Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Even more Janey news PLUS

It is her centenary year, of course, but there are an amazing number of images of Jane Morris in the news right now, as well as the two modest exhibitions that I've been involved with, at the National Portrait Gallery [it moves to Kelmscott Manor in July] and Cartwright Hall Bradford [moving to Port Sunlight next week].

Hot on the heels of the stunning Pandora  at Sotheby's a few days ago [which failed to reach its reserve so should still be available, if you are interested...] is a stupendous red chalk study for Mariana, now with Rupert Maas.  Here below are  the details from his current catalogue:  
(No explanation however of the identify of ‘S.H.G’ who attached the sub-Rossettian verses to the drawing in 1919 – and in line 6 evidently wrote ‘clips’ not ‘elips’)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882
Jane Morris
Coloured chalks; monogrammed, squared for transfer, and dated 1868.
Inscribed on backboard 'From the collection of / Mrs. F.S. Ellis/ "Among the chalks on A Study.....the first/ (and in this frame) a portrait in reddish crayons, seated, full face, with Spanish roses in a glass jar behind"/ of D.G Rossetti by W. Sharp, p. 204 see also appendix no. 180 where it is called "Lady at a Window" F.S Ellis/ see also Dante Gabriel Rossetti by H.C. Marillier/ p. 261 no. 366 date 1868 Mrs Morris (in oil)/ Studies 1-/ no. 2-/no. 3 Differently arranged in the possession of/ F.S. Ellis, Exhibited B.F.A 1883/ no. 44'
34 3/4 x 27 1/4 in.

Further labelled with:
What was the thought within those grey-blue eyes?
What was the word upon those rich full lips-
The very bow of love? What dim eclipse
Clouded thy heart's desire? In piteous wise
The eyelids droop + fall: doth no hope rise
To cheer thy way? What desperate sorrow elips
Thy soul too close for joy?- Red sunset dips
Beneath thy west, + thy spent gladness dies.
Yet still above it waves brown-tinted hair,
Shading thy sorrow, like a mist the morn;
And thou look'st forth, as one who fain would keep
Hidden the secret of thy weary Care,
waiting for death + praying it come soon-
For is there any good in life save sleep?
March 15, 1919'

PROVENANCE: Frederick Startridge Ellis; his widow after 1901
with Frost & Reed, 1947
with The Fine Art Society
with Leicester Galleries, bt. £126 by
Virginia Surtees, 1950

EXHIBITED: Burlington Fine Arts Club, London, Pictures, Drawings, Designs and Studies by the late Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1883, no. 44
Leicester Galleries, London, The Victorian Romantics, 1949, no. 61
Royal Academy, London, Rossetti Exhibition, 1973, no. 328 as 'Mariana: Study'

LITERATURE: William Sharp, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A Record and Study, London, 1882, p. 204, and Chronological List no. 180 entitled 'Lady at a Window'
H.C. Marillier, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Illustrated Memorial of his Art and Life, London, 1899, no. 366, incorrectly entered as 'Study No. 3'
Oswald Doughty and J. R. Wahl, eds. Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Clarendon Press; Oxford, 1965, p. 923.
Virginia Surtees, The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 - 1882), Oxford University Press, 1971, vol 1, p.122, cat. no. 213B, ill. vol 2 plate 305
The Daily Telegraph, 27 May 2014, p. 22, ill.

William Bell Scott described Jane Morris as ‘…the ideal personification of poetical womanhood. In this case the hair was not auburn, but black as night; unique in face and figure, she was a queen, a Proserpine, a Medusa, a Circe - but also, strangely enough, a Beatrice, a Pandora, a Virgin Mary.’ She was indeed an extraordinary looking woman, who became Rossetti’s great muse and love after Lizzie Siddal, and was as pervasive a presence in Rossetti's later work as Lizzie had been in his early watercolours and drawings. It is Jane’s face that we see in many of his most famous oil paintings: Aurea Catena, Reverie and La Pia (all1868), in Mariana (1870), Pandora (1871), Proserpine (versions 1871-82), Venus Astarte (1877), La Donna della Finestra (1879), and in The Day Dream (1880). William Rossetti said ‘It seemed a face created to fire his imagination, and to quicken his powers – a face of arcane and inexpressible meaning.’
Born in 1839, the daughter of an Oxford stablehand, Jane Burden came to the attention of the Pre-Raphaelite circle in the summer of 1857, when Rossetti, Morris and Burne-Jones were painting murals at the Oxford Union. Rossetti noticed her at the theatre and, struck, asked her to sit for him. The attraction was instant, but he was already engaged to Lizzie Siddal, and it was Morris, who had also fallen for her, that Jane married in 1859. Our drawing is one of the first that Rossetti drew of Jane at the onset of a period of renewed intimacy between them, nearly ten years after they had first met.  Jane’s husband cannot have been very happy – years later he said ‘Sometimes Rossetti was an angel, and sometimes he was a damned scoundrel’. Jane sat for Rossetti in March 1868, and again in December. George Price Boyce wrote in his diary after a visit to Rossetti’s studio on March 27th ‘He has made beautiful studies for pictures from Mrs. Morris....’ His friend WB Scott wrote at the end of the year: 'Gabriel has not retried painting, nor seen any doctor, nor seen the sweet Lucretia Borgia [meaning Jane Morris]. I have now come to the conclusion… - that the greatest disturbance in his health and temper… is caused by an uncontrollable desire for the possession of the said L.B.' Our drawing is close to the Kelmscott oil portrait, Jane Morris. A related drawing, also dated 1868, now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, is closer to the oil of Mariana (1870, Aberdeen Art Gallery) that Rossetti painted for his patron William Graham, who, according to Marillier, had wanted a replica of the Kelmscott portrait, but took Mariana as a compromise. All three treatments relate back to our drawing, which was one of the earliest of a new kind that Rossetti intended to be framed and displayed, rather than to be used for preparatory studies, and which became an important source of income to him. They are richly drawn in layers of chalk of subtly different colours, sometimes over two sheets of tinted paper, joined horizontally or vertically, and are highly finished. To sell them he relied upon his dealer, the rackety Charles Augustus Howell: five from this period were offered to the solicitor Leonard Valpy and three to the Glasgow MP William Graham, whist the dealers Agnew bought others. Rossetti’s dealings with Howell were chaotic, with both men constantly ‘short of tin’, making it difficult to identify specific drawings from extant correspondence. However, it is possible to piece together the strange story of how our drawing entered the collection of the wealthy publisher Frederick Startridge Ellis (1830-1901):
In February 1868 one of Rossetti’s water-colours, Lucrezia Borgia that he had painted in 1860, was offered at Christie's at the sale of the deceased collector Benjamin Godfrey Windus; Rossetti was concerned that it should not sell for too little, and devalue his pictures, so Howell arranged to bid it up from £25 to £75, with the help of Ellis. This rather murky deal seems to have generated a long-standing debt owed by Rossetti to Ellis of £50 (although Lucrezia was actually bought at the sale by the shipping magnate Frederick Leyland - according to the Tate, where the picture is now, Rossetti revised the face. Now Lucrezia has Annie Miller's hair with Jane Morris's features). Two years later in April 1870, Rossetti wrote to Ellis: ‘I find on enquiry that I owe you £20 of the account sent & that Howell remains owing you the first £10. Now that H. explains about the drawing & I know which one it is, I remember I did tell him he was not to sell it at all. I do not mind your having it & no doubt you can arrange with H.’ (William E. Fredeman, The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Cambridge, 2004, 70.85). It appears that this letter refers to our drawing, and that Ellis did not acquire it until 1870. Ellis became very important to Rossetti in that year, by publishing Rossetti’s early poems to Lizzie Siddal (Howell had dug up the manuscript of from her grave the year before). They were a great success and launched Rossetti as a poet, realising at last his youthful ambition to become famous by his pen, not his brush, and alleviating his money worries at a stroke. In 1874, Ellis took over Rossetti's half of the joint tenancy with William Morris of Kelmscott Manor, and by the time of Rossetti’s death Ellis owned at least seven pictures by him, including two important oils, La Bella Mano of 1875 and La Donna della Finestra of 1879.


Saturday 28th June at 2:15pmUnprintable Lyrics? Morris’s Unpublished Poems 1868-73
Florence Boos
Morris wrote more than two dozen shorter lyrics during the period in which Jane Morris conducted an affair with D. G. Rossetti. Some of these appeared in relative obscurity during his lifetime, and May Morris included others (but not all) of them in her posthumous editions of her father’s work. Now that we have a full edition of Jane Morris’s correspondence prepared by Frank Sharp and Jan Marsh, it seems appropriate to (re)consider Morris’s personal responses to his situation in his poems, and some of the ways in which they may have influenced his subsequent literary and non-literary endeavours. In this talk Professor Boos will attempt to interpret several of these poems, assess their worth as personal lyrics, and offer conjectures for the reasons he and his daughter may have obscured their unity by withholding or releasing them in the ways they did
. Florence Boos is Professor of English at the University of Iowa where she teaches Victorian poetry, non-fiction prose and cultural studies. Her research interests include Pre-Raphaelite art and literature, the life and works of William Morris and nineteenth-century social, political and intellectual history.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Morris & Marx at WMC

info on forthcoming lecture: WILLIAM MORRIS & THE BOOK 

ART FOR ALL was his watchword. Designer, Socialist, Businessman, Poet: William Morris remains an inspirational figure both in politics and the arts.


The first work that Morris commissioned from book-binder Cobden-Sanderson was a well-used edition of Marx’s Das Kapital.  Bound in goatskin and tooled with gilt leaves and starry dots, it represents in material form two of Morris’s guiding principles -  revolutionary ideas and fine craftsmanship.
PASSION FOR BOOKS  is the thread that links Morris’s multifarious activities through his lifelong passion for reading, writing, buying, designing, printing and  marketing books. This talk explores the convergences and contradictions of his socialist ideals and belief in high quality artwork. 

Tuesday 3 June 7pm

Working Men's College 44 Crowndale Road London NW1 1TR

more here

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Glasgow Disaster

I don’t have a Mackintosh font to post this on the disastrous fire at the Glasgow School of Art.  The news media are consoling us with the comment that 90% of the structure has been ‘saved’; but that seems to mean only the stonework.   However, the building’s crowning glory is/was its Library, which has been entirely burnt out – not surprising, since the interior and fittings were largely in timber.  But unforgiveable, in this age of fire precautions, sprinklers, alarms; how could it have been allowed to happen from an initial blaze in the basement?  Listed buildings need more protection, not less.

All the elements of Mackintosh’s designs have been so well studied, measured, drawn and photographed that the GSA interiors can no doubt be reproduced, as is already being declared.   But even if the spaces are replicated,  impossible to get that wonderful patina of a century’s use, that feel and atmosphere of a long-term working library.  Perhaps one shouldn’t care so much about buildings, but this one was truly special.   

Friday, 23 May 2014


heraklion archaeological museum

THE NEWLY-OPENED Archaeological Museum in Iraklion / Heraklion, Crete is stunning.

We were lucky enough to visit on its first day – as we later discovered – I wondered why there were staff members in clusters as well as attendants in the galleries – and the wealth of Minoan objects from all phases and sites, lucidly displayed with informative wall panels but as yet few individual labels, was rewardingly wonderful visually and intellectually.
The galleries are spacious and excellently lit, with many larger exhibits on open display, and the others in cases of such high-quality glass that it creates no reflections and seems virtually invisible – occasionally hazardous but brilliant to behold.  I know zero about Minoan history and culture beyond the popular notions of bare-breasted deities and bull-leaping athletes, so was unprepared for the amazing egg-shell-thin ceramic cups and bowls, tapering vessels and decorated dishes. 
Most of the now-questionable reconstructed frescoes are placed in an upper gallery, preserving the images by which Knossos has been best known but clearly showing how fragments were imaginatively and freely interpreted by the infamous Arthur Evans.  

Also wonderfully, photography is allowed for all already-published exhibits, although the numerous other  off-limits items indicates how much previously unseen material is now available for visitors as well as scholars.  In some ways the lack of labels was an asset, enabling one to just look and look.  

And this summary barely scratches the surface of the wealth of items in room after room, offering continual interest and indeed requiring a second visit – incidentally not at all expensive especially on a combined ticket with Knossos – which is extraordinary in its own, sadly trashed state.  In fact, since its finds are safely in the Museum, the loss of Knossos both to the original excavations, rebuilding, concrete additions and general degradation, and to the ongoing destruction by thousands of daily visitors, seems a worthwhile sacrifice, preserving other sites like Phaistos and many other as yet unexcavated Minoan locations from the tramping hordes.    

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Whitechapel Lads

exceptionally interesting post from the Gentle Author about the archive of late-Victorian glass plate photos of young men at the Working Lads Institute in Whitechapel, including three young Londoners of African ancestry and a similar group of recruits in 1914:

interestingly, several of the  non-African sitters were photographed on the roof, standing in front of sheets strung up by chimney stacks and a drying shed; they are shown full-length, whereas the black boys are half-length close-ups, apparently indoors.  It would be interesting to know if these pictures were ever published, if any prints survive, and what their original purpose was.

This group portrait is currently on view until the end of August 2014 at an exhibition organised by Tower Hamlets Community Housing, 285 Commercial Rd, E1 2PS, together with many other portraits of World War I combatants from East London,  including Walter Tull.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Jenny Morris at Over Stowey

When she died in July 1935,  Jenny Morris, her life sadly ruined and wasted by epilepsy, was living in the parish of Over Stowey, underneath the Quantock Hills.  Despite her disability, she survived to age 74.

Over Stowey church has several windows  by Morris & Co., including a relatively early (c.1870)  Annunciation designed by Burne-Jones, four of Morris's charming Musical Angels, four larger, less charming ones with over-large wings, and three late figures of Faith, Hope and Charity.  They would seem to have been commissioned by the local landowners, the Stanley family, but I don't know what the Stanleys' connection to Morris & Co., or any of the Firm, may have been; and one assumes that Jenny's residence there many years later was coincidental [owing to debilitation and seizures, she required constant care, and her income paid for a series of rural homes of this kind].  But I just wonder if there was a connection.  If anyone has information, please let me know  


And one incidentally hopes that her impaired health nonetheless allowed Jenny  to enjoy Over Stowey village and flower-filled churchyard, as well as the Annunciation window made in the workshop behind the family home at Queen Square, when she was young and full of promise.

Frank Sharp has the answer:  Lord Taunton of Quantock Lodge purchased one of the First Morris & Co productions, the Backgammon Players cabinet, exhibited at 1862 exhibition. 
 One of his daughters married a Stanley, and  maybe was still living in Somerset when Jenny moved there.