L’ALBERO NASCOSTO, TRIESTE

There was the usual bottle of wine in our room at L’Albero Nascosto in Trieste, but also a notice pointing out that hotels.com take 18% commission from hoteliers and that the best way to support independent hotels like this one is to book direct. In fact we’d done so.

On the afternoon of our arrival we saw an elderly gentleman sitting in the courtyard with a glass of wine. The next morning we saw him clearing the breakfast tables. It was the owner, Aldo Stock. The hotel has his personal touch and is full of things he’s chosen – antique furniture, paintings by Trieste artists and books. There’s also a lounge with an art and design library.

You get a taste of the hotel from its own description: “Our boutique hotel is an eighteenth-century building, without a lift. In its rarefied silence you will be able to appreciate the white stone of Istria, the wood of the walnut tree, of the elm and the cherry, and the precious column from Roman times.”

Aldo used to be an antique dealer, still does some dealing and has a store which you can visit on request.

We went with him to see it a few blocks away. “Dealing in antiques was an elegant occupation,” he said, “But I got tired of it and I prefer to be in the hotel, meeting different people every day.”

His passions are glass and wood. There are items by Gallé and Venini and furniture chosen for its beautiful veneers. Each of the ten rooms is named after a tree.

“Have you lived in Trieste all your life?”

“Except for the first few years. My parents were Jewish and we escaped to Switzerland when I was a baby.” Trieste, which has one of the largest synagogues in Europe, then had a Jewish population of 5,000, now reduced to 500.

He also spent a couple of years in London as a student. “What did you study?” “That wasn’t the important thing: I was in London to learn English.” His English is fluent and his staff speak it well. Spanish, German and French are also spoken.

TRIESTE CATHEDRAL

We climbed to the Castel San Giusto in Trieste to get a view over the town and the seaport. A cruise liner had docked, dwarfing the surrounding buildings. The Cathedral was an afterthought.

Trieste looks like a central European city even a century after being detached from the Austro-Hungarian empire and there are remnants of its former status, from the Orthodox church of St Spyridon and the offices of Generali, the insurance company born in the city, to restaurants serving strudel and sausages with sauerkraut.

The Cathedral of St Justus, a 14th-century basilica on one of the highest points, is from a pre-Habsburg Trieste. It is simple but, on account of its wall paintings and Byzantine mosaics, not austere, and there is a beautiful afternoon light.

NEW CAROLINGIANS


Queen Elizabeth’s reign began with optimism. The war had ended, the dictators had been defeated and the country looked forward to prosperity. Attlee’s government had introduced irreversible improvements and although the NHS and free secondary education are associated with Labour they were Conservative policies too.

The cheerful mood had been deliberately created by the Festival of Britain and was symbolised in the architecture of the Lansbury Estate, the modernity of the Dome of Discovery and the quirkiness of Roland Emmett’s Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway. The watchwords were reconstruction, town planning, full employment and health for all.

With the Festival came the Contemporary style, that tamed British modernism that William Feaver described as “Braced legs, indoor plants, lily-of-the valley sprays of lightbulbs, aluminium lattices, Cotswold-type walling with picture windows, flying staircases, blond wood, the thorn, the spike, the molecule.”

Other symbols were the Royal Festival Hall, the New Towns and the New Universities. The most famous and most fashionable of the new universities was Sussex, designed by Basil Spence, who had worked on the Festival of Britain and had designed the new Coventry Cathedral.

Coventry, a modernist building rising symbolically from the ruins of war, made modern art prominent: Jacob Epstein’s St Michael, Graham Sutherland’s Christ in Glory, stained-glass by John Piper and candlesticks by Hans Coper.

People knowingly called themselves New Elizabethans. New Elizabethans believed in science. They were wowed by Sputnik, the Comet and the Avro Vulcan aircraft. Food manufacturers boasted that their products were made in modern factories and that they had scientific ingredients. There was no Hovis-style nostalgia and no fear of chemicals. The Two Cultures were united in textile designs based on molecular structures and X-ray crystallography. This was Modern England.

Charles begins his reign in a more insecure, doubtful, and self-critical age. A dictator is waging war in Europe. Many people think the active state that made post-war Britain does more harm than good, that science is a conspiracy of experts and that what we thought was progress will kill us.

Charles himself has channelled much of this doubt. His sincere concern about the environment is why many people like him. He ran a company promoting organic food. His hatred of modern architecture is legendary. His style of dress makes him look older than his father.

But every change creates the hope of a better future. The mood of the country is bound to change. Perhaps we will become New Carolingians.

ARMAZENS CUNHAS, PORTO


Next to the Carmo Church in Porto this fine Art Deco building dominates the Praça Gomes Teixeira. Armazens Cunhas (motto “We Sell Cheaper”) has been selling sheets, bedspreads, tablecloths, pyjamas and work wear in the same way and with the same internal layout for decades with few concessions to modern life and none to tourism.



José de Almeida Cunha founded the company in 1917 and it remains in the same family today. The facade was designed by Manuel Marques, Amoroso Lopes and Coelho Freitas, linking three earlier buildings. The same team of architects also designed the Farmácia Vitália in the Praça Liberdade.


Photo: Manuel V. Botelho (Wikipedia)

ROTHENSTEIN AND LETHABY

William Rothenstein knew everyone in the art world of the early 20th century, so his memoirs – Men and Memories and After Fifty – are informative as well as entertaining. Since I’ve been writing about W. R. Lethaby, I thought I should go and see what Rothenstein had to say about him. Not surprisingly they knew one another well. They visited Paris and Chartres together. Rothenstein respected Lethaby’s scholarship, judgement and integrity and his contribution to the crafts. I’ve copied the relevant passage below.

Rothenstein became principal of the Royal College of Art shortly after Lethaby had retired as professor of design and while his infliuence was still strongly felt. In a confidential memorandum Rothenstein expressed reservations about the air of medievalism that he’d left behind him and the poor work being done in some of the subjects in the design school.

TURKISH CERAMICS AND CULTURAL APPROPRIATION

Ceramics has always been a field of cultural appropriation and there may have been little ceramic art without it. One of the most obvious cases is the appropriation of material culture both by and from Turkish potters. Istanbul’s great glory is its Iznik tiled mosques, so I was disappointed to find that, athough the walls of the Topkapı Palace are gorgeously tiled, the Palace’s collection of ceramics is from China, not from Iznik. If you want to see Iznik pottery, go to London, where the British Museum has the best collection in the world.

Topkapı Palace, wall with Iznik tiles.
Border decoration on Iznik plate derived from Chinese cloud motifs.

The development of Iznik pottery was motivated by the desire to imitate Chinese porcelain, which was done in a roundabout way, covering the local greyish clay with fine white slip then painting it in brilliant colours under a clear glaze. There are Chinese motifs on Iznik vessels, with their characteristically Turkish decorations of tulips, carnations and saz leaves, in the form of the cloud patterns round the margins of plates. The Chinese returned the compliment by taking Iznik motifs and painting them in blue and white on porcelain dishes for export.This Turkish pottery was naturally admired everywhere. In Britain in the 19th century it was copied and adapted without understanding. Its origins weren’t known because the Iznik manufactories were long gone. As every visitor to Turkey discovers, Iznik designs are sold everywhere, but the pottery comes from Kütahya now.

This Turkish pottery was naturally admired everywhere. In Britain in the 19th century it was copied and adapted without understanding. Its origins weren’t known because the Iznik manufactories were long gone. As every visitor to Turkey discovers, Iznik designs are sold everywhere, but the pottery comes from Kütahya now.

A 19th-century Cantagalli vessel using Iznik motifs.

A “Persian” vessel by the Crown Derby Porcelain Company, mid 1880s. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.)

Under these confused names, Iznik patterns were put on tiles, which were all the rage at the time. Some were made by hand by William de Morgan for Sir Frederic Leighton’s Arab Hall, many more were produced in industrial quantities by Minton Hollins. The “Persian” style was freely adapted and elaborated by Crown Derby, with raised gilt patterns, to make amazing bling for export to the USA. Homage was also paid to the Iznik potters by the Cantagalli company in Italy, who made much closer copies.

Sir Frederic Leighton’s Arab Hall in Kensington, a mixture of antique tiles from Turkey and new ones from London.

VALENCIA (2)

La Lonja, the elegant and spacious medieval Silk Exchange in Valencia is one of the city’s most popular attractions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and justly so. The stonecarvers of La Lonja were given only the vaguest brief by the master mason – Ruskin would have approved of the way they were allowed to devise their own work. There are striking spiral-grooved pillars in the main hall and decorated door arches, one with a carving of the Virgin (above) with the motto Ave Maria Purissima.

But there are details at odds with the nobility of the building. Around Mary The Most Pure are men drunk and incapable, people pissing in bowls, a devil inflating a sheep’s arse, a dragon biting a woman’s tits and bums, bums and bums galore.

ADAM KOSSOWSKI

The Adam Kossowski mural on the old North Peckham Civic Centre will be removed when the building is demolished and is to be put up on the new building, but there it will be above the first floor windows and it will be less visible.

The Everlasting Ministries Church that used to occupy the building has closed and you can see the state of the mural in the picture above. Amazingly, it’s almost completely free of graffiti – the graffiti you see is on the shutters over the windows.

This is a wonderful mural. It works from a distance as a general view of The History of the Old Kent Road, it works from six feet away where you can see the characters in the story – the picture below is Kossowski’s portrayal of a sneering King Charles – and it works close to, where you can see the details and textures the artist has added. Yesterday I noticed for the first time the little Camberwell Beauty butterflies in the corners.

None of that effect will be perceptible when the mural is ten feet above the ground.

I walked to the Old Kent Road from South Bermondsey and asked the way from a young man. He was studying digital media and was intrigued by the camera tripod sticking out of my rucsac. I told him about the mural and the Civic Centre and Kossowski’s time in a second world war concentration camp. “I live in the Old Kent Road. I’ve never noticed it,” he said, and came with me to look.

YOUNG POLAND

Stanisław Wyspiański, ‘Self Portrait’

The William Morris Gallery, one of my favourite boutique museums (the other is the Estorick Gallery in Islington), did community outreach, as musems do, to connect with the large Polish community in Walthamstow. The upshot is their current exhibition, Young Poland: An Arts and Crafts Movement 1890 -1918, mounted in collaboration with the Polish Cultural Institute and the National Museum of Krákow. Young Poland is unknown to most in the west – I’d never heard of it before – and most of the exhibits in this show have never been seen outside Poland.

Vastomil Hofmann, ‘Confession

Young Poland is often regarded as a fine art movement with a record of patriotic, religious and pastoral painting, typified in Vastomil Hofmann’s Confession (above), but the Gallery decided to record the artists’ contribution to the crafts, often overlooked but very important.

In central and eastern Europe the Arts and Crafts were an assertion of national identity, one aspect of the struggle for independence, rejecting the forms and styles imposed by the imperial powers. While the British looked to the Middle Ages as they imagined it to be, the Poles looked to contemporary peasant life and art. Young Poland, which emerged in Kraków, focused on the Highlander people of the nearby Tatra mountains and adapted their architecture, interior decoration, textiles and dress in an attempt to create a national Polish style.

Stanisław Wyspiański (top), a key figure in the movement, might be called the Polish William Morris – a brilliant polymath, a painter, poet, playwright, textile designer, furniture maker and graphic artist – though the two men never met and there’s no record of any communication between them.

In one room of the exhibition there’s a large stained glass, a reproduction of a window designed by Wyspiański for the Kraków Medical Centre, in another a model of The House Under the Firs, a vernacular house by Stanisław Witkiewicz, another major figure, drawn from the Zakopane style of building. Witkiewicz is shown with the model on the left of the group above, the other men dressed in traditional Highlander costume.

In lighter mood there were reconstructions of toys from the Kraków Workshops, a co-operative of artists and craftsmen formed in 1913, who made use of folk patterns in their work. The picture (above) shows delightful original toys in the Ethnographic Museum of Kraków.

WOMEN OF THE WIENER WERKSTÄTTE

Charlotte Billwiller, Mathilde Flögl, Susi Singer, Marianne Leisching
and Maria Likarz, artists of the Weiner Werkstätte.

The Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna (MAK) has a large exhibition devoted to the women artists of the Wiener Werkstätte (WW), the company of artists, designers and craft workers who defined Viennese modernism in the first decades of the 20th century. Women played a prominent role, increasingly after the First World War. The work shown is varied, innovative, clever and faultlessly executed.

Mathilde Flögl, Invitation to the artists’ costume party, 1924.

The Wiener Werkstätte started as a metal workshop founded by Joseph Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, professors at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts, and Fritz Waerndorfer, their business manager. It expanded to include textiles, fashion, pottery, graphics, architecture, furniture and toys, selling to the Viennese bourgeoisie though their upmarket stores in the Neustiftgasse and Kärntner Strasse, particularly to the cultured and assimilated Jewish bourgeoisie of the kind recently depicted in Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt. (I wrote about their New York store here.)

Dress made from WW fabric designed by Hilda Jesser, 1921/2.
Hilda Jesser, Poster for the WW, 1919.
The WW store in Kärntner Strasse.

The artists of the Werkstätte were influenced by the British Arts and Crafts movement but rapidly went beyond it and were less doctrinaire than Morris & Co. They valued art but they were unfazed by machinery. They esteemed handwork but they didn’t think it was essential for designers to make everything themselves. And they didn’t share the social concerns of the Arts and Crafts movement. Unlike Morris, who wanted to create a democratic art and hated pandering to what he called “the swinish luxury of the rich,” the Gesamptkunstwerk to which the WW aspired – designing a project from house to teaspoons to the highest specification – presupposed a wealthy clientele.

The Austrian pavilion at the 1925 Paris Expo, designed by Josef Hoffmann.
Women of the Wiener Werkstätte setting up the Austrian Pavilion in Paris, 1925.

The curators have found 178 women who designed for the WW. They made a major contribution to exhibits in the Austrian pavilion in the 1925 Paris Expo and are pictured above setting it up. Hoffmann’s design is well-known but most of the women have been overlooked. In their day the Werkstätte was mocked because it employed so many of them and dismissed as “Weiner Wieberkunstgewerbe“, Viennese Feminine Crafts.

Vally Wieselthier, ‘Flora’, 1928, glazed ceramic.

Their diverse talents are illustrated by the graphics, textiles and ceramics designed by Hilda Jesser that I’ve shown. She also designed lace, embroidery, wallpaper, jewellery and leather goods.

Vally Wieselthier, Fireplace, c.1925, glazed ceramic.

This is a just small selection from this superb exhibition. There is a publication with illustrations and biographies of the artists.

Maria Likarz, Postcards of fashionable hats, 1912.
Hilda Jesser, Jardiniere, 1921, glazed ceramic.