28/09/2010

THE STORY OF THE ARTISTS RIFLES...


The VV is not averse to a dabbling in the newfangled world of the Twitterarti, for there she has discovered a wealth of fascinating facts, and one of those stories is that of the Artists Rifles - the volunteer regiment originally formed from London-based artists, sculptors, engravers, musicians, architects and actors who responded to patriotic fervour when England was threatened with invasion by Napoleon III of France.


The crest was designed by William Wyon, official chief engraver at the Royal Mint, who was also Queen Victoria’s medallist. It shows the heads of Mars the God of war, and Minerva, the goddess of Wisdom – about whom a regimental rhyme was composed: Mars, he was the god of war and didn’t stop at trifles. Minerva was a bloody whore, so hence the Artists Rifles.



Officially named as The 38th Middlesex (Artists) Rifle Volunteer Corps, the regiment soon set up its headquarters at the Royal Academy’s Burlington House, there commanded by the luminaries Henry Wyndham Philips and Frederick Leighton, and among other distinguished artist members were Millais, Holman Hunt,William Morris and Rossetti – though it has to be said that the Pre-Raphaelites’ interest appeared to be social rather than military in nature!


Responding to the fears that some of the country's finest artists might lose their lives in war, the publication Once a Week was to report - "Such splendid beards; worthy of Titian and such fine faces! Imagine some dirty little scrub of a foreigner picking off his Stanfield, or potting a Millais before breakfast. But there would be plenty of Englishmen left to avenge them and to paint good pictures afterwards."


Those more determined volunteers eventually saw action in the Boer War, and World War 1. And although disbanded in 1945, the regiment was re-established again when, from 1947 onwards, it became the Special Air Service Regiment – or as it is more widely known – the SAS.

With 2010 being the regiment’s 150th anniversary, Patrick Baty has been posting examples of many Victorian and later volunteer members under the Twitter name of @marsminerva. To view the information that Patrick has compiled regarding the artists and their work, please click onto this link.

The official regimental site is available to view at:  http://artistsriflesassociation.org/

16/09/2010

TURKISH BATHS AND THE PERFUME OF 'HAMMAM BOUQUET'...


When writing her novel, The Somnambulist, the VV wanted to introduce a perfume that would have been in production during the mid nineteenth century; a fragrance that might have been suitable for men and women alike - and the heady and glamorous Hammam Bouquet fitted that need to perfection.



First created by William Penhaligon in 1872 this lovely fragrance, which is still being manufactured today, is described by Penhaligon's as being ‘...animalic and golden... warm and mature, redolent of old books, powdered resins and ancient rooms. At its heart is the dusky Turkish rose, with jasmine, woods, musk and powdery orris.  





Hammam Bouquet, which soon became a great favourite with respectable gentleman during the Victorian era, actually owed its provenance to the smells of the Jermyn Street Turkish Baths that William Pengalion had hoped to replicate. The VV finds it amusing that, considering the sexual repression of the age, this seductive and musky fragrance intoxicated the senses with fantasies built on the romance of Empire, of naked sultans in steamy baths, of harems and boudoirs which reeked of sex.
The Turkish bath became very popular in later Victorian days, the concept first introduced to England by one David Urquhart, a diplomat and sometime Member of Parliament who had travelled through Spain and Morocco.
A Turkish Bath, which actually had more in common with the ancient Roman custom, consisted of first sitting in a ‘warm room’ which was heated by dry air to encourage a free perspiration. A second, even hotter room was followed by being splashed in cold water, then a full body wash, then a massage, and finally a period of calm relaxation. 

 An advertisement for the Southampton Turkish Bath

No doubt there were various methods of relaxation on offer, and then there was also the fact that from 1888 the Jermyn Street Baths also employed a resident tattooist who excelled in artistic dragon designs, and ~ if the rumours can be believed, some of Queen Victoria’s sons were decorated in this way when visiting the establishment.
What would their mother have thought about that? Perhaps she might have encouraged her boys to keep away from Turkish baths and install a 'Quaker Cabinet' for their private use at home instead. 


With thanks to Malcolm Shifrin and information gleaned from his website: Victorian Turkish Baths: Their Origin, Development, And Gradual Decline.

14/09/2010

THE NOTORIOUS MADAME X...


When John Singer Sargent was living in France he exhibited a portrait at the Parisian Salon of 1884, believing that it would make his name as the darling of the art world.  
The painting was of Virginie Gautreau, a well-known American society beauty married to a wealthy French banker, of whom Sargent wrote to a friend at the time – “I have a great desire to paint her portrait and have reason to think she would allow it and is waiting for someone to propose this homage to her beauty. If you are ‘bien avec elle’ and will see her in Paris, you might tell her I am a man of prodigious talent.”


In the June of 1883 the prodigiously talented young artist was invited to Virginie’s home, a grand estate in Brittany where many preparatory sketches were made. For the final portrait, Sargent worked on a very large canvas – almost seven feet (2 meters) tall - hoping that way to ensure the greatest exposure and attention for his work. 
The result was not what he had hoped. The work was derided as scandalous, with the greatest attention being paid to the fact that, in the original painting, one of the straps of Virginie’s gown was shown as having fallen down which - by the standards of the time - suggested an air of decadence and sexual availability.
Virginie was delighted. She considered the work a masterpiece, but her mother demanded it never be shown, and with Salon members so outraged Sargent eventually had to give in and repaint the strap so that it appeared to be secured on the model's shoulder. 

However, the damage was already done, and if he and his model had hoped for acclaim the ensuing reviews did not agree. Madame Gautreau's reputation was lost, and even though Sargent withdrew the work and subsequently renamed it as Madame X his reputation was also damned. He was forced to leave Paris in ignominy and set up a new studio in London – where luckily he soon achieved the success of which he had dreamed in France. But he never lost faith in that portrait, and once wrote, “I suppose it is the best thing that I have ever done.” 
Since its initial outing the work was often displayed in various art exhibitions, before eventually being sold it to the American Metropolitan Museum of Art for the sum of $1000. 

The VV wonders what is worth today.

Another full-sized sketch remains on display in London's Tate Britain, and here one strap on Virginie’s gown is still salaciously removed.

04/09/2010

THE SEA PAINTINGS OF JOHN SINGER SARGENT...

Setting Out to Fish, John Singer Sargent, 1878


John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) is best known for his glamorous society portraits. However, he also had an obsession for painting marine landscapes; a passion developed when still a young man when living in Brittany, Normandy, and Nice. 




Some of his earliest paintings show the influence of Turner, with the dark tonal sketches of riggings and sails, and the elemental power of the waves.


 Wharf Scene by John Singer Sargent


 Sketching on the Gludecca by John Singer Sargent


In the more intimate painting below you can almost feel the glaring heat radiating out of the canvas. The child with the pigs' bladders strapped to his back - a Victorian form of water wings - could almost be a Cupid or Putto, such as those found in classical Italian paintings, but with a stark sense of 'modernity'.

Neopolitan Children Bathing by John Singer Sargent


For related posts with yet more examples of the work of John Singer Sargent, please see -