Thursday 26 January 2017

The Death of Jane Morris

Today marks the 103rd anniversary of the death of Jane Morris, Pre-Raphaelite muse, embroiderer and 'the brunette one' in the Charlie's Angels of Stunners. At a risk of sounding bitter, I was surprised to see how much fuss was made in the newspaper when she died, as opposed to any of the other Pre-Raphaelite women, and so thought I'd have a bit of a dig and see what I could uncover about the last bit of Jane Morris' life...
Jane Morris (1865)John Robert Parsons
Now, we all know the legend of Jane Morris - born in Oxford in 1839, then discovered one night at the theatre by the ever-rampant Rossetti, who whisked her off to artistic stardom and dropped her in the lap of his best friend, William Morris.  Jane and Morris married in 1859 and then this sort of thing happened...
The Day Dream (1878) D G Rossetti

And this...

Bruna Brunelleschi (1878) D G Rossetti

And this...

Study (1868) D G Rossetti
But then Rossetti died and everyone grew older and despite an affair with the man-slapper Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Jane became the sort of women people talked about as 'legendary' and 'former muse', because God help any woman who gets older (as I covered in this post). Then William died, and she became 'widow of' and 'mother of' as she headed into the twentieth century...

Jane Morris (1898) Emery Walker
Jane after William - it's a tricky one as the Pre-Raphaelite women were written off as faintly meaningless when their men died.  As Paull F. Baum wrote in his book of Rossetti's letters to Fanny Cornforth, without Rossetti, Fanny has no meaning, and until the new wave of scholarship starting after the 1960s, the same could be said of most, if not all, the women of the Pre-Raphaelite circle...

Kelmscott Manor 1905 - May, Jane, Jenny and Jenny's nurse, Ada Peerless
Despite May's disastrous marriage, Jenny's ongoing illness and her own fragile health, Jane continued to live a fairly active life into her old age.  Her letters show movement and correspondence into the second decade of the twentieth century. Her last modelling job was for Evelyn de Morgan, showing the 66 year old Jane, looking mournful and regretful.

Sketch of Jane Morris for The Hourglass (1905) Evelyn de Morgan
The Hourglass (1905)
It would be easy to read more into this picture than is possibly intended.  A woman who had beguiled a generation of artists, who had become a legendary goddess, tall and stately, had grown old, 'lost' her looks and places a weary hand upon the hourglass, as her time trickles away.  Certainly, in none of the few later photographs we have of Jane does she look happy but that does not mean she was always unhappy.

May Morris at Kelmscott Manor gate (c.1900)
Jane seems to have been at pains to secure Kelmscott Manor for her daughters to live in.  The landowner, farmer Robert Hobbs (who would later sack Miss Lobb and deliver her into May Morris' life), gave no assurances that he would allow the family to live in the Manor undisturbed until the end of Jane's life and so the Manor was purchased for £4,000 in December 1913.  Jane never actually lived in the Manor as its owner, as she was wintering in nearby Bath when she died suddenly.

May and Jane at Kelmscott, 1913
She was staying at 5 Brock Street in Bath, by the Circus and the Assembly Rooms. According to newspaper reports she had suffered from a short illness.  Her obituary appeared in The Times on 28th January, swiftly spreading throughout local papers.  Much of the reports revolve around two things - the accomplishments of her husband and her beauty.  The Times recorded that she was 'an exquisite embroideress', with only one of her pieces having been displayed to the public in 1913 in Ghent.  It was also suggested that her eye for colour and design had been equal to her husband which is high praise indeed.

Detail of The Aphrodite Embroidery (1860) Jane Morris
There was no escaping Jane's beauty - 'All the world knows the masses of dark hair, the ivory complexion and exquisite features, the beautiful hands and the great grey eyes, which were so unique and so overwhelming in their beauty.' (The Times, 28th January 1914).  Jane was forever linked with a moment in artistic time, as the Birmingham Daily Mail recorded - 'To the outside world Mrs Morris was known mainly through the reproduction of her wonderful features in the pictures of Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  She was their favourite model, their feminine ideal, the peculiar pallor of the face had a fascination for them...'

Chalk Sketch of Jane Morris (1864) Edward Burne-Jones
Just as a side note, Burne-Jones is mentioned in conjunction with her in other newspaper articles.  This is unsurprising in many ways, the Morris and Burne-Jones families were close, but it is the insinuation of extra closeness between Ned Burne-Jones and Mrs Morris that is odd. The Yorkshire Post in 1925 quote from a letter from Randolph Caldecott (artist and illustrator), describing a party in Kensington, 1885. He describes playing a game where you are blindfolded and you have to place a cherry in your partner’s mouth. Mr Caldecott’s partner was Jane Morris - “She jammed her fruit into my classic mouth … but I missed hers, which as you are aware is the mouth Rossetti used so much and which Burne-Jones has studied greatly.” Interesting, Caldecott never uses the words ‘sketched’ or ‘painted’ for either man and the newspaper just leaves the quote there for their readers to read into.

Georgiana Burne-Jones, Jane Morris and their children (1874)
The Brimingham Daily Mail rather harshly kill off Georgiana Burne-Jones, claiming Jane was the last surviving of the 'sisterhood' - 'who shared the art and domestic life of the famous Brotherhood'. Mercifully the other papers managed to remember poor Georgie was still living, and her Memorials were credited with giving the story of Morris' courtship of the girl in the Oxford theatre.  Much is made of Jane and William's relationship in terms of their devotion and happiness, which seems odd in comparison to how we think of their marriage now. Birmingham reported how Jane's health held her back from being an active Socialist by her husband's side but 'no-one who knows his poetry can fail to be struck by the influence on him of his happy home life.'

Jane Morris (centre) with visitors, and May, Jenny and Miss Peerless (1905)
Jane's funeral was held on Thursday 29th January, at Kelmscott.  Her body was driven in a 'motor' from Bath to the manor house just before the service.  Her coffin was 17th century style and in oak with brass furniture and a simple inscription of her name and date of death, and was carried into the church by six village men.  The church was well attended by the villagers as well as familiar names from the world of art and literature including Marie Stillman whose wreath was noted in the papers. The hymn 'Now the labourer's task is o'er' was sung and the organist played the Dead March as the coffin was carried out to where William was already buried.

The Morris' grave at Kelmscott
It's difficult not to feel some pity for Jane Morris, who for whatever reason, did not feel entirely content with her lot in life, and despite being lifted out of the working class by her husband into a life of ease, contended with difficulties in her life that money could not solve.  However, she was remembered with reverence at her death, even though she had all but disappeared from public view after William's passing almost 20 years before.  Even though we now don't see the marriage as a happy one, it is kind to think that her husband's poem 'Praise of My Lady' was seen by the newspapers as having immortalised her.

I'll conclude with the first stanza...

My lady seems of ivory
Forehead, straight nose, and cheeks that be
Hollow’d a little mournfully.
Beata mea Domina!

La Belle Iseult (1858) William Morris

Monday 16 January 2017

The Loneliness of a Long Distance Art Historian

As you know, I have been helping out with the fundraising for a memorial for Fanny Cornforth (thanks to those of you who have donated and helped spread the word).  This has resulted in an increased interest in Fanny, with lots of people talking and writing about her. All this is really marvellous.

Then a friend said to me 'Do you mind other people writing about her?'

Of course not.  Of course I don't feel anything but joy when everyone is talking about the woman who I have spent half my life with, longer even than the man I am married to.  Certainly, for most of that time it really was just me and her, Kirsty and Fanny, friends forever, together forever.  No-one will know her like me, she's mine, MINE, MINE I TELL YOU! Wait, I seem to have gone to a weird place...

Fanny Cornforth (I'm just out of shot, honest)
And that is what today's post is about - what happens when you specialise in one historical subject, what happens when that subject is neglected then rediscovered, and a special moment I call 'Research-zilla'.

I don't think that people set out to specialise in one person.  I wandered into Pre-Raphaelite art in the first year of my degree and loved it all. Most of all I loved Rossetti, with his glamorous ladies and jewel colours, and the fact that we knew the stories of Elizabeth Siddal and Jane Morris gave greater depth to what I was seeing.  But then there was Fanny, poor abused, stroppy Fanny,spitting nuts and never letting go.  I wanted to know more and all there was was just rude and patently untrue; Walnut shells? Really? Thank the Lord for Jan Marsh and her Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, it gave me somewhere to start.  So I started and twenty-something years later I was stood on her grave, possibly the first person to ever go there and know who was six feet below. That's somewhat intense. Blimey. No wonder some researchers go a little bit, well, mental...

That moment when research becomes obsession...
As you will know from this post I have met my share of crazy researchers.  I have had all manner of people scream at me via email because I looked at something THAT WAS THEIRS! Reactions can be anything from sudden bombardment of hyper-excited emails that WE LIKE THE SAME THING to an equally sudden blocking and abuse. I had a right stinger of an email from a researcher who was mad because I had the same book as her. That one still makes me chuckle. Part of me is really impressed with how dedicated they are to their subject, knowing full well that the levels of passion it takes have a go at someone for owning a copy of a book you own too, have the potential of discovering great things.  In order to research, write books, write posts, you have to love your subject in order to keep digging when you are exhausted and despairing.

Fanny Cornforth (1860s) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
For some lucky people this is their job.  I am so envious of people who get to go to work of a morning and just sit and research.  For me, and no doubt countless others, my research and writing is the thing that has to fit around everything else. I have a job, I have a family and a daughter with diverse needs.  There has to be something that drags you back to it after you've done everything else and are knackered. You have to find that hook, that bond with your subject that makes a space in your otherwise heaving life.  No wonder that often spills into possessiveness and weirdness.

"Somebody mentioned Fanny and didn't mention me!"
I've had my moments of intense researcher-rage, or what I call 'Research-zilla'.  I lost my rag completely when the BBC allowed a person, who will remain nameless, to claim he was Fanny Cornforth's biographer and he had discovered her grave, two months after I had published the first account of it.  I was livid.  I argued on Twitter with the reporter.  It was horrible. It taught me that I never want to feel that way again. It also taught me that I should get a grip because a simple Google search on Fanny Cornforth comes back with my work. Whilst I was probably within my rights to be cross about a man pretty much claiming to be me (and his eyebrows weren't half as nice as mine), I was dangerously close to stumbling into the trap that seems to befall many a researcher - just because someone is your 'subject', it doesn't mean you are more important than them.

The Pier (a modern interpretation of Fanny Cornforth) by Karen Jones
Also, whilst someone is your subject, they don't just belong to you alone, however much you love them, feel connected to them or devote countless hours in pursuit of them.  Just because researchers are vaguely cultured people who spend more time reading articles on JSTOR rather than on the E-network, there are times when you should think if your behaviour has strayed into weird celebrity stalker territory.  There is a fine line between protecting your research and keeping a historical figure tied up in your cellar, in a manner of speaking.

"Hey, attractive young Rossetti, I find your artistic vision fascinating.
Would you like to see the puppies in my van?"
I suspect I get a bit possessive of Fanny because she is not the most well known of people and for rather a long time, it was just me and her.  I really don't understand researchers who get possessive of really famous people who have countless books written about them, but each to their own. I've had people tell me that they don't understand why I would spend so much time talking about someone who doesn't matter, who never really did anything important in life.  Outside your bubble of research, many, many people will not understand what the attraction is.  It's your job to show them, it's your job to share, to enthuse, to be the person that encourages others to find out more about your beloved subject. 

Me and Fanny
In fact, be the person who set you on the road to obsession in the first place.
My Fanny is your Fanny. My Fanny is everyone's Fanny.
I have the best job in the world.

Thursday 12 January 2017


Damn it! My resident eleven year old has infected me with a really annoying ear-worm which I find myself singing under my breath in places like Lidls and John Lewis (we're a broad church in the Walker household).  It is this stupidly catchy song called Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen, which is simple and odd and just won't get out of your head.  It also makes you want to eat pineapple, but that might be me.  I do love pineapple and I love it on many layers (who can say that about fruit on a regular basis?)  It is ridiculously delicious and very kitsch too, but also exotic and, much like nutmeg, I feel absurdly rich to have one in the house because I know a little of its history, thanks to this book...

Mr Walker read this book a while ago and regaled me with many facts about the 'King of Fruits' which has a fascinating history.  Then I came across an image which made me wonder how often pineapples appeared in Victorian art. I'll come to that in a minute, but first some history...

John Rose, the King's Gardener, presenting Charles II with a Pineapple (1675) Hendrick Danckerts
I'm guessing you will be unsurprised to hear that the pineapple is not native to British shores.  It was those exploring Dutch who first brought it back from South America and started a pineapple race in Northern Europe.  The pineapple wasn't an easy task for chilly Britain and the way they managed to get them to grow was to fill trenches with manure and let the heat of the rotting warm the pineapple plants.  Well, that just sounds delicious.  Pineapple pits or stoves were the only way to get the fruit to grow, but by that point we had a pineapple frenzy on our hands.  It was veritably Pineapple Madness...

The Pineapple Hothouse (1761) in Dunmore, Scotland
The pineapple quickly became an instantly recognisable symbol of exoticism and wealth. Pineapple motifs sprang up everywhere in architecture, from finials to the most spectacular example the Dunmore Pineapple, a hothouse to grow, well, pineapples.  If ever there was a moment to shout 'Look at the size of my pineapple!', this would be it...

A Pineapple, a Peach and Plums on a Mossy Bank John Sherrin
Enough of the pineapples of the past, what about Victorian pineapples? By the time of Queen Victoria, obvious trade and colonial matters had made the transport of exotic fruit possible (if not common) and so although pineapples were still grown here in special gardens (such as Heligan), most pineapples came in from abroad and must have cost a fortune, so when an artist got hold of one, it made a very special addition to a painting.  Most often, they appeared in still life compositions, such as the charming example above.

Peaches, Pears, Plums and Pineapples Elouise Harriet Stannard
And this one...

Still Life with Fruit and a Rug William Duffield
And this one.  And actually quite a few more.  Duffield (1816-1863) seems to have made the most of his pineapples when he got them, painting countless still-life fruit cocktails, with a pineapple shoved in the middle.  Many artists seem to have loved the alliteration of a pineapple, which is a phrase I don't get to use often enough, placing them with pears, peaches, plums and pomegranates. All the delicious fruits begin with 'P' it seems.

Still Life with Fruit William Henry Hunt
Often they are paired with grapes, possibly to hint at their decadence.  Throughout the internet, it is stated that the pineapple is supposed to symbolise hospitality, but unless that involves cubing it and sticking it on cocktail sticks with cheese, I'm not sure that is true.  More likely it symbolises bounty and riches.  I especially like how in some of the still-lifes, the pineapple still has part of its stalk attached. You never see that in Tesco...

Still Life of Pineapple Plant, Grapes and Peaches on a Table (19th century) British School
Some people go the whole hog and shove the plant in too.  That is properly showing off, as if they have a pineapple plant at their disposal.  I can only imagine the artist went to a special garden to see that.  It is rather impressive though and makes the peaches look a bit rubbish.

The Gourmand Louis Leopold Boilly
Mind you, look at this chap with his pineapple in his house!  What I really wanted to see was the 'casual' use of pineapples in art, where they are slipped in to say something about the scene and the people involved.  This chap knows and loves his food.  As he tucks into his lovely roast bird he is surrounded by other delicious dishes and a pineapple plant at the front, looking almost like an alarmed person, oddly enough.  Are we meant to be worried about the amount of food he has? This chap has only the best and that includes a lovely fresh pineapple.

Kiss me and you'll get the 'Lasses (1856) Lily Martin Spencer
The 'lasses' mentioned above is molasses in the maid's bowl.  It's an unusual method of fending off unwanted advances but no doubt effective.  Spencer was an English artist who moved to New York as a child and became a very successful genre painter.  This is an American nineteenth century scene of household life.  The pretty maid is trying to get on with her work preparing the fruit (the pineapple is in the tin bowl on the stool) but is being harassed by either a fellow servant or a man she feels comfortable enough to throw treacle over.  The saucy minx.

The Marmosets and a Pineapple (1860) Edwin Landseer
If you are rich enough to have a pineapple, maybe you'd like a couple of tiny monkeys too?  Thinking about it, the monkeys might have been cheaper and easier to get hold of than the pineapple which is a weird thought.  Again, in the Landseer, notice the extended stalk and also the lovely tails of the marmosets.  I do like monkeys, and saw some at a zoo which were just beautiful.  The mother was handing her child some grapes and the child kept dropping it and then reaching out for more.  After about three the mother refused to hand any more over.  I thought, 'We've all been there, Love'.

Still Life with Fruit and Decanter (1860) Roger Fenton

Obviously if you had a pineapple and a camera, the two would have to come together in a wonderful still life.  Fenton did a couple, obviously not a man to waste a good pineapple, and I have to admit there is something about the texture of the pineapple 'dimples' that looks amazing in black and white (or sepia), whereas other fruit don't look as glorious as they do in colour, for example the peaches, and whatever the lumpy thing in the middle is.

Mary Hillier (and Pineapple) (1864-5) Julia Margaret Cameron
This was the picture that started me drawing the pineapple images together.  Whilst getting all Mary Hillier images into one database, I was faced with this lesser-known snap of her holding a little pineapple. There is a type of pineapple called the 'Victoria' which is very small, so I wonder if this is a Victorian Victoria?  I love that she appears to be in sort of classical dress, holding a pineapple, which is marvellously barmy.  Or maybe Cameron was going for 'native' dress?  Either way, it is a strange and lovely image. I wonder if Mary got to eat a bit of it afterwards?

In Soho (1920) Fred Taylor
Into the twentieth century, and the pineapple became a little more commonplace, especially if the above image is to be believed.  It is now hanging next to the bananas, just another fruit for our proto-flapper to cast her haughty eye over.  Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the pineapples herself...

Christmas Fare from the Empire (1920s) F C Harrison
And so our love affair with pineapples continues.  They are not quite as familiar and commonplace as bananas but a pineapple holds a dear place in our hearts due to the sweet flesh that makes your mouth tingle and the spiky, bumpy skin and leaves.  The smell is instantly recognisable, and we have found many different ways to cook them as well as scoff them in juicy chunks.  I personally still want a fancy pineapple upside cake mould (sold in Lakeland a few years back) as it is one of my favourite cakes, but in the meantime I shall hold my pineapple aloft with pride and wait for someone to photograph me...