Thursday, April 25, 2013


The year 1900 is now on the outermost edge of living human experience and there are but few people drawing breath today who drew it over a century and a decade ago...

Director Bernardo Bertoluccci released, in the year 1976 when far greater numbers of souls had a few fading memories of that last year of the 19th Century, an epic film that explored the lives of two men born in Italy during a time of great unrest.  1900 is a very long movie with Bertolucci's vision running to 317 minutes and shorter heavily edited versions clocking in at over 200 minutes...

Paintings completed in 1900: Paul Cezanne: Still Life with Onions.  As his work matured, Cezanne strove to create depth
on his canvases through the use of color.  He also became increasingly interested in interpreting the world around him in
terms of geometric forms, primarily the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone.

1900 tackles profound subject matter: deep and abiding personal friendships tinged by love and hate, wealth and poverty, political struggles to find a middle way between the lures of fascism and socialism as quick fixes to economic and political confusion...

Political Cartoon: Election of 1900.  The Presidential Election of 1900 in
the United States was essentially a rematch of the one in 1896.  William
McKinley's success against William Jennings Bryan repeated itself.  The
cartoonist here mocks conspiracy minded populists who supported Bryan.

Among the subjects Bertolucci explores is the role of women in society...

Painting completed in 1900: John Singer Sergeant: Sir George and Lady Ida Sitwell and Family

In the real year of 1900, novelist Theodore Dreiser published Sister Carrie.  The story follows Caroline Meeber as she leaves her family's farm in rural Wisconsin and travels to New York City where she takes work in a shoe factory and eventually rises to great fame and wealth as an actress.  Dreiser's novel sold very poorly when the Doubleday publishing firm reluctantly honored its contract with the writer to put his book into print.  Normally, a rags to riches story would entrance audiences...

Luftschiff Zeppelin One

But Sister Carrie was a different kind of tale about success.  Dreiser pulled no punches in exposing the brutality and coarseness of working class life in the big city.  Worse, he scandalized middle-class America.  Carrie Meeber was a beautiful girl and it didn't take her very long to realize men would gladly pay her for the privilege of sexual intercourse and even "keep" her in a nice apartment and adorn her with both jewels and expensive clothing...

Paintings completed in 1900: Pablo Picasso: Le Moulin de la Galette.  Many painters, including Renoir, have celebrated
the windmill with an associated café in the Montmartre district of Paris where people came to enjoy a glass of wine and a
bite of brown bread.

Painter John Singer Sargent, an American who preferred life among the better classes of Europe, had the reputation of being the finest portrait artist of his day when he took brush to canvas in 1900 to give a bit of artistic immortality to Sir George Sitwell, fourth baronet of Renishaw, and the Lady Ida, his wife, and their children-- Edith, Osbert, and Sachaverell.  Sargent's genteel approach to art was more to the liking of most people who considered themselves refined than was Dreiser's in the year 1900... 

Novels published in 1900: Joseph Conrad: Lord Jim.  Conrad's psychological novel, seen
here in comic book adaptation, originally appeared as a magazine serial.  It explores the life
of a man branded as a coward for abandoning a sinking ship and its passengers.

Anglophiles and students of British literature know the Sitwell children grew up to lead a clique of fashionable artists and writers.  It was a group they formed in response to a scandal, a public besmirching of the family name that traumatized Lady Ida's children for they loved their mother dearly.  Pursuers of the obscure fact and the trivial may know Lady Ida became involved with confidence men who used her as a gateway to upper crust society.  In 1913, Sir George refused to pay her debts resulting from lawsuits that grew out of this involvement, preferring to see his wife be prosecuted as a criminal and sent to prison for fraud in 1915 for three months...

On the Continent, 1900 saw a technological breakthrough that would ultimately reshape personal transportation, the transfer of cargo from one place to another, and the foulest of human inventions-- warfare.  Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin conducted the first test of Luftschiff Zeppeline One, a rigid airship, over Lake Constance.  The successful LZ One flight vindicated what appeared to be the Count's obsession with lighter-than-air flight, a fascination which had first seized his mind in 1884 after hearing a lecture by Heinrich von Stephan who envisioned a future where the postal service would employ aircraft...

Novels published in 1900: Theodore Dreiser: Sister Carrie

[Across the Atlantic, millions of Americans were more than familiar with the concept of dirigible like airships.  Newspapers across the United States had spent most of 1897 printing bizarre, outlandish stories about a mysterious aircraft, or aircraft, traversing the continent from California to Connecticut.  A number of the accounts included witness claims of conversations with the occupants of the Great Airship who occasionally said they were Martians but more often hinted the craft was the work of a brilliant and very rich scientist.  Public fever and speculation over the identity of this mysterious genius  grew so great that inventor Thomas Edison was forced to issue a public denial that he was involved with these odd stories.  No proof that the Airship ever existed has come to light but perhaps it simply returned to the Red Planet.  A fortunate gentleman who lived Saint Louis, Missouri, had reported spending a rather pleasant afternoon conversing with the navigator of the Great Airship, a lovely woman "clad only in Nature's garb", as she made minor repairs to her craft.]

Paintings completed in 1900: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: La Modiste.  Heir to one of the oldest titles
in France, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec drank heavily to compensate for the taunts he'd endured as a younger
man due to his deformed appearance.  This portrait of a milliner was done roughly a year before his
death from the ravages of drink and syphilis.  He was not yet forty when he died.
Yet, despite the mystery of the Great Airship (be it newspaper hoax or something more profound and dark), Americans are not the sort to be long troubled.  They will turn their minds to other things.  In 1900, ballroom dancers were gleefully dancing the Cakewalk, a little bit of fancy footwork that had originated, some scholars believe, on plantations in the Deep South, among slaves mocking the pretentious manners of their masters and mistresses...

The Cakewalk Dance lives on today in many common phrases such as
"that takes the cake" and "it was a piece of cake".


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Louis Nugent: Soda Fountain

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Avis Noelle: Spirit of the Longhorn

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Susan Bordelon: New Orleans Mardi Gras Masquerade
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Alexandra Jordankova: Birds on a tree After Picasso

Note: Information for this essay is taken primarily from readily available sources such as Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia, and almanacs.  When other sources are employed they are credited either in the text or as follows:  none. All photographs are taken from Wikipedia or Google Images without source or authorship credits available, except as noted: none.

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