Thursday, 9 October 2014

Heaven must be missing a portrait painter

Looking up John Prescott Knight in the old DNB, I found a reference to his enthusiasm for the teachings of the Scottish preacher Edward Irving, and the fact that he held "high office" in Irving's Catholic Apostolic church. The author is coy about naming his exact rank, but all is revealed in the memoirs of the Punch writer and farceur Sir Francis Burnand.  

It seems a strange thing to say, but 'tis true nevertheless, that I once had my portrait painted by an Angel. This is an absolute fact. The reader may think that the painter's name was Angel or that it was by M. Angeli, which would be "angels." No. This is how it came about.

Among the many artistic friends of my Uncle Theophilus was John Prescott Knight, R.A., secretary to the Royal Academy, and portrait painter whenever he got the chance of a sitter. I suppose in early days he had done some good work, and had some influential friends on the Academy Council, or otherwise how he could ever have been elected Academician it is difficult, judging from such works of art as I have seen of his, to imagine. My good-natured uncle thought he "owed him a turn," and so gave him the commission to paint my portrait .

J. Prescott Knight was an " Irvingite," that is a follower of the Irving who in the early part (I believe) of the nineteenth century professed to be " inspired," and with his followers to have received the gift of "prophesying with tongues." The Irvingites, when under divine inspiration, spoke as the Spirit moved them, and their unintelligible utterances were translated by other spiritually gifted Irvingites. The Irvingites, or members of the "Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" (most Londoners know the fine building in Gordon Square), were governed by "Angels," and little Knight was "an Angel." In private life I have no doubt he was as excellent a man as he was upright and honourable in his public capacity. He might have been occasionally inspired as an ''Angel'' but very rarely as an artist.

''We"' meaning the Irvingites, he said to me while at work on the picture — " we have restored the Order that was lost in the Roman Church and in the whole Christian world"

" What is that ? " I inquired.

"The Apostles" he replied, painting away quite methodically. "You have bishops, priests, deacons, and so forth; but where are your apostles ? "

I looked as wise as I could, and confined myself to echoing his inquiry. "Ah! where are the apostles?" I asked.

Then he began his exposition of Irvingite doctrine, from which I only gathered that he, personally, appeared entirely satisfied with his own explanation. He ignored the Pope as succeeding to the "prerogatives of St Peter," but saw no sort of difficulty in accepting the teaching of Irving, Angel, preacher, and member of Parliament. I was there to be painted, not to be lectured, and still less to be led into a theological argument. So, though it might have been "pain and grief to me," yet I held my tongue, and I rather think that he congratulated himself on having either secured a convert to his Irvingite creed, or on having silenced me as a Catholic. He evidently saw the Catholic Church as he saw me, that is, from his own point of view, and he painted me as he thought he saw me, the result being a figure intended for a portrait of myself, bearing as much resemblance to the original as did his ideas of the Catholic Church to the Catholic Church itself.

A more notable artistic figure  was less enthusiastic about Irving. AWN Pugin's mother was also a follower, and regularly took the nascent Goth to hear him preach. It was as a  reaction  against this style of worship, that Pugin, according to his friend Benjamin Ferrey, turned to the ritual and colour of Roman Catholicism.

[Sources: Francis Bernand: Records and Reminiscences, volume 2; Benjamin Ferrey: Recollections of A.N. Welby.Pugin, and his Father Augustus Pugin ]

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Head of an Academician

Self portrait by John Prescott Knight
I knew  that Richard Evans (see earlier post) had stopped showing at the Royal Academy following an argument over the hanging - or non-hanging - of his pictures at the Summer Exhibition. I didn't, however, realise that he actually came to blows over the matter, or rather to one single and decisive blow, which he admininstered to the head of the secretary of the Academy, John Prescott Knight. William Powell Frith tells  the story in his autobiography. His racial stereotyping is somewhat misplaced,  Evans having been born,  as far as I know, in Shrewsbury.  The incident actually occured  in April 1849.
A Welshman named Evans, a portrait-painter of merit, had been a pretty constant exhibitor for some years. He assisted Sir Thomas Lawrence, many of whose columns and background-curtains he is said to have painted. I have been told, but I cannot vouch for the truth of it, that all Welshmen are choleric; anyway, Evans was, and when he found that not a single portrait by him was allowed to appear in the exhibition of (about) 1846, he armed himself with a thick stick and took his way to Trafalgar Square, where we were then located.
"Where," said the furious Welshman to the porter, " is your blanked Hanging Committee ?"

"The Hanging Committee, sir ?" said the affrighted porter ; " the gentlemen — the members, sir, are all in the galleries varnishing the pictures, sir."
" Bring one or two of 'em down here," said Evans, as he stood in the hall grasping his cudgel; "fetch 'em, sir, fetch 'em ! I should like the whole lot."

"Oh! it's against orders, sir, I couldn't do that; but here comes Mr. Knight the secretary; perhaps he will do for you ?"
" Do for me?" muttered Evans, as he ground his teeth. " I'm more likely to do for him."

Knight approached :

" What is it ?" said he. " What's the matter ? Ah, good-morning, Mr. Evans."

"Good what! Good-morning — a precious good-morning this for me ; but perhaps you've had nothing to do with this infamous — now, Mr. Secretary, I insist — I want to know all about this! I will see the Hanging Committee or some of 'em. They have turned out my portraits, and I want to — I will know why they did it!"

Evans was a big man; Knight was a little one, but with a courage beyond his size, for he said:
"I can give you every information, Mr. Evans; I was one of the Hanging Committee, and the reason your portraits were rejected exists in the pictures themselves; we did not give them places because we did not think them deserving of  — "

Knight remembered nothing between the utterance of the above and his return to consciousness, when he found himself on the porter's bed, with a large lump upon his head, which one of the porters was tenderly bathing with a mixture effective in all cases of blows or bruises, while sympathetic R.A.'s stood around him. The assassin had disappeared, leaving a heavy cudgel — snapped in two — awful evidence of what the porter called his "wiolence."

How well I remember the whole affair! I was quietly working at my picture, when a member rushing past me, said: "Come along, Frith, come along! somebody has murdered the secretary!" — a startling announcement in the halls devoted to the arts of peace.

Poor Knight looked very rueful, and little consoled by our vows of vengeance — legal vengeance. We would have the wretch before a magistrate; he would get six months' imprisonment at least, without the option of a fine. Or, if the secretary preferred another method of punishment, we would get Baker, the model, who was a pugilist, to thrash Evans within an inch of his Welsh life; or an action should be brought, free of expense to the sufferer — an action for assault and battery: a verdict with a thousand pounds damages would be certain.

Eventually, much to my disappointment, a civil action was brought, with a result so inadequate in our estimation, that we were persuaded that the presiding judge's portrait had been amongst the rejected. One of the Council said he recollected the picture coming before him — he knew the face in a moment; it was a good likeness, though a bad picture, etc., etc. I don't think any of us believed our friend, we thought him mistaken; but there was no mistake about the value a British jury placed upon the head of a Royal Academician. For the sum of twenty pounds — or it might have been twenty-five — any evil-disposed person may indulge himself in breaking the head of anyone amongst the forty whenever he pleases; but, as I have no wish to deceive any rejected one inclined to revenge himself, I have to remind him that though twenty pounds was the price of the amusement forty years ago, it might be more expensive now; but I don't think the heads have risen in value, so the difference of cost is scarcely worth consideration.
Frith was writing in the 1880s. More contemporary accounts give a rather different story, implying that it was indeed, Knight, rather than the whole hanging committee, who was the target of  Evans'  wrath, and that the violence was something of an afterthought. 

Monday, 23 June 2014

Götzenberger in England

Franz Jakob Götzenberger, generally known in Germany as Jakob Götzenberger, was born in Heidelberg in 1802. He trained as an artist in Dusseldorf, where he was a pupil of Peter Cornelius. In his time, Cornelius was name to conjure with, a promoter of grand schemes of public frescoes; imagine a Benjamin Robert Haydon who got his way. Whether people ever  actually liked his works is open to question, but they were, for a while at least, certainly impressed by them.

It was with a project initiated by Cornelius - for four murals in the "Aula" or lecture hall at Bonn University - that Götzenberger's career really got underway. He only assisted with the first of the frescoes - each of which represented one of the faculties of the university, in elaborate allegorical compositions inspired by Raphael's "School of Athens". He was however, largely responsible for the other three, Cornelius and most of his acolytes having settled in Munich by the time they came to be painted. Götzenberger continued working in the "Aula" until 1836.

The Bonn murals were destroyed during the Second World War, but two other schemes  - in the private chapel of a newly built mansion at Nierstein, and the loggia of the pump room at Baden-Baden (1844) - survive. I might return to these in another post.

Der Grafensprung from Götzenberger's Baden-Baden murals

At some time in the 1840s things went wrong for Götzenberger in Germany, though I can't find any explicit mentions of what happened. Resigning  his position  as court painter at Mannheim,  he moved to England,, setting himself up in a a studio at 46 Berners Street in London. His name starts to become a little fluid: he is usually referred to as "Herr Gotzenberg", with or without an umlaut; he showed as "F. Gotzenberg" at the Royal Academy, and is presumably the "Francis Gotzenberg of Baden"  who beacame a British citizen in 1859.

Götzenberger had been to England before, and had met William Blake in early 1827, with their mutual friend Henry Crabb Robinson acting as interpeter.

A couple of reviews indicate a generally positive response to him in his new country. In September 1855 the Art Journal paid a visit to Gotzenberg's studio. and liked what it saw:
We noticed some time ago an exhibition of cartoons and other works of art, which were exhibited in the rooms of the Reunion des Arts in Harley Street. Of these works we spoke in the high terms of commendation which they merit, and which we feel to be justified on a second opportunity with which wo have been favoured, of seeing them at the residence of the artist, No. 46, Berners Street. These works—historical and poetical—remind us of what we have so often expressed a wish to see more cultivated among ourselves; that is a high tone of decorative art. Many years have now elapsed, but we do not feel that in the way of popularising didactic art, anything has been done by the Westminster Exhibition. Herr Gotzenberg was one of the favourite pupils of Cornelius, with whom he worked, and subsequently received the appointment of principal painter to one of the German Courts. We have seen a series of works which he has lately executed for Mr. Morrison; the subjects are from Dante, some of the most striking scenes from the Divina Commedia; graceful, spirited, and full of the mystic poetry of the prince of the Italian poets".
In the following  February   The Spectator  informed its readers that:
Readers who take an interest in the German phase of art development may add something to their knowlege of it if they gain access to the studio of Herr Götzenberg, a pupil, as we understand, of Cornelius, at present resident in Berners Street. The employment of this artist on considerable series of frescoes in Bonn and Baden bears witness to the estimation in which he is held in his own country; and the cartoons of these works to be seen in the studio will show the Englishman what standing he occupies among the creditable disciples of a school to which the most adverse cannot deny the virtues of thought and study. The chief cartoon represents , in ideal reunion, after the fashion of Delaroche's Hemicyle in Paris, saints and great churchmen, and includes several earnestly elaborated heads. In England,  Herr Götzenberg, doing as the English do, not without scorn doubtless from German high art,  has painted some subjects of a very different class – interiors from Oxford, Leicester and other places. In these works, his tone of colour assimilates to our own; and he exhibits in a high degree the qualities which go to the painting of a good interior, – truthful and pleasant light and shade, figures introduced with natural appropriateness, and portrait-like truth of rendering.

The "Westminster Exhibition" referred  to by the Art Journal had been held in Westminster Hall, to choose artists to decorate the new Houses of Parliament, built following the destruction by fire of the Old Palace of Westminster in 1834.  Peter Cornelius himself was asked over from  Germany to advise. This should have been the great opportunity for artists in Britain to press the cause of grand public schemes of art. As it was, the whole thing fell a bit flat. Nothing shown was capable of  creating a new enthusiasm  for high-minded decoration and Götzenberger only seems to have done three decorative schemes in Britain: one is at Bridgewater House in Britain  London (which did not please its architect, Charles Barry), and another, consisting of four panels showing scenes from the Ballad of Chevy Chase,is  in the guard room at Alnwick Castle. This was done at the very end of Götzenberger's time in Britain; indeed some of the German potted biographies say that he completed the cartoons following his move to Lucerne in around 1863. The contract for the paintings, naming the artist as "Francis. Gotzenberg" was auctioned a few years ago.

The Dante panels for Mr Morrison, mentioned in the Art Journal,  are less well documented. The most obvious identification of Morrison is as the art collector James Morrison, one-time owner of the remains of William Beckford's Fonthill  who later set himself up at Basildon Park near Reading. This seems to be to be correct. I had to turn to Wikipedia for information, but it seems soundly sourced from the National Trust guide to  Basildon Park. It turns out that Morrison replaced some grisaille paintings in the dining room there  with coloured scenes from Dante - the artist is not named anywhere, but in the light of the Art Journal's comments, they seem almost certainly to have been by Götzenberger. The entire decor of  the room was removed and sold in 1929. It was exported to the United States, where it was used to furnish what became known as the "Basildon Room" at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. An old postcard describes the paintings as "attributed to  Angelika Kauffmann".

Photo: Wikimedia Commons. Full details and permissions here.
I can find traces of three interiors of the type mentioned by the "Spectator". One with contemporary figures, catalogued on the BBC/PCF "Your Paintings" site  as "Conversation Piece, Henry Foulkes, Thomas Briscoe and William Dyke by Jakob Götzenberger" is in the collection of Jesus College. Mention of another Oxford subject, this time  with a historical theme, "Charles I in Divinity School, Oxford" turns up on auction record sites. The third, catalogued as "The Mayor and Town Council of Leicester in the Mayor's Rooms" by "Gotzenburg", and now in Leicester Town Hall, is another Civil War subject: the Royalist mayor and councillors are rushing to take up their weapons to ward off the besieging Parliamentarians.

"Conversation Piece, Henry Foulkes, Thomas Briscoe and William Dyke"  in the collection of Jesus College Oxford
The Mayor and Town Council of Leicester in the Mayor's Rooms" by "Gotzenburg",  in Leicester Town Hall.

[References: Henry Crabb Robinson Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Lamb, etc. (1922);  BBC Your Paintings, articles  in The Spectator and Art Journal.  The attributions of the Leicester and Basildon Park/ Waldorf  Astoria paintings are my own deductions]

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Bad News from the East

Society of Universal Good Will. This institution has ceased to exist.

(from: A General History of the County of Norfolk, 1829 )