Here are more than 200 posts on Jan and Cora Gordon; famous travellers, writers, artists and musicians in the first half of the 20th century. They were articulate witnesses to the cultures and events of Europe and the USA from before WW1 to just after WW2. The abundance of primary materials presented here should make this a valuable resource for researchers. For a structured overview of the lives and works of the Gordons, please visit: http://www.pbase.com/hajar/art_of_jan_and_cora_gordon
Jan Gordon: A Sketch for a Portrait
It's always fun to see the sketches made by an artist before producing a finished portrait.
I found the following sketch in the backing of a framed etching by Jan Gordon. It shows Ashley Smith (my grandfather) sitting in a chair in his London home, cross-legged, reading a book.
The chair is shown face on, with Ashley Smith swivelled to his left. Few lines are used.
In the finished portrait, Ashley is shown from his left, leaning forward to read the book, cigarette in mouth. One of the chair's clawed wooden front feet can be seen together with the chair's green upholstery. The corner of an old Persian rug is visible just in front of Ashley's well-polished shoes.
The chair in the picture still survives in the family, now upholstered in red, as it has been as far back as I can remember.
Ashley with wife Doris visited the Gordons' studio in Paris in 1922 and 1923 and Jan and Cora Gordon visited Ashley and Doris in London during 1925 where they had an exhibition at the XXI Gallery. They seem to have drifted apart during the early 1930s. For a way into the art, writings, musicianship and contemporaries of Jan and Cora Gordon see Art of Jan and Cora Gordon.
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.
"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"
On a quiet Sunday afternoon, rereading Jan Gordon's "GRADUS AD ... MONTPARNASSUM" (Blackwood's, March 1929, under his "Salis" pseudonym) I wondered who the character known only as "K" might be.
The text states that, "K --- has since climbed to eminence, the button of the legion of honour, the front page of a great daily, poems in profusion, and a number of plays; but in those days he clung to a paper which hung on the edge of bankruptcy, and was the author of one slim book of verse in praise of opium dreams, a long way after Baudelaire."
"K" chose Jan and Cora Gordon to exhibit their work at the art gallery of a fashionable photographer he "had been of service to", referred to in the text as "M". The show "was noticed favourably" and Cora sold (to a diplomat, perhaps Paul Morand) "a big exuberant drawing in colour of the Cleopatra-cum-anachronism period."
During the second of the Paris art shows described in Jan Gordon's "GRADUS AD ... MONTPARNASSUM" (Blackwood's, March 1929, under his "Salis" pseudonym) a lady poetess "swore that De M---, the great French actor, must see Claribel's [Cora Gordon's] drawings. But, alas! De M--- was in bed."
The poetess took Cora in a cab to see the actor, along with the more exotic and esoteric of her drawings (according to Jan Gordon, Cora's designs were "mostly of semi-nude dancers making arabesques of themselves to a counter rhythm of draperies and cats.")
Left in an antechamber, she found herself "in the midst of a weird collection", every piece in the crowded assemblage "picked for some sinister or erotic quality." "At intervals a creaking voice uttered French words of considerable impropriety" - this was a parrot. Behind a curtain was a bathroom in which the bath was scooped in the black marble floor. "…