Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Edward Carpenter

One of the many now-forgotten progressive figures who feature in Fiona MacCarthy's fascinating exploration of William Morris's legacy through politics and the creative professions from 1860-1960 now on at the National Portrait Gallery is Edward Carpenter, prophet of 'the simple life' lived on a comfortable if not lavish unearned income.  These are the Indian sandals he taught himself how to make, and wore in the belief that  human soles should be close to the earth.

More importantly, he lived in a same-sex relationship  decades before it was permissable, and solaced many young gay men whose lives were darkened by public and private homophobia.  
It's a shame Carpenter is not better known historically.  Even many contemporaries dismissed him as a crank.  Thus the artist Will Rothenstein:

'Carpenter had an affectionate nature and a real love for mankind, but his vision was too vague and he was over-attentive to faddists and theorists. He lacked the power of men like Ruskin and Morris; the most concrete thing he achieved was the sandal.' 

Roger Fry's early portrait in NPG is rather wonderful, presenting Carpenter as if he had just turned up at the studio and found it too chilly to take off his overcoat.  The half-glimpsed rear view in the mirror and the low pink buttoned chair seem to signal some kind of metaphors for Carpenter's personality - not altogether straight and narrow?   But he's wearing hard black city shoes: where were the sandals?

1 comment:

  1. Hello Jan - these, I think, were the sandals his friend Harold Cox brought back from India and on which he modelled the ones he made - or had made.He probably hadn't discovered them at the time the portrait was painted! I'm a great Carpenter fan and live near Millthorpe in Totley at the edge of Sheffield. We can also see St George's Farm from our window. I wrote a little walking performance - and edited version of which you can see on Youtube - "Boots, Fresh Air and Ginger Beer" about St George's Farm last year - and it has Carpenter in it. I'll send you the link if you're interested but you should be able to find it. I'm busy writing a little book on the Farm at the mo for the Guild of St George - and must get your "Back to the Land." I lived on a commune myself 35 years ago!