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From the 1981 Sense and Sensibility: Irene Richards as Elinor is seen drawing and walks about with art materials (BBC, scripted by Alexander Baron)

Friends,

I found myself unable to go to the Jane Austen and the Arts conference held at Plattsburg, New York last week. I have told why in my life-writing Sylvia blog.
Happily for me, the conference organizer was so generous as to offer to read the paper herself, and had it not been for a fire drill, would have. Two of the sessions, one mine was supposed to be part of, were sandwiched together so she read from the paper and described. I was told there was a good discussion or at least comments afterward. Since I worked for a couple of months on it — reread all six of the famous fictions, skimmed a lot of the rest, went over the letters — and read much criticism on ekphrastic patterns in Austen and elsewhere, the picturesque in Austen, her use of visual description, not to omit related topics like enclosure, a gender faultline in the way discussions of art are presented, I’ve decided to add it to my papers at academia.edu.

Ekphrastic patterns in Austen.

I hope those reading it here will find my argument persuasive, and my suggestion for further work on Austen using her discussions of visual art and landscape useful.


From the 1983 Mansfield Park Sylvestre Le Tousel as Fanny Price gazes at the maps her brother, William has sent her as she sits down to answer his latest letter or just write herself (scripted by Ken Taylor) – her nest of comforts in her attic includes window transfers of illustrations

Ellen

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Eileen Agar (1899-1991), a photo of herself (summer 1935)


Remedios Varo (1908-63), The Flutist (1955)

Carrington: I painted for myself. I never believed that anyone would exhibit or buy my work

Dear friends and readers,

At long last I return to my project on women artists (see first series). I had reached the mid- to later 20th century for a second series. Dora Carrington (1893-1932, Constant Artist) was my choice for the transition from 19th to 20th and early to near mid-20th century.

As I read to look at and read about the art of the last great artist for this 2nd series, Remedios Varo, I discovered she developed her distinctive art in the context a large mid-century movement, about or for which (unfortunately commonly) only a few male names have survived in public consciousness and readily available documentary records: the surreal movement, the most notable artist Andre Breton. Varo is part of a later generation. It’s one which crucially influenced male (Pablo Picasso) and female (Frida Kahlo) alike. The pictures, often nightmarish, symbolic in ways deliberately hard to decipher, capturing the barbarism of the first and second world wars (as these suddenly encompassing global conflicts are called) in learned symbolic and enigmatic ways is not understood nor liked. Many of the women who were involved with men in the movement or on their own made art use torn-off bits of the Freudian sexist psychoanalysis rightly rejected by most feminists (of whatever type). These women often survived by becoming the mistresses of these men; the war broke the curve of many of their careers; too many became isolated, were the third mistress or wife of one of the males; a few killed themselves and their art was not exhibited. Later retrospective exhibits simply omit women except in photographs as attached to the men.

The reality is also that women artists beyond those connected to the surrealists were influenced by them and their use of grotesque, often ugly images, pieces of women’s bodies, heads, with hidden terror as a strong motif, come out of this mid-century movement. The idea is to reject the false Barbie doll body that is imposed on women as a norm in the art of Alice Neel (1900-84) (I don’t reprint these lest they attract the wrong kind of attention to my blog). Paula Rego (b. 1935) paints an discreet version of this kind of thing:


Paula Rego, The Maids (she has also painted Germaine Greer)

Kahlo, Neel, Rego and others want to mirror the assault women feel in their private lives from the public world. What has survived most widely of these women are the hard feminist exposes of Kahlo, photo journalism (once in a while very funny but mostly group and autobiographical photos), and faery tale fantasies:


Leonora Carrington (1917-2011), Pastoral


Kati Horna (1912-2000): Couple with a dog

There are several books which as a whole or in part name these women and attempt to tell their lives and account for their art: I’ll be reviewing Surreal Friends: Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo and Kati Horna in my blog on Varo,

and eventually Frances Borzello’s Seeing Ourselves (a history of women’s art which traces it through the most common type of picture by a woman, of herself — cheap, available, explanatory).

For now I want to tell of Chadwick’s insightful astonishingly informative book. I say astonishingly because I came away with 24 names of working women artists. She included short biographies of many of them, and in her book tells of their lives and careers as she goes over their art. The book has many black-and-white images and groups of rich color reproductions.

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Kay Sage (1898-1963), Le Passage (1956)

How relevant Deborah Cherry’s thesis that women don’t want to work in the genres invented by men, and when they do so successfully, they change the male genre wholl

The first two chapters tell the central story: Andre Breton and a group of like-minded European men took to Freudian theory and began to make art which visualized an unqualifiedly sexist and symbolic macho male point of view. Picasso belongs to this group. No matter how polite and soft-spoken, understated is Chadwick, she shows Breton and most of the male surrealist artists to be utterly exploitative of women, using them for sexual pleasure and painting them as symbols to feed their vanity and pride. When the women exhibited after the war, they were made fun of — then surrealism was seen as the product of hysteria. The war was as devastating to them as to most other artists in Europe — most of these people seem to have lived and worked in France and when the Nazis took over they fled.

Was anything gained by the women who joined onto these men, beyond temporary meal tickets and what good times and liberty from the stifling conventions of their family backgrounds, when they came from impoverished circumstances and become someone’s mistress lifted out of that. They found themselves in an artistic group where artistic ideals (however sexist) were promulgated; they escaped the invisible prison existence of marriage, babies, and servicing a husband and family; those of them who broke away from these men in order to make art gradually found themselves. Those who accepted these men’s attitudes, had known nothing else. So many came from well to do families or doing well, who would not send girl to formal education after rudiments. Their intellect not trained except by themselves. They did have the enjoyment of these love affairs. Here and there a child is born They found a world of art to belong to — bookstores, exhibits, musical concerts, pleasure outings, parties. What those who began to fulfill themselves as artists had to do though for most of them was break away from the husband who wanted them to serve him (and of course he could have other women if he wanted). Too many ended up impoverished, alone, killed themselves. We see a woman intimidated by a lemur (associated with the night); mirrors and doors suggest a fearful immediate future:


Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012), The Birthday — she was one of several woman artists who became for a while the partner of Max Ernst (a well-known admired surreal male artist)

Tanning is said to have liked reading Ann Radcliffe, Oscar Wilde, Hans Christian Anderson; another women artist, Valentine Hugo uses an animal this way in her Dream o December 1929, it’s dream of unconscious talisman for women’s visionary powers.

The surreal male ideal visualizes a woman as an thereal child, or deeply sexual responsive (natch) vamp (with variations). A few manage to project a genuine self-image (not abstractions for world or parts of his body, one of sensibility rather than hallucination. Often they are picturing inward mental life, thoughts displaced and floating in a soup, pictures of much suffering; Wylie Sypher’s old thesis visual art of a period is a counterpart of its literature suggests the women painted the reality of their frightened or lonely consciousness of their body.

The third chapter on “women and sexuality” tells of individual women trying to find a “third way,” something to replace their roles as sex objects, wives, mothers, supporters (they made salaries) or sexually available compliant dreams. One problem I will have is I don’t want to reproduce pornography or anything which can attract the wrong attention so some of me images will seem tame. The pictures by surreal women artists in these chapters are depressive. Kahlo’s famous “women as a broken column” is typical. I take Marianne von Werefkin (1860-1938) and Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945) to have escaped this prison by using large political events affecting women as their context.


Kollwitz, Woman with her dead Child (1963)

“The Female Earth,” Chapter four, is the longest and where the art of these surreal women artists is centrally described and reprinted. Chadwick says women artists searched for correspondence between the natural world and the unconscious: women in the form of mythic figures like Melusine stand for all powerful nature as female — but provides no explanation for the endless deformed and witheringly sick looks of the figures; a coastline is hideous (is this the only way to escape the confines of conventional life?) Mysticism where we have objects that look like wombs in which an agony has occurred or some miserable woman surrounded by fearful objects, distortions of natural world. Lots of fur. I find I like the playful images best:


Meret Oppenheim (1913-85), Fur Lined Teacup

The artists used automatic painting (letting yourself go), and sounds like the use of drugs was involved, and then one peson prodded on another into drawing or writing words down. Liberating the imagery of the unconscious so they say is done by relying on hallucination and chance techniques –- images of sea, tendrils, smoke, blobs of all sorts, distorted stars – avoid hero’s journey, animal images, fish, people like mummies, ghosts, leafy forms, abstract lines, circles, half circles and ellipses, squares, patterns. Women caressing one another — perhaps lesbian imagery I don’t recognize – protecting their genitals. Women with long beaks, when they are fairy tale like they are a little better, not so wretched. Faces drowning, brutality has terrified them into death like images. When they are in color, they are better, Those that make sense show women miserable. The photographs show women at work. Sexual encounters as explosive, jagged, time after initial shock. Woman as tree – not mentioned by Chadwick as old motif; trees become women. Center of lunar and reproductive cycles. She does see the terror, misery, pain, blood and piercing in Frida Kahlo, deep personal loss, wounded figures, cracked bodies, women hanging upside down by their feet. Kahlo’s Roots is an ironic variation on her husband’s fertile earth. Sage depicts psychic aridity. They reject conventional identification of nurture with women. Agar photographs strange rock manifestations – neolithic rocks by the sea. Discordance images of contemporary holiday-ers and prehistoric nature so goes into Egyptian deserts Psychic desolation becomes political metaphor


Marie Cerminova Toyen (1902-80), Au Chateau la coste (1946)

Chadwick says the in the women’s art is a refusal to differentiate, to assign certain images and areas of painting a greater weight and clarity; that give disturbing effect; all in glowing detail and we feel we have missed the crucial key. Yes that’s it, when we look at the images unless we begin to see the pictures as frantically feminist, they make little sense. The art of Leonor Fini shows her working on tiny things, flowers, plants, insects, debris thrown up by sea, with careful detail. Things loved in childhood take on new sinister meaning. A sphinx by Leonor Fini (1907-96) poses question about women artists in natural and metaphoric process –- this is again an art of fantasy, magic, transformation; ceremonies are depicted, suggesting an ancient world, a system of rites define the passing of time and placate the gods; we have a muse of Construction, devoid of any explanatory symbolism or narrative content. Fini makes paintings of stygian darkness and primordial chaos, states of consciousness dominated by social interaction but “underneath” ruled by instinctual drive and animal need: she would not show women as submissive or subordinate to man; this is an intuitive world too, the sphinx awaits awakening of consciousness.


Leonor Fini, Ceremony — this is a famous one (it seems to me to be a “dark side” of Arthurian myth)

Chadwick’s last chapter is called “The hermetic tradition. n these pictures and this section she again reiterates the male views: women are seen as controlled by childlike vision and magical powers; and he absorbs her into his experience. An artist named Valentine Penrose (1898-1978) saw herself as benign witch. Women’s central role is again to inspire, as a concept, a sorceress with power in creative process. Chadwick reprints Ithell Coluqhoun’s (1906-88) statement that she is creating occult gothic novels borrows, using grail literature. Eileen Agar’s paintings have as titles Mysterious Vessel, Mask of the Night, The Muse Listening. They bought into occult studies like Robert Graves’s absurd The White Goddess (about a chthonic divinity that rules the world). Imagery comes from alchemy.

When they fled the Nazis to Mexico, and re-grouped, or went elsewhere we find fantastic imagery, and the art is gradually transformed to mirror women’s social lives together (Carrington) or inner world of creativity as manifested in newly conceived traditional figures (Varo). A vision of life as a journey, of voyages, stardust, silent. In Mexico, Leonora Carrington wrote a one act play with druidic characters from ancient Britain, imagery from celtic rituals. We see dislocations of space and scale, trying to tamp down bad dreams, insomnia, and also shared visions of women as creative out of natural imagery of everyday life cooking, eating. Kay Sage *1898-1963) who had been born into wealth in the US, returned, went into retreat, and when her husband died, killed herself. Others women were lost in parts of cosmopolitan cultures of what cities they could afford (magazines)

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Dorothea Tanning, Guardian Angels (women need these for protection?) (1946)

In its conclusion the book became to me demoralizing. Chadwick persisted in appearing to respect the male way of inventing punitive and exploitative sexual imagery and many of the women were not able to make a substitute that was viable. They had to break away all together, turning to geology, animals (or their pictures don’t make sense because most are not as frank as Kahlo: the images we see are scary, ugly, hideous, if you get yourself to look at the stick figures you can see women being abused, women disconnected and images which reflect the barbarisms of WW2. Or they are of the natural and crockery (women’s things) world presented playfully now and again. All done indirectly and without words to explain. Chadwick is to be commended for her enormous patience, though her neutral presentation has the effect of endorsing misogynistic Freudianism. But this is the context for mid-20th century art: the visual equivalent of stream of consciousness.

Among the worst things at the book’s close are not just the women’s careers not getting anywhere for most pat, and the attitudes of Leonor Fini and Meret Oppenheim (1913-85). Both protested mightily against being put in a book on women artists. This is a prison, this is a ghetto, they say and the rest of it. But neither are not in the male books nor the exhibitions. Here again Kahlo and Varo transcend this: Kahlo refers herself to her real life; Varo holds herself apart: she uses women as instruments for creating life and beauty; she looks to create harmony, contemplative moods in which figures can function in positive ways we recognize.


Remedios Varo — this one reminds me of Bemelman’s famous Madeline pictures (a girl’s picture book)

Chadwick appears not to take the idea of a l’ecriture-femme seriously; she does not see that across the centuries women’s art focuses on the same kinds of imagery, uses similar cyclical structures, subjectivity, indirectness so she develops no firm alternative women’s aesthetic for the surreal movement.

So as per women’s tradition, Kahlo also painted this China Still Life — filled with her woman’s version of surreal imagery: growths of vegetables:

and her is Varo’s Flowers (her pictures of Paradise of Cats is too well known)

Ellen

 

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Carrington when young (photo)

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The river Pang, Tidmarsh

I long for the wings of an owl that I mighty FLY — Carrington,1930, “after a frusrating domestic crisis that kept her from painting” (Hill)

I see my paints and think it is no use to me, for Lytton will not see it now (quoted by Noel Carrington)

Dear friends and readers,

I return to a final two essays in this second series calling attention to women artists after I had gone to one too many exhibits of groups of artists under this or that rubric where there were either none or a token or one or two women, often the same couple of pictures. I managed twelve from the Renaissance into the 21st century for the first series, and Carrington is the eleventh of a second fifteen. I’ve found in this second group many great and beautiful and meaningful pictures and other forms of visual art; but also that even the better known women are hardly famous outside a narrow selection of people or only known for their connection with a man or notorious life event; and their art afterwards underestimated. In many individual or personal fulfillment was thwarted by gender expectations, at least two died young from childbirth. Their self-esteem as artists was battered; nonetheless, they developed female-inflected genres, made art different from that of their male counterparts, and succeeded wonderfully well as artists. Carrington’s life and art fits these patterns.

In Carrington’s case what she is famous for gets in the way of people seeking out and appreciating her art. First, for her devotion to Lytton Strachey (1880-1932) and suicide soon after he died because, she asserted, she could not imagine or endure life without him.

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Carrington’s Lytton Strachey (1916) — one of her finest characteristic portraits and one of the finest by anyone of him — it’s a study of sensitive hands, of meditative reading

Then there’s the still widely-assumed belief that she self-flagellatingly destroyed or painted over many of her pictures, and indulged herself in non-save-able non-prestigious immanent arts (on house walls, for signboards, craft-y things, book marks, covers, and illustrations), so that hardly anything truly fine and great and permanent survives. Her intense reluctance (refusal) to have an exhibition of her art reinforces the idea her pictures were not good enough.

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The Mill at Tidmarsh (Lytton and her first home together) — perhaps her most famous masterpiece

That she killed herself is out of doubt, but why is not so sure. Jane Hill’s reprinting of the ceaseless art-making Carrington did around Strachey in the last three chapters (phases) of Carrington’s life (in her The Art of Dora Carrington) to see to his every comfort argues a tender idolization (the above two black swans can be seen as standing in for herself and Strachey), but Carrington’s brother, Noel Carrington, (in his Carrington: Paintings, Drawings, and Decorations) makes a strong case for understanding that several factors beyond her adjustment to life through Strachey’s kindness and congenial intelligence led to her killing herself: she suffered a lifelong distress from her mother’s rejection of her, naturally vulnerable in relationships, sensitive, of a depressive temperament: she painted to make herself happy and her images show her reaching out for security, tranquility, stability.

carringtonanartistshomeandgarden
An Artist’s Home and Garden

She did wipe out and destroy many of her works (sometimes because she lacked money for paper, sheer supply problem), but since she seems to have made art as continuously as she breathed, as it were constantly, no task too trivial she produced as large a corpus as many a major artist and a lot survives.

carringtonurserydoorrosamundlehman-jpg

A giraffe scene Carrington created for the nursery door of Rosamund Lehmann’s children (John Lehmann her brother was a central editor at Hogarth Press — about which see below)

She would not allow exhibitions of her art (we glimpse a complex psychological disability), so her pieces did not begin the trail of circulation and discussion the way most artists become known, and given her inclusion (however marginally) in the elite English art and literary coteries of her era, much went into and remains in private hands. She did use unusual media:

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Harmony: Labador Coast — made from painted tin foil on stained glass

You might say her marvelous letters are used against her as superior to her visual art instead of seen as another manifestation of her strong projection of her vividly perceptive experience of a self-chosen unconventional way of life that allowed her to create visual art continually.

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David Garnett — her portraits done as a matter of course of whoever visits capture inner qualities through color, line, shadow

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The drawings of herself are in the letters

In the last twenty years three excellent ground-breaking books have been written about her: Hill’s, Noel’s and Gretchen Gerzina’s biography, Carrington. These and an exhibition (at last) prompted superb essays, three of which reprint pictures and enter the heart of her vision. Them there is Carrington, the film, based on Christopher Hampton’s screenplay (a kind of outline of Carrington’s life out of Holroyd’s and Gerzina’s book), with its virtuoso actors uncannily capturing the inner life of some of the people around Carrington (Samuel West as Gerald Brenan, Rufus Sewell as Mark Gertler) and inimitably Emma Thompson and Jonathan Pryce as Carrington and Lytton:

carringtonemmathompsonjonathanpryce

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A photo of Lytton reading to Carrington

It’s out of these I dared this blog. Genevieve Sanchis Morgan on Carrington’s art as “forms of masquerade” (Mosaic 31:4 [1998]) proves Carrington transferred her private life and most unspoken feelings, her transgressive attitudes (towards marriage, children, social performance as self-promotion, sexuality) into her pictures (landscapes especially and why she did not want to exhibit). She made for public consumption (as it were) the familiar images of herself as a devoted domestic servant and cook,

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Cook and Cat

with her pets,

hamspraywithcatcarrington
At Ham Spray

walking talking sitting by the side of Strachey,

onawalkingtourwlyttoncarrington

Her innovative household art was her own real life giant dollhouse to hide in, and keep continually absorbed and busy in her private world shared with Lytton. She defflected her literary ambitions (and some satire) behind playful distractions (trompe d’oeil bookcase with titles that mocked contemporary and her associates’ books as well as Jane Austen), and found desperately needed loving reassurance in sexual partnerships with like-minded people. Gerald Brenan she loved, and returned his visits,going to Spain with Lytton and alone

geeraldbrenan28carrington

She created great pictures there, continually protecting herself through these social performances. These come from her times in Spain:

hilltownandalusiacarrington
A hill town in Andalusia

spanishwomancarrington
A Spanish woman, ink and silver foil on glass

Gillian Elinor’s essay on Carrington and Vanessa Bell (1879-1962) in Woman’s Art Journal (2016), as near contemporaries, working aesthetically and developing content in the same kinds of and actual domestic milieus (“Bloomsbury Painters” the title), argues their art is crucially like that of other women (tropes, themes, the relationship of their works to them and their lives)

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Vanessa Bell, The Nursery

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Carrington, Bedford Market (1911)

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Carrington, A Footbathing Party — much like Bell’s

Jane Marcus (Women’s Review of Books, 12:1 [1994]) pays attention to Carrington’s loaded playful interiors and pictures an crockery as evoking a witty primitivism, working against mainstream (male) art to produce village-English delicate dreams and objects (recalling Woolf’s To the Lighthouse), as in this

carringtonrouenware
Rouen Ware

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Beanie Bags — the paired figures are typical of lesbian art

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Self-portrait (1910)

Her life can be told in terms of phases of her art. The fourth child of a Liverpool merchant who had spent decades in India, to bring back an easy competence, he married a narrow-thinking rigid woman and for Carrington this meant much conflict over the years. She loved her father, was tormented by her mother. There are no portraits of her mother:

carrington-dora-1893-1932-samuel-carrington-the-artists-father-19151-jpog
Her father (painted much later)

But her mother was artistic, valued art, and she and her siblings early on were encouraged to use their hands, and Dora (she later insisted on dropping this first name she regarded as too feminine, silly, like Dorcas, an archetypal shepherdess) learned to love to, spend hours drawing.

noelcarrington
Noel her brother — much later

After High School, there was her period at Slade where she made life-long girlfriends, with one of whom, Constance Lane, she completed a cycle of of three large frescos “on the library wall of Brownlow Hall” (Hill 23). She began to paint strongly colorist and cubist-like bucolic landscapes and scenes, won a scholarship, and came under the influence of Roger Fry and Mark Gertler (not just his art but as a sexual partner). Finding she could not live in a repressive Victorian-style home (only visit) and have a career and mature adult life, she moved and tried to support herself in London. This period is filled with marvelous small line portraits, comic cartoons

steviesmith
Very Stevie Smith like

and the earliest of the bucolic snow and tree landscapes with their high wide great bowl top areas.

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Hills in Snow at Hurst Tarrant (Hampshire), 1915

This is the time of her immersion in the Omega Workshops (1914-16): playful woodcut art, and riots of color and decorations of ordinary everyday things, which while they didn’t sell to the larger public, are the foundation for the way Carrington would later cover every inch of Ham Spray, her and Lytton’s second home. She didn’t do well at Lady Ottoline Garsington Manor (“I am out of favor now! completely!”), but met others who (if not as much, like Lytton) were important to her: Augustus John’s household (whom she turned to as easy companions); individual people whose character struck her favorably:

by Dora Carrington, oil on canvas, 1920
E.M. Forster

Like Vanessa Bell, Carrington took to engravings and book illustrations

bookplate

Lytton she first met in 1916 at Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Asheham House — and to fast forward their Hogarth Press provided another place for her woodcuts small animal drawings, and remunerative work for Ralph Patridge, the first of her lovers whom she married to keep him near Lytton (and please Lytton). By 1917, she and Lytton were making a home for themselves at Tidmarsh, and by 1918 he achieved his first of several commercial successes, Eminent Victorians.

tidmarshmillsmeadowscarrington
Tidmarsh Mills, the meadows

The story of her life becomes a story with Lytton triangular sexual and working relationships with a series of men, and travel (to the continent, around England) and perpetual art-making (from pictures to bookcases, fake and real). Hampton’s movie dramatizes the pain Carrington knew when she felt she had to force herself to act out different selves, and when she felt Lytton did not reciprocate her loving care, efforts catering to his every whim, only to see him distance himself, become at times remote. At the same time her correspondence with Strachey, and especially over her decision to marry Partridge are among the most genuine openly confiding trusting letters I’ve read. They understood and supported one another in many other areas beyond the reading of books and living the larger routines of life. The pressure from the different worlds Carrington found herself in was also offset by the art-making: she repeatedly creates idyllic peaceful and playful beauty in personally felt landscapes (with funereal images)

carringtonanotherhouseinpastorallawrencecountry

and stuffing and covering every available inch of her literal surroundings, over and over:

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A fireplace tile design

dora-carringtonbirdsabovecornucopiaofflowers
Birds above a cornucopia of flowers

She made signs; this half of a Circus horses reminds me of Watteau’s famous shop sign of people examining pictures in an art shop:

circus
This is severe in its way: the horses are still and in a row

In her later years she allowed herself to be used by a rough sportsman type, Beakus Penrose (played by Jeremny Northam in the movie): she did love to sail with him (she writes of her “Shelley craving to sail & leave these quiet rural scenes for Greek islands), as witnessed by her remarkable tinsel on glass picture, the deliberately child-like Bon Voyage (1929):

bonvoyage

She became pregnant by Penrose, a (to her) deeply distressing because repulsive condition (she never adjusted to her female body), and Lytton stepped in to find and pay for an abortion. Her end is well-known: Strachey developed pancreatic cancer, and died, and within three months, despite many friends’ efforts to prevent this, Carrington shot herself through her mouth with a gun on a Friday, March 11, 1932. She meant it.

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Tulips in a Staffordshire Jug (1921) – she painted many flower still lifes

That Carrington’s gender was female played a central role in her difficult life, withdrawals, and long neglect. John Rothstein in the introduction to Noel Carrington’s book says rightly that Carrington’s “remoteness from he impulses which moved” most of her contemporaries (ambition for money, high rank, fame, fashionable luxury, admiration from the admired) set her apart (13). Carrington herself also said of participating in contemporary schools of artists to Gertler over post-impressionism that “this ‘culture’ and group system is partly the reason for the awful paintings produced” (35).

But what her mother couldn’t bear (perhaps where her overt troubled life started) was Carrington was not conventionally beautiful. When Carrington is hiding her pictures, or dressing like a boy, she is hiding her body. Gertler wanted her to give up her painting and devote herself wholly to him as his wife. She resisted this fiercely, but could only find a stable life with the daily rhythms and calm expectations that she needed for creation of her art on Lytton’s income.

In talking of a career, she repeated Frye’s warning early on about how hard it was going to be to practice great art as a woman. How she will be regarded by others. She wrote Gerald Brenan about “how difficult it was to be a ‘female creator'”

the few that did become artists, I think you will admit were never married or had children. Emily Bronte & her sisters, Jane Austen, Sappho. Lady Hester Stanhope. Queen Elizabeth and even lesser people like the French female artists Berthe Morissot [who did have a daughter], Le Brun [ditto], Julie de Lespinasse & Dudeffand [? is this a reference to George Sand whose legal name was Dudevant or Madame du Deffand?] … If when I am 38, I am not an artist, & think it is no good my persevering with my painting, I might have a child …

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Spanish Boy (1924) — in her two portraits of adolescent boys she captures their vulnerability

This is an important statement if we realize that she was also much influenced by painters no one else was, for example (according to Hill), the Renaissance painter, Joachim Patinir:

joachim_patinierhermit
The Hermit

Patinir’s Flight from Egypt does recall Carrington’s landscapes:

landscape-with-the-rest-on-the-flight-joachim-patenier

Carrington’s candid utterances to Brenan about being a woman (“You know I always hated being a woman” [Elinor 31]) are so sad because she never was not an artist, always alive to the art of others, in groups or as individuals. She did hate being pregnant (and thus perhaps deprived herself of a raison d’etre once Lytton was diagnosed with inoperable cancer). When she painted Lady Strachey (Lytton’s mother) it’s said she caught the inner strong woman, but she also masculinized her, made her monumental in doctor’s robes:

ladystracheycarrington

Of her depiction of a group of young girls marshalled by two female teachers, one a nun on a beach to play (On the Sands at Dawlish Warren), Carrington wrote: it was “a study of the misery of authorized fun” (110). She escaped the world’s invisible prisons but at great cost

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Annie Stiles — her servant whom Carrington depended upon and painted, and drew frequently — she describes herself as with two servants eating or by the fire when Lytton is gone away

Ellen

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Anne Killigrew, Self Portrait (c. 1685) — note the allegorical picture to the side, what looks like a war tent above, and her holding a leaf of paper

Dear friends and readers,

I’m gratified to be able to say I return to blogging tonight with a poet and painter I found strangely appealing more than 30 years ago: Anne Killigrew, who managed in her brief life to leave a small body of strong remarkable grave poetry and at least four paintings. The paintings are of interest as providing an authoritative image of Killigrew herself, as well as an effective one of her mistress’s husband, James II, then Duke of York:

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James II when Duke of York by Anne Killigrew

What’s left or what themes we know of Killigrew’s paintings fit into, might today be seen as surprising but is the typical repertoire of later 17th century themes for women, i.e., she painted an image of the story of Judith’s violent beheading of Holofernes. Killigrew also shows characteristics we find in other women artists: her Venus Attired by the Graces, manifests a gentle mood and soft blended rich colors of red, pink, brown against stand-out soft blues are reminiscent of (anticipate is too strong) Angelica Kauffman:

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However, Killigrew did not leave enough paintings nor are the assertions that this or that image is of her secure enough to list her as an considerable woman artist of the era. Thus, what respect, knowledge and true interest someone can take in Killigrew must rest primarily on the posthumous edition of her poetry published a year after her death (alas, from small-pox). I here treat Killigrew as primarily a (foremother) poet.

Maureen Mulvihill, a literary specialist (who has written much on this later 17th century era, and done no less than 2 editions of the poetry of Ephelia) and rare book collector, has now added to the work done on Killigrew, “Poet Interrupted, the Curious Fame of Anne Killigrew.” Mulvihill’s focus is the history of Killigrew’s book in the context of what we know about her life, family, the court she lived in, her connections (especially as shown by the names of the people she addressed in her poems). Mulvihill identifies some of the problems and areas yet to be researched, and then surveys recent editions by Patricia Hoffman and Margaret J. M. Ezell. It’s also an essay directed at rare book collectors.

The poetry itself may sampled and is well (if briefly) characterized by Mary Mark Ockerbloom in the series A Celebration of Women Writers. Ockerbloom points out how uncertain is our knowledge of Killigrew (we are not sure what was her connection to the court of Mary of Modena, we are not sure if she knew Anne Finch, later Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720), whose poetry and life I worked on for years). Ockerbloom brings out the evidence which suggests Killigrew was known in court circles for her poetry, a court atmosphere where a learned and chaste young woman was not likely to be comfortable, and then describes and quotes from Killigrew’s poetic oeuvre. I remembered a dark, grave, witty poetry, and would add to Ockerbloom that Killigrew’s most famous poem, “Upon the saying that my Verses were made by another,” is arresting for Killigrew’s representation of herself (as Germaine Greer remarks) “as a burnt offering” (Slip-shod Sibyls, 24-25) before her “sacred muse”

O Queen of Verse, said I, if thou’lt inspire,
And warm my Soul with thy Poetique Fire,
No Love of Gold shall share with thee my Heart,
Or yet Ambition in my Brest have Part,
More Rich, more Noble I will ever hold
The Muses Laurel, than a Crown of Gold.
An Undivided Sacrifice I’le lay
Upon thine Altar, Soul and Body pay;
Thou shalt my Pleasure, my Employment be,
My All I’le make a Holocaust to thee.

Dreams of rapture, of fame, of being valued like Katherine Philips (Orinda, 1631-64) turned into a source of shame, she was exposed for vanity (she alludes to “Esops painted Jay”). She is a Daphne who was “rifl’d,” her feathers torn:

My Laurels thus an Others Brow adorn’d,
My Numbers they Admir’d, but Me they scorn’d:
An others Brow, that had so rich a store
Of Sacred Wreaths, that circled it before;
Where mine quite lost, (like a small stream that ran
Into a Vast and Boundless Ocean)
Was swallow’d up, with what it joyn’d and drown’d,
And that Abiss yet no Accession found.

She lacked access, and by the end of the poem has likened herself to Cassandra.

Ockerbloom’s bibliography includes the best essay I’ve read on Killigrew: Carol Barash’s 22 pages situating her in “the imaginary underworld of Mary of Modena’s court,” along with a number of other fine poets of that court (Finch) and the era, in her magnificent study, English Women’s Poetry, 1649-1714. Barash is concerned to treat Killigrew both realistically and practically (wages for women at that court were 200£ a year, plus room and board) and to make clear that her poetry does not belong to the plangent and sentimental nor does she focus on rape or sexual victimizing, but creates a community of women in sensual landscapes filled with hidden allegories about power, ambition, and yes deep and embittering disappointment. “The Miseries of Man” is strikingly grief-stricken turn by turn. Barash discusses an unfinished ode by Killigrew where the poet identifies with a dove, “contrasts mundane squalor with the speaker’s belief in a higher, spiritual calling. The speaker urges her dove to soar beyond the low and dirty material world,” is at first self-confident and aggressive, returning to her “heavenly birthplace” after a “short time” on earth:

    Thy native Beauty re-assume,
    Prune each neglected Plume,
    Till more than Silver white,
    Than burnisht Gold more bright,
Thus ever ready stand to take thy Eternal Flight.

The imagery reminds me of Marvel’s in his famous “Garden” poem, but Killigrew’s dove finds her “plumage has been spoiled by those who attempt to transmit it to a larger public,” and that she has been “punished for taking the material world too seriously, for staying there too long,” is now at risk of being left “naked … and bare,/The Jest and Scorn of Earth and Aire.” I first read Barash’s book in the year it was published, 1999, and was startled by Barash’s austere tone. I had not been part of academic conversations for too long. Years (and many conferences and much interaction, reviewing, publishing) later, I understand better why Killigrew’s poetry about social deaths and real deaths, wars, violent dangers (mental as well as physical) and high aspiration, in a controlled pastoral landscape (a “specifically female retreat” and “place of political resignation”) calls out for sophisticated readings and high respect.

To suggest other points of view than Ockerbloom, Greer or Barash, an essay not included in Ockerbloom’s bibliography is David Vieth’s sceptical “Irony in Dryden’s Ode to Anne Killigrew,” Studies in Philology, 162 (1965):91-100: old and perhaps unfair, Vieth’s close reading suggests that Dryden’s ode to Killigrew could be read as high critical of her work (damning is the word). Barash has in mind Kristina Straub’s “Indecent Liberties with a Poet: Audience and the Metaphor of rape in Killigrew’s ‘Upon the saying that my Verses” and Pope’s Arbuthnot,” Tulsa Studies of Women’s Literature, 6 (1986):27-45, which I find has much merit. It’s a Foucault reading which finds that Killigrew and Pope’s poetry use of forms of rape offers paradigms for “social relations of domination and repression” determined by gender. Pope’s poetry emerges as under the sign of his disabilities.

To return to the essay which led me to this reading and blog tonight, Mulvihill’s analysis and description of the Killigrew’s posthumous book and modern editions situates Anne in her court and Killigrew world and also the commercial world at the time. She discusses the importance and merit of Richard Morton’s facsimile reproduction of Killigrew’s poetry, with a still valuable introductory essay (this is the edition I first read Killigrew in and have cherished ever after).

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The image on the front is said to be by Killigrew herself

Mulvihill suggests (I think rightly) that the recent editors should have gone further: the poems should be re-ordered to bring out significant relationships between them, their interlocutors, with a concentration that brings out themes and the different genres. I felt the same was true of an edition of Katherine Philips, and my work on Anne Finch was predicated on recognizing her struggle with the genres of the era, which she had to transcend to express her original thought and combinations of feeling. Here too (as with Finch) Mulvihill points to the problem of unattributed poems and poems wrongly attributed, which remain unresolved. She lists what she thinks specialists will find missing in the latest edition. She asserts that we are still awaiting a truly authoritative edition. Mulvihill includes at the end of her essay some particularly clear (large and richly colored) reproductions of images said to be of or attributed to Anne Killigrew and of one of her interlocutors.

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Mary of Modena (c 1694), artist unknown — she appears to have played an important role in the poetic writing of the women of her court (Anne Finch wrote a beautiful poem remembering Mary of Modena)

Ellen

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Remedios Varo, Spiral Transit (1962)

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By contrast? Carrington’s Artist Home and Garden

“as woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.” – Woolf, Three Guineas

Dear friends and readers,

As I’m just coming up for air after having attended three conferences in a row (Charlotte Smith, her place in literature at Chawton Library, a Francis Burney conference on Burney and Global and other politics in DC, and a JASNA AGM on Emma also in DC), and about to attend a fourth (an EC/ASECS at Mary Washington College which is billed as “the Strange and Familiar”), I’ve no time to begin doing my conference reports on Smith or Burney or the JASNA. will begin them by the end of November’s first week. I’m also working on 2 coming woman artist blogs: Dora Carrington (1893-1932) and then Remedios Varo (1908-63); not to omit eventually a brief appreciation of a paper by Maureen Mulvihill on Anne Killigrew and return to the poetry of later 17th and early 18th century women poets (aka Anne Finch, who used to be known as Countess of Winchilsea).

But in the meantime I don’t want to leave the impression this blog is falling into desuetude. Rather a brief hiatus.

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Paradise Cats — my favorite of all Varo’s paintings

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Carrington: Woodcut for bookplate, a stylized or semi-artificial image of a particular cat she knew

So I thought for now I’d share just the paper I gave at the Smith conference by placing it on academia.edu. (I will add a select bibliography in due time.)

Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde and her Emigrants as Post-colonial texts

My argument was that Charlotte Smith’s work placed alongside post-colonial writing, from the 18th century into our own era, reveals post-colonial patterns. Smith’s disparate range of forms and digressive reflections come together to make sense once we regard Smith as helping to invent the post-colonial text. Her writing also belongs to in an unhappy tradition of texts by women who have been abused. She participates in the creation of the post-colonial text in the later 18th century. Her novel, Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake, can be seen in conversation with, parallel to, texts like Adhaf Soueif’s Map of Love (1999, short-listed for the Booker Prize); her poems, The Emigrants helped to give rise to Grant’s The Highlanders and shows uncanny likenesses to the poetry of the Israeli poet, Dahlia Ravikovitch and Margaret Atwood as well as the writing of the 19th century Canadian memorist, Susannah Moodie.

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Remedios Varo, Souls of Mountains (1938)

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Carrington – another house, with graveyard (there is a lot more known to be by Carrington than is realized)

Ellen

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Friends,

My original intent on these series of blogs on women artists was to do justice to obscure women artists; what I’ve discovered is of those whose writings and art survive, they cannot be so obscure. Records are required; if not a resume, a “character” by someone (a recommendation). Without some factual anchors, their work is not usually saved, and not put in prominent enough places to be readily seen. It has no larger context to give it meaning and life . I have myself been reluctant to feature a woman artist where I have hardly any images. I do so tonight.

I began writing this woman artists blog for the sake of one image, a black-and-white reproduction of Torcross, Devonshire, by Ellen Gosse:

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Torcross, Devonshire (1875-79)

I first came across Torcross, Devonshire in Deborah Cherry’s Painting Women: Victorian Women Artists. I fell in love with it and have never forgotten it despite its the faded, small, and black-and-white state. It has the immense strength of a large single image — the lake: the beauty of the water shines through. The grass is caught as rich and various and thick. An idyllic dream vision of the holiday place

When I was younger, before I went to graduate school, I was familiar with the belletristic literary criticism of her husband, Edmund Gosse; he did very well in his career at a time when it was not so easy to (as in New Grub Street); he has fallen out of favor since (nothing theoretic, no intense dense scholarship). I used to find his work gentle, ironic, pleasing, and insightful. He was among the early scholars of early modern and minor 17th century women writers (the first essays I read about Katherine Philips and Anne Finch were by him). I had since read his powerful taboo-breaking life-writing Father and Son, and it’s possible my familiarity with the name made me pay attention to this image. There isinformation to be gleaned about Ellen and her other family members in Ann Thwaite’s biography, Edmund Gosee, a literary landscape 1849-1928 (he was friends and associate with central literary figures of his day, a member of clubs, libraries), but no reproductions of Ellen’s landscapes.

But I am also writing it to situate Ellen Epps within an entrenched pattern among women artists: her father was a middling class professional, George Napoleon Epps, a member of a respected family of homeopathic doctors. Her sisters were painters like herself. What was happening by the later 19th century in the UK was among the artistic and intellectual of upper class Victorian families a kind of proliferation of women artists and writers, who not infrequently group themselves with other female relatives and pursue their vocation with and through them: sisters, aunts and nieces, writing, doing fine art, of and for one another, and promoting or selling it together, e.g, the Hayllarr group (Little Stackpole, Edith, Jessica, Kate, and Mary, described by Cherry; also written about by Pamela Gerrish Nunn in her Victorian Women Artists). Another group of these related women we don’t often think about this way are Julia Margaret Cameron, the famous art photographer, maternal aunt to the sisters, writer Virginia Woolf and artist Vanessa Bell, and Vanessa’s daughter, Angelica Garnett, writer, editor, artist.

Ellen was one of three sisters: Emily, who trained with the pre-Raphaelite, John Brett, whose husband died young; as a widow and before Ellen married, Emily and she took up housekeeping together; and Laura second wife of Lawrence Alma Tadema, and because of her attachment to her husband, and his art career, a productive painter:

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Laura Epps Alma-Tadema (1852-1909), The Seamstress

In my judgement Laura’s work is a feminine version of her husband’s: the quietly erotic sensuality of omitted; the period changed from faux-classical to early modern or chaste early 19th century. Her work fits into those women covered by Cherry in her Beyond the Frame: “Tactics and Allegories, 1866-1900.”

Like her sister, Ellen’s influence on her daughter, Sylvia, so Laura influenced her step-daughter, Anna Alma Tadema (1867-1943), the daughter of her husband’s first wife. The best of Anna’s are architectural; the lines of the houses exert a chastening effect on exotic patterning. For example, Anna’s (to me) deeply appealing tranquil corner view of Eton College Chapel:

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The colors are soft brown, the stones in the street exquisitely carefully drawn

And reprinted frequently is Anna’s gorgeously over-decorated (if the paintings of it are accurate): Townsend House, the Drawing Room (1885), a sort of show-place (owned by her father):

Anna-Alma-Tadema-The-drawing-room-at-townshend-house-1885
I take Anna’s as well as her step-mother’s paintings to be women’s versions of Laurence Alma-Tadema’s strongly-controlled eroticism with their hard surfaces and women’s flesh: instead they substitute bejeweled exoticism and much drapery

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Ellen had begun exhibiting her work in 1871. She was under considerable pressure from her aunt to marry, and Edmund Gosse was also her aunt’s choice. She had refused to think about marriage, and in 1874 was described thus:

Nellie’s determination of will, she having willed that she will not marry, but prosecute her art with all her might, for since she has no fortune, she wishes to be indebted to no one for a holiday, she wishes no one to be indebted to no fortune.” Gosse was told about Elinor’s refusal; she realizes, she wishes to be indebted to no one for a livelihood, but worker her way into a fortune

According to Ann Thwaite, Ellen was very much a “new woman” in her attitudes and behavior before she married Edmund — though not an activist at all. She attended lectures at Queen’s College in Harley Street; her holiday reading one year included Carlyle, Blake, the Spectators, translations of Heine, early Meredith, Ruskin. She had had serious ambitions as a painter. She traveled to the continent and visited art galleries (France and Italy) by 1875 (Thwaite 149-50).

But a year later she “suddenly capitulated and without terms … she was so anxious to think of me in the future rather than herself.” After their marriage in 1875 Edmund Gosse worked as a civil servant, while gaining a reputation as a literary critic and poet. According to Deborah Cherry,

“Ellen ran the household, kept their accounts (keenly aware of the need to collect payments outstanding for Gosse’s work and to secure remunerative commissions) and and looked after their three children, Philip, Tessa and Sylvia. When Ellen was was away from home – on holiday with the children, visiting his parents, or nursing Gosse’s father in his terminal illness – her husband wrote to her as follows:

Please let me know by return of post: —
1. Where are my white flannel trousers and shirts?
2. Have I a decent pair of tennis shoes?

He would confess his dependence on her: She was, he admitted, his general provider: ‘Whenever you are away, I become immediately conscious of my utter helplessness without you, and how essential to my daily comfort your strength and knowledge and experience really are.”It is so dreadfully fatiguing to have you away. You are so terribly indispensable. hands and brains and everything to your poor E.'”

It was a happy marriage, despite Gosse’s homosexual leanings (confessed to John Addington Symons among others apparently). It seems that many of Gosse’s friends were adverse to marriage; but not he. I take it he was bisexual. Beyond the money he made from his academic success (at the British Museum), she inherited a sizable sum from an uncle, James Epps, the cocoa manufacturer. It was a very Bloomsbury world as described by Katherine Fisher who wrote of Sylvia’s life:

[Sylvia] was the youngest of three children of the poet, critic and librarian of the House of Lords, Edmund Gosse (1849–1928) and his wife Ellen Gosse (née Epps). Her mother and two of her aunts had all studied painting. Ellen (known as Nellie) had been a pupil of the painter Ford Madox Brown (1821–1893), while Ellen’s younger sister Laura studied with and later married the painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912). While Sylvia was growing up there was a constant stream of distinguished visitors to the family house in Delamere Terrace, Paddington, and from 1901 in Hanover Terrace, Regent’s Park, including writers Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Robert Louis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling. Later, the list of social acquaintances included the artist Walter Sickert, who became Sylvia’s lifelong friend and colleague.

Tellingly Ellen produced her landscapes when away from home, on visits to others. The images I’ve seen beyond the one landscape exemplify the genre women favored: their own domesticity. Unlike writing women, they did not (hardly ever) used pseudonyms, and they painted their families, homes, children, the private sphere. Here is her richly colored depiction of “Hal in Townsend House:”

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Cherry:

“When circumstances permitted she worked hard, noting in her diary for 1887 that she had painted continuously for seven hours. She exhibited occasionally from 1878 to 1890 after which date she wrote travel pieces and nonsense verse, contributed art reviews to the Saturday Review, Century and Academy, children’s stories to St Nicholas and published articles in St James Gazette. In 1893 she wrote deprecatingly that she had been sent a copy of Art and Handicraft in the Woman’s Building of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago ‘as I happen to be a woman and was once a sort of artist’. She had exchanged her independence for marriage, children, a moderate output of paintings and a modest exhibition record;”

after her children grew older she became a regular minor journalist. Edmund praised her letters strongly; very amusing he said. He thought that she had it in her to write “a good novel one of these days.” She wrote children’s stories, art criticism, magazine articles on all sorts of topics, but not the great comic novel she was perhaps capable of (Thwaite, 213-14) . The only other image by her I have found is of her sister, Laura “entering the Dutch room at Townsend house:”

ellen-gosse-portrait-of-laura-lady-alma-tadema-probably-entering-the-dutch-room-at-townshend-house (Large)

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A fourth woman with gifts from this clan was Ellen’s daughter, Sylvia (1881-1968). Here is the best picture by Sylvia I’ve seen.

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Sylvia Gosse (1881-1968)
, The Semptress (1914)

It is influenced by Whistler, the schools of painters who painted working people which are found at the time in Normandy (Jules Bastien-Lepage) that came to center in Cornwall, and the break-up of images in impressionism.

Sylvia shows genius in her drawings too, e.g., “The Old Violinist.” She reminds me Elizabeth Forbes Armstrong in her admiration for Walter Sickert, and like Elizabeth was part of 1890s artistic groups. She resembles the women of Germaine Greer’s book, she dedicates herself to a fellow male mentor artist. Her brief biography is reminiscent of the fictionalized women artists & writers, whom Woolf writes of in her “The Mysterious Case of Miss V” and “The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn” (both in Memoirs of a Novelist).

“The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn and “Memoirs of a Novelist,” are gems, brief, of the type Diski so brilliantly imitates in her Apology for a Woman Writing, a novella, semi-biography of Marie de Gournay with Montaigne (a presence in the book) and her servant. In “Memoirs of a Novelist” our intrepid narrator trying to uncover lost lives, tries to research past what Miss Linsett, best friend of Miss Willatt, wrote of Miss Willatt in a biography. Go beyond the turgid unreal phrases and there are so few documents and most ignore any human reality suggested. Woolf shows that the way such biographies are written you end up knowing nothing about them person. Then slowly and with difficulty our narrator ferrets out what can be said for real of Miss Willatt. Alas, not much. That she was conventionally ugly, that her father made her life a misery until he died, that she was capable of deceiving Miss Linsett endlessly, a restless and disappointed woman who sought her happiness in her self and not others, and was never given a chance at an individual life.

Not true of Sylvia Gosse. Her public life appears to have fulfilled her. In the Burlington Magazine here and there an image of a painting or drawing by her appears. From Katherine Fisher, we glimpse Sylvia as living a quiet life, not exactly reclusive, but never becoming quite part of the Camden Town or London groups.

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A photograph of Ellen (here called Nellie) and Edmund Gosse in old age — they look like they are enjoying life together

I would be grateful for any information on other of Ellen Gosse’s landscapes.

Ellen

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Women’s Work: a Medley (1861) [I have not come across an image in color]

She regained the street — happy in this, that though much had been forced on her against her will, though she had in fact heard the whole substance of Jane Fairfax’s letter, she had been able to escape the letter itself. — Jane Austen, Emma (precursor to Yonge’s Clever Woman of the Family, illustrated by Claxton)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m happy to be able to say that my second choice for 19th century women artists, Florence Anne Claxton (1838-1920) is no longer as obscure as I had flattered myself she was. From recent books on Victorian women artists, and articles on Florence’s life and art, I can offer a brief life, information about her sister, Adelaide Sophia Claxton [Turner] (1841-1927), also an illustrator and painter, and more than the two famous images of Florence’s work that I first center on. I was drawn to her satire of the hegemonic stereotypical ways women were depicted in her era and Pre-Raphaelite depictions of women, and then startled when I read that she had killed herself. Although during my time writing foremother poet blogs, I all too often came across suicide as the close of a poet’s life, Claxton is the first suicide I’ve encountered among women artists.

Florence Claxton’s one known (and when she is mentioned most frequently reprinted) painting is Women’s Work: A Medley, a parody of Ford Madox Brown’s Work

fordmadoxbrownwork.

It also fits in with large-scale group paintings like Frith’s Railway Station (1862), G.E. Hicks’s General Post Office (1860), and Egley’s Omnibus Life in London (1859). While Brown earnestly inculcates the work ethic as conferring dignity and value on people of all classes, Claxton exposes the limited nature of what women were permitted to work at (and not for money). Here is Deborah Cherry’s exegesis from her Beyond the Frame (one of my central sources of information for Claxton):

At the dead centre of the painting is a seated man. Two young women practise their accomplishments, another gazes at her reflection in a mirror. Behind him, on either side of an image of the golden calf, are family groups. To the right, a woman in brilliant yellow consults lengthy tabulations; she is closely watched by two professional men. Three governesses crowd around a small child in the left foreground, while on the right a woman is slumped on the ground before a closed door. The only figure to escape the pit-like centre of the painting is an artist who, having scaled the wall, sits sketching landscape; another attempts to follow her. In a fissure in the wall, an imperious figure points out to a group of indigent gentlewomen a view of sea, ship and shore.

Cherry quotes Susan Casteras (who wrote of Claxton in her review of Cherry’s Beyond the Frame in Victorian Studies, 45:2 [2003]:35-58), who calls it “one of the most soul-searching, acerbic and incisive paintings about the plight of contemporary womanhood (37-39):” women could not own their own property while married; it was extremely difficult for an unmarried woman to support herself independently doing respected satisfying work.

Claxton’s Choice of Paris: an Idyll (1860), “a detailed satire of the subjects, theories and techniques of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood executed in watercolor” (Catherine Flood, ODNB) is said to have caused a sensation:

ChoiceofParistwosides (Large)

Linda Hutcheon (quoted by Cherry) says it goes beyond this and ridicules vice and follies, urges a reform of attitudes and manners; it’s not assured because she could not rely on viewers to grasp its message (42). Jamie Horrocks provides a full exposition (“Broken Vows and Broken Homes: The politics of Pre-Raphaelitism in Florence Claxton’s The Choice of Paris, The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies, 24 [2015]:5-34, with a large scale reproduction of the interior side); William E. Freedman quotes a very long contemporary exegesis, which accompanied some reprints, showing that the painting probably puzzled many people not “in the know.” Just some of it: on the one side, the

interior, the left-hand compartment, the principal group is that of Mr. Millais present- ing the apple to a Pre-Raphaelite belle-ideal, whom he prefers to a figure of Raphael’s (from the well-known picture of “The Marriage of the Virgin”), and to a pretty, modern, English girl, dressed in the mode of the day, with plaited hair and crinoline complete. He carries in his hand a volume of Mr. Ruskin’s, and on the ground is a treatise “On Beauty”, by the same author. On the floor, also, are some of the famous apple-blossoms which Mr. Ruskin invoked the artists of England to paint, and the onions, as painted by Mr. Hunt, which that gentleman was so enthusiastic about last year. Behind these we see another Pre-Raphaelite worthy examining the feet of a female through a magnifying- glass, the textural surface of which he is copying minutely in his sketch book.

On the other, the exterior

we discern a young lady who is being dragged in at the window by the hair of the head, having lent too favourable an ear to the serenading monk beneath. Her fiery red hair has partly given way under the severity of the tension to which it is subject. Behind this figure is the famous Sir Isumbras of 1857, and in the foregound a picnic, where Mr. Hunt’s “Scapegoat” is anxiously waiting for some of the milk which a female (somewhat after one of the figures in Mr. Millais’s “Spring”) is drinking. The grave-digging-nun, and the sprawling figure of the girl sucking a straw, in the foreground on the right, will at once be recognized as of the same paternity.

The viewer could also pick out portraits of Raphael, Van Dyke, Joshua Reynolds, Millais, Ruskin (“Pre-Raphaelites in Caricature,” Burlington Magazine, 102:693 [1960):523-29). As one might imagine, one criticism of her work was that the images didn’t stand alone, needed explanation. The truth is satire often demands words: Hogarth, Rowlandson, need their titles and the lines that often accompany them, and occur in narrative series. Florence Claxton’s Scenes from the Life of the Female Artist (shown in the second exhibit of the Society of Female Artists in 1858), seems to have disappeared, and all we have is the description:

there is the ‘ladies class’, the studio, the woodland wide-awake, all the aspirations, difficulties, disappointments, which lead in time to successes. The little dog barks … the plaster head on the shelf winks with a certain dry amusement at its mistress, who is represented as painting a picture of the ascent to the Temple of Fame; the picture is rejected, and the disconsolate young painter is seen sitting back in comical despair, gazing at an enormous R, chalked on the back (Cherry, Painting Women, 85).

She meant to amuse, entertain, and teach, as will be seen in the title of her 1871 book of cartoons, The Adventures of a Woman in Search of her Rights, containing more than 100 pictures. Satire also comes from personal as well as ethical anger, from hurt. As with Joanna Boyce Wells, her words rather than her pictures have survived and must substitute. The following explication is from an exhibition where Florence’s pictures had scrolls, circles with words in them (Flagstones: “Ennui”), and funny references (“prickly thorns of Ridicule”)

The Four Ages of Man are represented: in the centre … all are equally the objects of devotion from surrounding females. The ‘sugar plums’ dropping from the bon-bon box represent the ‘airy nothings’ alone supposed to be within the mental grasp of womankind. A wide breach has been made in the ancient wall of Custom and Prejudice, by Progress – Emigration – who points out across the ocean. Three governesses, seen in the foreground, ignorant apparently of the opening behind them, are quarrelling over one child. The upright female figure to the right is persuaded by Divinity, and commanded by Law, to confine her attention to legitimate objects. Another female sunk, exhausted, against a door, of which the medical profession has the key; its representative is amused at her impotent attempts … (Cherry, Beyond the Frame, 40)

Florence depicted women’s worlds in the way of later Victorian or Edwardian women artists (Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes, Helen Allingham) as in this of women fending for themselves and their children getting off a train and on a train station:

FlorenceClaxtonaTrainstation (Large)

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Like a large number of the women artists I’ve covered, Florence was born to a family of painters: her father, Marshall Claxton (1813-81) had taken his wife, Sophia (nee Hargrave) and family to Florence, Italy, so he could study and there. Florence was born 26 August 1838. He seems not to have been commercially successful, and the family moved about. When her sister, Adelaide was born, three years later (1841), they were living in London, Southampton Street, Fitzroy Square, where many artists lived. He took them, a governess and 200 paintings to Sydney, Australia in August 1850, where the Hargrave brothers were trying to make a living: Richard was a settler-landowner in New South Wales; later a cousin, Lawrence Hargrave became an aeronautical pioneer. Four years later they sail to Calcutta, India; 1857 they return to England (but via Ceylon or Sri Lanka and Egypt).

An artistic career was not just a vocation for the daughters, but a necessary means of making a living. Catherine Flood lists the art schools they trained in. Florence signed a petition to the Athenaeum, calling for the admission of women into regular art academies, but regular money was in illustration where a woman’s lack of prestige did not weigh so heavily. Sketches by Florence from the 1850s show she had already show her talent for humor, and it was from these younger adult years before her marriage that the exhibited works described above emerged. The sisters were prolific, living together independently in London for a while, producing pictures commenting on topic issues for (among others) Illustrated London News, the Illustrated Times, London Society, English Women’s Domestic Journal.

secenes-from-women-artistsFlorenceCaxton (Large) (2)
From Florence’s Scenes from the Life of a Female Artist

It’s upon Florence’s marriage to a French photographer that we begin to lose sight of her. She moved outside the art world she had been in to Paris. The Woman in Search of her Rights came from these later years, and on the basis of this and a few other projects, Catherine Flood objects to Ellen Clayton’s characterization of Florence has having left “the artistic world” upon her marriage (English Female Artists, 1876). But again she had moved, this time to a periphery: she is said to have spent many years in Morocco whether as wife or widow is not clear (her husband died between 1881 and 1891). There is a difference between a life in London or Paris, and exhibiting and making books there, as opposed to selling paintings on china, porcelain plaques and teaching, which is what she did mostly. Flood then locates her in 1911 living in the Isle of Wight, estranged from her sister, Adelaide (who had become a successful commercial artist-businesswoman), living on an annuity from her mother. There are no children, and she takes “a fatal overdose of veronal” in a “carefully planned suicide” on 3 May 1920, it’s said because of “failing health, rising food prices, and a horror of losing her independence” (Flood).

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Although Florence’s name is cited in a number of histories of illustrated books, where illustrations are reprinted, titles are missing, little is reprinted. According to wikipedia, the story of the woman who searched for her rights did not end well, and may be read as part of what Norma Clarke explains as the self-policing of Victorian women writers who hid their real lives and reinforced the system that crippled them (Ambitious Heights: Writing Friendship, Love, The Jewsbury Sisters, Felicia Hemans and Jane Carlyle 57-97):

a young woman falls in love with a dashing youth, but her parents do not approve and her lover leaves. She decides to pursue her rights. She loses her looks through the study of John Stuart Mill and; now made ugly, she pursues various careers, becoming a lawyer, a politician and a doctor, but eventually fails in all of her pursuits. She finally emigrates to the United States and marries Brigham Young, the polygamous Mormon leader. In the end, it turns out to have been all a dream and she ends with the words ‘thank goodness it’s only a midsummer night’s dream and I’m not emancipated’

Cover
The cover

Claxton apparently also ridiculed women in “Married Off: a Satirical Poem by H. B. (Henry Bergh)” (Walton, see directly below).

She did, though, illustrate Charlotte Yonge’s The Clever Woman of the Family in ways that show real sympathy for a story of a clever ambitious young woman who wanted to make it on her own. Susan Walton (“Suitable Work for Women? Florence Claxton’s Illustrations for The Clever Woman of the Family by Charlotte Yonge,” Nineteenth Century Gender Studies, 11:2 (2015), describes, reprints and argues both Yonge and Claxton’s attitudes were by no means antagonistic to extending the kinds of remunerative “suitable work” for “gentlewomen” outside the home. The novel first appeared in a conservative Christian magazine, Churchman’s Family Magazine. Walton thinks the life and work of Florence Nightingale played an important role in changing women’s minds about how work outside the home is not just selfish, ambitious, about a need for money, but and quotes Audrey Fessler’s reading of Yonge’s novel as about making “a good society to be one where the interconnectedness of every person in the community was fostered – that a web of relationships and responsibilities should be maintained in parish and neighborhood.”

We should remember that beyond hostility to women artists as such, the art world (high and low) presented women artists and women as deeply sexual (and therefore suspect). In this context, Claxton had been praised in the English Woman’s Journal based on Claxton’s Life of an Old Bachelor and Life of an Old Maid as “the one female exhibitor who means something, and says what she means … every stroke instinct with thought. … We think they are … the best pictures here, being so good of their kind.” She adds Colleen Denney’s voice to the way Claxton’s Work: A Medley was seen: “a “multi-layered allegorical portrait,” “a biting satire of women’s service to men; in essence, it reveals the state of women’s lives in 1861 and the ways in which their society marginalized them, whether they sought to stay in the domestic realm, or ventured beyond it into the public one.” Claxton might then be a good choice for Yonge’s book. Here is just one of the several illustrations reprinted and analyzed by Walton:

Figure10

To me and those interested in Jane Austen, it’s telling that Yonge’s novel has been linked back to Austen’s Emma for its subject, stance, techniques.

One can also glimpse satire on the social life imposed and sympathy for women and girls, in these four panels from the Illustrated London News attributed to both Adelaide and Florence:

florenceandAdelaideIllustraedLondonTimes (Large)

Florence’s woman artist is stranded in a flower show (taken so seriously from Mrs Miniver to Downton Abbey)

ArtistatFlowerShow (Large)

In 1863 she laughed at a “singing lesson at Minerva House:”

florence-claxton-a-singing-lesson-at-minerva-house-1863

As I am of a serious disposition, and am often perverse enough to prefer the small mood images and vignettes in the New Yorker to their cartoons, I like the few in that vein I found:

Forence Anne Claxton -  watercolour over pencil, signed and date 1859 . This watercolour is a study for a larger work entitled "the Lower jetty, Margate" engraved for the Illustrated London News Oct 1 1859 p330

Florence Anne Claxton – watercolour over pencil, signed and date 1859 . This watercolour is a study for a larger work entitled “the Lower jetty, Margate” engraved for the Illustrated London News Oct 1 1859 p330

Another from this series:

Lower Jetty 1859watercolor

But her forte was the detailed satire and commentary, such as this:

Testimonials (Large)
Testimonials

She was, though, not laughing when she died, an old ill woman living alone whom her society would not provide adequately for and had actively worked (in the sense of its norms) to prevent her doing so for herself.

Ellen

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