The Romantic period was a mainly European artistic and literary movement that celebrated its peak between 1790 and 1860. The movement can be seen as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightment. Whereas the main point of Enlightment was a rationalistic world view, the main idea of Romantisicism is the complete opposite. Romanticists do not trust in the human ratio as a mighty power above all things, but see themselves subordinated to nature. Romanticists perceive a irrational, mysterious and incomprehensive side of reality. Humans, they believe, do rather follow their emotions instead of reason alone, and thus tend to live by their desires rather than their rational thoughts. Typical romantic book characters, like Byrons Manfred or Goethes Werther, lose themselve in their emotions completely - sense cannot keep their feet on the ground.
For a romanticist, two opposite concepts were in constant incongruity with another: analogy and irony. With analogy a mythical way of thinking is depicted: the conviction that all is connected to everything: words and objects, heaven and earth, people and nature. On the other side, irony is the awareness of our own mortality and of the fact that all things come to an end. The analogy therefore can never be infinite. A romantic author is aware of this incongruity and suffers, in addition, from the feeling that he does not fit into the world. He seeks for a way out in poetry, but there finds that words are not enough to describe his feelings. And again, he must admit that he cannot form the world, but that he is a slave of nature's laws.
In short, Romanticism is thus characterized by strong feelings, melancholy and a strong connection to nature. Many of the literary works written during the romantic era contain (page)long descriptions of landscapes and gardens. The often sad, melancholic emotions of the hero or heroine are being emphasized (1).
Around 1900, many inventions revolutionized the world. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell developed the telephone, one of the most world-changing inventions ever made. Thomas Edison improved the electric light bulb to a long-lasting, inexpensive device (1878), invented the phonograph (1877). Karl Benz developed the first modern motorised car, which was first built in 1885. The Lumière brothers created the first motion picture projector or cinematograph, which they patented in 1895. Guglielmo Marconi built a wireless telegraphy system based on Hertzian waves and patended the radio in 1896. Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin's ideas for an airship were developed in 1893, whereas the Wright brothers invented and flew the first airplane in 1903.
"En L'An 2000"
No wonder that at the turn of the 19th century, the possibilities for the future seemed endless. This influenced many artists - just think about the immensely popular science fiction novels by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. In that time, collecting trade cards was popular among consumers. In the period 1899-1901, either a cigarette or toy company in France hired several graphic artists to create a series of illustrations called "En L'An 2000", on which they depicted what they thought everyday life would look like in the year 2000. Unfortunately, the company got out of business before the cards were distributed, leaving us with only one complete set of about 50 cards, that is now in the hands of Isaac Asimov. Luckily, he published a book about them. I found some trade cards by a chocolate company called Louit that seemed to have distributed cards with the futuristic pictures in a later year.
A striking amount of the pictures feature flying vehicles, and thinking about how much happens in the sky, the people back then had a good view on the future. Even though postmen themselves don't fly, tons of mail is being distributed via air. Videoconferencing was foreseen, as well as aerial battles and breeding machines. We still can't walk on water, though water skiing comes close. I collected all the cards on a Pinterest board: Victorian Future Visions
Hildebrand's trade cards
In the same period, the German cacao company Hildebrand published a set of twelve trade cards depicting life in 2000. Hildebrands cards shows moving sidewalks, live broadcasting of theater performances in the living room, personal flying machines, a good weather machine (if only...!) and roofs over cities - as can be seen below.
1. In the 19th century, industry bloomed in the (rich) Northern states. Railroads and factories popped up everywhere. The main industry in the Southern states however still lay in (cotton) farming. Whereas the North had already realized that slaveholding is immoral and had abolished slavery in the late 18th century, the Southern economy was still heavily dependent of slaves.
2. Anti-slavery Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States in 1860 without carrying a single Southern state. The Southern states felt they were losing representation in the Union, and that in turn would mean they would lose power in the slavery question and other policies. Because their economy would fall apart when slavery would be forbidden, the only option left for them seemed to leave the Union.
They all laughed at him mockingly, his fellow people from the Cherokee tribe. But Sequoyah, son of a white father and a Cherokee mother, continued on his project rigidly, with success: he ultimately presented the Cherokee syllabary, making it possible for Cherokee to write and read in their language for the first time.
Sequoyah was born a son of an unidentified white (or half-white, as sources differ) father and a Cherokee mother around 1770. The young boy was raised by his mother alone, didn’t go to school and never learnt English. He spent time farming and tending cattle before he was injured and lamed, making it impossible for him to be a successful farmer or warrior. When he came in contact with white men, he learned the art of forging jewelry and became to work as a silversmith. Later he took on the profession of a blacksmith as well, repairing iron farm implements in his village.
As jewelry was popular among whites, Sequoyah stood in regular contact to them. He was impressed by their ability to transmit information to people in distant places: by letters. Among Cherokees, people tend to believe that writing was sorcery, and weren’t much interested in doing it themselves. Sequoyah, however, set a goal: he wanted to be able to write down his Cherokee language.
Elisabeth was born on Christmas Eve, 1837, in Munich, Kingdom of Bavaria. She was the second of two daughters of Duke Max Joseph and his wife Ludovika, a daughter of the Bavarian king Maximilian I.
In her youth, Elisabeth had no obligations at the Bavarian court and spent a happy time in their castle at Lake Starnberg, where she enjoyed playing and riding in the country. Elisabeth’s nephew was the young Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. His mother, Archduchess Sophie of Austria, was his advisor in his political as well as in his personal life, and thus in fact the real ruler of the Empire. When Franz Joseph was 23, Sophie arranged a marriage with her nice Helene, Elisabeth’s older sister. The family was invited to come to Bad Ischl in Austria, so that Franz Joseph could propose to Helene, although the two had never met before. Helene and Franz Joseph didn’t feel comfortable in each other’s presence, but Franz was immediately attracted to the fifteen-year-old Elisabeth. And so this would be the first time that Franz Joseph would disobey his mother: he wanted to marry Elisabeth, otherwise he would not marry at all. His mother was infuriated, but accepted his wish – at least he would marry a niece, and that was what she wanted in the end. But Elisabeth had not been prepared to be an Empress as Helene; she had lived her free, informal life until that moment, and she would never be able to fully adapt the royal way of life with all its rules and etiquette.
Mata Hari - the name alone sounds like oriental mystery, seduction and espionage. The girl behind the name was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in the Frisian town of Leeuwarden, and has turned into a legend.
She was born in 1876 as the first child of a hatter and oil-invester. She grew up in wealth, and being the first daughter she was shamelessly spoiled by her father. She would go around in fancy dresses, and be an outsider because of her flamboyant appearance. However, her father's company went bankrupt when Margaretha was 13, and soon after her parents separated. In 1891, Margaretha's mother died, and the family fell apart. Her father went to Amsterdam to live with his second wife and the children were sent to live with other family members.
She started studying to be a kindergarten teacher in Leiden, and it was there that she learned she was sexually attractive to men: the school's headmaster helplessly fell for her. When a scandal broke out, Margaretha was dismissed from the school and went to live with her uncle in The Hague. At the age of 18, she saw an advertisement in the newspaper that was placed by friends of Rudolf MacLeod, a captain stationed in the Dutch East Indies who was - according to his friends - in desperate need of a wife. Margaretha answered the ad and enclosed a photograph, expecting that her beauty would convince him to choose her. He was twenty years her senior, but she understood that the captain would secure her the financial status she had known as a child, but had missed after her father's bankruptcy. The two got married soon after. She now was a member of the upper class, but because she had to live in the tropics, she hardly had any benefit of that. They got two children, Jeanne and Norman. The latter got poisoned at the age of 2,5, supposedly by medicines against syphilis. Because of Rudolf's rude character and Margaretha's troubles to get used to the Indies, the marriage did not work out. In 1902 they moved back to The Hague and got separated soon after; Rudolf took Jeanne with him. Margaretha was left alone without family, money or a proper education.
Though not completely extinct (there are still lamplighters in London and Wroclaw), lamplighter is a typical profession of the past.
Since the beginning of the 19th century, city streets are illuminated. Before that, cities were completely dark – and only those who could afford a servant or a link boy could take a night walk safely. Although is not known for sure if the word's first public gas light got into operation in London or in Germany, the 1st of April, 1814, is generally regarded as the "birth date" of gas lighting. On that day, the old oil lamps around the St. Margaret's Chruch in London-Westminster were replaced by modern gas lamps. Following London, streets all over the world lit up very quickly.
Every single lamp had to be lit and put out by hand. As cities and villages got more laterns, more and more lamplighters were employed - each responsible for a certain area. The used a wooden ladder to climb up and open the glass doors of a latern. (Ever noticed a horizonal bar just below the lamp? That was for the ladder to lean against.) Then they used a long pole with a wick and a small hook attached to it to lit respectively to put out the flame.
Other duties of the lamplighters were to control and renew the candles and the oil when necessary, and as a result of their job, they often acted as watchmen.
During my research on this posts I found this curious bicycle you can see above, apparently used by lamplighters to ride from one latern to another. If they managed to balance 2 meter above the ground, that is.
By the way, I love that older job titles just described what the person did. No modality managers, environmental maintenance officers or whatsoever back in the days.
On the 27th of October 2016, an exhibition of Jan Toorop's oeuvre with over 130 works opened in museum Villa Stuck in Munich. I didn't know Toorop's works, to be honest, but a quick look into the internet made me curious to go. And I was overwhelmed with the exhibition: how could one single person paint so excellently in so many different styles?
Johannes Theodorus ('Jan') Toorop was born in 1858 on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies, where he grew up. When he was eleven years old, Jan moved to the Netherlands in order to receive better education, leaving his parents and siblings behind in the Indies.
It was soon clear that Toorop wanted to do something in the arts. He followed courses by Herman Johannes van der Weele, a painter that is counted to the second generation of the Hague School. From 1880 to 1882, Toorop studied at the State Academy of Fine Arts (Rijksacademie) in Amsterdam, and moved to Brussels afterwards. In Belgium, he joined a group of artists around expressionist/surrealist painter James Ensor, 'Les XX', with whom he worked for four years.
Within these early years of his career, Toorop worked with various styles. His early works were Realistic, but he also worked within the areas of Impressionism and Pointillistism. Many of his early paintings show scenes of simple country life: a farmer's family in a dark kitchen, hard-working men on the field, dunes and coastlines.
‘I want to be a second Augustus … because Augustus … made Rome a city of marble.’ - Louis Napoleon (1842)
Have you ever wondered why central Paris lacks the dark and narrow passage ways you'd expect in a city old as she is? Or have you thought about how it comes there aren't any medieval houses left to see in the city center? You find it hard as me to imagine the uprising, the pursuits and the barricades as described in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables in the streets of Paris you know them today? Monsieur Haussmann is to thank - he completely changed the view of the city in less than twenty years.
The change of Paris's appearance started in the middle of the nineteenth century. Only being half as large as today, Paris already was a large capital, and it was heavily overcrowded. Life in the city was dangerous due to the small and dark passages - robbers could be lurking around every corner - and due to its unsanitary conditions. The Seine spread an awful stench because sewers were emptied into the river. There was no good-working water supply system, so that fresh drinking water was a rare good. The street plan had changed little since the Middle Ages, but the population had grown immensely. In the area that now roughly forms the first four arrondissements, the population density was one inhabitant on every three square meters. Diseases spread terribly fast in these conditions. In addition, traffic circulation was difficult because many streets were too narrow for carriages to move through them - an impossible state of being for the capital of one of the mightiest countries in Europe.
Chapbooks were small booklets that were sold by travelling peddlers or “chapmen” from the 17th to the 19th centuries. They were usually printed on a single sheet folded into small books of 8, 12, 16 or 24 pages and often illustrated with crude woodcuts.
The paper quality was rather bad, the type was often broken and it was no exception when the illustrations had no relation to the text. Therefore, the chapbooks were very cheap (costing one penny or less). Since printing matter was expensive in the 17th - 19th centuries, the target group of chapbooks, the working class people, usually didn’t care much for the poor quality – they were happy enough to be able to buy any amusement they could get their hands on.
The chapbooks covered a broad range of subjects – from manuals to romances, from crime stories to poems and from nursery rhymes to biographies of famous people. Few publishers created books especially for children.
The popularity of the folded books declined from the 1860s onwards. In that time, the offer of affordable printed material had expanded extremely. The chapbooks were not the sole option anymore and lost their popularity.