FINAL THOUGHTS

Milan, 16 March 2019

Let me start this final post on the topic of UK industry in art by throwing in photos of a couple of paintings which didn’t make it into my previous posts but which really are worth being seen.

A Street with Washing (1962) by Peter Brook Calderdale (1927-2009), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Metropolitan Borough Council
Halifax (Bowling Dyke) (1925) by Claude Muncaster (1903-1974), © by kind permission of Claude Muncaster’s estate. Photo credit: Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council
Backyard of Otaco Ltd Factory, 16 Market Road (date unknown) by Käthe Strenitz (1923-2017), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Islington Local History Centre and Museum
Mill in Winter (1958) by Peter Brook (1927-2009), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Kirklees Museums and Galleries
Steeplejacks (date unknown) by Harold Blackburn (1899-1980), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Kirklees Museums and Galleries
Lilly Clare, Last of the Taker-Inners (1979) by Christopher Brady (b. 1956), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: St Helens Council Collection
Miner on G6 Face (date unknown) by Jack Crabtree (b. 1938), © the artist. Photo credit: University of South Wales Art Collection Museum
High Rake Lead Mine (2008) by Susan Loft (b. 1945), © the artist. Photo credit: Buxton Museum & Art Gallery

 

And now, with that out of the way, let me meditate for a minute on where things stand for UK industry and what its future might look like.

Through sheer coincidence I have been publishing these posts just when the British Parliament is going through what will probably be the last moments of a contorted, acrimonious process which will take the UK out of the EU, a process that was kicked off by the Referendum results of 23 June 2016. It is the leave vote that interests me here. There were many reasons why people voted to leave, many of them I’m sure having nothing – or relatively little – to do with the EU per se. Consider the following map, which gives a regional distribution of the vote.

The first thing that strikes one is the very clear difference in voting patterns between England and Scotland, and to a lesser degree Northern Ireland. That explains some of the Parliamentary shenanigans we have been witnessing these last two years. Putting that aside, the other major thing that strikes one is that, just from a territorial point of view, the vast majority of England and Wales voted to leave! (although the vote was admittedly close in many places) If the overall vote ended up such a close balance between leave and remain, it is because the bigger cities, which have big populations squeezed into small territories, voted strongly for remain. The following population-adjusted map shows this effect: London and its heavily populated surrounding swells, Scotland and Wales with their small populations shrink.

This divergence in the Referendum results between the large cities and the rest of the country has been interpreted as a protest vote on the part of those who live in the smaller towns. The Referendum was, so the thinking goes, a way they could figuratively stick a finger in the eye of the big-city elites. Since the EU is seen in the heartlands to be very much an elite project, a vote against the EU in the Referendum was very often a vote against the big-city slickers. The people who live in England’s and Wales’s small towns feel left behind, abandoned by the big cities. This must be especially true of towns which were once heavily industrialized whose citizens have seen their proud towns founder and collapse while the big cities seemingly have continued to grow and be ever more prosperous. One of the things that struck me as I prepared the last six posts is how many of the small towns in the paintings I was looking at were once busy, prosperous industrial towns and are now, because of deindustrialization, shells – ghosts – of what they once were. Looking at where the towns in the paintings I chose are on those voting maps, I can understand how the bitterness which has accumulated over the last forty years in these small industrial towns could have spilled over into a vote against the EU – especially since the UK’s membership in the EU started a mere decade before the UK’s deindustrialization started in earnest.

It’s so tragic really, because it looks like many leave voters actually stuck a finger in their own eye. As we have seen over the last few months, manufacturing, which although much diminished still mainly takes place in the old industrial towns, has taken a hit because of Brexit, with one multinational company after another closing down or downsizing their British operations. It will continue taking a hit: in the long term, it has been predicted that Brexit will cause more harm to those who voted to leave than to those who voted to remain.  I fear that the divide between England’s big cities and the rest of the country will only deepen once – as I think is now inevitable – the UK leaves the EU. In turn, this will increase the social tensions which already exist and I see no obvious way of defusing them outside the EU. I must confess to being quite gloomy about the UK’s future prospects.

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All photos of paintings are from the Art UK website

Map of Brexit voting: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:United_Kingdom_EU_referendum_2016_area_results.svg

Population adjusted map of Brexit voting: http://www.viewsoftheworld.net/?p=4848

 

IT ALL WENT AWAY

Milan, 15 March 2019

In the late 1980s, globalization really took hold and industry massively began to move out of developed countries and into developing countries. The UK suffered especially heavy losses of its manufacturing capacity. Whole communities not only lost their jobs but their whole raison-d’être. Their ancestors had been forced off the land to work in the factories, the towns they lived in had been created to house the factories, now there was no reason anymore for these towns to exist.  People my age remember that time, especially the miners’ strikes, which was their last-ditch attempt to save an industry that was doomed by global market forces. Artists memorialized those terrible moments in the UK’s recent history.

Miners’ Strike 2 (1970s) by an unknown artist, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Thames Valley Police Museum
Miners’ Strike (1970s) by an unknown artist, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Thames Valley Police Museum
Picket Line (2009) by Paul Schofield (b. 1938), © the artist. Photo credit: Haig Colliery Mining Museum
Miners’ Strike (c. 1985) by Margaret Varis, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: National Coal Mining Museum for England
On Strike (1985) by David Lawrence Carpanini (b. 1946), © the artist. Photo credit: Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust

But it was all to no avail. One after another, industries closed or moved away, leaving joblessness and broken communities behind

No Vacancies at This Colliery of Any Category (1984) by Andrew Hay (b. 1944), © the artist. Photo credit: Glasgow Museums

and leaving old workers with their memories of better times.

‘There are no longer any birds in last years’ nests. Times change and we with them’ (1993) by Andrew Tift (b. 1968), © Andrew Tift. Photo credit: The New Art Gallery Walsall

What of industry’s environmental impacts, the topic of my professional interests? Well, there was all that black smoke belching out of factories’ chimneys. Painters readily included these smoking chimneys in their paintings of industry: black smoke meant industrial activity, it meant economic progress, it meant wealth! But as we now know, all that black smoke must have also played havoc with people’s lungs, especially poor people’s lungs – they couldn’t escape to comfortable suburbs far away from all that factory smoke – and especially poor children’s lungs. As industry developed, especially the chemical industry, chimney stacks began emitting different coloured smoke, something which artists picked up.

Leith (1970s) by George Mackie (b. 1920), © the artist. Photo credit: Aberdeen Maritime Museum
Industrial Panorama (1`953) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Nottingham City Museums

Artists seem to have been less interested in painting the black rivers – or even sometimes highly coloured rivers if textile factories were involved – which were another by-product of industrialization. As usual, L.S. Lowry seems to have been the only painter who turned his unflinching gaze on this watery ugliness.

The Lake (1937) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © The Lowry Collection, Salford. Photo credit: The Lowry Collection, Salford
Industrial Landscape, River Scene (1950) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service

Of course, when industries closed or went away, this air and water pollution disappeared (only to reappear, though, in the developing countries where the industries relocated). Not so with industry’s solid wastes. In the early days, there was always a useful hole somewhere behind the factories where wastes could be conveniently dumped and forgotten about.

The Tip, Hanley (1946) by Michael Ayrton (1921-1975), © estate of the artist. Photo credit: The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
Reflections (Rose Hill, Bolton) (1954) by Brian Bradshaw (b. 1923), © the artist. Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery

Industries may have closed down and moved away, but these noisome deposits stayed. How many of them have I dug up over my career! A poisoned present from past industries left for current and future generations to clean up.

And of course the mining operations – coal mines, tin mines, slate mines, … – have left indelible scars on the UK’s landscape, with their tips of mining waste looming up behind the mining villages.

Landscape, County Durham (date unknown) by Marjorie Arnfield (1930-2001), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, mima
Elliot Colliery (c. 1970) by Gilbert House (1919-2007), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Caerphilly County Borough Museums & Heritage Service – Winding House
Miners and Colliery (1970) by Tom C. Brown (1925-2006), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales
The Slate Mines (date unknown) by Fred Uhlman (1901-1985), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

In my next and final post, I’ll slip in some paintings which didn’t fit my narrative but which deserve to be seen by a wider audience. I’ll also meditate on what has been the deeper impact of this story on the UK.

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All photos from the Art UK website

 

CLOSE-KNIT COMMUNITIES

Milan, 14 March 2019

The rural poor may have been chased off the land and dragooned into factories, but at least they went on to create vibrant, closely-knit communities. Artists celebrated this throng of humanity in the shadow of the factories.

Unidentified Mill Scene (c. 1820-25) by British (English) School. Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND licence
Morledge, Derby, by Night in Fairtime (1882) by Claude Thomas Stanfield Moore (1853-1901). Photo credit: Derby Museums Trust. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-SA licence
A Scene in a Village Street with Mill-Hands Conversing (1919) by Winifred Knights (1899-1946). Photo credit: UCL Art Museum
Poole Pottery, Dorset (c. 1925) by Eustace P. E. Nash (1886-1969), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Poole Museum Service
Any Wintry Afternoon in England (1930) by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson (1889-1946). Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND licence
Street Scene (1935) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Atkinson Art Gallery Collection
Market Scene, Northern Town (1939) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © The Lowry Collection, Salford. Photo credit: The Lowry Collection, Salford
Sunnyside Mill Bride to Be (date unknown) by Roger Hampson (1925-1996), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Salford Museum & Art Gallery
Mill Girls, Ashton, Lancashire (1948) by Harry Rutherford (1903-1985), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Tameside Museums and Galleries Service: The Astley Cheetham Art Collection
Spring Evening (1950) by Joan Baker (1922-2017), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Aberystwyth University, School of Art Museum and Galleries
Cheetham Street, Middlesbrough, Tees Valley (1953) by Kenneth Gribble (1925-1995), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, mima
The Cooling Tower, Stockport, Cheshire (1960) by Harry Kingsley (1914-1998), © Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service. Distributed under a CC BY-NC licence
Lady Windsor Colliery, Ynysybwl (c. 1980) by Christopher Hall (b. 1930), © the artist. Photo credit: Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales

In the bigger cities, these communities began to be ripped apart in the late 1950s, early 1960s by well-meaning attempts to upgrade people’s living conditions, but it meant that the centres of industrial cities were laid to waste as factories were moved out into industrial estates and the people were moved into high-rise blocks of flats.

Terrace House Demolition, Barton Hill (c. 1963) by Gerald Albert Cains (b. 1932), © the artist. Photo credit: Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives
The Green Fence, Hulme (1960) by Harry Kingsley (1914-1988), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery
New Street (1961) by Harry Kingsley (1914-1998), © Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service. Distributed under a CC BY-NC licence
Embryo, Moss Side, Manchester (1965) by Harry Kingsley (1914-1998), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service
Wharf Street Vista, Leicester (1970) by Norman Ellis (1913-1971), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service
Elephant and Castle, London, High Rise (1988) by Oliver Bevan (b. 1941), © the artist. Photo credit: Museum of London

Far greater wreckage was to occur a few decades later when the UK started deindustrializing under Thatcher as globalization shifted factories into the developing countries and left many old industrial towns and cities with no future. This topic will be covered in my next post.

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All photos from the Art UK website.

WORKERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

Milan, 12 March 2019

The industrial revolution could only take off because the rural poor were chased off the land, herded into towns, and put to work in the burgeoning factories. These foot soldiers of the industrial revolution were immediately of interest to painters, who caught on right away to the military, drill-like quality of the work for many.

The Richardson Cutting Shop (date unknown) by Emily Hodgetts (active 1820-50). Photo credit: Dudley Museums Service
File Cutters (1917) by Edward Frederick Skinner (1865-1924). Photo credit: Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
The Blouse Factory (1917) by Charles Ginner (1878-1952), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Government Art Collection
Women at Work: The Belgian Steel Factory, Goldhawk Road, W12 (1918) by Edgar Seligman (1867-1958), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: IWM (Imperial War Museums)
Elswick, 1917: Messrs. Armstrong, Whitworth & Company by John Lavery (1856-1941). Photo credit: IWM (Imperial War Museums)
The Weaving Shed, Old Glamis Factory (1929) by James McIntosh Patrick (1907-1998), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection (Dundee City Council)
Women Making Munitions Boxes (1946) by John Campbell Hutton (1906-1978), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Museum of Farnham
Body Shop, Austin, Longbridge, Warwickshire (1947) by Robert Johnston (active 1947-1985), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: British Motor Industry Heritage Trust

It is striking indeed that most of these pictures have women workers, but this might be more a reflection of the fact that many of the pictures were painted during the two World Wars, when women were drafted into the workplace to replace the men; when the wars were over they were expected to go home. (It is also striking that in the pictures in yesterday’s post, which were all from “heavy industries”, there were NO women.)

The harsh working conditions, the tendency of the factory owners to pay their workers as little as possible, the lack of job security, all led to worker agitation and the creation of the Trades Union movement as well as of left-wing political parties. Artists captured these political trends early.

The Opening of the Chartists’ Meeting House, Hyde [in 1838] by Harry Rutherford (1903-1985), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Tameside Museums and Galleries Service: The Astley Cheetham Art Collection
National Builders Labourers And Construction Workers Society Banner (1921) by an unknown artist. Photo credit: People’s History Museum
The Sunderland Employers Banner (1871) by an unknown artist. Photo credit: People’s History Museum

In later decades, some artists were perhaps not so sympathetic to the workers’ movement.

The Communist, a Political Meaning (c. 1932) by Evan Walters (1893-1951), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
Union Men (1975) by Harold Blackburn (1899-1980), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Kirklees Museums and Galleries

Others were decidedly more sympathetic.

Selling the ‘Daily Worker’ outside Projectile Engineering Works (1937) by Clive Branson (1907-1944). Photo credit: Tate. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND licence
The History of Labour (1975) by Maureen Scott (b. 1940), © the artist. Photo credit: People’s History Museum
Two Trade Unionists (1986) by Ken Currie (b. 1960), © the artist/courtesy Flowers Gallery, London and New York. Photo credit: North Lanarkshire Council / CultureNL
Glasgow Communist Party Committee Banner (1983-85) by Ken Currie (b. 1960), © the artist/courtesy Flowers Gallery, London and New York. Photo credit: Glasgow Caledonian University
Unemployment on Merseyside: Campaigning for the Right to Work (1993) by Michael Patrick Jones (b. 1944), © the artist. Photo credit: Museum of Liverpool

While all this was happening, a number of artists went about using the new art forms of 20th Century art to depict the real nature of work.

The Weaver (1910) by Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962), © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019. Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
Munitions Factory (1940s) by William Patrick Roberts (1895-1980), © estate of John David Roberts. By courtesy of The William Roberts Society. Photo credit: Salford Museum & Art Gallery
Female Glass Worker (date unknown) by Cliff Rowe (1904-1989), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: People’s History Museum
Machine Shop (1963) by Leroy Leveson Laurent Joseph de Maistre (1894-1968), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums
The Machinist (1970s) by Tony Evans (1920-2001), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Carmarthenshire Museums Service Collection
Workers in a Frozen Pea Factory (1979) by Francis Higgins, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

Artists were also interested in capturing the flow of workers into and out of the factories, at the beginning and end of their day or their shift. Miners’ shift changes got pride of place.

Miners Return from Night Shift (1928) by Richard Schmick, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: National Coal Mining Museum for England
Miners Returning from Work (1931) by an unknown artist. Photo credit: Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales
Bedford Colliery, Leigh (date unknown) by Roger Hampson (1925-1996), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Salford Museum & Art Gallery
The Crossing (Colliery at Night) (1964) by Tom McGuinness, © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: National Coal Mining Museum for England
Pit Road near a Colliery, Winter (c. 1990) by Norman Stansfield Cornish (1919-2014), © Northumbria University Gallery on behalf of the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Northumbria University Gallery
Back and Forth (date unknown) by Brian Maunders (b. 1942), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: National Coal Mining Museum for England

But pictures were painted of other factory workers too, catching them when they came out

Coming from the Mill (1930) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © The Lowry Collection, Salford. Photo credit: The Lowry Collection, Salford
End of the Day (1947) by David Ghilchik (1890-1970), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Chesterfield Museum & Art Gallery
Men Leaving Work (1954) by Carel Victor Morlais Weight (1908-1997), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery

or went in.

Going to the Mill (1925) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Pallant House Gallery
Entrance to a Factory near the Canal Entrance (date unknown) by Käthe Strenitz (1923-2017), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre

Paintings of workers’ lives in their local community outside the factory gates will be the topic of the next post.

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All photos taken from the Art UK website

 

DARK SATANIC MILLS

Milan, 12 March 2019

Right from the start of the industrial revolution, artists were fascinated by the factories which glowed red in the night or sent flames leaping up into the night sky – William Blake’s dark satanic mills. Here is a series of paintings on this theme.

Coalbrookdale by Night (1801) by Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740-1812). Photo credit: Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
The Steelworks, Cardiff at Night (1893-7) by Lionel Walden (1861-1933). Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
Dowlais Works at Night (1929) by Charles William Mansel Lewis (1845-1931) (attr. to). Photo credit: Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND licence
Lever House Mural (date unknown) by Leonard Henry Rosoman (1913-2012), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Williamson Art Gallery & Museum
Industrial Landscape (Hulme, Manchester in the Sixties) by John Bold (1895-1979), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Salford Museum & Art Gallery
BP Baglan Bay at Night (1963) by Andrew Vicari (1938-2016), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
Industry (1987) by Leslie Frederick Clarke (1907-2000), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Erewash Borough Council

Much of that fire has emanated from iron and steel works, whose interiors have also drawn artists – like moths to a flame, we could say.

The Wealth of England, the Bessemer Process of Making Steel (1895) by William Holt Yates Titcomb (1858-1930). Photo credit: Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust
Bessemer Process Plant, Abbey Works, Margam (1958) by Charles Ernest Cundall (1890-1971), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
Steelworkers (1940) by Roland Vivian Pitchforth (1895-1982), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum
Tapping a Blast Furnace (1957) by Charles William Brown (1882-1961), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
Last Tapping of the Blast Furnace at Brymbo (c. 1978) by Jan Boenisch, © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Wrexham County Borough Museum and Archives

While the molten metal went on to further working, the slag from the foundries was thrown onto heaps where, still incredibly hot, it glowed sullenly until it had cooled sufficiently.

Tipping the Slag (date unknown) by Edwin Butler Bayliss (1874-1950), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage

These slag heaps must have looked quite satanic at night, giving off a deep red glow.

Rolling mills, where molten – or at least red-hot – metal is rolled out, have also been a constant source of artistic inspiration.

Interior of a Rolling Mill (1855-65) by Godfrey Sykes (1824-1866). Photo credit: Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Hot Strip Mill (c. 1952) by Norman Hepple (1908-1994), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Ebbw Vale Works Archival Trust
Rolling Mill, Avesta, Sheffield (1990) by M. Lawrance, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust

Forging, too, has had its enthusiasts.

The Tyre Mill (1940-44) by Edith Grace Wheatley (1881-1970), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
‘Becking’, Locomotive at Blaenavon Works, 1947 by R. Smith (possibly), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Torfaen Museum Trust

Moulding has also attracted followers.

Ley Maleable Works, Lincoln (1920) by L. Hare, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Museum of Lincolnshire Life
Pouring Metal into Moulds (date unknown) by Norman Biddle (1932-2000), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Sandwell Museums Service Collection

I finish with a spray of sparks

Scarfer (1971) by John Collins, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Ebbw Vale Works Archival Trust

and a homage to the men who spent their working lives in those dark satanic mills.

The Black-Country Steelworkers (1992) by Andrew Tift (b. 1968), © Andrew Tift. Photo credit: The New Art Gallery Walsall

This last picture is an introduction to my next post, which will cover the theme of industrial workers.

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All photos from the Art UK website.

IN ENGLAND’S GREEN AND PLEASANT LAND – II

Milan, 11 March 2019

The new structures created by the industrial revolution were immediately of interest to artists, who memorialized these new activities

A Pit Head (1775-1825) by the British School. Photo credit: Walker Art Gallery

as well as the buildings that sprang up to house them.

Mill Landscape (1800-1830) by the British (English) School. Photo credit: The Whitaker

No doubt the owners of these new activities – the “capitalists” – were proud to have them memorialized, much as in previous centuries landowners had been proud to have their country seats memorialized.

‘A’ Pit, Backworth, Newcastle upon Tyne (1823-1867) by an unknown artist. Photo credit: Laing Art Gallery
Ebley Cloth Mills, Stroud, Gloucestershire (c. 1850) by Alfred Newland Smith (1813-1877) (attributed to). Photo credit: The Stroud District (Cowle) Museum Trust Collection
Restronguet Creek Tin Works (1874) by T. May. Photo credit: Royal Institution of Cornwall. Distributed under a CC BY-NC licence
Lord Derby’s Works, Redvales, Bury, 1893 by James ‘Clock’ Shaw. Photo credit: Bury Art Museum
Eastwood’s Crown Brewery (1898) by F.L. Carter. Photo credit: Compton Verney

The industrial buildings got bigger and more complex, but still their owners wanted artists to memorialize their factories.

A Two-Year-Old Steel Works: Erected during the War for Messrs. Steel, Peech & Tozer, Ltd, Phoenix Works, Rotherham (c. 1918) by Charles John Holmes (1868-1936). Photo credit: IWM (Imperial War Museums)
British Industries: Steel (1924) by Richard Jack (1866-1952), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: National Railway Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

But I suppose at some point artists just wanted to show the factories the way they really were.

The Thames at Hammersmith (1930) by David Murrary Smith (1865-1952), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Sandwell Museums Service Collection

And they tried using the new painting techniques of the 20th Century to capture the industrial reality they saw around them.

 Ullathorne Mill, Startforth, County Durham (date unknown) by Douglas Frederick Pittuck (1911-1993), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Durham County Council
The Brewery and Paper Mill, Ely (date unknown) by Charles Byrd (1916-2018), © the artist. Photo credit: Gathering the Jewels
Steel Works near Swansea (1944) by Julian Trevelyan (1910-1988), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Argyll and Bute Council
Dawn, Ashington Colliery, Northumberland (1949) by Oliver Kilbourn (1904-1993), © Ashington Group Trustees. Photo credit: Woodhorn Museum & Northumberland Archives
The Zinc Works (1954) by Peter Knox (b. 1942), © the artist. Photo credit: Hartlepool Museums and Heritage Service
Industrial Landscape, Hope Valley, Derbyshire (c. 1959) by Harry Epworth Allen (1894-1958), © Geraldine Lattey/Harry Epworth Allen Foundation. Photo credit: Buxton Museum & Art Gallery
Industrial Landscape (1959) by George Kennerley (1909-2009), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
Sugden’s Brighouse Mill (date unknown) by Peter Brook (1927-2009), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Kirklees Museums and Galleries

From the 1960s onward, artists who painted industry seem to have focused almost exclusively on recording the passing of the coal industry, which had underpinned the whole industrial revolution in the UK and was now entering its death spiral.

Shotton Colliery, County Durham (1967) by Everard, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Durham County Council
New Stubbin Colliery (1977) by Peter Watson (b. 1946), © the artist. Photo credit: National Coal Mining Museum for England
Six Bells Colliery (1980) by George H. Godsell, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Abertillery & District Museum
Coal Wagons (Seafield Colliery) (1985) by Brian Joseph Fojcik, © the artist. Photo credit: Fife Council
Bickershaw Colliery, Leigh (1992) by Max Ayres, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Salford Museum & Art Gallery
Pithead Sunset (2007) by Stephen Simons (b. 1984), © the artist. Photo credit: Langwith Whaley Thorns Heritage Centre

By 2007, the date of the last painting I show here, the British coal industry was effectively dead, along with much of the manufacturing industry which had powered itself with that coal.

A line from William Blake’s poem Jerusalem has given me the title of both this post and the previous one. Blake asks if Jesus ever walked over England’s green and pleasant land. When Blake wrote that poem, England mostly was still a green and pleasant land, a rural land. It was only slightly pockmarked by the “dark satanic mills” of industry which he mentions in that poem (“And was Jerusalem builded here / Among these dark Satanic Mills?”). Blake died in 1827, before – as the paintings in these two posts show – the blighting ugliness of industrial development had really started disfiguring the land. In my next post, I will explore artists’ fascination with the most satanic of those industrial mills.

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All photos taken from the Art UK website

 

IN ENGLAND’S GREEN AND PLEASANT LAND – I

Milan, 10 March 2019

I recently came across a wonderful website, Art UK. It is the fruit of a long effort to digitize absolutely every single painting, watercolour, etching, and drawing being held by public bodies in the UK. And I mean every such piece of art, from the products of the most exalted artists to those of the humblest, from pieces in a perfect state of repair to pieces which are dirty, discolored, scratched and peeling. And I mean every public body. Why, we are talking of as humble a body as the Goole Museum (I challenge anyone to tell me where that is without looking it up on Google Maps or some such). In this way, the website is able to make available 222,572 artworks. The purpose of the exercise is to give every UK citizen access to that body of art which in theory they own but which in practice is often locked away in physically inaccessible parts of public buildings or in store rooms. And of course, through the worldwide net they have made this a gift to the whole world. This exercise democratizes art not only by making it more accessible but also by taking away the filters imposed on it by an artistic elite who decide what is worth seeing and what should be hidden away from view in store rooms. Art UK has now turned its attention to all the sculptures being held by these same public bodies. I wait with bated breath for the result!

As readers can easily appreciate, it would be impossible to enjoy these 220,000-plus works of art without having the ability to use filters to extract from the site’s database some manageable subset of artworks. And indeed the website gives its users the tools to do this. So I have been spending my spare moments in the last couple of weeks doing just that, extracting works of art which fit a particular theme close to my heart: the depiction in art of industry. Allow me to explain.

I have spent my entire career at the interface between industry and the environment, trying to minimize the impacts of the former upon the latter. As readers can imagine, this has left me with a somewhat jaundiced view of industry. Although tangential to my areas of expertise, I have also seen close up how industry can impact the health, safety, and the general well-being of its workers, which has increased my jaundiced view of industry. Nevertheless, I also have to recognize that many workers have found in their industrial work a reason for pride in their skills and a comforting communal solidarity. It is also true to say that industry has created many well-paying jobs and has contributed significantly to general economic well-being – or at least it did so in the industrialized countries until the deindustrialization of the 1980s and 1990s wiped out whole swathes of industry and ripped out the fabric of many communities, a collective harm from which they have not yet recovered.

Now these are my own, very personal views of industry. How, I have been asking myself for many years, have artists been reacting to this phenomenon which has transformed our economies and our societies over the last 200 years, both for better and for worse? As readers can imagine, most mainstream museums show very few, if any, pieces of art about industry.

Art UK has finally offered me a wonderful way of checking how artists have been tracking the phenomenon of industrialization – and deindustrialization – in the UK, the country where the industrial revolution started some 200 years ago. Using search terms like “factory”, “industry”, “industrial”, “mill”, “mine”, “worker”, “union”, and “strike” I have been drilling down through the database. To do justice to all the artwork I have unearthed, I have prepared several posts, each on a different thread which I found running through the paintings. This post will look at the theme of industry in the landscape.

I start with the earliest painting I could find in this genre, from 1810, which places it in the first decades of the UK’s Industrial Revolution. In this landscape, which has figures dressed in Regency style in the foreground, we see the English town of Halifax. Industry has a very modest presence in this landscape, in the form of those three-storey mills close to the bridge.

North-West View of Halifax (c. 1810) by Nathan Fielding (1747-c. 1814). Photo Credit: Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council

In this next painting, from some twenty years later, we have a typical landscape painting: old, gnarled trees in the foreground, some rustics working at something among the trees to the left, the city of Bristol in the background. A black plume of smoke – that instant marker of industrial activity – signals the presence of some factory in the city. The industrial presence still seems modest.

View of Bristol (1827) by Patrick Nasmyth (1787-1831). Photo credit: Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage

In Rotherham in the same period, industry is much more present in the landscape. The tall cathedral spire is matched by several tall industrial chimneys belching their black smoke, while figures in the foreground carry on with what still seems to be a bucolic life.

View of Rotherham, South Yorkshire (c. 1830) by William Cowen (1791-1864). Photo credit: Rotherham Heritage Services

And what could be more English than this, playing cricket while a factory chimney emits its smoke discreetly in the background?

Cricket Match at Edenside, Carlisle (c. 1844) by Samuel Bough (1822-1878). Photo credit: Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery

By the late 1830s, industry has become very much more present in what were to become major hubs of industry in the UK, like this view of Sheffield from 1838.

View of Sheffield from Shrewsbury Road (1838) by William Cowen (1791-1864). Photo credit: Museums Sheffield

The next two paintings, painted within a few years of each other, were painted about twenty years later. They are views of Manchester, and they too show this city, which was to be at the heart of the UK’s industrial revolution, with the same array of chimneys spouting black smoke.

View of Manchester from Kersal (1856) by John Barton Waddington (1835-1918). Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery
Manchester from Belle Vue (1861) by George Danson (1799-1881). Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND licence

In this painting of 1861, the traditional rural past of the UK still takes pride of place, although the future, in the form of a forest of smoking chimneys, lurks in the background. As we will see in a minute, that future will eventually engulf everything.

Looking West of St Luke’s Church, Silverdale (1861) by Henry Lark I Pratt (1805-1873). Photo credit: Brampton Museum

By about this period, the traditional landscape painting with industry a minor player in it disappears. I suppose this reflects the reality of what was going on. The small towns which had adopted industry grew rapidly and sucked into them the rural poor, who were to become the industrial proletariat of the future. Now landscapes give way to cityscapes, with industry now embedded in an urban fabric.

The River Derwent from the Great Northern Railway Bridge, Derby by Raymund Dearn (1858-1925). Photo credit: Derby Museums Trust. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-SA licence.

The countryside disappears to give place to views of the new industrial cities.

View of Camden Town (1915) by D. Connor, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre

The bleakness of these new cities was well captured by L.S. Lowry, who from the late 1910s to the early 1960s was to paint these industrial cityscapes over and over again.

A Manufacturing Town (1922) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Science Museum, London

I add this next Lowry as a counterpoint to the earlier painting of church and industry. Now the church has been completely engulfed by the spread of industry.

A Street Scene (St Simon’s Church) (1928) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © The Lowry Collection, Salford. Photo credit: The Lowry Collection, Salford

Not all industrial landscapes of these years were as bleak as Lowry’s paintings. Here is one from 1932, which gives a more optimistic view of a typical industrial city.

Accrington from My Window (1932) by Charles Frederick Dawson (1863-1949), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery

But to my  mind Lowry represents better the soul-destroying element of the UK’s industrial development.

The Bandstand, Peel Park, Salford (1930s?) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit:York Museums Trust

Other painters, while not denying the bleakness of these industrial towns, pick up on the linear geometry of modern life.

Cubist Quayside and Railway Industrial Landscape with Figures (1930s-40s?) by Charles Byrd (1916-2018), © the artist. Photo credit: Cardiff Council

But Lowry continued with his really depressing paintings.

An Industrial Town (1944) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Birmingham Museums Trust

This next painting shows what the landscape around an industrial town had become: a dirty and torn-up landscape devoid of any life.

From a Back Lane (1949) by Jack Simcock (1929-2012), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

Other painters continued to give a sunnier view of industry’s place in the landscape – we are now five years after the Second World War.

Sunlight and Mills (1951) by Harold Hemingway (1908-1976), © the copyright holder. Photo credit:  Salford Museum & Art Gallery

But others continued producing relentlessly dark landscapes – in this painting, cooling towers, which were to displace chimneys as the typical symbol of industry, make their first appearance.

A Leicester Vista (1955) by Norman Ellis (1913-1971), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service

Another dark cityscape from the late 1950s.

Coventry (1958) by Jane Sutton, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

A sunnier version from the same year. Cooling towers are now very visible.

Walsall, as seen from Peal Street (1958) by Herbert W. Wright (b. 1912), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: The New Art Gallery Walsall

This painting is a return to earlier landscape paintings. It is celebrating the industries of the future, which are leaving behind the bleak, coal-dirty towns of the past (seen in the far distance) and starting afresh in the new industrial zones of the post-War period.

Trostre Works, Llanelli (1959) by Charles Ernest Cundall, © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

This is a slightly more realistic depiction of the huge industrial zones that are still with us today.

Industrial Skyline (1964) by W.D. Staves (active 1964-1965), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: North Lincolnshire Museums Service

This is another throw-back to the landscape paintings of the past, although I suspect that this one is a mourning for what once was. The steel plant in the background was eventually closed down some 15 years after this picture was painted.

Landscape with Consett Steel Works (1972) by Mary Jane Kipling (1912-2004), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Durham County Council (Derwentside)

Here we have a bleak vision – not messy and dirty, just alienated – of industry from the 1980s.

Industrial Landscape (c. 1980) by Stephen Meyler (b. 1956), © the artist. Photo credit: Carmarthenshire Museums Service Collection

This one is a commentary on how the beautiful object in the foreground was birthed in the ugliness behind it.

The Ruskin Connection (2000) by Stephen Morris, © the artist. Photo credit: Sandwell Museums Service Collection

And finally, a contemporary vision of industry: still there but much cleared away, leaving  joblessness and broken communities behind.

Slipway (2008) by Frances Ryan (b.1960), © the artist. Photo credit: Northern Ireland Civil Service

Here I have shown paintings where factories were but one of a number of elements in the landscape. The next post will show paintings of factories as the sole element in the landscape.

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All photos taken from the Art UK website.

 

BRANDY FROM KYRGYZSTAN

Milan, 19 February 2019

My wife and I have a problem. This problem is a bottle of brandy from Kyrgyzstan, which has been sitting on a shelf, still in its wrapping, since early last summer.
It was given to me during my visit to Kyrgyzstan last May, as a token of appreciation from my local counterpart for having come. I murmured thanks when it was given to me – one mustn’t be rude on such occasions – but already on the flight back home I was wondering what to do with it.

The fact is, neither my wife nor I are a fan of brandy. We don’t even like Cognac, probably the most revered of all brandies, made since the 16th Century from grapes grown in vineyards like these in the southwest of France
distilled in copper alembic stills like these
aged in oak barrels like these
to be finally blended into products like these.
And if that’s how we feel about the crème-de-la-crème of the brandy universe, the apex of the brandy culture, then readers can understand why we are distinctly unenthusiastic about a brandy made in Central Asia in the shadow of the Himalayas
by a people who were traditionally horse-riding herdsmen
and who had the culture of grape-growing and wine and brandy production forced on them by Russian colonialists in the 19th Century.
Our first idea was to offload the bottle onto our son, who happens to live down the road from us at the moment, but he politely declined. We then tried to do the same thing with our cleaner, but she too politely declined. After that, we really couldn’t think of anyone else we could give it to; it would have smacked too much of palming off the unwanted gift (“A bottle of … Kyrgyz brandy? What a nice thought …”) For a moment, I even considered taking the bottle to the bar across the street, inviting them to add it to their row of liquor bottles on the shelf behind the bar.
But I don’t really know them well enough and I fear they might suspect me of wanting to poison the neighbourhood.

My next idea was to drink away the brandy in cocktails, cocktails with wonderful names like Brandy Sour, Brandy Alexander, Sidecar, and Brandy Daisy. I’ll let this picture of a Brandy Sour stand in for all of them.
To me, these names are redolent of a certain period: men in sharp suits, slicked-back hair, toothbrush mustaches; women in smart dresses; both with a cocktail glass in one hand. This particular couple is our most popular couple from the 1930s: William Powell and Myrna Loy, who made a series of films as a husband-and-wife detective team.
Yes, I could see myself whiling away the evenings with my wife, engaging in bright and bubbly banter about nothing much in particular while sipping on a Brandy Sour. There is only one slight problem with this: I don’t have the equipment (the shakers and whatnot), I don’t have the technique
and I don’t have any of the weird and wonderful ingredients required to make cocktails: just for those four cocktails I mention above Angostura bitters, crème de cacao, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Curaçao, and yellow Chartreuse. I’m not going to start buying these things, because I would only end up, like my father, with a cupboard full of bottles which would sit there for years on end taking up space and gathering dust.

Since drinking the stuff didn’t seem to be the answer, I began to think about using it in our cooking. So I’ve been scouring the internet for recipes involving brandy. The most brandy-intensive recipe I’ve found is for Christmas Cake.
In the first place, you use a generous portion of brandy in the actual making of the cake. But it doesn’t stop there! You should make the cake a while before Christmas and then “feed” it a couple of tablespoons of brandy every fortnight (“to build the flavour and keep it moist”) until you plonk it on the table at Christmas lunch. I’m sure you could also use a couple of tablespoons to flambé the cake once it’s on the table (making sure to keep your head well back to avoid singeing your eyebrows). Now I’d love to make such a brandy-impregnated cake for Christmas, and I think one cake would pretty much wipe out the whole of the bottle i have. But Christmas is not for another 8 months and I’m not sure I want the bottle hanging around on my shelf until then.

Another possibility would be for us to make a lot of onion soup.
The brandy is used to deglaze the pan after the onions have been sautéd, that is to say, it is used to dissolve away the nice brown residue which the onions have left on the bottom of the pan. The resulting jus is added to the soup, giving it extra taste.

We could decide to treat ourselves to onion soup once a week until we’d finished that damned bottle. At half a cup of brandy a go, the amount suggested by a couple of the recipes I’ve read, I reckon that in two, maybe three, weeks we would would have got rid of the bottle’s contents. My only hesitation in putting this scheme into effect is its potential impacts on my digestive system – I must confess to having difficulties in digesting onions.

Brandy’s traditional role in deglazing pans points to a solution. My wife likes to brown food, which leads of course to nice brown residues in the pans.
I tend to discourage this habit because I have found that browning can easily segue into burning (a finding, I should say, that my wife stoutly denies). Now, if we can use my wife’s browning habits to get rid of that Kyrgyz brandy I think I could drop my objections and actually encourage her to brown. I will pass this by her and see what she says.

That’s as far as my thinking has gone into ways of getting rid of that bottle of Kyrgyz brandy. If any of my readers have any other suggestions, I’d be more than glad to hear them.

____________________________________

Kyrgyz brandy: my picture
Cognac vineyards: http://lejournaldelevasion.com/newsletters/item/1731-s%C3%A9jours-et-d%C3%A9couvertes-au-c%C5%93ur-du-vignoble-de-cognac
Copper alembic still: ww.pediacognac.com/en/la-distillation-dela-distillation-enla-distillation/das-charentaiser-brennverfahrencharentaise-distillationla-distillation-charentaise/
Oak barrels: https://blog.cognac-expert.com/double-matured-cognac/
glass of cognac: https://depositphotos.com/35751055/stock-photo-glass-of-brandy.html
Kyrgyzstan: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyz horseman: https://kalpak-travel.com/tour/multi-active-tour-kazakhstan-kyrgyzstan/
Russians conquering Kyrgyz: https://eurasianet.org/russias-colonial-allergy
Liquor bottles in a bar: https://vinepair.com/wine-blog/cleaning-out-the-liquor-cabinet-how-to-understand-the-shelf-life-of-your-alcohol/
Brandy sour: https://www.esquire.com/food-drink/drinks/recipes/a3664/brandy-sour-drink-recipe/
William Powell and Maureen O’Sullivan: https://www.phillyvoice.com/bryn-mawr-film-institute-to-screen-the-thin-man-with-martinis/
Bar tender shaking cocktail: https://pt.videoblocks.com/video/bartender-with-shaker-making-cocktail-in-modern-bar-handsome-barman-shake-drink-blevjkhwxivn6ohgi
Christmas cake: https://sortedfood.com/recipe/christmascake
Onion soup: http://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/253016/slow-cooker-french-onion-soup/
Browned pan: http://infonline.over-blog.it/article-come-disincrostare-pentole-e-teglie-111011705.html

THE BEAUTIFUL GAME

Sori, 12 February 2019

“Pass the ball!”

“Over here!”

“Shoot!!”

“GOOOAAAAL!!!”

The children’s voices float up to me from the little soccer patch – “pitch” seems too big a word for that scrap of land – squeezed in between the village church and the houses across the lane, here in this village on the Ligurian coast.
A place where the village boys – and sometimes girls – can dream that one day they will be the nation’s heroes, idolized by millions.
In the meantime, though, their misplaced kicks are filling the gutters of the church.
In this land of steep hills falling straight into the sea, it’s difficult to carve out a decent soccer pitch, but the village elders do their best.
In truth, though, children can make do with very little to dream their dreams of future greatness.
Let them dream while they can. We adults know only too well that although many will hope to be called few will ever be chosen. And that those few will shine brilliantly in the heavens for but a few years before lapsing into obscurity for ever.

But while they shine they will dazzle us all with the sheer elegance, the almost balletic beauty, of their playing.
Yes, let the little ones dream. We adults will think instead about how to get the balls out of the church’s gutters without breaking our necks.

___________________________

France wins World Cup: https://indianexpress.com/article/fifa/fifa-world-cup-2018-winner-is-france-5260828/
Children playing in a park: https://www.delo.si/druzba/panorama/prehrana-za-vase-mlade-olimpijske-upe.html
Cuban children playing in the street: https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-cuban-children-playing-soccer-or-football-in-the-street-in-havana-138416743.html
S. African children playing football: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x202z1v
Cambodian children playing football: http://sydney.edu.au/news/482.html?newsstoryid=10712
Diego Maradona dribbling: https://www.storypick.com/41-iconic-football-photos/
Rooney’s scissors kicks: https://www.storypick.com/41-iconic-football-photos/
Header: https://www.mensjournal.com/sports/soccer-heads-13-best-header-goals-all-time/

BUTTERFLIES

Milan, 8 February 2019

If your mother tongue happens to be a European language, one of the things which always happens when you learn another European language is that you begin to see words very similar to those in your mother tongue used to describe the same object: “well how about that, the German word for cow is kuh” or “whaddaya know, the French word for quay is quai”. In some cases, like for the word quay, the similarity is caused by straight borrowing: “the French call this new thing they build these days a quai, so let’s call it the same”. But in other cases, experts believe the similarities point to deeper connections between European languages, as in the case of cow and kuh. And these connections span languages from Ireland in the west to northern India in the east, the family of so-called Indo-European languages.

I won’t go into the details of how experts believe the Indo-European languages developed and spread, fascinating as they are. Suffice to say that in Europe we now have three major families of languages – the Romance, Germanic, and Slavic languages – one minor family of languages – the Celtic languages – and a number of loners – Albanian and Armenian (there are also a few non-Indo-European languages, like Hungarian and Finnish).
A lot of basic words – words that our ancestors would have used thousands of years ago – have remained quite constant across different European languages. Look at “cat” in this table, for instance.
Pretty much every European language has got the same word. The two languages out of step here are Serbo-Croat and Romanian, which seem to have gone off together in another direction.

And how about that other friend of us human beings, the dog? (or hound, using the somewhat old-fashioned English name for it – Elvis Presley reminds us of their connection in his inimitable song “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound-dog”)
We see in this case how the words fall very clearly into their Romance, Germanic, Slavic, and Celtic clusters. I think, though, that linguists would tell us that there is actually an underlying connection between the Germanic cluster and the Romance and Celtic clusters, in that the “k” sound being used in the Romance and Celtic languages can slide into the “h” sound used in the Germanic languages. They might even tell us that by some strange alchemy of linguistics the Slavic root word was also connected long ago with their Germanic, Romance and Celtic colleagues.

The same clustering holds for the word “cow” I mentioned at the beginning.
In this case, the Celtic languages seem the odd ones out, although I suspect their root is another term for cow, the one we have in the English word “bovine”. The Romance languages, which superficially also look different, probably connect with the others – I would say that somewhere along the line, someone added a “va” to the “ca” sound.

I could go on at great length, giving other examples, but I don’t want to bore my readers and, anyway, these examples are enough to discuss the real subject of this post: butterflies.

All my meditating on the similarities which one finds across European languages was set off when my wife and I walked by the Butterfly House in Vienna a week or so ago – beautiful place, by the way; an old greenhouse from Vienna’s Art Nouveau days
whose space has been transformed into a home for butterflies.
On the door, in large lettering, was written Schmetterling Haus, Butterfly House in German. Readers will immediately see the house-haus connection. But butterfly-schmetterling? And then I thought of the equivalent words in French and Italian: papillon and farfalla. No noticeable connection between any of the four. This table shows the larger picture, with other languages thrown in.
Hardly any connections anywhere!

How was that possible, I wondered? It’s not as if we humans have just recently discovered butterflies. They fluttered around our ancestors living on the Pontic-Caspian steppes, where the experts believe the original Indo-European language was created some 5,000 years ago. Here is one such butterfly whose range covers that part of the world, the Parnassius apollo.
Surely they gave these creatures a name?

Butterflies such as this Orange Oak Leaf were also there to welcome the arrival of Indo-Europeans in India
as was this Peacock when they arrived in in Ireland
and indeed in every place in between. Surely, when our Indo-European ancestors saw new butterflies, they didn’t say “Oh look, it’s those thingies again!”

Pondering about this, I have arrived at a theory. It is based on the assumption that in those far-off days (actually not so far-off for many of our ancestors) we humans were supremely utilitarian, viewing the world around us primarily in terms of what material value it brought to us. Under these conditions, my theory says that words stayed the same – they were conserved – if they were for things which we humans felt were really important, which added value to our lives. And the animals I’ve given above as examples did indeed add great value to our lives: cats, to fight off rodents which otherwise invaded our food stores; dogs, as useful adjuncts to the hunt and to corralling those pesky cows, and for our defence; cows, as givers of milk, as givers of meat, as signals of wealth.

In this optic, butterflies brought us nothing, so our ancestors did not feel it was important to conserve their name. And so their name just drifted. At some point, though (my increasingly fanciful theorizing continues), butterflies began to be appreciated aesthetically, for their beauty alone. So butterflies began to be given fancy names:
– butterfly: “from butter + fly; perhaps from the cream or yellow colour of common species, or from an old belief that the insects stole butter”
– schmetterling: “from schmetten (cream) due to an old belief that witches transformed themselves into butterflies to steal cream and other milk products”
–  mariposa: “the union of Maria and posate, perhaps from a children’s song”
– babochka: “seems to be a diminutive of baba ‘(old) woman,’ a doublet of babushka ‘grandmother’—a fact that seems to strengthen the alleged connection between witches and butterflies”
– glöyn byw: “literally ‘living coal’
And on and on … I think readers get the picture.

At some point, the artists weighed in, especially the still life painters who liked to decorate their fruit and vegetable compositions with beautiful butterflies.

Van Gogh later put butterflies in their more natural habitat, as in this Long Grass with Butterflies:
The poets also weighed in. For instance, we have William Wordsworth’s poem To a Butterfly:

I’ve watched you now a full half-hour;
Self-poised upon that yellow flower
And, little Butterfly! indeed
I know not if you sleep or feed.
How motionless!–not frozen seas
More motionless! and then
What joy awaits you, when the breeze
Hath found you out among the trees,
And calls you forth again!

This plot of orchard-ground is ours;
My trees they are, my Sister’s flowers;
Here rest your wings when they are weary;
Here lodge as in a sanctuary!
Come often to us, fear no wrong;
Sit near us on the bough!
We’ll talk of sunshine and of song,
And summer days, when we were young;
Sweet childish days, that were as long
As twenty days are now.

Or Emily Dickinson’s From Cocoon forth a Butterfly, one of many poems she wrote about butterflies:

From Cocoon forth a Butterfly
As Lady from her Door
Emerged — a Summer Afternoon —
Repairing Everywhere —

Without Design — that I could trace
Except to stray abroad
On Miscellaneous Enterprise
The Clovers — understood —

Her pretty Parasol be seen
Contracting in a Field
Where Men made Hay —
Then struggling hard
With an opposing Cloud —

Where Parties — Phantom as Herself —
To Nowhere — seemed to go
In purposeless Circumference —
As ’twere a Tropic Show —

And notwithstanding Bee — that worked —
And Flower — that zealous blew —
This Audience of Idleness
Disdained them, from the Sky —

Till Sundown crept — a steady Tide —
And Men that made the Hay —
And Afternoon — and Butterfly —
Extinguished — in the Sea —

Or Robert Frost’s Blue-Butterfly Day:

It is blue-butterfly day here in spring,
And with these sky-flakes down in flurry on flurry
There is more unmixed color on the wing
Than flowers will show for days unless they hurry.

But these are flowers that fly and all but sing:
And now from having ridden out desire
They lie closed over in the wind and cling
Where wheels have freshly sliced the April mire.

Yes, all very beautiful …

But of course our ancestors didn’t know everything. Beautiful they may be, but butterflies add value to our planet. A number of plants need butterflies for their pollination (a process we humans didn’t understand until the early 19th Century). They are prey to some insects and in turn are predators for other insects, helping to keep everything in its natural balance. So its name should never have drifted, we Europeans should always have had one common name.

I guess this is yet another example of how our half-knowledge of the world around us is leading us to destroy it. I write this as butterfly numbers continue to drop precipitously, with pesticide use, changes in land use, climate change, and who knows what else decimating them. Just as an example, take the monarch, a lovely butterfly native to North America.
Its populations have plummeted by 90+% over just the last few years. It is facing extinction.

Will we ever learn, I wonder?

___________________________

Map of Indo-European languages: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-European_languages
Schmetterling Haus – exterior: http://farewell-owl.blogspot.com/2010/08/imperial-butterfly-house-vienna.html
Schmetterling Haus – interior: https://www.tripadvisor.it/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g190454-d591133-i80628931-Schmetterlinghaus-Vienna.html
Butterflies in Schmetterling Haus: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dainsk/5726792178
Parnassius apollo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_(butterfly)#Distribution_and_habitat
Orange oak leaf: http://indiasendangered.com/7-spectacular-butterflies-of-india-photos/
Peacock: http://butterflyconservation.ie/wp/
Jean Mortel, Still Life with Apricots, Grapes, Fig and Butterfly: https://www.pinterest.it/pin/291045194650938994/?lp=true
Laurens Craen, Still Life with a Lobster on a Pewter Plate, Lemons, Grapes, Apricots, Oysters and a Gold-Mounted Blue and White Porcelain Ewer, all on a Wooden Table Top with a Swallowtail Butterfly: http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2011/important-old-master-paintings-sculpture-n08712/lot.173.html
Vincent Van Gogh, Long Grass with Butterflies: https://theartstack.com/artist/vincent-van-gogh/long-grass-butterflies
Monarch butterfly: https://sovasgottalent.com/10931-pic-of-butterfly/now-pic-of-butterfly-new-jersey-s-key-role-in-the-monarch-migration-conserve-wildlife/