Monday, 1 July 2019

PR SIsters at National Portrait Gallery

Scheduled for  October, Pre-Raphaelite Sisters opens a new window on the subject, looking at the actual women within and behind the art.  Those ‘stunners’ who inspired and modelled for the painted saints, heroines and courtesans.   Those women who painted alongside the more famous men.  Those who as wives and partners, studio assistants and household managers, participated invisibly in the making of Pre-Raphaelite art.

How did these women relate to the images?   What did they really look like? How did they become involved?  How did they fare?  What happened to them in later life?  The exhibition invites you to ponder, explore  and assess the creative contribution made by a dozen individuals in the Pre-Raphaelite circle, during the half-century to 1900.  It presents a wealth of art works, from the iconic to the unknown,  depicting women cast in dramatic roles and in portraits.   It reveals their own artistic ambitions and glimpses of their private lives.

In 1848, the year of European revolutions, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood [PRB] was launched by a group of young artists with the aim of challenging the tired conventions of the day through the rediscovery of  clarity, sincerity and moral feeling.  Over the years it evolved as an aesthetic endeavour, invoking imagined idealities inspired by legendary themes.

The fact that one can here write ‘young artists’ on the understanding that all were male is symptomatic both of the time and of virtually all art criticism.  In fact, women were also inspired by the aims of the PRB  - ‘a set of crazy poetical young men’, according to one young woman, who ‘are full of true feeling in spite of their craziness’ – and in response dreamt of creating  an ‘art sisterhood’ for mutual support.   This did not happen, but the sense of shared values created a circle linked by friendship and aspiration that extended to the next generation.  

One of the models featured is Fanny Cornforth aka Sarah Cox, Sarah Hughes and Sarah Schott,  about whom Kirsty Walker has written so sympathetically.  While other artists cast other models in the emerging Venetian style of mid-period Pre-Raphaelitism, Fanny can be credited with inaugurating the Rossettian version with Bocca Baciata, then with inspiring a whole sequence of courtesan images including the Blue Bower [top]. 

 Less familiar is the original [or at least an early] version of Lady Lilith, for some reason later reproduced as a colour lithograph, well after the large oil with Lilith's altered features had reached collector Samuel Bancroft in Delaware.

Advance booking for tickets to Pre-Raphaelite Sisters is now  available

Le Modele Noir

The great exhibition at the Musee d’Orsay is not only about artists’ models of African ancestry, but a whole bunch of other individuals including political figures like  Toussaint L’Ouverture,   writer Alexandre Dumas,  actor Jeanne Duval, comic  Chocolat, dancer  Josephine Baker and surrealist Ady Fidelin.  The central focus however is on the French Caribbean woman who posed for the attendant in Manet’s so-celebrated Olympia, presenting an admirer’s bouquet to the naked courtesan.  And who has now been identified – although only by first name, alas, thanks to a note by Manet ‘Laure / 11 rue de Vintimille’.

In the exhibition too is a fine array of bronze busts by Charles Cordier, conceived as anthropological/ethnic examples but before casting modelled in clay from actual women and men in Paris.  As ever, it’s the critical mass of images rather than the single examples that enables the exhibition to present a mixed rather than monochrome picture of nineteenth century French society – albeit chiefly, it appears, resident in the northern areas of Paris around the places de Clichy and Pigalle, or employed as nannies for well-to-do families in more fashionable quartiers    

There is a fine selection of images of the acrobat known as Miss LaLa - real name Olga Albertina Brown - and her performance troupe:

The exhibition title The Black Model from Gericault to Matisse indicates the chronological sweep from 1800 to 1950,  but in fact the exhibits continue beyond this, featuring several recent responses to Olympia that reverse the white and black figures, such as Larry Rivers’ mixed media ‘I like Olympia in Black Face 1970, complete with white and black cats  :

Plus  Aime Mpane’s tile work Olympia II 2013 which visually imprisons the pair as if behind a grille and places a large skull within the flower bouquet.    Seen alongside Gauguin’s 1891 copy,  these iterations underline the continuing impact of the original.   One would like to see similar works by contemporary female artists of African heritage.

Many more images in the substantial catalogue published by Flammarion, which also includes a list of 38 dark-skinned male and female models registered with the Ecole des Beauz-Arts and other ateliers, 1901-1933  with names, addresses and brief descriptions (negre / noir / type abyssin / mulatresse / belle gorge etc)

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Call for Papers

The University of York is organising a conference in December to extend the scope of the Pre-Raphaelite Sisters exhibition at the NPG. 

The CfP  is  attached here.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Jenny Morris postscript

the better image of Evelyn de Morgan's chalk portrait, as promised.

Georgie Burne Jones recalled the day in 1876 when she received a note from 'poor Janey at Horrington House' asking for the address of a doctor 'because Jenny had fainted suddenly and frightened her very much'.   This was perhaps the first major seizure.

By 1901 Georgie reported that Jenny 'now never speaks  without being spoken to .. and seldom smiles'.  And six years later, after a visit to Kelmscott, Georgie added that 'a week in Jenny's company' had made her understand Janey's situation 'as I never did before.' 

Monday, 13 May 2019

Fanny Cornforth's last days

Christopher Whittick and Kirsty Walker have separately published on the final years of Fanny Cornforth, Pre-Raphaelite model and Rossetti's devoted companion, which make for relatively sad reading, although with today's greater familiarity with alzheimer's and other dementias her experience was by no means unusual.

And the detailed record kept by the Graylingwell asylum or hospital  now in West Sussex Record Office makes this clear.  Admitted from Chichester workhouse on 30 March 1907 as a widow with no known relatives, she was 'well nourished', indeed stout, but 'very deaf', confused, 'excitable'  and upset, with no sense of orientation and no memory for recent or remote events.  In September she fractured her wrist in a fall, and kept attempting to remove the plaster cast.  By January 1909 she was bed-ridden and effectively blind, and on 24 February she died, the causes listed as pneumonia and senile dementia.

The melancholy chronicle is aggravated by the absence of all friends and relations, and by the fact that the hospital record is for 'Sarah Hughes',  which was Fanny's name during her first marriage.  So there is no trace of her second husband John Schott - who predeceased Fanny.  The record cites two informants who appear to have transferred Fanny to this version of community care:  Mrs Mant from the Homestead at Felpham, described as her landlady, who committed Fanny to the Chichester Union workhouse, and Ann Humphrey of Outram House Felpham, who stated that Fanny had been  'strange in her manner' for some time and occasionally violent. Both addresses sound like private care homes,  which  presumably moved their most decayed residents to poor law public hospitals on a regular basis.

The whole register makes for absorbing reading,  with the accounts of Fanny's companions [all female in this ledger and the hospital section] suffering not only from senility but also psychosis  - frequently hearing distressing voices urging them to suicide and some suffering mental breakdown after having stillborn infants.  Several younger patients were discharged, registered as 'recovered',  which implies  families to return to.  It's a rare glimpse into historical mental health services via record-keeping.

Picturing Whiteness studentship @ Tate

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Janey's very first pose

When in the autumn of 1857  Jane Burden and her sister Bessie were accosted after a touring theatre performance in Oxford by Rossetti and Burne-Jones, seeking female models for their mural paintings in the University Union debating room, it marked the beginning of Jane's new  life, as yet unforeseen..

The first pose she was asked to take was for the figure of Queen Guenevere, when the Knights of the Round Table hammer on the door of her chamber, to discover her with Sir Lancelot.

This large study is thus the first that Gabriel drew of Janey.  it is dated and inscribed 'fainting study' ,  which implies she was asked to imagine   that the shock and dismay of discovery caused the Queen to pass out in fear.

"So on a night, when King Arthur was hunting in the forest, and the queen sent for Sir Lancelot to her chamber, they two espied him; and thinking now to make a scandal and a quarrel between Lancelot and the king, they found twelve others, and said Sir Lancelot was ever now in the queen's chamber, and King Arthur was dishonored.
Then, all armed, they came suddenly round the queen's door, and cried, "Traitor! now art thou taken."
"Madam, we be betrayed," said Sir Lancelot; "yet shall my life cost these men dear."
Then did the queen weep sore, and dismally she cried, "Alas! there is no armor here whereby ye might withstand so many; wherefore ye will be slain, and I be burnt for the dread crime they will charge on me."
But while she spake the shouting of the knights was heard without, "Traitor, come forth, for now thou art snared!"
"Better were twenty deaths at once than this vile outcry," said Sir Lancelot.
Then he kissed her and said, "Most noble lady, I beseech ye, as I have ever been your own true knight, take courage; pray for my soul if I be now slain, and trust my faithful friends, Sir Bors and Sir Lavaine, to save you from the fire."
But ever bitterly she wept and moaned, and cried, "Would God that they would take and slay me, and that thou couldest escape."
"That shall never be," said he. And wrapping his mantle round his arm he unbarred the door a little space, so that but one could enter.
Then first rushed in Sir Chalaunce, a full strong knight, and lifted up his sword to smite Sir Lancelot; but lightly he avoided him, and struck Sir Chalaunce, with his hand, such a sore buffet on the head as felled him dead upon the floor.
Then Sir Lancelot pulled in his body and barred the door again, and dressed himself in his armor, and took his drawn sword in his hand.
But still the knights cried mightily without the door, "Traitor, come forth!"
"Be silent and depart," replied Sir Lancelot; "for be ye sure ye will not take me, and to-morrow will I meet ye face to face before the king."
"Ye shall have no such grace," they cried; "but we will slay thee, or take thee as we list."
"Then save yourselves who may," he thundered, and therewith suddenly unbarred the door and rushed forth at them. And at the first blow he slew Sir Agravaine, and after him twelve other knights, with twelve more mighty buffets. And none of all escaped him save Sir Modred, who, sorely wounded, flew away for life.
Then returned he to the queen, and said, "Now, madam, will I depart, and if ye be in any danger I pray ye come to me."
"Surely will I stay here, for I am queen," she answered; "yet if to-morrow any harm come to me I trust to thee for rescue."
"Have ye no doubt of me," said he, "for ever while I live am I your own true knight."
Therewith he took his leave, and went and told Sir Bors and all his kindred of this adventure. "We will be with thee in this quarrel," said they all; "and if the queen be sentenced to the fire, we certainly will save her."
Meanwhile Sir Modred, in great fear and pain, fled from the court, and rode until he found King Arthur, and told him all that had befallen. But the king would scarce believe him till he came and saw the bodies of Sir Agravaine and all the other knights.
Then felt he in himself that all was true, and with his passing grief his heart nigh broke. "Alas!" cried he, "now is the fellowship of the Round Table forever broken: yea, woe is me! I may not with my honor spare my queen."

Anon it was ordained that Queen Guinevere should be burned to death, because she had dishonored King Arthur."

The scene never made it to the walls of the Union building, but the projected composition is seen in a detailed ink study now in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
Gabriel left Oxford shortly after the drawing was done,  but he kept it for the rest of his life.  It was sold at his studio sale in 1882  after which it was acquired by a businessman who bequeathed his collection to Manchester Art Gallery in the 1940s