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Jan and Cora Gordon through the eyes of Dr. James Berry: Serbia 2015

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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 …

ARTISTS’ AID FOR RUSSIA — ATTRACTIVE EXHIBITION, 1942

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

ARTISTS’ AID FOR RUSSIA —♦ ATTRACTIVE EXHIBITION

"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!"

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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…

Jan Gordon (1940) on "The Royal Academy: Work of the Younger Painters"

In the Liverpool Daily Post of Saturday 4th May 1940, Jan Gordon wrote on "The Royal Academy: Work of the Younger Painters."


Somebody said that feature of this year’s Royal Academy, the first second Great War Academy, was marked by one type of war picture—young women artists who have got their fathers to pose in their tin hats. 

That certainly about all of the war there is except for a couple of notes by Nevinson, a file of men marching in the style of his 1915 discoveries and a rhythm of searchlight and long anti-aircraft guns named “Suburbia —1940,” and two problem pictures, both excellently painted, tempera by Miss Louisa Hodgson, "The Sinking of S.S. Goodwood,” represented by a man with an injured leg sitting in a chair, and a breughilesque landscape by Frank Archer, imaginative Polish (?) landscape invaded by Germans, “ The Cries of Them Which Have Reaped.” Among the academicians, the dominating exhibits in painting are certainly three portraits by John, “H. S. Good…

Before the War: Jan Gordon on "England's Place in Art"

In the Liverpool Daily Post, Tuesday 25th July 1939, Jan Gordon reported on "England's Place in Art."

For the first time the International Congress of the History of Art will be held in this country, centred at University College, London, opening on Monday and closing at the end of the week. Among the more important papers delivered will be Mediaeval English Embroidery,” by Mrs. Christie, Holbein and Henry VIII.,” by Professor Ganz, and The English Country House,” Professor Webb. The King has given permission to members to visit the treasures at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, and other visits to important historical collections have been arranged. 

In many ways the present is a fortunate moment for the conference. At the Burlington Fine Arts Club an exhibition mediaeval art has been specially arranged and although admission can be got only through a member, such, with a little pertinacity, will not be found difficult. Another fortunate coincidence is the recent ope…

Jan Gordon, 1939, on the Arts during Wartime

Jan Gordon had already lived through one war when WW2 broke out in 1939.

As he had done at the beginning of WW1 (see The Sketch of 31st March 1915), he quickly wrote a short story (The Sketch, 18th October 1939), beginning with "I suppose you'd call us old buffers, though we'd all done our bits, more or less, in the other war.."

He had been active as an artist during WW1 and had written extensively on the topic. See, for example, "British Artists at the Front."

In a 1939 article in the Liverpool Daily Post (Tuesday 3rd October), he wrote, under the title "Art in War-Time," the following:

The question of how the Arts, or what might be called the mental-emotional stimuli, can be kept up in war-time is one which might be called, in babu language, very moot. The first slightly hysterical catalepsy has worn off, and London cinemas no longer bear the legend: “Shut; nearest open, Aberystwyth,” but the National Gallery still might be labelled “Nearest open…

"Unofficial" - a 1939 Wartime Story by Jan Gordon

The Sketch of Wednesday 18 October 1939 carried the following "Tale with a Sting" by Jan Gordon, called "Unofficial." here it is:


THERE were half-a-dozen of us. I suppose you'd call us old buffers, though we'd all done our bits, more or less, in the other war, and that young Flight Lieutenant was our meat.

I mean, whatever way you look at it, this war has turned out to be a beastly news-less war, and the whisper that this young chap had had something to do with the pamphleteering of Germany from the air had us all on our toes. Hush-hush and all that sort of thing agreed to, of course, but all the same a little bit of something with a genuine personal touch to it does bring a bit of glamour into the rather dismal business of reading what happens to slip out from a crack in the Ministry of Information to the Press, or hearing what amounts to the same thing over and over again on the wireless, interspersed with selections by Shamus McOrgan.

So, judiciously, w…

"Suit for a Siren" - a 1939 story by Jan Gordon

The Sketch of Wednesday 1st November 1939 carried "A Tale with a Sting" called SUIT FOR A SIREN by Jan Gordon. Here it is:


MISS JANET AVERY looked at her new Siren Suit with delight. It solved a problem. Ever since the black-out started, Janet had been compelled to sleep in her lounging pyjamas, and she was one of those young women who still infinitely preferred the "nightie." After a sleep in pyjamas, she always got up feeling as if she had been to bed in her clothes. But with the menace of air raids, and only some seven minutes from the moment that the "warbled" warning note began, it simply had to be pyjamas. Dressing would have taken up too much of the precious time.

But now she had tested it with the alarm clock in two minutes one could easily slip out of bed, scramble into one's undies, thrust arms and legs into the Siren Suit, and, zip there you were. Fully dressed and ready for any emergency, with five minutes to spare.

So, having duly perfor…

A Jan Gordon Dazzle Ships Exhibition 1919

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The Sketch of Wednesday 26 March 1919 makes mention of an exhibition of Jan Gordon's art works at the Little Art Rooms, Duke Street, London.

Marthe Troly-Curtin writes,

"I have an idea that many of the fancy costumes worn at the Razzle-Dazzle Ball on the 12th were inspired by the show of dazzle ships which Jan Gordon, Lieutenant R.N.V.R., is having at the Little Art Rooms in Duke Street. I searched there in vain for some works by Jo Gordon too, as generally Jan and Jo are as inseparable in art as they are in life but "Jo" explained quaintly to me that they are trying the experiment of being "cats that walk on their lone" as regards picture shows only!"

The exhibition of water colours ("War and Peace") she mentions was reported on by P.G. Konody (The Observer, March 16, page 9), Jan Gordon's mentor at "The Observer." Konody wrote:

"He, too, has been attracted by the witchery of the "Dazzleship" which seems to draw…

Jan Gordon's Preface to a 1943 Jack Bilbo Exhibition Catalogue

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The Sketch, Wednesday 30th December 1942 makes mention of an exhibition of the works of Jack Bilbo (1907-1967). This was the year after he opened "The Modern Art Gallery" in London.

The exhibition was held at the Lefevre Gallery in January 1943. Jan Gordon wrote the preface to the catalogue.


Jan and Cora Gordon had also exhibited at the Lefevre, for example in 1934 and from March-April 1937. Details of their other exhibitions can be found here.

Following Jan Gordon's death in 1944, Jack Bilbo wrote a tribute to Jan Gordon in the October 1944 issue of The Studio magazine, commenting, “I remember when he and Cora used to sit in my den on Saturday afternoons when the gallery was closed, when we exchanged travel experiences from Spain and Yugoslavia, from Mexico and Scandinavia, or talked about artists and paintings, how the four walls of my little room seemed to move away into far distances.”


References - Jan and Cora Gordon and "Many-sidedness"March 11, 2014

Camouflage, a 1939 "Tale with a Sting" by Jan Gordon

The Sketch of Wednesday 25th October 1939 carried a "Tale with a Sting" called CAMOUFLAGE by Jan Gordon. Here it is:

MR. OSWALD IMPEY, R.O.I., was not tough. Definitely not. He was emaciated, he stooped, wore thick spectacles, had a wispy, straggly beard; and as for his hair, it was thin on the top, and what ought to have been up there seemed to be trying to crawl down between his neck and his open collar. He was an enthusiastic landscape-painter and, like very many other artists, had sent in his name for the camouflage corps, but had never had an answer. So on that October day, which had started out fine but had afterwards clouded over heavily, he was standing before his easel in a field in Norfolk, painting autumnal tints.

We are accustomed in these days to have all sorts of aeroplanes playing all sorts of pranks overhead, but we are also accustomed to their making a noise while doing so. In consequence, Mr. Oswald Impey had really a disturbing shock at the sudden and qui…

1919: "Jan and Jo Gordon, of Serbian, as well as of artistic fame"

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"The Sketch" of Wednesday 5th February 1919 has a segment on "A DIAGNOSIS OF DANCING" by MARTHE TROLY- CURTIN, author of "Phrynette's Letter from London."

Jan and Cora Gordon get a mention:

"There was a jolly party on the 18th at the quaint Futurist little house in St. John's Wood of Miss Ella Erskine, the actress. The costumes were varied and amusing, ranging from that worn by Mr. Leoneff, the Russian dancer, to the Quaker like grey dress worn by the beautiful Eve Balfour, whose portrait by Take Sato you have lately admired in Colour. 

I also noticed, dancing in gay clothes and gay mood, Jan and Jo Gordon, of Serbian, as well as of artistic fame. Lady Dorothy Mills wore black with green things."





Like the Gordons, Lady Dorothy Mills was a traveller, thought to be the first "white woman" to visit Timbuktu ("The Road to Timbuktu" 1924), and a later explorer of the Orinoco River ("The country of the Orinoco" 1931).

"The Dandy" - a Novel in a Nutshell by Jan Gordon, 1915

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"The Sketch" of Wednesday 31st March 1915 contains a "Novel In A Nutshell" by Jan Gordon. This was written before his February departure for Serbia to serve with Dr. James Berry. I had not come across this before.


THE DANDY. By JAN GORDON.

THE infernal drumming of guns, which had died down at night fall, broke out again with the glimmer of the new dawn: gun-smoke smeared dirty finger-marks across the purity of the reddening sky, and, in the growing light, the mountain-tops seemed all afire, as though their very stones were smouldering. In the gloomy valleys, bursting shrapnel spotted the forests with sudden transient growths, like gigantic dandelion-heads, instantly dissipated by the morning breeze.

Crouching in a ditch which had been their shelter during the night, the piou-pious waited tensely. Marchand, the Lieutenant, a few paces to the rear, leaned on his sword, glancing backward from time to time at the cannon-smoke which drifted slowly up behind him. The co…

Cora Josephine Turner and the Buxton Amateur Orchestral Society 1901

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Cora Josephine Turner (1879-1950), later Cora Gordon, was a keen amateur musician.

A report in the Buxton Advertiser of Saturday April 27th, 1901, gave the programme for the Friday night performance of the Buxton Amateur Orchestral Society and noted that Miss Turner was a violin soloist. She played "Il Trovatore." The concert "was attended by the elite of Buxton society." A portion of the proceeds from the concert were given to the Buxton District Nursing Association.

Born in Buxton in 1879, Cora was 22 at the time. A year later, she became a student of Fine Art Anatomy at the Slade School of Art and studied here until 1906. She appears in a 1905 photograph of the annual Slade Strawberry Picnic.

On finishing her course at the Slade she moved to Paris where she met fellow English artist Jan Gordon. They were married on July 7th 1909 at the Parish Church of Saint Luke, Chelsea. Jan Gordon's 1927 "A Girl in the Art Class" is at least loosely based on the…

Jan Gordon's "fine little etchings" in the 1911 London Salon

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The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Monday 31 July 1911, carries a review of the London Salon, including a rare early mention of Jan Gordon's etchings in the last paragraph.

"THE LONDON SALON (From Our Art Critic.) 

The real Academy—l am writing to those who think the Academy representative of modem effort and therefore worthy of consideration —is the London Salon of the Allied Artists’ Association at the Albert Hall. Perhaps I should say it is the real Academy in germ rather than in achievement, for though Mr. Pryde’s ‘Souvenir of Costume Ball” is one of the most expressive works in the main gallery, many of our men who count equally with Mr. Pryde have not yet entered this company. But the Salon gets rid of the great curse of the Academy, rules and the dead hand of tradition. Any artist can show work he himself thinks worthy ; and to a serious artist liberty does not often interpret itself as licence to be foolish. Much of the work here is poor; most of it sincere; the Society’s…