BALLET ROYAL DE LA NUIT

I don’t usually write about theatre arts, but the realisation of Ballet Royal de la Nuit by Sebastian Daucé and Ensemble Correspondences at Théâtre de Caen (2017) which I’ve just seen is so original and spine-tingling that I thought I might say something about it.

The Ballet Royal de la Nuit was a vast theatrical event mounted in 1653 at the Louvre for the young Louis XIV and his court under the direction of his first minister Mazarin. It was performed throughout the night and lasted about twelve hours. It was intended not just as an entertainment but as a demonstration of the king’s power and of French cultural superiority, and although it was ostensibly for the royal court was performed before the ambassadors of every European kingdom. France had come though the convulsions of the Fronde, Mazarin had returned from the exile to which the Fronde had condemned him and Louis demonstrated his elevation by dancing the part of the Sun, who rose in splendour at the climax of the performance. The memorable presentation of The Sun King was was spoken of throughout Europe for the rest of the century.

In this ballet de la cour song, dance, music, costume and theatrical performance are deliciously combined in a total work of art. (Romantics might need to be reminded that Wagner didn’t include dance in his cut-down version of the Gesamtkunstwerk.) It was performed only once. Despite its fame and splendour, the record of it is fragmentary. There are pictures of the costumes but there isn’t even a complete record of the music, let alone choreography. Sebastian Daucé and his colleagues spent three years reconstructing it.

And so the Ensemble Correspondences performance has had to be conjectural, and it is not possible to see the Ballet Royal as it was once performed and performed once only. But what has been achieved is breathtaking and succeeds in conveying the spirit of Baroque in a 21st-century interpretation that is beautiful, inventive and bizarre. Song dance and circus are combined to make a thing of the present as much a record of the past (period instruments, of course). There are three CDs and a DVD.

THE NEAPOLITAN MAID

This plate caught my eye on an antique stall in Trieste and as it was pretty and unlike any Italian ceramic I’d seen before I bought it. It’s painted in overglaze enamels, not maiolica colours, and is made in a cream body, not pink terracotta.

There’s no makers mark. The Facebook group for Italian pottery and ceramics kindly identified it as made either by the Giustiani factory or the De Vecchio factory in Naples sometime in the early 19th century.

GIARDINO GIUSTI, VERONA

After a few days in hectic, commercial Milan we were quickly seduced by Verona’s quiet charm. Of course it’s also built on commerce, wool-dyeing to be exact. We visited Giardino Guisti, the property of an ancient wool-dyeing family, made on land where they once had their dying vats and next to their palazzo.

The garden is maintained all’antica, preserving the Renaissance tone, with architectural features and references to Classical mythology. There are few flowers or shrubs and the more recent additions of exotic plants have been removed. The garden makes clever use of the hilly site, with a path up to a grotto from where you can look down over the house.

Part of the house is open to the public as The 20th-Century Apartment. It has the slightly shabby, under-curated air typical of private museums.

From 1921 until it was damaged in the war it was the residence of Giovanni and Nora Guisti and their children Francesco, Alfonso and Carlo Alberto. It’s been restored as it was during their occupancy and the style is not of the 20th century but the 19th. Among the silk hangings and ornate furniture are letters from Gabriele d’Annunzio and family photos – albums of holidays in Cornwall captioned in English and this uncaptioned fancy dress party.

OXFORD COMMA

There was a time when writers separated every clause and phrase with a comma, but it’s now common practice to reduce commas to a minimum and to eliminate semicolons and colons. The effect is to make prose more informal and fast-moving. Lynn Truss, in her funny and clever book, Eats Shoots and Leaves, is generally in favour of the low comma-count.

As the purpose of writing is to communicate – or it should be, because some people write to impress and bewilder – the only purpose of punctuation is to improve communication. It also aids rhythm, but as the purpose of rhythm is to aid understanding, that amounts to the same thing.

Rules of grammar can help tyros who don’t know how to write. In every field of activity, the absolute beginner doesn’t know the rules, the inexperienced person keeps all the rules and the experienced person breaks the rules.

Apart from the distraction value of Therese Coffey’s laying down the law about the Oxford comma, her instructions suggest a lack of writing experience. Her exhortations to civil servants about clear writing are anachronistic, since Ernest Gowers’ guidance revolutionised official communications sixty years ago. Good writers don’t bother about rules like this.

ARTS AND MANUFACTURES


The Select Committee on Arts and Manufactures was appointed by Parliament in 1835 to ‘enquire into the best means of extending a knowledge of the arts mong the people (especially the manufacturing population) of the country.’ Out of it came the schools of design which evolved into our modern art schools.

Witnesses gave two reasons why British design was inferior to that on the continent, singling out France and Prussia and to a lesser extent Bavaria and Italy. The first was that design education was widespread abroad but absent in this country. The second was the lack of adequate protection in Britain for original designs. There were many talented artisans who made work of high quality, but they had, with few exceptions, no formal education and none in the principles of design. Because of the weakness of patent protection, their work was often copied by other manufacturers and consequently employers were reluctant to employ trained artists at greater expense. Lack of education and lack of protection acted on one another and depressed the quality of British goods. In consequence there was much copying from foreign design.

This evidence from men engaged in manufacture and trade about the depression of design standards tells rather a different story from that told by Ruskin and his followers, who made much of the alleged separation of art from manufacture following industrialisation. That story became central to the Arts and Crafts movement and a trope of design reform until the Second World War. It was, for example, repeated by the Gorell Committee in 1932 and the Council of Industrial Design in the late 1940s. Ruskin, of course, lacked practical experience of manufacturing, but he was an eloquent and persuasive writer. Manufacturers told a different tale: there was no separation of art from manufacture but there was no training for designers and designs did not receive the legal protection they needed.

CLAUDIA CLARE (5)

I wrote earlier about Claudia Clare, the artist whose talk at Ceramic Art London was cancelled in spring, apparently because of her Gender Critical beliefs.

Claudia has now started legal action against the Craft Potters Association on the grounds that in cancelling her they unlawfully discriminated against her. She’s relying on the Forstater judgement, which classes Gender Critical beliefs as a protected characteristic.

This is a significant action for artistic freedom against a creeping Macarthyite tendency to exclude from events and organisations creatives who hold unacceptable views. The case, which Claudia reports on in detail in her blog, is at a preliminary stage where documents are being asked to be put before the court.

TOVE JOHANSEN

In the museum of ceramics in Valencia I saw a few works by Tove Johansen that I thought were striking and original, but apart from the note in the museum I’ve been unable to find out anything about her. The fact that she has the same name as the creator of the Moomin books doesn’t help, but here’s what the museum says about her and some poor photos taken through glass.

Ceramic works by Tove Johansen (Gentofte, Denmark 1932-2009)

Donation: Frida Johansen.

The artist Tove Brigitte Johansen was trained in Argentina at the “Escuela Nacional de Cerámica” in Buenos Aires, founded by the Spanish-born ceramist Fernando Arranz López (1897-1967), who had previously worked in Daniel Zuloaga’s workshop in Segovia. Tove was in charge of collecting numerous works by her teacher that she donated to the Museum of Segovia in 2008. For this reason, she is considered his most outstanding disciple and heir to the Segovian school.

She set up her first workshop in Buenos Aires in 1969 and from there she worked making murals for important firms, installations for public works and creative studio ceramics. Awarded a prize for the first time in 1956, she began an outstanding career as an art and design teacher and as a ceramic artist, being invited to numerous international events.

In 1980 she moved her residence to the United States of America. Her most outstanding public work can be seen in Buenos Aires at the San Patricio Sanatorium, BA (1969), at the General Bel Gran station (1972), at the Atucha Atomic Power Plant (1973), at the Campana Cathedral (1976). In the United States she worked making murals for education institutes in Maryland (1986-1991) Blair High School (Silver Spring, 1986), Gaithersburg Junior High School (1988), Quince Orchard High School (1989), Northwood High School (Kensington 1990 ).

POST-WAR MODERN

The exhibition Post-War Modern: New Art in Britain 1945-65 at the Barbican highlights the diversity of the period, including Lucien Freud’s, John Bratby’s and Jean Cooke’s figurative paintings, Lynn Chadwick’s and Eduardo Paolozzi’ s angular bronzes (above), John Latham’s, Victor Pasmore’s and Gillian Ayres’ total abstraction and the beginnings of psychedelic art.

Looking at the period from a distance the curators are bound to evaluate it differently from the way it was evaluated at the time. The art world always knew that John Bratby, despite his huge commercial success, was a pretty obnoxious character and controlled his wife, Jean Cooke, who was already suspected of being a better artist than he was. Post-War Modern thrusts their domestic relationship to the fore and Cooke’s 1966 self-portrait, Blast Boadicea, removes any doubts about her excellence. Abstraction reached its high-water mark in 1960. Herbert Read’s Concise History of Modern Painting (1959) narrated the progress of art from Impressionist beginnings to supposedly inevitable resolution in Pollock, Rothko and De Kooning. Now we see that art was always more diverse. In relation to the representational works on show, the notes are bound to discuss content and meaning but, following the decline of interest in the formal properties of art, they say surprisingly little about the appearance of non-representational paintings by Victor Pasmore, Mary Martin, Adrian Heath, Anthony Hill and Robert Adams.

The photos of Bert Hardy, Nigel Henderson and Roger Mayne show a ravaged urban environment with children playing in bombsites and rotting Victorian streets. We’re presented with artists dizzied by war and engaged in a search for meaning in a world without secure values. That was all true. But the post-war decades were also years of optimism and reconstruction. Hardy was good at showing people enjoying life at fairgrounds, dance-halls and the seaside. And against the photos of crumbling cities might be also be placed the Festival of Britain, the New Towns and the schools of the 1944 Education Act. There was full employment and wages were rising. People believed in Science. The best food, they thought, was made in factories and didn’t go stale. Britons were excited by the Space Age, Sputnik and planes like the Avro Vulcan. Those on the Left thought the Soviet Union was harnessing Science for Mankind and promised a prosperous and peaceful future – at least until 1956 when it invaded Hungary.

Today, however, we are pessimists. Science represents danger. The environment is going to kill us. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Left envisages not Utopia but only endless struggle. So we see in post-war art (and probably in all art) anxiety and anomie rather than celebration and hope.

What did create anxiety, of course, was the H-Bomb, which Britain adopted in 1957. Post-War Modern mentions Gustav Metzger, the inventor of auto-destructive art, who was active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, but the way the Bomb overshadowed the Sixties wasn’t fully brought out. Jeff Nuttall called the art of the decade Bomb Culture.

A case of pottery by Hans Coper and Lucie Rie formed an interesting pendant to the exhibition. They weren’t included in earlier reviews of the period – not, for example, in the Barbican’s Transition: The London Arts Scene in the Fifties (2002) or the Tate’s Art & The Sixties: This Was Tomorrow (2004) These refined ceramics were part of the same movement as Victor Pasmore’s abstract paintings. Rie, a Jewish refugee from Vienna, was of an earlier generation of artists associated with the Weiner Werkstätte. In England she became an inspiring but very demanding teacher at Camberwell School of Art. It’s difficult to say much about her pottery because, in contrast with the other leading potter of the period, Bernard Leach, she not only made pots absolutely of her time but also refused to say anything about them.

At Home with the Gaskins

Re-blog from Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery.

Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery

This week art curator Victoria Osborne has been cataloguing Gaskin family photographsready for our next Gas Hall exhibition,Children’s Lives.Here’s a sneak preview!

Designers Arthur and Georgie Gaskin were leading figures in the BirminghamArts & Crafts movement at the turn of the last century. Their elderdaughter Joscelyne, born in 1903, followed in their footsteps: critic RogerFry called the drawings she made aged 7 ‘altogether marvellous’. Therewill be a rare chance to see some of them in next year’s exhibition.

2011

Arthur__joscelyne
2011
Georgiejoscelyne
Joscelyne


Children’s Lives opens on 17 March 2012. Read about the project at theChildren’s Lives blog, or find out more about Arthur, Georgie and Joscelynein the current display in Gallery 19, The Gaskins and their Circle.

View original post