As the holidays near, you'll want to have handy a few facts to surprise your guests. For those of you who rub elbows with writers and artists, I've put together a few decidedly literary and artistic gems. The fourth is neither but it is interesting.
✦ If your poetry preferences lean toward e.e. cummings, then you know (you do, don't you?) that the initials e.e. stand for Edward Estlin? Now, what I did not know until recently was that cummings was a painter — abstractionist and, later, primarily representational (still lifes, nudes, portraits, landscapes) —and published his drawings and caricatures in The Dial, archives of which are here.
✦ According to Cecilia and Jens Jorgensen of Icons of Europe, Brussels, the "Swedish Nightingale" Jenny Lind had a "close and lasting relationship" with Frederic Chopin, whom she would have married on some three different occasions, none working out. The Jorgensens have written three books on the composer, the singer, and the romance, and Cecilia Jorgensen has just published a fourth, Le Reve de Chopin [Chopin's Dream or The Dream About Chopin]. The Jorgensens' documentary Chopin — The Women Behind the Music premiered on the BBC last month.
✦ At age 10, he began making likenesses, in crayon, of customers at his father's inn. By age 12, he had his own studio in Bath. He went on to become "the greatest British portrait painter of his generation", his sitters including an actress, an earl, and a pope, among other early 19th Century persons of note. Still, he's also been described as Thomas Gainsborough's "forgotten rival". Taking even a quick look at these images of his paintings, on view at London's National Portrait Gallery until January 23, 2011, is evidence enough of Thomas Lawrence's extraordinary talent. For more on the gallery exhibit, go here. Go here for Michael Levey's Sir Thomas Lawrence (Yale University Press, Ill. Ed., 2006) on GoogleBooks.
✦ Shaffi Mather is credited with being the first person to found a "truly effective" ambulance service in India: the "Dial 1298 for Ambulance" initiative. Go here for an interview with Mather, who, with his sights now set on stopping the bribery of Indian government officials, has launched bribebusters.com.
✦ Talk about writing from experience or giving lie to the notion that writers are quiet, shy, and retiring types. If you're into all things Stieg Larsson, you probably know this already. If, as I, you did not and just happen to be reading the late Swedish crime writer for your book club, note this: Larrson spent some portion of a year in Africa in Eritrea, where he trained women how to fire grenades. It was, said his friend John Henri Holmberg here, a "dramatic" year for "an amazingly courageous man."
✦ The talents of composer George Gershwin, I learned from this recent Terry Teachout column, were not limited to music. Gershwin was a painter and also made pen-and-ink drawings. This Time article notes that his Self-Portrait in a Checkered Sweater is "probably the best portrait made" of Gershwin. A photograph of Gershwin's painting of Arnold Schoenberg is here. One place to explore the contributions of Gershwin and his brother Ira is our Library of Congress, where the self-portrait hangs. This document notes that Gershwin was the first American-born musician to make Time's cover, and makes passing reference to his artistic ability and collector's eye. For more weighty content on the subject, dive into these pages on GoogleBooks from Chapter Eleven: Gershwin the Man (begin at the middle of page 196) in George Gershwin: His Life and Work by Howard Pollack (University of California Press, 2007).
Image above left: George Gershwin, Self-Portrait in a Checkered Sweater, George and Ira Gershwin Collection (Music Division), Library of Congress