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The Maréorama of Hugo d’Alesi: Illusion of a Sea Voyage

Illusion d’un voyage en mer. Venise.’ by Henri Kowalski, published by Victor Courmont (Paris, 1901) and illustrated by Hugo d’Alesi. (Source : gallica.bnf.fr)

The French painter F. Hugo d’Alesi (1849 – 1906) was born as Frédéric Alexianu in Transylvania. Although he originally trained as an engineer, he was best known for his large number of imaginative and brightly coloured travel posters for railway companies at the end of the 19th century. He also illustrated sheet music, mostly in the 1880-1890s.

Almost forgotten is his creation of one of the first amusement attractions that triggered all senses of the spectators: the Maréorama. Olivier Castel, who previously diverted us with Venetian gondola prows, will embark with you on this fascinating journey.

The Maréorama was one of the flagship attractions at the 1900 Paris Exposition. Maréorama simply means sea panorama. It faithfully reproduced the deck of a steamer, pitching and rolling while crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

Apart from the movement of the ‘ship’, other effects ensured the illusion of a sea trip: there was the sound of rain or thunder, mist, iodized and saline sea breezes that blew over the deck, undulating ‘waves’ of blue cloth all around, special lighting for creating night- and daytime atmospheres, and even the odour of seaweed. All this made the Maréorama the first ‘4D’ attraction ever. For the price of a cab ride, the seven hundred passengers embarked on a fast-track cruise that promised the same sensations as from an actual voyage on the Mediterranean. At that time travelling was a privilege for the aristocracy and the emerging high bourgeoisie. With the Maréorama almost everyone could now afford an exotic boat trip.

The principle of the Maréorama. M. Voirin, ingénieur-constructeur. La Vie Parisienne, 7 janvier 1899 (Source : gallica.bnf.fr)

The moving platform of the ship (30 metres long and 9 metres wide) rested on a pivot supported by four hydraulic pistons which imitated the motion of the sea. After the ‘trip’ visitors could go downstairs to admire the imposing machinery.

For the record, “maréo” also means “seasick” in Spanish …

Pavillon du Maréorama. La Vie Parisienne, 7 janvier 1899. (Source : gallica.bnf.fr)

The Maréorama was built in a large palace located in the amusement section of the World Fair on the Champ-de-Mars next to the Eiffel Tower, itself a reminder of the previous exposition in 1889.

Constantinople aboard the Maréorama, postcard published during the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1900.

While on board ‘passengers’ could send postcards from the Maréorama, just as if they had actually sailed the Mediterranean Sea. The ‘sea trip’ departed from Villefranche-sur-Mer, a commune on the French Riviera near the French-Italian border. As soon as the siren of the ‘ship’ sounded the departure signal, two immense canvasses of 825 meters long and 15 meters high started to unfold simultaneously on either side of the ship. Each of the two canvasses was attached to two huge rollers driven by hydraulic motors on either side of the ‘ship’. The upper edge of the canvas was hooked to a rail and reinforced to prevent sagging.

Workshop created to brush the canvases of the Maréorama. In: Revue illustrée de l’Exposition universelle de 1900. (Source: gallica.bnf.fr)

Hugo d´Alési himself created the views of the different cities. He had spent a year travelling to draw all the stages of this journey on a series of notebooks. On his return, he hired ten painters to reproduce the landscapes on the canvasses.

After about half an hour, the ‘ship’ made its first stopover in Sousse on the Tunisian shore, then left for Naples and arrived in Venice by ‘nightfall’. Leaving the peaceful Venetian lagoon the ship soon was caught in a terrifying storm but safely reached its final destination, Constantinople, at the crack of dawn. For the following session, the canvasses were then unrolled back to their starting point, and thus showing the return trip from Constantinople to Villefranche.

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‘Illusion d’un voyage en mer. Naples. by Henri Kowalski, published by Victor Courmont (Paris, 1901) and illustrated by Hugo d’Alesi. (Source : Bibliothèque Nationale de France, département Musique, VM12-15265)

Actors and dancers complemented the nautical experience, portraying deck hands, the captain and his officers, pirates or indigenous people. Folk dancers performed a tarantella in Naples or a belly dance in Constantinople.

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Illusion d’un voyage en mer. Venise.’ by Henri Kowalski, published by Victor Courmont (Paris, 1901) and illustrated by Hugo d’Alesi. This edition distributed by ‘Les grands magasins Le Louvre – Paris’. (Source : collection of Olivier Castel)

To heighten the sensorial experience during the trip Hugo d’Alesi had asked the eminent Henri Kowalski to compose a symphony: Illusion d’un voyage en mer. The orchestra was hidden below the deck and directed by the composer himself. It was a work in four parts: Sousse, Naples, Venice and En vue de Constantinople.

Illusion d’un voyage en mer. Sousse.’ by Henri Kowalski, published by Victor Courmont (Paris, 1901) and illustrated by Hugo d’Alesi. (Source : Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

The score was adapted in 1901 by Victor de Courmont for piano solo, and then illustrated with lithographs by d’Alési. With his drawings of the French vessels anchored in the harbour of Sousse —accompanied by a the firing of a salvo and the Marseillaise— Hugo d’Alési clearly wanted to emphasize that Tunisia was part of the French colonial empire.

Alas, the story of the Maréorama ended sadly. Normally, it was to stay put for a year after the end of the exhibition, and then even make a tour of the world. But despite the undeniable public success of the attraction, the company Maréorama – Hugo d´Alési went bankrupt as early as December 1900. The shareholders of the company sued him for reimbursement of the subscribed capital. Their claim was dismissed by the court.

Olivier Castel

Recerca en Curs Sobre l’Il·lustrador amb la Signatura ‘Pol‘

Mina Divina‘ tango by Juan Viladomat & Juan Misterio. Published in Barcelona (s.d.) by Musical Emporium. Cover illustration signed ‘Pol’.

Our post today is a cry for help. Its title is written in Catalan, which translated, means: ‘Research in progress on the illustrator known as Pol‘. Maybe someone —possibly in Barcelona— can help us identify this very fine illustrator from the Art Deco period.

If Divina doesn’t convince you of Pol’s artistic qualities, perhaps Julieta will.

Julieta‘ another tango by Juan Viladomat. Spanish lyrics by V. Salvatella & Lorca, published by Unión Musical Española (Barcelona, s.d.). Cover illustration by ‘Pol’.

Or can Cléo persuade you?

Cléo‘ Fox-trot composed by J. Demon, published by Musical Emporium (Barcelona, s.d.). Cover design by ‘Pol’.

Our sheet music collection holds all but thirty covers signed with the 3-letter-monogram Pol. Are the three letters the initials of a Spanish/Catalan artist? Or do they simply spell his or her name? A quick survey proves that Pol is not only a popular Catalan first name (like let’s say Paul) but also a common surname.

Four different signatures of the illustrator ‘Pol’.

After unsuccessfully trying to identify the artist for years, thís cover recently gave me a possible clue:

Plumita al Viento‘, a tango composed by Juan Camarasa with lyrics by Pedro Pol, published Madrid by Union Musical Espanola (s.d.), illustration signed ‘Pol’.

The lyrics of the song Plumita al Viento were written by Pedro Pol, and the cover is illustrated by Pol. Could it be the same person? Looking on the net, I found covers of three other songs written by Pedro Pol. And two of these are illustrated by Pol. So our investigation brought us this far, not without feeling an inkling or presentiment of perhaps beginning to solve the year-long puzzle…

Now, inspecting our Pol sheet music, I stumbled upon another cover which could perhaps offer the key to completely unlock our little mystery:

Soc mig Parisenca‘ by P. Moltó & J. M. Plá, with Catalan lyrics by Juan Misterio. Published by Ildefonso Alier (Madrid, s.d.). Illustration signed P. Pol

With this amusing cover (look how well Mercedes Serós is caricatured from the picture insert) our hunch is doubly confirmed, as our illustrator here signed with ‘P. Pol‘. If the P. stands for Pedro, then perhaps our graphical artist has identified himself to be the lyricist Pedro Pol.

From our collection we know that other lyricists doubled as illustrators of sheet music covers. Poet and type designer Georges Auriol springs to mind, but there are others: Jean Tranchant, Nisa and Gene Buck to name but a few.

So our current hypothesis is that Pol is the signature of a gifted person named Pedro Pol, who wrote a few songs and colourfully illustrated many Spanish and Catalan sheet music covers. Possibly, our artist lived and worked in Barcelona during the roaring twenties… Our investigation is stuck, so it is time to put the current state of our research on the net, and call for help:

Ens ajudes a identificar qui va ser el lletrista Pedro Pol, actiu a Barcelona durant els anys vint i potser també il·lustrador de moltes versions de cançons signant el seu bonic treball amb ‘POL‘? Si us plau?

Can you help us to identify who was the lyricist Pedro Pol, active in Barcelona during the twenties and perhaps also the illustrator of many song covers signing his beautiful work with ‘Pol‘? Please?

Pide!‘ by E. Burrull & Ramuncho, published by Ildefonso Alier (Madrid, s.d.), illustrated by (Pedro?) Pol

Wilson’s Notes on the Lusitania

‘The Nota’s from America’ by Gerrit van Weezel en Henry ter Hall, published by B. H. Smit (Amsterdam, s.d.) and illustrated by D. Coene.

The Nota’s from America is a Dutch song written in pidgin English. The title sarcastically refers to the notes (nota’s in Dutch) which U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sent to the German government in 1915 to criticise their sinking of the Lusitania.

The Lusitania was an ocean liner owned by the famous British Cunard Line. When the Lusitania came into service in 1907, she was an extraordinary ship in every way. With a length of 240 meters the vessel was not only the largest, but also the fastest passenger ship up to that time. The ocean liner sailed regularly from Liverpool to New York and back.

Source: Delcampe

On 17 April 1915, the Lusitania left Liverpool on her 201st transatlantic voyage, arriving a week later in New York. Before her return to Liverpool, the German Embassy placed a warning advertisement in 50 American newspapers, including those in New York. This warning was printed adjacent to an advertisement for Lusitania’s return voyage on May 1. Two months before, Germany had declared the waters around the British Isles a war zone and warned that its U-boats would sink any ship entering the zone without notice.

On May 7, 1915, the German submarine U20 hit the Lusitania with one torpedo. The ship sank in less than twenty minutes about 18 km off the coast of Ireland. Nearly 1,200 people were killed including 114 Americans.

As the Lusitania went down’ by Arthur J. Lamb & Frank Henri Klickmann, published by Frank K. Root & Co. (Chicago, 1915). Source: Gonzaga University.

At the start of the war, President Woodrow Wilson had declared that the United States would be neutral. That neutrality however was challenged and fiercely debated in the U.S. after the sinking of the Lusitania.

‘The Neutrality March’ by Mike Bernard, published by Chas K. Harris (New York, 1915) and illustrated by E. H. Pfeiffer. Courtesy The Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, The Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.

But president Wilson decided to remain neutral and to keep out of the war. Instead he issued a first note to the German government urging it to abandon its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare against commercial ships of any nation, and to pay reparations.

Wilson then issued a second note rejecting Germany’s accusation that the Lusitania had been carrying munitions.

The third Wilson note was a warning that the United States would consider any subsequent sinking of merchant vessels with Americans aboard as deliberately unfriendly.

In 1916 the Dutch painter and illustrator Jan Sluijters created the cartoon Slachterij “der Hochkultur“ (Slaughterhouse “High Culture“): Woodrow Wilson, his gun at the ready, shows his notes to Emperor Wilhelm dressed as a butcher. What seems a human torso hangs by the door.

Slachterij “der Hochkultur, by Jan Sluijters, 1916. Source: Library of Congress.

In January 1917, German U-boats resumed attacking ships in the Atlantic Ocean and the British disclosed the Zimmermann telegram to the American government. This telegram revealed a German proposal for a military alliance with Mexico against the United States. After the American press published the Zimmermann telegram, Wilson got enough public and political support for a declaration of war on Germany on April 6, 1917. This inspired a series of patriotic and belligerent sheet music covers

Left: ‘Answer Mr. Wilson’s Call’ by Billy Gould, published by A.J. Stasny Music Co. (New York, 1917) and illustrated by Al Barbelle. Right: ‘When Woodrow Wilson Takes A Hand’ by S. E. Cox, published by Dixie Music Co. (Nashville, 1918). Courtesy The Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, The Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University.
Left: ‘We’ll knock that little “U-boat” high and dry’ by Al. Franz & Alice D. Elfreth, published by Alice D. Elfreth (Philadelphia, 2017). Right: ‘Why we want to lick Germany’ by George H. Klay & Raymond Leeroy Blymyer, published by Klaymyer (Lima, 1918). Source: Library of Congress.

… and even a few tantalizing ones.

‘Torpedo Rag’ by Oscar Young, published by Daniels & Wilson (San Francisco, 1917). Source: Mississippi State University Libraries.
“An awkward rag by an obscure composer, Tom gives it a go at a ragtime meeting in July of 2015.“