Scheherazade: The Blue Sultana

The arrival in Europe of the Ballets Russes led by impresario Sergei Diaghilev on the eve of the First World War, revived interest in the ballet and launched the modern era in performance dance. Ballets Russes is widely regarded as the most influential ballet company of the 20th century as well as an important promoter of creative expression throughout the art world. Diaghilev invited several contemporary fine artists to design sets and costumes in his theatrical productions. Studio painters, who were not trained in theater, but collaborated in productions included Alexandre Benois, Léon Bakst, Nicholas Roerich, Georges Braque, Boris Anisfeld, Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, Pablo Picasso, Coco Chanel, Henri Matisse, André Derain, Joan Miró, Giorgio de Chirico, Salvador Dalí, Ivan Bilibin, Pavel Tchelitchev, Maurice Utrillo, and Georges Rouault. It was truly the ideal platform for the creation of ground-breaking artistic collaborations.

Ultimately, artistic stage productions and artistic costume designs were important to the artists too, who recognized the medium’s power to influence and attract audiences. How much more thrilling their work became when magnified on an ample stage! There is something about large scale objects that affects our visceral senses and emotions. The art designs on the costumes captivated audiences who were dazzled by the dancing, the striking designs, and the sheer size. Audiences have always relied on art to take them to places they have never been, whether real or imagined, and when it comes to larger than life artwork, our visual senses are compelled to linger longer and examine all angles in detail.

The maquettes of the great decorators glow like Persian miniatures on walls, and art connoisseurs are justified in prizing them highly. Today, the best way to appreciate the magnificent, massive art installations that Diaghilev’s commissioned artists created, is to browse through the few surviving souvenir programs or pickup a pre-1929 Leon Bakst edition, decorated with lithographs or pochoir plates. Bakst designed more productions than any other artist. These superbly produced publications, offer a rich panorama of the two decades of the Ballets Russes, and reflect the very highest standards featuring the leading lights of the company – Leon Bakst, Ida Rubinstein, and Vaslav Nijinsky, who also became Diaghilev’s lover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Towards the end of World War I, in 1917, Picasso did the curtain design for the performance of Erik Satie’s “Parade.” The work is the largest of Picasso’s paintings and has been exhibited in the Centre Pompidou-Metz, Metz, France. His witty cubist costumes and set designs were also published in souvenir programs of “Parade.” His involvement with Sergei Diaghilev’s troupe, let to his marriage to Olga Khokhlova, a ballerina performing in “Parade.” During the same period, Picasso took the opportunity to make several drawings of the composer, Igor Stravinsky, in collaboration on “Pulcinella” in 1920.

Picasso’s curtain designed for the ballet Parade (1917). Centre Pompidou-Metz, Metz, France, May 2012. Photo: Patrick Hertzog.

Ballets Russes challenged the conventional demarcations of masculinity and femininity of that time. The feminized ballet world, with its roots in the 19th century, was centered on the female body. It got turned upside down when beautiful, sexy men: Vaslav Nijinsky, Leonid Massine, Serge Lifar, Anton Dolin, Adolph Bolm made their first appearances with starring roles. Diaghilev, an acknowledged homosexual, as its leader; his lovers — Nijinsky, Massine, Lifar — as its stars; and the frank eroticism of so many of its works (“Scheherazade” was one big orgy; “Afternoon of a Faun” was a living wet dream of an amoral animal, who notoriously, masturbates into a nymph’s dropped shawl; “Games” was a tennis game disguising a ménage à trois ). At a time when homosexuality was a crime in London, the Ballets Russes was an oasis for gay men. Diaghilev died in 1929, from willfully untreated diabetes at age 57. Even though the driving force of the Ballets Russes between 1909 and 1929 was gone, the company’s influence lasts to the present day. The male body, its muscularity, strength and athleticism, became a persistent idea in modern ballet, while the costumes, paintings and backcloths fueled a tremendous force in modern art.

Almée in Schéhérazade by Léon Bakst

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Historical data shows that demand for the works of the Nobel laureates tend to increase in the weeks immediately following the Swedish Academy’s announcement. That is because there are many aspiring Nobel laureate collectors who rush to add some of the latest winner’s offerings to their collections. On a broader scale, readers are generally interested in the books of a recent Nobel Prize laureate, fueling demand for all types of works published by them. The increase in demand to a relatively static supply, often leads to higher prices at least in the short-run for the books affected. In 1974, the Statutes of the Nobel Foundation stipulated that a prize could not be awarded posthumously, unless death had occurred after the announcement of the Nobel Prize. It is reasonable to assume then, that the Nobelist will sign, inscribe and perhaps publish additional copies, which should ultimately increase the availability of their work and offer some relief to the scarcity pressures introduced by the award.

Between 1901 and 2021, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded 114 times to 118 laureates; it was shared by two laureates 4 times. The 2022 winner(s) will be announced on Thursday 6, October, 13:00 CEST, at the earliest. Even though it has become nearly impossible to pick the winner prior to the announcement, speculators spend considerable amounts of energy searching through all relative material to try and predict the winner. The laureate for the Nobel Prize in Literature is particularly difficult to predict because of the wide spectrum of possibilities, with a high number of potential candidates spanning lifelong timeframes. The Nobels for science – physics, chemistry, physiology/medicine, and economics, on the other hand, are easier to predict. The current impact to these fields, which these candidates have demonstrated can be measured. A fairly good prediction can be made based on the current information, wealth of searchable data which can be used to identify something that could be considered a major breakthrough, with citations of experts in the field, or including some specialist awards.

Employing these bibliometric tools in an attempt to pick the laureate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, however, is probably useless. The world is full of excellent writers, but, to be a laureate, something more is needed. The winners must be those who write with feeling and power, those who have developed that lasting energy, one publication at a time, throughout their careers. In recent years, the Swedish Academy has attempted to steer clear of controversy and politics. In the past, they have been criticized for selecting Austrian writer Peter Handke as Nobel laureate in 2019, over his controversial denial of Serbian atrocities during the Balkans war.

Consequently, we are placing our vote for this year’s winner as follows:

  1. French writer and professor of literature, Annie Ernaux for her honest writing with sexual frankness and total absence of shame on topics such as abortion, sex and family secrets. Her literary work, mostly autobiographical, maintains close links with sociology with sharp and often heartbreaking portraits of French daily life, class and society.
  2. Mexican poet, novelist, environmental activist, Homero Aridjis for his significant achievement in writing, which addresses the relationship between people and nature with ethical independence. Aridjis, through his writing and activism plays a crucial role in raising environmental awareness and promoting public participation for solving environmental problems, as well as defending freedom of expression about environmental matters.

We did not submit any nominations to the Academy. Since the submission process deadline on January 31st, the 18 members of the Academy have already read the works of the final 5 candidates selected, and are in the process of discussing the merits of their contributions. We hope that our picks are among the candidates currently under consideration and that our vote is influential. We would like to know of any winners you may have in mind. Please comment on this posting with your predictions while discussions are underway during the remaining days in September.

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Father of the American Hard-boiled Detective Stories

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Famous authors, whose writings are colored by fictional portrayals of their own real life experiences, are plentiful. Often, authors turn themselves into characters in their fictional novels because they have unique, interesting life stories to write about.  Kurt Vonnegut, for example, who appears as a character in his novel Breakfast of Champions, interacts with several […]

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NFT Usage in the World of Rare Books

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NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, are digital proofs of a purchase for goods like art, digital music and other valuable collectibles. When auction house Christie’s sold the NFT “Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” a collage by the artist Beeple, for $69.3 million in March of 2021, it signaled the dawn of a potential virtual fad. Data […]

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Horticulture Preserved on a Changing Planet

June 6, 2022
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Ahh spring, with its new life, warm weather, and flowers and trees coming into leaf and blossom. In literature, it is perhaps the most popular of the four seasons. Authors, poets and artists find inspiration in the season’s delightful, blooming fruit trees, native plants, edible annuals and perennials, and plethora of culinary and medicinal herbs. […]

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Rare Book Sale Monitor update – New York edition

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Think back to 2021. This was supposed to be the year of new openings! A return to pre-pandemic normalcy! Instead, it became the year that failed to live up to its preseason hype. Many of the in-person events were either cancelled or forced to remain virtual. In the Rare Book world, most of the trades […]

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The Value of a “Priceless” Rare Book

April 25, 2022
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The Cambridge University Library has announced that the two notebooks written by Charles Darwin, worth many millions of pounds and which have been missing for more than two decades have been safely returned. Apart from the content of the notebooks, one of which contains his iconic 1837 ‘Tree of Life’ sketch, there is no more […]

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Historical Fiction Reads at a Time of War

March 26, 2022
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In my spare time, I have been rereading C.S. Forester’s brilliant, 12-book epic Horatio Hornblower series, which I originally read when I was a teenager. Transfixed by the destruction taking place in Ukraine, it is hard to read, or watch, or think about anything else besides the war. Such devastation has overshadowed everything else. All […]

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G.E.: “We Bring Good Books to Life”

February 3, 2022
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In a 1973 interview, author Kurt Vonnegut, discussed his inspiration to write his first novel, the dystopian, Player Piano (1952).  He cheerfully acknowledged that he ripped off the plot of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), whose plot had been cheerfully ripped off from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1924). Kurt Vonnegut’s story about the “National Manufacturing […]

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Rare Book Sale Monitor update – 4th Quarter, 2021

December 22, 2021
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2021 will go down, among other things, as the year with a lot of people having a lot more money than they know what to do with. Aggressively escalating rare book prices set the tone for future market conditions: scarcity wrapped in higher prices. Is $471,000 too much to pay for a J. K. Rowling, […]

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