Tuesday 25 November 2014

Like a Prayer...

A very nice lady called Erica recently emailed me a very nice picture to identify.  It was a pretty Victorian lady apparently praying, but so far I have been unsuccessful in throwing any light on the artist.  Here it is, so if anyone can help Erica, that would be splendid...

Nice sleeves.  Anyway, in the course of my research I came across so many and various images of Victorian women praying that I felt I had to do a post.

The Children's Prayer (1888) Arthur Hacker
One thing you notice while looking at Victorian images of prayer is that only women and children pray.  Sure, you get the occasional saint or Mr Jesus, but the vast majority of those on their knees are women and predominantly female children.  There are a predictably generous quantity of little kiddiwinks doing the holy thing like these two above.  I'm hoping the one on the left is praying for some clothes that fit.  I'm drawn to her red hair and that unexpectedly red strip around her.  Does she have more cause than her sister to pray?  Has she been naughty?

Children at Prayer (1835) Thomas George Webster
More usually the children look all sparkly and innocent, like this pair of poppets.  The mother looks nice and smug at her angelic duo.  How lovely...

Prayer Time: Mrs Cope and her Daughter Florence (1854) Charles West Cope
The artist gets to be doubly smug with both angelic wife and little girl.  Florence was such a good girl she got a second praying picture...

Florence Cope Saying Grace at Dinnertime Charles West Cope
I really like this picture as it seems to echo previous eras beautifully.  The gold of her hair (like a halo) and her white pinafore emphasise her innocence, like a little angel in a nativity.  The glint of light on the silverware and the tablecloth are in stark contrast to how dark the room is.  Maybe little Florence prays in the light because the world is filled with darkness, with the unknown lurking beyond the certainty of her table and dinner.

Suspense Charles Burton Barber
'Dear God, please stop my pets from scoffing my breakfast.  It's eggy soldiers, my favourite.'  This is a testament to the power of prayer holding back the greed of a jack russell.  Very impressive.

Lord, Thy Will be Done (1855) Philip Calderon
It's not just kiddiwinks of course. More often it's mothers and their offspring, such as this rather interesting example.  There is a lot going on in this picture. A paper has been dropped on the floor, possibly giving news of the woman's husband.  An envelope is also on the floor.  Given the date it could refer to a wife of a soldier, awaiting news of her husband in the Crimea. Her dress looks rich and comfortable but her coal scuttle is empty, possibly hinting at hard times ahead.  Will the woman and her child be alright?  She puts her fate into God's hands.

A Prayer for Those at Sea (1879) Frederick Daniel Hardy
This poor woman is on her knees at what appears to be around 10.30pm, praying for her husband who is out at sea.  Will he return? There is very little to indicate his fate or what the ramifications would be for the woman, possibly reflecting real life.  It could be that the woman kneels each night and prays, rather than at times of crisis. It is her way of coping with the uncertainty of their life.

Song of the Shirt Anna Blunden
This seamstress prays for one more hour of daylight in order to (a) finish her shirt and make enough money to not starve and (b) not go blind from sewing in the dark, then starve.  There is a lot of not starving implied in this image, but you have to think that she stopped sewing in order to ask for more time to sew.  I think it would be rude to point out the problem inherent in that.

The Widow's Prayer (1864-5) Frederic Leighton
This is a woman in a moment of crisis, reaching out to God to help her.  Her child is bathed in light behind her, as if God is giving her the answer.  She might feel that her husband's death has taken all the light from her life but her child is there to give her the strength to carry on.

Prayer (1859) John Phillip

Prayer (1862) Thomas Brooks
There are a lot of nonspecific images of women just praying, looking perturbed or just concentrating a lot. The woman at the top of these two looks skyward, clutching her rosary in her patched up skirt.  She may be praying for an improvement in her state or thanking God for the blessings she has, it's hard to tell.  The woman at the bottom is even more mysterious.  She looks well dressed and calm but the figure beside her is very unhappy.  Nothing is implied about the cause of prayer or the reason for the nun's despair.  It's all in the hands of God now.

The Veiled Woman (1901) Guirand de Scevola
Maybe my favourite image of prayer has to be this one, mysterious and beautiful.  Most of the other paintings of women involved some implication of trouble and need.  There is a theme that children and women all rely on a greater power to sort out their troubles, that God is there to guide them through their passive lives in a very active way, getting them out of trouble.  The notion that women are in constant need of prayer, of forgiveness and guidence, harks back to Eve and Original Sin.  Scevola's wonderfully mysterious women are floating in a cloud of their own dignity.  Whatever she is praying about, it feels important and altruistic.  She feels like a queen, praying on behalf of her subjects.

I shall leave you all in peace now.  If you can throw any light on Erika's lady, give me a shout either in the comments or by email.  Only a few more days and we're into Blogvent so I'm off for a sit down and I'll see you on Monday...

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Having it away...

Nothing cheers me up like an illicit liaison.  Okay, maybe not exactly what I mean, but in times of stress and general malaise there is nothing like escapist, naughty romance to brighten the otherwise dreary firmament. With that in mind, I went in search of some scandal...

The Tryst Jean Leon Gerome
Nothing like a chap on a camel, stealing a kiss from his lady-love.  Do you think that is why camels have such long legs? Maybe that's why they always look remarkably hacked off. Poor noble creatures, ships of the desert forced to hang around while their friend smooches up someone they fancy.  No, hang on, that was me at school discos. This chap is obvious rich enough to employ a servant and own a camel so you have to wonder why they have to smooch illicitly.  Maybe its because he's the sort of bloke who smooches your daughter through the bars of her window...

The Tryst (no really, again) Jean Leon Gerome
From the other side, you can see that rather than have a camel indoors, she stands on her maid.  She stands on her maid!  That's just rude.  They are welcome to each other. I've never felt so utterly seized by passion that I've stood on domestic staff.  Buy a step ladder, for heavens sake. Don't stand on the woman who makes your dinner.

Welcome Step (1883) Lawrence Alma Tadema
This is more like it. I'm sure I've hidden somewhere, waiting for the object of my affections.  Sorry, that sounded a little scary, like I've waited in a hedge with some binoculars.  What I mean is that I've listened out for their step on the stair, the sound of their knackered Ford Fiesta spluttering down the road.  This young lady has brought a nice tiger skin rug with her to make the trysting more comfy, and her lover has brought flowers because chicks love flowers.  I rather love her necklace, those amber beads seem to glow with excitement.

The Intercepted Love Letter Carl Spitzweg
If you wish to have a passionate affair with the woman downstairs, be careful who you dangle your missives of love in front of.  This young man wishes to woo the industrious young lady, but she's so busy sewing it's the woman in the enormous bonnet who sees him lowering his love letter from above.  The woman looks really shocked - I wonder if it's addressed to 'Mrs Sexy Knickers'.  I wonder if she thinks it for her?

The Indiscretion (1895) Constant Aime Marie Cap
Not sure what is so indiscreet about this image, but then maybe peeking inside a ladies carriage is particularly saucy.  I'm guessing she's not flashing him a boob from behind the fan, although the open fan may signify 'I well up for it, Handsome!' or something more elegant but amounting to the same. Holding an open fan in your left hand means 'stop talking to that woman', which is odd as he's talking to her.  She has flowers in the carriage, and possibly has been out seeing her official, acceptable gentleman acquaintance.  On the way home, however, her carriage comes to a halt and this chap, I won't say 'gentleman', sneaks a look in as if to say 'Hello Ladies!  Going my way?'  What a saucepot!

An Idyll Hans Olaf Heyerdahl
Look, don't judge me, but snogging your beloved down a grim back alley is not my idea of a sparkling indiscretion.  Lawks, it looks bleak, maybe the kissing makes it better.  Because it looks so grey and broken, the only fun these two can have is with each other, with their eyes shut.  At least then you won't have to look at how much that gate needs mending.  Really, who can get up to saucy nonsense with that back gate? It would put me right off.

Temptation Gustav Osterman
Hurrah!  This is much more like it.  If you do wish to seduce me, please do it on a lovely sofa.  Look at the brocade on that!  Again, I am a sucker for a satin dress, and the nefarious possibilities of masks.  This shiny young lady has slipped hers off as a young man approaches. Her fan is shut which might mean 'Do you love me?'.  If she held it shut against her heart it would mean 'You have my heart', but I'm not sure what holding it shut on your lap meant. Well, I'm far too much of a lady to say so.  I am reliably informed that opportunities for illicit liaisons were rife at masked balls, which is cheering, especially when you consider the large quantity of satin and gorgeousness that were around.  On a chilly, dark November day, it's rather delightful to think of having your satin crushed by some nice chap on a rather splendid sofa. That would brighten up a Wednesday no end.

Whilst in no way endorsing adultery, I do recommend a bit of saucy Victorian art to cheer you up as the days get shorter and chillier.  The inevitable drag of commercialised Christmas hell might get you down but if you take a little time to yourself to live vicariously through Victorians up to saucy shenanigans then I'm sure we'll all make it through December.

Friday 14 November 2014

Review: Time and the Tapestry

Here I am again, recommending loveliness that I have been sent to review.  Goodness me, it's a wonderful perk of the job that I get to see such marvellous stuff and then ramble on about it to you lot.  This week I have the pleasure of reviewing Time and the Tapestry by John Plotz...

Subtitled 'A William Morris Adventure', the story begins on a rainy Monday afternoon in the front room of Jen and Ed's Grandma's house. Jen (age 13) and Ed (age 10) live with Grandma since the death of their parents, but her finances are looking shaky.  All they have left is a tapestry from her time at Morris and Co.  That and a talking blackbird called Mead. In an Alice-esque moment Jen and Ed tumble into the tapestry and find themselves not in Wonderland, but in Victorian England, hot on the heels of William Morris, who maybe able to help them mend the tapestry and save their Grandma's house.

Detail of Jen and Ed flying on the back of Mead
Along the way, they visit Oxford, London, Kelmscott and Iceland, finding knights, dragons, viking ships and members of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The children have a quest but will Mead the blackbird be able to carry them home?

William Morris and his Trellis design

John Plotz has brought the world of William Morris alive in an unexpected way.  This book is aimed at children, yet I thoroughly enjoyed the rip-roaring adventure, tracing the items that are listed in a poem while simultaneously telling the story of Morris' life.  The illustrations by Phyllis Saroff are beautifully detailed and reminded me in a way of Kit Williams' work, with the same love of nature and close study.

A horse at Kelmscott
The book is perfect for parents who want to introduce their children to the world of William Morris.  Morris is portrayed as a visionary, a tireless worker, a man of infinite imagination.  It is lovely to see him as such a positive character, freed from any taint of cuckold.  The children's interaction with him and May Morris are the strength of the book and give you a glimpse of what an amazing family they were.  Their achievements both artistic and political are addressed here, together with Morris' own personal journey from acolyte to leader.

Finally, I must say how much I appreciated the note in the back explaining the typeface used in the book.  It is set in Golden Type ITC Standard, a modern font closely based on Gold Type, designed by Morris and Emery Walker for the Kelmscott Press.  It is such attention to detail and love of the subject that makes this book a delight to read.

You can get a copy from Amazon UK here and US here

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Remembrance of Things to Come

Today is about remembering.  The last few days challenged us to comprehend the way the First World War affected us as nations and individuals.  From poppies in buttonhole, to the Cenotaph, to people all over the whole remaining silent for 120 seconds, the act of remembering has been both unavoidable and almost insurmountable.  If you stop to think about how 100 years ago people went off to war unaware of how utterly it would alter us, it seems a cruelty as vicious as the war itself.  We have an image of the Edwardians, frivolous and careless, stumbling a generation of young men into a muddied hell, but were they really as innocent as all that?  My post today is a harbinger of what was to come, a painting that foreshadowed so much.

The Boer War, 1900-1901 Last Summer Things were Greener (1901) John Byam Liston Shaw
 True story: I got Mr Walker to watch both The Sound of Music and Gone With the Wind because I told him they were war movies.  So they both are, and this painting is war art, although if you had to guess the theme of it, it is unlikely that would be high on your list.  A woman gazes out over a river, lost in thought.  She is a lone black mark in the lush summer foliage, and we can assume from her dress that she is bereaved. The title gives us a context, a cause for her grief.  

The second part of the title comes from the poem ‘A Bird Song’ by Christina Rossetti: ‘Last Summer things were greener, / Brambles fewer, the blue sky bluer.’ The poem is about waiting, putting your life on hold while a loved one is away.  The narrator of Rossetti’s poem expects the loved one to return, denoted by swallows who come and go from distant lands, but remain loyal.  The narrator wishes to fly as well, be together with the one who has their heart.  Until that person comes back there is no enjoyment, no pleasure to be felt or noticed.  The seasons have rolled round, marking a year, but the swallows are the first thing that alerts the speaker to so much time passing.  It shows the difficulty or unwillingness to mark time when the focus of your attention is absent.  As it is, the past seems more sweet, more beautiful for the existence of a lover within it. 

The woman in the painting is lost in thought and not aware of the riot of green, the fecundity of nature all around her.  If anything has her attention it is the ravens, a sad echo of the hopeful swallows from Rossetti’s poem.  The bird motif continues in a single swan feather floating in the river.  Swans mate for life, the absence of the swan who left the feather echoing the absence of the woman’s lover.  I am fairly sure there is no ring on the finger of the left hand clutching the loop of wool, so she has lost her potential husband, her potential place as a wife with children.  I wondered at the wool in that loop hanging forlornly.  It echoes the flowers in the riverbank but is like the woman, a potential rather than a flower.  The wool remains unknitted, it is not and possibly shall not become anything.  It is a rich and wonderful colour but its owner can only wear black now and so it shall remain unfulfilled, it cannot become anything.

The model was actually the painter’s sister, Margaret Glencair, who was at the time in mourning for their cousin who had been killed in South Africa.  I think that somehow makes the pathos of the figure more real, more painful. One thing we do not seem to credit the world before The Great War with is an awareness of war grief.  It seems that we believe the Victorians to be callously unaware, hurling their children into battle without any notion of what the grief of a generation who will outlive their children could possibly feel like.  I think this painting shows a different side, an acknowledgement of the devastation of stolen future that would be felt so painfully by their children.

It was Victorians who fought the First World War, scraping into the Edwardian children by the bitter end.  Margaret Glencair considering her lost cousin on the banks of the river became these young women, all robbed of their loves...

Diana Manners on her wedding day

Katheryn Horner, widow of Raymond Asquith

Letty Manners, widow of Hugo 'Ego' Charteris
These three women were the daughters of The Souls, a group of Victorian art lovers.  They married the sons of other Souls and were bereaved.  In the case of Diana Manners, she lost loves and ended up marrying the only one of her suitors who returned.  Almost all the sons of the Souls died, an entire generation of young men taken away.  As their parents had passed on a love of Pre-Raphaelite art, I cannot help but suspect the deaths of these glittering youths was connected to how unfashionable the works became.  After the horror of war the world became a less wonderful place and there was no use for beauty.

Oh, last summer green things were greener,
Brambles fewer, the blue sky bluer.

Friday 7 November 2014

The Satin Romance of Vittorio Reggianini

After all the dark and blustery weather we've been having I felt like doing a post on something light and pretty.  You catch me in a romantic mood so I think it's appropriate that I present the work of Vittorio Reggianini...

Who Wins?
Let the whimsy begin!  Reggianini was born in Northern Italy in 1853 but drew his lush inspiration from half a century before.  It's no coincidence that his images crop up on the covers of Georgette Heyer novels because that is what you are looking at.  This is a world of romance, of courtship, of flirtation and acres upon acres of satin...

An Illicit Letter
Do you know what your life is missing today?  It is missing a trio of giggling, shiny women with scooped necklines, little pointy shoes and a little bit of scandel. I want to know what the letter contains!  Does it read 'Dear Pinkie, What's going on with the side of your frock? Love, Your Concerned Suitor xxx'  I hope the lass on the left gets a squizz at the letter too, it seems unfair that she has to be lookout while the other two enjoy it.  Hang on...

The Letter
It's okay, she does.  The thing about Reggianini is that you could accuse him of being a bit same-y, and there are definite groupings of pictures.  You have the trio of saucy maidens, such as the two lots above, and these...

The Secret

Awaiting a Visit
The three graces appear in their palace-like home and enjoy intrigues and secrets and all manner of lovely shiny things.  They are adorable, but look how much fun it is when you lob a chap into the picture!

The Recital

Section two of the Reggianini album is entitled 'Women like a man who can play/read' or 'Look at the shine on his breeches!'  There are any number of images of a pair of young women admiring the young man who has come to entertain them.  It's all very lovely at that moment but you know hair pulling will ensue when they work out that both of them fancy the same chap.

Who Wins?
This one is very blatent in its message.  This young man can have a wife in pink or blue, although Pinkie is going the more direct route and has shut her fan.  Oh, hang on, don't the fan positions mean something?  Shut means 'I await your decision' or something and open means 'If you're getting up can you bring me some chips?' as far as I can remember.

The Reading
I believe it was Jane Austen who wrote 'It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you get a hot man in the room with a bunch of girls, it is on like Donkey Kong'.  There is no way this will end well and I personally worry for the poor man's safety.  Maybe the rug is a hint as to what happened to the last young poet who entered that room.  Also, why is he wearing spandex disco pants? 

Anyway, if you want a bit more action, Reggianini has an entire series of 'Oh no!' pictures of high drama...

A Shocking Announcement
What on earth has gone on here?  A chair has gone over, the maid is smiling and a chap has been forced to leave. The shame!  The horror!

A Music Scene
This young woman looks a little startled by the size of the chap's cello and her friend has passed out. Lawks!

A Flirtation
Good heavens, not in front of the good coffee service!  This pair look rather too jolly in their canoodling and should be careful.  All that satin, they'll be lucky if they don't just slide right off of each other.  Everyone just behave themselves for a moment!

Back on safer ground, Reggianini did a nice series of women with animals, like these gorgeous examples...

The Pet

Good Companions
My personal favourite has to be this one...

The Interruption
The elegance of the long limbed dogs perfectly complement the high-waisted dresses of their mistresses and the smooth coats glimmer like the satin that surrounds them.  I love The Interruption because there is a spontaneity of movement, a giggly connection to the audience that the others don't have.  We are part of that shiny satin world, if only for a moment, and we are invited in to join in its pastel perfection.  On such a gloomy, cold November afternoon I wouldn't mind pulling on a nice frock and enjoying some intrigues and flirtations.

Now, where did I put my fan?