Saturday, October 31, 2009

Long Lost Siblings

'Quiet Waters' Haughton Forrest (1826-1925)

You might have noticed some paintings wandering round the blog.

The work above was one happenstance of the rabid auction phase of our lives. Which luckily came to a close about five years ago.

My partner had spotted 'Quiet Waters'. It was almost unnoticed by other previewers, right down on the bottom level of three rows of hung paintings. But then, not much gets past his eagle eye. And the canvas was knocked down to us for way under the pre-auction estimate, justifying - so it seemed - our impetuosity!

Then yesterday, like a previously unknown relative, the following painting came across my internet radar ...

'Hobart Town' Haughton Forrest (1826-1925)

... obviously similar to the one we have but very different from most of Forrest's other mainly marine work ...

Born at Boulogne-sur-Mer in France of British parents, Haughton Forrest (1826–1925) ...

... worked in various public service spheres in England - the Army and the Post Office - before, in 1875, taking up 60 acres of land in Kittoland, Parana, southern Brazil, and then, in 1876, 100 acres on the Ringarooma River outside Hobart in Tasmania. He later returned to the public service sector - as bailiff of crown lands and of the court of general sessions, as inspector of nuisances, weights and measures, and thistles and stock, and as superintendent of police.

And continued to paint all the while.

In 1899, his images of Mount Wellington and Hobart formed the basis of Australia's first pictorial stamps.

But getting back to our extending 'family', I think the similarity between 'Quiet Waters' and its newly found long lost relative is mainly in the chromatic scale. And the almost obsessive attention to detail - which may stem from often working from photographs. In both paintings, there is also an almost human intimacy, created by small leafy outcrops comfortingly jutting into the landscape, with an effect like arms enfolding a loved one.

As the advertisement says 'But there's more'. And we certainly seem to be developing a curious quirk for acquiring one of pairs.

Having not so long ago purchased this work ...

... by modern aboriginal artist, Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1910-1996) ...

... we noticed its twin in an old Christie's catalogue ...

Mmm ... So what's next!

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

States of Mind

I suspect this post says something bout my state of mind today - variation, of course, being a good thing!

And says something about my admiration for cartoonist Michael Leunig.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Fairly Decent Capitalism Working At School?

Now the photograph above may very well look as though it shows the usual quadrangle of a boys' school. Somewhere in the Anglo-Saxon world. Not so long ago.

And it does ... as far as it goes.

But an arrow ...

... and some explanation is needed to make full sense of the image.

So here we go.

At the tip of the arrow are lockers for boys to keep their textbooks in. Nothing strange bout that of course.

But - and this is the confession you'll have probably have been anticipating in the last few seconds - something less than usual and seemingly anarchic used to take place in my particular locker - located in the bay indicated by the red circle ...

That something was exposed to a seriously disapproving world ... by a very disloyal and non-collaborative geometry book.

The truth of the matter was that I used to breed white mice there - dear little rodents who had understood the cosy bedding qualities of my textbook ... when all chewed up.

The discovery of my enterprise caused an uproar with the authorities ... which truly surprised me at the time.

Cos - at twenty cents a mouselet - it seemed like a pretty solid if perhaps somewhat unconventional beginning for any budding captain of industry!

Don't you think?

Or am I wrong here?
Sensory As Opposed To Between-The-Ears Experience

I always look with more than a little pleasure at this photo - taken in central Paris the trip before the trip before last. I think somewhere near the Pompidou Centre, which as you probably know houses the Musée National d'Art Moderne ...

(Not my image)

(Not my image)

(Not my image)

... with the amazing exposure and colour-coding of its structural functionalities.

There's a space area out front ...

... where we watched this Japanese guy doing a performance piece.

But I digress.

So I remember watching the kids play in and round The Face, particularly the one in The Hand - and registering the tactile sensory nature of their activities.

And recalled that this was the way I mostly (or preferentially) began to experience the world.

Like lying down on the patio at home at the height of summer just to savor the smell of water evaporating on the hot hot concrete. At 3 or 4.

And the aroma of fresh grass cuttings spread over the compost heap. And of seaweed washed up and rotting on the sand at the waters's edge near. On the beach opposite our week-end away holiday house. The sensations literally tingling in my nose.

The distinctive almost plastic smell of the pages of my first 'John and Betty' book ...

... and the cold silky texture of the pages as I pressed them against my face.

The unexpected erotics of the stale aroma of Martin Davies' furry crotch - when at 11 I was kneeling in front of him just to look at his dick. And the warm intensively pleasurable smell of his hairy muscular legs and broad fleshy naked feet.

Renewal of any one of these early olfactory experiences brings almost unimaginably intense pleasure. That between-the-ears memories can't begin to match.

Same for you?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Barcelona - Potentially A Very Bad Travel Post

(Not my Image)

A few days ago in a Comment, someone talked a bit about Barcelona and its Antoni Gaudi architecture. And, because I'd had such a great time there a few years back, I threw something (rather over-enthusiastically) into 'conversation' about doing a post on this French-looking city near the eastern border of Spain.

But when I looked over the pictures I'd taken, the joy at the prospect slowly seeped away - not good photography, at all at all!

But undeterred, I'm going to use whatever creative skills I possess to try to make this post as good as the experience in fact was. Aided and abetted by a couple of images from the net.

We were staying with an ex of mine in a very rundown apartment in the trampy part of town - where the hookers live and work ...

... which is exactly where I usually like to stay.

The area's the old part of the city and endlessly draws you out into the streets, just to walk about ...

... and, being serious foodies, there're always stops along the way ...

The main action, particularly at night, is Las Ramblas, a broad avenue down the center of town to the sea ...

(Not my Image)

... unto which the famous Gran Teatre del Liceu fronts ...

The seriously big deal in Barcelona is of course Gaudi's quirky twist on Art Nouveau architecture, in particular his La Segrada Familia ...

... which, begun in 1882, is still under construction ...

There is in fact a second seriously big deal in Barcelona - Mies van der Rohe's German Pavilion for the International Exposition of 1929.

(Not my Image)

In stone glass and steel, it's prototypical of the 1920s International Style in architecture, where the traditional separateness of rooms is dissolved and screen walls guide space to flow through the building....

... and I'm betting - with 100% certainty - you've seen a repro (or a zillion) of the chairs designed for the building ...

(Not my Image)

Now, for a quirky finish in tribute to Gaudi, how bout some matadors practising at dawn in the park ...

... and a welcoming mantilla-ed signorita ...

Actually, looking back over this post, it ain't half bad!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

From the Australian Outback to Covent Garden

One of my earliest memories - perhaps round 4 or 5 - was listening to the records of Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931), played to me by my loving and beloved grandmother ...

I was fascinated and a bit disconcerted by the unfamiliar the high-pitched quality of an opera singer's voice. But my grandmother talked me into what understanding I could have at that age. And I am forever grateful for her introduction.

So yesterday I decided to put together two small videos about the great Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931) - partly because I know she'd have absolutely loved to watch them.

But also for two other reasons.

A number of masters of Melba's first recordings were recently discovered in a vault in Hamburg and then, more recently, re-released (Article Sydney Morning Herald, 2 December 2008 and interview with Australian soprano Yvonne Kenny).

And I've long wanted to gather up all the tiny extant fragments of film footage I've found of the great diva.

In 1904, Melba had finally been persuaded by The Gramophone Company to commit a number of arias to disc. She required that a recording studio be set up at her home at Great Cumberland Place in London.

Her voice passed down a great horn through a diaphram to a needle which recorded the vibrations on a wax disc. The disc was then electroplated to give a 'metal master' from which shellac copies for sale were made in Germany. And it was these original masters that were found.

My first video is in two parts.

The first is the footage - of various tour arrivals and departures, scenes at home in Australia after retirement, cake-making as part of the civilian First World War effort, singing 'God Save the King' at the opening of the new Parliament House in Canberra in 1927 and being presented with a bouquet of flowers at some kind of civic reception, probably in London by the policemen's helmets.

Moments seem to reveal the singer's indomitable down-to-earth character, such as in the second sequence where Melba momentarily breaks in the filming to give firm and not-to-be-disobeyed orders to an at that point out-of-frame dog.

Portrait By Baron Adolf de Meyer

The audio for the first section of this first video is the spiritual 'Swing low, sweet chariot', which was recorded privately at home for her father and not heard until recently. Here the diva seems very up close and intimate to the microphone - she is so clear and 'present' that you can hear subtleties and qualities in her voice not previously accessible. This sound quality may also be due to the lesser dynamics of such a song which do not require the singer to step or be away from the trumpet to prevent the recording distortions involved with the often larger volume and higher notes of operatic arias.

The second section of this first video shows images of Melba through her career, including one of Philippe, duc d'Orleans ...

Philippe, duc d'Orleans

... with whom she had a potentially career-wrecking affair - but which eventuated only in a scandal which precipitated the divorce from her estranged husband, Charles Armstrong.

This section is accompanied by an audio of the initial part of Melba's Farewell Speech at Covent Garden in 1926.

She seems a strong and confident public speaker, quite in control of the proceedings.

It also gives a sense of her speaking voice.

Speaking to character, John Hetherington tells in his 1968 biography, that at one point during the speech the singer broke down into tears, resulting in the curtain being drawn. Melba instantly reacted ... yelling at the stage hands 'Open the bloody curtains!' And proceeded to gently sob again.


The second video has an audio from 1910 of Melba singing the lament 'Chant Hindou' by Herman Bemberg.

There was a discussion in 1967 between P.G. Hurst and Jack Freestone in which they agreed that this recording showed the emotional and expressive power the singer could produce 'when she chose'. They had both heard the great singer many times.


I really enjoyed putting this post and these two videos together ...

... because, as much as anything, it's been a specific focus with which to think about my selfless and adoring grandmother.