Monthly Archives: August 2016

Seven Years for a Pair of Stockings: The Transportation of Margaret Hayes


Dirty, Sexy History

stockings Francois Boucher, Lady Fastening Her Garter (1742)

On December 1st, 1722, Margaret Hayes went into a shop and began to barter with the owner, Elizabeth Reynolds, over the price of a pair of stockings. In the middle of their discussion, she grabbed the stockings, which were on display and ran out into the street. Alerted by Elizabeth’s cries, Margaret was pursued by a number of people and dropped the stockings to the ground just before she was apprehended. At the trial she denied ever having gone into the shop but was found guilty of theft. As the goods were priced at the princely sum of two shillings, Margaret faced a penalty of death by hanging. Often in these cases though, the jury would take pity on the felon and devalue the stolen goods. Mercifully, this was exactly what happened to Margaret; the jury devalued the stockings to ten pence and…

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The Woman Behind Klimt’s Dresses: Emilie Louise Flöge


Gustav Klimt is perhaps best known for his golden swirls, bejewelled geometrics and glorious shades of lime, tangerine and cherry. His female subjects are draped in Japanese inspired fabrics and delicate mosaic prints. But were these dresses real? Yes indeed! Some were designed by Klimt himself, others by his long-standing companion, Emilie Flöge.


Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Emilie Flöge, (1902)

Emilie’s sister Helene was married to Gustav Klimt’s brother, Ernst Klimt. After his brother’s death in 1892, Gustav was made Helene’s guardian and spent a lot of time at the family home and holidaying with them at Lake Attersee. Emilie was eighteen at the time. The relationship between Gustav Klimt and Emilie Flöge remains a source of conjecture  but many experts agree that his painting The Kiss shows them as lovers.


Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, (1908)


Emilie Flöge was born in Vienna in 1874. She was a skilled seamstress who in 1899 won a dressmaking competition with her sister Pauline. The pair were commissioned to make a batiste dress for an exhibition.

Fast forward five years and Emilie and Pauline, together with their sister, Helene, set up a haute couture fashion house, Schwestern Flöge, in the capital. Their signature loose fitting, wide sleeved garments were worn without corsets. This new, less constricting style became known as Reform Dress, and allowed Viennese fashion to set itself apart from its Parisian counterpart. As the business grew, Schwestern Flöge hired eighty seamstresses, working behind the scenes of the stylish salon, where customers were courted and accounts settled. A dress from Schwestern Flöge was a sought after commodity in bohemian circles and could cost four times as much as one bought in traditional stores.


The Salon at Schwestern Flöge

The turn of the century saw all areas of art and design blossom. It was a time of change, of experimentation, in which Emilie, with her unconventional style and love of bold prints hoped to flourish. But while the haute couture dresses did moderately well, Emilie’s more rebellious avant garde designs did not sell. Although Klimt was painting high society ladies in Emilie’s most glorious creations, making sketches for her and designing alongside her, she never saw huge success or lived to see recognition for her designs.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer

Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, (1907)

With the Nazi invasion, Schwestern Flöge was forced to close its doors, but Emilie continued working on her dresses from home. At the end of the war though, a devastating fire broke out, destroying the building and her collections.

But that wasn’t quite the end of the story. It is doubtful Emilie ever knew how iconic her dresses would become, or ever imagined they would continue to influence fashion designers a hundred years later.

 Above Left: Photograph of Emilie Floge Wearing Striped Dress; Right Valentino Winter Collection 2015



Absinthe and the Artist



“What is there in absinthe that makes it a separate cult? Even in ruin and in degradation it remains a thing apart: its victims wear a ghastly aureole all their own, and in their peculiar hell yet gloat with a sinister perversion of pride that they are not as other men.” Aleister Crowley, The Green Goddess (1918).

Absinthe has been around since biblical times. The name itself comes from the Greek absinthion meaning undrinkable. Traditionally it was made from the flowers and leaves of wormwood with sweet fennel, green anise and other medicinal and culinary herbs, sometimes with an alcohol content of as much as 80%!

But the modern story of absinthe began in the 1830’s when French troops fighting in Algeria used it as an anti-malarial medicine. Soldiers mixed the bitter drink with wine in order to make it more palatable. They brought absinthe back home with them and middle class Parisians, eager to align themselves with the military soon developed a voracious appetite for the green goddess!

Parisiens filled the cafes, drinking one glass after the next, leading writer H P Hugh to observe: “The sickly odour of absinthe lies heavily in the air. The absinthe hour of the Boulevards begins vaguely at half-past five… but the deadly opal drink lasts longer than anything else.”

In the 1870’s many vineyards were destroyed by phylloxera and wine became an expensive commodity. Absinthe could be made cheaply with industrial alcohol. Soon street corner vendors were producing huge quantities for sale at just a few centimes a glass. The love of absinthe spread all over Europe and some parts of the United States, but in many quarters, this, addictive and mind altering drink was mistrusted. Blamed for breaking up relationships, erratic behaviour, concerns were being raised about its psychoactive and hallucinogenic effects. By 1915 it had been banned in France, Switzerland, Austro-Hungary, Belgium and the United States.

So why did so many artists and writers become embroiled with this mysterious green drink? Absinthe was the favoured tipple of many of the Surrealists, Modernists, Impressionists, Post-Impressionists and Cubists. Absinthe drinkers and the ritual paraphernalia: a glass, slotted spoon, sugar cubes and jugs of drinking water became the subject of many late 19th and early 20th century paintings.

Vincent van Gogh was renowned for his love of the green muse. He suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions, but this was due to a number of factors, of which his alcoholism was only one. Many of Van Gogh’s paintings, particularly his skies have an hallucinogenic quality to them and are often tinged with the green hue of absinthe.

Vincent van Gogh, Night Cafe, Sunflowers, Green Wheat Fields

Edouard Manet’s first painting was The Absinthe Drinker, (1857), a portrait of a famous drunk in Paris. When he submitted it to the Salon jury in 1859, it received only one vote of acceptance, due to its vulgar subject matter and crude style.


Edouard Manet, The Absinthe Drinker, (1857)

Edgar Degas’ grim realisation of the effects of the drink, L’Absinthe, (1876) caused a stir in London where critics saw it as a warning against alcohol and the French in general.


Edgar Degas, L’Absinthe, (1876)

But the artist perhaps most associated with the drink was Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Famous for his depictions of brothels, nightspots and entertainment, Lautrec was rumoured to carry with him a hollow cane inside which he always kept a vial of absinthe.


Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Mauri Dance

Today’s absinthe is a tongue-numbing drink more associated with amusement than inspiration. Added sometimes in small quantities to cocktails, it has never regained the reputation it enjoyed in 19th century Europe. But the mention of it still conjures up images of bohemian European artists and literary figures, of pavement cafes late at night and a sickly green haze.


Viktor Olivia, Absinthe Drinker, (1901)




Klimt and the Interpretation of Dreams



In the early twentieth century, Vienna was the medical capital of the world and the place where Sigmund Freud had come to practice the new science of psychoanalysis. Freud’s theories were hugely influential in the development of modern art. The notion of instinctual passions being stronger than reasonable interests, of human behaviour being driven by the unconscious sat ill at ease with conservative Viennese society. In The Interpretation of Dreams, (1899), Freud argued that the source of all immorality lay in the unconscious of every human being and that by analysing dreams, the individual psyche could be unlocked. Furthermore, he believed the universality of symbols in dreams and that distasteful images in the form of symbols could be associated by shape, colour, size and quantity.

Klimt’s work is rich in symbolism and often has a dreamlike, even nightmarish quality, portraying the psychological state of humanity, juxtaposing physical beauty with the dark, ugly features of the unconscious.


His Beethoven Frieze, (1901) for example takes the eye on a stunning visual journey, beginning with the floating Genii searching the Earth and quickly becoming sinister, following the storm-wind giant, Typheous and images representing sickness, madness death, lust and wantonness. Then the knight, offering hope, with the journey ending in elation. The women in this section have their eyes closed as if exalted, in rapturous appreciation of the arts as they surround the two figures caught in an embrace. The masks above the figures though suggests that this ecstatic state is a precarious one.


The frieze illustrates the human yearning for happiness against external forces and internal weaknesses. It is also a reflection on Viennese society at the time. Achievements in science, technology and industrialisation had opened up a wealth of opportunity, however, there were huge concerns about the limits of mechanisation and urbanism. Intellectual and cultural achievements were overshadowed by political unrest, virulent anti-Semitism and movements against the emancipation of women and minorities.

Jurisprudence, (1903) is one of Klimt’s darkest paintings, both stylistically and psychologically. An elderly man is held fast by a giant octopus, an unearthly creature reminiscent of a nightmare. The man bows to three naked female figures, two of whom seem to be in dreamlike states. The central female figure stares out with cold eyes, as if in a trance. The man appears hopeless and vulnerable, passively awaiting his punishment. At the top of the picture stand three semi-clothed women holding the book of law and a sword. The rule of law here seems cruel and irrational, indifferent to humanity.


Klimt’s figures seem to occupy a realm somewhere between a dream and reality. His work is a celebration of life, yet symbols of death are never far away. In a bourgeoisie society of opera and coffee houses with a sinister undercurrent bubbling just underneath the surface, artists and intellectuals became torn between reality and illusion. In Klimt’s work there is a new, fragile reality, a utopian dream about to be shaken to its core, an ominous foreshadowing of events which were to take place in Europe over the following decades.

Freud and Klimt are intrinsically linked. Both freed their chosen fields – psychology and art – from their biological, anatomical chains, seeking out a new truth which centred on the self. Klimt’s paintings are a sublime illumination of the culture in which Freud’s psychoanalysis arose.

Crooked Women Friends

Crooked Women Friends

Lovely crooked poem from Miriam Drori 🙂

An' de walls came tumblin' down

A little Sunday sunshine.

There was a Crooked Cat and another Crooked Cat.
They found a crooked painting and yelled a crooked “That!”
They wrote a crooked story and took a crooked look.
And it all came together in a little Crooked book.

CrookedWomenFriendsExcept that it wasn’t as easy as it sounds!

The Women Friends – coming early in 2017.

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Viennese Coffee House Culture



Viennese coffee house culture is renowned the world over, but coffee houses did not begin there. In Mecca, there were several coffee houses in the 12th century, while Europe’s first coffee shop opened in Venice, closely followed by London. It was 1683 before the first Viennese coffee house opened its doors. Since then Vienna has established an unparalleled coffee house tradition.


In 1683, the Ottoman invaders made a hasty retreat from the Battle of Vienna, leaving behind them sack loads of coffee beans at the city gates.The Armenian spy Diodato, who served at the Imperial court and knew the secrets of roasting and brewing the dark beans, seized his opportunity and opened the first coffee shop there. The Viennese soon developed a taste for coffee!

But the early establishments were little more than dingy basements. They had little in common with the sophisticated places with their red velvet chairs and ostentatious chandeliers that we now see as being the ‘traditional’ Viennese coffee-house. In the dark basements though, traditions began which survive to this day: card games, chess and billiards were played and waiters served a glass of water with every cup of coffee. In 1720, the Kramersches Kaffehause began putting out newspapers for its patrons.

In 1808, Napoleon’s Continental Blockade of England had a knock on effect for Austria, where the price of coffee beans rose sharply. Café restaurants serving alcohol and food allowed coffee house owners to diversify, offering cheaper alternatives to coffee in order to avoid bankruptcy. But by 1815, coffee house culture was alive again and had become symbolic of good quality living. In Vienna’s first district, typically the rooms were bright and spacious with darker recesses where men sat reading their newspapers debating loudly on matters of politics and art. Women weren’t allowed to frequent the coffee houses until 1856! They were places of conversation, of fleeting movement and social encounters.


Around 1890,  Café Griensteidl became the meeting place for a group of young writers, Jung Wein. Arthur Schnitzier, Felix Salten and Richard Beer-Hofmann were among some of its patrons. It also became the favourite meeting place for a number of actors, lawyers and psychoanalysts. The writers of Café Griendsteil, mostly from liberal Jewish families are celebrated as the founders of modern Viennese literature. 

Artists of the Secession such as Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, Court Opera, and Theatre an der Wein preferred the Café Museum. The café was designed by Adolf Loos and was famous for its purist interior and cool ambiance.


Interior – Café Museum Vienna

But working Viennese people, who mostly lived in small flats began using elegant coffee houses as places to meet friends and listen to music. They became extensions to their pokey living rooms, places of entertainment and pleasure. During the depression of the 1930’s, contraband goods were traded under the tables.

In 1938, the Nazis seized several Jewish owned coffee houses in Vienna’s second district and beyond. They had been a second home for many Jewish artists a lively counterpart to the grand coffee houses in the first district.

These days Vienna still has a thriving coffee house tradition, places where locals can linger over a single cup while the world outside rushes by, where those of us with a sweet tooth can order a slice of Wiener Apfelstrudel or sachetorte, trade gossip, read write, laugh and love.


Historical Musings #15: Six reasons to love historical fiction


There’s no other genre for me. History is so rich with amazing stories and vibrant characters. I never get tired of writing about it.

She Reads Novels

Historical Musings This month’s post is inspired by last week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic which asked for ‘reasons to love x’, with x being a favourite book, character, author etc. Although I didn’t participate, I started thinking about the reasons I love reading historical fiction…and I have listed six of them below. I briefly mentioned some of these things in my very first Historical Musings post last year (Do you read historical fiction?) but I have expanded on them and added to them here.

1. It provides the perfect opportunity to learn about other times and places.
I haven’t formally studied history since I left school, but I’m a firm believer in voluntary, lifelong learning – and what could be more enjoyable than learning through fiction? When I read a good historical fiction novel, I am left with the feeling that not only have I been entertained by a great…

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