Wednesday 28 November 2018

Cameron and Rossetti

A bit of a holy grail for me is Julia Margaret Cameron's lost image of Christina Rossetti.  We know that Cameron managed to capture an image of the poet as 'Christina Rossetti, profile' is listed on the lid of a negative box.  Whether or not that particular negative or any resultant images survived is another matter.  Questions immediately arise - how would Cameron portray Christina?  Would it be a gravitas-packed image, like those of Tennyson or Browning, or something lighter, prettier, like those of Anny Thackeray?

Robert Browning (1865) Julia Margaret Cameron
Anny Thackeray (1870) Julia Margaret Cameron
Whilst pursuing Miss Rossetti, we have at least the photographs Cameron took of her brother, William Michael, taken in 1865, and in a similar vein to Browning and Tennyson (definitely the same hat)...

William Michael Rossetti, Study 2 (1865) Julia Margaret Cameron
The one Rossetti who escaped her lens was the one she chased the hardest and with whom, arguably she had the most in common.   Julia Margaret Cameron met the Rossetti family when they were drawn into the orbit of Little Holland House in 1856.  The person who had taken him there was fellow Pre-Raphaelite brother, William Holman Hunt. Cameron took Hunt's photograph and his influence in her work is clear from works such as Pre-Raphaelite Study (1870).

William Holman Hunt in Eastern Dress (1864) Julia Margaret Cameron

Pre-Raphaelite Study (1870) Julia Margaret Cameron
Isabella and the Pot of Basil (1868) William Holman Hunt
On paper, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Julia Margaret Cameron seemed to be kindred spirits.  Both had translated the Gottfried Burger poem 'Lenore', Cameron in 1847, three years after Rossetti's, and both had dedicated great time and effort into illustrations for collections of Tennyson's poetry.  When significant people in their lives had died prematurely, both had reacted creatively, capturing their deaths in striking artistic pieces, Rossetti with Beata Beatrix and Cameron with the post-mortem photographs of Adeline Clogstoun.  Yet, Rossetti resisted, despite profiting from the acquaintance, and Cameron found it difficult to cease her pursuit.

The Rossetti Family (1863) Lewis Carroll
Rossetti had a well-established relationship with photography.  He welcomed Cameron's friend and rival Lewis Carroll in to his home and garden to capture his family (including modest sister Christina in some of the most beautiful portraits you'll see of her), not to mention the epic cycle of photographs of Jane Morris, taken by John Parsons under the direction of Rossetti.  However, his relationship with Mrs Cameron seems to have a double edge to it, in turns warm and retreating, yet undeniably influential.

On the face of it, Rossetti wrote letters to Mrs Cameron filled with friendship and admiration. He writes of her 'beautiful photographs', praising The Kiss of Peace as being 'a most lovely thing' and that one of her photographs was like 'a Lionardo' (sic). It is, of course, possible that the miss spelling is not a coincidence and he was mocking her, but I don't get that impression from the rest of their lettes. She gave him photographs and he allowed her to borrow photographs of his paintings.

The Rosebud Garden of Girls (1868) Julia Margaret Cameron
I think a very interesting aspect of their relationship is that they had such a wide group of shared friends and even people I wouldn't immediately connect with Rossetti were part of the Society that both artists moved in, mostly centred around Tennyson or Little Holland House.  When Rossetti was sent a copy of The Rosebud Garden of Girls as a 'kind present' he was 'half ashamed to accept', he described it as 'full of beauty'.  He writes Nellie and Christina (on the left) would 'bear away the palm' (of beauty), but that the photographer 'is not always a trustworthy reporter', which is an interesting comment because you would think the camera would be trusted (before Photoshop, anyway).  It could have been that Rossetti felt there was no difference between painting and photography in terms of art form and its ability to express and enhance beauty.

Cameron was always a generous friend, a thing that embarrassed people as much as endeared her to them.  She gave Rossetti not only photographs but also an illustrated copy of Edwin the Fair and Philip Van Artevelde by her friend and model Henry Taylor.  There is some disagreement over how many of Cameron's images Rossetti owned, but there are initially seven that Cameron herself gave to Rossetti as presents in 1867, a year after they seem to have started a correspondence.  They are:

Ophelia (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
Ophelia is the most immediately 'pre-raphaelite' subject, and Rossetti's copy had the following dedication written on it - 'For Dante Gabriel Rossetti with my best remembrance, Julia Margaret Cameron.' The image of Mary Pinnock reminds me of images of Elizabeth Siddal, and the strong focus of the woman without any narrative (the title is almost superfluous, different from the far more dramatic rendering of the subject featuring Emily Peacock) brings to mind Rossetti's 'beauties' of the 1860s.

Rosealba (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
 This photograph of the model Cyllena Wilson is one of three images that Cameron gave to Rossetti of the girl.  This one is entitled 'Rosealba', referring to the white rose on her dress.  Another a straight portrait of Cyllena.

Cyllena (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
Rossetti referred to this picture of 'Selina', probably because he heard the photograph's subject referred to before seeing her name written down.  I am unsurprised that Rossetti liked the images and Mrs Cameron was extremely shrewd to choose Cyllena for her gift to Rossetti as the girl is very much like Fanny Cornforth in her broad open face and long flowing hair.  She was also an adventurous soul, but we'll talk about that next month.

Rachel (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
The most awkward of the portraits of Cyllena is this one, and you have to have pity on girl having to pose for goodness knows how long with that vase on her head.

Kate Keown (1866) Julia Margaret Cameron
A curious inclusion in the collection are the images of children, firstly this one of Kate Keown and the next of Freddy Gould.

Freddy Gould (1866) Julia Margaret Cameron
This two young models are interesting inclusions in the gift as Rossetti is not known for his interest or inclusion of children in his art.  On the surface I suppose Cameron might have been thinking of the angelic figure in Rossetti's  The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1849), which I can definitely imagine Cameron being influenced and inspired by, but children were never part of Rossetti's artistic vision.

Mignon (1866-7) Julia Margaret Cameron

The Blue Bower (1865) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The final image of the set given to Rossetti by Cameron was another image of young Kate Keown, but she appears to be playing the part of a little stunner in a pose that is very reminiscent of The Blue Bower of a year earlier.  Even though Mignon is from a session entitled The Minstrel Group (which included both Mary Ryan and Elizabeth Keown as well as Kate), it is only the single figure, posed with a musical instrument that Cameron sends to Rossetti.  It might have been entirely accidental but she appears to have sent him a virginal version of The Blue Bower, just as Rossetti's art was turning from the obvious charms of Fanny Cornforth to the untouchable icy beauty of Alexa Wilding.

Hypatia (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
Rossetti also received other photographs from Mrs Cameron.  For the portrayal of ancient philosopher Hypatia, Cameron chose Marie Spartali.  A decade later, Spartali would appear in Rossetti's A Vision of Fiammetta, but in 1867 she was an aspiring painter, learning her craft under Ford Madox Brown (just as Rossetti had, sort of) and posing for her Isle of Wight friend, Cameron.  The dress with the criss-cross pattern used in Cameron's photographs reminds me of both Burne-Jones' Sidonia Von Bork 1560 (1860) and Frank Cadogan Cowper's Vanity (1907).  Spartali was also a recipient of Mrs Cameron's famous generosity; in a letter from 1869, Rossetti tells Cameron he will pass a copy of The Kiss of Peace to Spartali when he sees her, a photograph Rossetti considers a 'masterpiece'.

The Kiss of Peace (1869) Julia Margaret Cameron
Beyond the images Rossetti owned (and by his death it is rumoured he owned up to 41 of her prints), the couple shared inspiration.  Many people have commented on the similarities between 'Call, I Follow, I Follow, Let Me Die!' and Beata Beatrix, which were hanged together in a recent exhibition, but exactly who drew inspiration from whom is unclear.  Certainly, Cameron's photograph predates Rossetti's finished oil but his sketches of The Return of Tibullus to Delia, which prefigure Beata Beatrix date from the mid 1850s. I have read people argue the matter both ways - that Cameron saw Beata Beatrix on a visit to Rossetti's studio and that Rossetti received a copy of Cameron's print.

'Call, I Follow, I Follow, Let Me Die!' (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron

Beata Beatrix (1864-70) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Beyond the purely visual, Cameron found inspiration in the poetry of the Rossetti siblings, starting with the aforementioned Minstrel group, which she based on Christina Rossetti's 'Advent'...

The Minstrel Group (1866) Julia Margaret Cameron
It's not the most obvious tribute to Rossetti's poem and had Cameron not inscribed some prints with 'We sing a slow contented song / and knock at paradise' the connection might not have been made.  I do wonder if sometimes Cameron just named a photo on a whim after the fact, but Mary Ryan and the Keown girls are supposedly the 'patient virgins wise' of the poem.

'And the Stars in her Hair were Seven' (1870) Julia Margaret Cameron
 On more intentional ground, we have Marion 'Pinkie' Ritchie as the Blessed Damozel of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's poem.  It is a beautiful and lesser known of Cameron's photographs and makes the lovely Miss Ritchie look absolutely delightful.  I particularly love the fact that her 'stars' appear to be flowers, and this portrait is softer than others of her as Mary Queen of Scots.  I rather like Pinkie and will be returning to her next month.

Mnemosyne (1868) Julia Margaret Cameron
Mnemosyne (1881) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Cameron's image of Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, predates Rossetti's by over a decade and some argue that Rossetti may have been inspired by her image, which was in his collection of prints, although far more likely is that it is a repeat of Astarte Syriaca.   

The Annunciation (1864-5) Julia Margaret Cameron
The real question becomes why did Rossetti resist the relationship with Cameron?  Whilst staying with their mutual friend William Allingham in 1868, down in the New Forest, Rossetti writes that he wants to walk by the seaside, with no 'impending female photographers or even poet laureates'.  When Cameron sent Allingham several insistent notes to come and sit for her, bringing Rossetti with him, Rossetti replied with a equally insistent 'no'.  It's not a secret that Cameron could be rather overwhelming and although the pair seemed to respect each other as artists, possibly in later life, Rossetti did not feel comfortable being a model for Cameron.  Thinking about it, I'm not even sure Rossetti had modelled for any female artists after Elizabeth Siddal, and we have proof that he felt uncomfortable about portraits taken of him after her death.  It is just as likely that the refusal from Rossetti was as much about his feelings about his own image as his feelings about the photographer.  Either way, it probably didn't do Cameron any harm to be told 'no' now and then, despite depriving us of what would undoubtedly be an interesting portrait of a conflicted, brilliant artist.  

I still remain hopeful that Christina's photo will appear at some point, I best go and check the attic again...

Sunday 11 November 2018

Sister Ethel Mary Lloyd SRN

Today I'm straying out of my Victorian comfort-zone to talk about something very much on all our minds today: the First World War.  A century has now passed and I think this is the first of the big anniversaries that I can remember where, for obvious reasons, we have none of the veterans left alive.  Leaving all politics of the matter aside, I wanted to explore a very interesting act of remembrance by an artist, and find the story behind this painting...

Sister Ethel Mary Lloyd, SRN (1943) Isabel Florrie Saul
This is one of Mr Walker's favourite paintings at the Russell Cotes Art Gallery, but it is tiny, measuring only 10cm by around 7cm.  She really is a miniature masterpiece and I have seen her a few times but never really stopped to think about the many elements in the image.  Who is she and why is there a portrait of her?  It was painted in the midst of one World War but has the date of another across it.  You know how I love a challenge and a story, so let's start with Sister Ethel Mary Lloyd...

John Ambrose Lloyd (c.1850s) Richard Norbury
 Ethel Mary Lloyd came from an interesting family to research.  Her grandfather is now remembered as a leading composer of hymn tunes and anthems.  John Ambrose Lloyd (1815-1874) hailed from Wales, bringing with him a family history of religious worship.  His own father had been a Baptist preacher, and when John Ambrose moved from Flintshire to Liverpool, he took the melodies of congregational singing with him, publishing two volumes of music in 1843 and 1870.  His son, Ethel's father, Edward, worked as a manufacturer's agent, and married the daughter of a commercial agent in 1868.  There then followed, in quick succession, seven children, three girls then four boys.  Ethel was the youngest of the girls, born in 1872, in Hull.  The family seemed to have moved around quite a bit in the early years of the couple's marriage but by the birth of Ethel's brother, Edward, in 1875, the Lloyds had finally settled in Nottingham, at the very respectable 1 Alpha Terrace.

It was Ethel's big sister Alice who qualified as a nurse first.  The same year as their mother died, 1894, Alice qualified as a nurse after three years training at Nottingham General Hospital.  Ethel started her training in 1904 at the Bristol Royal Infirmary.  She was already a nurse, but her training was for the new qualification of 'midwife'.

Early midwife taking a footprint as identification, 1910
I never knew that 'midwife' was such a recent qualification.  It was the state's way of controlling something women had been doing for years, for better or worse, for the betterment of society (if I'm being charitable).  Anyway, the wheels were set in motion with the Midwives Act of 1902, but this did not become fully effective until 1905.  Between 1902 and 1903, women could claim certification if they had already been practicing in the appropriate hospital and had 'a good character', whatever that means.  Ethel qualified as a midwife, but had already been working as a nurse for a number of years prior to training, as recorded in the 1901 census.  I'm not entirely sure why Ethel became a midwife, because her next recorded posting was to Bournemouth, a place that was to become her home in later life.  She is recorded as 'nurse' to 88 year old Mr Moser and his daughter Edith (62 years old), neither in particular need of a midwife.  The fact that Ethel is listed as 'nurse' to the household rather than lodger implies she was either Mr Moser or Edith's nurse rather than just living there while working in Bournemouth.  She certainly wasn't going to get much midwifery in the next decade as the War called her into service.

Territorial Force Nursing Service
As you can see by Ethel's uniform in the portrait at the top, she joined the Territorial Force Nursing Service.  What gives this away are the little 'T's in the corners of her cape.  You had to have at least three years of training to join, and as it was established in 1908, Ethel was perfectly placed to become a part of it.  You probably know that the build up for the First World War started horribly early and so six years before a shot was fired, we were already planning for casualties, with 23 large buildings in the country identified for use as military hospitals in the event of war.  Come 1914, almost three thousand nurses were mobilised, Ethel with them.  I made the mistake of thinking 'Territorial Force' meant that the nurses were stationed abroad, but of the 8,000 nurses who eventually joined the TFNS, only 2,000 of them were in stations overseas.

A TFNS nurse, c.1914, note the medal and the 'T's
The uniform was described as a cape of blue-grey material with scarlet facing and a silver T at each corner.  The dress was in washable fabric, the same colour of the cape, and the Sister had bands edged in scarlet at the wrist.  On the above lass (who is a nurse rather than a Sister, hence no bands) you will see a medal also signifying the TFNS, which is this one...

If you look at the painting of Ethel, she wears hers on the right (as you look at her) alongside her British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.  I think that Ethel was possibly stationed at the North Evington Military Hospital in Leicester because in the Midwife Register of 1926 she is still stationed there.

After her service was done, Ethel returned to Bournemouth and continued nursing.  She is there in the 1939 census at 29A Irving Road, as a retired trained nursing sister, now 72 years old.  About a mile away, in Iford Lane, Bournemouth lived a woman who was about to immortalise her...

Isabel Florrie Saul, c.1980
Isabel Saul was born in the Bournemouth area in 1895 and exhibited with the Bournemouth Art Exhibition and the Royal Academy.  She was the cousin of Doris Beerling, also an RA artist, but it seems that the business of most of her family was medicine.  Her brother was a pharmacist and her sister, a nurse, both of whom lived with Isabel in 1939.  It was possibly through her sister that Isabel met Ethel.  Although elderly, Ethel may well had been assisting with nurses and their training - my grandfather did something similar, training soldiers in the Second World War to do what he did in the First.  However it happened, Isabel decided that Ethel needed a portrait...

Corfe Castle in the Beauteous Isle of Purbeck (1940) Isabel Saul
Isabel Saul's art is beautiful and whimsical, often historical or Biblical, and her sister Mary did the calligraphy that decorated many of her canvases. It is likely that Mary did the writing across the back of Ethel's canvas, reading 'Anno Domini MCMXIV - MCMXVIII'.  This makes the image of Ethel interesting - it is a blending of the past and present.  Seventy-one year old Ethel looks at at us with little twinkly eyes in her uniform from almost thirty years previously.  Her medals tell of her service but in her hand is a copy of the Nursing Times from the 1940s, possibly hinting that her nursing days were not relegated to the past.

Queen Mary I (1544) Master John
When I saw the tiny gem that is Sister Ethel Mary Lloyd, SRN I was immediately reminded of portraits of the past, like this one of Queen Mary.  The glorious blue of the background elevates the nurse to a Queen, together with the golden legend normally reserved for reigns or significant dates.  This leads me to believe that for Ethel, the First World War was significant, that it defined her.  This sounds rather obvious, but we don't tend to think of the Great War in terms of the woman's experience, but for the likes of Ethel, it gave them life-changing purpose.  I don't think it's a coincidence that in her previous census returns before her training, she had no occupation, like many 'respectable' women of her class.  Ethel clutches her Nursing Times like a rolled scroll of office, resting on her books.  She has her medals, like a veteran, and despite the miniature scale of the tempera portrait, she is a formidable yet kindly force to be reckoned with. It also reminds me that despite today marking 100 years since the end of the First World War, for many like Ethel the war was carried in their hearts, for better or worse, and became who they would be for the rest of their lives.

Ethel only lived another four years after the painting was shown at the Royal Academy, dying on 20th November 1947.  She was returned to her family in Nottingham to be buried. Isabel Saul lived on in Bournemouth, bequesting the tiny portrait of Ethel to the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery at her death in 1982 where she is currently on display until the 19th November.

Sunday 4 November 2018

Review: China: Through the Lens of John Thomson

Just opened at the Russell-Cotes is a rather smashing exhibition.  It combines my twin delights of 19th century photography and beautiful women, in an extraordinary collection of large Victorian images taken by groundbreaking photographer and traveller, John Thomson.  What I found especially stunning was the echoes some of the photographs had in some of my favourite 19th century art works...

A Manchu Bride (1871-2)
Scotsman Thomson travelled to the Far East in 1862 and spent the next decade touring Asia documenting his journey with photography.  He spoke enough of the appropriate languages to communicate with his subjects and the results are beautiful and sensitive images of a foreign and yet familiar culture. I particularly liked the photographs of brides, richly decorated and apprehensive, with their enormous headdresses and silk robes.

A Canton Beauty (1869-71)
Thomson arrived in Hong Kong in 1868 and set up a studio there.  His reputation was sealed at home when he was commission to take photographs of Queen Victoria's son, Albert on his visit to the colony.  After Thomson's wife and son returned home in 1870 to avoid disease, Thomson ventured to more rural areas of China, where a white man and a camera were not exactly everyday sights, yet he was welcomed and allowed to do his work.

Thomson and Two Manchu Soldiers (1871)
We are even treated to a 'selfie' of Thomson, posing awkwardly near to soldiers, looking anxiously as his camera captures the image. His images, crystal clear and big, show the beauty of uniforms, the intricate jewellery and silks of the women, and the furniture and accessories of the domestic interiors.  The image above shows west meeting east and the contrast in their appearances.

Bound and Unbound Feet of Two Amoy Women (1871)
He wasn't a man who just marvelled at the beauty however.  Through his images Thomson draws attention to the aspects of the culture of which he was critical.  His powerful image of the bound feet of a woman of status as opposed to her unbound, poorer contemporary makes a horrifying display and showed how something could be seen as beautiful to one culture seems cruel to another.  Mind you, at this point we were squashing women into corsets that were so tight that their organs moved so we're not exactly ones to talk.  Interestingly the anti-foot binding movement seems to have gathered pace at the same time as the 'rational dress' movements in the west, so we aren't that different over all.

A Manchu Lady having her Hair Dressed by a Servant Girl (1871-2)
Thomson also voiced his sympathies with the brides he photographed, likening their lives to slavery, beaten by husbands and mothers-in-law if she did not perform her duties.  The brides often look quite wistful and apprehensive as they are decorated, but Thomson captures both the beauty and the fear.

Manchu Bride (1873)
One thing I really loved seeing was 'outside the frame'.  Obviously the images were made to be seen in a frame, close to the subject, but seeing the entire image shows you the background board and beyond, how the figures sat in their open-air studio regarding the strange Scotsman and his camera with interest.

Annie Chinery Cameron (1873-78) Julia Margaret Cameron

The Blue Bower (1865) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The likes of you will no doubt do as I did and see the parallels, conscious and otherwise, between Thomson's photographs and the fashion in art back in Britain.  Cameron's image of her daughter-in-law (above) definitely came to mind (I wonder if she saw any of her contemporary's works?) and Rossetti's love of the East brings colour to the silks and jewellery, however I do encourage you to go and see the authentic and thought-provoking images of the Far East in this exhibition, which have been displayed alongside pieces from the Russell-Cotes collection.  Merton and Annie Russell-Cotes were also travellers, visiting China around a decade later than Thomson and returning with keepsakes of their journey.  As if you were in any doubt of how small a woman's foot can be bound to, there are tiny shoes on display alongside other objects from Shanghai and Beijing.

China: Through the Lens of John Thomson (1868-1872) is on until June 2019, so plenty of time to see it, and further information can be found here.