Maiden Voyages: December 2016

I had not intended to do a Maiden Voyages this month as I had no new news leads to share.  However, a reader just informed me about the tragic death of David Hamilton. Readers are reminded that even though I have not been active lately, I have not abandoned this site and continued leads are encouraged so that other readers may be kept up-to-date.

David Hamilton Dies: The controversial photographer who inspired so many collectors and other artists died on November 25th.  So far, the police believe it was a suicide—presumably out of despondency from the accusations of former models claiming rape by the man in their youth.  The first accusation came from Flavie Flament in a novelistic memoir entitled La Consolation where she describes the incident.  Flament would not confirm Hamilton’s identity publicly but featured one of his photos on the book cover. Given the timing of the death and the reputation of the photographer, the police needs to exercise caution about making hasty conclusions.  With what little information has been shared publicly, it seems equally likely to be an act of vigilantism.

I am not in a position to weigh in on the veracity of the rape accusations or Hamilton’s intent to sue for slander.  But such a turn of events once again brings us to the question of the value of an artist’s work.  Do the circumstances of a work’s creation have to be taken into account when evaluating it?  Whatever the facts may be, do they diminish or enhance its visceral impact?  Because of the taint of association, will the future yield no new artists who will admit to admiring his work?

la-consolation-cover-flavie-flament

Addendum: Sometimes I get leads from readers uncomfortable with having their comments published even under an alias.  I would like to add a few details that came my way about the circumstances of Hamilton’s death: found at the scene were sleeping pills and a plastic bag (presumably for suffocation).  Also, the door was left open and it should be clarified if this is commonplace among suicides.  Additionally, there was an exhibition of Hamilton’s work scheduled and so the context needs to be cleared up: in the light of these accusations, was he looking forward to it or did he become concerned about a public lynching?  Or was this a plot engineered to put an end to the exhibition of his work and ones like it?

A Couple Album Covers

Regular readers of the site know that I love album covers, and I happen to have a couple of new ones to share. The first is a simple design for the Tragically Hip album Man Machine Poem. It should be noted that this may very well be the Tragically Hip’s last album, as lead vocalist Gord Downie is suffering from brain cancer.

Artist Unknown - The Tragically Hip - Man Machine Poem (2016)

Artist Unknown – The Tragically Hip – Man Machine Poem (2016)

Wikipedia: The Tragically Hip

The second album cover is an absolutely beautiful piece done by Joe Helm for Queensrÿche’s latest, Condition Hüman. It’s a digitally manipulated photo (if you are observant, you can see that several of the objects do not cast proper shadows, but you really have to look closely). Guitarist Michael Wilton discusses the symbolism of the artwork with respect to the album here.

Joe Helm - Queensrÿche - Condition Hüman (2015)

Joe Helm – Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman (2015)

Linked In: Joe Helm

Wikipedia: Queensrÿche

Queensrÿche (official)

Maiden Voyages: October-November 2016

Welcome readers to a belated Maiden Voyages.  Within two weeks of my fruitful research trip, Mother Nature unleashed her chaos and I had a freak accident at home which sent me to the hospital.  As traumas go, it was a minor one but recovery is gradual.  My injuries have made it difficult to sit for a long time which is why there have been no posts from me in a while.  To make matters worse, my private business has been busier than ever.  Many days I have intended to work on a post or reply to emails to find myself too exhausted mentally and physically.  This has taken an emotional toll as I deal with bureaucracy of the broken American medical system.  I thank my friends and readers for their well wishes and promise to continue as I am able.  My research trip has been an inspiration and I have many interesting things to share.  However, producing a post to my standards does take time and cannot be done in one sitting.  I still believe Pigtails in Paint has an important function and should continue to do so.  I also encourage those interested in composing posts for this site to please do so.

Mission Statement: One of the ideas that came from my trip was the urgent need for a mission statement.  It goes without saying that Pigtails covers a number of controversial subjects associated with little girls.  However, like the proverbial elephant in the living room, it is an important subject that the conventions of society would have us ignore, trivialize or offer patent simplistic answers to.  Once posted, the ‘Mission Statement’ will reflect what I have learned to date about the valuable function this site serves, whether people want to acknowledge it or not.

Lessons from Behind the Iron Curtain: A Jock Sturges show titled ‘Absence of Shame’ was recently closed in Moscow after protests and charges that the work was child pornography. The government investigated and concurred with the complainants and ordered it shut down.  Given the U.S. President-Elect’s admiration for Russian methods for controlling its people, one has to wonder how much the United States will be following suit in the years to come.  Our readers should be reminded that Pigtails has been blocked in that country since 2014 and can only be accessed through proxy servers.

A Fresh New Site: I was informed of an interesting new site covering young girl portraiture.  The blogger states that: “The intention is to help redress, in admittedly a very limited way, the imbalance that exists with regard to images of girls online.”  It seems that image sites such as Tumblr delete any blogs that seem to be concentrating on young girls though specific policies regarding young girls are not clearly spelled out in the respective ToS (Terms of Service). Girls’ Portraiture intends to offer proper context to images rather than the popular convention of presenting a mash of random and unidentified images.

New Sia Video: Here is another one featuring Maddie Ziegler (plus a bunch of other kids).  There are also a couple other older videos of hers that may have been overlooked. One called Big Girls Cry has Maddie in it and another called Alive has a cute little Asian girl doing martial arts. It seems that the theme of children and little girls is a long-standing one for Sia.  In Alive, the little girl does a series of forms (kata in Japanese) which happen to be very advanced—done only by brown and black belts, an impressive accomplishment for a girl that age.

Vintage Postcards: An excellent collection of vintage postcards featuring girls and children has been brought to my attention.  Take a look here.

Site Design: Thanks to the efforts of supporters, there will be a noticeable change in the appearance of this blog.  It was my intent to have these changes take effect this month when our domain name was renewed.  However, unavoidable delays on all fronts means that these changes are likely to be implemented in the new year.  There will be a new banner designed by one of our artists and the layout style and site functions will be updated to make the site more professional.

The Kiss of Death: It has been brought to my attention that one of the films reviewed on this site, The Spy Who Caught a Cold, was deleted from YouTube.  It has become clear to me that because of the large readership of Pigtails, we have become a source of intelligence for the “decency police”.  Therefore, readers should know that any relevant video materials appearing on YouTube are copied in the course of doing the relevant posts.  If any reader would like an MP4 copy of such a film that can be viewed on a computer, it can be made available for download (assuming the video is unavailable elsewhere).

International Day of the Girl

Hey, folks!  How’s it going?  Just a little reminder that today is the International Day of the Girl-Child, so designated by the United Nations, so it’s a great day to celebrate girls, including girls in art (and girls in the arts!) This is the fifth anniversary of the UN-created observance, founded in 2011 and initiated by the charitable organization Plan International.

Further Reading:

Day of the Girl (Official)

Day of the Girl Summit 2016

Wikipedia: International Day of the Girl Child

International Business Times: International Day Of The Girl 2016: Quotes And Facts To Celebrate, Empower Young Women

The White House: Presidential Proclamation — International Day of the Girl, 2016

The Guardian: How are you marking International Day of the Girl? Share your stories

The Child Portraits of Rennie Ellis

For those exploring the work of Rennie Ellis, the genre of child photography is not one that you would immediately think about.  However, due to the large size of his portfolio the artist has made a contribution. These images rarely make an appearance in any books about the photographer—there are less than five child images in each. Additionally, they are largely absent on any of the internet sites that detail his work which probably makes this webpage the only place which brings together a collection of his child portraits.

Rennie Ellis - Children in Melbourne and Suburbs (1980s) (1)

Rennie Ellis – Children in Melbourne and Suburbs (1980s) (1)

Rennie Ellis - (Untitled) (1974)

Rennie Ellis – (Untitled) (1974)

Reynolds Mark Ellis (1940–2003) was born in Brighton, Melbourne. After finishing high school at Brighton Grammar, he received a scholarship to Melbourne University in 1959. The artist dropped out of the course during his first year and started working at Orr, Skate & Associates, an advertising agency, where he stayed for three years. In order to further his knowledge he started studying advertising at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Before he completed the course the desire for adventure and other experiences took hold and he went on a two-year tour of Europe, the USA, the Caribbean, the Pacific and Asia. As a way of documenting the journey he bought a camera and started to take photographs of the places visited; these images were the beginnings of the photographers artistic career.

When Ellis returned to Melbourne he obtained his Diploma in Advertising and started working at Jackson Wain Advertising, though this only lasted a year. Then he took up the position of Creative Director at Monahan Dayman Advertising. After two years the artist became tired of this work, so he became a freelance photojournalist. Photojournalism allowed him to create the photographs he wanted, which he described in an interview with Industrial and Commercial Photography magazine.

I gradually got disenchanted with advertising as a career, sick of the contrived situations, and became very interested in capturing real life situations, venturing out into the world and trying to record both in words and on film what people were doing, their attitudes and lifestyles, particularly of the subcultures and unusual people and places.

During the 1970s Ellis focused on creating, publicising and selling his art. The art of photography was struggling to gain relevance and acceptance in Australian society at this time so, in 1972, the artist set up the Brummels Gallery of Photography. The gallery was Australia’s first to focus solely on photographs and was a venue in which established and emerging Australian photographers could exhibit and sell their creative work without commercial restraints and in doing so would help redefine photography as fine art. The gallery always struggled to find financial support and despite receiving a Visual Arts Board of Australia Council grant to operate for one year, as well as receiving sponsorship from Pentax, by early 1980 the gallery was no longer financially viable and it was closed permanently. Ellis set up Scoopix Photo Library in 1974, which became another way of publicising and distributing both his own and other photographers’ work. The business sold images, both nationally and internationally, and eventually became affiliated with the famous Black Star agency. During this period he also set up his photographic studio, Rennie Ellis & Associates.

The photographers images of children are vastly different from his more well-known images. For those unaware of Ellis, he was a self-confessed party lover and voyeur so most of his published work displays his more voyeuristic side. Unlike today, the time when the artist was working was more innocent and people mostly ignored him as he snapped away. Therefore the photographer made many images at the beach, discos, night and strip clubs, some of these times as official photographer doing commission work and other times for personal enjoyment. These images were reproduced in many of his exhibitions and books. Working on commission gave behind-the-scenes access. This access allowed him to document, both in front of stage and backstage, many of the fashion shows occurring in Melbourne and in the homes of famous people, which would occasionally include their children.

Rennie Ellis - (Untitled) (1985)

Rennie Ellis – (Untitled) (1985)

Rennie Ellis - Stephanie (1999)

Rennie Ellis – Stephanie (1999)

Another significant area of his portfolio are his photographs of the Melbourne Cup, a horse racing event that was documented for more than twenty years. Working for the newspapers and magazines gave him a special access pass into the marquees and party tents, though he did not restrict himself to these areas. Whilst at the Melbourne Cup he travelled everywhere, from the car park to the members area.  He also photographed in the public grandstands, the betting ring and amongst the picnickers on the lawn areas. Many of these images appeared in his book entitled Cup Fever.

Rennie Ellis - (Untitled) (1983)

Rennie Ellis – (Untitled) (1983)

Rennie Ellis - Phar Lap at Flemington & Roses (1990s)

Rennie Ellis – Phar Lap at Flemington & Roses (1990s)

On viewing Ellis’ archive it can be seen that he had a strong desire to make a historical record for future generations to view. He nearly constantly carried a camera with him so that every time there was an important event happening, he managed to document the event and added more images to his collection. Displayed below are some of the many images the photographer took of the 2002 Anti-War Rally and the parades celebrating Australia’s armed forces and associated support groups.

Rennie Ellis - (Untitled) (2002)

Rennie Ellis – (Untitled) (2002)

Rennie Ellis - Kids Marching in Street Parade (1983)

Rennie Ellis – Kids Marching in Street Parade (1983)

Another way that these images document history is by showing the changing values and attitudes of society. For example, prior to 1980 nobody knew about the dangers of prolonged sun exposure, therefore being topless at the beach was common. However, as time passed public awareness campaigns were created, so people became more knowledgeable about the risks and, by the late nineties. nearly half the children on Australian beaches wore some type of neck to knee sun protection clothing or wet suits, with toplessness being nearly absent.

Rennie Ellis - Children in Melbourne and Suburbs (1974)

Rennie Ellis – Children in Melbourne and Suburbs (1984)

Rennie Ellis - (Untitled) (1980s)

Rennie Ellis – (Untitled) (1980s)

Rennie Ellis - Lorne (1998)

Rennie Ellis – Lorne (1998)

Many of the photographer’s child portraits appear in his albums of friends, family or street photography. He could take these images not only because of the more innocent times but also because many were taken within the neighbourhood of his studio where Ellis was a familiar person. Also the artist had a charming and engaging type of personality that made him hugely likable and it would then be hard to deny him the opportunity to photograph.

Rennie Ellis - Little Girl's Birthday Party (1976)

Rennie Ellis – Little Girl’s Birthday Party (1976)

Rennie Ellis - Communion (1980s)

Rennie Ellis – Communion (1980s)

Rennie Ellis - Woolloomooloo (Date unknown)

Rennie Ellis – Woolloomooloo (Date unknown)

Rennie Ellis - Children in Melbourne and Suburbs (1980s) (2)

Rennie Ellis – Children in Melbourne and Suburbs (1980s) (2)

The artist’s preferred way of documenting his work was through the publication of books—seventeen books were eventually published during his lifetime. The books mirror his archive in their diversity. There are only two subjects that are repeated in the photographer’s bibliography, three books about the beach, which focus mainly on images of women and surf culture, and three books on graffiti. The books about graffiti gives us an insight into the attitudes and concerns held at the time they were photographed; some of these are insightful and some hilarious, which is the reason they became some of his most well-known books. Due this focus on books he only held ten solo exhibitions and was part of thirty group exhibitions in his lifetime.

Rennie Ellis - Marxism and Leninism (1974)

Rennie Ellis – Marxism and Leninism (1974)

In 2003 Ellis died from a cerebral haemorrhage leaving us an archive so vast it can only be estimated at about half a million images. I believe that the artist did succeed in his effort to make a historical record of Australian society between 1970 and 2000 as well as capturing the broad character of Australia and its people. The Rennie Ellis Archive (REA) is now held in the State Library of Victoria; fifteen thousand of the images have been digitised.  It should be mentioned that anyone going there to see his child portraits will have to look at 14600 images that do not have children in them. For a more brief, but still varied, representation of his portfolio there is the website for the REA.

Maiden Voyages: September 2016

Hiatus and Research Trip: Usually, I get a lot more done in the summer on Pigtails because my work schedule slows down.  However, this year I had the opportunity to make a special trip to visit one of my special collectors.  Sometimes you just have to meet someone in person and, if all goes well, this will be a windfall for the readers of Pigtails. Now all I have to do is produce it!  For a while, I will be focusing on films and the new material I just received interspersed with items I had already been working on.

I would like to thank Pip, Christian and Arizona for keeping the home fires burning by contributing posts during this past month.

Pioneering Female Photojournalism: Esther Bubley

Esther Bubley was a freelance photographer that was active from 1945 to 1965. Many of her images are highly valued as historical documents as they cover a wide array of different social subjects. Mostly she photographed people going about their everyday lives, like workers and travellers on the American interstate bus network, children at play, medical workers and their patients or family life at home. She was remarkable as photo journalism was a male-dominated field at the time.  So for a woman to be have an ongoing job in this field that also gave her a secure income was rare. Most images she made were not staged, which allowed her to take some truly intimate and natural photographs. The artist said she achieved this by becoming part of the daily rhythm of the hospital and disappearing into the background with her camera.

Esther Bubley - Children watching the animals at the National Zoological Park (1943)

Esther Bubley – Children Watching the Animals at the National Zoological Park (1943)

Esther Bubley - Children playing in a fountain in Dupont Circle (1943)

Esther Bubley – Children Playing in a Fountain in Dupont Circle (1943)

Esther Bubley (1921–1998) was born in Phillips, Wisconsin, the fourth of five children to Louis and Ida Bubley. She was inspired to start photography after viewing LIFE magazine and the Farm Security Administration (FSA) images of depression-era America. After high school, Esther spent two years at Superior State Teachers College then spent her third year at the Minneapolis School of Art where she studied photography.

In 1941 she moved to New York City to become a professional photographer and her first paid job was at Vogue where she photographed still-life images. Disliking this job, she moved to Washington D.C. where she found employment at the National Archives and spent her days making microfilm. Soon after, in the fall of 1942, Roy Stryker hired her as a darkroom assistant at the Office of War Information (OWI). During her spare time the artist made images of the daily events occurring in the Washington area. Her employer noticed the quality of these images and thought she would be able to add to the photo archives of the OWI. He hired her as a staff photographer and sent her on a six week journey across the country to document the lives of Americans during World War II. These photographs were then added to the OWI archives, which are now housed at the Library of Congress.

Esther Bubley - Spectators at the parade to recruit civilian defence volunteers (1943)

Esther Bubley – Spectators at the Parade to Recruit Civilian Defence Volunteers (1943)

Esther Bubley - Passengers standing in the aisle of a Greyhound bus (1943)

Esther Bubley – Passengers Standing in the Aisle of a Greyhound Bus (1943)

In late 1943, when Stryker left the government to set up a public relations project for Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) (SONJ), he brought with him many OWI workers, which included Bubley. Her work at SONJ was part of a huge photo-documentary project that had the aim of promoting the business and enhancing its reputation. Two of the artists’ best known projects come from this period. The first was a portrayal of the oil town of Tomball, Texas and the second, the “Bus Story,” which showcased the role of long-distance bus travel in American life that is accomplished through the use of oil products. Some images are now at the University of Louisville.

Esther Bubley - Children playing near schoolhouse, Tomball, Texas (1947)

Esther Bubley – Children Playing Near Schoolhouse, Tomball, Texas (1945)

Waiting room at bus terminal (1947)

Esther Bubley – Waiting Room at Bus Terminal (1947)

During this period she was briefly married to Edwin Locke, but they soon divorced. By 1947 Bubley’s work had expanded and she was now freelancing for several organisations. One of these organisations was the Children’s Bureau, a Federal child welfare agency. Over several years her images appeared in their journal, The Child, including more than thirty covers.

Esther Bubley - Child Monthley (Cover) (1947)

Esther Bubley – Child Monthly (Cover) (1949)

The following year, her work made its first appearance in a group exhibition called ‘In and Out of Focus’—her first of four appearances—at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). A magazine that she created a lot of images for was the Ladies’ Home Journal. There she produced a photo essay on mental illness, which was awarded a first prize in the Encyclopaedia Britannica/University of Missouri School of Journalism contest. The medically-themed photos continued when she was hired by the Pittsburgh Photographic Library to live in the Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital and document the activities within, a commission which took several months. Originally intended as a story in LIFE magazine, this was cancelled in favour of documenting the Queen Elizabeth II coronation. However, thirteen prints from this series were made publicly available when they were displayed in the exhibition ‘Diogenes with a Camera,’ held at MoMA. She also documented life at Blythedale Convalescent Home for Children, in New York, for the Children’s bureau. An example of this work is displayed below.

The artist’s most internationally recognised work appeared in 1953 when she was hired by UNICEF and the French government to travel to Morocco to photograph a program to treat trachoma. Over several months she travelled around Ouarzazate documenting people receiving medical treatment and the positive aspects of UNICEF’s work.

Esther Bubley - Esther Bubley's World of Children (1981) (1)

Esther Bubley – (Untitled) (1948)

Esther Bubley - African child (1953)

Esther Bubley – African Child (1953)

Bubley produced many other overseas photo projects, such as photographing the areas of Central and South America where Pepsi-Cola sold and manufactured their product. These images were then published in their corporate magazine Panorama, which was distributed to their bottlers and shareholders. Then in 1964 and ’65 Pan American World Airways sent her on a world tour to document the areas they serviced. These images were then published in their corporate magazine The Clipper, which was distributed to employees and shareholders.

Between 1950 and 1965 the photographer freelanced for many magazines; her stories focused on medicine, families and social issues. Many of her articles appeared in LIFE—two were cover stories. Additionally, she created a dozen photo stories for the Ladies’ Home Journal series ‘How America Lives,’ which ran intermittently between 1948 and 1960. The series was very popular and was expanded into two new series: ‘How Young America Lives,’ which profiled teenagers, and ‘Profiles on Youth,’ about children. Also of note during this decade was the appearance of several images in ‘The Family of Man’ exhibition.

Esther Bubley - LIFE (Cover) (1951)

Esther Bubley – LIFE (Cover) (1951)

Esther Bubley - Esther Bubley's World of Children (1981) (2)

Esther Bubley – (Untitled) LIFE magazine (1961)

Esther Bubley - Esther Bubley's World of Children (1981) (3)

Esther Bubley – (Untitled) Ladies’ Home Journal (1948)

After 1965 the artist reduced her workload, as the frequent travelling became tiring. Instead, she focused on projects of personal interest and photographed the New York area, where she lived. During this time she created a book featuring macro photography of plants, two books about pets and a book documenting 159 of her child photographs entitled Esther Bubley’s World of Children. Unfortunately the book doesn’t mention titles or dates for the images contained within. She died in New York City, of cancer, on March 16, 1998.

The website about Esther Bubley’s career contains a lot of information about the work she completed, though there are only about 200 images of average quality. Another book, which contains about thirty-six images by Bubley, appears on archive.org. Entitled ‘Your Child from 6 to 12,’ it is an interesting read detailing child care in 1949.

The Abducted Girl in Anti-Roma Imagery

This is the first of two articles on the use of the girl image in anti-Roma racism. Here I will describe the hundreds of years old accusation that Roma steal non-Roma children. In the next one, I will discuss in depth the case of the “blond angel” in 2013, when the presence of a blond little girl in a Roma camp led to the claim by both police and media that she had been abducted from a non-Roma family.

Note: Following European usage, I use the singular noun Rom and the plural noun and adjective Roma to designate people of this ethnicity, while the adjective Romani will designate the corresponding culture and language. There are also ethnic Roma subgroups carrying specific names: Sinti, Kale, Manush, Romanichal, etc. However well-known designations such as “Gypsy” or “Tzigane” / “Gitano” should be avoided, as they usually carry cultural and literary stereotypes.

The Roma people originated from India and migrated into Europe during the Middle Ages. For a long time it was thought that they came from Egypt, as illustrated by the novel Isabel of Egypt, first youth love of emperor Charles V written by the German romantic Achim von Arnim in 1812 (imagining a brief love affair between the Holy German Emperor and the daughter of the leader of the Roma people); indeed the word “Gypsy” comes from “Egyptian.” On the other hand designations such as “Tzigane” or “Gitano” come from the medieval Greek Atsinganos, meaning “untouchable.”

Roma were enslaved in Romania until the middle of the 19th century. In Western Europe, they have been persecuted since the 15th century, first accused of being Turks, or Turkish spies, then of being criminals. Over and over, laws and ordinances were enacted to prevent them from settling down, with various penalties for offenders: deportation, forced labour, flogging, mutilation, execution or their children to be taken away. In 1721, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI ordered the execution of all Roma adults, while children were “to be put in hospitals for education.”

Being always expelled from one place to another led the Roma people to a life of forced nomadism (similarly, during periods of persecution, Jews often moved from one town to another); from that comes the image of Gypsies living in caravans. While Jews were generally emancipated throughout Western Europe during the 19th century, the same did not happen for Roma, who were considered “born criminals.” The persecution culminated in the Nazi genocide that targeted both Jews and Roma for systematic extermination; the number of Roma victims is estimated between half and one and a half million. This genocide has been called Samudaripen (meaning “mass killing”) or Porajmos / Porrajmos / Pharrajimos (meaning “devouring” or “destruction”).

Sinti / Roma children victims of Dr. Mengele in Auschwitz-Birkenau

Sinti / Roma children victims of Dr. Mengele in Auschwitz-Birkenau

Literary depiction of Roma shows two apparently contradicting aspects. On the one hand they are presented as criminals on the dark side of humanity. For instance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the vampire Count is transported by savage Gypsies. On the other hand the word “Gypsy” suggests a free and careless life made of travel but no hard work, with picturesque customs, clothing, singing and dance, as well as alluring and liberated women, such as Esmeralda in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, or Carmen in Prosper Mérimée’s novella and the opera by Georges Bizet derived from it. A similar dual racist stereotype holds for African-Americans, seen both as criminals and as people endowed with a very potent sexuality.

Minorities seen as dangerous are generally presented as posing a threat to children. For instance in medieval Europe, Jews were accused of killing Christian children in order to use their blood in the making of unleavened bread for Passover. Now it has been repeated over and over that Roma abduct non-Roma children. Often the abducted child is a girl, as a symbol of helplessness.

Miguel de Cervantes - La Gitanilla (book covers)

Miguel de Cervantes – La Gitanilla (book covers)

The accusation already appears in La Gitanilla (The Little Gypsy Girl), the first novella contained in the Novelas Ejemplares (The Exemplary Novels), the collection of short stories written by Miguel de Cervantes between 1590 and 1612. La Gitanilla is the story of a 15-year-old gypsy girl named Preciosa, who is said to be talented, extremely beautiful, and wise beyond her years. A Spanish nobleman falls in love with her, and after many peripeties, it is revealed that Preciosa is the daughter of a magistrate, Don Fernando de Acevedo, knight of the order of Calatrava; Preciosa’s Roma grandmother confesses to having kidnapped her as a young child and raised her as her own granddaughter. Notice the link between the qualities of Preciosa (talented, beautiful and wise) and the fact that she has been abducted, hinting that Roma as an inferior race could not have such qualities themselves; also in many book covers, Preciosa is shown having blond hair.

I searched the French illustrated “popular” press of the early 20th century for illustrations of anti-Roma racism. Les Faits-Divers Illustrés was a weekly published between 1905 and 1910, with a peculiar taste for the most horrendous crimes and the worst catastrophes. Part of the collection has been digitized by Gallica, and I downloaded there the following image (also found on Wikimedia Commons):

Les Faits-Divers Illustrés, no. 164 (10 December 1908) - Romanichels voleurs d'enfants : Une mère défend sa fille

Les Faits-Divers Illustrés, no. 164 (10 December 1908) – Romanichels voleurs d’enfants : Une mère défend sa fille

The caption translates as “Gypsies child thieves: a mother defends her daughter.” I have transcribed the corresponding article here. It tells that one morning, as gypsies had left a small town, a mother noticed the disappearance of her 3-year-old daughter.  She alerted people around her, then thought about the departed gypsies. Armed with a pole, she ran after them and saw her daughter at the front of a caravan. She snatched her and fought off the gypsies with the pole. Meanwhile, townspeople who had followed her arrived, accompanied by policemen; the latter had to use their authority to prevent people from lynching the gypsies.

Le Petit Journal was a daily published between 1863 and 1944. Politically, it was republican (in the French sense), conservative and nationalist; in 1937 it became the mouthpiece of a fascist party. Between 1884 and 1937 it published an illustrated weekly supplement. Part of the collection of the weekly supplement has been digitized by Gallica, and the website Cent.ans has an almost complete collection of the front and back covers between 1890 and 1930, often with a transcription of the corresponding articles.

The first image, downloaded from Gallica, can also be found—with different colours and contrast—on Cent.ans and on Wikimedia Commons (where it is credited to the Musée d’Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg). The caption translates as “Child abducted by nomads.” I have transcribed the corresponding article here. Antoinette Mirguet, a 10-year-old girl, was going to school, when she was called from a caravan. As soon as she entered it, the man made the horse start. She screamed, but she was threatened with a knife. Approaching the German border, a brave vine grower heard the girl’s screams, and he warned the nomads that he would split their heads with his spade if they did not release their prisoner. Intimidated, they released her, and her savior could bring her back to her parents.

Le Petit Journal Supplément Illustré no. 585 (2 February 1902) - Enfant enlevée par des nomades

Le Petit Journal Supplément Illustré no. 585 (2 February 1902) – Enfant enlevée par des nomades

This second image, also downloaded from Gallica, can be found on Cent.ans with the transcription of the corresponding article. Calling for an “energetic law” against vagrants, it tells how a gang of nomads assaulted a 11-year-old girl who was going back home from school, taking her to a caravan. But she resisted bitterly and screamed desperately, so that the Roma had to abandon her and flee.

Le Petit Journal Supplément Illustré no. 1082 (13 August 1911) - Fillette enlevée par des bohémiens

Le Petit Journal Supplément Illustré no. 1082 (13 August 1911) – Fillette enlevée par des bohémiens

This third image comes from Cent.ans. I do not have the corresponding article. The caption, titled “A caravan went by…”, tells that a 9-year-old girl was playing when she was abducted by a Rom, tied up and gagged, then brought into his caravan, which departed. But the child managed to escape.

Le Petit Journal Illustré no. 1675 (28 January 1923) - Une roulotte passa...

Le Petit Journal Illustré no. 1675 (28 January 1923) – Une roulotte passa…

In this collection I also found several images about Roma girls, with a quite different tone. The following one comes from Cent.ans. I do not have the corresponding article. The caption tells that a little Roma girl was going to her parents’ caravan with a basket full of fish. Then wild cats, attracted by the smell, attacked her and disfigured her. Readers will notice that no mention is made about rescuing her.

Le Petit Journal Illustré no. 1656 (17 September 1922) - Attaquée par des chats affamés

Le Petit Journal Illustré no. 1656 (17 September 1922) – Attaquée par des chats affamés

The next image, downloaded from Gallica, illustrates the theme of Roma teenagers being precocious criminals: “A farmer woman attacked by Roma.” The corresponding article (with the image) is found on Cent.ans. It says that two “impudent daughters of Bohemia,” “Roma of pure race,” were begging for food. As the farmer woman said she had no food to give them, they assaulted her. Her screams attracted her husband and a hunter. The two Roma escaped but were afterwards arrested and jailed. They were aged 15 and 17. The article ends by calling on the State to address the “scourge” of people without regular home or employment.

Le Petit Journal Supplément Illustré no. 782 (12 November 1905) - Une fermière attaquée par des bohémiennes

Le Petit Journal Supplément Illustré no. 782 (12 November 1905) – Une fermière attaquée par des bohémiennes

There is also an image and an article (in No. 877 dated 8 September 1907) about Roma releasing a bear in a sheep enclosure, together with a longer one about the origin and customs of the Roma people, repeating the usual stereotypes mixing the fascination for their picturesque life with their labeling as “lazy” and “born criminal”.

The child abduction libel against Roma is also found in “children’s songs” or “nursery rhymes,” which were told to children to warn them against approaching Roma. The following one is famous in the English-speaking world:

My Mother Said… (Anonymous “Children’s Song”)

My Mother said, I never should
Play with the gypsies in the wood.
If I did, she would say;
‘Naughty girl to disobey!

Your hair shan’t curl and your shoes shan’t shine,
You gypsy girl, you shan’t be mine!’
And my father said that if I did,
He’d rap my head with the teapot lid.

My mother said that I never should
Play with the gypsies in the wood.
The wood was dark, the grass was green;
By came Sally with a tambourine.

I went to sea – no ship to get across;
I paid ten shillings for a blind white horse.
I upped on his back and was off in a crack,
Sally tell my mother I shall never come back.

These accusations repeated for centuries rest on nothing. Thomas Acton, Emeritus Professor of Romani Studies, University of Greenwich, clearly stated: “I know of no documented case of Roma / Gypsies / Travellers stealing non-Gypsy children anywhere.” In a letter to Dennis Marlock dated August 2nd, 1990 (quoted by Ian Hancock), he wrote:

Compared with the massive record of murder, theft, kidnapping and other crimes by non-Gypsies against Gypsies throughout history, Gypsy crime against non-Gypsies pales almost into insignificance, so that to prioritize the study of the latter over the former shows a twisted sense of values.

To finish, readers who want to learn more about the history of the persecution of Roma in Europe, can watch the Holocaust Living History Workshop video Porrajmos: The Romani and the Holocaust with Ian Hancock, produced by University of California Television.

A Master of Lyon: Tony Tollet

Tony Tollet was a Lyon-based French painter who had one of the longest and most distinguished careers of his time. Born in 1857, he began his artistic career as a child when, bed-ridden because of illness, he began to produce drawings that impressed his father, who then encouraged him to take up art. In 1873, the 16-year-old Tollet did precisely that, taking up training at the École des beaux-arts de Lyon, where he would flourish under the tutelage of Jean-Baptiste Danguin and Michel Dumas. A mere six years later, he won the Prix de Paris, allowing him to further his education at the even more prestigious École des beaux-arts de Paris. Here he studied under such world-class painters as Alexandre Cabanel, Luc-Olivier Merson and Albert Maignan, and in Paris he also befriended the Flandrins, a well-established family of painters.

In 1885, he won the 2nd Prix de Rome for a piece entitled Themistocles in the Home of Admete (which I’ve not been able to track down on the internet). In 1889, with his mother growing ill, he returned to Lyon and here remained for the rest of his life, marrying Jeanne Pailleux, who bore him six children. He set up his own studio in Lyon where he painted the portraits of notable local personages and taught drawing in the municipality of Guillotière. He suffered a major setback in 1909, when his studio caught fire and was destroyed, along with all of the works contained therein. Luckily, this did not stop Tollet from starting over, and he continued to paint until 1942, well into his eighties by then. Having accomplished many honors and held several important official positions in Lyon, Tollet finally passed away in 1953, at the age of 95.

One of the artist’s most recognizable paintings is this portrait of the Bernard children, painted around 1920. This piece would of course be classified as Realism, but I feel there’s a nice balance here between the romanticism of the 19th century and the modernity of the 20th.

Tony Tollet - Portrait of the Bernard Family in Lyon (ca. 1920)

Tony Tollet – Portrait of the Bernard Family in Lyon (ca. 1920)

Unfortunately, I could never track down a color version of this piece. It is certainly a sweet painting, reminding me somewhat of the work of Mary Cassatt, though with more of a Victorian sensibility than Cassatt’s work tends to have.

Tony Tollet - Le secret

Tony Tollet – Le secret

Tony Tollet - Happy Children

Tony Tollet – Happy Children

And finally, my favorite of Tollet’s paintings, an allegorical work. The central subject of this piece is Flora, Roman goddess of flowers and springtime. Little girls, representing the springtime of human femininity, fit in nicely here.

Tony Tollet - Flore, symbole du Printemps

Tony Tollet – Flore, symbole du Printemps