Jan Gordon and Bernard Meninsky: Mother and Child (1920)

I recently read an article by K.J. Bryant on the books of Jan and Cora Gordon in "Book and Magazine Collector" (March 1990). He emphasizes the rarity of a book, published in 1920, combining an essay on art by Jan Gordon with twenty-eight Mother and Child drawings by Bernard Meninsky. Bryant writes, "The only copies I have seen are in the V&A and the British Museum." Since I have a copy of this book, I was inspired to revisit it.

The publisher's note of acknowledgement to the various people who loaned drawings is already interesting. The name of Jacob Epstein jumped out at me, not because he was a famous sculptor, but because of two wonderfully hypnotic Fang bieri sculptures from Gabon that he owned. I lived for five years in Gabon and these two sculptures, plus another in the British Museum (the Plath bieri) used to fascinate me.

Jan Gordon's essay hardly refers to the Meninsky drawings at all, "for it is not possible to explain any work of art." It's more of a long general meditation on the nature of art and here below is how it begins:

He concludes with, "A full appreciation of these drawings cannot be attained unless the mind of the spectator is dispossessed of the idea, so prevalent to-day, that art is a refuge from life. We must wipe away the notion that in art we lose ourselves in a slumbrous backwater in which we may withdraw from the current, to dream undisturbed by reality. Such an attitude is the starting-point of artistic decadence. Art is one of the vital manifestations of man, and as such is intensely occupied with life. The art which can be used as a refuge is already dying: art is, first and foremost, Revelation."

And the pictures? Delightful, all of them. Warm, natural and beautifully composed.


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