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A History of British Banknotes

The first recorded use of paper money was in the 7th century in China. However, the practice did not become widespread in Europe for nearly a thousand years.

In the 16th century the goldsmith-bankers began to accept deposits, make loans and transfer funds. They also gave receipts for cash, that is to say gold coins, deposited with them. These receipts, known as “running cash notes”, were made out in the name of the depositor and promised to pay him on demand.

Many also carried the words “or bearer” after the name of the depositor, which allowed them to circulate in a limited way. In 1694 the Bank of England was established in order to raise money for King William III’s war against France. Almost immediately the Bank started to issue notes in return for deposits. Like the goldsmiths’ notes, the crucial feature that made Bank of England notes a means of exchange was the promise to pay the bearer the sum of the note on demand. This meant that the note could be redeemed at the Bank for gold or coinage by anyone presenting it for payment; if it was not redeemed in full, it was endorsed with the amount withdrawn. These notes were initially handwritten on Bank paper and signed by one of the Bank’s cashiers. They were made out for the precise sum deposited in pounds, shillings and pence. However, after the recoinage of 1696 reduced the need for small denomination notes, it was decided not to issue any notes for sums of less than £50. Since the average income in this period was less than £20 a year, most people went through life without ever coming into contact with banknotes.

During the 18th century there was a gradual move toward fixed denomination notes. From 1725 the Bank was issuing partly printed notes for completion in manuscript. The £ sign and the first digit were printed but other numerals were added by hand, as were the name of the payee, the cashier’s signature, the date and the number. Notes could be for uneven amounts, but the majority were for round sums. By 1745 notes were being part printed in denominations ranging from £20 to £1,000.

In 1759, gold shortages caused by the Seven Years War forced the Bank to issue a £10 note for the first time. The first £5 notes followed in 1793 at the start of the war against Revolutionary France. This remained the lowest denomination until 1797, when a series of runs on the Bank, caused by the uncertainty of the war, drained its bullion reserve to the point where it was forced to stop paying out gold for its notes. Instead, it issued £1 and £2 notes. The Restriction Period, as it was known, lasted until 1821 after which gold sovereigns took the place of the £1 and £2 notes. The Restriction Period prompted the Irish playwright and MP, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, to refer angrily to the Bank as “… an elderly lady in the City”. This was quickly changed by cartoonist, James Gillray, to the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, a name that has stuck ever since.

The first fully printed notes appeared in 1853 relieving the cashiers of the task of filling in the name of the payee and signing each note individually. The practice of writing the name of the Chief Cashier as the payee on notes was halted in favour of the anonymous “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of …”, which has remained unchanged on notes to this day. The printed signature on the note continued to be that of one of three cashiers until 1870, since when it has always been that of the Chief Cashier.

The First World War saw the link with gold broken once again; the Government needed to preserve its stock of bullion and the Bank ceased to pay out gold for its notes. In 1914 the Treasury printed and issued 10 shilling and £1 notes, a task which the Bank took over in 1928. The gold standard was partially restored in 1925 and the Bank was again obliged to exchange its notes for gold, but only in multiples of 400 ounces or more. Britain finally left the gold standard in 1931 and the note issue became entirely fiduciary, that is wholly backed by securities instead of gold.

The Bank has not always been the sole issuer of bank notes in England and Wales. Acts of 1708 and 1709 had given it a partial monopoly by making it unlawful for companies or partnerships of more than six people to set up banks and issue notes. The ban did not extend to the many provincial bankers – the so-called country bankers – who were all either individuals or small family concerns. However, the Country Bankers’ Act of 1826 allowed the establishment of note issuing joint-stock banks with more than six partners, but not within 65 miles of London. The Act also allowed the Bank of England to open branches in major provincial cities, which gave it more outlets for its notes.

In 1833 the Bank’s notes were made legal tender for all sums above £5 in England and Wales so that, in the event of a crisis, the public would still be willing to accept the Bank’s notes and its bullion reserves would be safeguarded. It was the 1844 Bank Charter Act which was the key to the Bank achieving its gradual monopoly of the note issue in England and Wales. Under the Act no new banks of issue could be established and existing note issuing banks were barred from expanding their issue. Those, whose issues lapsed, because, for example, they merged with a non-issuing bank, forfeited their right of issue. The last private bank notes in England and Wales were issued by the Somerset bank, Fox, Fowler and Co in 1921.

a British £5 note
a British £5 note

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Primarily emerging in Germany and Austria during the first decade of 20th century, the flexible concept of Expressionism refers to art that emphasizes the extreme expressive properties of pictorial form in order to explore subjective emotions and inner psychological truths.

Although much influenced by the work of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Edvard Munch, the artists who pioneered Expressionism departed even further from traditional notions of recording the appearance of reality than the Post-Impressionists or the Symbolists had.

They were also influenced by Henri Matisse and the other Fauves, the Cubists, African and Oceanic art, and the folk art of Germany and Russia. In conjunction with poets, dramatists, and other writers, they championed idealist values and freedom from the constricting forces and repressive materialism of bourgeois society.

One prominent Expressionist group, Die Brücke (The Bridge), which was active as a group from 1905 to 1913, included founders Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff as well as Otto Müller, Emil Nolde (for a brief period), and Max Pechstein.

Members of Die Brücke conveyed pictorially the Modernist themes of alienation, anxiety, and social fragmentation. They employed emotionally charged images, a primitive simplification of form, a deliberate crudeness of figuration, agitated brushwork, and powerful, often violent juxtapositions of intense color.

Expressionism is characterised by distortion, exaggeration, primitivism and fantasy through the vivid, jarring, violent, or dynamic application of formal elements to strongly impose the artist’s own sensibility to the world’s representations.munch-the-scream

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The History of Porcelain

d7ad1e09d5Introduction of pottery Zen priests are linked with two very characteristic elements of Japanese culture: the exquisite simplicity of Japanese ceramics; and the polite formalities of the Tea Ceremony for which much of the pottery is designed. In 1223 a Zen monk takes a Japanese potter, Kato Shirozaemon, to China to study the manufacture of ceramics. This is a period, in the Song dynasty, when the Chinese potters have achieved a perfection of simplicity. The Japanese, in the same vein, will evolve their own styles to rival this perfection. The Japanese potter, returning home, establishes himself at Seto. This rapidly becomes a center for the manufacture of pottery, with as many as 200 kilns in the dtrict. Seto has retained ever since the status of the classical pottery region of Japan. Much of the early Seto output is temmoku – stoneware cups and bowls with a black or iron-brown glaze, in direct imitation of the contemporary Chinese style. This becomes much in demand with the increasing popularity in the samurai class of the Tea Ceremony, in which a mood of rustic simplicity is required.

Introduction of porcelain In the early 17th century potters succeeded in firing the first soft paste porcelain after the discovery of suitable raw materials in Arita. Within just 30 years, the production of blue-white porcelain was flourishing. Between 1643-1647, Sakaida Kaiemon developed the technique of polychrome over glaze enamel for porcelain. This porcelain with polychrome painting was appearing in various styles, such as ko-imari, with its sumptuous brocade style. In accordance with the changing wishes of the aristocracy to have an elaborately equipped tea ceremony, as well as the requirements of the urban elites for high-quality domestic wares, an innovation followed in Kyoto in the mid 17 century in the form of overglaze-decorated stoneware by Nonomura Ninsei and Ogata Kenzan. With their decorative styles, both artists and their pupils influenced the development of ceramics far beyond the bounds of Kyoto. Many potters from provinces were sent by their feudal loads or by rich merchants to be trained in Kyoto, or the Kyoto masters were invited to the provinces

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Banksy: Psyching Out the Gift Shop

Exit Through the Gift Shop marked the feature-film debut of notorious street artist Banksy. The documentary’s focus was French-born L.A. thrift-shop owner Thierry Guetta, whose apparent compulsion to videotape every moment of his life leads him to document the phenomenon of contemporary street art. Guetta’s cousin, a street artist known as Space Invader, allows the avid cameraman to tape him as he illegally produces his art. Eventually, Guetta hooks up with Shepard Fairey, best known for his widespread stickers featuring an image of Andre the Giant over the word “OBEY.” Guetta soon hears about the mysterious street artist Banksy, and becomes obsessed with finding him and videotaping his exploits. Thanks to Guettta’s growing reputation among street artists, the two eventually meet and form a sort of partnership. Guetta even videotapes Banksy’s infamous “Gitmo” prank at Disneyland, wherein a handcuffed, hooded figure in an orange jumpsuit is placed beside one of the rides. They get along quite well until Banksy suggests that Guetta stop shooting, take the countless hours of footage he’s accumulated, and start assembling them into a documentary. Banksy eventually takes over the documentary project, and inadvertently pushes Guetta’s creative energy in a new direction, as Guetta becomes a kind of street artist himself, with shocking results, leading to much speculation as to the documentary’s veracity and the provenance of Guetta, his videotape, and his artwork.


He is a national treasure: but he won’t be accepting a TV viewers’ award from Ant and Dec any time soon. Street artist, situationist and public-space japester Banksy is famed for his snogging coppers, simpering apes and for debunking Israel’s new West Bank barrier with graffiti. First shown in the director’s own pop-up cinema in an underpass in London’s Waterloo before moving on to more conventional locations, Exit Through the Gift Shop, like many of his graffitied images, is a kind of cinematic trompe l’oeil.

There have been notable hoax-oriented films in the recent past: such as The Blair Witch Project, Borat and the complete works of Lars von Trier. Exit Through the Gift Shop is in this genial tradition. Orson Welles made F for Fake; Banksy has made W for Windup. As a documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop is as about as reliable and structurally sound as that house-front with the strategically placed window that falls on top of Buster Keaton. As entertainment, though, it works very well.

Introducing it at the Berlin film festival – he appeared on video with his face in darkness – the artist himself cheerfully declared he hoped that it would do for street art what The Karate Kid did for martial arts. Like karate, street art is more difficult than it looks, particularly the trick of making a living from it, maintaining a combat-ready crew of studio assistants, and all the time persuading an ever-widening circle of professional acquaintance to keep the secret of your anonymity.

What the film does, or purports to do, is take a sideways look at Banksy and the new explosion of street artists, particularly in Los Angeles. The practitioners, at the outset of their careers at least, were unpaid graffiti-outlaws, pulling off daring and often dangerous visual stunts for the sheer hell of it: people like Shepard Fairey, who incessantly replicated his Andre image on the sides of buildings, a fat staring man over the single word “Obey”. Fairey eventually became conventionally celebrated for his Barack Obama Hope poster.

At the centre of the film is the apparent friendship between Banksy and one of his biggest fans, Thierry Guetta, an LA-based Frenchman with a lucrative retro clothing business and a passion for making videos. Guetta got fascinated in the LA street art scene, followed the artists around and shot miles of unusable video in the hope of making a documentary. Eventually he seems to have made the acquaintance of Banksy himself, filming his “Guantánamo” stunt in the precincts of Disneyland: propping up an orange-jumpsuited life-sized doll near a ride.

With pixelated tongue in blanked-out cheek, Banksy claims that he persuaded Guetta not to make his own film, but to be the star of this one, and then to be an artist himself. In no time, Guetta is somehow producing hundreds of suspiciously accomplished Warhol-Banksy pop art-style knockoffs for a colossal Los Angeles show under his new street-art name “Mr Brainwash”. Well, Thierry Guetta may well exist – but at the mention of his Mr Brainwash output, you may feel a strange tugging sensation on your leg. This could be the most startling debutant in the art scene since novelist William Boyd told us all about the neglected genius Nat Tate –but Mr Brainwash’s works are available for purchase, which is more than I can say for Nat Tate.

You’re under no compunction to take the film seriously: but it does offer an insight, of a teasingly incomplete and semi-fictionalised sort, into Banksy’s working life. We see his helpers carry away a London telephone box, take it to pieces in his workshop, replace the wackily twisted result in its original position and film the response from passersby. Nobody scratches their head or strokes their chin and wonders if it is “art” or if its creator might have “sold out”. They just laugh their heads off. They enjoy it: it is absolutely hilarious and this, to my perhaps naive and untutored eye, is the most compelling argument in favour of Banksy and in favour of this chaotic film.

The same goes for Banksy’s Diana tenners: he shows a cardboard box full of real-looking £10 notes with Princess Diana’s face on instead of the Queen’s. These things could get him arrested for forgery. Like Mr Brainwash, they are inspired counterfeits. Perhaps the point of Banksy’s art is that it inhales the wild spirit of forgery: his work makes free with brand identities and the symbols of authority, it replicates them, debunks and devalues them, it is a form of benign subversion. And he could be an important artist or just a silly fad – either way, in the street and with this film, he’s providing pleasure while he lasts.Banksy-001

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Jackson Pollock, the giant of abstract expressionism

pollock.number-8Pollock, Jackson (1912-56). American painter, the commanding figure of the Abstract Expressionist movement.

He began to study painting in 1929 at the Art Students’ League, New York, under the Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton. During the 1930s he worked in the manner of the Regionalists, being influenced also by the Mexican muralist painters (Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros) and by certain aspects of Surrealism. From 1938 to 1942 he worked for the Federal Art Project. By the mid 1940s he was painting in a completely abstract manner, and the `drip and splash’ style for which he is best known emerged with some abruptness in 1947. Instead of using the traditional easel he affixed his canvas to the floor or the wall and poured and dripped his paint from a can; instead of using brushes he manipulated it with `sticks, trowels or knives’ (to use his own words), sometimes obtaining a heavy impasto by an admixture of `sand, broken glass or other foreign matter’. This manner of Action painting had in common with Surrealist theories of automatism that it was supposed by artists and critics alike to result in a direct expression or revelation of the unconscious moods of the artist.

Pollock’s name is also associated with the introduction of the All-over style of painting which avoids any points of emphasis or identifiable parts within the whole canvas and therefore abandons the traditional idea of composition in terms of relations among parts. The design of his painting had no relation to the shape or size of the canvas — indeed in the finished work the canvas was sometimes docked or trimmed to suit the image. All these characteristics were important for the new American painting which matured in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

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Woman I, Willem deKooning

Willem de Kooning (1904-97), even more than his contemporary Jackson Pollock, initiated liberty, imposition and urban energy in modern American art.

Pollock is celebrated as an “action painter”, and his fame, as de Kooning said, blazed a trail for American artists – yet Pollock’s style is in fact classically ordered, a vision of nature (he painted most successfully in rural Long Island) in which he insisted there is “no chaos, dammit!”

The chaos is in de Kooning. Born in Rotterdam and arriving illegally in the US in 1926, de Kooning was a caustic, gritty, dirty-minded painter. His paintings exist on a colossal scale, even though, in contrast to Pollock or Rothko, they are recognisable as traditional European-style pictures. De Kooning’s canvases feel as if they were made with a giant hand, yet the wide smears of paint are unexpectedly delicate, the colours pink and aquamarine. He was the greatest colourist since Matisse.

De Kooning’s mentor in New York was the Armenian immigrant artist Arshile Gorky; classic de Kooning abstractions such as Attic (1949) suggest forms being crushed, chopped, hammered into the flat world of the painting, taking Gorky’s ideas and making them harsher.
Subject: De Kooning described the figurative motif of this painting not as a representation but as a thing slapped on the canvas, liberating him from formal anxieties. Woman I “did one thing for me: it eliminated composition, arrangement, relationships, light, because that [motif] was the one thing I wanted to get hold of. I thought I might as well stick to the idea that it’s got two eyes, a nose and mouth and neck.”

Distinguishing features: Eyes as big as grenades, teeth grinning violently, huge limbs, mountainous breasts – this “woman” is exaggerated, absurdly physical and at the same time, not there at all, a spewed atrocity of nature in. fantasy, a crude graffito that took two anguished years to paint. Pink legs stick out of a red and yellow white-flecked inferno of skirt, the white clouds of the bosom float in de Kooning’s mind as apocalyptically remote as the bride that hangs above the bachelors in Duchamp’s Large Glass.

This is a ballad of sexual frustration. If you had to visualise de Kooning’s relationship to the woman, you would picture him trying to make polite conversation, or ignoring her sitting across from him on the subway, while desire pounded his brain.

It is a darkly comical painting, in contrast to the tragic vision of a Rothko or late Pollock, but it would be missing the point to see it as “figurative” in the British sense; on the contrary, it opens up new areas of erotic, everyday life to abstract art. Compare it with Bacon or Freud and you see how remote this painting is from the melancholy of traditional figuration. There is no body. The woman is a woman in the painter’s mind – an exuberated manifestation of colour and brushwork, with the splattered, pushed, released paint telling us unequivocally that it is a furiously sexual vision.

Inspirations and influences: Despite the fierce heterosexuality of Woman I , the artists who first followed de Kooning into this new space between abstraction and the real world dealt in sexual ambiguity – Rauschenberg’s Combines with their louche brushwork and dangled images and Twombly’s savagely eroticised paintings such as Bay of Naples (1961). Closer in spirit to de Kooning’s lusty cartoon are Oldenburg’s fantasies of mass-produced consumables inflated, sexualised. The giant lipstick he mounted on caterpillar tracks might belong to de Kooning’s Woman which hangs in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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Yves Klein: The Immaterial Zone

When Yves Klein released The Immaterial Zone, the work comprised documentation of ownership of empty space.
Taking the form of a cheque, in exchange for gold; the buyer could then complete the piece in an elaborate ritual in which the buyer would burn the cheque, and Klein would throw half of the gold into the Seine.
The ritual was performed in the presence of an art critic or distinguished dealer, museum director and two appointed witnesses.

After the creation of the piece in 1959 eight Zones were sold.
“Klein’s receipts verify the existence of an invisible work of art, which prove that a formal sale has taken place. As Klein established in his ‘Ritual Rules’, each buyer has two possibilities; If he pays the agreed amount of gold in exchange for a receipt, Klein keeps all of the gold, and the buyer does not really acquire the “authentic immaterial value” of the work. The second possibility is to buy an immaterial zone for gold and then to burn the receipt. Through this act, a perfect, dematerialization is achieved. Klein seeks to ultimately demonstrate the indefinable, incalculable value of art.

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Renaissance “re-birth”, Italian: Rinascimento, from rinascere “to be reborn”) [1] was a cultural movement that spanned the period roughly from the 14th to the 17th century

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Picasso & Chicago

A century ago, in 1913, the Art Institute of Chicago became the first art museum in the country to present the work of a young Spaniard who would become the preeminent artist of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso. This February the museum celebrates the special 100-year relationship between Picasso and Chicago by bringing together over 250 of the finest examples of the artist’s paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, and ceramics from private collections in the city, as well as from the museum’s collection, for the first large-scale Picasso exhibition organized by the museum in almost 30 years.

After first showing artworks by Picasso in the 1913 Armory Show, the museum began collecting his works in the early 1920s with two figural drawings, Study of a Seated Man (1905) and Sketches of a Young Woman and a Man (1904/05); in 1926 the museum welcomed The Old Guitarist (late 1903–early 1904) as a generous gift of Frederic Clay and Helen Birch Bartlett. Over time, the collection has expanded to include paintings such as the classically inspired Mother and Child (1921) and the surrealist Red Armchair (1931); landmark sculptures including the Cubist Head of a Woman (Fernande) (1909) and a maquette for Picasso’s largest three-dimensional work, Monument for Richard J. Daley Plaza (1965); and works on paper such as Woman Washing Her Feet (1944) and impressions of The Frugal Meal (1904), one of only three examples in the world of the famous Blue Period etching actually printed in blue ink.

Featuring such diverse and significant works from the museum’s own exceptional holdings and from collections throughout the city, Picasso and Chicago not only charts the full gamut of Picasso’s artistic career but also chronicles the growth of Chicago as a place for modern art and the storied moments of overlap that have contributed to the vibrant interest in Picasso from 1913 to today.