This weekend, the Saatchi Gallery opened its long-awaited exhibition, “Tutankhamun – Treasures of the Golden Pharoah”. As blockbuster exhibitions go, it’s up there with the best of them. Having recently closed in Paris, the exhibition became France’s most visited of all time with attendance of over 1.4 million and is the last opportunity to see 150 objects from the boy-king’s tomb before they become a permanent exhibition at the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is currently under construction. We haven’t been yet but it’s certainly tempting, despite the eye-watering admission price.
When Howard Carter, sponsored by Lord Carnarvon, finally discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in November 1922, it was one of the biggest news stories of the century. Even though it would be many more months before it was considered safe enough to begin to remove objects from the burial chamber, nevertheless, the discovery precipitated a global craze for Egyptian style.
Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign of 1798-1801 and the discovery and deciphering of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 was the catalyst for the first wave of Egyptomania in the early nineteenth century. Aristocrats commissioned their homes to be decorated in an Egyptian style and even whole buildings referenced its art and statuary. Examples include the Egyptian Hall in London (built in 1812, demolished in 1905), and the curious Egyptian House in Penzance, dating from the early 19th century. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, and the British occupation of Egypt from 1882 only served to increase interest. And when Thomas Cook began to offer Egyptian holidays and Nile cruises in the later 19th century, the exotic sights and cultural heritage of Egypt became a familiar style touchstone to a wider society.
Carter’s landmark discovery in 1922 led to a renewed and unprecedented Egyptomania boom. Egyptian motifs and hieroglyphics were an ancient echo of more modern 1920s designs, and Tut-mania’s influence extended to music, fashion and much more. Here are a just a few examples from our collection, reflecting how when the world went Egypt-mad in the 1920s.
Fashion – A subtle take on Egyptian style by London couturier, Isobel from 1923; a dress, (according to The Tatler magazine’s description) “in Egyptian colours” that includes Egyptian embroidery at the waist, as does the more modest dress with the white collar. The page from The Sketch, July 1923 reports on a variety of outfits displaying the “Tutankhamun Touch”, while the colourful pattern is a fabric design from the 1920s, clearly incorporating Egyptian motifs.
Fancy Dress – Ancient Egypt certainly opened up some glamorous possibilities for fancy dress (debutante Mary Henniker-Heaton won a prize in Monte Carlo for her costume), but the photograph of a mother, father and daughter all getting into the homespun Tutankhamun spirit is particularly charming.
Music – Popular music composers were often the first to absorb current events and topical skits into new tunes. In the Days of Tut-ankh-amen was written and composed by Reg Low and J. P. Long, and sung by musical comedy duo, Norah Blaney and Gwen Farrar in the Andre Charlot revue, ‘Rats!’ at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1923.
(read about Gwen and Norah in a new biography by Alison Child here – https://www.behindthelines.info/tell-me-i-m-forgiven-gwen-farrar-norah-blaney/
Jewellery – Even Cartier brought out new designs of jewellery inspired by pieces of Ancient Egypt. The Illustrated London News featured examples of the “Tutankhamun Influence” while Gazette de Bon Ton featured an illustration of a brooch and drop earrings in 1924.
Architecture – Cinema and theatre was one area where architects could let their imaginations run wild. A number of picture houses built during the inter-war years were an Egyptian riff on the art deco or ‘moderne’ style. The interior of the Egyptian Theater at Bala-Cynwyd, Pennsylvania is an exquisite example, while in London, the former Carlton Cinema on Essex Road in Islington (now a Mecca bingo hall) is pure and unapologetic Egyptian fantasy. The entrance to the Straussenhaus, Berlin Zoo, which is designed in the style of an Egyptian temple is Egyptian style at its most flamboyant and the fact that it was built in 1912, demonstrates that Tutankhamun simply fanned the flames of a craze that had never really gone away. Of course, if you wanted a touch of Egyptian style in your own home, then you could always embroider some designs courtesy of Weldon’s Beautiful Needlework magazine.
Graphic Design – This cover of The Graphic’s Egypt Number as well as the rather nice illustration by an Egyptian woman applying make-up by Marius Forestier in The Sketch, 1924, are just two examples of how magazine illustrators enjoyed playing around with Egyptian themes. The chic little trade card for an Egypt hotel, and perfume advertisement meld art deco with Egyptian style while the Houdini poster and ‘fortune book’ drew on the perceptions of Egypt as a place of mystery and spiritualism.
This October sees the publication of a new illustrated book on luxury railway travel in Britain which features previously unpublished research material and rare archival images, many of them from the Illustrated London News collection housed here at Mary Evans. Luxury Railway Travel: A Social and Business History by Martyn Pring (Pen & Sword Transport, October 2019) chronicles the products and services shaped by railway companies and hospitality businesses for Britain’s burgeoning upper- and middle-classes in the interwar years. For our latest blog, Martyn explores the connections between women’s fashion and first-class travel.
At the 19th century’s tail end, a marketplace for men’s and women’s fashion accessories evolved; for designers it was not just an opportunity to create new attire but the notion of selling a ‘complete look’ made up of hats and footwear, jewellery, scarves, ties, gloves and bags. Throughout the Edwardian period, interest in fashion gained momentum as women from higher social classes found new freedoms. Not only were restaurants and hotels deemed suitable for groups of women, but a state of independence developed surrounding early forms of a retail or shopping culture.
High-quality suppliers and department stores sprung up around city centres; special malls and arcades of individual shops appeared in prosperous districts of London, Paris, Milan, New York and Chicago selling a variety of high-end products especially women’s fashions. Couturier and dress maker, Lady Lucy Duff Gordon, a female entrepreneur, was typical of the period trend setters. A Titanic survivor, she pioneered sexy underwear having established her credentials during the mid-1890s running a Mayfair shop selling (at the time) breath-taking lingerie. Courtesy of her investor husband, Sir Cosmo, she ran shops in several international cities. This was all part of the Edwardian garden party; historian Professor Bernard Rieger noted first-class passengers were ’part of an expanding market for luxury goods and services that, together with high-class hotels, spas and exclusive retail outlets catered for a clientele of aristocrats, members of the European haute bourgeoisie, and American plutocrats.’ (Bernhard Rieger (2005), Technology and the Culture of Modernity in Britain and Germany1890-1945, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.)
Hardly surprising the world of fashion increasingly occupied the minds of publishers who fine-tuned individual titles targeting particular groups of women. The idea of ‘travelling in style’ gained ground. What women wore mirrored the high-class environments of homes, hotels, ocean liners and the first-class train carriage, but for publishers, editorial and advertising appeared side by side with railway holiday arrangements and the special supplements celebrating London society’s yearly sojourns to the Highlands for the grouse season and the mid-winter exodus to the French and Italian Rivera. The illustrated weekly titles were full of the latest fanciful frocks, advice on how to dress, the best possible dress for train travel, fashion tips and what to wear once madam had arrived at her intended destination.
Planning for holiday breaks morphed into a veritable industry, as undeniably did the old-fashioned travelling trunk’s replacement—the more modern suitcase reflecting the status of wealthy travellers. Trunks were once considered ideal since they could be stacked on top of each other in railway brake vans, but they outlived their use as they were heavy and cumbersome. By the end of the Victorian era, the suitcase acquired a luxury badge, and was considered as important as the designer outfits inside. For women, how they looked and arrived increasingly became benchmarks of civilized behaviour. The Great War put much on hold as country houses and estates were turned into convalescence homes. The McKenna duties of 1915 placed stinging duties on luxury product imports to fund the war effort. Likewise, the fashion industry took a back seat during troubled times.
Post-war, a new era was characterised by the dramatic lifting of ladies’ hemlines, though the trend was in fact evident by the outbreak of the First World War. Fiona McDonald suggested the 1920s ‘heralded in a shifting of attitude towards fashion that saw women being able to just about bare all and get away with it.’ (Fiona McDonald (2012), Britain in the 1920s, Barnsley, Pen & Sword Books.) They were the decade’s party face, but the main impact of changes for women (and men) was a trend towards looser fitting, more comfortable and casually styled clothes that made travelling so much easier. For ladies this meant an end to the squeezing and prudish fashions that had ruled Victorian and Edwardian lives.
In the inter-war years, long-distance train travel in Britain, Europe and America was de-rigueur, as up-to-the-minute new expresses were aided by railway company efforts to enhance passenger experiences with exciting ranges of on-board facilities. Travelling was considered a means to broaden minds and the opportunity to meet new people, providing the chance for railway operators to solidify a burgeoning luxury travel segment. By the end of the later 1920s fashion and luxury train travel were firmly embedded.
Women and their travelling experiences for the first time were put at the heart of much inter-linked marketing activity. LNER, a few years after its formation, ran a series of advertisements placing women on the centre stage of their promotion.
The company by the 1930s had introduced a raft of iconic travel posters featuring well-dressed women enjoying themselves at hotels owned by LNER as well as on their Anglo-Scottish expresses. Norman Hartnell in Spring 1930 launched a tweed outfit called the Flying Scotsman with matching tweed golf bag, hatbox and suitcase. In 1933 The Bystander ran a 12th August fashion feature for ‘those lucky people who are about to board the Flying Scotsman on their way to moors and glens [who] would do well to visit the showrooms at Marshall and Snelgrove before they leave for the North.’ Overseas travel mirrored changing fashion trends as cruising and partying created in today’s terms ‘celebrity destinations’ where top fashion personalities such as Gabrielle ’Coco’ Chanel famously made suntanning on the Riviera fashionable. Travelling and entertaining were features of upper middle-class life during the second half of the 1930s as glamorous trains, liners, and in time, aircraft played their part as essential film settings.
Cinema was the most potent image of the age as Hollywood and British film-makers satirised London life. Whilst society was seen to exploit media attention, it also worked the other way as by the end of the decade the media deployed its own agenda. As Dr Ross McKibbon advised ‘the relationship between them and the wider audience for whom these glamorous rituals were intended was never stationary.’ (Ross McKibbin, (2000), Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951, Oxford, Oxford University Press.) Thus, a modern media celebrity industry was born driving a market for luxury consumer goods with vigorously protected brands for perfume, handbags, stockings and haute couture—fashion and luxury brands closely entwined.
Fashion impacted on other dimensions. Britain possessed a comfortable middle-class whose social horizons were similar to those of the upper-middle-classes but demonstrating growing occupational and residential mobility transforming society and the way one dressed. They bought property around Surrey’s stockbroker-belt areas whilst Sussex and surrounding counties played host to many stylish architecturally designed houses with quick commuter access to the capital aboard Southern’s new Electric Pullmans. Extensions beyond north London became home to John Betjeman’s celebrated ‘Metroland’ living, maintaining standards in dress and diet as well as where people choose to live.
Little surprise inter-war trains, boats and planes and fashion played such a central role. Even by the early 1950s, the nationalised rail system was in on the act cultivating a ‘travelling in style’ fashion stage utilising its crack West Country expresses as a backcloth. A lot has happened in the intervening period, but most travel connoisseurs today would love to harken back to the days of civilised train travel for that long-awaited leisure trip. Not the onerous commuter jaunt, but a delightfully slow tempo (even if the modern train is speeding along at 100 mph plus), where the journey is the destination itself. Of course, the style of a train trip with those little luxuries has changed a little and would perhaps be characterised by mom jeans, esplanade sandals, a well-being book under one’s arm, and a Burberry vintage check trunk in tow, not to forget the odd Instagram story!
Just over a week ago, I was invited to take part in a panel discussion at one of the Tate Britain’s ‘Tate Lates’ evenings. Tate Publishing have recently brought out in the UK a new title surveying feminist art called, ‘Art of Feminism’ of which I had been one of the contributing writers, putting together the first section covering women’s art broadly from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. About a third of the images for the section came from our archives here at the library. The discussion at this particular Friday late, focused on women artists, past, present and future, and I spoke alongside Sofia Karamani, curator of the Tate Britain’s ‘Sixty Years’ annual exhibition which this year focused on work by women artists in the Tate’s collection. Also involved were researcher and curator, Helena Reckitt who teaches at Goldsmith’s. Helena had been consultant editor on the book and chaired the panel, which also included artists, Michelle Williams Gamaker and Tamara Al-Mashouk. It proved a thought-provoking discussion on the past challenges and present issues still facing women artists in the 21st century. My job, as the writer of the first part of ‘Art of Feminism’ was to look at the past, set the scene, and map out the obstacles facing women artists a century before a defined feminist movement emerged. Packing a century of art into 25,000 words and around 75 pages proved difficult, and inevitably it was impossible to include everything I wanted to, but I hope my section presents a balanced and thoughtful overview on the female experience of the art world during this time.
Over four chapters, I cover women artists and photographers during world conflicts, who overcame marginalisation and prejudice to record their, often unique, view of war. I wrote about the inter-war period with its explosion of experimental art movements and the rise of the modern woman, some of whom achieved economic agency and independence through their art. And of course, there is a chapter devoted to the art of the suffrage campaign, a political movement which harnessed art and design – mainly by women – to create a distinctive brand and visual identity, still exuding a powerful pull a century since it was conceived. Forming the foundations of the section, I try to convey the struggle women artists faced in the nineteenth century, and the obstacles they had to overcome to achieve parity with men. It is not only about WHAT they painted, but also how they managed to become artists at all.
As part of the discussion, I chose to show, ‘Nameless & Friendless’ by Emily Mary Osborn, a painting exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1857, and on display at the Tate Britain (in the 1840 room if you’d like to go and see it https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/emily-mary-osborn-12441), which speaks very eloquently about the isolation of women artists in a male-dominated world. Our version shows an engraving of the painting which appeared in The Illustrated London News in July 1862, at the time the picture was on display at the International Exhibition. In many ways, the painting follows a traditional Victorian narrative tradition, and mines the rather bleak but popular themes of poverty and destitution. The central figure of the painting is a young woman who brings in a painting to sell to an art dealer. Her black dress suggests she has been recently bereaved, and the little boy at her side is most likely a younger brother, for whom she is now responsible. Consequently, the painting she brings to be assessed, is a device that seems to embody her future, making for a nerve-wracking scene. What Emily Mary Osborn is very good at is making us, the viewer, feel as uncomfortable as the subject herself. Here she is, entering a male domain, one in which she, inexperienced, nervous, grieving, has to attempt an economic transaction. As well as the disdainful look of the art dealer, who isn’t going to give her nearly as much as she’d hope for the picture, there is the pity of his assistant looking down on them from the vantage point of a ladder. Worse still, a couple of wolfish city swells, lounge around looking at prints of dancers with their shapely legs; they appraise the modest looking young women and we can imagine what they are thinking. Her only potential ally, another woman, accompanied by her son, is already bustling out of the shop, making her isolated position seem even more acute. It shows us that the art world is not a kind or encouraging place for a woman to be. It’s somewhere where she must find her own way.
In the nineteenth century, there was a dichotomy when it came to women and art. It’s not that women didn’t paint. In fact, middle and upper class women were positively encouraged to do so. Art was an accomplishment that a young lady should take pains to develop. Godey’s Lady’s Book, with a circulation of 150,000 in the United States during the 1860s and 1870s, featured “A Course of Lessons on Drawing,” though more pages focused on needlework and decorative art for the household. British writer, Sarah Stickney Ellis addressed the subject of art and its benefits to young women in Daughters of England, (a copy of which we have in the library alongside Godey’s), one of four popular advice manuals she authored. “Amongst these advantages” she wrote of drawing “I will begin with the least – it is quiet. It disturbs no one; for however defective the performance may be, it does not necessarily, like music, jar upon the sense. It is true, it may when seen offend the practised eye; but we can always draw in private, and keep our productions to ourselves.” Stickney’s suggestion that art could be carried out by women quietly, and without disturbing anyone, speaks volumes about the idea that any learning or cultivation of talents should be exercised purely within the framework of family obligations. But, to turn a benign hobby into a successful career? To exhibit and sell pictures? To BE a professional artist? That’s where the encouragement stopped and the barriers went up. There was an implicit & collective belief that woman’s designated role was to be the ‘angel of the home’. An unmarried woman’s ambition was to marry, and then, once married, her prime focus was to raise a family in a good & Christian way.
If women wanted an art education in the 1800s, they had to fight for it. Some were lucky, like Emily Mary Osborn, who had a progressive family who encouraged her to become an artist. She had a strong support network, not only familial, but she was a central figure in female networks including the Society for Women Artists, which formed in 1857. She was also involved in the early suffrage movement (it is notable, though perhaps unsurprising, that a number of women artists were also suffrage supporters), but other women would not have the same advantages.
Two art schools opened for women in London in the 1840s – the Female School of Art, and the National Art Training School. Both emphasised training in the applied arts for manufacturing and industry. While this suited many women, for those who wished to become ‘fine’ artists, opportunities were scarce. Central to an art education was the study of the human form in life classes. And in most cases, women were denied access to a life class with a nude model in the interests of propriety. The Royal Academy, the hub of the art establishment, would not admit women to their school, despite two women, Mary Moser and Angelica Kaufmann being among its founding members in the eighteenth century. In 1860, artist Laura Herford submitted a picture signed only with her initials, which was judged of sufficient standard to gain admittance for its artist. When her identity was revealed, the Academy could find no rules to prevent her entering the school. To say Herford opened the floodgates for women at the Royal Academy would be to exaggerate. The RA remained reluctant for several decades and did little to encourage women students, some years putting a stop to their entry altogether. Not until 1922, did they admit a female associate member (Laura Swynnerton) and finally, in 1936, Laura Knight became its first woman Academician since the institution’s founding. The opening of the Slade School of art in 1871 was to mark a watershed moment, in that men and women both attended. It offered a serious alternative to the Royal Academy school as part of a liberal arts university, and could count Kate Greenaway, Evelyn de Morgan, Gwen John and Winifred Knights among its female alumni. Life classes however, remained segregated and for women attending the nude model was not actually nude but draped. Some women art students, in both Paris and London, felt so frustrated at the obstructions to this, they paid for their own anatomy classes, or life classes where the model was undraped. It goes without saying that privilege also played a part in women gaining access to an art education. In the latter part of the 19th century, hoards of American women art students travelled to Paris to seek training in artists’ ateliers, or at the Academie Julian, or Academie Colorossi, both of which opened up their studios to female students. Clearly an art education was impossible for any woman without the means to fund it.
As I picked my way through this century of women artists, what became very clear is that, in many ways, there was no such defining feature of ‘women’s art’. The images I chose had to be as much about the experience of being a woman in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, as the feminist signals within their work. On one of the first pages, an impressionist portrait of two sisters by Berthe Morisot, sits alongside the muscular dynamism of The Horse Fair by Rosa Bonheur. Two women working at a similar time but with vastly differing styles. After all, why should women artists be lumped together into a homogeonous mass, and produce only one ‘type’ or style of painting? Their work was as individual (and as good or bad) as male artists. But if women wanted the freedom to paint what they wished but be taken seriously and perhaps forge a career, they had to have that training.
By the turn of the century, schools such as the Slade, and, in Paris, Academie Julian had far more female students than men, and the idea of the art student as female had become much more accepted. Magazines in our archive such as The Sketch and Lady’s Realm (with a largely female readership) ran regular in-depth articles on various art schools and their specialities. Women continued to fight to gain equality in the art world. For instance, women students were charged 30 per cent more in fees than their male counterparts in some schools. One of the reasons for this argued the Academie Colorossi was because women insisted the place was clean and the floors were swept! At the Academie Julian however, the weekly art competition, where paintings were submitted anonymously, were frequently won by woman. Interviewed in The Sketch in 1893, Rodolphe Julian, founder of the school, praised his female students as hard working and diligent. He added, in a comment that would have been considered radical a few decades earlier, “People often say that, with only one or two exceptions, no woman has made a great name in art; but they were given none of the opportunities which each artist claimed as his right.”
By the Second World War, a quarter of artists commissioned by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee were women. This was some sort of progress, but nowhere near equality, especially as most were paid less and given fewer commissions. Only one woman – Evelyn Dunbar – was salaried.
So where are we now? The evening’s discussion was rounded off listening to the experiences of Tamara and Michelle, both of whom still encountered issues when creating their work, whether related to funding, or finding that, as women artists of colour, they were often limited by perceptions of identity, and offered fewer opportunities to exhibit. Afterwards, I wondered what the women artists of a century and a half ago would have thought about those of today. Would they view them as lucky with opportunities and freedoms they could only have dreamt of? Would they be in awe that in the last decade, women Turner Prize winners have outnumbered men. Or would they still feel frustration that male artists still vastly outnumber female artists in almost every gallery around the world? The women who broke convention to seek an art education, and who painted pictures that proved they were the equal of male artists, were an integral part of the history of the women’s rights movement, and laid strong foundations for future generations of female artists. It was a fascinating and illuminating experience to be able to tell their story.
In 1890, Reginald Brabazon, 12th Earl of Meath, was invited by a clergyman acquaintance to address the young men of his congregation. The boys had been lured by the promise of “a half-crown spread for a penny” and the vicar was anxious to find a speaker who might be interesting enough to hold their attention. In an age before the phenomenon of the teenager was recognised, he was having trouble connecting with his youthful audience. After tea and cakes, the Earl decided he would entertain them with tales he had himself enjoyed, of the men who had been awarded the Victoria Cross during the Indian Mutiny. His choice of subject was spot on; the boys were enthralled but it soon became clear that, not only had they never heard about the Indian Mutiny, but nor did they know anything about India.
Lord Meath was appalled. After enquiring with the local schoolmaster he discovered that most pupils’ knowledge of history did not extend beyond Henry VIII. How, he queried, “could one expect to make patriotic citizens of boys whose knowledge of the Empire stopped four centuries and more before their own time? They knew nothing of Great Britain’s relations with India, with America, or the later swelling Imperial note which resounded through the world, to make Britain not only the greatest political fact but the greatest political fact in the farthest-flung Empire the world has ever seen.”
Meath, an ardent Imperialist wanted the nation’s youth to share his enthusiasm, and, after discovering the situation was similar around the country, made it his personal crusade to educate and disseminate the idea of Empire to a rising generation. Setting up an office in his home, funding his campaign with an annual budget of £5000 provided by his wealthy wife and working with two secretaries, he set to work, lobbying high profile M.Ps. By 1896, he was proposing an Empire Day, first adopted by the province of Ontario the following year.
Meath suggested May 24th, the birthday of Queen Victoria, as the most suitable day to celebrate. It would be a public holiday for all school children around Britain, “with the exception of a couple of hours in the morning, to be spent in exercises of a patriotic and agreeable nature and in listening to lectures and recitations on subjects of an Imperial nature.”
The official adoption of Empire Day around the world was gradual. In 1905, Australia recognised the May 24th celebration. In 1916, when Britain was in the tightest grip of war and a reinforcement of national patriotism was called for, King George V officially sanctioned the observance of Empire Day by ordering the Union Jack to be flown from public buildings on that day. Lord Meath however had been encouraging it far longer, though not everyone was as enthused about the idea as he was. An opinion piece in The Bystander from 1913 had a cynical tone: “Empire Day is over and thousands of little Englanders have once more been reminded there is such an institution as the British Empire. Presumably it is with a view to blaring this fact into their ears that the excellent Lord Meath keeps the celebration so noisily going.” In 1922, the Government of India also officially adopted Empire Day though again, it had been celebrated in that country since 1907.
Once established in the mother country, Empire Day was a major event. In 1928, The Sphere magazine reported that 5,000,000 children took part, and in Hyde Park, 100,000 attended a celebration in Hyde Park where they were led in patriotic singing by Dame Clara Butt and the massed marching bands of the Guards played “appropriate songs”. Children in towns and villages around the country would enjoy their day off school, many dressing up in costume, sometimes to take part in a pageant of British history. Invariably, among the fancy dress costumes, there would always be at least one Britannia.
Through our eyes, looking back to over a hundred years ago, with the British Empire a dim and distant memory even for the older generation, Empire Day, with its meetings, songs and lectures sit uncomfortably with our current views and concerns over our Imperialist past and the growth of nationalism in the post-Brexit era. Subliminal brainwashing and patriotic jingoism? Or a celebration of the bonds between nations in an Empire where the sun never set? Lord Meath certainly believed it was the latter, and the movement’s motto; “Responsibility. Duty. Sympathy. Self-Sacrifice” indicated there were worthy motives behind the pomp and pageantry of Empire Day. Lord Meath died in October 1929, long before the Second World War and the final dismantling of the Empire he had done so much to promote. In its place, the Commonwealth, founded in 1949 and with King George VI, and now our present Queen as Head. With its programme of initiatives to promote peace, development and justice, the Commonwealth, currently with 53 member states, is a force for good. Commonwealth Day is held in the second week of March, and is therefore further disconnected from the Empire Day in which it is rooted. Nevertheless, pride and participation in the concept of Empire was an integral part of being British in the first half of the twentieth century and on this day a century ago, children across the world would have been looking forward to a day off school.
What do the names Reville & Rossiter, Handley Seymour, Molyneux and Maureen Baker all have in common? It’s a quiz question that might stump the most ardent of royal enthusiasts, but add a couple more names – Norman Hartnell, David & Elizabeth Emmanuel or Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen – and the penny might drop. They have all had the honour of designing a royal wedding dress and, in some cases, such as Reville and Hartnell, they have answered the royal call more than once. The name of the designer of Meghan Markle’s wedding dress for her marriage to Prince Harry this coming Saturday remains very firmly under wraps though a shortlist of possible candidates has been drawn up to include the Australian-born but London-based duo Ralph & Russo (designers of the gown Meghan wore for her engagement photos), to stalwarts of British fashion, Stella McCartney or Dame Vivienne Westwood.
All will be revealed on Saturday, but in the meantime, here is our top ten royal wedding dresses from history:
Lady Pamela Mountbatten in Worth, 1960. Not strictly royal, but not far off, the younger daughter of Earl Mountbatten married David Hicks in a snow storm, the ideal backdrop for her fur-trimmed show-stopping satin gown by Worth.
Princess Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth II), Norman Hartnell, 1947. Britain was still in the grip of rationing, but Hartnell’s design, embellished with seed pearls & symbolism, lifted spirits. James Laver of the V&A declared, “The occasion demanded a poet, and Mr Hartnell has not failed to string his lyre and to ring in tune.”
Princess Alexandra in Mrs James, 1863. Arriving in England with a gift of fine Brussels lace, the Danish princess was firmly steered towards a gown of English silk and Honiton lace. The future Queen Alexandra would in time become a style icon, but as a fresh-faced fashion ingénue, she looked perfectly ravishing in this frothy crinoline confection.
Edwina Mountbatten in Reville, 1922 Ticking all the 1920s boxes, Edwina wore the era well. With those mitten sleeves and the minimal bouquet of lilies, this society girl injected more than a dash of chic into royal weddings.
Princess Anne in Maureen Baker. Magnificent modesty with a cool 1970s vibe, Princess Anne’s dress, with its high neck and trumpet sleeves echoed the medieval splendour of Westminster Abbey, but its modernity allowed her to shine.
Lady Diana Spencer in Emmanuel, 1981. Some say meringue, some say romance, everyone says creased, but “Shy Di’s” gown was the fairytale dream every girl wanted. Shelve your fashion prejudices for a moment: you’ve got to admit that this was an iconic – and unforgettable – dress.
Catherine Middleton (Duchess of Cambridge) in Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, 2011. Sarah Burton’s take on the precision engineering of the house of McQueen saw it meld effortlessly with the bride’s taste and style: a self-assured, graceful, feminine statement.
Princess Grace of Monaco in Helen Rose, 1956. A gift from her film studio, Grace Kelly’s exquisite, lace gown was a carefully structured and modestly feminine creation that showcased her cool, classic beauty. A style classic, many saw echoes of Helen Rose’s design in the Duchess of Cambridge’s 2011 McQueen gown.
Princess Marina (Duchess of Kent) in Molyneux, 1934. A chic fashion icon, the Duchess of Kent did not put a sartorial foot wrong. Molyneux could have dressed Marina in a bin bag and she’d looked stunning. But she didn’t have to: this dress was an elegant 1930s affair with a definite regal aura.
1.Princess Margaret in Norman Hartnell, 1960. Breathtakingly simple, a strong silhouette, acres of fabric moulded into shapely discipline. She’s truly the bridal belle of the ball.
Do you agree with our top ten? Do let us know your opinions – and enjoy the royal wedding celebrations this weekend.
On 15th January 1920, the Pan Ball was held at Covent Garden in aid of Bart’s Hospital. Among the attendees were the actresses Betty Chester, who came as a Bacchante, and sisters Iris and Viola Tree in the costumes of a futurist Pan and tree nymph respectively. The ball’s theme of Pan, Greek God of pastures, forests and flocks, was to be one which would dominate the early 1920s. The ball had been organised by a new magazine, launched a couple of months earlier. Pan described itself as ‘a journal for saints and cynics’ and was devoted to a light-hearted confection of entertainment, gossip, wit and illustration aimed at creative and bohemian readership. Very much in tune with the fresh, post-war vogue for celebrating youth and vitality, the magazine attracted some of the finest artistic and literary talent. Covers were designed variously by Herbert Pizer, William Barribal, Wilton Williams, H. M. Bateman and Tom Purvis; writers included E. F. Benson, Reginald Arkell and the gossip columnist Olivia Maitland Davidson, who had famously written the ‘Letters of Eve’ column in The Tatler magazine. Pan’s influence saturated every aspect of the magazine. The editor’s letter was replaced by ‘Pan’s Parable’; another column was entitled, ‘Pan’s Pipings’ while the women’s fashion page was known as ‘My Box’ by Pandora.
Miss Iris Tree as a futurist Pan, Miss Viola Tree as a tree nymph and Miss Betty Chester as a Bacchante, all guests at the themed ‘Pan’ Ball held at Covent Garden in aid of Bart’s Hospital in January 1920. The theme of Pan was hugely popular during the 1920s and the ball was organised by the newly launched, but fairly short-lived, Pan magazine.
Covers of Pan Magazine, January and February 1920
If Pan represented the 1920s enthusiasm for the cult of Pan, it was not the only magazine to recognise the god as a potent emblem of the times. Other titles such as The Bystander and The Sketch frequently published pictures casting modern day flappers in sylvan landscapes, their innocent ramble or solitary reading session suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a hairy-haunched, cloven-hoofed companion with a lascivious expression signalling a mind that was as horny as his forehead. He made an unnerving suitor, stalking his prey through mountains and wooded glades, or even materialising as an apparition in suburban gardens, blowing seductive and hypnotising melodies on his pan-pipes, which, as legend has it, were fashioned from reeds into which the nymph Syrinx was transformed when fleeing from his amorous advances. The contrast of animal legs, naked torso and virile hirsuteness with the pristine, bobbed neatness of the 1920s female, make such scenarios as erotically charged as they are repellent. Other scenes are less disquieting – sometimes a more boyish Pan entertains fairy-like nymphs, or fauns and satyrs caper with bright, young things on a golf course. Nevertheless, the themes closely associated with Pan, those of spring, fecundity and a lusty vigour for life, offered illustrators endless inspiration.
Pan—and associated mythological figures—had been popular with artists over the centuries, but the renaissance of Pan in the 1920s owed a debt in part to the arrival of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in London in 1912. The combination of dazzling costumes and sets by Leon Bakst, music by Claude Debussy and an animalistic, muscular performance by Nijinsky in L’Après-midi d’unFaune (Afternoon of the Faun) were a sensation. Inspired by the designs on Grecian urns and vases, Faun was considered one of the first modern ballets, its inescapable erotic sub-text imprinting itself firmly in the minds of those who witnessed it and triggering a cult of Pan that quietly gathered followers throughout the war years. Grecian-style, bare-footed dancing under the tutelage of pioneers such as Margaret Morris and Isadora Duncan became increasingly popular, and many fashion and hair styles among women frequently took inspiration from the Classical era. By the end of the war, as society looked ahead to a new, more optimistic decade, Pan and his followers had found the perfect time to flower.
In September 1923, L’Après-midi d’un Faune was due to be adapted into a film with screen idol Rudolf Valentino in the starring role. The Sketch magazine printed a publicity shot of Valentino on its front cover, dressed in costume as the faun, his chest bare and burnished, his gaze sultry as his lips grazed his panpipes. Considering the magnetic effect the star had on the cinema-going public, it was an inspired casting decision that may very well have sent the world Pan-crazy. Unfortunately, though the script was written, the film was never produced and by the late 1920s, the cult of Pan, and the memories of the Ballets Russes were beginning to fade.
Vaslav Nijinsky, in the title role in AFTERNOON OF A FAUN, 1912. Rudolph Valentino as a faun, 1923
Pan’s star may very well rise again. Indeed, perhaps he never went away. One verse from Panache’s 1920 poem ‘Pan and Peter Pan’, celebrating the immortal god’s irrepressible lust for life, is as relevant now as when it was written.
As we look to the start of a new year, thoughts inevitably turn to New Year’s resolutions and self-improvement. With the help of the fabulous Maurice Collins collection that we represent here at Mary Evans, we turn the clock back 90 years and take a look at self-improvement 1928-style, through the medium of workplace motivational posters. Never mind mindfulness, forget Feng shui – these posters channel bold, colourful imagery with pithy positivity for the workplace and beyond.
Parker-Holladay, a now defunct print company, was one producer of these motivational posters, which it made on a subscription basis for business owners to display and disseminate to their employees. Bill Jones, a fictional character created by Parker-Holladay, encouraged punctuality, good self-care, courtesy and teamwork, amongst a raft of other virtues, helping to instill best practice and positive mental attitude in the workplace.
Popular in their day, these striking posters fell from favour following the Wall Street Crash and the ensuing Great Depression of 1929, with economic events dealing a heavy blow to the self-made man and his entrepreneurial spirit. Though thankfully the economy is not suffering today as it did back in 1929, even nearly a century later these images still convey the power of positivity and the beneficial effect this can have in the work place and on an individual’s outlook.
Here on The Inquisitive Archivist, these posters march again, on into 2018, with messages that are still pertinent to the workplace today. Which of Bill Jones’s maxims will you take into 2018? Wishing all our readers a very happy and productive new year!
Serious exploration of the underwater world began in the early 17th century, when the first submarine was invented by Dutch physician Cornelis Drebbel. Then, the environment beneath the sea was considered the most dangerous and mysterious on earth – long before the prospect of exploring environments, such as outer space, was even feasible.
The invention of individual diving suits in the early 18th century allowed a more refined exploration of the ocean depths. The initial drive for the creation of diving suits was to aid salvage missions, at a time when many ships (carrying many treasures) were lost to the ocean on perilous journeys. The first diving suits were designed in 1710s and in 1715, English inventor John Lethbridge created the first fully-enclosed suit, consisting of watertight sleeves, a pressurised air filled barrel and a viewing hole.
These basic elements formed the foundation for the design of future diving apparatus, the technological advances of which were covered regularly in illustrated scientific periodicals of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Expeditions to ships sunken in WWI and WWII, fueled by public intrigue and fascination, were often dramatically illustrated in the likes of newspapers such as the Italian Sunday supplement; “La Domenica Del Corriere” and the French illustrated supplement “Le Petit Parisien”, with bold and vivid interpretations of almost robotic-like diving suits placed in otherworldly environments.
Early diving suits, far away from today’s equivalent, continue to be well-received in popular culture as a representation of the quirky and bizarre, due to their odd appearance and design aesthetics and for their kitsch, retro-futurist elements. Film and television characters in early diving suits have appeared in cult productions, think the Ghost of Captain Cutler in Scooby Doo – this eerie, glowing and growling deep sea diver is of the show’s most popular villains (Below: Captain Cutler in SCOOBY-DOO 2: MONSTERS UNLEASHED, 2004, (c) Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection).
For anyone enchanted by the exploration of the undersea world and have an appreciation for unusual design; the photographs and illustrations of early diving suits held by the Mary Evans Picture Library are a joy to behold.
Above: French inventor Freminet’s ‘Machine Hydrostatique’ which incorporates something like a modern diving suit combined with an air tank. Engraving by an unnamed artist in Pesce, ‘Navigation sous- marine’, 1772.
Above: Klingert’s diving suit and apparatus. Engraving by an unnamed artist in Louis Figuier, ‘Merveilles de la Science’ volume 4 page 637, 1797.
Left: Cabirol’s diving suit combines effective protection with considerable ease of movement, the two basic requirements for working underwater. Engraving by an unnamed artist in Louis Figuier, ‘Merveilles de la science’ volume four, page 639, 1856.
Above: Diving dress and equipment of an amber hunter. Engraving by an unnamed artist in Louis Figuier, ‘Merveilles de la science’ volume four, page 639, 1856.
Right: A state-of-the-art diving suit of the late 19th century, made of rubber and fitted with an emergency air tank, just in case the unthinkable should happen… Engraving by an unnamed artist in Louis Figuier, ‘Merveilles de la science’ volume four, page 655, 1875.
Left: Diving suit designed for work on the ‘Lusitania’, sunk during World War One and lying at a depth of 80 metres. Unnamed artist in ‘Le Petit Journal’ 17 December 1922
Right: Divers explore the wrecks of vessels torpedoed during World War One: the amazing suit on the left is specially designed for very deep dives. Unnamed artist in ‘Le Petit Journal’ 23 May 1920.
Above: A German deep-sea diving suit brought from Kiel for examining the lost submarine ‘M1’. On 21 November 1925, while on an exercise in the English Channel. The ‘M1’ submarine sank with the loss of her entire crew, the crew members appear to have tried to escape by flooding the interior and opening the escape hatch, but their bodies were never found. At the time the submarine was lying too deep to use ordinary diving apparatus. So the decision was made to ask for the assistance of Messrs. Neufeldt and Kuhnke, of Kiel, who specialized in deep-sea diving apparatus.
Left: A diver in an iron diving suit developed by a German company in Kiel, seen here being lowered into the sea, 1922.
Centre: A diver in an electrically controlled metal diving suit attached to a cable, ready to be lowered into the sea, c. 1924.
Right: A diver in a special iron diving suit is lowered into the sea attached to a cable, c. 1920.
Left: Full figure of man in underwater diving suit, c 1940.
Centre: A man holds up a rubber diving suit used during one of many salvage operations of HMS Lutine, which sank off the Dutch coast during a storm in 1799. Photograph c. 1934.
Right: American inventor H.L. Bowdoin with his deep-sea diving suit. On the shoulders are two 1000 watt automobil lamps. 15th August 1931.
Above: A German underwater photographer struggles to get into his rubber diving suit, with a little help from his friends. Unattributed photograph for Barnaby’s Studios Ltd c. 1930s.
Above: William Walker, diver, who worked under Winchester Cathedral between 1906 and 1912.
Combing the archive to reveal this season’s best buys for all the family.
We’re sorry but it’s becoming unavoidable. There are just eighteen oh-so-short shopping days to go until Christmas. As panic buying sets in the length and breadth of the country, FEAR NOT, for help is at hand. Fling away those gift guides in Sunday supplements, forget about jostling for a parking space in Westfield, throw caution to the wind and CANCEL that Amazon Prime subscription. You don’t need it.* We’ve trawled through history itself in order to help you solve any festive gift-giving dilemmas. Read on for some vintage inspiration and watch your family’s faces light up this Christmas.
*Did we mention you WILL need a time-travelling machine?
For discerning Uncle Jeremy, the ultimate in loungewear – a velvet smoking jacket from Peter Robinson with silk collar, cuffs and frogging.
For your tech-loving teenage son – the twin-lens artist hand camera from the London Stereoscopic Company. He’ll be extra-impressed that it’s the same one used by the Princess of Wales.
Top of any little girl’s wish-list – a toy roadside pub. Yes, that’s right. Complete with beer pumps, ashtrays and pork scratchings , this boozer offers instruction in basic arithmetic courtesy of the darts board.
For dear mother, what can be more thoughtful than an electric vacuum cleaner or state-of-the-art Frigidaire? No more daily shopping, no more drudgery of carpet beating. Now she can clean carpets all day to her heart’s content. How kind of daddy.
Stumped again about what to buy Aunty Irene? The answer is staring you (quite literally) in the face. Who doesn’t want a cat telephone cosy from Selfridges in their life? Aunty Irene need fret no more about her phone getting chilly during those winter months.
For seven-year-old Nicholas, a Tri-ang model motor car is just the thing. But how to choose between the Rolls Royce, the Brooklands or the Chevrolet Regal? Buy all three (they’re just £15 15 shillings each) and you needn’t feel so guilty about packing him off back to Harrow on Boxing Day.
Ever since Grandpapa singed his moustache while using a toasting fork, the need to modernise has been apparent. Treat him to this 1909 Elkington plate stand and lamp for making flame-free crumpets and toast at the breakfast table.
For that opinionated great-aunt you loathe. Buy her a horrific dinner gong or match holder. Do be mindful that these will be re-gifted back to you in her will when she pops her clogs.
Chain smoking Aunty Lil would love a new Ronson lighter. And why not also buy her a Perfu-mist scent dispenser at the same time? We can only hope she doesn’t get the two muddled up after one too many gin and dubonnets.
For the newest member of the family, how about a winter bassinette or a wooden horse on wheels from the 1888 catalogue of Dunkley’s of London and Birmingham? Strictly no actual playing with them though; it’ll seriously affect their valuation on Antiques Roadshow in 130 years’ time.
And finally, you know last year, when your sister bought you that Brian Connolly CD for Christmas and you vowed revenge? Remember when you dreamed of finding a present that would give her nightmares at night? Here you go.
Pssst… for actual Christmas presents you can buy today featuring Mary Evans images, visit; Prints-Online.
The magical collection of postcards and ephemera amassed by Peter and Dawn Cope has been represented by us here at Mary Evans for almost eight years. We quizzed its owners, the authors of ‘Postcards from the Nursery’ (Cavendish Publishing, 2000) on the origins of this incredible archive. Read on to discover more:
What sparked your interest in postcards and their illustrators?
Good question. It comes down to the fact that Dawn trained as an architect and I was trained as a graphic designer, so we love visual imagery. In the early seventies when we were raising our family, we were attracted to a very shabby copy of Kate Greenaway’s ‘A Apple Pie’ at the Saturday antique market held behind The Standard pub in Blackheath. From there we built up an good collection of Greenaway books which were fashionable at the time.
Then we began to attend book auctions at Sothebys, then held at Chancery Lane. Here we met plenty of book people who opened our eyes to other illustrators including Willebeek le Mair, Charles Robinson, Rackham, etc, etc. I recall that we bid for and bought for £470 a set of 10 watercolours by Millicent Sowerby, illustrated by her for publication in Humphrey Milford children’s annuals. This led us into collecting 1920s children’s books.
On a rainy holiday trudging round a market in Truro we stumbled on a postcard album brim full of postcards illustrated by Humphrey Milford artists like Lilian Govey, Eileen Hood, Susan Pearse and Millicent Sowerby. Contained in the album were 500 postcards sent to two children living in Plymouth by their parents (who were away a lot) and their grandma. This fed our appetite for more, so countless postcard fairs then ensued.
It’s a pretty extensive collection. Do you know how many postcards you have?
And are you still collecting?
Yes. The collection has broadened to include various artists and publishers whose illustrative work epitomises social taste and the activities of the period 1900-1930 – the years covered by our collection.
Do you have a particular favourite illustrator?
One of our many favourites is Florence Hardy, sister of Dudley Hardy and daughter of marine painter Thomas Bush Hardy. She trained at the Sorbonne as a miniaturist. But by the time she graduated there wasn’t much demand for miniature painting. And when her father drank himself to death in 1897 leaving his new young wife (formerly the family housemaid) with a baby, Florence was obliged to seek work as a postcard and greeting card illustrator, to support the large family. I was told she worked with a magnifying glass. If you look at one of her postcards you will appreciate that it is carried out with the precision of a miniaturist.
A lot of postcard artists in this genre were women. Why do you think this is?
There is a section on the rise of women artists in our book (see pages 22-25). Briefly, towards the end of the nineteenth century more girls had the freedom to attend art school at a time when women were campaigning for greater independence. Enterprising women, mainly from the middle class, found that they could combine freelance commercial illustration without compromising their family duties. And when World War 1 came along they contributed to the war effort by creating patriotic postcards featuring children, aimed at spreading propaganda to the youngest members of society.
Did you meet any of the artists featured in ‘Postcards from the Nursery’?
We met Molly Brett, René Cloke, Kay Nixon, Susan Pearse, Joyce Plumstead, Jenifer Rickard and May Smith. We also met many of the next generation whose artist relatives were by then deceased.
Other than postcards, do you collect any other types of ephemera?
Dean’s Rag Books and Rag Sheets 1902-1940 (about 300+ rag books and 100+ rag sheets) Miniature children’s books published by Humphrey Milford (about 300 books) Kate Greenaway (extensive collection) Henriette Willebeek le Mair (extensive collection of books, postcards and china)**
Paintings and drawings by children’s book artists including:
Florence Mary Anderson, Maude Angell, Honor Appleton, Edith Berkeley, Edna Clarke-Hall, Muriel Dawson, Charles Folkard, Lilian Govey, Kate Greenaway, Florence Hardy, Helen Jacobs, Helen Grace Marsh Lambert, Ethel Larcombe, Joyce Mercer, Ethel Parkinson, Susan Beatrice Pearse, Rosa Petherick, Agnes Richardson, Millicent Sowerby, Fred Spurgin, Margaret Tarrant, Dorothy Wheeler.
Penguin Books published 1960-1980 (about 2200 books)
Books on art and design
**During the nineteen seventies and eighties I acted as design consultant to a London-based publisher,
reproducing the illustrations of Henriette Willebeek le Mair into books and on to porcelain in a more modern format. As a result we were introduced to the son of her original publisher, Augener. He sold me several signed limited edition copies of her famous books.
Do you have any plans for your collection?
Our prime concern is deciding how best to keep the collection intact after we depart. Currently we are at an advanced stage of building a Filemaker database for the postcard collection which may be extended to our greeting cards and other ephemera in due course. Ideally, we will want to sell the collection as a single entity to a university library or national institution either in the UK or abroad.
Have you ever considered an exhibition?
We have held a successful three month exhibition entitled ‘Postcards from the Nursery’ at Bethnal Green Museum in 1979, which was widely reviewed in the national press. One of our guests was Susan Pearse, artist of the Ameliaranne series of books from the twenties, thirties and forties, who was approaching 100 years of age by the time the exhibition opened.
We would love to mount another exhibition and create another book with a fresh presentation, make corrections and add new material and information gleaned over the ensuing years since ‘Postcards from the Nursery’ was published 17 years ago. Ideas and suggestions would be most welcome.
Can you explain the obsession among postcard artists with Holland?
In Edwardian Britain people began to venture abroad for their summer holidays. Holland was the popular destination of choice. The Dutch were friendly and welcoming and most of them spoke English, whereas the French, after many years battling with the British, tended to be less welcoming towards British holidaymakers.
Spain and Italy were too distant for all but the wealthy. Consequently, the Dutch responded to this surge of British visitors by creating a huge market for souvenirs for the British to take home, and postcards that they could send back to their loved ones. At this time children seldom went abroad with their parents, but remained at home with their governesses, so they would receive postcards from their parents depicting Dutch children.