26 August 2011

"Some Hard Captious Star"

"Someday beneath some hard
captious star -
Spreading its light a little
Over far,
We'll know you for the woman
That you are."
- From Fifth Avenue Up in The Book Of Repulsive Women by Djuna Barnes,New York: 1915.

"Reading Djuna Barnes is like reading a foreign language, which you understand." - Marianne Moore

Before she was a novelist and before Paris, Djuna Barnes (1892-1982) was a journalist and a women's suffrage militant in Greenwich Village. She published The Book Of Repulsive Women in 1915.  In later years the book's extreme frankness about 'the new woman' embarrassed Barnes  but it remains one of her most often reprinted works.

“I came to Europe to get culture.  Is this culture I’m getting?  Then I might as well go back to Greenwich Village and rot there.” - Djuna Barnes (There are alternate versions, but this is the one given by publisher Matthew Josephson.)


The author of much admired modernist novels  Ryder (1928) and Nightwood (1936), Barnes was both praised and damned.  Ryder was banned in Great Britain, even the expurgated edition. A few short years later, American expatriate T.S.Eliot, in am introduction to a new edition,  described  Nightwood as "the greatest novel written by a woman in English."    In his opinion, her father told her that it would take the rest of her life to untangle the knots of her childhood.  In the event, it wasn’t long enough.

Wald Barnes dabbled in music and painting, but devoted more energy to the practice of polygamy.  His house was always full of women: his wife Elizabeth, a violinist, his mother Zadel who was convinced that her son was a misunderstood genius, and assorted mistresses. 

The family lived in Cornwall-on-Hudson, a suburban retreat for New York's intelligentsia.  Nevertheless, Wald found it prudent to keep his children out of school to avoid public scrutiny.  Eccentricity lapsed into moral turpitude when the sixteen year old Djuna was raped by a neighbor, possibly with her father’s connivance. 

Four years later Elizabeth Barnes  took her four children and moved to Brooklyn.  There Djuna studied drawing at Pratt Institute until the family's need for money forced her to find a job.  First a reporter for the Brooklyn Eagle, Barnes joined the competitive world of Manhattan freelancers. 

She moved to Greenwich Village, but still felt herself an outsider, despite several successes, poems  published in Harper’s and drawings exhibited at Mabel Dodge’s prestigious Fifth Avenue salon.  Barnes fretted to her journal,  “- And yet I was in awe of no one.  I attempted not to show the arrogance of my upper lip that would persist in an attempt to curl, probably because I wanted to cry and wouldn’t, and I felt cold because I wanted so dreadfully to feel warm and hopeful and one with them.”  
A talent for finding representative individuals is the mark of a superior journalist. In Barnes' hands the interview became an art form.  Her subjects strike us as startlingly contemporary: the two-career couple; the sex symbol; the preacher as performer; the celebrity fashion designer. 

 The Barnes beat ranged from uptown dance halls to the lowdown bars  of Coney Island., and everywhere  she found a city of dance-mad people,  fans of Vernon and Irene Castle.  A professional husband and wife dance team, the Castles made their  debut in 1912, introducing new dances and igniting a ballroom dance craze that swept the country. They danced on Broadway in Irving Berlin's Watch Your Step (1915).  In Yes, the Vernon Castles Have a Home and They Occasionally Tango Past It, Barnes captureed the hectic life of the airborne duo as they perfected the dual-career marriage.
Barnes also recognized the travails of the sex symbol. Lillian Russell, the woman who made the 1890s ‘Gay’, was wildly successful at stage, screen and light opera yet she also endured failed marriages and relentless public prying into her personal life, which included a long-running relationship with the notorious "Diamond” Jim Brady. In I Could Never Be Lonely Without A Husband, Barnes questioned Russell about her home life. Russell parried with, "So many pleasing episodes of one's life are spoiled by shouting. You never heard of an unhappy marriage unless the neighbors have heard it first."

Barnes was clearly delighted to spar with her interlocutor in Nothing Amuses Coco Chanel After Midnight.. Chanel allowed Barnes to see her hardness as well as her charm. "The figure is more important than the face, and more important than the figure is the means by which you keep it."
She lied her way into an interview with the elusive impresario Florenz Ziegfeld at the height of his fame in 1914.  The man who adapted the Folies Bergere for an audience that wanted its women idealized as well as exposed (a little) explained one of the French songs in his show to Barnes.  “A vampire is a good woman with a bad reputation, or rather a good woman who has had possibilities and wasted them." He could be describing Nightwood's protagonist, Robin Vote.

Refusing to be confined to the ghetto of the women's pages, Barnes covered night courts, prisons, and laid bare the lives of elderly workers.  This  undoubtedly explains why her account of How It Feels to Be Forcibly Fed is so matter of fact as it describes her own harrowing ordeal. Barnes convinced the New York City Police Department to let her undergo the same punishment meted out to the militant British feminists she admired. The resulting article documented her ordeal. "The spirit was betrayed by the body's weakness. There it is - the outraged will. If I, playacting, felt my being burning with revolt at this brutal usurpation of my own functions, how they who suffered the ordeal in its acutest horror must have flamed at the violation of the sanctuaries of their spirits.”

 Within the space of two months in 1914, she  persuaded a doctor to force feed her like jailed women's suffragists were,  spent time in a cage at the Bronx Zoo with a young gorilla named Dinah, and  offered herself as a volunteer damsel-in-distress to firefighters in training at the Sixty-Seventh Street Recruit Center.
Fifty years before a man in a white suit announced the arrival of a New Journalism, Djuna Barnes had done it all.
Two collections of the journalism of Djuna Barnes, with her illustrations are publsihed by Sun & Moon Press: 
New York (1913-1921), Los Angeles: 1989
Interviews (1914-1931), Los Angeles: 1985.

Images: Phorographs from the exhibition Newspaper Fiction: The New York Journalism of Djuna Barnes, 1913-1919, on view until August 19, 2012 at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art.

How it Feels to be Forcibly Fed from New York World Magazine, September 6, 1914.

The Girl and the Gorilla from New York World Magazine, October 18, 1914.
My Adventures Being Rescued from New York World magazine, November 15, 1914.
1.  unidentified photographer - Djuna Barnes, c. 1921, courtesy of New Directions.
2. Djuna Barnes - drawing for The Book of Repulsive Women, New York, Guido Bruno: 1915.
3. Edith Bry -  Adolescent Dream, 1911, Loeb Art Center, New York University.
4. Djuna Barnes - Portrait of Marsden Hartley, 1916, New York Morning Telegraph.
5. Maurice Brange - Djuna barnes And Solita Solano - Au Cafe - Paris, 1922, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris.

22 August 2011

In A Japanese Mood: Adelaide Crapsey

"Among the bumble-bees in red-top hay, a freckled field of brown-eyed Susans dripping yellow leaves in July,
I read your heart in a book.

And your mouth of blue pansy—I know somewhere I have seen it rain-shattered.

And I have seen a woman with her head flung between her naked knees, and her head held there listening to the sea, the great naked sea shouldering a load of salt.

And the blue pansy mouth sang to the sea:
Mother of God, I’m so little a thing,
Let me sing longer,
Only a little longer.
And the sea shouldered its salt in long gray combers hauling new shapes on the beach sand. " - Adelaide Crapsey by Carl  Sandburg

There are echoes of Japanese tanka and haiku  in Adelaide Crapsey's cinquains,  the five line poem.of her invention.  Crapsey wrote them during a brief three year period from 1911 to 1913.   After her early death from tuberculosis in 1914, other poets like Carl Sandburg (above) and Lola Ridge kept her work alive, following her example and testifying to her continuing presence in their own work.  In her academic career, Crapsey  became a scholar of meter and rhythm, publishing a major work on metrics shortly before a physical collapse.   It's all there in  her version of the classic tale of Susannah And The Elders.

"Why do
You thus devise
Against her?"  "For that
She is beuautiful, delicate,

"The old
Old winds that blew
When chaos was, what do
They tell the clattered tress that I
Should weep."

Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914)  was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Rochester, New York, the third of nine children of an Episcopal priest, whose areer ended with his expulsion from the clergy. She attended Vassar College and taught at Smith College until she became ill . Artist Dwight William Tryon, also an admirer of Japanese arts, taught at Smith with Crapsey. 
The strengths of her combination of diverse aesthetic interests are evident in Blue Hyancinths.

"In your
Curled petals what ghosts
Of blue headlands and seas,
What perfumed immortal breath sighing
Of Greece."

Although she taught at an elite college, Crapsey conducted her artistic career outside the mainstream of American culture.  Long years of illness punctuated her short life.  In her best poems, we experience the interior life of a lone individual as she contemplates the  passing of a  never to be retrieved moment.

"Still as
On the windless nights
The moon-cast shadows are,
So still will be my heart when I
Am dead." 

"Look up …
From bleakening hills
Blows down the light, first breath
Of wintry wind…look up, and scent 
The snow!"

With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisped, break from the trees
And fall." 

"The cold
With steely clutch
Grips all the land…alack,
The little people in the hills
Will die!" 

"Well and
If day on day
Follows, and weary year
On year…and ever days and years…

 "Not these hands
And yet I think there was
A woman like me once had hands
Like these."

 excerpted from THE COMPLETE POEMS AND COLLECTED LETTERS OF ADELAIDE CRAPSEY, edited by Susan Sutton Smith, Albany, State University of New York Press: 1977 – Alfred A. Knopf: 1922.

1.Philip Bacon - Kesa, 1900, National Gallery of Art, Melbourne.
2..Wilhelmina Seegmuller - Flower Study, c. 1908, Indianapolis Museum of Art.

17 August 2011

The Master's House

He doesn't even rate an entry in the Grove Dictionary of Art but in his day the American painter Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939)  was the leader of the expatriate art colony that settled in the small Norman village of Giverny.  They all wanted to be near Claude Monet but only Frieseke succeeded in renting the house next door on the River Epte.   
Like his idol, Frieseke painted certain images repeatedly.  Judging by his paintings, Frieseke's wife (who often modeled for him) either possessed several striped dresses or must have become quite bored with wearing the same outfit on so many occasions.
Frieseke's painting of the house is one of his stronger works, as his canvases tended toward the overly  busy.  As you can see from the contemporary photograph below, the house is much the same but the gardens have grown formidable.  Frieseke also liked to set up his easel in the yard by the bank of the Epte and also shared Monet's fascination with all things Japanese.  
The Friesekes came to Giverny in 1906 and stayed for fourteen years.  Then they bought a farm in nearby Mesnil-sur-Blangy where the midwesterner died on the eve of World War II.

1. Frederick Carl Frieseke  - The House at Giverny, 1912, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid.
2. Frederick Carl Frieseke - On The River Epte, undated, Sotheby's, NYC.
3. Jean Baptiste-Leroux - Garden at Giverny,  undated, Collection Jean-Baptiste Leroux, Paris.

06 August 2011

Proscenium: Joseph Urban

“You could have what you wanted of [Urban’s] gifts – fantasy, realism, abstract decoration, architectural solidity.  He could do superbly many things that his contemporaries could not do at all. “ – Deems Taylor in Architecture, May 1934.

 In  Urban's hands, assimilation became creativity of the highest order.  He brought medieval styling to a bridge for the Hapsburg Emperor and japonistic elements to stage sets for the Ziegfeld Follies.  Growing up in fin-de-siecle Vienna, he was immersed in the contemporary  Jugendstil movement.    Urban founded a design group, the Hagenebund, that was similar to Otto Wagner’s Secession, but more devoted to the style of Art Nouveau.  You can see the medieval  influence on Art Nouveau clearly in Urban’s work.

Born in Vienna,  Joseph Urban (1872-1933) studied architecture at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.  He was only nineteen when  he received his first commission from  the Khedive of Egypt: to design a a new wing for the Abdin Palace.

During his eight months  in Cairo Urban fell in love with  deep blue of the Mediterranean,  a color that would be a prominent feature of his  theatrical designs.  “I think the indescribable  blue of the Egyptian sky created my lifelong love of blue;” Urban admitted.

Returning to Vienna, Urban's good fortune continued.  He obtained a position in the office of the official architect to the Emperor Franz Joseph, where  he received the commission to design the new Kaiser Bridge to celebrate the 50th jubilee of the emperor’s reign in 1898.  

As you can see from his design for the Esterhazy Palace, Urban applied his taste for theatrical settings to real life.  Even the Esterhazy fireplace (one of them, anyway) has its own proscenium arch above the curved blue oval.  There is even something Egyptian looking in the design of the chimney.  Urban seems to have been one on whom nothing was lost.

 Fabulously successful in Vienna, Urban could have stayed put but, in 1912, he emigrated to the United States to become the art director of the Boston Opera Company.  His first production, The Tales of Hoffmann,  caused a critic to enthuse about its " perfect atmosphere and illusion."  Urban explained his new concept of the theatrical thusly: " The new art of the theater is more than a matter of scenery; it concerns the entire production. The scenery is vain unless it fits the play or the playing or unless they fit it. The new art is a fusion of the pictorial with the dramatic. It demands not only new designers of scenery, but new stage managers who understand how to train actors in speech, gesture and movement, harmonizing with the scenery."

Soon,  Urban's services were in demand In New York, by everyone  from the Metropolitan Opera to the Ziegfeld Follies.  For the Met, Urban made use of his Jugendstil background; Suzanna's boudoir came straight from Vienna.  For impresario Florenz Ziegfield's bevy of beautiful women, Urban created...bubbles.

Vienna and architecture  had been Urban's first inspirations and he returned to both in his work, if  not in life.  He designed the Manhattan showroom for the Wiener Werkstatte, the design group whose hopes of bringing good design to the masses were frustrated by high prices.  Ironically, Urban was to design an emporium that really did reach the masses - the 1928 Kaufmann's Department Store in Pittsburgh.
 In Urban's hands, the proscenium arch of ancient Rome had become the setting for magic in an Art Deco world.

Images: the Joseph Urban Archives, Columbia University, NYC, unless otherwise noted.
1. Joseph Urban - Ziegfeld's Follies, 1916.
2. Adolf Bohm - Children's Room for the Wiener Werkstatte, 1909, Brandstatter Archive, Vienna.
3. Joseph Urban - Tinture's Vision from Parsifal, 1920.
4. Joseph Urban -  The Kaiser Bridge, 1898.
5. Joseph Urban - Exterior of Esterhazy Castle, Hungary, 1899.
6. Joseph Urban - Interior with Fireplace - Esterhazy Castle, 1899,
7. Joseph Urban - Set for The Secret of Suzanne by ErmannioWolf-Ferrari, 1913.
8. Joseph Urban - The Century Girl for Ziegfeld's Follies, 1916.
9. Joseph Urban -  Kaufmann Department Store - Pittsburgh, July 1928.
10.  unidentified photographer - Wiener Werkstatte showroom - NYC, 1922.