Sunday, September 25, 2011

Portrait of a mad cat woman

You never know the minute ... a sentence, a paragraph, a photo, a poem or a curious snippet stumbled upon in a blog can spark the idea for a picture. Well, that's how it works for me anyway. Just a small piece of information can set me off.

One of my favourite blogs is Georgian London - that's www. - where a recent post, a contemporary obit, caught my eye:

"An Eccentrical Lady"

Died, 16th January 1792, at her house, Southampton Row, Bloomsbury, Mrs Griggs. Her executors found in her house eighty-six living and twenty-eight dead cats. A black servant has been left 150 pounds per annum, for the maintenance of herself and the surviving grimalkins.

The lady was single, and died worth 30,000 pounds. Mrs Griggs, on the death of her sister, a short time ago, had an addition to her fortune; she set up her coach, and went out almost every day airing, but suffered no male servants to sleep in her house. Her maids being tired frequently of their attendance on such a numerous household, she was induced at last to take a black woman to attend and feed them. The black woman had lived servant to Mrs Griggs many years, and had a handsome annuity given her to take care of the cats."

So here is my take on the eccentrical Mrs Griggs, a mad cat woman of the eighteenth century.
Hope her cats were indeed "maintained" after her demise.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

In the Bay of Biscay

I finished this piece yesterday, letting rip (as opposed to snipping) with my store of papers. No, I did snip the background which is a patchwork of greys, meant to vaguely represent the sails. And the boat itself, the Maria Crowther, which took Keats and Severn to Naples in September - October 1820. But the rest is torn, the best way I could approximate to what physically and possibly mentally overtook the dying and deeply depressed poet en route to Italy and his grave:

"In the Bay of Biscay," wrote Severn recalling the voyage, "we encountered a three day storm. The sea swept over the ship all day and night, and the rushing up and down of water in the cabin was a frightful sound in the darkness..."

And again: "The waves were of enormous length, and so high that the effect was like a mountainous country:"
Severn himself painted a serene picture of the Maria Crowther which I used as a source and there are strong echoes of Alfred Wallis, one of my favourite naive artists in there too.

Working it out

I used fragmented pieces from photocopies of some of Keats's last magnificent heart-breaking letters too.

I have still to get to grips with being able to crop photos, so I'm afraid there is a bit of worktable all round this picture for the time being until I master that particular IT art.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sailing to Italy

This has been kicking around at the back of my mind (and pages and pages back in my sketch book) for ages. Even before I did the Shelley storm for Field Place. A boat instead of a house this time - not sure where it's going yet. 

The Maria Crowther heading for Naples. 
And death. 

With a 3 day storm in the Bay of Biscay between and echoes of one of my favourite painters, Alfred Wallis, thrown in for good measure.

And memories of a frightful couple of days and even worse nights in my youth which I shall never forget - on a rust bucket of a ferry grandly called the Ernesto Anastasio - in an Atlantic storm in December when only a miracle saved me from being crushed to death between shifting cargo on deck, and we all heard the terrifying boom which signified the propellor coming out of the water. That's how big the waves were.

Oh, yes. I can identify with the storm that hit the Maria Crowther ...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Christmas cards

I have been tweaking my Winter Snows image. 
No, what am I saying? 
I have redone it completely to give it a more decoratively Christmasy feel. 

Wentworth Place with silhouetted inhabitants (Keats and Fanny?), the dashing Dilke cats, some seasonal robins and a gift on the doorstep ...

White is EXTREMELY hard to photograph.

I'm still searching for the definitive shot (this needs more to the left and less to the right) but thought I'd put this one up anyway to prove I haven't been slacking after a week's absence.
Each one of those snowflakes has been lovingly (what?) and individually cut and stuck down.

I think I may be suffering from snow blindness ...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A victim of Romanticism

Here is another miniature portrait, of a woman whose life was fatally shaped by the Romantic movement:

To Fanny nothing now remained except death

Fanny Wollstonecraft was a tragic figure, overlooked in life and death. The daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, half-sister to Mary Shelley, adopted daughter of William Godwin, she was herself not touched by genius, though she wished to be worthy of those geniuses who surrouded her. Conventional and unbookish, her role in the chaotic, debt-ridden Godwin household was confined to two things: running the place and peacemaking. She was most likely in love with Shelley who regarded her at best with indifference and at worst as a useful go-between and was left behind when he, Mary and their stepsister Claire ran off to France.

Unappreciated, unloved and taken for granted, poor Fanny eventually decided to end her life. Even in this she took care to cause no trouble. She took the coach to Swansea, booked herself into an inn and took an overdose of laudanum. No family member came forward to claim her body and she was buried in a communal grave. She was just 22.

No character of Jane Austen ever had to write anything as dire as a suicide note but you can't help feeling that if any had they could have done no better than Fanny's elegant and understated farewell:
I have long determined that the best thing I could do was to put an end to the existence of a being whose birth was unfortunate, and whose life has only been a series of pain to those persons who have hurt their health in endeavouring to promote her welfare. Perhaps to hear of my death will give you pain, but you will soon have the blessing of forgetting that such a creature ever existed as Francis Wollstonecraft."

Poor Fanny.

Deary me, really,  the more I read about Percy Bysshe Shelley the less I find to like about him...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Newstead Abbey night scene

Finished at last.
Newstead Abbey with a Gothic twist.

Strangely, as I was sticking down the last pieces, the streaks of lightning, the sound of thunder came over on the radio, accompanying a very brief excerpt from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Creepy ....

It was a storm in the Villa Diodati, Byron's rented villa overlooking Lake Geneva, when those gathered (Shelley, Mary Godwin (later Shelley), Claire Clairmont, Polidori and Byron himself) told each other ghost stories which eventually resulted in Mary Shelley's classic.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Portrait of a worried woman

The Newstead Abbey collage should be finished today.
I had thought of including poor Lady Byron in it, running off with her babe in arms. When doing these houses I can't help but thinking about their occupants ...

Annabella was well aware that her husband cared more for her half sister than he did for her.
In the end I did a miniature portrait, playing card size (the correct term is ACEO but I loathe acronyms) which - as usually happens with me - kicks me into series mode. It is a small picture with a very long title - a sentence from a book. Last night I started on one of Fanny Wollstonecraft. I would like to see how a mosaic of about 20 would look together .... but I am getting ahead of myself.

Annabella Milbanke's unfortunate marriage to Lord Byron took place on New Year's Day 1815. A year and one child later she was divorced, hinting at but never specifying, his allegedly perverse practises in the bedroom and his much gossiped-about unnatural feelings for his half-sister, Augusta Leigh.

So she cut her losses and got out where other women at that time might well have put up and shut up.

The formidable Lady Byron is listed in Chambers as "English philanthropist". She went into the marriage with the celebrated poet with a view to reforming his character but spectacularly failed. She later put her reforming spirit to work more successfully elsewhere: in improving women's education, in agriculture and industry and in the anti-slavery movement.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Newstead Abbey with a ghoul and ghost garnish

All of a sudden it is coming together.

I was getting a bit worried that this would be the first writer's house I would have to give up on but I really applied myself to the scissors and drawing board yesterday and got the architectural bit largely sorted. 

Then went through my "maybe" pile of cuttings I had set aside, found something that jumped out at me for clouds and once I framed the bottom with some National Geo underwater vegetation from no idea what part of the planet it all clicked into place. 

Nothing is certain yet, of course. Not till it gets aerolsoled or Pritted down. 
I like the flying skulls, an idea lifted from a doodle in my book which originally came (I think) from a Fuseli engraving. 

Amusingly Gothick.
I want to camp it up a la Byron.
He was such a poser.