Friday, 18 October 2013

Flying visits

Well, we are off again.

I will be away from my blog for two to three weeks.

We are visiting Melbourne because AGA's father is gravely ill.  He has been ill for a few months and while he is a strong man both physically and mentally, we are told that there is little hope.  He has been given one year at the most.

Of course such predicitions are just that: Predictions.  No one can really know the length of another person's days, and as a colleague of mine pointed out only yesterday, the condition all each of us is 'terminal', from the day we are born.

So we are going back to see AGA's Father; to be with him; and to spend time in his company.

It is at times like these that the tyranny of distance comes into it's own.  Even in these days of e-mail, and skype, and all the other niceties of 21st Century life that have made instant gratification a by-word for modern living; there is nothing like being 'there' - rather than doing so vicariously from 'here' via a length of fibre optic cable and a satellite...

On the bright side, we will also be there for my Mother's birthday - the first time in ten years that this has been possible, and we will be in Melbourne, which is always a nice place to be.

So I will say adieu for the moment, and we will be back in early November.

In the meantime, I have left you a couple of glasses of cider, and a 'Homes and Antiques' magazine for you to enjoy yourself with:

Oh, and there is also a copy of 'Daggers in the Forum' by Keith Richardson if you are interested . . .

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

It was his fault.

I was supposed to put this post on my blog yesterday but AGA was watching the movie 'Julie and Julia' and I got 'hypnotised' - before I knew it it was time to go to sleep and I was nowhere near finishing my post!

So anyway, there we were . . .
(In Paris)
Paying a visit to a local flea market, when I saw him sitting forlornly on a table: Dirty, uncared for, in a frame that had seen better days.  A sad reflection of his once glorious past.
I couldn't walk passed and not rescue him!  
So I did.  
He cost me 1 euro.
I was excited although AGA had his doubts.
I knew I could smarten him up and give him back his dignity.
Once we were back home I got to work.  I cleaned up the frame and repainted it in gold.  I replaced the backing board, cleaned the glass, and gently cleaned the image itself.  
I didn't think to take a 'before' photograph but here he is restored:

When he had his photograph taken, he clearly wanted to look his best.  He is wearing his dress uniform and his medals.  I guess this is his 'best side'.  
And he wrote a very nice 'with love' message at the bottom and signed it.  
He never thought that many years later he would up for sale at a Parisian Flea Market, for the bargain price of 1 euro!
Many thoughts enter my mind when I look at this photograph.
I wonder when it was taken.  
I wonder what the occasion was, the name of the sitter, and what his life was like.  His signature is a somewhat difficult to decipher, but his medals and sash seem to indicate that he was someone of no small importance in the French military establishment.  

I didn't realise it at the time but he was to become my first photographic refugee: the doyen of my future collection.

Number two arrived about a year later.  
We were in Sorrento and strolled inside a somewhat gloomy second hand shop (as one does) for a look around.  
This one lay on a table.  
Postcard sized. 
Covered in a thin film of dust.  
I looked at the chap in the photo: He was standing there with one hand behind his back, the other resting on a pot stand or some such thing.  I wondered what made him decide to have his photograph taken on that particular day... 
I presume that the photograph was taken in the Edwardian period and the subject appears to be wearing galoshes - an odd thing to wear when having your photo taken.  Perhaps he was out with friends and they decided, on the spur of the moment, to have some photos taken of themselves and made into postcards.

I told AGA I was going to buy it.  It cost 1 euro too!  My second photographic refugee had found a home:

After that I seemed to be seeing old photographs all over the place.  Some were inexpensive.  Some were very expensive!  I bought one or two and began to keep them in a box: The plan being to frame some and place others in an old album.

That was about three years ago and my collection is slowly growing.  My reasons for collecting are not 'just for the sake of it' but because I am very interested in social history and these pictures are windows in to a past that is long gone.  I also like to see if I can find out about the photographers themselves as they are the artists who 'pulled it all together' to create the finished product...

Please allow me to share some of my collection with you.  Perhaps you collect old photographs too!

This one was taken at the Martin Balg Studio.  Martin Balg was a famous 'Hof-Fotograf' (Court Photographer) in Berlin, during the late Victorian, and Edwardian period.  
The subject of this photograph has had her hair 'done' especially for the event:
The background is more natural than in the previous photograph.  One seems to be in an elegant drawing room.  There is some sort of 'arty' magazine laid out on an upholstered bench, and the subject holds  a slim bunch of what I take to be Narcissi.  She has a rather nice wrist watch on, as well as one of those old bar brooches on her dress. 
I wonder what thoughts passed through her mind as she stood there waiting to be 'snapped'?

On the back of the photograph is Herr Balg's advertisement:
He states that his artistic photographs are all taken using modern methods.  He is clearly making a lot of money and has a telephone number for clients to use when wanting to contact him!

The next photograph has a more sombre background.  It was taken at the Wertheim Department Store, situated on the Leipzigerstrasse in Berlin.  Wikipedia tells me that this Department store was the Berlin equivalent of Harrods in London and Galleries Lafayette in Paris.
I wonder who this young couple are.  I presume they are married as she is wearing what I take to be a wedding ring.  He is wearing a frock coat and has his hands behind his back: The pose of a successful man.  I wonder what he does for a living?
Her hands meanwhile are folded demurely in front but I see a determined face and an inquiring, somewhat imperious look.

This photograph of a little boy in boater hat and eton collar was taken at the Atelier Wesseman, at Bahnhofstrasse, Cassel (also known as Kassel).  They have made him wear a large polkadot bow, and have given him a hoop to pose with.  The background is set up to make it look as though he is standing on the terrace of some large country or town house.   One hand rest on his hip.  There is a resigned look about him as if he does not enjoy this 'garb' but is putting up with it while his photograph is taken:

Now to my mind, this lady is a school teacher, with her sensible hair, her glasses and her somewhat dour attire.  She has an interesting brooch on her blouse, which looks to be in the shape of two conker (horse-chestnut) cases.  She had her photograph taken at the studio situated in the Oberpollinger Department Store (opened 1905) in Munich:

Meanwhile, when this young chap decided to have his photo taken, he chose the 'power' look: arms folded defiantly and legs crossed. 
He gazes at us with a somewhat superior air:

The artist of choice was the Bavarian Court Photographer, Franz Xaver Limbrunner, who had a studio in the town of Straubing.  I do like his advertisement on the back of the photograph: 

Now this chap is wearing his gloves, cap, outdoor coat, pinz nez glasses and a very severe look... 

He decided to have his photograph taken with his stick in his hand as if he were just about to go out.  His legs are crossed and there is an air of impatience about him. It is as if he is saying 'get on with it - I haven't got all day!'  
N. Raschkow Jr. took the photo.  You could find him on the 1st floor of No. 4, Ohlauerstrasse, Breslau (now Wroclav, in Poland). I think Herr Raschkow's charges are fairly pricey as he states that he is Court Photographer to the Dukes of Saxe-Meiningen, the Grand Dukes of Hesse, Prince Georg of Prussia, and Princess Louise of Prussia as well!

This is Max de Pausinger in the year 1877.  I don't think that he is very old in this photo and I am wondering if he is related to Franz Xaver and Clemens von Pausinger - two fairly well known artists of the period.  His pins-nez give him a scholarly air and he has an interesting hairstyle. He has had his photograph taken while wearing his overcoat:
The photographer was taken by J. Albert of Munich who states that he won an honourary diploma at the Vienna World Exhibition of 1873. He proclaims that he too is a Court Photographer:  to the Courts of Bavaria and of 'Imperial Russia'.

The next subject also decided to wear his overcoat when having his photograph taken.  
It is interesting to see the clothes people wore when deciding to have their photo taken: The clothes they thought would show them off to their best advantage.  When this man (I can't read his name) made that choice he decided upon his overcoat with the thick fur collar.  His very curly hair gives him a gipsy-ish air...
I think he may also have a faint moustache but I am not sure.  Did he fancy himself as a bit of a ladies' man?  Residing in Leipzig, he chose the photographers Eulenstein.  They are to be found at the corner of Tauchaer Strasse 29, opposite the Clubhouse. They have a nice advertisement on the back of the photo too:

To date, most of the photographs I have collected are German, however I do have lots of others, including the next one, which is among my favourites.  
It was taken by the famous photographer, Henri Claudet (1829-1880) of 107 Regent Street, London.  The subject is posed with one finger touching her cheek.  In her other hand she holds a flower.  The scalloped sleeves of her dress are fab and give it a somewhat medieval flavour.  The whole effect is very theatrical and I wonder what the rest of her dress was like. 

We have be moving slowly back in time and here we are in the 1860s:
Anna (I can't read the rest of her name - perhaps you can) had her photograph taken by J. Ebehardt in Mergentheim, a famous spa town in Baden-Wurttemburg.  She stands rather stiff and formal, with one hand on a table containing a vase of flowers.  Perhaps this was her very first time having a photograph taken.  I do like the fact that someone has coloured in the flowers she holds in her hand: 

My final example also comes from the 1860s.  It was taken in Celle (northern Germany) by a photographer named E. Glier.  The subject (an older woman) is seated in an ornate chair and looks up inquiringly, a closed book in her lap.  She wears a bonnet typical of the period and I think that her dress is tafetta. I wonder what the book was:

I enjoy collecting old photographs - they provide a small window into the lives of people who lived long ago, captured in a moment.

I hope that you enjoyed this post!

Monday, 7 October 2013

Autumnal Splendours

Very gradually, Autumn is making his presence felt here in Kaiserswerth.

The acorns have grown and are slowly being consumed by the squirrels and jays.  Leaves are starting to turn yellow and there are pumpkins for sale all over the place!  Yesterday I saw white pumpkins for sale at our local florist which means that the Tone on Tone style has reached even this part of the world!
The swallows have packed up and left; and the geese are starting to fly south.

These are all signs that Autumn is approaching,
but for me,
nothing heralds Autumn's arrival more than the appearance of the beloved chrysanthemum.
My grandfathers and my father grew these lovely flowers.  They were such a part of my life that to me they were somewhat commonplace and hardly worth thinking about!

But then I met the wonderful Henri Fantin-Latour:

Ignace Henri Jean Théodore Fantin-Latour (know as Henri) was a consummate painter of flowers in domestic settings.
His images of the chrysanthemum took me by surprise.  He made them look ethereal and gave them a beauty that I had previously not noticed.  Just look at this:
Isn't it beautiful?
Henri completely changed my point of view, and I went from passing by chrysanthemums without so much as how-do-you-do, to gazing at them with the light of love in my eye.

The tones and texture of the flowers, in their various hues, seem to me to embody all that Autumn is.

The Chinese philosopher known in English as Confucius, apparently liked chrysanthemums and wrote about them around the year 500BC.

In Japan the chrysanthemum was a highly valued plant: The Emperors took it as their personal emblem and as early as the 9th Century garden parties were held to celebrate the flowering of the chrysanthemum (known as the kiku) and following Chinese tradition, it was named as one of the Sikunshi, or four floral gentlemen, (representatives of the four Seasons). chrysanthemum season was of course Autumn.

Here is the Imperial Seal of Japan.

In Australia, the chrysanthemum has come to symbolize Mother's Day which in that country occurs in Autumn.  A friend of mine told me that for many Italians the flower represents death and they won't have it in the house.
(This is interesting because in my family that role was held by the lilac.  As a child I once picked a lilac to take to my Grandmother but was swiftly propelled outside again, and the symbolism explained to me, before GG (as my grandmother was known) caught sight of my 'gift'.  Even today I could not have lilac inside the house although I enjoy its scent.)

I don't know when the chrysanthemum began to migrate outside of its ancestral homelands. I looked in various books but could not find the answer.  Apparently it was named chrysanthemum (Golden Flower) in the sixteenth century so I guess it was in Europe, or at least known to Europeans, by that stage.

Melbourne (my adopted city) was founded in 1835.  Twenty years later and advice was being given in the local newspaper on how to grow chrysanthemums.  A true immigrant flower, it is now a citizen of the world, to be found in just about every part of the globe.  These days when you open a plant catalogue you will find them for sale and they are so common that no one in the western world seems to give them much notice.  They are almost as the grass beneath our feet.  We buy then in small pots and when they have finished flowering we discard them, or put them somewhere (such as behind the potting shed) where they die from lack of care and attention.  A nice thank you for the pleasure they have given us!

Daisy-like, or a cluster of petals.  Pom poms, doubles, singles.  chrysanthemums come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  I read in my edition of 'The Flowers and Gardens of Japan' by Florence Du Cane, that the Japanese had at least 150 different types, all with appropriately poetic names:
Nihon Ichi (First in Japan)
Natsu-gumo (Summer Clouds)
Haruna Kasumi (Spring Haze)
Tsuki-no-tomo (Companions of the Moon)
Ake-no-sora (Sky at Dawn)
Asa hi no nami (Waves in the Morning Sun)

Here in our bijou residence, we have a 1788 edition of 'Every Man His Own Gardener'.   The original owner of the book, who often pencilled in notes and crosses to denote favourite flowers, left the chrysanthemums unmarked: I felt offended!  Why did he like the 'Tangier Pea', the 'Rose Lupin' and the 'Double Sunflower', but not the chrysanthemum?
It might have been because the plant was very hard to grow.  Japan (where the Imperial gardeners were having great success) was still a closed country, and no one in Europe had been able to produce a fertile seed.
I checked to see what the author (John Abercrombie) had to say and I was somewhat disappointed. He tells us all about growing them and looking after them but the varieties to be had are few and somewhat boorishly named:
Double Yellow
Double White
Double Quilled

Nathaniel Paterson waxes lyrical about the carnation but makes no mention of 'our' flower.

Things began to change for the chrysanthemum in the mid 19th Century.  Those Imperial Gardeners' closely guarded secrets became more widely known and soon everyone was growing them.  In 1846 the National Chrysanthemum Society was founded in England and its popularity grew until Henri Fantin-Latour, seeing their beauty and elegance began to paint them:

So there you are: the chrysanthemum.  A special flower for this special time of year.

And now, in the tradition of Japanese chrysanthemum viewing, here are some photographs of the chrysanthemums that we are growing on our balcony this Autumn:

Simple, daisy-like blooms:

An interesting petal shape:

One of my favourites:

Chrysanthemum: the golden flower.  How could one not love such golden perfection:

White petals:

Some of our chrysanthemums, en masse, with some friendly roses and a little heather plant:

I hope you enjoyed this post!