Found these two lovely photo-postcards at a flea market in Italy. Judging from the clothing style and the automobile, I’d date them to the early 20th century, possibly the … Continue reading Early 20th-century Photo-Postcards
I haven’t updated this blog in such a long time, but I guess life and work have a habit of getting in the way. Well, this weekend I’ve finally done … Continue reading Skin-deep Beauty
Ah, here it comes then, finally, a proper blog post. Many of you will probably recognise that title quotation as lifted whole out of one of the most famous books in the world, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. That’s when Alice, frustrated and confused by so many (rather brusque) changes in height, and puzzled by the anthropomorphic White Rabbit who stubbornly refuses to acknowledge her in his haste , begins to doubt her own identity. And that’s one of the things that have always stuck with me – the mystery of this little girl’s identity: who is she, actually, and what makes her who she is, and, more importantly, why is that important at all? And since these are all questions which I should be addressing, like, right now, in a thesis chapter that seems to be infinitely writing itself in my mind (though sadly not on paper), I have, of course, decided to procrastinate by way of a timely blog post.
As I just said, the – often – inscrutable Alice and her ‘muchness’ have obsessed me since time immemorial. No, actually, only since the age of 7, when I stumbled upon a gorgeously illustrated Romanian edition of Alice in Wonderland at the house of a relative. Naturally, I first fell in love with the attractive cover and the beautiful illustrations I then discovered within. (Love for the text itself soon followed cue, but that’s another story.) In fact, I loved the book so much, that the two of us became inseparable and the relative in question – in whose library I found the book – eventually let me have it as a present. (All of this much to my mother’s horror, who found Alice ‘utterly absurd’ and couldn’t understand my sudden fixation.) Well, I have no idea where that particular book ended up (I’m sure it’s still back home,
somewhere), but I could never forget the spell its soft-coloured illustrations cast on me. For a long time I thought they were drawn either by a Romanian or a Russian illustrator (seeing how old that edition was, I found it rather probable that it might have been illustrated by an artist from the Soviet Bloc). However, just today, as I was perusing this Flavorwire article on the evolution of Alice in Wonderland cover designs over time, I found that actually, the beautiful illustrations I knew and loved were all drawn by Mabel Lucie Attwell (1879-1964), who made them for a 1910 British edition of the book. (You can admire them all, in all their cute/uncanny glory, here.) This late realisation made me look up some actual Romanian illustrations for the Alice book from back in the day; I was really curious to see how these compared to Western representations of Alice. I managed to dig out two sets, one from a 1976 edition illustrated by Angi Petrescu-Tipărescu, and the other from a 1987 edition illustrated by Vasile Olac. In fact, I even own a copy of the former, and I previously photographed and posted the illustrations on this very blog (that post is long since gone, because the website that used to host the images has ‘left the web’). So here they are; I’m sharing them all with you. I hope that one day, someone will build a great online archive of all the Alice illustrations ever made all over the world. (The Romanian ones that I promised are under the cut. Caution for everyone with a slow connection: this will be VERY image-heavy!)
Just about time I shared my new haul of vintage photographs with the world, isn’t it? I bought these in Bucharest, at a Christmas/ winter holidays fair, after some negotiations with the vendor. To be fair, though, he didn’t seem to mind my haggling. Actually, he looked quite happy to finally find someone who was interested to buy his stuff. And his stuff was good – loads of fin-de-siècle photos and postcards, I don’t think I’ve seen so many in one place for quite some time.
Apologies in advance if some of these scans are a bit weirdly cropped. That scanner that I had to use, and the soft that came with it – it has its own mind, I’m sure of it.
So, apparently, the fact that the girl is standing in this photo, that her full body is shown, and that she is posing against a studio background, leaning against furniture (chairs, tables) and possibly with books (there are two books behind her) are all possible indicators that this photo was taken in the 1860s or thereabouts. This is corroborated by the central, swirly design on the back, advertising the name (in this case, also the address) of the studio where the picture was taken. The design of her clothes, however, makes me think this was taken later, possibly in the 1880s.
This… I simply love this lady. Just look at her: elegant, confident, she’s like the ultimate feminist femme fatale. Medallion portraits like this, depicting just the bust of the sitter, were more common in the early 1900s. I’m not really sure though why this photo was stamped, both front and back, and double-perforated. It might have been used as a nominal I.D. of some sort.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory (if you can read Romanian, that is). The handwritten inscription on the front says: “Reghinul Sasesc. Year 1917. When I was 12 years old.” On the back, there’s a signature, presumably that of the sitter; I can only read the first name, which I believe is “Eugen”, a pretty common Romanian forename.
I believe there’s a special place in my heart for old family photos. They’re so intriguing, in so many ways. I wish I had more “know-how” to decipher them. I believe this particular one might be from the late 1800s-early 1900s.
Same with this one. Dress makes me think late 1800s-early 1900s, although the pose, background and style are specific to the 1860s. This young woman’s face reminds me of someone I used to know in my childhood, which is probably one of the reasons why I felt so compelled to buy the photo too.
And this concludes the batch I purchased on my latest venture. But I also rediscovered some old photos in the family archive at about the same time I bought these. Most of them, I have no idea who they depict, but I’d still like to share them here, because they’re all beautiful and they deserve to haunt more brains than just mine. 🙂
Photo-postcard dated 1917. I believe the message on the back is in German, which I sadly cannot read. If someone could translate it for me I’d be much obliged.
This probably dates from the 1910s or 1920s. The text on the back is mostly illegible, but I think it’s in Ukrainian.
I love this photo-postcard (I wonder whether the girl is holding any book in particular; might it be a religious text?). The text on the back is in Ukrainian? Polish? Marked Cernauti (today Chernivitsi), 1920.
Marked Cernauti/ Chernivitsi, 1939.
This is a photo of one of my paternal great-grandmother. Definitely from Cernauti/ Chernivitsi. I’m not sure when this was taken. She died at about 40, I believe.
Again my paternal great-grandmother. Also in Cernauti/ Chernivitsi. Again not sure of the date.
Photo-postcard of, presumably, a mother and her son. I can’t read the handwriting on the back, I’m afraid, so I can’t even tell what language it’s in. Cernauti/ Chernivitsi, 23rd August 1921.
Message on the back in German(?). Dated 30th April 1916.
I don’t recognise anyone in this group photo. The text on the back is in Romanian, and it reads: “Memory from 14th March 1937. Party at the Hospital for the Soothed. Cernauti”. It’s very eerie, this photo. The name of the hospital makes me think it might have been an institution for those with terminal diseases or in very bad health condition. I may be wrong, of course, but still. The idea of a party in a hospital makes me uneasy.
A postcard I found along with the photos. The writing is mostly illegible, so apart from its being addressed to someone in Cernauti, I can’t really tell much.
I can’t read the handwriting, I’m afraid… Definitely not Romanian though. Dated 8th November 1923.
This wedding photo isn’t dated. There’s no inscription on the back.
The ladies in this picture don’t look very happy. The message on the back is in German. Not sure about the date…
Another photo-postcard I have nothing about. There’s a very faint stamp on the back that I can’t read.
And this is it, for now. If anyone reads German and/or Ukrainian and is able to translate some of that stuff for me, I’d be much obliged.
This will be more of a memento than a regular blog post, I suppose. Last week I got a chance to see the art collection at the Nottingham Castle Museum. It was only a brief visit, yet I made a point of jotting down the titles of all the paintings that caught my fancy for one reason or another. It was more of an instinctive decision than anything. I’d just love to find out more about them. So I’ll jot down what I do know, and also what exactly caught my eye in each painting. I have no idea how this endeavour is supposed to help me in the future. But I always trust my instincts – they haven’t failed me yet. 🙂 Needless to say, please do lend me your expertise if you have more information about these lovely pieces. (Note: most images, unless otherwise stated, were shamelessly stolen from BBC – Your Paintings, which is a nifty little tool in itself.)
The Death of Amy Robsart (1877) by William Frederick Yeames (1835-1918). Yeames himself seems to have been quite a colourful character, born in Russia, educated in Saxony, England and Tuscany. The painting was hung, large as life, on a corridor leading from the main art gallery to the ground floor exhibitions. It attests, I believe, to a mildly (at least?) morbid curiosity on the painter’s part, who was, if we are to believe Wikipedia, “fascinated by the events surrounding the death of Amy Robsart”, sixteenth-century gentlewoman who died under circumstances rendered suspicious by her husband’s unorthodox attachment to Queen Elizabeth I.
Deadly Detached (1987) by Graham Crowley (born 1950). Also hanging large as life on the same corridor as the previous picture. The label read: “Crowley paints the suburb as a nightmare where houses crowd, streets are maze-like and there is a lack of space and order”. I am greatly attracted to conceptual imagery of the suburbs and ghettos. Born and raised in what I think of as a “ghetto”, I have that love-hate kind of relationship with architecturally crowded, ugly yet compelling, generally unsafe sort of places. The painting reminds me of “home”, but also of China Miéville’s novels, a bit. This other painting by Crowley, The Poetic of Space, reminds me of the same.
The Soldier’s Grave (1813) by Sir David Wilkie (1785-1841). “A church interior, with mourners. In the centre of the picture is a large group of figures standing around a coffin covered with a dark cloth”, quoth the BBC website. The painting is so small (19.7 x 16.5 cm), I had to squint, but still couldn’t make out much of what was happening. And yet, the dark colour palette, the barren, Romanesque church interior attracted me very much. I was compelled, I suppose, by how the imposing yet all the same claustrophobic environment reigned over the picture, which made the human figures seem rightly ghostly and amorphous.
Virgin and Child with St Joseph (1500s) by a follower of Joos van Cleve (ca. 1464-ca.1540). I’m not precisely sure about what attracted me to this painting. It may have been the bland desexualisation of normally sexualised signifiers, such as the naked breast. Or better yet, the figure of St Joseph, looming in the background: it is known that Joseph was older than Mary, and here it seems (to my perverted mind, at least) that the viewer looks upon a libidinous Joseph who, instead of gazing on Child Jesus with tenderness and awe, is actually enjoying the sight of the forbidden fruit of Mary’s uncovered breast. At the same time, Mary looks almost apprehensive, almost painfully aware that she is on display, yet unable to do anything about it. (Just saying.)
Suscipe Me Domine (Receive Me, Oh Lord) (1895) by John Henry Frederick Bacon (1865-1914). By the looks of it, a painting showing a Catholic novice taking her vows to become a nun. The huge canvas (154.9 x 213.4 cm) were hung high in the gallery, and because of the protection screen the view was bad from every angle. I could hardly make out the figures in the lower left corner (the novice’s mother in black? her father right next to her, perhaps bemoaning his daughter’s decision?). It seemed to me an odd painting, though I can’t put my finger on the jarring details. I stood there looking at it for a long time (until one of the gallery stewards saw fit to introduce himself to me and give me a guided tour; he couldn’t tell me anything about this particular painting, though).
Magdalen Aston, Lady Burdett (1669) by John Michael Wright (1617-1694). Once more, I don’t know. I just thought her beautiful, that’s all. I suppose that’s as good a reason as any… For the history buffs out there, The Peerage makes her out to be
the daughter of Sir Thomas Aston, 1st Bt. and Anne Willoughby. She married Sir Robert Burdett, 3rd Bt., son of Sir Francis Burdett, 2nd Bt. and Elizabeth Walter.
So much for seventeenth-century Who’s Who…
A Child of Paul Sandby by Sir William Beechey (1753-1839). Is this child dead or alive? Is she dreaming dreams of innocence, or are those angels descended from Heaven to claim her soul? As a side note, Paul Sandby was a successful landscape painter. The gallery also held a few more interesting paintings by Beechey, all of them featuring children. For instance: The Children of Paul Sandby and Portrait of a Young Girl. I found them all alluring and a bit… otherworldly.
The Origin of the Combing Machine by Alfred Elmore (1815-1881). With this one it’s simple enough: it just offered me a good lead for my research. 🙂 More about the combing machine here. I know of two more variants of this painting, one currently exhibited at Tate, an early study for Invention of the Combing Machine (ca. 1862), and The Invention of the Combing Machine (1862), exhibited at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery.
Susannah and the Elders, attributed to Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1651/3). I wonder whether this was indeed done by her or not. She used to haunt my fancy with her almost mythical “prey turned predator” presence. Her famous Susannah and the Elders (which, I should hope, is indeed hers) seems so different, in so many ways, to the one exhibited in Nottingham. The composition, however, is very similar. I would be really curious to find out how and when this particular painting made its way into the Nottingham collection…
Love’s Oracle (ca. 1900) by Albert Ritzberger (1853-1915). I suppose the lighthearted atmosphere, the girlish dabbling with tarots and the soft reddish, intimate light triggered my nostalgia. It made me feel how good period movies make me feel: far away, comfortably numb and warm inside. I am mildly intrigued by the fact that the only face hidden from the viewer is that of the tarot reader herself. She is only the only one décolleté, which means that she is fashionable? well off? coquettish?
Marigolds or The Bower Maiden or Fleur-de-Marie (1874) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). My love for the Pre-Raphaelites and D.G. Rossetti is a secret to no one and stems from too many reasons to be listed here. As to this painting, according to the Rossetti Archive:
In a letter to his mother (February 23, 1874) DGR identified the model as “Little Annie”, a young lady later described by Theodore Watts-Dunton as a house assistant at Kelmscott.
The Mummers (1951) by Richard Eurich (1903-1992). This tiny painting (21 x 15.9 cm) caught my eye instantly. I took a long time to examine the exquisite miniature characters and try to make out the relationships between them. I love them all, each and every tiny figure (bust most of all, the minuscule black cat). I’ve looked at some more of his paintings, and some appeal to me and some don’t. But none other that I’ve seen display quite the same fairy-tale or cartoonish charm that this one does.
Don Quixote in His Study (ca. 1825/6) by Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-1828). Seems that Bonington died the year Rossetti was born, which is quite interesting, in a random sort of way. This puts me in mind of all the seventeenth-century (1, 2) paintings of alchemists hard at work in their ateliers, and indeed Don Quixote and the alchemist are part of the same iconographic context in many ways. Perhaps one day I will write an article on the ways in which the two images interact. 🙂
The Flowers of Capri (ca. 1887) by Filadelfo Simi (1849-1923). I am afraid to say this in not a painting I would normally have taken much notice of, since neither the style nor the subject do much for me. It was the gallery steward whom I mentioned earlier that pointed it out to me, and then dutifully transferred his own obsession into my brain. It’s difficult to see in the reproduction, but on the right hand side of the picture, just above the kneeling lady in yellow smiling at the baby, the patch of grass looks a bit wobbly and perhaps the space is slightly too… empty. That is because a seventh figure used to be there, whom the artist then painted over. No one has yet found out why he felt that was necessary, and it’s that mystery that keeps me interested.
For Sale (1857) by James Collinson (1825-1881). Lastly, I was drawn to this eye-popping representation of the Woman and the female body as object on offer. The juxtaposition of the woman and the porcelain doll is rather disturbing, as is the carefully displayed (artificial?) flower the normal beauty of which is diffused in the gaudy shop. There are several other versions of this paintings, of which this replica is particularly apt and perhaps even more depressing than the original, which may be an effect of the colour palette and the rather more pronounced and telling smile of the forefront lady.
Once more, I have no idea what will come out of this amateurish cataloguing of vague likes as a result of a spontaneous “field trip”. Perhaps someone will manage to make its possible uses (other than procrastination, of course) clear to me?
I was unlucky in my quest for vintage photographs for a while – the local market has been yielding nothing but black and white photographs of cats and dogs and some tacky birthday cards. But my luck turned just as soon as I paid a visit to Camden Market, London. Have I ever mentioned how much I love Camden Market?
I believe I would be capable to walk around that place aimlessly for hours (actually, that’s probably what I usually do anyway), just enjoying the atmosphere: the music – reggae, blending into death metal, blending into rap, blending into synthpop, and so on, seamlessly and exquisitely; the smells – of all the various wayside cuisines, from Japanese to Turkish to Ethiopian to Dutch; and most of all, the people – gaping tourists clicking hurried photos, guileless schoolgirls in uniforms, intimidated and always sticking together, the amalgam of stall owners and customers, each of them parading their own style unabashedly. Anyway, I love it all.
So yes, Camden Market is probably my favourite place in all of London, that city just wouldn’t be the same without it. And it was there, a few days ago, that I stumbled upon a small store selling old odds and ends (I’m sorry I didn’t think of taking a photo of it; maybe next time round), where the shopkeeper kindly ignored me for about half an hour, as I was nosily rummaging through ALL the tin boxes and even between the shelves and under tables and coffers. Also, I believe I may have browsed through her assortment of vintage photos and postcards for more than good manners would have allowed (I probably went through the same stack at lest three times, trying to decide). Finally, I settled for only two photographs, which I found particularly appealing (and the shopkeeper even gave me a small discount for them, in spite of the fact that I’d bought so little and that it took me so long).
The first one is a carte de visite type photograph, which I, in my blissful amateurishness, would tend to date around the late 1800s. It depicts a young girl in a gorgeous checkered dress, wearing what looks like a discreet crucifix on a necklace around her neck. Here is the photo, front and back:
Sadly, I haven’t been able to find out anything about P.H. Bau’s studio, but Christiansfeld is a town in Denmark, apparently “founded in 1773 by the Moravian Church“. How it made its way to the UK I again have no idea, but I presume it must either have been sent to some relative, or brought over into an immigrant’s bag of precious memories. The only thing the shopkeeper intimated when she took a peek at this particular photo was: “Oh, isn’t this so beautiful!” and “That dress is gorgeous, almost like a Lolita dress, isn’t it?” I, of course, nodded and smiled in assent to both her remarks. I really wish I had more info about this photo, so if there’s anything anyone can add about it – probable date, identity of the person depicted, more details about the studio – please do leave a comment.
Late edit (11/11/2012): After some more wandering about vintage photo websites, I am now pretty sure that this particular photo must be from the late 1860’s (the wavy, intricate signature stamp on the back, the girl’s posture – standing, leaning on a table, faux classy studio backdrop). If that is correct, then the girl must have been between 12 and 14 years of age when this was taken, since, according to this diagram from Harper’s Bazaar 1868, she is wearing the appropriate hem size dress for a young adolescent lady.
The second photograph is this one:
This photo, as you can see, was pasted onto a carbdoard frame; there is no inscription on either side of it, so I suppose there is no telling the date and place for sure. My opinion is that it is a turn-of-the-century view of an alley in Istanbul, Turkey. There are a few (quite frail) reasons why I identified the place as Istanbul. Although the scan I’ve posted is of pretty bad quality, in the original photo it seems as though the men are wearing fezzes; one of the signs hanging on the buildings, although the writing on it is pretty faded, seems to me to say “VIEWS OF THE BOSPHORUS” (although of course, it is not legible enough for me to be quite sure); and finally, the landscape, narrow cobbled streets and architecture, as well as the use of donkeys as beasts of burden indicate a Mediterranean country, such as Turkey. Does this seem plausible enough? Do you agree with my assumptions? Once more, please do leave your opinions in a comment, they would be very much appreciated.
[D]ead bodies can talk if you know how to listen to them, and they want to talk, and they want us to sit down beside them and hear their sad stories. […] They don’t want to be voiceless; they don’t want to be pushed aside, obliterated.
~ Margaret Atwood, Negotiating with the Dead
This is not a post about Margaret Atwood’s book about writing – although I would warmly recommend it to any and all, regardless of whether they dabble in creative writing or not – but (yet another) one about those often disregarded memories that come in the shape of postcards. Today was a – metaphorically and literally – sunny day, so I was lucky enough to find another batch of fascinating old postcards at the local market. And since I know of no better way of restoring them to life and giving them back into the world – here they are, on the web, for everyone to see and (hopefully) appreciate.
This one’s a postcard from the early 1900’s (the stamp on the back says ‘1904’). I’m not sure what attracted me to it, really. Probably the Romantic/romantic scene and the mysterious letter F. I have no idea what the F is meant to stand for. Just general name initial? I don’t know whether the sender bought and sent the F-card on purpose; there are no discernible clues about it in the short message on the back.
I might be wrong about the letter, though; it may as well be an E rather than an F. In that case, the sender’s name also starts with an E, so it would make more sense, I suppose.
This one’s in the same style as the one above, but the stamp on the back attributes it to a later date – 1922. It also depicts an idyllic scene, and it also features three characters – a woman and two children. This one seems to bear the letter J in the foreground. The message on the back is, in fact, a short rhyme:
peace be around thee wherever thou rovest
may life be for thee one summer’s day
and all that thou wishest and all that thou lovest
come smiling around thy sunny way
Signed: ‘J.B.S.’, standing for ‘Mr. J. Pritehard’, apparently. A quick Google search reveals the stanza to be from Thomas Moore’s poem “Peace Be Around Thee” (read it here, if you will). The lack of punctuation and capital letters suggests, I think, that whoever wrote this must have reproduced it from memory, i.e. he must have known at least this part of the poem by heart.
This postcard depicts Edwardian stage actress Madge Crichton. (Sorry, this is all I could find about her, but any more insight on who she was is very welcome.) I must say, she really was a stunner! Look at that hair, that face, that smile! (Fine, I’ll stop right there…)
The words “Greetings from” on the front are embossed.
The text on the back says:
With all possible good wishes to dear Madame
A postcard dated 1908, showing actress and performer Gabrielle Ray. The text on the back says:
Jan. 1st 1908
I wish you a happy New Year.
I hope this will suit your collection.
The addressee must have been an avid collector of celebrity/ artists postcards.
This postcard is absolutely brilliant in every way, so I simply had to buy it! Sadly, the text on the back is not entirely legible, but the bits that survived make me think that the two correspondents must have been into funny, witty postcards like this one.
A bit of printed text on the back says: See also “Chart of an Average Girl’s Head,” according to best male authorities. Sadly, that particular postcard wasn’t up for sale at the local market. But if I ever find it I sure of hell won’t think twice before buying it! 🙂
The postcard seems to be dated 1905, although I can’t be sure, the stamp on the back is too faded. It is interesting to note, however, that the period was quite aglow with budding feminist actions. According to our adored Wikipedia in 1905 “women are given the vote and admitted to the practice of law in Queensland”.
Now this one I just bought out of sheer amusement triggered by the feminised misspelling of “Paolo” into “Paola” (read the story of Dante’s Paolo and Francesca). The postcard reproduces George Frederic Watts’s painting of Paolo and Francesca. Of course it never credits him for a second, but then again, those were the times of freedom and political incorrectness. It was printed by C.W. Faulkner & Co., a pretty famous postcard producer in the early 1900’s. This particular postcard is undated and the back, as you can see, has been kept blank.