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Jan and Cora Gordon "Painting under Difficulties" 1922 Spain

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The Pall Mall Gazette, Friday 20 October 1922, carried an article on Jan and Cora Gordons' "Poor Folk in Spain." The title was "PAINTING UNDER DIFFICULTIES." The book describes a 1920 journey to Spain by the Gordons. Here is the text of the article.


"There Is a delicious irresponsibility about the newest book on Spain, "Poor Folk in Spain," by Jan and Cora Gordon, 12s. 6d.. published by the Bodley Head, and some of the illustrations are funny enough to remind one of Heath Robinson.

The pictures the Gordon have brought back with them to England each have a history. Here are some quotations from the book that will show you some of the difficulties of painting in Spain :

Skirting the fonda wall, I found a corner which seemed secluded, and, sitting down, I began to paint an old woman and her fruit stall. One by one a few people gathered behind me. Blas, the gipsy musician, came up, greeted me, and added his solid presence to the spectators. A baker c…

A 1937 review of "Three Lands on Three Wheels” by Jan and Cora Gordon: "Wifekiller" and Vin Ordinaire

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The Waterford Standard on Saturday 22 May 1937, presented the Book of the Week, Jan and Cora Gordon's ‘‘Three Lands on Three Wheels.”

The text is as follows:

"One of the objections to the draft Constitution of Eire —another new name for the same old country —is that it puts women in a position of inferiority. All our most advanced women and female politicians are protesting that the new Constitution will deprive them of certain rights and drive them back to the home and family life. Personally, I don’t think the new Constitution will make one iota of difference to women; but in any case if family life can be made anything like the menage of Jan and Cora Gordon we should all be charmed with it. Robert Frost, the American poet, who is creating a new cult, says: If men were as much men as lizards are lizards They’d be worth looking at.” 

And I am certain that if family life had some of the adventure, some of the happy-go-lucky, carefree atmosphere, some of the joyous sense of pa…

A 1934 Exhibition by Jan and Cora Gordon in the Coventry Opera House Vestibule

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An article in the Coventry Evening Telegraph, Tuesday 11 December 1934 (which I had not come across before), has the following title:

"JAN AND CORA GORDON Exhibition of Artistic Works DISPLAY IN COVENTRY OPERA HOUSE VESTIBULE"

The article mixes accounts of the art exhibition, Cora Gordon's talk on Sketching Through Europe" and various biographical anecdotes.

"Considerable interest is already being shown in the exhibition of artistic works by Jan and Cora Gordon in the vestibule of the Coventry Opera House this week It will be recalled that both artists are among those who have addressed Coventry Repertory Circle. Both are art critics to leading national papers as well as being artists themselves, and are also well known for their travel books. Jan Gordon is in hospital, where he is making a good recovery from a serious illness.

Jan and Cora Gordon are travellers in the true sense of the word. Wherever they have been they have been concerned less with pondering …

A 1926 Review of Two Vagabonds in Sweden and Lapland: Weak Beer, Knife-wielding Babies and Swarms of Biting Insects

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I came across the following review of "Two Vagabonds in Sweden and Lapland" in the Dundee Courier - Friday 16 July 1926. This book was one of Jan and Cora Gordon's "Two Vagabonds" series and includes, amongst many others, stories about "The master fiddler" and pagan music.




Here's the review:

SIDELIGHTS ON LIFE IN SWEDEN

The menu of what was simply an ordinary lunch in will astonish most people as it certainly astonished these two clever itinerants, Jan and Cora Gordon, who have just published "Two Vagabonds in Sweden and Lapland."

Swedish men and women, are told, eat breakfast at eleven and lunch at four. The variety and magnitude of the viands the luncheon table suggests baronial feasts of the Middle Ages.

In a hotel dining-room the first thing that strikes the eye is the large table, centred with a mountain of butter, which is flanked by tall stands upon which various kinds of bread are heaped—hard bread, black bread, honey bread, &am…

Jan Gordon: "I Dreamt That I Dwelt in Marble Halls" and the connection with James Joyce

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Sometimes it's fun to just follow connections and see where they lead.

Jan and Cora Gordon wrote in The London Roundabout (1933):
"You try whistling Tosti's Good-bye or I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls, and see what happens. You'll get thrown out on the pavement."

The "unlucky" song (to the superstitious) they mention is from the Gipsy Girl's Dream in an 1843 opera, "Bohemian Girl," composed by Michael William Balfe with libretto by Alfred Bunn.

I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls, With vassals and serfs at my side, And of all who assembled within those walls, That I was the hope and the pride.
I had riches too great to count, could boast Of a high ancestral name; But I also dreamt, which pleased me most, That you lov'd me still the same...
That you lov'd me, you lov'd me still the same, That you lov'd me, you lov'd me still the same.

This verse is the same one performed by the character of Maria in James Joyce's short…

Jan and Cora Gordon in Germany 1930

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Browsing old 1931 copies of Britannia & Eve, looking for articles by my grandmother (nom de plume Catherine Ives), I came across an article by Jan and Cora Gordon on "The German Girl and her Grandmother."

The account relates to a 1930 trip to Germany by the Gordons and shows that not all of their European excursions resulted in a "Two Vagabonds" book. They were travelling by the "wandering wardrobe" so vividly described in their book "Three Lands on Three Wheels" (1932), which received mixed reviews.

The story begins with "Chugging through a little German town on our old motorbike, we became aware that something was taking our attention from the five-hundred-year-old tower and the overgrown cross-beamed houses with seven stories in their attics. An enormous face printed on the cover of the weekly illustrated Blätterling was being displayed everywhere."

The face belonged to " a hurdle jumper who had leapt into a week's fam…

Jan and Cora Gordon and the Posada at Lorca

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Jan and Cora Gordon made two visits to Spain, in 1920 and 1921. I retraced much of the second journey in the summer of 2009.

"Misadventures with a Donkey in Spain" (Chapter IV) contains a lengthy description of the posada in Lorca after the following introduction:

"The posada is probably the most characteristic monument of old Spain still in existence, being perhaps less modified by the influence of modernity than its rival in village importance, the church. There are posada in "Don Quixote" which might have been described from buildings in use to-day, and as the posada of Lorca was one of the most characteristic we were ever lodged in, it merits a short description."

The description begins with the courtyard, which is well illustrated in the etching shown below.

" One should view the posada from the inside outwards. It is gathered about a large cobble-floored courtyard open to the sky, and all around the square yard buildings, which look at least of…

A Cora Josephine Gordon lecture in 1947: "Off the beaten Track in Europe"

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Cora Josephine Gordon (1879-1950) continued to give public lectures and to write on art following the death of her husbandJan Gordon in 1944.

The Hull Daily Mail of October 4th 1946 carried a public notice detailing upcoming Tuesday talks at the Hull Literary and Philosophical Society, at the Queen's Hall.

Cora Gordon's talk, "Off the beaten Track in Europe," is shown for Tuesday January 14th 1947.



Before Jan Gordon's death, the couple had given public lectures together, often including musical performances. On their American journey in 1927 and 1928, they had given illustrated lectures under the management of William B. Feakins (Wm. B. Feakins, Inc., Times Building, New York).

From 1931 onwards there are reports of lectures given by Cora alone, including the following.

1931. Sheffield; "I do know that Cora Gordon is going up to Sheffield at the end of the month to give two or more lectures about the travels which she and her husband have done together. Their…

Jan Gordon on War Artists in WW1

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Jan Gordon delivered a lecture on the 28th February 1943 as part of a series of six talks presented at the National Gallery on the topic of "The Artist and The War." His talk was on "The Artist and the War of 1914-18."

Shortly before this series, the National Gallery had begun showing a "Picture of the Month" as bombing raids lessened during 1942.

Jan Gordon argued that the "war has made people feel vividly the limitations of the academic school. They have begun to realise that to express things of such a nature extraordinary methods are not only permissable but essential." (Foss 2007).

He had earlier written on the war art of Paul Nash in a similar vein: "And it is precisely this clearness of understanding which makes Paul Nash's war pictures so vividly engrossing. It is not possible to paint truly how this war has swept man, because horror will not permit this truth to be told. It is possible to depict the devastation of Nature, becau…

Jan and Cora Gordon and the Pilgrimage to Fatima

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Reading about the pilgrimage of Pope Francis to Fatima in Portugal today, I was reminded of the journey Jan and Cora Gordon made there in 1933, 84 years ago. A gallery of illustrations made by the Gordons during this journey can be seen here.

It is today 100 years since three children reported seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary while tending sheep. Two of the children (Jacinta and Francisco Marto) died in the 1918-1919 European influenza pandemic. The third, Lucia de Jesus dos Santos, died in February 2005.

The Gordons had timed their visit in 1933 to be able to participate in the Fatima pilgrimage honouring the vision seen on May 13, 1917. "We had hurried our departure from London to reach Portugal before the 13th May. For on that date each year a remarkable pilgrimage takes place, celebrating an event, from what can be gathered, seems to be the best-authenticated account of a genuine miracle than can be offered." However, they noted that, "Catholic miracle experts ar…

Jan and Cora Gordon: Signatories to a 1927 Letter Protesting the Piracy of James Joyce's "Ulysses" in the USA

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Silvia Beach (1847-1962) wrote a letter of protest, dated 2nd February 1927, against the planned publication in New York of an adapted version of James Joyce's "Ulysses."

She was American-born, but lived most of her life in Paris. She had published "Ulysses" there in 1922. Her Paris bookstore was called "Shakespeare and Company."

The issue being protested was the planned piracy of Joyce's work in a magazine edited by Samuel Roth. She wrote:
"It is a matter of common knowledge that the ULYSSES of Mr. James Joyce is being republished in the United States, in a magazine edited by Samuel Roth, and that this republication is being made without authorization by Mr. Joyce; without payment to Mr. Joyce and with alterations which seriously corrupt the text. This appropriation and mutilation of Mr. Joyce's property is made under colour of legal protection in that the ULYSSES which is published in France and which has been excluded from the mails in…

"Phrynette's Letters to Lonely Soldiers" 1916 recommends "The Luck of Thirteen"

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A chatty review of "The Luck of Thirteen" by Marthe Troly-Curtin, appears in her "Phrynette's letters to lonely soldiers" segment in "The Sketch" of April 19th 1916.

She enjoyed "the funny little thumbnail sketches (minute masterpieces by Jo)." and the "rich mine of humour" that they worked with "pen and ink and paint-brush."


She quotes the observation in the book on the handsome Montenegrin peasanty: "We passed many peasants and had evidently enetered the land of Venus, for each one was more beautiful than the neighbour. Since Jabliak we had not seen an ugly man or woman, and the dignity of their carriage was exceeded only by the nobleness of their features. Ugly women must be valuable in those parts, and probably marry early - humans ever prize the rare above the beautiful."

Troly-Curtin also quoted the descriptions of Jan's elaborate protection against the rain and Jo's knitted concertina stockings …

The complete written works of Jan and Cora Gordon

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Here is a photograph of the complete written works of Jan and Cora Gordon, several in multiple copies (to capture interesting dedications and variations in cover art), together with associated literature, in a library in Malaysia.





To learn more about their written output, see the group of galleries presented here.

Books set during WW1 are discussed here; novels here; books and articles on art here; "Two Vagabonds" travel adventures here; books set in the USA here; and books set in Paris and London here.

Of the art works visible in the photograph, the story of the Ghent watercolour can be found here; the Almeria dwarfs here; the Puerto Lumbreras guitar concert here; and the posada at Lorca here. The central picture above the bookcase shows my father as a baby at Mesylls (see).

The Terre Haute Saturday Spectator 1925 on Jan and Cora Gordon's "Two Vagabonds in the Balkans"

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The Terre Haute Saturday Spectator (Saturday, June 27, 1925), Indiana carried the following brief account of "Two Vagabonds in the Balkans" by Jan and Cora Gordon, concluding with:
"It is a book to be given to everyone who thinks he has seen all of Europe when he has been to Paris, Rome and Stratford on Avon."




This book continued on from the first two travel books by the Gordons, both set in Spain. An overview of the "Two Vagabonds" series can be found here.

Jan Gordon: Disguise and Misdirection

Jan Gordon's novels and magazine articles are abundantly rich in more or less oblique references to actual historical events and real biographical details. These are usually disguised, however, by obscuring the identities of characters and places, changes in the timing of events and narrative adaptations and distortions of the events themselves.

Here are some examples.


1. Hidden identities:

a) Replacing the surname of a real historical character with the capitalised first letter of the surname followed by a dash, examples being "De M" for de Max, "M-" for Manuel and so on.

b) Occasionally using a different capitalised letter to that of the actual surname, presumably when Gordon felt a greater need to disguise the connection with the person in question. An example is the disguise of Andre Salmon as "K-", in this seemingly combining his characteristics with those of Francis Carco.

c) Use of nicknames, such as Ratapouf, Gruke, Harraden Scar, Praps, someti…

"Two Vagabonds in Spain is Delightful," Oakland Tribune 1923

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The Oakland Tribune of December 9th 1923 gives the following review to a newly published book by Jan and Cora Gordon:

"Two Vagabonds in Spain Is Delightful

There are nearly as many travelers as there are pairs of feet, but there are not two in a thousand who contrive to put into a record of their wanderings the very color and vividness of impression which place and people have left upon them. Jan and Cora Gordon, English artists, spent a summer and autumn in the hill towns of Eastern Spain, Murcia, Alicante and Verdolay. The story of that sojourn, illustrated with their own whimsical sketches and titles, "Two Vagabonds in Spain," is a delightful bit of writing.

The authors have crowded into their book the sights and sounds and smells, the simple people and their simple manners, the texture of hill and house-top and have given the telling a fine and breezy flavour."

This book was the start of the celebrated "Two Vagabonds in .." series produced by the Gordo…

A 1916 exhibition of sketches from Serbia by Jan and Cora Gordon

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Following their return from Serbia at the end of 2015, Jan and Cora Gordon wrote newspaper articles and their first book, "The Luck of Thirteen" (to positive reviews) and also exhibited sketches from their adventure. "The Standard" of March 13th 1916 (late morning edition, which cost one penny) contains a note about an exhibition of such sketches at Walker's Galleries, 118 New Bond-st., London.




One of the sketches had been worked up by Frédéric de Haenen into a full spread illustration in the Illustrated London News of December 25th 2015.