Friday, 8 June 2018

Ignatius Sancho on stage



Currently playing at Wilton's Music Hall in Wapping is the solo show by Patterson Joseph narrating the life of Ignatius Sancho, one of the best-known African citizens of London in the 18th century, who became a composer, campaigner and shopkeeper, and was probably the first man of colour to vote in a parliamentary election, when the franchise depended on property ownership. 
Born on a Spanish slave ship around 1729 and taken to Britain in 1731, he worked for three sisters in Greenwich and then for the Duke of Montagu before opening a grocery store in Westminster.  He married a Caribbean woman and had several children, and died in 1780.
Sancho's story is known from his own writings, his correspondence with Laurence Sterne being published in 1782, and from his letters to the press  and involvement in the nascent anti-slavery movement.  His appearance is known from the portrait by Thomas Gainsborough


which Patterson Joseph recreates on stage, apart from the hair - it's not clear from the portrait whether Sancho's is fashionably long or a black Georgian-style wig,  but he's clearly presented as a Georgian-style gentleman. 
From his years as a footman and valet, through his time as a tradesman, friendship with Sterne and casting his vote for Charles James Fox, Joseph's is a witty account of Sancho, following the historical sources but including dramatic animadversions, and a tour de force in terms of theatrical event. 


Here is a review by Chris Omaweng     https://www.londontheatre1.com/reviews/review-sancho-an-act-of-remembrance-wiltons-music-hall/

and here are details of the current performances :https://www.wiltons.org.uk/whatson/420-sancho-an-act-of-remembrance

One episode in the show evokes Sancho's music, which includes fashionable dance minuets, reels and songs.  More about his compositions here:   http://sanchomusic.synthasite.com/

Wilton's Music Hall is a resurrected building that has lately been preserved in all its decay.  As a theatre it was designed for comedians and popular song-and-dance acts and just about works for Joseph's energetic Sancho monologue, but places most of the audience rather far from performer.  However, its historical quality certainly adds to the theme of  forgotten stories.

I'm wondering if some enterprising actors are thinking of dramatising the life of Francis Barber?   There should be some good scenes to write set in Samuel Johnson's house, especially when Barber entertained his fellow Black Londoners there


Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Ruskin and Education


A new collection of essays on this theme is being published:
RUSKIN AND NINETEENTH CENTURY EDUCATION.   details here
 
John Ruskin, whose bicentenary will be celebrated in 2019, was not only an art historian, cultural critic and political theorist, but also, above all, a great educator. He was the inspiration behind William Morris, Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Proust and Mahatma Gandhi, and his influence can be felt increasingly in every sphere of education today, for example, in debates about the importance of creativity, grammar schools and social mobility, Further Education, the crucial social role of libraries, environmental issues, the role of crafts as well as academic learning, the importance of fantasy literature and the education of women. Though Ruskin was a great believer in ‘Separate Spheres’, he also championed wider learning opportunities for girls. ‘John Ruskin and Nineteenth-Century Education‘ brings together ten top international Ruskin scholars to explore what he actually said about education in his many-faceted writings, and points to some of the key educational issues raised by his work, concluding with a powerful rereading of his ecological writing and his apocalyptic vision of the earth’s future.  Edited by Valerie Purton, this volume is dedicated to Dinah Birch, a much-loved Victorian specialist and authority on Ruskin, and makes a fresh and significant contribution to Victorian studies in the twenty-first century. 


To declare an interest, this volume contains an essay by me, 'Mad Governess or Wise Counsellor?'  on the context and contents of  Ruskin's (in)famous text Sesame and Lilies.  Here below is the opening :

This chapter begins, unusually for me, with an autobiographical anecdote that concerns my old school.  Some little while ago I was invited to the annual Founder’s Day, and as the invitation was insistent,  I duly presented at 10.00am in the school hall, to find a seat with my name on it. Much of the programme was familiar, a rather uncanny sensation after so many years, but then members of the upper sixth performed a drama written by themselves, which enacted episodes from the story of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, involving John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal, John Ruskin et al.   I knew then why I had been invited, as an alumna who has written extensively about this group and their art. Being a connoisseur of dramatisations and re-tellings of the PRB’s now near-legendary events, I enjoyed the somewhat tongue-in-cheek presentation by these stylish young women.
More followed, in the speech by the head teacher. I recalled that in my day the head was a historian and annually pulled out of the past some aspect of the school’s founding – by none other than the redoubtable Frances Mary Buss, this being North London Collegiate School and she being immortalised alongside Dorothea Beale, the formidable founder of Cheltenham Ladies College:

Miss Buss and Miss Beale
Cupid’s darts do not feel;
How different from us,
Miss Beale and Miss Buss.

On this latest Founder’s Day at NLCS the historical theme was art. Frances Buss’s father was  an unsuccessful painter who taught drawing at her new school, opened in 1850,and through whom she had artistic acquaintance. In the school archive is the record of a visit by Millais, who happened upon a student practising the harp, and also a letter to school governor Annie Ridley from John Ruskin, in which he wrote: ‘I am much interested in what you tell me of the school and of the feelings with which it has been founded’, adding, ‘I might perhaps be able to come and see what you are doing and to hear how I could promote it.’

This was intriguing to hear, because the school’s founding principles were that girls’ education should be as intellectually rigorous as that of their brothers, should include public examinations and in due course preparation for university, and should also involve regular physical exercise.  Whereas Ruskin, as has always been assumed, promoted gender difference in education,  ‘Sesame’ meaning classical and scientific learning for a boy, ‘Lilies’, sympathy and service to others for a girl:
All such knowledge …as may enable her to understand and even to aid, the work of men … yet not as knowledge, not as if it were for her an object to know, but only to feel and judge….

And
Solemnly she is to be taught to strive that her thoughts of pity be not … feeble … nor her prayer …languid … for the relief from pain or her husband or child [or] when it is uttered for the multitudes who have none to love them – and is “for all who are desolate and oppressed”

 So what brought these two views into potential collaboration?


Thursday, 24 May 2018

Embroidered Minds Epilepsy Garden at Chelsea


 

The Embroidered Minds Epilepsy Garden aims to raise awareness of epilepsy and the challenges that both sufferers and their families experience today.

Craftsman William Morris’s daughter Jenny developed epilepsy in 1876. It carried enormous stigma in Victorian times and had a profound effect on the Morris family. In response to this historical situation the garden aims to raise awareness of epilepsy and the challenges that people living with the condition and their families still face today.
Embroidered Minds, a cross disciplinary collaboration was instigated by Leslie Forbes and based around her researches and subsequent novel Embroidered Minds of the Morris Women which explores the tragic ‘conspiracy of silence surrounding William Morris’s family and Jenny’s experience of epilepsy as fiction based in facts.
Leslie died in July 2016 following an epileptic seizure but the collaborative project continues as she intended, to challenge ignorance of the condition today. The garden design was initiated by Leslie and old friend Kati Crome and realised by Kati, Leslie's husband Andrew Thomas and other members of the collaboration.
See more about Embroidered Minds and the background to the project at:
www.embroideredminds.co.uk
Included in the garden are plants often seen in William Morris designs such as Acanthus mollis and Acanthus spinosus and also some which were used as early treatments for epilepsy, including Valeriana officinalis.
The garden has three sections representing different lived experiences of epilepsy: first the calm pre-seizure mind; second, the chaotic state of the brain during seizures; and finally, the cumulative effects of unusual neural connections after living with seizures for a long time.
A vertical living wall referencing William Morris designed surface patterns, oak bench, tiled path and foreground planting are interrupted by a seizure represented through planting. The vitality of the post-seizure section also reflects the hope of a brighter future for epilepsy sufferers and their families through greater awareness and understanding of the condition.
The oak bench representing an EEG readout, starts as a calm resting place and is then disrupted with the chaos of a seizure. Specially commissioned from furniture designer Toby Winteringham, the bench is created with steam-bent oak secured with copper rivets and supported by rusted steel legs.
Running below the bench is a ceramic tiled path designed by artist Sue Ridge and designer/ceramist Andrew Thomas. Based on designs by William Morris the tiles are laid in a disintegrating pattern representing different aspects of epilepsy, transforming into neurological and seizure based images and ‘glitches’ as they run under the chaotic end of the bench.
The garden is partly sponsored by Epilepsy Society and Young Epilepsy, with some of the young people resident with Young Epilepsy at their site in Surrey helping to grow a selection of the plants.

http://www.embroideredminds-epilepsygarden.org.uk/

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Beyond Ophelia again


A couple of images to illustrate the installation at Wightwick Manor.  Definitely worth a detour and/or  special trip   Open till December but don't leave so long.

If any other venue with appropriate atmospheric and security conditions is interested in showing this compact and absorbing display in 2019, please contact Wightwick Manor.
 




JEM WHARTON





I'm delighted to say that the portrait of 19th century pugilist JEM WHARTON is now on display in the National Portrait Gallery, Room 19.   The owner first brought this to my attention following 'Black Victorians',  when the sitter's identity was unknown apart from an old label 'Young Molineux', which was one of the terms applied to Jem Wharton, who at the date of this painting (1839) ran a tavern-cum-training-ring, as so many fighters did on retirement.   The artist was Liverpool-based William Daniels, himself of working-class origins, who specialized in local portraits and genre figures.
'Young Molineux' references the best-known Black prizefighter of the previous generation, Tom Molineaux.  

Another of Wharton's fighting names was 'the Moroccan Prince', no doubt bestowed on him by those who promoted pugilism in reference to his complexion, although in the 1851 census Wharton's birthplace was given as London. In the era before Queensberry rules, when bare-knuckle fighting was outlawed but still popular, competitive pugilism was semi-clandestine and often deliberately obscured, so records are uncertain. 
I'm hoping that the rediscovery of the portrait will lead to new researches and sources.
 
Here Jem Wharton is seen in fighting garb, with a sash that, as the precursor of a belt, signified previous victories.  These had all been bare-knuckle contests, but here he's  wearing gloves, which at this date were coming into use in training, sparring and demonstration bouts, which very often took place in rings at the back of pubs, which would fit the nondescript indoor setting here, with Wharton posed as if about to commence or return to sparring.  Later, boxers were always shown with fists raised as if about to punch an opponent.

The portrait's history is unknown before its acquisition by the lender in London in the 1960s.  The now rather distressed frame   appears to be original.

Wharton's image joins that of Ira Aldridge, just across the room, alongside other Regency celebs





Friday, 27 April 2018

Piccadilly 1875

a
Giuseppe de Nittis, Piccadilly, 1875
 
A somewhat belated post with an image of one of the paintings in Tate Britain's recent exhibition IMPRESSIONISTS IN LONDON  which on the pavement to the left shows an elderly Indian street sweeper wearing a red turban, alongside a policeman.  Possibly included on account of the turban, the wintry street scene wanting in colour, but also an authentic glimpse of mid- to late-Victorian London.
It is one of a series showing London streets commissioned by banker Kaye Knowles.