Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Some Pen and Ink Originals...

Found these original pen and ink sketches in a bookshop the other day. Really charmed by their skill, subject matter and size (only about 3.5 inches at longest sides). They were all mounted in one frame and, of course, the hope is that with such an assured hand, lurking behind the mount perhaps is an recognizable monogram, perhaps a known figure among the neo-romantics of the mid-twentieth century... or maybe at least a book illustrator... No such luck. They are out of there frame now and are completely silent about who drew them. Nonetheless I still think they are really well drawn and certainly by someone both skilled and aware of contemporary art in their time.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Aubrey Beardsley Posters

Sadly, these days, interest in Aubrey Beardsley has waned somewhat. From the 1960s to the 1980s however it was a different story altogether and you couldn't move in London poster shops for cheap reproductions of Beardsley drawings. At the height of this interest, in 1983, Beardsley was considered such an important British artist that The V&A and The British Council sent an exhibition of his work to tour Japan. Most of the items came from the V&A's own collection but many were also 'borrowed-in' from the big collectors of the time. The catalogue for the exhibition is well worth any current Beardsley aficionado getting hold of as, although most of the text is in Japanese, the reproductions are very fine, the vast selection includes many rarely seen items and all the catalogue descriptions are translated into English at the back.

Among those rarely seen items are these posters from the mid-1890s on which Beardsley's artwork was used, including one advertising children's books with the slightly incongruous image of a very busty lady who appears almost tied together by a single brooch at her cleavage. The poster for The Keynote series is a reissue by the book and art dealer Anthony D'Offay in 1966 but the rest, in the exhibition were 1890s originals. Despite the depressed interest in Beardsley now if you found one of these in the attic you would still get a pretty penny at auction.

Tim Schmeltzer: A Short Film

Many thanks to the Front Free Endpaper reader who found and recommended this delightful short piece of artwork by Tim Schmeltzer. The very short film is quite the meditation on many of the things that readers of this blog will enjoy: vintage photography, ephemera, recollections of childhood and so on. A large rock on Fermoyle beach is used to project family home movies from the 70s of himself as a child playing sometimes on the very same rock. The film is viewable on this page on the artist's website.

John Betjeman selects the 1890s

The Saturday Book is a fixture of almost any secondhand bookshop in the UK. It was a ...well, it's difficult to describe really. It was an annual (always out in the weeks before Christmas), it was an anthology, a 'magazine', a review ...all these things. It's editor John Hadfield was a man of broad taste who managed to not just reflect but also anticipate the various 'fashionable' interests of the 1960s and one of these, which found a home in more than one edition of the book was the 1960s vogue for all things 1890s and decadent. So it wasn't surprising, flicking through this, the 25th annual edition of the book, to find a long article on Aubrey Beardsley, nor a selection of "The Best of..." 1890s verse by John Betjeman. The selection itself though was fascinating and, one can't help but think, not a little tongue in cheek.

The poems are broken down into subject sections and from the outset it is made clear that Betjeman has steered clear of the big names of the period. Now, this is the 1960s so it is not unheard of to be forward about homosexuality but under 'Love' Betjeman chooses 'Heart's Desmesne' by John Gray from Silverpoints, 'The Dead Poet' by Lord Alfred Douglas from Sonnets, a 'Symphony of blues and brown...' from In the Key of Blue by John Addington Symonds and most outrageously perhaps "Passional" from Edmund John's ode to beautiful boys in incense-filled churches, The Flute of Sardonyx. Thinking this was some rather hot-house stuff to file under the heading 'Love' and marked by its absence of heterosexuality, I checked the introductory paragraph and sure enough Betjeman (presumably) writes "Love can be given to girl or boy. Passion is sensuous and twines around one's heart like waterlily stems in the river of life. In dark streets there are strange sins connected, perhaps, with 'the love that dare not speak its name'. Racy indeed?

But then I flicked through the other pages. The section 'Women' contains a workmanlike piece of misogyny by William Watson and then two more poems, one by Theodore Wratislaw and another by Alfred Douglas, neither of whom were distinguished by their knowledge of the subject of that section.

Even the section on 'Religion' doesn't escape Betjeman's nodding and winking to those 'in the know'. Another Edmund John poem appears, a long poem, also from The Flute of Sardonyx, called 'The Acolyte' covers two pages and ends:

"Who art thou, Acolyte?
Whose breath makes sweet the God of Sighs?
What lips have kissed thy lithe lips into flame?
Nay, but I know not, would not know thy name -
For I am stricken by thine eyes..."

And then, in the final section, 'The Golden Age', meaning childhood, as a last wonderful flourish to this collection Betjeman puts in a poem by one of his favourite Uranian poets, The Rev'd E. E. Bradford, a very funny poetic romp about a boy called "Paddy Maloy" who just isn't interested in girls!

"O Paddy Maloy is a broth of a boy,
As pretty as pretty can be;
He tosses his curls in disdain at the girls,
For not one is so pretty as he."

...and so in, in the same vein.

The Saturday Book is always worth perusing if you see a copy but I had not seen this issue before and was delighted to see such a mischievous and knowing compilation of poems by poets who barely ever see their work reprinted in the mainstream light of day. Thank you Sir John.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Bathing With Swords

I was struck yesterday by this rather fun illustration. Now, if you're thinking the humour doesn't sound very Victorian, you would be right of course, this is in fact taken from a re-captioned illustration in Spike Milligan's Book of Bits. Nonetheless the illustration itself would appear to be real and taken from some book of daring-do for boys. The signature even looks vaguely familiar but frankly one of the things that makes it so fun is not knowing it's original context.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Yet More Vintage Goodness

Who says you can have too much of a good thing: second post in a row of things that came through the post to Callum James Heights. I promise a return to obscure books and other kinds of artwork soon!

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

More Vintage Goodies in the Post

So the new catalogue has been really fun to do and it's been a busy week packing and posting stuff off to new owners so I'm afraid all I have to share at the moment are three photos of scantily clad young men that arrived in the post this morning... try not to be too disappointed!

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