Winston Churchill In The Second World WarMollie Panter-Downes described VE Day at length to her American readers. ‘With their customary practicality, housewives put bread before circuses. They waited in the long bakery queues, the string bags of the common round in one hand and the Union Jack of the glad occasion in the other. Even queues seemed tolerable this morning. The bells had begun to peal and, after the storm, London was having a perfect, hot, English summer’s day.’

Henry Yorke

‘Just like other civilians, writers were required to contribute to the war effort. That took its toll on their creative efforts, according to Mollie Panter-Downes (11 March 1945): “During the war years, more and more Londoners have taken to reading poetry, listening to music, and going to art exhibitions, although there is less and less of all three to be had in this shabby, weary capital. Most of the poets are too personally involved in the war to have attained that state of impersonal tranquillity which generates good poetry. Louis MacNeice, whose most recent collection Springboard was quickly sold out, is working at the BBC. C Day Lewis has a job at the Ministry of Information. Stephen Spender is a full-time fireman, and most of the younger poets are in uniform. Several have been killed, among them Alun Lewis, who was considered one of the most promising. The output of good poetry is small, but the public hunger for it is pathetically great.”‘ The photograph is of Henry Green in his Auxiliary Fire Service uniform. (Two Persephone-related points: one of our preface writers, Juliet Aykroyd, has written a superb play about Alun Lewis (which had its first reading in the shop last year): The Long Bones is to be on at Pentameters in the second two weeks of June. And Henry Green was the uncle by marriage of ‘country cousin’ who writes the Forum!)

 

Tuesday again

Fishmongers Hall 1942: a self service canteen run by  the Londoners Meals Service where a two course meal was a shilling. London at War quotes Mollie Panter-Downes on 10 August 1941: ‘The classic English topic of conversation, the weather, has vanished for the duration…Everyone talks about Food. An astonishing amount of people’s time is occupied by discussing ways and means of making rations go further…’

Monday

There is a new book published by the Imperial War Museum called London at War 1939-45: A Nation’s Capital Survives. The text accompanying this picture of a newspaper seller on September 3rd 1939 is as follows: ‘Mollie Panter-Downes, a middle-class housewife living in London and Surrey, wrote a column about the city for the New Yorker magazine. She left an evocative description of London’s changing landscape and Londoners’ changing habits on the first day of war: “On the stretch of green turf by Knightsbridge Barracks, which used to be the scampering ground for the smartest terriers in London, has appeared a row of steam shovels that bite out mouthfuls of earth, hoist  it aloft and dump it into lorries; it is then carted away to fill sandbags. The eye has now become accustomed to sandbags everywhere, and to the balloon barrage, the trap for enemy planes, which one morning spread over the sky like some form of silvery dermatitis”‘ (taken from London War Notes, Persephone Book No. 111).

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And here is the man himself: ‘Self Portrait (in the new studio)’ 1912.  ‘The Larsson home in Sundborn, Dalarna, is one of the most famous artist’s homes in Scandinavia. The home was undergoing constant changes and extensions. The last extension was made in 1912 when a new studio for the artist was created. That same year Carl Larsson portrayed himself in the new studio, sitting in the so called grandfather chair. In front of him on the table he has a sculpture of a nude woman made by fellow artist Anders Zorn. On the table is a tablecloth that his wife Karin made and there are also paint brushes, a book and a sword’ (this last is a bit odd). Carl and Karin Larsson would live another seven years, until 1919. They were survived by seven children so there are a lot of Larsson descendants in Sweden today.

 

my friends the carpenter and the painter

‘My friends the carpenter and the painter’ 1909. Only Larsson would have prefaced the title of this painting with the words ‘my friends': everything about it is admirable.

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And here  is ‘Correspondence’ 1912. The joy of all these less-familiar Larsson paintings is that they are very everyday: ordinary people doing ordinary things. And yet the family superbly follows William Morris’s precept: ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’

 

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This is ‘School Girl in an Interior’ c. 1910, a painting that is at the Brooklyn Museum. What is marvellous about Larsson’s work is that it never seems staged: this is how it was, it’s as though someone has just that second pushed their chair back from the desk  and got up to say hello to the young girl, who is tired.

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After European children’s toys last week, the Post can morph seamlessly into the European domestic in painting – and of course this has to be the Swedish artist Carl Larsson who had such a huge influence on visual representations of C20th domesticity. Much of his work is very well known indeed, almost too well-known – so this week on the Post a selection of the much less well-known paintings. This is ‘Where I Do My Etchings’ 1910.

one

This is the star of the show – any child would love this and any adult would love to have this around in their living room. Lots to think about in this exhibition. ‘To what extent do [these kind of toys] privilege standardisation, geometry and simplification, the principles we associate with industrial production and a modernist vision of the future? But is there an alternative, a genuinely intuitive toy?’ This is Hans Brockhage and Erwin Andrä’s Rocking Car 1950. The exhibition is on until the end of August.

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