Sunday, 11 November 2018

Sister Ethel Mary Lloyd SRN

Today I'm straying out of my Victorian comfort-zone to talk about something very much on all our minds today: the First World War.  A century has now passed and I think this is the first of the big anniversaries that I can remember where, for obvious reasons, we have none of the veterans left alive.  Leaving all politics of the matter aside, I wanted to explore a very interesting act of remembrance by an artist, and find the story behind this painting...

Sister Ethel Mary Lloyd, SRN (1943) Isabel Florrie Saul
This is one of Mr Walker's favourite paintings at the Russell Cotes Art Gallery, but it is tiny, measuring only 10cm by around 7cm.  She really is a miniature masterpiece and I have seen her a few times but never really stopped to think about the many elements in the image.  Who is she and why is there a portrait of her?  It was painted in the midst of one World War but has the date of another across it.  You know how I love a challenge and a story, so let's start with Sister Ethel Mary Lloyd...

John Ambrose Lloyd (c.1850s) Richard Norbury
 Ethel Mary Lloyd came from an interesting family to research.  Her grandfather is now remembered as a leading composer of hymn tunes and anthems.  John Ambrose Lloyd (1815-1874) hailed from Wales, bringing with him a family history of religious worship.  His own father had been a Baptist preacher, and when John Ambrose moved from Flintshire to Liverpool, he took the melodies of congregational singing with him, publishing two volumes of music in 1843 and 1870.  His son, Ethel's father, Edward, worked as a manufacturer's agent, and married the daughter of a commercial agent in 1868.  There then followed, in quick succession, seven children, three girls then four boys.  Ethel was the youngest of the girls, born in 1872, in Hull.  The family seemed to have moved around quite a bit in the early years of the couple's marriage but by the birth of Ethel's brother, Edward, in 1875, the Lloyds had finally settled in Nottingham, at the very respectable 1 Alpha Terrace.

It was Ethel's big sister Alice who qualified as a nurse first.  The same year as their mother died, 1894, Alice qualified as a nurse after three years training at Nottingham General Hospital.  Ethel started her training in 1904 at the Bristol Royal Infirmary.  She was already a nurse, but her training was for the new qualification of 'midwife'.

Early midwife taking a footprint as identification, 1910
I never knew that 'midwife' was such a recent qualification.  It was the state's way of controlling something women had been doing for years, for better or worse, for the betterment of society (if I'm being charitable).  Anyway, the wheels were set in motion with the Midwives Act of 1902, but this did not become fully effective until 1905.  Between 1902 and 1903, women could claim certification if they had already been practicing in the appropriate hospital and had 'a good character', whatever that means.  Ethel qualified as a midwife, but had already been working as a nurse for a number of years prior to training, as recorded in the 1901 census.  I'm not entirely sure why Ethel became a midwife, because her next recorded posting was to Bournemouth, a place that was to become her home in later life.  She is recorded as 'nurse' to 88 year old Mr Moser and his daughter Edith (62 years old), neither in particular need of a midwife.  The fact that Ethel is listed as 'nurse' to the household rather than lodger implies she was either Mr Moser or Edith's nurse rather than just living there while working in Bournemouth.  She certainly wasn't going to get much midwifery in the next decade as the War called her into service.

Territorial Force Nursing Service
As you can see by Ethel's uniform in the portrait at the top, she joined the Territorial Force Nursing Service.  What gives this away are the little 'T's in the corners of her cape.  You had to have at least three years of training to join, and as it was established in 1908, Ethel was perfectly placed to become a part of it.  You probably know that the build up for the First World War started horribly early and so six years before a shot was fired, we were already planning for casualties, with 23 large buildings in the country identified for use as military hospitals in the event of war.  Come 1914, almost three thousand nurses were mobilised, Ethel with them.  I made the mistake of thinking 'Territorial Force' meant that the nurses were stationed abroad, but of the 8,000 nurses who eventually joined the TFNS, only 2,000 of them were in stations overseas.

A TFNS nurse, c.1914, note the medal and the 'T's
The uniform was described as a cape of blue-grey material with scarlet facing and a silver T at each corner.  The dress was in washable fabric, the same colour of the cape, and the Sister had bands edged in scarlet at the wrist.  On the above lass (who is a nurse rather than a Sister, hence no bands) you will see a medal also signifying the TFNS, which is this one...

If you look at the painting of Ethel, she wears hers on the right (as you look at her) alongside her British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.  I think that Ethel was possibly stationed at the North Evington Military Hospital in Leicester because in the Midwife Register of 1926 she is still stationed there.

After her service was done, Ethel returned to Bournemouth and continued nursing.  She is there in the 1939 census at 29A Irving Road, as a retired trained nursing sister, now 72 years old.  About a mile away, in Iford Lane, Bournemouth lived a woman who was about to immortalise her...

Isabel Florrie Saul, c.1980
Isabel Saul was born in the Bournemouth area in 1895 and exhibited with the Bournemouth Art Exhibition and the Royal Academy.  She was the cousin of Doris Beerling, also an RA artist, but it seems that the business of most of her family was medicine.  Her brother was a pharmacist and her sister, a nurse, both of whom lived with Isabel in 1939.  It was possibly through her sister that Isabel met Ethel.  Although elderly, Ethel may well had been assisting with nurses and their training - my grandfather did something similar, training soldiers in the Second World War to do what he did in the First.  However it happened, Isabel decided that Ethel needed a portrait...

Corfe Castle in the Beauteous Isle of Purbeck (1940) Isabel Saul
Isabel Saul's art is beautiful and whimsical, often historical or Biblical, and her sister Mary did the calligraphy that decorated many of her canvases. It is likely that Mary did the writing across the back of Ethel's canvas, reading 'Anno Domini MCMXIV - MCMXVIII'.  This makes the image of Ethel interesting - it is a blending of the past and present.  Seventy-one year old Ethel looks at at us with little twinkly eyes in her uniform from almost thirty years previously.  Her medals tell of her service but in her hand is a copy of the Nursing Times from the 1940s, possibly hinting that her nursing days were not relegated to the past.

Queen Mary I (1544) Master John
When I saw the tiny gem that is Sister Ethel Mary Lloyd, SRN I was immediately reminded of portraits of the past, like this one of Queen Mary.  The glorious blue of the background elevates the nurse to a Queen, together with the golden legend normally reserved for reigns or significant dates.  This leads me to believe that for Ethel, the First World War was significant, that it defined her.  This sounds rather obvious, but we don't tend to think of the Great War in terms of the woman's experience, but for the likes of Ethel, it gave them life-changing purpose.  I don't think it's a coincidence that in her previous census returns before her training, she had no occupation, like many 'respectable' women of her class.  Ethel clutches her Nursing Times like a rolled scroll of office, resting on her books.  She has her medals, like a veteran, and despite the miniature scale of the tempera portrait, she is a formidable yet kindly force to be reckoned with. It also reminds me that despite today marking 100 years since the end of the First World War, for many like Ethel the war was carried in their hearts, for better or worse, and became who they would be for the rest of their lives.

Ethel only lived another four years after the painting was shown at the Royal Academy, dying on 20th November 1947.  She was returned to her family in Nottingham to be buried. Isabel Saul lived on in Bournemouth, bequesting the tiny portrait of Ethel to the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery at her death in 1982 where she is currently on display until the 19th November.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Review: China: Through the Lens of John Thomson

Just opened at the Russell-Cotes is a rather smashing exhibition.  It combines my twin delights of 19th century photography and beautiful women, in an extraordinary collection of large Victorian images taken by groundbreaking photographer and traveller, John Thomson.  What I found especially stunning was the echoes some of the photographs had in some of my favourite 19th century art works...

A Manchu Bride (1871-2)
Scotsman Thomson travelled to the Far East in 1862 and spent the next decade touring Asia documenting his journey with photography.  He spoke enough of the appropriate languages to communicate with his subjects and the results are beautiful and sensitive images of a foreign and yet familiar culture. I particularly liked the photographs of brides, richly decorated and apprehensive, with their enormous headdresses and silk robes.

A Canton Beauty (1869-71)
Thomson arrived in Hong Kong in 1868 and set up a studio there.  His reputation was sealed at home when he was commission to take photographs of Queen Victoria's son, Albert on his visit to the colony.  After Thomson's wife and son returned home in 1870 to avoid disease, Thomson ventured to more rural areas of China, where a white man and a camera were not exactly everyday sights, yet he was welcomed and allowed to do his work.

Thomson and Two Manchu Soldiers (1871)
We are even treated to a 'selfie' of Thomson, posing awkwardly near to soldiers, looking anxiously as his camera captures the image. His images, crystal clear and big, show the beauty of uniforms, the intricate jewellery and silks of the women, and the furniture and accessories of the domestic interiors.  The image above shows west meeting east and the contrast in their appearances.

Bound and Unbound Feet of Two Amoy Women (1871)
He wasn't a man who just marvelled at the beauty however.  Through his images Thomson draws attention to the aspects of the culture of which he was critical.  His powerful image of the bound feet of a woman of status as opposed to her unbound, poorer contemporary makes a horrifying display and showed how something could be seen as beautiful to one culture seems cruel to another.  Mind you, at this point we were squashing women into corsets that were so tight that their organs moved so we're not exactly ones to talk.  Interestingly the anti-foot binding movement seems to have gathered pace at the same time as the 'rational dress' movements in the west, so we aren't that different over all.

A Manchu Lady having her Hair Dressed by a Servant Girl (1871-2)
Thomson also voiced his sympathies with the brides he photographed, likening their lives to slavery, beaten by husbands and mothers-in-law if she did not perform her duties.  The brides often look quite wistful and apprehensive as they are decorated, but Thomson captures both the beauty and the fear.

Manchu Bride (1873)
One thing I really loved seeing was 'outside the frame'.  Obviously the images were made to be seen in a frame, close to the subject, but seeing the entire image shows you the background board and beyond, how the figures sat in their open-air studio regarding the strange Scotsman and his camera with interest.

Annie Chinery Cameron (1873-78) Julia Margaret Cameron

The Blue Bower (1865) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The likes of you will no doubt do as I did and see the parallels, conscious and otherwise, between Thomson's photographs and the fashion in art back in Britain.  Cameron's image of her daughter-in-law (above) definitely came to mind (I wonder if she saw any of her contemporary's works?) and Rossetti's love of the East brings colour to the silks and jewellery, however I do encourage you to go and see the authentic and thought-provoking images of the Far East in this exhibition, which have been displayed alongside pieces from the Russell-Cotes collection.  Merton and Annie Russell-Cotes were also travellers, visiting China around a decade later than Thomson and returning with keepsakes of their journey.  As if you were in any doubt of how small a woman's foot can be bound to, there are tiny shoes on display alongside other objects from Shanghai and Beijing.

China: Through the Lens of John Thomson (1868-1872) is on until June 2019, so plenty of time to see it, and further information can be found here.

Friday, 19 October 2018

The Trouble with Mary Pinnock

You know me, I can never leave anything alone.  I am always up for a challenge and possibly the worst thing anyone can say to me is 'you probably won't find anything out about so-and-so.' Never tell me there is nothing to find, it's like a red rag to a bull.  However, even I will admit that when it comes to history, women can be somewhat elusive, especially, and this really hacks me off, if they don't have anything to do with men.  In terms of trace-ability, the worst thing a woman in the past could do was be middle-class and unmarried because you will vanish.  With no trade records to find you or no children to treasure your memories, your footprint is a tad tiddy.  You're not fighting in wars, you are not joining the Masons (well, not without a lot of questions being asked, like why has that mysterious new member 'Gerald' got a magnificent bosom?) and being the respectable daughter or some middle-class chap, you are not really working or doing anything than occasionally cropping up at a flower show.  Sorry, anyway, all this rambling brings me to the subject of my recent research, Mary Pinnock...

Ophelia (Mary Pinnock) (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
Arguably, one of the most startling images created by photographer Julia Margaret Cameron has to be Ophelia from 1867, the model for which was the mysterious Mary Pinnock.  For years the model for this, and other images was misidentified as either Adeline Vaughan or Cyllena Wilson, despite not really looking like either one of them...

Adeline Vaughan, with daughter Augusta (1864) Julia Margaret Cameron

Rosalba (Cyllena Wilson) (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
In one of Cameron's many copyright entry forms, she recorded that the model for Ophelia was actually Mary Pinnock, so that settled that.  In the few volumes of Cameron's work that address the identities and lives of the models, no firm leads on Miss (or Mrs, but we'll come to that) Pinnock were given, apart from the fact that 'Pinnock' appeared in Cameron's household records as someone she paid as a merchant or labourer. So I got out my social history shovel and I started to dig...

Mary Pinnock (1864-5) Julia Margaret Cameron
Heavens, no wonder she was a tricky one, she looks just like Mary Ryan in this photo.  Anyway, I will tell you who I think Mary Pinnock was, but also why she might not be and we'll see where we go from there.  Searches in books such as Sylvia Wolf's indispensable Julia Margaret Cameron's Women and Nicky Bird's Tracing Echoes found no trace of a Pinnock family in Freshwater in the 1860s and in fact searching further afield you really aren't over-blessed with Pinnocks on the island as a whole. Therefore she must have come from outside the village at the very least, but this is not uncommon, taking the stories of Agnes Mangles and the Peacock sisters into account. I have found a Mary Pinnock, born 1844 in Newport on the Isle of Wight.  Her father, Robert, was a bit of a big-wig in the town, being not only a draper but also a town councillor.  He was also Mayor of Newport five times and had a very well connected civic career that spanned almost fifty years.  On his death in 1887, the Isle of Wight Country Press wrote that 'A great blank in the public life of Newport, and as greater void in the hearts of numberless personal friends have been caused by the death of Mr Robert Pinnock JP' and 2000 people attended his funeral from all over the island and the mainland.  Flipping heck.

 The Pinnock family of Sealand Cottage, Blackgang (posh house, not the caravan park that now bears its name) were well known locally.  The sons of the family seem to have gone into the drapery business which was shared with Robert's brother Henry.  Henry had been in business in the West Indies, and on his return started the business with Robert who had moved from Lewes in Sussex to the Wight.

Robert Pinnocks General Drapery, Newport (1889 advert)
 Mary had quite a privileged, but not entirely uneventful life.  It's hard to comprehend how frequently deaths occurred in the nineteenth century, and I am often rather shocked when part of a family just pop off all of a sudden, especially if they are wealthy. However, in 1861 Mary lost both her younger sister and mother within four weeks of each other. On the 11th October, Elizabeth, aged 40 died, followed by her 13 year old daughter Kate, on the 14th of November. The drapery business was then robbed in December of the same year, so 1861 was not the best year for the Pinnock family.  The reason I know these sad facts however is because the family were so well known and it makes that fame that makes Mary Pinnock, the third child and second daughter, Julia Margaret Cameron's Ophelia.  If no Pinnocks can be found in Freshwater then you have to find your Pinnocks somewhere...

Ophelia Study 2 (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
Another reason that I suspect Mary Pinnock of Newport is the model for the Cameron photographs is she actually mixed socially with another of Cameron's models, Agnes Mangles.  As you will remember from this post, Agnes' father was involved with a Steam Packet company and attended social events in Newport.  Also there, according to the newspapers, was Miss Pinnock, daughter of the Mayor and it isn't beyond reason that if Julia Margaret Cameron acquired Miss Mangles through social events then Miss Pinnock could have been found too.  Added to this, the Pinnock recorded in the Cameron accounts could well be the drapers in Newport who may have been able to get the fabrics that the Camerons were after, what with Mr Pinnocks foreign connections. Hurrah! Success!

Now let me come to the fly in my ointment...

The Passion Flower at the Gate (1865-70) Julia Margaret Cameron
Mary Pinnock of Newport remained a spinster until her death in 1908 but this image of Mary appears to show a ring on her left hand.  Damn. It is possible therefore that the model was Mrs Mary Pinnock, married to a yet unknown Mr Pinnock.  I have found suspects, such as Mary Moore who married George Pinnick (sic), a blacksmith from West Cowes or Mary Marsh who married William Pinnick in 1861, but none had the immediate standing, connections or locality to make them as likely as Mary from Newport.  It also depends on Julia Margaret Cameron misspelling 'Pinnock' in the records of her photographs and household accounts.  

At this point I call upon my good friend May Prinsep to help me out...

Pre-Raphaelite Study (October 1870) Julia Margaret Cameron
Here we have a lovely image of the delightful Miss Prinsep and what is that I spy on the ring finger of her left hand?  A full four years before her marriage to Andrew Hichens, Miss Prinsep was wearing a ring on her finger for no apparent reason.  Now, we could say that maybe the image is reversed on purpose (or by accident) and so both May and Mary Pinnock are the wrong way round, or maybe in dressing up for the picture they chose to wear rings.  Maybe Mrs Cameron wanted the woman in her image to be married, as if that carried meaning in the story she was portraying.  We may never know, but it does tell me that just because a woman in wearing a ring in a work of art, it doesn't mean the model was married, especially if the image is not intending to be a portrait.

Miss Mary Pinnock, daughter of the Mayor of Newport, and a rather quiet, good-works-in-the-parish sort of woman, lived a reasonably long life, outliving all but two of her siblings.  I would very much like to get hold of the Francis Pittis & Sons catalogue of the auction of Miss M A Pinnock's effects on 29th April 1908 to see if she had any of Cameron's images of her which would seal it.  However in the meantime we have to content ourselves with some beautiful pictures of an attractive young woman who sat in front of a camera in the late 1860s on the Isle of Wight...

Daphne (Mary Pinnock)  (1866-8) Julia Margaret Cameron

Thursday, 11 October 2018

In Defence of Rosa Corder

Whilst writing Pre-Raphaelite Girl Gang there were a couple of ladies that I really only had a passing knowledge of before researching for the book.  One of those was Rosa Corder, included because her involvement with Pre-Raphaelite art was somewhat unique and she seemed to be rather an interesting person, so I started to do a bit of digging. You know me, I never take anyone's word for anything, especially when it comes to the word of people who didn't even know them.  As I wrote in this post, always remember - what is it that we know for sure?

Let's start with the accepted knowledge when it comes to Miss Corder. 

Mr._ and Miss._ nervously perpetuating the touch of a vanished hand (1922) Max Beerbohm
 Rosa Corder is known primarily to Pre-Raphaelite fans as a grand faker of Rossetti pictures, peddled by her erstwhile loverboy, Charles Augustus Howell (whose naughtiness is talked about here).  She is portrayed as sneaky and wicked, the moll to Howell's criminal mastermind.  The description that bothered me the most came from Stanley Weintraub's 1974 biography of Whistler:

"She exuded sexual appeal, and knew it, and, in her mid-twenties, had no interest in marriage although considerable interest in men." (page 165)

Well, that's a little bit creepy. Thanks Stan.

Let's start at the beginning of Rosa's story. She was born in 1853, the daughter of London merchant and musician Micah Corder, one of six children.  Her siblings were by and large successful and she seems to have been especially close to her brother Frederick with whom she took music lessons.  She was also talented at languages and published a translation of Science Without God by Rev. Father Didon before she was 20 years old. Frederick went on to become a composer and a Fellow and Curator of the Royal Academy of Music but Rosa took training in painting and portraiture, studying under Felix Moscheles (painter and advocat for peace and Esperanto).  

Portrait of Rosa Corder, from an etching by Mortimer Menpes, 1880
 She continued her studies with Frederick Sandys, where she excelled as a draughtsman and copyist.  Before we all jump to conclusions here, being a copyist was all part of becoming an artist (and possibly still is).  Actually, making copies of famous works of art for buyers was a roaring trade legitimately - for example Sir Merton Russell-Cotes wanted a copy of Love Locked Out by Anna Lea Merritt but she refused, so he got Henry Justice Ford to do it for him, and it hangs in the collection of the Russell-Cotes in Bournemouth today.  To prove how good Rosa was, we have this...

The Marriage of St George (1870s) Rosa Corder
The above is a copy of Rossetti's cartoon for stained glass, by Rosa.  Rossetti was actually so impressed with her work he considered employing her as an assistant and it is through Rossetti that Rosa met Howell. There began a beautiful friendship (of forgery and adultery...)

Charles Augustus Howell (1882) Frederick Sandys
Right, just to slam on the breaks for a moment, if we take Rosa and Howell's relationship to date from the early 1870s, then Rosa was barely 20, whilst Howell was into his 30s.  It is arguable that Howell saw Rosa's potential as the producer of forgeries but quite what Rosa knew of their partnership is another matter.  I'm not arguing that Rosa was some unwitting rube in all this - Rosa was a very clever girl indeed, and some of the pictures that she copied were Henry Fuseli, referred to as 'objectionable' by subsequent biographers, which I think is fancy talk for 'boobs'...

An Incubus Leaving Two Sleeping Girls (1793) Henry Fuseli
I think we can safely say that Rosa wasn't an innocent lady painter, but making the leap from someone who was an independent spirit and broadminded to criminal is a bit harsh.  Also, it seems to me that those qualities appear to be enough to condemn her rather than the forgery.  

Arrangement in Brown and Black, Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder (1878) James McNeill Whistler
It was Howell who asked for the portrait of Rosa to be painted by Whistler.  Weintraub suggests that Rosa had received some drawing instruction from Whistler and '...spent time in Whistler's studio, if not also in his bed' (p.165). Again, thanks for that. Howell offered Whistler £100 to paint their allegedly shared mistress.  The artist got her to stand in a doorway - '...with the darkness of a shuttered room behind her, her firm body clothed in black and turned away from him, her face in profile, left hand on hip, a dark plumed hat in her right hand.' (p.165).  Whistler took his time, with 40 sittings, or in fact standings, which took hours until she passed out.  It was only when Rosa decided it was done that Whistler finally gave it up and let the poor woman go.  It is an amazing portrait, with 25 year old Rosa looking self possessed and confident.  In regards to Weintraub's above quote can I draw your attention to 'firm body' and 'hand on hip'. Seriously Stan, please dial it down.

Fred Archer (c. 1880) Rosa Corder
So, whilst being the evil temptress forger, Rosa also managed to set herself up as a painter in Newmarket.  In the 1880s Rosa took over the studio of Harry Hall, an accomplished equine painter, in a town devoted to horse racing.  There was a little resistance to this woman coming into what was undoubtedly a male-dominated world, but Rosa had a love of animals that drew her to her subjects both human and otherwise.  It wasn't long before she fitted in completely.  One firm friend was the jockey Fred Archer who Rosa painted a couple of times during his prolific career.  Rosa was very close friends with Ellen Terry, who gave an account of visiting Rosa in her studio: 

'"How wonderfully different are the expressions on terriers' faces," I said to her, looking at a painting of hers of a fox-terrier pup. "That's the only sort of pup I should like to have." "That one belonged to Fred Archer," Rosa Corder said. "I dare say he could get you one like it." We went to Archer and from him "Fussie" [Terry's dog] was obtained.' (from The Story of My Life by Ellen Terry)

Now, Ellen Terry actually knew Rosa and so I always like to hear the opinions of people who were there at the time, so let's see what she has to say...

Ellen Terry, Fussie and Drummie (her terriers)
Ellen described Rosa as 'plain-beautiful', 'so far more attractive than some of the pretty ones', she was pale with great hair and she wore 'odd clothes'.  Fellow painter W. Graham Robertson described her as 'gentle and crushed looking'.  None of which says sexy siren exactly... Back to Newmarket, and sporting newspapers spoke glowingly of Rosa's pictures of the race horses.  Her paintings became popular engravings and she became a fixture in the town.  In secret, she had given birth to Howell's daughter the same year as she had moved to Newmarket.  Her love of animals also brought her into conflict with some of her potential clients and fellow Newmarket residents.  She seems to have been fined regularly for refusing to muzzle her dogs in public and in 1890 she was a witness at a trial against animal cruelty.

Mrs Charles Augustus Howell (Kitty) (1873) Frederick Sandys
When Howell's wife Frances Kate (Kitty) died in 1888, Rosa took care of the Howell's daughter Rosalind, who grew up alongside her half-sister, Rosa's daughter Beatrice.  Howell died in 1890 and it was rumoured that he had been found with his throat cut in a gutter with a sovereign between his teeth but the truth was somewhat more mundane.  He developed pneumonia after a chill and was confined to a hospital where Rosa visited him daily.  Rosa only outlived her mentor by a couple of years, much in the same way as Alexa Wilding and Rossetti, or Dorothy Dene and Leighton.  Rosa's love of animals proved her undoing as she too developed pneumonia after taking extra time to ensure her horse was dry on a cold wet day before seeing to her own needs.  She died in 1893, aged only 40.

Right then, so what is it that we can say for sure?  Rosa was bright and talented with an independent spirit.  This we know because of her many accomplishments and the fact that she represented herself in male-dominated art and sports worlds.  She obviously loved Howell who she not only had a child with but also cared for at the end of his life.  She also cared deeply for animals, proved by her willingness to stand up in court and testify against an owner who had mistreated his horses.  She undoubtedly produced the forgeries that Howell sold but we don't know if the young woman knew what her lover was doing or that she felt comfortable within that relationship to object.  It seems to me that in reading accounts of the whole forgery business, Rosa and Howell are seen as equal partners in the villainy.  Actually, more than that, Howell is seen as a crook but Rosa is seen as a temptress, sexually promiscuous even before she meets Howell.  Weintraub's casual assertion that she had probably jumped from bed to bed before ending up with Howell is a judgement not a fact.  He's not the first to condemn her - in Murray Marks and His Friends (1919), G G Williamson says that Rosa lived on 'very intimate terms' with Whistler, Rossetti and Howell.  When Ellen Terry refers to her friend as 'plain-beautiful' somehow there is no judgement. I don't know what it is about Rosa that makes writers want to believe she was promiscuous and immoral, where as someone like Howell can get away with being 'a bit of a rogue' or even criminal. For a woman, being criminal is not enough, she also seems to have to be slutty.  I think that says far more about the biographers than it does Miss Rosa Corder.

Anyway, I think it is probably better for us to think of Rosa as an animal-loving young woman who may or may not have known what her much older lover was up to, but still stuck by him and his daughter until the end of her life.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Review: My Ladys Soul: The Poems of Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall

Whilst doing the rounds to publicize my new book Pre-Raphaelite Girl Gang, I was mainly asked questions about one woman. Above any other Pre-Raphaelite woman, Elizabeth or Lizzie Siddal (or Siddall) remains most people's idea of what 'Pre-Raphaelite' means.  With her long red hair and tragic legends, people definitely have an opinion about her, but as Serena Trowbridge, editor of a new collection of Siddal's poems, says in her introduction 'the woman has come to be represented purely by her face.'

Elizabeth Siddal (1850s) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
From the countless images drawn by the obsessive Dante Gabriel Rossetti all through the 1850s, we feel we know Lizzie, but without knowledge of her work our impression is only ever surface-deep or what we project upon her.  It is beyond marvellous therefore that Serena has brought together all of Siddal's poems for the first time in one handy volume.

First a note about 'Siddal' vs 'Siddall'.  Elizabeth was originally 'Siddall' but it was suggested by Dante Gabriel Rossetti that one 'l' was better than two and so she dropped an 'l' professionally.  However as Serena discusses, 'Elizabeth Siddal' has come to represent all the woman-in-the-bath-tub, buried-then-dug-up-with-the-poems type nonsense, whereas 'Elizabeth Siddall' is the actual person who lived, wrote, painted, modelled and all that jazz.  One is a construct of first of all, arguably, herself, but mainly the Rossetti family, then of countless biographers, novelists, film-makers and journalists, until all that is left is a Sad Ginger (TM).

Sketch for Ophelia (1852) John Everett Millais
The book is just over 100 pages long and contains not only Siddal's poems but also Serena's helpful notation which gives not only a perfect understanding of each of the poem but also how it fits with Siddal's other work and her life. Serena draws on the work of other biographers and art historians to explain the poems in wonderful depth.  The explanation often covers more space than the poem itself showing not only how complex Siddal's writing is but also Serena's own palpable love of the subject that is infectious.

Clerk Saunders Elizabeth Siddal
It's not a wholly jolly read, unsurprisingly, but it is in the sad poems you hear a proper 3-dimensional version of  'Lizzie Siddal'.  'Thy strong arms around me love' speaks of a woman who has been worn down by her lover so much that her only hope is that he will leave, even though she knows it will break her further.  As Rossetti wrote of the lure of tendrils of hair binding men to conniving temptresses, Siddal's lover with his strong arms has her captive and weakened even though she can see the physical difference he has reduced her to, just as clearly as Beyonce in 'Crazy in Love'. Sorry, couldn't resist, but it's true.

Lady Clare (c.1854-7) Elizabeth Siddal
Reading the poems I was struck not by the resignation to death that some of the poems seem to hold, but the feeling of being a part of nature.  She speaks of woods, trees, earth, all metaphors for life and the return to dust but also as being connected to nature and the seasons.  These emotions express not only a strength but also an inevitability that she is as unpossessable as summer, and this changes my view of Siddal in a permanent way.  Through her poetry she speaks of love and its trials and tribulations but by aligning herself with nature that will welcome her home at the end, the woman who speaks is never truly owned by the man who never appreciates her. Whether you embrace one 'l' or two, Elizabeth Siddal is not merely one man's 'face' to look out from his canvas.  It's time to get to know her better.

Elizabeth Siddal (c.1860)

My Ladys Soul: The Poems of Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall edited by Serena Trowbridge is available now from Amazon (UK, USA) and all good bookshops.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Stunning Cookery!

I feel I should be doing this post in high heels, trotting around my tasteful kitchen, making saucy puns about basting and the size of my copper pans, but sadly the medium of print doesn't lend itself to all those shenanigans.  Mores the pity.  Anyway, today's post is about a very special cook book...

Now, you will obviously remember from this post about Ruth Herbert (left) that in later years, she published a cook book.  I have been after a copy ever since, but thanks to, you can download it for free!  This I joyfully did, and here are three recipes, tried and tested, for your amusement...

At the beginning of the St James' Cookery Book, there is a salutary lesson for all mistresses of houses, with regards to their servants.  I'm sure this is something you all can identify with, having large houses and a number of staff yourselves (cough, cough), so I will repeat it here.  'One hard and fast rule should be made in every house,' begins Ruth, 'that whatever comes into the house belongs to the master and mistress.'  Now, this all sounds straightforward, but it is very specifically one thing that Miss Herbert, now Mrs Rochfort, is thinking - 'I hold that a servant looking upon her perquisites is dishonest.'  Did you realise that if you are not careful, your servants would be out there flogging your dripping on the streets? Yes!  It is indeed a problem of our times that our servants sell our dripping and pocket the money!  The horror.   I'll just let you recover from the trauma of that revelation, I'm going to get one with my first recipe...

Steamed Bread
I do love a bit of bread, which explains why I am made for distance rather than speed, shall we say.  Flicking through the bread recipes, my eye was caught by Steamed Bread, which is apparently a thing.  Ruth says that 'Bread can be steamed successfully according to the directions given for steamed puddings', and not wishing to appear rude, I thought I would give it a go.  She didn't give exact measurements for the recipe (as with many old cook books, there is an assumption that your cook would know already) and so I did a Google search.  There is a South African Bread, Isonka Samanzi, which is steamed bread so I took quantities from that.

 You will need -

Four and a half cups of bread flour
500ml of warm water
7g or one sachet of dried yeast
10g of salt
Squeeze of honey or a pinch of sugar

1. Place the yeast into a glass and add the honey/sugar in with it and a bit of the water.  Wait until it goes a bit foamy.

2. Put flour, salt, foamy yeast and rest of the water into a mixing bowl and mix, then knead as you would with normal bread.  When you have kneaded it enough (or have a machine to do it for you) then it should be stretchy and not too sticky.  If you are struggling, add a tad more flour.

3. You will need a pudding basin of some description that you will be boiling your bread in.  I use a pyrex bowl, greased with butter.  Pop your dough into the bowl and cover with a cloth for around an hour.

4. Get a pan big enough to fit your bowl in and cover it.  Half fill it with boiling water so it will be halfway up the sides of your bowl when you pop it in.

5. Put a piece of greased and pleated tin foil over the top of the bowl with the dough in it.  Tie string around to hold it in place and make a handle to help with lifting the bowl in and out of the water.  Note: Never trust just the handle to hold the bowl as there is a lot of water and oil involved, things become slippy. I lift with the handle but get a big spoon or something under the bowl as quick as possible to provide support.

6. Place the covered bowl into the pan and put the lid on the pan.  Check it in about half an hour to make sure the water level is fine.  It should take over an hour to cook through. I did mine for an hour and a half. Remember to lift with the extra support when getting it out of the pan.

7. Turn the bread out onto a plate and scoff when cool enough.

Ruth says that if you want a brown crust then the loaf can be put 'in a sharp oven for a few minutes'. Righty-o then Ruth, I shall do that.  To the sharp oven!

Ta da!
It is delicious and everso moist, but it depends if that is what you are looking for in your bread.  It has a very chewy texture and toasts well.  I recommend giving it a go because it really isn't that hard, or too much of a faff and it's not like any other bread you've had, that's for sure.  Right, on with the next recipe...


As the name implies, this is a sort of Eastern Europe thing.  Ruth lists these under 'Entrees' (la de dah) and seemed the most straight-forward and didn't involve deviled brains, which is what I look for in a starter.  Anyway, here we go...

1. Mince up some cold chicken, parsley and, I quote, a 'tolerably sized' mushroom.  You heard me.

2. Fry off a small onion, also minced up finely.  Mix with the chicken and tolerable mushroom.

3. Now, Ruth says to moisten everything with some gravy 'from which you have taken all the fat'. Add salt and pepper.  I think what you are aiming for is damp but able to squeeze together for the next bit.

4. Ruth says to cut some slices of fat bacon very thin.  I just used streaky and hoped for the best.  You are looking to make parcels, so I cut a streak in half, rolled a small amount of filling one way then rolled it the other to seal.  Don't make them too big.

5.  Leave the parcels on one side and make up the batter.  We will be using French batter.  Oo la la!

6. To make the batter, say 'bonjour!' to three tablespoons of plain flour.  To that add a little 'salad oil', which I'm guessing is anything other than lard, and a little water.  Whisk the whites of two eggs and add the flour mixture to make the batter.

7. Dig the parcels into the mixture and shallow fry (or deep fry, I won't judge you), turning over until they are all crispy and golden.

These were...interesting... I think if I were to do them again I would change my herb from parsley to something a little more exciting but essentially you are eating battered bacon which is delicious but a little goes a long way.  Eat with salad and pretend that makes it okay.

On to pudding!

Our sweet course is 'Greek Pudding', a title that intrigued me so I grabbed my frying pan (because apparently if we are not boiling stuff, we have to fry it) and whipped up the following...

Greek Pudding

1. Take some slices of French roll -  for this I used those little brioche rolls, just cut in half, but I think any soft, enriched bread is good - and steep them for a short time in milk.  I did mine until they were soggy but not too soggy that they fell apart.

2. Whilst things are steeping, boil a quarter cup of sugar with enough water to cover it, so it makes a fairly thick syrup.

3. Whisk up some egg yolks - I used an egg per roll - and dip the soggy brioche in it before frying off in some butter.

4. You want your brioche to be brown on both sides, so keep turning it and don't have your heat too high.

5. When brown and a little crisp, lift on to a waiting plate, sprinkle over a little cinnamon and drizzle with syrup. 

Then scoff.

These are heaven.  You have a sort of soft, light pancake taste with a hint of cinnamon and the sugar.  I was dubious but they would make a marvellous breakfast on a very special occasion, or a pudding on a cold and miserable night.

They may not look beautiful but they taste divine!

So those are my picks from the St James' Cookery Book, but there are many more that look delicious and unusual.  Download it for free and experiment for yourselves.

Ruth turned at the familiar 'ping!' of the microwave...
Thank you Ruth for having such an interesting and varied career!

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Let's Not Go to Hanging Rock...

As I am typing this, I am aware of the irony that I am about to tell you all about picnics whilst it is raining hard.  Actual proper sky water (as my daughter used to call it) is falling rather torrentially, but up to today it has been blisteringly hot.  So hot in fact that the Walker family have been partaking of occasional picnics in the actual outside countryside type scenarios.  Not only that, BBC2 are currently showing a new version of Picnic At Hanging Rock and all that got me thinking about Victorian imagery of picnics...

Bunch of doomed lasses in white?  Sounds like a party to me...
 So, currently on the telly we are enjoying a remake of the 1975 film (itself from the 1967 novel by Joan Lindsay) of Picnic at Hanging Rock, starring Natalie Dormer (who has to be in everything now, by law).  They have managed to spread it over six episodes which concerns me because the whole point of the story is that it is unknowable and mysterious, and that's a hard ask when you have to fill 6 hours of not finding a load of wandering teens who have disappeared into adulthood, or something. 

Same picnic but in 1975
I'm a great lover of the 1975 film, not least because it stars Mrs Mangle from Neighbours, but because of it's sheer vibratingly-hot-stifling-sexuality-in-constricting-frocks vibe.  It's a wonderfully understated exploration of teenage girls and the trouble with growing up.  I have high hopes for the tv series but we shall see.

At the Hanging Rock, Mount Macedon (1875) William Ford

As you probably all known, Lindsay took the title of her novel from a Victorian painting of lovely gentlefolk having a charming time in the Australian countryside around Hanging Rock, or Mount Diogenes as it is also known.  Diogenes, the Greek philosopher, is not exactly the sort of chap you'd want your teenage daughter to hang around with (and he certainly wouldn't like it himself) which is maybe the point.  If I have a criticism of the tv series so far, there has been a disturbing lack of scotch eggs and wasps, the corner stones of a decent picnic in my view.

Apple Blossoms (1859) J E Millais
Anyway, moving on to a Pre-Raphaelite picnic, this is probably the most familiar.  Our young ladies are all gathered in an orchard enjoying something from a massive bowl, possibly milk.  Our girl in gray seems to be happy to be in charge and is handing out the little bowls, which are being filled by the girl at the back.  I am left wondering what the point of the middle bowl is and how on earth it got there?  I wonder if that is bothering the girl with the white sleeves, centre back, who seems perturbed as she watches the others.  The girl in yellow who is flat out on the ground is bothering her friend next to her.  You know she's about to say 'get up Ethel or you feet are going to end up in the milk.  Again.' We all know a sort like Ethel who has to be the centre of attention by rolling around on the floor eating grass.  Who invited Ethel?!

The Derby Day (1856-8) William Powell Frith
No, hang on, that's far too massive.  Let me just get the bit we need...

That's better.  The problem with The Derby Day is that it's far too big.  That's not a criticism of the actual painting which is fine and you can walk back and forth seeing all the bits, but try and look at it in a book or on a screen and you are stuffed.  Anyway, as you will remember, there is an acrobat sort of in the middle, all dressed in white and holding out his arms to his child (presumably it's his, I'm not asking too many questions).  That acrobatic child is too busy staring longingly at the picnic being set out by a toff and what a splendid picnic it is too!  A massive pie and a lobster.  Those are some picnic goals to which we all need to aspire.  I have a theory that all the women in the coaches nearby are looking at Big Picnic Man because there is nothing that women love more is a man with a massive pie.

The Party Picnic (1875) Albert Ludovici
It seems to be that picnics are perfect places to attract the opposite sex.  This has never been my experience but then it is entirely possible that I have never picnic-ed in the correct manner with the right people.  In the above party, I count one more man than woman which could get ugly at the end of the day, especially as two of the women have the arm of a gentleman and Miss Stripey-Skirt is eying up the chap behind her.  I suspect the man in the dark blazer is going home alone, unless he has a massive pie in his bag, but frankly that bag does not look big enough.  Unless, of course, he fancies going home with the chap carrying the red thing, then stripey-skirt is out of luck.  The man in the middle has brazenly taken his hat off, so I suspect this afternoon is going to get messy.

The Picnic (1904) James Charles
The British Impressionist painter James Charles brings us a charming and far more innocent afternoon, complete with a proper blanket, a dog and even a swing rigged up in the tree.  I'm guessing they went to the spot specifically because the swing was there rather than taking the rope with them and shinning up the tree.  I'd be really impressed if those girls did set up the swing themselves but the aprons suggest rather less exciting past times.  Again, they have chosen an orchard to picnic in - what is about women and orchards?  Is it the apples?  Is it all a bit Biblical?  It has both shade and eternal damnation, with a promise of a Jaffa Cake for afters.

Fair Quiet and Sweet Rest (1872) Luke Fildes
There is always someone who brings a musical instrument to a picnic and everyone has to do singing or else, even worse, suffer the singing of someone who believes they have an aptitude for it.  Lawks, even the swans look a bit dubious and the ever-so-confident songstress here has made the cardinal error of standing up in a boat, the attention-seeking hussy.  Her friend is surreptitiously getting a life jacket ready with her feet in case it all goes horribly wrong, whilst her boyfriend, oblivious to everything, tucks into the picnic. We all know it will end in tragedy, with Algernon shouting 'Save my lute!' whilst his girlfriend goes under for the last time, probably still singing and there will probably be some sort of memorial to the dangers of going on jaunts with idiots.

Midday Rest (1878) Robert Cree Crawford
The best picnics are those impromptu ones you have with chums, possibly during the working week.  It's a nice day and you have been gleaning (or some other Victorian thing), so what pleasanter thing to do than crash out for an hour and scoff a pasty behind a haystack. There you can talk about your hopes, your dreams, the future - getting married, getting the vote, getting a pair of shoes that haven't been worn by your fifteen siblings before you.  Mind you, that sky looks like it's on the turn and I fear their relaxation will be short-lived.  That corn won't gather itself, ladies...

An Interrupted Picnic (1901) Charles Sims
Yes, this more likely sums up an English picnic.  If it's not wasps or ants that are ruining it, then it will rain.  The extremely aggressive clouds that are obscuring the sky in Sims painting above pretty much sum it up - just as the blanket hits the ground, the heavens open.  It's like some sort of rain charm.  Some sort of waterproof gazebo would have been handy and practical but no.  Now all the Mr Kipling cakes will get ruined. Oh, the humanity.

A Summer Afternoon (1948-9) Geoffrey Scowcroft Fletcher
Finally then, remember to make your picnic as deeply symbolic as possible.  This odd painting from after the Second World War seems to reference so many Victorian paintings, such as the double rainbow of The Blind Girl, or the sad girl thinking of her lost love in Byam Shaw's The Boer War, there is much that is both familiar and mysterious in this image.  Who are the other people in the field?  Why are some of our people looking at them so intently?  Why is the girl with the dog so sad? Why is everyone Victorian?  It's not a happy image and there is something that holds our group of people separate from the others.  Are they all dead? Oh look, we're back at the beginning, with strange and unexplained picnic occurrences, so I will leave you with these words of advice: Take plenty of food, take plenty of sun cream and never, ever wear white because even if you don't disappear down a hugely symbolic crack in a rock you will get absolutely filthy. 

Also, if anyone brings their lute, make your excuses and leave.  That sort of thing never ends well...