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September 2015: Three Short Seminars on Anglo-Spanish Artistic Relations

September 14th, 2015

Three seminars offered by University of London PhD candidates Leire Barrera-Medrano and Dan Eltringham (Department of English and the Humanities, Birkberk College).

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1)   Leire Barrera-Medrano, “The Discovery and Creation of a Nineteenth-Century Archive,” Wednesday, September 9th, 12-1, LSC 308-310. 

2) Leire Barrero-Medrano, “Oscard Wilde and Velázquez: The Aesthetics of Black Spain”. Wednesday, September 16th, 1-2, Education 8.

3) Leire Barrero-Medrano and Dan Eltringham, “Girasol Press: An Anglo-Spanish Press of Experimental Poetry,” Friday, September 25th, 4-5, LSC 308-310.

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1)   Leire Barrera-Medrano, “The Discovery and Creation of a Nineteenth-Century Archive,” Wednesday, September 9, 12-1, LSC 308-310. This seminar will offer an overview of the journey of a doctoral researcher finding a previously unknown nineteenth-century Spanish archive and creating a collection with the material discovered. By trying to reconstruct the friendship between the British female writer Vernon Lee and the Spanish art critic José Fernández Giménez, a previously unknown archive of more than 2,200 items was discovered in the USA.

The collection served to recreate the life and work of the Spanish diplomat, politician, art historian and playwright José Fernández Giménez (1832-1903). It tells the story of a family during the tumultuous second half of the nineteenth century in Spain. The Fernández Giménezes were an international family with roots in Spain and the United States that lived throughout Europe and established connections with the most important political and literary figures of the Spain at the time, as well as with international writers, artists and diplomats. As a result, the collections contains material that is extraordinarily relevant to nineteenth-century Spanish political and literary history, including circa 1,500 letters from writers, artists, politicians, colleagues, friends and relatives (1854-1903), and circa 300 official memos, classified documents and correspondence related to the Spanish Government (1847-1903). Some of the most relevant letters of this collection are:

–           19 letters (with previously unknown drawings and poems) from the renowned novelist Pedro Antonio de Alarcón, intimate friend of Fernández Giménez.

–           6 letters from the realist novelist Juan Valera.

–           6 letters from the romantic poet and dramatist José Zorrilla.

–           1 letter from the novelist Benito Pérez Galdós.

–           1 letter from Vernon Lee, pseudonym of the British writer Violet Paget.

–           1 letter from the Spanish scholar and historian Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo.

–           6 letters from the Spanish Prime Minister Práxedes Mateo Sagasta.

–           2 letters from the president of the First Spanish Republic, Emilio Castelar.

–           1 letter from the Spanish Prime Minister José Canalejas.

–           1 letter from the Spanish Prime Minister Antonio Maura.

–           1 letter from the Spanish general and statesman Juan Prim.

–           1 letter from the Spanish marshal and statesman Francisco Serrano.

–           32 letters from the English diplomat Sir Francis Clare Ford.

 

2) Leire Barrero-Medrano, “Oscard Wilde and Velázquez: The Aesthetics of Black Spain”. Wednesday, September 16th, 1-2, Education 8. In 1885 Oscar Wilde wrote to his friend, the critic and art historian Henry Currie Marillier (1865-1951) ‘Harry, why did you let me catch my train? I would have liked to have gone to the National Gallery with you, and looked at Velasquez’s pale evil King.’ The pale evil King was Philip IV of Spain (1605-1665), remembered for his patronage of the arts, including artists such as Diego Velázquez (1599-1660), leading painter of the Spanish Golden Age. Wilde’s words to Marillier not only illustrate the British author’s admiration for the Spaniard but exemplify a more broadly prevalent sentiment in the 1880s among Aesthetic artistic and literary circles: a ‘cult of Velázquez’ which, as it will be presented in this seminar, was the clearest signifier of the switch from classical idealism and historicism towards Decadence, Impressionism and eventually Modernism.

Late nineteenth-century British painters’ debt to Velázquez has been increasingly noted by scholars in recent years. The emergence of a new aesthetic in the last quarter of the nineteenth century contributed to the association of Velázquez with both the aspirations and pictorial language of modern painting. Alongside a technique of fluid brushwork and variegated ‘blacks’, Velázquez’s subject matter—real people, ordinary and often deformed—exemplified the modern standard of truth. As a result, fin-de-siècle British and Anglo-Americans painters like James McNeill Whistler, John Singer Sargent and Walter Sickert sought inspiration from the Spanish master, whom they regarded as the ‘first and greatest Impressionist.’

Alongside artists, Aesthete and Decadent critics and writers such as Oscar Wilde, Vernon Lee, Arthur Symons and Alice Meynell, to name but a few, were also imbued by this contemporary fascination with Velázquez, which, none the less, has been overshadowed by critics. This seminar begins to address this scholarly imbalance by offering a general overview of the significance of Velázquez’s presence among literary circles, and analyses one of the clearest British Decadent texts influenced by Velázquez’s work, Oscar Wilde’s tale ‘The Birthday of the Infanta’ (1889, 1891). Through the rethinking of the tale in relation to Spanish Baroque aesthetics, this seminar reassesses the significance of Spanish culture in the articulation of Wilde’s work.

 

3) Leire Barrero-Medrano and Dan Eltringham, “Girasol Press: An Anglo-Spanish Press of Experimental Poetry,” Friday, September 25, 4-5, LSC 308-310. This seminar presents Girasol Press as an example of a cross-cultural endeavour. Girasol is a new, small press founded in London by two scholars from Spain and England, which seeks to explore connections and disconnections between two of the most spoken languages in the world, Spanish and English. It publishes original work that tests the limits and the purity and impurity of language, as well as experimental translations. It is open to code-switching, ‘interlanguaging’ and Spanglish, as it believes that literature written in this way stems from an equally various mixture in social language, in the meetings of particular cultures, at a particular time and place. As part of its interest in linguistic experimentation, Girasol Press’ pamphlets are fully printed using an Adana 8×5 traditional hand-press, in limited runs. The mobility of the language is reflected through the mobility of the type.

Girasol Press has published two pamphlets so far: Undialogues, by the Mexican poet Gerónimo Sarmiento Cruz, and Mystics, by the English poet and co-founder of the press Dan Eltringham. Undialogues is an experiment in dialogic miscommunication between Spanish and English, while Mystics offers a series of phonetic English ‘un-translations’ of the Spanish Mystics. Both pamphlets caught the interest of the London avant-garde poetry scene and are already out of print. Girasol Press is now working on two new pamphlets by Mexican and Scottish poets and translators, Cuchillo/Knife and Seams/Costuras.

The seminar will get students acquainted with an experimental publishing project across the Atlantic that explores the connections between the languages most widely spoken in the USA. It will include a presentation of the project, a sample of the pamphlets and material used in hand-press, a poetry reading of the material published by the press, and a Q&A.