Tut-mania: When the world went Egypt mad

Egyptian style advertisement for Shell Motor Spirit - King Petrolemy Sendeth Unto Pharaoh Gifts of Precious Spirit. Date: early 20th century

This weekend, the Saatchi Gallery opened its long-awaited exhibition, “Tutankhamun – Treasures of the Golden Pharoah”. As blockbuster exhibitions go, it’s up there with the best of them. Having recently closed in Paris, the exhibition became France’s most visited of all time with attendance of over 1.4 million and is the last opportunity to see 150 objects from the boy-king’s tomb before they become a permanent exhibition at the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is currently under construction. We haven’t been yet but it’s certainly tempting, despite the eye-watering admission price.

When Howard Carter, sponsored by Lord Carnarvon, finally discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in November 1922, it was one of the biggest news stories of the century. Even though it would be many more months before it was considered safe enough to begin to remove objects from the burial chamber, nevertheless, the discovery precipitated a global craze for Egyptian style.

Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign of 1798-1801 and the discovery and deciphering of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 was the catalyst for the first wave of Egyptomania in the early nineteenth century. Aristocrats commissioned their homes to be decorated in an Egyptian style and even whole buildings referenced its art and statuary. Examples include the Egyptian Hall in London (built in 1812, demolished in 1905), and the curious Egyptian House in Penzance, dating from the early 19th century. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, and the British occupation of Egypt from 1882 only served to increase interest. And when Thomas Cook began to offer Egyptian holidays and Nile cruises in the later 19th century, the exotic sights and cultural heritage of Egypt became a familiar style touchstone to a wider society.

Carter’s landmark discovery in 1922 led to a renewed and unprecedented Egyptomania boom.  Egyptian motifs and hieroglyphics were an ancient echo of more modern 1920s designs, and Tut-mania’s influence extended to music, fashion and much more. Here are a just a few examples from our collection, reflecting how when the world went Egypt-mad in the 1920s.

Fashion – A subtle take on Egyptian style by London couturier, Isobel from 1923; a dress, (according to The Tatler magazine’s description) “in Egyptian colours” that includes Egyptian embroidery at the waist, as does the more modest dress with the white collar. The page from The Sketch, July 1923 reports on a variety of outfits displaying the “Tutankhamun Touch”, while the colourful pattern is a fabric design from the 1920s, clearly incorporating Egyptian motifs.

A frock of fine black silk jerseylene featuring embroideries in 'Egyptian colourings' from Isobel, of 4 Maddox Street, London. Worn with a dashing hat and cane. The embroidery reflects the craze for fashion inspired by ancient Egypt following the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922. Date: 1923

Fancy Dress – Ancient Egypt certainly opened up some glamorous possibilities for fancy dress (debutante Mary Henniker-Heaton won a prize in Monte Carlo for her costume), but the photograph of a mother, father and daughter all getting into the homespun Tutankhamun spirit is particularly charming.

Princess Otto von Bismarck, formerly Miss Anne-Marie Tengbom, pictured in fancy dress as the Moon in an Egyptian tableau 'as produced by King Tutankhamen' at the Galaxy Ball in aid of St. John's Hospital, Lewisham at the Park Lane Hotel in November 1929. The costume was designed by Mr Robin d'Erlanger whose wife was organiser of the ball. 1929

Music – Popular music composers were often the first to absorb current events and topical skits into new tunes. In the Days of Tut-ankh-amen was written and composed by Reg Low and J. P. Long, and sung by musical comedy duo, Norah Blaney and Gwen Farrar in the Andre Charlot revue, ‘Rats!’ at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1923.

(read about Gwen and Norah in a new biography by Alison Child here – https://www.behindthelines.info/tell-me-i-m-forgiven-gwen-farrar-norah-blaney/

Music cover, Tutankhamen One Step Song, by Hebe Mack. 1923

Jewellery – Even Cartier brought out new designs of jewellery inspired by pieces of Ancient Egypt. The Illustrated London News featured examples of the “Tutankhamun Influence” while Gazette de Bon Ton featured an illustration of a brooch and drop earrings in 1924.

Egyptian trinkets from 1500 to 3000 years old adapted as modern jewellery: brooches, pendants, earrings and hat pins set wtih real antiques and a tutankhamen replica. All by Cartier. The discover of Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter triggered a craze for Egyptian inspired fashion and jewellery. Date: 1924

Architecture – Cinema and theatre was one area where architects could let their imaginations run wild. A number of picture houses built during the inter-war years were an Egyptian riff on the art deco or ‘moderne’ style. The interior of the Egyptian Theater at Bala-Cynwyd, Pennsylvania is an exquisite example, while in London, the former Carlton Cinema on Essex Road in Islington (now a Mecca bingo hall) is pure and unapologetic Egyptian fantasy. The entrance to the Straussenhaus, Berlin Zoo, which is designed in the style of an Egyptian temple is Egyptian style at its most flamboyant and the fact that it was built in 1912, demonstrates that Tutankhamun simply fanned the flames of a craze that had never really gone away.  Of course, if you wanted a touch of Egyptian style in your own home, then you could always embroider some designs courtesy of Weldon’s Beautiful Needlework magazine.

Egyptian designs for home furnishings, an insert page from Weldon's Beautiful Needlework magazine. Date: circa 1920s

needlework

Graphic Design – This cover of The Graphic’s Egypt Number as well as the rather nice illustration by an Egyptian woman applying make-up by Marius Forestier in The Sketch, 1924, are just two examples of how magazine illustrators enjoyed playing around with Egyptian themes. The chic little trade card for an Egypt hotel, and perfume advertisement meld art deco with Egyptian style while the Houdini poster and ‘fortune book’ drew on the perceptions of Egypt as a place of mystery and spiritualism.

Front cover of The Graphic magazine specially designed in an Egyptian style for its number on the same subject. Date: 1930

houdini and fortune book

To see a full range of Tut-mania images, click here: https://www.maryevans.com/lb.php?ref=47265

 

Pan’s People

On 15th January 1920, the Pan Ball was held at Covent Garden in aid of Bart’s Hospital. Among the attendees were the actresses Betty Chester, who came as a Bacchante, and sisters Iris and Viola Tree in the costumes of a futurist Pan and tree nymph respectively. The ball’s theme of Pan, Greek God of pastures, forests and flocks, was to be one which would dominate the early 1920s. The ball had been organised by a new magazine, launched a couple of months earlier. Pan described itself as ‘a journal for saints and cynics’ and was devoted to a light-hearted confection of entertainment, gossip, wit and illustration aimed at creative and bohemian readership. Very much in tune with the fresh, post-war vogue for celebrating youth and vitality, the magazine attracted some of the finest artistic and literary talent. Covers were designed variously by Herbert Pizer, William Barribal, Wilton Williams, H. M. Bateman and Tom Purvis; writers included E. F. Benson, Reginald Arkell and the gossip columnist Olivia Maitland Davidson, who had famously written the ‘Letters of Eve’ column in The Tatler magazine. Pan’s influence saturated every aspect of the magazine. The editor’s letter was replaced by ‘Pan’s Parable’; another column was entitled, ‘Pan’s Pipings’ while the women’s fashion page was known as ‘My Box’ by Pandora.

From left, Miss Iris Tree as a futurist Pan, Miss Viola Tree as a tree nymph and Miss Betty Chester as a Bacchante, all guests at the themed 'Pan' Ball held at Covent Garden in aid of Bart's Hospital in January 1920. The theme of Pan was hugely popular during the 1920s and the ball was organised by the newly launched, but fairly short-lived, Pan magazine. Date: 1920Miss Iris Tree as a futurist Pan, Miss Viola Tree as a tree nymph and Miss Betty Chester as a Bacchante, all guests at the themed ‘Pan’ Ball held at Covent Garden in aid of Bart’s Hospital in January 1920. The theme of Pan was hugely popular during the 1920s and the ball was organised by the newly launched, but fairly short-lived, Pan magazine.
Covers of Pan Magazine, January and February 1920
Covers of Pan Magazine, January and February 1920

If Pan represented the 1920s enthusiasm for the cult of Pan, it was not the only magazine to recognise the god as a potent emblem of the times. Other titles such as The Bystander and The Sketch frequently published pictures casting modern day flappers in sylvan landscapes, their innocent ramble or solitary reading session suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a hairy-haunched, cloven-hoofed companion with a lascivious expression signalling a mind that was as horny as his forehead. He made an unnerving suitor, stalking his prey through mountains and wooded glades, or even materialising as an apparition in suburban gardens, blowing seductive and hypnotising melodies on his pan-pipes, which, as legend has it, were fashioned from reeds into which the nymph Syrinx was transformed when fleeing from his amorous advances. The contrast of animal legs, naked torso and virile hirsuteness with the pristine, bobbed neatness of the 1920s female, make such scenarios as erotically charged as they are repellent. Other scenes are less disquieting – sometimes a more boyish Pan entertains fairy-like nymphs, or fauns and satyrs caper with bright, young things on a golf course. Nevertheless, the themes closely associated with Pan, those of spring, fecundity and a lusty vigour for life, offered illustrators endless inspiration.

Drawing on a popular theme of the 1920s, a rather sexually rampant looking faun with horns, disturbing red hair and beard and huge hairy legs ending in cloven hooves, sits with a virginal looking blonde girl, her white stockinged legs and pink dress in stark contrast to his virile, hirsuite appearance. Date: 1928
A naked woman, who appears to be camping alone on a beach is startled to discover a small satyr playing pan pipes nearby. Very strange. 1919A young woman flees from a wood, pursued by a satyr or faun. Pan and associated motifs were very popular during the 1920s and numerous illustrations appeared in magazines, usually showing flapper type girls being seduced or pursued by such creatures! Date: 1927

Colour illustration showing a dream-like scene of a piper playing for a beautiful lady with butterfly wings. Date:

Pan­—and associated mythological figures—had been popular with artists over the centuries, but the renaissance of Pan in the 1920s owed a debt in part to the arrival of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in London in 1912. The combination of dazzling costumes and sets by Leon Bakst, music by Claude Debussy and an animalistic, muscular performance by Nijinsky in L’Après-midi d’un Faune (Afternoon of the Faun) were a sensation. Inspired by the designs on Grecian urns and vases, Faun was considered one of the first modern ballets, its inescapable erotic sub-text imprinting itself firmly in the minds of those who witnessed it and triggering a cult of Pan that quietly gathered followers throughout the war years. Grecian-style, bare-footed dancing under the tutelage of pioneers such as Margaret Morris and Isadora Duncan became increasingly popular, and many fashion and hair styles among women frequently took inspiration from the Classical era. By the end of the war, as society looked ahead to a new, more optimistic decade, Pan and his followers had found the perfect time to flower.

In September 1923, L’Après-midi d’un Faune was due to be adapted into a film with screen idol Rudolf Valentino in the starring role. The Sketch magazine printed a publicity shot of Valentino on its front cover, dressed in costume as the faun, his chest bare and burnished, his gaze sultry as his lips grazed his panpipes. Considering the magnetic effect the star had on the cinema-going public, it was an inspired casting decision that may very well have sent the world Pan-crazy. Unfortunately, though the script was written, the film was never produced and by the late 1920s, the cult of Pan, and the memories of the Ballets Russes were beginning to fade.

Vaslav Nijinsky, in the title role in AFTERNOON OF A FAUN, 1912. Rudolph Valentino as a faun, 1923
Vaslav Nijinsky, in the title role in AFTERNOON OF A FAUN, 1912. Rudolph Valentino as a faun, 1923

Pan’s star may very well rise again. Indeed, perhaps he never went away. One verse from Panache’s 1920 poem ‘Pan and Peter Pan’, celebrating the immortal god’s irrepressible lust for life, is as relevant now as when it was written.

London shirkers, London workers,

Ball-room, work-room, green-room lurkers,

Do you think that Pan is dead

Or his lusty years are sped?

When the midnight hour is ticking

PAN’S alive, alive and kicking!

Snatch each hectic careless minute,

And be thankful – PAN is in it!

Answers to Correspondents

BUSY CORRESPONDENT
The agony column is not a new phenomenon. Back in the 19th century, earnest readers of The Girl’s Own Paper wrote in to the weekly publication under pseudonyms asking for advice on all manner of problems. It’s unlikely that many girls today concern themselves with pressing issues such as how to remove ink stains from ivory piano keys, the correct etiquette of visiting cards, or, thankfully, how to remove a boil from the eyeball.

The advice they received in the ‘Answers to Correspondents’ page was prescriptive, stern, sometimes harsh and often astonishingly encyclopaedic. Any indiscretions involving the opposite sex were severely reprimanded, while those with poor handwriting usually suffered a withering critique.

The questions themselves were never printed which make many of the answers all the more intriguing, and, we have to admit, occasionally hysterical.  Whoever the Girl’s Own agony aunt was, she refused to suffer fools gladly and her advice perhaps tells us more than many other contemporary sources what life must have been like for a middle class girl in the 1890s.

The First Letter'

ALICE. – A crayon copy is not eligible for exhibition at the Royal Academy.

MADGE. – Yes, there is a verse in the Bible that has all the letters of the alphabet in it. See Ezra vii. 21.

Johann Strauss II
A DALSTONIAN
. – Why do you wish to whiten your face and neck? Of course you could dip your face in a flour-barrel, or get some whitewash applied by the cook next time she whitens the scullery. But what a coarse, orange-peel-looking skin you will soon have if you fill up the pores of the face!

BLACK TOM. – 1. The girl you name as being hopelessly attached to a man she has never met but only seen at concerts, should be sent away from the foreign town where you are both staying. The story is of a most humiliating character; she disgraces the sex, the members of which should be sought, not themselves the seekers. 2. We could not hazard an opinion on what was your disease. Your writing slopes the wrong way.

ALYS and MABELLE. – ‘Nigel’ is pronounced as it is spelt; the last syllable as the first in ‘gelatine’.

SHE READS A LETTER 1889

WORRIED (but not) TO DEATH. – We know nothing of the method advertised. We can only advise you not to try it without the opinion of your own family doctor.

PUSSIE. – We cannot tell you of the diseases induced by the bad habit of eating anything not designed for food. You must be already in a very unwholesome condition. The best means of curing yourself would be to tell your mother, and request her to put a stop to it at once, if you have no strength of mind and will to cure yourself of such nasty habits.

School class in Great Britain, 1930...

MARJORIE. – 1. Your heliotrope dress will probably fade if you wash it. 2. To raise his hat on the first meeting is all that is required of a man. To do so five or six times would be ridiculous.

CUSTOMS/ETIQUETTE