Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

The Amazing And Versatile Barneys Of Washington

From October 23, 1910

THE AMAZING AND VERSATILE BARNEYS OF WASHINGTON

THE AMAZING AND VERSATILE BARNEYS OF WASHINGTON: An Undraped Statue on Their Lawn Has Thrown Into the Lime-Light a Family Whose Talents and Unconventionalities Keep Society in the National Capital in Constant Expectation (PDF)

If there were a 1910 version of the Bravo TV series The Real Housewives of DC, Alice Barney would surely be the breakout star. A playwright and painter whose work can today be seen in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the wealthy widow Alice and her daughters Natalie and Laura were the talk of DC gossip circles.

One recent day a nude statue appeared on the Barneys’ lawn, and word spread that it was a likeness of one of the daughters, sculpted by the other daughter, who was known to be studying sculpture. DC society flocked to the Barney home to see it. On October 14, the Times ran a piece about the statue:

What is the Barney statue? When was it placed on the lawn of the fashionable residence in Massachusetts Avenue? Who placed it there? And why? Does it represent the beauty of Miss Natalie C. Barney, the younger daughter of Mrs. Albert Clifford Barney, or is it the likeness of some maid of antiquity? These are questions that are being asked in diplomatic, social, and official circles, and no one can reply with certainty.

The Hindu butler at the Barney home, who answers to the strange name of Only, to-day caused the statue to be placed in a coffin-like box and holds the key to the lid. The lid may be lifted if Only is properly approached.

It turned out later that the sculpture was an antique. The older daughter Laura was in fact working on a sculpture of Natalie, but it was just a bust, and not a nude.

The whole ordeal prompted the Sunday Magazine to write this profile of the Barneys. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

An undraped statue on the lawn brought the Barney family of Washington into international notoriety in a day. Yet for years the members of this remarkable household have kept the National capital in a state of constant expectancy.

They are more than a family, these Barneys; they are an issue.

Whenever a select and exclusive group of the smart set gathers about the dining table, and the flow of nimble wit, sent sparkling on its way with the advent of the oyster, and degenerating into a sluggish stream of inane platitudes with the arrival of the entree, is sinking, lifeless, into a pool of silence with the incoming of the ice, the watchful hostess, unfluttered by the critical situation, reaches back into the convolution of her brain marked “Emergency” and, drawing forth, deftly tosses into the centre of the table this conversational bombshell:

“What do you really think of the Barneys?”

Then she leans back, smiling comfortably, while her guests lock horns and silence flees.

“They are poseurs, learned only in the stale devices of studied eccentricity!” exclaims a beribboned member of a legation.

“Nonsense!” hotly replies a famous engineer, “it is genius scorning the narrow conventionalities of society.”

“Genius nothing!” interrupts a scientist with seven letters after his name, “the veriest tyro in art or literature or ethics would laugh at the Barneys’ pretensions. They fool nobody but the simple minded.”

“What but genius could ever show such remarkable versatility in every branch of art as Mrs. Barney has exhibited in the last ten years?” puts in a literary woman who boasts that she positively refuses to write for the newspapers.

“And what but oddity and freakishness would build a quarter-of-a-million dollar house and not put a bed in it!” exclaims the practical wife of a Cabinet officer.

Yes, silence has departed thence. For the Barneys, themselves of the ultra-fashionable set in Washington, furnish a perennial subject of heated debate in that city, no matter when or where the Barney name be mentioned.

Move over, Michaele Salahi.

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Written by David

October 22nd, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Art,Politics / Law

Many Pitfalls For The Unwary In Buying Antiques

From October 2, 1910

MANY PITFALLS FOR THE UNWARY IN BUYING ANTIQUES

MANY PITFALLS FOR THE UNWARY IN BUYING ANTIQUES: Cunning Dealers Ready to Impose on the Ignorance of Collectors. Buyers Do Not Take Precautions to Establish Genuineness of “Curios.” (PDF)

A great read for anyone who’s a fan of the Antiques Roadshow on PBS. A lot of the advice back then still stands today, like the suggestion that you “make your antique furniture a means, not an end.”

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Written by David

October 6th, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Posted in Art,Recreation

How Popular Song Factories Manufacture A Hit

From September 18, 1910

HOW POPULAR SONG FACTORIES MANUFACTURE A HIT

HOW POPULAR SONG FACTORIES MANUFACTURE A HIT: The Original Score Is Sometimes Hardly Recognizable After the Tinkering Is Completed — Luck a Big Factor in the Business (PDF)

100 years ago, music radio stations did not yet exist. But record players were around, so people could purchase music to play at home. So now the music industry had to figure out what kind of records people would buy. Is it the same kind of music they would go hear in a performance hall?

In America the popular song is of comparatively recent introduction. Its prototype was a composition with monotonous refrain and elaborate setting, which could only be rendered by a trained voice after laborious practice. It was seldom heard outside of drawing rooms, where it was sung with due ceremony and technical precision by prim young maidens in fresh white gowns and dapper swains in swallowtails. The only part of it that ever impressed the unfamiliar ear was the insistent refrain, which always ran something after this fashion: “Evangeline, where wendest thou? Where wendest thou, Evangeline — where wendest thou — where wendest thou — wendest thou — wendest thou-thou-t-h-o-u!!”

The song always left you in doubt and wonderment. You never learned where fair Evangeline wended, nor why she wended; nor, indeed, any single fact of interest or consequence regarding her.

That sort of song could never have become popular. You couldn’t expect the messenger boy and the shopgirl to take a very keen interest in Evangeline’s wendings when they led to nowhere. The masses need something more direct — something with a more human appeal. One of the chief secrets of popular song writing is to tell a simple story and to tell it completely.

At that time no attempt was made to cater to the musical tastes of the people. It was not supposed that they had any. Almost the only approach to popular ballads were a few well-worn war songs and plantation ditties. But two or three American song writers were trying to get a hearing with the kind of appeal to the people which in England, where the music halls afforded a ready avenue for reaching the masses, had been successfully made for many years.

The article goes on to describe the elements of a popular song. What should it be called? What should it be about? I found this article a delightful read. Today, of course, songwriters have the same challenges, but manufacturing a hit has become as much a technical and business endeavor as a creative one.

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Written by David

September 17th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Will The Leaning Tower Fall As Did The Campanile?

From September 4, 1910

WILL THE LEANING TOWER FALL AS DID THE CAMPANILE?

WILL THE LEANING TOWER FALL AS DID THE CAMPANILE? Only the Excellence of Its Masonry, Which Makes the Walls One Mass, Has Kept the Structure From Collapsing Long Ago. (PDF)

St. Mark’s Campanile collapsed in 1902. It was rebuilt and would be reopened in 1912. In the meantime, it was natural to turn an eye towards Italy’s famous leaning tower in Pisa and consider its destiny.

In more recent history, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which leans because it was built on a soft foundation, had work done to make sure it doesn’t fall. The bells were remove to reduce weight, counterweights were added, and it was straightened very slightly. It is estimated that it will remain stable for 300 to 400 years.

It also may have some help from Pisa Pushers.

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Written by David

September 3rd, 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Art,Science

Unusual Snapshots Taken At Thrilling Moments

From August 14, 1910

UNUSUAL SNAPSHOTS TAKEN AT THRILLING MOMENTS

UNUSUAL SNAPSHOTS TAKEN AT THRILLING MOMENTS: Work of Camera Men with Presence of Mind to Press the Button at Critical Times (PDF)

This week in 1910, New York City mayor William Jay Gaynor was shot in a failed assassination attempt. Photographer William Warnecke was there to take the photo that captured the event.

So the New York Times Sunday Magazine decided to take a look at other photographers who managed to be in the right place at the right time with their cameras.

Such photographs were found in much greater variety than had been expected. The subjects were drawn from all parts of the world. Bombs were shown exploding in war, and a volcano at the moment of eruption. A big Japanese shell was divulged soaring in the air, plain in the picture, though invisible to those behind the gun that fired it. A steamship was caught at the moment it was submerged. A queen’s horses, which had plunged from the low parapet of a bridge, struggled wildly to keep afloat in a French lake. In many instances the photographs were taken as part of thrilling experience…

Those who have passed through such periods of excitement say that a man is likely to do one of three things. He will stand facing the danger, inert and with paralyzed faculties; he will lose his grip on his mind until a great fear seizes him which, in a crowd, means panic, or else he will face the crisis with faculties excited to abnormal acuteness.

The photographers who took the pictures mentioned belonged, almost without exception, to the last-named class. Accident may play a small part, but not a great one. The force of habit has a larger share in it. As an old fireman once described his dangerous duties, they “came naturally, because he had always done it.” In this spirit the photographer is impelled to press the lever of his camera. It requires much less force to do so than to fire an automatic revolver.

What follows then are stories behind those photos. The photographers in the article include Enrique Muller, Herbert Ponting, James Ricalton, Underwood & Underwood, and an anonymous passenger of a steamship who captured a photo of another steamship sinking (seen above). It reminds me of the Staten Island Ferry passenger who took the iconic photo of US Airways Flight 1549 after it landed in the Hudson River.

It’s worth pointing out an interesting paragraph towards the end of the article that describe the beginning of the stock footage industry, where outtakes from journalistic shoots were later used in fictional narrative works:

“Accidental” moving pictures are now usually held in reserve until a story is invented to fit them. Then they become a realistic scene in a series. A moving picture man, for instance, happened to be on the spot when a ship was wrecked off the coast of Florida recently. He obtained a film of the stormy sea, the wreck, Atlantic City. A fire horse collided with and the crew being rescued with a breeches buoy. A story of a castaway was built around it. Those who saw the film marveled at the realistic “faking” of the wreck. One New York manufacturer has a moving picture of a railroad crash on an up-State railroad in a snow storm last Winter. Obtained by accident, he is holding it until a story can be invented for it.”

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Written by David

August 13th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Posted in Art,Technology

Is The Modern Woman More Beautiful Than The Girl Of Ages Ago?

From May 29, 1910

IS THE MODERN WOMAN MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN THE GIRL OF AGES AGO

IS THE MODERN WOMAN MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN THE GIRL OF AGES AGO (PDF)

The headline doesn’t reveal that the question has been posed to just two people for this article: the French sculptor Auguste Rodin (whose sculpture The Thinker is still famous today) and the American sculptor Gutzon Borglum (whose much larger work at Mount Rushmore wouldn’t begin for another 15 years). They discuss modern, historical, and ethnic beauty from an artist’s perspective, including how a woman’s beauty changes as she gets older.

Here is part of what Rodin had to say:

“I would not say that a woman is like a landscape that the sun’s inclination changes ceaselessly; but the comparison is correct. Real youth with our models lasts scarcely more than six months. When the girl becomes a woman it is another sort of beauty, still admirable but nevertheless less pure.”

And part of Borglum’s retort:

“I do not see exactly what Rodin means,” he said, “when he talks about the beauty of the woman being less pure than that of the girl. Of course he cannot mean that a mother is any less pure than a young girl, and if he is talking about it from an aesthetic point of view the question arises, ‘What is beauty, anyway?’

“Nobody can pass on that. it is exactly as he says — in the eyes of the beholder. You see a landscape. I ask you if you like it. You say ‘Not much, it is too dull and gray.’ Then I paint it and you rave over it. The beauty was always there, but it needed my interpretation to make you see it. That is what being an artist means, seeing things that the general run of people cannot see, and interpreting for them. So it is out of the question for any of us to say that a woman is more beautiful at one time than at another. It all depends on the interpretation.”

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Written by David

May 28th, 2010 at 9:02 am

Posted in Art,Life

Moving Pictures Sound Melodrama’s Knell

From March 20, 1910

MOVING PICTURES SOUND MELODRAMAS KNELL

MOVING PICTURES SOUND MELODRAMA’S KNELL: Tricks of Films Explained and Method of Making Told by Those On the Inside (PDF)

Movies were still relatively new technology in 1910, but filmmakers were already figuring out how to do special effects. This article exposes some of the secrets of “film tricks,” but also talks about how the profession of acting was changing as a result of this new technology. For centuries, acting meant being on stage before a live audience. But not anymore. It reminds me of what publishers are going through now, as eReaders and digital newspapers threaten to make printed paper obsolete. New technology requires new skills, and new ways of thinking. Some actors saw film as an opportunity, while others saw it as the end of their careers.

From the article:

In every town in the United States there are moving picture shows that give excellent entertainment every night of the week, with two matinĂ©e days thrown in. The performances projected on the screen are the same as those which please audiences in the New York houses where third-rate melodrama artistes feared to tread. There are thrillers galore, with pistol shots, piano accompaniment, and all the effects to make the dumb show more real — and all for a nickel, or “one dime, ladies and gentlemen and little children! Two nickels! The tench part of a dollar! Amusing, instructing, and entertaining alike to man, woman, and child! Why pay more and see worse?”

Why, indeed? The old melodramatic companies put on a more or less crude performance with the aid of more or less crude scenic effects — such as the “op’ry house” or town hall happens to boast. The dramatic show comes to town twice or four times a year and charges up to 30 cents. The picture shows, running all the time, allow selection and leisure in attendance. The village moving picture theatregoer can choose from a trip through Switzerland or the streets of Cairo… Why pay 30 cents to see a rehash of an ancient theme by an obsolete troupe of archaic players when for 10 cents [you can see] a play by Shakespeare with all the appearances and vanishings of Banquo’s ghost, or Puck effectively wrought by the film art?

The times they were a-changing.

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Written by David

March 19th, 2010 at 9:01 am