Missed un-misseds

2015 is upon us and among the various loose-ends I’ve been dealing with at the turn of the year, I discovered the beginnings of a post about a conference which I attended in July. My intention had been to write myself a summary of the conference, but after making a start on 23rd July, I never quite got round to finishing it. On the principle that something is better than nothing, and because it finishes at a point which is actually now quite timely, I’m posting it below.

 

There are other things that I intended to write about last year that didn’t even get the beginnings of a post; here’s a list of some of them – all exhibitions, which I’d recommend visiting (where still current):

Sublime: The Prints of JMW Turner and Thomas Moran – display at the New York Public Library (to 15 Feb)

I maintain a nostalgic interest in Turner since my time at his gallery in Margate (see also below), and Moran was a new discovery for me.

Dürer, Rembrandt, Tiepolo: The Jansma Master Prints Collection from the Grand Rapids Art Museum – display at the Museum of Biblical Art, New York (to 11 Jan)

I was sent to MOBiA by a friend who wanted a copy of the catalogue from a previous exhibition, and by a happy coincidence, the current display showcased the work of master-printers who had turned their art to Biblical subjects. Although not mentioned in the title, Blake’s own Illustrations to the Book of Job were among the examples on display, alongside his revered Dürer and despised Rembrandt (as well as Tiepolo, Manet and Pechstein), although I would still have enjoyed the exhibition without the Blakes!

From Neo-Classicism to Futurism: Italian Prints and Drawings, 1800–1925 – display at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (to 1 Feb)

I was in the NGA to see works by Blake in one of the study rooms, but had time during the lunch break to see a bit of the galleries (more than I managed in some other museums I visited for research appointments). The first part of the display was of particular interest, with some striking parallels between the Italian neo-classicism and the neo-classicism that marked Blake’s work in the 1780s (in itself clearly reflecting Italian influence, although he didn’t visit himself).

Anarchy and Beauty: William Morris and his Legacy, 1860-1960 – exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery (to 11 Jan)

My Christmas present to my parents was tickets to this exhibition. We all enjoyed the show and mum is now trying to get hold of a William Morris wallpaper for her latest decorating project. On Blake’s influence on the Arts and Crafts Movement, see ‘Burning Bright‘ — again! (somehow Morris didn’t feature directly, but he likewise was inspired by Blake).

Jeremy Deller: English Magic – exhibition at Turner Contemporary (to 11 Jan)

The NPG tracked Morris’ legacy to 1960; Deller’s show brings Morris alive again for the twenty-first century. Conceived for the Venice Biennale in 2013, ‘English Magic’ takes Morris as a central character, bringing him ‘back to life’ as an inspirational artist-protestor – a tradition in which Deller places himself (and in which both follow in a line which includes Blake).

 

I’m making no pretense at a resolution to blog more prolifically or consistently this year, so expect a continuation of ecclectic fits and bursts on Blake and other matters. (My main ambition for the year is to make it to the other side of the PhD).

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Again to London and to the Moon

The end of last week saw my fourth trip to London in the space of six weeks, this time for a conference on ‘Blake, the Flaxmans and Romantic Sociability’ at Birkbeck.

 

The venue itself, the Keynes Library, had a tangential Blake connection, being in the former house of the economist John Maynard Keynes, whose younger brother Sir Geoffrey Keynes was a Blake collector and scholar (I think JMK himself had some interest in Blake – certainly there was an interest in Blake among his circle of friends, the Bloomsbury Group).

 

John Flaxman (1755-1826) was a sculptor and a friend and patron of William Blake (see his entry on the Tate website). The conference explored various aspects of the work of both artists and ways in which their work intersected. One example is Blake’s manuscript An Island in the Moon (1794) which (see the Blake Archive’s entry on the manuscript) seems to satirise the social circle of Harriet and Anthony Stephen Mathew of which both Blake and Flaxman were sometime members (although of course, with Blake, a single way of reading the work is never enough; wikipedia [approach with the usual caution] summarises some of the debates).

 

The proceedings opened with Michael Phillips discussing Blake’s confrontation with George Michael Moser, keeper at the Royal Academy. This gave a sneak preview of some of Phillips’ research for the exhibition which he is curating, William Blake: Apprentice and Master, which opens at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum this December.

…[ends]…

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Apprentice and Master is now showing until 1 March. Having spent much of today curled up, reading the catalogue for Phillips’ exhibition, I’m very much looking forward to paying a visit next week.

Blakean Illuminations

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Earlier this week I was in London for a part-work, part leisure trip – taking in a couple of exhibitions and getting my hands on an obscure pamphlet on a Blake picture in the National Art Library.

Among the exhibitions was the British Library’s ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination’, which traces the rich cultural phenomena of the Gothic from the eighteenth century to the present day. The early part of the exhibition took me back to thinking about Blake and Gothic for ‘Burning Bright’ at the John Rylands Library in 2012. There were a number of familiar objects in the display here, including Blake’s own Night Thoughts engravings and several pages from Vala/The Four Zoas.

There were no huge (/terrifying) surprises in the narrative set out here, but it was good to be introduced to some objects I was not familiar with, and particularly to find out more about later iterations of Gothic.

That evening, however, I did encounter a gothic surprise: on a stroll around London’s Christmas lights, I turned off Oxford Street onto South Molton Street to see the scene above. 17 South Molton Street is where Blake lived after his return to London in 1803 (following three years in Felpham, Sussex), and is the only one of his London residences still standing.

Although a brief internet search suggests that these lights have been on South Molton Street for several years, I don’t recall seeing them before. What I could not find out was whether or not the lights are intended to be Blakean – if any reader knows, I would be delighted to hear from you. But whether intentionally so or otherwise, the gothic arches of light are appropriate for this Blakean setting. Blake called Gothic ‘living form’ (On Virgil) and Gothic motifs appear frequently in his images – a famous example is Angels Hovering over the Body of Christ in the Sepulchre (c.1805) in which the angels form an arch reminiscent of the gothic ‘ogee’ arches Blake knew from Westminster Abbey.

The Blakean resonance of the illuminations is further reinforced in their fourfold structure. In Blake’s mythos, to be fourfold is a characteristic of the spiritual state; thus, the spiritual London is fourfold, the Human is fourfold, there are four gates to the celestial city of Golgonooza, and so on.

Is this mere accident? Are the lights celebrating Blake or the posh shops that now populate South Molton Street. Either way, if the ghost of Blake happens to visit his former home, I hope he’d appreciate the former and enjoy the irony of the latter.

DGR’s Grave

Last weekend, I went in search of a Blakean’s grave.

When Blake died in 1827, he requested to be buried at Bunhill Fields, the Dissenters’ burial ground. Today, the site of Blake’s grave is unmarked; instead, there is a headstone which reads ‘Nearby lie the remains of William Blake and his wife Catherine Sophia.’ The exact spot of Blake’s burial has been discovered, and there is a proposal to mark the site but this has yet to come to fruition.

The grave I visited this weekend was that of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, one of the Pre-Raphaelites, who was a great admirer of Blake. DGR is buried at the parish church in Birchington in Kent. I used to pass this graveyard regularly when I took the bus to work in Margate but never got around to visiting the grave. Paying a visit to my old workplace (more on that in another post) was a good opportunity to finally make the pilgrimage.

There is a short account of DGR’s interest in Blake in the online exhibition I wrote for the John Rylands Library, Burning Bright.

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The monument was designed by Ford Madox Brown (another Blakean, and a sometime Mancunian – more on that another time perhaps), Rossetti’s friend and tutor.

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St Luke, patron saint of painters is depicted on the monument.

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Above is the winged ox, the beast of St Luke.

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At the top are three figures: on the right is DGR’s namesake, Dante, but I haven’t found information about the other figures –  the one in centre looks like an angel, so may be Gabriel; as for the figure on the left, perhaps it is a Charles, DGR’s other name, but it looks decidedly feminine. Notes on a postcard please.

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The inscription on the front of  the monument:

Here sleeps

Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti

Honoured under the name

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Among painters a painter

And among poets a poet

Born in London

Of parentage mainly Italian, 12th May  1828

Died at Birchington, 9 April, 1882

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On the back of the monument another inscription refers to the monument itself:

This cruciform monument

Bespoken by Dante Rossetti’s mother

Was designed by his lifelong friend

Ford Madox Brown

Executed by J. and H. Patteson

And erected by his brother William

And his sister Christina Rossetti

Work in Abundance

I haven’t posted in a while; this is largely owing to spending too much time at my computer, rather than too little.

I spent much of last week manacled to my laptop working on the text for the online version of the John Rylands Library’s Blake exhibition. It’s a curious process re-writing an exhibition for an online manifestation — it will basically follow the physical exhibition in terms of the groupings of works but it will be quite a different beast in a number of ways.

Obviously the “visitor” will lose the physical experience of seeing each item discussed, and in this case, working within the structure of the University’s website, it will only be possible to have a “slice” of each image “on show” alongside the explanatory text (although the full image will be available to open in a separate window).

On the other hand, given that the exhibition focuses on Blake and the art of the book, a major limitation for the physical exhibition is that it is only possible to show one opening for each volume; in the online exhibition, it will be possible to showcase multiple pages.

The research has taken me to areas I might not otherwise have looked at in as much detail, which has both broadened my horizons and made me spot things which may actually have a bearing on some of the works I am looking at for my thesis.

This week I did get away from the computer a bit more, using some of the research I’ve been doing in relation to the web exhibition in a collection-based session at the Library on Blake and the Gothic. Blake was fascinated by the Gothic and the Library is a magnificent late-Victorian neo-Gothic building (images of the building are available via the University’s online image collections, LUNA).

The Gothic qualities of Blake’s works was also one of the reasons why he appealed to Victorian critics, artists and designers; the reception of Blake by these figures is one of the themes of the exhibition. In the collection encounter we also showed items associated with the Gothic phenomenon, such as Walpole’s Castle of Otranto and some spooky plates by Fuseli et al from Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery. My online exhibition text will discuss all this material so watch this space.

I ran this tour twice; for one session I actually had just one visitor, but this made it much more of a conversation which was rather nice.

I also went down (or up) to Cambridge to a conference of visualising the Bible in the nineteenth-century; in fact it was very much mid-nineteenth century, so complemented my forays into the Gothic revival and Blake’s Victorian commentators. It was also a good opportunity to see some old friends and walk some dogs.

Now to refocus my doors of perception on Blake himself and get my first chapter of my thesis drafted.

And I almost forgot, I went to the Tate a couple of weeks ago to see their new dedicated Blake room. They have re-displayed their collection in a chronological hang, but together with Turner, Blake is divorced from his context, in his own chamber-like (maybe even church-like) space which one can access without passing through any other gallery. I’ve mixed feelings about this consequence of the new hang, but it was certainly a treat to spend time surrounded by Blakes!

Burning Bright. Part 1: Kindling

This is a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago for the Afterlife of Heritage Research Project through which I took part in training about how to develop public outputs from research. Apologies there is some repetition from previous posts here. Things have moved on in the past two weeks, so this will serve as a precursor to an update I hope to write at the end of the week.

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My project is linked to the exhibition “Burning Bright” at the John Rylands Library which examines William Blake and the world of the book.  The exhibition includes books illustrated by Blake and explores his impact on subsequent generations of artists and writers. Blake’s influence continues to “burn bright” and activities alongside the exhibition encourage visitors to take creative inspiration from his work.

Blake’s work as a visual artist is the focus of my PhD — specifically, I am examining the role of Christ in Blake’s images — so I had a ready-made opportunity to relate my research to public audiences. There are three strands to my contribution to the exhibition programme: creating a workshop for school groups inspired by the exhibition, devising a tour for the public programme, and contributing to an online version of the exhibition. After months of meetings, planning and looking at books in the reading room, things are coming together, so I’m going to share how things are shaping up.

Schools workshop: Blake and the Bible

Taking as its inspiration Blake’s Illustrations to the Book of Job, a copy of which is in the exhibition (and was only recently discovered in the Rylands collection), my workshop will explore different ways of retelling stories from the Bible, with students creating their own version of a Bible story. I’m going to give the students a choice of producing either a design in the format of Blake’s Job illustrations (which have an image in the centre with commentary and designs in the margin) or a newspaper article.

Preparing for this workshop has involved lots of discussion with the education team and I’ve sat in on some other workshops in the education programme to help get a feel for what works well. There are also two MA students, Liz and Amy, running workshops alongside the exhibition, and each of us has chosen a different theme. I sat in on one of Amy’s workshops last week, which was on personification, with pupils writing personification poems, and it was fantastic to see how well the pupils engaged with the theme.

I’m going to be running my session for five groups between years 7 – 10 in the middle of May and I’m looking forward to seeing what results come of it!

Rylands Blake workshops

Advertising for the exhibition education programme.

Public tour: Blake and the Gothic

This tour will explore Blake’s fascination with the Gothic, inspired by the John Rylands Library itself which is a grand neo-Gothic building. This will be an opportunity to show visitors items from the collection not included in the exhibition — by Blake himself and by others interested in the Gothic to weave a narrative between Blake and the library building.

Preparation has involved lots of delving through books from the collection and I’ve been spoilt for choice because the collection is so rich in this area, so I have had to be very self-disciplined in deciding what to use. Stella Halkyard who looks after visual collections at the library and curated “Burning Bright” has been a great source of advice and arranged for me to see the massive volumes of Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery (it takes two people to move them) which contain some fantastically spooky engravings of subjects from Shakespeare by Blake’s friends and foes.

I’ll be running this tour twice in June.

Burning Bright online

Once all the books in the exhibition have been returned to the stores at the end of Jun, “Burning Bright” will continue to burn in the shape of an online exhibition. This will provide a legacy for the exhibition itself and for the activities which have taken place alongside it. Work produced in the schools workshops is being photographed as are the fruits of printing workshops offered as part of the public programme. I will also be writing up a version of my Gothic tour. The funding from the Afterlife of Heritage Research Project will help to pay for the photography of items in the collection for the online exhibition.

I was part of a meeting about the online exhibition last week and the provisional designs look great, so I’m excited about seeing how it will come together. I’ve come up with an idea for the structure which I need to discuss with the web team, and I need to finalise my order for the photography department, then start writing it all up.

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An example of work produced in a printing workshop, inspired by one of Blake’s Illustrations to the Book of Job.