Saturday, November 27, 2010

On Austria, Assimilation and Art - The Hare With The Amber Eyes

I have been super busy these last few days, as I'm sure that you gathered from my lack of posting and commenting on all of your blogs. 
It is the season, after all, and the Christmas crunch is on.

Do you read only one book at a time or do you have several books going simultaneously?
I generally have 3 entirely different types of books going at the same time; a downloaded audio book on my iPod, a downloaded book on my nook (like a kindle) and an actual physical book.

Last week while finishing 'The Hare with the Amber Eyes' on my nook and 'Marie Antoinette' on my iPod, I was struck with the similar theme that runs through both books, the concept of being 'The Other'. 

No matter how Francais the Austrian born Marie Antoinette became, including bearing the dauphin, she was never truly accepted as the Queen of France.  She was libeled and maligned in print in Paris.  She was accused of cuckolding the King and of having numerous lovers.  She was blamed for adding to the national debt, for hoarding wheat during the low harvest and for virtually everything else that was wrong in France.  No matter what she did  for France, she remained 'The Other', an easy target and scapegoat for all that was wrong.

Stepping into the next century we have the flourishing of the Ephrussi family, a highly successful Russian Jewish Family that expanded their grain trading business in Odessa into a European banking powerhouse that rivaled the Rothchilde's. With branches of the family in London, Paris, Lucerne and Vienna, the great wealth enabled the family to become patrons of the arts and of the cultures of their respective cities.

Note the man in the top hat in Renoir's The Boating Party.  That was Charles Ephrussi, art historian, owner of the Parisian art journal La Gazette and patron of the Impressionists. 
He was also the model of Proust's character Charles Swann of 'Rememberance of Things Past'.

Amongst his vast art collection was a group of 264 netsuke which he purchased at the onset of the French fascination with all things Japonnais in 19th Century Paris.
'The Hare With The Amber Eyes' traces the journey of these netsuke from Charles'  elegantly art filled Palais Ephrussi to his nephew and niece at the Ephrussi Palais on the Ringstrasse in Vienna, to post WW2 Japan and finally to the author, British artist and Eprhussi descendant, Edmund de Waal.

As with the great nouveau riche families of 19th Century Europe, the Viennese branch of the Ephrussi were highly educated. Vicktor read history as he reluctantly took over as the head of the bank.  His daughter Elisabeth Ephrussi was the first woman to graduate with a degree in Law from the University of Vienna. All members of the family spoke Russian, French, English and German fluently.  They were full citizens of the Hapsburg Empire and loyal supporters of the Emperor.  They were titled. 
They were completely assimilated.
Or so they though.

All this of course changed with Kristallnacht.
They were 'The Other'.
But unlike Marie Antoinette, they were able to leave everything behind and survive.

This week I've been thinking about Thanksgiving, and about all of the things that I am thankful for...and there many. On this most American of holidays, I am indeed thankful that America is perhaps the only country where immigrants can indeed assimilate and become truly American. 

'The Hare With The Amber Eyes' is the best book that I have read all year and if you like History and Art History I encourage you to read it.
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Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff. I can't speak for America as it was founded on a different premise to Britain but I'm all for closing our Borders. I wish we had never taken on so many immigrants. I think our intrinsic culture has been eroded and we may lose our sense of self in future generations.

Couture Allure Vintage Fashion said...

Thanks for the recommend! I'll put 'The Hare with the Amber Eyes' on my reading list tout de suite. If you haven't read it, Susan Vreeland's 'Luncheon of the Boating Party' is a good read about Auguste Renoir and the story behind the painting.

Belle de Ville said...

Tabitha: I can certainly understand the issue for a small country, in terms of actual land, such as the UK, for restricting immigration. Not to mention the cultural problems brought by huge groups that move to England, but who don't assimilate.
The US is huge and still has space for more. (and a need for educated people)
What I believe we do need is immigrants who become Americanized, not clans living in their own closed neighborhoods, speaking a foreign language and importing a conflicting culture.

CA: Thank you for the book idea. I will order it from Amazon.

Christina @ Fashion's Most Wanted said...

Dear Belle, I have so many books and am rubbish at finishing anything lately, it's a shame because I love reading. I've been wanting a holiday so all I can do is read. Hope you've had a good weekend xx

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

Immigration. :::sigh::: The US was NEVER founded as a multicultural, multiracial empire. That is has been (partly) transformed into one in recent years, in direct contradiction of the Founders (who intended the US to belong to their progeny), is testament to the accomplishments of liberals and capitalists working together over decades to subvert and overturn the White Republic.

That they have spent decades doing so, is an implicit admission on their part that the US was founded as a White Republic.

The English philosopher Roger Scruton, in his newly-published book The Uses of Pessimism, writes:

"Since the 1960s western countries have adopted policies in the matter of immigration that no person schooled in the elementary truths of pessimism would have endorsed. Anybody who has studied the fate of empires, and the difficulties of establishing territorial jurisdiction over communities that differ in religion, language and marital customs, knows that the task is all but impossible, and threatens constantly to break down in fragmentation, tribalism or civil war.”

Thanks to disastrous immigration policy, the US is headed for conflict and bloodshed on a scale that we probably can only imagine in fantasy/sci-fi novels, as horrible as it is. I find it hard to believe that few others don't see where we're going.

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

The last sentence should read:

"I find it hard to believe that so few others see where we're going."

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