Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Picture of the Week No.19 - Juan Gris

For this week's picture I have turned to one of the key exponents of cubism - after the big two of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque: the artist known as Juan Gris, José Victoriano González-Pérez (23 March 1887–11 May 1927). He was born in Spain but moved to Paris in 1906 at a crucial moment in the development of Modern art. He became friends with Picasso and painted him in 1912, Fernand Léger, Amedeo Modigliani (who painted Gris in 1915) and Henri Matisse. His cubist works were individual and significant, and with a palette that owed more to Matisse than the monochrome of Braque and Picasso's analytical cubist works. Such was the respect given to him by his fellow Spaniard, teacher and rival, as Gertrude Stein noted, he was "the one person that Picasso would have willingly wiped off the map". Tragically, he didn't match Picasso for longevity and died at 40, and the work from the Cecil Higgins Collection comes from a period of convalescence from illness a few years earlier in 1921. The clarity of line in this more naturalistic lithograph shows the skill that Gris possessed - a real genius with line which underpinned his cubist compositions. When seen on its own, as in this study, Gris' elegant hand really shines through. KP

Juan GRIS (1887 - 1927)
Portrait of a boy, 1921
lithograph, 39.2 x 31cm (plate) 40.3 x 32.2cm (sheet)
inscribed: in plate Juan Gris 3.21/ in pencil Juan Gris 24/50

Accession No.: P.539
PROVENANCE: Grosvenor Gallery, from whom purchased by Gallery, October 1966.

During the period 1920-21 Gris made a number of 'naturalistic' drawings intermixed with his more widely known Cubist oeuvre. In 1920 he was thought to have contracted pneumonia, an ailment that forced him to convalesce, initially in Les Fourneaux and then by 1921 at Bandol-sur-mer on the Cote d'Azur.

In 1921 he made a number of portraits in pencil including the art dealer Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler and a self-portrait, and also some lithographic portraits including Marcelle the brunette, and Jean the Musician. The young boy was the eleven-year-old son of his butcher, who assisted Gris with his sketching and painting during the first quarter of 1921. The artist was described as being 'somewhat impatient' with the child. However, he was recorded as being upset when the boy's family moved away to the Cannes region in March. JMcG

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

World of Interiors Article

The May issue of The World of Interiors has a fantastic six page spread on Stanley Lewis's work and home in advance of the forthcoming retrospective of this little-known artist's work at Bedford Gallery.

Interviewed shortly before his death last year at the age of 103, the article shows a fascinating glimpse of an artist who was friends with Dylan Thomas and Augustus John, and who was highly respected by his peers before he left the art scene behind to become principal of Carmathan School of Art. The photographs of Lewis' work crammed into his daughter's Yorkshire home will give you a real taste of the exhibiton to come that will also display work from the Cecil Higgins Collection by Lewis’ tutors and contemporaries, including William Rothenstein, Augustus John and Stanley Spencer. KP

The Unknown Artist: Stanley Lewis and his Contemporaries is on display at Bedford Gallery, Castle Lane Bedford, Saturday 12th June – Sunday 5th September 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

Picture of the week No.18 - J.M. Whistler

This week's selected picture is an intimate portrait by James McNeill Whistler, one of 5 small works by the artist in the gallery's collection. The drawing captures the sitter at rest in just a few quick lines and Whistler's subtle use of tonal shading renders the likeness with characteristic un-fussiness.

Head and Shoulders of Ronald Philip, c.1900‑1901

pencil on paper, 15.2 x 10 cm
inscribed: Butterfly monogram
inscribed on reverse in the hand of Harold Wright (Colnaghi's Print Director): Ronald Philip (Mrs Whistler's / brother) / by / Whistler / ex Collection of Miss R. Birnie Philip) / the artist's sister‑in‑law and executrix.
Accession no.: P.153

Ronald Murray Philip (1871-1940) was the son of the sculptor John Birnie Philip and Frances Black. He was the same age as Whistler’s son Charles Hanson and was treated by Whistler like a favourite nephew, being portrayed by him on a number of occasions.

PROVENANCE: In Whistler's studio at his death in 1903 and bequeathed to his sister‑in‑law, Miss R. Birnie Philip; P&D Colnaghi Ltd, from whom purchased by Gallery, January 1958.
REFERENCES: M.F. Macdonald, James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, 1995, p.588-9, repr. p.589, no.1637.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Free Family Event: Earning a Crust - A Victorian Working Day

On Saturday 17th April, from 11am – 4pm there will be a chance to discover how Victorian Bedfordian’s would have lived and worked. Earning a Crust: A Victorian Working Day is a free family day at Bedford Museum.

Come along to have a go at lace-making, rag-rug making and basket weaving. Martin Hazell (pictured) will be showing you how he makes traditional baskets from local Willow and Hazel collected at his smallholding in Gravenhurst.

There will be lots of other activities to try. How about writing with quill pen and ink? Or learning how Victorians washed clothes without electricity or washing machines? There will also be folk music provided by Graeme Meek who sings traditional songs inspired by Bedfordshire life.

The family day is part of ‘Clocking-in: an exhibition of the working day’ at Bedford Gallery. The exhibition is a chance to see the place you live, as you’ve never seen it before. It charts the history of Bedfordshire’s industries and how these industries have changed the lives of Bedfordshire’s residents. The exhibition includes amazing insights into our working day, highlighting what has remained the same but also, how our lives have changed.

‘There were still people in Bedford who believed in what they called gold water, which was the water they washed the gold in, having medicinal properties when they drank it or rubbed it in. His job was to go and retrieve the water that they had washed the gold objects in and hand it out gratuitously to the people of Bedford.’
Richard Stoodley (speaking about his father working at John Bull & Co from 1920 to 1970)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Redevelopment Latest

£3m Bedford Borough Council grant gives Phase 2 project a major boost.

Fundraising is going very well with confirmation of funding from Bedford Borough Council, the Wixamtree Trust, Charles Wells Brewery and the Rotary Clubs of Bedford taking the project over £5m, well on the way to the £6.7m target. Fundraising is ongoing including major grants being considered in the next few months.

Following the refurbishment of Bedford Gallery (Phase 1) last year, Phase 2 will involve the complete redesign and redisplay of all galleries. For the first time, Bedford’s major collections will be united under one roof, to create an outstanding, combined facility. The revitalised buildings, with new galleries, collections stores, learning spaces, shop and café, will be an excellent resource for local people, and will bring a greater number of visitors to Bedford, contributing to the regeneration of the town centre right in the heart of the cultural quarter.

Architects, engineers and exhibition designers are currently busy preparing detailed plans for submission to the Heritage Lottery Fund and others. Subject to approvals and grants being awarded Bedford Museum is expected to close in the autumn, with building works starting in spring 2011.

You can help to support the redevelopment project by joining our Patrons’ Scheme. You can download the Patrons’ brochure here. For any other fundraising related issues please contact John Moore, Director at john.moore@bedford.gov.uk

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Collection Focus

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
A closer look at an ever-popular section of the collection

Detail from Tristram and Yseult Ddrink the Love Potion, Rossetti.Art referred to as Pre-Raphaelite remains one of the most enduring and popular aspects of British art. In a broader context this includes not just the original core The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, but also their associates and followers. The original three were joined in that year by the poet William Michael Rossetti, the painter James Collinson, the writer Frederic George Stephens and the sculptor Thomas Woolner. At the heart of this group were the ideals of truth to nature, imagery with a moral content and a rejection of the approach of the Royal Academy, as typified by it’s president, Sir Joshua Reynolds. Instead they sought to return to the detail, colour and compositional structures of 14th century Italian and Flemish art.

The Cecil Higgins Collection has works by all three of the original Brotherhood as well as works by Ford Madox Brown, John Ruskin, Elizabeth Siddal, Frederick Sandys, Arthur Hughes, Simeon Solomon, William Dyce, and Edward Burne-Jones.

Here we will feature all the works across several articles, starting with the core three of Rossetti, Millais and Hunt.

For further research on the Pre-Raphaelites we strongly recommend Birmingham Art Gallery’s Pre-Raphaelite Online Resource

(1828‑1882): Elizabeth Siddal, c.1855‑1858. Pen and sepia, shaded with the finger on paper, 15.6 ´ 9.4 cm, inscribed on reverse by W.M. Rossetti: Liz, by G. circa 1855 or perhaps as late as 1858. Accession no.: P.433

Rossetti met Elizabeth SIDDAL (1829-62) in 1850 when she was twenty or twenty-one. She had bright copper coloured hair and drooping eyelids and was called 'Gug' or 'Guggums' by Rossetti who drew her innumerable times ‑ 'it is like a monomania with him', Madox BROWN wrote. Eventually they married in Hastings (where this had probably been drawn; see inscription) in 1860, Rossetti described her at this time as 'looking lovelier than ever' but the marriage was not a success.

Siddal, who was herself an amateur painter (see P.400), died in February 1862 probably from an overdose of laudanum. Rossetti was so distraught that he buried his manuscript poems in her coffin but gained permission to disinter them in 1869 as he wished to make a complete edition of all his poems. Unwilling to do this himself, the task was undertaken by his friend and agent Charles Augustus Howell. EJ/JM

Fanny Cornforth (study for Fair Rosamund) , 1861. Coloured chalks on paper, 32.2 ´ 25.9 cm, signed: monogram, 1861. Accession no.: P.297

A study for the oil of the same year, (Surtees no.128) in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. Probably based on the ballad Fair Rosamund by Thomas Deloney (?1560-1600).

Rosamund Clifford (c.1139-76) awaits the arrival of her lover, Henry II, in 1174. In the story a secret retreat was built for her in the centre of a maze at Woodstock, near Oxford. She was finally discovered by Queen Eleanor, who had her put to death.

Fanny Cornforth (1824-1906) became Rossetti’s model in 1858. She also became his mistress before his wife’s death, later acting as a sort of housekeeper in Cheyne Walk. She was described by William Rossetti as having 'no charm or breeding, education or intellect'; Swinburne referred to her as a ‘bitch’. She is also noted though for having an affectionate nature, married twice and finally grew so stout that William Bell Scott described her as 'that three waisted creature'. EJ/JM

DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI(1828-1882): Paolo and Francesca, 1862. Watercolour on paper, 31.7 ´ 60.3 cm, inscribed: monogram, 1862 'O lasso', in central panel; inscribed along the foot of the first compartment, 'Quanti dolci pensier Quanto disio', inscribed along the foot of the second compartment, 'Meno costor al doloroso passo!'. Originally on the back of the picture Rossetti had transcribed two verses from the Inferno and added ' Francesca da Rimini (watercolour) D.G. Rossetti Sept.1862'. Accession no.: P.548

This illustrates the story related by Dante in Canto V of his Inferno in which Francesca with her lover and brother‑in‑law, Paola Malatesta, are murdered by her husband, Sigismondo Malatesta. The left-hand compartment shows the lovers kissing. In the central panel Dante and Virgil stand crowned with laurel and bay-leaf, looking pityingly at the right-hand panel where the lovers, locked in each others arms, float through the flames of Hell, forever united.

Rossetti had this subject in mind from c.1849: a sheet of four sketches on paper show three groups of seated lovers with an open book on their knees whilst the fourth group are standing. The earliest triptych version was acquired by RUSKIN and is now in the Tate Gallery (N03056). This, the slightly enlarged second version was painted for the collector James Leathart; it is reputed to have been one of his favouite paintings, with Leathart likening its colour to ‘jewels’. A third version is in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (No.3266/4). EJ/JM

When I made answer, I began: “Alas!
How many sweet thoughts and how much desire
Led these two onward to the dolorous pass!”
Then turned to them, as who would fain inquire,
And said: “Francesca, these thine agonies
Wring tears for pity and grief which they inspire:
But tell me, in the season of sweet sighs,
When and what way did love instruct you so
That he in your vague longings made you wise ?”
Then she said to me: “There is no greater woe
Than the remembrance of past happy days
In misery: and this thy guide doth know.
But if the first beginnings to retrace
Of our said love, may yield thee solace here,
So will I be as one that weeps and says:

'One day we read, for pastime and sweet cheer
Of Lancelot how he found Love tyrannous:
We were alone and without any fear.
Our eyes were drawn together reading thus
Full oft, and still our cheeks would pale and glow;
But one sole point it was that conquered us.
For when we read of that great lover, how
He kissed the smile which he had longed to win-
Then he whom nought can sever from me now
For ever, kissed my mouth, all quivering.
A pander was the book and he that writ:
Upon that day we read no more therein'.

DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI (1828-1882): Sir Tristram and La Belle Yseult Drinking the Love Potion, 1867. Watercolour on paper, 62.3 ´ 59.1 cm, inscribed: monogram, 1867
Accession no.: P.401

This is the watercolour version of an original cartoon (not traced) for a series of stained glass windows made by the Morris firm for the entrance hall of Walter Dunlop’s house, Harden Grange, Bingley in Yorkshire, 1862. The stained glass panels, including Rossetti’s other design for the series, The Fight with Sir Marhaus, are now in Bradford Art Galleries & Museums.

The subject is taken from Malory’s Morte d’Arthur (c.1450) and was one of the most popular love stories of the Middle Ages.

Tristram travels to Cornwall to seek adventure, where, in his first major feat, he kills Sir Morholt, brother-in-law and champion of Anguish, King of Ireland. Tristram, suffering terrible wounds from the struggle goes to Ireland to seek help from Yseult (daughter of Anguish), who has special healing skills. During his convalescence Yseult falls in love with him, although her hand is promised to King Mark of Cornwall.

On their return to Cornwall Tristram and Yseult share the love potion intended for her future husband; it bursts into flames as their glasses touch. Above, to the right, the figure of Love with crimson wings draws an arrow from his quiver. The lovers continue the deception until trapped by Mark. Yseult eventually returns to Mark whilst Tristram goes into exile.

Rossetti considered it to be 'one of my very best watercolours particularly full and deep in colour', (letter to James Leathart 8 May 1872). This was not however an opinion shared by Leathart (1820-95), who, having acquired the picture, stated in a letter, ‘I am sorry to say the drawing does not come up to my expectations. Its colour is doubtless fine but not equal to that of the ‘Paolo and Francesca’ [see P.548] whilst in every other quality it is as far behind that noble work' (draft of a letter from James Leathart 25 May 1872).

Rossetti does however capture the full emotional intensity of the moment, concentrating the viewer’s gaze on the lovers duplicity.

Jane Morris is recognizable as the model for Yseult. EJ/JM

Sir JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS, Bt., P.R.A.(1829-1896): The Huguenot, c.1852. Watercolour and pen and ink on paper, 13.3x8.7 cm, inscribed: monogram.
Accession no.: P.260

A replica of the whole composition of one of Millais’ most famous and popular pictures, exhibited at the R.A. in 1852 together with this quotation:

When the clock of the Palais de Justice shall sound upon the great bell, at day-break, (on St Bartholomew’s day) then each good Catholic must bind a strip of white linen round his arm, and place a fair white cross in his cap.
The Order of the Duke of Guise.

The Massacre of St Batholomew took place on the morning of 24 August 1572.

Here, a young Catholic woman, during a stolen meeting, is entreating her Protestant lover to wear the white linen sash, but he is gently resisting and refusing to save his skin by denying his faith. At his feet nasturtiums grow, a token of sorrow, while ivy, the emblem of constancy, clings to the wall behind the lovers.

The model for the Huguenot was a friend of Millais’ family, General Arthur Lemprière, while a professional model, Miss Ryan, posed for the young woman; Mrs George Hodgkinson, wife of Millais’ half-brother, also posed for this figure.

The oil was warmly praised in The Times, 14 May, 1852 although the figure of the lover, a thorough Calvinist, was criticised because, 'his right leg has disappeared altogether, which gives him the appearance of what ornithologists call a "wader"’.
A leading member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Millais later pursued a brilliantly successful career as an academic and society painter. He claimed to be the highest paid artist in history, was the first painter to be created a baronet and was also elected President of the R.A. a few months before he died. EJ

Sir JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS, Bt., P.R.A.(1829-1896): After an illustration to the poem Maid Avoraine by R. Williams Buchanan, c.1861-2. Watercolour on paper, 10.7x14.5 cm, inscribed: monogram. Accession no.: P.166

The illustration to the poem Maid Avoraine by R. Williams Buchanan (1841-1901) appeared in Once a Week in July 1862 (Vol. VII, p.98), so Millais’ drawing can be dated 1861-2. He may have made a second version as well.

The poem recounts the story of Sir Gawain and the ‘country-bred’ Maid Avoraine. Sir Gawain forsakes the Court to seek a more peaceful life but on meeting Avoraine doubts her love for him now ‘Stript of my sword and coat of gold’. Sir Gawain puts her love to the test, asking that she should run at his side, dressed as a page as he rides ‘O’er wood and field and flood’ for two days. The maid agrees and on the second day Buchanan recounts,

When at the cottage door they stopt
Down at his feet the maiden dropt,
Worn with the weary race;
But Gawain leapt to earth in bliss,
And caught her to him with a kiss
That burned the tearful face,-
Saying aloud, “At last 'tis plain
Thou lovest me well, Maid Avoraine.

Sir Gawain now has the proof he needs that she does truly love him, but, unfortunately for him, she spurns his renewed love for her by casting ‘away thy worth/ In pity for my lowly birth’. Sir Gawain in his anger returns to Court leaving Avoraine whose ‘hope be dead’. EJ/JM

WILLIAM HOLMAN HUNT, O.M. (1827-1910) Peace and War illustrations to a poem by Leigh Hunt, 1848. Pen and ink on paper, 13.2 ´ 21.5 cm, inscribed probably at a later date: WHH Peace 1848; on reverse: Figure sketches in pencil Accession No.:P.135

According to Hunt these were designed for the Cyclographic Club in 1848. The club would set subjects for members to draw and later criticize. Of this work D.G. ROSSETTI said:

The Subject new and impressive being taken moreover from a glorious poem which deserves illustration. In the first sketch I agree with Mr Deverill that the old woman too much resembles the German ‘StoryTeller’, although with him I doubt not that the coincidence is accidental. I think too that this figure is rather too angular in lines and that the leg is too much forward for the position, something more over should be seen of the left arm. I like the second sketch equally, although it is evidentlyexecuted more in haste and is therefore deficient in certain details which can be easily supplied.

John Everett MILLAIS added: ‘This sketch is very beautiful in sentiment and careful in composition if the legs of the boy were continued downwards they would reach the bottom of the drawing – No.2- quite as good in its style’.

They illustrate the poem Captain Sword and Captain Pen by Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), first published in 1835 and dedicated to Lord Brougham (1778-1868). More precisely they illustrate the second and third stanzas of Part IV of the poem: ‘On what took place on the field of Battle the Night after Victory’. Despite Captain Sword’s triumph of arms, the husband of one of the women in Peace is slain and finally Captain Sword ‘rusted apart’, leaving Captain Pen ‘To make a world of swordless men’. EJ/CB

WILLIAM HOLMAN HUNT, O.M.(1827-1910) Fishing-Boats by Moonlight, c.1869.
Watercolour, bodycolour and pencil on paper, 10.1 ´ 15.2 cm, inscribed with mongram: WHH Accession No.:P.351

Holman Hunt’s output in watercolour was tiny compared with his work in oil. Between 1869 and 1903 he exhibited thirty-nine works at the R.W.S., which Martin HARDIE considers ‘comprise the greater part of his water-colour work’.

A leading member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Hunt’s pictures The Light of the World and The Scapegoat must be as well known as any Victorian paintings. His watercolours differ from those of the other Pre-Raphaelite artists in only very rarely using body-colour (but see above); instead he worked in transparent colours on brilliant white paper, which produced an effect of radiant illumination and vivid sunlight. EJ

Picture of the Week No.17 - Thomas Girtin

It's time for the first Picture of the Week for April, but first apologies for leaving you stranded last week without your regular fix from the the Cecil Higgins Collection while I was off holidaying in Paris. Keeping Paris in mind, I thought this wonderful work by Thomas Girtin would be an appropriate choice, and more than makes up for that week off. Girtin was highly rated by his friend and contemporary J.M.W. Turner, who, when reflecting on Girtin's premature death at 27, said, 'If poor Tom Girtin had lived, I should have starved'. KP

THOMAS GIRTIN (1775-1802)The Palace of the Louvre, 1801-2

watercolour on paper, 37.4 ´ 31 cm
Accession no.: P.273

Also known in the past as The Pavilion de Maison at the Tuilleries and as View of the Tuileries with workman by a ruined house in the foreground.

This drawing seems to have been unknown before its appearance at Sotheby’s, which was after Girtin’s and Loshak’s catalogue of Girtin’s work was published in 1954. An almost identical watercolour was sold at Spink’s in 1982, dated 1801. On the reverse of Spink’s picture is the inscription, in Girtin’s hand: Part of the Tuilleries the Palace where Buonaparte resides the house of Lucien Buonaparte and the ruins of the house blown up by the infernal machine.

Girtin visited Paris in 1801, following the armistice with France, leaving his eight months’ pregnant wife in Islington (though he was spotted in London two days after his supposed departure, saying his farewells to his mistress). While there he produced his Twenty Views of the city and its environs, soft-ground etchings which rank amongst his finest works. These were published posthumously in 1803. Girtin was forced to sketch from a hackney carriage, in case of arrest as an English spy. The playwright Thomas Holcroft (1745-1809) met him in Paris and remarked: ‘His facility was great, and I was surprised at the dispatch with which he made his drawings’.

PROVENANCE: Sotheby’s 12 December 1958, lot 43b, purchased by Gallery, December 1958.
EXHIBITIONS: Primitives to Picasso, London, R.A., 1962, no.376; Watercolours and Drawings from The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford, London, Thos. Agnew & Sons Ltd, 1962, no.18; English Watercolours from The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford, Reading, Reading Museum and Art Gallery, 1965, no.20; Watercolours from Bedford, Norwich, Castle Museum, no.16, as The Palace of Louvre with workmen by a ruined house in the foreground.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Easter fun at the museum

On Saturday 17th April, from 11am – 4pm there will be a chance to discover how Victorian Bedfordians would have lived and worked. Earning a Crust: A Victorian Working Day is a free family day at Bedford Museum.

Come along to have a go at lace-making, rag-rug making and basket weaving. Martin Hazell will be showing you how he makes traditional baskets from local Willow and Hazel collected at his smallholding in Gravenhurst.

There will be lots of other activities to try. How about writing with quill pen and ink? Or learning how Victorians washed clothes without electricity or washing machines? There will also be folk music provided by Graeme Meek who sings traditional songs inspired by Bedfordshire life.

We have lots of activities for children and families over the Easter holidays. You can find out more about what's on by clicking here