Elizabeth Siddal: Her Passing

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Rossetti, The Sleeper (1846-1847, British Museum)

On the evening of 10th February 1862 Lizzie, wearing a new cloak, had accompanied Rossetti and Swinburne to the Sablonière Hotel, Leicester Square, where they had dined early. She had seemed drowsy in the cab on the way but refused Gabriel’s offer to take her home. During dinner her mood had fluctuated; she had seemed excitable, chaffing Swinburne who delighted in her company and was one of her few friends. Since Rossetti was teaching that evening at the Working Men’s College, he and Lizzie returned early to Chatham Place where she made preparations for bed while he went out to take his class.

Returning two hours later he found his wife dying. Beside her on a table was an empty phial which had contained laudanum and pinned to her nightgown a message – not one of farewell to her but a petition on behalf of her afflicted brother: ‘Take care of Harry’, it read. No surer evidence was needed that this was suicide. Rossetti snatched up the tell-tale paper before the arrival of the doctor and, leaving Lizzie in the care of the doctor and of her sister, urgently brought from the Old Kent Road, he hastened to Kentish Town to knock up the faithful Madox Brown. There he showed him the scribbled message which Brown took and burnt before they hurried back to Blackfriars. Overwhelmed with despair and unable to believe that nothing more could be done. Rossetti called in three further doctors but Lizzie was beyond help. She died soon after seven o’clock on the morning of 11th February; a verdict of accidental death was recorded.

Twenty years later, nearing his own death, Rossetti would still speak of how remose for his failure of affection had haunted him since that time.

As much as in a hundred years she’s dead

Yet is to-day the day on which she died

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Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal Seating in Chair (1854, British Museum)

This extract is taken from Virginia Surtees’, Rossetti’s Portraits of Elizabeth Siddal A catalogue of the drawings and watercolours (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1991), pg.  10 and 11.

Carlyle on ‘this dirty rabble’

20th December, 1824

My Dearest,

These Booksellers are certainly a consequence of the Fall of Adam; they were sent into the world for our sins. I expected ere this to have been cherishing myself with your answer to my letter; you are unpleasantly awaiting the arrival of the promised parcel; and I must keep my patience for another week and a half. Rascally, drivelling twofooted-things that they are! Three weeks ago I hurried off the packet in the greatest haste; Jack writes that it has not come; I go to ask about it; and find it—quietly reposing on its shelf in Fleet-street! They were sorry; they had not understood; they were very sorry— So I brought it home with me, and here it lies expecting some more trustworthy conveyance. By good luck I have got a Council-office frank; and I hope this letter will reach you on Friday-night. The rest will follow in due season; there was nothing but a sorry copy of Molière’s plays, which I got for you in Paris; they may come as slowly as they like. But do not, I pray you, delay to write, the moment you get this, if you have not already written: I am immeasurably anxious to hear from you. A whole month has passed without a word.

In the aspect of my own affairs there is scarcely any change since I wrote last. The printing of Schiller proceeds with somewhat less tardiness than I dreaded: to-day I got the seventh sheet; so that almost a third part of the work is already off my hands. It is going to make a handsome enough sort of Book; rather larger than a volume of Meister, and somewhat in the same style. A certain Mr Bull,1 one of Irving’s geniuses, is engraving a portrait for it. I long to have the pitiful affair put past me, that I may be able to quit the tumults of the Wen (so Cobbett calls it), and establish myself somewhere more to my wishes and wants. My future movements are still as undecided as ever; only here I ought not to be, longer than I cannot help it. If there be sleep and quiet and free air to be had on Earth, I will have them; if the[re] are not I will reconcile myself the best way I can to do without them; but not till I have found that they are not. The Translation of Schiller has made no advances towards being realized: indeed the first letter I had written on the subject, I find still lying among these unhappy books, and only send it off with this. Patience! Patience! A little time will settle all. If I can get no suitable arrangement made for this, I will abandon it, and take to something better. The very sparrow earns for itself a livelihood, beneath the eaves of the cottage: if I the illustrious Mr Thomas Carlyle cannot, then let me be sent to the Australasian continent directly. Faint-hearted mortal! These scribblers round thee are a mere canaille: struggle thro’ ten thousand of them, or go to pot—as thou deservest.

Irving advises me to stay in London; partly with a friendly feeling, partly with a half selfish one, for he would fain keep me near him. Among all his followers there is none whose intercourse can satisfy him; any other than him it would go far to disgust. Great part of them are blockheads, a few are fools; there is no rightly intellectual man among them. Then he speculates and speculates; and would rather have one contradict him rationally, at least now and then he would, than gape at him with the vacant stare of children viewing “the Grand Turk’s Palace with his guards—all alive.”2 He advises me not knowing what he says. He himself has the nerves of a buffalo; and forgets that I have not. His philosophy with me is like a gill of ditch-water thrown into the crater of Mount Ætna; a million gallons of it would avail me nothing. I receive his nostrums with a smile: he at length despairs of ever seeing me converted.

On the whole, however, he is among the best fellows in London; by far the best that I have met with. Thomas Campbell has a far clearer judgement, infinitely more taste and refinement; but there is no living well of thought or feeling in him; his head is a shop not a manufactory; and for his heart, it is dry as a Greenock kipper. I saw him for the second time, the other night; I viewed him more clearly and in a kindlier light, but scarcely altered my opinion of him. He is not so much a man, as the Editor of a Magazine: his life is that of an exotic; he exists in London, as most Scotchmen do, like a shrub disrooted, and stuck into a bottle of water. Poor Campbell! There were good things in him too: but Fate has pressed too heavy on him, or he has resisted it too weakly. His poetic vein is failing or run out; he has a Port-Glasgow wife, and their only son is in a state of idiocy.3 I sympathized with him; I could have loved him, but he has forgot the way to love.— Little Procter here has set up house on the strength of his writing faculties, with his wife a daughter of the “Noble Lady.”4 He is a good-natured man, lively and ingenious; but essentially a Small.— Coleridge is sunk inextricably in the depths of putrescent indolence. Southey and Wordsworth have retired far from the din of this monstrous city. So has Thomas Moore. Whom have we left? The dwarf Opium-Eater (my Critic in the London Magazine) lives here in lodgings, with a wife and children living or starving on the scanty produce of his scribble, far off in Westmoreland. He carries a laudanum bottle in his pocket; and the venom of a wasp in his heart. Allan Cunningham has cut him, men generally have cut him; a rascal Maghean (or Magin5 who writes much of the blackguardism of Blackwood) his [has] been frying him to cinders on the gridiron of the John Bull.6 Poor Dequincey! He had twenty thousand pounds, and a liberal share of gifts from nature: vanity and opium have brought him to the state of “dog distract or monkey sick.”7 If I could find him, it would give me pleasure to procure him one substantial beef-steak before he dies— Hazzlitt is writing his way thro’ France and Italy: the ginshops and pawnbrokers bewail his absence.8 Leigh Hunt writes “wishing caps” for the Examiner, and lives on the tightest of diets at Pisa.9— But what shall I say to you, ye Theodore Hooks, ye Majins, [Maginns] and Darlys,10 and all the spotted fry that “report” and “get up” for the “Public Press”; that earn money by writing calumnies, and spend it in punch and other viler objects of debauchery? Filthiest and basest of the children of men! My soul come not into your secrets, mine honour be not united unto you!

Good Heavens! I often inwardly exclaim, and is this the Literary World? This rascal rout, this dirty rabble, destitute not only of high feeling or knowledge or intellect, but even of common honesty? The very best of them are ill-natured weaklings: they are not red-blooded men at all; they are only things for writing “articles.” But I have done with them for once. In railing at them, let me not forget that if they are bad and worthless, I as yet am nothing; and that he who putteth on his harness should not boast himself as he that putteth it off.11 Unhappy souls! perhaps they are more to be pitied than blamed: I do not hate them; I would only that stone-walls and iron-bars were constantly between us.

Such is the “Literary world” of London; indisputably the poorest part of its population at present. Among the other classes of the people, I have met with several whom I like considerably, and whose company still continues to afford me pleasure. The Montagues I see perhaps once a-week: the husband is a wiseacre, with an obliging heart; the lady has the most cultivated taste (in pictures, and players, and attitudes and forms) of any person I remember; in her own sphere of observation, she is quick-sighted as a lynx; she delights to be among geniuses and lions, and has a touch of kindness for one in her heart, tho’ she shows it very much as if it were all counterfeit. You may draw on her for any quantity of flattery you like, and of any degree of fineness. Irving she treats with it by the hogshead; me by the dram-glass, in a stolen way, having almost turned my stomach with excessive doses of it at first. If there is an eccentric virtuoso, a crack-brained philosopher in London, you will hear of him at that house; a man of true sense is a specie whom I have scarcely ever met with there. Yet they are kind and good, and as the world goes very superior people: I talk with them in a careless, far-off, superficial way, for an hour or two with great ease and enjoyment of its kind. The Stracheys are a better tho’ less speculative family: I wish the lady had been possessed of any philosophy or true culture; I should have admired and loved her much, for she is in truth a noble-minded woman tho’ a methodist in religion,12 and full of strange opinions on all kindred subjects. Shame on me if I cannot tolerate her, however! She knows that I believe no particle of all that, and yet she likes me, and thinks me honest. Strachey is a Utilitarian in head, with an honest unaffected heart. I see them often and like them well.

But I must not kill you with my talk. One little piece of news; and thou shall have a respite. The other twilight, the lackey of one Lord Bentinck13 came with a lackey’s knock to the door, and delivered me a little blue parcel, requiring for it a receipt under my hand. I opened it somewhat eagerly, and found two small pamphlets with ornamental covers, and—a letter from——Goethe! Conceive my satisfaction: it was almost like a message from Fairy Land; I could scarcely think that this was the real hand and signature of that mysterious personage, whose name had floated thro’ my fancy, like a sort of spell, since boyhood; whose thoughts had come to me in maturer years with almost the impressiveness of revelations. But what says the letter? Kind nothings, in a simple patriarchal style, extremely to my taste. I will copy it, for it is in a character that you cannot read; and send it to you with the original, which you are to keep as the most precious of your literary relics. Only the last line and the signature are in Goethe’s hand: I understand he constantly employs an amanuensis. Do you transcribe my copy, and your own translation of it, into the blank leaf of that German paper, before you lay it by; that the same sheet may contain some traces of him whom I most venerate and her whom I most love in this strangest of all possible worlds.

Now, Liebchen, having heard all this from me so patiently, will you tell me when I am to see your own sweet face? Will you come to London and view the wonders of it before I leave it? or shall I find you at Haddington, and we visit this monster of a place at some future day? Why have I not the wishing carpet, that I might transport myself to your quiet parlour this very moment! It is of the last importance for me at present to know your purposes; my resolutions must to no small extent be regulated by yours: let this among other things excuse the egoism of my late letters. I desire earnestly that you should know me as I feel and am; I desire no less so to know you. Write at least, without reserve! Let us understand each other, if possible: I believe it concerns the happiness of both that we do. My purpose is to make no farther changes in my situation, after the next entire one, if I can by any means avoid them. I would labour for the sum-total of the future, tho’ I commenced at nothing, no longer for the day or the year that was passing over me. Am I right or wrong? Will you approve of it and second it? Or will you merely sanction it with contemptuous toleration? Tell me: by the love we bear each other, by your faith in the honesty of my intentions, tell me sincerely! The wish that is dearest to me you know as well as I. Think of this; advise me, decide for me!

I have a million of minor questions, but no room or spirit to ask them at present. God grant that you may be well, as I have all along been trying to convince myself you were! Write in a day, an hour, if you love me. Good night, my Dearest! Ich küsse dich zehntausendmal [I kiss thee ten thousand times]. God bless thee, my little girl! I am ever and wholly thine,

T. Carlyle

 

Refer here for the source.

Pre-Raphaelite Masculinities ed. by Yeates and Trowbridge

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In the introduction of this collected set of essays, Amelia Yeates and Serena Trowbridge set out their store quite clearly: this collection is to fill a perceived gap between the attention given to Pre-Raphaelite Masculinities, hence the title, and (although they don’t use this word much initially) that given femininities. The prompting for this collection is the observation that masculinities within Pre-Raphaelitism have been ‘taken for granted’, perhaps even ‘naturalized’ through the concept of ‘Brotherhood’.[1] The essays collectively try to examine the concept of masculinities by taking the viewing that masculinity is as much fought out and negotiated as femininity is.[2] The essays build on the valuable work by the likes of John Tosh and Michael Roper, and offer a much needed extension to the art historical discourse upon masculinities within the nineteenth century, particularly by applying it to the Pre-Raphaelites and their associates.

As Yeates and Trowbridge point out, there are many aspects of masculinity that are ‘marked out’ in the Pre-Raphaelite world, and they highlight this sense of patriarchy through the readings and positioning of a first and then second (child?) generation, and the ‘maleness’ of artistic circles of Watts and Rossetti, and the male Pre-Raphaelite construction and development of Aesthetic images of women. Critical attention has been given to uncovering the women with Pre-Raphaelitism rather than turning attention to the men. Inevitably this follows trends in twentieth century criticism and it is only now that the rise in interest in masculinities is becoming more popular / timely / dedicated that a collection such as this can appear.

To date, the only text which really explores this area of criticism is the inimitable Herbert Sussamn’s text Victorian Masculinities: Manhood and Masculine Poetics in Early Victorian Literature and Art (1995) and, although Yeates and Trowbridge don’t labour or underline the point, I will: the book is 22 years old now.

A more recent text, itself now 19 years old, is J.B. Bullen’s masterly The Pre-Raphaelite Body: Fear and Desire in Painting, Poetry and Criticism. Yeates and Trowbridge describe this as providing ‘excellent analyses’, before highlighting Bullen’s attention to ‘Rossetti and Male Desire’, and ‘Burne-Jones and the Aesthetic-Body’ and his psychoanalytic framework.[3]

Other items of interest in this field are:

Colin Cruise’s, ‘Lovely devils’: Simeon Solomon and Pre-Raphaelites (1996) and Julie Codell’s ‘The Artist Colonized: Holman Hunt’s Bio-History, Masculinity, Nationalism and the English School’ (also 1996), and the Jay D. Sloan’s ‘Attempting ‘Spheral Change’’.[4]

Nancy Cott argued in 1990 that ‘In contrast to women – who are too often seen only in terms of their sex – men have been the unmarked sex’.[5] Masculinities are fluid and mobile, a sentiment Yeates and Trowbridge echo but which can also be found in the writings of Adams and Savran (who they refer to) and Tosh. Like them, Yeates and Trowbridge argue that Masculinity is fluid and mobile, and was a discourse which preoccupied Victorian critics.

Yeates and Trowbridge’s own understanding, or offering, of the term Pre-Raphaelite Masculinities is in relation ‘to the way in which ideas and models of masculinity were, or have been, constructed in the work of those artists and writers associated with Pre-Raphaelitism’. This does seem to somewhat state the obvious, but the telling bit is the reminder of where these constructions occur, the work itself and responses to it, both biographical and autobiographical writings, performance (interesting choice of word there) of public and private personas, and this is why the collection focuses upon the reception of Pre-Raphaelite art and literature.

The introduction is keen to point out that there is no cohesive view of a ‘Pre-Raphaelite’ masculinity and although the collection does use it as a ‘familiar signifier’ it is as a means of recording and discussing the various constructions that occur through those involved with Pre-Raphaelitism (a qualification of their earlier obvious statement).[6] Whilst the Pre-Raphaelites often defined against the norms, they were not always, and should not always be considered, ‘other’.[7] The collection is about understanding their use of available masculine tropes. This collection is an invaluable addition to this current discourse.

Whilst drawing on major writers on Masculinity of the time, e.g. Carlyle, Arnold, Kingsley etc., the most useful quote to keep in mind when reading the essays is this by Tosh: In the name of manliness Victorian men were urged to work, to pray, to stand up for their rights, to turn the other cheek, to sow wild oats, to be chaste, and so on’.[8]

With the weight of this expectation, it is no surprise that there were deviations, resistance and conflicts about what was considered normative masculinity, and that even the most vigorous and sincere attempts to reach the standard required inevitably fell short.

A brief overview of some of the essays:

Sally-Ann Huxtable argues that conflicting ways of Pre-Raphaelite knights – recreating / undermining notion of traditional hero. Each depiction of errant knight deconstructs different aspects of normative masculinity, with each work offering a new perspective for an alternative masculinity in the future.

Jay Sloan examines Rossetti’s destabilisation of norms and offers the trope of the ‘Confessional Man’ as an alternative and a companion to the Dantesque figure of the lover which Rossetti frequently uses. Sloan uses ‘Jenny’ as a means of discussing gender constructions and the ‘separate spheres’ encountered by both sexes. Whilst this pens up valuable conversations about ‘Man’ (confessional or otherwise) as being a ‘figure of contradictions, it does also suggest one problem: that in order to discuss men, or masculinities, we often have to engage with the feminine. One wonders whether these spheres of critical clarity can really ever offer us that? As Tosh and Roper note, ‘masculinity has always been defined in relation to ‘the other’’.[9] ‘The other’ being femininity, although Sloan suggests other can itself be masculinity.

Amelia Yeates’ own essay considers the reception of Burne-Jones’ work and examines the correlation between manliness and health in his imagery. With a careful examination of critical vocabulary (mirroring the approach of Bullen) she also refers to the significance of gender and its impact upon a man’s construction of (his own) masculinity and his subsequent success or otherwise (e.g. Buchanan’s infamous attack on Rossetti and its potential limiting of Rossetti’s then success).

Eleanor Fraser Stansbie’s essay on Holman Hunt’ The Light of the World (1853 – 1854) is particularly interesting. There are actually three versions of the painting (Keble College, St. Paul’s and Manchester Art Gallery) which Fraser suggests have been generally received as one and the same in content, a wilful overlooking of the differing details. By considering the third version (the Manchester one), Fraser Stansbie unpicks its symbolism through the prism of manliness and imperialism. This essay is interesting as it locates Pre-Raphaelitism as part of a dialogue with, and against, Muscular Christianity’s version of the male form, and Victorian Empire building: Yeates and Trowbridge quote Caine and Sluga’s view of Empire building as a ‘sense of the sexual nature of imperial conquest’.[10]

[1] Amelia Yeates and Serena Trowbridge eds., Pre-Raphaelite Masculinities Constructions of Masculinity in Art and Literature (Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2014), pg. 1

[2] Yeates, Pre-Raphaelite Masculinities, pg. 1

[3] Yeates, pg. 2

[4] Cruise, C J, ‘Lovely devils’: Simeon Solomon and Pre-Raphaelite masculinity in E Harding (ed.) , Re-framing the Pre-Raphaelites : Historical and Theoretical Essays (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1996), pp. 195-210 .

[5] Nancy F. Cott, ‘On Men’s History and Women’s History’, in Mark C. Carnes and Clyde Griffen (eds.), Meanings for Manhood: Constructions of Masculinity in Victorian America (Chicago, 1990), p. 205.

[6] Yeates, pg. 7

[7] Ibid. .

[8] John Tosh, Manliness and Masculinities in Nineteenth-century Britain: Essays on Gender, Family and Empire. (New York: Pearson Longman, 2005), p. 87

[9] Roper, Michael and John Tosh, eds., Manful Assertions: Masculinities in Britain since 1800 (London:  Routledge, 1991), p. 1

[10] Barbara Caine and Glenda Sluga, Gendering European History, 1780 – 1920 (New York, 2002), p. 109

Flaming June at Leighton House Museum

Frederic Leighton, Flaming June

Leighton, Flaming June (1895, Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico)

Flaming June: The Making of an Icon is currently on at Leighton House Museum in London. The exhibition runs from the 4th November 2016 – 2nd April 2017 and signals part of the Museum’s growing series of interesting exhibitions in the last few years, and provides further evidence of the Museum’s ability to provide well considered intimate displays.

This particular exhibition is a landmark exhibition for Leighton House because of the star attraction, Lord Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June (1895, Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico).

Flaming June is described, with hyperbole, as the Mona Lisa of the southern hemisphere, a phrase which is oft requoted about her perhaps thereby making the statement true. The work is certainly instantly recognisable as an example of High Victorian now, but the painting itself has an interesting and chequered history. You’ll note that its home is in Puerto Rico, miles away from London, and miles away from Leighton House. The painting ended up there, in the main, because no-one in Britain was interested in the work: or if one was being unkind, one could perhaps say it is because Andrew Lloyd Webber’s grandmother refused to lend him fifty quid to buy the work in the 1960s, claiming ‘I will not have Victorian junk in my flat.’

One shouldn’t be surprised at Lloyd Webber’s grandmother’s attitude, and nor was she alone in her distaste for Victorian art. Our present day familiarity with Leighton and other Victorian artists, such as the Pre-Raphaelites and contributors to Aestheticism, is on the back of a complete change of attitude brought about in part to collectors of the 1960s and a slow rediscovery which culminated in the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition of 1984. Nowadays we can’t get enough of Victoriana. Lloyd Webber perfectly recognises his grandmother’s position, and perfectly encapsulates the painting’s meaninglessness to that generation:

How could she have been expected to take Flaming June seriously? Born in 1898, she had seen the young men of her generation decimated in the First World War and had lived through another. Leighton’s sensuous image must have seemed appallingly irrelevant to her.[1]

Painted in 1895, Flaming June was created at a time when Leighton was beginning to ail. She was created from a series of sketches in 1894 and completed in 1895, a year before Leighton’s heart issues took hold and brought about his death on the 25th January, 1896.

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Dorothy Dene (1880s)

Some critics have suggested the model was Leighton’s muse, the actress Dorothy Dene, whom Leighton regularly used and can be seen in numerous works by Leighton, including Crenaia, the Nymph of the Dargle, (1880, part of the Pérez Simón collection which was on display only recently at Leighton House).

Leighton never married and Dene is thought by some to have been Leighton’s lover. Although we cannot really know what took place between him and Dene, we do know Leighton encouraged her name change from Ada Pullen and paid for elocution lessons (Dene is said to have inspired G.B. Shaw’s play Pygmalion). We also know that Leighton left her £5,000, plus another £5,000 in trust for herself and her sisters, which is the equivalent of around one million pounds in today’s money. This bequest was the largest made by Leighton and at the very least tells us that he was extremely fond of Dene and her sister.

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Leighton, The Maid with Golden Hair (1895, Private Collection)

The model for The Maid with Golden Hair (1895, Private Collection) was almost certainly modelled by Lena Dene, then aged 22. This work, which is included in the exhibition, is a little at odds with the others because of its loose style and in some ways undermines the exhibition’s theme of companionate works. That being said, it was considered to be the best of Leighton’s paintings when exhibited in 1895. Leighton House describes it as an ‘English’ piece and it does have a softness to it that makes the work feel rather more domestic than the other works. This is not a particularly admirable quality, and alongside the other powerful Symbolist style pieces The Maid with Golden Hair does not shine.

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Leighton actually became rather self-conscious about Dorothy Dene’s cockney accent and it is thought he turned to other models in his later career, e.g. Mary Lloyd who appears in this exhibition in the painting Twixt Hope and Fear (1895, Private Collection), because of certain assumptions about his relationship with Dene. Lloyd also appears in other artists’ works, most interestingly Draper’s The Youth of Ulysses (1895, whereabouts unknown) which was painted at the same time as the Leighton works on display. Martin Postle suggests that Lloyd modelled for Flaming June.[2]

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Draper, The Youth of Ulysses (1895, whereabouts unknown)

There continues to be some speculation about Leighton’s sexuality and whilst Richard and Leonee Ormond’s Lord Leighton (1975) suggests caution about this subject they also acknowledge that Leighton ‘fulfilled some part of himself in the company of young men’.[3] Flaming June is a work about pure femininity though.

It is said that the idea for the painting came about from a serendipitous pose of a model in a chair, although I have heard whispers there are other sources which may have influenced Leighton’s unusual composition.

img_2597The painting depicts a languidly draped woman. She appears to be sleeping and yet her pose is so self-contained and bound within the square composition that it seems almost impossible for a sleeping woman to maintain such a relaxed pose. She sleeps almost like a child, whose limbs somehow protrude at awkward angles and are liable to jerk into a new position at any moment, despite the heavy childlike slumber that embraces her. This woman, this young fresh faced child of a woman, has something of that sleep. Her body is so limp and languid that we feel she may never rouse from her rest, and yet somehow there is life still within the image. There is both silence and rest, and yet a glorious glow of life and the senses. This symbiosis is the charm of Leighton’s most famous piece.

The work was unveiled in the studio 7th April 1895, on what is called ‘Show Sunday’, and was one of the submissions to the R.A.

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A photograph of Leighton’s studio taken in 1895

A photograph of Leighton’s studio taken in 1895 shows his recent R.A. exhibits and alongside Flaming June on their easels are Twixt Hope and Fear and The Maid with the Golden Hair (1895, Private Collection) which is also included in the current display.[4] This series of works were his final submission to the R.A. Flaming June sold for £1,154.

The work was purchased by the proprietor of The Graphic, William Luson Thomas, who described it as a ‘self-contained’ composition. He bought her because he recognised her potential for reproduction, and so it was. That year, at the price of a shilling a copy, Flaming June appeared in over half a million parlours throughout Britain.

Thomas sold her on to a prosperous widow, and the work was then loaned to the Ashmolean. After it’s leaving the Ashmolean, and the details are unclear here, the work appeared in Leighton’s House to mark the centenary of Leighton’s birth but she then disappeared for thirty years. Like a puff of smoke, Flaming June vanished. I am not suggesting anything untoward happened to her, in fact it seems to be more indicative of a disinterest and lack of appetite for Victorian art. Without an audience, Flaming June, like many Victorian art works, found herself in a century where she had little to say and was, seemingly, of no worth.

It was only in 1962 that she resurfaced. Rediscovered by a builder behind some panelling over a chimney piece in Clapham Common, Flaming June was found in reasonable condition and still in her tabernacle frame. Looking for a quick sale, the builders took her along to a shop in Battersea Rise, where they received sixty quid for her. This was mainly for the frame which was considered to be more valuable than the painting.

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Striped of the frame, Flaming June remained in Battersea Rise, until a Mayfair Barber and part time art dealer bought her. He then he sold her to a dealer called Maas, who still trades, for less than Leighton sold her originally. Maas authenticated her and hung her in his Clifford Street Gallery. It was in 1963 that Luis Ferre, the Founder of the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico, fell in love with her. Snapping her up for 2k, Flaming June began her journey across the sea to her new home. This exhibition in Leighton House is a rare opportunity to see the painting outside of Puerto Rico, and is not to be missed. Not least because the work is back in Leighton’s so called ‘Palace of Art’.

The painting is a sensuous delight, full of peachy draped robes with the heat of Mediterranean sun beams falling upon the blushed cheeks of a dreamy ideal of femininity. She is pure confection. We can only look upon this scene, we are too mortal to be part of it.

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The exhibition offers several other works worth enjoying. The aforementioned Twixt Hope and Fear may not be confectionary, but is an example of a similar Symbolism as Flaming June. Interestingly this work was up for sale in December 2015 at Sotheby’s but with the acknowledgement on the listing that Leighton House had already earmarked it for this exhibition. The work, powerful as it is, demonstrates what the R.A. catalogue of 1996 described as part of:

‘a new solemnity and power of expression, which resulted in some of his greatest works. Unlike so many English artists, there was no falling away of technical skill or creative imagination, but rather a desire to transcend his earlier achievement with a succession of paintings of stupendous scale and originality.’[5]

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Leighton, Twixt Hope and Fear (1895, Private Collection)

The work is much darker in tone, it has a dramatic lighting that is far removed from the full glare of Flaming June. The female is powerful and has a sexual and erotic quality which is engaging and desiring. She is not for our delectation, we are for hers. She is dreamlike though, just as with Flaming June. There is no narrative, no character, no didactic tale or sermon. She is enigmatic and powerful, and with such strength and fortitude of presence, this woman also introduces a sense of fear. She is Twixt Hope and Fear.

Twixt Hope and Fear, Flaming June, and also Solitude (1890, Maryhill Museum of Art, Washington), Tragic Poetess (1890, Private Collection), The Spirit of the Summit (1894, Auckland City Art Gallery) and Lachrymae (1895, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) are all part of a series of later mature works which can be read as more personal moments. Lachrymae is also on loan to this exhibition.

Leighton, Lachrymae (1895, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Lachrymae is Latin for ‘tears’ and we, as viewer, are to accept the female before us as one that is in the midst of grief. Clad in tones of black and purple, she bows and leans her head against a funerary monument. The tone is sombre and classical, and yet her grief is somehow formal, stately even. It is certainly dignified, and it has a similar silence albeit not tone to that we find in Flaming June.

These gentle comparisons and undercurrents are integral to the exhibition. As Leighton House’s own blurb states:

‘The re-gathering of these pictures places Flaming June back into the context of its original exhibition, providing a compelling starting-point for exploring its history…The assembled pictures represent his last statement as an artist and allow a reappraisal of his achievements, relating these five works back to the career that led up to their production and understanding the legacy of a creative life that was close to its end’.

This exhibition may be intimate, but Leighton House knows how to play to its strengths. It is worth making the trip.

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The Making of an Icon display

Further reading can be found here and here.

[1] http://www.andrewlloydwebber.com/art/andrews-collection/ Accessed 02/02/2017 18:58

[2] Quoting from the Met’s website: Martin Postle. ‘Leighton’s Lost Model: The Rediscovery of Mary Lloyd’, Apollo 143 (February 1996), pp. 27, 29, fig. 6, quotes Sir John Everett Millais’s son’s observation that the model for his father’s “A Disciple” (Tate Britain, London) was a woman named Mary Lloyd, who had sat for Leighton since at least 1893 and had been the model for this picture.

[3] Richard and Leonee Ormond’s Lord Leighton (British Art Studies) (1975)

[4] Daniel Robbins and Reena Suleman, Leighton House Museum, Holland Park Road, Kensington (London, 2005), ill. p. 56

[5] Frederic Leighton, exhibition catalogue for the Royal Academy, 1996, p.193

 

The Aesthetic Development of Albert Moore by Asleson

File:Albert Joseph Moore - A Summer Night - Google Art Project.jpg

Moore, A Summer Night (1887, Walker Art Gallery)

Robyn Asleson’s piece on Albert Moore is part of the Art After the Pre-Raphaelites collection edited by Elizabeth Prettejohn (1997).[1] Asleson’s article on Moore as an exponent of Aestheticism is an interesting unravelling about an artist who was, and remains still, rather unreachable and mysterious. Moore deliberately created a wall beyond which he hid, a wall of pale muted colours, expressionless figures, and coded musical harmonies in paint. He consciously created a sense of separation and distance and we have been left with the task of attempting to overcome Moore’s ‘poverty of words’.[1]

Moore was loathe to interview, write down, record or intimate his inspirations, sources or thoughts, considering them ‘a waste of precious time’.[2] He determined to remain independent and his views were perhaps a little too strident, strident enough to keep him only at the stage of candidature at the R.A.

Although schooled in landscape painting, Moore’s art is known for his depictions of languorous female figures, such as can be found in the below supplement from the Illustrated News (details of the Grafton Gallery, 1894 catalogue from the British Museum collection). Their often vacant, expressionless faces are set against extravagant, yet calming depictions of the classical world. Works such as Shuttlecock, Seashells, or A Reader, are harmonious and soothing in their palette and are a far cry from the landscapes of Moore’s brothers’ art, for they were respected landscape painters.

Supplement to 'Illustrated London News'. four pages (1 sheet folded) with portrait of the artist and reproductions of fifteen of his paintings,

Moore’s artistic manifesto (which he once thought to write) ultimately died along with him, and aside from the notes written by his perhaps friendly but biased biographer and one time student, Alfred Lys Baldry, little is known about Moore. Fortunately, the V&A has many of Moore’s preparatory drawings and these are where he is not silent, and where critics such as Asleson are able to better assess Moore’s work.

Asleson’s article discusses this distance and sees it as a self-conscious styling. The main premise of Asleson’s essay though is in establishing the gap between Pre-Raphaelite naturalism (in the sense of Ruskinian earnestness, and ‘truth to nature’) and Aestheticism. Asleson fills the critical gap in understanding ‘the transition from one mode to the other’.[3]

Albert Moore, by Sydney Prior Hall, 1887 -NPG 2375 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Sydney Prior Hall, Albert Joseph Moore (1887, NPG)

Born at York on 4th September 1841, Moore was the thirteenth son and fourteenth child of the then well-known portrait-painter William Moore and his second wife, Sarah Collingham. His brother Henry Moore, R.A. was a well-known sea painter, and some of his other brothers also painted. Moore himself, was schooled in drawing and painting by his father, before spending time at the School of Art founded by William Etty in 1842. In 1853, Moore gained a medal from the Department of Science and Art at Kensington before he had even had his twelfth birthday.

His father died in 1851, and after that, his brother, John Collingham Moore, took over both artistic and parental roles to some extent. Arriving in London in 1855, he attended school until 1858 when he attended the R.A. By 1857 he had exhibited, not works of a figurative nature, but natural Ruskinian works, e.g. A Goldfinch.

Whilst some of Moore’s early works show Ruskin’s influence, unsurprisingly at this period of the nineteenth century, Asleson’s article shows how Moore only ever went so far with his Ruskinian earnestness. For example, his image of an ivy covered tree trunk does not embrace Ruskin’s full line and narrative of the tree, but, in Asleson’s view, condenses the scene and crops the work into an abstraction of the line.[4]

By 1861, Moore ventured into sacred subjects, e.g.  The Mother of Sisera looked out of a Window, and Elijah running to Jezreel before Ahab’s Chariot. But the 1860s was the age of aestheticism and it was at this time, that Moore began designing tiles, wallpaper and generally riding along the wave of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co. His Elijah’s Sacrifice (1863) embraced the influence of Ford Madox Brown and yet despite the rather medieval influence of Brown, Moore’s works took on this distinctly neo-classical character, not least because of studying the Elgin marbles (as Burne-Jones also did). Moore also seems to have absorbed the works he saw in Rome during 1862 – 1863. Like Whistler, and Swinburne, Moore’s concern for form and colour and effect began to overtake his desire for subject, and his paintings became increasingly harmonised into his own interpretation of Aestheticism. Asleson’s article demonstrates Moore’s interpretation of Aestheticism distinctly, suggesting that some of this perhaps stemmed from an important friendship with William Eden Nesfield, who he toured round Northern France with in 1859.  It seems to have been the combination of Moore’s mathematical ability (he achieved the highest mark in his grammar school) and geometry, his exposure to Greek and French art, as well as to the Japanese, Persian, Indian and Greek collections of his friend Nesfield, his desire for natural abstraction, and pursuit of drawing from life models, all combined to create what Asleson calls an ‘inevitability’ for figurative decoration.[5]

In 1863, Moore produced an untraced fresco entitled The Seasons which garnered attention, and was ‘pivotal in his transition from mural design to easel painting’.[6] The following year, Moore exhibited The Marble Seat (1865) which was the first of a long series of what became Moore’s distinctive style, his purely decorative pictures where narrative was removed or ‘could be read in terms of an imagined narrative’.[7] The Hellenic spirit of Moore’s works became a mainstay of his oeuvre, and by 1866, Asleson reports his figures as being ‘physically interchangeable and psychologically remote’. His figures are classical, pale, marble-like, and distant. They are swathed in drapery, diaphanous gowns which emphasise their classical purity but stripped of symbolism and narrative, they are purely visual. Form is the key to Moore’s compositions.

Asleson goes on to argue that architectural understanding informed much of Moore’s design and gives his designs for St. Alban’s Church, Rochdale (1865- 1866) as an example.

Image result for moore The Mother of Sisera looked out of a Window

Moore, Study of an Ash Trunk (1857)

The titles of the works came after the work’s completion, and, like Whistler, were perhaps more of an intellectual, self-conscious assignment, than a free expression of imagination or inspiration. Moore’s understanding of the frame and architectural barriers, boundaries, shapes and geometries carved out his understanding of pictures as panels. So much so, that he painted, as Baldry noted, that any panel ‘might well be made…the centre and starting point of a complete scheme of decoration’.[8]  Such was his success at this decorative way of viewing and composing his works, that Building News amongst many others, responded to his works and even suggested that when exhibited they would have been better placed with architectural drawings.[9] Asleson reads this ability to view art as decorative and to understand the end results as being informed by form, are merely another example of how Moore treated his Study of an Ash Trunk: by this she means, he is once again intersecting diagonals and overlaying verticals and horizontals.[10] Both Asleson, and also Baldry’s, claims are born out by his preliminary drawings. It was the sense of form, colour, and balance that informed the design throughout the canvas. Azaleas is given as an example of this, and Asleson quotes Swinburne’s response, given in 1868:

The melody of colour, the symphony of form is complete: one more beautiful thing is achieved one more delight is born into the world; and its meaning is beauty; and its reason for being is to be’.[11]

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Moore, A Musician (1867, Yale Centre for British Art)

This musicality within Moore’s works is further examined, e.g. his A Musician (1867, Yale Centre for British Art) is used to situate Asleson’s discussion about Moore and his brothers, and artist William Blake Richmond, discussing formal analogies between painting and music. Whilst Asleson refers this approach to Whistler’s own brand of Aestheticism, it called to mind Leighton’s Music Lesson (1877, Guildhall), and is a reminder that Aestheticism is hard to pin down and its threads appear in many forms and in many works of art, even sometimes those we do not label as ‘Aesthetes’.

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Leighton, Music Lesson (1877, Guildhall)

The rising fall and curves of Moore’s work ‘sing the melody’.[12] Asleson goes on to show that at the same time both Moore and Whistler were ‘developing musical in their paintings, Moore was also engaged in an intense study of Greek sculpture through which, according to Baldry, he found ‘a complete technical system’’.[13] Asleson quotes from the 1842 text by Ramsay Hay, The Natural Principles and Analogy of the Harmony of Form, and suggest this work is entirely underestimated in its contribution to Aesthetic thinking: Asleson further suggests that Hay’s harmonies of composition and proportion may well have influenced Moore.[14] The argument is rather convincing, particularly when applied to the Reconstruction of Albert Moore, Figures Study for Birds (1878, V&A). The key point to note is that expressing the parts ceased to satisfy as Moore felt ‘he still had to ‘understand the whole’. It is this which Asleson offers as way of answering her question about the transition from Pre-Raphaelite naturalism to Aestheticism. I am not sure the article really does answer this question about Moore’s transition, but it certainly offers many fascinating insights and genuinely exciting thinking about Moore’s art.

From 1877 onwards, Moore was a regular exhibitor at the Grosvenor Gallery and his popularity grew. He often sold works prior to completion although it was not until later on in life that he obtained the type of patronage that artists like Rossetti garnered. Moore’s career was successful because of the type of decorative harmonies and architectural geometries Asleson discussed: and all this, despite Moore being plagued by an incurable illness. His last picture The Loves of the Seasons and the Winds (1893, Blackburn Museum) is one of his most complex, and its bright colours and complex composition continues to inspires a whole new series of thinking and criticism for which there is no doubt, on the back of Asleson’s work, a great need.

The Loves of the Winds and the Seasons

Moore, The Loves of the Seasons and the Winds (1893, Blackburn Museum)

Further reading on Moore can be found here.

[1] Robyn Asleson, ‘Nature and abstraction in the aesthetic development of Albert Moore’, in After the Pre-Raphaelites Art and Aestheticism in Victorian England, ed., by Elizabeth Prettejohn (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999), p. 115 – 134.

[2] Robyn Asleson, ‘Nature and abstraction in the aesthetic development of Albert Moore’, p. 115

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Asleson, p. 119 – 120.

[6] Asleson, p. 121. Asleson reports that letters show Moore was, during the 1850s, seeking to studying the nude, from life models.

[7] Asleson, p. 122.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Baldry, quoted in Asleson, p. 124.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid

[12] Algernon Swinburne, Notes on the Royal Academy Exhibition, 1868, part 1, p32

[13] Asleson, p. 128

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.