Saturday, 25 January 2014

Godfrey Blount's gesso chest from 1897 to 2004

In June 2004 The Millinery Works Gallery held a selling exhibition presented by The Antique Trader which contained as exhibit no.54, after an Ernest Gimson chair, was:

"Godfrey Blount (Designer and maker): an oak green stained coffer with exposed dovetail construction, copper patinated gesso panel to the front and sides depicting Diana the Huntress. Circa 1894, 42.5in (108cm) high, 42.5in (108cm) wide and 17.75in (45cms) deep"

Godfrey Blount chest with panels of gesso
The chest appears to have changed very little from the photograph of it in The Artist ('The Only Perfect Art - Mr Godfrey Blount's work and some theories', September 1897).  

Godfrey Blount chest with panels of gesso,
The Artist, September 1897

Godfrey Blount chest with panels of gesso,
The Artist, September 1897

In the accompanying The Artist article, which does not explain the works pictured, Mabel Cox writes "Mr Blount maintains that the only fine art is the art which is useful, first in purely material matters – the making of pots, pans, and furniture, weaving and building – and that the only artist is he who, in the first place, is an artisan.  Only when we are satisfied with the beauty of these common things are we justified in pursuing art for art’s sake."

(A short note to say that I saw this chest on the auction site yesterday, it did ring a few vague bells, and I believe someone e-mailed me this auction link some time ago, it's probably lost somewhere in my inbox, and I think I forgot all about it.  Apologies if that was you!).

Friday, 24 January 2014

Gertrude Jekyll and the Haslemere Peasants - Old West Surrey Part 1

I found the Carthusian (April 1902) article on the Peasant Art exhibition at Charterhouse, Godalming (in my previous post) of particular interest as it mentioned that some of the 700 objects on display had been loaned by Gertrude Jekyll.  I have been wondering if there was a link between Jekyll and the Peasant Arts movement as there do seem to be some overlaps, and Jekyll's involvement in the Charterhouse exhibition is the closest link that I have found.  The exhibition had been organised by the Rev Gerald Davies who later sold his peasant art collection to the Peasant Arts Guild and it formed the basis of the Peasant Arts Museum on Kings Road, Haslemere.  The beginning of the museum is outlined in this post.

Cover of
Old West Surrey
Gertrude Jekyll, Longman, Green & Co., London, 1904
Jekyll the famous Victorian garden designer, also published a book in 1904 that touches on some of the Haslemere Peasant Arts themes.  Old West Surrey (Jekyll, Gertrude, Longmans, Green and Co, London, 1904) seeks to record the old way of life in the local area "so great and so many have been the changes within the last half-century, that I have thought it desirable to note, while it may yet be done, what I can remember of the ways and lives and habitations of the older people of the working class of the country In have in almost continuously ever since I was a very young child".  I am not clear whether this book is particularly well known or not.

Jekyll calls ‘West Surrey’ “the long chalk line of the Hog’s Back on the north, with its eastern prolongation beyond Guildford, and the Weald of Sussex to the south.

“We hardly ever go northward beyond the Hog’s Back, except of course in the train which does not count, and we do not go much down to the Weald.  We like to look out from our southward-facing hills and see right across the Weald to the long dim, blue-hazy line of the South Downs, and to know that beyond this is the sea, and then France, and the rest of the world.

"But we wander a long way east and west in the pleasant country of the sandy hills, from the still wild lands south of Dorking on the east, right away to Woolmer Forest and Gilbert White’s country in the west..

"When I was a child all this tract of country was undisocered; now alas! It is overrun.

Detail from the title page of
Old West Surrey
Gertrude Jekyll, Longman, Green & Co., London, 1904

"It is impossible to grudge others the enjoyment of its delights, and yet one cannot but regret that the fact of its being now thickly populated and much built over, has necessarily robbed it of its older charms of peace and retirement.

"Formerly, within a mile or two of one’s home it was a rare thing to see a stranger, and people’s lives went leisurely.  Now, the strain and throng and unceasing restlessness that have been induced by all kinds of competition, and by ease of communication, have invaded this quiet corner of the land.  In the older days, London might have been at a distance of two hundred miles.  Now one never can forget that it is at little more than an hour’s journey.”  

It is interesting that we are still about an hour away from London!  

“Common things of daily use, articles of furniture and ordinary household gear, that I remember in every cottage and farmhouse, have passed into the dealers’ hands, and are now sold as curiosities and antiquities.  Cottages, whose furniture and appointments had come through several generations, are now furnished with cheap pretentious articles, got up with veneer and varnish and shoddy material.  The floor is covered with oilcloth, the walls have a paper of shocking design, and are hung with cheap oleographs and tradesmen’s illustrated almanacs.

"This is the modern exchange for the solid furniture of pure material and excellent design, and for the other things of daily use – all the best possible for their varied purposes – that will presently be shown and described.”

Here Jekyll resonates many of the beliefs of the Haslemere Peasant Arts movement, and of Arthur Romney Green's solid wood furniture.  In the Preface, Jekyll thanks a number of people for helping her, this includes the Rev. Gerald S. Davies.  

from Jekyll, Gertrude, Old West Surrey, Longman, Green & Co., London, 1904

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Peasant Art Exhibition, Charterhouse 1902 continued

Following on from my previous post, the rest of The Carthusian article (April 1902) on the Peasant Art exhibition explains the exhibits from various countries in some detail.  Of particular interest is the later reference to the "work of the looms and of the needle".

I wonder how many of the items displayed in this 1902 exhibition became part of the peasant art collection bought from Rev. Gerald Davies, which was then displayed at the Peasant Art Museum on Kings Road, Haslemere until it transferred to the Haslemere Educational Museum.

"The wooden objects came principally from the Northern and especially the Scandinavian Countries of Europe; without going too severely into a very interesting question it may briefly be said that Iceland, Norway (the Southern Parts) Sweden (Southern Parts) the Baltic Provinces of Russia and Germany, Denark, and Holland are the parts of Northern Europe in which this delightful fashion of decorating the objects of daily home life has chiefly prevailed.  Each country has it own special characteristics, discernible to a practised eye, though there is a general family resemblance.  The finest designs are perhaps those of Iceland; but Norway (especially the work from the Valleys of Gudhandsdal, Thelemooch and above all Scotersdal) may reasonably dispute the claim.  Holland, which had a very attractive table all to itself, at first sight is even more pleasing.  But a calm examination reveals the fact that its designs – admirable of their kind – are almost wholly confined to surface, or ‘chip’ carving as it is sometimes called.  And one feels instinctively that one cannot claim so high a place for it.

The silver work, especially that of Norway, is no less delightful than the woodwork.  Genuine peasant work this: - though as explained in a notice, not to be considered work made by a Peasant for his own use.  The nature of the case implies that it is made to be sold or bartered to other peasants.  But the peasant jewellers differ in no respect from their brother peasants.  They spend all their long summer days in getting in their hay, and laying in their store for their winter: they spend their long winter nights in making silver buttons and brooches, while the ordinary peasant can only carve you a mangle board, or hew you out a throne-like chair, or make you a wooden wassail bowl that might serve for the posset of a King.  Here again your peasant jeweller will give you a [piece of absolutely right and satisfactory design, which your manifico of Regent Street and Bond Street couldn’t do if he would, and wouldn’t do if he could.

Charterhouse School Museum, 1914
From the Photo Album of Josiah Denyer,
1914, Charterhouse School Archive, 0138

The handicraft of the women – the work of the looms and of the needle – is as unerringly right as that of the men.  The rugs woven in Norwegian sooters, on looms of the simplest character made of a few upright slabs of pine: the towellings worked in Russian hovels, and dyed with primitive vegetable dyes: the laces made in Bavarian pillows – all these are unconsciously wrought on the spirit of fine design, which all the Art Schools, and Technical Schools of England and the Continent, however well intentioned, are failing to achieve.

One of the most interesting features of the exhibition was the upright loom which Mr. J.W. Marshall had constructed on a Norwegian model, and upon which he had woven a few bands of stuff to show the mechanism.  This form of loom, still used in Norway and in India, and probably in many other places besides, is the very earliest form od loom known to mankind, having indeed, so far as can be ascertained, been used at ant rat as early as the Bronze Pre-historic age.  Those whose minds are not quite clear on the processes of spinning and weaving, - and we have heard it whispered that even the upper forms of a Public School have sometimes something to learn, - will probably have carried off an idea or two which was new to them.  The Exhibition had, indeed, a great deal to teach in all directions but it was not one which yielded up its secret so easily as some.  We cannot conclude without a reference to the work done by the Rev. G.S. Davies in connexion with this exhibition; it was no small undertaking to get together the various exhibits and to arrange them as he has done with his usual admirable taste and skill, and he is to be congratulated on the success which as attended his efforts."  

Charterhouse Museum, 1882
Charterhouse School Archive, 162/1/3.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Peasant Art Exhibition, Charterhouse 1902

The Carthusian, April 1902, reported on a Peasant Art Exhibition at Charterhouse, Godalming.  This is of interest as Gerald Davies, a Master at Charterhouse, sold his peasant art collection in 1908 to the Peasant Arts Guild, which then displayed the collection in Kings Road's Peasant Arts Museum and these items are now displayed in Haslemere Educational Museum.

The Carthusian's review of the museum displays a particular understanding of peasant art, and it is interesting to note that Gertrude Jekyll had loaned some of the items.

"Of the Loan Exhibitions which have been held in the Museum, the present is not the least remarkable – in some ways the most remarkable – though not so likely to appeal to the general taste as some which have gone before,’ for example the delightful Watts and Cecil Lawson Exhibition of a few years back.  If novelty goes for anything then so far as that goes, we suspect that there were four visitors to whom the Peasant Art of Europe was not almost entirely new.  

The 700 objects brought together in the Museum and Lecture Room were the loan of Mr. Girdlestone, Miss Gertrude Jekyll (our kind neighbour of ‘House and Garden’ fame) Mr. J. W. Marshall, Miss Moss, Mrs Robertson, and the Rev. G.S. Davies, and it is not too much to say that out of that large number of homely objects which came from the hand and brain of humble and uninstructed peasants between the years 1400 and 1902 there was scarcely one which did not repay examination.  Indeed the fault of the show was that it demanded rather too much from spectator.  

Amongst the designs were a large number of very great beauty, and it would not be easy to point to a bad one: - it would, we think, be quite impossible to point out even one in which the ornament interfered with the proclaimed use of the article or in which the ornament was rendered invisible while the article was being put to the proper use.  And here you have the very first cardinal principle of all applied art – a principle which is almost always violated by the amateur decorator; and even by the professional decorator who makes his goods to sell.  The peasant, happily untrammelled by any law of art, follows his healthy instinct and produces an object which is at once beautiful, sensible and honest..."

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