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Symbols of Pride: the cultural heritage of LGBTQ+ activism

Fri, 14/06/2019 - 08:00

June marks Pride month, commemorating the 1969 Stonewall riots which catalysed modern LGBTQ+ activism.

In Europe, with pride parades mostly spanning May to September, festivals, parties and protests are held across the continent throughout the summer months.

Örebro Pride 2013, 31 August 2013, Per Torgén, Örebro County Museum, CC BY-NC

This blog looks at a short cultural history of Pride festivals, exemplified by objects held in European museums, galleries, libraries and archives – objects which also symbolise some of the current debates around Pride and its place in LGBTQ+ communities.

The modern Pride and LGBTQ+ liberation movements began in the late 1960s with the Stonewall riots in New York. These were a series of spontaneous demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ+ community against police raids of the Stonewall Inn Manhattan, which began on 28 June 1969. After the Stonewall riots, activist organisations formed, and two years later on the anniversary of the riots, the first pride marches took place in cities across the US.

In some cities, these marches are known as Christopher Street Days (marking the location of the Stonewall Inn) with the first German events taking place in Bremen and Berlin in 1979.

Leaflet for Christopher Street Day Gala on 7 July 1995 at the Rheinpark in Cologne, Gerhard Malcherek, Wellcome Collection, CC BY-NC

Through the 1970s and 1980s, LGBTQ+ movements were focused on liberation, on changing laws and opinions to over-turn inequal attitudes and discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ people.

Objects from these decades focus on identification, on legitimacy, on showing how LGBTQ+ rights are human rights.

Button, Gay love is the real thing, Atria, Institute on Gender Equality and Women’s History, CC0 Button ‘I’m a lady lover’, Atria, Institute on Gender Equality and Women’s History, CC0

Some objects illustrate the growing community organising and activism throughout the 1970s and 1980s, which saw campaign groups and other human rights organisations come together to fight for equality, rights and against discrimination, homophobia and transphobia.

Button, Gay Liberation Front, Atria, Institute on Gender Equality and Women’s History, CC0 Button. Lesbian and gay. Together our own way, Atria, Institute on Gender Equality and Women’s History, CC0 Advertisement for Gay pride event organised by ACT UP in 1996, Wellcome Collection, CC BY-NC

Many of the objects featured here use a common language, symbols and signs designated act as community identifiers, as protest symbols.

One of the first symbols adopted by LGBTQ+ rights organisations, advocates and the  movement overall, was a pink triangle. Its origins represented a dark chapter in LGBTQ+ history rights, as it was used in Nazi concentration camps during World War II to identify prisoners.

Its use by LGBTQ+ advocates grew to raise awareness of its use in Nazi Germany and act as a memorial to those who had been persecuted. Over time, it increasingly became used not solely as a memorial but became reclaimed to be positive symbol of both self and community identity.

Pride ’85 badge, RFSL The National Association for the rights of gay, bisexual, transgender and queer, Bohusläns museum, CC BY-NC-ND Advertisement for The Silence = Death Project (used by permission by ACT-UP, The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power), 1987, ACT UP (Organisation), Wellcome Collection, CC BY-NC

Most of the objects here show the rainbow flag, a later symbol of LGBTQ+ pride and associated social movements.

Flags, Nordiska museet, CC BY-NC-ND

Originally devised by artist Gilbert Baker from San Francisco and first used in the United States in the late 1970s, the flag is now used worldwide as a symbol of LGBTQ+ social movements as well as peace and equality.

Although other variants exist, the most common rainbow flag consists of six stripes: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.

Stockholms brandförsvar badge, Nordiska museet, CC BY-NC-ND Zebra keyring, Nordiska Museet, CC BY-NC-ND

Today, in many cities, Pride Festivals are just that: festivals and parties. They are attended by heterosexual, cisgender people as well as LGBT+ people.

Pride parades today often emphasise inclusiveness, an event for families and those of all faiths, races and backgrounds.

‘We are family’ sign, Nordiska museet, CC BY-NC-ND

In one way, this can symbolise a greater acceptance and equality and freedom that we all feel. In other ways, many activists feel that the true meaning of Pride as a protest about human and equal rights is being overtaken and co-opted by those who simply want a fun party.

Indeed, in many cities, Pride festivals are important tourist attractions now, with businesses and organisations taking part to both show their support but also for their own commercial gain.

This bottle of Absolut vodka from Sweden illustrates this, as it features the rainbow flag on its branding. Absolut were the first spirit brand to adopt the rainbow flag. Since the 1980s, the company have supporting LGBTQ+ campaigns and charities. On the one hand, this vital financial support sustains and advances LGBTQ+ rights and issues. But, on the other hand, some campaigners see this as taking Pride further away from its protest roots and can be seen as a form of corporate ‘pink-washing’.  

Bottle, Vin & Sprit AB, Nordiska museet, CC BY-NC-ND

Many of the objects featured here are ephemeral – badges, leaflets, posters – but speak to the history of Pride and stories of the LGBTQ+ community. It must be noted that cultural heritage collections don’t record all stories, and Pride is experienced differently across Europe.

However you feel about Pride today – party or protest or both? – the importance of visibility, activism and pride in who you are remains as important today as it did in the 1960s.

Suggested links

We’d love to hear your experiences of Pride parades. Let us know in the comments.  

Feature image: Button. Gay love is the real thing, Atria, Institute on Gender Equality and Women’s History, CC0

Thanks to Russell Dornan for reading an early draft of this blog

A journey through Byzantine Ravenna

Wed, 12/06/2019 - 06:30
Ravenna in modern Italy was one of Europe’s most important cities in the Byzantine era. Today, experts from the Byzantine Art and Archaeology project take us on a tour of Ravenna’s remarkable Byzantine heritage.

In 1996, UNESCO added eight early Christian monuments in Ravenna to its World Heritage List. Ravenna was one of Europe’s most important cities in the Late Antique period. Between 402 – 751 CE it was the residence of the Western Roman emperors, of the Ostrogothic kings of Italy and of the Byzantine governors. During this period the city was progressively enlarged and enriched by remarkable works of art and architecture, some of which still preserved today. Ravenna became a link between the Eastern and the Western Roman Empires.

The extraordinary flourishing of mosaic art in Ravenna between the 5th and the 6th centuries CE – the golden age of the city – has left us a great number of examples from the early period of Byzantine art. As with Thessaloniki, Constantinople, Rome and Milan, mosaic became the main medium of expressing civic prestige, both as a court residence and as a prominent ecclesiastical centre. Let’s explore some of Ravenna’s most important Byzantine monuments.

The Neonian Baptistery Neonian Baptistery, Ravenna
Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright

The Neonian Baptistery was built at the beginning of the 5th century CE and thoroughly refurbished and decorated by the Bishop Neon in the years 458-460. Its interior is decorated by mosaics and stuccoes depicting prophets, the apostles and other motives alluding to the heavenly city and to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Interior of Neonian Baptistery, Ravenna. Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright The Mausolueum of Galla Placidia

Galla Placidia, daughter of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I (379-395) was regent to her son Valentinian III (423-437) and a major force in Roman politics for most of her life. Her mausoleum was built around 425-450 but it was never used for her since the empress died and was buried in the year 450 in Rome.

The mausoleum’s interior is entirely covered with Christian symbols of immortality and eternal life: for instance, the cross is used for the plan of the building itself and for various parts of the ceiling’s mosaic decoration:

Barrel vault wall mosaic, east cross branch, mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, with two apostles and vine branches surrounding a central framed clypeus with chrismon. Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright The Arian Baptistery

Built in the first half of the 6th century CE, during the reign of the king Theoderic, of Arian beliefs, the Arian Baptistery was connected to the Arian episcopal church.

Arian Baptistery, Ravenna. Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright

Its dome features a mosaic depicting the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan, surrounded by the twelve Apostles who pay homage to the Holy Cross covered by a purple shroud – a symbol of the Passion and of the physical nature of Jesus (a central belief in the Arian faith). On the external circular band the procession of the Apostles is depicted, led in separate directions and meeting at the empty throne (the Etimasia):

Cupola mosaic, Arian Baptistery, Ravenna. Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo

The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (first quarter of the 6th century CE) was the king Theodoric’s Palatine church. The glory and power of the Gothic king was represented in the panels depicting the Palatium, the royal court, the city of Ravenna and the harbour of Classis:

Basilica of Saint Apollinaire Nuovo, wall mosaic, south wall, third zone: Palatium.
Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright

Under Justinianic rule, the mosaics were modified by removing the figures connected to Theoderic and by incorporating them into the Catholic tradition with triumphal processions of saints, virgins, the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ.

Christ enthroned with angels, mosaic on south wall of the Basilica of Saint Apollinaire Nuovo.
Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare

Dating to the first half of the 6th century, the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe was built on the foundations of the primitive burial place of Apollinaris, the first bishop and founder of the Church of Ravenna. Sant’Apollinare in Classe is famous for its apsidal mosaics and for the marble sarcophagi of the local archbishops along the side naves.

Triumphal arch and apse with wall mosaics, Basilica of Saint Apollinaire.
Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright The Basilica of San Vitale

The construction of the Basilica of San Vitale (built 527-548) shows as important influence of the Eastern Mediterranean art, both in the church structure (a central octagonal plan surmounted by a large dome) and in the iconography of the mosaics.

Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna.
Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright Interior of Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna
Museum of Ravenna, In Copyright

The mosaic decorations from the Basilica of San Vitale presbytery include the following personages [l-r]: 1. Bishop Maximinian and Giuliano Argentario, 2. detail of the Empress Theodora, 3. detail of the Emperor Justinian:

Explore Byzantine Ravenna in Europana Collections

Authors: L. Orlandi (University of Bologna) and L. Kniffitz and C. Pausini (Museum of Ravenna). Images are from the archives of the Museum of the City of Ravenna – Classense Library (Ravenna), who is proud partner of BYZART – Byzantine Art and Archaeology on Europeana project (co-financed by the EU – CEF).

A Lithuanian museum mission: the life and legacy of Aleksandras Mykolas Račkus

Fri, 07/06/2019 - 08:00

Aleksandras Mykolas Račkus was a Lithuanian American numismatist, philatelist, ethnographer, curator, and physician, who was born near Kaunas in 1893.

In 1910, he travelled to the United States, where he started his education in St. Laurent College in Canada, Montreal. He later studied at Holy Cross College in Worcester, the University of Loyola and the Medical School in Chicago where he obtained an MD in surgery.

Dr. Alexander M. Rackus‘s, health editor at Lithuanian daily “Draugas”, business card, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

From 1922, he practised as a doctor. He was an active member of the Lithuanian diaspora, who dedicated his life to strengthening Lithuanian communities abroad, and retaining strong connections to his home country.

Račkus belonged to various cultural organisations, doing his part as an editor and publisher for the Lithuanian press.

Alexander M. Rackus‘s Chicago Coin Club membership, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

Already by 1917, he founded the Lithuanian Museum of Numismatics and History in Chicago. The main goals of this association were to gather Lithuanian antiquities and documents important to the country’s history.

In 1935, the First World Congress of Lithuanians took place in Kaunas. On this occasion Račkus organised an exhibition with his own collection, which featured old Lithuanian publications, flags of Lithuanian organisations, badges, uniforms, photographs attesting to cultural life of Lithuanian-Americans, archaeological finds and more.

An exposition of the American Lithuanian Roman Catholic Women’s Alliance at Dr. A.M. Rackus Museum. A photo by A. Giedraitis photo studio, Kaunas, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

He eventually sold his collection (about 81,000 items) for a symbolic fee to the Ministry of Education of Lithuania and founded the Vytautas Magnus Museum of Culture.

An exposition of American Lithuanian athletes at Dr. A.M. Rackus Museum. A photo by A. Giedraitis photo studio. Kaunas, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

Račkus returned to live in Lithuania from 1936 to 1940. He opened a private medical practice and worked at the museum. In 1940 he returned to Chicago, where he founded the Museum of Lithuanian Studies, wrote on Lithuanian topics, and actively engaged in numismatics.

An exposition of currency of prisoners of war in German camps at Dr. A.M. Rackus Museum. A photo by A. Giedraitis photo studio, Kaunas, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

Next to being a numismatic enthusiast with a heart for Lithuanian culture, Račkus was also somewhat of an artist himself. He is known to have created a set of colorful Christmas greeting cards, in keeping with the patriotic, religious and numismatic themes that fascinated him so much. Again, these depictions of Lithuanian symbols or coins were intended as a way to raise awareness of his native country. Račkus was gifted as a political cartoonist as well. His anti-Soviet cartoons were well known in Lithuanian communities around the world.

Lithuania in photographs shot by C.G. Lukšis in 1928 : an announcement, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

Račkus died in 1965 in Chicago. Today, his collection is regarded as instrumental for the study and reconstruction of Lithuanian cultural life in emigration at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

By Sofie Taes, KU Leuven

Featured image: Dr. A.M. Račkus with an unidentified person next to the exposition at A.M. Rackus Museum, Kaunas, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

The human crisis and the three Es: Environment, Equality and Endangered

Wed, 05/06/2019 - 08:01

In 2019, global awareness of the human impact on the environment is at an all-time high. No matter where you turn, you cannot escape it, whether it’s on social media, TV, or actually, right in front of you – we’ve all seen the schoolchildren striking and demanding governments to listen to the extreme temperatures and weather shifts we all face around the world.

We push harder than ever for equal human rights regardless of sexual orientation, gender or skin colour. We fight to prevent the extinction of diverse species as well as the basic rights of the ones we consume and exploit for labour, for science, for clothes and cosmetics. In all these fights, we face a crisis. What we are doing is impacting the very earth we call home and the animals and plants sharing it with us.

Environment Agriculture: schoolboys variously employed ploughing, digging, and raking earth. Engraving.
Wellcome Collection, CC BY

Throughout human existence we’ve been shaping our environment to suit our specific needs whether for shelter, food, or to travel. We’ve modified the world to suit ourselves. It’s only quite recently that we have started to question how that affects the environment around us. It’s become apparent that when people travel, they introduce different species to different environments, sometimes wiping out the native fauna and flora.

With feeding the world’s huge population, comes animal-rearing and massive lands transformed from wild forests to plains upon plains used for crops and cattle. 18 million acres of forest are lost each year. Man-made deforestation and agriculture being the leading cause.

We’ve taken over the world and keep growing in numbers, meaning we need more and more land to build on, leaving less and less natural land available for our compatriots who constantly need to adapt themselves to us in order to survive.

Equality Button. Women against apartheid,
Atria, Institute on Gender Equality and Women’s History, CC0

Human equality, the same rights for everyone, we’ve been chanting this, but are we are not yet all equal. In numerous countries, wages for women are still not the same as men, with only six countries giving equal working rights to both men and women. People of colour with the same qualifications as their white counterparts still struggle to get hired. If you are disabled, even less likely. If you are part of the LGBTQ community, you can fear for your life in most countries around the world to this day, and forget about same-sex marriage, in 73 countries it is still illegal.

Endangered Yellow-bellied toad from Nușfalău, Szabó Csilla,
Federaţia Universitară Maghiară din Cluj-Napoca, public domain

Let’s face it. We are Earth’s worst nightmare. We have caused so many species to go extinct and to be critically threatened, this year around 16,306 animals and plants are endangered, 99% of them because of human activities. We can no longer ignore that the Earth is suffering, we are suffering. The people are calling ever louder to be heard and for urgent actions this time around because it’s on us.

But people have incredible powers to make change, individual and en masse. Look out for my next blog about historical figures around the world who have made a great difference to their environment.

By Marijke Everts


Featured image at the top: Meteorology: a view of the Earth and the sun during summer [in the Northern hemisphere], Wellcome Collection, CC-BY

A home for all: Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, New York

Fri, 24/05/2019 - 07:47

For thousands of migrants looking for a job or a new start in life, New York City has always been (and still is) a favoured destination. Many live together in specific neighbourhoods, aiding them in finding work, engaging in social activities and preserving their cultural identity.

The history and culture of New York is entwined with migration, encapsulated in buildings like the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

View of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain

Saint Patrick’s Cathdral is a symbol of Catholic faith in the USA, and reflects the migrant heritage and communities that made up New York.

Since the mid-1800s Mulberry Street has been a centre of the Italian community in New York, the majority of this community are Catholic. An existing church – the Old Saint Patrick Church – became too small to house the growing number of worshippers, so a new gathering place was built.

Italian Immigrant, Lewis Hine, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain

James Renwick, who already had designed New York’s Grace Church (1843–46), was the architect of the new Neo-Gothic, two-tower structure for which construction began in 1858.

For his cathedral, Renwick devised an eclectic, monumental building style mixing French, German and English Gothic influences. Named after the patron saint of Ireland, the building was completed in 1878 and became the seat of the Archdiocese.

Grace Church, New York, Soprintendenza alla Galleria nazionale d’arte moderna e contemporanea, CC0

Since its construction, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral has become a meeting place for immigrants and has become one of the best known and most visited churches of the United States.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 1985 Puerto Rican Day Parade, Joe Conzo Jr, © Cornell University Library and Joe Conzo, available for non-profit, educational purposes.

The cathedral – which takes up an entire block – is built of brick covered with marble, sourced in Massachusetts and New York. Its lavish decorations reflect the migration history of local communities. The doors, for instance, are adorned with sculptures of saints and religious figures connected to the history of migration.

Among them: St. Isaac Jogues was New York’s first Catholic priest, born in France; St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who supported Italian immigrants in the US; Saint Kateri Tekakwitha or ‘the Lily of the Mohawks’: a missionary in New France of Algonquin–Mohawk birth, and the first Native American woman to be canonized by the Catholic Church; and Mother Elizabeth Seton: descendant from a family that ranked among the earliest European settlers in the New York area, founder of the Sisters of Charity and first native-born U.S. citizen to be canonized.

Martyrdom of Father Isaac Jogues, A. Malaer after A. van Diepenbeck, Wellcome Collection, CC BY Image of St. Kateri Tekakwitha (Kanien’keháka) ca. 1656–1680, Weltmuseum Wien, CC BY-NC-SA

Through the communities that worship there, and the figures it features, St Patrick’s Cathedral is an architectural celebration of New York’s multiculturalism.

By Sofie Taes, KU Leuven

Featured image: In front of St. Pat’s, Easter 1914, Bain News Service, Library of Congress (USA), No known copyright restrictions

Beautiful & useful: Bauhaus and Walter Gropius

Wed, 22/05/2019 - 10:23

2019 celebrates the centenary of the influential Bauhaus art and design school, founded by architect Walter Gropius in Weimar Germany on April 12th in 1919.

The Bauhaus made a huge impact on the art and architecture of the twentieth century, in spite of its short 14-year existence. This was largely due to the network of teachers and students of the school, who continued to put their ideas into practice for decades after the institute closed in 1933.

Pressestimmen (Auszüge) für das Staatliche Bauhaus Weimar: [1920 – 1924], Universitätsbibliothek, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Public Domain

‘A world has been destroyed; we must seek a radical solution,’ said the young architect Walter Gropius upon his return from World War One in late 1918.

In 1919, Gropius founded the Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar, with ambitious plans in mind. He wanted to bring diverse disciplines such as art, architecture and crafts together under one roof. In this way, Gropius hoped to bridge the gap between artists and artisans.

Walter Gropius, Louis Held, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, CC0

The idea behind this was to combine the beautiful with the useful. In Gropius’ vision, the Bauhaus school would produce a new generation of architects and designers, producing both functional and elegant homes and utensils. These creations would become available to everyone. In this way, art would also come within reach of the ‘common man’.

Spinning top (Kreisel), Spielzeugmuseum der Stadt Nürnberg (Museum Lydia Bayer), CC BY-NC-SA

Fine art became a major offering at the school with free painting classes offered by artists like Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. Instruction focused less on function (like so many Bauhaus offerings) and more on abstraction. Modernist movements in the arts like Expressionism and Futurism would have a noticeable influence on the art produced in the school alongside its specific style of geometric design.

Paul Klee, Haus der Firma Z, Statens Museum for Kunst, CC0

From Expressionism to Functionalism

Under the leadership of Gropius, the Bauhaus movement made no special distinction between the applied and fine arts. Painting, typography, architecture, textile design, furniture-making, theatre design, stained glass, woodworking, metalworking—these all found a place there.

Letter from the Freunde des Bauhauses (Dessau) to Gerhart Hauptmann, Kalliope, CC BY-NC

The philosophy of the school changed dramatically during these years. It started out with a very expressionist philosophy, meaning subjective and personal, combined with an artisanal outlook. Later, this was supplemented considerably with opposing ideas about ‘functionalist’ design and a more positive view on industrialised manufacturing by ‘radicals’ like Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg (De Stijl) and Hungarian László Moholy-Nagy.

‘Colour solution’; Theo van Doesburg, c. 1920 – c. 1929, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain


Starting in 1925, Gropius oversaw the school’s move to Dessau, creating an opportunity to put the principles of Bauhaus functionalism into practice, and to be part of the school’s physical space. He designed the Bauhaus Building and several other buildings for the new campus in concrete, steel and glass.

Walter Gropius, Building Bauhaus-Dessau, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

End of Bauhaus?

In 1928, Gropius stepped down as head of the Bauhaus in favour of Hannes Meyer, who in turn was succeeded in 1930 by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. In the meantime the political situation in Germany deteriorated. The Nazi party, rising to power through the 1930s, opposed the Bauhaus and marked it as a promoter of ‘Entartete Kunst’ (degenerated art).

In 1932, the Nazi party cancelled the Bauhaus’ funding preventing further teaching. Hoping to continue, Mies van der Rohe moved the school to an empty telephone factory in Berlin and designated it a private institution. The faculty flatly refused to work with the Nazis, and rather than cooperate with them, the faculty voted to close the school in 1933.

In the following months, a large part of the Bauhaus members fled the repressive climate in Germany. Some emigrated to the United States, including Gropius, Moholy-Nagy and Mies van der Rohe. Here they again focused on both architecture and education, where they integrated Bauhaus methods into the curriculum of architecture schools.

B&O Hyperbo 5 RG Staal Radiogrammofon, Kulturarvsstyrelsen, CC BY

Partly because of this exodus, the ideas of the Bauhaus continue to live on, and its influence on architecture, product design and more is still visible today.

Featured image: Flóris Confectionary, Hungarian Museum of Trade and Catering – Budapest, CC BY-NC-ND

Prelude in Gothenburg, finale in Prague: the Swedish adventure of Bedřich Smetana

Sun, 12/05/2019 - 08:04

While Antonín Dvorák is sometime considered as the greatest composer ever to have lived in the Czech Republic, in the eyes of the Czechs only one man deserves that epithet: Bedřich Smetana.

Smetana was born in 1824 into a fairly prosperous family as the son of a brewer. From a young age, Smetana excelled in music and he was sent away to study in Prague, where he indulged in the capital’s rich cultural life.

By the time that Smetana travelled to Pilsen in 1840, he had already composed for string quartet but he began to focus more on the piano. He considered his 3 Impromptus (1841) to be the real start of his career.

Letter to Bedřich Smetana Kateřina Kolářová Plzeň, Prague – Mladá Boleslav, 6.-8.8.1843.
Národní muzeum, eSbírky. CC BY

In 1844, Smetana began studying in Prague. He tried to earn a living as a piano teacher but hardly managed to make ends meet. However, Franz Liszt’s acceptance of the dedication of his Opus 1 (1848) was encouraging. Smetana opened a music institute, which allowed him to continue teaching and save enough to start a family with Kateřina Kolářová.

The following years were marked by economic difficulties and a personal tragedy: the death of three of the couple’s daughters.

Miniature of Bedřich Smetana, 1880. Unknown
Národní muzeum, eSbírky. CC BY

Despite these misfortunes, Smetana dedicated himself to supporting a Czech national revival after the uprising in Prague. But when reforms failed to arrive, he moved with his family to Sweden, where he was offered a job in Gothenburg – the nation’s second-largest city.

The favourable impression of his early months in Sweden prompted Smetana to consider settling there for good. His wife’s poor health and his feelings of artistic isolation, however, made him decide to return to Prague in the spring of 1859. The journey ended in tragedy when his wife passed away during the trip.

Poster announcing a performance of the opera ‘Dalibor’, 1895, Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts. Public Domain Mark

Smetana married again and brought his second wife, Bettina Ferdinandová, to Sweden. His compositions from this time – such as the symphonic poems Richard III (1858), Wallenstein’s Camp (1859) and Hakon Jarl (1861) – garnered much criticism. But Smetana remained focused on his masterplan: to make a big comeback in Prague.

When the Provisional Theatre announced a contest for playwrights and composers, Smetana knew his moment of glory was near. He submitted the opera Brandenburgers in Bohemia (Braniboři v Čechách, 1866) and won the competition, instantly becoming a celebrity. At 42, his career had finally taken off. He became the Director of the Provisional Theatre, where he furthered the establishment of a ‘Czech national school’ while expanding the international repertoire as well. He himself continued writing opera’s such as Dalibor (1868) and Dvě vdovy (The Two Widows, 1874).

Imaginary depiction of Bedřich Smetana in the circle of friends in 1865. Colour print after the 1923 oil painting by František Dvořák. Národní muzeum, eSbírky. CC BY

All in all, Smetana’s time as a theatre director was disputed but fruitful, resulting among others in the first plans for his magnum opus Má vlast (My Country, c.1872-9). This orchestral cycle, consisting of six symphonic poems, unfolds a narrative about the history, mythology and landscape of Bohemia. Navigating along mythical rock masses (Vyšehrad), Bohemian fields and forests (Z českých luhů a hájů) and the magical mountain Blaník, this was Smetana’s ‘multidimensional’ portrait of his homeland.

The second movement Moldau (Vltava) in particular has entered the classical canon as one of the strongest exponents of Czech national style and a brilliant example of ‘topographical music’. Má vlast launched Smetana to stardom and became a national hymn: a remarkable conclusion to a story of which the Swedish chapter is often forgotten.

Feature image: Bedřich Smetana, Josef Matthauser, Národní muzeum – České, CC BY

By Sofie Taes, KU Leuven

From earth goddess festival to family feast: the roots and guises of ‘Mother’s Day’

Sat, 11/05/2019 - 07:43

Throughout the world, the love, patience, dedication and commitment of mothers are honoured yearly on ‘Mother’s Day’. Many countries and cultures celebrate their mothers in the month of May, and treat the ‘leading lady’ of the family to a day of pampering, presents, festive food and extra doses of hugs. But did you know that ‘Mother’s Day’ as we know it, is rooted in traditions going back as far as ancient times?

Rhea, Greek mother-goddess, 16th century engraving after Leonardo da Vinci
Marcantonio Raimondi,
Rijksmuseum, public domain

In Ancient Greece, a mother cult encompassing specific rituals and ceremonies was dedicated to Rhea – the Mother of the Gods. Phrygians, too, held a festival for their earth-mother equivalent, Cybele, while the Ancient-Indian Hindus revered the goddess Durga as the motherly power at the source of life and all creation with the Durga-puja festival.

The ten-armed goddess Durga, s.d. Museon, CC BY

In the Christian faith, Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, has been at the centre of worship practices for many centuries. In 1330 Spain started to worship the Immaculate Virgin and in 1854 Pope Pious IX declared the Immaculate Conception to be doctrine. In many countries still, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated yearly on December 8.

Another precursor to Mother’s Day is so-called ‘Laetare’, ‘Refreshment Sunday’ or ‘Mothering Sunday’: a Christian holiday celebrated in the UK halfway Lent. From the Middle Ages onward, it became customary to visit one’s ‘mother church’ and one’s parents on this very day.

Julia Ward Howe. Soprintendenza alla Galleria nazionale d’arte moderna e contemporanea, CC0

The modern, secular concept of a ‘Mother’s Day’ emerged in the United States in the late 19th century. In 1870, Philadelphia judge Julia Ward Howe issued a “Mother’s Day Proclamation” asking mothers to unite in promoting world peace. Three years later, she campaigned for a “Mother’s Peace Day” to become an annual event.

A more widespread usage came into place after 1907, when West-Virginian activist Anna Marie Jarvis began promoting Mother’s Day as an occasion to show appreciation for the role and work of mothers. In the years before the Civil War, Jarvis’ own mother had worked in so-called “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs”: groups offering support and education to local women, that would become a unifying force in a region divided over the War. In 1868 she even organized a “Mothers’ Friendship Day”: an event aiming at the reconciliation of former Union and Confederate soldiers. Establishing a formal Mother’s Day was Anna Marie Jarvis’ way of honoring her mother’s accomplishments. At the same time, she wanted to raise awareness of the sacrifices made by mothers, and to counter-balance the many existing holidays inspired by male achievements. Carnations soon became the symbol of the celebration, as a representation of the purity of a mother’s love. To this day, many cultures (such as the Japanese) offer carnations as a Mother’s Day present.

Presenting a bouquet at a Mother Day’s event, 1982
Balatoni Múzeum – Keszthely. CC BY-NC-ND

Owing to Jarvis’ commitment to the cause, Mother’s Day became a widespread phenomenon. It turned into a nation-wide celebration in 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson allocated an annual, national holiday honoring mothers to every second Sunday of May. In a short time span, Mother’s Day evolved from a day of honor to a highly commercialized day centered around gifts and cards. This would become a source of frustration to Anna Marie Jarvis, who would end up trying relentlessly to have the holiday scrapped – to no avail.

Because in the meantime, the whole world had adopted the Mother’s Day tradition, sometimes adhering to the second Sunday of May, in other cases developing separate practices. Many countries – among which Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Armenia – celebrate their mothers on the 8th of March, thereby merging the holiday with International Women’s Day. In France, celebrations are held on the last Sunday of May or the first of June, while Spain and Portugal honor mothers on the very first Sunday of May. In Norway, Mother’s Day is always celebrated on the second Sunday of February, while in Serbia it takes place in December during a series of holidays including Children’s Day and Father’s Day.

Group portrait of (grand)mothers and children, c. 1890-1910
M. Kriegsmann, Antwerp
Rijksmuseum, public domain

A peculiar tradition is that of Antwerp, Belgium – a city that is considered to be somewhat of a maverick by the rest of the country. Since 1913, Mother’s Day is celebrated here on August 15, coinciding with the feast of Mary’s Ascension. Mary is the patroness of Antwerp and was annually celebrated with a procession on this day. Frans Van Kuyck, Alderman of Fine Arts on the City Council of turn-of-the-century Antwerp, saw in Mary the symbol of strong family values: a notion that he hold very dear, as he considered modern society with its growing industrialization and individualism to be in danger of losing its backbone. By stressing the importance of the role of the mother, Van Kuyck hoped to strengthen ethics and preserve valuable traditions. To this end, he installed a propaganda team to deploy an impressive publicity campaign, and scripted the celebrations up to the finest detail, including instructions on which jewels to buy, which decorations to apply, breads to bake and poetry to write…  To this day, citizens of Antwerp remain the only Belgians who don’t join in for the nation-wide Mother’s Day celebration on the second Sunday of May.

Portrait of a baby supported by its mother, c. 1890-1910
Rijksmuseum, public domain

Whatever one might think of the concept of celebrating mothers once a year (instead of every single day) or of the feast of commerce that the holiday has turned into, there’s much to be said for mothers deserving their very own, very special day. Because occasions like these create focus and time for reflection. They allow us to acknowledge and strengthen family ties. And most importantly: they are the ultimate stimulus for giving credit to those, who often fade into the background, always putting their loved ones first.

By Sofie Taes, KU Leuven

Liberation skirts: how post-war upcycling became a symbol of female solidarity

Fri, 03/05/2019 - 08:00

‘Weave the pattern of your life’

In the aftermath of World War 2, after the liberation of The Netherlands from German occupation in May 1945 and the festivities that followed, many Dutch women made special commemorative skirts, called ‘nationale feestrok’ or ‘bevrijdingsrok’ in Dutch – the latter translates as liberation skirts in English. The idea behind this festive garment came from Mies Boissevain-Van Lennep.

During the war, for her resistance activities during the occupation, Mies had been imprisoned and sent to a concentration camp. Shortly after her arrest in 1943, she was sent a scarf made of textile patches from garments of relatives and friends, which brought back special memories.

After the war, Mies was a member of a women’s group that decided to create a garment to celebrate the rebuilding of the Netherlands after the war. For this, the liberation skirt had great symbolic value.

Nationale feestrok, Amsterdam Museum, CCO

The commemorative skirt had to meet certain conditions – the old but colourful patches had to be sewn on to an older skirt so that the original background disappeared and a new colourful piece of clothing was created. Today, we would call it upcycling.

The hem had to consist of equal triangles with the date ’5 May 1945’ and the dates of national holidays on which the skirt was worn sewn into it. The wearer could also wear the skirt on other important events or celebrations and commemorate those events on their skirts.

Those creating a skirt were to ‘weave the pattern of your life into your skirt,’ as a song composed in honour of the idea put it.

Liberation skirt of Anneke Kusters, Arnhem, 1945, Netherlands Open Air Museum, CC BY

Processing the war experience with solidarity

The philosophy behind the patchwork skirts was, on the one hand, that the use of the fabric remnants represented the reconstruction and renewal of the Netherlands, while on the other hand, that women could process their own war experiences during the crafts.

Wearing the skirts together would reinforce the feeling of solidarity among women. The skirts looked alike, but each was different. The idea was that you should not be able to see differences in the social position of the wearers.

Liberation skirt 1945-1949, Netherlands Open Air Museum, CC BY

A liberation skirt only became a ‘National commemorative skirt’ if it was officially registered. In the end, around 4,000 skirts were registered. The highlight of the phenomenon was in September 1948, in celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the reign of Queen Wilhelmina when hundreds of women wore their commemorative skirts for a parade in Amsterdam and across the parliament courtyard in The Hague.

An international initiative

Because of the success of her initiative, Mies travelled through the United States in 1949 at the request of The Netherlands Information Bureau (NIB) for a propaganda trip about ‘Woman’s life in the Netherlands of Today’.

She visited 27 states and spoke at many occasions always putting the commemorative skirt and its philosophy at the centre of her talks. She sincerely hoped that the ‘Magic Skirts of Reconstruction’ (as they were called on one occasion) would become an international symbol for female values around the world. The American media at the time, however, described her work solely as a peace initiative and neglected the aspect of female solidarity she promoted.

Although the skirts did not become a worldwide phenomenon as Mies hoped, and the interest in The Netherlands waned after a while, this does not mean that the commemorative skirt disappeared completely.

Women dressed in Nationale feestrok for exhibition ‘Oud Ede’ 1980-1981, Historical Museum Ede, CC BY

Skirts were known to be worn on Liberation Day up to the 1980s and in 1981 a provincial museum in Ede organised the first exhibition around the ‘Nationale Feestrok’. During the following decades, the commemorative skirt found a place in the collective memory of Dutch society through the work of memory institutions and researchers.

Liberation skirt made by students from the Princess Marijkeschool in Ede, D Search, Historical Museum Ede, CC BY

Feature image: Liberation skirt, Flipje and Streekmuseum Tiel, CC BY

From the New World: American music from a Czech maestro

Wed, 01/05/2019 - 08:00

Czech composer Antonín Dvořák brought his sensibility and musical genius from his homeland to the United States.

In his career, 19th century Czech composer Bedrich Smetana, the founding father of the great Czech symphonic tradition, wanted to establish a strong, ambitious and idiosyncratic national repertoire. Instead of an international career, he dedicated his life to the recognition and development of the Czech arts.

Antonín Dvořák appeared on the scene, almost 20 years after Smetana, when this effort had largely been achieved. While Dvořák was a patriot – highly valuing the Czech identity of his art – at the same time, he was eager to share his creations with the whole world.

So it was no coincidence that the aptly named Slavonic dances earned Dvořák international fame.

Contrary to what the title might suggest, the dances are not so much inspired by Slavic folk music generally, but specifically by styles and forms from Bohemia.

In these pieces, Dvořák never actually quotes folk melodies, but evokes their style and spirit by using traditional rhythmic patterns and structures in keeping with traditional folk dances. The result is music that breathes the atmosphere of his native country. In 1886, Dvořák published a second set of Slavonic dances, which again were a roaring success.

Dvořák ’s growing fame landed him a unique new assignment.

In 1891, Jeannette Thurber, Director of the National Conservatory of Music in America (the forerunner of the Juilliard School) asked him to become the artistic director and professor of composition.

Letter by Antonín Dvořák mentioning the invitation to America, 20 June 1891, Národní muzeum, eSbírky, CC BY

Dvořák was chosen because he had contributed to the crystallization of Czech identity through his music. Thurber dreamed of an American classical music repertoire that would have a similarly strong identity.

Dvořák accepted the assignment and left for New York with his wife and children in September 1892.

In the next period, Dvořák devoted himself to his task: he collected and studied a wide range of American musical traditions and idiosyncrasies. He asked an Afro-American student to come and sing spirituals, and enrolled a critic who provided transcriptions of Indian-American melodies, all contributing to the codification of the DNA of American music.

What Dvořák ended up with was, in fact, an alphabet reflecting the essential elements of a much broader repertoire of folk music, spanning multiple cultures and continents. The composer would go on to draw from this alphabet to create new music that was unconventional and consciously different.

Antonín Dvořák conducts a cartoon on August 8, 1893 at the Czech Day in Chicago, Národní muzeum, eSbírky. CC BY

Dvořák’s compositions from this period include the string quartets B179 and B180, the piano suite in A B184 and his 9th and final symphony, titled ‘From the New World’ (1893). This celebrated symphony was actually Dvořák ‘s first work responding to the high expectations of Mrs. Thurber, and it was no coincidence that he chose the symphony as the genre for this work.

By using the form in which legendary masters such as Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert had established themselves, Dvořák wanted to offer leverage to American musical heritage and help lift it into the great romantic orchestral tradition.

In this symphony, the Dvořákian ‘impression’ of American music is blended with Slavic elements to create a colourful and unique artistic statement that can be enjoyed on many different levels. One of its most notable features is the slow movement, the Largo, boasting one of the most famous themes in music history.

Even if you’ve never intently listened to this Largo, you are likely to recognise its melody. It was used on the soundtrack of the film Crimes of Passion and it’s so popular in Japan that’s it’s considered part of its national musical heritage. In the U.K. many people will associate the melody with an advertisement for Hovis bread.

The symphony was a runaway success which landed Dvořák a two-year contract extension at the Conservatory.

Unfortunately, the bankruptcy of the Thurbers shattered those dreams. When Dvořák returned to America after a short holiday in Bohemia, everything seemed to have changed: he was homesick, struggled with his creativity, and lacked the peace and happiness he had felt in his homeland.

The following year he returned to the Czech Republic for good. A letter in which he waived his final salary from the Conservatory concluded his extraordinary adventure on American soil.

Grynoriai: Lithuanian-American life in the early 20th century

Tue, 16/04/2019 - 08:00

Lithuania has long been a nation of immigrants, with the majority of the Lithuanian diaspora living in the United States. In this blog, Giedrė Milerytė-Japertienė of the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania describes Lithuanian-American life through digitised photographs and ephemera from the library’s collections.

At the end of the 19th century, Lithuanian immigrants constituted the biggest group among the Eastern European nations living abroad. Although the geopolitical situation prevented Lithuania from establishing its own state until 1918, Lithuanians maintained their cultural and linguistic identity both in and outside Lithuania.

Welcoming American-Lithuanians in the Port of Klaipėda, 1931, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

One of the first known Lithuanians to migrate to America was Karolis Aleksandras Kuršius (Alexander Carolus Curtius) in 1659, a headmaster of the first Latin school in New Amsterdam (today New York).

Those who emigrated in the 19th century were mostly driven to leave for economic reasons. But there were also other reasons, such as political persecution, Russification, and long military service in the Tsarist army.

Lithuanians migrated far and wide – many moved to the United States, about 4,000 Lithuanians emigrated to England and Canada, and 8,000 to Scotland as well as people moving to South Africa and Brazil.

American-Lithuanians, W.J. Stankunas Studio, Chicago, 1916-1917, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

In the 19th century, the generation of grynoriai established themselves in the US. The name grynoriai originated from the English term “greenhorn,” defining a person who is new to or inexperienced in unfamiliar situations, in this case, a foreign country.

Lithuanian diaspora researchers claim that the number of Lithuanians who arrived in the US from 1880 to 1914 could have been from 300,000 to 600,000. Since Lithuania as a country did not exist at the time, those arriving were recorded as either Polish or Russian.

They were mostly penniless, poorly-educated rural people who had very low cultural needs and expectations. In the United States, they first settled near the coal mines in the state of Pennsylvania and worked in sewing factories in New England (Baltimore and Boston) or Chicago stockyards.

Matas Šalčius (second from the right) standing in front of the American-Lithuanian weekly “The Future”, 1916-1917, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

Working hard, Lithuanians saved money, built churches, organized societies, clubs, political, social, religious, and sports organizations. The first Lithuanian newspaper, Gazieta lietuviška (1879) was published in the United States. The first Lithuanian play, a comedy “Be sumnenės” (Empty-headed) by A. Turskis was performed in Plymouth, MA (1889), and the first wind orchestra was founded (1887) in Shenandoah, PA.

Big news! Famous Dulkės’ choir is coming to Central Brooklyn: an invitation, 1929, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

Lithuanian emigration showed great interest in science, progress, and culture. They actively participated in ethnic culture, economic and political life. Well-to-do Lithuanians started to run their own businesses, publish newspapers and books.

Radio theatre artists’ Spring Festival, April 23, 1933 Lithuanian Auditorium, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

In the long run, Lithuanian emigrants established themselves abroad, gained great cultural and economic power and had a significant cultural, moral and economic influence on the life of Lithuania. This influence was expressed not only through personal contacts but also economic and cultural relations with the homeland.

Rally against immigration restrictions, Chicago Lithuanian Immigration Committee, 1926, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

After Lithuania regained its independence, Lithuanian-Americans supported Lithuania politically, diplomatically and economically. They invested a lot of their capital in Lithuania, maintained close relations with the country, and continued to foster Lithuanian culture in their new countries by organizing public lectures, discussions, political and entertainment events.

Explore more photographs and documents relating to Lithuanian diaspora life from Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania.

Featured image: The American Lithuanian Roman Catholic Women’s Alliance Chapter No. 7, West Pullman, IL, 1935, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

Legends of La Liga: Ferenc ‘Pancho’ Puskás and Hungarian footballers in El Clásico

Tue, 02/04/2019 - 08:00

Hungary reached the football World Cup final in 1954 and, although they didn’t win, its Hungarian national team of the 1950s became legendary. This is the story of Ferenc ‘Pancho’ Puskás and the ‘Golden Team’ generation which made its mark on Spanish football.

In the post-war era, Hungary’s national football team was supported and promoted by the Communist Hungarian People’s Republic. In the wake of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, however, the eleven players of its national team were scattered throughout the world.

From victory to victory. Football World Cup 1954 program booklet, Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig, CC BY-NC-SA

The majority of the team played for the club side Budapest Honvéd, who played Athletic Bilbao in the 1956–57 European Cup. Honvéd lost the away leg 3–2 but, before the home leg could be played, the Hungarian Revolution erupted in Budapest.

The players decided against going back to Hungary, so the return leg was relocated to the Heysel Stadium in Brussels. When Honvéd were eliminated 6–5 on aggregate, the Hungarian players were left in limbo. They summoned their families from Budapest and organised a fundraising tour of Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Brazil. After returning to Europe, the Hungarian players parted ways and several of them began club careers in Spain.

Ferenc Puskás, the outstanding player of the Golden Team, did not return home to Hungary. From 1958 to 1966 he played for Real Madrid in Spain. In his first two years there, Puskás was banned by FIFA (under political pressure) from playing football. Struggling with excess weight and at 30, already an ageing footballer, Puskás nonetheless strived to rebuild his career and his fitness.

Puskás in the kitchen of a Hungarian restaurant, Madrid 1960, Hungarian Museum of Trade and Catering – Budapest, CC BY-NC-ND

After his defection, the Communist regime’s beloved star Puskás became its enemy. Hungarian state security launched treason proceedings against Puskás and opened a file on him called “Wanderer” (this file was opened on 20 May 1958 and closed on 26 June 1972).

Despite the odds being stacked against him, Puskás played for Real Madrid throughout his thirties. His training and hard work bore fruit. In this second phase of his career, he scored many goals and dazzled the world with his skills.

El cañón Puskas, Gredos, Documentary Repository of the University of Salamanca, CC BY-NC-ND

Puskás was not the only Hungarian footballer to find success in Spain. The FC Barcelona players László Kubala (), Zoltán Czibor and Sándor Kocsis were also revered. Like Puskás, they had arrived in Spain after the 1956 Revolution, and restarted their careers there.

These Hungarian players became legends of the El Clásico derby matches between club rivals Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Kubala scored twice in thirteen matches against Real Madrid, and Kocsis scored twice in three. Madrid’s beloved ‘Pancho’ (his Spanish nickname) Puskás celebrated eight victories in ten matches, and nine goals in total against Barcelona in the championship. His shots on goal were likened to cannon fire in Catalonia.

Ha la stoffa dei campioni, LUCE, In Copyright

Back in Hungary, however, news of Puskás’s success was suppressed by the Communist system for years. In spite of this, the glory of the Golden Team and the cult of Puskás grew stronger over time. The captain of the Golden Team returned home for the first time in 1981 when he played a gala match against England. Puskás later worked as a coach in North and South America, Spain, Greece, and Egypt.

Aankomst van Ferenc Puskás, trainer van de Griekse voetbalclub, 1971, Nationaal Archief / Fotocollectie Anefo, CC0

Puskás returned to Hungary in 1991 and lived the rest of his life there until his death in 2006. After the fall of Communism, Puskás became widely remembered as one of the greatest footballers of all time. In 2002 Budapest’s People’s Stadium was renamed the Ferenc Puskás Stadium, and in 2020, on the same site, European Championship matches will be played in a new arena – the Puskás Arena.

Watch a Hungarian TV interview with Ferenc Puskás from 1985 here.

Featured image: El cañón Puskas, Gredos, Documentary Repository of the University of Salamanca, CC BY-NC-ND

By György Majtényi, Hungarian National Archives

From Russia with love: Misia Sert, queen of Paris

Sat, 30/03/2019 - 08:00

Misia Sert was one of the most intriguing and influential women in Belle Époque Paris, a muse and confidant to many of the iconic artists and composers of the time.

Marie Sophie Olga Zénaïde Godebska (known by the Polish diminutive Misia) was born in 1872, in an estate just outside of Saint Petersburg. Her parents were the Polish sculptor Cyprien Godebski and the Russian-Belgian cellist Sophie Servais, whose father was legendary Stradivarius-playing cellist Adrien-François Servais.

Memorial for de cellist Adriaan Servais (Misia’s grandfather), cyprian Godebski, KIK-IRPA, Brussels, CC BY-NC-SA

After her mother had passed away in childbirth, Misia was sent to live with family in Brussels. There she became acquainted with piano music from family friend Franz Liszt; she later took piano lessons with Gabriel Fauré in Paris.

Misia moved to Paris with her first husband, Tadeusz Natanson, founder of the literary and art magazine La Revue Blanche. There, Misia became the muse and the pivot of the artistic group associated with the magazine, including major authors like Proust and Mallarmé, and iconic artists such as Monet and Renoir.

La Revue Blanche bi-mensuelle, Charpentier et Fasquelle, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Bibliothèque nationale de France, No Copyright – Other Known Legal Restrictions.

Seeking funding for La Revue Blanche, Natanson approached newspaper magnate Alfred Edwards, whom she was having an affair with. Edwards agreed to fund La Revue Blanche on the condition that he and Misia got married. Thus, Edwards became Misia’s second husband but this marriage – like her third to Catalan painter José Maria Sert – ended in infidelity and divorce.

Misia Godebska and Thadée Natanson, Pierre Bonnard, KIK-IRPA, Brussels, CC BY-NC-SA

Misia was an influential member of a vibrant Parisian milieu involving artists, musicians, composers, designers and writers. Her lifelong confidant Maurice Ravel dedicated several compositions to her. Misia was the business partner, artistic touchstone and best friend of Serge de Diaghilev – founder and impresario of the Ballets Russes.

Portrait of Misia Sert (Jeune femme au griffon), Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1907, The Barnes Foundation, Public Domain

Contemporary artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Vuillard and Valloton all portrayed Misia. Proust called her “a monument of history” and transfigured her complex personality into two female protagonists in A la recherche du temps perdu: the manipulative Madame Verdurin and her inseparable friend, Princesse Yourbeletieff.

Jean Cocteau devoted his Thomas l’lmposteur and Les Monstres sacrés to Misia, and she was good friends with Coco Chanel, bonding through the tragedies in their lives. Chanel and Misia travelled to the United States together, exploring the art scene and the nightlife. Amidst this extraordinary company, Misia carried herself with style, charm and wit.  

Misia passed away in Paris in 1950. After a ceremony at the Polish church in Paris, where Coco Chanel paid her respects by lovingly preparing Misia’s body for the funeral, she was buried in the Cimetiere de Samoreau.

Featured image: Madame Thadée Natanson at the Theater, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1895, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain

By Sofie Taes, KU Leuven

Josephine Baker – dancer, spy and freedom fighter 

Thu, 28/03/2019 - 08:14

Born into poverty, Josephine Baker reached heights beyond what could have been possible for an African-American woman between the 20s and 60s. She was a polarising force throughout her life as a performer and activist. Seen as a threat to the United States for speaking out against race discrimination, she was loved in France – a country she performed in and would later call home, and whose people honoured her for her bravery during WWII.  Instilling fear in one nation, she captivated audiences in another.

Josephine Baker (1906-1975) was born Freda Josephine McDonald in St.Louis Missouri. Her mother was adopted by former slaves of Native American and African descent, but she never got to learn the true identity of her father. She and everyone around her suspected he was a white man but her mother took that information to the grave. This theory seems plausible as her mother was admitted to an all-white female hospital for six weeks and gave birth to her there. It is also said that she had worked for a German family right before she got pregnant.

Josephine Baker in the Conservatory, Kulturmagasinet, Helsingborgs museer, public domain

As a child, Baker earned a living for her poverty-stricken family by working as a domestic maid then eventually giving short dance performances on the streets of  St. Louis.

Baker’s teen years were filled with street performances with various groups. As a teen, she went through two marriages, the latter one giving her the name Baker, which she kept as it was associated with her growing success as a dancer.

Josephine Baker in Banana Skirt from the Folies Bergère production ‘Un Vent de Folie’, 1927, photographed by Walery, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

By the age of 19, she went on tour in Paris and became famous for her practically nude performance wearing only a banana skirt. She found her success touring Europe and became a French citizen in 1937.

During the outbreak of WWII, Josephine played an important role collecting information on German troops at parties she attended. Her career as an entertainer allowed her to move around Europe carrying secret information on her music sheets with invisible ink.  After the war, she received the croix de guerre and the rosette de la résistance.

Arrival of Josephine Baker in the Hague, Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Public Domain Mark.

Baker was a supporter of the Civil Rights Movement and would hold speeches about segregation in the US wherever she went on tour. She would tune her words to address the different ethnic groups she was speaking to express how the US was treating their people in America. She also refused to perform in segregated places in the US.

Unless there is a halt to the waves of lynching, electrocutions without proof, collective aggression and other beauties of the “American way of life”, it means that all the blood spilled in the last war has been in vain. The apparent enemies of Hitler see his triumph multiplied in the Southern United States.

Josephine Baker,
1952, Buenos Aires

Her constant criticism of American racism was threatening the international relations of a country trying to project ‘individual rights and liberty in America’ as well as the benefits of democracy over communism. In the 50s, US embassies in various South American countries made it difficult for her to enter and perform in Latin America if she did not stop her political speeches. But because she had French citizenship, they could not seize her passport and stop her from travelling as they did with other African Americans calling out the country for its discrimination.

Josephine Baker photographed by Carl Van Vechten, October 20, 1949, Paris.
Library of Congress, public domain

Josephine Baker had a vision of change she wanted to see in the world and fought to make that change. As well as using her stage as a platform to raise awareness, she also adopted 12 children all from different nationalities to prove that despite physical differences, children of different backgrounds could love each other as siblings.


A portrait drawing of Joséphine Baker by Jo Spier,
Stedelijk Museum Zutphen, CC BY

The Trailblazer: Jelena Dimitrijević, Serbia’s first feminist author

Wed, 27/03/2019 - 09:29

This is a story about a Serbian writer and traveller who chose to lead a very different life to the one expected of a woman born and raised in the patriarchal Serbian society of the 19th and early 20th century. Brave, educated and self-aware, this remarkable woman was a poetess, a novelist, and a writer of travelogues and she has remained an inspiration to this day.

Jelena Dimitrijević (1862-1945) was born in Kruševac, a small town in central Serbia. Born into a wealthy family, Jelena was able to get a good education. However, when she was very young, an eye injury forced her to quit school and the doctors even forbade her from reading or writing. Disregarding the doctors’ advice, Jelena continued her education at home with private tutors. She never stopped educating herself for her entire life.

Photograph of Jelena Dimitrijević, National Library of Serbia, CC BY-NC-SA First books

Jelena and her husband moved to Niš in 1881. Niš had just been liberated from the rule of the Ottoman Empire in 1878 and the town was still filled with Oriental flavours and ways of life. Jelena was fascinated with Niš and its residents, especially with Muslim women. She managed to get a privileged look into the lives of Muslim women, went behind harem walls and discover their well-guarded secrets. In 1897, Jelena published ‘Letters from Niš about Harems’ (‘Pisma iz Niša o haremima’), the very first Serbian prose book written and published by a female author.

While she was still in Niš, Jelena also published her first book of poetry, signing it only with her first name. Immediately, rumours about the identity of the poetess started spreading all over Niš and people claimed she was a runaway Turkish girl.

Wanting to learn more about the life of Muslim women, Jelena later travelled further east and documented her travels and experiences in the travelogue ‘Letters from Thessaloniki’ (‘Pisma iz Soluna’) as well as in the novel ‘The New’ (‘Nove’).

At the beginning of the 20th century, Jelena and her husband moved to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, where she quickly became a prolific writer and a member of the Serbian Writers’ Society.  

Cover page from “Letters from Niš about Harems” (“Pisma iz Niša o haremima”), 1897, National Library of Serbia A unique woman

Jelena Dimitrijević was well educated, talented, self-aware and very bold and, in the 19th century patriarchal Serbian society, this made her quite unique and very different from the majority of women. She was a polyglot and spoke German, French, Greek, Russian, English and, due to her fascination with the Orient, Turkish as well.

Jelena travelled extensively – before the First World War, she visited Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, and from 1919 to 1927, France, Spain, England and America. Her continued fascination with the Orient led her to explore not only Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon but also India, Japan and China. She funded the majority of her many travels herself.

As a feminist, Jelena was proud to have met Mrs Hoda Sha’arawi, the founder of the Egyptian Feminist Union. As a writer, she had an extraordinary opportunity to meet Rabindranath Tagore. Jelena’s travelogues include works such as ‘The Seven Seas and Three Oceans’ (‘Sedam mora i tri okeana’), ‘Letters from India’ (‘Pisma iz Indije’) and ‘Letters from Misir’ (‘Pisma iz Misira’).

Her Excellency Hoda Sharaoui, Cairo, from the book “The Seven Seas and Three Oceans” (“Sedam mora i tri okeana”) by Jelena Dimitrijević, National Library of Serbia, CC BY-NC-SA An inspiration to others

Jelena Dimitrijević had been forgotten in Serbian history and literature for a long time. However, in the 1980s, the interest in her life and writings was revived and she has since been republished, studied and talked about by Serbian students, scholars, feminists and female writers. In the 21st century, the life story of Jelena Dimitrijević still continues to inspire. Readers can find many publications by and about her at the National Library of Serbia.

By Ana Stevanović,
National Library of Serbia

The blog post is a part of the Rise of Literacy project, where we take you on an exploration of literacy in Europe thanks to the digital preservation of precious textual works from collections across the continent.

Featured image:
Photograph of Jelena Dimitrijević, National Library of Serbia, public domain

The world was her stage: the extraordinary life and times of Unė Baye

Sat, 23/03/2019 - 08:00

From Hollywood glamour to the Siberian gulag, the life of Lithuanian actor Unė Baye was as dramatic in life as it was on the stage

Uršulė Babickaitė-Graičiūnienė was born in the Lithuanian village of Laukminiškiai. She began acting and singing whilst in elementary school. In 1913, she moved to Russia, where she studied music, drama and opera at the St. Petersburg Imperial Conservatory.

Unė Baye’s photo, c.1925, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

Dreaming of becoming a film star, Unė travelled to the United States of America in 1919, and there simplified her name to Unė Baye. She made her screen debut in 1922 and appeared in a handful of Paramount films until 1924.

Cover of the journal “La Rampe” featuring Unė Baye, Paris, 1929, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

Unfortunately, because of a visual impairment, Unė Baye abandoned her dream of becoming a Hollywood star. Later, she focuses on theatre, appearing on stage in Chicago, Washington, DC and New York.

Clipping from “The New York Herald” featuring Unė Baye’s photo in Siegfried Geyer’s comedy “By Candle Light”, Paris, 1929, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

In 1924 Unė married her cousin Vytautas Andrew Graičiūnas, and, in 1928, moved back to Europe with him. In London, she established the New Russian Theatre, and later the Anglo-American Company Troupe which performed in Paris theatres.

Poster of play “Jealousy” produced by Komisarjevsky featuring Unė Baye in a leading role, Paris (France), 1931, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

Whilst in Europe, Baye mixed with famous painters, actors, directors, critics and diplomats, such as John Gielgud, Dolores Cassinelli and Jacques Deval to name only a few.

Playbill of a three act play “By Candle Light” at Théatre Femina, c.1929-1931, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

Unė’s career was put on hold when she fell seriously ill in 1931, and the following years were scarred by a string of unpleasant incidents. She was involved in two car accidents and underwent several surgeries. Whilst recuperating in Italy, Baye contemplated life as a Catholic nun. She joined the Third Order of Saint Francis but, despite her devotion, never became a fully-fledged nun.

In 1936, Unė Baye joined her husband in Lithuania. She committed herself to helping her homeland and devoted her energy to elevate Lithuanian theatre. Following her motto “Beauty Is My Alpha and Omega”, she began working at the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union Theatre.

By the end of World War II, Unė and her husband had remained in Lithuania as it fell under three foreign occupations. In 1951, during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, the Graičiūnas’ family was arrested, under the pretext that they were concealing the United States of America flag. The Soviet authorities sentenced Baye and her husband to five and ten years respectively; both were deported to gulags in Siberia.

After almost two years in exile, Unė Baye returned to Lithuania, having received amnesty from Nikita Khrushchev, the new leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Sadly, she returned alone because her husband had died in exile. Unė died in 1961. She is remembered today for her contributions to theatre and stagecraft in Lithuania and beyond.

By Dalia Cidzikaitė, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania

Feature image: Photos from a play “By Candle Light” directed by Unė Baye at Theatre Femina. Photo by Studio G.L. Manuel Frères, Paris (France), 1929, Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, CC BY-SA

Queen of Arts: Christina of Sweden’s Roman reign

Fri, 22/03/2019 - 09:03

Anyone who wanted to see the musical avant-garde at work around 1600 went south of the Alps. With figureheads such as Monteverdi, Peri and Caccini and their work in the new opera genre, Italy pioneered an innovative repertoire and ‘modern’ styles and became the mecca for musicians in the early days of the baroque era.

As the capital and seat of the papal residence, Rome occupied a special place within that vibrant music scene. For while opera dominated in other large cities like Florence, Naples and Venice, in Rome – where the pope had closed the only public theatre after 4 seasons – oratorios, cantatas, chamber music and orchestral genres prevailed.

A consequence of this lack of a public concert circuit was that any musician aiming at establishing a stable career was dependent upon the private music circuit fostered by clergy and nobility. They provided for the income of composers and musicians, by hiring them or by giving assignments. Those sufficiently well-off could enjoy the best performers and the latest music within the walls of his or her own city palace.

Christina of Sweden, Abraham Wuchters, Skoklosters slott. Public Domain

Between 1670 and 1730, one of the most important musical benefactors in Rome was a lady considered one of the most learned women of her time: Christina of Sweden (1626-1689).

The daughter of King Gustav of Sweden, Christina was educated both in the arts and the sciences. She had a keen interest in literature, physics, religion, alchemy, music and art and built an important art collection in an attempt to make Stockholm “the Athens of the North”. She received eminent foreign writers, musicians, and scholars at her court – among which René Descartes, her philosophy teacher. Her intelligence, knowledge and witty nature gained her the nickname ‘Minerva’.

Christina succeeded her father on the Swedish throne, to take care of posterity, but she struggled with the expectations that were made of women. She detested the idea of having to marry, and was uncomfortable with the sort of things “women were supposed to talk about”. Christina was not your average princess, dressing up in lace gowns and tiaras, but somewhat of a tomboy, wearing men’s clothes and shoes.

In 1654, after ten years of reign, she secretly converted to Catholicism and renounced the throne – an act that shocked and confused the Christian world. She migrated to Rome, where she was welcomed with open arms by Pope Alexander VII.

Christina was now in the heart of the baroque art scene that so passionately thrilled her. Shortly after her arrival she founded the Accademia dell’Arcadia: a series of meetings for leading artists and intelligentsia of the city, with the aim to revive the classicist ideals of antiquity. The Tor di Nona, Rome’s first public opera house, was opened at her instigation. She surrounded herself with the best musicians of the city, such as Alessandro Scarlatti (her choirmaster) and Arcangelo Corelli (her orchestra conductor). No longer a Queen of Sweden, she had now taken up the reign as Queen of Arts.

The Arts Round the Bust of Queen Kristina of Sweden. David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl, Nationalmuseum Sweden. Public Domain

Feature image: 
Queen Christina of Sweden (1626 – 1689), David Beck, Nationalmuseum, Sweden, Public Domain

By Sofie Taes, KU Leuven

Five of the finest (anti-)heroines from European literature

Wed, 20/03/2019 - 08:50

This post began with an idea to write about great female characters in European literature. Those that break the mould. Doing a little bit of research, the term ‘anti-heroine’ came up. And so did a range of characters who could fall into that category (see below for more on them). So I started to look at what the term ‘anti-heroine’ meant and it started to worry me.

Technically, it’s simple – an anti-heroine is the opposite of a heroine. According to both the Oxford English Dictionary and Wikipedia, it means ‘lacking’ traditional heroic qualities – things like bravery, strength and morality.

An anti-heroine is a female protagonist who is not confined by the expectations put upon them, someone who makes ‘unconventional life choices’. The trouble is, conventions and expectations have always had an awful lot to do with gender. So what I came to understand was that being an anti-heroine meant rocking the boat, no longer being feminine, becoming ‘other’.

These days, our definition of what it means to be feminine is much broader than that which constrained the authors of the characters outlined below. So categorising these characters as anti-heroines now starts to feel problematic. They all break the feminine mould of their time – whether or not they possess beauty, none of them will tow the line, they follow their own desires, they stand up for themselves.

It is exactly this anti-heroic ‘bad behaviour’, and determination to ‘defy conventional ethical codes’ that makes them real and relatable. To characterise them as ‘anti-heroic’ and therefore ‘lacking’, seems wrong. They are strong, independent, courageous, passionate, tempestuous, intelligent, angry, sometimes even evil. And they show us that even when a life is constrained by behavioural codes relating to patriarchy, marriage and motherhood, that it is ok to want more than that, to find a way to get more than that. They tell us that what a woman wants for herself matters more than what society expects of her. That shows great bravery, strength and morality, doesn’t it? It makes them not ‘anti-heroic’ but bonafide ‘heroic’.

However you want to categorise them, here are five box-breakers from great European literature:

1. Jane Eyre, of Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë. Jane Eyre The Guardians, Paula Rego, Frissiras Museum, CC BY-NC-SA

When I finally got round to reading this, it made me both smile and laugh. Where were you all my life, Jane? Despite being from the fusty old Victorian era, Jane was a breath of fresh air to me. Jane is orphaned early on, (solid way to start a story – see nearly every Disney movie), but she is not blessed with the other heroic Disney trope of beauty. Nor is she given to going along with things that she does not agree with. So, ugly and disagreeable, she must instead have a personality. And it’s a great one. Go and read it.

I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.’

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

View Jane Eyre material on Europeana Collections

2. Madame Bovary, of Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert. Madame Bovary – Puppe, Spielzeugmuseum der Stadt Nürnberg (Museum Lydia Bayer),

I read this, aged 20, with no empathy for Emma at all. It was her own behaviour and bad decision-making that brought about her ever-increasing sorrow and ultimate tragic ending. But I was naive. Because what else could she do? A girl with big ambition trapped within a stiflingly domestic and pedestrian existence. These days, she’d be running a blog with a lot of swearing in it about what a terrible parent she was whilst swiping right on an anonymous profile on Tinder. But in mid-19th century France, married to an unobservant and unexciting local doctor, she had to get her kicks from reading romantic novels and failing at a series of adulterous affairs.

‘She wanted to die, but she also wanted to live in Paris.’

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

View Madame Bovary material on Europeana Collections

3. Lady Macbeth, of Macbeth, by William Shakespeare.
Lady Macbeth, John Raphael Smith, Henry Fuseli, Teylers Museum, Netherlands,

The epitome of the cliché that behind every great man, there’s a great woman. If by great, you mean cunning and murderous. When he’s doubting his ability to kill King Duncan, she’s right there behind him, handing him the knife and pushing him out the door. Strong, ambitious, well-organised. Hygienic. And ultimately driven to madness by guilt. I’m not sure whether this one is an anti-heroine or a plain old villain. Either way, she’s impressive.


If we should fail?

Lady Macbeth:

We fail?

But screw your courage to the sticking place,

And we’ll not fail.’

Macbeth, William Shakespeare

View material relating to Lady Macbeth on Europeana Collections

4. Anna Karenina, of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.
[Program filmu] Anna Karenina, Mazowiecka Biblioteka Cyfrowa, public domain

A beautiful and intoxicating woman in high society, the subject of several people’s infatuations, she succumbs eventually to an affair, falls madly in love and realises that her marriage offers little joy. Forthright, independent and determined, she runs away from her husband to be with her lover. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end well.

‘All the girls in the world were divided into two classes: one class included all the girls in the world except her, and they had all the usual human feelings and were very ordinary girls; while the other class -herself alone – had no weaknesses and was superior to all humanity.’

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy.

View Anna Karenina material on Europeana Collections

5. Catherine Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë. Promotional still from the 1939 film Wuthering Heights, published on the front cover of National Board of Review Magazine, 1939, Samuel Goldwyn Productions, public domain

Back to the Brontë sisters, whose characters personify the often bleak and unforgiving Yorkshire moors that they inhabit. This is one of those 19th century stories in which a benevolent parent adopts an unruly homeless child, replacing peaceful domestic order with chaos. Here, Heathcliff is the stray child, and Catherine the headstrong daughter of the house who falls for him but marries someone else of better social standing. In a storyline twist, Heathcliff becomes suddenly wealthy, but Catherine remains a faithful wife and then dies tragically young (aged 18) so they never manage to get together. At least not in life. She comes back to haunt Heathcliff and he dies in her old bedroom before being buried next to her.

‘Heathcliff, it’s me, it’s Cathy, I’ve come ho-o-me.’

Oh, ok then…

‘Why shouldn’t you suffer? I do! Will you forget me? Will you be happy when I am in the earth? Will you say twenty years hence, ‘That’s the grave of Catherine Earnshaw. I loved her long ago, and was wretched to lose her; but it is past. I’ve loved many others since: my children are dearer to me than she was; and at death, I shall not rejoice that I am going to her; I shall be sorry that I must leave them! Will you say so, Heathcliff?’

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

Read Wuthering Heights on Europeana Collections

Who are your favourite (anti-)heroines?

Comment below!

Cover image: [Helena Modrzejewska jako Lady Makbet w spektaklu “Makbet” Williama Shakespeare’a], Polish National Library, public domain

A life devoted to art – Olga Boznańska

Mon, 18/03/2019 - 06:00
Olga Boznańska was a notable Polish painter of the turn of the 20th century. In a special guest post, curator Dr Piotr Kopszak of Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie explores her life and work.

Olga Boznańska (1865-1940) was born in Kraków, Poland and later active in Munich and Paris. Her father, Adam Nowina-Boznański, came from a noble Polish family which cherished traditional values but, in the spirit of 19th-century positivism, he became a train engineer rather than a landowner. Her mother, Eugénie Mondan, came from Valence and was a teacher in the convent school of Premonstratensians in Imbramowice near Kraków.

Olga first received drawing lessons from her mother. Her teachers in Kraków included Kazimierz Pochwalski, an academic portrait painter at the Viennese court, and the more realist-inclined Antoni Piotrowski, draughtsman-correspondent of the Serbo-Bulgarian war. In 1884-85 Boznańska attended Adrian Baraniecki’s Higher Courses for Women at the Technical and Industrial Museum in Kraków, before she travelled to Munich to continue her artistic education, in the studios of Carl Kricheldorf and Wilhelma Dürr (Munich Academy did not admit women at that time).

Study of an antique bust, an outline from a graphic pattern, 1881.
Olga Boznańska. Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie. In copyright.

In Munich, Olga found herself in the middle of a great artistic capital still enjoying the patronage of Ludwig II of Bavaria. She had close contacts both with the established Polish Munich school (especially Józef Brandt and Alfred Wierusz-Kowalski) as well as young Polish and German artists like Wacław Szymanowski, Samuel Hirszenberg, Hedwig Weiss and many others). Brandt was her mentor and he introduced her to the workings of the art world, from which she would soon profit.

Olga quickly realised the importance of appearing in international exhibitions to which she would later send many works. But more importantly, Munich formed her as an artist and made her realise that if she was to succeed, she had to devote herself entirely to art and find her own artistic idiom.

Although she had been exhibiting since 1886, it was not until she painted the portrait of Paul Nauen in 1893 that she received real recognition. The following year, it brought her a gold medal at the International Exhibition in Vienna. Boznańska was under the influence of German realism although her paintings from that period show an interest in Impressionist technique and slightly less obvious symbolism.

Olga Boznańska in the studio at Georgenstrasse in Munich. On the left is the painting ‘Girl with a nurse’ from around 1896, on the right ‘Mother with child’ from 1893.
Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie. In copyright.

In the Orangery (In the Greenhouse) is one of the most important works from Boznańska’s Munich period when she often portrayed her friends and other young people. The introduction of adolescence as the main subject of her art was closely linked with the rise of the Symbolism movement in poetry. Boznańska’s painting refers unequivocally to one of the most talked about collections of poems from that time, Maurice Materlinck’s Les serres chaudes.

The Greenhouse can be interpreted as the symbol of a protective and at the same time oppressive system of upbringing. Boznańska was experimenting with merging the academic precepts she received from her teachers with Impressionist effects.

In the Orangery, 1890
Olga Boznańska. Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie. In copyright.

In Munich, she started working as a teacher, and in 1895, she replaced Theodor Hummel in his private school. The next year, she was offered a position of professor at the Art Academy in Kraków which she rejected. She was already a recognised artist and no longer an aspiring art student. The Berlin magazine Bazar nominated her as one of the 12 best European women artists. Having visited Paris and kept in touch with her French family, she decided to settle there permanently in 1898.

Portrait of a boy in junior high school uniform, 1890
Olga Boznańska. Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie. In copyright.

She was also very much interested in the Old Masters. Alte Pinakothek was one of her favourite places in Munich, and Diego Velázquez was her favourite painter, whose technique she tried to absorb. Portrait of a Boy in His Gymnasium Uniform (seen above) shows this influence as well as that of Whistler, who at that time was elected member of Munich Academy.

Boznańska’s aesthetic was influenced by artistic ideas current around 1900 and espoused by Whistler in his famous ‘Ten O’Clock’ lecture. Colour and form were the key elements painters could use to create artworks analogous to musical compositions. The influence of Whistler and Japonism can clearly be seen in Olga’s Japanese Girl from 1889.

Japanese Girl, 1889
Olga Boznańska. Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie. In copyright.

Boznańska was acquiring a following as a gifted portrait painter with a personal and inimitable style. Her portraits were compared to old frescoes or antique tapestries. Her exceptional ability to create psychological likenesses of her models as well as a firm resolve not to flatter the sitter won her recognition in Paris. Two of her portraits were purchased by the French state, which was exceptional.

Art historian Jan Cavanaugh has highlighted Boznańska’s subtle colourism and sensitivity to expression, and wrote the following about Portrait of Anna Sariusz–Zaleska:

‘Though the grey of the landscape painter’s eyes almost blends with the pale flesh tone of the face, her gaze is intense and penetrating. The concentration of psychic force in her face is emphasized further by the isolation of the head against the dark background…’

Jan Cavanaugh, Out Looking In: Early Modern Polish Art, 1890-1918
University of California Press, 2000 Portrait of Anna Saryusz Zaleska, ca. 1880-1883
Olga Boznańska. Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie. In copyright.

Boznańska’s uncompromising attitude towards sitters sometimes put her in trouble with her clients, unhappy about the prolonged sessions (she always took her time when it came to painting), but it also won her the admiration of connoisseurs, intellectuals and other artists. Boznańska painted many insightful portraits of the European intelligentsia from the beginning of the 20th century. Among her models were: Henryk Sienkiewicz, Émile Verhaeren, Artur Rubinstein to name a few.

Indifferent to new trends in art, Olga withdrew more and more into her studio. It became one of the places to visit in Paris for Poles and Americans, who often became her students. Boznańska was one of key figures in Polish artistic circles in Paris during the 1920s and 30s.

Her art found official recognition just before her death – in 1937 Boznańska was awarded the Grand Prix at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne and in 1938 she enjoyed success at the Venice Biennale.

Explore a gallery of Olga Boznańska’s art on Europeana Collections

The story of Monopoly: how Charles stole Lizzie’s idea and made his fortune

Thu, 14/03/2019 - 08:15

‘Hepeating‘ might be a new word, but the concept it represents is tried and tested. Woman comes up with great idea. Man takes it and passes it off as his own. Man receives great acclaim. Woman doesn’t make a fuss. Add in a dinner party ending in a broken friendship, a courtroom revelation, and escaping prisoners of war, and you have the story of one of the world’s most popular board games, Monopoly.

Lizzie Magie’s great idea

The story begins in 1903 in the United States. Elizabeth Magie came up with a board game called ‘The Landlord’s Game’. She wanted to use it as an educational tool to teach people about the single tax theory of Henry George. He thought that land and natural resources belonged to the people, and they should rent it but never own it. And that governments should only charge tax on land, not on improvements, labour or profits. In the instructions that came with the game, Magie wrote:

‘Let the children once see clearly the gross injustice of our present land system and when they grow up, if they are allowed to develop naturally, the evil will soon be remedied.’


The Landlord’s Game had a board around which were various different properties, their purchase price and rental value. There were also utilities, and chance cards. Sound familiar?

By Drawing for a Game Board, 01/05/1904. This is the printed patent drawing for a game board invented by Lizzie J. Magie. From the U.S. National Archives. Public domain.
Source: Brian0918 Wikimedia Commons

She took out a patent in 1904 and self-published it in 1906. In 1909, she approached manufacturer’s Parker Brothers, who rejected the game on the grounds that it was too complicated.

How Charles Darrow came upon it

In 1932, a man called Charles Darrow went to dinner at the home of his friend, Charles Todd. After dinner, they played a few rounds of The Landlord’s Game, in which Darrow took a great deal of interest.

Not long after, Darrow took an idea to Parker Brothers and in 1935, they published the game Monopoly, complete, it is thought, with a spelling mistake copied directly from The Landlord’s Game.

Spiel, Monopoly. 1982. Toy Museum of the City of Nuremberg (Museum Lydia Bayer),

The Todds and the Darrows fell out and never spoke to each other again. Players of after-dinner board games, take note!

Covering up the truth

Parker Brothers bought The Landlord’s Game from Lizzie Magie for the sum of $500 in 1936 in a deal that included zero royalties, ever. She refused to have any changes made to it, but made no demands to promote it, and no objections to the manufacturing of Monopoly. A 1936 newspaper article reported that she said it was ‘all right with her if she never made a dime so long as the Henry George single tax idea was spread to the people of the country.’ In a sworn testimony many years later, Parker Brothers’ president described how he saw the little old grayhaired Quaker woman as ‘a rabid Henry George single tax advocate, a real evangelist’.

That same 1936 newspaper article recognised Magie’s The Landlord’s Game as the source of the game Monopoly. But determined to deny it, Parker Brothers included information in every box of Monopoly crediting Darrow as its creator. It would be 40 years until the truth was widely known.

And uncovering it again Anti Monopoly II met Euro bilijetten, 2002, Deventer Musea, CC BY-SA

25 years after Magie died, another game designer, Ralph Anspach, was in a legal battle with Parker Brothers over his ‘Anti-Monopoly’ game. Parker Brothers claimed he was violating their copyright. Anspach, during his research to support his own case, turned up Magie’s patents and used them in court.

Europeans just love Monopoly

Today, Monopoly is in the top five most popular board games worldwide – up there with chess, Scrabble, checkers and backgammon. Monopoly is licensed in 103 countries and printed in 37 languages.

Spiel, Monopoly, 2004, Spielzeugmuseum der Stadt Nürnberg (Museum Lydia Bayer),

There are versions covering 32 European countries, with many having bespoke localised editions. There are almost 100 versions for different towns, cities and regions of the United Kingdom. There’s even one for the fictional setting of TV soap opera, Coronation Street. France is gamified in nearly 50 editions and Germany in 35.

Spiel, Monopoly, 2005, Spielzeugmuseum der Stadt Nürnberg (Museum Lydia Bayer), CC BY-NC-SA And so did the British Secret Service

Adversity makes people creative. And while some resorted to making their own cardboard versions of Monopoloy in the Second World War, a very special edition was being created in the UK.

Homemade Monopoly board, 1940-1945, Museum Rotterdam, CC BY

In 1941, the British Secret Intelligence Service asked the game’s UK manufacturer – John Waddington Ltd – for help with a bold plan. Fake charities distributed a new version of Monopoly via the Red Cross to prisoners of war held by Nazis. Unlike the usual sets, these boxes included genuine maps, compasses, real money and a file to help the prisoners to escape, apparently with a good deal of success!

So, while Lizzie Magie’s The Landlord’s Game might not have saved the economy, it did end up, in a round about kind of way, saving lives. Well done, Lizzie!

Featured image: Two men and two women play Monopoly at the kitchen table, Gooi and Vecht Historic, CC BY-SA