Thursday, 31 May 2007


As a romantic form of transport the bus occupies a lowly position. It was always a struggle for advertisers to attach a little glamour to the humble bus and despite heroic efforts on the part of Greyhound bus promoters it remained the last resort of the frugal traveller. The romance of the rail is not easily transferred to the road. Today’s images come from my scrapbook pages (of which, more later) and are tributes to the stamina of American advertisers who never ceased in their attempts to persuade the better off to abandon their cars, tear up their plane tickets and surrender to the air-conditioned comfort of the Scenicruiser or Thru-Liner. For sheer optimism, there are few slogans to rival “If we were rolling in wealth we’d still travel Greyhound!”

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Itinéraire Tripolis Ghadamès

This curious book was published in French by Mondadori in 1939 to promote the attractions of a road trip from Tripoli to Ghadamès through the Libyan desert. The illustrations are uncredited and possess a flair for topographic watercolour combined with an Art Deco sensibility. Not all the images are equally successful but some of the best have been selected here. The narrative is conventional but the mood is dream-like and nowhere more than the scene in a hotel bedroom where a pair of fashionably dressed female guests coexist in an eerie atmosphere of psychological isolation.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Postcard of the Day No. 2

A common feature of the greatest vintage postcards is a powerful sense of frozen space and time. In this example spatial extremes lift our eyes to the sky following the trajectory of the streetcar while the tunnel entrance offers an aperture to fathomless depths.

It’s almost 99 years since Auntie Blanche paid a visit to Los Angeles and wrote this postcard. For 7 years the Angel’s Flight funicular railway had connected Hill and Olive Streets in the Bunker Hill district of the city and would continue to do so until 1969. On closure, the infrastructure was dismantled and stored until 1996 when it was reassembled and resumed operation in a new location as a visitor attraction. Following a fatal accident in 2001 the railway closed indefinitely.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Is this the work of Edward Bawden?

I’m a great admirer of the art of Edward Bawden and over the years a few items of Bawden ephemera have come my way. This example is not present in the only list I have access to (Edward Bawden by Douglas Percy Bliss). I can’t see the EB signature anywhere. It has a soft card cover with a shiny laminate finish characteristic of the late 50’s or early 60’s. If it is not by Bawden, it’s a brilliant pastiche. So, can anyone help? Is there a more comprehensive list of Bawden ephemera than the Bliss?

2021 update: Perhaps this answers the question.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

In the footsteps of Georges Seurat

About a month ago I was able to visit two places which are associated with Seurat. The southern extremity of the Ile de la Grande Jatte is visible from the Pont de Neuilly and access to the island is via the footbridge from the Bd. Général Leclerc. Apart from some sport and leisure facilities the island is completely developed. There is nothing to be seen of the riverside scene which Seurat recorded in his masterpiece. The guide books had forewarned me but it still felt right to walk the island. Robert L Herbert’s great book on this painting reproduces a photograph from 1935 of Charles Laughton standing in front of it. I would love to make a link between it and the film which Laughton directed 20 years later (The Night of the Hunter) but apart from the slender coincidence that a river plays a major part in the movie, I’m afraid I can’t.

In Port-en-Bessin the local authority has had the bright idea of placing a weather proof image of Seurat’s painting on a metal easel bolted to the cliff path close to where the original was painted in the summer of 1888. Visitors can make a comparison between Seurat’s vision and today’s reality. If you have the good fortune to live near the Minneapolis Institute of Arts you can see this painting for free. Otherwise click here. The day was heavily overcast but the photograph gives some impression of how things look today in Port-en-Bessin.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Postcard of the Day

La Grande Roue was constructed in 1900 for the Exposition universelle and was a long established feature of the Parisian skyline in 1914 when our English visitor purchased this card. This was no more than 2 years after Robert Delaunay had included La Grande Roue in his painting, “Les Trois Fenêtres, la tour et la roue” (Museum of Modern Art, New York, click here to see it). Delaunay concluded his Window series of paintings in 1914.

At the time Henry was writing to Katie the First World War was only 5 weeks away so it is comforting to know that he was having such a relaxing time. Henry gave his address as 19 Rue St Severin. A few years previously, in 1909-10, Delaunay produced a series of paintings of the interior of the church of Saint-Séverin. When the Saint-Séverin paintings were exhibited they attracted the admiration of both Apollinaire and Kandinsky and formed the foundation of Delaunay’s artistic reputation.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Living in Metro-land

The appeal of les banlieues endures to the present. The likes of Iain Sinclair are still mounting expeditions into the urban fringes equipped with an elaborate matrix of historical context. For my part, the towpath of the Grand Union Canal between Watford and Rickmansworth opened my eyes to the strange fascination of such places. This watery thread linked school and home via a sequence of bleak and charmless industrial plants marooned in a decaying and neglected rural environment bisected by pylons, railways and roads. Dickinson’s Paper Mill and the London Transport spoil tip were memorable landmarks along the canal bank. Green Belt legislation protected this land from further development but much of the surviving countryside had already lost the qualities which made it worth cherishing.

This, of course, is the hinterland of Metro-land, more celebrated for its verdant suburban ambience than its intellectual vitality. A linear warehouse for the overnight storage of captains of industry, eagle-eyed actuaries, insurance moguls and masters of the balance sheet. So when Julian Barnes published a novel of that name in 1980 we culturally aware, former Metro-landers looked for evidence that our adolescent struggles against the forces of Philistinism had been recognised. Sadly, but no doubt truthfully, Barnes described Metro-land as a breeding ground for cynicism, psychological cruelty and pseudo-intellectual posing. Which put us well and truly in our place.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Le Banlieue

Yesterday I got my copy of The Photobook: A History: v. 1 by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger and there’s treasure to be found on almost every page. What really caught my eye was the inclusion of La Banlieue de Paris, photos by Robert Doisneau, text by Blaise Cendrars. A highly covetable book. Cendrars was an amazingly productive writer who had a flair for collaborating with all the right people and he shared the modernist fascination with les banlieues.

Van Gogh and Signac also had a taste for the marginal territories where the structures of the city subside into the surrounding countryside in a maze of workshops, scrapyards and rubbish dumps populated by scavengers and feral creatures. It’s easy to see how Van Gogh would be attracted but Signac’s paintings suggest a rather more fastidious personality. However, as disclosed in Wendy Baron’s blockbuster book on Sickert, Signac purchased a Camden Town Murder painting from Bernheim-Jeune which would seem to confirm his appetite for le demi-monde. Sickert and Signac, alphabetically close but seldom found in the same sentence. As for “Les fréres Bernheim-Jeune”, they are the subject of a stunning outsize double portrait by Bonnard which illuminates the wall on which it’s displayed in a blaze of colour at the musée d’Orsay. Signac was a great admirer of Bonnard who returned the compliment with a spectacular painting of Signac sailing his yacht.