Peter Behrens – 150

This year the 150th anniversary of the birth of Peter Behrens (1868-1940) is celebrated.  He was one of the most innovative designers and architects of the early 20th century and is recognized as a pioneer of modern industrial design. In his role as chief designer for the German company AEG he developed its corporate design encompassing the logo, publicity material, the form of the goods and the industrial buildings. With the turbine hall in Berlin Moabit he created an icon of industrial architecture. Continue reading

Français and québécois

I recently stumbled upon a very interesting article on the Icelandic language and the threats it faces in a modern, English-speaking digital world. This put me in mind of Québec and France, and of the different approaches they have taken against a similar problem.

Take a guess: how was this film’s title translated in France?

With its Académie française, its strict language rules, the huge backlash every time someone proposes a change, any change, to the standard – see for example, the spelling reform of 2016 or the debate around trying to make the language more inclusive – you would think that France would be the best of the two at defending la francophonie, better than a French-speaking province surrounded by two enormous English-speaking cultures. Well that’s not the case. Although France is very good at resisting any attempt at modernising the language coming from within, it doesn’t worry so much about the enemy outside – the great influence of English or American and how it is affecting French vocabulary. Continue reading

Paul Claudel and Audrey Parr : exhibition in the UL Entrance Hall

Originally posted on the Library’s Special Collection blog:

Paul Claudel in 1927

To mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of the poet and playwright Paul Claudel (1868–1955), a new exhibition in the Library’s Entrance Hall displays highlights from a collection of letters, postcards, verses and books sent or presented by Claudel to his friend and collaborator Audrey Parr (1892–1940), and donated to the University Library in 2001 by Parr’s granddaughter, Mrs L. M. Jack.

Claudel, who served in the French diplomatic corps, met Audrey, who was married to the British diplomat Raymond Parr, in Rome in 1915–16. The friendship deepened when both Raymond Parr and Claudel were appointed to Rio de Janeiro shortly afterwards. She and Claudel met intermittently thereafter, but pursued their relationship by letter. After the Parrs’ separation in 1930 Audrey settled in London, and remarried in 1938. She died in a road accident in May 1940.

Claudel’s letters and poems to Parr frequently show a whimsical, almost flirtatious, side to his character; he often signed with his pet name ‘Cacique’, and hoped that she might follow him around the globe. But beneath the light-hearted banter, the correspondence demonstrates the strength of an enduring friendship based on mutual passion for literature and the arts. The exhibition opens with the earliest surviving letter from Claudel to Parr, MS Add.9591/1, written during a mission to Washington in January 1919 (where, aptly for a French diplomat, he stayed at the Hotel LaFayette, whose letterhead he used). He told of his protracted journey to the United States via Martinique and Puerto Rico, and gave his impressions of New York. Claudel concluded the letter by recalling a walk he had taken with Parr by the Atlantic in Brazil, ‘while the big waves were breaking on the rocks’, during which she had confided ‘all her troubles’.

The two main printed items in on display both show the influence on Claudel of his diplomatic postings to the Far East, firstly to China in the 1890s and later to Japan in the 1920s. The prose poems in Connaissance de l’est were written in China and first published by Mercure de France in Paris in 1900. An enlarged edition appeared in 1907, and the work was reissued in China in 1914 as part of the ‘Collection Coréenne’ under the direction of the ethnographer, archaeologist and writer Victor Segalen (1878–1919). This edition was printed and sewn in oriental fashion, and its two volumes were housed in a fabric-covered wrapper. The Library’s copy, CCA.45.1, presented to Audrey Parr, is number 585 of 630 numbered copies.

In 1926–7, towards the end of a posting to Tokyo, Claudel wrote a number of short poems inspired by haiku, published as Hyakusencho = Cent phrases pour éventails (Tokyo: Koshiba, 1927). This edition of a hundred ‘phrases for fans’ was lithographed from versions which Claudel produced using a brush; the calligraphy of the accompanying Japanese characters, chosen as titles for their decorative and suggestive qualities, was the work of Ikuma Arishima (1882–1974). Three orihons, each consisting of numerous sheets of paper pasted together into a single length and folded in the style of a concertina, were housed in a chitsu, or wrap-around covering—a format already antiquated by the 1920s. The copy shown in the exhibition, CCA.45.3, was inscribed by Claudel for Parr in Washington in 1930, ‘in memory of the beautiful fans of Brazil’.

The exhibition pays particular attention to Parr’s role as a collaborator on Claudel’s creative projects. In Rio, she collaborated with Claudel and his secretary, the composer Darius Milhaud, in a ballet, ‘L’Homme et son désir’, for which she provided set designs. Milhaud later described how they cut fifteen-centimetre figures from coloured paper to work out the movements of the ballet. Claudel inscribed Parr’s copy of his play L’annonce faite à Marie, CCA.45.12, with a dedication to ‘my kind collaborator’.

Following ‘L’Homme et son désir’, Parr next collaborated with Claudel by producing illustrations for his poem Sainte Geneviève, published in Tokyo in 1923. Two years later, Claudel wrote Le vieillard sur le mont Omi, a set of prose poems, and asked Parr to illustrate the sequence; sheets from Claudel’s manuscript of the text, sent to Parr, with a page bearing a dedication, are included in the exhibition (MS Add.9591/188, ff. 1 and 3–4). It was decided that the artwork should take the form of paintings of butterflies. Several times in letters written between 1925 and 1927 Claudel expressed anxiety over delays to the printing of Le vieillard sur le mont Omi, and with increasing concern he asked after progress with Parr’s illustrations. In a letter from Tokyo of 6 January 1927 included in the exhibition, MS Add.9591/55, he underlined the question ‘And our butterflies, Margotine?’: Claudel feared they had flown away, taking the book with them.

In due course, however, the de luxe edition of Le vieillard sur le mont Omi was produced in Paris by Le Livre, illustrated with 30 gouaches by the illuminator and printmaker Jean Saudé after designs by Parr. Her original butterfly paintings, two of which are on display (MS Add.9591/188), were executed on a semi-transparent hot-pressed paper which allowed pigment on either side of the page to be visible: the edition had the subtitle ‘Papillons et ombres de papillons’ (‘Butterflies and shadows of butterflies’). Mrs Jack’s donation included a set of proofs, MS Add.9591/155, some folded as quires or bifolia, some with printed slips pasted on, and some with manuscript emendations. The butterflies were to be Parr’s last collaboration with Claudel, but their correspondence continued until just a few months before her death.

‘Paul Claudel and Audrey Parr: a friendship in books and letters’ runs in the Entrance Hall until 22 August, and can be visited during normal Library opening hours.

John Wells
Department of Archives and Modern Manuscripts

Continue reading

369 plans of St Petersburg : the July 2018 Slavonic item of the month

UL staff hand provided to show scale.

The University Library has recently acquired a huge facsimile set of architectural plans of St Petersburg dating from the 1730s and 1740s.  Arkhtekturnye chertezhi i plany Sankt-Peterburga (2017) consists of two 52 x 37 centimetre cases of loose-leaf pages showing plans made for Friedrich Wilhelm von Bergholz, and a smaller commentary book.  The publication is Russian but the plans and drawings come from the Nationalmuseum in Sweden, so the new purchase was made with money from the Slavonic and Scandinavian accessions budgets.

St Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great in 1703.  Bergholz spent several years in the 1720s visiting Russia from the Duchy of Holstein, and the drawings of the new city he later commissioned and which are reprinted in this new set will be of particular interest to those looking at the early history of St Petersburg.  The commentary volume gives the following English summary on its cover:

Drawings and blueprints of buildings, panoramas of streets and embankments of St. Petersburg and its suburbs from 1730s -1740s come from the collection of F.W. Bergholtz that was kept in the Swedish National Museum of Fine Arts, Stockholm. The blueprints (253 originals on 369 tablets) are mostly reproduced to scale, faithfully representing the color as well as notes made by Bergholtz himself. Almost all of them were not previously published.

Continue reading

‘La nouvelle histoire’ or the French historical revolution

The French historical revolution (500:1.c.201.120) is a book by the Cambridge Professor and historian, Peter Burke, about the École des Annales, also known as Annales, a historiographic school which marked a turning point in the study of history. They focussed on social history rather than the previous predominance of political history and the power elites. Despite the fact that it had had some precedents (for instance Henri Berr), this school represented a radical change, undertaken in the first half of the 20th century by a small group of French historians –particularly Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre– that set the basis of the methodological and theoretical approach of historical writing that was hegemonic from the 1930’s to the 1960’s; although its influence went much further and is embedded in the contemporary practice of history.

dav

Volumes of the Annales’ journal at the UL (P220.c.57)

The school started with the foundation of the academic journal Annales d’histoire économique et sociale in 1929. It is worth clarifying that the school was not fully homogeneous in its ideas from the start, and we can see differences among its members, called Annalistes. In addition, several generations of scholars followed this historiographical movement, adding ideas and changing their approach to the historians’ job. After the war, the movement was associated with the Sixth Section for economic and social sciences of the École pratique des hautes études in Paris (EPHE –precedent of the École des hautes etudes en sciences sociales– EHESS). A key concept of the school was the longue durée history, that is to say, they were keen on studying long-term historical structures. The school has also contributed to the history of mentalities, especially in the generations that followed. In general they were opposed to the class analysis of Marxist historiography. Interestingly, although Annales was not meant to cover a particular time in history, most of their members were experts in either Middle Ages, or early modern period. Continue reading