Sunday, 29 July 2012

WMG Grand Re-Opening

All the familiar objects are there, and the layout of the house is almost untouched, apart from a new door into the re-created east wing with tea-room, toilets and lift to the upper floors. 
There was a formal re-opening last week and from 2 August the Gallery is open again, after an amazingly short period - free entry as ever - and both the new parts and the re-interpretation are worth  assessing.  The  first temporary exhibition features Grayson Perry’s great Walthamstow tapestry with its exuberantly crude imagery.   He was at the re-opening, and will be giving a tapestry tour on 30 August, plus a Q&A on 4 September.
 Picture of the front door above, and below the tea-room extension from the rear,overlooking Lloyd Park.  On Wednesday evening it looked and felt festive.  Then my camera battery ran out.
Morris's spirit, in its SPAB incarnation, was no doubt watching the renovations carefully, since he is really the founder of the whole architectural conservation and re-use heritage movement in Britain.
As a creator of large, pictorial tapestries, he just might have approved of Grayson's, in principle. In practice, he might have bellowed profanities  against its motifs - so different from Burne-Jones's Holy Grails - and possibly against its mechanisation, whereby the thousands of threads are woven together automatically. But the pictures of youngsters at Merton Abbey  knotting away behind the looms don't encourage any valorisation of hand work per se.
PS  Speaking of heritage, we might easily have had a traditional Queen & Country, Navy and National Trust type celebration at the Olympic opening.  Instead, it was a quasi-marxist pageant, outlining the transition from agricultural-rural to urban-industrial society, and beyond.  I half-expected Morris to make a cameo appearance, but he is perhaps not yet as globally popular as Mr Bean.

PPS  a critic's view of the renovation - see Alastair Sooke's piece here

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Samuel Coleridge Taylor + update

January 2015  
For an interesting investigation of SCT's musical identity see this piece
THE IMAGINARY AFRICAN: MUSIC, IDENTITY, AND RACE  by  Nicholas Cook, 1684 Professor of Music, University of Cambridge and British Academy Wolfson Research Professor,  accessed via SCT network  Newsletter no.38 issued by Sean Creighton .  There may be a simpler route, check out with 

COMPOSER Samuel Coleridge-Taylor died of pneumonia  100 years ago this summer  - 2012 was apparently very wet and cold too.  He was only 37 and although already a musical celebrity it was probably too early for a formal portrait so this small, gravely observed head study is the only painting of him.  When he was about seven,  he was asked to pose for a group of artists in Croydon, where he lived.  He must have impressed them with his self-possession.  He seems to have been one whose talents drove achievement without egotism; despite his very modest background he appears never to have doubted his life's work.

Right at the other end of his life, just a few weeks before his death, he sat to the rising photographer Emil Hoppe, who this year created striking portraits of many figures in the arts world  who were making names for themselves, including Marinetti, the visiting Futurist and poseur, and Karsavina, star of the Ballets Russes.  Coleridge-Taylor was still pushing forward, with a completed but as yet unstaged opera, and an orchestral work due for performance at the Proms (then held in the autumn).  With Hello Ragtime and Stravinsky both on the stage, and Post-Impressionists  and Fauvistes in the galleries, it was a moment of extraordinary cultural dynamism to which had he lived  Coleridge-Taylor would have made a unique contribution.  African themes and Gospel music were among his inspirations.

Both these works feature in a display at the NPG [Room 29] to mark the centenary.    Other items include a newspaper double-spread featuring contemporary musical generations - the elders including Stanford, Parry and Elgar, the youngsters  including  Coleridge-Taylor and Ethel Smyth - though not Vaughan Williams or Gustav Holst , both fellow students of Coleridge-Taylor at the RCM,  but who had yet to become known.   

 Sadly, the display is silent, but there are many opportunities to hear the music this season : check out

PS  view of  display:

Thursday, 12 July 2012

May Morris & the Women's Guild of Arts

AMONG the items once owned by artist Mary Sloane and recently given to the William Morris Society are 90 glass slides, made from photographs showing medieval jewellery, textiles and embroidery artefacts, works by members of the Women's Guild of Arts , and  images of the Morris family and their houses.

May Morris was founder and chair of the WGA and her close friend Mary Anne Sloane was its hon.secretary.    The exact origin of the items isn't clear - the donation includes WGA documents and some hitherto unknown portrait photos of May probably taken in the USA - but research is in progress.

The WMS is aiming to digitise the slides in order to use the images in a WGA display, and to make them available to researchers, in order to find out more about the extensive role of women in the Arts & Crafts movement.  Digitisation costs £5 sterling per slide.  To sponsor slides, please contact

Oh, and another recent acquisition by the WMS is a brooch made by May - worked in gold and set with large teardrop amethysts, small green stones and what looks like an opal in the centre.  May's jewellery work isn't as well known as her embroidery - the largest collection is in the V&A - so this is a very welcome addition to the Kelmscott House collection.

Thursday, 5 July 2012


A little known portrait of John William Waterhouse, painter of the famous Lady of Shalott, has been acquired by the National Portrait Gallery. One of hundreds of portraits from the later Victorian era fully catalogued for the first time, it went on public display today.  

 Waterhouse is an artist about whose pesonal life very little is known; there are hardly any portraits of him and although this small oil is in consequence an important work, unfortunately for Waterhouse fans,  it  portrays him in rather miserable, scowling mode, his eyes shaded and his mouth obscured by moustache and beard.  In fact it probably wasn't intended as a portrait but as a study for a figure in a crowd scene.

Full details of its  story are in the Later Victorian Portraits catalogue,, the first such period publication to be published online by the NPG , which is being launched today.  Other artists in the LVP include (to mention only those of especial interest) Louise Jopling, Julia Cameron, Blanche Lindsay, Elizabeth Butler, Emilia Dilke, May Morris, Louisa Waterford, Laura Alma-Tadema and Mary Thornycroft..

Sunday, 1 July 2012

just testing

a swift post because the blogspot keeps popping up with an incomprehensible error msg and no indication of how to resolve the problem whatever it is. 

So here is a test, about walking in Cheshunt  along the New River,  completed  in 1613 to carry water from Amwell in Hertfordshire right into London by gravity alone, and a diversion to take in the site of Theobalds, the great house built by Lord Burleigh, which his son gave to James I - a sort of obligatory gift - in exchange for the old Hatfield House and estate. 

Theobalds was demolished during the Commonwealth - sale of the late King's goods etc - but the site is marked on OS maps as 'remains' so I was curious.  It's now a public park, based on the mansion/s  built there in C18 and C19.
The only visible piece of old fabric is this stone, with date 1621, though it looks rather crisp, and unexplained. 
Archaeology is underway however: the most significant find being the skeleton of a very large dog, provisionally classified as one of James I's hunting wolfhounds.... not quite the same as foundations, but early days.

In the garden is a ruined archway which from a distance could be an old wall robbed of its facing stone but turns out to be a much later folly cobbled up from great flints and lumps of brick.
This by way of testing whether and how this post will appear....
PS  problem now sorted, it seems