Sunday, November 14, 2010

Remembering... Claude Monet

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The father of French impressionist painting studied the methods of English landscape painters John Constable and J. M. W. Turner while exiled in England in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War; it was there he created many iconic English landscapes before returning to France via Holland the following year, painting as he went...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1840, Claude Monet favoured the en plein air method, which provided the impetus for many an artist to escape the confines of the studio and seek out glade and vale rather than exclusively garret or atelier in which to commit their daubings to the ages. In contrast to other painters of his era, though - Henri Rousseau, for instance - Monet favoured the controlled nature of gardens over the chaos of actual nature. He found much to paint along the banks of both the Seine and the Thames that was natural yet tamed.

Married to Camille Doncieux shortly before moving to England, her death in September 1879 deeply affected him for the rest of his life. Plagued by poverty, he continued to work profusely so as to ward off the scourge of debt; in 1886 he attempted suicide by throwing himself in the Seine, related almost entirely to the dire state of his finances. In 1892 he was married again, this time to Alice Hoschedé.

By the end of the 1910s Monet began to develop cataracts on his eyes, and underwent two surgeries to correct the condition in 1923; while saving his vision, the operations seem to have affected his relationship to colour, and he repainted many works in a bluer hue than they had been previously.

When he died in December 1926, Claude Monet was the grand old man of French art; bequeathing his house and beloved garden in Giverny - where he painted, among others, the work at the top of this post - to the Institut de France, today they are preserved much as he left them and maintained by the Fondation Claude Monet in his memory.
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"What The Country Needs" by Martha Tilton

Ever since November 2008, embattled US President Barack Obama has been inundated with countless suggestions of how to fix the damaged (but far from broken) country he was elected to lead; this then is the humble offering of the Pop Culture Institute, as delivered by wholesome songbird Martha Tilton, who was born on this day in 1915.

True, it was recorded in 1941, when the war which would be the most destructive in history was threatening to engulf the whole world - still, I think the message is as true today as ever. Even if it isn't, who couldn't benefit from an occasional happy lyric delivered by a honeyed voice?

This particular clip is from a series of short films called Soundies, which were one of the earlier precursors to the music video; beginning in 1940 they were either released in theatres or could be viewed for the price of a nickel or a dime in a device called a Panoram at amusement arcades, carnivals, and such. The Soundies eventually lost their novelty when television came along, and the last one was produced in 1947; in the meantime, though, the cream of American music and comedy all contributed their talents, making the Soundies a priceless archive of the era.

The Liltin' Miss Tilton died in December 2006, but thanks to Soundies, YouTube, and fans such as yours truly she may be gone but she will never be forgotten...
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Happy Birthday Your Royal Highness

Already founder and President of one the world's largest charities - The Prince's Trust - His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales has begun to shoulder some of the responsibilities of monarchy, such as investitures and overseas trips on behalf of British and Commonwealth interests, in his mother's name - such as at the 65th anniversary of the D-Day Landings in June 2009.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHis main job, though, over the past ten years has been that of father to his two sons; a secondary job (some might call it the primary one) has been the resuscitation of his own image from the dire state it was in following the death in August 1997 of his ex-wife Diana, Princess of Wales. Their acrimonious divorce, with its tit-for-tat adulteries and his-and hers tell-all book/documentary combos left the acrid taste in everyone's mouth that generally accompanies the very worst kind of gossip.

Even an unrestrained monarchist such as myself has seen the utter necessity of this exercise, as The Prince of Wales has never really connected with the public, which is the most vital element in the maintenance of a constitutional monarchy.

Born on this day in 1948 to universal acclaim, his birth was the second bright spot post-war Britain had following the cessation of hostilities following World War II, the first being his parents' marriage one week shy of a year earlier. Yet the child Charles was homely and shy, bullied at school and unwilling to defend himself except with petulance; he grew into a somewhat bitter adult, alone amongst his siblings in criticizing his parents for what he claims is the cold, distant upbringing they provided him.

Once the most eligible bachelor in the world, thanks to his love for sport he eventually grew into his looks, and by the time of his first marriage in July 1981 it seemed like the public might come to like him after all; by the birth of Prince Harry in September 1984, though, the fairytale was in trouble, his earlier affair with Camilla Parker Bowles was rekindled, and inasmuch as hindsight tells us it was prescience on his part, he embarked on an off-putting campaign (nay, a crusade) on behalf of both the natural and built environments, championing organic farming and criticizing modern architecture in equal measure.

In April 2005, with the support of Queen and Parliament (if not all of the Country), Camilla made an honest man of him, just the latest in a series of extreme measures seemingly designed to save the monarchy from the Heir to the Throne. Keeping in mind that William is waiting in line, right behind him. Let's not ever forget that, people. Diana's son won't ever get to be King if Charles doesn't go through it first; is that what you want? I didn't think so.

(Can I have my OBE now?)
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In Memoriam: Jawaharlal Nehru

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was an influential figure in the Indian independence movement, serving as that country's first Prime Minister beginning in August 1947; his daughter Indira and grandson Rajiv would later follow him into that office. Yet his influence continues unabated throughout India in many other ways, even though he died more than forty years ago...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Born on this day in 1889 - the son of a Brahmin barrister named Motilal Nehru - young Jawaharlal was mentored by Mahatma Gandhi, who was determined to break down India's caste system; it was a determination soon shared by teacher and pupil alike.

Educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, when he was 27 Nehru's marriage was arranged to Kamala Kaul, who was just 16; conflicts arose between the thoroughly Westernized Nehru and his deeply Hindu bride, yet the marriage managed to produce its only child, the fabled Indira, within 18 months.

In fact, it may have been his wife's influence (as much as his mentor's) that soon had Nehru going native, which dismayed his still-Anglicized family. His zeal for social justice meant Nehru attracted the support of many women, as well as ethnic and religious minorities. In 1920, he was elected President of the All India Trade Unions Congress; he was later also one of the youngest-ever leaders in the history of the Congress Party.

At the same time as Nehru was championing independence, his father was lobbying on behalf of dominion status for India, going so far as to author a report to that end; none of which stopped his son from famously hoisting the Indian flag over the Union Jack on the last day of 1929. Four weeks later Nehru and his party would be calling for Purna Swaraj, or complete independence from the British Empire. His defiance would see him incarcerated between August 1942 and June 1945.

Independence for India would finally be obtained in August 1947, when Nehru would deliver his stirring inaugural address, A Tryst With Destiny.

In power Nehru's first years were marked by the sectarian violence that accompanied Partition; even though he'd supported the move, it had been a reluctant support, and soon history would prove that his reluctance had been well-founded. The young nation was also rocked by the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in January 1948. At the same time as Nehru's government was struggling to maintain the peace, it was also attempting to impose some semblance of planning on the infant democracy; probably his greatest concern throughout this time, though, was with increasing educational opportunities for all of India's children.

Nehru died of a combination stroke and heart attack in May 1964; his legacy is one of egalitarianism, tempered by the failures of central planning which caused widespread famine in Bihar in the final years of his life. Only a massive infusion of humanitarian aid from the United States prevented Nehru's devotion to Communist ideology from causing a genocide by malnutrition on a scale that would have put those committed by his heroes Mao and Stalin to shame.

Nonetheless, his birthday is still celebrated as Children's Day in India.
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Pop History Moment: Princess Anne Married Mark Phillips

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOn this day in 1973 500 million people tuned in to watch the Queen's only daughter HRH The Princess Anne marry Lieutenant Mark Phillips, who was then serving with the 1st Queen's Dragoon Guards; it was the first Royal Wedding in over a dozen years, the last having been that of Princess Anne's aunt Princess Margaret to Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1960.

Anne and Mark were married in Westminster Abbey; they'd been engaged since May, and met through their shared love for all things equestrian.

Following an 18-day honeymoon upon the royal yacht HMY Britannia, the couple settled at Gatcombe Park. They had two children together: Peter Phillips, born in November 1977, and Zara Phillips, born in May 1981. Separating in August 1989 - due in large part to the fact that Phillips had fathered another woman's baby - the couple divorced in April 1992; Her Royal Highness was remarried in December of that year to Timothy Laurence, a commander in the Royal Navy, to whom she is married still.
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The Death of Nell Gwynne

Beloved by Charles II of England and admired by contemporary diarist Samuel Pepys - who called her 'pretty, witty Nell' - Nell Gwynne was the pre-eminent comedienne of the Restoration stage, and the first actress whose fame has outlived her lifetime, since women weren't permitted on the stage previously; the era also saw the emergence of Britain's first woman playwright, Aphra Behn.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn most likely at the beginning of February 1650 (nobody seems to know where, and not even the date is certain, only likely) her first appearance at what would come to be known as Theatre Royal, Drury Lane was at the age of 14, selling oranges and other treats to the patrons - including, quite possibly, herself. Her first recorded treading of the boards was in 1665, in a play by John Dryden, under the tutelage of her first prominent love, the actor Charles Hart.

Later that year and early in the next, as the Great Plague ravaged London, Gwynne travelled with the court as a member of the King's Company, which entitled her to the great honour of wearing His Majesty's livery; fire in London in September 1666 probably prevented her return there, and she seems to have lived in Oxford during this time.

In 1667 George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham was eager to wean the King off of his current favourite mistress, Buckingham's cousin Barbara Palmer (who had anyway peeved the Queen, Catherine of Braganza) and so introduced him to both Gwynne and Moll Davis, who quickly became rivals for the King's affection. By hook or by crook, Gwynne seems to have prevailed by 1668, reportedly with the intervention of Aphra Behn and some powerful laxatives - a scene right out of Restoration comedy.

Gwynne made a brief, daring return to her stage career, but in May 1670 gave birth to the King's son Charles, and by 1671 she was once again retired from the stage at the ripe old age of 21. Which was all to the better, as she now had to fend off another challenge for the King's attention - this time from one of the Queen's maids, Louise de Kérouaille.

It was during this time that she was accosted in her carriage while driving through Oxford; mistaken for the King's Catholic mistress, de Kérouaille, she blithely leaned out the window and uttered her most famous line: 'Good people, you are mistaken; I am the Protestant whore.' Thereafter they left her alone, since (then, as now) the English have a great respect for anyone with a sense of humour about themselves. Another great quip has survived the predations of history; she broke up a fight in which her coachman was defending her honour by saying 'I am a whore. Find something else to fight about.' Once again, it worked.

On Christmas Day 1671 Gwynne gave birth to a second son by the King, James Beauclerk, who died mysteriously at school in Paris in 1680, aged 9. The King himself died in 1685, and two years later in March of 1687 she suffered a stroke, which left her paralyzed. A second stroke in May confined her to bed, and she made out her will in July.

Nell Gwynne died on this day in 1687, aged 37; she was buried in St Martin-in-the-Fields, in Trafalgar Square, following a funeral at which the Archbishop of Canterbury delivered the sermon. Not bad for a girl with shady origins who used her dodgy profession to sleep her way to the top...
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POPnews - November 14th

[While Colombian money has frequently featured portraits of mythical or allegorical women, Policarpa Salavarrieta is the only historical woman to be so honoured; currently, her image appears on the 10,000 peso note.]

1889 - Journalist Nellie Bly began a successful attempt to travel around the world in 80 days, inspired by the Jules Verne novel of that name... She actually completed the trip in under seventy-three days and her account of the trip, Around the World in Seventy-Two Days, became almost as big a best seller as Verne's.

1910 - Aviator Eugene Ely became the first to launch an airplane from a ship when he took off from a makeshift deck on the USS Birmingham at Hampton Roads, Virginia, in a Curtiss Model D designed by Glenn Curtiss himself.

1922 - The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) began radio service.

1940 - The city of Coventry was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe, almost completely destroying Coventry Cathedral in the process.

1941 - The aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal sank off Gibraltar - a day after sustaining heavy damage from the German submarine U-81, which was under the command of Friedrich Guggenberger.

1948 - The first child - a son and heir to the throne, named Charles Philip Arthur George - was born to Britain's Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh.

1952 - The first regular UK singles chart was published by the New Musical Express.

1957 - The Apalachin Meeting outside Binghamton in Upstate New York was raided by law enforcement, resulting in the arrest of many high level Mafiosi, including the meeting's host Joseph 'Joe the Barber' Barbara.

1965 - The Battle of the Ia Drang - the first major engagement between regular American and North Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War - began.

1967 - The Congress of Colombia, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the death of Policarpa Salavarrieta, led that nation in celebrating this day as the first 'Day of the Colombian Woman'.

1969 - NASA launched Apollo 12, the second manned mission to the surface of the Moon.

1970 - Southern Airways Flight 932 crashed in the mountains near Huntington, West Virginia, killing 75 - including members of the Marshall University football team.

1971 - Shenouda III was enthroned as Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Apostolic See of Saint Mark the Evangelist, making him the spiritual leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church around the world.

1972 - The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 1,003.16 - above 1,000 for the first time.

1973 - The Queen's only daughter Princess Anne married Captain Mark Phillips at Westminster Abbey.

1975 - Spain relinquished its claim to Western Sahara.

1984 - Zamboanga City mayor Cesar Climaco - a prominent critic of the government of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos - was assassinated in his home city.

1991 - Cambodia's Prince Norodom Sihanouk returned to Phnom Penh after thirteen years in exile.

2003 - Sedna* was discovered, although the discovery would not be announced until the following March... Already considered a trans-Neptunian object by scientists, whether or not it is an asteroid or dwarf planet is still being debated, and will obviously depend on whether or not it is in hydrostatic equilibrium, as is currently suspected. It is, nevertheless, the most distant observed natural body in our solar system.

*Named after the Inuit goddess of the sea...
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