Thursday, 16 December 2010

Unveiling Ouida: A Glimpse of Public Sculpture in the Early 20th Century

On a crisp day in November 1910, a crowd gathered in the small town of Bury St Edmunds to witness the unveiling of a new public momument. Dressed in the day's finery, men, women and children waited for a glimpse of the bronze and marble statue by sculptor Ernest Gillick, commemorating the life of locally-born author Marie Louise de la Ramee, who wrote under the pseudonym Ouida.

The photograph provides a rare insight into public arts practices and partonage in the early 20th century Britain, and are part of a collection of papers belonging to sculptors Ernest and Mary Gillick, donated to Leeds Museums & Galleries, deposited in the Henry Moore Institute Archive, in 2005. I found these during my internship with Leeds Museums & Galleries, working through and listing the extensive archive of drawings, letters, diaries, photographs and research papers.

Born in Bradford in 1874, Ernest Gillick attended the Nottingham School of Art from 1896-1899, where his talents won him several gold medal awards. In 1901, The Royal College of Art Awarded Gillick a National Travelling Studentship and he spent a year studying the architecture and sculpture of Italy. He was elected Associate of the Royal College of Art in 1904.

Misty Ericson, intern, December 2010

Monday, 13 December 2010

Merry Christmas! Joyeux Noël! Fröhliche Weihnachten! İFeliz Navidad!

Say it with a fan…

This miniature silk fan is part of the Leeds Museums collection housed at Abbey House Museum. It is a sweet twist on the idea of sending a Christmas card. The greeting on the fan is, ‘Joy and all fair things attend your Christmas tide’. The fan is from the nineteenth century and depicts a new and innovative way of sending your Christmas greetings.

Christmas cards have been passed between families and friends since the mid nineteenth century. The first ever commercial Christmas card was commissioned by Sir Henry Cole in London, 1843 and was designed by artist John Callcott Horsley.

As the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Sir Henry found himself too busy in the Christmas season of 1843 to compose individual Christmas greetings usually in the form of letters for his friends. Therefore he came up with the idea of sending a card by post. One thousand copies of the card were printed and sold for one shilling (5p today).

The card had three panels. The outer two showed people caring for the poor and the centre panel was a family drinking and eating together. The inscription read, ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.’ Although the card caused controversy because it showed a child being given a glass of wine, the sending of Christmas cards was a hit.

Of the original one thousand Cole cards printed only twelve are known to exist in private collections. An original Cole card that was sent to his grandmother holds the world record as the most expensive Christmas card ever sold. It was sold at auction in 2001 to an anonymous bidder for £22,250!

No one could have predicted the outcome of Christmas cards, even the Christmas card manufacturers themselves believed it was a phase that would pass. However as printing and postal methods improved the sending of cards became much more popular and they were produced in large numbers from 1860.

These early Christmas cards depicted, flowers, fairies, sentimental designs of children, humorous designs of animals and even flying butterflies amongst stalks of wheat or insects landing on ripening blackberries. These images were to remind the recipient of the approaching of spring. A complete contrast to what we view today as being ‘traditional Christmas cards’ ones that show wintry or religious themes. It was not until late Victorian times snow scenes with a robin, like this one from the 1860s, became popular because of the postmen’s nickname, ‘Robins’ due to the red uniform that they wore.

Today Christmas cards contain many different types of images and themes. They also come in many shapes and sizes and even the method has changed with many people preferring to send ‘e-cards’. The UK is the world leader on sending Christmas cards, spending £1billion each year. I bet the early Victorian Christmas card manufacturers could certainly have never predicted that!
By Georgie Cash

Flirtatious Fans

The ultimate accessory for any well respecting lady for many centuries. As well as being a practical tool for keeping cool in hot weather and complementing the dress, they were also used for ‘making eyes’ promising untold delights, aka flirting.

I am an intern looking at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre’s collection of fans and I became intrigued by them. Some of them are beautiful with intricate designs, whilst others are plain, or made from feathers or in one case disguised as what looks like a cigar! I began to delve a little more into the world of fans and found what is known as ‘the language of the fan’ as rather amusing.

The earliest recorded use of a fan dates from 3200BC, however it was not until the eighteenth century in Europe that the use of the fan was developed to the highest degree. They were used in winter and summer, as memory aids, political propaganda, parlour games and masks as well as flirting tools. The language of the fan was developed to such sophistication that entire conversations could be conducted without having spoken at all!

In 1910, a book was published that listed over fifty signals that could be conveyed with fans, ranging from ‘I hate you’ to ‘I long to be near you’. Forget dating sites and lonely hearts columns, why not grab a fan and try out some eighteenth century ‘fan speak’ and see where how effective it is for you.

Shut fan held to the heart says - you have my love
Placing fan on the left ear – I wish to get rid of you
Shut fan resting on the right eye – when may I be allowed to see you?
Drawing fan through the hand – I hate you
With handle to the lips – kiss me

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Structure and Decoration: Work Continues on the Hinton House Bed.

So much has happened since the bed canopy came down and it's getting really exciting. Ian Fraser immediately began working on rescuing the canopy from total collapse. Once the canopy was at eye level two things became really obvious. 1) How near the structure was to total collapse. 2) How badly made the bed was. The dome of the canopy is made out of cheap wood, it's really thin and crackly and crumbly, totally lacking in inner strength. This also means that there is nothing solid to fix anything to the canopy. Unusually, there is no structure to support the dome which means that there is nothing to stop it from collapsing inwards. Ian thinks that the collapse may have even begun as early as ten years after it was first built. So, 290 years later a lot of the bed is really sagging.

The Sagging Bed Canopy. Previous conservators glued fabric to the structure to hold it together

Ian has been really ingenious in making a light weight "super structure" which he has used to
a) hoist up sagging parts of the canopy b) prevent any further collapse c) eventually fix the rods and bolts and hook necessary to raise it back up to and suspend it from the ceiling, and d) raises the cornice to its correct level in relation to the rest of the tester. In its previous displays, as a four-poster bed, the cornice had been too low by 10 cm. We know this because of the difference in width between the inner and outer tester valances.

The Super Structure. Hooks attached to a strong, hollow base lift up and support the sagging canopy. The whole thing will be covered up by the new cornices.

I am sure Ian will post in detail how this marvellous structure works. In the meantime, I have drawn a diagram which explains the basics.

Yesterday the carver and the joiner came to survey and take away one of the cornice pieces that they will be recreating for the bed. Like so much of this bed the cornices are structurally unsound and the crimson velvet has faded to a bogey green colour. Together and under expert guidance the team spotted that there had once been decoration in the cornice panelling.

There are very clear incision marks which leave a pattern in each of the panels. This shows that there was once raised decoration, which would have been covered in velvet and trimmed with gold braid to match the rest of the cornice.

On one of the panels it is clear to see that new wood has been inserted. However, the decoration was not replaced and it was probably at this stage that the decoration on all of the other panels was removed. This was probably done to save money or to create a consistent look. Close inspection of the upholstered panels reveal that plain velvet panels were added at a later date.

I can't emphasise enough how exciting this all is. We have learnt more about how the bed originally looked. The watchword of this project has been to follow the evidence. This means that we will include the lost decoration on the newly carved cornices therefore returning the bed to how it originally appeared in c1710. It's amazing how a fresh look at an object after thirty years can bring new insights and new discoveries. I wonder what other secrets this bed holds.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Francisco de Goya's Circus Lady

While documenting works purchased by the Leeds Art Collection Fund as part of my internship I came across a piece of work by Francisco de Goya with three different titles: The Circus Lady, and Skating on Thin Ice and also, my particular favourite, Punctual Folly. I was aware that alternative titles were often given to art works, but the weirdness of these three and the image of the curiously demure yet daredevilish lady astride her equally fearless horse compelled me to look a little further into the matter.

The image was produced as part of a series called Los Proverbios (proverbs) and was only published after the death of the artist. The title of the series and that of each image were in fact given by the publishing house. Goya’s fascination with human behaviour and the excesses that provailed at the time of Carnival, a celebration held throughout Europe in the severn days leading up to Lent sheds a little light on his interest in the circus lady. Whether it was Goya’s intention or the publisher’s interpretation, many of the images seem to be warning against the perils of reckless behaviour and selfish acts; however, connections between Goya’s work and the chosen proverbs have since been put into question. As it has been found inscribed on some of the images earliest impressions, the title Disperates is now often used to refer to the series. In Spanish the word disparate can denote something nonsensical, irrational or outragous and therefore in many ways seems far more appropriate. Yet, for me, despite their dubious origins, the titles given under the heading Los Proverbios only add to the charming quality of the The Circus Lady and the disperate character of this fascinating set of works.

Written by Helen Deevy, Leeds Art Collection Fund Intern, 2010