Sunday, 24 February 2013

Snowdrops, Swine and Seductive Sorceresses

The banks of the lanes around here are absolutely strewn with snowdrops at present.  It is the most lovely sight, the carpets of white aping snow yet heralding the buds of spring within our grasp.  One thing I have learnt this week is that the snowdrop may indeed be 'holy moly' which I thought was a made-up phrase used by Batman, but actually refers to a herb used by Odysseus to resist the charms of the subject of today's post, Circe.

Circe (1891) John William Waterhouse
Once upon a time, in the midst of a dark forest dwelt a beautiful sorceress by the name of Circe.  She was the daughter of Helios, the God of the Sun and an Oceanid, Perse, and her siblings included the keeper of the Golden Fleece and the mother of the Minotaur.  Circe murdered her husband and was cast out to live alone on an island, where she practiced witchcraft, turning her enemies (or anyone she perceived to be her enemy) into animals.  Her mansion was guarded by tame beasts, lions and wolves, victims of her magic.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the Victorians and Edwardians used the image of Circe in their art.  The figure of a beautiful witch is a loaded image, at once both dangerous, alluring, attractive and repellent.  Could you resist her?  What would be the consequences, and would they be worth it?  Look at Waterhouse's vision of her above: her astonishing beauty is barely covered by the mist of blue fabric as she raises her wand, but look at her feet.  There huddles a little dark pig, snoozing peacefully.  When Odysseus' men went to her mansion for a feast, she turned them into swine.  Only Odysseus, protected by the holy herb moly managed to resist her potion.

Circe (1911-14) John William Waterhouse
Waterhouse produced three images of Circe, similar to his obsession with the Lady of Shalott and Ophelia.  I think there is a similarity between the mood of his Shalott images and the picture of Circe above.  She seems to be surrounded by beautiful things, but a sadness, a loneliness pervades the scene.  Different from other images of Circe, she is not engaged in any magic, just in contemplating her life, which is not altogether happy.  She is often described as weaving, again reminiscent of the Lady of Shalott, but also reflects Penelope, wife of Odysseus, who stayed at her loom while her husband was away,spending a year in the bed of Circe.

Circe Resplendens (1913) Margaret Murray-Cookesely
Many images of Circe are just an excuse to show a beautiful sorceress, barely dressed, which was common shorthand for women of dubious moral character.  When Odysseus returns to free his men from their swine-hood, he is warned that the tricksy Circe will offer to take him to bed, but to remain on his guard as her treachery extends even to there.  Odysseus and Circe form an alliance and she even gives him direction to get through difficult waters on his journeys.  However, this isn't the only story connected to the Goddess...

Circe Invidiosa (1892) J W Waterhouse
Waterhouse's other image of Circe shows her pouring a potion into the water, in a chilling explosion of jewel-blues and liquid emerald greens.  The Sea God Glaucus asked Circe to make the beautiful nymph Scylla fall in love with him, but Circe fell in love with the Sea God herself. When she tried to win the affection of Glaucus, he said that trees would grow on the ocean floor before he would love her and in her anger, Circe poured her potion into the sea where Scylla swam, but it transformed the nymph into a hideous monster with six heads.

Circe and Scylla (1886) John Melhuish Strudwick
The sepia tones have a calm, warm appearance to this chilling tale, as the sorceress passively hands her evil over to the water, which for the briefest moment cloud, but then clears to the mirrored surface that lures the beautiful Scylla.  In the background, the nymph is about to plunge into the shiny mirror that will rob her of her beauty, but our gaze is drawn to the statuesque, calm figure, wreaking vengeance for her thwarted desire.

The Wine of Circe (1863-69) Edward Burne-Jones
Turning back to the main legend connected to Circe, the image by Burne-Jones (for which Rossetti wrote a sonnet) shows past and future lovers/victims of Circe's power in the form of the big cats in the foreground and the ships in the background.  The bevy of sunflowers reflect Circe's father, the Sun God, and the dark plant in the top right is possibly a plant of the Ciraea, or enchanter's nightshade, genus.  I like how Circe is bent over by the narrowness of the image, but also by her own wickedness.  She adopts the familiar 'bent crone' stance of a witch, but her beauty and brilliance is at odds with this.

Circe John Collier
Circe (1889) Wright Barker
Not all images of Circe give such complex narratives.  Much of the work of Victorian artists concentrated on the more luxuriant, debauched nature of the glamorous witch.  Like Lilith, a depraved woman with accessories of such richness has an attraction unlike anything else.  John Collier pairs her with a tiger, huge and glorious, and Barker shows a collection of beautiful beasts at the command of this elegant woman.  Barker's picture has some disquieting aspects beautifully rendered: One of her unfortunate victim is only a skin on her floor, warming her feet as she descends.  Also, look at her scarf, swirling up behind her, it looks almost like dark wings.

Circe (1860) Charles Gumery
Circe Edgar Bertram MacKennal

I'm getting quite a passion for sculpture, although it is hard to talk about it using only two dimensional images.  Possibly one of these days I will make a little film about one of the wonderful sculptures I have seen of late, and walk around it with you so we can appreciate all angles.  Circe is definitely a woman who has a lot of appreciable angles.  In Gumery's sculpture, she stands proud with wand and accoutrements of magic casually strewn around her.  MacKennal's sorceress is a far more formidable creature in shining night-black, her arms outstretched in a mock-embrace of deadly magic.  I find the appeal/repel of Circe works especially well in MacKennal's vision as you feel compelled to touch that slick, shiny surface, the tactile, smooth curves inviting you in, yet her power, actively imagined in her gesture, should be enough to drive you away.

Circe (1904) Gustave Mossa
There is an aspect of Circe that is rarely explore in art, here reflected in Mossa's rendering of the subject.  No matter how powerful her magic, she achieves nothing ultimately except her own self-destruction by her evil.  The expression on her face in Mossa's 1904 work is one of boredom and resignation.  Her expectation of people is not high, she expects them to be pigs and so that is what she turns them into, fulfilling her own pessimistic prophecy.  Look at the hand to the right, almost clawing into the pig expressing the tension absent from her face.

In Mossa's work, I feel that Circe is almost in contemporary dress, her hair piled up in Edwardian style.  There is a modern hint to the tale, but one artist went further...

Circe the Temptress (1881) Charles Hermans
Hermans shows a modern Circe, resplendent and shining, challenging us with her dark gaze as a helpless victim slumps behind her.  His wine has spilt in front of him, looking like blood on the tablecloth, the potion already taking effect.  Possibly the story Hermans tells is more straightforward than that; she is a woman that has the power to make men act like animals, like fools.  There is something in her powerful, astonishing beauty that will crush all hope of her ever finding an equal.  She will reduce men to beasts, either consciously or unconsciously and they will be damned because they cannot control themselves in her presence.

 The Temptress that faces us expects to be disappointed in us.  No matter how beautiful she is, we fear her because deep down we know she is right.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Reader/Writer Beware!

I was once in the Daily Mail.  Mr Walker and I were waiting for a flight to New York in November 2001 when the plane crashed in Queens.  We were immediately surrounded by journalists who asked us repeatedly if we were afraid to die as terrorists would no doubt blow up our plane like they had just done again in Queens (which they hadn't but that isn't a good news story).  I muttered something about being utterly terrified and it was duly printed.  I sobbed for the entire flight. That is the point of today's post which has been inspired by the fuss over Hilary Mantel and the Duchess of Cambridge.

In the blue corner...
In the red corner...

Many of you are writers, many write historic fiction or blogs or the suchlike, like myself.  Many of you would defend your subjects with 'terminal intensity' (as we say in the Walker Household), feeling an emotional connection with people who we could never know in real life but have built up a 'relationship' with through many years worth of research and work.  I am happy to talk at length and with vigor about Fanny Cornforth and feel I am qualified to do so.  I am always as careful as possible not to attack others unless I am sure of my ground and hope that I always, always make sure that you know that what I write is my own opinion that you are free to agree with or otherwise because, after all, it is only my opinion.

My chosen subject for my work is artists' models, with Fanny being my specialism.  I could give you my opinion of models today if you like: they are very pretty and I'm sure they are nice people.  Especially Andreas Dithmer, I'm sure he's lovely.  If you had asked me a couple of years ago what I made of Kate Moss, after she reportedly said 'Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels', I would have given you my very honest opinion indeed.  In my opinion that is a very stupid thing to say which buys into teenage girl fear of fat, reinforces women's body-hatred and generally adds nothing to people's life experience.  I remember the newspapers were outraged and much wailing and fist-shaking took place.

However, that wasn't what she said.

Look at the newspaper article I attached to the quote.  When asked if she had any mottos, Moss answers she has many and one is 'Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels', she then adds 'You try and remember, but it never works'.  That changes the point of her answer; she is pointing out how her job should rule her pleasures, but it doesn't.  For the record, my lemon drizzle cake tastes much better than skinny feels.  And so does Andreas Dithmer.

Andreas Dithmer, modelling for Rowan Wool
Back to today and Hilary Mantel.  In Royal Bodies, Mantel's lecture for the London Review of Books, she looked at past and present princesses/queens and people's obsession with their bodies and what came out of them.  She opens with a passage about her impressions of the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton as was, and how she felt no connection with a young woman who was projected as a clothes horse with a monarch-making womb.  None of this is ground-breaking, she merely reflected popular opinion which seems to be obsessed with the Duchess' weight and clothes.  If you read her speech, it is full of 'seems' and 'appears', leading me to conclude that Mantel was not attacking the Duchess as much as the constant bombardment of the public with the image of perfection, although this could be a little clearer.  She revealed odd moments of being in awe of the various royals, and goes on to talk about how the public still rake over the lives of the Boleyns (notably a couple of days ago I saw a headline about love letters between Anne Boleyn and her brother).  Very interesting stuff about the Tudors follows and then she finishes with a lovely bit about being compassionate towards people and stop picking over the Royals.

We all know what happened next.

I write this after reading today's back and forth of mudslinging.  For the record, I think the bits about the Duchess could be phrased clearer for the journalists who weren't willing to read to the end, but what she said and why is now not really the point.  It is older lady vs younger lady, fat lady vs thin lady, some rather horrible stuff about reproductive systems of both and all manner of worse.  I stopped reading the comments when I read people calling Mantel 'Worzel Gummidge' and the Duchess 'a brood mare'.  What is wrong with us?  I could quite happily blame journalists for pitching into the non-argument but the whole business can be filed under 'irony' if it wasn't so hideous.  Mantel's point was that we pick apart people like animals. Looks like she was right.

Why am I talking about this?  Well, it rang a chime with me as both a reader and a writer.  As a writer, you can never be too clear of your point and you should be aware the you do not exist in a vacuum.  Part of me expects that Hilary Mantel is unsurprised at the media storm, after all her piece covered the cruelty of the press and the mob.

As a reader, do not do what I did, which was to just read the newspaper and form an opinion immediately.  It's too easy to do that and now we have to be smarter and know that you can do better than read newspapers.  You can.  I promise you that each of you are capable of forming your own opinion far above anything that any of the papers offers.  You have the ability to read Hilary Mantel's piece and make up your own mind, you have the ability to not read speculation over womb-envy.  You do not need to enter the swamp of journalism.  Each and every one of you is better than that.

Last word to Hils:  'I’m not asking for censorship. I’m not asking for pious humbug and smarmy reverence. I’m asking us to back off and not be brutes.'

What she said.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Ophelia for Boys

Cast your minds back, dear readers, to young, impressionable, semi-gothic me at 18, when I was merely Miss Stonell and frequented the beach in black jumpers and crucifixes.  When I first encountered the wonders of Pre-Raphaelite art I must confess that it wasn't the glory of Ophelia, the wonder of The Hireling Shepherd or the plentiful charms of Fanny Cornforth that first hooked me.

No, it was this...

The Death of Chatterton (1856) Henry Wallis
Ah, Thomas Chatterton, my dead Victorian boyfriend... He was there for me when no other boys looked at me twice.  Yes, he may have been a melodramatic recreation of a Georgian forger/poet's accidental suicide while trying to cure himself of the clap, but he was my melodramatic recreation of a Georgian forger/poet...well, you get the idea.

I don't know why I fell in love with him so much: maybe it was the luminous hair that seemed to glow like embers, or those blue/purple trousers that mirror the gentle dawn glow that can be seen from his window, maybe it's because his skin looks like delicious chiseled marble.  Anyhow, I fell for him and it's a love affair that continues today.  The question is why did the Victorians fall in love with him?

Young Chatterton
Had Chatterton been born a hundred years later, I believe he would surely have embraced the Pre-Raphaelites.  Thomas Chatterton was born in 1752, the son of a poet and dabbler in the occult from Bristol, who died before Thomas was born. Young Tom Chatterton was obsessed with medieval and ecclesiastic icongraphy, frequenting St Mary Redcliffe where his uncle was a sexton.  He loved illuminated manuscripts and large-scale, richly painted books which he could access in the church.

He was different from other boys and read so much that he started writing for the Bristol Journal by 11 years old. That's pretty impressive, I hadn't done anything that good, although I had memorised every song from The Sound of Music.  

Chatterton 1765 (1873) Henrietta Mary Ada Ward
Because he was a little odd, Chatterton began to work alone in the attic, shutting himself away with Medieval papers he had 'borrowed' from St Mary Redcliffe Church. He developed his Medieval fantasies and poetry, living in a world of knights and maidens, of Chaucer and Spenser... Sound familiar?

He longed for a greater world and took his work to London, working in the fictional persona of Thomas Rowley, a reflection of himself inside the world of Medieval chivalry and all the romantic things his life lacked.  He was precocious and learnt to mimic the style of not only Medieval manuscripts but also contemporary poets like Pope or Gray, however he was not steered in his course, either through neglect (he was without a significant male role model) or through his own bloody-mindedness.  His work as Rowley was taken as just transcription, that he was merely copying out the work of this lost medieval genius.  In London he worked as a struggling writer at the age of 16, rejected mainly as a result of his youth and strangeness, until he either took arsenic due to misery (tearing is poems to shreds in a final act of despair) or in an attempt to cure venereal disease.  He was 17.

Scroll on one hundred years.  In that time, Chatterton gained notoriety, the posterboy for living fast and leaving a pretty corpse.  His work was finally revealed to be 'forgery' (gasp!) but somehow his twisted genius became romantic.  Shelley wrote a poem about him, Alfred de Vigny wrote a drama of his life (entirely fictitious, but somehow that seems appropriate) and then the Pre-Raphaelites embraced him as a lost brother...

Sketch for Chatterton (1856) Henry Wallis
Given his love of Medievalism, his detachment from society, his persecution (as he saw it) for his aesthetic beliefs, it's hardly surprising that he would appeal to the young brotherhood and their circle.  Hell, I think if you asked Rossetti whose death he would like to emulate, I'm sure he would have pointed at Chatterton.  When Henry Wallis chose him as his subject, he hit upon a picture that would keep him for the rest of his life (whenever he was short of rent, he would do another version).  I was surprised to see the similarity between his supine heroic martyr and this sketch from the turn of the nineteenth century...

The Death of Thomas Chatterton (1801) Francesco Bartolozzi
Yes, the rats under his bed are a nice touch, but I think Wallis added a little glamour to the situation, as covered him up a bit (really, we all know it's classier to flash only a bit of flesh rather than go topless).  It is quite a traditional pose, and marks the pose of a martyr, just in case you were in doubt of his angelic status.  The gorgeous model used by Wallis was George Meredith, a poet himself (he had just published the intriguingly titled 'The Shaving of Shagpat' - really, I don't know where to start with what is wrong with that title), who was in his late twenties when he posed.  Wallis ran off with Meredith's wife subsequently and Meredith was meant to move into Cheyne Walk with Rossetti, but he never did (his estranged wife's death occurred around the time he was meant to move in and he went and found married bliss in Surrey instead).  Sorry, I digressed - in some ways Chatterton should be as honoured as Ophelia but although it must be a very popular picture at the Tate and at Birmingham, it doesn't seem to get the column inches that its girly counterpart does.

Possibly the reason for this is that Henry Wallis arguably never did a work equal to it, at least in popularity...

Shakespeare's House, Stratford Upon Avon (1854) Henry Wallis
Henry Wallis' work is jolly, he does a nice line in Shakespeare related pictures, and his painting of the dead Stonebreaker is a famous piece of social realism, but none of it rivals Chatterton's suicide in terms of  beauty.  I have often wondered if Spencer Stanhope was influenced by Chatterton when working on Thoughts of the Past and Robins of Modern Times.  Bear with me....

Robins of Modern Times John Roddam Spencer Stanhope
Thoughts of the Past J R Spencer Stanhope
Right, yes, I know it seems a bit random, but look at the pose the little girl is in, remind you of anyone?  The hand behind her resting on her torso, her hand in the daisies echoing the torn paper?  If we go with the notion that the woman in Thoughts of the Past is having a moment of clarity that will lead to her suicide, then her sad little window and plant looks awful reminiscent of another sad little London bedsit where a century before a young man ended it all.

All this meandering around good looking men with the clap brings me to the end of today's post.  I think what I have come to appreciate is that Chatterton is a brilliant piece of work that resonates with vast numbers of people yet seems to be under-appreciated in terms of artistic consideration.  How many times did you hear it discussed in the last year of Pre-Raphaelite news in the media?  It's always Ophelia, not her spiritual brother who gets the coverage.  It might not be as technically perfect as Millais' picture but it has pathos and breath-taking beauty aplenty, plus Wallis nailed the image of the glamorous burn-out of a hot boy-star.

Thank you Henry Wallis, you made an eighteen year old girl very happy.  Somehow that doesn't sound quite right...

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Better Leighton Than Never

I’ll start today with a quote from A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie:
“And his dear wife is making a name for herself too, as an artist. Mostly jugs of dying flowers and broken combs on window-sills. I never dare tell her, but I still admire Blair Leighton and Alma Tadema.”

On Monday we saw an unknown artist called Henry Stock, and I promised you I would bring you a contemporary of his who was so popular that we have ceased to take him seriously.  On this chilly Valentine’s Day I bring you a tale of romance and all things lovely.

If I was to mention a Victorian artist called Leighton probably most people would think of this…

Flaming June (1895) Frederick, Lord Leighton
Rather than this…
The Accolade (1901) Edmund Blair Leighton
But Edmund Blair Leighton, although familiar, very familiar, to us is at best overlooked, at worst seen as the excesses of Victorian sentiment and ‘pretty history’.  While Henry Stock has been forgotten, Blair Leighton is still with us but ignored for reasons of that familiarity.  So what are we overlooking?

Blair Leighton in his studio
Edmund Blair Leighton was born in 1852, the son of an artist, Charles Blair Leighton.  He was a prodigious painter, exhibiting at the Royal Academy from 1878 until 1920.  He was happily married, had a couple of kids, but what of the art?  One of the problems with Blair Leighton is that he found his groove early and did it better than anyone.  When considering who to look at for Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t find a better subject. 

The Keys
No-one does romance like Blair Leighton.  I’m not talking about bodice-ripping, giant lips, burning in hell, lust inducing jollity of some artists (yes, Rossetti, I’m looking at you), but romance, glances, flowers, longing, sighing, remembering, being nice and tidy and still a bit naughty.

Nowadays, Blair Leighton's best known works are definitely his medieval works of damsels and knights.  The Accolade is very popular, as is God Speed!

God Speed!
The purity of his vision is astonishing when taken out of the context of biscuit tins of notelets.  My love affair with Leighton is definitely in the details, like the little stone griffins and the flowers, their petals tumbling ominously.  I don't know if he is coming back (with his fine moustache) but it is not looking good.

The Arrival
Tracing the Shadow

The use of light in Leighton's work is beautiful, making everything seem clean and sparkly.  It doesn't hurt that this young lady has been using Daz in her washing to make it extra white.  Mind you, she has obviously not been up to anything naughty to get her dress dirty.  Look at how shiny her beautiful hair is.  I love the idea that she traces the outline of her love on the wall, so while he is off being eaten by a dragon, she can look at it and sigh while polishing her chastity belt.

Stitching the Standard
Heroic flags don't just sew themselves, so occasionally you have to perch yourself on a turret wall and make your beloved knight his flag which will no doubt be consumed by the same dragon that eats your knight.  While Leighton isn't afraid to give you the world of little details, he also has a habit of focusing in on a moment, either of action or reflection, as if it is the most beautiful thing just for his looking.  The fall of the fabric, the grace of her stitch, the elegance of her simple attire are all the picture consists of, but even so, they are wonderful.

Something I hadn't worked out, due to my lack of attention to Mr Blair Leighton and his splendid works is that he didn't just hang around the 'medieval' period (where everything was sparkly clean and no-one smelt like dung), but also took his caravan of longing looks and rampant hand-holding to the Georgian and Regency era.  Really, the early nineteenth century was tailor made for Leighton, as the polite society of Jane Austen novels, where people showed some control of their emotions and everyone was nice and quiet...

A Source of Admiration
That's about as lustful as it gets - hello there!  There is a bevy of such images, of gentlemen admiring pretty ladies in high-waisted frocks, from a polite distance, with usually nothing more than the raise of a monocle.

The Time and The Place
Even when there is the hint of some lustful goings-on, you know these two will be far too polite to get her frock grubby, so there will be no rolling around on the grass, thank you very much.  Mind you, I love it when there is a definite story left untold for you to fill in - why does she look so apprehensive?  Why the need for secrecy?

The Request
Similarly, who is asking for what?  Nice nasturtium, I do like edible flowers.  Maybe he is asking for an edible salad for lunch?  Okay, maybe not.


My favourite of Leighton's Georgian/Regency works has to be Off, as I do feel he missed a word out...She doesn't look too bothered, but the discarded bouquet and the man stalking off tell that something is indeed 'off'.  I love the little seat she is on, on the bridge.  I wonder if Leighton saw such a bridge-seat and got the idea for the image?  It makes me smile as she does not seem bothered at all.  Never mind Love, you can do better.

The Wedding Register
I could talk about Leighton pictures from now until Christmas as they are so very plentiful, but I will end with what must be one of the most profitable images from Bristol Art Gallery (a gorgeous place, worth a visit).  Again, it's a study in elegance and light, and the ultimate white frock, shining like a star.  I have seen so many wedding cards with this image I have lost count.  It sums up the dream of the perfect wedding, unlike this one...

Till Death Do Us Part (1878)
I didn't realise this was by Leighton.  Given the amount of people airing their dirty linen on telly these days, possibly it would be more accurate to pop this image on a wedding card.  The lady in the blinding white dress here has married a gentleman with blinding white hair, while the man she should have married (with the luxuriant moustache) looks at her in an accusing manner.  No-one looks very happy, maybe Mr Moustache is actually dead?  Oh dear.  Better luck next time...

Sorry, I should end on that image, this is Valentine's Day after all.  Hang on...

The King and the Beggar Maid
That's better.  In his obituary in 1922, it was written ‘he did not attain to the higher flights of art, yet played a distinguished part in aiding the public mind to an appreciation of the romance attaching to antiquity’.  Edmund Blair Leighton may not be revered, not be enjoying any sort of renaissance yet, but his work is so effortless and, well, nice that it seems a shame to overlook him for more lusty, pessimistic artists.  There are times when you need to be woo-ed, and I am a girl who likes being very woo-ed indeed.

Happy Valentines, my Darlings!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Stock Shared

When I was researching the connection between Thomas Hardy and art, I had a look at some book covers. I love seeing what images are chosen for books, I think it would be one of my dream jobs, linking a visual image with a story, like making the world's shortest trailer.  Anyhow, one of the covers I wanted to use was this one...

Thank you Mr Amazon, but I don't want to look inside, I just want to look at the cover...
What a lovely image!  Try as I might, I could not find out who the artist was, so in the end I posted it up on Facebook and my best literature friend looked on the back of his copy of the book and revealed it was this image...

The Kiss (1894) Henry John Stock
Well, that's my new favourite painting.  From the odd angle to her pool of golden hair and blissful expression, it is a delightful image, and obviously I wanted to know more about Mr Stock.  That's when I hit a bit of a problem...

Dante (1882)
Off to trusty 'Your Paintings' on the BBC website...unfortunately this is the only oil in a public collection in this country (Kirklees Museum and Galleries) and it doesn't appear to be in a splendid condition.  However, look at the expression on Dante's face, pensive, considering us, while he is surrounded by a swirl of hell and madness that cartwheels over him.

There aren't exactly a shortage of Stock's work online but finding anything more about him is a bit of a trial, so this is what I have found...

This handsome fellow is Henry John Stock, born in 1853 in London to an artist father, also called Henry.  Henry Stephen Stock had a studio at 39 Dean Street, Soho and specialised in miniatures and portraits, possibly also photography.  The Stock family had returned briefly from America, Pennsylvania, when Grandpa Stock had married a young woman called Matilda from Gloucestershire.  Many members of the family had returned to Pennsylvania, but Henry Senior remained, building his business in London.  His son, Henry John, remained at home, presumably training and working under his father (they are both at the same address, listed as 'Artist' in the 1871 census), but he married in 1881 to Jane Mallet and they moved out to Fulham.

The Dryad
So what of Henry John Stock's art?  What I can find of it online, it would be easy to dismiss him as sub-Watts on the strength of works such as The Dryad and Heaven's Protection, although with far more sentiment (or sugariness) than you would expect from Watts...

Heaven's Protection
Possibly if I had come across these images first I would not have felt inclined to pursue Mr Stock further, but having encountered him first through The Kiss I knew he had more up his sleeve.  Turns out, I was not disappointed.

Ferdinand and Ariel (1880)
 Reminiscent of the composition of Dante, the single figure acts as an anchor for the supernatural swirl.  Obviously it doesn't have the train of green goblin-bats that Millais added, but I rather like the mischievous moppet that swims over Ferdinand's head and I swear you can see rather less pleasant faces formed in the folds of her ethereal skirts.

Flower Maiden
Less shiny and clear than de Morgan but with a similar feel, this canvas-filling personification of Spring strides through the landscape like a force of nature.  She is framed and backgrounded by flowers, as if she has magically appeared from amongst them, a flower made flesh.  Both the above paintings share the cool muted tones of blues and mustard-yellow, but his handling of red is delicious...

I would hazard a guess this might be one of his children, as he and Jane had 6 before her early death in 1898.  He then remarried at the turn of the century to Anna Dorothea Homer, with whom he had a further daughter, Iris in 1904.  It was painted during the 1890s (difficult to read the date on the image) so I wondered if it was his eldest son Leslie, who died in 1898.

Violet Clayton (c.1913)
Winifred Ianthe Clayton (1913)
The Clayton sisters, painted in 1913, were the daughters of John Clayton, member of the aristocracy, and these paintings were done before Violet's marriage in 1914 (her first marriage as both sisters managed about six marriages between them, which is quite impressive for a couple of Victorian lasses).  I find Stock treads a fine line between traditional and unusual in these portraits, especially Winifred's, with the intrusion of the flowers around the chair, nestling into the image.

Among the paintings I found were a few that took my breath away.  Possibly the key to why Stock is not valued more as an artist is that his output was not uniformally exceptional, because if he produced work like the following on a regular basis we would surely know him more intimately...

The Uplifting of Psyche
Day Banishing Night
My goodness me, Mr Stock does movement so well.  I especially like The Uplifting of Psyche, the complex pattern of limbs, folding, raising, moving across the canvas with such grace.  Day Banishing Night is slightly humorous, with naughty, nudey Day pelting horrible Night with flowers.  I wonder if it is also known as 'Sunshine and Showers' or the suchlike too, or even 'Mrs Walker Found Drunk at Covent Garden Again'.

Girl Surrounded by Ivy
I think it is a shame that Stock did not do more works like this one as it has a definite Symbolist/Khnopff feel to it and is the most common image of his that you will find online.  Henry and his wife Anna moved down to Bognor, where Henry died in 1930, leaving his widow £381 (or the equivalent of around £12,000).  That is not a bad sum, but his father had left the equivalent of £120,000 when he had died in 1902, so gives an impression that Henry Stock Junior had not found the success that he possibly deserved for some reason.  Mind you, I can't find anything by Henry Senior.

I would like to see more of Mr Stock, not least because The Kiss is one of the most romantic pictures I have seen for a long while, and during this Valentine's week, surely we should embrace a little more love in our art?

Later in the week I will look at a contemporary of Stock's, almost to the year, but whose career has suffered in recent years because he is too well known...