Carte-de-visite of the week #7                                      A Visit to The Cobbler

I’m cheating again this week by posting a cabinet card rather than a cdv. (Although I don’t anticipate any complaints, if anyone wishes to do so, they send their postcards to the usual address…)

The photograph was probably taken in the early 1900s, as Robert Forbes is known to have run his business from 79 George Street from 1903 to 1910. Although he operated as a professional portrait photographer, the picture above was clearly taken outside the studio – presumably in the house of the cobbler, unless the scene is completely staged.

At first glance one might imagine that the photograph is an illustration of the old proverb, ‘The cobbler’s children are always the worst shod’, but a closer look reveals that the girl is holding one of her boots and socks in her hand, and is therefore the owner of the boot that the cobbler is repairing. Regarding the rest of her clothing, she is wearing a white pinafore of the type that was popular for girls from late in the nineteenth century through till the time of the First World War. It was meant to protect her dress from getting grubby, as the cotton was easier to wash.

In the background an advertisement for Wood Milne Heel Pads is visible. This was a British company, founded in 1896, which manufactured rubber goods including shoe heels, golf balls, car and motorcycle tyres, Also suspended from hooks on the wall are notebooks, photographs and cut-out pictures of footwear. It is intriguing to see large stone slabs stacked up in the fireplace. This jumble of miscellaneous workaday objects reinforces the impression that this is an authentic setting, although this does not exclude an element of careful staging.

A clue about this can be found in the National Archives at Kew, which holds three photographs that Forbes originally deposited in the Copyright Office in 1903:

‘”The Widow’s Mite,” taken at the entrance to Culross Parish Church. Old lady with little child dropping in penny in the collection plate and looking up into the presiding elder’s face. Two figures entering church’.

‘”Waiting.” Figure study. Old lady with bowl in hand standing at door.’

‘”The Village Well.” Photograph of old lady drawing water from well.’

The title and descriptions suggest that the photographs were imitating the genre paintings which had been so much in vogue during the Victorian era. These pictures depicted everyday domestic scenes in a realistic manner, but were often coloured with a touch of sentimentality. They were not allegorical, but sometimes the artist wished to illustrate certain moral themes or quaint character types.

The photographer had a personal link to the setting of The Widow’s Mite for his parents, Thomas and Catherine Forbes, lived in Culross. Robert was born in Edinburgh in 1879, and later married Florence Ethel Pursey; they had eight children (three sons and five daughters.) At the outbreak of the WWI he joined the Highland Light Infantry and served with them until the end of the war. The family then moved to Street in Somerset, where their youngest child was born, and where Forbes continued to work as a photographer.

The Great Katharine Hepburn blogathon returns!

For the second year running I’m delighted to be taking part in theAnnual Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon, which runs on the weekend of Katharine’s birthday (she was born on 12 May 1907.)

Last year I wrote about her performance in Mary of Scotland (John Ford, 1936), which you can still read here: ‘Pure Hepburn, and nothing else.’ This year I’m going to be writing about her venture into ‘film noir’ in the film Undercurrent (Vincente Minnelli, 1946.) There’s already a fantastic range of bloggers who are lined up to post blogs on other films and aspects of Katharine Hepburn’s life. Watch this space!

Essex Man: Adolf Wohlbrück, Ferdinand Bruckner and ‘Elisabeth Von England’

Statue of Ferdinand Bruckner in Vienna

Elisabeth von England (Elizabeth of England)  was published in 1930, and was the work of Theodor Tagger (1891-1958), better known under his pseudonym of Ferdinand Bruckner. He legally changed his name to Bruckner after the war, so I’ll continue to refer to him in this way. Broadly speaking, his life paralleled that of A.W’s, with his early life spent between Vienna and Berlin, followed by an interest in music and poetry that drew him into the theatrical world. He founded the Berlin Renaissance Theatre in 1922, took over the Kurfürstendamm Theatre in 1927, published Krankheit der Jugend (The Pains of Youth, 1929), Die Verbrecher, (The Criminals, 1929) and Elisabeth von England before migrating to Paris after the Nazis came to power in 1933. In Paris he wrote Die Rassen (The Races), the first anti-Nazi play to be written by an exile. It had its premiere at the Schauspielhaus in Zurich in 1934. He migrated to America the same year as A.W., publishing another historical play – Napoleon der Erste in 1937 – and joining the German-American Writers Association, the fellow members of which included Thomas Mann and Oskar Graf. During the war he worked for Paramount Studios and did not return to Germany until 1953 when he translated Miller’s Death of a Salesman for a production. He worked as an advisor to the Schiller Theater in Berlin until his death there in December 1958.

Bruckner wrote Elisabeth von England while working as a theatre director and did not reveal his authorship until its success had been proved. The play draws on Lytton Strachey’s Elizabeth and Essex: a tragic history (1928), focussing on the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. It is a wordy piece, heavy on psychoanalysis (Freud wrote to Strachey on Christmas Day 1928 offering a detailed treatment) in its portrayal of the complex psychology of the ageing queen in her relationships with three men: her father Henry VIII, the much younger and attractive Essex, and the religious zealot of Philip of Spain, to whom she is also attracted.

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, (1596) by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

Essex had been part of the royal court since the late 1580s and was a favourite of the queen. Aware of this, he tended to her sympathy for granted, pushing his luck several times with occasions of insolence and disobedience. Other factions at court resented his behaviour, and a disastrous attempt at rebellion in February 1601 led to the Earl’s arrest and beheading on Tower Hill a few days later.

Using a device made popular in Berlin by Edwin Piscator since the 1920s – the Simultanbühne or split stage – Bruckner’s The Criminals was set in a tenement house which was cut away so that the audience could watch action taking place simultaneously in different parts of the building. This time, the split stage was used in the final scene of each Act to show the respective situations in the English and Spanish courts as they responded to events. By asking the audience to compare the behaviour of the two courts, the play was also inviting comparisons to be made with contemporary events in the real world. England’s pragmatism and dislike for war was contrasted with Spanish warmongering and sense of destiny.

Cover of the November 1930 programme
Very similar parallels were drawn in A.E.W. Mason’s novel Fire Over England (1936) which was adapted for the screen in 1937 with Flora Robson as Elizabeth (in  my opinion, the best screen portrayal of the monarch) and Raymond Massey as Philip II. The film in fact was originally planned as an adaptation of Bruckner’s play, but this was changed due to production problems: Alexander Korda passed the job of directing onto Erich Pommer – it was eventually directed by William K Howard – and the Bruckner version was abandoned in favour of an adaption of Mason’s novel. Clear parallels were made between England’s past and present – Spain and Germany, the Inquisition and the Gestapo, Philip II and Hitler. Both Britain and Germany produced a large number of historical films during this period, projecting current tensions onto past events, and using these thrilling costume dramas to influence popular perceptions of national identity and international relations.

An 18th century engraving of Essex by Jacobus Houbraken, reproduced inside the programme.

There are elements of this in AW’s performance as Prince Albert in Victoria the Great (1937) and Sixty Glorious Years (1938), and I discuss this in my forthcoming conference paper ‘Walbrook’s Royal Waltzes’ which is due for publication later this year in The British Monarchy on Screen (Manchester University Press.) The paper also looks at AW’s earlier stage performances in Schiller’s Maria Stuart.

Returning to Bruckner’s play, its mix of historical drama and gripping psychology proved popular. Elisabeth von England opened in November 1930 and ran for 122 performances. The cast looked liked this:

There are many familiar names here. AW and Gustaf Gründgens worked together many times and their friendship survived the war years. Max Gülstorff had a minor role in Ich war Jack Mortimer (1935) playing the father of AW’s girlfriend. It is interesting to note that Agnes Straub (Elizabeth) and Werner Krauss (Philip II) had both appeared in Der Graf von Essex (1922), a silent film version of the Earl’s relationship with the queen, adapted from a much earlier 18th century account.

The Kammerspiele from the outside. Adjacent to the Deutsches Theater, it was acquired by Max Reinhardt in 1906 in his second season as director.

Although this photograph was taken after the refurbishment in 1937, it gives a good sense of the auditorium’s modest size.
Elisabeth von England was staged in the Kammerspiele, next door to the Deutsches Theater. The auditorium here was less than half the size, seating around 230 people, and was used for contemporary plays that required a more intimate setting, leaving the main theatre for large-scale classical productions.  AW had only moved to Berlin from Dresden a few months earlier and the success of the play ushered in a new chapter in his career. Even greater things lay ahead.

Carte-de-visite of the week #6 John Henry Newman

This week’s cdv was acquired fairly recently for about 50 pence, and I suspect it would have cost much more had the seller known the identity of the sitter. John Henry Newman (1801-90) was one of the most influential religious thinkers and writers of the 19th century, and the portrait reflects his reputation for scholarship.

Newman’s writings and leadership of the ‘Oxford Movement’ in the 1830s and 1840s transformed the Church of England, but he became a Roman Catholic in 1845, was ordained a priest and joined the the Congregation of the Oratory. He was leader of the Oratorian community in Birmingham, where this photograph was taken.

Robert White Thrupp (1821-1907) had a studio at 66 New Street from 1867 to 1887, and this portrait was probably taken there in the late 1860s. Earlier in his career he had been a financial adviser to Windsor & Newton, and ran a printselling business at 66 New Street in partnership with Samuel W Hill. In 1862 they added a photographic studio to the premises and went into business with Napoleon Sarony. Hill left in 1863 and after Sarony returned to America in 1866 Thrupp bought his negatives and began running the business under his own name. It is interesting to see Thrupp offering the option for portraits to be ‘enlarged up to life size and painted in Oil or Water colors.’ Miniature portrait painters suffered the most from the rise of professional photography, and many followed the adage ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’, swapping their easels for cameras. The tangled relationship between art and photography is a fascinating field of study, and one its many paradoxes is the idea of people choosing to be photographed rather than painted, only to pay to have the photograph turned back into a painting.

A few well known paintings of Newman are known to have been worked up from photographs, and the famous chalk portrait by Lady Jane Coleridge, (below) was based on a photography by Thrupp taken around the same time as my cdv:


J H Newman in 1874, by Jane (née Fortescue Seymour), Lady Coleridge. Black chalk with black & white ink

Newman was photographed several times in his life, and perhaps a chronological list of these might be of interest:


1861 – Heath & Beau

At the end of November 1861 Newman went up to London for a few days. He stayed at 28 Portland Place, the house of his friend Henry Bowden, and in his diary for 27 November he noted ‘went to photographer.’ He recorded in his diary on 4 December 1861 that he ‘went two or three days to Photographer’ and In a letter to Ambrose St John written from Portland Place the same day, he revealed that the sessions had not been straightforward:

‘As to the Photographs, they came (in proof) last night, and are not quite satisfactory – The man wishes to try again – and I am going to him in an hour’s time – The want of light is the difficulty at this time of year.
3 pm. I have been to the man – he has taken four more photographs – but the light died away and he is not satisfied – he is going to print off some copies – but I am to go to him again, for another attempt. He charges nothing more – but he wants me to let him publish, which I have not granted.’

– Letters & Diaries XX, p.74.

Henry Charles Heath (1824-98) and Adolphe Paul Auguste Beau (1828-1910) ran a studio together at 283 Regent Street, Westminster, between 1861 and the dissolution of their business partnership in June 1863. It was therefore only a few minutes walk from Portland Place – and the repeated visits would not have been too inconvenient.


July 1863 – by Stanislas Bureau

Newman visited Paris with his friend William Neville between 21 and 24 July, during which time he called in at Monsieur Bureau’s studio at 44 Palais Royal, Rue Montpensier and had this portrait taken. The Frenchman had started his business in Paris in 1853 and this vignetted style of portraiture is typical of his work. He posted the photographs to Newman, and they were delivered to the Birmingham Oratory on 15 August 1863.

Letters & Diaries, XX p.505


July 1864 – by Mclean and Haes

The following summer saw Newman in London for a few days, staying at the Paddington Hotel from the 18th to the 25th of July. On the morning of Thursday 21 July he wrote in his diary:

‘Breaktasted with Monsell; with him and Ambrose to MacLean for Photographs, and the Houses of Parliament, dined with Ambrose at Victoria Station – went to British Institution [for Promoting the Fine Arts] Pictures.’

– Letters & Diaries XXI, pp.159-60.

Thomas Miller McLean (born 1832) and Frank Haes (1833-1916) ran a photographic studio together at 26 Haymarket until their business partnership was dissolved in September 1865.


Another RW Thrupp portrait from the late 1860s


HJ Whitlock

Joseph Whitlock (1806-57) was the first professional photographer to establish a permanent studio in Birmingham; after obtaining a daguerreotype license from Richard Beard, he opened a studio at 120 New Street in January 1843. His son Henry Joseph Whitlock (1835-1918) began working for him in 1852 but moved to Worcester in 1855 to set up his own business. His father’s studio moved to 110 New Street and was looked after by his widow until her death in 1862, at which point Henry Joseph moved back to Birmingham and opened his own studio at 11 New Street. He ran a very successful business here for the next few decades, assisted by family members – his sons, brother and nephews were all photographers. Newman had his portrait taken here several times.


Another HJ Whitlock, this time showing Newman wearing spectacles


Newman was made a cardinal in Rome on 12 May 1879


1879 – Fratelli D’Alessandri
This official photograph to commemorate Newman’s elevation to the cardinalate was taken at Rome’s most prestigious studio, which was run by two brothers: Don Antonio (1818-93), a Catholic priest, and Francesco (1824-89) D’Alessandri, who together opened the first professional photographic premises in Rome in about 1858. They had a particular close link to the Vatican and photographed all the popes of their era, including Leo XIII who gave Newman his cardinal’s hat.


1880 – HJ Whitlock. Newman here wearing his ‘galero’ or cardinal’s hat, received the previous year


Another Thrupp portrait, probably early 1880s – Newman has episcopal dress on. The biretta would have been scarlet.


Comparing the back of Thrupp’s 1880s cdv to my one from 15 years earlier, it can be seen that he has introduced colour and more ornate decoration


1885 – by Herbert Rose Barraud (1845-96)
Some books give the name of this photographer as Louis Barraud, although most seem to refer to him as Herbert Rose. It was published in 1888 in an early issue of his massive series, Men and Women of the Day: a picture gallery of contemporary portraiture, which was published in 78 monthly parts between January 1888 and June 1894 and eventually filled seven volumes. Barraud’s premises were at 263 Oxford Street although it is possible that he came to Birmingham to photograph Newman, who was now increasingly frail.


1889 – by Fr. Anthony Pollen Cong. Orat. (1860-1940)
This final portrait was not taken by a professional photographer, but by one of Newman’s fellow Oratorians, Father Anthony Pollen, who entered the Oratory in 1883, and was ordained priest in December 1889. He was the third son of John Hungerford Pollen (1820-1902) and brother of Jesuit scholar, Fr. John Hungerford Pollen SJ (1859-1925.) The latter was also a photographer, and both priests feature in my Ph.D research.

Warsaw Concerto on Vinyl

During some charity shop browsing a couple of days ago I came across two old records of film music, both of which offered different recordings of Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, the theme from Anton’s film Dangerous Moonlight (Brian Desmond Hurst, 1941.)

‘Music from the Film’ (1963) played by the London Variety Theatre Orchestra
The solo piano playing is by Joyce Hatto (1928-2006), and unlike her later CD releases, is definitely genuine!

‘Big Concerto Movie Themes’ (1972) played by Geoff Love and His Orchestra
Geoff Love (1917-91) was responsible for a number of popular vinyl collections of classical film music in the 1960s and 70s, and as a child I actually owned his two preceding albums: Big Western Movie Themes (1969) and Big War Movie Themes (1971.) The solo pianist for the ‘Warsaw Concerto’ here was Robert Docker (1918-92), who was a fellow soldier with Love in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

Radetzky in the Ruins: detail from the record sleeve
After listening to both records several times, I must confess that I remain undecided as to which version I prefer. The original performance that we hear in Dangerous Moonlight while watching Anton at the piano – was of course played by Louis Kentner (1905-87), a Hungarian emigre who was later the brother-in-law of Yehudi Menuhin. Although I have always loved the music in the film, I find its appeal somewhat diminished once isolated from Stefan and Carole’s story. 
The Warsaw Concerto was composed specially for the film by Richard Addinsell (1904-77), who had also written the music for Anton’s previous film Gaslight (1940.) After the release of Dangerous Moonlight the concerto became one of the most popular and familiar pieces of music in Britain – a phenomenon that caught the film-makers on the hop: underestimating public interest, they had not bothered either to release it on gramophone record or have sheet music printed. This oversight was hastily corrected, and the record sold millions of copies. 

The Warsaw Concerto plays for less than ten minutes and therefore fitted perfectly onto two sides of a 78 rpm disc
The orchestration was arranged by Roy Douglas, with Kentner and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Muir Matheson, whose distinguished career was closely linked with the British film industry. In relation to Anton’s films, he was musical director for Victoria the Great (1937), The Rat (1937), Sixty Glorious Years (1938), Gaslight (1940), Dangerous Moonlight (1941), 49th Parallel (1941) and I Accuse (1958.) He also conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra for their Columbia recording of The Red Shoes

There were of course numerous subsequent vinyl releases of the music, recorded by different performers – including in America where the film had been given the more dramatic title of Suicide Squadron:

Probably the worst likeness of Anton Walbrook to appear on any film poster
Others who recorded the Warsaw Concerto included George Greeley, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra, David Haines and the Paris Theatre Orchestra, Ron Goodwin, The Carpenters and Richard Clayderman.
I think it’s unlikely that I’ll start collecting recordings of the Warsaw Concerto, but I was pleased to add these two records to my Walbrook collection, taking their place on a shelf along with other vinyl and shellac items.