Thursday, 15 November 2012

A Sorrow's Crown of Sorrow

My husband knows how to show a woman a good time.  He came home the other night and showed me this picture…

Remembering Happier Things (c.1921) Henry Justice Ford
You know me, I love a good mournful maiden in a tower, and this is a cracker.  Look, there is even a knuckle-biting misery-verse at the bottom…

‘A Sorrow’s Crown of Sorrow’?  Heavens, how bleak!  Smashing.  This lovely lady is the work of an artist and illustrator called Henry Justice Ford (1860-1941) who began his career as a painter, exhibiting at the Royal Academy, but really found his groove as an illustrator of children’s books.  I was surprised to find I was very familiar with his work in the Fairy Books by Andrew Lang…

Rosanella (1892)
The Purple Fairy Book

Marvellous stuff.  This was what his fame and finances were based on, and the pen and ink illustrations are beautiful, not least because he worked in that wonderful period of book illustration between 1900-1920 that also contains people like Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale.  Delicious.

Ford and his family were keen cricketers (his brother played for England), and he used to play with J M Barrie’s Cricket Club.  This led to Ford providing the map of Kensington Gardens for Barrie’s The Little White Bird

Ford also designed the costume for Peter Pan when the play was staged in the West End for the first time in 1904.  His art ranges from the Pre-Raphaelite influenced Remembering Happier Times and Venus Fly Trap to more traditional portraiture and landscapes…

Venus Fly Trap
Richard John Cuninghame (1871-1925)

I love Mr Cuninghame:  I once wrote a story about a big game hunter who hunted mythical creatures and this is exactly how I pictured him.  However, back to the Pre-Raphaelite stuff – I love Venus Fly Trap, look at her hair!  She reminds me of Lilith in Rossetti’s work, with her strangling tendrils of beautiful, evil hair.  Turning back to Remembering Happier Times, I am immediately struck by echoes of two Rossetti paintings in spirit rather than composition.  The first is Mnemosyne and the other is Astarte Syriaca.

Mnemosyne (1881) D G Rossetti
Astarte Syriaca (1875-77) D G Rossetti

In themselves the two Rossettis are very similar pictures, one shoulder green frock, dark surroundings, gold accessories.  Similarly, Remembering Happier Times shows a young, crinkle-haired woman in green, her golden belt fastened in two places like Astarte Syriaca’s girdle, her accessories golden.  If you consider the date of the picture and the model, then possibly there is a further connection.  The model is thought to be his wife, who he married in 1921.  Emily Amelia Hoff was thirty-five years his junior and had been widowed when her husband died in the First World War.  If there was a purposeful link then maybe Ford was blending the two Rossetti’s, drawing on Astarte’s link to war, and the personification of memory in Mnemosyne.  Also Astarte was often portrayed as the deified Evening Star, which might explain the night scene in the bottom panel beside the verse in Remembering Happier Times.

It would be sad to think that Ford’s meaning in the picture was that his wife was still greatly affected by mourning her husband and looking back to life before the War, but easily that could have applied to Society in the War-shocked Society that emerged from 1918.  Either way, I'm always delighted to find an artist continuing the Pre-Raphaelite tradition into the twentieth century, and Henry Justice Ford should be equally famous for his painting as he is for his magical book illustrations.  

Bring on the retrospective!


  1. Always loved his work, particularly in the Lang books but adore that first picture. Well done Kirsty your posts get better and better.

  2. Lovely blog as ever, great to learn about a new artist. Good luck with the talk tomorrow, I know it will be enjoyed as I was happily able to get to the first one! Mx

  3. And now I realise Rossetti's responsible for all the money I've spent on henna over the years! :)

  4. Thank you both, I'm glad you enjoyed it. Moyra, I'll miss you tomorrow! And yes, Rossetti is responsible for me handing over rather a lot of money to Lush for their henna block over the last few years :)

  5. Gorgeous! One major difference between the green-gowned ladies... the Sorrow chick doesn't look like a dude in drag! Can't say as much for the others... heh. 8-)

  6. Great blog. I love the Pre-Raphaelite tradition AND women in towers.


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx