Category Archives: Society

Pharaoh Fever: Tut-mania

‘Tutankhamen-Shimmy’ by Jára Beneš, published by Wiener Boheme Verlag (Wien, 1923).

Tutankhamen, aka Tutankhamun, was a pharaoh of minor historical importance. He reigned more than 3.000 years ago for fewer than ten years and died at a young age. Yet he is somewhat the celebrity of Ancient Egypt. That is largely because, when his tomb was found in 1922, it was almost intact: it still contained the magnificent treasures intended to accompany the boy-king into the afterlife. The antechambers were packed to the ceiling with more than 5.000 objects. And Tutankhamen’s portrait mask, made of solid gold laid with precious stones, is one of the most beautiful archaeological objects of Ancient Egypt.

‘Tutankhamon – Fox’ by William Rowers, published by Elkan & Schildknecht, Emil Carelius (Stockholm, sd) and Illustrated by Eric Rohman.

It was the British archaeologist Howard Carter, backed by his patron Lord Carnarvon, who discovered the tomb. He had searched the Valley of the Kings for Tutankhamen’s resting place for many years. To examine and clear the tomb it would take him and his team eight more years. The phenomenal discovery of the tomb and all these wonderful things, in Howard Carter’s own words, kicked off a worldwide ‘King Tut’ craze or Tut-mania in the 1920s that would  continue well into the Thirties.

Every stage of the excavations was chronicled by the press. To finance the dig, Lord Carnarvon had sold the exclusive rights to the Times for the then huge sum of £5.000. It gave the Times unique access to the tomb and the opportunity to publicise its fabulous contents. To compete with the Times’ success, other media created wilder stories, some of which were based on exaggerated claims and even falsehoods, rather than on actual events. So did Lord Carnarvon’s sudden death, within weeks of the tomb’s opening, lead to speculations of a curse.

‘Toet-Ankh-Amen’ by Jan von Lindern & Carlo Rombouts, published by Editions Liro (‘s Gravenhage, 1923) and Illustrated by Jan Hoek

Expert photographer Harry Burton, documented the eight-year-long uncovering of King Tutankhamen’s tomb. For that purpose Burton learned to operate a movie camera. With it he recorded the opening of Tutankhamen’s sarcophagus. His creative and technically advanced images and films contributed largely to the Tut-mania phenomenon.

Left: ‘On Nile Land’ by Vicente Pastelle, published by Ildefonso Alier (Madrid, sd). Right: ‘Egyptian Dream’ by Font Palmarola, published by the composer (Barcelona, sd).

Apart from being celebrated by the media, Tutankhamen also notably influenced the arts and culture in the 1920s. Egyptian motifs became an integral part of Art Deco. They decorated fabrics, jewellery, furniture, ceramics, and were ornamental in architecture. Even in society Egyptian hairstyles and costumes became fashionable.

As a result of this Tut-mania, Egypt blossomed as a tourist destination for rich people. Travels to it though, were time-consuming. Tourists could —as did the Belgian queen Elisabeth— travel first by train to Italy, and then board a passenger steamship in Genoa. After a stopover in Naples they would arrive in Alexandria or Port Said four days later.

Each Egyptian adventure started in Cairo where one could swarm the bazaars and curio shops.

Cairo‘ by Sherman Myers, published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1927) and Illustrated by Fabien Loris.

From there one visited the obligatory sphinx and took a sightseeing camel ride around the pyramids.

‘Le Destin’ by Byron Gay, published by :Francis-Day (Paris, 1922) and illustrated by Dorothy Dulin.

Then one took a wagon-lit to Luxor, or visited the famous ruins along the Nile by steamer.

‘La Légende du Nil’ by A. Roux, published by La Parisienne (Paris, 1924) and illustrated by Clérice frères.

In Luxor one checked in at the Winter Palace Hotel or one of the other luxury hotels. With a bumpy ride on a mule under the scorching sun one went to see the Karnak temple complex…

‘Sur la Route de Karnak’ by Harry Sing, published by Gallet & Fils (Paris, sd) and illustrated by Clérice frères.

… to finally arrive at the high point: the Valley of the Kings and the grave of Tutankhamen.

‘La Valle dei Re’ by L. Baracchi, published by the author (Parma, sd) and illustrated by V. Bianchi.

And of course Tut-mania made its mark on the music world also. Soon after King Tut’s discovery, his effigy started to appear on sheet music covers.

Left: ‘Old King Tut was a Wise Old Nut’ by Lucien Denni & Roger Lewis, published by J. W. Jenkins Sons Music Co. (1923). Right: ‘Old King Tut’ by Harry von Tilzer and William Jerome, published by Harry von Tilzer (1923).

One of the most popular songs was Old King Tut by Harry von Tilzer and William Jerome (1923). Another one (Old King Tut was a Wise Old Nut) was published around the same time. Both depict Tutankhamen as an old man. No one knew at the time that when ‘Old King Tut’ died he was in fact a very young man.

Recently, the song by Harry von Tilzer has featured in the television show ‘Boardwalk Empire’:

The Tut-mania craze gave rise to a number of novelty dances, with poses one can see in the Ancient Egyptian reliefs. Not easy to twist your limbs this way. Known for his quirky illustrations, Peter Curt shows us the popular Swedish composer Gunnar Boberg trying out the ‘Egyptian walk’.

‘Aiba’ by Gunnar Boberg, published by A.B. Skandinaviska Musikförlaget (Stockholm, 1922) and Illustrated by Peter Curt.

The British vaudeville artists Jack Wilson and Joe Keppel show you how it is done. Easy enough, get Alexandre Luigini’s Ballet Egyptien on Spotify, throw some sand on the floor and start shuffling!


 

A Horse, A Horse…

Côtier‘ by Aristide Bruant published by Le Mirliton (Paris, 1893) and illustrated by Theophile Steinlen.

In 1885 Aristide Bruant (1851-1925) opened his Parisian cabaret, Le Mirliton. At the same time he started to publish a journal, with an identical name. Bruant filled his four-page periodical with the lyrics of his songs, poetry, news about spectacles and of course about Bruant himself. He commissioned Theophile Steinlen to create the covers for his Mirliton journal. It is told that Bruant was friends with Toulouse-Lautrec, who immortalised in 1892 the disdainful singer on a poster for the Ambassadeurs cafés-concert.

Ambassadeurs: Aristide Bruant dans son cabaret‘ designed by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, as reproduced in the ‘Chansonniers de Montmartre’ (1906).

Bruant’s songs were chansons réalistes about working-class Parisian people written in street slang, the proletarian argot that borrowed its vocabulary from thieves and artisans. He even published the Dictionnaire de l’argot au XXe siècle for those who needed help in understanding the difficult Parisian jargon.

Côtier with his ‘cheval de renfort’ in Paris. Source: gallica.fr.

The song above is about an elderly côtier who talks to his worn-out horse. In the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th, men with extra horses (chevaux de renfort) stood at the bottom of steep slopes to help horse-drawn carriages and carts to climb up the hill. These côtiers frequently offered their services to the coachmen of omnibus lines.

‘Tramway Galop’ by L. Gobbaerts, published by Schott Frères (Bruxelles, s.d.).

Many of the drivers didn’t care for animal welfare. They were brutal to their horses who were thus being reduced to live machines. It is but in 1843 that a Paris police prefect signed the first decree to prohibit drivers from hitting their horses with the handle of their whips. And 1850 saw the first law for the protection of domestic animals.

Société protectrice des animaux 84 rue de Grenelle Paris‘ by Léon Carré – 1904 (source: gallica.fr)

It was also the start for the Society for the Protection of Animals (SPA). In Le Cheval à Paris de 1850 à 1914 we read the following chilling account:
“More importantly, the SPA obtained authorization for veterinarians to immediately treat horses suffering from sunstroke on the public road, without having to wait for the owner’s agreement. At least one would no longer see these animals dying on the road for hours on end, in excruciating conditions, because no one had been able to get hold of its owner. When the owner remained untraceable, one had to call the commissaire de police who then entrusted the animal to the renderer. The Macquart and Tétard knackers then arrived with their car, (…) they hauled up the horse with a hoist and led it either to the animal pound or to the veterinarian (…) or if the horse meanwhile had died, to their own establishments.”

Source: Delcampe

From 1890 on the SPA had their own chevaux de renfort in Paris, stationed beneath recognisable cast-iron poles. They also employed their own côtiers.

Source: eBay

Bruant’s song ends with the following morbid words spoken by the côtier to his horse:

Et pis après c’est la grande sorgue,
Toi, tu t’en iras chez Maquart
Moi, j’irai p’têt ben à la morgue..

And then arrives the big night,
You will go to Maquart
I’ll go to the morgue.

Maquart, director of the horse knackery in Aubervilliers, Paris ca 1890. Source: Antique and Classic Photographic Images

So the poor horse was destined for Maquart, the horse knacker established in Aubervilliers since 1841. In 1886 Maquart processed 300 to 350 horse carcasses per month, using 5 industrial boilers. At the beginning of the 20th century Léon Bonneff describes Aubervilliers, a commune in the north-eastern suburbs of Paris, as follows “…there exists a terrible and charming village. In it merge the waste, the residue and the nameless filth of a capital city. Will go there: dead horses, horses to be slaughtered, horses that veterinarians reject for consumption*, horses that almost die on the street; there passes the blood of slaughterhouses in hot and steaming barrels.”

* Yes, the French eat horses. This postcard gives a macabre view of a slaughterhouse at a market for the consumption of horse meat.

All that organic waste of the horses created foul smelling tanneries and fertiliser factories in the neighbourhood of slaughterhouses and knackeries. The côtier’s poor horse probably would end up as glue or fertiliser. Or as something that took my attention in the publicity for the slaughterhouse: noir animal. I had never heard of this but I learned that it is bone char.

Engrais-Krafft‘, publicity poster for animal produce from the Parisian slaughterhouse for horses (source: BnF Gallica)

To make bone char the animal bones are heated at incredibly high temperatures with low oxygen concentration, and are thus reduced to carbon. Historically, bone char was (and still is) used in sugar refining as a discolouring and de-ashing filter agent, particularly for cane sugar. Be careful vegans. Bone char filters are not used to process beet sugar.

Four pour la calcination des os‘ from ‘Les merveilles de l’industrie’ by Louis Figuier (Paris, 1873). Creative Commons, source: Fondo Antiguo de la Biblioteca de la Universidad de Sevilla

Bone char is also used as a black pigment for artist’s paint and drawing ink because of its deepness of colour. Bone black and ivory black are artists’ pigments which have been long in use. I will never look in the same way at Manet’s beautiful intense ivory black.

During our research we came across this puzzling photograph of the strange relation between man and dead horse — no comment.

A man sitting on a dead horse in Sheboygan, Wisconsin (ca 1876 & 1884). (Public Domain, source: sheboyganpress)

Time now for a light-hearted and very danceable song to promote an animal-friendly lifestyle. Get those vegan vibes, here is Macka B!


Reference: ‘Le Cheval à Paris de 1850 à 1914’ by Ghislaine Bouchet (Mémoires et Documents de l’Ecole de Charte n° 37, Librairie Droz, Genève, 1993)


Mah-jong, yet another Twenties’ fad

When Buddha plays Mah Jong‘ by Jose Maria Lucchesi, published by Max Eschig (Paris, 1926). The cover is not signed, but was probably designed by Gaston Girbal.

The drawing of the laughing Buddha holding a domino in his hand, gives us reason to believe that the illustrator didn’t know how a game of mah-jong looked like. At that time, in the mid-twenties, the mah-jong was still a novelty in France and reserved for the very rich.

‘Le Jeu De Mah-Jong’ by R. Penso, published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1924) and illustrated by Clérice frères.

On the cover of ‘Le Jeu De Mah-Jong’ Clérice shows that he had a better understanding of the tile-based game. Mah-jong commonly involves four players and 144 tiles divided into categories such as flowers, bamboo, winds, dragons and seasons. In those days, the tiles were beautifully marked with intricate and colourful designs and sold in elaborately carved oriental drawer boxes.

‘Mah-Jong’ by Jára Beneš, published by Wiener Boheme Verlag (Wien, 1924). Unknown illustrator.

The French Vogue from January 1924 lyrically introduced the mysterious oriental game to its readers: “The dizzying smell of sandalwood, that one inhales on the banks of the large rivers running through the vast empire of the rising sun, is enclosed in these little dominoes of ivory and bamboo like in a breathtaking incense burner.”

“The origins of the game” Vogue continued are lost in the mysterious Chinese night”. Indeed, although the history of mah-jong is contested, it is generally accepted that the game evolved in China somewhere in the mid or late 1800s. There it was primarily a gambling game, often played for very high stakes. Westerners first saw the game in Shanghai and Macau. It was then introduced in America and —with a bit of commercial push and marketing flair— it became a craze in the early 1920s. The gambling though was left out. And also, applying the commercial axiom never to sell complicated things, the rules  were simplified.  From there on it arrived in Europe.

But Vogue concocted a more exciting ‘history‘ to charm its snobbish readers: “For centuries, this scholarly distraction was a privilege for the sumptuous Chinese court and it never went beyond the golden walls of the imperial residence. Only the emperor, the empress, the princes, princesses and their immediate entourage had the right to take out of the priceless boxes, the prodigious little tiles decorated with mysterious signs which allowed them to spend unforgettable hours.”

A Mah-jong table. Vogue, January 1, 1924.

Imagine that you were a fashionable upper-class Parisienne who wanted to entertain and surprise her guests, wouldn’t you rush to the better shops to buy a luxurious set of mah-jong? It would hurt your wallet a bit though. Even the high-end Vogue marked a mah-jong set as expensive: “Its only disadvantage is its price. But for the lovers of the latest fashion and the newest thrill, certainly a must.” A set costed between 650 and 2.000 francs, the present-day equivalent of about 600 to 1.800 €. That was because traditional mah-jong sets were handcrafted out of the bleached shin bones of cows, or out of ivory. The illustrations on the tiles were also carved and coloured by hand. And of course you couldn’t play mah-jong at an ordinary table. You had to buy “a black lacquered wooden table with a leather top preferably with racks on the side.”

A game of Mah-jong between Jeanne Saint-Bonnet and the French actor Max Dearly. Publicity by Kirby, Beard & C°, Paris in Les Modes, December 1924.

Soon the mah-jong game would become much cheaper as synthetic materials were used and the drawings were stamped on the pieces rather than handcrafted. In December 1924 mah-jong sets were already sold in Paris for 100 francs by Kirby, Beard & C° a dramatic price drop, though still a great expense for the middle class.

‘Mah-Jongg Blues’ by Stuart Dunbar and Lester Stevens, published by Tees (San Francisco, 1922).

From 1920 on, as the craze started in the US,  Abercrombie & Fitch was the first company to sell mah-jong sets. To be able to serve their customers they sent scouts to China to buy as much sets as possible. At a certain point the demand was so high that cattle shinbones were sent to China to be crafted into more sets.

‘Since Ma is playing Mah Jong’ by Billy Rose & Con Condrad, published by Witmark & Sons (New York, 1924)

Mah-jong was mostly played by women, such as illustrated by Eddie Cantor with his popular song ‘Since Ma Is Playing Mah Jong’. The song has offensive racial language and makes fun of a housewife neglecting her chores because she is addicted to the game.

There is a perfect scene to conclude this post. It is from the opening of Ang Lee’s film ‘Lust, Caution‘, an espionage thriller set in Shanghai during WWII. Watch how the quickness of the game movements follows the pace of the conversation between the four ladies. You’ll certainly miss a subtitle or two!