Friday 21 October 2022

Book Review: The Legend of King Arthur

 I seem to spend a fair amount of time at the moment looking at catalogues for exhibitions which I can’t attend.  Today’s review is no different, but I do have a chance of seeing it before Christmas, so fingers crossed.  However, for those not able to catch The Legend of King Arthur: Pilgrimage, Place and the Pre-Raphaelites, there is at least a rather lovely catalogue for your perusal…

Edited by Natalie Rigby, with contributions by Alison Smith, Joanna Banham, Sarah Crown, Jim Cheshire and Jacqueline Nowakowski, the catalogue of The Legend of King Arthur brings us to the glorious lands of Arthurian legend, as envisaged through the art of the Pre-Raphaelites and their followers. The exhibition itself tours William Morris Gallery in London, Tuille House in Carlisle and Falmouth Art Gallery over the next year, each venue bringing their own collection and contribution to play in the interpretation of the material, which is a good twist on the format of a touring exhibition.

The Love Potion (1903) Evelyn De Morgan

It will come as no surprise to any of you to read that Arthurian legend was a major influence on the work of the Pre-Raphaelites.  Malory and Tennyson’s poems on the subject provided the source material for some of the best known and loved images of the 19th century and works such as the Moxon Tennyson of 1857 demonstrate how fundamental King Arthur, the Knights and the maidens of Camelot were to the artists of the movement. Sex, Death, Honour, Victory, Tragedy and Betrayal all loom large in the stories and their artistic interpretations, so no wonder artists loved the stories and produced such diverse works as Julia Margaret Cameron’s spartan Call, I Follow, I Follow, Let Me Die! (1867) and William Dyce’s exceptionally busy Hospitality (1851).


Hospitality: The Admission of Sir Tristram to the Fellowship of the Round Table (1851)
William Dyce

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

It is easy to forget the sheer amount of Pre-Raphaelite art on the subject and how long it remained a touchstone, from the very inception of the movement right up to the First World War over half a century later. Not only that, but you can almost feel that the conviction in the subject matters strengthens the piece, so John William Waterhouse’s 1916 Tristan and Isolde is arguably a far more confident peace than Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s piece on the same subject from 1867, which face each other in the catalogue.  At a time when art was abstracting, the clarity of Waterhouse’s vision remains breath-taking and the rich colours of Isolde’s robes are astonishingly present, in comparison to Rossetti’s dreamlike fuzz in a darken room.

Tristan and Isolde (1916) John William Waterhouse

The chapters take you through Pre-Raphaelite art, King Arthur and Victorian poetry – many thanks for the reproduction of one of my favourite illustrations, Daniel Maclise’s alarmingly camp King receiving Excalibur with an expression that seems to say ‘For me? Joy!’… 

Following on, we find Tennyson in Cornwall, walking in the footsteps of his subjects and how that influenced his descriptions, then on to how Cornwall and King Arthur exist together in the public consciousness and physical reality. Having visited Cornwall many times, it is almost impossible not to believe in the return from Avalon when you are stood on the cliffs of Tintagel. It is a curious mix of religious belief, archaeological discourse and pure faith when you look at all the aspects of Arthurian legend, but much like any religion, searching for fact is missing the point. I remember asking as a child if King Arthur existed and the answer is of course ‘It’s not as simple as that,’ which I think is one of the best answers of all to any question. There is a handy list of all the places to visit, both real and fictional at the end should you fancy going in search of the Once and Future King. Having visited Dozmary Pool as a child, there is a magic, no better word for it, in these sites and it does make me long for the long sunny days to go off to Cornwall once more.  In the meantime, this catalogue, packed with gorgeous reproductions of glorious art will merrily add a touch of wonder to the long, dark winter ahead of us.

Launcelot at the Chapel of the Holy Grail (1896-8) Edward Burne-Jones

 The Legend of King Arthur: Pilgrimage, Place and the Pre-Raphaelites is available from here, and the exhibition is currently at the William Morris Gallery until January 2023 whence it will travel to Tuille House and then to Falmouth, home to the exhibition's curator Natalie Rigby, in June 2023.

Friday 7 October 2022

Florence Hilda Laverock

 If you have read my novel We Are Villains All, then you might recognize this illustration...

Whilst I used it to symbolise the murderous nature of one of my characters, you will be shocked to learn that it was not drawn especially for me but for a 1905 book of nocturnal wildlife stories called Creatures of the Night by headmaster and nature writer Alfred Wellesley Rees (1872-1917).  This is a very beautiful book indeed...

No offence to the late Mr Rees but what makes the book extra special are the illustrations, and they are by Florence H Laverock, a now forgotten artist who I must thank for the most perfect illustration for my story of fox mask-clad shenanigans and gruesome murder.

Florence Hilda Laverock was born in the spring of 1879. Her parents, John and Evangelina were married in 1875, and Florence was the middle of three daughters, Mary (born 1877) and Eva, who followed Florence in 1883. John was a tailor in Warrington, which is sort of between Liverpool and Manchester. The family lived in a modestly little house in Suez Street and life seems to have been pretty settled. However, before the girls were even into their teens properly, tragedy struck. Newspaper reports of John's sudden death at only 39 years old were quite vague on the details.  He had been found one evening after work, just inside his garden gate, dead.  It wasn't until the inquest that the sad truth came out.  On returning to his home at the beginning of May 1890, John had entered his garden then somehow tripped, possibly banging his head as he fell.  Unfortunately, although the blow was not serious it was enough to stun him, and he fell against something that covered his nose and mouth.  This suffocated him.  It was a freak accident but left Evangelina as a young widow with three daughters to care for.

Luckily, either Evangelina was good with the thousand pounds her husband left her, or her family stepped in to assist as by the 1891 census, the Laverocks were in a slightly different part of Warrington.  Evangelina's family, the Silcocks, lived near and had their own servant, so I'm guessing the family wasn't too badly off which is why Mary, the eldest daughter became a cookery teacher in 1901, lecturing down in Kent, while Florence became an art student at the Liverpool School of Art from 1895 onwards.

Nursery Frieze, 1901

Almost immediately, the newspaper began to praise Florence's work.  In 1901, the Liverpool Daily Post commented on 7 colour prints of the Days of the Week which they called 'quaint and clever'.  She also produced a frieze which was 'sweet and cheery' and had been 'stencilled with great judgement'.

In 1902. she created the cover and title page of Arthur Bennett's Sunrise Songs...

 1905 not only saw the publication of Creatures of the Night but also an embroidered and applique hand screen (apparently not a fan, I suppose the difference is that you don't wave it about) which received praise in the Studio journal.  Her work appeared there quite regularly, with her designs for wall friezes and other home items, which led to her being included in the 1906 book The Modern Home: A Book of British Domestic Architecture for Moderate Incomes, which is a very precise title indeed. Even better, her design for a dressmaker's showroom appeared in the companion volume, Flats, Urban Houses and Cottage Homes...

Design for the Interior of a Dressmaker's Showroom

All the while, alongside her illustration and home-design pieces, Florence was still producing little gems of whimsical art such as Country Cousins (1906)...

Country Cousins (1906)

By 1911, All the daughters were living back with their mother on Victoria Road in Grappenhall in Warrington, which looks very nice indeed.  Only Florence is listed as having an occupation, and she is an art mistress at a girl's school. By 1921, she is living in Toxteth in Liverpool, possibly with sister Mary, and youngest sister Eva married Arthur Gibson.  Their mother, Evangelina actually lived on until 1933, forty years after her husband smothered himself by accident, having moved down to be near Eva and Arthur in Wales.  

Design for a face screen, c.1905

In the meantime, Florence and Mary had adventures in a quiet way.  Florence became the teacher of drawing at the University of Liverpool in 1924 until 1944, but actually taught her students a vast array of different techniques, as one of her students remembered. They treasured their drawings, lino-cuts and woven scarf that they had created under her watch. Florence worked at the Belvedere High School (now the Belvedere Academy) for 35 years, finally retiring in 1939. She was fondly remembered as both a teacher of art and dancing and also an esteemed artist, whom they were proud and her departure was written up in the newspapers. She and Mary retired to Bretton Village in Wales to live with Eva and Arthur but in the 1939 England and Wales register, Florence is still listed as a University Lecturer as she kept on the work in Liverpool, even though the students had to be evacuated out of the city to Harlech. She and Mary moved to Lrw Fair Llanfair in North Wales where she died in the Autumn of 1948, leaving her £8000 legacy to Mary.

Closing image from Creatures of the Night

All very worthy and quiet, which reflects a few of the women whose artist lives and legacy we look at here, but there is a little piece of Florence and Mary's lives I'd love to know more about. At least twice in their lives, in the 1930s, they went off on adventures. In the Autumn of 1933, they sailed to Marseilles and returned the following year.  What did they get up to?  Was it art related?  I am very much reminded of my maiden aunt's photo collection I received after she died.  As far as I knew, my Auntie Joan had lived a quiet life in a small Wiltshire village, but there she was in front of the Eiffel Tower.  I was delighted.

Florence H Laverock's illustrations for Creatures of the Night are included in the exhibition I have curated for the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery, entitled 'Telling Tales' which opens tomorrow.