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Amritsar Massacre of 1919 - did it end the British Raj?

The East India Company was a conquering regime and its officials viewed the people of India with mistrust. When they were caught un­prepared by the 1857 Indian Revolt, the mistrust worsened. Sepoys of the British Indian Army, peasants and disposs­essed landholders revolted ag­ainst the East India Co., killing several Europeans and ending the Co’s success in much of northern India. The British res­p­onded fiercely, decisively defeated the rebels and taught the Indians what true colonial rule meant.

Very quickly (in 1859) the British Crown took direct con­trol of the colony. But it wasn’t until WW1 began that Mahatma Gandhi ret­urned to India, after 21 years in South Africa fighting for the rights of Indian immigrants. Gandhi was loyal to the Brit­ish Empire and supp­orted Britain in WW1. And on his return to India, he spent the first few years leading non-violent struggles on local griev­an­ces. Most Indians supported the British in their war eff­ort against the Axis Powers; indeed 1.3 million Indian soldiers fought for Britain in WW1, and tragically 60,000 of them died.

But the British knew that not all Indians were willing to support colonial control of India. In 1915, some of the most radical Indian nationalists planned the Ghadar Mutiny, which called for soldiers in the British Indian Army to revolt in the midst of the Great War. The Ghadar Mutiny never happened because the plotters were infil­trated by British agents. Yet the events increased even further distrust among British officers toward the people of India.

The unrest seemed of greatest concern to the British in the Punjab which had been a vital economic & military asset, trade heart of the world em­pire. The colonial army recruited heavily in the region and in WWI, soldiers from Punjab con­stit­uted more than half of the British Indian Army.

Almost immediately the colonial govern­ment used WW1 as the time to introduce the diabolical Defence of India Act of 1915. This wartime legislation gave the government endless powers of preventive detention, to lock up Indians without trial and to restrict speech, writing and movement.

Book by Nigel Collett
Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer in the foreground
Soldiers mowing down civilians in the background

In March 1919, the British extend­ed its wartime emergency powers into peacetime via the An­ar­chical & Revolutionary Crimes Act/Rowlatt Act. For example the Act authorised the government to ar­r­est Indians without a warrant and to imprison suspected revolut­ion­aries for two years without a trial. It also placed strict controls on the press.

Not surprisingly, in the immediate aftermath of the war and the Rowlatt Act, pressure for Indian ind­ep­endence mounted. Gandhi immed­iately expressed his opposition to the Rowlatt Act and called for a nat­ion­wide general strike on 6th April 1919. He asked people to engage in peaceful resistance, observe a daylong fast and hold meetings to demand the repeal of the legislation.

But anger in the northern Indian province of Punjab was already heating up before Gandhi called for civil resistance. Across the state, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh nationalists had been agitating against the Rowlatt Act; Gandhi’s call raised the popular fervour against the law to a boil.

When news of the arrest of Indian nationalist leaders in the Sikh holy city of Am­rit­sar emerged, Gandhi decided to travel to Pun­jab. The colonial government stopped Gandhi’s train, arrested him and sent him back to Bombay. Protesters in Amritsar went on a rampage, clashed with the authorities, looting banks and public buildings.

Within a month, violent street scuffles broke out between Europeans and Indians in the streets of Amritsar. The local milit­ary command­er, Brigadier-Gen Reginald Dyer, took over from the civil auth­orities and banned all public meetings (four+ people) which could be dispersed by force. He issued orders that Indian men could be publicly lashed for approaching British police office­rs.

On the very day that free assembly was retracted, 15,000-20,000 Indians celebrating Sikh New Year at Jallianwala Bagh walled gardens. General Dyer, certain that the Indians were begin­ning an insurr­ect­ion, led his armed soldiers via the narrow entrances to the public garden. Thankfully the two armoured cars with mounted machine guns were too wide to fit through the passage-ways into the gardens.

Without warning, Gen Dyer ordered his soldiers to open fire and to aim for the most crowded parts of the gathering. People screamed and ran for the exits, trampling one another in their terror, only to find each way blocked by soldiers. Dozens jumped into a deep garden well to escape the gunfire and drowned. The shooting con­tinued until the troops ran out of ammunition. And only then did Dyer order a ceasefire and withdrew his men, leaving the dying and wounded where they lay. The authorities imposed a curfew, prevent­ing families from saving the wounded who were in piles where they lay, or find­ing their dead. By morning the final death toll was almost 1,000 Indian men and boys.

The colonial government tried to block the massacre story from sp­reading across India and abroad. But within India, ordinary people quickly became politicised, and nationalists lost all hope that the British government would deal with them in good faith. In­dia's recent massive contribution to WW1 had meant nothing, apparently. 

Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar
Deep Memorial Well where dozens jumped in 1919, to escape the gunfire and drowned.

Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar
Memorial Wall still riddled with 1919 bullets

Speaking in the British House of Commons, Winston Church­ill called the massacre monstrous. But many Brit­ish senior polit­ic­­al and army figures hailed General Dyer’s actions as necessary to keep an unruly and potentially seditious population in order. So Lord Hunt­er, a Scottish judge, chaired a Committee of Inquiry into the Amritsar massacre and its outcome.  General Dyer test­ified that he surrounded the protest­ors and did NOT give any warning before giving the order to fire; he did not seek to disperse the crowd, but to punish the people of India generally. He would have used the machine guns to kill many more people, had he been able to get them into the garden!

Gen Dyer’s defence was brutal, even though he continued to believe that he was the Saviour of India until he died. But the Committee of Inquiry’s con­clusions were rightly damning; Dyer was strongly censured and forced to resign from the Indian Army. Unfortunately he was never prosecuted for the mass murders of civilians.

Yet many, particularly the colonial bureaucracy, thought that Dyer had acted solely to prevent another Indian Mutiny. Sir Michael O'Dwyer, Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab from 1912-19, warmly supported Colonel Dyer's actions in Amritsar. Whether Governor O'Dwyer actually planned Dyer’s massacre in advance or not, Sir Michael O’Dwyer was assassinated in London in 1940 by a Sikh revolutionary.

Dyer died in England in 1927. But the massacre continued to sour relat­ions between British and Ind­ian politicians for years. Read Origins, who saw the massacre as the beginning of the end of British rule in India. Read Gyan Prakash who called it the massacre that led to the end of the British Empire.


Impressive Fascist architecture in Como, Italy

In 2018 Italy’s far-right Lega party pledged to convert the Casa del Fascio, a former Fascist party head quarters in Como, into a mus­eum. Before I have a heart-attack about a public celebration of Fascism, I thought I better examine the history and architecture of the building in detail.

Fascism’s effort to establish a new society was a hallmark of the regime’s engagement with modernism. So the party’s head-office was the primary institution through which Fascists altered the attitudes of its citizens. The facility thus advanced the party’s objectives and clarified Fascism’s central place in creating a modern urban landscape. Benito Muss­olini (and Adolf Hit­ler) utilised the new style of symmetrical and stark architecture to unify their citizens, mark a new era of nationalist culture and exhibit the meaning of absolute rule.

Casa del Fascio, Como
sitting in the centre of a medieval town

The white space on the right facade of Casa del Fascio
was used to add giant, changing photos of Mussolini

Giuseppe Terragni (1904-43) was born into a significant family in Como. His brother became the Fascist mayor of Como. The young Fascist arch­itect’s chief patron was Mussolini's mistress and cultural adviser Margherita Sarfatti, or other influen­t­ial Fascist party family members.

So it is not a surprise that Terrag­ni's abstract architectural language spec­if­ically embodied some­thing significant about the Fascist period. Even if the architect had not been a Fascist himself, he would still have wanted his patrons to love his work.

Built from 1932 to 1936 under the regime of Benito Muss­o­l­­ini, Casa del Fascio on beautiful Lake Como was to be a temple to Fas­cism. The building was designed by Italian rationalist arch­itect Giuseppe Terragni, and built in front of the city’s cathedral, domestic and commercial buildings, railway lines and roads. Looking somewhat like a regular urban villa, Casa del Fascio nonetheless had a very public role to play. As the seat of the local branch of the Nat­ion­al Fascist Party, this municipal admin­istration building was seen as an elegant site for mass Fascist rallies.

This International Style work appeared as a half-cube, 33m in plan and 17m in height. There was a strong sense of weightlessness, con­trol and precision about the building's form that could immed­iately be revealed by light. The plan used a double-height covered court, a space at its core. The transparency and light was a direct ef­f­ect of the missing upper floor, but high ceilings were in any case com­m­on in this region and cross ventilation made these tall spaces cool in summer. Each facade was differ­ent.

Terragni’s use of elegant and durable marble surfaces was called Renaissance Rationalism. And his love of glass could be seen in the large glass doors that opened to the piazza and in the atrium inside. Apparently transparency was a metaphor for the Casa del Fascio that Terragni proudly attributed to Mussolini. Il Duce declared that “Fascism was a glass house” and in architectural terms, this meant clarity and honesty in construction. The building was of course lacking in the neoclassical fripperies (that dis­guised the essential nature of the Nazi architecture). Mussolini loved the building and became a vocal champion of modernist Italian architecture.

Inside, the glass atrium was fres­coed in the main conference room with abstract paintings by local artist Mario Radice. There was also a marble statue of Mussolini in that spacious room. On the outside, Terragni wanted to use the white space on the right of the building facade to add giant, changing photos of Mussolini.

Note that by completion, Casa del Fascia was very different from every other piece of architecture in the area. It was white, mod­ern, stark and severe. So either the architect did not care that the Casa stood out like a sore thumb, or he proposed demolishing (perhaps at some future date) the entire medieval centre of Como.

Terragni was conscripted in 1939. Wounded on the Rus­s­ian Front when the Italian army collapsed near Stalingrad, he returned home in 1943 and renounced the Fas­c­ism he'd believed in earlier. Terragni went mad, spent his last days in Como streets and died at 39. His career was very short.

Every physical detail & spatial relationship inside was invested with political symbolism.
Built from 1932 to 1936

The main conference room with abstract paintings by local artist Mario Radice

Since 1957, the building has housed the provincial head-quarters of the Guardia di Finanza police. In addition, it accommodates the small historical museum of the Guardia di Finanza 6th legion. So Casa del Fascio still exists as a modern rationalist vision, a per­fect facility set in North Italy. Its pure white form still appeals to many now. 

The problem for me is that I love this building that was built for Fascists. No amount of architectural modernisation and rehabilit­ation can get around this truth. But perhaps it doesn’t matter.

The Art Newspaper reported that Italy’s far-right Lega Party, which won almost 18% of the vote in the March 2018 general election and  went on to form part of the next coalition government, had plans to turn a former Fascist party head-quarters in Como into northern Italy’s biggest museum of Modern Art, Architecture and Design. The surprising pledge appears in the anti-immigration, Eurosceptic manifesto of Lega’s leader, Matteo Salvini, who has transformed the former northern separatists into Italy’s leading right-wing party. Lega Party may even apply for the site to gain UNESCO World Heritage status. But it is not clear from the Art Newspaper report if a new Casa del Fascio Museum will celebrate Fascist history in Italy or not.


Toulouse Lautrec, Jane Avril and 1890s Paris

Born Jeanne-Louise Beaudon (1868-1943) in Belleville, the dancer was the daughter of a courtesan. She was abused at home, ran away at 16 and lived in the streets. She entered the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris with “female hyster­ical convulsions”, and at one of their fancy dress balls for patients, she found her cure AND her vocation.
  La Goulue,1891

Moulin Rouge Cabaret opened in 1889, offering customers nightly perform­ances by its stars. At 20 the young dancer was taken on, adopting the stage name Jane Avril as suggested by an Englishman. Known for her exotic persona and breath-taking gymnast­ics, she became a profes­s­ional dancing stars in the 1890s, and loved devising her own choreographic routines and dress. See the bold portrait called La Goulue/greedy (1891 Museum of Modern Art NY).

Fame arrived with striking portraits and posters in both art and advert­is­ing. They were designed by artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), a member of one of France’s oldest noble famil­ies. Jane was det­ermined to make her mark on Montmart­re’s flourishing dance-halls and cabarets, starring in Lautrec’s world of dancers, cabaret singers, musicians and prost­itutes.
At the Moulin Rouge, c1893
They showed Jane Avril au Jardin de Paris (1893), where transport ran after the Moulin Rouge closed at 11 PM. This dramatic Japanese-style poster, which she credited with launching her career, showed Jane doing the cancan and a musician grasping a double-bass. Also striking was Jane Avril in profile at the venue called Divan Japonais 1893.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s relationship with Jane Avril was closer than his other Montmartre subjects and she remained his friend till death. Their friendship was reflected in portraits in which the star was shown as a private individual, in contrast with her exotic poster image and her Moulin Rouge performances. A striking bust-length Portrait of Avril 1892 focused on her startlingly angular face.

Lautrec was famed for his familiar portraits of 1890s Parisian nightlife, other than Jane Avril. A high-class prostitute, Lucy Jourdain?, was shown elaborately dressed at a café-restaurant: In a Private Dining Room At the Rat Mort (1899). The left lamp cast a green glow and the blurriness suggested seedy night-time entertainment.

Lau­t­rec’s tragically early death in 1901 marked the beginning of the end of Montmartre’s Golden Age. Jane Avril went on to perform briefly as a stage actress. Realising that she couldn’t dance forever, Jane Avril needed marital security, as well as a home for her son Jean-Pierre. She married the talented printmaker Maurice Biais (1875–1926) in 1911 and settled into bourgeois obscur­ity. While in New York, Biais showed his work at the Max Williams Gallery.

But Biais suffered from a lung disease, and couldn’t maintain a stable home for his wife and step-son; by the 1920s, he moved alone to the south of France, dying in 1926. When Jane Avril died in 1943, in Nazi Paris, she was interred in the Biais family vault at Père Lachaise cemetery.
Jane Avril au Jardin de Paris, 1893

Divan Japonais 1893. 

Palace Theatre with Madem­ois­elle Eglantine, 1895

The Courtauld Gallery held a 2011 exhibition: Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril: Beyond the Moulin Rouge. In placing the artist and performer within a larger historical context, the exhibition was successful in demonstrating how significant a celebrity icon she was during the 1890s. 

In Room 1, there were contemporary photos, primary documents and other works by friends and lovers that showed how compelling a subject Jane Avril was to Lautrec. In Room 2 there was valuable historical inform­at­ion about her early life, specifically regarding her hospitalised era.

The exhibition raised significant questions regarding Montmartre’s late C19th culture. And it made it poignantly clear why Lautrec was attracted to Jane’s personality, creat­ivity and unusual beauty. For example in the painting Jane Avril in the Entrance to the Moulin Rouge (1892), the hat and coat on the wall alluded to her male admirers. However she seemed far older than her 22 years.

Avril asserted her personality through Lautrec’s works, becoming a celebrity figure. While she was often not the main Moulin Rouge dancer, remaining in the back­ground in many performances, she was foregrounded by Lautrec in his studies. In Jane Avril Leaving the Moulin Rouge (1892), the artist created a psychological portrait that showed the model lost in her own thoughts and unaware of the other pedestrians. The exhibition also explored the intersection of Avril’s medical history and her public persona.

The artist’s focus to her intelligent, sensitive face revealed Toulouse-Lautrec’s keen understanding of her personality. Since Lautrec portrayed Jane Avril outside the focus of her Moulin Rouge performances, we may wonder if there more to their relationship than thought. Had Lautrec found a kindred artistic soul? Did he fall under her siren’s spell? Questions such as this were hinted at the Courtauld exhibition and in the catalogue.

With the Portrait of Jane Avril (c1892 Clark Art Institute, Massachusetts), the question of artistic ties between Lautrec and Avril was raised once again. The catalogue note on the painting suggested that Jane Avril loved artists, but why? Who were some of the other artists she admired? And another thing. What were Maurice Biais’ ties with the Parisian art scene and his long-standing association with Avril, at a time when Lautrec was busy immortalising her?

At the Moulin Rouge (c1893 Art Institute of Chicago) served as a homage to the venue and his circle. From the rear Jane Avril was instantly recognisable by her red hair. The ghostly face of the English performer May Milton appeared, as did Lautrec’s diminutive figure.

In a Private Dining Room At the Rat Mort,1899

In 1896 Jane travelled to London to perform at Palace Theatre with Madem­ois­elle Eglantine 1895. So Lautrec designed a poster for the per­formance which showed four cancan dancers surrounded by petticoat froth and black stockings. The exhibition included Palace Theatre drawings, Avril and Lautrec letters and Palace Theatre programmes.

To celebrate their remarkable creative partnership, read The Courtauld Gallery catalogue, Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril, Beyond the Moulin Rouge (2011), Nancy Ireson and Anna Gruetzner Robins.


Ibn Battuta - greatest medieval explorer of all

I was lecturing in a series on “The Silk Road and Marco Polo”, suggesting that Europeans were not as sophisticated in trade, capitalism and tran­s­port systems as the Asians were. But I fell apart suggesting that Marco Polo (1254-1324) was history’s most travelled and best documented medieval man. In fact the Christian Venetian, Polo, trailed far behind the Muslim scholar Ibn Battuta (1304-68).

Ibn Battuta’s family was of Berber origin and had a history of service as judges. After receiving an education in Islamic law, the young man chose to travel. He left home in 1325, at 21, and set off across North Africa. In Egypt, he studied Islamic law, and toured splendid Alexandria and Cairo.

A translated version of Ibn Battuta's book

His journeys were mostly by land. To reduce the risk of being attacked, he usually chose to join a caravan. He followed a curvy route east, first making his way through Syria. As he always did in Muslim-controlled lands, he relied on his status as an Islamic sch­olar to win hospitality from locals. No wonder he loved travel, of­ten being showered with fine clothes, horses, concubines and slaves.

In 1326 he continued exploring the lands of the Middle East, sail­ing down the Red Sea and on to Mecca and Medina, where he took part in the hajj. Ibn Battuta’s travels might have ended there, but having completed his hajj, he continued wandering across the Muslim world. He crossed the huge Arabian Desert and travelled to Iraq and Iran, and later mov­ed north to what is now Azerbaijan.

In 1330, he set off again in an unexpected direction, down the Red Sea to Aden, along the coasts of Kenya & Tanzania, trekking across Yemen and sailing to the Horn of Af­rica.

Battuta crossed the Black Sea and entered the domain of a Golden Horde Khan in Turkey. In 1332 he was welcomed at court and later accomp­anied one of the Khan’s wives to Constant­in­ople. Bat­t­uta stayed in the Byzantine city for a month, visiting Hagia Sophia and even receiving a brief audience with the emperor. Having never lived in a large non-Muslim city, he was stunned by the large number of Christian churches within its walls.

Battuta next travelled east across the Eurasian steppe before ent­er­ing India via Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush. Arriving in Delhi in 1334, he won employment as a judge under Muhammad Tugh­luq, a pow­­erful Islamic sultan. He was warmly greeted by the Sul­tan of Delhi, and was soon appointed to the position of a judge.

Battuta spent 8 years in India, married and fathered children, but he eventually became anxious about the sultan, who was known to maim and kill his enemies with elephants. The chance to escape arrived in 1341, when the sultan selected Bat­t­uta as his envoy to China. The Moroccan set out a large caravan loaded with gifts and slaves.

But the trip to the Orient proved to be the worst part of Battuta’s odyssey. Hindu rebels in India harassed his group during their journey to the coast, and Battuta was kidnapped and robbed. He managed to make it to the Keralan port of Calicut, but on the eve of the ocean voyage, storms sank the ship and killed his party.

Map of the 4 routes taken by Ibn Battuta
between 1325 and 1353

The disaster left Battuta stranded and disgraced. He was loath to return to Delhi and face the sultan, so he made a sea voyage south to the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Maldives and Sri Lanka. He remained in the idyllic islands for the next year, taking several wives and again serving as an Islamic judge. But following a falling out with its rulers, he actually made his journey to the Mongol court of China on merchant vessels through Southeast Asia. In 1345, four years after first leaving India, he arrived in bustling Chinese ports.

Battuta loved Mongol China and praised its natural beauty, but he also thought its locals were infidels. Distressed by the unfamiliar customs on display, this Islamic traveller felt at home with the country’s Muslim commun­ities but knew little about huge cities like Hangzhou. Battuta claimed to have roamed as far north as Beijing and crossed the famous Grand Canal, but I am not sure.

Having reached the edge of the known world, he finally faced home, arriving back in Tangier in 1349. Both Battuta’s par­ents had died by then, so he only remained for a short time before moving onto Southern Spain.

Battuta probably didn’t kept a complete journal while travelling. But when he finally return­ed to Morocco in 1354, the country’s sultan ordered him to compile a travelogue. He spent 2 years dictating his story to the writer Ibn Juzayy. The result was an oral history called My Journey/Rihla.

My Journey was part-autobio­g­raphy and part-travelogue. Did Ibn Battuta visit all the places that he described? In order to provide a complete description of the Muslim world, Ibn Battuta probably relied on hearsay evidence and accounts by earlier travellers. He reported that he experienced culture shock in some of the regions he visited, especially when the local customs of recently converted people did not fit his orthodoxy. Among Turks and Mongols, he was astonished at the way women behaved, spoke and dressed.

Loneliness on the road
Credit: Edoardo Albert's book

His chronology was often confused (as is my post), and while he wrote great desc­riptions of Anatolia in Asia Minor, he wrote poorly on Iran. Yet the book now stands as one of the most comprehensive accounts of the C14th Islamic world.

It appears that after a lifetime spent on the road, the wanderer was content to work as a judge in Morocco and remain there until his death 1368. It was only then that Ibn Battuta all but vanished from the historical record. 

In conclusion, Ibn Battuta was famous for the 30 years between 1325-54. His travels extended across the known Islamic world and beyond, from North and West Africa, Southern and Eastern Europe in the West, to the Middle East, India, Central and South-East Asia and China in the East. This was a much greater distance than Marco Polo covered!


Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy - success and tragic. The early years

Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald was born in Boston (1890-1995), oldest child of John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, prominent figure in Boston politics. Rose was first introduced to politics by her congressman father. By the time she turned 15, Honey Fitz was one of the most popular mayors Boston ever had! He once took Rose and her sister to vis­it President William McKinley in the White House.

Rose had been accepted at prestigious Wellesley College during her junior year in high school, but her father insisted on the very Catholic Convent of the Sacred Heart in Boston instead. Rose reluctantly obeyed her father’s instructions but luckily she grew fond of the convent school, saying the relig­ious training she received there became her foundation for life.

In her teens Rose met Joseph P Kennedy (1888-1969) at Old Orchard Beach Maine where their families were holidaying. Despite her father not being happy with the Kennedys, the young couple were married in 1914 by Cardinal O'Connell.

First married home, in Brookline

The couple's first home was a beautiful, 7 bedoom, three-storey grey building on Beals St in Brookline. Rose had learned fluent French and German when she went to a Dutch boarding school, and was an accomplished pianist. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that Rose was named the best-dressed public woman by a poll of fashion designers.

Joseph Kennedy was already making a small fortune each year as a businessman. When the family left Brookline and moved to New York 10 years later, he was already a multi-millionaire financier and in­vestor. His business dealings were often dodgy, especially his involvement with organised crime and bootlegging. And the long­­est of all his adulterous affairs was with Hollywood star Glor­ia Swan­son, an affair that took him away from home during Rose’s last preg­nancies.

Joseph Snr and Rose in the centre back 
and eight of their children, 1931

In just 18 years of marriage, Rose gave birth to 9 children. Joseph Jr was born in 1915, John 1917, Rosemary 1918, Kath­leen 1920, Eunice 1921, Patricia 1924, Robert 1925, Jean 1928 and Edward 1932. [I was exhausted from two babies in two years; Rose was pregnant every 18 months!]. 

In the late 1930s, her husband was named US ambassador to Britain. During their time in Europe, the Kennedy family was invit­ed to attend Pope Pius XII’s coronation in March 1939 and enjoyed a priv­ate audience with him. Only as WW2 broke out did Rose and the children go back to the USA.

In 1938-9, while Fascist persecutions in Germany intensified, Joe Kennedy was strengthening his faith in Nazism. Joseph Kenn­edy had a solution to The Jewish Problem; he said he had worked out with Chamber­lain a plan to ship all German Jews to Africa. In Sept 1940, Kenn­edy again sought a personal meeting with Hitler because he believed he could bring about closeness between the USA and Ger­m­any. When the White House read Kennedy’s nasty pro-Nazi beliefs, I am not sure if a] Roosevelt insisted that Kennedy return home or b] the new British PM Church­ill dem­and­­ed that Kennedy leave the UK.

Despite his father nasty political views, Rose’s eldest son Joseph Jr still fought for the Allies in the Navy. Tragically Joseph Jr was killed in action in Aug 1944, when he was flying on a mission over the Eng­lish Channel. Rose's first daughter Rosemary was lobotomised at 22 (at Jos­eph’s in­sis­tence) and spent most of her adult life in a care home.

And Rose showed some religious nastiness of her own. Daughter Kath­leen was a Red Cross nurse in London and wanted to marry Protestant William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington. Rose was very upset, and felt it was divine intervention when, just months after their marr­iage, Cavendish died fighting in WW2. And Rose was even madder when she heard that Kathleen later wanted to marry the still-married Prot­es­t­ant 8th Earl Fitzwilliam in 1948; again Rose said it was divine in­terv­ent­ion when her daughter Kathleen died in a plane crash in May 1948. Loss after loss :(


Alma Schindler Mahler - musical talent, sexual pleasure, Vienna's cultural elite

If I thought there was a lot of sex going on in the late 1960s, those of us interested in turn of the century Vienna had to do some rethinking. Here is my old post republished, now with a greater look at contemporary anti-Semitism.

Alma Schindler (1879-1964) was born in Vienna to famous landscape artist Emil Schind­ler and singer Anna von Bergen. Emil Schindler was known as an anti-Semite while Alma herself became an anti-Semite herself, even after her father died when she was only 12. This was strange, since two of Alma's three husbands were Jews, as were three of her favourite lovers.

After her father's death in 1892, Alma's mother married her late husb­and's former pupil Carl Moll (1861–1945), painter and co-founder of the Vienna Seces­sion. Moll’s Secessionist connections were important for young Alma; her lively social life expanded as she met the other Vienna Secession artists, including the very attractive Gustav Klimt (1862–1918). Klimt adored her but I am not sure her considerable musical talents were being supported by her cultivated colleagues.

Alma played the piano from childhood and loved composing. She met Jewish composer Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871—1942) in 1897, and learned composition with him until 1901. Zemlinsky had been a great teach­er for the very Jewish Arnold Schönberg (1874–1951) and a great contact for Alma. Zemlinsky and Alma fell in love, although Alma teased her lover about his ugly Jewish features. The relationship failed.

Alma and Gustav Mahler, 1902

In 1901 Alma attended Bertha Zucker­kandl’s literary salon, famous in cultured Jewish Vienna, where she began an affair with Austrian Jewish composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). Note that Gustav Mahler could only become the director of the prestigious Imperial Vienna State Opera if he converted to Catholicism. So he did.

While still in a relat­ion­ship with Zem­lin­sky, Alma started an aff­air with Mahler, and became engaged. In March 1902 they married and moved into a home near the Opera House where two daught­ers were born. With her own career nipped in the bud, Alma became the chief supporter of Gust­av's music. Probably Mahler had never liked Alma and Zemlinksy being lovers. But it was only when Gustav finally realised his wife had comp­os­ing talent that he helped her prepare her songs for public­ation in 1910. Good grief.

Mahler and Alma trav­elled together to New York, where Gustav work­ed as a conductor. In 1911 he tragically died, soon after their return to Vienna.

In 1910, Alma met and became very close with the young archit­ect Walter Gro­p­ius (1883–1969), my fav­ourite Austrian architect and event­ual­ly director of the world’s best art school, Bauhaus School of Art and Design.

Oskar Kokos­ch­ka, 
The Bride of the Wind, 1913
Kunst­museum Basel 

Oskar Kokos­ch­ka, 
Lovers with Cat, 1917
Kunsthaus Zürich

After Mahler's 1911 death, Alma also had a passionate affair with young Czech Christian artist Oskar Kokos­ch­ka (1886–1980). Alth­ough they later broke up, Kokoschka continued an unrequited love for Alma and paint­ed The Bride of the Wind 1913 and Lovers With Cat 1917 in her honour.

Kokoschka enlisted in the Austrian Army, so Alma resumed contact with Gropius who was a soldier himself. She and Grop­ius married in 1915 and had a child together, Manon Grop­ius, who died tragically at 18. Brilliant composer Alban Berg wrote a violin work in Manon’s honour.

With Gropius still in the army, Alma began a very public affair with Jewish Czech poet and writer Franz Werfel (1890–1945) in 1917. Within a year, Gropius and Alma agreed to a divorce which became final in 1920. However Alma and Werfel did not marry until 1929. Gropius, on the other hand, married Ilse Frank in late 1923 and they remained happily together until his death.

In 1938, Werfel’s Jewishness became critical. Soon after the Aust­rian Ansch­luss, Werfel was forced to flee to France; so Alma joined him in Southern France from 1938 until 1940. With the German occup­at­ion of France, Werfel faced Nazism directly and needed to imm­ig­rate to the USA urgently. Luckily Varian Fry, organiser of a priv­ate Am­erican relief and rescue organisation, was saving intellect­uals from Mars­eilles. Fry arranged for the Werfels to walk across the Pyrenees into Spain and Portugal, and by ship to New York.

I do not understand why Alma went into exile with her Jewish husband since a] she had never liked the Jewish community, b] she was not opposed to Nazism and c] she actively supported Franco in Spain. Perhaps love and sex were more powerful than anti-Semitism.

Mahler and Werfel

In the USA Werfel had great suc­c­ess with his novel which was made into a film in 1943. But sadly Werfel died in the USA in 1945. None­­theless Alma soon became a USA citizen and remained a major cultural figure in New York where she wrote her two Mahler biog­raphies. It is interesting that when Alma died in 1964 in New York, she chose to be buried back in Vienna, along­side her first husband Gustav Mahler. She had been a core member of Vienna’s cultural elite AND the main authority on Mahler's life and works.

Early in life Alma und­erstood that in male-dominated cultural Vienna, her role was to be a muse for brilliant men, in bed and out. But I wonder if being a famous socialite and active supporter of Alexander Zemlinsky, Gustav Mahler, Walter Gropius, Oskar Kokoschka, Franz Werfel and others was enough for her. Her own musical talents were never given the same professional support that the men received. Bride of the Wind: life and times of Al­ma Mahler-Werfel was written by Susanne Keegan


Vincent van Gogh "At Eternity's Gate" (film review)

At Eternity’s Gate (2018) is the latest film about Vincent van Gogh 1853–90 (Willem Dafoe), one of the western world’s most famous or infamous art­ists. Ac­ad­emy Award-nominated direct­or Julian Schnabel, himself a painter, made a film opening the last few years in the world of the artist for modern viewers.

From undergraduate lectures, I remember that Vincent van Gogh was seen as a disturbed person and his art was not loved. Yes the artist was erratic and eccentric, and no idea what­soever about how to approach a woman to converse. But by the time van Gogh moved to Auvers-sur-Oise in May 1890, the world was becoming a bit more aware of his artistic talents.

Self portrait with bandaged ear
by Vincent van Gogh, 1889

As an undergraduate I didn’t like French painter Paul Gauguin (Os­car Isaac) eit­her, but for a different reason. He deserted his wife and children, was rudely insensitive to van Gogh and later mar­r­ied very young girls in Tahiti. Although Paul Gauguin was ­de­picted as more supportive than he was, Vincent really did not understand that Gau­guin was also his rival and crit­ic. Gauguin had been forceful in his debates with ALL his fellow artist about their art skills and persp­ectives. But Gauguin had been blindly adored by Van Gogh, so when Gau­­guin said he was deserting Arles, Van Gogh was beyond consolat­ion. [The two never saw each other again, though they continued to correspond via mail].

The Yellow House (1888) in Arles was where Van Gogh rented four rooms in May 1888. He occupied two large ones on the ground floor (atelier and kitchen), and two small rooms above. van Gogh's guest room was where Gauguin lived for nine weeks from late Oct 1888.

I suppose Vincent was super fortunate to have a caring supp­ortive brother Theo (Rupert Friend) in the same country. Theo was in the right industry (art-dealing) to assist, plus he had enough mon­ey to keep the impoverished Vincent alive with a monthly allowance. The most difficult part of Theo’s life was when he had to race to Vin­cent’s side to save him eg whenever Vincent was in hosp­it­al.

Mental disturbances are always difficult to watch, even if the viewers knew in advance about van Gogh’s mental life. One thing the viewers could NOT know before the film was the way Vincent per­ceived the nat­ural world. Whenever he went into the open country to paint en plein air, there was a transfixed, almost ecstatic image on his face. The same was true after being released from a year at the St Remy asylum , with Dr Gachet (Mattieu Almaric) in Auvers.

Yellow house in Arles
by Vincent van Gogh, 1888

But without the mental disturbance, how would the film explain Vincent’s emotionally sad & socially isolated life? His self-mutilation or death? It was probably always going to be quite easy for the director to show how certain the Dutchman was of his artistic vision. But it was the actor who had to show Van Gogh’s tortured life. It was an art-driven life, but the steering wheel was chaotically emotional.

I wasn’t going to discuss Dr Gachet, but now it seems that van Gogh could talk to the doctor in a way that he could not talk to ot­hers. Why did he paint, even though he never sold any works? Why did cut off his ear? Why did he want Dr Gachet to pose for a port­rait?

Nor was I going to discuss the priest. Vincent’s father had been a Protestant minister in the Netherlands and the children were of course brought up in religion. Young Vincent started his theology studies, but instead he moved missionary work in a poor mining reg­ion in Belgium. I men­tion this for two reasons. Firstly Van Gogh was so seduced by nat­ure that the film suggested nature was where he saw God. He had long shown a strong attraction to religious images. For a non-Christian art historian, I didn’t know what to make of Van Gogh’s near-mystic visions. The film left it to the viewer to decide if the visions were the source of his artistic genius, symptoms of illness, or religious faith. Secondly in the film van Gogh’s had a crystal clear conver­s­ation with a priest who was in charge of van Gogh’s mental asylum. Yet van Gogh replied with surprisingly fluent theological ­answers.

van Gogh painting sunflowers
by Paul Gauguin, 1888

There were some imagined thoughts in the film. Van Gogh said of the villagers in Arles, “I just want to be one of them. I would like to sit down with them and have a drink.” But that seemed a very unlikely thought for the most sociably unskilled person in the world. Similarly Vincent stopped a shepherdess on the road and ordered her to lie down so that he could quickly get her image onto his canvas. Vincent thought it was art; the viewer thought it was assault and battery. His death too seemed imagined - the film showed that Van Gogh did not take his own life, but was shot instead by local hood­lums. And I wonder where the final scene came from - the artist in his coffin surrounded by his paintings!

Re the camera work, I liked Caryn James review: the film took an impressionist approach, freely inventing scenes and swerving from history when it suits him. Van Gogh was usually considered post-Impressionist, but the metaphor worked well. For example the camera flowed over a field of dead sunflowers and not much later, a well-known Van Gogh painting of bright sunflower appeared on his bedroom wall without any fuss. Peter Bradshaw wrote that wordless passages showed van Gogh striding through the landscape, transfixed and almost stupefied by what it offered. Note the piano chords on the soundtrack, maybe the secular equivalent of organ music.

In and out of asylums, Vincent van Gogh died at the tragically young age of 37 in Auvers-sur-Oise. Since leaving his homeland in 1886, he never saw the Netherlands again.


Jorn Utzon and Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House sits on Bennelong Point, a space first developed as a fort named after Governor Macquarie. It was later used as a tram shed which was demolished in 1958. The project of the Syd­ney Opera House began in 1954 when NSW state premier Joe Cahill brought together a comm­it­tee to begin work on procuring an edifice that would be a credit to the state not only today but also for hundreds of years. An internat­ion­­al design com­p­etition was launched in 1957, attracting 233 entries from around the globe.

Sydney Opera House,
Bennelong Point

 Sails and glass walls

19th century sailing boat on Sydney Harbour

Under the influence of Judge Eero Saarinen, the jury were emboldened into reaching for an ambitious concept of an opera house which was capable of becoming one of the great buildings of the world. They selected 38-year-old Danish Architect Jørn Utzon as the winner, writing "because of its very original­ity, Utzon's scheme is clearly a controversial design. We are however, absol­utely convinced of its merits." Utzon won ₤5000 for his submission.

In August 1958 the construction process began with the demol­ition of the Fort Macquarie Tram sheds, which stood on Bennel­ong point.

Utzon began work, assuming that it would take 18 months to develop the design documents for the project, which would be completed 15 years later. But by the time the building was opened in Oct 1973, the fervour of the project had taken several turns which marred the otherwise spectacular design and technical ac­h­ieve­­ments: the unexpected death of Cahill, a change in state government, concerns about time delays and the political football of the budget, all amplified by the constant savage media swirl around the project.

By 1966, disputes erupted between Utzon and the state govern­ment over progress, leading ultimately to Utzon's public and diff­icult resignation. Utzon's popular and professional support in Sydney and internationally was passionate. Rallies in support of Utzon's re­turn to the project marched on Parliament house.

However a state government keen to show progress quickly appointed a panel lead by Peter Hall. Hall's most clear contribution was com­ing up with the solution to the large glass walls on the Northern Kirribilli façade.

The sails sat on top of a heavy podium, which was believed to be the biggest column free chamber in the world. The highest roof shell was 67 metres above sea-level, the equivalent of a 22 storey building. Note that the sails were built with 3 tower cranes made in France for this job, costing $100,000 each. 

Utzon, 1965
In front of the Opera House being constructed

After Utzon's departure in 1966, or as a consequence of it, another major decision was made that would haunt the project. At the requ­est of the ABC, the use of the two main halls were changed to make the main hall, originally intended for Opera, into a symphony con­cert hall of 2,800 seats. The smaller venue was converted from the originally intended drama theatre to the primary opera venue. This compromise in the middle of construction added complexity to the project, as installation of the last precast shell unit of the famous sails had already been completed. The change forever plagued opera performances in the smaller space, which remained too cramped for their productions.

After leaving the difficult and very public experience of the Opera House project, Utzon amazingly got back to new work and continued to apply his approach to designs. The best projects included his own Mallorcan house, Can Lis, in 1966; an Australian family retreat originally intended as a holiday house; the Bagsværd Church outside Copenhagen, designed in 1968 and completed in 1976; and the Kuwait National Assembly Building, completed in 1982. They all demonst­rated Utzon's organic approach to design, and a highly attuned sensitivity to culture.

10,000 construction workers were engaged in the Sydney Opera House which was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in Oct 1973. Its final cost was $102 million, largely paid for by a State Lottery.

Jørn Utzon never returned to Australian although many reconciliat­ion attempts were made. But in 2004 he accepted an invitation to collaborate on the redesign of the building’s in­ter­iors, resulting in the dedication of the Utzon Room. In addition there are another 6 performance venues at Sydney Opera House: Opera Theatre, Concert Hall, Playhouse, Drama Theatre, Studio and Fore­court.

The Opera House has evolved to meet the demands of cont­emp­orary aud­iences and performance. The last completed major work on the Opera House was the extension of the western foyer areas and the opening of a drama theatre, playhouse and studio theatre. This el­egant extension by architect Rich­ard Johnson was completed with close attention to Utzon's original design approach, and has great­ly added to the capacity of the Opera House. The house remains one of the busiest performance venues in the world, hosting 1,500 events a year and receiving 8.2 million visitors annually. In 2007, the Sydney Opera House received UNESCO World Heritage listing.

Concert hall

2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Opera House. Thank you to Anthony Burke, UTS Professor of Architecture, used the ann­iversary to explore the above story for Australia's most recog­nis­able icon.

On Ut­zon's death at 90 in 2008, Frank Gehry memorialised the Dane saying: "Ut­zon made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology, and he persevered through extra­ord­inarily malicious publicity and negative criticism to build a building that changed the image of an entire country." Four generations of the Utzon family have been architects –Jørn’s father Aage, Jørn, his son Jan, plus Jan’s son Jeppe and daughter Kickan.


Did Scotland have the most impressive Enlightenment Era?

After King Charles’ death, Jacobite Rebellions, failure of the Darien Scheme on the Isthmus of Panama (1698–1700) and the social and economic instability that fol­lowed, a very slow recovery was expected in Scotland. Instead there was the birth of a movement we call the Scottish Enlight­enment.

Scotland’s Enlightenment may have been due to the Union of 1707 when Scotland suddenly had no parliament or king to improve the country's education. OR this surge of philosophical thought was the success of the historic universities of St And­rews, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh, at a time when England only had two. Scot­land’s Belle Époque began in the mid C18th and continued for a cent­ury. It marked a move from religion into reas­on: in politics, art, science, med­ic­ine, engineering and philosophy.

Thomas Reid (1710-96) studied philosophy in Aberdeen, then became a Presbyterian pastor. Long studies convinced Reid that scepticism was in­com­patib­le with common sense. Thus he re­jected sceptical empir­ic­ism in favour of his own Philosophy of Common Sense.

David Hume (1711-76) spent most of his time con­sidering subjects like morality, conscience, suicide and rel­igion. This sceptic distrusted miracles and the super­natural; in­stead he focused on the potential of humanity and its inherent morality. This did not go down well the majority of Scotland was very religious. Hume became as one of the famous philosophers writing in English, producing important works on human nature, religion, British history and pol­itics.

His work, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739) claimed that the observational study of the science of man should be the basis of all other fields of study: religion, moral philosophy and pol­it­ics. This was a radical and controversial proposition in Scotland. As one of the Edinburgh literati/intellectual elite, Hume was a founding members of the Select Society.

Rev Thomas Reid
by Henry Raeburn, 1795

David Hume
by Allan Ramsay, 1754

Adam Smith
by ? William the Younger Holl

Allan Ramsay (1713-84) was born in Edinburgh, the son of the poet and bookseller Allan Ramsay. He trained in Italy and London, where he established himself in 1738, and eventually became the leading British portrait painter of the mid-C18th. Among many others he painted David Hume and King George III. Ramsay initiated the very intellectual Select Society, along with David Hume, Adam Smith and James Burnett, Lord Monboddo.

Hugh Blair (1718-1800) was a leading figure in the Church of Scot­land. He too was one of Edinburgh’s literati, an early member of the Select Society and early fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. As Professor of Rhetoric at the Edinburgh Uni from 1760, he held the first dedicated chair of English in any university.

Blair gave public lectures on English language and literary crit­icism, and he chaired a literary sub-society created by the Select Society. Blair wrote a preface to James MacPherson's Fragments of An­cient Poetry in 1760. In 1763, he published A Critical Dissert­ation on the Poems of Ossian, estab­lishing Blair's reputation as a literary critic.

Adam Smith (1723-90) was a philosopher and political economist from Kirkcaldy in Fife. He belonged to the literati élite of Edin­burgh, and was friends with Hugh Blair, Adam Ferguson, David Hume and other key figures. Smith was also a founding member of the Select Society. Two of Smith's works became key texts of the Enlight­en­ment. The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) was a critical exam­ination of ethics, suggesting that morals arose from human sense and feeling, not from rational calculation. An Inquiry in to the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), aka The Wealth of Nat­ions, advocated a free market unregulated by the state ie capitalism.

Adam Ferguson (1723-1816) was a Scottish philosopher and historian. This Father of Modern Sociology was sym­pathetic to traditional soc­iet­ies (eg the Highlands) for producing courage and loyalty. He become professor of natural philosophy at Edinburgh from 1759, transferring to the chair of Mental and Moral Philosophy in 1764. Via David Hume, Ferguson became a member of the Poker Club. Founded in 1762 by Edinbugh's literati & intellectuals, the Poker Club supported a local militia, which had been banned to the Scots since the Jacobite rising back in 1745.

James Hutton (1726–97) was a geologist, physician, chem­ical manufacturer and experimental agricultur­alist in Edinburgh. This Father of Modern Geology did work involving sophisticated chemical experim­ents and used science to theorise about the age of the earth’s rocks, upturning biblical “data”.

James Boswell (1740-95) was born into a wealthy family in Edin­burgh. His father was a judge in the country’s highest courts, so he had his son sent to an exclusive academy. Boswell entered the University of Edinburgh in 1753, where he began his law studies and expanded his social horizons. Boswell did not seriously consider a literary life until his later years, in which he began writing verses and letters for publication in The Scots Magazine. He became a writer of polit­ical essays and travel accounts, and was famous as the biographer of Dr Samuel Johnston.

Robert Fergusson (1750-74) from Edinburgh was best known for his poetry. At St Andrews University, he loved studying Eng­lish literary texts. In 1769, Fergusson returned to Edinburgh where he interacted with local singers, musicians and actors, and enjoyed theatre life. During this time he had poems published in Edinburgh magazines.

In 1773 Fergusson published a volume of his poems. He was a member of Edinburgh's Cape Club, but in late 1773 he fell ill and had to retire. Supported by the Cape Club, Fergusson died in 1774 at just 24. Edinburgh’s important publisher Thomas Rudd­iman brought out further collections of Fergusson's poems post-death which eventually inspired Robert Burns.

The Scottish Enlightenment
by Alexander Broadie, 2001

Robert Burns (1759-96) was born in Ayr. His parents were tenant farmers who ensured their son was well educated and widely read. In under two years, Burns had spent most of the money he made from his published poetry, so in 1789 he began work as an Excise Officer in Dumfries. The hard work this new job entailed, combined with his dissolute lifestyle, began to harm Burns' health.

Burn’s radical pol­itical views influenced many of the poems that he wrote. Alexander Pope was his favourite English poet and Fergusson was his favourite Scot­tish poet. Some years after Fergusson's tragic death in 1774, Burns paid for a head­stone and memorial inscription for his hero's grave. Burns in turn died tragically in 1796, at 37, and was buried with full honours.

Of the 153 stars of the Scottish Enlightenment recorded in Wiki, only two were women. Clearly C18th intellectual life revolved around a series of clubs, beginning in Edinburgh first and later Glasgow. Note in particular the Easy Club, Political Economy Club, The Select Society and later, The Poker Club. Perhaps women weren't invited to clubs!

You may like to read The Scottish Enlightenment and Literary Culture, edited by Ronnie Young et al, 2016.



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