Pre-Raphaelites Beauty and Rebellion

This exhibition runs at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery from 12 February to 5 June and I was glad to get the opportunity to see it. Anyone who has ever visited any of the galleries in Merseyside will have had the chance to see many of the most famous Pre-Raphaelite pictures and this exhibition brings many of them together, and more, and develops their story in the context of the wealthy patrons of the artists, many of which were Liverpool merchants.

 

It is interesting to see the paintings placed alongside the wealthy benefactors who bought or commissioned them. Frederick Leyland is described in the catalogue by Christopher Newall as exemplifying a:

 

new breed of Liverpool oligarch. Born into dire poverty (his mother hawked pies in the streets of Liverpool and was deserted by Leyland’s father, who was a shipping clerk), at a young age he was taken on as an apprentice at the Bibby Line. There, by sheer ruthless determination and with astonishing rapidity, he first became manager and designer of the steamships that formed the fleet and then in 1873 took control of the company.

 

In recent years the Speke Hall interlude of Frederick Leyland has come to the fore much more and I was pleased to see (for the first time although it is owned by the Walker Art Gallery) James McNeill Whistler’s sketch Speke Hall No 1 (1870) which shows Mrs Frances Leyland on the drive in front of Speke Hall. Also included is a painting by a lesser known artist, James Campbell (1828-93), The Courtyard at Speke Hall (1854) which was painted before the Leylands moved in but shows how it must have looked at the time, warmer and more colourful than the stark black and white over-restoration so beloved of the National Trust.

 

James Campbell also painted Waiting for Legal Advice (1857) which shows an older man accompanied by a young boy waiting to see a solicitor. The catalogue suggests the man is a “stubborn client” who sits in the ante room whilst two clerks gossip behind him. It is not the only interpretation that could be put on the look that runs across his face.

 

For me the paintings of William Holman Hunt always stand out. So we have The Scapegoat (1854-4), sent out to the wilderness to carry the sins of the congregation and standing on the salt encrusted shore of the Dead Sea, looking forlorn and fearful. Another painting from his period in the Holy Land is The Sphinx, Gizeh, looking towards the Pyramids of Sakhara (1854). It towers up like a sand blown natural feature in the desert, rich in layered colours.

 

Another fascinating painting by the same artist is The finding of the Saviour in the Temple (1862) which was owned by George Holt.

Finding the Saviour in the Temple

The finding of the Saviour in the Temple

 

Unimaginably rich in colour and detail it shows the holy family finally catching up with Jesus in the temple after realising they had left Jerusalem without him. Opposite Jesus in the picture sits a crowd of figures including a number of rabbis, representing the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Some of these are symbolically depicted in shadow while Jesus and his family stand in the light. The whole picture is replete with imagery and symbol. It is a smaller version of a painting which in 1866 claimed the most expensive fee ever paid to a living artist at that time. Such religious scenes were favourites of some of the Pre-Raphaelites although they ranged across mythology, history and other themes.

 

B. Guiness Orchard in Liverpool’s Legion of Honour (1893) describes George Holt as a member of a family that had “occupied and still occupy so great a place in Liverpool” and listed his commercial and philanthropic achievements:

 

The present George Holt, has emulated and equalled the father, University College having no more generous friend. To the Dock Estate he rendered great services. He acted as a magistrate for the borough and the county. From 1835-56 he sat in the Town Council, acting on the Library and Museum Committee, and as chairman of the Water Committee. His time and money were freely at the services of the Liberal cause in politics, while in business schemes outside his own office his enterprise and breadth of view were conspicuous, as when he joined Isaac Cooke and Adam Hodgson in establishing the Bank of Liverpool, or as when his fellow Unitarian, Swinton Boult, being anxious to form a great insurance company, turned for support to Mr Holt…[his] father arranged a partnership with young William James Lamport, son of a nonconformist minister…and the two established the firm of Lamport & Holt, shipowners and merchants, chiefly in the South American trade, which soon came to the front, and during many years has enjoyed the highest reputation alike for the extent of its operations and the unsullied honour and singular wisdom with which they are conducted.

 

Another painting owned by George Holt is Love’s Palace (1893) by John Milhuish Strudwick (1849-1937). Holt was a major collector of Strudwick’s work and this is an intriguing picture. The catalogue describes it like this:

 

The painting is an allegory of love based on a poem by the architect GF Bodley. Love is enthroned in the centre of the composition, while the three fates sit on the steps. Around them, as if on a stage, woman, knights and Amorini – the winged boys – enact love’s ups and downs.

 

The three fates are draped in dark, shroud like garments, they languidly spin or cast lots while the Amorini gambol around them. It’s a strange picture but what particularly fascinates me is that it was commissioned by George Holt. He was a genuine connoisseur and a very generous benefactor to the city but is this what really was inside his head? As he examined ship’s manifests, did his calculations for insurance, prepared his ships to sail for Buenos Aires, assembled his finances for the bank and planned the strategies for the Liberal party, was he actually lost in reverie for this imaginative picture of love and the random possibilities of fate?

 

Pre-Raphaelites 01

 

Advertisements

Edgar Innes Fripp and William Shakespeare

The current celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare prompt me to think about the Rev Edgar Innes Fripp. His is not a name widely remembered today but I was very aware of him when I was minister of All Souls’ Church in Belfast as a very distinguished predecessor in that pulpit, indeed the minister under whose leadership that church was built in 1896.

 

E.I. Fripp didn’t really get the attention he deserved in the congregation, although I wrote and spoke about him on a number of occasions. If the congregation looked to anyone as an historical exemplar it was A.L. Agnew whose own particular heroic story in the course of a 54 year ministry was partly based on an undoing of the achievements of his predecessor Fripp. He did away with the ‘Fripperies’ that remained from early in the century even to the extent – or so I was told – of having a bonfire of old service books along with assorted hassocks, communion table cloths and pulpit hangings. Fripp had introduced an edited version of the prayer book to the church, a robed choir and a much more devotional style of worship than had been the case before. More than that he had built the church, a little medieval English parish church in suburban Belfast. It was his vision in achieving this that had enabled the church to survive. Without this move it would have been unlikely to have lasted in Rosemary Street, and although there may have been a falling off in attendances between the wars it suited the narrative of the later arrival of Dr Agnew and the York Street congregation following the blitz of 1941, to write off everything that had gone before. In fact the destruction of the York Street building made an eventual union of the two congregations inevitable but without the intervention of the German Luftwaffe even that probably would not have taken place.

 

AllSoulsexterior

All Souls’ in 1900

 

By the time I was minister at All Souls’ a large majority of the congregation had belonged to York Street or were descendants of that congregation. The Second Congregation families, the original All Souls’ people, were a minority yet there were a few who remembered Edgar Innes Fripp. This wasn’t because they were extraordinarily old, because although he had built the church in 1896 and left in 1900 he had returned at the start of the 1920s for a few years. In the 1990s there were some people who had childhood memories of Fripp and what they remembered in particular was his interest in Shakespeare. He was much given to quoting him and increasingly found inspiration in his writings for his sermons.

 

ShakespearesStratford

The title page of Shakespeare’s Stratford

 

In Belfast he had been innovative, imaginative and creative. He was a genuine scholar, he had been a Hibbert Scholar in Germany before entering the ministry, and was a caring and effective pastor. All this can be seen in his Kalendar, the first monthly magazine to be distributed within a church of the Non-Subscribing tradition in Ireland. Before he had arrived the Second Congregation had left the presbyterian structures to pursue their own course although they were rooted in the Free Christian theological traditions exemplified by James Martineau.

 

Early in his ministry he had produced an account of the composition of the book of Genesis, by the end of his ministry he was completely absorbed in Shakespearean studies. He published a number of works on Shakespeare, and his life and times, and became a trustee of Shakespeare’s birthplace. Indeed it is interesting to see that today the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has a short video examining E.I. Fripp’s analysis of Iago:

http://findingshakespeare.co.uk/shakespeares-villains-iago

 

At the end of his life Fripp’s funeral took place in Shakespeare’s church and he was buried in Stratford on Avon. But he produced a large amount of work on Shakespeare and I have often been tempted to seek out a contemporary Shakespearean scholar to give an assessment of how these works are regarded today for Faith and Freedom. There is and has long been a vast industry around Shakespeare and each age finds a different set of interpretations that reflect its own circumstances. It would be nice to know from the point of view of an English literature specialist what endures from Fripp’s writings. But if nothing else he had an enduring impact on the topography of South Belfast, something that continues to this day.

 

AllSouls02

The view of All Souls’ today from the Belfast City Hospital

A walk in Sefton Park

Sefton Park is a source of never-ending delight for anyone familiar with it. As the seasons change so its vistas change, the Victorian redesign of the ancient parkland created an urban space that must be unique in Britain. So much space, so much variety, all in the centre of a city.

20160404_122946

 

The park looks well-cared for and well-maintained by the council when you walk through it now, something that has not always been the case.

 

20160404_115017Bandstand

 

What I notice most about it these days though is the abundance of wildlife you see, quite different from how it used to be. Most of all you see the large quantities of waterfowl, more numerous than in days gone by, mallards, swans, Canada Geese, Aylesbury ducks, coots, moorhens and so on.

20160404_120036Nesting Coots

But other birdlife is even more striking – the impressive sight of a heron perched high above the lake is something astonishing to my mind. I was very impressed to see the heron in February although in a recent visit at the start of April it didn’t seem to be there. Nor did I find the parakeets which I also saw in February. I don’t know where they can have gone, I know they are not uncommon in many places in Britain these days but I was surprised to find a load of them in Liverpool.

 

20160404_114807

The park has long been full of squirrels. Not everyone approves of grey squirrels but they always attract the eye. The ones in the park are virtually tame as well and not averse to posing for photographs, like this one.

 

20160404_114309

 

Another thing I saw recently – new to me – was a fox. Foxes are clever enough to learn that urban humans generally won’t bother them which is why they colonise cities so much. There have long been foxes in Belfast but I’ve never seen them. I saw a fox in Glasgow once, a mangy, dangerous looking thing walking along the middle of the road. But this fox looked sleek and healthy, although it didn’t hang around.