Jun 152018
 

Today is the birthday (1914) of Saul Steinberg, a Romanian-born, U.S. artist, cartoonist and illustrator, best known for his work for The New Yorker, most notably “View of the World from 9th Avenue.” He described himself as “a writer who draws.” Steinberg was born in Râmnicu Sărat in Romania. In 1932, he entered the University of Bucharest and in 1933, he enrolled at the Politecnico di Milano to study architecture. He received his degree in 1940. In 1936, he began contributing cartoons to the humor newspaper Bertoldo. Two years later, the anti-Semitic racial laws promulgated by the Fascist government forced him to start seeking refuge in another country.

In 1941, Steinberg went the Dominican Republic, where he spent a year awaiting a US visa. By then, his drawings had appeared in several US periodicals. His first contribution to The New Yorker was published in October 1941. Steinberg arrived in New York City in July 1942; within a few months he received a commission in the US Naval Reserve and was then seconded to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He worked for the Morale Operations division in China, North Africa, and Italy.

After World War II, Steinberg continued to publish drawings in The New Yorker and other periodicals, including Fortune, Vogue, Mademoiselle, and Harper’s Bazaar. At the same time, he embarked on an exhibition career in galleries and museums. In 1946, he was included in the critically acclaimed “Fourteen Americans” show at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, exhibiting along with Arshile Gorky, Isamu Noguchi, and Robert Motherwell, among others. Steinberg went on to have more than 80 one-artist shows in galleries and museums throughout the US, Europe, and South America. He was affiliated with the Betty Parsons and Sidney Janis galleries in New York and the Galerie Maeght in Paris. A dozen museums and institutions have in-depth collections of his work, and examples are included in the holdings of more than eighty other public collections.

Steinberg’s long, multifaceted career encompassed works in many media and appeared in different contexts. In addition to magazine publications and gallery art, he produced advertising art, photoworks, textiles, stage sets, and murals. Given this many-leveled output, his work is difficult to position within the canons of postwar art history. He himself defined the problem: “I don’t quite belong to the art, cartoon or magazine world, so the art world doesn’t quite know where to place me.”

“View of the World from 9th Avenue” is instantly recognizable to millions, and can be interpreted in numerous ways. On a specific level you can see it as how self-absorbed and self -centered West Side New Yorkers are. Looking west from 9th avenue things up close are in clear detail, but then once you hit the Hudson, it gets vague. “Jersey” is a little brown strip that lies across the Hudson, key towns in the US, such as Chicago and Las Vegas, are dotted around the rest of the US, which is the size of a city block (as are Canada to the north and Mexico to the south), and somewhere vaguely across the Pacific Ocean (which is only slightly wider than the Hudson) are China, Japan, and Russia.  Certainly, West Siders are this self-absorbed, and Steinberg’s point is well taken. What needs to be remembered is that Steinberg’s understanding of people is perfectly generalizable. Just about everyone the world over, sees “the rest of the world” through the same lenses. This point can be illustrated (literally and figuratively), by his many imitators.

 

Steinberg sued the producers of Moscow on the Hudson for plagiarizing his work for the movie’s poster. It’s probably true that they were unaware that the work was copyrighted. By the time the movie was produced the work had filtered into popular consciousness – which, as an artist he should have taken as a compliment (although I am fully sympathetic with the need for artist’s to maintain copyrights).

We also need to remember that Steinberg did a mountain of other works, which are much less well known, but arresting in different ways. Here’s a small gallery:

I’ll go with a Romanian dish to celebrate Steinberg. Here’s drob de miel, a dish that is traditional at Easter in parts of Romania that resembles haggis in some ways, meat loaf in others. Its main ingredients are lamb’s entrails (same as haggis), which nowadays can be really hard to get in many countries. Livers and kidneys are not all that difficult to procure but heart and lungs will be more of a problem. It differs from haggis in numerous ways: it is baked, not boiled, it is wrapped in caul, not the sheep’s stomach, and the filler is bread, not oats. Also it has boiled eggs in the center.

Drob de Miel

Ingredients

500 gm/ 1 lb lamb’s offal
2 boiled eggs
2 raw eggs
1 slice of bread, dipped in milk
1 bunch spring onions, chopped fine
1 bunch parsley, chopped fine
1 bunch dill, chopped fine
1 tbsp sour cream
salt and pepper
1 lamb’s caul
vegetable oil for greasing

Instructions

Simmer the offal in a large saucepan with plenty of water, skimming the scum that rises periodically. Drain the entrails, and when cool grind them using a mincer or food processor along with the slice of bread. Put the ground meat in a large mixing bowl and add the raw eggs, sour cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Also add the dill, parsley and spring onion. Mix all the ingredients well with a wooden spoon.

Grease a loaf pan well. Thoroughly wash the lamb’s caul and lay it over the pan so that it lines it, and the edges lap evenly over the sides. Spoon in half the ground offal mix and spread it evenly. Place the boiled eggs in the middle, and spoon the rest of the mix over the top. Even it out, and pull the caul over the top so that the meat is in a tight package.

Bake at 190˚C/375˚F for 35 minutes. Let cool slightly in the tin on a wire rack, and then turn the drob out on a serving platter. Serve, cut into slices.

Feb 282016
 

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Today is the birthday (1820) of John Tenniel, Victorian graphic artist and political cartoonist who is generally known to the world as the first illustrator of Lewis Carroll’s works. Historians of the period know his political cartoons very well because they had a major impact on popular opinion, but they are not widely known outside of academic circles any more. I’ve covered his works several times here as an adjunct to discussions of Carroll. Now it’s time to give him his due directly.

Tenniel was born in Bayswater, West London. He was a quiet and introverted person, both as a boy and as an adult; a man whose “life and career was that of the supreme gentlemanly outside, living on the edge of respectability.” In 1840, whilst fencing with his father, Tenniel received a serious wound in his right eye from his father’s foil, which had accidentally lost its protective tip. Over the years Tenniel gradually lost sight in his eye but he never told his father of the severity of the wound, because he did not wish to upset him.

Tenniel was self taught as a youth but became a student of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1842. He found the training there unhelpful, though, and continued educating himself even as a student. He drew the classical statues at the London’s Townley Gallery, copied illustrations from books of costumes and armor in the British museum, and drew the animals from the zoo in Regent’s Park as well as the actors from the London theatres, which were drawn from the pits. It was in these studies that Tenniel learned to love detail. He did, however, become impatient with his work from life and was the happiest when he could draw from memory.

Tenniel’s first book illustration was for Samuel Carter Hall’s The Book of British Ballads, in 1842. While engaged with these illustrations, various contests were taking place in London, as a way for the government to combat the growing Germanic Nazarenes’ style and promote a truly national English school of art. Tenniel planned to enter the 1845 House of Lords’ competition to win the opportunity to design the mural decoration of the new Palace of Westminster. Despite missing the deadline, he submitted a 16-foot (4.9 m) cartoon, An Allegory of Justice, to a competition for designs for the mural decoration of the new Palace of Westminster. For this he received a £200 premium and a commission to paint a fresco in the Upper Waiting Hall (or Hall of Poets) in the House of Lords.

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At Christmas 1850 Tenniel was invited by Mark Lemon to fill the position of joint cartoonist (with John Leech) on Punch. He had been selected on the strength of his recent illustrations to Aesop’s Fables. He contributed his first drawing in the initial letter appearing on p. 224, vol. xix. His first cartoon was Lord Jack the Giant Killer, which showed Lord John Russell assailing Cardinal Wiseman. In 1861, Tenniel was offered John Leech’s position at Punch, as chief political cartoonist.

Because his task was to construct the willful choices of his Punch editors, who probably took their cue from The Times and would have felt the suggestions of political tensions from Parliament as well, Tenniel’s work, as was its design, could be scathing, and rather unpleasant to modern sensibilities. The restlessness of the Victorian period’s issues of working class radicalism, labor, war, economy, and other national themes were the targets of Punch, which in turn influenced Tenniel. His cartoons published in the 1860s made popular the portrait of the Irishman as a subhuman being, wanton in his appetites and most resembling an orangutan in both facial features and posture. Many of Tenniel’s political cartoons expressed strong hostility to Irish Nationalism, with Fenians and Land leagues depicted as monstrous, ape-like brutes, while “Hibernia”—the personification of Ireland—was depicted as a beautiful, helpless young girl threatened by these “monsters” and turning for protection to “her elder sister”, the powerful armored Britannia.

When examined separately from the book illustrations he did over time, Tenniel’s work at Punch alone, expressing decades of editorial viewpoints, often controversial and socially sensitive, was created to echo the voices of the British public. Tenniel drew 2,165 cartoons for Punch, a liberal and politically active publication that mirrored the Victorian public’s mood for liberal social changes. Thus Tenniel, in his cartoons, represented for years the conscience of the British majority. Here’s a gallery:

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Despite the thousands of political cartoons and hundreds of illustrative works attributed to him, much of Tenniel’s fame stems from his illustrations for Alice. Tenniel drew 92 illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. Carroll originally illustrated Wonderland himself, but his artistic abilities were limited. Engraver Orlando Jewitt, who had worked for Carroll in 1859 and having reviewed Carroll’s drawings suggested that he employ a professional illustrator. Carroll was a regular reader of Punch and was therefore familiar with Tenniel. In 1865 Tenniel, after long talks with Carroll, illustrated the first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

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One of the most unusual and original elements of the Alice books is the placement of Tenniel’s illustrations on the pages. There was a physical relation of the illustrations to the text, intended to subtly mesh illustrations with certain points of the text. Carroll and Tenniel expressed this in various ways including bracketing, where two relevant sentences would bracket an image, thus defining the moment that Tenniel was trying to illustrate. Tenniel also produced L-shaped illustrations that contained relevant text within them, so that text and illustration were totally integrated.

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The grotesque quality in Tenniel’s work was one of the main reasons Carroll wanted him as the illustrator for the Alice books. Tenniel had a knack of combining the grotesque, fantasy, and realism in one package, as did Carroll. Thus the illustrations of Alice blend smoothly with the text which has exactly the same quality.

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Tenniel was honored as a living national treasure and for his public service by being knighted in 1893 by Queen Victoria. This was the first such honor bestowed on an illustrator or cartoonist. His colleagues saw his knighthood coming as gratitude for “raising what had been a fairly lowly profession to an unprecedented level of respectability.”

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What else to celebrate Tenniel than a dish from Mrs Beeton? What else but oysters? Steak with oyster sauce was a favorite “manly” meal for Victorian gentlemen. Here’s Beeton’s recipes (three in all to create the dish). You’ll note that she says these dishes are seasonable from September to April. That’s because these months have an “r” in them – months when oysters are at their best, and not breeding.

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MELTED BUTTER MADE WITH MILK.

 INGREDIENTS.—1 teaspoonful of flour, 2 oz. butter, 1/3 pint of milk, a few grains of salt.

Mode.—Mix the butter and flour smoothly together on a plate, put it into a lined saucepan, and pour in the milk. Keep stirring it one way over a sharp fire; let it boil quickly for a minute or two, and it is ready to serve. This is a very good foundation for onion, lobster, or oyster sauce: using milk instead of water makes it look so much whiter and more delicate.

Time.—Altogether, 10 minutes. Average cost for this quantity, 3d.

OYSTER SAUCE, to serve with Fish, Boiled Poultry, &c.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—3 dozen oysters, 1/2 pint of melted butter, made with milk, No. 380.

Mode.—Open the oysters carefully, and save their liquor; strain it into a clean saucepan (a lined one is best), put in the oysters, and let them just come to the boiling-point, when they should look plump. Take them off the fire immediately, and put the whole into a basin. Strain the liquor from them, mix with it sufficient milk to make 1/2 pint altogether, and follow the directions of No. 380. When the melted butter is ready and very smooth, put in the oysters, which should be previously bearded, if you wish the sauce to be really nice. Set it by the side of the fire to get thoroughly hot, but do not allow it to boil, or the oysters will immediately harden. Using cream instead of milk makes this sauce extremely delicious. When liked, add a seasoning of cayenne, or anchovy sauce; but, as we have before stated, a plain sauce should be plain, and not be overpowered by highly-flavoured essences; therefore we recommend that the above directions be implicitly followed, and no seasoning added.

Average cost for this quantity, 2s.

Sufficient for 6 persons. Never allow fewer than 6 oysters to 1 person, unless the party is very large.

Seasonable from September to April.

A more economical sauce may be made by using a smaller quantity of oysters, and not bearding them before they are added to the sauce: this may answer the purpose, but we cannot undertake to recommend it as a mode of making this delicious adjunct to fish, &c.

BEEF-STEAKS AND OYSTER SAUCE.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—3 dozen oysters, ingredients for oyster sauce (see No. 492), 2 lbs. of rump-steak, seasoning to taste of pepper and salt.

Mode.—Make the oyster sauce by recipe No. 492, and when that is ready, put it by the side of the fire, but do not let it keep boiling. Have the steaks cut of an equal thickness, broil them over a very clear fire, turning them often, that the gravy may not escape. In about 8 minutes they will be done, then put them on a very hot dish; smother with the oyster sauce, and the remainder send to table in a tureen. Serve quickly.

Time.—About 8 to 10 minutes, according to the thickness of the steak.

Average cost, 1s. per lb.

Sufficient for 4 persons.

Seasonable from September to April.

 

Jan 102016
 

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The Adventures of Tintin first appeared in French on this date in 1929 in Le Petit Vingtième, a youth supplement to the Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle. The Adventures of Tintin (Les Aventures de Tintin) is a series of comic albums created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi (1907–1983), who wrote under the pen name Hergé. The series was one of the most popular European comics of the 20th century. By the time of the centenary of Hergé’s birth in 2007, Tintin had been published in more than 70 languages with sales of more than 200 million copies.

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The series is set during a largely realistic 20th century. Its hero is Tintin, a young Belgian reporter and adventurer. He is aided by his faithful fox terrier dog Snowy (Milou in the original French edition). Later, popular additions to the cast included the brash and cynical Captain Haddock, the highly intelligent but hearing-impaired Professor Calculus (Professeur Tournesol), and other supporting characters such as the incompetent detectives Thomson and Thompson (Dupont et Dupond) and the opera diva Bianca Castafiore.

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The series has been admired for its clean, expressive drawings in Hergé’s signature ligne claire (“clear line”) style. Its plots straddle a variety of genres: swashbuckling adventures with elements of fantasy, mysteries, political thrillers, and science fiction. The stories feature slapstick humor, offset by dashes of sophisticated satire and political or cultural commentary.

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I’m not a big fan of Tintin for a variety of reasons. The cartoons of the 1930s and ‘40s are awash in ethnocentric cultural stereotypes which are supposed to be amusing, but which I just find offensive. Admittedly things got better over time, particularly as the series was translated into other languages. But therein lies another problem. Tintin, like my Franco-Belgian favorite, Asterix (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/asterix-gaul/) struggles in translation because a lot of the humor is verbal. I can read French reasonably well, so this does not bother me unduly. But in the English-speaking world it can be difficult to find Tintin in the original.

The earliest stories in The Adventures of Tintin have been criticized for displaying racial stereotypes, animal cruelty, colonialist, violent, and even fascist leanings, including ethnocentric caricatured portrayals of non-Europeans. While the Hergé Foundation has presented such criticism as naïveté and scholars of Hergé such as Harry Thompson have said that “Hergé did what he was told by the Abbé Wallez,” Hergé himself felt that his background made it impossible to avoid prejudice, stating, “I was fed the prejudices of the bourgeois society that surrounded me.” Cop out.

In Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, the Bolsheviks were presented as villains. Hergé drew on Moscow Unveiled, a work given to him by Wallez and written by Joseph Douillet, the former Belgian consul in Russia, that is highly critical of the Soviet regime, although Hergé contextualised this by noting that in Belgium, at the time a reasonably devout Catholic nation, “Anything Bolshevik was atheist.” In the story, Bolshevik leaders are motivated by personal greed and a desire to deceive the world. Tintin discovers, buried, “the hideout where Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin have collected together wealth stolen from the people.” Hergé later dismissed the failings of this first story as “a transgression of my youth.” By 1999, even while Tintin’s politics was the subject of a debate in the French parliament, part of this presentation was noted as far more reasonable, with British weekly newspaper The Economist declaring, “In retrospect, however, the land of hunger and tyranny painted by Hergé was uncannily accurate.”

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Tintin in the Congo has been criticized as presenting the Africans as naïve and primitive. In the original work, Tintin is shown at a blackboard addressing a class of African children. “My dear friends,” he says, “I am going to talk to you today about your fatherland: Belgium.” Hergé redrew this in 1946 to show a lesson in mathematics. Hergé later admitted the flaws in the original story, excusing it saying, “I portrayed these Africans according to … this purely paternalistic spirit of the time.”

Drawing on André Maurois’ Les Silences du colonel Bramble, Hergé presents Tintin as a big-game hunter, accidentally killing fifteen antelope as opposed to the one needed for the evening meal. However, concerns over the number of dead animals led Tintin ’​s Scandinavian publishers to request changes. A page of Tintin killing a rhinoceros by drilling a hole in its back and inserting a stick of dynamite was deemed excessive; Hergé replaced the page with one in which the rhino accidentally discharges Tintin’s rifle while he sleeps under a tree. In 2007, the UK’s Commission for Racial Equality called for the book to be pulled from shelves after a complaint, stating, “It beggars belief that in this day and age that any shop would think it acceptable to sell and display Tintin in the Congo.” In August 2007, a Congolese student filed a complaint in Brussels that the book was an insult to the Congolese people. Public prosecutors investigated, and a criminal case was initiated, although the matter was transferred to a civil court. Belgium’s Centre for Equal Opportunities warned against “over-reaction and hyper political correctness.” Sorry, this constant defense of “political correctness” does not wash with me. Objections to racist portrayals of colonized peoples are perfectly legitimate.

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Hergé altered some of the early albums in subsequent editions, usually at the demand of publishers. For example, at the instigation of his U.S. publishers, many of the African-American characters in Tintin in America were re-colored to make their race ambiguous. The Shooting Star originally had an American villain with the Jewish surname of “Blumenstein”. This proved controversial, as the character exhibited exaggerated, stereotypically Jewish characteristics. “Blumenstein” was changed to an American with a less ethnically specific name, Mr. Bohlwinkel, in later editions and subsequently to a South American of a fictional country—São Rico.

Tintin has also been the subject of analysis by literary critics, primarily in French-speaking Europe. Their dense, tortured prose is generally overwrought, and unreadable at times. But their admiration is clear. In 1984, Jean-Marie Apostolidès published his study of the Adventures of Tintin from a more “adult” perspective as Les Métamorphoses de Tintin, published in English as The Metamorphoses of Tintin, or Tintin for Adults in 2010. In reviewing this book, Nathan Perl-Rosenthal of The New Republic thought that it was “not for the faint of heart: it is densely-packed with close textual analysis and laden with psychological jargon.”

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The first English-language work of literary criticism devoted to the series was Tintin and the Secret of Literature, by the novelist Tom McCarthy and published in 2006. McCarthy compares Hergé’s work with that of Aeschylus, Honoré de Balzac, Joseph Conrad, and Henry James and argues that the series contains the key to understanding literature itself. McCarthy considers the Adventures of Tintin to be “stupendously rich,” containing “a mastery of plot and symbol, theme and sub-text” which, influenced by psychoanalytical readings of the work, he believed could be deciphered to reveal a series of recurring themes, ranging from bartering to implicit sexual intercourse that Hergé had featured throughout the series. Reviewing the book in The Telegraph, Toby Clements argued however that McCarthy’s work, and literary criticism of Hergé’s comic strips in general, cut “perilously close” to simply feeding “the appetite of those willing to cross the line between enthusiast and obsessive.” There you have it.

To honor Hergé and Tintin I’ve chosen stoemp, a popular dish that is simple to make and enjoys wide appeal in Belgium. It is a dish of mashed potatoes in cream sauce with one or more vegetables, such as onions, carrots, leeks, spinach, green peas or cabbage, and seasoned with garlic, thyme or bay. Strictly speaking there is no definitive recipe. The basic idea is to make mashed potato rich with butter and cream plus a vegetable of choice. I like it with spinach, but here is a recipe using leeks, because I love the combination of potato and leeks, and am reveling in “leeks with everything” right now after 5 years of leek deprivation in Argentina and China. Seasonings are also cook’s choice. I use nutmeg, but you can also use thyme or sage if you prefer, or simply salt and pepper.

Stoemp is traditionally featured alongside fried boudin, fried braadworst, grilled bacon, fried ground beef or fried eggs, but it can work as a side dish with anything you like.

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Stoemp

Ingredients

5 large potatoes, peeled and diced
4 tbsp butter
¾ cup cream (single or double)
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
4 medium leeks, washed and finely sliced
light stock (chicken or vegetable)
salt and pepper
ground nutmeg (optional)

Instructions

Simmer the potatoes in stock until they are soft. Drain them and reserve the liquid. Mash them in whatever fashion suits you. I’ve used a potato masher plus whisk for years, because I like my potatoes a little lumpy.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, onions, and leeks and sauté until soft but not browned. Add the cream and ½ cup of stock and simmer for approximately 10 minutes. Scoop out the vegetables with a slotted spoon, and reduce the liquid by half over high heat. Add back the leek mix and mashed potatoes, lower the heat to medium, and stir everything until everything is well combined. Season to taste.