Cabaret Theatre Club. The Cave of the Golden Calf.

LEWIS Wyndham (1912.)


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Four pieces of ephemera relating to the founding of this seminal artistic establishment. (1) 4to brochure, 275 mm x 220 mm, 4 leaves on two different paper stocks, in original pictorial wrappers. 6 reproductions of drawings by Lewis printed on plain paper, one half-tone reproduction of "A wall-decoration in the Cave of the Golden Calf", and one half-tone reproduction after Albert Rothenstein illustrating "The Nautch Girl" by Granville Bantock, "To be danced in the Cave of the Golden Calf, June 1912." (2) "Preliminary Prospectus". Single folded sheet, printed on two pages, with large illustration, seemingly an original lino- or wood-cut, incorporating lettering, attributed uncertainly by Richard Cork to Wyndham Lewis (but in the cataloguer's humble opinion more likely to be by Spencer Gore) (3) An application form, 270 x 220 mm. (4) An application form for the application form [sic]. The second and third items printed on "vegetable parchment" [aka greaseproof baking paper) London, April 

A rare group of material from the launch of the "Cabaret Theatre Club, at the Cave of the Golden Calf", London's quintessential avante-garde artistic nightclub, founded by the brilliant (if unbalanced) Frida Strindberg, and decorated with artwork by some of the most important artists of the new century.

The club sought to address the drabness of the tradition-bound London entertainment scene and was a brilliant success, despite a short life span of less than two years, during the second year of which it was limping under the administration of Receivers. The spirit of the times demanded a manifesto, and the club's promotional brochure (item 1 of this group) includes the constitution (the board included Arnold Bennett, Arthur Machen and Lord Dunsany) an extended statement of its goals ("Our aims have the simplicity of a need"), with a programme for their first week, "the character of which can be best suggested by the names of some of the authors and composers under whose banners we range ourselves: - Abercrombie, Villiers de l'Isle Adam, John Davidson, Walter Delamare [xic], Arthur Machen, T. Sturge Moore, Ezra Pound, August Strindberg, Frank Wedekind, Yeats; Granville Bantock, Delius, Holbrooke, Raoul Lapara, Ernest Moret, Florence Schmitt, Dalhousie Young". The sentiments expressed are all admirable: "We want a place given up to gaiety, to a gaiety stimulating thought . .  that does not have to count with midnight ... We do not want to Continentalise, we only want to do away, to some degree, with the distinction that the word 'Continental' implies, and with the necessity of crossing the Channel to laugh freely, and to sit up after nursery hours ... [to] create a surrounding which, if it has no other merit, will at least endeavour to limit emigration."

The nightclub must be one of the most transient cultural forms, and the Golden Calf lives in the history of the twentieth century by virtue of the art work that was an essential part of its appeal. Ironically, these few pieces of printed ephemera (and a small handful of other similar items) are the only survivors of the venture, since it would seem that all the art work produced for it is now lost, and most of it was only modestly recorded at the time or known only in preliminary sketches. Richard Cork provides a sad litany of lost pieces: Spencer Gore, Deer-Hunting mural in the Cave of the Golden Calf; Charles Ginner Tiger-Hunting Mural in the Cave of the Golden Calf; Wyndham Lewis Kermesse; Eric Gill Bas-Relief of the Golden Calf; Eric Gill, The Golden Calf; Jacob Epstein, sculptural plaster surrounds for structural columns.

These artworks decorated an otherwise stark basement in a cul-de-sac off Regent Street in a unified scheme conceived by Strindberg ("the vision which shaped the overall character of the club belonged to her alone" - Cork). Strindberg's taste in this was informed by Augustus John, with whom she was infatuated, an infatuation which inevitably ended badly (for John was not a man to be monopolised in the matter of affection), and led to the choice of Wyndham Lewis, Joseph Epstein, Eric Gill, Spencer Gore and Charles Ginner to carry out the works. The theme, the worship of the Golden Calf, the golden idol to whom the dissenting Israelites paid homage in defiance of Moses, was a powerfully profane and sensual one, well suited to the changing times. Gore accepted the job of being the overall designer, of organising the publicity, and supervising the works, and with his characteristic modesty and amiability pulled off the "unenviable task of seeing that all the proud and quarrelsome individuals working on the decorations executed their commissions with the requisite amount of collaborative good humour." [Cork] Both the Cave and the Club were a great success, capturing the febrile intoxication of pre-war London, channeling the energy of futurism in a blend of Mittel-European café culture and British music-hall. Violet Hunt wrote "We were poised on the point of a needle, trembling in space ... under the walls covered with Wyndham Lewis's raw meat designs"; Osbert Sitwell described it as a "super-heated Vorticist garden of gesticulating figures, dancing and talking while the rhythm of the primitive forms of ragtime throbbed through the wide room"; Ezra Pound saw "Madame Strindberg wave a customer away from her table, saying as she did so that sleep with him she would, but talk to him, never: 'One must draw the line somewhere.'"; David Bomberg wrote how "all of us wined and dined to contentment. Lewis was threatening to punch Nevinson for daring to claim that ... it was Lewis and not Nevinson who kissed Marinetti's hand first" 

A contemporary journalist called Ashley Gibson described Strindberg as " ... amazingly masterful, intelligent, and in her way fascinating ... [with] a mesmeric faculty for getting people to do things for her ...[and] a rare discrimination in her choice of accomplices. Instinct led her without fail to select the young men who mattered, or were going to." Augustus John's verdict is a bit terser: "‘the walking hell-bitch of the Western World", while Nevinson described her at greateer length but to much the same effect as "the origin, or shall we say one of the inspirations, of Strindberg's tirades against women in general and married women in particular." The Golden Calf followed at least one previous enterprise, according to Nevinson, of a gypsy-themed supper club where the dining part went wrong, and she could offer nothing to the diners except a photograph of a hedgehog. Richard Cork described her as "hopelessly unreliable ... mischievous, irritating, capricious, enterprising and undoubtedly unique.."

A brilliant account of the history of the club is given by Richard Cork in his ART BEYOND THE GALLERY. 


Stock Code: 221804

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