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William Calcraft

William Calcraft (1800–1879) was the most famous English hangman of the 19th century. One of the most prolific British executioners of all time, it is estimated that he carried out 450 executions during his 45-year career. A cobbler by trade, Calcraft was initially recruited to flog juvenile offenders after meeting the City of London's hangman, John Foxton, while selling meat pies near Newgate Prison. He succeeded Foxton, but his controversial use of the short-drop method of hanging, in which the victims were strangled rather than had their vertebrae broken by the fall when the trapdoor on the gallows was released, caused some to consider him incompetent. Many took several minutes to die, and to hasten their deaths Calcraft sometimes pulled on their legs, or even climbed on their shoulders in an attempt to break their necks. Calcraft's antics may have been intended to entertain the crowds of more than 30,000 that sometimes attended his executions before a change in the law in 1868 meant that executions could only take place in prisons. Among his victims were Marie and Frederick Manning, the first husband and wife to be hanged together since 1700. (Full article...)

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The Lady of the Camellias

A poster advertising an 1896 play, starring Sarah Bernhardt, based on Alexandre Dumas's 1848 novel The Lady of the Camellias. Bernhardt starred in Paris, London, and several Broadway revivals of the story, as well as a 1911 film directed by André Calmettes and Henri Pouctal. The title role of the tragic courtesan Marguerite Gautier became coveted amongst actresses, and Bernhardt coached Ida Rubinstein in it before her death.

This poster was designed by the Czech Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha. Mucha had signed a six-year contract with Bernhardt in 1895, following the success of his poster for Victorien Sardou's Gismonda, in which Bernhardt starred. Mucha used pale pastel colors and frequently featured beautiful young women in flowing, vaguely Neoclassical robes in his posters; these women were often surrounded by lush flowers which sometimes formed halos behind their heads.

Poster: Alphonse Mucha; restoration: Adam Cuerden

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