Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Joseph Boggs Beale

Joseph Boggs Beale’s artistic work might not have seemed significant to me were it not for the fact that a large part of his career was spent in the employ of the firm of C.W. Briggs (lantern slide makers) producing drawings to be reproduced as lantern slides. I had a number of Beale slides but only one of his drawings, a romanticized scene seemingly extolling the virtues of capitalism with a prosperous boss and his busy workers. I had the lantern slide produced from the drawing and I liked having both the original drawing and the slide. I did not know until last year when I had the opportunity to buy some other Beale drawings that this drawing was from a temperance series called “A Drunkard’s Reform”. The drawing was not meant, as I had formerly imagined, to be about the rewards of capitalism but rather the return to honest labor and promotion to foreman of a man almost ruined by drink. I have grown in my appreciation of Beale’s work and been fortunate enough to add several pieces to my collection in the last two years.
Who was Joseph Boggs Beale (1841-1926)?  He was, a largely unremembered Philadelphia artist who worked in the last half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.  He worked for a variety of publications including Frank Leslie's Weekly, Harper's, and the Daily Graphic before going on to work for C.W. Briggs. Between 1881-1915 he made more than 2000 drawings which were reproduced as magic lantern slides. His drawings, and the slides that were produced from them, covered an amazingly wide view of American life. His work included Bible Stories, Popular Literature, History, Temperance, Folk Tales and Comic Scenes.  A partial list of his work would include Pilgrim’s Progress, Marley’s Ghost, Paul Revere’s Ride, The Life of Lincoln, Yankee Doodle, The Star Spangled Banner The Raven, Hiawatha, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, A Christmas Carol and The Night Before Christmas.
In 1940 Life magazine did a piece on Beale that served to mark a slight resurgence of interest in his work. The article referred to Beale as America’s foremost magic lantern painter, not that there was much competition or recognition for such a title. Terry Borton, the proprietor of the American Magic-Lantern Theater, has for the past twenty years tirelessly promoted Beale’s work and used slides based on Beale’s drawings for his magic lantern shows. Terry and his wife Debbie have finished the manuscript of a soon to be published book about Beale and his work entitled Before The Movies which will undoubtedly add greatly to the awareness of Beale as an artist of American life and history.
Although Beale worked well into the 20th century his artistic style is firmly planted in the 19th century with a kind of heroic grandiosity and unbridled optimism.  Some of Beale’s drawings seem overly sweet and others sadly capture a stereotyping common at the end of the 19th century. The best of Beale’s drawings catch grand figures  caught in melodramatic moments and are packed with detail. They are worth a look and my collection of Beale material is now up on my site.

Monday, May 21, 2012

New Praxinoscope Animations

Since I've started working with Dick on his collection, some of my favorite pieces to study and work with have been Praxinoscope strips. As you can see in this animated set, the images are impressively rendered, and the actions are both charming and convincing in their motion. These strips were produced by artists who had none of the technological conveniences of a modern animator such as myself. I am constantly amazed by the refined technique that can be found in these works of art that predate the likes of Winsor McCay and Walt Disney by several decades.

You can find these praxinoscopes and many others on the collection website.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Eidophusikon

MOVING PICTURES proclaimed this 1786 broadside and what an extraordinary entertainment the Eidophusikon must have been. It predated the most famous moving pictures, the movies, by more than 100 years.  Everything about the show was intended to challenge how a picture was viewed. Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg, the creator of the Eidophusikon, was an accomplished French painter who at the age of thirty-one moved to London in 1771. Soon after his arrival he took a job working as a scene designer for David Garrick at the Drury Lane theatre. He made quite a name for himself for the life-like scenes he created and would master many techniques in the art of stage design and lighting that he would employ when he opened the doors for the Eidophusikon (Greek for images of nature) on February 26,1781 at his home on Lisle Street.
An evening’s entertainment consisted of as many as five tableaux, each cleverly combining a familiar scene or place with a dramatic moment. His first shows included a London View with an aurora effect, a view of Naples with a sunset and concluded with a storm at sea. The entertainment was held in one of the lushly decorated parlour rooms that could accommodate 130 people.  There is only one known image of this space, a watercolor by Edward Burney showing the interior of the room before the show. There is a bench with a couple of patrons sitting and others standing around.
At the front of the room there was what can best be described as either a very large picture, or a miniature stage. The framed picture was ten feet wide and six feet high. Unlike other pictures however the opening had a depth of eight feet “setting the stage” for a very different sort of picture. The audience sat facing the picture, then the lights would be dimmed, the show would begin and the scene would appear to come to life. With the artful use of lighting nightfall would appear as the sun slowly faded, or the brilliance of an aurora would light up the painted sky and possibly most powerfully an ominous sky would darken, foretelling an oncoming storm, soon to be joined by the appearance of lightning, accompanied by the sound of thunder, and a three dimensional mechanically controlled ship built to scale would glide across the picture sailing into a distance created by painting on several different panels. 

It all must have been quite magical. There had been other attempts to change how pictures were viewed in the eighteenth century.  The peepshow employed many of them. Martin Engelbrecht executed large numbers of views-scenes created on multiple layers of paper- to be viewed in parlour peepshows which attempted to make a scene more life-like by creating depth. Viewers of large public square peepshows often saw pin-pricked pictures, which in candlelight gave the appearance of a day scene transforming to night. There were even hand-painted scenes on multiple layers of glass created to entertain viewers and create a multi-dimensional painting. Yet none had movement and all were limited to the constraints of the size of the peepshow box.

 Loutherbourg employed the wide array of skills he had successfully used in the theatre as painter, set designer, lighting expert, creator of mechanical moving figures in creating his Eidophusikon. He opened the peepshow box, created room behind and on the side of the picture opening, so that he could manipulate what was seen and bring a mixture of lighting, movement, sound and painting together to create a very new and different form of entertainment. Part of Loutherbourg’s genius was to create a shared space where a larger group could seemingly enter a picture and experience the scene.  His choice of how large to make his “screen” was an interesting one. He clearly didn’t want to replicate a theatre, an experience the public already knew. He chose instead two dimensional pictures to see if he could create a new experience when viewing a picture.
This remarkable show closed at Lisle Street after less than two years. It did, however, reappear numerous times in different places. The next appearance was in 1786 at rooms on Exeter Exchange with increased seating for 200 people. Three years later another form of moving pictures, the Panorama, would take London by a storm.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Two Additions

Part of the fun of collecting are the stories that accompany both things found, and, the agonizing stories of things that got away. I’ve heard countless tales about a wonderful item missed, often by a matter of a few minutes or even seconds at a flea market, an antique show and, these days, on ebay. Most collector have regrets about passing on something because the price was too high or can recall something missed because a dealer who said he would hold an item did not.  Then there are stories about things a collector would love to have in his or her collection but never had an opportunity to buy. I have heard all these stories and have plenty of my own. It is a great pleasure that two striking images, one a print, the other a poster that I have long wanted and which have somehow avoided me, have recently come into my collection.

A few years after I began collecting, more than thirty years ago, I was visiting Clignancourt, the huge Paris flea market, with my friend and fellow collector, Jean-Philippe Salier and I remember first seeing Jules Chéret’s terrific poster of the Musée Grevin (the wax museum), where Emile Reynaud in 1888 first showed his Pantomimes Lumineuses -animated sequences.  Animated sequences is hardly an adequate term to describe these wonderful shows during which his hand-painted images would flicker and move on a screen for up to fifteen minutes.  This was seven years before the Lumière brothers would show their first movies. Reynaud employed something he called the Théâtre Optique to create the projection. Hidden from the audience behind the screen, this bulky equipment employed among other things both a very large praxinoscope and a magic lantern and served Reynaud well as he created his magic.

I thought the poster was quite beautiful but priced at $1,500, it was well beyond my budget. Over the next ten years I visited Clignancourt many times on “hunting trips” with Jean-Phillipe and occasionally we saw a copy of the Chéret poster. I kept repeating that if I ever saw it for $1,000 I would buy it, but that never happened and when I was prepared to pay a little more the price had gone up further. A few years ago a French dealer offered me a copy for the incredible price of 6,000 euros. I offered 3,000 and he laughed. I figured I probably would never own a copy and yet a few months ago I was amazed to have finally bought a copy at auction for $1,000. Sadly Jean-Philippe is no longer alive yet he remains the first person with whom I wanted to share the story of finally landing the elusive poster.
It is a wonderful piece. Jules Chéret, was one of France’s master poster designers and a mentor to Toulouse-Lautrec and others. He produced a series of stunning posters. I have no idea why the price for this particular poster was so much more reasonable. It could be because right on the woman’s dress there is a stamp. It is a tax stamp and in Paris at the time such posters were made, a stamp tax had to be paid before the poster could be put up.  Some buyers might have found the stamp’s placement aesthetically unattractive. It didn’t bother me. In fact, I liked it because it showed this was a poster that was actually used. 

If the Chéret poster was an object I didn’t own because I thought I couldn’t afford it, then the print of The Bartholomew Fair Fan was a print I had long wanted but had never had seen for sale and had never been offered. I long knew of it and had seen copies in many collections. I was envious that my friend, Ricky Jay, had two versions and the image graces the cover of his book Jay's Journal of Anomalies. When I was preparing my book on peepshow images I used a picture of the print from a book. I bought this print recently and wasn’t at all bothered by its overall condition-not great- or the fact that part of one of the fair’s visitor’s faces was now a small hole.

Bartholomew Fair, like Southwick Fair, was one of many London annual fairs that were particularly popular in the 18th century.  In 1824 the London firm of J. F Setchel produced a print of a view of Bartholomew Fair in 1721. The British Museum not only has three versions of the print, both black and white and hand colored, but also the original study drawing made by an unknown source around 1730. The original design was intended to produce a fan that would be given away as a souvenir to those who the fair. 

The fan is chocker block with people, food sellers and booths. For me the fan is particularly interesting because of the large-scale peepshow depicted in the lower left had corner showing the Siege of Gibraltar.  Gibraltar was under siege several times in the 18th century and this could represent the Spanish attack on the British garrison in 1727.  This print is also sought after by magic collectors, for whom the primary interest is the depiction of Isaac Fawkes’ booth. Fawkes was probably the most famous conjurer of the 18th century. However Fawkes had already stopped working the Bartholomew Fair by 1721. Possibly it could be a depiction of his son, but more likely it is the elder Fawkes who was far more celebrated. Take a look. There’s a lot to see in the print.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Pepper's Ghost

 Who has not been scared and at the same time excited by a ghost story or the unexplainable appearance of a seeming apparition. Fascination with ghosts and the afterworld have griped audiences for centuries. Our appetite for such titillation seems insatiable. Ghost shows are nothing new. Writers, magicians, and lanternists have long used a popular fascination with ghosts and apparitions for their advantage. From its earliest inception the magic lantern has employed ghost figures to frighten and to entertain audiences. Some of the very earliest magic lantern images in the last part of the 17th century were of ghosts and demons.  Calling forth such figures reached a new height in the late 1700s and early 1800s largely due to two showmen and their shows. The Fantasmagorie shows, popularized by Belgian showman Ettiene-Gaspard Robertson and the Phantasmagoria shows of magician Paul de Philipsthal, called forth apparitions on the screen. Their shows ingeniously employed rear projection. The lanternist was hidden from the audience behind the screen. The images would appear in a room darkened on the screen as from nowhere. By moving the lantern, the figure could be made smaller or larger so ghosts would appear and then menacingly approach the audience.  
Each time a new illusion is created we are freshly mesmerized and entertained. Pepper’s Ghost sits within a long tradition of showmen taking advantage of popular fascination with the afterlife. Pepper’s Ghost, named after the honorary director of London’s Royal Polytechnic, John Henry Pepper, was an elaborate theatrical illusion that gave the appearance of a ghost-like figure not only appearing but also moving on a stage. Pepper’s Ghost was first exhibited on Christmas Eve in 1862 during the staging of Charles Dickens’s The Haunted House when, to great acclaim, a ghost appeared on stage next to a man working at his desk. In a period of fifteen months 250,000 people were entertained at the Polytechnic by this show. The popularity of the illusion was so great that imitators were soon employing it elsewhere. Within a few years, the ghost shows had moved out of the polytechnic and into fairgrounds across England. The illusion is still employed today. Anyone who has taken the haunted house ride in Disneyland and found themselves, mid-ride, seated with a ghost have enjoyed Peppers Ghost.
What is Pepper’s Ghost? Here are three prints from my collection, two small woodcuts and a large lithograph visually illustrating how the illusion is created. All three show the basic idea behind the illusion: below the stage there is a lanternist with a magic lantern (to provide a powerful light), and costumed actor. The light against the actor is reflected in an enormous angled mirror that the audience cannot see in the darkened theatre. The reflection seems to appear on the stage.
Although there are some differences in each of the prints, all show the same basic “props”:  hidden lantern, dressed actor, angled mirror and the ghost on the stage. Interestingly, each of the three prints shows a different scene on stage, indicating that once perfected the illusion was used in a number of different performances.
And what is the history of Pepper’s Ghost? John Henry Pepper teamed up with Henry Dircks, who had a well thought out idea for projecting a ghost onto a stage to develop and stage the illusion. Soon the pair had a falling out, each claiming the “invention” of the Ghost show. History has attached the name of John Henry Pepper to the illusion.
Finally here is a broadside from my collection advertising “the real” Pepper’s Ghost Show in 1870 given by James Matthews. Matthews, who worked at the Royal Polytechnic as a magician, proclaims his ties both with the Royal Polytechnic and with Pepper. The broadside boldly announces the appearance of PROFESSOR PEPPER”S MARVELOUS GHOST for two nights.