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Merry Modjeska: Happy New Year from the Bowers Blog

Detail of Photograph of Madame Modjeska, 1894
Photographed by Jan W. Idzikowski; Chicago, Illinois
Sepia-tone Photograph on Paper; 6 ½ x 4 ¼ in.
Gift of Percy and Tony Dickel

Auld Lang Signs

Madame Helena Modjeska wishes you all a Happy New Year from the Bowers Museum! Here she is above, regally dressed for the occasion. In this photograph, Helena Modjeska is featured in full Elizabethan costume. The card is autographed by the actress to a Dr. Bernard, reading, “[wishing] you a happy new year, yours sincerely, Helena Chlapowsky” [sic].

Retreat to Arden

Helena Modjeska was an exemplary Victorian darling of the stage, as Western Europe was becoming more industrialized during this shifting era. She is revered for her interpretation of Shakespeare’s memorable female roles and is credited with interpreting and presenting the playwright’s female roles in a way that made them just as if not more prominent than Shakespeare’s male characters. Born in Poland, her professional career allowed her to travel throughout Europe and the United States where over a period of five decades she performed a variety of roles in more than 3,600 performances. Modjeska moved to Anaheim with her friends and her husband with an ambition to develop a career in the United States. She eventually settled in Santiago Canyon in a home she called Arden, a reference to the forest Shakespeare’s Rosalind retreats to in As You Like It.

30926a.2 with Modjeska's note highlighted
Gift of Percy and Tony Dickel

The Victorian Way

It was also during this time that Queen Victoria made some cultural changes to New Year’s customs as we know it today. It turns out that the celebration of New Year’s Eve was a classically Scottish tradition, (hence Robert Burns’ “For Auld Lang Syne”), a pagan winter solstice celebration dating back to the times of the Vikings. The celebration was originally known as Hogmanay in Scotland, which translates to “year’s final day.”  It was not until the Victorian age that the Queen implemented many Scottish practices into English culture. The celebration of New Year’s Eve increasingly became fashionable across England, then subsequently continental Europe, and America as we now universally know it today.

As She Liked It

This post was originally written for As She Liked It: The Shakespearean Roles of Madame Modjeska which opened December 10th, 2016. The exhibition was produced entirely from our permanent collection at the Bowers Museum, and contained 63 objects including gifts, costumes, photographs, paintings, and works of art relating to Modjeska and her Shakespearean roles throughout her career. 

Text and images may be under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. Information subject to change upon further research.

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