Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Fanny Eaton + update

APRIL 2014   A hitherto unknown drawing of Fanny Eaton, which must have been executed when she was sitting to Albert Moore, Simeon Solomon and Fred Sandys, has just come to light.  MORE SOON I hope

Quite excitingly, a whole lot of new information has been discovered about the Jamaican-born woman who modelled for many of the Pre-Raphaelite artists and others in the 1860s.  Her distinctive features are seen in Albert Moore's early work here, showing the mother of Sisera; in Simeon Solomon's The Mother of Moses (now in Delaware Art Museum) ; in Rebecca Solomon's The Young Teacher; in Joanna Boyce Wells's study for an intended painting either of the  Libyan Sybil  or Queen Zenobia; and in a dozen other works.   

 I put as much information as I had into the catalogue for BLACK VICTORIANS and am thrilled to learn from Brian Eaton, grandson of Fanny's youngest child Frank, who with his wife Mary has been tracing family genealogies, that they have found details of Fanny's mother Matilda Foster later Antwhistle, who settled in Britain with her daughter sometime  in the 1840s,  and of Fanny's grandmother Bathsheba, born into slavery in Jamaica. This is remarkable new knowledge as information on individuals in that period and those circumstances is always very elusive.   Fanny lived until 1924 and had ten children, though only two or three seem to have had descendants. 
She was much in demand as a model for dark-skinned female figures of exotic appearance, whether Semitic, Egyptian, Indian or other, and I'm now more convinced that some of her children also feature in the artworks.  Look for example at the face of the girl far left here in Millais' Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, drawn for Dalziels, and also perhaps that of the crouching child in Madox Brown's Coat of Many Colours.

Rossetti drew Fanny Eaton for a supporting figure in The Beloved, and might just have used one of her daughters in studies for the black child who occupies the foreground in that painting, only to replace her features with that of a much darker African-American boy, to complete the range of racial types depicted.

One of Fanny's daughters,  Miriam Cicely, has a descendant who recalls her father speaking of an ancestress who was a beautiful artist's model.  So some family knowledge was passed on.  I wonder if anywhere there are photographs of her in later life?

In a loosely related but pertinent  project, the Legacies of British Slavery, listing details of all those slave-owners who received financial compensation from the government when slavery was abolished in the Caribbean in the 1830s, is launched today; see

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Ras Makonnan

Currently on display at NPG is a group of lively impressions of international diplomats in Britain at the end of the 19th century – often overlooked  individuals from  a largely forgotten aspect of Victorian history.  They include Chinese envoy Kuo Sung-tao in 1877, Japanese ambassador Tadasu Hayashi 1902 and Ras Makonnan (then anglicized as Makunan)  (1852-1906) envoy from Abyssinia (as it was)   who was father of Ras Tafari Makonnan, later Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia.  (Spellings vary and in some sources Makonnan’s full name is given as Mäkonnen Wäldä-Mikaél Guddisa)
He arrived in Britain on 23 June 1902 for the coronation of Edward VII at the end of the month, which owing to illness was postponed till 9 August.  In the unplanned interval he visited Birmingham, Glasgow and Paris.  Back in London, he paid an official visit to Windsor, where according to one courtier, ‘he came with a suite of jolly black men who consumed a great deal of fruit at tea’.  Before tea, the Ras paid a special visit to St George’s Chapel, to see the burial place of Theodore [Prince Alamayou] , described as ‘the little Ethiopian prince, to whom Queen Victoria had extended her protection’ and upset the Dean of the chapel by saying the memorial inscription was ‘wrongly written’ (no further details)
While in Britain Ras Makonnan sat for portraits:  photographs by the Lafayette studio in Bond St, wearing full ceremonial regalia, and a watercolour by caricaturist Leslie Ward, wearing plainer robes and seated with his rifle across his knees – such a long firearm that its depiction reaches beyond the sides of the artist’s sheet, and was so reproduced in Vanity Fair six months after the event. 

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Edwardian Challenge

According to Virginia Woolf, "On or around December 1910, human character changed. I am not saying that one went out, as one might into a garden, and there saw that a rose had flowered or a hen had laid an egg. The change was not sudden and definite like that, but a change there was, nevertheless … All human relations have shifted — those between masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children. And when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature. Let us agree to place one of these changes about the year 1910”
Woolf’s essay was about the contemporary novel, but her chosen date was that of the first Post-Impressionist art show held in London, symbolically taken to signal the advent of Modernism in all the arts.  The Edwardian years 1900-1914 are often regarded as the moribund phase of Victorian stuffiness, class-bound, patriarchal, priggish, antiquated; when in fact as the early parts of Downton Abbey indicated, it was a period of social and political upheaval and cultural excitement, in art, literature, music, dance.
On Friday 15 February, critic Alastair Sooke and myself will lead a free tour of the Victorian, Edwardian and early 20th century rooms in the National Portrait Gallery to explore how these changes affected portraiture. 
 Although there are not many portraits of  servants in the NPG collection, especially in respect of sun and air, it does reflect the transformation that Woolf evoked through the figure of
 "a homely illustration, in the character of one’s cook. The Victorian cook lived like a leviathan in the lower depths, formidable, silent, obscure, inscrutable; the Georgian cook is a creature of sunshine and fresh air; in and out of the drawing room, now to borrow the Daily Herald, now to ask advice about a hat. Do you ask for more solemn instances of the power of the human race to change?"


Monday, 4 February 2013

Kara Walker plus update

After a feminist afternoon spent in Tate Modern's Tanks  remembering  political and personal triumphs and tears since 1970, I stumbled upon 8 Possible Beginnings / the Creation of African America,  a 15-minute b/w film of paper silhouettes or shadow puppets by US artist Kara Walker, using the enchanting medium to rehearse the awful histories of black America and resistance.   Apologies for the picture quality - snatched semi-clandestinely in the gallery.

“I don’t know how much I believe in redemptive stories, even though people want them and strive for them. They’re satisfied with stories of triumph over evil, but then triumph is a dead end. Triumph never sits still. Life goes on. People forget and make mistakes. Heroes are not completely pure, and villains aren’t purely evil. I’m interested in the continuity of conflict, the creation of racist narratives, or nationalist narratives, or whatever narratives people use to construct a group identity and to keep themselves whole—such activity has a darker side to it, since it allows people to lash out at whoever’s not in the group" - Kara Walker 2006

A larger solo show of Kara Walker's work is now at the Camden Arts Centre Finchley Rd NW3 until early January 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

First Plantings 5

From In A Tuscan Garden, published anonymously 1902
Returning to the garden entrance, - on the right of the main gravel walk were seven quite good and spacious beds, oblong in shape; the first of these lay  just under the little dividing wall of the court-yard, and was raised about two feet above the level of the ground, and bordered with large rough stones, among which I inserted variegated periwinkles; the next, divided from it by a narrow path, lay just below, and both were completely sheltered from cold winds by the stanzone, to the windows of which they extended.  Further on were four beds, intersected by narrow paths; in the centre of them we  erected a small kind of arbour, or berceau, as it is called here, just to break the somewhat uninteresting effect of so much flat ground, and planted against it honeysuckles of all sorts, and pillar roses.  The two lower of these beds were rounded off in semicircle fashion, and along the end of the further one we put a wire fence, and planted climbing roses against it.  The seventh bed of this section was a long  narrow strip running down under the end of the stanzone.  It was already planted with Safrano and Maréchal Niel roses, and I had a deep brick edging made in front of it and at both ends, which enabled us to place a straw covering over it in cold weather.  For many years this bed was given up to Neapolitan violets, - this autumn I have had them all transferred to pots, and housed in one of the frames, to leave the bed for freesias, that we may have a sufficiency of these most useful flowers for table decoration, without robbing the pots that stand round the house.
The main garden walk turns down past these beds, and leads to a short flight of steps from which a little door in the garden wall opens on the highroad.  All the garden lies on a gradual, but very distinct slope, so that the road beneath is quite concealed, and, in later years, when hedges of roses and shrubs had been established, no one could have guessed that any highroad was so close at hand.  The walk followed a curve that made the ground so much wider at this part, and continued past the back of the stanzone, round to the north side of the house.
At this side, under our north-west windows, there lay a large plot of ground, and the rooms on that side, though small, formed a charming summer apartment, entered from the garden by a glass door.  They were entirely distinct from the rest of the house, and must at some time or other have been an addition to it.  Below the windows were two fine Judas-trees and a very large pittosporum.  The former of these were, of course, bare of leaves when we took possession, and I had not the least idea what they were, and only knew that they darkened the windows terribly, and, I grieve to say, I persuaded the villa gardeners to  cut one of them down to about half its original height.  It has survived and thrown out fresh shoots, but in a maimed and impoverished way.  The other is, I think, the finest specimen of this tree I have ever seen, and is a beautiful object in spring, when in full blossom, towering over the stanzone roof.  The perfume of the pittosporum, when in flower, is almost overpowering through the rooms on that side.  I have only once seen this shrub in England, and that was in sheltered garden in Cornwall, and, oddly enough, it was in the late autumn that I saw it in flower.  I took it then to be some sort of daphne, which it partly resembles as to the flower, but its scent is heavy and oppressive, and has none of the peculiar delicacy of the daphne scent.  Here in Tuscany it flowers in June, and even in May, if the spring is an early one.