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Jan and Cora Gordon, 1928: Salesmanship in California

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I smiled last Saturday as we found ourselves taking part in an earnest time-share sales presentation in San Diego, experiencing some insistent and misleading salesmanship, quite alien in style and content to anything a Brit would have come across at home.

This prompted a recollection of the encounter between Jan and Cora Gordon and California real estate salesmen in 1928 recorded in "Star-dust in Hollywood". The similarities are astonishing.

".. every real estate firm, in an agony of cut-throat competition, was trying to catch every 'tourist' as he arrived with his savings, to induce him if possible to invest his money in land before he could discover the real conditions. All along the streets near the centre of the town large rubber-neck wagons waited to abduct the wandering visitor. Young and often charming women pounced upon one from doors, waving prospectuses and promising free drives, free lunches and the rest."

Cora Gordon "was willing to become…

What were Jan and Cora Gordon up to a century ago in 1920?

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1920 was an important year for Jan and Cora Gordon.

The war was over, they had re-established themselves as artists in Paris (though retaining attics in Bloomsbury), and planned a lengthy expedition to sunny southern Europe. Their five month excursion to Spain produced many works of art and a book, "Poor Folk in Spain," initiating the "Two Vagabonds" series which made them famous.

Cora Gordon wrote, "Jan had conceived a passion for the Spanish guitar during the war and was determined to sample the music of this instrument at source .." and visit Spain they then did. The book relates numerous amusing incidents from their time there.

An exhibition of the paintings produced during the time in Spain took place at the Burlington Gallery at the beginning of 1921.

One specific guitar figured strongly in the book. "I have an old guitar. It is a unique instrument, none other like it has ever been seen in Spain" said the man who sold the guitar to Jan (P…

A 1921 Review of Jan and Cora Gordon Exhibition

The Westminster Gazette of Friday 25 February 1921 carries the following review of an exhibition by Jan and Cora Gordon at the Burlington Gallery, London.
JAN AND CORA GORDON. Jan Gordon's book, "A Balkan Freebooter" published some four years ago, was in many ways as interesting an illustrated volume as has appeared since 1914. The drawings of Serbian villages, interiors, and landscape had a blunt symmetry of black-and-white, a crispness of humour that made them memorable. All the greater, then, is the disappointment of finding his paintings of Southern Spain (now showing at the Burlington Galltery, 15, Green-street, Leicester-square) rather confused in colour and design. Maybe black-and-white is his medium: certainly the admirable lithographs, 72 and 74. are the best things in the exhibition—concentrated, sympathetic. the oil-painting.; "Alverca, the Vinegar-Seller " (50), stands out as constructed and luminous. In very few of the others is there more than pain…

Cora Gordon in Belfast 1935 - "Through Europe with a Rucksack"

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Today, I came across a reference to Cora Gordon visiting Belfast and talking about experiences in the Tyrol, Spain, Lapland and Albania. It's in the "Northern Whig and Belfast Post" of Friday 03 May 1935.

She was addressing the Alpha Club (at a luncheon meeting in the Carlton) on the topic of "Through Europe with a Rucksack."

She declared that, "In order to travel successfully things must go wrong, and you must have an utterly inadequate supply of money."

The article records that, "she explained the methods of travel adopted by herself and her famous husband, Jan Gordon. They chose the most out-of-the-way places for exploration and thus avoided that 'tourist' atmosphere. She thought it was good to travel with a job. She and her husband had painting for their job, and on one occasion this brought an amusing honour. Mrs. Gordon was doing a series of illustrations of religious subjects in the Tyrol and gradually she acquired the reputation …

A 1933 Review of "The London Roundabout"

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The Scotsman of Monday 30 October 1933 has the following review of Jan and Cora Gordon's The London Roundabout.




THE LONDON ROUNDABOUT. Written and Illustrated by Jan and Cora Gordon.
10 s . 6 dL net. London : Harrap

Mr and Mrs Gordon describe themselves as "casual collectors of London character," and in its casualness lies one of the charms of an original and lively book.

They returned to the Metropolis after many years' residence in Paris, and it is the story of their experiences and impressions there that they tell with such gusto.

It will do many Londoners good to read what they say for the Londoner is often the most parochially-minded of citizens. Anything that happens beyond the confines of the capital and the Home Counties has to be extremely important or sensational to interest him, and as for London itself - well, was there ever such a city?

The authors tell him about quite a lot of things that could be improved in London, and in which it compares unfavourably wit…

SURREALISM AGAIN, Observations on the work of Klee by Jan Gordon 1941

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The Liverpool Daily Post of Thursday 06 March 1941 carried a commentary by Jan Gordon on a London exhibition of works by the Swiss-born Paul Klee (18 December 1879 – 29 June 1940).

SURREALISM AGAIN: Paul Klee’s Art By Jan Gordon "An exhibition of works by the German-Swiss artist, Paul Klee, whose death in Switzerland last year passed almost unnoticed, has just been opened at the Leicester Galleries. 

It is not an exhibition which the normal spectator will easily understand. In fact, one might say that passing round the walls hung with Klee’s small, strange works, he will come at last —if he lasts so long—to a drawing. No. 49. It represents roughly a head. There is a vague, twisted, bothered face, but the brain-pan has been ploughed up into blocks. 

If the spectator will give this little longer consideration, he may come to feel that it just about represents his own state of mind after having gone round some forty of Klee’s paintings. For Klee is, no doubt, the most apparently chil…

Jan and Cora Gordon a Century Ago

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What were Jan and Cora Gordon doing a century ago?

Well, they were busy rebuilding their careers as artists following the war.

Jan Gordon had an exhibition under the title "War and Peace" at the Little Art Rooms, Duke Street, London. P.G. Konody, Jan Gordon's old mentor at "The Observer" wrote:

"He, too, has been attracted by the witchery of the "Dazzleship" which seems to draw every painter - every painter, at least, who has as pronounced a feeling for definite form, effective pattern, and emphatic colour as Lieut. Gordon. When he recorded his impressions of Serbia, at the time when he was doing Red Cross service with the defeated Serbian armies, he embodied his love of definition and bright colour in a series of drawings, some of which figure in the present show. That his preoccupation with broad decorative effects does not preclude subtle observation of significant details is proved by such touches as the nervous action of the hand holding a …

Jan and Cora Gordon through the eyes of Dr. James Berry: Serbia 2015

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I had read accounts of Dr. James Berry during his 2015 WW1 Balkan Red Cross exploits from the perspective of Jan and Cora Gordon ("The Luck of Thirteen" 1916), but not his own accounts of Jan and Cora Gordon from the same time period. These are abundantly contained in his 1916 book (The Story of a Red Cross Unit in Serbia. London: J. & A. Churchill), which I only recently came across.

These included mention of Jan Gordon's musical abilities:

"We left Malta on a beautiful evening, and while sitting on deck watching the moonlit sea and sky, we had our first introduction to the banjo and the inimitable songs of Mr. Gordon (the Herr Ingenieur as he was usually called in our Serbian hospital), which during so many months were to be such an antidote to depression and influence for sociability in the Unit, as well as such an unfailing attraction to lay before our Serbian visitors." Berry (2016, p 22)

and later:

"We had no piano at the Terapia, and as we had …