Welcome to the December 1910 Centenary Blog

This blog is designed to report on events, activities and material from history, culture and the arts, relating to the December 1910 Centenary Conference at the University of Glasgow on 10-12 December 2010. The conference is being organised by the Scottish Network for Modernist Studies and the British Association of Modernist Studies. Over 100 speakers will be travelling to Glasgow from all over the UK and the rest of the world to deliver papers from across many disciplines responding to Virginia Woolf's famous statement that 'on or about December 1910, human character changed. To find out more about the conference or register to attend, visit the main conference website here. Or you can now follow us on Twitter as SNoMS1910!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

1910-2010: Suffragette Century (Threads and Sparks)

Jane Goldman's paper, delivered on Sunday morning, captured perfectly the interweaving of "centenary reflections and contemporary debates" that the conference as a whole aimed for.

Responding to Makiko Minow-Pinkney's 'invitation "to write a short statement exploring personal and/or scholarly meanings of Woolf's December 1910 remark"', Jane's paper charted a beautifully elegiac trail through the 'Suffragette Century', from 1910 to 2010. For me, the paper produced the same effect as reading did for the 21 year-old Virginia Stephen in 1903: '"I read some history: it is suddenly all alive, branching forwards and backwards and connected with every kind of thing that seemed entirely remote before"'.

Following the 'more personal meanings, which nevertheless have always and already underpinned my researches', Jane traced how the 'influence of 1910' has 'threaded' and sparked through her career and thinking.

Starting with George Dangerfield's note that 1910 is 'a landmark in English history', standing out 'against a peculiar background of flame' (2010 doesn't seem too far away, with students on the streets of London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and other cities, and burning barracades in Rome), Jane remarked on the impossibility of 'properly' understanding 'the formalist aspects of modernist aesthetics as occuring in a political vacuum'. She laid out the relationships between political and aesthetic actions and ideas, before moving on to the 'personal degrees of separation'.

Vanessa Bell, having already exhibited in the second Post-Impressionist exhibition in 1912, exhibited in 1922 at London's Independent Gallery with Othon Friesz, the Fauvist. As Jane reminded us, Friesz had exhibited alongside Matisse and Braque, was a friend of Raoul Dufy, and had once had a conversation with Cézanne (of which more later). He gave a painting to Clive Bell, and a couple of his canvases can now be found at Charleston.

John McNairn was born in September 1910. A long-time friend of Jane's and a resident of Hawick in the Scottish Borders, he came from a line of artists rooted in the town. Both his father and his grandfather were painters, and both called John. As a student at the Edinburgh College of Art in 1927, McNairn's 'own staple reading' was Roger Fry; he also saw Picasso's sets for the Diaghilev ballet when it visited Edinburgh. He travelled in the 1930s to Paris, moving in Surrealist circles, balancing out his conservative training in Edinburgh. Upon his arrival, the dismissal of his work by Friesz ('"seulement illustration!"') spurred him on enough for Friesz to credit his effort with the sage-like '"You have searched the form"'. McNairn, Jane recalled, 'enjoyed pointing out that Friesz, his revered mentor in Paris, "as a young man had a conversation with Cézanne. So I can claim to have spoken with someone who has spoken with Cézanne."'

In addition to his artistic connections, Jane traced McNairn's relationship with the Suffragettes, noting the 1909 Gude Cause pageant in Edinburgh (gloriously re-staged in 2009) and the alleged burning of churches in Whitekirk near Eyemouth ('a McNairn holiday destination') in 1914 and Yarrow Kirk, near Hawick itself, in 1922. John's wife Stella was the first to introduce a young Jane to Simone de Beauvoir, and their daughter Caroline was known as Ca, in reference to 'the Bloomsbury 'Neo-Pagan' and lover of Rupert Brooke' Ka Cox, 'for whom Stella had a passion'.

Caroline herself became a painter, continuing the McNairn line, exhibiting in New York in the 1980s to the admiration of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat and working in the Soviet Union in 1990, having a painting bought by the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow (the first since the Revolution), it being exhibited alongside Cézanne, Gauguin and Matisse. Her paintings interweave the figure and the abstract, themselves re-weaving 'post-impressionist threads', whilst her 'gleefully subversive occupation of the tank in which the war-mongering Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once posed for triumphal publicity shots' revealed her suffragette sparks.

Jane's paper ended on a sad note, relaying how Caroline died of cancer on the 29th September 2010, 'three days after the centenary of her father's birth and four days before the opening of the centenary exhibition in Hawick museum'. In creating out of these sparks and threads of radical art and feminist politics a beautiful memoir of lives dedicated to a "gude cause", Jane gave us a melancholic-yet-affirmative testament to the power, potential and importance of art and politics; and, in December 2010, with an ever-more uncertain future for the arts and humanities, a compelling demonstration of their necessity.

Monday, 13 December 2010


Interceptions: Theory's Modernism and Modernism's Theory was a postgraduate symposium that ran parallel to the conference on Saturday.

The day kicked off with an opening keynote from Stephen Ross, whose edited collection Modernism and Theory was a big influence on our thinking when organising the symposium. His paper 'Modernist Ethics and the Force of Critique' performed a hilarious and virtuosic close reading of the car crash in E.M. Forster's A Passage to India, the highlight of which was an analysis of Adela and Ronny's decision that the cause of the crash was a hyena. These animals, it turns out, have long been associated in folklore with sexual perversion. In the 1930s it was discovered that hyenas have very complex genitalia (helpfully illustrated with a PowerPoint slide-show) and their sexual behaviours don't correspond to those found more generally in the animal kingdom. In his paper Stephen developed an argument that modernism took up the task of critique that the Englightenment let slip, that modernism's "make it new" is the 'battlecry of critique'. He touched on the possibility of 'opening the door to the other knowing that it can't come in', on the violence of truth and knowledge and the pros and cons of the poststructuralist deferral of decision-making.

The symposium came in part out of Glasgow University's Theory at Random reading group, and the reading group model was a guiding concept. The morning's panels had 6 speakers whose papers had been distributed a month before the conference to delegates. On Saturday, those speakers had ten minutes to summarise or expand on their papers, leaving an hour for group discussion. The panel on 'Modernism, Posthumanism and Theories of the Avant-Garde' featured Tom Betteridge's paper on Badiou, the body and contemporary art; Mark West's on the 60s counterculture, small presses and theories of the avant-garde; Derek Ryan's on Virginia Woolf's Flush and Derrida's cat; Sam Wiseman on Mary Butts' Dorset and the nature/culture boundary; and Kaori Kikuchi reading Virginia Woolf's architectural politics through a dialogue between Foucault and Merleau-Ponty. The discussion took in the degree to which the category of the 'new' has been co-opted by business, the worth of Donna Haraway's neologism 'nature-cultures', and the tasks and errors of representation, amongst other subjects.

In the afternoon, the symposium was given over to Theory at Random reading workshops, with reading material from Ivan Illich's Deschooling Society, Giorgio Agamben's The End of the Poem (Henry King's introduction title possibly taking the award for the weekend's best title, 'Troubadour Buggery from Pound to Agamben'), and Jean-Luc Nany's "The Intruder". The Illich discussion centred around the possibilities for a less hierarchical education system, the pluralisation of learning, the potentialities of the reading group model, and the questioning of the function of education. Although not the answering of that question!

The symposium ended with Pamela Caughie's keynote address, 'On or about December 2010, human character changed, again: Modernism and Posthumanism'. She tracked the development of the posthuman through the history of the reproduction of the human voice, from the phonautograph to the gramophone and beyond. It posed provocative questions about the nature of our era - if 1910 was the age of modernism and 1985 that of postmodernism, then is 2010 the time of posthumanism?

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Roll away the reel world

An unsuspecting young man accepts the offer of some goat's milk fresh from the animal which has recently been persecuting him, when something extraordinary happens: horns burst from the top of his head and grow larger with each sip. Suddenly, he starts behaving like a goat - chasing passers by with his horns and butting into people, objects and buildings. He knocks down a brick wall and even a horse-drawn omnibus. We are in the magical world of early cinema, richly comic and fascinated with the fantastic potential of a new medium.

The film, 'A Glass of Goat's Milk' (1909) was shown to Dublin audiences in February 1910 at the new Cinema Volta as part of a programme of films put together by James Joyce, a young and then unknown aspiring writer. Delegates at our December 1910 Centenary Conference and intrepid Glaswegians prepared to brave the slippery pavements and thawing ice, were treated to a showing of this film last night at the Glasgow Film Theatre, along with other films shown at the Volta, including 'La Pouponnière', 'Monsieur Testardo' and 'Sapho! An Ancient Greek Drama'. This programme was assembled, introduced and presented by film historian Luke McKernan and excellent live piano accompaniment was provided by Forrester Pyke.

The Cinema Volta is an unusual episode in James Joyce's life. As part of his self-imposed exile from Ireland, he moved to the European continent in 1904 with his partner, Nora Barnacle and eventually settled in Trieste - then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now part of Italy. By 1909 he had a family of two children and was teaching English language in order to make ends meet, whilst he tried to get publishers to accept the short stories that were eventually published as Dubliners.

Trieste at that time was a hub of cinematic activity. (There were twenty-one cinemas in 1909.) A chance remark by Joyce's sister, Eva that Dublin lacked cinemas suggested a business opportunity and in October 1909, he signed a contract with three local businessmen (Antonio Machnich, Guiseppe Caris and Giovanni Rebez) to set up Ireland's first permanent film house at 45 Mary Street, just of Sackville Street (now O'Connell Street).

Milo O'Shea as Leopold Bloom
The full history of this endeavour is set out in Roll Away the Reel World: James Joyce and Cinema. And the evening's events at the GFT concluded with a roundtable discussion of the influence of the Cinema Volta on Joyce's writings with questions from the audience. This was chaired by John McCourt (editor of Roll Away the Reel World) and featured Katy Mullin and Keith Williams as well as Luke McKernan. Having seen the extraordinary close-up scene in which the horns sprout from the protagonist's head in 'A Glass of Goat's Milk', it's hard not to think of the scene in Ulysses where antlers sudden shoot out from the head of Leopold Bloom in the form of a hatrack.

Ultimately, however, the Volta project failed - in part because the Italian backers failed to adjust their cinema stock to an English speaking audience. Cards had to be handed out to the audience with translations of the intertitles. Joyce had hoped that it would bring him the money he needed to subsidize his artistic career, although, typically, invested no money in it himself (because he had none). But it failed to bring a profit and his sponsors sold it in June 1910. (The cinema would run until 1948 under other management.)

If this was a brief interlude in his artistic career, as the roundtable discussion showed, it was highly influential. The play in early films with narrative, space and magical effect is something all reader's of Joyce fiction will recognise.

Friday, 10 December 2010

The Periodical Scene in 1910

Today's second round of parallel panels featured papers under the titled Women in the Modern(ist) World, The Periodical Scene in 1910, Film and Theatre in 1910, H.D.'s Late Writing and Edwardianism Pt 1.

The panel on the "little magazines" (the subject of the inverted commas was indeed raised in the questions afterwards!) featured a particularly cohesive set of papers that fed off each other in numerous fascinating ways and contributed to a lively examination of the breadth of the little magazine culture in the modernist period.

Andrew Thacker's paper set the scene with descriptions of a wide-spread awareness amongst magazine contributors and editors of the need for and presence of cultural change. New forms of expression were needed; new idioms and new diction. Thacker quoted from a piece in a December 1910 edition of The New Age entitled 'A Parting of the Ways' by a mysterious, and possibly pseudonymous author - no-one knows anything about them. It foresaw that "1911 will usher in a new dispensation". Thacker continued with a particularly intriguing piece from Arnold Bennett, also in The New Age in which Bennett appeared to foresee Virginia Woolf's later criticisms of him.

"F.T. Marinetti hated the book" announced Eric Bulson at the start of his paper. Marinetti did indeed, and hoped cinema would kill it. He pondered over the (still extremely relevant) question of how to be modern yet rely on outdated technologies. Inspired by 1910's inaugural transmission of live wireless sound, Marinetti penned "Imagination Without Wires" and began thinking of how the printed magazine could learn from the distribution techniques of the wireless. He imagined what Bulson jokily called "a global avant-garde village".

Victoria Kingham's piece on the "little magazines" of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Emma Goldman explored the way both women approached feminist politics, socialism and anarchism in their magazines The Forerunner and Mother Earth.

In the questions, Thacker brought up Bourdieu's cultural field, and all three speakers agreed on the need to map and trace lines of continuity in relation to the "little magazines" across temporal and geographic fields.

So what of those inverted commas? A few questions revolved around what does "little" actually mean in relation to these magazines? Circulation? Amount of issues? Physical size? The room seemed to agree that perhaps the only way to get round such a slippery issue was to forever encase them in those protective commas.

1910, Post-Impressionism and Beyond

The conference kicked off today with four parallel panels on Popular Culture in 1910, Europe and Modernism, 1910 and History, and 1910, Post-Impressionism and Beyond.

The latter panel began with Maggie Humm's talk, entitled "Roger Fry, Gertrude Stein, Post-Impressionism and John Maynard Keynes in 1910". Using scribbles in notebooks (the Steins' address, written in French) and newspaper cuttings from Duncan Grant and others' scrapbooks, Humm created a more "kaleidoscopic" picture of the environment across Europe at the time of the Grafton Gallery's Post-Impressionism show in December of that year.

Federico Sabatini, in his paper "'To Find an Equivalent for Life': Virginia Woolf, Transference Modernism through Roger Fry and the 1910 Post-Impressionist Exhibition", explored the relations between biography, autobiography and fiction through Woolf's biography of Fry and her diaries. His paper looked at questions of the possibility of biography as art, the Freudian and Lacanian ideas of transference, the biography being as much a portrait of the biographer as the subject, as well as the tensions between reality and fiction and Woolf's struggles in creating a biography that included "scattered and incongruous fragments" and the many "lives that Roger Fry lived simultaneously".

Roxana Preda's paper was entitled "Before and after 1910: The Life and Death of Gertrude Stein's art collection" and followed the Steins' construction and destruction (in a sense) of their collection of modernist art. It explored the relationships between the arrangement of art on walls and that of words on the page and the clues to Gertrude Stein's biography as seen in her tastes between 1904 and the 1930s. Preda's paper included a fascinating recreation of the collagistic arrangement of Picasso, Cezanne and other paintings in Stein's rue de Fleurus flat by arranging reproductions of the paintings on a white background in the same combination as in the historical photographic record.

Monday, 29 November 2010

'Glasgow Girls': Artists and Designers in the Early Twentieth Century

Margery Palmer McCulloch (University of Glasgow) writes:

The major ‘Glasgow Boys’ exhibition recently moved from the Kelvingrove Art Galleries in Glasgow to the Royal Academy in London, receiving broad (and in some places, mixed) attention in the press. But another exhibition currently on show at Glasgow’s School of Art reminds us that we should not forget the ‘Glasgow Girls’.

Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in the last years of the nineteenth century, the modernist School of Art opened in two stages in 1899 and 1909. Under its enterprising director Francis (‘Fra’) Newbery, it was also the catalyst for the avant-garde ‘Glasgow Style’ in the early years of the new century. Significant female Glasgow artists of this period included the Macdonald sisters, Margaret and Frances, who exhibited with (and respectively married) Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Herbert MacNair in European exhibitions such as the Vienna Secession in 1900 and the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Art in Turin in 1902. Both sisters challenged traditional representations of women with their elongated female images in water-colour paintings and embroidered panels. (Their detractors described this as the ‘Spook School’.) Margaret also exhibited widely on her own and in association with MacNair, and her work was featured in the principal European art magazines of the time such as The Studio, Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration and Dekorative Kunst.
Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, Cover of 'Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration', May 1902, 1902.
© The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2010.
Another successful designer and illustrator was Jessie M. King who exhibited in Turin and Berlin, as well as in Ireland and India. In 1910 (the object of Woolf’s famous remarks) she went to Paris with her husband where they established a private art school. King was influenced in Paris by the designers of the Ballets Russes and brought their vivid use of colour into her own work.

Strong painters among this group of women artists included Nora Neilson Gray who went to France during the war as a volunteer nurse with the French Red Cross. Gray worked after her night shifts, producing chalk drawings of soldiers and striking oil portraits such as ‘The Belgian Refugee’ (1916) and a group portrait of the nurses and soldiers in the reception space for the injured in the medieval cloisters of the Abbaye de Royaumont where she was stationed.

The Silk Dress c. 1918, Eleanor Allen Moore, self-portrait, oil on canvas, 
private collection
Other women specialised in female subjects, but painted their sitters with a female as opposed to a male ‘gaze’, as in Eleanor Anne Moore’s exotically dressed but sceptically-eyed woman in ‘The Silk Dress’. At the turn of the century, Bessie MacNicol exhibited in Glasgow, London, Liverpool and Manchester as well as in Munich, Vienna, Dusseldorf, St Petersburg, Venice and regularly in the USA between 1896 and 1901, but death in childbirth put an end to her career in 1904.

These talented women helped put ‘Glasgow Style’ on the international map, but they were neglected by art historians who traditionally focused on male artists such as the ‘Glasgow Boys’ and the ‘Scottish Colourists’ who were influenced by European post-Impressionism. They were neglected, that is, until American art historian, Jude Burkhauser’s seminal exhibition, ‘Glasgow Girls’: Women in Art and Design 1880-1920 was shown to much acclaim and huge audiences at Kelvingrove in 1990 during Glasgow’s year as European City of Culture. The accompanying catalogue, published by Canongate (and still available), is full of biographical and bibliographical research material, essays, photographs of the artists themselves and their Glasgow School of Art environment and, most importantly, illustrations of paintings, ceramics, fabric and other design work. Its influence has been phenomenal in establishing the ‘Glasgow Girls’ within our understanding of the visual arts and their importance in the early twentieth-century history of the city.

In ‘Beyond the Reaches of Feminist Criticism’, Shari Benstock argues that if we were to ‘dig deep enough’ among the ruins of the Panthéon, that ‘burial place for distinguished men’, then we would find there the forgotten women of literary modernism. Burkhauer’s exhibition precisely achieves this act of recovery. So the Glasgow School of Art’s decision to host a smaller version at the present moment should be met with enthusiasm. Although a small exhibition cannot display the larger art works that made such an impression in 1990, the current showing opens an important window onto the contribution to modernism in the visual arts made by the women of Britain’s ‘Second City of the Empire’ around the time that ‘human character changed’.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Diaghilev in Glasgow

Professor Graham Watt writes:

On this Friday 26 November it will be 82 years to the day since the Ballet Russes began a six day stint at the Kings Theatre in Glasgow. This was the company's only appearance in Scotland, apart from a similar visit to the King's Theatre in Edinburgh a week later. Jane Pritchard, curator of the current Diaghilev exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London,* provides an excellent list of their performances between 1922 and the death of Diaghilev in 1929 in a long article in Dance Research: in November and December of 1928, the company undertook a five week tour of UK cities, performing in Manchester (Opera House), Birmingham (Prince of Wales), Glasgow (Kings), Edinburgh (King's) and Liverpool (Empire), before a Christmas and New Year engagement in Paris (Theatre de l'Opera).

Kings Theatre, Glasgow

The six Glasgow performances, including a Saturday matinee, took place at the Kings Theatre in Bath Street between 26th November and 1st December, 1928. They were fronted by Sir Thomas Beecham who conducted the orchestra and acted as a public voice for the company on its provincial tour. Eight ballets were performed in varying combinations of three or four: Le Tricorne, The Gods go a-begging, Aurora's Wedding, Cimarosiana, La Chatte, Prince Igor, La Boutique Fantastique and Les Sylphides.

These Glasgow performances by the Ballet Russes were advertised in the Herald newspaper on every day on which the company performed. Although there were no feature articles or photographs, this coverage included two reviews by the newspaper's music critic:

There was a great audience to welcome the Russian Ballet at the Kings Theatre last evening when they made their first appearance in Glasgow. It is a great venture to bring so large a company of famous dancers and a large and capable orchestra to the city and the great success of the opening performance encourages the hope that the week's visit will justify the venture and that other visits will follow.

Compared with Continental peoples, we do not know very much in this country about opera, and we know even less of ballet dancing as a fine art. Russia for two generations has been the foremost exponent of this art. The ballet is taken more seriously there than anywhere else and the fine work that has been seen in London so often and was presented in Glasgow for the first time last night is the result of a long and higly specialised education. The provinces are fortunate in having the opportunity of seeing what the ballet at its highest can be and the experience will arise in some spectators and strengthen in others a feeling of discontent with the limtations that attach to our theatrical system.

There follows comments on each of the ballets featured on the first night. Apart from Massine's choreography none of the company are mentioned by name. The reviewer concludes:

The stage always offers something that holds the eye and it is at the same time as eloquent as it is graceful. And the beauty of the dancing is matched by the beauty of the final pose in each incidental event with groupings and decor as enhancements of the picture.

Despite the reviewer's hopes, this was the first and last performance by the Ballet Russes in Glasgow, and the English regions. Witin a year, Diaghilev had died in Venice, of septicaemia following furunculosis, due to diabetes mellitus (penicillin had been discovered only a year earlier and was not yet in general use). Diaghilev's company folded, but in 20 years he had not only transferred classical ballet from Russia to the western world (including what would become the Royal Ballet); he also revolutionised the repertoire and ignited a host of related careers, including those of Massine, Balanchine, Fokine, Larionov, Nijinska, Bakst, Benois, Goncharova,  Picasso, Cocteau, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Satie and Chanel.

When King Alfonso of Spain teased Diaghilev, "What is it then that you do in this troupe? You don't dance. You don't direct. You don't play the piano. What is it that you do?" Diaghilev replied, "Your majesty, I am like you. I don't work. I don't do anything, but I am indispensable".

*The V&A maintain an excellent, ongoing blog dedicated to aspects of this exhibition.