Out Of The Archive: A Favourite Piece Of Historical Sleuthing

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The family who lived in the Palais de Masena

Believe me, the family gathering depicted in these two murals has more tales to tell than most. They could be the very depiction of Tolstoy’s famous opening to the tragic novel Anna Karenina: (And I paraphrase) all happy families look alike, but the unhappy ones are unhappy in their own inimitable way.

The original post Nice Family? En famille at the Massena Palace continues HERE

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So what spurred me to discover more about these set-piece murals wherein members of an elite Nice family gaze at one another across a palace staircase? Silly question really. It was the mysteries that cropped up – once I paid them closer attention.

For instance why has the blue-bloused woman of the second mural adopted such a vulgarly aggressive stance when the keys hanging from her waist suggest she is mistress of the house, the chatelaine? And who is the droopy waif leaning on her shoulder?And why are so many people lurking, or peering between marble columns. And who is the lovely woman with the macaws and exotic tapestry; is the blue-bloused woman’s look of contempt from across the stairwell meant for her? But most of all, one has to wonder why this family would commission well known French artist François Flameng to show them in this way? Was he having a joke at their considerable expense?

The proposed explanations are in the original post so I won’t repeat them here. But I will tell you that the family members are all descended through intermarriage from three ordinary men, plain soldiers, Masséna, Murat and Ney who through courageous acts rose to prominence in Bonaparte’s army, were appointed Marshals of Empire and thereafter acquired all manner of riches and other grandiose titles.

But the reason this archive post is one is one of my favourites is because the sleuthing involved was so fascinating. I was astonished at how much could be gleaned from a few hours trawling the internet. It seemed like magic – lead after lead revealing a few more snippets about a world distant from me in time and space. And I thought then – this is the world wide web at its best; this is what its creator intended: to share knowledge and information; to open minds and eyes; to enthrall, educate and entertain in positive ways. It could still be like that, couldn’t it…I mean without the hate and fakery?

July Squares #19

The Blue Of Marc Chagall

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For me a stained glass window is a transparent partition between my heart and the heart of the world

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

Chagall was one of life’s shining stars. According to Wikipedia he is described by art critic Robert Hughes as a ‘quintessential Jewish artist’. Yet such a description is truly too confining for a creator who saw his work as ‘not a dream of one people, but of all humanity.’ To me, an unbeliever, his work speaks of spirit – the soaring, transcending best of us that comes with a wry but kindly smile and, above all, forgiveness (for ourselves and for others).

The stained glass in the photo comes from a window in the auditorium at the Musee National Marc Chagall on Cimiez Hill in Nice, one of the loveliest little art galleries of the world. The hill, too, is surely a place of creative hallowed ground: just up the road from Chagall is the wonderful Matisse museum. Both artists were magician-shamans, masters of colour, form and light – their works the manifestation of their spirit-journeys that ever invite us to rise to the occasion and follow.

Chagall was still working in his nineties, his last commissioned work (I’ve just discovered) is the north stained glass window of Chichester Cathedral in Sussex, England. I feel a pilgrimage coming on. In the meantime another detail of the Nice window:

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When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is.

Pablo Picasso

July Squares #2

Reflections Intentional And Accidental

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C-Curve by Anish Kapoor and reflective puddles courtesy of the rain god; photo taken several freezing Decembers ago in Kensington Gardens. You can spot the Farrells looking a bit stiff – centre twosome on the left.

Lens-Artists ~ Reflections  Patti set the challenge this week. Her fantastic photo of the Chicago Bean sculpture by Anish Kapoor reminded me that I had photos of his work too.

Turning Accident Into Artwork?

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I am not sure why he who lives in my house interfered with the washing machine hose, thus causing said machine to disgorge all over the utility room floor; and not once but twice due to the rinse and spin cycle. I think it was something to do with the fact that he had stored some of his bookbinding card on top of the washing machine, (he being in need of a flat surface that was relatively dust-free beneath the counter top) and earlier in the week was having a sort out in that vicinity, fishing out supplies that had slipped to the back, and thereby dislodging water exiting hose.

I was upstairs writing while all the repercussions of this earlier manoeuvre were happening, and so blissfully unaware of the downstairs flood. It was only as I was coming downstairs to get the washing out of the machine, that I heard loud exclamations from bookbinding man. ‘What on earth’s been going on in here,’ he says. I have no idea, I say, but I note the accusatory tone that suggests I might have been responsible for whatever it is.

By now I have reached the flooded utility room. Oh, no! I think. The washing machine’s given up the ghost after 18 years. But diagnosis will have to wait. First there is water mopping up to do. Luckily the floor is covered in quarry tiles so there is no particular damage done. The only casualties are the dustsheets that are kept under one of the cupboards. The downside is we don’t discover this till later, by which time they are very fusty.

In the meantime, after pulling out the washing machine from its slot, investigating its innards, the penny is beginning to drop in the mind of bookbinding man. ‘I think it’s my fault,’ he says meekly. ‘I must’ve dislodged the hose.’ Then he says brightly that at least it’s good to know we don’t need to buy a new washing machine, and that we also now have a very clean floor, even in the places where we don’t normally clean it.

The day is saved then, but for the washing and airing of dustsheets. And as the sun is shining I go out and take a washing line photo. Look! The garden is putting on a shadow play.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

 

Lens-Artists: Just for fun

Out of Chaos…

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Everyone knows chaos is the the starting point for creation. In Andy McKeown’s light show ‘Fractured Light’ chaos was the creation. It filled one of the cavernous warehouse floors of Ditherington Flax Mill in Shrewsbury. Multiple projections of coloured lights and Flax Mill images danced on the walls and cast-iron pillars of this eighteenth century prototype of the skyscraper.

I wrote about this historic building way back in 2013 when Friends of the Flax Mill were hosting an open day.  (See Pattern For The Skyscraper ).  The place is vast, and has stood empty for decades waiting for some clever scheme of ‘adaptive re-use’ that will make restoring the building viable. It has ghosts of course – of the many poor children who once provided ‘slave’ labour here. The light show, at least, lifted the spirits after we had toiled round dank, windowless chambers, and up narrow stairwells that reminded me of Tolkein’s Mines of Moria in Lord of the Rings. Luckily, we met no orcs.

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For some great exterior shots of the Flax Mill see Jude’s post for last week’s Thursday’s Special, and take a look at Andy McKeown LightWorks.

Daily Post Photo Challenge: Chaos

Bears In Central Park: Who Knew?

Group of Bears by Paul Manship (1889-1966)

There was wall to wall sun when we visited New York in early June a few years ago. In fact it was so hot we spent most of our week there in Central Park trying not to melt. But the full-on sun certainly lit up these magnificent bronze bears. They are affectionately known as ‘The Three Bears’, and may be found at the Pat Hoffman Friedman Playground at Fifth Avenue and 79th Street. The work was gifted to the Park by Samuel N. Friedman in memory of his wife – a fine dedication all round.

You can find out more about  Paul Manship (1885–1966) at this link.

 

Daily Post: Shine

‘Bench’ with a mission

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We’ve time and talents, not to be buried~

Plant a tree, and you give the future a present ~

 

Over at Travel Words’ Bench Series 44 Jude is charging us to find a bench with a message or an autumnal theme. This may not  be a bench as such, but it does have a message and a seasonal acorn. Also, along with the inspirational motto, it was designed to provide a perch and meeting point for the town’s passing visitors.

There are four more of these artworks-cum-tuffets sited around the perimeter of Much Wenlock’s Linden Field, the venue for the Wenlock Olympian Games since the 1850s. The works were created in 2012, the year in which the International Olympic Movement acknowledged Much Wenlock’s historical connection to the modern games by naming one of their one-eyed, androgynous mascots ‘Wenlock’.

Anyone remember he/she/it? Perhaps better not to. The mascots were apparently conceived by a committee, and delivered into the world by a company in Telford. The intention was well-meaning: not to make reference to an identifiable ethnicity, gender, or known human disability.

Here on home ground, members of our local William Penny Brookes Foundation decided to mark the town’s Olympics connection by commissioning community sculptor, Michael Johnson, to work with local school children, and Wenlock poet, Paul Francis. Their brief was to celebrate the life and work of the Wenlock Games’  founder, Dr. W P Brookes. If you click on the Michael Johnson link you can see the other four pieces. The designs on the bronze panels were derived from work by the town’s school children.

The frame is stainless steel with  stone side panels and bronze sections on top. Every tuffet has a piece of thought-provoking text, each one relating to William Penny Brookes’ major contributions to the town’s wellbeing.

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I love the idea of them, although I’m not too sure about the weathering capacity of the stone component. I just wish they were sited in places where more locals and visitors might see and appreciate them, and indeed sit on them for a spell: perhaps on the High Street, in the Square, on the Church Green opposite the doctor’s former home.

Anyway, this particular tuffet definitely has a mission to propose. Should you choose to accept it, please note, this tuffet will not self-destruct, but the world might be happier.

I’m thus leaving you with a view down the Linden Walk that borders the field and was planted by Dr. Brookes over a century ago. It is a joy to walk here whatever the weather, and whatever the season. So yes: more trees needed.

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We’ve time and talents, not to be buried~

Plant a tree, and you give the future a present ~

 

And here’s the answer, plus a bit of a scandal

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Earlier in the week I wondered what readers might make of this piece of public art, aka the ‘Shrewsbury Slinky’. Many of you picked up on the dinosaur bones, and the allusion to the double helix of DNA, both of which, we are told on the accompanying notice board, did indeed inform the thinking of the architectural designers, Pearce & Lal who conceived the structure. Some of you also guessed, or knew about the Charles Darwin connection.

Anyway, the work is called Quantum Leap, and as the explanatory board also states : “this geo-tectonic piece of sculpture has been designed through the influence of objects and materials central to the development of Darwin’s thought: rock, fossils, zoology…”

It was commissioned originally by Shrewsbury & Atcham Borough Council to commemorate the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth in 1809, and to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species , both events well worth celebrating. The original cost to the public was expected to be around £200,000. But somehow, between the concept and its physical manifestation, things went awry on the costing front. More of which in a moment.

First, though, here is the man himself, sitting in his armchair outside the old Shrewsbury School, where as a youth he was student boarder. This more traditional tribute in bronze was unveiled in 1897:

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Here you can see the 1897 unveiling. By then the prestigious Shrewsbury School had moved to larger premises across the River Severn, and Darwin’s old school become the town museum and reference library. This photograph is from the Shropshire Museums collection.

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I don’t suppose many know that Charles Darwin was a Shropshire lad, born and brought up in Shrewsbury. If we picture him anywhere at all it is probably voyaging around the world on HMS Beagle (1831-1836), surrounded by a myriad of fascinating specimens, or else lost in deepest thought, unpicking thorny issues on his Thinking Path at Down House, Kent where he lived with his family for the last forty years of his life.

The Darwin family lived on The Mount in Shrewsbury. Darwin’s father was a doctor and financier, and also a free thinker. Charles’ paternal grandfather was Erasmus Darwin, physician, natural philosopher, inventor and leading light of the Midlands Enlightenment. His maternal grandfather was Josiah Wedgwood, potter industrialist extraordinaire, and inventor. Both grandfathers were staunch slave trade abolitionists. Darwin thus grew up within the orbit of men for whom it was the norm to challenge and think outside the bounds of convention.

While his mother still lived, Charles and his siblings worshipped at Shrewsbury’s Unitarian Chapel. Charles also went to the preacher’s day school, and by an early age was already absorbed with his own natural history collections. But after Susannah Darwin’s death, Charles and his brother, Erasmus were sent off to board at Shrewsbury School. Later both would go to Edinburgh to study medicine, and Charles apparently spent the year of 1825 acting as apprentice to his father, and treating the poor people of Shropshire.

However, he found medicine dull, and seems to have spent his time in Edinburgh studying marine invertebrates and learning taxidermy from a freed slave called John Edmonstone, a man whose company he much enjoyed. An annoyed parent wisely chose not to press his son into the family profession, but sent him to Christ’s College Cambridge; he would get his degree and become an Anglican minister instead.

But once more Doctor Darwin’s plans for his son foundered. While at Cambridge, Charles continued to pursue his interest in natural history. When he graduated in 1831 he took the chance to embark on a ‘gap year’ to end all gap years, and set sail on HMS Beagle, travelling as the ship’s gentleman naturalist. The planned two year voyage turned into five. The rest, as they say, is history.

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And so back to Quantum Leap, a project that was indubitably inspired by the very best of intentions – to honour the life’s work of a native son. I’ve already mentioned the unsuitable setting, in a cramped little garden between the River Severn and the town’s busy inner ring road. It is not a part of the town where many visitors are likely to find themselves, or even wish to be. But perhaps my main objection is the material. Concrete seems such a rigidly dull substance with which to evoke structures from the natural world. I can also foresee it acquiring a slimy algal coat, which though admittedly a life form, is unlikely to add a life-enhancing effect from the viewer’s point of view. And given all the cuts in Local Authority funding, it seems unlikely that someone will be paid to come along and scrub the thing. Where would you begin?

I’m trying to think, too, what that magician of installation, Anish Kapoor, could do for it, if called on to do some remedial work. I’m imagining something in cast iron here, or in wrought iron, or polished steel. Or even wood. Or perhaps, as Marilyn Armstrong suggests in the comments on So what’s this all about?, people will just hate it so much it will be taken down. My own feeling is that it will simply be forgotten, and that is the worst outcome of all. So much for commemoration.

This brings me to the most shocking aspect of the project. As we headed into the unveiling year of 2009, Shropshire was becoming a Unitary Authority, and the Borough Council passing into obscurity. There followed various problems with the contractors assigned to construct the monument. Costs rocketed. There was a court case. According to press reports there was a chance for the Council to settle the bill when it hit £600,000. They declined. In the end the 2012 accounts revealed that the final cost had amounted to over £1,000,000. As one Labour councillor acidly pointed out, this was considerably more than the cost of Antony Gormley’s epic, acclaimed and truly colossal Gateshead landmark,  Angel of the North.

However you look at it, the final bill is staggering. In the face of austerity measures that have reduced some Shropshire residents to relying on Food Banks, and threatened so many social services, it is appalling to think of so much wasted money. But money aside, the whole enterprise now seems rather sad and silly. The original design concept for Quantum Leap has much to be said for it, but when it comes down to it, public art should serve the public who paid for it. It should be placed where everyone can enjoy it. It should be life-enhancing, spirit-raising, thought-provoking, a piece of wit or wisdom that becomes a point of attraction for locals and visitors alike. In other words, there should be returns on the investment, material and immaterial. It doesn’t of course mean that everyone has to like it. That would be too much to ask.

My other thought is that the town already has its monument to Charles Darwin. They got it right back in 1897. And although the statue might these days seem unadventurous, not to say a bit stuffy, it does at least show us the man – his intelligence, modesty and humanity – qualities that cannot be too highly valued. Not even the town’s incontinent pigeons detract from them. And so christened with bird lime he may be, but Charles Darwin looks a pretty decent old gent. His thinking changed the way we think. It took on superstition, and narrow-mindedness, and continues to challenge the scientific world to explore ever new ways to understand life on the planet. We Salopians can feel justly proud that he is one of ours.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

This is a follow up on my post for Paula’s Black & White Sunday theme of sculpture:  So What’s This All About?

So what’s this all about?

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I truly would like to feel more enthusiastic about this monumental piece of public art. I mean I can see it is interesting – in its way – and the more so with the application of some photo editing. This has at least relieved us of the sickly mud-brown colour. Also the cast concrete takes on a little more texture than seems apparent in the original. But perhaps the most serious problem with this sculpture is its setting – squeezed into a little triangle of municipal garden between Shrewsbury town’s inner ring road and the River Severn.

And so given that its siting was down to town councillors, and not to the artist whom they commissioned to do the work at great public expense, I tried approaching the work from different angles. As you can see, it is incredibly well made:

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I even tried including some human interest, but this next shot only added to the sense of crammed in-ness, with too many planters, and a poorly situated  explanatory panel:

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And so what do you think this work is commemorating? (I know that at least one person who reads this blog knows it person). Otherwise, all answers on a postcard to the secret WordPress post box.

Before I go, I will at least tell you that it is something very important, and relates to all of life on this planet, and that all may well be revealed in an upcoming post.

 copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Please also drop in on Black & White Sunday, where this week Paula’s theme is sculpture.

All the colours of the rainbow in the creations of poet-painter Marc Chagall

“My hands were too soft. I had to find some special occupation, some kind of work that would not force me to turn away from the sky and the stars, that would allow me to discover the meaning of life.”

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Noe et l’ Arc-en-ciel       Musee National Marc Chagall, Nice

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Le Paradis     Musee National Marc Chagall, Nice

 

I took these photographs in the Musee National Marc Chagall in Nice. This gallery has to be one of the finest little galleries in the world: the setting, the building and the art fusing in dreamy synergy that captures the humanity, joyousness, and all round good spirits of Marc Chagall. He was a man who created in all media. He saw his work  “not the dream of one people but of all humanity”.

Or as André Breton put it, “under his sole impulse, metaphor made its triumphal entry into modern painting.”

And then there is his use of colour. Picasso probably has the last word on that: “When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is.”

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

ROY G. BIV