THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

20 posts categorized "Visual arts"

10 August 2016

Scrapbooking Waterloo: Thomas Pickstock’s travel journal

Add comment

When the London-based merchant Thomas Pickstock (1792-1864) presented his son George with a travel journal recounting his '91 days ramble’ in France and Belgium between July-October 1843, he expressed the hope that the recipient could find it 'amusing...however unconnected as you’ll find it throughout'.

1

Add MS 89188. Thomas Pickstock's Journal. Cc-by

The concern expressed by Pickstock was not completely unjustified. His journal, far from being a neat and systematic account of his adventures abroad, appears like a scrapbook. Nearly every page presents a mixture of manuscript, drawing and printed material. Pickstock did not simply rewrite his travel annotations in a fair copy. Instead, he took great care in illustrating his writing with several watercolours and the keepsakes that he collected during the trip.

5

Add MS 89188. Thomas Pickstock's Journal. Detail showing a watercolour. Cc-by

Towards the end of his travels, Pickstock visited the battlefield of Waterloo. This was an experience that struck him ‘with ideas and sentiments…impossible to record, or give a fainting idea of’. Though perhaps difficult to convey with words, Pickstock’s emotional response to this experience can be grasped thanks to the numerous pieces of ephemera relating to the battle inserted into his journal: business cards for tour guides, engravings, maps, and even a note from his uncle, who had visited the battlefield years earlier and had brought home a branch taken off the famous tree under which the Duke of Wellington allegedly held his headquarters. When Pickstock visited the field the tree was not there anymore, as it ‘was removed and transported to England by an individual who purchased the right to do so’.

2

Add MS 89188. Thomas Pickstock's Journal. Page showing the description of Wellington's tree. Cc-by

The popularity of Waterloo as a morbidly fascinating tourist attraction resonates in Pickstock’s narration of his visit, which included an encounter with ‘a peasant ploughing and expecting to find bullets’ and an instructive visit to the tour guide’s hut, ‘full of Skulls and other Bones with Sabres for sale – all gathered by his own Children from the fields’.

4

Add MS 89188. Thomas Pickstock's Journal. Detail showing trade cards. Cc-by

The narration of Pickstock’s adventures is enriched with a meticulous recording of his expenses during his three-month-long journey and an explanation of the differences between the French and Belgian currencies. This attention to budgetary matters might be explained by the financial misfortunes experienced by the merchant during the summer of 1841, when he very narrowly escaped bankruptcy.

Image 3

Add MS 89188. Thomas Pickstock's Journal. Detail showing Pickstock's accounts. Cc-by

Although Pickstock feared that the slightly overwhelming amount of information that he packed in his journal could deter his son from reading it, he also cautiously envisioned that there would be others which ‘might take some pleasure in perusing the same’: an invitation that can now be accepted, as the British Library recently acquired the third volume of Pickstock’s travel journal and it will soon be available to consult under the reference number Add MS 89188.

  6
Add MS 89188. Thomas Pickstock's Journal. Cc-by

 

By Alessandra Rigotti, MA Early Modern English Literature, King's College, London, & Work Placement Student, Modern Archives and Manuscripts, British Library.

 

16 June 2016

A dinosaur dinner and relics from 'one of the greatest humbugs, frauds and absurdities ever known'.

Add comment

These are the words which Colonel Charles Sibthorpe (1783-1855) used to describe the Great Exhibition and Crystal Palace. His staunch opposition to any foreign influence, including a deep suspicion of Prince Albert, was the likely cause of his dislike of the Exhibition, which housed 13,000  exhibits from around the world.

  DayandSon

Lithograph published by Day & Son, 1854, showing the Crystal Palace and Park in Sydenham. Add MS 50150. Cc-by

The British Library Modern Manuscripts Department owns two volumes of letters, ephemera and artwork relating to the Great Exhibition, the Crystal Palace and its life in Hyde Park and later in Sydenham, South London. The collection contains posters, letters, tickets, photographs, drawings, newspaper cuttings and advertisements.

One of my favourite items is a letter dated August 27 1862 from Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894) to Edward Trimmer (1827-1904), secretary to the Royal College of Surgeons.

Hawkins was the designer and sculptor of the models of extinct animals and dinosaurs which were commissioned to stand in the grounds of the Crystal Palace after its move to Sydenham. To celebrate the launch of the models, Hawkins hosted a dinner on 31 December, 1853, inside one of the dinosaur models.

  BaxterType

Baxter-type showing the dinosaurs at Crystal Palace, 1854. Add MS 50150. Cc-by

Trimmer had evidently asked Hawkins which dinosaur was the location of the supper party and Hawkins responded:

"In reply to your enquiry as to which of my models of the gigantic extinct animals in the Crystal Palace Park at Sydenham I had  converted into a sale á manger. I send you herewith a graphic answer in a miniature sketch of the Iguanodon as he appeared with his brains in and his belly full on the 31 of Decr 1853 and if you are further interested in the details of my whimsical feast you will find a good report in the London Illustrated News of July 7 1854 as its proprietor The late Mr Ingram was among the press of guests on that occasion; I had the pleasure of seeing around me many of the heads of science among whom in the head of the squadron was Professor Owen and the late Professor Ed forbes with eighteen other friends we were all very jolly to meet the new year 1854."

Hawkins' sketch of the Iguanodon shows a lively scene of people standing and raising glasses inside the body of the dinosaur.

Iguanodon

Detail of the dinner party held inside the Iguanodon, from Hawkins' letter to Trimmer, Add MS 50150. Cc-by

The drawing is similar in composition to the wood engraving from the Illustrated London News which was taken from an original drawing by Hawkins, and shows the dinosaur surrounded by a wooden platform and steps.

  ILN

 Wood engraving from the Illustrated London News, January 7 1854, showing 'Dinner in the Iguanodon Model, at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham'. Add MS 50150, f. 225. Cc-by

The dinosaurs remain in the Crystal Park today and are Grade I listed. There's a brilliant Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs group who promote the long-term conservation of the models. A recent blog on the FCPD site shows images of the interior of the Iguanodon, the dinosaur in which Hawkins hosted his banquet.

Alexandra Ault, Curator, Manuscripts 1601-1850.

20 May 2016

Bringing Colin Mackenzie Home

Add comment

Colonel Colin Mackenzie (1754-1821), the first Surveyor General of India, was a determined man. He was employed by the East India Company as a Military Surveyor, but did far more than simply make maps. During his four decade career in India, Sri Lanka and Java, he carried out vast, complicated historical and cultural research.

F13 copy

Portrait of Colin Mackenzie with three of his assistants by Thomas Hickey (BL - F13)  Noc

 

Mackenzie’s attitude towards collecting drawings, historical manuscripts and artefacts verged on the obsessive. Today, thousands of paper manuscripts, at least 1700 drawings, and 521 palm leaf manuscripts that he collected, mainly in India, form the British Library’s Mackenzie Collection. Other manuscripts and drawings that he collected are held in the Asiatic Society’s Library in Kolkata and the University of Madras Library. The objects he collected, ranging from coins to monumental sculpture, are now in the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Chennai Government Museum, the Indian Museum Kolkata and the National Museum of India.

The British Library’s Mackenzie Collection is a treasure trove of information about the people and places in Asia that Colin Mackenzie encountered two centuries ago. The one thing that Mackenzie conspicuously failed to collect was any personal information about himself. To find out about his origins, one must travel 5000 miles north-west from Mackenzie’s final resting place at Calcutta, to his birthplace at Stornoway, on the Island of Lewis.

Here is a picture of the seaside church of Ui on Lewis, where the Mackenzie family’s mausoleum stands.

  Ui Church copy
The Ui Church at Aignish, near Stornoway. The rectangular granite structure on the left is the Mackenzie Family Mausoleum. Noc

 

Inside, there are inscriptions composed by Colin’s older sister, Mary Mackenzie (1747-1827), dedicated to Colin, their brother Alexander (1740-1810), and their parents, Murdoch (1717-1802) and Barbara (1720-1792). Through these inscriptions, Mary Mackenzie ensured that her family’s history was not forgotten.

 

Colin and Alex copy

The inscriptions inside the Mackenzie Family Mausoleum at Aignish.  Noc

Murdoch and Barbara copy

 

Today, Stornoway has become the vibrant capital of the Outer Hebrides. The Purvai Project, based at the An Lanntair cultural centre in Stornoway, seeks to explore Colin Mackenzie’s vast legacy. One aspect of the project will be an exhibition at the newly opened Lews Castle Museum about the life and work of Colin Mackenzie, scheduled for 2017.

Jennifer Howes
Art Historian specialising in South Asia

Further reading:

Blake, David. M.  “Colin Mackenzie: collector extraordinary”. British Library Journal (1991), pp.128-150.

Howes, Jennifer. Illustrating India: The Early Colonial Investigations of Colin Mackenzie. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Jansari, Sushma.“Roman Coins from the Mackenzie Collection at the British Museum.” The Numismatic Chronicle, Volume 172 (2012), pp.93-104.

 

 

12 May 2016

Edward Lear: politicians, poems and runcible hats.

Add comment

Today is Edward Lear’s 204th Birthday.  To celebrate, I’ve chosen to look at a letter from Lear to the MP and later prime minister, Sir William Ewart Gladstone and another to William Bevan, British Vice-Consul in San Remo.

The letter to Gladstone was written in October 1863 on a printed subscription list and advertisement for Lear’s publication Views in the Seven Ionian Islands.

LearIonianIslands

Letter from Edward Lear to William Ewart Gladstone Add MS 44401.  Untitled

Views in the Seven Ionian Islands was a series of lithographs drawn and published by Lear in December 1863. Lear produced a list of the noteworthy subscribers and used their names to further advertise the project. Among the many names were Lear's good friends Chichester Parkinson-Fortescue and Frances, Countess Waldegrave.

LearSubscribers

 Verso of a letter from Edward Lear to William Ewart Gladstone Add MS 44401. Untitled

In the letter, Lear asked Gladstone if he would consider subscribing to the Ionian Views:

"I hope that the enclosed circular of a work I am about to publish on the Ionian Islands may interest you sufficiently to induce you to subscribe for a copy of it. I had lived there so long, that I may say without impropriety that few artists can have drawn the beautiful scenery there as much and as carefully as I."

LearIonianLitho1

Lithograph 'View from the Village of Galaro - Zante' in Views in the Seven Ionian Islands, drawn and published by Edward Lear, 1863. British Library 1782.d.16. Untitled

LearIonianLitho2

Lithograph 'Town and Harbour of Caïo - Paxo' in Views in the Seven Ionian Islands, drawn and published by Edward Lear, 1863. British Library 1782.d.16. Untitled

The letter to Gladstone could not be more different from another letter in the British Library Manuscript Collections which is addressed to William Bevan, the British Vice-Consul who had moved to San Remo and lived near Lear. The letter contains Lear's  poem How Pleasant to Know Mr Lear which was apparently composed with the help of Bevan's eldest daughter. Lear has also included a caricature of himself and his cat Foss.

Lear

Letter from Edward Lear to Archdeacon Bevan 145 January 1879, Add MS 61891 ff.104-9. Untitled

This drawing must surely illustrate the following verse in the poem:

He has many friends, lay men and clerical,
Old Foss is the name of his cat;
His body is perfectly spherical,
He weareth a runcible hat. 

 The letter beneath the poem reads:

I disclose you a Pome, which you may or may Knott send to the Lady who says "How pleasant to know Mr Lear,  It may be sung to the air "how cheerful along the Gay Mead". 

Lear stated that his poem could be set to the music of the hymn How Cheerful along the Gay Mead. Here is a link to the score in the Levy Sheet Music Collection if anyone fancies a sing-along with Lear on his birthday! 

Alexandra Ault, Curator, Manuscripts and Archives 1601-1850.

 

23 April 2016

Selling the silver screen: poster stamps and lost films

Add comment

Movie studios always promote their newest releases by advertising and merchandising which generates multi-billion dollar revenues. Yet the origins of movie merchandising remain unclear. In nineteenth century Europe, the postage stamp medium was adapted for non-postal purposes by businesses to create a new advertising medium, known as the poster stamp since they are essentially mini advertising posters.  This advertising practice spread to America and at its height prior to the First World War, collecting poster stamps actually eclipsed philately as a hobby with hundreds of thousands of them being issued to commemorate events and sell products.

In 1913 designers Oscar Wentz and Winold Reiss emigrated from Germany to New York hoping to make their mark on the American advertising industry. Wentz wasted no time establishing Wentz & Co., which by 1914 had signed contracts with most of the major movie studios to provide poster stamps depicting actors, actresses and serial movies. Designed by Wentz and Reiss, these were to be sold with accompanying albums by the movie studio to cinema owners, who would sell them to movie goers or give them away as promotional material to entice audiences back each week. 

The Campbell-Johnson collection in the Philatelic Collections possesses sixty-one poster stamps mainly produced by Wentz and Co., depicting prominent actors and actresses from the silent screen including Mary Pickford (1893-1979), the first great American movie star and co-founder of United Artists Studio with Charles Chaplin, D.W Griffith and her husband Douglas Fairbank in 1919; and G. M. Anderson (1882-1971) who is widely regarded as the first cowboy movie star. Here is a link to a silent movie of G.M. Anderson in the role of Broncho Billy in Broncho Billy's Fatal Joke, released in 1914.

Image 1  Image 2
Left: Poster Stamp depicting Mary Fuller taken from the British Library, Philatelic Collections, the Campbell-Johnson Collection, volume 28. Right: Poster Stamp depicting G. M. Anderson as his cowboy persona “Broncho Billy” taken from the British Library, Philatelic Collections, the Campbell-Johnson Collection, volume 28.

The collection also contains twenty-seven Wentz & Co., poster stamps depicting stills from episodes of The Goddess, six depicting stills from the adventure serial The Broken Coin, and thirty-six depicting stills from the detective serial The Black Box, all released in 1915 by the Vitagraph Company and Universal Studios.

 Image 3  Image 4

Left: Poster Stamp depicting a still from episode 14 of The Goddess taken from the British Library, Philatelic Collections, the Campbell-Johnson Collection, volume 28. Right: Poster Stamp depicting a still from episode 15 of The Broken Coin taken from the British Library, Philatelic Collections, the Campbell-Johnson Collection, volume 28.

As well as being examples of early movie merchandising these poster stamps are important as the Black Box and Broken Coin are believed to be lost films. Consequently, they offer a rare visual insight into their cinematography. Used in conjunction with published books upon which the films were based, and related movie song sheets, the poster stamps allow for a partial reconstruction of these lost works.

  Image 5 Image 6

Left: Poster Stamp depicting a still from episode 3 of The Black Box taken from the British Library, Philatelic Collections, the Campbell-Johnson Collection, volume 28. Right: Front book plate of E. Phillips Oppenheim: The Black Box (New York, 1915): British Library Reference NN 2868.

The Campbell-Johnson Collection of Cinderella and Poster Stamps can be viewed by appointment in the philatelic collections, by emailing philatelic@bl.uk

Richard Scott Morel, Curator, Philatelic Collections

Sources

The British Library Philatelic Collections, The Campbell-Johnson Collection, Volume 28
H. Thomas Steele, Lick ‘em, Stick ‘em: The Lost Art of Poster Stamps (Abeville Press, 1989)
Ken Wlaschin, The Silent Cinema in Song, 1896-1929 (McFarland Publishers, 2009)
Robert Whorton, 'The Master Key Serial: Wentz Master Stamp Set Instalment I' in  Cinderella Philatelist, Vol. 54, No. 4 (October 2014)

20 March 2016

Art meets Science: Newton, Blake and the British Library

Add comment Comments (0)

At the end of British Science Week I'm using arguably the British Library's most famous resident as a gateway into some of our manuscript collections. In case you hadn't guessed, I'm talking about Sir Isaac Newton, who died on this day in 1727.

The large statue of Newton, which sits outside the British Library, was made by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi in 1995. Rachel Huddart has written a brilliant blog about the statue here.

 Isaac2

Statue of Sir Isaac Newton by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, 1995, in the Piazza of the British Library. Untitled

The statue was based on an extremely rare colour print and watercolour of Newton by William Blake which is now in the Tate Gallery. So rare, in fact that only two versions of this print exist.

N05058_10

Newton by William Blake, 1795- circa 1805, colour print, ink and watercolour on paper,  © Tate  N05058 [image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 ]

One of the star items in the manuscripts collection at the British Library is William Blake's notebook which contains drafts of his poems as well as many drawings.

Blake william notebook 070520

Folio 12 from The notebook of William Blake (The Rossetti Manuscrtipt), c irca 1787 - 1847, pen and black ink with pencil. Add MS 49460. Untitled

In folio 12, Blake has written part of the poem 'You don't believe' along the left-hand edge. The poem makes reference to Newton in the second verse:

Reason says 'Miracle': Newton says 'Doubt'.

Here, Blake's belief in miracles can be seen in contrast to what Andrew M. Cooper calls Newton's 'self-excluding observational stance'.

Newton came to London in 1696 to oversee the Royal Mint. The British Library also owns significant material relating to the Mint including account books and diaries.

IMG_6338

Detail of a page from the account book of Thomas Simon, chief engraver to the Royal Mint (1660-1665) Add MS 45190. Untitled

Newton was also President of the Royal Society between 1703-1727. The British Library has important groups of manuscripts relating to the Society including the Thomas Birch and Hans Sloane Collections.

  Birch

Volumes from the Birch Collection relating to the Royal Society. Add MS 4300-4323, British Library. Untitled

BirchF1

Dr William Croon's account of the weight of a carp, 1663, detail from Add MS 4432, f. 1, Royal Society Papers, Thomas Birch Collection. Untitled

The British Library has extensive scientific collections across all departments. Take some time to look at our contemporary pages, browse the Science blog as well as explore the earlier collections in the Manuscripts and Archives catalogue.

Alexandra Ault, Curator, Manuscripts and Archives 1601-1850

 

 

 

19 March 2016

Falling from the skies in style: Early references to the parachuting in the British Library

Add comment Comments (0)

Aviation is widely regarded as a major scientific and technological breakthrough but another low-tech invention associated with flying is the parachute.  Made of light, strong materials with a large surface area, the parachute slows the motion of an object through an atmosphere by creating drag or aerodynamic lift. Conceptual images depicting parachutes can be found within an anonymous Italian manuscript from the 1740s, showing a free-hanging man clutching a wooden frame attached to a small canopy. The more famous depiction by Leonardo da Vinci was made a decade later. Similar sketches appear in numerous printed works throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however the first actual descent was not attempted until 1783 by Louis-Sebastien Lenormand in France. Together the Scott and Fitzgerald collections within the philatelic collections chart major milestones in British and Global aviation including early references to parachuting.

Image 1

Oldest known depiction of a parachute, Add MS 34113, f. 200v, British Library Untitled

The first two successful parachute descents made in Britain were conducted by John Hampton; his first attempt being made at Montpelier Gardens in Cheltenham on the evening of 3 October 1838. According to an account published on page four of the Spectator dated 6 October 1838 he made an uneventful descent from 9,000 feet landing safely after thirteen minutes.  The H. Eric Scott collection contains a page from the Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction No. 953, which illustrates Hampton’s second descent by parachute at Crenmorne House, Chelsea the following year on 13 June 1839. These images depict the several phases of his attempt, beginning with his ascent in a basket attached to a closed umbrella like parachute secured by a cord to the hot air balloon. At a certain altitude the umbrella like parachute was opened and detached from the balloon by cutting the cord, allowing the parachute to descend slowly back to earth and touching down safely on the ground, a feat which looks far from comfortable.

Image 2

Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction No. 953, H. Eric Scott Collection, British Library Untitled

Sybil Fitzgerald’s global collection pioneer airmail contains material for India including an interesting sheet printed in November 1837 entitled Monsr. D. Robertson’s Grand and Last Ascension at Calcutta. It contains details for a projected balloon voyage to Europe which sounds bizarre involving the use of balloons shaped like elephants and fish bearing the arms of the East India Company and Queen Victoria which would rise to a height of 12,000 feet (2000 fathoms). Prior to its departure on the winds to Europe, Robertson suggested that a small monkey would descend by parachute. Since nothing else can be found regarding this outlandish proposal it is hoped the monkey had a lucky escape!

Image 3

Monsr. D. Robertson’s Grand and Last Ascension at Calcutta, November 1837. Sybil Fitzgerald Collection, British Library Untitled

The Scott and Fitzgerald collections can be viewed by appointment in the philatelic collections by emailing: philatelic@bl.uk

Richard Scott Morel
Curator, Philatelic Collections

Sources:
'White, Lynn: Lynn White: The invention of the Parachute', in Technology and Culture, vol. 9, No. 3 (July 1968), pp. 462-467
The British Library, Add MS 34113, f. 200v
The H. Eric Scott Collection, volume 1
The Fitzgerald Collection, India

11 March 2016

Did he intend to blow the [insert film quotation here] doors off? An eighteenth-century powder mill in Germany.

Add comment Comments (0)

King George III’s Topographical Collection, currently the subject of an ongoing cataloguing and digitisation project here at the British Library, contains some approximately 40,000 maps and topographical views from around the world. Amongst the collection are objects that suggest an interest, perhaps George’s own, in engineering and other technical endeavours; there are plans, projected and realised, for canals, roads, military fortifications, siegeworks and so on.

One recently catalogued item within the collection could be seen to embody this combined interest in maps and engineering. It is an eighteenth-century manuscript map showing a powder mill, for the manufacture of gunpowder, in Germany.

Maps K.Top.100.34.

PLAN DER IM AMTE HARBURG OHNWEIT MEKELFELD belegenenen Pulver Mühle / G. Braun fec. Maps K.Top.100.34. Untitled

Entitled PLAN DER IM AMTE HARBURG OHNWEIT MEKELFELD belegenenen Pulver Mühle, this map is signed at lower right by “G. Braun”. A date of about 1770 is attributed for the map’s production based on comparison with another map in the collection (Maps K.Top.100.33.) that is dated and also signed by Braun.

  Maps K.Top.100.34. [detail showing signature]

Maps K.Top.100.34. [detail showing signature] Untitled

The map shows the mill at Meckelfeld in present-day Lower Saxony, located south-east of Harburg in the borough of Hamburg. The mill buildings are shown on the river, the source of power driving the mill to grind the gunpowder.

Maps K.Top.100.34. [detail of mill buildings]

Maps K.Top.100.34. [detail of mill buildings] Untitled

The skill and care involved in the map’s production (it is certainly not a preliminary sketch) could suggest that it was intended to be seen (and used?) by a person or persons of note. Had George III himself, perhaps as King of Hanover, expressed an interest in this mill?

It is the decorated title cartouche at lower left that emphasises the map’s unusual subject matter.

Maps K.Top.100.34. [title cartouche]

Maps K.Top.100.34. [title cartouche showing an explosion] Untitled

Not only does this cartouche include a lettered key to the individual buildings shown on the map, which comprise the powder magazine, the drying house, the coal house and the saltpetar store (?), amongst others, it also depicts, quite fabulously, what happens when things, perhaps, don’t turn out exactly as planned. Given the look of mild surprise rather than abject horror and outright panic on the depicted gentleman’s face within the cartouche, one might conclude that such explosions were not uncommon!

Kate Marshall, Maps Cataloguer, King George III's Topographical Collection