Posts Tagged ‘John Ruskin

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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St Martin’s Place
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Thursday – Friday 10am – 9pm

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01
Jul
17

Review: ‘Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy’ at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 27th April – 8th July 2017

This project has been supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria

 

PLEASE NOTE: I am still recovering from my hand operation which is going to take longer than expected. All of the text has been constructed using a dictation programme and corrected using only my right hand – a tedious process. I have to keep my mental faculties together, otherwise this hand will drive me to distraction… Marcus

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1-3' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 1-3
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type prints
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 1
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 2' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 2
C-type print
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“While I’m interested in portraiture – I don’t consider my work as portraiture because that suggests that I’m trying to portray myself, my own visage, my own image. I employ images, icons, materials, metaphors to capture and idea and moment in time. There are many different things at play; taking a picture of myself is really the last thing that’s on my mind.”

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Christian Thompson in conversation with Hetti Perkins, catalogue extract

 

“I’m interested in simple aesthetic gestures that can say something … something quite profound about the world that we live in. I tend to build images how I create a sculpture. I borrow from the world around me.”

On being away from home: “You’re able to remove yourself from the local discourse, and romanticise home. When you’re displaced you tend to gravitate towards certain memories … But this is who I am. It would be weird not to express that somehow. I combine memories of my past with my lived experience and an idea of where I’d like to be … it’s all montaged into one.”

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Christian Thompson

 

“But Thompson makes things up. His ‘We bury our own’ does not let us see the early daguerreotype but improvises a series of fugues on its spiritual essence. This is the crucial step that Thompson has taken: if you repeat the spectacle you cannot escape the past. But if you, a spiritual descendant, transmogrify yourself in keeping with the aura of the image’s subject, during the prolonged period of encounter and immersion, you can ‘repatriate’ that forebear. Or so he desires.”

“Through these conjurings of the language his people spoke before colonisation set out to strip them of their culture as well as their land, Christian Thompson performs private ceremonies – to reach beyond visual statements of personal presence and reawaken the knowledge of his forebears, and allow us, his listeners and viewers, into their living story.”

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Marina Warner. “Magical Aesthetics,” extracts from the catalogue essay

 

 

Still singing, still Dreaming,
still loving… not dying.

This is a strong survey exhibition of the work of contemporary Australian Indigenous artist and Bidjara man exploring the world, Christian Thompson. As with any survey exhibition, it can only give us a glimpse into the long standing development of the artist’s work, inviting the viewer to then research more fully the themes, conceptual acts and bodies (of work) that have led the artist to this point in his artistic development. Having said that the exhibition, together with its insightful catalogue essays and additional images that do not appear in the exhibition, allow the viewer to be challenged intellectually, aesthetically and most importantly … spiritually. And to be somewhat conflicted by the art as well, it has to be said.

Thompson’s “multidisciplinary practice explores notions of cultural hybridity, along with identity and history, creating works that transcend cultural boundaries.” His self-reflexive and self-referential bodies of work, often with the artist using his body as an “armature for his characters, costumes and various props,” are intuitive and imaginative in how they relate Aboriginal and Australian/European history, taking past time into present time which influences future time. Time, memory, history, space, landscape are conflated into one point, enunciated through acts of ritual intimacy. These ritual intimacies, these performative acts, are enabled through an understanding of a regularised and constrained repetition of norms (in this case, the declarative power of colonialism), where the taking of a photograph of an Aboriginal person (for example), is “a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death controlling and compelling the shape of the production…” (Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, p. 95).

What is so heartening to see in this exhibition is a contemporary Indigenous artist not relying on re-animating colonial images of past injustices, but re-imagining these images to produce a spiritual connection to Country, to place, to people in the present moment. As Charlotte Day, Director, MUMA and Hetti Perkins, guest curator observe in the wall text at the beginning of the exhibition, “Rather than appropriating or restaging problematic ethnographic images of indigenous ancestors held in the Museum’s photographic collection, Thompson has chosen to spend significant periods of time with these images, absorbing their ‘aura’ and developing a personal artistic and deferential response that is decisively empowered.” As Marina Warner states in her excellent catalogue essay “Magical Aesthetics”, these ritual intimacies are a “magical re-animation and adopt time-honoured processes of making holy – of hallowing. Adornment is central to ritual and a prime way of glorifying and consecration.” What Thompson is doing is not quoting but translating the source-text into new material. As Mary Jacobus notes of the work of the painter Cy Twombly, “Quotation involves the repurposing of an existing text: translation requires a swerve from the source-text as it finds new directions and enters unknown terrain.” (Mary Jacobus. Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint.  Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016, p. 7).

This auto-ethnographic exploration and adornment leads to a deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation of time in a heterotopic space, juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites of contestation – Thompson’s travels and research from around the world, the embodiment in his own culture and that of contemporary Australia, pop culture, fashion, music and language – where, as Hetti Perkins says, “the unknowable is a lovely thing” and where Thompson can affect and influence “the Zeitgeist through more subversive means.” These spaces of ritualised production overlaid with memory, imagination, desire, and nostalgia, these fragmented images, become a process and a performance in which Thompson seeks to ameliorate the objects aura through a process of ‘spiritual repatriation’. Thompson’s performativity is where the ritual of production and meaning is never fully predetermined at any stage of production and reception.

Here, in terms of ‘aura’ and ‘spirit’, I am interested in the word “repatriation”. Repatriation means to send (someone) back to their own country – from the verb repatriare, from re- ‘back’ + Latin patria ‘native land’. It has an etymological link to the word “patriot” – from late Latin patriota ‘fellow countryman’, from Greek patriōtēs, from patrios ‘of one’s fathers’, from patris ‘fatherland’ – and all the imperial connotations that are associated with the word. So, to send someone back (against their own will? by force?) or to be patriotic, as belonging to or coming from, the fatherland. A land that is father, farther away. Therefore, it is with regard to a centralised, monolithic body and its materialities (for the body is usually centrally placed in Thompson’s work) in Thompson’s instinctive works, that relations of discourse and power will always produce hierarchies and overlappings which are going to be contested. As Judith Butler notes,

“That each of those categories [body and materiality] have a history and a historicity, that each of them is constituted through the boundary lines that distinguish them and, hence, by what they exclude, that relations of discourse and power produce hierarchies and overlappings among them and challenge those boundaries, implies that these are both persistent and contested regions.” (Judith Butler. Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, pp. 66-67)

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Thus performativity is the power of discourse, the politicisation of abjection, and the ritual of being.

This is where I become conflicted by much of this work. Intellectually and conceptually I fully understand the instinctive, intuitive elements behind the work (crystals, flowers, maps, butterflies, dreams) but aesthetically I feel little ‘aura’ emanating from the photographs. Thompson’s “peripatetic life and your bowerbird, magpie-like fascination” (p. 107) lead to all sorts of influences emerging in the work – orange from The Netherlands, Morris dancers from England, Jewish heritage, Aboriginal and Australian heritage, fashion, pop culture, music, language – all evidenced through “acts of concealment in his self-portraits.” (p. 75). Now there’s the rub!

In Thompson’s ritual intimacies the intimacy is performed only once, for the camera. It is not didactic, but it is interior and hidden, leaving much to the feelings of the viewer, looking. The re-presentation of that intimacy is performed by the viewer every time they look at the art. I think of the work of one of my favourite performance artists, Claude Cahun, where the artist inhabits her personas, adorning her androgynous face with costume after costume to become something that she wants to become – a buddha, a double, a harpy, a lunatic or a doll with equal ease. Cahun is always and emphatically herself, undermining a certain authority… and she produces indelible images that sear the mind.

I don’t get that from Thompson. I don’t know who he really is. Does it matter? Yes it does. In supposedly his most autobiographic work (according to Hetti Perkins), the video Heat (2010, below) the work emerges out of Thompson’s memories of growing up in the desert surrounding Barcaldine in central west Queensland where “heat captures the sensation that he associates with being on his country: the dry wind blowing through his hair.” Perhaps for him or someone from the desert country like Hetti Perkins (as she states in the catalogue), but not for me. I feel no ‘heat’ from these three beautiful woman standing in a contextless background with a wind machine blowing their hair. The only ‘heat’ I felt was perhaps the metaphoric heat of colonisation, violence and abuse thrust on a vulnerable culture.

Talking of vulnerable cultures, in the work Polari (2014, below) Thompson invokes the history of languages in an intimate ritual “as he seeks to reanimate and repossess vanishing knowledge. Polari is a private language … a kind of code used by sailors, circus and fairground folk, and in gay circles. … Thompson’s Polari series warns us that the artist has a language of his own, which we can overhear but not fully understand: something is withheld, in contrast to the imposed and implacable exposure which the subjects of scientific collections were made to suffer in the past.” (Warner, p. 74) But why is he using Polari specifically, a language that is strongly associated with the libertine gay culture of the 1950s-70s? Does he have a right to use this word and its linguistic heritage because he is gay? It is never stated, again another thing left hidden, concealed and unresolved.

Although no culture can ever fully own its language (language is a construct after all) … if Thompson is not gay, then I would take exception to his invoking the Polari language, just as an Indigenous artist would take exception to me using Bidjara language in an art work of my own. I remember coming out in London in 1975 and speaking Polari myself when it was still being used in pubs and clubs such as the A + B club in Soho. It was not being used as a language of resistance, far from it, but as a language of desire. It was a language used to inculcate that desire. As a video on YouTube observes of speaking Polari, “you didn’t think, oh God I’m so oppressed I can never speak about myself, you just did it, you just slipped into it without thinking.” It was your own language, like a comfortable pair of slippers. Does Thompson understand how using that word to title a body of work could be as offensive to some people as he finds the denaturing of his own culture? For me this is where the work really becomes problematic, when an artist does not enunciate these connections, where things, like sexuality, remain hidden. Similarly, with historical photographs of Indigenous people taken for ethnographic study, Thompson fails to acknowledge the work of academics such as Jane Lydon and her important books Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians (2005) and Photography, Humanitarianism, Empire (2016) where she unpacks the historical baggage of the images and notes that the photographs were not solely a tool of colonial exploitation. Lydon articulates an understanding in Eye Contact that the residents of Coranderrk, an Aboriginal settlement near Healsville, Melbourne, “had a sophisticated understanding of how they were portrayed, and they became adept at manipulating their representations.” Again, there is more than meets the eye, more than just ‘spiritual repatriation’ of aura.

For me, the magic of this exhibition arrives when Thompson lets go all obfuscation, let’s go all actions that make something obscure, unclear, or unintelligible. Where his ritual intimacies become grounded in language, earth and spirit. This happens in the video works, Desert slippers (2006, below), Refuge (2014, below), Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) (2011) and Dhagunyilangu (Brother) (2011, below). In these videos, the Other’s gaze disintegrates and we are left with poignant, heart felt words and actions that engage history, emotion, family and Country.

The video Desert slippers “features a Bidjara ritual in which a father and son transfer sweat. The desert slipper is a native cactus that symbolises the transferal of the spirit back to earth as the plant grows.” It is simple, eloquent, powerful, present. The other videos feature two baroque singers from Europe and Thompson singing in his native tongue Bidjara (Bidyara, Pitjara), a language that Wikipedia states “is an extinct Australian Aboriginal language. In 1980 it was spoken by twenty elders in Queensland, between Tambo and Augathella, Warrego and Langlo rivers.” Spelt out in black and white. Extinct. To hear Thompson sing a berceuse (French, from bercer ‘to rock’), or lullaby in his native language, a language taught to him by his father, is the most emotional of experiences. The work “combines evocative chanting and electronic elements to invoke the cultural experiences and narratives of his Bidjara culture,” and “is premised on the notion that if one word of Bidjara is spoken, or sung in this case, it remains a living language.” Amen to that.

This is the real hallowing, not the dress ups or the concealments. It is in these videos that the raw material of his and his cultures experience is transmuted into living, breathing stories, in an alchemical transmutation, a magical re-animation of past time into present and future time. My transfiguration into a more spiritual state was complete when listening in quiet contemplation. For I was given, if only for a very brief moment, access to the pain of our first peoples and a vision of hope for their future healing.

Still singing, still Dreaming,
still loving… and certainly not dying.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 2,053

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Many thankx to MUMA for allowing me to publish the photographs and videos in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“At the heart of my practice is a concern with aura: what it is, how it can be photographed and how it can be repatriated.”

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Christian Thompson

 

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled #6' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled #6
2010
From the series King Billy
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring stills from the video Berceuse (2017)

 

 

Christian Thompson
Berceuse (extract installation view)
2017
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.47 minutes
Sound design: Duane Morrison

 

 

Christian Thompson
Berceuse
2017
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.47 minutes
Sound design: Duane Morrison

 

 

In this newly commissioned work, Thompson sings a berceuse – a cradle song or lullaby – that combines evocative chanting and electronic elements to invoke the cultural experiences and narratives of his Bidjara culture. Intended as a gesture of re-imagining his traditional Bidjara language, which is been categorised as extinct, the work is premised on the notion that if one word of Bidjara is spoken, or sung in this case, it remains a living language.

Thompson makes subtle reference to his maternal Sephardic Jewish roots by ruminating in this work on the lullaby Nani Nani:

 

Lullaby, lullaby
The boy wants a lullaby,
The mother’s son,
Who although small will grow.

Oh, oh my lady open,
Open the door,
I come home tired,
From ploughing the fields.

Oh, I won’t open them,
You don’t come home tired,
You’ve just come back,
From seeing your new lover.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring the series Museum of Others (2016)

 

Installation view of 'Museum of Others (Othering the Ethnologist, Augustus Pitt Rivers)' 2016

 

Installation view of Museum of Others (Othering the Ethnologist, Augustus Pitt Rivers) 2016

 

Christian Thompson. 'Museum of Others (Othering the Anthropologist, Walter Baldwin Spencer)' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Museum of Others (Othering the Anthropologist, Walter Baldwin Spencer)
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

Installation view of 'Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook)' 2016

 

Installation view of Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook) 2016

 

Christian Thompson. 'Othering the Explorer, James Cook' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook)
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Equilibrium' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Equilibrium
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

 

Museum of others is Thompson’s most recent photographic series and continues to reflect on his time at the University of Oxford. It features several ‘dead white males’ from the pantheon of British and Australian culture. The explorer, the ethnologist and the anthropologist all had roles in the process of colonisation in Australia but the art critic is particular to Thompson; Ruskin was the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at University of Oxford, just as Thompson was one of its first Australian Aboriginal students. Thompson explains his motivation for the series:

“Historically, it was the western gaze that was projected onto the ethnic other and I thought I’ll create a ‘museum of others’ and I’ll be the one othering, so to speak. ‘Equilibrium’ is based around the idea that the vessel is the equaliser. The vessel is the cradle of all civilisations. We all have that in common.”

Wall text from the exhibition

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring photographs from the series We bury our own 2010 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

We bury our own is a body of work that was developed in response to the historic collection of photography, featuring Aboriginal people from the late nineteenth century, at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Thompson noted in 2012 that these early images “have permeated my work over the last year. They have remained at the forefront of every artistic experiment and they have pushed me into new territory, they have travelled with me… I was drawn to elements of opulence, ritual, homage, fragility, melancholy, strength and even a sense of play operating in the photographs…”

Each of Thompson’s lyrical photographic images from We bury our own and Pagan sun feature himself partially disguised with props and costumes. The works are virtually monochromatic with elements highlighted in full colour, and his eyes, or face, are partially concealed or painted. The use of votive objects is explained in his equally lyrical 2012 statement: “I lamented the passing of the flowers at the meadow, I lit candles and offered blood to the ancestral beings, looked into the black sparkling sea, donned the Oxford garb, visited the water by fire light and bowed at the knees of the old father ghost gum.”

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Energy Matter' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Energy Matter
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Lamenting the flowers' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Lamenting the flowers
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Forgiveness of Land' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Forgiveness of Land
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Down Under World' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Down Under World
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

 

“I conceived the We Bury Our Own series in 2010 after curator Christopher Morton invited me to develop a body of work that would be inspired by and in dialogue with the Australian photographic collection at the Pitt Rivers Museum…

The archival images have permeated my work over the last year. They have remained at the forefront of every artistic experiment and pushed me into new territory; they have travelled with me to residencies at the Fonderie Darling in Montreal and Greene Street Studio, New York. I was drawn to elements of opulence, ritual, homage, fragility, melancholy, strength and even a sense of play operating in the photographs. The simplicity of a monochrome and sepia palette, the frayed delicate edges and the cracks on the surface like a dry desert floor that reminded me of the salt plains of my own traditional lands.

I wanted to generate an aura around this series, a meditative space that was focused on freeing oneself of hurt, employing crystals and other votive objects that emit frequencies that can heal, ward off negative energies, psychic attack, geopathic stress and electro magnetic fields, and, importantly, transmit ideas.

I lamented the passing of the flowers at the meadow, I lit candles and offered blood to the ancestral beings, looked into the black sparkling sea, donned the Oxford garb, visited the water by fire light and bowed at the knees of the old father ghost gum. I asked the photographs in the Pitt Rivers Museum to be catalysts and waited patiently to see what ideas and images would surface in the work, I think with surprising results. Perhaps this is what art is able to do, perform a ‘spiritual repatriation’ rather than a physical one, fragment the historical narrative and traverse time and place to establish a new realm in the cosmos, set something free, allow it to embody the past and be intrinsically connected to the present?

I heard a story many years ago from some old men, they told me about a ceremony where young warriors would make incisions through the flesh exposing the joints, they would insert gems between the bones to emulate the creator spirits, often enduring infection and agonizing pain or resulting in death. The story has stuck with me for many years, one that suggests immense pain fused with intoxicating beauty. The idea of aspiring to embody the creators, to transgress the physical body by offering to our gods our spiritual heart, freeing ourselves of suffering by inducing a kind of excruciating decadent torture. This was something that played on my mind during the production of this series of photos and video work. The deliverance of the spirit back to land – the notion that art could be the vehicle for such a passage, the aspiration to occupy a space that belongs to something higher than one’s physical self.”

Christian Thompson

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Ship of dreams, Ancient bloom, Death’s second self, and Gods and kings from the series Imperial relic 2015 (C-type prints) and a still from the video dead tongue 2015
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

In Dead tongue Thompson continues to interrogate the implications of England’s empirical quest on the former colonies of the British Empire through the threat to or loss of Indigenous languages. In works such as this, Thompson actively challenges the perception that Aboriginal culture has become reduced to a captured trophy of Empire.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Ship of dreams, Ancient bloom, Death’s second self, and Gods and kings from the series Imperial relic 2015 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

In … Imperial relic, he continues to use himself as the ‘armature for his characters, costumes and various props’. Drawing on his background in sculpture, he has created ‘wearable sculptures’ including a trumpet shaped shirt collar, an eruption of white flowers from a union jack hoodie, and an armature of maps. In each his face is partially or fully obscured again. “I’m interested in ideas of submission and domination,” he says. “So the trumpet headpiece is beautiful, but it also potentially muffles or silences the voice. The same thing with maps: they are purporting different kinds of historical narrative, depending who is telling the story. One is about the history of Indigenous people, one is about the history of white colonisers and then one is about the idea of charting the land and of discovery. I’m wearing it as an armature over my own body: that’s part of my own history but also of Australian history.”

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ancient bloom' 2015

 

Christian Thompson
Ancient bloom
2015
From the series Imperial relic
C-type print on fuji pearl metallic paper
100 x 100 cm
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ship of dreams' 2015

 

Christian Thompson
Ship of dreams
2015
From the series Imperial relic
C-type print on fuji pearl metallic paper
100 x 100 cm
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

The series title Imperial relic, summarises the fundamental philosophy underpinning the colonial occupation of Australia. Like the nearby series We bury our own, it is closely connected to Thompson’s studies in the collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum and shares with the Australian graffiti series Thomson’s physical presence is standing in for the Australian landscape.

The work Ancient bloom alludes to the phonograph horn out which might be heard the voice of Fanny Cochran Smith, who’s wax cylinder recordings of songs are the only historical audio recordings of any of the Tasmanian Aboriginal languages. Is also represents a Victorian-era shirt collar – a motif that has appeared in Thompson’s work since his Emotional striptease series of 2003 – but here is exaggerated into a soft-sculptural form that both projects and stifles the voice.

In Death’s second self the artist’s face is uncovered but distorted by make up and digital postproduction effects.The title quotes William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73:

As after sunset fadeth in the west, 
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In God and Kings Thompson is cloaked with a map of Aboriginal language groups like a coat of armour. In the Ship of dreams he reprises the motif of Australian flora obscuring his face but here his hoodie is stitched together from several flags: the red ensign (flown by British registered ships), the RAAF flag and the Australian flag.

 

“I’m interested in ideas of submission and domination … So the trumpet headpiece is beautiful, but it also potentially muffles or silences the voice. The same thing with maps: they are purporting different kinds of historical narrative, depending who is telling the story. One is about the history of Indigenous people, one is about the history of white colonisers and then one is about the idea of charting the land and of discovery. I’m wearing it as an armature over my own body: that’s part of my own history but also of Australian history.”

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Christian Thompson

 

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Isabella kept her dignity, I’m not going anywhere without you, Dead as a door nail and Hannah’s diary from the series Lost together 2009 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

On 13 February 2008 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an official apology to Aboriginal Australians for the Stolen Generations – the children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families between 1910 and 1970 under the respective Federal and State government policies of assimilation. At the time, Thompson was preparing to leave Australia for further studies aboard and felt this historic gesture allowed him to proudly take his culture and history with him as he ventured into the world.

Thompson photographed the series Lost together in the Netherlands while studying at the DasArts Academy of Theatre and Dance at Amsterdam University. The theme of the orange throughout the series is a reference to the national colour of the Netherlands, while the tartan patterning refers to early clan societies in the United Kingdom. The combination of these different styles is based on counter-cultural aesthetics – particularly punk collage of 1970s London.

 

Christian Thompson. 'Hannah's Diary' 2009

 

Christian Thompson
Hannah’s Diary
2009
From the series Lost Together
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

MUMA | Monash University Museum of Art is proud to announce the first major survey exhibition of the work of Bidjara artist, Christian Thompson, one of Australia’s leading and most intriguing contemporary artists.

Thompson works across photography, video, sculpture, performance and sound, interweaving themes of identity, race and history with his lived experience. His work is held in the collections of major state and national art museums in Australia and internationally.

Thompson made history as one of the first two Aboriginal Australians to be accepted into the University of Oxford as a Charlie Perkins Scholar, where he completed his Doctorate of Philosophy (Fine Art) in 2016. Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy opens as the artist looks forward to the graduation ceremony in July, when he will be conferred his degree.

Featuring a major new commission created for this exhibition, Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy will survey Thompson’s diverse practice, spanning fifteen years, and will also be accompanied by the publication of the first monograph on the artist’s career and work, including essays by Brian Catling RA and Professor Dame Marina Warner DBE, CBE, FBA, FRSL.

The specially commissioned installation will be an ambitious multichannel composition, developing the sonic experimentation that is a signature of Thompson’s work. Incorporating Bidjara language, it will invite viewers into an immersive space of wall-to-wall imagery and sound:

“Bidjara is officially an endangered language but my work is motivated by the simple yet profound idea that if even one word of an endangered language is spoken it continues to be a living language,” Thompson says.

Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy explores the unique perspective and breadth of Thompson’s practice from the fashioning of identity through to his ongoing interest in Indigenous language as the expression of cultural survival. The new multichannel work will develop musical ideas Thompson has previously explored.

“It will be a much more ambitious iteration of a song in Bidjara. At one stage I’m singing on one screen and then other versions of me appear singing the melodies. I really see it as an opportunity to do something that’s more complex musically, more textured sonically – I also want it to be more intricate with my use of language,” the artist says.

Ritual Intimacy is curated by MUMA director Charlotte Day and guest curator Hetti Perkins. Day explains that the exhibition is part of MUMA’s Australian artist series, which affords the opportunity to look at each artist’s practice in depth. “Christian’s exhibition traces a particularly productive period of research and development, from early well-known works such as the Australian Graffiti series to more recent experiments with language in sound and song works,” Day says.

A long-time curatorial collaborator with Thompson, Perkins is the writer and presenter of art + soul, the ABC’s acclaimed television series about contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. Thompson was accepted to Oxford University on an inaugural Charlie Perkins Scholarship, set up to honour Hetti Perkins’s famous father – a leader, activist and the first Aboriginal Australian to graduate from university. Perkins says the MUMA exhibition is well-earned recognition for Thompson’s work, which she featured in the second series of art + soul.

“Christian has spent periods of his adult life, as a practicing artist, away from home, but there is a common thread in his work, and it’s this connection to home or Country,” Perkins says. “In terms of the rituals or rites of the exhibition title, he is constantly reiterating that connection to home – through words, through performance, through his art, through ideas and writing,” she says.

Alongside performance and ritual, Thompson’s concept of “spiritual repatriation” is central to his work. Working with the Australian collection at famed ethnographic storehouse the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, the artist was offered copies of colonial photographs of Aboriginal people but preferred not to work this way. Instead, he chose to spend significant periods of time with these ancestral images, absorbing their “aura” in order to then make his own artistic response that did not reproduce those original problematic images.

Dr Christian Thompson is a Bidjara contemporary artist whose work explores notions of identity, cultural hybridity, and history; often referring to the relationships between these concepts and the environment. Formally trained as a sculptor, Thompson’s multidisciplinary practice engages mediums such as photography, video, sculpture, performance, and sound. His work focuses on the exploration of identity, sexuality, gender, race, and memory. In his live performances and conceptual anti-portraits he inhabits a range of personas achieved through handcrafted sculptures and carefully orchestrated poses and backdrops.

Press release from MUMA

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring the series Polari (2014)

 

 

‘Polari’ is a form of cant or cryptic slang that evolved over several centuries from the various languages that converged in London’s theatres, circuses and fairgrounds, the merchant navy and criminal circles. It came to be associated with gay subculture, as many gay men worked in theatrical entertainment or joined ocean liners as waiters, stewards and entertainers at a time when homosexual activity was illegal. This slang rendered the speaker unintelligible to hostile outsiders, such as policeman, but fell out of use after the Sexual Offences Act (1967) effectively decriminalised homosexuality in the United Kingdom. Attracted to the theatricality and defiant nature of Polari (which he likens to the situation of Australian Indigenous languages under assimilationist policies), Thompson borrowed its name for the series which examines how subcultures express themselves.

 

Christian Thompson. 'Siren' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Siren
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity II' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Trinity II
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity III' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Trinity III
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ariel' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Ariel
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ellipse' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Ellipse
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

Polari was a form of slang used by gay men in Britain prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, used primarily as a coded way for them to discuss their experiences. It quickly fell out of use in the 70s, although several words entered mainstream English and are still used today. For more about Polari see Wikipedia.

 

 

Author and academic Paul Baker of Lancaster University discusses a form of gay slang known as Polari that was spoken in Britain. It was a secret type of language used mainly by gay men and some lesbians and members of the trans, drag and other communities in the United Kingdom in the 20th century until it largely died out by the early 1970s.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Refuge
2014
Video and sound
4 mins 18 secs

 

Refuge is a video work by contemporary Australian artist Christian Thompson. Thompson sings in the endangered Bidjara language of his heritage. A collaboration with James Young formerly of ‘Nico’ and recorded the original track in Oxford, United Kingdom.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring stills from the video Heat (2010)

 

 

Christian Thompson
Heat (extract)
2010
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.52 minutes

 

 

Like the Australian graffiti photographs [see photographs below], Heat come out of Thompson’s memories of growing up in the desert surrounding Barcaldine in central west Queensland. Barcaldine is famous for its role in the foundation organised labor in Queensland and ultimately the formation of the Australian Labor Party. It also holds historical significance for Thompson’s family as it is where his great-great-grandfather, Charlie Thompson, surreptitiously bought a block of land before Aboriginal people could legally buy land, creating a safe haven for his family and other Aboriginal families at the time when Aboriginal people had few legal rights. For Thompson, heat captures the sensation that he associates with being on his country: the dry wind blowing through his hair. It features the three granddaughters of Aboriginal rights pioneer Charlie Perkins, who are the daughters of Thompson’s Long time collaborator Hetti Perkins.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring photographs from the series Australian graffiti (2007)

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (Blue Gum)' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled (blue gum)
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (banksia)' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled (banksia)
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Monash University Collection

 

 

Australian graffiti was the last work that Thompson made before leaving Australia for Europe. It connects with his memories of growing up in the outback and its desert flowers, which he perceives to be both fragile and immensely powerful. I adorning himself with garlands of these flowers and flamboyant garments of the 1980s and 1990s – the period in which he grew up – Thompson juxtaposes these elements against his own Bidjara masculinity. By wearing native flora he also stands in for the landscape, invoking an Indigenous understanding of the landscape as a corporeal, living ancestral being.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Desert slippers
2006
Single-channel digital colour video, sound
34 seconds

 

 

Desert slippers was made at the time the Northern Territory government commissioned research into allegations of the abuse of children in Aboriginal communities. When the ‘Little Children are Sacred’ report was tabled the following year, the federal government under John Howard staged the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), which quickly became known as ‘the intervention’. This action was enacted without consultation with Indigenous people and ignored the substantive recommendations of the report to which it was allegedly responding.

Thompson made this video, involving his father, and the ceremonial aspects of their daily lives, during this period. Desert slippers features a Bidjara ritual in which a father and son transfer sweat. The desert slipper is a native cactus that symbolises the transferal of the spirit back to earth as the plant grows.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Dhagunyilangu (Brother) 
(extract installation view)
2011
Single-channel digital colour video, sound, subtitled
2.19 minutes

 

 

Christian Thompson
Dhagunyilangu (Brother)

2011
Single-channel digital colour video, sound, subtitled
2.19 minutes

 

 

Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) and Dhagunyilangu (Brother) were made in England and in the Netherlands respectively. While studying at the DasArts Academy of Theatre and Dance in Amsterdam, a centre for the study of early musical styles such as the baroque, Thompson realised that his own Bidjara language could be interpreted through the matrix of another cultural context and sphere. He undertook operatic training with this in mind, choosing in the end to work with specialist singers Sonja Gruys and Jeremy Vinogradov to realise the two works.

 

 

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA)
Ground Floor, Building F,
Monash University Caulfield campus,
900 Dandenong Road,
Caulfield East, VIC 3145
T: 61 3 9905 4217

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm
Saturday 12 – 5pm

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19
Oct
12

Exhibition: ‘Jewels, Gems, and Treasures: Ancient to Modern’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 19th July 2011 – 25th November 2012

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“Today, in the West, we have come to regard diamond, pearl, emerald, sapphire, and ruby as the most precious of materials. That has not always been the case. Other substances have commanded equal attention, from feathers, claws, and mica appliqués to coral and rock crystal, serving a protective role, guarding their wearer from dangerous circumstances or malevolent forces. Other substances, especially those that are rare and available to a select few, are signifiers of wealth and power.”

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Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Continuing my love affair with exquisite jewellery. What splendour! I love them all…

Many, many thankx to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for allowing me to publish the reproduction of the jewellery in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the art works.

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Anon
Bracelets
about 40-20 BC
Gold, emeralds, and pearls (modern)
Classical Department Exchange Fund
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Anon
Armlet with feline-head terminals
Late 5th century BC
Gold
John Michael Rodocanachi Fund
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Anon
Spool earring
Italic, Etruscan, Late Archaic or Classical Period
early 5th century BC
Gold
Francis Bartlett Donation of 1900
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Anon
Cameo with portrait busts of an Imperial Julio-Claudian couple
mid-1st century AD
Sardonyx
Henry Lillie Pierce Fund
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Paul Lienard (French, 1849)
Seaweed brooch
French, about 1908
Gold and mabe pearl
Height x width x depth: 5.4 x 11 x 1 cm
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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As the saying goes, “diamonds are a girl’s best friend” – at least in modern times – but as the exhibition Jewels, Gem, and Treasures: Ancient to Modern illustrates, ornaments made of ivory, shell, and rock crystal were prized in antiquity, while jewelry made of diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, rubies, and pearls became fashionable in later years. On view July 19, 2011, through November 25, 2012, this exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), highlights some 75 objects representing the rich variety of jewels, gems, and treasures that have been valued over the course of four millennia.

Drawn from the MFA’s collection and select loans, these range from a 24th-century BC Nubian conch shell amulet, to Mary Todd Lincoln’s 19th-century diamond and gold suite, to a 20th-century platinum, diamond, ruby, and sapphire Flag brooch honoring the sacrifices of the Doughboys in World War I. Jewels, Gems, and Treasures is the inaugural exhibition in the MFA’s new Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation Gallery, which debuts on July 19. The gallery – one of only a few at US museums solely dedicated to jewelry – will feature works from the Museum’s outstanding collection of approximately 11,000 ornaments. It is named in recognition of the generosity of the Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation.

“The opening of the Museum’s first jewelry gallery provides an ongoing opportunity for the MFA’s collection to shine,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. “In this inaugural exhibition, visitors will see a wide range of gems that will both inform and dazzle in a beautiful new space that will allow the MFA to showcase its stellar assemblage of jewelry, which ranges from ancient to modern.”

Jewels, Gems, and Treasures sheds light on how various cultures throughout history have defined the concept of “treasure,” showcasing an exquisite array of necklaces, rings, bracelets, pendants, and brooches, as well as mineral specimens. In addition, the exhibition explains the significance of jewelry, which can be functional (pins, clasps, buckles, combs, and barrettes); protective (talismans endowed with healing or magical properties); and ornamental, making the wearer feel beautiful, loved, and remembered. Beyond functionality and adornment, jewelry can also establish one’s status and role in society. Rare gems and precious metals, made into fabulous designs by renowned craftsmen, have often served as symbols of wealth and power. This is especially evident in a section of the show where jewelry worn by celebrities is on view, including fashion designer Coco Chanel’s enameled cuff bracelets accented with jeweled Maltese crosses (Verdura, New York, first half of 20th century) and socialite Betsey Cushing Whitney’s gold and diamond “American Indian” Tiara (Verdura, New York, about 1955), which she wore to her presentation to Queen Elizabeth II in 1956 as the wife of the US Ambassador to the Court of St. James.

The significance of precious materials in jewelry in the 20th century is explored in the exhibition, where several modern adornments from the MFA’s Daphne Farago Collection examine jewelry’s traditional roles in society. Among them are a 1985 brooch of iron, pyrite, and diamond rough by Falko Marx and a 1993 ring by Dutch jeweler Liesbeth Fit entitled Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend. (The Daphne Farago Collection comprises 650 pieces of contemporary craft jewelry made by leading American and European artists from about 1940 to the present.)

Jewels, Gems, and Treasures begins with a look at jewelry made of organic materials – substances readily available and easy to work with, such as ivory, shell, wood, and coral. These range from a pair of ivory cuff bracelets from Early Kerma culture in modern Sudan (2400-2050 BC) to more sophisticated creations made possible through the advancement of tools. Examples include a gold, silver, carnelian and glass Egyptian Pectoral (1783-1550 BC) and a Nubian gold and rock crystal Hathor-headed crystal pendant (743-712 BC) recovered from the burial of a queen of King Piye, the great Kushite ruler who conquered Egypt in the eighth century BC. In addition to having magical properties that protected the wearer against malevolent forces, adornments such as these were often buried with their owners as their amuletic capabilities were needed during the arduous journey to the afterlife. On the other side of the globe, Mayans wore ear flares – conduits of spiritual energy – made of sacred green jadeite that represented key elements of human life. Various cultures throughout the ages at one point believed that amber could cure maladies, coral could safeguard children, an animal’s tooth or claw could invest the wearer with strength and ferocity, and gold and silver invoked the cosmic power of the sun and moon. In Medieval and Renaissance Europe, many hard stones were believed to have magical properties (some were even ground and consumed), and pendant reliquaries containing a holy person’s cremated ashes or bone fragments were often donned, along with rosaries (Rosary, South German, mid-17th century), as sacred adornments. Even today, zodiac ornaments and good luck charms are sometimes worn as tokens, recalling their earlier mystical importance.

Throughout much of history, jewelry’s role as a symbol of one’s elevated status has inspired the wealthy to seek out stones that sparkle, gold that gleams, and designs that reflect the greatest artistry money can buy. To illustrate this, Jewels, Gems, and Treasures features some of the most opulent works from the Museum’s jewelry collection, including an 1856 diamond wedding necklace and earrings suite given by arms merchant Samuel Colt to his wife (the 41.73-carat suite, purchased for $8,000, is now valued at $190,000) and Mary Todd Lincoln’s gold, enamel, and diamond brooch with matching earrings, which she acquired around 1864, shortly after the death of the Lincolns’ beloved son, Willy, and then sold in 1867 to pay mounting debts. Also on view is a Kashmir sapphire and diamond brooch (around 1900); a gold and diamond necklace made by August Holmström for Peter Carl Fabergé, the famous Russian jeweler to the czars; and cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post’s lavish platinum brooch from the 1920s, featuring a spectacular 60-carat carved Mughal emerald surrounded by diamonds, which she purchased in anticipation of her presentation at the British court in 1929.

Also on view in the exhibition are superb adornments made by leading French Art Nouveau jewelers, which were fashioned for a wealthy and artistic clientele in the late 19th to early 20th centuries. The Art Nouveau movement, which originated in Europe, embraced an aesthetic that was avant-garde, sensuous, and symbolic – one that looked to the natural world, the Impressionists, and the arts of Japan for inspiration. In response to the “tyranny of the diamond” – the all white platinum and diamond jewelry previously in vogue – these elaborate, one-of-a kind pieces often featured colored gems and unusual materials, such as horn, enamel, irregularly shaped pearls, steel, and glass. Examples in the show include René Lalique’s fanciful gold, silver, steel, and diamond Hair ornament with antennae (about 1900), and Paul Lienard’s gold and mabe pearl Seaweed brooch (about 1908). The Arts and Crafts movement, which emerged in Britain during the 1870s as a reaction to the mechanization and poor working conditions of the Industrial Revolution, is represented by Marsh-bird brooch (1901-02) by Charles Robert Ashbee, who sought to create a delicate stained-glass effect with this piece. The refined techniques of the Art Deco movement are evident in Japanesque brooch (about 1925), incorporating platinum, gold, enamel, diamonds, rubies, and onyx. The movement arose after World War I and continued through the 1930s. It was influenced by avant-garde ideology, as was the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements, but instead chose to express its aesthetic through geometric shapes, linear stylization, and a return to platinum and diamonds.

Jewels, Gems, and Treasures also highlights a variety of interesting and unique pieces, such as a Suite of hummingbird jewelry (brooch and earrings, about 1870), made out of gold, ruby, and taxidermied hummingbirds; an ebony, ivory, silver lapis lazuli, and amber casket designed to showcase the amber cameos and intaglios collected by Arnold Buffum (about 1880-85); an Indian silver and tiger claw necklace (19th century); and a gold, silver, agate, diamond, and ruby animal sculpture, The Balletta Bulldog (about 1910) made by the workshop of Peter Carl Fabergé Fabergé. In addition, the exhibition features jewelry as seen in William McGregor Paxton’s painting, The New Necklace (1910).”

Press release from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website

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René Lalique (French, 1860–1945)
Hair ornament with antennae
c. 1900
Gold, silver, steel, and diamond
Height x width x depth: 8.8 x 12.5 x 7 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of the Sataloff and Cluchey Family
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
Photo: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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This hair ornament with its whimsical character is a unique piece by Lalique. It features the unusual exclusive use of diamonds which were sparingly used by the Art Nouveau jewelers who preferred less precious stones and enamel to provide color and opalescence. From the gold wire headband emerge two antenna composed of hollow silver cubes in which are set graduated brilliants each secured by four prongs. A steel wire runs through the cubes to form the curved shape of each antenna. Except for the scroll terminals of the antennae, each cube is individually mounted and stacked without being attached to each other so that they tremble when the wearer moves, accentuating the sparkle of the diamonds.

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Probably by Lacloche Frères, Spanish, founded in 1875 (also working in Paris)
Japanesque brooch
French, about 1925
Platinum, gold, enamel, diamond, ruby, and onyx
Height x width x depth: 3.6 x 5.2 x 0.6 cm
Photo: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Anon
Brooch worn by Mary Todd Lincoln (American, 1818-1882)
American, about 1860
Gold, enamel, and diamond
Depth x diameter: 1.3 x 3 cm
Photo: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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The brooch is part of a suite with matching earrings. Each element is quatrefoil in shape and has a central diamond with a diamond surround. Eight smaller diamonds form a second tier of stones. The stones are all mine-cut and are probably original to the suite. The color range is J-K with VS-VS1 clarity. there are some losses to the tracery enamel. The suite was featured in Frank Lesley’s Illustrated Newspaper (Oct. 26, 1867). It was part of a large group of Mrs. Lincoln’s clothes, jewelry, and furnishings that were offered for sale through Brady & Company of New York City. Apparently, Mrs. Lincoln fell into dire financial circumstances after the assassination of her husband, Abraham Lincoln. The sale price was listed as $350.00.

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Charles Robert Ashbee (English, 1863-1942)
Marsh-bird brooch
1901-02
Gold, silver, enamel, moonstone, topaz, and freshwater pearl
Height x width x depth: 9 x 10.5 x 1.5 cm
Photo: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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The brooch was originally a hair ornament that was converted to a brooch (silver pin stem and “C” hook added). Conversion probably occurred shortly after the ornament was made. The hair comb was fabricated by A. Gebhardt and enamelist William Mark, both members of the Guild of Handicraft.

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Anon
Hathor-headed crystal pendant
Napatan Period, reign of King Piye
743-712 BC
from el-Kurru, tomb Ku 55 (Sudan)
Gold, rock crystal
Height x diameter: 5.4 x 3.3 cm
Photo: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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John Paul Cooper (English, 1869-1933)
English Arts and Crafts brooch
1908
Gold (15 kt), ruby, moonstone, pearl, amethyst, and chrysoprase
Height x width x depth: 14 x 9.6 x 0.8 cm
Photo: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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John Paul Cooper, a leading figure in the British Arts and Crafts movement, was an architect, designer, and metalsmith. Born into an affluent Leicester family, Cooper prepared for a career as a writer but was discouraged from pursuing this endeavor by his industrialist father. Instead, he apprenticed to London architect John D. Sedding, a strong proponent of the ideas of John Ruskin and Henry Wilson, an architect with interests in craft, especially metalwork and jewelry. Afterwards, Cooper joined the “Birmingham Group” and served as head of the Metalwork Department of the Birmingham Municipal Art School (1901-1906). He exhibited regularly at the Arts and Crafts Society exhibitions and completed several important public commissions, including two crosses and a pair of altar vases for Birmingham Cathedral. Additionally, his work often appeared in article published in Studio and Art Journal.

Cooper’s interest in jewelry design and fabrication began shortly after his association with Wilson. Like Wilson, he eventually employed others to fabricate his jewelry designs although he sometimes did the chasing and repoussé work himself. The jewelry was crafted primarily in 15 kt gold, utilizing semi-precious cabochons (domed, unfaceted stones) and mother-of-pearl. Unlike many Arts and Crafts jewelry designers, Cooper often worked his designs from a selection of stones, rather than creating a design and then finding suitable gems. He once commented that stones should “… play on one another as two notes of music…”

In addition to jewelry, Cooper’s workshop designed and fabricated ecclesiastical objects and various decorative arts, including hollowware and frames. Many of the objects incorporate unusual materials, such as coconut shell, ostrich-egg shell, and narwhal tusk. At the beginning of his career, he often used gesso and plaster modeling to decorate surfaces and, at the end of the 1890s, he began making wooden boxes which he covered with shagreen, a decorative veneer made from the skin of certain sharks and rays.

This brooch is a major work by Cooper. Created during a period when the artist relied less on chased representational imagery and more on stones, the ornament conveys a sense of refined opulence. Inspired by medieval and Celtic design, the brooch is both airy and graceful. The goldwork is decorated with finely chased leaves and tendrils and the bezel-set stones include ruby, pearl, moonstone, amethyst, and chrysoprase. It took 273 hours to produce the brooch and Lorenzo Colarosi, Cooper’s chief craftsman, was the primary fabricator. It’s possible that Cooper did the chasework. The drawing for the brooch, which is dated 3 December 1908, can be found in Stockbook I, p. 81 in the Cooper Family Archives. Cooper entitled the piece Big double gold brooch.

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Anon
Earring with Nike driving a two-horse chariot
about 350-325 BC
Gold
Henry Lillie Pierce Fund
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Possibly by Oscar Heyman & Bros., American, founded in 1912 for Marcus & Co., American, 1892-1941
Marjorie Merriweather Post’s platinum brooch
American, late 1920s
Platinum, diamond, and emerald featuring a spectacular 60-ct carved Mughal emerald surrounded by diamonds, which she purchased in anticipation of her presentation at the British court in 1929
Overall: 5.3 x 5.4 x 1.1 cm
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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The brooch was purchased by Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973) and is documented by two portraits; one by Frank O. Salisbury (Palm Beach Bath and Tennis Club) and the other by Douglas Chador (Hillwood Museum). Both date to 1952. The central stone in the brooch is a mid-17th century carved emerald that was purchased by Marcus and Co.’s agent in Bombay in the 1920s. Oscar Heyman & Bros. made many of the jewels marketed by Marcus & Co. during the 1920s.

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Anon
Pin with sphinxes, lions, and bees
Late 5th century BC
Gold
Catharine Page Perkins Fund
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts

Opening hours:
Monday and Tuesday 10am – 4.45pm
Wednesday – Friday 10am – 9.45pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am – 4.45pm

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website

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24
May
11

Exhibition: ‘A Ballad of Love and Death: Pre-Raphaelite Photography in Great Britain, 1848-1875’ at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Exhibition dates: 8th March – 29th May 2011

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Julia Margaret Cameron – you are one of my heroes!

Many thankx to the Musée d’Orsay for allowing me to publish the photogaphs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Henry White
Fougères et ronces (Ferns and brambles)
1856
Épreuve sur papier albuminé
19.1 x 24.1 cm
Collection particulière
© Droits réservés

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John Ruskin
Fribourg
1859
Crayon, encre, aquarelle et gouache sur papier
22.5 x 28.7 cm
London, The British Museum
© The Trustees of The British Museum. All rights reserved.

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Frederick Crawley, under the direction of John Ruskin
Fribourg, Suisse, Rue de la Palme et Pont de Berne (Fribourg, Switzerland, Palm Street and Berne Bridge)
about 1854 or 1856
Daguerréotype
11.5 x 15.1 cm
Angleterre, Courtesy K. & J. Jacobson
© Droits réservés

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Roger Fenton
Bolton Abbey, fenêtre ouest
1854
Épreuve sur papier albuminé
25.1 x 34.5 cm
Bradford, National Media Museum
© National Media Museum, Bradford/Science & Society Picture Library

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John William Inchbold
La Chapelle de Bolton Abbey (The Vault of Bolton Abbey)
1853
Huile sur toile
50 x 68.4 cm
Northampton, Museum and Art Gallery
© Northampton, Museum and Art Gallery

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Henry Peach Robinson
Fading Away
1858
Épreuve sur papier albuminé
28.8 x 52.1 cm
Bradford, The Royal Photographic Society Collection au National Media Museum.
© National Media Museum, Bradford/Science & Society Picture Library

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Henry Peach Robinson
She Never Told her Love
1857
Épreuve sur papier albuminé
18.6 x 23.3 cm
Paris, musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)/Patrice Schmidt

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Frederick Pickersgill
Sunshine and Shade
1859
Épreuve sur papier albuminé
16.4 x 19.4 cm
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum.
© National Media Museum, Bradford/Science & Society Picture Library

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“The historian and art critic, John Ruskin, had a great influence in Great Britain not only on the Pre-Raphaelite movement created in 1848, but on the development of early photography in the 1850s. The leading Pre-Raphaelite painters, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Holman Hunt and Ford Madox Brown and their followers, wished to change the pictorial conventions laid down by the Royal Academy, and in order to demonstrate the transformations in modern life, invented a radically new idiom marked by bright colours and clarity of detail.

Pre-Raphaelite painters and photographers frequently made similar choices of subjects, and the photographers, particularly Julia Margaret Cameron, David Wilkie Wynfield and Lewis Carroll, were often had close links with the painters.

When painting landscapes, the Pre-Raphaelite artists answered Ruskin’s call, meticulously observing nature in order to capture every nuance of detail. For their part, photographers, such as Roger Fenton, Henry White, William J. Stillman and Colonel Henry Stuart Wortley, experimented with the new process of wet plate collodion negatives that allowed much greater image detail, and achieved similar effects. Although highly impressed at first by the daguerreotype, which enabled the eye to see tiny, overlooked details, Ruskin was nonetheless still very critical of landscape photography, which could not reproduce the colours of nature and in particular of the sky. This failing also gave rise to a major debate amongst photography critics.

In portraiture, there were clear links between the painted portraits of Watts and Cameron’s photographic portraits. By using special lenses and photographing her models in close-up, Cameron, achieved, with a glass negative, exactly the opposite effect to the clear image advocated by Ruskin, and her work was distinctive for the breadth of relief and contour, as well as the compositions evoking Raphael’s paintings, also a source of inspiration for Watts.

The painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti repeatedly drew and painted Jane Morris, a model with whom he was infatuated, and he asked Robert Parsons to produce a series of photographs, under his personal direction, which captured the fascinating presence of the young woman as effectively as his own paintings.

Just like the Pre-Raphaelite painters, Victorian photographers would turn to religious or historical subjects, finding a shared inspiration in the poems of Dante, Shakespeare and possibly Byron, and above all in the Arthurian legend made popular once more by Lord Tennyson, the poet laureat. From a formal point of view, Millais’ Ophelia, one of his most successful paintings, was a source for Henry Peach Robinson’s photograph, The Lady of Shalott, even though it had a different theme.

Finally, Pre-Raphaelite painters and Victorian photographers both liked to present scenes from modern life with a moralising undertone: hence She Never Told Her Love, a photograph by Robinson that was very successful when exhibited at the Crystal Palace in 1858, William Holman Hunt’s painting, Awakening of Conscience, and Rossetti’s Found, a painting depicting a countryman who comes across his former sweetheart, now a prostitute in the city.

In the 1880s, Pre-Raphaelite painting would be transformed, with artists and writers like William Morris, Burne-Jones, Whistler and Oscar Wilde, into a very different movement concerned only with the cult of beauty and rejecting Ruskin’s concept of art as something moral or useful. British photographers, however, inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites would inspire the Pictorialist movement that flourished in the 1890s, encouraged by the writings of Henry Peach Robinson and Peter Henry Emerson, extolling artistic photography.”

Press release from the Musée d’Orsay website

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James Sinclair 14th Earl of Caithness
Avenue à Weston, Warwickshire (Weston Avenue, Warwickshire)
c. 1860
Épreuve sur papier albuminé
23 x 18.3 cm
New York, Courtesy George Eastman House Rochester
© Courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

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Julia Margaret Cameron
Le tournesol (The sunflower)
1866 – 1870
Épreuve sur papier albuminé
35.2 x 24.3 cm
Washington, National Gallery of Art, Fond Paul Mellon
© National Gallery of Art, Washington

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John Robert Parsons, under the direction of Rossetti
Jane Morris posant dans la maison de Rossetti (Jane Morris posing in the house of Rossetti)
summer 1865
Épreuve moderne
22.6 x 17.5 cm
London, Victoria and Albert Museum
© V&A Images / Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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John Robert Parsons
Jane Morris posant dans le jardin de la maison de Rossetti (Jane Morris posing in the garden of the house of Rossetti)
summer 1865
Épreuve albuminée
Collection particulière
© Tim Hurst Photography

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Jane Morris, the blue silk dress
1868
Huile sur toile
110.5 x 90.2 cm
Londres, The Society of Antiquaries
© Kelmscott Manor Collection, by Permission of the Society of Antiquaries of London

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Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Caroll)
Amy Hughes
1863
Austin, The University of Texas, Harry Ransom Center, Gernsheim Collection
© Droits réservés

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Julia Margaret Cameron
Maud
1875
Épreuve au charbon
30 x 25 cm
Paris, musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)/Patrice Schmidt

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Sir John Everett Millais
A Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew’s Day Refusing to Shield Himself from Danger by Wearing the Roman Catholic Badge
1851-1852
Huile sur toile
91.4 x 62.2 cm
Collection Makins
© The Makins Collection/The Bridgeman Art Library

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Sir Edward Burne-Jones
Princess Sabra (The King’s Daughter)
1865 – 1866
Huile sur toile
105 x 61 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)/Patrice Schmidt

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Julia Margaret Cameron
“And Enid Sang”
1874
Épreuve sur papier albuminé, négatif verre au collodion, contrecollée sur carton
35 x 28 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)

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Musée d’Orsay
62, rue de Lille
75343 Paris Cedex 07
France

Opening hours:
9.30am to 6pm
9.30am to 9.45pm on Thursdays
Closed on mondays

Musée d’Orsay 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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