Monday, 13 November 2017

A Chat With Gordon Giltrap and Review of The Last of England

I love when marvellous, unexpected things come in to my life and that is just what happened to me when I was last in Birmingham for the Pre-Raphaelite Society AGM.  I nipped into the Birmingham Art Gallery shop and picked up what I thought at first was a calendar, but turned out to be something much more magical. I bought it immediately...



Available to buy on both CD and vinyl (obviously I bought vinyl, and it's orange vinyl to boot!), this album is inspired by Pre-Raphaelite art works, from the title track, though April Love, Work and The Light of the World.  I was familiar with Gordon's work beforehand, but for those who have not yet had the pleasure, his work is beautiful instrumental pieces, with his guitar telling sound-stories which perfectly match the paintings and the mood of the album.  From the rolling tide of 'The Last of England', and the lazy wamth of 'All the Days in May', through the unexpected strength and industry of 'Work'.

Gordon Giltrap

I love Gordon's music as it is so distinctive and beautiful, and this is a brilliant album, bringing a further dimension to the paintings, an interpretation though emotion rather than words.  I think the title track is my favourite but 'Work' really caught my imagination too with the sound of the workmen, striking stone and metal. The album has the romanticism and wistfulness you would expect from music inspired by Pre-Raphaelite art but there is more than that here.  I definitely recommend this as your Pre-Raphaelite soundtrack for the winter, especially if you need the comfort of beauty and gentleness in the rather rough present.  Add to your Christmas list now or better yet, buy a copy for yourself.

I was doubly fortunate enough to get in touch with Gordon and he answered some questions for me...


Q. When did you first discover the Pre-Raphaelites?

It was all down to my wife Hilary who had been an admirer of their work for many years, and showed me shortly after we had met a beautiful book from a Pre Raphaelite exhibitions she had attended. I instantly fell in love with those beautiful other worldly images, and when I saw the Holman Hunt "Light if the World" I recognised it from my childhood. That very image hung in my grandmother’s cottage, so in fact I grew up with that haunting image, never truly knowing anything about it.  It was like a home-coming for me when I saw these paintings and felt drawn to compose  pieces inspired by them, very much in the same way as Visionary way back in 1975. 


Q. I interviewed Robin Lawrie about his book illustrations for Tennyson in the 1960s and he said he saw a 'movement' of 1960s/70s Pre-Raphaelite musicians.  Would you identify with this?  

In many ways yes, in relation to the Blake inspired Visionary album mentioned earlier where powerful images (I keep using that word) completely captivated me and in some way obsessed me and drove me passionately to compose a suite of tunes, but in Blake's case it was a mixture of poetry and paintings, once again with an other-worldly spiritual feel to them, but of course that was exactly what the great man was all about.


Q. Did you always want to write music around Pre-Raphaelite art?  Could it be seen as a (somewhat delayed) sequel to 'Visionary' (after the art of William Blake)?

No, because I'm a relative later comer to the movement. I think in many ways with the new album it feels like a full circle from the mid-seventies to the present day, so maybe it could be described as a somewhat late sequel. In 1981 I released an album inspired by the illustrations of Alan Aldridge with The Peacock Party album, but I feel it pales somewhat in the light of this latest album, but then it would do, wouldn't it? And how marvellous to have one of the greatest images in English art as my album cover. It doesn't get any better than that, does it? I'm delighted it has had a vinyl release to truly show off the painting. I think a number of folk have bought it even without having a turntable on which to play it, and  just having it as a piece of art is enough for them, and indeed why not?


Q. How did you choose the paintings you wrote pieces for?  Were there paintings you would have liked to include? (I'm obviously angling for another album as I loved this one so much)

I simply chose paintings I could relate to like The Light of the World and Work with it's obviously busy, forward motion of honest labour and the street scene. The title track is so evocative and a gift for any composer to be inspired by, with the promise of a sea voyage and the underlying trepidation on the faces of the young couple. I don't think there are any other images that grabbed me as much as the ones I chose. Chatterton of course is such a tragic story and a challenge to try and capture musically that silent scene of death.

The Death of Chatterton (1856) Henry Wallis
Q. Why orange vinyl?  And also thank you for orange vinyl, I got stupidly over-excited by it because I am old enough that coloured vinyl is massively exciting...

Pete Bonner from the record company chose the colour which matched a colour in the Millais painting.


Q. If you had to pick one, what is your favourite Pre-Raphaelite painting?

I love so many of them, but I guess it has to The Last of England. My second choice would be The Light of the World.

The Last of England (1855) Ford Madox Brown


On a personal note, it is a small miracle that this album exists, because before getting ill in 2015,I had decided not to make any more albums, because I felt I had sort of said all I needed to say musically, but it was whilst recovering from my first lot of surgery that a thought occurred to me that I had already had an early incarnation of some of these pieces that formed part of an album I did with Rick Wakeman released about seven years ago. I felt then that the pieces deserved far more work than was put into them at the time.

 I approached my dear friend and collaborator Paul Ward about coming on board and helping me to realise this dream of an album that stretches back to 1987 when I first started work on the suite, and now all these years on it exists. I'm truly humbled by the response the music has received, which I guess at its heart has a resonance of truth about it and for that I'm very grateful.

I thank you so much Kirsty for asking me to do this interview,it has been a privilege.

As a final note I want to thank my lovely wife Hilary for her constant support and inspiration without whom much of this music of mine would not exist, and it was due to her diligence and determination that The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has it gracing their gift shop!

Spring (1859) John Everett Millais
Many, many thanks to Gordon and Hilary for their time and patience, and for making such a gorgeous album that I can't recommend enough.  Pop into BMAG if you are close enough but if not, it is available on Amazon.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Review: May Morris, Art and Life

The sound you can hear is my cheering. At last, May Morris has her own exhibition and has moved out of her father's shadow and is now seen as a person in her own right!  When I heard that the William Morris Gallery at Walthamstow was holding a May exhibition I was delighted.  I contributed to the crowd-funding, which is a new and exciting way of helping a gallery get an exhibition off the ground.  Never underestimate how much peril our non-national museums face in times of austerity and so anything we can do to help them get money, we should.  Anyway, I got the most beautiful tote bag for my efforts! To the exhibition!


I was very excited to get to see the exhibition, so when I was in London at the end of October I saw both this and The Pre-Raphaelites and Van Eyke at the National.  Now, the National exhibition was all very nice but it was the May Morris that really caught my attention so I would rather send you up to Walthamstow...

May Morris, 1909
Jan Marsh (in whom we trust) has done amazing work over the years championing May Morris' work, and I have her 1986 biographer of May and Jane Morris, which informed much of my research into Miss Lobb.  There was also a May Morris exhibition in 1989 (which I also have the slender catalogue for, by Helen Sloan) but May has hardly been given the prominence that some of her male counterparts have, and her work is normally mentioned within the context of her father.  How wonderful therefore that May gets a high profile exhibition and her achievements can be seen both in the context of her father's work, but also beyond.

Maids of Honour, c.1890s
First of all, can I mention the exhibition is FREE. That's right, FREE.  I think we asked the nice man on the desk twice if he was serious.  After having the pennies shaken from our pockets at the National Gallery for the Van Eyke exhibition, Miss Holman and I could not quite comprehend how we were not charged to see May Morris, which is so majestic it is spread over two floors.  For those that know the gallery, it fills the temporary gallery next to the cafe and then two packed rooms on the first floor.

Embroidered Cloak, 1897
The exhibition covers May's work from wallpaper to jewellery, embroidery and clothing.  Her 'seasons' panels are apparently the most expensive ever commissioned by Morris and Co in that period, and are breathtakingly beautiful. Her work is present in huge pieces down to tiny drawings, and if I have a complaint it was that we needed more room to view it all as it was quite busy the day we went and it is such a beautiful collection we ended up doing the 'exhibition shuffle'.  Mind you, that happens to us in so many wonderful exhibitions and should be a mark of just how wonderful it is.

May and Lobb

I was delighted to see Miss Lobb there in all her glory, as May's personal life is covered.  Her valentine to George Bernard Shaw is both lovely and sad, her marriage to Henry Halliday Sparling is a bit unfortunate and finally to Lobb, with whom she had some jolly jaunts and generally far more fun than with the other two.  Unlike her Mum, May's personal life doesn't overshadow her professional accomplishment but acts as a bit of background, which is fair enough.  I feel the words 'mystic betrothal' should be a lesson to us all.
Majestic catalogue...
The catalogue is an absolute joy, by the way. Over the next couple of weeks I'll be suggesting things that you might want to get for yourself for Christmas, and this is one of them.  The National Gallery's slim catalogue for their exhibition is nice, but the May Morris catalogue is massive and brilliant and you need it in your life.  I'm afraid I bought mine from Amazon about a month before I saw the exhibition because I couldn't wait and it is around the same price as the National one.  Bargain.

Spring and Summer panel, 1895-1900

I can't recommend this exhibition enough because May Morris has been sidelined for long enough and its about time we pay her the respect we give to William Morris, because her achievements are remarkable.  And her visit to Iceland was far more jolly.

The exhibition is on until the end of January and has its own website.  And it's FREE.

Friday, 27 October 2017

I'll Be There For You...

I don't intentionally begin every post with a confession but for the second time in a row, here we go: I'm a bit rubbish when it comes to friendships.  By this I mean that I massively overestimate how attached other people are to me and have in the past mistaken acquaintances, colleagues and random strangers for friends.  I have some absolutely marvellous friends (hello if you are reading this), who I count myself fortunate to have, but I obviously have a problem recognising, distinguishing and generally getting friendship right. So, as always, I turned to Victorian art for wisdom and to help me get this whole business of friendship straight...

A Friend in Need John Robertson Reid
I'm not sure this counts, as he isn't so much a friend, more of an errant child whose hat has fallen off.  Mind you, there is a suspicious boy lurking off to the right who might have given the crying boy a snowball to the face and so what our 'friend' really needs is to use the woman as a human shield.  Charming.

Playmates (1866) Arthur Boyd Houghton
Do you have to be friends with the person you play with?  No sniggering at the back.  I remember being left, pre-school, to play with some decidedly unfriendly children by my mother, including one girl whose idea of fun was to see how many times she could bite me before I made it back to the sitting room.  The dog looks fairly hacked off as he is about to get little girl feet shoved into him at any point and then the other one will start banging that damn drum again...

The Fair Friend (1840) Charles Baxter
Well, I'm sure she is a very good friend indeed to sit still and be painted.  Do you think artists make an effort to befriend attractive people, just in case they are short of a model?  I'm guessing it's from the quote from Shakespeare - 'To me, fair friend, you can never be old, For as you were when first your eye I ey'd, Such seems your beauty still.' (Sonnet 104).  That's a splendid sentiment and very true, that those we know and love the longest remain like they were when you first met them.  One of my oldest friends has a little sister who I still think of as being about five years old, but then I remember she is the same age as my husband...

Best Friends (1908) John George Brown
So far, no real images of people being friends to solve the whole conundrum for me.  Hang on though, here's an image of 'best friends'! It's the special friendship between this little boy and his best mate, Bob the dog-faced boy.  Okay, I suspect Bob is actually a big fat terrier.  As the owner of a big fat terrier, I agree, they are very friendly...

True Friends (1900) John George Brown
I wonder if John George Brown was making some sort of comment on the relationship between boot-blacks and their dogs, maybe making a poignant statement about the vulnerability of child-workers.  Maybe Brown just really liked terriers...

His Only Friend (1871) Briton Riviere
Actually, Brown is not the only one to see that man's, well, boy's best friend is a dog.  They have so much in common - both are a big ragged, neither has shoes.  Rather than a terrier, Riviere has gone with a mongrel, the least posh of all dogs. Nowadays it would be given a made up name like a cockerpoo or a jaffie and cost a fortune.  We have a 'jaffa-whip', which is a cross between a jack russell, a staffie and a whippet. Behold the majestic beast!


Okay, so I made 'jaffa-whip' up. Blossom is a proper mongrel, whose mum was a posh Jack Russell from Windsor, who got out one night and brought home trouble if you know what I mean.  She is our Battersea Dogs Home girl and is indeed one of my best friends.  She puts up with me typing all the time, balancing books on her if she is on my lap and being asked art history questions.  I put up with her wind.  It's a fairly equal relationship.

His Only Friend (1875) John Dollman
How bad is his music if he is locked up in stocks and only the dog likes him?  Flipping heck, that's harsh.  Also, if he has been locked up for bad busking, why have they left him his lute?  Don't encourage him! The dog is there saying 'Go on, do Stairway to Heaven! They'll love it...' Maybe that dog isn't his friend after all.  Friends don't let friends play bad lute in public.

Cronies (1884) Buckley Ousey
I was a little puzzled by the title of this painting to start with as 'crony' doesn't tend to have cuddly overtones these days, but I now know it originally comes from the Greek khronios meaning 'long-lasting' so just refers to an old friend.  This leads me on to wonder if it is the couple chatting outside that are the 'cronies' rather than the little girl and her dog, neither of whom look as if they have been around that long.  As the child and dog are closer to us then it seems to imply they are the friends who will be friends forever, or maybe it is saying that when they grow up, they will be two old women gossiping over the back fence.  Not sure how that works when one of them is a dog.

Staunch Friends (1859) William Frederick Yeames
Just to come over all Grey Gardens, there is no better friend than a staunch friend, obviously.  At least this one is not a dog and is pretty much a person, albeit a hairy one. I've worked with less competent people than a monkey in a hat, in fact some co-workers have left me wondering if they would be able to place a hat on their head successfully seeing as they mistake arse for elbow so often. I once worked with someone whose only discernible work-skill was the ability to see through glass. Sorry, I'm just jealous of Yeames' positive work relationship.  Mind you, do colleagues actually count as friends?  This one has got me in trouble a few times. I think I have learned it is possible to be friends with colleagues but colleagues should never automatically be counted as friends, especially in working hours.  Unless they are monkeys.  Monkeys are always your friends.  Just look at BJ McKay and his best friend Bear, who was a monkey, not a bear.  I am digressing, and apart from monkeys and dogs, I am no closer to finding out about friends...

An Old Friend Failing (1880) Haynes King
So is her teapot broken or is it empty? I'm guessing it has a hole in it, which is indeed a serious matter in this country.  No-one likes an incontinent teapot, very embarrassing indeed. I can understand her distress because I hang on to pieces of cookware far longer than I should because of sentimental attachment.  I have a massive plastic fork thing, for stirring sauces and stir-fries, and the handle is three-parts melted patches, but I hang onto it because it has served me well over the last seventeen years and I will not abandon it now. Not many of the people I know would catch fire for me accidentally while making a spagetti bolognaise.  That's proper devotion.

So I guess that is my problem when it comes to friendship: I know where I am with animals and inanimate objects, but people are a mystery and leave me in a right old pickle.  Victorian art seems to back me up on this.  I can find plenty of pictures of rivalry and romance but friendship that isn't dog or cookware-based is a bit thin on the ground.  Maybe that's the point, maybe it's not just me who doesn't know how to do the friendship thing in an appropriate and sufficient manner.  For now then I will just be grateful for the smashing friends that I have managed to hang on to and I fully endorse the Victorian ideal of a fat terrier as your friend...

Blossom and me

Monday, 23 October 2017

Mary Hodgkinson, Super-Model

I have a confession to make.  In my last two talks about 'Pre-Raphaelite Women', I managed to miss someone out.  This is a shocking oversight on my behalf but I put it down to the fact that she was one of Millais' models and I always get a bit nervous about talking about Effie Millais and stay away from him, on the whole.  Anyway, I shall put that right immediately in this little post, which is all about that world-famous Victorian super-model Mary Hodgkinson...

Mary Hodgkinson (1843) John Everett Millais
Okay, I might be over-hyping her a little, but I do feel guilty about missing her out and you are bound to recognise her when I show you where she crops up.  Anyway, firstly, a little background - Once upon a time in Somerset, there was a man called Henry Coward.  He was originally from Hampshire (a couple of counties over on the south coast of England) and so when his first wife died, he seems to have moved back east and married a woman called Ann Evamy, in a small village called Nursling, just outside Southampton.  Nowadays of course, Nursling village is not 'just outside Southampton', it's pretty much part of the massive sprawl of the city which is really rather wide, from the New Forest on one side to tapping on the door of Portsmouth on the other.  

Southampton in the 19th century
Henry and Ann Coward were in charge of the Baths and Long Rooms in Southampton.  The Long Rooms were apparently quite the place to be seen in Regency Southampton, and there were some charming rules that had to be followed: Gentlemen had to leave their swords at the door, no boots are to be worn on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday evenings, and dancing in coloured gloves is strictly prohibited! Sensible stuff, I'm sure you will agree.  When Henry moved to Southampton, he brought with him the only child from his first marriage, Mary Ann.

Meanwhile, Ann Evamy Coward's sister Mary had done even better for herself.  Keep up as it gets a bit tangle-y here: Mary Evamy married a very respectable Southampton draper, Enoch Hodgkinson, and they had a daughter who only lived a matter of days, but then two sons, Clement, an engineer who worked all over the world and had a 40 year celebrated career in surveying and engineering, and Henry, a rather less exciting Chemist, who set up his own business in Kensington.  Much like Henry Coward, Mary Evamy married twice and after Enoch died in 1820 (a month before his last son was born), Mary did the thing young, somewhat wealthy widows are apt to do - she married a musician from Jersey...

John William Millais (in fancy dress) (1870)
Mary and her new husband, John William Millais set up home in a brand new development, Portland Street in Southampton, which had been created by Mary and Ann's father, Richard Evamy.  Mary and John Millais had five children, two of whom died in infancy and so the couple lived with the three surviving children and her two sons from her first marriage.  By all accounts all the step siblings were close, and Henry, the Chemist got on very well with the baby of the family, John Everett Millais...

Self Portrait (1847) John Everett Millais
Now we're getting somewhere!  Righty-ho, so Henry the Chemist married his sort-of-step-cousin, Mary Ann Coward, which must have been a bit awkward at family Christmases until everyone worked out they weren't blood relatives, so it's all fine.  As we all know, when the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood started painting they used friends and family as their models and Millais wasn't any different.  As you can see at the beginning of this post, Millais drew his step-brother's fiancee just before their marriage and when he was looking for models for the modest Isabella, he didn't have to look very far...

Isabella (1849)
There, on the right of the picture, being handed a deeply symbolic orange (the best sort of orange) is Millais' step-cousin-sister-in-law, Mary.  By the way, that's what the average family dinner in Southampton looks like, in case you were wondering.

Detail of the sketch of Isabella
It also struck me that Millais made Isabelle a very quiet figure, filled with small gestures of empathy and kindness, as opposed to her chair-swinging, nut-cracking mentalist of a brother, opposite her. Both Isabella and her brother are doing the same things - they are both having contact with the dog and eating, and the brother's haphazard violence (I don't like the chances of the dog under his chair) and excessive movement are the opposite of her self-contained gentleness.  It's interesting to see the changes in the figure of Isabella from the sketch to the oil painting - instead of two thin plaits, Millais has given her one, bound rope of hair which gives an impression of how restrained and contained the girl is but also speaks of strength.  She might be gentle but she is indeed strong.

Christ in the House of his Parents (1850)
It seems unsurprising then that John Everett Millais would call upon his step-cousin-sister-in-law again when looking for a model for another stoical, gentle woman, the Virgin Mary, in his all-new canvas, Christ in the House of his Parents.  She obviously had a face that could express the foreshadowing of a massive tragedy.

Mary Millias (Millais' Mum) (1869) William Millais

It is said that the face of the Virgin is actually Millais' mother, Mary, and she does seem to have the same pained expression in the painting of her from 1869, but the figure is generally acknowledge to be that of Mary Hodgkinson.  I wonder how she took the delightful commentary by Dickens...? And I quote from 'Household Words' June 1850:

"...a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-haired boy in a nightgown, 
who appears to have received a poke playing in an adjacent gutter, 
and to be holding it up for the contemplation of a kneeling woman, 
so horrible in her ugliness that (supposing it were possible for any human 
creature to exist for a moment with that dislocated throat) she would stand out 
from the rest of the company as a monster in the vilest cabaret in France 
or in the lowest gin-shop in England."

I've been called some things in my time but ugly-gin-shop-freak is quite an insult.  Oddly enough, I don't think Mary bothered modelling for her step-cousin-brother-in-law again, living a fairly long and comfortable life in Kensington, dying aged 79 with a probate of £13,000, which is not bad at all.  One rather interesting things I read as a footnote to Mary's story was in the newspaper in 1923.  Mrs George Wright, was interviewed by the papers about her time as cook for Mr Henry Hodgkinson, Chemist, of Lower Phillimore Gardens, Kensington.  After the gin-shop-freak business, Millais and Dickens actually became friends, and when John Millais went round to his step-brother's for dinner, he took his new bestie, Charlie Dickens with him.  Mrs Wright remembered cooking for the novelist - "I used to cook him a perfectly plain dinner - just soup, fish, generally a chicken, and sweets." (The Courier, 26 December 1923).

I hope Mary sneezed on his pudding.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

The Mystery of the Dark Lady

I like finding out interesting stories to do with paintings and so was delighted to come across the subject of today's post.  As you will know, the long-suffering Mr Walker is curator at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, home to this painting...

The Fortune Teller, 'Beware of a Dark Lady'  (1940) Frank Cadogan Cowper
As you will know from my previous post on Cowper, the artist was a Pre-Raphaelite follower, whose career reached into the middle of the twentieth century, when he seemingly continued to use the same style.  If you asked people to date The Fortune Teller, more likely they would guess Victorian rather than Second World War.  It is a very odd picture for many reasons, but I find it rather compelling, not least because of the implied tension between the two women (even if blondie is unaware of it) and the overwhelming detail of that ivy hedge.  Anyway, I didn't think any more about it until Mr Walker asked me to read a letter...

Frank Cadogan Cowper (1932) Bassano Ltd
Cowper first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1899 at the tender age of 22, so by 1940, he'd been showing his paintings there for around two-thirds of his life.  The Royal Academy exhibition of 1940 is often referred to as 'the Blitz Exhibition', owing to the fact that it occurred during the bombardment of London in the Second World War.  According to the Yorkshire Post of the 4th May 1940, Cowper's 'Fortune Teller' was a highlight in the 'brighter' show and describes it thus: 'It shows two fashionably dressed young women, a blonde and a brunette, seated in a garden, and a gypsy is telling the fair one: "Beware of a dark lady". The look on the dark one's face suggests some ground for the warning.'  On Sunday 5th May, Andrew W. Arnold of Tunbridge Wells, a notable collector of art and friend of Cowper, was one of the 30 or 40 people who braved the bombs to see the exhibition. 

The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery rather liked the look of the painting and were about to ask for the loan of it but it had already been sold. Mr Arnold bought the painting, and a decade later offered it to the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery for their collection.  He was by this point in his 90s and possibly knew his time was limited so this might have been the reason to break up his collection.  Some of his paintings, 'modern pictures', seems to have been part of a Christie's sale in 1949 (catalogue reference 1949:22).  He did not place the Cowper picture in the sale, maybe because he was so attached to it.  The painting was offered first to Bristol Art Gallery, but they turned it down, so it was offered to Bournemouth, with some items of furniture, and it was that correspondence I ended up reading.

Mr Arnold gave a thousand guineas for the piece, which is around £40,000 in today's money, a fairly substantial amount for such a curious work of art, but Mr Arnold had a special reason for wanting the picture...


As Mr Arnold said in his letter 'Modern pictures are so awful that in recent years I have never gone [to the RA exhibition]  unless Mr Cadogan-Cowper tells me that he...had pictures in it.'  Well, there's a man after my own heart.  Not only that but he goes on: 'I shall be 92 next month and it is more than 60 years ago that I and the two girls in the picture had glorious fun at Brighton and Eastbourne.'  

Mr Arnold, NOW you have my attention...

 Mr Arnold is therefore describing people he met in the 1880s-90s, not some young, war-time girls that caught his eye.  He describes the dark haired woman as being 'very clever and had a beautiful contralto voice' (thank you Helen for being able to read this bit).  The blonde girl was nicknamed 'the golden butterfly', which is a wonderfully evocative name, and he had seen her again, after the First World War - 'She was a widow when I last saw her 30 years ago, her husband was a Colonel in the Royal Artillery.'  There is no hint as to when the husband had died, but given that the girls would have been around the age of Mr Arnold, therefore born in the 1860s, I'm guessing her husband could well have died outside conflict, being possibly too old to have died in the Great War.

Also in the file was a letter from Frank Cadogan Cowper, about the painting which offers a few other details. He reports that The Fortune Teller was declared 'painting of the year' and likened to the Pre-Raphaelites in the press, and that when the Academy closed its exhibition, it transferred down to Eastbourne Art Gallery to be part of their summer exhibition, in the town where Mr Arnold had 'glorious fun' with the models!

So, the puzzle I am left with is this - Mr Arnold was very attached to this painting and donated it to a gallery rather than sell it, even though it had cost him a fortune.  He obviously had fond memories of the models in the painting but here is the question: he remembers running around with them in 1890, before Cowper had really started to paint professionally, but the painting of them was not exhibited until 1940.  

When and how did Frank Cadogan Cowper paint that picture?

The Ugly Duckling (1950)

There is much to recommend it being a painting from 1940: firstly, you are not exactly allowed to drag any old picture out of your attic and shove it on display as your picture of the year, and that would also beg the question of why Cowper hadn't displayed it over the intervening 50 years.  Also, the dresses, although worn with bonnets, are quite modern and much like ones worn by the various young women whose portraits Cowper painted in later years. However, the women were of an age with Cowper, so had he met them when young?  Had he made sketches of them and brought out those sketches when considering this work, sixty years later?  It's even not out of the question that Mr Arnold had photographs of the women he obviously remembered with such fondness and as he was friends with Cowper, maybe the artist had used the photographs as inspiration.  I want to know more!

Sadly, unless anyone has information about the Golden Butterfly and her beautiful-voiced friend, it will remain something of a tantalizing mystery...

Monday, 11 September 2017

If Hope Were Not, Heart Should Break

Recently I was discussing next year's Burne-Jones exhibition at the Tate on Facebook and I said I hoped that they would talk about Fanny Cornforth.  It's not that I'm Fanny obsessed (okay, my life is almost entirely Fanny-centric), but I have always been fascinated how Fanny and Ned got together in the first place. In this post I wrote a few years back, I talked about how Ned and Fanny have always been one of art's odd couples because they didn't seem to match, aesthetically speaking.  Then again, I have always loved this picture...

Hope (1862) Edward Burne-Jones
It is one of Burne-Jones' most lovely, if unfinished, paintings, and I have always regretted we couldn't see the rest of the image.  What was the vision of her? What made Fanny personify 'Hope' for the artist and what did that vision entail?  Come to think of it, Burne-Jones spent a lot of time thinking about hope.  What was Burne-Jones hoping for?

If Hope Were Not, Heart Should Break (1890s)
The quote comes either from a Stuart clergyman, Thomas Fuller, or a thirteenth century proverb, but the meaning is obvious - don't give up, things will get better etc etc, but also possibly more than that.  Hope is essential for living, it is hope that keeps us going.  It is an acknowledgement of the power of nil desperandum.  I began to wonder if there was a connection between the images of Hope and the times in which they were painted.  Did Burne-Jones acknowledge his need for hope at certain times and the paintings were material manifestations of these feelings, or was it just a subject he liked? And what does all that have to do with an unfinished painting of Fanny Cornforth?

Hope (1896) 
This Hope (1896) was painted towards the end of Burne-Jones' life, and was commissioned by Mrs George Marston Whitin of Whitinsville, Massachusetts. She wanted dancing girls but the artist needed Hope.  His best friend, William Morris, had just died and that had dealt a severe blow to him and his work.  He offered Mrs George Marston  Whitin a painting of a figure reaching up to the heavens, despite the bars that obscure her view. It was at this point he needed to reach up, despite being shackled to the sadness of life.

Windows at St Margaret's Church, Hopton-on-Sea
The 1896 oil painting was a copy of an early watercolour from 1871, which had served as a draft for a stained glass window.  1871 was during a personally disastrous period for the artist and his family, much of which was self-inflicted.  In Georgiana Burne-Jones' diary the period 1868-71 are simply recorded as 'Heart, thou and I here, sad and alone', as her husband conducted a destructive affair with Maria Zambaco.  Even though the climax of the affair had been in 1869, with the attempted suicide of Zambaco in the street while Burne-Jones clung to her, Zambaco's image haunted the artist's work and no doubt caused much tension and pain within the marriage.  No wonder Burne-Jones needed some optimism that it would all blow over.

Spes, Hope in Prison (1874)
However, the 1870s were not kind to Burne-Jones.  The fact he felt the need to do another version of Hope (although some argue that this one was painted mostly by his studio assistants) may indicate that the need for Hope during a period of 'imprisonment' within a situation.  As we covered in this post, the critics were unkind to Burne-Jones for many reasons in the 1870s and while recovering his personal life, his professional life was under attack.  He obviously needed intervention by Spes, the Goddess of Hope. So, returning to the first picture, what 'hope' did Burne-Jones need in 1861? His son Philip had been born, he was doing well, his friends were all married and expecting children and the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co had opened for business.  No doubt he was busy but it doesn't exactly sound like desperate times.  Then again, maybe it wasn't him who needed hope...

Merlin and Nimue (1861) Edward Burne-Jones
When Rossetti married Elizabeth Siddal in 1860, he allegedly swore off all models except his beautiful wife.  This was a terrible blow to Fanny Cornforth, who had been living a jolly life as his mistress and muse.  In George Price Boyce's diary we are left in no doubt how seriously Fanny took her relationship with Rossetti - she worried about how Rossetti perceived the time she spent with Boyce and she became bedridden with grief when Rossetti married Elizabeth.  She had lost her lover and her income at one fell swoop, but oddly it was Burne-Jones who provided her with work, using her as the beautiful but shifty Nimue and a firey-orange-clad Venus in Laus Veneris.  He also started the abandoned oil entitled Hope, possibly because by the time he worked on it, Mrs Rossetti had died and Fanny had been reunited with her erstwhile and damaged beloved.  She was definitely in need of hope, in need of the reassurance that all would get better, but aside from the whistful face, very little else of the oil painting was clear, and I had always wondered what the finished picture was going to look like.  

Bocca Baciata (1859) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Rewinding back a few years to the high-days of Fanny and Rossetti (and Boyce)'s affair, the painting Bocca Baciata had encompassed all the sexual freedom that their lives had consisted of.  Fanny was loved by these two men who found her beautiful and untainted by their physical devotion to her.  She is temptation, as shown by the apple; she is luxury, expressed by the jewellery and the glorious expanse of hair. I have wondered over her expression in the past, as she looks slightly distracted as if she is aware that her time in the spotlight is finite.  The marigold she holds is a member of the calendula family, meaning 'little clock' possibly indicating the passing of time, emphasized by the butterfly on the apple. Maybe there is a case for changing the famous poem to 'Gather ye marigolds while you can...'

Viridis of Milan (1861)
In many ways, it is unsurprising that when Burne-Jones came to use Fanny as a model he envisaged her in similar ways as his friend had done.  Fanny provided a nice counterpoint to his angelic images of Georgiana from this time, and there are shades of slight threat to paintings such as Viridis of Milan,  where she portrays a woman from history, whose father was so bad the Pope preached a crusade against him.  Maybe that explains Viridis' 'what's he done now?' expression...

Anyway, it's not a big leap from Bocca Baciata to Viridis of Milan and then to this gouache painting of Hope...

Hope (1861-2) 

Hope (1862)
Seen together these canvases are obviously related and the rest of the unfinished oil can be transposed across from the gouache.  In her hand she holds an orb with the inscription 'If hope were not, heart should break', and the dark jacket revealing the white underclothes beneath seems to be inspired by Bocca Baciata.  Unlike some of Burne-Jones' other images of Fanny, there seems to be kindness here, a sympathy for her situation where she was truly helpless.  All the threat of power that exist in his other images of her is absent and Fanny is just a woman literally holding onto hope and waiting.  Unlike his later figures of Hope, Fanny doesn't reach up, or seem to be imprisoned, she just sits there with her little handful of hope, waiting for the call from her beloved.  

Maybe the reason Burne-Jones never finished the oil is because the call came, but at another's expense.