What a difference a day can make. The morning of November 9, 1989 started like any other day for Berliners on both sides of the wall – but by the end of the day the barrier that stood between them had fallen. Today marks the 31st anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Two nights ago, as the long-awaited (US) election results were announced, the sombre mood of the nation changed in one moment and celebrations broke out across the country.
In the words of Willy Brandt (1913-1992), German politician, mayor of West Berlin, and 1971 Nobel Peace Prize winner, “Now we are in a situation where what belongs together, will grow back together.”
(Images Courtesy: Guardian, Time Magazine, US News & World Report).
While I was looking up info for the wartime evacuation of paintings, I came across the really fascinating start to the Picture of the Month concept that was initiated by the National Gallery in London during wartime. The Gallery had just purchased and exhibited a Rembrandt painting in an otherwise empty museum. Following this exhibition, on January 3, 1942, a Mr. Charles Wheeler wrote a letter to the editor of the Times newspaper.
“because London’s face is scarred and bruised these days we need more than ever to see beautiful things. Like many another one hungry for aesthetic refreshment, I would welcome the opportunity of seeing a few of the hundreds of the nation’s masterpieces now stored in a safe place. Would the trustees of the National Gallery consider whether it were not wise and well to risk one picture for exhibition each week? Arrangements could be made to transfer it quickly to a strong room in case of an alert. Music-lovers are not denied their Beethoven, but picture-lovers are denied their Rembrandts just at a time when such beauty is most potent for good.”
In response, the trustees decided to show one picture every three weeks instead of one a week because they, “felt that many people could not spare time to visit the gallery so often and might be disappointed at missing a favorite picture.”
The first painting selected by the museum was Titian’s Nole me tangere. The picture with its biblical subject matter that invited contemplation and its themes of Christ’s sacrifice for humanity, seemed like a perfect choice for a nation at war. The picture was selected on March 11, 1942 and was on display for three weeks.
I looked through many months of archives of the Times and could only find three more such notices.
What fun I’ve had with the research for this blog!! As always, I am amazed at the power of art to bring joy and to heal.
(Sources: Times archives and the National Gallery, London).
On August 23, 1939, in preparation for the impending war, the National Gallery in London closed its doors to the public and took down all its paintings. In addition to sending children away from London, the treasures in its museums inlcuding 1000s of years’ worth of historical documents like the Magna Carta, and its large collection of paintings had to be sent away for safekeeping.
Initially the paintings were spread-out all over England, in aristocratic homes and museums far away from London. After the Battle of Dunkirk in the summer of 1940 it became clear the German bombers would soon be targeting the entire island, and the current locations of the paintings would not be safe enough. For a while, the idea of sending everything to Canada was floated, but Churchill shot down the idea with an emphatic, “Hide them in caves and cellars but not one picture shall leave this island.”
In the end, that’s precisely what happened – the museum director Kenneth Clark sent the paintings to a large unused slate mine in Wales called the Manod Caverns for safekeeping. It was here that they spent the remainder of the war under the care of Andrew Davies, the chief curator who relocated to the Wales to be close to the paintings.
In France too, the Louvre closed its doors, officially for repair work, for three days on August 25, 1939. In three days, just 10 days before the German invasion, the treasures from the Louvre were moved to countryside chateaus and aristocratic homes all over France for safekeeping. The museum director, Jacques Jaujard, moved the paintings including the Mona Lisa in complete secrecy, so that when the Nazis entered the Louvre, they found only frames lining the walls. The details of where each painting went are still secret.
Jacques Jaujard was able to accomplish the herculean task of quickly moving 4000 pieces of Louvre’s collections because he was experienced at hiding paintings – having done it previously during the Spanish civil war in 1936 for Madrid’s Museo del Prado when the paintings were disbursed all over Spain. They were moved again in 1939, this time with the assistance of New York’s MOMA, the Louvre, and the National and Tate Galleries in London. With the support of these museums, in February 1939, the entire contents of the Prado including Las Meninas were transported to the headquarters of the League of Nations in Geneva for safekeeping.
The Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands too closed its doors on August 25, 1939 to empty the museum under the guidance of Henricus Petrus Baard. He had started as a volunteer at the museum, and in 1939 was the museum’s scientific assistant of history. The museum’s treasures were sent to villages across the Netherlands: suddenly little villages found themselves responsible for the safekeeping of Vermeers and Rembrandts. But once the bombs started dropping, the paintings were shifted to newly constructed bomb-proof bunkers near the North Sea. The Night Watch shifted bunkers at least five times during the war.
None of the paintings that were transported and stored in mines and bunkers were damaged – each one returned to its rightful place at the end of the war. I think we owe an immense and unrepayable debt of gratitude to the museum directors and the people who helped to pack, transport, store, and care for these priceless treasures during the war.
(Images courtesy National Gallery (London), Musee de Louvre, Museo del Prado, Stedelijk Museum).
The other day this occurred to me – why is the world’s tallest mountain, part of the South Asian Himalayan mountain range, bordered by Nepal and Tibet – called Everest?
It all started with British India and a survey by the British in the 1800s of the entire land mass of the subcontinent. At that time, the recorded highest mountain in the world was Kangchenjunga. The survey revealed a “stupendous snowy mass” about 140 miles from the Indian town of Darjeeling, which the surveyors called “Gamma.” This was later renamed “Peak b” when it was discovered that the mountain was higher than Kangchenjunga, and then again renamed “Peak XV” when its height became known. A few more years passed while the British surveyors confirmed their math, and then finally in 1856 its height was disclosed to be 29,0002 feet. At the same time, it was given the name Mount Everest. The name was recommended by Andrew Waugh the Surveyor general of India – who succeeded Sir George Everest in this post. I suppose he could have proposed his own name and then we would have had Mount Waugh!!
In his defense, Sir Everest did not want his name to be used, he preferred that local names be used, but the explanation for sticking with Everest is that Tibet and Nepal were “closed” and local names were therefore unknown to the British. I’m hung up on the fact that something was “closed” to the British – wasn’t technically India closed too before they started the survey?
As it turns out, the mountain was included in the first known accurate European map of China made in 1734 by French geographer and cartographer Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville (1697 – 1782). The map, “Description Geographique de la Chine,” was compiled from information gathered by French Jesuits in China. And in this map, Mount Everest was marked “Chomolungma.”
The Tibetans call it “Goddess Mother of Mountains,” or Chomolungma. The Nepalese call the mountain Sagarmatha – which roughly translates to someone whose head touches the sky. In Sanskrit the mountain is called Devgiri – of abode of the Gods. All names show reverence for the mountain and aspire to something far higher than a British surveyor of the land.
The highest peak in the US is Denali. The mountain was renamed Mt. McKinley after a gold prospector scaled the mountain in 1896 and called it that in honor of presidential candidate William McKinley. It was officially called Mt. McKinley from 1919 to 2015, when the Obama Administration restored the name to Denali.
16 September 1620: Weighed anchor. Wind E.N.E., a fine gale. Laid course W.S.W. for northern coasts of Virginia.
400 years ago, on this day, after seeing multiple delays and making unplanned stops at various ports to repair Speedwell, the Mayflower sailed out of Plymouth alone into the Atlantic, and into the pages of history books.
She carried 102 people – a motley group Separatists and Strangers – people seeking opportunity in the New World, 74 men and 28 women, and 31 children.
The Mayflower carried with the following food supply -
Biscuits or ship-bread (in barrels).
Oatmeal (in barrels or hogsheads).
Rye meal (in hogsheads).
Butter (in firkins).
Cheese, "Hollands" and English (in boxes).
Eggs, pickled (in tubs).
Fish, "haberdyne" [or salt dried cod] (in boxes)
Smoked herring (in boxes).
Beef, salt, or "corned" (in barrels).
Dry-salted (in barrels).
Smoked (in sacks).
Dried neats'-tongues (inboxes).
Pork, bacon, smoked (in sacks or boxes).
Salt [" corned "] (in barrels).
Hams and shoulders, smoked (in canvas sacks or hogsheads).
Salt (in bags and barrels).
Beans (in bags and barrels).
Cabbages (in sacks and barrels).
Onions (in sacks).
Turnips (in sacks).
Parsnips (in sacks).
Pease (in barrels), and
Vinegar (in hogsheads), while,--
Beer (in casks), brandy, "aqua vitae" (in pipes), and gin ["Hollands
"strong waters," or "schnapps"] (in pipes) were no small
or unimportant part, from any point of view, of the provision supply.
The Mayflower was destined to make the voyage across the Atlantic alone. After repairing Speedwell in Dartmouth, both ships had set sail on 2 September 1620. However, within a day of sailing Speedwell developed leaks again and both ships turned around and returned to England – this time to Plymouth Harbor where they anchored on 6 September 1620.
Speedwell’s logs would have read as follows:
2 September Weighed anchor, ‘as did also MAY-FLOWER, and set sail. Laid general course W. S. W. Wind fair.
3 September Fair wind, but ship leaking.
4 September Wind fair. Ship leaking dangerously. MAY-FLOWER in company.
5 September About 100 leagues from land’s end. Ship leaking badly. Hove to. Signalled MAY-FLOWER, in company. Consultation between masters, carpenters, and principal passengers. Decided to put back into Plymouth and determine whether pinnace is seaworthy. Put about and laid course for Plymouth.
6 September Wind on starboard quarter. Made Plymouth harbor and came to anchor. MAY-FLOWER in company.
It was in Plymouth that the ship which had caused so many delays was finally deemed finally to not be seaworthy. It was decided that the Mayflower would sail alone. Some of the passengers who had sailed from Leiden, Netherlands abandoned their plans of going to the New World, while other crammed into the Mayflower to continue their journey.
On 14 September 1620 after transferring its cargo to Mayflower, Speedwell “Weighed anchor and took departure for London, leaving Mayflower at anchor in roadstead.”
On 16 Septeber 1620 Mayflower continued on this journey alone and sailed into history books.
The Wind of Change is blowing through this continent, and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.We must all accept is as fact and our national policies must take account of it.
Harold Macmillan, The Wind of Change , 1960, South Africa
No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man
is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe
is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as
well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine
owne were; any mans death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
Recently, I had done a series of blogs on the representation of African Americans in art. It seems incomplete without including the sensitive post-Civil War works of Winslow Homer in which he depicts African Americans standing at the threshold between slavery and freedom. Homer (1836-1910) is regarded as one of the greatest American artists of the 19th century.
Andersonville (Camp Sumter) was a brutal civil war camp where 10s of thousands of Union soldiers died. In this poetic painting a woman stands at the threshold between slavery and freedom – darkness and light.
In A Visit from the Mistress, 1876, the old mistress visits the Afrcan American women who are warmed by the glow of the fireplace, while the old mistress looks cold and angular. The body posture and the rather stiff visit all give a sense on underlying hostility, and a sense that despite the radical shift not much has changed in reality.
This painting is the subject of considerable debate as to Homer’s meaning. Whatever the interpretation – the men here are taking a well-deserved break after hard work in the army and exude dignity and a sense of calm.
What at first glance appears to be an idyllic childhood scene, is in reality a depiction of post-Civil war reality. The young boy in the front, and the one under the tree are doing all the work, while the other two boys look at the action and offer no assistance. Homer’s work here seems to be speaking volumes for the difficult future that lies ahead.
(Images courtesy MFA Boston, NC Museum, Google Arts & Culture).
On August 22, 1620 two ships dropped anchor off Bayards Cove in Dartmouth, England. After facing delays in Southampton to make the necessary repairs to Speedwell, the two ships, The Mayflower and Speedwell, had embarked on their transatlantic voyage on August 15, 1620. They sailed for a few days when Speedwell began leaking again, and they retreated to Dartmouth. This coastal town was used to large merchant ships coming along its shores – however it is unlikely that the town had ever hosted ships that were on as meaningful a journey as the Separatists and Strangers that sailed in on Auguat 22, 1620.
Robert Cushman was one of the Separatist leaders and organizers of the voyage who was making the journey on the Speedwell. It is from his letter dated August 17, 1620 (Julian Calendar which is about 10 days behind the current calendar) to his friend that we have accounts of the troubles Speedwell was facing:
Our pinnace will not cease leaking, else I think we had been half-way to Virginia. Our voyage hither hath been as full of crosses as ourselves have been of crookedness. We put in here to trim her; and I think, as others also, if we had stayed at sea but three or four hours more, she would have sunk right down. And though she was twice trimmed at Hampton, yet now she is as open and leaky as a sieve; and there was a board a man might have pulled off with his fingers, two foot long, where the water came in as at a mole hole. We lay at Hampton seven days in fair weather, waiting for her, and now we lie here waiting for her in as fair a wind as can blow, and so have done these four days, and are like to lie four more, and by that time the wind will happily turn as it did at Hampton. Our victuals will be half eaten up, I think, before we go from the coast of England, and if our voyage last long, we shall not have a month’s victuals when we come in the country.
In 1619, Robert Cushman also wrote a pamphlet/book The Cry of a Stone which provides details as to why the Lieden Separatist separated from the Church of England. The book was published in 1642 under the name Coachman, and it was not until the mid-20th Century that the book was identified to have been written by a Separatist. Robert Cushman was one of the people who did not continue with the journey at Plymouth in 1620, though he did go there in 1621 where his son Thomas Cushman became a prominent member of the Pilgrim community.
After Speedwell’s repairs were completed, the two ships set sail once more on September 2, 1620.
Methinks I see it now, that one solitary, adventurous vessel, the ‘Mayflower’ of a forlorn hope, freighted with the prospects of a future State, and bound across the unknown sea. I behold it pursuing, with a thousand misgivings, the uncertain, the tedious voyage. Suns rise and set, and weeks and months pass, and winter surprises them on the deep, but brings them not the sight of the wished-for shore. I see them now scantily supplied with provisions, crowded almost to suffocation in their ill-stored prison, delayed by calms, pursuing a circuitous route; and now driven in fury before the raging tempest, on the high and giddy waves. The awful voice of the storm howls through the rigging. The laboring masts seem straining from their base; the dismal sound of the pumps is heard; the ship leaps, as it were, madly from billow to billow; the ocean breaks, and settles with engulfing floods over the floating deck, and beats with deadening weight against the staggered vessel. I see them, escaped from these perils, pursuing their all but desperate undertaking, and landed at last, after five months’ passage, on the ice-clad rocks of Plymouth,—weak and weary from the voyage, poorly armed, scantily provisioned, depending on the charity of their shipmaster for a draft of beer on board, drinking nothing but water on shore, without shelter, without means, surrounded by hostile tribes.