Sunday, 28 December 2014

Janey Morris last call in 2014

ROSSETTI’S OBSESSION at the William Morris Gallery has it last day next Sunday  4 January, so my thanks to everyone who helped remember her in 2014, those at the National Portrait Gallery, Kelmscott Manor, Bradford City Art Galleries, Lady Lever Gallery and WMG  as well as everyone who visited the exhibitions and posted or tweeted. I feel that Janey has now been accorded the visual and biographical attention she deserves.   Thinking on, however, one aspect of her life remains under-appraised: her textile work is unsigned, scattered and of course fragile, therefore hard to research. 

And her after-life  continues beyond the centenary of her death, in the paintings and drawings that remain on view and in circulation.  A very nice and characteristic drawing by DGR is on sale at Bonhams a short while hence.  It shows Janey reading, rather than dozing as in other drawings (which are often taken as reflections of her supposedly  languorous demeanour when they were in fact poses it was possible to hold for the hour or so the artist required) and demonstrates her life-long love of literature. It's likely that as a child she had no access to books, only to stories in cheap magazines and maybe religious tracts, so in adulthood she made up for this by voracious reading, alongside William Morris, who said he 'devoured' books.  Jane's favourite reading was poetry, though she also loved ghost stories - a true child her of her time in this respect.

And her image still appears in unexpected places - my latest sighting was of the V&A's Daydream on a tin of Hungarian marzipan at Budapest airport.


Sunday, 21 December 2014

Tangled Yarns

If within reach of the William Morris Gallery in the next four weeks, don’t miss

 Alke Schmidt’s exhibition TANGLED YARNS, an inventive and stimulating display about elements of the cotton trade from 18th to 21st centuries, asking the questions that should be asked about the sources and economic bases of the textiles that we wear and use.  Questions that Morris himself confronted with his Marxist understanding of political economy. 

The display consists of large intricately worked hangings that at first beguile the eye and then disturb the brain, but simultaneously invite one to reconcile or live with or reject the global processes of exploitation.  And do so in a curiously delicate rather than polemical manner, so the visual pleasure of the original fabrics survives their mutilation by referents to the brutal histories that went and continue to go into their making. 

To quote the blurb:  The tension between the challenging subject matter and highly decorative appearance of the work is deliberately cultivated, to bring out the ambiguities and contradictions, the politics and morality of the textile trade. 
more here   and here
and  here
There's more too on the fashion industry than I perceived, which could be politically useful now that fashion is the dominant cultural manifestation of the day .  This is a project that deserves and will reward future showings at other venues, so I hope Schmidt has had many offers!     HAPPY CHRISTMAS 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

William Morris's Legacy

Thoughtful responses to ANARCHY & BEAUTY from Sasha Ward, Izzy Parker, Zarah Hussein, Jo Davies and Ed Hall  here

Friday, 12 December 2014

Black Portraits at RAMM Exeter

As well as Victorian Gothic at the RAMM in Exeter, the museum is showing a portrait by Nahem Shoa of fellow-artist Desmond Haughton, hanging next to its existing 18th century anonymous portrait of an African in a red coat and waistcoat, formerly thought to be Olaudah Equiano and now for some reason allegedly Ignatius Sancho but surely someone else as yet unidentified.   Here is Shoa standing with both paintings

On the accompanying wall panel Shoa writes: ‘Many of my black friends felt when they go to museums the only images of black people are slaves or servants. I wanted to readdress this issue because I think it’s important for cultural institutions to reflect in positive and powerful ways the diversity of our population today.’

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Black Boy with Paston Treasure

Conservation work on the picture of the Paston family's tableful of expensive and exotic possessions in Norwich Castle Museum brings up the nicely painted image of a young African man from the 1670s or thereabouts (with a much less nice baboon sitting on his shoulder.)  The lad is most finely dressed in his green and pink satins, and appears just as much an exotic possession as the tropical seashells, silver and other objets that crowd the table - though it must be noted there is another figure among the stuff - a younger white girl holding roses and sheet music in allusion to the cultured status of Sir Robert Paston and his family.  Rather than an artistic accessory she is thought to represent Robert's daughter, so the young man may possibly also be a household member, though it seems unlikely, unless the archives can yield information on the Pastons' servants.  He was surely drawn from life, however, so behind the image there lies a real person, whose history and experience can only be guessed at.

More on the painting here

on a link to crowd-funding the re-gilding of the frame
hopefully here

Monday, 8 December 2014

Victorian Gothic at Exeter

A neat exhibition at the RAMM museum in Exeter, which is really about the Victorian Gothick, and in keeping with the museum itself, opened in 1861 and named in memory of the lamented Prince Consort who died in December of that year.  Here he is at the top of the entrance stairs, in what feels a rather cramped site in the city centre, brilliantly repainted in bright pink.

And, from the Royal Collection, Landseer’s oil of Albert & Victoria in costume as Edward III and Philippa of Hainault in 1842. They had a lot to answer for - I don't assume Pugin's ideas would have prevailed without such royal endorsement - though the architects – especially the ‘Great Goths’ – Scott, Butterfield, Bodley, Street, Pearson etc – made a more lasting impression with their buildings.  Churches of course were to be expected, given the Anglican fervour for a return to pre-Reformation faith without papal authority  - but  Parliament ??  as heir to ancient Greek democracy? or St Pancras station hotel??  Those[still] don't make a lot of sense except as Victorian ostentatious, elaborate, boastful expense.

The RAMM exhibition includes many unfamiliar pieces, such as an intricate metal 'throne' designed by Viollet-le-duc from Tyntesfield, which looks ridiculously uncomfortable; and some less fanciful, solidly powerful church furnishings carved by Harry Hems.  

Finally, The Summoning of of the Knights, one  of the great Holy Grail tapestries produce by Morris & Co to  Burne-Jones' designs, which remains astonishing in its impact.

This whole topic set me thinking about the appropriate font for a blog about Victorian Gothick.  
In the Microsoft font repertoire are a number declaring themselves ‘Gothic’
such as Malgun Gothic
Franklin Gothic Book  which frankly doesn’t look at all Gothic either
Century Gothic, ditto
Copperplate gothic light  WHICH ONLY DOES UPPER CASE
MS Gothic
Showcard gothic  like copperplate only upper case
For all these the Gothic suffix seems mistaken and inexplicable.

There are a few quasi-Victorian typefaces, but I think the most appropriate
and most Puginesque

is Old English Text, even though or perhaps because it is so difficult to read, just as on Victorian memorial brasses.    However, for that reason i didn't choose it ...