Exhibition | Julie Green: The Last Supper

Posted in exhibitions, obituaries, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on November 8, 2021

Installation view of Julie Green’s Last Supper exhibition, Bellevue Arts Museum.

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As noted by many news outlets—including The Art Newspaper, The Washington Post, the Smithsonian Magazine, The New York Times, and NPR (with an editorial by Scott Simon)—the artist Julie Green (1961–2021) died on October 12 at age 60, after battling ovarian cancer. An exhibition of 800 plates by Green is currently installed in Bellevue, Washington. While the ‘content’ of the project (the catalogue of inmates’ last meals) understandably receives the bulk of the attention, I imagine it’s impossible for most dixhuitièmistes not to see the long tradition of blue-and-white ware adaptation; and once a viewer goes there, the plates provide an indicting reminder of the historical origins of the inequities of the American criminal justice system, inequities in many cases derived from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century institutions. CH

Julie Green: The Last Supper
Bellevue Arts Museum, 4 September 2020 — 23 January 2022

800 Plates Illustrating Final Meals of US Death Row Inmates

Growing up, I admired quilts and ceramics in our Iowa home, as well as the larger-than-life historical figures and 20’ American flag made with ears of colored corn in a neighbor’s yard. Appreciation for homemade and handmade led me to paint blue food. I once shared my family’s support of Nixon and capital punishment. Now I don’t.

Oklahoma has higher per capita executions than Texas. I taught there, and that is how I came to read final meal requests in the morning paper. The Last Supper illustrates the meal requests of U.S. death row inmates. Cobalt blue mineral paint is applied to second-hand ceramic plates, then kiln-fired to 1,400 degrees by technical advisors Toni Acock and Sandy Houtman.

Of the 1,521 US executions to date, 570 occurred in Texas, the only state that doesn’t allow a final meal selection. In Texas, inmates are served the standard prison meal of the day. In states that allow a choice, traditions and restrictions vary. There is no alcohol allowed anywhere. Cigarettes are officially banned but sometimes granted. Most selections are modest. This is not surprising, as many are limited to what is in the prison kitchen. Others provide meals from local venues. Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, and Long John Silver’s are frequently selected in Oklahoma, where their fifteen-dollar allowance is down from twenty in the late 1990s. California allows restaurant take-out up to fifty dollars. Historical menus from Folsom prison, shared by April Moore, point to the 733 inmates on death row today in California. State and date of execution are listed for each plate.

While looking for a permanent home for the project, unless capital punishment ends soon, I will continue until there are 1,000 plates. For me, a final meal request humanizes death row. Menus provide clues on region, race, and economic background. A family history becomes apparent when Indiana Department of Corrections adds, “He told us he never had a birthday cake so we ordered a birthday cake for him.”

Art can be a meditation. Why do we have this tradition of final meals, I wondered, after seeing a 1999 request for six tacos, six glazed donuts, and a cherry Coke. Twenty-one years later, I still wonder.

Julie Green
8 August 2020


The Georgian Group Architectural Awards 2021

Posted in on site, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on October 10, 2021

From The Georgian Group:

The Georgian Group Architectural Awards
Presented 5 October 2021

The annual Georgian Group Architectural Awards, generously sponsored by Savills, took place at the RIBA on 5 October this year. The awards, now in their seventeenth year, recognise exemplary conservation and restoration projects in the UK and reward those who have shown the vision and commitment to restore Georgian buildings and landscapes. The awards ceremony was presented by Dr John Goodall, chair of the judging panel and Architectural Editor at Country Life, with certificates handed out by the Georgian Group’s President, the Duchess of Argyll. The winning schemes were chosen from over thirty entries, with shortlisted projects encompassing a broad range of building types.

Re-use of a Georgian Building

Winner: Cobham Dairy, Kent
Client: The Landmark Trust
Architect: Purcell

The Dairy on the Cobham estate, Kent, was designed by James Wyatt in 1794 for the 4th Earl and Countess of Darnley. It served both as an ornamental eye-catcher in Humphry Repton’s parkland and as a working building, complete with accommodation for the dairymaid. Abandoned for more than a century, it was rescued from collapse in the 1980s by the SPAB. The Landmark Trust has since taken a 99-year lease of the dairy and restored it as a self-catering holiday cottage for two. Work has included the restoration of the external slate cladding and the re-instatement of the vaulted ceilings.

Highly Commended: The Old Church, Lowick, Northumberland
Client: Dean Keyworth, Armstrong Keyworthy Interior Design
Architect: Paul Hales, Robert J. Hales Ltd

One of only two Church of Scotland churches built in England, the building was deconsecrated in 1821 and has lain empty for much of the time since. The present owners have converted in sympathetically, making ingenious use of the spaces below and above the Victorian gallery, and adding rooms in the roof space, so preserving the volume of the double-height interior—a space too often subdivided in church and chapel conversions—which successfully serves as the principal reception room. This approach has left an uninterrupted view of the stained glass windows, which were restored as part of the project.

Restoration of a Georgian Garden or Landscape

Winner: Gunton Park, Norfolk
Client: Ivor Braka, Kit and Sally Martin, Lady Suffield
Landscape Architects: John Phibbs, Debois Landscape Survey Group (Phase 1); Patrick James, The Landscape Agency (Phase 2)

The 1,200 acre park and garden that surrounds Gunton Hall—itself designed in the 1740s by Matthew Brettingham and later altered by Samuel Wyatt—evolved under the ownership of several generations of the Harbord family and with the involvement of successive landscape architects: Charles Bridgeman, Humphry Repton and William Sawrey Gilpin. By the 1970s, following decades of decline, much of the estate had been sold and ploughed-up for arable cultivation, while hundreds of mature parkland trees and those in its woodland belts had been felled. The restoration of the park has taken nearly thirty years and has seen acres of new woodland planted, avenues, carriageways, clumps and individual parkland trees re-instated, and the establishment of a herd of deer.

Restoration of a Georgian Building in an Urban Setting

Winner: Buxton Crescent Hotel and Thermal Spa, Buxton Crescent, Derbyshire
Client: Buxton Crescent Ltd.
Architect: Curious Architecture and Interior Design

The Crescent, designed by John Carr of York for the 5th Duke of Devonshire and built between 1780 and 1789, was with the adjoining Natural Baths and Pump Room, the centrepiece of the planned Georgian spa town. Since the 1990s it has lain empty and in an increasing state of disrepair. This major project initiated by the Borough and County Councils, and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England, set out to return all three buildings to use and to help in the economic regeneration of Buxton as a spa. This heroic and transformative project has taken more than two decades to come to realisation and combines conservation and new work.

Highly Commended: Private townhouse in Kennington
Client: Fabian Richter
Architect: Robert Birbeck
Master Builder: Stephen Bull

This project has seen the painstaking, comprehensive conservation, over a seven year period of a run-down terraced townhouse of 1792. The works have involved, re-roofing and repointing, the replacement of gypsum plasterboard with lime plasters on lath, the repair of Georgian joinery and the restoration of the servant’s bell system, as well as full re-servicing. Externally, York slabs have replaced cement steps and new iron railings have been installed. The work has been underpinned by thorough historical research and reflects a conservation ethos that is more commonly the preserve of large public or charitable bodies that private houses.

Highly Commended: Frogmore House, Watford
Client: St William Homes LLP, Berkeley Group
Architects: Giles Quarme Architects

A merchant’s house built in 1716 to the south of Watford high street, the building had been on Historic England’s Buildings At Risk Register for some years. Divided into flats in the 1950s, it fell into gradual dereliction from the 1970s and suffered extensive vandalism. As part of the redevelopment of the wider site the building has been restored and structural failure, water ingress and dry rot have all been tackled. Historic joinery—windows, doors, staircase balusters and panelling—has been repaired or where necessary re-instated, and the doorcase, stolen in 2009, recovered and put back. The building is now in use as an office.

Restoration of a Georgian Structure or Interior

Winner: The Bath Stone Bridge, Halswell Park, Somerset
Client: Edward Strachan
Architect: Architecton

The Bath Stone Bridge is thought to have been designed by Thomas Wright and was a key element of the water gardens known as Mill Wood, laid out by Sir Charles Kemeys Tynte in the second half of the eighteenth century, as part of the Halswell Hall landscape. Since 2014 the owner has begun the on-going task of reconstituting and restoring the park. The current project has involved the full restoration of the bridge, which has been on the local authority’s ‘at risk’ list since 2005, and the repair of the associated dam and leaking pond. Many missing parts of the structure were fished out of the water, where they had fallen, but some lost elements had to be recut, as in the case of a missing herm. The new ornamental carving playfully includes some twentieth-century details in evidence of its date.

Highly Commended: The State Drawing Room, Stowe, Buckinghamshire
Client: Stowe House Preservation Trust
Architect: Purcell

The State Drawing Room at Stowe was created in 1778, and balances the State Music Room to the other side of the central Marble Saloon. Both interiors were designed by Vincenzo Valdrè. Following rigorous research, the decision was taken to return the room to its decorative appearance in c.1800. New orange hangings, based on a guidebook description, were commissioned in a durable fabric, while paint research revealed that the ceiling had been painted in three shades of pink with both gold and silver gilding to its plaster enrichments. This striking scheme has been reinstated following cleaning and repair. In addition, a painted, timber copy of the marble Piranesian chimneypiece sold from the room in the 1920s has been made from a scan of the original and a new oak floor was laid to the pattern of the historic boards.

Restoration of a Georgian Country House

Winner: Radbourne Hall, Derbyshire
Client: Trustees of the Radbourne Settlement
Architect: Peregrine Bryant Architects

Radbourne Hall was designed in 1739 by William Smith of Warwick for German Pole. From 2017 to 2020 the house has been subject to far-reaching repair and conservation work. This has included slate and lead repairs to the roof, which have now also been fitted with firebreaks and breathable wood fibre insulation. Internally, damage done by a 1950s structural steel has also been remedied and out-dated electrical and mechanical services have been replaced, while the enfilade on the piano nobile has been re-instated and a John Fowler decorative scheme of the 1950s retained and conserved. A striking new set of cantilevered steps, structurally independent from the house, have been constructed to the rear.

Highly Commended: Sheringham Hall, Norfolk
Client: Paul Doyle and Gergely Battha-Pajor
Architect: John Simpson Architects

Sheringham Hall was designed for Abbot and Charlotte Upcher by Humphry Repton and his son John Adey Repton between 1813 and 1819. Having bought a 99-year lease of the house and garden from the National Trust, Paul Doyle and Gergely Pattha-Pajor have undertaken various works to restore the building’s intended plan and room functions thereby sympathetically and brilliantly recreating the Regency elegance of the interiors. The original dining room has been re-instated, while appropriate neo-classical statuary once more fills the staircase niches. Associated works in the garden include the restoration of glass houses and the erection of an openwork pavilion designed by John Simpson.

Restoration of a Georgian Church or Chapel

Winner: All Saints Church, Newcastle
Client: All Saints Presbyterian Church
Architect: Doonan Architects

All Saints Church was completed in 1796 to the design of David Stephenson, the first Newcastle architect to study in London; it is unique in being the only church in England with an elliptical nave. Although one of the finest buildings in the city, it has long been on the Georgian Group’s casework radar due to its poor condition and it has been listed on Historic England’s Heritage-at-Risk register since 2011. Under new guardianship, a project of restoration began in 2019 which saw repairs to the roof, gutters, windows and walls. Internally, redecoration has been undertaken in an appropriate Georgian palette. A new marble pavement, allowing for an efficient under-floor heating system, has been laid, unifying the concrete floors in the entrance hall and ‘school gym’ floor in the nave. Additional facilities—including a kitchen, WCs and an office—have been sensitively incorporated within the space. The church has now been removed from the At Risk Register.

Highly Commended: St Alfege Church, Greenwich
Client: St Alfege Church PCC
Architect: Richard Griffiths Architects

St Alfege Church, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, was built between 1712 and 1714, with the upper part of the steeple added by John James in 1730. This project, which built upon previous restoration work, was designed to extend to the south and north elevations, repair the leaking roof and make the church fully accessible and welcoming to a wider public. A long wooden ramp has been installed at the north entrance, historic paving has been repaired and an ironwork arch designed by Albert Richardson has been rediscovered and re-instated over the high-street entrance to the churchyard. Internally changes include additional WCs in the wells of the staircases, while water ingress issues have been resolved allowing for the full internal redecoration of the church. In addition, the crypt has been opened to hard hat tours.

Giles Worsley Award for New Work in the Spirit of the Georgian Era

Winner: Nithurst Farm, West Sussex
Client: Adam and Jessica Richards
Architect: Adam Richards Architects

Built in open fields, on the site of a farmworker’s cottage in the South Downs National Park, Nithurst Farm is conceived as a Roman ruin wrapped around a modern concrete house. The building rises in steps from a single-storey entrance on the north side to a three-storey tower at the south, inspired by Vanbrugh’s belvedere at Claremont. The house is symmetrical in plan, tapering out along its axis to the large light-filled south-facing sitting room, and its main ground floor space is inspired by the sala found in those of Palladio’s villa designs, such the Villa Barbaro, which incorporate box-like secondary rooms against the exterior walls.

New Building in a Georgian Context

Winner: Wolverton Hall Folly, Worcestershire
Client: Nicholas Coleridge CBE
Architect: Quinlan Terry Architects

The inspiration for the design of Wolverton Hall Folly was taken from the Picturesque tradition with its many variations of follies in a controlled landscape. Among a number of possible small garden buildings, the Banqueting House at Long Melford, built in 1550 with sash windows added in the 1730s, became a source of inspiration. The design was prepared with the proportions adapted considerably to provide a large study on the first floor with the addition of ogee arches to the stone window surrounds terminating in stone acanthus leaf finials and a central cupola to assist the requirement for a staircase and chimney. The result is a building that can express in classical terms the different moods of time and place with an underlying seriousness and humour.

Highly Commended: The University Arms Hotel, Cambridge
Client: CUA Property Ltd
Architect: John Simpson Architects

The University Arms Hotel, Cambridge, was established in the 1820s and is the oldest hotel in the city. The present building, however, was substantially constructed in 1903 and extended in the 1920s. Its 1833 west entrance facing onto Regent Street was demolished in 1965 to make way for a Modernist block by Feilden and Mawson. John Simpson Architects were commissioned to transform the hotel, adding 60 rooms to it, a terrace overlooking Parker’s Piece, and a new entrance façade. The latter comprises a Doric porte cochère of Ketton stone, wittily referencing Ledoux’s Parisian Barrières of the 1770s as heralds of the city beyond. Meanwhile, the western section of the south front was remodelled by adding a three-storeyed bow, and to the east a four-bay verandah on the first floor.

Diaphoros Prize

Winner: The Cons Club, Framlingham, Suffolk
Client: Paperhouse Properties Ltd
Architect: Hoare Ridge and Morris Architects

Built c.1810, Church House, as it was originally known, was a prominent townhouse owned by the Edwards family of bankers and doctors. In 1910 it became the Framlingham Constitutional Club and later renamed the Framlingham Conservative Club. The club closed at the end of 2018; threatened with being carved up as flats, it was purchased by the architects Mark Hoare and Ted Ridge the following year with the hope of turning it into a public space. ​The new vision includes a café, gallery space, studios, youth club and meeting rooms for public hire, with the creation of separate offices for Framlingham Town Council in a semi-independent part of the building. Re-activating the street frontage was key and the café can now be accessed by the Georgian front door which had previously been blocked.

Exhibition | Mary Ronayne: Fool’s Paradise

Posted in Art Market, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on September 16, 2021

From the press release, via ArtFix Daily:

Mary Ronayne: Fool’s Paradise
HOFA Gallery, London, 16–29 September 2021

Mary Ronayne, The Farthington Family Portrait with Settee, 2021, enamel and emulsion on wood panel, 120 × 90 cm.

Irish figurative painter and multimedia artist known for her whimsical portraits is billed to unveil new, large-scale artworks at HOFA Gallery, London.

In this solo show, Mary Ronayne elevates comedy, wit, and fun to a level of purpose never seen in her work, paving the way for farcical elements like melting faces and candy pop colours to become celebrations of the fluidity of time, identity, and life. This fluidity, which underpins the resilience of a world gleefully returning to normalcy after the harrowing experience of a pandemic, is both literal and symbolic. Juxtaposed with scenes drawn from historical narratives and classical literature, it affirms the enduring elements of humanity in the carefree spirit fans have come to love about her work.

Ronayne’s technique of combining enamel and domestic paints is as much to credit for her charming style as her widely sourced subject matter. It plays a major role in the look and finish of her works which often contrast a glossy, vitreous shine with a more staid, matte texture. Enamel paint is also how the artist creates the gooey, farcical look, almost like candy—an unmistakable element of her signature style.

Drawing inspiration from a rich and diverse universe that includes magazine cut-outs, classical art, historical literature, movies, plays, and operas, Ronayne’s artworks are a tribute to life even when their undercurrent of Hogarthian satire and allegory are hard to deny. Ronayne has always employed humour as a tool to break the ice, disarming and drawing viewers in for a closer look while also conveying poignant critiques of the times.

Huntington Commissions Wiley to Paint New, ‘Blue-Boy’ Inspired Work

Posted in books, exhibitions, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on September 11, 2021

Thomas Kehinde Wiley, A Portrait of a Young Gentleman, 2021, oil on linen, 71 × 49 inches, © Kehinde Wiley (San Marino: Collection of The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, commissioned through Roberts Projects, Los Angeles). Installation photo by Joshua White.

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Press release (9 September 2021) from The Huntington:

Kehinde Wiley, A Portrait of a Young Gentleman
San Marino, The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, 2 October 2021 — 3 January 2022

The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens announced today that it has commissioned the renowned artist Kehinde Wiley to create a new work inspired by Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy (ca. 1770). Wiley’s A Portrait of a Young Gentleman (also the original title of the Gainsborough painting) will be a large-scale portrait in the Grand Manner style that will be added to The Huntington’s permanent collection. The new painting will be on view from 2 October 2021 through 3 January 2022, in The Huntington’s Thornton Portrait Gallery, opposite the institution’s iconic and recently restored Blue Boy. The acquisition of the Wiley portrait celebrates the 100th anniversary of the purchase of the Gainsborough painting by Henry and Arabella Huntington, the founders of the institution.

“Just as scholars come to The Huntington to study and reinterpret our significant collections, with this commission we are delighted that Kehinde Wiley will reenvision our iconic work, The Blue Boy, and Grand Manner portraiture in a powerful way,” said Huntington President Karen R. Lawrence. “Across the breadth of our library, art, and botanical collections, we are inviting perspectives that alter the way we see tradition itself.”

Wiley has long talked about the role The Huntington played in his formative years as an artist growing up in Los Angeles. When he was young, his mother enrolled him in art classes at The Huntington, where he encountered a formidable collection of Grand Manner portraits—large-scale depictions of England’s 18th- and 19th-century noble class. The portraits made such an impression on Wiley that he would later incorporate their stylistic representations of wealth, glory, and power into his own artistic practice, focusing on the Black and brown bodies missing from the museums he visited.

“I loved The Huntington’s galleries; the paintings by Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, and John Constable were some of my favorites,” Wiley said. “I was taken by their imagery, their sheer spectacle, and, of course, their beauty. When I started painting, I started looking at their technical proficiency—the manipulation of paint, color, and composition. These portraits are hyperreal, with the detail on the face finely crafted, and the brushwork, the clothing, and the landscape fluid and playful. Since I felt somewhat removed from the imagery—personally and culturally—I took a scientific approach and had an aesthetic fascination with these paintings. That distance gave me a removed freedom. Later, I started thinking about issues of desire, objectification, and fantasy in portraiture and, of course, colonialism.”

For A Portrait of a Young Gentleman, Wiley has been painting in Senegal, where he has been living during the COVID-19 pandemic and where Black Rock Senegal, his artist-in-residence program, is headquartered.

Wiley, who earned a bachelor’s in fine arts from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1999 and a master’s in fine arts from Yale University in 2001, became famous for full-length depictions of everyday Black men and women in street clothes. The subjects are painted in classical poses against vibrant, patterned backgrounds, reminiscent of West African fabrics as well as wallpaper and textile designs by William Morris and Co. Wiley’s portraits have come to include depictions of a number of public figures, the most well known of which is the presidential portrait of Barack Obama, which coincidentally will be on view just a few miles from The Huntington at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) this fall, as part of a national tour.

“By adding a work by Kehinde Wiley to our collection, and offering it on view in our most lauded gallery of historic art, we are examining our shared history and beginning to curate our future,” said Christina Nielsen, Hannah and Russel Kully Director of the Art Museum at The Huntington. “I fully expect that Wiley’s portrait will speak to 21st-century audiences just as Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy did to its original audience when it was first unveiled in 1770. We can’t wait to share this experience with visitors.”

In conjunction with the commission, The Huntington is developing plans for a related book.

In January 2022, The Blue Boy will travel to London for an exhibition at the National Gallery, opening 100 years to the day it departed from England for its new home in California.

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Note (added 2 October 2021) — The painting was unveiled on 2 October 2021. The posting has been updated to include the images.

World’s Oldest Jeans as Inspiration

Posted in today in light of the 18th century by Editor on September 9, 2021

From Industry.Fashion.com (with coverage also at HypeBeast). . .

Tom Shearsmith, “Diesel to Reproduce World’s Oldest Known Jeans Fabric,” The Industry.Fashion (3 September 2021).

Diesel has announced it is to honour Genoa, the birthplace of Jeans, and celebrates Made in Italy by presenting a reproduction of the oldest jeans fabric ever documented in history.

Dating back to 1760, local townspeople and labourers in Genoa were first seen wearing jeans as part of their daily wardrobes. Colours ranged from standard indigo to brown to white. A nativity figurine by Pasquale Navone shows a man with denim trousers (woven diagonally, 2 to 1, in a blue cotton weft and white linen warp) that appear remarkably similar to iterations from the modern era. This sculpture represents the oldest historical instance of jeans.

Diesel has replicated the original fabric and garment as they existed three hundred years ago using handmade Italian textiles and workmanship. The re-creation is exhibited at Genova Jeans fair in Genoa, Italy through September 6, where Diesel was invited to celebrate the heritage of Made in Italy jeans.

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The nativity figure by Pasquale Navone (1746–1791) is now housed at the Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola in Genova, a building begun in 1594 and updated substantially in the eighteenth century. As noted at Wikipedia:

In the 18th century it [the palazzo] again passed through marriage to become the property of the House of Spinola, when Maddalena Doria married to Niccolò Spinola. Maddalena directed the Rococo refurbishment in the mid-18th century, and engaged Lorenzo De Ferrari, Giovanni Battista Natali and Sebastiano Galeotti to paint the quadratura and decoration. She also commissioned the Gallery of Mirrors. Her grandson, Paolo Francesco Spinola, however was forced during the Napoleonic occupation to sell many works of art; his portrait (1794) by Angelica Kauffman is on display in the palace.

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Note (added 9 September 2021) — The title of the original posting misleadingly used the word denim.

Exhibition | Virginia Lee Montgomery: Sword in the Sphinx

Posted in exhibitions, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on September 4, 2021

Virginia Lee Montgomery (VLM), Sword in the Sphinx, 2018, resin, steel, rust, concrete, enamel. As installed at Socrates Sculpture Park, Queens, New York in 2018.

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Opening this month at Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park:

Virginia Lee Montgomery: Sword in the Sphinx
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 16 September — 31 October 2021

The figure of the sphinx originated as an ancient Egyptian and Greek mythological monster. The sphinx with a female head and upper body and with lion’s legs became a popular garden statue in 18th-century Europe. Its features resembled that of Madame Pompadour, the French patron of the arts and chief mistress of King Louis XV. In Sword in the Sphinx, VLM adopts the Pompadour-style sphinx with a shocking twist: her back is pierced with a steel sword. Known for combining surrealism and feminism, VLM asks provocative questions about the representation of female power in art, adding another layer of meaning to a mythical figure with a complex history. Sword in the Sphinx is VLM’s official entry in the 2021 ArtPrize competition.

Marble Ponytails, the smoothly carved and polished marble ponytails, installed in the Courtyard Level, are named after ancient deities, among them Aurora, Andromeda, and Medusa. VLM asks us to dissociate these forms from masculine phallocentric readings, shifting perspective toward what she calls “feminist metaphysics.” VLM carved these sculptures by hand at the historic West Rutland Marble Quarry, on a fellowship through The Vermont Carving Studio and Sculpture Center.

Two of VLM’s short films are also being screened in the O-A-K Theater.

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Virginia Lee Montgomery (VLM), CUT COPY SPHINX, 2018, digital video, 3minutes 30seconds. “A surreal, sculptural short art-film about metaphysics, myth, and destruction. A feminist twist on the classical myth of Oedipus and the Sphinx, CUT COPY SPHINX recasts the sphinx as the uncanny hero who endures ‘cuts’ across time. Shot en plein aire on a miniature prop-set with a Dewalt drill and a gallon of honey, CUT COPY SPHINX syncs philosophy, feminism, and image theory. The film is directed, edited, scored, and performed by the artist, VLM” (description from Vimeo).

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Responding to a 2018 installation of Sword in the Sphinx at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, New York, Wendy Vogel describes the video CUT COPY SPHINX:

“A video for the park’s website dramatizes how an eighteenth-century sculpture of Madame de Pompadour as a sphinx, the authorship of which is disputed, has been copied for centuries in decor and knickknacks. A response to the #MeToo movement, Montgomery’s work upends the masculine bravado of the tales of King Arthur and Oedipus. ‘In the myth, Oedipus kills the sphinx’, Montgomery says, ‘but in my version she just keeps replicating’.”

–Wendy Vogel, “First Look: Virginia Lee Montgomery,” Art in America (October 2018).

Addressing Colonialism and Historic Slavery at the National Trust

Posted in books, on site, teaching resources, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on August 25, 2021

Illustration by Michael Kennedy for Sam Knight’s article in The New Yorker (23 August 2021), p. 31

The National Trust released its Interim Report on the Connections between Colonialism and Properties Now in the Care of the National Trust, Including Links with Historic Slavery in September 2020. Sam Knight’s recent article, “Britain’s Idyllic Country Houses Reveal a Darker History” from The New Yorker (23 August 2021), pp. 30–41, explores the wider context of the report along with its British reception.*

The article is, to my thinking, immensely instructive, usefully framing the scale of the problem (historically) and the magnitude of work now to be done (both professionally and societally). As Knight writes, “The National Trust, more than any other institution, helped to create the idealized version of the English country house. Almost every historian I spoke to supported the charity’s decision to reinterpret its properties, but many also observed that it did not have a choice. . . . Given Britain’s changing demographics and the weight of recent decades of colonial history, the elisions of the past were no longer tenable. The National Trust has been forced to explode a myth of its own making. But many English people preferred the myth as it was” (34).

As for the report itself, much of the attention has been directed to its listing of National Trust properties. In fact, taken as a whole, it provides an excellent guide to crucial historic institutions—with essays ranging from compensation for slave-ownership to the East India Company—along with relevant bibliographies (I can imagine lots of useful teaching applications). CH

* In the same issue of The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik writes of ‘What the French Make of Lafayette,” pp. 66–70, observations occasioned by two recent biographies Mike Duncan’s Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution (Public Affairs, 2021) and Laurent Zecchini’s Lafayette: héraut de la liberté (Fayard, 2019).

Penrhyn Castle in Wales, Clandon Park Gardens in Surrey, Speke Hall in Liverpool, and Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire (National Trust); all four properties are included in the report’s “Gazetteer.”

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From the NT:

The National Trust cares for places and collections on behalf of the nation, and many have direct and indirect links to colonialism and historic slavery. We’ve released a report examining these connections as part of our broader commitment to ensure that these links are properly represented, shared and interpreted.

The buildings in our care reflect many different periods and a range of British and global histories—social, industrial, political and cultural. As a heritage charity, it’s our responsibility to make sure we are historically accurate and academically robust when we communicate about the places and collections in our care.

The Interim Report on the Connections between Colonialism and Properties Now in the Care of the National Trust, Including Links with Historic Slavery details the connections 93 historic places in our care have with colonialism and historic slavery. This includes the global slave trades, goods and products of enslaved labour, abolition and protest, and the East India Company.

It draws on recent evidence including the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project and the Trust’s own sources. It also documents the way that significant Trust buildings are linked to the abolition of slavery and campaigns against colonial oppression.

It has been edited by Dr Sally-Anne Huxtable (National Trust Head Curator), Professor Corinne Fowler (University of Leicester), Dr Christo Kefalas (National Trust World Cultures Curator), and Emma Slocombe (National Trust Textiles Curator), with contributions from other National Trust curators and researchers around the country. Some of the research has already been used to update our digital content and supports visitor information and interpretation at relevant places.

Sally-Anne Huxtable, Corinne Fowler, Christo Kefalas, and Emma Slocombe, eds., Interim Report on the Connections between Colonialism and Properties Now in the Care of the National Trust, Including Links with Historic Slavery (Swindon: National Trust, 2020).


Authorship and Acknowledgements
Foreword, Gus Casely-Hayford

Introduction — Sally-Anne Huxtable, Tarnya Cooper, and John Orna-Ornstein
1. Wealth, Power, and the Global Country House — Sally-Anne Huxtable
2  Trade in Enslaved People — Jane Gallagher
3  Abolition, Resistance and Protest — Christo Kefalas
4  Compensation for Slave-ownership — Elizabeth Green, Christo Kefalas, and Emma Slocombe
5  Merchant Companies — Rupert Goulding
6  The East India Company — Lucy Porten
7  Banking and Bankers — Frances Bailey
8  The British Raj in India after 1857 — Rachel Conroy
9  Industrialisation and the Import of Cotton — Emma Slocombe
10  Research — Sophie Chessum

Gazetteer of National Trust Properties

Appendix: Next Steps
Further Reading

Commodore Collection Now Preserved in Maryland

’30 Dollars Reward’ broadside for a man named Amos, detail, 11 February 1793 (Chesterton, Maryland: Commodore Collection). The full document with more information is available here.

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From The Washington Post:

Michael E. Ruane, “A Maryland attic hid a priceless trove of Black history. Historians and activists saved it from auction,” The Washington Post (28 June 2021). Among the artifacts is an account of escape from enslavement that is among the oldest ever found.

The 200-year-old document was torn and wrinkled. It had stains here and there. And it was sitting on a plastic table in the storeroom of an auction house near the Chester River hamlet of Crumpton, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Historian Adam Goodheart had seen it before, but only in a blurry website photo. Now, here it was in a simple framed box—a wanted poster for “A Negro Man named Amos” who had fled from his enslaver in Queen Anne’s County.

It was chilling. There, on cheap rag paper, was the story of American slavery. Amos was “a smart fellow,” about 20, who might be headed for his mother in Philadelphia. But in 1793 he was the property of one William Price, who wanted him caught.

The poster, or ‘broadside’, was one of hundreds of rare documents discovered earlier this year in the attic of an old house on the Eastern Shore and saved from the auction block by a group of Washington College historians and local Black activists. And the reward poster turned out to be one of the oldest known, said Goodheart, director of the college’s Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience in Chestertown, Maryland . . . .

The full article is available here»

Receipt for the ‘hire’ of an enslaved man, 15 July 1776 (Chesterton, Maryland: Commodore Collection). More information is available here.

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From Sumner Hall:

Sumner Hall is proud to share with our supporters the successful effort to rescue and preserve a significant collection of local records.

“The Commodore Collection of original historical documents on the early experiences of African Americans in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties is a rare find,” according to Dr. Ruth Shoge, First Vice President of Sumner Hall. “The documents, which are intellectually enriching, also evoke an emotional response to the harsh reality of the lives of enslaved and freed Black people in 17th- and 18th-century America,” she continued. “It is very important to Sumner Hall that this collection has been given to us in perpetuity. The ownership of this collection is an honor and, in a special way, a homecoming for the memories of our ancestors. This collection supports our mission of promoting an understanding of the African American experience within the overall context of American history and culture.”

Thanks to the efforts of local Black residents and the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College, approximately 2,000 pages of documents were purchased from Dixon’s Crumpton Auction this spring. The collection, named after Washington College’s first local Black alumnus, Norris Commodore ’73, will belong to Sumner Hall but is being conserved and archived at the school’s Miller Library. Mr. Commodore, who has deep roots here, gave generously toward the acquisition cost and was joined by the Hedgelawn Foundation, the Kent Cultural Alliance and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The papers are being digitized as a part of the Chesapeake Heartland Project, and several can already be viewed online here.

President of Sumner Hall’s Board of Directors, Larry Wilson, says, “The Commodore Collection is a very meaningful record of African American life and survival. I believe that it is very important to know our history and to learn from the lives of our ancestors as we work together for equal rights, justice and freedom in this county and across the country. We look forward to having exhibits at Sumner Hall based on these materials soon.”

Congo Mango’s bond on behalf of Cato Daws, 31 July 1800. Mango (later known as Congo Mander), a free Black man, purchased Daws in order to grant his freedom (Chesterton, Maryland: Commodore Collection). As noted in the document description, “This small piece of paper opens a window into the life story of a man who was born in Africa, enslaved in Maryland, gained his freedom, and helped others become free. He gave rise to a Black family that can be traced to the present day.” More information is available here.

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Sumner Hall, located in historic Chestertown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, is one of two existing African American Grand Army of the Republic buildings still standing in the United States. Built circa 1908 and fully restored in 2014, it serves today as a museum, educational site, performance stage, social hall, and gallery. Sumner Hall is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, funded by donations and memberships.

Story of Yanxi Palace

Posted in films, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on June 1, 2021

Still from Story of Yanxi Palace (2018), with the empress wearing a replica of a fengguan (phoenix crown) now in the Palace Museum, Beijing.

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I’m at least two years overdue with this posting—the series appeared in 2018—but I learned of it only recently thanks to Isabella Smith’s essay in the May issue of Apollo. I’m just three episodes in, but totally entranced. CH

Isabella Smith, “An Audience with the Qianlong Emperor, via the Small Screen,” Apollo Magazine (May 2021).

It’s like Game of Thrones, but with art instead of sex. I’ve found myself repeating that summary frequently while evangelising about Story of Yanxi Palace (2018), a Chinese period drama loosely based on historic figures in the Qing dynasty court of the Qianlong Emperor (1711–1799)—and one of my lockdown obsessions. The tale begins in 1741, when our Cinderella-like heroine Wei Yingluo (Wu Jinyan) enters the Forbidden City, ostensibly to work as an embroidery maid at the palaces, but with a secret mission: to uncover the perpetrator behind her beloved sister’s rape and murder. It’s a suitably knotty start to a narrative as labyrinthine as it is long; the series comprises 70 episodes at 45 minutes apiece.

Besides the intricacies of its intrigues, what has kept me enthralled is the sheer spectacle of the thing. From its heavily embroidered robes and carved jade to lavish lacquerwork and pottery, Story of Yanxi Palace is a feast for the eyes. In 2018, the show was streamed more than 15 billion times on the Chinese video platform iQiyi, before falling foul of government censors and being pulled from TV screens. The charge? Its ‘negative influence on society’, promoting admiration for imperial China and its luxurious lifestyles, an argument initially set out in Theory Weekly (a magazine affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party’s newspaper, the Beijing Daily).

What sets Story of Yanxi Palace apart from similar historical dramas—and China boasts a rich roster of such shows—is its devotion to the decorative arts. . . .

The full essay is available here»

For the wider media context of the series in China, see Jiayang Fan’s essay, “In China, Shows Like ‘Story of Yanxi Palace’ Go Viral, and the Party Is Not Amused,” The New Yorker (23 April 2019).

Expanding Colonial Williamsburg’s Stories

Posted in today in light of the 18th century by Editor on May 29, 2021

Emily James in April portrays Edith Cumbo, a free Black woman who lived in Williamsburg in the 18th century.
(Photo by Julia Rendleman for The Washington Post)

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From The Washington Post:

Peter Marks, “Colonial Williamsburg Gets Real,” The Washington Post (22 May 2021). Some of the most progressive and insightful theater in America is happening at one of the nation’s premier sites for experiencing U.S. history. Really.

On the streets of Colonial Williamsburg—one of the world’s premier living-history museums—Emily James cuts a formidable figure. Portraying Edith Cumbo, a free woman of color who walked these byways in the 18th century, James tries daily to convey to tourists the humiliations and contradictions Cumbo lived with.

“I’m restricted,” she explains to a group of mask-wearing visitors on a walking tour one late-April morning. “Because the laws didn’t say ‘free’ or ‘enslaved.’ They said ‘Negroes.’ ”

James has been embodying Cumbo in this mile-by-half-mile historic area for a decade, in a career in ‘actor interpretation’ spanning 34 years. Though she has always loved the work, it has taken on deeper resonance of late. Colonial Williamsburg—a place where theater lives, too—has been grappling with more determination than ever with the harsher realities of its past. And particularly with the lives of its Black inhabitants, most of whom were enslaved and formed the majority of its population in the 1700s.

It is through performance of various kinds that this bastion of history is seeking to raise awareness of Williamsburg’s legacy, one far more diverse than visitors heard about in the early days of the historic restoration, opened in 1937. The instruction has gone out lately to all of Colonial Williamsburg’s dozens of actor-interpreters that the city’s slaveholding past is to figure in every tour and talk. The sense that the rosy vision of hard-working artisans and horsemen in period garb requires more context pervades this extraordinary pocket of history. . .

Members of Jug Broke Theater Company performing Ladies of Llangollen, by Claire Wittman. Based on the lives of Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, who eloped together in 1778, the play premiered on 10 April 2021 (Photo from the Colonial Williamsburg; by Wayne Reynolds).

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And in the middle of town, on the Play House Stage—which sits on the remnants of what is believed to be the first theater of Colonial America—members of the resident Jug Broke Theater Company are performing Ladies of Llangollen. Claire Wittman’s drama, which includes new lyrics to 18th-century songs, is the first in the foundation’s history to feature a romance between women.

“Your happiness is my only aim,” Wittman’s Eleanor says to her fellow poet and lover, Sarah, played by Alyssa Elkins. “I don’t want a husband,” Sarah replies. “I want you.”

Think about it: In the midst of contemporary reckonings about the rights of women and people of color, Williamsburg is giving guests—who number about 550,000 in a normal year—the historical backstories. . . .

The full article is available here»

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