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1893 in art

Albert Edelfelt - Larin Paraske

Albert Edelfelt – Larin Paraske

Édouard Vuillard - The Seamstress

Édouard Vuillard – The Seamstress


Eero Järnefelt – Raatajat Rahanalaiset (Under The Yoke)

Henri-Edmond Cross - The Evening Air

Henri-Edmond Cross – The Evening Air

Lawrence Alma-Tadema – Unconscious Rivals

Lawrence Alma-Tadema – Unconscious Rivals

Olga Boznańska – Self-portrait

Olga Boznańska – Self-portrait

Paul Gauguin - The Ancestors of Tehamana (Merahi metua no Tehamana)

Paul Gauguin – The Ancestors of Tehamana (Merahi metua no Tehamana)

Peder Severin Krøyer – Summer Evening on Skagen's Southern Beach

Peder Severin Krøyer – Summer Evening on Skagen’s Southern Beach

Ramon Casas - Over My Dead Body

Ramon Casas – Over My Dead Body

Władysław Podkowiński – Frenzy of Exultations

Władysław Podkowiński – Frenzy of Exultations



Edvard Munch and The Scream

Edvard Munch - The Scream

First exhibited in 1893 in Berlin, The Scream was the culmination of Munch’s magnum opus, a series of paintings called The Frieze of Life. This depicted the course of human existence through burgeoning love and sexual passion to suffering, despair and death, in Munch’s highly original, proto-expressionist style. His titles, from Death in the Sickroom, through Madonna to The Vampire, suggest just how directly and unironically he sought to depict the anxieties of late-19th century Europe. But against all Munch’s images, it is The Scream which stands out as the work which has seared itself into the Western imagination. It remains widely celebrated for capturing the torment of existence in what appeared to many in Munch’s time to be a frightening, godless world.

BBC Radio 4 In Our Time – Munch and The Scream

Oscar Wilde – Salome


Salomé is a rare instance in British theatrical history of an authentically ‘Symbolist’ drama. This means that it belongs with an innovative group of plays produced in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Conceived as an alternative to naturalism and the kind of plays that purported to represent life by reproducing everyday habits of speech and physical behaviour in recognisable environments, ‘Symbolist’ drama made use of poetic language and pictorial settings to invoke the inner lives of characters. Released from the constraints of the here-and-now it was free to express all manner of emotions both spiritual and sensual.

John Stokes – Salomé: symbolism, decadence and censorship

Oscar Wilde – Salomé (Original text in French)
Oscar Wilde – Salomé (English translation)
Oscar Wilde – Salomé (Free audio at Librivox)
Oscar Wilde – Salomé (Ken Russell production from 1988)




Grover Cleveland’s Upper Palate


Grover Cleveland seems like a very suitable president for the tail-end of the Gilded Age, with the demeanor of a wealthy industrialist, a magnificent walrus moustache, a wife half his age and an obsession with the incomprehensible issue of the gold standard while the reconstruction of the South was being rolled back.

A year into his second (non-consesecutive!) term, he sought the advice of the White House doctor about a persistent ulcer. A sample was taken, cancer was diagnosed, and a decision was made to secretly operate, on a yacht somewhere off Long Island, then to replace the president’s upper left jaw and hard palate.

More on this strange little story (and the rest of his career) can be found at the Washington Post’s ‘Presidential’ podcast here.

Blacksmith Scene


Produced by William Dickson at Edison’s Black Maria studio in New Jersey, Blacksmith Scene is the earliest example of a staged scene with actors playing roles.

Lizzie Borden

Lizzie Borden 2

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.


On June 20th 1893 Lizzie Borden was acquitted of the murder of her parents, but her reputation hasn’t really recovered in the years since.

Stuff You Missed In History Class have a podcast about her trial, including some new evidence which may shed some light on the case.

The World’s Columbian Exposition and The Devil in the White City


Worlds Fairs range from the spectacular (The Great Exhibition in London in 1851, The Exposition Universelle  in Paris in 1889) to the middling (did you know Expo 2017 is taking place right now in Kazakhstan right now?) but surely none can have changed the world as much as the World’s Columbian Exposition which took place in Chicago in 1893. Among other things the fair saw

  • The first large-scale use of AC electricity, ending the war of the currents
  • The City Beautiful movement and the start of modern city planning
  • Eadweard Muybridge showing his moving pictures to a paying public in the first commercial movie theater
  • Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show fixing the image of the “Wild West”
  • The Ferris Wheel, designed and constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr
  • Scott Joplin, who became widely known for his piano playing at the fair and ragtime music, which had its first large-scale public exposure
  • The Pledge of Allegiance first performed by a mass of school children lined up in military fashion
  • The first moving walkway or travelator, which ran in a loop down the length of a lakefront pier to a casino
  • Cream of Wheat, Juicy Fruit gum, Quaker Oats and Shredded Wheat
  • Pabst Select being renamed Pabst Blue Ribbon following its win as “America’s Best” at the fair
  • The 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions, the first formal gathering of representatives of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions from around the world
  • Little Egypt introducing America to the suggestive version of the belly dance known as the “hootchy-kootchy”, to the tune said to have been improvised by Sol Bloom which now serves as the theme tune to anything exotically Middle-Eastern
  • Milton Hershey buying a European exhibitor’s chocolate manufacturing equipment and adding chocolate products to his caramel manufacturing business
  • A device that made possible the printing of books in Braille
  • The third rail, giving electric power to elevated trains
  • The first fully electrical kitchen including an automatic dishwasher
  • The first modern serial killer, Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, who killed up to 200 people in his specially-constructed “Murder Castle” three miles from the fair



The last of these was, naturally, not an advertised attraction, but the two are skillfully intertwined in the book The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Both were immense, ambitious construction projects which required single-minded planning, and both architects exploited the industriousness and anonymity of the modern city, though to very different ends. Though at times the book feels like a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster, with disconnected themes tied together with the flimsiest of thematic threads, it’s still both informative and very readable, and it’s hard to ask for much more in narrative nonfiction (I cannot speak for its accuracy, of course.)

Erik Larson – The Devil in the White City