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Relatively unflattering, yet Nelson's favourite, portrait of Emma.

Relatively unflattering – yet Nelson’s favourite – portrait of Emma.

The Emma Hamilton story has taken many twists and turns since her own day. Her reputation was widely traduced during her lifetime. Worse was to come during the Victorian era when our national heroes had to be seen and remembered as flawless paragons: Emma was further dismissed as one who lured a helpless Nelson to her bed. Matters improved in the 20th Century when she was represented more sympathetically by Vivien Leigh (1940) and Glenda Jackson (1973). The discovery and attendant research of many private letters about ten years ago shone more light. But still, as far as she is known at all, Emma remains simply Nelson’s mistress.

Her memory deserves better and I believe a new exhibition in Greenwich does her proper justice.

To start life as a poor girl from Cheshire and end up married to the leading connoisseur of the age and rubbing shoulders with European royalty was a massive achievement. Yes, good looks were essential to take her along that road. But equally, it took intelligence, determination and hard work to secure her place at William Hamilton’s side in 1790s Naples. This she did by educating herself in everything and more that a well-born woman would know in the spheres of language, art, science, music.  If it weren’t for the mores and the snobbery of the age, the Nelson and post-Nelson years for her would surely have been less tragic.

Yet while she did so well and achieved so much in her extraordinary life, to any observer Emma Hamilton’s story is also a heartbreaking one. Having moved to London as a teenager and based in notorious Covent Garden, Emma worked in domestic service for local families and leading thespians. Her beauty ensured additional work as an artists’ model. But falling pregnant to a typical Georgian swell with the almost comical toff name of Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh, she then fell under the wing and into the bed of Charles Greville. Although she saw her daughter occasionally, the girl was taken care of by others, and they led separate lives. Later on, when Greville himself sought and advantageous marriage, he virtually sold Emma on to his uncle, the aging Sir William Hamilton, the British Envoy to the Kingdom of Naples. Emma had no idea the Greville would not be following. She was distraught. Nonetheless, she knuckled down and made a singular success of her new situation.

Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity at the National Maritime Museum (NMM) tells this story brilliantly. And fairly. Comprising a wonderful mix of objects, the exhibition is nonetheless dominated by portraiture, most of which is from the NMM’s own collection (it has the second largest portrait collection after the National Portrait Gallery itself). Emma was captured by many painters, illustrators and cartoonists great and small. Most prolific among these was George Romney whose portraits are the most accomplished simply because he knew her the best and was clearly smitten. She was also still young. But Joshua Reynolds had a go, as did Thomas Lawrence – not one of his best but interesting to see for comparison. Rowlandson and Gilray had their fun with her, notably the latter, who was uncompromisingly vicious. But funny, to be fair.

Emma as la Penserosa by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1792. © The Abercorn Heirloom Settlement Trustees

Emma as la Penserosa by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1792. © The Abercorn Heirloom Settlement Trustees

Dido in despair by James Gilray. The departing fleet in the background. © National Maritime Museum

Dido in despair by James Gilray. The departing fleet in the background. © National Maritime Museum

It is the Romney portraits which dominate the first half of the show and probably what one takes away. It is good that this show raises his profile, deservedly so. To what extent his Emmas are idealised is difficult to say. Certainly she was a huge celebrity model in her time, in the modern sense, pretty much. This, combined with her obsessive self-improvement, puts one in mind of Marilyn Monroe. Their fame and vulnerable position at society’s top table strike one as eerily similar.

 

The postergirl image of this exhibition. Emma as Circe by George Romney c.1782 © Tate.

The poster girl image of this exhibition. Emma as Circe by George Romney c.1782 © Tate.

The exhibition includes many other personal objects such as tea sets, frocks, jewellery, Nelson’s hair and dress coat. These are interesting, but it’s the sizeable collection of letters between our leading players in Emma’s life which give weight and balance to the whole and make it truly personal. There are also great examples of books which give a good flavour of the times. I was pleased to see copies by moralistic Georgian do-gooders Jonas Hanway (“the most boring man in London” (!)) and Mrs Trimmer.

This show succeeds on many levels. First, it gives a very balanced assessment of Emma Hamilton’s life. Although titled Seduction and Celebrity (you have to catch the punters’ eye), it nonetheless emphasises her achievement, and that is most important. It sets her place properly in the historical and social context of women’s place in late Georgian society, reminding us of the essential weakness of their position and their lot.

But if I were to describe it in a word, I would say: lavish! Beautifully designed, lit and presented. Looking back at NMM shows of recent years such as Royal River (2012) and Pepys, (2015) this is something NMM does particularly well. This Emma Hamilton show is easily the equal of those superb exhibitions.

Highly recommended.

Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity runs at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, until 17 April 2017. Tickets are £12.60 (adults, concessions apply).

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DSC03489_200David Bowie. We’re still smarting, are we not?

Our greatest rock star and the coolest Englishman who ever lived.

Yesterday I popped into this very temporary exhibition, in Heddon Street exactly opposite the Ziggy Stardust plaque. It features a selection of previously unseen portraits by three of Bowie’s favourite snappers: Chalkie Davies, Tony McGee and Denis O’Regan. It runs until Sunday.

David Bowie: Fame Fashion Photography.

Pic: Denis O'Regan, 1978

Pic: Denis O’Regan, 1978

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All the pieces are wonderful: how could they not be? But I particularly like the more informal contact sheet-style series and the informal ones rather than official photoshoot types. But how can you tell? Was Bowie always “on”, or was he simply so cool, so photogenic that it was simply impossible to take a bad picture?

If, like me, you are a bit of a fan, this wonderful show is bitter-sweet. It touches you.

There is a lovely catalogue which you can buy via donation (minimum £5, please) and all the pieces on display (and a few others) are for sale via silent auction. Bid range at time of writing £500 – £3,500. All proceeds to Cancer Research UK.

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Scan20151201_16270271The cartoonist Martin Honeysett died just over a year ago to the great distress of his family, friends and fans. He was 71. He had led an interesting and varied life, including a spell of lumberjacking in New Zealand and in his later years as a visiting professor at a university in Kyoto.

Born in Hereford, Honeysett was brought up in south London, where he attended the Croydon School of Art.  He drifted around for about 10 years before properly knuckling down to the business of drawing for a living. From the early 1970s, he became a regular and prolific contributor to magazines such as Private Eye, SpectatorThe Oldie, and Punch. He also worked in book illustration with Michael Palin and Terry Jones of Monty Python, dour Scottish comedian Ivor Cutler, author Sue Townsend and others.

But it is mainly for his one panel cartoons and magazine covers that Honeysett will be remembered. Acutely observed, black, grotesque and often a little unnerving, the main attribute of his work was that it was very, very funny indeed – so much so, in fact that a great deal of them required no caption. And they worked on several levels, because his drawings – misanthropic in the extreme – were funny of themselves – funnier than any other cartoonist’s – and on top of all that: the strange joke, every one a cracker.

Last week on the exact anniversary of Martin Honeysett’s demise, The Cartoon Museum opened an exhibition in his memory and honour: A Taste of Honeysett: the Acerbic Wit of Martin Honeysett. I visited last Thursday afternoon and was soon giggling happily, something you’ll not experience at any other London gallery. I noticed other punters were snorting and guffawing too, quite unselfconsciously. Here are some examples.

Private Eye, 16 April 1996. Estate of Martin Honeysett.

Private Eye, 16 April 1996. Estate of Martin Honeysett.

Martin Honeysett

Cover for Punch. 27 May, 1981. Estate of Martin Honeysett

There are dozens more like this, along with his illustration work. You soon realise, if you didn’t already, what a talented illustrator Martin Honeysett was, possibly somewhat camouflaged by his busy, scratchy style. This joy of an exhibition runs until 16 April. Do not miss.

There is a 148 page catalogue of the exhibition with introductory articles by Ian Hislop, Richard Ingrams, Bill Stott and the Cartoon Museum’s director, Anita O’Brien. It includes a generous colour section and is a snip at just £8.99. Available from the museum shop, online here or by phone on 020 7580 8155.

Finally, here is a brace of my own Honeysetts. Treasured.

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Martin Honeysett

 

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Exhibition at Hogarth’s House, 22 January – 3 April 2016

A guest post by LH Member, Val Bott

Anthropometamorphosis: Man Transform’d, or the Artificial Changeling, John Bulwer, 1653, a study of the way humans have modified their bodies for cultural and cosmetic reasons

Anthropometamorphosis: Man Transform’d, or the Artificial Changeling, John Bulwer, 1653, a study of the way humans have modified their bodies for cultural and cosmetic reasons

Layton’s Library: A Curious Collection will display some of the most beautiful and unusual examples of 17th and 18th century books once owned by Brentford antiquarian Thomas Layton. These are amongst the oldest volumes from his remarkable collection and this is an exciting opportunity to see them for the first time.

Supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Thomas Layton Trust is running a project to raise awareness and understanding of the collection. The exhibition has been curated by a team of dedicated local volunteers who have selected books for display from around 8,000 volumes! Visitors will be intrigued by these early books, their various subjects, their bindings and their illustrations. They will also learn a little about Layton and his passion for collecting and the Trust hopes the exhibition will raise awareness of the collection and share it with a new generation of readers.

The exhibition is on show at Hogarth’s House, Chiswick, admission free. Visitors are welcome from Tuesday to Sunday, between 12 noon to 5pm, until 3 April. From 30 April 2016, some of the exhibition will be on show at Boston Manor House in Brentford, where the Trust is planning a range of workshops for adults and children during the summer months.

Thomas Layton (born in 1819, died 1911) lived for the majority of his life on Kew Bridge Road in Brentford, West London. He was a lighterman, a coal merchant, a churchwarden, a member of the Burial Board and a Poor Law Guardian but, above all, he was a collector. During the course of his life he built up an enormous and intriguing collection of ‘every conceivable thing that can be found in an antique store’, including maps, prints, spears, swords, tokens, medals and coins, but his plans to endow a museum and library in Brentford ran into difficulties.

Many of his antiquities are on public display in the Museum of London; the river wall in their London Before London gallery. However, by far the largest element of his collection – the extraordinary collection of books – has remained relatively unknown and little used. The laytoncollection.org website has brought many of the elements together as a “virtual museum” for you to explore.

Antiquarians frm Grose

Rules for drawing caricatures: with an essay on comic painting, Francis Grose, 1791, with wonderful illustrations by the author

The books on show include
A Compleat Collection of English Proverbs, John Ray, 3rd edition 1737
New, Authentic and Complete Collection of Voyages Round the World, Captain Cook’s First, Second, Third and Last Voyages, by George William Anderson, issued in 80 sixpenny parts 1784-6
Picturesque Views on the River Thames, Samuel Ireland, 1791
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, 1631 edition
The Fables of Aesop, Paraphrased in Verse, Adorned with Sculpture & Illustrated with Annotations by John Ogilvie Esq, 1668
Indian antiquities or Dissertations relative to Hindostan, Thomas Maurice, 1792
A discourse concerning old-age Tending to The Instruction, Caution and Comfort of Aged Persons, Richard Steele, 1688
The Lady’s Magazine or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated solely to their Use and Amusement, 1790
The English House-Wife, Containing The inward and outward Vertues which ought to be in a Compleat Woman, Gervase Markham, 1683
Anthropometamorphosis: Man Transform’d, or the Artificial Changeling, John Bulwer, 1653
Rules for drawing Caricaturas: with an Essay on Comic Painting, Francis Grose, 1791

The Lady’s Magazine or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex. Appropriated solely to their Use and Amusement. Vol. XXI for the year 1790 - genteel entertainment, one year's monthly issue bound as a single volume.

The Lady’s Magazine or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex. Appropriated solely to their Use and Amusement. Vol. XXI for the year 1790 – genteel entertainment, one year’s monthly issue bound as a single volume.

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Preview evening. 

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Preview evening. 

All images by Toni Marshall. 

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james-gillray-1-sized200This year is the 200th anniversary of the death of the London cartoonist James Gillray (1756 – 1815). He’s one of our best-known illustrators, usually mentioned in the same breath as Hogarth, Tenniel and Shepard. Like Hogarth earlier in the century, Gillray trained as an engraver and followed that trade for a short while before discovering his métier.

That profession was the vicious lampooning of prominent persons, primarily politicians and royalty. So rich were his ideas conceptually that they have provided templates for cartoonists ever since, but primarily during our own times. He’s imitated more so even than Hogarth because his illustrations are more punchy, more precise, less cluttered.

This frequent habit of cartoonistic homage down the years forms the basis of a new exhibition celebrating the Gillray anniversary: Gillray’s Ghost, at the Cartoon Museum. It features about 70 items: original hand-coloured prints by Gillray, alongside the modern equivalents by the likes of Steve Bell, Peter Brookes, Chris Duggan, Martin Rowson, Dave Brown, Nick Garland and others.

The most fecund of these, and the headline illustration of the show, is The Plumb Pudding in Danger from 1805 (pre Trafalgar), featuring Pitt and Bonaparte carving up the globe. Food and gluttony are, of course, a common trope for cartoonists down the years. There are at least half a dozen variants of this in the show. Here, using  David Cameron and Nicola Sturgeon, is Steve Bell’s.

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Gillray SB baked bean _500

The Baked Bean in Danger. Anniversary homage by Steve Bell. © Steve Bell.

To my mind, the most famous of all is A Voluptuary, the image of the Prince Regent, leaning back languidly, picking his teeth with a fork, not a care in the world. Chris Duggan’s cartoon shows a select committee absentee, ditto.

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Gillray CD Voluptuary 500

A Select Committee Absentee under the delights of an Expense Account, Chris Duggan, Times, 8 April 2009

Here we have Pitt, Fox and Adlington wrestling each other while Bonaparte is about to assassinate Britannia from behind a curtain. Britannia Between Death and the Doctor’s (sic). Dave Brown’s version shows Brown and Clegg as the doctors with Cameron as Death.

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Britannia between Death and the Doctors, Dave Brown, Independent, 6 May 2010 © Dave Brown

And so on. The exhibition is well conceived and nicely executed. As ever with the Cartoon Museum, thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Gillray’s Ghost runs at the Cartoon Museum until 17 January 2016. The exhibition is included in museum entry of £7 adults. Friends of the Museum and Art Fund members enjoy free entry.


London Historians Private View.
Monday 16 November, 17:30. Introductory talk by Cartoon Museum director, Anita O’Brien. Glass of wine included. All tickets £12.50 + fee. Book here.

A Taste of Gillray
26 November, 18:30. Presented by the Cartoon Museum and the Georgian Dining Academy (as it so happens, run by a pair of LH Members). An evening of convivial conversation, gin punch, 18th century cuisine and top Georgian entertainment. £40. LH Members £35 (if that’s you, contact us.)
More information.

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Portrait of Christina Livingston made three days before her marriage to Albert Edmund Broom  © Museum of London

Portrait of Christina Livingston made three days before her marriage to Albert Edmund Broom © Museum of London

Christina Broom (née Livingston, 1862 – 1939) was a lone female London photographer of the Edwardian age and during World War One. Her achievements are all the more remarkable considering her small physical stature and the floor length dresses and elaborate hats she was obliged to wear at that time while lugging around cumbersome photographic equipment. Broom made a living out of postcards and also selling news images to the press. Lord Roberts and Queen Mary were among her great admirers, which helped to gain her often exclusive access to places like the Royal Mews and Wellington Barracks where she enjoyed carte blanche to shoot at will. The result was hundreds images of London’s streets and people during the early decades of the 20th Century.

In 2014 the Museum of London acquired a huge collection of Broom’s work which – along with objects lent by the Her Majesty and others – form the basis of Museum of London Docklands’s main show for this year: Soldiers and Suffragettes: the Photography of Christina Broom. Curated by Anna Sparham, it opens today, 19 June and runs until 1 November. Entrance is free.

The content of this exhibition falls into four areas: soldiers and suffragettes, as the title tells us; and then there are the post cards and sports images, largely the Boat Race. From the historian’s viewpoint, the postcards tell us much about streets, vehicles, costume and architecture. If, like me, you are deeply interested in Edwardian London, this is milk and honey. But the emotional appeal of this show resides with the suffragettes of the pre-War era and the soldiers of World War 1. For the time, these photos are incredibly informal and relaxed. One senses a clear bond of trust between the subjects and photographer. This removes from them the anger, fear and bitterness that one is inclined automatically to associate with war and with protest, delivering a massively poignant and nostalgic effect. It’s very moving indeed, making us appreciate all the more the achievements and sacrifices of our ancestors from not so long ago.

3rd Grenadier Guards, at either Richmond Camp or Pirbright, 1917-18 © Museum of London

3rd Grenadier Guards, at either Richmond Camp or Pirbright, 1917-18 © Museum of London

The Prisoners’ Pageant, including key members of the WSPU Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Sylvia Pankhurst and Emily Wilding Davison, themselves former prisoners, 23 July 1910 © Museum of London

The Prisoners’ Pageant, including key members of the WSPU Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Sylvia Pankhurst and Emily Wilding Davison, themselves former prisoners, 23 July 1910 © Museum of London.

The Oxford rowing team at the University boat race, with photographer Alexander Korda at the water’s edge, Putney, 1911 © Museum of London

The Oxford rowing team at the University boat race, with photographer Alexander Korda at the water’s edge, Putney, 1911 © Museum of London

In addition to these workaday pictures – her best – there are also interesting historical subjects: royal and aristocratic portraiture, funerals, coronations and the like. Special mention must go to Christina’s daughter Winnie who did all the film processing and printing, a very specialist job indeed back then. There are on show some of her notebooks of chemical formulae and so on. Winnie’s lab was based in the coal cellar of their Fulham home and she was known to produce over 1,000 prints of an evening while Christina went out for a well-earned game of whist.

This is a superb exhibition which I am sure will help to build Christina Broom’s reputation as a Great in the history of photography, masterful at her craft, dedicated to it and a wonderful talent.

Last photograph of Christina Broom, fishing in Margate, just before she died, 1939 © Museum of London

Last photograph of Christina Broom, fishing in Margate, just before she died, 1939 © Museum of London

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There is no question in my unbiased mind that our bridges on the Thames are the most interesting from an engineering point of view as well as being the most photogenic, and with magnificent variety. If you agree with me, you’ll love this new free exhibition at Museum of London, Docklands.

London Bridge-1789-Joseph Farrington-drawing; ink; wash-View of London Bridge from the South West. Museum of London ref 54.134/2

Joseph Farrington, drawing; ink; wash-View of London Bridge from the South West, 1789. Museum of London.

For centuries, central London had but one bridge which joined Southwark to the City. Our next crossing point upriver was miles upstream in Surrey at Kingston. Then Westminster Bridge came into being in 1750 and the City – not to be outdone – threw up Blackfriars Bridge in 1766. From then on, there has been no stopping us. Not only do we add extra crossing points frequently to this day (with the Garden Bridge in the immediate pipeline), we seem to like bashing down, extending, widening and rebuilding existing ones. Hence our oldest surviving bridge is the exquisite stone crossing at Richmond from 1780. All the others are relatively much newer.

Apart from a large oil of Waterloo Bridge and a few panoramic items, most pieces in this exhibition are quite small, and some very small indeed. There are photographs, oils, etchings, watercolours, pen n ink, engravings. Highlights include a depiction of Blackfriars Bridge under construction by Piranesi, who never actually visited London, but had met the bridge’s designer, Robert Mylne; an ancient 1840s photograph – the oldest in the museum’s collection – of Old Hungerford Bridge, by William Henry Fox Talbot. There is a gorgeous canvas of Waterloo Bridge (1821) by Charles Deane – the viewpoint is from Lambeth and it features watermen, Thames barges and lighters in the foreground. Old Waterloo Bridge features a lot in this show; I was quite taken by the 1930s demolition photographs by Albert Linney, cited by some as vandalism by Herbert Morrison and leading to the dull but worthy bridge we know today, largely constructed by women during World War Two.

My favourites, though are featured in this post, two series of images: four river views in pen and watercolour by Joseph Farringdon from 1789/90; and three etchings by James McNiell Whistler from around 1860.

The Museum’s Estuary show last year featured at least three or four fascinating film installations. Bridge has just the one – by an artist who featured in Estuary: William Raban. This film, Beating the Bridges from 1998, takes us on a boat journey downstream through Westminster, the City and down the estuary. His filmaker’s eye shows us detail most of us miss; much of the trip’s soundtrack is provided by an in-shot jazz drummer on the boat. So it’s a work with a twinkle in its eye.

64.6/7 -Billingsgate-Whistler, James Abbott McNeill -1859-print /etching published 1871

Billingsgate. Whistler, James Abbott McNeill -1859-print /etching published 1871. Museum of London.

68.7/3-Old Hungerford Bridge-Whistler, James Abbott McNeill-1861

Old Hungerford Bridge. Whistler, James Abbott McNeill-1861. Museum of London.

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 Old Westminster Bridge. James Abbott McNeill Whistler,1859. print; etching and dry point. Museum of London.

This is a wonderful show which you must see. I bet most of you reading this have not been to Museum of London Docklands yet. Until early last year, I was in the same shameful position. Regardless of this lovely exhibition, everyone should visit the superb institution on its own merits. A short walk from Canary Wharf or West India Quay on the DLR, it’s really easy to get to. And free.

Bridge at Museum of London, Docklands runs until 2 November 2014.

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London Historians’ Thames bridges album on Flickr.

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