Sunday, 14 April 2019

Review: The Doll Factory

As you will no doubt remember, back in February last year The Doll Factory, the debut novel of Elizabeth Macneal, was the subject of much hub-bub after it was acquired by Picador after a 14-way auction.  What caught my attention was the subject matter - the Pre-Raphaelites.  Picador were good enough to send me a review copy in the autumn but I wanted to delay my review until you were able to pre-order a copy and so, a few weeks before it is released, here is my review...


A quick summary of the plot - The year is 1851 and sisters Rose and Iris work in Mrs Salter's doll emporium. Both have problems with their physical selves - Iris has a twisted collar bone and Rose is deeply pock-marked - and they spend their days creating perfect little figures for rich families.  On the sly, Iris pursues her dream of being an artist, painting herself at night by candle-light.

Walter Potter's Kitten Wedding.  I know...
 Into her life comes Silas Reed, collector of specimens and stuffer of animals.  He has an eye for a beautiful creature, and Albie, his snaggle-toothed urchin assistant has just the one for him.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and that other bloke
At the same time, Louis Frost is looking for a new model.  He's one of those Pre-Raphaelites we all know and love (I do feel sorry for Walter Deverell who always gets replaced by some made-up bloke) and he's on the look out for a model and sends a relative in to find him a shopgirl.  Sound familiar?

Rossetti finding Elizabeth Siddal (from Look and Learn)
Following the path of made-up Pre-Raphaelite novels such as The Crimson Bed (2010), Mortal Love (2005) and That Summer (2017), not to mention 'real' Pre-Raphaelite novels like Ophelia's Muse (2018) and Pale as the Dead (2003) (and mine, of course), The Doll Factory brings a lot of the grimy sensibilities of novels such as Crimson Petal and the Rose with urchins, prostitutes and an astonishing array of reasonably priced false teeth.

The Great Exhibition of 1851, with actual flushing toilets and everything
There is a continuing theme of being on display through the book and being your 'display' self, like a doll or a painting - perfect and frozen.  The juxtaposition between the dolls and the stuffed animals is very disturbing, especially as you are not spared any detail of where the animals come from.  Arguably there is a commentary on the Pre-Raphaelites insistance on being 'true to life', but demonstrably not doing so when the single-toothed Albie is dressed in a pretty outfit in the painting, a far cry from his actual existence of hiding under his prostitute-sister's bed as she services clients.


 Macneal has obviously done a lot of research for the novel as it is full to the brim with facts: we have The Germ, wombats, the PRB (please ring bell?) and even a girl who can crack walnuts between her teeth!  Heavens! 

The Proposal (c.1850) F G Stephens
There is also a hint that surface image is not what you think - Iris frets for the first part of the book about her deformity, and then, when it is seen by others, it is not really commented on and certainly does not stop her being attractive to Mr Frost. This might be alluding to the intricate detail of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, obsessing on every little thing but when viewed with a step back, it all seems normal.  The only one who dwells on her collar bone is the obsessive, unable to move anything but closer.

This is not for the faint-hearted as there are some moments that will make you exclaim 'lawks!' and almost drop your sherry, however I thoroughly enjoyed it and read it in a matter of hours.  Perfect summer reading for people who prefer dark obsessions and stuffed mice to sex and shopping.  On the publicity material I was sent it made an illusion to another famous novel which was a massive spoiler as you then knew exactly where the plot was going from the beginning which was a shame because I'm not sure how surprised I would have been had I not known, so I will spare you that.  However, it is a happy inclusion into the Pre-Raphaelite fiction library.

The Doll Factory is out on 2nd May and is available to pre-order now on Amazon (UK) and in August for the USA.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Folly and Learning Often Dwell Together

Now and then I see a painting which so grabs me with its dense symbolism that I have to sit and unpick it.  We all enjoy being grabbed by the dense symbolism sometimes, so I thought we could have a look at a mighty fine painting and share a bit of gossip and speculation.  Marvellous, let's crack on...

Folly and Learning Often Dwell Together (no date) Oswald Moser
Well, this is a curious picture, with an odd title and uncertain dating from an artist with an interesting life.  How could I resist?  Let's start with Mr Moser...

Self Portrait (1928) Oswald Moser
Robert Oswald Moser was born in London in the early winter of 1874 to a frankly enormous family.  As one of ten children, his twice-married father must have made a decent living as an iron merchant to be able to afford his sizable family.  Named after his father, Robert, it's perhaps unsurprising that the young art student was soon known as Oswald (to save confusion round the dinner table if nothing else). He studied at St John's Wood Art School before enbarking on a career that saw him exhibit 32 times at the Royal Academy and 10 times at the Paris Salon, where he won awards.  He was a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters.

Lieutenant O. Moser and a model dazzle ship (c.1918)
During the First World War, Moser served in the Royal Navy and was placed in the camouflage department based at the Royal Academy.  He worked under marine artist Norman Wilkinson and developed 'dazzle' paint schemes for ships.  I'm a massive fan of 'dazzle' camouflage which looks absolutely barmy but works a treat for breaking up the outline of a ship, making it a hard target.

HMS Kildangan looking dazzling!
Amazing, however that doesn't help me with that strange picture we began with.  Mind you, Moser worked alongside this lady in the Dazzle Department (I would love to work in the Department of Dazzle, that sounds amazing)...

Portrait of the Artist's Wife (no date) Oswald Moser
Agnes Marjory, or Margo, Murray was a fellow artist who met and married Moser before the War.  Fourteen years his junior, she was 22 to his 36 in the 1911 census return, just months after their marriage.  Interestingly, Moser is listed as 'artist' in the census, whereas she is tellingly listed as 'nothing', which is just charming.  

Mr and Mrs Moser being Dazzling together
Working alongside her husband on dazzle, Margo also gave birth to their daughter Denise in 1916 and travelled with her work, visiting France, a country she knew fairly well as her mother and at least one of her siblings had been born there.  Even after the war Margo continued to visit France, and in March 1920 she went over the channel on 'business' and never returned.  Turns out her 'business' was funny business with a gentleman called Robert Durand. In her letter home, she urged her unfortunate husband "All I can hope is that you will take the necessary steps and divorce me."  That he did, uncontested in the following year.

The Dwarf (1920) Oswald Moser
So, back to our original painting, and it is one of Moser's Medieval fantasies, like The Dwarf from 1920. You'll see that Moser included a self portrait in the left, and possibly one of the women is the erstwhile Mrs Moser.  Looking at the subject, I wonder if Folly and Learning... is from the same time, but possibly after 1921 for the following reasons.


Let's start with how Folly is portrayed as a woman and Learning as a man, and also how young the woman is compared with our learned old sage.  I wonder if that is a nudge towards Moser and his younger wife?  It's hard to tell if the figure of Folly is a portrait of his wife, but it's not a reach to say that Moser did not think his wife's actions to be particularly sensible.  I also wonder about how women were perceived in the light of the War in general.  It's not something I have read much about, but I sometimes wonder if there was either conscious or unconscious judgement of women after the First World War, which was a rather male affair.

War Profiteers (1917) Christopher Nevinson
You can understand, if not agree, that women and men might have had an odd relationship after the men returned from France in 1919, so images like Nevinson's rather agressive War Profiteers possibly speak of a frustration that 50% of the population seemingly had a much different war. Of course this is nonsense as women were there as nurses and Mrs Moser's war was much like her husband's, but collective perception is different from individual.  Anyway, back to our painting.


Take a look at the windows behind the figures.  On the side of Learning we have what appears to be George and the Dragon, but the open window behind the woman has a figure and a tree which could be Eve and the Tree of Knowledge, again a judgement on a 'foolish' woman.  I am slightly puzzled by is the open window though; does it imply that Folly is not going to be applying herself to anything but instead will be daydreaming?  Or possibly that Folly is the outside world, and Learning remains inside, in his own little world of books and devotion.


You know I love the language of flowers and we have pink roses behind Folly, representing love but between the figures is a bowl of teasels, which represent hatred.  Quite what Moser was implying about his feelings towards women I think is obvious, but the teasels are somewhat haphazard and tumbling out so it could be the 'hatred' is not a certain emotion, just something placed there by Folly.


 Going back to Folly, does her dress look familiar?

Sidonia Von Bork 1560 (1860) Edward Burne Jones
I always get twitchy when I see a 'netted' dress because I instantly go back to Sidonia Von Bork.  I think Moser is implying that Folly can ensnare you in her skirts (take that as you will).  Learning looks very wary as he views Folly across the table, with his books seperating them, but she is pointing at him and definitely has her sights on him.  He looks like he is almost defending himself with his book pile, the other book resting against them; he is defending himself from Folly through knowledge.  I don't think it is too much of a stretch to say that you could change the words 'Folly' for 'Pain' and 'Learning' for 'Experience'.  Applying this to Moser's own life, his experience with his wife possibly taught him not to trust again and he shuts himself away with his experience, protected from further pain.

 
Looking at this painting I was struck by the vertical lines in the picture, in the stripes on the tablecloth, the vertical of the window frames, the stripes on his sleeves and even the crucifix, all appear barriers between the man and the woman.  Interestingly the stripes on the sleeve of the raised arm provide a complimentary line to Folly's pointing finger, but she would have to get through Jesus to get to him.  However attractive Folly is, Learning has defended himself against her very well, yet they will always be together so his studying will have to continue if he is to resist her.


Oswald Moser died on 31st March 1953 after spending much of the rest of his life living in Rye in Sussex.  He left what money he had to his daughter Denise.  Interestingly, his private life has not overshadowed his art or military careers, which is heartening as his art is so unexpected and interesting. However, I'm one for a little biography in art and confronted with such a gendered image it's difficult not to read the personal, not to mention the national, implications of such a painting.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Review: The Secret Son of Dante Gabriel Rossetti

As you will know, I'm no stranger to family history.  As I often refer to in these posts, my family's past is filled with unexpected happenings, and I also take great enjoyment from finding out the ancestry of people from the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Imagine then, dear reader, my excitement when reading about this recent offering...


I can tell your facial expression from here, and let me tell you, I was also giving it definite side-eye however I was sent a very kind review copy and I set about reading.

The premise is this: Christabel Powell, Victorian academic and author of other books on 19th century architecture and art, knew of a family secret.  Her great-grandfather was the secret son of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and this is her very fulsome account of how and why, completed before her death in 2017.  That manuscript was then published posthumously with apparently minimal editing by Eric Eve and here we are...

Golden Water (1858) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
I'll start with reviewing what I enjoyed.  I ripped through this book in a couple of sittings.  It is engagingly written and very interesting.  If anyone ever thinks their family is boring, all it takes is a bit of a scratch below the surface, or a conversation with an elderly relative and who knows what will crop up.  My mother maintained that there was money on her side of the family until the daughter ran off with a railway worker and got cut out of the will.  Rats.  

Dante's Vision of Rachel and Leah (1855) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Before I get to whether I believed the story or not, I have to say that reading the account was compelling.  It's like seeing a very familiar story from a completely different angle; imagine finding out that Han Solo bore a grudge against Peter Cushing in Star Wars and his secret motivation for the whole of it is not the money or the love of Princess Leia, but getting even with the bloke who ran over his Uncle Bert in a pub car-park in Mos Eisley.  With me so far?  Righty-o, here we go...

The Merciless Lady (1865) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
According to The Secret Son of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the one true and lasting love of our favourite painter/poet was not Elizabeth Siddal, Fanny Cornforth or Jane Morris.  That 'one face' that 'looks out from all his canvases', as Christina Rossetti wrote, was not Siddal, or even Alexa Wilding, but Mary Osborne (1837-1918), brewer's daughter and trainee milliner from Leicestershire.  She moved to London in 1852 in order to finish her training and ended up living in Old North Street, passing through Red Lion Square on her way to work.  It is apparently here she met Mr Rossetti and was invited to act as his model.  The couple fell in love and Mary fell pregnant.  In the resultant kerfuffle with Elizabeth Siddal, Mary fled in order to have her son away from London, leaving Rossetti a shell of a man.  All this happened between 1852 and 1856-7.

Lady Lilith (1868) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The problem is that, of course, there is no proof only family stories.  Apparently there were letters from the solicitors stating that Rossetti not only acknowledged his illegitimate son but also provided money for him up until Rossetti's death in 1882.  These were seen by a few members of the family, although seem to have been lost in time and no copies have been found.  The only other piece of 'evidence' is that the son, Robert, suffered from Bright's Disease, as did Rossetti, but also, so did Walter Deverell (who had form for picking up milliners).  If the letters from the solicitors could be located in the archives of Woolley, Beardsley and Bosworth, that would indeed make very interesting reading, but at the moment we are only going on family stories.

There are actually two narratives to contend with in this book and it is useful to separate them.  Firstly, and actually easily, do we believe the story that Rossetti and Mary Osborne had a child?  That I find to be plausible, regardless of whether I actually believe it.  As far as we know, Rossetti was in perfectly good health in the early 1850s and up until Elizabeth Siddal's death, he seemingly had no issues with fertility, that was all to follow.  In theory then, no problems.  However, we then come to the narrative of Rossetti's life into which this story fits and, as I said above, it involves turning everything we know on its head.

I'm not averse to challenging received knowledge, heavens I built a career on it via Fanny Cornforth.  However, in order to believe the story that Rossetti's involvement with Mary Osborne ruined him from 1857 onwards is to re-write things that are not only known but verified by others.  Powell maintains that William Michael Rossetti was so thorough in his protection of his brother's reputation that he erased any trace of the scandal, yet Christina is supposed to have left us tantalizing hints in her poems.  No-one is supposed to have known, yet Rossetti 'could not resist telling a few close friends' (p.63) of Mary's pregnancy.  Powell is rather scathing towards Lizzie Siddal, an 'insensitive and crude' artist (p.52) who attempts to poison Mary and her unborn child with arsenic-laced chocolates. Oh deary me, I'm sure if Lizzie wanted to do in Rossetti's girlfriends, there would not be enough arsenic in England.

This re-imagining of Rossetti's life completely erases the influence or involvement of Fanny Cornforth (not a popular move with me, as you can imagine) and moves facts such as the meeting with Jane Morris to the 1860s rather than 1857.  According to Powell, all the sketches of Lizzie between 1854 and 1860 are in fact of Mary Osborne, and the blonde figures that begin to crop up in Rossetti's art are also Mary, not Fanny.  Lady Lilith is in fact Mary and Rossetti's argument with Holman Hunt in 1857 was about, you guessed it, Mary.  In fact, so much of Rossetti's life seems to have been all about Mary, I'm surprised any of us pinned the blame on any other woman...

Lizzie Siddal c.1860, or is it?
Powell maintains that the 'oval face' sketches of the 1850s are of Mary, not Lizzie
Okay, so I am skeptical because although Powell's book is intensely researched on matters of history (with interesting excursions into the Zulu Wars and the territorial armies during the First World War), when it comes to the nitty-gritty of Rossetti's love life, it's a harder sell.  I am also not a fan of writing a woman's history at the expense of other women; it seems we can't have Mary in the narrative without downgrading Lizzie Siddal to a vengeful, murderous harpy and deleting Fanny, Alexa and Jane to bit players without importance.  There are painful omissions in the argument, such as George Price Boyce's diary, always a reliable resource for women, Rossetti's women especially and he was recording this part of Rossetti's life fulsomely.  Also, some of the witnesses called for Powell's argument are less than reliable, such as the odious Hall Caine and Violet Hunt, not above making up facts to fit their stories.

Violet Hunt.  Not exactly a clarion of truth...
In conclusion, do I think it is possible that Rossetti had an illegitimate child? It's possible, certainly, but the rewriting of the narrative seems unnecessary and unfair to those written out of their own story.  The fact that the late Christabel Powell and her family believe this to be the case with such certainty is in itself a fascinating story and so this book is worth a read to explore how family misfortune and intrigue can resonate through the generations.

The Secret Son of Dante Gabriel Rossetti by Christabel Powell is available now.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Review: The Women Who Inspired London Art

Over Christmas I was sent some lovely books to review.  The first is The Women Who Inspired London Art, an exploration of models of the early 20th century, most notably the Avico Sisters.  As I always want to know more about artists models, I was delighted to get down to some reading...


At first glance, the title implies that we will concentrate on the Avico sisters (Gilda, Leopoldine and Marietta) a trio of models who sat for some of the most impactful art of the early twentieth century.  Marietta's lovely face can be seen in John William Godward's Contemplation (1922) on the cover of the book, Gilda sat for C. R. W. Nevinson, whilst Leopoldine (brilliant name) can be seen atop of Selfridges as 'The Queen of Time'...

Gilbert Bayes' sculpture outside Selfridges (1930)
All three sisters seem to have carved out remarkable careers, inspiring diverse artists to use their faces in very different ways.  I was reminded superficially of the Pettigrew sisters from a generation or two before, however any family that can personify the lush Victorian excesses of Godward and the stark post-War harshness of Nevinson has to be wondered at. 

However the scope of this book is far wider than just the lives of these three sisters and their contemporaries.  Peterson's view of artists models travels from Elizabeth Siddal and Fanny Eaton all the way to Daphne Charlton, who died in 1991.  Mind you, such a wide sweep does draw attention to the fact that not much changes - Charlton, like Siddal was an artist herself, but provided inspiration and support to a more famous male artist (Stanley Spencer) to whom she was romantically involved.

Portrait of Daphne Charlton (1941) Stanley Spencer
It is a magnificent book with plenty of bright and colourful illustrations.  It is written in a conversational style, easy to read, and relays the information in an enjoyable way.  As if to underline how much the book isn't only about the Avico sisters, you have to wait until Part Six on page 121 before we even reach their part in the story.  Up to that point, Peterson is setting the scene of how we now know so much about models and the women who rose from anonymity to become names we remember. In no way a dry historical account of life for the women of art, Peterson's book whisks you from place to place, meeting well-to-do Ladies and models struggling to survive.  As we move from Victorian, through the war years, to more modern times, it is sobering to see how the lot of an artist's model doesn't change, certainly in the perception of the art-viewing audience. Female artists who also model find their work overshadowed by love affairs, women who come to rely on their looks remain insecure about their diminishing resource.  All the more reason we should know and treasure these women who have inspired so much and become so familiar.

Herbert Palliser's Bacchante, modelled for by Leopoldine Avico (1929)
I love a good compendium and so was delighted to find twenty pages of short entries about each woman mentioned in the book.  With birth and death dates, it provides a wonderful starting place if you fancied researching one of the more obscure women and is a marvellous quick read to dip in and out of, in case you were wondering who had an affair with Dora Carrington or who died of tuberculosis.

Lady Ottoline Morrell (1919) Augustus John
I thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful book and recommend it as a cracking good read.  Useful and attractive it will be essential to researchers, those in search of inspiration or those who love seeing photographs of the women who shaped our artistic landscape.

The Women Who Inspired London Art: The Avico Sisters and Other Models of the Early Twentieth Century by Lucy Merello Peterson is available direct from the publishers, Pen and Sword or from all good bookshops now.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Monday 24th December: All the Un-Researched Ladies...

Just to misquote Beyonce, this is a shout out to all my Un-researched Ladies.  When thinking about this year's Blogvent, I started compiling a long list of women or paintings where I didn't know much, or hadn't read anything about them.  This became quite a list, especially when involving questions like...

Who are you?
 ... and ....

Yes, I know you are Mrs Beyer, but which Mrs Beyer?  Or is it Baer?
... and ...

Oi, Waterhouse, keep proper records!
The rules of Blogvent (much like Fight Club, in a way) (actually, not at all like Fight Club) are that anything I attempt had to be done and dusted that day.  So, my research and stuff is all crammed into 24 hours.  Annie Keane was a bit of an exception as I have a bit of history with her, what with Mary Hillier and everything, which I never had got round to using, but most of the women had just cropped up in the reading that day, like Marianne Shingles.  So, I would have loved to research Miss McDowall who was the model for The Bridesmaid (1851) by John Everett Millais, but I was not getting anywhere with the name and so moved on.  Similarly, despite having a photograph by Lewis Carroll of the Rossetti model known as 'Mrs Beyer', it was hard to pin her down in census returns.  Also, as she was German, people's inability to spell her name properly could not be underestimated so was she 'Baer' or 'Bayer' possibly?  Who can tell.  Also, Lewis Carroll made some snotty remark about her being slightly older than a desirable model (so that would be anyone older than 7, eh Lewis?) so that meant the poor woman could have been anything between 20-50 and the photograph did not seem to pin down an age...

Helene Beyer (1861) Lewis Carroll
One of the questions I get asked most about Pre-Raphaelite Girl Gang is where is the Lady of Shalott.  Actually, Waterhouse is a bit of a nightmare when it come to the women.  Certainly, we know a couple of names, like actress Muriel Foster or Beatrice Flaxman, but their lives and connection to Waterhouse is a bigger job than a day...


Miss Foster as Ophelia, apparently
As we have talked about before, women's history can be very nebulous, and eminently disposable if that woman does not marry and have children.  Women like Florence Anson, who married money and position, are very well recorded indeed; women like Tryphena Foord, whose daughter burnt the papers relating to the paintings, less so.  Cyllena Wilson took off on an adventure and so she is difficult to find - we are told through family stories that she died of yellow fever in somewhere like Argentina, but there are no records to back this up.  Going back to when I first researched Fanny Cornforth, before the lunacy records were released, it was assumed Fanny had just died in 1906 when she vanished from London and there was no family to record or remember.  Had someone not added 'Schott' in brackets in the record of her name at Graylingwell Asylum, it would have remained just plain Sarah Hughes who died there and we would never have known her fate.

So many women, so little time...
 Don't get me started on models like 'Reserva', a woman who used such a posh psydonym that we might never know who she is, only that she is probably the model for the bodies on The Golden Stairs (1880), unless that is Antonia Caiva.  Unless Antonia Caiva is Reserva!  Was it her super-hero name?  It would be quite a good one if it was.  Mind you, that doesn't help me at all.  If you are going have an assumed name the least you can do is write an autobiography to let me know.

The Sleeping Model (1853) William Powell Frith
So, why is it important to know about the lives of the women who posed for paintings?  It is often argued that model's lives are inconsequential to the work, that because they didn't actually lift a finger to create the work (well, sometimes that is not exactly true, because Mary Hillier assisted in the development of the plate negatives for Julia Margaret Cameron) then all we are seeing is what the artist saw, not the person themselves.  We shouldn't get distracted by the person and their life, it has no bearing on a painting.  Whilst I would agree with that up to a point, I think that it is a rare person who doesn't think of Jane Morris and sadness in the same breath, or Elizabeth Siddal and suicide, or Fanny and sex.  Read any newspaper article that mentions them and those tropes get trotted out; read any book on Pre-Raphaelite art where those women are not the main players and those are the images you are bombarded with because of the paintings they appeared in...

Pia de' Tolomei (1868) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
How do we know that Jane Morris was unhappy in her marriage to William Morris?  For the most part, actually, we don't.  I am as guilty as anyone for thinking that she was a bit of an ungrateful cow for being miserable in her lovely house, but much of what we apply to Jane is from Rossetti's vision of her, which might all have been wishful thinking on his part.  In fact, if you think about it, it would have been deeply disturbing for Rossetti to create so many portraits of Jane's misery if it was real.  That is his own misery up there, superimposed onto the face of his best friend's wife who he was obsessed with.  Happy Christmas!

Found (1870s-80s) Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Henry Treffry Dunn
Where there is a model that there is already quite a bit said by someone (who turns out to have their own agenda, I'm looking at you William Bell Scott), or things are said in the context of a moral framework that no longer has such a grip on us, then things like the FACT that Fanny Cornforth was a prostitute is a difficult one to argue against.  No, she didn't spit shells at anyone.  No, she didn't solicit on the Strand. But yes, she did allow two men to pay all her bills.  Yes, she did cohabit with a man who was not her husband and had no problem with any of it.  By Victorian standards, that was shocking, but for us it's not, but neither is it prostitution.  However, then you have people wanting to argue with you about your obvious prejudice against sex workers.  Damn it.  Thanks William Bell Scott.  I hope your 'hyebrows' never grew back.

Joli Coeur (Ellen Smith)  (1867) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Also, it is vital to read everything said about a woman so you can sort out the narrative you are being given.  Ellen Smith was a model for a couple of years before a man who was either her boyfriend or a neighbour attacked her.  There is absolutely a difference in what is inferred here.  The subtext often given in the story of the violent boyfriend is that Ellen's life choices had caused her own misery.  She chose a violent man to be her lover, therefore she got the inevitable beating.  Contemporary accounts of Ellen attack imply that actually the man was just a neighbour, a man in Ellen's neighbourhood who became obsessed with her and attacked her.  For some reason that account was altered to place the blame at Ellen's door, quite literally, as if her choice of man and choice of career caused her own downfall.

Princess Helen Randis Singh by Edwin  Long
 So, why do we love to read about the models and why is it important that we continue to seek them out?  Because everyone's history is interesting! Yes, sometimes it can be a little gruesome, a tad dramatic, a little bit devastating, but I love to hear about the ups and downs of the lives of others, especially if I am looking at a picture of them.  I swiftly add that I equally love to hear that a woman has had a long happy life with oodles of money and children and no terrible threshing machine accidents.  I am not a monster.  However, because mercifully our lives now are not filled with predictable infant mortality, consumption and threshing machines, it is salient to remember those who did not have our luxuries of vaccination, clean water, and health and safety practices at work.

Alexa Wilding (c.1865)
Also, everyone's history is equally as valid and important.  It is vital to hold all stories with equal care and attention and not sacrifice someone to make a point about another person.  The biography of Rossetti casts Elizabeth Siddal as victim of his libidinous ways, Jane Morris as the recipiant of his true love/obsessive weirdness and Fanny as a symptom of his folly.  By turns Rossetti is the lover, the obsessive, the idiot, all at the expense of the women, which is nonsense.  And what of Alexa Wilding, who often gets missed out entirely as she doesn't fit in to any of that narrative.  I am tired of a woman being used to expose the folly of a 'great' figure people are trying to undermine.  Julia Margaret Cameron's lavish praises of her maid Mary Hillier are another example.  Mary is normally portrayed as an idiot (yes, Virginia Woolf, I'm looking at you) for no reason at all other than to make Julia Margaret Cameron look a fool for idealising her.  That is a travesty. Worse than that, it's not true.

The Hayloft (1858) Rosa Brett

I get uncharacteristically angry about all this because I see a direct correlation between the lack of respect we give people in the past and the way we treat each other now. The lazy assertion that no woman did anything of importance in the past is both untrue and unhelpful.  Start looking and you will see that many women did many things of great importance but either were left off the credits or were not carried forward to be remembered now.  It is not only prejudice of their contemporaries that kept women from the pages of history, it is our inability to look for them and value them now.  There is absolutely no reason why an artist like Evelyn de Morgan is not as popular as Edward Burne-Jones.  There is no reason why Rosa Brett is not as valued as John Brett.  We all have a responsibility to  include the women of the past in the conversations we have now because it is only a short step from believing women never did anything of importance to believing women can never do anything as important. 

Unknown Woman (1865) Julia Margaret Cameron

So I send you all off for a happy Christmas with the final thought that out there are hundreds of women waiting to be identified and valued for their part in Pre-Raphaelite art.  Let 2019 be the year when we give them their due.  We have the marvellous exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery to look forward to, so this is the year that we start asking for, and getting, parity in history.  It's about time.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Sunday 23rd December: Marianne Shingles

Busy day today - when I was a little girl, the highlight of every Christmas was when we would drive down to my Grandma's house (in a village not far from our home) and collect our Christmas presents on Christmas Eve.  We'd set off after lunch and have tea at Gran's, then come home, the car full of pressies, the evening drawing in and people's Christmas lights all twinkly and magical.  Well, today, we will be going to our friends' houses and delivering pressies in a sort of homage to that, plus I also get to see the Christina Rossetti exhibition up at the Watts Gallery, so lots to do.  Let's crack on!

I actually changed my mind over who I was going to do today.  I was going to talk about Frederick Sandys' common law sister-in-law (sister-in-common-law?) Augusta 'Gussie' Jones, but while I was reading about her just now I read the name Marianne Shingles and that was it.  I love a jolly name, let's talk about her!

La Bell Jeune Giroflees (1869) Frederick Sandys
Whilst writing Girl Gang, I really wanted to know more about Emma Sandys.  She is such a mystery and in many ways typifies the problem of researching women.  The same is very true of John Brett's sister Rosa - if there is a talented boy in the family, we were never looking at the girl and she sort of just slips from view.  If that girl gets married that might well put pay to any ambitions they had of a career, but she stands a chance of having her memory and possessions treasured by her children until her moment can come, but if that woman died a spinster, the unpleasant fact is that they are unusual if they get preserved in a meaningful way.  Which is probably why the above image of Marianne Shingles, painted by Frederick Sandys appears in a Google search for "Marianne Shingles Sandys" before this...

La Belle Jeune Giroflees (1869) Emma Sandys
Yes, that's the same girl, the same day, the same damn everything and Marianne was primarily Emma's model.  I instantly recognised her from this...

Viola (1865-77) Emma Sandys
She has quite an aquiline nose and a stubborn little chin, bless her, plus also, of course, that hair! So by the same token, Marianne Shingles might also be...

A Pre-Raphaelite Beauty (1870s) Emma Sandys
And her...

Woman in a Yellow Dress (1870s) Emma Sandys
Possibly her...

Portrait of a Lady (1870s) Emma Sandys
...which is quite a collection of 'big hair and nice necklace' pieces from Sandys, so I definitely wanted to find more.

Frederick and Emma Sandys will get their revival, I'm sure.  I'm especially surprised that Frederick isn't better known as his work is often included in Pre-Raphaelite books and the odd exhibition and there is a smashing catalogue raisonne by Betty Elzea (which has been on my Amazon wishlist for a while now).  I own the small and perfectly formed 1974 catalogue, which is cheap online and very useful, but I think Frederick is just awaiting a retrospective.  Emma too will hopefully get her moment, although Jan Marsh and Pamela Gerrish Nunn have always been fighting her cause, which is just one of the many, many reasons we love them.  In comparison to Emma, Marianne Shingles (of the Norfolk Shingles, which is brilliant) was a piece of cake to find.

Once upon a time in Norwich there lived a man called William Lawes Shingles.  He had started his career as a servant in a pub, but after marry Mary Ann Loads in the autumn of 1851, William became a licensed victualler himself, which is a fancy way of saying he could sell alcohol, probably in a pub.  He didn't stick at that however, and by 1871 he was driving a cab, while his wife works as a domestic servant.  Mind you, they are living in quite a decent area in Grapes Hill.  It's so nice that the family that follow them in the census record are the Sandys.

Winding back to 1855, the Shingles had a daughter whom they named after her mother, Mary Ann.  The poshing-up of her name to Marianne might well reflect a rise in social class, which we will look at in a moment, but while still Mary Ann, she worked as a silk weaver.  I love to read about handcrafting in the past, and you know I love to have a go - I can spin, knit, sew, milk a cow, make bee skeps - however if I had to do it as a living it would be hideous and not fun at all.  I can't see any family trace of silk weaving before Mary Ann (before marriage her mother was a servant and a dairy maid) but it might have been in either her mother or father's families.  Norfolk, together with Coventry and the more famous Spitalfields, was a centre of weaving and so it might have just been a case of entering into available employment.  The family seem to have moved regularly - they are never in the same place between census, just in same small area, for example between Upper Giles Street and Grapes Hill.  When Mary Ann was posing for Emma Sandys, she was only in her mid to late teens, which I found surprising given how adult she looks, but then she was married at 20 and having children shortly after, so life moved quickly back then.

Isolde and the Love Potion (1871) Frederick Sandys
So if we take the possible dates for Mary Ann Shingles to be a model for the Sandys siblings as between 1869 until her first child in 1876 then that opens possibilities of both what dates certain pictures can be narrowed down to and whether Mary Ann could be the model for works such as Isolde and the Love Potion, painted in Norwich in 1871.    Mary Ann married George Lewis Warren, son of a shoemaker from Poringland, a village near Norwich.  George went into the boot making business too, but also did a bit of licensed victualling (if that is a word) and other jobs as their family grew. I did cheer when the family got their own house by the 1891 census, and George had become the foreman at a shoe factory (which shows you the progress of industry in a very obvious way). Mary Ann had moved on to worsted weaving from silk and their eldest son had become a teacher.  By the 1911 census, my favourite census, the family are running a pub, now the West End Retreat in Browne Street in Norwich.  After 36 years of marriage and five children (one of whom must have been a baby who died between census) Mary Ann (or Marianne or Mary Annie as she variously appears) would live on until 1933 when she died in the same year as her husband.  She had outlived the woman who she had modelled for by over half a century, but unlike Elizabeth Siddal or Jane Morris, Mary Ann Shingles would be as lost in time as Emma Sandys.

Day Dreaming (1870s) Emma Sandys
It is good to remember her and Emma Sandys, the artist who immortalised her face, because they both contributed to our enjoyment of art in a meaningful way and hopefully, their time in the spotlight will come.

See you tomorrow...