Young Rembrandt exhibition in his birthplace

This 1 November 2019 Dutch video is about the exhibition Young Rembrandt, rising star in the Lakenhal museum in Leiden, the Netherlands: the city where Rembrandt was born.

This video is the sequel.

There are about 40 paintings, 70 etches and 10 drawings in the exhibition.

Besides work by Rembrandt, there is also work by his teachers Lastman and Van Swanenburg. And by his colleague Jan Lievens, and by Rembrandt pupils.

It is the first-ever exhibition about Rembrandt’s time from 1624, when he made his first painting; till 1634, when he married Saskia van Uylenburgh and had definitely left Leiden for Amsterdam.

I visited this exhibition on 11 January 2019.

On my way to the museum, I saw four great cormorants sitting on a sail of the reconstructed windmill of Rembrandt’s father. A fifth cormorant flew towards them, landing on the same sail.

In the Lakenhal now, two paintings depicting ancient Greek mythology, as told by Roman poet Ovid, hang side by side.

Rembrandt, The abduction of Proserpina

The oldest of the two was The abduction of Proserpina, from 1630-1631. The picture depicts Pluto, the god of the underworld, abducting Proserpina (Persephone in Greek), daughter of Ceres (Demeter in Greek), the goddess of agriculture.

Pieter Lastman, who taught the young Rembrandt, had inspired his pupil to make paintings about biblical history, antique history and mythology. Yet, if we compare what Rembrandt painted about and what his older contemporary and inspiration Rubens painted about, then we see a striking difference. 75% of Rubens’ work had religious or antique historical and mythological subjects. With Rembrandt, only 25% of his work fitted into these categories. While 70% of Rembrandt’s work were portraits, including self-portraits. Only 15% of Rubens’ work were portraits; 0% self-portraits.

So, Rembrandt painted far less historical and mythological paintings than Rubens. Five of his works have themes from Ovid; less than many other 17th century artists.

In countries other than the Dutch Republic, these types of paintings often made complimentary allusions to contemporary princes and nobles, and/or were often commissioned by them.

In The Netherlands, there was no monarchical court comparable to this.

There was only the Stadhouder‘s court.

Which would have liked very much to be a princely court like elsewhere in Europe; but constitutionally wasn’t.

Rembrandt got a commission from that princely court (princely, as the Stadhouders were also absolute monarchs in the tiny statelet of Orange in southern France).

But when his portrait of Princess Amalia von Solms, wife of Stadhouder Frederik Hendrik, turned out to be not flattering enough, his relationship to that court deteriorated.

An Hermitage Amsterdam exhibition noted that Stadhouder Frederik Hendrik prefered painters from the feudal southern Netherlands, though that region was the military enemy, to “bourgeois” northern painters like Rembrandt. He also prefered Gerard van Honthorst to Rembrandt as a painter of portraits of his wife. Honthorst was not from the Spanish occupied southern Netherlands. However, his home province Utrecht in the central Netherlands was less bourgeois rebellious than Rembrandt’s Holland. And Honthorst had spent much time in feudal Italy.

Nevertheless, if compared to Rubens, Rembrandt painted many more portraits.

The sky in the Abduction of Proserpina painting is a special blue: lapis lazuli, which is expensive. He could afford that as the painting was commissioned by Frederik Hendrik; in 1630-1631, before that 1632 conflict on the portrait of Princess Amalia von Solms.

The Amalia van Solms portrait is not in Leiden. A Lakenhal worker explained to me that it had been complex to borrow Rembrandt works from other museums. It had not been possible to borrow the Amalia portrait from Paris in France.

Which is a pity, as that painting and its history are important for understanding the relationship between Rembrandt and his clients, whether princely aristocrats or urban bourgeois.

The Dutch weekly Leids Nieuwsblad of 18 July 2006 has a report by Werner Zonderop of a lecture, by Christopher Brown, of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, in Leiden. Chistopher Brown has put together this 2019-2020 Leiden rembrandt exhibition.

Brown’s subject in 1906 was Rembrandt, then born 400 years ago in Leiden.

Rembrandt, portrait of Princess Amalia von Solms

From the report (translated):

[Constantijn] Huygens [private secretary of Prince and Stadhouder Frederik Hendrik] made it possible for Rembrandt to get his first commissions at the Stadhouder’s court [in The Hague].

In this way, in 1632, Rembrandt was allowed to paint the portrait of Amalia von Solms [1602-1675], the wife of Frederik Hendrik.

[She was thirty years old then; eighteen years younger than her husband].

However, the princess of Orange, [nee Countess of Solms-Braunfels], did not like the portrait as it turned out, at all.

She thought her appearance had not been idealized.

To her indignation, Rembrandt painted her too much as she really was: the mouth stiff and grim, knob-nosed and fat, with a rather stern look.

The Abduction of Proserpina painting, now in Leiden, is usually in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.

Next to it in the Leiden exhibition is a Rembrandt painting of one year later: The Abduction of Europa. No longer commissioned by the Stadhouder, but by an Amsterdam businessman.

Rembrandt, Abduction of Europa

It is about the Phoenician princess Europa being abducted by the Greek god Zeus (Jupiter in Latin), disguised as a bull.

Normally, that work is in the J. Paul Getty Museum in the USA. The two museums were only willing to send these two similar paintings to Leiden, because now for the first time ever they would hang next to each other.

Another conspicuous 1631 painting in the Lakenhal was a depiction of then 12-year-old German Prince Rupert and his tutor. An article suggests that the prince’s father was not satisfied with the portrait, thinking there was too little emphasis on his son and too much on the non-princely tutor. So, Rembrandt left Leiden for Amsterdam and had his artist pupil Gerrit Dou finish the Prince Rupert painting. Prince Rupert would later play a role in the English civil war.

Prince Rupert and his tutor, by Rembrandt

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England will show this exhibition from 27 February till 7 June 2020.

Pro-peace artist Käthe Kollwitz, Los Angeles exhibition

Käthe Kollwitz, 1906, Photographie- Philipp Kester © Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln

By Rafael Azul in the USA:

The great German artist on war, the working class and the murder of socialist Karl Liebknecht

Exhibition at the Getty Center in Los Angeles: Käthe Kollwitz: Prints, Process, Politics

28 December 2019

Käthe Kollwitz: Prints, Process, Politics, December 3, 2019–March 29, 2020, Getty Center in Los Angeles

The Getty Center, a campus of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, is hosting an exhibition of intaglios, lithographs and woodcuts by German left-wing artist Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), one of the most prominent graphic artists of her day.

The show, Käthe Kollwitz, Prints, Process, Politics, displays a portion of a collection of 654 works by German artists gifted in 2016 to the Getty Research Institute by Dr. Richard Simms. Included in the gift were 286 works by Kollwitz, 52 of which are currently on display at the Getty, arranged chronologically.

Five remarkable series dominate the exhibition: The Weavers’ Revolt, The Peasant War, Karl Liebknecht, War and Proletariat. Also included are prints from her tribute to Émile Zola’s Germinal and from Woman with Dead Child, along with self-portraits.

The Weavers’ Revolt, inspired by Gerhart Hauptmann’s naturalistic stage drama The Weavers (1892), commemorates the 1844 rebellion of thousands of weavers in Silesia (then a Prussian province) against the brutal exploitation of the factory owners. Kollwitz made the series of prints, which brought her to artistic prominence, between 1893 and 1897. The cycle on the Peasant War, which Kollwitz created between 1902 and 1908, commemorates the peasant rebellion that took place across German-speaking regions in 1524-25.

The Karl Liebknecht series, about the murdered revolutionary, was done in 1919-1920. Kollwitz produced the War series between 1918 and 1923. Proletariat, denouncing the misery and hunger of the working class, following the abortive 1923 German revolution, was created in 1924-25.

Among the elements that make the current Getty exhibition exceptional is its inclusion of extremely valuable intermediary works that led to the final versions. As one moves forward, one can retrace Kollwitz steps, which reveal how she struggled to distill from preliminary drawings the essence of a scene or historical depiction. The viewer is invited, by this inclusion of preliminary works, to participate in that metamorphosis and arrives at a better understanding of Kollwitz’s artistic and political perspective.

Charge, Käthe Kollwitz, 1902–1903. The Getty Research Institute, 2016.PR.34

By removing the less important elements and tightening the representation of her subjects, Kollwitz, through her precise, complicated and intricate techniques, placed emphasis on what was emotionally, aesthetically and socially essential.

Karl Liebknecht’s family asked Kollwitz to portray the assassinated socialist leader. Liebknecht was summarily executed, together with his comrade Rosa Luxemburg, on January 15, 1919 on the orders of the counterrevolutionary Social Democratic Party (SDP) regime of Friedrich Ebert, Philipp Scheidemann and Gustav Noske. In an entry from her diary, dated January 25, 1919, Kollwitz writes: “Around the shot-up forehead were placed red flowers, the face proud, the mouth slightly open and painfully contorted.”

In the Liebknecht print, Kollwitz began with charcoal drawings of the deceased revolutionary surrounded by five mourners. She reworked this initial print by cutting and pasting. This initial “reject” was followed by a lithograph, also rejected. The work’s final version is a dramatic woodcut, centered on the impact of his death on those around him.

The use of light and shadow highlighting the individual faces and expressions and weathered hands of the workers who came to mourn the murdered man, with their darkened bodies, contrasts with Liebknecht’s own backlit face and dark, open mouth, his eyes shut, almost like a photographic negative image, surrounded by light. The viewer can imagine the worker in the foreground, with a wound on his forehead and his hand on Liebknecht’s shroud, pledging to continue the struggle.

In Memorian Karl Liebknecht

On August 4, 1914, one week after the eruption of World War I, the parliamentary deputies of the Social Democratic Party of Germany cast their vote in favor of war credits. Only weeks before, the Social Democrats had been singing hymns to the international unity of the working class. Now they were signaling their approval of the imperialist slaughter, resorting to the most grotesque pretexts to justify setting the workers of diverse nations against each other. The SPD position troubled and confused many party supporters, including Käthe Kollwitz and her family. The SPD’s support for the war was a consequence of a pronounced turn to the right by the party in the years leading up to the war, an adaptation to the national-reformist milieu of trade union struggles and parliamentary debate.

A letter from Käthe to her son Hans, in April 1917, sheds light on this situation: “You know, at the beginning of the war, you all said Social Democracy had failed. We said that internationalism had to be put aside for now, but back of everything the international spirit remains. Later on, this concept of mine was almost entirely buried; now it has sprung back to life again… the Social Democrats in Russia are speaking the language of truth. That is internationalism.”

Producing the Liebknecht remembrance had a powerful impact on Kollwitz herself, as she noted in a letter: “I was politically opposed, but his death gave me the first tug toward him. Later I read his letters, with the result that his personality appeared to me in the purest light.”

Liebknecht and Luxemburg bitterly opposed the betrayal of the working class by the SPD, which abandoned internationalism and helped transform the German and French working classes into tools of their own ruling classes.

The Black Anna, Käthe Kollwitz, 1903. The Getty Research Institute_ 2016.PR.34. © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In the Peasant War series, the three preparatory drawings culminate in that of a peasant woman sharpening a scythe to be used as a weapon in the rebellion. Through the several works, Kollwitz increasingly focuses on the transformation of this peasant, from passively leaning of the scythe to sharpening in anticipation of the struggle. In the final version, the woman is sliding her sharpening stone across the blade, while her nearly shut eyes seem to convey her determination.

The Peasant War culminates in a battle scene, concentrating the anger of the peasants rushing into battle.

A similar transformation takes place for the final drawing “Hunger” in the Proletariat series, representing working-class women shielding their children from the ghost of death.

The themes of the Getty exhibition reveal the phases of the artist’s life, through the period of the German Empire under Wilhelm II (1888-1918) and the tragedy of World War I, the Weimar Republic (1918-1933), and the rise of Hitler in 1933. Each of these periods is mirrored in her artistic series, which are genuine visual political and personal manifestoes.

Each period represents personal (Kollwitz lost her younger son Peter in one of the earliest battles of World War I in 1914) and political crises for Kollwitz and the German working class as a whole.

Last week, as museumgoers walked by the literature table at the Getty’s Kollwitz exhibition, they were able to purchase, along with several volumes dedicated to the artist, copies of Rosa Luxemburg’s classic work Reform or Revolution (1899). That this volume is being sold and this exhibition takes place are testaments to the contemporary relevance of Kollwitz the artist and Luxemburg the revolutionary.

Sharpening the Scythe, Käthe Kollwitz, ca. 1905. The Getty Research Institute, 2016.PR.34

After experiencing the exhibition, one leaves with the certainty that these works, which describe the hardship and struggle of workers and peasants, might have been created for the current historical period, describing not just the current wars and the suffering that affect millions of people, but also the fighting spirit of oppressed masses, as they “sharpen their scythes.”

The Käthe Kollwitz exhibition will be on display at the Getty Center until March 29, 2020. The exhibition includes two lectures. The first one, on January 28, is Iconic Intelligence: How Käthe Kollwitz Made Pictures Talk, given by Annette Seeler, curator of Berlin’s Käthe Kollwitz Museum. The second, Käthe Kollwitz: Sharpening the Scythe and the Spark of Revolutionary Consciousness, on March 12, 2020, will be given by Louis Marchessano, senior curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Marchessano is also the editor of a book published by the Getty Research Institute to accompany the exhibition: Käthe Kollwitz Prints, Process, Politics.

A related exhibition, Käthe Kollwitz and the Art of Resistance, will be presented at The Art Institute of Chicago from May 30–September 13, 2020.

Biodiversity and history in the Netherlands

This May 2019 video says about itself:

What is Biodiversity?

One word sums up the incredible variety of animals and plants on Earth. It’s the magic ingredient that enables the world to work smoothly.

From Utrecht University in the Netherlands, 1 July 2019:

ATHENA shows developments in Dutch nature

Nature lovers and researchers can refer to the developments of animals and plants in the Netherlands throughout the centuries at one central point as of today, specifically ATHENA.

ATHENA is a portal in development in which an enormous amount of information on biodiversity in the Netherlands is compiled. The goal of ATHENA is to simplify and encourage interdisciplinary research into biodiversity. ATHENA is a collaboration between Utrecht University (Jan Luiten van Zanden and Thomas van Goethem), Radboud University (Rob Lenders) and Wageningen University (Joop Schaminée).


“In the news, we hear many reports about the decrease in biodiversity. This leads to various questions: What drives this development? Has nature preservation been effective today and in the past? Why are some species doing better than others? With the help of ATHENA, researchers can come closer to answering these questions,” says project coordinator Van Goethem.


ATHENA compiles historical sources, archaeological sources and footage, and ecological data files such as countings. For the first time, it is possible to study a wide range of data on specific species of animals and plants. This is achieved in part thanks to contributions made by Dutch species organisations, such as SOVON and FLORON, the Cultural Heritage Agency, the Dutch Language Institute and the Rijksmuseum. The project is financed by CLARIAH, a national project that is designing a digital infrastructure in order to connect large amounts of data and software from various Humanities disciplines and make them digitally searchable.

Ancient Egyptian head cones, first time discovery

Head cones depicted in paintings and carvings from the Egyptian site of Amarna often perch on the noggins of prominent and powerful individuals. Egypt Exploration Society, Antiquity Publications Ltd.

By Bruce Bower, 10 December 2919:

Archaeologists have finally found ancient Egyptian wax head cones

The mysterious headgear appears often in art dating from around 3,550 to 2,000 years ago

Long before extraterrestrial Coneheads in Saturday Night Live skits claimed to have come from France, real-life cone heads existed in Egypt.

Prominent people wearing cone-shaped headgear appear frequently in Egyptian art dating from around 3,550 to 2,000 years ago. But none of those cones have ever been found, until now. Archaeologists report unearthing two such headpieces at the ancient Egyptian city of Amarna.

Built by the pharaoh Akhenaten and occupied from around 1347 B.C. to 1332 B.C., Amarna contains thousands of graves of ordinary people. Excavated skeletons of two people were topped by remnants of head cones, archaeologist Anna Stevens of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues report in the December Antiquity. One cone adorned the skeleton of a woman in her 20s. The other was atop the skeleton of a 15- to 20-year-old of undetermined sex.

Scientists expected that graves of social elites would yield the first head cones, Stevens says. “But the most surprising thing is that these objects turned up at all.” Some scholars have argued that head cones existed only as artistic devices, not real objects.

Portable infrared and X-ray machines determined that the cones were hollow and made of wax, probably beeswax. Although some investigators have speculated that head cones contained animal fat or wax scented with a substance such as tree resin, the Amarna finds contain no fat traces or perfume. Any perfume originally in the two head cones likely evaporated, Stevens says. Names and occupations of the cone-topped Amarna individuals, as well as the meanings attached to such headgear, are unknown. Stevens suspects that the head cones found at Amarna were believed to provide spiritual assistance in the afterlife.

Infrared images reveal hidden tattoos on Egyptian mummies. The images of eyes, crosses and more on 7 females may challenge ideas about the practice: here.

Antarctic penguins, Robert Falcon Scott till today

This 13 January 2018 video is called Antarctica Ross Sea. Part 21. Cape Adare. Adélie Penguins mating.

By Carolyn Gramling, December 6, 2019 at 10:00 am:

‘A Polar Affair’ delves into a centurylong cover-up of penguin sex

A new book surveys penguin biology and Antarctic exploration history

A Polar Affair
Lloyd Spencer Davis
Pegasus Books, $29.95

On March 29, 1912, British explorer Robert Falcon Scott wrote the final diary entry of his ill-fated quest to reach the South Pole. That same day, more than 350 kilometers away, naval surgeon and zoologist George Murray Levick was hunkered down within a snowbank at Cape Adare, observing Adélie penguins.

Levick had accompanied Scott to Antarctica, but was not one of the five expedition members on the final trek to the pole. The return journey claimed the lives of all five. Levick survived the expedition, however, and in 1914, published a manuscript summarizing his observations — the first scientific descriptions of Antarctic penguins.

But he left something out.

During his months observing Adélie penguins, which included an entire breeding cycle, Levick witnessed the birds engaging in same-sex mating rituals. He also saw the birds engage in a variety of other sexual behaviors that in humans we might call promiscuity, infidelity, even prostitution. Levick recorded these scandalous details in a second manuscript, “The sexual habits of the Adélie penguin”, in 1915. But the manuscript was stamped “Not for Publication” and remained unpublished for nearly a century.

In 2012, the manuscript resurfaced in a scientific journal. Penguin biologist and author Lloyd Spencer Davis, who had thought he was the first to record same-sex behavior in Antarctic penguins in 1996, was dismayed and intrigued. So Davis embarked on a personal quest to understand how and why Levick’s observations had been buried in the first place — seemingly by his own wishes.

The result of that quest is Davis’ book A Polar Affair, an entertaining, chatty and sometimes salacious romp through polar exploration history, penguin biology and Victorian mores.

Each of the book’s five sections opens with a brief essay — Homosexuality, Divorce, Infidelity, Rape, Prostitution — that highlights how tempting it can be, whether in Victorian or modern times, to view penguin sexual behaviors through an anthropomorphic lens.

But the driving force of A Polar Affair isn’t really to understand these sexual behaviors, Davis writes. Instead, what he really wants to understand is “why Murray Levick would discover the dirty side of penguins and then try to cover it up.”

Davis delves into Levick’s personal history, hunting down his field notes and retracing his long, frostbitten months studying Cape Adare’s penguin colony.

Davis’ investigations are interspersed with a sweeping history of polar exploration that is by turns fascinating and frustrating. He also includes stories from his own penguin studies. The narrative meanders through the exploits of a wide-ranging cast of explorers who have since lent their names to bits of Antarctica’s geography, from James Clark Ross to Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen.

Early expeditions led to key innovations to manage challenges such as the bitter cold and ever-present nutrient deprivation. And many of those innovations, we learn, came to bear in the 1911–1912 race to the South Pole between Robert Falcon Scott and Norwegian Roald Amundsen. (Amundsen got there first, beating Scott by about one month.) This rich and often intimate history can be riveting stuff. But much of it is also well-trodden ground, and at times, I found myself flipping ahead, wanting to get back to Levick and his penguins.

Other digressions, though, particularly Davis’ discussions of whether there are evolutionary benefits to penguins’ same-sex mating or nonmonogamous behaviors, are fascinating. Is same-sex mating a case of mistaken identity, in that male and female penguins are monomorphic, looking much alike? Is promiscuity among penguins related to the female’s inclination to build a stronger nest, one that is shored up by stones earned through offering sex?

These are questions with which Davis and other penguin biologists still wrestle. And A Polar Affair doesn’t come to a tidy answer for why Levick suppressed his most startling findings. But the book’s unique approach to polar exploration history makes for an engaging read. And by the end, Davis does come to terms with his need to understand his predecessor and with his own dismay at being scooped a century ago. The journey in discovery, he suggests, was satisfying. “It doesn’t really matter who was the first to see a bit of male-on-male action in penguins,” he writes, “any more than it probably matters who was first to stand on an arbitrary piece of ice and drive a flagpole into it.”

HG Wells, Attenborough, Martians and Tasmanian genocide

BRITISH MADE GENOCIDE: The last four Tasmanian Aborigines of solely Aboriginal descent c1860s. Truganini, the last to survive, is seated at far right

This photo shows the last four Tasmanian Aborigines of solely Aboriginal descent c1860s. Truganini, the last to survive, is seated at far right.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Friday, December 6, 2019

Alien invasions and meetings with Stalin

The BBC TV adaptation of HG Wells’s War of the Worlds has finished. PETER FROST reminds us what a great socialist the author was

LAST SUNDAY saw the screening of the third and final episode of the BBC’s magnificent, if controversial, adaptation of HG Wells’s War of the Worlds.

Wells’s classic tale of Martians invading Earth has long been a favourite of mine. It is a beautifully ironic analogy of British imperialism’s invasions of foreign lands. Gun in one hand, a bible in the other the British invaded so many places in order to colour the globe pink.

Soldiers and missionaries carried a whole arsenal of fatal secret weapons. Viruses and bacteria of diseases like influenza and even the common cold. These were endemic back home but unknown and deadly among folk who had never built up immunities to them.

By coincidence before I watched the first episode of War of the Worlds I watched David Attenborough’s Seven Worlds, One Planet documentary on the animals of Australia.

Attenborough focussed on two Tasmanian species. The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) is a carnivorous marsupial. Once widespread, today it is fighting hard in just a few Tasmanian locations to avoid total extinction.

He also showed amazing black and white footage of the very last Tasmanian tiger, or Tasmanian wolf. The Thylacine, (Thylacinus cynocephalus), was a marsupial wolf and the largest carnivorous marsupial of recent times. That film showed the very last survivor in a private Hobart zoo before the species became totally extinct in 1936.

The documentary however didn’t mention another Tasmanian species that was wiped out by the arrival of the white man. They were the indigenous people of the island — the Tasmanians — a population of Aboriginal people known as the Palawa.

It was the tragic fate of the Palawa that inspired HG Wells to write War of the Worlds. Wells told his brother Frank about the catastrophic effect of the British invasion on indigenous Tasmanians. What would happen, he wondered, if Martians did to Britain what the British had done to the Tasmanians?

So what of the BBC adaptation? I’ll leave most of that to TV reviewers more erudite than me. One widespread complaint was that the BBC adapters had added — horror of horrors — a woman hero.

The series opened with a hero, a journalist called George having left his wife, his cousin, to live with a woman called Amy in a small cottage called Lyndon near Woking, Surrey. Not one fact of the above can be found anywhere in the original book.

However H George Wells, a journalist, did marry his cousin and left her to live with a woman called Amy in a cottage called Lynton in Woking, Surrey.

It was at Lynton that Wells wrote the book and set the start of the Martian invasion in the countryside around the cottage.

What I want to do here is to remind readers what an incredible man HG Wells was. He always described himself as a committed socialist and wrote a wide variety of political writings — pamphlets, political books, newspaper and magazine articles — as well as novels and stories.

He was never afraid to use his novels and stories to advance his political opinions. Wells saw that socialism would abolish class barriers and foster equality of opportunity. Other writers such as Virginia Woolf berated him for using the novel as a vehicle for delivering his political ideas.

His novels took up diverse individual political issues. For instance The Island of Dr Moreau (1896) examined the fierce debates over vivisection. Ann Veronica (1909) deals with the struggle of the suffragettes for the vote for women.

In his Experiment in Autobiography (1934), he explained his political thinking was motivated by an awareness of the “incompatibility of the great world order foreshadowed by scientific and industrial progress with the existing political and social structures.”

For him the question was: how could politics and society catch up with the advances of science and technology? How could social and political institutions become more scientific, more efficient, more ordered?

As early as 1905 he described his ideal socialist society in his book A Modern Utopia. In it he paints a picture of a highly regulated world state where all property is state-owned, and where sexes are equal.

The Fabian Society were keen to have Wells on board. Despite some earlier differences with George Bernard Shaw and Beatrice and Sidney Webb he accepted an invitation to join the Fabians in 1903.

It would not be a happy time for the Fabians. They quickly realised that Wells could be a loose cannon. Openly criticising the Fabians from the beginning, in 1906 he shocked them with a paper called, unambiguously, The Faults of the Fabian.

In the paper Wells called the Fabian Society a talking shop for middle-class socialists, which lacked the appetite for real change. He argued Fabians should aim for mass membership and more radical reforms.

Wells’s love life and his reputed advocacy of free love didn’t go down well either. When In 1908 he advocated a wage for all mothers and the Fabians refused to adopt this as a policy, he left.

What Wells wanted was a single, socialist world state, a great world order, and it was no doubt to study this kind of development that he visited and championed the young Soviet Union repeatedly.

Wells visited Russia in 1914, 1920 and 1934. During his second visit his old friend and fellow writer Maxim Gorky arranged for him to meet and talk with Vladimir Lenin.

In July 1934, on his third visit to what had become the Soviet Union, he interviewed Joseph Stalin for the New Statesman. The interview lasted three hours.

He told Stalin how he had seen “the happy faces of healthy people” in contrast with his previous visit to Moscow in 1920 but he also raised some serious criticisms. Stalin, we are told, enjoyed the conversation.

During the second world war, Wells drafted a Universal Rights of Man that was published in the Times. This document and the advocacy he did around it led to the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Wells was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times but never won.

He suffered for much of his life from diabetes and in 1934 co-founded the charity The Diabetic Association known today as Diabetes UK.

Winston Churchill was an avid reader of his books, and after they first met in 1902 they kept in touch until Wells died in 1946. Prime minister Churchill famously described the rise of Nazi Germany as “the gathering storm”. He actually took the phrase from War of the Worlds.

War of the Worlds has never been out of print since its original publication in 1897. Films, radio dramas, comic-books, video games, and many television series have been based on it.

The most famous, or infamous, adaptation is the 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Welles. Presented as a live, realistic set of news bulletins interrupting normal programming, supposedly terrified listeners had heart attacks and even committed suicide, though recent scholarship has suggested this is an urban myth.

Perhaps the greatest and most surprising tribute to the author and the book is that of Robert Goddard, the father of American rocketry. Goddard says his interest in rockets and space travel was first inspired by reading War of the Worlds aged sixteen.

Goddard would invent both liquid fuelled and multi-stage rockets that put men on the Moon and sent robotic probes to Mars — HG Wells would have wanted no finer tribute.