Originally posted on Culture and Anarchy:

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 Recently I read a review in the TLS of books on urban exploring, and I seem to keep coming across the idea that places which are decaying are significant and fascinating to us. I’ve also seen a lot of images on the web of deserted buildings which both preserve a moment in time and also represent the destruction of time – such as this deserted apartment. Sometimes a range of ideas come together and make us think about how they intersect, and this is what Tate Britain’s exhibition Ruin Lust does. Apparently the idea came from Rose Macaulay’s 1953 book The Pleasure of Ruins (sadly now out of print). The exhibition notes tell me that the term comes from the German ruinelust, and though the concept of a lust for ruins is appealing, encapsulating decay and destruction along with a somewhat seedy, voyeuristic interest, a recent discussion with curator…

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Let joy be unconfined! I’ve sold one of these cushions and shall be entering the weekend with a big grin on my face. A girl’s gotta eat…

Hot Air Balloon Voyage Throw Pillows Hot Air Balloon Voyage Throw Pillows by FirstNightDesign

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The CaféŽ Royal, London by William Orpen (1912) © First Night Vintage—Available as Posters, Cards, and Prints

The Café Ž Royal, London by William Orpen (1912) © First Night Vintage—Available as Posters, Cards, and Prints

There were many disadvantages to living in the early years of the 20th century, not least the coming of the ‘War to End All Wars’, which was anything but. Nevertheless, I can’t help dreaming of swanning around in an Edwardian frock or a Twenties flapper dress and the wherewithal to enjoy the delights of London theatre, fine dining and exquisite conversation. My recent post, Café Royal Rose, set me on a journey. But before I could do but a soupçon of research, I was stopped short by finding a copy of William Orpen’s painting on Wikimedia.

I could not pass by without downloading it and working magic with my resizing software (OnOne) to be able to sell it on First Night Vintage. I don’t think any regular followers will be in the least surprised!

The Café’s official site states that in ‘1863, a French wine merchant called Daniel Nicholas Thévenon and his wife Celestine arrived in England in a bid to escape the clutches of creditors in Paris’.

Cafe Royal in 2008 before its recent refurbishment [Wikimedia}
Cafe Royal in 2008 before its refurbishment [Wikimedia]

Those creditors’ losses were London’s gain for the couple created a fine establishment that acquired an enviable reputation with a wine cellar admired the world over and which introduced London to French cuisineCafé Royal’s survival to this day is proof of its legendary status.

Augustus John on board ship [Wikimedia]
Augustus John on board ship [Wikimedia]

Oh, the joy I would have had mixing with the likes of Augustus John (‘The King of Bohemia’) or D H Lawrence, Virginia Woolf or Noël Coward, or even Walter Sickert — very heaven.  Earlier still and I might have been able to dine on the wit of Oscar Wilde. That is, of course, if any of them had been gracious enough to include me in their gatherings. Reputation suggests that Augustus John would have taken me to his bosom and possibly literally! My mother nearly had one such encounter.  In her memoir, she writes about her disappointment at my grandmother’s refusal to let her sit for the artist as he had requested.

Walter Sickert by George Beresford in 1911 [Wikimedia]
Walter Sickert by George Beresford in 1911 [Wikimedia]

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In my opinion, New Zealand-born Katherine Mansfield was one of the greatest exponents of the short story. I devoured her work as a teenager and promptly tried to write just like her. Reader, I did not succeed! I am sad, now, that I threw these efforts away. Who knows what I might not have been able to do with them now. (Don’t answer that!)

“A. [Rice] came early and began the great painting — me in that red, brick red frock with flowers everywhere. It’s awfully interesting, even now. I painted her in my way as she painted me in hers: her eyes … little blue flowers plucked this morning.”

“Ach, Tchekov! Why are you dead? Why can’t I talk to you in a big darkish room at late evening—where the light is green from the waving trees outside? I’d like to write a series of Heavens: that would be one.”

“Make it a rule of life never to regret and never to look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can’t build on it; it’s only good for wallowing in.” 



“The pleasure of all reading is doubled when one lives with another who shares the same books.”

“The mind I love must have wild places, a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass, an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two, a pool that nobody’s fathomed the depth of, and paths threaded with flowers planted by the mind.”

“I have such a horror of telegrams that ask me how I am!! I always want to reply dead.”

“I adore Life. What do all the fools matter and all the stupidity. They do matter but somehow for me they cannot touch the body of Life. Life is marvellous. I want to be deeply rooted in it – to live – to expand – to breathe in it – to rejoice – to share it. To give and to be asked for Love.”

The Garden Party and Other Stories (Penguin Classics)

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I took a photograph of this yellow rose some months ago and have played with it ever since to little effect. Until, that is, someone posted a link on Facebook — in the Texture Artists group — to the British artist Sarah Gardner who also sells beautiful textures. Registering with her site gives you a free download of four textures. I added the one pictured below and I was off and running!

The typography elements are from a vintage advert for the Café Royal in London’s Regent Street from one of my theatre periodicals dated  late 19th and early 20th century, Play Pictorial.

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Easter Egg Basket © First Night Design

Easter Egg Basket © First Night Design—Available on cards, prints & posters

New for Easter.

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The Self-Portrait: A Cultural History

Description on Amazon

In this broad cultural survey, James Hall brilliantly maps the history of self-portraiture, from the earliest myths of Narcissus and the Christian tradition of bearing witness to the prolific self-image-making of todays contemporary artists. Along the way he reveals the importance of the medieval mirror craze; the confessional self-portraits of Titian and Michelangelo; the role of biography for serial self-portraitists such as Courbet and van Gogh; themes of sex and genius in works by Munch and Bonnard; and the latest developments in our globalized age. Hall covers the full range of self-portraits, from comic and caricature self-portraits to invented or imaginary ones, and looks deeply into the worlds and mindsets of the artists who have created them. Offering a rich and lively history, this is an essential read for all those interested in this most enduringly popular and humane of art forms.

detail from Boccaccio’s On Famous Women (1402)

Detail from Boccaccio’s On Famous Women (1402)


We live in an age of addictive self-portraiture  except that the selfies who so unstoppably document the busy banality of their lives aren’t really making portraits, and it’s unclear whether there is a distinct individual self behind their lookalike grins. A digital camera’s gaze is skin-deep, and can hardly compete with the almost surgical penetration of a painted self-portrait. Photographs are instantaneous and ephemeral; it takes time to represent the advance of sagging, wrinkled mortality, as Rembrandt does when scrutinising his own face.

‘The images James Hall discusses in his enthralling book are therefore exercises in self-appraisal, not self-celebrations like the happy snaps on Facebook. Unusually, Hall’s history begins in the middle ages, because for him self-portraiture emerges as a reflex of Christian conscience, a homage to Christ’s imprinting of his agonised face on the Turin shroud. But the imitation of Christ takes courage, and it usually ends in the artist’s self-castigation. Previewing the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo actually flays himself: St Bartholomew grips the painter’s empty epidermis, which has been painfully peeled off with a butcher’s knife.’ Peter Conrad, The Observer 

The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck (1434)

The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck (1434)

‘There is never a dull passage in this book: the detail is crisply imparted; the content richly arcane at times, but more usually profoundly human; the ideas come freshly coined. Hall manages to retain the intellectual high ground while writing with verve and enthusiasm. It is a creditable achievement, and, like all the best gifts, comes beautifully wrapped, in book  production of the highest quality.’ Frances Spalding,
The Guardian

‘Hall’s range of references is polymathic and his writing often pithy, but the democratically even tone – in which geniuses and nonentities are accorded the same level of interest – can feel monotonous. The book gives a good account of the role of the self-portrait in the elevation of the artist from craftsman to cultural hero. Yet Hall is so keen to avoid aggrandising the better known figures that you’re left yearning for a contrast between what’s of historical interest and what’s genuinely extraordinary. Occasionally you wish he’d let his dispassionate scholarly mask drop and scream out, “This is a freaking masterpiece!”’ Mark Hudson, Daily Telegraph

‘Topical it might be, but modish this book is not. Ranging from Akhenaten’s chief sculptor to Tracey Emin and drawing on art-historical, historical, philosophical and literary sources covering the three-and-a-half millennia of the intervening period, this is a stimulating and demanding book that requires an equally serious engagement from any reader.’ Honor Clark, The Spectator

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Léon Bakst 1867-1924 — Self Portrait 1893

Léon Bakst 1867-1924 — Self Portrait 1893 [Wikipedia]

Who can resist the work of Léon Bakst? Not I. The Russian artist was responsible for the gloriously exotic costumes worn by the dancers of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes and the accompanying illustrations that adorned the programmes.

If you’ve come to know me at all, you will not be surprised that I have now restored the Wikimedia image of the Schéhérazade programme that I uploaded for yesterday’s post about Diaghilev and have made it available on cards, posters and prints.

The programme is for the 1913 production of Shéhérazade with Michel Fokine and Vera Fokina. While I’m sure that the original background was as white as could be achieved at that time, the patina of age has its own charm. I have restored it to a certain extent such as blocking in the border where it had faded and enhancing the colours and contrast but I decided not to make the background white but simply even out the dirt of decades into a yellowy cream.

A final treat —

Photograph from 1914 of Fokine and Fokina in Scherezade

Photograph from 1914 of Fokine and Fokina in Schéhérazade [Wikimedia]

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Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev (1872-1929)



Sergei Diaghilev was born on this day in 1872. The iconic Russian ballet impresario, dancer, choreographer, songwriter and critic, founded the incomparable Ballets Russes company. He was responsible for the ballet premieres of Stravinsky’s  The FirebirdPetrouchka and Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), not to mention Rimsky-Korsakov’s Schéhérazade, Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) and Prokoviev’s Chout.

[Diaghilev is] ‘a giant, undoubtedly the only one whose dimensions increase the more he recedes into the distance’. Sergei Prokoviev



‘Of all the wonders that the world had to offer, only art promised immortality.’

Programme of Ballets Russes - 1913 ShŽhŽrazade - Michel Fokine and Vera Fokina

Programme of Ballets Russes – 1913 Shéhérazade – Michel Fokine and Vera Fokina [Wikimedia]

‘I could make a choreographer out of this inkwell if I wanted to.’

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René Descartes 1596—1650

Portrait of René Descartes by Frans Hals

Portrait of René Descartes by Frans Hals [Wikimedia]

The French philosopher René Descartes was born on this day in 1596 at La Haye en Touraine. The first quote below is, of course, the one that everyone knows in its truncated form, even if they have no idea who said it or what it means.

‘Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum.’
‘I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.’

‘If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.’

‘The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest men of past centuries.’

‘Conquer yourself rather than the world.’

‘Let whoever can do so deceive me, he will never bring it about that I am nothing, so long as I continue to think I am something.’

Dispute of Queen Cristina Vasa and René Descartes (detail of Nils Forsberg's (1842-1934) copy of Pierre Louis Dumesnil's (1698-1781) original.

Dispute of Queen Cristina Vasa and René Descartes (detail of Nils Forsberg’s (1842-1934) copy of Pierre Louis Dumesnil’s (1698-1781) original. [Wikimedia]

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Benedicta Leigh 1922—2000

Benedicta Leigh 1922—2000 [photo: David Sim]

Born Benedicta Hoskyns in 1922, my mother spent a large part of her childhood on the island of Malta where her father was serving in the Rifle Brigade.

She later spent a year drawing from life at Salisbury School of Art. During World War II, she nursed with the Red Cross in Auxiliary Hospitals and Convalescent Homes throughout the country, also finding time to write, produce and play in several revues for her patients.

The war over, she trained for the stage at RADA where she received commendations from Sybil Thorndike and Laurence Irving and won the George Arliss prize as well as sharing the Dialect prize with Cyril Shaps.

Her subsequent career included repertory at Windsor, Bromley, Sheffield, Coventry and Nottingham, No Other Verdict at the Duchess Theatre in the West End (“stealing all the notices as the maid” she would tell me gleefully) films such as The Eternal Question and Hands of Destiny.

Benedicta Leigh & Michael Aldridge in See How They Run 1951

Benedicta Leigh & Michael Aldridge in See How They Run 1951

In 1955 she married my father, the actor Richard Vernon, and after giving birth to me and my brother Tom, she gave up the stage to look after us, though occasionally returning to do the odd episode of such series as The Main Chance with John Stride.

Diagnosed as a manic-depressive in the late 1960s, there followed a series of breakdowns. It was only in the late 1980s that she was able get her life back on an even keel. After divorcing Richard, she wrote an autobiography The Catch of Handswhich was published by Virago in 1991 and won The Mind Book of the Year Award in 1992. She followed this with a work of fiction, Unlock, and Remind Me of the Sea, also published by Virago. Following this association with the mental health charity, Mind, she spoke at a Stress Against Women conference and contributed details of her treatment at the hands of professionals for MIND to use in their campaigns.

In 1997 her health began to deteriorate and she had to be sectioned once again. Chronic renal problems were diagnosed in 1999, probably a result of the length of time she had taken the anti-psychotic drug, Lithium. She died in Kingston Hospital on 8 February 2000.

Sarah Vernon © 2014 (adapted from a bio originally published on Rogues & Vagabonds in 2001.)

The Catch of Hands
Published by Virago Press Limited 1991


With the piquant with of Colette, the lyricism of Laurie Lee and a passion all her own, Benedicta Leigh tells the story of her life — a life made remarkable by her determination to rescue it. Born in the 1920s, to parents who allowed her delightful eccentricities and dreams of glory, her childhood and adolescence were a restless seeking out of life.

But after her beloved father’s death during the Second World War, and the suicide of her lover some years later, came the first of many shattering breakdowns.  It is twenty years later that, with an undeniable force of will, Benedicta Leigh bravely takes up the sword to tackle the nightmares, and to loosen the knot within herself.

Extraordinarily perceptive, The Catch of Hands is written with powerful candour and a painterly skill. Benedicta Leigh’s is a unique voice, full of beauty, longing, pain and courage.


Benedicta Leigh was born in Hampshire in 1922. After working as a VAD during the Second World War, she trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and has since performed widely in the theatre. Although she has written most of her life, this is her first full-length work. She has two grown-up children, and lives in London.

In this remarkable autobiography, Benedicta Leigh portrays with painterly skill her insouciant, untrammelled childhood and her troubled adult years.  Using language with a wonderful freshness and originality, hers is a unique voice, full of beauty, longing, pain and courage.


The bullet bit into my forehead as I skidded across the lawn and crashed to the ground  The decks ran crimson, and away by the hedge my mother slowly hauled up a great dandelion, its acrid milk spattering her knuckles.  She was too busy to notice the rattle in my throat, my dying, my death, oh, the perfection of it, and she missed Ned the cabin boy weeping over my body and saying ‘O Captain, Sir, what will we do? Mr Peyton is dead and done for, and who shall drive the boat now?’ ‘Well, not him, anyway,’ said Captain Tollemache. ‘Get a coffin and some flags, and we will have a long dull funeral and a party with ginger-beer. Everyone can come but Nanny, and my caterpillars will do an entertainment.’

I heard the boys whining and thumping up in the nursery as I turned over on to my stomach. My mother had gone indoors, leaving her straw hat on the steps, and spikes of grass bent beneath the anxiety of a beetle’s progress. Over my shoulder blades a concentration of heat spilled, and the dog of war walloped towards me and leaned against my shoulder, a raggle of tongue pushing into my ear.

I said, ‘You’re being rather intimate with me today, my dear,’ as I stroked him. His coat felt like  a hot flannel. I sang: ‘O dog of war, who forged thy dread breath?’ And I sang that if it was stew for lunch, then I would be sick unto my plate a great lot….

While there are copies to be had of The Catch of Hands and her second book, Unlock And Remind Me Of The Sea, they are now out of print. I am hoping to persuade Virago to republish. At the time, Benedicta received a number of letters from people saying how much the memoir had helped them immeasurably by allowing them to realise they were not alone.

An interesting postscript is that in January this year, I commented on a post by Judith Haire at the Mentally Wealthy blog about my mother’s bi-polarity and mentioned her memoir. An instant response to my comment came from Jean Davison who said, ‘That’s so interesting, I bought that book years ago and kept it on my bookshelf. I have it in my hands now. It was one of the books that inspired me to write my own memoir and try to get it published, which I eventually did.’ (The Dark Threads – a vivid memoir of one young woman’s psychiatric treatment)

It is a small and supportive world out here.

blhiiBenedicta in 1991
[photo: Bill Moody]

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First Night Design:

Blogging is partly networking and partly helping online friends. Opinionated Man knows what he’s talking about when it comes to gaining followers. He gathered an extortionate number of followers in a very short time when he started blogging. Sarah

Originally posted on HarsH ReaLiTy:

I have never asked for a reblog before, but if you have the time and wouldn’t mind reblogging or sharing this I would personally appreciate it. I have decided to really go for this and try to provide some sort of marketing/blogging consulting to those wanting the help and willing to pay. It might sound silly, but there are plenty of authors, photographers, bloggers, and entrepreneurs that are horrible at marketing themselves.

I cannot guarantee views, comments, or sales. I can guarantee for a contract a subscriber number increase. The rest is really up to you. I follow a business model which I have shared HERE which shows that I use 33.3% of my time gathering followers, 33.3% of my time writing, and 33.3% of my time interacting and socializing. That is how I blog. Many people can’t afford the time to “gather followers” or don’t know how. That is…

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MAXIM GORKY 28 March 1868—16 June 1936

‘You must write for children the same way you write for adults, only better.’

‘A good man can be stupid and still be good. But a bad man must have brains.’

‘Lies are the religion of slaves and masters. Truth is the god of the free man.’
Lower Depths, And Other Plays

‘You will not drown the truth in seas of blood.’

‘Writers build castles in the air, the reader lives inside, and the publisher inns the rent.’

My Childhood

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Yes, I’ve had PhotoFunia again! This might just be my favourite thus far as I happen to think that Dancing in Greek looks rather splendid on Vogue’s cover.

You may remember that I added a photograph of the Russian ballerina Tamara Platonovna Karsavina (1885–1978) from The Library of Congress and turned her into a silhouette overlaying a background of my textures.

And then I couldn’t resist putting myself on the cover. This photo was taken about five years ago.


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A beach scene by German impressionist Max Liebermann

via BBC News – Cornelius Gurlitt: One lonely man and his hoard of stolen Nazi art.

Cornelius Gurlitt hoarded more than 1,500 works of art, some stolen from Jews in Nazi Germany, for more than half a century. The BBC’s Steve Evans was given exclusive access to the high-security storage depot where the 238 treasures he stored at one of his homes, in Austria, are now being held.

One day, no doubt, Hollywood will make a movie.

A reclusive man with his secret hoard of art. In the damp of his home, behind the shutters, spiders would crawl over masterpieces – until his secret was blown and his hidden trove uncovered.

Perhaps the script is already being written. It will be a crime movie, of course – some of these works were snatched from people who were being bundled away to be murdered.

It will be a mystery film, too – how did a sad and lonely man hide such a big collection of pictures for so long. Cornelius Gurlitt would sell a painting when he needed the money (just the odd few millions) – but didn’t the wise and intelligent of the art world ask any questions? Or did they not want to ask for fear of the answer?

Read more: BBC News – Cornelius Gurlitt: One lonely man and his hoard of stolen Nazi art.

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First Night Design

Welcome to the First Night Design blog. I hope you enjoy your visit. I love getting your comments and, while I may not always be able to respond because of ill-health, rest assured I read everything and much appreciate your likes. Thank you.

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