Saturday, 31 July 2010

Cloud Gazer

Polly's sun-speckled photographs of the Chilterns inspired me to do some cloud gazing of my own...

I didn't go to the Chilterns though; only as far as the back garden. The weather has been so changeable here in the past couple of weeks, but it's made for some cloud-gazing of the highest order.

Spotless blue skies are lovely, but there is something about huge, dramatic cloud formations that give me a true sense of scale and the sheer size of the world out there.

Goodbye July and hello August. It's going to be a busy few weeks and I'm very excited. This weekend though is for relaxing. Whatever you do, have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Nobody's Daughter & Lady Jane Grey

Paul Delaroche, The Execution Of Lady Jane Grey, 1833.

It was back in March when I first blogged about the CD artwork for the band Hole's newest album, Nobody's Daughter. When I actually got to see the CD itself, upon opening the case I discovered that the executed queen theme continues inside. Not only are Marie Antoinette and Ann Boleyn on the front and back cover, inside is Paul Delaroche's 1833 painting, The Execution Of Lady Jane Grey. 

This work can be seen at The National Gallery in London, and from February to May 2010 formed part of a major re-examination of Delaroche's work (Painting History: Delaroche and Lady Jane Grey) I'm really sorry that I didn't get to see it, as the exhibition displayed Delaroche's preparatory drawings. I always love to see the process from preliminary sketch to finished piece, and the tracing of a work in progress. 

 Theatrical and sentimental in style, The Execution Of Lady Jane Grey nevertheless captures the essence of the tragedy of Lady Jane Grey's death and the chain of events that led up to it. Although she was not executed in a dungeon, as depicted, eyewitness reports tell that she did indeed fumble her way to the block, crying out that she could not find it in her blindfolded state.

Beheaded for treason on the 12th of February, 1554 at the mere age of sixteen (some academics place her age at death as seventeen), Lady Jane Grey reigned as Queen of England for only nine days following the death of her cousin, Edward VI. Edward's guardian and uncle, Northumberland, seeking to retain his hold over the Protestant crown, effectively forced Lady Jane upon the throne in order to prevent the succession of Edward's half-sister, the fervently Catholic Princess Mary. For the next few days, confusion was the only real reigning force, as Mary gathered her Catholic supporters about her and set about organising a counter-coup to topple the Protestant usurpers. As soon as Northumberland left London with his troops, the Privy Council swore allegiance to Mary instead, and Jane's ineffectual reign came to swift end.

As unwilling a participant she may have been in whole affair, Lady Jane Grey was nevertheless tried and found guilty of high treason. Her status as kinswoman of the new Queen Mary granted her the merciful favour of beheading (rather than to be hung, drawn and quartered) and a private, not public execution.

Interestingly, History Today's blog discusses the fact that the possible model for the painting was a French actress by the name of Anais Aubert. The terror and confusion upon the face of Delaroche's Jane Grey is skilfully evident despite the blindfold she wears as she reaches for the executioner's block. The sadness, the fear and the tragedy are palpable.

Anais Aubert
Images courtesy of History Today

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Summer Details

Summer details are to be found in the golden hour when the shadows lengthen and stretch before you like the lingering evening. The world exhales around you...

...when the sky erupts with colour and the sun sinks low over warm seas...

...and when a sip of Iced Tea makes you recall the first time you tried it on your first holiday abroad, at an elegant little café with marble topped tables in Valetta, Malta. The glass was tall and thick and you slurped away as the four of you watched the world go by. (And yes, you really did have those sunglasses, and yes, your brother really did wear that Ghostbusters cap).

First photo, Staffordshire Countryside, courtesy of André.
Second photo, Gumusluk on the Bodrum Peninsula, Turkey, by me.
Third photo, my brother, Mum and me, Bugibba, St. Paul's Bay, Malta, courtesy of my Dad.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Mary Poppins Bag

Leaving the house in a torrential rainstorm this morning, I was negotiating both the bag on my shoulder with trying to put up my umbrella. This backfired on me, because as I opened the front door, umbrella poised, my friendly local bin man stepped right in front of me, whistling as he dragged my wheelie bin up the street. "Been singing have you, love?" he asked me, chuckling all the while. It was at that moment that I performed my usual trick. Having just unlocked the front door to get out of the house, I had then thrown the keys into my handbag, completely forgetting that I would need them in order to lock the door behind me. In all honesty, I can't explain why I do this; I suppose it's just one of those cognitive short-circuits. 

The thing that irritates me beyond belief, however, is the fact that in the space of ten seconds, my keys have somehow wriggled their merry way from the top of my bag to the very depths within. Still juggling the umbrella, I fumbled around unsucessfully for what seemed like an eternity before my fingers closed around the jumble of cold metal.
I'm afraid that I'm not usually the lightest of packers, and as a consequence, the bag I hoist around on a daily basis contains all the necessaries for pretty much everything barring nuclear war. This, I suppose, is my biggest problem, but I never seem to learn. It's one of those frivolous but nagging questions: why is it that whatever I might need from my bag is always the very thing that lies (smugly) at the bottom and just out of reach?

My grandmother has a name for her handbag. She calls it her "Mary Poppins Bag", and if you saw the things that come out of that bag, you'd know that she's right! The concept of a bottomless bag; smaller in outward appearance than internal capacity, is an appealing one. Everything could be fitted into it without problem, and just like Julie Andrews, we could  happily trip down the street with it, as it would magically be as light as a feather. Just yesterday, I complimented a work colleague on her new bag. "Oh this?" she said. "Nice, isn't it? I hope it's going to be my Mary Poppins bag."

I wonder if I wished really hard, my umbrella might let me fly?

Mary Poppins Purse Still Life photo by me.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Lady Grey: Eighteenth Century Inspired Editorial

Browsing the internet for eighteenth century inspired photography, I was so pleased to come across a fashion editorial photographed by Tim Walker for Vogue Italia (March 2010), entitled Lady Grey. Not only are the images dripping with eighteenth century influence, even the title of the article is a nod towards the location of the shoot itself. Howick Hall in Northumberland played host to Walker and his creative team, and was the one-time home of Charles, 2nd Earl Grey; none other than the scandalous lover of the ultimate eighteenth century icon; Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. After a fire in 1926, the house fell into a crumbling state of disrepair which Walker found perfect for the feel of his photo-story,

"I love the fact that the house in this photoshoot is falling into decay, its inhabitants have become part of the building, they will keep on living here forever, only appearing when other people come; it's as if the house were a living being, composed of the building itself and its former dwellers."

Walker effectively takes the sad state of decay within the house and uses his models as extensions of the building. From their roughly powdered hair to their dishevelled looking clothes, to my imagination they seem like a raggle-taggle troupe of eighteenth century players; their costumes faded and mismatched, their powder and make-up applied and re-applied as they travel the country seeking both obliging audiences and shelter.

There are strong elements of the theatrical and the masquerade in Tim Walker's images. The lighting and colours are soft, muted and atmospheric, and the whole effect is as if the viewer is peering through a gauzy veil (like the model above).

There is such artistry and a true sense of story in these photographs. The costumes are whimsical and ridiculous, but beautiful and evocative at the same time. It feels as though time has marched on but at the same time stood still, as our eighteenth century-inspired models melt and fade into the fabric of the house.

Images and quote courtesy of Vogue Italia.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Happy Bastille Day!

Jacques-Louis David, Madame de Verninac, 1798

Thank-you Mademoiselle Poirot for reminding me that today is (or rather was) Bastille Day! In honour of France's national holiday, I wanted to share a favourite painting by David; that of Henriette Delacroix, later Madame de Verninac. Whatever side of the revolutionary fence you sit upon (or even if you sit right on top of the fence itself), and whatever you may feel about David's actions during the French Revolution, his painting of Madame Verninac is sensitively executed, accentuating her voluptuous beauty while promoting the artist's fervour for the neo-classical. In Henriette Verninac, we see the culmination of the years of radical political change reflected succinctly and perfectly in her choice of clothing: simple and clean with minimal adornment, hair unpowdered and dressed in a Grecian style and the hint of a glow in the cheeks. I find this painting almost jumps out from the screen; the fabric seems so sumptuously tactile and the skin tone so real.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Things To See: War, Plague & Fire At The Museum Of London

 Delfware bowls excavated from a rubbish pit in London.

In the news this morning is the discovery of seventeenth century ceramics from an archaeological dig in a rubbish pit close to the site of old London Bridge. These three Delftware dishes have been pieced together and are now to be added to the Museum of London's War, Plague & Fire display; an exhibition of artefacts that charts the city's history through the Civil War, the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666.

Although the dishes are known as Delftware, they are thought to have been made in England, and would have been items of high value and prestige. As Roy Stephenson, Head of Archaeological Collections at the museum has said, "The analogy I use about seventeenth century Delftware is: if you were trying to acquire seventeenth century art today, you would have to be a multi-millionaire."

War, Plague & Fire looks like a fascinating insight into a hugely turbulent time in London's history; a time of rebellion, conflict and violence, of disease, fear and destruction on a massive scale. You can still find echoes in the architecture and layout of the new city that rose from the ashes.

Other things that caught my attention at the museum: The Great Fire of London Handheld Walking Tour. By clicking on the link, you can go directly to the museum website and download up to nine parts of a walking tour that will take you around key areas of the city while exploring the causes and effects of the Great Fire. Once you've downloaded the files, you can upload them to your iPod or mobile phone and off you go!

Tomorrow evening, the museum is also playing host to a talk given by Hallie Rubenhold, author of Lady Worsley's Whim (a highly scandalous and shockingly publicised eighteenth century divorce). I really wish I was able to get there myself, but I hope to be making a trip to the museum soon, and can't wait to immerse myself in the unbelievably vibrant history of the most remarkable of cities.

Image courtesy of Yahoo! News.

Friday, 9 July 2010

The Colour Of Summer

Raoul Dufy, Regatta At Cowes, 1934.

It looks set to be a warm weekend here in the UK, and I wanted to share something bright, summery and colourful with you all. I've been having a Raoul Dufy moment over the past few days, and this is a favourite. I love the chaotic composition, but most of all, that beautiful shade of blue that speaks of summers spent at the seaside. Have a lovely weekend!

Cowes Week Regatta on the Isle of Wight will start on the 31st of July.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Lady Curzon And The Peacock Dress

A few days ago, I wrote about Kedleston Hall, the neoclassical country seat of the Curzon family. In that post, I very briefly mentioned the dazzling gown on display there, at one time worn by the then Lady Curzon in 1903. Chicago born Mary Leiter was the very essence of a true Victorian beauty. Statuesque at 6 feet tall, she possessed a remarkable face and figure; lustrous, dark hair, sloping shoulders, pale complexion and the tightly corseted waist so favoured during the period. In 1895 she married George, Lord Curzon and later Viceroy of India.

So, what of the "Peacock Dress?" Lady Curzon commissioned the ultimate nineteenth century couturier, The House of Worth, to design and create her a magical gown worthy of the pomp and ceremony of The Dehli Durbar, a celebration her husband had organised to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII.

Paying homage to her position as Vicreine of India, the dress was threaded with gold in a sumptuous peacock motif; each "feather" containing a green jewel (actually irridescent beetle wings) that glittered and caught the light. I can only imagine what an effect this created when combined with the diamonds, pearls and lace she also wore. The passing of over  one hundred years has in no way diminished the lustre and remarkability of this beautiful confection. I've seen it many times now and it always amazes.

In the words of a guest at the Dehli Durbar, "You cannot conceive what a dream she looked."

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Through The Green Door

If I told you that when you pass through this intriguing green door, you could be anywhere at anytime, what would you choose? If this doorway possessed the power to transport you to your heart's desire, what would it be? Would it be a memory, precious and hanging frozen in time like winter's dew on a spider web? Or would it be a place; a much needed escape to exotic climes? Would it take you to destinations you had never seen but always wished you could? Would it take you to people; the people you love and the ones you miss? Or would it be as intangible as a state of mind; a sense of peace, a feeling of inspiration? Would this magic door be your past, present or future?

If I could choose, it would be simply this: the fragrant green wood on the other side and a walk hand in hand with the man I love.

*Intriguing green doors like this can be found at Calke Abbey in Ticknall, Derbyshire. I promise to write more about it properly soon, but for now, perhaps you would like to visit and see where your own green door takes you?

Friday, 2 July 2010

Things To See: Perfect Symmetry At Kedleston Hall

Kedleston Hall, out in the Derbyshire countryside, is one of my favourite historic houses. Outside and in, the house is a testament to the artistry of it's architect and interior designer, Robert Adam. 

Commissioned by Lord Curzon in 1759, the building has a beautiful symmetry that draws in the eye. Its neoclassical theme is evident in the arches, columns and statues; a style of architectural design that Robert Adam was (and is) famed for. At Kedleston, Adam created the epitome of the neoclassical mansion. The interior is liberally peppered with both obvious and more subtle classical references. They are to be found in the paintings, the furnishings, the floors and the ceiling mouldings.

One of my favourite things to do at Kedleston is to stand at the top of this staircase and look out on the parkland beyond. From whatever point of view, the house and it's sculpted surroundings are gorgeous and impressive. I always think that walking down this curving staircase would feel much better in an evening gown. Other favourite things to do at Kedleston include admiring the collection of costumes on display there from the film The Duchess (a large part of which was filmed here) as well as the jewel encrusted gown worn at a ball in 1903 by Lady Curzon. It looks unbelievably heavy, but in the low light of the exhibition room, it glitters and casts a mesmerising spell which permeates the whole house.

Photos by me. For more information on Kedleston Hall and its collection, click here.