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Posts Tagged ‘history’

28 JANUARY, 2014

Industrial Sublime: How New York City’s Bridges and Rivers Became a Muse of Modernism


How a city of contrasts inspired a generation of artists.

When the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883, a cathedral thirteen years in the making permanently changed the riverscape of New York City. In a short period of time, three other major bridges would join it — the Williamsburg Bridge was begun in 1896, the Manhattan Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge in 1901. The waterway was now a river of canyons, and the city became a spectacular form of natural and manmade wonders. Industrial Sublime: Modernism and the Transformation of New York’s Rivers, 1900-1940 (public library), the book companion for the Hudson River Museum exhibition of the same title, reveals how in the first half of the twentieth century, these manmade marvels embracing New York’s river banks enthralled a generation of influential artists who had once turned to nature as their muse.

'East River From the 30th Story of the Shelton Hotel' by Georgia O'Keeffe, 1928 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

For a youthful America in the beginning of the nineteenth century, the painters of the Hudson River School created a vision of arcadia in the new world, with the waterway at its very heart. The Catskill Mountains and the New Jersey Palisades became as worthy of contemplation as any poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge or William Wordsworth.

America, with its vast frontier, could be a place of Romantic wonder.

'A View of the Two Lakes and Mountain House, Catskill Mountains, Morning,' by Thomas Cole, c. 1844 (Brooklyn Museum)

But what some Hudson River painters delicately left out of many of their views were the encroaching factories and docklands on New York’s picturesque rivers. In Samuel Coleman’s Storm King on the Hudson, a factory competes with a local mountain called Storm King for sublime attention: one is submerged in clouds, the other creates its own industrial cloud.

'Storm King on the Hudson' by Samuel Coleman, 1866. (Smithsonian American Art Museum).

'The Hudson River from Hoboken' by Robert Walter Weir, 1878 (Detriot Insitute of the Arts)

The river itself became a place of business as sailboats, steamboats, and tugboats crowded the water like a highway. But the success of a city could be defined in the image of its bustling waterway, and artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe and John Sloan became fascinated with the intersections and collisions of nature and industry: the edge of a dock, the darkness under a bridge, the lights along the span of Queensboro at night.

'The East River' by Carlton Theodore Chapman, 1904. (New York Historical Society)

At the turn of the century, Gotham was a city of stark visual contrasts: the brightest day could be met with a shadow from a building that could cast a viewer into night, and electric lights might turn the blackest city park into a bright new square. Sublimity could be found in these contrasts, where joy could turn to fear along any street.

'The Bridge: Nocturne' by Julian Alden Weir, 1910 (Smithsonian)

By 1920, life in America had become primarily urban; according to the census, for the first time more people lived in cities than in the country.

'Office Buildings from Below,' photograph by Paul Strand, 1917. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Even in the 1930s, fifty years after its completion, the Brooklyn Bridge remained a source of inspiration. More architecturally beautiful than its East River counterparts, it was the first hint of the industrial sublime in New York, and its most enduring symbol.

'Brooklyn Bridge' by Ernest Lawson, c, 1917. (Terra Museum of Art)

Hart Crane’s The Bridge became an American response to T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, with the East River and Brooklyn Bridge as its inspiration:

A tugboat, wheezing wreaths of steam
Lunged past, with one galvanic blare stove up the River.
I counted the echoes assembling one after one,
Searching, thumbing the midnight on the piers.
The blackness somewhere gouged glass on a sky.
And this thy harbor, O my city, I have driven under….

'Power' by Edward Bruce, c. 1933. (The Phillips Collection)

Industrial Sublime is a vision of New York that recounts a time when artists reconceived the beauty, terror, and awe of the place they called home, as the city’s rolling hills could no longer resist the greatest grid amidst a city at the height of metamorphosis.

Michelle Legro is an associate editor at Lapham’s Quarterly. You can find her on Twitter.

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21 JANUARY, 2014

The Futurist Cookbook: 11 Rules for a Perfect Meal and an Anti-Pasta Manifesto circa 1932


Optimism at the table, or why the dark void of the soul can’t be stuffed with spaghetti.

Given my voracious appetite for unusual cookbooks — especially ones at the intersection of food and the arts, including little-known gems from the likes of Andy Warhol, Liberace, Lewis Carroll, and Alice B. Toklas — I was delighted to discover The Futurist Cookbook (public library; AbeBooks) by Italian poet and editor Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, originally published in 1932 and reprinted in 1989, translated into English by Suzanne Brill.

At the time of its release, the cookbook became somewhat of a sensation, thanks to Marinetti’s shrewdness as a publicist. But while major newspapers like the Chicago Tribune proclaimed it a bold manifesto to revitalize culture by revolutionizing how people ate, what the media missed at first was that the cookbook was arguably the greatest artistic prank of the twentieth century — it wasn’t a populist effort to upgrade mass cuisine but, rather, a highbrow quest to raise the nation’s, perhaps the world’s, collective artistic consciousness.

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

In the introduction to the 1989 edition, British journalist, historian and travel writer Lesley Chamberlain calls it “a provocative work of art disguised as easy-to-read cookbook” and writes:

The Futurist Cookbook was a serious joke, revolutionary in the first instance because it overturned with ribald laughter everything “food” and “cookbooks” held sacred: the family table, great “recipes,” established notions of goodness and taste.

Marinetti fighting a duel with the journalist Carlo Chiminelli in Rome, April 30, 1924. He was wounded.

What made Futurist “cooking” so revolutionary was that it drew on food as a raw material for art and cultural commentary reflecting the Futurist idea that human experience is empowered and liberated by the presence of art in everyday life, that osmosis of arte-vita. Marinetti himself framed the premise of the cookbook in his introduction to the original 1932 edition:

The Futurist culinary revolution … has the lofty, noble and universally expedient aim of changing radically the eating habits of our race, strengthening it, dynamizing it and spiritualizing it with brand-new food combinations in which experiment, intelligence and imagination will economically take the place of quantity, banality, repetition and expense.

This Futurist cooking of ours, tuned to high speeds like the motor of a hydroplane, will seem to some trembling traditionalists both mad and dangerous: but its ultimate aim is to create a harmony between man’s palate and his life today and tomorrow.


It is not by chance this work is published during a world economic crisis, which has clearly inspired a dangerous depressing panic, though its future direction remains unclear. We propose as an antidote to this panic a Futurist way of cooking, that is: optimism at the table.

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

Indeed, Marinetti saw food as the ultimate promise of optimism — a gateway to sensual freedom, imbued with the carefree lightness of a children’s party and the intellectual enthusiasm of a literary salon. He believed that “men think, dream and act according to what they eat and drink.” But nowhere did his culinary and cultural dogmatism shine more blazingly than in his contempt for pastasciutta, better-known simply as pasta — the traditional Italian staple beloved the world over. He preceded the modern low-carb craze by more than seven decades, outroaring even its most zealous contemporary adherents with the fanaticism of his convictions. Pasta, he asserted, made people heavy in both body and spirit, turned them sour and pessimistic, and robbed them of the creative impulse. The riddance from pasta wasn’t merely a matter of individual salvation — Marinetti even made it a matter of patriotism, arguing that the abolition of pasta would liberate Italy from the despotism of expensive foreign grain and instead boost the domestic rice industry.

He resolves in the cookbook:

Futurist cooking will be free of the old obsessions with volume and weight and will have as one of its principles the abolition of pastasciutta. Pastasciutta, however agreeable to the palate, is a passéist food because it makes people heavy, brutish, deludes them into thinking it is nutritious, makes them skeptical, slow, pessimistic.


[Pasta] is completely hostile to the vivacious spirit and passionate, generous, intuitive soul of the Neapolitans. If these people have been heroic fighters, inspired artists, awe-inspiring orators, shrewd lawyers, tenacious farmers it was in spite of their voluminous daily plate of pasta. When they eat it they develop that typical ironic and sentimental skepticism which can often cut short their enthusiasm.

Any pastascuittist who honestly examines his conscience at the moment he ingurgitates his biquotidian pyramid of pasta will find within the gloomy satisfaction of stopping up a black hole. This voracious hole is an incurable sadness of his. He may delude himself, but nothing can fill it. Only a Futurist meal can lift his spirits.

He then outlines the eleven requirements for the ideal Futurist meal:

One perfect meal requires:

  1. Originality and harmony in the table setting (crystal, china, décor) extending to the flavors and colors of the foods.
  2. Absolute originality in the food.
  3. The invention of appetizing food sculptures, whose original harmony of form and color feeds the eyes and excites the imagination before it tempts the lips.
  4. The abolition of the knife and fork for eating food sculptures, which can give prelabial tactile pleasure.
  5. The use of the art of perfumes to enhance tasting.

    Every dish must be preceded by a perfume which will be driven from the table with the help of electric fans.

  6. The use of music limited to the intervals between courses so as not to distract the sensitivity of the tongue and palate but to help annul the last taste enjoyed by re-establishing gustatory virginity.
  7. The abolition of speech-making and politics at the table.
  8. The use in prescribed doses of poetry and music as surprise ingredients to accentuate the flavors of a given dish with their sensual intensity.
  9. The rapid presentation, between courses, under the eyes and nostrils of the guests, of some dishes they will eat and other they will not, to increase their curiosity, surprise and imagination.
  10. The creation of simultaneous and changing canapés which contain ten, twenty flavors to be tasted in a few seconds. In Futurist cooking these canapés have by analogy the same amplifying function that images have in literature. A given taste of something can sum up an entire area of life, the history of an amorous passion or an entire voyage to the Far East.
  11. A battery of scientific instruments in the kitchen: ozonizers to give liquids and foods the perfume of ozone, ultra-violet ray lamps (since many foods when irradiated with ultra-violet rays acquire active properties, become more assimilable, preventing rickets in young children,etc.), electrolyzers to decompose juices and extracts, etc. in such a way as to obtain from a known product a new product with new properties, colloidal mills to pulverize flours, dried fruits, drugs, etc.; atmospheric and vacuum stills, centrifugal autoclaves, dialyzers. The use of these appliances will have to be scientific, avoiding the typical error of cooking foods under steam pressure, which provokes the destruction of active substances (vitamins, etc.) because of the high temperatures. Chemical indicators will take into account the acidity and alkalinity of these sauces and serve to correct possible errors: too little salt, too much vinegar, too much pepper or too much sugar.

Marinetti proceeds to offer several dozen colorfully titled, highly performative Futurist recipes compliant with these criteria. Her are a few favorites:


Stuff some trout with chopped nuts and fry them in olive oil. Then wrap the trout in very thin slices of calves’ liver.


Slowly cook a hare in sparkling wine mixed with cocoa powder until the liquid is absorbed. Then immerse it for a minute in plenty of lemon juice. Serve it in a copious green sauce based on spinach and juniper, and decorate with those silver hundred and thousands which recall huntsmen’s shot.


30–40 very mature and sugary dates, 500 grams Roman ricotta. Stone the dates and mash them well (all the better if you can pass them through a sieve). Mix the pulp thus obtained with the ricotta until you have a smooth poltiglia [mush]. Refrigerate for a few hours and serve chilled.


The diner is served from the right with a plate containing some black olives, fennel hearts and kumquats. From the left he is served with a rectangle made of sandpaper, silk and velvet. The foods must be carried directly to the mouth with the right hand while the left hand lightly and repeatedly strokes the tactile rectangle. In the meantime the waiters spray the napes of the diners’ necks with a conprofumo [perfume] of carnations while from the kitchen comes contemporaneously a violent conrumore [music] of an aeroplane motor and some dismusica [music] by Bach.

The Futurist Cookbook is a kooky treat in its entirety. Complement it with The Artists’ & Writers Cookbook, then spice it up a notch with Mimi Sheraton’s The Seducer’s Cookbook.

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21 JANUARY, 2014

The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde


“To you the Cathedral is dedicated. The individual side chapels are to other saints…”

London in the 1880s was a city where a woman could create a life of her own, socially, intellectually, and artistically. Art schools and galleries began to fill with young women, no longer satisfied with simply playing the muse, who desired to create. For a middle class of women who were neither required to work nor aristocratically obligated to marry, art offered both intellectual fulfillment and the possibility of a career.

These women were encouraged by the Aesthetics, a fashionable social set that included painters James MacNeil Whistler and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, actress Ellen Terry, and poet Charles Swinburne. It was a circle in which young Constance Lloyd found herself enthralled and seduced by its rising star, the critic, poet, and playboy Oscar Wilde, the twentieth century’s first pop culture celebrity.

Constance’s life with Oscar was brief — a little more than ten years as London’s most famous literary couple — when in 1895 the secret life he led with Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas exploded publicly, first in a libel suit, then in a criminal suit for sodomy that sent Wilde to prison for two years. But as Franny Moyle reveals in Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde (public library), Constance Lloyd was a driven, creative, passionate, humorous, and fiercely modern woman, both when she wed Wilde and when she separated from him.

Constance in her early-twenties, before her marriage to Oscar Wilde. She is wearing controversial “aesthetic” dress, with a loose-fitting blouse and sleeves for extra movement.

With a comfortable income provided by her grandfather, Constance Lloyd had the luxury of viewing marriage as a choice. In the fall of 1880, twenty-one-year-old Constance was living apart from her mother and experiencing London life fully for the first time. She wrote to her brother:

I cannot say I prefer the life I am leading at present. If I eventually do not marry, I will not live with Auntie all my life, I shall do something… I want something specific to do to prevent my continually dreaming ‘til I get perfectly morbid.

London in the 1880s was a place where women could increasingly roam freely among certain artistic circles, especially among the Aesthetics. Grosvenor Gallery welcomed women and their friends to converse with artists and sometimes show their own art. London’s first restaurant for women, Dorothy’s, opened on the highly-trafficked Oxford Street with a radical proposition — a place for women to sit and eat alone.

William Powell Firth, A Private View at the Royal Academy, 1881. To the right, Oscar Wilde and his set are portrayed in aesthetic dress while listening to his lecture.

In these new places, Constance found like-minded men and women with whom she could converse and engage with socially and intellectually. In her first letters to her new beau Oscar, she dared to disagree with his opinions on art:

I’m afraid you & I disagree in our opinion on art, for I hold that there is no perfect art without perfect morality, whilst you say they are distinct & separable things.

When she married Oscar, Constance had only experienced the creative half of bohemian life — the sexual side remained the domain of Oscar alone, first with women, and then passionately with men.

In 1882, the passage of the Married Women’s Property Act was an improvement on the previously nonexistent legal rights held by married women. When Constance married Oscar in 1884, a woman could now own, buy, or sell property, was responsible for her own debts, and was her own legal entity, separate from her husband. (In 1858, Isabella Robinson, on trial for adultery, wasn’t even allowed to be present in the divorce court — her only voice was her diary, read aloud by the prosecution.)

Archibald Grosvenor, an idyllic poet, from Gilbert and Sullivan’s 'Patience.' The hit musical, was a satire on the Aesthetic movement and its most famous members, including Oscar Wilde.

In a letter after their engagement, Constance was nothing but smitten with her love:

How can I answer your letters, they are far too beautiful for any words of mine, I can only dream of you all day long…If you had your magic crystal you would see nothing, believe me, but your own dear image there forever, and in my eyes you shall see reflected nought but my love for you.

But over the next ten years, Constance and Oscar shared a life of increasing public fame and domestic sadness. The pair had two children immediately after their wedding, but as Constance labored hard through her second pregnancy, Oscar began to reconsider the romantic and sexual nature of their life together. He wrote to a friend:

There are romantic memories, and there is the desire of romance—that is all. Our most fiery moments of ecstasy are mere shadows of what somewhere else we have felt, or what we long someday to feel…Sometimes I think the artistic life is a long and lovely suicide, and am sorry that it is so.

By dividing his devotion to marriage with his romantic pleasures, Oscar and Constance experienced a partnership that expanded the definition of what it meant to be independent, and what it meant to be alone. Constance became a champion of dress reform, and a figurehead of Oscar’s new women’s magazine, in which he advocated that “we should take a wider range, as well as a high standpoint, and deal not merely with what women wear, but with what they think, and what they feel.” Less generous admirers saw Constance as a fanatic, dipping her toe into whatever cause was fashionable, from votes for women to spiritualism.

Oscar Wilde, photographed by Napoleon Sarony in New York in 1882, two years before his marriage to Constance.

Perhaps her interests were wide-ranging because unlike a conventional married woman of the time, she didn’t simply live one life, with one devotion to house and home. Oscar taught her the ways of a divided love, as freeing or as painful as that might be. In his second book of fairy-tales, Constance was surprised to read Oscar’s dedication to her:

To you the Cathedral is dedicated. The individual side chapels are to other saints… The candles that burn at the side altars are not so bright or beautiful as the great lamp of the shrine which is of gold, and that has a wonderful heart of restless flame.

Constance lived at the edge of what was fashionable and what was acceptable. A champion of women’s rights, she used her place as the queen of London’s literary society to accomplish social and political reform. When she died in exile in Italy at the young age of forty, she was separated from Oscar and living under a pseudonym. Her grave had no mention of her famous husband until many years later, when her brother added the no-longer-tarnished title, “Wife of Oscar Wilde.”

Michelle Legro is an associate editor at Lapham’s Quarterly. You can find her on Twitter.

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Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:

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Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.