In terms of fashion, this month has been full of contradictions; how do you even out two, three or four different sides, I’ve really been into Kate Moss’ rock chic look but at the same time Biba fashion really inspired me, and so did the movie Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, Dark Shadows (I’ve finally watched it) and Pre-Raphaelites. And in August I’ve finally listened to Babyshambles’ album Albion (song A rebours is my favourite); Pete Doherty’s story really interested me and I found myself liking him as a poet, musician and an artist, not as a reckless, bohemian drug addict.
Exactly twenty years ago, the Manics released their third album; dark and haunting The Holy Bible which shows Richey’s state of mind at the time and stands, even now two decades later, as a testiment to those times; 1994 when the Manics were recording The Holy Bible in a cramped Cardiff studio avoiding and ignoring the wretchedly dull Britpop that ruled the charts.
The Holy Bible, released in 1994, is perhaps the most critically acclaimed album of their entire career. For me it was to dark and miss understandable when I first started listening to Manics, but I feel that with their first three album you just have to ripe to be able to fully appreciated them. That’s what happened to me; after the initial infatuation and rapture with Generation Terrorists, I started exploring the sound of Gold Against the Soul, only to end up loving The Holy Bible more than I could have ever imagined. Fact about this album is that the singles are not the best songs at the album; so you have She is suffering, Revol, Faster and P.C.P, which are all undoubtedly good songs, but songs such as Yes and Die in the Summertime are maybe even better.
The Holy Bible displayed yet another musical and aesthetic change for the band as they had started listening to their early musical influences such as Joy Division. The music shifted to a darker, post-punk, almost gothic sound. The lyrics, mostly written by Richey Edwards, are brilliant in their honesty, depth and genuine darkness, described by Sean Moore ‘as far as Richey’s character could go.’ Song ‘Yes’ was the one that caught my attention the most. Despite its focus on prostitution, the song’s meaning is much wider (‘Ev’rything’s for sale’). Everybody wants power, and money, that comes along, can buy everything, including a prostitute whose wishes and desires are ignored for she’s just an object of somebody’s lust. She feels like in a purgatory because someone will always say yes and confirm her sad, sad life. ‘And I don’t know what I’m scared of or what I even enjoy/ Dulling, get money, but nothing turns out like you want it to/ I eat and I dress and I wash and I can still say thank you, Puking – shaking – sinking I still stand for old ladies, Can’t shout, can’t scream, I hurt myself to get pain out/…Power produces desire, the weak have none.These sunless afternoons I can’t find myself.’ What value does it put on things if you can buy everything. What pleasure can arrive from something you’ve got only because of your money.
Song Faster is perhaps their best single and it’s one of the songs from this album I’ve first fell in love with. This song leads me to Manics’ melodies; they’re so thrilling, unusual but captivating. None of their songs sounds like something you’d expect from a song; riff, overture, chorus, the end. No, their songs sound so fresh, dynamic, strong, brutally honest, and, as I know that these lyrics were hard to write music for, I bow to James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore for making such brilliant, haunting melodies. Anyways, song Faster is the one whose lyrics stayed in my head for a long time. ‘I am an architect, they call me a butcher, I am a pioneer, they call me primitive, I am purity, they call me perverted/ I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing/ So damn easy to cave in, man kills everything.’ Perhaps the universal feeling of an artist; to be called primitive when in fact you’re a pioneer while the people surrounding you are actually primitive and their apathy and void are barriers for them to understand something far beyond their mind set.
Song ‘Die in the Summertime’ can describe what was going on in Richey’s head at the time, though he said it himself it was about an old man wanting to die with a childhood memoirs in his head. ‘Scratch my leg with a rusty nail, sadly it heals, Colour my hair but the dye grows out, I can’t seem to stay a fixed ideal.’ I can’t possibly express the rapture and enthusiasm when I hear James’ voice singing ‘…stay a fixed ideal’ for he sings the last word is such a striking way. He really succeed in conveying the lyrics to music in a way that it created a unified ensemble. ‘I recognize dim traces of creation, I wanna die, die in the summertime, I wanna die…’
Nicky is responsible for the song ‘Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart’ which is not an attack on America, as some may suggest, but it’s about ‘how the most empty culture in the world can dominate in such a total sense.’ It’s crazy, when you think about it, how we let America be the standard in its so called culture and lifestyle, while Europe is a true ‘cradle of civilization’. I think we shouldn’t uncompromisingly accept everything America has to offer.
Year 1816. is known as the Year without a Summer due to an eruption of a great Mount Tambora volcano in East India (today’s Indonesia). The volcano eruption which lasted from 5th to 15th April 1815. caused a volcanic winter; a reduction in global temperatures caused by vast amounts of volcanic ash obscuring the Sun. However, this very summer proved to be inspirational for Mary Shelley and her circle of friends.
It rained heavily in April 1816, and in May too and that’s when Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, along with his lover Claire Clairmont and his physician John William Polidori headed to Switzerland, planning to spend their summer by the beautiful Lake Geneva. Claire Clairmont, Mary’s stepsister, who just turned eighteen in April, was a lively, voluptuous brunette who caught Lord Byron’s eye, and was already pregnant with his child. The party arrived at Geneva on 14th May 1816. and Lord Byron joined them on the 25th May. They rented neighbouring houses on the shores of Lake Geneva. Lord Byron and his physician settled themselves in Villa Diodati; mysterious place hidden in the trees, in the darkness of the large pines, while the Shelleys rented a smaller, less sumptuous villa nearby.
‘It proved a wet, ungenial summer’, remembered Mary in 1831, ‘and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house’. Memorable tranquil, bleak and desolate atmosphere proved to be inspirational despite the long rainy afternoons without a glimpse of sun. The landscapes, frightening and lonely, only added to the atmosphere, and even after many years Mary remembered them clearly, as she later recorded in her work ‘Never was a scene more awefully desolate. The trees in these regions are incredibly large, and stand in scattered clumps over the white wilderness; the vast expanse of snow was chequered only by these gigantic pines, and the poles that marked our road: no river or rock-encircled lawn relieved the eye, by adding the picturesque to the sublime’.
The group amused themselves by reading German horror stories and discussing, among other things, galvanism, by a log fire in Byron’s villa where the group usually gathered. There, on the lake Geneva, in the dreary May, Percy Shelley first met Lord Byron and the two were having endless discussions; they needed nobody else, nor did they noticed the other guests. It was in one of these long, tranquil, rainy afternoons that the idea of a ghost story arose. The tension in the villa hadn’t helped; Polidori was becoming more and more interested in Mary who showed no accept of his affection, and, at the same time, Claire was pretty much relentlessly fixated on Lord Byron whereas to him she has became dull a long time ago. This claustrophobic atmosphere proved to be hard for Percy who found himself slipping into a mood of oppression and morbidity. One rainy night, as the guest were all sitting by the fire in the great room, Lord Byron read a few verses from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘Christabel’. It the poem, a character Geraldine (who appears as a women but is in fact Lamia, a disguised serpent) seeks not only the physical but also the spiritual possessions of Christabel who is innocent and beautiful. Percy seemed to be very impressed, perhaps with the poem itself, perhaps with the hypnotic way Lord Byron recited it, still, he fled the room screaming, in horror. He later explained his sudden departure by the sudden mental of a woman who had eyes instead of nipples on her breasts. Polinori later used this event in his novel Vampyre, written originally as a short story during the same holiday in Geneva. In only six years time, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and Polidori would all be death.
Some verses from Christabel:
‘(…) There she sees a damsel bright,
Dressed in a silken robe of white,
That shadowy in the moonlight shone:
The neck that made that white robe wan,
Her stately neck, and arms were bare;
Her blue-veined feet unsandaled were;
And wildly glittered here and there
The gems entangled in her hair.
I guess, ‘t was frightful there to see
A lady so richly clad as she-
Later that night Mary had a mental vision too, in the darkness and tranquility of a stormy night, her heightened consciousness of terror created something that would later be known as a novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus.
‘Night waned upon this talk, and even the witching hour had gone by before we retired to rest. When I placed my head on my pillow I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw – with shut eyes, but acute mental vision – I saw the pale student of the unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion …’ Frankenstein’s monster and Frankenstein the book had both been born.’
A Year Without a Sun proved to be inspirational not only to poetic group of Romanticists who made up ghost stories for fun but also to J.M.W. Turner, famous landscape painter who studied the sky with a great flair. His painting shown above, Chichester Canal was inspired by the sky as it appeared in that infamous Summer Without a Sun. The painting depicts the Chichester Canal in Sussex and its brilliant, vivid colours were influenced by atmospheric ash from the previously mentioned volcano eruption.
Elizabeth Siddal, beautiful and poetic working class girl, is perhaps best known for being the model for the famous Millais’ painting Ophelia painted in 1852, but it was Dante Gabriel Rossetti whose muse she was until her early death from a laudanum overdose.
‘ (…) All changes pass me like a dream,
I neither sing nor pray;
And thou art like the poisonous tree
That stole my life away.’ (Elizabeth Siddal)
Elizabeth Siddal and Dante Gabriel Rossetti first met in 1849. when she was modelling for Deverell. By 1851. Elizabeth was modelling for Dante as well. In fact, he liked her so much as a model that he started painting her to the exclusion of all other models. They soon became engaged and Elizabeth started painting as well, thought her work was rather rough, harsh, compared to Rossetti’s. In 1855. John Ruskin, famous Victorian art critic, began to support her career and paid her £150 per year in exchange for all the drawings, sketches and paintings she produced. The themes of her paintings matched Pre-Raphaelite compositions; she painted idealized medieval scenes and illustrated Arthurian legends. It was during this period that she began to write poetry, her poems featuring dark themes about lost love, impossibility of finding true love and death. Art critic William Gaunt later commented ”Her verses were as simple and moving as ancient ballads; her drawings were as genuine in their medieval spirit as much more highly finished and competent works of Pre-Raphaelite art.”
In 1852. Dante and Elizabeth moved into Chatham Place and became extremely anti-social, spending their days enjoying each other’s love and expressing their affection for one another. The lovers coined affectionate nicknames, Dante calling Elizabeth his Dove. Rossetti was the one who taught her to paint and write, and he greatly admired her paintings, although they were mediocre, and even dubbed her a ‘creative genious’, blinded by his complete adoration for her. In turn, Elizabeth inspired him to write poetry. His period of great poetry production began when he met her and diminished when she died. His poem ‘A last confession’ shows his love for Elizabeth, even after her death, and in it he describes Elizabeth as having eyes “as of the sea and sky on a grey day.”
Previously mentioned art critic John Ruskin admonished Rossetti for not marrying the girl and giving her security. They did eventually get married, on 23rd May 1860. in a small seaside town of Hastings, after Elizabeth returned from her traveling to Nice and Paris due to her health problems. The only witnesses on the wedding were a few strangers whom they had asked in Hastings, no family or friends were invited. Elizabeth was so frail and ill at her wedding that she had to be carried to the church. Rossetti was reluctant to marry her and it wasn’t a secret that he had other women; Elizabeth was affected by the stress from the incidents and she used her frequent and serious illness to blackmail him. Due to her severe depression she had access to laudanum to which she became addicted to. In 1861. she became pregnant and the experience overjoyed her, but not long had passed and the tears replaced the laughter as she suffered a miscarriage. This left her with a post-partum depression from which she had never recovered. In the early months of 1862. she overdosed on laudanum and died in the evening of the 11th February 1862, aged only thirty two. Although her death was ruled as an accident, it is possible that she had committed a suicide.
Two years after her death Rossetti began painting his famous Beata Beatrix. The painting depicts Dante Alighieri’s Beatrice at the moment of her death, and Rossetti modeled Beatrice on his lost love Elizabeth whom he had not forgotten. The symbolism of the painting is peculiar; a red dove, a messenger of love, relates back to Rossetti’s love for Lizzie and the white poppy in her lap represents laudanum which was the cause of her death. In his letter to a friend Rossetti said he intended the painting “not as a representation of the incident of the death of Beatrice, but as an ideal of the subject, symbolized by a trance or sudden spiritual transfiguration.”
Overcome with grief, Rossetti had a journal with his unpublished poems buried with Elizabeth. He allegedly slit the book into Siddal’s red hair. By 1869, he was addicted to alcohol and drugs, and, after convincing himself he was going blind and he couldn’t paint, he started writing poetry again but he getting more and more obsessed over the poems he had buried with his wife. At Rossetti’s wish, the coffin was exhumed at night to avoid attention and curiosity from the public, and the Rossetti was not present. His agent Charles Augustus Howell who witnessed the exhumation reported that the corpse was remarkably well preserved (probably a result of laudanum) and that the coffin was full of Lizzie’s flowing coppery hair, which was said to have continued growing even after her death. Rossetti published the old poems but the exhumation tormented him for the rest of his life.
Rossetti wrote a poem ‘Without her’ and it’s his reflection on life once love has departed.
”What of her glass without her? The blank grey
There where the pool is blind of the moon’s face.
Her dress without her? The tossed empty space
Of cloud-rack whence the moon has passed away.
Her paths without her? Day’s appointed sway
Usurped by desolate night. Her pillowed place
Without her? Tears, ah me! For love’s good grace,
And cold forgetfulness of night or day.
What of the heart without her? Nay, poor heart,
Of thee what word remains ere speech be still?
A wayfarer by barren ways and chill,
Steep ways and weary, without her thou art,
Where the long cloud, the long wood’s counterpart,
Sheds doubled up darkness up the labouring hill.”
Elizabeth Siddal was an artists’ model, poet, great Pre-Raphaelite beauty and most importantly artist’s muse. Her beautiful features were captured in the painting Ophelia by John Everett Millais.
Elizabeth was at the heart of the Pre-Raphaelite artistic community, being married to Dante Gabriel Rossetti; a poet, illustrator, painter and most importantly – the founder of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Though she had artistic aspirations and loved poetry, it was her astonishing beauty that attracted the attention of Walter Deverell who not only employed her as a model but also introduced her to the Pre-Raphaelites. William Michael Rossetti, eventually Elizabeth’s brother in law, described her as ‘a most beautiful creature with an air between dignity and sweetness with something that exceeded modest self-respect and partook of disdainful reserve; tall, finely-formed with a lofty neck and regular yet somewhat uncommon features, greenish-blue unsparkling eyes, large perfect eyelids, brilliant complexion and a lavish heavy wealth of coppery golden hair.’
Unusual for the time, Elizabeth not only worked as a model but also at Mrs Tozer’s millinery part-time which secured her with regular wages, in case her modelling job became uncertain. In 1852. Elizabeth, aged nineteen, modeled for what was to be a very famous Pre-Raphaelites painting – Ophelia. Posing for Ophelia required Elizabeth to float in a bathtub full of water to represent the drowning Ophelia. Millais painted daily and since it was winter, he warmed the water by putting lamps under it. Still, on one occasion the lamps went out and the water became icy cold. Millais, so absorbed in his painting didn’t even notice and Elizabeth didn’t complain either but after this she became severely ill with a cold. Her father blamed Millais for this incident and forced him to pay for her doctor’s bill. Her poor health is attributed to laudanum she was addicted to and which eventually proved to be her undoing.
Besides the beautiful model, the painting is also known for its detailed depiction of nature and flowers. However, Millais ignored the initial Danish setting and the nature around Ophelia turned out to be quintessentially English with predominant English flowers and plants. Even more Victorian is Millais’ usage of the language of flowers; he incorporated red poppy flowers as poppy is a symbol of sleep and death. Ophelia’s garland is based on the one described in the play ‘There with fantastic garlands did she come/Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples’. Ophelia was painted in two stages; Millais first painted the landscape and then incorporated Ophelia’s graceful figure floating on the water. On Ophelia’s face Millais captured both beauty and sorrow, eternal suffering and defiance. Ophelia’s pose in this painting has been described as erotic, with its open arms and upwards gaze, but it is also resembles the pose of martyrs or saints.
Millais painted Ophelia along the banks of the Hogsmill River in Surrey, near Tolworth, Greater London. In vivid shades of green he depicted the wild and untamed nature, both its decay and growth. The atmosphere is static, yet the tree branches, the grass and sparkling white flowers appear as if they are alive, as if they’re dancing on the wind, stretching themselves to have a better view at poor Ophelia, tortured beauty slowly vanishing into the water; there Ophelia sings, unaware of her danger, incapable of her own distress and dies as her white gown, soaked in water, can not float anymore, just like Ophelia’s spirit, too weak for life, vanishes from her frail body. The process of painting nature wasn’t an easy job, Millais complained ‘The flies of Surrey are more muscular, and have a still greater propensity for probing human flesh. I am threatened with a notice to appear before a magistrate for trespassing in a field and destroying the hay … and am also in danger of being blown by the wind into the water. Certainly the painting of a picture under such circumstances would be greater punishment to a murderer than hanging.’
The scene of Ophelia’s death is praised as on of the most poetically written death scenes in literature and this painting, I would dare to say, is one of the most beautifully depicted scenes of Ophelia’s death in art. It is surely the first painting that comes to my mind when I think of Ophelia, the other is surely Alexandre Cabanel’s depiction of Ophelia painted a little more than thirty years after. Farewell, Ophelia…
”Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.”
Lately I’ve been interested in Japanese culture and van Gogh’s paintings inspired by Japanese art instantly came to my mind. Still, the Impressionists were influenced by the Japanese culture even before van Gogh which shows how the Japanese art and culture was thrilling and inspirational for western world, that is, western artists.
Vincent van Gogh’s interest in Japanese art flourished when he came in contact with Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints which previously inspired many Impressionists including Monet, Manet and Degas and some Post-Impressionists as well, such as Gauguin. During the centuries Japan was a secluded country but in 1854. Japan re-opened trade with the west and Japanese arts including fans, porcelains and woodcuts became available to the west market, especially France and the Netherlands. In 1868. Japan ended a long period of isolation and started importing products from the west as well such as photography and printing techniques. It was at that time that other Japanese products were imported as well, and all the sudden, gorgeous textiles, bronzes, cloisonne enamels and other arts came to Europe where they soon became popular. Japanese art proved to be a whole new world for the artists, and as early as the 1860s, painters such as James Tissot and James McNeill Whistler were seen painting ladies dressed in lavishing kimonos in vibrant colours that simply evoke the enchanting eastern spirit.
Van Gogh first became interested in Japanese art in 1885. when he used some ukiyo-e print to decorate the walls of his studio in Antwerp. Particular Japanese prints can be seen in the background of his paintings such as Portrait of Pere Tanguy. In 1886. Vincent arrived in Paris and soon embraced Japonism, which was, at that time, a fashion among artists as the Impressionists were greatly interested in ukiyo-e prints. Although van Gogh was initially influenced by great masters in Netherlands, coming to Paris meant that he’d be exposed to Impressionism, Symbolism, Pointillism and Japanese art as well. His circle of friends in Paris included many other Post-Impressionist artists; Camille Pissaro, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, Emile Bernard, Paul Signac and others.
Japanese artists that particularly interested van Gogh were Hiroshige and Hokusai, both for the subject matter and the flat style of colour. He loved the vibrant colours, the distinctive cropping of their composition, bold and assertive outlines, absent or unusual perspective and flat colour application. He wrote in a letter to his brother in 1888. ‘‘About staying in the south, even if it’s more expensive — Look, we love Japanese painting, we’ve experienced its influence — all the Impressionists have that in common — [so why not go to Japan], in other words, to what is the equivalent of Japan, the south? So I believe that the future of the new art still lies in the south after all.” adding ”All my work is based to some extent on Japanese art…” Van Gogh studied Japanese ukiyo-e print in detail, making the copies of two of the Hiroshige prints. He also admired not only the art, but Japanese culture and natural and simple approach to life and things around them. What a beautiful, poetic thing he said “Just think of that; isn’t it almost a new religion that these Japanese teach us, who are so simple and live in nature as if they themselves were flowers?” Adding how studying Japanese art makes him cheerful and happier person “And we wouldn’t be able to study Japanese art, it seems to me, without becoming much happier and more cheerful, and it makes us return to nature, despite our education and our work in a world of convention.”
On the left: Sudden Shower over Shin-Ōhashi bridge and Atake (1857) by Hiroshige, On the right: The Bridge in the Rain (after Hiroshige) (1887) by van Gogh