Sunday 21 April 2024

Kate Greenaway: The Disco Years

 If I was going to have a tattoo of an important date, I might choose the day I met Mr Walker, the day my daughter was born or May 1966.  Now, for someone not born until 1973, that might seem a bit of an odd one, but that was when the V&A held their extremely important exhibition on Aubrey Beardsley. Yes, yes, people had been talking about Victorian art before then and many of my favourite books on Pre-Raphaelitism predate this point but somehow after this date, it became legitimate to not only like the Art Nouveau/Pre-Raphaelite/Victorian of it all but also openly flaunt your proclivities in public without fear of recriminations. After this date, Victorian-ness hit the mainstream, reflected in 1970's Carry On Loving, which had an Art Nouveau poster on the wall of the hip and swinging flat.  All of this rambling is by way of explaining how I ended up with a haunted Victorian child called Benjamin...

We'll come to my melancholic boy-child in a moment, but let me take you back in time...

Catherine 'Kate' Greenaway (1846-1901) is probably one of those book illustrators that has exceeded their era and remained in the public consciousness.  Rather like Beatrix Potter, Kate Greenaway and her winsome Regency children in their rational dress sum up a certain side of Victorian England which isn't exactly mainstream but also very much how we now visualise the nineteenth century.  Daughter of an engraver, Kate learned her skills at the schools of South Kensington, Heatherleys and the Slade, before launching her career with greetings cards and book illustrations in 1871, and her 1879 book Under the Window cemented her reputation as an artist of the idyllic and aspirational Victorian artistic childhood.  She died of breast cancer in 1901, aged only 55.

Now, you know me, I have a bit of a passion for post-mortem reputation and how that changes. I especially love learning about how the Victorians were seen in the increasingly modern world.  This especially resonates with me when I find out how much of this I consumed without realising.  Let's begin in the 1920s...

from North Eastern Daily Gazette, 1909

When an artist dies, there usually is a bit of a kerfuffle over how much they were loved and will be missed etc etc. In 1902, around two months after Kate's death,  there was a retrospective at the Fine Art Society in New Bond Street, where the newspapers talked about her merits and how Ruskin had been a supporter and champion of her talent. After that, Kate Greenaway became synonymous with clothing, especially that of children and her career as a style icon really came into its own.  I think the fact that her books remained in print possibly fuelled this trend for kid's clothes but maybe it was a self-pollinating plant with the children's clothes resulting from the books, then the books being popular because of the fashion.  

In 1921, Mrs Olive Greenaway, playwright and author No Winkles (you heard me), not to mention 'a relative of the famous artist' and in no way riding on her coat-tails, wrote the play Spirit of Kate Greenaway which, considering the picture above, involved lots of bendy girls dancing in high-waisted dresses. The London Daily News reported that Olive wanted to elevate her beloved relative to more than merely 'poke-bonnet' fame. It has to be said that she did just that and made Kate famous for not just bonnets but also the most fashionable wedding attire that the 1920s could offer.  Going through newspaper reports of the 1920s, there are numerous society weddings where the little poppets acting as flower girls and page boys had the dubious pleasure of being in velvet or white satin (imagine how long that remained white...)  The Pall Mall Gazette of June 1923 reported that Peggy Marter married the astonishingly-named Roualeyn Gordon-Cumming and had a little boy and girl as attendants, each dressed in Kate Greenaway suits of green and white.  The Daily Mirror reported in April 1926 that Joyce Philipson and Terence McKenna had three little Kate Greenaway bridesmaids following her.

from Marigold Garden (c.1892)

Celia Weigall and Captain Humphrey Noble had six bridesmaids in blue satin with wreaths of forget-me-knots and a page in blue satin, all little Greenaway moppets in January of the same year.  Closing the decade, Elizabeth Howell married Frederick Pill, accompanied by a bevy of bridesmaid and pages in lemon satin Kate Greenaway style outfits.    Finally, and I have to add this one because the bride was called Betty Shove (awesome) and Miss Shove married James Rose with bridesmaids dressed in primrose satin and matching bonnets.  This was backed up by the reprint of what was referred to as the 'Kate Greenaway Birthday Book' taken from her Almanacks, mid-decade.

August from the 1889 Almanack

If anything, the 1930s were even more densely packed with Greenaway-inspired events.  Possibly the most touching was a party at Acton hospital at Christmas 1938.  The tables were decorated with Greenaway themed dolls and all the patients in the women's wards wore bonnets inspired by her art.  I see that newspapers even offered paper patterns to make fancy dress costumes that meant a child could dress as 'Kate Greenaway' (No.23 from the West Sussex Gazette paper pattern dept in 1932.) It's that curious? I can't think of another artist where you'd say that, for example you wouldn't sell a 'Bubbles' costume and call it a 'John Everett Millias' costume because although you might call it a 'Millais' costume, by calling it by the artist's full name, it implies that that is what they looked like.  I wonder if by 1939, people assumed Kate Greenaway was a woman who wandered about in an Empire-line dress and poke bonnet.

Okay, this is all a long-winded way of getting to the 1970s, but hang in there.  Kate's dominance was seemingly cut short by the Second World War, cutting newspaper mentions from almost 4000 in the 1930s to 580 in the 1940s (yes, I know, other stuff was going on that decade) and not even her centenary in 1946 really made much of an impact. In 1955, the Kate Greenaway Medal for children's illustration was established, the first winner being Edward Ardizzone in 1957 for Tim All Alone. I'm a bit disgruntled that the medal's name was changed in 2022 to the Carnegie Medal (I think rolling together two different medals but keeping the name that wasn't a book illustrator, which makes perfect sense apparently). So, all was quiet with the odd reissue, but the 1960s changed everyone's attitude to the Victorians.  It seems to me, as someone not born yet, that there was a polarisation of opinion (which arguably still exists) as to the worth of all things Victorian.  Into the 1970s and in the summer of 1973, Penshurst in kent held an exhibition of Kate Greenaway books, cards, original drawings and the almanacks which proved to be very popular and more to the point, commercial...

'Storybook Bride' from Sandwell Evening Mail, 1979

It was like the 1920s all over again, and weddings were again filled with Victorian bridesmaids; In 1975, Country Life began to say 'Kate Greenaway' in the same breath of 'Laura Ashley' and that country idyll took on a new aspect. Laura Ashley, who had been printing Victorian scarves since the 1950s and selling clothes since the 1960s finally became mainstream in the 1970s.  Edith Holden's Country Diary hit the shelves in 1977. Arguably, Kate Greenaway's style is not the same, far simpler, but in rediscovery I guess we don't concentrate on the fine details, just that Kate was a Victorian and her pastoral perfection fitted in with the aesthetic.

My Aries plate...

Detail of the dancing girls

Reverse of plate

Within this came some interesting off-shoots.  In 1979, Royal Doulton produced a set of 12 plates decorated with Kate Greenaway illustrations.  These were promoted in the Staffordshire Newsletter for Mothering Sunday - 'If Mum likes to collect small pieces of china, Royal Doulton of Stoke have some lovely pieces. You could choose a Kate Greenaway plate with Mum's own zodiac sign.' These have embossed dancing figures around the outside and on the reverse were notable events that occurred within that zodiac month and are based on her famous 1884 Almanack. 

These followed the 1976 range of figures, sculpted by Peggy Davies, which continued to be produced until the late 1980s.  I find these to be more traditionally Victorian in colour if not style, rather than the pastel, white and green Regency children that I associate with the Greenaway look. They also produced Peggy Nibet's range of Kate Greenaway dolls followed in 1981 (see this website for a full range)...

Of course I picked 'The Muff' as my illustration

These were limited addition and all very much aimed at the collector, but by accident I found a range of Kate Greenaway merchandise that was actually aimed at children.  That is how I acquired my haunted Victorian son.  Say hello to Benjamin...

Benjamin in box

The side of the box

Yes, I am aware that one night I'll wake up and his little chubby face will be looking down at me, but I feel fairly certain he is not actively plotting against me. The reason Benjamin and I met was that I collect 1970s and 80s Pedigree Sindy dolls.  In one of my endless eBay searches for 'Pedigree doll' up came this moppet and his equally haunted siblings, Charles, Meg, Nell and Constance.  Standing 12" (apart from Constance who is a big 15" girl), they fed into a nostalgic doll trend which can be seen in ranges such as Holly Hobbie who had her 1976 Knickerbocker doll.  Many, many thanks to the wonderful Annie of Our Sindy Museum for further information - Kate Greenaway was a keen doll collector herself, so it seems natural that there would end up being dolls of her figures. The dolls had twisting waists and the normal five-points of articulation, although I noticed Benjamin has a ball-joint neck like Sindy which means he can tilt his head.  He, Constance and Meg are dressed in brown cord, whereas Charles and Nell wore blue and green.  Most intriguingly, the boxes were beautifully illustrated with Kate Greenaway illustrations and the doll stands within a scene, possibly hinting that, despite being what we would call 'playline' now, there was a collect and display aspect to the dolls too.  When the dolls launched in 1977, the Liverpool Daily Post were intrigued: 'an interesting face of the doll scene is the revival of period dolls. The biggest venture of this kind is the Kate Greenaway range by Pedigree, but other firms are also putting their money on map [sic]caps and flounced bloomers.' They cost around £4, the same as a Ballerina Sindy doll and was heavy pushed as a Christmas present in 1978.

These were not a long-lived range, and despite being perfect age for these in 1978, I have absolutely no recollection of them, so they did not reach my corner of Wiltshire. By1979, the Big Store toyshop in Nottingham was advertising them for half price and there remains only the five which can be purchased on eBay should you need a melancholic poppet in your life too. I don't think I'll be buying any more of them, as although I don't want Benjamin to be lonely, I don't want to be outnumbered by them.

from the Illustrated London News, 1980

The 1980s brought more china knick-knacks, but the mention of her name was invariably followed by the word 'medal' and she slipped back from the public consciousness.  Now, if you asked someone what Kate Greenaway meant to them, I'm guessing they would talk about her books rather than a wedding they had been to or the china figures on their mantel piece.  So, is this a good thing? Shouldn't we celebrate an artist becoming larger than their art?  For a time during those electric-boogaloo years of the 1970s, kids knew who Kate Greenaway was and had examples of her art in their rooms.  Despite not having the dolls, I had the 1970s reissue of Under the Window by Picture Lions so Kate was in my consciousness.  I am happy to die on the hill that it is okay to pander to kids in the name of art - when I helped the National Trust produce a children's wombat trail around the Red House, I wanted to make kids feel happy about art. Did that teach the kiddiwinks about the finer points of William Morris's socialism? No, but maybe in time they will feel confident enough to find that out because they will know Morris and feel that he and his art and everything else is for them. Likewise, not every child who owned Benjamin, Nell, Meg, Charles or Constance became an art historian, but for that time they knew and treasured a byproduct of the intellectual property of a female artist who had been dead almost 80 years.

Kate Greenaway in her Studio, 1885

 Of course I'm calling for a retrospective.  And so is my son, Benjamin.

Sunday 7 April 2024

The Very Uneventful Life of Emma Irlam Briggs

Recently, I had the absolute pleasure of researching and writing about Emma Irlam Briggs for an upcoming auction at Bonhams.  I knew her a little due to this image...

The Violinist (1893)

This cracker is in the collection of the Russell-Cotes.  When purchasing it in 1937, Norman Silvester (the curator at the Russell-Cotes) asked Briggs for a brief summary of her life (thanks Norman, all art historians are grateful for the effort). Despite popularity and success with her portraits, her religious images and her more Pre-Raphaelite works, Briggs apologised that her life had always been ‘very uneventful’.  This, as it turns out, is not exactly true...

The Barred Door

Emma Irlam Briggs was born in Northfleet, Kent on 31st January 1867, the fourth of six sisters. The eldest girl, Annie (1860-1866) died the year before Emma was born, but Ada Elizabeth (1861-1951) and Mary Jane (1863-1944), then Ebba Monica (1871-1901) and finally Agnes Everildis (1872-1940) completed the family. The Briggs family seem to have moved around, possibly due to her father James working as a priest and obviously going where the Lord required.  James was described as never being of stout heath, and the family had not settled long in Poole before he died of pneumonia aged only 44. He left his wife and his five daughters to make their own way, which can't have been easy on the remains of a vicar's wage.


Young Girl in Blue (no date)

Eldest sister Ada became Poole’s first female alderman in 1919 and wrote novels.  Agnes was a violinist, see the first picture, and a miniaturist. When Emma caught measles as a child, she lost almost all her hearing, relying on an ear trumpet.  Like her sister Agnes, she turned to art, attending the Bournemouth Municipal Art School to begin with, then studying in conjunction with South Kensington, where she won several prizes.  She then completed a course at Wimbledon Art College, and was offered a scholarship but was unable to accept it.  She instead did a year at St John’s Wood Art School, followed by the Royal Academy schools where she was awarded the Landseer Scholarship.  Again, she declined the scholarship and instead went to Paris, before returning to Hampshire to begin her career...

Interestingly, Emma's reputation in the twentieth century was that of a religious artist.  Her best loved and most reproduced paintings were In Joseph’s Workshop or The Workshop at Nazareth (1904)...

The Workshop at Nazarath (1904)

...and St Joseph’s Dream (1906), both still in private hands, although the prints were very widespread.  She went on to produce 10 paintings, including The Divine Son for the interior of St Paul’s Church, Cheltenham, but I think it is quite obvious that we are very far from Millais or Holman Hunt in term of realism. However, the beginning of Emma’s career was marked with Pre-Raphaelite subjects and portraits.  Her debut exhibition was in Bournemouth in 1886 and she remained an active member of the local Bournemouth Art Society alongside other Hampshire artists such as equestrian artist Lucy Kemp Welch (1869-1958). In early reports of her work she went by ‘Irlam Briggs’ without any hint of gender, which was corrected over time to ‘Miss Irlam Briggs’.  Her debut at the Royal Academy in 1892 was with a pair of portraits of Petronell and Dorothy Barrett, followed the year after by a portrait of her sister Agnes, known also as The Violinist (1893) as you can see above. I think there is a certain sad irony that Emma portrayed her sister producing music she couldn't hear because of the measles. Mind you, as I said in this post, images of music are a bit odd, if you think about it. I also wonder if this one is also Agnes...

Woman with Violin (c.1920s)

She did a later portrait of Ada, so this might be around the same time.

The Lost Bower (1894)

 1894 saw The Lost Bower, which was accompanied by a couplet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning from the poem of the same name, which marked a start of a series of literary inspired female figures drawn from Shakespeare and poetry, including Juliet (1896), 

Juliet (1896)

and The Blessed Damozel (1900)...

As you can see, Emma got some illustration in Royal Academy media coverage, but as these pictures are still in private hands, we're a little short on colour images. Elaine and The May Queen (1902), followed which is why I am designating her 'Pre-Raphaelite Adjacent', a new term I shall be using an irritating amount to discuss artists who followed the Pre-Raphaelites in subject matter or style but maybe not all of the time.  Honestly, if any publishers wish to contact me on a weighty monograph on the subject, I'd be delighted to expand my extremely dubious stance. Emma's Pre-Raphaelite moments were interspersed with female portraits (which probably actually paid the bills) and a rare historical piece, again a female figure, a girl resting against a large open Bible, Elizabeth, second daughter of Charles I, died Sept 8, 1650 (1901).

Elizabeth, Second Daughter of Charles I, Died Sept 8 1650 (1901)

Definitely one from the 'whimsical moppet asleep' genre of Victorian art (I saw this image online with the title 'A Book At Bedtime'), but poor old Princess Elizabeth had a rather sad life, as she was only 14 when she died of pneumonia at Carisbrooke on the Isle of Wight, the year after her Dad had his head lopped off. Popular accounts were that she was found dead, her head resting on the Bible that her Father had given her on their last meeting, which is fairly heart-rending.  The Victorians rediscovered her as a pious heroine, mainly due to Victoria moving to the Wight and having a statue of the doomed princess carved by Marochetti...

Detail of Marochetti's Princess Elizabeth (1856)

As a side note, the face of the sculpted Princess is apparently Julia Jackson (Julia Margaret Cameron's Niece and Virginia Woolf's Mum). Anyway, back to Emma - With her propensity for female figures and portraiture, it is unsurprising that her sisters were subjects of her art throughout her career. Agnes’s portrait was relatively early, with Ada’s official portrait as Poole’s first woman councillor presented to the corporation in 1927. 

Ada E Briggs (1927)

She also painted her sister Mary, as Mrs Frederick John Butts, which might have been painted for her marriage in 1889 or possibly after the birth of her daughter Mary Francis Butts (1890-1937), the modernist writer and acolyte of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947)... 

Mary, Mrs Frederick John Butts (c.1899)

Mary Briggs’s marriage to Butts resulted in her living in Salterns, an 18
th century house overlooking Poole harbour, with a collection of William Blake watercolours inherited from Frederick Butts' grandfather who was a friend of Blake.  Once widowed, Mary sold the watercolours, for which her daughter never forgave her. Sadly, we don't seem to have any images of Monica, the second youngest daughter.  She was interested in botany and pursued it as a 'lady enthusiast' collecting specimens from the local area in Poole.  In January 1901, she had left her house at 11.30am, planning to return for lunch after fishing up fungi from a pond on the Sandecotes estate nearby. When she didn't return, her sisters felt concerned, and rightly so as Monica was found drowned in the pond shortly afterwards.  Tragically, she had been discovered by labourer Frank Tilley, but he had not wanted to go into the pond himself, so went to find help from Arthur Vivien, who had waded in and fished the poor girl out.  It was discussed at the inquest whether or not Monica had been melancholic or of a changeable mood, but by all accounts she was a cheerful soul who had just had a tragic accident, much like Edith Holden (of Edwardian Lady Diary fame).  Interestingly, the judge at the inquest was perturbed that Tilley had not attempted to rescue Monica, and had he done so she might not have died.  Also interesting is that Ada made the newspaper print a retraction of a previous report that Monica had taken her hat and gloves off and placed them by the bank, hinting she had drowned herself in a fit of womanly despair. Well done, Ada.

Wounded Soldier (no date, c.1900)

One of the pictures I wrote about for Bonhams was an interesting portrait of a wounded soldier.  Emma really didn't do men beyond Jesus, so this painting/portrait was an oddity in her output.  I wondered if it had been done around the time of the Boer War or the rather disastrous colonial wars as a sort of protest piece, or even a pro-soldier piece, giving the message of 'beaten but not defeated'.  As we have talked about before, the Victorians like a noble defeat painting (like this one of General Gordon) and this rather handsome chap with that exceptionally good moustache could fall into that category. He remains a bit of a mystery however...

Emma remained in Poole for the rest of her life, supporting local charities such as the orphan’s home and both the Bournemouth and Poole Art Societies, the latter for which she served as honorary assistant secretary. Prints of her religious images remained popular Sunday School prizes and she continued to exhibit locally until the Second World War. When the Russell-Cotes bought her portrait of Agnes, Emma was delighted, although as modest as always in her correspondence with the museum.  She died at home in Dorset in 1951, a few months after Ada, the last of the Briggs girls. She even outlived Mary's children who both predeceased their mother who died in 1944. 

I know I always call for a rediscovery of lost artists such as Emma, but I think there is definitely an exhibition in Pre-Raphaelite Adjacent artists, and it remains fascinating (as I repeatedly say, my apologies) just how far these artists, especially female artists, pulled the subjects so dear to Pre-Raphaelitism out into the world.  Poole have the portrait of Ada and the Russell-Cotes still regularly get Agnes out, but I would love to hear from anyone who knows the whereabouts of any of her other Pre-Raphaelite subjects.

Wednesday 3 January 2024

Book Review: Julia Margaret Cameron - A Poetry of Photography

 Happy New Year everyone and I trust you have all recovered from your Christmas jollities and the suchlike.  I was very fortunate to receive a lovely Christmas present from Father Christmas (and the lovely people at Bodleian Library Publishing, merci beaucoup) of a brand spanking new volume on Julia Margaret Cameron's photography.  Now, as you know, I love a bit of JMC and have gone as far as to write a book about her, and so am always interested to see what everyone else is writing, plus any book on Julia is going to be a joy to look at, so I was very excited when the whacking great big parcel arrived...

Oxford holds a sizable collection of Julia's photographs - over 100 of which appear in this book, which has been written in conjunction with that collection from the Bodleian and the Ashmolean, together with other works of art that place her work in context.  This book by Nichole J Fazio explores how Julia blurred the line between photography and poetry in her pursuit of the visual poetic, her response to the verses of others and her creation of a visual language of her own.

The Kiss of Peace (1869)

Julia herself wrote and translated poetry and had a great love of the works of others.  Her devotion to Tennyson as both a friend and an artist created some of her best works, but it is rare that we look at her visual work as poetry.  Arguably, her poetry is better without words, or certainly has a timeless quality that an awful lot of  poetry can lack. In her visual poems, Julia was experimental, not always successful, unconcerned with the rules of visual art and sometimes spectacularly iconic in ways that still resonate with us today and seem inexplicably modern. Such is the pleasure of her work - somehow, she expresses an emotion she feels yet over 150 years later we can see our own emotions in that same image, even if it is not quite what she intended.

Maud (1875)

The book is split into two distinct sections - the essays and the plates, all delivered on beautiful quality paper (these things matter).  In the essays, we explore Julia, how she fitted (or didn't fit) into the movement of nineteenth century, male-dominated photography, and how her intentions differed from those of the other practitioners.  One thing I have always been fascinated with is when portraits veer from the intended outcome - Julia has many examples; there might be two images of Henry Taylor, one is a portrait and one is something like 'King David' but both are so similar, so when does a portrait stop or start being a portrait? 

A Study of King David (1866)

I really enjoyed the chapter on G F Watts who I think we should acknowledge as a lynch-pin in nineteenth century British art as he knew everyone (truly the Kevin Bacon of Victorian art) and his relationship with Julia is a complex one which I have always felt Julia does not get enough credit for. I also like the alignment of her work with Symbolism and its early place in Britain.

George Frederic Watts RA (1865)

I think her sequence for Idylls of the King contains some of her best and worst work, or rather her most timeless and most dated pieces. I've always felt there is a sharp contrast between a picture like Maud (1875) and 'So like a shatter'd column lay the King' (1875), one meditative and aesthetic, the other theatrical and decidedly am-dram. I think they show the struggle for Julia between the dramatic 'narrative' art and the more 'art for art sake' style of her photography, not to mention her manipulation (intentional or otherwise) of the photographic form with variable focus, scratches, smudges, all changing the outcome of the image.

'So like a shatter'd column lay the King' (1875)

This is a book about Julia's work, rather than a biography, and a look at how that work fits within the artistic and poetic framework of her time. There is an attempt to see her development as a photographer/poet/artist, the pinnacle being the Idylls cycle but with so many striking images it sometimes is hard to see a development in a way - Julia is brilliant at all points in her career, but also very Victorian at points, very religious and very overdramatic, all of which are charges that could be levelled at Julia herself (and many Victorian artists and poets). Her poetic work is amazing but it would be easy to underestimate the power and differentness of her portraits of her friends. I am always struck by her beard-portraits and how the men look at ease, despite the long exposure times. Sometimes it is almost as if they don't know she is there, which would be impossible for many reasons.

The Dream (1869)

This is a cracking book, and a great way to start 2024.  It's a heavy, beautifully illustrated and thoughtful book, proving a background and framework to consider these increasingly familiar photographs. All aspects of her work are here from the gentle religious pieces, the famous men and women, the children and the ever-present Tennysonian verses. I appreciated the multiple photographs on the same subject, for example it is interesting seeing The Whisper of the Muse in its different versions.  I very much hope that Julia Margaret Cameron is finally finding her place as an innovator and (for want of a better word) influencer in art in the mid-nineteenth century. Not enough is written about her influence on other artists, concentrating instead on those that influenced her, yet it is impossible to look through such a beautiful book as this and not see the difference she made to the conversation. I can only hope more exhibitions are to come.

Julia Margaret Cameron: A Poetry of Photography by Nichole J Fazio is available now from the Bodleian Shop and all splendid book sellers.

Sunday 24 December 2023

Sunday 24th December - The Plight of Victorian Female Artists

 Well, here we are at the end of Blogvent and we have met some incredible women this month and I am left with some truths universally acknowledged:

1. Don't work from London - if you are working from a town outside London, you will be a hero in the local press. You will be praised to the roof tops every time you exhibit anything and if you reach the Royal Academy, you will be loved even more.  They are also more likely to do a nice obituary for you, which will help your future biographers.

2. Try not to be related to another artist, especially if he is famous before you even start painting - the problem with a famous father is that you will always be in his shadow and compared to him.  Art historians will go on about how your work is far inferior to his and you are a pale copy.  If he is your husband or brother and you are working at the same time, there is a very good chance that people will mistake your work for his.  How many Emma Sandys are labelled as Fred Sandys? When Charles Gogin died, the newspapers said how Reigate had been given three paintings by him by his wife.  Problem was that only two of the pictures were his and the other was hers.

Mind you, if your husband/brother/father is extra famous, you stand a very good chance of appearing in his biography. Marion Collier's early life benefited from being a Huxley. Even if you only glance into a great man's orbit, there is a good chance you will leave a trail that future art historians and biographers can follow.  Try and leave some letters, that's always a great place to start.

3. Make friends with a journalist from the Queen - I can't even begin to explain how much that publication has saved me this month.  It really cared about women artists and wanted to share their stories, their pictures and their photographs. God bless the Queen!

4. Try and be wealthy - it will make your career easier.  Actually, that one is probably good advice full stop. Damn, I wish I could take my own advice...

This month I have been using the Royal Academy catalogues (both the text and the illustrated one) to find when our ladies were exhibiting and if I could find one of their paintings in the accompanying book (I was ever the optimist).  I began to wonder if there was any correlation between time passing and the position of women in the RA.  Obviously, this is not wholly scientific in a general sense, but we only have today left and I thought if I took two random years and looked at how women fared, we could see if the Victorians really were the repressive regime we assume and whether things really did change in a couple of decades with those ever-so modern Edwardians.

I took the 1892 RA and the 1914 RA as my test subjects because they were the earliest RA I could find with an illustration booklet and I thought I would use 1914 because enough men might die in the following few years to skew my results. By 1892, women had access to art schools and so you could argue that more women in the art establishment in the role of creator rather than the model would make a difference, not only in the people creating, but also what was created.

Hawking (undated) Laura Alma-Tadema

Starting with the stats for 1892: at the RA that year there were 2007 works of art created by 1262 artists.  Among those were 242 women.  That is not great, less than 20% but that would mean (if we were being optimistic) that one in six illustrations should be from women in the catalogue.  The illustrated catalogue had 200 illustrations, so around 38 of them should be by female artists. Even if we went with number of artists rather than number of illustrations, then out of the 156 artists illustrated, we should get 29. Actually, we had 9, which is less than 6%. They were by Laura Alma-Tadema, Hilda Montalba, Elizabeth Forbes, Jessie Macgregor, Henrietta Rae, Margaret Dicksee, Maud Goodman, Louise Jopling and Margaret Bird. Of those women, at least two, Rae and Jopling, had absolutely built themselves big careers at this point, Elizabeth Forbes and Laura Alma Tadema were married to artists who were well-known, Margaret Dicksee was from an art family with a famous father and brother. My point about not being related to anyone (above) is obviously wrong as it didn't harm those women in this instance.

1989 Guerrilla Girls' poster

So, if the female 6% made it to the catalogue through being artists, what about in subject matter?  When you start breaking down the paintings, you notice that rather a lot of women appear in the catalogue, they just have got their boobs out.  Some of them are rich enough (or married to someone rich enough) to have their portrait painted (boobs hidden).  Eleven of them are in distress. Thirteen of them are 'classical' which means they aren't naked but we can all see nipples through that frock, you're fooling no-one. Sixteen of them are pretty ladies with their clothes on and six of them are untrustworthy, tricksy minxes. There is one instance of male nudity, and male portraits are more prevalent that female.  There are twenty paintings of men being heroic, six of men with beards being serious, two of men in kilts and another two of soldiers being awfully brave (in addition to men being individually heroic). When you break it down, despite what was said to Alma Gogin about portraits not entering the RA easily, portraits got a lot of attention in the illustrations, followed by landscapes and waterscapes (non-fishing).  My favourite category, 'Poor People Being Sad,' scored five, and to be fair, they are mostly women too.

Off to 1914, and George V is on the throne, we are about to get into a massive war and women are off to factories and on their way to the vote (I have a thing about saying we were 'given' the vote, the Powers That Be just stopped withholding it in 1928) and if I am so inclined, the end of the 'Long Victorian' period is in sight.  Surely things have changed radically, right?

Mrs Ralph Peto (1921) Flora Lion

There were 2245 paintings in the 1914 RA, by 1526 artists.  Of those, 517 were women. That is 34%! That is a massive jump, so I can look forward to a third of the illustrations being from women - hurrah! There are 238 illustrations in the book and a third would be around 78.  We got 15, which is 6 and a bit. So, about the same then. Rats. Those women were Mary Young Hunter, Lucy Kemp-Welch, Flora M Reid, Laura Knight, Jessie Macgregor, Mia Arnesby Brown, Hilda Fearon, Marianne Stokes, Henrietta Rae, Nellie M Hepburn-Edmunds, Daisy Radcliffe Beresford, Flora Lion, Mary Waller, Alice Fanner and Mary F. Raphael. A couple of names remain the same, a few female painters have become famous in the meantime (Laura Knight, Lucy Kemp-Welch), but a fair number I had no idea about.

Angelica Kauffmann, introduced by Lady Wentworth, visits Mr. Reynolds’ studio (1892)
Margaret Dicksee

How about subject matter? Surely that would have changed?  Oh, absolutely and full-frontal nudity increased, whereas just topless stuff dropped back, so apparently boobs were not enough anymore.  I have to admit there were not as many obviously distressed women in 1914 (well, in illustration) but the quota of men being all heroic was still quite high. I am being flippant, but the lack of women being disappointed in men to varying degrees is interesting because, in all other ways, the subject matter of the paintings was remarkably similar. Were men incapable of disappointing women in 1914? Could we not afford to show our womenfolk in domestic distress when a war loomed on the horizon and we might need them to look distressed about other men, foreign men?

In 1895, it was reported in the newspapers that an art critic had chosen the 30 best pictures out of the whole Royal Academy exhibition (which we know ran into a thousand or two) and he chose only three by women - one each by Lady Butler, Jessie Macgregor and Elizabeth Forbes. As the Yarmouth Gazette mused 

'Three out of thirty seems a small percentage, but it must be remembered that it has been only during the last few years that facilities have been offered to girl students such as they have recently enjoyed. The profession of artist, even for men, is not yet quite free from the suspicion of Bohemianism and until some five or six years ago the ladies who adopted it as their chosen path in life were regarded by their friends as almost social pariahs, and had a fair amount of roughness to encounter.'

Well now, that's the reason that women artists are not appreciated! They have only just had the training and those that attempted it before were made social outcasts because of all the Bohemianism.  It all becomes clear, it's not because of societal prejudice then. That's all fine then.

Girl Fishing (c.1918) Mia Arnesby Brown

In case you weren't convinced of that argument, the Cheltenham Examiner is here to help - 'Except in pastels, watercolours and miniatures, women are seldom happy in strong portraiture. Though some of them may not think it, women have their limits, and that a sex limit.' Apparently our little lady hands can only make faint marks or else we swoon. Apologies.

It is easy to say 'sexism did it' when trying to explain why women did not get the chances.  I also was once asked at an event if women artists weren't famous because they just weren't as good, but I don't feel I am being defensive by saying all of the women who made the RA were as good as the men who were there, and some of them were as exceptional as the best of the men.  What worries me is the exceptional women who didn't get the chance to even blip on our radar.  I read a horrifying fact when reading about Adah Knight which was that 13,000 pictures were submitted to the 1896 RA and they only had room for 1600. That's around 12% so what about the other 11,400 works of art and artists who did not make it? It's a miracle that women made it there at all, and for that matter, what about working class men and people of colour - how can I tell just by looking at a name what the story for that person is? The RA catalogues are filled with names that have slipped into obscurity.  Who knows what secrets they hold?

I need to go to bed as Father Christmas is on his way, but I think our plan of action is this - the internet is stuffed with free resources - on, on the Royal Academy page, on ArtUK - find an artist who is obscure, whose art you love, and befriend her.  Make her part of your family. Research the hell out of her and do not be put off by nonsense written in the newspapers about her or in the biography of very important men. Each little step along the way of putting these women back in the narrative is worthwhile.  I couldn't find everything I wanted to about the women who graced Blogvent because I was doing it in 12 hour shifts.  Imagine what can be found with more time and more digging. 

"She had two eyes so soft and brown, Take Care!
She gives a side glance and looks down, Beware!"
(1912-14) Nellie Hepburn Edmunds

It's all very well for me to look at the statistics behind the Royal Academy exhibitions and make tutting noises but if we leave these women in obscurity then we are not helping to highlight their work or proving the likes of the Cheltenham Examiner c.1902 wrong. If you liked one of the women from the last 23 days, start digging! Do a curation on ArtUK, write an article, see where has her work and go and visit it. If I have learned anything from the last thirty years of doing this sort of nonsense then it is this (and Fanny Cornforth will back me up here) : If you talk long enough and loudly enough about someone, people will join in and that person will become part of the conversation. 

If I can do it, so can you. Happy Christmas.

Saturday 23 December 2023

Saturday 23rd December - Alma Broadbridge Gogin (1854-1948)

 I wonder if it is wrong that I chose today's subject because of her name? 

It's all go today as we are having our Christmas Day tomorrow with the family, so I am busy making croissants (family tradition), peeling sprouts and making a trifle whilst trying to remember what I could have possibly forgotten,  In the meantime, for the penultimate day of Blogvent I have the charmingly named Alma Gogin for company...

Alma Gogin (undated) Charles Gogin

I have found another artist-wife-of-an-artist, however, before she was Alma Gogin, she was Susan Alma Broadbridge, born on 1st October 1854 to Edward (1830-1911) and Mary (1828-1906) in Brighton.  Edward was a furniture dealer and upholsterer (like Averil Burleigh's Dad and my Uncle Chub) with the family living above the (quite large and pleasant) shop in East Street in Brighton, close to the sea.  Her mother was a milliner and the family seem very comfortably off, Edward serving as a local Councillor, and the family was well-known. Alma was the second of four siblings - her older sister Kate (1853-1927) and younger brothers Edward (1863-1898) and Walter (1871-1946). By 1871, the family had moved up the road to Queen's Road and were living at 111 Queen's Road, now known as Sundial House.  There was definitely a moment when she stopped being Susan and started being Alma but that seems to have happened at different times for her work life and census records.  I'll just make it simple and call her Alma, as she wanted.

At some point in the 1870s and 80s, Alma went to Paris to study art with Gustave Boulanger (1824-1888) and Julian Joseph Lefebvre (1836-1911) at the Academie Julian, and she appears to be absent from home during the 1881 census so that may well have coincided with this period.  Alma's work was first seen in her native Brighton in the Corporation Gallery's 1880 exhibition of oil paintings.  Of the around 700 works, a fifth of them were by local artists including Alma.  Her work also appeared at the Manchester Art Gallery exhibition of 1884 where the gallery bought her piece Cherries for £6 6s for the collection.

Her break into the Royal Academy came in 1886 with An Unequal Match, which didn't make much impact in the press, but she also had two other exhibitions which at least got her mentioned.  The November exhibition of the Nineteenth Century Art Society in Conduit Street contained Alma's piece Day Dreams described by the London Evening Standard  as 'a very well dressed young lady, sitting in a very pretty chair - [it] invites attention by harmonious colours and dignity of treatment.'  She also appeared in Brighton's Corporation Art Gallery 12th annual exhibition of modern pictures in oil where, according to the Brighton Herald she 'showed some good work'.

"So for good or ill in leaves of tea / Do maidens find their fortune told" (1887)

By 1887's Royal Academy, Alma had moved to Warwick Studios in Hampstead and her painting that year was "So for good or ill in leaves of tea / Do maidens find their fortune told" which is also known by the far duller title 'Tea leaves'.  I love this painting, even down to the tassels on the tablecloth. I'd love to see it and see if we can work out what the fortune will be - there are some flowers and a fan, all of which hold messages, for example the open fan in the left hand means 'come and talk to me,' which might hint that she is hoping for someone she loves to come and tell her that they love her too. Next to her seems to be a bunch of those tiny daffodils which symbolise forgiveness, and the lily next to her has died (is that a Madonna lily with dead flowers?).  I'm building a whole scenario of someone dying and she's learning to forgive them because she's met a good looking bloke who will look after her daffodils for her. I love narrative art so much.

Shipyards Studio, Shoreham (1889)

In 1888, Alma started to offer lessons in the Brighton Gazette - 'Miss Alma Broadbridge, exhibitor at the Royal Academy and pupil of Mons. Lefbre [sic] and Mons. Boulanger (members of the Institute of France) has established a CLASS for the study of DRAWING and PAINTING in oil and water-colour. Private lessons and schools by arrangement - 60 Brunswick Road, Hove.' When I read things like that, the capital letters end up being shouted for effect. She appeared to have moved back down to Brighton, backed up by her 1889 Royal Academy entries, a three-quarter portrait of her mother and another of a woman after a ball. The Brighton Gazette  reported 'the young artist may consider herself very fortunate in getting two pictures hung, especially as they were portraits' which is an interesting attitude - I assumed portraits would get less attention in the press unless the person was well known or exceptionally pretty but I didn't know that portraits were harder to get into the RA, or at least perceived to be.

Alma Reading (1888) Charles Gogin

There was no exhibition for Alma in 1890, but in 1891 she was back at the RA with Confirmation Day. She was the last of the children living at home according to the census that year: Kate was married to Charles Hudson and living in Cuckfield in Sussex, Edward was married to Clara and living in Brighton, Walter away from home and due to be married to Louise. Alma married in 1894 to fellow artist Charles Gogin (1844-1931).  A decade older, Charles was the son of a commercial clerk from France who died in the mid 1860s.  Before his father's death Charles too was heading for Clerk Life, whilst his sister Cecilia was training to be an artist.  After Claude Gogin died, Charles trained to be a painter, hence he and Alma were at a similar point in their careers, although Charles exhibited a little earlier.

Our Studio in Shoreham (1900)

The Royal Academy just after the Gogin wedding was the last one Alma exhibited as 'Broadbridge'.  Her piece "Please, May I Come In?" received no press coverage or any illustration in the Royal Academy catalogue. That's true of all her work, and to be fair, Charles isn't exactly overly illustrated on that front either.  Alma returned in 1895 with Little Sunshine and the couple had moved to Shoreham (living there around the same time as Annie Miller, Pre-Raphaelite model). 

The Captain's Story (1895)

She also showed The Captain's Story in 1895 which proved very popular.  The Manchester Evening News reported 'The old tar is telling his stirring tale to the children, and the pose and intense expression of the three are admirable.'  Stratford upon Avon Herald felt the work illustrated 'her capacity of subject.' It is a beautiful picture, a bit like something painted by George Dunlop Leslie.  She scored again in 1898 with "What Shall I Say?" a painting of a girl sitting at a spinning wheel reading a letter, which was hung in a favourable position.  She also appeared in the Autumn exhibition at the Dudley Art Gallery in September.

Regrets (undated)

By 1901, Alma and Charles were living in Compton Avenue in Brighton, which are tall white houses that are worth over a million. Both Alma and Charles are listed as artists and art teachers on the census and they have a servant.  As far as I can see, Alma didn't exhibit on such a grand scale after this point. Charles had painted the portrait of Samuel Butler, novelist, and acted as his artistic consultant; on Butler's death in 1902, the author left Charles a life annuity of £100 which would pass to Alma on Charles's death.

Anemones (20th century)

In the 1911 census, again the Gogins are both artists and art teachers at Clarence Square.  In fact, their life seems quite quiet and uneventful other than a move from Brighton to Reigate in Surrey until Charles's death in 1931, then Alma's profile rises rapidly once more.  Charles died in the January of that year and by the March, possibly spurred by his death, she was holding an exhibition at their home at 95 Station Road in Reigate. The Surrey Mirror reported that Alma was 'an artist of considerable repute' and the exhibition 'promises to afford much pleasure and interest ... students of art, particularly, could spend many useful moments glancing at the fine collection of flower studies - in oil and water-colour - which constitute one of the features of a notably varied show.'  She also gave the Borough two paintings by Charles - Sea Poppies and Ypres Castle, Rye - and one of her own, Regrets.

Chrysanthemums (1927)

By the 1939 register, Alma had moved to 92 Blackborough Road in Reigate, listed merely as retired, a widow with a maid. In 1945, Alma invited the Haywoods Heath librarian (the town not being very far from Reigate) to view her collection with the idea to bequeath several of her and her husband's paintings to the new Haywoods Heath Museum.  She died three years later, noted by the West Sussex Gazette - 'By the death of Mrs Alma Gogin (92) of Hatchlands Road, Redhill, an interesting link with Victorian art and letters has been severed.  Mrs Gogin was the widow of Charles Gogin, landscape and portrait painter ... Mrs Gogin was also a gifted artist, who specialised in flower studies and was a discriminating collector of objets d'art.'

Alma (1890s) Charles Gogin

I think we have a rare moment where both Alma and her husband have been neglected.  Look at the tissue on the portrait of Alma above, stabilising the the paint surface in need of conservation. The couple are both talented artists and need our love.  What I find interesting about Alma is that although she did a fair amount of flower painting, she found her fame with narrative pieces, yet she is repeatedly called a flower painter.  Here is the continued down-playing of women's art, still-life scoring far below other categories in the artistic hierarchy. As we draw to the end of Blogvent, there are patterns of how these women are forgotten, are diminished, and tomorrow we will examine the scale of the problem then and now, and work out how we will fix it.