Hope to Nope

Graphics and Politics 2008-18

The past ten years have been a turbulent decade with a strong increase in the public’s engagement with politics. The Design Museum aimed to explore how graphic design and technology has influenced the major political movements in the 21st century with their recent exhibition Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18Incorporating a whole range of artwork from posters and placards to protest badges and memes, the museum delved deep into the public’s reaction to the 2008 financial crisis, global protests and the election campaigns of divisive leaders to produce a diverse and provocative exhibition. Hope to Nope was split into three sections, which focused on power, protest and personality.

DISCLAIMER: The views displayed in the exhibition are those of the individuals and organisations that created them – some of which may cause offence. The Design Museum does not necessarily agree with such views, nor does it consider them to be necessarily justified, truthful or accurate.

 

Unfortunately, the final two weeks of the exhibition were disrupted after a selection of exhibits were removed by the lender in protest of a private event held at the museum by an aerospace and defence company. Nevertheless, there were enough exhibits remaining to make the trip to the museum worthwhile. Purportedly, the first artwork in the exhibition was the street artist and graphic designer Shepard Fairey’s (b1970) Hope poster for Barrack Obama’s (b1961) presidential campaign in 2008, which went on to win the Design Museum’s Design of the Year in 2009. This distinctive style has been imitated by hundreds of amateur designers to produce satirical, anti-politician posters, for instance, an image of Donald Trump (b1946) with the word “nope”.

The red, white and blue colour combination that Fairey used, distracted people from Obama’s race, which is what many American’s fixated on, and portrayed him as a patriotic citizen instead. Being simple and easy to reproduce, the artwork spread rapidly throughout the states and online, quickly becoming recognised and adopted by Obama supporters. Fairey is happy to see his work being parodied for various means of activism, especially because the Hope poster has no political power, yet is used by people to make a powerful statement.

“Design is always political.”
– Mike Monteiro

Other political campaigns shown included Hillary Clinton’s (b1947) election posters, North Korean posters, North Korean stamps, which mock the United States, and various responses to “Brexit”.

 

Graphic design targetted at “Brexit” began as soon as David Cameron (b1966) announced a British Referendum on 23rd June 2016.  Two years later, campaigners are still producing new posters or digital graphics. Examples shown at the Design Museum included the Britain Stronger in Europe Campaign which produced many materials to persuade voters to opt to remain part of the EU. Playing on the word “in” with visual reference to the flag of the United Kingdom, posters and flags stating “Vote Remain” were prominent throughout the months leading up to the referendum. The designers also produced t-shirts for protestors to wear with the short phrase “I’M IN” boldly written across the chest.

Earlier this year, with the fate of “Brexit” not yet fully realised, The Sun created a spoof timeline of events based on the Bayeux Tapestry. Humorously titled Bye-EU Tapestry, this was the newspaper’s response to the president of France’s decision to lend the original 950-year-old tapestry to the UK. Using the similar style of figures that were embroidered to show the victory of the Normans in 1066, this version shows the “historic Brexit victory” over the EU. The captions mock medieval spellings with words such as “announceth” and “emergeth”, whilst the Queen is shown to be declaring the UK is “better orf out.”

“You have the technology to affect history.”

 

In the past century or two, more inventions than the rest of history combined have been invented, culminating in the current digital age. With the opening of the internet for public use in 1991, online graphics and social media have rapidly grown to a point where almost everyone is influenced by it in some way or form. Within the exhibition was a detailed, wall-length infographic showing the timeline of social media and its crucial role in politics.

A decade after the internet became available, the leading information website Wikipedia was born. This allowed people to search for answers to absolutely anything they desired. With pages about well-known celebrities to the most obscure form of fungi, Wikipedia quickly became a popular website by internet users, particularly school students who no longer needed to read books to complete their coursework. Regrettably, the accuracy of the information on Wikipedia is far from one-hundred per cent; anyone with an account can log in and change information, purposely misleading readers – not so good for homework after all!

The first major social media platform arrived in 2003, allowing individuals to connect with friends and strangers all over the world. On Myspace, people could personalise their pages, upload photographs, share their favourite music and even list their top ten friends. in 2008, Myspace became the stage for Obama’s presidential candidate campaign.

In 2006, Myspace was usurped by Mark Zuckerberg’s (b1984) Facebook, which currently has approximately 2.23 billion monthly active users, and Jack Dorsey’s (b1976) Twitter, a popular news and social networking service with 335 million active users. The latter was President Trump’s preferred means of spreading his policies and encouraging people to vote for him.

In 2007, the way people could access the internet changed completely with the invention of the most popular brand of smartphone, the iPhone. As well as being able to make phone calls, the iPhone functioned as a pocket-sized computer with easy internet access even when away from home. Soon, applications were developed to perform in this new format, including the free secure messaging platform Whatsapp in 2009 and the photo and video-sharing social network Instagram in 2010.

No matter the brand, all forms of social media allow individuals to explore beyond their friendship circles, discovering people and ideas from across the planet in only a matter of seconds. This allows people of power to voice their opinions and influence billions of people all over the globe. Whilst this may have huge benefits, particularly in awareness campaigns, it can also have a tremendous negative effect.

Digital technology has allowed for the invention of GIFs and memes that are “liked”, “posted” and “retweeted” by thousands of people every day. GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format which is essentially a moving image. The majority of these are split-second clips of videos, which, when posted on social media, are removed from their original context and often gain new meaning. A GIF of someone laughing, for instance, may be tagged onto a “post” that someone finds funny.

meme can be defined as “an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.” The word was coined by Richard Dawkins (b1941) in an attempt to explain the way information spreads. A particular meme that the Hope to Nope exhibition focused on was Pepe the Frog.

200px-feels_good_manPepe the Frog was a cartoon amphibian with a humanoid-like body created by Matt Furie (b1979) in 2005 for a comic called Boy’s Club. It quickly became an internet sensation with people sharing Pepe with various facial expressions as a way of displaying opinions about certain ideas. Variants include “sad frog”, “smug frog” and “feels frog”.

Whilst the Pepe meme was initially harmless, Furie was dismayed when the innocent green frog became a “hate symbol” used by white-supremacists. In 2016, Pepe became associated with Donald Trump who “tweeted” a version of the frog drawn to look like himself with the tagline “you can’t stump the trump.” Later, Pepe was used as a means of attacking Hillary Clinton’s election campaign in a supposedly humorous manner.

Social media has provided plenty of opportunities for anyone to create memes and parodies of well-known ideas. This has been particularly beneficial for campaign groups, such as Greenpeace. In 2017, Greenpeace launched their Don’t Let Coke Choke Our Oceans campaign in order to raise awareness of plastic pollution, the greatest threat to marine life. Appropriating Coke’s branding, the environmental organisation launched an attack on one of the biggest sellers of plastic bottled beverages. As well as spreading their message online, Greenpeace campaigners went into shops, placing cleverly crafted labels over Coke bottles to make the product look like an empty, ocean-weathered piece of plastic.

More often than not, memes and parodies are deliberately comical, spreading ideas through light-heartedness rather than going for the shock factor. The clothing company Diesel, parodied the 1960’s anti-war slogan “make love not war” to advertise what they believe in, not just as a merchandiser, but as a global brand as well. By altering the phrase to “make love not walls”, Diesel is making a stand against hate, stating that their products are for everyone and they wish all could live in harmony.

The advertisements for “make love, not walls” uses symbolic imagery such as a rainbow coloured tank and happy people dressed in a “hippy” style holding flowers to represent freedom and love.

“At Diesel, we have a strong position against hate and more than ever we want the world to know that, to use our voice for good, love and togetherness is crucial in creating a society we all want to live in, and the future we all deserve.”
Nicola Formichetti – Diesel Artistic Director

Although the company declares their motives were to emphasise their position against hate, it is so soon after President Trump’s notion of building a wall between the USA and Mexico that many may wonder if there is a subliminal political agenda hidden within their advertisements.

Whilst social media has been used for spreading radical ideas and campaigns, for instance, in 2015 the hashtag “#JeSuisCharlie” was tweeted 6500 times a minute the day after the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, physical protests and demonstrations have been the go-to method for campaigners for hundreds of years. Graphic design plays a vital role offline as much as it does online. Posters, badges and placards need to be carefully designed to attract attention and provoke debate. Even the suffragettes developed their own branding at the beginning of the 20th century.

38419793_10214474022035772_7029360020294729728_nThe Hope to Nope exhibition focused on a handful of demonstrations from the past decade, including video footage of marches and loud protests. A great deal of effort was focused on the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which occurred on 14th June 2017 and is still close to many Londoners’ hearts. A year on from the worst residential fire since the Second World War, hundreds of green-clad activists took part in a Justice for Grenfell Solidarity March demanding justice for the victims who lost their homes and loved ones. Investigations revealed that the incident was an accident waiting to happen and people are still angry about the way the situation was handled.

Designers with links to the Grenfell Tower designed badges for protesters to wear. The Green for Grenfell and the Unity Heart pins are a symbol of hope, unity and love to be worn in memory of the 72 lives lost. British politicians, including the current Prime Minister, were seen to support the appeal.

The Grenfell disaster also inspired an art project titled 24Hearts which was begun by a local artist, Sophie Lodge. The initial plan was to produce 24 handmade hearts to represent each floor of the tower, however, with help from school children and residents in the area, over 100 hearts have been made. Many of these were used as placards during silent protest marches.

Hanging from the ceiling at the exhibition was an enormous blowup rubber duck sporting the Spanish phrase “Chega de Pagar o Pato”, which translates into English as “I Will Not Pay the Duck”. In Brazil, the phrase “pay the duck” refers to taking the blame for something that is not your fault and was adopted by the São Paulo State Federation of Industries in protest against rising taxes. Although a rubber duck may look childish or make people laugh, it definitely catches people’s attention.

Another protest the Design Museum focused on was the ongoing Women’s March, which began on the first day of Donald Trump’s presidency. Since then, around 914 women-led marches have occurred all over the globe with over 4.5 million voices protesting against Trump’s attitude towards women and people of minority. Rather than branding their campaign with a specific design, the majority of placards have been handmade with angry or witty slogans that reflect Trump’s behaviour.

President Trump got more than his fair share of attention during the Hope to Nope exhibition. The final section focused on personality and identity, which is something Trump has been strongly aware of throughout his career as a politician. In the lead up to the presidential election, Trump and his supporters were recognised by their red caps with the slogan “Make America Great Again.” Powerful leaders are often obsessed with their image and this was only the beginning of Trump’s attempt to create a memorable identity for himself. Unfortunately, it has also lead to numerous satirical cartoons in magazines and newspapers.

The opinions about Donald Trump are divided into love and hate, nearly all of the museum’s examples stemming from the latter. The most controversial exhibit, by a long shot, was the All-Seeing Trump machine which was launched in 2016, a month before the presidential election. Resembling a fortune teller machine that could usually be found in early 20th-century penny arcades, the Trump-dummy gives users a greeting followed by a promise for the future. These promises are based on what anti-Trump campaigners believed would happen with him in power, for instance, “a terrific nuclear war” and changing Obamacare to “I don’t care”.

Many other politicians have been the target of ridicule in recent years, particularly members of the current British parliament. The final pieces in the exhibition drew attention to a few opinions about Prime Minister Theresa May (b1956) and other Tory MPs. In 2017, illustrator Chris Riddell (b1962) produced a series of political cartoons of May wearing her trademark leopard-print kitten heels in savagely humorous situations. The artist has been portraying the PM in this manner since 2002 when she was the Home Secretary, as well as other important figures.

Theresa May has also been depicted many times on the cover of Private Eye, a current affairs magazine currently edited by Ian Hislop (b1960). Although the magazine aims to tell the truth about world affairs, it illustrates articles with high-brow humour and cartoons. Usually, the cover page includes a photograph of prominent individuals overlayed with comical speech bubbles and topical captions. Despite its satirical nature, Private Eye does not try to influence people’s opinions or political preferences.

The aim of Hope to Nope was to express the importance of graphic design in politics. Whilst there were many opinions, some which may have caused insult, the focus was on the way graphic design was used to get these views across. Often, graphic designers are forgotten about, their hard work unappreciated, whereas, in reality, their contributions are frequently the key to success. This exhibition helped to open people’s minds to the presence of the people who help to make a political campaign or protest visible and memorable.

The Design Museum’s exhibition Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18 closed on 12th August 2018, however, leftover merchandise from the gift shop may still be available online or from the museum.

DISCLAIMER: Similarly to the Design Museum, I do not necessarily agree with everything I have discussed in this blog, nor do I consider them to be necessarily justified, truthful or accurate. 

Advertisements

Michael Jackson: On the Wall

“I’m a great fan of art. I love Michelangelo. If I had a chance to talk to him, I would want to know what inspired him to become who he is, not about who he went out with last night or why he decided to sit out in the sun for so long.”
– Michael Jackson, 1993

Coinciding with what would have been his 60th birthday, the National Portrait Gallery presents their exhibition of the year, Michael Jackson: On the Wall. With number one hits from age 11, Jackson is known not just for his music but his choreography, dancing ability, fashion and humanitarian efforts, too. Despite his death in 2009, Jackson continues to be a major influence on contemporary art.

Before anyone gets excited about a Michael Jackson exhibition, it needs to be noted that this is not a biographical display of the life of the “King of Pop”, nor are there any memorabilia or personal artefacts. On the Wall is about artwork and Jackson’s influence on 48 different artists from different generations and areas of the world.

 

 

On entering the exhibition, a gallant prince on horseback almost jumps off the wall taking the attention away from Keith Haring’s (1958-90) untitled abstract portrait of Michael Jackson hanging on the left of the entrance. On closer inspection, the figure turns out to be Jackson, imitating the Spanish king in Peter Paul Rubens‘ (1577-1640) The Restoration of Philip II on Horseback (c1630). The artist, Kehinde Wiley (b1977), is known for his paintings of African-Americans, which attracted Jackson’s attention in the early 2000s. Becoming his final commissioned portrait, Jackson asked Wiley to paint him in the typical style of European art history in order to challenge the stereotypes surrounding black people in the United States. This was an issue, as the exhibition highlights, which Jackson felt strongly about.

Although it is almost a decade since Michael Jackson’s death on 25th June 2009, artists are still enamoured with his compassion for those treated unfairly and the way [he] makes [them] feel. The year after his death, the diverse artist Lyle Ashton Harris (b1965) produced Black Ebony II (2010), which hangs close by the regal portrait of the “King of Pop”. “I remained intrigued by the vulnerability, the genius that was Michael Jackson and how his global presence still haunts the contemporary phantom scene.”

 

Some of the works have been purposely created by artists for this exhibition, for example, Graham Dolphin’s (b.1972) walls of record sleeves. Dolphin is well-known for his text art in which he hand writes minuscule words on top of pre-existing materials. In this instance, he has collaged together multiple sleeve issues of Michael Jackson’s albums Thriller and Off the Wall – of which the exhibition’s title is a parody. These are part of an ongoing series of work in which the artist explores the themes of fandom and idolatry. Across the sleeves, Dolphin has painstakingly written the complete lyrics of Jackson’s songbook.

After an introduction to a few examples of artwork inspired by Michael Jackson, the exhibition begins to follow Jackson’s timeline from his emergence into the world of fame through to his final years. Although the focus is mostly on the art, details about the singer are included in written descriptions, which help to explain the purpose and intention of each artist.

Michael Jackson was born on 29th August 1958 in Gary, Indiana, the eighth child of a working-class African-American family. His father, Joseph Walter Jackson (1928-2018), formed a band with his eldest sons, Jackie (b1951), Tito (b1953) and Jermaine (b1954), which Michael and another brother, Marlon (b1957) joined in 1964 as backing musicians on congas and tambourines. Michael was only 6 years old when he joined what would become known as the Jackson 5. The next year he was promoted to lead singer, a position he shared with Jermaine. By the tender age of 11, Michael and his brothers were already at the top of the charts with singles such as ABC and I’ll Be There.

 

During the 1970s, Michael Jackson grew from a child performer to a teen idol. Breaking away from his brothers as a solo artist, becoming the first black musician to receive worldwide fame. With studio albums and singles being released at great speed, Jackson was quickly becoming one of the most idolised musicians, winning award after award with barely a break in between, after all, you don’t stop ’til you get enough.

The National Portrait Gallery displays a handful of drawings the British painter Dawn Mellor (b1970) drew during her teenage years. These are what today’s youth call “fanart”, in which they copy pictures of their favourite stars or create imaginary scenarios derived from works in which the celebrity has been involved. Mellor also doodled portraits of the athlete Carl Lewis (b1961) and comedian Richard Pryor (1940-2005) who, like Jackson, were transcending barriers that usually limited African Americans.

Michael Jackson’s face became an iconic image after Andy Warhol (1928-87) created a series of silkscreen prints in 1984 to accompany an article in Time Magazine titled “Why He’s A Thriller”. Warhol was an avid Jackson fan and collected many of his records; commodities, such as look-a-like dolls; and newspaper clippings about the star.

As well as his physical appearance, fashion preferences and song lyrics, Jackson was also known for being a dancing machine. Some of these moves are difficult to replicate, although, many have now conquered the “moonwalk”. A more challenging dance move introduced by Jackson is “the freeze” in which he balanced on the very tip of his toes. Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom (b1984), who recently graduated from the Royal Acadamy Schools, produced a tribute to the “King of Pop” by replicating the famous “freeze” with latex balloons, ribbons and penny loafer shoes. A version of this sculpture is situated in the centre of one of the rooms in the exhibition, the shoes standing on their toes, held up by the balloons. Not only does this sculpture honour the late singer, it has metaphorical connotations too.

“… the replacement of the balloons as they individually deflate plays on the continuous work and effort in upholding an admired public image.”
– Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom

 

Living in the limelight has its positive and negative aspects. Being one of the most famous black men in the world, Michael Jackson was in a position to be to heard and listened to by millions of people. He advocated for equal rights, insisting that it did not matter if you were black or whiteJackson visited sick children around the world, giving them gifts and a moment to remember on Michael’s Heal The World Campaign in the 1990s. He turned his 3000-acre estate, Neverland Valley, into an amusement park with two zoos containing animals such as llamas, tigers, giraffes and elephants, and invited disadvantaged children to enjoy themselves.

Faith Ringgold (b1930), known for her narrative quilts, has been an activist in various feminist and anti-racism groups since the 1970s. One of her “story quilts”, which features in this exhibition, contains a figure of Michael Jackson in its centre. Her aim was to denounce racism and discrimination through her artwork.

“Some things in life they just don’t wanna see
But if Martin Luther was livin’
He wouldn’t let this be.”
– They Don’t Care About Us, Michael Jackson

Jackson wrote songs such as They Don’t Care About Us and Earth Song as a means of getting the message across about the inequalities in the world. Some people loved him for this, however, others began to despise him. This, unfortunately, kept Jackson under critical scrutiny, which anyone would find difficult to bear.

Michael Jackson could be recognised everywhere he went, his face was easy to remember. His features were so unique that he could be identified by his eyes only, as emphasised in Mark Ryden’s (1963) cover work for the album Dangerous (1991). Jackson’s eyes can be seen peeking through a mask-like shape at the top of the composition. Ryden was inspired by various pre-existing ideas including The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch (1450-1516), Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), and the photograph Cecil Beaton (1904-80) took of Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation.

Ryden’s purpose for including so many elements in his composition, for instance, a fairground ride and a host of dressed-up animals, was to convey a cluttered mind. From talking to Jackson, Ryden determined that the singer’s mind was a jumble of memories or a fun house, the latter also being an allusion to Neverland Valley. This also suggests Jackson’s frustration and loss of childhood due to becoming famous at such a young age. Instead of running around with other six and seven-year-olds, he was already having to keep up his demeanour for his adoring fans.

As befalls many a celebrity, Michael Jackson began having issues with his physical appearance, particularly his nose. His dissatisfaction also stemmed from his childhood and the way he was treated by his father. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Jackson admitted to “his tendency to remain hyper-compliant” in order to avoid a tirade or abuse. Allegedly, Joseph Jackson would whip his son and tell him that he had a fat nose. This, ultimately, led to several nose jobs that drastically altered Michael Jackson’s appearance. A thinner nose noticeably altered the overall shape of Jackson’s face, as shown in a posthumous painting by a French street artist, alias Mr Brainwash (1966).

 

Unfortunately, the National Portrait Gallery almost glosses over Michael Jackson’s final years, particularly his deteriorating appearance. Whether or not people believe the claim that he had only had a couple of nose jobs, it is clear that Jackson no longer looked like the young African American boy he was back in the day. The Gallery also fails to comment on the skin disease with which Jackson supposedly suffered. Vitiligo is a disease in which the melanocytes or pigment cells of the skin are destroyed in certain areas, thus causing the skin to appear white. This can affect people of all skin colours, however, the darker the skin, the more noticeable it becomes. It is unlikely to cause the entire skin to become white, which is why many people did not accept Jackson’s claims.

Maggi Hambling’s (b1945) portrait of Michael Jackson is one of the very few visual references to his change in skin tone. The pop star was reportedly diagnosed with vitiligo in 1984, however, there were also rumours he had been skin bleaching. Jackson’s biographer, J. Randy Taraborrelli, also states that he suffered from lupus, which made his skin extremely sensitive to light. Despite these statements, many people refused to believe that Jackson was ill, however, vitiligo was diagnosed in his autopsy report.

With all the negative press, it is no wonder Michael Jackson began to hate the sight of the man in the mirror, however, he still had many loyal fans throughout the world. In 2017, Chinese artist Yan Pei-Ming (1960) painted a portrait in memory of Michael Jackson. It is interesting to discover how wide a fanbase Jackson had, reaching as far as Asia where the Western world has less of an impact.

 

Some fans revered Michael Jackson to the point that he became more than human in their eyes. One fan was the American commercial photographer David LaChapelle (b1963) who believed Jackson’s life reached almost Biblical proportions. This is a controversial subject that many may not agree with or even be offended by, however, LaChappelle saw many similarities between Jackson and Jesus Christ.

The photographer believes “we persecuted him”, listening to malicious gossip and rumours. Whilst Jackson was trying to do good, helping disadvantaged children and improving opportunities for African Americans, the world painted him as bad or even a smooth criminal, accusing him of child abuse, vanity and so forth.

LaChappelle created a series of manipulated photographs in homage to Michael Jackson, positioning him in in front of different backgrounds, adding wings and other figures to make him look like an angel that had defeated the devil or a man who had been crucified.

Although these ideas are rather extreme, they emphasise the serious allegations inflicted upon Jackson compared with the way LaChappelle wishes the musician could be remembered. As Jackson once said, “Don’t judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.” LaChappelle is trying to preserve Michael Jackson’s dignity for his fans and his family.

At Michael Jackson’s memorial service, the Reverend Al Sharpton (b1954) also tried to preserve Jackson’s memory. He wanted Jackson’s children, Michael Joseph Jr (b1997), Paris-Michael (b1998), and Prince Michael II “Blanket” (b2002), to know that “there was nothing strange about your daddy, it was strange what your daddy had to deal with.”

 

Other artworks in Michael Jackson: On the Wall included videos, music clips, sculpture and painting. A particularly amusing exhibit was Michael Lee Bush’s “dinner jacket”, which was purposely made to look similar to clothing Jackson often wore. Bush was Jackson’s costume designer for 26 years, but when he was asked to replicate Jackson’s dinner jacket, he played with the word “dinner” by adding lots of cutlery over the chest and back.

The exhibition culminated in Candice Breitz’s (b1978) video installation of a number of German-speaking Michael Jackson fans singing Thriller a capella. The purpose of this project is not entirely clear and is quite frankly a disappointing end to the overall exhibition. Michael Jackson: On the Wall started off promising but lost strength towards the end. It almost felt as though the curator was struggling to fill the final rooms.

Nonetheless, On the Wall is primarily an art exhibition and, therefore, achieves what it set out to do: reveal how Michael Jackson influenced art. Jackson fans, however, may be disappointed with the lack of information about his life as his career grew and the disregard for his final struggles.

 

Viewing a life through works of art is an interesting idea but a more appropriate approach for a singer would be to hear their life through music. Since 2009, fans have had the opportunity to learn a little about Michael Jackson by listening to his music at the Lyric Theatre on Shafestbury Avenue in a 2-hour plus production of Thriller Live. Named after Jackson’s best selling album of all time, the show is currently the 15th longest running show in the West End as well as the longest running at the Lyric Theatre, which opened in 1888.

The non-stop hit songs include titles by the Jackson 5, such as Rockin’ Robin and Blame it on the Boogie, as well as all of the Michael Jackson favourites from all decades of his career. Dancers and singers perform the songs dressed to look like Michael Jackson and his backing group whilst the audience cheers and joins in, encouraged to stand up by the lead vocalist.

Although too loud for some people, Thriller Live is perfect for Michael Jackson fans, especially those who never got a chance to see him live in concert. The vocals and dance moves mimic the “King of Pop”, providing a perfect example of what Jackson usually provided for his audience.

Whilst Thriller Live is targetted at Michael Jackson fans, the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition is supposed to attract anyone interested in art, however, it has a greater appeal for those who loved his music. To fully appreciate both the exhibition and the stage production, the audience needs to be familiar with the “King of Pop”, his music history, and the causes he felt strongly about.

The National Portrait Gallery will be hosting Michael Jackson: On the Wall until 21st October 2018. Tickets range from £15.50 to £22 and advanced booking is advised for those who are not members of the gallery. Tickets for Thriller Live start at £32 and can be purchased online.

Note: phrases in bold allude to song titles 

The Beth Chatto Gardens

One of the most influential plantswomen in Britain, Beth Chatto OBE VMH transformed an overgrown wasteland into an extensive, beautiful garden. Continuing to oversee the developments well into her 90s, Beth created a pleasant place to visit, attracting people from all over the world. Whether visitors intend to have a peaceful walk followed by relaxing in the tearoom or arrive with the intention of purchasing from a wide range of plants, the Beth Chatto Gardens are a place that can be enjoyed by all. Since Beth’s death on 13th May 2018, her family and 50 plus workers are determined to keep the gardens alive and continue to develop and build on Beth’s aims and visions. The Beth Chatto Gardens are a legacy and a memorial of the fantastic, green-fingered gardener.

Situated near Elmstead Market, Colchester, the Beth Chatto Gardens are home to over 2000 varieties of plants. Split into several smaller gardens, habitats suitable for all types of plants have been developed, allowing native and exotic flowers and shrubs to blossom. From drought-tolerant plants to those that live near water, Beth Chatto has them all, however, the state of the land when Beth first purchased it was a completely contrasting, sorry sight.

 

 

Betty Diana Little was born in Good Easter, Essex in 1923 to Bessie (née Styles) and William Little, who were both keen gardeners. In her 20s, Betty began using the name Beth, by which she is now recognised throughout the world. Initially, Beth trained to be a teacher and worked at Hockerill College, Bishop’s Stortford from 1940 until 1943, when she married her husband Andrew Chatto.

Like Beth, Andrew was passionate about plants and worked as a fruit farmer until 1960. To begin with, the Chattos and their two daughters lived in Braiswick, Colchester, however, Beth was disappointed that she was unable to have a proper garden on account of the quality of the soil. The Chatto family fruit farm in Elmstead Market, however, had far more potential for a garden, so Beth convinced her husband to build a new home on the land.

Unlike other fruit farms in the area, the Chatto’s farm was less successful owing to the dryness of the soil in some parts and wetness in others. As a result, only plants such as wild blackthorn, willow and brambles had been able to grow naturally. Nevertheless, Beth was determined for her garden to be a success, and today, only the ancient oaks along the boundary survive from the original farmland.

Instead of being discouraged by the mix of gravelly soil and boggy ditches, Beth sought out plants that would thrive in these areas, rather than fight a losing battle trying to get anything else to grow. Today, the Beth Chatto Gardens span five acres of land with a variety of plant environments, including sun-baked gravel, water, woodland, heavy clay and alpine planting.

 

 

On arrival, visitors enter the newly developed Gravel Garden, which was once used as the car park. It was originally formed as an experiment by Beth Chatto and her team of workers. Famous for never needing to be watered, the free-draining soil is perfect for the Gardens’ selection of drought-tolerant plants, including ornamental grass and a tall eucalyptus tree, a plant native to Australia. Of the whole Beth Chatto Gardens, it is these plants that coped best during Britain’s July-August 2018 heatwave.

800px-etnabroom8142

Mount Etna Broom

Another species of plant in the Gravel Garden is the genista aetnensis or Mount Etna Broom, which is endemic to the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia. This Mediterranean shrubby vegetation typically needs stony soil to thrive and a sunny climate, i.e. little rain. Although Colchester is not the driest of places (heatwave notwithstanding), the light gravelly soil prevents the rain from having a disastrous effect on these dry-thriving plants.

Once past the main entrance to the gardens, where only those who have paid can enter, the path leads to the Water Garden which surrounds four cloud-shaped ponds in which many water plants are growing. All the plants in this garden need moisture in order to survive and, although they can be watered by hand, the roots can get what they need directly from the ponds.

 

 

Unfortunately, the plants and foliage in the Water Garden have been hit heavily by the recent heatwave. Although the water source is always available, in July the sun had scorched the petals and leaves, drying them up to make it look like autumn had come early. This garden is better suited to cooler springtime temperatures.

Following on from the Water Gardens is a long shady walk under tall ancient oak trees. The plants that are seen here grow well in the shade, out of the direct sunlight. These include ferns and various carpeting plants, which brighten up the surroundings. The Beth Chatto Gardens’ leaflet tells visitors to look out for strands of Solomon’s Seal, whose roots bear depressions which resemble royal seals.

Other interesting roots to look out for are the “knobbly knees” or pneumatophores of the swamp cypress. These can be seen above ground in areas near the newly developed area of clay soil near the reservoir. These plants are prevalent in places such as the Everglades in Florida and are not native to England, however, the damp soil in this area of the Beth Chatto Gardens is a great place for them to thrive.

 

 

On the far side of the Gardens is the Woodland Garden, which, as can be inferred from its name, is full of trees. Most of these are the remaining oaks from the original fruit farm but beneath them are shade-loving flowers, perennials and shrubs that provide a number of different colours. In the summer months, whilst there may be less blossom and flowers, there are numerous shades of green ranging from light to dark depending on the plant.

The Woodland Garden is the most peaceful section of the Beth Chatto Gardens. Out of the way of the entrance, it is easy to imagine you are in a country park or forest rather than a cultivated garden. It is also a great place for wildlife, particularly insects, who can live in the bug houses made of dead wood.

Other areas to investigate are the New Planting and Scree Garden. The former contains recently planted shrubs that had been started in the Nursery until strong enough to survive outside. The Scree Garden is made up of a series of raised beds where easy-to-grow alpine plants can prosper despite the stony growing conditions.

Some parts of the Gardens are restricted to staff either because they are developing new areas or because the ground is used as stock beds. Over 60,000 plants are grown on site every year, which are either placed in the Gardens or sold. Most of the plants in the garden can be found for sale in the nursery, which has been running successfully since 1967. Many of these are offcuts or seedlings and may not look like the full-grown versions in the Gardens, however, staff working in the nursery are very good at identifying plants from photographs visitors have taken and can help people make the correct purchase.

Staff are also keen to help gardeners find plants that will thrive in the particular type of soil they have at home. There is a selection of plants that have been carefully selected to suit dry, shady, or damp gardens, therefore, rarely does anyone go away empty handed.

 

Beth Chatto is not just known for her lovely gardens, she is known throughout the horticultural community for her amazing knowledge of plants. Throughout her career as a gardener, Beth won many awards, the first being as early as 1977. After the hard work focused on the Gardens was beginning to pay off, Beth was able to concentrate on entering flower competitions, such as those at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Flower arranging was something that Beth became interested in during the 1950s when a neighbour encouraged her to become involved with the art. Soon, she became one of the founder members of the Colchester Flower Club, which was only the second flower club established in Britain. Combining her love of flower arranging with her ever-growing garden, Beth was persuaded to produce a display for the Royal Horticultural Society Show in 1975 for which she was awarded the RHS Flora Silver Medal.

The silver medal was only the beginning of Beth’s success; the following year, she entered the RHS’s Chelsea Flower Show and won another Flora Silver Gilt medal, however, in 1977, she did even better. For ten consecutive years, Beth Chatto was awarded Chelsea Gold Medals for her display of unique plants for dry and damp areas, which at the time were remarkably different to any other exhibit.

A decade after her first award at the Chelsea Flower Show, Beth had another victorious year in which she was awarded the Lawrence Memorial Medal, the Victoria Medal of Honour, and an Honorary Degree by the University of Essex. By this point, Beth’s fame had spread even further through the publication of several books: The Dry Garden (1978), The Damp Garden (1982) and Plant Portraits (1985). Later, Beth penned more popular gardening books, which can still be purchased in the Gardens’ gift shop. Her final book Beth Chatto’s Woodland Garden was published in 2002.

As she became known throughout the world, Beth began going on tours, giving lectures about gardening. The first tour she participated in was in America during 1983, which was followed by British Columbia, Canada and the North West States of America the following year. In 1986, Beth went back to America to give more lectures, however, in 1987 she stayed closer to home, touring Holland and Germany. Eventually, Beth travelled as far as Australia for her lectures, before giving her final one in Paris in 1990.

Although her lecturing days were over, Beth was still being recognised for all her hard work. In 1995, Beth was elected to the International Professional and Business Women’s Hall of Fame for outstanding achievements in introducing plant ecology to garden design. This studies the effects of environmental factors upon the abundance of plants, for which the Beth Chatto Gardens are famous.

In 1998, Beth was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Garden Writer’s Guild for her numerous books, but her most prestigious award was given in 2002: an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. In 2009, she was awarded another honorary doctorate, this time from Anglia Ruskin University, then in 2011, was named a Paul Harris Fellow by Colchester Trinity Rotary Club. Her final award was presented in 2014:  the Society of Garden Design’s John Brookes Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I wish to set up an Education Trust in my name to carry forward my passion for
plants and ecological approach to all age groups.”
– Beth Chatto

By now, Beth was already into her 90s and was no longer doing any physical gardening, although she was often seen driving around on a mobility scooter to check out the hard work of her devoted staff and volunteers. Knowing she would not live forever, Beth was determined for the garden to live on without her and wished to ignite the passion for gardening within the younger generation. She also believed that gardening was the key to a healthy planet.

In 2015, Beth set up an Education Trust in her own name to encourage people of all ages to become interested in ecological approaches. The charity offers courses, workshops and events for school parties, individuals and families throughout the year, including RHS qualifications. Many of these courses take place in the Willow Room situated near to the garden entrance. The building can also be hired out for special celebrations, wedding receptions and wakes.

Although her death is still fresh in the minds of many people, there is no risk of Beth Chatto being forgotten. The Gardens will continue to open to the public, courses will still run, and staff will always be hard at work. Apart from at Christmas and New Year, the Beth Chatto Gardens are open every day and can be accessed for a fee ranging between  £4.50 and £8.45 depending on the season.

Visitors do not need to wander the gardens every time they visit, some people, who just want to purchase plants from the Gardens’ impressive stock, can enter the Plant Nursery and Gravel Garden for free. Also worth visiting is the Tearoom and Gravel Garden Restaurant, which specialises in freshly baked home-made scones, sausage rolls, homemade cakes and afternoon teas. Coffee lovers can enjoy a cup of the unique Beth Chatto Gardens coffee, which has been specially blended by the team.

Whilst it is sad to lose a life, Beth Chatto will live on through her garden, inspiring new gardeners, young and old, throughout the world. Whether you have green fingers or not, the Beth Chatto Gardens are worth a visit just to see the hard work that Beth and her workers have put in for almost 60 years.

More information about opening times, ticket prices and upcoming events can be found on the website: www.bethchatto.co.uk 

logo

Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up

For the first time ever, the possessions of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo have left Mexico and arrived at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum to help tell her powerful, yet tragic story, Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up. Beginning with an introduction to her family and ending with an impressive collection of clothing, Kahlo’s personal belongings, which were not discovered until 2004, reveal how she assembled her personal identity and coped with her many hardships.

Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón was born on 6th July 1907 and would grow up to become a painter of surrealism and folk art based on her strong opinions about identity, postcolonialism, gender, class, and race in Mexican society. Unfortunately, life was not going to be easy for Kahlo, particularly where her health was concerned.

Kahlo’s parents were the German photographer Guillermo Kahlo (1871–1941) and Matilde Calderón y González (1876–1932) of indigenous descent. Although she had three sisters and two step-sisters, it appears that Frida was the favourite. Whilst her siblings went to a convent school, her father insisted she was enrolled into a German school. The reason for her father’s favouritism was on account of her disabilities as a result of Polio, which she contracted when she was six years old. As a result, her right leg was much shorter and thinner than the left.

Unfortunately, children were no better than they are today and bullied Frida about her defects. Isolated from her peers, her father took it upon himself to teach her about literature, nature, and philosophy, which set her in good stead for her political future with the Communist party. Guillermo also taught his daughter about photography, thus introducing Frida into the world of art and composition.

Frida Kahlo’s childhood took place during a time when women were not given equal opportunities and were regarded as weaker and lesser than men. Therefore, Kahlo’s determination to go to school to train to be a doctor shows her strength of character. Unfortunately, this dream of hers was never to be fulfilled. On 17th September 1925, whilst on her way home from school, Kahlo suffered near-fatal injuries after the bus she was travelling on collided with a street car. Lucky to survive, unlike many of the other passengers, Kahlo suffered fractured ribs, leg and collarbone and an iron handrail impaled through her pelvis.

3202

Plaster corset painted and decorated by Frida Kahlo

Kahlo suffered from pain and illness for the rest of her life as a result of the crash, however, it opened up an entirely new career path for her. During her recovery, Kahlo spent the majority of time in bed, her back held up by uncomfortable plaster corsets, some of which can be seen in the exhibition. Lying on her back with a specially crafted table over her legs, Kahlo stared at herself in a mirror positioned above her bed and began to paint her self-portrait.

Self-portraits make up the majority of Kahlo’s paintings, using them as a means of exploring her identity and existence. Although she never painted the terrible traffic collision, Kahlo expressed her feelings and pain through her artwork. Many of these are made up of several surreal elements, commenting on different aspects of her life.

The V&A does not display many of her paintings, however, except for a still life at the beginning of the exhibition, the few that are shown are self-portraits. These are spread throughout the gallery in order to expand upon the personal objects and periods of her life.

Frida Kahlo can be recognised by her black hair and a striking monobrow, as well as the fine black hairs between her nose and lips – an element many female artists would choose to omit when painting their self-portrait. Although she utilised make-up and carefully styled her hair, Kahlo was not one to be oppressed by female stereotypes. Her strong facial hair was a part of her and she wore it with pride and never let it bother her, even when some young American boys heckled her in the street, asking where the circus was.

3204

Selection of cosmetics owned by Frida Kahlo

A few of the cosmetics and medications Kahlo frequently used are in display cases along with her sewing box, hairbrush and jewellery. Visitors can also see remnants of paint tubes and brushes personally used by Kahlo shortly before her death in 1954.

These belongings open a window into Kahlo’s life, which the symbolism in her paintings does not quite achieve. Whilst her self-portraits are a visual description of her appearance and cultural identity, the personal items reveal the true woman behind the paintbrush.

Kahlo typically included Mexican components in her paintings as well as the occasional post-colonialism reference. The colours, style of clothing and atmosphere are the type she experienced growing up in Mexico, which she endeavoured to hold onto despite the rise in Americanisation. Kahlo often painted exotic plants native to the country in the backgrounds and foregrounds of her portraits and sometimes included likenesses of her pets, which were also endemic to Mexico, for instance, spider monkeys.

Whenever Kahlo was unwell, her paintings reflected the pain and frustration she was feeling. Kahlo represented herself as wounded and broken, or like a child, depending on how the circumstances affected her mentality. Toward the end of her life, expressing the pain she was in became a common theme for Kahlo.

In The Broken Column (1944), Kahlo paints herself in the nude, her stomach and torso split apart to reveal a broken column that could topple at any moment. Her arms and face are attacked by nails, which, although draw no blood, express the pain and distress she was under at the time. The metaphor of the broken column alludes to the state her spine was in by the 1940s. Her back had worsened to the point that she could no longer sit or stand for any length of time due to the pain and lack of strength in the bones. Despite undergoing several operations throughout her life, nothing had cured her spinal problems and she was soon due to undergo an operation to fuse a bone graft and a steel support to her spine in order to straighten it. Regrettably, this procedure was also unsuccessful.

Despite this, Frida remained mentally strong, as emphasised by her stoic facial expression in the painting and upright posture. The tears on her face represent how she is feeling inside, but the vacuous facial features do not give any of that away. Her eyes look straight ahead at the audience as though she is conveying her spiritual triumph through a glance, challenging herself and others to accept the situation as it is and learn to endure and live with it.

Whilst Kahlo was recovering from the bus crash, other people her age were finishing school and attending university. Although she had missed out on her chance to attend herself, once she was released from bed rest in 1927, she regained contact with her friends and joined them in their involvement with student politics. This quickly led to joining the Mexican Communist Party where Kahlo was introduced to many notable people, including the most successful Mexican painter at the time, Diego Rivera (1886-1957). As well as her politics, Rivera was interested in her artwork stating, “it was obvious to me that this girl was an authentic artist.”

Despite the age gap, Rivera and Kahlo became a couple and were later married in 1929. Kahlo’s parents regarded the match as a “marriage between an elephant and a dove,” however, Kahlo’s father was pleased she had married a rich man who could support her expensive medical treatment. The pair moved to the state of Morelos where Rivera, as a mural painter, had been given a commission. Unfortunately, this meant Kahlo was exposed to the fighting of the Mexican civil war. It is believed this sparked her preference of traditional peasant clothing and Mexican style art, now that she was more aware of the importance of Mexican identity and history.

Rivera had to move around a lot depending on who commisioned him for a mural. In 1930, Kahlo went with him to San Francisco in the United States where she was introduced to a number of American painters. Whilst the trip was by no means horrible, Kahlo was unimpressed by American life, which she regarded as boring, and made her even more determined to express her own heritage in her artwork.

One of the paintings she produced at this time emphasises her longing for her home country. Self-portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States of America (1932) shows the artist standing on an imaginary boundary stone between her country and the country in which she was currently residing. She paints herself in traditional clothing, holding a Mexican flag, indicating her loyalty to her country.

Facing towards Mexico, a handful of crops grow in the foreground, symbolising Mexico’s agricultural history, however, the background is the type of scene Kahlo saw whilst in America. Tall buildings obscure the sky and chimney stacks pollute the air with smoke. On the left, a pre-Columbian building lies partially ruined and being struck by lightning, suggesting that America has destroyed the indigenous origins of the country.

Kahlo’s marriage was not much of a happy one. A number of times, Kahlo fell pregnant but feeling unable to carry and care for a baby, had the pregnancies terminated. Later, she decided she would like to try to carry a baby to full term, however, in her weakened state, her body was unable to cope and resulted in miscarriages. Whilst the loss of an unborn baby can be hard upon a couple, it was Rivera’s womanising ways that caused the most strain. After he had an affair with Kahlo’s younger sister, she moved out and began affairs of her own, with both men and with women. This included Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) who was living in Kahlo’s house after seeking asylum in Mexico. Eventually, Kahlo and Rivera were granted a divorce in 1939, however, they remained on friendly terms.

The Two Fridas (1939) was painted shortly after the couple’s divorce. In this self-portrait, Kahlo has painted herself twice; on the right is Frida wearing traditional costume and on the left, she wears modern clothing. Both Frida’s are holding hands and their hearts, which are visible on top of their chests, are joined together by a single artery.

Kahlo admitted that the painting represents her broken heart and loneliness after her separation from her husband. Torn between her traditional Mexican values and the modern developments occurring throughout the country, she felt lost and unable to determine her own identity. Without Rivera, Kahlo had lost a little bit of herself.

Sadly, for Kahlo, divorce was soon to be the least of her worries. As previously mentioned, Kahlo’s spine was rapidly deteriorating during the 1940s, however, to make matters worse, in 1953 her right leg, already disfigured from Polio, developed gangrene and had to be amputated below the knee. She had a prosthetic leg made so that she could still move about, albeit slowly and in pain. The V&A displays her prosthetic wearing one of her bright red leather boots. Co-curator Circe Henestrosa declared, “this is my favourite object in the exhibition. It is really modern, and it symbolises her whole attitude. Far from letting herself be defined as an invalid, she intervened as a rebel act. She was comfortable uncovering her disabilities.”

On the night of 12th July 1954, Kahlo was in bed suffering from severe pain and a high fever. Having anticipated her death days before, Kahlo had produced a sketch of the Angel of Death annotated with the words, “I joyfully await the exit — and I hope never to return — Frida.” When Kahlo’s nurse came to check on her at 6am the next morning, she was dead.

According to Wikipedia, the Tate Modern has listed Kahlo as “one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century”, and art historian Elizabeth Bakewell concurs that Kahlo was “one of Mexico’s most important twentieth-century figures”. Kahlo’s fame has increased posthumously both as an artist and an unconventional personality. She is admired by feminists and people of the LGBT community on account of her bisexuality.

The V&A exhibition culminates with an extraordinary selection of Kahlo’s clothing, which was discovered in 2004 locked away in her personal bathroom of her house-cum-museum. All the outfits are full of bright colours and displayed on shop dummies created to look like Frida Kahlo, complete with her traditional braided hairstyle.

The style of dress is called Tehuana and comprises of several pieces. The blouses, or Huipile, were typical in Mexico and Central American countries and were usually made by hand. The embroidery is intricately beautiful and must have taken days or even weeks to produce; no doubt these items are one of a kind.

The skirts are floor length and equally delicately decorated. The material would have been perfect for Kahlo to cover up her disfigured leg and, later, the prosthetic leg. The skirt and Huipile were combined with various shawls or rezbos, which were wrapped around the shoulders. Although this was the traditional garb of Mexican peasants, the colours were fit for the elite.

“I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint.”
-Frida Kahlo

The V&A has done a wonderful job, as always, with Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up. Rather than concentrating on her artwork, the museum looks at her entire life from birth to death. With only a limited selection of paintings available, visitors learn more about Kahlo as a person rather than a painter. They discover her passionate determination, her background, the future she paved for herself and, most importantly, the way she wished to be seen by the world.

Most people who visit the exhibition will likely have already heard of and know a little about Frida Kahlo. This is a great benefit because the museum does not elaborate much on certain events of her life. Another downside, as overheard whilst walking around the exhibition, is some of the information about certain paintings or photographs is far too low and small to read for many people, resulting in crowds bending over to get a closer look. Whilst there are booklets with large print available, there are not enough for everyone, especially as the tickets are usually sold out by mid-morning.

The V&A will be showing Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up until Sunday 4th November 2018. Tickets cost £15 and can be booked online, which is strongly advisable to limit disappointment. 

Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire

“We are still in Eden; the wall that shuts us out is our own ignorance and folly.”
– Thomas Cole

Throughout the year, the National Gallery puts on several exhibitions about famous artists, art movements, styles and so forth, however, every once in a while, an unknown name crops up. These artists have generally been forgotten about over time and the Gallery endeavours to bring them back into public knowledge. The current exhibition, Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire, focuses on the founding father of American painting who, despite his importance across the pond, is virtually unheard of in Britain.

Thomas Cole was born in Bolton le Moors, Lancashire, England in 1801, however, nothing much is known about his early years. In 1818, the Cole family emigrated to Steubenville, Ohio where Cole taught himself to paint, relying on books and studies of other artists. His first artistic career was as an engraver but his painting soon took precedence. Working as a portrait painter, Cole was encouraged to turn his hand to landscapes, which is where he found his métier.

Cole perceived nature as God’s great gift to the world and aimed to capture its transcendence. At 22, Cole moved to Philadelphia, however, by 1825, he had settled in Catskill, New York where he set up a studio at Cedar Grove. Enamoured by the landscape, Cole was often travelling up and down the Hudson River, capturing in oil paints nature at its most powerful, a romantic portrayal of the American wilderness. This was a complete contrast to the urban, industrialised scenery Cole experienced growing up in England.

 

Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire comprises of 35 works by the American artist, alongside landscapes by those who inspired him. Two British painters from the Romantic-era, J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) and John Constable (1776-1837), impressed Cole with their naturalistic landscapes. Although Turner and Constable were less precise in applying paint to canvas, particularly Turner whose colours often blur into each other, once the viewer is familiar with Cole’s work, it is clear to see exactly why he enjoyed these paintings. Cole preferred natural, unadulterated scenes where the landscape was in a pure, God-intended condition. Turner and Constable’s countryside landscapes reflect this idea.

Another artist Cole admired was the English Romantic painter, John Martin (1789-1854), however, he was not specifically regarded as a landscape painter. Martin was mostly known for his spectacular painting of religious subjects, preferring dramatic and violent Biblical stories over the more humble ones. When he painted the story of the writing on the wall, Belshazzar’s Feast (1820), based upon Daniel chapter 5, he claimed, “it shall make more noise than any picture ever did before …” His mezzotint engraving of a scene from the story of Noah’s Ark, The Evening of the Deluge (1828), was equally as dramatic.

Cole also ventured into biblical painting, which is most likely one of the reasons Martin’s work appealed to him. Martin also included imposing landscapes in the background of his scenes, which was another element that would have gained Cole’s favour. The brushstrokes are much finer than Turner and Constable’s, in fact, they are barely discernable. Cole’s paintings were also produced in this manner, resulting in scenes that could have been imagined by one English artist but painted by Martin.

 

Living in the Catskills with his wife Maria Barlow, who he married in 1836, and their five children, Cole had plenty of opportunities to paint the idyllic landscape. A good number of Cole’s masterpieces were produced in this area, however, he also travelled around the United States to places he wished to paint and also returned to Europe to study the masters and explore various countries. Many of these scenes involved natural landscape, water and an expressive sky.

In 1830, Cole travelled to the border between the U.S and Canada to view the powerful Niagara Falls. Something to be understood about Cole’s work is that he rarely painted exactly what he saw, rather he portrayed what he wished to see. At the time, the landscape surrounding the Falls was crowded with factories and hotels, whereas, Cole depicted an unspoilt natural environment. Throughout his life, Cole was increasingly anxious about the industrialisation of the country believing that it was destroying the American wilderness.

When visiting Europe, Cole spent some time in Italy during the year 1831 where he made sketches of various vistas. Back in his New York studio, Cole transformed his drawings into oil paintings, using artistic license to add extra trees and foliage. View of Florence from San Miniato (1837) reveals the old and new buildings of the beautiful city combined with Cole’s ideal aspects of nature.

Cole’s landscapes tend to be very deep, stretching as far back as the eye can see. One of Cole’s influential paintings officially titled View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm but commonly referred to as The Oxbow (1836), shows a panorama of the Connecticut River Valley. On the left-hand side, the sky remains grey, the storm clouds have not yet completely passed over, whereas, the sky on the opposite side is much brighter, the sun shining onto the river below. Some of the vegetation under the dark clouds look dead or damaged, however, fresh foliage determinedly grows up around the lifeless plants, proving that nature will continually renew itself.

It could be argued that Thomas Cole’s landscapes are fictitious on account of the added natural aspects and removal of urban developments. Whilst this is a fair point, Cole produced completely fictional scenes as well. Cole was interested in history, particularly of native America, fiction, and the Bible and often incorporated notions of these into his paintings.

On a cliff edge, Cole depicted a couple of Indians making a sacrifice to a god. Indians refer to the indigenous people of the Americas who lived almost at one with nature. It was only with the arrival of people from Europe that America began to be developed and urbanised. Cole mourns the loss of the pure, natural environment by imagining what the world may once have looked like; a time when nature was bigger than anything else.

Cole painted another landscape set at a similar time period to Indian Sacrifice (1827), however, it was inspired by a work of fiction. Based on the historical novel The Last of the Mohicans (1826), Cole painted his interpretation of a scene that took place in the year 1757 during the French and Indian War. Titled Cora Kneeling at the Feet of Tamenund (1827), Cole depicts native Delaware Indians encircling two captives, Alice and Cora Munro, the latter who lies prostrate at the feet of the chief, Tamenundin a desperate plea for mercy.

Whilst based upon a book, relying on written description, it is believed that Cole incorporated a view of Mount Chocorua and Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, in the background. It is likely that the elements in the foreground had also been observed by the artist on his journeys in the American countryside.

The most famous of Cole’s individual fictional scenes is The Titan’s Goblet (1833), which has been described as a picture within a picture or a landscape within a landscape. The painting defies explanation, the artist has left no commentary to clarify his intentions. Set on a conventional terrain, a giant goblet sits larger than any of the natural elements in the background. The goblet is full of water that spills over the edge to create waterfalls whilst sailing vessels can be seen in the centre. The rim holds a mini world covered in grass and trees and is inhabited, as suggested by the Greek temple and Italian palace that can be seen on opposite edges. These buildings are similar to ancient relics that Cole would have seen when he visited Europe.

Another of Cole’s more appreciated paintings is his version of The Garden of Eden (1828). This was one of Cole’s earlier paintings and shows God’s garden as described in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Adam and Eve have yet to eat from the tree of knowledge and are unashamed about their naked bodies. A young deer can be seen in the clearing, which the pair appear to be reaching out towards. The landscape is picturesque and pure, the way Cole believed God intended his creation.

Arguably Cole’s best work, and the centrepiece of the exhibition Eden to Empire, is an allegorical work that tells the cycle of the rise and fall of a classical civilisation. The Course of Empire (1834-6) shows the same landscape over centuries, from its primitive beginnings, through its development and destruction by humans, to its return to nature. This series of five paintings were a response to Cole’s fears about the rapidly developing country and his belief that nature will always renew itself, whereas, human nature is far less sustainable.

The first image, The Savage State, reveals nature as it was supposedly intended. The only human interruption is a hunter pursuing a deer, thus revealing what aboriginal North American life was once like.  The unadulterated world is green and luscious; nature and the weather are in control, working together to survive.

The second image, known both as The Arcadian and Pastoral State, is still a natural area, however, there has been a few human developments. Families have settled and converted the wilderness into farmland with lawns, ploughed fields and sheep. The people are working hard to look after the animals and the crops, however, in the distance is a suggestion of further advancements; almost hidden by the trees is a megalith temple. The entire landscape is how Cole’s idealised pre-urban Greece once looked.

There is a massive jump between the Pastoral State and the next in the series, The Consummation of Empire. Here, the entire landscape has been obscured by collonaded marble structures, balcony-fitted buildings and crowds of people. A king strides across a bridge, robed in scarlet, looking very important. Ships fill up the river, the only evidence of the original terrain. In this instance, Cole was imagining the height of Ancient Rome, when it was the most powerful city in the world.

Unfortunately for the civilians, the city was not going to last. In a scene that resembles the sack of Rome in 410AD, Destruction shows enemy warriors attacking and killing the inhabitants. The bridge has collapsed and columns have toppled, barely any of the buildings remain intact. A statue of a warrior standing in a similar pose to a Borghese Gladiator has been decapitated, his head lying smashed on the ground below amongst the blood of fallen men.

Finally, the last scene Desolation shows the results of the destroyed city many decades later. It is the remains of a ruined city, one lone column stubbornly remaining standing, although, now only used by the birds nesting on top. Trees, ivy and overgrowth cover the remaining rubble. With humanity out of the way, nature has repossessed the city, taking back what had been stolen. This is the ultimate cycle of nature; without human intervention, the plants and wildlife would roam wild and free.

As well as Cole’s pessimistic outlook about the developing world, it is also suggested that The Course of Empire was a commentary on President Andrew Jackson’s (1767-1845) policies, which, Cole clearly disagreed with. There is also evidence that Cole was influenced by Lord Byron’s (1788-1824) poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812):

“Freedom falls and then Glory –
when that falls,
wealth, vice, corruption … “

Despite not being well known in Britain, Thomas Cole was a great influence on American painters, particularly Asher B. Durand (1796-1886) and Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) who studied with the artist from 1844 until 1846. Looking at Durand and Church’s paintings, which the National Gallery displays in the final room of the exhibition, it is easy to be fooled into thinking they have been painted by Cole. The style, tone and focus of the landscape are exactly the same as their teacher produced, insinuating that Cole was a highly regarded painter.

From approximately 1825, Thomas Cole became a leading figure and possibly founder of the Hudson River School, a term retrospectively applied to the group of American landscape artists that worked between c1825 and 1875. All of these artists, like Cole, were inspired by the beauty of nature and the 18th-century artistic movement, Romanticism. As the name of the group implies, these artists worked within the Hudson Valley, in areas such as the Catskill, Adirondack, and White Mountains. They mostly portrayed remote and untouched areas of natural beauty in their work.

Sadly, Thomas Cole’s life was cut short when he died on 11th February 1848. In honour of his devotion to landscape painting, the fourth highest peak in the Catskills is named Thomas Cole Mountain in his honour. His home, Cedar Grove, has been renamed the Thomas Cole House, declared a National Historic Site in 1999 and is now open to the public.

It is surprising that Thomas Cole is not known in Great Britain, despite his English origins and painting expertise. With the first ever exhibition of his work in this country, it is hoped that Cole will become more popular. There is nothing to dislike about his work, which is realistic with a magical quality within. Compared to world famous artists, some of Cole’s paintings are more pleasant to look at, earning their reputation through aesthetic rather than a recognised name.

The National Gallery will continue to display Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire until 7th October 2018. Being an unknown artist, the exhibition is usually quiet and therefore it is not vital to book tickets in advance. Standard admission price is £10 per person, although, members of the Gallery can enter free of charge. 

Monet’s Architectural Visions

download (1)

The Water-Lily Pond

Claude Monet (1840-1926) is perhaps best known for his en plein air paintings of gardens and countryside, particularly, for example, The Water-Lily Pond (1899). Whilst it is true that Monet produced many paintings of nature, for the majority of his artistic career, Monet concentrated on landscapes and cityscapes, focusing on the man-made buildings rather than the natural environment.

In a recent exhibition at the National Gallery, sponsored by the Credit Suisse, Monet & Architecture explored the overlooked aspects of Monet’s works with over 75 paintings spanning from the early 1860s until 1912. Split into three themes, the gallery focused on The Village and the Picturesque, which included paintings of cottages by rocky paths or sea fronts; The City and the Modern, featuring a mix of new and old buildings; and, finally, The Monument and the Mysterious, with examples of Monet’s experiments with atmosphere and light.

Born in Paris and brought up in Normandy, Monet had access to an area of France steeped in medieval history and buildings. With these scenes at his mercy, he produced many picturesque landscapes, not too dissimilar in style to his nature-based paintings.

As Monet’s reputation as a painter increased, he began visiting other areas of France and travelling to various countries on the continent. As a result, his broad collection of artwork almost reads like a photo album, documenting the places he lived or holidayed.

 

Many of Monet’s landscapes involve a body of water, be it sea, river or pond. Despite his Impressionist style – a name coined in 1874 to describe the works of the Sociéte anonyme des artistes peintres, of which he was a founding member – Monet was exceptionally good at portraying the movement of the water, both stormy and calm, and expertly reveals the reflection of the sky and buildings amongst the waves and ripples.

Whilst staying at Zaandam in the Netherlands, Monet had plenty of opportunities to combine water and architecture by studying the many commercial waterways, particularly those he saw during a trip to Amsterdam.

Often, Monet repainted scenes several times over a long period. He was always interested in the ways different lights and weather (effets) affected the landscapes he painted. An early example of this method of working took place on the coast of Normandy during 1882. Here, Monet became fascinated with a little cottage hidden between the jutting rocks of the cliffs.

 

The National Gallery displayed three paintings containing the hidden cottage, which was purportedly used during Napoleon’s reign as a customs office to keep a lookout for smugglers. The first painting, The Customs Officer’s Cottage, Varengeville, was most likely produced at the end of the winter months. The sea is choppy and the sky fairly dark, possibly a sign of an approaching storm. Monet stood behind and to the left of the building but near enough that the cottage became the main focus on the canvas.

The Cliff at Varengeville, on the other hand, was painted further away from the cliff edge. At first glance, it is easy to miss the roof of the cottage hidden by the uneven clifftop. This painting was produced during the summer months; the sky is clear and the sea much calmer. Although it is not shown in the landscape, the sun is bright, its rays lighting up the vegetation and reflecting off the surface of the water.

The final painting of the customs office was produced below rather than atop the cliff. The Path Through the Cliff at Varengeville is set in one of the ravines leading down to the sea. The cottage can be seen in the top left-hand corner, however, the eye is instinctively drawn to the v-shaped view of the sea in the distance. The blue water contrasts with the autumnal colours of the growth along the cliffs and the darkening sky, suggesting that this was one of the final paintings Monet produced before he left Varengeville in early October.

During the 1860s and 70s, Monet developed an interest of painting in cities, studying the more modern buildings that had begun to crop up – a contrast to the stone cottages as seen in the villages. The Exposition Universelle of 1867, the second world’s fair to be held in Paris, drew Monet to the capital. Here he sat on a balcony overlooking the Seine, painting the buildings on the opposite bank as well as portraying the crowds on the street below him. Including members of the public was an unusual feature for Monet, who prefered to concentrate on the scenery rather than the day-to-day goings on in the surroundings. This could be due to the manner of en plein air painting, in which most of the work is completed in situ; it is far easier to paint the stationary buildings than the moving bodies, carriages and animals.

Whilst in Paris, Monet painted a combination of old and new buildings, revealing the diverse styles of architecture. In The Quai du Louvre (1867), Monet contrasted the medieval clock tower of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont with the 18th-century Panthéon. Within the same landscape is the Pont Neuf, which was completed in yet another century, 1606 to be precise.

Three years later, Monet married Camille Doncieux (1847-79), who had already born him one son, Jean, in August 1867. The couple would later have another son, Michel, in 1878, a year before Camille sadly succumbed to pelvic cancer. For their honeymoon, M. and Mme Monet travelled to Trouville, a commune on the coast in the Calvados department in Normandy. Although this was not a city, it was a fashionable place for tourists with picturesque buildings. On the Boardwalk at Trouville (1870), Monet provides a glimpse of the holiday resort from his position near the edge of the beach, looking over at the tall seaside buildings.

The following year, 1871, Monet and his family fled to London to escape the Franco-Prussian War. It was whilst he was here that he met artists, such as Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), with whom he developed the Sociéte anonyme des artistes peintres or Impressionism movement. During this time, Monet took pleasure in painting the recently built Houses of Parliament whilst also experimenting with different effets. After it was safe to return to Paris, Monet continued to paint important buildings, including the Pont Neuf and those along the Boulevard des Capucines.

At the end of 1871, the Monets moved to Argenteuil, a commune in the northwestern suburbs of Paris, approximately 15 kilometres from the city centre. This was useful for Monet who was often exhibiting with the Impressionists and needed to be within reach of the capital. Argenteuil was continuously being repaired and updated after the damage caused by the Franco-Prussian War, and its population was rapidly increasing. As a result, Monet was able to record the developments as they occurred, painting the modern houses, bridges and factories.

Of course, Monet also continued with his more natural landscapes, as seen in The Ball-shaped Tree, Argenteuil (1876), which was lent to the National Gallery from a private collection specifically for the Monet & Architecture exhibition. This tidily balanced composition was actually one of Monet’s final artworks in Argenteuil before the family relocated to the village of Vétheuil. It reveals two large houses in the distance set within walled gardens. The main feature of the painting, however, as the title suggests, is the ball-shaped tree that stands in front of them and is carefully reflected in Monet’s signature water aspect.

Travelling to and from the city, Monet was a frequent passenger at the Gare St-Lazare which was fairly modern, having only been built in 1837, although it was enlarged and extended at the end of the 1860s. Monet was given special permission to paint the station, which he did several times, exhibiting at least seven canvases in the third Impressionist exhibition. The Gare St-Lazare (1877) is unlike anything Monet had chosen to focus on before. Instead of a broad landscape or a picturesque location, the painting reveal a dirty, smoke-filled modern construction. The steam trains are also an unusual subject for the artist.

Another painting that went against convention, was Monet’s The Rue Montorgueil, Paris (1878), which was produced on a portrait canvas. The French government had declared 30th June 1878 a national holiday and the streets of Paris were full of people taking advantage of the day to hold drunken celebrations. From a balcony, Monet painted the long street overflowing with excited crowds, the buildings covered with bright tricolour flags. The blue, white and red dominate the composition, making it appear busy and untidy.  Yet, when viewed from a distance, the outlines lose their blurriness, resulting in a fascinatingly elaborate composition.

During the final three decades of Monet’s career, he visited and painted in three particular cities. After the untimely death of his wife Camille, Monet and his sons moved to a large house in Giverny, a village in Normandy, with another woman, Alice Hoschedé (1844-1911) and her six children in 1883. It was here that Monet’s famous water lily paintings were made. Almost a decade later, Alice and Monet married shortly after returning from the city of Rouen on the River Seine.

Whilst in Rouen, Monet was enamoured with its 12th-century gothic cathedral of which he produced at least thirty paintings. Rather than present landscapes as he had done in other cities and villages, Monet chose to concentrate on the cathedral facade, working on different effets caused by the position of the sun during different points of the day. One canvas, although brighter in colour, was probably produced mid-morning rather than when the sun was at its peak on account of the shadows, which bring out the features of the architecture.

In contrast, the painting of Rouen Cathedral at sunset appears to be a blurry copy of the previous painting. Seen from a distance, the muted colours have an impressive effect, however, up close, the painting feels incomplete and rushed. Nonetheless, Monet was not attempting to produce a precise study of the cathedral, he was examining the play of fading light upon the building.

In 1899, Monet took the opportunity to return to London, a city he had enjoyed so much on his last visit. On this occasion, Monet travelled alone, staying on the sixth floor of the Savoy Hotel, which at this point was fitted with balconies, providing the perfect position for Monet to paint the iconic buildings he could see from his suite. Depending on which way he positioned his chair, Monet had an excellent view of Waterloo Bridge and the Houses of Parliament.

Again, Monet’s focus was on effets rather than the buildings in question, painting in different lights at different hours. At the time, the many London factories often caused the city to be shrouded in smoke and fog, which along with the sun, created a hazy atmosphere. The vast changes in the British climate can be seen by comparing a painting of Waterloo Bridge on a clear day with one produced on a foggy day, the orange sun struggling to pierce through the smog.

Likewise, Monet’s paintings of the Houses of Parliament varied enormously due to the fog, sunrises and sunsets. In some versions, the neo-Gothic architecture is shown as a pronounced silhouette, whereas, in the foggier version, the tower blends into the clouded background.

The final city Monet visited was Venice in 1908, where he stayed for two months with his wife Alice. Whilst Alice wished to go out and enjoy the magical city, Monet wanted to paint the important buildings and their reflections in the water of the canals. Just like the Rouen and London pictures, Monet disregarded the numerous tourists, painting only the architecture and water, his focus, as always, on the intensity of effet. These paintings, as well as those from the previous cities, have an other-worldly quality due to the unique use of light.

Two buildings Monet was particularly interested in were the 17th-century church Santa Maria Della Salute, which he could see from the opposite side of the Grand Canal, and the Venetian Gothic Doge’s Palace. Both these buildings are instantly recognisable from their unique structure, however, once again, Monet was not interested in this. The various lights altered the sharpness of the buildings depicted; some appear blurred, whereas, others are much clearer.

The unfortunate thing about all of these paintings today is they are rarely shown together, as Monet intended. One gallery may own a version that was painted on a clear, sunny day, whereas, another may only have access to a foggy scene, thus not showing Monet’s skills as a painter of buildings. In order to appreciate the paintings fully, they need to be displayed together so that the different effets can be compared and contrasted. Luckily, the National Gallery was able to provide a couple of different copies of each building for the Monet & Architecture exhibition.

Venice was the last city Monet painted; his eyesight was deteriorating and he was reluctant to undergo a cataract operation. As a result, he was often unable to work. After Alice died in 1911, Monet tended to stay at home, painting in his garden. In 1914, at the start of the First World War, Monet remained in safety at Giverny, painting large canvases of Nymphéas (waterlilies). He continued as best as he could, wearing corrective glasses to aid his vision, until his death in December 1926 at the age of 86.

The National Gallery’s Monet & Architecture provided a new way of looking at Monet’s work. Instead of perceiving him as an en plein air French Impressionist with a penchant for waterlilies and poppies, the Gallery provided a different insight, introducing the non-artistic to the term effets and the result of focusing on atmosphere instead intricate details. This was the first exhibition of its kind and the National Gallery did an excellent job.

Monet & Architecture closed on 29th July 2018, however, there are many exciting exhibitions to look forward to in the near future. Visit the National Gallery’s website for details. 

Shakespeare’s Globe

shakespeareWilliam Shakespeare (1564-1616), the great English playwright, is known throughout the world for his comedies, tragedies, histories and sonnets. His works are quoted throughout the Oxford English Dictionary and he invented over 1700 words, changing nouns into verbs, verbs into adjectives, adding prefixes and suffixes, many of which are still in common use today. Despite this fame, the man himself remains a mystery. Very little is known about his upbringing, his personality or his day-to-day life; even his authorship is often brought into question. Yet, his name remains strongly associated with England, particularly in Stratford, his place of birth, and London, the location of his famous theatre, The Globe.

Just as the playwright persists to be an enigma, very little is known about the Globe theatre built on the Bankside in London. However, a team of dedicated actors, architects and historians have built a replica based on every tiny detail they could unearth. Situated south of the River Thames, to the west of London Bridge, the reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe is open to visitors for plays, tours and exhibitions.

Due to the lack of information about William Shakespeare, it is difficult to determine when he first came to London. The majority of his life has been pieced together from official records, the first being his baptism on 26th April 1564. At the time, it was common for babies to be baptised within days after their birth, therefore, historians have dedicated 23rd April as his birthday, which is incidentally the day of his death 52 years later.

There are no records made during Shakespeare’s childhood but it can be presumed he went to the local grammar school in Stratford due to his exceptional writing skills and knowledge of Latin. His name reappeared in 1582 when he married Anne Hathaway (1556-1623), which was quickly followed by the birth of his eldest daughter Susanna (1583-1649). A couple of years later, records reveal the birth of twins Hamnet (1585-96) and Judith (1585-1662).

Between the birth of his children and the next time Shakespeare appears in records dated 1592, it is unclear what he did or where he lived. Historians rule out the possibility of university because only unmarried men were allowed to attend. The earliest record of Shakespeare’s career refers to him as an actor and two years later he is made a partner of the acting troop Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later The King’s Men, 1603).

 

At the time of Shakespeare’s birth, there were no theatres in England. Plays were performed on the streets or in taverns around the city, however, this was often disapproved of by city authorities. The city of London was not as large as it is today, only spanning the area north of the Thames, therefore, it was safer for actors to stay on the southern side out of reach from the Mayor and Council. The first theatre to appear on Bankside was The Rose in 1587, shortly followed by The Swan in 1595. Neither of these theatres exists today but written records of the buildings helped reconstruct the Globe, whose original construction took place in 1599.

A detailed record of the Globe has been found in a diary written by a Swiss traveller, Thomas Platter (1574-1628) after his visit during the Globe’s first year. He describes the thatched-roofed playhouse, open to the elements in the centre, the stage, the galleries and his experience during a performance of Julius Caesar (1599). Many people could stand on the ground in the yard in front of the stage and pay “only one penny”. To have a seat, the audience was charged two pennies and “if he desires to sit on a cushion, in the most comfortable place of all … then he gives yet another penny.”

Platter’s description of the Globe reveals that the stage was covered by a roof but the yard was open, and there were three tiers of seats around the outside of the building, however, it was not enough information for the team of architects to reconstruct the historic building.

globeburnsdownAlthough not a lot is known about the physical size and appearance of the Globe, the theatre appeared in many records and accounts, most famously for its demise in 1613. On 29th June, the Globe was putting on its third performance of Shakespeare’s new play All Is True (now known as Henry VIII), telling the story of the christening of the late Queen Elizabeth. Being the most patriotic of playwrights, Shakespeare went over the top, creating a powerful sound to announce the arrival of the king at Hampton Court Palace.

 

Drum and Trumpet, Chambers discharged.” 

Chambers were the small cannons used to create the thunderous noise, stuffed with wadding and gunpowder instead of cannon balls. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the wadding caught alight during the discharge and landed on the thatched-roof of the theatre. By the time the fire was noticed, it was spreading too quickly to be dealt with. Although there were only two fire exits, the entire audience and acting group – an estimated 3000 people – managed to escape unharmed. The Globe, however, burnt to the ground.

The current Globe Theatre was not the first reconstruction of the open-air playhouse. In 1614, the King’s Men decided to rebuild the famous theatre despite it costing twice as much as the original. During the winter months, the players performed at an indoor theatre, the Blackfriars (of which even less information is known), however, they preferred the atmosphere of the Globe during the summer. The new building looked similar to its predecessor, however, the roof was made from tiles in order to reduce the risk of a repeat of the fire of 1613. Despite this change, the playhouse was described as “the fairest that ever was in England.” (John Chamberlain, 1614)

The second Globe Theatre lasted until 1642 when it was shut down by the Long Parliament who ordered a closure of all the London theatres. Over time, new buildings appeared on and around the site and bombs during the Second World War destroyed any lasting evidence of the Globe’s existence. The modern reconstruction, completed in 1997, sits closer to the river, approximately 230 metres from the original site.

By the end of World War Two, the only commemoration of Shakespeare’s life and work in London was a bronze plaque on a brewery wall. Sam Wanamaker (1919-93), an American actor-director, was horrified at the lack of recognition: “He needs, and we need, something more substantial than that.” Having begun his career at the Globe theatre in Cleveland, Ohio (1936), Wanamaker was an avid fan of the great bard and determinedly began a campaign to create a reconstruction of the London Globe theatre. He also aimed for the building to be used for education and research, exhibitions and house an additional indoor theatre.

Mistakenly believing it would only take a few years, Wanamaker did not live to see the opening of the new Globe theatre, however, he dedicated the majority of his life to the project. The reason for the lengthy construction was partly due to the lack of information about the original theatre. The Globe team consulted scholars, actors and directors in order to produce the most accurate representation of the Tudor theatre as they could.

By borrowing details from other theatres in the area at the time Shakespeare was around, the team managed to assemble a round-like, open-air theatre surrounded by a three-tiered gallery. The roof of the gallery and stage is thatched like the original, making it the only thatched-roof in the City of London. Special permission was granted for this feature and the building has more fire exits than its predecessor – nor do they use cannons!

The Globe is open to visitors daily between 23rd April and 14th October for tours around the playhouse. Half-hour tours are given by expert guides who have an extraordinary knowledge of the auditorium and the original built in the year 1599. After beginning outside the theatre, tour parties are taken inside to experience the Tudor-style interior. The galleries are full of wooden benches that face the 44.5ft by 25.25ft stage and look down on an empty yard, which during a play is full of standing spectators. The stage itself is 5ft high and has three entrances on the back wall or frons scenae.

36758186_10214284211850636_8005879341084835840_nAlthough it is impossible to know exactly how the interior was decorated, there are accounts of its beauty, implying that it was painted in some way. The stage roof rests on wooden pillars that have been painted to resemble marble – a feature that the Swan theatre once had. The Heavens (stage ceiling) is painted a deep blue with a sunburst concealing the trap door that is used for special effects. Surrounding this are representations of the signs of the zodiac.

 

“We’ll hear a play”
– Hamlet II ii

As luck may have it, rehearsals for upcoming Shakespeare plays may disrupt the tours, however, on some of these occasions, as long as they are quiet, tour parties may enter the theatre and watch the actors practising. This helps put the theatre in context, seeing it as a working playhouse rather than a monument or museum. Alternatively, visitors can book to watch a play and get the full Tudor theatre experience.

In addition to the tour, an exhibition is housed underneath the Globe itself, full of information about Shakespeare’s life and works. Beginning with a history of London, maps and drawings reveal the skyline of the city at the beginning of the 1600s and the gradual appearance of theatres. Described are the daily lives of the common people, the nobility and those that frequented the Globe theatre. There is also insight into Shakespeare’s life as an actor and playwright, or at least as much that can be pieced together.

Further into the exhibition, the focus changes to the productions themselves. On display is a variety of clothing that has been used in plays and films in the recent decades. Although these are fairly new costumes, they have been made in the style that Shakespeare and his colleagues would have worn on stage. Some of the outfits are particularly detailed and decorated, which was a new style of dress that appeared in Tudor times.

Today, the globe is fitted with electricity allowing for easier and safer methods of putting on productions. Whilst the costumes and language may be the same, the theatre has moved on in other ways, for instance, musical instruments. The exhibition includes a variety of instruments that are no longer in use today. Most of these are reconstructions, the originals, those that have survived, being kept safely in other museums. A digital screen allows visitors to “play” the instruments in order to understand how they would sound in comparison to their modern counterparts.

To fully appreciate Shakespeare’s Globe, it is important to do both the tour and the exhibition. Whilst the tour guides are very knowledgeable and the building itself impressive, the exhibition fills in the gaps and expands upon the history of the original Globe theatre and its actors.

There is the option to explore even further with a Sam Wanamaker Playhouse Tour that takes place on selected dates between May and September. Wanamaker, the brains behind the reconstruction of the Globe, died in 1993 at the age of 74 but his memory and the recognition of his hard work lives on in the name of the indoor theatre. The tour reveals the story of its creation and how productions are directed to work in a candlelit indoor playhouse.

A third tour, the Shakespeare’s Southwark Tour, occurs at various times during the summer and takes visitors on a walk around the original locations of places of Elizabethan entertainment, including the site of the first Globe and the Rose Theatre. For dates of this tour and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse Tour, check and book online.

Shakespeare’s Globe is a fantastic venue in the heart of the city providing entertainment and information for all. Not only does it reconnect contemporary society with the famous English bard, it provides a history of architecture, fashion, language and music. Suitable for adults and children, a trip to the Globe is a fun day out (as long as the weather is nice!) with various activities going on at different times. As the Sunday Telegraph states, it is “the capital at its very best.”

“A great while ago the world begun,
With hey ho, the wind and the rain,
But that’s all one, our play is done,
And we’ll strive to please you every day.”
– Twelfth Night V i

Tickets for the Globe Theatre Tour and Exhibition can be purchased on the day or online. Due to high demand, it is safer to book in advance to avoid disappointment. Tickets are £17 for adults and £10 for children, which includes both the tour and all-day access to the exhibition.