Posts Tagged ‘Alice in Wonderland

13
May
18

Exhibition: ‘Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography’ at the National Portrait Gallery, London Part 1

Exhibition dates: 1st March – 20th May 2018

Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography is curated by Phillip Prodger PhD, Head of Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Cover of the catalogue for the exhibition 'Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography' at the National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Cover of the catalogue for the exhibition Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography at the National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

A two-part bumper posting on this exhibition, Part 1 featuring the work of Lewis Carroll and our Julia… JMC, Julia Margaret Cameron, the most inventive, audacious and talented photographer of the era. In a photographic career spanning eleven years of her life (1864-1875) what Julia achieved in such a short time is incredible.

“Her style was not widely appreciated in her own day: her choice to use a soft focus and to treat photography as an art as well as a science, by manipulating the wet collodion process, caused her works to be viewed as “slovenly”, marred by “mistakes” and bad photography. She found more acceptance among pre-Raphaelite artists than among photographers.” (Wikipedia)

As with any genius (a person who possesses exceptional intellectual or creative power) who goes against the grain, full recognition did not come until later. But when it does arrive, it is undeniable. As soon as you see a JMC photograph… you know it is by her, it could be by no one else. Her “signature” – closely framed portraits and illustrative allegories based on religious and literary works; far-away looks, soft focus and lighting, low depth of field; strong men (“great thro’ genius”) and beautiful, sensual, heroic women (“great thro’ love”) – is her genius.

There is something so magical about how JMC can frame a face, emerging from darkness, side profile, filling the frame, top lit. Soft out of focus hair with one point of focus in the image. Beautiful light. Just the most sensitive capturing of a human being, I don’t know what it is… a glimpse into another world, a ghostly world of the spirit, the soul of the living seen before they are dead.

Love and emotion. Beauty, beautiful, beatified.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the National Portrait Gallery, London for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“My aspirations are to ennoble Photography and to secure for it the character and uses of High Art by combining the real & Ideal & sacrificing nothing of Truth by all possible devotion to poetry and beauty.”

.
Julia Margaret Cameron to Sir John Herschel, 31 December 1864

 

 

This major exhibition is the first to examine the relationship between four ground-breaking Victorian artists: Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79), Lewis Carroll (1832-98), Lady Clementina Hawarden (1822-65) and Oscar Rejlander (1813-75). Drawn from public and private collections internationally, the exhibition features some of the most breath-taking images in photographic history. Influenced by historical painting and frequently associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the four artists formed a bridge between the art of the past and the art of the future, standing as true giants in Victorian photography.

 

 

Figure 94 and 95 of the catalogue for the exhibition 'Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography' at the National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Figure 94 and 95 from the catalogue for the exhibition Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography at the National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)

In 1856, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) took up the new art form of photography under the influence first of his uncle Skeffington Lutwidge, and later of his Oxford friend Reginald Southey. He soon excelled at the art and became a well-known gentleman-photographer, and he seems even to have toyed with the idea of making a living out of it in his very early years.

A study by Roger Taylor and Edward Wakeling exhaustively lists every surviving print, and Taylor calculates that just over half of his surviving work depicts young girls, though about 60% of his original photographic portfolio is now missing. Dodgson also made many studies of men, women, boys, and landscapes; his subjects also include skeletons, dolls, dogs, statues, paintings, and trees. His pictures of children were taken with a parent in attendance and many of the pictures were taken in the Liddell garden because natural sunlight was required for good exposures.

He also found photography to be a useful entrée into higher social circles. During the most productive part of his career, he made portraits of notable sitters such as John Everett MillaisEllen TerryDante Gabriel RossettiJulia Margaret CameronMichael FaradayLord Salisbury, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

By the time that Dodgson abruptly ceased photography (1880, over 24 years), he had established his own studio on the roof of Tom Quad, created around 3,000 images, and was an amateur master of the medium, though fewer than 1,000 images have survived time and deliberate destruction. He stopped taking photographs because keeping his studio working was too time-consuming. He used the wet collodion process; commercial photographers who started using the dry-plate process in the 1870s took pictures more quickly.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98) 'Alice Liddell as 'The Beggar Maid'' Summer 1858

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98)
Alice Liddell as ‘The Beggar Maid’
also known as King Cophetua’s Bride
Summer 1858
Albumen silver print from glass negative
16.3 x 10.9cm (6 7/16 x 4 5/16in.)
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005
© Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Known primarily as the author of children’s books, Lewis Carroll was also a lecturer in mathematics at Oxford University and an ordained deacon. He took his first photograph in 1856 and pursued photography obsessively for the next twenty-five years, exhibiting and selling his prints. He stopped taking pictures abruptly in 1880, leaving over three thousand negatives, for the most part portraits of friends, family, clergy, artists, and celebrities. Ill at ease among adults, Carroll preferred the company of children, especially young girls. He had the uncanny ability to inhabit the universe of children as a friendly accomplice, allowing for an extraordinarily trusting rapport with his young sitters and enabling him to charm them into immobility for as long as forty seconds, the minimum time he deemed necessary for a successful exposure. The intensity of the sitters’ gazes brings to Carroll’s photographs a sense of the inner life of children and the seriousness with which they view the world.

Carroll’s famous literary works, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865) and “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There” (1872), were both written for Alice Liddell, the daughter of the dean of Christ Church, Oxford. For Carroll, Alice was more than a favourite model; she was his “ideal child-friend,” and a photograph of her, aged seven, adorned the last page of the manuscript he gave her of “Alice’s Adventures Underground.” The present image of Alice was most likely inspired by “The Beggar Maid,” a poem written by Carroll’s favourite living poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in 1842. If Carroll’s images define childhood as a fragile state of innocent grace threatened by the experience of growing up and the demands of adults, they also reveal to the contemporary viewer the photographer’s erotic imagination. In this provocative portrait of Alice at age seven or eight, posed as a beggar against a neglected garden wall, Carroll arranged the tattered dress to the limits of the permissible, showing as much as possible of her bare chest and limbs, and elicited from her a self-confident, even challenging stance. This outcast beggar will arouse in the passer-by as much lust as pity. Indeed, Alice looks at us with faint suspicion, as if aware that she is being used as an actor in an incomprehensible play. A few years later, a grown-up Alice would pose, with womanly assurance, for Julia Margaret Cameron.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98) 'Alice Liddell' Summer 1858

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98)
Alice Liddell
Summer 1858
Wet collodion glass-plate negative
6 in. x 5 in. (152 mm x 127 mm)
Purchased jointly with the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford, with help from the Art Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, 2002
© National Portrait Gallery, London and the National Media Museum (part of the Science Museum Group, London)

 

 

The fourth of ten children and later the inspiration for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass, Alice Liddell is the most famous of Carroll’s child sitters. Contrary to popular belief, Carroll did not photograph her particularly often, and never photographed her in the nude. Of the 2,600 photographs recorded by Carroll, only twelve solo portraits of Alice are known. By comparison, he made six individual portraits of Alice’s sister, Ina, and forty-five of another favoured sitter, Xie Kitchin (see preceding room). (Wall text)

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98) 'Ina Liddell' Summer 1858

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98)
Ina Liddell
Summer 1858
Albumen print
5 7/8 in. x 5 in. (150 mm x 126 mm) uneven
Purchased jointly with the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford, with help from the Art Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, 2002
© National Portrait Gallery, London and the National Media Museum (part of the Science Museum Group, London)

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98) 'Edith Mary Liddell; Ina Liddell; Alice Liddell Summer' 1858

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98)
Edith Mary Liddell; Ina Liddell; Alice Liddell
Summer 1858
Wet collodion glass plate negative
6 in. x 7 1/8 in. (154 mm x 181 mm)
Purchased jointly with the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford, with help from the Art Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, 2002
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98) 'Edith Mary Liddell; Ina Liddell; Alice Liddell Summer' 1858

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98)
Edith Mary Liddell; Ina Liddell; Alice Liddell
Summer 1858
Albumen print
6 1/8 in. x 6 7/8 in. (156 mm x 176 mm)
Purchased jointly with the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford, with help from the Art Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, 2002
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98) 'Edith Mary Liddell' Summer 1858

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98)
Edith Mary Liddell
Summer 1858
Albumen print
5 7/8 in. x 7 in. (148 mm x 177 mm) uneven
Purchased jointly with the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford, with help from the Art Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, 2002
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98) 'Hallam Tennyson, 2nd Baron Tennyson' 28 September 1857

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98)
Hallam Tennyson, 2nd Baron Tennyson
28 September 1857
Albumen print
5 1/8 in. x 3 7/8 in. (130 mm x 99 mm)
Purchased, 1977
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Hallam Tennyson (1852–1928), Alfred Tennyson’s eldest son, was five years old when Carroll photographed him at Monk Coniston Park in the Lake District. Taken while the poet and his family were visiting friends, the portrait shows Hallam standing on a chair, holding what may be a hoop rolling stick. Carroll posed him with his legs crossed – a tricky stance for such a young child to maintain. As an adult, Hallam would marry May Prinsep, Julia Margaret Cameron’s niece. Carroll did make one portrait of Alfred Tennyson during his Lake District trip, but he was determined to make more. In 1864, he visited the Isle of Wight to try to photograph him again, armed with a ‘carpet bag full’ of his photographs to show Cameron and others. He was unable to photograph Tennyson, but Cameron and Carroll staged a ‘mutual exhibition’ in Cameron’s living room. (Wall text)

Hallam Tennyson, 2nd Baron Tennyson, GCMG, PC (11 August 1852 – 2 December 1928) was a British aristocrat who served as the second Governor-General of Australia, in office from 1903 to 1904. He was previously Governor of South Australia from 1899 to 1902.

Tennyson was born in Twickenham, Surrey, and educated at Marlborough College and Trinity College, Cambridge. He was the oldest son of the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and served as his personal secretary and biographer; he succeeded to his father’s title in 1892. Tennyson was made Governor of South Australia in 1899. When Lord Hopetoun resigned the governor-generalship in mid-1902, he was the longest-serving state governor and thus became Administrator of the Government. Tennyson was eventually chosen to be Hopetoun’s permanent replacement, but accepted only a one-year term. He was more popular than his predecessor among the general public, but had a tense relationship with Prime Minister Alfred Deakin and was not offered an extension to his term. Tennyson retired to the Isle of Wight, and spent the rest of his life upholding his father’s legacy.

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98) ''Open your mouth, and shut your eyes' (Edith Mary Liddell; Ina Liddell; Alice Liddell)' July 1860

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98)
‘Open your mouth, and shut your eyes’ (Edith Mary Liddell; Ina Liddell; Alice Liddell)
July 1860
Wet collodion glass plate negative
10 in. x 8 in. (254 mm x 203 mm)
Purchased jointly with the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford, with help from the Art Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, 2002
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

The Liddell family arrived at Christ Church, Oxford in 1856, just as Carroll was beginning to take up photography. He and the family became close friends. Henry Liddell served as Dean of the College throughout Carroll’s career, and initially supported his photographic efforts. In 1863, Carroll and the family broke off relations for unknown reasons. Speculation has included disappointment that Carroll went against the family’s wishes by refusing to court their governess or one of the older Liddell children – Ina has been mentioned as a candidate. Carroll was enormously charmed by the Liddell children, all of whom he photographed, and nearly all of whom made their way into Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and other, related writings. (Wall text)

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98) 'The Rossetti Family' 7 October 1863

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98)
The Rossetti Family
7 October 1863
Albumen print
6 7/8 in. x 8 3/4 in. (175 mm x 222 mm)
Given by Helen Macgregor, 1978
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Carroll spent months trying to arrange an introduction to Rossetti (1828-82) so that he could photograph the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet, and his family. This is one of several photographs he made in the garden of Tudor House, 16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, during a four-day session in which he photographed the family and some of Rossetti’s artwork, including drawings of his late wife, Elizabeth Siddal.

The relationship between Carroll, Cameron, Hawarden, Rejlander and the Pre-Raphaelites was complex. They had many common friends and associates, and it is believed that several Pre-Raphaelite painters used photographs as studies for their paintings and sculpture. However, all four photographers were attracted to later styles of painting, especially the Spanish and Italian National Portrait Gallery, London Baroque, and the Dutch Golden Age. Led by the cantankerous critic John Ruskin, an associate of Henry Liddell’s at Oxford (Alice Liddell’s father), the Pre-Raphaelites were opposed to such painting, which they considered too literal and mundane. (Wall text)

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98) 'Dante Gabriel Rossetti' 7 October 1863

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
7 October 1863
Albumen print
5 3/4 in. x 4 3/4 in. (146 mm x 121 mm)
Purchased, 1977
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti (12 May 1828 – 9 April 1882), generally known as Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a British poet, illustrator, painter and translator. He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais. Rossetti was later to be the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement, most notably William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. His work also influenced the European Symbolists and was a major precursor of the Aesthetic movement.

Rossetti’s art was characterised by its sensuality and its medieval revivalism. His early poetry was influenced by John Keats. His later poetry was characterised by the complex interlinking of thought and feeling, especially in his sonnet sequence, The House of Life. Poetry and image are closely entwined in Rossetti’s work. He frequently wrote sonnets to accompany his pictures, spanning from The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1849) and Astarte Syriaca (1877), while also creating art to illustrate poems such as Goblin Market by the celebrated poet Christina Rossetti, his sister. Rossetti’s personal life was closely linked to his work, especially his relationships with his models and muses Elizabeth Siddal, Fanny Cornforth and Jane Morris. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98) 'Benjamin Woodward' Late 1850s

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98)
Benjamin Woodward
Late 1850s
Albumen print
8 in. x 6 in. (203 mm x 152 mm)
Purchased, 1986
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Irish-born architect Benjamin Woodward (1815-61) is best known for having designed a number of buildings in Cork, Dublin and Oxford in partnership with Sir Thomas Deane and his son Sir Thomas Newenham Deane. Inspired by the writings of critic John Ruskin, his most important buildings include the museum at Trinity College, Dublin (1853-7). Through Ruskin, Woodward met Dante Gabriel Rossetti and other Pre-Raphaelite artists, whom Woodward employed in 1857 to decorate his recently completed Oxford Union building. (Wall text)

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98) 'John Ruskin' 6 March 1875

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98)
John Ruskin
6 March 1875
Albumen print
3 1/2 in. x 2 1/4 in. (90 mm x 58 mm) overall
Given by an anonymous donor, 1973
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

John Ruskin (8 February 1819 – 20 January 1900) was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, as well as an art patron, draughtsman, water colourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects as varied as geology, architecture, myth, ornithology, literature, education, botany and political economy.

His writing styles and literary forms were equally varied. He penned essays and treatises, poetry and lectures, travel guides and manuals, letters and even a fairy tale. He also made detailed sketches and paintings of rocks, plants, birds, landscapes, and architectural structures and ornamentation. The elaborate style that characterised his earliest writing on art gave way in time to plainer language designed to communicate his ideas more effectively. In all of his writing, he emphasised the connections between nature, art and society.

He was hugely influential in the latter half of the 19th century and up to the First World War. After a period of relative decline, his reputation has steadily improved since the 1960s with the publication of numerous academic studies of his work. Today, his ideas and concerns are widely recognised as having anticipated interest in environmentalism, sustainability and craft. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98) 'Lewis Carroll' c. 1857

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98)
Lewis Carroll
c. 1857
Albumen print
5 1/2 in. x 4 5/8 in. (140 mm x 117 mm)
Purchased with help from Kodak Ltd, 1973
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Lewis Carroll took this photograph of himself with the assistance of Ina Liddell, Alice’s older sister. His diary records: ‘Bought some Collodion at Telfer’s […] and spent the morning at the Deanery … Harry was away, but the two dear little girls, Ina and Alice, were with me all the morning. To try the lens, I took a picture of myself, for which Ina took off the cap, and of course considered it all her doing!’ (Wall text)

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98) 'Alice Liddell' 25 June 1870

 

Lewis Carroll (1832-98)
Alice Liddell
25 June 1870
Albumen carte-de-visite
3 1/2 in. x 2 1/4 in. (91 mm x 58 mm)
Purchased jointly with the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford, with help from the Art Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, 2002
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

This is the only portrait of Alice that Carroll is known to have made after the publication of Alice in Wonderland, some seven years earlier. Showing Alice at age eighteen, the innocence of her earlier portraits has now completely drained away, replaced by a severe, inscrutable expression. The moment captured is unusually intimate, with Alice’s head lowered slightly and cocked to one side, looking up at the viewer, and her body slumped in a padded armchair. It is unclear whether Carroll orchestrated this pose, or whether Alice assumed it naturally. (Wall text)

 

 

The National Portrait Gallery is to stage an exhibition of photographs by four of the most celebrated figures in art photography, including previously unseen works and a notorious photomontage, it was announced today, Tuesday 22 August 2017.

Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography (1 March – 20 May 2018), will combine for the first time ever portraits by Lewis Carroll (1832-98), Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79), Oscar Rejlander (1813-75) and Lady Clementina Hawarden (1822-65). The exhibition will be the first to examine the relationship between the four ground-breaking artists. Drawn from public and private collections internationally, it will feature some of the most breath-taking images in photographic history, including many which have not been seen in Britain since they were made.

Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography will be the first exhibition in London to feature the work of Swedish born ‘Father of Photoshop’ Oscar Rejlander since the artist’s death. it will include the finest surviving print of his famous picture Two Ways of Life of 1856-7, which used his pioneering technique combining several different negatives to create a single final image. Constructed from over 30 separate negatives, Two Ways of Life was so large it had to be printed on two sheets of paper joined together. Seldom-seen original negatives by Lewis Carroll and Rejlander will both be shown, allowing visitors to see ‘behind the scenes’ as they made their pictures.

An album of photographs by Rejlander purchased by the National Portrait Gallery following an export bar in 2015 will also go on display together with other treasures from the Gallery’s world-famous holdings of Rejlander, Cameron and Carroll, which for conservation reasons are rarely on view. The exhibition will also include works by cult hero Clementina Hawarden, a closely associated photographer. This will be the first major showing of her work since the exhibition Lady Hawarden at the V&A in London and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles in 1990.

Lewis Carroll’s photographs of Alice Liddell, his muse for Alice in Wonderland, are among the most beloved photographs of the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection. Less well known are the photographs made of Alice years later, showing her a fully grown woman. The exhibition will bring together these works for the first time, as well as Alice Liddell as Beggar Maid on loan from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Visitors will be able to see how each photographer approached the same subject, as when Cameron and Rejlander both photographed the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson and the scientist Charles Darwin, or when Carroll and Cameron both photographed the actress, Ellen Terry. The exhibition will also include the legendary studies of human emotion Rejlander made for Darwin, on loan from the Darwin Archive at Cambridge University.

Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography celebrates four key nineteenth-century figures, exploring their experimental approach to picture-making. Their radical attitudes towards photography have informed artistic practice ever since.

The four created an unlikely alliance. Rejlander was a Swedish émigré with a mysterious past; Cameron was a middle-aged expatriate from colonial Ceylon (now Sri Lanka); Carroll was an Oxford academic and writer of fantasy literature; and Hawarden was landed gentry, the child of a Scottish naval hero and a Spanish beauty, 26 years younger. Yet, Carroll, Cameron and Hawarden all studied under Rejlander briefly, and maintained lasting associations, exchanging ideas about portraiture and narrative. Influenced by historical painting and frequently associated with the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, they formed a bridge between the art of the past and the art of the future, standing as true giants in Victorian photography.

Lenders to the exhibition include The Royal Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin; Munich Stadtsmuseum; Tate and V & A. Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography will include portraits of sitters such as Charles Darwin, Alice Liddell, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Thomas Carlyle, George Frederick Watts, Ellen Terry and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘The National Portrait Gallery has one of the finest holdings of Victorian photographs in the world. As well as some of the Gallery’s rarely seen treasures, such as the original negative of Lewis Carroll’s portrait of Alice Liddell and images of Alice and her siblings being displayed for the first time, this exhibition will be a rare opportunity to see the works of all four of these highly innovative and influential artists.’

Phillip Prodger, Head of Photographs, National Portrait Gallery, London, and Curator of Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography, says: ‘When people think of Victorian photography, they sometimes think of stiff, fusty portraits of women in crinoline dresses, and men in bowler hats. Victorian Giants is anything but. Here visitors can see the birth of an idea – raw, edgy, experimental – the Victorian avant-garde, not just in photography, but in art writ large. The works of Cameron, Carroll, Hawarden and Rejlander forever changed thinking about photography and its expressive power. These are pictures that inspire and delight. And this is a show that lays bare the unrivalled creative energy, and optimism, that came with the birth of new ways of seeing.’

Press release from the National Portrait Gallery

 

Figure 25 and 26 of the catalogue for the exhibition 'Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography' at the National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Figure 25 and 26 from the catalogue for the exhibition Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography at the National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Julia Margaret Cameron

In 1863, when Cameron was 48 years old, her daughter gave her a camera as a present, thereby starting her career as a photographer. Within a year, Cameron became a member of the Photographic Societies of London (1864) and Scotland. She remained a member of the Photographic Society, London, until her death. In her photography, Cameron strove to capture beauty. She wrote, “I longed to arrest all the beauty that came before me and at length the longing has been satisfied.” In 1869 she collated and gave what is now known as The Norman Album to her daughter and son-in-law in gratitude for having introduced her to photography. The album was later deemed by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art to be of “outstanding aesthetic importance and significance to the study of the history of photography and, in particular, the work of Julia Margaret Cameron – one of the most significant photographers of the 19th century.”

The basic techniques of soft-focus “fancy portraits”, which she later developed, were taught to her by David Wilkie Wynfield. She later wrote that “to my feeling about his beautiful photography I owed all my attempts and indeed consequently all my success”.

Lord Tennyson, her neighbour on the Isle of Wight, often brought friends to see the photographer and her works. At the time, photography was a labour-intensive art that also was highly dependent upon crucial timing. Sometimes Cameron was obsessive about her new occupation, with subjects sitting for countless exposures as she laboriously coated, exposed, and processed each wet plate. The results were unconventional in their intimacy and their use of created blur both through long exposures and leaving the lens intentionally out of focus. This led some of her contemporaries to complain and even ridicule the work, but her friends and family were supportive, and she was one of the most prolific and advanced amateurs of her time. Her enthusiasm for her craft meant that her children and others sometimes tired of her endless photographing, but it also left us with some of the best of records of her children and of the many notable figures of the time who visited her.

During her career, Cameron registered each of her photographs with the copyright office and kept detailed records. Her shrewd business sense is one reason that so many of her works survive today. Another reason that many of Cameron’s portraits are significant is because they are often the only existing photograph of historical figures, becoming an invaluable resource. Many paintings and drawings exist, but, at the time, photography was still a new and challenging medium for someone outside a typical portrait studio.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) 'Mary Fisher (Mrs Herbert Fisher)' 1866-67

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
Mary Fisher (Mrs Herbert Fisher)
1866-67
Albumen print

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) 'Julia Jackson' 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
Julia Jackson
1864
Albumen print

 

 

Born in Calcutta, Julia Prinsep Jackson (1846-95) was the youngest of three daughters of Maria Pattle and the physician John Jackson. Greatly admired by the leading artists of the day, both Edward Burne-Jones and G.F. Watts painted her and she was extensively photographed by her aunt and godmother Julia Margaret Cameron. Julia Jackson’s first husband, Herbert Duckworth, died in 1870 after only three years of marriage. She later married Leslie Stephen, editor of The Dictionary of National Biography. Together they had four children, including the painter Vanessa Bell and the writer Virginia Woolf. (Wall text)

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) 'Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty' 1866

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty
1866
Albumen print
©  Wilson Centre for Photography

 

 

Positioned high in the frame against a dark neutral backdrop, with piercing eyes and determined expression, the Mountain Nymph reveals the psychological charge of Cameron’s best portraits. The title derives from John Milton’s poem L’Allegro (published 1645): ‘Come, and trip it as ye go / On the light fantastick toe, / And in thy right hand lead with thee, / The Mountain Nymph, sweet Liberty’. Little is known about the sitter, Mrs Keene. She may have been a professional model as she also sat for the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones. (Wall text)

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) 'Virginia Dalrymple' 1868-70

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
Virginia Dalrymple
1868-70
Gernsheim Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) 'Marie Stillman (née Spartali)' 1868

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
Marie Stillman (née Spartali)
1868
Albumen cabinet card
5 1/4 in. x 3 7/8 in. (133 mm x 99 mm)
Given by Cordelia Curle (née Fisher), 1959
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Marie Euphrosyne Spartali (Greek: Μαρία Ευφροσύνη Σπαρτάλη), later Stillman (10 March 1844 – 6 March 1927), was a British Pre-Raphaelite painter of Greek descent, arguably the greatest female artist of that movement. During a sixty-year career, she produced over one hundred and fifty works, contributing regularly to exhibitions in Great Britain and the United States.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) ''La Madonna Aspettante' (William Frederick Gould; Mary Ann Hillier)' 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
‘La Madonna Aspettante’ (William Frederick Gould; Mary Ann Hillier)
1865
Albumen carte-de-visite on gold-edged mount
2 3/4 in. x 2 1/4 in. (70 mm x 56 mm)
Given by Cordelia Curle (née Fisher), 1959
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) ''The Kiss of Peace' (Elizabeth ('Topsy') Keown; Mary Ann Hillier)' 1869

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
‘The Kiss of Peace’ (Elizabeth (‘Topsy’) Keown; Mary Ann Hillier)
1869
Albumen print on gold-edged cabinet
5 1/8 in. x 3 7/8 in. (131 mm x 99 mm) image size
Given by Cordelia Curle (née Fisher), 1959
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) 'Daisy Taylor' 1872

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
Daisy Taylor
1872
Albumen print
14 3/8 in. x 9 3/4 in. (364 mm x 247 mm) image size
Given by Cordelia Curle (née Fisher), 1959
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) ''Alethea' (Alice Liddell)' 1872

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
‘Alethea’ (Alice Liddell)
1872
Albumen print
12 3/4 in. x 9 3/8 in. (324 mm x 237 mm) oval
Given by Cordelia Curle (née Fisher), 1959
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Lewis Carroll’s photographs of Alice Liddell are well-known; less familiar are the portraits Julia Margaret Cameron made of her years later, several of which respond directly to Carroll’s pictures. In this photograph, the twenty-year-old Alice is posed in full profile, much as Carroll depicted her in his famous seated portrait of 1858, shown nearby. However, Cameron shows Alice’s long wavy hair cascading in front of and behind her, merging with a background of blooming hydrangeas, the flowering of the plant echoing her coming of age. Cameron named the portrait after the Greek Aletheia, meaning ‘true’ or ‘faithful’. (Wall text)

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) 'Ellen Terry at Age Sixteen' 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
Ellen Terry at Age Sixteen
1864
Albumen print

 

 

With a stage career that began at the age of nine and spanned sixty-nine years, Ellen Alice Terry (1847-1928) is regarded as one of the greatest actresses of her time. She was particularly celebrated for her naturalistic portrayals. Already an established professional, she married the artist G.F. Watts, thirty years her senior, a week before her seventeenth birthday, the year this photograph was made. Although they separated after less than a year, Watts painted Ellen on several occasions. One such portrait is currently on view in Room 26, on the Gallery’s first floor. Cameron’s idea to use a photograph of a particular subject at a specific time to embody a broad, abstract concept was particularly bold. Many believed that photography was better suited to recording minute detail than communicating universal themes. (Wall text)

Dame Alice Ellen Terry, GBE (27 February 1847 – 21 July 1928), known professionally as Ellen Terry, was an English actress who became the leading Shakespearean actress in Britain. Born into a family of actors, Terry began performing as a child, acting in Shakespeare plays in London, and toured throughout the British provinces in her teens. At 16 she married the 46-year-old artist George Frederic Watts, but they separated within a year. She soon returned to the stage but began a relationship with the architect Edward William Godwin and retired from the stage for six years. She resumed acting in 1874 and was immediately acclaimed for her portrayal of roles in Shakespeare and other classics.

In 1878 she joined Henry Irving’s company as his leading lady, and for more than the next two decades she was considered the leading Shakespearean and comic actress in Britain. Two of her most famous roles were Portia in The Merchant of Venice and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. She and Irving also toured with great success in America and Britain.

In 1903 Terry took over management of London’s Imperial Theatre, focusing on the plays of George Bernard Shaw and Henrik Ibsen. The venture was a financial failure, and Terry turned to touring and lecturing. She continued to find success on stage until 1920, while also appearing in films from 1916 to 1922. Her career lasted nearly seven decades.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) 'Julia Prinsep Stephen (née Jackson, formerly Mrs Duckworth)' 1867

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
Julia Prinsep Stephen (née Jackson, formerly Mrs Duckworth)
1867
Albumen print, oval
13 1/2 in. x 10 3/8 in. (344 mm x 263 mm)
Given by Cordelia Curle (née Fisher), 1959
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Julia Prinsep Stephen, née Jackson (7 February 1846 – 5 May 1895) was a celebrated English beauty, philanthropist and Pre-Raphaelite model. She was the wife of the agnostic biographer Leslie Stephen and mother of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, members of the Bloomsbury Group.

Born in India, the family returned to England when Julia Stephen was two years old. She became the favourite model of her aunt, the celebrated photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron, who made over 50 portraits of her. Through another maternal aunt, she became a frequent visitor at Little Holland House, then home to an important literary and artistic circle, and came to the attention of a number of Pre-Raphaelite painters who portrayed her in their work. Married to Herbert Duckworth, a barrister, in 1867 she was soon widowed with three infant children. Devastated, she turned to nursing, philanthropy and agnosticism, and found herself attracted to the writing and life of Leslie Stephen, with whom she shared a mutual friend in Anny Thackeray, his sister-in-law.

After Leslie Stephen’s wife died in 1875 he became close friends with Julia and they married in 1878. Julia and Leslie Stephen had four further children, living at 22 Hyde Park Gate, South Kensington, together with his seven year old handicapped daughter. Many of her seven children and their descendants became notable. In addition to her family duties and modelling, she wrote a book based on her nursing experiences, Notes from Sick Rooms, in 1883. She also wrote children’s stories for her family, eventually published posthumously as Stories for Children and became involved in social justice advocacy. Julia Stephens had firm views on the role of women, namely that their work was of equal value to that of men, but in different spheres, and she opposed the suffrage movement for votes for women. The Stephens entertained many visitors at their London home and their summer residence at St Ives, Cornwall. Eventually the demands on her both at home and outside the home started to take their toll. Julia Stephen died at her home following an episode of influenza in 1895, at the age of 49, when her youngest child was only 11. The writer, Virginia Woolf, provides a number of insights into the domestic life of the Stephens in both her autobiographical and fictional work.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) 'Julia Prinsep Stephen (née Jackson, formerly Mrs Duckworth); Gerald Duckworth' August 1872

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
Julia Prinsep Stephen (née Jackson, formerly Mrs Duckworth); Gerald Duckworth
August 1872
Albumen print
8 1/2 in. x 12 1/8 in. (216 mm x 309 mm)
Given by Cordelia Curle (née Fisher), 1959
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) 'Robert Browning' 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
Robert Browning
1865
Albumen print
© Wellcome Collection, London

 

 

Cameron had a genius for recognising the expressive potential of chance events in her work. In this incomparable portrait, she allowed the many speck marks that cover this picture, caused by dust or debris settling on the plate after sensitising, to remain as part of the image. As a result, the poet Browning (1812-89) becomes a transcendent figure, seemingly emerging from a field of stars. Browning developed an early interest in literature and the arts, encouraged by his father who was a clerk for the Bank of England. He refused to pursue a formal career and from 1833, he dedicated himself to writing poems and plays. In 1846 he married the poet Elizabeth Barrett. The couple lived in Italy until Elizabeth’s death in 1861, five years before this picture was taken. (Wall text)

Robert Browning (7 May 1812 – 12 December 1889) was an English poet and playwright whose mastery of the dramatic monologue made him one of the foremost Victorian poets. His poems are known for their irony, characterisation, dark humour, social commentary, historical settings, and challenging vocabulary and syntax.

Browning’s early career began promisingly, but was not a success. The long poem Pauline brought him to the attention of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and was followed by Paracelsus, which was praised by William Wordsworth and Charles Dickens, but in 1840 the difficult Sordello, which was seen as wilfully obscure, brought his poetry into disrepute. His reputation took more than a decade to recover, during which time he moved away from the Shelleyan forms of his early period and developed a more personal style.

In 1846 Browning married the older poet Elizabeth Barrett, who at the time was considerably better known than himself, thus starting one of the most famous literary marriages. They went to live in Italy, a country he called “my university”, and which features frequently in his work. By the time of her death in 1861, he had published the crucial collection Men and Women. The collection Dramatis Personae and the book-length epic poem The Ring and the Book followed, and made him a leading British poet. He continued to write prolifically, but his reputation today rests largely on the poetry he wrote in this middle period.

When Browning died in 1889, he was regarded as a sage and philosopher-poet who through his writing had made contributions to Victorian social and political discourse – as in the poem Caliban upon Setebos, which some critics have seen as a comment on the theory of evolution, which had recently been put forward by Darwin and others. Unusually for a poet, societies for the study of his work were founded while he was still alive. Such Browning Societies remained common in Britain and the United States until the early 20th century.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) 'Thomas Carlyle' 1865

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
Thomas Carlyle
1865
Albumen print
Lent by Her Majesty The Queen

 

 

Cameron portrayed the eminent historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) completely out of focus – a disembodied, ethereal being, with light playing across his head, face, and beard.

Born in Scotland, Carlyle is considered one of the most important social commentators of his time. His ideas about the role of ‘great men’ in shaping history informed his lecture series and book On Heroes, Hero-Worship and The Heroic in History (1841). Instrumental in the founding of the National Portrait Gallery, he became one of its first Trustees. Carlyle was lifelong friends with Henry Taylor (shown in the next room), to whom Cameron was also close. (Wall text)

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) 'Sir John Frederick William Herschel, 1st Bt' 1867

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
Sir John Frederick William Herschel, 1st Bt
1867
albumen print
13 3/8 in. x 10 3/8 in. (340 mm x 264 mm)
Purchased, 1982
© Wilson Centre for Photography

 

 

Cameron portrayed astronomer and physicist John Frederick William Herschel (1792-1871) as a romantic hero, his wild white hair and shining eyes emerging from darkness. Cameron and Herschel were lifelong friends. They had met in South Africa in 1836, where he was mapping the sky of the southern hemisphere, and where she was recovering from illness. A pioneer in the invention of photography, Herschel was responsible for numerous advancements and is credited with coining the terms ‘negative’, ‘positive’, and ‘photograph’. He introduced Cameron to photography in 1839 and shared the results of his early experiments with her. Rejlander also photographed Herschel, several years previously. (Wall text)

Sir John Frederick William Herschel, 1st Baronet KH FRS (7 March 1792 – 11 May 1871) was an English polymath, mathematician, astronomer, chemist, inventor, and experimental photographer, who also did valuable botanical work. He was the son of Mary Baldwin and astronomer William Herschel, nephew of astronomer Caroline Herschel and the father of twelve children.

Herschel originated the use of the Julian day system in astronomy. He named seven moons of Saturn and four moons of Uranus. He made many contributions to the science of photography, and investigated colour blindness and the chemical power of ultraviolet rays; his Preliminary Discourse (1831), which advocated an inductive approach to scientific experiment and theory building, was an important contribution to the philosophy of science. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) 'Alfred, Lord Tennyson' 3 June 1869

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
3 June 1869
Albumen print
11 3/8 in. x 9 3/4 in. (289 mm x 248 mm)
Purchased, 1974
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Here, Cameron shows the poet emerging out of inky darkness, crowned by wild locks of hair on either side of his head, sporting an abundant beard, and framed by two points of his lapel. She positioned him on high, god-like and looking down, the viewer’s eye fixed at the height of his top button. (Wall text)

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) 'Charles Darwin' 1868-1869

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
Charles Darwin
1868-1869
Albumen print
13 in. x 10 1/8 in. (330 mm x 256 mm)
Purchased, 1974
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

In the summer of 1868, Darwin and his family rented a holiday cottage on the Isle of Wight from Cameron’s family. The visit gave Cameron the opportunity to make this famous photograph. Publically, Darwin wrote of this portrait: ‘I like this photograph very much better than any other which has been taken of me.’ Privately, he was less positive, describing it as ‘heavy and unclear’. This particular print once belonged to Virginia Woolf, who was Julia Margaret Cameron’s great niece. (Wall text)

 

 

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20
Sep
15

Exhibition: ‘Storm in a Teacup’ at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery, Mornington

Exhibition dates: 24th July – 27th September 2015

 

This is the best thematic group exhibition I have seen in Melbourne and surrounds this year.

Every piece in the exhibition is visually stimulating and intelligently constructed, all works combining to make an engaging exhibition. Nothing is superfluous, every work having something interesting to say, whether it is about the ceremony of tea drinking, colonisation, global warming, Stolen Generations or social mores. Congratulations must go to the curators and artists for their efforts.

Particular favourites where the Hotham Street Ladies Dark Tea (2015, below) made of royal icing, butter cream icing, fondant, food dye, and found objects; the many sculptural objects which form the backbone of the exhibition, especially the work of Sharon West and Penny Byrne; and the wonderful vintage photographs that are displayed in the foyer of the gallery.

Accompanying this exhibition is another excellent exhibition, Ways to draw: A selection from the permanent collection by Betty Churcher, on till 27th September as well. If you want a day out from Melbourne with lunch in Mornington, some seriously good art and a drive along the coast, you could do no better than visit the gallery in the next week. Highly recommended.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Hotham Street Ladies (est. Australia 2007) 'Dark tea' 2015

 

Hotham Street Ladies (est. Australia 2007)
Dark tea (installation photo)
2015
Royal icing, butter cream icing, fondant, food dye, found objects
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artists

 

Hotham Street Ladies (est. Australia 2007) 'Dark tea' 2015 (detail)

Hotham Street Ladies (est. Australia 2007) 'Dark tea' 2015 (detail)

 

Hotham Street Ladies (est. Australia 2007)
Dark tea (details)
2015
Royal icing, butter cream icing, fondant, food dye, found objects
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artists

 

Charles Blackman (b. Australia 1928) 'Feet beneath the table' 1956

 

Charles Blackman (b. Australia 1928)
Feet beneath the table
1956
Tempera and oil on composition board
106.5 x 121.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Barbara Blackman, Honorary Life Benefactor, 2005

 

 

Charles Blackman first encountered Lewis Caroll’s book, Alice in Wonderland, through a talking book for the blind which his wife, Barbara was listening to. Her developing blindness resulted in telescopic vision, spatial disorientation and a shrinking visual field. She was also pregnant with their first child and her distorted body image also had parallels with Alice’s experiences. By painting Alice at the Mad Hatter’s tea party Blackman could express his wife’s feeling of bewilderment and disorientation.

 

E. Phillips Fox (b. Australia 1865; d. Victoria 1915) 'The arbour' 1910

 

E. Phillips Fox (b. Australia 1865; d. Victoria 1915)
The arbour
1910
Oil on canvas
190.5 x 230.7 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest 1916

 

 

Melbourne born E. Phillips Fox, described as ‘one of the greatest of Australia’s Impressionist painters and the most gifted of her colourists’1 went to Paris in 1887 to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts where he encountered the work of the French Impressionists. He remained in Paris for several years but made frequent trips back to Melbourne to visit his family. The Arbour was painted in Paris in Fox’s garden but is based upon observations of family life in his brother’s garden in Malvern. The depiction of an elegant family taking tea al fresco is a study of refined gentility. The Arbour was exhibited at both the Royal Academy and the Paris Salon exhibitions and was regarded by Fox as the finest thing he had done.2 At the time the painting was much admired for its ‘subtle lights ad shadow’3 and his exemplary ‘use of delicate colour and refined harmonies.’4

  1. Courier Mail, 12 May 1949
  2. Sydney Morning Herald, 13 October 1913
  3. Sydney Morning Herald, 13 October 1913
  4. Le Courrier Australien, Sydney, 15 April 1949

 

Clare Humphries (b. Australia 1973) 'Some things were out in the open' 2007

 

Clare Humphries (b. Australia 1973)
Some things were out in the open
2007
Pigment print on Hahnemühle photo rag paper (ed. 3/5)
63.0 x 62.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Adam Hill (Blak Douglas) (b. Australia 1970) 'Not everyone’s cup of tea' 2009

 

Adam Hill (Blak Douglas) (b. Australia 1970)
Not everyone’s cup of tea
2009
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
150.0 x 260.0 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 2009

 

Kendal Murray (b. Australia 1958) 'Exceed speed, mislead, concede' 2011

 

Kendal Murray (b. Australia 1958)
Exceed speed, mislead, concede
2011
Mixed media assemblage
18.0 x 24.0 x 14.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Arthouse Gallery, Sydney

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965) 'Tea for two in Tuvalu' 2011

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965)
Tea for two in Tuvalu
2011
Vintage porcelain figurine, vintage, Action man accessories, vintage coral, glass fish, epoxy resin, epoxy putty, retouching medium, powder pigments
15.0 x 19.0 cm
Private Collection

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965) 'Tea for two in Tuvalu' 2011

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965)
Tea for two in Tuvalu (installation photo)
2011
Vintage porcelain figurine, vintage, Action man accessories, vintage coral, glass fish, epoxy resin, epoxy putty, retouching medium, powder pigments
15.0 x 19.0 cm
Private Collection

 

 

This piece was inspired by an underwater cabinet meeting held in 2009 by Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed in a campaign to raise awareness for activity on climate change. The thirty minute meeting was held six metres below sea level and was attended by eleven cabinet members calling upon all countries to cut their emissions to halt further temperature rises.

Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu, located in the Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and Australia, experienced a severe drought in 2011. A sate of emergency was declared and rationing of fresh-water took place which restricted households on some of the islands to two buckets of fresh water per day. Tuvalu is also especially susceptible to changes in sea level and it is estimated that a sea level rise of 20 to 40 centimetres in the next 100 years could make Tuvalu uninhabitable.

 

Kate Bergin (b. Australia 1968) 'The hunt for a room of one’s own' 2012

 

Kate Bergin (b. Australia 1968)
The hunt for a room of one’s own
2012
Oil on canvas on board
75.0 x 101.0 cm
Private Collection

 

 

Kate Bergin draws upon Dutch and Flemish seventeenth century tradition of still life painting to comment on our attitudes to animals. Bergin stages the scene on a crumpled white tablecloth upon which a large fox, based on a taxidermy fox she bought on eBay, regally sits centre stage. Meticulously rendered native birds, including a honeyeater, finch and triller, are based on photographs of specimens from the Melbourne Museum Collection. They flit about unperturbed by the introduced predator. Teaspoons, representing the impulse for collecting, entangle the fox and bird. Together with a teapot and cup, precariously placed, they contribute to the overarching sense of impending chaos.

Both afternoon tea and the fox represent English upper class social mores and were introduced into the colonies following British settlemnet. The fox arrived in 1855, brought in for recreational hunting, and has been a major cause of native bird extinctions. Fox numbers are increasing in some areas further threatening the precarious balance between wild life and introduced species.

 

Sharon West (b. Australia 1963) 'Two Koori Tribesmen receive a gift of afternoon tea from local colonists' 2014

 

Sharon West (b. Australia 1963)
Two Koori Tribesmen receive a gift of afternoon tea from local colonists (installation photo)
2014
Mixed media assemblage
15.0 x 46.0 x 30.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Heather Shimmen (b. Australia 1957) 'Tip me up' 2005

 

Heather Shimmen (b. Australia 1957)
Tip me up (installation photo)
2005
Linocut on paper and organza (ed. 7/30)
56.0 x 76.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Australian Galleries, Melbourne and Sydney

 

Trent Jansen (b. Australia 1981) 'Briggs family tea service' 2011

 

Trent Jansen (b. Australia 1981)
Briggs family tea service (installation photo)
2011
Slip cast porcelain, bull kelp, wallaby pelt, copper and brass
George (teapot) 22.5 x 20.5 x 13.0 cm; Woretermoeteyenner (sugar bowl) 16.0 x 13.5 x 9.0 cm; Dolly (milk jug) 12.5 x 12.5 x 8.5 cm; John (teacup) 7.0 x 8.5 x 8.0 cm; Eliza (teacup) 7.5 x 10.5 x 8.0 cm; Mary (teacup) 10.0 x 9.0 x 6.5 cm
Courtesy of Broached Commissions, Melbourne

 

 

The Briggs family tea service represents the marriage of George Briggs, a free settler, to Woretermoeteyenner of the Pairrebeenne people in Van Diemen’s Land and the four children they had together. Briggs arrived from Bedfordshire in 1791 and learned to speak the language of the local Pairrebeenne people, trading tea, flour and sugar fro kangaroo, wallaby and seal skins. It is understood that he became good friends with the leader of the Pairrebeenne people, Mannalargenna, and by 1810 he partnered his daughter Woretermoeteyenner. Their marriage meant she had to adapt to a way of life that merged her traditional cultural values with the ways of British settlers. The teapot and sugar bowl represent the parents while their first daughter, Doll Mountgarret Briggs is symbolised in the milk jug and the three cups each signify their other children John, Eliza and Mary.

The tea service is a hybrid design bringing together materials common to both cultures. To realize the set Jansen worked with Rod Bamford on the ceramic elements, Oliver Smith for the brass and copper and Vicki West, who uses the traditional methods of her Tasmanian Aboriginal ancestors, worked with the bull kelp components.

 

eX de Medici (b. Australia 1959) 'Blue (Bower-Bauer)' 1998–2000

 

eX de Medici (b. Australia 1959)
Blue (Bower-Bauer) (installation photo)
1998-2000
Watercolour over black pencil on paper
114.0 x 152.8 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 2004

 

eX de Medici (b. Australia 1959) 'Blue (Bower-Bauer)' 1998-2000 (detail)

 

eX de Medici (b. Australia 1959)
Blue (Bower-Bauer) (detail)
1998-2000
Watercolour over black pencil on paper
114.0 x 152.8 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 2004

 

 

A turning point in eX de Medici’s career came in 1998 when she saw an exhibition of watercolours by Ferdinand Bauer comprising 2,000 rarely seen images of native flora and fauna made when Bauer was official artist on Matthew Flinder’s historic circumnavigation of Australia in 1801-03. Previously working with tattoo imagery, Medici found the intricate works so compelling she decided to change course and ‘retrograde’ herself and explore watercolour as a medium.1

Referencing Australia’s Bower bird that adorns its nest with anything blue, Medici entangles the history of vanitas painting with commentary about the desire to seek permanence and affirmation in the accumulation of things. The broken willow pattern platter, upturned jugs and cups, amassed with so many other decorative and functional objects, are juxtaposed with skulls, fruit and flowers – symbols of mortality. A reaction to what she considered John Howard’s regressive politics at the time, the work ‘is a kind of a backhanded discussion about colonising our minds with retroactive ideas’.2

  1. Ted Gott. ‘eX deMedici an epic journey on a Lilliputian scale’ Art and Australia Vol. 40, No. 1, Spring 2002, p. 105
  2. eX deMedici in Paul Flynn. Artist Profile #5, March 2008, pp. 28-35.

 

 

Storm in a Teacup reflects upon tea drinking in Australia. Introduced by the British colonials, the afternoon tea party was an attempt to ‘civilise’ the land. Tea drinking became so popular in the colonies that by 1888 the amount of tea consumed per capita exceeded the amount consumed in England. Soon after, billy tea was to become an enduring symbol of the pioneering spirit, immortalised by Henry Lawson’s stories published under the title While the billy boils.

Beginning with elegant paintings of the afternoon tea table from E. Phillips Fox and Arthur Streeton, the exhibition goes on to explore the darker side of tea drinking and the social and environmental impacts of the humble cup of tea. Michael Cook’s Object (table), 2015, provides an alternative history to the narrative of colonialism while Sharon West and Adam Hill both use humour to subvert colonial understandings of the afternoon tea party as an occasion of refined gentility.

The humble cuppa has been around for thousands of years, but this exhibition explores how a popular beverage can impact on us culturally, socially, environmentally and politically. There is more to debate than just the proper way to make a cup of tea. Storm in a teacup explores far-reaching issues brewing from tea, including the imposition of one culture upon another – especially on the colonial frontier; the production of ceramics and the environmental impacts of porcelain and its production; gender stereotypes and socialisation through tea parties. The exhibition also reflects upon tea drinking ceremonies in Asia within a western Orientalist paradigm and tea drinking as an occasion for familial cohesiveness and disconnect.”

Text from the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Mark James Daniel (1867-1949) 'Verandah, "Harefield" - afternoon tea' Feb 1900

 

Mark James Daniel (1867-1949)
Verandah, “Harefield” – afternoon tea
Feb 1900
Glass negative
8.5 x 11.0 cm. (quarter plate)
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

Michael J Drew (1873-1943) 'Group taking tea in a garden' between 1890 and 1900

 

Michael J Drew (1873-1943)
Group taking tea in a garden
between 1890 and 1900
Glass negative
12.2 x 16.5 cm. (half plate)
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

Rex Hazlewood (1886-1968) '[Men drinking billy tea]' 1911 - 1927

 

Rex Hazlewood (1886-1968)
[Men drinking billy tea]
1911 – 1927
Silver gelatin print
Collection of the State Library of New South Wales

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Afternoon tea at "Vivaleigh"' 1917

 

Anonymous photographer
Afternoon tea at “Vivaleigh”
1917
Gelatin silver print
12 x 16 cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

James Fox Barnard (1874-1945) 'Lawn, Arylie, Hobart' c. 1900

 

James Fox Barnard (1874-1945)
Lawn, Arylie, Hobart
c. 1900
Glass negative
8.5 x 11.0 cm. (quarter plate)
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

James Fox Barnard (1874-1945) '[Tea on the verandah]' c. 1900

 

James Fox Barnard (1874-1945)
[Tea on the verandah]
c. 1900
Glass negative
8.5 x 11.0 cm (quarter plate)
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Storm in a Teacup' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Storm in a Teacup' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Storm in a Teacup' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Storm in a Teacup' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Storm in a Teacup' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Storm in a Teacup at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

 

“Tea is the medium of many a complex and commonplace rituals. Adopted in a variety of ceremonies and customs across the globe, its unique and symbolic place in our lives is subtle and powerful. Whether a quick cuppa around the kitchen table or a lavish display of refined gentility; from billy tea to Asian tea-drinking ceremonies, tea has played an important role in international trade but more curiously in facilitating social cohesiveness.

Comprising approximately 50 works including painting, photography, sculpture and installation Storm in a Teacup features artists such as Chares Blackman, John Perceval, Emma Minnie Boyd, E. Phillips Fox and contemporary artists Stephen Bowers, Danie Mellor, Penny Byrne, Rosalie Gasgoigne, Matthew Sleeth, eX de Medici, Anne Zahalka, Polixeni Papapetrou and a mad teaparty installation by Hotham Street Ladies.

Tea is said to have first been invented in China around 2700 BC, with the earliest records of tea consumption dating to 1000BC. Initially consumed as a medicinal drink, it became widely popular as a common beverage and traded across Asia and Europe during the 16th century. It was King Charles II’s wife Catherine of Portugal who is said to have brought the tea habit to Great Britain. Indeed, the afternoon tea party first became fashionable in the seventeenth century following Queen Catherine de Braganza’s fondness for serving the beverage at Whitehall in London. It wasn’t until the 18th century that it became widely consumed with tea smuggling bringing the tipple to the masses and later influenced the Boston Tea Party.

Tea drinking became a demonstration of social aspirations and grew in popularity giving rise to a subtle orchestration of manners, dress and serving paraphernalia which created new forms of commodity consumption. In the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria afternoon tea parties were a lavish display of settler understandings of refined gentility that were an attempt to signal allegiance to the values of the home country and ground the displaced community in their originating culture. In this respect the afternoon tea party expressed collective understandings of British identity and was a means of domesticating and civilizing the alien terrain of the colonies.”

Press release from the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Clare Humphries (b. Australia 1973) 'Family confection II' 2015

Clare Humphries (b. Australia 1973) 'Family confection II' 2015

 

Clare Humphries (b. Australia 1973)
Family confection II (installation photos)
2015
Sugar cubes stained with coffee and tea
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist

 

Giuseppe Romeo (b. Australia 1958) Subjective landscape, 'Of consequence rather than reason' 2015

DSC1644-WEB

 

Giuseppe Romeo (b. Australia 1958)
Subjective landscape, ‘Of consequence rather than reason’ (installation photos)
2015
Found discarded objects, bitumen, paint
80.0 x 100.0 x 60.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Guiseppe Rome asks the simple question: ‘What are you going to do with it all?’

Romeo recalls the tea sets his mother and aunts possessed and the ‘good set’ kept for special occasions that were rarely used. In this work a silver platter is the support for a silver cake stand upon which a teapot, creamer, sugar bowl and various serving implements jostle with items required to clean up the mess. The bat, ball and stumps are a reference to playing cricket which ‘became an excuse for a big afternoon tea party in England’. A ribbon of wire holds it all together ‘like a dream from Alice in Wonderland when nothing is as it seems’, while a tinkling melody from a music box is a lullaby that sends us in to a contented sleep.

Romeo coats the sculpture in bitumen then paints it entirely in white. The effect is reminiscent of excavated items from an ancient ruin, as if w are peering upon the remains from a modern day Pompeii – artefacts that have been covered in lava and buried. This work alludes to the ways in which we deceive ourselves and ‘attempt to keep it all together through consumption but ultimately we can’t’.

 

Samantha Everton (b. Australia 1971) 'Camellia' 2009

 

Samantha Everton (b. Australia 1971)
Camellia
2009
From the series Vintage dolls 2009
Pigment print on rag paper (ed. AP2)
106.0 x 114.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Anthea Polson Art, Queensland

 

Robyn Phelan (b. Australia 1965) 'Porcelain wall – ode to an obsession' 2010-15

 

Robyn Phelan (b. Australia 1965)
Porcelain wall – ode to an obsession (installation photo)
2010-15
Porcelain, paperclay, cobalt oxide, timber, pigment, Jingdezhen tissue transfer
240.0 x 122.0 x 42.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Robyn Phelan (b. Australia 1965) 'Porcelain wall – ode to an obsession' 2010-15 (detail)

 

Robyn Phelan (b. Australia 1965)
Porcelain wall – ode to an obsession (detail)
2010-15
Porcelain, paperclay, cobalt oxide, timber, pigment, Jingdezhen tissue transfer
240.0 x 122.0 x 42.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Robyn Phelan undertook a residency at the Pottery Workshop and Experimental Sculptural Factory of Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province in China in 2008. Jingdezhen is known as the porcelain capital because it has been the centre of China’s ceramic production, beginning in the fourteenth century Yuan Dynasty, where fine porcelain was first exported all over the world.

Deposits of kaolinite, a clay found at Mt Kaolin nearby which can sustain very high firing temperatures produced a superior white porcelain of increased strength and translucency. Items made from kaolinite were fired with cobalt landscape designs and were highly sought after by European collectors. Over the centuries, because of excessive mining, the mountain’s deposits have become depleted. Phelan’s work is a lament to the desecration of the mountain and a reminder of the potential destructiveness of consumer desire.

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965) '‘Let’s forget about global warming’ said Alice ‘and have a cup of tea instead!’' 2010

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965)
‘Let’s forget about global warming’ said Alice ‘and have a cup of tea instead!’ (installation photo)
2010
Vintage porcelain figurine, found toys, epoxy resin, epoxy putty, retouching medium, powder pigments
80.0 x 33.0 cm
Williams Sinclair Collection

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965) '‘Let’s forget about global warming’ said Alice ‘and have a cup of tea instead!’' 2010 (detail)

 

Penny Byrne (b. Australia 1965)
‘Let’s forget about global warming’ said Alice ‘and have a cup of tea instead!’ (detail)
2010
Vintage porcelain figurine, found toys, epoxy resin, epoxy putty, retouching medium, powder pigments
80.0 x 33.0 cm
Williams Sinclair Collection

 

 

Penny Byrne’s reworked porcelain conversation piece was motivated by Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s cry to ‘drill, baby, drill’ during her campaign in 2008. A call for increase off-shore drilling of petroleum, including sites such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Palin claimed ‘that’s what we hear all across the country in our rallies because people are so hungry for those domestic sources of energy to be tapped into’.1

In Byrne’s piece the patriotic figures gorge themselves, blithely overindulging without care to the wastage. The new Disney production of Alice in Wonderland directed by Tim Burton had just been released and this led Byrne to reflect upon the Mad Hatter’s tea party in which tea was drunk all day because time stood still and was stuck at tea-time.

  1. Transcript: The Vice-Presidential Debate, 2 October 2008. Reprinted in the New York Times, 23 May 2012.

 

Sharon West (b. Australia 1963) 'Joseph Banks’ tea party for a Botany Bay tribesman is ruined by flies and spiders' 2014

 

Sharon West (b. Australia 1963)
Joseph Banks’ tea party for a Botany Bay tribesman is ruined by flies and spiders
2014
Digital print on paper (ed. 2/5)
66.0 x 57.0 cm (sheet)
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Sharon West’s recreation of an afternoon tea party is set in the early days of first contact. Joseph Banks was the botanist who sailed with Captain Cook on the Endeavour on the first voyage of discovery which mapped the east coast of Australia between 1768 and 1771. While ashore he made an extensive collection of native flora and fauna which was sent back to natural history museums in England. Banks was also instrumental in the British government’s decision to colonise the New South Wales settlement.

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (b. New Zealand 1917; arr. Australia 1943; d. Canberra 1999) 'The tea party' 1980

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (b. New Zealand 1917; arr. Australia 1943; d. Canberra 1999)
The tea party (installation photo)
1980
Painted wood, celluloid, plastic, enamelled metal, feathers
83.0 x 35.0 x 20.0 cm
Private collection

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (b. New Zealand 1917; arr. Australia 1943; d. Canberra 1999) 'The tea party' 1980 (detail)

 

Rosalie Gascoigne (b. New Zealand 1917; arr. Australia 1943; d. Canberra 1999)
The tea party (detail)
1980
Painted wood, celluloid, plastic, enamelled metal, feathers
83.0 x 35.0 x 20.0 cm
Private collection

 

 

Rosalie Gascoigne found the kewpie dolls amongst a large number of discarded things from an abandoned sideshow at the Bungendore dump in the summer of 1976. ‘I thought “Oh, those dollies, they’re having a … very joyful … picnic. They’re … in the paddock, they’ve got all these old things … they’ve sat down on the teapots and waved their wings around.”

For Gascoigne beauty existed in the most humble of objects and the wear and tear from use only added to the appeal. The enamel teapots were also found at various dumps and were a particular focus of her collecting.

‘I had a thing about enamelware because I see it as being elegant. People see the holes in it. I was collecting brown and white at the same time. To me it had a sort of elegance that a Dalmatian dog has, spotty, very elegant’.1

  1. Rosalie Gascoigne, excerpts from her correspondence, email communication with Martin Gascoigne, 13 March 2015

 

Julie Dowling (b. Australia 1969) Badimaya people, Western Australia 'White with one' 2003

 

Julie Dowling (b. Australia 1969)
Badimaya people, Western Australia
White with one
2003
Synthetic polymer paint and red ochre on canvas
121.0 x 100.0 cm
Collection of Jane Kleimeyer and Anthony Stuart

 

 

Julie Dowling’s painting is a poignant reminder of the Stolen Generations and the plight of many young girls, forcibly removed from their families, who were brought up in government institutions and trained to be domestic servant to white families. Girls were targeted because women were considered the ‘uplifters’ or ‘civilisers’ of their communities and as future mothers their education into the values of white society was deemed essential to enable successful assimilation. Girls in service were supposed to receive a wage but often this was retained by their employer and not passed on. Dowling points out it is also a history of Stolen wages.

 

Michael Cook (b. Australia 1968) Bidjara people, south-west Queensland 'Object (table)' 2015

 

Michael Cook (b. Australia 1968)
Bidjara people, south-west Queensland
Object (table)
2015
Inkjet print on Hahnemühle cotton rag (ed. 2/4 + 2AP)
140.0 x 99.0 cm
Courtesy of the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery, Melbourne

 

 

Michael Cook’s photographic tableau ‘turns the table’ on racism. By depicting the body of a white woman as a functional object in service to others, Cook considers the dehumanisation and objectification of one race of people by another in the history of slavery.

The double portrait on the back wall is by Johann Zoffany from 1778, and features Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804) who was born into slavery in the West Indies. The daughter of an African mother, her father was an English naval officer who left her to the care of his uncle, Lord William Murray, where she was raised as an equal with Murray’s niece. Murray was instrumental in outlawing slavery in the United Kingdom in 1772. In the painting Zoffany depicts the two women standing together, the niece affectionately reaching out to Belle. Hence Cook’s afternoon tea is also a reminder that prejudice and racial inequality can be surmounted.

 

Yenny Huber (b. Austria 1980; arr. Australia 2000) 'Room No. 14' 2006

 

Yenny Huber (b. Austria 1980; arr. Australia 2000)
Room No. 14
2006
Digital print on aluminium panel (ed. 1/6)
27.2 x 27.2 cm
Warrnambool Art Gallery, Victoria

 

 

Underpinned by the belief that any one person is comprised of diverse, fragmentary and often illusory selves, Yenny Huber explores the various ego states that reside within. This photograph is a self portrait taken in a hotel room, but it is also an impersonation of an identity available to women. Tea-drinking was once described as ‘an infallible sign of an old maid’1 and in this work Huber offers us an image of a good Catholic girl, knees together, elbows in, sitting demurely on the couch sipping tea. It is an image of femininity constrained by the dictates of religion and outdated socially sanctioned ideals of respectable female behaviour.

  1. The Horsham Times, Victoria, 26 April 1898

 

Anne Zahalka (b. Australia 1957) 'Saturday 5.18 pm 1995' 1995 (printed 1997)

 

Anne Zahalka (b. Australia 1957)
Saturday 5.18 pm 1995
1995 (printed 1997)
Type C photograph (ed AP)
125.0 x 162.0 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Gift of the artist, 2011
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Civic Reserve, Dunns Road, Mornington

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery website

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26
Feb
14

Film: ‘All This Can Happen’

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“The highest and the lowest, the most serious and the most hilarious things are to the walker equally beloved, beautiful and valuable…”

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Dislocation
Displacement
Discontinuity
Death
Dance
Despair
Documentary

Scene
Seen
Single
Multiple
Surreal
Mundane
Storyline

Sound
Subject
Space

Encounters
Engagements
Negotiations

Time
Memory
Location
Voice
Touch

Walking
Flaneur

Body
Soul

Life itself!

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Marcus

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Created by Siobhan Davies and filmmaker David Hinton in 2012, All This Can Happen is a film constructed entirely from archive photographs and footage from the earliest days of cinema.

Based on Robert Walser’s novella The Walk (1917), the film follows the footsteps of the protagonist as series of small adventures and chance encounters take the walker from idiosyncratic observations of ordinary events towards a deeper pondering on the comedy, heartbreak and ceaseless variety of life. A flickering dance of intriguing imagery brings to light the possibilities of ordinary movements from the everyday which appear, evolve and freeze before your eyes. Juxtapositions, different speeds and split frame techniques convey the walker’s state of mind as he encounters a world of hilarity, despair and ceaseless variety.

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“To walk in the city is to experience the disjuncture of partial vision/partial consciousness. The narrativity of this walking is belied by a simultaneity we know and yet cannot experience. As we turn a corner, our object disappears around the next corner. The sides of the street conspire against us; each attention suppresses a field of possibilities. The discourse of the city is a syncretic discourse, political in its untranslatability. Hence the language of the state elides. Unable to speak all the city’s languages, unable to speak all at once, the state’s language become momunental, the silence of headquarters, the silence of the bank. In this transcendent and anonymous silence is the miming of corporate relations. Between the night workers and the day workers lies the interface of light; in the rotating shift, the disembodiment of lived time. The walkers of the city travel at different speeds, their steps like handwriting of a personal mobility. In the milling of the crowd is the choking of class relations, the interruption of speed, and the machine. Hence the barbarism of police on horses, the sudden terror of the risen animal.”

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Stewart
, Susan. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993, p. 2. Prologue.

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Trailer from All This Can Happen
2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Alice in Wonderland' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Alice in Wonderland
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of BFI National Archive

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Leap Frog' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Leap Frog
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of BFI National Archive

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Cheshire Territorials' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Cheshire Territorials
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of BFI National Archive

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Otto the Giant' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Otto the Giant
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of British Pathé

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“All This Can Happen, a 50-minute film by David Hinton and choreographer Siobhan Davies, opens with images of men who cannot walk. One lies immobile in a hospital bed, his head trembling, eyes vacant with torment. Another, also institutionalised, tries to walk but fails. He falls, scrambles and falls again, his whole body stiff with malfunction.

All this did happen. Every frame of this remarkable film comes from old, mostly black and white archive footage, complete with scratches and fingerprints. It is neither documentary nor constructed reality, but rather a wholly unexpected film adaptation of a short story by Swiss writer Robert Walser (1878-1956), about a man going for a walk.

The story, to which those opening images serve as a prologue, recounts the sights, sounds, encounters and musings of a day’s meandering: children playing in a school, a visit to the tax office, a display of women’s hats, a stroll through a forest, an argument with a tailor. Lovingly voiced by John Heffernan, the narration treats each moment, each thought and perception, with equal consideration, whether it is a gripe about automobiles, a memory of unbearable anguish, the sound of sublime music, or a chat with a dog. “The highest and the lowest, the most serious and the most hilarious things,” he explains, “are to the walker equally beloved, beautiful and valuable…

…the narration establishes a supple continuity, yet though the imagery follows the story devotedly, it has no contituity. It leaps between locations, splices scenes, switches subjects, and roams freely between poetic and literal modes, between the fantastic, the scientific, the surreal and the mundane. It seems able to let the whole world in, and still stay true to a singular storyline.

The imagery is discontinuous in other senses too. The screen is often split into multiple frames so that we notice how highly composed the film is. The frames themselves often freeze fleetingly, arresting the flow of time. Such stops literally give us pause; they let us take a moment. In fact, the whole film could be seen as the encounter between continuity – the story, the voice, time itself – and composition, or indeed choreography: the framing of action, the placement of sound, the arrangement of subjects and space.

But the reason to watch this film is not because it is artful and thoughtful, though it is that. It is because it restores us to our senses, because it touches – gently – both body and soul. To walk, it suggests, is to be in the world. A world that is physical, full of texture and sound and sensation; that is abstract, a matrix of space and time; that is imaginary, teeming with fantasies and terrors, desires, hopes and regrets; that is social, marked by encounters, engagements, negotiations; a world that is human. As a walk of life, All This Can Happen is, quite naturally, also shadowed by death, by not-walking, by not moving in space and time. “Where would I be,” asks the walker, “if I was not here? Here, I have everything. And elsewhere, I would have nothing.” All this it finds equally beloved, beautiful and valuable.

Sanjoy Roy. Excerpt of Review of All This Can Happen, by Siobhan Davies and David Hinton on the Aesthetica Magazine Blog website

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Miniature Writer' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Miniature Writer
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of British Pathé

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Hints and Hobbies' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Hints and Hobbies
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of AP Archive  British Movietone

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Ears' and 'Birth of a Flower' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Ears and Birth of a Flower
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of Wellcome Library, London and AP Archive  British Movietone

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton. 'Banff Scotland' and 'I Saw This' 2012

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Siobhan Davies and David Hinton
Banff Scotland and I Saw This
2012
Still from All This Can Happen
Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division and Yorkshire Film Archive

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Siobhan Davies Dance website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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