In the second of my IASH Twitter Takeover ‘favourite collages’ posts, I want to talk about something that you might not think about as being a collage at all – two commonplace books made c.1885 by Ellen Warter, the granddaughter of the Romantic poet Robert Southey, now held at the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh.
Page from the commonplace book of Ellen Warter, granddaughter of Robert Southey, Coll-1559, Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh.
A popular practice since classical antiquity, the production of commonplace books involved the compilation of excerpted texts from a broad array of writers on a variety of topics. Like traditional paper collage, then, they are collections of materials from a range of different sources, reformulated into a new object. Despite this compiled and composite nature, commonplace books are rarely conceived of in relation to collage. Instead, they tend to be discussed more as records of reading practices, knowledge exchange, and education.
Yet Ellen Warter’s commonplace books tell a more complex story than this.Warter devoted over 300 pages of her volumes to the lives and literature of the Brontë family, who were the objects of her sustained estimation, affection, and documentation. This specific emphasis upon the Brontës relates Warter’s albums to a specific type of album-making: namely, the production of volumes dedicated to literary celebrities, a practice enacted throughout the nineteenth century. Beyond this fascination with the Brontës however, the practice of commonplacing was firmly intertwined with Warter’s own family history. As the granddaughter of Robert Southey, she was part of a family whose own commonplacing and album-making spanned several generations. Warter’s grandfather, aunts, mother, and father all made, or contributed to the production of, composite volumes, a literary inheritance that places Warter’s own productions within a longer history and set of material practices. Crucially, such practices were also enacted within the broader Romantic circle, with Southey contributing to the volumes of his friends’ daughters, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Caroline Bowles, Charles Lamb, and Edward Quillinan reciprocally adding poems to the albums of Edith Southey, Warter’s mother. For Warter then, commonplacing was not only an educative practice, but an inherently social one, with her compilation of ‘Brontëana’ consistent with the collective practices of her own extended literary family.
More than the sum of their collaged parts then, Warter’s commonplace books are not only a collection of individual details and textual clippings, but evoke the broader contexts of authorship, celebrity, and collaboration.
IASH Twitter Takeover – Favourite Collages #1 – ‘Collection of botanical collages from the circle of Booth Grey.’
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this week I’m over on the IASH twitter talking about my research project, Collage before Modernism. Yesterday, I asked you what some of your favourite collages were – and the results included: Joseph Cornell’s amazing boxes; quilts from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s 2010 exhibition; and queer zines, such as those preserved on archive.qzap.org/ .
Each day for the rest of this week, I’m going to introduce you to some of MY favourite collages, and first up, it’s this series of Botanical Collages from the Circle of Booth Grey, now housed at Yale Center for British Art (YCBA).
I was lucky enough to spend a month at YCBA in May this year as part of their Visiting Scholarship programme. During this time I looked at a huge amount of amazing material, but perhaps the most puzzling was the ‘Collection of botanical collages from the circle of Booth Grey.’ With their black grounds and stark attention to the details of the plants that they replicate, the collages clearly echo those made by Mary Delany, many of whose infamous and extensive series of botanical collages – what she called her ‘paper mosaicks’ – are now in the collections of the British Museum. Delany’s collages just one example of Delany’s industrious material production – she also made shell work, engaged in needlework, and drew and painted. As such, the collages have been discussed in terms of feminine accomplishment, craft practices, botanical amateurism, and female friendship, all of which provide compelling contexts in which to understand these works. Grey’s collection, however, complicates this paradigm.
The attribution to Grey – an elite male – is accordingly tentative. The series’ current record title on the YCBA catalogue – ‘Collection of botanical collages from the circle of Booth Grey’ – indicates only an ambiguous relationship to Grey. He is not necessarily identified as artist, or owner, we are told only that the collages have some connection to him. Yet this identification was prompted by some fairly compelling evidence: an inscription on the original album that once held these collages ’98 Plants done by the Honble. Booth Grey’, ‘done’, here, of course, suggesting that they were ‘made’ by Grey.
Grey certainly could have come into contact with Delany: as the younger son of the Countess of Stamford, and whose older brother was married to the Duchess of Portland’s daughter Henrietta, Grey was part of the elite, and crucially, creative, social circle in which Delany also moved. Kohleen Reeder also supposes that Grey even gave Delany some of her specimens, highlighting a potential relationship that was directly related to these material and artistic practices. Yet despite these corroborating details, there is a palpable reluctance to link Grey to these objects, a feeling that something about this picture must be wrong. Key to this hesitancy, I think, is a general assumption that men simply did not make collage – certainly not during this period, in the late eighteenth century. By 1912 of course, and the advent of Modernism, men certainly did make collage, and that collage was definitively art. This is the date of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque’s earliest papier collé, as exemplified by works such as Picasso’s Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper of 1913. By this point, collage has become a key visual weapon in the attack on traditional painted representation; a central form of Modernist experimentation. This narrative of the Modern invention of collage, however, entirely divorces it from those images and objects that preceded it. The paper flowers of Delany, and, maybe, of Grey, lie far from Picasso’s radicalism, tinged by their association with the explicitly female frameworks of craft, amateurism, and the domestic.
Yet attention to collages like those ‘from the circle of Booth Grey’ – whatever that ultimately might mean – provide a chance to challenge this neatly drawn timeline with its rigid, teleological chronology. Instead they allow us to rethink the relationship between collage and craft; between masculinity and modernism. During my Postdoctoral Fellowship at IASH, I’ll be teasing out this complex relationship in my article, ‘Collage, Masculinity, and the Modern: Gendered Art Histories 1780-1912’, which is forthcoming as part of the Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies Special Issue, ‘Making Masculinity: Craft, Gender, and Material Production in the Long Nineteenth-Century’ that I’m co-editing with Dr Katie Faulkner. Whatever the ‘truth’ around Booth Grey’s collages, they provoke a number of questions that I am excited to try and answer.
Hatfield Family Bible, Case folio BS185 1838.N4, Newberry Library
A round up of CFPs, conferences, and posts from the last week (…or so).
First up: a bit of self promo. There’s still a little while left before the deadline for our call for articles for the special issue of Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies, Making Masculinity: Craft, Gender, and Material Production in the Long Nineteenth Century. We’d love to see articles from you! The full CFA is available here.
Similarly, Cole Collins and I are really excited to read your collage-related abstracts for our upcoming conference Collage, Montage, Assemblage: Collected and Composite Forms, 1700-Present. The CFP is available here, and we even wrote a post on our favourite scholarly works on collage here.
Next, this post from the Newberry’s blog, The Rite Stuff, examining ‘Family History in a Bible’. I really enjoy the object biography approach taken to the object.
CFPs that caught my eye this week included:
CFP – Passing: Fashion in American Cities
CFP – Interior Provocations – Interiors without Architecture
CFP – Making Things Modular
CFP – Fire and Water: Entangled Histories of Empire and Science in the Early Modern Americas
CFP – Remarkable Things: The Agency of Objecthood and The Power of Materiality
CFP – Creative Pedagogies: Approaches to the Commonplace Book
CFP – C19: Acts of Consumption: Performance, Bodies, Culture
CFP – Crafting an Enlightened World: Patronage & Pioneers
Today marks the beginning of my last week of my Short-Term Research Fellowship at the Winterthur Museum, so once the craziness of the summer has passed, I’ll be back to regular Week in Review posts, so watch this space!
My review of the National Museum of Scotland’s Summer exhibition Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites is now up on the BSECS Criticks site. Read it here.
Last week I was in London for the excellent Sibylline Leaves: Chaos and Compilation in the Romantic Period conference. In this post, I’ll try to cobble together some coherent thoughts generated by the event, particularly in terms of how the ideas raised relate to my own work on collage in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The conference marks the bicentenary of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poetry collection Sibylline Leaves, whose title references Virgil’s Cumaean Sibyl, and the ‘fragmentary and widely scattered state’ of her ‘leaves’. Indeed, the entire conference teemed with scattered, flying, volatile and fugitive leaves, and presented a range of approaches and ideas as to their interpretation.
Beginning with Seamus Perry’s keynote on Coleridge’s desultory nature (in terms of both his indolence and his variousness), the conference’s deep consideration of the language we use to discuss this material was incredibly evocative. Various terms were repeatedly mapped out, tested, and explored, but desultory was one to which a number of speakers returned. Likewise, Coleridge’s own play with words was also highlighted, particularly the irony in titling a collection of collected poems ‘Sibylline Leaves’, given that the Sibyll’s own leaves were never collected up again. Here then, the desultory might work as part of a self-conscious, self-reflexive consideration of the fragmented and the various.
Other panels over the two days explicitly engaged with the practices of notebook making and commonplacing, literary processes that my own work on collage also touches upon. Ruth Abbott, for example, presented fascinating work on Wordsworth’s notebooks, stressing the importance of reading such objects as whole, creative documents; whilst stressing the familial and collective nature of their production; and considering transformations of poetry, to prose, and back again.
The conference also had a ‘reading group’ type session in the middle of its first day, where we discussed Michael Gamer’s work on self-collecting in the creation of works like the Sibylline Leaves. Interestingly, Gamer employs frameworks from the history of collecting in his discussion, something I wish to adopt/adapt in my own work on literary self-fashioning and production.
Other papers stressed the materiality of Romantic literary production, from Jeremy Elprin’s wonderfully rich paper on Coleridge’s ‘Sonnet in nubibus’, which highlighted how Coleridge had transcribed the poem on a piece of seaweed, to Deidre Shauna Lynch’s magisterial second-day keynote, ‘Loose Leaves, Floral Slips and the Romantic Book’. Lynch’s keynote was particularly interesting for me as she discussed many of the objects that I have just been looking at at YCBA, and other volumes that I’m intending to see at Manchester, New York, and the Houghton Library in the future. What I was particularly struck by in Lynch’s paper however, was her emphasis on not merely the compilation of such volumes, but their related disentanglement: ranging from the moment of their acquisition (i.e. before their integration within the album/volume/book); ideas surrounding their ‘clippability’; or the potential of these gathered leaves to become loose once more. This was a revolution in my thinking, as my definition for collage in my postdoctoral project has been almost wholly concerned with the coming together of objects to make a new whole; disparate elements, brought together in a new formulation. Yet Lynch’s paper highlighted that these were indeed ‘Sibylline Leaves’, papers that behaved badly, and whose very precarity was actively reflected upon and visually acknowledged by their makers.
I presented my own research on the commonplace books of Ellen Warter at the end of the first day of the conference (my abstract is available here), and received some very provocative and encouraging feedback. I’m excited to use some of the frameworks I encountered at the event in developing this research further, particularly Lynch’s emphasis on the highly self-aware nature of the Romantic album.
My object of the week is this INCREDIBLE Album of Seaweed Pictures from 1848, now held at the Brooklyn Museum. The album was made as a gift for Augustus Graham, a member of the first board of directors of the Brooklyn Apprentice’s Library, later to become the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences and the Brooklyn Museum.
I was really sorry to miss the Beyond Between Men symposium, so I hugely enjoyed reading Rachel E. Moss’s round-up blog post about the event. You can read it here.
The BAVS Talks 2017 videos are now all up online. You can take a look here.
CFP: CAA 2018 – Imperial Islands: Vision and Experience in the American Empire after 1898
Although the CFP deadline for the Home Comforts: The physical and emotional meanings of home in Europe, 1650-1900 conference has now passed, I still wanted to bring attention to this fascinating-sounding conference, which intersects interestingly with my current book project.
The edited volume Feminism and Art History Now: Radical Critiques of Theory and Practice, is out now from I B Tauris, and will be an essential resource for anyone using feminist theory in their art historical writing.
Issue 6 (Summer 2017) of British Art Studies is now live. The special issue focuses on Invention and Imagination in British Art and Architecture, 600–1500, and examines lots of fascinating objects at length and in depth.
Other conferences, CFPs, etc that caught my eye this week included:
- CONF: Re/presenting the Body (Glasgow, 6-7 Jul 17)
- CFP: Jewellery Matters (Amsterdam, 16-17 Nov 17)
- CONF: Film|Bild|Emotion (Regensburg, 20-21 Jul 18)
- CFP: Collecting Medieval Sculpture (Paris, 23-24 Nov 17)
- CONF: Nineteenth-Century Art in Islamic Countries (Vienna, 6-9
- CFP: Temporary and Mobile Domesticities, 1600 to the present – 10.10.2017, London
- CFC: Special Issue of The History of the Family
- CFP: Issue: Material and Visual Cultures of Religion in the American South