Andrée, the Balloonatic – Another Tale of Hubris

Vid Nordpolen-15556_1
Vid Nordpolen‘, polka composed by Adolph Nordholm, published by Elkan & Schildknecht (Stockholm, s.d.), illustrator unknown

A Swedish sheet music cover shows a scene in joyous anticipation of Salomon Andrée’s balloon expedition to reach the North Pole. The starting point of the Arctic exploration was Svalbard, formerly known as Spitsbergen.

Vid Nordpolen detail

Happy Inuit, who were in fact not living in Svalbard at all, are dancing to the accompaniment of a small polar-bear orchestra to celebrate the departure of the adventurers. This merriment took place at the end of the 19th century when exploration was closely knitted with heroism, nationalism and scientific progress.

Salomon Andrée
Salomon Andrée. Photograph Grenna Museum, Andréexpedition.

To float over the North Pole, the Swedish engineer Salomon Andrée had invented a technique of guide ropes and sails for steering a balloon. However this approach had never proven to work: the heavy ropes got tangled with each other, got stuck on the ground or simply fell off.

Departure of the Eagle from Svalbard. The guide ropes still intact. Photograph Grenna Museum, Andréexpedition.

Instead of using reliable Inuit equipment, Andrée took on his mission a canvas boat and sledges of his own design that he hadn’t yet tested. Besides he, nor his team, had any experience in surviving extreme weather conditions. Moreover Andrée discarded the fact that the balloon ordered in Paris was leaking too much hydrogen. All this should have been more than enough to cancel the expedition. But the Arctic was the world’s last mysterious destination and Andrée may have been dragged into this adventure by machismo or hubris.

Or was he perhaps unable to draw back? At that time, Sweden was driven by the international competition to reach the North Pole first, especially after 1896, when the Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen had reached a record northern latitude. Andrée’s innovative idea to reach the North Pole in a hydrogen-filled balloon was backed by Alfred Nobel and the Swedish King. The story of his science-fiction-like plan was extensively covered by the (international) press. As was the cancelling of an earlier attempt in 1896 due to bad weather conditions after which Andrée experienced a lot of rebuffs.

Nils Strindberg (left) and Knut Fraenkel

So by his second try in 1897, the strong-headed Andrée could not risk further reputation damage and had to sail polewards no matter what. Sadly he took with him two young men: the student and photographer Nils Strindberg (nephew of the playwright) and the engineer Knut Fraenkel.

‘An immense hurrah, four times repeated, was volleyed from every panting breast. Hats and handkerchiefs were waved frantically.’ And off they went in their balloon, the Eagle, together with 36 carrier pigeons who were supposed to take messages back to Svalbard. Only one message was ever received and after that… silence. A silence that would last for more than thirty years.

The only survivor of the expedition. The pigeon was promptly shot by the crew of the steamer on which she landed. She carried a message: all is well and was stuffed afterwards.

It was in 1930 that seal hunters found the remains of the three explorers, together with their journals and camera film. This made it possible to reconstruct their terrible ordeal.

Right from the start the guiding ropes got tangled and they had to be cut off. The balloon became unsteerable. Soon they were immersed in a fog that froze on the silk of the balloon.

The Eagle has landed – Photograph Grenna Museum, Andréexpeditionen

After bumping over the ice for four days and throwing out a lot of ballast they finally crashed a mere 460 km from their starting point. They decided to set up camp there during a week in preparation for their journey on foot, back south.

The camp at the landing site. Photograph Grenna Museum, Andréexpeditionen

They survived on bear meat, algae soup, some of the tins they had not thrown overboard and a daily dose of opium.

Fraenkel and Strindberg with a killed polar bear. Photograph Grenna Museum, Andréexpeditionen

They struggled with bad feet, diarrhea, a poor diet, a constant threat of the bears and bad weather. At last they reached an island (Kvitøya) and set up a ramshackle camp there: they must have been despaired and in great fatigue. Soon after arriving Fraenkel died, followed a few days later by his two fellow explorers.

‘Upp genom luften’ by Herman Ahlberg, published by Lundquist (Stockholm, sd). Illustrator unknown.

The tragic story of their failure has been the source of inspiration for books, films, music and art. Enjoy the fragment from Flight of the Eagle with Max von Sydow as Salomon Andrée

Miss Plum Pudding

'Miss Plum Pudding' piano intermezzo by Fr. Peters
Miss Plum Pudding‘ by Fr. Peters, published by Richard Kaun (Berlin, s.d.), unknown illustrator

Weird-looking plum pudding! It resembles a giant fuming conker, or a ready-to-explode sea mine carried by a fierce hostess. Perhaps the illustrator never saw a real Christmas pudding in his Belle-Epoque Germany. Anyway, he preferred to stay anonymous…

Thomson’s Plum Pudding Model of the atom 1904.

There is a very remote possibility that the illustrator was inspired by the then newly-proposed Plum Pudding Model of the atom by J. J. Thomson. Thomson discovered the electron in 1897. He initially called these mysterious particles corpuscles. In 1904 Thomson, an Englishman suggested that electrons are components of an atom and proposed his Plum Pudding Model: a collection of negatively charged plums (an old word for raisins) immersed in a positively-charged soup, or pudding. This model was discarded and followed by the Rutherford model (1909) and by the Rutherford-Bohr model (1913).

Orla Jacobsen Muff

We begin with a happy, but politically incorrect cover. It was created in 1919 by the 16-year old Orla Muff. Probably with his father’s help. The drawing puts us in a good mood. Nothing like a jazzy, swinging tune to accompany our next story.

'Albion Jazz'
Albion Jazz‘, music by Georg Rygaard. Illustration by C(hristian?) & Orla Jacobsen Muff (Kobenhavn, 1919).
Detail and signature on the sheet music cover: the ‘C.’ in the signature suggests that Orla Muff’s father, the lithographer Christian Jacobsen, probably helped his son with one of his first assignments.

The Danish artist Orla Muff (1903-1984) was born in Copenhagen as Orla Andreas Heinrik Jacobsen. At fourteen Muff won a drawing competition and subsequently saw his series of postcards published and reprinted several times. When he entered the technical school (1917-1921) he started to call himself Muff. At the same time he worked as an apprentice of Carl Lund, a designer of stage sets.

Orla Muff’s winning postcard of a 1918 drawing contest. He was then 14 years old (source: Danske Postkortkunstnere).

Muff started his professional career by drawing sets and costumes for different theaters in Denmark. He also worked as a set designer for the Mayol Theatre in Oslo. From the photographs of Norwegian singer Kirsten Flagstad we can imagine the kind of artwork Muff created for the operette costumes during the early twenties.

Kirsten Flagstad's costumes for operettes at the MAyol Theatre. (source: DigitaltMuseum Norway)
Kirsten Flagstad’s costumes for operettes at the Mayol Theatre (source: DigitaltMuseum Norway)

Later on Muff worked for Ernst Rolf’s revues in Stockholm and at Max Reinhardt’s theatre in Berlin. He designed posters, made drawings for magazines and illustrated the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen.

Illustration by Orla Muff for Andersen's fairy tales.
Muff’s illustration for the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen (source: Fleson Postkortgalleri)

On a collector’s website we found almost two hundred of Muff’s Christmas postcards! Was it a lucrative job since his early days, or had he a penchant for sleighs, bells, gnomes, geese and snowmen? We made the following selection.

Christmas postcard, illustrated by Orla Muff (source: Fleson Postkortgalleri)Happy New Year postcard, illustrated by Orla Muff.

New Year postcard, illustrated by Orla Muff (source: Fleson Postkortgalleri)

Collage of Muff's themes if Christmas postcards.
We couldn’t resist making a collage of Muff’s themes from his Christmas cards (source: Fleson Postkortgalleri)

In the early thirties Orla Muff started with oil paintings: portraits, mythologically inspired scenes, stylised figures and even abstract compositions in light colours. Not really our thing.

Muff’s sheet music covers were commissioned by the above mentioned Ernst Rolf, but also by the Swedish publishers Skandinaviska Musikförlaget and Musikaliska Knuten. The following images are proof that Orla Muff is the cream of the crop amongst Art Deco graphic artists. Almost nothing has been published on Muff and it is hard to find examples of his work. Our post partly fills the gap. We hope it is a nudge for a deeper study or monograph on this creative Scandinavian designer. Meanwhile, enjoy looking at the following covers!

Femina‘, music by Sven Rüno (1923)
Bal Album, Band I‘ (s.d.); ‘Whispering Foxtrot’ (1920)
'If you love me', music by Jules Sylvain (1924)
If you love me‘, music by Jules Sylvain (1924)
My Sister‘ (s.d.); ‘Bal Album, Band III‘ (1923)
'På galej',
På galej‘, music by Rudolph Nelson (1924)
'My Sister' (s.d.); 'Bal Album, Band III' (1923) - click on image to enlarge
Bal Album, Band IV‘ (1924); ‘Flickan ifrån Mittens rike‘ (1921)
'I min bar', music by Rudolph Nelson (1924 - click image to enlarge
I min bar‘, music by Rudolph Nelson (1924)
'Mr. Wu' (1922); 'Elastic' (1921)
Mr. Wu‘ (1922); ‘Elastic‘ (1921)
'Han är så söt och rar', music by Harald Mortensen (1925) - click on image to enlarge
Han är så söt och rar‘, music by Harald Mortensen (1925)
Four lookalikes by Orla Mutt
Sappho‘ (1923); ‘Ständigt jag minns‘ (1922); ‘Inga Lill‘ (1923); ‘Sonja‘ (1920)
'Smaragden', music by Einar Cronhammar (1923) - click image to enlarge
Smaragden‘, music by Einar Cronhammar (1923)