Down the rabbit hole with John Tenniel

alice-in-wonderland-and-through-the-looking-glassIt’s just over one month into the New Year and the world of politics is thrashing from one extraordinary tweet to another and here in the UK a notable Member of Parliament has even suggested some of our politicians are living in Wonderland.

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Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Chapter VII, A Mad Tea Party, ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll. 1898 Illustration by John Tenniel (from my grandmother’s 1905 edition)

In last week’s parliamentary debate on Brexit, former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ken Clarke, expressed his views on the hopes of his Pro-Brexit colleagues saying,

“Apparently you follow the rabbit down the hole and you emerge in a wonderland where suddenly countries around the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that previously we had never been able to achieve as part of the European Union,” he said. “Nice men like President Trump and President Erdoğan are just impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access. No doubt there is somewhere a Hatter holding a tea party with a dormouse.”

Flicking through my Grandmother’s copy of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, to find the famous John Tenniel illustration of the Hatter’s Tea Party, I spotted a few more delightfully grotesque images I’d forgotten.

Interestingly, there is a tradition hailing from Suffolk, that a medieval stained glass, representation of Elizabeth Talbot, wife of John de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, is the inspiration for the Duchess in John Tenniel’s illustrations found in ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’.

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This splendid painted glass is part of the spectacular, medieval stained glass windows of Holy Trinity, Long Melford in Suffolk. However, when digging around for further information I read that some commentators have suggested Elizabeth Talbot looks more like the Queen of Hearts. I’m not sure whether it is the headdress styles or the facial expressions depicted that have prompted such comparisons.

Of course, either way it’s a nice idea, but I think, in truth, I am more in agreement with Marilyn Roberts who, writing in ‘The Mowbray Legacy’, suggests that the well-known painting, ‘Grotesque Old Woman/The Ugly Duchess’ by Quentin Massys in the National Gallery, was more likely Tenniel’s inspiration.

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‘The Ugly Duchess’ or ‘Grotesque Old Woman’ by Quentin Massys. Oil on oak panel 62.4 by 45.5 cm. circa 1513 National Gallery, London.

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Valentine’s Day – Red, pink or maybe . . . ?

agatha-cherry-detail-copyIt’s just under two weeks’ to Valentine’s Day. Naturally, there’s plenty of red merchandise filling the shops, but I’ve noticed there’s more choice than ever and if red Valentine’s cards, red flowers, red boxes of chocolates, and so on, are perhaps too traditional, you can now find similar in pink.

Currently, I do have several predominantly pink silk scarves listed on my online shop. However, perhaps a combination mixing it up – pink with accents of deep red is less obvious and slightly more memorable??

Mind you choosing a scarf that is not overtly considered the traditional Valentine’s ‘colours’, say, grey (altogether more muted with the merest hint of pink), could be just the ticket!agatha-silver-comp3

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Winter visit to the beach

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It’s been a hectic few weeks and it’s nearly the end of January and Christmas has faded into a hazy memory!! Finally, in a quiet moment I eventually uploaded photos from our visit to the beach on Christmas Day which is now a family tradition. This year we ignored the weather forecast of heavy grey skies with the odd shower and drove over to Waxham.

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Naturally, as is often the way, the coast has its own weather and although it was very, very windy it was sunny skies and racing white clouds. It was delightfully refreshing. However, there was a downside and that was the occasional slap in the face from sand whipping along the shore. And, boy did it sting!

It seems each time I visit there are additions to and deletions from the sea wall graffiti. These new, free form ‘faces’?? may yet be filled with colour before the images are either painted over by the authorities or worn away by the winter waves.

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One poor little seal pup had missed the receding tide and was stranded on its own between the rocks at the top of the beach. I used a telephoto lens for this photo. The pup didn’t look too happy and I didn’t want to disturb it further by getting closer. We hoped all the dog walkers would keep their pets away too.

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Immediately the other side of the sea defences, on this part of Norfolk’s east coast, farmland runs along the dunes. It looks a little odd to see sheep grazing on muddy earth, but they are actually grazing the brassica crop, which looks like it’s turnips.

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Time to leave. Interestingly, and I’m not sure why but there were far fewer walkers this year than in previous years. Maybe the WRONG weather forecast had put people off!

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Mutter, mutter, mutter – La La Land

Let’s start with a point that I am sure we’d all agree with, a movie is not real life, and, however much we suspend our disbelief when watching a film, deep down we know we are watching a fiction. Now let’s consider musicals. Loosely, that is films where, at the drop of a hat, characters move from speaking to singing and dancing to tell the story. Now, here, we are in no doubt that we are watching a fiction. Some folk like musicals, some do not. Oddly, for some time there has been this strange situation that ‘the Hollywood musical’ has been viewed as passé and naff yet musical theatre in the West End (London), on Broadway and around the world, has been extremely popular. Apparently, if you believe all the hype, change is coming. The latest Hollywood musical ‘La La Land’ is going to make screen musicals popular again.

Written and directed by the youthful, Damien Chazelle, ‘La La Land’ presents a 21st century musical version of the Hollywood dream scenario. It opens with an energetic, fast-paced, one-take, song and dance routine in the midst of an LA traffic jam. Then the focus tightens and we are introduced to Seb and Mia, played by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (two major Hollywood stars), who will then sing, dance, play the piano and act out their tale for us.

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A musical is fiction in capitals. Now, with that in mind, and taking into account that there are sequences of true flights of fantasy in this film, was it too much to ask that the two leads could actually sing and dance! I am a huge fan of Ryan Gosling, but honestly he can’t sing. It is really impressive that he learnt to play the featured piano pieces for the film but this ‘jazz’ playing must have had true jazz aficionados stuffing their fingers in their ears. I understand that Damien Chazelle is passionate about the old musicals (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg as well as the big Hollywood hits, Singing in the Rain, et al) so why wouldn’t he celebrate the essence of ‘the musical’ which is the music, the singing and the dancing. I’ve heard well-known film critics explain that using stars that aren’t tiptop song and dance people gives an authentic feel to their performances. Mmmm, really? – I just feel so sad for all the young, talented musical theatre trained performers, wannabe film stars, grinding their teeth as they watch this.

However, I admit, I seem to be in a very small minority on this one. I was not impressed. All the knowing, clever, referential ‘homage to the great musical’ fell rather flat for me when the film’s leads turned out to be musical lightweights. What is the point of a musical if the stars can’t carry it (or a tune!)? I’ve heard and read plenty of reviews of this movie and cannot for the life of me understand what’s going on. Is this a postmodern and then post-ironic musical? One reviewer went as far as noting that there is ‘the charm of amateur singers’!!

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I think we are living in unnerving and challenging times at the moment and people are looking for ‘warm glow’ escapism. I went to a Monday afternoon, big screen showing with a fair sized audience and there was a palpable feeling of disappointment at the end of this film.

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I wrote the above on Monday evening and originally concluded my mutterings with “Something just didn’t feel right about it for me.”

Since then I’ve read these two, interesting and powerful, slightly less mainstream articles . . .

‘The Unbearable Whiteness of La La Land’ by Geoff Nelson

and

‘La La Land’s White Jazz Narrative’ by Ira Madison III

 

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‘Reproductions’ – a pictorial essay

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This follows on from last week’s post, ‘John Berger – Look again’.

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John Berger – Look again

ways-of-seeing-coverEarlier this week, on January 2nd 2017, I heard the news that John Berger had died in Paris at the age of 90. There can’t be an art historian anywhere that does not know his work ‘Ways of Seeing’ as, along with Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, Berger’s commentary on art and imagery encouraged people to reappraise and rethink the way they looked at the world.

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John Berger wasn’t simply an art critic, he had originally trained as an artist at the Chelsea School of Art, but became an influential, intellectual voice through writing criticism, novels (he won the Booker Prize for ‘G’ in 1972) , poetry, screenplays and many non-fiction texts. It was, however, his fascinating BBC television series “Ways of Seeing” that established his presence in the 20th century Western cultural canon. I am too young to have seen this series the first time round, but all four, half-hour episodes are available to watch on YouTube – Ways of Seeing.

The iconic television series spawned the book. I still dip into my copy every now and then when the world of ‘visual media’ and its hysterical commentary feels like its spinning out of control.

In ‘Ways of Seeing’ I am intrigued by the three pictorial essays that are somehow mutable. Each time I return to them different interpretations come to mind.

Our principal aim has been to start a process of questioning.

This quotation, found at the beginning of the book, is the last sentence from ‘Notes to the reader’. Personally, I find the pictorial essays invite questions immediately. Without a guiding text a sequence of images can offer a story which we decode internally, non verbally, generating a response we interpret from our current cultural perspective. Sometimes we might look at these essays, work to extract conscious thoughts, devise a narrative that we then articulate, but not always. For me, periodically I have returned to these compositions aware of changes in my viewpoint. Then, having considered and acknowledged a newly adjusted outlook, I find the process of questioning begins again.

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For an excellent overview of John Berger’s extensive and varied achievements please take a moment to read  Gerry Cordon’s piece.

 

 

 

 

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Starting today, Thursday 29th December

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morganblack-copyClick HERE to visit AGNES ASHE eBoutique New Year Sale

ag-as-sale-banner-one-copyProper old-fashioned sale for 5 days on my online shop. Over half of my work is now 20% off and a few pieces are over 50% off for the next five days. And, delivery is included in the sale price!

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Talking Sales – a preview

ag-as-sale-banner-coming-soonGeneral question – ‘What happened to the January Sales?’

Answer ‘They’ve become the Boxing Day Sales’ 

I suppose I am old fashioned and I simply can’t get my head round going to the Sales the day after Christmas. When I was a student I worked the Christmas period in Selfridges in London. We definitely did not work on 26th December. According to ‘Visit London’ most famous department stores and major shopping malls will start their sales either on the 26th or 27th December.

Of course, many shops with an online presence will go live with their sales offering at one minute past midnight on Christmas Day. This year I’ve decided to have a New Year Sale. That is I’m going to reduce many of my scarves by 20% and the odd one or two by 50%. These price reductions will be effective for five days from next Thursday, 29th December until midnight Monday 2nd January 2017.

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Here’s a preview of some of the scarves and textile art that will be in my sale around the New Year. Oh and yes, as this is my last post before Christmas . . . . . .

S E A S O N’ S   G R E E T I N G S   T O    E V E R Y O N E.

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Art for Christmas cards anyone?

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Years ago I received a charity Christmas card which featured what I took to be ‘The Three Wise Men’. Last month, at the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, I saw the very large Gentile and Giovanni Bellini painting, ‘St Mark Preaching in Alexandria’. This painting had originally been started by Gentile Bellini, but following his death it was completed by his brother Giovanni. It is a fascinating Renaissance Venetians’ version of an imagined Islamic Alexandria.

St Mark preaching in Alexandria by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini

‘St Mark Preaching in Alexandria’ by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini. Oil painting circa 1504-07. 3.47m x 7.7m Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

Whilst photographing some of the captivating detail, displaying both the vivid imagination and skill of the Bellini brothers, I noticed three bystanders in non-Western dress. Here were my Christmas card kings.

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There has also been a fashion for embossed, golden cards for Christmas. I’m not sure if this version of St Peter by Crivelli has been used yet, but the relief work depicting the keys and crosier could easily be embossed. Perhaps St Peter is looking a touch too joyless for Christmas.

Madonna and Child with Saints, San Domenico Triptych

St Peter part of the Madonna and Child with Saints, San Domenico Triptych. Carlo Crivelli 1482 Tempera and oil on wood. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

A small amount of gilt and glitz is acceptable at Christmas, but I think I prefer the more muted colours of frescoes. How about this fourteenth century painting by Simone da Corbetta. It fits the bill visually and would appeal more to a 21st century sensibility with the wan-faced, tall and thin female saints.

Simone da Corbetta part of Madonna and Child

Part of medieval painting – Madonna and Child (not shown), St. Catherine, St. Ursula, St. George and the donor Théodorico da Coira by Simone da Corbetta. 1382 Fresco transferred to canvas (235cm x 297cm) now at the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

And, finally, there’s plenty of inspirational, ornate sculptural work hidden away in churches. However, church interiors are frequently gloomy and a tripod (not popular with guides and security) is often required to capture an interesting, potential Christmas card image in focus or, maybe, not quite!

Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan

The Virgin Mary in Heaven – detail of relief in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan.

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On a truly grand scale

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Sometimes a single photograph simply doesn’t convey the sheer scale and drama of a building. Last month I was staying in Milan and took the opportunity to visit the magnificent Italian Gothic cathedral – the Duomo di Milano. It is the fifth largest cathedral in the world and the third largest in Europe with only St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and Seville Cathedral being bigger.

Even when you walk across the Piazza del Duomo through the tourist crowds it doesn’t ‘feel’ huge as unlike many other medieval cathedrals it is broad rather than tall. Then, the closer you get the magnificent marble façade looms and looms above you. The scale is best appreciated when a few humans stand in front of the mighty west doors – mille grazie soldati!

The church is dedicated to St Mary of the Nativity and was begun in 1386 and took over six centuries to finish. It is constructed from grey and pink-veined Candoglian marble that was ferried down a system of waterways from the Lake Maggiore quarries. From a distance it looks like an intricately iced cake, but up close you can truly appreciate the many marble statues and the fine ornate decoration.

There are 3,400 statues, 135 spires including 700 figures and 96 large gargoyles adorning the church. Looking up at the spires you might assume they were simply decorated with architectural, sculpted foliage, but in fact they are spires with multiple niches each holding a statue and finally each pinnacle is topped by another statue.

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Interestingly, such a vast and lengthy undertaking as building and embellishing a magnificent cathedral resulted in a collaboration between local Lombardy sculptors and workers from further afield including French and German sculptors.

And inside. . . The interior can accommodate 40,000 people in the 12,000 square metres – I think the guide below was just checking to see where they all were on this very, cold morning.

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Christmas 2016 – UK posting dates

christmas-giftIt’s the first day of December and we can now ‘officially’ mention Christmas! Round my way we’ve already had an increase of delivery vans and hardworking folk dropping off parcels well into the evening darkness. Each year the Royal Mail issues its last posting dates. You don’t want a special Christmas gift to turn up in January!

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But, of course, things don’t always run as smoothly as hoped for and just to be on the safe side my dates are not quite so last minute.

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In the last three years I have found the Special Delivery service very good and only once has a silk scarf, boxed and packaged, temporarily taken a detour to the wrong sorting office. With the full tracking information I saw it arrive in Scotland at a sorting office on the wrong side of the loch. What was probably a 15 minute trip across the water was a 30 mile trek by road and another day added to the delivery time. A worrying time for both me and my customer, but a successful delivery in the end.

 

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