Monday 27 June 2016

Swing, Swing...

Wouldn't it be lovely to just withdraw from the world for a little bit?  On the whole I would rather like to spend a day, week or year or two in a nice quiet place where there isn't a lot of modern life going on, and I can have a bit of a snooze.  What I need is a hammock...

Girl in a Hammock (1873) Winslow Homer
There is something peaceful about the swing of a hammock on a warm summer day, the only sound is the faint song of birds and the rustle of the breeze through the trees.  Winslow Homer's young lady has the right idea.  I could very happily swing in a hammock with a lovely book, in the shade.  I'll need a silk shawl, that seems to be an essential too...

The Hammock Edward Killingworth Johnson
You would need quite a big garden too so that you weren't immediately found and bothered.  The problem with my current favourite snooze-spot, on the chaise longue part of our new sofa, is that I am fairly obvious and therefore am regularly awakened by requests for chocolate, questions about the whereabouts of things and the dog occasionally shoving her nose into my face.  This young lady in her frilly dress has obviously used the excuse that she is doing some gardening.  She even had her basket with her to make it look legit.  Clever girl.  Mind you, that hammock looks rather narrow. I can't imagine I'd relax on that, I'd be too scared I'd fall off.

The Hammock (1844) Gustave Courbet
That is a marvellously wide hammock, plenty of room to recline sideways if you wish.  Courbet's young woman is making the most of her 'alone time' but I have to point out her legs and feet.  What is going on there? Did she just fake-tan her feet?  Plus, she seems to have had a wardrobe malfunction at the top.  Deary me, no wonder she needs a lie down...

The Hammock (1879) James Tissot
Yes, when I am in my hammock I would like a massive parasol please, mainly because it looks really classy.  Trust Tissot to make it look glamorous, as he brings us a young lady using her hammock as a chair as she reads the morning paper.  I notice her dog has come with her, which is about right.  I can't imagine my dog letting me out of her sight.  Although this is a beautiful painting I can't say that the woman looks comfortable with her legs to the side.  I'd rather be entirely in the hammock.  Oh, and I don't want the paper either, not at the moment...

Afternoon Tea on the Terrace Irving Ramsey Wiles
I suppose you could have a bit of company, especially if they bring the tea out with them.  Wiles' ladies are taking it easy by a lake, under the dappled shade of the trees.  One has a big cane chair and the other is swinging in the hammock as they take a spot of tiffin.  Lovely.

In the Orchard (1893) Henry Herbert La Thangue
This couple of lasses are winding wool and looking across at something.  Is it a third person who they know some outrageous gossip about?  'Oh look, it's Doris.  You'll never guess what she was caught doing...'

In the Beach House Walter Crane
'Good Lord, Mary, Doris has gone into the sea in her new knitted swimsuit.  That's going to end badly when she wants to come out...'

I have to admit that a hammock inside a gazebo on the beach is rather special.  Looking at the floor, I think we are on the veranda of a beach house, which has to be the height of cool.  Plus, I now want a fringed hammock. And a nice rug underneath me in case I fall out.  Maybe that's what your friend is for, to break your fall...

The Proposal Charles Soulacrix
Of course, being proposed to in a hammock is rather special, although this lass looks a bit nonplussed. The chap has turned up and proposed marriage but hasn't brought chocolate or bothered to get down on one knee or anything.  He can talk to the fan.  I bet he wasn't even proposing marriage, I bet his proposition was 'Budge up a bit, I want a swing.'  T'uh.

The Hammock (c.1895) Joseph DeCamp
As a mother, it is unlikely you'll be allowed any alone time and so a hammock might be your answer.  Load all the kids in and swing.  It's a poor woman's Alton Towers.  It has the added benefit of getting everyone to have a doze but doesn't leave much in the way of reading space, or anywhere to put your chocolates.

The Family of Captain Charles Arthur Talbot Unknown Artist
I'm guessing Captain Talbot is a seafaring man and so the hammock is an affectation of his nautical side.  Also, it's a handy place to stow a baby.  All babies should be safely stowed on sea journeys.  You don't want them rolling around the deck, that would be against health and safety, surely?

What do Young Women Dream of? (1918) Georges Barbier
So, aside from the fact that Barbier presents us with a tassel-tastic hammock, he also shows us what young women dream about while swinging there by the side of the lake, under wisteria-strewn trees.  They dream of tiny flying people.  Now, are they meant to be babies or is it cherubs of love?  The woman in the hammock is delighted, but her friend is less so, maybe because she has two little flying babies and there are another three on the way.  Lawks!  It's obviously safer to be in a hammock...

The Hammock Henri Pierre Picou

So, to sum up, a hammock is a wonderful place to get away from it all.  As Picou's lass shows, you don't even need to be dressed, although if your hammock is entirely made of string you might want to put some blankets in first as the criss-cross of string imprinted on your Rubenesque curves is probably not the best look.  Apparently.   Take it easy, my friends, take to your hammocks if you need to retreat from the world because I can think of nothing more delightful that a gentle sway in the garden. 

 It has to be better for your health than all the stress of current life..

Monday 20 June 2016

Always put on the Safe Search before Googling 'Showers of Gold'...

I'm sure you will recall from this post we looked at the many and varied images of Perseus and Andromeda, and the many and varied ways of showing a nudey lady tied to a rock.  I got to thinking about Perseus and the myths surrounding his conception and birth and wondered if there were any gorgeous paintings about that...

The Tower of Brass (1887-88) Edward Burne-Jones
 So, once upon a time there was a King who wanted a son.  King Acrisius of Argos already had a perfectly lovely daughter called Danaë, but that wasn't good enough, apparently.  Because he hadn't been paying attention to other myths and legends, he decided to ask the oracle.  If we have learned anything it has to be never ask the oracle! You won't like what you hear...

Danaë in the Brazen Tower Frederick Sandys
The oracle, being a tricksy sod, said that no, King Acrisius would never have a son (boo), but his daughter would (hurrah).  Unfortunately that son would then kill him (oops!).  In a stunning parental move worthy of Disney, King Acrisius decided the best way to avoid being killed by his grandson is to lock his daughter up in a brass tower.  Why brass?  Did they have a lot of tubas hanging around in Argos? (I've looked through the catalogue and never seen one...) It does have bactericidal qualities so possibly it is also spermicidal?  Do men find brass off-putting and un-arousing?  It has to be noted here that another word for 'brass-y' is 'brazen' and I've always though gentlemen like anything brazen, let alone an entire tower of brazen-ness.  Flipping heck...

Danaë Edward Burne-Jones
So, Danaë was locked up in the brass tower with no doors or windows (but probably still better wi-fi coverage than I get) and King Acrisius was content that his daughter would remain childless.  Enter, as it were, Zeus.  There's a god who is never put off by a little thing like walls, so whilst King Daddy managed to keep out the average lusty chap of Argos, he was no match for a god.  See above for a very sweet painting of poor Danaë in her tower being very prettily showered by sparkles.  How lovely.  Of course, if you asked the average painter to show a woman getting a golden shower, the outcome is rather less chaste...

Danaë and the Shower of Gold Eugene Soubiran
Second lesson of the morning, put on the 'safe search' before typing in 'golden shower'.  Trust me. Flipping heck. I suppose if you have been bricked up in a tower with no hope of escape and there are no windows, why bother wearing clothes?  Danaë obviously felt how we all feel some days, that getting dressed is fairly pointless and so was just hanging around in the buff when Zeus turned up.  Now, he had a bit of a history of appearing in the guise of something else, for example bulls, swans, boxes of Ferrero Rocher, because ladies (and the occasional gentleman) like being taken by surprise.  Apparently.  

Danaë and the Shower of Gold (1908) Leon Comerre
I would have thought that appearing as another human being might have been rather good for poor Danaë as not only would she have been happy for a bit of naughty, but also probably would have liked someone to have a natter with, but Zeus is not a man to chat.  So while Danaë lounged about it started raining gold on her.  So astonished and delighted was she that she didn't notice it was somewhat of an isolated shower, isolated mainly to her lady parts.

Danaë (1891) Alexandre Jacques Chantron
I love that Zeus made a whole sky-and-clouds thing in order to have his shower-y way with Danaë.  Did he imagine that made it more normal?  It did give painters a good opportunity to show how good they were at painting skies as well as boobs.  And drapery, lots of drapery.  But not over the boobs, obviously.

Danaë Henri Fantin-Latour
Of course there are some painters who went all blurry and classy about the whole business, which is all very nice as long as there are still boobs.  Fantin-Latour even included a cherub in the vague attempt to make out love had something to do with the whole thing, other than the galloping libido of a scoundrel-god.  Danaë in Fantin-Latour's painting seems to be making the universal gesture of 'is it raining?', and she looks quite pleased.  Mind you, it's probably the most exciting thing that happened that week.

Danaë (1907) Gustav Klimt
Good old Klimt, he can always be relied on to give you a slightly different view of a scene and I love the way Danaë is all curled up as the shower appears in very Klimt-y patterns.  However, this isn't my favourite Danaë image...

Danaë (c.1900) Carolus Duran
This corkingly gorgeous image is my favourite as it is so simple.  Marble-white Danaë is lounging on her massive black velvet beanbag when a strange golden glow appears above.  I'm guessing Duran did a rather nice nude-y lady and then felt he had to justify it.  It's all fine because it's classical, isn't it? Ancient myths and legends - making boobs legit since the renaissance (TM).

Danaë Christopher Williams
Anyway, Danaë got pregnant from her golden shower (may that be a lesson to us all) and little Perseus was the upshot.  King Acrisius was horrified that his bad parental decision hadn't worked and so rather than just killing the baby (because that would have been bad) (unlike bricking up your only child in a windowless tower), he decided to lock Danaë and Perseus up in a chest and fling it in the sea.  Thanks Acrisius, you make the rest of us parents look good.  I might have allowed my daughter's morning to consist of eating Dairy Milk and watching YouTube but at least I haven't shoved her in a box and lobbed her in the English Channel.

Danaë (only black and white available, sadly) John William Waterhouse
Why Acrisius didn't see it coming that the god who had managed to get into an impenetrable tower, if you excuse the expression, would be able to save his son from a floating box, I'm not sure.  Working in conjunction with Poseidon, the chest with mother and baby floated gently and pleasantly off to Seriphos where Danaë and Perseus were safe and happy and Perseus grew up and was able to do stuff like this..

The Doom Fulfilled (1888) Edward Burne-Jones
Images of Danaë are universally wonderful because of their simplicity.  The appeal to the Victorian artist is obvious as there is a beautiful naked girl and lots of gold.  What more do you want?  It is also an image of triumph through adversity, that no matter what bad thing happens to you there is a silver, or in this case gold, lining.  It is a lesson of hope for people who find themselves on the crappy end of events that are beyond their control and not of their making.  Gorgeousness will find a way and even in the darkness of a windowless tower someone is watching over you and will bring a little bit of wonderful into your life when you least expect it.

In conclusion, many years later Perseus was competing in athletic games in Larissa when he accidentally hit a spectator with a discus and killed him.  Guess who the spectator was...

Tuesday 14 June 2016

A Sight to make an Old Man Young

Today's post is probably going to end up a bit rambling, but it concerns a poem about a painter painting a woman he loved and the paintings based on the poem of the woman whom the painter in the poem paints.  It is also one of the most Pre-Raphaelite poems you'll read even though it predates the movement.  Are we okay so far?  Marvellous.  Off we go then...

We'll start with the poem, which is 'The Gardener's Daughter', one of the English idylls by Alfred Tennyson, from 1842. It is properly entitled 'The Gardener's Daughter; or the Pictures' and is about not just one painting but two, or maybe all great art, but we'll get to that.  The poem concerns two painters, Eustace and the narrator who are the very best of friends.  Eustace is a bit of a hottie, as the narrator says he could 'have sat for Hercules; so muscular he spread, so broad of breast.' Well, you have my attention, Tennyson.  Sadly we have no pictures of Eustace.  However, Eustace has a fiancée called Juliet and like most smug couples seem to want to do, she seems to want to get our narrator married off, possibly because he is spending all his time considering how muscly Eustace is...

For visual reference, this is what I think Eustace looks like.
Check out that moustache...
Eustace paints Juliet and it is a very fine painting, but the narrator says he will only paint that well when he falls in love because 'Love, unperceived, / A more ideal Artist he than all'. I find the description of the painting very interesting:  Juliet is described as having eyes 'Darker than darkest pansies, and that hair / More black than ashbuds in the front of March.''  Remind you of anyone?

Aurea Catena (1868) D G Rossetti
I immediately thought of Jane Morris from the description of Juliet as painted by the besotted Eustace. If ever a painter reflected the spirit of 'The Gardener's Daughter' it's Rossetti.  The idea that Love can possess an artist and elevate his art to great heights is reflected in how we worship his portraits of Jane Morris and Elizabeth Siddal (and Fanny, but to a grudging, lesser extent) and see them as proof of his adoration.  Anyway, I digress. When the narrator says that he would need to fall in love in order to paint such a good picture, Juliet replied that he needs to see the Gardener's daughter...

"I am half sick of shadows" said the Lady of Shalott (1913) Sidney Meteyard
So, off Eustace and the narrator go to see this woman who is so beautiful that the narrator claims he is in love before he even sees her.  The gardener's daughter, who we learn is called Rose, lives a very Tennysonian existence, bowered in isolation, a cloistered existence listening to the bells that tell her of marriage and funerals.  This reminded me of the Lady of Shalott's flowery tower, cut off from life., but Rose does not seem to be despondent in her isolation, or even very aware that she is cut off from other people.  She seems to be a fixture in the garden, like one of the plants, not least because she is named after one of them.  I find it interesting that in the context of the woman the word 'rose' is not only her name but the name of the flower which only moves when blown by the storm, but otherwise passively remains still in the sunshine.  The narrator uses 'rose' several times in the context of his movement, his decisive rising to action, as if to deliniate the stark differences in male and female roles in his perception.  However, just to undermine any hint that Tennyson is an old sexist, it shouldn't be forgotten that it is Juliet who motivates the men to go and find the narrator a girlfriend, probably just to get them out of the house.  However I digress, and the description of the garden is so utterly delicious, including this gorgeous line: 'The lime a summer home of murmurous wings.'  Please find a moment today to use the phrase 'murmurous wings' because it is beautiful.

The journey through the countryside seems to bring the narrator closer to nature until he and it are one: 'May from verge to verge, / And May with me from head to heel'. When we finally see Rose she is entangled with the flowers that bear her name.  The artist requests one of her flowers, which he rates higher than 'a hundred kisses press'd on lips / Less exquisite than thine.' That makes me suspect he's doing kissing wrong, but I'm too polite to say so.  Anyway, the artist courts the lady-shrub and all ends happily, as you'd expect, although as this is Tennyson, you'll be relied to hear there is no death or revenge, just marriage and a lot of blooming. 

The Gardener's Daughter William A Breakspeare
In many ways, it is unsurprising that  artists chose to use Tennyson's poem as inspiration.  It's a poem about the power of muse and the elevation of art by love, and so in action that is probably self-reflexive, meta or something that is a polite word for narcissism, the artists endeavour to create the art work that is envisaged by the artist in the poem, namely the portrait of Rose.  In a search of all art entitled The Gardener's Daughter there is quite a bit that is directly drawn from the text, for reasons I will go in to in a moment, however there are naturally some 'generic' Gardener's Daughters too, such as Breakspeare's lady above.  She is a gardener's daughter rather than the gardener's daughter, if you know what I mean, but I wonder if the picture was thought to be from the poem?

The Gardener's Daughter George Dunlop Leslie
Similarly, Leslie's lovely lady is not Tennysonian either, but that is a nice basket of pinks she is carrying.

The Gardener's Daughter (1860) Edward Henry Wehnert
In order for me to accept the painting was inspired by the poem, I need to see some referencing. Wehnert very ably fulfills this brief for me.  He has pictured Rose, 'Gown'd in pure white, that fitted to the shape,' as described by Tennyson.  The poet had her with only 'One arm aloft', but I'll let the artist off on that point.  Her hair is rather more blonde than the 'soft brown', but she does appear to be part of the plant, which is the poet's intention.    She is 'a Rose / In roses', and by adding trellis along that back of the scene, Wehnert's provides the cloistering that is in the poem, isolating her in her fragrant Eden.

The Gardener's Daughter John Ingle Lee
John Ingle Lee shows the beautiful Rose about to hand over a beautiful rose to the narrator.  I recently saw this painting at the Liverpool Pre-Raphaelite exhibition and it is an image that screams PINK! across the room at you in a slightly disconcerting way.  The head and shoulders of the figure fill the canvas and she has the most striking eyes that seem to capture the artist's strong attraction to Rose which is downright saucy.  Anyone who thinks Tennyson is all about Light Brigades and Victorian morals has never read 'The Gardener's Daughter' and 'the bounteous wave of such a breast / As never a pencil drew.'  Steady on Tenny!

The Gardener's Daughter (1850) Frank Stone
Possibly the most straightforward of the paintings has to be Frank Stone's early piece, showing not only Rose with her one arm up fixing her roses, but also the love-struck young artists in the background.  Stone is one of the few artists who does not take the place of the narrator in the piece, but shows the scene from the third-person unless poor Rose's garden was filled with smitten artists, all gawking at her lustfully...  

The Gardener's Daughter A J Woolner
Woolner too shows Rose, with her hand in the air (like she just does not care) tending her 'Eastern rose' (as Tennyson specifies) on her porch.  This is one of many that appeared in illustrated Tennyson collections, making it the perfect subject for a little vignette.  I could go on and on about the significance of what scene an artist chooses to portray from a poem, but the moment the narrator sees Rose is pivotal, one he has built to throughout the poem and described so carefully that you have no doubt he is also describing the wonderful painting he will produce under Love's inspiration.

From the Moxon Tennyson (1857) by W J Linton
Similarly, Linton chooses to show Rose in the doorway, picking rather than wrestling with her roses (Tennyson suggests the climbing rose had been blown down the previous night and Rose was reattaching it to its frame) and the whole scene is rather ladylike and traditional.

Illustration from 1907 Poems, by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale
By contrast, Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale's image is a riot of movement and plants with Rose gamefully thrusting her rose bush back where it belongs.  I prefer Brickdale's more active Rose to the passive little dolls in the previous illustrations because she is as vigorous as nature as I believe Tennyson intended her to be.  The flow of her dress echoes the curve of the branches behind her and her face turns and appears to be a bloom on the bush.

From 1912's Poems, illustrated by Emma Florence Harrison
Somewhere in between lies Emma Florence Harrison's Sleeping Beauty-esque Rose, caught in the tendril of rose bramble that ensnares her to her garden.  Harrison might be encouraging a reading of the poem that sees our narrator rescuing Rose, or in fact 'harvesting' might be a better adjective.  It would fit with the theme of the seasons, of growing, maturing and bearing fruit.  When the painter sees Rose, he is in the dizzy grips of Spring, full of lust and in bloom, and this desire keeps burning over the summer until Eustace marries, completing his cycle to maturity in Autumn and spurring the narrator to claim Rose who murmurs on 'silver fragments of a broken voice ... 'I am thine.''

The Gardener's Daughter (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
This is one of two images entitled The Gardener's Daughter by Julia Margaret Cameron but as the other one is also called Maud, this is the best choice.  Cameron had a habit of reflecting her vision of real relationships within some of her images, including ones of Mary Ryan, who also posed for this.  Ryan was Cameron's maid, rescued from begging and ultimately Cameron's very own beggar maid to King Cophetua (or Henry Cotton, to be precise).  There are sweetly awkward photos of Cotton and Ryan as Romeo and Juliet, but I wonder if Cameron is referring the manner of the couple's meeting in this image?  The story is that Cotton attended an exhibition of Cameron's work and fell in love with an image of Ryan only to turn and find her working at the exhibition, helping with the sales.  He kept the receipt she wrote him for the photograph next to his heart and finally went to the Isle of Wight to claim her as his wife.  I doubt it is a coincidence that Cameron pictures Ryan as the discovered beauty in the garden, especially as the image was taken around the time of Ryan's marriage, in the summer of 1867.

The Gardener's Daughter Fanny Bowers
In conclusion, may I say that 'Fanny Bowers' is possibly the best saucy name for an artist who is painting The Gardener's Daughter.  What I find interesting about the poem and its associated images is how, with only one exception, the artists chose to cast themselves as the artist in the poem.  This is possibly a natural move, identifying with a character and all that, plus also allowing the viewer of the painting to live that moment when the narrator sees Rose for the first time, described as 'a sight to make an old man young', which is quite a compliment.  It could also be seen as claiming the accolade Tennyson refers to; that their painting of the beautiful Rose will be a masterpiece because they are painting the picture of Rose from the perspective of the man who loves her and Love is 'a more ideal Artist he than all'.  It could be argued that by choosing to inhabit the character of 'the artist' from Tennyson's poem, his epiphany and subsequent masterwork are enacted before us as performance.  

Mind you, it might just be an excuse to show a really pretty girl...

Monday 6 June 2016

Review: Abigail Jones

This morning I would very much like you to join me for a quickie in the form of a review of Abigal Jones by Grace Callaway...

If you are a literature snob, this is probably the time to avert your eyes, but if you fancy something a little quick and dirty with a bit of Pre-Raphaelite thrown in for good measure, you'll probably appreciate this.  I came across it via very academic means, during a literature search for 'Fanny Cornforth' - may I just add that much trouble can be gotten into during literature searches for 'Fanny'.  When this novel popped up during my research, I'm hardly the girl to turn down a bit of unexpected Fanny when I find it, so I read it...

As you can probably discern from the magnificent cover of Abigail Jones, it is a bodice ripper much in the same vein as Amanda McIntyre's very jolly The Master and the Muses, but with some 'paranormal romance' thrown in.  For those unaware of what constitutes a paranormal romance, it's where the heroine is in love with a vampire/werewolf/zombie-type affair, most famously in something like Twilight.  Well, in Abigail Jones there is some love and some paranormal-ness but also a lot of lust.  Tons of lust. Oodles of it. Smashing.

So, what's the plot? Our titular heroine, Abigail Jones, is a maid with a secret.  She possesses the power to touch objects and discern the past escapades of their owners.  The filthy past escapades to be precise.  This is a very bad thing apparently and in order to keep her safe, Abigail is sent to work in the house of the biggest saucepot in England.  Filthy visions ensue.  Jolly good.

Lady Lilith (1867) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Enter (as it were) our hero, Lord Lucien Langsford, Earl Huxton.  He is a troubled gentleman and the owner of Rossetti's Lady Lilith.  Without revealing too much of the plot, Lilith is somewhat of an obsession of his and is the subject of the 'paranormal' bit of the book.  He's also done rude things to Fanny Cornforth.  Lawks! That brings me to the Pre-Raphaelite part of the book.  In order to bring everything to a climax (so to speak) Abigail and his filthy Lordship visit Cheyne Walk and pay a visit to Rossetti and Fanny.  You have to wait until page 303 for that pleasure but it is a very interesting pleasure when it arrives...

The Blue Bower (1865) D G Rossetti
Fanny's jewellery plays a part in the story...
Up until this point the novel is very hard to place in time other than 'Victorian'.  The moment we enter Tudor House it is very much anchored in the 1870s.  Fanny is described as 'an excess of flesh' and 'puffy' and Rossetti is 'portly'.  The house is full of bric-a-brac and disorder and I found the playful antagonism between artist and model realistic.  It was also a refreshing change not to have Rossetti mentioned in conjunction with either Elizabeth Siddal or Jane Morris.  You know how Fanny-centric I am, which is appropriate for this novel. Also, there's a wombat! Mercifully he makes his escape before anything unseemly goes on...

Run Wombat!  Run, before it gets filthy again!
Although the chapter at Cheyne Walk is brief, the influence of the painting and its significance is integral to the plot. It's not the sort of book I normally read but it is interesting to see how Rossetti's art can be used in unexpected ways.  It seems that the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites can come upon you when you least expect it.  Much like his lordship.  I am so sorry.

I read the book in a couple of sittings and giggled heartily.  It's fun, rude and there are phrases I don't normally get to use in my writing which delighted me greatly, such as 'turgid abundance' and 'engorged magnificence'.  On a health and safety note, his Lordship seemed to spend much of the 338 pages engorged in some way and I'm sure that is not good for you.  It's a miracle the poor man can walk straight.  There were moments of historical inaccuracy for example the use of words like 'trash', 'weekend' and exactly what you call an Earl when he's taking you roughly from behind with his turgid abundance. Debretts say that it is 'Lord --' on the first instance then 'Faster!' on the second. So now we know.

Grace Callaway, author and purveyor of jolly smut
It made me giggle, it was easy to read and resulted in various filthy emails being sent to friends over the weekend (for which I apologise) (I don't really) and so I have no problem with it.  Also, the inclusion of Pre-Raphaelite art in something like this is as encouraging as it is unexpected and Grace Callaway's author's note at the back of the book talks about the real Rossetti and Fanny and recommends Gay Daly's book on the subject.  If you want a biography on the subject, buy Jan Marsh.  If you want a jolly diversion, give it a try.  It's still more realistic than Violet Hunt's The Wife of Rossetti.

Abigail Jones can be purchased here (UK) or here (USA) and is also available for Kindle.

Saturday 4 June 2016

Review: Painting with Light Exhibition at Tate Britain

Photography is obviously the new black because in the last year I think I've been to more photography exhibitions than I have any other sort.  I entirely blame Julia Margaret Cameron, firstly for having a handy anniversary and secondly for being rather splendid and, dare I say it, commercial. So hot on the heels of all the JMC200 business last year the Tate has produced an exhibition enticingly subtitled Art and Photography from the Pre-Raphaelites to the Modern Age.  Well obviously I had to go...

Decorative Study (c.1906) Mina Keene
Full disclosure: I went first thing on a Friday morning and spent a ridiculous amount of time in there. This was mainly because it was empty, which was worrying, especially as it was half term.  However, the lack of other people did mean I could get a good view of everything and stand and stare for as long as I liked without getting elbowed or tutted at.  You can also get as close as is decent to see things you might have missed so I got within licking distance (technical term) of The Death of Chatterton and saw, for the first time that one of his shoes had fallen off.  Also, I had never thought about the fact his jacket is a pinky red colour.  Really?  With that hair?

The Death of Chatterton (1856) Henry Wallis
Note: shoe under the bed, off his right foot
The Stereoscope of Chatterton...
Delicious Chatterton was there because of a rather lovely stereoscope image of him.  It proved so popular that the engravers who were making a fortune from engravings of the expiring poet took the stereoscope people to court to protect their business.  I mean, who wouldn't want to see a 3D Chatterton?  Blimey...

Dandelion Seeds (1852-7) Henry Fox Talbot
However, I am getting ahead of myself.  The first rooms of the exhibition feature earlier, less 'fancy' uses of the bright new craft of photography.  There are a number of impressively sharp cityscapes of Edinburgh taken by David Octavius Hill, a painter in search of an edge.  The photographs contrast well with the more powdery impressionism of Turner's idyllic visions, but I have to admit to preferring Hill's photographs to the precise paintings he produced from them.  Possibly the most impressive, if only in scale, painting in the exhibition greets you as you enter.  The Disruption Portrait, impossible to reproduce here due to the sheer scale of it, shows the first General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland signing the Act of Separation and the Deed of Demission in 1843. There are 457 individual portraits, all crammed in to a room, some looking down from holes in the ceiling and each one is based on a photograph.  It is astonishing but rather too much to cope with, so I prefer the portrait and self portrait of William Etty...

William Etty (1844) David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson

Self Portrait (1846) William Etty
When Etty was in Edinburgh for a Scottish Royal Academy dinner, Hill and Adamson convinced him to have a photograph taken.  He then took that as the basis of a self portrait but it was unusual because he was not looking out at us (as he would have been if he was painting from a mirror).  The result is the ability to paint oneself in repose and 'unaware' of the viewer's gaze which feels very modern and also makes the best of his rather splendid profile. That is an impressive nose...

The Courtyard of a Late Gothic Wooden House at Abbeville (1868) John Ruskin
It really shouldn't come as a surprise that the Pre-Raphaelites are such natural bedfellows with photography, after all what could be more 'truth to nature' than a photograph?  John Ruskin's very impressive photographs feature in the exhibition, and it seemed that very quickly the idea of using photographs to get the desired verisimilitude into your work was essential.  There are a number of paintings of the Holy Lands by Thomas Seddon and William Holman Hunt, together with photographs of various settlements on show.  We know that when Hunt started showing the Holy Family as, well, a Middle Eastern Jewish family, there was outrage and one can only imagine the same was true of the landscape which was completely different to England.  The photographs of Nazareth act as both an aide-memoire for the artists but also a sort of proof of the existence of God, because I suppose the average British church goer had no clue, beyond their illustrated Bible, what the Holy Land looked like.  Photographs of  towns filled with flat roofs and occasional minerettes give tangible existence to the stories that were set there and truth to the images painted from there.  The only thing that I miss in the photographs is that hot volcanic sky that Hunt shows, all swirls of pink in the blue, the lurid result of erupted gases (if you excuse the expression).  The photographs are a wonderful record but miss the essential life of the area.  However, as I moved on through the exhibition, things certainly came to life...

Isabelle Grace Maude (1862-3) Clementina Lady Hawarden
Slightly shamefully I must admit that I far prefer images of people to still life and landscape.  I feel an instant connection and involvement and so the parts of the exhibition that dealt with pictures such as Lady Hawarden's claustrophobic images of studied female repose held me utterly captivated. Whilst very theatrical and self conscious, Lady Hawarden's repetition of female figures in sparse rooms, fluttering at the window-light like butterflies feel more dreamlike than posed, unlike Roger Fenton's output, or Edward Linley Sambourne's photographs of the rather naked Ethel Warwick.  Hawarden's work stands out in the room because there does not seem to be the desire to record in detail for 'academic purposes' (she says, with a raise eyebrow).  My favourite 'academic purpose' image has to be Rose the Model...

Rose the Model (1865) Samuel Butler
Well, heavens to Betsy! Everybody get a firm hold on their academic purposes and we shall continue. There was a feeling that the human body should be recorded to compare with classical sculpture and this is certainly the case with Rose (which I'm guessing is the chap's last name) and his very impressive regions.  We obviously don't need to see his face (the phrase about not looking at mantlepieces while stoking fires comes to mind) but the record of his muscles is amazing.  I wonder what he did for a living?

Two's Company, Three's None (1892) Marcus Stone

HRH Princess Alexandra, HRH Princess Victoria & Mr Savile (1892-3)
Moving on swiftly, we come to my favourite bit of the exhibition, the recreation of (and inspiration by) paintings in photographs.  There seemed a bit of a vogue for being photographed in the manner of a painting in a tableaux vivant, as shown above by Princesses Alexandra and Victoria (and the lucky Mr Savile) recreating Marcus Stone's melancholic Two's Company, Three's None, obviously for their own amusement, but some people took it very seriously.  It seems the Moxon Tennyson had a lot to answer for...

Morte D'Arthur (1857) Daniel Maclise

The Passing of Arthur (1875) Julia Margaret Cameron
There was obviously something about the illustrations to Tennyson's poems that inspired photographers because Cameron wasn't the only one to call on them for inspiration.  The exhibition also shows Lady Hawarden's destraught daughter in the pose Millais Mariana, also from Moxon, as well as Henry Peach Robinson's Lady of Shalott with her heavily crimped hair. 

Living Picture: Pastoral Scene (1896) Arranged by Walter Crane
Poling the Marsh Hay 1885-6 (1887) Peter Henry Emerson and Thomas Frederick Goodall
Not all are wonderful however and I found some of the aesthetic 'rural' idylls to be appalling, as opposed to the realist works of Peter Henry Emerson and Thomas Frederick Goodall.  I wrongly assumed that Crane's vision pre-dated the Norfolk scenes and could be excused by a lack of technology, but quite the opposite.  Emerson and Goodall show life from a decade before Cranes' studio arrangement.  Maybe there was something about the work of such artists as George Clausen in the 1880s that lent itself more sympathetically to the medium of photography, unlike the very stylistic and mannered unreality of aesthetic art. Whatever the reason the Crane picture looked like a publicity shot from a bad amateur theatrical unlike Emerson and Goodall who seem to be making a Thomas Hardy documentary...

Call, I Follow, I Follow, Let Me Die (1870-75) Julia Margaret Cameron and
Beata Beatrix (1864-70) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The bit that made me overexcited and happy (other than Rose the Model) was the direct juxtapositioning of paintings to photographs, such as the Cameron and Rossetti above.  I'll have to show you more of these over on my Facebook page or else we'll be here all day but I had never thought of placing these two together.  The moment they are side by side then a lightbulb goes on and intentionally or not, Cameron has captured what makes Beata Beatrix such a powerful image.  Look at the hair and jaw and the neck! Goodness me.

Monna Pomona (1864) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Lady Ottoline Morrell (c.1907) Adolph de Meyer
The last few pages of notes I took in the exhibition are basically me exclaiming over the beauty of the images such as Adolph de Meyer's portrait of Lady Ottoline Morrell.  I am a sucker for autochrome and the Tate have displayed some of the images on lightboxes which made me slightly incoherent with pleasure at the luminous beauty of it all. If you ever had doubts that photography was an art form, the final room especially will convert you. William A Stewart's Ex Umbris echoes Orpheus and Eurydice but also is a touching and erotic image of love and death, so coverted by the Victorians. 

The Japanese Parasol (1906) John Cimon Warburg
Photography pushes the boundaries of decency whilst mirroring high art and to see the two together is disconcerting but fascinating.  The genius of the exhibition is that you have room after room of the story of art photography from Fox Talbot's dandelion seeds to Lady Ottoline and her lilies with a coherent and inspiring narrative of how we got there.  The photographs used are beautiful and the paintings are well-chosen and familiar enough to be reassessed in a different context.

Prosepine (1874) D G Rossetti and The Odor of Pomegranates (1899) Zaida Ben-Yusuf (details)
The catalogue is surprisingly cheap at £15 and beautifully illustrated although not everything in the exhibition is in the catalogue (as far as I can see) so I urge you to experience both if at all possible.  It is certainly the best exhibition I've seen at the Tate for a while and surprised me in both its interpretation and how much gleeful giggling I did.  Despite the entry fee, I am hoping to see it again during the summer because it is just so good. 

Painting with Light is on until 25th September and further details can be found here.