Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Merry Christmas, War's Not Over

This intriguing lithographed bookplate is pasted onto the flyleaf of a copy of the artist A.S. Hartrick's 1939 autobiography A Painter's Pilgrimage Through Fifty Years. According to the inscription it was given by someone called Betty to Ivy G. Day and Gwendoline R. Harris, exactly 70 years ago, at Christmas 1943.

Inside: a well-lit room, books, cheerful prints on the walls, clean-lined modern furniture, sanctuary. Outside: desolation, the blackened ruins of the bombed city.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Lives of the Artists No.2: Edward Chatfield

Benjamin Robert Haydon, about whom enough has probably been written,  had several pupils, of whom Charles Lock Eastlake and the brothers Edwin and Charles Landseer were the most successful. Others have disappeared almost without trace,  though they may not have gone entirely unnoticed in their own time.

Edward Chatfield was  born  in 1800, the son of a distiller from Croydon.  Impressed by some paintings by Haydon, he obtained an introduction to the artist, who agreed to take him on as a pupil. His training with Haydon  included a course in anatomy, and close study of two of Haydon's special enthusiasms: the "Elgin Marbles" and the Raphael Cartoons. Although Haydon provided his tuition free, the master-pupil relationship would eventually cost Chatfield a considerable sum, as he had unwisely guaranteed  some bills for the man described by  Henry Vizetelly as "the unthrifty painter of colossal canvasses", and had to pay up when Haydon was arrested for debt in 1823. However he remained attached to Haydon, whom he often, rather oddly, referred to as "father".

Following the abrupt end of his training, he embarked on a career that mixed portrait painting - presumably for the money - with more  ambitious historical subjects. His works seem to have sunk into almost complete obscurity. There aren't any paintings - at least not recognised as such - in British public collections, and a simple internet search  turns up only a few prints after his works.

In 1825 he painted a deputation of Huron chiefs, who had came to London  in order to present their grievances to  George IV. Charles Hullmandell made lithographs of the pictures:

Three Chiefs of the Huron Indians Residing at La Jeune Lorette, Near Quebec, in their National Costume. Lithograph by Charles Hullmandel, after a painting by Edward Chatfield (1825). Image: National Gallery of Canada

Nicolas Vincent Tsawenhohi. Lithograph by Charles Hullmandel, after a painting by Edward Chatfield (1825). Image: Wikimedia Commons.

His painting The Otter's Cairn—a Scene in the Island of Islay,  with portraits, painted for "Campbell M.P. of Islay" and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1834, was, though,  in a Christie's sale in Edinburgh in 2008. Oddly enough it was catalogued as "Circle of George Sanders (1774-1846)", but if the description of the painting as "The Islay Otter Hunt with numerous figures, including Walter Frederick Campbell (1798-1855), and his son John Francis Campbell (1822-1885)" wasn't enough to confirm an attribution to Chatfield, the catalogue entry notes that an indistinct inscription on the stretcher,  reading "An otter hunt in Islay painted by Cha[tfield?] in Islay/Portrait of ..... Campbell of Islay...."

This is how The Sporting Magazine reviewed it:

Otter Hunting will lose none of its attractions by Mr. Chatfield's delineation of it—he has been very happy in selecting his points, which tell with considerable effect. The listening attitude of some, and the wary countenances of others while awaiting the dislodgment of the enemy from his retreat, is cleverly imagined, and the whole is heightened by the Highland costume of some of the party.

Other exhibited paintings by Chatfield included The Death of Moses, shown at the British Institution in 1823, and recorded at the time of his death at Salters' Hall, in the City of London;   Penelope's Grief over the Bow of Ulysses ( 1824), La Petite Espiegle (1825), The Death of Locke (1833); The Battle of Killiecrankie (1836)  and  Ophelia (1837), as well as various portraits. Are we missing much by not knowing these paintings? The Gentleman's Magazine was ambivalent about his achievement:

As an artist, Mr. Chatfield had never succeeded in doing perfect justice to the powers which he really possessed. His taste was formed upon a thorough understanding of all that was loftiest in art— but his hand, judging by his exhibited pictures, could not accomplish the tasks which he would have set it. His unceasing and feverish ambition to realise his pure views of art—to trace the forms which he saw in visions, peopled with the shapes and colours of the Old Masters whom he venerated —to pourtray the beauty, and work out the truth which lie felt so acutely—may have had its effect among the causes of his premature death. 

In other words, he was a victim of Haydon's high-mindedness. There isn't much more. He wrote articles  on art for various magazines under the pseudonym "Echion". In his last piece, ''On Poetic Painting and Sculpture'' for the ''Monthly Magazine" he criticised the works of Henry Fuseli in terms that, to the modern reader, might seem like an argument for dullness in art:  "The fantastic, the eccentric, the grotesque, the unnatural, the horrible, may all put in their claims to the title of Poetic, and some portion of the true Hippocrene may mingle with all; but a matured taste rejects from any affinity with the genuine fountain of the Muses, whatsoever is inconsistent with fine sense or propriety of character".

In Greek mythology Echion was, in the words of Lempriére's Classical Dictionary, the standard  reference work of the time and favourite reading of Haydon's friend John Keats, "one of those men who sprung from the dragon's teeth sown by Cadmus. He was one of the five who survived the fate of his brothers and assisted Cadmus in building the city of Thebes."  Chatfield's life was less epic. In 38 years it took him from Croydon to Bloomsbury, where he died at the house of his friend, the wood engraver Orrin Smith, with whom he had lived for several years, in   January 1839.

[[Sources: Obituaries in the Aldine Magazine and
the Gentleman's Magazine; Chatfield's entry in the Dictionary of National Biography; Henry Vizetelly Glances Back Through Seventy Years; The Sporting Magazine; The Monthly Magazine; Lempriére's Dictionary.]

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Last Supper in Ponders End

There is, of course, no reason that the altarpiece from the high altar of Santa Croce in Florence, or at least significant  bits of it shouldn't end up in Ponders End.

The altarpiece, painted by the Sienese artist Ugolino da Nerio at sometime in the 1320s was brought to England by William Young Ottley. He's generally described  basically as a "collector" though he made a large amount of money out of dealing in art; he sold a collection of old master drawings to his friend Thomas Lawrence,  President of the Royal Academy and enthusiastic spender of money he didn't have, for £8,000.  Ottley had spent some years in Italy and taken advantage of the chaos caused by the Napoleonic wars to  gather a considerable art collection. The altarpiece was removed from the high altar in the 1560s to make way for a ciborium designed by Giorgio Vasari. In 1785 it is recorded in the friars' dormitory at Santa Croce, but by 1810, when the monastery was suppressed it had already gone, most of the parts sold to Ottley. 

Following his return to England, Ottley he sold all the later paintings he'd acquired in Italy, but hung on to the early ones, including the Santa Croce panels, including the central image of the madonna and child, which is now lost.

In 1847, following Ottley's death, his collection was offered at auction. Most of the Santa Croce panels were unsold, but were auctioned again in 1850. Six  of the seven panels of the predella - the strip of scenes from along the  bottom of the altarpiece, and four other panels from a higher level, each showing two saints  were bought by a clergyman called John  Fuller.Russell. The incumbent (even more technically the "perpetual curate) of the church of St James Enfield Highway, just up the road from Ponders End, Russell was a member of the high church Ecclesiological Society, which he'd joined  as an undergraduate at Cambridge (where he read law), when it was still called  the Cambridge Camden Society. His high church tendencies seem to be a reaction against his background; his father was a Congregationalist minister, who went by the name of Thomas Russell, although his surname was originally Clout, and  John Fuller Russell was only baptised into the Church of England while he was a student. The Ecclesiological Society, was  a group of Anglicans dedicated to the revival of ancient - that is pre-Reformation -  styles of art, architecture, ritual and music in the church of England. Pugin, or at least his rhetoric was an important early influence on their aesthetic outlook, but they were disappointed with the  buildings he actually put up, which they severely criticised in their spendidly outspoken  magazine "Ecclesiologist". There were, in any case, always equivocal about Roman Catholicism.

There isn't actually a great deal about painting in the "Ecclesiologist", but early Renaissance art was one of Russell's great enthusiasms. When the German art historian Gustav Waagen visited Russell in Ponders End, he found the walls of Eagle House "so richly adorned with specimens of the 14th century, that the spectator feels as if transported to a chapel at Siena or Florence." Eagle House was near the corner of South Street and the High Street, just opposite where Tesco's is now.

In 1856 Russell became the rector of Greenhithe in Kent, and had increased his collection significantly by the time Waagen visited him there a few years later, new acquisitions including the "Diptych of Jeanne de France" then believed to be by Hans Memling (now in the Musée Condé in Chantilly). He was rector of Greenhithe for the rest of his life, but also had a London house, in Ormonde Terace, Regent's Park, where he died. I don't know how he afforded his collection; there's no indication of family wealth, and its hard to imagine his salary from the church was that great. Perhaps, if you were careful and had a good eye, collecting the kind of things he liked actually wasn't that expensive.

Russell's collection of paintings was auctioned in April 1885. The Santa Croce paintings went their various ways. Several of the predella panels are in the National Gallery in London: The Arrest of Christ, "The Way to Calvary" and the "Depostion". The gallery also owns the "Resurection", which was not in Russell's collection. The "Last Supper" is in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the "Flagellation" and "Entombment" are in Berlin. 

[Sources: DNB entries for Ottley and Russell; Familysearch; Waagen;"The Ecclesiologist"; John Pope Hennessey "Italian Paintings from the Robert Lehman Collection"; Stuff I made up.]

Monday, 18 November 2013

Apollo: A Recommendation

"He was one of the most genteel of the Heathen Gods, of whom they do not relate such filthy stories, as of the others."

Nathan Bailey Universal Etymological English Dictionary (1731)

Sunday, 24 March 2013


Walking south down Walbrook with the site of Bucklersbury House on the right. That side of the building worked alright;  it was the side towards Queen Victoria Street that ignored the line of the pavement and created awkward spaces that was the problem,  if I remember rightly.

I suppose the road follows the course of the old Walbrook river fairly closely, and no doubt it's in a pipe somewhere down below. There are people who get very excited about these things.

When they  built  Bucklersbury House in the 1950s they found a Temple of Mithras - used as I understand it a by kind of Roman Freemasonry with added animal sacrifices - along here; the remains were taken up and relaid (they were rather flat remains) in one  of  the abovementioned awkward spaces towards Queen Victoria Street.

The church of St Stephen (just visible in the second picture this side of the St*rb*cks sign) was originally on the west side of the Walbrook. It was rebuilt on the east side in the later middle ages, burnt down in the Great Fire in 1666 and rebuilt by Christopher Wren (unusually, for a City church, no one disputes the attribution). It's ingeniously domed and columned and generally revered by the kind of people who revere things. So worth a look inside, even if the modern rearrangement with the centrally placed altar is problematic, and the primitivist  form  the altar takes even more so.

The last picture is along the side of Cannon Street Station. Not sure if the road is still officially Walbrook, but no doubt the river W. is still burbling on psychogeographically  underneath.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Medallion Man

I don't think there can be any doubt this is by Lucius Gahagan, or perhaps at least by a Lucius Gahagan. It's a small circular bronze relief, 17cm across, of the Revd. Francis Skurray (1774--1848). According to Bonhams, who sold it, along with a version in patinated plaster, for £29 in 2004, it's signed on the edge "L. Gahagan, published July 14 1841".

It could hardly be by Lawrence Gahagan, if, as seems generally agreed, he started his career in Dublin 85 years before that. Anyway, Skurray was local to Bath, where Lucius, indeed both Luciuses were based; he was educated there, and his maternal grandfather had been mayor of the city. At the time of his death he was perpetual curate of Horningsham in Wiltshire, and Rector of Winterbourne-cum-Steepleton in Dorset, and of Lullington, Somerset. He was a poet, author of a volume called "Bidcombe Hill, and other Rural Poems", which was sucessful enough to go into three editions, and was something of an art collector, as this view of the interior of the parsonage at Horningsham, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum demonstrates:

A label on the back of the painting says that it shows the "Gothic Room" built for Skurray in 1839, and that the collection illustrated included works by Guercino, Guido Reni ("The Infant Saviour") Titian ("Abelard"), Francesco Solimena (Faith Hope and Charity), Sassoferrato and Ruisdael. Clearly in those days, clergymen were wealthy enough to be able to afford a decent collection, though no doubt some of the attributions were overambitious: I can't, for instance find a single reference to an "Abelard" by Titian.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

O, Isis and Osiris

I think I first came across the name of the Gahagan family of sculptors in relation to the figures of Isis and Osiris on the facade of the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. Built in 1811 to a design  by PF Robinson to house William Bullock's Museum, it was later used for all kinds of things, including, simultaneously, the paintings of  Benjamin Robert Haydon, and the celebrity dwarf "General Tom Thumb". It was  the home of Maskelyne's magic show around the end of the 19th century and demolished about a hundred years ago.

Anyway, squeezed between two plain Georgian facades (actually built at the same time), was a kind of temple front, giving the idea of a kind of Pylon shape, with  two massive figures of Egyptian gods.
The statues now belong to the Museum of London, I must have seen them, as they were, apparently, displayed  near the entrance of the museum for a few years, but they're now in storage [or so I thought: see comments]. They're made of stone, and they're more than three metres high, including the bases  and head-dresses.

They are variously described as being by Sebastian Gahagan, or by his father Lawrence. (The museum attributes them to Lawrence.) Sebastian had two   brothers  called Lucius and Vincent  were also sculptors, and there might have been one or two others; it gets complicated. Sebastian hasn't been written about much, but the outline of his life and work seems fairly clear. He was an assistant to Joseph Nollekens at one point, so he gets some mentions in JT Smith's biography of him (Smith also worked for Nollekens, and  knew Sebastian personally). He did a few high profile commissions: an elaborate monument to  Sir Thomas Picton in St Paul's Cathedral, a statue of the Duke of Kent (Queen Victoria's father) in Portland Place, and one of of George III for the Royal Exchange, presumably destroyed when the building burned down a few years later. These works seem to have had a better critical reaction than a lot of public sculpture, but his career doesn't really ever seem to have taken off. He died in 1838 at the age of  60; he wasn't the one crushed to death by Richard Westmacott's statue of George Canning, but let's leave that for another time.

His father Lawrence is more enigmatic. There seems to be a decent amount of information about him around, but most of it seems to crumble when examined. According to Strickland's 1913 "Dictionary of Irish Artists '', he's first recorded in Dublin  in 1756 as "L. Geoghegan," of Anglesea Street, Dublin. In that year he was given a premium of four pounds by the Dublin Society  for "a piece of Sculpture", probably  a signed and dated marble statuette of Rubens, which, in 1913  belonged to one Mr. W. T. Kirkpatrick of Donacomper, Celbridge.

After this, Strickland says, he went to London,  and altered his surname to "Gahagan." In 1777 he received a "premium" of thirty guineas from the Society of Arts for "a cast of a Figure". Then, in 1798, aged about 63 he exhibited at the Royal Academy for the first time, showing busts of Admiral Sir Thomas Paisley and Sir (not yet Lord) Horatio Nelson. This version is accepted by "Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain, 1660-1851", published on the website of the Henry Moore Foundation, which says "he exhibited sculpture at the Royal Academy from 22 Dean Street in 1798, Pershore Place, New Road in 1800, 5 Little Tichfield Street in 1801 and 12 Cleveland Street, Fitzroy Square from 1809 until 1817". But  the Royal Academy catalogues don't refer to "Lawrence Gahagan", merely to "L. Gahagan". The actual identity of the scullptor of the bust of Nelson comes in an advertisement published in the "Morning Chronicle" on 12 April, 1806 (found on the British Library 19th century newspapers database):
LUCIUS GAHAGAN.– respectfully informs the Nobility and Gentry, that he is the only Professional Sculptor who ever was honoured with sittings for a BUST of the great LORD NELSON, having already sold upwards of 300 Casts, and also executed them in Marble and real Bronze, he hopes will be sufficient proof of the likeness being satisfactory. Casts of the above may be had of the Artist, No.5. Bentinck-street, Berwick-street, Soho, and nowhere else. Price one Guinea, or the size of Life Three Guineas each, to be paid for on delivery, The BUST of the Right Hon. WILLIAM PITT will be published in a few days.
Mezzotint after L. Gahagan's bust of Horatio Nelson

So the sculptor of the Nelson bust was Lawrence's son, Lucius, and unless I'm missing something there doesn't seem any reason to assume that the other Royal Academy exhibits weren't by him either. (Obviously, I was hoping I'd made a great art historical disovery, but it turns out that the British Museum have correctly catalogued a mezzotint of Nelson's  bust as showing one by Lucius Gahagan. Oh well). Lucius later left London, and established himself in Bath in around 1820. He seems to have moved west earlier than that though: the Royal Academy catalogue for 1817 list an "L. Gahagan"  of College Green Bristol, and an L. Gahagan Jnr. of Swallow Street in London. The latter is often assumed to be Lucius, but it seems more likely to be his son, Lucius Junior, who later followed his father to Bath. Census records, of at least the versions of them I can get free, say he was in Charlton Kings in 1841 and Bath in 1861.

The "Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain" goes on to say
The full extent of Gahagan’s output cannot be gauged, since most of the works credited to him are undated and are identified only as being by ‘L Gahagan’. Some of these may be by his son, Lucius.
The weakness of the evidence provided for Lawrence's authorship of recorded works makes it seem possible that  this is an understatement. The "Biographical Dictionary" continues:
The title page of a second major source for Lawrence's work, [in addition to the Academy catalogues]the sale catalogue of a Miss Fenton of Chandos House, Westgate Buildings, Bath, also fails to give a full first name. It reads ‘Catalogue of Works of Art ... by the late L. Gahagan, sculptor’. There is a pencilled notation ‘1840’, and if the date is accurate, this opens up the possibility that some of the many busts, a few figures and a number of reliefs may be the work of Lucius. Indeed one of the subjects, a group of Maria Bagnell and her murderer, Gilham (described as Gillingham in the sale catalogue) illustrates a notorious murder that took place in 1828 and so must be by Lucius, for Lawrence had by then been dead eight years. Another subject, a bust of Mayor Goldney of Chippenham, depicts a worthy who did not come into office until 1853. It seems likely that Miss Fenton’s sale was principally of Lawrence’s work, but that Lucius, who, like Miss Fenton, had lodgings in his later years at Chandos House, included some of his own sculpture in the sale, including the Bagnell tableau and Goldney bust. It is possible that sculpture by outsiders was included in the auction and wrongly credited to L Gahagan.
Well, maybe. But it seems a convoluted  way of looking at it. A pencilled date doesn't seem much to go on. It would be much simpler to assume that the catalogue was published after Lucius's death in 1855, and that the collection it lists was all his work. The date of Lucius's death is firmly established by his obituary  from the  published in "Cheltenham Gazette", on the 19th December of that year and reprinted in the "Biographical Dictionary". Apart from the date, it provides more pathos than information:
Dec 14 at Chandos House aged 82, Mr Lucius Gahagan, sculptor of this city. His reward will be hereafter. In this world he has passed a long and strictly virtuous life exemplifying abilities which only the very few appreciated and which the many failed to reward. More than half his life has been, as to worldly means, that of mere subsistence and in poverty he has resigned his temporal difficulties. His son, who inherits his father’s talents and who will, we understand, continue the profession in this city, will, we trust, live to see a change for the better.
To speculate a little, it  seems most plausible that Miss Fenton accepted the sculptures in payment for a debt from the impoverished Lucius and sold them soon after his death. The reference in the catalogue to a group commerating the murder of Maria Bagnall  is interesting. A report in the "The Ipswich Journal" for the 9th February 1828 (but presumably reprinted from a more local paper) shows that Lucius Gagahan's knowledge of the case was unnervingly intimate:
Early on the Monday Morning succeeding the murder, Mr Gahagan, the sculptor, residing in the Walks, took a model of the body of Maria Bagnell as it lay in the kitchen in its blood, and the resemblance in every particular is understood to be remarkably accurate. Mr. G. likewise took a model of her head after the hair was cut off, which shows all the wounds that were inflicted....
Sculptors were used to taking death masks, but this sounds like something beyond the usual call of duty. But back to Lawrence, and the "Biographical Dictionary":
In 1801 he was employed on decorative work at Castle Howard  and in 1806 he submitted a model for the proposed monument to Pitt at Guildhall. His design was rejected and he later wrote to the Committee that he had ‘made four applications at your office for my model, but could not obtain it until last Saturday and then in a very mutilated state’ . Gahagan’s two colossal statues of Isis and Osiris, commissioned in 1811, formed part of the façade of William Bullock’s Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly.

Gahagan was known for his portrait busts of celebrities, many of them produced as multiples available in a variety of materials and sizes. His subjects included members of the Royal family, statesmen, national heroes  and the poet Byron. Mary Anne Clarke, the Duke of York’s mistress, who was depicted like the Antique Clytie, rising ‘roguishly feminine from a sunflower’ .... Madame Catalani was a noted opera singer  and Sir Edward Parry, a famous explorer. Other subjects had a particular appeal for West Country clients: George Whitfield, the preacher and missionary, came from Gloucester, William Jay was a popular Bath preacher and Sir William Struth was Mayor of Bristol. Gahagan’s subjects evidently respected his work, for the Chandos House catalogue relates that in 1798 Lord Nelson honoured the sculptor with seven sittings for his bust, which was later engraved by Barnard. A trade card issued in 1815 by ‘L Gahagan’ informed the public that ‘the only Bust to which His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of all the Russias, ever condescended to sit is on view at the sculptor's study, 12 Cleveland Street, Fitzroy Square’.
Marble bust of Mary-Ann Clarke (National Portrait Gallery, London)

It seems infinitely more likely that these subjects with a West Country appeal were made by Lucius in Bath, than Lawrence, who was never recorded there. Anyway, Lucius specifically identfies himself as the sculptor of the multiple Nelsons, and produced, according to his advertisement, a new bust of Pitt in 1806, the year in which the "Biographical Dictionary" says Lawrence made a model  for a monument at the Guildhall. Neither of the main sources for Lawrence's work, the R.A. catalogues and the Chandos House one seem at all credible  as evidence of his production.

So most if not all the works thought to  be by Lawrence are probably by Lucius. Does that clarify things? Probably not. There are no known works by Lucius Jnr, and its quite possible that some of his father's apparent oeuvre should be given to him.

Who made Isis and Osiris then? Bullock had a connection with the Gahagan family before he opened the Egyptian Hall, having shown the works of one of its members at his previous museum in Liverpool. His 1799 catalogue records a selection of sculptures made, rather bizarrely of rice paste. They include "Busts of the four following British Admirals, modelled from life, in their naval uniforms, by Mr. Gahagan,—Lord Hood, Lord Bridport, Lord Nelson, and Sir Thomas Paisley" and "Rev. Mr. Romaine, from life, by Gahagan." From the inclusion of Nelson, this can only have been Lucius, who also had connections with the Hood family, having made the admiral's monument at the church in Butleigh. 

None of this should be taken as criticism of the "Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain, 1660-1851", which is an admirable project, a wonderful and thorough and free thing without which I couldn't have begun to research the subject. And unlike more traditional encyclopedias it provides the evidence for its assertations, for the reader to judge.