Grace Brockington


Chez Boulestin

X. Marcel Boulestin, ‘Post Georgian’, The Blue Review, July 1913; and D. H. Lawrence, ‘The Georgian Renaissance’, Rhythm: Literary Supplement, no. 14, March 1913, xvii–xx.

There is an empty space in the centre of Xavier Marcel Boulestin’s ‘Post Georgian’ frontispiece to the July 1913 edition of The Blue Review – perhaps a vortex, to use an image which would have come readily to the artist’s mind at this time – which pushes the solid elements of the image to the edges and draws in our speculations. What there is in the frame gives little away, keeps us guessing. Is that a woman dancing at the back, or a representation, whether statue or painting? The figure references Percy Wyndham Lewis’s dance drawings in its Vorticist style, and in the way it suggests the vogue for dancing à l’apache, but is it one of his works, or the dancer who inspired them?1 The curtain drawn half across the back of the image conceals what? Does it furnish a theatre, gallery or the stage of a club? And the man in the foreground – so much an acolyte of Aubrey Beardsley, and so close to the viewer that he seems about to stumble into us, except that he is wandering off-page, peering intently up and over our shoulder – what has caught his attention? Certainly not the ‘post-Georgian’ dancer behind him, unless he has turned from it in disgust. Is he a Georgian relic who fails to catch the excitement of the new? Does his very indifference assert the vitality of the Georgian Renaissance despite the beckoning finger of Lewis’s modernist dancer? Or does this drawing suggest that the future lies somewhere else altogether, neither with the Georgians nor with the modernists? That somewhere is not shown here, but if we turn to follow the man’s gaze, then maybe we will find it just behind us, on our own walls or in our own reality.

There may be an element of self-portraiture, or self-caricature, in Boulestin’s depiction of the man in this drawing. French-born and Anglophile, Boulestin was part of the queer, free-thinking counter-culture created by fin-de-siècle aesthetes like Beardsley and Oscar Wilde. Not for him the macho, misogynistic, aggressively heterosexual version of modernism promoted by Lewis and his Vorticist friends. Boulestin was a Bohemian, dandy and bon viveur who haunted London’s music-halls and theatres and wrote up his impressions of the city for various French and British magazines. He promoted his own version of modern life through Decoration Moderne, the interior design shop which he opened in Belgravia in 1911 and which imported fabrics, furnishings and ‘a few fine pieces of Negro art’ from all over Europe.2 It is striking that he published his visual rebuff to Lewis’s art and aesthetics at the very moment when the Rebel Art Centre – Lewis’s short-lived (March – July 1913) repost to the Omega Workshops interior design company – collapsed due to internal disagreement. The closure was by no means a disaster for Lewis, as the Centre had already done its most important work as a launchpad for the Vorticist movement and its journal Blast (first published June 1914), but it must have left onlookers such as Boulestin wondering ‘where next?’ for this most adversarial and ‘post Georgian’ leader of the London avant-garde.

‘Georgian’ in this context referred to the first anthology of Georgian Poetry (1912), which published the work of seventeen contemporary poets, among them D. H. Lawrence, Rupert Brooke, Walter de la Mare and John Drinkwater – those being some of the names which have survived from a group which now seems to incorporate both old and new, famous and obscure. When Lawrence described it as ‘like a big breath taken when we are waking up after a night of oppressive dreams’, he certainly did not imagine that the movement was passé.3 His review, entitled ‘the Georgian Renaissance’, which he published in the journal Rhythm in March 1913, came out just as Lewis had launched the Rebel Art Centre, but it anticipated a different future for the arts in Britain. Where Lewis campaigned for a new, hard-edged, industrial art which would demolish Victorian values, Lawrence saw the late Victorians as nihilists in their own right. The new, Georgian generation promised instead an inevitable renewal: a poetry of hope, belief and love, which he identified as a Romantic reaction against realism.4 ‘Life is like an orange tree, always in leaf and bud, in blossom and fruit’, he assures us. The Renaissance of the future is imminent, and it will be achieved through a celebration of the body and its passions, love spiritual and physical, and ‘the return of the blood’ that had been stopped by recent campaigns of cultural demolition.

If we read anachronistically, there is a painful irony in Lawrence’s insistence that human blood ‘contains all the future’, because so much of it would soon be spilt on the battlefields of the First World War.5 Brooke would become a war poet and die in service, Lewis would serve in France as a soldier and Official War Artist, and most modernist groups would disband. The multiple and conflicting possibilities for Renaissance in 1913 – cultural, political, social – were to be swept up and away by world events which few had yet anticipated. Both Georgians and Vorticists, the two alternatives presented in Boulestin’s drawing, gave way to the new cultural forms of the 1920s. Looking back, we might fancy that the man in Boulestin’s drawing glimpsed these distant events, although neither he nor Boulestin could have known as much.

The ‘where next’ for Boulestin himself turned out to be food. After war service in France as an interpreter to the British army, he found that the London market for décoration moderne had dried up. During the 1920s, he reinvented himself as a chef, restauranteur and cookery writer. Again, as throughout his career, he acted as a conduit between French and British culture through publications such as Simple French Cooking for English Homes (1923). His restaurant in Covent Garden, called simply Restaurant Boulestin, was decorated by such French modernists artists as Marie Laurencin and Raoul Dufy. There was something of the avant-garde club about this establishment, with its circus-themed murals and rich colouring, and the fact that the food was so good that the establishment ran at a loss, despite the pricey menu. It was the place to be: ‘crammed night after night with customers from the Savoy, Ritz and Carlton belt, stage starts, artists, writers, royalty and High Bohemia’, as Elizabeth David tells us.6 For Boulestin, the restaurant was a labour of love which he subsidised through his writing. It caught the spirit of cosmopolitan, Francophile London in the 1920s, just as the Cave of the Golden Calf, the Omega Workshops, the Rebel Art Centre – all these transient meeting-places – had caught its spirit in the early 1910s. πάντα ῥεῖ we might proclaim with Heraclitus, everything flows; or with Picasso: ‘every act of creation begins with an act of destruction’; or with Lawrence and the Georgians, that ‘Every new religion is a waste-product from the last’.7 In the face of global disaster, whether war or pandemic, there is always an after.

  1. For an analysis of Lewis’s dance studies in the context of popular dance culture, see Lisa Tickner, Modern Life and Modern Subjects: British Art in the Early Twentieth Century (London; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 79–115.
  2. X. Marcel Boulestin, Ease and Endurance (London: Home and Van Thal., 1948), 58.
  3. D. H. Lawrence, ‘The Georgian Renaissance’, Rhythm: Literary Supplement, no. 14, March 1913, xvii.
  4. Lawrence, ‘The Georgian Renaissance’, xix.
  5. Lawrence, ‘The Georgian Renaissance’, xix.
  6. Elizabeth David, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, 1984.
  7. Lawrence, ‘The Georgian Renaissance’, xix.

Submission Title

Chez Boulestin.

Submission Location

Restaurant Boulestin.

Manifesto Statement

πάντα ῥεῖ - everything flows (Heraclitus, C5th BC).

Additional Responses from F8

The name of someone in your field you admire

One narrative idea

Somebody like Boulestin who came to London from outside and wrote about it as a resident observer (there were others like him, e.g. the Japanese writer Yone Noguchi’s series on ‘The Colours of London’) – could serve as a narrator or linking devise in the film.

Details of a location, real or imagined, where a filmic scene could take place

One of the London clubs, cafes or restaurants which served a a temporary centre for artists to meet. e.g. the Café Royal, one of the Chelsea Theatres, Boulestin’s itself. In many cases the buildings are still there.

F8 Response Prompt Material

The Blue Review
(1 July 1913)

Post Georgian
by X. Marcel Boulestin

(15 December 1913)

The Georgian Renaissance
page 17

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