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...
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..
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
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 inthrall 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 1897she 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..
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