A tribute to Melina Mercouri

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Μελίνα Μερκούρη (amaelia) made her name in the west with “Never on a Sunday” and “Topkapi” but she was also a staunch campaigner against the Greek military Junta in 67-74 ending up as an MP in the Greek Parliament and the PASOK minister for culture. Her statue, or rather her bust, is at the entrance to Plaka, opposite the temple of Zeus in Athens. It is an odd piece of work and I drew it a while ago. I am afraid the notebook is now overwritten with things about Victorian poetry but the statue comes out fairly well.

The “Elgin” Marbles

During her campaign for the return of the Elgin Marbles, all captured on the evening TV news, unfortunately, she began weeping in the wrong part of the British museum and needed to be guided to the Duveen gallery where she wept again with passion to protest at the theft of these great pieces of Greek Art. Elgin acquired the marbles between 1799 and 1805 from the Ottomans who were, at the time, in  overall control. It can be argued that the Ottomans, though legally in possession of Greece, could therefore sell the sculptures to whoever wanted to buy them. However, the moral case is less clear: the Ottomans twice used the Acropolis as a weapons depot and twice saw bits of the monument blown sky-high, once in 1687 and then again during the war of independence when, to stop the Ottomans’ further destruction of the site, and their attempt to take the iron from the columns to melt into bullets, the Greek armies offered to give them ammunition. The whole Acropolis, frankly, was in danger of destruction as the war inched towards the capital and Elgin can be seen as the saviour, rescuing great art from the jaws of bellicose chaos.

Elgin’s plans:

Thomas Bruce, the 7th Lord Elgin planned for the marbles to undergo extensive restoration but the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova refused to do the work. Elgin’s return journey was disastrous. He found himself repeatedly arrested by Napoleon as he tried to get back home. Some of the marbles sank near the Greek island of Cythera on the voyage back to Scotland.  The rest were later bought by the British parliament from Elgin in 1816 and presented to the British Museum under the particular Parliamentary directive of the Local and Personal Acts 56 George III c.99 of 1816.. Other museums with bits of the Acropolis include: The Louvre, Copenhagen National Museum, Wurzburg museum, the Vatican, The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the Glyptothek in Munich. The marbles in the British Museum are held under an act of Parliament from 1963  (the British Museum Act) which prevents the museum from permanently loaning any objects that are unique or that are not considered “unfit to be retained and can be disposed of without detriment to the interests of students”. The debate about the sculptures is ongoing and fairly heated, but I think the fact that there are other pieces elsewhere weakens the British claim to be housing the marbles in a way that guarantees access and comparison with other works. While other museums retain pieces, though, the argument by Athens for repatriation is also weakened. A loan would be reasonable, but I think the intensity of feeling about repatriation means that it would never be a temporary loan and so would be illegal under the terms of the 1963 act. The Elgin collection is more than just the Parthenon marbles- there is a large scarab beetle from Istanbul and some Egyptian stuff as well as some bronze tableware and jewellery. Duveen was an antique dealer involved in a dispute about “La Bella Ferronniere” and a number of fakes in his collection. The Duveen Gallery was designed by the american architect John Russell Pope. Much of Duveen’s work was about selling fine art to America and his trade forms the core of the great American Museums’ various art collections.

It is very unclear why Elgin was granted the firman that allowed him to take the marbles in the first place. The general understanding is that this was a personal mark of gratitude by the Ottoman representative in Athens for Elgin’s help in the Ottoman war against the French that had been going on in Egypt. In fact, two such permissions were granted. The first in 1800 and the second to  Sir Robert Adair in 1810. As a rule, the focus tends to be on the first firman which survives only in an italian copy and which has been argued particularly by a professor in Crete not to be a firman at all. It was this firman, after all that formed the basis of Parliamentary approval to buy the marbles, though they not only did not have the original Turkish Firman; they did not even have the italian copy. They simply had an english translation that the Rev. Philip Hunt insisted was genuine. It is not at all clear which of the three documents was signet by Seged Abdullah Kaimacan.  Much of the debate in parliament, anyway, was about whether the marbles were genuine or simply Roman copies of the originals. An english writer claimed at the time that an Ottoman official tried in vain to stop Elgin from taking the marbles.

Byron

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There were protests about the sale of the marbles from the very beginning. Here is an extract from ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’. There was also “the Curse of Minerva” which was never intended for publication in the UK. Keats, however, also writes about the marbles but only after seeing them in London and while he writes two poems specifically about the marbles, their inspiration leads to the Ode on a Grecian Urn and his idea about “truth and beauty”. I think he must have approved of the sale as did Goethe. When Goethe saw the marbles in London he claimed ‘the beginning of a new age for Great Art’. Certainly the marbles were deeply inspiring.

Cleaning the Marbles

There was the original method of severing the frieze from the walls of the Acropolis itself. The architect hired by Elgin for this task, an Italian man called Lusieri, confessed, “I was obliged to be a little barbarous”. But the most worrying bit of the Elgin/Parthenon marbles story is the cleaning of the frieze in 1938 in preparation for the move in London from the Elgin gallery to the newly-built Duveen. Over a period of 15 months, copper chisels and carborundum were applied to the sculptures to clean them. The man in charge, F.N. Pryce and his assistant, Roger Hinks, both of whom promptly resigned, seemed to think that the appropriate colour for the marbles was white and, therefore, they made an effort to get rid of the yellow/brown patina. The story did not come to light until 1950 when an Italian, Cesare Brandi, published a critical report about cleaning Classical pieces in general. Later, in 1984, the diaries of Roger Hinks were published detailing the cleaning process and, in the same year, the Greek government renewed a demand first made by Hugh Hammersley in 1816 for the repatriation of the marbles through UNESCO. The request was formally rejected by the British Government in 1984, and further demands were made in 1985 and 1997. It remains the position of the British Government (as stated by Tony Blair in To Vima in March 2001) that the marbles should remain in London and should be accessed by the public free of charge. There is a detailed account in Christopher Hitchens’ book The ElginMarbles – should they be returned to Greece? (1987). A later book, Lord Elgin & the Marbles (1998) by William St Clair makes use of restricted papers about the Hinks/Pryce cleanup which led to a conference in November 1999.

Now, all of this sounds fairly catastrophic until placed in context because the Greeks used a similar cleaning process on the Hephaisteion in 1953. In addition, the Athens pollution has seriously damaged the existing sculptures: Olga Palagia writes in The Pediments of the Parthenon (Brill Leiden, 1993) that, when sculptures from the west pediment were removed in 1977,  “the industrial pollution of modern Athens had wreaked havoc upon their delicate surface”. A paper by I Jenkins (Cleaning and Controversy) deals with the whole sorry subject.

There have been two modern Greek positions on the marbles and that is unfortunate. The first was a suggestion of a joint and permanent exhibition in Athens. This would have recognised the moral authority of the original sale to Elgin while allowing that the marbles might be better viewed in the context of their original setting in Athens. The second was a demand for the return of the looted property of the State. Anything else would, said Antonis Samaras for the Greek government in 2009, “condone the snatching of the marbles and the monument’s carving-up 207 years ago.” This was an uncompromising and rather silly posture that effectively makes the repatriation of the marbles impossible in the near future, because any arrangement would imply that the British government in the early 19th Century was covering up a crime. The issue of the legality of the sale was in fact debated in the House of commons before the marbles were ever bought from Elgin. I think if there had only ever been a single Firman (permission) granted by the Ottomans, then the sale would not have been recognised as wholly legitimate. But there were two. Even so, Elgin demanded just over £70,000 and received only £35,000 from parliament. This was not a profitable venture and the acquisition of the marbles effectively bankrupted Elgin.

Many years later, on June 21st 2009, the new museum in Athens, designed by Bernard Tschumi, opened. The empty spaces along corridors housing the Parthenon frieze provide a reason and an urgency for reuniting all the various parthenon marbles, as indeed the museum’s initial director, Dimitrios Pandermalis, fully intended. the spaces in the exhibition amount to cultural blackmail, and it is effective.

The Future:

I think now, however, as the various personalities dig in (the British Museum’s director Neil MacGregor, would not countenance any return when the Athens’ museum finally opened), there remains only one course of action available. In the next few years, Britain should lend the Athens museum a piece of the Parthenon frieze and only when it is duly returned to the UK, will there be a general sense of reassurance about the legal ownership of the marbles. At that point, and it might take an act of parliament to arrange this with the present trustees of the Museum, a much bigger portion of the collection might then be packed off to be displayed in a semi-permanent format in Athens.

Our Film, Following Lear:

Anyway, Melina Mercouri’s character, Ilya, in “Never on a Sunday/ Ποτέ Την Κυριακή” is the basis of one of the animated characters we have devised for the Edward Lear Film – though in the song, she is married and has “lost” her husband. David Watson has written a sensational bit of music to the Lear Limerick about “an old man of Corfu” and Vassilisso Vasilinho wrote the very funny words in Greek. Katerina Tiropoli did the voice and Duncan Skinner did the english voice- he will be a “Bud Flannigan type”. Here are some initial drawings of the Melina Mercouri character..

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Who was Pierre Loti?

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When I first went to Istanbul, I was taken to tea at Pierre Loti’s by Necati. We have been back there many times since and each time, it is assumed that I must know of Pierre Loti because he is such an important writer. Well, that may not be quite the case. I think the significance of m. Loti and the preservation of his home on the hillside overlooking the grave of Necati’s father, is less a matter of literary genius and more because he supported the Kemalists and earned the patronage of Atatürk.
Personally, I find it a bit sad that this man is lauded in Istanbul to the exclusion of another man like Edward Lear who drew at least two pictures of the Pierre Loti graveyard even before Loti had built his wooden house there. It is these pictures that we have tried to emulate in our own work and that are posted below. Here, meanwhile, is my copy of one of the Lear drawings:

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Loti is nevertheless an interesting if odd man. A French navy man through and through, he found his way to the far east, and began writing, publishing books about Polynesia, Tahiti, Senegal and Breton fishermen. A novel in 1887 called “Madam Chrysanthème” is essentially “Madam Butterfly” and is acknowledged (together with claims by John Luther Long, a Philadelphia lawyer, who wrote a story on something he claimed had happened to “his sister”) as one of the sources for both Puccini (1904) and Messager (1893). Loti himself had a temporary Japanese wife so the story is fairly autobiographical and Pierre is just as unthinking as Pinkerton. Later Loti wrote an impassioned paper against the British Raj called “L’inde” and was involved in quashing the Boxer rebellion in China in 1900.

His praise for Atatürk and support of the “Kurtuluş Savaşı” or Turkish war of Independence (which took in disputes with Greece, Armenia and the Ottoman throne and that really lasted from 1908-1923 but was sealed by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 and the abolition of the Sultinate, the abdication and exile of Mehmed VI on the British warship Malaya which went to Malta) is qualified by a fairly blistering attack on Turkey towards the end of his life. But the people of Istanbul love the cafe so Pierre Loti, like El Cid, I recall, has moved out of history and into some sort of mythology. No one reads his novels, but we all drink his tea.

Here are pictures of the graveyard that surrounds the Pierre Loti cafe:

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And here is a picture of Pierre Loti dressed in a Turkish fez (presumably just before Atatürk outlawed it in 1925 with the “hat law”)

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Finally, here is one of the most bizarre pictures, called an “academic image” but I cannot see why.

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Figaro! The Animated opera

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One of our projects is a cartoon version of figaro. Here is a version of the storyboard for Bartolo’s aria with music arranged by David Watson. None of the sketches are entirely “on model” and they were completed over a period of some years as the project has developed, but I think they show the energy and demonstrate that it is possible to re-think this opera in terms of a universe inhabited solely by cartoon characters. During the overture, Bartolo demonstrates an interest in Arson, and we also see Marchellina leave her home in Bath to take a train to Castle Almaviva. She is followed by Bartolo which explains his appearance here. She also spies on Figaro, though not until the next scene, on Susanna. The film was designed some years before Downton Abbey captured our tv viewing, but I suppose would be exactly that period and image.

 

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Kim Jong-un

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This is a caricature that we did for the little animated film, “How to be Boss”.

Today, the little boy in the background is the Supreme leader of the Democratic People’s republic of Korea. The son of Kim Jong-il and grandson of the founder of modern North Korea, Kim il-Sung. He had been designated premier by the Soviet controllers and called “great leader”. One of his first plans as leader was to invade South Korea which the Soviets anyway regarded as his territory. With Chinese acquiescence, Kim went on to seize Seoul capturing most of the peninsular except for the “Pusan Perimeter”. The US landed in Incheon and mounted a vigorous counter-offensive together with troops from South Korea. Within a month, Seoul had been retaken and then Kim was forced into a major retreat and refuge in China. This led to a Chinese offensive in aid of the North Koreans and the retaking of Seoul in January 1951. The UN counter-attacked in March retaking Seoul. The war lingered on until 1953 with the loss of over 1.2 million lives. Kim resented China’s increasing control of the war as indeed he resented anyone with a strong alliance to any number of people with Chinese connections. The most bizarre of these was Enver Hoxha, the leader of Albania who had openly defied Russia and set up his own Sino-Albanian pact.

Enver Hoxha and “Following Edward Lear”

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I remember seeing Hoxha’s pyramidal tomb in Tirana. We have been to Albania a few times for the Lear project. Edward Lear was there in 1848 at the end of his journey from Istanbul. As part of our Edward Lear film, we have drawn a view of the Albanian town of Elbassan.

one of Lear's views of Elbassan
one of Lear’s views of Elbassan

 

view of Elbassan from the hills
view of Elbassan from the hills

 

the cypress grove, what belongs of it
the cypress grove, what belongs of it

 

Today, the view that Lear sketched is dominated by a huge Chinese-built factory which is really the only physical result of the Sino-Albanian pact, Hoxha’s alliance with Mao Zedong. Hoxha may not have been a nice man, and his secret police, the Sigurimi has a grim reputation, but he is impressive in the way that he stood up to Russia and lived to tell the tale. In truth, he was defending the indefensible- denouncing reforms by Khrushchev and the demolition of the Stalin cult. He was also, incidentally anxious about meetings that had taken place between the Russian president and Greek politicians who had been campaigning for an independent Northern Epirus. Khrushchev is supposed to have said of Hoxha: “He bared his fangs at us even more menacingly than the Chinese themselves.” To this comment went the response from a Spanish delegate at the conference to the effect that Hoxha is a dog that bites the hand that feeds it. Russian economic aid stopped but was replaced by considerable aid from China. In 1979, Hoxha responded to the resentment oozing out of North Korea. He said, “In Pyongyang, I believe that even Tito will be astonished at the proportions of the cult of his host, which has reached a level unheard of anywhere else, either in past or present times, let alone in a country which calls itself socialist.”

There is a rather funny video doing the rounds on Youtube. You can find it here-

Burlington Bertie

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We are slowly getting on with the animation of our short film based on “the Music hall”. “Burlington Bertie” is one of two films, both of which feature a song by the first world war composer William Hargreaves in arrangements by David Watson of Kanon. Bertie is odd though because all the references in the song are to Queen Victoria and the “Prince of Wales,” Edward VII who had died by the time the song was even first performed by Hargreaves’ wife, Ella Shields in 1915. It was then later done by Julie Andrews in the film “Star”. When she comes off stage after singing the song for the first time as a pregnant understudy, one of the other actresses standing in the wings asks “how was that?” she says, “It was marvellous!” and that rather seals her fate- sacrificing a private life to the demands of her theatre-public (1968) The film, sadly- some of which was shot in the Hackney Empire where we are setting our own film- was not a great success but it has some great scenes in it! Well worth watching. The final number “Jenny” has an irritatingly repetitive lyric but Dame Julie is as game and joyous as ever. According to her memoirs (the very readable “Home”), she had been offered the part of “Lady in the Dark” early on in her own Broadway career but turned it down. I think she was worried about comparison to Gerty Lawrence, so it is ironic that she went on to do a bio-pic of her life.

Here is a colour snippet from our version of “Bertie”:

 

Now, this is the reason for the out-dated references: The “Bertie” song by Hargreaves is actually a pastiche of a much older song by Harry B Norris which was famously sung from 1900 onwards by Vesta Tilley, the darling of the lesbian set. The original song is fairly patriotic too with a great chorus that is well-worth repeating. Here is the end of the last verse and the end of the final chorus. Suddenly, reading this, you can see how the bunting would go flying and why Vesta Tilly earned such a reputation during the First World War!

Altho’ absent minded, he does not forget
That Englishmen always must pay off a debt.
He drops all his pleasures, the polo, the hunt
And just like the rest, he is off to the front;
Altho’ he’s a johnny, he’ll fight in the ruck,
He’s wealthy and foolish, but if you want pluck –

What price Burlington Bertie,
the boy with the Hyde Park drawl,
What price Burlington Bertie,
the boy with the Bond Street crawl?
He’ll fight and he’ll die like an Englishman.
Forgive all his folly we can;
Says old John Bull ‘I plainly see
These Burlington boys are the boys for me!’

There are a few dodgy lyrics though here- I hate the laziness, for example, of “always must” * but the rest is priceless! (*The inversion is clumsy- It’s almost as lazy as the lyric: “I just called to say I loved you”- the word “just” has no purpose there at all. It is included for the scansion alone.) The Bertie here is a Gent down on his “uppers”. He’s not from Bow, he’s from South Ken!

The Hargreaves’ version plays around with patriotism, too, and we will certainly make use of this in our animation- but it focuses much more on the idea that his Bertie, in contrast, is a “down and out” pretending to be a toff. There is alot of pride in this “tramp” too: The same stock character/characters, in effect, turn up in “Easter Parade” with a song by Irving Berlin. Check out Judy Garland’s “Little Titch” shoes here…a tremendous tribute to the music hall/vaudeville!

 

And for the potency of the tramp character in music hall, look no further than Chaplin!

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and frankly, it is the same idea that we find in “Hello Dolly” when Cornelius Hackl, Barnaby Tucker and co elect to walk to Harmonia Gardens “because it is more elegant”. There’s a charming version of this song here:

 

The Lady Diana at the end of the Hargreaves’ song would be Lady Diana Cooper, not of course Diana Spencer.
Bertie comes from Bow which makes him a genuine Cockney. He is idle, drunk and smokes too much- he enjoys hobnobbing with the idle rich in the West End. This is a slightly different character to the one in the Norris song. In the original song “He rents a swell flat somewhere Kensington way” and has frittered away his inheritance on “Brandy and Soda”. But his biggest failing seems to be that he is always ready to help. When a girl wants a present she wonders “who can I touch” and along comes the rousing chorus,

What price Burlington Bertie,
the boy with the Hyde Park drawl,
What price Burlington Bertie,
the boy with the Bond Street crawl?
A nice little supper at the Savoy,
Oh! What a duck of a boy,
‘So free’ says she, ‘with L.s.d.,
Burlington Bertie’s the boy for me.’

The LSD line gets a new meaning I suppose after the 60s.

Below is a recording of the Hargreaves song with some very elementary movements and then follows a line test of the coloured version at the top of this post. I am afraid there is a long way to go…. I will add some updates soon and some images of the backdrops which are also coming along nicely!

 

 

(I am not sure how Bertie’s pose is actually “ironical”- I suppose because he is picking up fag ends from the strand and strutting around wearing a monocle. Maybe there is more to it than that? I welcome any observations!)

Fountains near the Byzantine wall

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Here are some pictures showing progress on a scene we are finishing for the Edward lear film. This shows the Fatih gate which is that part of the wall that first gave way to the Turkish assault of 1453. Next to the fountains here is a museum with an astonishing diorama showing the actual bombardment of the city by the Turks. Here is a copy of the picture that Edward Lear painted. This is unusual among the Istanbul collection because it is in colour, so probably worked up by Lear a few years later.

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Here is the completed picture we have just finished.

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and here is the companion piece showing the walls a little further down.

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Richard Williams

In 1972 I wrote to Richard Williams and was invited to visit his studio. I think I also sent him some artwork. It would have been about this time that a kind lady was also trying to arrange an exhibition for me I learnt recently, so I imagine I was doing fairly well as a little 11 year old draughtsman and impressing more people than I realised. Certainly, it took years to get back to the dynamism and accuracy of those early days partly because I was consistently bullied by the art teacher at school. I was called names by this man, had my work ripped up by him, and was consistently slapped down with words like “slick” and “easy” which I understood then to be criticisms but which today I would accept as some sort of defiant badge of honour. Anyway, this is not meant to be a whine, but more an…

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