Jan and Cora Gordon: Coney Island and a German Bohemia

At the beginning of their 1927 adventure in the USA Jan and Cora Gordon visit Coney Island, New York ("On Wandering Wheels"). They remembered their first meeting with a Coney Islander, in Munich before the war. This tattooed German-American gentleman (born in a suburb of Hamburg) was a professional impersonator of wild men, a Cherokee in his Coney Island role, and a well known wrestler in his day.

The old sheik at Coney Island (1927) from "On Wandering Wheels" (1929).

In those pre-war times Jan and Cora Gordon had been living, together with their artist friend Bertram Hartman, in a "crazy pension, where congregated the Bohemia of Munich." "Art students, decorators, poets, philosophers, doctors of law and science, even a rapscallion Dalmatian priest, were included in its varied catalogue. Great men, such as Rhoda Rhoda the columnist, Michel the poet, Pascin, then an illustrator on Jugend, and the editors of Munich's witty press, did not disdain the fortnightly jamborees." As a supper companion of the Gordons and friends one evening the professional wild man found his family values offended by this German Bohemia; "the mountebank was shocked."

Bertram Hartman (1882-1960) had been studying at the Royal Academy in Munich before returning to New York where he became known for still lifes, landscapes and scenes of New York City. A number of paintings by Hartman are signed "C Bertram Hartman München" and dated 1912 or 1913. A copy of "The Dial" (volume 70, June 21, 1921) states, "Since 1913 he has worked in New York where an exhibition of his drawings has just been held."

"Michel the poet" mentioned by Jan Gordon was the Expressionist writer and poet Albert Michel (1877-1915) who was killed on the Western Front in June 1915.

"Pascin" was the Bulgarian Jules Pascin (1885-1930) who moved from Germany to Paris in 1905, where he was part of the group that used to meet at the Café du Dome. Depressed by critical reaction to his work he committed suicide in Paris in 1930. He has been compared to his friend Modigliani as standing in "the great tradition of the romantic, bohemian artist."

This aside in "On Wandering Wheels" provides another tantalizing glimpse of that pre-WW1 community of artists, mainly focused in Paris, but also thriving in Munich.


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