New York, New York
Manhattan was a meadow once. Then came grand edifices, teeming crowds from the world’s places, skyscrapers and avenues, symphonic noise, and numbers as names. Artists and photographers have breathed it all in, and out: Hopper, O’Keeffe, de Kooning, Florine Stettheimer, W J Bennett, Childe Hassam, Walker Evans and Alfred Stieglitz; and unforgettable life-stories on the page from Dickens, Whitman, James, Fitzgerald, Auden, Cather, Wharton, Runyon and McCarthy.
“A map of the world which does not include Utopia is not even worth glancing at,” wrote Oscar Wilde in 1891. Utopia is gifted a geography by More, Campanella, China’s Peach Blossom Spring writers, Swift, Butler, Thoreau, Morris, Lawrence, Woolf, Wells, and is found in a landscape by Qiu Ying, Raphael, Lorrain, A. Lorenzetti, Piero, Brueghel, Capability Brown, German and Russian avant-gardes, Degas, Pissarro, Signac, Ruskin, Kandinsky, Corbusier, Fuller, Crane, Magritte and F M Brown.
Pushkin’s dramatic poem, ‘The Bronze Horseman’, is a key witness, flanked by Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov, the stories of Gogol and Turgenev, poems by Blok, Akhmatova and Mandelstam, and the wordless brilliance of Alexeyev, Bakst, Brodsky, Collmann, Falconet, Franz, Nikolai Ge, Lanceray, Repin, Serov, Surikov, Vasilyev, Vasnetov, and epic metropolitan architecture, all of them testifying to Peter the Great’s delusions of grandeur in recklessly building this city on the sea.
Plein air joined forces with Cornwall’s nature spirits in the 1880s to inspire an artists’ colony in Newlyn: Laura and Harold Knight, the Stanhope Forbeses, Langley, ‘Lamorna’ Birch, ‘Dod’ and Ernest Procter, and Christopher Wood gave new life to English landscape painting and wrote of what they did. Jonathan Smith’s novel Summer in February is set in the places they helped to re-create along the same coast where Mansfield, du Maurier and Dylan Thomas would find creative landfall.
Alfred Wallis’s untutored genius in a quayside hut sparked a school of painting in St Ives, its coast already vibrant with primeval energy, the myths of Arthur and Tristan, and the literary albums of Hardy and Lawrence. Here nature’s spaces were made new by Nicholson, Hepworth, Berlin, Heron, Winter, Barns-Graham, Frost, Lanyon and the Hiltons while Lawrence, Mansfield, Woolf, Barker, Clemo, WS Graham, David Wright, Heath-Stubbs and Ridler sang of dream-like landscapes.
The sub-title of Signac’s painting ‘The Golden Age Is Not In the Past’ seizes the idea of Arcadia as a blueprint for idyll in the present or future. Hesiod, Theocritus, Virgil, Catullus, Pausanias, Sidney, Sannazaro, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Marvell, Baudelaire, Stoppard, Whitman and Thomas crack its code in words, while art reveals it through Annibale Carracci, Poussin, Ingres, Corot, Lorrain, van Ruisdael, Böcklin, Gauguin, Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, Chavannes, Maillol, and Thomas Cole.
George Rodenbach’s powerful story Bruges-la-Morte inspired an opera and a novel made into a film often acclaimed as the greatest ever (Hitchcock’s Vertigo). It was the first work of fiction to be published with photographs, featured here alongside Lucien Levy Dhurmer’s own atmospheric illustrations, the art of Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, The Master of the Legend of St Lucy, Hugo van der Goes, Gerard David, Henri Le Sidaner, Pissarro and Bruges’s Gothic and Renaissance architectures.
Based on legends from the Arthurian tradition, Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, still able to transport us to the shores of this island, is the centerpiece of a literary line-up led by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Isadore of Seville, Caradoc, Gerard de Wales, Chrétien de Troye, the Mabinogion, Tennyson, William Morris, Bonwick, T H White, Steinbeck, Rackham, Atwood and Garner, and art from Burne-Jones, D G Rossetti, Maclise, Beardsley, James Archer, Flint, Wyeth and Lotte Reiniger.
Thermopylae and Roncesvalles
Like stage tragedy, ambush stories alert us to the doom of others in places made sacred by their death, here in Thermopylae’s pass with Herodotus, Einhard, Byron, Cavafy, Amy Clampitt, and Golding, David, Daumier, Lear, Kokoschka, d’Azeglio, Rava, Meltzoff, Rainey, Connolly and Snedeker; and with Roland and Charlemagne in the Roncesvalles defile in ‘The Song of Roland’, and David, Redon, Roger, Fouquet, Michallon, Liedet, and glorious medieval illustrations for both dramatic events.
Marco Polo called on the Great Khan in 1275 and wrote about him. So the name of Xanadu crossed the continents and centuries and reached the ears of Samuel Purchas, Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his poem ‘Kubla Khan’, Italo Calvino, Orson Welles, Simon Armitage, and the great literary travellers; with relics from the Khan’s palace, illustrations of the court, the Catalan Atlas, and work by Cremona, Richardson, Albert Goodwin, Dugald Stewart Walker, Patten Wilson, Lang, and John Vassos.