Monday, 22 January 2018

Noel Laura Nisbet

It is undeniable that there are loads of very deserving Victorian artists who we just don't know enough about.  Actually, there are loads of artists who there is information about but they just aren't high in our consciousness at the mo, just waiting for their moment to come again, ready for their big rediscovery.  One of those could very well be the fabulously named Noel Ruth Laura Helen Nisbet...

Self Portrait (undated)
Noel Laura Nisbet (1887-1956) was part of an artistic family, enabled to follow her dreams by her father's generosity, and the creator of some unforgettable and original Pre-Raphaelite-influenced works.  Her father was a bit of a character, on the whole.  Born in 1849, Hume Nisbet was the son of a painter and decorator, James Herkis Nisbet.  In 1866, the family sailed for a new life to Australia, settling in Melbourne.  Hume Nisbet spent his time travelling around and trying various careers including a spot of theatre work and writing, not to mention a bit of painting too.

A Ship in a Calm Sea at Twilight (1892) Hume Nisbet
He returned to England in the early 1870s and studied art at the South Kensington art school.  After that he was appointed art master at the Watt Institute and School of Art in Edinburgh.  He married Helen Currie, daughter of the sculptor Andrew Currie, in 1875...

Robert the Bruce at Stirling Castle, by Andrew Currie
Hume resigned as a teacher and concentrated on his artistic career, producing large, fancy paintings of sea and landscape, and writing a book, The Practical in Painting in 1880.  The family moved down towards London in 1887, just around the same time as little Noel was born...

Spring (no date)
Noel was the youngest girl in the Nisbet family but not the only artist.  Her sister Margaret Henrietta studied at Clapham Art School then exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1908 and 1909.  Noel studied at Clapham as well, winning three gold medals, bronze medals and the Princess of Wales scholarship for her art. That's not all she left art school with, as she also met artist Harry Bush, fellow student there and married him in 1910...

The Tiled Kitchen (1954) Harry Bush
Harry was famous for his paintings of suburban London and his pictures are very restful and beautiful, even when they show bombed-out houses.  Anyway, in the 1911 census, just after the couple had married, Noel and Harry lived in Clapham with Noel's brother, Andrew, who is described as an 'author'.  Harry is an 'Advertisement Designer' and Noel is a 'Painter (Artist)' (I suppose as opposed to 'Painter (houses)').  

Self Portrait with Sewing Basket, Bath Cottage, Speen (c.1918)
Noel and baby daughter Hazel spent the First World War in Bath Cottage in Speen while Harry was away.  Hume bought his artist daughters two matching houses in Merton Park, now Old Merton Park, near Wimbledon.  Have a look at 19 Queensland Avenue on Google Streetmaps and you'll see why the houses were so special - both Noel and Margaret's houses had artist's studios in the attic space.  Noel, Harry and the kids spent the rest of their lives there.  

The Court of King Arthur (no date)
Noel exhibited in the 1914 Royal Academy, then another 23 times between 1914 and 1938.  She was elected to the Royal Institute of Watercolour Painters in 1926 and the British Watercolour Society in 1945.  She also provided beautiful fairy tale illustrations for books and her work can be seen as an extension of what Elenor Fortescue Brickdale had been doing earlier in the century.  Her illustrations for Cossack Fairy Tales and Folk Tales (1916) can be downloaded here. Noel Laura Nisbet's work is busy and florrid, filled with detail and colour.

The Devil Ran Away With the Gossip (no date)
Her work is fascinating in subject.  Often referred to as 'the last Pre-Raphaelite' (although there must be as many 'last Pre-Raphaelites' as pieces of the true cross), it is possible to see aspects of Burne-Jones physicality in her figures, and the wonderful medieval clothes are reminiscent of some of the earliest watercolours by Rossetti.  The colours are quite astonishing.

The True Love (no date)
Noel and Harry lived out their days in the comfortable house in Merton Park with their daughters Hazel and Janet.  Margaret, her sister, remained at the other end of the road, never married, and died only six years before her sister, in 1950.  Harry died a year after Noel, and their work was the subject of a major sale at Christies (possibly just after Janet died) in 1984.  Today, Noel's work can be seen in a few public collections, for example the Russell-Cotes in Bournemouth, which is where I first encountered her.  

Now Annie Swynnerton has got her retrospective, maybe it'll be Noel's turn next...

Thursday, 11 January 2018

William Maw Egley

Today's post is borne out of my desire to know more about a painter with whom I am familiar but I know practically nothing about.  When I did my degree, about a thousand years ago, one of my set books was on Mid-Victorian Britain and the front cover image was this...

Omnibus Life in London (1859)
Here we have the interior of an omnibus, a large horse-drawn carriage, ferrying people about in London.  People of differing backgrounds are forced to sit together, and attempt to not look at their companions.  A young mother has two ringleted moppets at various stages of 'flop', an elderly lady seems to be lost in thought while looking at them and a well-dressed young woman is attempting to get in (the best of luck to her).  This print, amusing and accurate, was very popular and became an engraving for the London Illustrated News.  However, that is going ahead of ourselves.  Let's go back to the beginning and find out more about the artist, William Maw Egley...

Georgiana Sophia, Lady Burghley William Egley
Before William Maw Egley, there was William Egley Snr, a successful miniaturist painter from Doncaster.  He had rebelled against his father's wishes and not become a bookseller, rather taking up his passion for painting and making a career for himself.  He was a jovial chap, good with children which made him much in demand for child portraits. He seems to have become a Quaker when he married his first wife, Sarah, in Norfolk in 1825.  Their only son, William Maw Egley was born and christened a Quaker in 1826, recorded by the Society of Friends in Paddington where the Egley family lived.

Lilies
William Maw Egley started painting at the age of 14 under his father's tutelage. He moved on to work for William Powell Frith, a member of a group of painters called 'The Clique'.  The Clique were a band of young artists (sound familiar) who rejected the old ways of the Academy and made new, contemporary art.  The group consisted of Richard Dadd, Augustus Egg, Alfred Elmore and other artists you probably have heard of but are just before the Pre-Raphaelites.  They loathed the Pre-Raphaelites, incidentally, in the marvellously predictable way that rebels always loath younger rebels.  Anyway, Frith, despite running two households and two families (naughty boy), employed William Maw Egley to paint his backgrounds.

Prospero and Miranda (1850)
Maw Egley's early work is on literary subjects and he had an obsession with costume, which is always exquisite in his paintings.  He made a special study of children's clothing which seemed a bit odd until I read how popular his father was as a children's portraitist so possibly he was encouraged by his father.  A very odd story I read about William Maw Egley was that he was the creator of the very first Christmas card.  Now, this is obviously not true, but for decades this story seemed to reoccur in the newspapers, almost every Christmas, until the 1970s.  


It was thought that teenage Egley designed a card for his family in 1842 (as the young tend to do in their spare time) and shows various Christmas-y activities with Columbine and Harlequin in the centre. In the right-hand corner is Egley's signature and a rather ambiguous date which was assumed to be 1842 (a year before Sir Henry Cole's Christmas card).  However, one learned art historian managed to uncover the truth by rigorous research (by which I mean they took it out of the frame and turned it over) and it was actually dated 1848.  Anyway, Maw Egley holds the slightly less exciting accomplishment of second Christmas card ever.

"Hullo Largesse!" A Harvest Scene in Norfolk (1861)
Those of you who have watched the film Akenfield will no doubt be shouting 'Largesse!' at this point as these charming villagers are calling in the harvest.  As his mother came from Norfolk, it is possible that Egley was familiar with this sort of celebration and this is possibly a recognisable place.  In the 1860s, Egley adopted an easier, romantic, more commercial subject, often touching on the eighteenth century.  Whilst he didn't become a massive success, he started to do moderately well.  However, it's in his awkward, intense earlier work that I find the most enjoyment.

The Lady of Shalott (1858)
This is a particularly apt picture to show as it is an example of how Egley is familiar but just not the person you think of first.  His 'Lady of Shalott' crops up when you start talking about Pre-Raphaelite-esque depictions of Tennyson's poem but he gets lost in the Waterhouse deluge.  It has much to recommend it - look at the window in the back of the image, with those tiny lead cells, and that mirror above the frame where she was working.  Our little blonde lady is clutching her heart as she stares at her fatal attraction both as a symbol of love and also her now progressing death.  The stonework is gorgeous.

The Talking Oak (1857)
Another Tennyson subject is The Talking Oak, with the lovely Olivia hugging the tree (who wishes he was a younger, smaller tree so she could get her arms around him).  I am oddly reminded of Mr and Mrs Andrews by Gainsborough because of the way the figure and the tree are shoved over to the left and the beautiful swell of countryside dominates our view.

Just as the Twig is Bent, the Tree's Inclined (1861)

Just as the Twig is Bent, the Tree's Inclined (1861)
These two are my favourite of Maw Egley's works as they are marvellously gossipy and show how Blondie becomes a prize flirt at the expense of her brunette sibling.  It's all very ambiguous in whether it's a good thing that Blondie neglected her studies, but we all know that girls who read don't get the boys and will remain reflected in their miserable corner.  Well, we've all learned something today.

Music Hath its Charms (Coming Events Cast Their Shadow) (Military Aspirations) (1861)
Marvellous.  I saw this one with alternative titles which mean something no doubt.  Do we assume that the girl at the front is unaware of how much the little boy wants her attention?  She is sort of the opposite of Blondie who could not be doing more to get her chap's attention.  Do we also assume that our little boy is going to grow up to be a soldier?  Please can someone tell me who the handsome chap on the wall is, but I'm guessing he is a war hero - is it Nelson or Wellington or someone?  This is what I have Mr Walker for, he knows that sort of thing.  Anyway, Egley's oddness did not endear him to the painting-buying market and he never made it as a massively successful artist.  When he died, he left only £125 and no longer lived in his own home, staying with relatives.  It would be nice to know a little more about him and to see him paintings together again in a retrospective.  

After all, he was the man who missed the posting date for the first ever Christmas card...

Friday, 29 December 2017

Review: Helen Allingham

Much delayed due to Blogvent, here is my review of the current exhibition on at the Watts Gallery, 'Helen Allingham', the first major retrospective of this much overlooked artist...

Harvest Moon
Helen Allingham is one of those artists you might not know by name but you would definitely recognise her work.  Seemingly responsible for the lid of every damn tin of biscuits my grandma ever owned in the 1980s, her work could be dismissed as chocolate-box, fake cottage chitz, but that is possibly because at the most easily palatable end of the scale, those images of rose dappled cottages all stem from her work on recording rural dwellings in her own way.  However, as this beautiful, powder-palate exhibition shows, Helen Allingham was more than just cottages, and her connections to the cultural heart of Victorian society was enviable.

William Allingham (1876)
To start with, I have to admit I did not connect William Allingham, friend of Rossetti and writer of the diary that was invaluable to me as I wrote Stunner, with Helen Allingham, and actually spent about five minutes stood in the gallery going 'what, the William Allingham?!' in a puzzled tone.  Yes, they were married and her beautiful portrait of him is a mixture of the appropriate and the intimate as the learned chap reads in his tassel-y dressing gown.

A Herbaceous Border
Another thing that surprised me was Allingham's friendship with Gertrude Jekyll, and her colourful images of flowers are a result.  These not only are gorgeous images but record the gardener's experiments in planting which were revolutionary, an exuberant explosion of colour and form.

Far from the Madding Crowd (1874)
Not only are there exploding flowerbeds but also illustrations, as Allingham was the only female founding members of The Graphic and her early career is seen in the detailed black and white scenes from the serials she illustrated.  I love her Hardy illustrations, such as Far from the Madding Crowd when it appeared in the Cornhill Magazine. All novels should come with images of handsome men carking it romantically in sheds, in my opinion.

Self Portrait (1885)
Her portraits were a revelation, not only her own self portrait, but other images such as Tennyson reading, show the trust and friendship she seemed to have with her contemporaries, many of whom lived nearby her in Surrey.  However, the cottages do catch your eye and imagination mainly due to their familiarity, but what I didn't know before I went to the exhibition was the reason behind them...

Feeding the Fowls
Allingham painted the buildings in their rustic charm as a form of protest.  It was at a time when such buildings were being demolished with no thought to the history they held and so she began to record them, sometimes changing elements to show them in their original glory, undoing change where it had already, un-aesthetically, occurred.  How successful she was, and how far she perpetuated a sort of unrealistic rural idyll is a matter of opinion, but looking again at these familiar images there is much to appreciate.  Each cottage is different, each is 'lived in' in a unique way that does ring true and holds more than just attraction.  Maybe it was not just the destruction of the buildings that Allingham was protesting against but the way of life, a sort of un-industrialist perfection when man, or more often woman, and nature were as one.

Study of Flowers
There is much to see at this exhibition, which almost goes without saying as the Watts Gallery never disappoints.  Helen Allingham is a woman who needs lifting out of the cosy cottage cul-de-sac in which she has been abandoned and just this sort of retrospective does much to reignite interesting in the artist and her life.  I found her work with Jekyll to be glorious and even those cottages have an added depth I never suspected.  And she was married to William Allingham.  Yes, the William Allingham.

The exhibition is on at the Watts Gallery at Compton until 18th February and further information can be found here.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Sunday 24th December: The Angel visits the Marys of Freshwater

No-one had warned him that walking in Freshwater left one at the mercy of sudden interruption and near-abduction, especially if your face was pleasing.  A matter of minutes after reaching the boundary wall of Dimbola Lodge, by Freshwater Bay, he had found himself 'halloo-ed' from above and as he had turned to find out where the call had come from, a woman had appeared, her hands clasped and her face rapturous.  There had been no reasoning with her, no excusing oneself, either politely or otherwise, as she was insistent.  Beyond insistent in fact, tantamount to obligatory.  Before he had known it, he had been snatched from the sunlight and thrust through the doors of a turret that joined to buildings together, and commanded up the stairs, to find ‘the Virgin Mary’. The Lord himself could not have been more compelling.

The Day Spring (Mary Hillier and  (1865) Julia Margaret Cameron
The young man paused in the doorway of the wide, sun-sparkled room.  He was barely into his twenties, dressed well even in the progressing heat of the July morning, and he gave his collar a slight wiggle out of both warmth and discomfort.  There was barely any furniture where it should be, all of it stacked to the side, higgledy piles of chairs against a table, and books in stacks that tilted precariously.  Instead, a wide white sheet had been pinned out across the chimney breast as if to hide the fireplace out of modesty, and two lone chairs were placed forlornly in front.  On one of them sat a girl of around 16, in a pale grey dress, her hair loose down her back in a cascade of chestnut waves which she was brushing out in grand sweeps. A gentle breeze floated out strands into the air like silks at a tapestry.  For a moment the unreality of the scene caused the visitor to pause, a smile forming on his lips, but time was pressing upon him and so gave a slight inclined bow to the girl.
'Excuse me?  Might you be Mary?'
'Aye, and who might you be?'
The man smiled brightly, 'I'm your Gabriel.'  He cast a look behind him to the stairs, and pulled a slightly apologetic face. 'Well, that was what I was told.'
If he expected her to question him further, he was mistaken as Mary just shrugged and continued her brushing, catching a snag which she viciously raked clear.
'That'll do it,' she murmured and turned her attention back to her newly arrived angel. 'Now then,' she continued, looking the man over, 'where's Mrs Cameron?'
'Oh,' he gestured behind him, but instead another young woman came in, carrying a pile of assorted fabrics.  She left them on the other chair.
'Who's this then?' the new girl asked, her voice rich with an Irish warm.  Her baring was prouder and her manner leasurely, at odds with her maid’s garb.
'He's our Gabriel, apparently.' Mary pulled a face and the other girl laughed.
'Sorry, I'm Arthur,' the young man interrupted, blushing slightly as the Irish girl, who was rather pretty, drew closer, her gaze flitting over his face appraisingly.
'Pleased to meet you,' the girl smiled and gave a little bob. 'I'm Mary.'

After the Manner of Francia (Mary Ryan and Elizabeth Keown) (1865-66) Julia Margaret Cameron
'Oh, but I thought...' Arthur started, and a third girl entered the room, this time carrying a cumbersome potted lily.  She shushed him out of the way as she hauled it to the space between the two chairs, placing it down with a thud 
'I thought she was Mary,' continued Arthur, pointing at the first Mary.
'And so I am,' she retorted in a country burr.
'As am I,' replied Irish Mary.
'And me,' added the third girl, pressing her hands to her back, stretching.

The Three Marys (Mary Kellaway, Mary Hillier and Mary Ryan) (1864) Julia Margaret Cameron
The man pulled his hand through his hair and paused for a moment, assuming it was a joke, but none of the Marys laughed, nor paid him any further attention.  The first Mary, a sturdy girl with an open, pleasant face which rested in an entirely neutral expression, concentrated on draping a large rectangle of cream silk around her face.  Irish Mary continued to regard Arthur with a reserved speculation and humour.  The third Mary puffed out a breath of exhaustion, and she paused only to briefly arrange the drapery around the first Mary's shoulders before briskly leaving the room.  Arthur shuffled awkwardly and edged back towards the door, almost colliding with an older man, watching the scene unfold from the doorway.  He chuckled, placing a hand on the young man's arm.
'A visitor, I see, or should I say a recruit?  I am Charles Cameron and I am assuming you are here at my wife's insistence?'
'I ... yes, I seem to have been recruited for a photograph. I was merely passing, on my way…'
Arthur trailed off as Mr Cameron nodded, his face suffused with wisdom, enhanced by his snowy white hair and beard.
'Press-ganged, I should say.' He gave a chuckle. 'Is it to be Tennyson or Bible?' 
Arthur looked surprised, ‘Oh, how did you know...?’
The first Mary gestured to her head.
'Bible,' she said, drawing a circle in the air above her.
'Am I needed?' The old man asked, his voice a mixture of hope and humour.  Both the Marys laughed at a joke which Arthur couldn’t quite catch.
'No, Sir, not this morning.' First Mary replied, adding, 'leastways, I can't think how.'
'Not even as an angel?'

The Annunciation (Sophia and Mary Hillier) (1864-5) Julia Margaret Cameron
Both girls laughed.  The old man gave them a twinkling smile and turned his attention back to Arthur, who grimaced.
'I believe that's to be me, or at least, that's the instruction I received.' Arthur paused, aware of how he had just obeyed the commands of the woman in the garden, clad in her fine, red silk dress. 'I was told to come here and find the Virgin.'
'Well, that's a bit much,' snapped the First Mary and the second one laughed behind her hand.
'Really, Sir, that's an impertinence...' Mr Cameron began, giving a decent impression of a stern patriarch of the highest order, but at the complete collapse of Arthur's compose, his expression melted into humour again.
'Oh dear no! Oh, that's not what I meant, I only meant ... and they are all called Mary! Sir, really, are they all called Mary?' Arthur flustered, his cheeks burning. 'I only came to visit an old friend, and now I seem to have found myself here, and I really didn't mean...This is not how it was meant to be at all…'
Mr Cameron placed his hand on Arthur's shoulder, his face all kindness.
'I quite understand, there is no offense, really, my dear boy, calm yourself.' At the old man's words, the two Marys allowed themselves a giggle and Arthur settled. 'Now then, where did my wife find you?'
'I was in the lane outside, she appeared from your garden and I couldn't seem to refuse.'
'Ah,' Mr Cameron smiled and nodded, 'yes, I find that often to be the case. And you are to be?'
'He's Gabriel,' answered First Mary and her expression left no-one in any doubt how unconvinced she was of the young man's angelic qualities.
'And he will be simply superb!' Entering in a flourish of skirts and fringed shawl, Mrs Cameron was by the young man's side in a moment. Her neat, dark head nodded decisively and with confidence. 'He was passing and look now at his countenance!   He is just what I need!  That is a face of such gravity and purpose, he will do splendidly.  Did I not tell you this?'
Arthur was left without a reply at the sudden question but could only stammer, 'oh, yes...' as that was exactly what had occurred.  Before he could ask further or indeed excuse himself from the whole situation, Mrs Cameron had summoned the third Mary back, this time carrying a box camera.  He might have imagined it but Arthur felt sure both the Third and Irish Marys gave him a look of almost pity, tinged with relief that it was not them this time.

A Christmas Carol (1865) Julia Margaret Cameron
'Now then my angel! Look full of holy purpose! Annunciate dear, annunciate!' Mrs Cameron shouted from behind the camera, under a dark sheet.  Her legs and vast silk skirt were the only thing visible, her body becoming part of the contraption.
'How am I meant to...?'
Arthur looked at the First Mary, now the only Mary in the room.  She was kneeling by the potted lily and her hands were clasped around the stem.
'Look to Mary, filled with her holy purpose.  Have a go at it, dear boy...'
Mary flicked her eyes to him in encouragement or impatience, it was hard to tell, before her face fell back into that wonderful peaceful vacancy she seemed to inhabit at the will of her mistress.
'I'm not sure I know...'
Mrs Cameron emerged from under the sheet looking perplexed, her hands finding her hips.  She considered him from a distance before stalking forward towards him at a terrifying pace.
'Now see here, Angel Gabriel, we need you to project the Will of God upon this your handmaiden who is patiently waiting to hear the Word of her Lord, so let's not keep her waiting, shall we?'
Mrs Cameron spoke with determined emphasis and proceeded to strike a couple of demonstrative poses, her arms raised and her body rising, then curving in a grand gesture of bestowing some invisible present upon the kneeling girl.
'I see, I think.  I shall do my best...'
The young man, frowning his lack of confidence, echoed her poses.  She watched him with a frown.
'Is that not what you meant?' Arthur asked, and Mrs Cameron wrinkled her nose in thought. 'I really do have somewhere I need to be.' Arthur murmured as his photographer seized his left arm and raised it.
'Yes, yes, but that will have to wait. Concentrate upon your holy task!'
Arthur sighed and pulled a rueful face. Below him, the kneeling Mary raised her eyes to him as if to implore him to get on with it and annunciate her already as she had things to do as well.  He raised his head, his hands reaching into the air and allowing the feeling of lightness to infuse his reach, before collapsing back into being a mere man.
'I'm sorry, but I just don't feel I can do this,' Arthur sighed, his hand racking through his hair once more.
'Oh, don't say that!' Mrs Cameron fussed. 'I really feel we were getting somewhere. I had a really sense of the holy from you. Come along, try again.  I shall have my annunciation if it kills me!'

Mary Ann Hillier (c.1865) Julia Margaret Cameron
Mary raised her eyes again to him, narrowing them slightly and Arthur was left with no illusions that if the annunciation was going to kill anyone, he would be first in line. 

Mrs Cameron was muttering in distress from under her camera sheet again about light and shadows, while Mary sat back on her heels, her cheeks puffed out in frustration.  Arthur strode over to the piles of books, just for something to do.  From the top of the heap he lifted a small, dark-bound book and allowed it to fall open in his hands.  The spine was tired and the pages hanging on to each other by sheer willpower, but the text was fresh and clear, even if the edges were slightly foxed.  Arthur turned back to Mary, and read,

‘The time draws near the birth of Christ:
The moon is hid; the night is still;
The Christmas bells from hill to hill 
Answer each other in the mist.


Four voices of four hamlets round,
From far and near, on mead and moor,
Swell out and fail, as if a door 
Were shut between me and the sound:


Each voice four changes on the wind,
That now dilate, and now decrease,
Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace, 
Peace and goodwill, to all mankind.


This year I slept and woke with pain,
I almost wish'd no more to wake,
And that my hold on life would break 
Before I heard those bells again:


But they my troubled spirit rule,
For they controll'd me when a boy;
They bring me sorrow touch'd with joy, 
The merry merry bells of Yule.’


There was a pause as Mrs Cameron slowly emerged from under the sheet, uncharacteristically speechless.  Mary’s vacant expression had changed, to one of astonishment, her lips parted and jaw hanging.  Arthur gently closed the book and placed it back on the stack before striding to his mark in front of the kneeling Madonna. He tapped Mary under her lowered chin gently so her mouth shut and then place a hand on her head.
Mrs Cameron glided out from behind the camera and snatched the cap from the lens, her face enraptured.
‘Perfection!'
Time ticked in golden seconds, the air thick with the honey scent of jasmine and cumin from both indoors and out.  A bird called from the garden and softly, in the bay, the waves rolled onto the beach, in happy shushing sighs.
The lens clipped back smartly and there was a pause as Arthur lowered his hand from Mary’s head.
‘Excellent!’ Mrs Cameron exclaimed, ‘and our first try!  We shall see how it develops and try again.'
Seizing the slide at the back of the camera and briskly whisking it clear like a reverse guillotine, Mrs Cameron strode away with the first Mary hastening to take off her headress in order to follow.
'Again?' asked Arthur meekly, and Mary grinned.
'I shouldn't move if I was you, we shall return in a moment for you to bless me again.'
'Yes, but I have somewhere else I should really be...' 
Maid and mistress had already busied away, leaving the young man gazing after them.  Mary turned in the doorway with a word of consolation on her lips but the man's expression was hidden, the light from the window so bright behind him for a moment that his expression was entirely hidden.
'Sharn't be a tick, Sir,' she replied, apologetically, and for a moment the curtains flapped behind him, almost like wings.

‘A disaster!’ Mrs Cameron announced striding back into the room, but found only her husband sitting in the chair by the window, reading from a small, tired book.
‘Disaster?’ Mr Cameron looked up, concerned. His wife stopped abruptly, her hands on her hips.
‘Now, where is my angel gone? I need him back immediately!  Mary is preparing the glass as we speak, he must be back in position again!’ Mrs Cameron turned on her heel, striding through the adjoining rooms in desperate search, before returning.
‘I assumed he had escaped your clutches…’ Mr Cameron chuckled, and his wife frowned indignantly.  The old man gave a self-admonishing cluck, before tapping the chair beside him.
‘He was just perfect, Charles, he turned into the most appropriate angel.  I was so sure it would be a triumph, but try as we might the fluid just would not find him on the glass.  We tilted and were so careful but there must have been drying or a hair or something, and he remained stubbornly undeveloped.  Only Mary remains, gazing at an empty space.’
‘As she often does,’ murmured Mr Cameron, although not unkindly.
Mrs Cameron huffed, examining her black streaked fingers, stained from the developing fluid.
‘I thought I had captured something in truth holy, dear one, but it has vanished, as has my angel.  It is all so disappointing.’

The Holy Family (1864) Julia Margaret Cameron
The First Mary appeared at the doorway, a wooden sleeve containing a prepared glass plate in her hands.  She looked as confused by the lack of her angel as her mistress.  The second and third Mary appeared at her shoulder, eager to see the young man again but equally as crestfallen by the sight of the employers, sitting by the window.
‘Never mind, M’am,’ offered Irish Mary brightly. ‘We’ll keep an eye out for him, he’s bound to return this way.’
‘He’s only gone as far as Farringford,’ added the third Mary, and the rest of them turned to look at her.
‘Farringford?’ asked Mrs Cameron sharply.
‘Aye, the butcher’s lad said a stranger asked him the way.  A young man, he said, and he purposely sent him by us to see if you fancied him for a picture.’ The third Mary paused, as Mr Cameron chuckled.
‘You bribe that boy too much to procure your models…’ he murmured, and his wife pointedly ignored him.
‘He’ll have to pass by, we’ll catch him again,’ repeated Irish Mary and Mrs Cameron nodded in resignation.
‘Well never mind,’ she sighed and waved the first Mary into the room with the plate. ‘Quick then, before it dries and another plate is wasted. You’ll have to be annunciated on your own, Madonna.’
The spare Marys bustled out again and Mr Cameron rose, leaving the scene that was being constructed.  He placed the small volume of verse on the top of the camera box, regarding his wife with fondness and a glimmer of something curious, something so preposterous that it drew a smile to his lips. With a slight twinkle of mischief, he called across to Mrs Cameron who was hurriedly draping and arranging her Madonna.
‘Dear one, what was the name of Alfred’s friend, the one who was to marry Miss Tennyson but who died so unexpectedly young?’
Mrs Cameron turned, frowning at having to pause while racking her memory.
‘Hallam,’ she replied, turning back to the drapery, but the turned back sharply. ‘Arthur Hallam,’ she repeated, and gave a little exclamation of disbelief.  Mary Madonna made a timid little sound of awe, and Mr Cameron chuckled tapping the copy of In Memoriam resting on the roof of the camera.

‘Only you could delay an angel, dear one…’ he intoned with affection before leaving the two women gaping in astonishment as he left the room.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Saturday 23rd December: Mary

Goodness me, we are very almost there and tomorrow I will be delivering to you a Christmas-y story, apparently.  So here is the last of the Virgin-vent images of the year and it's a sweetie...

Mary (1918) Dorothy Webster Hawksley
From Bramwell Bronte's early Victorian nativity, I now bring you a very modern Mary from the last year of the First World War.  That's what I love about doing Blogvent; I can spend a month just rambling back and forth in time looking at how different artists saw the same things at different ends of a century and beyond.  I really love the delicate watercolour of this image and Mary's reflection in the puddle is far more lovely than necessary.  The blue, the traditional colour for the Virgin Mary due to the cost of lapis lazuli, ground up for paint, just leaps forward as it is so clear and vivid in among those dull browns and greens.  The red inside her cloak reflects the red flowers in that wooded bank behind her and she and Jesus just blend together beautifully.

The Nativity 
Dorothy Webster Hawksley (1884-1970) is my favourite artist, well at least for today.  The airy beauty of her work brings light and colour to her religious images.  Look at the colourful choir of angels up on the rickety roof!  Gorgeous! It makes a nice change for the Three Kings not to be the only pretty things in the image because everyone has dressed up for the occasion.  Splendid!

Mary and Elizabeth (1939)
Even later in her career, her use of colour is sublime.  The contrast between her Mary and Elizabeth and Evelyn de Morgan's version of the same scene is interesting.  Hawksley uses blue as a link between the women, one old, one young, both expecting babies.  There is a look of concern from Elizabeth to Mary and they join hands in sisterhood.

Summer (1920s)
Hawksley's father made surgical instruments, and admired the works of John Ruskin.  Her grandfather, Samuel Walters, had also been a painter and so when little Dorothy decided she wanted to become one the family didn't oppose her.  She studied under the watercolourist Edward Clifford who had been a friend of Burne-Jones and Hawksley attended the Burne-Jones Memorial Exhibition in 1898 so it is tempting to see her willow-stem female figures as evolutions of Burne-Jones' own pale maidens.  In the little I find written about her, comment is made about her unmarried state and female-centric scenes which may or may not be relevant but what is evident in her work is an appreciation for the beauty of the female figure, especially one with a dutch-doll black bob which I also appreciate. Whatever her reasons, I would like to find out more about the work of Dorothy Hawksley in 2018...

See you for the finale tomorrow...

Friday, 22 December 2017

Friday 22nd December: The Virgin with a Kiss

I can't say I'm looking forward to today's tasks.  I have to do the food shopping which is always a scrum but as I am a vegetarian it will involve a lot of unChristian hair-pulling over a red cabbage.  I will try and control my rage, I promise.  In the meantime, here is today's painting...

The Virgin with a Kiss (1919) Maurice Denis
I really like this one, not only for the gorgeous colours but also the title.  It reminds me that possibly I shouldn't be hobbling anyone over brussels sprouts, I should be spreading peace and love because that is somewhat more in keeping with the season.  As I am preparing to head-lock some bloke over the last jar of redcurrant jelly I should think of this lovely Mary and her happy little Jesus in their pretty garden of flowers.  Such glorious colours!  Ah, that's better...

The Annunciation Under the Arch with Lilies (1913)
At the age of 15, Maurice Denis wrote in his journal 'I have to be a Christian painter and celebrate all the miracles of Christianity, I feel it has to be so.' Flipping teenagers.  However he did hold true and produced some beautiful Biblical images including The Annunciation Under the Arch with Lilies which is a wonderful indoor annunciation in dappled colours.  He also did this very positive number...

The Annunciation (1913)
This is quite a rare annunciation (and heaven knows we have seen quite a few this month) - for once the angel is not intimidating and is actually kneeling in front of Mary who looks well chuffed with the whole situation.  Well, that's just splendid and its nice to see Mary get a bit of respect in the whole matter rather than having her heavenly duty thrust upon her whether she likes it or not.

Madonna of the Blooming Garden
Denis goes even further than most artists in his association of the Madonna with flowers.  There aren't just lilies in his images, often entire gardens such as Madonna of the Blooming Garden and The Madonna of the Eternal Spring (1908).  For Denis, the Virgin Mary is all about flowers and kissing babies and I'm okay with all of that.

Self Portrait (1916)
He was a busy chap, Maurice Denis (1870-1943).  He provided a bridge between Impressionism and modern art, associated with the art movement Les Nabis and the Symbolists, and founded a workshop of religious arts.  He designed murals and stained glass and through his workshop designed art for churches, which was an important part of his work from the First World War all the way to his death during the Second.  He wrote extensively about art, both publicly and privately and I find his writing very interesting, for example 'Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a female nude or some sort of anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order.' (Art et Critique August 1890).  You can't argue with that. Maurice Denis seems an eminently sensible chap and he is welcome to come round mine for Christmas dinner, just as soon as I have wrestled it out of the hands of someone in Sainsburys.

See you tomorrow...

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Thursday 21st December: Holy Night

Today is the shortest day of the year in terms of actual daylight, but as I don't have to go to work today I will be spending most of it in my fox pajamas under a duvet, probably knitting.  As it is currently as black as pitch outside, that course of action seems the most sensible, but in the meantime, here is today's picture...

Holy Night Hugo Havenith
This is a very sweet depiction of the Away-in-a-Manger moment of the Christmas story, with a glowing baby Jesus being coo-ed over by his Mum and some little cherubic kiddiwinks.  I wonder if they are supposed to be little angels?  Or does it show 'the little children' going to see Jesus because little kiddiwinks are meant to be able to be able to see the wonders of the Holy Spirit and all that jazz?  Either way, I hope they stay quiet because Mary's only just got him to sleep...

In the Manger
This variation makes it a little clearer as the kiddiwink nearest us has a pair of wings.  They are definitely little baby angels with thin golden halos and gossamer floating behind them as they peek at the holy glowing baby.

Madonna
Now this is getting a little ridiculous.  I'm sure Hugo Havenith (1853-1925) did other pictures but he seemed to return to the image of Mary at the manger a few times, probably because it sold well, or maybe because he was never satisfied with how he portrayed it.  Having a good Christmas image in your collection might have been like releasing a good Christmas song - at least it's popular once a year.  I suspect that my curator-husband, Mr Walker, has image envy if he see another museum with a corking Christmas scene as that can be slapped on a Christmas card and sold, thus earning its keep.  Presumably a nice romantic picture is also good (Valentines Day), a good wedding scene and baby picture likewise.  If only museums in the past had devised their collecting policies around what would look good on a tote bag...

The Cellist
Despite being born in London, Hugo Havenith spent his life in Germany, studying and living in Munich.  His sisters also married painters as did his mother, for her second marriage.  There's a family that enjoy the smell of turps....

An Attentive Audience
Not a great deal seems to be available for Havenith, but possibly Munich has more information in the Neue Pinakothek.  Despite his manger fetish, his work is charming and I really like his Cellist.  This is a short post for the shortest day but hopefully the sun will come up soon.  Stay warm m'dears and I'll see you tomorrow...