My third and final look at some of the artwork on view at the Manchester Art Gallery is a collection of many painting genres all of which appealed to me.
Sir Edwin Landseer was the favourite artist of Queen Victoria and much loved by the British public for his sentimental, though closely observed, animal paintings. He is probably best known for his 1851 painting Monarch of the Glen which is now part of the Scottish National Gallery collection and the four bronze lions that stand guard at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London. However, in the Manchester Gallery there is another full-sized animal painting by the artist, entitled The Desert which he completed in 1849. It is a painting of a dead lion, and the work is often referred to as The Fallen Monarch. The lion has always been regarded as the national symbol of the British people, epitomising bravery, fortitude and royalty.
The painting is thought to have provided the inspiration for the logo of Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which first appeared in 1885. In the case of the syrup tin the logo depicts a story from the Old Testament, in which Samson kills a lion and later finds that a swarm of bees has formed a honeycomb in its carcass. It is accompanied by the biblical quote ‘Out of the strong came forth sweetness‘.
Edward Wadie Said was a Palestinian American a professor of literature at Columbia University. In his 1978 book entitled Orientalism, which was hailed as his best-known work and one of the most influential scholarly books of the 20th century, he defined the term Orientalism as:
“… the acceptance in the West of “the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate theories, epics, novels, social descriptions, and political accounts concerning the Orient, its people, customs, ‘mind,’ destiny and so on…”
The orientalists were not only fascinated by historical Egypt, but they were also amazed by the beauty of its environment and the 1893 painting by the English artist, Frederick Goodall, entitled Water of the Nile is a classic example of Orientalism in art. In the foreground, on the riverbank, we see Egyptian women wearing traditional clothes, filling their water jars from the Nile River. To the right of the women is a young boy remonstrating with his animals who he has brought down to the water’s edge. To the left we see a man riding his camel as he heads towards the pyramids, seen in the background.
Henry Moore (not the famous sculptor), the English marine and landscape artist, was born in March 1831 in York. In the Manchester Gallery there is a fine example of his rural landscape prowess with his 1862 painting, Cattle Fording a Stream. It is a beautiful autumnal moorland landscape which is made melodramatic by the colourful sunset sky. In the foreground we see depicted a herd of large horned russet-coloured cattle being driven across the ford by two men on horseback. It is a leisurely cattle drive. Some of the cattle halt their progress to take a drink. One of the men herding the beasts sits up and looks back at the following animals which are being marshalled along by a second rider. To the left, a dog keeps one of the herd from moving out of line. Beyond, in the upper left of the painting, we see stacked sheaves of hay in a field. To the right, behind a tree-covered mound, is a cottage with smoke coming from the chimney. It is without doubt that the dominating aspect of this painting is the sky with its streaked cloud formations giving a great sense of depth through the use of brilliant pink and orange hues.
When I think of John Brett my mind always goes to his work, The Stonebreakers, which is in the Walker Art Gallery collection in Liverpool but his painting hanging in the Manchester Gallery could not be more different. Brett was an English painter, whose main works featured coastal scenes and landscapes. He was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and the writings of John Ruskin. He had taken part in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s group exhibition in London in 1857 and during the 1870s he had become well known for his large seascapes, which featured accurate geological detail and meteorological conditions, which can be likened to an almost hyper-realistic representations. His seascape painting at the Manchester Gallery is entitled The Norman Archipelago and is a panoramic view of the Channel Islands, from Sark, looking across a calm sea towards Guernsey, Herm and Jethou. To the left, in the middle-ground, we see a small sailing vessel, which is navigating its way close to a current which has been created as the ebbing tide empties out through a narrow channel between rocks seen in the centre of the depiction. In the background, on the horizon, we see low pink clouds against a bright blue sky, below which are a number of other white-sailed boats plying their way across calm waters.
Frederick Smallfield was an English oil and watercolour artist, whose work was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite artists of the time. He had trained at the Royal Academy Schools in the late 1840s, at the same time as various members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, although there is nothing to show that he was a close acquaintance of theirs.
The painting by Smallfield on display at the Manchester Gallery is entitled Early Lovers. It is a depiction of two young lovers set against a rural landscape scene. It is thought to illustrates the 1827 poem, entitled Ballad, by Thomas Hood
Twas twilight, and I bade you go,
But still you held me fast;
It was the Time of Roses, –
We pluck’d them as we pass’d. –
What else could peer thy glowing cheek,
That tears began to stud?
And when I ask’d the like of Love,
You snatched a damask bud;
The setting is a gently undulating verdant landscape of rich farmland imbued with trees and hedgerows. The scene is illuminated by a low light, suggestive of evening or early morning. In the depiction we see a young girl sitting on a stile. She has shoulder-length fair hair and wears a mauve dress over a white petticoat. A straw hat is slung casually around her neck on a pink ribbon. She is not alone, as we also see an older youth wearing a dark jacket, sporting a red neckerchief. He is probably a local farm worker. The young man is perched besides her, straddling the stile. Balanced on his head is a flat cap which cannot contain the unruly red locks of his hair. The young couple clasp hands as they gaze lovingly at each other. To the right of the stile, entwined in the hedgerow, are a Dog Rose in bloom as well as Honeysuckle.
Evelyn Mary Dunbar was a British artist, illustrator and teacher who was born in Reading in 1906. In April 1940 she was appointed by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, (WAAC), as an official war artist. Her remit was to record civilian contributions to the war effort on the home front. At the beginning she concentrated on the work of the Women’s Voluntary Service, (WVS), and later in the war, she depicted members of the Women’s Land Army, which was set up to encourage women to work on farms to help the war effort. When the war ended Dunbar had completed and had accepted by the WAAC some forty paintings. The Manchester Art Gallery has in its collection one of her later works entitled A 1944 Pastoral: Land Girls Pruning at East Malling. Evelyn spent some time at the Kent village in the winter of 1944/5, when one of the principal activities was pruning of fruit trees, particularly of apple trees. Until more disease-resistant rootstocks were introduced from the United States and latterly from Poland, the influence of East Malling Research Station on the British commercial apple industry was vast. The painting depicts a rural setting in winter with a view along a long avenue of trees of an orchard. Hills are visible in the distance beneath a cloudy sky. We see groups of women from the Women’s Land Army pruning the trees and carrying away the dead wood. Standing in the foreground are three women pruning the nearest trees, two of whom are standing on white ladders. Another woman in the left foreground can be seen bringing another ladder into the orchard. The scene is surrounded by a brown painted frame containing different motifs, including gloved hands each holding a pair of secateurs, a bowl of apples, a plate of apples, a gloved hand holding a small saw, and a gloved hand holding a serrated knife. The site of this orchard is close to East Malling Research Station in Kent which was established in 1913 as a government owned establishment and was the leading fruit research centre in the UK.
My final selection of the paintings I saw when I went to the Manchester Art Gallery is one by the nineteenth century British artist Briton Riviere, who was famous for his animal depictions. He once wrote about how he became proficient in this genre:
“…The only way to paint wild animals is to gradually accumulate a large number of studies and a great knowledge of the animal itself, before you can paint its picture … I paint from dead animals as well as from live ones. I have had the body of a fine lioness in my studio … I have done a great deal of work in the dissecting rooms at the Zoological Gardens from time to time…”
The painting that I saw in the gallery was entitled In Manus Tuas, Domine which is part of a Latin phrase which translates as Into thy hands O Lord, I commend my spirit. It is a phrase recited by many who are facing death. The depiction is of a fearless young fair-haired knight astride a white horse, escorted by his three bloodhounds. They are at the mouth of a dark cave and both rider, horse and dogs seem fearful of what they may find inside. The animals cower and seem to be digging their heels into the ground to stop any forward motion. The young rider is wearing a soft black cap and dressed in a full suit of shining silver-coloured armour, complete with star-shaped spurs. His helmet, which is trimmed with pink and black ostrich plumes, is tied to his saddle. The knight, unlike his animals, is putting a brave face on, despite his fear and no doubt the phrase in the title of the painting is passing his lips. He looks directly ahead into the darkness as he raises the cross-hilt of his sword before him. The sword forms a cross, symbolising the victory of man’s faith and may be apt as he leaves the daylight to enter the dark chasm. To defend himself he also carries behind him a black shield painted with a narrow blue cross, and a lance. To add to the terror, a red-eyed bat flies out of the dark tangle of branches towards the knight and what might be the tail of a snake, can be seen disappearing into a hole.
I hope that my three blogs will tempt you to visit the Manchester Art Gallery. It is well worth a visit.