Tag Archives: Picasso

June 3rd

On this day in 1140 a chap by the name of Peter Abelard was found guilty of heresy.  He probably would have been sentenced to death, but he got past that by heading off to Rome to plead for clemency and dying on the way. Smart move.

Fulbert catches Abelard trying to tit Héloïse up the armsleeve

The name may be ringing a bell with you. If so, yes, you’re right. This is Peter Abelard of Abelard and Héloïse, the couple who had the great love affair. Apparently. I have my doubts about this. Is it really true love when, after popping his lady love’s cherry, the popper goes around bragging about it to his mates? See, I don’t really think so. To me, it’s more the medieval equivalent of pulling in a nightclub, going back to hers, making her sleep in the wet spot and then leaving before she wakes up and, of course, not leaving your phone number.

That said, he didn’t leave her. The continued their illicit relationship, but were found out by Héloïse’s guardian, Fulbert and forced to separate. They did, but were still getting up to their filthy shenanigans in secret. So much so that Héloïse got pregnant. Abelard, ever the gentleman, sent her off to a convent to give birth. Here, again, we can find parallels with modern behaviour. You know how people love to laugh when celebrities give the fruits of their loins unusual names like, Apple or Fifi Trixibelle, or Dweezil or even Moon Unit. These slebs are so far behind the times. Héloïse called her son, Astrolabe after the scientific instrument. Nice.  Anyway, by this time Fulbert the guardian is a bit pissed off, so Abelard suggests they have a secret wedding. Héloïse isn’t too keen, but somehow she gets talked into it. Why secret? Well, it wouldn’t be good for Abelard’s career as king of all the philosophers and the best teacher in all the world, if he were married and anyway, all the sex is having a deleterious effect on that career. Yet again, Héloïse finds herself  carted off to a nunnery and this time Fulbert decides that Abelard is abandoning her, so he decides that he’ll put a stop to the whole thing, which he does by hiring some blokes to attack him in the middle of the night and to, well not to put too fine a point on it, cut his nuts off. That’s right, Abelard was to spent the rest of his life castrated and nutless.

That pretty much put the kibosh on the love affair and Héloïse stayed in the nunnery, eventually becoming prioress, even though she hated being a nun, and Abelard joined a monastery and became a monk. The legend of  their “romance” is held in the letters they then wrote to each other, but frankly, some of those letters just tell the story of Abelard taking advantage of a young woman, being a bit of a dick, getting her pregnant, abandoning her and always putting  his career first. On those grounds an awful lot of women are having great love affairs these days and they should stop being so bloody miserable about being taken for granted and be happy that in  a thousand years time someone will be writing about them and being all “Aw, isn’t it romantic!” or some bitch will blog about them saying “what a shit relationship that was!”

Anyway! None of this was the reason that Old Peter the porker got convicted of heresy, although it does show some of the character

Abelard teaching a class shortly before he parted company with his balls

traits that made him enough of a dick to make powerful enough enemies to get him to a place where they decided to take the fucker down. The thing is, Abelard was a brilliant man (and for the record, Héloïse was a brilliant woman who was far too good for him). He was a genius philosopher and changed the direction of western philosophy. He was also a  sought after teacher and famous throughout the known world. All of this stuff went to his head and he thought that he was King Cock of Christendom. This sort of arrogance is bound to make you a powerful enemy or several and his particular nemesis was Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard was one of those dead holy blokes who gets all “you can’t say that” if people get a bit rational and all about the human reason. When Abelard used this method to discuss the Trinity, Bernard was not a happy chappy. What followed was basically twenty years of recriminations, Abelard being all “I know you are but what am I?” until finally, Bernard got his wish and a Council of Bishops decided that Bernard was right, Abelard was a heretic and whatever. Personally, I think that the bishops had just had enough of two old men going at it over and over and over again, so they just decided to go along with Bernard, who was the one giving them the most earache. Historic decisions have been reached for far more flimsy reasons.

And then, dear readers, Abelard ended up in Cluny  and died. Apparently his dying words were “I don’t know”. What is less well publicised is that they were the answer to the question “If you had to shag one of them or die, would you do Hale or Pace?”

Today was the birthday of  Tony Curtis, but do you know what? I think he was an utter prick, so that is all we will say about Mr so-called Curtis today.

Josephine in the 1920s

Instead, I’d like to talk about another birthday person: Josephine Baker. Ms Baker was, to put it succinctly, an amazing woman. She grew up dirt poor, she worked as a servant for a while, but she was abused by the women she worked for and left to live on the streets when she was still a child. She made money by dancing on street corners and that’s how she was discovered. She went on to be the best paid chorus girl in Vaudeville and then a company she was with toured Europe starting with France. She pulled out of her US contract, went to work at the Folies Bergères and became one of the biggest stars in the world.

Starting out as a dancer who sang a little, she became a singer with a big and powerful voice. She was the muse to many artists at the time including Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Picasso and Christian Dior. She made three movies, becoming the first ever black leading lady and she was adored.

The adoration grew during the war. She was such a big star that even the Nazis were loath to treat her badly. She, however, hated them and worked for the resistance, helped refugees and was an all round top woman. For her efforts she won the Croix de Guerre, the Rosette de la résistance and was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by Charles de Gaulle.  Unable to have children, she adopted her rainbow tribe, twelve children of differing nationalities and ethnicities. She continued to perform and although no longer an American citizen she became active with the NAACP and the Civil Rights Movement in the US. She spoke at the March on Washington in 1963 and in 1968,

Josephine with 9 of her 12 adopted children

when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated, his widow asked her to take over leadership of the movement. Josephine eventually turned the offer down because her children were too young and still needed her.

After one final performance, which received rave reviews, Josephine suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and died peacefully a few days later. She left behind a fine legacy. Her talent will long be remembered, but more importantly, her humanitarian work, her generosity, her fearlessness and the fact that she made it on her own in a time when that was hard for any woman, let alone a dirt poor black woman. She was a damn fine woman and it’s a shame that she had to travel to another country for this to be appreciated. But she did, it was and there ain’t many of us can say that.

Happy birthday, Josephine.


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April 23rd

On this day in 1961, so fifty years ago today, Carnegie Hall saw a comeback performance so magnificent that it immediately became the stuff of legend. The legend still endures. The performer in question was Judy Garland and in order to understand just what she pulled off that night, you need to know a little bit about what was going on just prior to the performance of a lifetime.

The poster for the Carnegie Hall event

Even if you know nothing else about Judy Garland, chances are you do know that she had an incredible voice and was a woman whose life was a roller coaster of drug and alcohol problems heading toward tragedy. The period preceding this appearance was no exception. Less than a year and a half previously, in December 1959, Judy was lying in the New York Doctors Hospital. When healthy she weighed about 100lb (Judy was a tiny wee thing of 4’11”), now she was 180lb, swollen with fluid, her liver compromised, her body shutting down. Doctors were sure she was not going to make it. But, somehow, after having 20 quarts of fluid drained from her body, she pulled through, but was told that she could never work again. Hmm.

She did rest for the first half of 1960, she lived in London, away from Hollywood and most temptations, but as the year wore on she became enthused by the idea of singing again. Her then husband, Sid Luft, had been the (mis)guiding force behind her career, but decided he didn’t want to do it any longer; she needed an agent. Enter Freddie Fields, a rising star in the world of agents and one in search of a superstar. He and Judy were a match made in heaven. Fields and his partner David Begleman put together a grand plan for Garland. This was something she’d never had before, her career had been something that happened or didn’t happen according to circumstances out of her control; Fields and Begleman knew that for her to be at her best, she had to feel that she had some control. The first part of the plan was to re-establish her as a credible and reliable artist, which meant touring, showing up on time, giving good concert. She did this and was, for the most part, pretty sober if a little plumper than audiences remembered her. She was giving great concert and the buzz around her was growing.

However, it’s important to remember that prior to this tour, Judy Garland’s career was as dead as she had nearly been in the New York hospital. Very few cared, very few professionals were prepared to put up with her; she was trouble with a capital T. She still had a record label (Capitol), but they were about through with her and it took Freddie Fields basically begging Alan Livingstone (label head) for him to finally relent and agree to a recording of the Carnegie Hall concert.

Enough of the lead-up. Here’s what happened on the night. Curtain up was at 8.30pm, but the crowds started gathering long before then. Many of them were the gay men who loved her then and love her now, but the crowd was also full of a large number of the great and good that night: Richard Burton, Mike Nichols, Roddy McDowell, Ethel Merman, Benny Goodman, Rock Hudson, Harold Arlen and Leonard Bernstein to name but a few. Judy kept the crowd waiting, it was nearly 9pm before the overture started and later still when she herself appeared on the stage. And then it started. Here are the comments from a few of the people who were there on that night.

Mike Nichols: “Everybody loved Judy Garland and I liked her, but I wasn’t obsessed with her.Then she comes out and she’s like on fire

The fans rush the stage at Carnegie Hall

from the first moment. You just thought, Holy shit! What is this? I don’t remember what she sang when. I just remember that our jaws dropped, because she seemed to be singing the songs for the first time, which of course was her gift anyway. We kept clutching each other and gasping and cheering and yelling and carrying on.”

Donald Smith, a fan: “The audience were like holy rollers – it was like a revival meeting … There was some actress – I cannot think of her name; [maybe] Myrna Loy, maybe Constance Bennett. I was in a box, and I looked down and saw her standing on her seat – I coul see these gorgeous evening slippers – yelling, ‘Go, baby, go!'”

Lorna Luft: “The one thing I remember is that when you’re 8, adults are supposed to act like adults. They are not supposed to jump out of their chairs, screaming, yelling, running towards the stage. They’re supposed to be in control. There they were, all dressed up  in tuxedos, going nuts.”

Other flashes from the night are a glimpse of Leonard Bernstein bouncing up and down in his seat, the stage being stormed, Judy laughing and joking with the audience and singing and singing and singing. Telling the crowd she’d sing everything and they’d stay there all night.  When the show finally finished over a thousand fans waited outside for her, none of them wanting the night to end. It was a triumph, but it was more than that. It was a celebration of song and love and joy.  The live album went straight to no.1 and stayed there for 13 weeks; it has never been out of print since. Judy was back with a night that was called, just slightly hyperbolically, “probably the greatest evening in show business history.” Of course she wasn’t back for good. That would be almost too much to ask for, but after years of getting lost and going nowhere, she came back on that night and reminded them of who she was and why they loved her. No one who was there on that night will ever forget the sweet, delicious thrill of it all.

Here’s a small taster of what carried the whole audience away:

Today was the birthday of the remarkable Lee Miller.

A Man Ray portrait of Lee from 1930

Lee (born Elizabeth) was a stunningly beautiful woman who moved outside of her beauty to demonstrate that she was also an incredible talent. She began modelling in the 1920s after she was discovered by Condé Nast himself (he saved her from being run over). For a couple of years she was in high demand by designers, manufacturers and the best photographers as well. They didn’t have super models in the 1920s, but if they had, there would only have been one: Lee.

In 1929, at the age of 22, she threw it all in and moved to Paris with the intention of becoming an apprentice to Man Ray. He wasn’t at all keen at first, but eventually she became his assistant, his lover and his muse. During her time with him she became involved with the surrealist movement, developed her own style and was acknowledged as a photographer in her own right.  She left Paris in 1932 and returned to New York where she set up her own studio. For the next seven years, before the outbreak of WWII, Miller lived in NY, married and moved to Cairo, separated and moved to London with her lover and future husband Ronald Penrose. At the outbreak of the war, her friends and family begged her to return to the US, but Lee being Lee not only refused she signed up to be Vogue’s official war photographer.

She photographed the Blitz and then in 1942 she was teamed with David E Scherman, a Life magazine photographer. They were in France just after D-Day, at the liberation of Buchenwald and Dachau and the battle for Alsace, among many other locations and events. Lee saw the war in all its horror and most of that horror never really left her. After the war she drank heavily and suffered from clinical depression. Clearly, she was suffering from PTSD, but that wasn’t recognised at the time, so she just had to get through it or not. She continued to take photos for Vogue for about two years, but going back to fashion and celebrities after the war

A Buchenwald guard - one of Lee's war photographs

didn’t feel right and she soon stopped.  Although she did take photos in the second part of her life, she was never again the photographer she had been and instead turned her talents to cooking.

It was her son who conserved her photography. Miller herself, during her lifetime, did little to promote her own work. Since her death in 1977, Tony, her son, has written a biography of her and devoted himself to creating an archive of her work and ensuring that everyone knows who Lee Miller was.

Who was she? A beautiful woman, a talented woman, a brave woman, a loving mother, a fine cook. I also think she was a woman who could have achieved more – not that her achievements are small – if she’d had the right treatment after the war. All those decades of photographs that never were is our loss. Happy birthday Lee Miller, I wish I were half the woman you were.

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February 17th

On this day in 1913 there was something of a little art exhibition in New York; The Armory Show of 1913. You may wonder what’s so special about an art exhibition, given that they go on all the time, but  this one was a bit different. It was the first showing of modern art in America and introduced the public to the likes of Picasso, Matisse,  Braque, Dufy, Epstein, Kandinsky and Duchamp. In all there were well over a thousand paintings, sculptures and decorative works by over three hundred European and American artists. Four thousand people attended the opening night of the show and the immediate impact was rather full on. It’s hard to draw an accurate analogy, but if one were to imagine how a maiden aunt might react to the carnal propositions of a priapic, flatulent man, one would be close to understanding the initial opinion of the show.

Theodore Roosevelt, most famous for shooting bears in the face, declared “This is not art!” and demanded that the Armory replace everything with pictures of kittens and lovely ladies with their boobies out. Thankfully, he was ignored and pointed in the direction of Robert Henri’s Figure in Motion which kept him out of everyone’s hair for quite some time. The press went into a collective conniption fit about the whole thing and there were headlines about “Anarchy!” ,”Immorality!”, “Insanity!”, and the first recorded

Roosevelt laughs off rumours that he was caught in a compromising position in front of a "tittie" painting

instance of someone saying “My child could do better than that!” Marcel Duchamp attracted most of the opprobrium for his Nude Descending a Staircase. One critic declared it “an explosion in a shingle factory”, which everyone agreed was a really shit analogy, mostly because they were thinking of the disease shingles and wondering why on earth there would be a factory for making diseases. It didn’t stop with the press. Art students in Chicago burnt an effigy of Matisse because they didn’t like the way he’d drawn the hands on his Blue Nude.

The fulminations and furore in 1913 have been repeated at regular intervals ever since. New ideas in art are shown to the public, everyone says it’s shit, then they get used to it and a while later it’s accepted and the next thing is shit. Of course the exception to this rule is the work of the artist Chris Ofili, who got past the whole thing of being declared shit, by doing a lot of paintings using the medium of shit (don’t worry, he dries it out first, so they mostly don’t smell of poo). What was unique about this show, was it was America’s first real exposure to the modernist movements happening in Europe. Cubism, Futurism, Fauvism et al, may have been a bit on the shocking side, but it did change the course of American art, which would eventually become a centre of new movements later in the century. It was, therefore, the most important art exhibition in the US, ever!

Today is the birthday of pointless waste of skin and vapid despoiler of everything she comes into contact with, Paris Hilton. Where does one start? Paris is a model, an actress, an author, a singer, a fashion designer, a media personality and an ex-con. It would be unfair to assume that all of her achievements have been won on the back of her name, as most observers are happy to

A pointless bint

believe that even if she hadn’t been a Hilton, she’d probably have managed to end up in jail.

She is one of the great conundrums of the 21st century. Why is it that some people are constantly photographed and featured in the press in the face of deep antipathy from all and sundry. Paris manages to carry off the role of walking conundrum with great aplomb and in the sort of hideous clothing that proves that money and taste are not always happy bedfellows. She has been on this earth for thirty years and the only worthwhile thing she has done in that time is … no, sorry, there is nothing.

Still, it would be unkind to not send her joyful birthday wishes as she faces a future of increasing pointlessness, worthlessness and (one can but hope) the sort of batshit mental cosmetic surgery that will one day have her resembling the hind parts of an Aardvark. So, in the spirit of generosity, we wish her all the happiness a classy bird such as she, deserves. Roll on the aardvark’s arse.

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