Friday, 24 February 2017

Disrupt the Narrative

Today marks the anniversary of Fanny Cornforth's death in 1909, at Graylingwell Asylum in West Sussex. I was trying to think of some aspect of Fanny's life that I haven't already gone on about, but I thought I'd go for the bigger picture.  This is a post about why Fanny Cornforth is a lesson for all historians, especially those who write biographies...

Fair Rosamund (1861) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
When I started researching Fanny Cornforth, back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, I did it because I wanted to know why someone who was seemingly loathed by so many people was so beloved by Rossetti.  Not only that, but in most of the books I read in pursuit of her, I was continuously told that she had no real value.  The quote I use the most is from Paull F. Baum's book of Rossetti's letters to Fanny (notice how there is only one letter from her, thus underlining her passive role in the story), that Fanny had no meaning other than in the narrative of Rossetti and his life.  It is unsurprising that Baum, writing in the 1940s would take this view as it is entirely the view he was meant to have.  Even within both Rossetti and Fanny's life time, people such as William Michael Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown and William Bell Scott were trying to shake off the tenacious Fanny.  During DGR's breakdown of the early 1870s, the three men corresponded over how to pay her off, how to 'clear off all Fanny claims' (quoted in both W E Fredeman's article on Rossetti of 1971 and the essential Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood by Jan Marsh). Fanny was not meant to be part of Rossetti's life after her role of model ceased with The Blue Bower, so her continuance in his life beyond that point was something to be erased...

The Blue Bower (1865)
Had Fanny actually ceased to matter in 1865 then Stunner: The Fall and Rise of Fanny Cornforth would have been a much shorter book, but it wasn't just me that dragged Fanny on longer than William Michael wanted her to exist.  His brother was partly to blame too...

Fanny Cornforth (1868)
The trouble starts in 1868, when Rossetti produced this pastel portrait of Fanny.  Seeing as she had dropped off his model 'lazy susan' in 1865, after he scrubbed her out of Lady Lilith (and arguably both Venus Verticordia and Monna Vanna  too), her sudden reappearance in art three years later causes biographers some troubles.  The canonical narrative given for Rossetti's art is this woman...

Elizabeth Siddal (1854)
...followed by her...

Fanny Cornforth (sketch for Fair Rosamund) (1861)

...with a little bit of her...

Alexa Wilding (Sketch for Regina Cordium) (1866)
...but then mostly her...

La Donna Della Finestra (Jane Morris) (1879)
If you will cast your minds back to this post from this time last year, then I covered how biographers within Fanny's life treated her.  Spoiler alert: not well, on the whole.  Whilst reading those biographies, it was evident that the writers felt conflicted over Alexa Wilding - how can she inhabit so many of Rossetti's visions during 'the Reign of Jane', which is agreed to have lasted from around 1868 to the end of his life.  Poor old Alexa is quite easy to jettison from the narrative because firstly, as far as we know, and ignoring what I suggested for A Curl of Copper and Pearl, Alexa did not play a big part in Rossetti's personal life.  Also, she kind of looks like Jane, apparently, and so I have seen great swathes of Rossetti's paintings on the internet where you'd think he only had the one model, who I like to call 'Fanjalezzi'.  Damn, that girl is in everything...

Seriously Rossetti, when you pull this sort of thing, you only have yourself to blame...
Jane with red hair in Mrs William Morris (1870)
As if to prove my point, there is a website that will superimpose your face onto a famous painting and offer to turn you into 'the Pre-Raphaelite red haired model'.  That'll be Fanny, then.  Even though she was blonde. Okay, strawberry-blonde. Anyway, I digress.

So, Rossetti had a moment of madness where he resurrected his past muse in that 1868 pastel.  Well, how do we explain that? Well, he was beginning to lose his eyesight and some of his marbles so maybe he was under the illusion that Fanny was young and pretty again.  After all, as stated in the 200 catalogue for The Blue Bower: Rossetti in the 1860s - 'This pretty vignette gives his rather stodgy housekeeper, now in her mid-thirties, something of the mysterious allure of a gypsy.' Mid-thirties?  Heavens, it's a miracle she was allowed out without a bag on her head.  So we can write it off as an aberration, a moment of madness.  After all she was 'stodgy' by this point and no-one wants to see that.  Plus he was far too busy digging up his wife and having it away with other people's wives to be bothering with Fanny.

Well, that's okay then.  Glad he didn't complicate matters by doing it again...

Woman with a Fan (1870)
Oh for goodness sake.  Right, so why did he return to Fanny in 1870?  Mentioned in both Marillier and Fred Stephens' early biographies of Rossetti, this is not seen as a problem.  He just drew a pretty girl, which he was good at.  Fred Stephens makes some remark about the hands being too big.  You can understand the problems that trying to reintroduce Fanny into Rossetti's narrative caused.  Within the narrative, Rossetti started his love affair with Jane Morris as early as 1865, but certainly could be raised to the status of 'obsession' (according to a recent exhibition) by the late 1860s, and in 1870 Rossetti painted her as Donna Della Finestra and La Donna Della Fiamma.  There was no need for Fanny to raise her head so the picture is often written off as a flattery piece, a pay off for Fanny to sell.  It's not meant to say anything about the artist's on-going relationship with the model, so that aspect of it is often brushed over and we move on the endless swathes of Jane that filled the last dozen years of his life.  Yes, Alexa was there but just to vary it up a bit.  He loved Jane and so therefore no other face would do.

Fanny Cornforth (1874)
Oh, now, you are doing it on purpose Rossetti!  Fresh from all manner of romantic shenanigans at Kelmscott, Rossetti produced this pastel of a seemingly nude (or topless) Fanny Cornforth, in her late 30s.  The  general dismissal of this picture as being, again, a flattery piece, is more of a reflection on the commentator who do not believe that a woman in her 30s should be seen as attractive, apparently.  There is an odd mixture of comments about how Fanny could not possibly have looked like this in 1874 because doesn't everyone say she was fat?  Also, Rossetti's in love with Jane therefore can't also fancy a bit of old Fanny on the side.

Fanny Cornforth (1874)
Strangely, commentators feel they are on firmer ground with the image of Fanny clothed from 1874 because then words like 'matronly' (again, thank you to The Blue Bower catalogue) can be used.  Again, it is the consensus of the critics that the image is not sexy therefore Rossetti cannot have intended it as sexy.  Oddly, we never have this conversation about the myriad images of Jane which are arguably overtly threatening (such as Astarte Syriaca).  No matter how complicated Rossetti's images of Jane become, we never question his desire for her, but somehow it is beyond our ken to imagine he fancied a woman of 39.

Fanny Cornforth (1874)
Damn it, Rossetti, stop drawing Fanny Cornforth! The third pastel definitely brings matters to a head because to draw one's ex-mistress once is a mistake, to do it twice is unfortunate, but three times makes it look like you are doing it on purpose.  The theory that he made these pastels to give Fanny something she could sell is slightly undermined by the fact that she hung onto them until Fairfax Murray sold them through to Birmingham Art Gallery when she finally had to start selling off her collections in order to eat.  Not only that, we're not even sure that she owned the last one at all. Despite the lack of information, biographers feel comfortable in assigning emotions, desires, motivations and general thought-processes to five works of art that span 6 years.  By 1874, Fanny was financially independent of Rossetti to a level she hadn't achieved in the rest of their relationship.  Timothy Hughes had died and she had taken up with Mr Schott, running the Rose Inn and attempting to remain secure after Rossetti dumped her then attempted to reinstate her.  there are powerful arguments for how these pictures are gifts of love between two people who have been through quite a lot together, rather than little more than a gift voucher.  As much as Fanny ever relied on Rossetti for money, he completely relied on her for his drugs, his paint, and levels of understanding that his friends and family found it difficult to give. 

But then that doesn't fit in the narrative.  Therein lies the moral of today's post.

It's okay to disrupt the narrative.  It's okay to think people are more complex than we would like them to be.  I have no clue about how all Rossetti's women fit together (if you excuse the phrase) but then I suspect he didn't either.  It's not that we want an easy story, but possibly sometimes the sheer messed-up complexity of people make telling any sort of accurate narrative impossible, therefore as biographers we have to chose a path.  In many ways life is easy for me because when I started writing about Fanny (and about Mary Hillier) the narrative path placed down for them was entirely dependent on another person and so I can easily stray, meander, offer alternatives and generally disrupt the narrative because I am giving you a whole person rather than the shadow that is required for someone else's story.  With people like Rossetti, it is patently impossible to pick apart the truth because we have endless accounts of what he said and what he did and people's interpretation of all that, not to mention his art, and none of it follows a single, simple path.  Don't try and force a narrative where there might not be one, and embrace the terrible mess people's lives get into.

After all, it's what made me interested in Fanny Cornforth in the first place.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Whispering in the Ear of Eternity

Here's a quick post as part of my research around Julia Margaret Cameron's maid and model, Mary Hillier.  I hope to include brief bio-sketches of other models who appear with her in Julia Margaret Cameron's photographs, but you know me, sometimes my 'brief' ends up getting longer and longer, so here is the slightly longer version of what will end up in my book.  Here is the story of the Keown family...

Kate and Thomas Keown (1864) Julia Margaret Cameron
Once upon a time there was a brave solider called Thomas James Keown.  He was born in Plymouth, Devon, in 1823.  Just before his 17th birthday, Thomas joined the Royal Artillery as a driver.  As this was 1840, it obviously didn't mean motor vehicles, but it meant he was the equivalent of a 'private' and his job was to drive the horses who pulled the guns. He fought in the Crimean War from 1853, under Colonel Edward Charles Warde CB, who had known Thomas since the beginning of his military career.  It was under Warde's command that Thomas volunteered and accompanied a spiking party (disabling the enemy guns by means of driving metal spikes into the touchholes, or other damaging things, very dangerous work) in the assault on the Redan in June of 1855. For his 'long and meritorious services and good conduct', he was awarded a silver medal and £10 (around £850 in today's money).  The Colonel arranged for his family to drive Mrs Keown up to the Fort to see her husband decorated, and the Colonel 'shook him warmly by the hand and expressed a wish that he might long live to wear it.'

The Attack on the Redan (1899) Robert Hillingford
Thomas was wounded as a result of his action, at the Siege of Sebastopol, probably in the Autumn of 1855 and was sent back to England to recover.  Seeing as he had spent so much of his life abroad, it might be that it was on his return to England he met the woman he would marry just a year later.  Sarah Hendry was the daughter of a Gunner in the Royal Artillery, from Woolwich in Kent and the couple were married in Plumstead, Kent in 1856.  When Thomas had recovered, he was promoted to Master Gunner and placed in charge of Redoubt Fort in Freshwater.  Their first child Kate was born just 10 months after their marriage.

Kate Keown (1864)
Kate was followed in fairly quick succession by Louisa (1858), Elizabeth (1860), Alice (1861), Percy (1864) and Mabel (1868).  In many ways the Keown family, although a generation younger, established themselves at Freshwater around the same time as the Camerons, less than half a mile away at Dimbola Lodge.  When Julia Margaret Cameron's eyes turned to potential models for her photographic ventures she didn't have to look far...

Elizabeth Keown, Annie Philpot and Unknown Child (1864)
Although not the subject of her first image (that honour goes to Annie Philpot), the Keown sisters, Kate, Elizabeth, Louisa and Alice were perfectly placed to appear in her first year of photographs.  Four year old Elizabeth appeared with Annie Philpot in the above image, both Alice and Elizabeth appeared with Mary Hillier in Long Suffering and Kate and Louisa appeared in solo studies.

Long Suffering (Elizabeth Keown, Mary Hillier, Alice Keown)
Percy joined the family in the summer of 1864 and became the baby in many Biblical scenes...

La Madonna Riposata, Resting in Hope (Mary Hillier, Percy Keown) (1864)
Interestingly, as far as I can tell, Mabel, born in 1868, was never the subject of a Cameron photograph, but this might be for many reasons.  By that point, Cameron's aesthetic was moving away from babies and Madonna scenes, growing with her subjects in many ways.  Also, after 1865, Percy doesn't appear very much, replaced by Cameron's grandson Archie.  Louisa also doesn't appear again, but for a difference reason.

'Loulou' Louisa Keown (1864)
We only have potentially one Cameron photograph of little Louisa Keown.  Six years old and blurred, her tiny face gazes out at us.  In the Spring of 1865, Louisa died and was buried at All Saints in Freshwater, eventually alongside Lady Tennyson, Prinsep family members and Mary Hillier.  It is a complicated matter, Victorians, death and photography, because convention makes us believe that the Victorians were so keen to have their loved ones recorded on film that they would prop them up, post-mortem, for the chance of an image.  With just such opportunities just down the road, it is interesting that Mabel Keown does not seem to appear in any of Mrs Cameron's photographs, even though her other sisters continued their modelling careers.  Possibly it was too painful for Louisa's parents to see their lost child frozen in an image.  After all, how can we explain Cameron's recording of the death of adopted daughter Adeline Clogstoun but not of her own beloved daughter, Julia Norman, who died two years later?

The Whisper of the Muse (Elizabeth, G F Watts, Kate) (1865)
What we are left with are Elizabeth, Kate and Alice as they grow up. Seemingly the three sisters continued to pose through the loss of their sister, but in reality there might have been a gap of a year or more between their sittings, but after the death of Louisa, the three little muses suddenly seem to mature. Possibly as a response to this Cameron entitled one dark shot of Kate Keown Grief in 1866.  It is easy to read the effect of the bereavement on them in their suddenly more adult faces but equally the girls were growing rapidly towards young adulthood.

Minstrel Group (Mary Ryan, Kate, Elizabeth) (1866)
Alice doesn't appear as often as her sisters, but makes a very striking appearance in a later picture, as a young novice by the side of the disgraced Queen Guinevere, played by Mrs Hardinge.

The Little Novice with Queen Guinevere in the Holy House at Almesbury (1874)

The person I find most interesting in terms of maturity is Kate.  Whilst much is made of Cameron's treatment of Mary Hillier or May Prinsep, her recording of one little girl's passage to womanhood often goes unmentioned.  Kate Keown's work as a child is archetypally Julia Margaret Cameron and her imagery of children.  However, by 1868, you can notice a change in the child.

Study of Cenci (1868)
A revisiting of a 1866 study featuring May Prinsep (left), the 11 year old Kate has taken on the role of woman.  There is a slight irony in choosing the girl who she first pictured on her father's knee to portray the patricidal 16th century heroine, but there is more of the adult in Kate's study gaze than the winsome muse who whispered in Watts' ear.

Kate's face changes so subtly between years but more than any other model, she evolves before our eyes in the photographs.  At 13, she posed for The Snowdrop, 10 years before Rossetti used the same device on a portrait of Jane Morris entitled Blanzifiore.  The same year she is pictured in possibly the most elegant and striking of her pictures, simply entitled Group where she leans against Mary Hillier, who gazes away in noble profile.

The Snowdrop (1870-2)

Group (1870)
The same year as her younger sister posed as a nun, 17 year old Kate posed for one of her last images, the very adult The Twilight Hour, with an unknown man, one of the 'courting' photographs of Cameron's later years.

The Twilight Hour (1874)
Kate has grown from the infant innocently kissing her sisters and other local children to a woman in the midst of a failed romance (the theme of The Twilight Hour comes from Adam Bede by George Eliot).  She is one of the few models who manages to fill both the roles Cameron desired in her photographs - cherubic child and beautiful young woman.

Kate Keown Reading  (1867)
After the Camerons moved away, life went on for the Keowns.  Kate married a granite merchant from Cornwall, Bernard Freeman, and ended up living back in the West Country where her father had come from.  They had no children but by the 1911 census the couple were living in a property called 'Beachview' with a cook and a housemaid. She died in 1922, aged 65.

Paul and Virginia (Freddy Gould and Elizabeth) (1865)

Elizabeth, or 'Topsy' as she was also known, married in 1879 to an army schoolmaster called William Douglas.  She became a colonial wife, and a mother to two daughters, born in India.  When the family retired back to Surrey they played host to brother Percy for a short while.  She outlived all but one of her siblings, dying in 1952, aged 92.

Light and Love (Percy, Mary Hillier)  (1865)
Percy became third mate on the SS Tartar, a Royal Mail steam ship that seems to have travelled swiftly between South Africa and Southampton.  He received his second and first mate certificate by 1887 and travelled as far as Australia.  By the 1901 census, however, Percy is living with sister Elizabeth, at 'Pendennis' in Weybridge, Surrey.  On the far right of the form one word starkly presents his fortunes - 'paralysed'.  I can't begin to imagine what exactly befell him but a few months later he was dead, aged 36.

Hosanna (Alice, Marys Kellaway, Ryan and Hillier) (1865)
Alice married Henry Johnson, a surgeon (and son of a surgeon).  Henry was a military man, holding the rank of Captain and decorated for his work in India while his wife and child remained at his family home in Hampshire.  They joined him in Africa for the 1911 census but Henry died in 1918 in South Africa leaving his wife less than £2,000.  Alice and daughter Gladys returned to England and lived long lives, Alice outliving her siblings to die in 1959, aged 98.  

The Turtle Doves (Alice and Elizabeth) (1864)
It seems incredible to think that little Alice almost lived long enough to see a century pass since her first image by Mrs Cameron.  She also almost lived long enough to see the 1960s and the whole rediscovery of Victorian art where images of utter innocence like the one above would be viewed with suspicion or cynicism of such saccharine. It is tempting to think of the halcyon days of Freshwater as another age, far removed from ours but sometimes the Victorian age is so close to us, it is almost possible to hear it whisper...

Friday, 10 February 2017

Review: Victorians Undone

This will be a review of two halves.  I have very much been looking forward to reading Victorians Undone by Kathryn Hughes, mainly because it promised to have a chapter on Fanny Cornforth (and I get a mention, thank you muchly), but I am left feeling conflicted.  I will try and tackle this by giving you what I liked and what I didn't like.  Let's start with the positives...

This is an eminently readable book.  Hughes has a marvellous turn of phrase and tells a marvellous story.  The book is made up of five 'case studies' (some of which contain more than one personality) which cover what is often missed out of biography.  She is funny, interesting, filled with facts and obviously has read a great deal around her subjects.  In the introduction she says that the book is the result of many years in archives gathering the bits of history that people don't like to mention. Whether it is George Eliot's wondering if size matters, or the age old problem of men and their beards, there are certainly some things in this book that you will probably never have heard before...

Queen Victoria laughing
(she wouldn't laugh if she knew what we know...)
The strength of this book is that, more than any book I have read for a very long time, it has made me think until my head hurt.  Everyone I have come into contact with this week has had to put up with me getting their opinion on what exactly makes biography.  That is what this book fundamentally questions - what should a biography contain?  Having written one (with another on the way), this is a fascinating conundrum. Should biography contain all information about a person?  And what information is relevant? Do you need to know how a person spoke?  Or smelt?  It is Hughes' premises that no true biography of a person is complete without you knowing exactly what it would be like to be in the same room with them, and for some of them you best hope that room comes with a window. And air freshener.

Dickens' beard (and Charles Dickens)
There is definitely something to be said for giving a more rounded, 'unofficial' account of a person's life if it reveals things about them.  With the great and the good there is always the danger that you might only be told what is, well, great and good.  When the biographies are written by friends, by the people who know them best, then there will always be an onus to show the subject in the best light, and concentrate on why that person is worthy of biography.  You might not feel it's necessary to include stories of how, for example, Darwin couldn't stop farting. Now, is that relevant?  To his work, perhaps not, but to the man and his life?  That's a different matter.

Charles Darwin by Julia Margaret Cameron
(who had probably opened the window, or blamed it on the dog)
However, that leads me to possibly the main challenge I felt with the book.  What does it offer to us to know about Darwin's little (or big) problem?  Lytton Strachey is credited as being a proponent of this 'warts and all' style of biography with his work on Victorians, but his reason was arguably not so much to enlighten but to mock and diminish.  There is a danger of belittling, unintentionally perhaps, the subject and of undermining their achievements.  It's a difficult balance to strike and for many reasons it was easy for me as all the bad stuff was already known about Fanny (there is nothing you haven't heard already in the chapter on Fanny and Rossetti) and so I think reducing her down to 'a mouth' is really just continuing the job done by all of Rossetti's biographers who saw her as little other.

Tennyson's secret.  You don't want to know.  Or maybe you do.
In my opinion (and my issues with this book are just my opinions rather than a fault with the book) I would rather see the stuff about Fanny that is not known, so in that way I agree with Kathryn Hughes, that true biography sees a person as a rounded human being.  For Fanny (and actually for most of the subjects I am attracted to), it meant digging for the good, the clever, the things that made her memorable for the best reasons.  There had to be goodness (for want of a better word) that kept her in Rossetti's life and so the revelations in Stunner were that Fanny was clever, funny and deeply caring. I showed you the good in a person who others would dismiss as worthless (often for valid reasons).  That, I agree, is proper biography.  However, I'm not sure how I feel about it going the other way.  Take Tennyson, for example.  I now know stuff about Tennyson I wish I didn't and actually don't want to repeat.  It doesn't add anything to how I read his poetry, but it will always be in my mind when I think about the man, and it is not at all pleasant.  It's truthful and accurate, but does it add anything useful (again for want of a better word)? What I now know doesn't affect how I view him as a good man, a clever man, a man who loved and was loved, who deserves my admiration as a poet and a human being. However (I seem to use that word a lot in this review), it does add a dimension on how I view his relationship with his wife and his close friends.  But does that matter? Rats, I don't know.

Fanny's mouth.  Or not.
 I've always thought Rossetti put his lips on all his women (in all senses of the words)
See, this is my problem and possibly the genius of the book.  It makes me question what biography should be and as a biographer, this is difficult stuff.  It is absolutely the role of a biographer to tell the reader something they don't know, but how far down that road should you go?  What Kathryn Hughes reveals in her book by way of demonstration of the nooks, crannies and crevices of Victorians is not for the faint-hearted (or anyone eating), but I don't know how I feel about it.  She writes persuasive and engaging stories of smells, fears and invasive medical examinations, but I just don't know if I feel this level of biography is justified and what sure and certain conclusions can be drawn from it.  But then, that's just me, and you might not have a problem knowing about Darwin's wind (poor Darwin) and feel it adds to your understanding of the man on the £10 note.

To sum up, this is a book that has made me consider my role in biography at far too great a length. It's a well-written book, with some great illustrations, but I would love to have had a bibliography at the back.  Hughes states that everything in the book has been the result of many years in archives, so maybe she only read primary evidence, which is very noble of her...

The not so sweet case of Sweet F(anny) A(dams)...
This is definitely a book that you won't have read before because it is many biographies in one.  As you can tell by this rather rambling review, despite my reticence about the contents, the premise has kept me occupied all week.  I'll be over on my Facebook page if you want to discuss this with me and I'll be happy to talk it over with you.

Victorians Undone by Kathryn Hughes is available now from all good bookshops and also on Audible, although I'm not sure it's better having someone saying some of this stuff out loud...

Friday, 3 February 2017

Review: John Lockwood Kipling Exhibition and Catalogue

If you had said 'Kipling' to me last year, I might have thought of this...

Don't judge me.
I would have definitely thought of this...

Mmmm, cake...
But shamefully I would not have thought of John Lockwood Kipling, father of Rudyard, husband of one of the Macdonald sisters and artist, writer, designer and Anglo-Indian Arts and Craft guru. Mercifully, to save me from my cake obsession, there is a new exhibition and almighty monograph on our chap to enlighten and delight.  First, the exhibition...

I couldn't believe it was free, which is a rubbish way to start a review but it's true.  In these days of nothing being free, to be given the chance to see such wonderful treasures in a proper exhibition and not having to pay a penny for the privilege feels a bit unreal.  I kept waiting for someone to ask to see my ticket.  But then I suppose it might have seemed a difficult sell - a lesser known Victorian (albeit with a famous name) who spent most of his creative life in the Punjab.  'Colonial' isn't a word people react to positively.  However, the beauty of it overwhelms you, draws you in, until you are forced to realise that its so enmeshed in our idea of Victorian England it's impossible to think of it as 'other'.

Bracelet shown at the Great Exhibition, 1851, made in Rajasthan, India
A reason why the V&A have the exhibition is because Kipling started his career as an architectural sculptor at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A).  He and his new bride, Alice Macdonald, went to India where he worked as a teacher, and curator in Mumbai and Lahore.  Whilst there, he continued his own design work, resulting in the most beautiful pieces.

Drawing of a wood carver from a collection depicting craftsmen (1870)
There are wonderful links between the art and craft of India and the heart of English artistic life in Victorian England.  The exhibition shows how the Kiplings and their family provided a bridge over which inspiration could flow from the distant Empire into the heart of London and how much these threads are impossible to unpick from what we understand as 'Victorian'.

The Durbar Hall at Osborne, Isle of Wight (1890)
I had my doubts about how the exhibition would work as so much of Kipling's work was of a scale and location that couldn't be shoved into a corner of South Kensington, but enough of it could be brought in, or was already owned, that it all feels like great riches.  I now have an overwhelming urge to see the Durbar Hall at Osborne again, my favourite part of the house, like being inside a wedding cake.

Whilst there is no substitute for visiting the exhibition or the places Kipling was working, the massive book that accompanies the exhibition is a pretty good place to start.  Much more than just a straight catalogue (hence the quite hefty price tag, £40) this is a sumptuous monograph in celebration of a forgotten artist who brought home the beauty of India.

John Lockwood Kipling and Alice Kipling (1865) Carl Holt
The monograph weighs in at over 600 pages, 700 colour illustrations and further black and white ones.  It is truly a mighty book which almost defies a simple review.  I can't think of anyone who would not find something of interest in here and it is magnificently presented.  I found the section on Alice Kipling extremely interesting for obvious reasons; in it there is information on the Macdonald sisters and Alice's adventure in India.  I didn't know that the couple's eldest child, Rudyard, was named after the place in Staffordshire where the couple first met and where Kipling was employed in the Potteries.

Woman (probably Sophie Halsey) in a gown possibly designed by Kipling (1880)
Having an interest in Julia Margaret Cameron (amongst others), the cultural influence of the colonies on those who moved between England and the Empire hooked me in.  It was nothing new by Victorian times, but just more widespread and more commercial, the East India Company being the Establishment that employed so many, let alone anyone who went out for other reasons.  One of the pleasures of looking through Kipling's designs is how he applied the art and craft of the Punjab to Victorian England.  His enthusiasm for the craftsmen of the country, his appreciation of their skill, make him a colonial William Morris.

Jug for Frederic Macdonald (1863)
Reading the catalogue, it is definitely a tale of more than one man, as Kipling lived many lives. His work in the Potteries is beautiful and accomplished, his work in Lahore, appreciative and immersive.  No matter how we now feel (as society) about the work of Rudyard Kipling, it is easy to see a simple appreciation of the Indian culture through the work of his father. Familiarity with our close connections with other countries has lessened our appreciation, it seems.  This is a book that opens your eyes to exactly how much beauty in Britain we owe to India and how we once celebrated the skill and talent of that country.

'Riki-Tiki-Tavi' from The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
from my own collection
Much like the Sculpture Victorious exhibition and catalogue, there is so much more in the book than just the exhibition.  It is a collection of thoughtful essays exploring the many facets of a fascinating Victorian artist and the impact of Empire on the taste and psyche of a nation. If you can get to London, the free exhibition is a no-brainer visit, but I urge you to look at the catalogue, either buying it or via library loan, because it is massive and glorious and will change the way you look at that side of Victorian culture.  I shall now go off and look again at my knackered old copy of The Jungle Book which I see has the original Lockwood Kipling illustrations in it (see above for Riki-Tiki-Tavi, my favourite story).  

The exhibition is on until 2nd April, more information here.

The catalogue is available from the V&A shop here and is worth every penny.