Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Giveaway: Pre-Raphaelite necklace by Ruby Robin Boutique

I have a treat for the ladies just ahead of Christmas, my blogger friend Khrystyna who runs the Ruby Robin Boutique has presented me with this beautiful locket of My Sweet Rose (1908) by John William Waterhouse to give away to a lucky reader.

Kay makes necklaces, earrings, brooches and beautiful hairclips, all packaged beautifully and to a high standard, you can see them all over at her etsy boutique Ruby Robin Boutique.

Kay lives and works in the rainy city of Cork in the South of Ireland with her boyfriend and four mischievous cats. She makes all sorts of vintage inspired jewellery and accessories in her bedroom studio, which is on the bottom floor of a wonderful old Georgian building overlooking the river and railway line.

As with any blog competition, there are a few rules to follow:

1. Like the facebook page for Ruby Robin Boutique.
2. Follow me on Google Reader/bloglovin' (over there to the right).
3. Comment below with your favourite item from the Ruby Robin Boutique!

This giveaway is open worldwide, and the closing date is December 7th.

Its Kay's dream to work full time selling her designs, so I urge you to have a look around her lovely Etsy Boutique and find something for that special someone (you!) this Christmas!

She is generously giving an exclusive 20% off to readers, so use code VAGABOND to get your discount!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant Garde, at Tate Britain

While I was in London last month I was lucky enough to catch the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at Tate Britain.

In contrast to previous Pre-Raphaelite surveys, this exhibition juxtaposed paintings with works in other media including the applied arts, showing the important role of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the early development of the Arts and Crafts movement and the socialist ideas of the poet, designer and theorist, William Morris (1834-1896). Bringing together furniture and objects designed by Morris‘s firm, of which many Pre-Raphaelite artists were part, the aim was to depict how Morris’s iconography for British socialism ultimately evolved out of Pre-Raphaelitism.

Some of the works I had seen at exhibitions previously. I was thrilled to see more of a female presence at this exhibition, including some previously unseen works by Elizabeth Siddal.

Cabinet Decorated with Scenes from ‘The Prioress’s Tale’, Philip Webb and Edward Burne-Jones. This cabinet, designed by Philip Webb and decorated by Burne-Jones, is made from oak and deal and painted in oil. Burne-Jones gave it to William Morris as a wedding present on his marriage to Jane Burden in 1859. This cabinent stood in the Morris' bedroom at Red House (that I also visited).

It was exciting to see examples of arts and crafts textiles in a Pre-Raphaelite exhibition, showcasing the multi-disciplinary approach of the movement and its followers. I did get emotional over a bed though...

This bed is usually to be found at Kelmscott Manor, the pattern is "Kelmscott Tree" The bed pelmet, in this pattern, was designed by May Morris, and embroidered by Lily Yeats and Ellen Wright (1891-3). Lily Yeats worked for Morris & Co., under May Morris for six years, some of the most difficult years of her life. Her letters to her family mention May and her temper, the difficulty of working for her, frequently referring to her as a "gorgon". For me it was thrilling to look upon something that Lily had probably spent weeks bent over, there's something about the intimacy of a historic textile that really appeals to my senses and emotions.

One of the standouts for me was the female representation in the exhibit, though not significant it's inclusion is necessary. Seeing the women as creative individuals and not just the rigid catalyst for a man's creativity.

Lady Clare, Elizabeth Siddal, 1857.
This drawing illustrates Tennyson's Lady Clare, in which the heroine's natural mother begs her to conceal her humble origin, lest Lord Ronald withdraw his offer of marriage.

Lady Affixing a Pennant to a Knight’s Lance, Elizabeth Siddal, 1856

The Lady of Shalott, Elizabeth Siddal, 1853. This is the 4th version of the Lady of Shalott, and the only one done by a woman. Here, Siddal shows her at the moment she looks out the window. The woman is dressed simply, unadorned and unsexualised, a completely different perspective to the image of the Lady of Shalott we are acquainted with, like the Holman Hunt below.

Some of the above were purchased with assistance from Sir Arthur Du Cros Bt and Sir Otto Beit through the Art Fund in 1916.

The exhibition wasn't simply self-congratulatory, also included was some contemporary satire, courtesy of Florence Claxton (1840-79). Claxton was an English artist and humorist, most notable for her satire on the Pre-Raphaelite movement. She also wrote and illustrated many humorous commentaries on contemporary life.

Claxton's The Choice of Paris: An Idyll (c. 1860), a satire on the Pre-Raphaelites. (Click to enlarge)

Isabella and the Pot of Basil, William Holman Hunt, 1868 (completed).
The painting illustrates a poem by John Keats: Isabella, or, the Pot of Basil. In it, Isabella and Lorenzo fall in love. Her brothers kill Lorenzo. After searching for and finding his body, Isabella buries his head under a plant of Basil. Hunt used his wife Fanny as the model. She was pregnant at the time and gave birth to their son in August 1866, but died in December of that year, leaving Hunt to complete the painting after her death. The juxtaposition of the representation of life and death in this painting twinges it with sadness.

King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid, Edward Burne-Jones, 1884
Taken from a Medieval romance which tells the legend of the prince Cophetua and his unorthodox love for the beggar Penelophon. Cophetua was an African king known for his lack of any natural sexual attraction to women. One day while looking out a palace window he witnesses a young beggar (Penelophon) suffering for lack of clothes. Struck by love at first sight, Cophetua decides that he will either have the beggar as his wife or commit suicide. Obviously Burne-Jones has included a (sheer) sheath of clothing for the sake of Victorian propriety in his depiction of the myth.

This psychedelic depiction of the Lady of Shalott by Holman Hunt was one of the penultimate paintings in the exhibition, it was absolutely stunning in scale and style. Seeing it I experienced one of those magical gallery specific moments where a painting renders you speechless, and in response you can only sit and drink it in.

The Lady of Shalott, William Holman Hunt, (begun in 1886 and finally exhibited in 1905) on loan from the Manchester Art Gallery.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
'The curse is come upon me,' cried
The Lady of Shalott.

[Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Lady of Shalott (1842)]

Some interesting further reading...
Letter from Rossetti to his brother while his “pupil” [Elizabeth Siddal] uses his studio
The Ballad of King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid
Pre-Raphaelitism and Illustration, Florence Claxton
The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Film Fatale / Some Like it Hot


Glamour visited my hometown last weekend. Film Fatale hosted a screening of Some Like it Hot at The Model, as part of the North West Film and Music Festival. Guests participated in the evenings spectacle by togging out in 1920s and 1950s inspired gear. Before the film chanteuse Derby Browne sang a set of Marilyn songs. Afterward, The Andrews Sisters' Brothers played a DJ set with tunes from the 20s to 50s.

Derby Browne

Anna of Film Fatale

I relished the chance to do something different with my make-up and hair (a hairdresser called Mairead, based in Streedagh, Strandhill takes the credit for the hair). I'm currently reading Letters Between Six Sisters, a collection of letters between the notorious Mitford sisters from the 1920s-90s, edited by Charlotte Mosley.

Nancy, Unity & Diana Mitford

I've been looking at a lot of photographs of the sisters, included in the book, particularly portraits of the sisters in the late 1920s and 30s. Note the cupids bow lips, dark eye-makeup and tailored, slim eyebrows. I watched pixiwoo's Clara Bow inspired video for some professional inspiration and went at it! Of course I wasn't sacrificing my eyebrows, so I just drew them on with an eyebrow pencil.

I'm not used to wearing such heavy, dramatic make-up but when an event calls for glamour, I respond accordingly.

My dress is Noa Noa, my coat is Peter O'Brien from the 2009 A-Wear collaboration, and my earrings are last year's Topshop. The little black beaded bag was a gift, but it was from Accessorize.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

An Arts and Crafts dream: William Morris' Red House

Despite being in London for only a few days, I'm a country girl and it was a relief to get out of the city for an afternoon. Having studied the arts and crafts movement, and with an interest in historic interiors I decided to catch the train out to Bexleyheath to visit William Morris' Red House.

After about 45 minutes on the train from Victoria I arrived at my destination. I was a bit worried that it would be out of the way, hidden in a housing estate, but my google map wasn't necessary in the end as the directions were very well sign posted (its the National Trust we're dealing with here!) once you walk out of the station.

The house is owned by the National Trust, and is in a constant state of conservation. While I was there, they were still working on unearthing original wallpaper and murals.

Philip Webb water glasses, designed for use at Red House. A recent acquisition, these were found by an eagle eyed individual on eBay!

Panel by Edward Burne-Jones, originally placed in the front door of Red House, the painted glass surrounding it is by William Morris.

One of my favourite features of the house was in the garden hallway, the owner of the house in the 1890s had used the glass panels of the door as a visitors book, for guests to etch their name into the glass. The names of Arthur Lasenby Liberty, May Morris and Georgiana Burne-Jones can be made out (only May's is visible on this panel on the bottom, it was too dark and my pictures didn't turn out well)! There's something about a persons handwriting that makes a figure from history seem more authentic somehow.

Morris fancied himself the Medieval Lord of his Manor. He would have a large oak table erected in the hall here, when he had guests to dinner. This (unfinished) settle in the hallway was painted by Morris and the Burne-Jones. The left hand panel is painted rather amateurishly by Morris, focusing mostly on decoration and embelishment, the panel to the right was painted by the Burne-Joneses. A quirky detail is of the woman on the far left of the left hand panel, it is a depiction of the Morris family's housekeeper, at Red Lion square!

This is one of 7 surviving embroideries from a scheme of 12 envisioned for the dining room at Red House. This panel depicts Aphrodite, and turned up in an auction in Edinburgh in 2007. Out of the remaining six, 3 can be found at Kelmscott Manor, and 3 at Castle Howard (the only ones with embroidered backgrounds). I had the privlege of seeing the Castle Howard ones on my visit there in early 2011, and they are currently on display as part of the Tate's Pre-Raphaelite exhibition.

The drawing room, with settle designed by Morris. This room had an elaborate decorative scheme with the wall painted in murals by Jane and William Morris. This, and the settle was painted over with white emulsion paint in the 1950s and is slowly being uncovered by conservators.

This 'Minstrels Gallery' was added by Webb in 1859 and probably made for a romantic nook for visiting guests!

The walls on either side of the settle are painted by Edward and Georgina Burne-Jones as their wedding present to the Morris couple. They depict The Wedding Tale of Sir Degrevant.

(Photo source)
Recently, a mural believed to be painted by Elizabeth Siddal as she recuperated at the house shortly before her death, was uncovered hidden behind a wardrobe. This is a fragment of the mural scheme, it is currently being restored, as you can see its in quite a bad state of deterioration. This was painted in William and Jane's bedroom, where a sunflower scheme is being uncovered on the ceiling and walls.

This pattern "Kelmscott Tree" found on the Morris Bed at Kelmscott Manor, currently at the Tate Britain Pre-Raphaelite exhibition. The bed pelmet, in this pattern, was designed by May Morris, and embroidered by Lily Yeats and Ellen Wright (1891-3).

These blocks would have been used by Morris & Co. to screenprint their patterns onto paper, some of the more intricate patterns would have required many of these, resulting in a more costly design.

While in Red House, Morris designed his first three patterns for Morris & Co.; Trellis, Daisy and Fruit (Pomegranate). These were inspired by the flora and fauna surrounding Red House.

These famous round windows feature in the upstairs hallway. The glass is handpainted by Morris in a medieval pattern featuring his motto Si Je Puis ("If I Can").

The view of the back of the house.

In 1865, due to financial and work commitments, Morris had to sacrifice his house of dreams.

May Morris would only have been a child when they left in 1865, this photograph may well have been taken in the interior of Red House.

These photos, were taken in 1865, the year the Morris family moved out of Red House. Taken by Robert Parsons and styled by Rossetti (they were taken in his garden) they were to inspire the Pre-Raphaelite inclination in art as well as photography.


It seems hard to imagine now, that this once was positively rural, and now its just another suburb of London. All these estates have popped up around Red House, which still has the luxury of its garden. The houses all vary in age and style. I noticed that some of the earliest houses dated from 1876, when Morris' house was completed in 1860, 16 years before these houses were erected. Possibly the closest houses at the time?

As always you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

**Also this is a great video, featuring reknowned Pre-Raphaelite academic Jan Marsh, talking about Red House.

You can get the train from Charing Cross or Victoria station to Bexleyheath. Admission is £8 for adults, there is no student rate. The house is decorated for the Christmas!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Brontë Country: Haworth village and the Brontë Parsonage.

I’ve dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they’ve gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë (1818-48).

I wasn't sure what to expect when I was planning my visit to Haworth, in the Worth Valley, home of the Brontë sisters. I kept my expectations low, dreaming only of the moors that surrounded this place. My traveling companion was another Zoë!

The village of Haworth itself, capitalises on the legacy of the sisters, the last of whom, Charlotte (1816-55), died in 1855. There are Brontë B&Bs, tea rooms, holiday homes, taxi cabs... and so on. There was an excess of gift shops (and old-fashioned sweet shops) selling bunting, hand made jewellery and crafts and Cath Kidston, and those shabby-chic-vintage-oh-remember-the-war! type trinkets that glorify the era of that tired old slogan "Keep Calm and Carry On". These are typically aimed towards the American and Japanese tourists, who make up the majority of visitors ever year. (The village attracts around 75,000 tourists a year, this peaked in the 1970s when it was 250,000 per year!)

The old apothecary where Branwell Brontë (1817-48) purchased the fatal laudanum that he was to die from an overdose of is now run by Rose & Co., a successful British traditional skin-care company based in Haworth. We did spend the best part of an hour oogling the indulgent beauty treats and admiring the shop's collection of vintage beauty packaging, on display below the original glass fronted counter. Many of the shops in the village maintain a "cultivated quaintness", but for me, that's a by-product, I'm not so bothered by it as the locals are entitled to make money to pay their bills.

The famous iron sign that hangs outside the Parsonage, was designed in the 1940s by Mr Mitchell, one of the first curators of the Brontë Parsonage Museum.

"Everything fits into, and is in harmony with, the idea of a country paronage, possessed by people of very moderate means." (Elizabeth Gaskell, novelist and biographer of Charlotte, commenting on the parsonage in a letter to a friend)

The Parsonage is situated by the church and graveyard. In the Brontë's time, the average life expectancy in the village was 25. This influx of bodies into the overcrowded graveyard in turn poisoned the village's water system. It was their father, Patrick Brontë who planted the trees which now surround the house, to accelerate the decomposition of the bodies laid there. Its a sobering thought, the Brontë's truly were surrounded by the apparition of death throughout their lives.

This bronze statue of the Brontë sisters by Jocelyn Horner is in the Heather Garden of the Parsonage, you see it as you pass through to the gift shop (which is particularly well stocked by the way)

We had dinner on the first night in the Old White Lion, founded in the 18th century. Our meal was in the Gimmerton Room which gave me a twinge of excitement! The interior is delightly welcoming and modern, without being contemporary.

The next day before a failed trip to the moors, after seeing the Parsonage, we ate in the quirky café Cobbles and Clay. The menu was extensive, the soups and cakes delicious, and everything is marked as being gluten free, or whether or not its suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

On the morning of our departure we had a baked potato (some honest Northen grub!) in the unpretencious Villette tearooms, having spent the best part of the morning strolling up and down the main street of Haworth, we took ourselves and the books we purchased in Venables and Bainbridge Books, to the 10 The Coffee House, where I had the most divine hot chocolate and homemade biscotti. The hot chocolate I was told was a secret recipe, alas, so I must try and experiment myself. 10 also functions as a B&B, with its refreshing elegant period interior its certainly something I would consider on my next inevitable visit.

The shop owners of Haworth village owe a pun or two to the village's famous daughters.

This charming bookshop had an especially inviting window display, but alas it was closed. Haworth experiences a tourist decline in the winter so some of the shops only open on certain days. I really fancied getting that mug!

Village politics

The unique nature of the village means there are a lot of twee homewares, curiosity shops selling "Yorkshire relics" and posters for "wartime balls".

You weren't allowed to take pictures inside the house, and I wouldn't have done it justice anyway, but you can view some images in this flickr set here, or get a virtual tour on the offical website.

Token photo of me in front of the Parsonage entrance

It was chilling to stand in the doorway of the sitting room, where the three sisters sat around the table and penned their novels. To look upon the sofa where Emily drew her last breath, in denial of her illness until the end. To think of Charlotte pacing this room, alone, for eight years after her siblings deaths. When you're in the upstairs rooms, looking at Charlotte's pint sized dress and wedding bonnet, you might hear the chime of the clock on the stairs, which Rev. Patrick Brontë would set every night before ascending the stairs to his bedroom, after calling upon his daughters to tell them to get along to bed!

A little and a lone green lane
That opened on a common wide;
A distant, dreamy, dim blue chain
Of mountains circling every side.
(Emily Brontë)

The museum is independently run, changes its exhibitions frequently and the Parsonage guidebook was wonderfully informative, as well as being great value. £7.50 for the guide and a guide to the Brontëana exhibit, which is at the end of the house tour. There's all manner of memorabili relating to the family. Scraps of their dresses, handwritten letters, a mourning locket containing Charlottes hair, the famous family juvenilia: those mininature books created about the fictional Gondal when they were children, and on a more sombre note, funerary cards and a sketch by Branwell depicting the spectre of death by his bed, waiting to steal him away, the last known work of his, death did catch up with him only months later.

Portrait of Anne, Emily and Charlotte by Branwell, now on display in the National Gallery

A reproduction of the famous portrait by Branwell of his sisters looks upon you as you make your way up the stairs. I was lucky enough to see the original in the National Portrait Gallery before my trip up North. It was found by the second wife of Charlotte's husband, folded on top of a wardrobe.

After my visit I feel invigorated. Clichéd as it may be, having walked the well trodden cobbles that the sisters once walked, I feel a deeper connection with their writing. Somethings changed. I felt the same wind in my hair, the same rain on my skin, the same biting cold. Charlotte spoke of her sadness in walking the moors after her sisters deaths. Emily was in the landscape all around her. Everything was changed utterly. Over 150 years have passed, the world is changed, I had to look harder, and undeniably I was seeing it through rose tinted glasses, but when I closed my eyes I could feel the other worldly mood that hung over that village. My visit shook me up and brought me to the realisation that I don't know half as much as I want to! The sisters were talented artists, writers, craftswomen and knew about maintaining domestic comforts, as was expected of women of their rank.

The headstone from the 1992 film adaption of Wuthering Heights. A toungue in cheek piece of memorabilia also on display in the museum. My favourite adaption!

I plan to join the Brontë Society and on my return to Haworth, whenever that may be, and walk to Top Withens (the inspiration for Wuthering Heights) and Ponden Kirk (Penistone Crags).

Lets not forget that Sylvia Plath's grave at Heptonstall, is close by, as Maeve helpfully informed me!

If you find the idea of Haworth compelling read these three articles, come to your own conclusions. Keep the magic of fantasy alive, or make the pilgrimage? You decide.
Life on Moors (New York Times)
Mad about the Brontes (Jolien Janzing)
The Brontës are alive and unwell in Haworth (Sam Jordison)

The Bronte Parsonage blog is updated regularly.

We stayed in a rather eclectic B&B called Ye Sleeping House, which was a bit overwhelming but an experience in itself: