Tag Archives: Faeries

The Elfin Oak of Kensington Gardens

My friend, colleague and occasional co-blogger Isabel Hernandez has been promising me a post for weeks but has been suffering from creative difficulties. To solve the problem she turned to a different topic and surprised me with this charming piece.

 

“Shall I tell you something about some of the little people who live in the Elfin Oak?”

 Something about childhood and summer days triggered my interest in the Elfin Oak recently. In looking for something the other day, I came across a little inconspicuous book by Elsie Innes called, The Elfin Oak of Kensington Gardens, which she wrote in 1930. The author is, of course, the wife of the artist Ivor Innes. The man who sculpted the animal and fairy figures of this well-known feature found by the Princess Diana children’s playground, near the Bayswater end of the Broad Walk. If you ever wondered about the story behind all those little figures, including their names, this is where she imaginatively gives them life. I had no idea this existed, but then I guess I always had my own inklings as a child as to who they are. I don’t say ‘were’ because thanks to two major restorations over the decades, these little figures are preserved and continue to delight children and adults alike. A little more about that later.

Before I show you some of the lovely illustrations from the book I thought I would give you a little background as to the origins of this marvelous park artifact. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the hollowed out oak log. To some it was a mystifying object, but not so out of place that it doesn’t almost compliment that other familiar feature, Peter Pan. It is said that Kensington Gardens is home to the fairy folk. And why not? London’s Parks have a history that goes way back before we inhabited them. Once upon a time this was all ancient woodland.

Below is an image taken in 1967. It is important to note that the Elfin Oak is not a native of Kensington Gardens. This ancient oak was originally brought from Richmond Park in response to an appeal to improve facilities in the Royal parks – the Lansbury Appeal. It was unveiled in 1930 by the Mayoress of Kensington, Mrs Robinson, as reported in the Kensington News.

Its age varies according to whatever source you’re reading. In researching this I came across several different estimates: from 100 years to 1000 years. Many fanciful journalists I would imagine, in some reports, just made it up. Yet perhaps nobody really has a definitive answer. If I had to bet on the age (I did always wonder), I think perhaps it is between 400-600 years of age, but I’m no expert. That’s my fanciful notion. Trees are wonderfully long-lived and oaks have been venerated throughout history as being strong and durable. Another interesting tree fact about Kensington Gardens is that few old oaks remaining in the park are pre-1850. Many of the oaks you see today were planted since.

 

 

Below, taken a little earlier (1966), the half-tree trunk looks a little worse for wear, but in actuality this was probably post restoration which was undertaken by the late comedian, Spike Milligan. He is largely responsible for the campaign to keep the Elfin Oak preserved on two occasions. In the early 1960’s he was so shocked by the deteriorating condition of the tree that he undertook the repairs and restoration of the oak stump and its little figures at his own expense. Later in the 1990’s he led a campaign to raise money to restore it again and succeeded:

“We spent two years restoring the tree. That was 30 years ago. Alas it got into a sorry state again and needed attention to ensure its permanent survival.” After thanking his various contributors, he adds, “So there is now hope for the wee folk of England.”

Note the huge slide in the background. Something of a health & safety nightmare these days, but I do recall a few bumps and bruises after playground visits occasionally.

 

 

The black and white photographs do not do the sculpted figures justice as their colour is obviously muted, but the gnarled knots and twists within the oak itself probably look more contoured in black and white.

 

 

The tree is comprised of fantastical creatures: gnomes, elves, witches and animals of the forest. They all have a story. The plaque by the tree reads:

“Originally carved in 1911 and maintained for over 40 years by sculptor Ivor Innes.” He carved out his creations by chipping and scraping the distortions of growth and grain. And yet there came a point eventually in the years afterwards when the little figures began to look a little shabby and neglected. The oak log itself was reconditioned to stave off the onslaught of insects feeding off the dead wood. It was given a coating of creosote, a kind of wood tar, its branches were covered with lead and blackened, and the base of the tree was given a concrete floor. But the sculpted figures were also in desperate need of attention. Every few years they were painted, but the ravages of time took their toll.

 

 

If you’re wondering why the Elfin Oak is in a cage it is probably partly because soon after renovations took place in 1966, it was discovered that the fairy king had gone missing. A little bell which Spike Milligan had found in the ruins of Knightsbridge barracks and included, had gone too. Either a theft had taken place or the fairy king decided he needed to go and attend to affairs elsewhere with a bell, and gone gallivanting. The cage in actuality is a protective addition.

 

 

In colour the tree stump and figures look a lot more cheerful. Also this was post renovation. A huge difference to what it looked like before it was lovingly restored.

 

 

So who are these little figures? The illustrations below are all the work of Ivor Innes. His talent was not confined to sculpture. As you will see below, he really did have a flair for illustration too. I really think they are rather charming and I will now let Elsie tell you who they are in her own quaint, inimitable way…

“High up in the tree is a little old witch. She is Wookey. She has three large jars of magic potion – one red – one yellow – and one blue. The red brings health, the yellow wealth, and the blue happiness.”

 

 

“And everyone wants some of the most precious potion of all, from the blue jar, for that brings great happiness, such as love, sunny hours, merry thoughts, and sweet memories”

 

“Down in a hollow in the old tree trunk lives a little grey woman, Mother Cinders.”

 

 

“Nearby is the Gnomes’ Stairway, going up the steep side of the old trunk. At the top under the arch is Huckleberry, a strong little fellow, carrying a heavy sack of fresh berries for the feast of the king of the gnomes. And halfway up the steps is Nimble Toes climbing over an awkward knobbly ledge. Just below him, Russet is resting his sack of acorn flour. And lower down still, just beginning to climb, is the Dew Carrier, with his little pail strapped to his back.”

 

 

“It is usually very, very difficult to see fairies and they do not often show themselves to prying eyes. A dainty wee fairy is on a ledge of the old oak tree. She is Harebell.”

 

 

“Here is Dandy-Puff, a little imp dressed in yellow; Pointed Ear, an elf in green, clinging under the ledge; Hideaway, in the shade below; and Snuggles, a pixy peeping out from the corner edge. The Little People call all this part of the tree Sunny Corner.”

 

“On an outstanding branch of the oak the Green Woodpecker has pecked at the hard wood with his strong beak.”

 

 

Sly Fox is curled up close beside a rabbit hole, fast asleep, but the fat little bunnies are afraid to venture out.”

 

 

“Up at the very top of the tree a raid on the Crow’s nest has been going on. The pixies have just succeeded in getting an egg. On Midsummer Day the fairies hold a special Revelry. You hear them in the rippling brooks; you feel them in the passing breeze; and you see them in the moonlight when night brings the full moon, and they dance and sway in fairy rings to ravishing elfin music, or they frolic and gambol and float in misty wreaths on the hillsides.”

 

 

“Hidden away in the roots of the tree, you may discover the Leprechauns’ Crock of Gold, near where two little mice are scampering about. Do not touch the fairy gold, or try to steal it, for it will only turn to dead leaves if you do, and luck will always be against you.”

“The Brown Owl looks out from his favourite nook. He is the colour of the tree itself that he is at first difficult to notice. He and the White Barn Owl above him always share in the night revelry of the Little People, swooping and flitting silently round the tree whilst the feasting is in progress.”

 

 

“Between these two wise owls there is a little man poring over a very large book. He is Quips, and he keeps the records, and writes the Fairy Lore. Every wise saying and doing of the elfin folk is recorded by Quips. So now you know how Fairy Tales come to be written.”

 

“There is one more creature who has made a home for himself in the Elfin Oak. He is the Wild Brown Rabbit, friend of all the fairy folk; his long ears are quick to hear the slightest sound, and if danger approaches the stamp, stamp of his strong hind foot is heard on the ground, the warning signal for all the little people to get into hiding.”

 

“It is at night after the playground has closed that the feasts are prepared; the fairies dance, and the pipers play, and the owls wake up, and all the little elves and brownies, gnomes and pixies, leave their hiding-holes and play and dance in the moonlight round the Old Elfin Oak.”

Should you happen to take a stroll through Kensington Gardens at any point with a little time to spare, go and take a look at the Elfin Oak. It has been a few years since I visited Ivor Innes’ whimsical creation, but I’m pleased to say that my enthusiasm for the old tree has not dissipated with age. In fact, part of me still clings to that imaginative lore of old. However you fashion myths and fairy tales, there is always a way to tell the story. The Elfin Oak is simply an interpretation of somebody’s vision of a fairy tale. It may appear a little dated now, but it remains unique, and like Peter Pan, it will never really grow old with new generations always discovering it for the first time.

 

Postscript by DW

Isabel has done me a favour by having this week’s post ready to go. The fact that the subject has no connection with the terrible events of last week is fortunate. Last week I felt it was inappropriate to post anything in the face of the massive trauma suffered by the people of North Kensington. But is it any better to carry on after a respectful silence? Remember, I work for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea so it’s also inappropriate for me to enter into any controversy. So let me just say this.

It is clear that the Grenfell Tower fire is a major event in the history of this borough which will not be forgotten by anyone who lives or works in this area or in the rest of London.

The day after the fire we were asked by a newspaper for a picture of the tower. We couldn’t find one initially. There are always things you can’t find and the Lancaster West Estate doesn’t seem to have been photographed very much by us. But I did finally think of somewhere we hadn’t looked and found a couple of images from 1983, probably taken by someone in the planning department. Here is one of them with Grenfell Tower in the centre, with (left to right) Frinstead, Markland, Dixon and Whitstable

Any image of the old tower now looks poignant.

This is usually a quiet time of year for the blog. People have other things to do in the summer. But since last Wednesday page views have shot up and North Kensington topics are the most popular. I hope readers are finding something positive in these snapshots of history. So we’re going to continue posting. As it happens I was intending to do a post on the artist Herbert Railton, followed by a series of posts based on a recent donation, a collection of photographs of Chelsea, which will fascinate those of you who are interested in the area. But that doesn’t mean I or my team are ignoring the north of the borough or trying to forget. That could never happen. I have lived and worked in the borough for more more than thirty years. Isabel lived in North Paddington for a similar period. For both of us this part of London is our home.

 

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Robinson and Shakespeare: Dreaming

Some of the illustrated editions of Shakespeare I’ve looked at in the last year were published by Hodder and Stoughton – Dulac’s The Tempest, Thomson’s As you like it and Robinson’s Twelfth Night. Most recently I looked at Arthur Rackham’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream which was published by Heinemann. I read recently that the Hodder books were an attempt to compete with and surpass Rackham’s MND which is sometimes said to be his masterpiece. Despite the different publishers the books followed a similar format – 40 coloured plates with some additional black and white pictures and decoration. Thomson followed the same formula when he did the Merry Wives of Windsor for Heinemann (a blog post looking at those pictures will be coming up in the next month or so, almost certainly the last of these Shakespeare related posts). But when Robinson was asked to do his own version of MND for Constable in 1914 he went his own way and produced a completely different kind of book with only a dozen colour plates and many more black and white pictures.

Arthur Rackham’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was acclaimed as one of the finest illustrated books of its day so its reputation overshadows William Heath Robinson’s version of the same play published only six years later. To my mind however, the Robinson version is better.

It isn’t a competition of course. Rackham’s version stuck to the formula for that set of books, Robinson wisely tried another way.

Many of Robinson’s picture are openly comedic, almost cartoon-like  in a way that Rackham doesn’t attempt. But many of them are very special and striking, – minimalist, stark, graphic, modern – where Rackham’s pictures are intricate, detailed, grotesque and resolutely Victorian. You can enjoy both. But give Robinson a chance.

The monochrome pictures show Robinson’s debt to Aubrey Beardsley. (Or does any intricate black and white image from this period echo Beardsley?)

The colour plates, like some of the pictures for Twelfth Night, have an interesting quality about them. Something like a stage set. Or something like a dream in fact. A not quite three dimensional space. An exterior masquerading as an interior.

A scene with classical costumes and a small number of props. A floor with a regular geometric pattern, as we saw in some of the Twelfth Night pictures.

Minimalism is the key here. A cool  place with the air of antiquity.

 

Calm beings , human or semi-supernatural sit and wait by the side of a calm pool, its surface barely disturbed.

When action occurs it is magical. Titania shakes smaller faeries out of her hair, sending them on their way to serve her. She poses like a dancer.

 

It’s a striking image, perhaps my favourite. Robinson shows the raging sea but somehow you imagine the sound muted as she shakes her hair and the wings rustle. Robinson uses the blank space in the pictures to add to the sense of distance and unreality. As below.

 

 

 

He also uses blocks of black to convey the mood.

 

This makes the coloured prints leap out as in this scene of lush foliage, water, and a temple.

 

The major  characters are visible, but sometimes seem like features in the landscape.

Oberon, casting his spell while Titania sleeps, accompanied by a pair of perturbed lesser fairies.

Puck squatting on an overgrown pillar.

 

And Bottom. Here again, at a distance we see. We see his companions retreating at the sight of his transformation.

 

 

Later, he sleeps and Titania seems quite content with her new companion.

 

 

Robinson’s lesser fairies, like Rackham’s,  also look like a different species but don’t have any of the repellent qualities of his insect-like creatures.

The forest of the play is a dream landscape of ruined temples, broken columns and obelisks around which the fairies play.

 

 

An almost science fiction book cover image of an overgrown landscape around a temple as the fairies stream past.

 

 

And Puck says goodnight.

 

Postscript

Taking my cue from the pictures my comments have been quite minimal. I’m posting late this week because as sometimes happens the post stalled about half way through and I had to wait for inspiration. Inspiration didn’t quite come so I fell back on the pictures. You can always rely on them. Next week, inspiration might arrive, or (whisper it), Isabel’s latest post might be ready. Either way there will be something here for you to look at.

Thanks again, for the final time, to Peter Collins for loaning a copy of this wonderful book.

 


Rackham and Shakespeare: mortal fools, offending shadows

I know it was Shakespeare’s year last year (400 years – I suppose waiting for 500 might be asking too much) so I’m a little late celebrating by continuing this series of posts featuring illustrations to Shakespeare plays by some of the great artists of the pre-WW1 golden age of book illustration. But let’s not stand on ceremony.

The last pair of posts featured the Hugh Thomson As you like it and the Heath Robinson Twelfth Night. (I started much earlier in the year with Edmund Dulac’s the Tempest.) I couldn’t leave this subject without devoting a post to Arthur Rackham’s illustrated version of A midsummer night’s dream, Shakespeare’s other “magical” play.

This was another in a series of illustrated Shakespeare texts mostly published by Hodder and Stoughton and like Thomson’s Merry Wives of Windsor it was published by Heinemann in  a similar format with 40 colour plates and many other monochrome illustrations and decorations. Rackham agreed to do the pictures in 1906 when he was also working on a set of illustrations for J M Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, another work which features Rackham’s unique perspective on fairies.

Rackham’s conception of fairies seems initially to be that they are inhabitants of the natural world at the same level as insects.

He sees them competing with small animals, like creatures which crawl through the undergrowth, infesting the trees like a fungus or a parasite. (You can see some  more of his fairy-insect action here)

As always with Rackham the trees are a presence in themselves, often grotesque and threatening.

In this image you see spiders, caterpillars, an anthropomorphic beetle, worms, something which looks like a scorpion, along with a surprised hedgehog, a snake and a crow (or is that a rook?) above an ethereal crowd of fairies.

But at the same time the fay take other forms, larger and more like humans.

Titania and Oberon,ill met by moonlight.  Rackham noted that Shakespeare’s fantasy was “full of the wildest anachronisms…Titania seems to have been entirely (his) own creation, but Oberon is doubtless drawn from the German Erl King, whilst Puck was never know in classical times”

One of the best ideas (I nearly wrote explanations but then realised that might not be the right word) of the nature of fairies and the worlds they live in comes from John Crowley’s 1981 fantasy novel “Little, Big”. One of the characters says this:

Paracelsus is of the opinion that the universe is crowded with powers, spirits, who are not quite immaterial – whatever that means or meant, perhaps made of some finer. less tangible stuff than the ordinary world. They fill up the air and the water and so on; they surround us on every side, so that at our every movement we displace thousands…..

……The difference observed in size is another matter. What are the differences? In their sylphlike or pixie manifestation they appear no bigger than a large insect or a hummingbird; they are said to inhabit the woods, they are associated with flowers. Droll tales are spun of their spears of locust-thorns and their chariots of nut-shells drawn by dragonflies, and so on. In other instances, they can appear to be a foot to three feet in height, wingless, fully-formed little men and women of more human habits. And there are fairy maidens and warriors on great steeds, banshees and pookahs and ogres who are huge, larger by far than men.

The explanation is that the world inhabited by these beings is not the world we inhabit. It is another world entirely, and it is enclosed within this one; it is in a sense a universal retreating mirror image of this one……I mean by this that the other world is composed of a series of concentric rings, which as one penetrates deeper into the other world, grow larger. The further in you go the bigger it gets. Each perimeter of this series of concentricities encloses a larger world within, until at the centre point, it is infinite

Hence the title, Little,Big. I had to  edit  that  passage down a bit. But I think it provides a rationale for the fairies of folklore and fiction. Here they are again, flowing like water through the trees with faces.

Fairies are fond of tricks of course and the trick played on Titania by Oberon is one of the most celebrated in literature.The transformation of Botttom into a creature with an ass’s head looks to modern eyes like an instance of body horror reminiscent perhaps (if you’ve got a mind like mine) to Jeff Goldblum’s metamorphosis in Cronenberg’s The Fly. (Another insect connection.)

Titania’s acceptance of the new flesh is also reminiscent of Cronenburg.

Let’s stay with the human characters for now. Here is Helena:

 

She’s dressed for classical Greece but Rackham also reminds us of the play’s setting in Shakespeare’s own times.

Hermia looks all set for another woodland drama.

 

Like some of Thomson’s Shakespearean characters she could get away with that outfit in a modern high street.

Also like Thomson, Rackham shows us some sleeping al fresco.

Ministering to the sleepers we mustn’t forget Rackham’s slightly androgynous Puck.

“What fools these mortals be..”

In the end, with Titania and Oberon reconciled, the two pairs of human lovers are prepared to wake up and forget the world of dreams.

As far as they can.

Rackham’s biographer Derek Hudson says “Rackham cast his spell over the play: his drawings superseded the work of all his predecessors…..his gnarled trees and droves of fairies have represented the visual reality of the play for thousands of readers.” He quotes William de Morgan who described MND as “the most splendid illustrated work of the century so far.” (although it was only 1908).

 

Postscript

We haven’t finished with Shakespeare’s fairies yet, because at the same time as borrowing the Rackham book from our good friends at Westminster Central Reference Library (Thanks again to Peter Collins) I also took the opportunity to look at another illustrated version of MND, by William Heath Robinson created for Constable in 1914. I know some people who read the Twelfth Night post were pleasantly surprised by Robinson’s dark view of the play. He has his own take on MND too, which we’ll come to in the next week or so.

If you’ve never read John Crowley’s Little, big (1981), don’t hang about, read it. Anyone who liked Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell should love it.

I found the quote from Rackham in James Hamilton’s excellent book Arthur Rackham: a life with illustration (1990). Derek Hudson’s Arthur Rackham : his life and work (Heinemann 1960) is also excellent.

For another fairy narrative look here.

 

 


Dulac and Shakespeare: faeries and phantoms

The first two decades of the twentieth century are sometimes referred to as the golden age of book illustration. It was a combination of skilled artists, advances in printing techniques and a book loving public willing to buy prestige or gift editions of classic books. We’ve already featured examples of this in posts about the artist Hugh Thomson who tried to produce one “big” book a year in the pre-WW1 period. Hodder and Stoughton were one of the publishers who embraced this trend, and one of their lines was a series of new versions of Shakespeareare plays. Thomson himself did As you like it for Hodder and later the Merry Wives of Windsor for Heinemann. W. Heath Robinson did Twelfth Night. And our new friend Edmund Dulac did one of the best illustrated editions, the Tempest.

008 Act 1 scene 2 And to my state grew stranger being transported and rapt in secret studies

Prospero in his magical laboratory when he was still Duke of Milan. I have read that Dulac tended to depict not so much the action of the play as scenes implied or referred to such as the “rotten carcass of a butt” in which Prospero and the infant Miranda were set adrift which was nevertheless  equipped with “rich garments, linens, stuffs and necessaries” courtesy of the noble Gonzalo, not to mention volumes “from my own library that I prize above my dukedom” (grimoires etc, perhaps, or something on child rearing).

Act 1 scene 2 A rotten carcass of a butt not rigged nor tackle sail or mast - Copy

Another is these Dulac mermaids presiding over a line which was echoed in another famous work by T S Eliot. (A Kensington and Chelsea resident we haven’t got around to yet.)

015 Act 1 scene 2 Full fathom five thy father lies - of his bobes are corals made - tose are the pearls that were his eyes

“Full fathom five thy father lies /of his bones are corals made / those are the pearls that were his eyes”

On the apparently deserted island Miranda had to be home schooled, and when the play starts is a teenage girl.

020 Act 3 scene 1 No womans's face remember save my own

“No woman’s face remember but my own” The only other inhabitant of the island is the monstrous Caliban the half-human son of a witch who had also been exiled to the island. Caliban is Prospero’s unwilling servant.

Propero uses his magical powers and those of his faery servant Ariel to capture a ship and move some of its passengers and his former associates into his sphere of influence.

Caliban refers to other non-human residents: “the isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.”

021 Act 3 scene 2 Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not

On the other hand the scene below does occur on stage with Ariel in the guise of a harpy.

022 Act 3 scene 3 You are three men of sin

He/she harangues them: “You are three men of sin, whom Destiny, / that hath to instrument this lower world /and what is in’t, the never surfeited sea / hath caused to belch up you, and on this island / where man doth not inhabit – you ‘mongst men / being most unfit to love. I have made you mad.”

On another part of the island Miranda has met Ferdinand and they have rapidly become a couple. After a stern warning about making sure his daughter remains a virgin Propero entertains the couple with a pageant of spirits. The Goddess Iris speaks of “turfy mountains, where live nibbling sheep”

023 Act 4 scene 1 Thy turfy mountains where live nibbling sheep

She calls for: “you sunburned sickle-men, of August weary / come hither from the furrow and be merry;/ make holiday; you rye-straw hats put on, / and these flesh nymphs encounter every one / in country footing.”

027 Act 4 scene 1 Enter certain Reapers properly habited - they join with the Nymphs in a graceful dance

After the fun Prospero dismisses the spirits and prepares to face Caliban and some of the hostile visitors to the island. There are mant famous phrases in the play but at this point Prospero utters the most well known: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on...

028 Act 4 scene 1 We are such stuff as dreams are made on

These much quoted words were featured quite effectively in that Ikea advert for beds. Do you remember that one? “…and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

Propsero and Ariel prepare for more magic

“Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves….

031 Act 5 scene 1 Ye elves of hills brooks standing lakes and groves

…..you demi-puppets that by moonshine do the green sour ringlets make..”

033 Act 5 scene 1 You demi-puppets that by moonshine do the green sour ringlets make

Prospero speaks of the darker side of his powers: “…Graves at my command / have waked their sleepers, oped and let ’em forth/ by my so potent art”

034 Act 5 scene 1 Graves at my command have waked their sleepers

But at the conclusion of the play he promises: “But this rough magic I here abjure….I’ll break my staff….. I’ll drown my book….”  and vows to set Ariel free.

“On the bat’s back I do fly

037 Act 5 scene 1 On the bat's back I do fly after summer merrily

While Prospero concludes his magical business Miranda and Ferdinand play chess.

038 Act 5 scene 1 Sweet lord you play me false

And finally, returning his visitors to their ship Prospero promises “calm seas, auspicious gales, and sail so expeditious that shall catch your royal fleet far off.”

Dulac picks up on that image for a final picture.

042 Act 5 scene 1 Calm seas auspicious gales and sail so expeditious

There have been many versions of The Tempest, on stage, as an opera and as a general influence. I happened upon this one:

Elsa 01 - Copy

Elsa Lanchester as Ariel, with Charles Laughton as Prospero in 1934. Elsa Lanchester went on of course to play her most famous role the following year in one of the most fantastical of Universal’s horror films, the Bride Of Frankenstein. As well as the Bride she also played Mary Shelley in the film’s prologue.

But naturally this film is the most memorable later version of the story for me.

Forbidden-Planet-Film-1-001-1

But you already knew that I’m sure. Forbidden Planet (1956) featuring Robby the Robot as himself/ Ariel, Walter Pidgeon as Morbius/Prospero, the young Leslie Nielsen as Commander Adams, a kind of Ferdinand (not to mention an early model for James T Kirk) and Anne Francis as Altaira / Miranda. Caliban came in at the end as the monster from the Id.

Or there’s this one:

shakespeareSandman

[Neal Gaiman’s Tempest, from the Sandman series, the Wake. What would Dulac have made of graphic novels?]

Postscript

I’ve looked at some other illustrated Shakespeare volumes from the Hodder series – W G  Simmonds’s version of Hamlet, Sir James D Linton’s Merchant of Venice, but they looked rather conventional after Dulac’s Tempest.I’m going to keep looking.

As well as tying in with the previous post on Dulac this one also occurs in a Shakespeare anniversary year. In November one of our London History Festival author events will be Shakespeare related. But before then I’ll be featuring a couple of those special editions. Look out for them.

This post has a companion piece on our WW1 website where you can see some pictures from Dulac’s book in support of the French Red Cross.

Thanks to Peter Collins for loaning the Dulac volumes and Kim for transportation.

 


What Estella saw

`In 1965 a woman died in an old house in Palace Green, a house she had lived in all her life. The house had once been the laundry of Kensington Palace but her parents had just been looking for a pleasant family dwelling. The houses around it had become grander (and more valuable) over the course of the 20th century but for Estella Canziani her house was the family home and garden she had always known.

Estella had done many things in her life. She was a writer on travel and folklore (and local history), a campaigner for the RSPCA and RSPB,  a book illustrator and painter. She painted landscapes, portraits, animals and costumes but what we’re looking at today are paintings of her home and the places around it. What Estella saw were gardens, trees, small animals and rooms full of objects.  She wrote a memoir of her life in the house, her travels and her charity work called  Round about 3 Palace Green (Methuen, 1938)

Here is her garden:

Garden at 3 Palace Green Cpic 580

Estella, encouraged by her parents had a fondness for birds, particularly pigeons and had several as pets. She also had many friends among the birds which visited the garden including pheasants and a parrot.

The rear view of Mr Clementi’s house in nearby Kensington Church Street.

Clementi's House 128 Kensington Church Street Cpic569

The colours of the plants and flowers are what immediately caught my attention. “Flowers on walls have always fascinated me and some of my earliest memories are associated with them.”

Estella’s mother was also a painter.

LSC in studio

Louisa Starr, who was born in Liverpool of American descent married an Italian engineer called Frederico Enrico Canziani. Estella reports that her mother dreamed of an ideal house and recognized it while driving in Kensington Gardens, seeing a board up advertising it to let. She telegraphed to her husband to come back from Paris and they secured the property just five minutes ahead of a gentleman who was also waiting for the office to open. Estella was born there two years later.

The photograph of Louisa in the studio she had built in the courtyard comes from a feature in the Ladies Field of about 1900. This photograph from the same feature shows the garden in Estella’s picture.

LSC in garden fp

Is that Louisa on the stepladder with Estella beside her? Estella is said to be aged 13 in the article which describes her as inheriting her mother’s talent. The young Estella was often around artists. She remembers being kissed while in her pram by Lord Leighton and of visiting him at “his beautiful house in Holland Park Road.” “He gave me rides on his shoulders about his studio to the Arab Hall and fountain…He showed me the stuffed peacock at the foot of the stairs and also the beautiful tiles on the staircase…”

Estella also knew Val Princep and his family who lived next door to Leighton as well as G F Watts, Holman Hunt, Luke Fildes and John Everett Millais. She also recalls visiting the studios of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and W P Frith, and attending fancy dress parties at Walter Crane’s house.

Louisa often signed her paintings with a little pictogram of a star. Estella adopted this motif with the addition of a C. You can see this in the picture of a window at the house below.

Window at 3 Palace Green Cpic562

More plants on walls. The Ladies Field describes the house as ivy-covered. Below Estella is a little older than in the previous picture, seen with her father.

Estella and her father in the garden fp

She is wearing her artist’s smock and carrying a plaette so the picture is posed but the affection between them is quite apparent. The identity of the superflous man standing by them is unknown. The precision of her work can be seen in this line drawing entitled Mulberry trees in the garden at Palace Green.

Mulberry Trees in the back garden at 3 Palace Gren Cpic577

Estella had been told that Queen Victoria had picked mulberries from the two trees in the garden.

Here’s another view from the garden showing the houses beyond the fence and a lone pigeon

Garden at 3 Palace Green Cpic 560 00005 - Copy

Animals and birds, particularly pigeons frequently feature in Estella’s pictures. This one shows the Paddock in Kensington Gardens.

The Paddock 3 Palace Green Cpic574

This view at dusk is looking  from Kensington Gardens, westwards I think.

Kensington Gardens Cpic572 00004 - Copy auto

The distant light of the setting sun, and the frantic activity of the squirrels recalling Rackham’s furtive faeries. Estella painted several fairy pictures influenced by European folklore. Her picture the Piper of Dreams of 1915 was much reprinted and became very popular during the war. In her memoir she recalls being told by Philip Lee Warner of the Medici Society that they had sold 250,00 copies in the first year. There was a signed edition of a thousand (at 2 guineas each) – “the old man who looked after me while I autographed them sat me at a table and passed one to me at a time…he watched carefully to see that I was not getting tired and writing badly and after every hundred gave me a rest…He had worked for Leighton, Burne-Jones and many other artists and explained how he had watched each on to see that their signature was perfect.”

The picture below, of the sunken garden in Kensington Gardens also has an unearthly quality, like an illustration to an Edwardian fantasy.

Sunken garden Kensington Gardens Cpic 566

 

Postscript

We’ll be back at Estella’s house again soon I think. There are many more things to see.

Bookplate K61-238

On an unrelated matter:

On Sunday, a courier handed me a package containing David Bowie’s new album Blackstar. Thanks to the practices of a certain online retailer the album’s tracks were already on my MP3 player although I hadn’t heard any of them yet. This is a contrast with the arrival of the first Bowie album I received in the post, The Man who sold the World which came to me in a large cardboard packet from the first incarnation of the Virgin empire back in the early 70s. I had heard all the tracks on the album on a late night programme on Radio Luxembourg. After listening to it I remember walking down the wide road near our house feeling…. something, not quite realising that the world had changed and that David Bowie would be with me for the rest of my life.

You get more emotional as you grow older I’ve found and quite banal things can move me to tears these days but I was surprised on Monday morning at quite how upsetting the news of Bowie’s death was. I was sad when I heard the news of John Lennon’s death but I was still young and cynical then so I got over it quite soon. I don’t know how long it will take me to regain my equanimity this time. I didn’t play Blackstar on Sunday, there was too much to do. Now I wish I had, so the first time I do play it, it won’t be with the realisation that this is the last word.

Bowie was one of the cleverest pop stars. It’s so like him to deliver one final surprise.

Gimme your hands.


Dulac in Kensington

 

Edmund Dulac invitation p52 - Copy (2)

This post starts with someone we’ve encountered before: the art collector and patron Edmund Davis.

Edmund Dulac The musical soiree p53 - Copy - Copy

As we learned in the post about a room decorated for Davis by Charles Conder this picture shows Davis and his wife in 18th century dress, dancing at a musical soiree in their house in Lansdowne Road. But there are others in the picture: the Davis’s niece, Clare Atwood is sitting on the sofa dressed as a clergyman or scholar. Behind her stand the artists Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. We assume the dog has come as himself although the Davises had attended other costume parties in animal guise. (A pair of poodles if you recall). In the chairs on the left are Elsa Dulac and  Davis’s sister-in-law Mrs Halford. We don’t know who the comedy soldiers are, or the lady at the harpsichord but the gentleman in the right corner at the front who is looking out of the picture is the artist who painted it. The year is 1912.

As we saw in the other post about Conder, costume balls were very popular at this time. We’ve seen other examples of dressing up en masse in the pre-War period – see the many posts on the Chelsea Pageant – and I’ve suggested in the past it amounted to a kind of obsession. Edmund Dulac seems to have had a bit of a gift for it. Here he is on horseback in a tableau vivant.

Tableau vivant 1913

Dulac and his wife were living nearby in Ladbroke Road at number 72, a house owned by Davis who had created studios there and  in several other houses in the area where other artists lived. Dulac was born and educated in France but had come to London in 1905 and lived and worked in Britain for the rest of his life.

72 Ladbroke Road 1968 KS612

You can see the tall windows suitable for studio use in this 1968 picture. An estate agent’s picture of the rear in 1988 shows the large garden.

72 Ladbroke Road 1988 garden

I’ve spent a lot of blog time this year hovering around a series of artists and illustrators, some of whom like Charles Conder were closely associated with Kensington or Chelsea,and some like Hugh Thomson whose connection was much looser, in the subject matter or collaborator. Many of them were artists I had never heard of before. But Dulac, like Arthur Rackham, who appeared in a post about this time last year is someone whose reputation has lingered into modern times. He was another of those artists/ illustrators whose work was published in large format paperbacks in the 1970s  – Rackham himself, Sidney Sime, Harry Clarke, Aubrey Beardsley, Heath Robinson – most of whom had some element of the fantastic about them which fitted in with the boom in fantasy literature of the time (and with fantastical prog rock album covers, but let’s draw a veil over those.)

By 1912 Dulac was known for his illustrations to the Arabian Nights as well as books of his like My Days with the Fairies (1910) . This is an illustration from Sleeping Beauty and other fairy tales (1910).

Edmund Dulac from Sleeping Beauty and others p62 - Copy

Dulac’s pictures are exotic and glamorous, exactly right for his subject matter, fairy tales and folklore.

His faeries are colourful and benign (unlike those of say Rackham).

My days with the fairies - she smiled at him very graciously

His treatment of stories like the Little Mermaid contain just the the right amount of grotesque elements.

The Little Mermaid from Hans Anderson

He even tackles one of Hugh Thomson’s favourite subjects, young women lounging around. (See the post on the Admirable Crichton )

Sleeping Beauty - they overran the house without loss of time

After his early success with the Arabian Nights he often depicted European stories such Bluebeard’s Castle and Beauty and the Beast in an “Arabian” setting.

there in a row hung the bodies of seven dead women

In October 1916 Dulac watched a Zeppelin being shot down above west London. This is possibly the same incident that Herbert Hoover and his family saw from the nearby roof of the Red House (link) although Dulac was alarmed rather than excited by the event and Elsa was badly shaken. There were more heavy raids the following year with aircraft visible over Holland Park which unnerved them both. Edmund Davis arranged for them to live on an estate in Surrey where there were others escaping from the bombing.

They were back in London in 1918. The era of the big illustrated book seemed to have gone so Dulac diversified into costume and theatre design and commissioned work. In 1919 they moved across the road (almost literally ) to the slightly larger 117 Ladbroke Road

117 Ladbroke Road 1988

The Dulacs lived on the upper floors.(The artist Glyn Philpott lived on the lower floors).Oddly, in 1988 the building was still organised into two separate residences.

Elsa never really recovered from her nervous condition exacerbated by the war years and in 1923 she and Dulac separated. Apparently not one to let the grass grow under his feet it was not long before Dulac was joined by a young woman who was already a frequent visitor, Helen de Beauclerk . She shared his interest in astrology, Jungian psychoanalysis , meditation and fringe philosophies  like those of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.

The Dulacs had the upper two floors which included a large studio and a verandah.

Dulac and Helen Beauclerk at Ladbroke Road

You can see that Helen looked quite like a typical Dulac character. The picture below shows her in 18th century dress in one of his illustrations to her novel, The Green Lacquer Pavilion.

The Green Lacquer Pavilion frontispiece 1925

This was appropriate of course, but here she is in a folk tale illustration.

Fortunata and the Hen - A fairy grland

Possibly he liked to paint a certain kind of woman. This earlier image shows a woman just like Helen, before he even met her.

The Princess of Deryabar - Stories from the Arabian Nights

In later life he worked on designs for stamps and medals and adopted other styles for certain projects like Treasure Island (1927) and A Fairy Garland (1929)

The King and Puss in Boots - A fairy garland

Here he is in 1937 with his great friend W B Yeats who shared many of his interests. He died in 1953.

Dulac and Yeats 1937

Dulac is another example of an artist who is perhaps not as well thought of as he might be because he is associated with book illustration. One of my continuing interests on this blog is to look at artists like him whose work is preserved in library books rather than in galleries.

Postscript

This post was conceived as a companion piece to the posts about Conder, but who knows where it will lead. I’ve drawn heavily on Colin White’s excellent book on Dulac for biographical detail and pictures, but also used one of those 1970s picture books published by Coronet in 1975. An expert on printing could probably write an interesting post about the difference in printed colours between then and now, but I’m not such an expert so I’ll simply note that it is interesting how these things change. I’m looking forward to handling an original illustrated book by Dulac.

Edmund Dulac by Colin White. Studio Vista 1976.

Dulac edited by David Larkin. Coronet/Hodder and Stoughton  1975

Both out of print but still available through online retailers.


Faeries in Kensington Gardens

We’re getting close to Christmas now so what about something a little seasonal?

I don’t much like Peter Pan.  The familiar story of the irritating boy and the nice crocodile who never gets to eat him (or the equally annoying pirate) is a sickly mixture of cliches and sentiment. Before you dismiss me as a grumpy old man can I point out that I have disliked the boy who wouldn’t grow up since I first came across him, well before I grew up. Winnie the Pooh on the other hand I loved and I came to appreciate the writing of A A Milne even more as I grew older. I read those stories to my son when he was young and took him to an ideal venue for Poohsticks on Putney Common.The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland – both classics. I never came across E Nesbitt or George MacDonald as a child but I read some of their work later.We didn’t have Paddington Bear when I was young but we did have another bear, Mary Plain (by Gwynedd Rae). And I didn’t read any of Tove Jansson’s Moomin books until I worked in a library. So I’m no enemy of the classics of children’s literature. But I can’t stand Peter Pan, in any of his incarnations,

Peter Pan of course has Kensington connections.

Kensington Gardens Peter Pan statue PC1386

But the Peter Pan in this picture is not the one featured in the 1905 book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. In that book Peter Pan is a weird baby who ends up living in the hidden world of fairies, birds and other supernatural creatures located in Kensington Gardens unobserved by the daytime visitors and workers.

We have copies of the 1905 and 1912 editions which are probably of most interest for the illustrations by Arthur Racknam, 49 colour plates in the 1905 edition with additional black and white pictures in the 1912 edition.

If you concentrate on the pictures which don’t feature the proto-Pan you find a set of faery images which are beautiful and sometimes grotesque.

The Serpentine

This view of the Serpentine at dusk has the traditional winged fairies you can imagine sharing the same eco-system as insects and birds. These  fairies come from the same place as Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies, out of the deep Victorian imagination, via the Pre-Raphaelites and the darker works of individuals like Richard Dadd.

Rackham also depicts the ordinary world of daytime. He still prefers a gloomy scene though, with grey skies, and mysterious islands.

The island

The three girls in front are keeping their backs to the island so no one will know they are discussing Barrie’s unlikely notions about babies hatching from eggs and turning into birds (or is it vice versa?).

Kensington Gardens ducks PC1353

One of the better themes in the book is the idea of a hidden world beneath the park which children are half aware of already.

Fairies in hiding till dusk

During the day things are happening out of sight. But at night….

The fairies sit on mushrooms

A feast, featuring some non-winged faries adopting a variety of costumes, not worried about mixing with mice creatures. Some images dip into the grotesque.

An elderberry hobbled

Here Rackham is not far from Sidney Sime or Harry Clarke who both illustrated the works of Edgar Allen Poe.

I was particularly intrigued by this picture.

If the bad ones happen to be out

The bad fairies emerge from beneath the trees like crawling insects. Rackham depicts them as an infestation, like ants or termites. Something rotten.

Back in the daylight world the Elfin Oak looks merely decorative, hardly creepy at all.

Kensington Gardens Elfin Oak PC1388

Images like the one below may represent the glamour  cast by fairies to fool us into thinking them beautiful…..

looking very undancey

As beautiful as any mortal woman in the daylight world.

Kensington Gardens 712.5 KEN-JA K65-23

For the children the search goes on. Below a girl called Maimie hides from the adults, so she can stay in the gardens after dark.

She ran to St Govor's Well and hid 2

The spot she’s chosen, St Govor’s Well is a real place

St Gover's Well 712.5 Ken-Pm P1966 L-5638

With some real Edwardian children playing in it.

Touching site Walter Stephen Matthews and Phoebe Phelps

At the end of the book Barrie  tells about the gravestones erected by the proto-Pan and his acolytes to mark the passing of lost children. Rackham undercuts the notion by placing the illustration in a pastoral scene set years before, the 1840s by the look of the costumes.

For me all the imagination in the book is in Rackam’s illustrations and it is they who turn a real place – Kensington Gardens – into an outpost of Faery.

Postscript

Was I a bit hard on the infant Pan? Maybe. But Rackham’s pictures are so much better than the text, They have a weird intensity. Rackham was one of those artists who was rediscovered in the 60s and 70s in glossy paperback editions along with many other illustrators of the Victorian and Edwardian period.

This week saw the soft launch (as they say) of our World War one website: http://www.kcworldwar1.org.uk It’s full of contemporary images and text from the Local Studies collection with the additional opportunity for readers of adding their own text and/or pictures. Like a blog, it will grow over months, maybe even years to form a permanent record of Kensington and Chelsea in the Great War. Take a look, I’m sure there will be something there to surprise you.

Your Christmas surprise on this blog is that next week instead of just one long post on Thursday I’m writing short daily posts starting on Monday. I come across lots of pictures when doing research for the blog which are interesting but won’t fit the 10 or more pictures and a thousand words format I’ve adopted. So next week there will be mini-posts from Monday to Friday. Read them daily or save them up. See you Monday.


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