Harry Ransom Research Center

Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal: Musings on Contradictions with the Harry Ransom Center’s Etched Window Façade

Baudelaire Les Fleurs du mal cover: snake entwined around a bouquet

Image Credit: The Harry Ransom Center

Two images related to one of the most respected French poets of the nineteenth century, Charles Baudelaire, grace the Harry Ransom Center’s etched glass façade. Yes, the images of a disturbingly beautiful flower bud and a similarly ominous bouquet on the cover for Baudelaire’s 1857’s collection of poetry, Les Fleurs du mal, are on the Ransom Center’s south and north windows because the Center has holdings of Baudelaire’s work in their French Literature collection. But, maybe the Ransom Center’s choice to use Baudelaire twice when there are many other French authors they could have chosen to represent leads us to another reason why Baudelaire is so prominently represented in the Center’s public face. Baudelaire has always been a dialectical figure of contradiction—twentieth-century literary critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin found in Baudelaire the linchpin around which he could situate the conundrum of urbanity in the nineteenth century. In Benjamin’s unfinished magnum opus The Arcades Project (compiled between 1927-1940), Benjamin muses that the “uninterrupted resonance which Les Fleurs du mal has found up through the present day is linked to a certain aspect of the urban scene, one that came to light only with the city’s entry into poetry. It is the aspect least of all expected. What makes itself felt through the evocation of Paris in Baudelaire’s verse is the infirmity and decrepitude of a great city.” The contradictions of the metropolis—the high and the low, the beautiful and the grotesque—are everywhere in Les Fleurs du mal. Like Benjamin, the Ransom Center uses Baudelaire in their window façade as one figure through which we can view the many contradictions of visual representation and archival work.

An Art Deco King James in the Orientalist Vein: François-Louis Schmied’s Engravings of the Creation and Ruth Stories

Schmied Creation Two-Page Spread: French on one Side, Animals on the Other

Image Credit: The Harry Ransom Center

Just before viz. took a break for spring, we visited the Harry Ransom Center’s newest exhibition, The King James Bible: Its History and Influence. Instead of finding only illuminated manuscripts, we were surprised to find contemporary art, literary manuscripts, film posters, and even a sculpture of a golden calf. The exhibition is not just a collection of well-preserved historic Bibles—it’s a unique collection of visual artifacts tangentially related to the King James Bible. As the viz. team walked around the exhibition, one grouping of images caught my eye. Art Deco engraver François-Louis Schmied’s artwork to accompany a French translation of both Genesis and The Book of Ruth from the King James Bible is absolutely stunning. The artwork is most interesting for its fusion of the geometric lines of Art Deco with the Orientalism of its creator and the lyricism of the Biblical stories it illustrates.

In Miniature: Bel Geddes’s “Doll House for Joan”

Brightly Colored Painting of Doll House with Girl's Arm

Image Credit: SliceofGreen

In anticipation of the Harry Ransom Center’s upcoming exhibition of Norman Bel Geddes’s futuristic designs, I’ve become completely fascinated with the work of a man whom the Ransom Center describes as “an innovative stage and industrial designer, futurist, and urban planner who, more than any designer of his era, created and promoted a dynamic vision of the future—streamlined, technocratic, and optimistic.” This week, instead of focusing on the futurescapes of Bel Geddes after 1927 (the year Bel Geddes launched his industrial-design career), I will discuss a lesser-known Bel Geddes—the man as a father who built fantastic doll houses for his daughters. This man was a big dreamer (per French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, whom we’ll meet later in this post), one who dealt in miniatures.

Future City from the Past: Norman Bel Geddes’s “City of Tomorrow”

City of Tomorrow: Aerial shot of peopleless, car-filled city

Image Credit: a456

I’ve been thinking a lot about future cities these days, though I’ve mostly been focusing on real-world metropolises as futuristic settings in TV shows and movies. Today, I’m going to shift gears to describe an idea for a future city from the past, Norman Bel Geddes’s “City of Tomorrow” advertising campaign for Shell Oil from the late 1930s. The campaign predicts (critics might say “encouraged” or “enabled”) a car-centric, highway-laden, city whose residents “loaf along at 50 [m.p.h]—right through town.” Bel Geddes’ “tomorrow” continues to resound today.

Magnum Photos Collection at the Harry Ransom Research Center

Screen Shot of Magnum Photos Archive

Image credit: Screen shot of Magnum Photos Digital Collection

H/T: Katherine Feo and George Royer

On Tuesday, the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center announced that the Magnum collection of photographs would be catalogued, housed, and made accessible to scholars for research and to the public through exhibitions.  Magnum Photos was founded in 1947 by Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson and several other photographers as one of the first photographic cooperatives.  While the Magnum website hosts the “living archive” of over 500,000 images in a searchable digital library that is updated daily, the HRC will preserve and make available the nearly 200,000 original press prints including several vintage prints dating back more than 60 years.  In a press release announcing the partnership between the HRC, Magnum Photos, and the new owner of the original press prints, Michael S. Dell’s private investment firm MSD Capital, Dr. Tom Staley—director of the Humanities Research Center noted, "This is a singularly valuable collection in the history of photography [that] brings together some of the finest photojournalists of the profession and spans more than a half century of contributions to the medium.  We are delighted to make these remarkable materials accessible to researchers and students."

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