Thursday, November 11, 2010

50 UK Days: Week 4.5

Last Friday, on Guy Fawkes Day, CC and I took a trip to Lincoln, which is about 2 hours southeast of Leeds in the area of England known as the Midlands. My main interest in going related to my research. Here I am posing beside one of John Gibson’s best sculptures, The Hunter and His Dog. He modelled this work in 1839, but the marble version you see here, from ca. 1846, was commissioned by Lord Yarborough. The Art-Union in March 1847 wrote that it “commands admiration by the symmetry of the bending figure of the hunter, and the characteristic expression of the animal.” In short, the work merges the idealization of ancient Greek classicism with a close observation of nature. The subject was in fact inspired by Gibson watching a Roman holding his dog back from chasing another dog. Considering how much the Victorians loved their dogs, it’s no surprise that this work was tremendously popular and touted after Gibson's death as one of the best pieces he had ever made. This and 2 other statues by him were donated in 1930 to the city of Lincoln by the 4th Earl, and they are now in the Usher Gallery.

The Gallery also showed an exhibition of finalists from the BP National Portrait Award 2010, an annual competition organized by the National Portrait Gallery. The number of expressionistic portraits of children were less cute and more creepy to both CC and me. Of the works, I found Daphne Todd’s Last Portrait of Mother to be the most visceral of those on display. With her mother’s permission, Todd painted her for 3 days following her death while her body decomposed on her bed. The painting is a no-holds-barred presentation of rigor mortis, her mother’s face frozen with the cackling grin of death. The work follows the historic tradition of death masks and 19th-century deathbed photography, and thus becomes a metaphor for the spectre of Death. But the lush colors of the work create original tonalities that show the fluids and fluidity of life and death layered one over the other. Painted on two conjoined wood panels, the work becomes a diptych, a devotional piece, that honors the memory of her mother who had just celebrated her 100th birthday. In Googling for an image of the painting, I discovered that Todd actually one first prize for this painting, which on reflection does not surprise me. It is truly a moving subject. This photograph of her holding the award as she stands before the painting presents an even more uncanny take on how her emblem of death has become a high point of her life.

Whilst we were in Lincoln, we made a point of stopping at 2 tea shops for our required tea and cakes. The city center looks a lot like a stereotypically lovely English village. The earliest city walls date from the Norman period, but one shop owner allowed us to see parts of the ancient Roman road that date back almost 2000 years visible behind the walls of his shop. Parts of the city are built on the side of a hill, so pedestrians are forced to hold on to the railings as they climb up or down the brick-paved roads. Of course we visited Lincoln Cathedral. I took the picture above showing the nave from the entrance. The present church was first constructed in the 11th century and dedicated to the Virgin Mary (this is pre-Protestant days), but the building as it appears now with all of its Gothic tracery was largely in place by the mid-1400s. Pop culture fans will be surprised to discover that this was the church where they filmed scenes from The Da Vinci Code. The church is beautiful. The Gothic elements of pointed arches, stained glass windows, and lit candles were enhanced by the gloomy afternoon and minimal number of tourists. Our feet echoed on the stone floor as we walked around as if on a pilgrimage.

One highlight of the cathedral was the Russell Chantry, a chapel for a Renaissance bishop that has painted murals from the 1950s by the Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant. I was frustrated at first because I couldn’t figure out how to turn the lights on, but CC in all her brilliance found the light switch outside the chapel and around the corner on a large column. I took a few pictures of the chapel, and show you one detail here. I leave the reader to determine whether it seems overtly homoerotic or not. Grant was a homosexual after all. I’ve added more pictures of Lincoln, as well as additional shots from Leeds (Royal Armouries Museum and waterfront), to my photostream, which you can access by clicking here.


Ted Fisher said...

So, as Gibson created the sculpture ... there very well could have been the first reports of a new invention called photography, right?

Wonder if he ever thought it would amount to much -- or show the world his sculpture 160 years later...


bklynbiblio said...

Absolutely, Ted! In fact, the Art-Union already had advertisements for the first stable forms of photography as eary as April 1839. There's has been a perpetual sense that Gibson was a classicist disconnected from his contemporary world, but some of his work was photographed, he was photographed by everyone, his pupil Harriet Hosmer won him over with photographs of her work, and he actively sought to disseminate his work as engravings and miniatures, so he was well aware of new technologies as a means of selling his work.

pranogajec said...

"I leave the reader to determine whether it seems overtly homoerotic or not."

If that isn't, I don't know what is!