Tuesday
Jul242018

A Beautiful Soul

Only very recently did I discover the ethereal work of Scottish photographer Lady Clementina Hawarden (1822–1865), via an Instagram page called VictorianDarlings.

For a moment they took my breath away, for there was something achingly poignant and tender about them: the soft natural light that gently bathed these young women and diffused into grand interiors, this glimpse of a woman’s exploration of her subject – her daughters, mostly – in the pioneering days of photography.

Produced by albumen prints from wet-collodian negatives, the most popular method in the mid 19th century, Hawarden’s photographs are like paintings, sumptuous and delicate at the same time.

Hawarden called her work ‘studies’, and she worked in natural light, unlike many of her contemporaries, using mirrors to distribute the light pouring into her interiors through huge windows or French doors. In largely empty rooms, she used props, mirrors, draped fabric and curtains, and clothing made up of both contemporary and costume dress to create exquisite portraits, and tableaux (a popular theme of the era) of her daughters.

Windows, an obvious and convenient source of light, become a framing device, and offer a glimpse of the balcony beyond; further off, the city becomes a blurred background.

Most of what is known about Hawarden must be gleaned from her work; some art critics have made suppositions about her themes, for instance, exploring sexuality and adolescence, subjects that bothered the Victorians; but that can only be guesswork, and dubious at that when viewed through a contemporary lens (no pun intended). She left no diaries, nor was there any accompanying archival material when the photographs were generously donated to the V&A Museum by her granddaughter in 1939. They were cut or torn from family albums – there is no explanation as to why, but my guess is stubborn glue! (Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one.)

I think Hawarden found a creative outlet that thrilled her – she produced her entire oeuvre (over 800 photographs) by painstaking method in only approximately seven years – and in an era when this art form was so new, above all she wanted to make beautiful pictures. Is that not enough without casting about for bogeymen? To me, the photographs speak for themselves – and of her beautiful soul.

Read more about Lady Clementina Hawarden and see more of her work at V&A Museum.

Images from V&A Museum, and Pinterest.

Monday
Jul162018

Come Home, Cat!

July’s calendar page is a poignant painting of a back door open letting all the welcoming yellow light out into the night, calling a little black cat home.

It immediately made me remember a children’s story book a friend gave me many years ago, called Cat, You Better Come Home, by Garrison Keillor, illustrated beautifully by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher (Viking, 1995). It’s about a very self-confident cat who goes adventuring about the world. (You can have it read to you by Grandma Annii on YouTube.)

It turned out to be an omen, because my little kitty disappeared the day after my friend gave me the book! Fortunately my story had a happy ending – after a huge letterbox drop and plastering the neighbourhood with posters, my little Hero returned after a few days. Either she had been locked in someone’s garage, or someone had tried to keep her. What a joy her homecoming was!

Sunday
Jul152018

Six Cats

January’s catLast December I started shopping for this year’s calendar early – I didn’t want a repeat of the year before when I really struggled on New Year’s Eve to find something that I liked. I don’t recall where I found this ‘Cats in Posters’ calendar by Catch Publishing, but as always my criteria was nice pictures and nice paper.

Unfortunately there is no information about the source material, but clearly the paintings range over a few decades and nations. I have been enjoying the first six months of pictures, but I think my favourite so far has to be June’s amusing Dutch black cat holding a spool of Zwicky thread like a harmonica.  

February’s catMarch’s catApril’s catMay’s catJune’s cat

Saturday
Jul142018

Bonne Fête

Rue Montorgueil, Paris, Festival of June 30, 1878, painted by Claude Monet in 1878“The Fête de la Fédération on 14 July 1790 was a celebration of the unity of the French nation during the French Revolution. The aim of this celebration, one year after the Storming of the Bastille, was to symbolise peace.

“On 30 June 1878, a feast was officially arranged in Paris to honour the French Republic (the event was commemorated in a painting by Claude Monet).” [Wikipedia]

And here is Monet’s painting, full of joy and light – you can practically feel the sunlight and the wind on your face emanating from exhilarating painting, with all those madly waving flags. And it is easy to imagine how the air must have been alive with excitement and celebration. What an extraordinary impression Monet captured of such a momentous day.

Happy Bastille Day to my French readership!

Friday
Jul132018

Blog Backlog

After taking a long hiatus from this Sketchbook blog, I have been looking through my backlog and found the last two calendar pages from my 2017 Frankie calendar. Unfortunately I recycled the hard copy and kept no record of who these artists were! As I can’t find them online either, you will just have to enjoy them in anonymity.

November’s pussycat was a serendipitous and penultimate segue to my 2018 calendar of vintage cats. while December’s illustration was an apt forecasting of the coming Australian summer – if I recall correctly it didn’t settle in until January!

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