GERALD BURNS SOCIETY
|GERALD BURNS SOCIETY
Kelley’s Sleightly Murder as TWA whiffles to Shannon. In a way amateur as, presenting a declining magician as giving bad mall shows, we’re to imagine him better when he did expensive illusions. My vice is firstly reading mysteries involving magicians (Death from a Top Hat, The Headless Lady and one good John J. Malone come to mind) but taking them seriously as an index of current imaginings. Any of them sets a tone with me.
“I coont get comftable,” a woman behind me in Heathrow says.
--Days later we’ve looked at Egyptian things including a polished mirror Clio saw herself into, and a bad watercolor show with only a few Constables (the Turners muddy). Drew the Parthenon horsehead, ballpoint on an actor’s workshop list. We hear few Britons speak, a few by the mummies with children. Masses of autographs – Keats’s Hyperion on a long deep ledger, “Kubla Khan” on blue paper. Reynolds’s lovely handwriting and Spenser’s, Pepys in shorthand cipher, the pleasure of compressed instance. Coleridge’s card said they’re showing the end but it’s the beginning.
The mirror comes back as having gazed into depth. Dickens’s blacking bottles were pottery, like a stone ginger-beer bottle, glazed a cream ocher. His texts with scribbled notes for public readings made me impatient somehow. No conjuring equipment at the house but the Frozen Deep lighthouse drop (framed for Gad’s Hill) I’ve wanted to see since reading Forster’s Life. The objects (cheap desks, green velvet chairs, razors too tatty for the V&A) speak of collectors of the bound-Stevenson and Conrad period – Georgian collectors – but suggest he kept trace poverty around as texture. In all a depressing house (and no toy theater yet). Makes you wish there were a Chesterton House in Cheyne Walk. Beaconsfield? Across the street from Dickens there’s a plaque on Sidney Smith’s residence. Who lent Wordsworth court dress.* Dickens’s is behind glass, and looks like an admiral’s uniform.
The sky and Hampstead storm studies in V&A are disappointingly dark. I held a Stour barge postcard under the original – it and art books pull the light up shamelessly (the ones on cardboard – flowers in glass vase &c. – may just be going.) That and the underlit British Watercolour Landscapes have me restless (now) for the Ashmolean Beerbohms. Clio says there’s other techniques than Impressionist, and shows me things like the pronounced bezels on some rings in Victoria and Albert, whose Memorial is covered with thick lattice scaffolding (and at ground level gray-painted wooden boards with looped barbed wire on top) and across the street I was surprised to find myself loving the Albert Hall at sight, round drum with a lovely roof, a brick Genoise, and tall pastel buildings to the right for organists, then a sloping slate roof touched with moss, large dormer windows let in. As the view from Dickens’s upper windows, tangle of roof patios, gives you again the notion that La Boheme is everywhere. What would I do if I saw Lamb’s house? Dickens’s clerking desk, carved into and a loop of gut through the lock keeping it shut, is enough. India House is on our high-glazed subway map. Steel points were part of it – I’ve Ormond’s Writing to look at.
A corroded tuppence, coppery green, found in Upper Harley Street would almost make a good pocket piece from its not being worth the locals’ while to pick up – fine sectional blackening mews walls, low garden one with an inexplicable grill. There are House of Wax lifts around the corner from Baker Street and Saint Cyprian’s, thing to do after the National Gallery’s “Saskia Bathing” and the self-portrait. Turners do impress with two flimsy outriders, and shifting clouds lit and relit Constable’s “Salisbury Cathedral,” hard to see at first as more than modular studies. Clio saw it change with the light, the uniformed woman saying “Don’t touch the painting, I said,” to Orientals, the surface inviting. It’s harder to memorize the surface of a Turner (or Rembrandt’s gown in his portrait) than Rubens’s “Lion Hunt” or Hogarth’s “Shrimp Girl.” My Inverness near Baker Street almost too good a coat. We read Flush aloud April 9, and today (14th) happened on 50 Wimpole Street, the building different and probably even the curbs. Anyway I’ve this tuppenny piece out of the walk, good size for a coin though duodecimal’s out. The bluish-green side was up. Pipes were black against mews brick, but in the street itself cream paint and an F.D. Maurice plaque, the Victoria and Albert photos sent friends tokens too. –No, it’s the stone windowwork of Trinity Church, Boston (here sometimes the wooden railings to older underground steps she points to), details of the sort Hopkins scribbled in his journal, faded grisaille Reynoldses here and in the Houghton Library – where days ago I saw Piozzi’s marginal notes in her Boswell – conjunctions and disjunctions, a Shell ad in the subway on diminishing bivalve reproduction, the mouse running under the electric rail, as in the New York subways you see them, tiny and gray. . .
Cries from the heart, Edwardian magic forever down the drain judging from the imported books and equipment in Alan Alan’s and Davenport’s. And Tussaud’s, in spite of decent Gladstone, Newman, perhaps Crippen and Smith. The disappointment that they don’t know what it was like. Patination’s not for sale, the lovely knicks in Gladstone’s head and a bald attendant’s outside. We started, properly, with Pepys, an urge to record without caring much about medium distortion (as I hold her hand writing this). Dropped in to Chatto & Windus – new edition of Flush out, but only one volume of Collected Essays listed. Rain, avoided all day, drips.
Young Victoria (told she’s queen) is affecting, wax. Du Barry breathing and Smith’s wife exhaling in the bath are automation, both overdone, as the Whatsit and Daughter butcher figure cuts a pale joint in the window, veal leg, Smith’s leg. Marat is draped and Voltaire like the statue (seen twenty years ago) in Paris. Air does us ill, Whitechapel odorless and swept. Framed Police Gazettes do not include confused dogs. But I don’t know king lists. The skylight in this breakfast room is right outside our window upstairs. We nibble at it like cheese.
Yorkshire pudding at Fortnum’s is a kind of popover.
Coralba mineral water as a digestive after Hatchards (Eliot’s Quartets and Millar on Piltdown Man for me, Dickens, Austen and Wittgenstein.) Lives of Dorothy Wordsworth and Edmund Gosse seen, fingered, not bought. The current Writer’s Diary is neatly bound and narrow.
Wildenstein, across from Sotheby’s surmounted by a Sekhmet, has a thin Sisley Hanson would approve. I drew a Tudor-style pendant in the Burlington Arcade, not affordable but lyric on, that is worn.
We met a clergyman (who saw me reading Four Quartets in the new cloth) who showed us Eliot’s old Faber offices overlooking Russell Square, liking the daffodils at night, their new offices, and wished there were a plaque up. I assumed those were his fire-warden roofs. Bookshops near the Museum haven’t even trace memories of twenties tastes beyond Stevenson and Kipling, no Lamb, no Forster Dickens. A volume VI of the Keynes Browne issued separately after the bombing, but I was looking for V, the Pseudodoxia. Facsimile 1609 Sonnets and an Angler help a little.
Which we may every year
That the only literary conversation I’ve had here is with a cleric deaf in one ear from the Yorkshire winds troubles me – Peter Jay on the phone swamped, poetry editors everywhere out, the casualest people with hair sprayed forward like a cockatoo looking amiable. Fashion strikes you as abrupt. Classic riding equipment at Brigg in the mind, with the upside-down ribtruck pinned roof, old part Palace of Westminster, the low parts ending with angels Clio compares to winged bulls and the air and fire beings in Lost Ark. They project horizontally high up, move wonderfully as you walk, and are the same age as the Divine Comedy. The Lords debated fluoridation (this evening, nearly eleven p.m.) under gilded beams with good light, red seats and hanging microphones, tiny grilled speakers let into the gallery seats. That late the white-tie functionaries talk their own shop, workers fitted. Many of the Metropolitan police wear beards, and one ex-Merchant Marine at the entrance said it’s like the service, you ask permission as a courtesy and it’s granted. Good accents in the House of Lords too, some northern. Grattan’s statue beats Burke’s and is cattercornered in the long hall from Clarendon who looks a little like Tussaud’s Pepys – and why are there no historians there except Churchill, and no philosophers? Burke’s essay on the Sublime may count.
Effigy is an issue, that modelli of people if you can use that word of solitaries in groups are their clothing and attitude, Grattan certainly not reposeful, none contemporary with their statues able to walk around them judging the likeness.
What kind of law factory is it that puts (what looks like) a Rubens up over the door? And saves the oldest part from the nineteenth-century fire, and (I suppose) gives Scott an OBE for rebuilding the rest. One can find out these things, but being there knowing you can is a characteristic experience. I go back to Ortega’s faded blue patch that includes a perception of temporality. One isn’t perceiving history or historicity directly; it’s a grand gray hall with thirteen angels on each side flanking twelve windows, coming almost up, the nearest, to the stone arch off the entranceway framing all. History’s a frame, maybe, rather than the other way round. A brutality of reflection seems required here.
Why is Henry Payne’s “Choosing the Red and White Roses” (Birmingham Museum postcard) also a mural in a hall leading to the Lords? When did the Musée des Beaux-Arts sell Daumier’s “Amateur” to Dallas? Questions from postcards that stay in print. Swaine Adeney has a plastic horse head on a wall with a bridle on it. The mouth moves. The fox horns (copper and nickel) are forty pounds each, a note on the case says. They’ve one antique mother of pearl collar stud, but for the front not the back. Yet when I see pointed winejars I think of sand.
Toward the top of Long Acre an articulated wooden horse at L. Cornelissen & Son, colourmen. I buy a metal screw-top pot to put water in (it should really be turpentine, but the cased waterbottle’s too large. At home I use a small Excedrin bottle but there’s no clip on that.) They do good articulated hands too. The horse neck is all plates and it looks like a Rubens already – body quite solid, supported in air by brass rods let into a flat base. Broke down and bought a Winsor & Newton watercolor box; tried a quick sketch of Clio, the nesting brush dipped in tea. And in Tavola Calda us at the Temple of Mithras (in Victoria Street, a flower growing on the unroofed doorsill.) Modern cement holding rocks that might as well be recent, one square stonelined hole Clio said might be a fireplace. Rounded end with flat place for an altar. Just a block or two from St. Paul’s which was smaller than I thought (Wordsworth’s vista of it, with snow), people in gray tophats and red lapel flowers debouching from it, decorative in drizzle, Mithras just the one, growing wild. From there to the Royal Exchange, blackened columns and unreadable inscription, around the Bank and Bread, Ironmonger, Threadneedle Streets to the Guildhall, nobody in it and all restored or added to – cute carved church wood paneling and Victorian crowd sculpture in any niche, distracting as George on a white pediment blocks Westminster at the back, answer to Cromwell (a better statue in black than Guildhall’s seated Churchill). Flags on horizontal poles near the roof were pleasant but I like the gilt pennant-cocks on Abbey finials, or vertical extensions on parapets.
At last the pulled-glass Egyptian bottle “in the shape of a fish,” a nineteen twenty-odd bequest, good timing for Miss Moore. I drew it (and four Sekhmets, the giant stone fist just outside the Palestinian room) and found the postcard, bought three. Allusions in poems may be like history, that traces can be found (Clio’s Green Knowe book, generations with the same name). And we’re about to be thrown out of the breakfast room again. “Honest Coins Refound” as a title too, the poem to be fished out of the garbage.
Our trip to Oxford, to the Ashmolean (to see Kentish jewelry, Gainsborough’s Rubens oil, Egyptian quills and board books – and in a side storage room, John Dee) . . . up Broad and other streets, round end of the Sheldonian in declining cadmium light, and the books bought (Keats and Embarrassment, Wallace on the Biographia), a slow lunch with chicken cut ceremoniously off the bird, and syllabub so-called . . . it was all nouns and no verbs. For me the event was going through the four boxes of (thickly matted) Max Beerbohm drawings, James by the shoes the color of lead, Barrie all head (the temples feather-fine lead pencil), Chesterton and the Young Self, Strachey with a background of sienna. We passed a hallful of Turner watercolors including a Ruskin “treasure,” ink and sienna trees over water, and I’ve seen the study of Ruskin’s Venetian drawings. There’s a small Whistler seascape panel and the big Sickert “Ennui” (a partial copy in Fort Worth, and one in London the guard said) and anyway one phones and goes down steps. The print room has wall sculptures, but the basement we went looking for Dee in had movable racks of paintings, others hung under wrapped steam pipes. Ground level again, Dee in his oval cartouche, looking apprehensive in narrow white beard and skullcap, perhaps not quite as friendly as the black and white screenings make him out. What he will endure seems there in him, and I looked for the Self-Deception study in Blackwell’s but not hard. Clio got Wittgenstein and Austin. Later in Thornton’s (my second copy of Carter’s Urne Buriall and Williams on the Dunciad in reprint) I found a one-volume Forster Dickens for three pounds, and left it. Thin-paper editions are speckled to my eyes now.
Bought a waistcoat (to go I suppose with my covert coat and hacking jacket) and saw the Edward Lears at Royal Academy. The Quebec marmot stood out – for me more than the pelican – alphabet series, a few of the rock wash drawings, and elephants bathing lent by Houghton Library. Reynolds’s Discourses in the bookshop are a Yale edition. I drew his statue pretty well – the multiple-run watercolors of the building front (so like each other) can’t get the arm right, and I suppose take off from another painting or something rather than life. The pretty student at the foot of the gates was drawing building fronts across the street, with the usual flicky motions of the wrist art students do. Had me thinking right away of Francis Bacon’s shapes on canvas, having just bought the black book in cloth at Hatchards, and how you can’t get to those from that, and someone should tell her. Giant bronzes of Gainsborough (looking arrogant and perhaps aggrieved – after all, Reynolds made the front court) and Turner looking tough, painting as a kind of pugilism.
What stays at the Tate is first a fine drawing I did of Gaudier-Brzeska’s “Hieratic Head” of EP, which their card miscalled “Heretic.” And the small Constables are nearly as bright as the ones in books (in fact their “Salisbury Cathedral” sketch is lighter than their large reproduction.) A fine Gainsborough head of one daughter – otherwise the best of him seen is the Rubens copy in the Ashmolean, like the Pound bust only on loan. And the Turners are so many one can judge – came to like the one sea with Coming Storm best, the center shadow black, drybrushed on in whicks.
Clio said how odd we like Constable and Turner best, who can’t do figures. I said well there’s Beerbohm, and that made an odd test in the mind of how specialized he is. I bought slides of things including Bacon’s three “Studies,” wonderful and wonderfully framed in thick flat gold that keeps them (the double thickness butted) the right distance apart. The thin lines in the three talk to each other. It’s dated ’44 and the Sutherland “Crucifixion” I thought might have set him off is ’46.
There’s a grotesque helmet – hammered spiral steel antlers, multiply hinged brass spectacles for the rendered nose – in the Tower that may intend amusement but as drawn is severe, as if a comment on all the armor, or as Clio observes the paranoid style of the buildings, rude things compared to Westminster Hall and appropriate for James I, whose Counterblaste is displayed. The air rifles were lovely, with copper globes appended. My new pen has fifty psi tucked in – looking for a plunger one was told Drury Lane or nowhere. Kohinoor and Star of Africa don’t stay, in a scepter and the Queen Mother’s crown (fleurs de lis and George crosses alternate), but a wee thing for Victoria has delicacy, as if for Tussaud’s Young Queen though it will have perched on a napkin, Fields’s saltcellar, Disraeli hovering by that case, or in his white overcoat telling Whistler to go away. Vulgar and refined history reinforce each other here, hatless Beefeater in the chapel fieldstripping it, recumbent knight in the oldest tower glass fibre and resin. Tissot exists on a thousand-piece picture puzzle, no invasion of majesty. Wrote Tops today a quick note on thimble-rigging in Frith’s “Derby Day,” including a flyer for Holmes’s History of Thimbles just out. Good art becomes, for instance, a record of armor. Or a taste for naked women one can think of as Roman. Odd to see mythical characters engraved on flintlocks as if they were salt dishes. Stow’s Survey of London and Ainsworth’s Tower, a matched set, are mailed to Texas.
--A day spent not getting books. I was tempted by Pearson’s Smith of Smithe and Sadleir’s Trollope but the prose of each troubled. Saw two copies of Borrow’s biography, and stumble on Mark Rutherford. What you can find are cheap reprints of Lamb and Hazlitt – some Wordsworth and Tennyson. Only the scrappiest Boswell, though I’ve seen Johnson’s Letters in three different shops.
Reynolds’s portrait of him in the plaid chair that became the frontispiece disappoints, but the adjacent “Charles Burney” is wonderful, very late and Gainsboroughan, good as the Hogarth “Shrimp Girl.” Sargent’s Henry James is reticent on both sides, but there’s his Gosse and Patmore. And Hazlitt’s Lamb, near the Severns. Mary Wollstonecraft’s mouth intrigues. The Swinburne is darker than its prints. Woolf in lead downstairs. There’s a small head of Gainsborough by Zoffany, fine expression on it, and Manning’s receding into lace and satin – and a lovely Sickert of Steer. A steam engine, and nice guard who remembers when it wasn’t blocked by the Science Museum (to stop them running it). He showed us hopgatherers on a cabinet, from which I found what a hop-pole is, and told us rationing stories about red petrol (re the dyed potatoes not supposed to be eaten), amateur pork butchery, and modern dodges with marine diesel. He said to Clio the last hour goes fast but the one before drags. Gosse’s hair doesn’t look lavender, particularly. His glasses seem to have been the final reason for doing the portrait – and Patmore’s smoky thin moustache and hair, warms under grayish highlights. You can get the mask of Blake, and I wonder if Bacon worked from the (very vivid) postcard of it.
“Rain, Steam, and Speed” and “Salisbury Cathedral” alter when you’ve seen the Constables and Turners in the Tate. Details are much clearer, the colors vivid (I thought at first more vulgar.)
I’ve spotted a Forster Life of Goldsmith, first I ever saw. Trelawny’s Last Days of Shelley and Byron (augmented) is more real from seeing the tiny ink head of him in the National – like a caricature nautical William Morris, whose own work (and biography) stay difficult to find.
Metal rings on the Seine followed by a Coquille St. Jacques with saffron at des Bernardins, best Charlotte ever and apple with creme fraise. Back of Notre Dame concealed by trees (pornographic), and postcards at the cinema bookshop. The Birds in French. This to settle the Jeu de Paume. Manet is well but reproduces better on slick paper. Cézanne’s strangling has brushstrokes one associates with later, the hanged man’s house trowelish but again forward-seeing, a prevista. Apples thinner than expected but the little “Green Apples” perfect, reminding of the Steins’s small one – and the bridge, water and parallel diagonal strokes what’s wanted. The surprise was Monet, a small horizontal “Church at Vetheuil” perfection, and a couple of the boats (calligraphic mast reflections). A Sisley country lane with cottage, unreproduced except in a Thames and Hudson Treasures of the Louvre seen in W.H. Smith’s where we had tea. Gauguin’s painted glass doors and large wood sculpture impressed, a couple of the Cézannish still-lifes, well, but Van Gogh’s Arles interior much much more moving (as if theater light) than his “Chair” in the National Gallery where the light may not be good for it. The “Bal” with yellow faces succeeds along with vivid dark blues. And two Morisots. How uneven (or many different people) Pissarro is – one hacking through to two cows in a very green field. And a sign near the Hotel de Ville announces a Tissot exhibit up now at Petit Palais. The stamp (TISSOT SOCIETY LIBRARY) should be ready now in London, delivered to Haddon Hall.
A problem – he should be awful. Yet “Colonel Burnaby” (on loan from the National Gallery), “Portsmouth Dockyard” (Tate, with “The Picnic”) and others, the small jewel-like verticals, the shipboard “Bal” they made the poster of – are a hymn to bombazine, Meissonier a size larger, philosophy of clothes, green plaid dress, red plaid comforter, backlit vistas of boatyard and shopfront. We have some postcards and pre-extant bad slides. The fainted lady’s carpet repeats under Eugenie, “Picnic” leaves in “The Letter,” ornamental pool in “Picnic” and “Invalid.” And from a slight distance how bright some of them are.
A la Louvre, the Winged Victory looks better than ever, and Clio likes Botticelli. I find more Fragonard portraits, extraordinarily loose and doing what I noticed in the Petit Palais ones – you look through the floating ribbony highlight strokes, so it comes out airy. The Dutch room opened, Rembrandt’s Philosopher in his Study and Flayed Beef – larger and coarser than remembered. Afternoon sun helping – a warmer light than National. There are spikes or knives to hold the beef open I hadn’t noticed. Oddly dreamlike, this museum; modern caryatids downstairs sculpted with the arms off, in the room with Venus and things. I felt, in the room full of wall-size Rubenses, like a wrapped chocolate. The Empress’s education – viols, books, sculpting tools, brushes. It is all the same kind of work for him, a passage of wheel-lock, stretch of serrated-leaf ground cover. Nice to see the soles of Rembrandt’s angel leaving Tobit not go Rubens salmon.
I can’t quite – the almost lavatory light on the Nymphéas in the oval rooms, oatmeal carpeting to a little fluted step and thin gold-strip frame. The two narrow ends of the oval curve a bit and the curve alters. Then (after round-arched doors) longer less curving ones. A Rodin “Clemenceau” bust to compare to Manet’s in Jeu de Paume – and the one in Fort Worth I now prefer, drinking coffee after crepes at the Rotonde, lobsters of three varieties or several sexes in very clear water, chic like hats. That and the Rubens room are installations, Rubens’s titles incised gold on greenish marble panels below. Two couches, one per epicenter, in the same noncolor. The lilies and river and better seen standing. A warm and flashily dark one in the first room (that there are two rooms is felt as mattering – same shape different approaches), tree trunks in the second. They compel respect. I learned about as much (in the same time) from the Japanese Bridge in Houston, late, syrupy, beautifully varnished colors dripping oil, put where the wrist remembers. These can give you the illusion you have seen them but you haven’t. A postcard of Rembrandt’s beef is on this table (covered with rough-weave magenta-brown and white cloths, overlapping like carpets). That paint suited his vision, fat and white bone then. I suppose there’s something too cool or too private about the lilies, compared. Rembrandt may be painting for like-minded people. The visitors (I wanted, auditors) in the Orangerie are as if at a concert. Painting as long strips. Three-noodle soup, on a menu at lunch. Long yellow Metro tickets (inhaled and shot out of a machine stamped, as in London). The long dry puddingy yellow strip I eat in patisseries. Something between Thames and Rake’s Progress only stylish rather than, like these, comfortable. There really is an assemblable Notre Dame in paper.
A few last Delacroixs in the Louvre, sketch for “Sardanapalus” and his and Gericault’s rafts. One large Millais winnower you could see Van Gogh liking (and a tiny dark version of it perhaps done after). Too many Corots and everybody essaying lions. Delightful ill-lit Meissoniers and a glimpse of the Whistler. Moving to see full-size Daumiers at last, including the big vertical “Quixote” with mule just sketched in in front, fresh as when made.
The trees she pointed out in the Rodin garden were blue – very easy to see as the purple-blue of Cézanne trunks. There was a trial bust of Clemenceau all nostril and eye hole, for Orangerie’s bronze, and a maquette for the Gates of Hell. The garden version up seemed to have more dignity than the one in Dallas – seemed to have a different organization. Sargent and Blanche portraits of him, models for monuments and a headless “Iris” I liked, clutching the foot lively in air. Clio liked two Bacchantes, one hooved. A Hugo project like a Dickens surrounded by his Characters, that kind of swirl, and he will put a bend in a back or footsole in a way different from Rubens, more like the “Tobit” as matter of fact, not tintable. (The Matisse dancer’s foot, seen in Fort Worth, stays remarkable in the mind.) I thought a tour can’t be for memory but to see paint thicknesses and so on, to help with the whole work, reproduced. Rodin models have less spontaneity than I thought from photos, but the sectional maquette “Burghers of Calais” is extremely interesting walked around – as his small “Caryatid” beats the big ones in the garden, and the small Victory Rousing the Troop makes it startling to see the big one. In general his winged beings and monumental hands pall in a way not a consequence of period taste. Yet he knows when to pull back on the modeling effect, facets like waves.
The white bull by Fragonard was it, odd finds. Helpful and uninformed guides asked for Rembrandt or Millais, roomsful of dusky Egypt walked through after, early closing. The ones you don’t want to look at so much are furniture for the others. And here we are at Calais.
*My error; this was Samuel Rogers.
copyright 1985 Gerald Burns