Saturday 26 August 2017

Rococo Loco!

As some of you that read this blog will know, I also have a bit of a fetish for the eighteenth century.  In both my degree and masters with the glorious Open University, I studied the art, architecture, literature, music and politics of eighteenth century Europe.  I also make a delicious capezzoli di venere.  Nom nom nom. Anyway, some of my favourite Victorian art is based on eighteenth century scenes, filled with massive dresses, heaving bosoms and marital entanglements.  Hurrah all round!

Rejected Addresses (1876) Charles Lidderdale
No wonder the Victorians loved the Georgians; the century before got to indulge (and overindulge) in things that were frowned upon in the time of good Queen Vicky.  Plus, the fabrics were wonderful and there was a sense of romance in the air at all times.  Take our lady in the painting above.  She's been well and truly snubbed by some bastard.  You take some time to think, my darling, and you'll realise that he didn't deserve you and you are well out of that.  Plus, with those hip pads you'd never fit through his gate.

The Trysting Place (1878) Charles Lidderdale
Here we are again, waiting for our beloved to turn up.  Take my advice and give him 5 minutes, tops. If he doesn't turn up by then, he's just not into you.  Have a bit of self respect, no matter how hot he is. I do wonder if a big silk dress is the ideal outfit for wandering around woodland looking for a good tryst.  I hope she's wearing wellies underneath...

A Tangle (1897) Francis Muschamp
Of course, the Victorian idea of Georgian life wasn't just filled with bitter jiltings.  There was plenty of lovely courtships too, including this charming pair who are having japes whilst winding some yarn.  That is a patient man indeed and she should marry him immediately because any man who will sit still for that long is a keeper.  Also, look how shiny his outfit is.  I think she likes him as he got the chair on the furry rug.  He's in there.

Harmony (1879) Jean Carolus
These three sisters all sing together beautifully and I'm sure will not be elbowing each other out of the way for the chap with the violin.  Something the Victorians attribute to the Georgians is a love of music and there are many scenes of girls singing, dancing and generally being lovely and accomplished. Georgian women are the best.

The Minuet (1892) Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes
Everybody dance now! And start them young!  Perhaps the Victorians thought Georgian women were far better behaved (which is optimistic of them), rather than those pesky suffragettes and women with their own thoughts.  Look at those nice Georgian ladies, why can't you be more like them?  They do dancing, waiting for feckless lovers, and sing a bit. That's proper girl business.

The Rehersal (1886) Edmund Blair Leighton
Is it just me or do neither of these two look particularly happy about playing the song?  Often the Victorians took the opportunity to  equate musical duets with lovers, but in the case of this unlikely pair, they don't look too thrilled.

The Singing Lesson by Arturo Ricci
Take The Singing Lesson by Arturo Ricci; that couple is definitely in love and singing something romantic to each other.  In fact all of Ricci's Georgian paintings are a cavalcade of Rococo interiors packed with jolly, satin clad lovelies who are all filled with the romance of being strictly corsetted...

Rococo Interior by Circle of  Arturo Ricci
For the Victorians who had rules and boundaries, the perceived freedom of the previous century seemed carefree and beautiful.  The fact that there are some attractive manly ankles on show can't have hurt either.  It was only when I watched Pride and Prejudice on the BBC that I learnt how men changed from knee breeches and stockings to boring trousers.  Looking at the interior above it's all bright colours and smiles.  Those Georgians are so jolly, but then it's all fun and games until someone cuts a king's head off. The French just ruined it for everyone, t'uh.

The Picnic (no date) Edwin Blair Leighton
See, this is far calmer and less likely to end in revolution.  No-one gets regicidal with a cheese scone in their hand.  Trust Blair Leighton to find the calm, sweet side of the previous century.

Market Day (1900) Edmund Blair Leighton
Artistically, he often gets left behind, but The Other Leighton carved a very decided path for himself with his warm paintings of innocent life.  These two ladies are taking flowers to market and this handy chap is rowing them.  Now, he might be their brother or he might have his eye on one of them.  Maybe the narrative of this one is that the ladies are competing for the man with the muscly forearms and shortly there will be a discreet splash and only one lady will be left in the boat.  However, the way Blair Leighton plays it is innocent and respectable.

The Golden Train (1891) Edmund Blair Leighton
There is a certain amount of fetishistic treatment of the clothing in these paintings.  It's not like the Victorians didn't have beautiful clothing but maybe the impractical elements of the women's clothes emphasise desirable feminine helplessness.  You won't be riding bicycles in that frock, let alone trying to get the vote or other such nonsense.  If you have any sense, you will sit still and look pretty.  Why would you want to do anything more in a dress that beautiful?  Anyway, thinking gives you wrinkles.  Sit still and enjoy your dress...

The Clumsy Suitor by Francis Muschamp
One thing that is a safe bet for a big-dressed lady is that true love will prevail, even if he is a tad uncoordinated.  This poor chap is knocking everything over with his enormous sword (not a euphemism), much to the amusement of the young lady.  She obviously likes a man with an unwieldy weapon.  Moving on.

Cut off with a Shilling (1885) Edmund Blair Leighton
What the Victorians sought out in these paintings was obviously an idea of themselves.  This is where they came from, their forefathers, the scandal-ridden, pleasure-loving dancers who transformed into a nation that defeated Napoleon and embraced the rules and boundaries of the Victorian age. In images like Cut off with a Shilling they show the caprices of the Georgians, but that scene could have come from any Dickens novel.  The Georgian age might have also had the rosy glow that all previous ages tend to have - look at the way the Victorians are often shown to us, without the disease, prejudice and questionable hygiene that is no doubt true.  To the Victorians, the previous age might have represented a more stable social order.  If you were a nouveau riche type, buying a nice painting for your brand new house, then you would seek to align yourself with one of those rich Georgian men who had always been the ruling class, who had knowledge, money and power.  The Victorian social order must have felt like shifting sands at time, with money raising people up or dumping them down, like a see-saw. 

The End of the Journey (c.1870) Philip Richard Morris
When the Victorians paint other periods they are obviously talking about themselves.  That is a quality they very much share with our modern times in that respect.  I wonder if other periods were guilty of this?  The people in the past are so glamorous, beautiful, romantic and brave. The women are gentle and waiting for your proposal, however long it might take.  The men are courtly, suave, strong of arm and long of sword. By buying the art you buy into the ideals, the myth and say 'this is my world, this is how I want life to be'.  It's no different to people liking period dramas now, wishing life could be that elegant and polite.  History paintings have certain outcomes, we are the living proof of how things turned out.  Maybe by looking back we are not facing our own paintings, our own lives that have far less certain outcomes.  We can only hope that future generations look at us and find us beautiful. 

Sunday 13 August 2017

Some Thoughts on Emily Peacock

As you will have read in a previous post of mine, sometimes the job of a biographer can be awfully tricky, especially in the case of women.  If that woman is a model, it becomes nigh on impossible because if we know anything of them it tends to be via the filter of the artist's biographers, and therefore prone to bias.  Nine times out of ten, they are of little consequence to biographers of the great and good and therefore slip from history. I find rather a lot of fun in seeing if I can fish them back into view.  Say hello to Emily Peacock...

Emily Peacock (1871) Julia Margaret Cameron
 Miss Peacock and her sister appear in a large number of Julia Margaret Cameron's photographs between 1871 and 1875, but very little is known of her because she was not local.  For models such as the Keowns and all the many Marys, finding them is easy as Freshwater is not a massive place in 1861 and so tracking them down and following them through birth, marriage, census and death records is fairly easy. Not only that but they crop up in local newspapers because in a small place, everything is news.  I love tracing people in small areas with a thriving local press, it's ever so much fun.  So, where does that leave us with the lovely Miss Peacock?

And Enid Sang (1874) Julia Margaret Cameron
Books such as Tracing Echoes (2001) by Nicky Bird and Julia Margaret Cameron's Women (1998) by Sylvia Wolf made an effort to find out more about the various models, but poor Emily escaped them both. All that could be said was that she was probably a visitor to Freshwater between 1871 and 1875 as no Peacocks were resident in the 1871 census.  In order to trace her, you would have to find every Emily Peacock in the World and work out if they were likely to be in Freshwater on holiday in 1871.  Sounds like fun, eh?
Emily Peacock (1873) Julia Margaret Cameron
You know me, I love a challenge (or rather my Aspergers manifests in my inexhaustible need to find out everything about everyone), so I could not let this one go.  After all, Miss Emily Peacock is a pretty important model for at least four years of Julia Margaret Cameron's career.  She deserves to be recognised as one of the faces of Cameron's work when it comes to some icon pictures such as Ophelia and And Enid Sang.  Where to start?

Aurora (1871-5) Julia Margaret Cameron
Always start with what we know: we can be fairly sure her name is Emily Peacock as that is written against her images.  In the images of 1871-5 she looks around 20 years old, so we are looking for someone born in the early 1850s.  We also know her sister was called Mary...

The Sisters (Emily and Mary Peacock) (1873) Julia Margaret Cameron
Therefore we are looking for Emily and Mary Peacock, born in the early 1850s.  That narrows it down a bit because although there are loads of Emily Peacocks, there are only a handful that have a sister called Mary (or Maria or anything that could be shortened to Mary).  Marvellous.  We can thin out the field further by making a reasonable assumption.  If the Peacock family were not residents in Freshwater during the 1870s it is fair to say that they were on holiday at Freshwater when Mrs Cameron discovered the sisters.  As Emily appears in images over a few years, the family had to be rich enough to take an annual holiday over at least four years.  There is a sea of Agricultural Labourers (or Ag Labs, as they are often called), who cannot be expected to continually visit the Isle of Wight to pose for Mrs Cameron. Not only that, why did Emily stop? So who are we left with?  Well, my money is on Miss Emily Denman Peacock and here's why...

The Sisters (1873) Julia Margaret Cameron
First of all, I'll start with Mr Peacock, Emily and Mary's father.  He is mentioned in a couple of Cameron's biographies, but not particularly flatteringly.  Mr Peacock is described in Brian Hill's 1973 biography of Cameron as a 'neighbour' in Freshwater, but everywhere else as a 'visitor', so it can be guessed that he stayed in a house close to Dimbola for extended periods.  Anyway, to quote from Hill's book:
"His daughters were goodlooking enough to sit for Julia, but their father was an affected individual who was always stressing his devotion to 'the beautiful'. He was foolhardy enough to remark one day to Mrs Cameron that really it would be a good thing if all plain people were quietly eliminated. 'At which I said to the man, whom I hate, "Then what would become of you and me, Mr Pocock?"' She was quite aware, of course, of his proper name." (p.125-126)
He sounds smashing.  However, that does give you an idea of how Mr Peacock regarded himself and his place in the world. He doesn't sound much like an agricultural labourer to me.  Anyway, armed with that bit of delightful fascism, I went in search of a man of independent means (and over inflated ego).  Sadly, you can't search for 'cockwomble' in a census. 'Quietly eliminated', for heaven's sake.

Three King's Daughters Fair (Mary and Emily Peacock and Annie Chinery)
(1873) Julia Margaret Cameron
Out of all the Peacock families in England, I narrowed it down to just one likely lot, and actually I found them first in Brooklyn, New York.  Samuel Alexander Peacock appears in the 1855 American census, aged 25, living with his 30 year old wife Maria and his daughters Emily and little Maria, whom I would like to go out on a limb and say they probably called Mary to save her being mixed up with her mother.  Samuel worked as a 'Printer' (later 'Newspaper Proprietor' which would explain the ego) but had not been in America more than a year or so because Emily, aged 2, had been born in Herfordshire in January 1853.  Maria Jnr however, at only a couple of months old, had been born in Brooklyn.  Their brother Thomas was also born in Brooklyn three years later but no further siblings follow until the family is back in England in 1865.  Grace, Clarrisa and Charles Peacock complete the family by the end of the 1860s, and the family had settled back in Watford, where Emily had been born almost twenty years before.

I See a Hand You Cannot See (1874) Julia Margaret Cameron
In the 1871 census, Samuel Peacock is described as a 'Master Printer' and employed four men and two boys.  He was incredibly nouveau riche which possibly explains why he would say something so naff in order to impress people he felt intimidated by. Anyway, as part of 1871, the family travelled to Freshwater to stay and there Julia Margaret Cameron discovered Emily and Mary Peacock...

The Angel in the House (1873) Julia Margaret Cameron
It seems that either Emily was more willing and available to pose, or Cameron found her more inspiring because during the four years the girls were on the island, Cameron used Emily on her own as well as occasionally with Mary.  She also took portraits of Emily that had no other title other than her name.  Emily posed for The Angel in the House, from a poem by Coventry Patmore of the same name, personifying the ideal of docile, middle-class womanhood.
Ophelia (1874) Julia Margaret Cameron

Ophelia (1874) Julia Margaret Cameron
 Most famous of Cameron's images of Emily has to be her Ophelia photographs, the top one especially.  The fragility and concern of her expression and the smattering of foliage underplays her madness beautifully, so you are left with a believable, worrying young woman.  The fact you can see the grasp of her fingers in her hair in the first picture, and the furrowing of her brow, is very moving and make these some of the most artistically striking of Shakespeare's doomed heroine.

'He thought of that sharp look Mother I gave him yesterday' (1875)

New Year's Eve (1875)
'He thought of that sharp look Mother I gave him yesterday' (1875)Julia Margaret Cameron
I wonder if part of the Peacock family's attempt at middle class-ness in their stay in Freshwater was also to meet Tennyson.  Although Mr Peacock sounds a bit of a pretentious and slightly fascist ninny, I can imagine him being impressed by the presence of the poet laureate in the village, maybe even the reason the family stayed there.  Imagine how chuffed he must have been when his daughter not only posed for images inspired by the great poet's work, but also posed with the great poet's son!  'He thought of that sharp look Mother I gave him yesterday' from 1875 is from Tennyson's 'The May Queen', and Emily is posed with Lionel Tennyson, young son of the poet, portraying the young May Queen and her erstwhile beau Robin.  The middle image, Cameron ascribed to 'New Year's Eve' a different poem, but possibly she intended it to be part of the Robin and May Queen story as well.

'For I'm to be the Queen of the May, Mother' (1875)

'So now I think my time is near' (1875)
Julia Margaret Cameron
'The May Queen' was a poem that Cameron returned to repeatedly for inspiration, and Mary Ryan had already been the unlucky girl, expiring on a bed of flowers in photos from 1864.  The two images of Emily as the May Queen from a decade later, taken on 1st May 1875, show a rather more 'Ophelia' figure, saintly in her martyrdom.  I like the fake halo from the straw boater. The dress in the second photograph looks rather like the Ophelia dress too. Despite the difficulties in posing and the whole process, the photographs are clear and beautiful images the convey the emotion and pathos of the poem beautifully.

Egeria (1874) Julia Margaret Cameron
Then Emily disappears from Cameron's art.  So what became of her?  Did her family just stop holidaying on the Isle of Wight?  Did they too object to the scandalously high ferry charges? Did Cameron finally kill Mr Peacock for being an annoying wierdo?  Well, if my Emily Peacock is the right Emily Peacock there is a really good reason for why her last appearance is in 1875.  Don't worry, she didn't die.  She got married.  In Australia.  That'll do it.

Enid (1874) Julia Margaret Cameron
Miss Emily Denman Peacock, daughter of Samuel and Maria, of Herfordshire, married Professor Charles Henry Herbert Cook from Kentish Town, Middlesex on 2nd December 1876 in St Peter's, Victoria, Australia.  Charles was a graduate of Cambridge who had just been employed as Professor of Mathematics at Canterbury College, Christchurch, New Zealand.  His parents had emigrated to Australia where he had gone to school, returning to England for his degree and meeting Miss Peacock whom he whisked away to Oz.

Charles Henry Herbert Cook
There is a lovely biography of Charles here and it seems he and Emily had a pretty decent life together.  One of their five children, Charles Frederick Denman Cook died in 1918, during the First World War, of spinal meningitis.  Other son Henry studied mathematics like his father and one of their three daughters was called Mary, after Emily's sister.  

Charles and Emily's grave
Emily died in September 1925 and is buried beside her husband (who had passed in 1910) at the cemetery in Wanganui, Rangitikei in New Zealand.

Is this our Emily Peacock?  Well, as she had children who married and had children of their own, hopefully somewhere out there (possibly in New Zealand) might be an image of Emily that could be compared to Cameron's photographs.  Possibly on a wall in Christchurch hangs a Julia Margaret Cameron print, who knows?  I'm really hoping so...

Friday 4 August 2017

Review: Albert Moore: Of Beauty and Aesthetics

Apologies for the delay in this review but things are rather hectic at Chez Walker of late.  I was fortunate enough to be able to see the following exhibition during a work trip to York and have been intending to write it up since then but life got in the way.  Anyway, now I have a moment to myself I best get on with it...

I feel a bit sorry for Albert Moore.  If you asked someone to name drape-y painters of Victorian England, Moore would come third, if he was lucky.  It often takes an exhibition for me to give more consideration to an artist who is often rather overlooked in the grand scheme of things and this is definitely the case for Moore.  If I thought it was going to be all lovely drape-y ladies, I was much mistaken...

Elijah's Sacrifice (1863)
He wasn't always all about the drape, you know.  When he started, Moore did large scale Biblical scenes, possibly with an eye to the Bible market (that was a pretty hefty market).  His early work, such as Elijah's Sacrifice bears more resemblance to TM Rooke or Edwin Longsden Long (whose paintings are very long indeed).  There's a bit of drape, certainly, but it feels wrong to appreciate the drape when there is so much Biblical misery and stuff going on.  The fire is absolutely stunning though - weird, fragile, unnatural yet terrifying.

A Garden (1869)
Okay, so there are a goodly number of drape-y ladies and they are pretty glorious.  A Garden is large and graceful, the woman almost one of the plants in the garden in both form and colouring.

Azaleas (1867-8)
Azaleas was Moore's first large-scale, subjectless piece.  Swinburne commented 'The melody of colour, the symphony of form is complete. One more beautiful thing is achieved, one more delight is born into the world; and its meaning is beauty; and its reason for being is to be.' The exhibition is undoubtedly packed to the gunnels with these women, tending plants, swaying in their sun-drenched courtyards, collapsing in the heat.  Some are large, but the ones I really loved were small, tiny gems of detail and precision...

Beads (1875)
Beads is a very beautiful little picture.  It is also a clue to why Moore might not be taken so seriously. Whilst Beads is a little gem, it's awfully similar to this...

Two Female Figures Reclining on a Sofa (1875)
...oh, and this one...

Apples (1875)
One complaint I hear about Moore is that he can be 'same-y' and when grouped together you can see how he took advantage of a nice piece of composition and tone.  I also love the idea that Moore took advantage of his models' rest time to continue sketching them.  However, if the York exhibition shows us anything, it shows that Moore was far more than floppy ladies on sofas...

Shells (1874)

Sea Gulls (1870-1)
I really loved the blow-y pictures, which reminded me of certain works by Waterhouse.  If you think about how difficult it must have been to catch a realistic flutter of fabric, the realistically awkward wrap of the shawl around the model's head seems like a real moment captured.  Equally as staged as the sofa paintings, the swathes of fabric caught in the wind refer back to those discrete wisps that covered the privates of classical types.

The Loves of the Winds and the Seasons (1893)
An absolute knock-out piece has to be The Loves of the Winds and the Seasons, huge in scale and rich in subject.  It reminded me of Agnolo Bronzino's Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time or Botticelli's Primavera, a multi-layered picture filled with drama and detail.  On the left we have Summer, and swanning in from the right we have Autumn and her best friend the South Wind (with his fan).  All is lush meadow and blooms for them, but in the background, it's a different story.  On the right, in snow, the North and East Wind are having a scrap, while Zephr chases Spring behind Summer's back.  It's both beautiful and odd all at once, and very large indeed.

Progress (1888-1904) G F Watts
To add context to Moore, the exhibition also has rooms of his contemporaries and his family.  The Moore family were resplendent with artists.  William Moore (1790-1851), an artist, moved his family to York around 1830 and of his 14 children, 5 were practising artists - Edwin, William Jnr, John Collingham, Henry and Albert.  Albert was born in York and so the art gallery is a natural setting for him and seeing so many of his works in one place makes you view him in a different way.  The context in which he created art, within the same marketplace as Watts, Burne-Jones, and Walter Crane, lifts Moore outside the box of Alma Tadema and Leighton where he has a tendency to be seen as 'the other one'.  

An Idyll (1892)
If this exhibition does anything, it lifts Moore to the front and shows that he is far more than just woman-as-still-life.  I really liked seeing his work that strayed from the aesthetic path, and although paintings like Midsummer are breath-taking in their clarity and beauty, The Loves of the Winds and the Seasons are paintings that can be gazed at for ages, seeing different things, the oddness of the snow, the figure of Zephyr who seems to hide from us.  Moore deserves to come out of the box and this is the perfect place to see him in all his glory.

Albert Moore: Of Beauty and Aesthetics is on at York Art Gallery until October and further details can be found here.