THE HISTORY OF the Contemporary Art Society provides a microcosm of British taste and collecting within the context of a broad range of modern art during the last hundred years. The Society began as a small group of ‘amateurs’ and collectors who met informally in a private house in London in spring 1909 and was launched under its present name a year later. Since those tea-party beginnings it has grown to become a highly professional organisation, its tentacles reaching throughout England and Scotland by way of its acquisitions, commissioned works and advisory role to public and corporate collections. Its centenary is being celebrated this year with numerous events and exhibitions, providing an opportunity to look at its achievements past and present.
THE SO-CALLED SHEFFIELD series of patterned portraits of Mary Queen of Scots, which includes the portraits in Hardwick (Fig.1), Hatfield, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (the Cobham version) and the National Portrait Gallery, London (Brocas), all depict what has been proclaimed as ‘the most popular image of the queen’. The purpose of this article is to offer a reconsideration of the origin of the series and to argue that, despite the prevailing view, it began with a painting created in 1578 rather than in the Jacobean period. What is at stake is not only chronological accuracy but an opportunity to understand properly the iconographical content of the portraits. Both on stylistic and documentary grounds there are good reasons to question the current consensus. Important traces of an Elizabethan original are, in fact, well suggested by the evidence to hand, all of which has long been available to scholars. The current view unjustly ignores the date inscribed on the Hardwick painting and the context it signals. After explaining how and why the extant evidence of a 1578 provenance has been misread for over a century, this article offers a new interpretation of the original context and purpose of these portraits, revealing in the process an unappreciated aspect of Mary’s use of painting as a political instrument.
THE SOCIETY OF Dilettanti, which was dismissed by Horace Walpole as ‘a club, for which the nominal qualification is having been in Italy, and the real one, being drunk’, also has the more creditable distinction of occupying a pivotal position in the study of classical antiquities in Britain in the second half of the eight eenth century. Having supported the publication of James ‘Athenian’ Stuart’s and Nicholas Revett’s Antiquities of Athens in 1762, the Society subsequently became the first British institution to organise and sponsor an archaeological expedition.
WHILE MUCH HAS been written about the life and career of Richard Dadd in England, and his travels to the Middle East with his patron, Thomas Philips, the sequence of events following his brutal murder of his father, Robert Dadd, in 1843 has remained relatively obscure.
IN THE AUTUMN of 1910, the influential English artist William Rothenstein made what he called a ‘pilgrimage’ to draw and paint both the ancient temples and the rapidly modernising urban centres of India. His journey took him across the Subcontinent by train, boat and bullock-cart, from the indust rial powerhouse of Bombay to the remote cave temples at Ajanta; and from Benares, the oldest continually inhabited city in the world, to the vast metropolitan prospect of Calcutta. During the course of this journey, he observed ‘an Indian Renascence’ in full swing among the country’s younger generation of artists. European painterly conventions, their validity reinforced by the educational apparatus of colonialism, had remained fashionable throughout Asia for most of the nineteenth century. A new spirit of political nationalism in India coupled with the growing military and economic influence of Japan and a widespread disillusionment with Western civilisation meant, however, that the 1900s witnessed a profound and general resurgence of Asian cultural awareness. Rothenstein had already seen this awareness spread to Europe, where his friends Jacob Epstein and Eric Gill had employed the aesthetics and techniques of Indian stone carving in the production of London’s first modernist sculptures. Rothenstein was active in promoting such works of art from the Subcontinent in the city, and had co-founded Britain’s India Society in early 1910 mainly for that purpose. On the Subcontinent itself, however, the artistic ‘Renascence’ was based not on sculpture but on traditional approaches to painting, and it was the two-thousand-year-old Buddhist frescos at Ajanta that finally drew Rothenstein there later in the year.
THE PORTRAITS BY Harold Gilman of Mrs Mounter at the breakfast table, which exists in two versions (Tate, London; Fig.35; and Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), constitutes one of the most famous and frequently reproduced images of Camden Town School painting. But who exactly was this elderly, stoical woman looking out at the viewer above the cups and quin tessentially English teapot on the table before her? ‘Although Mrs Mounter has long been identified as Gilman’s landlady at 47 Maple Street, off Tottenham Court Road, it seems to me that she was obviously his daily charwoman’, Richard Shone suggested. ‘In the London street directory for 1916, the firm of Alfred Holdgate, fine art printers, is given as the tenant of the house (no longer extant). In the same year, the directory lists only one Mounter in London, a Mrs Charlotte Mounter at 2 Freeling Street, off Caledonian Road’.
SIDNEY HUNT (1896–1940) was a British draughtsman, painter, poet and editor who published the avant-garde journal Ray in London between 1926 and 1927. Despite his multi-faceted career and the historical relevance of his periodical, no detailed study of his work has yet been attempted. A first analysis of Ray demonstrates that this publication was indeed the only English equivalent of influential art journals from the 1920s, such as Merz, De Stijl and Mécano, and the first to introduce English readers to some of the leading figures of the European avant-garde of the time such as Kurt Schwitters, El Lissitzky, Theo van Doesburg, Naum Gabo, László Moholy-Nagy and Hans Arp.
HOWARD HODGKIN HAS stated that he is seeking more ‘actuality’ in his recent paintings. And, indeed, in a group of paintings completed in the past couple of years, an earlier concern with human subjects, memory and emotion has given way to the presence of simple objects. This new objecthood of Hodgkin’s paintings reveals a more direct engagement both with things and nature, and consolidates a new period in his work – a remarkable achievement for a painter who has been working for some sixty years.