Sunday, 15 May 2022

salon des refusés

A counter-exhibition with the official sanction of Napoleon III despite his traditional tastes in the arts opened on this day in the Palace of Industry in 1863 with a gallery of the rejected submissions received by the Paris Salon of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, relenting to pressure by spurned painters and the public alike, who were finding the acceptance process increasingly fraught and favouring conservatism. Those showing the alternate exposition included many now-famous works by Édouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Johan Jongkind and James McNeill Whistler.

Thursday, 5 May 2022

géodésie

Celebrated astronomer and geologist Jean Baptiste Joseph Delambre on this day in 1792 undertook his commission to precisely define the metre, a universal measure defined as one ten-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the equator, organising an expedition to measure the length of the meridian arc (distance—the two cities being on the same line of longitude) between Dunkirk and Rodez, by Toulouse in the south of France, mathematically extrapolating from that value, and then from Rodez to Barcelona’s Fortress of Montjuïc. The survey mission took six years beset by technical set-backs, bouts of yellow fever and the French Revolution, including several unfortunate incarcerations by Royalist elements. Precise measurements were taken with a device called a repeating circle ( cercle répétiteur ), invented by machinist Etienne Lenoir originally for Jean-Charles de Borda and improved for Delambre and team. Finally in 1799, the metre was formally defined as 0.514074 Parisien toise (from the Latin tender—that is the span of the outstretched arms, six feet) or three feet and eleven lignes—a historical unit that was approximately one twelfth of an inch and still used by watchmakers to size casings and in button-manufacturing.

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

el tres de mayo de 1808 en madrid

Considered by many to represent the first modern work of art for its departure from convention stylistically and in its message, the 1814 commission for the provisional government of Spain by Francisco Goya, The Third of May, depicts and commemorates resistance to the forces of Napoleon during the occupation and Peninsular War over access to the Mediterranean—the French garrisons originally invited under the pretence of jointly conquering and dividing Spain and award the Spanish prime minister the principality of the Algarve and not realising the ruse until it was too late. Picturing in media res the suppression of the junta uprising against the soldiers of the First French Empire, the rebels and their ranks facing the firing squad on Príncipe Pío hill portrays war as bleak and unheroic—in vast contrast to the usual posed compositions of charging victory and unflagging patriotism—and inspired Pablo Picasso’s Guernica and Massacre in Korea among other revolutionary and edifying works of art.

Sunday, 24 April 2022

the snake in the tunnel

Following a referendum in France the day before that admitted the UK, Ireland and Denmark into the Common Market, on this day in 1972 at a summit in Basel the members of the European Economic Community agreed to install an exchange system to limit fluctuations in rates in order that the basket of European currencies would be consistent with the US dollar. With the titular nickname (Schlange im Tunnel, le Serpent monétaire européen), the arrangement was the first attempt to peg the Mark, the Franc and the Pound Sterling to one another that ultimately led to the creation of the euro and was precipitated by the Nixon Shock of the previous year with the repeal of the Bretton Woods system. This coordination, cartel was a method to control appreciation and depreciation and retain relative stability until the following year when the dollar began to float freely and member nations diverged in their response.

Saturday, 23 April 2022

chunnel

Though later inaugurated by the respective heads of state over a century later, on this day in 1867 Queen Victoria and Napoleon III jointly reject a proposal from surveyors and engineers Aimé Thomé de Gamond and Henry Marc Brunel for a mined railway tunnel from Dover to Calais, an idea that was revisited several times before its eventual completion.

Thursday, 21 April 2022

red baron or what do you want on your tombstone?

Vaunted as the ace-of-aces of the Great War, Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen was shot down and killed on this day in 1918 after scoring his seventy-ninth and eightieth air combat victories the day prior. Previously we had poked about Wiesbaden’s Südfriedhof in search of the Red Baron’s resting place and thought it appropriate to visit today. Already elevated to legendary stature in life and subject to hero-worship that Richthofen was wont to indulge as well as respected by his enemies, the circumstances surrounding his death are a matter of controversy and speculation, coming to the aid of his cousin, another member of the elite Flying Circus (see above), Lieutenant Wolfram von Richthofen, who was taking enemy fire. The source of the fatal bullet is uncertain with several vectors entertained. As was
customary, the commanding officer of the Royal Airforce combatant squandron accorded the Baron a military funeral with full-honours, near the spot where the fighter pilot fell in Bertangles in the Somme—and had a more active than usual career in death, disinterred and reburied in the German Military Cemetery at Fricourt in Picardie, brought to Berlin by his brother Lothar (a site that was later relegated to a no man’s land on the boundary of the Soviet zone of occupation and often pelted with stray bullets in attempts to stop people from fleeing for the West—his brother’s gravesite in their hometown of Świdnica too was levelled once Silesia was restored to Poland after World War II) and finally in 1975 transferred to the family plot in Wiesbaden.

Saturday, 9 April 2022

saponification

Accomplished French chemist and professional skeptic whose research and work had a immense influence in several disciplines of science, mathematics and the arts as well as helping to establish the field of gerontology with himself a subject of study, Michel Eugène Chevreul (*1786) passed away on this day in 1889 in Paris, aged 102. Revolutionary work with vegetable oils and animal fats fundamentally changed the manufacture and availability of soap and candles—incidentally leading to an understanding of the pathology and treatment of diabetes. Having first honed his acumen as chemist in a dye and pigment manufacturing plant, Chevreul expounded several volumes regarding the theory of colours and their compliments which particularly informed Impressionist and Pointillist styles, after his career with oleic experimentation, he set his focus on disenchanting, disabusing the public of popular charlatanism and mysticism and raging against seances and table-turning, giving one of the first explanations of the ideomotor effect for mediums and dowsers. Having lived through the French Revolution, Chevreul was one of the seventy-two scientists and engineers commemorated on the first balcony of the Eiffel Tower and was only one of two honorees alive to see the Tricolour raised at the top of the structure.

Saturday, 19 February 2022

7x7

a fistful of manicules: Shady Characters explores several font specimens of the typographers’ mark—see previously  

la conquête du pain: an anarcho-communist bakery going strong in Montreuil  

peeping tom: Facebook’s demise following that of mySpace  

storyliving: Disneyland pre-retirement communities—via Web Curios 

erste jahrzehnten: German Design Awards marks its first decade with a special exhibit  

sold for sol 1800: it appears that Melania Trump purchased her own NTF—via New Shelton wet/dry 

i shot the serif: foundry Neubau Berlin pays homage to Mid-Century international fonts

Monday, 14 February 2022

billet-doux

Via Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day, we are introduced to the French for literally a “sweet note” that has been adopted in the common-parlance since the seventeenth century as an alternative for a romantic missive.  Pronounced Billy-DOO, the plural form is billets-doux. 

Thursday, 27 January 2022

8x8

i just think they’re neat: an orchestral ballad extolling the qualities of the tuber—via Pasa Bon! 

pulsar: a mysterious, suspected white dwarf star called GLEAML-X is far more energetic than physically possible  

eurhythmics: the greatest music teacher of the twentieth century, Nadia Boulanger whose pupils included Igor Stravinsky and Quincy Jones  

nu descendant un escalier № 2: the Marcel Duchamp research portal  

great green wall: an ongoing project to grow a corridor of trees across Africa 

meta-maps: gazetteers that interpret atlases from the collection of David Rumsey 

 bande dessinée: Belgium’s new passport design pays homage to the country’s comic artists  

fire sale: a curious inventory of lots for sale with the closure of the Drury Lane theatre  

his father’s eyes: a giant New Zealand potato, Dug, is subjected to genetic-testing for proof that it is a tuber

Saturday, 22 January 2022

the new normal

On this day in 2003, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld fielded questions during a press conference, including Charles Groenhuijsen a Dutch reporter from Nederlandse Publieke Omroep, who spoke to the mood of reservation and doubt in the coalition of the willing: “But now the European allies. If you look at—for example—France, Germany also a lot of people in my own country … [I]t seems that a lot of Europeans rather give the benefit of the doubt to Saddam Hussein than Geroge Bush. These are US allies. What do you make of that?” After some prevarication, Rumsfeld replied, “Now you’re thinking of Europe as German and France. I don’t—I think that’s old Europe. If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the centre of gravity is shifting to the East.” Heralded later as the German Worte des Jahres—altes Europa—it was embraced by many politicians as a badge of integrity for their well-founded skepticism and reluctance in contrast to what some regarded as opportunistic realignment for New Europe.

Saturday, 8 January 2022

l’affaire de trans-en-provence

Though the scientific riguour of testing and measurements taken was later subject to dispute, the encounter with an unidentified flying object was reputed to have left physical evidence and was heralded by the US periodical Popular Mechanics as “perhaps the most completely and carefully documented UFO sighting of all time took place on this day in 1981 on a farmstead just outside the titular town (previously) in the Var départment. The account by witness Renato Nicalaï related that after an eerie whistling a saucer-shaped object landed down field from him at a distance of fifty metres. It took off again almost immediately but left depression and scorch marks on the ground that were examined by the gendarmerie and the GEPAN (Groupe d’Étude des Phénomènes Aérospatiaux Non-Indentifiés). The findings were inconclusive.

Friday, 7 January 2022

pardon my french

Cynically characterised by some as a political ploy ahead of the election to stoke resentment for those members of the public refusing or hesitant over vaccines the vulgarity that Emmanuel Macron lobbied against the small but vocal minority of the unvaccinated that’s being translated, innocuously, as “be made pissed off”—whereas, perhaps just as inoffensively if not a bit rough (see also), the original word choice was emmerder, a literal calque one can easily imagine but conveys the sense of “to make inopportune” and rather responsibly makes social venues the preserved of those inoculated. Much more at Language Log at the link above.

Saturday, 1 January 2022

parapluie

Though parasols and various shades (umbra in Latin) to repel the elements have existed since Antiquity, one this day in 1710, a shopkeeper called Jean Marius who ran a little boutique in Saint-Honoré was granted a royal patent to exclusively produced the folding umbrellas of his design for a period of five years—which open and close in essentially the same fashion as modern ones. Light-weight and instantly the must-have accessory among the sophisticated classes, prompting one Parisian magazine writer to observe in 1768 the reversal of the trend, noting it was a calculated risk to forego carrying about an umbrella for half-a-year to use it perhaps half-a-dozen times and take the risk of being caught in a rain shower rather than being taken for a common pedestrian as “an umbrella is a sure sign of someone who does not have his own carriage.”

Friday, 31 December 2021

old year day

With origins of the celebration unclear and etymology uncertain, Hogmanay (HOG-mə-NAY) rhyming with the last line of the post), now understood as the Scots word for the last day of the old year, is kept in a variety of ways with various local and family

traditions but most include the custom of gift-exchanges (usually symbolic ones like salt, coal, a type of fruit-cake called a black bun, a coin and uisge/whisky for security and prosperity) and visiting neighbours with special honours reserved for the first-foot (ciad-chairt or Manx qualtagh) the first guest to cross the threshold into a home on the cusp of New Years’s Day as presaging good fortune for the coming year. Traditional Hogmanay carols include Auld Lang Syne and “Haste ye Back”:

Haste ye back, we loue you dearly,
Call again you’re welcome here
May your days be free from sorrow,
And your friends be ever near.

Though not uncontested and to a degree fanciful, some linguists believe Hogmanay comes from the Norman aguillanneuf, dialectically hoguinané, which is itself a rebracketing of the Old French phrase “[A rendezvous] under the New Year’s Mistletoe”—another traditional present—Au gui l’an neuf! Haste ye back on friendship’s way.

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

controlled burn

Via Everlasting Blört, we enjoyed this array of carefully crafted paper-programming with this collection of pyrotechnic posters (affiches), realised through a series of trial and error by French design duo Marion Pinaffo and Raphaël Pluvinage, whose dynamic geometric shapes and circuitry are reminiscent of the Thelema Tree of Life. Much more to explore at the links above.




Sunday, 21 November 2021

8x8

turnspit: eccentric, utilitarian canine breeds that have passed out of fashion but could be revived—via Nag on the Lake’s Sunday Links (lots more to see there) 

ball-and-chain: this leashless ankle weight system to control one’s toddler will only make baby invincible—via Super Punch  

miss spirit world 1960: a pageant sourced in spectral photography of the departed  

something—that if true, you couldn’t handle it: a close reading of the recently indicted QANon Shaman’s manifesto  

on écrit aussi ielle: the authoritative French language Petit Robert adds a third, gender-neutral personal pronoun—a concatenation of the masculine and feminine forms (see also)  

the midnight special: eight hours of footage from David Bowie’s television programme the “The 1980 Floor Show,” an episode guest-curated by the artist  

hocus-pocus: the hidden overhauls happening the façades of Russian construction sites (see also)  

yes, this is dog: a video phone that allows apartment-bound dogs to call their humans

Sunday, 14 November 2021

1. e4 e5

Via ibÄ«dem, we are directed towards an exquisite narrative told through a game of guided-chess based on a famous round played between New Orleans native Paul Charles Morphy (*1837 - †1884, a prodigy and called the pride and sorrow of the game for having announced his retirement while still in his prime) and simultaneous exhibition, blindfolded against Karl II, Duke of Brunswick and Comte Isouard de Vauvenarguesat the Italian Opera House of Paris, a parallel playbill as it were for the night’s performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma.

Friday, 12 November 2021

he’d fly through the air with the greatest of ease

Lawyer, cycling pioneer, acrobat and aerialist who popularised the gymnastic wear singlet that’s his namesake (see also) and inspired the song “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze,” Jules Léotard premiered his signature somersault (Salto) routine on three bars high above the audience on this day in 1859 at the Cirque Napoléon in Paris. Touring the world and writing vaudeville acts and other theatre pieces (preparing to retire from the riskier portions of his act as he grew older), the life of this Toulouse native was cut short in 1870, after Léotard contracted smallpox or cholera in Spain.

Saturday, 30 October 2021

nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

A prolific and popular salon painter in his own time—though figural portraits of classical subjects fell out of fashion until a revival in the 1980s, William-Adolphe Bourguereau of La Rochelle born this day in 1825 (†1905) counts as his most famous work in his 1879 La Naissance de VénusThis painting does not actually depict the birth of the goddess by her transported to Cyprus as a fully mature figure in a sea shell—first gained attention and notoriety after winning the 1850 grand prize in the Prix de Rome, submitting two entries for that year’s competition, triumphant with a rather pedestrian depiction of the rescue of Zenobia, half-drowned, by a group of shepherds. The more evocative alternate submission was the pictured Dante and his guide Virgil (where have you brought me?) in an encounter from Canto XXX of the Divine Comedy in the Circle of the Imposters (Falsifiers—perjurers, counterfeiters, etc.) with an alchemist called Capocchio forever condemned to be gnashed by a Florentine knight named Gianni Schicchi de’ Cavalcanti who forged the will of a wealthy merchant to leave a horse for him, whose punishment seems a little extreme. Aside from being immortalised in the epic and this painting, Giacomo Puccini produced an eponymous light-hearted opera in 1918.