Untold lives blog

121 posts categorized "Arts and crafts"

28 May 2019

The history of the pencil

The British Library exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark tells the story of how writing flows through the last 5000 years of human history.  Visitors might easily pass by three little pieces of lead in one of the cases.   They are the predecessors of the pencil, one of the favourite writing tools of the last couple of centuries, used by generations of schoolchildren, note-takers, artists and, of course, librarians.

Leads for writing
Three lengths of lead drawn to a point for writing and drawing either specifically for that purpose or taken from stained glass windows and adapted.  Photo courtesy of Museum of Writing Research Collection - University of London

From earlier times, and in particular the Middle Ages, lumps of lead have been used for drawing or planning manuscripts.  Lead leaves a dense silvery line that can be overwritten in ink or paint.

The word ‘pencil’ comes from Old French pincel, and Latin penicillus or a "little tail" , and originally referred to an artist's fine brush of camel hair in the Middle Ages, although the use of a form of brush for drawing goes back to the early petrograph or cave paintings.  From that the stylus developed, sometimes being made of lead, hence our erroneous term for the writing core of a pencil. 

Representation of Philosophy with a brush and a pot in the History of Alexander the Great Representation of Philosophy with a brush and a pot in the History of Alexander the Great (England, 11th century) Royal MS 13 A I, f. 1v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Silverpoint is a drawing technique that dates back to the late Gothic/early Renaissance period.  It was used by artists including Jan van Eyck, Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer and Raphael.  Silverpoint is one variety of metalpoint, where a wire is drawn across the surface of the paper leaving a feint silver line, although lighter than a lead.  Using a stylus or silverpoint, it is not very easy to erase a sentence or even one character. This changed with the widespread use of graphite.

Pencil sketch for a painted initial in an 11th-century Gospel Book from Flanders Pencil sketch for a painted initial in an 11th-century Gospel Book from Flanders Stowe MS 3, f. 11v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The modern pencil was invented in 1795 by Nicholas-Jacques Conte, a scientist serving in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte.  Conte’s original process for manufacturing pencils involved roasting a mixture of water, clay and graphite in a kiln at 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit before encasing the resulting soft solid in a wooden surround.  The shape of that surround can be square, polygonal or round, depending on the pencil’s intended use.  The hardness or softness of the final pencil ‘lead’ can be determined by adjusting the relative fractions of clay and graphite in the roasting mixture.

Oldest known pencil in the worldThe oldest known pencil in the world, found in timbered house built in 1630.  Image courtesy: Faber-Castell

Graphite was first discovered in Europe, in Bavaria at the start of the 15th century; although the Aztecs had used it as a marker several hundred years earlier.  The purest deposits of lump graphite were found in Borrowdale near Keswick in the Lake District in 1564, which spawned a smuggling industry and associated black economy in the area.  Appreciated for leaving a darker mark than lead, the mineral proved so soft and brittle that it required a holder.  Originally, graphite sticks were wrapped in string.  Later, the graphite was inserted into hollowed-out wooden sticks and, thus, the wood-cased pencil was born.  During the 19th century a major pencil manufacturing industry developed around Keswick in order to exploit the high quality of the graphite.  The first factory opened in 1832 under the name of Banks, Son & Co, now the Derwent Cumberland Pencil Company.  Cumberland pencils were those of the highest quality because the graphite left no dust and marked the paper clearly.

Alan E. Cole
Hon Consultant, Museum of Writing Research Collection, University of London.

Come and see some of the first pencils and pens together with some brilliant examples of their use by everyday people as well as some famous hands of science, exploration and history in our exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark

Exhibition poster for Writing - Making Your Mark

 

12 March 2019

Felix Slade and his bindings bequest


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).

A drawing of Felix Slade by Margaret CarpenterA 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:
 

 Binding covering a copy of La Cyropedie (Paris, 1547)Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

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.

18th-century mosaic binding by Jean Charles Henri Le MonnierPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

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.
 

Binding from the library of Apollonio FilaretoPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

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.

 18th-century gold tooled goatskin binding by Antoine Michel Padeloup le JeunePublic Domain Creative Commons Licence


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)

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.

Turner's 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.

Grave of Sophia Booth at St John's Church Margate

Grave of Sophia Booth at St John's Church Margate Grave of Sophia Booth at St John's Church Margate - photographs by author Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

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)

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.

Turner's Margate harbour from the sea 1786-87Joseph 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. 

St John's Church MargateSt John's Church Margate from New Ramsgate, Margate, and Broadstairs Guide (Ramsgate, 1855?) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Wiles family grave at St John's Church MargateWiles family grave at St John's Church Margate - photograph by author Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

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

'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).

19th century green paper over boards on Naughty Boys and Girls 11526.f.1. 19c green paper over boards on Naughty Boys and Girls [1852]. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

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.

Cover of Christmas Stories from the Household Words. Conducted by Charles Dickens12623.g.25. Christmas Stories from the Household Words. Conducted by Charles Dickens. [The extra Christmas numbers for 1850-1858.] Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

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 Ones - Gold blocked cloth binding designed by William Ralston11602.cc.30. Gold blocked cloth binding designed by William Ralston.  Note the initials WR towards the centre of the tail edge. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

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 - Gold blocked cloth binding designed by John Leighton
12807.b.53. Gold blocked cloth binding designed by John Leighton. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Paper binding over boards on King Nutcracker, 1854.12806.e.12. Paper binding over boards on King Nutcracker, 1854. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Gold blocked cloth binding designed by Albert Henry Warren on Tales of the Toys, 1869 12807.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. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

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.
 

Gold blocked cloth binding on Lewis Caroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, 1876.W14/4782.  Gold blocked cloth binding on Lewis Caroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, 1876. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Paper binding over boards on A bushel of merry-thoughts, 1868 designed by William Harry Rogers (RB.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). Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

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 spines from gold blocked cloth bindings Spines from gold blocked cloth bindings (taken from the Library’s online image databse of bookbindings). Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

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 Annual - Gold blocked publisher’s cloth binding 1860PP.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". Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Detail from the paper cover of London out of town12352.a.3. Detail from the paper cover of London out of town.  The price was one shilling. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

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!

Cover of 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]  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

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

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.

Mog's Christmas image, 1976Mog'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.

Poster for Augustus Harris’s pantomime: Puss in BootsAugustus 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.

Northumberland bewitched!!  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.

Cover of The Tailor of GloucesterBeatrix 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

Logo of Animal Friends, exhibition sponsor
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

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. 

Panel of a triptych watercolour painting by Henry Stacy Marks entitled May Day in the Olden Time, 1867Panel 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.

Triptych watercolour painting by Henry Stacy Marks entitled May Day in the Olden Time, 1867 Triptych 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

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.

  Photograph of Edmund Dulac 1938Edmund 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. 

Urashima Taro from Edmund Dulac’s Fairy-Book: Fairy Tales of the Allied Nations Urashima Taro from Edmund Dulac’s Fairy-Book: Fairy Tales of the Allied Nations (Hodder & Stoughton, 1916) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

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. 

Mask for Young Man in “At the Hawk’s Well”Mask for Young Man in “At the Hawk’s Well” from W. B. Yeats, Four Plays for Dancers (Macmillan, 1921) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

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.

1937 Coronation of king George VI Issue British  1½ penny stamp1937 (13 May) Coronation Issue [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

British definitive issue George VI ½ penny stamp1937-1947 Definitive Issue ½d to 7d stamps with Eric Gill [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Noc

  British George VI definitive issue 8 penny stamp1937-1947 Definitive Issue 7d to 1s stamps alone [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

  British George VI  5 shilling stamp overstamped specimen1939-1948 Issue 1s 6d to 5s stamps [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

  Olympic Games British 1 shilling stamp 19481948 (29 Jul) Olympic Games Issue, 1s. [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Noc

  Festival of Britain 2½ penny stamp 19511951 (3 May) Festival of Britain 2½d. [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

  1952 Elizabeth II Definitive Issue 1 shilling stamp1952 Elizabeth II Definitive Issue, 1s, 1s 3d and 1s 6d [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: Great Britain] Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

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.
 

French Equatorial Africa 1941 Free French Issue 30 cent French Equatorial Africa 1941 Free French Issue 30c [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: French Colonies] Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

  St Pierre & Miquelon 1942 Free French Airmail Issue 5 franc stamp St Pierre & Miquelon 1942 Free French Airmail Issue 5fr stamp [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: French Colonies] Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

  St Pierre & Miquelon Mutual Aid and Red Cross Fund Omnibus Issue 5 franc +20 franc stamp St Pierre & Miquelon Mutual Aid and Red Cross Fund Omnibus Issue 5fr+20f stamp [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: French Colonies] Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

  France 1944 Provisional Government Definitive Issue 5 francFrance 1944 Provisional Government Definitive Issue 5fr. [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: France]  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

  French West Africa 1945 Definitive Issue 4 franc French West Africa 1945 Definitive Issue 4fr [Philatelic Collections: UPU Collection: French Colonies] Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

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

 

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