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Showing posts from August, 2015

"Ratapouf" 1914: Trois Poèmes by Fritz Vanderpyl

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On November 11th 2014, I outed Fritz Venderpyl as the character known as "Ratapouf" in an early (1916) article by Jan Gordon.

I recently came across an early group of three poems by Vanderpyl in a 1914 edition of Mercure de France.


I like the first, "En Posant."

He asks who will be better remembered in two hundred years time, the painter or the poet?- a painting or a poem?

Qui des deux restera, mon vieux,
mon poème ou ta peinture?
Qui connaitra-t-on dans deux cent ans,
ton nom ou ma ronde figure?

I love the reference to his "round figure." Jan Gordon (1916) describes 'Ratapouf' as follows: "Ratapouf, globular, somewhat like a Billiken.."

A hundred years have now passed since the poem was published. Who was better remembered, painter or poet? We don't know who the painter in the poem was, but many of the painters from this Montparnasse community achieved great fame. Vanderpyl is still remembered, but perhaps mainly for his antisemitism. …

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…

Jan and Cora Gordon: "A Californian Holiday"

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Last Sunday, driving slowly along the coast at La Jolla, every available space was filled with a parked car and I remembered an image in "Star-dust in Hollywood" (1930) showing a similar scene.


"A Californian Holiday", in "Star-dust in Hollywood" (1930). The cars are very different, but the main elements of the scene are recognisable to this date along the Californian coast in summer.

La Jolla, Sunday 23rd August 2015. To be fair, there is a lot of snorkelling and paddle board activity happening in the sea below.

The Gordons describe a "pleasure-trip on Independence Day, down to the sea in cars." "An engineer friend and his wife invited us as an experiment in democracy to drive with them." "To work up a conviviality proper to Independence Day we joined a procession of cars, bonnet to spare tyre, like a line of precessional caterpillars, that crawled along the sea-front for some fifteen miles at an average speed of five miles an h…

Jan and Cora Gordon and "The Praps": Edward Steichen in WW2.

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Last Friday I visited the very enjoyable Maritime Museum of San Diego. One section showed wartime photographs by Edward Steichen, who had served as Director of the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit.

Back in February of this year, I identified "The Praps", two prominent characters in "A Girl in the Art Class" (1927) as Eduard Steichen and his wife Clara. The Steichens knew Jan and Cora Gordon from their time living in Montparnasse between 1906 and 1914. The information presented in the museum provided a fascinating glimpse of Steichen's later work.


Steichen on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, Maritime Museum of San Diego. Here he is photographed above the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-16) by Ens Victor Jorgensen, November, 1943.

Carol McCusker's text on the role of Steichen's team in recording life on the aircraft carriers operating in the Pacific Theatre of WW2, Maritime Museum of San Diego.

Paintings by Jan and Cora Gordon in Glasgow

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I took a trip across to the Glasgow Museum Resource Centre today and was shown the paintings by Jan and Cora Gordon held there. The two by Jan Gordon date from the Gordons' Spanish journeys of the early 1920s. One by Cora Gordon dates from their "Two Vagabonds in Languedoc" (1925) journey.

My favourite of the three is "The Gypsy Singer," partly because I have an etching of the same scene and partly because the context is colourfully described in one of the Gordons' books, "Misadventures with a Donkey" (1924). The scene is set in Puerto Lumbreras (south-east Spain), where Paco, the chief of police, plays guitar at José’s place. A character called Pepe Macho was "perched on a superior packing-case high above us”. Gordon also noted a decoration on the wall: “some wandering sign-painter had depicted clumsily enough the figure of a semi-nude woman running with a bottle in her hands, her body wrapped round with a flag to advertise some popular bra…

The Smiths and The Gordons at Itchenor, 1917

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Jan and Cora Gordon spent late WW1 summer holidays at the Itchenor cottage of their friends, Doris and Ashley Smith. Accounts of the 1917 summer holiday exist in the diaries of both Ashley Smith and Jan Gordon. A painting by Jan Gordon of this area can be seen here.

My friend Roger Jones, walking down Itchenor High Street this week, took the following picture of Ashley's old Itchenor cottage.

9, High Street, Itchenor, rented by Ashley Smith from 1914.  My thanks to Roger Jones for the photograph!
Ashley described the modifications he made a century ago: "I dug out the cobbles in front of it – made a fence and a portico with two seats over the door and then I planted honeysuckle and a climbing rose tree. Cottagers from around came to look." From the photograph it appears that the roses are still going strong one hundred years later!