Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Lina Bryans: The Babe Is Wise

William Frater
The Red Hat (1937)

Lina Bryans
The Babe is Wise (1940)

"The Red Hat" stopped me in my tracks on my very first visit to the NGV, back in the days when the Australian collection still lived at St Kilda Road. New to Australia, I had never heard of Lina Bryans. (I had never heard of wombats or Vegemite either – there were many treats in store for me in my new country!)

I made a mental note to look up who this cool, elegant young woman with the self-assured gaze was … a little later I knew at least that she was a painter, when I came across "The Babe Is Wise": her striking, iconic portrait of Jean Campbell.

Lina Bryans (néé Hallenstein) was born in Hamburg in 1909, while her Australian parents were touring Europe. They had arrived in Germany from Italy, where they had climbed the Dolomites and hiked across the craggy uplands. During the last stages of pregnancy I was more inclined to put my feet up and read a novel than clamber up mountains (and foreign ones at that), but I daresay Lina's mum was a woman of more fortitude than I.

Be that as it may, the Hallensteins, a prominent and wealthy Melbourne family, returned to Australia none the worse for wear and Lina grew up in privileged circumstances, along with her sister Margaret. She attended St Catherine's School where one of her classmates was Elisabeth Greene, who later became Dame Elisabeth Murdoch and was a life-long friend.

Mrs Hallenstein took her daughters on regular trips to Europe, where they attended the races at Ascot and Longchamps, shopped at the couture houses and explored London, Paris and Venice. They visited all the great art galleries. Lina was especially entranced by the pure colours and decorative style of Ucello in the Louvre, but a lot of the art she saw and admired, influenced her later work.

Back in Melbourne, the family observed the rigid social code of etiquette that prevailed in their circle. Lina spent a short time at Melbourne University, but hankered for independence from the constraints Society placed upon young women of her class. In her late teens, she took a first step towards independence by moving to Sydney to stay with relatives. Here she started to paint for the first time.

Her aunt must have been a bit of a lackadaisical chaperone, because soon 19 year old Lina took the radical step of moving into a flat of her own, and getting a job in a bookshop cum tea room. She also sold bags and ties in unusual designs, which she made on a handloom she had bought in France. After a couple of years of asserting her freedom, she was pressured into returning to the family fold in Melbourne.

She dutifully conformed to the social whirl of parties and balls, and gratified her family by marrying Baynham Bryans at the age of 22. Her son Edward was born in the following year, but by the time he was two years old, the couple had separated and Lina moved to a flat in South Yarra with the little boy. She formed a close friendship with the watercolourist Iain MacKinnon, who painted her portrait and inspired her to take her own painting seriously.

She learnt a lot from MacKinnon, but in 1936, when she was twenty-seven, her life changed when she met artist and stained-glass designer William "Jock" Frater. He spurred her on to become a fulltime artist, and gave her the use of his city studio while he was away for a few weeks. On his return, she showed him an abstract in greys, pinks and mauves, which he liked. Using this canvas and leaving bits of her painting to form the background, Frater painted his first portrait of her:"The Black Hat". This picture is currently in the National Portrait Gallery.

"The Red Hat", painted in the first flush of their close relationship, reveals Frater's attraction to the liberated spirit and sophisticated elegance of this woman, twenty years his junior. It is a very striking portrait, with its muted tones, the sitter's milk-white skin warmed by the cherry red hat. Dressing her in a working painter's smock in contrast with the fashionable hat, he indicates her dual persona as an artist and a stylish, independent woman.

Over the next few years he painted her at least five more times. I would have liked to see "The Blue Dress", acquired in 1945 by the Tasmanian Art Gallery, which is described by Gillian Forwood as "a remakable piece of portraiture in which the swirl of the dominant blue colouring flows evenly through the flesh tints in daring and astonishing harmony". Sounds great, doesn't it?

Sadly, the Tazzie Art Gallery's website is unique among those of the other Australian States in that they don't have any part of their collection online, not even a catalogue of their holdings! You can read all about their opening hours and you can order a calendar or a tea towel online, but if you want to know what they actually have hanging on the walls, never mind take a look at it, you have to pop a couple of Dramamines and brave the Bass Strait.

However, I was able to find two more of Frater's homages to Lina : The National Gallery in Canberra holds "Portrait of Lina Bryans" (1936), a head study in which the sitter's slightly smiling, sensual mouth belies her cool, somewhat imperious gaze.

One that I like even more, is simply titled "Portrait of Lina" - a dramatic and somewhat exotic picture, the barely restrained passion evoked by the blazing, sunlit background and the swirling skirt having the air of a Picasso about it. However, the sitter's half-swooning expression and the hand at her breast makes her a much softer and more yielding figure than the haughty Lina of the other portraits.

Their unconventional relationship caused a certain amount of turmoil as Frater had by then been married for 12 years to Winifred Dow, and had four children. During their affaire, which was to last for ten years, they always had separate studios, but were seen everywhere together and were regarded as a couple.

According to an anecdote told by Murray Bail at the opening of an exhibition of Lina's work in 1995: "As a young student, John Brack watched Frater promenading down Collins Street with the beautiful Bryans on his arm. It was at that moment that Brack decided to become an artist." Presumably so that he, too, could have a Lina on his arm! She must indeed have been a femme of world-class fataleness to cause such an epiphany.

I thought that kind of thing only happened in fiction! I went to dig out my yellowed old Penguin paperback copy of Ernest Bramah's "Golden Hours of Kai Lung", so I can accurately quote his description of a young man who was similarly overcome by a woman's beauty: "After secretly observing the unstudied grace of her movements, the most celebrated picture maker of the province burned the implements of his craft, and began life anew as a trainer of performing elephants." Fortunately for us, Bracks turned to the palette rather than the ankus.

Bryans and Frater gathered around them a coterie of artists, writers and thinkers. In 1937, when young Edward was six years old, Lina emancipated herself still further by packing him off to a "preparatory boarding school" (I refrain from comment) and moving into Oxford Chambers, Bourke Street.

Embracing the bohemian lifestyle as a New Woman of the Thirties, complete with married paramour, was a very courageous step. It is difficult for us to understand how much it went against the grain of acceptable standards – she incurred the shocked disapproval of the upper echelons of Melbourne society and her parents never visited her.

Many Melbourne artists moved to the country: Heidelberg, Warrandyte, Eltham, Ivanhoe, Heide … and Darebin, which had the advantage of being within spitting distance of metropolitan Melbourne while still being countrified. In 1940, Lina took a room in Darebin Bridge House, where Ada May Plante also lived.

The house was an old hotel which had been converted into a rooming house. On the death of her parents, Lina came into an inheritance which enabled her to buy the house. She renovated it, painted the outside pink and it became known as The Pink Hotel.
Frater converted a big garden shed on the premises into a studio for himself. His family lived nearby at Alphington, which made for a bit of an awkward situation, especially as his children were very fond of Ada May Plante and frequently came to see her.

Darebin House became the hub of an artists' and writers' community – Lina gave intimate dinners and threw parties for upward of fifty people in the three downstairs living rooms. She was related by marriage, through the Baillieu family, to Sunday Reed and the Reeds invited her to join their Heide group. She was attracted to the more advanced and experimental spirit of Heide, but decided to stay within the establishment with the more conservative Darebin group, largely because of the conditioning of her background, and her strong affiliation with Frater.

She painted nearly a hundred portraits during her career, nearly all of them of friends. Very often she gave the portrait to the sitter. Her most frequently reproduced painting, on cards, posters and even a postage stamp, is "The Babe is Wise", which captures the vibrant personality of her close friend, author Jean Campbell. The title of the picture was inspired by that of a novel by the sitter.

Campbell had taken her title from a poem by Edwin Arnold: "The babe is wise that weepeth being born ..", but to me the cool, self-assured young woman, with the jaunty hat, is the epitome of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler's "babes" of the era, who hold their own with the wise guys and the gumshoes. What has been called her "insouciant chic" would not be out of place in Sam Spade's office nor in Walter Burns' newsroom.

Lina gave the portrait to Jean Campbell, who later donated it to the NGV. It is this portrait and the one of Adrian Lawlor which Lina Bryant herself regarded as her best. The Lawlor portrait was entered in the Archibald Prize in 1964, but to the indignation of many, no prize was awarded that year. The portrait is now in the National Library of Australia.

Lina Bryans also painted some marvellous landscapes, which became more abstract towards the end of her career. They will not reproduce well in black and white, but I'll put some on the WASP blog in colour, with this article, in which I have scarcely scratched the surface of Lina Bryant's long, colourful and fascinating life. For anyone who would like to know more, (and there is a lot more to know!) I can warmly recommend the biography by Gillian Forwood: "Lina Bryans: Rare Modern 1909-2000", from which I gleaned a lot of my information.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Farinelli and Friends


The Singer Farinelli and Friends by Jacopo Amigoni
Oil on Canvas; painted between 1750 and 1752
National Gallery of Victoria


This is one of my favourite portraits at the NGV and well worth a visit. The delicate colors and curving forms of Amigoni's rococo style seems very suited to the slightly melancholy subject of a little group of intimate friends about to part.

The friends are in Madrid: Farinelli sits in the centre, his pageboy and pet dog off to the right. Beside him is his close friend and pupil, Teresa Castellini, the prima donna of the Madrid Opera. She and Farinelli had a very close relationship and she was popularly believed to be the love of his life, an impossible love in the light of his physical circumstances: he was the most renowned of the castratos.

Behind Farinelli is the artist himself, who met the singer in Paris in 1736 and became a good friend. He is dressed in his painterly smock and turban, and holds a handful of brushes. His dress is remiscent of that of Joseph Highmore, a painter of the same era, whose selfportrait in the NGV we looked at in a previous WASP.

I always find it interesting when an artist includes a self-portrait in a group painting - two others spring to mind: Tiepolo in one of his versions of "Cleopatra's Banquet" (see the article on "Cleopatra's Banquet" in a previous WASP), and Frans Hals, who placed himself among the "Officers and Sergeants of the St George Civic Guard Company".

But back to Farinelli and friends: On the far left is Pietro Metastasio, the famous "opera serie" librettist and Farinelli's lifelong friend. The paper that Farinelli is handing to Teresa is a poem by Metastasio, describing the sadness of a lover's departure.

Teresa was about to leave Madrid, but the symbolism of the poem has a wider meaning: the artist is referring to the inevitable separation of four friends who are in essence itinerant professionals. In this painting he immortalises their companionship and the capacity of true friendship to rise above physical absence.

Carlo Broschi Farinelli (1705-1782) was the most famous singer of his century : he had an exceptional voice, although his androgynous beauty clearly contributed to his success. He enjoyed a quasi-mythical status, even in his own life-time, perhaps because, (like Shane Warne!) he retired at the height of his fame and powers.

Contemporary accounts are full of praise for the beauty of his sound, the breadth of his range and the purity of his intonation. It has been recorded that the range of his voice covered more than three and a half octaves, that he could produce 250 notes in a single breath and sustain a note for more than a minute.

Farinelli was born Carlo Broschi, to a minor noble family in Naples in 1705. He had one brother, Riccardo, eight years his senior, who composed several operas for him. Riccardo was very ambitious for his talented brother and may have pushed for him to be castrated at the age of seven: the prevailing method was to drug the boy with opium and immerse him in a bath of warm water before severing the ducts to the testes.

Carlo studied under Porpora, the famous teacher of castrati. During his musical studies in Naples, he became the protégé of the Farina brothers and adopted, according to the custom of the time, the name of 'Farinelli'.

He met the poet Metastase when he was fifteen years old, at the Palace of the Prince of Torella, when he had a role in "Angelika and Medoro," an opera whose libretto was written by Metastase. They became close friends, corresponding until Farinelli's death in 1782.

Farinelli performed at all the main courts of Europe and even sang privately for King Louis XV of France at the Queen's apartments, for which he received a portrait of the King embossed with diamonds, and a fee of 500 livres.
He was 32 years old when he gave his last public performance, retiring from the limelight so he could sing exclusively for King Philip V of Spain who was known to have suffered severe depression. The singer's remarkable Spanish career spanned more than two decades in the service of Philip V (1700-46) and Ferdinand VI (1746-59). He became a prominent and influential courtier: Private Counsellor to the King, receiving foreign guests, reorganizing the Madrid Opera, and directing music at the royal chapel. In 1750, he was knighted in the order of Calatrava.

He remained a legendary success in the public imagination, since his fans had to rely on their memory of his prowess unless they were on the Royal guest list. Today we have to turn to the music critics of his time, since he was born 200 years too early for a CD of his greatest hits to be easily obtainable from your friendly local ABC Shop.

With the death of Ferdinand VI, he returned to Italy and settled in Bologna where died in 1782 and was buried at his request on a hillside in Bologna. His original tomb no longer exists today: it was destroyed by Napoleon's army, but his remains were reburied on the family estate.

Castration was banned in the 19th century, and the last castrato in the Western World died in 1922. Castrati were virtuoso musicians, exceptionally talented and trained. Due to their unique physical attributes, almost nothing in their repertoire can be performed nowadays.

They were particularly known for their unique timbre: their voice did not change with puberty. Upon adulthood, they combined the lung capacity and physical stamina of a grown man with the sweet high voice of a boy soprano. They had, as a consequence, great vocal power, and some were able to sing notes for a minute or more. A small, flexible larynx, and relatively short vocal chords allowed them to vocalize over 3 and a half octaves.

They received decades of rigorous musical training and were cast in heroic male roles, alongside another new breed of operatic creature, the female prima donna. The rise of these star singers with formidable technical skills spurred composers to write increasingly complex vocal music, and many operas of the time were written as vehicles for specific singers, of whom Farinelli is perhaps the most famous.

The castratos were the superstars of their day: as theatrical celebrities, they reigned supreme and commanded large salaries. On the stage, they were the undisputed stars. A composer was merely hired help who labored at the castrato’s pleasure. If the arias written for a castrato did not please the singer, he could demand -- and receive -- a complete rewrite.

Their popularity began to wane by 1760, when new composers like Gluck and Mozart used tenors to play the hero instead. Rossini and Weber insisted that their arias be sung as written and there was no more room in opera for star tantrums. Now instead of the singer being the king of the stage, it was the composer who ruled the kingdom. Farinelli was the last of the great operatic castrati and I do wish I could have heard him sing!

An interesting footnote to the Farinelli story is that his remains were exhumed with the permission of his great-niece, so that scientists at the University could study the effects of castration on the human frame. (Why do they need to know this? Is there a sinister conspiracy among opera directors to resurrect the famous performances? Choirboys around the world, don't accept opium from strangers!)

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Some Interesting Churches of Europe

Some of the greatest works by the Old Masters are to be found in cathedrals and churches round the world, but I am always enchanted by the unusual and interesting things that are to be found in them apart from the magnificent artwork.

One of my favourite churches is the St Bavokerk in Haarlem, near Amsterdam. Frans Hals lived in Haarlem all his life and is buried in St Bavo.

The church boasts a magnificent organ, built in 1735 by the famous German organ builder Christiaan Muller. He was to the organ what Antonio Stradivari was to the violin.

The organ has five thousand pipes, the smallest the size of a pencil, the largest ten metres (three stories!) high. It is gilded and embellished with exquisitely carved wooden statues: a life-size King David with his harp, Asaph the Psalmist holding a scroll, and a whole host of angels and seraphs.

Twice a week professional organists give free recitals during the day, as they have done for upward of two centuries. It is a sought-after privilege to play the St Bavo organ, and organists from all over the world book sessions months in advance. Handel travelled from London to Haarlem to play the organ, and during their concert tour of Europe in 1763, the Mozart family made a special overnight trip from Amsterdam to Haarlem so that ten-year old Wolfgang Amadeus could try it out. I wonder if his little legs could even reach the pedals. However, three years later, in 1766, he was back to have another go. This time he stayed three days, so he must have liked it.

St Bavo is a huge church with lots of side chapels, the most interesting of which is the "Hondeslagerskapel", or Dog Whipper's Chapel, beautifully carved with reliefs of dogs. Members of the congregation brought their dogs to church with them. The dog would sit at its owner's feet. Should a dog bark or fidget, the official Dog Whipper, employed by the Church Council, would emerge from his side chapel and chase the dog out. If the Dog Whipper was absent or the position wasn't filled, the chief choir boy was the pinch hitter and had to do dog chasing duty between hymns.

Sadly, in 1813 they banned dogs altogether from the church. I reckon the Dog Whippers' Union would have had something to say about that - I hope the incumbent got a good retrenchment package.

In Gouda, there is a really lovely chapel in the St Catharina Gastehuis, which may be called a "gastehuis" or guest house, but is in fact the city museum and was formerly a hospital and before that an orphanage, but never a guest house. I failed to find out why it is called a guest house, but I found the large, beautifully proportioned chapel on the ground floor extremely interesting when my daughter and I visited the inappropriately named Gastehuis.

The chapel was used by the 17th century French Huguenots, who fled Catholic persecution. They found sanctuary in the Protestant Netherlands, from where many of them went on to the Cape and became my ancestors.

The chapel now houses a collection of religious art: a bit light on the Mother-and-Child and heavy on the Martyrs - I moved briskly past the 2 depictions of St Cath chained to the wheel, one of St Lucia carrying her eyes on a little platter as she is wont to do, and three of St Sebastian, each with different numbers of arrows and different amounts of gore. I daresay the hagiography is not clear on the finer details of St Seb's death, so the painters had to add blood and arrows to taste.

There were various other martyrs whose particular sufferings I could not immediately associate with a name, not being of the Catholic persuasion and less than au fait with the Saints and Martyrs. I think the one being grilled over a bed of charcoal is St Lawrence, but I may be wrong. That may have been St Barbie.

Continuing the House of Pain theme, on the far side of the chapel there was a door which intriguingly said "Cells and Torture Implements", so we pushed it open and peered in. It gave onto a narrow spiral stair which misleadingly didn’t look too sinister due to lots of whitewash and good lighting. At the bottom, however, we discovered a row of really nasty little windowless cells furnished only with leather handcuffs fixed to the walls by rusty chains and, across the corridor, a well-equipped torture chamber complete with all the tools one has heard about, plus a few pointy implements that I couldn't put a name to, but which no doubt came in handy when dealing with a difficult case. All thankfully pretty rusted now and obviously in disuse.

Makes you wonder who the customers or torturees were, considering the place was occupied over the years by (a) hospital patients (b) orphans and (c) devout Prostestants on the run. Maybe the orphans were very naughty.

Still in the Netherlands, Jan Vermeer is buried in Delft, in the Oude Kerk, which dates from the 12th century. There he lies, under a worn paving stone with only his name and dates on. You can walk on it. Five yards away, there is the ornate and imposing gilded marble sarcophagus of the Dutch naval hero, Admiral Tromp: the Netherlands' answer to Horatio Nelson.

I am always indignant about Vermeer getting a mere flagstone and Tromp a tomb fit for a pharaoh. They should swap places. Oh, well … the paintbrush has turned out to be mightier than the sword, hasn't it. Admiral Who? We all know who Vermeer is.

The Protestant churches in the Netherlands are full of interest, but if you really want more bang for your buck, the great Catholic cathedrals of Europe is where you will hit the jackpot. Each of them is home to priceless masterpieces in paint and sculpture.

Apart from the conventional works of art, I am always fascinated by the contents of the "Treasure Chambers". You pay an admission fee to these Aladdin's Cave-like crypts but it is invariably worth every penny. The vestments, the gold and silver chalices and the reliquiries are stunning. Often they are embellished with jewels the size of postage stamps. Many of them are centuries old. Some of those jewel-embroidered bishops' vestments are better than the Royal wedding gowns you see in Palace museums. The designs and the fine hand-stitching are unbelievably beautiful.

The jewelled reliquiries are real works of the goldsmith's art, although I tend to be dubious about their alleged contents, many of which are said to have been brought back from the Crusades. The Crusaders must have spent more time shopping than fighting.

In the Domkerk in Cologne they have a large gold sarcophagus purporting to contain the bones of the Three Wise Men, brought back from the Holy Land, of course, by Crusaders. Silly me, I always took it that the Three Men were Wise enough to go back home after they had made the "gold, frankincense and myrrh" home delivery, but no, I was wrong. Obviously they stayed on till they died, and were all buried together in a clearly marked grave, so their bones could be retrieved by a Crusader a thousand years later.

The sarcophagus is a very beautiful work of art. It was designed by the famous medieval goldsmith, Nicholas of Verdun, who began work on it in 1180 or 1181. It has elaborate gold sculptures of the prophets and apostles, and scenes from the life of Christ.

Most relics consist of the fingers, toes or vertebrae of some venerable abbot, bishop or saint, but in Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) in Germany, I also saw a lock of John the Baptist’s hair (Germanic blond, strangely enough for a Semitic middle-easterner), as well as the armbones (radius and ulna both) of Charlemagne. The bits of the Baptist and Charlemagne are the star attractions in the Aix cathedral, but they have heaps of supporting-act relics there too: pieces of bone and body parts of assorted holy men, all in gorgeously bejewelled golden reliquaries.

The question that leaps to mind is: how did they obtain the bits of skeleton? The mind fairly boggles. It could have been a nice little earner for a medieval abbey, mind you: the minute the venerable abbot dies, the ‘phone starts ringing off the hook:

"Hallo, this is Father Baldwin calling from St Marzipan’s in Tuscany … I hear the abbot passed … deepest sympathy … any chance of a relic?"
"Yes, certainly, Father, they are boiling him down in the backyard as we speak. Shall I put you down for a nice femur?"
"Oh, dear no, we can’t afford a femur! I was hoping for something more modest – maybe a few vertebrae or a finger?"
"No worries, Father, I can give you your choice of an index finger or two metacarpals."
"That is very kind, we’ll take the index finger. Is the right one still available?"
"Half a sec, Father, I'll just check the allocation register … OK, the entire left hand went to St Lenin's. We'll FedEx the right index finger to you as soon as your cheque clears."
"Many thanks, Brother, I'll have Brother Benvenuto make a start on the reliquary right away. Pax vobiscum to you and the lads."

Little Red Riding Hood

Gustave DoréLittle Red Riding Hood c.1862Oil on canvas, 65.3 x 81.7cm

The painting of "Little Red Riding Hood" is a rendition in oils of one of the illustrations for Perrault's book of fairy tales, and was a gift to the NGV by Mrs S. Horne in 1962.

Paul Gustave Doré saw his first illustrations in print in 1847, when he was 15 years old. He was also a painter and sculptor: the famous statue of Alexandre Dumas in Paris is his work. However, his first love was wood and steel engraving.

He started out by illustrating Rabelais, Balzac, and Dante for Parisian publishers, but his international career took off in 1853 when he was commissioned to illustrate the works of Lord Byron. He was overwhelmed with commissions from British publishers, the most important of which was a new English Bible in 1866. This was a huge success and in 1867 there was a major exhibition of his work in London. He became the most famous and highly-paid illustrator in Europe, despite never having had an art lesson in his life.
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Doré really had no peer as an illustrator – he illustrated editions of all the classics: Poe, Milton, Tennyson, Dante … the list goes on. His depiction of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza has become entrenched in the zeitgeist and has influenced subsequent artists, stage and film directors' ideas of how the two characters should look. Even in the eponymous ballet, the Don and Sancho have the Doré "look".

Charles Perrault was a French author who "invented" the fairy tale as a new literary genre, with his somewhat bowdlerised versions of traditional folk and fairy tales. Doré's illustrations of the 1862 de luxe edition of Perrault's fairy tales contributed in large measure to its success. Having just completed the rather harrowing task of illustrating Dante's "Inferno", Doré enjoyed creating the required forty plates for the fairy tales.
Our heroine, Red, has come a long way since her story was an oral folk tale, probably first told in the days when we lived in caves and still dragged our knuckles a lot of the time.
The earliest known version was a cautionary French folk tale known as ''The Story of Grandmother"; no mention of a red hood or cloak. It is meant as a warning to young girls of the perils of succumbing to male advances.

This original story is full of bawdy allusions, and blatantly sexual and violent: the wolf gives Red some of her grandmother's flesh to eat before seducing her. It was first published in Paris in 1697, (nearly a century before Perrault) and the accompanying engraving shows a nude girl, lying in bed beneath a wolf. The tale ends with her death in the beast’s jaws - her just desserts for her immoral behaviour. In the French slang of the day, when a girl lost her virginity it was said that elle avoit vû le loup – "she’d seen the wolf".

Perrault's version was intended for aristocrats at the court of Versailles and is considerably less crude: the original elements of the story that would have shocked Society are left out. As "Little Red Riding Hood", it appeared in his 1697 collection of fairy tales.

He still presents the tale as a moral warning against wanton behaviour: he was the first to cloak the heroine in red, suggesting the girl’s sin and foreshadowing her bloody fate. In Perrault's version, there is no woodsman who comes to the rescue: Little Red Riding Hood still dies at the end of the story, emphasising his point about the dangers of encouraging male advances. ("Men only want One Thing!", my Auntie Beatrice used to say darkly when I was a teenager. She never said what the One Thing was, but I somehow didn't think it was a kind word and a cup of tea.)

Anyhow, Perrault ends his story with this verse:

"Little girls, this seems to say
Never stop upon your way,
Never trust a stranger-friend;
No one knows how it will end.
As you're pretty, so be wise;
Wolves may lurk in every guise.
Handsome they may be and kind,
Gay or charming -- never mind!
Now, as then, 'tis simple truth --
Sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth!"

In the 19th century Red Riding Hood, as befits a Victorian maiden, grew more discreet and also acquired a man to look after her. A woodsman rescues Red from the beast and gives her a second chance to get back on the straight and narrow in “Little Red Cap,” published in 1812 by the German brothers Grimm. This is the version most people know today.

The Grimms, in a story acceptable in the social landscape of Victorian Europe, suggested spiritual rather than sexual danger, even though she still got into bed with the wolf. They eliminated all sexual suggestion and changed the ending of the story to teach a moral about learning from one's mistakes. They invented the fatherly woodsman, who represents patriarchal protection of submissive womenfolk.

Amusingly, in 1990 a particular edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales was banned in two California school districts because of an illustration showing Red’s basket with a bottle of wine as well as fresh bread and butter. No complaints about Red disrobing and climbing in bed with the wolf, but the wine, they said, might be seen as condoning the use of alcohol.

In the 20th century, Red was emancipated at last: no longer did she have to be the poster girl for symbolic warnings against the female libido: in 1953 Max Factor promised, in a full-page Vogue ad, that their “Riding Hood Red” lipstick would “bring the wolves out.” Stories and movies alike reinvented her as the aggressor: in The Company of Wolves by Angela Carter, Red turns the tables on her lascivious stalker and becomes a wolf herself; in the 1996 movie Freeway, Reese Witherspoon plays a tough lady in a red leather jacket who is more than a match for the serial killer she meets while hitch-hiking to grandma’s trailer park.

Roald Dahl, in his "Revolting Rhymes", sees to it that the wolf doesn't get to first base with his intended victim. When he tries to sleaze on to Red, he gets his comeuppance quick smart:

" …The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature's head
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.
A few weeks later, in the wood,
I came across Miss Riding Hood.
But what a change! No cloak of red,
No silly hood upon her head.
She said, "Hello, and do please note
My lovely furry wolfskin coat.''

The poor old wolf has mislaid his machismo: I love the Gary Larson "Far Side" cartoon that shows the beast on a psychiatrist’s couch, in a floral granny nightgown. “It was supposed to be just a story about a little kid and a wolf,” he says, “but off and on I’ve been dressing up as a grandmother ever since.”

I'll let James Thurber have the last word: the moral of his story has summed the modern Red up perfectly …

The Little Girl and the Wolf
by James Thurber

One afternoon a big wolf waited in a dark forest for a little girl to come along carrying a basket of food to her grandmother. Finally a little girl did come along and she was carrying a basket of food. "Are you carrying that basket to your grandmother?" asked the wolf. The little girl said yes, she was. So the wolf asked her where her grandmother lived and the little girl told him and he disappeared into the wood.

When the little girl opened the door of her grandmother's house she saw that there was somebody in bed with a nightcap and nightgown on. She had approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed when she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out of her basket and shot the wolf dead.

(Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.)

Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahlhttp://www.msmagazine.com/summer2004/danceswithwolves.asp
"My, What Big Morals Our Fairy Tales Weave" NYTimes, December 4, 1996http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/ridinghood/themes.html
"19th Century Paintings and Sculpture", NGV Publication

Monday, 4 August 2008

The Victory of Faith

 
The Victory of Faith (detail)

St George Hare
The Victory of Faith (c.1890-91)

St George Hare, (1857 – 1933) was an Irish painter who lived and worked in England. He trained at the South Kensington School of art and made a respectable living as a portraitist. He was patronised by the wealthy Hoare family, who were bankers. He painted a series of family portraits for them, and in fact the family estate of Stourhead is one of the few places where Hare's portraits are to be seen by the public today.
 

He also specialised in painting nudes and semi-nudes in religious or allgorical settings. I particularly like the NGV's straight-faced comment on the plaque beside this painting: "The depiction of naked women in chains seemed to hold a special interest for Hare, and he returned to the subject frequently".
 
The Gilded Cage
Hare's more well-known works of this nature include "'Miserere Domini - Christians in Prison", depicting two bound women and a child in a dungeon, and "The Adieu", a sentimental scene showing a woman who has shed all earthly encumbrances (including, of course, her clothes), about to be carried off by a rather macho angel. My personal favourite is "The Gilded Cage", in which a damsel in distress (and nothing else) is bound, Andromeda-like, to an opulent marble column, awaiting her fate.

"The Victory of Faith" was donated anonymously to the NGV in 1905. It depicts two young women asleep on the straw in a dungeon. They are naked and chained to the wall, on which a cross is chiselled. Ostensibly they are two Christian martyrs who are due to be thrown to the lions the next day.
The Victory of Faith

Dr F.W. Boreham, the famous Baptist minister who wrote editorials for The Hobart Mercury and The Melbourne Age, was full of praise for the serene faith of the victims in the painting. He declared that their nudity was merely emblematic of the fact that as Christian martyrs, they had been stripped of everything.

The NGV publication, "19th Century Painting and Sculpture", comments that "F.W. Boreham … could not have known that the source of Hare's image, with its moralizing title, was quite probably a contemporary photograph: a piece of late Victorian erotica."

Despite their repressive social norms, or perhaps because of them, the Victorians had a penchant for erotic art, but sexualized subject matter had to be represented in the guise of classic or religious themes.

A popular theme is that of the captive woman, which eroticised the idea of violated innocence. Rather than being seen as a sexual object, the subject could be likened to an example of purity and chastity: the girl's nudity was not her fault, but that of her captors.
The Greek Slave

An excellent illustration of this is "The Greek Slave" by Hiram Powers, which quickly became one of his most famous and most popular works. The crucifix on her wrist and the bit of Turkish carpet on which she is standing proclaims her to be a Christian girl being sold into the exotic world of the harem. "The Greek Slave" was considered to be "an extremely moral nude" and miniature copies of the statue were immensely popular.

Another recurrent theme, as exemplified in The Victory of Faith, is that of two (or more) nude women together. Victorian men seemed to find lesbian erotisicm just as fascinating as their modern counterparts do. (I am told that lesbian dating websites are full of teenage boys pretending to be lesbians so they can exchange sexy chat with other teenage boys pretending to be lesbians. Meanwhile the unfortunate genuine lesbians can't get a date!)
 
Les Dormeuses by Courbet
Most of these works with a classical or religious bent were publicly displayed and acclaimed for the fine works of art that they are. The Pre-Raphaelites fairly churned them out.
However, there was an oeuvre of work, less acceptable to the general public, that remained pretty much sub rosa. Victorian gentlemen of means commissioned artists to create erotic works for their private collections, to be enjoyed only among a select group of friends. One of the most celebrated collectors of erotic art was Khalil Bey, a Turkish diplomat to Paris and London in the late 19th century.
The Origin of the World by Courbet

He commisssioned and owned such famous paintings as Ingres' "Turkish Bath" and Courbet's "Les Dormeuses", but perhaps the most daring painting in his erotica collection was Courbet's notorious "The Origin of the World". Khalil Bey kept it behind a green velvet curtain in his private dressing room, showing it only to his closest associates.
 
The painting disappeared after Bey's death, its wherabouts surrounded by obfuscation and secrecy: it was, for a time, in the private collection of Baron Ferenc Hatvany in Budapest, hidden in a double frame behind a a second Courbet, "A Castle in the Snow". It then passed through the hands of several private collectors, the last of which was the renowned psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. He concealed it in his office behind a sliding panel, on which was a painting by his brother-in-law.

In 1988, the painting was shown for the first time in public, at a Courbet retrospective in New York. Since 1995 it has been on public display at the Musée d’Orsay. Ironically, it hangs in the same room as Manet’s “Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe”, which caused a furore in its heyday for being "indecent". (Nobody ever called "The Origin of the World" indecent, probably because nobody ever got to see it! Even Courbet himself was too cautious to include it in the record of his paintings, and kept the details in a private notebook.)

The Magazine of Art (London) described St George Hare in 1900 as being popular with that section of the population which enjoys a "pleasant treatment of a pretty motive" and there can be no better description of The Victory of Faith than that.

"19th Century Painting and Sculpture" - NGV Publicationhttp://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/
"The Improvident Turk", New York Times, February 17, 1879
http://www.artcyclopedia.com/featuredarticle-2000-10-port4.html

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Churches

Hendrick van Vliet
Interior of the St Janskerk at Gouda (1662)

I am partial to a good church interior and we have two outstanding examples at the NGV, painted two centuries apart. Although neither of them is by that ultimate church interior fundi, Pieter Jansz Saenredam, they are both excellent and we are fortunate to have them.
Van Vliet's exquisite study of the Sint Janskerk (the Sint Jan in question is John the Baptist) shows the austerity of the Dutch Protestant churches. When the Netherlands threw off the yoke of Spain in 1573, the Calvinists stripped the churches of all the trappings of Catholicism, including confessionals, altars, paintings and statues.

I love the bare, luminous, airy spaces of these Dutch churches – when you stand inside one of them, you get the full impact of its sheer size and grace. The stone slabs underfoot are in fact gravestones, often carved with only a family crest, or perhaps a symbol like a pair of scissors for a tailor or a sheaf of wheat for a farmer. Each slab has a number and the names and dates of the deceased are kept in "grave books". In this painting, Van Vliet has included a gravedigger going about his business.

The seventy-odd magnificent and stunningly beautiful windows of the St Janskerk are deservedly famous. They depict biblical and historical scenes and are known as the "Goudse Glazen" (literally "Gouda's Glasses"). When my daughter and I visited Gouda recently, we were lucky that it was a sunny afternoon and we saw them at their best.

Photos and post cards just don’t do them justice. It is not possible to reproduce the rich, glowing reds and golds, blues and greens … the 16th century craftsmen who made those windows were real artists – the colours are not flat, but shaded, to make the figures in their rich robes seem 3-dimensional. The windows are ten metres tall (as high as a three-story building!) and the scenes have perspective. Some of them are 500 yrs old and the colours are still so vibrant.

So what makes the good citizens of Gouda proudest about their St Janskerk? The most beautiful stained glass windows in the world? No, all they care about is the fact that this is the longest church in the Netherlands. They eagerly ask: "Have you been to the St Janskerk? It is the longest church in the Netherlands, you know!" … "Yes, and I loved the magnificent windows!" … "But did you notice how long the church is? There is none longer in the entire Netherlands!"
Well, and a good thing too – room for more windows.

David Roberts
Interior of the Church of St Anne, Bruges (1851)

Scottish painter David Roberts was elected a Royal Academician in 1841. He is especially known for a series of prints and large oil paintings of Egypt and the Near East produced during the 1840s from sketches made during long tours of that region. This work brought him renown as a prominent Orientalist painter. In later life he also travelled extensively in Europe, painting palaces and churches.
This interior of St Anne's church in Bruges, is one that he painted while on a visit to Belgium for the express purpose of painting that country's magnificent churches. I have visited St Anne's and amazingly, it still looks exactly as Roberts saw it in 1851.

Unlike the Sint Janskerk, this church contains a lot of paintings, sculpture and rich carving. Roberts' early employment was as a scene painter at London's Drury Lane Theatre. The manner in which he has peopled this painting with lots of figures in seventeenth-century dress, reflects his theatrical experience.
Belgium is indeed home to many beautiful cathedrals, churches and chapels, and most of them have "miracles" on show: a swatch of cloth with the Holy Blood (still red after 2 000 years), a few drops of the Virgin's milk (still liquid), and other items of that ilk. I lift a cynical eyebrow and refrain from comment. Maybe they are miracles. People curtsey and genuflect before them.

But in Onze Lieve Vrouwenkerk (The Cathedral of Our Lady) in Bruges, I saw a real miracle: white marble that has come alive. An exquisite Michelangelo Mother and Child, the only one of his works to leave Italy in his lifetime. The Christ child is not a baby, but a little boy about three years old, and he stands between his mother’s knees, the way a mother would hold a lively three-year-old who may dash off at any moment. Her delicate features are full of expression and the little boy has a mischievous look – if I am to drop any curtseys, it will be to Michelangelo and not to a dodgy bit of textile.

I can't talk about the artwork in Belgian cathedrals without mention of Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk in Antwerp, which is up there with the best in the world – how could it not be, when local lad Peter Paul Rubens lived just round the corner and was always dropping by with his box of Windsor & Newtons to paint another altarpiece?
It is a stunning building: they started it in 1352 … I am always amazed at these wonderful edifices that were erected without benefit of modern technology. This one is gigantic: it has seven naves and 125 pillars and heaps of paintings and statues, confessionals, lecterns, pulpits and altars. The vaulted ceiling is so far above that it makes you dizzy to look up. The windows are lovely but I have to say the Goudse Glazen in the St Jans Church are better.

There are three huge Rubens altarpieces – the one I liked best is a triptych: The Descent from the Cross. He also painted the backs of the two side panels, so the whole thing is really a bit like Douglas Adams’ "trilogy in five parts".

Each of the panels refers to the carrying of Christ: in the main centre panel he is being carried down from the cross, the left wing shows a pregnant Virgin Mary in a tea gown and picture hat, arriving at an Italian villa carrying her unborn son (for a small-town Jewish girl from the Middle East, she certainly got around a lot and had an extensive designer wardrobe). On the right panel we see St Simeon carrying baby Jesus in his arms.

The back of the left wing is a huge, magnificent painting of St Christopher in a swirling red cloak fording the river, carrying the Christ child on his back; to my mind the best of the five. But then Rubens got bored with the whole carrying theme and for the fifth panel he gave us a guy in a brown habit standing on a rock. I took this to be St Francis because he has a number of assorted small furry animals milling round his feet.

No need to feel deprived because we have no Rubenses in either of Melbourne's cathedrals – we have two genuine Rubenses and one faux Rubens (labelled "after Rubens") of our own in the NGV International, to go and look at, free of charge, any time we like!

You can take a virtual tour of Gouda's St Janskerk at http://www.sintjan.com/.

"Painting and Sculpture Before 1800" - NGV Publication"19th Century Painting and Sculpture" - NGV Publication

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

A Visit to Adelaide

As L.P. Hartley said: "The past is another country: they do things differently there". He may just as well have been speaking about Adelaide. They certainly do things differently there.

On my way to the baggage carousel at Adelaide airport, I popped in at the Ladies, as one does after a journey. On the door there is a notice: "Adelaide Airport uses recycled water for toilet flushing – DO NOT DRINK". My mind boggled. And not for the last time during my visit.

I'll skip lightly past the wedding and various family reunions I attended, and move right along to the morning we spent at the Art Gallery of SA, where I was delighted to find that they extend reciprocal privileges to NGV members, so I was able to shout my husband a free coffee.

The collection is small, compared with that of the NGV, but it is eclectic, and I like the museum itself: a handsome, historic building with a colonnaded façade. It also has some beautiful Tiffany windows.

The Australian collection is particularly good - I was intrigued by the earliest-known oil painting to have been painted in Australia: "Fish Catch and Dawes Point, Sydney Harbour" (1813), by John Lewin. It is a bit of an oddity: not quite a natural history painting of fish, nor a still life, nor a seascape, nor a "sporting" picture of a fisherman's catch … a bit of each and it got Australia off to a good start!

They have a fine collection of Colonial art – I particularly liked a watercolour by S.T. Gill: a lively Adelaide street scene. I am going to look for his work at the Ian Potter.
There is a roomful of the usual suspects: Streeton, Conder, McCubbin, Roberts, Fox … and they have a couple of dozen of those small oils on cigar box lids that the Australian Impressionists did so well. My favourite was a witty one by Charles Conder – it is called "How we lost poor Flossie" and I am sure he did it to tease Fred McCubbin, who was very upset when, on a visit to Melbourne, his terrier Flossie scampered off with a gentleman friend and was never seen again. It shows Flossie and a sleek grey dog touching noses, among shoppers in a busy street. The wood grain gives the impression of raindrops on a gloomy Melbourne day.
Break Away by Tom Roberts
I always like coming across well-known paintings – the kind you see on posters and coasters - and thinking: "So THIS is where you live!" I discovered that Adelaide is home to Tom Roberts' "A Break Away" and Charles Conder's "A Holiday at Mentone", that we all know and love.
They have a few lovely Hans Heysens, and so they should, as he was a local. His house in the Adelaide Hills is now a museum. I have to say I prefer Nora Heysen's work: there are a portrait and a still life of hers on display. I would never say this aloud within the borders of SA, but much as I admire Heysen's work, when I see yet another stock standard soft-golden-light-through-the-gum-trees job, it does make me want to say: "OK, Hans, very nice, so what else you got?"
Hans Heysen
The landscape that really caught my eye, was "The Valley"(1898) by Sydney Long. It is very unfussy, almost decorative, with areas of flat colour and elongated, undulating forms. It is clear that he admired art nouveau. He is also on my list of what to look for at the Ian Potter!

The women are well represented: the two Graces, Cowley and Cossington-Smith; Dorrit Black and Margaret Preston in particular. In the passage outside the coffee shop, right between the Gents and the Ladies, they have hung a series of six very beautiful, large studies of Australian wildflowers by Margaret Preston. Go figure. I told you they do things differently there.

I saw a very good portrait, as well as an intriguing composition of flat surfaces which bristle with sharpened pencils, by John Brack. "Now and Then", is its title.
An interesting sculpture was "Lion", by Rayner Hoff: a stylised pair of lions, each with its paw on a ball. It is clearly the Holden symbol, and it was donated by Lady Holden in memory of her late husband.

Moving along to the European art, I saw yet another interesting sculpture and one that I recognised: a winged aluminium Eros, drawing his bow. "Hullo", I said, "what are you doing so far from Piccadilly Circus?" Turns out that the Piccadilly Eros was one of seven that were cast from the original plaster model by Alfred Gilbert in honour of the Earl of Shaftesbury, and one of them fetched up here in Adelaide.

So what do you have to do to get seven statues cast in your honour? Google tells me that His Lordship was a keen supporter of Florence Nightingale, a proponent of returning the Jews to the Land of Israel, and largely responsible for the Lunacy Act of 1845. It also tells me that the statue is erroneously called "Eros", its proper title being "The Angel of Christian Charity". Adelaide, very sensibly, has labelled it "Eros", and never mind the Christian charity.
There is a magnificent William Morris tapestry in wool and silk, "The Adoration of the Magi", designed by Edward Burne-Jones. It was woven in 1900-02, but the colours are as richly glowing as if it had just come off the loom. The silk highlights on the dark red robes of the Magi and the blue gown of the Madonna have a wonderfully luminous effect and the angel is all ivory white and shining silver.

I liked the Van Dyck double portrait of a seated couple, although it is not as magnificent as the NGV's two Van Dycks of the Countess of Southampton and the Earl of Pembroke. I was interested to see a group portrait by Joseph Highmore of his wife and two children aged about eight and five, because the NGV has portraits by him of Anthony and Susanna as adults. I bought the post card and I am going to take it along next time I go to the NGV, so I can compare their child portraits with the adult ones.

Another portrait that drew my attention was one by Nicolas de Largilliere, who also painted Crown Prince Frederick Augustus of Saxony (see WASP of April 2008). It is "Frances Woollascott, an Augustinian Nun" (1729). Frances' aunt was the Abbess of the Augustinian convent in Paris which sheltered many English-born nuns during this period.
There are some really good landscapes: those magnificent old show-offs Turner and Claude Lorrain doing their spectacular thing with light, but also some lovely Dutch ones by the two Van Ruysdaels and Philips Wouwerman – all subfusc foregrounds and skies full of roiling clouds.

Gainsborough's portrait of Madame Le Brun just confirms his reputation as the greatest portrait painter of the eighteenth century – "fluent and feathery brushwork full of grace and charm", the gallery's caption says, and I couldn't put it better myself.

I saw a number of paintings that were recently shown at the NGV as part of the British Artists exhibition, and I enjoyed looking at them again. Those of our memebrs who saw that exhibition will remember the Augustus John portrait of his son and Lucien Freud's "Boy with White Scarf".
Henri Fantin-Latour
The French painters have a corner to themselves: a little Renoir portrait of his son and a vase of white poppies by Henri Fantin-Latour both gave me a great deal of pleasure to look at. Poor old Fantin-Latour, he was so keen to be a prestigious painter of grand historical subjects and only dashed off his lovely little flower paintings because they were extremely lucrative – he didn't really think they were up to much compared to the Grand Historicals. Posterity decided otherwise. Pity he is dead now and can't see the error of his ways.
My favourite among the French paintings is "A Summer Night in Grave" by Ernest Victor Hareux, an enchanting view of a moonlit village street. I hadn't seen anything by Hareux before but I am keeping an eye out for him from now on.

Then there are the Rodins, of which the Adelaide Gallery has the largest collection outside France. (Or so they claim, and who am I to contradict them?) I was especially impressed by "The Three Shades", a group of three disconsolate figures, which was meant for the apex of a set of bronze doors called "The Gates of Hell". Just looking at them puts one in mind of Dante's "abandon hope all ye who enter". That old Frenchman had a real way with a chisel. Or a modelling tool in this case.

I can't leave the Adelaide Gallery without mentioning John William Waterhouse's "Circe Invidiosa". There she stands in her emerald robe, the beautiful, wicked sorceress - eight feet tall, crystal bowl in both hands, pouring her magic potion into the sea. It was one of the reproductions of famous paintings that my mother put on my bedroom wall when I was a child. I remember being fascinated by the rich greens of the water and Circe's robe, just as much as by the story my mother told me of how she poisoned the water to turn Scylla, her rival in love, into a hideous sea monster. At the time, I was a bit disappointed that he hadn't put the hideous sea monster into the painting as well. I never thought I would meet this picture from my childhood in Adelaide half a century later!

Next door to the Gallery, at the Adelaide Museum, there was an exhibition of Wildlife Photography sponsored by the BBC and the Natural History Museum, London. I do hope it comes to Melbourne – there are some marvellous photographs and I would like to see it again. In the meantime, you can have a look at all the prizewinning photos on the website – go to www.nhm.ac.uk/wildphoto and click on the "gallery" link.

Continuing the "Weird Signs in Adelaide" motif, the sign at the entrance to the wildlife photos informed us that "some subjects may be engaged in natural behaviour". (As opposed to what?) Much like the "this show contains sex, violence and bad language" warning before a TV programme.

Just as well I was warned to brace myself, but my husband still had to fan me with the catalogue when I saw a couple of stick insects engaging in what looked like extremely natural behaviour.
Hot tips of the month: If you should visit Adelaide, 1. don't drink the toilet water and 2. be sure to go to the market – it is an absolute cornucopia. Leaves Queen Vic in the shade, I'm sorry to say. Endearingly, the books, clothing and bric-a-brac stalls have signs that plead: "Please Do Not Steal". No threatening the punters with cameras or police, they just ask nicely! In the face of such politeness, who could stuff a lava lamp under their jumper?

"Treasures" a publication of the Art Gallery Board of South Australia
http://www.artgallery.sa.gov.au/

 


Miss Susanna Gale

Detail

Spotted at the NGV
Joshua Reynolds
Miss Susanna Gale c.1763-1764
oil on canvas 210 x 118.8cm

Miss Susanna Gale could have stepped out of the pages of a Georgette Heyer novel. Like many of Miss Heyer's heroines, she is young, beautiful and an heiress. When Reynolds painted this portrait of her in 1763, she was fourteen years old. Three years later, she was a widow.

Her full name was Susanna Hyde Gale, and she was the daughter of Francis Gale, a wealthy Jamaican plantation owner, and his wife, Susanna Hall. Susanna Gale's mother, the former Miss Hall of Hyde Hall, Jamaica, was an heiress in her own right, being the daughter of James Hall, who owned the only silver mine in Jamaica besides several other estates.




Reynolds painted Miss Gale's portrait in London, where she had travelled from Jamaica to complete her education. I presume she stayed with her mother's brother and his wife: her Uncle Cossley and Aunt Florence Hall, at their family home in fashionable Albemarle Street. She had five cousins: Rebecca, Elizabeth and Florence were about her own age but the two boys, William and John, were older.

The stay in a big London household would have been a totally new experience for Susanna, an only child. She was too young at 14 to "come out" in Society, but she would have been taken to the theatre and perhaps to private parties. Undoubtedly her aunt took her to some of the fashionable dressmakers and milliners of the day for ensembles like the pink one she is wearing in the painting. Money would not have been a problem!
Lady Worsley

We don't know how long she stayed in London, only that, after returning to Jamaica, she married Sabine Turner. I can find no trace of Sabine except that his Will was probated in Jamaica in 1766, when Susanna was 17 years old. They could not have been married for much more than a year when he died, if that. Perhaps he, too, was very young … he certainly had not had time to make his mark upon the world: that old gossip, Google, who usually has something to say about anybody who has the least claim to fame, only knows that he made a will.
Lavinia Spencer

Be that as it may, by 1769 Susanna had had three years to get over the loss of her first husband and she married 25-year-old Captain Alan Gardner, RN. This was a good move – the dashing captain certainly made his mark in the world. He had a meteoric career from Captain to Admiral and went on to become Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy in Jamaica. He was created the first Baron Gardner of Uttoxeter in 1806. He and Susanna, now Lady Gardner, had seven sons and a daughter: all of them fine, upstanding citizens who made advantageous marriages. One son followed in his father's footsteps by becoming an admiral and another had an illustrious career in the Royal Artillery. Three married into titled families. Miss Georgette Heyer, not to mention Miss Jane Austen, would have approved.
Lady Frances Finch

Lord Gardner died in 1809 at the age of 67, after an illustrious career. Lady Gardner, the former Miss Susanna Gale, outlived him by fourteen years and died in London at the age of 74.

I looked to see if I could find a picture of the present baron, thinking it would be interesting to see whether Susanna's descendant resembles her at all, but I found that the title died with Alan Legge Gardner, the 3rd Baron, in 1883. His family tree shows a son, Herbert Coulston Gardner, who outlived him and only died in 1921, so I was a bit flummoxed about why the Barony should have lapsed, until I discovered (courtesy of Gossip Google) that the third baron hadn't actually married Herbert's mother until two years after his birth, so Herbert and his two older sisters, Florence and Evelyn, were illegitimate. A bit harsh, I thought, that the Lord Chancellor or Black Rod or whoever wouldn't let poor old Herb inherit the title, just because his parents fetched up a bit late at the altar.

The stigma of the bend sinister didn’t seem to inhibit his sisters' marriage prospects, however. It helps to have pots of money! Florence married the Earl of Onslow and Evelyn married William Fuller-Maitland of Stansted Hall in Essex: no title, but a double-barreled surname and a Hall to live in doesn't sound like a mésalliance!

In fact, Herb himself came out of it quite well: he went to Harrow and Cambridge, became and MP and a Privy Councillor, married the Earl of Carnarvon's daughter and was created 1st Baron Burghclere of Walden in 1895. So yah boo and sucks to the Lord Chancellor and/or Black Rod.

By 1763, when Reynolds painted Susanna, he was in such demand that he fairly churned the portraits out, painting up to 150 sitters in one year, according to his notebooks. He required no more than three sittings: one sufficed for the face, and if it did not suit the subject's convenience to spend more time in sitting, then the rest of the portrait was finished using his servants and/or students as models.

He also streamlined his business by using the same settings and poses over again. In the case of Susanna Gale, he painted her in the same year as Mrs Thomas Riddell. He put them in much the same pose in a portico and against a nearly identical background. There are insignificant differences: for example, Mrs Riddell is holding a small basket of flowers, while Susanna is holding a rose, pink to match her gown.
The inspiration for both portraits was Anthony van Dyck's portrayal of the Marchesa Elena Grimaldi, a picture which Reynolds admired very much. Reynolds placed his sitters in a portico just as Van Dyck did, and they hold flowers as she does.

However, Reynolds' garden background is not as formal as the garden in Van Dyck's portrait - more of a landscape, which was the fashion with British portraitists at the time. As we saw in Rupert Bunny's portrait of Melba, the landscape setting enjoyed a bit of a resurgence during the Victorian era.

Next time you visit the NGV, drop in on fourteen-year-old Susanna, on the cusp of womanhood, looking serenely out of her frame with all the confidence of youth.

Here is a postscript to this article, in the form of an e-mail I received from Ann Farrington-Alt:
I'm an avid family genealogist and have been researching Susanna's first marriage to Sabine Turner. I wanted to commend Anna McClelland in her article that I read on your site. I was able, again thru Google, to find in an exerpt of the book 'The Records of the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn: Admissions Register: 1420-1893' the following information you might like to pass on to Anna. On May 9, 1757, Sabine Turner (gentleman) son of Robert T. Turner (late of Kingston, Jamaica) was admitted. In the National Archives online (under Documents Online) I was able to search for 'Robert Turner Kingston Jamaica' during the years 1700 to 1760 and found a 3 page lengthy Last Will and Testament to the tune of 710KB. It mentions Robert Turner being a merchant (probably very wealthy)...and that his Last Will and Testament was proved on 25 February 1756--the year before Sabine was accepted to Lincoln's Inn. I'm guessing that every wealthy merchant would want his son to become a leagal-eagle and know the laws..so my guess is that this was something planned by Robert for his son. How Sabine Turner died is another question that I have not been able to ascertain."Painting and Sculpture Before 1800" - NGV Publication
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Gardner,_1st_Baron_Gardner
"A General and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerrage and Baronetage of the British Empire" by John Burke, Esq