The Burrell Collection

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border detail of embroidered panel depicting Judith and Holofernes, English, mid-seventeenth century, silk and metal on silk.

There are some places that draw me back again and again whether I intend to go or not. The Burrell Collection seems to be one. I visited for the first time during my first week living in Glasgow, then returned with friends for a tour of the embroidery collection, then once again a few days later, when I hopped on a bus intending to go north, and ending up going south instead. I realised in a panic, leapt off (kicking myself) then, seeing the leafy entrance to Pollok Park, consoled myself with a wander around the collection and a Tunnock’s teacake.

But then, there’s certainly the quantity and variety of artefacts to warrant more than one visit. When Sir William Burrell bequethed his huge collection of Chinese ceramics, ancient Egyptian art, Medieval embroideries and Rodin sculptures (amongst other things), he stipulated it should be housed in a building 16 miles from the city of Glasgow. He worried that city pollution would damage the objects, particularly the tapestries, so wanted them to be housed in a clean rural setting – showing great foresight in terms of conservation. Although not as far from the city as he wished, Pollok park provides ample green space for the collection building as well as Pollok House (now a National Trust property), herds of Highland cattle, dense woodland and blackberrying opportunities. Yum.

burrell01Unfortunately, nature is also creeping into the building in the form of clothes moths and rain water, so some furnishings have been taken off display for deep freezing to eliminate any unwanted hosts, and in a couple of rooms furniture is swathed in plastic whilst stray buckets collect drips.

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Peasants hunting rabbits with ferrets, French, 1450-75, wool and silk tapestry.

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Kelmscott House

Screen shot 2014-03-19 at 14.18.21ROM Piccadily Circus to the foot of Hammersmith Bridge is just an hour – if one catches the bus with the right flag. The Upper Mall is hard-bye, though not easy to find, if one loses his head in the maze. “You turn right at Bridge Court, pass Mall Road, cross over the foot bridge, and pass the house where Thomson wrote the ‘Seasons,’ next the Dove’s Inn, and there you are, you see.” All of which sounds easy enough, if one can identify these landmarks when one sees them. The streets are little more than alleys, the bridge one could almost carry under one’s arm, Thomson’s house falls beneath one’s notice, and The Dove’s will just hold a barmaid and a barrel of “bitter.” No sign marks the Kelmscott Press, the objective point, but after stumbling into two or three door-ways, the right one is finally reached, and here..

..I should explain that this is an 1896 account of a visit to Kelmscott Press, now a museum which I had the pleasure of visiting last week.

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Hammersmith Bridge

wmsoc17wmsoc20wmsoc21A few things have changed since W. Irving Way’s visit 118 years ago; Kelmscott House is now largely privately occupied, with the William Morris Society and Museum found in the adjoining Coach House and basement. We are no longer greeted by Mr S. C. Cockerell, the Secretary of the Press, nor can we hope to meet Morris himself, who died only a few months after Way’s account was published. But visitors can still expect to find many artworks made and equipment used by Morris and his friends, in:

“A quiet, tidy, orderly place …, but with nothing modern about it. No noise of machinery, escaping steam, or hum of electric motor, distracts one”. p. 79

wmsoc02wmsoc03wmsoc04Morris lived and worked at Kelmscott House from 1878 until his death in 1896. Here he was busy designing furnishings (which he is most well known for today), as well as writing poetry, translating Icelandic sagas, printing books and pamphlets and holding Socialist meetings. Morris was known for working on several different projects at the same time, and once said ‘If a chap can’t compose an epic poem while he’s weaving tapestry, he had better shut up; he’ll never do any good at all.’ After his death, his daughter, May Morris and others continued Morris’ legacy, and in 1955 the society was set up.

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Despite its modest size, the museum pays fitting tribute to Morris by representing the sheer range of his activities. The coach house, where he first experimented with tapestry-making and hosted Socialist talks, now holds a changing exhibition display, and, fittingly, talks and educational activities. In what was once a kitchen, there is now a display of furniture, textiles, stained glass, drawings, pamphlets, books and a Socialist banner. In another room stands Morris’ original printing press, which he used to self-publish books and pamphlets at extremely high quality (and cost). The press is still in working order, with hand printed cards in the gift shop to prove it!

wmsoc08wmsoc09wmsoc10wmsoc15On one wall of the gift shop hang an impressive embroidery piece by William’s daughter, May Morris, alongside her full scale sketched design. As this and other surviving examples of her handiwork show, May was a talented designer and embroiderer herself, as well as an editor and activist.

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Today, the society is run by a small number of dedicated staff, volunteers and trustees.

William Morris Society and Museum, Kelmscott House, 26 Upper Mall, Hammersmith W6 9TA

Opening hours: Thursday and Saturday afternoons from 14.00 to 17.00 and at other times by appointment.wmsoc16

Opening text from ‘A Visit to William Morris’, by W. Irving Way, Modern Art, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Summer, 1896), pp. 78-81.

At the Cluny museum

Paris, day 2. Conversation over a breakfast of bread, jam, croissants, tea and espressos centers on visiting the Cluny Museum and especially seeing the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. On arrival, we discover that the tapestries are currently on tour in Japan while their room gets a make-over.

Flip.

As it happenened, this omittance turned out to be not such a bad thing; instead of sitting and staring in awe at the said tapestries before lunch cravings power us round the rest of the museum at high speed, we wander at a leisurely pace prudently admiring all the exhibits.

As you can see from my photos, my camera has a particular liking for uncanny/ headless statues, unconventional representations of Jesus (pulling his step-dad’s beard and riding a donkey on a skateboard) and tapestries depicting unusual gestures of love.

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Fragment de “nappe de Pérouse”: licornes / Fragment of a tablecloth “from Perugia”: unicorns
Italy (Pérouse?), 15th century
Linen and cotton dyed with indigo

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Retable / Altarpiece depicting the Visitation
Ile-de-France, 2nd part of the 14th century

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Groupe sculpté: la Sainte Famille / The Holy Family
Alsace(?), c. 1500. Wood, polychrome

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St Margaret
Master of Pacully (?), End of the 15th century

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The Virgin Mary and St John from a group of the descent from the cross.
Tuscany, 1220-1230, Wood, polychrome.

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The animals disdaining to eat St Stephen.
Brussels, c. 1500. Wool and silk tapestry.

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Church pews
Eastern France(?), 15th century (modern assembly), wood.

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Fox preaching to chickens

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Christ des Rameaux / Palm Sunday Statue of Christ
Southern Germany, last quarter of the 15th century. Wood, polychrome

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Le Retour de la Chasse / Return from the Hunt
Southern Netherlands, c. 1500-20. Wool and silk tapestry.

Dad and Harrietparis11Finally, here’s a picture of my Dad and sister, who made the beautiful dress she’s wearing – and when I say made I mean she made a lino cut, printed the fabric and sewed it together largely by hand. I hope it survives to be admired in a hundred, five hundred, a thousand years time.. but just in case it doesn’t, I’ve got it on camera.