Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ice Ice Baby

One of the greatest moments of Irish tv last year! Be careful out there you guys! Have you got sensible boots? I don't! I've been fixated on buying lots of socks recently though.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Feeling festive

Outside it looks like this:

Kibble Palace, Botanic Gardens Glasgow (Source)
(The gardens are four minutes from my house, I pass here on my walk to college.)

So I wore this:

My new (sort of) Jemima Puddle-Duck jumper. It's wool and its warm. Look at my smug face.

It's snug and nostalgic and it was only £5 (including postage) from eBay. Thumbs up!

It's a bit naff, but it as of this afternoon, after my library stint I'm going to play bingo tonight with my friends, so I think it'll be fairly appropriate for the occasion.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bright Young Things

Kirsteen alerted me to this little gem, a bbc documentary that was broadcast late last year I believe. I have quite the fascination with this period and live vicariously through these characters from bygone, decadent days. Enjoy!

If you enjoy this (which you should!), I recommend -

And not forgetting...

(esp. for the Brian Howard/Stephen Tennant qualities of Sebastian.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Victorian Nude

Or to be more specific the victorian female nude, because then as now it was the female figure that was exposed to the lens. The female nude was a familiar feature in respectable Victorian society, in the gallery and domestic middle class environment of course. The nude was controversial as it raised questions of public morality and we all know how Victorian society was obsessed with morality, sexuality and society. As the industrial classes rose into respectability it was as the expense of the working class. The cities expanded on an outrageous scale, London was known as the whorehouse of the world in popular imagination as young women exploited their only sellable asset - their bodies. These women were generally considered social outcasts, as of course, what respectable women would exploit her body? Out of the lower classes these women were plucked; maids, shop assistants and women to pose as models for artists, amateur photographers, perhaps their masters. Little wonder that the image of the fallen women was a popular subject for many artists of the day.

I digress, the Victorian women as 'the Other' is a topic I will return to another day in the future. The purpose of this post is my interest in Victorian photography. My interest in Victorian erotic photography was revived when reading Paxman's The Victorians where he mentioned Edward Linley Sambourne and the double standard in many Victorian homes. Sambourne was a illustrator for Punch, in public. In private he had a keen interest in the newly developed medium of photography. Under the guise of posing models for his illustrations, his imagination soon realised the other, less respectable uses to which his camera could be put. His darkroom was in his own private bathroom, so he could develop his more say, risque photographs without his wife discovering his hobby on the side.

Linley Sambourne, self portrait.

Public image was no less more important in Victorian england as it is today, if not more so. If Linley's activities came into public knowledge his wife would have felt the impact of his actions, perhaps moreso than her husband.

Kate Manning, semi-draped, April 16, 1888.

With the invention of the daguerreotype erotic photographs were among the first productions. Nudes were officially sanctioned for artists, but there is no denying the sexually charged atmosphere of some of these photographs, that suggests they were intended for more personal uses than painting alone. As photographic technology improved a new trade for erotic photography evolved and in Britain and France a roaring trade for nude postcards and pictures developed.

Nude by Sambourne.

These pictures were sold to tourists and depict the idealized female form of the time, often draped sensuously with exotic fabrics or engaging in decadent activities, like hashish smoking. To be blunt, these nudes were characterized as interacting with the spoils of Empire, as Britain and France (particularly the former) were the largest and most powerful nations of the period. To me, it makes a definitive statement - the female is equated as an object of Empire, something to be governed over by the patriarchal authority, something to be owned and controlled, just as the inhabitants of the outer eclons of the Empire.

Smoking a pipe (source and date unknown)

It seemed like photography was overtaking art, as before photography pivotal political events were depicted on the artists canvas but this was no longer necessary. While some predicted that the more reliable medium of photography would replace art, the opposite occurred. Groups of artists were influenced by photography. The nude still proved to be popular subject matter. The exoticism and sensuality I speak of in Victorian nude photography is gloriously expressed in the art of Gustave Klimt. Rather than be seen to objectify the female figure these women seem to be reveling in their innate sexuality, these paintings are a celebration of the female form.

Danae, Gustav Klimt (1907-1908)

As I conclude I must stress that I do enjoy the provocativeness of these photographs very much, as a feminist I've gone and considered the audience of these photos too much. Lets be thankful that there is still a market for these and they can be enjoyed in all their sensuousness and frivolity.

These photos also prove that the Victorian period wasn't as strait laced as some people believe and that appearances can be deceiving, I like this naughty, concealed element of the nineteenth century. These photos retain an innocence that still intrigues the modern viewer rather than the explicit content of the modern pornographic centre-fold image.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mount Stuart

I will remember the fifth of November. I had a spectacular day.

We began our journey from Glasgow Central Station, a forty minute train ride to Wemyss Bay, from where we took a ferry to the Isle of Bute. On the ferry I happened to see this romantic scene - a boat, struggling against the wind and rain.

Where was our destination you wonder? It was to be Mount Stuart, ancestral home of the Bute family, on the Isle of Bute, off the coast of Scotland.

We alighted from our bus and were greeted by a grand red stone building. We were led to have some tea and eat our lunches in what later transpired to be the old Victorian kitchens (now converted of course). We chatted and munched away, completely oblivious of what was to come next. As Art History students, most of us had experienced many a country house before, so we knew what to expect, or so we thought. To be perfectly honest, I hadn't even glanced at the website before I arrived.

(photo credit: hannah)

Mount Stuart is still home to the Butes, the current Marquess, (the 7th), Johnny Bute and his family. It is also a popular venue for weddings, like many country houses are. In this century it is necessary for country houses to survive they must make an income to pay for upkeep and restoration, so they are either owned by the National Trust or still under the private governance of the families who blessedly still occupy many of them and thus, tourists, like us can gain access to these homes.

The Stuarts of Bute are the direct descendants of King Robert the Bruce. The current house was built by the 3rd Marquess (John Patrick Crichton-Stuart) after the central block of the original mount Stuart was destroyed by fire in 1877 (the original house having been designed and completed in 1719 by James Stuart, the 2nd Earl of Bute.) The family have lived on the Isle for seven hundred years and three centuries in the present location.

The 3rd Marquess was a remarkable man, he spoke twenty one languages and had travelled the world with the Gothic Revival architect William Burgess, finding architectural and artistic inspiration on his exotic journeys. By 1900, when he died, his dream house was not yet completed. Most importantly, the chapel remained unfinished, the Marquess having converted to Roman Catholicism when he was at college in his early twenties, having being influenced by the Oxford Movement. On his personal request his heart was removed after his death and it is now buried on the Hill of Olives in Jerusalem.

I fear as I type that I am giving a blow by blow standard account of a country house. There is so much more to this particular house, that I cannot find the words to articulate the emotions I experienced during our private tour of this house. It is a richly layered canvas of artistic and personal creation. In all actuality 'house' seems such a common term to apply to a place like this, unequalled by anything I have seen and will probably see again. However, it is a home, a domestic idyll created by the 3rd Marquess and it continues to be a family dwelling, a fact that fills me with joy and actually added to my enjoyment of this house. So many unoccupied country homes, beautiful as they may be, can feel detached from reality, all life is gone, what remains is a domestic museum of what was and what will never be again. Our tour guide Allison (?) amused us with stories of how the younger members of the family have friends over at weekends to amuse themselves in the indoor pool. (Yes! A pool. The first house in the world to have an indoor pool don't you know.)

The website declares "Mount Stuart is a work of art … come and see it to believe it." This statement is a fact. Mount Stuart is a place that has to be experienced in order to be comprehended. Although I cannot conceive how it must be to be born into such a lifestyle, I am only used to suburbia and country bungalow living, I firmly believe that houses such as these can be appreciated by all, even if you don't come from an Art Historical/Historical background. By placing so much faith in a physical structure may sound materialistic of me, but I'm not sure you could quite apply the term 'materialistic' to this house. Noble and industrial money funded the creation of this house, and is now open for all to encounter. Experiencing the domestic grandeur of this house is intoxicating. A powerful adjective, but this house has me under its spell. All the craftsmen were Scottish or English, most of the marble is British, the designers involved were British.

Every detail was lovingly chosen by its creator, even for a house of this magnitude, the 3rd Marquess was personally involved in every minute detail, be it the symbolism of the stained glass windows at the top of the great hall or the individual decoration of the capitals of the columns, right down to the decoration of the doorknobs, absolutely everything in this house is infused with detail. You can feel the imagination and influence of the creator as you proceed through the building, attempting to catch your breath between each fit of gasps! My jaw ached from hanging open in disbelief and awe for most of the tour. The tour guides are wonderful. Ours, was an absolute lady, full of anecdotes and good humour.

Reading back over this post I am dissappointed that I could not fully express the beauty of Mount Stuart. Not merely focusing on the aesthetics, but this place is truly a dream realised. It isn't a gaudy display of wealth and status, cluttered with 'tasteful' decoration and objects. It can only described as almost walking into someones dream, be it clearly an educated and cultured man's dream. Nay, that sounds patriarchal, not just culture and education, but humour is to be found everywhere in this house, each generation has left their aesthetic and somewhat tongue in cheek mark on this place. I felt welcome here, I felt involved, I did not feel like I was tiptoeing around a history far removed from my own, I laughed, I gasped and I almost cried with emotion.

I am grateful for wonderful places like this in the world and feel privileged to be invited into them, no matter how briefly I am involved in their history. I will be making the trip back and hope that this encourages some of you to do it to, if you're near these parts. It is the most remarkable dwelling in the British Isles at least!

You will notice that there are no photographs of the interior. If I had taken any they would do it no justice. This is a family home, so photographs were off limits, besides why would I have wasted my time seeing this house through a lens while at every point of the tour i strained to absorb as much of the visual splendour with my own eyes. The atmosphere that was created for us from the beginning was one of respect. We were politely informed that we were not to take photos, there were no condescending signs declaring 'no photographs!', we weren't dictated to about the 'rules', we were treated as adults who possessed the facilities of common sense.

I do hope that the lack of pictures will also appeal to your sense of curiosity!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Downton Abbey (2010)

I have a slight* infatuation with period dramas. Not merely of the Austen heaving-bosom-and-tight-jodphurs kind mind you. Downton Abbey is ITV's latest period offering that I've been following weekly and you should start.

Downton Abbey chronicles the Upstairs/Downstairs life in an English country house. Unlike Gosford Park it is set in the Edwardian era, beginning in 1912. It explores the complicated politics that take place within the running of a country house of its time, barriers are crossed, there's inter-marriage (American money is married into English nobility) bonds are formed, within the fictional noble Crawley household. There's romances to root for, plots to intrigue and characters to despise!

Of course the last episode was this sunday, November 7th. But never fear, they'll be filming a second series next Spring. Which does mean that I will have to involve myself in a number of other costume dramas to entertain myself until next Autumn! The last episode did end on an important note, it will be interesting to see how the impact this event had on Edwardian society will be interpreted.

In the meantime I will entice you with some pictures of Julian Fellowe's glorious series. Photo credit here.

The Edwardian dresses are divine! The lace, the colours, draping, textures, details and collars! And oh my word, the hats!

I love the languorous atmosphere of these publicity shots, they don't feel staged.

Apparently this is ITV's most successful costume drama since Brideshead Revisited.

*may be an understatement...

Friday, November 5, 2010

All Hallows Eve

I LOVE Halloween, I have fond memories of donning a black bin bag, a mask and an impressive pointy witches hat that I was sorry I couldn't wear year round. My mum wasn't very imaginative in the costume department, but she did have a bag reserved especially for the witching time of year, with spooky decorations to pin on the door which we would have gone shopping for the year previously or the in the days running up to Halloween!

I'd trot around our small estate with a gaggle of other neighbourhood kids and have a fine time getting treats but failing to play any tricks (adults who thought they were smart by requesting a trick were usually met with blank, doleful expressions). I remember trying to guess who was who behind the mask, which was made particularly difficult by the fact that it was dark and their voice was usually muffled by those awkward plastic masks that had a tiny slit for oxegen (possibly banned nowadays, haven't been shopping for one in a while...) The mask rarely survived the night, due to all the childish horseplay and the cheap plastic eventually cracked and was cast aside by its owner before the night was over.

Anyway, I embrace Halloween - it's my opportunity to play dress up and get away with it without fear of being rebuked. Although, when it comes to it, I usually pluck some clothes from my wardrobe the night before, or on the day in question. I don't put as much effort as I'd like in, I am continually impressed by the imagination and dedication of some spooks! Oh well, next year...!

Here was my Halloween. As the years have gone by, its less about cheap candy and more about drinks and dancing.

Oh, I was meant to be Peggy Bundy. (Leggings as pants, too much gold jewelry, big belt, tassels, leopard print scarf and big hair)

(photo by Sophie)

Max from 'Where the Wild Things Are'

Tibbs and Gatsby, the pernament residents at Fawlty Towers

Munching crisps in the Peggy Bundy spirit.
L-R: Max, Kate Bush (see video below), Me, Mrs Gatsby & Mrs Tibbs

This girl's outfit was impressive, I'm guessing a courtier from the era of Louis XIV.