QUAFFING MEAD

Vienna, 18 August 2019

Back in April, I was up in Vienna to make a presentation at a workshop on ecodesign and its role in promoting circular economies. Fascinating topic, but what I actually want to write about is the fact that at this meeting I met an old contact of mine, Wolfgang, who many years ago had run a training programme for me on ecodesign in Sri Lanka. After the workshop, we repaired to a bar to catch up on the past 15 years or so over a beer. Wolfgang first told me all about what he’s been up to in the ecodesign world, but then added, “What’s really exciting me at the moment is my production of mead.”

Mead … I don’t know what visions this conjures up in my readers, but for me I immediately see Vikings wassailing the dark Nordic nights away, drinking mead out of horns or possibly the skulls of their enemies, and preparing for the battle of tomorrow where they will die heroically and go to Valhalla. These fine fellows will stand in nicely for such a scene.

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I had certainly never drunk the stuff myself; I didn’t know anyone made it anymore.

Thoroughly intrigued, I pressed Wolfgang for more information. As is the case with all enthusiasts, I didn’t have to press very hard. With a pint of beer inside him, he waxed lyrical on the subject. He had to start at the very beginning, with what mead is made from – I didn’t even know that. It’s a mixture of honey and water to which yeast is added to turn the sugars in the honey into alcohol. The relative ratios of honey to water will determine the level of sweetness of the final product. Sweetness can be further increased by the addition of fruits. On the other hand, the mix can be made dryer by adding astringent berries or herbs. Wolfgang was very dismissive about the modern trend of making sweet meads. In fact, he said, he started making mead because he was appalled at how horribly sweet most modern meads are, which in his opinion obliterates the wonderful underlying tastes of the honey. He decided he was going to swim against the current and make a dry mead. He had been at it for a couple of years, and was beginning to sell his product to other enthusiasts.

Well, this all sounded very interesting! I was definitely going to have to try this stuff. Unfortunately, I was going back down to Milan the next day. But we agreed that when my wife and I came up to Vienna for the summer, I would contact him and we would arrange a mead-tasting event.

In the meantime, down in Milan, I did some research. Mead, it turns out, is very ancient, probably the first alcoholic drink that human beings ever quaffed. It’s also a pretty universal drink. The tribes that settled Europe certainly all drank mead. I’ve already mentioned the Vikings. They loved mead so much, they wrote a whole saga about it – Kvasir and the Mead of Poetry. It’s a story that has dwarves, giants, the god Odin, thievery, murder, and various other bits and bobs. A shaggy dog story if ever I heard one, good to while away those long Nordic nights while quaffing mead. The bottom line of the saga is that mead can turn you into a poet or a scholar: a feeling that I’m sure all of us have had when we have drunk too much alcohol; a feeling we normally have just before we are sick or pass out, or both. And much of Beowulf, that Anglo-Saxon poem greatly revered by lovers of the English language, takes place in a mead hall; it was in these specially-built halls that Viking chieftains and their retinue of warriors drank mead, listened to long, long – long – sagas, and generally wassailed the nights away, before collapsing onto the benches or even onto the floor in a drunken stupor. Here is an artist’s representation of a mead hall.

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And here is an excellent summary of the first part of Beowulf: “The fantastical mead hall of Heorot forms an integral part of the epic Old English poem Beowulf, serving as both the setting and instigation of the action. It is the carousing of Heorot’s denizens as they slug back mead in the hall which awakens the terrible ire of the monster Grendel – with predictably gruesome results. The solution to the problem – in typical Old English style – was not to put down the mead horns and cease partying, but to slay the monster (and his mother) before throwing an even bigger and more mead-soaked party to celebrate.”

The Vikings may be the best known quaffers of mead, but the Celts were no slouches, and nor were the Germanic tribes. There is riddle-poem in the Exeter Book, a 10th-century anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry, about honey and mead. I quote the first couple of lines:

Ic eom weorð werum, wide funden,
brungen of bearwum ond of burghleoþum,
of denum ond of dunum. Dæges mec wægun
feþre on lifte, feredon mid liste …

But since I’m sure that 99.99% of my readers are like me not able to read Anglo-Saxon, I insert here a translation of the poem into modern English:

I am valuable to men, found widely,
brought from groves and from mountain slopes,
from valleys and from hills. By day, was I carried
by feathers up high, taken skillfully
under a sheltering roof. A man then washed me
in a container. Now I am a binder and a striker;
I bring a slave to the ground, sometimes an old churl.
Immediately he discovers, he who goes against me
and contends against my strength,
that he shall meet the ground with his back,
unless he ceases from his folly early;
deprived of his strength, loud of speech, his power bound,
he has no control over his mind, his feet, or his hands.
Ask what I am called, who thus binds slaves
to the earth with blows, by the light of day.

The Anglo-Saxons clearly recognized the power of mead to bring you crashing to the floor of the mead hall or any other establishment where you drank the stuff in excess.

The Slavs also drank the stuff – they still do, with Poland having an especially developed culture of mead drinking. We have here a painting of a couple of early 19th Century Polish noblemen enjoying a flagon of mead, a scene inspired by that great nationalist Polish poem, Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz. I don’t even bother with the Polish here, I just launch straight into an English translation, and cut out much of the saga-like talk between the two old men who are our subject:

Two old men sat outside the house, tankards
of strong mead resting on their knees; …
The old men drink their mead and dip their snuff
from a bark case, continuing their chat.
“Yes, yes, Protazy, it is true enough,”
said the Warden. “I can agree with that,”
replied Protazy the Apparitor.
“Yes,” they repeated in unison, “Yes,”
nodding their heads. …
…. The turf bench in the yard
on which they sat adjoined the kitchen wall;
from an open window, steam filled the air,
billowing like a conflagration. When all
the smoke was gone, a white chef‟s hat was there,
flitting like a dove. It was the Seneschal,
who stuck his head out through the kitchen window,
eavesdropping on this private conversation.
Finally, he handed them a plate with two
biscuits. “Have this cake with your libation,”
He said …

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It wasn’t just tribes in Europe’s north who drank mead. The Ancient Greeks drank it – I read that Dionysios was the God of mead before becoming the God of wine. Greek followers of Dionysios, and Roman followers of Bacchus (same God, different name), used to hold festivals – the Dionysia or Bacchanalia – where much drinking and dancing and cavorting about (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more) was the key. Here is a take on a Bacchanalia by Hendrik Balen (he did the figures) and Jan Breughel the Elder (he did the landscape), painted in about 1620.

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As I say, the Romans partook enthusiastically in Bacchanalia, but there were more sober Roman citizens who left us some serious commentary on mead. Here is my favourite, by the Roman naturalist Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella, who included a recipe for making mead in his tome on agriculture, De re rustica, which he wrote in about 60 CE (again, I skip the Latin and go straight into an English translation).

Take rainwater kept for several years, and mix a sextarius [ca. ½ litre] of this water with a [Roman] pound [ca. ⅓ kg] of honey. For a weaker mead, mix a sextarius of water with nine ounces [ca. ¼ kg] of honey. The whole is exposed to the sun for 40 days, and then left on a shelf near the fire. If you have no rain water, then boil spring water.

I am appalled and fascinated in equal measure by this idea that one could take several-year old rainwater and use it to make something to drink; I suppose this was a way of inoculating the honey-water mix with natural yeasts which somehow found their way into the rainwater. I presume Columella drank his own mead and survived, so it cannot have been as deadly as it sounds.

And it wasn’t just the Europeans who drank it. The Chinese did – in fact, the oldest archaeological evidence tentatively pointing to mead drinking has been found in China: some honey, rice, and fermentation residues found on the inside of a pot 9,000 years old. The Mandaya and Manobo people in the island of Mindanao in the Philippines still drink mead, which they call bais.

In Africa, the Xhosa in South Africa have an ancient tradition of drinking mead, or iQhilika in Xhosa, and the Ethiopians have been, and continue to be, enthusiastic drinkers of mead (or tej as it’s called locally). Here we have Ethiopians enjoying a wee dram of the stuff.

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And I love this picture, done in the traditional Ethiopian style, of what appears to be a priest and his acolytes getting ready to down some tej.

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What I find particularly delicious in this painting is that normally the figures in Ethiopian paintings are very solemn; no-one breaks into a smile. Yet here, at the thought of the pleasures to come, we see a hint of a smile on the acolytes’ faces (while the priest looks troubled, which is perhaps how it should be: “Guys, should we be doing this? What if someone sees me drinking this stuff? I have an important position in the community.”).

Even in the Americas mead was, and still is consumed. Prior to the Spanish conquest, the Maya made a drink called balché made by soaking the bark of a special tree in a honey-water mix and allowing it to ferment. Apparently, the Maya consumed balché in enema form to maximize its inebriating effect (just think if the Vikings had cottoned on to that …). For some reason, the Conquistadores banned the drink, but it never went away completely. Here is an Amerindian from the Chiapas region of Mexico making balché the old way: in a hollowed log, place the bark of the tree, add water and honey, cover and wait.
Balché may be making a comeback, although one of the reasons the Spaniards didn’t like it is that it smelled foul to them. They popularized a variant, xtabentún, which replaced the tree bark with anise (they also added rum, which makes the drink more of a liqueur).

In a way, it’s not surprising that mead is drunk in so many parts of the world. Honey, its basic ingredient, is to be found pretty much everywhere on this planet, as this map of the global distribution of the honeybee attests (the different colours refer to sub-species of the honeybee; the pinkish colour, the most dominant, gives the range for apis mellifera).

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For reasons that are not completely clear to me, the drinking of mead went into steep decline in Europe some time after the Middle Ages. Somehow, it got squeezed out by wine on one side and beer on the other. So now there are a few traditional hold-outs where mead never completely died out and enthusiasts like Wolfgang who are trying to bring mead back.

Coming back to Wolfgang, when June came around and my wife and I came up to Vienna for the summer, I contacted him. But one thing and another – he was away, then I was away; he was busy, then I was busy – meant that we weren’t able to arrange the mead tasting until last week. But it was finally arranged! Wolfgang keeps his mead in an old wine cellar in a small village outside Vienna, so we took a bus with him one evening and sallied forth. It was a lovely cellar, very deep, at the end of which he had a table with chairs where we sat down to do our mead tasting.
He got us some glasses and a bottle of his best mead.
He uncorked it, poured us a generous portion, and invited us to taste. We ceremonially picked up the glass, sniffed it, swirled it around, and took a sip.

It was … interesting. I think that’s the best I can say. I don’t know if readers can imagine this, but it tasted like honey without the sweet taste. What gets left behind if you take out the honey’s sweetness is a slightly acrid, slightly “waxy” taste. If any of my readers have ever nibbled at wax, that was the predominant taste of the mead.

The first mead we tried was made with honey where the bees had been feeding on the nectar from lime-tree (linden) flowers (I have waxed lyrical about the flower of the linden tree in a past post). We then tried a mead made with honey where the bees had feasted on rhododendron nectar up in the Alps. It was much clearer in colour, but the taste did not change much. As a finale, we tried a mead to which chokeberries had been added. These turned the mead’s colour redder and made the taste smokier – but it did not change the basic facts.
Well, we bought two bottles from Wolfgang. We felt we owed him that for the trouble he had gone to. We plan to take the bottles down to Milan, where we’ll try them on our son and see what he thinks.

In the meantime – but I have to hide this from Wolfgang – I think we should find some sweet mead to try. I feel that despite Wolfgang’s tut-tutting, people are not so wrong to drink their mead sweet. And that Ethiopian mead looks really interesting! I wonder if the Ethiopian restaurant we go to in Milan has any?

NON-WHITES IN BRITISH PAINTING – PART III

Venice Beach, 4 May 2019

Yesterday, by sheer happenstance, my wife and I took in an exhibition entitled “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983)” at the Broad museum in Los Angeles. In one section, this was written on the wall: “During this period, centering the Black figure – historically marginalized in Western painting – was radical. Many artists created powerful images of Black Americans, including portraits of writers, artists, and everyday people.” It is true that the non-whites in almost all the paintings I showed in the last two posts are not centre-stage. So as a follow-up to my last two posts, I have decided to do some centering of my own, extracting the portraits of non-whites which are to be found in Art UK’s database. Here is the result: not quite all the ones I found; I chose the best.

Head of a Man (? Ira Frederick Aldridge) (?c. 1827), by John Simpson (1782-1847). Photo credit: Tate. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence

Interesting fellow, Ira Frederick Aldridge, whose portrait this almost certainly is. An African American, he found himself constantly discriminated against as an actor in New York and so came to the UK in 1825. Thereafter, he had a very successful acting career, both in the UK as well as in the rest of Europe. There was of course a dearth of black characters in plays, so occasionally he took on roles as white European characters, for which he would be appropriately made up with greasepaint and wig. I love the idea: blackface in reverse …

After this, we have a number of portraits of anonymous people who sat as models.

Portrait of an African (c. 1861), by George Harrison (1840-1910). Photo credit: Royal Cambrian Academy of Art

Even though the model’s face is hidden in this next portrait, I thought of including it because it is the first portrait of a woman.

Female Figure Seated (1898), by Evelyn Cheston (1875-1929).  Photo credit: UCL Art Museum
Negro in White (c. 1922), by Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell (1887-1937). Photo credit: Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection (Dundee City Council)

The next portrait is the first I found of a South Asian.

Bapsybanoo, Marchioness of Winchester (c. 1930), by Augustus Edwin John (1878-1961). © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Royal Academy of Arts

Intriguing woman, Bapsybanoo Pavry. She was born in Bombay, daughter of a Parsi Zoroastrian “Head Priest”. She came to the UK at a young age, determined to use her great beauty (and presumably great riches) to break into high society. She was about 30 when Augustus John painted her portrait. 20 years later, aged 51, she managed what she thought was a great coup: she married the Marquess of Winchester. Admittedly, he was marrying for the third time, was 90 years old, impotent, and bankrupt. But he was la crème de la crème of British aristocracy. Alas! Within weeks of marrying her, he eloped with his former fiancée Eve Fleming, mother of Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame), first to Monte Carlo and then to the Bahamas. Bapsybanoo followed them there, but was reduced to pacing up and down in front of their house and shaking her fist at them. Of course, she became a figure of ridicule in British high society, who no doubt felt that this Indian parvenue had got what she deserved. She eventually returned to India and died in 1995.

Melita (1931), by Ronald Ossory Dunlop (1894-1973). © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Leeds Museums and Galleries
Head of a Negro (c. 1935), by Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937). Photo credit: Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

The artist who painted this last picture, Glyn Philpot, spent most of his career in the UK as a pretty conventional Edwardian portrait painter. Then in his last five years or so, he moved to Paris, his palette lightened and his style became more modern. He painted numerous paintings of people of African origin in this period, a good number of which are in Art UK’s database. This painting is of a young Jamaican, Henry Thomas, who was his lover.

I include the next painting, of Nurse Brown, to remind ourselves of the huge role non-whites played, and continue to play, in the UK’s health service. Although the painting is undated, I’m guessing it is from the immediate post-World War II period.

Nurse Brown (undated), by Irene Welburn (active 1936-55). © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage

I include the next two paintings because they intrigue me. They are both set in what we could consider an iconic UK context, Trafalgar Square. One shows three Indian women and the other Caribbean family in the square, with white families forming a background. I wonder what the artist was trying to tell us? That non-whites were now a part of the UK landscape?

Indian Women in Trafalgar Square, London (1950-62), by Harold Dearden (1888-1962). © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Museum of London
Caribbean Family in Trafalgar Square, London (1950-62), by Harold Dearden (1888-1962). © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Museum of London

Perhaps immigrants were becoming more visible. This next painting is actually entitled “The Immigrant”.

The Immigrant (1960-80), by George Hodgkinson (1914-1997). © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Tameside Museums and Galleries Service: The Astley Cheetham Art Collection
Ester Thuriappah (Indian Girl Wearing a Sari) (1964), by James Scott (b. 1920). © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Royal Ulster Academy Diploma Collection
Head of a Girl (1971), by Craigie Ronald John Aitchison (1926-2009). © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Rugby Art Gallery and Museum Art Collections
Negro Lady (1978), by Mary Kempson. © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Bassetlaw District Council

It’s in this period that we see the first non-white councillor, the first step on the political ladder. It is David Pitt, who was councillor, the first non-white councillor ever, and later chairman of the Greater London Council. He was later made a member of the House of Lords, the pinnacle, one might say, of the British political establishment.

David Thomas Pitt, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, Councillor and Chairman of the Greater London Council (1976), by Edward Irvine Halliday (1902-1984). © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: City of London Corporation

David Pitt tried twice to be elected as an MP. It seems that the British population was not ready for that. More or less overt racism seems to have been behind his loss both times.

As we enter the 1980s, the pace picks up, and non-white artists begin to make an appearance.

Head and Window (1984), by Andrew Stahl (b. 1954). © the artist. Photo credit: Leicestershire County Council Artworks Collection

As far as I can make out, this next painting is the first by a non-white artist in this series.

Man on a Horse (1987), by Gilford Brown. © the artist. Photo credit: Wellcome Collection
Chris Ofili (1989), by Susan Thomas. © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service
Figure and Rocket (1990), by Andrew Stahl (b. 1954). © the artist. Photo credit: Leicestershire County Council Artworks Collection
Wanting to Say I (before 1998), by Eugene Palmer (b. 1955). © the artist. Photo credit: The New Art Gallery Walsall
Woman’s Head (1991), by Patrick Martin (b. 1958). © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Leicestershire County Council Artworks Collection
Changing Face (1994-95), by Andrew Tift. © Andrew Tift. Photo credit: Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

This is the first portrait which I found of an Asian entering the political mainstream.

Nirmal Dhindsa Singh (1995), by Trevor Hodgkison (b. 1928). © the artist. Photo credit: Derby Museums Trust

This next portrait is the first in this series to celebrate a sportsman, in this case the boxer Randy Turpin. Interestingly enough, it was painted some 40 years after his triumphs and 30 years after his death: British Middleweight champion 1950-54, World Middleweight champion 1951 and 1953. Why did it take so long to get around to painting his portrait, I wonder? I rather suspect that Warwick Town Council rather tardily remembered one of its more famous local sons.

Randolf Adolphus Turpin (1995), by Gina Busby. © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Warwick Town Council

This next painting certainly brings back memories for me, of the corner shops that were suddenly being run by South Asians. But we’re talking of the 1970s, while this portrait was only painted in 2000.

Rajesh Patel, Shop Owner (2000), by Hans Schwarz (1922-2003). © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Girton College, University of Cambridge
Self Portrait (2000), by Barbara Walker (b. 1964). © the artist. Photo credit: The Collection: Art & Archaeology in Lincolnshire (Usher Gallery)

I rather like this next double portrait of mother and daughter. It captures beautifully the process of integration, from one generation to the next.

Muktaben Bhogaita and Daughter Alka (2001), by Alan Parker (b. 1965). © the artist. Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service

And here we arrive at the pinnacle the British political elites. Paul Boateng was able to be elected MP, he became the first non-white member of the Cabinet, and after a spell as High Commissioner to South Africa he became a member of the House of Lords.

Paul Boateng (2003), by Jonathan Yeo (b. 1970). © the artist. Photo credit: Parliamentary Art Collection

One other pinnacle has been scaled, first black woman MP. The honour goes to Diane Abbot, Labour MP.

Diane Abbott, MP (2004), by Stuart Pearson Wright (b. 1975). © Palace of Westminster. Photo credit: Parliamentary Art Collection

There is another elite, the military elite, which we have not had examples of yet. As of 2016, there wasn’t a single non-white in the British army’s top 133 positions. Perhaps it’s improved slightly since then although I doubt it. But there is also an elite of courage. Here, we have Johnson Beharry, who I believe is the first black British recipient of the Victoria Cross, the UK’s highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy. He won it during the Iraq war (there have been a good number of non-white recipients of the Victoria Cross, but they have all been Commonwealth troops).

Johnson Gideon Beharry (2006), by Emma Wesley (b. 1979). © National Portrait Gallery, London. Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery, London

As for the future, let’s give space to the kids!

Jaida (2008), by Rhiannon Fraser (b. 1986). © the artist. Photo credit: Charnwood Borough Art Collection
The Traveller (2008), by Valery Koroshilov (b. 1961). © the artist. Photo credit: The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust

NON-WHITES IN BRITISH PAINTINGS – PART II

Venice Beach, 2 May 2019

In this post, I’ll continue looking at how non-white people were represented in British art, covering the period from the early 1800s, which more or less coincides with the formal abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire, to the present day. I want to focus on group paintings, that is, paintings where a number of people are present, because I feel that these more than anything else tell us how much non-white people were “visible” in society; if the paintings show them, it means that the painters – presumably as a reflection of those who commissioned the paintings – noticed that non-white people were present in British society. These types of paintings also show the “power relationships” between the people in the paintings. In the previous post, for example, I showed mostly group paintings, where the non-white participants – young black pages for the most part – were clearly in a subsidiary position to the whites in the painting. When do the paintings in Art UK’s database show that these power relations change, and how do they change?

In the previous post, the last of the group paintings with a non-white person in it was from 1794.  There is then a big gap in the Art UK database; the next group painting in which I identified some non-whites was from 1875, some 80 years later. They were in what I would call a society painting entitled “Hush!”.

Hush! (1875), by James Tissot (1836-1902). Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence

The sharp-eyed reader will notice two Indians sitting on the sofa to the right. From their dress (and the fact that they were even at this type of high-society gathering), they must have been high-class Indians, Maharajahs or such-like. Like the little black pages of the previous post, they were no doubt an exotic addition to the gathering, but their presence in the UK also suggests that they were presumably part of the British elite’s attempts, throughout the Empire, of co-opting the traditional ruling classes of the colonised countries and turning them into philo-Britishers. There is a similar painting in Art UK’s database, from some forty years later – similar in the sense of celebrating a high-society occasion and including a sprinkling of ethnic exotica. It is a painting celebrating a formal luncheon in London’s Guildhall in honour of King George V’s coronation.

The Coronation Luncheon to King George V and Queen Mary in the Guildhall, London, 29 June 1911 by Solomon Joseph Solomon (1860-1927). Photo credit: City of London Corporation. Distributed under a CC BY-NC licence

Straining a bit, readers can see a group of Indian grandees, dressed in their colourful ethnic costumes, to the left and towards the back (of course). I presume they are there to remind readers that ever since Queen Victoria British monarchs had appropriated to themselves the title of Emperors of India; the Indian grandees were there, then, to celebrate “their” Emperor.

What about group paintings of normal people? Well, the very first I could find after the “black page period” is this one, from 1880 – once again, some 80 to 90 years after the “black page period” petered out.

Friends in Adversity, Christmas Day at the Dreadnought Hospital, Greenwich (Coming Down to Dinner) (1880), by John Charles Dollman (1851-1934). Photo credit: Nottingham City Museums. Distributed under a CC BY-NC licence

This is actually a very intriguing painting, since it positively bursts with ethnic pluralism. Three of the main figures – the old man, the man with an injured arm, and the boy – are white, but the young man on whom the old man is leaning is Middle Eastern, while immediately behind the injured man are an East Asian man and an African, there is another African on the second flight of stairs on the top left, while some of the other characters at the back could also be of Middle Eastern or South Asian origin. Of course, the artist is stressing the Christmas angel’s message of “On earth, peace and goodwill to all men” but I cannot believe that he merely invented this ethnic diversity. I have to think that this Old Sailors’ Home in Greenwich really did look after sailors with very diverse ethnic backgrounds. As I highlighted in the previous post, life on the high seas seems to have been a place where ethnic diversity was common.

Thereafter, there is another gap of 90 years in Art UK’s database until I find the next group painting with a non-white person in it. This painting is from 1971. By this time, the immigration of non-whites into the UK to fill low-class jobs that white British people didn’t want to take anymore or to fill gaps in the growing labour market had been going on for some 20 years. The West Indians first started to arrive in the 1950s, followed by the South Asians (Indians and Pakistanis) in the 1960s and ’70s. This particular painting is not very flattering, as it turns out.

Salon (1971), by Richard Parsons (1925-2000). © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum

It seems sad that the first group painting with non-whites in it that I could find in the modern, post-War, post British Empire era should be about prostitution. But perhaps it is an apt if somewhat harsh descriptor of the position in British society of non-whites at the time. And perhaps it continues to reflect the old idea of non-whites as exotic: the exotic is a popular selling point in the sex trade.

Thereafter, things get more normal. In 1985, for instance, we have this painting of a South Asian family walking down a road, with a white couple behind them.

Lady in Red (1985) by Rosemary Gabrielle Davies (1922-2016). © the artist. Photo credit: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

It is a scene showing equality among the painting’s participants – although perhaps the artist, in having the adults in the South Asian family wearing traditional dress and the children in “British” dress, is making a point about integration? I certainly see integration as the issue in this next, undated, painting by the same artist.

Children on a Slide (undated), by Rosemary Gabrielle Davies. © the artist. Photo credit: Alexandra Hospital

White children are using the slide. The South Asian children are looking on. Do they want to go on the slide? Is the little fair-haired girl at the bottom of the slide inviting the smaller South Asian girl to join in? What about the mother? Is she urging her children to get on the slide?

As we get into the 1990s, the presence of different ethnicities in the UK becomes more recognized in Art UK’s database. For instance, we have this painting from 1990 shows the mix of ethnicities in football.

Pride of the Nation (1990), by Stuart J.C. Avery. © the artist. Photo credit: National Football Museum

This painting from 1992 (which I’ve used in an earlier post) gives an example of different ethnicities in the workplace.

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

While this painting from 1993 (also used in a past post) comments on the lack of work affecting all ethnicities.

Unemployment on Merseyside: Campaigning for the Right to Work (1993), by Michael Patrick Jones. © the artist. Photo credit: Museum of Liverpool

This next two paintings show the presence of different ethnicities in the political process. This painting, from 1993-94, shows what we might call the politics of the street.

History Painting (1993-94), by John Bartlett. © the artist. Photo credit: Museum of London

While this painting, from 1993, gives a view of the more formal political process.

Council Chambers (1993), by Peter Bunney. © Leicester City Council. Photo credit: Leicester Town Hall

I suppose this last painting represents a key moment in the integration of non-whites into British society. I started this series of posts with paintings from the mid 1600s to the early 1800s where non-whites were clearly in a subordinate – actually, a subjugated – position. This painting shows that by the 1990s non-whites were entering the British elites. It is not enough to have racial integration “on the street”, as this next painting from 2001 would suggest.

Comic Strip (2001), by P.J. Crook. © the artist / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Leicestershire County Council Artworks Collection

Only when non-whites are consistently present at the elite levels, as suggested by this 2008 painting, can one say that racial integration is truly occurring.

Royal Free Consultants (2008), by Bill Butcher; Royal Free Hospital

It has certainly been a long journey from subjugation to equality for non-whites in the UK. After a presence as slave-servants in the mid-1600s to early 1800s, non-whites disappear from British art, apart from brief appearances as upper-class exotica, until the 1970s. Thereafter, their presence becomes more felt and a steady progression up the social ladder is apparent. The process is not yet complete; it would be nice, for instance, in the last painting to have more non-whites in the front rows rather than finding them all in the back rows. But it is happening, which is heartening.

NON-WHITES IN BRITISH PAINTINGS – PART I

Venice Beach, 1 May 2019

Several weeks ago, I read about an exhibition opening at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Titled “Black Models: From Géricault to Matisse”, its purpose is, according to the Guardian where I read the article, to “tackle the depiction of black and mixed-race people in French art from the country’s final abolition of slavery in 1848 until the 1950s.” One of the paintings in the exhibition, for instance, is Manet’s “Olympia”, showing the said Olympia, a courtesan (or high-end prostitute in today’s parlance), naked on her bed and being attended by a black servant.

source

The painting has been renamed “Laure” for the exhibition, after the name of the black model who posed for the servant in the background. The exhibition renames several other paintings where the curators managed to discover the name of the black person in the painting. Once more from the Guardian article: “the influence of people of colour has been eclipsed from art history by racism and stereotyping, Murrell [one of the exhibition’s curators] said. Instead their identities were hidden behind “unnecessary racial references” such as negress or mixed-race “mulatresse” – which comes from the French word for mule.” For any readers who are interested in this exhibition, here is the link.

After reading the article, it occurred to me that I could use the data base of Art UK, which I used for a different purpose several posts ago, to carry out the same sort of study: see how non-white folk have been represented in British art over the centuries. Just a quick explanation to those readers who are not familiar with Art UK: it is a pictorial data base of all the pieces of art held by the UK’s public bodies. For those interested in perusing it, this is the link. I would imagine that it is probably a statistically valid sample of the art which has been created in the UK ever since painting started in the country.

Just as I did in my previous foray into Art UK’s data base, I will spread my results over several posts, each with a somewhat different subject. This post will cover the period from the very first representations of non-white people in British paintings until the end of the 18th century, beginning of the 19th. I choose to end it there because in 1772 there was a famous case in England, Somerset vs. Stewart, which in effect concluded that slavery was not allowed under law in England, while in 1833 Parliament passed a law banning slavery throughout the British Empire.

The earliest British painting I found with a non-white person in it is this one. It depicts a certain Lady Tollemache being served by a young black page.

Elizabeth Murray, Lady Tollemache, Later Countess of Dysart and Duchess of Lauderdale with a Black Servant (1651) by Peter Lely (1618-1680). Photo credit: National Trust Images

If one was rich, it must have been quite the thing to have a little black page in one’s household to show off to one’s friends. A number of such paintings are to be found in the Art UK data base, stretching from 1651 to 1740. I don’t think those dates are a coincidence. 1651 is about when there was a large increase in the transatlantic slave trade to feed the sugar plantations in the Caribbean. Many English landowners had important economic interests in these plantations, while English ships – in which, again, landowners had interests – began to dominate the slave trade. It would therefore have been increasingly normal for rich and important families to be involved with black slaves. It is but a small step from this to start thinking that it would be cute to have a black child as your slave-servant. At the other end of this period, 1740 marks the time when abolitionists were becoming increasingly vocal and when it became “not done” to be so visibly seen as involved with black slaves.

The next painting of this type is from about 1660 and is of a certain Elizabeth Risby and her son, being served by both a black page and a maidservant who also looks non-white.

Elizabeth Risby, with John (c. 1660), Anglo/Flemish school. Photo credit: St Edmundsbury Museums. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence

Quite what the ethnicity of the maidservant is, is not clear. I wonder if she was not the companion to the manservant in this next painting, also of Elizabeth Risby but this time with her daughter.

Elizabeth Risby, with Elizabeth (c. 1660), Anglo/Flemish school. Photo credit: St Edmundsbury Museums. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence

Given the date of the painting and the manservant’s hair style, I wonder if he, and therefore she, were not Native Americans, signaling perhaps that either Elizabeth or her husband had lands (and slaves) both in the Caribbean and in the American colonies.

From some 40 years later, 1695, we have this painting of the 3rd Earl of Chesterfield and his family, being served once again by a black page.

Philip Stanhope, 3rd Earl of Chesterfield, with His Wife, Lady Elizabeth Savile, Children and Nubian Slave (c. 1695), British (English) School. Photo credit: Barnsley Arts, Museums and Archives Service

It is interesting to see in this last painting the presence of some exotic bird (a parrot? a cockatoo?), something which you also see in the second of the two paintings of Elizabeth Risby and see again in the painting below of Lady Grace Carteret. I wonder if that puts black pages into the category of exotica, with the families using these paintings to show off all the exotic things they owned?

The next painting, from 1711, is a portrait of Sir John Chardin, a Frenchman. He travelled to Persia and the Near East and wrote learned tomes about these places. He was also a Protestant, who emigrated to the UK because of the persecution of Protestants in France. That experience of persecution didn’t stop him from taking part in the persecution of enslaved Africans, though.

Sir John Chardin (1711), British School. Photo credit: The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

This next painting of Lady Grace Carteret, from 1740, is the last I could find of this type.

Lady Grace Carteret, Countess of Dysart with a Child, and a Black Servant, Cockatoo and Spaniel (c. 1740) by John Giles Eccardt (1720-1779). Photo credit: National Trust Images

Apparently, it wasn’t just the aristocracy and the landed gentry who had young black slave-servants. I found one painting of a doctor who is letting the blood from a patient’s arm and whose assistant is a young black boy.

A Surgeon and His Black Slave Letting Blood from a Lady’s Arm (1750-1790), British (English) school. Photo credit: Wellcome Collection

For the sake of completeness, I should say that it wasn’t just black children who were taken on as servants. I’ve already shown one example in the second of the two paintings of Elizabeth Risby. In the Art UK database, there are two other examples of children of other ethnicities being taken on as servants. One is of a certain Colonel Blair and his family. Colonel Blair worked for the East India Company and commanded a brigade at one of the early battles through which the UK eventually took over India.

Colonel Blair with his Family and an Indian Ayah (1768), by Johann Zoffany (1733-1810). Photo credit: Tate. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence

The painting’s title suggests that the little Indian girl in the painting is an ayah, a maid or nursemaid. She looks too young to be either; perhaps she played the same role as the black pages, a cute little addition to the family belongings which also allowed the Blairs to signal to the viewer their connection with India.

The other is of a Lady Staunton and her son George, with a Chinese servant lurking in the background.

Lady Staunton with Her Son George Thomas Staunton and a Chinese Servant (1794), by John Hoppner (1758-1810).  Photo credit: School of Oriental and African Studies

This picture was painted a year after her 12 year old son George had come back from China. George had accompanied his father, who was Secretary on Lord Macartney’s mission to the Chinese imperial court. Macartney’s instructions were to wrest trade concessions from the Emperor, which he signally failed to achieve (I’ve mentioned the diplomatic spat about whether or not Lord Macartney should kowtow to the Emperor in an earlier post). Presumably, George’s father, Sir George Staunton, got himself a young Chinese servant while in China and had him inserted into the painting to show off his connection with that country.

Coming back to the black pages, assuming that the idea of having one was that it was cute, like having a parrot, what happened to these black pages when they grew up and lost their cuteness?

From what I can gather from the painterly record in Art UK’s database, it seems that some of them at least continued on as servants of one kind or another to the rich folk. We have, for instance, this painting by William Hogarth of an aristocratic captain in the Navy, who has, among other appurtenances, a black servant ringing what looks like a dinner gong – or is he giving the beat to the fellow singing?

Captain Lord George Graham in His Cabin (c. 1745), by William Hogarth (1697-1764). Photo credit: National Maritime Museum

We have this painting by Jacopo Amigoni, an Italian painter who spent some ten years in London, of three gentlemen whose precise relationship to each other is not clear to me. In any event, the painting-within-the painting of one of the three is being held up by a black adult servant.

James Howe, Benjamin Tilden and Richard John Thompson (1729-39), by Jacopo Amigoni (c. 1682-1752). Photo credit: York Museums Trust

We have a painting of Baron Nagell’s running footman. The Baron was the Dutch Ambassador to England, while according to Art UK’s entry on this painting “a running footman could be expected to serve as a messenger and to accompany his employer’s coach”. I presume the poor man had to run alongside the coach.

Baron Nagell’s Running Footman (c. 1795), by Ozias Humphry (1742-1810). Photo credit: Tate

Servants to the rich does not seem to have been the only niche that Black slaves or ex-slaves filled. Art UK’s database throws up a few other examples. This next painting suggests that Blacks worked in taverns or inns or maybe even brothels (given that he is trying to attract a soldier), presumably as servants to their owners.

Wallis, George; The Fall of Napoleon (1836), by George Wallis (1811-1891). Photo credit: Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage

The sea also seems to have been a home for Black people. A recent article in the Guardian suggests that already in Tudor times (so 200 or so years before the period we are considering here), foreigners – specifically, North Africans – were present among the sailors in the English fleet. This sympathetic drawing of a Black sailor – the first of our subjects whose name we know: Thomas Williams – suggests that Black men found a profession at sea. Probably, the British Navy, always short of men (we remember stories of the press gangs roaming the countryside and kidnapping men for the Navy), was quite happy to take on Black men in their crews.

Thomas Williams, a Black Sailor (1815), by John Downman (1750-1824). Photo credit: Tate

I think what this next painting is telling us is that Black sailors also took part in the smuggling that was chronic along the UK’s coasts.

Smugglers Alarmed (c. 1830), by John Prescott Knight (1803-1881). Photo credit: Staffordshire Heritage & Arts. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence

I suspect the next one tells us that some Black sailors, like all sailors, were mutilated at sea, either by cannon fire or in some other way.

The Negro Boat Builder (c. 1850), by William Parrot (1813-after 1891). Photo credit: Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries

It seems appropriate at this point to insert what is thought to be the portrait of Ignatius Sancho, the second black person in all these paintings for whom we have a name.

Portrait of an African (probably Ignatius Sancho) (1757-60), attributed to Allan Ramsay (1713-1784). Photo credit: Royal Albert Memorial Museum. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence

Ignatius Sancho was well known in his time. I think it instructive to cite a somewhat shortened version of his biography in Wikipedia:

“Charles Ignatius Sancho was born [in about 1729] on a slave ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean. His mother died not long after in the Spanish colony of New Granada. His father reportedly killed himself rather than live as a slave. Sancho’s owner took the young orphan, barely two years old, to England and gave him to three unmarried sisters in Greenwich, where he lived from ca. 1731 to 1749. John, Duke of Montagu, impressed by Sancho’s intellect, frankness, and his amiability, not only encouraged him to read, but also lent him books from his personal library. Sancho’s informal education made his lack of freedom in Greenwich unbearable, and he ran away to the Montagus in 1749. For two years until her death in 1751, Sancho worked as the butler for Mary, Duchess of Montagu, where he flourished by immersing himself in music, poetry, reading, and writing. At her death in 1751 he received an annuity of £30 and a year’s salary, which he quickly squandered.

During the 1760s Sancho married a West Indian woman, Ann Osborne. He became a devoted husband and father. They had seven children. Around the time of the birth of their third child, Sancho became a valet to George, Duke of Montagu, son-in-law of his earlier patron. He remained there until 1773.

In 1766, at the height of the debate about slavery, Sancho wrote to Laurence Sterne encouraging the famous writer to use his pen to lobby for the abolition of the slave trade. Laurence Sterne’s widely publicised response to Sancho’s letter became an integral part of 18th-century abolitionist literature. Following the publication of the Sancho-Sterne letters, Sancho became widely known as a man of letters.

In 1774 with help from Montagu, Sancho opened a greengrocers shop, offering merchandise such as tobacco, sugar and tea. These were goods then mostly produced by slaves. As shopkeeper Sancho enjoyed more time to socialise, correspond with his many friends, share his enjoyment of literature, and he attracted many people to his shop. He wrote and published a Theory of Music and two plays. As a financially independent male householder living in Westminster, he qualified to vote in the parliamentary elections of 1774 and 1780; he was the first person of African origin known to have voted in Britain. At this time he also wrote letters and in newspapers, under his own name and under the pseudonym “Africanus”. He supported the monarchy and British forces in the American Revolutionary War.

Ignatius Sancho died from the effects of gout in 1780. He was the first person of African descent known to be given an obituary in the British press. He gained fame in his time as “the extraordinary Negro”, and to eighteenth-century British abolitionists he became a symbol of the humanity of Africans and immorality of the slave trade. The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, edited and published two years after his death, is one of the earliest accounts of African slavery written in English by a former slave.

Sancho noted that despite being in Britain since the age of two he felt he was “only a lodger, and hardly that.” In other writings he describes: “Went by water – had a coach home – were gazed at – followed, etc. etc. – but not much abused.” On another occasion, he writes: “They stopped us in the town and most generously insulted us.””

His life encapsulates what a Black person could expect his or her life to be at this time in the UK. Although Sancho was unquestionably a man of great intellectual ability, he rose no higher than a greengrocer. Of course, in those times this was not the fate of Black people alone, it was generally true of any poor person: the top 1% controlled every important position. But what I find really chilling is his commentary on how Black persons were treated back then, almost as animals in a zoo. And of course, there was overt racism.

The debates that Sancho was involved in to abolish slavery were intensifying from the 1760s onward and no doubt were putting moral pressure on slave owners in the UK itself. This probably explains why the kinds of paintings I have shown up to now disappeared. It was “not done” anymore to own little black pages – or at least not to be painted with one at one’s side. They were replaced by paintings such as these criticizing slavery and the slave trade.

The Kneeling Slave, ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ (c. 1800), British (English) School. Photo credit: Bridgeman Images
Slave in Chains (c. 1820), British School. Photo credit: National Maritime Museum
Three Young Women Chained Together at the Neck (Enslaved?) are being Escorted along a Road by Two Men with Guns (Slave Traders?) (undated), by Caton Smith. Photo credit: Wellcome Collection

I add this last painting because it is the only one I found where black women were the subject.

The Capture of the Slaver ‘Formidable’ by HMS ‘Buzzard’, 17 December 1834 (after 1834), by William John Huggins (1781-1845). Photo credit: National Maritime Museum

In the next post, I’ll trace the presence of non-whites in UK art after slavery was formally abolished throughout the British Empire up until the present day.

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