Monday, July 23, 2012

Lunedi Lunacy

And that's what 'tis all about, foresooth!

23 July - The Province of Canada is created by the Act of Union.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Toy Theatres - Part II

The Toy Becomes a Reality

On Mid-summer's Eve its a little difficult to get the full effect of the illuminations - including the fiery torches
burning at the corner's of the cupola - that have shown the way to Tivoli since the late 1800s.

When Copenhagen's Tivoli Pleasure Gardens opened in 1843 - as the Tivoli Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens -  it was all very temporary. The license to operate had been granted to Georg Carstensen on the provision that the buildings could be easily removed. The Park was located on the old rampart grounds - the pond now surrounded by restaurants and amusements was once part of the protective moat - and as there had been war within recent memory the grounds had to be able to be cleared in a hurry should there be need.

I couldn't find early prints of Tivoli but had these lithographs
by Alfred Jacobsen from the cutout set he designed of the Pantomime Theatre.
They give an idea of the ambiance of the early days of the Park.
So when the Park first opened a provisional outdoor stage was constructed - like most of the pavilions, in the Turkish style - just to the left of the main entrance to the Park. The first entertainments were what we would call today "variety" programmes - strong men, acrobats, a chorus line, singers and clowns. The following year pantomime was introduced into the program. It was a popular entertainment which had arrived in Denmark from England and Italy almost simultaneously in the late 1700s. The stories of the Price and Casorti families and how they eventually inter-mingled, both professionally and personally, the two traditions are well-known in the world of Danish theatre. Borrowing from both the physical school of the lazzi of the commedia dell'arte and the spectacular effects of the British pantomime they created an art form that was as distinctively Danish as the choreography of their contemporary August Bourneville. Not surprisingly Bourneville's dances appear in many performances at the theatre to this day.

The style of buildings leaned towards the Turkish back in the 1800s,
 today they are more eclectic.  But one thing has not changed: the illumination
of trees, bushes, buildings and gardens.  The only thing difference is that gas
 has been replaced by electricity.
By 1874 there was no question of the grounds being returned to their bellicose origins, the pleasure garden with its gardens, lakes, streams, games, kiosks, fireworks and brilliant illuminations had become one of the major attractions for Danes and visitors alike. The same year that Vilhelm Dahlerup designed the Royal Theatre  Bernhard Olsen, the new Park Director, commissioned him to design an outdoor theatre in the "Chinese" style and so the famous Pantomine theatre with its glorious Peacock curtain came into being. Dahlerup had never been to China but based his design on drawings given him by a Danish engineer who had worked in the Far East.  The Peacock curtain originate when Olsen saw the effect at a Parisian variety house of a fan that folded and then sank into the floor and wanted something similar for his outdoor stage. Who came up with the idea of the peacock tail is unknown and the mechanics (requiring four men to operate and are still used to this day) were the work of an anonymous stage carpenter. As with many theatres at the time the rigging and mechanical system was based on methods used in the Navy and on sailing ships of the period.

Last month when I finally - after more than 40 years - got to see the Chinese Theatre I was immediately struck by how brightly coloured it was. My little model had a more subdued palette but as I could not find any early photographs of the Theatre I'm not sure if it was actually the case or if it was only the signature style of Alfred Jacobsen's lithographs. Looking at other play sets published by the renowned lithographer I think that may well be the case. If the colouring is somewhat different the design has obviously not changed a great deal in the past 130-odd years.

The Chinese Theatre with its famous Peacock curtain in all its colourful glory - not quite
like my little model but just enchanting and as wonderful as I had hoped it would be.

Pleased to be here - ME? NO! Not me!

The building itself is simple brick and wood but as with all things theatrical it clothes its self in the illusion of the marvelous artifice of a Chinese Emperor's Palace - or at least Dahlerup's concept of what such a palace would look like. The bright colours are of symbolic significance in classical Chinese chromatology - the masculine and the feminine. The masculine support columns are red while the bearing vertical structures are the feminine yellow, green and blue.  And again as with all good theatrical illusions it is carried over even into the wings - in this case the sides of the theatre itself.  Nothing is allowed to break the illusion of  an enchanted Palace which has appeared by some magic amongst the, themselves magical,  trees, fountains and gardens in the middle of busy Copenhagen.

Even the sides of the theatre, containing dressing rooms and the mechanics for scene changes,
continue the illusion of a Chinese Palace in the heart of Copenhagen.

Traditionally, as with any Imperial palace, the roof is yellow and sports elaborate dragons to ward off evil spirits who may be lurking to try and spoil the fun. 

And floating above it all are the Chinese characters Yu Min Jie Le - a saying from Meng Zi, a disciple of Confucius, giving us the wise advise that Sharing with Others Brings Joy. Its a fitting motto for this little gem.

Anticipation builds as the Tivoli Pantomime Overture by Hans Christian  Lumbye, Tivoli's resident composer in the early years, begins and the audience waits for the Peacock to unfold its wings.

In the next few days I hope to have a video of bits and pieces of the lovely little pantomime we witnessed on our visit.

22 July - 1983:  Martial law in Poland is officially revoked.
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Monday, July 16, 2012

Lunedi Lunacy

Sounds right to me!

July 16 - 1661: The first banknotes in Europe are issued by the Swedish bank Stockholms Banco.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Lunedi Lunacy

For my friend MJ who knows all about punctuation, grammar and that sorta stuff:

09 July - 1793: The Act Against Slavery is passed in Upper Canada and the importation of slaves into Lower Canada is prohibited.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

A Limited Collection - Part III

Anytime I come upon something like this display of 18th century ceramics in the Rijkmuseum my first reaction is something like "wow"; my second is "I wish Ron were here!"  As much as much as I did get a good deal of enjoyment from seeing the "limited" pieces on exhibit from the collection I know I would have have gain so much more with him beside me.  Ron is a recognized authority on Chinese Export porcelain and in demand for his talents as a speaker on ceramics in general and the booming trade between the various "East India" companies and China  during the 18th and 19th century in particular.  And he's one of those lecturers who makes things come to life, the best sort of lecturer there is.  One of the first things I did when I got back to the apartment in Amsterdam was to send him a copy of this photo.  It would have been more fun to share it and the other wonders on display with him in person

As I mentioned religious objects were not as prominent in the art of Holland's Golden Age but that did not mean that they were entirely absent.  Any upstanding householder would want to have something on display to both inspire devotion and signal the devoutness of their family.  This plate from the late 1600s was one of four by an anonymous artist depicting Biblical scenes (in this case The Entry into Jerusalem).  The broad white border acting as a frame clearly indicates it wasn't meant for the family dinner table but to be hung on the wall for all to see, admire and perhaps even meditate upon.

This violin is also meant only to be decorative.  It could be assumed that any sound coming out of it would be less than mellow however it is one of the finest examples of the work being done at Delft at the beginning of the 18th century.  Again the painter and modeler are unknown but indications are that it was made between 1705-1710.   The front depicts a ballroom or dance hall in the city with couples elegantly dancing while others gossip or just look on.  Unfortunately the reverse was not on display but according to the Museum catalogue it shows how country folk in a tavern enjoy the dance as much as their city cousins.  I particularly love the antic - almost demonic - head on the scroll, it could almost be singing Dance Dance Dance Little Lady in manic glee as couples whirled around him.

More often than not the painters who worked in Delft - like the creators of the two previous pieces - were unknown however  Frederik van Frijtom was a free-lance painter who style was immediately recognizable.  He would often sign special pieces and his unique style make even unsigned works recognizable as his.  Unlike many of his fellows who painted over the glaze Frijtom did not use the sponge technique which depended on stencils for the initial design.  He hand painted scenes of his own creation on the base layer before the glazing was done.

And he painted on the white ground using a unique style - he set out his design with thin contour lines using various shades of blue. He then filled them in and built them up with thousands and thousands of tiny dots.  By varying the intensity of the blue he was able to add dimension and depth to his landscapes that were often lacking in that of his contemporaries.   His wall plaques were popular with the merchants (and their wives) throughout the Netherlands.  This large plaque (62cm x 105cm - 2'x3.5") is a stunning example of the work Frijtom was known for and is a good indication of why he, unlike so many, was not to remain anonymous.

In the late 16th and 17th centuries a craze for tulips engulfed much of Europe and led to, as difficult as it may be to believe, a financial crises in Holland.  The tulip made its initial appearance from Turkey around 1593 and Holland was the main
centre of cultivation and distribution.  Tulips became so popular that at the peak of the craze people were trading their entire estates for one bulb.  But after the crash in 1634 the price of a bulb was no more than that of the common onion that they so closely resembled.  Meanwhile fortunes had been made on speculation then lost when the bubble burst and the depression that followed effected the Dutch economy for several years afterwards.  But during the boom (or bloom?) years tulips appeared in all the finest homes and if you were planning to have blooming gold in your home you needed a container worthy of these precious bulbs.  Tulip vases became - and stayed even after the crash - all the rage and this pair of six foot tall tulipieres (though created sometime after the crash had wreaked it financial havoc) would have displayed 36 individual blooms each.  As beautiful as these may have been gracing the entrance hall of a good burger's home, investors of the time learned the hard lesson that it is better to stop and smell a flower than stake your fortune on one.

The Dutch East India Company had a lucrative trade with the Chinese and imported millions of pieces of Chinese porcelain in the 17th century.  These pieces became popular for their workmanship and detail but were available only to the very wealthy.  At first the ceramic studios in Delft did little other than admire the imported items however when trading abruptly halt in 1620 with the end of the Ming Dynasty they began to make copies of Chinese pieces and adapt Chinese designs.

Though I know that Ron would have told me straight off that one was the import and the other the Delft "rip-off" I was hard pressed to tell the difference.  The notes in the gallery referred to the top piece as being of Chinese origin - a piece brought in as one of those many during the late part of the 1600s.  Not more was given in the way of information.

The bottom piece is from the de Ross factory founded by Arendt Cosijn in 1675 and dates from the period of the 1705-1720.  It is attributed to Dammas Hofdijck who also created that intriguing flask I posted about last week.  Though the dish gives the appearance of having been made in China the painting is fuller and the surface more lustrous than the Chinese original. The painter used a wider palette of colours including red and black, which given the techniques of the time were difficult to fire. 

Though the Delftware is the more colourful my own preference is to the original - perhaps because of its delicacy and muted colours. I may be reading too much into it but the Dutch version seems to cry out "look-at-me" in the spirit of an emerging wealthy merchant class.

08 July - 1822:  Chippewas turn over a huge tract of land in Ontario to the United Kingdom.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy 236th!

For all my American family and friends:


July 4 - Orangetown Resolutions adopted in the Province of New York, one of many protests against the British Parliament's Coercive Acts

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Lunedi Lunacy

A little late and offered without comment except to mention that J. J. Grandville attempted to publish this cartoon in 1829 as one of the final lithographs in his Les Métamorphoses du Jour. It was immediately suppressed - wonder if old J.J. was on to something?

03 July - 1844: The last pair of Great Auks is killed.

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Monday, July 02, 2012

Toy Theatres - Part I

During a conversation with my colleague Lara - she of Sidd the travel gnome - I casually mentioned that during our trip to the Baltic I would finally get to see the Pantomine Theatre at Tivoli in Copenhagen.  And as an aside I mentioned that I had a working model of the theatre that I had made in the early 70s.  "Of course you do," said she without the least trace of irony or surprise.  That's what I love about working with Lara she assumed that if such a thing as a working model of an amusement park theatre in Denmark existed that I would have it.  Now I would expect my old friends Vicki and Charlie to make that assumption without a pause but after only 6 months Lara - rather frighteningly - knows me very (too?) well.

I've always had a fascination with the theatre and things theatrical - I was taken to my first play by my rather bemused mother at 5, my first ballet by my, equally bemused, brother and sister-in-law when I was 6 and my first opera, by my completely bemused father, at the same age.  All I might add at my own request.  And as a child I was in the habit of making my own theatres out of the cardboard that came with shirts from the laundry - lest you think we had money and my father sent his shirts out I should clarify that my uncle saved up the cardboard and brought it to me when he came to stay for the weekend.  Using books from the library and programmes from performances I attended,  I drew - rather badly as I recall - prosceniums, sets (poor Oliver Messel wouldn't have recognized his Sleeping Beauty designs as reinterpreted by yours truly) and characters.  It was creative play that kept me out of everyone's hair and was largely without incident. There was the unfortunately episode when I decided to use real fire for the burning of Saint Joan in my own particular take on her martyrdom but that is another story.

The Reddington - one of Pollock's cut-out book sets of toy theatres based on regional British theatres and often designs from actual productions.  The books gave you everything you needed to present the plays including playbook and (for a few pence extra) wire sliders to move the characters around the stage.

As I got older I put childish things behind me and also discovered that there was a wonderful shop in London called Pollock's.  Pollock's had been making toy theatres since the mid-1800s and leapt to fame when Robert Louis Stephenson wrote admiringly about their stock of plays and theatres available for "one penny plain or two penny coloured".  So on my first trip to London in 1969 I took myself over to 1 Scala Street and visited their wonderful toy museum.  The various dolls, toys and teddys were quite nice but it was those toy theatres that fascinated me.  They had a treasure trove of playhouses that brought to life the very vibrant theatre scene of the 1800s in England and elsewhere.  For a pound or less you could get sets of cut out theatres with scenery and characters in bright primary colours for all manner of wonderful plays and black and white books to colour yourself for deathless dramas like The Miller and his Men (with its spectacular explosion of the mill set) or Mr Kean's Richard III.  Penny plain and two penny coloured filled a good deal of space in my luggage on the return trip.   And yes I cut them out and constructed them; carefully (far more carefully than I did as a child) coloured Mr Kean and the "ghost" set for The Corsican Brothers.   I didn't perform any of the plays - well okay maybe one or two in the privacy of my own room - but they were displayed on various shelves around the apartment I lived in.

Alfred Jacobsen was a Danish printer who published all manner of cut-outs to amuse children including this charming set depicting the entrance to Tivoli featuring the famous Boy Band that played there every day.  But it was his model of the Pantomine Theatre that intrigued me when I saw the sheets at Pollack's Toy Museum.
A year or two later another visit to the shop yielded a reprint of an antique Danish set - toy theatres were popular throughout Europe in the 1800s -  of the Pantomine Theatre in Copenhagen's pleasure garden Tivoli.   It was on a smaller scale than its British counterparts, was meant to be assembled as a working model right down to the unfolding Peacock curtain and the moveable proscenium and came with illustrated instructions in Danish!  No matter I had to have it so I bought the four sheets (Alfred Jacobsen Danske Billeder no. 15, 16, 20 and 45) created by Alfred Jacobsen in his Copenhagen workshop.   Working in the late 1800s Jacobsen was a well-known Danish printer who produced all manner of cut-out sheets for children: World Flags, battle scenes, animals and toy theatres. 

Alfred Jacobsen's sheet #45 for the Pantomine Theatre at Tivoli.  As well as the elements for the famous Peacock Curtain he included scenes of the Park under illumination with its beautiful fairy tale lights.

I didn't get around to actually cutting out and building the theatre until several years later - as I recall I had to send away for the English instructions and go to Lee Valley Tools, a specialty shop, to get the tiny screws, nuts and bolts that were required to get the model working.  A sure hand, a fine cutting blade and a great deal of patience were needed to complete the theatre.  But completed it was and long after the other toy theatres disappeared from my inventory has traveled around the world with me from pillar to post and back again.  And often the question has arisen "why are you keeping that old thing?"   Why indeed?  Perhaps because it reminds me of my childhood passion, perhaps because it reminds me of trips and times past, perhaps because unlike the others I held on to the thought that I might see the real thing one day; but mostly because I enjoy every so often - as silly as it sounds - operating the ropes and having the peacock spread his tail and descend into the stage floor then rise again to close off the little Danish street scene.

While making this short video of the model in action two things became apparent - first that over the years things have become loose and are sagging on my little model and some readjustment is in order; and second that the auto-focus on my camera (as I realized on this trip) needs some sort of adjustment. 

As I had mentioned to Lara we were going to be stopping in Copenhagen and I'd have a chance to see the Chinese Theatre and watch the Peacock curtain in action and maybe even get to see one of the traditional pantomines.  I was in luck on both counts, but more about that in another post.

02 July - 1937: Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan are last heard from over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to make the first equatorial round-the-world flight.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Birth of Canada As A Nation - An Ode

I know,  I know I've gone into Canada Day overload but give me a break its my first Canada Day celebration back home so I'm allowed.

Festivities on July 1, 1880 as captured by the Canadian Illustrated News, a publication out of Montreal.  I attempted to access this by going to the Archives and Library of Canada website but it is no longer available due to budget cuts.  Had to get it from the Quebec Archives - no money but at least they are holding on to their heritage.

My friend Liz - one of those 'mericans that I love - put this up on facebook.  I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard it. 
Hail Britannia's noblest daughter,
Who is surrounded by the water
Of many a lake and broad sea,
Land of beaver and of maple tree.

Her lofty brow is wreathed with smiles,
For from the far Atlantic isles
In pomp have come their delegates,
All seeking to unite their fates.

With Canada great northern queen,
And now throughout the land is seen,
High festival and stately dance,
Triumphant nuptials to advance.

And soon shall Red River valley
And distant Vancouver rally,
To form this Empire gigantic
From Pacific to Atlantic.
Birth of Canada As A Nation
July 1, 1867

01 July -1873: Prince Edward Island joins the Canadian Confederation.
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Happy 145th!

When I was a kid back in the middle of the last Century we celebrated Dominion Day and proudly waved Union Jacks.  Today we celebrate Canada Day and even more proudly wave our own flag.  Happy Canada Day!
After Friday's little teaser I don't honestly think there was a more Canadian way of celebrating our 145th Birthday but then the CBC played a Stompin' Tom Connors song; well what the hell can be more Canadian than Stompin' Tom?

Happy Canada Day!

01 July - The British North America Act of 1867 takes effect as the Constitution of Canada, creating the Canadian Confederation and the federal dominion of Canada; Sir John A. Macdonald is sworn in as the first Prime Minister of Canada.
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