Poet and Painter

Until 24th September 2023, Tate Britain is hosting an exhibition about the radical Rossetti family, focusing on their attitudes to art, love and lifestyles. Arguably, Dante Gabriel Rossetti is the most famous of the siblings, and his paintings make The Rossettis a remarkable exhibition. It has been over twenty years since Rossetti’s artwork has been on display in retrospective fashion, and it is a fantastic opportunity to see his phenomenal paintings in one location.

Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti (1828-1882), better known as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was a poet, illustrator, painter, and founding of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Over a relatively short career, Rossetti influenced both the next generation of artists and poets. He also produced illustrations for works by his sister, Christina, and had close connections with other writers, artists and models.

Rossetti was the second child of Italian scholar Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti (1783-1854) and British educator Frances Mary Lavinia Polidori (1800-86). His elder sister, Maria Francesca Rossetti (1827-76), became a writer and, later, a nun. His younger sister, Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-94), also became a writer and poet, and his brother, William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919), became a writer and critic. The works of Maria and William pale in comparison to Rossetti’s paintings and Christina’s poems.

As children, the Rossetti siblings were educated at home and aspired to become poets. Rossetti later attended King’s College School in London, where he developed an interest in Medieval Italian art. Whilst continuing to pursue poetry, Rossetti enrolled at Henry Sass’ Drawing Academy and the Royal Academy, which he left in 1848. Following this education, Rossetti became a student of Ford Madox Brown (1821-93), with whom he remained a life-long friend.

In 1848, Rossetti met and befriended William Holman Hunt (1827-1910), with whom he founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The original Brotherhood consisted of seven members, Rossetti, Holman Hunt, William Rossetti, John Everett Millais (1829-96), James Collinson (1825-81), Frederic George Stephens (1827-1907) and Thomas Woolner (1825-92). They styled themselves as a Nazarene movement, which aimed to revive spirituality in art – although they gradually went beyond that to encompass nature and heartfelt expression, which they believe became lost in the art following the Renaissance.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood began printing a magazine called The Germ in the early 1850s. For the first edition, Rossetti contributed a poem, The Blessed Damozel, which became one of his best-known written works. Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven (1845), Rossetti’s poem depicts a young woman watching down on her lover from heaven until they can both be reunited in death. Several composers created music inspired by the poem, including Claude Debussy (1888), Granville Bantock (1891), Edgar Bainton (1907), Ernest Farrar (1907), Arnold Bax (1906), Benjamin Burrows (1927), and Julius Harrison (1928).

Dante’s earliest major artworks focus on the Virgin Mary, such as Ecce Ancilla Domini (The Annunciation), which he produced in 1850. The painting is based on the account written in the Gospel of Saint Luke about the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary, informing her that she would give birth to God’s son. Rossetti’s sister, Christina, posed as Mary, who appears to have just awoken. His brother, William, posed as Gabriel.

Rossetti received mixed reviews about Ecce Ancilla Domini. Some people disliked the break from the traditional method of depicting the Annunciation. Usually, the angel has wings to differentiate it from human life forms, while Mary often prays to God. Nonetheless, art collector Francis McCracken purchased the painting for £50 in 1853, later selling it to the Tate Gallery in 1886.

Unable to take criticism well, Rossetti turned his attention to watercolours and illustration. During the 1850s, Rossetti produced artwork for works of literature, including the poem The Maids of Elfen-Mere (1855) by William Allingham, several stories and poems by his sister, Christina, and Edward Moxon’s 1857 edition of Alfred, Lord Tennyson‘s Poems.

Rossetti’s art took a new direction in 1860, the same year he married Elizabeth Siddal (1826-62). Rossetti first met Siddal in 1850, who became his muse and frequent model. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood tended to share their models, so Siddal also appears in works by other artists. Similarly, Rossetti depicted other women, such as Jane Burden (1839-1914), the future wife of William Morris (1834-1896), and Fanny Cornforth (1835-1909). The latter modelled for Bocca Baciata in 1859, which represents the turning point in Rossetti’s style.

Boccia Baciata depicts a close-up image of a woman in a flat pictorial space, which became a recognisable style for Rossetti. The title means “mouth that has been kissed” and comes from an Italian proverb, which says, The mouth that has been kissed does not lose its good fortune: rather, it renews itself just as the moon does. Whilst Rossetti had married Siddal, Cornforth had been his lover, and he frequently painted her as a sensuous figure. 

In 1862, Rossetti’s wife, Elizabeth Siddal, died of an overdose of laudanum following the stillbirth of their child. Rossetti fell into a lengthy bout of depression and buried his unpublished poems in Siddal’s grave at Highgate Cemetry. He later regretted this action and dug them up. Despite her death, Siddal continued to appear in Rossetti’s paintings, such as Beata Beatrix, which he obsessively drew and painted several times between 1863 and 1880. Beata Beatrix depicts Beatrice Portinari from Dante Alighieri’s 1294 poem La Vita Nuova at the moment of her death.

Following Siddal’s death, Rossetti moved to 16 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, where he lived for the next twenty years. He furnished the house with images of exotic birds and animals and found solace at the nearby London Zoo. Rossetti developed a particular love for wombats and spent hours in the “wombat lair”, eventually purchasing one to live with him at home. Rossetti let his wombat join his guests at the dining table, where it frequently fell asleep in the centrepiece. The number of Rossetti’s peculiar pets gradually grew, including a toucan that dressed as a cowboy and rode a llama around the room.

Meanwhile, Rossetti continued to paint Fanny Cornforth and paid for her lodgings. He also painted Alexa Wilding (1847-84), who he discovered in 1865. Wilding features in several of Rossetti’s later works, including illustrations of his poem The Blessed Damozel. Friends and patrons had suggested Rossetti paint scenes from his poems, but he resisted until 1871. The painting depicts the damozel looking down at her lover from heaven. Rossetti produced a replica of The Blessed Damozel for Frederick Richards Leyland (1831-1892) in 1879, which he hung as a triptych with two other paintings by Rossetti: Mnemosyne and Proserpine, modelled by Jane Burden.

Jane Burden and Rossetti had a lengthy, complicated affair, frequently spending time together at Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire. Burden’s husband, William Morris, was fully aware of their liaisons and even let Rossetti spend summers at the manor with Jane and his children. Several Pre-Raphaelite artists conducted romantic flings with their models, and whilst they rarely acknowledged them out loud, most members of the brotherhood knew what was going on.

In 1870, Rossetti published the poems he had rescued from Siddal’s grave. Their erotic and sensual nature caused offence and controversy. Although some of his contemporaries wrote poems of a similar nature, for example, William Morris, Robert Buchanan (1841-1901) and Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), the Victorian world was not ready for such themes. The rejection of his first book of poetry contributed to Rossetti’s mental breakdown in 1872, and he “spent his days in a haze of chloral and whisky”.

Rossetti’s mental health improved in 1873, and he continued painting portraits of Jane Burden and Alexa Wilding. His paintings during the 1870s became rather soulful and dreamlike, perhaps reflecting his mood. Rossetti became addicted to the hypnotic drug, chloral hydrate, which may also explain his choice of subject.

Unfortunately, Rossetti’s regained mental strength was short-lived. In 1874, Morris cut Rossetti out of his business, which Rossetti had helped establish in 1861. As a result, Rossetti was no longer welcome at Kelmscott Manor, and his affair with Jane could not be maintained. Although he continued to paint, using Jane as a model, his health gradually deteriorated as he became more reliant on drugs to lift his spirits.

By 1800, Rossetti lived in a permanent morbid state. In a last attempt to recover from his chloral addiction, Rossetti stayed at the country house of a friend. While there, he passed away on Easter Sunday in 1882. Although Rossetti’s official cause of death was Bight’s disease, a serious kidney condition, the copious amount of chloral hydrate and alcohol in his system sped up his demise. Close friends and relatives believe his drug addiction began as a means of alleviating pain, and he drank alcohol to take away the taste of the drug.

Despite Rossetti’s early death at the age of 53, he completed a huge body of work during his career, including almost 100 paintings and eight books of poems and translations. Several galleries in Britain own some of his paintings, including Tate Britain, Manchester Art Gallery and Wightwick Manor. In 1966, artists in Newcastle formed the Rossetti Society, of which L. S. Lowry (1887-1976) became president in 1976. Lowry’s private collection of art began as a collection of Rossetti’s paintings and drawings.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood received a lot of criticism for being different from the traditional art styles taught in schools. Their income came from devoted patrons who promoted their art in small circles. After Rossetti’s death, his paintings and poetry gradually increased in popularity. Today, many art fans can identify Rossetti’s work from his choice of colour, subject matter and women.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s life continues to inspire contemporary artists, and he has been the subject of a handful of films and period dramas. In 1967, Oliver Reed (1938-1999) starred as Rossetti in Dante’s Inferno: The Private Life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Poet and Painter, which tells the story of Rossetti’s relationship with Siddal. In 1975, Ben Kingsley (b.1943) portrayed Rossetti in The Love School, which focuses on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. More recently, Aidan Turner (b.1983) played Rossetti in the 2009 drama Desperate Romantics.

Fans of Dante Gabriel Rossetti must not miss The Rossettis at Tate Britain. It is an opportunity to see Rossetti’s paintings, illustrations and sketches up close and examine the fascinating myths surrounding the unconventional relationships between Rossetti and his models. The exhibition also sheds some light on Christina Rossetti’s career as a writer and reveals Elizabeth Siddal’s ambitions to become an artist.

The Rossettis is open until 24th September 2023. Tickets cost £22, although concessions are available. Advanced booking is recommended.

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Why did a movement shaped in a socialist-driven European climate so heavily influence corporate America?

This essay, written in 2011, discusses what the Bauhaus was, when it was founded, and the people related to it. It will also look at how Bauhaus influenced America. The Bauhaus was a school of art and design, which was founded by Walter Gropius (1883-1969) in Weimar, Germany in the year 1919, just after the end of the First World War. The Nazis eventually closed the school down on 11th April 1933.

“Although it had such as short life it was the most famous art school of the 20th century, playing key roles in establishing the relationship between design and industrial techniques and in breaking down the hierarchy that had previously divided ‘fine’ from ‘applied’ arts.” – Ian Chilvers, 2004

Walter Gropius had originally been put in charge of two art schools in Weimar in 1919: Kunstgewerbeschule (Arts and Crafts School) and the Hochschule für Bildende Kunst (Institute of Fine Arts). These he combined together using the name Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar (Weimar State Building House). The first few months of the Bauhaus were about reforming art education and creating a new society since Germany had been destroyed due to the effects of the war.

“Oskar Schlemmer, one of the Bauhaus teachers, wrote in 1923: ‘Four years of the Bauhaus reflect not only a period of art history, but a history of the times, too, because the disintegration of a nation and of an era is also reflected in it.'” – Frank Whitford, 1994

The Bauhaus was moved to Dessau in 1925 after being forced to leave Weimar when the government stopped financial support. It was in this location when Gropius stepped down as its director and gave his position to Hannes Meyer (1889-1954). However, due to political differences, Meyer did not remain in this position for long and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) was then appointed as the director of the school. Despite Mies’ attempts to eradicate any political associations with the Bauhaus, it was shut down by parliament in 1932. Mies opened up the Bauhaus in Berlin but it did not stay there long as the Nazis closed it down in 1933. A number of artists related to the Bauhaus were arrested and killed after Hitler came to power. Many, however, managed to go into exile and some emigrated to America.

“In fact, it was in America that the Bauhaus artists were most successful at disseminating their ideas and designs.” – Anna Hoffman, 2009

When Gropius originally founded the Bauhaus, he had three main aims. The first was to join together the different types of art, for example, painters, sculptors and craftsmen, so that they could work together on joint projects and combine everyone’s skills. The second aim was to make crafts equal to the status of fine arts. According to Walter Gropius’ manifesto, “There is no essential difference between the artist and the craftsman.”

The third aim was to establish “constant contact with the leaders of the crafts and industries of the country’. This would help them to have contact with people from other countries as well. Contact with the outside world was important if the school wanted to survive in a country that was suffering economically after the First World War.

When Hitler came to power and the Bauhaus was forced to close down, many of the artists involved fled to different countries in Europe, such as Britain and Switzerland. A good number of teachers and students, such as László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946), who taught at the Bauhaus, went to America.

Walter Gropius originally moved to Britain where he worked with the British architect Maxwell Fry (1899-1987), but in 1937, he moved to America where he subsequently taught at Harvard Graduate School of Design. An ex-student, Marcel Breuer (1902-81), worked alongside Gropius at Harvard, teaching architecture.

Moholy-Nagy was a sculptor, painter and experimental artist who began teaching at the Bauhaus in 1923. Although he had left the school in 1928, long before the Nazis closed it down, he still progressed to the United States like many of the other teachers. Moholy-Nagy lived in Chicago where he eventually launched the New Bauhaus in 1937. Unfortunately, this did not last long and was closed in 1938. After this, he founded his own School of Design in 1939, which he directed until he died in November 1946.

So, how did the Bauhaus principles catch on in America?

Florence Knoll (1917-2019) was a student at the Bauhaus when Mies van der Rohe was the director. She also emigrated to America after the war had broken out in Germany. At this time in America, new buildings such as skyscrapers were being built and Knoll realised that these modern structures would also need modern interiors and furniture. The Bauhaus designs were the right style for this and Knoll began to distribute Bauhaus furniture.

Bauhaus’s design follows the rule “form follows function“, which was originally stated by an American architect, Louis Sullivan (1856-1924). The rule meant that the object working for its intended purpose is more important than what it looks like. Mies van der Rohe adapted this phrase to “less is more”. The Scandinavian shop IKEA is an example of mass-produced Bauhaus furniture. If Bauhaus had not existed, IKEA may never have existed. Although IKEA originated in the Scandinavian countries, it has become a global brand, meaning Bauhaus is still influencing many people to this day.

Marcel Breuer created the Wassily Chair in 1925, named after Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), who was once a teacher at the Bauhaus. As is apparent, the chair has not been decorated in any way. It has been made to work for its intended purpose: for people to sit on. The chair is made out of steel and it is said that Breuer was supposedly inspired by a bicycle frame.

Herbert Bayer (1900-85) was a student at the Bauhaus for four years. Bayer later worked at the school after it had moved to Dessau when Moholy-Nagy opened a Druck und Reklame workshop for printing and advertising. Bayer was appointed to direct the workshop in 1925, the same year that he designed the bank notes for the Bank of Thuringia.

Bayer is famous for designing the typeface Universal at the age of 25 (1926). The sans serif font was completely different to the typical Gothic examples used in Germany at the time. Not only was the style of font different, but Bayer had also completely rejected capital letters, arguing that it would be easier to have one alphabet rather than two. This was unlike what the Germans were used to because not only do they, like in English, used capital letters for names and beginnings of sentences, but they also use capitals for the first letter of every noun.

Hence the name Universal, the typeface was intended for international use and not just in Germany. In fact, there was no sign of any German influence other than its connection to the Bauhaus because there were no umlauts on any of the letters. The typeface fits with the Bauhaus movement because it is simple and easy to read.

During and after the war years, America began to use Bauhaus ideas in their advertising. Art critic Alain Weill (born 1946) suggests that all things related to graphic design derive from Bauhaus. Since America was using Bauhaus in the advertising sector, the movement’s influence quickly spread across the country.

So, why did a movement shaped in a socialist-driven European climate so heavily influence corporate America? The Second World War had a significant part to play in Americans being inspired by the Bauhaus movement. The reason so many teachers and students from the Bauhaus went to America in the first place was due to the rise of the Hitler regime and Nazi party. If they remained in Germany or even in the neighbouring countries, they were at risk of being killed. Moving to the USA gave many of the Bauhaus associates the chance to teach their skills and beliefs to American students. Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer both taught architecture at the Harvard Graduate School, where they inspired students to adopt the Bauhaus way of thinking.

War was not the only reason that America began to use Bauhaus ideas. Gropius stated in his manifesto that there should always be contact with leaders of the industry in other countries, so it was likely the Bauhaus already had some contact with America before the start of the war.

If the Bauhaus design ideas had not been effective, they would not have caught on in America no matter how many teachers and artists moved there. Americans began using Bauhaus because they liked the new, modern ideas, which worked with their developing economy and cities. Bauhaus was their solution to the type of furniture needed for their brand-new skyscrapers and corporations. American advertising industries began using European ideas because they were something new and fresh. Herbert Bayer’s typeface was usable in most countries, which also appealed to worldwide advertising agencies. Overall, even though the war brought people from Europe, it was the Bauhaus principles that influenced corporate America.

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Simeon and the Buried Secret

Dear Simeon,
Long ago – back in 1545 to be precise – the French invaded and set fire to the village of Bembridge! When the alarm was sounded, a quick-thinking young lad ran to the church, gathered the gold and silver, and buried it to ensure it wouldn’t be looted. So that the priest wouldn’t panic, the boy recorded a map of the potential burial spots, alongside Clues to its final spot, leaving it close by. Unfortunately, the map was lost in the ensuing chaos and the lad fled the village, never to return. Now, centuries later, landscape work has finally uncovered the ancient map, which has been passed to us at The Exploration Society. We need our BEST Adventurer to solve the Clues and unearth the lost loot. Are you up to the challenge?
Best regards, Treasure Trails

After receiving an intriguing message from Treasure Trails, Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) hastily put on his coat, booked a ferry to the Isle of Wight and jumped into the car. After patiently waiting for the humans to set up the satnav, Simeon set off on his epic adventure, accompanied by his two little brothers, Sammy Sloth and Ollie Otter. The adventurous team enjoyed a smooth crossing from Portsmouth to Fishbourne and were even allowed to board the ferry first because they are VIPs (Very Important Plushies). Soon, they were driving through country roads to Bembridge to solve some very tricky clues.

Bembridge is a village at the easternmost point of the Isle of Wight. It once claimed to be the largest village in Europe with a population of over 3,500, but many other villages stake this claim, the majority of which have a higher population. Simeon found that rather amusing but was impressed to learn that Bembridge was once an island, separated from the rest of the Isle of Wight by Brading Haven. During the Victorian era, people drained the water between Brading and Bembridge, creating a new area of land. Whilst this helped Bembridge flourish as a village, the once-important town of Brading declined.

Simeon’s first clue in Bembridge was near the Lifeboat Station, situated at the end of a short pier. Whilst it was closed to the public, Simeon, Sammy, and Ollie still enjoyed learning about the station. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) keeps two boats at Bembridge called Alfred Albert Williams and Norman Harvey, which have been working there since 2010 and 2012, respectively. The boats can reach 95% of casualties on the Solent within 30 minutes.

The first lifeboat station in Bembridge opened in 1867, served by a self-righting pulling lifeboat that could only travel 32 feet. A decade later, this was replaced by a rowing boat called Queen Victoria. Over time, technology improved, and the station expanded to accommodate bigger boats.

During the Second World War, the lifeboat station received a distress call from an aircraft. Unable to see far in the dark, it took the RNLI a long time to locate the plane, and they almost gave up trying. Finally, over 10 miles out to sea, they discovered an aircraft belonging to the Royal Air Force Marine Branch. While on patrol, a German plane had attacked, killing one member of the crew and damaging the propellor. The RNLI managed to tow the craft and the remaining crew to Portsmouth, where they received medical assistance.

Whilst Ollie felt in his element near the water, Simeon and Sammy were keen to continue their search for treasure, so the three intrepid explorers travelled inland to find the Isle of Wight’s sole surviving windmill. Bembridge Mill was built around 1700 and belonged to the Dennett family. It was used to grind flour, bran and cattle feed until the 1890s and closed in 1913.

Following the windmill’s closure, an infestation of woodworm resulted in the building’s decay. In 1933, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings raised £100 for repairs. They made the mill safe enough to use as a cowshed until the Second World War when it became the headquarters of the Army and Home Guard. Unfortunately, after the war, the windmill fell into a derelict state once more. One pair of sails fell off during a storm, the roof leaked, the doors broke, and the ladders rotted.

In 1957, the National Trust saved Bembridge Mill from total ruin. After raising £1,000, restoration work took place, allowing the National Trust to open the historic building to the public in 1962. Unfortunately, the windmill does not open on Saturdays, so Simeon could not peek inside. A noticeboard outside informed him that the original mill stones were removed in the 1920s, and the ones inside today came from the old tide mill in Wootton Bridge, demolished in 1963. The sails are also new, having been repaired several times since the 1960s. The National Trust erected the latest pair of sails in 2021.

After determining no hidden treasure lurked near the windmill, Simeon, Sammy, and Ollie headed back into the village to sniff out more clues. While there, they became momentarily distracted by a large white box with a red door. Bembridge is the home of the oldest working telephone box in the country. “But Simeon, there are loads of telephone boxes in London. Why is this one so special?” asked Sammy. Not only is it the oldest, it is the only classic K1 design still in use. The telephone boxes or kiosks seen today were based on designs by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960), but the K1 design predates these by six years. The telephone box has stood at the junction of Sherborne Street and the High Street in Bembridge since 1921.

Without any money to make a call from the telephone box, Simeon, Sammy, and Ollie soon grew impatient to continue on their treasure trail. A clue instructed the three explorers to head to St Helens by walking along Bembridge harbour. St Helens is set around a large village green and was once the location of a Cluniac Priory. The priory was under French control, which angered King Henry V of England. In 1414 the king suppressed all “alien” priories, turning them into parish churches.

The former priory at St Helens served as the parish church until it became structurally unsafe in the early 1700s. The village erected a new church further inland in 1717, and a great wave destroyed the old church in 1720. Only the tower remains of the original building, which Simeon, Sammy, and Ollie discovered on their journey.

When looking out to sea from St Helens, Simeon spotted something in the distance. After consulting his treasure map, Simeon discovered it was St Helens Fort, built by the Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom in 1859. It is one of several forts built in the Solent to protect England from invasion. While in use, the fort contained several guns, and during the World Wars, it was used as a searchlight and anti-aircraft gun platform. Today, it is privately owned, and once a year, a mass walk from St Helens to the fort takes place when the tide is at its lowest. On the designated day, the water becomes shallow enough for a causeway to form, allowing people to reach the fort on foot. Simeon was pleased to hear that a safety boat service is supplied in case anyone gets into trouble.

Along the seafront sits St Helens Duver, a sand-dune complex where the first golf course on the island once stood. Today, the area is popular for its beach and bathing facilities. Simeon informed Sammy and Ollie that a duver (pronounced duvver) is an Isle of Wight dialect word for low-lying land along the coast. There are not many duvers left on the island. St Helens Duver is protected by the National Trust.

After enjoying an ice cream on the beach, Simeon, Sammy and Ollie scuttled off to solve their final clues. The three little explorers returned to Bembridge via the causeway across the Marina. Simeon was a little unnerved walking across a narrow path with water on either side, but he braved the trek to complete his mission. Once they had reached the other side, they began the long walk back to the village centre.

“My little legs are tired,” complained Sammy. “They should build a train station here.” Little did Sammy know that Bembridge once had a railway that connected the village and St Helens with the main line at Brading. The 2.75-mile line opened in 1882 but closed in 1953 due to a lack of passengers.

Finally, Bembridge village came into view, and the three explorers stopped to catch their breath by a fountain. The water fountain is a memorial to Reverend James Nelson Palmer, who retired to Bembridge in 1891. Palmer was an active member of the community and founded the Bembridge Football Club and the Isle of Wight Corinthian Sailing Club, now called the Bembridge Sailing Club. In honour of his support to the village, the Palmer Memorial was erected following his death in 1908. The fountain provided drinking water for the public and troughs for horses. Simeon, Sammy and Ollie did not taste the water; they found a cafe instead!

With all the clues solved, Simeon proudly circled the location of the buried treasure on his map. He cannot tell you where it is because that is a secret, but if you want to try and find it, you can purchase the trail online at treasuretrails.co.uk. Treasure Trails are a great way of discovering the history and secrets of a town or city. Simeon thoroughly recommends them.

Read all of Simeon’s adventures
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure
Simeon Conquers York
Simeon’s Bristol Highlights
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part One
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part Two
Simeon goes to Grantham
Simeon and the Cable Car Mission
Simeon and the Quest for the Roman Hoard
Simeon and a Tale of Two Bridges
Simeon and the Cardiff City Mystery
Hello, Simeon Here

For more information about Treasure Trails and the areas they cover, please visit their website.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Berthe Morisot

Until 10th September 2023, Dulwich Picture Gallery is hosting the first major UK exhibition of a trailblazing Impressionist since 1950. Lesser known than her male contemporaries, Berthe Morisot helped found the Impressionist group and was featured in many of the group’s exhibitions. As a woman, she defied social norms and demonstrated an original artistic vision, which inspired and influenced other artists.

Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot was born on 14th January 1841 in Bourges, France. Her father, Edmé Tiburce Morisot, was a senior administrator but also had connections with the École des Beaux-Arts. Her mother, Marie-Joséphine-Cornélie Thomas, was the great-niece of the Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806). This artistic background inspired Berthe and her siblings, Yves, Edma and Tiburce, and it was commonplace for children of bourgeois families to receive an art education.

Morisot and her sisters received private art lessons from Geoffroy-Alphonse Chocarne and Joseph Guichard (1806-88). The latter introduced them to paintings at the Louvre and encouraged the girls to study and copy some of the famous artworks. Whilst Yves and Edma married and moved away, Berthe Morisot found work as a copyist at the Louvre, where she met and befriended other artists, including Claude Monet (1840-1926), Édouard Manet (1832-83) and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875). Under Corot’s tuition, Morisot began painting en plein air rather than from other compositions.

Initially, Morisot worked with watercolours in restrained colours. Social norms of the 19th century deemed women incapable of using other mediums, such as oils, due to their delicate nature. Morisot disproved this stereotype after fellow Impressionist painters encouraged her to experiment with oils and chalk. When working outside, Morisot preferred to create quick impressions in watercolour paint before returning to the studio to complete the scenes.

Through her connection with Édouard Manet, Morisot met his brother, Eugène, who she married in 1874. Whilst Eugène Manet (1833-92) was a painter, he did not receive as much recognition as his older brother. Instead, he devoted his life to supporting his wife’s career. Morisot and Manet had one child, Julie (1878-1966), who frequently modelled for her mother and other Impressionist artists.

Morisot also painted her husband, although not as frequently as her daughter, noting that “he is a less obliging model; at once it becomes too much for him.” One of Morisot’s first paintings of her husband is Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight (1875), which she painted during their honeymoon. Manet sits in their sitting room, watching the Cowes Regatta through the window.

Art from the 18th century particularly inspired Morisot. She admired the work of Joshua Reynolds (1723-92) and Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), notably their portraits. Rather than adopt their style, Morisot explored other ways of capturing appearances. She experimented with pastel and red chalk, plus developed an oil painting technique with long, flowing strokes of colour. Instead of exemplifying female beauty, as previous artists had done, Morisot emphasised the inner lives of her female models, introducing a new feminine perspective to art.

Morisot demonstrated her feminine perspective in paintings of young women dressing, such as The Mirror (1876), in which the model contemplates her reflection. Whilst Morisot wished to depict women in a less objectifying manner, her artwork needed to appeal to a predominantly male art market. Morisot blended the interior scenes of 18th-century artists with a gentler sensibility than the overtly sensual and sometimes erotic paintings by male painters.

“My ambition was limited to wanting to capture something of what goes by, just something, the smallest thing.” Although Morisot used models for some of her paintings, she preferred to capture fleeting moments, as did most Impressionist artists. Several of her artworks demonstrate the fragile beauty of life through transient light effects. Painting en plein air helped artists capture natural light, but when unable to venture outside, Morisot retreated to the reception room of her Paris home, which contained a large south-facing window that let in the constantly shifting daylight.

To paint her daughter as a child, Morisot gave Julie something to amuse herself and to prevent her from growing bored. In Children with a Basin (1886), Morisot captured Julie and her friend Marthe pretending to fish for goldfish in a large Chinese porcelain bowl. The girls sat in the family sitting room, where daylight from the large window reflected on the water of their pretend pond. When able to play outside, Morisot captured her daughter climbing trees or telling stories to whoever would listen.

Another of Morisot’s frequent models was her niece, Paule Gobillard (1867-1946). Being older than Julie, Paule was more amenable to sitting for lengths of time, but Morisot also captured her mid-task as though unaware of Morisot’s presence. Paule Gobillard Painting (1887) is set in Morisot’s sitting room, where her 20-year-old niece concentrates on her work. The stillness of Paule’s body contrasts with the rapid movement of her right arm, which paints the canvas in front of her.

For both Julie and Paule, Morisot acted as a mentor as well as mother and aunt. Morisot encouraged their art education and obtained permission for Paule to copy paintings in the Louvre under her supervision. Paule lived with Morisot from 1893 after her mother, Yves Morisot, passed away. This arrangement made it easier for Morisot to assist Paule with her artistic career, although Paule remained relatively unknown on the art scene. Paule also received tuition from Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), for whom she also modelled.

Before Morisot could help her daughter Julie produce and exhibit her artwork, Morisot passed away from pneumonia on 2nd March 1895. At only 16 years old, Julie became an orphan, having already lost her father to ill health in 1892. As a result, Julie came under the guardianship of the poet and critic Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898). Although she received some support from Renoir, Mallarmé encouraged writing more than painting. Later in life, Julie published her teenage diary entitled Growing up with the Impressionists, which provided significant insights into the lives of several French painters. She also mentioned the Dreyfus affair in which Captain Alfred Dreyfus, of Jewish descent, was convicted of treason for a crime committed by Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. Julie’s book gave eye-opening accounts of the opinions of her family and friends, particularly Renoir’s patriotic and antisemitic views.

One of Berthe Morisot’s last paintings of her daughter was Julie Manet and her Greyhound Laertes (1893). Dressed in black, the 14-year-old mourns the recent loss of her father, emphasised further by the lightly sketched empty chair to her right. The greyhound, Laertes, was a present from Mallarmé to cheer up and comfort the young girl following her father’s death. Little did anyone know that less than two years later, Julie would lose her mother, too.

Dulwich Picture Gallery demonstrates Morisot’s progress as an artist and her struggle to be taken seriously. Morisot’s paintings were often labelled as full of “feminine charm” by male critics, to which Morisot responded, “I don’t think there has ever been a man who treated a woman as an equal, and that’s all I would have asked for, for I know I’m worth as much as they.” Yet, Morisot’s work did have a certain charm due to her light, delicate brushwork, which critics named effleurer.

As Morisot’s career and reputation progressed, she experimented with longer, slender brushstrokes. She often left the edges of her paintings unfinished, allowing the canvas to show through. This technique emphasised the sitter or subject and increased the sense of spontaneity. Morisot rarely used large canvases. The smaller the background, the easier it was to capture scenes quickly.

Morisot’s paintings reflected women’s lives in the 19th century, including scenes of domesticity, children and flowers. She preferred private scenes rather than the hustle and bustle of the outdoors. When she did venture outside, her artwork depicted mainly landscapes, gardens, and boating scenes. The figures in these scenes, particularly women, evoked a sense of ennui or boredom, suggesting women’s lives outside the home were not that exciting. Morisot lived at a time when most girls and women needed a chaperone to visit local places and were not permitted to join in any “male” activities.

Throughout her career, Morisot kept in touch with other Impressionist painters and participated in annual exhibitions from 1874 onwards, except for 1878, when Julie was born. Commenting on the first exhibition, critic Albert Wolff wrote in Le Figaro that the show consisted of “five or six lunatics of which one is a woman…[whose] feminine grace is maintained amid the outpourings of a delirious mind.” As Impressionism gradually became accepted as a style of art, attitudes changed towards the artists, although Morisot’s “feminity” continued to dominate her reviews.

Despite her gender, critics began to appreciate Morisot’s work. In 1877, one critic commented that she was the “one real Impressionist in this group.” By using her maiden name instead of her married name, Manet, Morisot earned praise for her artistic abilities rather than her connections with well-known (male) artists.

Only 30 of Morisot’s paintings and drawings feature in the exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Her work is interspersed with other artworks by artists such as Reynolds, Gainsborough and Fragonard, who inspired Morisot’s work. On the one hand, it is useful to compare the paintings and understand Morisot’s thought processes, yet it also makes a mockery of 19th-century society, in which women could not succeed without male connections. Nonetheless, the exhibition also demonstrates Morisot’s artistic vision, which separates her from her predecessors. Whilst she learnt by copying famous artworks, she used the studies to form original ideas and techniques.

Berthe Morisot: Shaping Impressionism is proving popular for art lovers of all ages, so it is advisable to book tickets in advance due to the limited capacity at the gallery. Tickets cost £15, although some concessions are available. The exhibition is open until 10th September 2023.

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So many books, so little time

Yoshiko and the Gift of Charms
Author: Julia Suzuki
Published: 4th September 2014
Goodreads Rating: 4.06 out of 5
Reviewed: August 2016

Yoshiko and the Gift of Charms is the first book in the children’s series The Land of Dragor by Julia Suzuki. Dragor is the land inhabited by dragons, hidden from the rest of the world, away from the evil humans by the smoke produced by The Fire Which Must Never Go Out. Dragor is where it is safe, and the dragons are forbidden to leave. However, it may not be as perfect as it seems.

The story begins with the birth, or hatching, of a dragon named Yoshiko. Unlike all other dragon births, Yoshiko’s egg was a variety of different colours, which led to speculation as to whether this young dragon was cursed. Other than being a late developer, Yoshiko is physically well and attends school like all the other youngsters where, unfortunately, he experiences bullying from one of the other dragon clans – something the reader may be able to relate to through their own school experiences. Each clan is a different colour, but one day Yoshiko realises he can change the shade of his scales. Horrified by his discovery, he seeks help from an old but wise outcast, who, whilst supporting Yoshiko as he learns to control the colours, helps him discover his destiny.

The initial two-thirds of the book felt like a long introduction, with the final third being a hastily written climax. Irrespective of this, it was an enjoyable read and would be particularly entertaining for children. Some of the language may be a little too advanced for younger readers. Despite the introduction/climax issue, the story contains enough information to understand the way the dragon’s small world works and ends by setting the theme of the next instalment. It is exciting to find out what happens next!

The Winner’s Curse
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Published: 4th March 2014
Goodreads Rating: 3.96 out of 5
Reviewed: September 2016

The Winner’s Curse is the first book in the Winner’s Trilogy by American author Marie Rutkoski. The author mixes rumours, lies, love and warfare to create an incredible new story for young adults. It is set in a similar society to the 18th century or earlier (in Europe at least), except that women can only choose one of two lifestyles. By twenty, they must decide whether to marry or join the military. By women, that means Valorian women. Ever since the defeat of the Herrani during the Herran war many years ago, the Valorian have made them slaves and looked down on the Herrani whilst seizing their lavish properties and enforcing Valorian customs.

The title, The Winner’s Curse, is a concept that relates to the winner of an auction. Whilst they have won the item, they have also lost by paying out more money than other bidders felt it was worth. This is what happens to seventeen-year-old Lady Kestrel, a Valorian, when, with an unexplainable impulse, she hires Arin, a Herrani slave, for an extortionate amount of money. Put to work as a blacksmith, Arin becomes intrigued with Kestrel, and she with him, and they soon start to form a friendship – although rumours suggest something more.

It is not simply the cost of a slave that The Winner’s Curse refers to. The Herrani are planning an attack on the Valorian Empire, and Kestrel, a General’s daughter, could unknowingly reveal vital information. The emergence of a second Herran war is imminent, but Kestrel and Arin’s relationship complicates things further.

Whilst similar to other novels with lovers belonging to opposing families, it is more original regarding the circumstances, secrets and lies, which makes not just the characters, but also the reader questions their true feelings and intentions. It is an excellent, fast-paced, highly recommended read.

The True & Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters
Author: Michelle Lovric
Published: 1st January 2014
Goodreads Rating: 3.66 out of 5
Reviewed: August 2016

The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters is a historical fictional story set in the 1860s and 70s by the novelist Michelle Lovric. Based loosely on the lives of the Sutherland Sisters of New York, it tells the story of seven sisters with unreasonably long hair: over forty feet when combined.

The novel begins in Harristown, County Kildare, Ireland, and is narrated by the middle sister, Manticory Swiney, who recounts their lives over thirteen years, starting from when Manticory is thirteen and her sisters range in age between nineteen and nine.

As mentioned, this novel is about hair. Manticory refers to a time when a man assaulted her as a result of her long red hair. This prompted evil older sister Darcy to scheme money-making plans using their hair. Naming themselves the ‘The Swiney Godivas’, the sisters took to the stage, performing and singing. But the highlight of the show, and something which the men lusted over, was the grand finale, where they let down their hair to show off its length.

Their performances attract the likes of Mr Rainfleury and Tristan Stoker, who wish to use the girls as a means of producing vast amounts of money. Coming from a poor family, Darcy is keen to go along with these plans, so they all go to Dublin, where their fame increases. With hair products and dolls made to their likenesses, they become well-known all over Ireland and eventually spread into Europe. Eventually, the girls settle in Venice, however, their luck with fame, and more importantly money, may be about to run out.

Since the attack on Manticory at such a young age, she has distrusted men and their motives, particularly in connection with hair. That is until she meets the quiet Mr Sardou, a man she finds herself craving to please.

With a hint of romance, this story is beautifully written and humorous as the sisters continue to bicker and insult each other even once they reach adulthood. Overall it is a superb, grippingly addictive read.

Cuckoo Song
Author: Frances Hardinge
Published: 8th May 2014
Goodreads Rating: 3.96 out of 5
Reviewed: August 2016

Frances Hardinge’s Cuckoo Song is a historical horror story for children. Six years have passed since the end of the First World War, a war in which the Crescent family lost their eldest child. Eleven-year-old Theresa Crescent “Triss” lives with her parents and nine-year-old sister, Penelope “Pen” in the fictional town of Ellchester, England. Since losing Sebastian, Triss has become a very frail child, so it is no surprise to her parents that she develops an awful fever after falling into a millpond. The question, though, is how she came to be in the pond, to begin with, and why Pen is so scared of her.

Things become even more mystifying when Triss sees dolls start to move, finds leaves on her pillow, and is constantly ravenously hungry. Her parents begin to consider that Triss is suffering from some form of mental illness, but Pen, the bad-tempered child, is adamant that that is not the case. She claims that Triss is a fake.

The horrible realization is that perhaps Triss is not Triss at all. This discovery leads the tale into paranormal territory with the introduction of unique new creatures: Besiders.

Cuckoo Song is not just an entertaining, fantastical story; it also deals with themes of family and personal emotion. Piers and Celeste Crescent are examples of parents whose behaviour and response to the death of a child impact their remaining children. Triss becomes a child they want to protect and save, leaving Pen to become an attention-seeking troublemaker.

As the story progresses, Triss and Pen’s relationship develops, or rather Pen and Not-Triss, into something more recognizable and sisterly. Through their strength and newfound love for each other, they fight to get the happy ending they deserve. And through it all, Triss discovers that just because someone calls you a monster does not mean you are a monster.

It is difficult to say who the target audience of Cuckoo Song is. The protagonist is eleven, but the writing may be difficult for some children. On the other hand, it cannot be classed as Young Adult fiction since the characters are not even in their teens. Overall, Cuckoo Song is an exciting, fast-paced, fairytale-like story with original characters. It is not scary and is fun to read; there is nothing to stop older readers from enjoying it too!

Lies like Love
Author: Louisa Reid
Published: 5th June 2014
Goodreads Rating: 3.87 out of 5
Reviewed: September 2016

Lies Like Love by Louisa Reid is an emotional story full of disturbing, discomforting themes. It is a book that will linger in the mind long after the final page. The story alternates between two characters’ perspectives. The first is Audrey, a sixteen-year-old who has just moved to a new home and school after being in and out of various treatments for depression, amongst other things. She lives with her little brother, Peter and her overprotective mother, who appears to want to do everything she can to make Audrey better.

The second character is Leo, a couple of years older than Audrey, who has also had experiences with depression. The stress his over-ambitious parents inflicted on him became too much to handle, so now he lives with his Aunt Sue on a farm near where Audrey has recently moved.

With his therapist’s prompts, Leo becomes good friends with Audrey and does not care about her mental health issues. Due to his own experiences, he is more understanding of the circumstance. But once he gets to know Audrey well, he begins to think there is nothing wrong with her.

Audrey’s mental health problems only escalate when she is at home, and the reader begins to wonder whether there is more to it than is being revealed. Perhaps the mother has problems of her own?

Both Leo and Audrey become more confident throughout the story. Leo eventually gets to the stage where he no longer needs a therapist, whilst Audrey begins to sort out the truth from the lies in her mind and only continues to endure her “illness” to protect her brother.

At times it is challenging to read Lies Like Love. Those who have experienced similar situations or illnesses may feel upset or triggered by some content. It is also easy to feel angry about what is happening. 

Overall, it is an excellent book dealing with very important themes. There are people in the world who have suffered or are suffering from these mental illnesses, which makes the storyline feel very real. Lies Like Love also emphasizes that there are different ways of loving people. Loving someone can make them strong, but it can also suffocate them. 

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St Fagans National Museum of History

Situated in the Welsh village of St Fagans is an open-air museum devoted to the historical lifestyle, culture, and architecture of the Welsh people. Since opening in 1948, St Fagans National Museum of History (Sain Ffagan Amgueddfa Werin Cymru) has re-erected more than forty buildings from various locations and periods in Wales.

Welsh poet Iorwerth Peate (1901-82), also known as Cyfeiliog, envisaged the open-air museum after visiting Skansen in Sweden, the world’s largest and oldest outdoor museum. The Earl of Plymouth donated St Fagan’s Castle and the surrounding lands for the project in 1946, allowing the museum to open to the public in 1948 under the name of the Welsh Folk Museum.

Although St Fagans National Museum of History opened at the end of the 1940s, it took years to develop into the extensive visitor attraction it is today. Initially, the museum focused on rural life, but in the 1980s, it changed direction. With Wales’s industrial heritage under threat, St Fagans began purchasing and relocating important examples of Welsh buildings, such as ironworkers’ cottages and buildings from coal-mining valleys. Since 2015 with the opening of an archaeology gallery, St Fagans tells the story of Wales from 230,000 years ago until the present day.

The museum contains buildings that demonstrate different styles of architecture but also the varied classes and occupations of the Welsh people throughout the centuries. Notable types of buildings include a chapel, a pigsty, a blacksmith’s forge, a merchant house and a public house. Due to the varying ages of the buildings, St Fagans has become popular with film crews, particularly for period dramas and science fiction films, such as Doctor Who

Since 2007, St Fagans has been the home of St Teilo’s Church, which was originally located in Llandeilo Tal-y-Bont near Pontarddulais. Since the 12th or 13th century, St Teilo’s Church held regular services, with some attendees travelling by boat across a river to join the congregation. The church remained popular until 1850, after which it only opened in the summer for the occasional service. By the 1970s, the church ceased opening altogether. In 1984, the demolition of the church began, intending to move it to St Fagans, but the project was far from simple.

The interior walls of St Teilo’s Church are decorated with murals, which needed careful preservation before moving to the museum. The oldest paintings date to the 15th century, such as a picture of Saint Catherine. The majority of the images show scenes from the Bible, particularly about the life of Jesus Christ. Other saints also adorn the walls, such as Saint Christopher, who faces the entrance to the building. During medieval times, people believed looking at an image of Saint Christopher could prevent sudden death that day, so passersby frequently peeked into the church to catch a glimpse of the saint.

When St Fagans rescued St Teilo’s Church, it was in a state of disrepair. Rather than attempting to rebuild the church as it looked in the 1980s, archaeologists and architects opted to reconstruct it as it may have appeared in 1530. To do this, they sourced new timbers for the roof and created a new rood screen from Radnorshire oak. King Henry VIII removed the original rood screen following the protestant revolution. After building the walls and roof of the church, artists added the paintings, reworking many of the originals that suffered damage over the centuries.

Some early attendees of St Teilo’s Church lived in houses similar to the Tudor Merchant’s House. The original building stood on a bank near Quay Street in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, before being moved to St Fagans between 1980 and 2012. The reconstructed version resembles the house’s appearance in 1580, although it was likely built a few decades earlier.

The Merchant’s House served as a home and a business premises. A shop stood on the lower floor, beneath which a vaulted cellar stored various goods. The family lived on the upper floor, which only had room for one bed. Any children slept on a large shelf in front of a window.

Haverfordwest was an international port, so it is likely the merchant sold imported goods in his shop. His wares may have included wine, salt, soap, prunes and raisins. The shopkeeper also purchased goods from local farmers, such as corn, wool, woven cloth and dairy products.

Farmers in the 16th and 17th centuries could not afford properties like the merchant’s house. Instead, they lived in cruck houses, such as the one from Hendre’r Ywydd Uchaf near Llangynhafal, Denbighshire, which moved to St Fagans between 1956 and 1962. The walls of the house are built from oak stakes, bound together with wattle and daub. The roof is thatched with wheat straw, but the floors remain bare, and the windows open to the elements.

Records reveal the farmhouse belonged to the Foulkes family from 1663 until 1912. The last family member, Mary Elizabeth Foulkes, died in 1912 without an heir. The family shared the house with their livestock, particularly cattle. Split into three sections, the family lived at one end and used the centre for cooking and eating. Smoke from a cauldron and fire escaped through the open windows because the house had no chimney. The remaining section of the building contained animals when not out in the fields.

Not all farmers were poor, as evidenced by the 16th-century Kennixton Farmhouse from Llangennith in South Wales. The house was rented by the Rogers family from 1610 until their ancestors afforded to purchase it around 1800. Over the years, the family extended the house, thus separating the family rooms from the animals.

The red walls of the farmhouse were originally painted with ox blood as a superstitious method of warding off witches. The re-erected version uses modern red paint, but it gives a faithful representation of the 19th-century appearance. Painting the walls made the Rogers stand out from their neighbours and emphasised their growing wealth.

Visitors may recognise the interior of the house from the BBC drama series Poldark. The rooms were used for scenes inside Captain Blamey’s cottage. The dining room is decorated with stencilled decorations, which predate wallpaper, but the other rooms have plain white walls.

In 1939, the Rogers family moved into a new house and let out the farmhouse. The attached barn, which once housed cattle in the winter, became a garage for tractors. Mr J B Rogers donated the house to St Fagans in 1951 but kept the other farm buildings until the early 2000s when they moved to the museum.

Aside from farming, Wales’s most important industry was the production of wool. Specially built buildings, such as the Esgair Moel Woollen Mill, were vital to the industry until larger factories appeared in the late 19th century. Esgair Moll was built in 1760 and became the property of Isaac Williams from 1880 until 1932. Williams enlarged the mill to make room for a spinning jack, which sped up the production process.

Williams produced carthenni (blankets), shawls and flannel for making clothes, and balls of yarn for knitting. The wool process involved transforming raw, greasy wool through a series of dyeing, combing, spinning and weaving. It took an estimated twenty hours to complete the process. Williams sold the final results at a market in Builth Wells.

Woollen Mills were common across Wales due to the number of sheep farms. For centuries, the mills supplied the country with clothing, eventually exporting goods to the USA. Sheep wool was relatively cheap, so the USA bought it to clothe their slaves, giving it the unfortunate name “Negro Cloth”.

The Esgair Moel Woollen Mill ceased trading in 1947 due to the increasing number of factories. The mill moved St Fagans museum in 1952, where it was re-erected above the Earl of Plymouth’s old swimming pool. The mill uses water from the pool to turn the waterwheel during demonstrations.

Other industries in Wales included corn mills, such as the Melin Bompren Corn Mill, which moved to St Fagans in 1977. The first miller, Benjamin Jones, began milling corn in 1853, and the business stayed in the family until Mrs Hettie Jones’ retirement in 1970. Customers brought wheat, oats and corn to the mill for grinding, often paying with products instead of money. According to an account book, several farmers paid in wool, and the innkeeper paid in gallons of beer. Other payment methods included eggs, honey and meat.

Melin Bompren Corn Mill has three storeys. The grain was stored on the top floor, ground on the middle floors and bagged on the lower. The miller often needed to light a fireplace on the upper level to dry the corn before putting it through the grinder.

As times progressed, Welsh citizens began shopping at stores in towns rather than directly from mills. The Gwalia Stores, for instance, opened in 1880 in Ogmore Vale. The owners, William and Mary Llewellyn, lived above the shop, which sold items from all over the world. The shop’s proximity to a railway station made it easy to import goods from abroad, such as tea, sugar and coffee. Local farmers supplied fresh produce, for instance, meat, cheese, eggs and butter.

The Llewellyn family were originally regarded as ahead of the times. They were the first family in the valley to own a car, and William became a Liberal politician. The couple’s son, Thomas, inherited the store in 1920, but the general strike and Great Depression made it difficult for customers to pay their bills. Unlike mills that could accept food and wool as payment, the Llewellyns needed money for the upkeep of the store. After Thomas died in 1945, the family sold the Gwalia Stores.

Eventually, Gwalia Stores could not compete with supermarkets and closed for good in 1973. The building reopened at St Fagans in 1991, decked out to resemble the 1920s. Visitors can buy certain products from the store, such as chocolate, confectionary and jam.

In 1917, the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute opened in Caerphilly to provide educational and leisure facilities for local workers and their families. All sorts of people used the building, including choirs, drama groups, concerts, dances, lectures and political rallies. The institute featured a library, reading room, committee room and billiard room.

The Oakdale Workmen’s Institute tried to support unemployed families during the 1926 General Strike and the Great Depression during the 1930s. Lack of funding made this a difficult task, and ironically, the Second World War saved the building from closure. During the war, evacuees, American Troops, and Bevin Boys (young British men conscripted to work in coal mines) used the institute. They added a cinema to one of the rooms, which helped raise funds to pay off all debts by 1945.

Unfortunately, the use of the institute declined in the post-war years. People preferred to stay home watching their televisions or venture further afield in cars to experience new social and cultural life. In the 1970s, the institute was converted into a licensed club, but by 1987 it had closed for good. Preservation of the building and transportation to St Fagans began soon after, eventually opening in 1995 with a small ceremony led by British politician Neil Kinnock (b. 1942).

Not all the buildings at St Fagans show the history of Wales in a positive light. Dating to 1660 is a cockpit that once belonged to the Hawk and Buckle Inn on Vale Street, Denbigh. The round building features stone walls, a thatched roof and a weathervane. Before 1849 when the United Kingdom banned the sport, men gathered at the cockpit to participate in cockfights. Trained cockerels fought against each other until only one bird remained alive. The owner of the cock won a share of the money collected through a betting system.

The Hawk and Buckle Inn gained many patrons from frequent cockfights. Spectators purchased drinks during a tournament, resulting in drunken brawls and excessive gambling. The cockpit fell out of use after the ban on cockfighting, although battles continued in secret elsewhere.

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions in Wales and Monmouthshire chose to preserve the cockpit in 1911 as an example of historic pastimes. Unfortunately, by 1965, the building’s condition had worsened, and they decided to transport it to St Fagans, where it opened to the public in 1970.

Most buildings at St Fagans were moved brick by brick to their current locations. Some of the “older” constructions were built from scratch using archaeological findings. Bryn Eryr, an archaeological site in Angelsey, excavated the foundations of round Iron Age houses. The buildings likely belonged to a farming family over 2,300 years ago. At this time, sections of Wales were run by various tribesmen who focused on producing food, clothing and shelter for their people.

The family at Bryn Eryr grew wheat and kept cattle, sheep and horses, suggesting they were relatively wealthy. Their round homes contained a fire pit in the centre, which provided light, heat and a place to cook meals.

Another reconstruction is a Medieval commotal court, which archaeologists at Llys Rhosyr, Angelsey, excavated in 1992. Historians believe it belonged to Llywelyn ap Iorwertg, Prince of Gwynedd, who built 22 courts between 1195 and 1240. The prince frequently travelled around the country, staying at his royal residences, which also served as administrative centres. The prince, who was incidentally the most powerful man in Wales, met with local noblemen to plan military campaigns and negotiations with foreign kings, for instance, King John. One negotiation resulted in Prince Llywelyn’s marriage to King John’s daughter, Joan.

The recreated building was built to scale using materials readily available in the 11th century. Many academics and craftspeople worked together to decorate the interior with embroidered wall hangings that may resemble the original furnishings. Llywelyn and Joan likely entertained guests in the Great Hall, either at this court or one of the many others.

The only building remaining in situ on the former land belonging to the Earl of Plymouth is St Fagans Castle. The Elizabethan mansion was built on the ruins of a medieval castle and has been the home of many families over the centuries. Sir Edward Lewis of Van purchased the property in 1616, and his family coat of arms remains above one of the fireplaces. In 1730, his great-granddaughter Elizabeth married Other Windsor, the 3rd Earl of Plymouth (1707-32), and the castle became the property of all future Earls of Plymouth.

During the First World War, the Red Cross used the banqueting hall at St Fagans as a hospital. By this time, the owners only used the castle in the summer, preferring to stay at their main home in Worcestershire during the colder months. After the second world war, the Earl bequeathed the mansion and 18 acres of land to create the open-air museum now known as St Fagans National Museum of History.

There is plenty to see and do for visitors of all ages at St Fagans. Over 40 buildings are open to explore, and there are plenty of knowledgeable staff to answer questions. At certain times of the year, special events take place, such as food festivals, fairgrounds, exhibitions and demonstrations. The latter provides an insight into how the various mills worked, plus the opportunity to see other workers in action, such as farmers and cobblers.

St Fagans National Museum of History is free to visit but those travelling by car must be prepared to pay for parking. The open-air museum is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm.

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Inventing Modern Art

For the next few months, visitors to the National Gallery have the opportunity to discover what happened when artists broke with established traditions to create new art movements. After Impressionism: Inventing Modern Art spans the decades between 1880 and the First World War. Impressionism had already shaken the art world, encouraging other artists to experiment with new, modern ideas. The exhibition explores Neo-Impressionism, radical non-naturalist styles, avant-garde artists, Fauvism and Cubism with examples from well-known artists.

The exhibition begins with The Sacred Grove (1884/9) by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1891), who Vincent van Gogh dubbed “the master of us all”. The mural-like painting depicts an ancient grove populated by the muses of the arts. Whilst the scene is a nod towards classical art, the simplified forms, flattened areas and limited colour palette are examples of the ways artists of the 19th century broke away with tradition.

The Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon commissioned Puvis to produce a painting for public display, which served both educational and patriotic purposes. Political opinion still divided France between the Republicans and the Royalists, so the gallery hoped for something to unite the two factions and create a new identity for the country. Critics described The Sacred Grove as a Utopia, and whilst some disliked the limited colours, it gave the painting a dream-like quality.

Puvis included the nine Greek muses and a few nymphs and angels, which makes it difficult for some viewers to determine the figures’ identities. It is generally agreed that Polyhymnia of Rhetoric, Clio of History and Calliope of Epic Poetry are seated in the centre of the painting. Thalia of Comedy and Terpsichore of Dance are in deep discussion towards the left while Euterpe of Music and Erato of Love Songs fly above. Melpomene of Tragedy is recognisable from her dark clothes and melancholic pose, while Urania of Astronomy lies on the riverside.

Bathers, painted between 1894 and 1906 by Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), demonstrates Neo-Impressionism, which evolved from Impressionism. Whilst Cezanne drew upon classical pastoral and nude scenes, his execution is rather crude and the bodies distorted. The painting depicts a frieze of eleven naked women relaxing in a woodland glade, which some liken to Titian’s Diana and Actaeon (1559), although Cezanne had no mythological motive.

Cezanne’s artwork is flat and compressed. Although each woman is distinct, their featureless bodies appear as a single mass when viewed from different angles. The scene is predominantly built up from shades of blue, contrasted with touches of orange and brown. Darker blues indicate shadows and trees, which adds perspective to the otherwise flat canvas.

Bathers appeared in the Cezanne memorial exhibition held the year after his death in 1907, which attracted the likes of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. Critics argue whether Cezanne’s crude portrayal of the human body was deliberate or whether he lacked skill. Cezanne once admitted he felt too shy to hire models, so he relied on paintings in galleries for inspiration.

Although opinions were divided over Cezanne’s work, it is evident he influenced many people. Homage to Cézanne (1900) by Maurice Denis (1874-1943) depicts a scene in the shop of the art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939), who is selling Cezanne’s still-life Fruit Bowl, Glass and Apples. Vollard stands behind the easel, keeping it upright while a crowd of men gather to view the artwork.

The majority of the figures in Homage to Cézanne represent Les Nabis, a group of artists who transitioned from Impressionism to abstract art. They admired Cezanne’s work for its bright, almost unnatural colours. Artists depicted by Denis include Édouard Vuillard, Paul Ranson, Ker-Xavier Roussel and Pierre Bonnard. Denis also inserted a self-portrait and, on the right-hand side, his wife, Marthe. The two men in the foreground are Paul Sérusier and the symbolist painter Odilon Redon. The former is attempting to explain why Les Nabis enjoy Cezanne’s works.

Ironically, Denis’ Homage to Cézanne turns away from the Neo-Impressionist style and Les Nabis by reverting to classicism. Denis produced the painting after a visit to Rome, where he studied classical sculpture and artwork. On his return, Denis argued that classicism was at the core of French cultural tradition. Following a final exhibition in 1900, Les Nabis decided to go their separate ways.

The painting depicted in Homage to Cézanne originally belonged to Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), another artist Les Nabis admired. The exhibition features a handful of works by Gauguin, including Vision After the Sermon (1888), which portrays the Biblical scene of Jacob wrestling with an angel (Genesis 32:22-32). Gauguin initially followed the Impressionist movement but became disillusioned towards the end of the 1880s. Instead, Gauguin preferred a simplified style that reflected his passion for primitive objects and Japanese prints. As a result, Gauguin became the leader of a small group of artists known as Synthesists.

Synthetism was a type of symbolism focusing on artists’ feelings about their subject and the aesthetic considerations of line, colour and form. Painters of this style included Gauguin, Bonnard, Charles Laval, Cuno Amiet and Maurice Denis, the latter of whom summarised synthetism: It is well to remember that a picture before being a battle horse, a nude woman, or some anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order.

The influence of Japanese prints is evident in the red background of Vision After the Sermon. Rather than painting a conventional landscape, Gauguin used a flat colour upon which the exaggerated shapes of the figures stand out. Although he used shading on the clothing of the Breton women witnessing the fight between Jacob and the angel, the colours are minimal. The flat tree trunk across the centre of the painting separates the women from the Biblical event, symbolising the women are either having a vision, praying or thinking about the story in the sermon they have just received.

Gauguin spent several years in Breton, evidenced by the women in Vision After the Sermon. Around the same time, he visited his friend, Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90), in Arles. Van Gogh was a troubled soul who spent his later years in southern France before being confined to a mental institution following Gauguin’s visit. Van Gogh did not belong to a particular art movement, but his work inspired many, including the Fauves and the Expressionists.

The authenticity of Sunset at Montmajour (1888) remained questioned for many years after Van Gogh’s death because it was one of the few paintings he did not sign. It depicts scrub land with the ruins of Montmajour Abbey in the background. Van Gogh’s style is distinctive, with bright colours and thick, directional strokes. The authenticity of the painting was confirmed in a letter Van Gogh sent to his brother Theo, in which he described the yellow rays over the bushes as a “shower of gold” and the distant fields as blue and purple.

Working at a similar time to Van Gogh and Gauguin, although in a completely different style, was Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas (1834-1917). Degas is predominantly associated with paintings of ballerinas, but he also focused on women in general, such as in Combing the Hair (‘La Coiffure’) (1896). Rather than asking women to pose for him, Degas captured women in secret to create a natural, innocent portrait.

Women combing their hair features in more than one of Degas’ paintings, but this is the only one that uses unnatural colours. Degas limited his palette to fiery orange-reds, a creamy white and black. Apart from a curtain, the background contains no detail, making the ordinary scene feel claustrophobic. The choice of colour suggests the lady had naturally red hair, but it is perhaps also a metaphor for the pain the woman felt while her maid brushed out the matted hair.

Some sections of Combing the Hair are more defined than others. The maid’s clothing contains more detail than the woman in red, who is either pregnant or misshapen. Some claim the picture is unfinished, but others note that Degas suffered from poor sight during his later years, making drawing and painting difficult tasks. His lack of eyesight may explain his choice of colour, which is much stronger than the pastel tones usually associated with Degas.

Two years after Degas’ death, the Fauvist painter Henri Matisse (1869-1954) purchased Combing the Hair, no doubt attracted to the bright, unnatural colour. Unlike Degas, Matisse frequently used models and sitters, as seen in his Portrait of Greta Moll (1908). Moll was a sculptor who attended Matisse’s art school, which opened in 1908. Moll had previously had her portrait taken by Lovis Corinth (1858-1925), which Matisse disliked. Matisse offered to paint a better portrait for 1000 francs, although with no obligation to buy it if Moll prefered Corinth’s attempt.

Three years before painting Greta Moll, the 1905 Salon d’Automne in Paris labelled Matisse and his associates Les Fauves, which meant “the wild beasts”. The term referenced Matisse’s use of bright colours, frenetic brushstrokes and broken lines. By 1908, Matisse wanted to distance himself from the label and understood that a portrait needed to be recognisable, although he still wished to use expressive colours.

Although Moll posed for over three hours, Matisse produced a simplified depiction of the human body. Rather than focusing on detail, Matisse concentrated on the placement of colour, for instance, the warm reddish-brown of Moll’s hair next to the cool blue background.

French artist Georges Seurat (1859-91) also focused on the placement of colour. Seurat devised painting techniques known as chromoluminarism and pointillism, which separated colour and form into tiny dots. The Channel of Gravelines, Grand Fort-Philippe (1890) is the only example of Seurat’s work in the exhibition and dates to the year before his untimely death. Seurat spent a great deal of time on the coast of the Channel, producing landscapes of small port towns, such as Gravelines. Unlike Matisse’s expressive use of colour, Seurat preferred subdued tones.

The Channel of Gravelines, Grand Fort-Philippe is much paler than Seurat’s earlier works, which makes the scene feel deserted. The painting is divided into sky and land, which helps create a sense of depth in an otherwise flat artwork. Only on close inspection are the tiny, pointillist dots visible on the canvas. From a distance, the sky and harbour appear as a wash of colour.

The concentration and colour of the dots produce the outlines and very subtle shading on the boat and houses in Seurat’s landscape. Seurat reserved the darker colours for a painted border, which creates a transition between the painting and the frame. To compliment the shades in the scene, Seurat used deep indigo on the lower frame, reflecting the sky above, and yellow on the upper frame, in reference to the sand below. Several artists adopted Seurat’s technique, including the frame, but the style was short-lived, perhaps due to the painstaking method of producing thousands of tiny dots.

In 1897, a group of Austrian painters formed the Vienna Succession, another short-lived art movement. Before the group split in 1905, it attracted many up-and-coming artists, including Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), known for his use of gold leaf in paintings. Yet, the only painting by Klimt in a British public collection contains no golden features.

Portrait of Hermine Gallia (1904) depicts a wealthy Jewish lady who wanted to establish herself in a predominately Catholic society. Gallia chose Klimt to produce her portrait because he was the most avant-garde and expensive artist of the time. Being able to afford to hire Klimt emphasised Gallia’s wealth and suggested she did not hesitate to embrace modern ideas.

Klimt paid little attention to Gallia’s face, instead concentrating on the pose and fashionable dress. Instead of using gold leaf, as in his seductive portraits of women, Klimt focused on the layers of translucent creamy white chiffon. Many believe Klimt selected or designed the dress specifically for Gallia’s portrait, despite it being a challenging material to paint. Klimt successfully depicted the outfit with long sweeping brushstrokes of thin paint, which allowed the priming of the canvas to show through, creating a translucent effect.

Max Pechstein’s (1881-1955) Portrait of Charlotte Cuhrt (1910) demonstrates another method of portraiture of the early 20th century. Also described as an avant-garde painter like Klimt, Pechstein developed an Expressionist style influenced by Van Gogh and Matisse. He used dynamic brush strokes and highly saturated colours, which became a crucial feature of the artistic group Die Brücke (The Bridge) that he joined in 1906.

The full-length portrait depicts 15-year-old Charlotte Cuhrt in a bright red dress, sitting confidently in an armchair. Her dark hat and flamboyant ring emphasise her status as the daughter of the successful solicitor, Max Cuhrt. The flat background contrasts with the shaded lines of Cuhrt’s clothing, making her appear three-dimensional in a two-dimensional world.

The shape of the canvas fit an altar-like frame, which added to the decorative scheme of Max Cuhrt’s apartment. The architect, Bruno Schneidereit, described the flat as a Gesamtkunstwerk (a total work of art) because every aspect of architecture, furniture and decoration coexisted in aesthetic harmony. Pechstein assisted Schneidereit with the design so that he would understand how his portrait of Charlotte would complete the room.

The final room of the exhibition introduced artists such as André Derain (1880-1954), Georges Braque (1882-1963), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), who led the way forward in modern art. Before the World Wars, Braque and Picasso established Cubism, which offered an alternative way of portraying the world through fragmented shapes. Mondrian also embraced Cubism but went on to develop abstract art and De Stijl. As modern art became accepted, artists felt free to experiment with different styles and rarely stuck to one movement throughout their career. This is evident in Picasso’s work, which entered a Surrealist phase after the Second World War.

It is impossible to define modern art because there are so many branches, as shown in the After Impressionism exhibition. To say that modern art is everything that came after Impressionism does not enlighten anyone. The National Gallery attempts to chronologically reveal the progression of art, but it quickly becomes evident that there is no linear timeline. Styles came and went and inspired new methods, while some artists, for instance, Matisse, briefly stepped backwards to produce portraits for specific clients.

The National Gallery recommends allowing an hour to visit the After Impressionism exhibition. Some visitors may prefer to stay longer or return another day because there is so much to take in. Modern art does not appeal to everyone, but the curators have enabled visitors to appreciate why styles changed and what inspired the artists involved.

After Impressionism: Inventing Modern Art is open until 13th August 2013. Standard admission costs between £24 and £26, although concessions are available. Members of the National Gallery can visit the exhibition for free.

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The Great Miss Lydia Becker

Long before the Daily Mail coined the term “suffragette” in 1906, women campaigned for equality, including the amateur scientist Lydia Becker. Despite establishing a centre for the suffrage movement in Manchester and founding the Women’s Suffrage Journal, Becker does not get nearly as much praise as the women who followed in her wake, such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett.

Lydia Ernestine Becker was born on 24th February 1827. Her father, Hannibal Becker, arranged a typical home education for his daughters. Intellectually curious, Becker continued her studies as an adult in botany and astronomy, earning a gold medal for an 1862 scholarly paper on horticulture. Becker did not receive any support from her father during these studies, but an uncle encouraged her interests, which spurred her to form the Ladies’ Literary Society in 1867.

Becker’s interest in botany and science led to regular correspondence with the English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-82). The two scientists frequently spoke about their respective work, and Becker contributed to Darwin’s research by providing samples of plants growing in Manchester. In 1864, Becker published a short book called Botany for Novices, particularly focusing on bisexual and hermaphroditic plants. These plants did not follow the sexual and social order enforced by society, which Becker later used in arguments about women’s equality with men.

In the late 1860s, Becker won prizes for discovering a method of retaining the original colours in dried flowers. She also presented a botanical paper at the 1868 meeting of the British Science Association. Becker became a respected scientist in biology, but her work for women’s suffrage soon took over. Nonetheless, as part of her campaigning, she promoted scientific education for girls and women.

In 1866, Becker attended the annual meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Social Science, where Barbara Bodichon (1827-91) presented a paper called Reasons for the Enfranchisement of Women. Inspired by Bodichon’s views, Becker established the Manchester Women’s Suffrage Committee the following year. Women and men attended the first meeting, including a man Becker described as the red doctor. Doctor Richard Pankhurst (1834-98) was “a very clever little man with some extraordinary sentiments about life in general and women in particular”. He devoted his life to women’s suffrage and married one of the movement’s leaders, Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928).

By the late 1860s, Becker was fully devoted to the women’s suffrage movement. In 1867, a local woman, Lilly Maxwell (1800-76), discovered her name on the register of voters in Manchester. Seeing the error as an opportunity for publicity, Becker encouraged Maxwell to utilise her vote and escorted her to the polling station at Chorlton Town Hall on 26th November. Expecting the returning officer to refuse them entry, the women were pleasantly surprised when the officer found Maxwell’s name on the list and let her into the building. Maxwell cast her vote for Jacob Bright (1821-99), a Liberal politician in favour of the suffragist cause.

Buoyed by Maxwell’s success at voting, Becker encouraged the women of Manchester to petition for their names to appear on the register. Jacob Bright, who won the election, added to the excitement by citing Maxwell as one of the reasons for his success. Speaking directly to the women, Bright said Maxwell was “a hardworking, honest person, who pays her rates as you do.”

Becker encouraged 5,346 women to petition for their names to appear on the voting register. Richard Pankhurst and John Coleridge (1820-94) presented the claims at the Court of Common Pleas on 2nd November 1868, but the court dismissed the case. Britain’s first female voter, albeit by clerical error, never voted in an election again. Instead, she suffered financially and spent her final years in the Withington workhouse.

In November 1867, Becker established the National Society for Women’s Suffrage, which held its first official meeting on 14th April 1868. It was the first national group in the United Kingdom devoted to women’s suffrage. The first meeting occurred at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, with Becker and two other campaigners giving speeches. Becker argued that women should have the same voting rights as men and inspired other women to set up branches of the group in other cities, such as Edinburgh.

Throughout 1868, Becker toured northern cities, gaining support through a series of lectures. After participating in many protests, Becker and her fellow campaigners successfully secured the vote for women in local elections in 1869. The following year, Becker campaigned for women to sit on school boards and became one of the first women elected to the Manchester School Board.

In 1870, Becker and her friend, Jessie Boucherett (1825-1905), established the Women’s Suffrage Journal. They initially called it the Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage Journal, but its readership quickly spread to other cities. The magazine focused on news affecting women’s lives and provided encouragement and guidance about presenting petitions to the House of Commons.

The Manchester MP Jacob Bright suggested the creation of a London-based branch of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage, which could petition on the doorstep of the Houses of Parliament. The new unit, known as the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage, first met on 17th January 1872 and grew to include members such as Millicent Fawcett (1847-1929), who went on to form the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1897. For some time, Becker remained in Manchester but eventually became the chair of the Central Committee in 1881.

In Manchester, Becker organised speaking events about women’s suffrage, the first of which fifteen-year-old Emmeline Pankhurst attended in 1874. Inspired by Becker and the other speakers, Pankhurst began campaigning for the right to vote and established the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. Unlike the campaigns of Fawcett’s NUWSS, the WSPU used militant tactics, earning themselves the nickname “suffragettes”.

Becker published many of her speeches and letters in the Women’s Suffrage Journal. She also included comments and speeches from Members of Parliament for and against women’s rights to vote. Becker encouraged women to support certain MPs and chastise or avoid those who voted against the women’s proposals. Over time, the Journal became a documentation of Becker’s attempts and successes during her campaigns, prompting historian Roger Fulford (1902-83) to declare, “The history of the decades from 1860 to 1890 – so far as women’s suffrage is concerned – is the history of Miss Becker.”

In 1880, Becker and other women unexpectedly secured women’s voting rights on the Isle of Man for the House of Keys elections. The House of Keys is the lower house of Tynwald, the High Court of the island. Those elected can make minor decisions on behalf of the Houses of Parliament.

Becker travelled to London in 1881 to chair the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage. Although the two main factions of the cause had yet to be established, Becker differed from many suffrage campaigners. Whilst Becker’s main aim was to gain voting rights for women, she wanted to rid the world of male and female stereotypes. Becker argued that the female intellect did not differ from men and that the British education system should be non-gendered.

Another concern for Becker was unmarried women and widows. She believed they deserved the vote more than married women because they had no male representative to speak on their behalf – not that women needed one. Unfortunately, this opinion made her the target of ridicule in newspapers across the country.

In 1890, Becker visited the spa town of Aix-les-Bains in Southeastern France. During her stay, Becker contracted diphtheria and passed away on 18th July, age 63. Immediately following her death, the Women’s Suffrage Journal ceased trading. Its final edition included a message from the editor, which said, “For twenty years and four months this Journal has received the impress of one hand and one mind so that its long row of volumes forms one continuous work, and now when that careful hand is laid low and the energies of that far-seeing mind are carried beyond our mortal ken, it would seem the most fitting course to close these pages where Miss Becker left them.”

Becker passed away long before women gained the right to vote, but she inspired the women who devoted their lives to the cause, particularly Fawcett and Pankhurst. These women receive praise and respect for their campaigns and success, leaving Lydia Becker forgotten in the background. Nevertheless, Becker is listed on the Reformers Memorial in Kensal Green Cemetery with others who impacted society and the future, such as Harriet Martineau, Elizabeth Fry, John Ruskin, William Morris and John Stuart Mill. Becker also features on the plinth of the Millicent Fawcett statue in Parliament Square.

Whilst Becker may not receive adequate praise for her contribution towards women’s voting rights, she is remembered for her attitude towards women’s intellect and her interest in biology. In 2018, the University of Manchester launched the Lydia Becker Institute of Immunology and Inflammation. The university chose her name due to Becker’s connection with Charles Darwin and her belief that women were intellectually equal to men and deserved the same opportunities.

Becker’s writings and speeches on a variety of subjects are kept in the Women’s Library at the Library of the London School of Economics. Her 1864 book Botany for Novices is available online, as are snippets of her other works. Becker’s most notable articles include Female Suffrage (1867) and On the Study of Science by Women (1869), both published in The Contemporary Review; Is there any Specific Distinction between Male and Female Intellect? (1868), published in Englishwoman’s Review of Social and Industrial Questions; and The Political Disabilities of Women (1872), from The Westminster Review.

Lydia Becker is a woman who changed lives, yet her personal life remains unknown. A biography by Linda Walker describes Becker as “Physically stout from early womanhood, her broad, flat face, wire-rimmed spectacles, and plaited crown of hair were a cartoonist’s delight, and she was much lampooned in the popular press.” She lacked oratorical flair but had a statesmanlike mind, which enabled her to persuade and draw large crowds. It appears Becker never married, but she had plenty to say on the topic: “I think that the notion that the husband ought to have the headship or authority over his wife is the root of all social evils… Husband and wife should be co-equal. In a happy marriage, there is no question of ‘obedience’.”

Ultimately, Lydia Becker was the women’s suffrage movement’s key strategist, helping to kick-start a new chapter in the history of Britain and shape the world today. Whilst the militant actions of the suffragettes overshadow the work of others, Lydia Becker is a name that should never disappear from history. By influencing Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst, Becker set off a never-ending chain of events that continues to this day.

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A Selection of Books

The Mindfulness Playbook
Author: Dr Barbara Mariposa
Published: 20th February 2018
Goodreads Rating: 4.07 out of 5
Reviewed: December 2017

Discover how to become healthier, happier, and more resilient with The Mindfulness Playbook by psychology expert Dr Barbara Mariposa. Written with the general public in mind, Mariposa tackles thoughts, feelings and situations that crop up in everyday life and provides effective coping strategies that can be employed anytime, anywhere. Full of inspiring solutions and practical skills, this book advises and supports readers to bring calm and happiness back into their lives. “By engaging with the content of this book, you will learn unique tools and skills that can bring you greater energy, freedom and clarity.”

Mindfulness is about living in the moment rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. By regularly employing mindfulness, life, in theory, should become much simpler. Unfortunately, many people suffer from anxiety and depression; therefore, mindfulness can be a difficult concept to tackle. Mariposa breaks down the book into eight units and explains simple, proven techniques that, with daily practice, anyone can make a habit of using.

Dr Barbara Mariposa developed the Mind Mood Mastery programme and used many of her ideas from this as the basis of her book. Each unit is broken down into manageable chunks that are easy to interpret and relevant to the 21st century. Each unit contains a motto, which expresses the theme of the information provided and a task for people to do in their own time. There are also pages containing sections to write answers to questions Mariposa poses throughout the text.

Many of the tools Mariposa introduces can be shortened to acronyms, making them easy for people to remember in moments of anxiety or stress. One example is “BELL- Breathe. Expand. Listen. Look.” By remembering the letters of this power tool, it can be brought to mind in a difficult situation. It reminds the person to take a deep breath, notice what is going on around them, listen to what they can hear, and focus on something they can see. This helps to stop thoughts from spiralling into the past or future and causing lots of anxiety.

The problem with the term “mindfulness” is it has become an overused term and often replaces the word “relaxing”, for example, in colouring books. Dr Mariposa keeps to the scientific definition of the word (a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique) and is sympathetic to the reader, acknowledging that life can be hard and mindfulness can be difficult to maintain.

Within each unit is a section dubbed “The Science Bit”, which contains scientific information. Mariposa explains in layman’s terms how the brain works and what causes anxiety and depression. She also demonstrates with diagrams how to rewire the brain and alter thought processes. It is interesting to learn that the brain physically changes shape as mindfulness techniques are practised.

For those who want a simple, easy-to-follow book about mindfulness, The Mindfulness Playbook is the one to purchase. The balance between science and everyday life is on point, and the language style is appropriate for all readers. Quotes from famous names break up the text into manageable sections and it is easy to dip in and out of the book as needed. Dr Barbara Mariposa has produced a superb self-help guide that will hopefully help everyone who reads it.

A Piece of the World
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Published: 21st February 2017
Goodreads Rating: 3.86 out of 5
Reviewed: May 2018

Until reading Christina Baker Kline’s note at the end of the book, it is impossible to guess that it is based on real people, although it is a little strange to name the main character after oneself. A Piece of the World is written around a single painting in the Museum of Modern Art, New York: Christina’s World (1948) by Andrew Wyeth, a man who appears and paints this work in the story.

Baker Cline thoroughly researched the background story of the painting. Christina Olson, the main character of this book, was a real person who posed for Wyeth as he painted this striking picture. Although the main story is a work of fiction, the dates and characters are biographically accurate. Beginning in 1939, the narrative weaves to and fro, from Christina’s present-day to her childhood and back again. Christina is an ageing woman who can barely walk and lives in a dilapidated cottage with her brother on a hill in the village of Cushing, Maine. Having lived in this state for so long, it is a welcome surprise to be visited by the young Andrew Wyeth, who falls in love with the cottage and regularly comes to work on his canvases in their upper rooms. Through their peaceful relationship and flashbacks to her past, Christina’s character development is investigated and knitted together to explain why she has become this recluse on a hill.

Christina had problems from a very young age. After almost dying from a fever, she developed an undiagnosed degenerative disease that slowly ate away at the nerves in her arms and legs. Today, neurologists believe this to be Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, but there were no doctors able to provide this diagnosis at the time. Christina suffered aches and pains growing up and could barely walk in a straight line. Her determination to keep going is admirable and makes her a strong female protagonist.

One day in her early twenties, Christina meets a boy who pays her the kind of attention that she has never received before. Believing his promises that they will be together forever, she dares to dream of having a normal life. The reader, however, knows that the future Christina is alone with only her brother for company, making it heartbreaking to read of their developing romance knowing that it is not going to last.

There is no “happy-ever-after” to this story, nor is there a sad ending. It is an account of a woman who had been dealt a raw deal in life but continued getting on despite it. The result, the painting Christina’s World, shows Christina as she sees herself. She may not be able to walk, but she is still a woman; she made the most of her childhood and never complained. This painting is her “letter to the World that never wrote to [Her].”

A Piece of the World is a powerful novel about purpose and determination. Christina may not have had a typical, successful life or become famous, but she had her daily achievements: crawling through a field for an hour to visit a friend, cooking dinners despite not being able to stand up, and carrying on after the end of a romantic relationship.

Written as gracefully as the brushstrokes of a painting with elements of Emily Dickinson thrown in here and there, A Piece of the World is a beautiful piece of work. It is something that can be enjoyed as you are mentally drawn into the storyline, leaving you wondering what happens to Christina and her brother after the completion of the painting. It is a novel the author can be proud of.

Author: Kami Garcia
Published: 1st October 2013
Goodreads Rating: 3.78 out of 5
Reviewed: August 2016

Unbreakable is the first in The Legion series by Kami Garcia, best known for the Caster Chronicles written with co-author Margaret Stohl. Having read the first two books in that series, I already had an inkling of what the writing style and the theme (paranormal/fantasy/young adult) would be like, but I was slightly wrong. Unbreakable was a much faster pace and less drawn out than Beautiful Creatures and Beautiful Darkness, which made it a more gripping read. 

The storyline revolves around a group known as The Legion. All five members die suddenly, leaving five teenagers to take their places. Seventeen-year-old Kennedy Waters, the narrator, is the only new member who was unaware of the legion, so both she and we, as readers, learn and piece together the purpose of the team of five.

Essentially, without giving too much away, the plot is to discover the parts of a device known as the Ophthalmic Shift by uncovering and following clues. Of course, it is not that simple, as the characters have to battle vengeful spirits and end up in numerous dangerous situations. Although it is set in the present day, there were a couple of historical and biblical references at the beginning, nevertheless, The Legion, clues and symbols are fictional. The book was illustrated with some of the symbols mentioned, which makes it so much easier to understand the written description. 

Garcia ends the narrative on a cliffhanger, leaving us wondering what will happen next, which we will discover in the second book, Unbound (2014). I gave a four-star rating because it was interesting, and my mind did not wander whilst reading it as it has done with other books I have read recently. I will not go as far as to say this book was amazing or particularly special, but I am curious to discover what happens next.

Hostage Three
Author: Nick Lake
Published: 20th December 2012
Goodreads Rating: 3.73 out of 5
Reviewed: June 2016

Hostage Three is the second literary thriller by Carnegie Shortlisted Nick Lake. I must admit that I was a little apprehensive about reading this book after having read Lake’s first literary thriller, In Darkness, which, although well-written, was hard going and, at times, boring. However, I enjoyed Hostage Three. Maybe it helped to have a narrator I could relate to more, or maybe it was because the narrative was not shared between two different periods as In Darkness was. Whatever the reason, it was good.

The narrative jumps to something happening in 2008 on the coast of Eyl, Puntland, Somalia. Seventeen-year-old Amy Fields is on a yacht: there are pirates; it appears someone is about to be killed. End of part one. What has happened? What is going to happen? Part two begins three and a half months earlier. From this moment on, Amy narrates what has happened in the lead-up to the initial insight given and what happened afterwards. The reader learns more about Amy, her father and his wife, Sarah, who Amy constantly refers to as ‘the stepmother’, which indicates their tense relationship. Throughout the book, there are flashbacks to what happened to Amy’s real mother, a sufferer of severe OCD, and the events that caused Amy to become a rebellious teenager.

Amy and her family end up travelling the world on a private yacht only to be taken hostage by pirates in the Indian Ocean. To begin with, it is clear that the Fields family and yacht crew are the goodies and the pirates the baddies, but Amy starts to develop a complicated, secret relationship with one of the pirates, Farouz. The reader discovers the pirates’ motives, well at least Farouz’s motives, behind the hostage situation. Things begin to look less black and white, less good versus bad. Everything, of course, becomes more complex once romance is thrown into the mix.

Hostage Three is well worth a read. Lake writes well and keeps the reader engaged. It is as if Amy is talking to the reader the entire time. Once you get used to the unconventional use of punctuation (no speech marks), it becomes fast-paced, and you will be torn between wanting to read it all in one go and wanting to slow down to prevent it from ending too soon!

The One Safe Place
Author: Tania Unsworth
Published: 2nd January 2014
Goodreads Rating: 3.76 out of 5
Reviewed: August 2016

The One Safe Place is a gripping tale by Tania Unsworth aimed at older children, although completely enjoyable by teens and adults too. Written in the third person and set in the not-so-distant future, it follows Devin’s story.

In the future, the climate has changed, the temperature has risen, and rain rarely falls. The opening scene reveals Devin, a young boy, on a farm, digging a grave to bury his grandfather, who has recently died (presumably of old age and not something sinister). Devin, now alone, decides to head to the city, a place he has never visited, to find some help for the farm. The problem is he has never once left the farm and knows nothing of the real world. He meets Kit, a young girl on her own living on the roof of a building, and decides to tag along with her. But then they meet Roman, who promises them a safe home. Although sceptical, they decide to trust him, and thus they arrive at the Gabriel H. Penn Home For Childhood. The place is amazing and has everything a child could want: toys, games, clothes, individual bedrooms, a swimming pool, and most importantly, food and drink. So why are all the other children walking around in limbo, uninterested in everything around them?

Devin, with the help of his friends and his synesthesia, soon discovers and pieces together what is wrong with the home. The pace picks up as they plan their escape leading to the exciting ending.

The One Safe Place is a book young readers will love. Well, what child would not love a book where the children outsmart the adults?

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The Colourful World of David McKee

Until 16th April 2023, the Horniman Museum in London is holding a retrospective of the late David McKee’s colourful illustrations. Mckee was a British author of children’s books, most notably Elmer the Patchwork Elephant. Since its publication in 1968, the original Elmer book has sold over ten million copies worldwide, making it one of the most-read children’s books. McKee is also responsible for other much-loved characters, such as Not Now Bernard, King Rollo and Mr Benn.

David John McKee was born on 2nd January 1935 in Tavistock, Devon. He attended the Plymouth College of Art, where he subsidised his studies by selling cartoons to newspapers. After graduating, McKee continued to produce regular artwork for national publications, such as the Reader’s Digest, the Times Educational Supplement and Punch, a satirical magazine. In 1964, McKee published his first children’s book, Two Can Toucan.

McKee first published Elmer the Patchwork Elephant with Dobson Books in 1968, although he re-issued a shortened version with Andersen Press in 1989. Elmer is not like other elephants with their grey, nondescript skin. Instead, the cheerful creature sports a patchwork of different colours: yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, blue, green, black and white. Despite the difference between Elmer and his peers, he remains an optimistic fellow with a rather mischievous streak.

The original Elmer book is notable for its exploration of cultural diversity. Although Elmer did not mind looking different, he wondered what it would be like to look like all the other elephants. One day, he decided to paint himself grey and blend in with the others. None of the elephants recognised Elmer, nor did the other animals in the story. Unable to take the silence, Elmer shouted “BOO”, making all the elephants jump. They immediately knew Elmer from his voice and fell about laughing. The elephants congratulated Elmer on his best joke ever and laughed even more when it began to rain, washing away the grey paint.

Elmer’s friends reassured him that they preferred his multicoloured and fun-loving personality. They proposed to name the day Elmer painted himself grey “Elmer Day”. Each year on “Elmer Day”, Elmer painted himself grey while the other elephants decorated themselves with multicoloured paint.

Primary schools, libraries and bookshops across the UK have adopted “Elmer Day” to “celebrate everyone’s true colours”. Everyone is unique in their appearance and the way they think and feel. “Elmer Day” encourages children to accept other people’s differences. Since 2016, “Elmer Day” has been celebrated at the end of May, roughly coinciding with the anniversary of the 1989 re-print.

Following the re-print of Elmer in 1989, McKee published 42 more books about the colourful elephant, starting with Elmer Again in 1991 and ending with Elmer and the Gift in 2022. In 2020, McKee won the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement award and the British Book Awards Nibbies Illustrator of the Year. McKee never expected to win, stating he had “never been one for the spotlight or winning awards,” yet nine years earlier, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from Plymouth College of Art.

In 2019, Elmer took to the stage in the Elmer The Patchwork Elephant Show, adapted by Suzanne Miller and featuring songs by Allison Leyton-Brown. Although the show was primarily for entertainment, it contained a subtle message about being yourself. Later that year, the London Symphony Orchestra held an interactive storytelling session, recreating the 40th book in the series, Elmer’s Walk (2018), with music and dance.

In 2014, The Guardian named Elmer an LGBTQ+ icon. Although the movement celebrates sexual equality, the newspaper felt Elmer a fitting mascot due to his message of true colours, acceptance and inclusivity. Two years later, Elmer became the face of Just Like Us, an LGBTQ+ young people’s charity that aims to tackle homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic bullying in schools. Every year, schools are encouraged to participate in School Diversity Week, which celebrates pupils’ differences.

This year, 2023, Elmer has partnered with Alzheimer’s Research UK. McKee’s final book in the series, Elmer and the Gift (2022), deals with the effects of memory loss. Elmer’s Aunt Zelda has a gift to give Elmer from his Grandpa Eldo, but she cannot remember what or where it is. Although Zelda’s memory and hearing are often poor, Elmer helps her search for the missing present while displaying love, patience and respect for his elderly relative. Many young readers may recognise some of the themes in their families, particularly if a loved one is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s Research UK aims to raise awareness of dementia and how people can help care for sufferers. Book sales also help raise money for the charity, which supports families and individuals, plus supplies funding for scientists searching for a cure, treatment or prevention of the disease. To increase support, Hollywood actor Will Pouter (b. 1993) recorded himself reading the book, which will be available online. When interviewed, Poulter revealed, “I loved reading the story of Elmer and the Gift in support of Alzheimer’s Research UK. Thousands of families are impacted by dementia and talking about it to friends and family of any age is incredibly difficult. David McKee’s Elmer the Patchwork Elephant is colourful, trusted, and nostalgic for many parents, making the story a great way to start these important conversations with little ones.”

Elmer is not McKee’s only creation. Predating the colourful elephant is Mr Benn, a man recognised for his black suit and bowler hat. The first of the four original Mr Benn books, Mr Benn Red Knight, was published in 1967 and became an animated television show in 1971. The majority of the stories, both in the books and on television, feature a similar pattern. Every day, Mr Benn leaves his house at 52 Festive Road, London, and visits a fancy dress shop. On each visit, he tries on a different outfit, which transports him to an appropriate world. In the first story, Mr Benn tries on a red knight’s armour and finds himself face-to-face with a dragon. On another occasion, he travels to several weird and wonderful planets while dressed as an astronaut.

McKee intended to write six Mr Benn books, but only four were published: Mr Benn Red Knight, Big Game Benn123456789 Benn, and Big Top Benn. McKee adapted the fifth book, Mr Benn Rides Again, for television and the sixth, Superbenn, never became more than an idea. In 2001, McKee eventually published a new story, Mr Benn – Gladiator. In the same year, Tess Read published Mr Benn’s Little Book of Life, which examined the Mr Benn stories, particularly the moral messages. With the Mr Benn series, and the later Elmer books, McKee subliminally added life lessons for children.

Between 1971 and 1972, McKee wrote, illustrated and animated 13 Mr Benn episodes for the BBC. Each episode lasted 15 minutes, with Ray Brooks (b. 1939) providing the narration. In 2005, the BBC released an animated version of the final book in the series, Mr Benn – Gladiator. 

In 1978, McKee established King Rollo Films, an animation production company which continues to produce children’s cartoons up to the present day. The studio began with King Rollo, based on a series of books by McKee. Rollo is a childish king who always needs advice and assistance from his friends. In the first book, King Rollo and the New Shoes (1979), Rollo gets his first pair of lace-up shoes. After a lot of patience from Rollo’s friend, the magician, plus a lot of shouting and banging from Rollo, the king eventually learns how to tie his new shoes.

King Rollo Films expanded to include animations by other illustrators, including The Adventures of Spot (1987), Maisy (1999-2000), and Poppy Cat (2011). McKee occasionally worked as a writer for these shows.

Elmer, Mr Benn and King Rollo are considered children’s classic picture books, as is McKee’s 1980 story Not Now, Bernard. The publisher, Andersen Press, initially had reservations about the book because they thought it might frighten children and cause controversy. Yet, Not Now, Bernard has been translated into more than 20 languages and has never been out of print.

Not Now, Bernard is about a young boy who wants attention from his preoccupied parents. After being told “Not now, Bernard”, he ventures into the garden, where he is eaten by a monster. The badly behaved monster pretends to be Bernard for the rest of the day, but the parents never notice. Finally, the monster tries to tell Bernard’s mother that he is a monster, but all she replies is “Not now, Bernard”.

Some schools banned Not Now, Bernard for violence, but that did not stop it from becoming a popular story. The Guardian described it as a “cautionary tale of the perils of ignoring children”, and actress Sheila Hancock (b. 1933) claimed the book “demonstrates that parents can be naughty too” and “when we don’t listen to people, monsters can take over”.

McKee divided his time between London and southern France, where he lived with his partner Bakhta, a French-Algerian art dealer. The couple had a shared interest in collecting drawings and African tribal art. McKee had three children from his first marriage to Barbara Ennuss and once lived at 54 Festing Road, Putney, which served as inspiration for Mr Benn’s house at 52 Festive Road. McKee did not earn a great deal from his books and animations, particularly Mr Benn, for which he accepted a lump sum rather than earn royalties. McKee revealed in an interview that Bakhta shared his outlook on money. “She’s just a happy person and doesn’t ask for anything. If we walk hand in hand that’s enough.” Yet, McKee did buy a Picasso ceramic bowl for £300, knowing it was worth £1,000.

David McKee died on 6th April 2022 after a short illness. Although he did not believe he deserved the BookTrust lifetime achievement award, he definitely earned it. Evidenced by the recent Horniman exhibition, Elmer the Elephant is here to stay and continues to be adapted for the present day. Mckee’s books entertained children for decades, and towards the end of his career, McKee helped other characters, such as Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear, reach new audiences by providing illustrations for updated stories. No doubt Elmer the Elephant will receive the same treatment in the future as he continues to support inclusivity and Alzheimer’s Research UK.

If you wish to visit the Elmer and Friends exhibition at the Horniman Museum, tickets are available until 16th April 2023. Entry is £5 for adults and £3 for children, although family deals are available. Please visit the Horniman website for more details.

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