Friday, 27 December 2013

The Defence of Wombat Friday

Hello m'darlings and I hope you all had a good Christmas.  Today, believe it or not, is Friday (I always lose track over the Christmas/New Year fortnight) and therefore is Wombat Friday.  However, just before Christmas my attention was drawn to a piece on Wombat Friday criticising the practice.  Now, I read the article and while not agreeing (for reasons I will go into in a second) I respect the right of anyone to say they have a problem with it.  Were it only that and nothing more I would be happy to agree to disagree and leave it at that.  However, things got a little personal in the comments and I quote:

 'Nothing like dumbing-it-down for the masses - at least these earnest damsels (and mostly they are) might have considered that 'Wombat Wednesday' has a decidedly nicer ring to it. But you know, they are self-proclaimed experts on all things PRB, so I suppose one must grin and bear it all and ignore.'

Oh dear me.   Shall we begin?

Last March I wrote a piece here on this blog about Wombat Friday.  It had really just begun among the blogging Pre-Raphaelite community and it seemed like a jolly good thing because it gave everyone a light-hearted excuse to celebrate some aspect of Pre-Raphaelitism at the end of every week.  Everyone.  Lawks knows what we did for the sales of stuffed cuddly wombats but even one of those was not strictly necessary. You just had to turn up on-line and have a giggle.  Where could be the harm in that?

Rossetti's Wombat by William Bell Scott (Actually, probably a woodchuck)
Rossetti, Morris and that short-lived wombat 'Topsy' are the cause of the problems apparently.  Rossetti (along with a large slice of Victorian society) had a passion for exotic animals and acquired his wombat whom he named Topsy.  Why did he call the blessed beast Topsy when that name was already applied to his friend William Morris?  It is suggested it was a sexual slur against the man he was busy cuckolding but I take issue with that.  Firstly, since when did wombats mean sexual disfunction?  Buy a panda if you wish to make that point.  Secondly, and I do hate being crude but someone dismissed my 20 years of research and academic achievement in a throw-away comment on the internet so there you go - show me one piece of evidence that Rossetti ever had sex with Jane Morris.  Really.  Just one.  

Jane Morris denied it.  Rossetti was affected by hydrocele of the testicle.  I'm not arguing that his relationship with Jane Morris was an affair, just not a sexual one.  It's not always about sex you know.  Also, just because Rossetti had the relationship with Jane it did not mean he hated William.  To be honest I have always thought that Topsy the Wombat gives us an insight into the relationship between Morris and Rossetti.  Rather than the wombat being a figure of contempt Rossetti loved the creature.  His grief when Topsy died was more demonstrative than when his wife died, for goodness sake.  This tells me that (a) Rossetti was a mess and (b) something more symbolic was going on.  Topsy the wombat is the perfect symbol of how more complicated interpersonal relationships between the Pre-Raphaelite circle of the late 1860s was.  But you knew that.

The sleeping wombat at the wedding feast in The Red House mural
The National Trust's involvement with Wombat Friday happened just before the summer.  I'm sure they will happily respond to any criticism of their involvement, but do you know why I think their participation is genius?  Because my visually-impaired 7 year old daughter walked very slowly around The Red House, spending around an hour and a half looking at everything.  Sure, she was searching for cuddly wombats but on the way she looked at murals, wall paper, stained glass, tiles, furniture, the contents of the garden.  I want my daughter to appreciate the art that I love and that has to start somewhere.  I don't want to wait until she is old enough to grasp the fine points of design and socialism, I want her to be comfortable in that situation now.  If she doesn't get warm, happy feelings about her heritage when she is 7 then maybe she won't be inclined to visit when she is 17 or 27 or ever.  I've worked in heritage as long as I've researched the Pre-Raphaelites, and the art of getting children engaged and active within a challenging collection is a tough one.  Wombats are a way in.  I'm all for a way in.

My wombat, my cake, my Stunner...
Hello.  You know me.  I'm Kirsty Stonell Walker, author of Stunner: The Fall and Rise of Fanny Cornforth.  I've written this blog for a couple of years now, I get 15,000 people a month look at it.  I have a masters in art and literature and my thesis was on the Pre-Raphaelite visual language of Tennyson's poetry.  I work my backside off researching and writing and do you know something?  You are just like me.  I'm not different from any one of you lovely people, just possibly a bit louder.  This isn't just a rambly aside.  Wombat Friday is a perfect example of what I believe in - it's not dumbing-down, it's access.  Wombat Friday isn't about wombats, okay maybe just a bit, it's about people feeling that they have the right to be here, the right to have fun, the right to enjoy the paintings that touch their hearts and make their souls sing.  Pre-Raphaelite art is not about big words and complicated notions of the proto-colonial feminist complex or whatever.  It can be, but first and foremost it is about that 'ping' when your eye meets a painting and you love it.

This is not a clique.  This is not a closed party.  This is your art, if you are reading this, this is your passion.  The wombat in London was a stranger, an exotic, at odds with society.  The wombat was our Pre-Raphaelite heroes and heroines, at odds with their society,  in a cuddly furry bundle of mischief.  Wombat Friday goes beyond whether one man slept with another man's wife (Really, can we not move on?) and gives those of us who adore this unfashionable, maddening, curious, beautiful, familiar, strange art movement somewhere to go and meet people who love the same thing.  

Wombat Friday is a smile amongst friends - it's just that some of your friends are bona-fide art historians, some work in universities, some are brilliant novelists, some are men and women who dedicate their life to researching the art we all love.  

Hi, I'm Kirsty Stonell Walker, self-proclaimed expert and earnest damsel and this is Wombat Friday.  
And you are all very much invited to play along.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Tuesday 24th December - Christmas Eve, Highcross Market, Leicester

Morning, m'darlings!  I won't keep you long as I'm sure you are all busy, but may I wish you a Happy Christmas Eve indeed and here is the last door on the Blogvent calendar for this year...

Christmas Eve, Highcross Market, Leicester, Sixthteenth Century (1900)
Henry Reynolds Steer
The painting shows the Highcross in Leicester which used to stand between High Cross Street and High Street, and the civic musicians, or Town Waits playing carols.  I find the idea of the 'Waits' to be fabulous, and there is a lovely history of them here.  They are a cross between watchman, musician and they mark the passing hours with music.  The little chap holding their music in the picture is obviously apprenticed to them.  It's lovely to read that the tradition was revived in 2002 and I would love to see them, preferably in the snow on Christmas Eve.  How wonderful.

Right then, I shall leave you good people to celebrate Christmas and I shall see you all again soon, in that quiet bit between Boxing Day and New Year.  Thank you so much for your comments and messages - I am glad you have enjoyed Blogvent as much as I have this year.  I would like to wish a special Happy Christmas to the Ladies in St Louis who have sent such lovely messages and I hope that Santa is good to you all!

I'll be back soon to talk about controversial wombats, but in the meantime eat, drink and be merry, you know you want to...

Happy Christmas to you all!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Monday 23rd December - Christmas Pie

Morning chaps!  We're almost there and today I have the pleasure of going to the dentist (it's like Santa got my letter) before the mammoth quantity of cooking begins.  Now the worst of my cold is over, I am once more looking forward to Christmas dinner...

Christmas Pie William Henry Hunt
Look at the glee on this little chap's face!  He has pie for Christmas and who doesn't love that?  It is no doubt what our Lord Jesus had for Christmas dinner too.  Looking at the clothing and the furniture - we aren't in a poor person's house.  His clothes look neat and appropriately warm for this time of year, and both the chair and table look in good condition and of sturdy construction.  Mind you, in the same breath, he doesn't look like a rich boy either.  He has only got a pie, not the usual banquet that accompanies Jesus' birthday.

The Christmas Dinner: Bringing in the Peacock (1881) from 'The Graphic' Magazine
Images of Christmas dinner tend to be rather extravagant affairs, full of turkey, sweets, peacock, that sort of exciting thing.  Much like now, no matter what your economic state, you push the boat out and attempt to drive yourself into the poor house by purchasing more meat than is necessary to feed an army of carnivores. I'm not sure what it is that makes us want to serve and eat so very much, especially as the main theme of the Christmas story is that he had such a poor start in life, and as I remember it there weren't that many peacocks in the stable at Bethlehem.  We are quite stubbornly pagan in our delighted need to stuff ourselves sideways as if that alone will bring back the sunshine.  Isn't it meant to be true that the average Brit consumes 7000 calories on Christmas day?  Lawks, does the average Brit drop dead on Boxing Day?

The Poor Actress's Christmas Dinner (1860) Robert Braithwait Martineau
It's easy to forget sometimes that what we have is great riches and that we don't need to aspire to more, let alone far too much.  I love The Poor Actress's Christmas Dinner as it shows someone making do at Christmas.  She looks a bit hacked off, but she's got her pudding and therefore it's Christmas.  I love that the holly is as big as the pud, and I've always wondered if this is Ruth Herbert.  The pie is something special for the lad in today's image, possibly because he gets to have the whole thing to himself for once, or maybe because it contains something extra delicious.  Either way, he looks delighted.

I hope you get the pie to yourself on Christmas day, and I'll be back tomorrow with our last Blogvent picture for this year...

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Sunday 22nd December - Christmas

Thank you for your kind wishes yesterday.  I now have proper 'lurgie' but I am sure I will be able to shake it off before the big day.  Overly elaborate quantities of food do not cook themselves.  To that end I am hurling myself into a supermarket today (the horror) after a trip to Ikea (I have gone insane, I blame the drugs).  Sadly, if I do not go to Ikea, Grampy or Grandma will have to sit on the floor to eat dinner as we only have four chairs.  Damn.

Anyway, I'm guessing we have all been bombarded by the jolly technicolour images of the perfect Christmas which at present seems a lot of hard work.  Instead, I fancied something a bit more sombre...

Christmas (1903) József Rippl-Rónai
Gosh, here we have an elderly relative having a great time at Christmas.  She seems a little crow-like and appears to have her stick ready for any seasonal beatings that need to be dished out.  The other woman is writing at the desk - is she writing her thank you letters?  Maybe Grandma is quite harsh about how quickly you show your appreciation.  More than half an hour and you might find yourself visited by the prompting-stick...

Although this is an image of Christmas, it doesn't seem to overflow with seasonal spirit.  I wondered if Rippl-Ronai was making some illusion to the other side of Christmas.  As he was Hungarian, the artist would have been aware of the stories of St Nicholas' companion/weird counterpoint.  In some parts of Europe he is called Black Peter (extremely politically incorrect) and in some parts, he's called Krampus.

Have you been naughty or nice this year?  If the answer is naughty you have more to worry about than just a lack of presents under the tree.  I must admit that until the advent of things like Facebook, I was unaware of Krampus, but now I am especially good so that I am not taken away by the terrifying devil creature who, I'm guessing, doesn't just give you a bit of a telling off.  Well, not everyone wants turkey for Christmas dinner.

There is a debate currently afoot as to whether Krampus is suitable for children because it is frankly terrifying.  Okay then, how about the above as an alternative?  The original Krampus had a bit of a taste for buxom women too (there's a surprise), so why should there not be a buxom woman Krampus, dishing out punishment to naughty gentlemen?  I'm sure the lovely gentlemen who read this blog (all three of you) have been especially good this year, so would have nothing to fear.  Unless of course you quite fancy being scooped up by a statuesque lady in a fabulous frock.  I'm not judging.

Mind you, all that seems a little bit too jolly to be our Hungarian Granny.  She reminds me a little of Giles' Gran, an essential part of my Christmas when I was growing up.  For those who have never seen Giles' Annuals, they were satirical cartoons by Carl Giles, and a collection of his work for the year was available at Christmas as an annual.  I remember reading them as a child and not having a clue what they were about but the Gran was just so funny - malevolent, umbrella-wielding and merciless.  Who doesn't love that?  Actually, there are a lot of similarities between Krampus and Gran, but I suspect that Gran is far more terrifying.

See you tomorrow, and remember to behave yourself...

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Saturday 21st December - Demeter Mourning for Persephone

Morning all.  I'm curled up on the sofa with Lily-Rose waiting for it to get light.  It's not like it's early, it's just very gloomy outside.  Also, today is the Winter Solstice and I'm not overwhelmingly convinced that the sun has come up yet, even though it's half past ten.  Both Lily and I have rotten colds and so we are wrapped in blankets and are watching some Christmas-y telly with hot water bottles.  Never mind, after today the days will start creeping towards Spring, which leads me to today's picture.

Demeter Mourning for Persephone (1906) Evelyn de Morgan

Not immediately Christmas-y, but very relevant for today, as the official start of Winter.  Demeter, sister-wife of Zeus (very complicated family, obviously) had a beautiful daughter called Persephone (or Proserpine, depending on who is telling the story or painting the picture).  One day, Persephone's wicked uncle, Hades, stole her off to the Underworld.  Demeter, beside herself with worry and grief, neglected her duties as goddess of the harvests and all of nature fell into despair with her.

Proserpine (Persephone) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Meanwhile in the underworld, Persephone knew that she mustn't eat any food because if you did you would be doomed to stay there forever.  But she got so hungry, she ate that staple of Christmas food, pomegranate seeds, 4 or 6 in all, depending who you listen to.  Zeus was a bit worried that all of the world had been plunged into this barren period of cold.  He was concerned that all the people would die and there would be no-one left to worship him, so he sent his top chap, Hermes, off to have a word with Hades.  Obviously when lovely ladies went missing in those days, you didn't have to look very far...

The Return of Proserpine Frederick Leighton

Anyway, Hermes negotiated the beautiful Persephone's release on the condition that she returned to Hades each year for the same number of months as seeds she had consumed.  So every year, Persephone goes back to the underworld and her mother goes into mourning, and that is why we have Winter.

Well, it's now coming up to lunchtime, I'm still on the sofa (Lily has gone off to play with her assortment of brightly-coloured ponies) and it still isn't light.  I think I'll have something comforting for lunch and have a bit of a hibernate.

See you tomorrow...

Friday, 20 December 2013

Friday 20th December - The Annuciation

It's a bit late in the day, but I'm doing my bit to bring the Baby Jesus into Blogvent.  I know, a smidge of an oversight and everything, but here is the most astonishing work...

The Annunciation (1898) Henry Ossawa Tanner
Here we have a pretty pivotal moment in the whole Christmas story, when the Angel Gabriel turned up and told the Virgin Mary that she was 9 months away from a double Bank Holiday.

Ecce Ancilla Domini! D G Rossetti
There are many reasons why I love this image, not least because Mary appears to be in the process of a visit from the Eye of Sauron.  Traditionally in Annunciation images, the angel takes a rather nice human form, sometimes a bit androgynous but mostly looking like a nice chap.  There he is in Rossetti's take on the subject, waving his lily about and annunciation-ing.  I've never thought of him being a big glowing fire in the corner of the room, which is rather more terrifying, yet at the same time Mary looks curious.  She seems puzzled but ready for the responsibility, and actually like she appreciates the gravitas of the moment rather than being petrified.

The colours that Tanner use are warm and glowing, reflecting the Spirit in the room.  His use of light, everything lit by the glowing pillar, highlights the face of the Virgin and the sparsity of her belongings.  Like Rossetti's image, you get a sense of the space inhabited by the action, we know how big the room is that one of the pivotal moments of Christianity is happening by the behaviour of the light and shadows.

Tanner is a fascinating artist and not one I was overly familiar with before.  An African-American artist born in 1859, he spent much of his life in France to escape the racism of his homeland.  He was the first African-American artist to gain international acceptance, and his painting Daniel in the Lion's Den was accepted into the 1896 Salon.  Possibly his best known work is this one...

The Banjo Lesson (1893)
Painted in 1893 during a brief return to America, this lovely work shows a man teaching his grandson how to play the banjo.  Although deceptively simple, it raises questions about the perpetuating of racial stereotypes and traditions, the notions of Black American entertainment, taking the stereotype of the minstrel and changing it into something eternal and universal.  Grandparents pass on skills and knowledge as well as eye colour, and this painting could be showing us a man seeing himself as a child, learning the talent as well as passing it on.  Some art historians have suggested that the picture referred to Tanner's own move from the old world, his old life, to a new start in France.

Well, I need to wrap some presents and take some cold medicine as I fight off the plague my daughter is just shrugging off.  Thank the glowing pillar of fire in the corner of the room that school and work have ended for a fortnight.  Bring on Christmas!

See you tomorrow...

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Thursday 19th December - Christmas Morning

One more day and Mr Walker and I finish work for the holidays and Lily finishes school.  I suspect she might not make it to the end as she is full of cold and general child germs.  She always gets ill at the end of term, usually due to exhaustion and the fact they often have little parties in their classes where they share crisps and stuff.  Lawks, it only takes one child not washing his or her hands and we all get the plague.  Anyway, here is another pair of kiddiwinks all ready for Christmas...

Christmas Morning Agathe Rostel
I think the message of this picture is that everyone can have a Christmas, no matter how poor they are. These two are obviously from a family that cannot afford the good toys and such luxuries as hole-less shoes, but they have a spindly tree and Jesus on the wall.  What more do you need?

The Toy Barrow
Agathe Rostel (Germany, 1868-1926) seems to have done a good line in poverty-stricken urchins.  Here we have some kids, one of whom cannot even afford shoes of any sort, making their own fun with borderline hazardous rubbish they find in the street.  Ah, those were the days.  I'm hoping they are not planning any cart racing with the baby in there.  That baby is certainly looking a bit nervous...

Back to our Christmas morning moppets, both are in nightdresses, although the blonde one seems to be falling out of hers.  Across her lap is a doll holding cymbals in a way that makes me suspect that it will smash them together with nerve-shredding repetition.  I bet that was given to the girls by a family friend who either hates their parents or has never had to sit in a room with a child and a noisy toy. Anyway, possibly the message of this work is that Christmas is really the same for every child until they open their eyes.  They can all have dreams of sugar-plums and hole-less shoes and until they open their eyes it is their Christmas truth.

I think it is a great shame that this sort of image of childhood will disappear.  Not that I am advocating child-poverty, but the semi-naked state of the nearest girl would surely make it an image of suspicion these days.  I love the awkward pose she's in, although I'm worried she's not under the blankets.  I bet she's cold.  I think she's scrambled out of bed and pinched a toy before her sister could get it.  Ah, Christmas, 'tis the season to get a better present than your sibling...

Instead of a toy, I wish someone had bought those little girls a decent blanket.  Not as much fun, unless of course you make a blanket fort.  Who doesn't love a blanket fort?  I bet after a couple of hours of Mr Cymbals, the parents will dearly want a blanket fort...

See you tomorrow, I'm off to wrap pressies...

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Wednesday 18th December - Here's the Gobbler!

Oh dear me...

Here's the Gobbler! (1877) Sophie Anderson
You know me, I do love a picture with an exclamation mark in the title.  It adds gravitas, in my opinion.

Well, where to start?  Here we have a little munchkin carrying a giant turkey through his front room to impress his sisters.  Well, one of his sisters, as the one at the back looks a bit scared.  That is a massive turkey, this painting could be re-titled (and I'll use the polite version) 'Got me a turkey, girls love turkey...'

I'm fairly familiar with Anderson's work and knew that she liked to show children and young adults looking very cute and delightful, as in the following examples:


The Turtle Dove
Very lovely indeed, and very pearly and jewel-like.  Here's the Gobbler! shows a rather over-excited entrance of Christmas dinner in it's rather unprepared state.  These days of course we don't require our first born to parade about with a giant bird over their shoulder before having to pluck the damn thing (the bird not the first born).  The butcher or Mr Waitrose does that for us (or Mr Lidls, let's be honest here) and hands over something that looks less like an actual feathery bird and more like a big pink thing that will be delicious after the better part of a day in a hot oven.  As you no doubt remember from this blogvent entry from two years ago, the turkey is an integral part of the Christmas feast...

The Christmas Hamper Robert Braithwaite Martineau
I always thought the turkey was a late-comer to the party, but allegedly Henry VIII was the first monarch in this country to get a turkey (and I bet he didn't have to spend two hours in a rather bad tempered Marks and Spencer's queue to get it) (honestly, I had a lovely time but some people have the patience of, well, Henry VIII).  Although I tend to think of goose as our traditional meat at Christmas, we've had turkeys on the table for ages.

I love the way that the boy's costume of black and red reflects the turkey, as if they are topsy-turvy reflections of each other.  The little boy must be around 10 years old, which makes me wonder how many people the family are planning to feed with that enormous bird.  I mean, really, for goodness sake, I have a rule in the house that I don't wish to cook anything heavier than the baby I gave birth to.  Maybe the boy's glee at the massive quantity of feathery food he's hauling into his home is because he plans to scoff the lot.  Maybe the 'gobbler' in the title refers to him.

The delicacy of the background gives a nice contrast to the confidence of the turkey-boy...

Nice lamp...
In contrast to their brother, the girls are pale and golden, shimmering in the background.  Turkey Boy is black and red, bold and definite, a version of Santa with his sack of toys, but with giblets.  Lovely.  So Christmas and turkey shall be forever linked, although there are times when you feel that someone wasn't paying enough attention at a meeting...

No, I said 'Christmas Turkey', not 'Christmas, Turkey'!
I shall be back tomorrow, although I can't promise another painting with such a hilarious title...

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Tuesday 17th December - The Drop of Milk in Belleville

A week today will be Christmas Eve, so I believe I get out the images of Christmas day now.  Here's a baby on Christmas morning...

The Drop of Milk in Belleville (1908) Henri Jules Jean Geoffrey
Subtitled 'The Christmas Tree at the Dispensary', it shows a charitable hospital at Christmas.  Not the jolliest place on earth, but still in the hospital there is a sense of the season.  The patients and visitors seem to be sitting looking at something, possibly a service, happening to the left of the picture.  In the front row, a woman with an angelic baby greets a little girl who kisses the baby.  On the right side of the picture, a child looks in a brightly coloured basket at some goodies.  The colours of the basket contrast with the dull grey clothes of the children, who are gathered around the tree, looking for the magic of Christmas.

It is interesting that the children in this image are such a mixture.  When you think of children in a Christmas image you either think of present opening or Messiahs and not a lot in between.  Here you have a cute baby, not the son of God but still a sweetie, but you also have children on crutches.  These children are presumably less fortunate, some are ill or disabled, but none of them ask for our pity.  At that moment they are children like all other children, excited about Christmas, filled with happiness around the Christmas tree.

July 14th Bastille Day
The French artist Geoffrey specialised in scenes of everyday, working class life.  His genre images took in the poorer members of society who he showed with dignity.  He used the images of children to show the future of society, the continuation in life, and innocence within everyday life.  In the painting of Bastille Day, the children look at us as we watch the parade.  What do they think of us?  Often I find children can be quite disconcerting as they aren't afraid to stare but they often do not have an opinion written large in the expression on their faces. Their curiosity mirrors that of the artist who wishes to record the scene.

The Drop of Milk in Belleville: The Weigh In
The Drop of Milk paintings were part of a series about the life of Belleville Dispensary, a charitable clinic.  Belleville is important because it was one of the first places that you could get properly prepared infant milk formula.  In 1908 there was a Public Hygiene Laboratory Bulletin that mentioned Belleville as being one of the pioneers of sterilising milk and so 'the drop of milk' would definitely be essential in keeping your baby alive.  In 1908 when Geoffrey did his series of paintings on Belleville, he was possibly celebrating the work of Dr Variot and his team at Belleville in improving the chances of France's next generation.  He shows the babies as chubby and thriving and being the centre of a Christmas celebration which is not only a child's favourite time of year, but is about a baby who had a hard start in his life.  Geoffrey shows us the reality of progress making sure that these babies do not suffer because they were born poor.

That is certainly something to celebrate.  See you tomorrow.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Monday 16th December - Old Father Christmas

Goodness, we've made it to the week before Christmas!  May the cooking start!

Old Father Christmas William Ewart Lockhart
The bit I like best about Christmas is the baking.  Even this year, when I have not attempted as much as I usually do, I am still gearing up for all manner of mince pies, croissants, even more strawberry jam, a yule log and vegetarian sausage rolls among a host of other delicious things.  Today and tomorrow I have to bake the things I am giving to people as gifts this year, because I am a firm believer that the most heartfelt things often come from the oven.  Let's have a look at what Father Christmas brought....

Sorry, you lost me for a moment.  Mmmmm, oranges and nuts, and whatever that is in the middle - is it a ham, or a pineapple.  Ham pineapple?  Is that a thing?  Bet it's good on pizza.  Moving on.  I have been distracted recently from my writing by the utter plethora (good word) of Christmas cooking programmes.  I'm not a big watcher of cookery programmes as a whole, I prefer the doing to the watching, but the Christmas ones makes me very happy.  The aspirational lifestyle conceit plays nicely to my ethos, plus I have complicated feelings about Nigel Slater.  There is something about a table full of gorgeous food on shiny platters that makes me come over all Nigella.  Pomegranates at the ready!

Father Christmas looks jovial, if a tiny bit, well, creepy.  No, I'm sure he's completely harmless and he obviously wants to share his ham pineapple with us, so that's lovely.  His white robe makes me think of Father Time rather than Father Christmas.  Mind you, I'm struck by how much alcohol he has on his table.  Just because it's quite dark in the room, you can't mistake that he has at least three bottles and no-one else with him, so it looks like it's going to be a raucous evening.  Hang on...

Creepy painting alert!  On the wall to Daddy Christmas' right is a picture of a dancer or something like that.  There is something about the little pink frocked figure that chills the fluff out of me.  It would be enough to put you off your shiny platter of nuts.  I may just change chairs so I can sit with my back to it.  Mind you, on the other wall, out of the frame, might be the pair of paintings that used to be at my Nan's house.  In her kitchen she had a matching pair of grizzling urchins in oils.  Terrible.

Right I'm off to make gingerbread and I shall return tomorrow...

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Sunday 15th December - Selling Christmas Trees

When I was a little girl, not so very long ago, we always had a real Christmas tree.  I remember going off to the local garden centre and bringing it home, all filled with excitement.  Much like this.  Sort of.

Selling Christmas Trees (1853) David Jacob Jacobsen
This looks a jolly, if frosty, scene, and I love a picture that can be split into many individual moments.  This one draws your eye in and out, from the central group of ladies to the children and the woman stood on her own.  Let's start with her...

She is watching the action on the other side of the canvas, but neatly bookends it, drawing the eye to her, but then back to the other side.  The red stripe climbs her skirt and circles her neck, echoed in the attire of the woman behind her.  She has baskets of food in front of her, which seem like great riches in an otherwise quite frozen scene.  She has a tree behind her and a sack with the artist's name on it.  She seems to be gazing across at this chap...

This chap, possibly Italian, is flogging sculptures from his board balanced on his head.  Let me tell you, there is nothing that a lady likes more than a man with a bit of wood on his head covered in figurines.  He seems to be doing well with the ladies in this little pack.  He is no doubt warming hearts on a chilly day.  His board is full of figures from antiquity.  I can see a winged person but I'm guessing that will be the personification of Victory, rather than an angel.  I'll come back to that.

I did wonder if the woman was looking at these two, whether they might be her kiddiwinks.  The little girl's gesture of her hand over her mouth gives an impression of how cold it is.  Her brother appears to be carrying a bottle, hopefully sloe gin.  That sorts you out on a cold day.  I only just noticed that there is a rope around him and he is towing a tree, which is ingenious as they aren't the easiest things to carry.  Mr Walker had a brief University job working in a well-known DIY centre and one of his jobs was stacking the Christmas trees.  He still goes twitchy when he smells the sap.  One of the many reasons we have a plastic one...

The group of women at the back strike me as being a bit Nativity-ish, especially the woman in the middle with the basket in front of her.  The white headscarf does it for me.  They draw the eye between the two sides, being a focus without being noteworthy.  I wonder if there is any comment about the birth of Jesus being lost in the festival of Christmas?  Surely not this early?  I wonder when people began to complain about that?  If you look at what the picture is about, people are buying their trees and food, and some people are buying 'pagan' statues.  In the centre but almost ignored is the Virgin Mary and child, or in this case, basket of oranges.  Does anyone know any connection between citrus fruit and Jesus?

Now, we have our lovely 6ft plastic tree up at home which the dog insists on running underneath, snapping at the decorations.  We didn't have to drag it home from the market place.  We just dragged it out of the loft.  It's really not the same, is it?

I'm off to have an orange, which I'm hoping isn't sacrilege.  See you tomorrow.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Saturday 14th December - Fireman with Abandoned Child in the Snow

There are some days in the run-up towards Christmas when you just need rescuing.  Having been Christmas shopping this morning (saints preserve us!), I think I need someone to carry me about to make it all better...

Fireman with Abandoned Child in the Snow JLM
Well, if you are holding out for a hero, you could do worse than this fine figure of a man.  Look at the superior beard he is sporting!  Not to mention those boots.  Blimey, he's like a superhero.  Look how big he is in comparison to that child.  That is either a tiny wee girl or he is a colossus.  He has a wonderfully stoical expression on his face.  'Oh dear, another fire,' he seems to be thinking, 'Ho hum.'

Fireman Rescuing a Child Unknown Artist
The Victorian period seems to be bestrewn with imperiled children in blazing hovels.  God bless the handsome fellows who batter their way into these slums to deliver unto safety our sleeping urchins and worried-looking dogs.  This fine fellow is in the very act of scooping this poppet to safety in the smoke-obscured bedroom that probably houses forty of his siblings, probably all in the same bed.

The Rescue (1855) J E Millais
The iconic attraction of a fireman is the fact that he is a hero without harm.  Unlike a soldier, the fireman can perform heroic acts without the spectre of having to kill anyone as part of his job.  He will save life without being called upon to take it, and often the lives he seems to save in art are those of children.  The woman in Millais' work does not seem to have maintained a safe distance from the blaze, understandably so.  The mother is in a very awkward position, reaching up to grasp her many and varied kiddiwinks.  Hurrah for the fireman!

A Rescue in Paris (1886) Eugenio Alvarez Dumont
Of course, it wasn't just winsome munchkins that required saving.  Sometimes it was semi-naked ladies who had to be swept up by a shiny-helmeted gentleman with a killer beard.  Really, this is one of the most gorgeous images I have seen for a while.  Gosh, he has ripped his arm out of his uniform with the effort of rescuing the damsel in the rather nice bedspread (artfully draped around her hips, very wise).  Yes, he may have knocked over her pot plant but frankly, he's welcome to knock my pot plant over anytime.  
I'll be waiting in my non-fire-regulation French garret...

See you tomorrow.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Friday 13th December - May You Have A Quite Too Happy Time

Well, let's just ignore that it is Friday 13th and let's get on with lovely Blogvent.  Look at the smasher I have for you today, you lucky people!

May You Have A Quite Too Happy Time Albert Ludovici
I loved this image as the title made me laugh.  I think this is how I would like to appear at Christmas, dollying about with something elegant, looking flawless and aesthetic.  Bear in mind that I am typing this in my pyjamas at 4pm because I suffered from Friday melt-down and the dog, Lily and I decided the best response was to wrap ourselves in blankets and retire to the sofa.  Under the artistic gaze of Mr Ludovici, I'm sure we would look a lot more classy than we do at present.  The best I can offer this afternoon is that my tshirt is from the William Morris exhibition at the V&A.  Sorry.

I got curious about Albert Ludovici, because his was not a name I knew.  He is actually Albert Ludovici junior, as his father, also an artist, shared the name.  Check out this picture of Junior, what a fox...

Hello Ladies...
Goodness me!  Albert Ludovici (1852-1932) was not the only artistic child in that family as his sister, Marguerite, also became an artist.  His work is typical of watercolour, slightly looser handling of paint, influenced by Whistler.  He also worked on illustrations, like today's image, and these equally proper festive greetings...

I have so many people to whom I would like to send a card that reads 'With yearnings for your intense joy!' because that just says it all.  I don't want you just to have a merry time, I offer 'precious wishes' for a 'charming time'. Darlings!

As for his painting work, there seems to be a small amount in British collections (in oil at any rate).  I think of the few on offer on the PCF catalogue, I like this one best...

Secrets (1900)
It's so delicate and distant, yet you can almost hear the quiet, urgent whispers between these women.  The dark-haired lady looks immobile, possibly she has confessed a secret that has rooted her with shame.  Or maybe she is reacting to what her friend has just murmured to her in a fit of truth.  Possibly the secret involves the disappearance of the dark-haired lady's cat and the blonde-haired lady's new muff.  The shame!

Anyway, I'd like to call upon the V&A who own Ludovici's aesthetic illustrations to make them into Christmas cards for next year.  They are just the proper spirit that high-minded people like you and I need to be passing to our high-minded friends.  Simply too, too perfect.

If you do not expire from intense joy, I shall see you again tomorrow.