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Friday, 28 January 2011

Art Nouveau c.1890 - 1905

Poster by Alphonse Mucha (
The Art Nouveau style flourished around the turn of the twentieth century. It pretty much began with an 'overnight sensation' when Alphonse Mucha designed a poster for the actress Sarah Bernhart in a style that was a reaction (as all new movements in art are) to the strongly academic and classical Victorian style that was prevelant at the time. It is characteriesd by flowing lines, violent curves and use of nature and organic influences.
The architecture of Gaudi and Charles Rennie Mackintosh was very much Art Nouveau in style as was the work of Gustave Klimt.  It was an art 'of the people' using everyday materials and was seen in all aspects of life and design. It's history is often eclipsed by the popularity of Art Deco (which I will be blogging about next month) but it is well-worthy of examining and very rewarding and often very beautiful.
I have shown, below, a selection of Art Nouveau design. Enjoy it!
Blue Flower Bowl (
Barcelona house by Gaudi (
Art Nouveau writing desk (
Gustave Klimt, sold for more than $100 million! (

Monday, 17 January 2011

The Secret Nuclear Bunker

A real road sign, in the County of Essex, UK
The road sign is real and the bunker is real. In the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, several emergency regional seats of government were built in Britain and this was one of them. It is now a tourist attraction, of course - even our government would not be so stupid as to pin-point it's location. I think.
It always makes me smile when I drive past this sign which is not far from where I live. I am still not absolutely certain that the joke was obvious to whoever put the sign there. (Epping Forest District Council I believe).
As an afterthought, I wonder.....if there had been a nuclear war how would they choose who gets a place in the bunker? What's that you say? Politicians? Surely not!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Barnes Wallis and the Bouncing Bomb

Sir Barnes Neville Wallis in 1942. The National Portrait Galleery, London
In May 1943 one of the most daring actions of World War Two took place. The allies (that's us) wanted to destroy the dams on the Ruhr which supplied hydo-electric power to the highly industrialised Ruhr Valley in Germany.
Direct drops onto dams were difficult and they were protected by torpedo nets in the river. The dams were superbly constructed and only very accurately placed depth charges would have any chance of success. What to do?
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Barnes Wallis was a British inventor of aircraft and military weapons who conceived the idea of a 'bouncing bomb' which would skim across the water surface thus avoiding the nets.
On the night of 16th May RAF 617 squadron, led by the heroic figure of Guy Gibson launched the highly risky night-time raids. The mission had to be flown at exceptionally low-level, meaning that, from the outset, it was thought that only half of the aircraft would return.
The Eder Dam on 17th May 1943
It was an audacious mission and, although two of the three target dams were seriously breached, which flooded the Ruhr Vally and disrupted German military production for a while, the raid was on balance probably not worthwhile except in terms of morale.
From that time on 617 Squadron became known as 'The Dam Busters'.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Hope (plus update on Sonny, 3)

Hope by Friedrich von Schiller
We speak with the lip, and we dream in the soul,
Of some better and fairer day;
And our days, the meanwhile, to that golden goal
Are gliding and sliding away.
Now the world becomes old, now again it is young,
But "The better" 's forever the word on the tongue.

At the threshold of life hope leads us in--
Hope plays round the mirthful boy;
Though the best of its charms may with youth begin,
Yet for age it reserves its toy
Update on Sonny (3)

Sonny on 5th January 2011. He can't always raise a smile like this!
Sonny has had his first course of chemotherapy successfully. He is beginning to loose his lovely thick black hair. He has good days and not-so-good days but the medical staff are pleased with his progress so far. His second round of chemotherapy will begin as soon as he is recovered from the first one. The support of family and friends and various children's charities has been wonderful and we are so thankful and grateful.
The Facebook group has now passed 300 members: Supporting Sonny Through Lymphoma 

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Quiz Questions (13 ): Origin of Book Titles

Name the source of these book titles, firstly two by John Steinbeck and then two by British writers:

1) East of Eden
2) The Grapes of Wrath
3) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
4) Diamonds Are Forever

The answers are now published in the 'comments'. See how well you did (or not!)

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Painting of the Month (13): January 2011, Dignity and Impudence, Landseer

Dignity and Impudence, Sir Edwin Landseer, 1839
 The Victorians were extremely fond of sentimental and 'moral' paintings. Generally I am not, but this picture is an exception. Landseer was a skilled painter and was often commissioned by Queen Victoria to make family portraits but his greatest talent was as a painter of animals. His most famous works are The Monarch of the Glen and the sculpture of the lions at the base of Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square, London. These two dogs belonged to Jacob Bell, a friend of the artist who commissioned the picture. Rather unusually, what makes the painting really work, for me at least, is the title.
I think 'Dignity and Impudence' sums up these two so perfectly that a layer of depth is added to the viewing experience.
Here are links to the first 10 Paintings of the Month.
February: Cezanne
March: Turner
April: Hockney
May: Giotto
June: van Gogh
July: Constable
August: Cezanne
September: Vermeer
October: GĂ©ricault
November: Bonnard
December: Banksy