Sitting In

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sargent-wilson.jpg

In 1915, American artist John Singer Sargent donated a blank canvas for auction at a Red Cross benefit, promising to paint a portrait of the donor who purchased it. Sir Hugh Lane bought it for £10,000 but died in the sinking of the Lusitania. He left his art collection to the National Gallery of Ireland, which didn’t know what to do with the blank canvas, so the executors finally held a referendum to ask whose portrait Sargent should paint. The popular choice, to Sargent’s surprise, was Woodrow Wilson.

At the White House Sargent confided his nerves to first lady Edith Wilson, who tried to amuse him at the easel. Still, she didn’t care for the result. “I think it lacks virility and makes Mr. Wilson look older than he did at the time,” she said later. Advisor Edward M. House said he thought it too austere, but then “I think I never knew a man whose general appearance changed so much from hour to hour.” Wilson’s opinion is not recorded.

Bonus blank canvas story: In 1951 Robert Rauschenberg painted a series of “white paintings” with the explicit intention that they appear untouched by human hands. Some patrons considered this an outright swindle when the paintings were first exhibited in 1953, but Rauschenberg wasn’t kidding: In 1962, when curator Pontus Hulten wanted to show them at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, the paintings had been lost, so Rauschenberg simply sent him the measurements and samples of the paint and the canvas, and Hulten remade them from scratch.

Podcast Episode 168: The Destruction of the Doves Type

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portrait_of_T_J_Cobden-Sanderson_(1840-1922)_by_William_Rothenstein.png

In March 1913, Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson threw the most beautiful typeface in the world off of London’s Hammersmith Bridge to keep it out of the hands of his estranged printing partner. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll explore what would lead a man to destroy the culmination of his life’s work — and what led one modern admirer to try to revive it.

We’ll also scrutinize a housekeeper and puzzle over a slumped child.

Intro:

Gustav Mahler rejected the Berlin Royal Opera because of the shape of his nose.

In 1883, inventor Robert Heath enumerated the virtues of glowing hats.

Sources for our feature on the Doves Press:

Marianne Tidcombe, The Doves Press, 2002.

The Journals of Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, 1926.

“The Doves Press” — A Kelmscott Revival,” New York Times, Feb. 16, 1901, BR9.

“The Revival of Printing as an Art,” New York Tribune, Sept. 14, 1901, 11.

“The Doves Press Bible,” Guardian, March 10, 1904.

“The Doves Press,” Athenaeum, Jan. 12, 1907, 54-54.

“The Doves Press,” Athenaeum, June 13, 1908, 729-730.

Dissolution of the partnership, London Gazette, July 27, 1909, 5759.

“Doves Press Type in River: Memoirs of T.C. Sanderson Tell How He Disposed of It,” New York Times, Sept. 8, 1926, 27.

Arthur Millier, “Bookbinding Art Proves Inspiration: Doves Press Exhibit Reveals Devotion to Lofty Ideals,” Los Angeles Times, April 2, 1933, A2.

Charles B. Russell, “Cobden-Sanderson and the Doves Press,” Prairie Schooner 14:3 (Fall 1940), 180-192.

Carole Cable, “The Printing Types of the Doves Press: Their History and Destruction,” Library Quarterly 44:3 (July 1974), 219-230.

Marcella D. Genz, “The Doves Press [review],” Library Quarterly 74:1 (January 2004), 91-94.

“Biographies of the Key Figures Involved in the Doves Press,” International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, Dec. 22, 2009.

“The Doves Type Reborn,” Association Typographique Internationale, Dec. 20, 2010.

“The Fight Over the Doves,” Economist, Dec. 19, 2013.

Justin Quirk, “X Marks the Spot,” Sunday Times, Jan. 11, 2015, 22.

Rachael Steven, “Recovering the Doves Type,” Creative Review, Feb. 3, 2015.

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan, “The Gorgeous Typeface That Drove Men Mad and Sparked a 100-Year Mystery,” Gizmodo, Feb. 16, 2015.

Rich Rennicks, “The Doves Press Story,” New Antiquarian, Feb. 24, 2015.

“One Man’s Obsession With Rediscovering the Lost Doves Type,” BBC News Magazine, Feb. 25, 2015.

“15 Things You Didn’t Know About the Doves Press & Its Type,” Typeroom, Oct. 20, 2015.

“An Obsessive Type: The Tale of the Doves Typeface,” BBC Radio 4, July 28, 2016.

Sujata Iyengar, “Intermediating the Book Beautiful: Shakespeare at the Doves Press,” Shakespeare Quarterly 67:4 (Winter 2016), 481-502.

“The Doves Type”, Typespec (accessed Aug. 20, 2017).

“Raised From the Dead: The Doves Type Story,” Typespec (accessed Aug. 20, 2017).

“History of the Doves Type,” Typespec (accessed Aug. 21, 2017).

“Doves Press,” Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum (accessed Aug. 20, 2017).

“Doves Press Collection,” Bruce Peel Special Collections, University of Alberta (accessed Aug. 20, 2017).

Listener mail:

Becky Oskin, “Yosemite Outsmarts Its Food-Stealing Bears,” Live Science, March 3, 2014.

Kristin Hohenadel, “Vancouver Bans Doorknobs,” Slate, Nov. 26 2013.

Jeff Lee, “Vancouver’s Ban on the Humble Doorknob Likely to Be a Trendsetter,” Vancouver Sun, Nov. 19, 2013.

Jonathan Goodman, The Slaying of Joseph Bowne Elwell, 1987.

“Housekeeper Admits Shielding Woman by Hiding Garments in Elwell Home,” New York Times, June 17, 1920.

“Elwell Crime Still Mystery,” Los Angeles Times, June 19, 1920.

“Housekeeper Gives New Elwell Facts,” New York Times, June 25, 1920.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Dean Gootee.

Please visit Littleton Coin Company to sell your coins and currency, or call them toll free 1-877-857-7850.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Words and Music

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Burgessns.jpg

Anthony Burgess based his 1974 novel Napoleon Symphony explicitly on the structure of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, the Eroica:

  • The story is told in four “movements,” whose length corresponds to the listening time of the corresponding parts of the symphony: 118 pages (14:46 minutes), 120 pages (15:34 minutes), 30 pages (5:33 minutes), and 77 pages (11:27 minutes).
  • The allegro takes Bonaparte “from his early Italian triumphs to his crowning as Emperor”; the marcia funebre moves to the retreat from Russia; in the scherzo Napoleon attends a play featuring Prometheus; and the finale depicts his life and death on St. Helena.
  • Where the symphony begins with two sharp chords, the novel starts with Napoleon giving Josephine “two excruciating love-pinches.” In the first movement Bonaparte corresponds to the “masculine thematic group,” Josephine to the “second, or feminine subject.” The sonata form requires repetition, so, for example, the opening sentence, “Germinal in the Year Four” appears in the “recapitulation” with a slight variation, as “Germinal in the Year Seven.” The contrasting themes are reflected in shifts of scene and viewpoint, and harmonic variation is suggested by the frequent repetition of certain phrases with minor changes.
  • In the second movement Napoleon dreams of his death in verses set precisely to the rhythm of Beethoven’s theme (these are printed with the score in his essay “Bonaparte in E Flat” in This Man and Music):

    There he lies,
    Ensanguinated tyrant
    O bloody, bloody tyrant
    See
    How the sin within
    Doth incarnadine
    His skin
    From the shin to the chin.

  • During the retreat from Russia, he approximates counterpoint by writing in two levels of language, which he hopes “will leave an aftertaste of polyphony.” For example: “The primary need, General Eblé said, is to obtain the requisite structural materials and this will certainly entail the demolition of civilian housing in the adjacent township. Now the first job, Sergeant Rebour said, is to get planking, and the only way to get it is to pull down all those fucking houses.”
  • In the scherzo the waltz rhythm is reflected in sentences such as “Dance dance dance! The orchestra struck up another waltz” and “They danced. United Kingdom of Benelux Benelux, Britain gets Malte and Cape of Good Hope.”
  • The finale is based on the so-called Prometheus theme (E-flat, B-flat, B-flat, E-flat), which Burgess visualizes as a cross in the score. He interprets the initials on Jesus’ cross, INRI, as Impera[torem] Nap[oleonem] Regem Interfec[it], an acrostic that recurs throughout the movement.

Overall, Burgess said, he wanted to pursue “one mad idea”: “to give / Symphonic shape to verbal narrative” and to “impose on life … the abstract patterns of the symphonist.”

He dedicated the novel to Stanley Kubrick, hoping that it might form the basis of the director’s long-planned biography of the emperor, but Kubrick decided that “the [manuscript] is not a work that can help me make a film about the life of Napoleon.” Undismayed, Burgess developed it instead into an experimental novel. The critics didn’t like it, but he said it was “elephantine fun” to write.

(From Theodore Ziolkowski, Music Into Fiction, 2017.)

A Lofty Vision

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MAM_Caracas.jpg

Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer proposed this design for a museum of modern art in Caracas in 1955. He conceived it as a pyramid standing on its apex; the roof would be one vast skylight, and daylight would penetrate the levels inside thanks to spaces at the edges of the floor slabs. There are no side windows so as not to disturb the unity of the slanted walls.

The ground floor would house an auditorium; above that, successively, were a foyer, an exhibition gallery, a mezzanine exhibition space, and the roof, with a sculpture terrace. To free the exhibition halls of load-bearing supports, the mezzanine would be suspended from the four corners of the pyramid by perpendicular tensors.

The whole thing would have perched on a cliff overlooking central Caracas. A change in regime meant that it never got beyond the planning stage.

A Second Look

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M.C. Escher’s 1935 lithograph Hand With Reflecting Sphere gave artist Kelly M. Houle an idea.

She drew this image in charcoal on a piece of illustration board:

escher anamorphosis

Now when a cylindrical mirror is placed at the center, it produces this reflection:

escher anamorphic reflection

“When the original image is bent and stretched into a circular swath, the shadows seem to fall in all directions,” she wrote. “When the curved mirror is used to reflect the anamorphic distortion, the forms take on the familiar rules of light and shading that make them seem three-dimensional.”

(Kelly M. Houle, “Portrait of Escher: Behind the Mirror,” in D. Schattschneider and M. Emmer, eds., M.C. Escher’s Legacy, 2003.)

Law and Ordure

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Image: Flickr

Chicago artist Jerzy Kenar put up this bronze statue in front of his East Village home as a gentle reminder: “I hoped it would motivate dog owners to pick up after their pets.”

When the water’s running it looks even more realistic than this. But both mayor Richard M. Daley and Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church, attended the unveiling in 2005.

Kenar says that the statue, at 1003 North Wolcott Avenue, is intended to be whimsical, and that most visitors take it in that spirit, posing and even drinking from the fountain. “Only one little old lady didn’t get the joke,” he said.

He also designed the Black History Fountain near St. Sabina … so this one is sometimes called his “number two fountain.”

(From Greg Borzo, Chicago’s Fabulous Fountains, 2017.)

Spelling It Out

In the 17th century, French architect Thomas Gobert planned 12 churches whose forms spelled out the words LOVIS LE GRAND (where each letter is doubled mirrorwise, for symmetry):

gobert

In 1775 Johann David Steingruber designed a castle whose floor plan formed the initials of Prince Christian Carl Friedrich Alexander of Anspach:

steingruber

And in 1774 Anton Glonner designed a Jesuit college based on the name of Christ (IHS, the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek):

glonner

The H contained the kitchen, the dining room, and the sacristy, and the S contained the schoolrooms.

(From Ulrich Conrads and Hans G. Sperlich, The Architecture of Fantasy, 1962.)

An Architect’s Dream

ambasz folly 1

This is just an image that I liked. In 1983, in preparation for an exhibition at New York’s Leo Castelli Gallery, architect B.J. Archer invited some of his friends to submit plans for a folly — “an object which embodies no function, save for demarcation, or is useful only for a small segment of daily life.”

Emilio Ambasz submitted the following. “I never thought about it in words,” he wrote, “It came to me as an image — full-fledged, clear and irreducible, like a vision”:

I fancied myself the owner of a wide grazing field, somewhere in the fertile plains of Texas or in the province of Buenos Aires. In the middle of this field was a partly sunken open-air construction. I felt as if this place had always existed. The entrance was marked by a three-column baldachino supporting a lemon tree. From the entrance a triangular earthen plane stepped gently toward the diagonal of a large, square sunken courtyard — half earth, half water. A rocky mass rose in the centre of the courtyard resembling a mountain. A barge made of logs floated on the water; it was sheltered by a thatched roof supported by wooded trusses resting on four square, sectioned, wood pillars. Using a long pole, the barge could be sculled into an opening in the mountain. Once inside this cave I could alight the barge on a cove-like shore illuminated by the zenithal opening. More often, I used the barge to reach an L-shaped cloister where, shaded from the sun or sheltered from the wind, I could sit and read, draw or just think. The cloister was defined on the outside by the water basin and on the inside by a number of undulating planes screening alcove-like spaces.

ambasz folly 2

In the alcoves he stored childhood toys, school notebooks, a stamp collection, and an old military uniform. “Not all things stored in these alcoves were there because they had given me pleasure; they were things I could not discard.” In his imagination he would traverse the water basin occasionally to dress up in the uniform, “assuring myself I had not put on too much weight.”

One last thing: In place of one of the alcoves was the entrance to a tunnel leading to an open pit full of fresh mist. “I never understood how this cold water mist originated, but it never failed to produce a rainbow.”

ambasz folly 3

(From Archer’s Follies, 1983.)

Perspective

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There’s an interesting detail in Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait of 1434. The painting depicts Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife in their home in Bruges. In the background is a convex mirror over which is inscribed the legend “Johannes de eyck fuit hic 1434” (“Jan van Eyck was here 1434”). And curiously, reflected in the mirror, where we’d expect to see the painter and his easel, are two figures:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Arnolfini_Portrait,_d%C3%A9tail_(2).jpg

In 1934 art historian Erwin Panofsky offered a unique explanation for this: The painting is an “artistic marriage certificate.” Neither Arnolfini nor his new wife had any relatives at Bruges at the time of their marriage, and the custom at the time was to record two witnesses to the wedding. “So that we can understand the original idea of a picture which was a memorial portrait and a document at the same time, and in which a well-known gentleman-painter signed his name both as artist and as witness.”

Amused by the reflection, Hungarian graphic designer István Orosz set up his own arrangement in his 1997 etching Johannes de Eyck fuit hic, below. “Here I attempt to show the world behind the door with the help of two mirrors.”

http://art.ayay.co.uk/art/optical_illusion/istvan_orosz/door-and-mirror/

For a thousand bucks you can buy your own Van Eyck mirror and investigate for yourself.

(Erwin Panofsky, “Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait,” Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 64:372 [March 1934], 117-119.)