Thursday, July 08, 2010

Trans Atlantic Caricature

When I was writing about Al Hirschfeld last week I remembered a slender little book I had picked up many years ago on one of my - what was in those days - frequent trips to London. Einar Nerman - or simply as he was know Nerman - was a Swedish artist who in 1921 moved to London at the suggestion of playwright/composer/actor/producer Ivor Novello. For the next 19 years he chronicled the theatrical and social scene in London mostly working for The Tatler, a weekly society and gossip magazine and Eve - a weekly look at things classical in the music world.

I think this has to be my favorite drawing of one of my favorite playwrights. Nerman catches George Bernard Shaw at his most curmudgeonly and cocking a snood at the world as he poses in his pajamas and comfortable slippers.

Many of the West End stars of those days were well-known on both sides of the Atlantic. Stars such as John Gielgud caught here as Hamlet - you can almost see those Gielgudian nostrils quivering as he delivers "To be or not to be?" Others were well-loved but only known in the UK like Maisie Gay, a revue comedienne who retired to the Wiltshires due to ill health and ran a pub until her death in 1945.

"Continental" artistes made the trip across the Channel to do their turns at variety houses or give "seasons" in French or Italian plays at West End theatres. Maurice Chevalier was a great London favourite and Nerman catches that Gallic charm in full force. And he captures Yvette Guilbert in all her stillness with those long black gloves dominating the drawing as they did when she sang on stage.

Cléo de Mérode was a great beauty of the Belle Epoque and a fine ballet dancer whose career was sadly overshadowed by a reported affair with King Leopold II of Belgium. Her appearance in the Tatler probably had more to do with the later than the former. Also amongst his "society" subjects were The Windsors - I'm sure that Mrs Simpson was less than pleased with Nerman's view of her and her ex-King.

During World War II Nerman and his family moved to the US and he found work with the Journal-American, one of the many New York newspapers of the day. His Hollywood portraits included a rough and tumble - but oddly feline - Clark Gable and an incandescent fellow-Swede Ingrid Bergman.

Nerman was equally at home drawing portraits of classical music performers as here where he treats two fellow Swedes to his slightly satirical pen. Jussi Bjoerling is still considered by many (myself included) to be the greatest tenor of the late 20th century. Unfortunately Bjoerling was often paired with divas who were a head taller than him and even his platform heels can't bring him up to Grace Moore's chin. Fun loving in real life Birgit Nilsson was an intense interpreter of Wagner and Strauss - Nerman was 82 when he penned this drawing of the great soprano as Strauss's Electra.

There is such a wealth of wonderful portraiture in this now out-of-print little book and over the next while I may publish one of two more things of this neglected but, to my mind at least, brilliant caricaturists.

08 luglio - Santa Priscilla

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1 comment:

Blake said...

Please, please, please publish some more. They are magnificent. A HFH picture would be great too. Uncle Pervy.
Word Verification "poofyin"? Is this a play on ying and yang for me?