THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

112 posts categorized "Arts and crafts"

12 March 2019

Felix Slade and his bindings bequest

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Felix Slade (1788-1868) was a lawyer, philanthropist and collector.  Born in Lambeth, he was the youngest of four sons and yet inherited his father’s estate.  He never married, instead devoting himself to the law and to collecting antiquities, fine bindings, glass and prints.  He supported many societies and funds, such as the Nightly Shelter for the Houseless, and lent items from his collection to public exhibitions including the 1857 Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition.  He belonged to the Society of Antiquaries and is widely remembered today for endowing three Slade Professorships of Fine Art at Oxford University, Cambridge University and University College London.  At the British Library, we remember Slade for his bequest of fine bindings to the British Museum (subsequently transferred to the British Library in 1973).

Felix Slade BM 1874 0314.1A drawing of Slade by Margaret Carpenter now in the British Museum 1874,0314.1

The bequest consists of twenty-five fine bindings from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.  It contains examples of work by notable binders and includes various styles with English, French and Italian bindings well represented.  It also contains books bound for royalty, including King Charles I, Emperor Maximilian II and Henry III of France.  Here is a small selection of bindings from the bequest:
 

La Cyropedie

This binding covers a copy of La Cyropedie (Paris, 1547).  It belonged to the royal library of King Edward VI of England (1547-1553), son of Henry VIII.  The leather is 16th-century English calf, tooled in gold and painted, with Edward’s arms on each cover. A similar binding is described here, and attributed to the King Edward and Queen Mary Royal Binder.

Le Monnier

An 18th-century mosaic binding by Jean Charles Henri Le Monnier, from a well-known dynasty of Parisian bookbinders.  He signed his bindings by gold tooling his name in tiny lettering on each cover.
 

Filareto

This is a rare survival from the library of Apollonio Filareto (fl. 1537-1547) Private Secretary to the Farnese family in Renaissance Italy.  The bindings on his books bear an impresa, or personal device, of an eagle soaring above a sea containing shoals of fish.  This also has “APLLONII PHILARETI” tooled in gold on the lower cover.  Filareto’s books all have fine 16th-century Italian medallion bindings.  The only comparable bindings from this period are those bearing an Apollo and Pegasus device made for Giovanni Battista Grimaldi (c.1524-1612), a Genoese banker and book collector who operated in the same social circles as Filareto.

Padeloup le Jeune
An 18th-century gold tooled goatskin binding by Antoine Michel Padeloup le Jeune for Marie Louise Adelaide de Bourbon Penthievre (1753-1821), whose arms are stamped in gold on the inside of the covers.  Padeloup was appointed royal bookbinder to King Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour in 1733.

Maddy Smith
Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
British Museum Library’s Donations Register 1866-1871 pp. 178-9.
To see more bindings bequeathed by Slade go to the Library’s online database of bookbindings and type “Felix Slade” into the Quick Search box.

 

15 February 2019

JMW Turner’s First and Last Loves (Part 2)

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Our last post told the story of Elizabeth White, the first love of artist JMW Turner. Today we turn to his last love - Sophia Booth.

Sophia Caroline Nollte was born in Dover, in 1798, to German immigrant parents.  She moved to Margate when she married a local fisherman, John Henry Pound, in 1818.  Sadly, he drowned in 1821, leaving her with two sons, Joseph, who died before he was six, and Daniel.

In 1825 she married John Booth, who described himself as 'a gentleman of Margate'.  He was 37 years older than her.  They established a guest house on the seafront in Margate, near the harbour.  In 1826 Sophia gave birth to a son, John Pound Booth, who died of cholera in 1832.  John Booth also succumbed to cholera in 1833 and so, once again, Sophia was left a widow, with one surviving child, Daniel Pound.

Turner stayed in the Booth guest-house from about 1829, favouring the location because of the quality of the light.  After John Booth’s death he began a relationship with Sophia.  Turner’s friend, Charles Turner (no relation) described Sophia as being like a fat cook with no discernible education.  But Turner’s love for Sophia was romantic; he wrote her poems and gave her drawings.

A Sleeping Woman  Perhaps Mrs Booth

Joseph Mallord William Turner, A Sleeping Woman, Perhaps Mrs Booth c.1830–40 Photo © Tate CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)

In 1846 they moved to Davis Place, Cremorne Road, Chelsea, which is now part of Cheyne Walk.  The house was rented in Sophia’s name and the neighbours assumed that Turner was Mr Booth.  He habitually wore a naval greatcoat and was known as 'Puggy Booth' or 'The Admiral' in the area.  Turner died in the house in 1851.

After Turner’s death, Sophia told his friend, David Roberts, that Turner never made any financial contribution to their life together but that he had composed verses in honour of 'herself and her personal charms' and had been jealous.  She claimed that he had told her that she was 'the handmaid of art'.

In December 1852, Sophia’s son, Daniel Pound, who had become an engraver, applied for a passport.  His travelling companions were named as his mother and Gustave Philip de Garlieb, a Danish-born engraver who worked at the Ordnance Survey. His address was the same street as Sophia, so he was either a neighbour or, possibly, a lodger.  Where did they go and what was the reason for their trip?  I am still looking for clues.

Sophia became friendly with John Ruskin, Turner’s artistic executor, and sold him some of Turner’s notebooks.  Ruskin gave her gifts, including the oval self-portrait miniature of Turner as a boy.  Turner’s first biographer, Walter Thornbury, portrayed Sophia as acting in a mercenary way after his death but Ruskin and other friends thought that this was unfair.  She had, after all, burned Turner’s letters to her rather than sell them and she gave away many of his other possessions.

In 1865, her son, Daniel Pound, sold some of the Turner paintings she owned for £4,000 and bought Haddenham Hall, in Buckinghamshire, for £1,000, where she lived until her death in 1878, aged 80.  She asked to be buried at St John’s Church, Margate, so Turner’s first and last loves lie in the same churchyard.

Booth gravestone 1

Booth gravestone 2Grave of Sophia Booth at St John's Church Margate - photographs by author

David Meaden
Independent Researcher

Further reading:
Franny Moyle, The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W.Turner (London, 2016)
Felicity Myrone , J. M. W. Turner and his World: John Platt (1842-1902), a Late Victorian Extra-illustrator, and his Collection Electronic British Library Journal

 

Turner's House logo

Turner’s restored house in Twickenham is currently open Wednesday-Sunday: 12 –1pm: Self-guided visits, and 1-4pm: Guided Tours (Last entry: 3:30pm)

 

14 February 2019

JMW Turner’s First and Last Loves (Part 1)

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Valentine’s Day would seem to be an appropriate time to look at the romantic life of the great painter, JMW Turner.  There were many women in Turner’s life, at least one of whom bore him children, but he never married.  The disparaging comments he made about matrimony were probably formed by his observation of his parents’ troubled marriage and perhaps as the result of an early experience.

Today we look at Turner’s first love - Elizabeth White.

When things were difficult at home, and for the benefit of his health, the young Turner would often stay for long periods with relations, notably his maternal uncle, Joseph Marshall, who was a butcher in Brentford.  In 1787, the twelve-year-old Turner moved from Brentford to stay with friends in Margate, where he attended Thomas Coleman’s school in Love Lane.  One of his school friends was Edward White, whose sister, Elizabeth, was the same age as Turner.  Young William was strongly attracted to Elizabeth and, after he returned to London, he visited Margate frequently throughout the early 1790s and the relationship blossomed.  Turner’s problem was that he did not feel that the state of his finances made it possible for him to propose marriage.

Margate harbour from the sea 1786-7 TurnerJoseph Mallord William Turner, Margate Harbour from the Sea 1796–7 Photo © Tate CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)

After his success at the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1796, Turner felt himself sufficiently established to propose to Elizabeth and set off down to Margate, only to find that she had become engaged to a local man, Richard Wiles.  Some of Turner’s biographers describe Wiles as a builder – he wasn’t, he was a publican.  The marriage licence describes him as Richard Wiles of St John, Thanet, innkeeper, bachelor, and the newspaper report of the wedding, in 1798, describes him as of The Bull’s Head Inn.  The confusion is probably because his parents were also Richard and Elizabeth. There is still a Bull’s Head on the site, where, in 1952, Eric Morecambe (Bartholomew) had his wedding reception when he married the landlord’s daughter, Joan Bartlett.

Turner was devastated and his friends’ accounts suggest that he suffered some form of breakdown. Sadly, Elizabeth did not enjoy a long or happy life. Her son, another Richard, was born in October 1799 but died in February 1800.  Elizabeth herself died the following year, aged 26, but I have not been able to discover the cause of her death.

Elizabeth is buried in the churchyard of St John the Baptist Church, Margate. 

Margate St John's ChurchSt John's Church Margate from New Ramsgate, Margate, and Broadstairs Guide (Ramsgate, 1855?)

Wiles 1Wiles family grave at St John's Church Margate - photograph by author

I assume that Turner knew of Elizabeth’s death from her brother or one of his other contacts in Margate but I can find no record of this.  It is, however, a reasonable assumption that this early experience contributed to Turner’s jaundiced view of relationships and marriage in particular.

David Meaden
Independent Researcher

Further reading:
Franny Moyle, The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W.Turner (London, 2016)
Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal 27 November 1798 British Newspaper Archive
Felicity Myrone, 'J. M. W. Turner and his World: John Platt (1842-1902), a Late Victorian Extra-illustrator, and his Collection' Electronic British Library Journal

JMW Turner’s First and Last Loves (Part 2)

Turner's House logo
Turner’s restored house in Twickenham is currently open Wednesday-Sunday: 12 –1pm: Self-guided visits, and 1-4pm: Guided Tours (Last entry: 3:30pm)

 

19 December 2018

Christmas bound

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'Do give books - religious or otherwise - for Christmas. They're never fattening, seldom sinful, and permanently personal.' Sound advice from American magazine editor Lenore Hershey (1919-1997).

Naughty Boys and Girls11526.f.1. 19c green paper over boards on Naughty Boys and Girls [1852].

Those of us born ‘non digital’ would have regularly received a festive book or two; an annual, collections of fairy tales, ghost stories or Christmas verse.  Whatever the subject, the bindings were invariably attractive. Mass production techniques developed in the 19th century meant that books once hand-bound in leather were now available in inexpensive cloth or paper covers.  The emerging middle classes in Victorian England had money to spare for the purchase of extras, notably books, and if they were instructional as well as aesthetically appealing, all the better.  Artists were employed to decorate the bindings and they often ‘advertised’ by incorporating their initials into their designs.  Notable were John Leighton, also Albert Henry Warren, William Harry Rogers and William Ralston.  Examples of their work are below.

Naturally, Christmas would not be Christmas without Charles Dickens, particularly as many of his stories were set in the festive season.  Their popularity was a money-spinner for author and publishers alike.

Dickens - Christmas Stories12623.g.25. Christmas Stories from the Household Words. Conducted by Charles Dickens. [The extra Christmas numbers for 1850-1858.]

Victorian publishers exploited this lucrative new market to tailor books to the tastes of children, although the two depicted in the song book below seem somewhat depressed at the prospect!

 Stories for the Little Ones11602.cc.30. Gold blocked cloth binding designed by William Ralston.  Note the initials WR towards the centre of the tail edge.

Some children’s picture books retained a didactic flavour.  The upper cover of Simple Hans and other funny pictures and stories proclaimed 'Oh children, children come and see / This funny picture-book for you and me/ Bought by our Mama dear! / So that we may grow good and wise / And ‘neath a merry laugh’s disguise/ Learn naughty ways to fear'.

Other themes were more fun, ranging from the snowy weather to seasonal tales and traditional toys.

Jack Frost & Betty Snow
12807.b.53. Gold blocked cloth binding designed by John Leighton.

King Nut Cracker12806.e.12. Paper binding over boards on King Nutcracker, 1854.

Tales of the Toys12807.ee.35.  Gold blocked cloth binding designed by Albert Henry Warren on Tales of the Toys, 1869 and bound by Bone and son of London.

Books could also promote sociability and enhance family life.  After the grand Christmas dinner, chapters containing stories, jokes, nonsense verse and other favourites could be read aloud and enjoyed by everyone.
 

Hunting of the SnarkW14/4782.  Gold blocked cloth binding on Lewis Caroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, 1876.


Bushel of MerrythoughtsRB.31.a.43. Paper binding over boards on A bushel of merry-thoughts, 1868 designed by William Harry Rogers (his intertwined initials are beneath the red pennant to the left).

Serious-minded relatives or godparents who held themselves responsible for the spiritual or moral well-being of their young kinsfolk, sometimes felt it appropriate to give them devotional or educational works.  One can only hope that they were not quizzed on the contents!

Five spinesSpines from gold blocked cloth bindings (taken from the Library’s online image databse of bookbindings).

Annuals were popular, particularly as gifts to older children who could be trusted to read quietly to themselves (perhaps whilst the adults had an after dinner nap).

Peter Parley's AnnualPP.6750. Gold blocked publisher’s cloth binding on an 1860 annual (note the designer’s signature MAC below the date). This was a gift from father to son as indicated by the manuscript notes inside: "Dec. 21st 1859. To My Dear Son Denis. A Reward for attention to his studies. D H Donnell".

 

London Out of Town12352.a.3. Detail from the paper cover of London out of town.  The price was one shilling.

In 1844, John Leighton wrote and illustrated the amusing London out of town. Or the adventures of the Browns at the sea side.  It was one of the earliest comic books and appealed to old and young alike.

Merry Christmas and merry reading!

Christmas Rhymes and New Year's Chimes11649.f.22. Blocked in colours on cloth. Mary D Brine, [Christmas Rhymes and New Year's Chimes ... Illustrated.] [1890] 

P. J. M. Marks
Curator, Bookbindings. Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
Edmund M. B. King, Victorian Decorated Trade Bindings, 1830-1880: A Descriptive Bibliography. The British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2003.
The Victorian Web

With thanks to Gillian Ridgley.

 

17 December 2018

Cats at Christmas

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What is it about cats and Christmas?  There doesn’t seem to be an obvious connection and yet…there are so many books which seem to make the association.

Here at the British Library we are currently celebrating cats in books, manuscripts, artwork and maps in our free exhibition Cats on the Page which runs in the Entrance Hall Gallery until 17 March 2019.

We are lucky enough to have been lent two pieces of original artwork by Judith Kerr which are held by Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books.  One is of this image from Mog’s Christmas which was published in 1976.  Mog, bewildered by all the Christmas preparations, seeks refuge on a nice, soft, cushion of snow on top of the chimney … you can probably guess the eventual result!  However, all ends happily – and here you can see Mog and the Thomas Family celebrating Christmas together.  If you look closely you will even find a copy of the first Mog story, Mog the forgetful cat, in Nicky’s hand.

Mogs-christmas-image©1976-kerr-kneale-productions-ltdMog's Christmas image, 1976 © Kerr Kneale Productions Ltd

There are at least two pantomimes featuring famous cats – Puss in Boots and Dick Whittington.  In the exhibition we show this poster for a production of Puss in Boots staged at the Drury Lane Theatre over Christmas 1887-8.  Augustus Harris, the producer, specialised in spectacular Christmas shows which drew large audiences and Puss was played by Charles Lauri, Junior, who was famous for his animal impersonations.

Puss in Boots 075971Augustus Harris’s pantomime: Puss in Boots. [London]: C.J. Culliford & Sons, [1887]. Evan.1903. © British Library Board

We also have a pop-up version of the tale by Vojtěch Kubašta, open at the scene with Puss and the cobbler and tailor, next to a leaf from a manuscript of Angela Carter’s re-working of the tale, later published in her collection The Bloody chamber (1979).

As for the story of Dick Whittington and his cat, based upon the real figure of Richard Whittington who was appointed Mayor of London in 1397, we display them as depicted in Lilian Lancaster’s humorous cartoon map of Northumberland.  Lancaster herself was an actor who often performed in pantomimes.

Northumberlandbewitchedbylillianlancaster19thcenturycthebritishlibraryboard Lilian Lancaster, Northumberland bewitched!! [19th century]. Maps CC.5.a.232. © The British Library Board

But what of other Christmas cats not currently on display?  Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester is set in the 18th century.  Mice are perhaps to the fore, but Simpkin the cat is a central figure.  The tailor is making a coat and waistcoat for the Mayor of Gloucester who is to be married on Christmas Day.  He sends his cat out to get provisions and more twist (silk thread) and meanwhile finds and frees the mice Simpkin had trapped for his supper.  On his return, Simpkin is annoyed and hides the twist.  The tailor falls ill and is unable to work but when he returns to his shop on Christmas morning he finds the mice have completed everything except for one buttonhole.  Moreover Simpkin, having seen the industrious mice at work, is repentant and gives the tailor the twist which allows him to finish the waistcoat in time.

The Tailor of Gloucester_900pxBeatrix Potter, The Tailor of Gloucester. London: Frederick Warne and Co., 1903. Cup.402.a.6. Cover illustration by Beatrix Potter. © British Library Board

A cat who tries to ruin Christmas for two mice meets his come-uppance on Boxing Day in Nick Butterworth’s Jingle bells.  In Robert Westall’s tale The Christmas cat, set in the 1930s, two children join forces to rescue a stray cat and their actions set in a train a series of new beginnings.  Even Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas is slightly cheered up when his cat is draped around his neck!

But we are just scraping the surface here - who are your favourite Christmas cats?

Alison Bailey
Lead Curator, Printed Heritage Collections 1901-2000

Cats on the Page exhibition supported by

AFI standard logos-02
Further reading:
Puss in Boots. [Created by] V. Kubašta. London: Bancroft & Co. Ltd., [1958?]. W.E.d.692.
Angela Carter, ‘Puss-in-Boots’. [1979]. Add MS 88899/1/34, f.209
Nick Butterworth, Jingle bells. London: HarperCollins, 1998. YK.1998.b.8090.
Robert Westall, The Christmas cat. Illustrated by John Lawrence. London: Methuen Children’s Books, 1991. YK.1991.b.5798.
Raymond Briggs, Father Christmas. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1973. X.992/1364.

 

01 May 2018

May Day in the Olden Time

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Today we bring you another surprising discovery from the India Office Records.  In a volume of correspondence for the Surveyor’s Department in 1868 is a report on a watercolour painting entitled May Day in the Olden Time by Henry Stacy Marks. 

May Day in the Olden Time. V&A  FA.677Panel of a triptych watercolour painting by Henry Stacy Marks entitled May Day in the Olden Time, 1867 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London  FA.677

The appraisal is the subject of a letter written by Matthew Digby Wyatt, India Office Surveyor, to Henry Cole, director of the South Kensington Museum.  Cole had asked Wyatt to visit the Dudley Gallery to inspect Marks’ painting because the Department of Science and Art was interested in reproducing it as a mural decoration for the Museum.  The procession of 16th-century figures in May Day in the Olden Time was described by one contemporary critic as ‘a favourable example of Mr Marks’s transition manner –a  manner which lies halfway between an easel-picture and a wall-picture, which reconciles a figure composition to the conditions of architectural construction and the requirements of mural decoration’.

Not everyone who viewed the painting at the Dudley Gallery was appreciative.  The London Daily News wrote of ‘general quaintness and affected imbecility’.  Wyatt reported to Cole : ‘In my opinion its artistic merit is considerable as it is well composed and with the exception of a few faults in proportion of parts of some of the figures, carefully drawn in a somewhat conventional manner, while the subject is cheerful, suitable as a picture for a private room of moderate dimensions, and treated with less caricature than this Artist is generally in the habit of introducing into his work’. 

Wyatt did not think the asking price of £168 was excessive and went on to consider two aspects of the painting’s suitability: the subject matter and the technical fitness for reproduction.  Wyatt was struck by ‘the want of harmony between the subject and the scope of such an institution’ as the Museum.  He thought a ‘graver aim’ would be more desirable.  However he believed that the painting was technically ideal for copying onto earthenware slabs or plaques, indeed it ‘seemed expressly intended for some such object’.  In conclusion, Wyatt suggested that Marks should be commissioned to design a composition in the same style but limited to a much smaller number of figures.

May Day in the Olden Time. 3 panels V&A  FA.677Triptych watercolour painting by Henry Stacy Marks entitled May Day in the Olden Time, 1867 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London  FA.677 

The Department of Science and Art did purchase May Day in the Olden Time and it is now in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum. The painting was copied onto three porcelain panels by a student from the South Kensington Art School.  The panels were then incorporated into a decorative buffet placed in the Green Dining Room of the Museum.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office Surveyor’s Department correspondence IOR/L/SUR/2/7 ff.28-31, letter from Matthew Digby Wyatt to Henry Cole 6 February 1868.
English painters of the present day – Essay on H S Marks by  by J Beavington  Atkinson (London, 1871)
British Newspaper Archive e.g.  London Daily News 8 February 1868

 

22 March 2018

The creative genius of Edmund Dulac: Artist, illustrator and stamp designer extraordinaire

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Although Edmund Dulac graduated in law from Toulouse University his true passion was art, so he also attended a number of art schools whilst at university. Passionately Anglophile, Dulac studied English and often wore the latest English fashions thereby earning his nickname 'l’Anglais'. He moved to London in 1904, becoming a naturalised British citizen in 1912.

  Edmund-DulacEdmund Dulac by Howard Coster, 1938 NPG x11459 © National Portrait Gallery, London   NPG CC By

 Dulac is best remembered as a book illustrator whose works span over 116 published monographs including Edmund Dulac’s Fairy-Book. 

Dulac 3 aUrashima Taro from Edmund Dulac’s Fairy-Book: Fairy Tales of the Allied Nations (Hodder & Stoughton, 1916)

He also produced portraits, caricatures, posters, tapestries, carpets, furniture and theatrical props. Well known within Britain’s artistic and literary circles, Dulac was a close friend of William Butler Yeats, participating in the first performance of his play 'At the Hawk’s Well' in 1916. He also produced much of the play’s scenery, costumes, masks and music. 

Dulac 4 aMask for Young Man in “At the Hawk’s Well” from W. B. Yeats, Four Plays for Dancers (Macmillan, 1921)

Less well known outside philatelic and numismatic circles is that Dulac designed stamps, banknotes and proposed coinage. Notable designs for British stamps include the following.

Dulac 51937 (13 May) Coronation Issue [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Noc

 

Dulac 61937-1947 Definitive Issue ½d to 7d stamps with Eric Gill [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Noc

  Dulac 71937-1947 Definitive Issue 7d to 1s stamps alone [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Noc

  Dulac 81939-1948 Issue 1s 6d to 5s stamps [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Noc

  Dulac 91948 (29 Jul) Olympic Games Issue, 1s. [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Noc

  Dulac 101951 (3 May) Festival of Britain 2½d. [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Noc

  Dulac 111952 Elizabeth II Definitive Issue, 1s, 1s 3d and 1s 6d [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Noc

General Charles de Gaulle also approached Dulac to design stamps and banknotes aimed at fostering unity and a common cause for the Free French Colonies against Vichy France and the Axis powers during the Second World War.
 

Dulac 12French Equatorial Africa 1941 Free French Issue 30c [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: French Colonies] Noc

  Dulac 13St Pierre & Miquelon 1942 Free French Airmail Issue 5fr stamp [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: French Colonies] Noc

  Dulac 14St Pierre & Miquelon Mutual Aid and Red Cross Fund Omnibus Issue 5fr+20f stamp [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: French Colonies] Noc

  Dulac 15France 1944 Provisional Government Definitive Issue 5fr. [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: France] Noc

  Dulac 16French West Africa 1945 Definitive Issue 4fr [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: French Colonies] Noc

Dulac suffered a heart attack following a strenuous bout of flamenco dancing, sadly dying on 25 May 1953. He left behind well over a thousand works of art and design spanning various mediums, much of it awaiting detailed research.

Richard Scott Morel
Curator, British Library Philatelic Collections

 

22 February 2018

Mr Robertson and the Great Stupa at Amaravati

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In the British Museum’s Asahi Shimbun Gallery there is a permanent display of sculptures from Amaravati Stupa. These beautifully carved limestone sculptures originally surrounded a massive Buddhist monument in Andhra Pradesh, India. It was constructed between the 3rd Century BC and the 3rd Century AD. When Buddhism’s popularity in southern India went into decline, the Great Stupa at Amaravati became disused, and was eventually abandoned.

1 Asahi Shimbun GalleryThe recently reopened Asahi Shimbun Gallery in the British Museum. Noc

In 1816-17 a British survey team excavated Amaravati Stupa’s remains, and in 1859, 121 of the stupa’s sculpted stones were shipped to the British Museum. What few people realise is that some unusual things happened to these precious sculptures in the four decades between these two events.

 2a IMG_1743King standing with attendants -  in the Asahi Shimbun Gallery.Noc

2b WD1061f13largeKing standing with attendants - drawing taken during the 1816/17 excavation. WD1061, f.13.Noc

2c photo958 23b detailKing standing with attendants - photograph by Linnaeus Tripe taken at Madras in 1856, before it was sent to London. Photo 958/(23b). Noc

Francis W. Robertson was the East India Company’s Assistant Collector at Masulipatam from 1817 to 1819. Masulipatam was the closest seaport to Amaravati, and Robertson knew the man in charge of the stupa’s excavation in 1816-17. Together, they made plans to beautify Masulipatam’s market place by building a monument out of Amaravati sculptures.

The resulting monument, known locally as “Robertson’s Mound”, was probably completed in around 1819. It attracted virtually no outside attention until 1830, when the Governor of Madras, Sir Frederic Adam, paid a visit to Masulipatam. Adam wanted to establish a museum in Madras Presidency, and upon seeing Robertson’s Mound in the market place, he gave orders for it to be dismantled so the sculptures could be deposited in the new museum, once it was created.

3a IMG_1741Horse walking through gate - in the Asahi Shimbun Gallery. Noc

3b WD1061f28largeHorse walking through gate - drawing taken during the 1816/17 excavation. WD1061, f.28. Noc

3c photo958 32b detailHorse walking through gate - photograph by Linnaeus Tripe taken at Madras in 1856, before it was sent to London-  Photo 958/(32a). Noc

Over 20 years later, the Madras Government Museum was finally established. In 1854 the stones from Robertson’s Mound, along with some other sculptures from Amaravati, were sent to Madras. 121 of them were sent to the British Museum in 1859. By looking at drawings, photographs and other documentation in the British Library, one can identify which of the British Museum’s 121 Amaravati sculptures were part of Robertson’s Mound. One can also ascertain the condition of these sculptures before and after they were attached to this curious and short-lived monument.

4a IMG_1759Man and woman standing next to a horse - in the Asahi Shimbun Gallery. Noc

4b WD1061f31largeMan and woman standing next to a horse - drawing taken during the 1816/17 excavation. WD1061, f.31.Noc

4c photo958 31 detailMan and woman standing next to a horse - photograph by Linnaeus Tripe taken at Madras in 1856, before it was sent to London. Photo 958/(31). Noc

Jennifer Howes
Art Historian specialising in South Asia

Further reading:
Howes, Jennifer. “The Colonial History of Sculptures from Amaravati Stupa.”
In Hawkes, J. & Shimada, A. Buddhist Stupas in South Asia. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Taylor, William. On the Elliot Marbles. Madras: 1856. (BL, V9700)
Tripe, Linnaeus. Photographs of the Elliot Marbles. Madras: 1858-9. (BL, Photo 958)