Monday, 12 October 2020

Review: Portrait of a Muse

As the nights grow longer, I always like having a whopper of a book to read. Better still, I received a chunky biography of Frances Graham, daughter of Pre-Raphaelite patron William Graham and model for Edward Burne-Jones. Hers was a name that was familiar, so I was eager to learn more... 


Frances Graham, later Lady Horner, seems to have lived a pretty full life.  Not only that, she wrote her own autobiography.  As someone who routinely writes about women of this era, I can't imagine the utter luxury of writing about someone who recorded their own version of events! The best I've ever got was Julia Margaret Cameron's extreme brief Annals.  Mind you, the fact that Frances wrote and published her own memories as Time Remembered (1933) should tell you the level of privilege you are looking at.  This is the story of a woman of comparative wealth and position, not to mention a fair amount of influence.  From her early years as her father's right-hand girl in the art world, to her life as a free-spirited wife and later a mother and grandmother, this is quite a story.  Not only that, it tells the story of how Pre-Raphaelite art travelled from the 19th to the 20th century in taste and some of the many reasons it fell from grace, an aspect which I found fascinating.

The Golden Stairs (1880) Edward Burne-Jones

The beginning of this book is very much concerned with Edward Burne-Jones' relationship with Frances and it is not comfortable reading. 'You haunt me everywhere ... I haven't a corner of my life or my thoughts where you are not,' he wrote to her, and Andrew Gailey, author of this biography, declares Burne-Jones the love of her life.  Despite the technicality that the age of consent was much lower during Frances' teenage years (thereby excusing Burne-Jones of any hint of paedophilia) and Burne-Jones other dalliances, I still found his attention and her attitude towards him more troublesome than I expected.  Small things, like finding visits to Burne-Jones' home much 'nicer' when Georgie was not home, and her peers (and no doubt his) knowing that Frances Graham had 'Burne-Jones at her feet', does give one pause.

Frances Graham (1879) Edward Burne-Jones

There is a very interesting discussion of what makes a 'muse'.  The claim in this book is that Frances Graham is Burne-Jones most important and beloved muse, but never his sexual partner.  There is a very interesting note, quoting Germaine Greer - 

'Physical congress with one's muse is hardly possible, because her role is to penetrate the mind rather than to have her body penetrated.  Dante never laid a hand on Beatrice, nor Petrarch on Laura. Gustav Klimt's "life-long companion," Emilie Floge, the younger sister of his sister-in-law, almost certainly died a virgin.' (note 89, p.388)

Deary me, I want to unpack that, not least because actually in the text, Gailey shows many examples of artists and muses that get very physical indeed.  I suppose the tension is that how much of a claim do we believe if the artist and muse never have sex, which is terribly basic and also impossible to prove either way.  I'm completely fine with an artist and his model never seeing each other naked - no-one can fail to see that Rossetti was inspired by Alexa Wilding - but it is hard to argue that Burne-Jones was all consumed by Frances, beyond all others, without any hint of anything else.  Also, that claim is very problematic for other reasons because you are referring to something that is a one-way street, and often something that says more about the artist than the muse. There has been some very interesting discussions surrounding 'muse-hood' in the wake of things like the 'Pre-Raphaelite Sisters' exhibition.  How much can we claim that inspiration is a two-way street, and can it ever be influenced or controlled by the subject of the obsession?  Also, with Frances and Burne-Jones, we are talking about a very young woman (if we are not comfortable using the word 'child').  Burne-Jones's attitude to Frances and her recorded response is a very salutary lesson in grooming, for want of a better word.  The attention the older artist lavishes on the girl is inappropriate, but I would not say that she is the only beneficiary of this attention.  That's a very busy Golden Staircase, after all.


The piano painted by Burne-Jones for Frances Graham (1879-1880)

 The Golden Stairs is possibly the most famous of Burne-Jones's paintings of his daughter's friends, and Frances Graham is there at the bottom of the stairs with the cymbals.  The painting is often seen as melancholic, with the girls descending from their pinnacle of wonderfulness (and youth) before going out into the big wide world and marriage. Frances was one of those girls who marriages that Burne-Jones bewailed, along with his own daughter and others of her friends.  The narrative then moves Frances into the privileged group of the Souls (who you might know from this post).  Her freedom within this group is both enviable and surprising - despite phrases like 'incarceration that is motherhood' (okay then) and her marriage to John 'Jack' Horner, Frances seems to have spent a large amount of time away from her family, some of it on a boat with another chap.  Marvellous.  


Frances Graham Horner's tapestry at the church in Mells

Actually, I found the passages about Frances' attitude towards her daughters Katherine and Cecily even more bothersome than the Burne-Jones business, although he does crop up again.  There is an interesting claim at the beginning of Chapter 28 - 'Frances proved a more enthusiastic mother than many of her generation.' Now, I don't know if that is a shocking indictment of the horrible upbringing of children born in the 1880s and 90s, or a rather rose-tinted view of how Frances got on, I'm not sure but I didn't see any great triumphs of parenthood.  However, Frances' attitude towards her daughters is difficult to read.  Her praise of the pretty one, Cecily, as opposed to Katherine, the clever one, is trouble waiting to happen.  Again, Frances gives us a narrative of this, so it is difficult to feel this is purely authorial judgement.  Indeed, Gailey seems to want to excuse her of some of the more cringe-worthy comments and behaviour.  It is possible that she is no worse than her contemporaries but heavens, you can see the issues of the children signposted loudly through the attitude of the parents.  Also, a reappearance of Burne-Jones left me speechless - on hearing that John Singer Sargent had painted Cecily, he raged, stating Cecily 'is mine - who was made to fulfil a dream of mine and who is my vindication.' Lordy.

Edward Horner's memorial at the church in Mells

As Frances grows older she doesn't seem to develop insight or any sense of irony.  At the perceived loss of her looks to age, she bemoaned how 'men both married and single, no longer quite young, delight in the society of girls.' Now, come on Frances, wasn't that exactly what you benefited from as a youth? Personally, I loved the chapters where Frances is annoyed by the younger generation, including her own children.  An aspect that struck me was, as she grew older, how Frances' behaviour contrasted with Georgie Burne-Jones - when it came to the Boer War, Georgie's loudly anti-war attitude won her no friends, however Frances is portrayed as a 'political muse', getting involved and raising money for the war.  More tragic yet is the First World War and the devastation delivered to her children's generation.  I found that I was reading about a woman overtaken by events, age and an era that vanished, but possibly that is the fate of all of us as we age.

Frances Graham (1869) D G Rossetti

I have to admit that, to my surprise, I did not like Frances Graham after reading this book.  That is possibly not a concern for you, dear readers, and not at all necessary, but I found it a bit of a novelty to actively dislike the subject of a book quite so much.  The margins of the book are littered with notes such as 'For goodness sake' and 'Really??!!' at some of Frances' comments and remembrances.  That said I think it is to the utter credit of the author that I continued reading and enjoying the story.  This is a hefty romp of a book through fascinating country, filled with the most interesting people.  It is traditionally written and obviously meticulously researched to the point that you feel you are being told it by the people involved rather than through a third party.  Oddly, I was reminded rather of young people today who are horrifically embarrassed by what they have written on social media five years beforehand, in that because all the people in this book are 'important' all things they ever said or wrote was remembered and recorded, both good and utterly appalling.  There is no escaping embarrassing and cringe-worthy comments.  Also, someone should have had a definite word with Burne-Jones, that's for sure.  He does not come out of this well.

If you need a good read this autumn, this is a must.  It's satisfyingly weighty, engagingly written and beautifully illustrated, so gives you a lovely reason to stay safely at home. Portrait of a Muse: Frances Graham, Edward Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelite Dream by Andrew Gailey is published by Wilmington Square Books and available from all good booksellers in November.

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Constant Craving

 As I await the publication of my new book (on the 10th September, see this previous post for information) I have been admiring other photographers, like the tart I am, and I was struck by this photograph...

Veiled Profile (1900) Emile Joachim Constant Puyo

...which reminded me, for obvious reasons, of this photograph....

The Angel at the Sepulchre (1869-70) Julia Margaret Cameron

I immediately wanted to know more about the creator of the first image, and what I found were some of the most incredible images which I will now share with you.

Montmartre (c.1906)

(I have to admit this one has a definite perfume of Clementina Hawarden, but that might be the 'balconied-femininity' of it all, but I digress...)

Emile Joachim Constant Puyo, more commonly just referred to as Constant Puyo, or sometimes appallingly anglicized to 'Charles' Puyo (much as Jacques Tissot became 'James'), was born in 1857 in the north-western town of Morlaix in Brittany.  He came from a rather distinguished, middle-class family; his father Edmond was a painter and amateur archaeologist, not to mention mayor of the town between 1871 and 1878 and founder of the town museum.  His uncle Édouard Puyo was a designer and painter and his other uncle Édouard Corbière (I bet Christmas was fun in that house - 'Pass the sprouts Uncle Édouard, no, the other Uncle Édouard') was a maritime writer, author of Le Négrier (1832).  My favourite of Puyo's relatives has to be Tristan Corbière, doomed poet and possessor of both consumption and a mighty fine mustache...

Tristan Corbière, moments before coughing and then tragically dying

I went through a Baudelaire phase, so he's right up my street.  

Anyway, Constant Puyo was a lot less tragically romantic and a lot more alive than his relatives.  No doubt inspired by his father, young Constant loved to draw and paint, training at the local Polytechnic before joining the army.  He served as an artillery officer in what one writer referred to as the 'revenge army' following the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. He rose to the rank of Commandant,  and was in charge of a squadron at the School of Artillery at La Fère. All of this left very little time for sketching and Commandant Puyo went in search of a new medium, a quicker medium, in order to capture his images.  He found photography.

Woman Drawing From a Bust (c.1900)

To start with, he photographed friends, family, street scenes, and when he was posted to North Africa, he took photographs of his travels, but all this seemed rather 'documentary' and pedestrian to him, not art. With his posting back to the General Staff in Paris in the late 1880s he began to work on a more pictorial, artistic manner of photography.  

Nude Against the Light (1906)

He helped form the French Salon of Photography in 1894 with his friend and collaborator Robert Demachy, with whom he wrote Notes sur la photographie artistique in 1896.  He not only took photographs, using optical blurring via 'artists' lenses' and the development of gum bichromate and oil transfer, he also wrote at length and passionately on what could be achieved in this new mode of photography.

Summer (c.1900)

He was admitted to The Brotherhood of the Linked Ring in 1896, a British photographic society similarly dedicated to promoting the 'art' of photography.  Strangely enough, I already knew about the Linked Ring because I am a fan of William Smedley-Aston...

Mrs Patrick Campbell reading the Kelmscott Chaucer (1904) William Smedley-Aston

...and I'm a massive fan of his gorgeous wife, artist and model Irene Smedley-Aston...

Irene Smedley-Aston (c.1900) William Smedley-Aston

Good heavens!  Anyway, I digress.  Puyo is most known as a proponent of  Pictorialism, where a seemingly naturalistic scene is manipulated to heightened effect. That way an image is created rather than simply recorded, much like any other work of 'traditional' art.  I particularly like his use of light, in that sort of chiaroscura effect, which is very effective in works such as Mis-en-scene...

Mis-en-scene (c.1900)

He used a combination of natural light and a magnesium flash to create very dramatic 'night' images that capture these alabaster women frozen in a moment of time, theatrically staged and immortalised.

Sacred Song (c.1915)

He retired from the army in 1902 to devote himself to photography.  However, the First World War brought him back into service and he found himself assigned to railway management as he headed towards his sixtieth birthday.  By 1921, despite the fall in popularity of Pictorialism, Puyo found himself the President of the photographic French Salon in Paris until 1926, then he retired back to Morlaix.  He continued to photograph, sending work to a exhibition in Chicago in the summer of 1933, entitled 'A Century of Progress'.  He became ill shortly afterwards and died in the autumn of the same year.  His grave can be found in the graveyard at Saint Martin des Champs, near Morlaix, beside Édouard and Tristan Corbière.  

Sleep (1897)

If you fancy seeing more of Constant Puyo's work, then, quite rightly, the museum in his home town has a wonderful collection. I'll see you on the ferry....

Friday, 7 August 2020

Coming Soon - Light and Love...

We're a month away from the launch of my new book Light and Love and so I thought I'd tell you about it.  Also, I have a very special offer from my publisher. Anyway, here's my lovely new book...

Light and Love: The Extraordinary Developments of Julia Margaret ...

As you can see it's called Light and Love: The Extraordinary Developments of Julia Margaret Cameron and Mary Hillier and it is a biography of a relationship.  I wanted to write something about both Mary and Julia for a few years now but when I started to write about them I realised what I wanted to explore was how each woman influenced and affected the other, and how the result of that relationship was the wonderful photographs by Julia of Mary.  So, this is the journey of a friendship and how the relationship between two people can create extraordinary works of art.

Julia Margaret Cameron - Maud [Mary Hillier], 1875 | Flickr
Maud (1875) Julia Margaret Cameron

The book is in three parts, much like the stages of wet collodion photography.  The first part of the book is like the preparation of the glass plate, and all the things that need to happen in order to be ready to create something amazing.  I have written about Julia's journey towards becoming a photographer, her upbringing in India and travels to Africa and Europe.  I find her choice of friends fascinating, how she purposefully befriends educated men who helped her become more than just a colonial wife and hostess. Julia's path goes far beyond what is expected of her and is inspiring. I love how people found her baffling, adorable, infuriating and overwhelming in equal measures.  She is also a woman who does not hide her emotions, especially about those she loves.  In an era when women were meant to keep everything in check, her flurries of love and enthusiasm are astonishing and touching.

JULIA MARGARET CAMERON (1815–1879) | Mary of Bethany (Mary Hillier ...
Mary of Bethany (1865) Julia Margaret Cameron

Part two reflects the taking of the image, the patience and chance at play in capturing a picture on your glass plate.  In this part, Mary and Julia begin their journey in photography.  Through Mary, Julia was able to find her ideal and express her notions of beauty, piety and harmony.  Through Julia, Mary was able to learn the science of photography and become a celebrity who met princes and poets. The relationship between one woman who had travelled the world and the other, over thirty years younger, who had only known one rural village, brings the most incredible images that still move and electrify us today.  This duality appears in memoirs of their contemporaries and I was surprised to read accounts that talk not only of Julia but of her muse and the strange thrill of seeing this 'angel' serving up the dinner at Dimbola Lodge.

JULIA MARGARET CAMERON (1815-1879) | 2nd Version of Study after ...
Study after the Elgin Marbles (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron

Part three follows Mary after the departure of Julia to Ceylon.  How does a former muse deal with life after the departure of the artist they inspired?  I have often wondered about the lives of the models I research.  It's hard to think how much the process of art changes your expectations of life, and how the existence of the immortal 'you' changes how others act around you.  Also, I have written about Mary's family, her children and her expectations for them which I believe were changed by her experiences at Dimbola.  Whether or not she got her wishes, you'll have to read to find out.

Dominic Winter on Twitter: "The Dream, 1869 A fine and signed ...
The Dream (1869) Julia Margaret Cameron

This book is the result of many years of research, archives, meeting people, looking at photographs, taking photographs, breathing in chemicals and reading more books than I can remember.  It's also been an exploration of what relationships mean to us, what they bring in terms of inspiration, both in life and art.  If lockdown has taught me anything, it is that relationships with people that inspire you are vital to existence.  I can't wait for you to read my new book and discover this remarkable relationship for yourselves.  To that end, the smashing people at Unicorn have a special offer for you.  If you preorder Light and Love with them from now until 9 September you can have a signed copy for an extra-special price...

Everyone deserves a bit of light and a whole lot of love right now, so visit Unicorn and use the code 'LIGHT' to get it for a tenner.

Thanks as always go to the wonderful team at Unicorn for making this such a beautiful book and I look forward sharing it with you.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Review: Barely Clare - The Little-Known Life of Clare Mackail

You might have guessed by now I love to research the lives of little-known women and equally love to read about other people's work to uncover the lives of those who have been neglected by historians.  Often the story of the search is as fascinating as what is uncovered.  That was absolutely the case with Nigel Daly's The Lost Pre-Raphaelite and I have the delight in recommending a new book to you today that delivers just such a dual narrative - Barely Clare: The Little-Known Life of Clare Mackail by Tim McGee...

For those that don't know (and I think a major point of the book is that people just don't know), Clare Mackail was the granddaughter of Edward Burne-Jones, and daughter of Margaret Burne-Jones.  She was the third child, listed normally as sister of Angela Thirkell (popular novelist with her own Wikipedia page) and Denis Mackail (popular novelist with his own Wikipedia page).  Clare has not got her own Wikipedia page and in fact, you might not know she even existed while reading theirs.

Georgiana Burne-Jones and Clare Mackail (c.1900) Emery Walker
I really loved this book for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, it's easy to read and an absolute joy.  I read it in one sitting because you are being told a story and you really care about what happens.  Also, that story is brilliantly set up with the premise that everyone thinks Clare had a boring life or is surprised that she even existed.  It's the sort of set up you know will be merrily knocked down by the end. Also, the text is interspersed with what other biographers have said about Clare, if they have bothered to mention her at all.  It's not good.  One even refers to her as 'simple'.  Lawks.

Clare Mackail obviously did not have an extraordinary life, well maybe not 'obviously' as it is possible for a woman of enormous talent and accomplishment to be utterly overlooked, but what she managed to achieve (or at least what Tim found, more may yet come to light) is still extremely interesting.  I especially loved her involvement with the Holst family and the performance of his music.  Also, the sections about Ralph Vaughan Williams are fascinating.  She moved in important circles and was involved in British music to a level that should get a mention when histories are being written.  Her turn to spiritualism and alternative worship is also a genuinely enthralling side of the Second World War that I have never considered or really been aware of and now feel I want to know more. That's the mark of a great book as far as I'm concerned.

The Thirkell children, l-r Clare, Denis and Angela

The problem with researching little-known women is that there can often be little known, which sounds obvious but people only tend to remember or note down what (or who) they consider to be important.  Tim has done a brilliant job finding the threads and creating a picture of a life with them.  The story of his own travels and discoveries is marvellous - I especially loved his journey to find the house Clare lived in, which not only tells you about the place and the house, but everything you need to know about the author, who is exactly the sort of person you'd want to go on an adventure to find a lost house with.

Even if we weren't all in lockdown, you definitely would have time to read this, and as we are all in need of smashing things to read right now, I have no hesitation in recommending this joyous little book to you.  It won't break the bank, it will tell you loads of things you will not have known before and will add extra layers to things you do know. I'm sure you can get the book through your normal channels but here are the links to Amazon UK and USA as well.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Olive Allen

I can't afford to buy the art I would like to have hanging on my wall.  I can, of course buy prints of it, but it's not quite the same, is it?  However, I indulge my love of art in a medium which is a little closer to some artists' intentions, that is through book illustrations.  As discussed in my previous post about lovely Percy Bulcock, there are oodles of wonderful artists who illustrated poetry, and today's post is about another one of them, the redoubtable Olive Allen...

The Lovely Olive Allen...
Olive was born in Lancashire in the autumn of 1879.  Her father, George Lupton Allen, was a Wesleyan minister, who had married Mary Jane Pethybridge in the late 1860s.  Little Olive was the youngest of the brood, which included three sisters and three brothers.  While her father was preaching (whenever I think of that I picture a scene from Cold Comfort Farm, where Amos goes preaching out the back of a Ford van to the Quivering Brethren), the family moved around, but finally, after George's retirement, the family settled back in Mary's native Cornwall.  It was there that the family lived in Denheved School in Launceston, in a house called North Hall.  There appears to be a North Hall Court in Launceston still, in Denheved Road, so I'm guessing that is the same building, split into smaller residences. The mother was the Principal of the girls' school and Olive's sister Margaret was a teacher.

From Tanglewood Tales (1908)

Olive was rather keen on art from an early age and wrote to James Whistler for an autograph for her scrapbook (which he duly supplied).  According to sources on the internet, her scrapbook with its many autographs, pictures and poems is still in the family.  How marvellous!

Pandora (1920s)
Olive didn't fancy going into what seems to have amounted to the family business of teaching or preaching, so took herself off to art school.  First of all she went back up north, to Liverpool School of Art and Architecture, where she was taught by James Herbert McNair and his magnificent moustache...

Well, hello there, James Herbert McNair
 McNair had been best friends with Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who I must admit I mistook him for when I first saw the picture, but just to prove they were separate people, here's a picture of them together...

McNair is definitely the one with the moustache and the floppy bow...
McNair had married fellow artist Frances Macdonald (sister of Margaret, who married Mackintosh) and moved to Liverpool from his native Glasgow to work and teach.  His art is rather splendid...

From there, Olive travelled back down south, studying first at Lambeth and then at the Slade School of Art, where she was taught by the formidable Henry Tonks.  Olive was just one of the countless famous artist who had all fallen under Tonks' 'hooded eye' (according to another pupil, Paul Nash).  I love Nash's descriptions of Tonks, who sounds terrifying, and so sarcastic and derisive that the novelist F M Mayor's sister quit before she could complete her course. Olive very sensibly didn't quit but apparently drew a rude cartoon of Tonks, which is always the best plan for dealing with people.

Olive was at the Slade until 1903, but started to work as an illustrator from 1901 in magazines, children's books and annuals.  In the 1901 census, she is staying down with her sister Margaret, the teacher in Launceston, probably for the Easter holidays.  Olive's books are available to buy second hand and my own interest in Olive came when I bought her illustrated Sons of Innocence by William Blake, published in 1906.  The publisher was TC&EC Jack of London and Edinburgh, for whom Olive illustrated many projects.  How could you not fall in love with images like these...

Frontispiece of Songs of Innocence

That last one is obviously a social distancing nightmare and I shouldn't have to remind you all that no-one should be encouraging little lambs to lick anyone's white neck right now.

Anyway, Olive returned back to the school in Cornwall, now managed by her sister while she made a living as a 'painter' (as she is listed in the 1911 census).  Somehow, around this time, she met John Biller.  As her work was mostly in London, it is most likely she met him in the big city rather than the west country because Mr Biller had a rather more adventurous life than a private school in Cornwall.  He had been born in 1877 in London, the son of a prosperous wine merchant.  When John was 10, his father had died, leaving his mother with four young children to care for.  A hint of what lay ahead is in the last census that John's father appears in - a guest in their house is John's uncle who had emigrated to America.  As soon as he was old enough to do so, John emigrated to Canada, around the same time as Olive was at art school, but he obviously made frequent visits back to England, where he met and married Olive in 1912.  Olive returned with him to Canada to start their new life.  Their son John Trebarfoot Biller was born on Valentine's Day in 1914.  However, their happiness was not to be long-lived.

Simple Susan (1925)
 John joined the First Canadian Mounted Rifles (Saskatchewan Regiment), shipped off to France, and it seems that Olive had returned back to England, possibly as a way of being closer to him. Staying with family meant that if John had leave, she had the chance to see him.  She found herself pregnant again in 1916, just as her husband found himself in Ypres.

The First World War being what it was, John died.  On his 'Circumstances of Casualty' card it records his death as being in Sanctuary Wood in Ypres in June 1916.  He had been reported missing in action but his comrades made statements to the effect that John had been on duty, when the enemy entered the trench.  Despite the attack being repelled, John was killed by a shell.  Not to put too finer point on it, shells falling and being missing often do amount to the same thing.  War is just horrible.

Tanglewood Tales (1908)
 Olive returned to Canada with her children and moved the family to James Island in British Columbia.  In the 1921 census, Olive is not listed as an artist but as a stenographer, hinting that she broadened her work to support her young family as a war widow.  However, a move to Victoria in the late 1920s saw her flourish again as an artist in the burgeoning Arts and Crafts scene.  She worked until her death in October 1957 and has subsequently become known as a Canadian artist and illustrator.  It is a joy to find that the books she illustrated are available to buy via sites such as Abebooks (who own me, the amount of time and effort I spend on their site) and so you too can own a little piece of heaven, thanks to Olive.

There is a wonderful resource on Olive here and it is good to know that much useful research is being done into Olive's life so she, unlike Percy Bulcock, will not slip into anonymity.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Book Review: Nelly Erichsen, A Hidden Life

Well, here we are, all on lock-down and so there is no better time to get some reading done.  With this in mind, here is a review of a new biography sent to me recently.  You've probably not heard of the subject, and she is definitely worth our attention.  Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce you to Nelly Erichsen, A Hidden Life...

Nelly's life actually reminded me of a few other of my favourite Victorian artists, and it was interesting to see how her life and experiences differed and where her life took her, for better and worse.

Her father was an ambitious Scandinavian named Hermann Gustav Ericksen who came over from Denmark in 1848.  He settled in Newcastle Upon Tyne, in Byker (home of the lovely Grove).  As a motivated and talented young man, he was soon involved in the new business of telegraph and was involved in the laying of cables between Northumberland and Denmark.  In 1854 he married Ane (or Anna as she was known) who was from the wealthy Danish 'Suhr' family.  Their family swiftly grew...

The Ericksen family, with Nelly sat next to her mother on the bench
Nelly was the fourth child, and third daughter, born  in 1862.  When she was 8, Hermann had the opportunity to move to London and so the family relocated to Tooting in South London to one of the leafy suburbs that the middle-classes flocked to in the ever-increasing capital.  Although she was home educated, like all good middle-class daughters, Nelly showed an aptitude and enthusiasm for art.  In 1880, Nelly gained entry to the Royal Academy school.  This reminded me very much of Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, who had to wait until she had grown-up before getting the chance of education in an institution.  I wonder how this affected these girls who had led quite sheltered, but perversely focused experience of education to suddenly be part of a class, not the sole focus of a teachers attention.

Golden Hair (no date)
In 1883, Nelly was one of the 64 signers of a letter in protest that the Royal Academy did not allow young ladies to attend life classes.  Despite this inequality, Nelly did rather well at the RA, winning a silver medal for a 'Drawing of a Head from Life'.  She was the only female prize winner in 1884 out of 18, which draws attention to how the lack of parity in the system at that time impacted the women's chance to advance.

 A Hard Day's Labour (no date)
I particularly enjoyed the chapter covering the 'extra woman' problem of the 1890s, when it was noted (by the sort of people who worry about these sorts of things) that there were more women than men.  I was relieved to hear that although this sort of thing is very concerning, the male brain is 5oz heavier than the female brain, therefore there was actually more man-brain than woman-brain, by the pound.  Reason would therefore prevail. Well, thank goodness for that!  However, it did mean that it was not a certainty that your lovely middle-class daughter was guaranteed a husband, so you had better educate her because no man would be along to take her off your hands...

The Old Synagogue from The Story of Prague (1907) Count Lutzow
Luckily, Nelly was  rather talented and resourceful, so rather like Brickdale, she turned her hand to book illustration, such as the above image from The Story of Prague (1907), starting with We Four (1881) by Mrs Reginald Bray.  Nelly travelled in Europe and continued to exhibit widely with Royal Society of British Artists and the Society of Women Artists.

Going Home (no date)
A very enjoyable section was about Nelly's interactions with George Bernard Shaw.  He was a tad git-weasel-ish on the whole, whatever you think of his writing.  It seems that while he was not getting married to May Morris, he was also not getting married to one of Nelly's friends, Bertha Newcombe, whilst pursuing Nelly.  Nelly, being smart to his sort, made sure she had a friend over whenever Shaw invited himself round for tea, much to Shaw's dismay.  Really, when I get my time machine, GBS's name has been added to the list of people who I need to visit and have a bit of a chat with.  For heaven's sake.

The Magic Crystal (no date)
The biography is stuffed full of lovely images which is brilliant as it is hard to find illustrations of Nelly's work online, certainly not of the same quality as appear in A Hidden Life.  Nelly's art has a lot in common with both Pre-Raphaelite works, in such pieces as The Magic Crystal, and a sort of realist/idealist rural school in works like The Orchard...

The Orchard (no date)
Sadly Nelly did not have the long and successful life she possibly deserved.  Remaining unmarried meant she continued to work, unfettered by a husband, but the First World War intervened and she travelled with friends to help refugees in Bagni di Lucca in Italy, establishing a school for children displaced by war.  When the Spanish flu hit the region in 1918, Nelly was one of the casualties, just as the Armistice was called. She died at only 55 years old.

This is a charming book, full of detail and interest.  Nelly's story is fascinating and typical in part of many of the young women of her age, educated and independent, in a fast-changing world.  She was not only a thoroughly modern woman, but responsible for some interesting images of these bright and brave young ladies, taking on the expectations of society and achieving so much.

Nelly Erichsen, A Hidden Life by Sarah Harkness is available now from Encanta Publishing, from Amazon (UK) and selected bookshops.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

The Brief, Bright Star of Percy Bulcock

Today's post is about a new obsession of mine, the new man in my life.  It's not often I end up writing about men, but I've absolutely fallen in love with today's subject and he has a marvellously tragic life so here we go.  Say hello to the wonderful Percy Bulcock...

 When Percy Bulcock died in 1914 (sorry, spoiler alert), the local newspapers chorused their desperate sadness of the loss of such a bright and promising young man. He was called ‘exceptionally gifted’ by the Burnley Express, a man whose work was characterised by its ‘perfect neatness’. Even though he was barely at the end of his own studies, he had managed to create a wealth of beautiful art and inspire his students, for whom he was ‘held in esteem both for his personal and his artistic qualities’.  To Percy, a man renowned for his modesty, that fact he has been lost in time would have possibly seemed only right, but it is time that his Pre-Raphaelite inspired art is celebrated once more and that Percy Bulcock assumes his position as one of the most beautiful illustrators of the early twentieth century. Behold the majesty of his work...

Illustration from A Dream of Fair Women (1902)
 He was born the second son of John Bulcock from Burnley in Lancashire.  Despite a humble background in farming, John Bulcock had gained an apprenticeship to a printer and developed a love of the classics and astronomy. Like his elder brother Charles, Percy dreamed of becoming an artist.  The family were not privileged and there were many little Bulcocks to support, so Percy and Charles attended their local school, moving on to the Burnley School of Art, which was run in connection with the Mechanics Institute.  He was remembered as an artist in his soul, even as a boy, with talent flowing to his fingertips.  Whilst there, it was this talent and sheer hard work that brought in a fair amount of prize money, including several Queen’s Prizes and gold medals for high marks .  Finally in 1898 he was awarded a scholarship for a total of 8 years at the Royal Academy of Art in London, a far cry from Burnley and its cotton mills, where Percy’s siblings worked.

Design for Armorial Stained Glass Window, Old Bailey, London (1902-6)

It was in London that Percy was taught by Professor Gerald Edward Moira, a famous muralist, and Percy arrived just at the moment Professor Moira needed a talented lad to assist with the decoration of some of London’s best known and prestigious buildings.  

Ceiling Decoration in the Board Room , Lloyd's Register, London (1900)
In 1900 they painted ceiling murals in the Board Room of the Lloyd’s Register new building in Fenchurch Street, London.  A year later, they painted murals on the ceiling of the United Kingdom Temperance and General Provident Institution offices.  Possibly Percy’s most impressive work could be seen in the lunettes at the Central Criminal Court, better known as the Old Bailey.   

Justice, Lunette in the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey), London (1902-6)
The current building, with the golden figure of Justice on the dome, was decorated throughout by Moira and Percy with both murals and stained glass, which was then opened by King Edward VII in 1907.

During this time Percy also cultivated his exquisite illustration style.  Aged only 22, Percy provided a delicate frontispiece for Kathleen Haydn Green’s Twelve Allegories (1901).  The popularity of this led to further commissions from the young art student. Channeling the spirit of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his contribution to the ‘Flowers of Parnassus’ series of poetry books were moody, pouting maidens with great swirls of hair.   

A Dream of Fair Women (1902)

A Dream of Fair Women (1902)
A Dream of Fair Women (1902)

Firstly in 1902, he illustrated Alfred Lord Tennyson’s A Dream of Fair Women, followed by 1904’s The Blessed Damozel where Percy’s illustrations conjured Jane Morris in all her sorrowful, dark-eyed glory.

The Blessed Damozel (1904)
The Blessed Damozel (1904)
The Blessed Damozel (1904)
In 1907, Percy returned to Burnley, wishing not only to settle down but also to inspire a generation of young men like himself to produce great art.  He married Dinah Isabella Benson, a servant for a manufacturer of cotton bobbins used in the mills.  The couple settled in Aigburth, a suburb of Liverpool, where Percy became Design Master at the Liverpool Art School, where many years later John Lennon would attend.   

The New Year (c.1901)
Their house, a small, mid-terrace red-brick family home, had wide bay windows and attractive fireplaces, perfect for the couple’s young son, John, born in the June of 1911.  Percy, driven to work hard to provide for his young family, won a Daily Mail competition to design a medal for the 1911 Colonial Exhibition, and took on commissions for banners for the Pageant of Liverpool.  He also won a trophy for designing a stained-glass window for Pittsburgh,  He also continued to sell his art, all while teaching.

Cyril Goldie, Scholar and Deer (no date)
His ambition as an artist never made him turn his back on inspiring young artists and designers.  In early 1914 he decided to move his family to the south coast of England when he applied to become the headmaster of the Hastings School of Art.  An extremely rainy March, even by English standards, had led to a chilly April and Percy developed the flu which within a week became full pneumonia and he died, aged only 36.   

Knight illustration from the Pall Mall Magazine (1901)
His sudden and tragic death hit the local art scene hard.  In the outpourings of grief in the local newspaper, it was felt that with the loss of this blessed son of Burnley had gone beautiful art and a great example to any young man born in the humble industrial mill town in the north of England.  As the Burnley Express wrote in his obituary Percy showed what could be accomplished by a ‘Burnley lad’ who was ‘full of grit and determination’.  The Liverpool Academy exhibition in June 1914, the Lord Mayor opened a special room showing a collection of 70 of Percy’s tempera, watercolour and etching work.   

Ganymede (1909)
This moved to the Townley Museum in Burnley, in the Mechanic’s Institute which had been so instrumental in Percy’s first steps as an artist.  The works were offered for sale in order to support newly widowed Dinah and baby John, who must have been comforted by the warm words in the press about Percy.   

The people of Burnley should be proud, the Burnley Express declared, that they produced such a man who at only 36 was capable of such a versatile and talented man – ‘only thirty-six years of age; he must have been a genius’.