Oh, Emily…!

Otis Allen Bullard (1816-1853)
Emily Elizabeth, Austin and Lavinia Dickinson
Oil on canvas, ca. 1840

This portrait of Emily Dickinson (left) with her brother Austin (centre) and sister Lavinia (right) was painted by Otis Allen Bullard in early 1840, when Emily was nine years old. Her short auburn hair is striking and it is fitting that this early image of the poet shows her holding a book and a flower, though it is unclear whether the book is an illustrated publication or Dickinson’s own album of pressed botanical specimens, which she had likely started the year before. The intimate bond between Dickinson and her siblings portrayed here is one that lasted until her death at age fifty-five in 1886. 

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
”Honey grows every where”

Fragment transcribed by Mabel Loomis Todd, ca. 1890s

Amherst College archives holds nearly nine hundred transcriptions of Dickinson’s manuscripts made by Mabel Loomis Todd and her assistants during the 1890s. No piece of Dickinson’s writing was too small, as illustrated by Todd’s attempt to turn this slim piece of paper with barely legible handwriting into something worthy of publication. 

The entire gallery was lined with floral wallpaper from Emily Dickinson’s bedroom in Amherst.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Shakespeare’s Plays
New York: Harper & Brothers, 1847 [i.e. 1844-47]

The Dickinson family owned at least six different editions of books by and about William Shakespeare. This volume is typical of the wave of illustrated editions of his works published throughout the nineteenth century. Dickinson mentions Shakespeare by name in thirteen of her letters on one poem, but traces of his influence can be detected throughout her writing. Her friend and future editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson made a note after visiting Dickinson in 1870: ”After long disuse of her eyes she read Shakespeare & thought why is any other book needed?”

Photographer unknown
Emily Dickinson
Daguerreotype, ca. 1847

This iconic portrait of Emily Dickinson – with her steady gaze and dark hair – is the only authenticated photograph of the poet. It was likely made in Amherst between December 1846 and late March 1847, when Dickinson was sixteen years old. Dickinson’s name was never inscribed on the daguerreotype, but its authenticity is based on the provenance of the item: Lavinia Dickinson gave it to a relative, Wallace Keep, and it remained in the family until 1956 when it was donated to Amherst College. It is not clear why Lavinia gave away such an important keepsake of her sister. 

Emily Dickinson, Daguerreotype, ca. 1847.
The Emily Dickinson Collection, Amherst College Archives & Special Collections.

From ”I’m Nobody! Who are you? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson”, an exhibition that ran through May 28, 2017.

One of the most popular and enigmatic American writers of the nineteenth century, Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) wrote almost 1,800 poems. Nevertheless, her work was essentially unknown to contemporary readers since only a handful of poems were published during her lifetime and a vast trove of her manuscripts was not discovered until after her death in 1886.

The Morgan Library & Museum

May 7th, 2017

I want, to kill you, O time who devastates…

The original from Paul Verlaine’s book of Symbolist Poetry:

Je veux, pour te tuer, ô temps qui me dévastes,
Remonter jusqu’aux jours bleuis des amours chastes
Et bercer ma luxure et ma honte au bruit doux
De baisers sur Sa main et non plus dans Leurs cous.
Le Tibère effrayant que je suis à cette heure,
Quoi que j’en aie, et que je rie ou que je pleure,
Qu’il dorme ! pour rêver, loin d’un cruel bonheur,
Aux tendrons pâlots dont on ménageait l’honneur
Ès-fêtes, dans, après le bal sur la pelouse,
Le clair de lune quand le clocher sonnait douze.


Bust of a Young Girl Wearing a Beret
France or The Netherlands
mid 16th (?) or 19th (?) century
Polychromed terra-cotta

The Morgan Library & Museum

May 7th, 2017

Fernand Khnopff || Illustrations for Pelléas et Mélisande

In the beginning

Golaud, a widower and grandson of King Arkel of Allemonde, has lost his way hunting in the forest. Near a fountain he discovers a weeping young girl, Mélisande. She can’t explain who she is or what has happened to her. She reluctantly agrees to follow Golaud.

In Arkel’s castle, Golaud’s mother, Geneviève, reads the old king a letter that her son has written to his half-brother, Pelléas. In it, Golaud explains the circumstances of his meeting with Mélisande six months ago. He has married her but knows no more of her story than he did then. He is afraid to return home because Arkel, though he accepts the marriage, had nevertheless hoped for Golaud to take a wife in a politically favorable union. Pelléas enters, asking to visit a dying friend. Arkel reminds him that his own father is seriously ill and persuades him to stay to greet Golaud’s new wife.

From the castle garden, Geneviève shows Mélisande the forests of Allemonde and the sea beyond. Pelléas joins them and Geneviève entrusts the girl to his care. Alone with Mélisande, Pelléas tells her that he may soon have to go on a journey.

Act 2

Pelléas takes Mélisande to a well in the park. As she plays by the water, fascinated by her reflection, her wedding ring falls in, the moment the clock strikes noon. She wonders how to explain it to Golaud. Pelléas advises her to tell the truth.

Golaud has been thrown from his horse on the stroke of midday. He lies in bed, tended by Mélisande. She tells him that she is not happy and longs to leave the castle. When Golaud takes her hand he notices the missing ring. Asked what happened to it, she replies she must have lost it in a cave by the sea. Golaud commands her to go and look for it at once, even though it is night. She is to take Pelléas with her.

Pelléas and Mélisande have gone to the cave so she will be able to describe the place to Golaud. As the moon appears, Mélisande is frightened by the sight of three beggars sleeping in the cave and asks to be taken back to the castle.

Act 3

Pelléas appears below Mélisande’s window to tell her that he is leaving. She leans out and he reaches for her hair, marveling at how long it is. Suddenly Golaud appears and tells them to stop behaving like children.

Golaud leads Pelléas to a pool beneath the castle. Pelléas feels as if he was suffocating and they leave. Back on the surface, he gratefully breathes the fresh air. Golaud warns him to keep away from Mélisande, who is pregnant.

Golaud suspiciously questions Yniold, his son by his first marriage, about Pelléas and Mélisande. The boy innocently replies that they are always together but he has only seen them kiss once. When Mélisande’s window lights up, Golaud lifts Yniold to look into the room. Yniold sees Pelléas enter but he and Mélisande only look at the light and don’t talk.

Act 4

Pelléas tells Mélisande that his father has recovered and that he will leave the next day. They agree to meet by the well one last time to say goodbye. Arkel assures Mélisande that the castle will now be more cheerful. He hopes that her youth and beauty will bring about a new era. Golaud enters. He angrily confronts Mélisande, making ironic remarks about her innocence and throwing her to the ground. Arkel is horrified.

By the well, Yniold tries to recover his golden ball, which has fallen between the stones. A shepherd passes by with his sheep, on their way to slaughter. As night falls, Yniold leaves.

Pelléas arrives, soon followed by Mélisande, and they finally confess their love. Realizing there is someone waiting in the dark, they desperately kiss. Golaud enters and kills Pelléas, then pursues the fleeing Mélisande.

The end

Mélisande, who has prematurely given birth to a daughter, is dying. When Golaud, full of remorse, questions her about Pelléas, she innocently admits that she loved him. Golaud realizes there will be no resolution to his torment. Mélisande’s child is brought to her but she can see only sadness in its face. Then she quietly dies. Arkel leads Golaud away, observing that it is now the child’s turn.

Source: The Metropolitan Opera

Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921)
Illustrations for Acts 2,3 and 4 of Pelléas et Mélisande
Hand-coloured photogravures

From Maurice Maeterlinck, Pelléas et Mélisande. Brussels: Edition de la Société de Bibliophiles, 1920

Images from ”Delirium: The Art of the Symbolist Book” exhibition @ The Morgan Library & Museum

May 7th, 2017

Delirium || The Art of the Symbolist Book @ The Morgan Library

Midtown Manhattan may seem too professional, flat, boring, touristy, UN-y, with nothing much moving after hours besides FDNY ladders and Mount Sinai ambulances – sirens full blast, but it has its share of interesting spots. Keep an open mind, look beyond the luxury shop windows of Fifth or Madison Avenues or the Broadway theatre district, and you may be surprised. And quite positively at that.

Take a look inside The Morgan Library, for instance, one of Midtown’s gems both architecturally and as an exhibition space.

What began as an intimate palazzo-like structure intended to serve as the private library of financier Pierpont Morgan, became today’s complex of buildings of different styles, covering half a city block.

Mr. Morgan’s library was designed by Charles Follen McKim and built between 1902 and 1906, next to his residence. Later, as his collections grew, an Annex was added in 1928. More recently, in 1988, Mr. Morgan’s brownstone residence was added to the complex, followed by a garden in 1991, which united the three buildings. And, finally, there came the largest expansion yet with (surprise!) a Renzo Piano steel and glass design creating new spaces and connecting everything together.

The images that follow are from ”Delirium: The Art of the Symbolist Book”, an exhibition that featured works by authors and artists from the Symbolist movement.

Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904)
Portrait of Arthur Rimbaud, 1872
Watercolour and white opaque wash over black chalk on paperboard

Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
Centaure lisant, ca. 1885
Charcoal sprayed with fixative on wove paper 

Marcel Schwob (1867-1905)
Georges de Feure, artist (1868-1943)
La porte des rêves

Edgar Allan Poe’s influence on Symbolist literature was most explicit in its prose. In Schwob’s Arachné, a man’s desire to possess his beloved leads him to strangle her to absorb her soul, exhaled in her dying breath. Things backfire. Transformed into a spidery creature, she uses his rope to ensnare him, confining his body and silencing his speech. Schwob’s fiction reflects a coterie of misogyny in the Symbolist movement. These authors explored the sinister artifice and automaton-like qualities of women as femmes fatales. Publisher Octave Uzanne, who relished the movement’s darker side, enlisted de Feure to illustrate Schwob’s fantastic tales for a livre de luxe. The artist’s elaborate ornamental borders, which manifest a stylistic progression from Symbolist decoration to Art Nouveau, were the only elements the writer praised.

Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
L’homme-arbre, ca. 1895
Charcoal and graphite pencil on paper

”Delirium” was but a fraction of what was to be discovered that day. The Morgan and its treasures will monopolize The Humble Fabulist’s upcoming pages. They are totally worth it, I promise!

The Morgan Library & Museum

May 7th, 2017

See || Purr || Listen

Su-Mei Tse (b. 1973) in collaboration with Jean-Lou Majerus
Sound for Insomniacs, 2007

5 Lambda digital prints on semi-glossy photo paper, two stools with integrated MP3 players, screens, and headphones.

For Su-Mei Tse, photographs alone are not enough to capture a cat’s unique personality. Here she presents large close-ups of five different cats, each with an expressive presence similar to traditional painted portraits, along with recordings of each cat purring. 

Because every cat’s purr is unique but they all sooth, relax and may act as natural sleeping pills. Works for me, anytime!

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

May 4th, 2017