Markino: bright lights, big city

I’ve been looking through illustrated books about London in the early years of the 20th century. Herbert Marshall’s Scenery of London and Mary Rose Barton’s Familiar London were both popular then. Flicking through them I found several pictures I liked. But in the end they drove me back to Yoshio Markino who got the first big break of his career when he was commissioned to collaborate with W J Loftie on a book in the same genre called the Colour of London.

Markino loved London and his pictures capture the glamour of the then biggest city in the world. He saw that glamour even at night, on rainswept misty streets where solitary figures wandered alone and where people gathered in the cold and sought out warmth and light.

Victoria Tower Westminster by Moonlight COL

A woman stands under a street lamp watching a man walk away. Am I stretching your credulity if I say it reminds me of one of Edward Hopper’s night time psychodramas? Markino was conscious of the modernity of life in London where new ideas and new objects were entering the life of the old city.

Tram terminus Westminster Bridge Road

The tram terminus at Westminster Bridge  Road. The crowds gather round the departing tram and walk past the brightly lit oyster bar.

According to the Markino scholar Sammy Tsunematsu,  Markino would start his pictures by soaking the paper in water and would begin the backgrounds while it was still damp. This made them appear blurred or hazy, exactly the effect he needed. He called this technique “the silk veil”. He had first become obsessed with mist and fog in San Francisco and had tried for years to perfect a method for capturing it in his paintings.

Evening exodus - west end entering Victoria Railway Station COL

This view is called the Evening Exodus at Victoria Station. The light comes from a series of streetlights and shopfronts each one piercing the gloom.  Markino said: “I don’t think all  the London buildings are beautiful…but it is the London mist, which makes every colours beautifully softened” (Markino’s use of English is eccentric but oddly effective. He even coined new words such as “greyfy” (grey-ify) to describe the effect of fog)

Here is an eastern equivalent at Liverpool Street Station

Evening exodus - east end in Liverpool Street Station COL

Markino used to say that the predominant smell of London was coal, and coal smoke. But coming from Japan where coal technology was a recent development he described the smell as “civilized”. These purposeful crowds were living in a city of high technology and night time pleasures.

Here in Marlborough Street, a back street in Chelsea near Markino’s lodging house there are the same crowds and lights spilling out of shop fronts.

Marlborough Road Chelsea Saturday night COL

There are more women than men in this group. We know that Markino was especially fascinated by the women of London. “I am a great admirer of English ladies. To me those willowy figures seem more graceful than the cresdent moon, while those with well-built figures seem more elegant than peomy flowers…Some dresses are most admirable, in shape as well as in colour. Whatever the shape is, it looks as if it is a part of her own body..” To him the shape of women in their European fashions was an exotic phenomenon. He is a little like an alien who has come to an entirely new world.

In his time there was a Trafalgar Square in Chelsea, not far from Marlborough Street, one of several in London.

Trafalgar Square by night COL

But this is the famous one and in the foreground Markino sees a woman adjusting her petticoats, a characteristic detail for him, a flash of white amidst the grey.

Here another woman walks through the city night but not alone in the crowd.

Evening scene on Vauxhall Bridge COL

One of his favourite destinations was the theatre. This is the Alhambra Leicester Square:

The Alhambra Leicester Square at night COL

Below, the Gaiety Theatre in the Strand.

The Strand - New Gaiety Theatre night COL

The pit queue at Her Majesty’s Theatre:

His Majesty's Theatre the Pit queue COL

This is where Markino got another opportunity to publish his work in December 1903, in connection with a production of the Darling of the Gods by David Belasco and John Luther Long, a play set in feudal Japan with some supernatural elements. Markino painted several pictures for the programme.

DG 04 - CopyDG 06 - CopyDG 05 - Copy

Markino also advised some of the actors on Japanese manners and gestures. He went with Herbert Tree and Lena Ashwell to a Japanese restaurant to discuss the play. (Who knew there was one in London in 1903?). In an essay of 1904 he says was satisfied that both of them successfully embodied Japanese characters, and that Miss Ashwell looked as Japanese as his sister.

After the play, it was out again into the London night. On an Underground station platform Markino sees more of the women he compared to beautiful insects in the lamplight.

On the underground Baker Street COL

Markino is best known for his pictures from the Edwardian period. But his career carried on through the 20s and 30s. He married in London, travelled in Europe and to New York but never quite enjoyed his fair share of good luck in love or money. He had friends and patrons though and carried on painting. This picture come from the 30s. I think the view shows Bush House looking down the Strand.

BBC in the rain BB

He lamented the loss of fog as London expanded and the air became cleaner but the  crowds and the hazy night haven’t changed.


The programme notes for Darling of the Gods were written by Raymond Blathwayt who also praises the accuracy of the cast’s performance as Japanese characters. Blathwayt was the critic who called Mortimer Menpes’s Japanese house the most beautiful house in the world. I don’t know if because of this connection Markino and Menpes ever met. Probably not, as  Markino was still moving in Bohemian circles at the time, but it’s a shame that they didn’t as they might have found they had much in common.

There will be another Markino post quite soon concentrating on his daytime pictures. I hope you like his work as much as I do.

On another subject, the unknown artist of last week’s post mentioned Thomas Faulkner’s History of Fulham. I had a look at a Grangerised copy of the book we have at the Library this week. (Grangerising is the practice of binding extra material into a book dating from the time when collectors bought the pages, or “sheets” of a book separately and had them bound to their own design). There were several watercolours bound into that copy which I will be looking at more closely.

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