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).
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.
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.