21 April 2018

Celebrating the founding of Czechoslovakia 1918-2018

Independence came at the end of WWI when the Austro-Hungarian Emp­ire fell apart. It marked the first time since the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 that Bohemia was not under foreign rule. The First Republic was declared on 28th Oct 1918 when a Czech novelist read the independence proclamation of the sovereign state of Czech­osl­ovakia in the St Wenceslas Square. So the reading in the square was seen as the official start of the new country.

During the cele­brations in Nov 1918, a mob tore down a Victory Column on Old Town Square. It had been there since 1650 and celebrated a battle that occurred on Charles Bridge at the end of the Thirty Years’ War. Some said the column glorified the Hapsburg domination of the country.

This year locals and tourists are invited to comm­em­orate the est­ablishment of Czechoslovakia in 1918, following the end of WWI. To mark the 100th anniversary, hundreds of cul­t­ural, social and sport­ing events will take place throughout 2018 that high­light the First Republic Era i.e the inter-war years. As Czech Tourism detailed, the celebrations will be commemorated by all major Czech institutions, including church, army and cul­tural groups. And families. My husband left Prague in Dec 1951.

The National Technical Museum has an exhibition called Made in Czech­oslovakia 1918-92 – Industry That Conquered the World: Škoda and Tatra car companies, Bata footwear and traditional pro­ducers of glass and fashion jewellery. Visitors can also go on a tour of the original methods for brewing beer, noting that the Czechs drive more beer per head than any other nation in the world.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs examines the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian empire & the post-war arrangement of Europe in a series of exhibitions, conferences & lectures.

Café Imperial, built in WW1, has luxurious Art Deco mosaic ceilings and ceramic wall tiling. 
Franz Kafka was a regular.
The Labyrinth of the Czech History is showing at the Imp­erial Stab­les. The exhibition shows documents and objects show­ing key mom­ents in Czech history from the medieval era eg Přemysl Otakar II’s funeral insignia, Golden Bull of Sicily granting royal rights to Bohemia, and documents relating Charles IV & Rud­olph II. [Em­peror Rudolph II was the thesis topic of a fell­ow st­ud­ent/close friend at Melb­ourne University, and the name of my beautiful black labrador].

Prague Cas­tle still funct­ions as the president's seat and state offices. The Prague Castle Riding School is showing The Elem­ents of State­hood until October i.e the history of state symbols. See the high­est state decorations awarded during the last 100 years, the presidential Škoda VOS car and prison letters from Mil­ada Horáková. The Castle Guard, which was also established at the same time as the new country, is showing photographs and objects from the hist­ory of this military unit. Its members included those who guarded Prague Castle, soon after independence was declared.

The National Museum, being renovated, will have a temporary exhib­ition, examining Jan Masaryk as a Phenomenon i.e first president of Czechoslovakia. The Old Town Hall is also undergoing extensive repairs and the Astronomical Clock is being rebuilt. All of the repairs to the clock and tower should be finished by July 2018.

Each October, lights dance across Prague’s architectural landscapes and glowing art installations line the streets for the Prague Sig­nal Festival. Recently the largely free outdoor exhibits have grown into the largest cultural event in the country, drawing 2+ million attendees. In 2018 a video mapping performance will ex­plore the ornate walls of Dvorak Hall inside the Rudolfinum. A live sym­ph­ony orchestra provides a soundtrack of Smetana, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky.

The Olomouc Museum of Modern Art is presenting artistic movements in Central Europe c1918-early 1920s, along with partners from Slov­ak­ia, Hungary and Poland. One section of the Alfons Mucha Museum, in the Kaunický Palace Prague, displays the artist’s relationship with his home city.

Prague Castle, Matthias Gate

The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra will celebrate with an open-air concert. It is performing concerts of Leoš Janeček’s opera, The Cunning Little Vixen and has an exhibition entitled Bedřich Smetana – My Homeland, in honour of the Czech composer. A special concert organised by Czech Radio will play the Czech and Slovak National Anthem, Sinfonietta by Leoš Janáček and Dvořák’s Symphony #9 . The opera house is still gorgeous.

There will be a grand military parade this year, like the 90th anniversary of Czechoslovak Independence. Back then, the parade on Evropská St in Prague 6 involved the Czech military along with Prague’s rescue services, police force, firefighters and paramedics. The 3 k parade featured 2,000+ people and 200 military vehicles, helicopters and airplanes.

Examine the architectural vis­ions of Adolf Loos, Josef Gočár and Jan Kotěra, or around the gall­eries of Alfons Mucha, František Kup­ka and Emil Fila. The architecture dur­ing the First Republic was attractive. In Brno a wealthy Jewish German-speaking couple Fritz and Greta Tugendhat built a new family home that became one of the most celebrated mas­t­­er­pieces of mod­ern­ism, Villa Tugendhat by sp­l­endid architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The home was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list because of its unique int­er­iors, space, materials and unique technical gadgets.

The very expensive const­ruction of Villa Tugendhat was inconsp­ic­uous on the exterior and lux­ur­ious on the interior, as was typical for Mies van der Rohe. He created an open living area, wonderfully conn­ected with the garden via glass walls. The furniture was largely designed by Mies van den Rohe for the house, and although many items were lost, a few were later re­turned to family descendants. Thus many furniture pieces on the first and second floor are replicas.

Celebrate with Czech beer
next to Charles Bridge and the Vltava River

28th Oct, Independent Czechoslovak State Day, has long been a national holiday with yearly celebrations. Despite the separation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, the date is still one of the most significant in both Czech and Slovak calendars. A joint project links the celebrations in the Czech and Slovak Republics. In Slovakia, visit the Slovak National Museum and the Slovak National Gallery.

17 April 2018

Sydney's first proper church, Rev Marsden & Grace Cossington Smith

I like Grace Cossington Smith’s art very much, but was surprised to see a historical scene, rather than her more usual images of contemporary life. More about her later.

Soon after the first load of convicts arrived at Sydney Cove in 1788, Gov Phillip travelled to the headwaters of Port Jackson. Finding good soil and fresh water there, he formed a settlement at Rose Hill and mapped out a town plan along the creek: Parramatta. There were soon 1000 people living in the district, minist­ered by the Rev Richard Johnstone once a fortnight.  A temporary church, formed out of two old huts, was opened at Parr­amatta in 1796. Services were first performed in it in Apr 1803, making this church is the oldest in the colony.

In Mar 1794 the Rev Samuel Marsden arrived from Britain and was appointed assistant to Rev Richard Johnson, stationed at Parram­at­ta. It was an import­ant centre in the colony and Marsden remained there for some years. He was promised the position of senior chap­lain in 1802, but was not properly paid and was not formally prom­oted until later. Still, Gov Lachlan Macquarie allowed him to live at Parramatta as being more convenient for carrying out his gen­eral superintend­ing duties, and named Marsden as the resident chaplain.

By 1802 the Rev Marsden had received hundreds of Parramatta-acres in grants, so Marsden quickly committed himself to farming. It brought financial security for a large family, and social accept­ability and power to which he could not have aspired at home. At the same time he was incited by the greedy temper of the colony; the off­icers had begun their single-minded pursuit of wealth.

Mar­s­den was appointed magistrate and superintendent of government affairs at Parramatta. His harshness can be attributed to his vig­orous morality, his loath­ing of sin and his view that Parramatta was an immoral cesspool; thus the most rigorous discip­linary measures were required. This flogging parson was of course loathed.
St John’s Church, Parramatta, originally opened 1803 and rebuilt after 1852
photo credit: Parramatta Heritage Centre

In 1799 he opened a Sunday school and progressed the building of a new church. The permanent St John’s Church (opened in 1803 but was still in­complete) had two brick towers, inspired by similar archit­ecture on Reculver’s Church in Kent. The towers were designed at the request of Mrs Macquaire, as Reculver’s was the last church she saw as she left the UK. Gov Macquarie asked his aide-de-camp to come up with designs (which can still be found in the Mit­chell Library Sydney today). 

Marsden took an active and well-public­ised interest in the creation of an orphan home and school. When he travelled back home in 1807-09, he was able to recruit additional assistant chaplains. Later he att­racted Mrs Eliz­abeth Fry by his zeal for improving the lot of female convicts on the transport ships and in the colony. The immorality and crime that prevailed in Parramatta, he thought, was largely due to the dilapidation of the Female Work Factory.

St John’s Parsonage Parramatta, was Francis Greenway’s  first major work as NSW’s Acting Civil Architect, the first house designed in the colony by a trained architect. The foundation-stone was laid by Marsden’s daughter in Apr 1816. Work was completed by Nov 1817, overseen by Rev Samuel Marsden who became the building’s first inhabitant.

Marsden died in 1838, was buried at St John's Parramatta and was replaced by his son­-in­-law. Later it was decided to pull down the old church so the original chapel was demolished in 1852 and rep­laced with a new sandstone nave built in Romanesque Revival style. The first building was removed except for the two towers and later, in 1883, the transepts were added.
Grace Cossington Smith
Samuel Marsden After Service at St John’s Church Parramatta
oil, 66 x 59 cm 

For Australian artist Grace Cossington Smith (1892–1984), her car­eer was boosted after de Maistre organised her first show in 1926. In fact Grace’s art started to sh­are many of the same tech­niques as Roy de Maistre's: criss-crossing lines that separ­ated planes of discrete colours, in sequence. In the decade from 1926 on, her potential as a painter of colour and light, structure and rhythmic pattern, emerged. 1938 was her most significant year with 1] the death of her fat­her, raising her position in the family; 2] modern­ist Thea Proctor highlighted her work in Art in Australia and c] Grace was included in a professional museum exhibition.

Shown at the Sydney’s Art Gallery of NSW, an ex­hibition called 150 Years of Australian Art was organised by the then-Dir­ector, Will Ashton. It celebrated was the Sesquicentenary of European settle­ment of Aus­tralia 1788–1938, a historical event which witnessed a round of special cel­e­brations. There was a major Comm­on­wealth Gov­ern­ment prize for the best oil painting depicting an aspect of Aust­ralia’s hist­ory. So as soon as she completed her painting in Jan 1938, Cossing­ton Smith ent­er­ed her painting, Samuel Marsden After Service at St John’s Church Parramatta.

Deutscher & Hackett's 2018 auction catalogue said Grace Cossington Smith’s highly personal choice of subject echoed her own life as a devout Anglican Christian. Marsden stood firmly at the centre of the image, the strong geometry of the composition led the eye towards him and then to the church which he was so instrumental in founding. Uniformed figures in the distance, and the small child to the right of Mars­d­en, symbolised the development of the settlement from a penal colony to a place where the growing free population, gat­h­ered together for regular worship. This celebratory picture was infus­ed with a deeply personal spiritual values, and displayed Coss­ing­ton Smith’s belief that painting exp­resses form in colour vibrant with light.

14 April 2018

Martello towers and maritime forts across the globe

The first Martello Tower I ever saw was on a tour of Saint John in Canada, as we will see. But I have relied on LW Cowie for more detailed information.

These curved forts first spread across Europe, inspired by the Genovese defence system at Mortella Point in Corsica. Built from 1565 on, Corsican coastal towers were built to protect the villages from brutal Barbary-coast pirates. The towers and their watchmen were paid for by local villagers, and whenever a pirate threat was seen, watchmen alerted the locals by lighting a fire on the tower’s roof. Later the Genovese built another generation of circular towers, used against other foreign invasions.

Although close to the French coast, the island of Jersey wanted to remain British and thus constantly feared French invasion via the coastal bays. In 1779 there was an unsuccessful French attack in St Ouen’s Bay and in 1781, hundreds of French troops landed and marched on the capital, St Helier. Strengthening coastal defences became a priority. The Governor of Jersey planned to build 30 round towers to protect the island's coast line, a’ la Corsica. Although Jersey did get 22 of its towers, it took the British Navy years to realise what their defensive value might be. Some surviv­ing Jersey towers are now used as exhibition space for adjacent wildlife conservation areas.

Portelet Tower, Jersey
built in 1808 on a tidal island

Carleton Martello Canada interior, now a museum.
A guard room for 13 men, their beds, a dining table and a cannon.

In 1793 the British government received an appeal from General Pasquale de Paoli, the leader of the Corsican insurgents who were fighting against French troops. British ships were sent there but the only secure anchorage in the Gulf of San Fiorenzo was commanded by a stone tower. To defeat the French in 1794, the Mortella Point fort was captured by the land-based British military forces, largely because the Corsican’s cannons were facing seaward and couldn't change direction fast enough. When the British withdrew in 1803 they blew up the tower, leaving a wreck. But they liked the Corsican fort and went on to replicate the design at home.

How quickly they were needed! Early in 1805, a series of strong sites were being built along the Irish and English coast-lines, to defend against Napoleon’s army lined up across the Channel. By the time the Napol­eon­ic threat ended in 1815, 103 English towers were fully funct­ion­ing, mainly on S.E and Sth coasts. You can still see 45 of them in Essex and Suffolk etc to­day. Two supporting forts were built at Dymch­urch in Kent (now a museum) and Eastbourne in East Sussex.

In Ireland, they were concentrated around Dublin Bay, and Cork Harbour on the south coast. The West Cork islands of Garnish, Glengarriff and Bere, along Ireland's southwest coastline, have intact towers that can still be easily visited.

Carrick Hill Martello, Ireland
Built in 1805

The British towers were c40’ in height and were 2-3 storeys high. The thick round walls of solid stone­work had two great advant­ages. 1] they were very resistant to enemy cannon fire and 2] the garrison of men who lived there had complete 360 degree views from inside.

The wide roofs made a solid base to hold a rotating cannon on a pivot. Martellos used the ground floor as a stockroom where supplies of ammunition, food and water were kept; a cistern within the fort provided rain water. The first floor provided accommod­ation for 24 men plus 1 officer, plus a separate room for cooking. Fireplaces were built into the wall on the first floor for heating, bathing and cooking.

The Channel Islands had fortifications that included castles, forts, Martello towers, artillery batteries and seawalls. These is­lands were the only part of British soil to be occupied by the Ger­mans during WW2 and German soldiers quickly realised that the towers could be adapted for their own defence. The Martello tower at Fort Saumerez on Guernsey, for example, had a German Observation tower added during WW2 and the tower at Bel Royal Jersey was strengthened by a concrete bunker.

Guernsey Martello Tower
Refortified by German soldiers during WW2

Martello towers were built in Canada (Halifax, Saint John, Québec City and Kingston) during violent times with the USA, particularly the 1812 War. The Carleton Martello Tower in Saint John New Brunswick survived, featuring a restored powder magazine, restored barracks and museum exhibition spaces. The tower's roof has a perfect view of Saint John’s city and its harbour.

Of Halifax’s five towers in Nova Scotia, visitors can see the Prince of Wales Tower, the oldest round fort in North America. It was built in 1796 and was used as a powder magaz­ine. Restored, it too is a National Heritage site. The Duke of York Tower was built in 1798. The Duke of Clarence Martello Tower stood on the Dartmouth shore.

Of Quebec’s four Martello towers, Tower #1 stands on the Plains of Abraham, overlooking the St Lawrence River. It has been restored as a summer museum.

Six Martello towers were built at Kingston Ontario to defend its har­bour and naval shipyards during the Oregon Boundary Crisis. Murney Tower and the tower at Point Frederick, once serving against marine att­acks, are now summer museums. Fort Frederick Ontario had the most highly structured def­en­c­es: earthen ramparts and a limestone curtain wall. The Shoal Tower, the only tower surrounded by water, stood in Kingston's Confederation Basin. Cath­cart Tower, the 4th tower, stood on Cedar Island near Point Henry. The Oregon Boundary Crisis might have ended quickly, but the American Civil War made the Canadians fearful again. So the towers once again got armed up.

The last Martello tower in the British Empire was in Australia; Fort Denison, built on a small island in the centre of Sydney Harbour. Construction began in 1839 when two American warships crept into Sydney Harbour. The threat of foreign attack made the government carefully examine the harbour's limited defences. Re-construction in 1855 again provided Sydney with naval protect­ion, this time against the threat of a naval attack by Russians dur­ing the Crimean War (ended 1856). Fort Denison still enjoys 360 degree views of Sydney and operates as a museum and gun powder store.

Defensive towers in the USA were concentrated on the east coast. They were built in the harbours of Portsmouth in New Hampshire, Charleston in South Carolina, Key West in Florida and one or two others that did not survive. Although the Key West towers were constructed with different building materials and in a different design from those in Britain and Canada, the Garden Club (west tower) and the Museum (east tower) were added to the nation's National Register of Historic Places.