Sunday 25 November 2012

Love Letter from ... Old Gippstown

As usual, life ploughs on much faster than my blog can keep up. I have scores of photos and tales from Australia that I was intending to share but I keep getting distracted by events and thoughts in the present moment. But I'm going to be strict with myself now and present a few bumper Aussie posts before doing anything else...

And so I bring you Old Gippstown Heritage Park! This requires a post all of its own because I had such a great time there. My mum and I spent several happy hours exploring and being ridiculous, but there was just so much to see that we were kicked out at the end of the day, still not having seen anywhere near everything.

Old Gippstown High Street

Old Gippstown is located in the town of Moe in Gippsland, the beautiful southeastern corner of Australia. It brings together historic buildings from all around Gippsland to create a mid-Victorian township, including the high street with all its shops, a church, a school, theatre, town hall... I don't know how many buildings in total but, as I said, we didn't come even close to seeing everything.

Old Gipptown Church - lots of the churches in Gippsland are timber buildings that could just be picked up and
moved if the early settlements didn't flourish

One of the wonderful things about it is that you can go into every building and there's lots of things to poke and prod and play with. Really, you could spend a couple of days there, if you wanted to properly take it all in... and take multitudes of photos, like we did.

I don't recall there having been a lot in the way of interpretation at the park. And what there was, I haven't really held in my head so I don't have much information about the buildings to repeat here. As such, I think the best approach is to just inundate you with photographs, interspersed with only a few words of explanation...

The ingenious church windows, which could be opened in such a way as to allow some
ventilation whilst preserving the look of the stained glass windows

And the ingenious, reversible pews! In which the back could be pushed forwards to that sitters could face the other way
without the massive effort of actually shifting them around  

Note the dressed-up country look of my outfit (as opposed to my horse-riding country outfit). It was the first outing of the skirt, which my mother gave me, purchased from American Graffiti, a vintage shop on Melbourne's South Bank. The earrings were also a gift from my mother, cardigan from Benetton, jacket from Rokit and scarf from Beyond Retro. Mum thought we should wear heels but we quickly swapped them for more sensible shoes when we stepped out of the car into mud... Mine are EOS, purchased from a factory outlet in Melbourne.

Presumably people weren't exhumed to be re-buried at the heritage park...

Trying my hand at the water pump...

... and the wringer. Mum whipped off her slip so that we could have a proper go at it

All-Australian dunnies

I may have squealed when I saw the classic old ute - unfortunately, I couldn't get in behind the wheel

Look at the colour and details! It could do with a clean though...

Behind the counter at the cobbler's shop. I loved that you could not only go into all the buildings, but even get in
behind the counter and play shop...

Wonderfully rustic, colonial log house, complete with tree bark shutter on the window

It was the end of the day and the dressmaker's shop was all locked up by the time we
found our way to it, sadly... We could peer in the windows though and admire the signage

Enacting the audience of a thriller in the cinema....

... and a weepy

So, we had an awesome time, as you can hopefully see from these pictures. If you ever happen to be really randomly passing through Moe in rural Australia, I highly recommend checking it out.

Monday 19 November 2012

Country Life Girls

One of the useful sources for researching a particular type of building (big, old, grand country houses and castles, namely) is Country Life magazine. It's been published since 1897 and every issue is on the shelves at the wonderful RIBA Library in Portland Place.

Whenever I'm looking up an architectural article in Country Life, I always have to flip back to check out the "Page Three Girl", as I like to refer to them (or otherwise sometimes referred to as the "Girls in Pearls"). Every issue has a society lady on the frontispiece, often when she is getting married or engaged or coming out (in the debutante sense of the phrase, naturally...). The whole thing just makes me chuckle, but is also a great record of changing fashions and styles.

April 10, 1942: The Hon. Mrs. Ronald Strutt
The wife of Captain the Hon. Ronald Strutt, Coldstream Guards, the elder son of Lord
Belper and the Countess of Rosebery, is the younger daughter of the late Sir Harry
Stapleton Mainwaring and Lady Mainwaring, and before her marriage nursed with the
Red Cross. Captain and Mrs. Strutt have a little son, born last year.

When I was at the RIBA one weekend months and months ago, researching my thesis, I took copies of a few of the ladies to share on here. In addition to looking in the volumes I had out for my research, I wanted to go right back to the start to see where it all began. I discovered that the first few issues actually had male Heads of State and royalty and such like. Obviously, this didn't titillate the readers enough, so they were quickly substituted for our first society ladies making an appearance.

March 6, 1897: Lady Terence Blackwood 

Almost 60 years later, the gown is nearly as resplendent, but the neck is devoid of jewels, the hair cut short, the hands gloveless and the woman unmarried. Tut, tut...

October 6, 1955: Miss Priscilla Gurney
Miss Priscilla Gurney is the eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Gurney, of
Walsingham Abbey,Norfolk

But what have we here? As I cropped the image of the lovely lady below for posting, I noticed the name of the photographer in the bottom corner. Yes, it's none other than Madam Yevonde, about whom I wrote a post last year. So, after the decadence of dressing 1930s society ladies as Greek goddesses, she undertook the tame pursuit of photographing demure young women for Country Life magazine. I wonder what Miss Bridgeman would have looked like dressed as an Amazonian Queen or Medusa...

August 18, 1955: Miss Tessa Bridgeman
Miss Tessa Bridgeman is a daughter of Hon, Maurice and Mrs. Bridgeman of Milhanger,
Thursley, Surrey, and a niece of Viscount Bridgeman

One day, I would love to spend hours just leafing through back issues of Country Life and looking at all the Page Three Girls. I wonder when we first saw a skirt above the knee? Or trousers? Or when we first found out the woman's university qualifications? Or when they started having "male" jobs? I can't help but think that some delay was experienced before most benchmarks of female emancipation found their way into the pages of Country Life.

In fact, it would be quite fascinating to trace the development of the Girls in Pearls. And I can think of worse places than the beautiful, timber-finished 1930s library of the RIBA to spend a wintery Saturday. Perhaps I will be back with more ladies for you shortly...

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Love Letter to an Artist #2

Last year, I dedicated a love letter to Tamara de Lempicka. Having been to the Pre-Raphaelites exhibition at the Tate Britain twice recently, I feel compelled to follow this up with another love letter to an artist, this time to Edward Burne-Jones.

The incomplete Tristram and Iseult, abandoned by Edward Burne-Jones in 1872 (Image source)

His works were stand outs for me in an utterly wonderful exhibition. Until this, I had really only been familiar with his work as a stained glass artist (such as the windows seen in my recent post). His paintings were a revelation though. They were so incredibly beautiful, I felt rather emotional and overwhelmed. I was entranced by their exquisite detail and wonderfully rich colours.

Love Among the Ruins, Edward Burne-Jones, 1894 (Image source)

I think the Burne-Jones paintings particularly stood out because they felt, stylistically, like a breath of fresh air at their first appearance more than halfway into the exhibition. By that point, the work of some of the prevalent artists who had been with us from the beginning had begun to feel slightly hazy around the edges, too familiar and safe and sentimental. Even though Burne-Jones's most striking paintings didn't come until the last room, the appearance of his first painting caught the eye with its distinct palette and lines, which felt somehow different and bolder.

Georgiana Burne Jones, Edward Burne-Jones, 1884 (Image source)

To me, Burne-Jones seems to be heralding the beginning of Art Noveau with his figures and with the delicate and exquisite facial features of his subjects, verging towards an angularity which Rossetti would not even dare consider. His ever so slightly sinister but compellingly beautiful paintings feel almost like a whisper of things to come, a prelude to artists such as Harry Clarke and Aubrey Beardsley.

The Rock of Doom, from the Perseus Cycle, Burne Jones, c.1885-8 (Image source)

But there was, of course, more to the exhibition than just Burne-Jones. The angle the Tate went for was to illustrate how the Pre-Raphaelites were avant garde in their time, young upstarts rebelling against the conventions that had come to dominate the Victorian art world, bringing "a new beauty and intensity of vision to British art". That they caused a stir amongst their contemporaries is easily forgotten when their famous works have been reproduced a million times over and feel so quintessentially English and polite today. (And, in fact, it is even disheartening looking at the reproductions I am including in this post, as they distinctly lack the punch of the originals, as details are lost and colours muted).

The Death of Chatterton, Henry Wallis, 1856 (Image source)

As happened in architecture, the Pre-Raphaelites turned back to medievalism in an age that was being overtaken by the ugliness and dehumanising effects of industrialisation. The flatness of their paintings, sharp outlines and bright colours harked back to the style of past ages, but they embraced more wide ranging subjects. So wide, in fact, that it is sometimes hard to grasp their purpose or understand them as a coherent movement. Given that the Pre-Raphaelites seem to be so innocuous and simple at first glance, they are somehow surprisingly hard to fathom...

An English Autumn Afternoon, Hampstead - Scenery in 1853, Ford Madox Brown, 1852-5 (Image source)

The exhibition commentary does pick up the main ideas of the movement though, how these flew in the face of convention and reacted to changes in society. It takes a vaguely chronological approach, beginning with the origins and then devoting the next few rooms to different themes. It traces the gradual move into the Aesthetic movement ("art for art's sake") including the appearance of Morris and his decorative arts, before finishing with the diverging paths of the Pre-Raphaelites in the last decades of the nineteenth century.

Autumn Leaves, John Everett Millais, 1856 (Image source)

What I found most interesting about the exhibition was actually identifying the different styles of the artists that come under the umbrella of the Pre-Raphaelites, and the different directions the individual artists went in over the course of their careers. Aside from the revelation of Burne-Jones's paintings, Millais was confirmed as a favourite - from his deservedly famous Ophelia with its tragic beauty and astounding level of detail, to the wild, wide, unpopulated Scottish landscape of Chill October, via the simple beauty and natural richness of an everyday scene such as Autumn Leaves.

Chill October, John Everett Millais, 1870 (Image source)

I also confirmed that I'm really not particularly a fan of Rossetti, though he sometimes surprises me, and I discovered that Holman Hunt leaves me cold and occasionally mildly disturbed by the almost grostesque visages of the characters in his strangely cartoonish, hyper-coloured paintings. Probably the only exception to this was the lovely Isabella and the Pot of Basil

Isabella and the Pot of Basil, William Holman Hunt, 1866-8 (Image source)

Overall, though, a wonderful exhibition. I've come out with a better grasp of my individual Pre-Raphaelite artists, and it is a marvellously indulgent and aesthetically satisfying way to spend several hours. 

Monday 5 November 2012

Remember, Remember, Plop the Owl

My soundtrack this evening is fireworks bursting, popping, fizzing, whizzing, exploding and rumbling from north, south, east and west, near and far. Oh, I absolutely adore Guy Fawkes Night.

Image source

Living in a wee, tiny flat in the middle of London, I don't really have the option of having a celebratory party in my garden but I can enjoy the fun of unexpected bursts coming from all around me, occasionally catching a glimpse of a shower of stars in between buildings.

My best Guy Fawkes Night was when I found myself staying out with relatives down near the south coast in a wee village. A massive, massive bonfire was lit in a nearby field and random fireworks went off all evening in the wonderful, still air of the countryside. Every year I think about reprising that night with a trip out to the countryside to partake in a local village bonfire night, but it never seems to eventuate. 

So, instead I enjoy the sounds of an old tradition in the big, modern city of London which is, in itself, admittedly rather lovely. 

Guy Fawkes always reminds me of that favourite childhood book too, The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark. Does anyone else know this book? It tells the story of Plop the baby barn owl, who is, as the title suggests, afraid of the dark. He is forced out of the nest to face his fears, and goes on adventures, meeting people and hearing about all the wonderful things the dark can be. The chapter, "Dark is Exciting" is set on Bonfire Night and Plop meets a young boy who is looking forward to the fireworks. In other chapters, Plop discovers that dark is kind, fun, necessary, fascinating, wonderful and beautiful.

Image source

So perhaps my love of both Guy Fawkes Night and owls can partly be attributed to this one book? In any case, my friend Barnaby and I decided to do a wee, impromptu photo shoot inspired by the book in celebration of Guy Fawkes Night. (Note my seasonally appropriate scarf...)

Barnaby and I meet and he begins to tell me his story

I'm shocked to hear that an owl could possibly be afraid of the dark!

And saddened to hear how difficult it is for him.

I convince Barnaby to watch the fireworks with me, and he timidly peeks out as I hold
his wing tight...
Perhaps the dark isn't so bad after all? 

Sunday 4 November 2012

Love Letter from... Hawarden

Details from Nativity window by Burne-Jones and Morris & Co.

Okay, I have to admit that this post is rather incongruous in terms of chronology and theme. The photos are from a trip to north Wales with my family about nine months ago, rather than part of my recent Australian adventures, or even anything more recent.

However, it's rather appropriate to show stained glass on a Sunday, I guess... These particular examples are from St Deiniol's church in the small town of Hawarden, near the border. And at the moment, the Pre-Raphaelites have flooded my brain (more on that later...) so it seemed appropriate to share these with you while I was thinking of it, otherwise they would get lost forever in my backlog of pictures.

Crucifixion window by Burne-Jones and Morris & Co.

Now, I've been trying to confirm who designed each of these exquisite windows but am having a little difficulty with different sources at the moment. All I know for sure is that the wonderful Edward Burne-Jones was present here.

The top images - details from the west window depicting the Nativity - are his design, as is the east, Crucifixion window, and both were executed by Morris & Co. Of course, the only problem with these windows is that you can't expect the women in the congregation to focus on the service when the shepherds and St John are so very beautiful...

Details from window depicting Fides and Caritas

The two ladies above - Fides and Caritas - date to after Burne-Jones's death, but one source I've found claims they are his design... It's possible that they were copied from designs of his used elsewhere previously, as was the case with the Crucifixion window. By the look of them though, they are certainly Morris & Co creations.

Detail of unattributed, unidentified angel

The violinist angel above is a complete mystery (at least to me). But isn't he absolutely stunning? 

St Agnes and St Catherine below are by Henry Holiday, and they do seem to have a subtly different style and execution to them... but still utterly lovely. 

St Agnes and St Catherine by Henry Holiday

I really love stained glass, and these particular examples are so beautiful, they make me want to weep. The use of colours and the delicacy of the features are incredible and transfixing.

And if I wasn't already emotional from the stained glass, I came across this tucked away on a column on my way out of the church:

To Remember R. Charles Ricketts,
Born 1896, Died 1913
The Angel who redeemed me
Bless the lads.