Friday, 18 May 2018

From Fun to Nun...

"It has been a wonderful life.  It passed through many dark places 
but there was always light enough to walk by 
and now, thank God, He is bringing me to the haven."

As final words go, those are rather lovely.  They are actually not the very last words, but some of the parting sentiments of a Victorian actress, star of stage and Henry Irving's first leading lady.  Of course by the end of her life, she was Mother Superior in a convent. Welcome to the amazing journey of Isabel Emilie Bateman...
Who?  I know, until doing the research for this post I had no idea beyond the fact that she had posed for Julia Margaret Cameron and was an actress.  After reading a lot, including a wonderfully pious biography, I am fascinated in what we aren't told about a woman who isn't as famous as she should be.  You've heard of Ellen Terry?  Then you should have heard of Isabel Bateman, and yet through the politics of biography, she has been overlooked, dismissed and forgotten. So, let's start remembering.

She was born in Cincinnati, just after Christmas in 1854, the youngest daughter of Hezekiah Linthicum Bateman, theatre manager and impresario, and his actress/writer wife, Sidney Frances Bateman. Mrs Bateman was the daughter of a British comedian who had settled in America, and was remembered as intellectual and energetic, with a fierce devotion to her children.  The Batemans had seven children that survived infancy including five daughters.  Isabel was close to her sister, Virginia, two years her senior, and the pair were known for their interest in religion.  In her biography, there is a odd but sweet story of how the pair wondered if they could achieve martyrdom by eating an entire bar of soap...

Isabel (seated), Sidney and Virginia Bateman
What we know of Isabel's childhood is quite rose-tinted.  She was clever, with a talent for reciting.  At two years old, her party piece was 'Mary had a little lamb', and by four years, she was absorbed in reading the history of Greece and arguing with Virginia about Achilles and Hector. Meanwhile, older sisters Kate (1842-1917) and Ellen (1844-1936) were being celebrated as child actresses.  Kate debuted in 1847 and by the time her sister was five, the girls were appearing in New York, reciting passages from Shakespeare.  Between 1850 and 1852, P T Barnum sponsored the girls in a tour of the UK, then a tour of the USA, as they performed their Shakespeare to an enraptured crowd.

Ellen as Richard III!  Kate as the Earl of Richmond!
The girls retired from being child stars in 1856, at the grand old age of 12 and 14, but graduated to adult acting, including in plays adapted by their mother.  Kate especially found popularity due to her emotional range, and in 1866, she married a doctor, George Crowe and moved to England.  Her family followed.  Isabel attended school in Clifton near Bristol, and was famous for her ability to recite Tennyson by heart, including a memorable rendition of 'The May Queen' when she was 15.  She also had a French governess and spoke and read French fluently.  Her ability to memorise and recite so beautifully inspired her mother to remove her from school and enroll her in the family business of acting.  Virginia had little interest in acting and Kate and Ellen had grown and were managing their own careers.  Isabel was her parents' new project...

Virginia and Isabel Bateman (c.1870)
In order to launch their daughter onto the unsuspecting London theatre-goers, Mr Bateman bought a West End theatre, the Lyceum, just off the Strand.  Bateman looked about for a suitable leading man to match his wonderful daughter and found an up-and-coming chap called Henry Irving...

Isabel Bateman and Henry Irving in Othello, 1876
The Lyceum had been in crisis, with a succession of failures and structural problems.  The superstitious acting profession saw the place as unlucky, but Irving, tempted from the employ of Ruth Herbert at St James' Theatre by the hope of permanent leading man status, joined the Batemans in their venture.  After a couple of false starts, Irving convinced Bateman to produce The Bells, a melodrama about a man driven mad by the guilt of a murder he has committed.  Ironically, Isabel did not have a part in The Bells, but the play was a sensation and Irving and the Lyceum became the talk of the town. On the journey home from the theatre on the opening night of The Bells, Henry Irving's wife of two years turned to him and asked 'Are you going on making a fool of yourself like this all your life?'.  Legend has it that Irving got out of the cab and walked away, never seeing his wife again.

Isabel (c.1870s)
The newly unattached (but never divorced) Irving was embraced into the Bateman family.  At weekends, he would go to Margate for seafishing with Mr Bateman while Isabel, Virginia and their mother would await the fish to cook in the evenings.  Irving acted as big brother to the girls, taking them off to dressmakers for new outfits and taking care of them.  In Charles I, Irving played opposite Isabel as his leading lady.  Irving used Van Dyke's portrait of the king to perfect his make-up and Isabel took the role of Queen Henrietta Maria, which gained praise in the newspapers for the prettiness of her French-English and the depth of her emotional portrayal.  Isabel was fascinated by Charles I, whom she regarded as a martyr.  It seems to have been a defining role for her as she was photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron in the role in a number of pictures.

Queen Henrietta Maria and her daughter Princess Elizabeth (1874) Julia Margaret Cameron

Queen Henrietta Maria (May, 1874) Julia Margaret Cameron
A star, praised in the press and reviews and sought by artists for portraits, Isabel had flattery heaped upon her, but did not lose her serious, religious edge.  At a luncheon party filled with celebrities, a politician told a story in French about a party he had attended where someone had turned up dressed as God.  Disgusted, Isabel got up and left.  She was 19 and harboured a secret.  Despite being the most famous and celebrated actress in London, Isabel hated acting. She was torn between her love of religion and her love of Henry Irving.  Dilemma!

Isabel being torn between being a nun and Irving-fun
As it turned out there were a couple of minor problems with her crush on Irving.  Firstly, he was not a religious man, quite the opposite having grown up with a very religious mother who he found oppressive.  Although Isabel contemplated giving up her faith for him, he was married and likely to remain so.  This was a massive problem for Isabel, but not for Mrs Bateman who encouraged the relationship and implied she didn't mind if Isabel became Irving's mistress as long as they were great on stage.  The other problem however was that Irving didn't think of Isabel that way.  The successes kept coming with Isabel being the Ophelia to his Hamlet and the Desdemona to his Othello but the awkwardness had set in.

She Walks in Beauty (1874) Julia Margaret Cameron
For what happened next you have to read a number of biographies.  You have to wonder how long Irving had been aware of the problem and if the death of the Bateman's son, Richard in March 1874, made him delay his decision.  Richard had been travelling in the east and was lost at sea when the French steamer 'Nil' was wrecked on submerged rocks between Hong Kong and Yokohama.  The Lyceum continued to produce hits, including Hamlet in 1874.  According to Irving's grandson's biography of his grandfather, Isabel's portrayal of Ophelia was so moving that 'she quelled the restive elements in the audience, rekindled their interest, and had them once more enthralled.'  The Prince of Wales declared that the only thing worth looking at in Hamlet had been Isabel Bateman's face.

Isabel c.1872
Interestingly, one thing we know is that when Isabel needed time to think, she liked to travel.  Obviously aware of the problems surrounding her involvement with Irving, Isabel visited her friend Julia Margaret Cameron.  Having posed for her in 1874, Isabel made the long journey to Ceylon the next year.  We do not know enough about Cameron's photography in these last years of her life, but it is possible that another photo session was attempted but either lost or not completed.  In 1876, Cameron still held Isabel in high esteem and wrote to a friend that she longed to photograph her 'in these mountain heights, far from theatrical heights.'  Unfortunately for Isabel, issues were about to come to a head.

Isabel Bateman (1874) Julia Margaret Cameron 
In 1875 Mr Bateman dropped dead in March of heart disease, after an attack of angina pectoris, leaving Mrs Bateman in control of a restless Irving and three actress daughters.  Kate had returned to the stage, unable to stay away, but did not like Irving one little bit.  She also harbored jealousy against Isabel after all the publicity that the younger sister had received.  Neither Virginia or Isabel were particularly happy on the stage, and Virginia refused to appear with Kate.  Irving and Isabel had a somewhat strained relationship, due to Isabel's crush and he requested the option to bring in an alternative leading lady, Miss Ellen Terry.

Ellen Terry as Juliet (1882)
Sorry Ellen, this post is not about you
Now, depending on who's biography you read, Irving either brought in Ellen because Isabel was nothing more than a sister to him and he felt embarrassed, or he brought in an actress equal to his talents, or Isabel was rubbish and Irving wanted to be shot of her.  Ellen Terry's biographer's, definitely more recent ones, have gone with the latter version of the story, that completely writes Isabel out of the cannon of great Victorian actresses, rather unkindly in my opinion.  Irving's grandson goes with a middle ground that Isabel and Irving were both embarrassed and this hindered their performance, so Irving had no choice but to bring in a new actress.  When Irving asked, Mrs Bateman, possibly seeing the control of the Lyceum sliding from her to Irving wrote in defense of Isabel's feelings - 'It would be an endorsement signed by you - a friend of her family and me - her mother - of her entire incompetency.'  

In truth, Mrs Bateman, in order to earn more after her husband's death, had bought Sadler's Wells theatre in Clerkenwell.  At the time, Sadler's Wells had been run down and plans had been submitted to turn it into bath house and it was a roller-skating rink for a while. Finding her finances stretched Mrs Bateman gave the Lyceum over to Irving and moved her family and half the company over to Sadler's Wells.  It might also have been a mark of how much Mrs Bateman saw Irving as a surrogate son that she could not refuse him, coupled with the drop in wages Isabel would suffer in her demotion under Ellen Terry. In 1878, Irving took over the lease, moving in Ellen Terry as his leading lady and Bram Stoker as his General Manager.  The rest was history.

Charles Warner, actor
Over at the Sadler's Wells, things were somewhat less rosy.  Isabel took over the book keeping as well as leading lady duties with Charles Warner as her leading man.  The renovations cost £8,000 more than planned and took a year more than scheduled impacting on the earning potential.  Sadler's Wells was rebuilt on a lot of borrowed capital and despite some success, it was not enough to keep afloat.  Waiting for an omnibus one evening after a performance, Mrs Bateman caught a chill which turned to pneumonia and she died in 1881. When Irving visited to pay his respects, he was received very coldly by Kate.  When Mr Bateman had died, Irving was embraced in the family and attended the funeral with them.  Kate did not include him this time, and Irving did not go, which he regretted later in life, but the bonds between the Batemans and Irving had been well and truly severed.

Kate Bateman as 'Medea' (1872-3)
The three sisters agreed to shut Sadler's Wells and settle the enormous debt as best they could.  Virginia and Kate found work in provincial theatres, so it was left to Isabel to let the house, sell as much as possible and go through their mother's enormous hoard of theatre memorabilia, giving away or destroying as much as possible.  Her desire to leave the stage was as strong as ever but as long as the debt existed, she needed to act in order to pay the bills.  However, a brief trip to New York to visit elder sister Ellen helped clear her head  and she returned in 1882 with a plan.  She did recitals, for which she was famous, but the wages on the stage were better so she returned to the boards at the Adelphi Theatre.  She combined her acting with giving recitals which she actually enjoyed doing, and managed to raise money for charity with her performances.

Virginia Bateman (1870s)
In 1885, she travelled with Kate and her husband, Virginia and her husband and their children, together with Isabel's fox terriers to Great Malvern for a marvellous holiday.  Isabel was remembered fondly by her many nieces and nephews as a sweet, witty woman.  The holiday was cut short by a request for Isabel to take a part on Drury Lane.  She travelled with plays, taking care of the children involved in the performances.  When she was 30, she learnt the piano just so she could teach the child-actors to sing. She was much admired as an actress for her physical skills - in 'The Anatomy of Acting' in Longman's Magazine in 1888 she was quoted: '"I often turn pale," writes Miss Isabel Bateman, "in scenes of terror or great excitement.  I have been told this many times, and I can feel myself getting very cold and shivery and pale in thrilling situations."'.  She might not have loved her craft, but that didn't mean that she wasn't good at it.

1894 Programme for Miss Isabel Bateman at the Prince's Theatre
Irving admitted privately that he always felt uneasy about how he had treated Isabel until later in life Isabel wrote a letter to him, expressly forgiving anything he felt needed forgiving.  Finally, the death of Isabel's niece Claudia in 1897 brought an unexpected gift.  Obviously beloved by her niece, Claudia left Isabel enough money in her will that Isabel could clear her mother's debts once and for all.  With the need to act removed there was nothing more for it than to pack up her belongings and enter the community of St Mary the Virgin, Wantage, Berkshire...

The doorway to St Mary Virgin Convent
Ellen, whose daughter Claudia had left the money, had become an aetheist at the death of her daughter and so was somewhat depressed by her sister's faith but in time was happy that her sister had finally found peace.  Isabel's career as a nun was not entirely removed from the outside world. Sister Isabel Mary chose to work in the St James Home in Fulham, saving girls from immoral lives.  She appeared at a drawing-room meeting in order to appeal for funds and raised £300.  In her speech she suggested that the audience might like to donate the cost of their last hat.  It was in this public appearance, her first since taking holy orders, that her fellow nuns discovered her former profession and it was a sensation in the newspaper.  Sister Isabel Mary became well respected for her care of those that came to the home and loved by the girls who contributed their find memories to the biography From Theatre to Convent, published after Isabel's death, in 1936.

Isabel (seated right) at St Mary's Home, Bangalore (1923-4)
Nor was Isabel denied the pleasure of travel as a nun.  After being made Mother, Isabel travelled to South Africa, India and Europe, visiting religious communities and enjoying the beauty of the landscape and architecture of the places.  Obviously used to travelling all over the place as an actress, her accounts of journeys as a nun are rich and fearless.  

Portrait from 1930
Eventually old age caught up with her and on travels through South Africa, the high altitude made it impossible for her to enjoy herself in her normal manner.  She returned to Wantage and there died in 1934, remembered by all the nuns as a thoroughly lovely woman in the S.P.C.K published biography, From Theatre to Convent: Memories of Mother Isabel Mary  CSMV.  Of the rest of the Bateman family, Kate died in 1917 of a cerebral hemorrhage after a long and celebrated stage career. Ellen died in 1936 and Virginia last of all in 1940, but the Bateman legacy did not end there. Despite not being comfortable on stage, Virginia  married actor-manager Edward Compton and her daughter Fay became a celebrated actress, best known for her Shakespearean roles.  In the 1930s it became somewhat of a newspaper sensation when the niece of Isabel Bateman played Ophelia opposite John Gielgud, great-nephew of Ellen Terry, which is all rather incestuous.

John Gielgud and Fay Compton in Hamlet (1939)
In conclusion, Isabel Bateman caught my eye for more than just her talent and beauty.  Like many of the women we discuss here, Isabel is the victim of history and our seeming need to form a narrative to suit ourselves.  We rightly celebrate the wonderful Ellen Terry as an actress, but in telling Terry's story it seems we cannot help but down-play Isabel.  Irving and Mrs Bateman's relationship had some questionable moments (as does the Batemans' attitude to their daughters and acting).  A reason that excuses Irving and Terry's apparently callous discarding of Isabel was that she was not a good actress.  In Nina Auerbach's mighty tome on Terry from 1987, Isabel is referred to as 'untalented' and Irving was desperate to be rid of the 'dependent Bateman women'.  All this seems a tad harsh, especially as Terry herself wrote in admiration of Isabel's performances, and a self-depreciating reticence about following in her footsteps in roles such as Queen Henrietta Maria. Yet again, in celebrating the life of one woman we seemingly need to trash the lives of others, as if we only have room for one 'great actress'.  Did Ellen Terry kick Isabel Bateman out of the Lyceum?  Of course not.  Did Irving and Mrs Bateman handle the difficult situation of Mr Bateman's death, Irving's desire to expand as an actor and her money trouble well?  Of course not, but then it's easy for us looking back to see what a mess people get into when trying to give everyone what they want.

Mother Isabel Mary (1923)
While I fret about the injustice of female biography, it is a comfort to know that despite everything, Isabel got her dream of becoming a nun, the one role she was always meant to play and one she did with immeasurable grace.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Review: Beyond Ophelia: A Celebration of Lizzie Siddal, Artist and Poet

Yesterday I had an utterly splendid time visiting the Midlands, popping into Cadbury World (the happiest place on earth with a scrummy shop), Birmingham (with obligatory stop in the Art Gallery and Museum, obviously) and then on to Wolverhampton for the National Trust property Wightwick Manor.  The reason for my visit (other than the amazing collection) was their current exhibition, 'Beyond Ophelia'...

The Haunted Wood
This is only the second exhibition of Siddal's work ever, which is astonishing as she is one of the most iconic of all Pre-Raphaelite women, but seeing how much of her work both exists and is in public hands I suppose it's equally unsuprising.  Wightwick Manor hold the second largest collection of her work, after the Ashmolean, after the Mander family (whose home and collection Wightwick is) bought the treasures at auction in the 1960s.  During this year of celebrating 100 years since women started to get the vote and the current interest in women's part in this art movement (excuse my shameless book plug) then Wightwick have created a timely and touching exhibition of Siddal's work.

Lovers listening to Music
On display are a collection of Siddal's pencil sketches, two jewel-like oils and extracts of her poetry.  When the precious sketches were removed from their mounts, some were found to be double-sided and those have been ingeniously framed in a hinged display that allows access to the sketches.  The museum nerd in me was absolutely fascinated in that particular piece of display...

St Cecilia (1860)
The exhibition takes up only one room (with magnificent Morris wallpaper) but the key with Siddal's work is quality, not quantity.  Lord knows I've been to some massive exhibitions at the national museums and left not feeling any closer to the subject than when I'd walked in the first of the rooms.  With 'Beyond Ophelia' Wightwick have achieved the damn near impossible task of making you forget that Miss Siddal had been that poor lass in the bath tub and brought you face-to-face with her as a serious artist and poet of great potential.  I loved the intimacy of the room which even on a busy Saturday was never over-crowded and, together with the whole cavalcade of exceptional Pre-Raphaelite paintings on show in the house, gave one of the most complete and enjoyable Pre-Raphaelite experiences you can have this year.

St Agnes' Eve (1850)
Many thanks to the lovely Hannah Squire, curator of the exhibition for both my badge, showing me around the exhibition and letting me twiddle her frame  (if you excuse the expression), and I thoroughly encourage you to pay the exhibition a visit.  It's on until Christmas Eve and more information is available here.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Mistress of None

Hello again and apologies for the brief break in service.  I have been busy at work on my book about Pre-Raphaelite women, due out at in the Autumn (and available for pre-order here (UK) and (USA), but whilst doing research and the suchlike, I started wondering about a word that kept being bandied about.  That word is 'Mistress'...

Fazio's Mistress (1863-73) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Language has power and it is up to us to see when more is being said than the mere words spoken or written.  This is definitely the case with the word 'Fat' (see this post) and 'Old' (see this post) which carry with them value judgments, but how about the word 'Mistress'?  What do we mean when we call a woman someone's mistress?

Mistress of the Moat (1898) Herbert Alfred Bone
On the one hand, in a very basic way, 'mistress' is just the female version of 'master'.  This posh lady on a horse is married to the man who owns the house, I'm guessing, but just her very regal presence on her equally regal horse makes her the boss of the moat.  Look how the various birds look at her with birdy respect.  She is in charge of everything, well, until her husband gets home.

'O Mistress Mine, Where are you Roaming?'  (1899) Edwin Austin Abbey
Moving on, the word 'mistress' is often said in a possessive sense, as in 'my mistress' (or in the case above 'mistress mine'). It's difficult sometimes to define exactly how this is meant - a servant might refer to his mistress but then it means something different to when a man says it.  When the man in the above painting asks the question 'o mistress mine, where are you roaming?' is he asking as he equal or her inferior?  Is the inference one of respect or possession?  Also, being called a man's mistress is a very loaded term...

Lillie Langtry, mistress
So, I'm writing my mini-biographies of 50 Pre-Raphaelite women and one word that comes up quite a bit is 'mistress'.  For women like Lillie Langtry, it refers to her relationships with married men, although half the time she too is married, so what is the equivalent term for chaps who have affairs with married women?  Also, with women like Lillie, many of the men she was having affairs with weren't married so they definitely count as the male equivalent of 'mistress' - 'masters'?  no, that has the connotation of being the superior partner in a relationship that definitely isn't one of equality.

The Awakening Conscience (1853) William Holman Hunt
This is probably what most people think of when they think of Victorian mistresses.  This young lady is a 'kept woman', in her own luxurious little house in St John's Wood, where her rich gentleman acquaintance can pop in for a tickle on her ivories.  He is married, she is not, least of all to him.  He is wealthy, she is not, and everything she now possesses is courtesy of her chap with the implication that he can remove it as swiftly as he bestowed it. If she is his mistress, he very definitely is her master.

The Reluctant Mistress (no date) Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta
Look at this woman: he's given her a bunch of flowers, what more does she want? There is a definite sense that women, when provided with nice furniture and a very pleasant tea-service should be available for naughtiness.  There is an unspoken (but very loudly hinted at) commercial transaction going on.  She is what we think of as a mistress, a sort of luxury item that rich men have.  Do poor men not have mistresses?  Is that a word that also then has socio-economic implications (get me with the big words)? Therefore, is 'mistress' the sort of word you use for a rich man's poppet, when if she was involved with a poor man, you'd call her a rude name?  A bit like 'mad' and 'eccentric', it's what people say when they'd like to insult you but you're too rich, so they can't.

Portrait of Emma Hill (1852) Ford Madox Brown
The reason I started my meandering through all this was because of Emma Hill.  Reading the many different accounts of her and Ford Madox Brown's relationship, she is repeatedly described as his 'mistress'.  Admittedly, a couple of months ago, I didn't know very much about Emma and Brown so assumed, because of the 'mistress' tag, that Brown was still married when he started shacking up with Emma.  However, he had been widowed and Emma was his model who declared her love for him.  They were both free and single so why is she is his 'mistress'?

Jane Morris, apparently also a mistress
Type in 'mistress' in Bridgeman Art Library and lo and behold you get Jane Morris.  Undoubtedly, she did have an extra-marital affair but the 'marital' was on her side, so why is she 'mistress'?  Such is the link between sex and inspiration in the narrative of Pre-Raphaelite art, that we seem to use the words 'muse' and 'mistress' interchangeably.  The women are seen as the lesser-partners in all this, what they bring to the party is sex and nothing more.  It's not just about being married/unmarried, but also the status of men both in and out of wedlock.  'Mistress', once a term simply denoting the woman in charge of something, has now become irreversibly linked to sex, and not only that but relationships, like that of Emma and Brown, are made implicitly about sex and with the understanding that it isn't a partnership.

And then, the lover sighing like furnace... (1883) Charles Seton
Is it too loaded a word for us to use now?  Leaving aside the rights and wrongs with messing about with married men, what does it say about our use of language that we have changed the meaning of a word to say something derogatory about women?  Even if we seem to be able to apply the term, without prejudice, to a woman in the past, once into the 19th century it becomes synonymous with sexually-available, bought woman, and not the coy-romance of the gentleman in the picture above who is sighing like a furnace 'with a woeful ballad made to his mistress' eyebrow'. In those terms, she is mistress of his heart, and possibly that window seat. It seems we have become quick to downplay not only women's role in relationships but the strength and meaning of those relationships.  It could be argued that there is a moral implication against the man who has a mistress that is not present in, for example, 'boyfriend and girlfriend'. Mind you, once you get past a certain age, it's hard to describe your partner as your 'boyfriend' if he has grey hair.  We need better words.

Now, what is the word for a single man having an affair with a married woman?  Okay, we all need to behave ourselves until we have this sorted out...

Friday, 2 March 2018

Review: Victorian Giants

I love the National Portrait Gallery.  I don't think I have ever been to an exhibition there that I didn't adore or that they didn't do exceptionally well.  I still have really fond memories of the Millais Portraits exhibition they did many years ago.  They also do really good catalogues.  Anyway, enough of this swooning - to business! or rather, here is my review of the Victorian Giants exhibition that opened yesterday and runs until 20th May...

I was lucky enough to be invited to the press review and so spent time on Wednesday up in snowy London seeing how you could bring together the careers of Julia Margaret Cameron, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Rejlander and Clementina Hawarden, all pioneers in 'art photography' in the middle of the 19th century.  As we have discussed before, I have come across the work of all of them, but only written about Cameron, Carroll and Rejlander.  My knowledge of Hawarden was limited to 'she was a bit posh and did girls in sunlit rooms, like an arty Victorian version of Flowers in the Attic'.  I was delighted to learn more...

Clementina Maude (1862-3) Clementina Hawarden
Short-lived Scottish aristo, Lady Clementina Hawarden didn't (in my mind, anyhow) seem to have a great deal in common with, for example, Lewis Carroll, but the genius of this exhibition is that they  not only show who bought whose photographs, but also put images together so you end up going 'Oh, I see...'

Kate Terry as Andromeda (1865) Lewis Carroll
There are rather a lot of 'oh, I see' moments in the show, not only with what they show, but also if you bring your own knowledge to bear on what you see.  Hawarden's captive girls, caught by privilege and isolated by their gender, are clearly reflected in images of captive princesses, offered up as sacrifice.  

Lord Elcho and Son (1860) Oscar Rejlander

Detail of Tennyson and son, from a photograph of the Marshall Family (1857) Lewis Carroll
The very dignified image of Lord Elcho and his little poppet of a son reminded me of that weird image of Tennyson looking very wary with Hallam on his knee, taken by Lewis Carroll.  They couldn't be more different in tone even though it is essentially the same image.  You begin to learn about the person behind the camera by what they think is okay to show in front of it.  I really think Carroll lacked the ability to distinguish emotional responses in his subjects because there are moments where you wonder why he chose that picture, that expression or response from his subject, but that also is what makes him an interesting chap, if a little controversial.

Alice Liddell (1870) Lewis Carroll
If you were hoping for a discussion about Carroll's motivation in his photography of children, this is not the exhibition for you, but then I'm guessing we're all grown ups and don't need that.  In fact, I found the NPG have done much to reintegrate Carroll's work into the mainstream and when seen in the context of others, he doesn't seem so weird. So when you take this...
The Beggar Maid (1858) Lewis Carroll
in the same breath as this...

Beggar Boy (1862) Oscar Rejlander
It just seems part of the same 'poverty as art' theme, whilst being equal parts conscience-raising and distasteful is not sexual.  Even when Carroll is being a bit 'dodgy', seen within the context of what others were doing, it loses some of its impact, for example...

Xie Kitchin Asleep on a Sofa (1873) Lewis Carroll

Charlotte Norman (1863) Oscar Rejlander
It's all about context and what the others were doing at the same time.  I suppose, if I had a criticism, then Hawarden, with her beautiful girl-butterflies trapped in one room, shows the least range and doesn't participate in the sharing of subjects to the same extent the others do.  It's wonderful to see Lewis Carroll's images of Tennyson beside Rejlander's and Cameron's, not to mention the sharing of John Herschel and Charles Darwin between photographers.  When grouped like that you can enjoy the precision of Carroll, the dream-like qualities of Cameron and Rejlander's depth and wit.  Actually for me, Oscar Rejlander came out of this as a bit of a star.  Carroll lacks humour in his work but Rejlander has it in buckets, often straying into absurdity but always very well done.  He can also match Cameron for sheer beauty which made the part of the gallery with their photographs together an utter delight.

Unidentified Woman (1863-6) Oscar Rejlander
Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty (1866) Julia Margaret Cameron
So in conclusion, this is gorgeous.  The way all four photographers moved in and out of each others lives is fascinating and Oscar Rejlander should be a national Swede-y hero for what he has brought to our photography heritage.  Boobs, for one thing.

Female Draped Artist Study (1857) Oscar Rejlander
Since the NPG acquired the Rejlander album last year, this exhibition has always been on the cards and in a way I wish they had done a one-man show but it is a wonderful blend of the familiar and the obscure, the great and the nude of Victorian society and I can't recommend it enough.  I'll end on my favourite image, which looks like a 1940s movie poster...

John and Minnie Constable, Looking into the Fire, All Hallow's Eve (1860-6)
God bless you, Rejlander, that's delicious.

Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography is on until May and further information can be found here.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Never the Bridesmaid

Today marks the death of Fanny Cornforth in 1909 and so I'd thought I'd display my utter Fanny-centricness (completely a word and possibly a euphemism) with yet more of my random ramblings and conspiracy theories.  It all started with this drawing...

Study of a Female Head (1865) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
I had always assumed that this was Fanny Cornforth because, well, it looks exactly like her. Not only that, I always assumed that it was a sketch for this...

The Blue Bower (1865)
It's Fanny giving a bit of side-jaw while cheekily plucking her whatsit.  I really had not given it any thought, but according to the Rossetti Archive (the holy grail of Rossetti research material) the pencil sketch is proposed to be a study for The Bride (or The Beloved)...

The Bride (or The Beloved) (1866)
That noise is me making a unladylike dismissive snort, but, as we have spoken about earlier, 1865 is a bit of a dodgy year for Rossetti.  Lizzie Siddal had died a few years previously and in the void she left, Fanny had wiggled in quite comfortably, thank you very much.  She had taken over patching up Rossetti after his wife's death, a job she would continue to do until his death in 1882.  He in turn had used her in paintings such as Fazio's Mistress to express how beautiful and necessary she was to his vision.  The problem was that he was the only one who felt like that.

Lady Lilith (before)

Lady Lilith (after)
Lady Lilith had been a work in progress ever since Rossetti did Fazio's Mistress.  The vision of a beautiful, powerful woman, dressing her hair in front of a mirror was a lovesong to Fanny and her tresses. Likewise, Lilith is a step removed from romance, but still is a woman and her hair on a pedestal.  Unfortunately for Fanny, Lady Lilith with her face was not selling so Rossetti swiped Alexa Wilding off the street and slapped her face over the top. As I postulated earlier, maybe the same occurred with Monna Vanna also from 1865.  So back to The Bride...

Marie Ford as 'The Bride'
Let's talk a bit about the construction of The Beloved: If Fanny had been intended to go in the picture, she wasn't the only substitution.  A bit like Annie Miller in (or not in) The Awakening Conscience, it is roundly believed that the Bride in the centre of the painting is a professional model called Marie Ford.  The studies of the central figure from around 1863, but the final figure, certainly after the 1872 repaint resembles Alexa Wilding, again.

The Beloved photographed during the 1872 repaint
Look at the shape of the jawline in the photograph and then in the finished oil.  There is definitely something going on there. I call 'Alexa' on that redhead. To the Bride's left is little Ellen Smith, looking all small and cute and brunette.  She is present and correct in both the finished oil and the photograph of work in progress, so we'll give her a pass.

Study for a Bridesmaid
We also have this young lady, who looks suspiciously like Aggie Manetti and may either be a study for Keomi (who we'll get to in a moment) or the back left Bridesmaid who we can't really see. Imagine sitting for Rossetti, possibly having your shoes eaten or wee-ed on by random animals in the house, and no doubt getting a scowling from Fanny, only to find out you are at the back of the wedding photo and Ellen is blocking you.  Rude.  Moving round, next to her is thought to be Fanny Eaton.

Study of a Woman (1860s)
Fanny modelled for various of the Pre-Raphaelites (and others) during the 1860s and some of her many children followed her into modelling.  It is possible that the child at the front was one of Fanny's to start with, as the little boy replaced a girl with a cherubic face and frizzy hair.

Girl with Long Hair for 'The Beloved'

Girl with Short Hair for 'The Beloved'

Boy for 'The Beloved'
As you can see the child servant changed from the little girls to a boy, reportedly called 'Gabriel' who was working as a servant, and spotted by Rossetti at the door of a hotel.  In 1865, Rossetti and Fanny had visited Paris together and it is likely that Rossetti had seen Edouard Manet's Olympia, which is supposed to have influenced him and made him add the black servant figure.  As Rossetti loathed the painters in Paris, I wonder how great an influence they were and it might just have started out as an opportunistic addition, if the child was in attendance with Fanny Eaton when she posed. Either way, Rossetti wasn't above changing his mind about who appeared in the picture.

Keomi Gray study for 'The Beloved'
So finally, over on the right-hand side is Keomi the gypsy, mistress and model of Frederick Sandys and star of such of his paintings as Medea and  Vivien among others.  If you look at the photograph of the repainting, a sizable bit of Keomi is missing, so I wondered if she had been the replacement for Fanny, if Fanny was indeed in there at all, but the drawing that exists of her is from 1865, which says to me that she was always intended for the part and that would tie in with how close Sandys and Rossetti were at that time.  So what about Fanny?

Possible study for 'The Beloved'
While we're on the subject, this sketch is also meant to be from The Beloved.  My God, is everything from The Beloved now? Mind you, there are a lot of women in that painting and apparently a fair few who weren't but might have been meant to be.  So this, I contest, is also probably Fanny and so might be the second image of her that is meant to be in The Beloved.  So what can we hypothesize from all this?

Fanny Cornforth (c.1867)
I wonder if Rossetti made the decision not to include Fanny in his salable works in 1865.  It's always been part of the official story that Rossetti dropped Fanny c.1864-5 when Lady Lilith didn't sell, he discovered Alexa, and he brought Jane Morris back into his life. However we know he produced other pictures of her in the years 1865-9 but they're informal, personal and intimate.  We also know that he made several copies of Lady Lilith but with Fanny instead of Alexa, and again these are smaller, often chalk or watercolour.  Fanny had been his partner in crime for a couple of years which had produced a lot of ideas and art that were to follow, with Fanny at the genesis.  Venus Verticordia started with a sketch of Fanny, Lady Lilith obviously and I wonder if Fanny posed for various of the figures for The Beloved.  The problem was that Fanny became bad luck.  It is undeniable that 1864-7 were rough years in terms with how Rossetti dealt with his guilt, creativity and criticism.  In my humble opinion, and this really is just my opinion, I think Rossetti was appalling at separating his art and his people.  I don't think it was a coincidence that he lusted after models and I think there is a lot of his relationship with the apparently notable exception to this, Alexa Wilding, that needs explaining.  More and more I believe Fanny hung in there with their relationship, beyond reason, and it can only be imagined how hurt she must have been when he cut her out just because other people no longer appreciated her face. 

Apparently, she was okay being Fazio's 'Mistress', but probably best not to include her in any picture with the word 'Bride' in the title or she might start getting ideas...