Sunday, 19 November 2017

May Morris and Alfred Hitchcock


Not literally, in person, alas, but via the big screen in a small town.
In July 1937, MM and MF  had a sudden yearning ‘to hear the curlews calling again above Blaen-hafren.’  They abandoned plans to camp in Herefordshire, hired a car with driver Mr Norris and headed again for Lanidloes, where they checked in at the Trewythen Arms.  Then the evening:


After dinner we actually went next door to a Cinema show Sabotage. Oh but it was funny! the confusion, the unreality in ‘real’ scenery, the hideous voices, the more hideous close-ups.
In one scene we see two gentlemen ‘conspiring’ in front of a tank at the former Westminster Aquarium where  a turtle is showing off quite nicely.  I was beginning to enjoy the turtle when we were switched off to an interior with a young lady with the American puffy cheeks and a painful smile mending big toy sailing-boat with a lad looking on.  To them enters a thickset man with nerves, apparently her husband  who I believe has been ordered by the wicked Bolshevist of the Aquarium to bomb something or somebody.  Then switch off to some underground machinery – then to a  shabby parlour where conspirators are conspiring  Scotland Yard next and a handsome young detective.  And so on.  Then a lunch party between the Detective and the Unhappy Wife who I suppose is being pumped about her husband’s actions; but all the voices are so rauquous [sic] and unnatural that one doesn’t catch what is said – and it doesn’t matter.  Then we have London streets and the nervous Conspirator being tracked by the handsome Detective; then the conspirators parlour and a knock at the door and all the folk melt away except the nervous man – Another switch to something or other.  Then a close-up of a clock bomb with the hands set to 2.15.  Then the Nervous man’s home & he gives a parcel to the Lad (wife’s young brother) to leave in the cloakroom at Piccadilly Circus (we somehow gather there is a big function and procession to come off to fit in with the bomb).  Then the boy & parcel lounge thro’ different comic scenes and at last find themselves in an omnibus.
Next we have a close-up of the bomb with the hands pointing to 2.13, and I get very nervous and put my hands to my ears and MF laughs -  There are other muddly scenes and then the omnibus again and a puff and presumably the boy and the bus etc are blown up.  By this time the Unhappy Wife and the Handsome Detective  are finding affinities and he wants to “spare the woman”.  The great scene is at her house where she is unwillingly preparing a meal for her husband, obviously distracted by news of an explosion and the death of Young Brother.  We have a close-up of her hands cutting bread with a sharp carver & then after various switchings they stand opposite each other and presumably she jabs him. It was all so quick I didn’t see this but Mr Norris said he saw the knife in his stomach.  Then scenes in which the lady is anxious to go to prison but the Detective  (with sundry disgusting close-ups of  nasty floppy faces kissing) informs her that no passports are needed to go over to Boulogne (aren’t they?) and he is going to take her away, and all is well – God Save the King. 

May’s conclusion:
It was as incoherent and ever sillier than the Waltzes from Vienna, with Queen Victoria dancing about the stage, that I saw with Cousin in London the other day.  Just imagine the ingenuity of this invention being used to turn out stuff of this sort.  However MF and I got a good laugh now and then.  And so to bed.

Born in 1862, MM was 75 when she watched Sabotage, so perhaps unsurprisingly disconcerted by jump-cuts (‘switchings’) and barely-glimpsed violence.  But, however selective, her frame-by-frame summary is somewhat extraordinary and a tribute surely to Hitchcock’s cinematic power.  
 

 

 

Friday, 17 November 2017

May Morris on the Joys of Camping


IN SUMMER 1934 May Morris and Mary Frances Lobb (MF) took their annual camping holiday in mid-Wales – ‘an enchanting place by little Severn singing over his stones’, opposite ‘a grassy slope rising high to the sky’.
Postal deliveries never seem to have been a problem.  One day ‘a letter came addressed “To the Ladies in charge of the Camp” asking for an account of it’.  So, as it was blustery with icy wind and some rain, they composed an article.

Which was printed four days later in The County Times under the headline: ‘Reader’s Account of Life under Canvas / Defying the elements’ and quoting in full from Miss May Morris, of Kelmscott Manor, Lechlade, Gloucester:
From our home in the flats of upper Thames valley our holiday thoughts always turn to the hills and wild places of the west, where the curlews call.  This year it was to be somewhere near the source of the Severn, and study of the map showed Lanidloes as a point to start from in searching for a suitable camping-place.  Exploring up the valley, the trouble was to find a sheltered flat for setting up the tent.  But the ideal spot was discovered as though it called for us: close by Severn, in the lee of a  wooded hedge and sheltered from the winds; a mountain to north of us,  a mountain to south of us, and everywhere lovely growth of trees.  What is also important was it was well-fenced against cows and horses and wandering bulls.  Here for some peaceful weeks we listen to the hurrying water, keep house and cook (light tasks these, though we are house-proud and the tent always neat) and explore the glorious slopes of Plynlimon.  We are often asked, “How do you manage in bad weather?  Do you go up to the farm to sleep?”  Never, indeed!  We have camped in Outer Hebrides, on the Scots border, on the Cornish coast, by Cardigan Bay, on our own Berkshire Dows, and whatever the weather, we sit tight, wet or fine, sometimes listening to the drive of rain roaring on the tent or watching the veils of mist dancing fantastically across the hills, sometimes (rarely) making a trench to run the water away.  To take everything as it comes is the very spirit of adventure, and this one wouldn’t miss for all the comfort and security of stone walls.

It was fine when we set up tent and moved in, and the next day we sat and basked by the river; after that real mountain weather wet in – wind and rain with rare gleams of sun.  Severn often came gloriously in spate, so that our friends the ducks would not face it, but came quacking importantly and insistently to our front lawn, demanding bread, fighting and tumbling over each other  when they got it.   Of course the unexpected happens: i.e. coming back from a  long walk on the mountain one evening we received a shock: on opening up we found the provision-hamper upset, bacon , butter and lard gone, and all other goods strewn about, including our chief treasure, a huge pot of tent-made winberry jam well spread over everything, and the tent full of wasps.   This was the work of a very intelligent sheepdog, who astonishingly broke never an egg, nor a pot, nor a crock in getting what his soul craved for (having incidentally chewed a guy-rope to get inside).  So two tired women who had looked forward to a half-hour’s rest before getting supper, had to set to work to clean up. After the first surprise, we laughed till we ached – with always the note of sorrow – the winberry jam was gone.

One is never dull in camp, even in the worst weather: there are books, writing up diary, sketching, embroidery, cooking (easy and quick with a Primus stove) and the hours pass with incredible swiftness.  We are close by a  delightful Welsh farm, full of interesting furniture and fittings, the farmer and his wife the kindest and friendliest of people, a  pretty wee maid of two running to us talking Welsh – to which we always reply “Bore da i chwi” – our only Welsh.  It is a peaceful contemplative life.  When home again by the upper waters of the Thames we shall look back on our stay by this mountain river as a happy dream; at time there may be some sound or scent that brings it all back, and we shall say longingly, “The curlews are crying over Blaenhafren”.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

May Morris : New Perspectives





May Morris: Art & Life. New Perspectives, edited by Lynn Hulse

A new publication to complement the V&A/WMG volume,  this presents the original research papers from the 2016 Conference which explored May Morris's life and work from many different angles - as designer, craftswoman, teacher, historian, author, editor and heritage campaigner.  Contributors include: Jan Marsh, Anna Mason, Rowan Bain, Catherine White, Hanne Faurby & Jenny Lister, Lynn Hulse, Annette Carruthers, Helen Bratt-Wyton, Helen Elletson, Margaretta Frederick, Mary Greensted, Kathy Haslam and Julia Dudkiewicz.
 
This collection offers new insights into the business practices of Morris & Co.'s embroidery department under May's management; her intellectual and artistic response to medieval embroidery; her career as a teacher and educator; her support for other female artists through the Women's Guild of Arts and the reception of her lecture tour of the United States. New perspectives are also offered on her family relationships, political outlook and the active and influential role she played in preserving and shaping William Morris's legacy.
 
Published by the Friends of the William Morris Gallery and handsomely designed by Roger Huddle, the 256pp book has 96 images.  Price £20.00. plus £2.90 postage, it is  available from  Friends of the William Morris Gallery c/o Roger Huddle 31 Cottenham Rd London E17 6RP (07973443030)  and through the various properties associated with the Morris family.

Friday, 22 September 2017

MAY MORRIS AT COCK-A-LOFTY

view uphill towards Cock-a-Lofty today



IN SUMMER 1933 May Morris (MM) and Mary Frances Lobb (MF) spent a month above Hay-on-Wye, camping on a grassy spot beside a stream beneath woodland, on open ground known as Lower Tack Common.  I don’t know how they chose the location, which was presumably familiar to walkers climbing Hay Bluff and Lord Hereford’s Knob.  Starting from Kelmscott in Oxfordshire, they travelled to the Crown Hotel, Hay, and then ’went forth in a car driven by a young man with a brilliant red head, to hunt our camping ground’, on a stony road uphill beyond Cusop.  At New Forest Farm ‘Mr Gwllym, the son’ directed them further up to a wooded glen with a gurgling stream, where ‘very shortly we found a still likelier place (though thistly)  sheltered and graced with a lawn-like slope.’ 




The next day they shopped for supplies and drove back to the spot where – in May’s detailed holiday diary – ‘MF and I are soon busy destroying thistles with a sharp hoe we bought, so that when the boy comes up again with the camp outfit, we are ready to pitch the tent, perspiration dropping from every angle of us!’
‘The nearest farm is a small high-perched cottage standing out against the dimmer colours of “the Mountain”, as they call our nearest height (1500).  The delicious name is Cockaloftie (spelling?), kept by Miss Pryce.  We went to call on the lady in the evening, to ask if our mail might be delivered to her house.  The stream below was gay with forgetmenots and musk, and two pretty Hereford cows were grazing on the steep slope’.

The mail duly arrived at Cock-a-Lofty, brought right to the tent every morning, the postman even offering to wait for replies, and perhaps also indulging in curiosity regarding the campers, for May was over 70, elderly and slight, while MF was 55, robust, tall and customarily wearing countrywoman’s breeches.   Miss Pryce’s dog (‘collie by nature’) also visited daily, as did the cattle, annoyingly. ‘MF has to head them off. As it is they have dirtied our lawn’.


View from close to camping ground today
MF undertook much of the practical work, digging trenches, damming a pool in the stream, cooking on a primus stove. ‘We have a flat space, backed by a hollow against steep incline covered with bracken.  A bank alongside and in front a ‘lawn’ of fine grass where our beech-shaded parlour is,  sloping down to the stream. This little corner has a peculiar charm which never fails to touch me as I get the morning water; it curls at the foot of  a rounded hill’.

In Hay they bought butter, bread, ginger-biscuits and two large jars, which MF filled with 14lbs of jam made from whinberries –‘an immense success’ - stored in their alfresco larder.

New Forest Farm
At New Forest Farm below Cock-a-Lofty,  they met Mr Gwllym senior, ‘a tall handsome elderly man with an engaging smile’, who talked well and amusingly about a previous camping party that was drenched by rain.  MM and MF bought milk here, together with cream cheese made by Miss Gwllym.  Some days later Miss Gwilliam (MM was spelling phonetically) showed them the big oven, ‘which goes a great way back’, in which ‘she does all the baking once a week in the old-time way, bread and cakes and pies etc. It is a handsome old house which she keeps beautifully, unaided.  A fine staircase and there used to be a gate at the bottom of it.’

Below New Forest was Mrs Lloyd at Llangwathan, who offered them cider, ‘in the cool of a handsome old parlour, shining with cleanliness, with deep windows, great beams with bacon-hooks and panelled walls.’    The Lloyds called at the camp a day or so later, bearing cream and more cider, receiving coffee and cakes in response.  Later, MM and MF created a ‘Llangwathan cocktail’ combining the farm’s cider with their own whisky.  A fortnight later they were shown over the  gabled farmhouse, a ‘veritable little old Gothic building’ with fine internal doorways, oak-panelling and deep window-seats. The staircase was part-stone, part polished oak, leading to roomy attics and great beams with long cusped arches beneath the roof line.  Outside they admired the pink pigs and ‘put in a plea for one of the hams’, having previously tasted delicious home-cured slices from the Gwlliams.  Towards the end of their stay Mrs Lloyd sold ten pigs at Hereford market.

For a few days when MF was sick (blamed on a good lunch of goose, followed by beer and walking in hot sun) MM spent her time on embroidery and painting watercolour views ‘when the evening light was right for the fairy-like vision of the valley between cliff and hill.  Then an enormous yellow moon rose over the ferns in a cloudless sun-set sky.’  On their final evening Miss Pryce came down from Cock-a-Lofty to pick blackberries, saying ‘she wishes we lived somewhere up here’ so she might see them more often.
Entrance to camping ground today 

 



Friday, 1 September 2017

Saffron Walden



just some exceptionally ENGLISH images from Saffron Walden
  

  




 
 
 
In the handsome parish church, this home-made epitaph on the tomb of James Montieth, husband of Anne Holgate, who died in 1681 aged 47 is especially appealing thanks to its spelling of freind, which so often still appears unbidden today .
Forgive me worthy freind that I presume
To offer low incomiums on thy tomb
Had I the mighty Cowley's soul one hour
His flight of witt and his seraphick power
I'd doe thee right in such a hight of words
should outdoe time and all his dull Records
But hold there needs no strains of Art
to speak thy worth I'le speake thee as thou wert
of manly mean above the common rate
Exact proportion and of aspect great
A loyal subject and a generous freind
to the  most needy allways the most kind
A chast kind husband to a vertuous wife
true justice was the measure of thy life
But God who gave the blessing tookt away
hee has thy soule and wee (alas) thy clay
here let it rest in this cold mansion lye
till heaven shall take itt to Eternity
In sighs we'll celebrate thy memory.
 
 
 

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

British Street Portraits in Australia

 
Charles McGee, the London crossing sweeper from the 1820s, is fairly well known from  'London Life' prints,  but this is an unfamiliar  portrait by John Dempsey. Showing the shock of white hair, top hat and cudgel that must have been McGee's trademarks, it's in a sequence of 50 images that were presented to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in 1956, presumably by the descendant of a migrant.
Dempsey is described as an 'itinerant artist', which makes him sound blood-brother to his subjects, which is probably misleading.  The sequence is rather like a 'Cries of London' series, illustrating street vendors, but has a wider remit, and is in watercolour, therefore unique, although possibly conceived for a hand-coloured print edition; if so, are any copies known?
 
  Of the 50 sitters, three are of African ancestry, and the other two are in Norwich.
 
This figure is called 'Cotton'.  I'm assuming it's because he is selling reels of thread, though the image isn't quite clear, and the nickname may be an indirect allusion to his supposed earlier life in the  cottonfields of the American South.  His hat is a bit battered, like that of so many street vendors as portrayed in prints like these and those in Vagabondia.
 
The third figure is more  surprising, however.
 
 
'Black Charley' is a bootmaker, standing in the doorway of his shop, wearing a smart sprigged waistcoat in best Regency style, a snow-white stock, frock coat, breeches, gaiters and indoor shoes.  He looks plump and prosperous, hardly a street-seller. His shop has boots and shoes for gents and ladies and children.

This fascinating collection is currently on display at the Australian National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.  The full sequence is online here LINK

There's also a full catalogue, available here LINK

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Jenny Morris portrait


 
 
Jenny Morris c.1898 [NPG]
  
 The William Morris Gallery has a pastel drawing that has seldom if ever been seen.  It was purchased at the Kelmscott Manor sale by Mary Annie Sloane and identified as a portrait of Jenny Morris by Evelyn de Morgan.
[Apologies for the quality of the photo below - better ones in due course]
 

 It was later presented by Sloane to the WMG but seems to have been rather buried in the collection - possibly because Jenny's life story has been deemed so sad following the onset of then untreatable epilepsy  when she was about fifteen.  I assume it was drawn around 1904-5 when de Morgan was working on her painting The Hour Glass, which features Jane Morris as an allegory of age.

The De Morgans were good friends with the Morris family and paid visits to Kelmscott Manor, on one of which Evelyn drew the Manor in pencil.  But I'd guess that the portraits were done in London,  unless any further info emerges.  The Williams [Morris and de M] were of course business partners after a fashion but the friendship seems to have deepened when WdeM gave up lustreware in favour of fiction and had unexpected late success as a novelist.  The DeMs were quite heavily into esoteric mysticism, and I wonder if their conversations prompted Jane to her odd declaration of belief in reincarnation. 



Monday, 21 August 2017

Black is the New Black





 




News Release


 


Friday 18 August 2017  


 


NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY ACQUIRES LARGEST GROUP OF PORTRAITS OF AFRO-CARIBBEAN SITTERS FOR ITS PRIMARY COLLECTION


 


 


Naomi Campbell Trevor McDonald


 


Naomi Campbell by Simon Frederick, 2016 © Simon Frederick; Sir Trevor McDonald by Simon Frederick, 2016 © Simon Frederick   


 


 


The National Portrait Gallery has acquired thirty-seven portraits of black Britons chosen for their achievements in politics, business, culture, religion and science, it was announced today, Friday 18 August.  It is the Gallery’s largest acquisition of portraits of Afro-Caribbean sitters into its primary collection and will be the subject of a major display at the Gallery in November 2018.


 


The sitters, representing a group of people at the height of their achievements, were photographed by Simon Frederick for a BBC TWO documentary Black is the New Black. Shown in 2016 the sitters disclosed heartfelt stories and opinions to paint a unique portrait of modern Britain’s past, present and future. With the support of OATH, Simon Frederick has offered the entire portfolio of thirty-nine prints as a gift to the National Portrait Gallery.


 


These include model Naomi Campbell, newsreader and journalist Sir Trevor McDonald, actress Thandie Newton, musicians Jazzie B of Soul II Soul, Dizzee Rascal and Tinie Tempah, footballer Les Ferdinand and recently appointed Editor in Chief of British Vogue Edward Enninful.


 


Other popular figures include Maggie Aderin-Pocock, presenter of The Sky at Night; David Harewood, celebrated for his role in the Showtime series Homeland; former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, who has explored racism through her writing for children and young adults; Lord Morris, who became the first black leader of a major trade union in 1992; and John Sentamu who was appointed Archbishop of York in 2005, becoming Britain’s first black Archbishop. 


 


Artist and director Simon Frederick constructed still portrait photographs as well as filming the participants for Black is the New Black, a four-part documentary in which Frederick employed the power of talking heads with no archive footage or voiceovers.


 


    


 


Laura Mvula by Simon Frederick, 2016 © Simon Frederick; Edward Enninful by Simon Frederick, 2016 © Simon Frederick; Thandie Newton by Simon Frederick, 2016 © Simon Frederick; Tinie Tempah by Simon Frederick, 2016 © Simon Frederick


 

The acquisition is announced prior to a public talk by Simon Frederick at the National Portrait Gallery on Thursday 24 August 2017. Selected for the Gallery’s annual Slavery Remembrance Day talk, Simon Frederick will discuss the impact that the Gallery’s painting The Anti-Slavery Society Convention by Benjamin Robert Haydon of 1840 had on him as a child visiting the Gallery with his mother and how it led him to create Black is the New Black, allowing black people’s voices to be heard
and their experiences to be understood. The event at 7pm is free but ticketed www.npg.org.uk   

 

This event follows Simon Frederick’s last appearance at the Gallery in 2016 when he took part in a panel discussion about identity and achievement with three of the sitters in Black is the New Black Oswald Boateng, Ekow Eshun and Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock.

 

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘These striking portraits of black British sitters powerfully reflect the diversity and variety of contemporary British achievement in public life. The National Portrait Gallery is delighted to receive Simon Frederick’s very generous gift of photographs.’

 

Dr Phillip Prodger, Head of Photographs, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘Photographing with sensitivity and insight, Simon Frederick has made extraordinary portraits of some of the most influential Britons of our time. We are proud to welcome these works into our collection, where they will be seen, enjoyed, and celebrated for generations to come.’   

   

The acquisition represents an addition and update to Donald McLellan’s Black Power series, displayed and acquired by the Gallery in 1998. This portfolio includes some sitters not already represented in the Collection including journalist Gary Younge and singer Alesha Dixon.

 

Artist, photographer and director Simon Frederick’s work spans from celebrity portraiture to art exhibitions to global advertising campaigns and TV. He is known for his recent role as a lead judge and co-host alongside Isabella Rossellini on the Sky Arts programme Master of Photography and for his series Black is the New Black on BBC TWO.   

 

THE ACQUISITION Black is the New Black portfolio P2034-2072

by Simon Frederick, 2016

39 archival inkjet prints, each approx. 380 x 260 mm image size on paper 420 x 295 mm

 

DISPLAY Black is the New Black

National Portrait Gallery, November 2018 – January 2019