-dvds/

Janis Tomlinson: Goya

“The life and art of Francisco Goya (1746-1828) are woven into the history of Europe in Janis A. Tomlinson’s stimulating new biography. His was a life which overlapped the tail end of the Inquisition, the rise of the Enlightenment, revolution, war and the end of the Spain as a major colonial power.

“Goya is often seen as the embodiment of the old Spain: dark, poor, superstitious and living under an absolute monarch. The artist was born in Fuendetodos, near Zaragoza. He began his apprenticeship assisting in gilding frames and altarpieces with Francisco Bayeu (1734-1795). Failing to gain entry to the Royal Academy, Goya undertook a study tour of Italy, from 1769 to 1771, gaining familiarity with advanced Italian art. In these pre-royal patronage years, Goya received income from collector Martin Zapater. Much of our knowledge of the painter’s character and career come from letters written by Goya to Zapater….”

Read my full review in The Critic here: https://thecritic.co.uk/francisco-goya-the-embodiment-of-old-spain/