Monday, 20 May 2019

Jenny Morris postscript

the better image of Evelyn de Morgan's chalk portrait, as promised.

Georgie Burne Jones recalled the day in 1876 when she received a note from 'poor Janey at Horrington House' asking for the address of a doctor 'because Jenny had fainted suddenly and frightened her very much'.   This was perhaps the first major seizure.

By 1901 Georgie reported that Jenny 'now never speaks  without being spoken to .. and seldom smiles'.  And six years later, after a visit to Kelmscott, Georgie added that 'a week in Jenny's company' had made her understand Janey's situation 'as I never did before.' 

Monday, 13 May 2019

Fanny Cornforth's last days

Christopher Whittick and Kirsty Walker have separately published on the final years of Fanny Cornforth, Pre-Raphaelite model and Rossetti's devoted companion, which make for relatively sad reading, although with today's greater familiarity with alzheimer's and other dementias her experience was by no means unusual.

And the detailed record kept by the Graylingwell asylum or hospital  now in West Sussex Record Office makes this clear.  Admitted from Chichester workhouse on 30 March 1907 as a widow with no known relatives, she was 'well nourished', indeed stout, but 'very deaf', confused, 'excitable'  and upset, with no sense of orientation and no memory for recent or remote events.  In September she fractured her wrist in a fall, and kept attempting to remove the plaster cast.  By January 1909 she was bed-ridden and effectively blind, and on 24 February she died, the causes listed as pneumonia and senile dementia.

The melancholy chronicle is aggravated by the absence of all friends and relations, and by the fact that the hospital record is for 'Sarah Hughes',  which was Fanny's name during her first marriage.  So there is no trace of her second husband John Schott - who predeceased Fanny.  The record cites two informants who appear to have transferred Fanny to this version of community care:  Mrs Mant from the Homestead at Felpham, described as her landlady, who committed Fanny to the Chichester Union workhouse, and Ann Humphrey of Outram House Felpham, who stated that Fanny had been  'strange in her manner' for some time and occasionally violent. Both addresses sound like private care homes,  which  presumably moved their most decayed residents to poor law public hospitals on a regular basis.

The whole register makes for absorbing reading,  with the accounts of Fanny's companions [all female in this ledger and the hospital section] suffering not only from senility but also psychosis  - frequently hearing distressing voices urging them to suicide and some suffering mental breakdown after having stillborn infants.  Several younger patients were discharged, registered as 'recovered',  which implies  families to return to.  It's a rare glimpse into historical mental health services via record-keeping.

Picturing Whiteness studentship @ Tate

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Janey's very first pose

When in the autumn of 1857  Jane Burden and her sister Bessie were accosted after a touring theatre performance in Oxford by Rossetti and Burne-Jones, seeking female models for their mural paintings in the University Union debating room, it marked the beginning of Jane's new  life, as yet unforeseen..

The first pose she was asked to take was for the figure of Queen Guenevere, when the Knights of the Round Table hammer on the door of her chamber, to discover her with Sir Lancelot.

This large study is thus the first that Gabriel drew of Janey.  it is dated and inscribed 'fainting study' ,  which implies she was asked to imagine   that the shock and dismay of discovery caused the Queen to pass out in fear.

"So on a night, when King Arthur was hunting in the forest, and the queen sent for Sir Lancelot to her chamber, they two espied him; and thinking now to make a scandal and a quarrel between Lancelot and the king, they found twelve others, and said Sir Lancelot was ever now in the queen's chamber, and King Arthur was dishonored.
Then, all armed, they came suddenly round the queen's door, and cried, "Traitor! now art thou taken."
"Madam, we be betrayed," said Sir Lancelot; "yet shall my life cost these men dear."
Then did the queen weep sore, and dismally she cried, "Alas! there is no armor here whereby ye might withstand so many; wherefore ye will be slain, and I be burnt for the dread crime they will charge on me."
But while she spake the shouting of the knights was heard without, "Traitor, come forth, for now thou art snared!"
"Better were twenty deaths at once than this vile outcry," said Sir Lancelot.
Then he kissed her and said, "Most noble lady, I beseech ye, as I have ever been your own true knight, take courage; pray for my soul if I be now slain, and trust my faithful friends, Sir Bors and Sir Lavaine, to save you from the fire."
But ever bitterly she wept and moaned, and cried, "Would God that they would take and slay me, and that thou couldest escape."
"That shall never be," said he. And wrapping his mantle round his arm he unbarred the door a little space, so that but one could enter.
Then first rushed in Sir Chalaunce, a full strong knight, and lifted up his sword to smite Sir Lancelot; but lightly he avoided him, and struck Sir Chalaunce, with his hand, such a sore buffet on the head as felled him dead upon the floor.
Then Sir Lancelot pulled in his body and barred the door again, and dressed himself in his armor, and took his drawn sword in his hand.
But still the knights cried mightily without the door, "Traitor, come forth!"
"Be silent and depart," replied Sir Lancelot; "for be ye sure ye will not take me, and to-morrow will I meet ye face to face before the king."
"Ye shall have no such grace," they cried; "but we will slay thee, or take thee as we list."
"Then save yourselves who may," he thundered, and therewith suddenly unbarred the door and rushed forth at them. And at the first blow he slew Sir Agravaine, and after him twelve other knights, with twelve more mighty buffets. And none of all escaped him save Sir Modred, who, sorely wounded, flew away for life.
Then returned he to the queen, and said, "Now, madam, will I depart, and if ye be in any danger I pray ye come to me."
"Surely will I stay here, for I am queen," she answered; "yet if to-morrow any harm come to me I trust to thee for rescue."
"Have ye no doubt of me," said he, "for ever while I live am I your own true knight."
Therewith he took his leave, and went and told Sir Bors and all his kindred of this adventure. "We will be with thee in this quarrel," said they all; "and if the queen be sentenced to the fire, we certainly will save her."
Meanwhile Sir Modred, in great fear and pain, fled from the court, and rode until he found King Arthur, and told him all that had befallen. But the king would scarce believe him till he came and saw the bodies of Sir Agravaine and all the other knights.
Then felt he in himself that all was true, and with his passing grief his heart nigh broke. "Alas!" cried he, "now is the fellowship of the Round Table forever broken: yea, woe is me! I may not with my honor spare my queen."

Anon it was ordained that Queen Guinevere should be burned to death, because she had dishonored King Arthur."

The scene never made it to the walls of the Union building, but the projected composition is seen in a detailed ink study now in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
Gabriel left Oxford shortly after the drawing was done,  but he kept it for the rest of his life.  It was sold at his studio sale in 1882  after which it was acquired by a businessman who bequeathed his collection to Manchester Art Gallery in the 1940s

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Evelyn de Morgan Centenary symposium

The De Morgan Foundation is marking the centenary of EDM's death with a symposium at Guildhall Art Gallery on 4 May.

As the DMF explains, Evelyn De Morgan was a radical Victorian artist who defied her gender and upper-class upbringing to become a commercially successful, professional artist.

Her style developed from Neo-Classical, Italian Renaissance influenced work, which she was taught at the Slade School of Art, to Pre-Raphaelite and then Symbolist canvases, but she never fully subscribed to an art movement, instead using her art to present her socio-political agenda. She painted on themes of women's suffrage, material greed, death, spiritualism and her deep horror at the onset of the First World War, which she abhorred.

These themes are explored in the Symposium's programme.   Speakers include Sarah Hardy of the DMF; Emma Merkling; Nic Peeters; Richenda Roberts; Lucy Ella Rose; and myself.   Partly because there is not a great deal of supporting literature or criticism, scholarship is only just beginning to explore De Morgan's work, and I hope that the Symposium will stimulate more thinking and analysis.    
One of her achievements was  to unsettle Burne-Jones, who after visiting her studio in 1897 grumbled that her paintings were an 'ecletic mixture of Mr Watts and me and old Florentine work ... The colours of some of them are extremely beautiful if you look close in at them, yet at a distance the whole has no beauty of colour at all.  The faces are so pretty with such nice expressions, but the figures are so badly drawn...'  He went on to vent his sense of rivalry.  'if this girl [EDM was over 40] had left figure painting alone and gone about the world modestly and happily doing pretty views, cities, flowers and every beatiful thing she came across in nature, with a cheerful mind ... she would have done admirable and useful work that would have been a pleasure to everybody.  But these pictures are only a bore and an anomaly'. 
Back where you belong, girls! 

Monday, 8 April 2019

Marie Spartali The Lady Prayse-Desire

For  long time, we've been reliant on an old and incorrect colour image of Marie Spartali's early canvas.  in preparation for PRE-RAPHAELITE SISTERS exhibition we have this image  - still a little warm when an e-image but otherwise good.  

And it's time to elucidate the title, which refers to an allegorical figure in Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, who personifies Ambition.  This figure is named 'Prays-Desyre' or 'Praise-Desire' because she represents the pursuit of fame and acclaim - aka the desire for praise.  Quite a bold statement from a young female artist.

Spartali's picture is a self-image, with a cartouche showing Athena's owl, referencing her Greek heritage.  The scroll has so far eluded decryption, so if anyone can decipher the broken Greek quotation,  please shout.

Iconically, it sits alongside Burne-Jones's 'Amorous-desire', also taken from Spenser, as an attribute of Venus, with love-arousing power:

That is thy sovereign might, 
O Cyprian queen, which flowing from the beam 
Of thy bright star, thou into them dost stream. 

That is the thing which giveth pleasant grace 
To all things fair, that kindleth lively fire, 
Light of thy lamp, which, shining in the face, 
Thence to the soul darts amorous desire, 
And robs the hearts of those which it admire; 

And of course, EBJ's vision of Desire/ Desiderium is drawn from Maria Zambaco:

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Joanna Boyce's paintbox

The most poignant image in the newly-published volumes of the Boyce Papers is a photo of the landscape sketching paintbox that belonged to Joanna Boyce Wells when she died.   It's pocket-sized for use in the field, and has tiny tubes of paint and several re-usable plywood panels about as big as a postcard,  for plein-air sketching, especially of colour.  Here two are visible - the one floating on the left, which has a view of a steep hillside presumably somewhere on the North Downs , and the other lying in the box, showing a tree rising from gorse or bushes.  The panel with almost-abstract colour passages  could represent an Impressionistic flower-filled garden, but as the inside lid of the paintbox it more probably carries various oils from brushes or miniature knife, laid out for use as on a palette.  All come, as it were directly from Joanna's hand, just as she left them.