|The Young Queen and The Page (1904) Maxwell Armfield|
|Sleeping Beauty Joseph Southall|
|The Church Behind (1970) Maxwell Armfield|
I knew Armfield from the front cover of my beloved copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.
|Self Portrait (1901)|
Several editions of the book have used Armfield's turn of the century self portrait as its cover. I have been researching a separate post on the use of Victorian art on book covers and I think this is a very interesting use of the portrait. I find that the portrait brings Oscar Wilde to mind, but not necessarily the character of Dorian Gray. Armfield seems to portray himself as an aesthete, a young man of artistic nature, pink of bow and delicate of nature. Like Oscar Wilde, Armfield was a married homosexual, one of those marvellous Victorian contradictions that we all know and love, and possibly it is Armfield's connection spiritually to Wilde that led to the picture being chosen. I find it interesting that Duncan Grant would not mix with Armfield as he found him too 'of the last century', 'too Ricketts and Shannon'...
|Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon (1904) Jacques-Emile Blanch|
|Music in New York, Homage to Johann Sebastian Bach (1946)|
Beginning his career with this Jane Morris look-alike, being courted by an aesthetic young man over tea and flowers, Armfield's art is very civilised, very dignified. We have love and passion, but we also have afternoon tea out of an exquisite pot (which in truth is far prettier than her suitor).
|Oxford Circus Underground Station (1905)|
It is this delicious mix of old and new that brings me to my picture for today, which is Miss Chaseley on the Undercliff.
|Miss Chaseley on the Undercliff (1927)|
The reason I love this picture is that at first glance it is just a picture of an old woman in black, sitting on a bench, but then you look closer. Miss ChaseleyChaseley's gown: she is in the wrong clothes for her time. Old and new collide in the newspaper by her side: the heavy gothic font spells out 'Neo' (possibly a compression of 'The Echo', the Bournemouth newspaper, with the 'h' of 'the' becoming an 'n' in the fold). The old font spells 'new', and the collision of these two notions is the keystone to the image. Miss Chaseley is the old world planting herself in the new, but why is Miss Chaseley so old-fashioned?
Look at her hand and try and ignore the fact that she is possibly giving us the finger. On Miss Chaseley's left hand is a ring. This is the only ring she wears and could be argued as being her wedding ring, yet she remains 'Miss' Chaseley. Couple that with her deep mourning and it could be imagined that her husband died, possibly back when her mourning clothes were in fashion. I propose that her husband died at sea, as the little boy next to Miss Chaseley wrestles his toy boat on the choppy pond, but there is no wind to cause those waves. Neither the flappers or Miss Chaseley have any evidence of a breeze disturbing their apparel, yet the toy boat lists dangerously. If there was a Mr Chaseley, then possibly he was lost at sea, his boat sinking and no help arriving, signified by the life-ring, untouched behind the pond. I also wonder if Armfield is linking Miss Chaseley's unmarried state to that of the flappers, the post First World War generation of women who outnumbered the potential husbands. This predicament is highlighted by the two women and only one man in the background.
This is not a picture of a sad old woman. Armfield describes Miss Chaseley in terms of dignity and bygone virtues of character and esteem. Above Miss Chaseley rises the cliffs in Bournemouth, unmovable, unshakable. Whatever life throws at the spinster (or widow), she greets it with a sort of solid stoicism that Armfield admires without disguise. Miss Chaseley is not old-fashion, she is eternal, she is the best of all time.
What I love about Armfield is that he obviously didn't care about fashion. A bit like Miss Chaseley, he became the unchangeable, the eternal, painting harp-playing damsels in tempora as the world entered the atomic age. I disagree with Duncan Grant, that Armfield was stuck in the last century; on the contrary he brought it with him and forced his audience to embrace his vision of mixed-era magic, and when it is so beautiful, so moving, who can resist?