Blickling’s Victorians

Blickling Hall in Norfolk, which is a National Trust property with an excellent second-hand bookshop and a beautiful medieval church around the corner, was a genuine revelation when I visited for the first time in June. I was on a study trip with ACE Cultural Tours, getting to know the institution’s ethos by shadowing David Bostwick. He’s taken groups to Norfolk countless times, so I learned as much about pastoral hints and tips (always bring extra umbrellas; always have crisps and wine ready to cheer people up) as I did about the local architecture. I got to see Holkham, Mannington, Raynham, and much else. I have 2000 photographs to sort – a happy problem for any architectural historian. I’ve recently become a Director for ACE myself, and will lead a tour of my own exploring Victorian Oxford, the Pre-Raphaelites and William Morris on 27-30 July.

Blickling is best known for its Early Modern interiors, especially the iconographically complex allegorical plaster ceiling in the Long Gallery. The scenes form an erudite narrative of the progress of humanity through moral trials and tribulations, arriving finally at enlightenment and attaining wisdom. The room was substantially modified in the mid-nineteenth century by the eighth Marquis of Lothian, who got a real taste for Pre-Raphaelitism when he was at Oxford in the 1850s. This was the decade of William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Philip Webb, Charles Faulkner and their friends meeting Dante Gabriel Rossetti, turning towards the arts in a revolutionary and collaborative way, and taking steps towards a creative future always rooted in the medieval past. Morris composed poetry, tried his hand at architecture with George Edmund Street, and became intensely curious about painting, furniture, tapestry, and embroidery. This time at Oxford was also a period of experimentation with wall painting and new approaches to classic texts like Malory’s Mort d’Arthur. These two activities culminated in paintings for the Oxford Union debating chamber, which partially survive and remain one of the most important works of art in Oxford. Notoriously difficult to photograph or reproduce in publications, the murals are a real ‘had to be there’ experience; walking along the room’s narrow gallery to catch glimpses of floral patterns playing across the ceiling intertwined with large-scale impassioned and languid knights and ladies can be a magical experience of art in the round.

Lord Lothian may have met John Hungerford Pollen when the artist, priest and Catholic convert was painting at the Oxford Union alongside Morris, Burne-Jones and their friends. Though Pollen began his career as a clergyman, he also painted from an early age and had architecture and the arts in his blood: his uncle was C. R. Cockerell, the Classical architect responsible for the old University Library in Cambridge and the Ashmolean – with its distinctive Bassae details – in Oxford. In 1850 Lord Lothian had inherited Blickling Hall, and when he went up to Oxford he was already scouting for talent to make his own artistic mark on the Norfolk country house. Pollen decorated the beamed ceilings in the morning room in 1860 and for the Long Gallery he created a painted frieze of birds, beasts, and figures including knights in armour, scholars, and allegories of different cultures and periods in a series of roundels comprised of curving, leafy vine motifs. The pattern’s green, yellow and red palette makes for a bold contrast with the pure white plaster of the seventeenth-century ceiling. Celtic interlacing geometric forms build eccentric nests for birds inspired by Egyptian designs as well as by the local wildlife at Blickling. Pollen observed the latter especially closely and seems to have enjoyed his time in Norfolk working with his friend and patron. Pollen wrote to his wife in May 1860, ‘As you know, a great green pleasure-ground of 20 acres stretches of the south of this house…All day long this paradise has been full of the chuckling of suppressed delight from innumerable jovial dicky-birds, sitting and guggling away with their own fun; a sort of bursting up of the fountains of life and joy….’

When Lord Lothian died in 1870, his monument in the nearby church was designed in alabaster by ‘England’s Michelangelo’, George Frederic Watts. Two angels in flowing drapery guard the bearded Lord Lothian with a fierce yet tender love, every curl of hair and feather of wings carved with a steady confidence. Rarely has the promise of bodily resurrection appeared so simultaneously assured and sensual in nineteenth-century sculpture.

The Queen of May

4a_victorian_photographsIn 1865, Julia Margaret Cameron started to work with 15 x 12 inch photographic plates to create her haunting images of what Virginia Woolf and Roger Fry titled Famous Men and Fair Women. Cameron’s allegorical work has been an important aspect of my own research on Victorian music and visual culture, and I’ve also been thinking about her engagement with British ritual and belief recently. In 1866, she produced May Day, in which the Queen of May crowned with flowers is surrounded by solemnly languid figures and spring vegetation. Fecundity is paired with emotional ambiguity. The Queen, with the barest hint of a smile, is attended rather than celebrated. Sensual abundance is signalled through ample floral elements and an array of femininities that have strong resonances with Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s paintings, especially La Ghirlandata and The Beloved. The joy of May is distilled into an allegory of sacred beauty at the turn of another year.

2006AW3752_jpg_lCameron’s May Day was her response to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s 1833 poem ‘The May Queen’. Tennyson’s poem is carefully nuanced in its intertwining of seasonal and emotional change as a soul yearns for God. Cameron’s May Queen is not a glorious figure resplendent with springtime hope. She is a meditation upon the fragile relationships between life and loss, photographed by a mother in dialogue with intensive stanzas describing ineffable bonds between heaven and earth.

Tennyson’s 1833 publication was followed by two further poems: ‘New Year’ and ‘Conclusion’. The latter was added to the sequence in the early 1840s. In ‘Conclusion’, the young May Queen tells her mother, ‘So now I think my time is near. I trust it is. I know / The blessed music went that way my soul will have to go.’

So you must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear,

To-morrow ‘ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year:
To-morrow ‘ill be of all the year the maddest merriest day,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.

Ekphrasis: John Ruskin and E. H. Gombrich


All these he sings beneath an oak tree, not knowing where his flock is feeding, or their number, or even where the earth is.

Philostratus, Imagines

The Hillman is waiting, the light’s in the hall,

The pictures of Egypt are bright on the wall,

My sweet, I am standing beside the oak stair

And there on the landing’s the light in your hair.

John Betjeman, ‘A Subaltern’s Love Song’



This spring I’ve been teaching a group of first-year BA art history students at the University of Essex about a small number of the infinite ways that philosophy and the history of ideas have impacted our own studies of art, architecture, and visual culture. Recently I explored Philostratus the Elder’s Imagines in my seminar, and we then went to the National Gallery to put some of his poetically ekphrastic utterances to work in an entirely different context. Philostratus invited his readers into the pictorial worlds he saw unfolding around him in a gallery in Naples. Descriptions are rich with smell, touch, symbolism, allegory, and a sense of movement as though the artworks would come to life the moment one turned away, if only to prove the viewer right about their energetic details and composition. I don’t know how often Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s 1991 Sainsbury Wing extension for the National Gallery in London has been discussed in relation to the Imagines, but it turns out that they can be in exceedingly productive conversation with one another. Playing on classical architectural vocabulary and the art historical canon, the Sainsbury Wing’s interior features include a list of names of the Great and the Good of the Renaissance art world. The last of these, leading visitors up the stairs and into the galleries of glowing altarpieces, is Raphael.


While teaching undergraduates has put me in a thoroughly ekphrastic mood, I’ve been researching John Ruskin and John Betjeman’s architectural writing for a lecture I’m giving for the Betjeman Society at the magnificent Two Temple Place on 17 March. All are welcome, and the building really is one of the most architecturally exciting places in London. My intention is to demonstrate the common goals of these two giants in British cultural history, drawing on their prose and poetry in relation to some of the items currently on display in the Cotton to Gold exhibition. J. M. W. Turner, William Morris, and John Everett Millais are in play alongside my interwoven stories of Betjeman and Ruskin’s reactions to the preciousness of art and architecture. It is that sense of preciousness – that the legacies of human creativity are all too often so vulnerable and frail, even when buildings or paintings may have a confident sense of permanence about them – which unites Ruskin and Betjeman as ‘fighters for beauty’ across generations. Both were lauded, both were respected, both are counter-culturally on or off the syllabus (they’re usually on mine, of course), and both are all too often misunderstood and appropriated by audiences who force these people’s words and ideas to serve agendas that might have surprised and dismayed them.


Through the heavy door whose bronze network closes the place of his rest, let us enter the church itself. It is lost in still deeper twilight, to which the eye must be accustomed for some moments before the form of the building can be traced; and then there opens before us a vast cave, hewn out into the form of a Cross, and divided into shadowy aisles by many pillars. Round the domes of its roof the light enters only through narrow apertures like large stars; and here and there a ray or two from some far-away casement wanders into the darkness and casts a narrow stream upon the waves of marble that heave and fall in a thousand colours along the floor. What else there is of light is from torches, or silver lamps, burning ceaselessly in the recesses of the chapel; the roof sheeted with gold, and the polished walls covered with alabaster, give back at every curve and angle some feeble gleaming of the flames; and the glories round the heads of the sculpted saints flash out upon us as we pass them, and sink again in to the gloom. Under foot and over head, a continual succession of crowded imagery, one picture passing into another, as in a dream; forms beautiful and terrible mixed together; dragons and serpents, and ravening beasts of prey, and graceful birds that in the midst of them drink from running fountains and feed from vases of crystal; the passions and the pleasures of human life symbolised together, and the mystery of its redemption, for the mazes of interwoven lines and changeful pictures lead always at last to the Cross, lifted and carved in every place and upon every stone; sometimes with the serpent of eternity wrapt round it, sometimes with doves beneath its arms, and sweet herbage growing forth from its feet; but conspicuous most of all on the great rood that crosses the church before the altar, raised in bright blazonry against the shadow of the apse.

John Ruksin, The Stones of Venice, Vol II, Ch IV, London, 1853, 18.


But can we still see it in isolation? Is not the popularity it once enjoyed, and our own reaction against it, a disturbing element? I may confess to you that, when I approached the Palazzo Pitti this autumn to study the picture in preparation for this lecture, my heart sank as I saw the coloured postcards, box lids, and souvenirs displayed on the stalls in front of the Gallery. Should I really inflict this on you? A fresh encounter with the original removed my doubts. My doubts but not my difficulties. For, after all, you have only my
 word for it that the painting looks different from those baneful reproductions, that the very brushwork shows a freshness and boldness which banishes all thought of the sugar-box, and that the colours, under old varnish, have a mellowness and richness which no print and no copy can bring out. I remember in particular the warm golden brown yellow of the Christ-child’s garment, as it stands out against the deep blue of the Virgin’s skirt, the dark red of her sleeve and the gold-embroidered back of the chair, and, most of all, the blending into harmony of that daring green scarf which so easily brings a cheap and discordant note into prints. There are some patches of repair and over-painting over cracks affecting St John and the fringe on the Christ-child’s face; but by and large the condition of the picture seems to be good, and the enamel-like finish of the Virgin’s head, the spirited, fresco-like treatment of the drapery and the chair with its impasto highlights all appear to me to betoken the master’s own handiwork. It is true that even in the Pitti Gallery it is not easy to come to terms with the picture. The vast golden eighteenth-century frame produces a dazzle that all but kills the subtle gradations of tone on which Raphael relied. As soon as you screen it off with your hands the picture comes to life.

E. H. Gombrich,‘Raphael’s Madonna della Sedia’ (1955), in Norm and Form, London, 1966, 64-65.



The Artist, the Architect, and the Ladybird


A few months ago, the artist Miriam Elia produced We Go to the Gallery, a book that satirised the contemporary art world via the classic medium of Peter and Jane, the idyllic brother and sister from the Ladybird book series for children. Elia was threatened with legal action by the publisher for copyright infringement and even asked to destroy the remainder of the books she had made. While watching the media maelstrom unfold around Elia and the publisher, and enjoying her book a great deal, I also became more interested in Ladybird’s history and modern British visual culture in relation to gender.

Because I’m not a British person who grew up with Ladybird books, the look and feel of the format and pairing of simple text with Rockwellian imagery is both novel and strange, and sometimes no less than disturbing. Without a rosy hue to my own viewing experience, these items seem all the more available for cultural criticism. Binary roles for men and women are underscored again and again, and Britain’s all round awesomeness at everything from religion to power stations, and from racing cars to winning wars, is invested in practically every page. A book on ‘Danger Men’ celebrates heroes whose heads for heights means these masculine figures balance on tightropes, toil on steel girders high above a city’s skyline, and – the oddest of the scenarios – crawl out onto the ledge of a tall building to rescue someone considering a suicidal jump (how might one explain that to a young Ladybird reader, I wondered?).



While I was getting increasingly curious about the weirdness of Ladybird and its legacies, curators Jane Won and Alan Powers were preparing an exhibition that focused on the varied career of architect and designer Ivan Chermayeff at the De La Warr Pavilion. Chermayeff’s playful collages were displayed alongside his influential logo designs for some of America’s most prominent institutions. The exhibition fit this curvy 1930s cultural centre perfectly, as Chermayeff is the son of Serge Chermayeff, who designed the pavilion together with Erich Mendelsohn. The pavilion is among the 20th Century Society’s top picks for Britain’s 100 best buildings and it’s on the cover of the Society’s recently published 100 Years 100 Buildings collection edited by Susannah Charlton. Lawrence Zeegen was among the large number of viewers who came to see the Chermayeff show, Cut and Paste, last summer. He was already working on a design history of the Ladybird series, and an idea was born to begin an exhibition project with Jane Won. Ladybird by Design opened at the pavilion on 24 January and runs until 10 May 2015.


The exhibition’s wall text lucidly explains the utopian and conservative values the Ladybird books extoll, and there is as much emphasis on their social significance as on their artistic and technical production. Affinity between the font for the exhibition design and the Ladybird books themselves works well in a sequence of white spaces informed by the horizontal seaside thrust of Chermayeff and Mendelsohn’s building. The books and original artwork are organised into a series of sections that reflect the various themes within the Ladybird titles. Shopping, industry, travel, and children’s skills from simple counting to magic tricks are interlaced to create a coherent story not only of Ladybird’s artists and ethos but also of priorities for educating British children between the 1950s and the 1970s.

Items on display are rarely accompanied by their associated text, truncating the possibility of gaining a deeper reading by probing the didactic relationships between words and pictures across the book’s pages. Reading and seeing are tightly linked in these books and their original purpose, and the exhibition does not always do this justice. The thematic sections are both thoughtful and evocative, however, and the placement of many of the original paintings for the books is often generative for further reflection. The series of images associated with a book about a ‘big store’ – department stores on the shop floor and behind the scenes – pairs a view of a woman admiring herself in a new coat in a mirror with a painting of a seemingly infinite row of working women at sewing machines in a darkened room, with the figure closest to the viewer looking up from her repetitive mechanised task and staring blankly into space. Surely, many of Ladybird’s artists were intelligently going against the grain even within their confined brief, opening children’s eyes to a world of ambiguities just as often as a universe of safety, pleasure, and useful vocabulary.

Ladybird title highlights:

The Story of Clowns

Man and His Car

Making a Transistor Radio

People at Work: The Customs Officer

Cocky the Lazy Rooster

The Conceited Lamb

Piggy Plays Truant

And my very favourite… Teeth


Nature and Culture on St Stephen’s Day

For the first time in many years, I’m in Victoria BC for Christmas. Though my mobile takes photographs that could only be described as mediocre (Apple, I’m looking at you….), there’s been a great deal to capture and I’ve been struck by how many images of coastal British Columbia life past and present are leaping out with a new freshness. I lived in Victoria for a decade during school and my first degree in art history (which they call History in Art – a subtle twist I’ve always liked) at UVic. The city, like any city one returns to after a long interval, is completely different and pretty much the same. Places, buildings, and familiar experiences have greater and lesser meaning, I find. The first place I wanted to go was the art gallery (naturally), closely followed by the BC Archives to search for information about the lives of my great great grandparents with my mother, who’s a keen family history explorer. We found some wonderful things, including photographs of my great great grandmother Eunice Harrison that neither of us knew existed.


At the Victoria Art Gallery, women are centre stage. The Emily Carr exhibition, Emily Carr and the Young Generation, focuses on her impact on modern art in Canada amongst those she taught and befriended who were younger than she was. Myfanwy Pavelic was a striking example, and her mirror images arrestingly take viewers deeper into making and seeing processes of portraiture. In a nearby display of twentieth-century Ukiyo-e, I learned about the British artist Elizabeth Keith, who made full use of Japanese woodblock technique and aesthetic in her images of beach scenes from the 1920s. Tucked in the back of the gallery, an exhibition on Lucie Rie and her artistic networks presents a small selection of pots curated with a delicate eye for detail. Archival material on display includes clippings of newspaper articles written by a young Fiona McCarthy in the 1960s. A pot by Bernard Leach converses in bold language with Rie’s creations, and both texture and colour invite long and slow observation. It’s a gentle room full of big ideas.

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For Midnight Mass, I went to Christ Church Cathedral, finished in 1929 but with only the nave built. The ambitious plans loom large in the cathedral’s identity and one wonders, might they ever be realised? Inside, the Gothic vaults rest on unfussy piers; one features a little bird carved by a whimsical mason. When the cathedral’s Victoria embroidered velvet banners went forward in the procession through the nave, I noticed one of them features Pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt’s representation of Christ – with cope and lantern – from his wildly popular painting, The Light of the World. How many more Anglican churches throughout Britain’s former territories have similar banners? On Christmas Eve a group of friends went to hear new music by Vox Humana accompanying a spirited reading of A Child’s Christmas in Wales inside Alix Goolden Hall. This building, completed in 1890, was a Methodist church long before it was a concert venue. The architect, Thomas Hooper, also designed Munro’s Books (which started its life as a bank) and the Carnegie Library. As one of Victoria’s busiest architects towards the turn of the twentieth century, Hooper also designed the house I’m staying in on this Christmas visit to Victoria, one of the most imposing in Cook Street Village. A few steps from the ocean, it used to be a brothel.


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On this Feast of Stephen, I head out into the mild west coast air – not a speck of snow to be seen – with eyes open for little architectural details. There is so much to see.



‘From the Forest to the Sea': Emily Carr and Memory

Emily Carr, A Skidegate Pole, 1941-42

Emily Carr, A Skidegate Pole, 1941-42

What is modern Canadian art? That open question is surprisingly personal. In 2000, I began a BA in Art History at the University of Victoria. I took classes on Canadian art and architecture alongside modules on Islamic design, Mesoamerican art, film studies, and critical theory. My first serious job was as an architectural guide and curatorial assistant in Victoria for the Architectural Institute of British Columbia. Victoria’s architecture taught me how to be an architectural historian, and my first major research project focused on a group of nuns, the Sisters of St Ann, and their art education programme on colonial Vancouver Island. Much of my current research still focuses on the Gothic Revival and on nuns and the arts in the nineteenth century.


Back in Canada my first serious academic paper, in the Art History department’s annual symposium, focused on Alexandra Biriukova, the Russian modernist architect who came to Canada in 1929 after studying with Arnoldo Foschini in Rome. In Toronto Biriukova met the Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris, and worked on designs for his sleek white-walled flat-roofed modern house. This was completed in 1931. Later that year, Biriukova gave up on architecture – there were no further opportunities or invitations in Toronto. Was Modernism too much for conservative Canadians? Was the Depression too crippling? Was being a Russian woman in Canada too vast a chasm of difference to overcome? I was 19 when I posed these questions, and it was this architectural project that really brought me strongly into contact with the Group of Seven and with Emily Carr. Like all BC kids, I grew up surrounded by Harris, Thomson, Carr, and the rest. I know their paintings like I know Beatles lyrics – easy to envision, easy to voice, embedded at a mysteriously intuitive level. That does not make their work easy art, and there is a wealth of scholarship and indeed even a kind of discomfiting reverence that attends the Group of Seven in galleries and on bookshelves. This is true of Carr, too, particularly on the west coast.


From November 2014 until March 2015, the Dulwich Picture Gallery is home to a major Emily Carr exhibition, From the Forest to the Sea – it’s the first significant show of Carr’s work in British history. The symposium on 31 October at the gallery demonstrated what a wide and sometimes problematic array of viewpoints circulate in relation to her work. I learned that Carr enthusiasts are so vocal and prevalent that they have a nickname: Cardiacs. Over and over again, I heard scholars and curators (not all, but some at least) refer to her as ‘Emily’. Would any art historian – or indeed member of the public in an exhibition – refer to Paul Gauguin as ‘Paul’? Roger Fry as ‘Roger’? Unlikely. There is a strange and perhaps even irresponsible intimacy that Carr’s work and its historical treatment seems to invite, even amongst her most scholarly attendants. This element aside, the papers were generally stellar and full of new research. Ian Thom, Charles Hill, Kathryn Bridge and Gerta Moray all shed light on who this Canadian artist was, what she was doing, and how her training in the US, London, and Paris and her unique approaches to modernity, form, and encounters with groups of people in a time of crisis shaped Canadian art and indeed shaped modern art.


The director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery, Ian Dejardin, opened the day’s set of talks with an expression of acute worry that despite his confidence in the exhibition and Dulwich’s strong record of excellent shows on early twentieth-century art, British audiences just wouldn’t get Carr. He suggested that we could use a road-map of influences, demonstrating that Carr’s work resonates with Paul Nash, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Mark Tobey, along with Paul Gauguin and even Eric Ravilious. All this is true, and Carr was particularly engaged with O’Keeffe and Tobey’s work at different points in her long career. But that’s not the point. To what extent is it really necessary to insert Carr’s work into a canon when it’s already established, and permanently, proudly displayed in Canadian collections? Carr to the Vancouver Art Gallery is what Turner is to Tate Britain.


Will visitors to the Dulwich Picture Gallery ‘get’ Carr? I think they will. The work’s subjects, palette, techniques, social contexts – they all communicate whether visitors feel the need to compare it to Nash, or add it to a long list of Cubistic works of art, or smile to themselves when they see links with Gauguin and Van Gogh, or not. I noticed that amongst all the strong arguments and elegant art historical interpretations of Carr, there was a tendency to do two things that always give me cause for pause. These things make me pause precisely because of my deep interest in British twentieth-century art. They are: a) Carr’s work is good because she went to France and admired the Fauves and Cubism and Post-Impressionism; and b) Carr’s work is good because we can locate it at the avant-garde boundary-pressing progressively thrusting edge towards triumphant abstraction. So far, so Greenberg. That these factors are the ultimate standard of modern art, like a big sign hanging outside the threshold of an artist’s oeuvre stating ‘You Must Be This Tall to Ride This Ride’, should trouble us. Their double-claim on modern objects, images, and subjects leaves too much rejected and despised within a twentieth-century art world teeming with vitality and alternative creative directions.


And what of Carr’s main subjects? Primarily, she painted the trees, ocean, sculptures, architecture, and people of the northwest coastal villages of British Columbia. As curator Charles Hill explained at the Dulwich symposium, her work is interpreted as ethnographic, feminist, modernist, proto-ecological, and much else. She evidently wanted to document (and this is a delicate issue in relation to the legacies of ‘primitivism’, undoubtedly), and she was striving to develop a visual language through which the power of the monumental first nations’ visual culture could be translated effectively and expressively into paint, onto canvas, into new contexts, for new audiences. Without attempting to pretend I’m an art historian who knows much about Carr (truly, I don’t), the best material to read that investigates her practice in relation to first nations’ communities is by Ian Thom and Gerta Moray. Both spoke at Dulwich; both were eye-opening. Emily Carr’s paintings were, in part, bearing witness to people in crisis. Here’s an illustrative statistic: in 1900, if you were Haida and you’d survived the quick and deadly smallpox epidemic, 80% of the people you’d known were dead. First nations’ cultural practices were banned and outlawed, and the colonial damage done to native populations and the tragic and complex legacies of this are well-known narratives with ambiguous and all but eschatological conclusions.


At the beginning of this text, I noted that the question of modern Canadian art was a personal one. At the end of the Dulwich symposium, a small group of people walked up to the front of the room carrying drums. Jim Hart, chief of the Haida Nation, spoke about Carr and about Haida history alongside his family and artists from Haida Gwaii who are traveling through the UK visiting museums. They are studying traces of their cultural heritage, from totem poles to textiles, collected and displayed at the British Museum, the Pitt Rivers in Oxford, the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, and elsewhere. They performed several songs, and they explained without hesitation that Carr was an interpreter of Haida material that they respected. One of the musicians has an elderly aunt in Haida Gwaii that remembers Carr during her painting trips. To a room full of white middle-class middle-aged academics (it was a symposium at Dulwich, after all), Hart suggested that visiting Haida Gwaii could not help but deepen understanding of Carr’s own curiosity more than a century ago. He’s right, and he’s chief of the Haida Nation so of course he would think so. But this reminded me of something I don’t often think about.


When I was seven years old, my family went on holiday. I had never been on a plane before. I remember this holiday more clearly than most events from my childhood. I remember being irrepressibly excited. I remember feeling a bit grand at the prospect of 30 000 feet and food served at one’s seat in tiny packets. I remember what I wore on the plane (a jazzy little lime green, neon orange, and black ensemble. It was 1990.). I remember the smell and the feel of Tlell, Skidegate, Masset, and long walks along logging tracks and rocky beaches. I constantly worried that my parents were lost. I suspect occasionally they were. There was a wrecked ship, tall grasses, endless trees that were impossibly huge and heavy with rain (it rained. The. Whole. Time.). This was our first big serious family holiday. My parents wanted to see the villages, to study the art, to walk through the forests, to respectfully understand this place a little better, and appreciate it as a rich, thickly layered, deeply scarred heritage. I had no idea what any of this meant. I was seven. Now I’m thirty-one. And today I saw Emily Carr’s paintings on the walls of a British gallery for the first time. I expected it to be a fascinating and stimulating exhibition of modern art that I would view with affection because it reminded me of my point of origin in British Columbia, which I left over a decade ago. I didn’t expect it to provide such a potent collision of early memory and present research questions.


Going to Dulwich to meet Emily Carr will be nourishing for all who make the journey. I’m not just saying that because I’m Canadian.

Giants of the Gothic Revival



On Saturday 25 October at the V&A, leading experts on the Gothic Revival and modern British design will convene for an innovative public study day exploring how Victorian and modern architects contributed to cultural history across 150 years. Everyone is welcome, and tickets are selling quickly!

Giants of the Gothic Revival: Watts & Co. from Pugin to Comper celebrates two anniversaries: the 140th anniversary of Watts & Co., a design firm founded by the architects G. F. Bodley, Thomas Garner and George Gilbert Scott Jr in 1874, and the 150th anniversary of the birth of the architect and designer Ninian Comper.

With presentations from textiles historian Mary Schoeser, architectural historians Gavin Stamp, Alan Powers and Gerry Adler, and a panel discussion with the directors of Watts & Co alongside the director of the Soane Museum Abraham Thomas, it promises to be a stellar day of research and discovery. Talks are accompanied by sessions with rare and unique items from the RIBA, V&A and Watts & Co. archives. Original drawings by Comper, Scott, Bodley and many other key designers will be on display to enrich the day and highlight new understandings of design history as a process of continuity and innovation. Michael Hall’s new book on George Frederick Bodley and the Gothic Revival, published by Yale University Press, will be available for purchase and Michael will be on hand to sign copies.

From the Houses of Parliament and coronations at Westminster Abbey, and from cathedrals to domestic interiors, this V&A study day highlights the power of the Gothic Revival to shape and challenge cultural identities from the Victorians to the present.