Saturday, 8 December 2018

Burne-Jones at Tate

a somewhat delayed but warm welcome for the exhibition currently at Tate Britain,  which includes two of the finest of EBJ's works, Circe with her big cats and Perseus stealing the eye from the Graiae.   Hung at eye level  so one can really look.  

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Surreal Artist Couples

and some trios too, in the MODERN COUPLES exhibition at Barbican Art Gallery.
At the entrance one is told  that labels and text panels may be photographed, but not artworks.  this is very common, so not surprising.  But inside the paucity of artworks is surprising - and disappointing too, as the display is large and on two floors.  
There are in fact more labels and panels than artworks, together with much ephemera, snapshots, pamphlets and archive material -  all fascinating in its own right, but visually dull.  One feels it will be better to read the book than plod round the 23 'rooms'  showcasing 46 'couples',  all from first half of 20th century  and many very surrealist.

So  a great cheer for Toboggan Couple by Lavinia Schutz and Walter Holdt [1920-24]  kitted out in quasi ski-suits
photo borrowed from another website 

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Black Skin, Whitehall

BLACK SKIN, WHITEHALL:  Race and the Foreign Office 1945-2018
 Written by James Southern and published by FCO Historians  as History Notes issue 21

An interesting survey/analysis of the ‘history of race at the Foreign Office’  which is not a history of empire or British policy but an account of the absence of BAME staff at the FCO in post-war period.  It's a history of race discrimination in recruitment for the diplomatic service, with many eloquent quotations from FCO archives.  
In 1965, for example, Dennis Fowler of Diplomatic Service admin branch was in favour in principle of  admitting three male civil servants who applied for transfer to FCO.  One born in Barbados, then a clerical officer in Ministry of Housing; one born in India then working with Atomic Energy Authority; and one born in Guyana working for the Colonial Service.   All were denied transfer on the ground that they might ‘still be susceptible to Indian and West Indian influence. Mr Chin [born in Guyana] has a Chinese name and the inherent nationalism of the Chinese is such that he may even be susceptible to Chinese influence’.  In 1988 there were 88 ‘ethnic minority’ staff in the Diplomatic Service,, with just one in the senior rank alongside 1118 whites and at the lowest levels 66 among 2326 total.  The careers of high-flying Noel Jones and Robin Chatterjie are examined; sadly, both died prematurely so their own accounts are not available, but both appear to have felt the need to ignore or deny their exceptionality.
The latest material cited in the text are interviews conducted by the author in summer 2018.  In a contribution to the survey, Fouzia Younis and Muna Shamsuddin from the FCO’s BAME Network  write ‘this year we celebrated the first black female career diplomat being appointed to an ambassadorial post; over 23% of graduate entry intake is from a BAME background; and we hope to see the first BAME member appointed to the FCO Board in 2018.’  At the same time, when they accompany overseas visitors in the UK, their hosts often mistake them for being in the foreign delegation, not the home team, and ‘we still do not have enough black applicants  being successful when applying for Fast Stream posts.’
Black Skin, Whitehall has many statistics, citations and observations of interest.  It doesn’t have publication details or reference number, but gives just ‘’ as its origin, so let’s hope it is easily available via that route.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Did Stanley Spencer visit Urbino?

A detail from the Crucifixion fresco by the Salimbene brothers in the Oratory of San Giovanni Battista in Urbino. 

The poses and gestures of the two gesticulating mourners, Magdalene with corkscrew hair and Baptist with fur-lined robe, are SO similar to figures by Stanley Spencer that his seemed copied.  They make me wonder if Spencer ever visited Urbino?  He is not known as an artist who travelled in Europe, and his major voyage during WWI was from Britain to Thessalonika where he was stationed with the Army Medical Corps.  The ship appears to have paused in Corsica, but if Spencer somehow got to Italy it would surely have registered in his biography.

Of course, he could have seen reproductions of the paintings in books on early Italian art.  But the other curious coincidence is that the fresco-covered Oratory in Urbino is similar in size and shape to the Sandham Memorial Chapel in Hampshire which Spencer decorated with mural paintings of the war,  with comparably flattened and crowded picture spaces and a dual register of scenes on the side walls.   Accounts of Sandham cite the Giotto friezes in the Scrovegni chapel in Padua as inspiration, and this was very well known in art books.  The Salimbene oratory seems to have more affinity with Sandham, however.   One would love to know more.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Pre-Raphaelite Sisters 1




17 Oct 2019 to 26 Jan 2020

Featuring twelve women whose lives and works reveal the as-yet unacknowledged female contribution to the art of the Pre-Raphaelite movement  1850-1900.

Effie Gray Millais  :  Elizabeth Siddal  :  Annie Miller  :  Christina Rossetti ;  Joanna Boyce Wells  ;  Fanny Eaton  ;  Georgiana Burne-Jones ;  Fanny Cornforth  ;  Marie Spartali Stillman  ; Maria Zambaco  :  Jane Morris  :  Evelyn de Morgan.


Sunday, 28 October 2018

Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby has her latest work on display at Brixton tube station.

 © Njideka Akunyili Crosby Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London

"Remain, Thriving", 2018 was commissioned by Art on the Underground and is on view till March 2019.


Then next month, from 17 November, works from Njideka's series The Beautyful Ones are at the National Portrait Gallery London


  • Monday, 22 October 2018

    May Morris and the Mouse

    Mary Anne Sloane, May Morris correcting proofs. WMG

     Not quite on cue but seasonally close, in October 1910 May Morris described her typical day at autumnal Kelmscott Manor, when editing her edition of William Morris’s Collected Works

    I do most of the house keeping –coming down in the morning with a key-basket, seeing the cook and the gardener and so forth, sometimes making a special dish for Mother (Nature intended me for  a cook and housekeeper and I resent the perversity of things  that have so thwarted that intention). Then I settle to work in the Tapestry-room,  These are my Father’s rooms – in the E wing of the house … very quiet and isolated from the rest of the house.  Mother doesn’t get up till late , and I work through the morning, with a little girl who comes to copy things.   Such a light, gay room, with great mullioned windows – in spite of the Samson tapestry, whose grimness has faded to a  pleasant harmony of blue and golden browns – a very lovely Persian carpet on the floor – I remember our getting it in Venice: the puzzlement of the Italian dealer at my Father’s vehement ways!  He was told by an Italian-speaking friend that he was a “grande poeta” and that soothed the gentleman, tho’ I don’t think it led him to take anything off the account –otherwise!
    Mother and I lunch together, and she goes to rest, and I work on, not going out much beyond the garden – a wander by the river or in the churchyard at sunset sometimes.  We sit in the parlour at tea and for the evening – a delightful room white panelled, airy and roomy; somehow, tho’ not very large.  There are jewels of Persian rugs  about the floor, a painted settle of Red House days on one side; opposite, my Father’s portrait, and his own Iseult picture, D.G.R.’s drawings of “Jenny and May”.  And we are lighted not by globes of electric light, but by modest candles in branches of old Sheffield plate.  I occasionally play Bach and Handel on a little old piano, but generally settle by proof-reading.  After dinner we play a dreadful game called Patience.
    Kelmscott Manor White parlour today
     Then, as she finished her letter
    Do you know what happened then!  I felt something wriggle nearly at my waist, and Good Heavens, there was a huge mouse inside my clothes!  Now a truly sensitive woman would have screamed, but I didn't want to waken the house!

    Friday, 19 October 2018

    Black is the new Black

    Portraits by Simon Frederick

    Portraits by Simon Frederick

    29 September 2018 - 27 January 2019
    National Portrait Gallery London
     Room 33, Floor 1
    Black is the New Black brings together exceptional figures from the world of politics, business, culture, religion and science to celebrate black British achievement today. Artist and director Simon Frederick photographed sitters ranging from Naomi Campbell, Sir Trevor McDonald and Thandie Newton to musician Jazzie B of Soul II Soul and footballer Les Ferdinand, to recognise the profound impact of black individuals on British culture. The portraits were made as part of Frederick’s acclaimed BBC Two documentary series of 2016 on black culture in modern Britain. This display celebrates their acquisition as the largest group of portraits of Afro-Caribbean sitters into the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection.

    Sunday, 14 October 2018

    Black Tudors at NPG

    On 18 October at the National Portrait Gallery in London  Dr. Miranda Kaufmann tells the intriguing tales of three Africans living in Tudor England – a diver employed by Henry VIII to recover guns from the wreck of the Mary Rose, a Moroccan woman baptized in Elizabethan London and a porter who whipped a fellow servant at their master's Gloucestershire manor house. Their stories shed light on key questions: how did they come to England? What were their lives like? How were they treated by the church and the law?
    Tickets from NPG website
    Miranda Kaufmann is author of Black Tudors, published by Oneworld in 2017 and shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2018.  She is also author of the entry for trumpeter John Blanke (fl.1507-1512) in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

    Thursday, 4 October 2018

    Pre-Raphaelite Women re-viewed

    as my book on the Legend of Elizabeth Siddal demonstrates, I've long been a fan of interpretations and re-imaginings of Pre-Raphaelite (hi)stories,
    and here is the latest version with a large cast list of women as you've seldom seen them before.
    PRE-RAPHAELITE GIRL GANG by Kirsty Stonell Walker of the Kissed Mouth BlogSpot contains capsule accounts of 50 individuals,  chronologically from Julia Cameron to Noel Laura Nisbet, alphabetically from Anna Blunden to Maria Zambaco, and arguably (even if Pre-Raphaelite is now an extremely baggy denotation) including Anna Lea Merritt and Lillie Langtry. 
    You can test your knowledge by naming those in the re-visioned thumbnails above by Kingsley Nebechi, although only 30 are included in this sheet, no doubt owing to space issues - all 50 have comparable images within the book, together with 4 pages of text and images.  Graphic reinterpretations like this are a new[ish] departure, to add to the fictions and dramas and historical accounts.
    I miss seeing Cathy Madox Brown and Becky Solomon, and you can probably add further candidates for the next collection.   I will add links to ordering the book as soon as 

    Saturday, 22 September 2018

    Dido Belle and Lady Elisabeth

    The Fake or Fortune programme also investigated this most wonderful double portrait from Scone castle showing the Earl of Mansfield's great-nieces Dido and Elizabeth, in the grounds of Kenwood House, where they lived, giving each almost equal pictorial importance despite the social gulf between the daughter of an enslaved mother and an aristocratic one. 
    This alone would make it astonishing, but the whole lively presentation of the two sitters is notable. 
    As James Mulraine wrote way back in 2014
    "It is a remarkable painting. The staging implies that the two girls have been surprised by the arrival of a visitor, the viewer. Lady Elizabeth Murray composes herself according to etiquette, reading, or pretending to read, but from her smile and Dido’s barely-suppressed grin it’s clear they’ve been laughing just that moment before. More importantly, Dido has leapt to her feet, but Lady Elizabeth’s touch on her arm restrains her, as if she is saying she can sit down again. Dido is dressed in a turban like a black attendant in a painting, but they seem more like sisters."

    That idea/illusion surely marked a breach in etiquette that must have been endorsed by the Murrays, and presumably also by Mansfield, who paid for the portrait.
    F or F did a good job in locating the £200 payment in Mansfield's accounts, although I am surprised that this had not been done earlier, as it's the obvious source. Furthermore, the payment identified the artist as David Martin (1737-1797), pupil and colleague of Allan Ramsay, the foremost Scottish portraitist.
    There seems to be some ongoing debate about this identification, but it is eminently defensible.

    Other, independent research by Etienne Daly conjecturally identified Dido's turban with  one presented to her father Sir John Lindsay, who as well as his naval career in the Atlantic and Caribbean, was posted to India in 1769.   He is said to have received from Walla Jaha the ruler of Arcot Amir ul Hind,   a dress of gold brocade, an inscribed ring and a turban, the last of which may be  the jewelled turban that Dido is shown wearing, with an additional black ostrich feather to put it at the forefront of European fashion. 

    As it happens,  Dido Belle and Elizabeth Murray are not the only eighteenth century portrait sitters to have been thus depicted as a pair.   But these two below are clearly mistress and maid, although the latter also wears a black ostrich feather and has laid her hand familiarly on her companion's shoulder.   Is there any information on this painting?

    May Morris to be seen in Edinburgh

    two bits of May Morris news.
     POEM by Sarah Doyle
           I’m the life picked out in needlework, embroidered,
           a chain-stitch away from parents whose artistry was
           remarkable. I am the satin-stitch of dusky grapes, a
           woman with fingers that spun silvery vines, wrought
           always in a green that winter cannot wither. This I
           was, and am, and more. I am a tangle of strawberries,
           though this seed did not fall far from its trees. I am
           none and all of these. I am fastened, coiled in skeins
           of inheritance, soft as heather, the trellis of violets
           you could almost smell. I am speckling feathers that
           seemed to take flight, birds fledged of frame, calling
           to my herringbone soul, a fly-stitch song. I am all that I
           think and sew, all that I made and did not make. And
           So the silk is cut, and I am where the threads break.
    Published in Pre-Raphaelite Review  Spring 2018

    @PoetSarahDoyle:   'The May Morris quotes were painted onto the walls at the William Morris exhibition, and I found those two lines really inspiring! She’s a fascinating and important figure.'.

    'May Morris Art and Life' will be re-shown, in slightly different iteration, at the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh, in autumn 2019.  In due course the information will be posted here

    Saturday, 15 September 2018

    Tudor tomb effigies

    Recently, when doing other things, I've fortuitously visited several churches with memorable memorials, making it seem I'm a bit fixated on death.  But that how life is.
    The latest was St Briavels in the Forest of Dean, where are these effigies to William (died 1573) and his wife Mariana (born Catchmay) reclining on their elbows almost as if woken fully clothed from the marital bed.

    William's left hand holds a bible or prayerbook, probably signifying the protestant faith, and his left hand rests on a now-damaged skull.  Their four children, including one still swaddled who presumably died while a baby, are represented on the tomb side.   

    That's about all the information the memorial (and church) offer so I don't know who they were, except that both Warrens and more notably Catchmays were local gentry, and one may assume the memorial was erected by a surviving child.   Most striking are the strong sculptural lines of their robes with deeply incised folds and the expressive facial features,  William appropriately sombre, Marian with a curious half-smile.
    Equally striking are the traces of colour on the stone, showing that William's gown and pillow were originally painted black, and Marian's lips and cheeks were rouged.  This, together with the skull and elbow poses, is similar to the female effigies in Hatfield that I saw back in July.  
    So I'm now on a hunt for more painted  Tudors and Jacobeans.

    Sunday, 2 September 2018

    Aboliitonist painting by Emma Soyer

    Features on BBC1 Fake or Fortune tonight
    It really wasn't difficult to identify the artist as she signed and dated the work on the elder girl's sash, and E Jones is readily found as the future wife of Alexis Soyer.
    And it is very obviously an anti-slavery image [ the plastic palm trees are a giveaway, together with the Bible that enslaved people were prevented from reading, according to indignant campaigners]
    It's a shame however that the programme did not search Abolitionist literature to see whether the painting was reproduced anywhere as an engraving, it carrying such an eloquent message.  it looks tailor-made for use by the movement.
    It's also notable that it was painted in 1831 - the year  that ended with the great Jamaican slave revolt led by Samuel Sharpe,  when expectations of emancipation had been dashed.   This was the political context of an otherwise supremely sentimental picture.
    Some Abolitionists in Britain and missionaries in the Caribbean had been predicting that William IV would end enslavement, and the work stoppage when this did not happen was countered by violence that killed hundreds of Black Jamaicans.   Only the election of the Reform parliament brought  anti-slavery legislation in Britain, initially in 1833, finally in 1838.
    Another unexplored aspect of Emma Soyer's painting is its unrecorded history. It was not exhibited or sold in her lifetime, but , as 'Two Negro Children with a Book' passed in 1859 after her husband's death to one of his creditors.   Possibly the debts were paid off by Soyer's surviving brothers in France, which is where the canvas was when inherited by the present owner.
    Emma Jones Soyer (1813-1842)  was a precociously successful and prolific artist
    This stipple engraving is copied from a self-portrait showing herself at the easel.  The loose ringlets appear to date the likeness to around 1840.  She died  during pregnancy.


    Monday, 27 August 2018

    William Morris in the East End

    check out this really good posting from the Gentle Author of Spitalfields Life, tracing WM's political occasions in London's then working class EastEnd


    Wednesday, 22 August 2018

    Flaxman in Cookham

    Village churches are an recurrent source of unexpectedness.  Hard on the scary sculpted cadaver in Hatfield, here is John Flaxman's consoling memorial to a gentleman who died suddenly, presumably from a stroke or cardiac arrest,  while on the river Thames by his home in Cookham.

    Enchantingly, Sir Isaac is shown wearing coat and breeches, as he must have died, reclining in a punt, gently lapped by river waves.  He is held in a pieta pose by the Angel of Death, with encircling draperies to soften the Georgian garments,  while a sturdy local ferryman punts the barque to a 'better state' across the Stygian waters to the afterlife or to oblivion.   A nice blend of classical and Christian notions cast in Regency mode and rendered with perfect pictorial balance and exquisite relief by Flaxman's magisterial line.  The widow's epigraph is pretty fine, too.

    The churchyard outside is where Spencer famously set his scene of the Christian Resurrection.   Graves today still await Day of Reckoning/Opening, but on a quiet sunny day it would seem a shame to disturb them. 
    I wonder what Spencer made of Flaxman's punt?   though possibly he seldom went inside the parish church as I think his family were Dissenters.   In the Cookham Museum is Spencer's last and unfinished painting of Christ preaching at the Regatta, with locals and holiday-makers in rows of punts.   Christ and bearded, barefoot  disciples all in Dissenting grey, sitting in basket chairs in the wide flat punt that was the horse-ferry when Spencer was young.  It's not clear what the sermon - apparently to children and villagers not holiday-makers - was about, but presumably one or other of the Parables would fit the occasion...

    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 loose 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 development.   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