Modern & Contemporary Art

specialises in framed modern and contemporary art by 20th century artists


Across the Water

This is a book surprisingly without precedent. Not only for its subject matter, documenting the large-scale immigration of Irish women (and, since the heyday of the railway-builders of the Industrial Revolution, there have been substantially more women than men) but also for its format. This combines all that is best in telling testimonies, with background information and strong photographic images of the women interviewed.

In Ireland it is a truism to complain that the country’s greatest export is its people, and that there are more Irish in Liverpool than in Dublin. By investigating this phenomenon from the grassroots of women’s own experience (and the authors are all themselves more or less voluntary exiles, like their subjects) rather than with the neo-colonial tools of British social analysis, far more than simply personal experiences are revealed.

Right from the chronological beginning, with Catherine Ridgeway’s accont of the 1917 Easter Uprising, there are the historical accounts the history books fail to relate. A witness to a ‘minor’ incident in which troops had given permission to a man to walk down the street and attend to his horses, keeping his hands raised, she recalls: ‘A shot rang out and he was shot in the leg. I never saw anything like it. He went spinning round and round and then collapsed … Then Miss Walsh, who used to run this little grocer’s shop, came out and she got some of the men back and they found a shutter and lifted him onto it. Some put out a white flag …’

If the political and economic factors were reasons that forced many Irish women to leave, it was not only reasons of geography that made England an obvious choice. At times of manpower crisis, particularly during the last war and its “aftermath, Irish women were viewed as a cheap pool of labour that could be drawn on to service our national economy. The jobs heavily advertised in the Irish press were those regarded as dirty by those in positions of economic superiority, in the public sector; those for which Irish women, with their experience of large families, were regarded as ideal for in the caring services; and those regarded as old-fashioned by a more career-minded female population, in domestic employment.

It goes without saying that they were all, virtually without exception, exploitative in working-hours and poorly remunerated. Yet if the English government regarded this particular labour pool as expendable, they were sadly wrong. Irish women are here to stay, even unto their succeeding generations. One of the most heartening aspects of this book is how they have survived not only hardship and vicissitude but have created their own new culture which is a blend of their inheritance and their adaptation. A young punk of the 1970s, second-generation Irish, speaks: ‘For them (my parents), there was no separation between being Irish and being Catholic. But to me, being Irish meant much more than going to church and knowing Irish people, so there was that difference…. I don’t think I ever felt I had to be Catholic to be Irish’.

It is in illuminating the cultural developments and interdependencies that Joanne O’Brien’s photographs come into their own. Although, having seen the print quality of her recent touring exhibition ‘Hearts and Minds–Anam agus Intinn’, Virago has (again) served a photographer badly in terms of reproduction, the photographs are a strong and integrated part of the book. Interestingly enough, it was the sitters’ choice ‘to be portrayed quite formally rather than in a workday or domestic setting’. These photographs work best in small-format reproduction: such a format lacks the half-tones to do justice to more panoramic images. Views of cultural and work activities alternate with portraits that also include women’s employment–everything from a close-up of a pair of hands wearing a Celtic ring and peeling a potato, to a seamstress making Irish dancing costumes based on designs from the Book of Kells.

The authors’ introduction modestly affirms: ‘The experiences of women in the book speak for themselves’. Words are, along with music and dance, the communicative currency of the Irish community at home and abroad. Yet without the midwifery skills of Mary Lennon, Marie McAdam and Joanne O’Brien, we would have known that much less about a few million women living in our midst whose independent existence we largely ignore.

Joanne O’Brien describes the background to this book on p. 9.

Published by art17, on October 15th, 2014 at 11:17 am. Filled under: Books Tags: , No Comments

Victorian Women Artists

PAMELA NUNN has produced a substantial and well-researched contribution to the growing body of feminist knowledge about the achievements of 19th-century women. The book centres on the early Victorian period 1840-1880; the end of the century is dealt with only briefly at the end of the book. As well as spelling out key issues and ideas of the period about women as artists, the book contains some valuable new research into the Society of Female Artists and the Old and the New Watercolour Societies, and some useful statistics about the numbers of women exhibitors.

Five case studies of individual women artists form the focus of the book. The women selected are designed to represent women’s diverse aspirations to be an artist within the male-dominated Victorian culture and society. As Nunn herself writes (p.130): ‘Joanna Boyce wanted to be a radical woman artist, Rosa Brett wanted to be a Pre-Raphaelite, Henrietta Ward wanted to be an accepted woman artist, Emma Brownlow wanted to make a living, Lady Waterford just wanted to make art’.

Nunn sketches a context for such positions, primarily in terms of the Victorian notions of ‘femininity’ expected of the middle-class women. Their aspirations to be an artist–on whatever terms–is conceived as a transgression of these social norms, rather than a negotiation, during a period when the very notions under discussion were being consolidated, as bourgeois society matured. The reclamation of these women’s lives, both the professional and the amateur, the ‘notable’, average and the forgotten, is the main purpose of the book. The argument is conceived in terms of women overcoming the obstacles they faced from their families; in obtaining education and exhibiting space; and, in being able to support themselves and make art. Thus, Nunn spells out both the negative and positive implications of the artistic family in which many women artists were given both support and encouragement yet at the same time, through the constant comparison with their male relatives, were rendered as ‘lesser lights’ to them by critics and historians.

She points out how the struggles in education, particularly study of the nude, became the basis for feminist agitation for skill and training for women artists and for better exhibition spaces.

Only one of the women discussed, Rosa Brett, remained single, and the thesis is put forward, though it is unsubstantiated, that single women had long and continuous careers, rather than intermittent or faltering ones, like married women, because of the social expectations for wives and mothers (even when married to a male artist). That social norms were transgressed because women artists tried to, expected to, or did earn money from their work, is frequently raised, particularly in relation to the way financial gain was perceived as the rough and ready test of distinction between the amateur and the professional. Nunn notes that the ‘make do and mend’ attitude of the Victorians to middle-class women only earning a living when faced with necessity (as widows or spinsters) doomed women artists to amateurism.

However, and this is what generalises the argument, this is not discussed either in relation to the growing obsession of the Victorians with the numbers of single middle-class women, or the campaigns for the Married Women’s Property Acts in the 1870s and 1880s, whereby women fought to regain control of their own property and income lost to their husbands on marriage.

Throughout the book, the increasingly organised and campaigning women’s movement remains in the background, and such examples as the women artists in the Langham Place group, or the work of women for other women remains, for the most part, undiscussed. Women artists remain within male-defined terms, as a ‘relative creature’. And, in the extracts from their letters, diaries, and journals, where their voice does break through, it is discussed only as an individual experience within a more general term like the domestic, or childhood experience.

This concentration on individual women, coupled with the enclosure of the book in the more traditional terms of art history/biography serves to isolate each example from the others. What is rendered absent, though suggested in many other works on 19th-century women, is the relationship of women to each other as mothers to daughters; or women as teachers of other women; or within a network of female friends.

More explicit, however, in accounting for the neglect of women artists are the developing notions of difference and originality for the male romantic Bohemian artist in such writers as George Moore and Frith who sought serious discussion ‘away from the ladies’ and espoused only ‘friendliness’ to women artists’ activities. Although the notions of separate spheres, the ‘feminine stereotype’ and concepts of femininity are all discussed they remain implicit within the book because its base is a pioneering thesis. Perhaps this also explains the total absence of contemporary feminist research (i.e. that which was published after 1980). However, together with her other work ‘Canvassing’ (Camden Press), these two books offer us much interesting, accessible, and valuable material about Victorian women artists, making visible to a wider audience their lives and work.

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Published by art17, on September 20th, 2014 at 7:03 am. Filled under: BooksNo Comments

SIGNED Fist Edition hardback by Academy Editions

SIGNED Fist Edition hardback by Academy Editions, London, 1988 and in new condition with 96 pages, 140 illustrations, including 32 in full colour. The book size is 9.75″ x 12.25″.

This is a book dedicated to Frank Martin, a graphic artist whose work includes woodcuts, linocuts, woodcuts, etchings, drypoints, drawings, watercolours and collages on themes inspired from the ea of the Silver Screen.

Elegant and sophisticated Hollywood film stars or chorus girls in group compositions or nude and always represented in Art Deco settings together with essays by the authors Awas and John Koba which discuss the influence of the glamorous world of cinema.

Contains full catalogue of prints and illustrations together with biographical notes and list of exhibitions.

Price £40 inc p&p

Send UK cheque payable to Gallery 17,
17 Princes Street, Shrewsbuy SY1 1LP

and book will be despatched same day.

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Published by art17, on September 7th, 2014 at 3:05 am. Filled under: BooksNo Comments