Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.

Arts & Culture

A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

Floating an Idea for Parliament

Members of Parliament are currently battling one another over plans for the ‘restoration and renewal’ of the Palace of Westminster. One side, backed by management consultants and the Joint Committee report, say the whole place has to be shut down completely for years starting in 2020. The other, led by Sir Edward Leigh MP and Shailesh Vara MP, says if work is so urgent it should start immediately, but that both the Commons and the Lords should continue to meet within the Palace, preserving centuries of tradition and keeping up the dignity and ceremony for which Great Britain is known.

With ideas flowing back and forth, outsiders to the Westminster bubble have put forth their own ideas — the architect Anthony Delarue’s suggestion has received the most serious consideration so far — and the global design firm Gensler has weighed in with its own proposal.

Gensler’s idea calls for a floating slug bearing a distinct resemblance to the Gherkin to be built and moored alongside the Palace of Westminster. This floating parliament would have plenary chambers for both the House of Lords and the House of Commons as well as committee rooms and other meeting places necessary to the functioning of the legislature.

While it’s a serious idea, the floating slug is not under actual consideration but is merely a conceptual exercise put out there by Gensler. Security concerns alone would lead to its rejection, not to mention worry over the hole in the historic fabric that would need to be punched through in order to access the slug. (more…)

January 23, 2017 1:15 pm | Link | No Comments »

All Change for Argentine Newspapers

BsAs Herald emerges as weekly as La Nación goes tabloid


Not Lucas de Soto

One of the saddest pieces of news to hit the Cusackosphere in 2016 was word that the Buenos Aires Herald was ending its 140th year by moving from daily to weekly production. The English-language Herald has been a stalwart of its city and country and, though little known abroad, has ranked among the finest newspapers in the world. But from 2007, when Charleston’s Evening Post Publishing Company sold the Herald onwards to controversial businessman Sergio Szpolski, the paper found itself in increasingly chaotic situations. Robert Cox, Herald editor in the difficult period from 1968 to 1979, said what happened to the paper was “like a car crash”, and blamed the papers owners.

My favourite feature of the Herald was Martin Gambarotta’s weekly ‘Politics and Labour’ column — a witty and insightful peek behind the curtains of Argentine public life. Like Miriam Lord’s Dail sketches for the Irish Times, one wished it was possible to redeploy Gambarotta’s pen at will towards whichever corner of the globe one happened to be situated in.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the republic’s venerable broadsheet La Nación announced around the same time its conversion to a smaller compact size. The centre-right daily is the most prestigious in Argentina since the demise of La Prensa under Peronist persecution. While its weekend editions will maintain their broadsheet format, from Monday to Friday La Nación will be printed in a compact format similar in size to a tabloid.

Marcelo García’s explanation of the changes at the Herald can be found below. (more…)

January 18, 2017 11:52 am | Link | No Comments »

1950s Ireland, the Church, and the Arts

Sitting in Dublin Airport waiting for a flight last week I picked up a copy of the Irish Arts Review which featured a number of interesting pieces (including something by our own Dr John Gilmartin).

Among the articles was an interview with the artist and printmaker Alice Hanratty (born 1939), a member of the Aosdána as well as of its governing council the Toscaireacht.

It was interviewer Brian McAvera’s question to Ms Hanratty about Ireland in the 40s and 50s and her response that proved most interesting.

BMcA: Artists, nevermind historians, often talk about the dark days of the 1940s and 1950s in Ireland: petty, parochial, restrictive, dominated by the Catholic Church, politically conservative and sexually repressed. How did you see this period and was it in any way formative for you as an artist?

AH: I have some experience of the period in question and don’t really recognise the description that you quote.

As far as the arts are concerned you must remember that important Irish poets, dramatists, and novelists, and also painters and sculptors worked at that time. Brian Fallon discusses all that in his An Age of Innocence. As for ‘politically conservative, restrictive, dominated by the Catholic Church’ these I think are quite sweeping statements by people who did not actually live at that time and are re-stating a received perception which is inaccurate.

As for domination by the Catholic Church, to some degree people allowed themselves to be dominated. They were OK with it. It suited them. It provided answers about the imponderables such as death. Nor should it ever be overlooked that the vicious war waged against the Irish people and the practice of their religion by way of the penal laws have had a huge detrimental effect on the national psyche which is not yet dispersed even in the 21st century.

As for political conservatism (don’t start me), that was established by the Free State Government in the 1920s making a deliberate and successful move to stamp out any form of socialism that might develop. Of course the Church was pleased to be of help there, but was not the instigator. President Higgins made reference to this period in one of his 1916 commemoration addresses, so anyone seeking enlightenment in these matters would find it there.

Were the 1940s and 1950s influential for me as an artist? No. I was too young and was not looking outwards for inspiration.

January 4, 2017 3:46 pm | Link | No Comments »

The angel of Görlitz

The angel of Görlitz

An anonymous benefactor gives Görlitz half a million euros every year for the benefit of the Old Town.

24.02.2015, by MONA JAEGER, GÖRLITZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung)

PASTOR, YOU MUST know, are there angels? He jumped up, went to a shelf, grabbed a thin brochure, and opened it. Here, says Minister Hans-Wilhelm Pietz, pointing to a photograph of the Church of the Holy Trinity, the roof was leaking, it was almost raining. And there, at the Lutherkirche, the facade was washed-out.

Four houses of God are maintained by the Lutheran church in Görlitz, between 100 and 700 years old. From the crypt to the tower there is always something to bang, grind, or sand. Sometimes this costs 500 euro, sometimes 5,000. In any case more than the 2,500 congregants contribute to the Sunday collection. “Alone, we would be overwhelmed with the neverending renovations.” But there is indeed him. Or her. An angel, at least, Father Pietz is certain.

He must be a pretty fat angel. He distributes half a million euros in the city every year — €511,500 to be exact. Not an angel as such, but a wealthy entrepreneur or someone with a rich inheritance, the Görlitzers speculate at the bakery counter or at their Stammtisch. Who else would have had so much money left for twenty years that he could simply donate to the city?

For it’s been the same game in Görlitz every year for that long: always in the first quarter, without announcement, half a million euros (formerly a million marks) find their way into the municipal coffers. It has always been a different date. This year it was 18 February. Whether the money will come next year, the donor does not reveal. (more…)

January 3, 2017 3:35 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Christmas on College Green

There are some good (if brief) shots of the Irish House of Lords chamber in this Christmas ad for the Bank of Ireland, 0:35-0:45.

The former Irish Houses of Parliament on College Green in Dublin were the first purpose-built parliament building in the world, and were purchased by the Bank of Ireland after the parliament was abolished by the Act of Union in 1800.

Unfortunately a condition of sale was demolishing the elegant octagonal Commons chamber at the centre of the building, to prevent it being used in the effort to have the Act of Union repealed.

Sir Thomas Cusack (1505-1571) has the distinction of having at times served as the presiding officer of both the upper and lower houses of the Irish Parliament. From 1541-1543 he was as Speaker of the House of Commons, in which role some scholars argue he was a prime mover behind the legislation erecting Ireland as a kingdom.

In the following decade he served as Lord Chancellor of Ireland, presiding in the House of Lords, from 1551 until 1555 when revelations about his involvement in the creative finances of Sir Anthony St Leger’s viceregal regime brought about Sir Thomas’s dismissal and (temporary) imprisonment.

He returned to favour when the Earl of Sussex was appointed viceroy, but never again held high office.

Of course, all that was before this neoclassical building was erected, when Parliament met mostly in Dublin Castle.

December 15, 2016 4:36 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Church of the Intercession

The huge and spacious interior of the Church of the Intercession, New York. One of Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue’s masterpieces; so much so that he decided to be interred in the north transept of the church.

December 15, 2016 12:03 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Hamburger Abendblatt

The German advertising agency Oliver Voss created this series of ads for the Hamburger Abendblatt, Hamburg’s daily evening newspaper.

Oliver Voss have done web and print ads for the Abendblatt before but the illustrations in this series of posters strike a jovial pose, feeling perfectly contemporary while still informed by a sense of the 1950s.

The summery beach scene is my favourite.

(more…)

December 13, 2016 2:45 pm | Link | No Comments »

Marinus Willett

In one of the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum’s American wing, behind the Tuckahoe-marble façade of the old Assay Office (moved here from Wall Street), hangs this portrait of Col. Marinus Willett of the Continental Army’s 5th New York Regiment.

Born in 1740, the second of thirteen children, Willett attended King’s College before being commissioned a lieutenant in a New York provincial regiment during the Seven Years’ War (or French and Indian War as it’s known more locally). (more…)

December 12, 2016 11:00 am | Link | 1 Comment »

Mendicant Architecture in Mediaeval Oxford

An interesting video from two American academics on the subject of Mendicant architecture in mediaeval Oxford, with some three-dimensional theoretical reconstructions of the Dominican and Franciscan houses in the city.

Both orders returned to Oxford in the twentieth century. The Capuchins refounded Greyfriars in 1910 and it was recognised as a permanent private hall (PPH) of the University in 1957. Its end as an academic institution was announced sadly on its fiftieth anniversary in 2007, but Greyfriars continues as a Capuchin friary.

Blackfriars under the Dominicans is still going strong, exercising a triple function as a priory of the Order of Preachers, a house of studies for the English province of the Order, and a PPH of the University of Oxford.

December 12, 2016 10:55 am | Link | 3 Comments »

Calligraphic Correspondence

What a pleasure it must be to receive a letter from the designer Frank Ortmann (c.f. here), if the calligraphic correspondence received by printer Martin Z. Schröder is anything to go by. (See here & here.)

December 5, 2016 12:30 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

The Death of God the Father

The circumstances in which Picasso’s portrait of Stalin was commissioned are amusingly relayed in Antony Beevor and Artemis Cooper’s history, Paris After the Liberation: 1944-1949.

When Stalin’s death was announced on Friday, 7 March 1953, Aragon called in Pierre Daix and rattled off a shopping list of features to honour Stalin in a special issue of Les Lettres françaises. […] Since Picasso had always refused to do a portrait of Stalin from a photograph, Daix sent a telegram to him at Vallauris saying, ‘Do whatever you want,’ and signed it ‘Aragon’.

Picasso’s drawing of Stalin, which depicted him as a curiously open-eyed young man, arrived at the very moment Les Lettres françaises went to press. Daix took the picture to Aragon. He admired it and said that the party would appreciate the gesture. While it was being set into the front page, office boys and typists crowded round the picture. Everyone thought it ‘worthy of Stalin’.

Daix was overjoyed to be the one who had commissioned Picasso’s first portrait of the Soviet leader and rushed it down to the printers. But a few hours later, when the edition had been run off, the mood in the building had completely changed to one of fear. Journalists from L’Humanité, passing by, spotted the drawing and cried out that it was unthinkable that any Communist publication should consider such a representation of ‘le Grand Staline’.

Pierre Daix promptly rang Aragon at his apartment; Elsa Triolet answered. She told him angrily that he was mad to have even thought of asking Picasso for such a drawing.

‘But really, Elsa,’ Daix broke in, ‘Stalin isn’t God the Father!’

‘Yes, he is, Pierre. Nobody’s going to reflect much about what this drawing of Picasso signifies. He hasn’t even deformed Stalin’s face. He’s even respected it. But he has dared to touch it. He has actually dared, Pierre, don’t you understand?’ […]

Paris After the Liberation: 1944–1949,
Antony Beevor & Artemis Cooper (1994, London)

December 2, 2016 12:05 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Wall Street

Well, actually it’s Broad Street looking down past the New York Stock Exchange to Federal Hall, which itself is on Wall Street.

Most of Broad Street was originally a canal (hence its width) but in 1676 it was filled in and laid out as a street.

November 17, 2016 10:20 am | Link | No Comments »

Muratie

The Stellenbosch estate of the artist Georg Paul Canitz

We had supper with Mr. Canitz, the painter, one Sunday night, by the light of candles in a fine Dutch candelabra, and drove back to Stellenbosch in moon light which had transformed the countryside into the most entrancing fairyland imaginable.

Great clumps of trees in unexpected places gave an eeriness to the white ribbon of road which stretched across the valley. The soft evening breeze of magic scents lulled us, and we drowsed to the hum of the car bearing us homeward.

That memory is still vivid to me so I shall turn from our Golden Road, and “…muse awhile, entoil’d in woofed phantasies.”

So the architect Rex Martienssen described a visit to Muratie, the home of the artist Georg Paul Canitz, in 1928. Canitz was a Saxon, born in Leipzig, where his parents had hoped he would pursue a military career. Both his zeal and talent as an artist appeared early on, and so he ended up at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. After further studies in Italy, Paris, and the Netherlands, a chest ailment drove him to the interior of Südwestafrika in 1907.


“…by the light of candles in a fine Dutch candelabra.” (Photo credit)

Canitz healed quickly in the dry air but could not find a cure for the striking beauty of the new world around him. His wife and children were summoned from Germany, and three years later he moved to Stellenbosch after falling in love with the “City of Oaks”.

Canitz devoted himself to his passions: riding, painting, and teaching (both at his own art school and at the University). Riding to a party at Knorhoek one day he stumbled upon the little house and farm at Muratie and was quickly enamored of the place. It wasn’t long before he had purchased it and moved his family there.


The kitchen at Muratie. (Photo credit)

G P Canitz

At Muratie, the painter developed a further art: that of winemaking. In this he was assisted by the legendary Dr Perold — first chair of viticulture at Stellenbosch. Canitz became a pioneer of the pinot noir grapes which have since become a South African staple. Perhaps even more he developed the skills of a kind and generous host, for which he was well reputed throughout South Africa. He would welcome friends and guests — among them Martienssen and his architectural students as cited above — throughout the year. In warmer months they came for the swimming pool and the breezy stoep, while in winter a fire awaited, or perhaps a few rounds of strong drink in the Kneipzimmer.


The Kneipzimmer (Photo credit)

I like to think this was Canitz’s favourite room at Muratie: bedecked with benches, the light streaming in through a stained-glass windows, and the walls covered in naturalistic painting as well as graffitied signatures and sayings in German, Afrikaans, French, and Greek.

The painter died in 1958, leaving Muratie to his daughter, who in 1987 sold it to members of the Melck family who had owned it from 1763 to 1897. (The house was first built in 1685.) I suspect Canitz would have greatly appreciated his handiwork being passed back to those who had looked after the place for many generations before him. The Melcks, unsurprisingly, have a great reverance for the history of the estate. They even go so far as to leave the cobwebs which have accrued go undisturbed and ask visitors to do likewise.

And, even today, the wine still flows!


A sign in Afrikaans points the way to cellar sales. (Photo credit)
November 16, 2016 10:17 am | Link | 2 Comments »

A Handsome Hamsun

Book design is a craft sadly neglected in the English-speaking world. In paperbacks, the French reign supreme, while the Teutons and Scandos design the most elegant hardcover books.

This German edition of Ingar Sletten Kolloen’s biography of Knut Hamsun was designed by Frank Ortmann for Landt Verlag, founded by the conservative popular historian Andreas Krause Landt (aka Andreas Lombard). Landt Verlag is now an imprint of Thomas Hoof’s Manuscriptum publishing firm. Hoof is better known for starting Manufactum, the retail company known for offering high-quality goods made through traditional methods.

I’ve never read any Hamsun myself though he has been strongly recommended by friends with reliable tastes. This Norwegian writer is widely read amongst the Germans but not so amongst the Anglos, and perhaps not surprisingly since he was an uncompromising Anglophobe and had praise for all things German.

Anglophobia was not his worse offence – a Nobel laureate, he ended up giving away the actual medal as a gift to Goebbels – but no less an unquestionable anti-Nazi than Thomas Mann hoped that “the stigma of his politics will one day be separated from his writing, which I regard very highly”.

The designer Frank Ortmann impressed the name of the publisher by incorporating letter-L initials into the rather Hellenic ornamental frame of the book. He’s also managed to banish the dreaded and ubiquitous barcode to a little banderole which also includes a short introductory text, preserving the visual integrity of the book itself.

November 15, 2016 11:45 am | Link | 2 Comments »

Church of St James, Spanish Place

Always interesting to see a building you know well from a perspective you’ve never seen before, as in this photo of the Church of St James, Spanish Place, taken from Manchester Mews. The church somehow seems more imposing — like a great rounded keep.

A few months ago I was corralled into some favour or other that required a bit of muscle to move this there and whatnot, the payoff of which was it afforded an opportunity to explore the triforium of this Marylebone church and see the interior of the building from an entirely new vantage point.

It also meant being able to view in better detail the beautiful stained glass windows — many of them the gift of various Spanish royals, given that this parish originates as the chapel of the Spanish embassy (hence its name).

November 7, 2016 10:35 am | Link | 2 Comments »

Speyer

This 1961 postage stamp celebrates the consecration, nine centuries earlier, of the Imperial Cathedral Basilica of the Blessed Virgin of the Assumption and Saint Stephen at Speyer — today the largest Romanesque church still standing.

November 4, 2016 2:20 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Courtyard of the Palazzo Bonagia

A photograph of the courtyard of the Palazzo Bonagia, the Palermo residence of the Dukes of Castel di Mirto, looking towards the rococo staircase.

The steps, columns, and balustrades are of red marble from Castellammare del Golfo, all conceived in the mind of Andrea Giganti, priest-architect of the Sicilian baroque.

The building was bombed during the last war and reduced to a shell, but thorough if slow-going restoration work began in 2009 and continues.

November 1, 2016 10:35 am | Link | 3 Comments »

The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow

If there is any season which is plus New-Yorkaise que les autres then it must be autumn, and around the time of Hallowe’en in particular.

Thanks to the fertile imagination of Washington Irving, buried in the cemetery of the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow, the Hudson Valley is the spiritual home of this ancient Celtic feast now implanted in the New World.

The other day I dusted off the huge single-volume complete works of Irving – almost the size of an old Statenvertaling – and re-read his most famous tale, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.

Irving describes the position of the Old Dutch Church:

The sequestered situation of this church seems always to have made it a favorite haunt of troubled spirits. It stands on a knoll surrounded by locust trees and lofty elms, from among which its decent whitewashed walls shine modestly forth, like Christian purity beaming through the shades of retirement. A gentle slope descends from it to a silver sheet of water bordered by high trees, between which peeps may be caught at the blue hills of the Hudson. To look upon its grass-grown yard, where the sunbeams seem to sleep so quietly, one would think that there at least the dead might rest in peace.

On one side of the church extends a wide woody dell, along, which raves a large brook among broken rocks and trunks of fallen trees. Over a deep black part of the stream, not far from the church, was formerly thrown a wooden bridge; the road that led to it and the bridge itself were thickly shaded by overhanging trees, which cast a gloom about it even in the daytime, but occasioned a fearful darkness at night. Such was one of the favorite haunts of the Headless Horseman, and the place where he was most frequently encountered.

The tale of the Headless Horseman is now, partly thanks to various popular reinterpretations of it, well known even outside the Hudson Valley. I remember as a wee lad growing up in that part of the world our Scout uniforms had a badge bearing the image of the “Galloping Hessian”.

October 31, 2016 12:05 pm | Link | 8 Comments »

Johannes Kip’s View of London

View and Perspective of the City of London, Westminster, and St James’s Park

The Dutch engraver & printer Johannes Kip had worked for the stadthouder William of Orange in Amsterdam and unsurprisingly followed the prince to London after the English Revolution of 1688.

This view of London and Westminster is most notable for the unique perspective it takes: a bird’s eye view from above the Duke of Buckingham’s house, later acquired by the Crown and now, as Buckingham Palace, the primary royal residence.

This printing of Kip’s view, which comes up for auction soon at Daniel Crouch Rare Books, must have been printed after 1726 as it incorporates Gibb’s steeple of St Martin-in-the-Fields.

(more…)

October 25, 2016 12:05 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

‘Decisions, decisions…’

The Dublin Civic Trust has a blogpost on the Bank of Ireland’s 1802 competition to redesign the former Parliament House on College Green.

Rather horrifyingly, one of the proposals would have erected a monumental screen closing off the forecourt, completely spoiling the view of Edward Lovett Pearce’s beautiful façade.

Luckily the Bank chose Francis Johnston to harmonise the competition designs into the building we know today.

October 24, 2016 11:00 am | Link | No Comments »
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