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Jan and Cora Gordon: Richard Perry and the YMCA during WW1

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Earlier this year (April 21st) I wrote on a 1935 book dedication by Jan and Cora Gordon to Richard and Charlotte Perry, two friends living in Connecticut, USA.

Richard and Charlotte had hosted the Gordons in 1927, at the start of the journey recorded in "On Wandering Wheels." The Gordons had arrived in New York on the "American Merchant", May 10th 1927. The Perrys lived in Southport, named "Easyport" in the book. The Gordons were enchanted: "Set on the lawns were the white painted wooden mansions with their tall Corinthian pillars of wood, deceptive pillars giving such an air of massive dignity that it was a shock to pass under a house under repair and to note how the carpenter, wishing to replace some mouldered pediments, had calmly removed them bodily, leaving the huge fluted columns suspended from the cornice." - and writing of restoration, here is the Perry house today.

"Easyport", as Southport is known in "On Wandering Wheel…

Jan and Cora Gordon in Albania: in the footsteps of Edith Durham and the "Sworn Virgins"

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The second leg of Jan and Cora Gordon's journey in Albania involved a northward excursion from Scutari "to trespass upon the almost unpoached preserves of Miss Edith Durham, whose memory still lingers here." "In the towns they have made her godmother to some back street, but in the country, even in the none too retentive memories of the everyday people, they still call her "Kralitza" or "The Queen."" Edith Durham travelled extensively in the southern Balkans and had written seven books on Balkan affairs.


Sketch map of the northern excursion, from "Two Vagabonds in Albania"

Of Scutari, Jan Gordon writes, "A rash statement to make, and yet I venture to make it, is that Scutari, from the point of view of costume, must be the most picturesque and dramatic town in Europe." This proved to be a fertile ground for Cora Gordon's sketching.

A typical set of Cora Gordon sketches of people in Scutari Bazar.
In Scutari they took …

Jan and Cora Gordon in Albania

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Jan and Cora Gordon visited Albania in the summer of 1925 and in 1927 published the book "Two Vagabonds in Albania."

Two phrases from this book resonated when I first read it:

"Now and again a wolf howled from far away, and somewhere a kid, lost or smelling some wolf-taint in the air, bleated with persistent terror" pg. 138.

and

"As we came down into the cultivated fields of the valley we found ourselves walking through clouds of red-winged grasshoppers, which sprang up on all sides with a clattering flight." pg. 139

The book begins with "Don't stay in Durazzo." From Durazzo they made a clockwise loop to the south, passing through Tirana, Elbasan, Berat, Kelcyre, Permeti and Gjinokastro before returning north to Tirana. The second leg of the journey was an excursion to the north, from Scutari up into the mountains.


Map of prominent places visited on the southern loop described in "Two Vagabonds in Albania"

Sketch map of the Albania…

Jan and Cora Gordon in the Balkans

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Jan and Cora Gordon's first book told the story of the Serbian retreat during 1915. The account of how the book came to be written and published can be read here. They returned to the area the following decade and in 1925 published the story of the journey as "Two Vagabonds in the Balkans." I own a rare copy of this book, complete with its green dust cover. The cover displays the following enticing text:

"Readers of "Poor Folk in Spain" and their other delightful travel-books know Jan and Cora Gordon as the most accomplished and attractive of artist-vagabonds. They do not travel as others do ; they invariably get away from the beaten track and fraternise instinctively with the people. "Two Vagabonds in the Balkans" is an account of their journey through Bosnia, Herzegovina and Montenegro, and gives a vivid and unforgettable picture of that little-known and picturesque part of Europe. The illustrations are as racy and as full of humour as the text…

Jan and Cora Gordon in the USA, November 1927: "The last of the Hearse"

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Today is Thanksgiving in the USA and, remembering that Jan and Cora Gordon had given a lecture at the Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh on December 3rd 1927, I wondered where they had been for Thanksgiving that year and if they had made any mention of the day in their books.

The time period in question is addressed in the final chapter, "Autumn and Adieu", of "On Wandering Wheels"(1929). After a stay on a tranquil New Jersey farm they returned to New York. "The tour was over, but the "Hearse" [their 1920 Ford sedan] remained. For her age and natural infirmities she had run nobly."

At the second car cemetery they visited they were offered twenty dollars for the car and "not caring to wander more for a possible dollar or two, we surrendered the poor "Hearse" into the hands of her destroying angel. She had served us well, if sometimes a little temperamentally."

"THE LAST OF THE HEARSE" "I can't give you a dime more…

Jan and Cora Gordon with "Ratapouf" in pre-WW1 Paris

In his account of the pre-WW1 international gatherings hosted by Paul Fort at the Closerie des Lilas (Salis, John, 1916, The New Witness, pg 277), Jan Gordon notes the presence of "Ratapouf, the Dutchman, sometime labourer on the Eiffel Tower, guide to the Louvre, man of erudition, and author of three thin books of verse which had taken seven years to produce."

Who was this Ratapouf? The mention of "guide to the Louvre" strongly suggests Fritz R. Vanderpyl (1876-1965) who published "Six promenades au Louvre. De Giotto à Puvis de Chavannes" in 1913.

The thin books of verse would include "les Saisons Douloureuse" (1907) and "Les Saisons d'un Poète" (1911). He later wrote on "Art and Eiffel Towers" (1920) in "POETRY: A Magazine of Verse", pages 98-101. He quotes Apollinaire, "Let us hurry to love the little train, with its blinking engine, running through the valley. If tomorrow it shall be ancient, everybody…

Jan and Cora Gordon with Andre Salmon in pre-WW1 Paris

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An evocative reminiscence by Jan Gordon in "Three lands on Three Wheels" refers to the "Closerie des Lilas where before the War we used to make merry on Tuesday nights withPaul Fort, André Salmon, Picasso and all the lights and lesser lights of the Modern Art Movement." Jan Gordon describes André Salmon (1881-1969) on one of these evenings as follows: "S-, with the unconscious poise of a Nijinsky, waving long, lean hands with incredible grace, led the choruses."

Francis Carco in "The Last Bohemia" (1928) wrote: "We admired André Salmon; he was celebrated. Poet, writer, art critic, his gifts awed us. As for his clothes, cut out of material with large checks, and his small hat perched on top of his head, no one could wear them as he did. They were part of his esthetic baggage, his programme, his own idea, and beside Paul Fort, dressed all in black, they opposed the theory of free verse, and other uncommon rhythms. That was obvious. Salmon par…

Jan and Cora Gordon with Rainer Maria Rilke in pre-WW1 Paris

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The poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) was known for the intensity and mystical nature of his writing. He attended the famous pre-WW1 Tuesday evening talks at the Closerie des Lilas in Paris and is probably the individual described by Jan Gordon (under pseudonym John Salis in "The New Witness")  as "M- Austrian, heavy-souled and a seeker".


Rainer Maria Rilke painted in 1906 by Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907)  (Wikimedia commons, modified)
It wasn't all friendly artistic discussion at the Closerie des Lilas and "Ecrire le Sport" (Bordeaux 2005) mentions an incident in which Rilke takes a beating from a boxer outside the famous cafe. Francis Carco (1928) mentions a similar event: "Also there was a splendid fight, at the end of which a boxer belonging to the Prince's [Paul Fort's] following literally stunned me and threw me out. What an adventure! Lying on the pavement with blackened eyes, my right ankle dislocated, I came …

Jan and Cora Gordon and the XXI Gallery, London

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Jan and Cora Gordon exhibited in the XXI Gallery in 1925, as noted in the diary of Ashley Smith. Their private view was on the 12th February of that year.

The gallery name derives from the original address of 21 York Buildings, Adelphi (a district of the City of Westminster in London). A move was later made to Durham House Street, Adelphi, just off the strand, near Waterloo Bridge. Since 1926 the Twenty-one Gallery has been housed at 15 Mill Street, London, W1.

The XXI Gallery, London (modified from a copy made by Harland, P.T. from a clipping dated about 1930)

"Throughout the year, exhibitions of the greatest interest are held at the Gallery. Mrs. Bernhard-Smith has been particularly successful in securing the co-operation of some of the leading workers of the day, for Jacob Epstein was one of the first to exhibit there, and later an exhibition of the work of that great Serbian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic, was arranged. Most of the exhibitions are of a single artist's work, and …

Early Jan Gordon Paintings on Wooden Panels

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In "A Girl in the Art Class" Jan Gordon describes how, after a disappointing first encounter with an art school (Julian's), he had "been persuaded to buy a thumb sketching box for oils."

"It was a beautiful little apparatus made by Reeves. It carried two very thin wooden panels and a palette with paints all set out and was no bigger or thicker than a sketch book. The panels measured about five inches by six. The charm of the Luxembourg gardens had from the first attracted me, and one autumn day, taking my sketch box with me, I tried a small sketch direct from nature in the Gardens."

Later, when Cora visited Jan' Gordon's place Cora sat in his only chair while Jan showed her his work, "40-odd oil paintings on very thin wooden panels about five by six inches."

Here below is the front and back of one such painting on a wooden panel by Jan Gordon. It measures 220 mm by 153 mm (8.6 by 6 inches), so a little larger than those early exampl…

Jan and Cora Gordon with the Wallins in pre-WW1 Paris

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Jan Gordon, recalling Paul Fort's Tuesday night Parisian cafe gatherings of intellectuals in the period 1911-1913 wrote, "there was Madame W-, a Scandinavian masseuse with white hair and the carriage of an empress, advocate of the married state, loved by everyone; her husband sculptor and dude, who was addicted to collars so tall that he wounded himself in the neck upon their points and was forced for some time to go about smothered in bandages."

Madame W- must surely be Elin Wallin (1884-1969) who lived in Paris with husband David from 1910-1913 at 43 Rue de l’Abbé Grégoire in Montparnasse-Luxembourg. I can picture her "carriage of an empress" and promotion of the married state (she and her husband became parents of seven children between 1906 and 1924). Her hair does not seem to be exactly white, however, and I can find no record of her skills as a masseuse.

Elin Wallin, Paris 1906, oil painting by David Wallin (Wikimedia Commons, modified)
Marriage of Elin a…

Jan and Cora Gordon with Fritz Vanderpyl in Paris

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Art critic and writer M. Fritz Vanderpyl is thanked in the introduction to Jan Gordon's "Modern French Paintings" (1923) for "valuable information and the loan of publications which are now difficult to find." He was a friend of the Gordons during the 1920s and earlier.

The dedication to "Two Vagabonds in Languedoc" also cites Vanderpyl and his wife:

"To HERMINE AND FRITZ VANDERPYL IN RECOGNITION OF OUR LONG-STANDING FRIENDSHIP"
Dedication to "Two Vagabonds in Languedoc" (1925), or "Two Vagabonds in a French Village" in the US edition.

Fritz R. Vanderpyl (1876-1965) was a Belgian or Dutch (depending on source), later naturalized French, avant-garde poet, novelist and art critic (for the "Petit Parisien"). He knew Maurice Vlaminck (as part of the Fauves group), James Joyce and Ezra Pound (Terrell 1980). In a letter to John Quinn he once wrote, "I then mixed all kinds of languages in my verses .... In those d…

Jan and Cora Gordon: Coney Island and a German Bohemia

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At the beginning of their 1927 adventure in the USA Jan and Cora Gordon visit Coney Island, New York ("On Wandering Wheels"). They remembered their first meeting with a Coney Islander, in Munich before the war. This tattooed German-American gentleman (born in a suburb of Hamburg) was a professional impersonator of wild men, a Cherokee in his Coney Island role, and a well known wrestler in his day.

The old sheik at Coney Island (1927) from "On Wandering Wheels" (1929).
In those pre-war times Jan and Cora Gordon had been living, together with their artist friend Bertram Hartman, in a "crazy pension, where congregated the Bohemia of Munich." "Art students, decorators, poets, philosophers, doctors of law and science, even a rapscallion Dalmatian priest, were included in its varied catalogue. Great men, such as Rhoda Rhoda the columnist, Michel the poet, Pascin, then an illustrator on Jugend, and the editors of Munich's witty press, did not disdain t…

Jan and Cora Gordon with Myron Nutting in Paris and New York (1927)

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Amongst the numerous artistic acquaintances of Jan and Cora Gordon in Paris in the 1920s were Mr. and Mrs. Myron Chester Nutting. Myron Nutting (1890-1972) was a painter who studied at the Académie Julian (the school at which Jan Gordon had initially registered in Paris) under André Lhote and the University of Paris under Maurice Denis. He was a friend of James Joyce and painted portraits of Joyce's wife and daughter in the early 1920s.

in 1966 Myron Nutting remembered Jan and Cora Gordon as among the friends in Paris that they enjoyed the most, "because they were really good fun ... and also were highly cultivated people with interests in all sorts of things. They were good musicians. He was well educated and could discuss any subject, and he saw the humor of life."

"They were not producing anything of any vast importance but they enjoyed doing their work, which was writing. They made their living with their books, and every year they got out a travel book. Also h…

Jan and Cora Gordon with the Italian Futurists in pre-WW1 Paris

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Jan and Cora Gordon are not readily apparent in French accounts of the creative Bohemian artistic culture in the years before WW1. They were certainly active participants though and Jan Gordon had the benefit of direct knowledge of many of the emerging artists of that time in preparing his volume "Modern French Painters" (1923).

Cafe gatherings of Bohemian intellectuals are recorded in a number of sources and amongst the diversity of characters were included members of the Italian Futurist Movement. Jan Gordon writes the following on Futurism in "Modern French Painters" (1923):
"Although Futurism was a literary, patriotic, and sentimental Italian creed which added nothing to art, it was right in its insistence that we depend too much upon picture galleries."

A 1916 account of the pre-WW1 Bohemian community (in "The New Witness") mentions a gathering in a Paris cafe of artists and writers of the time, two of which were futurists.

"There was …

Jan Gordon on the Preston Harrison Collection of Modern French Art

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Jan Gordon's introduction to The Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Gallery of Modern French Art is a rarely seen work, published in 1929. It is listed in a bibliography of Jan Gordon issued during the memorial exhibition following his death in 1944, but is missing from subsequent summaries of his publications, with one exception.

The Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Gallery of Modern French Art, Jan Gordon (1929)

The brief biography of Jan Gordon (not entirely accurate) in the book is as follows:

"Born in England, has been a resident of Paris for over a quarter of a century. Well-known as a painter and illustrator, he is also a distinguished traveler, lecturer, author, and critic. His book, Modern French Painters (Dodd, Mead and Company publication), is generally recognized as one of the best treatises on Modern Art."

On Modern Art, Jan Gordon comments that, "Even today in the States there are few opportunities of studying this recent growth in Art. Few pub…

Jan and Cora Gordon and the Prince of Poets: Tuesday Evenings at the Closerie des Lilas

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Francis Carco's "The Last Bohemia" (1928) provides a vivid account of Tuesday evenings at the Closerie des Lilas in the pre-WW1 years, events at which Jan and Cora Gordon were also present:

".. the Closerie des Lilas where we assembled beside Paul Fort on Tuesdays, in an indescribable uproar mixed with the shouts of the poets. It was a magnificent period. We drank. There were arguments. One added one's saucers to one's neighbours without any shame whatsoever and jumped at once into the discussion, taking sides ..."
"Paul Fort's long hair, his sombrero, his black tie, his small coat buttoned right to the top, his simplicity, stood in contrast to the ornaments which women of all races, Swedes, Russians, Spaniards flaunted here and there under our eyes."

"Time after time, bucolic, idyllic, familiar, gallic, inventive, spirited and imaginative, Paul Fort enchanted us with his small tremulous voice."

Paul Fort by Jean Veber (Wikimedi…

Jan and Cora Gordon with Marie Laurencin in pre-WW1 Paris

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In Jan Gordon's 1916 short article about pre-WW1 gatherings of Bohemian artists (himself and Cora Gordon included!) in Paris, there is a mention of "by no means least", Mlle. L--, "demure Normand, a governess, prim, modest, middle-aged during the daytime; but at night marvellously altered by a slight rake of the hat, and with a talent for brilliant repartee."

This was Marie Laurencin (1883-1956), whose mother was from Normandy. Her self portraits do suggest an air of prim modesty. One biography also observes that "it is difficult to envision the primly dressed, bourgeois-mannered young woman as an intimate of the aggressive, boisterous male artists and writers who comprised the inner sanctum of Pablo Picasso's studio, the Bateau-Lavoir, on the rue Ravignan in Montmartre." She was the only female artist associated with, and accepted by, the male-dominated, exclusive avant-garde art movements in early 20th-century Paris.

Her friend, the poet André …