Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Survivor: Ujiji

Couldn't stop laughing as I read this . . .

From The New York Times, 24 April:
"If we can presume that David Livingstone — he of the 19th-century expedition to find the source of the Nile — was the original survivor of popular imagination, then why shouldn’t Mark Burnett — he of the television phenomenon Survivor — find common ground with him?

"In an intriguing new example of unscripted television, Mr. Burnett will recreate the expedition of Henry Morton Stanley to find the missing Dr. Livingstone [shown here] in a series he will produce for the History Channel.

"'This is really a return to my roots,' said Mr. Burnett, who first broke through in television producing the nature race Eco-Challenge. 'This is taking the element of nature in the raw and adding the truth of history.'

"Abbe Raven, president of A&E Television Networks, which includes the History Channel, will announce the Stanley-Livingstone show next week when her company presents its programming plans for next season.

"The plan, as Mr. Burnett described it in a telephone interview, is to take five accomplished adventurers and set them off in Stanley’s footsteps, using only the technology available in the 1870s. 'That means old compasses, old maps,' Mr. Burnett said.

"But the team will otherwise be contemporary. 'They’re not dressing up in the clothes of the old days,' Mr. Burnett said. The adventurers will not be named for a while, though Mr. Burnett did disclose that one will be 'a well-known, serious journalist.' That replicates Stanley, who Mr. Burnett noted, 'was a newspaper guy looking for the big score.' He said he would try to document lesser-known facts about the journey, including 'whether their motives were pure or whether it was partly about ego.'

"And, of course, 'Did Stanley really use the words ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume?'

"The expedition will start, as Stanley’s did, in Zanzibar, where the team will take on supplies and probably include the typical scene with 'the local African guide warning these interlopers,' Mr. Burnett said.

"The team will trek 700 miles into territory that Mr. Burnett said 'has not really changed that much' and where lions and Cape buffalo roam.

"'I think one of the big questions will be: Are we as tough as they used to be?' Mr. Burnett said. If we are, he intends to come back with further expeditions. 'I’d love to do Ghengis Khan,” he said. “Or Hannibal. Imagine crossing the Alps today with elephants.'"

Friday, April 18, 2008

Victorian Things: Stained Glass Window by Henry Holiday

"Moses Leaving the Court of Pharaoh," a stained and leaded glass window by Henry Holiday (1839-1927), was created in honor of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee in 1891. A larger copy of the same design was among the first windows installed in St Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia.

The window is illustrated in A. L. Baldry's Henry Holiday (London, 1930). Baldry notes that Holiday (DNB bio here; Wiki bio here) first travelled to America and Canada in 1890 where he "found many admirers who gave him the heartiest welcome, and where commissions sufficient to keep him busily engaged for a long time were offered him."

Having established his own glass works in January 1891, Holiday indulged his interest in Egyptian art and the life of ancient Egypt with the design for his memorial to Lee. The window may be intended as an allegory of Lee's reluctant abandonment of the Union, which had trained him, in order to serve as a leader -- and ultimately as general -- of the Confederate Army. Another version, without inscription, can be seen at Ponsonby Church, Cumbria.

The window is 111 cm high by 55.5 cm wide (approximately 3' 7" by 1' 9"). Formerly the property of guitarist Jimmy Page, it sold at a Sotheby's auction in March for £22,100. Click on the image to see an enlargement.

Resources:

Holiday's Stained Glass Windows in Cumbria

Victorian Things: Embroidered Panel by Walter Crane

The design of this embroidered wool panel by Walter Crane (1845-1915) originates from one of the artist's illustrations for the children's book The Story of The Tempest from the Play of Shakespeare Retold by Alice Spencer Hoffman published in London in 1894 (shown below).

The eight famous engravings included in this book had appeared the year before as an unbound portfolio in 650 numbered copies and were sold as a separate art collection signed by both Walter Crane (DNB bio here; Wiki bio here) and the printer/engraver Duncan Dallas.

Measuring 85 cm by 113 cm (approximately 2' 9" by 3' 8"), this panel shows Miranda and Prospero in Act I, Scene 2. Prospero's line "By accident most strange, bountiful Fortune / Now my dear lady, hath mine enemies / Brought to this shore" appears at its foot. Click on the image to see an enlargement.

Resources:

The Wonderful World of Walter Crane (Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester)

Walter Crane, Reminiscences (London, 1907)

Isabel Spencer, Walter Crane (London, 1975)

Victorian Things: Tiles by William Burges

Today seems like an excellent day to bring a few beautiful examples of Victorian art to your attention. Herewith the first of three new posts in my ongoing "Victorian Things" series.

This stunning thirty-piece tile panel by William Burges (1827-1881) for W.B. Simpson & Sons was created around 1880. (We've met the eccentric "parrot-keeping, rat-hunting, opium-eating Freemason" Burges before: here's my post on a wine decanter he designed in 1865 and his connection with guitarist Jimmy Page.)

Burges designed these earthenware tiles, each 15.5 cm square and hand painted in shades of green, blue, and white, for Castell Coch, one of the residences of the 3rd Marquess of Bute, where they were installed in the drawing room fireplace. The panel includes twelve tiles depicting the signs of the Zodiac and eighteen border tiles featuring roundels, bands, and stylized flowers. Apart from the Castell Coch tiles and another set at Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute, this panel is the only complete set known to exist. Photographs of the tiles in situ can be seen in J. Mordaunt Crook, William Burges and the High Victorian Dream (1981, pl. 163), and David McLees, Castell Coch (1998, pp. 35-36).

The panel sold at a Sotheby's auction in March for £28,000.

Click on the image for an enlargement.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Return of King Arthur

The last and (some say) greatest work by Edward Burne-Jones, The Sleep of Arthur in Avalon (detail shown below), has returned to the UK from Ponce, Puerto Rico, for the first time in 40 years.

This enormous painting, measuring over six metres in width, is on loan to Tate Britain through March 2009, along with Frederic Leighton’s masterpiece Flaming June (1895), from the Museo de Arte de Ponce while its galleries undergo renovation. These important paintings will be shown alongside other masterpieces of late-Victorian art from the Tate Collection.

Often described as Burne-Jones's magnum opus, The Sleep of Arthur in Avalon was originally commissioned by his patron, George Howard, Earl of Carlisle, to hang on a wall in the library of Naworth Castle. It was started in 1881 and Burne-Jones (DNB bio here; Wiki bio here) worked steadily on it for 17 years -- even moving into a studio large enough for the purpose -- but died before it was complete. The painting became increasingly autobiographical for the artist as he withdrew into himself. Toward the end of his life he wrote, “I need nothing but my hands and my brain to fashion myself a world to live in that nothing can disturb. In my own land I am king of it.”

Following the artist’s death the painting passed to a neighbour of Burne-Jones’s whose descendants, John and Penryn Monck, sold the work at Christie’s in April 1963 to Don Luis Ferré, Puerto Rico's governor and founder of the Museo de Arte de Ponce. Even at a time when Victorian art was unfashionable, the sale was considered a significant loss to Britain.

Flaming June (shown at left) by Leighton (DNB bio here; Wiki bio here) was last on display in the UK in 1996. It's one of the artist’s final works and shows a woman as she sleeps in the heat of the Mediterranean sun. The themes of sleep, death, and unconsciousness were important to both Burne-Jones and Leighton.

Related links:

"King Arthur Comes Home: How a Key Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Painting by Edward Burne-Jones Ended Up on a Caribbean Island" (New Statesman / BBC Radio 4)

"Pre-Raphaelite Painting of Arthur Returns, Temporarily, to Britain" (Guardian)

"A Visionary Oddity: Fiona MacCarthy on Edward Burne-Jones" (TATE etc)

Where to Find the Pre-Raphaelites (via 24 Hour Museum)



Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"Never Was Known Such a Wonderful Year!" ~ 1851

London theatre managers must have been thrilled when they learned, in 1849, that the capital would host a "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations" in two years' time. They eagerly anticipated a steep rise in attendance (and box office receipts) as visitors from all over the world poured into London.

Yet almost without exception, theatres lost business during the first few months the Exhibition was open. They simply couldn't compete with the riches on offer at Hyde Park. From May to July 1851, as theatre historian Richard Foulkes has noted, the Exhibition emerged as the clear victor in this battle, "absorbing [both] the public's appetite and its financial capacity." Things turned around in mid-July, however, as the steady stream of tourists from the English provinces turned into a torrent; all places of public amusement benefited from the increased traffic on city streets, including the theatres.

To capitalize on the Exhibition's popularity, some managers offered plays, revues, and burlesque-extravaganzas on Exhibition themes or short pieces set at its magnificent purpose-built home, the Crystal Palace. The texts of many of these ephemeral works are now accessible online thanks to The Victorian Plays Project at the University of Worcester, which has produced a digital archive of selected plays from T.H. Lacy's Acting Edition of Victorian Plays (1848-1873).

Among the treasures available in PDF:

Novelty Fair; or, Hints for 1851 (1850), in which a character called "1851" (who exclaims "never was known such a wonderful year!") presents tableaux of previous historical events and explains why the Great Exhibition will trump them all: "The Brighton Pavilion was famous of old / But twenty of it, our Pavilion will hold / With its square miles of canvas, its acres of ground / 'Twill take one hard walking, a month to get round." The figure of Britannia ("With useful arts henceforth our fight shall be / And not with troops on shore, or ships at sea") and the British Lion take center stage.

Apartments, "Visitors to the Exhibition May Be Accommodated" (1851), which premiered at the Princess's Theatre two weeks after the Exhibition opened; a travelling salesman returns home to find that every nook and cranny of his house has been let to unusual visitors from all over the world (a theme often taken up by the comic serials, including Punch; click here for John Leech's classic "No. 1, Crowded State of Lodging-Houses").

The Exposition: A Scandinavian Sketch (1851) in which Odin, Thor, Freya, and other assorted mythological worthies, led by a character called "The Spirit of the Age," visit the Exhibition and promptly find much to amuse (and annoy) them.

The Mandarin's Daughter, Being the Simple Story of The Willow-Pattern Plate (1851) reflected the high level of public interest in the Exhibition's China Court; household items imported from the Far East were widely available -- and wildly popular -- in London.

Shilling Day at the Great Exhibition (1862), a one-act farce of mistaken identities that takes place at the Crystal Palace.

Racial, ethnic, and national stereotypes are on full display in these works, giving the reader an uncensored taste of the times in which they were created. Puns and topical allusions to contemporary events and personalities fly thick and fast.

Shown above: John Absolon (1815-95), "Part of the China Court" (1851), watercolour and gouache over pencil on paper, Victoria & Albert Museum. Because China did not respond to the invitation to submit work to the Exhibition, the China Court comprised samples from the stock of a number of importers of Chinese goods, including Hewett & Co. of Fenchurch Street.

Resources:

Richard Foulkes, "Charles Kean and the Great Exhibition," Theatre Notebook, Vol. 58, No. 3 (2004): 141-153. Foulkes argues that the theatre successfully harnessed the English public's fascination with the past to an educational role for itself, thereby attracting new audiences and enhancing its respectability and status within Victorian society.

The Great Exhibition Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Watercolours of the Great Exhibition, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Monday, April 14, 2008

Blunt Talk About Queen Victoria

The New York Times recently interviewed actress Emily Blunt about her upcoming turn as Queen Victoria in the film Young Victoria. (You can read my previous posts about the movie here: 11 February 07, 16 February 07, 23 February 07, 4 March 07, and 13 October 07.)

NYT: ". . . You just finished playing the young Queen Victoria, where you had to wear a corset."

Blunt: "It is painful to wear a corset for 15 hours a day. They only loosen you up for lunch, and you would think that you would lose weight, but somehow you don’t. Movie sets are like 30 people grazing all day, eating sandwiches."

NYT: "Does the corset help you to get in character?"

Blunt: "Absolutely. You immediately feel regal. In this movie, we tried to combat the stuffy costume-drama approach. We see the private side of Victoria, when she was young and rebellious. She had a very overprotected childhood — she wasn’t allowed to walk down stairs without someone holding her hand. But she had a great sense of her position: at 10, she told her governess, 'I will be good.'"

NYT: "Did you have to learn proper royal manners?"

Blunt: "We had an etiquette coach on the set at all times. He is very close to the royal family, and he watched everything we did and said. He wanted us to be correct but vivid: after all, the royals go to the toilet, they have sex, they are human beings."

Above -- A scene from Young Victoria: Blunt with Rupert Friend as Prince Albert.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Desk Bound

Via Reuters UK:

"The desk where Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations and his final correspondence hours before his death (shown at left) will be sold at auction in June, according to Christie's.

"The writing desk and chair from the study of his Gad's Hill residence near Rochester, Kent, was passed on by descent to Christopher Charles Dickens and his wife Jeanne-Marie Dickens. She then donated them to the Great Ormond Street children's hospital in London, with which Dickens had a close association, so that they could be sold to raise funds.

"The items, included in the Christie's valuable books and manuscripts sale on 4 June, are expected to fetch £50-80,000. [Read the Christie's press release here. -- KT]

"'Charles Dickens was a champion of the poor and needy and an enthusiastic patron of Great Ormond Street hospital in its early days,' says Jeanne-Marie Dickens. 'My husband shared his ancestor's desire to help the disadvantaged and when I became aware of the fundraising needs of Great Ormond Street children's hospital, I knew that I had to give the desk and chair to them.'

"Dickens was an early patron of Great Ormond Street, and was a friend of its founder Charles West. The hospital also benefited from the support of other famous British authors including Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie and Oscar Wilde. In its early years, Great Ormond Street would organise fundraising events including the Annual Festival Dinner, where Dickens and Wilde both spoke.

"According to the hospital's Web site, it was an appearance by Dickens in 1858 that helped it overcome a funding crisis and expand its bed capacity to 75 from 20.

"'We need to raise 50 million pounds every year to help provide world class care to very ill children and their families -- this gift will help us do that," says Charles Denton, executive director at the hospital children's charity.

"According to Christie's, Dickens wrote Great Expectations and a number of other late novels and short stories at the mahogany writing desk (shown above in a contemporary illustration). The auctioneer quotes the memoirs of Dickens' eldest daughter Mamie Dickens saying that on the evening of 8 June 1870, Dickens wrote letters 'and arranged some trifling business matters' in the library where the desk stood. He went for dinner and collapsed after suffering a stroke, and died the following day aged 58."

--------

[Earlier this month, Christie's New York sold a portion of the Kenyon Starling Library of Charles Dickens. A presentation copy of Oliver Twist inscribed to William Harrison Ainsworth sold for $229,000 (£115,656) -- a record price for a Dickens presentation copy at auction. -- KT]

Related link:

"Authentic Furnishing" (humorous blog post by Ross Rosenberg at Ectoplasmosis!)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Salmagundi # 6

Time for another round-up . . .

It's the year of the Victorians at Blenheim Palace (left), home to the 11th Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Though 20 April, visitors can try their hand at Victorian games in the Pleasure Gardens (croquet, hopscotch, quoits); over the May Bank Holiday, they can take part in a reenactment of a Victorian reenactment of a medieval jousting tournament that will also include storytelling, falconry, and archery. An exhibition of the work of Henry Taunt, the celebrated Oxford-based photographer (1842–1922), will be held in May and June.

Kathryn Hughes discovers a treasure-trove of rare Victorian courtship manuals in the Cambridge University Library Tower.
"Capable of being tender and unguarded, as well as worried and wound tight, [the Victorian bourgeoisie] muddled through the maze of desire and protocol, hoping not to look too foolish in the process," she notes. "In other words, they aimed for the romantic best but prepared for the worst. And, to help them on their way, they were not too proud to buy a book to tell them what to do." See, the Victorians were just like us! Read more at "Secrets of Cambridge 'Porn' Library Revealed" in the 26 February Telegraph.

For a mere 65p, you can enjoy a quint- essentially Victorian experience in Saltburn-by-the-Sea in northern Yorkshire. Redcard & Cleveland Borough Council will reopen Saltburn's Victorian Cliff Lift, one of the most popular attractions in the Borough, on 5 April. Last year, more than 103,000 visitors used the lift, which links Saltburn Pier with the town. First opened in 1884, it's now the oldest water-powered lift system using original technology in Britain. Postcard image above via the Huntcliff History Club, a student group at Huntcliff Secondary School in Saltburn, which has put a number of historical photos of the lift online as part of a class project.

And finally, not Victorian, but suggestive to anyone interested in the methods of historical narrative, is Shirley Dent's recent blog entry "How Graphs Gave Us Harry Potter." Dent uses Charles Joseph Minard's "carte figurative" of Napoleon's misadventures in Russia in 1812 as a point of departure to discuss how "at the very point in history where the modern novel takes shape, change across time comes to be the object of quantitative enquiry and depiction." A poster of Minard's graphic hangs near my desk; it reminds me while I'm writing that stories can be told in many ways and encourages me to strive for clarity and precision. The poster can be purchased here.
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