Sunday, 2 April 2017

Royal Collection Artists' Portraits

The exhibition Portrait of the Artist at the Queen's Gallery Buckingham Palace  runs until 17 April, but of course all the items are from the Royal Collection and should not vanish from the website after that.  Carefully and cleverly curated by Anna Reynolds and Lucy Peter,  the selection reveals how rich a resource the nation's monarch has, in paintings, drawings, miniatures, prints and ceramics, the diversity of medium and genre allowing a whole history of depictions of artists to emerge, from the Renaissance of da Vinci and Durer to the present of Freud and Hockney.  Not ignoring the current consort, in a pair of works showing Prince Philip's depiction of artist Edward Seago aboard the royal yacht, alongside Seago's reciprocal painting of Philip on deck working at his own folding easel.

Famously, the collection includes Artemisia's self-portrait as and in the act of painting,  a great piece of advertising from the seventeen century.

Other female artists appear in various ways, as in copies after Angelica Kaufmann, Rosalba Carriera and Vigee le Brun.

Plus the very striking and seldom seen self-portrait by Italian-born Emma Gaggiotti Richards, purchased by Queen Victoria as a birthday present for Albert in 1853.  The Queens Gallery's explication:
Richards depicts herself with the attributes of her profession: a palette, a mahlstick, and a selection of brushes. She is dressed in black, a colour not solely associated with mourning, but also favoured by working women. Although by this date it had become acceptable for men to fashion themselves as dishevelled Bohemians in their self-portraits, Richards, as a female artist and therefore on the periphery of artistic acceptability, firmly sets herself within the historic, and therefore safe, tradition of self-portraiture established  by artists during the Renaissance. Her solemn, intense expression and twisted, three-quarter length pose bring to mind the great self-portraitists of the past and thereby associate her with a long and illustrious line of serious and learned artists
Lastly, two curiosities, of which I was quite ignorant.  One is a self-portrait in stitches or needle-painting by Mary Knowles, done for Queen Charlotte in the 1770s. 
Knowles had previously stitched a portrait of George III for Charlotte, and here showed herself working on that piece, in her own self-advertisement.  
It doesn't photograph very well, being glazed, and embroidered pictures are an acquired taste, but it's nice to see such an example.

Something similar can be said of the bronze self-portrait as bat aka inkwell sculpted by Sarah Bernhardt.  Being in a display case, and bronze being so difficult to photograph without special lighting, the Royal Collection cast is accompanied here by that from the MFA Boston, which shows what a strange piece it is.





Friday, 31 March 2017

Black Magi occasional sightings

Here the Adoration as central panel in an elaborate altarpiece by W.D.Caroe, better known as an architect, installed 1911 in Christ's Chapel Dulwich College, accessed from the Picture Gallery garden on selected days.
The three Kings are joined by two boy scholars, in Jacobean-style gowns.  I assume the extra man upper right is not a fourth king but St Joseph, hence his halo.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Hew Locke at Runnymede

The recent (2015, to mark 600th anniversary of Magna Carta) installation on a water meadow by the Thames at Runnymede, created by sculptor Hew Locke  features a whole range of less well-commemorated events and individuals from around the world, set in low relief bronze on the upright faces, front and back of 12 chairs. 

 There is a leaflet to identify them  and a website
 The leaflet says   'Please do sit on and touch the artwork... The chairs appear to be awaiting a gathering, discussion or debate of some kind: an open invitation to the artist for the audience to sit, to reflect and to discuss the implications of the histories and issues depicted'.   these are: Lillie Lenton, Suffragette; UN Convention on the rights of the Child, initiated in 1923 by Eglantyne Jebb; the Exxon Valdez oil pollution, Alaska 1989; Wilde's Ballad of Reading Gaol; Magna Carta clause 39 on trial by jury; Cornelia Sorabji, lawyer and women's advocate; UK Blind Persons Act 1920; Amerindian land rights;  Phyllis Wheatley and Mary Prince;  Emancipation of the Serfs, Russia, 1861; Mahatma Gandhi;  Harvey Milk;  citizen interventions to stop shredding of Stasi files, 1989; Nelson Mandela; Tim Berners Lee's call for internet free use; memorials to the 'Disappeared'; the Golden Rule of do as you would be done by; maritime refugee rights; Confucian principles of justice, ritual and humaneness; aboriginal Australian land rights; ancient Egyptian symbols of truth and justice; the murder of 133 enslaved  Africans on the  Zong ship 1781; Aung San Su Kyi's house in Burma;  the legendary Chinese creature xiezhi, symbol of justice. 
Too much information, maybe.  But they looked splendid and intriguing in the March sun. 

Nearby are a couple of American memorials, one celebrating the Charter itself as the origin of western democracy [?], one memorialising JFK.  Atop the hill behind, a major WW2 portico and tower commemorates those from British and Commonwealth air forces who died on active service.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Fanny Eaton commemoration

The 93rd anniversary of Fanny Eaton's death on 4 March 1924 was commemorated on Saturday 4 March  2017  at Margravine (Hammersmith) cemetery, London W68RL.

The grave spot is in the South Front section behind Charing Cross Hospital.  A marker has been placed on the plot as indicated in cemetery records, pending the installation of a stone plaque; although burials are all but ended, the cemetery does allow new, small gravestones. 

Mary and Brian Eaton by Fanny's grave 
To mark the occasion, below another probable sighting of Fanny in art, as the Widow in Ford Madox Brown's painting of Elijah resurrecting her son (already in his funeral shroud). 
Fanny is not certainly identified as the model here, but given her extensive artistic employment for figures of Middle Eastern appearance, and artists' ideas about historical authenticity,  she is the most likely candidate. 

The earliest version of  Elijah and the Widow's Son was finished in summer 1864; this version was completed by the end of 1868 and shown in Manchester the following year, when the Manchester Guardian critic complained that the 'grave and noble' subject was  ruined by the  'white wool mat' that the prophet had on his head.  However, according to another review,  the 'most perfect figure' was that of the kneeling mother, than which it  was 'hard to conceive anything more impressive than the whole composition or the nobleness of the head'.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Religion in the Usk Valley

A brief visit to the Usk valley, in the Marches between Wales and England,  revealed some little-known [to me] history.

I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright,
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years
Driv'n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov'd; in which the world
And all her train were hurl'd

I did know of the 17th century poet Henry Vaughan, author of devotional works with a mystical aspect and metaphysical manner in the wake of Donne and Herbert.  I didn’t know that he was born and lived most of his life in the Usk valley at a place called Llansanffraid, that he was ‘not born to’ English, but Welsh (presumably through his mother), that his twin brother Thomas studied alchemy and hermeticism and that their early adulthood coincided with the English Civil War, Commonwealth and Restoration.  Nor that in this tumultuous time Henry remained loyal to the Anglican  church, with its Catholic inheritance, rather than to the Puritan version, which removed many clergy from their posts including Thomas Vaughan, and banned the Prayerbook. 

Before that, he followed Thomas to Jesus College Oxford (a Welsh foundation, as witnessed by a fine effigy of its founder in Abergavenny church) but soon left, ‘being designed by my father for the study of the law’ in London, ‘which the sudden eruption of our later civil warres wholie frustrated’.
Like many gentry sons, Vaughan supported the King, and joined the royalist forces fighting and defeated near Chester in 1645. His first  volume of poems was printed in 1646, his second Olor Iscanus (Swan of Usk) was composed in 1647 and his third Silex scintillans (Fiery or Flashing Flint) appeared in two volumes 1650 and 1655.   He made a virtue of retirement, identifying himself with the Silures who occupied southern Wales in antiquity, composed ‘solitary devotions’ to substitute for the liturgy and at some stage began to study medicine from the books then available, a large number of which are to be found in a Philadelphia Library. He also studied the natural history of Breconshire, partly for knowledge of plants’ medicinal properties.  John Aubrey described him as ingenious (clever) but proud and humorous or moody.  He seems to have given up poetry by the Restoration spent the next thirty years as a peripatetic, possibly occasional doctor. 
Landscape features in Vaughan’s verse as evidence of the divine purpose, so his literary heirs are Blake, Christina Rossetti, Gerald Manley Hopkins rather than Wordsworth.

With what deep murmurs, through Time's silent stealth,
Doth thy transparent, cool, and wat'ry wealth,
Here flowing fall,
And chide and call,
As if his liquid, loose retinue stay'd
Ling'ring, and were of this steep place afraid.

The common pass,
Where clear as glass,
All must descend
Not to an end,
But quick'ned by this deep and rocky grave.
Rise to a longer course more bright and brave.

Dear stream ! dear bank ! where often I
Have sat, and pleased my pensive eye ;
Why, since each drop of thy quick store
Runs thither whence it flow'd before,
Should poor souls fear a shade or night.
Who came — sure — from a sea of light ?

Or, since those drops are all sent back
So sure to Thee that none doth lack,
Why should frail flesh doubt any more
That what God takes He'll not restore ?

There’s a political message here, too; one wonders what Vaughan made, devotionally, of Charles II and the restored Church.

Alexander Voet St David Lewis, NPG
He probably had more in common and maybe some sympathy for the other notable Christian from Usk, of whom I had never heard.  This was David Lewis, also Welsh, born in Abergavenny a few years before Vaughan, who while Vaughan was a Royalist soldier converted to the Catholic faith and was ordained priest in Rome, before joining the Jesuits and being sent back to Wales to minister clandestinely to the faithful.   He was successfully sheltered by local recusant families with enough power to withstand both Puritans and Anglicans until the ’Popish Plot’ and Exclusion Crisis of 1678-9, when Lewis was arrested, tried in Monmouth,  interrogated  in London, offered freedom to recant and confirm the plot and, when he refused, duly executed in Usk.

According to his hagiography,  no-one in Usk could be persuaded to erect the gallows or act as hangman, for fear of popular reprisals. On  the scaffold he affirmed his faith:
“My religion is Roman Catholic; in it I have lived above these forty years; in it now I die, and so fixedly die, that if all the good things in the world were offered to me to renounce it, all should not remove me one hair’s breadth from the Roman Catholic faith. A Roman Catholic I am; a Roman Catholic priest I am; a Roman Catholic priest of that order known as the Society of Jesus, I am."

This was August 1679, when Henry Vaughan was 25 miles north up the Usk valley, where he died in 1695, being buried with a similarly pious but less courageous epitaph  describing him as ‘Silurist, Doctor of Medicine, unworthy servant, greatest of sinners, may God have mercy’.

They lived in interesting times.   David Lewis, who has a gravestone outside the church door in Usk,  was canonised in 1970 along with 40 other ‘English Martyrs’. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

May Morris's Valentine to GBS

great little news item about Alice McEwan's discovery in the British Library:

article here

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

WM on the World Market

the 1880s and going forward: prediction from News from Nowhere  

"The appetite of the World-Market grew with what it fed on: the countries within the ring of civilization (that is, organised misery) were glutted with the abortions of the market, and force and fraud were used unsparingly to open up countries outside that pale.  This process of opening up is a strange one to those who have read the professions of the men of that period and do not understand their practice; and perhaps shows us at its worst the great  vice of the nineteenth century, the use of hypocrisy and cant to evade the responsibility of vicarious ferocity.  When the civilized World-Market coveted a country not yet in its clutches, some transparent pretext was found - the suppression of a  slavery different from, and not so cruel as that of commerce; the preaching of a religion no longer believed in by its promoters; the rescue of some desperado or homicidal madman whose misdeeds had got him into trouble amongst the natives of the 'barbarous country' - any stick, in short, which would beat the dog at all.  Then some bold, unprincipled adventurer was found (no difficult task in the days of competition) and he was bribed to 'create a market' by breaking up whatever traditional society there might be  in the doomed country, and by destroying whatever leisure or pleasure he found there.  He forced wares on the natives which they did not want, and took their natural products 'in exchange', as this form of robbery was called, and thereby he 'created new wants' to supply which (that is, to be allowed to live by their new masters) the hapless, helpless people had to sell themselves into the slavery of hopeless toil so that they might have something with which to purchase the nullities of 'civilization."