Saturday, 31 May 2014

Now you are Three

Dear Emily,


Have a lovely day and don't eat too much cake,

your ever-loving Grand-mother,

GiGi xxx

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

A Boat called Alice

Dearest Emily,

Off on a tangent today as we get ready for the Yarmouth Gaffers Festival. In recent years it's been a favourite festival whether working at the Bookroom, or trawling around the foodie stalls with Uncle Joe's sudden passion for Wild Boar sausages, drooling over the vintage cars and loving the happy family vibe. I've got so many photos of the beautiful rigs, bunting flying in the spectacular Yarmouth sunset over the harbour- happy days!

Looking at pictures of Gaffer rigs on the internet this morning- I came across this fabulous painting by Paul Hewson...

Oooh, look Em, how gorgeous is this Old Gaffer? Her name- it appears- is 'Alice'. On initial searches- and reading an excerpt from The Gaff Rig Handbook  b y John Leather- there was a sloop of the same name that was designed to demonstrate the practical comfort and seaworthiness of American yachts to English yachtsmen- built for Thomas Appleton of Boston. She sailed over Mastered by Captain Arthur Clark with three hands and a steward- accompanied by one of Longfellow's sons in 1866. Taking three weeks to get from Nahant to the Needles, she was then laid up in England-with her namesake still about- as this beautiful painting and other photographs indicate.
I'll keep an eye out for her at the weekend Emily and see if Grumpa can get some more pictures for you!

Your ever-loving Grand-mother,
GiGi xxx

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Modelling for Mrs Cameron- The Angel in the House

Dearest Em,

Commonplace, aristocrat, Queen, it was all the same to Mrs Cameron. Maids became Madonna's- example in this case- Mary Hillier- her maid- known locally as Mary Madonna- along with local fisherman's son Freddy Gould.

This 'coloring-in' Em, taken from a photograph Julia entitled Cupid and Psyche' depicts two of her favourite victims dated 1866. Around this time- and referenced by her, was a popular poem by friend and Freshwater Circle compatriot- Coventry Patmore;

Man must be pleased; but him to please
Is woman's pleasure; down the gulf
Of his condoled necessities
She casts her best, she flings herself.
How often flings for nought, and yokes
Her heart to an icicle or whim,
Whose each impatient word provokes
Another, not from her, but him;
While she, too gentle even to force
His penitence by kind replies,
Waits by, expecting his remorse,
With pardon in her pitying eyes;
And if he once, by shame oppress'd,
A comfortable word confers,
She leans and weeps against his breast,
And seems to think the sin was hers;
Or any eye to see her charms,
At any time, she's still his wife,
Dearly devoted to his arms;
She loves with love that cannot tire;
And when, ah woe, she loves alone,
Through passionate duty love springs higher,
As grass grows taller round a stone.

First published without much acclaim in 1854- its revision in 1862 became a hit- and for us females is difficult reading today, post-Suffragette, 60's feminism, and the Virginia Woolf-ness reaction in-between- but remember for now Em, how these submissive principles were the Establishment. Economically Women didn't exist without men to support them, socially they were often ruined without them- unless they died which they often did. 

Virginia Woolf reacted against these principles- even to the extent in writing in 1931 that "killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer."

However, my precious, how much was this priveledged doyenne of the Bloomsbury Set- inspired by the very generation she rebelled against?

I shall use chapter and verse from Julia Margaret Cameron's Women to encapsulate my point-

On the Isle of Wight, nineteenth-century England's equivalent of Martha's Vineyard, where artists lived to get away from bustle and ended up bringing bustle in their wake, Julia Margaret Cameron, in one of the greatest outpourings of creativity in the history of art, went about for a decade discovering beauty in her family and friends and the working men and women around her, hauling people into her "studio," a converted hen coop, and making of their bodily forms immortal images.
It was the immortal within them she responded to. She had little interest in sociological data, details of clothing, tools of trades. When she looked at a domestic servant with a mop and bucket, her imagination erased the mop and bucket, covered the homespun clothing with swaths of drapery, and saw the woman as the current exemplar of some timeless, enduring type - a youthful May Queen or noble Madonna, a suffering Ophelia, a sinning Guinevere, a sainted wife, devoted daughter, grieving mother, or wild spirited wood-nymph.
For her mental store of archetypal personae she drew on eclectic sources: the Old Testament, the New Testament, Greek mythology Renaissance painting, and the classics of English literature - Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Shelley, Byron, and Coleridge. She had the words of the Romantic poets in her head as we might have the lyrics of songs by the Beatles. Many of the most popular writers of the day were her friends, including Coventry Patmore, who, in singing the praises of "The Angel in the House," codified the Victorian ideal of domesticity, and Alfred Tennyson, who, among other achievements, gave new life to the heroines of Arthurian legend.
She had received no formal education, which was typical for women of her time. Yet she was better read than many of us with graduate degrees. If we cannot reproduce her literary culture, if our minds' mansions are furnished, instead of with stanzas by Milton and Shakespeare, with episodes of favorite television shows, can we understand or fully respond to her photographs?
Every now and then a creative artist is inspired by other art which may be unfamiliar to readers or viewers. James Joyce, for example, based the structure and many episodes of Ulysses on Homer's Odyssey. An acquaintance with the story of Odysseus's wanderings may or may not enrich a reading of Ulysses, but the older work's greatest contribution to Joyce's epic, I would suggest, lies in enabling him to write it in the first place. It powered his imagination. It allowed him to see the life of ordinary people like Leopold Bloom, in an ignoble time like the turn of the century, in a provincial city like Dublin, as connected to enduring patterns of human life and therefore as material for art.
Cameron's response to beauty, eradicating class as it did, was so extreme as to constitute an almost political statement. Her tableaux are parables of radical democracy, or, seen from a slightly different angle, real-life fairy tales: in Cameron's glass house, Cinderella is always becoming a princess. Her parlor maid, Mary Hillier, was so often released from household drudgery to pose as the Virgin that she was known locally as Mary Madonna.
Like other artists of the early twentieth century, Woolf was in creative rebellion against a parental culture which to her seemed stuffy and stifling. But if we look with unprejudiced eyes at the literary culture of Julia Margaret Cameron, it hardly looks stifling. Quite the opposite. The rich, eclectic, thoroughly Victorian mixture of literary and pictorial images stored in Cameron's mind stimulated her to dense achievement, hundreds of works in a career of little over ten years, as the Madonnas and May Queens, the Wise Virgins and Foolish Virgins, the wood nymphs and angels in her mind were brought forth through darkness and light onto paper. And if we look, as this exhibition asks us to do, at the photographs of the fair women without the famous men, what we see is how splendidly the women stand on their own.

And my dear Emily, as a visual case-en-pointe- here is a 'colouring-in' of Julia's son's fiancee. No Angel-in-the-House here as a muse- more a poetical androgyny- or even pilgrim as muse...

Lucky Virginia- both blessed and cursed by her own nature and her anscestry- owes more than she or history has credited to her life's work, and it's impact on life as we know it- that Great Aunt Julia played a central role!

Looking forwards to Annabel's Christening in a few weeks time. She has a cheeky smile Em- and lovely giggle. Your Dad used to display the same sort of appreciation of what went on around him!

Your ever-loving Grand-Mother,

GiGi xxxx 

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Post Dramatic Dress-Disorder

Dearest Emily,

It was lovely to see you and Annabel yesterday, and I did enjoy our practising yoga together! As I rushed off to the station to get the train up to London- I caught sight of myself in a shop window. I had thought about what I was going to wear today (changeable weather, two days in London, small overnight bag= one of my new t-shirts, oversized lightweight shirt, old Weardowney fave knitted jacket, my smartest jeans and trusty practical/smart boots.) However- what I saw in the window's reflection was a dishevelled GiGi, post playing with her Grand-daughter and laden with bags.

This didn't overly concern me Em, it's a regular observation- and one in my case there is not much point fighting. I do intend to be smartly turned out- I love seeing other people do so. It's just that I rather get in the way of my own objective. Doesn't matter what occasion it is- I just cannot stay tidy! My hair gets tucked behind my ears- my lipstick rubs off- high heels get removed as soon as comfort beckons. My own answer to this habit- is to at least start the day by making the effort- and then not worry about the undoing.

If you had seen what I saw in the shop window, and been at my side- it would have looked something like this!

Yes Em, I know- it's not a giant leap of faith to see why I'm drawn to appreciating those who uphold my own messy traits. Our Mrs Cameron (pictured as I believe Lewis Carroll cariacatured her) was forever shawl and bonnet-trailing- and even covered with photographic chemicals (hah, that makes me tidy!) And here is another heroine- we've spoken about her before- Rosa Lewis of Cavendish Hotel and Castle Rock in Cowes-fame.

Here she is in a painting by Chile Guevara. At work- as a Cook (favoured by Edward V11 and the Edwardian noblesse) and Doyenne of the Cavendish Hotel in Jermyn St- she liked to wear white. From head-to-toe. Or black. And she had a knee length strand of amber beads ('me yellers') that clanked as she walked.
However- I like to think she was one of 'us' in the messy sense- this example from the Duchess of Jermyn St by Daphne Fielding...
Rosa's excursions from the Cavendish into the outside world often took the form of an assault, for she ignored such trifles as invitations.
Most of all she liked making an impromptu visit to Covent Garden at five in the morning with a cavalcade.
The sight of evening dress in the early morning market is something that has quite disappeared; but in those days Covent Garden porters were quite used to these elegant intrusions. Rosa would often be in bed and asleep, but to take her to buy flowers had become traditional and so she would be woken up.
She wasted no time in dressing and used to slip her sable coat over her nightdress, which trailed behind her, sweeping up old cabbage leaves and broken blossoms in its passage.

One of my own reasons for making Rosa one of our Red Queens though Em, was right here on the Isle of Wight. Having established herself as a self-styled Grande Dame- all the way from Walthamstow-via the kitchen, and into or rather on top of the society she served- she decided to buy a little holiday-home.
This was in Cowes- and was named Castle Rock. It just happened to be next door to the Royal Yacht Squadron. There, she set up Court- with paying guests a-tow, her clique sitting in the little summer-house overlooking the races at Cowes week. Gossipping a-plenty, she repeated this routine each summer. Eventually- when the RYS had deigned to let Ladies onto their lawn- and Rosa graciously allowed them 'conveniences' at her Ballroom- the RYS were persuaded to part with a very large sum in order to buy it from her.
She sounded like fun Em!

To end this case for Red Queenly appreciations- another paragraph from the same book;

Through the double doors of the Cavendish, painted Guardi green, past the porch where an enormous hooded leather chair stood like a monument, I found an Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass world that enchanted me, where the faster one ran the more one stayed in the same place. Here, Rosa reigned, both as Red and White Queen, with her 'off with his head' manner and ephemeral chateaux.

Three Cheers Emily!

A tout a l'heure,

your ever-loving Grand-mother,

GiGi xxx

Monday, 5 May 2014

Queens outside of Fashion

Dearest Emily,

Of course I don't mean Fashion in the strict sense we understand it today. As you well know Em, Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895) is the accepted wearer of the crown of the 'Father of Haute Couture'. After Worth, the machine was beginning to grow- its engine kick-started by Mr Worth- of British birth who established himself in Paris.

As an admirer, I revel in his work- and that he took the former Artisanial trade of dressmaking into a higher Art. Here are just some fabulous pieces (dear Dame Vivienne- you liked them too-didn't you?)

What's more he dressed some fabulous women of that time. Sarah Bernhart being my favourite example- but also look at these lovely illustrations for designs for Princess Eugenie's Ball...

The above illustrations were for a Ball in the 1860's, and Worth changed the way the maker was treated. The norm until then was that the 'dressmaker' would be told what to make. Worth- told the women he dressed- how it was going to be, and his demand was so high- that he turned clients away too. 

Over in the British Isles, Fashionable Society was corseted, and crinolined and bonneted. The 'Illustrated London News' reported the latest Fashions. Still mostly using Dressmakers- it was often more about the latest fabric trend than a change of style, for example Tartan being a new fave after Prince Albert's love of Scotland. Ruffles, ribbons, trims, bows- here's how it was being reported in 1860.

However- cross the water to a 'remote British Isle', where Tennyson led the way for Julia Margaret Cameron to set up her 'Salon'-  and we're quite outside of fashion. Naturally- the seaside climate being breezy, the surroundings rural- and clothing- even for the mannered Victorian, needs to change a bit. Little jackets perhaps? Even a shawl or two. But surely not so different from everyone else. For to be a mid-Victorian was to conform- to be exactly the same as everyone else.
Unless you are Julia Margaret Cameron or one of the famed Pattle sisters. As we've discussed Em- they were cut from a different cloth. In London before Julia's marriage- at Little Holland House (Sarah Prinsep's salon) the sisters would spend hours together chatting in Hindi, French and English- cutting up lengths of brightly coloured Indian silks- and making shock-horror- dresses that had loose waists- to be worn without corsets- the shape defined only by a tasseled sash-cord. 

Julia herself- not considered a 'Beauty' wasn't known for her own vanity. Often her clothes were stained with photographic chemicals, and she preferred observing and 'arresting beauty' rather than being observed herself. Rushing here and there- remarks were made- 'Mrs Cameron in her funny openwork shawl', 'The men cheered (jeered?) as Mrs Cameron crossed the down in her bright coloured dress'.

We know her work best- as a pioneering close-up- portraits of famous men, the romantic staged 'Idylls' and dreamy studies of children.

But here- we see an example of something else- almost a 'fashion-plate' Em. It's a Carte de Visite about 1873 of Julia's niece May Prinsep. I've done a bit of 'colouring-in' of course- but it is an example that leads me to think Julia might have been a bit more interested in style of dress than I've been led to believe.

We'll never be lucky enough to know what was in Julia's 'dressing-up box' Em- there are clues in her photographs- but the sepia record doesn't afford what must have been a riot of texture and colour.

We can only guess what influence the colourful character that was Mrs Cameron- along with her sisters- had on their circle and descendents- especially those more Bohemian-who went on to establish the Bloomsbury Group.

It is fun imagining though Emily, but one thing is certain- she would not have shared your love of shocking pink!

Give Annabel a kiss- but don't squash her.

Your ever-loving Grand-mother, GiGi xxx