I recently finished reading an astonishing biography about Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen by Michael Meyer is a monumental effort, and apparently still the most in depth work on the playwright. Among its many highlights is an anecdote about Ibsen’s apartment in Oslo. When Ibsen finally returned to Norway he was already a famous writer, reviled all over Europe yet inevitable in all its theaters. And Ibsen, not afraid of embracing controversy, had brought it into his home. He purchased and installed an oil painting by Christian Krohg, portraying the Swedish playwright August Strindberg. The younger Swede had been an early admirer of Ibsen, now turned ardent critic. Ibsen at some point called Strindberg his nemesis, and in his erratic stare the older and more famous Ibsen found both inspiration and an unwelcome reminder.
Maybe the portrait is still there in the apartment. It’s now part of the Ibsen museum in Oslo. I’ll find out in August when I’ll finally be in Oslo again.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are releasing a new album early next year (cover art above). It’s been some time since the post punk days of the band, but a listen to the early music reveals the heritage. Back then the line up had Blixa Bargeld, Einstürzende Neubauten guitarist, and Mick Harvey. (Harvey, who also co-founded The Birthday Party with Cave, has made some great solo albums).
But in the catalogue of things I didn’t know is the following: Barry Adamson, former Bad Seeds bassist, also played bass for legendary Devoto band Magazine. He can be heard for example on the exuberant Shot by Both Sides (1977). After Magazine split up, Adamson joined the Bad Seeds on From Her to Eternity, The Firstborn Is Dead, Kicking Against the Pricks and Your Funeral, My Trial. And there’s more. In between solo work, Adamson has contributed to the soundtrack of Lynch’s Lost Highway. He wrote what was always my favourite tune from the movie (Bowie’s contribution notwithstanding), Something wicked this way comes.
Video from Bergman’s Summer with Monica (1952)
Above you see Collage with three photographs by Julien Levy by Dorothea Tanning. At his New York exhibition “The Images of Chess” (Jan 1945), Levy organized a chess simul between the exiled surrealists and American-Belgian IM George Koltanowksi (0.5:6.5). To the right you see an aloof Max Ernst playing on a board of his own design, flanked by Dorothea Tanning. Standing with his back towards us is Marcel Duchamp executing the moves for Koltanowski. The IM himself is sitting, facing the wall. [source]
I had to do some rather inelegant sneaking around to take illicit photos of the Canova statue in Number One, London, or Apsley House. Perhaps precisely because of my efforts to dodge security, my photos came out terribly. So the one above I’ve stolen online.
Actually there isn’t much security at Apsley House. Or much of anyone. I was practically alone in the building for a good hour, except for an old couple whose taste was Portugese silverware, not Napoleon artefacts. The upstairs has a number of well known Napoleonic themed paintings, including some of his brothers and Josephine. But it is really the downstairs exhibition that has the most interesting items. Among the many gifts the Duke received from monarchs across Europe is a collection of marshal batons.
The Duke was a Field Marshal of the Austrian Army, the Hanoverian Army, the Army of Netherlands, the Prussian Army, the Russian Army, Marshal-General of the Portugese Army, and Captain-General of the Spanish Army. Oh yes, and Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty’s Forces.
All these trinkets come to feel pretty insignificant, however, if you have time to study the exhibition room ceiling. Hidden above in the dark are countless standards captured during Wellington’s campaigns. The Aigle de drapeau is everywhere staring back at you. French soldiers swore to defend the Imperial Eagle with their lives, and battle accounts are littered with anecdotes about those who died attempting to avoid the disgrace of returning without their regimental standard.
I don’t know if Wellington also had a rank in Louis XVIII’s army. What he did have, at least, was another token of their appreciation—the enormous marble statue by Italian scultpurer Canova. After Waterloo, the French convinced the British government to buy the statue as a gift to Wellington. It was then brought to Apsley House where the floor had to be reinforced to carry the weight. It seems that Napoleon never took to Canova’s design, finding it too athletic for the dignity of an aging emperor.
Of course, it might just be that Canova’s controversial nude of his sister, Pauline Bonaparte, as Venus clouded his artistic judgement.
You start a conversation / you can’t even finish it
Jesse and I went to Jenny Saville’s solo exhibition at Modern Art Oxford. I didn’t know her work, but I was instantly taken in by it. Huge canvasses, expressionism, Bacon references, and flesh—lots of it. There was also a phenomenal video interview with Saville in the basement. I thought it was an insightful commentary on her own work, and also educational for people like me, who know little about painting as technique. The video, Jenny Saville in conversation with Michael Stanley (Director of Modern Art Oxford), is available on Vimeo.
I’m giving this one an ‘of course’.
PS The exhibition is unfortunately now closed.