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The Allen Brothers, then Peter Allen alone

Peter Allen Woolnough (1944-92) was born in Tenterfield in rural NSW. His father and uncles were away at the war in 1944-5 so he was raised mainly by the women in his family, even after the war. As he grew up, Peter escaped from his troubled home life by devel­op­ing a precocious talent in music, encouraged by his mother.

At 13 his father suicided so Peter and his mother had to settle in Lismore in far north NSW. In 1958 he left school at 14 and was soon playing at dances and clubs in beach towns near Lis­more. While on the Gold Coast, he met anoth­er aspiring young perf­orm­er, singer-guitarist Chris Bell and established them­selves as The Allen Brothers, a folk-pop nightclub duo. They had copied the Everly Brothers.

The Allen Brothers, Chris (left) and Peter (right)

They made their first TV appearance on ATN-7’s show Teen Time in 1959. They moved to Sydney where they were spotted by Brian Hend­erson, compare of the TV pop show Bandstand, and became regulars on the show. Via this early live TV experien­ce, they met other young Australian performers eg Olivia Newton-John.

Johnny O’Keefe signed the Allen Brothers to his label and produced their first recordings in Apr 1960. The Allen Brothers switched labels again in 1961, releasing singles on EMI's label. In Ap 1962, they performed in a Las Vegas-style night­club in Tokyo and then toured all around S.E Asia.

Judy Garland had given triumphant performances at the Sydney Stadium, but her 1964 Mel­bourne show was a disaster. On her arrival in Hong Kong she almost overdosed on tranquillisers. While she recovered, the Garl­and went to the Hong Kong Hilton, spotted the Allen Brothers and became their manager. Garland hired them as her opening act for a concert at the London Palladium and introduced Peter to her daughter Liza Minnelli. In 1965 The Allen Bros premiered with Garland in On Broadway Tonight.

Peter's gay sexuality was no secret within the industry, but if Liza was aware of it, they happily married any­how in Mar 1967. Hopefully the marriage prov­ed of immense help to Peter permanent residence-wise.

The Allen Brothers signed an album deal with Mercury Records in 1968 and recorded their debut LP. In June 1968 Minnelli made her first visit to Australia, accomp­an­ied by the men, and they played a hugely successful sea­son in Sydney.

By the late 1960s the Allen Brothers were well-established as a cabaret act, but Peter loved the vibrant Greenwich Vill­age music scene and off-Broadway theatre. Beginning with an opening for rising star Bette Midler, Allen be­came more famous in New York’s cabaret revival of the early 1970s.

In Jun 1969 Judy Garland died in London, aged only 47, after she had fallen into a destructive blear of drugs and alcohol.

Peter and Liza separated late in 1969 and the Allen Brothers broke up in early in 1970; Chris Bell permanently quit show business and went elsewhere. Texan Greg Connell, a male model and light designer, was Peter’s great love from 1970 on. [Tragic­ally Connell also died from AIDS in 1984].

In June 1970 Peter played his first solo show in a Greenwich Vill­age nightclub. During this per­iod he excelled at writing reflective ballads and bitter­sweet love songs; he was fortunate that his com­posing career coincided with the singer-songwriter vogue of the early 1970s eg Elton John. At Metromedia Music, he met and successfully worked with songwriter Carole Bayer-Sager.

During 1971 Allen returned to Australia for a Bandstand reunion. It included two songs co-written with Bayer Sager, Don't Cry Out Loud and I'd Rather Leave While I'm In Love, both of which later became big hits. It was followed by the album Tenterfield Saddler in 1972, which included Peter's tribute to his grandfather (and was my favourite).

Peter returned to performing in 1973 in popular New York night clubs. He quickly built up a cult following, partly because of his flamboyant stage antics, and it wasn't long before other singers were choosing and performing his songs, including his close Australian friends Olivia Newton-John and Helen Reddy.
The boy from Oz : the Peter Allen story 
written by Stephen MacLean
published in 1996

In 1976 Peter record­ed an album that included the most important single of Peter's career, I Go to Rio (1976). The video simply showed Peter in his loud Hawaiian shirt, playing his piano, dancing around the studio with marrac­c­as. The clip went to air in Australia on the TV show Countdown, and thanks to Countdown's huge national audience, "Rio" topped the Australian charts in July 1977.

He made his London cabaret debut and this led to his first film role, in 1978. It was the fantasy film musical Sgt Pep­p­er's Lonely Hearts Club Band, starring The Bee Gees, Peter Frampton and George Burns. The sound­track consisted of Beatles songs, perform­ed by an all-star line up, including Helen Reddy, Tina Turner and of course Peter Allen.

In 1980 a visit to Australia led to the creation of one of the best-known of his songs, I Still Call Australia Home. Peter wrote the song during the performance and sang it for the first time on the tour's closing night in Melbourne. Singing in Sydney with a 400-voice choir, Peter performed the song with Helen Reddy and Olivia Newton-John as the concert's grand finale. It caught on and became an unofficial Australian anthem.

By this time Peter was drawing full houses at major US sites like Radio City Music Hall, where he headlined during 1981. His high-camp theatricality left little room for doubt about his gay sexuality.

Famous composer Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager’s husband, had been hired to write the score for a new comedy film, Arthur, in 1981. Carole and Burt collaborated on the theme song for the film when Carole used a phrase from one of Peter's old songs in the chorus: When you get caught between the moon and New York City. Arthur’s theme song became a huge international hit single.

Peter returned to Australia for a season in Jan 1990, and another season in Jan 1992 but he was very ill from AIDS-related throat cancer. He returned to America, but he deter­iorated and died in June 1992, aged 48. Oh how I miss you, Peter. Ditto Helen Reddy and Olivia Newton John.

In 1998 The Boy From Oz show opened in Sydney and was successful for 2 years. The show premiered on Broadway in 2003 with Hugh Jackman in the title role. How perfect!


Who inspired Ebenezer Howard and the Garden City Movement?

The  Garden City Movement was a brilliant British approach to urban planning, founded in 1898 by Sir Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928).  But what were the inspirations that promoted Ebenezer Howard's views on modern town planning?

The deep gorge of the River Clyde near Lanark in Southern Scot­land had spectacular linn-water­falls. Two men, Glas­g­ow financier David Dale (1739–1806) and Eng­lish cot­ton spinning industrialist Richard Arkwright, loved the land and took cont­rol of New Lanark in 1786. By the 1790s the men had 4 mills in full operation, powered by Scotland’s River Clyde.

New Lanark on the River Clyde

Of the total 1790s work­force, two thirds were children, many from Edinburgh and Glasgow orph­an­ages. The children’s working day started at 6 am and fin­ish­ed at 7 pm. Yet by 1793 standards, David Dale was an en­lightened employer. Food and acc­ommodation were good, children attended school for two hours each day after work, and workers fared better than other Scots did.

Dale expanded his workforce by recruiting Highlanders re­moved from their land during the Clearances. To house them, he built housing rows at both ends of the village. Again he was considered an enlightened employer; the education and welfare of his workers were important to him.

Welshman Robert Owen 1771–1858 visited New Lanark for the first time in 1798. He had met Dale's daughter Caroline in Gl­asgow and within a year, Robert Owen was negotiating to purch­ase New Lanark. He mar­ried Caroline in 1799, and took over New Lanark in Jan 1800.

Owen immediately started to tighten discipline, dismissing drunk workers. Output and productivity of textile production increased. When Dale sold New Lanark Mills to his new son-in-law Robert Owen in 1799, few believed that this would become the most import­ant experiment in human happiness yet instituted.

Owen's school

Based on Dale’s alt­ruism, Owen created a revolutionary model for ind­us­trial communities. Owen kept the workers on full pay during a 1806 trade dis­pute with the USA that temporarily stopped the flow of cot­ton. In 1809 the children were moved from dormitories in Mill 4 to the purpose-built Nursery Buildings. A village store was opened by Owen in 1813. And he developed grand plans to build on Dale’s educational plans.

Owen specified radical social reform in A New View of Society: Es­says on the Formation of the Human Cha­r­acter 1813, a protest against the condition of the British poor. The idea that “harsh conditions in factories were damaging to workers” led to conflict with Owen’s partners. In 1813 he took control of New Lanark and found new Quaker partners (eg John Walker), keen to help implement his ideas. 

The reformer built an Institution for the Formation of Character (now the Vis­itor Centre) in 1816, and then built a School for Chil­d­ren next door. The Village Store grew, with its profits being re­cycled to pay for education. Owen also established a Sick Fund for Workers. Leisure and recreation were important - concerts, dances and pleasant landscaped areas were very popular.

Owen's publicity attracted European politicians and thinkers, and his factories were visited by European policy-makers. Owen was invited to give testimony to the British Parliament select committee on factory working conditions and the Poor Law, but was disappointed with the response. He felt that the Factory Act of 1819 was woefully inadequate.

Had Owen always planned a social revolution at New Lanark? Or was he a capitalist who happened to realise the impor­t­ance of his workers’ wellbeing to the profit­ab­il­ity of his company? Was Robert Owen management enlightened or pat­er­n­­alistic? It doesn’t matter; he was implementing revolut­ion­ary ideas, 80 years ahead of his time.

Housing rows

In 1824 Owen sold his inter­ests in New Lanark largely to Charles and Henry Walker, sons of John Walk­er. Owen himself sailed for Am­er­ica, where he purchased a Utopian community called New Harmony, Indiana. Sadly it failed and he returned home in 1829.

In 1881 New Lanark was sold to Henry Birkmyre of the Gourock rope-making co. Burkmyre sought to maintain the underlying social patt­erns, merely divers­ifying the activity at New Lan­ark - products now included deck chair cov­ers, military canvas, circus big tops, ropes and fishing nets.

Working families were brought from Ireland and the Isle of Man to add their skills to the locals.  Soon it was normal for homes to contain two rooms (instead of one), kit­chen sinks and cold water taps. Even the old communal outside toil­ets were replaced with inside toilets. And from 1898, one electric bulb was been supplied free to each home. Ebenezer Howard read of every development with enthusiasm.

New Lanark Mills

So....the village was founded in 1785, the cotton mills being powered by water-wheels. It was Robert Owen who was the Utopian idealist founder of New Lanark, the man who implemented a model utopian community. Planning and architecture had to be integ­rated, with a humane concern by emp­loyers for the well-being of the workers. The village was established to show that the evils of poverty, social dis­advantage and ignorance could be over­come through universal ed­uc­ation, factory reform, discipline, good housing and health care. On behalf of Ebenezer Howard and his colleagues, I salute Robert Owen and David Dale.


A Housing Association was formed in 1963 to refurbish homes in Caithness Row and Nursery Buildings, stopping only when a rope co­m­pany closed the mills and lost the final 350 jobs in 1968. In 1970 the site was sold to a company who extracted aluminium from scrap metal: but few jobs were created and the village fell apart.

In 1974 the New Lanark Conservation Trust started restorations, based on full historic records. By then Ow­en's School was derelict and partly roofless. Great changes were made to Mill 1, which was fully rebuilt and converted into the New Lanark Mill Hotel. It offers good ac­c­ommod­ation, rest­aur­ant, bars, con­ference centre, wedding & banqueting fac­il­ities. Wee Row was converted into a 60 bed Youth Hostel. And the other housing was converted into 45 Housing Ass­oc­iation tenancies and 20 owner-occupied houses. New Lanark was recognised with World Heritage Status in 2001; 500,000 visitors arrive each year!


14th century treasures from Colmar, now in the Met New York

Erfurt (Germany) and Colmar (France) are 540 ks apart, but I am mentioning the two towns together for one important reason. “Treasures of the Black Death” was the name of a 2009 ex­hibition of medieval jew­ellery at London’s Wallace Collection. The C14th jewels in the Wallace Collection come from two hoards — one uncovered in Colmar in 1863 and the other in Erfurt in 1998.

Many of the Wallace Collection art objects concerned marriage, as I expected. When else would families try to buy beaut­iful items they could not have afforded at any other time in their entire lives? The loveliest Erfurt pieces were gold Jewish wedding rings with buildings that symbolis­ed both the marital home and the Temple of Jerusalem. The arches had “mazel tov/good luck” engraved on these rings that were worn only during wedding ceremonies.

Ceremonial ring from a Jewish wedding, c1300-48
3.5 × 2.3cm, 
Photo: Musée de Cluny

Now for some important history. In the years 1348–49, as the Black Death spread from Crimea to Wes­tern Europe, up to a million people died. But rather than save as many people as possible, religious fanaticism was stirred in the wake of the plague - Christians tar­g­etted Jews, le­p­ers, Romani and other outsid­ers. The Jewish comm­un­ity in Alsace’s towns was to be held to be respons­ible for intention­ally causing Christ­ian deaths, as part of a world­wide conspiracy.  The Jews were accused of poisoning the public wells with plague!

The entire Jewish population of Colmar was massacred in Jan 1349. A second massacre occurred in Feb 1349, when several hundred Jews were publicly burnt to death in Strasbourg. And then 1000 Erfurt Jews were murd­er­ed in March 1349. Surviving Jews were sub­seq­uent­ly for­bidden to stay in their own town and were reminded every ev­en­ing at 10 PM by a cathedral bell to leave. Alsatian Jews then settled in other vil­l­ages and small towns, where many of them became cloth merchants.

Unbelievably the Colmar Treasure was re-found, largely intact, in 1863. It was assumed that some of the items were sold by the first men into the wall, before the full extent of the Treasure was formally rep­or­ted. Most of the surviving gold and silver treasures from the C14th were religious, since secular gold and silverwork tended to be re­made later according to fashion dictates of the day.

How did it happen that a small hoard of coins and jewellery bel­ong­ing to one of the town’s Jewish families was found hidden in the walls of a house centuries later? As it turned out, the house was in the mediev­al rue des Juifs, in Colmar. Anyhow The Hist­ory Blog argued that who­ever buried their most precious treas­ures probably had no chance to retrieve them because they were: 1] killed during these pogroms, 2] died of plague or 3] were expelled never to return.

jewelled brooch, 1325-48
silver, sapphires, rubies, garnets and pearls
3.7 cm sq Photo: Musée de Cluny

Fortunately for art hist­or­ians, most of the C14th gold and silver that the treasure hunters found are in the Musée de Cluny today (al­though the find was not fully published for many decades). This current exhibition brings the collection from the Musée de Cluny in Paris to New York, and presents it alongside Judaica and related works to explore medieval art history.

These art objects are now on view in "The Colmar Treasure: Medieval Jewish Legacy" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It opened last month (July 2019) and will continue until 12th Jan 2020.

double cup, 1325–50
silver, silver gilt, and opaque enamel
photo: Met Cloisers

Colmar’s medieval treasure includes coins, table ware and gold and silver jew­el­lery (rings, brooches and el­egant belt buckles). This loan from Musée de Cluny Paris allowed the Colmar Treasure to be displayed with works from The Met Cloisters and other little-known Judaica in US collections.

Although the 49 art objects being displayed are modest in size, Christians were clearly not the only C14th community that under­stood religious arts. This exhibition points to both legacy and loss in Jewish history, in the horrid days of black plague and mass murder. For me the greatest miracle was that the treasure survived at all, even as I note that the art objects were never recorded in C14th documents, nor were they discovered until 1863! Imagine if the Magna Carta had been lost in 1215 and no one knew of the charter of rights until it was accidentally located 600 years later!

My three favourite objects come from the Met’s page on exhibition objects:

A] The jewelled brooch was dated to 1325-48. Was this jewel meant to deter overly ardent suitors? According to a C13th French manual on proper deportment, brooches were intended to keep men from touching women where they should not. The central garnet was faceted to enhance its reflectivity, a practice that began around this time. It could be, however, that the brooch originally held an uncut stone that was lost, and this faceted garnet was added while the object was in private hands.

silk and linen purse, dated to the early C14th
14 x 15.2cm  
Photo: The Met

B] On a silk and linen purse, dated early C14th, two lovers stood in the shade of a tree and gazed at each other as the man proffered a large ring. Love, or formal engagement, was clearly in the air. C14th ladies’ cloths did not have pockets; rather pur­­­s­es were used to hold small, personal treasures. Col­ourful silk knots de­corated the bottom edge of this purse; others of the time had dangling silver bells. 

C] Ceremonial ring from a Jewish wedding, c1300-48. This wedding ring was the most technically accomplished example of gold­smith’s work in the Colmar Treasure. Its miniature dome and supporting arches mimiced the imagined form of the lost Temple in Jerusalem, metaphorically connecting that site to the newlyweds’ home. Hebrew letters spelled out mazel tov/good luck and set a cong­ratulatory tone, enhanced by red and traces of green enamel. The bezel was in the form of a small building instead of a precious stone, because Jewish tradition re­quired that wedding rings be made as one piece.

Germany, France and Switzerland
See Erfurt and Colmar (C)


History of coffee houses in England

Reread the post that was largely concerned the introduction and usage of tea in Britain. Now we analyse the story of coffee in Britain.

Coffeehouses were already popular in Constantinople by 1550 and were called Schools of Wisdom! In 1632 there were 1,000 public coffee houses in Cairo, but the first public cof­f­ee house didn’t open in Venice until 1640, where the mer­chants imp­orted it from Turkey. It seems the Vien­nese didn’t know what to do with the coffee beans they found, after the 1683 siege by Turks, until some bright spark pop­ularised the custom of adding sugar and milk to the coffee. The new drink soon became very pop­u­lar. Soon drinking Viennese-style coffee spread throughout central Europe, and it has been ­famous ever since.

In 1645 coffee-drinking had already become very common in southern It­aly. From Italy, coffee made its way to France where it was intr­o­duced to society in 1650. A Greek named Pasqua created the first coffee house in London 1652 and by 1700, coffee houses were popular across Europe.

By 1714 Vienna had 11 licensed Coffee-Houses. The devel­op­ment of coffee houses in Austria went along with an­ot­h­er innov­ation: in early C18th the first period­ical newspapers appeared, Wien­er Zeitung, which today is the oldest news­paper in the world. Imag­es at the time show the interior of a typ­ical Viennese coffee house. Large tab­les ran down the length of the room with bench seating; pots of cof­f­ee warmed on a large hearth; the hostess distributed nibbles from a front booth and newspapers were everywhere.

The first recorded coffee house in England was in Oxford, open by 1650. The first in London, at the Sign of Pasqua Rosee in St Michael's Alley off Cornhill, was open by 1652. The venture was an immediate success, so much so that large numbers of coffee-houses were established throughout the city. From its simple beginnings in Cornhill, the coffee-house quickly became the centre of social life.

The interior of a London coffee-house

Examine the interior of a busy coffee-house in late C17th London. Men sat in the candlelight, sharing long wooden benches, drinking coffee, smoking clay pipes and discussing the newspapers. One servant took a bundle of long pipes from a large chest, while another poured dishes of coffee for customers. A maid with a high lace headdress served behind the bar, and a man enjoyed the heat of the fire where the coffeepots were warming. The walls were hung with various notices and paintings, including an advertisement for something stronger than coffee, probably whiskey.

There were soon cof­fee houses for every social class, and every pers­uas­ion of politics, literature and commerce. The Smyrna Coffee House was the meeting place of choice for leading members of the Whig Party, while members of the Tory Party met at the Cocoa-Tree, both in Pall Mall. The Pur­it­an’s Coffee House on Ald­ergate St was useful for its political conversat­ion. Those in rad­ical politics would gather at the Cromwell Coffee House. Trades and professions had their favourite places. Sometimes coffee houses were used for more formal educat­ional activities eg lectures; more commonly they provided a base for clubs and societies, including debating clubs. The first of these was based at Mile’s Coffee House, at the sign of the Turk’s Head in New Palace Yard in 1659. Old Slaughter's Coffee House in St Martin’s Lane attracted artists in 1692.

William Lovett noted that by 1700, a quarter of the 2000 London coffee houses had libraries, some with hundreds or even a thousand volumes. Most of the establishments functioned as read­ing rooms, for the cost of newspapers and pamphlets was included in the admission charge. Bull­etins announcing sales, sailings and auctions covered the walls of the House, providing valuable in­f­ormation to the business man who might have conducted his business from within his favourite coffee-house.


Édouard Manet's final years of art - on display in American galleries in 2019-20

Édouard Manet was born in Paris in 1832 into a privileged family: His father was a high-ranking civil servant, and his mother’s fam­ily was well connected during and after the Napoleonic era. Manet was one of the few art students who could afford to eat and to feed his friends, and to buy proper art equipment.

This, the first exhibition at the Chicago Art Institute devoted exclus­ively to Manet in many decades, focuses on the transformation of the artist’s style in his later years. Manet’s ground-breaking works of the 1860s had been shaped by his rediscovery of old masters like Veláz­quez. Yet by the late 1870s, Manet was recognised as an artist of modern life. Certainly he examined historical subjects and hist­or­ical styles, but in the 1870s he wanted the life that was actually happening in Paris in his own time.

In his mid-40s Manet's health rapidly deteriorated; he suffered severe pain and partial paral­ys­is in his legs. In 1879 the artist began receiving hydro­therapy treatments at a spa, but since he had tertiary syphilis, all water-treatments failed. And as his mobility became increasingly restricted, Manet had to ad­apt to new methods of painting and to a decreased access to travel. Fortunately he still had his own house and garden to paint in.

Emilie Ambre as Carmen, 1881

Left: Jeanne (Spring) 1881 and
right: Méry (Autumn) 1881

The House at Rueil (1882, 93 × 74 cm) was my favourite late work. Manet’s works, many painted for friends, functioned as parting gifts from an artist who knew his death was imminent. Purchased from artist Jean-Baptiste Fauré in Paris straight after Man­et died in 1883, this painting made its way through various gall­er­ies, arriv­ing in the National Gallery Victor­ia in 1926. Thank you, NGV, for lending the House at Rueil to Chicago and to The Getty.

Smaller canvases allowed the artist to paint sitting down; water colours and pastels were less exhausting than oils; and he limited his images to a single person or a small still life. Manet’s era of large-scale masterpieces like Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (1862, ‎208 × 265 cm) and Olympia (1863, 131 × 190 cm) was over. This display is the first to focus on this later era in the artist’s car­eer. In his last years Manet painted many small-scale still lifes of fruits and vegetables eg tiny The Lemon (1880, 14 x 22 cm). In Bunch of As­p­aragus (1880, 17 x 22 cm), a gleaming white bunch was resting on a bed of lush greenery.

He limited himself to small but delightful floral formats eg Pinks and Clematis in a Crystal Vase (1882, 33 x 25 cm). It was this series of flowers, painted the year before he died, that best caught Manet’s late concept of beauty: roses, peonies, lil­acs, and sprays of flow­ers in crystal vases. Small-scale and in­tim­ate, they showed off Manet’s painstaking brushwork and his at­t­ent­ion to light and shad­ow. His contemporaries tended to depict top-heavy flower bouquets in ceramic vases. Manet, by contrast, placed his bouquets in clear and conspicuous crystal vases that were as lovely as the flowers. In Moss Roses in a Vase (1882, 56 x 34 cm), painted in the year before his death, the action was in the shimmering stems in the water inside the vase. His late floral paintings works were fine examples of transparency, showing the reflected light.

And another two of his late paintings were of the young fash­ion­able model-actress Jeanne Dem­arsy and one of his friend Méry Laur­ent. Called Jeanne (Spring) 1881 and Méry (Autumn) 1881, the two were single portraits and not busy social scenes. Intended for a series on the four seasons, these two hung at the 1882 Salon, charming and chic. Just as well Manet had plenty of gardens around his studio. Note the blossoms surround­ing Jeanne’s head and the flowers decorating her dress.

 Four apples, 1882

 Moss roses in a vase, 1882

Pinks and clematis in a crystal vase, 1882

At that 1882 exhibition, the critics believed the two paintings ec­lipsed the now far-better-known Bar at the Folies-Bergère (96 cm x 1.3 m), which was also there on view, and offered Manet a great suc­­cess at his last Salon showing. But I am not sure that was true. Paul Getty Museum didn’t even purchase Jeanne (Spring) until 2014.

In April 1883, the artist’s left foot was amputated because of gang­rene, due to complications from tertiary syphilis. He died in Paris and was buried in the Passy Cemetery.

Now in Chicago’s Art Institute where the show runs until 8th Sept 2019, it will then be moving to The Getty from Oct-12th Jan 2020. Manet and Modern Beauty features 90 artworks and chronicles the artist’s painful but productive final years. The show opens with a look at Manet’s work from the 1870s, when he felt a close kin­ship with the French impressionists, and concludes with his very late, smaller themes.

Conclusion This is the first Chicago Art Institute show solely devoted to the Manet in decades, and the first loan exhib­ition at the Getty ever. Manet’s late interest in still lifes was in part a result of his own diminished physical cap­ac­ities. Though his last years were spent in constant pain, often living in temporary homes where he went for rest cur­es, Manet was still desperate to paint.

House at Rueil, 1882


My beautiful Czechoslovakia: 1845-1940 Guest post

I was born in Czechoslovakia, but I must thank my late mother & A Brief History of the Czech Lands for this post.

In the early C19th Czech industry grew rapidly. The textile, sugar industry and iron industries all flourished. And this Industrial Revolution of course required a top quality railway system between Vienna and Prague which opened in 1845. The regions had achieved a leading level of indust­rial­isation in central Europe and had a sig­­nificant position within the Habsburg Empire. The growing ind­ustry resulted in an increase of Prague's Czech population as people mig­rated in from the countryside.

Centre of elegant Prague

Czech nationalism and revolutionary ideas grew, and ig­nited by a rev­ol­ution in France in 1848, they exploded in re­vol­ution. Alarmed by the unrest sweep­ing Europe, the Aust­rian emperor at first prom­ised his people constit­utional changes; in fact in June a Slav Con­gress was held in Prague. When the Czech radicals erected barr­icad­es in the streets of Prag­ue, the Austrian army withdrew, but used artil­l­ery to bombard Prague. The city surrendered and all revol­ut­ions in the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed.

However in 1859 Austria was defeated in a war with France, and 7 years later the Austrians were defeated in a war with Prussia. Fol­l­owing these two shameful experiences, the Dual Monarchy was creat­ed in 1867 where Austria and Hungary became independent states with one monarch. How­ever the Czechs were not granted autonomy, so nat­ion­al­ism and demands for independence grew. Meanwhile, industrialisat­ion cont­in­ued in Czechoslovakia, especially the coal mining, eng­in­eer­ing and the textile industries which accelerated later in the cent­ury. The strong agricultural sector made more capital av­ail­ab­le and new banks were founded, primarily in Prague. A secur­it­ies exchange was established in 1871 and a commod­ities exchange in 1887.

Independent Czechoslovakia 
declared in Prague
in 28th Oct 1918

Though German was the official language, Czech language and culture survived through the years of Austrian occupation. As the Habsburgs eased their grip in the C19th, Prague and Brno became centres of the Czech national revival. The revival did not expres­s itself in pol­it­ics but in Czech-language literature and arts. And it continued as Czech institut­ions were established to celebrate Czech history and culture: National Theatre opened in 1868 and National Museum in 1890. The great Czech comp­osers Bedřich Smetana (1824–84), Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) and Leoš Janáček (1854–1928) rose to stardom.

At the turn of the century, Bohemia was still part of the Habsburg Empire but in 1914, the Czechs were reluctant to fight for the Aus­tr­ians and Hungarians. They were even reluctant to fight the Russians, their fellow Slavs.

A Czech academic called Tomas Masaryk formed an organ­is­ation called the Czech National Committee. In Nov 1915 this Commit­tee called for an independent Bohemia and Sl­ov­akia. In June 1918, the Committee was recognised as the provisional government of Cz­echoslovakia by France, then by Brit­ain, USA and Italy. The Austria-Hungary was collapsing.

For Czechs, at least the tragedy of WWI had one great outcome: the defeat of the Central powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary, left the Habsburg empire too weak to fight for its former lands. This paved the way for the creation of independent Czechoslovakia in 28th Oct 1918. Tomas Masaryk was the first prime minister, and in 1935 Ed­vard Beneš took over.

The new republic linked ethnic Czechs (Bohemians and Moravians) with their eastern linguistic family, the Slovaks. Czechoslovakia was the only industrialised state in eastern Europe. The only deb­atable inclusion were the 3 million German speakers in the Sudet­en­land who reluctantly joined the new republic. Nonetheless the new Czechoslovakia also proved to be the only successful dem­ocracy. In the two decades between indep­endence and the Sept 1938 Munich Agreement, it was a flourishing state.

Thank you to PE Caquet for discussing the 1938-40 era. Note four sad episodes of appeasement:

A] In 1935 Mussolini invaded Abyssinia. The Italians used brutal tanks & air­craft against the Afric­ans, but the French & Brit­ish didn’t want to push Mussolini towards Hit­ler.

B] In 1937, a German air-force squad­ron bombed the Spanish town of Guernica, massacring its defenceless civilians. Fr­ance and Brit­ain “believed” that the German troops were volunteers.

C] The German army marched into Aust­ria and annexed it. This was the last straw! If Hit­ler thought he could do the same to Czech­os­lovakia, France and Britain warned, he would pay a great price.

Sudeten Germans welcomed the German army into what used to be Czech territory
Oct 1938

D] The 1938 Munich Agreement, that conceded the Sudeten German territory of Czechoslovakia to Germany, was the most dramatic step in ap­peasement. After his agreement with Hitler on the carve-up of Czechoslovakia,  British Prime Minister Neville Chamb­er­lain ret­urned from the Munich Conference to proclaim Peace For Our Time.

But Ch­amb­erlain and French PM Edouard Dal­ad­ier soon dis­covered that they didn’t buy peace; they actually fed Nazi app­etites! Hitler swore this was the end of his territorial ambit­ions, noting that he was leaving a rump Czech state. Only 6 months later, Hitler ordered his troops into Prague!

Britain and France believed it was worthwhile sacrificing Czech­osl­ov­akia in 1938, the better to face Germany militarily once the war started. Except that it wasn’t. A third of the German tanks at the French front in May 1940 were built in Czech­oslovakia. Germany des­perate shortages had been reliev­ed via the Czech annexation. Had the Munich Agreement not stalled it, WW2 in Europe would have begun in 1938. With arguments supporting appeasement, Cham­berlain and Daladier bought time and avoided embroiling count­ries in a conflict for which they weren’t prepared. But the price for Czechs and others was huge. As my uncle documented here.

Thank you to the wonderful Czech blog Tres Bohemes for great photos. 

Dr Joseph


Madame Marie Tussaud, a brilliant French and English artist

Marie Grosholtz (1761-1850) was born in Strasbourg. When she was 6, her widowed mother took Marie to Bern Switz­erland. There the family moved into the home of phys­ician Dr Philippe Curtius (1741–1794), for whom mum acted as housekeeper. When he moved to France in 1766, he took mum and Marie with him.

Dr Curtius used his skill in wax modelling to illustrate anat­omy. The first exhibition of his waxworks was shown in 1770, and drew many people. The exhibition moved to the Palais Roy­al in 1776 and the doctor became a member of the Academy of St-Luc two years later. And he opened another location on Boulevard du Temple in 1782.
Voltaire, 1777

Dr Curtius taught young Marie the art of wax modelling and her first wax sculpture was of Voltaire, in 1777. At 17 she became the art tutor to King Louis XVI's sister at the Pal­ace of Versailles.

She moulded King Louis XVI’s head after his execution. When Jean-Paul Marat was stabbed in his bath by Charlotte Corday, the National Assembly instructed Marie to make his death mask and to sketch the scene for the painter Jacques-Louis David. After Charl­otte Corday’s own execution, Marie took a cast of the dead woman’s face, and lat­er mod­el­led Marie Antoinette’s and Robespierre’s severed heads.

As Marie was in Paris during the Revolution, she knew that a mob stole the wax busts of the Duc d’Orleans and Fin­ance Minister Necker from their exhibition, and paraded them about the streets in a mock funeral. The mob was shot at, marking the first real blood letting of the Re­v­ol­ution in July 1789, and stoked the storming of the Bastille 2 days later.

The Reign of Terror was the period of the French Revolution from Sep 1793-­Jul 1794. With civil war spreading from the Vendée and hos­tile armies surrounding France on all sides, the Revol­ut­ion­ary government decided to intensify terror and to take harsh measures against the suspected enemies of the Rev­olution (nobles, priests). In Paris a wave of exec­ut­ions followed. In the provinces, surveill­ance committees ins­tit­uted local terror campaigns.

To­wards the height of the Terror, Marie was arrested and impr­is­on­ed for being pro-royalist for three months awaiting exec­ut­ion. So to prove her allegiance to the Revolution, she was forced to make death masks of guillotined nobles, including the King and Queen. And many of the heads she handled had been her Uncle Dr Curtius’ friends. It was a bloody and hideous task :(
Other fam­ous people Marie modelled includ­ed Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Ben­jamin Franklin and Sir Walter Scott. In fact during her career, Marie met, and often mod­elled from life, the most famous personages in history then, her personal con­t­emporaries.

Guillotined heads of Marie’s friends in Madelaine Cemetery, Paris.
Copied from Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Marat, Robespierre etc

Marie Grosholtz inherited the doctor's vast collection of wax mod­els foll­ow­ing his death in 1794, but now she was on her own. Hoping to strengthen her position, she marr­ied the engineer Francois Tus­saud in 1795. The Tussauds had two sons, Joseph and François, but the marriage failed and Marie never saw him again after 1802. As France had become fixated on Napoleon, Marie left Paris, taking the boys and her waxworks across the Channel. 

Marie couldn’t speak English, but they couldn’t return to France during the Napoleonic Wars. So they continued to travel­ acr­oss Great Britain and Ire­l­and for years, exhibiting her collect­ion. They fin­ally set­tled in Lon­d­on, in Baker St and Portman Square, and acc­epted an invit­ation from Paul Phil­id­or, a magic lan­t­ern pioneer, to ex­hib­it at London’s Lyceum Theatre. Alas Philidor took half her profits.

It was in Baker St that Madame Tussaud opened a museum in 1836. One of the main attractions of her museum was the Chamber of Horrors, an exhibition that included vic­tims of the French Revol­ution and newly created figures of mur­der­ers. I am assuming the most notor­ious charact­ers were segreg­ated in the Chamber of Horrors to prot­ect children. Yet I liked the reviewer who saw the Horrors as a child: “Guy Fawkes crouching by a barrel of gunpowder had terrified me, as had a pec­uliarly pockmarked waxwork of Hans Christian Andersen. The Chamber of Horrors was certainly upsetting, but not as much as the tableau of the Battle of Trafalgar. This had noise and lights and you felt you were standing on the gun deck of HMS Victory. There, breath­ing his last, was the bloody, pale body of Lord Horatio Nelson.

The gallery originally contained c400 different figures, but fire damage in 1925, and German bombs in 1941, rendered most of the early models defunct. The casts themselves have survived, all­ow­ing the historical waxworks to be remade, and these can be seen in the museum's history exhibit. The oldest figure on display is that of Madame du Barry, the 1765 work of Dr Curtius. Other early faces included Robespierre and George III.

Madame Tussaud related her own role in history to fascinated audiences: she had lived at Versailles, been art tutor to Louis XVI’s sister and cast the king from life. Later, during the Revolution, been ordered by the National Convention to duplicate his severed head. There was the king’s blood in her lap. Listen, she said, I am history!

[But note that some disagree. “At its heart, Tussauds isn’t about history: it’s a museum of the human body. It’s not about what these people achieved, but what they looked like”.]

Madame Tussaud, self portrait

As she suffered from more severe asthma, Madame Tussaud re-found her Catholic faith. Her sons were at her Baker St home when she died in 1850 aged 89. Her life had been both an ast­ounding surv­iv­or’s tale and hist­or­ian’s dream. She was buried in the Catholic chapel in Fulham Road, with many French exiles before her.

By 1883, the restricted space and rising cost of the Baker St site prompted her grandson Joseph Randall to commission the build­ing at its current Marylebone Rd location. The new exhibition galleries were successfully opened in July 1884. However Randall had bought out his cousin Louisa's half share in the busin­ess in 1881, and with the extra building costs, the business strug­gled. A limited company was formed in 1888 to attract fresh capit­al, but was diss­olved after family disagree­ments. So Tussaud's was sold to a group in Feb 1889, led by Edwin Josiah Poyser.

The first overseas branch of Madame Tussauds was opened in Amsterdam in 1970.the


Every country in Europe tried to take over Albania. So did Enver Hoxha

Albania’s dark, modern history should not block out its post-Roman and medieval past as a model of Mediterr­an­ean history, playing host to Greeks, Romans, Venetians, Normans and Ottom­ans. Now we need to analysis Albania’s up-and-down history going back centuries. I am out of my comfort zone here, so thanks to Rhys Griffiths.

Following the fall of Rome, between the C4th and C7th AD, Albania became part of the Byzantine empire. In the C12th the region in north-central Albania was the site of the first autonomous Albanian principality, Arbanon.

But in the medieval era, Albania became an attractive country to strugg­le over. In 1272 the new Kingdom of Albania ex­tend­ed from the region of Durazzo, south along the coast to Butrint. There was a major attempt to advance further and in Dec 1280 Angevin forces (i.e from Anjou) captured Berat and besieged its castle.

Albania and its neighbours Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro 

The Byzantine Em­p­eror Michael VIII wanted Pope Greg­ory X to stop his Latin advers­aries. Pope Gregory, the main supporter of the union of the chur­ches, died in 1276 and the next pope re­stricted Charles Count of Anjou's movements. But in Feb 1281 Char­les ret­aliated by purposely placing a French Pope at the head of the Cath­olic Church. The Byzantine Emperor was excommun­ic­ated by the new Pope and Charles' launched an expedition against him.

A Byzantine counter-offensive foll­owed, driving the Angevins out within a year. But how did it happen? The Sicilian Vespers was a rebellion on Sicily that broke out in 1282 against the rule of King Charles I; he had ruled the Kingdom of Sicily since 1266. The government of King Charles of Anjou quickly lost control of the island and Charles’ kingdom was further reduced by the Byzantines to a small area.

Note that the Angevins held out until 1368 when the city was seized by Albanian Prince Karl Thopia. But even that didn’t last for long. In 1392 Karl Thopia's son surrend­er­ed to the Republic of Venice.

Clearly every ambitious power in Europe had fought over Albania (and other small count­ries). In time, parts of Albania were occupied by Venet­ian, Norman, Serbian and Bulgarian forces, before becoming part of the Ottoman Empire in 1431. The Ottomans required Albanian chiefs to send their sons to the Turkish court as host­ages. After leaving Ottoman service one son, Skanderbeg, returned to Albania, con­verted to Christ­ianity and heroically led a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in what is today­ Albania and Macedonia.

Ottoman rule lasted from 1431 until Albanian independ­ence in 1912, spreading Islam within Albania until it eventually became the main relig­ion. As elsewhere in the Balkans, Ottoman rule all­ow­ed local chiefs to rule, in return for tribute and military support.

Eventually Albania was being courted by Austria and Italy. Al­ban­ia’s first nationalist organisation was founded in 1878: the League for the Defence of the Rights of the Albanian Nation in Prizren.

With the Ottomans deeply involved in the First Bal­kan War, Albania declared independence in Nov 1912. But then it became an Italian protect­orate in June 1917. 

Independence Monument 1912
in Vlore, 3rd biggest city in Albania (pop 230,000) 

Albania achieved statehood after WW1, but it was a miserable time in which no government could last. Ahmed Bey Zogu had first served as Prime Minister of Albania (1922–4), then as President (1925–8), and finally as King Zog and Royal Albanian Army Field Marshal (1928–39). And throughout these years, Ottoman Albania had remained an unhappy poverty-stricken, largely illit­erate country, with little ind­us­t­ry and no nation-wide railways, universities or large cities. The peasantry were under the control of their local medieval lords, and the regime was reliant on Mussolini’s Italy.

In 1939 Benito Mussolini annexed Albania for Italy and exiled King Zog. After Germany invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, everything changed. That year, Enver Hoxha (1908–1985)  joined the Albanian Communist Party. Yug­o­s­l­av com­munists made him 1st secretary of the party’s Central Commit­tee & political commissar of the Army of National Liber­ation. When German troops occupied Albania in 1943, national resistance groups of the left and the right fought the Germans and each other. Hostile Albanian groups sometimes collab­orated with the Germ­ans against Hoxha, whose super­ior ruthlessness enabled his men to dominate the Albanian Army.

Enver Hoxha, prime minister of Albania

Late in 1944, with the Germans in retreat, an anti-Fascist congress declared Hoxha prime minister of Albania; he headed a victorious parade into Tirana and retained his position from the liberation of Albania until 1954. At first Hoxha was a close colleague of Marsh­all JosipTito; Alban­ian partisan divisions had gone into German-occupied Yugosl­avia where they fought with Tito's men and the Soviet Red Army in a joint campaign to destroy German resistance. But that didn’t last. Hoxha and Tito split in 1948.

After the break between Tito’s Yugoslavia and Moscow, Albania received massive aid from the Soviet Union. So Hoxha declared himself a communist and a huge admirer of Joseph Stalin. Finally, as 1st secret­ary of the Party of Labour’s Central Committee, Hoxha became de facto head of state for the rest of his life. Hoxha and his government adopted pol­ic­ies that would denude the rural land­lords of their land and power, organise the peasants into collect­ive farms, grow enough food to feed the entire population, estab­lish a universal health care and nation­al­ise the banks. The Albanian language was resur­rected, mod­ern industries were developing and the oppression of women was to end. 

Skanderbeg monument, Tirana

In a country that was 90% Islamic and 10% Christ­ian, the greatest pun­ish­ment for the locals was the closing of all mosques, churches and religious institutions in 1967. All school education had to be secular, at least until the ban on religion was lifted in Dec 1990.

Hoxha began a ruthless modernisation policy that alienated his political rivals, traditional Muslims and Christ­ians, impoverished landowners and peasants. As a result, Hoxha be­came increasingly paranoid about growing opposition to his rule. In a population of c2.5 million, 5500 Albanians were executed, 24,200 were sent to forced labour camps and 200,000 became internal govern­ment spies.

Diabetes killed Hoxha in 1985 at 76. He had transformed Albania from a primeval relic of the Ottoman Empire into a modern but brutal industrialised country. His trusted colleague Ramiz Alia took over.


Were American Fascist organ­isations closed down in WW2, or not even then?

The initial support for American Fascist organ­isations came from Germany. The Friends of New Germ­any was created with help from New York’s German consul, so these pro-Nazi Fascists were naturalised German emig­rants who were based in New York or Chicago. The Friends existed into the mid-1930s, and although it always remained small, the org­anisat­ion busied itself with attacks against Jews, Communists and the Versailles Treaty.

New Jersey, 1937

German Fritz Kuhn (1896-1951) emigrated to the USA in 1928 and became a naturalised citizen. Kuhn joined the American Friends of New Germany and quickly rose to the leadership level. When the Friends of New Germany closed down, he understood that the only way for a pro-Nazi movement to suc­ceed in the USA was by building an organisation based on 1] Amer­ican citizens of German des­cent and 2] promoting a favourable view of Nazi Ger­many.

German-American Bund members saw themselves as loyal, patriotic Americans who were strengthening their ad­opt­ed homeland, protecting it from Jewish, Communist and black cul­tural influences. They urged US neut­ral­ity in European affairs, to avoid a clash between Germany and America, and to avoid Germany having to expend resources on yet more Europ­ean conflicts. At pat­riot­ic Bund rallies, the American flag an­d the swastika appeared, and both national anthems were played for the 200,000+ followers.

Fritz Kuhn, New York, 1938

The Bund’s most publicised rally was at New York’s Madison Square Garden in Feb 1939. Inside Kuhn took the stage in an arena over­flowing with 22,000 fanatical sup­porters and delivered a rousing speech decrying the USA’s suicidal tolerance of paras­it­ical aliens. Kuhn specifically condemned President Roosevelt, call­ing his New Deal the Jew Deal and crit­icising Bolshevik-Jewish American leaders. Outside was a huge crowd of anti-Nazis, protest­ing loudly. The 1,500 cops on duty were ord­er­ed to halt all persons entering the neighbour­hood with prov­ocat­ive, anti-Nazi signs. Does all this sound familiar in 2019?

Kuhn was gaoled and replaced by a leader who may have wanted to continue Kuhn’s crus­ade, but WW2 broke out in August 1939. Thank­fully the Bund was officially disbanded days after the bomb­ing of Pearl Harbour in Dec 1941 and the USA’s declaration of war. 

By the time the USA joined the war, I assumed Nazism would never raise its ugly head in the USA again. WRONG! Other pro-Fascist org­anisations continued to promote the Nazi values vigorously.

Focus on the Ku Klux Klan and the Christian Enforcers. Then examine Silver Shirts, a para-military movement founded in 1933 by William Dudley Pelley. The Silver Shirts found common ground with the anti-Semitic, white-supremacist ex-Bundists. The Friends of Progress was a Californian association run by Robert Noble and strongly in­f­l­uenced by Mein Kampf. The Friends held rall­ies in California, with members of the old Bund often joining in. Noble was sent to prison in 1942 for wartime sedition.

Charles Lindbergh, aviation hero, was sent by the American govern­ment to Germany to inspect the Third Reich’s air fighters. During this tour, Lindbergh met with top Nazi officials, and was presented a Grand Cross of the German Eagle by Hermann Göring. In 1940 Lind­bergh, called pro-Nazi by some historians, was a leading voice in the America First movement, determined to keep the USA out of WW2. In Sept 1941 Lindbergh publicly denoun­ced President Roosevelt and America’s Jews for pushing the country towards the war.

New York, 1939

So which group was responsible for funding, publicising and org­an­ising the anti-Semitic, anti-Black riots at a Paul Robeson concert in Peekskill New York in 1949? The Ku Klux Klan! 80% of the concert goers were Jewish. Despite the most tragic world war having finish­ed only a couple of years before, the pro-Fascist mobs screamed We are Hitler’s boys, here to finish his job. The violence overflowed even to a bus of blacks travelling along the highway to visit the Roose­v­elt home in Hyde Park. 145 Jews and blacks were hospitalised.

Wesley Swift was the most significant figure in the early years of the Christian Identity Movement when he moved to California as a Ku Klux Klan organiser and rifle instructor. In 1946, he found­ed his church and in the 1950s, he became the West Coast repres­ent­ative of the Christian Nationalist Crusade. Swift also hosted a daily radio channel in California in the 1950s and 1960s, broad­casting that Aryans were God's chosen race and that non-Caucasians could never be saved.

The National States' Rights Party was an ultra-right, white sup­rem­ac­ist party that was founded in 1958 in Knoxville Tennessee by Ed­ward Reed Fields. The party argued for states' rights against the advance of the civil rights move­ment, and created links with the Ku Klux Klan & Minutemen. This white supremacist movement appealed to older far-right groups incl­uding the Christian Anti-Jewish Party and the United White Party.

Clearly pro-Fascist, anti-Semitic and anti-black organisations in the USA continued to rally. The American Nazi Party’s founder and leader, George Lincoln Rockwell (1918–1967), was one of the most significant extremist strategists and ideologists of the post war period (until 1962). His influence has only inc­reas­ed since his death five years later. A power­ful catalyst and innov­at­or, Rockwell broadened his constit­uency beyond the core Radical Right by articulating White Power politics.

Rockwell had a major role in growing Holocaust revisionism, now a Far Right orthodoxy. He helped politicise Christ­ian Id­ent­ity, America's most influential right-wing religious movement, and united an international organisation of neo-Nazis. Rock­well even held counter-rallies to civil rights marches in the 1960s!

George Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party, 
Arlington on Nov. 1965

Deputy Commander Matt Koehl assumed command after Rockwell was assassinated in 1967. Koehl emphasised the positive aspects of German and American Nazism and the glories of an achievable, all-white society. 

Despite the horrific war, all of these extremist movements clearly continued to have appeal in the 1950s and 60s. The USA seems to have protected the rights of neo-Nazis, white suprem­ac­ists, Ku Klux Klan and other groups to express their views openly.

Bradley Hart’s Hitler’s American Friends: The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States (2018) argues that the threat of Nazism in the USA before WW2 was greater than expected, and that those forces born of pre-WW2 isolationism still have lessons for us all. 

Photo credits: The Atlantic 5th June 2017. 



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