, , , , , , , ,

Henry Moore Helmet Heads 1

This photo is of the preparation stage for the series of pieces inspired by the Henry Moore heads.  I decided on three things:

  1. That I would make some small collages to get me into the flow of the appliques.
  2. I would make monoprints using my gelli plate to use in the fabric pieces.
  3. I would use the Sanderson prints that I had got from Bristol Children’s Scrapstore as the backgrounds

I had a lot of fun doing the prints:

I made a lot on paper and then on fabric, which was also from a variety of furnishing fabric samplebooks I have collected over the years.  The time has come to use them.

Because we are in lockdown it is hard to get things quickly.  I really could have done with some textile medium to keep the fabric soft as I was using acrylic paint which is nasty to hand stitch through.  As it was, I decided that I would just have to put a jeans needle in the sewing machine and do a lot of machine embroidery.  I thought I had some textile medium somewhere, but it seems to have gone to ground.  I love gelli printing and have piles of the prints.  It is good finally to be using them.

I decided to use the Sanderson prints because they epitomise the English country house, gentleman’s home is his castle look to me.  They are traditional.  They never date.  They have gorgeous botanical prints on them, and they are very high quality fabric.  These pieces have been through the washing machine at least three times to soften them up a bit, and they have not faded a bit.  They haven’t really softened much either, but I did get a lot of the paper backing off the,m as they had been mounted on mood board pages in the swanky sample book.

I wanted something that said home, tradition, stability, safety and protection and the Sanderson brand has all these associations for me.  That’s why I decided on them as the substrate.  I mounted them with spray glue onto some eco-friendly recycled wadding.  I think I should possibly have tried this out first given the size of the project – getting on for 25 pieces, but patience has never been my strong point.  The wadding is okay to work with, by the way.  The Sanderson fabric stitches like what it is: high quality furnishing fabric rather than quilting weight or dress weight cotton.  This means that the hand sewing on it is necessarily pretty basic:

There is a lot of simple stitching like this, mainly straight stitches but a bit of stem stitch which you can see on the left.  I might go mad with some colonial knots on some of them and possibly some bullion stitches.

I used some of the more textured fabric to print from by inking the gelli plate, pressing the fabric into iy and then lifting that off, and putting a lighter smoother fabric onto the gelli to pick up the paint left on the plate.  I got some nice prints, which I will point ou,t using this technique.  I know that gelli plates are expensive and that you can make your own, but I have found that the proprietary ones are surprisingly robust and highly reliable.

One interesting thing was that in lockdown I used some acrylic paint which I would not normally use.  I usually use Golden Fluid Acrylic, which is the best in my book, but I had found a lot of paint in my stash as I had been clearing stuff out.  There have been a lot of cupboards cleared out during our isolation period, I think.  I found some really cheap stuff in big tubes that an ex-Brownie leader gave me, and some that we have had in our house for at least twenty years.  This paint is all thin and as luck would have it, acted much like ink so the prints worked well.  I stuck to black, white, red, a pinky red, yellow, dark green, ultramarine, dark grey, peach and burnt umber.  Mainly I used the black and grey.  Unusually for me there were no metallics to jazz it up a bit.

The next blog will be about the process of putting the pieces together so far.

, ,

Henry Moore Helmet Heads – introduction

Henry Moore (1898-1986) is generally considered to be one of the greatest sculptors of the twentieth century.  One of his best-known figures is located outside the United Nations Building.

I am not that big a fan of Moore, except that I love his drawings in the underground from World War II, and his sketchbook drawings of sheep.  I also like his series of king and queen sculptures, but as for the rest, I can take or leave it.  All this with the exception of his helmets which I love, and more than that, his lithographs of helmet heads.

Moore came from a mining background in Yorkshire, and his first experience of sculpture was when he went as a small boy to St Oswald’s church in Methley, South Yorkshire.  Here he saw a tomb effigies of Sir Robert Waterton (d. 1424) and Sir Lionel, Lord of Welles (d. 1461).  These were life-sized figures dressed in their battle armour.  So, Moore’s first exposure to sculpture involved medieval armour.  He served in the First World War, where he wore a helmet himself as well as seeing both British and German soldiers wearing them.  He also visited the Wallace Collection between the wars and saw and sketched the armour in the displays there.  He seems to have had a life-long fascination with armour, and he saw it as both a practical,  protective object and a work of art in itself.  He seems to have been more interested in the pure form of fighting armour rather than the highly decorated pieces of dress or ceremonial armour in the Wallace Collection.

I discover that we are slightly kindred spirits.  I went with the medieval historian to the Wallace Collection several years ago and absolutely loved the strong shapes of the armour and have long been fascinated by its connection to modern men’s suits in which tubes of cloth have replaced tubes of metal in forming work wear.  At the time I visited the Wallace Collection I was obsessed with Zentangles and filled the shapes with them.

I went back to the Wallace Collection (which is without doubt my favourite London Museum) to see the exhibition of Moore’s Helmet Heads last year.  I did a blog about it, which I shall not repeat.  I loved it and was fascinated by the themes of whether something to do with death and violence can be seen as a work of art in its own right, which intrigued Moore before me.  I was fascinated by all the dualities of helmets as being about protection and the inflicting of violence, or interior and exterior, of hard metal and soft bodies, of containment and liberation.  It was amazing to see the whole series of them together in one place, but the part of the exhibition which I found the absolutely most moving was a short series of lithographs that he made in the mid-1970s as he was getting older in which he returned to his helmet theme.

Even as I looked at them I could see that they would make great textile pieces. 

I was also intrigued by the comments in the catalogue that Moore had been very disappointed by the prints and he tore them up.  It was only when he saw the sections of the heads that he became excited and inspired and went back to working on them.

I found these fearful faces staring out from battlements waiting for the attack to start moving and unsettling.  I think that they are terrifying in the way that suggesting the monster off-stage rather than showing it in detail is in films and novels.

I have been meaning to do something with all this for ages – well, since last year, at least.  They came back to my mind when the corona virus forced us into lockdown, and I decided to find the sketchbook with my ideas from the time and see what I could make with them.  I will blog separately about them, but I think they really are art for our time.  Like the soldiers on the battlements, we are confined to our protective spaces, with no real idea of what the outcome might be of the ‘war’ against the virus.  We are not sure whether or not we will face death.  We are not sure what to do.  We are not sure how long the siege will last.  We do not know whether our safe space will keep us safe, and we have no idea how effective our protective clothing, in our case, our masks will be.

In my series of textile pieces, I am offsetting the Mrs Miniver-like domestic textiles made by Sanderson with cabbage roses and cottage garden flowers against the starkness of the dark mono prints I have made.  This will be the subject of the next blog.

Further reading: T. Capwell and H. Higham (eds.) (2019) Henry Moore: The Helmet Heads. London: Bloomsbury/The Wallace Collection.

, , ,

Making portraits with Gustav Klimt

I finished this piece this morning.  I braved the outside world and went and bought a staple gun to fix the applique to the canvas box mount and she was finished.

You might have picked up, if you follow me on Instagram, that I went to Vienna a couple of weeks ago.  I really loved it, although it is a slightly weird place, and am plotting about how to go back, assuming we ever get to travel again.  One reason for going was to see the Klimts.  Now every embroiderer worth their salt seems to go through a Klimt phase.  I went through mine about ten years ago, and I thought I was over it.  But, I was working on my sketchbook stuff for the workshop in May which I still hope is going ahead, and I started to get into all the lovely gold and patterning again.

I did quite a lot of reading round Vienna and Klimt, and there will be a lot to blog about, and I have used this in some new pieces of work.  This time round I was fascinated by Klimt’s portraits and not just the magnificent golden ones of Adele Bloch Bauer.  I really like this one of Joanna Staude:

She doesn’t attract a lot of interest because she was not one of Klimt’s clients; she was a professional model.  No-one seems to know much about what happened to her after the Anschluss.  I love the painting because it belongs to a series of paintings Klimt made which are really interested in fashion and fabric.  I think it may have been this portrait where the model turned up in a not particularly interesting dress and Klimt asked her to put her coat on backwards with the lining side out.  It would make sense.  It would account for the wonderful blocky outline.  I also love her hair.

So, I started out with an outline which I traced:

and made some pattern pieces, and then I built her up.  I like the blue against orange scheme of the portrait, but what I had to hand was some scraps of fabric with Voysey prints on them.  Voysey was immersed in the Art Nouveau movement like Klimt and so it seemed appropriate to use them:

You can just about see them through the beads.  The beads are, of course. a reference to all those great golden works and Klimt’s love of pattern.  I expect I was channelling the woman in Klimt’s Stoclet Palace cartoon:

I really enjoyed doing the embroidery on this.  I worked it in a frame.  I haven’t used a frame for a long time, but I knew the thing would distort if I did it in my hand and I wanted to be able to mount it as a flat picture.  Even better, when I went up to Hobbycraft to buy the frame, the bits had been in the sale so long that they were no longer on the system and so I got them for free.

I really enjoyed getting the fur collar on the coat:

It’s made from a tricksy synthetic furnishing fabric layered, frayed and stitched and I was delighted with how it turned out.

The hair was also interesting.  I was going to do more to it, but in the end I thought a simple approach was good:

I thought the pattern had an imperial look to it, which was appropriate for the city which had been the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I loved doing the face.  Mine is more melancholy than the original, which perhaps reflects the spirit of the age.  I like the fact that she looks like she has seen life:

I used some bold colours on her face because that is what Klimt did in the portrait, and I liked the effect.

I didn’t use any bondaweb or similar on this as I find it difficult to stitch through.  I used a dab of pritt stick and the odd pin.  It seemed to work well enough.  Each component apart from the hair was mounted on something before I stitched it.  The coat was a piece of thin wadding and the face was mounted on felt.  This allowed dense stitching which would not have been possible on the thin background as it would have pulled and distorted badly.  The whole thing was then mounted onto some cotton interlining before being stretched over the commercial canvas.  I could have made the background as lush and glowing as Klimt and wondered about reversing the colour scheme so I had a red coat against a blue background, whereas Klimt had the opposite, but in the end I liked the simplicity of the background against the florid patterning.  The background fabric is some I found in the sale at John Lewis.  I bought it because it has a subtle shimmer which is great for the blingy Klimt.  The fabric is a linen blend and I can see why it didn’t sell as it doesn’t suggest any particular garment, but the linen makes it just firm enough to take the applique on top.

As I said, I loved working on the face.  I borrowed techniques from Sue Stone and Elizabeth Loveday, both of whom did wonderful workshops for Selvedge magazine last year.  I drew the face freehand and then ‘coloured it in’ with embroidery thread and a mix of stem stitch. back stitch, split stitch and seeding.  I like this way of working – not trying to make something pretty but something striking.

I am in the middle of another piece at the moment which is a bit larger.  I am thinking of working up a talk on Klimt for next year.  He is endlessly inspirational.  I am not sure if I would have liked him in person, but he was apparently catnip for the ladies, so who knows.  For the moment I am just enjoying using his work as a starting point for my own.

, , ,

Snowdrop collar

This is my new dog model, Chomsky, name chosen by the Medieval Historian, so we should be grateful that it’s not Egburt or Wizzo, who really did exist.  I took Chomsky out on a frankly less than tremendous photo shoot this week.  I thought we might get a nice shot in the cafe in the sunshine but in the event the sunshine was too bright, which is at the very least surprising, and shots of him looking moodily out through the cafe window came to nought.

All that aside, he really is a dog model, not a stuffed toy, because he has a rigid steel frame making him good at holding a pose.  The point of all this is that I am trying to widen my already slightly floppy and turned up at the corners portfolio career.  I am trying to make inroads in the whole celebration business so that I can integrate my creative work with my celebrant work, which is also creative, but in a different way.  I have made collars for a long time as I like striking jewellery, and, not being a small woman, I look better in statement pieces.  I like delicate jewellery but, on me, it can look a bit like a pimple on a mountainside as my mother used to say.  I was making a marigold collar – of which more in a subsequent post – when I suddenly thought that they would look good on dogs on special occasions.  For example this is my mutt in hers:

It struck me that people spend thousands on their wedding dresses and suits and general outfitting but then put a nasty polyester bandana or worse, tuxedo front on their dog who is supposed to be a cherished member of the family or s/he wouldn’t be at the wedding in the first place.  Dogsat weddings are a big thing, by the way, as ring bearers or just as attendants.  I saw two of these ‘Chomskies’ working it with the Dogs Trust people on a stall in a shopping mall in Bristol in exactly these rather down market artificial fibre items.

My collars were originally designed for humans rather than dogs , and people can wear them as statement pieces, or the collars can be box-framed.  It did strike me, however, that people might not want to wear something that had been round my dog’s neck, glamorous and alluring as Affie indeed is.  Thus the arrival of Chomsky.  Should I ever get my Etsy shop back into working order they will be on sale there.  I am calling them Occasion Wear for Dogs.

Readers of this blog, however, I am sure will be less interested in the commercial side of this and more in the collar itself.

I began it as part of a series of flowers of the month pieces for my celebrant blog.  I also have collars for October and November.  December got missed out because of Christmas, I suspect, and my push to make lovely but completely unwanted handmade gifts.  The flower of the month from the almanack that I am using is the snowdrop:

I am sure you know what a snowdrop looks like, but there is always room for a photo of a pretty flower.  I was a bit stuck on how to ‘do’ a snowdrop, but I suddenly remembered a Liberty print cotton I bought from a remnant bin.  I made the pattern, which is less impressive than it might sound as it is basically a crescent moon shape, and I cut the base layer from a cotton and linen table runner from IKEA.  Then I stitched on the printed panel with a bright green thread to echo the lovely colour of the snow drop stem and foliage:

After stitching on the panel I made a sandwich of the top, a layer of white felt for strength and support and then a backing of the same linen.  Then I started to fill in round panel with big porcelain beads and colonial knots in perle cotton.  I stitched some much smaller beads on the print, following the dots in the printed design, to look like snow.  The idea is that the beads and embroidery look like snow angels:

I had two goes at stitching on a strap because the first one didn’t hang right and the last thing you want to be doing on any sort of big day is fiddling with straps on accessories:

I allowed plenty of length so that it would fit most dogs.

The panel falls perfectly under Chomsky’s chin.  The condiments are to give you an idea of scale, but I am not sure that they are quite what we want for high class sales.

This is a close-up of the embellishment:

 

These are a couple of pages from my notebook/sketchbook although this collar was largely improvised rather than planned:

I will post about the remaining two collars shortly, and meanwhile will start thinking about February and violets.  I think I might have something in a drawer somewhere…

 

, ,

New Year’s Day Dolls

Every year I make a doll on New Year’s Day.  The only rule is that they have to be achievable on one day and they have to say something about the past year or the one to come.

It’s interesting to look back over the many years I have been doing this.  It really shows my state of mind at the turning of the year.  Last year, when I was big into making bears, I made this one:

She is still one of my all time favourites, based on the walking work of art that is the artist, Bethan Laura Wood:

This year, I wanted to make something to help me in marketing my wedding celebrant business.  I saw the peg dolls in Margaret Bloom’s lovely little book, Making Peg Dolls.

I think her ideas are sweet without being too cloying.  I saw her Valentine’s dolls and thought that they would be perfect for my weddings business.

I bought a set of blank peg dolls and went to work on New Year’s day.  Margaret Bloom uses watercolour to paint her dolls, but I prefer acrylic because once it’s dry you no longer have to worry about it.  I used a set of acrylic paints that I bought in Sostrene Grene in Nottingham.  I bought them because they are such lovely muted colours, right outside  my usual colour palette but easy to use when someone else has mixed them for you.  I already had black, red and brown at home, and I used a Golden Fluid Acrylic for the bronzey-coppery hearts.  You probably know the wisdom of the phrase, ‘you get what you pay for’ and this is absolutely true with paint.  Golden paints burst with pigment and this metallic was really thick and juicy.  The Sostrene Grene paints are beautiful colours but thin.  This was perfect for this job, though, as I wanted to use them as a stain rather than a paint.  I thought about antiquing them, with some sandpaper and some brown gunge, but decided that they looked pretty as they were, and that was what I was after.  Pretty strikes me as more appealing that grungy when it comes to weddings.  So I gave them a quick coat of acrylic wax to protect them.  I finished with some circlets of flower-shaped sequins.

So, if you are thinking of getting married with nine assorted bridesmaids, this might well be your thing.

I really enjoyed making them.  The only skill you need is the development of a steady hand. I think I will make a lot more.  There are some adorable ideas using felt to make the blanks into various creatures such as bears, which I can’t resist.

Incidentally, I like the one second from the right with her big blobby eyes.  There is always one bridesmaid reluctant to give up her goth eyeliner.

As a sidenote, these dolls have a lot in common with traditional Japanese dolls.  I have a little collection of contemporary versions of these: Coco Chanel, David Bowie and Frida Kahlo:

These are much larger than my tiny dolls, but they are the same idea.  They are called Kokeshi dolls and the format hasn’t varied that much over the years:

 

All that said, Happy New Year and Happy New Decade.

, , , , ,

Ring pillows for the wrinklies

This post is about more work for my other role in life, that of humanist celebrant doing weddings and namings.

I was thinking about older brides in particular after leafing through another wedding magazine.  There really are only fresh-faced, porcelain-skinned young women in them.  You would be excused for thinking that no older women ever get married – or remarried.   I think it’s the equivalent of thinking women over 55 only ever want to dress in navy blue or beige artificial fibre tents.

I was wondering what sort of thing would suit older women.  I wanted to make some hearts that could be easily converted into ring pillows for weddings, and could be keepsakes thereafter.  Thinking about myself and my own tastes, these are hand-embroidered hearts worked on recycled fabrics.  Some are on the reverse of a very nice linen furnishing fabric:

You can see the front on the back, ironically, of this small heart:

The print is of these gorgeous, overblown tulips, but it would have fought against any lettering.  The fabric is leftover from some upmarket curtains.

The other is a printed commercial king-sized quilt which I bought in a charity shop and have been cutting up and using for a couple of years now:

The embroidery is largely stem stitch.  I learned how to do it a couple of years ago when a wonderful teacher explained to me that it is basically back stitch done on the back rather than the front of the fabric.  The scales fell from my eyes and I have been using it ever since after years of frustration not having any success and having to unpick it every time.  You can teach old dogs new tricks.

The little heart with LOVE on it is worked in two rows of chain stitch.  They are all done in variegated embroidery floss which is my current favourite thread.  They are all partly stuffed with the leftover fabric from when I cut them out.  All part of my drive for more sustainability.

You may have noticed that these all have quotations from Beatles songs on them.  These take me right back to being a little girl and being given Beatles singles for Christmas.  I would love to do a Beatles-themed wedding.  A couple coming into the ceremony to ‘Here comes the sun’ would be lovely.  I’m not sure what they would go out to.  The chorus of ‘All you need is love’ maybe.  Might be nice for a sing-song half-way through as well.

Just in case you are thinking of getting married and would like to use one of these as a ring pillow, they will be going in my Etsy shop which you can find by putting PomegranateByAnn in the search box on Etsy.com.  I can convert them to proper ring pillows by embroidering a little loop to thread ribbons through.  I am also happy to stitch any other song lyrics that have special meanings.

, , ,

Persie the Klimtian Cat

I am sure that some of you know that I am a humanist celebrant.  I do non-religious namings and weddings.  I like to give the baby a present when I do a naming, and this particular baby was adorable and had an unusual name.  For this reason I decided to make her something with her name on it, and because she loves cats so much, it had to be a cat.  The decoration is inspired by the patterns that Klimt used in so many of his paintings:

The famous Adele Bloch paintings are a treasure trove of decorative ideas.  I used some gold fabric and stitched them on:

I left the back fairly plain:

The face is a combination of the gold and some felt:

 

I embroidered the name in backstitch with perle cotton.

It’s quite easy to make, and I give a sort of cartoon set of instructions below.  It isn’t my idea, but I can’t remember where I got it from.  If I do find the original, I will post it separately.  Essentially, it’s the sleeve of a felted sweater, so you could make two from a jumper.  The head comes from spare fabric.

You need to chop the sleeve off at the length you want the height of the cat to be – so a child’s sweater will probably be the whole sleeve but a man’s is probably 50-75%.  The head could come out of the spare sleeve fabric, I expect.

The woman at the top of the page is my PhD supervisor, by the way.  This is a sort of memorial to her, because her birthday was in November.

 

, , , ,

Baby shoes

Now that I have retired from the university, like lots of the retired, I find myself in straitened circumstances.  One of the things that I do to support myself is to work as a Humanist celebrant.  I create Wedding and Naming ceremonies.

Humanists do not believe in supernatural forces, including God, fate, destiny, and so on.  This means that we all have to think about living a good life for its own sake and not because we can expect some ultimate judgement in an afterlife.  We are highly discouraged from describing Humanism in these negative terms, according to what we don’t believe in, but I think it is by far and away the most interesting thing about it.  When I write what we are for you can see that it is not that different from the Christianity that I was brought up with: kindness, tolerance, openness, inclusivity and a desire for human flourishing.  If you want to know more about this, you can have a look at www.humanism.org.uk where luminaries such as Stephen Fry, Alice Roberts and Sandi Toksvig explain the principles extremely well.

All that out of the way, I can turn to the  point of this post, which is that in order to do anything at all these days, it seems that you have to have a web presence.  So, I put up quite a bit on instragram (@AnnRippin if you want to have a look).  Finding things to photograph and put up about Naming ceremonies is quite difficult, especially if you don’t want to put the child’s photo on the web.  So, I have been thinking about what I can include instead.

I have decided to make a series of baby shoes and put a poem that people planning a naming might like to consider.  The shoes are designed as decorative items, although theoretically they could be worn.  Maybe only for photographs, though, as they are very likely to fall off.

This pair is my prototype.  I made up a piece of patched together cotton fabric and quilted it roughly onto some purple felt.  Then I cut out the shapes from the ‘yardage’.  I stitched them together very roughly with variegated thread.

I really enjoy making them.  The pattern is by Simplicity and I got it in a pattern sale for a fiver.  I will blog more about that later.  Suffice to say they went together really easily and with only the tiniest bit of easing around the heel.

This pair also has pieced soles which I like.

The fabric for this pair comes from Aldi and/or Lidl.  They sell packs of fat quarters really cheaply and it looks a bit poor quality until you wash it, when, once the fierce dressing is out of it, it becomes delightfully soft.  Their cotton is from Pakistan, which is a change from the gorgeous US cottons we often use.   A lot of the designs, as you will see in later posts look a bit like vintage Laura Ashley which I also like.

Lots more to post on this project later.

 

 

, , ,

Improvised doll à la Ann Wood

Some of you may know the work of the mighty Ann Wood who makes lovely fabric dolls and other creatures as well as a range of galleons and little boats and so on.  She has a variety of free patterns on her website and an Etsy shop which is worth a look.   She has a whole range of tiny dolls with clothes and accessories.

One of her blog posts which caught my eye was about improvised dolls.  She describes her process of just starting off making a doll and not knowing where you will end up.  So you use what you have around you and just make a doll, trusting that the process will come up with something worthwhile.  I thought that this would be a really good holiday project while we were in a cottage in Pembrokeshire, particularly as it has been known to rain in this part of the world and you do need something to do when it pours.

I started to make my doll and I only had fabric and no stuffing with me, so I knew that it was going to have to be a rolled rather than sewn and stuffed doll.  So I made some fabric rolls from a beautiful soft cotton from the Cloth House in Soho.

These dolls are rough and ready and folky so they are not supposed to look highly polished, hence the wonky seams.  I stitched the legs onto the back of the torso so that the doll could sit on a shelf.  It was all going well until it came to the head:

Trying to fix a little roll to a large roll was tricky.  I could have stitched and then rolled more cloth round for a neck, but in the end, I decided to wrap it in a circle of linen and stitch the circle down:

This took a surprising number of attempts and was really ugly, but linen is linen even if it was a cheap end of roll bargain and I wasn’t going to throw it away.  The only thing then was disguising the very unlovely graft, which I don’t seem to have a photo of.  I was intending to make a nice girl doll, but the neck fiasco meant that a beard was called for:

I suppose I could have made a circus bearded lady, but I rather liked his shaggy look.  I had stitched a long nose, and had used black beads for his eyes from a variety pack from Tiger, and I used the coloured pencils in the photo above for his eyebrows and mouth and cheeks.

I found him really appealing, like a gentle hippy character.  I made him some Dad jeans and then really enjoyed knitting him a little sweater with gorgeous hand-dyed Welsh wool yarn I had bought in a woollen mill in Solva in Pembrokeshire.   The roll neck also helped to camouflage the weird neck situation:

I left the hands and feet free to fray.  I could have tidied them up, but I liked the messiness of them in an improvised piece:

So here he is complete:

The happy end to his story is that he has gone off to a new home in the USA.  He caught someone’s eye and we did a barter, although I would have been happy just for him to go off to someone who wanted him.  He would just have gathered dust here because the important part of the project was the process, which absolutely worked.

 

, , ,

Revisiting an old friend – The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals

I was in the Wallace Collection a couple of weeks ago having a look at the delightful Manolo Blahnik exhibition.  The shoes are dotted throughout the exhibition which means there is a kind of treasure hunt to find them.  One of them was placed in front of this famous portrait.  Now, The Laughing Cavalier was ubiquitous when I was growing up.  It turned up on biscuit tins and calendars all the time.  Because it was so familiar, I was a bit sniffy when I saw it up on the wall, but I thought I might as well have a look as it was there in front of me.  I am glad I did, because it really does reward close attention.  Frans Hals could really paint fabric.

A bit of information about the painting first.  Of course, the sitter isn’t laughing and he isn’t a cavalier.  Apparently, the motifs on his sleeve suggest that this might have been a betrothal portrait, and he was probably a merchant of some description.  The Wallace Collection website states:

In this exuberant half-length portrait, a young man poses, arm rakishly akimbo, against a plain grey background. The painting is inscribed with the date (1624) and the sitter’s age (26). The work is unique in Hals’s male portraiture for the rich colour that is largely imparted by the sitter’s flamboyant costume: a doublet embroidered with fanciful motifs in white, gold and red thread, with a gilded rapier pommel visible at the crook of his elbow…

By the early nineteenth century, Hals’s reputation had fallen into relative obscurity. Despite this, the portrait became the object of a furious bidding battle between the 4th Marquess of Hertford and Baron James de Rothschild at a Paris auction in 1865. It was acquired by Lord Hertford for the princely sum of 51.000 francs (about £2,040), an event which proved to be a turning point in the artist’s critical reputation. At the Royal Academy exhibition of 1888, the painting was exhibited with the title ‘The Laughing Cavalier.’

What caught my eye was the fantastic painting of the sleeve, particularly the embroidery, and also the lace.

 

I love those buttons and the lace on his cuffs.  Also, look at the way the ruff is painted:

Look at the gorgeous way he has painted the black silk:

And finally, the lovely frill of lace in the lower left-hand corner of the frame:

I think this is just too gorgeous to walk past.  Here’s the Manolo Blahnik that went with it:

Now, I can see why they paired the picture with Blahnik’s interpretation of the riding boot, but I think it misses the point.  Although materials and craft employed here are exquisite, this portrait is not about restraint.  It is flamboyant and rejoicing in excess.  I think it’s been matched with the title.

Just glorious.  Next time I go to the Wallace, I will go and have another look.