Sunday, July 26, 2009

Joke Written by George Bernard Shaw about William Morris Unearthed after 79 Years

BBC News reported yesterday that a researcher has discovered a joke written by playwright George Bernard Shaw in honour of the opening in 1930 of the Hall at William Morris House in Wimbledon. The joke was found written in Shaw's hand on a photograph of himself, and reads as follows:

"William Morris and I preached the gospel of Labour together on many occasions.

"Many respectable persons thought we deserved hanging. I am proud to hang in a hall dedicated to him."

The note was discovered by researcher Peter Walker in a cupboard among the archives of the Wimbledon Labour Party. Walker noted that, "[t]he discovery of this original picture and handwritten joke by one of our greatest playwrights is very exciting."

It's interesting to see that Shaw seems to have had fond memories of Morris. I always knew that they shared similar political views, but they seem to have had a long history together. Both men started as members of the Social Democratic Foundation (SDF), and they actually started the Socialist League together in 1885, together with Eleanor Marx. Small world!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Prince Charles Declines to Renew his Patronage of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings

His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, who has been patron of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) since the death of the Queen Mother, has withdrawn his support after a difference of opinion with the members of the society's board. The Prince failed to renew his patronage of the society when it came up for renewal last year.

The Prince apparently raised the ire of the society by contradicting their stated views on restoration in a forward he wrote for a book on architecture. In the forward, the Prince argued that historical buildings should always be restored in their original style.

I can't help but feel that William Morris, who founded the society back in 1877, would have agreed wholeheartedly with the Prince on this particular matter. Morris was very much against reproduction of historical buildings, but was a strong supporter of historical preservation and protection. One only has to look at the "new designs" that Morris appreciated in order to realise that he was not quite as supportive of all forms of architectural innovation as the SPAB would have us believe. Morris found most modern design downright ugly, and I'm sure that he and the Prince would have agreed on that point.

While the SPAB's mandate might warn against "feeble and lifeless forgeries," it hardly seems fair that this should remain the chief concern for historical preservationists in this day and age, when we have much better access to appropriate materials for restoration. The danger of damaging the integrity of the historical architecture is far greater. However, it appears that the board of the society disagrees. They apparently requested that the Prince amend the forward to the book to more closely align with their own views and he refused.

It's surprising that the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings would actually refuse royal patronage from someone who happens to share views so similar to those of the society's founder. William Morris always felt it was disingenuous to try to imitate historical architecture, but he remained strongly convinced about the importance of preserving buildings as carefully as possible. I haven't seen the Prince's forward (and it sounds like none of us ever will), but it would be interesting to know what the fuss was all about. Besides, it seems that if Morris had seen some of the more atrocious examples of modern restoration, he might have agreed with the Prince even more! I guess I'm a bit of a Luddite, but I would prefer to err more on the side of cautious restoration than of reconstruction using new styles.

The SPAB has yet to name a new patron.

For more info on this story, see the Independent

The press release from the SPAB can be found on the Society's website

Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Julia Margaret Cameron Exhibit

A new exhibit of Julia Margaret Cameron's photography is currently underway at the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine. The exhibit began July 4 and will run through till September 7, 2009.

The exhibition is entitled "For My Best Beloved Sister Mia: An Album of Photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron." The works included in the showing were put together for Julia Margaret Cameron's sister, Maria Jackson (known as Mia). Cameron originally gave her sister the partially filled album as a gift on July 7, 1863, at the beginning of Julia Margaret Cameron's experiments with photography. Over the years, Mia filled the album with many of her sister's most iconic images.

Cameron's portraits are well known for their romantic quality and for their close association with the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Many of the most well-known photographs of a number of Victorian celebrities, such as Charles Darwin and Alfred Lord Tennyson, were also taken by Cameron.

For more information, visit the Portland Museum of Art's website.

For those of you who are aren't able to make it to this showing, the next engagement of this travelling exhibit will be from October 23, 2010 - January 2, 2011
at the Frick art & historical center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Ellen Terry by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1864. Image courtesy wikimedia

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Pre-Raphaelites Brought to Life at

The Birmingham Museum of Art (which houses the largest public collection of Pre-Raphaelite Art) has just unveiled their new website,, which promises to offer the most intimate experience of the Pre-Raphaelites work that can be achieved outside of visiting the museum.

The website uses Microsoft’s Silverlight technology, which allows the viewer to expand the artworks as much as possible while maintaining the integrity of the image. It is a spectacular tool, and I can't wait to see more museums adopt this method of cataloguing the works in their collections.

I used Silverlight to take a closer look at Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Beata Beatrix, and I have to admit it was an extraordinary experience. The detail is incredible! I have only had the opportunity to view a few Pre-Raphaelite artworks in person, and this technology does allow you to get much closer to the work than they would ever let you get in person. (Even more than in France, where they are extremely permissive of museum guests getting quite close to the paintings!).

In addition to allowing you to see the finest details of many of the works in their collection, the website also points you to related works. In the case of Beata Beatrix, this leads you to a number of sketches of the work. They also seem to offer more detailsa about the works than other museum websites do, and if you register for the website, you can even discuss the paintings with other art fans online.

I originally heard about this project thanks to an email from the Communications Officer for Environment & Culture at the Birmingham City Council. I am so glad they emailed me and that the Council is getting the word out about this great resource! I can see why the Birmingham City Council is quite proud of this site. It really offers a unique opportunity for art lovers across the globe to see these works "up close and personal" and I think the site will generate a lot of tourism once people see what the museum has to offer.

Of course, nothing can replace the experience of seeing these works in person, but this new website does get awfully close. And for those of you planning to visit Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, I strongly urge you to visit this website first. If there are any artworks you are hoping to see in person, you can actually request a viewing through the website! This is an amazing service. I'm used to having to write to museums, but this tool makes the entire process so much easier (plus it makes it seem like they actually want to let you see the works!). This is especially important to do if there are any lesser-known sketches that you would like to see in person, as these might be in storage at the time of your visit. Again, I can't possible stress enough what a great resource this is!

Kudos to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for these great tools. It's so great to see museums putting their catalogue online and taking advantage of new technology that compliments, rather than detracts from, the artwork. I am a firm believer that giving public access to artwork generates a tremendous amount of interest. I hope this great site makes a new generation fall in love with the work of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Image courtesy Birmingham Museum of Art.