Sunday, 19 August 2018

Eastbury Manor


This rather overlooked NT property is worth an excursion, and not hard to each via District Line or Overground.  Like Red House it was surrounded in 1920s by suburban housing so the situation isn't alluring,  although birds and walks are not far away at Rainham Marshes.

The building is a more-or-less intact Elizabethan mansion built in brick for a merchant on land that formerly belonged to Barking Abbey.  H-plan with one surviving of two roof towers from which the merchant [one surmises] could watch for his and others' ships heading for home. Many Tudor chimneys, more than hearths, apparently to impress.   One surviving staircase tower with ancient oak treads.   


 Plus some surviving 17th century mural fragments in Italianate style.  Best of all, the long east side attic floor, with great roof timbers.  Done on the self-assembly basis, parts having carpenters' marks to show which beam fitted where..

A simple tea-room and courtyard garden.  



Sunday, 12 August 2018

De Morgans and Morrises


The links between the Morris family and Evelyn and William de Morgan are well documented.  May Morris recalled the youthful pleasure of watching the unpacking of a de Morgan firing to see the shining colour of glazes and lustres fresh from the kiln, and the child-delighting riddles and puns that the two Williams exchanged.   During the 1890s and 1900s William’s sister Mary de Morgan was a frequent visitor at Kelmscott Manor and Kelmscott House, sharing Jane’s committment to embroidery.  Evelyn was a more silent member of the friendship, but is of course known for her portrayal of Janey in The Hour Glass.
 

Evelyn’s chalk portrait of Jenny was purchased by Mary Annie Sloane at the Kelmscott Manor sale after May’s death.  But what happened to her dramatic chalk study of Luna, in gold paint on dark paper?  It was also in the Kelmscott collection, having presumably been given by Evelyn to Jane sometime after the oil version was exhibited in 1886.
The crescent moon in darkness, personified as a sleeping figure enmeshed in ropes that suggest loos entanglement rather than bondage, exemplifies Evelyn’s symbolic iconography of the human soul in  thrall to materialism before the dawn of spiritual enlightenment.  The Spiritualist movement in the late-Victorian era, to which both de Morgans (and William’s parents’ subscribed) held, or hoped, that the individual soul survived death to progress to further evolution.   The majority of Evelyn’s paintings express such belief in various pictorial forms.

Jane Morris apparently had similar ideas, although actual documentation is so far sparse.  In 1897  she wrote that she hoped that animals would be treated with less cruelty than was common, adding ‘for myself, I have long believed in the transmigration of souls, and consequently have regarded all living creatures with reverence.’    We don’t know when or why Janey adopted this belief in reincarnation, borrowed by Victorian Theosophy from Hindu and Buddhist thought, but it made for a link of sympathy with the De Morgans.   They believed in the soul’s evolution after death, though not, I think, in its transmigration into other bodies, including animals and insects.
One would like to know more about Janey’s belief system, as well as the fate of Evelyn’s gilded moon..

Sunday, 5 August 2018

May Morris & Ada Culmer


Those wishing to know more about Jenny Morris may be interested in  the correspondence from  May Morris to Ada Culmer [above, far right] who acted as Jenny's carer/companion, which is in the library of Duke University, North Carolina 

Friday, 13 July 2018

Burne-Jones in Hatfield

Maybe more accurately ‘after Burne-Jones’  for this is a window to his designs in Hatfield parish church, adjacent to the Cecils’ mansion Hatfield House. 
 
The four-figure group of Martyrs was installed in 1894, commemorating the widow of Charles Drage, a London physician buried in the churchyard.  It thus post-dates Morris's active involvement in the Firm's commissions.  And if his refusal to install new glass in old churches had not of itself  denied Hatfield this window, one feels his political convictions would have blocked any dealings with a church so closely linked to the imperial prime minister Lord Salisbury.




 



On the opposite wall is an angelic trio, who represent Suffering and Charity flanking the Sun of Righteousness, which was a post-WWI memorial to three Cecil scions.   These splendid figures were the work of Christopher Whall.

 

 
Though Burne-Jones had no such political qualms about mixing with Tories, it is unlikely that  he visited Hatfield.  If he had, with his liking for 'bogie' images, he might have been delighted by two older tombs with memento mori motifs:  one with the recumbent effigy of the first Earl supported by four sturdy Virtues - Justice on right in photo - and suspended over a tremendous marble skeleton:

 
 
 
and another with two wonderful Jacobean women from the Brocket family reclining uncomfortably together, over a skull. 
 

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

RA History show

in the spacious Fine Rooms at the Royal Academy
 
which when I visited were virtually deserted compared to crowds in main exhibition
 
is a selection of pieces shown during the 250 year history of  the RA
first at Somerset House, then in National Gallery and since 1868 at Burlington House.
 
It's a interesting survey-cum-mix, with no patchwork jumbling of objects, and does a reasonable job of chronicling change in pictorial taste over the centuries, with the type of 'correct' chronological display that is so out of fashion right now.
 
Here: Turner / Constable / Millais / Minton / Emin / Kitaj
 
many more [but not too many] on view.
 

 Kitaj's Assassination of the Killer-Critic,   has this detail lower left
 






 
 
 
 
 

 

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

RA comedy show


One can't help feeling  that both contributors and selectors [led by Grayson P] have been having  a good laugh creating this year's Royal Academy summer exhibition.  The sherbet yellow room is a sort of satire on the traditional jumble of  disparate large and small serious and comical works, with surely more of the last category than usual.   With such a hodge-podge, it's really hard to see what one is looking at, and the eye swiftly tires of the juxtaposed disparity.  Or quickly re-adjusts to a kind of five-second jump-cut viewing, as with videos and television.  
 And there are lots of objects plainly made to make one laugh out loud.  Which may be one of the main functions of contemporary art  - Perry's own is often in this vein.

Joana Vasconcelos' opening piece says it all, in a way - as well as being too overbearing to  contain in one shot....
 
 
I did like this exhibit, made I think from flattened bottle-caps:


Sunday, 24 June 2018

Shonibare in Rome


The Invisible Man is a new piece by Yinka Shonibare, installed in the Barbarini Corsini National Gallery in Rome, as part of a project to create 'a dialogue between the work of old masters and contemporary artists on the theme of the portrait and the self-portrait', entitled Eco e Narcisso.

Other works range from Caravaggio to Giulio Paolini, from Raphael to Richard Serra, from Bernini to Yan Pei Ming, from Piero di Cosimo to Kiki Smith, from Luigi Ontani to Pietro da Cortona.    The Invisible Man has been acquired for the MAXXI collection [Museo delle Arte de XXI secolo - geddit?] located in the via Guido Reni.  

If not exact to the theme, it's very apt to the moment, because even though the figure is clad in sort-of 18th century costume, he's plainly a homeless, anonymous migrant.



Saturday, 23 June 2018

Burne-Jones's mosaic in Rome


 
Chiesa di San Paolo entro le mura (St. Paul's Within the Walls) is a Protestant church designed by  George Edmund Street and built  in 1873-1880. It was the first non-Catholic church built in Rome after Papal jurisdiction was reduced to the Vatican in 1870, and ministered to the growing community of American residents and visitors to the city.
   
The red-and-white exterior, in travertine and red brick, looks out of place in late-Baroque Rome, but reflects northern Italian Gothic architecture of which Street had made a special study. It also pays respects to the tower of Santa Maria Maggiore, nearby.
 
The internal mosaics are by Edward Burne-Jones, whose compositional skills, colour sense and theological sensitivity enabled him to create designs perfectly in keeping with the mosaic means as well as his own well-crafted aesthetic. 
The top pic is from the church's website, the one below taken on site and oddly bleached by the light.  It is a very impressive effect, but also restrained.   Similarly, the apsidal scheme offers homage to that by Jacapo Torriti in Sta Maria Maggiore, but without that scheme's full-on Catholic veneration of the Virgin, which Protestants do not endorse. 
Instead, EBJ's iconography includes the Annunciation set in a desert landscape.  Below this a Tree of Life with Adam and Eve and children, which is also a Crucifixion.  Then Christ Enthroned in the Heavenly Jerusalem and on the main register The Earthly Paradise or The Church Militant, with massed ranks of pious women and men and a phalanx of high-stepping horses. 
One senses that EBJ had fun designing all this, ignoring St Paul's preaching and epistles.


IN FACT as Scott Buckle has shown from a surviving study of the white horse, the horses and sundry other details including heads of saints and martyrs, were drawn by Thomas Rooke, who had a hand in or finished various pieces by EBJ.  Presumably the components of the  scheme were in EBJ's design, and Rooke was practised in emulating the style; so to whom should the ensemble be credited?

Friday, 8 June 2018

Ignatius Sancho on stage



Currently playing at Wilton's Music Hall in Wapping is the solo show by Patterson Joseph narrating the life of Ignatius Sancho, one of the best-known African citizens of London in the 18th century, who became a composer, campaigner and shopkeeper, and was probably the first man of colour to vote in a parliamentary election, when the franchise depended on property ownership. 
Born on a Spanish slave ship around 1729 and taken to Britain in 1731, he worked for three sisters in Greenwich and then for the Duke of Montagu before opening a grocery store in Westminster.  He married a Caribbean woman and had several children, and died in 1780.
Sancho's story is known from his own writings, his correspondence with Laurence Sterne being published in 1782, and from his letters to the press  and involvement in the nascent anti-slavery movement.  His appearance is known from the portrait by Thomas Gainsborough


which Patterson Joseph recreates on stage, apart from the hair - it's not clear from the portrait whether Sancho's is fashionably long or a black Georgian-style wig,  but he's clearly presented as a Georgian-style gentleman. 
From his years as a footman and valet, through his time as a tradesman, friendship with Sterne and casting his vote for Charles James Fox, Joseph's is a witty account of Sancho, following the historical sources but including dramatic animadversions, and a tour de force in terms of theatrical event. 


Here is a review by Chris Omaweng     https://www.londontheatre1.com/reviews/review-sancho-an-act-of-remembrance-wiltons-music-hall/

and here are details of the current performances :https://www.wiltons.org.uk/whatson/420-sancho-an-act-of-remembrance

One episode in the show evokes Sancho's music, which includes fashionable dance minuets, reels and songs.  More about his compositions here:   http://sanchomusic.synthasite.com/

Wilton's Music Hall is a resurrected building that has lately been preserved in all its decay.  As a theatre it was designed for comedians and popular song-and-dance acts and just about works for Joseph's energetic Sancho monologue, but places most of the audience rather far from performer.  However, its historical quality certainly adds to the theme of  forgotten stories.

I'm wondering if some enterprising actors are thinking of dramatising the life of Francis Barber?   There should be some good scenes to write set in Samuel Johnson's house, especially when Barber entertained his fellow Black Londoners there


Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Ruskin and Education


A new collection of essays on this theme is being published:
RUSKIN AND NINETEENTH CENTURY EDUCATION.   details here
 
John Ruskin, whose bicentenary will be celebrated in 2019, was not only an art historian, cultural critic and political theorist, but also, above all, a great educator. He was the inspiration behind William Morris, Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Proust and Mahatma Gandhi, and his influence can be felt increasingly in every sphere of education today, for example, in debates about the importance of creativity, grammar schools and social mobility, Further Education, the crucial social role of libraries, environmental issues, the role of crafts as well as academic learning, the importance of fantasy literature and the education of women. Though Ruskin was a great believer in ‘Separate Spheres’, he also championed wider learning opportunities for girls. ‘John Ruskin and Nineteenth-Century Education‘ brings together ten top international Ruskin scholars to explore what he actually said about education in his many-faceted writings, and points to some of the key educational issues raised by his work, concluding with a powerful rereading of his ecological writing and his apocalyptic vision of the earth’s future.  Edited by Valerie Purton, this volume is dedicated to Dinah Birch, a much-loved Victorian specialist and authority on Ruskin, and makes a fresh and significant contribution to Victorian studies in the twenty-first century. 


To declare an interest, this volume contains an essay by me, 'Mad Governess or Wise Counsellor?'  on the context and contents of  Ruskin's (in)famous text Sesame and Lilies.  Here below is the opening :

This chapter begins, unusually for me, with an autobiographical anecdote that concerns my old school.  Some little while ago I was invited to the annual Founder’s Day, and as the invitation was insistent,  I duly presented at 10.00am in the school hall, to find a seat with my name on it. Much of the programme was familiar, a rather uncanny sensation after so many years, but then members of the upper sixth performed a drama written by themselves, which enacted episodes from the story of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, involving John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal, John Ruskin et al.   I knew then why I had been invited, as an alumna who has written extensively about this group and their art. Being a connoisseur of dramatisations and re-tellings of the PRB’s now near-legendary events, I enjoyed the somewhat tongue-in-cheek presentation by these stylish young women.
More followed, in the speech by the head teacher. I recalled that in my day the head was a historian and annually pulled out of the past some aspect of the school’s founding – by none other than the redoubtable Frances Mary Buss, this being North London Collegiate School and she being immortalised alongside Dorothea Beale, the formidable founder of Cheltenham Ladies College:

Miss Buss and Miss Beale
Cupid’s darts do not feel;
How different from us,
Miss Beale and Miss Buss.

On this latest Founder’s Day at NLCS the historical theme was art. Frances Buss’s father was  an unsuccessful painter who taught drawing at her new school, opened in 1850,and through whom she had artistic acquaintance. In the school archive is the record of a visit by Millais, who happened upon a student practising the harp, and also a letter to school governor Annie Ridley from John Ruskin, in which he wrote: ‘I am much interested in what you tell me of the school and of the feelings with which it has been founded’, adding, ‘I might perhaps be able to come and see what you are doing and to hear how I could promote it.’

This was intriguing to hear, because the school’s founding principles were that girls’ education should be as intellectually rigorous as that of their brothers, should include public examinations and in due course preparation for university, and should also involve regular physical exercise.  Whereas Ruskin, as has always been assumed, promoted gender difference in education,  ‘Sesame’ meaning classical and scientific learning for a boy, ‘Lilies’, sympathy and service to others for a girl:
All such knowledge …as may enable her to understand and even to aid, the work of men … yet not as knowledge, not as if it were for her an object to know, but only to feel and judge….

And
Solemnly she is to be taught to strive that her thoughts of pity be not … feeble … nor her prayer …languid … for the relief from pain or her husband or child [or] when it is uttered for the multitudes who have none to love them – and is “for all who are desolate and oppressed”

 So what brought these two views into potential collaboration?


Thursday, 24 May 2018

Embroidered Minds Epilepsy Garden at Chelsea


 

The Embroidered Minds Epilepsy Garden aims to raise awareness of epilepsy and the challenges that both sufferers and their families experience today.

Craftsman William Morris’s daughter Jenny developed epilepsy in 1876. It carried enormous stigma in Victorian times and had a profound effect on the Morris family. In response to this historical situation the garden aims to raise awareness of epilepsy and the challenges that people living with the condition and their families still face today.
Embroidered Minds, a cross disciplinary collaboration was instigated by Leslie Forbes and based around her researches and subsequent novel Embroidered Minds of the Morris Women which explores the tragic ‘conspiracy of silence surrounding William Morris’s family and Jenny’s experience of epilepsy as fiction based in facts.
Leslie died in July 2016 following an epileptic seizure but the collaborative project continues as she intended, to challenge ignorance of the condition today. The garden design was initiated by Leslie and old friend Kati Crome and realised by Kati, Leslie's husband Andrew Thomas and other members of the collaboration.
See more about Embroidered Minds and the background to the project at:
www.embroideredminds.co.uk
Included in the garden are plants often seen in William Morris designs such as Acanthus mollis and Acanthus spinosus and also some which were used as early treatments for epilepsy, including Valeriana officinalis.
The garden has three sections representing different lived experiences of epilepsy: first the calm pre-seizure mind; second, the chaotic state of the brain during seizures; and finally, the cumulative effects of unusual neural connections after living with seizures for a long time.
A vertical living wall referencing William Morris designed surface patterns, oak bench, tiled path and foreground planting are interrupted by a seizure represented through planting. The vitality of the post-seizure section also reflects the hope of a brighter future for epilepsy sufferers and their families through greater awareness and understanding of the condition.
The oak bench representing an EEG readout, starts as a calm resting place and is then disrupted with the chaos of a seizure. Specially commissioned from furniture designer Toby Winteringham, the bench is created with steam-bent oak secured with copper rivets and supported by rusted steel legs.
Running below the bench is a ceramic tiled path designed by artist Sue Ridge and designer/ceramist Andrew Thomas. Based on designs by William Morris the tiles are laid in a disintegrating pattern representing different aspects of epilepsy, transforming into neurological and seizure based images and ‘glitches’ as they run under the chaotic end of the bench.
The garden is partly sponsored by Epilepsy Society and Young Epilepsy, with some of the young people resident with Young Epilepsy at their site in Surrey helping to grow a selection of the plants.

http://www.embroideredminds-epilepsygarden.org.uk/

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Beyond Ophelia again


A couple of images to illustrate the installation at Wightwick Manor.  Definitely worth a detour and/or  special trip   Open till December but don't leave so long.

If any other venue with appropriate atmospheric and security conditions is interested in showing this compact and absorbing display in 2019, please contact Wightwick Manor.
 




JEM WHARTON





I'm delighted to say that the portrait of 19th century pugilist JEM WHARTON is now on display in the National Portrait Gallery, Room 19.   The owner first brought this to my attention following 'Black Victorians',  when the sitter's identity was unknown apart from an old label 'Young Molineux', which was one of the terms applied to Jem Wharton, who at the date of this painting (1839) ran a tavern-cum-training-ring, as so many fighters did on retirement.   The artist was Liverpool-based William Daniels, himself of working-class origins, who specialized in local portraits and genre figures.
'Young Molineux' references the best-known Black prizefighter of the previous generation, Tom Molineaux.  

Another of Wharton's fighting names was 'the Moroccan Prince', no doubt bestowed on him by those who promoted pugilism in reference to his complexion, although in the 1851 census Wharton's birthplace was given as London. In the era before Queensberry rules, when bare-knuckle fighting was outlawed but still popular, competitive pugilism was semi-clandestine and often deliberately obscured, so records are uncertain. 
I'm hoping that the rediscovery of the portrait will lead to new researches and sources.
 
Here Jem Wharton is seen in fighting garb, with a sash that, as the precursor of a belt, signified previous victories.  These had all been bare-knuckle contests, but here he's  wearing gloves, which at this date were coming into use in training, sparring and demonstration bouts, which very often took place in rings at the back of pubs, which would fit the nondescript indoor setting here, with Wharton posed as if about to commence or return to sparring.  Later, boxers were always shown with fists raised as if about to punch an opponent.

The portrait's history is unknown before its acquisition by the lender in London in the 1960s.  The now rather distressed frame   appears to be original.

Wharton's image joins that of Ira Aldridge, just across the room, alongside other Regency celebs





Friday, 27 April 2018

Piccadilly 1875

a
Giuseppe de Nittis, Piccadilly, 1875
 
A somewhat belated post with an image of one of the paintings in Tate Britain's recent exhibition IMPRESSIONISTS IN LONDON  which on the pavement to the left shows an elderly Indian street sweeper wearing a red turban, alongside a policeman.  Possibly included on account of the turban, the wintry street scene wanting in colour, but also an authentic glimpse of mid- to late-Victorian London.
It is one of a series showing London streets commissioned by banker Kaye Knowles.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Brass in Lochaber


A brief report on some concerts in the Loch Shiel music festival last week in various venues around Lochaber
Most notably under the arches of the famous Glenfinnan viaduct.  Rather hard to get performers and arches in the same shot.  A trio of tubas joined by students from Lochaber schools aged 11 to 18 on trumpets and trombones.  Audience on the hillside, or perched on rocky outcrops.  

 
 
The following day, the New Antonine brass ensemble in a sort of open-air treetop cabin up in the Salen forest, which because we arrived late we had to locate aurally, following sudden trumpet and tuba sounds heard from below.   In fact, this was a rehearsal - we got to hear the whole exciting programme, including  the French horn playing a way off among the trees, as if in hunting mode.



The atmosphere was not as damp as the photos suggest - the air must have been much colder than it felt.  And it was a wonderful experience, lost in sound high up amid trees.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Museum Professionals

by Nicholas Penny, from article in recent issue of Apollo


Among museum professionals, a curator has for many decades been understood as someone who is responsible for the care, display and interpretation of specimens, artefacts, or works of art in the permanent collection of a museum or gallery. During the last 20 years, temporary exhibitions have become increasingly central to the activities of almost all institutions of this kind, and many curators are now largely absorbed by the mounting of such exhibitions. Curators are only likely to attract media attention by this means, and such impresario curators are almost always the ones who are proposed as future directors. Indeed, a curator is now more commonly understood to mean someone who organises temporary exhibitions of the visual arts, whether in a private or a public institution


It has often been argued that senior administrators are better qualified than traditional curators to serve as museum directors, but nowadays the trend is to appoint impresario curators, preferably those who are comfortable with contemporary art and, if a new building is planned, have some confidence in dealing with architects. Directors with no curatorial experience and without the related expert knowledge of art tend to diminish the value of such experience and expertise out of their own insecurity. The results can often be devastating, even if, being of little interest to journalists, whose attention is usually focused on the exhibitions programme, they generally go unnoticed by the public.


There are fewer internationally recognised experts among the curators of London’s museums than was the case 25 or 50 years ago. The curatorial staff in regional museums in this country possess only a fraction of the knowledge of their collections than one would have found then. There are major North American museums in which only one curator cares for the historical collections, where there were formerly four or five. At the convivial gatherings of international museum directors that I attended between 2008 and 2015 the voices of directors who openly disparaged the scruples of traditional curators and the concerns of conservators were increasingly confident – and indeed the original motive for such gatherings was precisely to make international lending easier, that is, to promote the increasing emphasis on loan exhibitions within institutions that were formerly chiefly associated with permanent collections.


Senior administrators have not often been appointed as directors, (although, as mentioned, their eligibility has often been discussed) but their status within the museum hierarchy (which includes IT, HR, PR, and many other new growths) has increased hugely and they will be detected in the shadow of any impresario director. Sometimes they are loyal, self-effacing and truly efficient. The model, significantly, is one which is more common in the performing arts. Curators are thus ‘relieved’ of many of their former responsibilities, encouraging the trend whereby some become ‘scholars in residence’ and others concentrate on exhibitions. The admirable special training now available in both in the US and the UK to equip curators with more experience of administration and management has been designed to combat this state of affairs, and excellent directors will be found among the curators who have benefited from such courses. But there is no reason not to look elsewhere as well.


In the 19th century it was widely believed that any director of the National Gallery in London must be a practising artist, and the same applied in equivalent institutions throughout Europe. It is easy to imagine – and should not be so hard to find ­– a director with an academic background, especially perhaps a historian, who values the experience and knowledge of his or her curators.


In a large museum with many different departments a curator will be suspected of having a prejudice in favour of her or his own special field of experience and expertise, or at least an inclination to give priority to art over archaeology, for example, or modern and contemporary preference over everything else. Even in a gallery with a collection consisting only of European art there are often no curators with the wide interests and sympathies that would enable them to assess the needs of the collection as a whole. The necessary range may also be more easily found outside the curatorial body. On balance the rise of the impresario director should be seen as more of a threat than the appointment of someone without traditional curatorial experience.


But a threat to what? To the ideal of the museum and gallery as something created for posterity and not merely for today’s public (or the youth of today); to the ideal of the museum as a place to transcend the fashionable rather than to revel in it; to the ideal of the gallery as a place where repeated contact with the permanent collection is carefully balanced with the attractions of temporary exhibitions; to the ideal of museums and galleries as places where people can educate themselves, places which are therefore equivalent to libraries as well as to theatres.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

London Lammassu





The latest and in many ways the best occupant of the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square is this version of the Assyrian lamassu statue. 

Best partly because its base dimensions match those of the vacant plinth, so it feels and looks right for its place, as also does its bulk and height, comparable to the equestrian figures for which such plinths were made; chiefly because of its implicit lament for the lost heritage of Syria owing to the current violence there.

The only issue is its orientation: so that the majesty of the sculpture can only be seen from a slightly awkward angle, looking up from the roadway to the west.  The side facing into the square bears the explanatory inscription in red gilt cuneiform script - aesthetically pleasing but secondary and not informative in itself.   The appropriate plinth, in the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square, is however not vacant, so this is where the tin-can lamassu must stand
.

As a great addition to the fourth plinth sequence.    Looks better in afternoon sun, however  - see further down