Category Archives: History

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

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.“

Il Fero da Prova, Symbol of Venice

Carnaval vénitien’ by Jules Burgmein, published by G. Ricordi & Cie (Milan, 1897). Cover chromolithographed by Giovanni Maria Mataloni.

Olivier Castel is one of our long-time readers. He teaches medicine at the university of Poitiers (France) and has been for many years a passionate collector of books and sheet music about Venice. It pleases us very much to publish his interesting findings on the iconography of gondolas. We hope that our translation does justice to Dr Castel’s fine observations. Happy reading!

The image of Venice is closely associated with its gondolas, slowly and gracefully gliding through the shallow, narrow canals of the lagoon. With their elegant, easily recognisable profile and black colour they have become a key symbol of the city. It is therefore not surprising that they have been a source of inspiration for many artists to illustrate sheet music depicting Venice. The city’s captivating charm has spawned a remarkable number of at least 350 scores with a French title or published in Paris a third of them illustrated with a gondola.

Fero da prova‘ Venice ca. 1700. Source: The Met, New York

Very early in its history, the bow of the gondola was adorned with a characteristic fero da prova. This iron prow head forms a comb with six teeth rising forward. It was originally used to counterbalance the weight of the gondolier. During the XVIIth century, each element acquired a precise meaning: the curvature represents the Grand Canal, the 6 parallel horizontal teeth at the front represent the 6 sestieri or districts of Venice and the only tooth opposite the upper tooth, represents the island of Giudecca. Finally, the empty space formed by the converging of the upper curved figure (called the Doge’s hat) towards the first tooth represents the Rialto Bridge.

French sheet music seldom gives an accurate representation of the gondola’s bow and iron. The Italians knew better of course, as proven by the opening image of ‘Carnaval vénitien‘ published by Ricordi, and richly illustrated by the Italian artist Giovanni Maria Mataloni (1889-1944). Mataloni is best known as a poster artist, and one of the precursors of the Stile Liberty, the Italian variant of Art Nouveau.

Le doux air de Veniseby Auguste Panseron, published by J. Meissonnier (Paris, 1829) and illustrated by Marie-Alexandre Alophe.

Marie-Alexandre Alophe (1812-1883), aka Adolphe Menut, is a painter and a lithographer. His work is characterised by a gentle sensitivity. Although also a photographer, he does not care about an accurate depiction, only the general appearance matters for him in order to evoke Venice. Let’s look at his 1829 drawing for Le Doux Air de Venise, a typical illustration for early 19th century scores. The prow iron is absent, its shape is ‘integrated’ in the wood of the gondola, the proportions are wrong, the front teeth are too thick and there are only three of them with no rear one. The result is a heavy, coarse bow.

La plainte du Gondolier’ by Gaston Salvayre, published by Choudens Père Fils (Paris, 1878) and illustrated by Gustave Fraipont.

The same applies to the cover illustration of ‘La plainte du Gondolier‘ by Gustave Fraipont half a century later. Fraipont (1843-1923), a French illustrator and poster artist of Belgian origin, here at the beginning of his career, gives us an airy stereotypical vision of Venice and its Grand Canal but with a rather unrefined gondola.

La célèbre Furlana vénitienne’ by Saratosga, published by Victoria (Paris, 1914) and illustrated by Paul Dubois.

During the 1914 Furlana dance craze Paul Dubois (1886-1949) illustrated two covers of La Célèbre Furlana Venitienne. The illustrator, identified by the monogram PD, creates one of the most curious representations of the Venetian gondola, with an unrealistic prow-head where the artist didn’t respect the Grand-Canal curvature, nor the number of teeth both at the front and at the rear. He even placed the gondolier opposite his usual place. Besides, knowing that the gondola has an asymmetrical shape, it would be impossible to move it through the water.

Left: ‘Barcarolle’ by Gaston Aubert, published by himself (Paris, 1908). Right: ‘La Giocosa Furlana’ by Lucien Durand, published by C. Dupuis (Paris, 1914). Both covers illustrated by Léon Pousthomis.

Leon Pousthomis (1881-1916) created many sheet music covers during his short life (he died in the Battle of Verdun at the age of 35). The 12 illustrated scores depicting Venice are evidence of his prolificacy. What characterises his vision of Venice perhaps the most is the distortion of the bow of the gondolas which he stretches to the extreme.

Clockwise; ‘Venise la jolie’ byJean Daris , ‘A kiss in the dark’ by Victor Herbert, ‘Lido Lady’ by Rodgers & Hart, ‘Venise adieu!’ by Ackermans & Geuskens and ‘Dans ma gondole’ by Harry Warren. Published by Salabert (Paris, 1922- 1928) and illustrated by de Valerio. The cover of Lido Lady is attributed to de Valerio.

Roger de Valério (1886-1951) created his first cover for the publisher Salabert in 1917, for whom he allegedly produced more than 2000. In 1926 Emile Chéronnet wrote: “I had this collection in my hands. This is a set of such a baffling variety that you can hardly believe it is not made by an entire studio. However Valério works alone indeed, and for these musical illustrations he has an imagination that is nearly miraculous” (L’Art Vivant, October 1926). It is therefore not surprising to find no less than 11 of his covers depicting Venice, including 5 with a gondola.

‘Sérénade à Marysa’ by Pandera, published by Editions Ricordi (Paris, 1935). ‘Lido cha cha’ by Roger Lécussant, published by Publications Musicales Jean Merlin (Paris, 1961). Both illustrated by Würth.

But it is Würth who illustrated the most scores with Venice on the cover: 16 between 1920 and 1961. He gave the gondolas a simple shape with an elongated, stylised bow and a marked Rialto Bridge. He purified his design over the years as we can see on these two sheet music covers made 25 years apart. Würth was an ubiquitous illustrator in French music publishing in the mid-twentieth century. He has worked for a large number of publishing houses (the 16 recorded scores were published by 15 different publishing houses). Despite a plethora of work, nothing is known about his life, which is rather surprising but not unusual in the world of music publishing.

Left: ‘Venise’ by Hubert Giraud, 1957. Right: ‘Chanson de Venise’ by Nicole Louvier, 1961. Both published by Les Nouvelles Editions Méridian (Paris) and illustrated by Raymond Erny.

To conclude this post on the ornamental prow iron we emphasise its importance as an icon for Venice, a simplified version of it being enough to evoke the city. For the 1957 song ‘Venise‘ Raymond Erny replaced a bar of the V by the highly stylised prow of a gondola. He also uses a Palina, another symbol of the city. For the 1961 song Chanson de Venise, he simplifies the prow even more by merely adding three horizontal crossbars to the front of the V. Erny, a contemporary of Würth, also remains to this day almost unknown, despite an equally significant production. Fortunately, we still have their illustrations as reminders of their work.

Olivier Castel

F. Mendelssohn: Venetianisches Gondellied Op. 30 n.6 – played by Roberto Giordano