Wednesday 30 April 2014

My Muse, My Self

I have been pondering a question I was asked this week.  When I was talking about the new novel I am currently engaged in, I was asked if I base my characters on real people.  Well yes, I replied, they are all me.  This was greeted with some surprise, but I think it is true that to a greater or lesser extent almost every character that drips from my quill (which sounds much nicer than 'rattles out of my keyboard') shares characteristics with yours truly.  I began to wonder if this was true of everyone...

Venus Verticordia, again
Coupled with this, I put up a lovely big poster of Venus Verticordia in my office this week.  She is massive and looming over my desk.  While I was admiring her I began to think about the artist who had put so much time and care into creating her with her big eyes and lips and look of sadness.  A bit like this...

Rossetti Selfie, c.1847
The more I looked at the big, deep eyes of Venus, the more I wondered about those archetypal Rossettian lips. None of the women possessed the pouty pucker he painted them with, but judging by his rather flattering 1840s selfie (and, to be fair, his death mask) he had a set of kissers that a stunner would be proud of.  So does looking at Rossetti as a reflection of his model tell us anything about him?

Dante's Vision of Rachel and Leah (1855)

Writing in the Sand (1858-9)
The Rossetti woman of the 1850s has a sweet romance about her.  She is sometimes thoughtful, she is sometimes sexy, but she is always playing a part.  The deeper feeling in images such as the Dante pictures or the Arthurian images are a way of trialling devastating emotion removed from the pain.  Elizabeth Siddal, as seen through Rossetti's eyes, is coy, flirty, desperate for love, but then, in turn, quiet and contemplative.  For a young man searching for his identity as both a man and an artist, he is trying on life, through the form of Elizabeth and the sweet pain of medieval romance.  None of it matters because it is just a moment, and another moment is awaiting you tomorrow.

Bocca Baciata (1859)

Regina Cordium (1860)
It would be easy to say that sex began for Rossetti in 1859 with the advent of Bocca Baciata.  The full-lipped archetypal Rossettian woman was born, giving love and lust as interchangable sides of the same coin.  Everyone got sexed up, flesh is on show and those lips burst forth from the canvas as ripe and lush as the apples and flowers they share the picture with.  All is hot, close-up and the exaggeration of eyes begins.  The resemblance to that optimistic early self-portrait is in evidence.  It's all about the hair, the eyes, the lips and being there for love, lust and eternal summer.

The Blue Bower (1865)

The Blue Silk Dress (1868)
I think it's no coincidence that Rossetti embraced a more aesthetic path just as he would have desired to be devoid of any thought other than art.  The women of the 1860s, after his wife's death, get blanker, typified by Alexa's vacant gaze, until they just exist within the beauty.  How much did Rossetti long to be able to live like that?  He no longer craved the sensation of romance so much as stark beauty as a means to an end.  Each woman was a reckless pursuit of the emptiness of the perfect shell.  Look at me, I am beauty, what more do you want of me?  It could be argued that like Alexa, Jane and Fanny, he craved to be frozen in that moment of luscious hollowness, a kept-up appearance with nothing behind it.

A Vision of Fiametta (1878)

Pandora (1878)
As the 1870s crept onwards, subjects recur in images of Jane Morris, if not Alexa Wilding.  The Rossettian muse became woman of regret - Pandora and her box, La Pia, sorrowful in her marriage.  The vision of the beautiful woman, Fiametta, is a vision of what has been lost.  The box is open, the woman is dead.  Now is not the time to clear our minds.  That moment has gone, has itself been lost.  The women and in turn, the artist himself cannot help but be confronted by the truth of their situation and that situation is tragic.  It is as if Rossetti cannot silence the clammer of his own accusing mind.  He is each of these women and more.  He is Lady Macbeth, he is Prosepine, he did something that will affect and destroy his future and there is no escape.

Astarte Syriaca (1877)

Mnemosyne (1881)
Towards the end, the vision is fixed.  The muse becomes singular even when she is a multitude.  She is alone in a dark space and she is terrible and powerless all at once.  The artist envisions a perfection of memory, a woman who exists to remember.  Maybe that is her punishment; not to be actually punished or harmed but to constantly remember that thing that brought her to that place.  On the table in front of her is a pansy, the flower clutched by Elizabeth Siddal in Regina Cordium when she was the Queen of his Heart until he broke hers.

Death Mask (1882)
It's a tenuous argument, I know, but it would resolve just where exactly those enormous lips came from for starters.  The idea that Rossetti would identify with the subjects, the mediums, of his art is not unbelievable.  Just because they were women does not preclude him from being at one with the emotions they are projecting.  After all, it is the artist that is projecting, the artist that is speaking and it is his voice we hear.  Just because the method of his communication is a woman does not make the words come with any less clarity.

Friday 25 April 2014

Kiss Me, I'm Three!

Well, here we are again and this is a very special Wombat Friday as today marks the third anniversary of The Kissed Mouth!  Hurrah and Huzzah all round!  I've been here for three years, sniggering and educating in roughly equal measure.  Very roughly.  Anyway, my blog now metaphorically looks a bit like this....

Me, c. 3 years old
Yes, this is about the first and last time I was naturally a red head, thanks to the scorching hot summer of 1976.  I like to think this is what my blog now looks like and it's bloody adorable.  No, I haven't been drinking.  Anyway, as is my yearly custom, here is a review of the year since this time last year...

Rather fittingly, we covered the life and career of May Morris in May last year, as well as Rossetti's face, naughty Swinburne, the doomed love of Paolo and Francesca and that perilous fruit, the apple.  My image of May has to be this heap of gorgeousness...

The Lovers Tania Brassesco and Lazlo Passi Norberto
I fell totally in love with this pair of artists who recreate Victorian works of beauty in their flawless photographs.  Google them and wallow in the fabulousness!  I think The Lovers is my favourite but their versions of Jove Decadent and Jane Morris are perfect too.

June brought me a new copy of Liverpool's Pre-Raphaelite catalogue (very nice too).  We also had a look at the life of Georgie Burne-Jones and Edward Prynne.  I loved doing the post on images of gossip, and just to reiterate - if you want to have a good gossip with someone, I'm your woman.  I do like a shocking secret.  It was Father's Day and so we looked at images of Victorian fatherhood, but my image of the month has to be one of my favourite Victorian photographs.  In no way am I imagining sitting on his lap and calling him Daddy...

Iago Julia Margaret Cameron
Shame on me.

By the look of it we had a busy month, with images of tennis matches and a visit to an exhibition of Frank Holl's work.  I'm still sobbing now.  We looked at pictures of women waiting for men and Karen Jones' modern paintings of Fanny Cornforth.  We started the competition to find out what your favourite image of Fanny Cornforth was, revealed on Pre-Raphaelite Day in September, actually the same day as I did the Pre-Raphaelite Pilgrimage, which we also talked about.  I enjoyed finding out more about Mr Lowry's love of Pre-Raphaelite ladies (the saucepot), but I think the most fun I had was looking again at one of the most famous Pre-Raphaelite paintings ever.  I'd never thought about this image from the gentleman's point of view and it did lead to some fascinating discussions...

The Awakening Conscience William Holman Hunt
Hurrah for summer holidays!  In August Lily and I went out and about and had fun on the Wombat trail at The Red House.  We also went to the William Morris Gallery and the rehang at the Tate.  I spoke to you about Margje Bijl's work on Jane Morris (the exhibition at the William Morris Gallery has just finished) and the progress of the restoration at Hoylandswaine.  There will be more details on that next week.  I brought you Frida Kahlo and 'twerking' and we celebrated the birthday of Edward Burne-Jones by looking at this gorgeous painting...

Tree of Forgiveness (1882) Edward Burne-Jones
Yes, 'twerking'.  Really, you could put your hip out doing that and it's not very attractive.  Far safer to crack nuts between your teeth and throw them at handsome chaps.  Trust me.

We celebrated Pre-Raphaelite Day by having a look at your favourite Fannys.  I got a load more page views by using the phrase 'favourite fannys' a lot.  Really, I'm constantly amazed by what 'search terms' bring people to my blog - all of which are helpfully supplied to me by Blogger.  There is a rum combination of kissing, mouths, nudity and fanny.  Hopefully everyone learns a life lesson before they return to Google search.  You saucy bunch!

Anyway, this month we looked at films, with a list of proposed viewing for a Victorian, artistic evening.  We had a look at my nefarious ancestors with Victorian criminal pictures.  I had the pleasure of doing two very pretty posts and it was hard to choose between these two, so here is both.  One came from the post on birds and the other from the post on butterflies...

Roses of Youth Henrietta Rae
Midsummer Fairies (1856) John Naish
I like to think that pretty colours and partial nudity are what my blog is built upon.  Who doesn't like a bit of either?

One of the surprises of the year has to be how much I enjoyed the exhibition in Poole of the work of Bernard Finegan Gribble, especially The Whelp of the Black Rover which was almost my picture of the month.  Who doesn't love a busty pirate?  Marvellous stuff.  I did posts on Victorian albinism, a subject close to my heart and genetic make-up, and an exploration of Rossetti's mental health as reflected in the backgrounds of his paintings.  Image of the month came from my post on witches and is one of the creepiest and most spectacular paintings of wicked women I have ever seen...

The Witches Luis Falero
Oh my giddy aunt!  I need more Falero in my life but I'm sure it's not good for me.

The family Walker went off to Germany and came back with tales of fabulous castles and beautiful paintings.  I did posts on Neuschwanstein, the fabulous castle belonging to the remarkably sane King Ludwig.  I looked at Elizabeth Siddal and her inability to be seen as anything other than tragic and bath tub-ridden.  We had a potter through Goblin Market and examined the role of the Pre-Raphaelites in My Fair Lady.  My picture of the month was one I had the good fortune to see in real life during my trip to Germany...

I Lock the Door Upon Myself (1891) Fernand Khnopff
Blogvent was upon us once more.  I'm not sure how to explain how this ended up in front of you...

Here's the Gobbler! (1877) Sophie Anderson
I'm so sorry.

I had many and varied discussions on John Ruskin as I reviewed the new book on his over-exposed marriage.  I feel there is more to come when the film is released (probably) in the summer.  I am still Team Ruskin because I really believe that just because you are a woman it doesn't naturally mean you are a victim.  Personally, I blame the parents.  Anyway, it was also Jane Morris month which meant lots of posts about her and a trip to meet the lovely Margje Bijl.  I also got to wallow about in The Wounded Cavalier, a gorgeous picture which blew me away when I saw it at the Tate exhibition.  My image of the month comes from the post on Damsels in Distress...

Andromeda (1876) Arthur Hill
Help me, I'm chilly, pink and nudey!  It's rather obliging to give sea-beasts their dinner with the wrapper off.

Despite the endless rain, we had a jolly month looking at the complicated love life of the Mad Hatter, how the iconography of Ophelia is used and misused and how nothing says 'I love you' like a sparrow glued to a card.  My image of the month has to be this one...

Princess Tarakanova (1864) Konstantin Dimitrievich

I'd forgotten how much it had rained over the winter until I looked back over my posts.  It's raining here today too, which I'm using as an excuse to wrap myself up in a blanket, eat the leftover Easter chocolate and watch Game of Thrones.

Last month I had the pleasure to work with the smashing lovelies at Eclectic Eccentricity as they launched their 'Muse' collection.  I spent an inordinate amount of time talking about Alexa Wilding, for some reason, but my image of the month has to be this one...

The Fortune Teller: Beware of a Dark Lady (1940) Frank Cadogan Cowper
Cowper is one of those artists who is familiar but not famous yet.  I picked this image because Mr Walker finds it disturbing.  It is a bit but that's what makes it fabulous.

So here we are, one year on.  I've been to two lovely exhibitions this month, the De Morgan at Bournemouth and The Artists Rifles in Southampton, but my image of the month has to be this one...

I published my novel this month and have been overwhelmed by the support I have received from you lovely people.  Thank you, I hope you enjoy it!

So, some of you have been here for three years, some of you are new but but you are all welcome to join me for another year of art, history, partial nudity and saucy humour. It's nice to have your company.

Happy Wombat Friday and Happy Blog Birthday to all.  Cake all round!

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Art Avengers Assemble! Again!

Righty-o, assembled chums, have a look at these pictures for me.  To give you some background, these are illustrations by George Goodwin Kilburne, the question is what was the book?

Kilburne, born 1839, was a genre painter who specialised in interior scenes with detail and figures.  He favoured watercolour but worked in all mediums and when younger also engraved.  He was apprenticed for five years to the Dalziel Brothers, marrying their niece, Janet.  He contributed to The Graphic and The Illustrated London News and provided illustrations for books, as seen above.

They are owned by the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, possibly purchased by Merton Russell-Cotes, but over the years the title and orgins of the works has been lost.  What is known is that they are illustrations for a book and what I would like is some suggestions to what that book might be.  Do the scenes give any plot hints?  What about the lass fishing?  That's quite unusual.  What on earth are they covering up with a sheet by the door?

Thinking caps on then, Art Avengers, and give me your best shot!

Saturday 19 April 2014

Easter Wishes from The Kissed Mouth!

Hello Chums!  I hope you are having a jolly Easter weekend with plenty of sunshine, chocolate and egg-related jollity all round. I spent yesterday with my lovely cousin-in-laws and families, and tomorrow we are off to Grampy's for church and lunch, for which I have to cook a chocolate bread and butter pudding.  Anyway, I digress, I am here to talk about Easter and our dear friends, the Victorians...

I'm guessing that for our nineteenth century ancestors, Easter was actually a bigger deal than it is for us.  I've noticed over the last few years that the shops are pushing more and more 'things' to help you celebrate the double Bank Holiday weekend, and much like Christmas the origins are somewhat sidelined in favour of commercialism and fluffy chicks. Gosh, the Victorians would have loved that.  Apparently by the turn of the Twentieth century, chicks were allowed to drive cars.  I'm not sure that's very safe to be honest, look at the difficulties the driver is having controlling the wheel.  A cautionary tale for us all, I feel.  Wait until your chicken is full grown before allowing him or her to operate machinery please.

The Morning of the Resurrection (1886) Edward Burne-Jones
Obviously, for the Victorians the religious message was far more welcome and necessary than we are comfortable with now.  Easter, as my father always tells me, was of course the biggest religious festival of the Christian year, being that it actually marked the moment that Jesus spectacularly gatecrashed breakfast.  Good work, that man/spirit/son of God!  Burne-Jones' rather sombre affair is subtle and muted, the only highlight being the halo around Jesus' head.  Surely a man rising from the dead would need a few more bells and whistles?

Christ and the Two Marys (1897) William Holman Hunt
There you go, Jesus would obviously turn up with rainbows, but then this is Holman Hunt.  His technicolour resurrection looks a little kitsch these days but I quite like the pizzazz that he lends to the moment, after all this is a fabulous moment for Christians.  This Christ is bringing the party with him.  Good on him.

Mary Magdalene (1877) Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I'd never considered that this lovely Rossetti was an Easter image but the story goes that Mary Magdalene turned up to the tomb with some hard boiled eggs to share with the other mourners but when she saw Jesus, the eggs turned red.  This, therefore, is the mourning Mary holding on to her faith and about to be proved right.  That is quite a big egg she has there. They obviously have heroic-sized chicking in the Holy Lands...

The Angel at the Sepulcre
The Angel at the Tomb

This pair of lovelies are obviously by Julia Margaret Cameron and are the waiting angels at the tomb.  Again, they have the look of patient waiting, solemn and unmovable.  I love all of JMC's work but I think the clarity of the profile of our right-hand angel is so unusually sharp for her.  It is both soft and precise, I love it.

The Easter Bonnet Gustave Jacquet
Of course, Easter means Spring, and rebirth in terms of nature.  I remember my Nan taking part in Easter bonnet competitions and I think it's a very fun idea.  This young lady seems unwilling to shed her big furry coat, after all it is rather chilly in April, but she is sporting a rather pretty hat with some tumbling flowers.

Rolling Easter Eggs (1905) Edward Atkinson Homel
Mixing the religious with the jolly, we have these young girls rolling coloured eggs down a hill.  The act of rolling the eggs is a combination of the religious (rolling the rock away from the tomb) and the egg in nature (the Pagan goddess Eostre was associated with eggs as a symbol of the land holding rebirth inside it).  In England it is traditionally known as pace-egging (from 'Pasch', Old English for Passover) and happens all over the country, sometimes competitively.  Incidentally, the Easter bunny is a variation of Eostre's animal, the hare.

Easter Eggs in the Countryside (1908) Victor Gabriel Gilbert
I love the light in this picture, quite pale but strong and almost a match for what I can see out of my window this morning.  Now, this little girl has gone and thieved a nest full of eggs, which is not a good idea but I'm guessing was probably a former 'delight' of childhood.  I think her Mum ought to nip out to Waitrose and get her a chocolate egg to dissuade her from this practice, or at least go and buy some mini eggs and make rice-crispie nests like we did yesterday.  The goats look less than impressed by this and I don't blame them.

An Easter Holiday (1874) James Aumonier
The girls in this picture are from Bloomsbury Parochial school, out for a holiday trip in a wood in Watford.  They look happy to actually be outside, bless them.  A Parochial school is one affiliated to a church or religious organisation and so Easter must have been a big deal for them at school, probably why they got a treat.  I love how small they seem next to the massive trees and how their blue dresses compliment the pale yellow of the primroses that carpet the wood floor.  Beautiful.

Easter Morning Caspar David Friedrich
Back to Burne-Jones' notion of a quiet, comtemplative Easter, this beautiful canvas by Friedrich is about as far removed from Hunt's disco-Christ as it is possible to get.  These figures are walking in a misty landscape, presumably going to church like the other figures discernible in the distance.  There is no feeling of celebration, no merrymaking, just three women walking up a country road like their neighbours.  In some ways it might be just a rural scene, nothing special, but taking the title into consideration, the trees take on further significance.  The figures seem tiny and the trees appear to guard their way, as if the path has been opened to them, leading to the light in the sky.  The women are stood between the trees looking, like the disciples looking into the empty tomb as God looks down at them.  This painting forms a pair with another entitled Early Snow, showing a lush green landscape dusted with white. Both showcase the majesty and mystery of nature, the seasons and the magic to our eyes of the world we live in.

Well, happy Easter, my dears, I hope you eat yourselves stupid on chocolate and have a good time.  May the weather be pleasant and may you be as happy as chickens and rabbits dancing at some sort of cross-species shin-dig...

Look, I'm not a prude, but no good can come of this, surely?  Oh well, love to all and a happy Easter to you, whoever you dance with this weekend!

Thursday 17 April 2014

Short Film: Arterial

Just a quick post today because I wanted to draw your attention to a splendid short film by Christopher Ian Smith.  Using La Belle Dame Sans Merci as its starting point, it explores the relationship of a modern man with nature...

I do love it when people use the same inspiration as the Pre-Raphaelites as their spring-board and the tale of the young, urban chap and his encounter with the wild, floating lady is magical.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci Frank Dicksee
I found it surprising, intriguing, and beautiful and encourage you to go and take a look here.

I can think of no better way of spending the Easter weekend than being ruined by a beautiful woman.


Sunday 13 April 2014

Review: The De Morgans and the Sea

On Friday, the smallest Walker and I went to Mr Walker's place of work and visited the lovely new exhibition, The De Morgans and the Sea.  The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth have turned over two spacious rooms to a display of the work of Evelyn and William De Morgan.

The husband and wife team had an extraordinary creative partnership and shared the theme of the sea in many of their works.  Where better to see them than in the cliff-top art gallery, overlooking a glorious golden beach?

Display of ceramics

Starting with William De Morgan, his pots and tiles are in deliciously resplendent colours.  He made the most amazing tiles showing fanciful medieval ships, taken from manuscripts, woodcuts and engravings...

One of my favourite pieces was this jar in ruby and gold-lustre earthenware showing curls and swirls of fish swimming around its plump figure...

There is a very 'touchable' quality to De Morgan's pots (which of course you can't indulge in!) because they are so marvellously three dimensional.  Somehow they manage to strike the right balance between tasteful and insane, and although they have a very Victorian aesthetic, the beautiful and subtle colours make them timeless.  I want a fish jar. It's so gorgeous.  Some of his tiles were used on P&O liners when he was employed by the company from 1882 to 1900 and his tiles decorated the public rooms of twelve of their liners, enhancing their sumptuous interiors.  Sadly none of the ships have survived, but a number of duplicate tiles were created and are on display at the exhibition.

The cabinet of treasures
I loved this cabinet as it showed both De Morgan's work together, Evelyn's painted frieze and William's pots, which leads me on to Evelyn and her beautiful pieces.  You will be familiar with the Russell-Cotes' De Morgan, Aurora Triumphans...

Aurora Triumphans (1886)
Mmmm, angel-y.  When you look at some of De Morgan's paintings, the seaside setting is very subtle.  Take for example this one...

Lux in Tenebris (1895)
Lux in Tenebris or 'Light in Darkness' shows an angelic figure bringing light and hope in the form of an angel with a laurel branch.  In the darkness below her feet lurks a crocodile, symbolising the Devil and peril.  Further to this, she is floating above some rather terrible looking rocks while the placid sea laps around.  The canvas is very dark but the angel glows in her pale golden gown.  De Morgan is telling us that life is a mixture of calm and trouble, hope and darkness, reflecting her interesting in Spiritualism.

The Sea Maidens (1885-86)
Goodness me.  The story behind this (should you need a story to justify that amount of boobage) is that the Little Sea Maid, on the left, was distraught when the Prince declared that he didn't love her.  Her five older sisters sold their hair to the Sea Witch in exchange for a knife so that the Little Sea Maid could go and kill her feckless Prince and return to her watery home.  Instead the Sea Maid killed herself rather than harm the man she loved.

This is lovely in the (everso abundant) flesh, and the mermaids, all painted from the same model, the De Morgan's Maid, are icily beautiful and remote.  The sea is deep and inky blue, contrasting with the pearly skin of the girls and the scales of their tails reflect the light below the water.  It is wonderful.

Ariadne in Naxos (1877)
Her choice of classical subjects made use of her love of the shoreline and here we have Ariadne waking up on Naxos to find that she picked a rubbish boyfriend.  Usually she is pictured having a right tizzy because the ratweasel Theseus has gone off with another woman but De Morgan shows her as miserable as a woman awaiting lie-detector results on Jeremy Kyle.  It's actually an uncomfortably accurate portrayal of a wronged woman, internalising her pain, unsurprised and listless.  It's okay Ariadne, something better will be along in a minute...

Boreas and Oreithyia (1896)
I'll finish with what must be my favourite image from the exhibition, Boreas and Oreithyia.  Boreas, the Greek god of the North wind, fell in love with Oreithyia, daughter of the King of Athens.  When the normal chat-ups didn't work, he fell back on the traditional pick-up and fly-off.  Charming.  When I saw this, I actually understood how people could mistake De Morgan's work for Burne-Jones, especially in the figure of Boreas.  He is painted from Alessandro di Marco, the model for The Beguiling of Merlin by Burne-Jones, and he does look rather splendid with a pair of wings.

The exhibition is definitely worth a visit and it does give you a chance to see the rest of the marvellous museum at the same time.  The De Morgans and the Sea runs from 1st April until 28th September and further information can be found on the Rusell-Cotes home page here.