Sunday, 31 January 2016

Love to Lose Your Head Over...

You know you are a proper historian when you are Prit-Sticking down a big picture of Henry VII to a roll of paper while trying to explain Martin Luther to a ten year old.  Yes, it's Tudor Term at school and I have spent the last couple of weeks saying 'Yes, another wife!' and 'No, really, he chopped her head off!' and 'What's the difference between Catholics and Protestants? Oh Rats...' Mercifully, there have been some rather lovely Victorian pictures for a bit of light relief and eye-candy to help me illustrate some of the people involved...

Head of a Tudor Girl Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale
The Victorians loved to reinterpret the past through art, and often their historical painting very vividly brought to life past personalities in a way that only a bonk-fest costume drama can manage these days. They also loved the pattern and splendour of fabrics of different eras, such as the jewelled hood this little Tudor girl is wearing in the picture above. Pearls and jewels sparkle around her square neckline and her sleeves are capped with fur as she clutches a small dianthus, denoting love of a mother, or possibly sorrow at a death (or maybe a combination of both, looking at the slightly sorrowful expression on her face).

'With All Their Banners Bravely Spread' (1878) John Gilbert
The great, gouty love-god of the Tudor period is of course Henry VIII and I was a little dubious as to what the Victorian attitude to him would be.  After all, he wasn't exactly morally untouchable and there was quite a bit of head-removal and Pope-bothering going on.  I shouldn't have worried though because to the Victorian artist, Henry VIII meant two things: one massive battle (which he wasn't present at, ironically) and loads of romance.  The Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, pictured above, gave the artists an opportunity to show horses, armour, lovely colourful standards and a bit of a scrap. The pathos of a dead Scottish king (the last monarch to die in battle) must have played into the hands of the Victorians who loved all things tartan. Walter Scott rhapsodised about it in Marmion, making it a sure-fire winner for the public.

The Battle of Flodden Field (1878-1883) Edward Burne-Jones
Burne-Jones gouache study for a low-relief plaque in Naworth Castle reminds me of Uccello's The Hunt in the Forest, but also has strangely Futurist foreshadowing at the same time.  I am struck by all those lines, banners, spears and bodies and the horses bravely charging on into the inhuman madness of war. However, I think if Scott hadn't bothered to mention it, the Victorians might not have found it of interest.  To be fair, if you asked anyone today what they thought of when you say the name 'Henry VIII' they probably would say 'wives'...

Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon before Papal Legates, 1529
 (1910) Frank O Salisbury
To be fair, the bit they seem to have loved was the love triangle between Henry, Catherine and Anne Boleyn.  On Catherine's side we have scenes like this, from the mural at Parliament, where Catherine pleads with her errant husband whilst the cardinals look on.  Henry blamed his son-less state on the fact that he had married his brother's wife (Biblically frowned on) and fancied trying his luck on Anne Boleyn.  Catherine was having none of it. 

Catherine of Aragon (1866) William Bromley
Poor old Catherine, endlessly followed around by chaps in red.  The one on the right is Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor and his friend (who has embarrassingly turned up tot he party in the same frock) is the Papal Legate, Cardinal Campeggio, and as always Catherine is telling them to talk to the hand.
Queen Catherine and the Cardinals (1870) John Gilbert
To be fair, the Cardinals are fairly obvious in their red so she can spot them easily.  Gilbert shows her giving the Cardinals what-for, much in keeping with what a strong woman she was, which is often lost in her portrayal of the inconvenient wife in the Henry/Anne love story.  Talking of which...

Henry VIII First Interview with Anne Boleyn (1835) Daniel Maclise
Of course, poor Catherine's struggles with her marital dilemma is only a side issue when it comes to the main event in Tudor romantic history.  I'm not sure exactly what it is about the affair between Anne Boleyn and Henry, but of all his wives, she is the one people remember and claim they are the reincarnation of.  Come on, no-one ever claims they are the reincarnation of Anne of Cleves. Or whoever Joan Sims was in Carry On Henry (source of most of my Tudor knowledge up to this point).  Anyway, Henry VIII is not depicted in these paintings as some desperate son-seeker, rather your average massive monarch who has been hit by cupid's arrow (Lord knows he makes a big enough target)...

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (1903) William Powell Frith
It is unsurprising that the Victorians were interested in Anne Boleyn. In 1876, during renovations of the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, her body was found and subsequently reburied, and her ghost was seen gliding around at the Tower of London (I didn't realise about that aspect of Victorian Tudor interest until I read The Arrow Chest). The romance and fatal break-up is both heart-swelling and heart-wrenching and marvellously melodramatic.  One minute he's changing the whole nature of religious life in the country for you, the next, he's lopping your head off.  Such is love...
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (1865) David Wilkie Wynfield
Still, I suppose proper love stories in royalty were a bit of a rarity, and the love affair between Henry and Anne sort of mirrored that between Victoria and Albert.  Both couples just fell in love with no thought to how politically it would benefit them.  Well, that's the story anyway.  Certainly in Henry's case it was rather inconvenient to be in love with another woman who wasn't the widow of your dead brother and your current wife, especially in hindsight, without a male heir to justify the whole business. Still, those sweet, heady days of early courtly love, the wooing, the gifts, the flirtatious glances and fluctuating weight and facial hair.  Sigh.

The Arrest of Anne Boleyn at Greenwich (1872) David Wilkie Wynfield
Then it all goes wrong and people get arrested and accused of all sorts of stuff. I find the images of Anne Boleyn filled with righteous fear and anger very similar to her predecessor, which possibly is the point and does rather fall into the 'what comes around, goes around' category.  However, with Anne the stakes were higher and it wasn't just divorce that was on the cards; because variety is the spice of life, it was something rather more choppy...

Anne Boleyn on the Queen's Stairs (1871) Edward Matthew Ward
There are interesting similarities in the way Victorian artists portrayed doomed queens, from Lady Jane Grey to Mary Queen of Scots and here we have Anne, pausing for a fainty breather on her way into the Tower and imprisonment and eventual chopping. There is no need to ask how Ward sees Anne, as she glows in her innocence surrounded by accusers and rubber-neckers.  She is a martyr, Love's own sacrifice and she holds the power to stir pity and empathy in her plight. Is her pause up the stairs meant to reflect Christ off to Calvary? The boat is casting off again and she will not be leaving.

Poster from German film Anna Boleyn (1920)
It is interesting in Victorian art to see the changes between how Henry is portrayed in his romance with Anne.  Sometimes he is the iconic, huge monarch slinging chicken legs over his shoulder, but often he is the young, handsome hero, lithe and manly.  Interestingly we seem to have moved away from the bearded older man (as played by Emil Jannings in the above film, but also see Keith Michell, Charles Laughton and James Robertson Justice in their portrayals.  Considering now that it is obligatory to have some naked business in our costume dramas, King Henry has stopped being gouty and started being gorgeous, with Eric Bana, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Damien Lewis all shedding the weight and upping the sexiness. As I have discussed in reference to cultural depictions of Rossetti, we obviously can't cope with a man who is both older, fatter and yet still devastatingly attractive to women.

Probably not a real poster for the Underground.  Probably.
Much in the same way as people in loving stable relationships vicariously live the other side of the coin through Jeremy Kyle, the Victorian public took to the Tumultuous Tudors safe in the belief that none of those sorts of shenanigans were about to go on with Good Queen Vickie. It strikes me that the Victorians loved to be emotional tourists in all the things they disapproved of, and they also found romance in tragedy. No wonder they grasped hold of Anne Boleyn, first immortalised for the nineteenth century public in the Gaetano Donizetti opera 'Anna Bolena' of 1830, and wouldn't let her go.  She remained a sympathetic figure, almost exclusively because of her death, yet modern portrayals of her have her as more scheming, more calculating.  For the Victorians, she was as innocent as Queen Catherine before her, both defeated by their love for a monarch who was ruled too much by his heart.

Well, maybe not his heart. 

Saturday, 23 January 2016

The Man in High Collars

There is a distinct difference between Mr Walker and myself in matters of musical taste and more specifically the way we load up an MP3.  Mr Walker is an album person who will download an entire album irrespective of whether or not he likes all of the tracks whereas I am more a single song sort of person who flits hither and thither between artists, putting on only songs I really like.  The reason for divulging this trivia is that I can be a bit like that with art too.  Whilst I obviously love Rossetti and his work, I have a lot of time for some of the lurid, insane beauty of the works of Frank Cadogan Cowper...

Saint Francis of Assisi and the Heavenly Melody
Often called 'the last Pre-Raphaelite', Cowper lived into the second half of the 20th century to the point that his art is still in UK copyright.  You will certainly be familiar with many of the images that I will be using in the post because his work is often featured in discussion about the Pre-Raphaelites which is incredible if you think he was still alive at the centenary of the formation of the Brotherhood. So who was Frank Cadogan Cowper?

Frank Cadogan Cowper (1932) Bassano Ltd
Frank Cadogan Cowper was born 16 October 1877 in Wicken, Northamptonshire, where his maternal grandfather, Edward Cadogan, was the rector. His father, Frank Cowper, was the author of sailing books, both fact and fiction, and seemed to be away from home a fair amount, possibly in a boat (yet still managed to have six children) and doesn't appear on many census records after getting married.  Recorded as the 'head' of the household in the 1891 census onwards was Edith Eliza Cowper, mother to Frank and a novelist in her own right...

Sailing Tours by Frank Cowper
Edith Eliza (E E) Cowper, author of gripping stories for girls!
In one account of her early life it was stated that Frank Cadogan Cowper was raised Plymouth Brethren but I have not been able to find anything to back this up unfortunately.  What is certain is that young Frank was born into a fairly affluent household, to which he was the eldest of the six children born over eleven years.  He was sent to Cranleigh school, before heading for London and St John's Wood Art School followed by the school of the Royal Academy.  He exhibited at the RA for the first time in 1899 but made it big in 1901 with this picture...

An Aristocrat Answering the Summons to Execution, Paris 1791 (1901)
Although I find Cowper's work fascinating generally, I think he does two things very well: pattern and dogs.  The little dog in this picture is beautifully captured, but I adore the striped lining to the doomed aristo's coat.  There is a certain amount of bloody-minded bravado in that fop's manner that could be applied to Cowper, and his insistence in not bending to fashion, as we will see.

St Agnes in Prison Receiving from Heaven the 'Shining White Garment' (1905)
By the time Cowper started exhibiting, all but one of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were dead and their style and subject were only carried on by a few followers.  Cowper chose to echo both Rossetti and Millais with his work, notably in St Agnes, which bares interesting comparisions with Rossetti's Ecce Ancilla Domini!, of which Cowper also produced a copy (left).

I also list Millais as an influence because of the dogs that appear in some of Cowper's paintings.  I wonder if Cowper was a fan of Millais' Isabella  because some of the smooth coated, elegant hounds that crop up in paintings such as Mariana in the South bring me straight back to Millais' dogs...

Mariana in the South (1906)
The 'Pre-Raphaelite score' of Mariana in the South is quite high as it features a fish-eye mirror, Tennyson, a possible nod to Kate Bunce's Melody or maybe Rossetti's musical muses, the richly patterned interior and fabrics of William Morris' La Belle Iseult which also has a sleeping hound, and so on and so on.  When I get five minutes I'll invent Pre-Raphaelite top trumps, I promise. Another influence on Cowper was the American painter and Pre-Raphaelite sympathizer, Edwin Austin Abbey, with whom Cowper spent 6 months in his Gloucestershire home, Morgan Hall in Fairford...

The Penance of Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester (1900) Edwin Austin Abbey
Abbey believed that black, white and red were the colours of truly great artists and it is interesting to speculate on whether that influenced Cowper's colour palate, but it is easy to see that whether or not Abbey played a great part in shaping Cowper's artistic vision, the two had a great deal in common with their subjects and style. However, even Abbey can't compete with the overblown bonkersness of something like Cowper's 1907 epic How the Devil, Disguised as a Vagrant Troupadour, Having been Entertained by some Charitable Nuns, Sang to them a Song of Love...

How the Devil... (1907)
The stained glass windows in the background are from Fairford church and the picture is a reworking of a  student picture of a Minstrel that Cowper showed at a St John's Wood Art School show.  An early sketch of the picture was so praised by the painter Onslow Ford that Cowper spent the next 15 years working it into a painting that demands even greater attention. Although he had been elected to Associateship of the Royal Water Colour Society in 1904, his election to ARA in 1907 was seen as a response to just how popular this picture was.  It was reported in the newspapers how crowds would stand before it in Gallery IV of the exhibition and it was very nearly the Chantry purchase of the year.  It was bought by Sir Joseph Beecham and sold on his death for 1,450 guineas (compared to The Beguiling of Merlin by Burne-Jones sold at the same sale for 2,600 guineas).

Lucretia Borgia Reigns in the Vatican in the Absence of Pope Alexander VI (1908-14)
 Cowper finally got his Chantry purchase in 1914, with a picture that was described in the press as an 'Academy Sensation'. He travelled to the Vatican to paint the room from life and copy the faces of the cardinals from portraits. The scene depicts a friar kissing Lucretia's shoe while two noblemen hold back her dress.  There's a monkey, some sort of pheasant and so much red that it makes your eyes hurt.

Erasmus and Thomas More Visit the Children of Henry VII at Greenwich (1910)
In 1910, Cowper took part in the mural scheme for the Houses of Parliament, along with other Pre-Raphaelite-ish Edwardians such as Byam Shaw. The little boy striking a manly pose in white tights is Henry VIII. The patterning of the clothing seems to be a repeated motif for Cowper and a rather easy way for the viewer to spot one of his works...

Four Queens Find Lancelot Sleeping (skirt!)
La Belle Dame Sans Merci (1926) (entire frock!)

Rapunzel (1900) (massive sleeve!)
Vanity (1919) (everything really!)
Also, he revisits subjects and titles, such as Vanity which he painted in both 1919 and in 1907...

Vanity (1907)
He also reused not only bold patterns, but memorable garments, such as this 'knotted' dress, possibly a reference to Burne-Jones' Sidonia Von Bork 1560 (and/or joint source material Portrait of a Woman (1531) by Giuilio Romano, possibly also used for the film Sleepy Hollow), which crops up again in Venetian Ladies Listening to the Serenade...

Venetian Ladies Listening to the Serenade
His adherence to Pre-Raphaelite sentiment and practices remained and can be seen in paintings such as Hamlet where he insisted on having a grave dug much to the alarm of his neighbours, in order to paint from nature.  In other paintings he seems to have lifted details from the Brotherhood and made them his own, such as the dove in Beata Beatrix becomes The Blue Bird and Millais' sheep from Christ in the House of his Parents peek over the hurdles behind Our Lady of the Fruits of the Earth.

Hamlet, the Churchyard Scene (1902)

The Blue Bird (1918)

Our Lady of the Fruits of the Earth (1917)
With the fall of fashion for Pre-Raphaelite pictures, Cowper became known as a portrait painter.  In his obituary in The Times they were judged as being 'confused' and the writer admitted 'it is difficult to speak with enthusiasm', even though his ability to paint was never in doubt.  Despite becoming an RA in 1934 on the death of George Spencer Watson he was reported as a portrait painter and not a fashionable one at that. The parade of debs in pink that filled a great part of his output from 1920 onwards are the stuff of greetings cards and are charming but certainly seem to lack the fire and colour palate of his previous works. In one rather harsh review of the RA exhibition in 1929 they were described as 'Cadogan Cowper's simpering ladies'...

Violet Miriam Clay, Lady Vernon (1920)

Elizabeth Witts (1954)
Occasionally he goes full-Rossetti and a massively patterned background takes over, which I think is why his obituary described his aims in these pictures as sometimes 'confused'...

Portrait of Lady Ledgard (1925)
Let's be honest, she just got in the way of him painting massive, stylised poppies.

Still, among these faintly awful portraits of posh flappers and post-war debs are still some canvases which defy explanation.  One of these, and possibly my husband's least favourite picture (because it gives him the creeps) is this gem from 1940...

The Fortune Teller, 'Beware of a Dark Lady' (1940)
 From the mutant ivy to the alarming fashion this is a giant 'what-were-you-thinking?' of a picture.  When it was given to the Russell-Cotes in 1950, the museum confidently proclaimed that it would likely 'prove one of the most popular in our permanent collection' and that it was proclaimed picture of the year at the RA in 1940.  Well, there was a war on.  For all it's faults, it is a humorous picture with our happy blonde heroine not noticing how shifty her friend is.  Again, note the use of bold fabric is brought in on the gypsy's skirt. I am campaigning at home to have this one back out on display as something as mad as this deserves to be seen again and I'll keep you informed of my progress...

Anyway, Cowper's twilight years were marked for me by one very special painting which had been a favourite of mine for a while before I realised it was by Cowper...

The Ugly Ducking (1950)
By 1950, Cowper had moved to live in the Cotswolds, possibly because of the time he had spent with Abbey almost half a century beforehand.  He spotted a beautiful young woman behind the make-up counter in Boots and asked to paint her.  The Ugly Duckling was the result and what lifts it for me is the cheery smile of the sitter and the humour of the title.  I was delighted to read that the sitter, Valerie Tarantolo, now in her seventies and still very glam, had been reunited with her portrait at Cheltenham Art Gallery, where it is a much-loved painting (you can read her story here).

Valerie (at 16) and Valerie (a few years later)
Cowper died 17 November 1958 at his home in Cirencester and is buried at the Chesterton Cemetery in the town. On his gravestone is carved 'Verily, Verily I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life' (from John 6:47).  He might not be the first painter you think of, and his out-of-time Pre-Raphaelite blasts are often overwhelming and a tad peculiar, but one thing is for sure, enough of his work is so memorable that he is unlikely to be forgotten.

Frank Cadogan Cowper's grave in section 24 of Chesterton Cemetery

Detail of stone
The reason this post is called 'The Man in High Collars' is from his obituary which read 'There was little of the traditional artist in Cowper's appearance, and he is said to have worn the highest collars than any other man in the country'. Well, there you go then....

Saturday, 16 January 2016

A Short Post about a Nice Grave

Just a tiny post about a wonderful grave I saw this afternoon...

I was in Chesterton Cemetery in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, looking for an entirely different grave (which I'll tell you about next week) when I came across that wonderful grave shining in the wintery sunshine.  I took some photographs, looking not only at the whole 'marker' but also a mysterious plaque that read 'JG'.  I wanted to know more and after I posted them on my Facebook page, I wasn't the only one. So I had a bit of a metaphoric dig...

The grave is dedicated to Mary Ann Gibbons, who shuffled off this mortal coil on 5th January 1886 aged 68, so she was born in 1818.  There is a little extra 'tomb' on top of the plot which has this ceramic plaque on the side...

Unleash the historian!  Well, have a bit of tea first and a walnut whip, then unleash the historian!

So, armed with that small amount of information, two hours ago I leapt into action.  Turns out that Mary Ann Gibbons and I were bound to meet eventually as she had a bit of a secret hidden behind Victorian majolica lilies, but I'll come to that.  First of all, why was it all so ornate?

Mary Ann Lewis was born in 1818 to Samuel and Mary Lewis, in Lydiard Millicent, Wiltshire, not far from her eventual home in South Gloucestershire. She married James Gibbons (the 'JG' from the grave) in the early 1840s and they had 8 children between 1844 and 1860. James was from Kemble, a small village not far from Cirencester and home now to an airfield and a railway station, but not a great deal more.  James was in the building trade, as was his father before him and by 1881, he was listed as a master plasterer, employing one person.  It is unsurprising therefore that his sons would follow in the family tradition, but it is amazing how influential they would be.

1908 advert
By the look of those wonderful lilies, there was some amazing craft involved in the grave.  Mary Ann's sons, Owen (1847-1911), Francis (1853-1918) and Arthur (1858-1917) were the artistic members of the family, moving the Brierley Hill in Staffordshire to create the most amazing art and tiles, often combining the two...

Tiles by Francis at the Brierley Hill Technical Institution
I owe a debt of thanks to The Brierley Hill blog for making my life easier this evening, and I won't paraphrase their wonderful work, but direct you to here for more information on the children and their work.  The 'Hinton' in the company name is described as a brother-in-law to the Gibbons boys, so is probably a relative of Sarah Gibbons' (1850-1890) husband, William. Anyway, a quick wallow in the beauty of their work, then back to the parents...

Arthur Gibbon's statue above the door to the library
at the Technical Institute

Owen Gibbons' fireplace
Decorative 'pheasant' tiles from Gibbons, Hinton & Co
Right, back to James and Mary Ann. Only one of their children pre-deceased them, Albert (1845-1868), the rest of them living fulfilling is not all very long lives.  Mary Ann and James remained in Cirencester where Mary Ann became ill.  As it's me telling this story, obviously I don't mean physically ill...

Well, of course it's an asylum
Mary Ann was admitted to the Gloucestershire County Asylum in the summer of 1881. Interestingly, she came to Horton Road Hospital (as it was also known) just as it was full to bursting with patients and a second asylum was opened just two years later at Coney Hill.  This second hospital was a more rural, peaceful affair, specialising in private patients.  Poor Mary Ann lived out the rest of her days in the great curved building above, dying there in 1886.  James lived on in Cirencester, but he too died in 1891.

Mary Ann's insanity, however it was manifested, cannot have been the easiest thing for the family to live with and you could argue that it might have been a factor in why so many of their children moved to live in Staffordshire, remaining together but away from their parents.  However, the love and detail that is displayed in their mother's memorial speaks of a defiance against the norms of Victorian society.  These are not children ashamed that their mother died insane, these are sons who are celebrating their mother in a wonder riot of majolica-style tiles, bursting with flowers.  Did their mother love lilies the best or is it just there to symbolise 'motherhood' in the language of flowers? The roses that cover James' plaque obviously symbolise his love, but the rose also symbolises a secret, not something shameful, but something private.  Were her sons through their art attempting to allude to a secret tragedy, but also to the love that rendered it unimportant?  We shall never know, but should you find yourself in Cirencester, I do urge you to seek out the beautiful grave of Mary Ann Gibbons, beloved by her family even after death.
And yes, I have now changed the 'Stonell' in my name to 'Asylum'.