Henrik Ibsen was a famous author, less than Victor Hugo (who moved masses), but more famous, at his time (19th Century), than many playwrights we revere today. There’s no question about his presence in many social and editorial European circles, and about his position as a living national poet of Norway. Ibsen was a pretext for writing articles, reviews, critics, books (Bernard Shaw dedicated one to him, for example), and his own intellectual figure was fashionably appearing on the cover of many magazines as today we would see on “Times” or “Newsweek”.
One of those covers was the number for Saturday, March 19th 1898 of ‘L’Illustration’, which was dedicated to Ibsen, who was going to celebrate his 70th birthday. The magazine also published two articles about his work (1).
I found this ‘curiosity’ at the Lagunilla Market (a flea market) in Mexico City around 20 years ago, at the exact moment I was at the climax of learning Antonio González Cabllero’s Acting Method (2). I was 17 years old, couldn’t even read in French yet, but I was amazed by it, by the idea of owning a magazine with Ibsen on the cover, more than by knowing that it was from the same time he was alive: the magazine was went on print on March 19th and Ibsen’s birthday was on the 20th!
The articles inside are simple, without much interest, as if they hadn’t found anything really new to say about Ibsen. The author of the article (it is impossible to know his name, he only signed as ‘P.Q.’) listed the whole work of Ibsen till that moment: the last play on the list is John Gabriel Borkman, dated 1898. There is some data I could call interesting information: Ibsen is named as an author of the highest European avant-guard, and Paris, which was the city of the avant-guard par excellence, received Ibsen’s plays from the hands of ‘Théâtre Libre’ and Antoine; the article says the production for Ibsen’s plays was low budget and lots of creativity.
About the celebration of his 70th birthday, Norway and Sweden joined together to honour the playwright with ceremonies, official banquets, popular celebrations and, of course, performances of his plays. Ibsen was an important figure not only for Scandinavian countries but for all of Europe.
The engraving (a photograph of it)you are seeing in this Blog on the cover of the magazine shows an image of Ibsen with great personality: a big old man with an air of wisdom; a strong face, a firm but good-natured body. My master Antonio González Caballero used to draw parallelisms between the personality and work of the four artists who ‘propose’ the way of acting in the Theatre of Modernism (3). So, about Ibsen, he always remembered his enjoyment of the social world, his appearance, and this photograph is an example of those comments by González Caballero(4).
We should do an exercise in comparing any picture of any author with his personality and his work. I’ve already done that with many of my favorite authors and it is a surprising game, even clarifying.
Here is one photograph circulating on the Net. You will notice it was the same photographic session that we saw on the cover of L’Illustration, Ibsen is wearing the same clothes and he’s seating at the same desk, but in a different pose:
Henrik Ibsen at the same photo session as that for L'Illustration magazine (1898). It is the same coat and the same desk.
(1) About this number of L’Illustration, an antiquities site in French says:
“ L'ILLUSTRATION. N°2873 Henrik Ibsen, gravure par Thiriat. Journal Universel. 19 mars 1898. (…) Intérieur frais. 16 pages environ illustrées de nombreuses gravures noir et blanc, premier plat de couverture illustré d'une gravure. La corporation des bouchers de Limoges par De Noussanne avec gravures dans le texte (rue de la Boucherie, syndic tenant la bannière, intérieur de triperie, église des Bouchers, croix de Saint AUrélien). Un devancier de Gutenberg par M. Normand avec gravure dans le texte (fac-similé de la dernière page du Doctrinal de Gerson imprimé par Jean Brito. L'hôtel des ventes, suite par Montheuil avec gravures dans le texte et gravure pleine page d'une vente de lingerie fine. Gravure pleine page en couleurs d'Une jeune fille d'orient par P. barthot. De Courbevoie à Banghi avec la mission Marchand,suite avec gravures dans le texte dont l'adjudant Laurent dans la pirogue, photo de l'exécution de Mounounaméka...). Publicité pour l'Art Nouveau avec 4 photos de mobilier et une lampe (buffet de salle à manger, glace avec encadrement, table toilette avec carreaux artistiques..). ”
(2) Ibsen, Pirandello, Chekhov and Strindberg, are what González Caballero named "los cuatro autores propositores de las corrientes actuacionales en el teatro moderno" (the four authors who propose the acting way for Modern Theatre); so, the study of their work, their personality and their propositions (“proposiciones”) enveloped our life as acting students.
(3) I’m currently writing a Blog about Antonio González Caballero’s Acting Method: agcmetodo.blogspot.com
(4) Chekhov was different, living outside the social life and only wanting to spend his time at his house in Crimea, while Ibsen’s life had continuos movement; it is known that the Norwegian author spent a big part of his daily life reading newspapers behind the windows of famous cafés where everybody could see him.