Saturday, 16 May 2020

Helen Muspratt Photographer

Helen Muspratt, triple self-portrait : copyright Jessica Sutcliffe

I'm really hoping the current covid crisis will have lifted from museums as well as everywhere else by the autumn, because the Bodleian Library in Oxford is scheduling an exhibition of original photographs from the Helen Muspratt archive there.   Due to open 16 October 2020.   

Helen Muspratt, Eileen Agar, copyright Jessica Sutcliffe
It will include all aspects of Muspratt's work, from  pioneering images of fellow artists like Eileen Agar and Paul Nash, 

through commercial university-town portraits  of eminent figures, to documentary accounts of the Soviet Union and Welsh valleys in the 1930s. 

Something from her daughter Jessica Sutcliffe about Muspratt's work here :  OUP blog

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Gossip about Effie Millais

William Bell Scott to William Michael Rossetti
21 June 1855

"Millais's marriage is not a pleasant event.  What do you think of it?  a lady whose complaint against her husband is that reported of Mrs Ruskin is not an actress who will set much store by either good taste or the affections, and one may fear notoriety has got the better of the man who shares her role.  However other men  may see the matter in quite another light.  Were there any stolen waters in Millais's cup last [sic] year in the Highlands?  Were there any crim.con elements in that summer trip?'
Ms in Durham University Library

Tom KcKellar: Sargent's model

new information from Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  i'll try to attach image later

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

GBJ's Bridge of Sighs

Georgiana Macdonald [later Burne=Jones]  The Bridge of Sighs, pen & ink 1859-60; Dennis T 
Lanigan Colln

A second article in the current British Art Journal publishes the Bridge of Sighs drawing by Georgiana Burne-Jones in greater detail than was possible in Pre-Raphaelite Sisters.  

Written by the new owner, Dennis T Lanigan, it describes GBJ’s short-lived artistic career in detail and relates the image to other contemporary depictions of destitution set on or under bridges over the Thames, including Simeon Solomon’s beggar youngsters  complete with white mouse in I am Starving (1857) and two etchings illustrating Hood’s  poem by John Everett Millais and Gerald Fitzgerald (1821-86).  Published at the end of 1858, the last of these is closely comparable in subject matter, showing three watermen with the body of a young woman they have just pulled from the river, observed by a peeler and two inquisitive boys.  GBJ’s version differs compositionally, however.

The article does not include the drawing's provenance, partly given on GBJ's label on the back,which  presents it to her younger grand-daughter, who died in 1975.  This indicates that GBJ kept the work almost until the end of her life.  It was sold at Christie's on 11 December 2018. 
Dennis Lanigan concludes his article saying that the work shows the social conscience that would never have  appealed to Georgie’s husband – although he had some radical tendencies in youth – and that it ‘is likely  that she was forced to abandon her vocation against her will because of a lack of support at home and her need to concentrate her activities on being both a wife and mother.  Georgie therefore was almost as much a victim of her circumstances as the unfortunate young woman she portrayed in her drawing.’ 

Simeon Solomon, I am Starving ,  1857, National Gallery of Art Washington

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Florence Claxton

Florence Claxton, Women's Work, 1861

The current issue of the British Art Journal carries an extensive and welcome article on Florence Claxton’s satirical painting Woman’s Work: A Medley,  which presents an almost Hogarthian panorama of the constraints and obstacles experienced by middle class women in the mid-nineteenth century.   Pictorially centred on a fleshy, leisured  fellow surrounded by adoring subservient females, it’s a most useful illustration, frequently cited.  But it's been virtually out of reach to scholars and critics, as its ownership is unpublished, it’s not been exhibited since 1861 and the few available reproductions have been small and rather murky, given the number and density of figures within the scene.

So Charlotte Yeldham’s in-depth study makes this ‘most daring and ambitious’ picture newly available for discussion by art historians and social historians.    We learn that it is 750mm wide and was exhibited in large and ornate gilt frame at the Portland Gallery in London in spring 1861.  That is was ‘used in direct support of the campaign for greater work opportunities’ led by first-wave feminists Anna Jameson, Barbara Bodichon, Bessie Parkes, Emily Faithfull.  That the crinolined woman crouching by the closed door of the medical profession has blood on face and hands represents not only aspiring female doctors but also a ‘kneeling, weeping’ fallen woman, with tell-tale loose hair, driven by destitution, shame and disease into sex work.

Yeldham’s correlation of the numerous vignettes within Woman’s Work with contemporary campaigns around marriage, education, emigration and the rest is very thorough.  Detailed exposition of the all background figures is given and previous misconceptions [mostly due to poor earlier images] are corrected.  One small query remains: the identity of the blonde artist on the escape ladder tugging at Rosa Bonheur’s skirts.  Could this be Claxton herself?   The only potential portrait I can find shows her with fair curly hair.  

Monday, 20 April 2020

DGR and A Last Confession

Rossetti’s dramatic monologue A Last Confession dramatised his disillusion with the failed revolution of 1848 in Italy.  I've discovered a historical source that also informs the poem‘s plot.

The narrative concerns a young Italian patriot who kills the  girl he loves (a poetic stand-in for Italy) when she scorns  both cause and lover in favour of accommodation with the Austrian occupation of Italy.   

The speaker,  who has fatal wounds incurred as a guerrilla fighter,  addresses the reader via a priest,  recounting the event:   
The day was one red blindness; till it seemed
Within the whirling brain’s entanglement
That she or I or all things bled to death.
 And then I found her laid against my feet 
 And knew that I had stabbed her, and saw still
Her look in falling.  For she took the knife
Deep in her heart.

This theme of sexual jealousy allied to political betrayal echoes the real life example of Antonio Gasparoni, the ‘famous brigand’ (1793-1882) whose career was the subject of Europe-wide mythologizing.  Gasparoni himself became a tourist attraction when imprisoned with his band in Civita Castellana.

 According to Stendahl, one such tourist in 1839, the bandit leader was betrayed by a lover who succumbed to a six thousand scudi bribe. Foreseeing imminent capture, Gasparoni strangled her.   

By 1855 the narrative had evolved, as artist Joanna Boyce related:
‘When he was 20 in a  fit of jealousy he killed the girl he loved and finding a price was put on his head he turned brigand and for ten years he made himself the terror of travellers.  So well known was he for his wonderful daring and agility even among foreigners, that very few  English passed through Civita Vecchia, where he was first imprisoned, without going to visit him.  When he was a little past thirty he gave himself up to the authorities and and he and his 16 men have lived together in prison more than thirty years, a happy quiet life …. A nobler looking old man I have never seen.’ 

Gasparoni’s trademark was his conical brigand’s hat, shown in this portrait,  from the museum  in Sonnino, a historical centre of banditry.  Rather uncannily, the scowling features bear a distinct likeness to the young D.G.Rossetti….

Monday, 24 February 2020

Weirdly Beardsley and Beard's Nudes

The Tate's new exhibition about Aubrey Beardsley opens at Millbank next week, which allows a new appraisal of his works, and is rather apt to the current fashion for all things queer.   Some images are so in the earlier meaning of the term, as odd, freakish, singular, bizarre; others with a distinctly gay, intersexual aspect.

He had a phenomenal graphic talent for alluring grotesqueries,  beguiling sinuous lines and sexually ambiguous figures with triffid-like flowers [maybe they inspired the triffids]. Certainly weirdly attractive parabolic curves and dramatic black shapes.

Though he disclaimed personal homosexuality, drawing these images was auto-erotic, and plainly deviant to those in the gay culture of the 1890s, who encouraged and paid for illustrations to Mademoiselle de Maupin and Wilde's Salome.


One can only post some of the Lysistrata designs, as the outsize phalluses will be deemed offensive  today.    

which is interesting in relation to the recent BBC programmes on female and male nudes, in which Prof Mary Beard happily dwelt on  Courbet's L'Origine du Monde [probably not postable either] but was very coy in respect of male nudes, showing only limp genitals  and nothing by Beardsley or Mapplethorpe.

As it happens,  I am publishing a small book on Beardsley with the V&A /Thames & Hudson, with 100 images mostly from V&A collections. 
I'm looking forward to Tate's monster display of original pieces.  
Somewhat oddly, but in keeping with Beardsley's off-centre reputation, Tate's publicity cites his work as key inspiration for today's tattoo artists.