Image of the Month: Caricature of Darwin and the crew of the Beagle

painting-depicting-charles-darwin

Lot 10, ‘English Literature, History, Childrens’ Books and Illustrations’ Sale, 15 December 2015, Sotheby’s London. Earle, Augustus (attrib.) CARICATURE GROUP PORTRAIT ON BOARD HMS BEAGLE Watercolour, entitled “Quarter Deck of a Man of War on Diskivery [sic] or interesting Scenes on an Interesting Voyage”, depicting Darwin together with ten other figures, all crew members of HMS Beagle, including Robert FitzRoy and three other officers, shipboard with fossils, botanical and mineralogical specimens, some with captions, several figures with nautical and surveying instruments, each figure with a speech bubble with words written above in black ink, single sheet (340 x 205 mm), watercolour and ink on paper (Whatman Mill watermark, undated), [Bahía Blanca, Argentina, on or around 24 September, 1832]; some creasing and light staining, mounted. http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2014/english-literature-history-childrens-books-illustrations-l15408/lot.10.html

Last month, Sotheby’s in London sold for £52,500 the only known painting of the naturalist Charles Darwin aboard the HMS Beagle.

The watercolour, painted by Augustus Earle (1793–1838) was offered in the English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations sale in London. Darwin (giving a long-winded description of an insect), Captain Robert Fitzroy, and various officers and sailors are all depicted: it captures the bustle of Darwin’s historic expedition, while the speech bubbles hint at in-jokes and standing jokes from the voyage. An officer, thought to be 1st Lt John Clements Wickham, complains: “There is no such thing as walking the deck for all these cursed specimens!”

zoomable digital image of the caricature is available on Sotheby’s website, along with an article on the caricature on Sotheby’s rare books blog Bibliofile.

 

 

Image of the Month: ‘Edward the Black Prince; or, the Battle of Poictiers’ (Mariana and Arnold) 1791

Illustration to William Shirley's 'Edward the Black Prince', scene 3, from Bell's 'British Theatre' series; at the door of a tent, a girl kneels in pleading with a knight turning from her to right, another girl standing behind in round frame with elaborate frame; sheet trimmed and pasted within platemark in imitation of an india proof. 1792. British Museum. Museum no. 1875,0710.3387 http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=3041464&partId=1&searchText=edward+the+black+prince&page=1

Illustration to William Shirley’s ‘Edward the Black Prince’, scene 3, from Bell’s ‘British Theatre’ series; sheet trimmed and pasted within platemark in imitation of an india proof. 1792.
British Museum.
Museum no.
1875,0710.3387
http://www.britishmuseum.org/ research/collection_online/ collection_object_details.aspx? objectId=3041464&partId= 1&searchText=edward+the +black+prince&page=1 Used under a Creative Commons License http://creativecommons.org/ licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/

This month, Anne Musset (PhD Candidate, History of Art, University of Warwick/Université Paris-Diderot) discusses an illustration to Bell’s British Theatre:

‘This image, engraved by Joseph Collyer after William Hamilton, is an illustration of William Shirley’s historical tragedy Edward the Black Prince; or, the Battle of Poictiers. It is taken from the 1791 edition of the play in the hugely popular series Bell’s British Theatre. Shirley’s play, “attempted after the Manner of Shakespear”, was first performed in 1750 and remained popular thanks to its combination of romance and heroic action.[1] It is based on the Battle of Poitiers (1356) and stages the Black Prince as a charismatic military leader and a tender friend. A second plot focuses on the tragic love between English knight Arnold and his French prisoner Mariana. The play afforded moments of heroism and of pathos, as well as opportunities for political parallelisms and medieval pageantry.

As an illustrator, Hamilton contributed to all the major literary and historical galleries of the period. In the 1780s and 1790s he realised several vignettes and portraits for Bell’s British Theatre. The passage illustrated takes place in Act III, when Mariana and Arnold have defected to the French camp, but Arnold feels remorse at betraying his country and the Prince’s friendship. He resolves to leave Mariana and return to the English camp. Mariana, whose violent passion constantly places her on the brink of madness, attempts to prevent his departure.

The costume in Hamilton’s scene evinces a combination of styles. Mariana’s dress is rather Baroque in style, but the high waists of the ladies’ dresses correspond to the fashion of the 1790s. The slashed sleeves and ruffled collar of Mariana’s attendant are historicising details commonly found in eighteenth-century theatrical costuming to signify an earlier historical period, from the Middle Ages to the seventeenth century.[2] For Hamilton, slashed sleeves seem to be a prerequisite to the illustration of the past. Arnold’s costume is inspired by seventeenth-century rather than medieval armour. By the end of the eighteenth century, few works on costume and armour had been published in Britain, and historical painters often sought inspiration from the armouries in the Tower of London – but none of the exhibits were older than the sixteenth century. What the image achieves is an evocation of the past as the background for the sentimental drama, rather than an archaeological reconstruction of the middle ages.

The function of referring to the fourteenth century with more precision is devoted to the image’s frame: there we find direct allusions to France and England, in the form of an elaborate display of arms, armour and standards. The display has both a decorative and a narrative function. It features the banners of England and France along with a pike, a sword and a pair of gauntlets, on either side of a helmet crowned with the three ostrich feathers of the Prince of Wales and bearing his motto “Ich dien”. The frame firmly reinforces the political drama unfolding in the background, suggesting that the situation depicted originates in the political choices of monarchs, or conversely, that individual, private decisions can affect events in the political sphere. The hangings in the picture seem to merge with the armorial display of the frame, which reinforces the connection between the sentimental and the historical plots. The gauntlets on either side of the helmet appear to be holding the picture, as if presenting the image to the viewer, or exerting control over the scene. The slightly ominous gauntlets, shadow under the helmet and agitated clouds (which seem a continuation of the French standard) suggest that war will get the upper hand over the lovers.

An illustration of the historical tragedy, the image also participated in the construction of the genre of historical romance, balancing theatrical references and antiquarianism in a pathetic farewell scene. While the play claims to be staging historical fact, the illustration focuses on romance. At the same time, it retains a strong connection to the battle and the figure of the Prince of Wales thanks to its background and its highly decorative frame. Visually, the scene is reminiscent of other famous farewell scenes, such as Hector parting from Andromache or Regulus returning to Carthage – both subjects that had been regularly depicted by European artists in the second half of the century. Through such associations, the book illustration takes on aspects of history painting. As a consequence, Mariana, Arnold and British history are aligned with ancient Greek and Roman history, just as Shirley was aiming to align his own tragedy with the works of Shakespeare.’

Anne Musset
University of Warwick/Université Paris-Diderot

[1] See Jeffrey Kahan, Shakespeare Imitations, Parodies and Forgeries, 1710-1820 (Taylor & Francis, 2004), vol. 1.

[2] Diana De Marly, Costume on the Stage 1600-1940 (London: Batsford, 1982), pp.52-23.

Image of the Month: William Blake, Sealing the Stone and Setting a Watch (c.1800-1803).

Blake Sealing the Stone

William Blake, Sealing the Stone and Setting a Watch (c.1800-1803). Watercolor, with pen, in gray ink, black ink and graphite on moderately thick, slightly textured, wove paper. Yale Center for British Art, Yale Art Gallery Collection, Everett V. Meeks, B.A. 1901 Fund.

In an ‘Image of the Month’ in February, I wrote about Blake’s watercolour Mary Magdalen at the Sepulchre (c.1805). In this post, I’m jumping back a bit to another of Blake’s watercolour illustrations to the Bible, Sealing the Stone and Setting a Watch (c.1800-03), which depicts a moment slightly earlier in the biblical narrative, and was probably also produced several years earlier (the exact dates of these works are not known, but they have been assigned dates based on stylistic features).

The text illustrated is Matthew 27:66 which describes the sealing of Jesus’ tomb on the day after his death and burial. The chief priests and Pharisees had heard Jesus say that he would rise again on the third day, and they feared that the disciples would try to take away the body to fabricate a resurrection. They therefore asked Pilate to secure the tomb, so he sent a watch and instructed them make the tomb as sure as they could (27:62-65).

In Blake’s illustration, the task is being undertaken very diligently. At the centre of the design is a young man balancing on a ladder, holding a palette of cement and a knife. He is turning to his right, directed by a priest standing below who appears to be pointing out a gap in the cement for the young man to seal. There are two more priests to the left of the ladder, and five soldiers are standing guard.

This is a relatively unusual subject, which is perhaps unsurprising; illustrators of the New Testament have tended to focus on the acts of Jesus and his disciples, not on those of Jesus enemies. We cannot be certain whether the subject was chosen by Blake or by his patron, Thomas Butts; either way, its inclusion in the series of biblical illustrations emphasises that the tomb was firmly shut. Thus, when Blake added The Angels Hovering over the body of Christ in the Sepulchre (c.1805, V&A) to the series, he was giving the viewer privileged access to a scene inside the firmly-sealed tomb, and then in The Angel Rolling Away the Stone from the Sepulchre (c.1805, V&A) and The Resurrection (c.1805, Fogg Art Museum), Blake depicts Christ bursting that seal.

As a stand-alone design the subject may not have obvious appeal, but in a series of illustrations to the narrative of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Sealing the Stone and Setting a Watch plays a key role.

Naomi Billingsley (Manchester)

Image of the Month: William Blake, ‘Mary Magdalen at the Sepulchre’ (c.1805).

William Blake, 'Mary Magdalen at the Sepulchre' (c.1805). Watercolor with pen and ink on paper. 17 1/4 x 12 1/4 inches (43.8 x 31.1 cm). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.  http://collections.britishart.yale.edu/vufind/Record/1670856

William Blake, ‘Mary Magdalen at the Sepulchre’ (c.1805). Watercolor with pen and ink on paper. 17 1/4 x 12 1/4 inches (43.8 x 31.1 cm). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
http://collections.britishart.yale.edu/vufind/Record/1670856

February’s ‘Image of the Month’ comes from Naomi Billingsley, PhD Candidate in Religions and Theology, University of Manchester, and recipient of a Bibliographical Society Studentship to assist with attendance at the third RIN symposium, ‘Literary Galleries’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is one of approximately eighty watercolour illustrations to the Bible produced by William Blake for his loyal patron Thomas Butts (a civil servant) between 1800 and about 1805 (several designs were added after this date but the majority were completed in this five-year period).[1] It is not clear how these designs originally functioned as illustrations: they may have extra-illustrated a large Bible or they might have been kept in their own portfolio or volume as a Bible in pictures.[2]

The design is from c.1805 and depicts Mary Magdalene at the tomb (or sepulchre) of Jesus; it is probably an illustration to John 20, because in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, there are others with Mary when she goes to the tomb, and it is John that mentions Mary seeing ‘two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain’, which Blake has included in the design (v. 12). However, Blake has compressed several moments in the narrative together in a single frame: in John’s account Mary stays ‘without’ the tomb and stoops to look inside (v. 11); she then turns around and sees Jesus but mistakes him for a gardener (v. 14). Although Blake has placed Mary on the threshold of the tomb, she is at the bottom of a flight of steps leading down to it, and so she is not stooping; Jesus stands at the top of the steps above her.

Blake has probably chosen this arrangement for compositional reasons: the design’s symmetry is characteristic of Blake’s ‘gothic’ style in this period. Indeed, this watercolour is one of six similarly symmetrical and near-monochrome designs of the death and resurrection of Christ which seem to form a sub-group within the series of biblical watercolours (The Crucifixion and the following designs – not including #499 or #503 – viewable via the Blake Archive).

Blake’s use of composition may also make a theological point. Jesus and Mary are directly aligned in the central vertical portion of the design; their arm gestures are almost identical and there is eye contact between them (see the Blake Archive’s image enlargement). This may be an expression of Blake’s idea that every person is an embodiment of Jesus – as articulated, for example, in his statement to Henry Crabb Robinson that Jesus ‘Is the only God… And so am I and so are you’[3] and his aphorism ‘The Eternal Body of Man is The Imagination. that is God himself | ישע Jesus | The Divine Body | we are his Members’.[4] So we might read Mary Magdalene here as a member of Jesus’ Divine Body, making the design not only ‘mere’ illustration but also a vehicle for Blake’s own ideas.

Any readers in the New Haven (Connecticut, USA) area will be able to see this work in the exhibition ‘The Critique of Reason: Romantic Art, 1760-1860’ between 6 March and 26 July at the Yale University Art Gallery this year.

[1] Cf. Martin Butlin, The Paintings and Drawings of William Blake (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981): nos. 433-526.

[2] David Bindman, Blake as an Artist (Oxford: Phaidon, 1977): 144.

[3] William Blake to Henry Crabb Robinson, December 1825, in G. E. Bentley, Jr. Blake Records (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2nd Ed. 2004): 421.

[4] William Blake, ‘The Laocoön’, in David V. Erdman (ed.), The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake (New York: Doubleday, 1988): 273 and available via the Blake Archive.

 

 

Image of the Month: Mutual undermining by “Boz” and Cruikshank?

Mutual undermining by “Boz” and Cruikshank?

Helen-Frances Pilkington (Birkbeck)

Mary L. Shannon’s paper, at the recent The Artist and the Writer RIN symposium, discussed how Dickens, in the guise of “Boz”, had used Cruikshank’s established visual persona to bolster his own. This led me to think about another “Boz” – Cruikshank relationship from August 1838 in Bentley’s Miscellany, where they had engaged in some mutual under-mining. The sketch in question was the ‘Full Report of the Second Meeting of the Mudfog Association for the Advancement of Everything’ which was ‘illustrated by George Cruikshank’.

Within this article is a discussion on the local beadle. “Boz” was given the chance to state his case first. Mr Sowster, the reader is informed, was a ‘fat man, with a more enlarged development of that peculiar conformation of countenance which is vulgarly termed a double chin.’ After some ‘unconstitutional proceedings’ in which Mr Sowster was employed as a bouncer for the Mudfog meeting, “Boz” announced that he had ‘procured a local artist to make a faithful sketch of the tyrant Sowster’. This likeness was ‘from the life, and complete in every respect. Even if I had been totally ignorant of the man’s real character, and had it been placed before me without remark, I should have shuddered involuntarily. There is an intense malignity of expression in the features, and a baleful ferocity of purpose in the ruffian’s eye, which appals and sickens. His whole air is rampant with cruelty, nor is the stomach less characteristic of his demoniac propensities.’ Such a description evokes terror, potentially comic, especially when considering the satirical trope of beadles.

As noted by Sally Ledger, one of the prototypes for Mr Bumble, the beadle in Oliver Twist (1837-1838), was Robert Seymour’s 1830 engraving ‘Heaven and Earth’ in which a beadle, in a cocked hat, flowing robes and staff, descends from the clouds to deny relief to starving paupers (Figure 1: bottom centre).

Figure 1: Robert Seymour, ‘Heaven & Earth’, 1830 © British Museum

Ledger noted that ‘this image of the Beadle as a pompously attired, self-important petty official that established a satirical genealogy upon which Dickens and Cruikshank would together build a few years later in Sketches by Boz and Oliver Twist‘. Given the “Boz”-ian text, the date and the article title proclaiming the Cruikshank illustrations, the expectation for the first readers would have been a continuation of this trope. However, the ‘faithful’ sketch by the ‘local artist’ in Bentley’s Miscellany turned out to be quite different (Figure 2):

Figure 2: George Cruikshank, 'The Tyrant Sowster', Bentley's Miscellany (1838) © Victoria and Albert Museum

Figure 2: George Cruikshank, ‘The Tyrant Sowster’, Bentley’s Miscellany (1838) © Victoria and Albert Museum

In Figure 2, Cruikshank has depicted Sowster as a benignly comic figure, all double-chin and belly with little arms and legs attached, rather than the ferocious tyrant per “Boz’s” description or the pompous petty official of the satirical stereotype. So who is right? Is the ‘local artist’ incapable of accurate sketching or has “Boz” been carried away by his rhetoric?

Helen-Frances Pilkington (Birkbeck)

Helen-Frances is a PhD student at Birkbeck focusing on hot air balloons and railways in the early nineteenth century

Sources:

Dickens, Charles; ‘The Second Report of the Mudfog Association for the Advancement of Everything’; Bentley’s Miscellany; 4; (August 1838); 209-227.

Ledger, Sally; ‘From Queen Caroline to Lady Deadlock: Dickens and the Popular Radical Imagination’; Victorian Literature and Culture; 32; (2004); 575-600.