Tuesday 30 October 2012

Hoylandswaine - A Work in Progress

You know how much I love to hear from you lot, so if you ever have any news, projects or just fancy a chat I can be contacted on stonellwalker@googlemail.com.  Imagine my delight to find an email from a nice chap called Simon who brought my attention to a wonderful project that is going on in a village in South Yorkshire called Hoylandswaine...

Church of St John the Evangelist, Hoylandswaine
Here we have the very picturesque church of St John, built in 1867 and overlooking the gorgeous valleys towards Cawthorne (I have a very soft spot for Yorkshire as it was where I first lived with Mr Walker, in Wakefield).  The church was consecrated on 30th July 1868 and inside, on the east wall was a beautiful mural by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, the artist responsible for Thoughts of the Past and Robin of Modern Times, two of my favourites that have been featured here before...

Robin of Modern Times
Thoughts of the Past
The mural depicted the Ascendency of Christ and complemented the (probably) Burne-Jones stained glass window which was made by Morris and Co.  The window was given by the Spencer Stanhope family in memory of Louisa (John's sister) who died in 1867.  So far, so lovely.  Here it is in its glory...

Isn't it astonishing?  The shrewd ones among you will be slightly nervous that I'm showing this image in sepia, and you'd be right because in 1961, due to an issue with damp, there was a spot of redecoration...

Rats.  That's a lovely shade of cream.  Despair not, Gentle Readers, as the good people of Hoylandswaine, together with art historian and Spencer Stanhope expert Simon Poë (who you may remember from my piece last year on Robin of Modern Times) have started work on uncovering the mural and restoring it to its former glory...

Beginning the slow uncovering and conservation
The chalk outline you can see in the above image is the outline of the mural, sketched by a conservator using a UV or infrared lamp or whatever clever tool is used in such circumstances, and the blue paint is the first layer off, with the mural peeking out in the layer below.

They are not working completely blind, as it were, as Christ Church on the Isle of Dogs has a similar mural, painted in 1914 by Frederick Hamilton Jackson from a design by Spencer Stanhope.

Christ Church, Isle of Dogs
I think you will all agree that this is a marvellous project that I can't wait to know more about and see the progress of the work.  Can you imagine how astonishing it will look when it is finished?  You will be delighted to hear that they have been given a Heritage Lottery Grant to do the work and they are hoping that the work will be done by 2014.  In support of their mammoth task, they have set up Hoylandswaine Arts which lists activities and projects surrounding the restoration work.  Imagine, there is a village that has embraced Victorian art.  Why am I not living there?!

Here is a link to a piece in the Yorkshire Post about the project, complete with video.

Further to all this they are also hoping to design a new stained glass window to compliment the Morris and Co window, and it will be designed in the Arts and Craft style.

This is one of the most exciting Victorian art projects I have heard about for ages and I look forward to updating you with its progress over the course of the project.  Good luck to the fair folk of Hoylandswaine and I look forward to travelling up to see you at some point!

Sunday 28 October 2012

Love and Death in Birmingham

Yesterday I had the jolly good fortune to find myself in Birmingham for the Pre-Raphaelite Society's Annual General Meeting, which is always a lovely opportunity to catch up with everyone and listen to a lecture, plus talk about Pre-Raphaelite art.  I love it, and everyone is always so friendly and enthusiastic it's a definite highlight of my Pre-Raphaelite year.

A rather splendid coincidence is that Birmingham is also home to a new exhibition entitled 'Love and Death: Victorian Paintings from Tate'.  Well, while I was in Birmingham, I think it was inevitable that I would end up in the Museum and Art Gallery.  I have to admit it is one of my favourite collections anywhere, having an awful lot of material pertaining to Fanny Cornforth, and so toppling through the doors of the BMAG is never a hardship, but it's always nice if there is an added reason for a visit.  Plus, look what the headline image is...

The Lady of Shalott (1888) J W Waterhouse
I admit to having very high hopes, not least because this exhibition shares its name with one of my favourite exhibitions of recent years...

Brilliant exhibition from New South Wales, Australia

It might be a bit stereotypical to think of the Victorians as being obsessed with love and death, but it is the subject of some of the most outstanding works of the nineteenth century.  I'm sure each one of us could make a mental pick-list of what we would put in our own exhibition on these themes, especially when combining works from the Tate and Birmingham.

The exhibition is only two rooms and has no catalogue or booklet, but it is free of charge (as is the rest of the museum's galleries) so any comments I make in this review have to be backdropped by the fact that any chance to see these works is a privilege and to see them free is a joy.  I can never see The Lady of Shalott enough, it is astonishing in person and I never grow used to how beautiful she is in her lovely boat, with those  swooping birds and guttering candles.  Anyway, Room One....

Lieder Ohne Worte (1860-1)  Frederic, Lord Leighton
The first room is concerned with visions of classical, aesthetic beauty.  Here you can see that drape-y triumvirate of Moore, Alma-Tadema and Leighton with classical lady after classical lady.  All of them are amazing and a good many of them are without subject, like Leighton's painting above, with its apt title 'Songs without words'.  I do like a bit of Moore, so it was lovely to see these two...

The Dreamers Albert Moore
Sapphires (1877) Albert Moore
 All very splendid, but I think the highlight of the room has to be Alma-Tadema's Phidias Showing the Frieze of the Parthenon to His Friends...

Phidias Showing the Frieze...(1868) Lawrence Alma-Tadema
The light effect on this work is astonishing, with the casting of shadows from the light warming the floor below, just seen.  The realistic depiction of the draped men, viewing the painted marble is breath-taking and I spent a goodly amount of time just staring at it, especially those two on the left.  Look how the strange light angle dazzles on their robes.  It seems a little odd to get so excited about someone's back, but the hands clasped behind the man on the right of the pair are perfect.

Other highlights are sketches by Walter Crane and Frederick Sandys, and a study by Charles Perugini, and other beautiful oils on the theme of classical beauty and ancient Greece and Rome.  And so to the second room....

Medea (1868) Frederick Sandys
The second room is much bigger, which is handy should you need to swoon with the loveliness of it all.  You stand less chance of smashing your head on anything.  The first few images are of sorceresses, including Medea and Morgan Le Fay by Frederick Sandys, and The Magic Circle by J W Waterhouse.  Also on display is a little sculpture, Circe by Edgar Mackennal...

Circe (1902-6) Edgar Mackennal
 You will know that since visiting the Tate's new exhibition I have become a little obsessed with Victorian sculpture and so I was delighted to see not only this one, but also a case containing three rather delicious gentlemen, Alfred Gilbert's Icarus and Perseus Arming and Leighton's Nude-y Athlete Gratuitously Grappling with a Python, You Know What They Say About A Man With A Big Python.  I spent a bit of time considering how important they were to art, if you know what I mean.

Anyhow, enough about my odd fixation on marble-y men.  The lefthand wall is dominated by the main event, The Lady of Shalott but beside it is a collection of other images to do with the poem, including this treat, by Arthur Joseph Gaskin...

'I am Half Sick of Shadows...'  (1888) Arthur Joseph Gaskin
I don't know a lot about Gaskin, but I want to know more now as this little drawing was exquisite, and the crowd of figures passing by the window as The Lady looks away were so detailed and fine.  Moving on from The Lady of Shalott (try explaining that to a six year old - 'She's going to die' 'Why?' 'Because she's doomed,' 'Why?' 'Because she looked out of her window,' 'But that's silly...' 'Well, yes....') they also have Saint Eulalia by Waterhouse which is a miracle in perspective (I've never gotten my head around foreshortening and all that stuff, but it's very effective) and huge and next door is G F Watts' The All-Pervading...

The All-Pervading G F Watts
This begins a run of pictures very obviously reflecting the title of the exhibition, including the autobiographical Love Locked Out by Anna Lea Merritt (painted after her husband died and showing a personification of her love shut out of her husband's tomb) and one of my favourites, Sydney Meteyard's Hope Comforting Love in Bondage...

Hope Comforting Love in Bondage (1901) Sydney Meteyard
This is a gorgeous picture which I was delighted to see in person as the colours are so fresh and clean.  Despite the facial expressions being a bit bland the figures are delicious and Love's wings are amazing.  Talking of wings, look at the wings on this...

The Lament for Icarus Herbert Draper
I almost don't notice the rather nice bottom on the lady in the lower part of the picture because I am too busy looking at the size of Icarus' wings.  They are enormous and look so billowy and soft.  Goodness, I'd lament him too.  This is such a beautiful image and I don't think any illustrations do it justice as they tend to make it look rather too sepia and washed out when rather the pale feathers are echoed in the pearly skin of the ladies cradling the stunning form of Icarus.

Go on, go to Brum and see gorgeous Icarus for free!  However I have a couple of points I'd like to raise - I think possibly BMAG have been rather too shrewd in their marketing of Love and Death, when actually the exhibition encompasses 'the Victorian fascination with re-imagining life in ancient Greece and Rome, from lovers' flirtations to dramatic martyrdom.'  There is a real disconnect between the first and second room, and starting in a room of aestheticism, paintings without subject, is a bit difficult to tie the theme of love and death to it.  What does Sapphires have to do with flirtation and martyrdom?  And what does The Lady of Shalott have to do with ancient Greece and Rome?  The exhibition examines 'universal themes of love, beauty and tragedy' but then that covers a lot of eventualities, and I think those themes could be applied to pretty much any picture you care to mention.  If you hang the pictures together with a notion of 'love' and 'tragedy' then how do you explain Phidias Showing the Frieze?  It's like you are watching one programme on telly only to flip over to Grand Designs by accident (thank you Mr Walker for pointing that out).  The only way to tie Phidias to tragedy is to say that hundreds of years later the Frieze would be subject to some dodgy conservation at the hands of the British Museum, but I feel that might be stretching the point a bit.

In a way it would have been enough to give the opportunity to see the major works from the Tate in a regional museum without having to tie it to a theme.  Looking at the BMAG collection online, there are many other pictures they could have chosen to make the point of their exhibition.  The theme hangs well with the major images of The Lady of Shalott and The Lament for Icarus but marrying them to something like The Dreamers is always going to be an uphill struggle.  However, as it is free and the art works are jolly I am feeling forgiving and grateful so I would encourage anyone to make the journey to Birmingham, not least because you can couple the visit with seeing the rest of the nineteenth century stuff and see the new history of Birmingham galleries, which are amazing.

And I bought a hairband with the Lady of Shalott on it from the gift shop. Marvellous!

'Love and Death: Victorian Paintings from Tate' runs from 8th September to 13 January 2013 and further details can be found at www.bmag.org.uk.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Breaking the Silence

Ladies and Gentlemen, last night I met Jan Marsh.  Her books are the reason I got into this crazy business that we call Pre-Raphaelite Social Art History, and I would just like to recommend the following books to anyone who wants a gorgeous overview of the Pre-Raphaelite women...

I have all of these and Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood especially is invaluable in the depth of research and the amount of detail given about the lives of the models and muses of our beloved artists.  If you want a book of pictures of each of the models (both photos and the paintings) you can't go wrong with Pre-Raphaelite Women, it's where I started my research all those years ago.  Her works on Elizabeth Siddal and Jane Morris are flawless and inspiring, which leads me to the point of this post...

The reason I met Jan Marsh last night was I was fortunate enough to attend the book launch for The Collected Letters of Jane Morris at the Society of Antiquaries (which is next door to the Royal Academy) in swanky London town.  I know you are never meant to meet your heroes, but I was glad I met Jan because she was wonderful, even when I rather over-enthusiastically hugged her, but it's her own fault for being splendid.  I stand by my right to hug anyone I think is brilliant, so you have been warned.

Anyhow, the price of this collection is a little prohibitive to anyone not fortunate enough to be given a review copy, but that's what Libraries are for, so I would recommend you order it as soon as you can and I shall tell you why...

The Pilgrims of Sienna (1881) Jane Morris is seated centre back
Jane Morris is not my favourite stunner.  This will come as a surprise to no-one, and a large part of my problem with her is that she says nothing.  Her best known feature is her gloomy silence, her brooding unknowable presence, at worst portrayed as a dementor, sucking the happiness and life from those she touches.  Yes, yes, I'm being harsh, but look at Rossetti's images of her, they are hardly life-affirming and jolly are they?  So poor Jane, much the same as Fanny and Lizzie, became a cartoon version of herself, the moody one, as opposed to the suicidal one or the tarty one.  The joy of this collection is that she talks.  And talks.  And talks.  About anything and everything.  She talks about books, art, business, the weather, her health (a lot) and her family.  If you consider she started life as a stablehand's daughter, the level to which she was educated after meeting William Morris is astonishing.  Jane is astonishing, in all ways, some of then good, some of them not so much.

Jane Morris  c.1900
On the plus side, she is clever and her thoughts on books and art are always interesting.  She recommends books to Rossetti, she passes judgement on the art of their friends and she talks with authority and confidence.  She has a sense of humour which is quite self-depreciating, and you get the impression that she found the notion that people found her appearance beautiful to be puzzling.  She shows great affection for her friends that she writes to, and her family which she writes about.  The anguish she expresses at the time of Rossetti's illnesses and death is terrible, but the shock and trauma she suffers at the death of her husband is an moving counterpoint to the received wisdom that she and William were not close.

Jane in the hammock, with May beside her and Jenny far right.
Less positive is that in some of the letters, Jane is rather scathing and cruel about people they knew.  She writes to Rossetti that Fairfax Murray's child died because his wife was not able to care for children, but never mind because they can always have more.  She is rather mocking of Burne-Jones and his career.  However, it must be taken in to consideration that she was writing to a close friend and the letters were never meant for public consumption, and which of us has never expressed a rather bitchy comment at the expense of another?  Imagine having all those comments written down and published.  Yikes.

The book is split into sections, each with a bit of biographical detail prefacing it, and each letter has relevant footnotes explaining who people were and why Jane knew them.  Dotted throughout the text are black and white photographs and images of the people involved in the letters, which is really helpful, but crowning it all are the gorgeous colour plates, showing some images that I'd never seen before of not only Jane but also May and Jenny.

May and Jenny at Naworth Castle (1860s) John James Howard
Does the book make me like Jane more?  Difficult to say, but I do feel like I can approach her with more understanding, which is achievement indeed considering the silence that surrounded her until now.

And I met Jan Marsh.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Who's the Daddy?

It is very easy when studying the Victorians to think that they are all bonkers.  There is always an element of self-congratulation in studying history, I'm sorry but it's true.  There is always a tiny hint of looking at Victorians and feeling all smug because your husband doesn't become uncontrollably aroused by the sight of a piano leg. Silly Victorians!  Let's see how stupid they are!  Look, they are confused by Evolution!  Their underclothes are hazardous to their own health!  They act all innocent yet have dodgy sexual tastes!  My goodness, they could be on a reality television show.  I'd watch it as long as it didn't clash with The Great British Bake Off.

However, I considered if we modern folk had any cultural concerns that the Victorians would have found odd.  Discounting things like modern technology and things brought forward by modern culture, was there anything that should have been a concern for the Victorians, yet judging by their art wasn't?

This image is especially for Claire Tsang, for her help with this piece...
Now, this is one of those posts where I don't have a definitive answer as to exactly how much this is or isn't a Victorian concern, but one idle morning while flicking channels and eating brunch, I found myself watching some poor soul being told he wasn't the father of a child he had been raising (the mother had run off with the next gentleman on her list).  Awful.  Surely such a primal thing as paternity is a universal concern, surely it worried the Victorians as much as it seems to concern us today?

One of these children might not be his...
There is a staggering statistic that 1 in 5 children might not have been genetically fathered by the chap they call 'Dad' (and 'Dad' believed he was the father until his appearance on a morning talk-show).  Now, there are several very obvious reasons for assuming that the statistic would be much lower in Victorian times, but still the issue of 'the cuckoo in the nest' must still have reared its head.  Heaven knows, women were committing adultery wholesale, if art is anything to go by...

Past and Present (Oops, he found out!) Augustus Egg
If you look at Victorian art, women are falling left right and centre.  The woman in Augustus Egg's Past and Present triptych has literally fallen as well as metaphorically, and by the amount of toppling ladies in art and literature it's astonishing women got anything done, as they seem to have spent so much of the 19th century under a gentleman.  Hopefully you have been able to catch the new film adaptation of Anna Karenina, where naughty Anna plays away from home and gives birth to a baby, who ends up being cared for by her husband.  Likewise, we have the marvellous biography Mrs Robinson's Disgrace where a married woman commits adultery and records it in her diary which is then used against her.

On the Brink (Go on, you know you want to) (1865) Alfred Elmore
The Victorians were certainly not shy of showing domestic unrest, and not backward in showing women undermining the family dynamic through adultery, so why not show the rest?  The Victorians loved a bit of narrative art, surely they would love this piece of voyeuristic interest?  After all, they weren't afraid of showing what would happen if the husband had created children through adultery...

Retribution John Everett Millais
If you believe the most popular reading of Take Your Son Sir! by Ford Madox Brown, then this is a picture of a woman presenting a startled man with the results of his dalliance.  Like Retribution above, there is no shortage of men being caught out.  The artist William Powell Frith kept two households, one containing his wife and twelve children, the other containing his mistress and seven more little Frithlings.  He was only caught out when he was seen posting a letter in London when he was meant to be away.  Although the gentleman above seems utterly mortified to be shamed in front of his horrified wife, it is possible that such goings on carried with them a sense that it was understandable that gentlemen needed to have more than one woman on the go, because you know what little scallywags boys are.   Maybe the subconscious fear was that if you started showing images of men unknowingly raising children who are not theirs then it might give some people ideas...

The first question someone asked me when I said I was looking into this was 'How on earth would you show that in a picture?'  I think it would be very easy, and heaven knows more complicated narratives have been shown in Victorian images. You would just need to show a family group with one of the children looking very different from the rest - for example you could show a family having breakfast, all dark haired except the youngest son who is bright blonde, and the postman, delivering the letters with a devilish smile, is also blonde.  Heavens knows people were quick enough to humorously ask Mr Walker if he was sure he was Lily-Rose's father, due to the fact that she is so fair and we are dark-haired.  Those were complete strangers in supermarkets.  Charming.  Anyway, I digress, but there are no images that show this.  Why not?

The Paternity Suit Edward Villiers Rippingille
I think the above image give us a hint, as does the novel Wuthering Heights.  Look at the scene above, albeit from slightly before the Victorian period: doesn't it look rather formal and legal?  The moment a child is or isn't fathered by a man, all kinds of legal issues raise their heads.  In a time before DNA testing it would have been practically impossible to prove whether or not your son was actually yours, which is why I think it didn't loom as large in people's imagination as it seems to today.  After all, I'm guessing legally, once married, your children were yours whether or not you actually fathered them, as there was no proof to the contrary.  That's all well and good if you can live with it, and if there is nothing else at stake other than trust and pride.  In Wuthering Heights it is hinted (especially in modern interpretation) that Heathcliff is actually Mr Earnshaw's son, brought in to claim his rightful place, and that causes no end of trouble with Hindley.  The legal implications when the stakes are slightly higher than a horrible farm on a moor are somewhat more destructive.  Given the Victorian's love of history, they may have learnt a lesson from the Duke of Monmouth...

James Scott, Duke of Monmouth William Wissing
Like Heathcliff, Monmouth was the illegitimate son, this time of Charles II and his mistress Lucy Walter, and he wanted to take over the family business, in Monmouth's case, England.  This lost him his head and raised the problem that when illegitimacy raises its head then chaos ensues.  This is difficult enough to deal with when a woman comes forward with a child fathered by a 'respectable' man, as in Millais' Retribution, but imagine the devastation brought about a claim at the core of your family is a cuckoo, an heir not of your making.  Such a thing would be almost impossible to prove, and would split your family into fragments, ruining everyone including yourself. However, you might be passing on your money, your position, your place in society to someone who isn't your own blood.  I wonder if the Victorians never showed it because the whole idea was terrifying.

Well, back to daytime telly, and the vicarious pleasure of confrontational talk-shows.  If you think about it, for the Victorians, looking at narrative works like Past and Present, was just like their Jeremy Kyle, but with a lot less swearing.

Unless someone stood on your foot in the gallery.

Sunday 14 October 2012

I Want to Run Away With You, Your Caravan and Rabbit Stew

A little known fact about me is that I harbour a secret desire to run away in a gypsy caravan.  I long to have one of those rounded wagons with rose painted on it, while I swan about telling fortunes and making rabbit stew, with fringe-y scarves and lots of eyeliner...

Okay, maybe not the rabbit stew bit now I'm a vegetarian, but the fortune telling and fringe-y scarves would be fine.  It was an early obsession for me.  When I was a little girl, there was a television version of The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden, where the lead character was a little gypsy girl called Kizzy.  As I was about 3 at the time and couldn't pronouce 'Kirsty', I decided to call myself 'Kizzy' which family and friends who have known me for far too long still call me.

Anyway, my fascination with the entirely fictionalized gypsy lifestyle was shared by the Victorians, who loved to shove a gypsy into a painting to add a bit of excitement.  Yes, there will be nudity.  Let's get this caravan on the road!

A Gypsy Girl of Seville (1887) John Bagnold Burgess
The addition of the word 'gypsy' seems a little unnecessary, as there is very little that marks this rather beautiful young lady out as a gypsy.  Oh, hang on, fringed shawl, that'll be it.  Otherwise, she is a young Spanish woman, looking wistful against a wall.  The selling point to this otherwise unremarkable portrait is that she is a gypsy, so why would that be a selling point?

Princess Dreamy Eyes Francis Eastwood
Princess Dreamy Eyes?  I ask you. I may be casting aspersions, but something tells me that it isn't her real name.  Or maybe it is - one of my favourite Country Life's Deb of the Week has to be Miss Ida Bacon (please say it quickly - Miss Side of Bacon), so calling your daughter Princess Dreamy Eyes isn't out of the question.  Miss Princess seems to be wearing a lot of jingly coins and some big earrings, which are her gypsy markers, and so this is a rather attractive, exotic portrait of a lady...

Life on the Road Valentine Garland
Ah, not only did we have rather splendid images of some girls with big jewellery, but here we have actual caravans (sigh!) and two little dogs, showing a possibly more melancholic side of the traveler lifestyle.  There is no reason to believe these dogs are badly treated, they look well, healthy and clean, but there is something a little sad about them, as if the uncertainty of the travelling life holds no ultimate satisfaction for them.  Then again, Valentine Garland may have just nicked their portion of rabbit stew.

It's interesting how the notion of 'gypsy' is very feminine, certainly in art.  Sure, there are gentleman gypsies around but they only really appear in group scenes, and not very prominently....

The Gypsy Camp Harold Harvey
Horses play a big part in gypsy pictures, if they are not just pictures of pretty girls.  Above we have a pretty girl and a lovely horse.  After all, the horses are the means of the travelling.  Possibly there is a respect played to the animals in our fictional gypsy-related idyll, because they play such a vital role.  The horse pull the caravans, the dogs provide protection, they are seen as equal partners in this lifestyle.  For artists such as Lucy Kemp-Welch, who specialised in horses, the horse symbolised the wild dignity of the travelling folk.  Made a change from fridge-y scarves...

Gypsy Horses Lucy Kemp-Welch
There are actually a number of early twentieth century artists who seemed to have made a study of rather idealised images of gypsies, such as Laura Knight, Alfred Munnings and Augustus John, who seemed to watch to catch more non-judgemental social aspect of the lifestyle, both foreign and familiar, both beautiful and mundane.  Unlike this...

The Gypsy (1865) Thomas George Webster
Look out Missus!  There's some thieving gypsy coming to nick your kids/money/nice fisheye mirror.  I was actually surprised not to see more of this sort of nasty stereotype.  You get a whiff of something a little sinister in the fortune telling pictures, but the woman lurking outside the window looks horribly malevolent as she extends the finger of doom (or petty theft) towards the angel of the house, who is doing some nice needlecraft.  Naughty Gypsy!  Oh, talking of naughty gypsies....

LG as a Gypsy (1898) Edward Linley Sambourne
I'm sure she has a fringe-y scarf somewhere.  I was also surprised that amongst the 'beauty shots' of young gypsy women, that there wasn't more of this sort of thing, that there wasn't more flesh on show.  Mr Sambourne (neighbour of Lord Leighton) had an 'appreciation' for naked ladies that weren't Mrs Sambourne, that supplemented his work for Punch.  This is a particularly gorgeous if saucy shot of a lady in gypsy garb (although I'll be wearing a blouse when I'm cooking over an open fire) emphasising the wild sexual abandon that often was rumoured to accompany the rabbit stew.  Mind you, I think that may have been behind some of the earlier pictures of lovely ladies.  You could buy a picture of some Princess Pretty-Chops, all respectable and pleasant, but you'd know she was moments away from getting her thrups out and banging a tamborine with wild abandon.

On second thoughts, maybe I better not pursue a life of Romany excess, I have a suspicion I may take to it all too easily...

Nice to Meet You!

Just a quick post before I get back to normal and do a proper bit (about gypsies, in case you are interested).  I did my talk at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery yesterday afternoon and had enormous fun. The chance to talk about the life and importance of Fanny Cornforth was a huge privileged, and I thank the Russell-Cotes for the opportunity to do it not only yesterday, but I get to do it all over again on 17th November!

Me and Pre-Raphaelite Jane (and her marvellous necklace)
 It was lovely to meet some of the splendid people who read this blog, and answer some questions, like what happened to Fanny's art collection after she died? (She had sold it all by then, but it would be interesting to know what happened to her belongings, her books, her furniture)  What happened to Cecil Schott? (I would love to know - this is a call-out for any descendants of Cecil!  Come on, please drop me a line, I'd love to hear from you!)

Lovely Moyra and her Pre-Raphaelite skirt
We also discussed why it is so difficult to find Fanny's death certificate, one of my favourite subjects because heavens knows I have found it difficult, but it is part of a wider issue of the recording of women with no husbands or children to speak for them.  As I told the audience yesterday, I found lots of 'Sarah Cox' entries on the census, some widows, some childless, some with no record of where they came from.  Any number, or none, of them could have been her.  My favourite question came from a lady and gentleman who came back to ask, just as we were packing up the room, why were they called the Pre-Raphaelites?  They knew very little about the subject and had come to the talk by chance but found the subject interesting and hopefully will become as mad about the Pre-Raphaelites as we are!

Talking to splendid Madeleine and Signing Books
Well, thank you everyone who came, thanks to Miss Holman, Resting Ninja, for security and photography, thank you to the people who bought a copy of my book and those brought their copies with them.  It was a pleasure to meet you all and if you enjoyed it half as much as I did, you must have had a ball.  

And I get to do it all again in November! The tickets are free (I am a bargain, my friends), and if you would like to come along, please email 


or call 01202 451820 to book tickets.

Monday 8 October 2012

Just Like Millais....

....I've sold out!  Sorry, couldn't resist....

I'm busy sorting out my talk for this Saturday at the glorious Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth, and I'm almost finished with the first draft of my Pre-Raphaelite novel, so I can't squeeze in any posts until Sunday I'm afraid.  As my marvellous poster says I will be giving another talk on Saturday 17th November, so if you fancy hearing me ramble on about Fanny Cornforth, you know where I am.

See you at the weekend, quite literally if you are coming on Saturday!

Thursday 4 October 2012

The Blessed Damozel - A Poem

Today is National Poetry Day, and so I have written a poem again...

The Impatient Damozel

Resting on the ledge of heaven
I can see my lover, reclined below,
His sighs soft as satin and
My tears, soft mist.
I miss him so.

We are apart,
And our hearts are torn, each with
A fragment that must be borne until
Once more we are united.

And he misses me so,
He tells me often, whispered care,
His words faint in the evening air,
‘We must be together, my love, my love.’
And yet, on we go,
Him below, and I above.

‘I eat with sorrow, and drink despair, because you are not there…’
He sighs to me, so full of care.
Well, don’t drink,
And only think of how I will greet you,
If you do not eat.

You lay, facing the heavens,
Sighing my fate,
But the hour is late,
And all I do is wait.

When bored of leaning from my airy bower,
I ponder on how late the hour of your death,
How we are still apart, because of the beating of your heart.
You spend so much time whispering how you wish to be with me,
Yet seem to do nothing to make it thus.                                                           

Topple under an omnibus,
Fall from a bridge, a pier,
Be accidentally skewered by a spear,
Enrage a bull, or horse,
There is always lye, of course,
Take to gin, fall down steps,
Poke at wasps, kick over skeps,
Embrace a man who has a cough,
That’s a safe bet to carry you off.
Go out in the rain without a coat,
Wait for a storm to sail your boat,
There are a thousand ways to go,
Drink the water in Soho,
Open the cages in Jamrach’s shop,
Along comes a tiger and off you pop,
It’s the least you can do,
After all, I long to be with you,
And you with I, as you whisper still,
Reclining, not even vaguely ill.

I died when young and so attractive,
You are still handsome, be proactive,
And end my blessed wait, my love,
With you below and I, above.