Friday, 11 March 2022

portrait studio

We quite enjoyed learning about early colour film process and the society photographer and activist of 1930s London styled as Madame Yevonde who not only costumed and captured aristocratic women, actresses and dignitaries in ways that brought out their glamour and style, her commission often appeared in magazines of the day.  Having pioneered colour photos (see also) and helped to legitimatise the format that was held in lower esteem over black-and-white and associated with the novelty and sentiment of hand-tinting, Madame Yevonde’s career-trajectory was radically altered with the war which saw the only laboratory developing colour prints shut down and repurposed, working with only monochrome film for the rest of her professional years. See a whole gallery of her works at Messy Nessy Chic at the link up top.

Saturday, 26 February 2022

der hรถllensturz

Whilst on display at the Alte Pinothek in Munich, the artwork The Fall of Damned by Peter Paul Rubens commissioned by the Duke of Pfalz-Neuberg in 1620 (for whom the great Flemish artist had already created the Greater and Lesser Last Judgment) features a jumble of rather Rubenesque figures being hurled to Hell by the Archangel Michael, the painting vandalised on this day in 1959 by a philosophy professor called Walter Menzl, who doused the canvas with wood polish stripping agent. Fortunately the painting could be saved and restored and the defacer turned himself in to the authorities, offering that he had intended to target rather The Four Apostles (that artist’s last major work) of Albrecht Dรผrer for the herostratic fame but decided against it for the religious implications.

Friday, 14 January 2022


Via Weird Universe, we are (formally—as it seems familiar in a way but never knew the artist’s name) introduced to the Belgian writer and animator Gรฉrald Frydman through his 1971 surreal vignette about a town and the bizarre rituals of its inhabitants. Frydman’s short films were jury selectees and winners of the Palme d’Or in 1976 and 1984 and can be viewed at the artist’s channel.

Wednesday, 15 December 2021


the hallmark channel: a treasury of classic festive films from Eastern Europe  

savage garden: the ruins of Rome’s Colosseum was once a wild green oasis full of exotic plants—via Messy Nessy Chic 

touching the sun: the Parker Solar Probe enters and safely exits the corona  

barcode architects: a new triangular high-rise for Rotterdam’s maritime district  

smart tweed: artificial intelligence predicts the next holiday, must-have gifts  

็‚ฌ็‡ต: Japanese in-situ heating solutions called kotatsu (see previously) have been around for a long time  

what day is it boy: the labour shortage hits Scrooge & Marley

Friday, 5 November 2021

kwade zaterdag

Also known by the titular “Evil Saturday,” Saint Felix’ Flood (Sint-Felixvloed) occurred on this day in 1530, inundating and washing away significant parts of Zeeland and Flanders, reportedly taking over a hundred thousand lives. The only surviving municipality was a city called Reimerswaal, whose residents witnessed and endured the destruction, which itself was depopulated after repeated storms, considered a lost city, remnants are buried under the delta works (see also) and major construction project the Oesterdam.

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

d’une figure de proue

Via Fancy Notions, we are introduced to Belgian animator and educator Raoul Servais (*1928) through the lens of his 1968 dystopian short on humanity’s siren song—the totems of exploitation, globalisation over-fishing. His 1979 horror-comedy piece featuring trying to live with another legendary creature, Harpya, which innovatively mixed live-action with cartoons took the Palme d’Or at Cannes that year in that category. The source title refers to a 1964 British horror film by Roger Corman that was part of a series of adaptations of works by Edgar Allen Poe about a widower whose Atheist wife’s soul was purloined by a demonic cat.

Monday, 2 August 2021

the manhattan project

The phenomenon of nuclear fission only just discovered and prompting the United States to eventually establish its own research programme, with the endorsement of Albert Einstein Hungarian physicist Szilรกrd Leรณ (*1898 - †1964) dispatched his letter to president Franklin D. Roosevelt on this day in 1939. Immediately comprehending the ramifications for energy production or warfare having conducted experiments with less fissile materials and unable to sustain a chain-reaction, Szilard first in mid-July thought to warn Belgium as their colony in the Congo held the largest known reserves of uranium and was fearful that the Germans could persuade them to part with it handily, not realising what they were trading away and had recruited Einstein to speak on his behalf through consular channels as Einstein was friends with the Belgian royal family. With the closing salutation, “Yours truly,” the letter began: 

In the course of the last four months it has been made probable – through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in America – that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future. 

Specifically citing the suspension of the sales of uranium from occupied Czechoslovakia and on-going research in German universities, Szilard further conjectured that while it probably was not feasible to miniaturise the components necessary for a nuclear reaction for portable bombs and mobile warheads, he did believe it likely that the process could be accommodated on board a ship that could attack a city from the harbour. FDR (his reply pictured) was delivered this executive summary plus a longer, more detailed explanation of the science underpinning his forewarning.

Wednesday, 16 June 2021


what sophistry is this: Mark Liberman discusses the rhetoric of “elevated stupidity” 

truly toastmasters: a virtual toaster museum with fine exhibits from many eras and manufacturers  

water shrews: the BBC Science & Environment desk examines these superb divers of this large group of insectivores called collectively Eulipotyphla, “the truly fat and blind”—via Super Punch 

les citรฉs obscures: revisiting the imaginative utopias of architect Luc Schuiten (previously)  

games for crows: like Where’s Waldo but with emoji—via Waxy red rover: Zhurong Mars explorer sends a selfie  

letragraphia: the sleek, revolutionary graphic design of Felix Beltrรกn

urbane dictionary: a gloss of cancel-culture terminology

Monday, 31 May 2021


The always intriguing and enlightening Maps Mania refers us to a suite of tools and tracers to help us visualise the huge among of marine traffic that passes in and out of the North Sea bordered by the Low Countries and Scandinavia, the waters off Belgium far exceeding the throughput of either of the shipping industry’s great corridors and potential bottlenecks, the Panama and Suez canals. Especially interesting is the data-driven scrollytelling from the financial daily De Tidj (pictured) which shows the activity and congestion of navigable routes along with the dredgers that keep the trade routes open to traffic.

Saturday, 24 April 2021

situationist international

Though better-known by the later stages of the collective’s existence for developing the principles of dรฉrive and psycho-geography, the burgeoning group of avant-garde artists and social revolutionaries formed in the late 1950s garnered public attention and some herostratic fame on this day in 1964 by decapitating the landmark bronze located on a waterside promenade in Copenhagen, the Little Mermaid, the first act in a long line of vandalism towards this poort statue motivated by various reasons. Radically left-leaning and convinced that the capitalism that Karl Marx had sought to redress, the Situationists—especially during this formative political period, was becoming more pervasive and all-encompassing and that the estranging forces of commodity fetishism were fast encroaching on every aspect of life and culture, helping limn and inform the summer of unrest and insurrection of Paris in May of 1968.

Friday, 12 March 2021

portrait of the artist as a young woman

BBC Culture showcases the Flemish Renaissance painter Caterina van Hemessen (*1528 – †1565) through the lens of her 1548 self-portrait which is the first known depiction of an artist—of any gender—at work at the easel. Certainly knowing her art history, van Hemessen’s reflection, projection has a definite correspondence to Albrecht Dรผrer’s 1500 work. As in many professions at the time, the certification and apprenticeship process was biased against women joining the ranks of artists with curricula consisting of studying cadavers and vivisections and the nude male form—places where women had no access to—it was difficult to find a sponsor and teacher, making female painters exceedingly rare, though in Hemessen’s case it was her father that taught her, Jan Sanders van Hemessen—renowned as well for introducing Italian, romantic influences to the Northern Renaissance.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021


street legal: these stunning automobile illustration are from a 1930 Soviet children’s book by Vladimir Tabi—via Present /&/ Correct 

conferment ceremony: Finnish PhD students receive a Doctoral Sword and Hat on graduation 

a coney island of the mind: Beat Poet and activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti passes away, aged 101 

train ร  grande vitesse: Roman roads of Gaul presented in the style TGV routes across France, Belgium and Switzerland—see previously  

epilogue: French electronic music duo Daft Punk disband after twenty-eight years  

usps: design proposals for the next generation US mail truck

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

รฉloi de noyon

Also known as Saint Eligius, the namesake of the hospital of the US television series St. Elsewhere (the nickname being a professional slang term for the practise of diverting less wealthy patients to poorly funded care centres and not in reference to the legendary surgery below), the patron most celebrated as protector of horses and those who work with them is venerated on this day, on the occasion of his death in 660 (*588). Chief counsel to Merovingian king Dagobert I, ร‰loi rose to prominence through virtuosity demonstrated in metalwork, richly framing members of the aristocracy and sepulchred dead with finery—also earning him the sponsorship of gold- and silversmiths, coin collectors and mechanical engineers—though reportedly eschewed any luxury himself and gave away all his wealth to the poor and used his court favour to distribute more alms. In his capacity as a blacksmith, ร‰loi once had to shod a recalcitrant horse who refused to cooperate. Convinced the horse was possessed by a demon, ร‰loi accomplished the task by miraculously dismembering each leg one at a time and reattaching them afterwards.

Monday, 30 November 2020


regolith: British R&D company working on process to extract oxygen from lunar soil and using the by-product to three-dimensionally print a moon base—via the New Shelton wet/dry  

gentle giant: David Prowse, the British weight-lifter and character actor who played Darth Vader, has passed away 

person, woman, man, camera, tv: Sarah Andersen’s funny take on our future senility  

kung-fu grip: new research suggests that Neanderthals did not use their hands and thumbs in the same way as Homo sapiens 

 handkerchief flirting codes for post-humans: Janelle Shane (previously) trains a neural network on late Victorian courtship etiquette 

wilmarsdonk: the remains of a village in the middle of the Port of Antwerp, mostly vacated for the busy shipping hub’s expansion  

social harmony: queuing guests practise distancing on a length of music notation, producing a movement from Gymnopรฉdie  

pareidolia, apophenia: brain neurons juxtaposed with galactic clusters connected by filaments of dark matter

Saturday, 21 November 2020

la chamber d’รฉcoute

Born this day in 1898 (†1967) and pictured here posing with his painting The Pilgrim, Renรฉ Franรงois Ghislain Magritte, son of a haberdasher and milliner, would go on to become an influential surrealist artist, informing pop, minimalist and conception art through a long and prolific career. Classically trained at the Acadรฉmie Royale des Beaux Arts in Brussels, Magritte found instruction in traditional impressionism to be uninteresting and quickly thereafter discovered cubism and futurism as a point of departure, his signature style cemented once exposed to the metaphysical, juxtaposition of Le chant d’amour (1914) by artist Giorgio de Chirico.

After a failed first exhibition in the capital in the early 1920s, Magritte relocated to Paris where his work was better received and shown in galleries alongside Salvador Dalรญ (previously), Pablo Picasso, Yves Tanguy and Joan Mirรณ (see also). During the war and living in Nazi-occupied Belgium, Magritte went through a painterly transition, called his “Renoir Period,” an interlude that expressed his feelings of abandonment and besiegement, though would later renounce that darker spell and committed with fellow artists to use surrealism to promote peace and reconciliation immediately after fighting ceased. Provisionally, Magritte supported himself and his family through forging Picassos and counterfeiting bank notes (he appeared on the genuine five-hundred-franc bill until it was replaced by the euro) until the arts sector was able to get back on its feet and by 1948 was returning to his pre-war style with Golconda (the raining men in bowler hats), The Lost Jockey, The Son of Man (a pop culture homage), The Balcony, The Empire of Light series, and The Listening Room (colossal green apple taking up a whole room).

Sunday, 8 November 2020


From the Latin term for whatever one wishes (“what” + “pleases”), as a subgenre of the trompe-l’ล“il technique of hyper-realistic rendering refers to desk notions painted and arranged as to appear just left lying around and in artistic disarray, we find the aesthetic in its highest form of expression in the works of Antwerp and Copenhagen court painter Cornelis Norbertus Gijsbrechts (*1625 – †1675). Though the “deceive the eye” style didn’t receive that particularly categorisation until around 1800 when French artist Louis-Lรฉopold Boilly titled one of his pieces as such—the reverse of a canvas with a cat, a log and a dried fish peering through, an homage possibly to Gijsbrechts’ own strikingly modern and meta creation—artists have been developing a flair for the realistic and forced perspective since Antiquity. Much more to explore with Public Domain Review at the link above.

Sunday, 25 October 2020

ss. crispin and crispinian

Twin brothers from a wealthy third century patrician family, they fled to the provinces to escape persecution for their Christian faith, eventually settling in Soissons (capital of the Belgic tribe of the Suessiones)—evangelising to the native population by day and funding their mission and aiding the poor by making shoes at night.

Their enterprise drew the attention of Gaulish governor (a Vicarius—a vicar, that is a deputy of Rome) Rixius Varus, who is said to have martyred with zeal hundreds of Christians under Emperor Diocletian before eventually repenting, converting and becoming a victim of the machine himself, who devised cruel, elaborate tortures for the brothers using their own cobbler’s implement before tying millstones around their necks and tossing them into the River Aisne. The pair survived to Varus’ acute frustration, at this juncture the Emperor intervening and putting them to death by beheading on this day in the year 286. Crispin and Crispinian’s patronage includes shoemakers, saddlers, tanners and lace workers. A number of battles fall coincidentally on their feast day, symbolism and significance applied retroactively, though sometimes noted by contemporaries—with the most famous being the 1415 Battle of Agincourt (cemented in popular imagination by Shakespeare’s Henry V “Band of Brothers” speech)—others being the Siege of Lisbon (1147), the Battle of Balaclava (1854), the Second Battle of el Alamein and the Battle of Henderson Field at Guadalcanal (1942).

Sunday, 11 October 2020

gummarus of lier

Cousin to Pepin the Short, Carolingian king of the Franks, and entrusted with responsibility over several offices of the royal court, the saint hailing from a town outside of Antwerp is venerated on this day, on the occasion of his peaceful death in 774 (*717).

Regrettably Pepin had arranged the marriage of Gummarus to a noble woman called Guinmarie, whose relationship was not the happiest and to make amends, Pepin allowed Gummarus to accompany the king and his retinue on several military campaigns. Looking forward to a quiet retirement, Gummarus built a hermitage in the woods at Nivesdunc, now consecrated as a chapel to Saint Peter with the city having grown around the site. Beatified after a number of miracles were attributed to his intercession, Gummarus was given the patronage over difficult marriages, courtiers, separated couples, lumberjacks and invoked against bone fractures (having been associated with miraculous mending a damaged tree) and with no explanation—glove makers (gantiers) and hernia sufferers.

Friday, 2 October 2020

salon d'automne

In 1936 the MoMA published a textbook as a supplemental catalogue and historical (albeit a narrow and myopic one) survey of its retrospective exhibition on Cubism and Abstract Art with a flowchart conceived by the museum’s first director Alfred H. Barr, Jr. to show the connections and development of various movements. 

Overlooking the question of geopolitics and focusing on the assertion of the European dominance, the graphic receives an update from conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas for a new exhibit in Brussels that not only brings forward the timeline through the 1970s but also re-contextualises art history in terms of colonialism and social structures that informed and enabled their work with emphasis on Belgium’s own particularly cruel record. Click through to enlarge.  Though some of the connections might seem tenuous at first, one begins to penetrate the linkages, like epoch of Art Deco following more aggressive excavating for copper, to take one example.

Sunday, 23 August 2020


From the desk of NPR’s Photo Stories comes this review and curation of a recently published portfolio of four decades of the evocative photography of beachcombing Harry Gruyaert. His compositions frame seaside tableaux from his native Belgium, France, Ireland and dozens of other places and are collected in the new anthology Edges, referencing that liminal divide between shore and sea. Many more postcards from ocean-front holidays at the link above.