Sunday, 19 August 2018

Eastbury Manor

This rather overlooked NT property is worth an excursion, and not hard to each via District Line or Overground.  Like Red House it was surrounded in 1920s by suburban housing so the situation isn't alluring,  although birds and walks are not far away at Rainham Marshes.

The building is a more-or-less intact Elizabethan mansion built in brick for a merchant on land that formerly belonged to Barking Abbey.  H-plan with one surviving of two roof towers from which the merchant [one surmises] could watch for his and others' ships heading for home. Many Tudor chimneys, more than hearths, apparently to impress.   One surviving staircase tower with ancient oak treads.   

 Plus some surviving 17th century mural fragments in Italianate style.  Best of all, the long east side attic floor, with great roof timbers.  Done on the self-assembly basis, parts having carpenters' marks to show which beam fitted where..

A simple tea-room and courtyard garden.  

Sunday, 12 August 2018

De Morgans and Morrises

The links between the Morris family and Evelyn and William de Morgan are well documented.  May Morris recalled the youthful pleasure of watching the unpacking of a de Morgan firing to see the shining colour of glazes and lustres fresh from the kiln, and the child-delighting riddles and puns that the two Williams exchanged.   During the 1890s and 1900s William’s sister Mary de Morgan was a frequent visitor at Kelmscott Manor and Kelmscott House, sharing Jane’s committment to embroidery.  Evelyn was a more silent member of the friendship, but is of course known for her portrayal of Janey in The Hour Glass.

Evelyn’s chalk portrait of Jenny was purchased by Mary Annie Sloane at the Kelmscott Manor sale after May’s death.  But what happened to her dramatic chalk study of Luna, in gold paint on dark paper?  It was also in the Kelmscott collection, having presumably been given by Evelyn to Jane sometime after the oil version was exhibited in 1886.
The crescent moon in darkness, personified as a sleeping figure enmeshed in ropes that suggest loos entanglement rather than bondage, exemplifies Evelyn’s symbolic iconography of the human soul in  thrall to materialism before the dawn of spiritual enlightenment.  The Spiritualist movement in the late-Victorian era, to which both de Morgans (and William’s parents’ subscribed) held, or hoped, that the individual soul survived death to progress to further evolution.   The majority of Evelyn’s paintings express such belief in various pictorial forms.

Jane Morris apparently had similar ideas, although actual documentation is so far sparse.  In 1897  she wrote that she hoped that animals would be treated with less cruelty than was common, adding ‘for myself, I have long believed in the transmigration of souls, and consequently have regarded all living creatures with reverence.’    We don’t know when or why Janey adopted this belief in reincarnation, borrowed by Victorian Theosophy from Hindu and Buddhist thought, but it made for a link of sympathy with the De Morgans.   They believed in the soul’s evolution after death, though not, I think, in its transmigration into other bodies, including animals and insects.
One would like to know more about Janey’s belief system, as well as the fate of Evelyn’s gilded moon..

Sunday, 5 August 2018

May Morris & Ada Culmer

Those wishing to know more about Jenny Morris may be interested in  the correspondence from  May Morris to Ada Culmer [above, far right] who acted as Jenny's carer/companion, which is in the library of Duke University, North Carolina 

Friday, 13 July 2018

Burne-Jones in Hatfield

Maybe more accurately ‘after Burne-Jones’  for this is a window to his designs in Hatfield parish church, adjacent to the Cecils’ mansion Hatfield House. 
The four-figure group of Martyrs was installed in 1894, commemorating the widow of Charles Drage, a London physician buried in the churchyard.  It thus post-dates Morris's active involvement in the Firm's commissions.  And if his refusal to install new glass in old churches had not of itself  denied Hatfield this window, one feels his political convictions would have blocked any dealings with a church so closely linked to the imperial prime minister Lord Salisbury.


On the opposite wall is an angelic trio, who represent Suffering and Charity flanking the Sun of Righteousness, which was a post-WWI memorial to three Cecil scions.   These splendid figures were the work of Christopher Whall.


Though Burne-Jones had no such political qualms about mixing with Tories, it is unlikely that  he visited Hatfield.  If he had, with his liking for 'bogie' images, he might have been delighted by two older tombs with memento mori motifs:  one with the recumbent effigy of the first Earl supported by four sturdy Virtues - Justice on right in photo - and suspended over a tremendous marble skeleton:

and another with two wonderful Jacobean women from the Brocket family reclining uncomfortably together, over a skull. 

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

RA History show

in the spacious Fine Rooms at the Royal Academy
which when I visited were virtually deserted compared to crowds in main exhibition
is a selection of pieces shown during the 250 year history of  the RA
first at Somerset House, then in National Gallery and since 1868 at Burlington House.
It's a interesting survey-cum-mix, with no patchwork jumbling of objects, and does a reasonable job of chronicling change in pictorial taste over the centuries, with the type of 'correct' chronological display that is so out of fashion right now.
Here: Turner / Constable / Millais / Minton / Emin / Kitaj
many more [but not too many] on view.

 Kitaj's Assassination of the Killer-Critic,   has this detail lower left



Tuesday, 26 June 2018

RA comedy show

One can't help feeling  that both contributors and selectors [led by Grayson P] have been having  a good laugh creating this year's Royal Academy summer exhibition.  The sherbet yellow room is a sort of satire on the traditional jumble of  disparate large and small serious and comical works, with surely more of the last category than usual.   With such a hodge-podge, it's really hard to see what one is looking at, and the eye swiftly tires of the juxtaposed disparity.  Or quickly re-adjusts to a kind of five-second jump-cut viewing, as with videos and television.  
 And there are lots of objects plainly made to make one laugh out loud.  Which may be one of the main functions of contemporary art  - Perry's own is often in this vein.

Joana Vasconcelos' opening piece says it all, in a way - as well as being too overbearing to  contain in one shot....
I did like this exhibit, made I think from flattened bottle-caps:

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Shonibare in Rome

The Invisible Man is a new piece by Yinka Shonibare, installed in the Barbarini Corsini National Gallery in Rome, as part of a project to create 'a dialogue between the work of old masters and contemporary artists on the theme of the portrait and the self-portrait', entitled Eco e Narcisso.

Other works range from Caravaggio to Giulio Paolini, from Raphael to Richard Serra, from Bernini to Yan Pei Ming, from Piero di Cosimo to Kiki Smith, from Luigi Ontani to Pietro da Cortona.    The Invisible Man has been acquired for the MAXXI collection [Museo delle Arte de XXI secolo - geddit?] located in the via Guido Reni.  

If not exact to the theme, it's very apt to the moment, because even though the figure is clad in sort-of 18th century costume, he's plainly a homeless, anonymous migrant.