As it is Thanksgiving in Canada today, it is a good time to remember the achievement of connecting Europe with North America through cable technology. The small Newfoundland town of Hearts’s Content was the location of the emergence of the cable from under the sea all the way across the Atlantic from Ireland.
The cable was laid in 1866 and in arriving in this small place on Bay de Verde, Newfoundland it turned the village into a unique community. Most places along the coast were fishing villages but the people who came to work and live here worked in communications. People came from across Canada and England to work in the hub on the route from Britain to the United States of America.
In 2017, artist Padraig Tarrant created twin sculptures, one for Valentia Island, Ireland where the cable entered the sea and the other for Heart’s Content in Newfoundland, Canada. I got to see the Canadian version weeks after it was unveiled but still need to make it to Valentia Island to see the companion piece.
The rooms may have been elegant, full of beautiful objects and of huge historical importance but I was most impressed by the corridors of Osborne House. The bronze statues were great with Fredinand Barbedienne’s statue of Silenus and the infant Bacchus a favourite. This was a gift from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria.
The head of Prince Alemayehu of Abyssinia fascinated me. I read Elizabeth Laird’s fictionalised life of the young boy who was taken into exile by the British when the empire was at its height. Yet again we have a young man, supposedly taken under the wing of the Queen when he should have been ruling in his own country. In this case the bronze by Francis John Williamson was commissioned by Victoria after the death of the prince at a young age.
To be surrounded with such opulence must be an assault on the senses but maybe you stop seeing them after a while.
Walking through Osborne House recently, I was impressed by the number of art works that were gifts from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria, bought by the Queen or, as is the case with this picture, commissioned by Prince Albert.
‘Cardinal Wolsey at the Gate of Leicester Abbey’ was painted for the Prince by Charles West Cope. It depicts the downfall of the once powerful Cardinal who was Henry the Eighth’s right hand man until he fell from grace. He was ordered back to London and passed through Leicester on his way. The painting shows the diminished health and status of the man.
The painting is dated 1847 and it was displayed at the Royal Academy in 1848.
In (or on) the Isle of Wight so I visited Osborne House for the first time in about thirty years. I remember parts of my previous visit but did not remember the Durbar room, the most impressive addition to the house in Queen Victoria’s time!
I was on the lookout for the portrait of Duleep Singh having read the novel based on his life by Navtej Sarna. The location of this painting by Winterhalter is significant as the boy Maharajah was taken under the wing of the Queen when he was taken away from the Punjab and his mother at the age of ten.
The painting was commissioned by Victoria using the services of German artist Franz Xaver Wintherhalter, a court painter who worked for European royalty. This work is dated 1854.
Surrounding the portrait were other paintings of Indian people, mostly men, collected or commissioned by the Queen for her house. Her status as Empress of India is reflected by the fact that India came to her; she never visited India herself. There are princes, military types and servants represented here with little differentiation by rank. Their position is all due to ethnicity.
As is usual on visits such as this, I came away wanting to know more about the unsung parts of history. The painting of the man with the long hair was intriguing because he was shared a name with Duleep Singh. Victor Albert Jay Duleep Singh was his son and the godson of the Queen. It was painted by Sydney Prior Hall and presented to the Queen by Duleep Singh at Christmas 1879. Apparently, Her Majesty was much taken with the boy’s long hair but he had been given a short back and sides before attending school. The painting was created with the help of a photograph that had been taken of him before his hair cut.
I am a fan of Andrew Graham- Dixon’s television appearances so when the opportunity to hear him speak at a Literature event came up last year I went. His subject was Caravaggio and his paintings. He was fascinating so I was keen to read the book behind the talk.
‘Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane’ is a comprehensive biography, impressive because so many parts of the artist’s life are still a mystery and are likely to remain that way. What makes this book worth reading, though, are the descriptions of the paintings and the explanation of the context in which they were created.
I found myself at the end of a very large room when I heard the author speak. The slides of the paintings were too far away from me to appreciate and I found myself listening rather than looking. It worked for me. In the case of the book, there are photographs of the paintings but they are quite small. I found myself looking up the picture on-line and reading in front of the computer! Andrew Graham- Dixon is very good at drawing your attention to the detail or the item that would otherwise be missed.
The political and religious (pretty much the same thing in this place and time) are explained, especially when they show how creative Caravaggio in this period. Here was an artist who worked for the great and the good of the church and mixed with the poor and down trodden. He painted prostitutes and gay lovers into works of art that found their way to the houses of the rich or the chapels of the princes of the church and subsequently on to the great art collections of the world.
This is a book to take seriously and a book to take time over but it is worth is for the insights from an intellectual.
I have long been a fan of David Wynne’s work as a sculptor. There are so many London landmarks improved by the siting of one of his sculptures. Other places, too, have benefited from his talent, including Newcastle, but it is London I know best and it was here that I first put the name of the artist to the work I most admired: Boy with a Dolphin.
This book, which takes its title from his most famous work, is actually a review of his career. Published before his death in 2014, the book includes photographs of him working as well as of the final pieces in situ. There are still places I need to go to see his sculpture and some are in the hands of private collectors or private companies so will possibly be beyond sight unless there is a retrospective at a major gallery.
The best aspect of the book is the insight into the creative process. There are quotes from interviews with Wynne himself as well as excerpts from newspapers and magazines. David Wynne was friends with people in high places and many of his commissions came from someone who knew someone. As an essentially self- taught artist, though, the fact that so many pieces are on public display is the best outcome for me.
This book with its extensive illustrations is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
In Bath, so off to the Holburne Museum to see their exhibition of paintings by artists associated, by marriage or birth, with Pieter Bruegel. I have seen several Bruegel’s in galleries in different cities over the years but it was a treat to see these paintings collected together. The connections between father, sons and others were well made.
The museum is rightly proud of its collection of works by Pieter Breughel the younger. ‘Wedding Dance in the Open Air’ has been restored and now firmly attributed to the artist. The work that captured my eye the most was ‘The Procession to Calvary’. This was a painting to spend time in front of… lots of time to take in the detail and wonder at the way
‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus’ has long been one of my all time favourite paintings and this work is similar in the way the import of one event is shown in contrast to the fact that most people are oblivious or disinterested in it. Two paintings: one by the father and one by the son. They both resonate.