Jean Lurçat (1892-1966): a singular surrealist

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The exhibition catalogue stands at S950.a.201.4730

In 2016, I was lucky enough to visit an exhibition presenting some of the most striking works of art I had ever seen: monumental pieces, several square metres each, all bursting with incredibly vivid colours. What surprised me the most was that these masterpieces were by an artist I had only vaguely heard of before, his talent apparently eclipsed by that of his more famous contemporaries. Perhaps this was due to the nature of most of his works: they were not paintings, but tapestries.

Tapestry in France was at its highest point in the late medieval period, with famous examples such as La Dame à la licorne and the Tenture de l’Apocalypse but was more or less a forgotten art by the beginning of the 20th century. A great admirer of this medieval tradition, Jean Lurçat, the artist whose works I was admiring, sought to revive it by borrowing many of its themes for his tapestries. The “mille-fleurs” for example, a style that consists in weaving hundreds of flowers, all different, around the main subject of a work, features heavily in his art. Fantastic creatures were a recurring theme in medieval tapestry and Lurçat created an entire bestiary in his main works. But he also enriched this medieval tradition by the addition of a surrealist twist, many of his tapestries presenting a disconcerting, oneiric, highly symbolical landscape. Continue reading

Youth Culture at the Liberation: Résistantes and Résistants in Cardboard Cut-Outs

We are grateful to the Managing Editor of the French History Network Blog for permission to reproduce the article by Southampton doctoral student Emily Hooke on a set of cardboard toy theatre scenes depicting the Liberation of Paris. The University Library has these in its Liberation Collection, and they featured prominently in the exhibition which we mounted in 2014.

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Roland Forgues, Le Général de Gaulle à l’Arc de Triomphe, 26 août 1944 (Paris: Edition de l’Office Central de l’Imagerie, 1944). See bibliographic record here. Click on the image to enlarge.

On a trip to Paris a few years ago, I was wandering along the Seine, glancing casually at the boquinistes when I spotted something interesting: three pieces of cardboard illustrated with scenes from the Liberation of Paris — 19-26 August 1944 — and dated later that year.[1] Looking closer, I could see these sheets were cardboard cut-outs, as the tabs under the figures show (fig. 1, fig. 2, fig. 3). They also contained the only information I have been able to find of them: They were illustrated by Roland Forgues and commissioned by l’Office central de l’imagerie, Paris.

Researching further, I found that these were far from the only representations of the Resistance aimed at youth during the Liberation. Indeed, there was a boom in children’s literature at the Liberation — despite the paper shortages. These sought to repair the damage done by children’s comic books under the Occupation such as Le Téméraire, which framed the Resistance as villains – ‘without morals and without courage’.[2]

The cardboard cut-outs sparked my interest in popular culture, and added a new dimension to my research: youth. Following the Liberation the Resistance became seen as ‘military, patriotic and essentially masculine’ despite evidence to the contrary, and I wanted to see how they fitted into the construction of this gendered narrative.[3] Continue reading

Arsène Lupin versus Sherlock Holmes

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Cover of Lupin’s complete adventures (C201.d.5905-5907).

Who doesn’t like Sherlock Holmes? The whole world has embraced Sherlock Holmes, from the United States to Soviet Russia; he is the most portrayed character in the history of cinema, and every year brings its share of new adaptations including the latest on BBC1 starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Who could possibly hate Sherlock Holmes?

The answer is, of course: a Frenchman.

In 1905, the French writer Maurice Leblanc wrote the first adventure of Arsène Lupin, a dashing gentleman-thief for whom burglary is one of the fine arts. Several short stories and novels would follow and in 1908, Leblanc introduced two new characters in Arsène Lupin contre Herlock Sholmes: an English detective and his sidekick Dr Wilson. A barely disguised pastiche of Sherlock Holmes, Sholmes was also intended as a caricature of the typical Englishman as seen by the French at the time: red in the face, impassive to the point of apathy and slow of understanding. Lupin of course, was his exact opposite, having every quality of a not-so-respectable Frenchman: chivalrous, terribly charming, and just a little bit cocky. Continue reading

Camus is outmanoeuvred

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Camus’ name appears prominently on the cover of Salvet’s novel.

Albert Camus had spent the period from April 18 to May 7 1945 in Algeria.  When he returned to his home in the rue Sébastien-Bottin, he found the manuscript of a novel about the French Resistance by André Salvet, together with a letter from the author asking Camus to supply a preface. Camus replied courteously, indicating that he felt such an introduction would not be entirely appropriate.  “J’ai risqué beaucoup moins que votre héros, et ce n’est pas à moi de le présenter.”  He also questioned the desirability of producing any sort of commentary on a novel which should stand alone. “Est-ce à l’écrivain que vous vous adressez?  Mais, dans ce cas, il m’a toujours semblé qu’un livre, surtout lorsqu’il témoigne comme celui-là, devait se présenter seul et sans commentaires.” Continue reading

Part shoemaker, part actor

In December 2015 we posted a piece about translator Ralph Manheim, written by his widow Julia Allen-Manheim. At the same time Mrs Allen-Manheim presented the Library with several of Ralph Manheim’s unpublished literary translations of texts by authors such as Arthur Schnitzler, Ödön von Horváth and Christoph Hein. (Enquire in Manuscripts Reading Room for MS Add. 10108.) The donation also includes the typescript of an unpublished lecture Ralph Manheim gave at Indiana University on November 4 1981, which gives a fascinating description of his life as a literary translator, and includes references to Michel Tournier, Rainer Maria Rilke, Adolf Hitler, Thomas Mann, Karl Jaspers, Ernst Cassirer, Bertolt Brecht, Louis Ferdinand Céline and Peter Handke. The following extracts give a flavour of the whole …

— Unpublished literary translations of texts

“I say I drifted into it [i.e. the trade of literary translator]. If that sounds disparaging, I’d like to correct that impression. One can drift into good things as well as bad. I think very highly of the trade. As I see it, a literary translator is part shoemaker and part actor. Shoemaker because he works alone and much of his effort goes into craftsmanship, into motions that he masters by repetition and testing; actor because if he takes his work seriously he has to impersonate his author…

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