In this post I thought I would look at something lesser known, the colour photographs of Angus McBean, from later in his life. Below is a wonderful example of him revisiting his past.
In his later life McBean worked for magazines in the 70s and 80s making similar images but with a more commercial angle.
I think if some of these photos are a little mundane it might be because of the art directors of the magazines rather than McBean himself, but he uses the clothes to be promoted and still makes them interesting. The most constant link in them all is the back-curtain, giving the images a theatrical look, while the poses are pure Gainsborough.
These later works of McBeans in colour are only a few steps away of a gaudy and fabulous onslaught of David LaChapelle who takes low culture items and places them into hyperreal scenarios.
To many the plague and black-death was long ago, in a distant time. In the medieval period it hit Europe many times. For the modern world the freedom of international travel was our downfall, with Covid-19 spreading all over the world, we see the same with random variants across the country.
The same was true of the bubonic plague, spread by boat and trade caravans across the world. In 1897 an epidemic travelled from Yunnan in China, to Hong Kong and India via ship. That caused it to become international in all the major trade ports of the East India Company or anywhere trading in silk, cotton, spices, tea, indigo dye or opium.
What people might not know is that the plague came to Britain in 1910, mostly to East Anglia. Starting in the area around Ipswich, a child became ill first, with flu like symptoms. The household and neighbours were ill in the next week, each person only surviving three days. Their funerals were held in the open air and the mourners had their clothing disinfected. It’s all too familiar. The 1910 plague likely came about because the port of Ipswich was a busy industry and many people moved to and from the docks. Also being an arable landscape, there was plenty of food for the rats as many of the epidemics happened during the harvest, gleaming off the crops. Back then the rat population used to grow to quite large numbers, until the local councils employed rat catchers.
The same experts who worked on the plague in 1887 in India were called in for advice and expertise, in those investigations over fifteen thousand rats were killed and dissected for examination.
Other than the local rats being caught was other wildlife, including a hare found to be infected with plague. A sailor who had cut himself while preparing a rabbit he had caught also contracted the plague and took it to the village of Shotley. How did it transmit itself if there were no major outbreaks elsewhere, no one really knows. The idea was that rats or fleas (xenopsylla cheopis) on ships or in the sacking from the ships provided the substance for these outbreaks and they affected mostly rural families.
Other than an outbreak again in 1918 in Suffolk there have been few cases in Britain since. The atrocities of the First World War and the Spanish Flu have erased the memory of this, but it isn’t so long ago. In 1994, a plague outbreak in five Indian states caused an estimated 700 infections (including 52 deaths) and triggered a large migration of Indians within India as they tried to avoid the plague.
It is known that Jarman’s works later in life where large canvases of simple slogans. To promote awareness or to shock people into action? Well likely both – though at my school we had no sexual health education at all.
Jarman was diagnosed as HIV-positive in December 1986 and on medication that had no known effectiveness, he would have been sure his life was limited every morning. These days, people have PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) they can take and either have safe sex and not catch HIV or, have HIV and not transmit the disease on to others with PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis).
In 1992, Jarman was working with assistants to produce a vast amount of work, as part protest and part legacy. In an interview Jarman noted that it was very hard making movies in a system that needed public funding under a homophobic tory government and a right wing press. A result of his HIV status, Jarman lost his eyesight and went blind leading him to make his movie Blue.
These images below are made up of many religious icons, such as broken icons, nails and crosses. Most of these are roofing bitumen, oil paints and found items. Whenever a mirror can be broken it is. What this all could mean is likely a many levelled response. Having HIV that was turning into AIDs, it might have been about the darkness and futility of life, but this might also be my perspective of his mind. Below are some of the most compelling works from the Luminous Darkness exhibition .
Universal Exhibitions took place all over Europe, with every nation trying to outdo the next. The start of the mania was the 1851 Exhibition in London, where the Crystal Palace, a palace of glass and metal, struck everyone with its transparency, its vastness and its construction techniques. This was one of the first modular buildings that could be manufactured quickly with universal parts. The Crystal Palace had its own viewing platform when they took command of an old shot tower.
London – Crystal Palace, 1851
New York – Crystal Palace, 1853
Paris – Palace of Industry, 1855
Paris – The Exposition Universelle of 1889 (Eiffel Tower)
Paris – Grand Palais, 1900
In 1853 a crystal palace was constructed in New York, with their own viewing tower, made in the same way many oil-rigs were.
1853 New York
New York Crystal Palace was an exhibition building constructed for the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations in New York City in 1853
The New York Exhibition hall was burnt down in a fire.
Then in 1855 Paris then had their own exhibition where the Palace of Industry was built for the occasion, inspired by the Crystal Palace. France thus shows its ability to renew the technical feat, even adding a stone facade, which fascinates the public.
Construction of the Grand Palais began in 1897 following the demolition of the Palais de l’Industrie (Palace of Industry) as part of the preparation works for the Universal Exposition of 1900
Crystal Palace, originally constructed in London’s Hyde Park in 1851. Later it was dismantled and rebuilt to a different design on Sydenham Hill in south London. The second Crystal Palace burned down in 1936 but the local district still bears its name.
In this blog post photos are more than just something pretty, but political. If a picture says a thousand words then these photographs of Anstey, Hertfordshire by Edwin Smith are designed to show you unspoilt beauty. The aim is to try to stop an airport being built. Both Edwin Smith and his wife, Olive Cook, had opposed the building of Stansted airport near their home of Saffron Walden and lost, this became Cook’s book, The Stansted Affair, A Case for the People (1968). Two years later their focus was Anstey.
With conservation such a topic of the modern world, and with another runway at Gatwick always threatened now, this pairing were countryside conservationists through art. This isn’t a new thing, Clouth Ellis had started an interest of landscape conservation in 1930 with his book The Face of the Land and even Beatrix Potter was doing a similar thing by buying the farms around her home to save them from property developers. David Gentleman produced his lithograph series of Covent Garden with the idea of helping to both protect and record it from mass redevelopment.
The following pages were written at the request of the Nuthampstead Preservation Association. Because the matter was urgent I had to confine myself to the investigation of a single parish and Anstey was chosen because its topographical, architectural and sociological features seemed to typify those of the whole district which would be disrupted by the siting of a Third London Airport at Nuthampstead. Ideally it would have been more rewarding to make a detailed study of the entire territory, which has proved to be extraordinarily rich and interesting and on which little work has so far been done. Such a study would have thrown a clearer light on the movements of the population over the centuries and on the connections between long established families all over the area. The sketch of the countryside with which this essay begins does no more than scratch the surface of the subject, but it has been included to give perspective to what I have been able to discover about Anstey during the last two weeks.
Olive Cook – Anstey, 1970.
The church of Saint George is a cruciform building of flint with stone dressings. The earliest parts are the chancel, transepts and crossing tower, all of which were built in the 12th century. The church was altered in the 13th century and the nave was rebuilt in the 14th century. The South porch and the top stage of the tower are 15th century. The church was restored in 1871–72 under the direction of the Gothic Revival architect William Butterfield. Repairs in 1907 were directed by the architect Arthur Blomfield.
Two bonus pictures from the RIBA that were not included in the book.
If you are local to the Great Bardfield area you might have noticed the government plans to build a mega prison in Weathersfield. If you have not please click here.
This is just a camera reel of my last year in London. Some of the pictures are early and others are the Summer. I think it is important to memorialise those times even though it looks like it will be around a lot longer than we hoped.
The barriers here, according to the staff were the surplus for crowd control to place people queuing for the British Museum.
Part of the Thankyou NHS craze where people showed support for the workers of the health service. This was the first time I had seen it on a bus. I do like the idea of children making the signs too that hung in so many houses.
The empty restaurants just before the Lockdown
Below is the urinal in Tate Britain. Part of the social distancing measures to keep people two metres apart.
If you are British it would be hard to ignore the influence of Penguin books, and one of their most popular illustrators is probably the least known. Paul Hogarth was, according to his close friend Ronald Searle, “the original angry young man”. Born in Kendal his family moved to Manchester when he was six and as a young man he was fired by the radical left-wing politics he acquired as a student, he lied about his age and went off to join the Republicans in Spain where he drove lorries in the Spanish Civil War for the International Brigade. War inevitably proved to be less than glorious and the Communists soon returned him to England when they discovered that he was still only 17.
He attended Saint Martin’s School of Art under James Boswell, and with a talent for illustration and reportage, which was allied to his love of travel. That reporter instinct lead him to a happy career in illustration as he was able to sum up a books plot and illustrate it very quickly.
From 1959 to 1962 he was Senior Tutor at the Cambridge School of Art and from 1964 to 1971 at the Royal College of Art, London. In 1968-1969 he was associate professor of illustration at the Philadelphia College of Art, USA. Hogarth was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts in 1974 and to full membership in 1984. He became honorary president of the Association of Illustrators in 1982 and he received an O.B.E. in 1989. In 1999 he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Arts by Manchester Metropolitan University. In 1967 at Cambridge we were set a reportage project drawing London markets over a period of a week. I did drawings of Leadenhall Market, Smithfield meat market, the original Covent Garden fruit & vegetable market, and the original Billingsgate fish market in Lower Thames Street.
He was elected an associate member of the Royal Academy in 1974, a full member in 1984; and was awarded the OBE in 1989. His work is held in collections worldwide, and he exhibited regularly in the Francis Kyle Gallery in London.
Hogarth died on 27 December 2001(age 84). At the time of his death he had been married to actress Diana Hogarth (stage name Diana Robson) for 12 years.
Hogarth became a tireless traveller and his creative partnerships with writers further extended his wanderings. His collaborations included travels in South Africa with Doris Lessing, in Ireland and New York with Brendan Behan, and America with Stephen Spender, and Corfu with Lawrence Durrell. His came to know Majorca on account of Robert Graves and subsequently bought a house there himself – as well as producing a portfolio of lithographs entitled Deyá (1972) with handwritten poems by Graves.
It was perhaps inevitable that he should come into collaboration with Graham Greene, a creative artist whose thirst for travel was perhaps even greater than his own. Hogarth’s travels in “Greeneland” – that hinterland of the author’s imagination – took him to over 20 countries. In his 1997 autobiography Drawing on Life Hogarth described many of the writers he encountered in the predatory clientele of literary haunts in London and New York, and in particular he recalled Greene’s “ice-blue eyes and tormented face”.
The illustrations he provided for John Betjeman’s In Praise of Churches (1996) reflected a kindlier vision, however, and demonstrated Hogarth’s sensitivity to architecture and a particularly English love of eccentricity and idiosyncrasy.
Most people know I love ephemera and here is a piece of ephemera specific to a device, the watch. Watch papers were small engravings put into the back of watches so that the owners would know what shop to return it to for repairs as well as continued advertising.
A detail (below) from the Cambridge watch paper of James Peters, with the corinthians quote, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory”, and what is likely death (the scythe), or what might have been the fashionable term then, the recording angel – beside the skeleton as it’s spirit departs from the mortal remains.
Many of the fobs have engraving of the town the company is in; a detail of a church or some local landmark. Many of the papers have cuts in the edges to help them fit into curved cases. Below is another design, a mirror image of the Cambridge watch and looks to have been a popular design on death, likely all engraved by John Woollett. As the spirit departs the soul, lightning cracks breaking a column in two, something you will see in graveyards around 1830-80, meaning a life cut short.
Below is another design by John Woollett – it is a ticket to a funeral of a Mr James Mabbs, c1773.
Back to the watch papers. Some of the early designs are also business cards that are cut down to circles to fit in the cases from the canny watch dealer who wanted to save money with his stationer.
Alfred Waldron was a talented printmaker born 1912. Born in the suburbs of Birmingham, he attended the local Art School, at that time famous for pushing the boundaries of graphic design and flaunting it in their annuals The Torch. Waldron studied under Eric Malthouse (taught at Birmingham from 1931-7), who’s estate these prints come from. Waldron was at the Birmingham School of Art from 1931-4. Graduating from the art school Waldon travelled to stay at the artists’ colony on Sark, in the Channel Islands.
In the 1930s many British artists worked on Sark for the good light but these were traditionalists such as Arthur Royce Bradbury, who spent most of the summers there. Eric Drake was a teacher at the Slade School of Art and had married a talented graphic artist, Lisel, and moved to the island too. Eric invited many artists to the island, including the groups most famous member, the author and artist Mervyn Peake in 1932. Peake spent the next five years on the island.
These young artists were shook up with new and bold styles of printmaking and painting and bought this to the island. Waldron joined the Sark Group of Artists in 1934, the same time as Guy Mallet, and they both exhibited prints at the newly built art gallery that acted as the centre for the artists on the island. They were joined by frequent guests on the island, Sybil and Cyril Andrews.
Other artists on the island included Medora Heather, Stanley Royal, C. T. Fay and George Elmslie Owen.
The teacher Eric Drake and his rich American wife Eloise, ‘Lisel’, an ex-Slade student, had started the Sark Art Group a few years earlier, hoping to imitate the artists’ colony in St Ives in Cornwall, and had built a studio.
Sybil & Cyril: Cutting through Time
In London the Sark Group exhibited at the Cooling Galleries, New Bond Street, London from May to June 1934. This exhibition created a lot of press coverage, and in an interview Drake tried to encourage young artists to come to Sark but suggesting that men could get money and credit on the island by taking on manual jobs such as gardening on the island “between his spells of artistic creation“.
Alfred Waldron was known as ‘Pip’ on the island. It’s claimed that Mervyn Peake based the character of Mr Pye (1953) on him.
Eric Drake wrote about Waldron: ‘he seemed to live in a world of fantasy that was private to him, if not completely autistic. I think we all felt his innate ability, but we also knew of his traumatic childhood; I hoped Sark would snap him out of it, but I guess it needed more than that’.
Vast Alchemies: The Life and Work of Mervyn Peake – Page 72
Drake continues: Pip brought with him Alex Gannon to the Colony – ‘the two were hand in glove; I never tried to probe the relationship’. ‘Once Pip had seen Sark, he could hardly be made to go back to Birmingham, yet Gannon could hardly be made to give up his business [also in Birmingham] and kick his heels in Sark.”
Vast Alchemies: The Life and Work of Mervyn Peake
A critic of one of the artists group shows said this of Waltron’s linocuts: ‘The perfect balance of the black and white, the vitality of the figures, the texture, and the composition as a whole, is amazing.’
The group stuck together until the war sealed the fate of the community on the island, as well as Eric Drakes’s separation with his wife in 1937.
Waldron also showed his work widely in North America including in the British Pavilion at the World’s Fair in New York 1939, National Gallery of Canada 1939, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 1940, and the Arts Club of Chicago 1940. His work is in the collection of the British Council.
The last record of him exhibiting his work is in an exhibition in Puru, Exposición de arte Británico Contemporáneo with his linocuts for a planned book of the Omar Khayyam. The work was donated to the British Council by Mrs Douglas Mitchell.
Alfred Waldron’s last works were of Linocuts. It could be he died of natural causes or in the war but the British Council also have no record of what happened to him after 1945.
In the 1940s Piper had left the Cornish abstraction style of painting he had picked up in the 7&5 Society for the world of neo-romanticism. He started to paint the gothic buildings of his friends houses and really mastered the effect of light. Being able to use light dramatically might have been why he was tempted into design sets for the ballet, The Quest by William Walton, but more of that later.
John Piper – The Gothic Archway, Renishaw, 1942
Both Piper and Walton were guests of the Sitwells at the family home, Renishaw. Walton when interviewed at the end of his life remembered himself as a “scrounger” on their company in the 1920s and 30s and that they used him for his talents as a composer and he used them for access to others, such as Stravinsky, but he admitted, they knew everyone. The Sitwell’s were very keen to have creative people around them (rather like the Morrell’s a generation before). In the nature of friendships, collaborations happened.
For Walton and Sitwell this started with ‘Façade – An Entertainment’; a mixture of poems by Edith Sitwell recited over the music of William Walton. Sitwell penned some of the poems in 1918 and music was put to them in 1922, and a public performance the following year. The poems were recited behind the curtain with a band behind. Using a sangaphone. (A Megaphone made of paper mache to project the voice) Edith spoke out her poems in rhythm to the music and all the audience saw was a sheet, with a face painted on it and a hole for the megaphone.
Piper remembered his time at Renishaw in the Second World War as a shelter from chaos, and was also commissioned to paint the hall. Soon he found himself as a good friend of Osbert Sitwell and found the families high-brow conversation an education. In 1942 Edith revived Façade and Piper was commissioned to paint a curtain. Below is a screenprint made in 1987 to the same design as the 1942 performance. The black hole is where the sangaphone was placed.
John Piper – Façade, 1987 (A Screen Print based on the original curtain design)
The façade in Piper’s design was inspired by the entrance front of Eaton Hall in William Porden’s Regency Gothic incarnation. Eaton came into the possession of the Grosvenor family in the 1440s, and the first house on the present site was built in 1675-82. The house was transformed in 1804-14 by William Porden for the 2nd Earl Grosvenor, and in 1823-5 wings were added by Benjamin Gummow. The result was a spectacular Gothic mansion with spiky buttresses, pinnacles, battlements and turrets. The house was remodelled in 1846-51 by William Burn, and in 1869-83 Alfred Waterhouse transformed it into a Wagnerian palace for the 1st Duke of Westminster. This was demolished in 1961-3, leaving only the chapel and stables. A modern house was built in 1971-3, which in turn was transformed in 1989-91 for the present Duke.
Now back to our Quest. It might have been Façade or just knowing the Sitwells that Piper became exposed to Walton but they ended up working together on The Quest, a ballet, scored by William Walton, designed by Piper with lost choreography by Frederick Ashton in 1943. The ballet, with a scenario by Doris Langley Moore, was based on The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser. It was first given by the Sadler’s Wells Ballet company with Margot Fonteyn as the lead dancer.
The buildings sketched out in the illustration above were reproduced as the white tower in the centre and early designs for the follies to the side below.
John Piper – The House of Holinesse, 1943
This same image above, like Façade was made into a screenprint in 1986. Below you can see the design in the background of the dancers, with differences to the lake and the sky, the design is mostly accurate to Pipers drawings.
John Piper – The Place of Rocks near the Palace of Pride, 1943
You can see how the designers translated Pipers designs below, the shape of the grotto doors, allowing the players to move on and off the set.
The large leaf design on the left grotto door here shows the scale of the design and how well it was translated for the stage. Here Margot Fonteyn holds and sword above Robert Helpmann.
In another scene below you can see how Piper used light for drama on the stage.
John Piper – The Magician’s Cave, 1943
Below you can just see the wisps of the trees from The Magician’s Cave.
In this last background painting is The House of Pride. The final version became a lot more refined and you can see it in the background of these promotional photographs.
John Piper – The House of Pride, 1943
Below is one of the costume designs by Piper for the Ballet. You can see feathers of the head-dress and the ruffals of the arms.