Thursday, 29 November 2012

More Mrs Walker? Come to my Boudoir!

Do you need more Mrs Walker in your life?  Do you sit at home and wonder 'I wonder what Mrs Walker is up to now, with her glamorous lifestyle and endless fountain of sparkling wit and the suchlike?'  If the answer to this question is 'Yes!' then I have the very thing - The Stunner's Boudoir on Facebook!

I have started a page on Facebook so that I can post extra pictures from blogs, let people know Victorian stuff in the news and upcoming exhibitions on a daily basis.  If you are on Facebook and you just can't get enough of my nonsense, than scurry on over to The Stunner's Boudoir (which can be found here) and join me...

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Wonder of Victorian Beards

I posted this picture on Facebook last week, to much excitement...

Man with Beard (1864) Henry Tanworth Wells
Ladies swooned and I wondered exactly why.  As I'm sure you know, we are currently in the throws of 'Movember', the month when gentlemen grow their facial hair in order to raise money for gentlemen's cancers (details can be found here).  Mr Walker took part in this very worthwhile event last year and turned from my babyfaced, toyboy of a husband into Charles Darwin over the course of a month.  Really, it was both alluring and deeply disturbing, in equal measure.

Mr Walker looks cheery as he discovers Evolution...
There is something very Victorian about that amount of beardy goodness, and I thought I would give a overview of facial hair in the nineteenth century...

Armed with my copy of a fabulous and very informative book, Muffs and Morals by Pearl Binder (Who sniggered? Shame on you! I'm starting the muff references early this year...) I made an indepth study of Victorian beardiness in all its forms and what we can infer from the fur.  Ms Binder claims that there was a love affair with the beard in Victorian times, that gentlemen would look forward to their first beard with more fevered anticipation than their first visit to a brothel.  She quotes a particularly sickening letter from Charles Dickens, eulogising about his lovely beard with such flowery language that you'd think he was talking about a girl.  Sadly, he was talking about his beard.  No, really.

Young and Beardless
Hello Ladies....

Well, good Lord, what a difference!  Mr Dickens is modelling a cheek-free beard, which seems to be free-styling into some odd, forked thing at the end.  Rossetti was a chin-beard type too, preferring to keep his cheeks free of fuzz...

Young and Dreamy...
Mature and Hairy...

It seemed almost compulsory in the nineteenth century if you were male that you had to grow a beard (I'll come to those that abstained in a moment, and why they shouldn't be trusted, the cads).  In a period where maturity was prized, the outward sign was anticipated with baited breath.  A beard meant you were a man, you were a prized specimen of masculinity in all its hairy wonderfulness.  For some men, the hairier, the better...

There are moments when William Holman Hunt seems more beard than anything else.  In fact, I find it odd seeing him without his beard.  It seems unnatural, like someone had sneaked up and stolen it when he wasn't looking.  I believe Hunt grew his full beard by the age of eight and used it as a shade when he was painting in the Holy Land.  True story.

Hunt hasn't got the most outrageous beard of the nineteenth century, oh no.  He is a mere girl by the standards of the Victorian era.  For the real manly men with proper beards you could lose a herd of deer in, you have to brace yourself and head for Google.  Ladies, you may want to uncork the smelling salts now, as some of the following images are ripe with manly attractiveness.  You have been warned...

Hello Handsome, nice chin-beard...
My word, what a long beard you have....

Well, I say, may I call you Daddy?
Blimey, I've had to sit down and fan myself in the face of so much unbridled gentlemanly hair.  Just think, I bet the sweetheart of bachelor number three never gets chilly during the winter, all she needs to do is wrap herself in her honey's fuzz.  Just imagine that...

But it wasn't just beard fanatics that could express themselves through their facial hair.  Some gentlemen with actual day jobs displayed fine beards that no doubt enhanced their reputation in the literary or scientific worlds, while making them a sure-fire hit with the ladies...

Tennyson, sporting some Guy Fawkes inspired whiskers
Charles Darwin, or my husband, it's hard to tell with that beard...
G F Watts could play the fiddle with his beard. True Story.
And if more proof were needed, Cyril Flower, the Most Handsome Man of the Nineteenth Century (apparently) had a fine beard.  Look!

I bet you have all just mentally run your fingers through his luxurious beard...
So, did all men over the age of eight have fine beards?  Well, no.  Some did not.  I know, I couldn't believe it either.  Some men just grew a moustache...

He's a looker, but you know he's just going to leave you pregnant and disgraced...
Hmmm, not sure about the 'tache, it doesn't feel proper, like he's trying to hide his inner cad under that small effort of facial furniture.  But we're not fooled, we know he'll knock us up and let us die in the snow, coughing and disgraced.

Cad, no doubt about it...
Such a Bounder!

Don't let fine military or literary careers fool you, they will cause you nothing but heart-break.  It's the amount of dishonesty in their veins that inhibits the beard, I promise.  Ah, while I'm on the subject, avoid the beardless man at all costs.  He will ruin you!

Wife-Stealing Virgin-Despoiler!
Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, you love rat!

I think history speaks for itself.

So, to recap, beards are good, no beard equals moral disaster.  I'm not sure how this can be applied to women though...

Oh, I don't know, I think the cleavage and van dyke beard is a rather winning combination...

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Join the Society!

Hello again beloved readers, sorry it's been a bit of a quiet week but I have been working on the second draft of my novel and giving my second talk at Bournemouth. I thought I would just bring a subject close to my heart to your attention, and that is the Pre-Raphaelite Society.

I have been a member of the Society for many years, and began writing Pre-Raphaelite art history nonsense in their marvellous journal.  I owe the Society, and the wonderful people who run it, an awful lot as they have never ceased encouraging and helping me do what I do.  If you love the Pre-Raphaelites, then you really need to join up because the Journal alone is worth the small amount they ask for in membership, and you get it three times a year!  In addition there is the chance to attend lectures by some of the leading lights in Pre-Raphaelite study - where else are you going to hear Lucinda Hawksley, Dinah Roe and Stephen Wildman all talking about the PRB?  Well that was February to April this year in the Pre-Raphaelite Society event calendar, and the rest of the year is equally as spectacular.  

One of the first Journals I appeared in, back in 2000
We have become blessed with an avalanche of Pre-Raphaelite exhibitions at present,and  the Society organises trips to the museums involved, either by coach from Birmingham (where the Society is based) or meeting up with them at the exhibition.  You then have the chance to experience the shows with people who love the art as much as you do.  Bliss!

The Last Judgement Window, 1897 (detail) Edward Burne-Jones
You also get the PRS US which is the America newsletter on Pre-Raphaelite matters going on over the pond, which has the most fascinating information on books, reviews of shows, pictures being show or discovered and all things Pre-Raphaelite.  On top of all that you get flyers about up-coming exhibitions, book offers and all kinds of information that you need to know.

The Society was founded in 1988, so next year is a very special year indeed for the Society, being the 25th anniversary.  There will no doubt be some special shenanigans and the suchlike, so there has never been a better time to join.  As it so happens, there is a special offer on and you can get 15 months membership for the price of 12.  If you join up between now and the end of the year, you will get four copies of the Review journal plus an initial welcome-pack copy - making a total of five Reviews for the price of three, along with the PRS US Newsletter, numerous book offers, exhibition details and invitations to an excellent series of lectures and visits. It's like Father Christmas got you letter....

You can become a member for as little as £14 per annum (or a mere £12 if you use a standing order) for those of us over here in Blighty, and $35 for our American cousins.  For those overseas, not in UK or US, it is the equivalent of £22.

For further details and how to join up, visit their website and become a member! If you have any questions, drop them a line or visit their Facebook page.  They are the most lovely group of people and will answer any questions you might have.

I'll see you at the AGM next year!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Actually, what I want for Christmas is...


Alexa Wilding (c.1865) D G Rossetti

Mr Walker was at a training day at the Sotherby's Art Institute and was visiting a place in Bond Street, when in one of the windows opposite he spied this picture.  The gallery that was displaying it was The Maas Gallery, home of some very exquisite art indeed.  Mr Walker said 'Oh, look, that's Alexa Wilding!' (in a moment that makes me very proud indeed) and came home to tell me.  I emailed Mr Maas to enquire about the picture and got a pleasingly speedy response.

The picture had been in the collection of George Price Boyce (swoon!) and may have been one he acquired from Rossetti in 1865.  In his diary of 19th May 1865, Boyce wrote 'Dined with Rossetti and Fanny and Howell at Chelsea. Settled to take for £50 eleven selected pencil studies of heads, R. in addition giving me one of a new model he has got to sit.'  Boyce was later to 'borrow' Alexa from Rossetti for his own picture of the Stunner...

George Price Boyce
Alexa George Price Boyce

You should know by now I'm currently quite obsessed with Alexa, and have finished the first draft of my novel about her, a fictionalised account of Rossetti's life and her part in it, so I emailed Mr Maas for further details.  This gorgeous drawing is £65,000 (roughly the same as the mortgage on my home) and in my humble and utterly biased opinion, worth every penny.  No matter how big my eyes and fluttery my lashes were, Mr Walker stubbornly refused to sell our house to buy it for me, so I shall throw myself on the mercy of Father Christmas (who I fervently believe in now).

Should anyone have £65,000 spare, Mr Maas and his gallery of beauty can be contacted on, or by phone 0207 734 2302.  His gallery can be found at 15a Clifford Street, London.

Many thanks to Rupert Maas for the information and for emailing me the picture with such speed.  It is on my Christmas list...

Thursday, 15 November 2012

A Sorrow's Crown of Sorrow

My husband knows how to show a woman a good time.  He came home the other night and showed me this picture…

Remembering Happier Things (c.1921) Henry Justice Ford
You know me, I love a good mournful maiden in a tower, and this is a cracker.  Look, there is even a knuckle-biting misery-verse at the bottom…

‘A Sorrow’s Crown of Sorrow’?  Heavens, how bleak!  Smashing.  This lovely lady is the work of an artist and illustrator called Henry Justice Ford (1860-1941) who began his career as a painter, exhibiting at the Royal Academy, but really found his groove as an illustrator of children’s books.  I was surprised to find I was very familiar with his work in the Fairy Books by Andrew Lang…

Rosanella (1892)
The Purple Fairy Book

Marvellous stuff.  This was what his fame and finances were based on, and the pen and ink illustrations are beautiful, not least because he worked in that wonderful period of book illustration between 1900-1920 that also contains people like Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale.  Delicious.

Ford and his family were keen cricketers (his brother played for England), and he used to play with J M Barrie’s Cricket Club.  This led to Ford providing the map of Kensington Gardens for Barrie’s The Little White Bird

Ford also designed the costume for Peter Pan when the play was staged in the West End for the first time in 1904.  His art ranges from the Pre-Raphaelite influenced Remembering Happier Times and Venus Fly Trap to more traditional portraiture and landscapes…

Venus Fly Trap
Richard John Cuninghame (1871-1925)

I love Mr Cuninghame:  I once wrote a story about a big game hunter who hunted mythical creatures and this is exactly how I pictured him.  However, back to the Pre-Raphaelite stuff – I love Venus Fly Trap, look at her hair!  She reminds me of Lilith in Rossetti’s work, with her strangling tendrils of beautiful, evil hair.  Turning back to Remembering Happier Times, I am immediately struck by echoes of two Rossetti paintings in spirit rather than composition.  The first is Mnemosyne and the other is Astarte Syriaca.

Mnemosyne (1881) D G Rossetti
Astarte Syriaca (1875-77) D G Rossetti

In themselves the two Rossettis are very similar pictures, one shoulder green frock, dark surroundings, gold accessories.  Similarly, Remembering Happier Times shows a young, crinkle-haired woman in green, her golden belt fastened in two places like Astarte Syriaca’s girdle, her accessories golden.  If you consider the date of the picture and the model, then possibly there is a further connection.  The model is thought to be his wife, who he married in 1921.  Emily Amelia Hoff was thirty-five years his junior and had been widowed when her husband died in the First World War.  If there was a purposeful link then maybe Ford was blending the two Rossetti’s, drawing on Astarte’s link to war, and the personification of memory in Mnemosyne.  Also Astarte was often portrayed as the deified Evening Star, which might explain the night scene in the bottom panel beside the verse in Remembering Happier Times.

It would be sad to think that Ford’s meaning in the picture was that his wife was still greatly affected by mourning her husband and looking back to life before the War, but easily that could have applied to Society in the War-shocked Society that emerged from 1918.  Either way, I'm always delighted to find an artist continuing the Pre-Raphaelite tradition into the twentieth century, and Henry Justice Ford should be equally famous for his painting as he is for his magical book illustrations.  

Bring on the retrospective!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Last Summer Green Things Were Greener...

Today is Remembrance Day, and we remember those that died in the terrible wars of the 20th century.  As is my way, my thoughts wandered to the way that war was viewed in Victorian times.  We modern folk seem to live a schizophrenic existence of romanticising war and fearing the horror it truly is.  Look at the rosy tint that the First World War has for us, comfortably cushioned by almost a hundred years.  We are not so blind as to not know the truth of it, but age lends a detachment.

Ernest Albert Fisher, 1916, also known as my Grandfather
For the Victorians, war actually wasn't so different, if their depictions of it are to be believed. Just as the twentieth century was marked by two enormous conflicts, then the Victorians were greatly affected by the Crimean and the Boer Wars.  The Indian Rebellion of 1857 also provided British civilian deaths, a huge shock to the man on the street in Mid-Victorian Britain, but it was two wars that provided the greater scope for mixed emotions with soldiers coming and going from home, and the home front continuing with the empty chair, waiting for the soldier to come home.

Waiting, An English Fireside 1854-5 Ford Madox Brown
The Crimean War (1853-56) was the first war to be documented both extensively and at the time it was happening, so the general public had a good idea of the day-to-day reality of warfare.

Mother and Child (1854) Frederic Stephens
Along with the large amount of very patriotic, front line works to do with the Crimean, for example Calling the Roll after an Engagement, Crimea by Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler, there is a far amount of works such as the above, showing wives being told via letters, of the demise of their soldier husbands, usually with some sort of symbolism in the form of toys.

The Soldier's Wife (1878) George Smith
The fallen toys, either soldier dolls or lions and other symbols of nations, show the fate of the men far away.  The fate of the family without the man is uncertain, and these women have news of their men quickly, either by letter or newspaper.  Looking at the statistics for the Crimean War, it is more likely (by a large proportion) that it would have been disease that killed the soldier, rather than a battle wound.  The Crimean became a war that was famous for its logistical disasters, for the work done by Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole in combating the rampant infection and disease, rather than any battle glory.  Two notable names synonymous with disaster were Sevastopol and Balaclava...

News from Sebastopol (Sevastopol) (1875) Charles Cope
The Story of Balaclava: 'Wherein he Spoke of the Most Disastrous Chances (1855) Rebecca Solomon
Anything that has 'disastrous chances' in the title is not going to end well, and indeed Balaclava contained the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade, of which this gentleman is possibly meant to be a veteran.  The woman in the first picture has a map and a black edged letter, and her expression tells it all.

The Crimean ended and the soldiers came home, and the tone of the paintings is not just joyful, but utter, wretched relief.

Home: The Return from the Crimean (1856) Joseph Noel Paton
Of all the 'returned hero' pictures I have seen this one seems the most intimate and real, everyone looks exhausted and too shattered to feel anything approaching happiness.  The baby sleeps in the background and the widowed mother cries on the shoulder of her returned son.  The gentle glow of light from the fire makes it seem anything but a victory, just a blessed end.

I have to mention here that I was amazed to find that the last veteran of the conflict died in 2004.  How is that possible?!  The last veteran was Timothy the Tortoise, the mascot of HMS Queen, who died peaceful in her retirement home in Devon at the ripe old age of 165.

Anyway, seemingly no sooner had the Crimean War finished than the mutinies in India shocked the Empire.  Again, the speed of reporting and the details of the horrors caught the public imagination.  For most it must have seemed like the atrocities came out of nowhere, but it had obviously been simmering unrest that found its outlet in bloody carnage on all side.  

Eastward Ho! August 1857 Henry Nelson O'Neil
Home Again Henry Nelson O'Neil

There are stark differences in the attitudes of the two pictures: the nervous energy of the first is reflected in the bright colours, the bold reds and streaks of yellow, purple and green contrasting with the more faded, battered glory of the second.  The women are mostly separate from the men in the first, climbing the gangplank to kiss them goodbye, holding hands and parting, whereas everyone is together, clinging and massed on the ship in the second image, with yet more people clammering to receive the men back, safe.

The Flight from Lucknow (1858) Abraham Solomon
The aspect of the mutiny that caught people's notice especially was the role of women and children, fleeing the immediate threat.  Stories of the courage of well-to-do young women, loading guns and in some cases firing them, holding back the uprising that threatened their way of life as the ruling British.

In Memoriam (1858) Joseph Noel Paton
The reception of Paton's In Memoriam  at the Royal Academy was so sensational and horrific that he repainted a vital part to render it more palatable.  In the original version, the women cower during the attack at Cawnpore, looking terrified as through the door burst Sepoy soldiers, no doubt leading to their deaths.  Repainted, the women are rescued by red-coated highland heroes, drawing a more hopeful outcome to the rather more bloody reality.

Colonial wars rumbled on, with the professional army putting down rebellions and uprisings in India, Africa and beyond, but outside of general pictures about war and widowhood, the artistic imagination was not caught in such a manner until the Boer War (the second Anglo-Boer War) again opened the idea of the home front, reflecting the suffering many thousands of miles away from the action.

The Boer War (1901) John Liston Byam Shaw
This is one of the most famous war paintings that doesn't show war of the Victorian era.  It is also possibly the last war painting of the Victorian era, completed in the year of the Queen's death.  It is accompanied by two lines of Christina Rossetti's poem 'A Bird Song': 'Last summer green things were greener, Brambles fewer, the blue sky bluer', which refers to the narrator who has not seen a beloved woman for a year.  The general reading of this is that the woman has been widowed, and is recalling the year before when she last saw her husband.  This is supported by the black dress of the pensive figure.  However, I would offer another reading.  The 1900 election was won by the Conservatives, on a swell of anti-Boer, pro-war feeling, however that fervor died back in light of reports of the death of Boer women and children in the concentration camps.  Emily Hobhouse (left), a British Welfare campaigner, raised awareness of the appalling conditions in the camps, and the government reacted by appointing the Fawcett Commission, an all-female concern who toured the camps and reported on the horrific state they were in.  Maybe the young thoughtful woman is pondering on the fact that she has learnt too much of the suffering, that she is possibly representative of the women of the Fawcett Commission.  Her grief is not just that of a widow, but a woman who has the weight of national grief, national loss.  Last Summer she didn't know how people had been rounded up and killed in camps through malice or incompetence, on her behalf, and now she does.  No wonder she pauses in thought.

Going Home Frank Holl
So how much different are we today than our Victorian ancestors? We now have a yearly focus for our remembering, whereas they moved from moment to moment, battle to battle, waiting for the men to return, or waiting for the news to come.  Their disappointment in the bad decisions taken in war is always backgrounded by a surprise that things could go so badly, so ingloriously.  Possibly we have a level of cynicism that colours our view of war, that our exposure to the follies of war is so total that we don't have the level of surprise that such glorious disasters like the Charge of the Light Brigade brought with it. 

Peace Concluded (1856) John Everett Millais
I think the way that the woman's perspective is taken in the works of nineteenth century art is interesting and foreshadows the very active involvement of women in the Fawcett Commission. Possibly the women in these paintings are symbols for the antithesis of the 'male' action of war, but again I think it also showed a public need to expose the suffering from war that was not limited to the arena of a battlefield.  This is of course a great part of Remembrance Day, the need for people like me to remember the part my grandfather played in a life-changing war, and feel grateful, sad, relieved and apprehensive all at the same time.  Like the woman in Peace Concluded, we can feel relieved that the war is over, but there will always be another war.