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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, succumbing to 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 becom…

A 1920 Jan Gordon talk on Modern Art - "A Fierce Battle of Words!"

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Jan Gordon (1882-1944) often wrote on the development and appreciation of modern art. For example, in the introduction to the Preston Harrison collection of modern French art and in the discussion of Picasso in "Modern French Painters." His writings on the transition from academic naturalism to modernism are also discussed here.

The Nottingham Journal of Saturday 06 March 1920 reported on a talk on the subject he gave in Nottingham, which resulted in a lively interaction with the audience. Here is the account:

MODERN TREND IN ART. Mr. Jan Gordon’s Exposition in Nottingham.A Nottingham audience and Mr. Jan Gordon, the well-known art critic, waged a fierce battle of words in Circus-street Hall last night over the merits of the art of to-day.

There was, he said in his lecture, no such thing as modern art. Art was for all time, and through all ages it sprang from the same sources. The artist was the man who saw most clearly in the world, and the realistic artist was usually acclai…

Jan Gordon (1940) on "War Fancies in Paint"

In the Liverpool Daily Post of Tuesday 16th April 1940, Jan Gordon wrote on "War Fancies in Paint."

The first picture exhibition inspired by the war at the British Art Centre, Stafford Galleries, St. James's Place, London, W. has two notable features. The first that the subject was imposed on the artist; that is to say, as in older times, the painters were all asked to work deliberately to the theme, they had something for their imaginations to bite on, and were not merely following free fancy. The second is the title, "The War As I See It."

The result is a curious paradox. Although few of the paintings can be called entirely successful, they constitute nevertheless a collection more interesting in lots of ways than would have been a normally successful everyday show by the same artists. It is a collection in which many of the artists, strongly moved to express something of the war that they have not seen but have felt spiritually all about them, have reached ou…

Jan Gordon (1940) on "The Royal Academy: Work of the Younger Painters"

In the Liverpool Daily Post of Saturday 4th May 1940, Jan Gordon wrote on "The Royal Academy: Work of the Younger Painters."


Somebody said that feature of this year’s Royal Academy, the first second Great War Academy, was marked by one type of war picture—young women artists who have got their fathers to pose in their tin hats. 

That certainly about all of the war there is except for a couple of notes by Nevinson, a file of men marching in the style of his 1915 discoveries and a rhythm of searchlight and long anti-aircraft guns named “Suburbia —1940,” and two problem pictures, both excellently painted, tempera by Miss Louisa Hodgson, "The Sinking of S.S. Goodwood,” represented by a man with an injured leg sitting in a chair, and a breughilesque landscape by Frank Archer, imaginative Polish (?) landscape invaded by Germans, “ The Cries of Them Which Have Reaped.” Among the academicians, the dominating exhibits in painting are certainly three portraits by John, “H. S. Good…

Before the War: Jan Gordon on "England's Place in Art"

In the Liverpool Daily Post, Tuesday 25th July 1939, Jan Gordon reported on "England's Place in Art."

For the first time the International Congress of the History of Art will be held in this country, centred at University College, London, opening on Monday and closing at the end of the week. Among the more important papers delivered will be Mediaeval English Embroidery,” by Mrs. Christie, Holbein and Henry VIII.,” by Professor Ganz, and The English Country House,” Professor Webb. The King has given permission to members to visit the treasures at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, and other visits to important historical collections have been arranged. 

In many ways the present is a fortunate moment for the conference. At the Burlington Fine Arts Club an exhibition mediaeval art has been specially arranged and although admission can be got only through a member, such, with a little pertinacity, will not be found difficult. Another fortunate coincidence is the recent ope…

Jan Gordon, 1939, on the Arts during Wartime

Jan Gordon had already lived through one war when WW2 broke out in 1939.

As he had done at the beginning of WW1 (see The Sketch of 31st March 1915), he quickly wrote a short story (The Sketch, 18th October 1939), beginning with "I suppose you'd call us old buffers, though we'd all done our bits, more or less, in the other war.."

He had been active as an artist during WW1 and had written extensively on the topic. See, for example, "British Artists at the Front."

In a 1939 article in the Liverpool Daily Post (Tuesday 3rd October), he wrote, under the title "Art in War-Time," the following:

The question of how the Arts, or what might be called the mental-emotional stimuli, can be kept up in war-time is one which might be called, in babu language, very moot. The first slightly hysterical catalepsy has worn off, and London cinemas no longer bear the legend: “Shut; nearest open, Aberystwyth,” but the National Gallery still might be labelled “Nearest open…

"Unofficial" - a 1939 Wartime Story by Jan Gordon

The Sketch of Wednesday 18 October 1939 carried the following "Tale with a Sting" by Jan Gordon, called "Unofficial." here it is:


THERE were half-a-dozen of us. I suppose you'd call us old buffers, though we'd all done our bits, more or less, in the other war, and that young Flight Lieutenant was our meat.

I mean, whatever way you look at it, this war has turned out to be a beastly news-less war, and the whisper that this young chap had had something to do with the pamphleteering of Germany from the air had us all on our toes. Hush-hush and all that sort of thing agreed to, of course, but all the same a little bit of something with a genuine personal touch to it does bring a bit of glamour into the rather dismal business of reading what happens to slip out from a crack in the Ministry of Information to the Press, or hearing what amounts to the same thing over and over again on the wireless, interspersed with selections by Shamus McOrgan.

So, judiciously, w…

"Suit for a Siren" - a 1939 story by Jan Gordon

The Sketch of Wednesday 1st November 1939 carried "A Tale with a Sting" called SUIT FOR A SIREN by Jan Gordon. Here it is:


MISS JANET AVERY looked at her new Siren Suit with delight. It solved a problem. Ever since the black-out started, Janet had been compelled to sleep in her lounging pyjamas, and she was one of those young women who still infinitely preferred the "nightie." After a sleep in pyjamas, she always got up feeling as if she had been to bed in her clothes. But with the menace of air raids, and only some seven minutes from the moment that the "warbled" warning note began, it simply had to be pyjamas. Dressing would have taken up too much of the precious time.

But now she had tested it with the alarm clock in two minutes one could easily slip out of bed, scramble into one's undies, thrust arms and legs into the Siren Suit, and, zip there you were. Fully dressed and ready for any emergency, with five minutes to spare.

So, having duly perfor…