An artist among the Charing Cross Road bookshops

IMG_3272Found in the art instruction magazine The Artist (London, November 1934) an interview with the artist and art therapist Adrian Hill about his recent oil painting ‘In Charing Cross Road.’ Here are a few extracts -most of Hill’s talk is about  technique, but there are some insights on the choice of subject:

… there were some who questioned the impulse behind the work, and wondered whether the scene was worth the skill and discernment that the artist had brought to the task

I admit that I shared a little of this feeling. Charing Cross Road is a central and important thoroughfare, but it must rank in the C3 class amongst London highways. Indeed, there is so little of the beautiful or the picturesque about the neighbourhood that I asked Adrian Hill if the idea of sitting down to paint it came to him suddenly, or if he had deliberately hunted for such a subject.

“No, I wasn’t looking for it,” he said. “It came to me. It was a gift from the London traffic. I was waiting to cross the road when I suddenly found it in front of me, complete in design and detail, asking to be painted.”

“As far as size is concerned, did you see it as a 24″by 20″?”

“No, I thought at first of making it bigger – about 40″ by 30″ – but it was an experiment in the ay of subject, and I decided to go modest. If ever I do a similar scene, I shan’t hesitate to paint it on a grander scale!”

“You had no misgivings about tackling it inside the studio?”

“None at all. I believe I should have painted it mush less spontaneously and confidently if I had had the subject in front of me. The details would have been so insistent that I should have been led into making a still life study of books instead of an impression of a bookshop, which was what I was after.”

“But I suppose you had to use a model for the books?” Continue reading

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An 18th Century joke

Found – a scrapbook of press-cuttings mostly from the Irish newspaper the Cork Gazette. This cutting entitled Bon Mot dates from about 1789. Most cuttings are about oddities, strange wagers (can a walking man cover 20 miles faster than a walking horse?) horrible executions, daring feats, obituaries, a letter from Dean Swift, marriages of royals etc., The following is a genuine 18th Century joke. If they had stand up comedians then this would presumably have them ROTFL.

An eminent painter, conversing with a gentleman upon the subject of his profession, very judiciously observes, that the air, the character of a person, was as essential as the face to constitute a just likeness: – that a person, so situated as only to have his face discerned, might not be known, even by his intimate acquaintance, for want of the character which his air would contribute. “ For instance”, says he “a man standing in the pillory.” – “Very true,” interrupted the gentleman “a man in that situation would certainly be without character.”

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John Thomas Smith as Hamlet

‘The Keeper of the prints showing A.E.C. how the Balcony scene should be performed' (Pen and ink drawing by Edward Chalon)

One of the most famous Keepers of Prints at the British Museum was John Thomas Smith (1760 - 1833), who was also a gifted amateur artist, an antiquary, and a writer on art and artists, whose two most acclaimed books were the scurrilous Nollekens and his Times (1828) and the exceedingly scarce and sought after Vagabondiana (1817), which contains forty or more etchings of well known mendicants in the metropolis based on his own sketches.

But in his early days Smith had hopes of becoming an actor, and in 1787 was promised an engagement with the Royalty Theatre in London. Unfortunately, this fell through and he set up as a drawing master instead. But if the portraitist Alfred Edward Chalon (1780 – 1860) is to be believed, Smith retained an interest in performing throughout his life. Here we have a pen and ink drawing by Chalon of the Keeper as a distinctly middle aged and podgy Hamlet. It may have been sketched following the publication of the sitter’s biography of the brilliant sculptor Nollekens, which portrayed him (possibly with truth) as a miserly curmudgeon. It has been said that Smith decided to write the book--dubbed ‘the most candid biography in English literature’--after the disappointment of not receiving the generous bequest he had been led to expect from his friend.

Smith died in harness aged just 66 in 1833. A Book for a Rainy Day, which contained his largely unpublished writings appeared posthumously.

[R.M.H]

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Mendel, A Story of Youth (Mark Gertler)

Found - a rare 1916 first edition of Mendel, A Story of Youth by Gilbert Cannan. The novel is a roman a clef about the artist Mark Gertler and has much on his disastrous affair with Bloomsbury Goddess Dora Carrington. The verse dedication is to her:

To D.C.

Shall tears be shed because the blossoms fall,
Because the cloudy cherry slips away,
And leaves its branches in a leafy thrall
Till ruddy fruits do hang upon the spray 
Shall tears be shed because the youthful bloom

And all th'excess of early life must fade
For larger wealth of joy in smaller room
To dwell contained in love of man and maid?
Nay, rather leap, O heart, to see fulfilled
In certain joy th'uncertain promised glee,
To have so many mountain torrents spilled
For one fair river moving to the sea.

Gilbert Cannan entertained Mark Gertler, Katherine Mansfield and D H Lawrence among others to a famous 1914 Christmas party at Cholesbury Mill in Buckinghamshire and between 1914 and 1916 Gertler was a frequent visitor. Gertler used Cannan’s shed as a studio and his painting of Gilbert Cannan at his Mill now hangs in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (for which much thanks).

Between 1914-15 Gertler pursued a frustrating love affair at Cannan's  Mill and elsewhere with Dora Carrington, who eventually left him to live with Lytton Strachey. Their relationship is the subject of the 1995 film Carrington*. After Strachey’s death in 1932 Carrington committed suicide.

*Rufus Sewell played a fiery Mark Gertler in the movie. Below is a sample from Christopher Hampton's script - Gertler is very annoyed that Carrington is in love with Strachey:

Mark Gertler: Haven't you any self-respect? 
Dora Carrington: Not much. 
Mark Gertler: But he's a disgusting pervert! 
Dora Carrington: You always have to put up with something.
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Coventry Patmore rejects his uninspiring ‘vegetables’

The poet who composed the long love poem, The Angel of the House, which appeared in four volumes from 1854, became, like many of his generation, a convert to Catholicism, and so his remarks, voiced in a letter to the editor of the Spectator  regarding a bust of Cardinal Newman by the pre-Raphaelite sculptor Thomas Woolner, come as no real surprise.

The original letter, written from Hastings, was discovered in a pile of similar autographed material.

‘It may interest some of the readers of a Paper which has shewn so special an interest in and affection of Cardinal Newman, that by very much the finest likeness of him in existence is the bust which was made of him some ten or fifteen years ago by Thomas Woolner…I was once in a room containing first-rate busts of all the most famous men of the past generation. That of Newman made all the others look like vegetables, so wonderfully was it loaded with the great Cardinal’s weight of thought and character.’

We don’t know who the sitters for other busts were, or the identity of the sculptors, but we do know that as a friend of Woolner, as indeed he was of Dante Rossetti, W. Holman Hunt, and other Pre-Raphaelites, Patmore was bound to defend the merits of the Newman bust over perhaps some more conventional works of art. As a child, Patmore himself wanted to be an artist and at the age of fifteen won the Silver Palette of the Society of Arts. The poverty of his father made such an ambition impossible and Patmore ended up in the British Museum library. In later life, spurred on by his association with the Pre-Raphaelites, he wrote on Art, but he is best known today as the author of The Angel of the House, although it is generally recognised that his best poems, which have strong spiritual qualities, were written towards the end of his life. [R R]
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The Red Priest and the Architect

It might perhaps be guessed that Conrad Noel (1869 - 1942), the 'Red Priest' of Thaxted, whose Socialist views once outraged the Tory faithful of his North Essex parish, would be sympathetic to the Art and Craft movement, whose guru was the Socialist poet and designer William Morris. But an inscription, dated April 1906, in a copy of The Country Cottage, presented to him from its co-author, George Llewellyn Morris, confirms it.

Amazingly, I found this inscribed copy of the little book, a hymn to the virtues of both the humble thatched labourer’s cottage and its much more sophisticated Arts and Crafts imitations in brick, plaster and tile, profusely depicted in photographs, in 2006 among the trashy novels in the ten pence box outside a well known bookshop in Saffron Walden. The book had been given to Noel four years before he became Vicar of Thaxted, and it had somehow found its way from here to that bookshop, just 12 miles away, in the intervening years.

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Laughton Osborn

Found- a rare anonymous work by Laughton Osborn, an almost completely forgotten writer and one time friend of Poe - A Handbook of Young Artists and Amateurs in Oil Painting (Wiley and Putnam New York 1845.) The author is given as 'An American Artist' and the book demonstrates  a very thorough technical knowledge of the subject, particularly the making and mixing of colours. Very much a writer manqué, his entry in the American Dictionary of Biography ends on this pathetic note: 'His plays were obviously for the library, and not for the footlights, and a search of dramatic records fails disclose any mention of their production in New York or elsewhere.' An online search some 80 years later shows no mention of any performances or reviews of his plays but brings up one modern critic (David S Reynolds) writing that his plays '…have been  deservedly ignored because they sheepishly attempt to duplicate both the  the form and content of Shakespeare's plays.' As a friend (and correspondent) of the 'divine Edgar', surely the greatest of all American writers, he may be worthy of greater note. Poe writes about him fulsomely in The Literati of New York (1850) which is available at Wikisource. The shorter Allibone has this: 'Novelist. Author Confessions of a Poet, Sixty Years of the Life of Jeremy Levis,etc. A writer of some power, whose works have been criticised as of questionable morality.'

Here is his entry in the American Dictionary of Biography:

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Artists as foreign spies

It is a fact that many signposts were temporarily removed, especially in rural areas, during the Second World War, and that countrymen were advised to report sightings of suspicious foreign looking and foreign sounding individuals in their district. What is not generally known, I suspect, is that an artist plying his or her trade as a landscape painter could have come under the gaze of local busybodies, including members of the Home Guard, who may have reported them to the authorities.

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The Dealer in Images

Found - in London Cries Illustrated for the Young (Darton & Co, London, circa 1860). 11 charming hand-coloured plates depicting street vendors each composed of their wares, i.e. the brush maker is made of brushes and the image seller, above, is made of prints and images. A rather rare collectable juvenile book of some value. Marjorie Moon's slightly used copy sold at Bloomsbury Auctions in London for £500 in 2005. The text is aimed at quite young persons - for the image seller it reads thus:

Poor Pedro! what a strange load he bears! He has become one mass of images from top to toe. Well may he cry "images", in hopes that some one will ease him of his burden. They are very cheap. There is the head of Shakespeare, and of our gracious Queen; Tam o'Shanter and Souter Johnnie; Napoleon, parrots and I know not what besides, all made out of plaster of Paris, by poor Pedro in his little attic, which serves him for bed-chamber, sitting room and workshop. Have you ever seen these poor Italians at their work? I have, and very poorly are they lodged and fed, I can assure you. One would wonder what can make them leave their sunny Italy, where fruits hang thick as leaves upon the tress, to come and toil in darkness and dirt in our narrowest streets. But I suppose they little know what London is till they are settled down with very distant prospect of return. They hear of it as famous city, paved with gold  - that is the old story, you know - where every one can make his fortune; and they come to try. Poor Pedro, he had a happy home once, too; but a terrible earthquake shook that part of Naples which contained his little hut. The earth shook so violently that houses and walls tottered and fell, nay, in many parts whole streets not only fell but were swallowed up by the gaping earth, which opens at these times just like a hungry mouth, and closes again over all that falls in.  

The Seller of Songbirds

It was in the night this earthquake came; and Pedro, than a little boy, was roused by the cries of his father and mother, who felt their house shaking round them. Out into the open air they all rushed, with nothing but a few clothes they had on. The streets were full of people, who knelt and prayed aloud to God to spare their lives. The bells in all the churches clashed wildly, as the towers rocked to and fro. It was a dreadful day, and Pedro will never forget it. By morning many of the houses were buried in the earth, and others lay in heaps of ruin on the ground. Amongst these was the poor hut of Pedro's father. It has been a shabby little home, but still it was their home and held all their wordily goods, and sorely they wept over it destruction. The little garden, too, was all laid waste. Some kind people gave money to build up once more the ruined houses; but, whilst this was being done, there was sore want and famine, and many left their native lace to try their fortunes elsewhere. And so it was that Pedro came, with many more, to earn his living by selling images in London streets.

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Losing his marbles…

Sent in by a loyal jotwatcher. We have had many heavily annotated review copies, some angrily, some with further scholarship, praise or damning criticism.The Hon. Michael  Foot was a good customer at our West End shop and was much liked. He spent money, which is always endearing. He could get behind a cause and was in his way a powerful man...one of the 'great and the good' - like the late, lamented Tony Benn. Thanks for emailing this in:

This letter was discovered in Michael Foot’s review copy of William St Clair’s Elgin Marbles (1998), which was inscribed to the reviewer by the author. Judging by the angry-looking pencil marks  in the margin, Foot was mainly interested in Chapter 24,which focused on the cavalier way in which British Museum ‘cleaners’ under the direction of the egregious Lord Duveen, rightly condemned by St Clair as an  ‘unscrupulous art dealer’, damaged for ever the surface of most of the Marbles back in the mid ‘thirties.

The publication of St Clair’s exposé—particularly  his accusations that  a cover-up by the PR department and curatorial staff of the Museum-- over the past few decades, prevented the scandal emerging much earlier, caused a huge rumpus at the time. Worse still, the subsequent further threats and bullying of external experts and the Press that followed the publication of the book, reverberates even today. St Clair was particularly incensed by the sneering review of his book by one Ian Jenkins, a supposed ‘expert’ at the BM, who referred to the author as an ‘ amateur’ and who stated quite erroneously that only ten percent of the Marbles had been damaged.

The whole truth has yet to be exposed.

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Arts and Crafts Fiction 1909

Frontispiece by Frances Ewan showing Sara 'at work in the Art Galleries of Florence.'

Found - an Edwardian novel by Rosa Mulholland Cousin Sara. A Story of Arts and Crafts (Blackie, London 1909). A novel of its time with a setting in the artistic world, with Britains travelling in Europe (Italy) and manufacture and invention. These themes appeared in many novels of the time - especially Galsworthy, E.M. Foster and H.G. Wells (the brilliant Tono Bungay- also from 1909). The plot is neatly summarised on a loosely inserted flyer:

 Miss Mulholland's new book is a story of arts and crafts in the double sense of both words. The scene is laid in Belfast and its environments, in London, and in Italy. Sara's father has lost his legs in battle, as developed a talent for the invention of machinery. Arno Warrender is the son of a dead friend of Robert Montgomery, owner of Montgomery's flax spinning mills at Bleachgreens, and has been received in the office of the mill side-by-side with Harvey Durrant, the protege and supposed heir of Sir Jonah Cunnyngham, a wealthy banker and retired shipbuilder. Arno, with genius and passion for art, gets into disgrace, and through tribulation finds freedom, flies to Italy, and gains the highroad to distinction, while Harvey remains the favourite of his circle. The Colonel's important invention is stolen and patented by a person in his confidence, while the real inventor is discredited. On this incident, and all that leads up to it, and on its consequences the main action depends. Sara is a devoted daughter, and the good angel of Arno through all his troubles.

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Constable and the Spedding family—-the missing pieces of the jigsaw

Sent in by a regular from Hertfordshire - Robin Healey.

John Constable -- The Spedding Home

Less than five minutes into an episode of the recently aired Fake or Fortune series I pricked up my ears. Fiona Bruce and her art sleuths were discussing the provenance of a putative Constable painting of Yarmouth Harbour when they pronounced the name of a former owner, Jane Spedding.

That rang a very loud bell with me. You see, about 25 years ago I bought a rather battered dissected map of England and Wales, dating to around 1811, from an eccentric old dealer in the Pimlico Road. It was priced at just only £2, and I assumed that its cheapness reflected the fact that it, like many of these early jigsaw puzzles, had many pieces missing. At home I examined it further and discovered that the handwriting in pencil on the bare wood on the reverse of the lid confirmed my suspicions. There were, according to the writer, six pieces missing---‘ Anglesea, Flintshire and Radnor, Surrey, Middlesex and Isle of Wight ’. But there was more information. The writer had appended two names and two addresses: ‘Margaret and Jane Spedding 23, Norfolk Street, London & Hampstead Heath, near London, Middlesex, England’.

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