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Jan and Cora Gordon, 1928: Salesmanship in California

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…

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

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

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

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 …


The Liverpool Daily Post of Wednesday 1st July 1942 carried an article by Jan Gordon on


"Another attempt at congregating the two and forty warring sects of art in the common cause of charity is the Artists Aid Russia Exhibition, opened by Mme. Maisky, at Hertford House, the home of the Wallace collection, to help Mrs. Churchill’s fund.

It is undoubtedly a more successful congregation than those held at the Royal Academy under the United Artists’ scheme. The reasons may be two; it is a lot smaller—picture exhibitions become almost mathematically more difficult according to the square of their size—but also the selections have been judiciously wangled, number of key artists having been invited in hors concours. Anyway, the result is a lively exhibition to which artists have sent really good works of their kinds, and not too many that have been seen before. Epstein has sent three grand busts, including a newly-finished powerfully expr…

Jan Gordon's run-in with the Police

I came across an amusing report of Jan Gordon's run-in with the law in the "Police News" of Friday 14th September 1934 in the Chelmsford Chronicle.
"Licence Not Signed. 
Godfrey Jervis Gordon, Clanricarde Gardens, London, was fined 2/6 for failing to sign his driving licence."
Meanwhile, George Buckley of Hoxton was fined 5/- for riding his bicycle without a light at Witham.
Exciting times!

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

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…