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To see the works of Henri de Toulouse-Laturec and his contemporaries on view now at the Driehaus Museum, visit the L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters exhibition site

There is perhaps no other artist as closely associated with Paris’s ‘Beautiful Age,’ the Belle Époque, than Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. His art of the late 19th century captured the colorful whirlwind of a raucous, modernizing city, from raunchy cabaret promotions to provocative brothel scenes. He was drawn to the avant-garde performers and prostitutes at very edge of society; an outsider himself, his own experiences informed his subjects.

 

The Outsider Aristocrat

Lautrec was born Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, a descendent of one of the oldest and most prestigious French families, on an estate in Albi in southern France. He was his parents’ first child and came from generations of counts and viscounts, but would nonetheless live the life of an outcast as a dwarf. Between the ages of 13 and 14, he broke each of his legs in turn. Neither fully healed and the legs ceased growing, presumably because of a genetic disorder caused by inbreeding in his aristocratic family—his parents were first cousins. Lautrec therefore grew into adulthood with the foreshortened legs of a child below a normal-sized torso. He stood at 4 feet, 8 inches tall, and used a cane to walk with difficulty for the rest of his life.

Photograph of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec at approximately age 3.

Photograph of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec at approximately age 3.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in 1894, at the age of 30.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in 1894, at the age of 30.

Mocked for his physical appearance and prevented from participating in the sports and outdoors activities appropriate for a boy of his background and which he longed to do, Lautrec coped using alcohol. He drank copious amounts, especially the alarmingly potent absinthe. He even hollowed out his walking cane in order to fill it with liquor and always have a drink close by. Highly intelligent and always bitterly aware of how a normal, pleasurable, successful life in society remained out of his grasp due to his deformity, he developed a stinging wit. “I will always be a thoroughbred hitched up to a rubbish cart,” he said.

He also escaped into the world of Parisian brothels, where he surrounded himself with prostitutes. Although known for his louche behavior, he didn’t spend time with these women for sexual pleasure alone. He found a kind of camaraderie in their common status as outsiders. Lautrec was drawn to these women and even adopted them as a kind of family. Fellow painter Édouard Vuillard commented,

 

“Lautrec was too proud to submit to his lot, as a physical freak, an aristocrat cut off from his kind by his grotesque appearance. He found an affinity between his own condition and the moral penury of the prostitute.”

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec wearing the feathered hat and boa of Jane Avril (daughter of a courtesan, Moulin Rouge dancer, and close friend), ca. 1892.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec photographed wearing the feathered hat and boa of Jane Avril (daughter of a courtesan, Moulin Rouge dancer, and close friend), ca. 1892.

The Sympathetic Artist

Lautrec learned to draw as a child while bedridden with various illnesses. He favored horses as a subject; his father kept a full stable of them in Albi. In 1882, Lautrec moved to Paris at the age of 18 to study art in the studios of Léon Bonnat and Fernand Cormon. At Cormon’s he met other young members of the avant-garde, including Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh and French writer and painter Émile Bernard. Lautrec settled in Montmartre, and became a legendary fixture of the bohemian neighborhood over the next 20 years.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). A Woman and a Man on Horseback, 1879-81. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). A Woman and a Man on Horseback, 1879-81. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). At the Moulin Rouge, 1892/95. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). At the Moulin Rouge, 1892/95. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901).  Moulin Rouge: La Goulue, 1891. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Moulin Rouge: La Goulue, 1891. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

Although Lautrec was an outsider in society and at the fringe of the Paris art world among the avant-garde, he would meet with wide acclaim and financial success through his posters, prints, and illustrations for journals and magazines. His first poster for the Moulin Rouge, The Dance at the Moulin Rouge featuring the striking, bawdy can-can dance of La Goulue (“The Glutton”), catapulted him to overnight success. This and the many so-called commercial works to follow inspired his contemporaries to view posters as fine art; arguably, Lautrec’s greatest masterpieces were advertisements for the famous Moulin Rouge and other eager clients in the entertainment business.

Lautrec didn’t merely observe Paris’s hot spots for the sake of his work. His art and life were inseparable, and he was a celebrated customer at the very brothels and cabarets whose prostitutes and performers he immortalized in his art. The Moulin Rouge even reserved a special front-row seat for him in the nightclub in addition to displaying his paintings. Lautrec formed close relationships with some of Paris’s greatest actresses, singers, and dancers; they were his muses, and, in return, he their publicist. Performers whose careers were supported by his exuberant posters and occasional portraits include American dancer Loië Fuller, French dancer and close friend Jane Avril, and French diseuse Yvette Guilbert. Paul Leclercq, a friend of Lautrec’s, described a typical scene at the Moulin Rouge that captures the spirit of Belle Époque Paris and the harmony between Lautrec’s personal life and work:

“In the midst of the crowd, there was a stir, and a line of people started to form: Jane Avril was dancing, twirling, gracefully, lightly, a little madly; pale, skinny, thoroughbred, she twirled and reversed, weightless, fed on flowers; Lautrec was shouting out his admiration.”

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Jane Avril, 1899. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Jane Avril, 1899. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Jane Avril, 1893. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Jane Avril, 1893. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Miss Loïe Fuller, 1893. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Miss Loïe Fuller, 1893. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Lautrec was a master lithographer, tossing away artistic convention for his own vision and making exceptional use of all the latest innovations in color, texture, and printing. And like many artists of his generation, he drew heavy influence from the Japanese prints that were entering Paris for the first time at the end of the 19th century. He borrowed techniques like outlined areas of flat color, shifts in perspective, cropped compositions, and unusual angles.

One of Lautrec’s most notable achievements is his Elles series. Through these 50 paintings, Lautrec lifted the curtain on the intimate inner lives of the prostitutes he knew. The paintings depict the women in moments of solitude and repose. They aren’t romantic, floating feminine types; nor are they laughing, flirting, bawdy prostitute types; rather, they are real flesh-and-blood individuals. Through these paintings, the viewer enters an introspective, private moment that makes the women seem breathtakingly human.

Much of Lautrec’s work, and the Elles series in particular, reveal an artist who understood, even favored, the people who were consigned to the fringes of society. He showed deep sympathy for them, capturing qualities that they held in common with the rest of humanity, rather than emphasizing what set them apart as outsiders.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Elles (portfolio cover), 1896. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Elles (portfolio cover), 1896. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). The Sofa, ca. 1894-96. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). The Sofa, ca. 1894-96. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Woman Before a Mirror, 1897. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Woman Before a Mirror, 1897. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Unfortunately, Lautrec led a lifestyle that far outstripped his body’s ability to cope. He boldly declared at the age of 24, “I expect to burn myself out by the time I’m forty.” He died earlier than his prediction—at the age of 36 in 1901, from the combined effects of alcoholism and syphilis. He left behind a body of work that included 737 canvases, 275 watercolors, 363 prints and posters, 5,084 drawings, ceramics and stained glass work, and an uncounted number of lost works. These, and the spirit of Belle Époque Paris they immortalize, are his legacy which resounds today.

 

 

Resources
“Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec.” The Art Story: Modern Art Insight
“Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec,” by Cora Michael, Department of Drawings and Prints, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 2010. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/laut/hd_laut.htm
“Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril: Beyond the Moulin Rouge.” Exhibition June – September 2011, The Courtauld Gallery, London. http://courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/what-on/exhibitions-displays/archive/toulouse-lautrec-and-jane-avril-beyond-the-moulin-rouge
Toulouse Lautrec in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Colta Feller Ives. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1996.

 

The Broadside

The history of the poster starts with black-and-white broadsides in the 1600s, which evolved in the wake of the printing press. These one-sided sheets of paper were a quick way to mass-distribute information. Shopkeepers propped product announcements in their windows; governments called people to action in the event of war; public decrees were quickly distributed. A wanted poster of the old American West would be a classic example of a broadside. The Declaration of Independence is also a famous example; printed as a broadside, news of the victorious revolution spread quickly throughout the American colonies.

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The first 150-200 copies of the Declaration of Independence were broadsides, printed by John Dunlap of Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.

chi-fire-broadside

This broadside announced a meeting to take action against the Great Chicago Fire on October 9, 1871. Image via the Chicago History Museum.

A broadside from the 1800s, showing addition of a single color and illustrations to highlight the informational text.

A broadside from the 1800s, showing addition of a single color and illustrations to highlight the informational text.

A Turning Point

Broadsides were an ephemeral form—easily printed, distributed for quick impact, read for the information they contained, and then tossed away. But as time passed and technology advanced, the broadside evolved. Typefaces got a little more interesting—larger, more decorative. Images were added to grab a viewer’s attention.

And then a turning point came in the 19th century in Paris. The poster transcended its role as attention-getting carrier of practical information. It became beautiful. It became desirable. It transformed the gray urban commute into a pleasurable stroll punctuated by cheerful color. It became the passion of a group of aficionados who avidly collected these posters, preserving them from the short life cycle of ephemera. In short, the poster became art.

So how did it happen?

There are a number of factors: the rise of the middle class in Paris with more expendable income for collecting, advances in technology that allowed for larger and more complex poster designs, a multicultural milieu with artists of all types mingling and sharing ideas in Paris’s bohemian neighborhoods, a city redesign that included street furniture designed specifically for posters, and more.

But one of the central factors is the reinvention of lithography, the process by which many posters were made before they became fine art.

And Jules Chéret is the one who reinvented it. Chéret is widely known as the father of the modern poster, and it is in his footsteps that the rest of the major artists in the Driehaus Museum exhibition, L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters, followed.

Jules Chéret (French, 1836 - 1932)

Jules Chéret (French, 1836 – 1932)

Jules Chéret

Chéret was born in 1836, the son of a French typesetter in Paris. He briefly studied drawing, then started training at age 13 in lithography, working as an apprentice and journeyman in Paris and London for 17 years. He got his break when perfume manufacturer Eugène Rimmel hired him as a designer. Soon after he started his own lithographic printing firm in Paris, firmly believing that lithography would soon replace his father’s letterpress industry as the premier printing technique.

Card for Eugène Rimmel, designed by Jules Chéret.

Card for Eugène Rimmel, designed by Jules Chéret.

Jules Chéret's first major poster commission was this one for Jacques Offenbach for his 1858 production of "Orpheus in the Underworld."

Jules Chéret’s first major poster commission was this one for Jacques Offenbach for his 1858 production of “Orpheus in the Underworld.”

Lithography

Lithography wasn’t new. It was invented in 1798 by a Bavarian actor and playwright, Alois Senefelder, to reproduce his scripts. Senefelder’s printing process is simple to understand if you keep in mind that oil and water don’t mix. To make a lithograph, you take a greasy or waxy crayon and draw images or words onto a large, smooth limestone surface. Then you douse the surface of the stone in water and roll it with ink. The greasy drawing repels the water and soaks up the ink, while the wet areas without any drawing repel the ink. So when you press the stone—with considerable force—onto a piece of paper, it transfers the inky images and text onto that paper.

If you wanted a color lithograph, also called a chromolithograph, things got a little more complicated. You had to prepare as many stones as you want colors. It was laborious and the stones were incredibly heavy, so lithographs remained pretty much monochromatic well into the 1860s. If color was utilized at all, it was a little splash as a highlight to the heavily crammed text, and not a core part of the visual design.

litho-stone

An artist drawing on a lithographic stone.

litho-designhistory

Illustration of printing a lithograph. Image via DesignHistory.org.

 

The Artistic Poster

Given the lack of design consideration, low quality, and disposability of earlier commercial lithographs, lithography got a reputation as an unworthy artistic medium. To say that you were making lithographic art in the 19th century would be like printing a full-page advertisement in a glossy beauty magazine today and calling it your chosen artistic medium. It isn’t impossible. It would simply be difficult for many to imagine elevating this medium we associate with makeup advertisements to the realm of museum collections. It was the same with lithography. It suffered from its association with quick and commercial information. There was nothing daring, original, or beautiful about lithography.

That is, until Jules Chéret. Visionary artists often take an idea or form that already exists and transform it so completely that it appears new and original. This was the case with Chéret, who appeared unconstrained by the negative associations with lithography and decided to use it for colorful, cheerful, and vivaciously French artworks. In 1884 Chéret organized the first group poster exhibition in art history, ushering in an era of these images being accepted—and enthusiastically celebrated—as fine art, and in 1886 he published the first book on poster art. Chéret would also eventually work with printing houses that catered to collectors who wanted poster art for their own.

Chéret made advances to lithography in the mid-19th century that others would soon imitate. He designed his own lettering, taking advantage of the fact that the lithograph, as opposed to the printing press, allows for the artist to draw freehand on the stone’s surface. The text therefore became a part of the poster’s overall design. Chéret also reduced the amount of text, leaning heavily on the image to communicate about a product or event. He also simplified the chromolithographic process by using three primary colors: three stones inked with red, yellow, and blue. By making these colors semi-transparent, he could layer them and create different shades. Finally, Chéret approached the limestone in a painterly way, using animated brush lines, crosshatch, stipple, soft watercolor-like washes, and areas of flat color. A fellow chromolithographer, André Mellerio, heralded this fine art of the street, calling the new color poster “the distinctive art of our time.”

Chéret’s creative advances transformed the world of advertising. His posters featured cheerful, lightly clad, often eight-feet tall beauties who became known as Chérettes. Chéret’s women were inspired by the well-heeled, garden-party women of Rococo paintings, a glorious age in France immortalized by artists like Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Jean-Antoine Watteau. These alluring women showcased the pleasures of Paris to tantalizing effect, including music halls, theatres, performers, beverages, medicines, and lamp oil.

Folies-Bergère: La Loïe Fuller, 1893.

Folies-Bergère: La Loïe Fuller, 1893.

Yvette Guilbert: Au Concert Parisien, 1891.

Yvette Guilbert: Au Concert Parisien, 1891.

Théâtrophone, 1890.

Théâtrophone, 1890.

Chéret was recognized in his own time as ‘the king of the poster’. One art critic remarked that “there was a thousand times more talent in the smallest of Chéret’s posters than in the majority of the pictures on the walls of the Paris Salon.” He was often imitated, and an entire generation of artists would follow and build on his work. One of them was Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. To acknowledge his debt to the older artist, Lautrec sent Chéret a copy of every poster he produced.

After creating more than a thousand posters in Paris, Chéret retired to Nice in the south of France, where a museum was established in his honor in 1928, four years before the artist died at the age of 96. The Musée des Beaux-Arts Des Nice, as it’s called today, still stands as a testament to the artist’s transformation of the world of fine art.

 

 

 

Resources
Eskilson, Stephen. Graphic Design: A New History
Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Jules Cheret.” Updated July 21, 2009. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jules-Cheret
Graphic Design History’s “History of Posters” series, designhistory.org
Hamilton, Sarah Elizabeth. From Publicity to Intimacy: The Poster in Fin-de-siecle Paris
Ives, Colta. “Lithography in the Nineteenth Century,” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan The L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters, essay by Jeannine Falino. The Richard H. Driehaus Museum. The Monacelli Press, New York, 2017.
Museum of Modern Art, gallery labels on works by Jules Chéret (moma.org/collection)
Museum of Art. October 2004. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/lith/hd_lith.htm
“A Brief History of Broadsides,” Tavistock Books, blog.tavisbooks.com/?p=12
Chicago Daily Tribune, "Suppression of Vice: Organizing the Chicago Branch," September 27, 1879.

Chicago Daily Tribune, “Suppression of Vice: Organizing the Chicago Branch,” September 27, 1879.

“The object, purpose, and aim in view of the Society and its branches, as set forth in the constitution and in the brief but pointed talk which followed the making of the report, were to put down the vile traffic in obscene books, pictures, etc., by prosecuting those responsible for it either under the Revised Statutes or the State laws. The extent of the evil, which has shown its ugly head with peculiarly refreshing boldness of late, was dwelt upon to some extent, and the movement met with the unqualified moral and financial support of all present. The constitution was unanimously adapted…”

Right: Original ink drawing for "A Dreadful Predicament" by Samuel D. Ehrhart. Left: Anthony Comstock. By Photographer unknown; author of book Charles Gallaudet Trumbull [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Right: Original ink drawing for “A Dreadful Predicament” by Samuel D. Ehrhart.
Left: Anthony Comstock. By Photographer unknown; author of book Charles Gallaudet Trumbull [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Puck & Anthony Comstock

In the southwest corner of the “Social Commentary” Gallery of With a Wink and a Nod there is a small, unassuming cartoon featuring a woman in “a dreadful predicament” and the lurking figure of Anthony Comstock. The cartoon pokes fun at the woman’s hesitation in bending over to tie her shoelace- a rather innocuous activity that she is afraid Comstock will interpret as an action with lascivious intent. In 1873, Congress passed the Comstock Law, which was the first anti-obscenity statute to be adopted at the federal level. In effect, the law made it illegal to send “obscene, lewd or lascivious” materials and information through the mail.

Anthony Comstock was the United States Postal Inspector, which gave him the authority to enforce the Comstock obscenity law. He also became the leader of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice- and a notorious public figure. He was not just an arbitrator of morality, he had the force of law and order on his side. We may share in Puck’s amusement at the thought of Comstock over-stepping his purview as a regulator of morality, but the Comstock Act did have far-reaching (and even tragic) consequences. Not satisfied with the work being done in his native East Coast, Comstock and the Society for the Suppression of Vice set their sights on Chicago, a city with a notorious reputation.  One of the missions of the Chicago Branch of the Society of the Suppression of Vice was to “prosecut[e] those responsible” for the “vile traffic in obscene books, pictures, etc.” (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Suppression of Vice,” Sept. 27, 1879).

Souvenir Map of the World’s Columbian Exposition, Jackson Park, 1893. Hermann Heinz Source: Chicago Historical Society (ICHi-27750)

Chicago first drew Comstock’s attention during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, where he was (in particular) horrified by the danse du ventre famously performed by “Little Egypt” at the Egyptian Theater.

comstockblogimage2

Left: Portrait of Ida Craddock. Circa 1900. Source www.idacraddock.org.
Right: Little Egypt, the stage name of dancer Fahreda Mahzar. By The original uploader was Ratwod at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Anthony Comstock faces Ida Craddock in Chicago

While Comstock found so-called belly dancing to be indecent and obscene, author, High Priestess of Yoga, and leader of “peculiar religion” Miss Ida C. Craddock publicly and passionately supported the dance. In fact, Craddock supported many things that Comstock considered indecent- and he prosecuted her to the full extent of the law for “having circulated improper literature through the United States mails” (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Author Ends her Life,” October 18,1902).

Craddock was arrested in Chicago in 1899 and spent time in prison.  Instead of backing down from the expression of her beliefs, she continued to publish literature and speak to the public about sexual education. Comstock personally arrested her again in 1902, and when she was again convicted, Craddock decided to become a martyr for the cause of freedom of expression.

Ida Craddock’s court battles with Anthony Comstock ultimately helped shape the interpretation of the First Amendment, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In 1906, Theodore Schroeder, an attorney for the Free Speech League of New York, was set to debate Anthony Comstock at the Purity conference in Chicago. Comstock did not show, but Schroeder spoke on behalf of free speech to the crowd anyway.  Echoing Ida Craddock, Schroeder argued for the “development of healthy mindedness through sexual education” instead of the current suppression of anything deemed “obscene.” (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Purity Debate One-Sided,” October 11, 1906).

Puck, "A Dreadful Predicament," vol. 12, no. 570, February 8, 1888.

Puck, “A Dreadful Predicament,” vol. 12, no. 570, February 8, 1888.

“O, dear me, what shall I do? My shoe string has come untied, and there’s that dreadful Anthony Comstock just behind me!”

Anthony Comstock saw Gilded Age cities like Chicago as tarnished, and sought to suppress anything that continued to mar the city’s character. Ida Craddock, on the other hand, seemed to recognize that there was greater danger in suppression than expression. Unlike Puck, which just scoffed at the absurdity of the Comstock Law, she worked to combat it.

 

Further Reading/Viewing

For more on Ida Craddock and her crusade: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/15/131878498/a-wanton-woman-the-life-of-ida-c-craddock.

For a motion-picture filmed by Thomas Edison of a “belly dancer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxZoXJBILbc.

World’s Fair Puck

Lindsey Howald Patton —  November 1, 2016 — 1 Comment

In 1893, Chicago put on a fair that would awe the world. The World’s Columbian Exposition, so called in honor of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World, displayed the most fascinating innovations and arts of the period in one grand place. The fair organizers envisioned a 630-acre park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted of New York Central Park fame, filled with bone-white neoclassical buildings by such eminent architects as Henry Ives Cobb, Richard Morris Hunt, Charles McKim, and Louis Sullivan.

Jackson Park itself was a wonder, and it also exhibited wonders. Visitors saw life-size reproductions of Columbus’s three ships, a 1,500-pound Venus de Milo made entirely of chocolate, a 70-foot tower of light bulbs, an 11-ton block of Canadian cheese, and the world’s first Ferris Wheel. The ‘Street in Cairo,’ a re-creation of the medieval city, immersed fairgoers in exotic Egyptian dance, architecture, and animals. Other cultures were likewise on display in attractions such as the Turkish Village, Dutch Settlement, Indian Village, Esquimix Village, Japanese Ho-o-den, Old Vienna, and German Village. Eadweard Muybridge showed the world’s first moving pictures, Louis Comfort Tiffany stunned with his magnificent chapel, and Frederick Pabst won a blue ribbon for his beer.

4837166785_8150d82e4f_b

The Grand Basin. The World’s Columbian Exposition, Jackson Park, Chicago, Illinois, 1893.

 

Puck—the first successful humor magazine in the United States, and at the peak of its popularity—also joined the world’s fair fray.

Puck positioned itself not only on the cutting edge of satire in America, but also on the cutting edge of printing technology. As the first magazine to print brilliant full-color cartoons each week, Puck showed off the emerging technique of chromolithography. So the fair organizers invited Puck founder Joseph Keppler and his partner, Adolph Schwarzmann, to give fairgoers an open-air demonstration of their process.

 

Joseph Keppler, founder of Puck magazine.

Joseph Keppler, founder of Puck magazine.

 

Keppler and Schwarzmann left New York for Chicago, launched a special World’s Fair Puck edition, and produced it on-site in Jackson Park, displaying their irreverent editorial style and chromolithographic technique for the fair’s nearly 26 million visitors. The fair organizers awarded Puck a central location in one of the “cheerful little pavilions” between the Horticultural Building and Women’s Building. Each week from May to October, they produced twenty-six issues from their McKim, Mead & White-designed Puck Building, while the parent magazine continued its regular weekly production schedule in New York.

Cover of the May 1, 1893 edition of World’s Fair Puck featuring a politely welcoming Puck. The caption reads, “GREETING. Will you walk into my workshop? Do not pass it on the fly, /—For to see how Puck is printed will delight your mind and eye: /And I only hope the people of the world will give to me /A welcome half as hearty as their welcome here will be!”

Cover of the May 1, 1893 edition of World’s Fair Puck featuring a politely welcoming Puck. The caption reads, “GREETING. Will you walk into my workshop? Do not pass it on the fly, /—For to see how Puck is printed will delight your mind and eye: /And I only hope the people of the world will give to me /A welcome half as hearty as their welcome here will be!”

Puck Building. Image from digitized record of The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893: A Photographic  Record, Photos from the Collections of the Avery Library of Columbia University and the Chicago Historical Society by Stanley Appelbaum, 1980.

Puck Building. Image from digitized record of The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893: A Photographic
Record, Photos from the Collections of the Avery Library of Columbia University and the Chicago Historical Society by Stanley Appelbaum, 1980.

 

 

At just twelve pages, World’s Fair Puck was about a third of the size of regular Puck. But each page packed just as powerful a satirical punch, with a few favorite themes that were revisited again and again.

 

The Country Boy in the Big City

The idea of an unwitting Midwestern “hayseed” bumbling around in the cosmopolitan world of Chicago provided plenty of laughs for readers.

But Keppler often backed the working classes against the rich, and couldn’t resist taking a shot at the fair organizers’ ticket prices. Labor unions had petitioned for the exposition to open on Sundays so working class families could attend. Even after a series of lawsuits resulted in the organizers’ agreement to the deal, few of Chicago’s factory workers could afford the price. World’s Fair Puck pointed out that “had you taken a microscope to aid you last Sunday, you would hardly have found a trace of the Workingman, whom Sunday-opening was expected to benefit.”

In a twist on this class theme, World’s Fair Puck poked fun at Midwesterners in general, depicting them as uncouth compared to high society in the Eastern U.S. In one issue, a Chicago hostess interviews a new butler. “Well, if, as you say, you lived in all the fin de siècle Boston houses, perhaps you may do for me,” she says. “But I must test you with a few questions first.” Her question reveals her inexperience, however: “In arranging the table for a ladies’ luncheon party, where would you put the toothpicks?”

 

Chicagoans Versus New Yorkers

Chicago and New York competed fiercely with one another to host the World’s Columbian Exposition, so this theme was especially in force before the fair opened. The cartoon below represents the tussle between Chicagoans and New Yorkers for the prestigious honor, a Lady Liberty figure at center representing the fair. She stands between Chicago—the cowboy, left—and New York—the statesman, at right. Her preference for the statesman, with his carefully laid plans, is clear. But the wild Chicago cowboy lassos the reluctant World’s Columbian Exposition and ropes her in. The smoke from his gun contains the words “Wind.” New Yorkers thought smooth-talking Chicago politicians were ‘full of hot air,’ as the saying goes, resulting in the nickname the “Windy City.”

“Between the Rip Snorting and the Slow-Going Wooers.” Puck, C.J. Taylor.

“Between the Rip Snorting and the Slow-Going Wooers.” Puck, C.J. Taylor.

 

Anthropological Encounters

World’s Fair Puck made much of the inevitable strangeness and intimacy of Americans coming face-to-face for the first time with people brought from as far as Egypt, Benin, Java, or Alaska.

The fair made these exotic people into a kind of living diorama, showcasing their crafts, dress, architecture, and diet. World’s Fair Puck took easy shots when joking about the cultural differences, often leaving political correctness far behind. For example, one cartoon depicted a large Eskimo woman roasting in her furs during the hot Chicago summer, while a man from Dahomey (a now-defunct African monarchy), with only a leaf skirt and battle shield, shivers. Romance—and a costume swap—ensues, with the title “A Climatic Change.”

 

"A Climatic Change:  A Romance Antipodeon of the World's Fair." World's Fair Puck, 1893.

“A Climatic Change: A Romance Antipodeon of the World’s Fair.” World’s Fair Puck, 1893.

 

Others were blatantly racist. The cartoon below, entitled “Darkies’ Day at the Fair,” is an example of prevailing racism that placed people of color at the bottom of the social hierarchy and enforced cruel stereotypes.

 

“Darkies’ Day at the Fair (A Tale of Poetic Retribution).” Frederick Burr Opper, World’s Fair Puck, 1893. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

“Darkies’ Day at the Fair (A Tale of Poetic Retribution).” Frederick Burr Opper, World’s Fair Puck, 1893. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

 

 

Hurrah for the Red, White and Blue!

Other World’s Fair Puck cartoons put biting humor aside for a moment to celebrate what brings us together. The Fourth of July and closing ceremonies were two occasions for patriotism, as you see in the cartoons below.

 

“Hurrah for the Red, White and Blue!” Joseph Keppler, World’s Fair Puck, July 3, 1893.

“Hurrah for the Red, White and Blue!” Joseph Keppler, World’s Fair Puck, July 3, 1893.

 

“Grand Finale of the Stupendous Spectacular Success, ‘Uncle Sam’s Show.’” Frederick Burr Opper, World’s Fair Puck, 1893. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. The cartoon shows people from all over the world, including Africa, Italy, and Japan, joining hands with America to celebrate the end of the fair. In the text below, Uncle Sam sings: “It’s done, it’s done! The show and fun / We’ve had for six months past; / I’ve made the world stare / At my wonderful Fair, / And swear that nothing could compare / With the beautiful, wonderful things seen here -- / But the end has come, at last. / And now, it’s over, we thank you all / For giving so hearty a curtain call; / And you all agree with me, I guess, / That it’s been a howling, big success!” Then the “chorus of all nations” sings, “For he’s a jolly good fellow.”

“Grand Finale of the Stupendous Spectacular Success, ‘Uncle Sam’s Show.’” Frederick Burr Opper, World’s Fair Puck, 1893. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. The cartoon shows people from all over the world, including Africa, Italy, and Japan, joining hands with America to celebrate the end of the fair. In the text below, Uncle Sam sings: “It’s done, it’s done! The show and fun / We’ve had for six months past; / I’ve made the world stare / At my wonderful Fair, / And swear that nothing could compare / With the beautiful, wonderful things seen here — / But the end has come, at last. / And now, it’s over, we thank you all / For giving so hearty a curtain call; / And you all agree with me, I guess, / That it’s been a howling, big success!” Then the “chorus of all nations” sings, “For he’s a jolly good fellow.”

 

World’s Fair Puck would be the final innovation in Joseph Keppler’s career, although the parent magazine stayed in circulation until 1918. He worked at a feverish pace during the fair, amid working conditions that weren’t exactly ideal. Like the other Columbian Exposition buildings, the Puck Building was made of plaster, only meant to be a temporary, albeit grandiose, shelter for editorial and printing activities that summer. It was uncomfortably hot inside, and the tensions arose between writers and artists who were working while on public display. Keppler never recovered from the strain of the fair. He become ill with, according to his obituary in The New York Times, “a nervous disorder due to overwork,” and died in his home on the Upper East Side in February 1894.

 

 

RESOURCES
“Joseph Keppler and ‘Puck’” by Anne Evenhaugen. Smithsonian Libraries Unbound, December 12, 2012.
https://blog.library.si.edu/2012/12/joseph-keppler-and-puck/#.V2Gx-5MrKHo
“Death of Joseph Keppler, A Noted Caricaturist and Part Owner of Puck.” The New York Times, February 20, 1894. 
PUCK: What Fools These Mortals Be! by Michael Alexander Kahn and Richard Samuel West, 2014.
Coming of Age in Chicago: The 1893 World’s Fair and the Coalescence of American Anthropology by Ira Jacknis, Donald McVicker, and James Snead. University of Nebraska Press, 2016.
Perfect Cities: Chicago’s Utopias of 1893, by James Burkhart Gilbert. University of Chicago Press, 1991.
Popular Culture and The Enduring Myth of Chicago, 1871-1968, Lisa Krisoff Boehm. Routledge, 2004.
“The World’s Columbian Exposition”, The Chicago Historical Society, 1999. www.chicagohs.org/history/expo/html.
World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, made available by the Paul V. Gavin Library Digital History Collection – Illinois Institute of Technology.
Zinc Sculpture in America, 1850-1950 by Carol A. Grissom. Associated University Presse, 2009.

This post is part of a series exploring the stories behind the Driehaus Museum’s latest exhibition, With a Wink and a Nod: Cartoonists of the Gilded AgeFor information on visiting the exhibition, click here

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The Puck of Puck magazine isn’t exactly Bacchus from ancient myth. Nor does he really resemble the “knurly limed, faun faced, and shock-pated” creature from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Rather, he looks like cherub dressed as up a Gilded Age dandy—complete with a top hat and frock coat. The coat is left wide open to expose his chubby nude figure, and in his hands he holds the keys to Puck’s reign of American humor: a fountain pen and a hand mirror.

This is how Puck appeared in Puck magazine. This is also how he appears on the Puck Building exterior in New York City. Two gilded statues of this mischievous character still stand sentry outside the historic building, where, from 1887 to 1916, Puck turned out page after satirical page.

 

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Statue of Puck above the Puck Building entrance. Image via The Bowery Boys: New York City History (boweryboyshistory.com), 24 April 2009.

The Austrian-born publisher of Puck, Joseph Keppler, commissioned the building in 1885. He’d launched an English-language version of his small German satirical magazine seven years ago, and Puck had become a milestone in the history of American humor, with circulation hitting 80,000 in the early 1880s and climbing to 90,000 by the end of the decade. Riding the tide of success, Keppler, along with printer Adolph Schwartzmann and lithographer J. Ottman went in together on a property on the edge of the great publishing district of New York City. They hired German-born New York architect Albert Wagner to envision what would become one of the most iconic buildings in Lower Manhattan. The seven-story structure occupied an entire city block. King’s Handbook of New York City called it “the largest building in the world devoted to the business of lithographing and publishing, having a floor area of nearly eight acres.”

Albert Wagner worked out a design for Keppler that reflected a distinctly German style of Romanesque and Renaissance Revival architecture, called Rundbogenstil. The repeating arches—Rundbogenstil literally means “round-arch style”—and intricate brickwork are hallmarks of this short-lived but popular late nineteenth-century style. Romanesque Revival’s popularity is tied to Henry Hobson Richardson (a New York architect known in Chicago for the Glessner House), but Wagner’s Romanesque Revival is different from Richardson’s. Richardsonian Romanesque is a tad heavier, with rusticated stone and squat columns, while Rundbogendstil has smooth facades and an elegant lightness.

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Puck Building Exterior, 1895, from King’s Photographic View of New York, via Daytonian in Manhattan. (daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com)

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Puck Building, Richard Haas, 1971. Image via The Old Print Shop, New York, oldprintshop.com.

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The massive brick building was constructed in three phases—the original structure was finished in 1885-86, expanded in 1892-93 to make more room for Puck printing, and altered in 1899 to make up for the intrusion of Lafayette Street into its footprint. Wagner closely supervised all three stages, giving cohesion to the building’s overall design. Seemingly endless arches of varying heights define three vertical sections of the façade, the richly colored brick contrasted by polished gray granite blocks, brownstone, and ornamental ironwork.

Little is known about Albert Wagner. He settled in New York in 1871 and worked for Leopold Eidlitz, a prominent Bohemian architect who may have passed his passion for Rundbogendstil on to his protégée. While Wagner never became as famous as Eidlitz, he kept up a busy stream of commissions for residential, commercial, and industrial buildings during his career. He died in 1898, leaving his firm and the final touches on the Puck Building’s last addition in the hands of his relative Herman Wagner.

The Puck team advertised their arrival in the neighborhood with typical tongue in cheek, topping off the building with statues of their mascot, larger than life and gleaming with gold leaf. Sculpted by Henry Baerer, the German-born artist known for his stern-faced bust of Beethoven in New York’s Central Park, the largest Puck statue stands above the building’s main entrance on Houston and Mulberry Street. (Another, smaller Puck is stationed above the Lafayette entrance.) The chubby sprite holds a hand mirror—the better to reflect society’s follies with—as well as a fountain pen. At his side hangs a book inscribed with his character’s jest in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “What fools these Mortals be!”

Puckbldg

Keppler, Udo J., , Artist. Puck: “Congratulations, Mr. President; they wanted you” / Keppler. N.Y.: J. Ottmann Lith. Co., Puck Bldg., November 9, 1904. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2011645584. Illustration shows Puck reaching from the Puck Building to the White House to congratulation Theodore Roosevelt for winning the presidential election; they are shaking hands.

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The building housed the Puck editorial team and the J. Ottmann Lithography Company, which produced the groundbreaking full-color images for Puck ‘s front cover, back cover, and centerfold. They were joined by a number of other businesses, including a bookbindery, hat frame manufacturer, electrotyping company, and hat shop on the ground floor.

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Puck printed its last issue in 1918. So what is the Puck Building today? In 1980, Kushner Companies acquired the building for office and retail space. And in 2011, they got approval from the Landmarks Commission to transform the upper floors of the Puck Building into six penthouses—think Italian marble baths, mahogany-framed windows, William McIntosh floor patterns, televisions inside the mirrors. Luckily, the renovation preserved elements of the building’s original identity. The barrel-vaulted brick ceilings and architectural columns were left exposed, and Puck Penthouse’s brand style even borrows from the magazine’s masthead.

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Puck Penthouses (Image via Curbed New York)

PuckPenthouses

Puck Penthouses (Image via Curbed New York)

 

Want to learn more about the magazine printed in the Puck building during its heyday? Puck‘s illustrations changed the shape of American humor. Join us for next week’s exhibition lecture with Janel Trull, curator of the exhibition With a Wink and a Nod: Cartoonists of the Gilded Age, on Thursday, September 8.

 

 

 

SOURCES
Finn, Robin. “Penthouses for the Puck Building.” The New York Times, Sept. 19, 2013.
Gaiter, Dorothy J. “Restored Puck Building Opens Today.” The New York Times, Apr. 20, 1983.
PUCK BUILDING, 295-309 Lafayette Street, Borough of Manhattan. Landmarks Preservation Commission, April 12, 1983, Designation List 164. LP-1226. Accessed via Neighborhood Preservation Center. (neighborhoodpreservationcenter.org/db/bb_files/1983PuckBuilding.pdf)
Puck Penthouses, puckpenthouses.com
“The Puck Building—Houston and Lafayette Streets”, Daytonian in Manhattan. 19 Jan 2011. http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/puck-building-houston-and-lafayette.html

When you see the fashions on display in Dressing Downton™: Changing Fashion for Changing Times, you step into a broader cultural tale about the vast changes sweeping the world in the first decades of the 20th century.

Everything that once seemed permanent began to change. Corsets started disappearing from women’s wardrobes. The indomitable aristocratic elite began struggling to make ends meet. A younger generation redefined everything from good manners to falling in love. This tension between the traditional and the new forms the crux of the drama of Downton Abbey®, as seen through the lives of the Earl and Countess of Grantham, their daughters, and their domestic servants. And the greatest share of the changes took place in the lives of women. From going out with men unchaperoned to trying out cigarettes, women took for themselves a greater share in the public sphere.

Let’s go back to that tumultuous time and explore a few of the cultural phenomena of the 1910s and 20s. Here’s what everyone was talking about, both in England, the world of Downton Abbey, and here at home in Chicago.

 

Loosen That Corset!

In the early 20th century, women’s fashion was perhaps the biggest sign that things were changing. Bodices relaxed, waists dropped, and hems rose. Clothes became looser, freer, and less restrained with every passing year, and paralleled the increasing freedom women had in society. In the exhibition, you’ll see how the dresses of Downton Abbey’s younger generation (especially Lady Sibyl, Lady Edith and Lady Rose) reflected these changing times, while women like the Dowager Countess adhered firmly to tradition.

The Dowager Countess of Grantham represents the 'old guard' in fashion and tradition on Downton Abbey. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

The Dowager Countess of Grantham represents the ‘old guard’ in fashion and tradition on Downton Abbey. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

Downton Abbey's Lady Edith wears a 1920s flapper-influenced evening gown with a dropped waist and long necklace. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

Downton Abbey‘s Lady Edith wears a 1920s flapper-influenced evening gown with a dropped waist and long necklace. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

The three Crawley sisters of Downton Abbey wear breezy afternoon gowns, hats, and gloves. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

The three Crawley sisters of Downton Abbey wear breezy afternoon gowns, hats, and gloves. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

Downton Abbey's Lady Sibyl models exotic Turkish-style harem pants, much to the shock of her parents and grandmother. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

Downton Abbey’s Lady Sibyl models exotic Turkish-style harem pants, much to the shock of her parents and grandmother. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

For more on the latest fashions, take a look at a blog post from our last exhibition about the harmony of artistic clothing and jewelry in the early 20th century.  

Working Women

It was Lady Edith who dared to begin work outside the home in Season 3 of Downton Abbey. It’s 1920, and she takes a job as a newspaper columnist. It scandalizes her elders, who expected her to marry a well-heeled man and make her home her domain. In their eyes, her role should have been as a high society hostess, with entertaining and domestic servants her most important callings.

While women of the lower classes worked in factories or in large country houses like Downton during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, a new phenomenon was the necessity or desire of a woman of the middle and upper classes to work.

Firstly, the war years demanded practicality. In America, England, and the Continent, women went to work because they were needed there while men fought on the front lines. And when the war was over, recession meant that many of them wanted to stay and continue earning with newfound technical skills.

Work was also then, as today, one of the central battlegrounds for another type of war—one for women’s equal rights. Lady Edith represents a new wave of women who wanted to work beyond the domestic spheres previously reserved for them, whether to exercise creativity, earn better money independently of their husbands or fathers, or contribute to the public good of society.

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Lady Edith Crawley of Downton Abbey, in professional attire.

Lady Edith Crawley of Downton Abbey, in professional attire. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

Women working in the Leys Malleable Castings Company in England, 1930s. Image via The Daily Mail.

Women working in the Leys Malleable Castings Company in England, 1930s. Image via The Daily Mail.

Meet Me at the Movies

English photographer Edward Muybridge's studies of a horse in motion, 1878.

English photographer Edward Muybridge’s studies of a horse in motion, 1878.

The first famous moving image was captured by British-American scientist Edward Muybridge in the 1870s. He set up cameras along a racetrack and put together second-by-second snapshots of a galloping horse. But a movie would need many more pictures than Muybridge took, and a handful of ingenious inventors around the world made real “cinématographe” possible in the late 19th century.

At first England and France led the world in early filmmaking. The French magician Georges Méliès famously made the leap from early documentary-style shorts to narrative filmmaking, and enjoyed enormous popularity with the film Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) in 1902.

Back in the US, Edwin Porter’s twelve-minute film, The Great Train Robbery (1903), was the industry’s first big blockbuster. It ushered in the silent film era, as investors began confidently building movie theaters for this new American pastime. Silent film showings often featured live music just as theatrical plays would have, while the narrative was expressed through mime or notecards.

As the European countries were strained by impending war, America took first place in the film industry. Chicago was filled with avid moviegoers from the start. The first issue of Chicago-based magazine The Show in 1907 proclaimed this city as a world leader in moving picture rental and patronage, and Chicago possibly had more movie theaters per capita than any other US city. The 1910s and 20s saw the construction of gorgeous “movie palaces,” such as The Chicago Theatre, the Oriental, and the Uptown, some of which are still preserved today.

The Uptown Theatre in Chicago. Image courtesy the Theatre Historical Society of America, via WBEZ's Curious City.

The Uptown Theatre in Chicago, which opened in 1925 advertising “An Acre of Seats in a Magic City.” Image courtesy the Theatre Historical Society of America, via WBEZ Curious City.

One of the Downton Abbey housemaids reads an issue of Photoplay, an influential movie publication founded in Chicago in 1911, this issue featuring silent film star Louis Brooks on the cover. (Louise Brooks Society, via The Examiner, “Downton Abbey and Louise Brooks”)

One of the Downton Abbey housemaids reads an issue of Photoplay, an influential movie publication founded in Chicago in 1911, this issue featuring silent film star Louis Brooks on the cover. (Louise Brooks Society, via The Examiner, “Downton Abbey and Louise Brooks”)

Silent film star Buster Keaton in The General (1926)

Silent film star Buster Keaton in The General (1926)

Some of the most famous films from the era are Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and Birth of a Nation, and The General. The era’s stars, from Charlie Chaplin to Louise Brooks, Greta Garbo, and Buster Keaton, are still remembered.

“Lucky” Girls

While smoking cigars or cigarettes was acceptable for men before the early 20th century, a woman smoking was a severe faux pas. A 1901 article in The New York Times warned that the habit among women was “a menace in this country.” It was a social rule so powerful it even leaked into law. One New York policeman, spying a woman smoking in a car in 1904, pulled the automobile over and ordered her to put the cigarette out. The gender division was even built into Victorian architecture, with a separate smoking room for men to enjoy their recreational activity together while women retreated to the drawing room or parlor.

But in the early 20th century, along with increased educational opportunities and the suffrage movement, modern women started crossing that divide. Some embraced smoking as a symbol of freedom—a freedom to enjoy men’s freedoms. A march in New York in 1929, an event in which the American Tobacco Company participated through the early public relations genius Edward Bernays, saw women marching for equality with cigarettes in hand. “Group of Girls Puff Cigarettes as a Gesture of ‘Freedom’,” the headline read.

Advertisers started targeting this untapped market. Lucky Strikes featured glamorous illustrations of Miss America, or encouraged women to keep slim by reaching “for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet.”

Advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes.

A 1929 advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes, declaring it is now socially acceptable for women to smoke.

All That Jazz

In Season Four of Downton Abbey, rebellious Lady Rose falls for the jazz entertainer Jack Ross. His character is based on a number of jazz stars whose careers took them on a tour of Europe, such as Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson or Will Marion Cook. With its emphasis on spontaneous forms, jazz was the perfect antidote for the stuffy, formal life so many young people were trying to shed.

Jack Ross, a jazz entertainer on Downton Abbey.

Jack Ross, a debonair jazz entertainer on Downton Abbey. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

Resources
Downton Abbey, PBS Masterpiece. 
Elliot, Rosemary Elizabeth. “‘Destructive but sweet’: cigarette smoking among women 1890­-1990,” University of Glasgow, October 2001. 
Film,” The Encyclopedia of Chicago.
History of the Motion Picture,” Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Hudson, Pat. “Women’s Work,” BBC, March 29, 2011. 
Lee, Jennifer. “Big Tobacco’s Spin on Women’s Liberation,” October 10, 2008. 
Myers, Marc. Why Jazz Happened, University of California Press, 2013.
Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising, “Tobacco Advertising Themes: Targeting Women” 
Striking Women, “Women and Work: The Interwar Years, 1918-1939.” 

You Asked…

Where does the tradition of “afternoon tea” come from? (And why is tea such a big deal in England?)

Today’s blog is part of an occasional series dedicated to answering visitors’ questions.

A cup of bold, hot, watery brew, often with a splash of milk and spoonful of sugar, is how many people in England start their day and refuel in the afternoon. But tea hasn’t always been the staple it is today. In the mid-17th century it was a new, precious commodity in the West, a luxurious import from the farthest reaches of the British Empire. One early adopter in 1660, Samuel Pepys, referred to his first “cup of tee” as a “China drink.” This most quintessentially British drink is actually borrowed from other cultures, through the Empire’s colonial enterprises in China, India, Japan, and Kenya.

As such, drinking tea was at first a privilege reserved for royalty. And it was there, in the upper echelons of society, that the cozy ceremony we call ‘afternoon tea’ evolved.

In the wealthiest households of the 19th century, the evening meal was being served later and later in the evening. This new fashion meant there might be seven or eight hours between lunch and dinner. As the legend goes, Anne Russell, Duchess of Bedford, was tired of what she called “that sinking feeling” that came on at around four o’clock. She began ordering a small extra meal to be served in the afternoon. It included a cup of tea with milk and sugar, dainty sandwiches, and cakes. She invited women friends to join her, and it turned into a daily occasion for socializing and gossip. Queen Victoria was among Anne’s closest friends, and soon afternoon tea was also a daily ritual in the British Royal Court. The much-admired queen started a new fashion in the process, as other classes began to adopt afternoon tea as well—cementing its place in English society.

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Given the social position of the ladies among whom afternoon tea evolved, this was no casual affair. One’s best bone china and silver were brought out for serving, while the choice of tea exhibited the hostess’s taste for the exotic, expensive sundries of China, India, or Sri Lanka. The availability of sugar, also an import, in addition to refined cakes and buttery pastries, were also signs of a household’s prosperity. Servants attended the guests’ every need during these afternoon meals, with the hostess supervising.

New fashions emerged especially for the occasion, and the “tea gown” was born. A tea gown was initially designed to be worn inside and was only appropriate in the company of other women. Its comfortable, flowing silhouette—inspired by medieval styles and the Japanese kimono—offered  women a few hours’ reprieve from the restrictive corset. In the Driehaus Museum exhibition Dressing Downton, Cora Crawley’s elegant beaded tea gown with green velvet jacket is an excellent example of this style, which eventually became acceptable for more formal occasions where men were present.

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By the beginning of the 20th century, the era of Downton Abbey, afternoon tea was still an occasion for a conspicuous display of wealth, taste, and manners. Stirring one’s cream and sugar into the tea without touching the sides of the cup, or breaking a scone in just the right way, signified one’s station in an extremely class-conscious society.

Afternoon Tea Today

The Second World War and subsequent rationing of butter, sugar, and eggs caused afternoon teas to fade for a time in the mid-20th century, but the tradition returned after those austere years. Afternoon tea is as popular in England today as weekend brunch is in America.

Rather than taking place inside the home, however, the best afternoon teas of today are served in public places. High-end hotels and distinguished department stores, like Claridge’s and Fortnum & Mason in London, have deep roots in tea culture and commerce in England, and offer the most traditional repasts. Their tea menus are small hardbound books, commanding the diner’s attention with a wide variety of loose-leaf black, green, white, and herbal teas. After a few sips of tea—or, as is just as popular today, champagne—a three-tiered serving tray is presented at the table with a flourish. The lower platter contains delicate finger sandwiches with light fillings like cucumbers or smoked salmon. The central platter is dominated by tender, buttery scones, served with jams and clotted cream, which is a thick spread with a texture between butter and whipped cream. To finish, the top platter is arranged with delicate patisserie.

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Meanwhile, contemporary restaurants and up-and-coming chefs reinvent the standards while staying loyal to the spirit of afternoon tea. Afternoon tea at the Modern Pantry in London’s foodie-centric Clerkenwell district features mismatched antique china and unique takes on traditional favorites, including rosewater-infused scones, lychee bellinis, and chia-seed bread.

 

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The Driehaus Museum offers a unique afternoon tea experience in honor of this English tradition and to celebrate the exhibition Dressing Downton. The Museum’s elegant historic setting and special menu offer all the elements of a proper afternoon tea, including seasonal scones, cake breads, and tea sandwiches. The experience also features tea with a contemporary Chicago twist, featuring a tea blend by the local purveyor Rare Tea Cellar. To purchase tea tickets, click here.

Tea of a Different Color

All real teas come from the same species of plant, Camellia sinensis. The different types, often denoted by color, have to do with when the leaf is harvested and how it’s processed. Here are a few of our favorites explained:

Black tea is made of withered, crushed, and fully oxidized leaves, a process that helped it survive the long boat journey to Great Britain from the Far East. This might be why black tea is still the most popular. Regional varieties include Assam (India), Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Darjeeling (India), Oolong (China), and Lapsang (China). English breakfast tea is a blend of Kenyan, Ceylon, and Assam.

Earl Grey tea is a black tea to which the essence of bergamot, a type of citrus, has been added. It’s named for Charles Grey, the British Prime Minister in the 1830s. A London Fog is a kind of latte made with Earl Grey tea, milk, and vanilla.

Chai tea comes from India, and is black tea simmered with milk and spices including cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, ginger, and cloves.

Pu’erh is a fermented black tea on trend in the Western world, but has been prized for ages in China for its health benefits.

Green teas are unoxidized, which is why the leaves retain their fresh green color. The flavor is grassier as a result, with lower caffeine content. Varieties include Matcha, Sencha, Gunpowder, and Hojicha.

White teas are made from young, delicate tea buds, and mostly come from China. They are the least processed, with very little caffeine and subtle flavor.

Redbush tea, or rooibos, comes from South Africa. Naturally caffeine free, it’s a robust but smooth brew made from the needle-like leaves of the Aspalathus linearis.

Herbal tea is caffeine-free and comes in many forms. Rather than from the leaves of the tea plant, it’s made from other dried leaves or roots, including ginger, peppermint, licorice, or raspberry.

 

Images
A Family of Three at Tea, attr. Richard Collins, ca. 1727. From the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O56103/a-family-of-three-at-oil-painting-richard-collins/
Portrait of actress Irene Castle in a tea gown, 1913.
Photograph of tea advertisement found on Feast: An Edible Road Trip.
Photographs of afternoon teas by Lindsey Howald Patton, 2015.

 

Resources
Fortnum & Mason, “A Short History of Afternoon Tea” (https://www.fortnumandmason.com/fortnums/short-history-of-afternoon-tea)
Fellows, Elizabeth. Tea at Downton: Afternoon Tea Recipes from The Unofficial Guide to Downton Abbey
The Tea Spot, “The Leaf” (http://theteaspot.com/about-tea.html)
Corie, Store Manager

Corie, Store Manager

First name? Corie-ann

What is your title and what role does your position play at the Driehaus Museum? Museum Store Manager – My job is to ensure the day to day running of the Museum Store.  I also choose and buy all of the merchandise and set up all of our displays.

How long have you worked at the Museum? I have worked at the Driehaus Museum for three years.

Where are you from/where do you currently reside?  I am originally from a small town just west of Boston.  I moved to Chicago in 2012 and I have loved every moment since coming here!  My husband and I live in University Village and we really enjoy all the new restaurants and stores that are starting to open in our neighborhood. It’s quiet but were still so close to everything downtown.  

What is your education/experience background? How or why did you come to work at the Driehaus Museum?  I went to the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and received my B.A. in Art History in 2008.  I spent a semester studying at NYU in Paris and completed two internships at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  I was working outside my degree when I met my husband at the Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C.  He lived in Chicago and eventually I saw it as a great opportunity to move to a new city and get into the museum field.  I interviewed to be a volunteer at the Driehaus Museum and was hired to be a guide instead.  Three months later I was approached with the opportunity to open a new Museum Store for the Driehaus Museum and the rest is history!  

If you were a staff member of the Nickerson Mansion at the turn of the century, what role would you have and why? Could I be “Keeper of the Jewels”?  That is an official job title, right?  If not I would like to be the Ladies Maid.  I have some talent with hair and makeup and I like to think my fashion game is strong. 

If you were trapped in the Museum overnight, what would you do?  I would raid the refrigerator in the staff lounge and make up a lovely dinner for myself.  I would then set the grand table in the Nickerson’s dining room and eat my dinner there.  Since I have started working here I have always imagined what a dinner party would be like in the dining room.

What is your favorite movie?  Book?  I have a soft spot for Pixar Movies but period films tend to also draw me in.  I also read quite a bit but I always go back to Harry Potter every once in a while.

What is your favorite holiday/program or event at the Museum?  Anything tied to the holidays is my favorite.  Starting with the Murder Mystery event and then into our Christmas programming, it is the most fun time of year. I really can’t just choose one.  I do love having a pianist here during Santa Saturdays.  The house has so much energy when live music is being played.

What is your dream job? My dream job, ever since I was little, is to be an expert for the Antiques Roadshow.  I just need to choose a specialty and become an expert in that field.  Jewelry is my passion at the moment.

Tell us about one of your favorite moments during your time working at the Museum? The day the Museum Store opened was so special for me.  I had worked for over 6 months building the look of the store and buying new merchandise.  Seeing the store finally open and people shopping was so exciting and fulfilling!

Emily, Museum Guide

Driehaus Museum —  November 2, 2015 — 1 Comment
Emily, Museum Guide

Emily, Museum Guide

Our staff is always asked about our backgrounds and how they came to work at the Driehaus Museum.  So we wanted to share some of our amazing team with everyone. And, as always, let us know if you have any other questions.

First name? Emily

What is your title and what role does your position play at the Driehaus Museum? Tour Guide- meaning that I give tours, but also answer guest questions on the floor.

How long have you worked at the Museum? Nearly five months.

Where are you from/where do you currently reside? I grew up in the historic town of New Castle, Delaware, which I attribute to my early fascination with history. It was originally settled by the Dutch in 1651 and still has some interesting quirks, including a few cobblestone road that will raddle your brain. Prior to my moving to Chicago, my husband started a job in the city and I followed a couple of months later in June 2014.

What is your education/experience background? How or why did you come to work at the Driehaus Museum? I received my BA in History & German from the University of Delaware, where my research interests were in 18th and 19th century women’s and African-American history. During this time, I joined a digital humanities project called the “Colored Conventions Project”, which aimed at making a public database on Black organizing in the nineteenth-century. From this experience, I realized my interest in the education of the public and the importance it can have on a community.

Feeling unsatisfied with only four years of German, I decided to accept a fellowship at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the department of Germanic Studies. I continue to work on my master’s degree, which this academic year has extended into a Teaching Assistantship. My research interests have changed into gender and sexuality in German literature, particularly in 18th century works. I came to the Driehaus Museum wanting a practical application to my education and to gain experience in the museum world. I am excited to continue working and learning at this beautiful museum.

If you were a staff member of the Nickerson Mansion at the turn of the century, what role would you have and why? I would probably be a normal housekeeper, knowing that my cooking skills wouldn’t please the Nickerson’s.

If you were trapped in the Museum overnight, what would you do? If I could do anything, I would use years of classical piano training and play the Chickering and Sons piano in the Drawing Room.

What is your favorite movie?  Book? All-time favorite movie is Jaws. Favorite English book is a series called Incarnations of Immortality by Piers Anthony. Favorite German book is a young reader’s book called “Momo” by Michael Ende, who more famously wrote The NeverEnding Story.

What is your dream job? Anything that would pay me to travel to unique places.

Laura-Caroline, Collections & Exhibitions Manager at the Driehaus Museum

Laura-Caroline, Collections & Exhibitions Manager at the Driehaus Museum

Our staff is always asked about our backgrounds and how they came to work at the Driehaus Museum.  So we wanted to share some of our amazing team with everyone.  And, as always, let us know if you have any other questions.

First name?  Laura-Caroline

What is your title and what role does your position play at the Driehaus Museum?  I’m the Collections & Exhibitions Manager at the Driehaus Museum. I help care for and manage the historic interiors of the house and our decorative arts collection; and, in addition, I manage the planning, organization, and installation of our permanent and temporary exhibitions, like Maker & Muse and our upcoming Dressing Downton installations.

How long have you worked at the Museum?  I joined the team in May of 2014, so just a little over a year.

Where are you from/where do you currently reside?  Originally, I’m from Greenville, South Carolina. I live in Chicago’s exciting Logan Square neighborhood now and moved to the city about six years ago, by way of Memphis, TN and Washington D.C.

What is your education/experience background? How or why did you come to work at the Driehaus Museum?  I started working in galleries and museums at the age of 16 and never looked back. So, my art background is already a bit of a long one. I studied Art History at Rhodes College in Memphis (go Lynx cats!). When I finished, I received a year-long academic internship working in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s curatorial and registrar’s departments, organizing exhibitions and researching for exhibition catalogues. I eventually returned to Memphis to act as project coordinator for a public art organization called the UrbanArt Commission, taking care of the city’s art collection while planning new art projects throughout Memphis with local, regional, and national artists.

But, being a total nerd and missing school, I moved to Chicago to attend The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), where I received dual master’s degrees in Modern Art History, Theory, & Criticism and Arts Administration & Policy. While at SAIC, I worked as Chief Registrar for the Roger Brown Study Collection a house museum in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, I was curator for the school’s Creativity in the Workplace program, curating approximately fourteen exhibitions a year throughout Chicagoland, and for a year I served as the program coordinator for SAIC’s Visiting Artists Program before deciding to go back into exhibitions and collections management, which is how I found myself at the Driehaus Museum. Previously, my focus was in modern and contemporary art, so this Gilded Age collection is a new and exciting venture for me!

If you were trapped in the Museum overnight, what would you do?  While painstakingly installing 275 pieces of jewelry last January for our Maker & Muse exhibition, it sometimes felt like we WERE trapped in the museum overnight—these shows don’t install themselves, you know!

But, if I were not installing, had free reign of the place, and were allowed to break every collections-care rule in the book? I would absolutely post up in the Library’s (attributed to the Herter Bros.) chair under the gryphon lamp with a glass of scotch, a cigar, and a good book for the night. I also played piano for many years when I was younger, so I’d likely spend time on our Chickering & Sons piano in the Drawing Room. And, if friends are invited, then I wouldn’t pass up on a dance party opportunity in the Ballroom either. The house offers lots of great overnight possibilities, now that I think about it…

What is your favorite holiday/program or event at the Museum?  If you’ve never been to the Museum around the winter holidays, you really have to put it on your bucket list. We’re over-the-top, but tastefully decorated with holiday décor that—while wreaking havoc on the collections team for the amount of glitter that gets deposited everywhere—looks absolutely stunning and will immediately put you in the holiday spirit, even after a long afternoon of Michigan Avenue holiday shopping. Therefore, I’d have to go with Santa Saturdays being my favorite program at the museum. Because, who doesn’t want to have brunch with the jolliest man alive in such a lovely setting!?

Tell us about one of your favorite moments during your time working at the Museum?  I work with amazing colleagues here at the Driehaus Museum, so picking one favorite moment is difficult and with a job as multifaceted as this one, every day is an adventure! I’ll give two examples. The first is one of the most memorable, though perhaps not necessarily my favorite. Our second floor features an original water closet in between Addie’s and Mrs. Nickerson’s bedrooms, which now act as exhibition galleries for us. During my third week of working at the museum, it came to my attention that the non-functioning original facilities within that water closet had been put to use for their originally intended purposes. It was in the process of determining how to handle that situation that I realized that this new job would not be like any other I’d ever experienced…

One of the sweetest moments I’ve had yet came on the last day of installation of the Maker & Muse exhibition. Our team worked many late hours for two weeks to install this extensive exhibition. The last day of install in particular was filled with intricate installation needs and last minute touch ups, in preparation for Mr. Driehaus’s first viewing of the exhibition that evening. But, the team finished with about an hour to spare. That brief period, between putting the last necklace in its case and showing the exhibition to its first visitor, found our team sitting on the main hall steps, having the first moment in months to really absorb and observe what it was we’d all been working towards. That shared sense of calm, pride, and enthusiastic exhaustion was really very special.