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

 

Raising the Cross in Down

On Tuesday, 15th September the new Downpatrick High Cross Extension was opened at Down County Museum. I was pleased to be amongst the large crowd who were present to see the new premises.

The High Cross
The High Cross

 

 

The main attraction of the extension is, of course, the High Cross itself which holds centre stage in the main room. It’s quite dominant in the room and is exceptionally well lit so you can appreciate the detail in a way that just wasn’t possible when it was in its original position outside the Cathedral. Out of doors you had to take on trust the various illustrations that were said to be carved on its surface, now you can make them out and have some idea of the stories it intended to convey. In addition these are well explained in the exhibition.

 

The Cross in its new location
The Cross in its new location

 

Raising the Cross in Down “tells the story of the Downpatrick High Cross and its place in the early Christian tradition of County Down” using artefacts, reconstructions and interpretative panels. It’s a good exhibition which takes the visitor through Christian history in the locality right up to a nicely inclusive panel covering the various traditions in Downpatrick today.

 

Downpatrick's Christian Heritage
Downpatrick’s Christian Heritage

 

Elsewhere in the extension the new café will be run by the local charity Mainstay DRP. The tearoom has tremendous views across the rolling countryside. Downstairs Harvests from Land and Sea is an exhibition telling the story of farming and fishing in County Down which contains machines, tools and artefacts which will be familiar to many local people.

 

Wrought iron gate made by Hugh Magilton of Ballybranagh
Wrought iron gate made by Hugh Magilton of Ballybranagh

Another room includes the At Present Confined: Life in the Old Gaol exhibition which tells the story of many of those who were imprisoned in the gaol between 1796 and 1830. On show in here is a display of hand-made bonnets made by many schools and local groups as part of the ‘Roses from the Heart’ project, run by Tasmanian artist Christina Henri in 2013. A number of local groups took part in this project which was international in its scope and which commemorated the thousands of women and children who were transported to Australia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

 

Display of bonnets
Display of bonnets

While some of the people who were transported to Australia were hardened criminals many of them, and many of the woman, had done things which we would regard as quite trivial today. So in 1820 Jane Armstrong at the age of 16 was transported for seven years for stealing two spoons. In 1832 Mary Burns, who was born in Downpatrick, was transported for seven years on a charge of vagrancy, which today we would probably call homelessness. Quite a few women were sent away simply for vagrancy. Altogether something like 25,266 women were transported from Britain and Ireland to Australia and the artist Christina Henri has been trying to commemorate them both here and in Australia by getting people to make bonnets. Children in local schools were encouraged to make bonnets with the name of each woman on as well as the name of the ship she was transported on. Along with Canon Rogan I was very pleased to be asked to take part in a ‘blessing of the bonnets’ in the Museum at the time.

Down Museum has long been an excellent Museum but the new extension is a very impressive addition to its display that fits in well with the Museum’s care and appreciation of local history and its engagement with schools and the wider community.

 

Replica in sandstone of a medieval carving of St Patrick's hand by Claire Sampson
Replica in sandstone of a medieval carving of St Patrick’s hand by Claire Sampson

Faith in the World – next year’s Faith and Freedom Calendar

If you saw a copy of last year’s Faith and Freedom Calendar then you will recognise the three images on this page as from that publication. Last year’s Faith and Freedom Calendar was well received and helped to raise a good sum for the charity Send a Child to Hucklow Fund (SACH). The journal is planning to publish another Calendar for 2016 the proceeds from which will again go to the SACH.

 

Princes Road Synagogue Liverpool
Princes Road Synagogue Liverpool (January 2015)

 

 

Next year’s theme will be:
Faith in the World

The publishers invite anyone to submit photographs for consideration for inclusion in next year’s Calendar in accordance with this theme. Please interpret the theme as broadly as you like – an act of worship, a faithful community or individual at work, a symbol of faith, a place of worship, it is up to you. However, the photograph should be your own work and you must be happy to give permission for it to be used in the Calendar should it be selected for inclusion. Photographs can be in colour or black and white, they should be landscape in orientation, of high resolution and sent, by email, to n.clarke884@btinternet.com

 

Pet service at St Andrew's United Church, Kirton Lindsey, North Lincolnshire
Pet service at St Andrew’s United Church, Kirton Lindsey, North Lincolnshire (March 2015)

 

All successful entrants will be sent a free copy of the Calendar and have the satisfaction of being part of an interesting project that shares the diversity and vibrancy of faith and which will also help to raise money for SACH. We may be able to include a broader number of pictures submitted in the journal’s website.
If there is a seasonal element to your entry please state it in your accompanying email as well as when and where it was taken. Please remember also that parental permission is usually required if your picture includes children under the age of 18. The deadline for submissions will be 18th September 2015.

 

Buddhist Temple, Fo Guang Shan Monastery, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Buddhist Temple, Fo Guang Shan Monastery, Kaohsiung, Taiwan (August 2015)

L8 Unseen, Museum of Liverpool

L8 Unseen

 

L8 Unseen runs at the Museum of Liverpool from 3 April to 6 September. It is a collection of striking images taken by photographer Othello de’Souza-Hartley. The pictures are all blown up to a large scale and rich in detail. Each one features someone or some group of people who live in Liverpool 8 pictured inside a building that reflects the history of Liverpool. The poster used to advertise the exhibition, and reproduced above for instance, shows Cherise Smith of the Tiber Young People’s Steering Group in the boardroom of the Liver Building.

There are also interactive elements in the exhibition in which you can listen to personal stories and send in your own photographs to add to the story. This has been incredibly successful and over 2,500 people have sent in their own photographs in the first weeks of the exhibition.

The blurb for the exhibition declares that “Liverpool 8 is a state of mind, an idea, a culture, rather than just a geographical location”. This identity is based upon diversity, something that is rooted in Liverpool’s development from the eighteenth century onwards as a major seaport that brought so many peoples and cultures to its streets. But in this also lies the downside – Liverpool’s prosperity was based, from the opening of its first dock in the early eighteenth century until 1807, on the slave trade and so the exhibition notes that many of the places used “were founded on the proceeds of the city’s international trading links and the slave trade.” This is undoubtedly true – even for buildings like the Liver Building, built as late as the twentieth century – for without that era of massive expansion when Liverpool became the pre-eminent slave ship port the continued advancement of the Victorian era and later would not have happened. This reprehensible trade carried on by so many people in Liverpool for a hundred years brought tremendous riches and provided the backbone of the city’s prosperity. So the buildings used include the Town Hall, The Black-E arts centre (which was once Great George Street Congregational Church), the Liver Building, a house in Abercomby Square, dock buildings, the Athenaeum Club and other places. There is no getting away from the fact that virtually the whole city was effectively complicit in a vicious trade but I can’t help feeling that somewhere like the Athenaeum perhaps indicates a slightly different attitude, after all it included amongst its founding members William Roscoe and his circle, people who opposed the slave trade from the start and were eventually successful in getting it stopped. We shouldn’t overlook the courage of people like Roscoe who stood out against the prevailing orthodoxy at the time.

My favourite photograph shows four religious leaders from places of worship in Liverpool 8, generally from near the top of Princes Avenue. Seated around a table in the Town Hall are representatives of the Al Taiseer Mosque, Princes Road Synagogue. St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and St Margaret’s Church of England, all resplendent in liturgical garb. One hopes that this gathering represents some sort of on-going dialogue between the different faiths rather than just a gathering for a photo opportunity. At least two of the religious buildings that they represent are amongst the grandest and most impressive buildings in the city and Liverpool, of course, had the first mosque ever built in England. What a shame the nearby Welsh Presbyterian Church, itself something of a mini-cathedral, is now gone, then they could have had a sober Presbyterian in preaching bands and black cassock join the group too. But the building has been derelict for years and the original congregation left in the 1970s. That illustrates one aspect of diversity which has almost entirely disappeared in Liverpool. When I was young the city was dotted with Welsh speaking churches, now I think just one small chapel remains. Sad to note the disappearance of this group, although even in Wales the types of churches that they comprised are nowhere near as prevalent as they once were.

But it is an illuminating exhibition that reflects the resilience and the vitality of Toxteth/Liverpool 8. As Laurence Westgraph says in his notes accompanying the exhibition “what is the culture of L8? Maybe it is the culture of accepting, tolerating and welcoming people from other cultures.”

Festival of Floral Art First Holywood (NS) Presbyterian Church, co. Down

The Very Rev William McMillan has many strings to his bow. He is not just a distinguished and much loved pastoral minister, he is also a highly regarded historian who shares his knowledge readily with all enquirers. In both these areas – and others – he is highly respected but the area in which he is most pre-eminent is undoubtedly that of floral art. His fame in this role is world-wide and a few years ago he was appointed world champion no less. The Rev Mac regularly travels the world as a floral artist and over the decades must have helped to raise thousands of pounds for various charities through his artistic efforts. His latest exhibition is at Holywood Non-Subscribing Presbyterian church which not only utilises a wonderful space but also incorporates his historical knowledge and feel for the theological traditions that have contributed to the development of the church.

Rev Colin Campbell (left) and Rev Bill McMIllan in front of the portrait of Rev C.J. McAlester, in the vestibule of the church
Rev Colin Campbell (left) and Rev Bill McMillan in front of the portrait of Rev C.J. McAlester, in the vestibule of the church

Holywood N.S. Presbyterian church is a substantial classical fronted church dating from the mid-nineteenth century (and designed by Sir Charles Lanyon) but the congregation dates back over 400 years and this exhibition is part of the celebration of the continuation of all branches of Presbyterian witness in the town over that long period. Mac uses the Benedicite, the Song of Creation, as the theme for the exhibition and incorporates references to the rich history of the congregation including the Praeger and Bruce families.

Sophia Rosamond Praeger was, in the words of the exhibition brochure, an “acclaimed sculptor, poet and artist” and as a member of the congregation there are numerous examples of her work housed in the church. Most notable of these is the First World War memorial which she designed to include two children carrying baskets of flowers representing hope; they kneel on either side of the names of those who were killed, including one of her own brothers. Her other brother, Robert Lloyd Praeger, was a world famous botanist who became librarian of the National Library of Ireland.

Rev Michael Bruce was one of the first members of the Presbytery of Antrim and introduced the principles of non-subscription to the congregation in the 1720s. Supposedly a direct descendant of Robert the Bruce his family produced generations of Presbyterian ministers in Ireland.

The exhibition contains material that is both traditional and strikingly modern. The line O ye Seas and Floods, bless ye the Lord takes as its cue the fact (quite new to me) that the first two buildings used by the congregation are now both submerged by the sea, and marine plants, shells and liquid are used in the design.

O ye Seas and Floods, bless ye the Lord
O ye Seas and Floods, bless ye the Lord

O ye Servants of the Lord, bless ye the Lord pays tributes to the Bruces and incorporates the colours of the Bruce tartan.

O ye Servants of the Lord, bless ye the Lord
O ye Servants of the Lord, bless ye the Lord

O ye Children of men, bless ye the Lord is inspired by the logo of Sullivan Upper School as a tribute to the Rev C.J. McAlester, nineteenth-century minister of the church and a scholar and a teacher. He was involved in the foundation of this school and also ran an “underground academy” in the basement of his church.

O ye Children of men, bless ye the Lord
O ye Children of men, bless ye the Lord

Panels on the front of the gallery were inspired by a sketch by Rosamond Praeger entitled “County Donegal” as well as Robert Lloyd Praeger’s most famous book The Way that I Went.

The Burning Bush symbol of the two varieties of Presbyterianism found in the town are both represented by sculptures in dried plant material and the communion table has a suitable decoration. My photographs probably don’t do the whole exhibition justice but it is nice to record at least some of what is on show in Holywood.

Burning Bush H2

Festival of Floral Art, First Holywood (NS) Presbyterian Church 23-26 April 2015, to celebrate 400 years of Presbyterian witness in Holywood.

Inside the church
Inside the church

Only in England Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Only in England Photo

As a long time admirer of the work of Martin Parr I was glad of the opportunity to see this exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. I first came across his work in The Last Resort, his collection of photographs taken in New Brighton and first published, I now see, as long ago as 1985. These pictures, taken in colour, are bright and sharp, which serves only to highlight the sense of desperation about the place. Sunbathers sit on crowded beaches, their feet surrounded by litter, babies play amidst the debris, pensioners relax in semi-derelict shelters. They reminded me of childhood visits to the place and today seem to share more with that era than the present time: New Brighton is cleaner, smarter and less tawdry than it was then. But the seaside has been a continuous theme in Parr’s work and this exhibition shows not only some rarely seen examples of his early photography, but also pictures by a major influence on his own work.

Tony Ray-Jones died at a tragically young age in 1972. Martin Parr has curated a collection of his pictures from the 1960s. All in black and white many of them depict scenes taken at sea side locations – Broadstairs, Brighton, Southport, Blackpool and so on. Each picture conveys that sense of melancholy that only the English seaside seems to contain, both in and out of season. Tony Ray-Jones’s own injunction to himself was “don’t take boring pictures” and each contains a strange mixture of humour, ennui and sometimes even a vague sense of menace.

But Martin Parr’s own section of the exhibition is entitled The Non-Conformists, in this case a precise reference to religious dissenters of the traditional type. Taken in the 1970s this looks very much like a vanished age, the last days of an old order. Most of the subjects in the run down chapels are elderly, the ladies all wear impressive hats, the men Sunday-best suits. There is an air of melancholy about many of these pictures too. Chapel goers assemble for anniversary teas and resemble nothing so much as mourners at a wake. And yet the video that accompanies the exhibition shows some of the scenes as they are today and the remote Methodist Chapel looks pretty much like it is still in operation. Non-Conformists can be tenacious survivors.

But if the same Methodist Chapel is still on the go, the congregation are unlikely to look as formal and as staid as they did in the 1970s. You have to go to Ulster, to Brethren and Free Presbyterian churches, to find such a collection of hats on a Sunday, it is generally shirt-sleeve order these days, casual informality is the style in most places now. There is a rigidity and a strictness in these photos of forty years ago that seems strange to modern eyes, as well as a sense of sadness; the chapels look run down, the paint is peeling, the congregations mostly elderly. But here we see chapel life as it was lived in a remote rural corner of England in the 1970s. Worshippers crouch in prayer, in the non-conformist style; sumptuous suppers are piled on to plates after worship; cabbages are auctioned after the harvest festival. Many of the compositions are very striking. A clever view of a service shows part of the congregation seated downstairs while others sit patiently in the gallery above them. Perhaps the most arresting is of a lady wearing a very large hat solemnly ladling sugar into a cup while seated at a table amongst others sharing in a post-service tea in a Baptist chapel. Her movements seem to mirror the illustration on the wall behind her – a curious and somewhat disquieting rendition of the Last Supper which must have been a permanent decoration in the church hall. A blown up version of this picture is used to advertise the show and I reproduce it below:

 

Martin Parr. Buffet Lunch, Steep Lane Baptist Chapel, 1976
Martin Parr. Buffet Lunch, Steep Lane Baptist Chapel, 1976

But all this, plus Martin Parr’s pictures of home life and working life in the Calder Valley and Tony Ray-Jones’s depictions of English eccentricities like the Bacup Coconut Dancers, makes for a fascinating exhibition which is on show in the Walker Art Gallery until 7th June.