ÖTZI THE ICEMAN

Vienna, 29 June 2019

My wife and I were in Bolzano two weeks ago. For readers who are not familiar with Italy’s geography, that’s the main city of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano. This is a mainly German-speaking region of Italy in the Alps, wedged up against Austria.

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Italians call it Alto Adige but many of its inhabitants call it South Tyrol, it having been part of the County of Tyrol since time immemorial; it was only prised away from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and given to Italy after the former collapsed at the end of the First World War. Over the last hundred years this fateful decision has led to much agitation, repression by the Italian State, and consequent acts of terrorism, although all the brouhaha has pretty much died down by now.

Fascinating as it is, the region’s history was not what brought us to Bolzano. It was Ötzi, the Stone Age mummy discovered in a glacier high up in the Ötzal Alps (hence the mummy’s nickname) nearly thirty years ago. Ever since a museum dedicated to him opened in Bolzano in 1998, I have been hankering to visit it. Our planned hiking trip to the valley next door (which will be the subject of my next post) gave me my chance to drop by Bolzano to look over Ötzi, and my wife – although not an Ötzi fan like me – was willing to come along.

Some words of introduction. Ötzi was discovered in September 1991 by a German couple who were hiking up in the Ötzal Alps. They were crossing the Tisenjoch Pass (Giogo di Tisa in Italian), where a small glacier is located. Climate change and a particularly hot summer had led to much shrinkage in the glacier and the couple spotted a body poking out through the ice.

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They reported the matter to the owners of a mountain hut close by, who in turn reported it to the authorities – the initial assumption was that it must be the body of someone who had perished on a climb or hike. The man – as he turned out to be – died very close to the Italian-Austrian border. Initially, it was thought that the body’s location was in Austria and he was therefore taken down to Innsbruck (capital of the Austrian province of [northern] Tyrol) for examination. Later, after some careful measurements were made, it was concluded that he had actually been found within Italy, some 95 metres south of the border.

Under normal circumstances, if it had just been some poor bastard who had died on a hike or climb, this problem of which country he had actually been recovered in would not have been such a big deal. But it rapidly became apparent that the mummy was actually very, very old; it has since been calculated that Ötzi is some 5,000 years old. At that point, everyone began to see the dollar (or euro) signs

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and the question about which country “owned” the mummy became vitally important. Luckily for the rest of the world, the issue was resolved by people who were actually “cousins”, whatever modern borders might say. The Governors of (Italian) Alto Adige/South Tyrol and (Austrian) Tyrol sat down around a table and (in German) hammered out an agreement. The scientists at Innsbruck (who were much better equipped anyway to study such an ancient mummy) would take the lead on all the scientific studies while the authorities in Bolzano would prepare the museum to house it. And so it was. In 1998, Ötzi was solemnly brought back from Innsbruck to his new home in Bolzano.

While all this had been going on, and in fact ever since Ötzi has been back in Bolzano, scientists from a multitude of disciplines have been busily at work on Ötzi as well as on all the things he was wearing or carrying. I have to say, these scientists seem to have squeezed poor old Ötzi and the tattered remnants of his clothes and equipment like a lemon; squeezed him so hard that his pips have squeaked as they say. But they have come up with an astonishing amount of information. Let me start, though, with a scientific work of art: a statue of what scientists believe Ötzi looked like, which now stands at the very end of the museum tour.

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This work is scientific in that it has used the latest technology to measure Ötzi very precisely, to rebuild his bones, to cover those bones with muscles and skin, and then cover those with reconstitutions of his leggings and his shoes; it is artistic in that its creators have made Ötzi look incredibly human. They have given him an expression of someone you might just have met on the street and who is not completely sure who you are.

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A few words about what we would have noticed about Ötzi if we had met him 5,000 years ago just before he died. He was about 160 cm (5 ft 3 in) tall (small by today’s standards, perhaps big by the standards of the day). His shoe size would have been an EU 38 (I will let readers translate that into whatever shoe size system they are familiar with; they can use this site, for instance, to do this). He weighed about 50 kilos (110 lbs), nicely within his BMI. He had brown eyes. He had dark hair. He was gap-toothed. His teeth in general were not in particularly good condition, badly worn down and with cavities (probably due to a diet based on heavily processed grains). As to his age when he died: about 45 – young by today’s standards, old by the standards of his time; the makers of the statue have made him look weatherbeaten, which he probably was. And he was tattooed; in all, he carried 61 tattoos on his body! This photo of the rear of the statue shows where he had some of them on his back.

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As readers can see, they are not really decorative tattoos. From where they are found on Ötzi’s body, scientists believe that they probably had a therapeutic function; they were a way for Ötzi to deal with the aches and pains in his joints, an early form of acupuncture, especially since the tattoos are located along acupuncture lines still used today. For instance, scientists can see that his knee joints were well worn; I’m sure his knees ached as a result (something I can deeply sympathize with given the current state of my knees). So he had a good number of tattoos around his knees; I generally disapprove of tattoos but maybe I should try these kinds of tattoos around my knees …

From their high-tech prodding and probing, scientists have also discovered a number of things about Ötzi which you can’t see. The poor man had been sick several times in the last six months of his life; scientists can tell this from the Beau’s lines on his three remaining nails which they found (any readers who are doctors will no doubt understand this; it’s gibberish to me). He had worms – whipworms to be precise. This would have given him frequent bouts of painful diarrhea. He also had Lyme disease, while his clothes carried fleas. He had broken several ribs and his nose some time during his lifetime. His blood group was O positive. He was lactose intolerant. By rights, we should all be; it’s the “natural” default position for us humans in adulthood. But in Europe our herding culture and its dependence on milk products led to some of us eventually becoming lactose tolerant through a genetic mutation. Talking of mutations, Ötzi carried a rare genetic trait which meant that he was missing two ribs. His DNA links him to small populations of people living in remote parts of Sardinia and Corsica: testimony to his being part of the earlier populations of Europe which were later pushed aside by later immigrants.

It’s not just the man who has been thoroughly investigated, it’s also his clothes and equipment. What mainly transpires for me was that in today’s language, Ötzi was a completely sustainable guy. He relied heavily on animal hides for all his needs; scientists have identified bear skin, deer skin, goat skin. These were used not only for his clothes but also parts of his equipment (fascinating factoid: at least one of the hides which he used was tanned with bear brains and fat; better than the human carcinogen Chromium VI which is almost universally used nowadays). Animal sinews were used to sew the pieces of hide together (I’m no expert on sewing, but for those who are interested there are sites, e.g., this one, which explain the kind of sewing that was used). Grasses of various kinds were used to both make twine and as a thermal stuffing. Here is a close-up of the reconstituted leggings and shoes on the statue of Ötzi

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while this photo shows the coat he was wearing – scientists think that the dark-pale-dark look was not serendipitous; it was a statement of some sort.

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I’ll skip the weapons Ötzi was carrying except for one – his axe – which I will come back to in a minute. I find more fascinating the stuff he was carrying to make himself a fire: a fungus called tinder fungus. I’ve diligently read explanations of how to light a fire with a flint and some tinder fungus. It sounds easy, but I very much doubt it is. Unfortunately, making fires without matches is something they never taught me to do in the Scouts, and I am always fascinated by the apparent magic of people making fire from nothing. In such situations, I always think of Tom Hanks in the film Cast Away when he managed to start his first fire without matches: I can empathize with his sense of triumph at having cracked this problem.

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And so we come to the great mystery of Ötzi’s death, the first murder that we know of. For it was murder: scientists discovered that an arrow had penetrated Ötzi just below his left shoulder. Someone shot him from behind. The arrowhead sliced through his subclavian artery, so medics have concluded that he would have bled out quite quickly. We can surmise that he dropped face down on his left arm (which was the position the mummy was found in) and died. From the depth of penetration, scientists estimate that the arrow was shot from 30 m (or 100 ft) away. That sounds to me like a pretty lucky shot. But then I’ve never tried killing anyone with a bow and arrow; maybe 30 m is no big deal for someone who is adept at using a bow and arrow. The fatal arrowhead is still in the mummy, but there was no sign of the arrow shaft, from which the scientists conclude that Ötzi’s killer pulled it out.

And now to the big question: Why? Why was Ötzi killed? Towards the end of the museum tour, visitors are invited to write down and submit their own theory about the reasons surrounding Ötzi’s death. My wife and I have been watching a lot of episodes from the British TV show Inspector Morse recently, whom we see here with his faithful sidekick Sergeant Lewis.

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So I decided that this was an excellent opportunity to Think like Morse. Having sieved through the available facts, I have come up with the following story line:

A day or so before his death, Ötzi was involved in a vicious fracas with someone. We know this because scientists discovered a very deep cut between his thumb and forefinger as well as other cuts on his hands. These are typical of someone trying to protect themselves during a close-in fight involving weapons with a cutting edge, a knife attack for instance. I surmise that he successfully defended himself and in the process killed his assailant.

What was this deadly fracas about? “Cherchez la femme”, that’s what I say! As I already mentioned, Ötzi’s knee joints were well worn, indicating a lifestyle that required a lot of walking. This has led some scientists to suggest that he was a shepherd and so spent much of his time moving his flocks around the area’s Alpine pastures. I’m not convinced. The reason for that is his axe. The axe has a copper head; at the time of his death, this would have been a very rare, and therefore very valuable, item: until it was found it was thought that the Age of Metals had not yet started in Italy. So I conclude that he must have been a VIP of some sort. That in itself is not important to his murder, I believe. What is important is that his position required a lot of time away from home walking the mountains. My guess is that he returned home unexpectedly to find his wife canoodling with another man – or maybe his daughter. He got into a fight with the man and killed him. In the language of our time, it was an honour killing.

What next? There has been speculation that Ötzi was escaping when he was killed. That certainly could fit my story; it is not unusual in cases of honour killing for the murderer to quickly go into hiding until passions have subsided. But Ötzi doesn’t seem to have been in a hurry on his last journey. Scientists can tell that Ötzi’s deep cut to his hand occurred a day or so before his death, so he clearly hung around for a while before leaving. They also have figured out that he had quite a heavy meal about an hour before he died: not the behaviour one would expect from a man on the run. So I surmise that after putting his house in order Ötzi headed out again calmly, without a sense that his life was in danger. How wrong he was!

In my scenario, the family of the man he killed vowed revenge. I also posit that they didn’t live in the same village as Ötzi, so it took a while for the news to reach them, which explains why there wasn’t an immediate reaction. I also think that they couldn’t be too open about wanting revenge because of Ötzi’s VIP position. So they hurried over in secret, discovered that he had already left, and hurried after him. They caught up with him at the Pass. Maybe he saw them coming, realized what was happening, and started running, which would explain the decision to take a long bow shot before he disappeared over the horizon. After checking he was dead and pulling out the arrow shaft from where it was buried below his left shoulder, Ötzi’s killers then hurried back to their village, leaving him where he fell. If Ötzi was always traveling, it could have been a while before his family realized something was wrong, by which time early summer snows had already covered the body and hidden it from view – and started the long, slow process of mummification (by the way, scientists know it was early summer when he died because of the types of pollen that he swallowed with his last meal: such clever fellows, these scientists …).

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen, my theory on Ötzi’s untimely death! If you are not convinced, I suggest you find time one day to visit his museum in Bolzano to come up with your own theories. Or you can just read the wealth of stuff on the net about it all – Ötzi has created a veritable cottage industry around his life and death.

Whatever you do, though, spare a thought for poor old Ötzi, who is now hardly visible anymore in his own museum, lying as he is in a specially-created cold cell recreating the conditions he lay in for 5,000 years in the Tisenjoch Glacier, visible only through a small window.

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FRANCESCO BARACCA, ACE OF ACES

Sori, 3 June 2019

My wife and I were recently walking to the library of the Italian Alpine Club, with the idea of looking at some guide books on a walk in the Dolomites which we will be doing in a few weeks (and on which I hope to write a post or two). The walk took us through a part of Milan with which I’m not familiar, and so it was that I found myself walking for the first time through a little square. In the middle of it was this very intriguing statue.

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As readers can see, it consists of a man emerging from a stone plinth, naked but for some sort of cap with ear flaps on his head, holding a lit torch in one hand, and wearing a heroic expression. The name carved into the base of the plinth was Francesco Baracca. I asked my wife who it was. She wasn’t sure – a First World War general, she hazarded? But I wasn’t convinced. The cap looked too much like those leather caps worn by the early aviators. I mean, who doesn’t remember Snoopy on his way to fight the Red Baron?

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In my memory, there were also pictures of Biggles from the boys’ books of my youth.

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No-one who is not British and not my age or older will know who this Biggles is. He was a fictional World War I fighter pilot about whom a series of exciting books were written. He was a very heroic figure and a Jolly Good Chap.

A bit more seriously, here is a photo of Charles Lindbergh, the first person to manage a solo crossing of the Atlantic non-stop, which he did in 1927.

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Well, it turned out I was right. Francesco Baracca had indeed been an aviator. And not just any old aviator! He was Italy’s Ace of Aces during the First World War, racking up 34 recognized victories, the highest score for any Italian fighter pilot. Here we have him sitting in his plane with his flying cap on (and, contrary to his statue, with his clothes on; very sensible, it’s cold up there), ready to go and let the enemy have it.

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While here we have him posing in front of one of the enemy planes he had downed.

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Of course the government squeezed all the propaganda benefits they could out of his exploits. Anything heroic that could take the public’s mind off the bloody and ineffectual meat grinder of trench warfare was to be welcomed. And anyway, there was something terribly dashing about these aerial duels; it was the modern equivalent of Medieval knights jousting. As a result, he was lionized by the Italian public, who followed his every victory with enthusiasm.

It wasn’t just Italians who were enthused by the new forms of warfare in the air. On all sides of the war, the exploits of these new heroes of the air were followed avidly. But perhaps the Italians had a particular penchant for the exploits of aerial warfare. After all, it was in Italy that the Futurismo art movement was born, which had a total commitment to modern technology. To make the point, here are some key excerpts from two of the Futurist Manifestos that were published in 1910.

This is from the Futurist Painters Manifesto:

We want to fight with all our might the fanatical, senseless and snobbish worship of the past … We rebel against that spineless worshipping of old canvases, old statues and old bric-a-brac, against everything which is filthy and worm-ridden and corroded by time … Comrades! We declare to you that the triumphant progress of science has brought about such profound changes in humanity as to excavate an abyss between those docile slaves of past tradition and us, free, and confident in the radiant splendour of the future. … In the eyes of other countries, Italy is still a land of the dead, a vast Pompeii, whitened with sepulchres. But Italy is being reborn … In this land of illiterates, schools are multiplying; in this land of “dolce far niente” innumerable workshops now roar; in this land of traditional aesthetics are today taking flight inspirations dazzling in their novelty. Only art which draws its elements from the world around it is alive. Just as our forebears drew their artistic inspiration from a religious atmosphere which fed their souls, so must we inspire ourselves from the tangible miracles of contemporary life: the iron network of speedy communications which envelops the earth, the transatlantic liners, the dreadnoughts, those marvelous flights which furrow our skies, the profound courage of our submarine navigators and the spasmodic struggle to conquer the unknown. 

 

And this is from the Futurism Manifesto penned by the poet Marinetti, the “Father of Futurism”, who laid out a decalogue of futurist thought.

1. We want to sing of a love of danger, and the practice of energy and rashness.

3. Literature has up to now magnified pensive immobility, ecstasy and slumber. We want to exalt aggressive movement, feverish sleeplessness, the double march, the perilous leap, the slap and the punch.

4. We affirm that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car, its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath … a roaring motor car, which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.

9. We want to glorify war – the only cleanser of the world – militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of liberals, beautiful ideas for which one dies, and contempt for women.

10. We want to destroy the museums and libraries, the academies of every type, and combat moralism, feminism, and against every opportunistic and utilitarian vileness.

11. We will sing of the great crowds agitated by work, pleasure and revolt; we will sing of the multi-colored and polyphonic tide of revolutions in the modern capitals; we will sing of the vibrant nocturnal fervour of the arsenals and construction sites, enflamed by violent electric moons; the ravenous railway stations, devourers of smoking serpents; the workshops suspended from the clouds by the twisted threads of their smoke; the bridges which, like giant gymnasts, leap across rivers, flashing in the sun with the glitter of knives; the adventurous steamers sniffing at the horizon, and the great-breasted locomotives, pawing at the rails like enormous steel horses harnessed with pipes, and the gliding flight of aeroplanes whose propellers flutter in the wind like a flag and seem to applaud like an enthusiastic crowd.

 

Pretty incendiary stuff …

Right from the start, Futurist paintings reflected this adoration of speed and power, although initially the focus was on terrestrial technology. For instance, from 1912-1913, we have Luigi Russolo’s Dynamism of an Automobile.

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From 1922, we have Ivo Pannaggi’s Moving Train.

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(which rather reminds me of the opening credits of the Poirot TV series)

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From 1923, we have Ugo Giannattasio’s Motorcyclists

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It was only in the 1930s that Futurist painter’s started painting airplanes. For instance, from 1930 we have Tato’s Flying Over the Colosseum in Spirals.

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Perhaps it took a while for the painters to get into a cockpit and experience the sensation of flying.

Coming back to Baracca, he was eventually shot down, in June 1918. For propaganda purposes, the Italian government put it out that he had been hit by ground fire (to perpetuate the myth that no other aviator could shoot him down), although the Austrians claimed with good evidence that he was taken out by one of their planes. However it happened, his body was recovered and he was given a hero’s funeral. He was finally laid to rest in his home town of Lugo in Emilia-Romagna. Several decades later, the Fascists erected a large statue of him in the main square (this time with his clothes on)

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while his co-citizens opened a museum about him – might as well make some money off the town’s most famous son …

This story has a fascinating coda, which was really why I wrote this post. To explain it properly, I have to go back a bit and give readers a thumbnail biography of Baracca. He was, as I said, a citizen of Lugo, a small town located close to Ravenna. His parents were well-off and to some degree aristocratic – his mother was a countess. After his schooling, he chose to join the army. After studying at a military academy, in 1909 he was assigned a regiment. Given his social status, this was a cavalry regiment, the 2nd “Royal Piedmont”, a regiment created in 1692 by Duke Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy. Because of its importance to my story, I insert here the regiment’s traditional banner: a silver prancing horse on a red field.

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In 1912, after watching an aerial exhibition in Rome, Baracca became wildly enthusiastic about the future of military aviation. He asked to join the newly-created aviation arm of the army, a request that was granted. He went for training in France and by the time Italy joined the War in 1915, he was trained and ready to go.

As his number of victories climbed, the High Command fawned over him. In 1917, he was given his own squadron, the 91st, and allowed to choose his own pilots. He took all the other Italian aces, so the squadron became known as “the squadron of the aces”. On the right side of his plane’s fuselage, he placed the squadron’s insignia, a rampant griffin. On the left side, he placed his personal insignia. For this, in recognition of his earlier affiliation with the 2nd cavalry regiment, he chose its prancing horse. He changed the colour scheme, though, making the horse black on a silver background. Here we see him standing in front of his plane on which we see plainly his personal insignia.

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The insignia was an instant hit with the public, especially when the pilots of his squadron all adopted it in his honour after his death.

Fast forward a few years after the war, 1923 to be exact. I now introduce another character to this story, that of Enzo Ferrari, the fabled creator of the Ferrari racing team and car manufacturer. In 1923, he was just a driver for Alfa Romeo, racing their cars on various circuits. Racing was very popular in Italy, and the successful drivers were stars, rather like Baracca had been – and they wore the same leather caps as aviators.

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In any event, in that year Ferrari won a race near Ravenna. On the race’s edges, he met Baracca’s father. This led to a second meeting, this time with Baracca’s mother. He must have told them how much he had admired their son. And maybe they saw the racing of cars as an honourable descendant of what their son had been doing with planes. Whatever the reason, Baracca’s mother uttered these fateful words: “Ferrari, put my son’s horse on your cars. It will bring you good luck.” And that is exactly what Ferrari did seven years later in 1930, when he created his own racing team. From then on, his cars sported Baracca’s prancing horse. The only changes he brought were to make the field behind the horse canary yellow, to honour his home town, Modena, whose coat of arms has the same yellow field, and to raise the horse’s tail.

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And that is why, dear readers, Ferrari cars to this day sport a shield with a black prancing horse on a yellow field.

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SIX-LEGGED, BACKWARD-LOOKING, FIRE-BREATHING SHAGGY BLACK DOG

Milan, 17 April 2019

One of the nice things about being in Milan at this time of the year is that it allows my wife and me to visit the various exhibitions which make up the city’s annual Design Week. This last week saw us tramping the highways and byways of Milan and dropping into exhibitions of design, mostly of furniture and furnishings, this week also being the time that Milan was holding the Salone del Mobile, its huge international exhibition of furniture and furnishings. I cannot say that I saw anything that knocked my socks off, or even just rolled them down. But it did allow us to visit a good number of old palazzi which were hosting exhibitions and which are out of bounds to the general public the rest of the year. It also allowed us to visit a small botanical garden that is tucked away behind the Brera Academy in the heart of Milan’s fashion district, a garden which neither of us knew existed. It is that visit which started off this post.

Our reason for going to the botanical garden was that ENI, Italy’s huge national oil and gas corporation, was holding an exhibition there on the theme of circular economy. This is an idea that is currently growing in importance in the environmental world and one which I have been running trainings on, and I was curious to see what ENI had to say on the subject. The short answer is: not terribly much. But I came away with this picture.
For readers who might be interested, the white core of this ring is composed of fungal mycelium, which ENI reminds us is completely biodegradable, and the outer casing is made of birch wood, which ENI says will be reused once the exhibition is over. Without much exaggeration, that pretty much sums up what ENI had to say about the circular economy in its exhibition.

Of greater interest for this post is what the makers of this ring have etched into the mycelium: apart from the title of the exhibition and the company’s name, the company’s logo: the six-legged dog. It is this dog which is the subject of this post. Or rather, given where this post started, it is the design history of this dog which I will write about.

My story starts in 1949, when Enrico Mattei, the charismatic boss of Agip, Italy’s national oil company, announced that oil and gas reserves had been discovered in the Po River plain. In truth, the finds were quite modest: the oil fields were to run dry quite quickly, while the gas fields, although they continue to chug along, have only a very modest output. But Mattei talked up the finds, offering a vision of Italy finally being self-sufficient in the fuels it needed to power its economic development, and thereby created a huge national stir. By late 1951, Italian refineries were beginning to produce the first petrol derived from Italian crude oil and Mattei’s PR office had come up with a name for this purely Italian petrol: Supercortemaggiore (Corte Maggiore being the place where the find had been made). In May 1952, Mattei decided to crank up excitement levels by announcing that Agip would hold a public competition open to all Italian citizens, inviting them to come up with, among other things, a publicity poster for Supercortemaggiore petrol. He made 10 million lire (or about 160,000 euros in today’s money) available in prize money to further whet people’s appetites. He composed a jury of very eminent persons to judge the entries; to give readers an idea of their eminence , the chair of the jury was the world-famous architect Giò Ponti.

Creative Italy got to work. By the closure of the competition in September, some 4,000 entries had been received. The jury ploughed through the submissions and for the Supercortemaggiore poster, it plumped for this:

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The caption read: “Supercortemaggiore: the powerful Italian petrol”. But what really dominated the poster was a six-legged shaggy black dog blowing out a red flame over its back. The whole poster had a bright yellow background. The original drawing as submitted actually had the dog facing frontward with the flame shooting out forward. Mattei decreed that this was too aggressive, people could imagine they were faced with a canine version of a flame-thrower. No problem! The head was swiveled 180 degrees so that the flame flared harmlessly back over the dog’s back. The net result was that by late 1952 Italians up and down the land found themselves faced with huge billboards such as these.

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Most advertising ideas work OK, some are a complete flop, and some work spectacularly well. The six-legged, fire-breathing, backward-looking, shaggy black dog falls into the last category; it was an instant hit with Italians. So popular did it become that in 1953, when Mattei created the new national oil and gas holding company, the Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi or ENI, with Agip as one of its subsidiaries, he decided that the dog should become the corporate brand. And so quite soon when Italians went to fill up at their local Agip petrol station they were faced with something like this.

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In fact, this was how I first came across this intriguing dog. This was in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, where I was born a year or so after the shaggy black dog burst upon the scene. As an ex-Italian colony still full of Italians in the 1950s, Agip had a monopoly on the country’s petrol supply. It took a little while for the new ENI/Agip logo to grace every Agip petrol station, especially when the petrol stations were as far away from the center of the ENI empire as those in Asmara were. But they eventually got there, and I would have first seen the dog in 1958-59, from the back seat of the car as my father filled her up at the petrol station just behind our house.

Just to finish the design part, the dog has gone through some discreet remodelling as ENI has redesigned its look over the years. This is what it now looks like: slightly shorter than it was at the start and half out of the box rather than all in it. But the essentials are all still there.

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At some point, everyone who looks at this dog asks themselves “why six legs?” or the more-or-less equivalent question “what kind of animal is this, actually?” To discuss this properly, I need to take a step sideways and relate a dramatic turn of evens which occurred in 1983, 30 or so years after Mattei held his competition. In that year, the startling news broke that Giuseppe Guzzi, the person who everyone had assumed was the creator of the dog – because the submission to the competition’s jury was in his name – was not in fact its author! He had been merely the front man for the dog’s real creator, Luigi Broggini, a respectable Milanese sculptor. Broggini died in 1983 and his children, who broke the news, felt that it was time for the real creator of the famous dog to get the credit he was due. It seems that Broggini was a bit of a cultural elitist; he felt that being linked to such a vulgar enterprise as designing a publicity poster for a brand of petrol was unworthy of a true artist such as he. This is a typical product of his artistic inclinations.

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The cynic inside of me whispers that he probably didn’t deign to take the prize money; I only hope he shared it fairly with Guzzi to reward him for agreeing to be his front man.

So now we can return to the question of why six legs. Unfortunately, because Broggini died before his true role in this whole affair was revealed, we will never be able to ask the dog’s creator what he had in mind. I presume Broggini never told Guzzi, because it doesn’t seem that Guzzi ever gave any coherent response to this question. Maybe he would just smile mysteriously when asked and invite the questioners to come up with their own theory.

And come up with theories people have. One suggests that Broggini, thinking about the fact that the original crude oil lay underground, looked for possible models to the panoply of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses that peopled the shadowy underworld. Cerberus, the dog which guarded the entry to Hades, is considered one model. Cerberus was normally described as having three heads, a serpent for a tail, and snakes writhing out from his body in various places. But he had the normal amount of legs and he didn’t breathe fire. Here is a Greek vase depicting him.

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The idea to have a fire-breathing animal no doubt comes from petrol’s readiness to burn. But what animal breathes fire? The answer is the dragon.

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So another theory suggests that Broggini took a cue from a local Lombard legend of a dragon named Tarantasio which lived in a lake near Lodi, south-east of Milan (and perhaps not coincidentally quite close to the natural gas finds which Mattei announced in 1949). It was said that its breath was pestilential and it liked to devour little children. The Visconti, Lords of Milan, claimed that their ancestor had killed the terrible child-eating dragon and took it as the symbol on their coat of arms.

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So maybe Broggini was imagining a dog from the underworld with dragon-like characteristics. Adding a dragon to the mix might explain the flaming mouth, but as far as I can make out dragons are, like dogs, four-legged. So we still have no explanation for the six legs. The best I can think of is that Broggini liked the idea of using Cerberus as a model, perhaps allied to a dragon-like ability to breathe fire, but didn’t think having multiple heads was a good idea and so decided on multiple legs. Whatever the reason, the ENI PR office came up with a really pathetic slogan: “the dog with six legs, faithful friend to the man on four wheels”. And the man who came up with this slogan was none other than the great film director, Ettore Scola! As I always say to my wife in cases like these, he surely needed to pay his rent and electricity bills.

Let me finish this post recounting what happened to the man who started the whole business of the competition which brought us the dragon-dog, Enrico Mattei. For Mattei, the real point of the competition was to strengthen public support for a strong national oil and gas company, which he could translate into political support. He succeeded spectacularly well. A year after the competition, he got the politicians to back his idea of creating ENI. He used the profits which Agip petroli and its sister company Agip gas made from the Italian oil and gas finds to fund his ventures in foreign countries rich in oil and gas. His long-term strategy was for ENI to become a competitor to the Seven Sisters (a term he invented to describe the seven – mainly US – corporations which at that time dominated the world’s oil and gas markets). To make this happen, he went to places the Seven Sisters couldn’t or didn’t want to go to, he offered the countries really good deals in the share of profits, and he wasn’t above offering succulent bribes. Judging by ENI’s heft today in the world market, I would say that Mattei got it right. But in the process he stepped on many, many toes. In 1962, he died when his private plane crashed while coming in to land at Milan airport. The inquest was rushed through and arrived at the conclusion that it was an accident. But this is Italy. Rumors continued to circulate that his plane had been sabotaged. In the early 1990s, his body and that of one of the two passengers on the plane with him were exhumed, and examination of metal fragments in their bones showed they had been deformed by an explosion. In 1994, the case was reopened and eventually the episode was reclassified as a homicide by a person or persons unknown. There has been enormous amounts of speculation as to who these “unknown persons” might be. At one time or other, the finger has been pointed at the British Secret Service, the French Secret Service, the OAS (the French irredentists for a French Algeria), the CIA, the Mafia (as a favour to their cousins in America, the Cosa Nostra), one or more of the Seven Sisters, and I’m sure I’ve missed a few. We’ll no doubt never know.

But we can all thank Mattei for that splendid six-legged, backward-looking, fire-breathing, shaggy black dog which he bequeathed the world!

FINAL THOUGHTS

Milan, 16 March 2019

Let me start this final post on the topic of UK industry in art by throwing in photos of a couple of paintings which didn’t make it into my previous posts but which really are worth being seen.

A Street with Washing (1962) by Peter Brook Calderdale (1927-2009), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Metropolitan Borough Council
Halifax (Bowling Dyke) (1925) by Claude Muncaster (1903-1974), © by kind permission of Claude Muncaster’s estate. Photo credit: Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council
Backyard of Otaco Ltd Factory, 16 Market Road (date unknown) by Käthe Strenitz (1923-2017), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Islington Local History Centre and Museum
Mill in Winter (1958) by Peter Brook (1927-2009), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Kirklees Museums and Galleries
Steeplejacks (date unknown) by Harold Blackburn (1899-1980), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Kirklees Museums and Galleries
Lilly Clare, Last of the Taker-Inners (1979) by Christopher Brady (b. 1956), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: St Helens Council Collection
Miner on G6 Face (date unknown) by Jack Crabtree (b. 1938), © the artist. Photo credit: University of South Wales Art Collection Museum
High Rake Lead Mine (2008) by Susan Loft (b. 1945), © the artist. Photo credit: Buxton Museum & Art Gallery

 

And now, with that out of the way, let me meditate for a minute on where things stand for UK industry and what its future might look like.

Through sheer coincidence I have been publishing these posts just when the British Parliament is going through what will probably be the last moments of a contorted, acrimonious process which will take the UK out of the EU, a process that was kicked off by the Referendum results of 23 June 2016. It is the leave vote that interests me here. There were many reasons why people voted to leave, many of them I’m sure having nothing – or relatively little – to do with the EU per se. Consider the following map, which gives a regional distribution of the vote.

The first thing that strikes one is the very clear difference in voting patterns between England and Scotland, and to a lesser degree Northern Ireland. That explains some of the Parliamentary shenanigans we have been witnessing these last two years. Putting that aside, the other major thing that strikes one is that, just from a territorial point of view, the vast majority of England and Wales voted to leave! (although the vote was admittedly close in many places) If the overall vote ended up such a close balance between leave and remain, it is because the bigger cities, which have big populations squeezed into small territories, voted strongly for remain. The following population-adjusted map shows this effect: London and its heavily populated surrounding swells, Scotland and Wales with their small populations shrink.

This divergence in the Referendum results between the large cities and the rest of the country has been interpreted as a protest vote on the part of those who live in the smaller towns. The Referendum was, so the thinking goes, a way they could figuratively stick a finger in the eye of the big-city elites. Since the EU is seen in the heartlands to be very much an elite project, a vote against the EU in the Referendum was very often a vote against the big-city slickers. The people who live in England’s and Wales’s small towns feel left behind, abandoned by the big cities. This must be especially true of towns which were once heavily industrialized whose citizens have seen their proud towns founder and collapse while the big cities seemingly have continued to grow and be ever more prosperous. One of the things that struck me as I prepared the last six posts is how many of the small towns in the paintings I was looking at were once busy, prosperous industrial towns and are now, because of deindustrialization, shells – ghosts – of what they once were. Looking at where the towns in the paintings I chose are on those voting maps, I can understand how the bitterness which has accumulated over the last forty years in these small industrial towns could have spilled over into a vote against the EU – especially since the UK’s membership in the EU started a mere decade before the UK’s deindustrialization started in earnest.

It’s so tragic really, because it looks like many leave voters actually stuck a finger in their own eye. As we have seen over the last few months, manufacturing, which although much diminished still mainly takes place in the old industrial towns, has taken a hit because of Brexit, with one multinational company after another closing down or downsizing their British operations. It will continue taking a hit: in the long term, it has been predicted that Brexit will cause more harm to those who voted to leave than to those who voted to remain.  I fear that the divide between England’s big cities and the rest of the country will only deepen once – as I think is now inevitable – the UK leaves the EU. In turn, this will increase the social tensions which already exist and I see no obvious way of defusing them outside the EU. I must confess to being quite gloomy about the UK’s future prospects.

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All photos of paintings are from the Art UK website

Map of Brexit voting: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:United_Kingdom_EU_referendum_2016_area_results.svg

Population adjusted map of Brexit voting: http://www.viewsoftheworld.net/?p=4848

 

IT ALL WENT AWAY

Milan, 15 March 2019

In the late 1980s, globalization really took hold and industry massively began to move out of developed countries and into developing countries. The UK suffered especially heavy losses of its manufacturing capacity. Whole communities not only lost their jobs but their whole raison-d’être. Their ancestors had been forced off the land to work in the factories, the towns they lived in had been created to house the factories, now there was no reason anymore for these towns to exist.  People my age remember that time, especially the miners’ strikes, which was their last-ditch attempt to save an industry that was doomed by global market forces. Artists memorialized those terrible moments in the UK’s recent history.

Miners’ Strike 2 (1970s) by an unknown artist, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Thames Valley Police Museum
Miners’ Strike (1970s) by an unknown artist, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Thames Valley Police Museum
Picket Line (2009) by Paul Schofield (b. 1938), © the artist. Photo credit: Haig Colliery Mining Museum
Miners’ Strike (c. 1985) by Margaret Varis, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: National Coal Mining Museum for England
On Strike (1985) by David Lawrence Carpanini (b. 1946), © the artist. Photo credit: Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust

But it was all to no avail. One after another, industries closed or moved away, leaving joblessness and broken communities behind

No Vacancies at This Colliery of Any Category (1984) by Andrew Hay (b. 1944), © the artist. Photo credit: Glasgow Museums

and leaving old workers with their memories of better times.

‘There are no longer any birds in last years’ nests. Times change and we with them’ (1993) by Andrew Tift (b. 1968), © Andrew Tift. Photo credit: The New Art Gallery Walsall

What of industry’s environmental impacts, the topic of my professional interests? Well, there was all that black smoke belching out of factories’ chimneys. Painters readily included these smoking chimneys in their paintings of industry: black smoke meant industrial activity, it meant economic progress, it meant wealth! But as we now know, all that black smoke must have also played havoc with people’s lungs, especially poor people’s lungs – they couldn’t escape to comfortable suburbs far away from all that factory smoke – and especially poor children’s lungs. As industry developed, especially the chemical industry, chimney stacks began emitting different coloured smoke, something which artists picked up.

Leith (1970s) by George Mackie (b. 1920), © the artist. Photo credit: Aberdeen Maritime Museum
Industrial Panorama (1`953) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Nottingham City Museums

Artists seem to have been less interested in painting the black rivers – or even sometimes highly coloured rivers if textile factories were involved – which were another by-product of industrialization. As usual, L.S. Lowry seems to have been the only painter who turned his unflinching gaze on this watery ugliness.

The Lake (1937) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © The Lowry Collection, Salford. Photo credit: The Lowry Collection, Salford
Industrial Landscape, River Scene (1950) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service

Of course, when industries closed or went away, this air and water pollution disappeared (only to reappear, though, in the developing countries where the industries relocated). Not so with industry’s solid wastes. In the early days, there was always a useful hole somewhere behind the factories where wastes could be conveniently dumped and forgotten about.

The Tip, Hanley (1946) by Michael Ayrton (1921-1975), © estate of the artist. Photo credit: The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
Reflections (Rose Hill, Bolton) (1954) by Brian Bradshaw (b. 1923), © the artist. Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery

Industries may have closed down and moved away, but these noisome deposits stayed. How many of them have I dug up over my career! A poisoned present from past industries left for current and future generations to clean up.

And of course the mining operations – coal mines, tin mines, slate mines, … – have left indelible scars on the UK’s landscape, with their tips of mining waste looming up behind the mining villages.

Landscape, County Durham (date unknown) by Marjorie Arnfield (1930-2001), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, mima
Elliot Colliery (c. 1970) by Gilbert House (1919-2007), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Caerphilly County Borough Museums & Heritage Service – Winding House
Miners and Colliery (1970) by Tom C. Brown (1925-2006), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales
The Slate Mines (date unknown) by Fred Uhlman (1901-1985), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

In my next and final post, I’ll slip in some paintings which didn’t fit my narrative but which deserve to be seen by a wider audience. I’ll also meditate on what has been the deeper impact of this story on the UK.

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All photos from the Art UK website

 

CLOSE-KNIT COMMUNITIES

Milan, 14 March 2019

The rural poor may have been chased off the land and dragooned into factories, but at least they went on to create vibrant, closely-knit communities. Artists celebrated this throng of humanity in the shadow of the factories.

Unidentified Mill Scene (c. 1820-25) by British (English) School. Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND licence
Morledge, Derby, by Night in Fairtime (1882) by Claude Thomas Stanfield Moore (1853-1901). Photo credit: Derby Museums Trust. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-SA licence
A Scene in a Village Street with Mill-Hands Conversing (1919) by Winifred Knights (1899-1946). Photo credit: UCL Art Museum
Poole Pottery, Dorset (c. 1925) by Eustace P. E. Nash (1886-1969), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Poole Museum Service
Any Wintry Afternoon in England (1930) by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson (1889-1946). Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND licence
Street Scene (1935) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Atkinson Art Gallery Collection
Market Scene, Northern Town (1939) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © The Lowry Collection, Salford. Photo credit: The Lowry Collection, Salford
Sunnyside Mill Bride to Be (date unknown) by Roger Hampson (1925-1996), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Salford Museum & Art Gallery
Mill Girls, Ashton, Lancashire (1948) by Harry Rutherford (1903-1985), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Tameside Museums and Galleries Service: The Astley Cheetham Art Collection
Spring Evening (1950) by Joan Baker (1922-2017), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Aberystwyth University, School of Art Museum and Galleries
Cheetham Street, Middlesbrough, Tees Valley (1953) by Kenneth Gribble (1925-1995), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, mima
The Cooling Tower, Stockport, Cheshire (1960) by Harry Kingsley (1914-1998), © Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service. Distributed under a CC BY-NC licence
Lady Windsor Colliery, Ynysybwl (c. 1980) by Christopher Hall (b. 1930), © the artist. Photo credit: Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales

In the bigger cities, these communities began to be ripped apart in the late 1950s, early 1960s by well-meaning attempts to upgrade people’s living conditions, but it meant that the centres of industrial cities were laid to waste as factories were moved out into industrial estates and the people were moved into high-rise blocks of flats.

Terrace House Demolition, Barton Hill (c. 1963) by Gerald Albert Cains (b. 1932), © the artist. Photo credit: Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives
The Green Fence, Hulme (1960) by Harry Kingsley (1914-1988), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery
New Street (1961) by Harry Kingsley (1914-1998), © Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service. Distributed under a CC BY-NC licence
Embryo, Moss Side, Manchester (1965) by Harry Kingsley (1914-1998), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service
Wharf Street Vista, Leicester (1970) by Norman Ellis (1913-1971), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service
Elephant and Castle, London, High Rise (1988) by Oliver Bevan (b. 1941), © the artist. Photo credit: Museum of London

Far greater wreckage was to occur a few decades later when the UK started deindustrializing under Thatcher as globalization shifted factories into the developing countries and left many old industrial towns and cities with no future. This topic will be covered in my next post.

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All photos from the Art UK website.

WORKERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

Milan, 12 March 2019

The industrial revolution could only take off because the rural poor were chased off the land, herded into towns, and put to work in the burgeoning factories. These foot soldiers of the industrial revolution were immediately of interest to painters, who caught on right away to the military, drill-like quality of the work for many.

The Richardson Cutting Shop (date unknown) by Emily Hodgetts (active 1820-50). Photo credit: Dudley Museums Service
File Cutters (1917) by Edward Frederick Skinner (1865-1924). Photo credit: Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
The Blouse Factory (1917) by Charles Ginner (1878-1952), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Government Art Collection
Women at Work: The Belgian Steel Factory, Goldhawk Road, W12 (1918) by Edgar Seligman (1867-1958), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: IWM (Imperial War Museums)
Elswick, 1917: Messrs. Armstrong, Whitworth & Company by John Lavery (1856-1941). Photo credit: IWM (Imperial War Museums)
The Weaving Shed, Old Glamis Factory (1929) by James McIntosh Patrick (1907-1998), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection (Dundee City Council)
Women Making Munitions Boxes (1946) by John Campbell Hutton (1906-1978), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Museum of Farnham
Body Shop, Austin, Longbridge, Warwickshire (1947) by Robert Johnston (active 1947-1985), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: British Motor Industry Heritage Trust

It is striking indeed that most of these pictures have women workers, but this might be more a reflection of the fact that many of the pictures were painted during the two World Wars, when women were drafted into the workplace to replace the men; when the wars were over they were expected to go home. (It is also striking that in the pictures in yesterday’s post, which were all from “heavy industries”, there were NO women.)

The harsh working conditions, the tendency of the factory owners to pay their workers as little as possible, the lack of job security, all led to worker agitation and the creation of the Trades Union movement as well as of left-wing political parties. Artists captured these political trends early.

The Opening of the Chartists’ Meeting House, Hyde [in 1838] by Harry Rutherford (1903-1985), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Tameside Museums and Galleries Service: The Astley Cheetham Art Collection
National Builders Labourers And Construction Workers Society Banner (1921) by an unknown artist. Photo credit: People’s History Museum
The Sunderland Employers Banner (1871) by an unknown artist. Photo credit: People’s History Museum

In later decades, some artists were perhaps not so sympathetic to the workers’ movement.

The Communist, a Political Meaning (c. 1932) by Evan Walters (1893-1951), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
Union Men (1975) by Harold Blackburn (1899-1980), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Kirklees Museums and Galleries

Others were decidedly more sympathetic.

Selling the ‘Daily Worker’ outside Projectile Engineering Works (1937) by Clive Branson (1907-1944). Photo credit: Tate. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND licence
The History of Labour (1975) by Maureen Scott (b. 1940), © the artist. Photo credit: People’s History Museum
Two Trade Unionists (1986) by Ken Currie (b. 1960), © the artist/courtesy Flowers Gallery, London and New York. Photo credit: North Lanarkshire Council / CultureNL
Glasgow Communist Party Committee Banner (1983-85) by Ken Currie (b. 1960), © the artist/courtesy Flowers Gallery, London and New York. Photo credit: Glasgow Caledonian University
Unemployment on Merseyside: Campaigning for the Right to Work (1993) by Michael Patrick Jones (b. 1944), © the artist. Photo credit: Museum of Liverpool

While all this was happening, a number of artists went about using the new art forms of 20th Century art to depict the real nature of work.

The Weaver (1910) by Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962), © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019. Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
Munitions Factory (1940s) by William Patrick Roberts (1895-1980), © estate of John David Roberts. By courtesy of The William Roberts Society. Photo credit: Salford Museum & Art Gallery
Female Glass Worker (date unknown) by Cliff Rowe (1904-1989), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: People’s History Museum
Machine Shop (1963) by Leroy Leveson Laurent Joseph de Maistre (1894-1968), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums
The Machinist (1970s) by Tony Evans (1920-2001), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Carmarthenshire Museums Service Collection
Workers in a Frozen Pea Factory (1979) by Francis Higgins, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

Artists were also interested in capturing the flow of workers into and out of the factories, at the beginning and end of their day or their shift. Miners’ shift changes got pride of place.

Miners Return from Night Shift (1928) by Richard Schmick, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: National Coal Mining Museum for England
Miners Returning from Work (1931) by an unknown artist. Photo credit: Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales
Bedford Colliery, Leigh (date unknown) by Roger Hampson (1925-1996), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Salford Museum & Art Gallery
The Crossing (Colliery at Night) (1964) by Tom McGuinness, © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: National Coal Mining Museum for England
Pit Road near a Colliery, Winter (c. 1990) by Norman Stansfield Cornish (1919-2014), © Northumbria University Gallery on behalf of the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Northumbria University Gallery
Back and Forth (date unknown) by Brian Maunders (b. 1942), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: National Coal Mining Museum for England

But pictures were painted of other factory workers too, catching them when they came out

Coming from the Mill (1930) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © The Lowry Collection, Salford. Photo credit: The Lowry Collection, Salford
End of the Day (1947) by David Ghilchik (1890-1970), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Chesterfield Museum & Art Gallery
Men Leaving Work (1954) by Carel Victor Morlais Weight (1908-1997), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery

or went in.

Going to the Mill (1925) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Pallant House Gallery
Entrance to a Factory near the Canal Entrance (date unknown) by Käthe Strenitz (1923-2017), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre

Paintings of workers’ lives in their local community outside the factory gates will be the topic of the next post.

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All photos taken from the Art UK website

 

DARK SATANIC MILLS

Milan, 12 March 2019

Right from the start of the industrial revolution, artists were fascinated by the factories which glowed red in the night or sent flames leaping up into the night sky – William Blake’s dark satanic mills. Here is a series of paintings on this theme.

Coalbrookdale by Night (1801) by Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740-1812). Photo credit: Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
The Steelworks, Cardiff at Night (1893-7) by Lionel Walden (1861-1933). Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
Dowlais Works at Night (1929) by Charles William Mansel Lewis (1845-1931) (attr. to). Photo credit: Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND licence
Lever House Mural (date unknown) by Leonard Henry Rosoman (1913-2012), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Williamson Art Gallery & Museum
Industrial Landscape (Hulme, Manchester in the Sixties) by John Bold (1895-1979), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Salford Museum & Art Gallery
BP Baglan Bay at Night (1963) by Andrew Vicari (1938-2016), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
Industry (1987) by Leslie Frederick Clarke (1907-2000), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Erewash Borough Council

Much of that fire has emanated from iron and steel works, whose interiors have also drawn artists – like moths to a flame, we could say.

The Wealth of England, the Bessemer Process of Making Steel (1895) by William Holt Yates Titcomb (1858-1930). Photo credit: Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust
Bessemer Process Plant, Abbey Works, Margam (1958) by Charles Ernest Cundall (1890-1971), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
Steelworkers (1940) by Roland Vivian Pitchforth (1895-1982), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum
Tapping a Blast Furnace (1957) by Charles William Brown (1882-1961), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
Last Tapping of the Blast Furnace at Brymbo (c. 1978) by Jan Boenisch, © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Wrexham County Borough Museum and Archives

While the molten metal went on to further working, the slag from the foundries was thrown onto heaps where, still incredibly hot, it glowed sullenly until it had cooled sufficiently.

Tipping the Slag (date unknown) by Edwin Butler Bayliss (1874-1950), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage

These slag heaps must have looked quite satanic at night, giving off a deep red glow.

Rolling mills, where molten – or at least red-hot – metal is rolled out, have also been a constant source of artistic inspiration.

Interior of a Rolling Mill (1855-65) by Godfrey Sykes (1824-1866). Photo credit: Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Hot Strip Mill (c. 1952) by Norman Hepple (1908-1994), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Ebbw Vale Works Archival Trust
Rolling Mill, Avesta, Sheffield (1990) by M. Lawrance, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust

Forging, too, has had its enthusiasts.

The Tyre Mill (1940-44) by Edith Grace Wheatley (1881-1970), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
‘Becking’, Locomotive at Blaenavon Works, 1947 by R. Smith (possibly), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Torfaen Museum Trust

Moulding has also attracted followers.

Ley Maleable Works, Lincoln (1920) by L. Hare, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Museum of Lincolnshire Life
Pouring Metal into Moulds (date unknown) by Norman Biddle (1932-2000), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Sandwell Museums Service Collection

I finish with a spray of sparks

Scarfer (1971) by John Collins, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Ebbw Vale Works Archival Trust

and a homage to the men who spent their working lives in those dark satanic mills.

The Black-Country Steelworkers (1992) by Andrew Tift (b. 1968), © Andrew Tift. Photo credit: The New Art Gallery Walsall

This last picture is an introduction to my next post, which will cover the theme of industrial workers.

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All photos from the Art UK website.

IN ENGLAND’S GREEN AND PLEASANT LAND – II

Milan, 11 March 2019

The new structures created by the industrial revolution were immediately of interest to artists, who memorialized these new activities

A Pit Head (1775-1825) by the British School. Photo credit: Walker Art Gallery

as well as the buildings that sprang up to house them.

Mill Landscape (1800-1830) by the British (English) School. Photo credit: The Whitaker

No doubt the owners of these new activities – the “capitalists” – were proud to have them memorialized, much as in previous centuries landowners had been proud to have their country seats memorialized.

‘A’ Pit, Backworth, Newcastle upon Tyne (1823-1867) by an unknown artist. Photo credit: Laing Art Gallery
Ebley Cloth Mills, Stroud, Gloucestershire (c. 1850) by Alfred Newland Smith (1813-1877) (attributed to). Photo credit: The Stroud District (Cowle) Museum Trust Collection
Restronguet Creek Tin Works (1874) by T. May. Photo credit: Royal Institution of Cornwall. Distributed under a CC BY-NC licence
Lord Derby’s Works, Redvales, Bury, 1893 by James ‘Clock’ Shaw. Photo credit: Bury Art Museum
Eastwood’s Crown Brewery (1898) by F.L. Carter. Photo credit: Compton Verney

The industrial buildings got bigger and more complex, but still their owners wanted artists to memorialize their factories.

A Two-Year-Old Steel Works: Erected during the War for Messrs. Steel, Peech & Tozer, Ltd, Phoenix Works, Rotherham (c. 1918) by Charles John Holmes (1868-1936). Photo credit: IWM (Imperial War Museums)
British Industries: Steel (1924) by Richard Jack (1866-1952), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: National Railway Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

But I suppose at some point artists just wanted to show the factories the way they really were.

The Thames at Hammersmith (1930) by David Murrary Smith (1865-1952), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Sandwell Museums Service Collection

And they tried using the new painting techniques of the 20th Century to capture the industrial reality they saw around them.

 Ullathorne Mill, Startforth, County Durham (date unknown) by Douglas Frederick Pittuck (1911-1993), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Durham County Council
The Brewery and Paper Mill, Ely (date unknown) by Charles Byrd (1916-2018), © the artist. Photo credit: Gathering the Jewels
Steel Works near Swansea (1944) by Julian Trevelyan (1910-1988), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Argyll and Bute Council
Dawn, Ashington Colliery, Northumberland (1949) by Oliver Kilbourn (1904-1993), © Ashington Group Trustees. Photo credit: Woodhorn Museum & Northumberland Archives
The Zinc Works (1954) by Peter Knox (b. 1942), © the artist. Photo credit: Hartlepool Museums and Heritage Service
Industrial Landscape, Hope Valley, Derbyshire (c. 1959) by Harry Epworth Allen (1894-1958), © Geraldine Lattey/Harry Epworth Allen Foundation. Photo credit: Buxton Museum & Art Gallery
Industrial Landscape (1959) by George Kennerley (1909-2009), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
Sugden’s Brighouse Mill (date unknown) by Peter Brook (1927-2009), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Kirklees Museums and Galleries

From the 1960s onward, artists who painted industry seem to have focused almost exclusively on recording the passing of the coal industry, which had underpinned the whole industrial revolution in the UK and was now entering its death spiral.

Shotton Colliery, County Durham (1967) by Everard, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Durham County Council
New Stubbin Colliery (1977) by Peter Watson (b. 1946), © the artist. Photo credit: National Coal Mining Museum for England
Six Bells Colliery (1980) by George H. Godsell, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Abertillery & District Museum
Coal Wagons (Seafield Colliery) (1985) by Brian Joseph Fojcik, © the artist. Photo credit: Fife Council
Bickershaw Colliery, Leigh (1992) by Max Ayres, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Salford Museum & Art Gallery
Pithead Sunset (2007) by Stephen Simons (b. 1984), © the artist. Photo credit: Langwith Whaley Thorns Heritage Centre

By 2007, the date of the last painting I show here, the British coal industry was effectively dead, along with much of the manufacturing industry which had powered itself with that coal.

A line from William Blake’s poem Jerusalem has given me the title of both this post and the previous one. Blake asks if Jesus ever walked over England’s green and pleasant land. When Blake wrote that poem, England mostly was still a green and pleasant land, a rural land. It was only slightly pockmarked by the “dark satanic mills” of industry which he mentions in that poem (“And was Jerusalem builded here / Among these dark Satanic Mills?”). Blake died in 1827, before – as the paintings in these two posts show – the blighting ugliness of industrial development had really started disfiguring the land. In my next post, I will explore artists’ fascination with the most satanic of those industrial mills.

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All photos taken from the Art UK website

 

IN ENGLAND’S GREEN AND PLEASANT LAND – I

Milan, 10 March 2019

I recently came across a wonderful website, Art UK. It is the fruit of a long effort to digitize absolutely every single painting, watercolour, etching, and drawing being held by public bodies in the UK. And I mean every such piece of art, from the products of the most exalted artists to those of the humblest, from pieces in a perfect state of repair to pieces which are dirty, discolored, scratched and peeling. And I mean every public body. Why, we are talking of as humble a body as the Goole Museum (I challenge anyone to tell me where that is without looking it up on Google Maps or some such). In this way, the website is able to make available 222,572 artworks. The purpose of the exercise is to give every UK citizen access to that body of art which in theory they own but which in practice is often locked away in physically inaccessible parts of public buildings or in store rooms. And of course, through the worldwide net they have made this a gift to the whole world. This exercise democratizes art not only by making it more accessible but also by taking away the filters imposed on it by an artistic elite who decide what is worth seeing and what should be hidden away from view in store rooms. Art UK has now turned its attention to all the sculptures being held by these same public bodies. I wait with bated breath for the result!

As readers can easily appreciate, it would be impossible to enjoy these 220,000-plus works of art without having the ability to use filters to extract from the site’s database some manageable subset of artworks. And indeed the website gives its users the tools to do this. So I have been spending my spare moments in the last couple of weeks doing just that, extracting works of art which fit a particular theme close to my heart: the depiction in art of industry. Allow me to explain.

I have spent my entire career at the interface between industry and the environment, trying to minimize the impacts of the former upon the latter. As readers can imagine, this has left me with a somewhat jaundiced view of industry. Although tangential to my areas of expertise, I have also seen close up how industry can impact the health, safety, and the general well-being of its workers, which has increased my jaundiced view of industry. Nevertheless, I also have to recognize that many workers have found in their industrial work a reason for pride in their skills and a comforting communal solidarity. It is also true to say that industry has created many well-paying jobs and has contributed significantly to general economic well-being – or at least it did so in the industrialized countries until the deindustrialization of the 1980s and 1990s wiped out whole swathes of industry and ripped out the fabric of many communities, a collective harm from which they have not yet recovered.

Now these are my own, very personal views of industry. How, I have been asking myself for many years, have artists been reacting to this phenomenon which has transformed our economies and our societies over the last 200 years, both for better and for worse? As readers can imagine, most mainstream museums show very few, if any, pieces of art about industry.

Art UK has finally offered me a wonderful way of checking how artists have been tracking the phenomenon of industrialization – and deindustrialization – in the UK, the country where the industrial revolution started some 200 years ago. Using search terms like “factory”, “industry”, “industrial”, “mill”, “mine”, “worker”, “union”, and “strike” I have been drilling down through the database. To do justice to all the artwork I have unearthed, I have prepared several posts, each on a different thread which I found running through the paintings. This post will look at the theme of industry in the landscape.

I start with the earliest painting I could find in this genre, from 1810, which places it in the first decades of the UK’s Industrial Revolution. In this landscape, which has figures dressed in Regency style in the foreground, we see the English town of Halifax. Industry has a very modest presence in this landscape, in the form of those three-storey mills close to the bridge.

North-West View of Halifax (c. 1810) by Nathan Fielding (1747-c. 1814). Photo Credit: Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council

In this next painting, from some twenty years later, we have a typical landscape painting: old, gnarled trees in the foreground, some rustics working at something among the trees to the left, the city of Bristol in the background. A black plume of smoke – that instant marker of industrial activity – signals the presence of some factory in the city. The industrial presence still seems modest.

View of Bristol (1827) by Patrick Nasmyth (1787-1831). Photo credit: Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage

In Rotherham in the same period, industry is much more present in the landscape. The tall cathedral spire is matched by several tall industrial chimneys belching their black smoke, while figures in the foreground carry on with what still seems to be a bucolic life.

View of Rotherham, South Yorkshire (c. 1830) by William Cowen (1791-1864). Photo credit: Rotherham Heritage Services

And what could be more English than this, playing cricket while a factory chimney emits its smoke discreetly in the background?

Cricket Match at Edenside, Carlisle (c. 1844) by Samuel Bough (1822-1878). Photo credit: Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery

By the late 1830s, industry has become very much more present in what were to become major hubs of industry in the UK, like this view of Sheffield from 1838.

View of Sheffield from Shrewsbury Road (1838) by William Cowen (1791-1864). Photo credit: Museums Sheffield

The next two paintings, painted within a few years of each other, were painted about twenty years later. They are views of Manchester, and they too show this city, which was to be at the heart of the UK’s industrial revolution, with the same array of chimneys spouting black smoke.

View of Manchester from Kersal (1856) by John Barton Waddington (1835-1918). Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery
Manchester from Belle Vue (1861) by George Danson (1799-1881). Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND licence

In this painting of 1861, the traditional rural past of the UK still takes pride of place, although the future, in the form of a forest of smoking chimneys, lurks in the background. As we will see in a minute, that future will eventually engulf everything.

Looking West of St Luke’s Church, Silverdale (1861) by Henry Lark I Pratt (1805-1873). Photo credit: Brampton Museum

By about this period, the traditional landscape painting with industry a minor player in it disappears. I suppose this reflects the reality of what was going on. The small towns which had adopted industry grew rapidly and sucked into them the rural poor, who were to become the industrial proletariat of the future. Now landscapes give way to cityscapes, with industry now embedded in an urban fabric.

The River Derwent from the Great Northern Railway Bridge, Derby by Raymund Dearn (1858-1925). Photo credit: Derby Museums Trust. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-SA licence.

The countryside disappears to give place to views of the new industrial cities.

View of Camden Town (1915) by D. Connor, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre

The bleakness of these new cities was well captured by L.S. Lowry, who from the late 1910s to the early 1960s was to paint these industrial cityscapes over and over again.

A Manufacturing Town (1922) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Science Museum, London

I add this next Lowry as a counterpoint to the earlier painting of church and industry. Now the church has been completely engulfed by the spread of industry.

A Street Scene (St Simon’s Church) (1928) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © The Lowry Collection, Salford. Photo credit: The Lowry Collection, Salford

Not all industrial landscapes of these years were as bleak as Lowry’s paintings. Here is one from 1932, which gives a more optimistic view of a typical industrial city.

Accrington from My Window (1932) by Charles Frederick Dawson (1863-1949), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery

But to my  mind Lowry represents better the soul-destroying element of the UK’s industrial development.

The Bandstand, Peel Park, Salford (1930s?) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit:York Museums Trust

Other painters, while not denying the bleakness of these industrial towns, pick up on the linear geometry of modern life.

Cubist Quayside and Railway Industrial Landscape with Figures (1930s-40s?) by Charles Byrd (1916-2018), © the artist. Photo credit: Cardiff Council

But Lowry continued with his really depressing paintings.

An Industrial Town (1944) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Birmingham Museums Trust

This next painting shows what the landscape around an industrial town had become: a dirty and torn-up landscape devoid of any life.

From a Back Lane (1949) by Jack Simcock (1929-2012), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

Other painters continued to give a sunnier view of industry’s place in the landscape – we are now five years after the Second World War.

Sunlight and Mills (1951) by Harold Hemingway (1908-1976), © the copyright holder. Photo credit:  Salford Museum & Art Gallery

But others continued producing relentlessly dark landscapes – in this painting, cooling towers, which were to displace chimneys as the typical symbol of industry, make their first appearance.

A Leicester Vista (1955) by Norman Ellis (1913-1971), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service

Another dark cityscape from the late 1950s.

Coventry (1958) by Jane Sutton, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

A sunnier version from the same year. Cooling towers are now very visible.

Walsall, as seen from Peal Street (1958) by Herbert W. Wright (b. 1912), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: The New Art Gallery Walsall

This painting is a return to earlier landscape paintings. It is celebrating the industries of the future, which are leaving behind the bleak, coal-dirty towns of the past (seen in the far distance) and starting afresh in the new industrial zones of the post-War period.

Trostre Works, Llanelli (1959) by Charles Ernest Cundall, © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

This is a slightly more realistic depiction of the huge industrial zones that are still with us today.

Industrial Skyline (1964) by W.D. Staves (active 1964-1965), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: North Lincolnshire Museums Service

This is another throw-back to the landscape paintings of the past, although I suspect that this one is a mourning for what once was. The steel plant in the background was eventually closed down some 15 years after this picture was painted.

Landscape with Consett Steel Works (1972) by Mary Jane Kipling (1912-2004), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Durham County Council (Derwentside)

Here we have a bleak vision – not messy and dirty, just alienated – of industry from the 1980s.

Industrial Landscape (c. 1980) by Stephen Meyler (b. 1956), © the artist. Photo credit: Carmarthenshire Museums Service Collection

This one is a commentary on how the beautiful object in the foreground was birthed in the ugliness behind it.

The Ruskin Connection (2000) by Stephen Morris, © the artist. Photo credit: Sandwell Museums Service Collection

And finally, a contemporary vision of industry: still there but much cleared away, leaving  joblessness and broken communities behind.

Slipway (2008) by Frances Ryan (b.1960), © the artist. Photo credit: Northern Ireland Civil Service

Here I have shown paintings where factories were but one of a number of elements in the landscape. The next post will show paintings of factories as the sole element in the landscape.

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All photos taken from the Art UK website.