Sunday, 22 February 2015

Arlington House Museum, Speightstown, Barbados, West Indies


A Speightstown  Sunday Morning
(c) MissB

One of the first settlements and port with direct connections with London and Bristol, hence often referred to as Little Bristol.  The English arrived on the island in 1625 and by 1927 Speightstown was established and trading. The name originates from William Speight who owned the land upon which the town was built.

The Bowen Map of 1747 indicates the rise in prosperity of the area over the first 100 years. The map shown here is difficult to view in detail but you cannot miss the number of sugar plantations that create a 'fringe' around the coastline. You may also discern the five major ports defending the town from sea attack - Orange Fort, Denmark Fort, Coconut Fort, Haywards and Dover Port. Also just to confuse you the island is drawn South to North so is 'upside down' compared with the modern map. Speightstown can be found in the parish of St Peter.

The forts held off the forces of Cromwell under Admiral Sir George Ayscue in 1649, as Barbados remained loyal to Charles I. The outcome of the hard won freedom was the Charter of Barbados in 1652, which gave the island unusual rights and privileges mainly to protect their trade and to control the taxes levied on them from England.

View from South to North
For hundreds of years this bay would have been full of ships and boats
Although Bridgetown succeeded the West coast towns in prominence by late C18th, Speightstown remained an important trading port, especially during the era of the schooner, which was used  to transport sugar, goods and people backwards and forwards to the capital. It should be noted that it was by far the quickest route to Bridgetown, it was a long hard haul by road.

Wheel bases once used to carry heavy goods inland to jetty

Also noted as a whaling port in the early C19th. Eventually the harbour and jetties were becoming difficult to access due to the natural changes in the shoreline making access difficult, lighters were adopted to get goods to the schooners and ships until early 1970s.

The last pier
(c) MissB

Arlington House Museum

The Skinner family occupied Arlington House for 200 years their fortune grew out of their business as chandlers, supplying the ships and then the schooners. The family operated its own jetty and was also known to be involved in the whaling industry. Whale bones were in great demand as used in corsets, fashionable at the time. The whales came to spawn at the Northern tip of the island, so sadly easy prey.

Entrance to Arlington House Museum
Coral stone posts with corton steel frames holding old negatives from days gone by.
The crackle  was accidental caused by the sun  to good effect

The house is owned by the National Trust Barbados and considerable expense has produced an exceptional refurbishment of this typical early C18th Speightstown merchant house. Described as a 'single' house, in local parlance possibly meaning stand alone, three stories with a steeply pitched gable roof and dormer windows, note the 'shingle' (A rectangular wooden tile used on walls or roofs).  The house is long and narrow with a single room width of 22 feet and points from East to west. The verandah, (northwesterly) a particular feature of this town, offering respite from the tropical heat. This architectural style is said to have been copied and closely resembles houses in Charleston, South Carolina, which is entirely possible due to the trade between the West Indies and the Americas. Those who had traded in tobacco, indigo and cotton were forced to leave Barbados as sugar cane cultivation became the prominent crop, many left to found Charleston.

The Verandah
(c) MissB

The ground floor uses audio, film and photographs as tools to introduce the visitor to the business people of today, this is beautifully woven together with pictures and stories of yesteryear. The town may have declined in importance but the every day business continues.

Negative of Windmill and Sugar Mill

Go up to the first floor where you find 'Speightstown Memories'. Poles of pivoting postcards with words and pictures introduce you to the local luminaries and characters of days gone by. The floor covering is the Bowen Map of 1747. You can clearly see the importance of the area during the mid C18th, Sonia my guide, proudly pointed to the plantation that gave her her name 'Boyce'. In general the Bajans are pragmatic about their heritage and take great pride in their island home which includes its extraordinary and often brutal history.  There is also an audio visual of a local man, who recalls the last days of the schooners.

Speighstown balconies

You then move into a room called 'Plantation Memories'. It is dark and cool but you are channelled into the room by tall structures in green which represent sugar cane. An audio visual experience is used to introduce you to the story of the colonisation, sugar and slavery of the island. This is supplemented by interactive screens and static displays.  Sympathetic in its approach and provides an interesting visual discussion on abolition and it's impact on both slave owner and slave.

Still standing after all these years will just about

The visitor will notice the exposed brickwork as they move up to the next floor, bricks were used as ballast in the ships coming to and fro. They were also used to build the sugar mills and are now often found beneath your feet as decorative pathways. See blog post Bricks of Barbados.

The top floor is a positive gem, especially for children. It is created as a 'jetty' with a virtual sea around it. There is a ship's wheel which allows you to sail around the island and be a pirate! For the grown ups among us there is an excellent talk by Dr Karl Watson (his family owned the Pharmacy in Speightstown for several generations) charting the later history of the town and it's decline. Sadly this building is up for Sale by the Barbados National Trust.

'The Pharmacy' - needs saving!
(c) MissB

Many people visit the island for sun, sea and sand, they also return again, again and again! Hence my own reason for getting off the beach and into the history of the island with its close links to England and beyond.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends

Rehearsal of the Pasdeloup Orchestra at the Cirque d'Hiver
Oil on Canvas c. 1879-80
A rare depiction of contemporary city life

A major exhibition of one of the most celebrated portrait artists opened at the National Portrait Gallery on 12th February. I was thrilled to view this wonderful collection of portraits at a preview the previous day, a privilege, as it will be popular. I was pleased to enjoy the space to stand back and admire the collection without a crowd around.

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was born in Florence, to American parents, who loved to travel. An unusual upbringing for Singer Sargent and his sister, a never-ending Grand Tour, their school room the galleries of Europe, tutors the intellectuals of the culture rich salons. Sargent’s mother was keen on drawing and passed on her skills to her son. So it is no surprise that John Singer Sargent wanted to go to Paris to learn to draw and paint. Family friends encouraged him and this overcame his parent’s initial reluctance, his father had hoped for a career in the navy.

Sargent studied under Carolus-Duran, his atelier had some affinities with the Impressionists but his true hero was Velazquez.  You can see from the portraits exhibited that Sargent absorbed from his master some of those ideas; for example, figures emerging from darkness into light, and the way Velazquez built up the personality of the sitter and conveyed mood to such startling effect. This works wonderfully well with the informal and intimate way he has painted or sketched his friends and fellow artists. The exhibition also reiterates Sargent’s continued involvement and enjoyment with the cultural ethos of the period.

Carolus-Duran (1879) Paris Salon
With Kind Permission of the National Portrait Gallery
The exhibition is arranged by the places travelled from Paris, to the USA, Europe and London and back again between 1874 until 1914, with portraits, paintings and sketches of fellow artists, writers, poets, many becoming life-long friendships, with Monet, Keats, Robert Louis Stevenson and Ellen Terry.

William Butler Yeats 1908
Charcoal on Paper

Harley Granville Barker 1900
Charcoal on Paper

A most beautiful painting and perhaps one of that was most influential in launching his career, is Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (1885-6). The colour alone makes me sigh with pleasure. The luminosity of it, the lanterns, the distraction of the young girls, and that sense of twilight, you can almost smell the scent of the lilies and carnations floating over the whole scene. The idea for the painting was taken from a real life encounter whilst staying in the Cotswolds, and Sargent is likely to have been influenced by Monet’s sur le motif,  painting out of doors and recording the conditions of light at a particular time of day. It is so real and vivid to me, that I worry about the Lily pollen getting on those beautiful white smocks, it makes indelible stains!

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (1885-6)
Oil on Canvas
Not far from this painting is an oil of Claude Monet at work Claude Monet, Painting, by The Edge of the Wood (1885). Sargent was friends with Monet and this delightful painting was created in his company, doing exactly what Monet advocated, painting en plein air. Notice the application of the paint, swift and accurate in capturing the mood and essence of the day. Sargent often gave his sketches to his fellow artists as gifts, this one he kept for himself, as a special memento of his friendship with Monet, not surprised, it is delightful and most have held fond memories.

Claude Monet, Painting, by the Edge of the Wood (1885)
Oil on Canvas
As the title of the exhibition implies the works are of fellow artists and friends, some but only a few are commissions, that is why you will not find the full length portrait of Madame Gautreau exhibited as Madame X.  It caused such a ‘scandale ‘ at the 1884 Salon as the critics accused Sargent of portraying her ‘as an amoral and brazen woman’ and raising questions about her respectability. One wonders if it was Sargent or her husband, banker Pierre Gautreau who played the ‘agent provocateur’, or perhaps Madame herself?

Sargent left for England shortly after the exhibition, heading for calmer waters and in no time at all, a wave of commissions. The reason I mention an non-exhibited work at all, is it brings me to oil on panel of Judith Gautier. Sargent had met Judith Gautier while in Brittany painting Madame X. One wonders if he did not become infatuated with Judith, as he created a series of portraits of her in oil, watercolour, pen and ink wash and pencil. All non-commissioned works and presented to her as gifts. The backstory to this meeting is well worth following up, but now is not the place. The lady was a Writer, Orientalist, Musicologist and much else besides and although Sargent was only a young man of 27 they had much in common, including Wagner, Judith as his last lover, and Sargent’s love of his music.
La Carmencity (1890)
Oil on Canvas
By kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery

Sargent met some of the great celebrities of the time, drawn to their exotic looks, strong characters in life and on stage, their beauty and talented performances. This is well portrayed in La Carmencita (1890), a flamenco dancer, who looks ready spring into action at any moment..  Sargent captures her restless and exotic spirit.

We move on to the calm and elegant Ada Rehan, not in costume, but in dazzling shimmering satin; the Irish actress famous, for her role as Katherine, in Taming of the Shrew. A contrast to the costumed painting of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth across the room, a dazzling outfit and portrait befitting such a renowned actress. Shakespearian purists will realise that the crown is never placed on Lady Macbeth’s head in the text or performance, Sargent uses artistic licence to create a dramatic motif to express Ellen Terry’s great talent in performing this exacting role.

Ada Rehan (1894)
Oil on Canvas

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth
Oil on Canvas
At the Exposition Universelle held in Paris in 1889 Sargent was fascinated by the re-creation of a Javanese Village where a performance of a symbolic dance was enacted. A series of studies of the dancers came from this and he produced three life-size, full-length paintings. A Javanese Dancing Girl is a move away from the wealthy or aristocratic ladies and gents he usually painted. Can you see the third hand? Capturing the rhythmic flick of the wrist perhaps.

A Javanese Dancing Girl (1889)
Oil on Canvas
I have gone on long enough, the exhibition is now open and on until 25 May 2015. For those readers of mine in the US, the exhibition will go on tour to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York from 30th June – 4th October 2015.

The exhibition is curated by Richard Ormond CBE (John Singer Sargent was his great-uncle), and he is also the co-author of the catalogue raisonne Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends (price £40). 

There are several books on Sargent in the lovely bookshop and if you cannot stretch to the big book, I found a small one, The Age of Elegance Paintings of John Singer Sargent (£5.95). It features some of the paintings in the exhibition plus a neat little biography at the end.

At the preview talk given by Richard Ormond I had the pleasure of standing next to A N Wilson, you can hear his views on the exhibition on Front Row.

For those of you who cannot resist a peek at Madame Gautreau as Madame X, please see links below.

Group with Parasols (c1904-5)
With kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The Temple Church & Magna Carta

12th Annual Derek Melluish Lecture
Monday 2 February 2015

Photograph by MissB (c)

The Melluish Lecture is an important event in the City of London Guides' Calendar as well as an occasion which encourages the Masters of the Worshipful Companies to gather in great numbers. It was opportune that I had a meeting with one just before Evensong and was invited to join their number on the front row. 

The lecture is always held in a choice venue somewhere in the City, but The Temple will prove to be a hard act to follow. The site that started as an orchard was to bear the foundations of the Round of the Temple Church, in place by 1162. The Round also evokes two of the most scared buildings in medieval Christiandom, the other the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (the site of Jesus’ own burial). Awe inspiring and sublime, its essence is palpable.

Before the lecture we are invited to join together for Choral Evensong – Candlemas – The Presentation of Christ to the Temple. It was also the anniversary of the Consecration of the Round Church by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Candlemas 1185. This may not be of interest to anyone other than those of us immersed hopelessly in the joy of historical research but, Heraculius actually visited here, and walked the aisles.  

Fleet Street, The Temple (from Aggas Map 1563
(Old and New London 1897)

The congregation was seated in the chancel, which was built by the Templars as the burial-chapel of Henry III and his Queen and was consecrated in the King’s presence in 1219.

An excellent service with enthusiastic hymn singing led by the magnificent choir. The highlight was The Anthem, sung by the choir to music by Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676). So moving I sure there was not dry eye in the Church once the last note floated away.

(Picture  Old and New London 1897)

The service was taken by Reverend Robin Griffiths-Jones, Master of the Temple who was also giving the Lecture, no surprise as to the subject then, ‘The Temple and Magna Carta’.  William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke was one of the most powerful knights of King John’s reign, who had remained loyal to the King throughout the crisis of 1214-15. It was Marshal who ensured the sealing of the Magna Carta by the King. Marshal became regent to the boy-King Henry III and made sure that the powers bestowed to the country at large were upheld in 1216 and again 1217.  Henry III’s own re-issue of the Charter in 1225 ensured its survival for ever after.

William Marshal and his close friend Aymeric, Master of the Temple died within days of each other and were buried side by side in the Temple Church. The effigy of William still lies there next to his son and heir William Marshal II. The Victoria and Albert Museum have lent four C19th effigy-casts of the protagonists of the Magna Carta – King John, William Marshall,  William Marshall II and of Henry III. They are cast in bronze and show the ancient effigies before the damage inflicted in 1941.

(Old and New London 1897)

The lecture was brilliant, the Reverend Robin Griffiths-Jones deserves his own TV show. What a raconteur! He does of course know everything there is to know about his subject(s) and is highly entertaining in his delivery.  He also knew he could not get away without mentioning the ‘Da Vinci Code’ and its impact on the visitor numbers. As he said ‘How could he not be involved when people came in droves wanting questions answered about Jesus?’  The Reverend has also written a short but detailed book about all that is not 'quite right' with Dan Brown’s book.

I would recommend that you make a note to:
  • Visit The Temple Church soonest – Entry £5
  • Go to a service – Evensong
  • Buy the brochure and the book!
  • Attend any lecture that the Reverend Robin Griffiths-Jones may give
  • Pay to visit the church when the Reverend gives a tour
See the website for more details  There is also a detailed history on the site which is well worth a read.

The Round
Photograph taken by Miss B (c)