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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Politics

Friday January 12 2018

I only just noticed it, but I do like this blog posting title from October 2016, from Archbishop Cranmer:

Brexit, pursued by a Blair

Blair wants another referendum, with an opposite result.  The Archbishop doesn’t.  But then, the Archbishop wants Brexit and Blair doesn’t.

The Archibishop quotes Blair:

The issue is not whether we ignore the will of the people; but whether, as information becomes available, and facts take the place of claims, the ‘will’ of the people shifts.

But what if, after Blair then gets the result he wants, and the matter is then, for him, settled once and for ever, yet more facts become available, replacing Blair’s claims, and that ‘will’ shifts again? Back again to Brexit being the good move?  What if the EU then goes to hell and takes the UK with it, and the voters then want out, again?  Then what?  Then: the matter is settled, time to move on and stop grumbling.  So, why is it not time for Blair to move on and stop grumbling, now?  It comes down to the Divine Right of Blair.  Is that a thing?  I say: not.

Via Dan Hannan.

For those who don’t know their Shakespeare: the original stage direction.  It’s famous.  You should know this.  Now you do.

Thursday December 28 2017

For years now, I’ve wanted nail down a particularly choice Terry Pratchett quote, concerning the limits of the idea of equality, which is that for there to be equality, someone has or some people have to insist upon it, and if that insistence is to count for anything, then there goes your equality.  My problem was that I didn’t have the name of the character that the quote was about.

But today, I described the quote as best I could to my friend Adriana, and she told me at once that the name of the lady in question was Granny Weatherwax.  And once I had the name, the rest was easy.

The quote I was looking for is the second from the bottom of these Quotes About Granny Weatherwax:

“Mistress Weatherwax is the head witch, then, is she?’

‘Oh no!’ said Miss Level, looking shocked. ‘Witches are all equal. We don’t have things like head witches. That’s quite against the spirit of witchcraft.’

‘Oh, I see,’ said Tiffany.

‘Besides,’ Miss Level added, ‘Mistress Weatherwax would never allow that sort of thing.”

That is to be found in A Hat Full of Sky.

Wednesday December 27 2017

Last night, egged on by some Southern Comfort and Coke, I sneaked a posting onto Samizdata, at a very quiet time of the year, and after a long break from doing anything there.  I wonder how often, in human history, far more portentous events than that have been set in motion by the power of alcohol to turn “maybe later” into “what the hell I’ll do it now”.

The posting started with a photo of five hands holding five plastic glasses of something alcoholic.  Here is another photo of the same scene, at the top of Primrose Hill, this time with one of the participants also doing a photo:

image

And then I showed a photo of Perry de Havilland, taken on Christmas Eve at his home.  Here is another such photo, rather less exuberant:

image

And I ended with a quote garnered from Deidre McCloskey’s The Bourgeois Virtues.  Page 61 of my paperback edition features five such quotes.  I put one of these, from Benjamin Constant (and added that link to that piece about him) in the Samizdata posting.  Here is another, from Voltaire, dated 1733:

I don’t know which is the more useful to the state, a well-powdered lord who knows precisely when the king gets up in the morning ... or a great merchant who enriches his country, sends orders from his office to Surat or to Cairo, and contributes to the well-being of the world.

Neither do I know “which is more useful to the state”.  But I know which one isn’t contributing to the well-being of the world and which one is.  I think Voltaire rather gives his game away there.

Wednesday December 20 2017

Personally I thought that the recorded chat that Patrick Crozier and I did about World War 1 was better, because Patrick is an expert on that event and its times, its causes and its consequences.

Here, for whatever it may be worth, is the rather more rambling and disjointed conversation that we had more recently on the subject of television: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, and Part VII.  But, as of now, it’s a lot simpler to crank up the entire site and scroll up and down.

I’m afraid I did well over half of the talking, so cannot be objective about whether all or any of this is worth your attention.  I hope Patrick is right about the worthwhileness of this conversational effort, and that if you do listen, you enjoy.

Sunday December 17 2017

This Is Why I’m Broke has recently featured a couple of new travelling things to stand on.  There was the Exodeck Off-Road Skateboard:

image

And there were these Chariot Skates:

image

I realise that the Exodeck Off-Road Skateboard supposedly doesn’t need any sort of artificial surface to travel on.  But, I bet a flat surface is easier.  And of course a flat surface is very necessary indeed for the Chariot Skates.

And, it just so happens, there is an absolute mania for new flat surfaces sweeping across the world, in the guise of dedicated cycle tracks and newly expanded pedestrian areas.  The war against the automobile continues apace, and the result will be not mere walking or cycling, but lots of new kinds of mobility, like the two pictured above.

Whenever I encounter devices of this sort in London, which I do more and more often, I try to photo them.  Not always very successfully, to put it mildly.  Often they’re gone before I’ve even put down my shopping, but sometimes: not.  Sadly, a quick search for such a photo yielded nothing, but next time I bump into one in my archives, I’ll do another posting on this subject.

Tuesday December 05 2017

Earlier this evening at the Two Chairmen, Westminsters, Adriana Lucas, who grew up in the old Czechoslovakia as was, gave a most eloquent talk about this experience.  She didn’t bang on at length about the usual horrors – prison camps, executions, purges, and so on – although of course these were mentioned.  Rather did she focus on the minutiae of life for the rather less unlucky victims of communism, the ones who got to stay alive.  People adjusted, basically.  Or if, like Adriana’s family, they were dissidents, they learned to be extremely distrustful of almost everyone but their closest and most trusted loved ones.  Being a dissident wasn’t about overthrowing the regime; it was merely about staying sane.

Here are four photos, that I picked out from the dozen or more that I took, and that I just sent to meetings organiser Simon Gibbs, who is to be seen in the first one, introducing Adriana.  The photos I sent to Simon were rectangles, but I actually prefer these square cropped versions.

imageimageimage
imageimageimage

As you can see, this excellent talk was videoed.  Videos are far harder to edit than merely to … video.  So you may have to wait a bit before seeing this one.  But, for those who did not attend this talk and for many who did, it will be worth the wait.

Monday December 04 2017

This article (which is based on and which links to this article) has been an open window on my computer for over a month now, because it struck me as being so very interesting.

These reports concern recent research into the impact upon the world of online dating.  Mostly good impacts.  Two impacts in particular are pointed to.

First, online dating seems to facilitate more interracial relationships and interracial marriages.  There is definitely a correlation between online dating and interracial relationships.  This research strongly suggests that the link is causal.  Online dating gets people past racial barriers.

Second, the relationships it facilitates tend to last longer and be more solid.

If I believe both of the above effects to be not only very important, but also to be true, this is because both effects make so much sense to me.

The first effect concerns taste in mere appearances.  Suppose you inhabit a world where a relationship between you and someone ethnically different is somewhat taboo, the chances are you won’t be sufficiently acquainted with many fanciable people of a different ethnic group to be able to do anything about it.  But if a dating app asks, bluntly: Do you like the look of this person, or of this person, or of this person? - then your answers will crash right through such racial boundaries, provided only that you personally would like them to.  Relationships across racial boundaries become a simple matter of individual taste.  Your “friends” can just stay right out of it.

But then, once strong relationships across racial boundaries stop being the stuff of movies, because they are so rare, and become quite common, all those “friends” are just going to have to live with it, or stop being your friends.  Chances are, they’ll be fine with it.

I do not believe it to be coincidence that the one marriage in my circle of friends which I know for certain to have started on the internet is also one that crosses what would, when I was a lot younger, have been a racial barrier.

The second effect bears strongly on the kinds of fundamentals that can ruin a marriage in the longer run, and also get you through a racial barrier in the short run.  These fundamentals are, well: fundamentals.  Fundamentals like beliefs about what life is about and for, what marriage means and how sex should and should not be done, what is right and wrong politically or ideologically or spiritually, and so on.  These are the kinds of things that also, along with superficial racial preferences, get declared that little bit earlier, when you do computer dating, rather than turning around to bite you, two years into that relationship with a more local bod who merely looked great and had a nice sounding voice and wore nice clothes.  And you get a bigger choice, which enables you to pick dating partners with more similar beliefs about those fundamentals.  Even if such fundamentals aren’t stated in full up front, they are often at least referred to early on, and form the basis of early conversations, rather than just erupting later, in the heat of some perhaps seemingly trivial drama.

That interracial marriage I referred to above also anecdotally confirms everything in the above paragraph, about those fundamentals.  How they both looked to each other was a nice bonus, but it was fundamentals that really brought them together for the long run.

The one big negative I can see happening here is that if all of the above is right, then the tendency will be reinforced for society to divide up into groups who all agree with each other about fundamentals. The much discussed “bubble” effect of the internet will be greatly reinforced.  Regular touch with people who hold to other beliefs will become rather rarer, because marriages used to be more common across such fundamental belief boundaries but are now becoming less so.  And that could be a big negative in a lot of ways.

A way to sum up what is happening here is that society is continuing to be tribal, but that the tribes will now be based more on beliefs and less on biological and genetic similarities and connections.

I should say that I have not myself ever done computer dating.  I would welcome comments on the above from people who have.

I note with a small spasm of pleasure that one of the researchers who did the research alluded to, Josue Ortega, is based at Essex University, of which I am a graduate and of which I have fond memories.

Friday December 01 2017

Last Saturday, a friend invited me to share some gin at The Star.  We also each had a pie, with red wine in it.  Delicious.

The Star is quite near to the junction of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, and has a great slab of Crossrail turmoil right slap against it, which has turned the formerly busy Great Chappell Street into a poky little footway, and has for a year or three now destroyed all possibility of passing trade to The Star.  So, The Star has switched to invites and events.  It hasn’t now even got a sign on over its front door.  Where there once was and still ought to be a sign, there is, for the time being anyway, only blank blackness:

image

But inside, things liven up considerably, in particular with an enjoyably ironic display of antique signage:

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This next one, also visible above in the general display, being a particular collector’s item, which explains why I waited until today (Friday is Cats and Other Creatures Day here at BMdotcom) before displaying it here:

image

That wouldn’t be allowed now, any more than all the tobacco adverts would be.

imageAnd since this is a Cats and Other Creatures Day, there on the right is an advert for another product from the same enterprise.  If the product had been made of budgies and canaries, I’m sure the pussies would have loved it.

We got there on the dot at 1pm, opening time, and were the first there, hence those empty tables to be seen above.  But the place was soon buzzing with happy gin drinkers.

An earlier posting, featuring a photo I took just before I got to The Star, was also naughty, in a different way.  It’s interesting what naughtiness is now and is not now allowed.

Monday November 27 2017

imageWhen I was a teenager, I went on a bike to trip to Iceland (with boated interludes from Newcastle to Reykjavik and back).  The most spectacular thing I saw on the entire trip was on day one: the towers of Croydon.  I will never forgot the amazement of seeing this mini-Manhattan suddenly come into view, over the brow of whatever dreary south London road I was toiling along.  Sadly, digital photography did not then exist. (Although, the fights there would have been in youth hostels over the replenishing of camera batteries would surely have got very ugly.) A big clutch of Croydon’s local politicians were sent to jail soon after then, presumably for auctioning off planning permission for these then highly unusual Big Things.

So anyway, it’s good to see that Croydon is still building Big Things.  Read the comments on this report (complete with fake photos such as the one to the right of this) and you will clearly see that we have here the makings of a future front-runner for the Carbuncle Cup circa 2020.  Some commenters assert this explicitly.  Go Croydon!

Sunday November 19 2017

I once was once briefly acquainted with a quite close relative of Robert Mugabe, and that person was truly remarkable in being utterly incapable of understanding how anyone could possibly disagree with the truth that he saw so very clearly.  This person also looked exactly - spookily - like Robert Mugabe. (It was asking about this resemblance that got me the information that he was a close relative of Mugabe.) I have never known a more deeply stubborn person, ever.  But it was not a stubbornness made merely of the desire or the determination not to change his mind.  No.  He was simply unable to change his mind.  The idea of him every having been wrong, about anything, was simply impossible for him to grasp.

If Robert Mugabe is anything like this relative of his, and everything I know about Robert Mugabe tells me that Mugabe is, in this respect, exactly like him, Mugabe may find himself sacked, imprisoned, or even executed, but he will never resign, or ever change his mind about the wisdom of anything he ever said or did.  That he has not yet resigned has, according to the Guardian headline linked to there, has “stunned” Zimbabwe.  I was not stunned.

They’ll have to force him out, like King Richard II was forced out by King Henry IV.  But if Mugabe is forced out, there will be no scenes like the closing scenes of Shakespeare’s version of Richard II, where the deposed Richard comes to see the world and its ways differently, and to understand things more deeply.  Simply, Mugabe is right, has always been right and will always be right, and if everyone else disagrees with him, it can only be that everyone else is, was, and will be, hopelesslyl wrong.  Mugabe is literally incapable of understanding matters in any other way.

Mugabe is indeed now a rather confused old man.  But his confusion concerns only how it is possible for so many people to be so completely mistaken.

Thursday November 09 2017

I have started reading Music & Monarchy, by David Starkey and Katie Greening.  What the division of labour is between these two (Starkey is in larger letters thatn Greening on the front cover) I do not know, but it certainly starts very promisingly.  I have already encountered two passages worthy of prolonged recycling here, the one that starts the book (see below), and the bit that follows, about England’s profound medieval musicality.

So, to begin where Starkey and Greening begin, here is how the introduction of this book launches itself (pages 1-2):

Music or Words? Poetry and Drama? Or Anthems, Opera and Oratorio? Which, to personalise and particularise, is the more important in British history and to the British monarchy: the anniversary of Shakespeare or the centenary of Handel? The question almost seems absurd. Nowadays there is no doubt that Shakespeare wins every time. Shakespeare’s cycle of history plays, famously described by another maker of history, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, as ‘the only history I ever read’, still shapes the popular understanding of English history and its murderous dynastic rivalries; while in their nobler moments the plays (re-)invent the idea of England herself before going on to adumbrate a larger, mistier vision of Britain:

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this sea of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-Paradise ...
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea ...
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings ...
This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land.

Who could resist that? George III (1760-1820) for one, who confided to Fanny Burney: ‘Was there ever such stuff as a great part of Shakespeare? Only one must not say so!’ The eighteenth century more or less agreed with its longest reigning king. The bicentenary of Shakespeare, celebrated five years late in 1769, was a provincial pageant, which, despite the best efforts of the actor-manager David Garrick, made little impact outside the Bard’s birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon and, thanks to torrential rain, was literally a washout even there. On the other hand, the centenary of Handel’s birth (celebrated a year early by mistake in 1784) was a grand national event the like of which had never been seen before: not for the greatest general, politician or king, let alone for a mere musician.  Fashionable London fought (and queued) for tickets; Westminster Abbey was crammed and ladies were instructed not to wear excessive hoops in their dresses while hats were absolutely forbidden. Even then, demand was unsatisfied and two of the events had to be rerun.

Wednesday October 11 2017

So far, I have featured here three excerpts from from Ross King’s book about nineteenth century Frency art, The Judgement of Paris, about Ernest Meissonier, the Paris Salon, and Louis Napoleon.  In this excerpt (pp. 31-35), Ross King describes French government Art supremo, the Compte de Nieuwerkerke, who was in charge of the Paris Salon, among many other enterprises.  I found the picture, by Ingres, of Niewerkerke, the picture that King also places in his text, here.

King describes how the artists who were on the receiving end of Nieuwekerke’s policies reacted.  Rather surprisingly, one of them was Meissonier.  They were not happy:

Under the ancien régime, the fine arts had been the business of cardinals and kings. Since the French Revolution, the politicians had taken charge. Under Napoleon Ill, a special section of the Ministry of State known as the Ministry of the Imperial House and the Fine Arts had been given jurisdiction over artistic matters. The tasks of training young artists, organising exhibitions, commissioning works for churches and other public buildings-all became the responsibility of this Ministry, which was headquartered in the Louvre. Not the least among its duties was the administration of the Salon. To that end, each Salon year, usually in January, the Ministry published what was known as the règlement, an official set of rules and regulations stipulating the conditions under which artists submitted their works to the Salon’s jury, the composition of which was detailed in the document. The artists were informed, for example, by what date they needed to send their paintings or sculptures to the Palais des Champs-Élysées for judging, how many works they could enter into the competition, and how the Selection Committee - composed of separate juries for the different visual arts - would be formed.

The author of this important document, for the previous fourteen years, had been a suave but ruthless aristocrat named Alfred-Émilien O’Hara, the Compte de Nieuwerkerke. Occupying majestic apartments in the Louvre, where he entertained lavishly amid his collection of antique armour and Italian art, Nieuwerkerke cut an impressive dash through both the Parisian art world andthe Imperial court. Despite his Irish surname, he was a Continental blueblood who could claim descent from both the House of Orange in Holland and the House of Bourbon in France. Born in Paris in 1811, the young Émilien had begun his career in the military, training as an officer at the cavalry school in Saumur; but a six-month visit to Italy in 1834 convinced him to try his hand at sculpture. He began studying under Carlo Marochetti - an Italian who had worked on the Arc de Triomphe - and regularly exhibiting at the Salon, to no particular acclaim, works such as his bronze sculptures of Réné Descartes and Napoleon I. An urbane séducteur with a thick mane of hair, a well-groomed beard and, according to one admirer, eyes of “silky blue,” Nieuwerkerke really made his reputation when he took as his mistress Princess Mathilde, the niece of Napoleon Bonaparte and the cousin of the Emperor Napoleon III.

imageFollowing vigorous promotion by Princess Mathilde, who was the daughter of one of Napoleon’s younger brothers, Nieuwerkerke had been appointed Directeur-Général des Musées in 1849. In this capacity he was given charge of a number of museums, including the Louvre and the Luxembourg, the latter of which had been founded in 1818 in order to exhibit works by living artists. Most important from the point of view of painters and sculptors, Nieuwerkerke oversaw the Salon. He had therefore become by far the most powerful figure in the French art world.

Nieuwerkerke concerned himself, naturally enough, with upholding what he regarded as the highest artistic and moral standards. He wanted both to encourage history painting and to discourage Realism, the new movement, led by Courbet, whose followers had abandoned noble and elevated subjects in order to depict gritty scenes featuring peasants and prostitutes. “This is the painting of democrats,” sniffed the debonair Nieuwerkerke, “of men who don’t change their underwear.” In order to achieve his lofty aims for French art, he had already forced through a number of reforms, such as taking the decision in 1855 that the Salon should instead be held only biennially in order to give artists more time to complete and display paintings of the highest merit. Then in 1857 he decreed that the painting jury should no longer be made up, as previously, by painters elected by their peers. Instead, the only men eligible to serve would be members of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, the self-perpetuating élite of forty “immortals” whose duty it was to guide and protect French art. With these wise and venerable men acting as gatekeepers, Nieuwerkerke believed, only works of the most compelling aesthetic and moral standards would be permitted into the artistic sanctum sanctorum that was the Paris Salon.

Then in 1863 Nieuwerkerke introduced yet another reform. Whereas previously artists had been allowed to submit an unlimited number of works to the jury, the latest regulations stated that they could submit no more than three. Nieuwerkerke’s reasoning was that artists had been sending as many as eight or ten rather inferior works, in the hope of having at least one or two accepted, instead of concentrating their efforts on a true masterpiece - a large and heroic history painting, for instance - that would take its honoured place in the pantheon of French art.

Nieuwerkerke’s previous reforms had not been popular with large numbers of artists. The fact that the Salon was held only every two years meant that an artist whose offerings were rejected from one particular Salon would face, in effect, a four-year exile from the Palais des Champs-Élysées. Furthermore, many artists were displeased by the complete domination of the juries by members of the Académie, most of whom had made their reputations in the dim and distant past, usually with grand history paintings. The majority of them were only too happy to enforce Nieuwerkerke’s ideals and exclude from show “the painting of democrats.” Indeed, these judges had rejected so many artists from the 1859 Salon - Édouard Manet among them - that Nieuwerkerke’s soirées in his Louvre apartments were interrupted by mobs of painters chanting protests beneath his windows.

Not surprisingly, a large group of artists also objected to Nieuwerkerke’s change to the rules for the 1863 Salon. Ten days after the publication of the regulations, on January 25, a letter with a signed petition was sent to the Minister of State, the Comte de Walewski, who was Nieuwerkerke’s superior as well as an illegitimate son of Napoleon Bonaparte. The letter complained that the new proviso was prejudicial to the fortunes of French artists. It argued that the Salon was intended to operate as a kind of shop window for collectors, and so exhibition in the Palais des Champs-Élysées was absolutely vital to the economic well-being of artists. Nieuwerkerke’s new regulations left them, however, with an even poorer chance of having their wares displayed. “A measure that would result in making it impossible for us to present to the public the fruit of our work,” the petition read, “would go, it seems to us, precisely against the spirit that presided over the creation of the Salon.”

This letter concluded with a hope that the Comte de Walewski would “do the right thing with a complaint which is, for us, of such a high interest.” Six sheets of paper adorned with 182 signatures were attached. Many of the most prominent and successful artists in France had added their names, including both Delacroix and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, bitter professional rivals who usually disagreed on everything. Also signing the petition were a pair of accomplished landscape painters, Camille Corot and Eugene Isabey, the latter of whom had once been court painter to King Louis-Philippe. However, the signature boldly leading the charge, the one scrawled with a thick-nibbed pen at the top of the first page, was that of Ernest Meissonier.

Meissonier and Nieuwerkerke knew one another well. Meissonier had attended the soirées hosted by Princess Mathilde on Sunday evenings at her mansion in the Rue de Courcelles, and he and Nieuwerkerke shared a number of friends, such as Theophile Gautier. In r855, moreover, Nieuwerkerke had been Vice-President of the International Awards Jury when it presented Meissonier with the Grand Medal of Honour at the Universal Exposition in Paris. For these and other reasons, Nieuwerkerke might have expected Meissonier, of all people, to support his latest reform. After all, Meissonier was guaranteed a place at every Salon since he was classified as hors concours ("outside the competition"). This distinction, given only to those who had received three major awards at previous Salons, meant he was not required to submit his work to the jury for inspection. Nor was he guilty of the practice that Nieuwerkerke wished to snuff out - that of dashing off half-finished paintings and hoping that one or two of them might slip past the jury. Meissonier sought, indeed, the same high standards of morality and aesthetic purity as Nieuwerkerke: he regarded mediocre artists, he once said, as “national scourges.”

At issue for all of the petitioners, however, was the right of artists to exhibit their works to the public. And Meissonier ardently believed in this right - or, at any rate, he believed in his right to exhibit his own work in the Palais des Champs-Élysées in whatever quantities he desired. He had shown five paintings in 1861, while the Salons of 1855 and 1857 had each featured nine of his works. Under Nieuwerkerke’s new règlement. he would be allowed to show only three of his works every two years. For an artist possessing Meissonier’s large and enthusiastic following, this new regulation would make for a disappointingly slender offering to his public. He therefore dedicated the full weight and authority of his name to overturning Nieuwerkerke’s new rule. Given the prominent position of his signature, he may well have assisted with the argument and wording of the letter itself.

Whatever his involvement in the composition of the appeal to the Comte de Walewski, Meissonier soon took a much more drastic step than simply signing the petition. He let it be known that should Nieuwerkerke’s new reform not be struck down, he would personally lead a boycott of the 1863 Salon.

Friday October 06 2017

A couple of days ago, I photoed words, and I photoed the top of the Boomerang (although I would recommend scrolling down rather than following these links (a lot quicker (alas))).  But in among photoing all that, I also I photoed this ambiguous beast.  Ambiguous because originally, the beast looked a lot like this:

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But then someone else, by adding some alternative eyes, turned the beast into this:

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The original photo I took, from which both the above versions were cropped, looked like this:

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You see, that’s the trouble with the Leake Street Tunnel.  Nobody owns it, other than a sort of conglomerate of politicians, and what that conglomerate has decided is that whereas all artists may paint in the Leake Street Tunnel, none of them can prevent further painting by further artists.  The only immortality achieved is virtual and digital.

Or, maybe it’s a bit more complicated.  And if you aren’t part of the club, and you just turn up and paint, you get your knees broken, or something.

Whatever.  The thing I really admire about the beast, as originally painted by Artist One, is the state of its teeth.  Check them out.  Thought has gone into them.  No wonder Artist Two was envious, and decided to appropriate them for his alternative beast.

Tuesday October 03 2017

To quote my own earlier words about David Hockney:

What I particularly like about him is that he doesn’t indulge in the usual artistic sport of epater-ing the bourgeoisie.  He is content to be bourgeoisie.

And as if to prove me right, in the same book I was referring to, I later encounter (pp. 105-106) this amazingly honest Hockney outburst:

The best form of living I’ve ever seen in Monet’s – a modest house at Giverny, but very good kitchen, two cooks, gardeners, a marvellous studio.  What a life!  All he did was look at his lily pond and his garden.  That’s fantastic.  He was there for forty-three years. ...

Two cooks!  Gardeners!  How rare it is to encounter such full-throated pleasure being taken in the idea of having servants to look after you!

You can feel the people who try to decide these things going off Hockney, and I’m guessing that this has been going on for some time.  I’m not saying that Adrian Searle, for instance, doesn’t mean the things he says in this Guardian piece about Hockney’s pictures over the years.  And I actually rather share some of Searle’s preferences as to which Hockney pictures are nice and which are not so nice.  Searle says they’ve got worse, basically.

However, I suspect that Hockney’s real crime is that he started out looking like a radical homosexualist, but then when homosexuality settled back into being just part of the scenery of modern affluent, successful, happy life, Hockney was revealed as being not angry about modern, affluent, successful, happy life.  He just wanted that sort of life for himself, and for many decades now, he has had it.  He would have been angry only if denied such a life by anti-homosexualists.  But he wasn’t.  As soon as the world started happily tolerating Hockney’s not-so-private life and made his picture-making life affluent and successful, Hockney was content happily to tolerate the world and to revel in its visual pleasures, natural and electronic.  The Grand Canyon!  iPhones!  Bridlington!

Capitalism?  Commerce?  Hockney’s not angry about it.  He’s part of it. He produces it, he consumes it, he applies it to his work, he knows this, and he loves it.  And he has long surrounded himself with a small and happy team of assistants and cooks and bottle-washers of all the sorts that he needs, to enable him, Monet-style, to concentrate on his picture-making.  Hockney is the living embodiment of the glories of the division of labour.  Aka: social inequality.

I surmise that this is what really makes Searle’s readers (i.e. Guardian readers) angry about Hockney, not the claim that his pictures have got worse.  They’re angry about modern life, and they’re angry that David Hockney isn’t angry about modern life.

And I suspect that Hockney is, in the eyes of Those Who Try To Decide These Things, helping to take the Impressionists down with him.

Sunday October 01 2017

When reading a book about the rise of a particular style of painting, you don’t expect lessons in political history, but while reading The Judgement of Paris, I learned much about nineteenth century France and its political dramas, of which I had formely known extremely little.  The to-ings and fro-ings of artistic style and taste in nineteenth century France were, France being France, a very political matter.  You can’t properly understand the paintings without understanding the politicians who, for their various political reasons, were trying to encourage or to discourage them, and who either inspired artists or failed to inspire them.

Hence passages in this book like this one (pp.62-65), which describes the rise to supreme power in France of Napoleon III.

imageCharles-Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte had been born in Paris on April 20, 1808, in a mansion in the Rue Cerutti (now the Rue Laffitte). His was a dizzying genealogy. His mother was Hortense de Beauharnais, the daughter of the Empress Josephine and the stepdaughter of Napoleon. His father, at least on paper, was Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother and the King of Holland from 1806 until his abdication in 1810. However, the marriage between Louis and Hortense was so unhappy ("Never was there so gloomy a ceremony,” wrote Louis of his own wedding) that the child’s true paternity was the object of much speculation. Candidates ranged from an admiral in charge of the Dutch navy, to various equerries and chamberlains, and even to Napoleon himself, who was rumoured to have nourished a soft spot for his stepdaughter.

The child, known as Louis-Napoleon, was so feeble at birth that he was bathed in wine and then wrapped in cotton wool. For several years thereafter, disappointed at having given birth to a boy, Hortense dressed him as a girl, an inauspicious start in life for someone whose horoscope proclaimed that he would wear the imperial crown of France. Still, greatness was impressed upon the child from an early age. An imperial decree gave him, at the age of two, the title of “Prince Louis-Napoleon,” and he received regular visits from his uncle the Emperor. One of his most vivid early memories, indeed, was of Napoleon picking him up by his head.

After Waterloo, the young prince, then aged seven, was exiled with his mother to a castle in Switzerland, where they were put under the surveillance of the British, French, Austrian, Russian and Prussian ambassadors. This exile was to last for many years, during which time the sickly child became a vigorous young man who fought by the side of Italian revolutionaries in Rome and conducted multiple love affairs in Switzerland. In London, working in the British Museum, he penned a political treatise, Ideas of Napoleonism, which he published in 1839. These musings were no idle occupation, for in 1832 the possibility of the young prince fulfilling the prediction of his horoscope and seizing the French throne had unexpectedly presented itself. Napoleon’s only legitimate son, the Duc de Reichstadt - the so-called Napoleon II - died of tuberculosis in Vienna, leaving Louis-Napoleon as the dynastic heir. He duly set about making plans to oust King Louis-Philippe, but an unsuccessful coup attempt in 1836 ended with his arrest, imprisonment and then another exile as he was sent to America aboard a French warship. In New York City he proved a great social success, meeting Washington Irving and impressing the locals with his wax-tipped moustache, a sight virtually unknown in America.

Four years later, in August 1840, Louis-Napoleon made a second attempt to reclaim what he regarded as his birthright. By this time he was living in London, in a mansion in Carlton Gardens staffed by seventeen fervent Bonapartists. In a daring bit of bluff, he and his band of fifty-six conspirators - his domestic servants among them - donned military uniforms, chartered a Thames pleasure boat named the Edinburgh Castle, and made for the French coast. On board were nine horses, two carriages, several crates of wine, and a tame vulture bought at Gravesend to improvise as an eagle, the totem of the Bonaparte family. This ragtag expeditionary force landed at Boulogne-sur-Mer but beat a hasty retreat when the presence on French soil of the Bonaparte heir failed to incite a popular uprising against the King. When the landing craft capsized in the Channel, the invasion ended with Louis-Napoleon clinging to a buoy and awaiting his rescue, which came in the form of the French National Guard. Fished from the waves, he was arrested and then sentenced to life imprisonment in the fortress at Ham, a medieval chateau in northern France. There he spent the next six years. His confinement does not seem to have been onerous, since he found opportunities to author a treatise on sugar beets, hatch a scheme to dig a canal across Nicaragua, and carry on a liaison with a ginger-haired laundress named Alexandrine Vergeot, who ironed the uniforms of the prison’s officers and lived in the gatekeeper’s house. He gave her lessons in grammar and spelling; she returned the favour with two children, both of whom: confusingly, were named Alexandre-Louis.

Louis-Napoleon escaped from Ham in 1846 by donning the uniform of a workman and casually strolling through the front gate with a plank of wood balanced on his shoulder. He then returned to England, where he served briefly as a special constable at the Marlborough Street police station and dallied with his latest mistress, Lizzie Howard, the daughter of a Brighton bootmaker. Soon, however, Louis-Napoleon’s destiny drew nigh. His chance came in 1848, the “Year of Revolution,” when an economic downturn and widespread crop failures, combined with demands for more liberal governments, triggered riots and revolutions across much of Europe. In February, following pitched battles in the streets of Paris, King Louis-Philippe abdicated his throne, fleeing to England as his Bonapartist rival crossed the Channel in the opposite direction. In December of that year, with a majority of four million votes, Louis-Napoleon was elected President of the Second Republic, and the former prisoner of Ham found himself enjoying the splendours of the Élysée Palace. Three years later, anticipating the end of his four-year term as President, he consolidated and increased his powers in a bloody coup d’état. In an operation code-named “Rubicon,” he dissolved the Constituent Assembly, imprisoned many of his opponents (including Adolphe Thiers), and sent the army into the streets of Paris, where 400 people were killed in violent skirmishes. One year later, on December 2, 1852, he proclaimed himself Emperor Napoleon III.

The Second Empire was one of the gaudiest and most vainglorious eras in the history of France. The years since Louis-Napoleon came to power had witnessed unprecedented economic expansion and commercial prosperity. Industry flourished, foreign trade tripled, household incomes increased by more than fifty per cent, and credit grew with the establishment of new financial institutions. Grand projects were undertaken, such as the building of the new sewers and boulevards in Paris and the laying of thousands of miles of railway and telegraph lines. Louis-Napoleon was making the country live up to his vision of “Napoleonism,” which, he had written, “is not an idea of war, but a social, industrial, commercial and humanitarian idea.” Louis-Napoleon may have disliked wars, but he had nonetheless involved France in the Crimean War, which ended in 1856, and in the war against Austria in Lombardy in 1859. The year 1859 also witnessed French military expeditions to Syria and Cochin-China, in the latter of which the Emperor’s troops occupied the capital, Saigon. In the following year, French troops invaded Peking and burned the Summer Palace.

His swashbuckling career notwithstanding, Napoleon III was a less than prepossessing character. He looked, to Théophile Gautier, like “a ringmaster who has been sacked for getting drunk,” while one of his generals claimed he had the appearance of a “melancholy parrot.” The urbane aristocrat Charles Greville, meeting him in London, found him “vulgar-looking, without the slightest resemblance to his imperial uncle.” In fact, the only thing that he seemed to have shared with Napoleon was a short stature: he was only 5 feet 5 inches tall. A reserved and thoughtful man with a waxed moustache, a pointed beard and hooded eyes, he possessed an air of inscrutability. It was said that he knew five languages and could be silent in all of them. Prince Richard von Metternich, the Austrian ambassador, called him the “Sphinx of the Tuileries.” But most of his opponents were guilty of underestimating his abilities, and by the 1860s he had become, as an English newspaper admitted, “the foremost man of all this world.”