Possession at a decadent pace

The world moves at such an incredible pace that it is easy to forget how joyful taking your time over something can be, whether its eating, walking or simply just being.

About a month ago I started reading possession by A.S Byatt and rather than read it voraciously over a couple of days I decided to take my time and luxuriate in its beautiful prose. Just the act of reading it slowly and carefully has left me feeling refreshed, inspired and creative. I have only read about two hundred pages so far, so I’m not even half way through yet and am very excited to see what happens next…

So far Possession has inspired me to revisit the beautiful fairy-like poetry of Mary Coleridge and to read’ Christabel’ by her great great Uncle Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Both these poets have a lovely enchanted and uncanny quality to their writing but since ‘The Deserted House ‘ by Mary Coleridge is a current favourite here it is:

The Deserted House

There’s no smoke in the chimney,
And the rain beats on the floor;
There’s no glass in the window,
There’s no wood in the door;
The heather grows behind the house,
And the sand lies before.

No hand hath trained the ivy,
The walls are grey and bare;
The boats upon the sea sail by,
Nor ever tarry there.
No beast of the field comes nigh,
Nor any bird of the air

Bewitching Sculpture: Icons of Marble, Bronze and Stone

Sculpture seems to be having a well deserved moment in the sun within the media at the moment, I hope the interest will be sustained. We seem to give less attention to Sculpture than to paintings, just visiting any art gallery confirms this. I am interested in how people conduct themselves within the gallery space and I have noticed that Sculpture galleries are often treated as corridors, simply walked through en route to reach the picture galleries.

I do not profess to know a great deal about sculpture, that I love it, is enough for me.

I find the details of sculpture bewitching, particularly, hands and feet. A well sculpted pair of hands can be incredibly articulate as with the hands of John Gibson’s 1860 Marble, Pandora ( V & A ). Gibson successfully articulates through Pandora’s hands her indecision. Pandora is on the cusp of action then pulls back from it for a brief moment, her hands revealing a feverish desire to open the box and a tension that she should not. This paradoxical sense of action and inaction could be said to be an intrinsic trait of many Pandora sculptures, however, I feel that hands of Gibson’s Pandora are more successful than most at conveying this inner conflict.

‘A roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace’.

I love the bombastic quality of the Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto, but on the topic of the Victory of Samothrace, we are diametrically opposed. The first sighting of the Winged Victory of Samothrace at the top of a beautiful staircase in the Louvre is really something to behold. She rises above everything around her elevated by her beauty and physical presence. As one of my favourite sculptures I am constantly amazed at her scale and the simple fluidity of her lines. The floating gossamer robe, the sense of motion and a complete sense of awe at the capability of the hands that released her from the block of marble in around 190 bc, for me makes the Victory absolutely breathtaking. Moreover, despite the Futurist’s manifesto declaration regarding the Victory, a comparison of Umberto Boccioni’s bronze, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, to the Victory reveals a parity of line and motion – the Victory is perhaps more of an influence than they would care to admit!

Cemeteries have some of the most exquisite examples sculpture. Jules Dalou’s life size bronze of the journalist Victor Noir is perhaps one of the most extraordinary grave memorials I have seen. Extraordinary, not because it has any radical qualities, it is a bronze in the tradition of bronzes. Its quality is derived from its heightened sense of corporeality. Approaching the grave is like arriving immediately upon the scene of Noir’s death, it is easy to imagine the duel in which he died as you stand next to the memorial. The beautifully crisp top hat is a bewitching detail, looking as if it had toppled to the ground as he fell.

Noir’s monument has also become something of a fertility symbol owing to the infamous sculpted protuberance. I love that as a memorial to a deceased 19th century man in Paris’s Pere La Chaise, a veritable city of the dead, Victor Noir has become a symbol of life and hope.

I love so many pieces of sculpture that it would be impossible to list and describe them here, so instead I have created in addition to the pieces already described a short list of favourites.

  1. Apollo and Daphne by Gian Lorenzo Bernini at the Borghese Gallery, Rome
  2. The Tinted Venus by John Gibson, The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
  3. The Pieta by Michelangelo, St Peters Basilica, Rome
  4. Clytie by G.F Watts, a bronze version can be seen at the V & A London and a marble at the Harris Museum, Preston.
  5. Oscar Wilde’s Funerary monument by Jacob Epstein, Pere La Chaise Cemetery, Paris.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti – The Card-Dealer


From the soporific cadence of its opening line, ‘The Card-Dealer’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), unfolds its narrative in languid seduction. With masterly skill, the poem transports the reader to a heady non-corporeal plane; the space between the gossamer veil of life and death.

The poem was inspired by a painting by the symbolist artist Theodore Von Holst1 entitled The Wish (also known as The Fortune Teller (1840). Dominating the centre of the canvas the figure of a woman stares out; her face is heavily shadowed contrasting with the bright illumination of her hands and the cards she deals. Her dark penetrating eyes hold the viewer whilst her hands and cards seal their fate. Rossetti’s poem serves as a commentary on the painting and successfully articulates the paintings rhythms with the use of a slow metronomic meter that hypnotizes the reader.

‘Could you not drink her gaze like wine
Yet, through its splendour swoon
Into the silence languidly
As a tune into a tune
Those eyes unravel the coil’d night
And know the stars at noon.’

If we view the opening line as an intoxicant contrived by Rossetti to lull the reader into a heady drunkenness, then we have to consider the lines that follow as a means to reduce the reader to a malleable stupor. Within this dream-space the lines ‘into the silence languidly, as a tune into a tune’ evokes the notion that the reader is falling into the card-dealer’s rhythm, she is pre-ordained to ensnare those she encounters just as the reader is pre-destined to be caught. Powerless the reader is fast within the card-dealer’s grip, too mesmerised to attempt extrication.

As the poem progresses the card-dealer develops the mythical aura of the femme fatale, with a decadent beauty described in terms of precious metals– her hair is described as woven gold and she is decadently bejeweled:

‘Blood-red and purple, green and blue,
The great eyes of her rings’

The Card-Dealer has a magical ‘stillness’ that electrifies the air around her, she is otherworldly and in essence she is at the centre of humanity around who all other life must orbit.

Each verse is a card in her hand to be played and is an extension of her will. The final three verses make clear what her role is to the reader and allude to the true role of the cards: ‘The heart that doth crave…the diamond skill’d to make the base seem brave’ and chillingly ‘the spade, to dig a grave’. The final verse brings the denouement:

‘Her game in thy tongue is call’d life
As ebbs thy daily breath
When she shall speak, thou’lt learn her tongue
And know she calls it death’.

Rossetti greatly admired the painting by Von Holst and to some extent it illustrates Rossetti’s predilection towards the narrative and figurative power of the femme fatale, indeed this motif surfaces with rhythmic regularity throughout Rossetti’s career from Beatrice to Lilith the seductress.

1. The Rossetti archive

The card dealer http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-card-dealer/

Martin Greenland – ‘New Fiction’

‘New Fiction’ is the current exhibition of Martin Greenland’s work at the Cornerstone Gallery at Liverpool Hope University. Consisting of approximately 20 works the exhibition marks a triumphant return to Liverpool for Greenland following his success in 2006 when he won the John Moores painting prize for his work Before Vermeer’s Clouds.

A statement for ‘New Fiction’ asserts that the works in the exhibition represent ‘ the balance between the believable, based upon what is seen, and the unbelievable, the unseen’; and without a doubt there is something of the uncanny within Greenland’s paintings.  juxtaposing the familiar with the strange Greenland creates a truly ‘das unheimlech’ sensation; the viewer is disquieted, yet seduced. A wonderful articulation of this sensation can be found in works such as End of Empire and Northumberland, Before and After (No3). Both canvasses are texturally rich and suffused with velveteen darkness, that in the Edmund Burke use of the word are sublime. They have an eerie gothic quality in the best tradition of Ann Radcliffe’s 1791 novel The Romance of the Forest.

End of Empire, with its decaying building surrounded by dark and claustrophobic trees with a beach just visible is a haunting image. The dilapidated building could be anything from a public Art Gallery to an asylum, its classical architecture at odds with the wild woods that surround and threaten to engulf it. Each of the components, the building, the woods and the beach are familiar in isolation yet combined as they are in this work they are as elusive and dreamlike – it is a place on unreality, a place to escape to and from.

Similarly, Northumberland, Before and After (No3) utilizes a brooding palette of colours again to the effect of creating an ambiguous space that is both beauty and terror combined. However The Flood and Playground could be considered the polar opposites to the works already discussed. Both these works are bright daylight scapes with open breathable compositions but are no less sinister for it. If anything I found these paintings infinitely more disquieting than the dark canvasses. They have a different sense of dereliction, where End of Empire has the sense of gentility in decay, Playground feels like an abrupt abandonment, largely due to the palpability of humanity, there is a trace of what was and what could be again.

Although the landscape is dominant within Martin Greenland’s paintings, for me they are not Landscape paintings, they are more charged and more personal than that. There is nothing twee about the subject matter or the emotions they evoke and are definitely worth spending a couple of hours with so as to fully absorb and appreciate the nuanced atmosphere of each work.

Martin Greenland – New Fiction is at the Cornerstone Gallery, Liverpool Hope University from 18th September to 12th November 2010

Cornerstone Gallery  http://www.hope.ac.uk/cornerstone-gallery/welcome-to-the-cornerstone-gallery.html

Martin Greenland  http://www.martingreenland.co.uk/

The Visual Culture of Folk Music Part 2a: Ready Steady Folk!

Ready Steady Folk! 

In conversation with Steve Hardstaff, Artist, Designer & Performer

Click here to watch part 2a:  Ready Steady Folk!

Part 2a Filmed and presented by Stella-Louise Halliwell

With thanks to Steve Hardstaff, The Bolton Archive, The Working Class Movement Library, Jim Moray, Topic Records,
Anthony Doherty & Guy Kilgallen

Please note that every endeavour has been made to seek permission to use all the materials featured in this production.
The production team remains pursuant of permission to reproduce any image or sound recording not listed above.

The Visual Culture of Folk Music, Part One: Victorian Articulations

The short documentary Victorian Articulations has now been removed.

Many galleries kindly licensed images for a short period owing to the project being a student one, the rights to use certain images has now expired.

To all those who helped with the project I would one again like to extend my thanks.

Victorian Articulations written and presented by Stella-Louise Halliwell

Camera operator Anthony M Doherty



Clerk Saunders (1857) by Elizabeth Siddal is reproduced by kind permission of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Sir Patrick Spens (1856) By Elizabeth Siddal is reproduced by kind permission of Tate

The Ballad of Fair Annie (1854-56) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti is Reproduced by kind permission of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Cecil Sharp's photographs William Burland and Mrs Carter reproduced courtesy of English Folk Dance & Song Society.

A Trip on the Metropolitan Railway [Film]1910 appears coutersy of the BFI under the terms of the Creative Archive Licence

Sound recordings 

June Tabor, Clerk Saunders
Martin Carthy  Sir Patrick Spens
Martin Simpson  Fair Annie
All artists appear by the kind permission of  Topic Records

Please note that every endeavour has been made to seek permission to use all the materials featured in this production.

The production team remains pursuant of permission to reproduce any image or sound recording not listed above.
Special Thanks to

Annthony M. Doherty; James Halliwell; Guy Kilgallen; Steve Hardstaff; Bev Sanders; Jim Moray; David Owen; Malcom Taylor at The Vaughan Williams Library ,Cecil Sharp House; Phil Budden at Topic Record; Tom Heaven at BM&AG and Emma Darbyshire at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Pere Lachaise in November is a delight.

Although this section of my Susan Cotton travels continued the study of cemetery aesthetics, the approach was somewhat different. Rather than the cerebral study of the layout etc that had dominated the earlier part of the trips, Pere Lachaise was to be an artistic exploration. I compiled a geek list of all the memorials I intended to visit. My top Five must sees where 1. Oscar Wilde (again) 2. Champollion 3. Moliere 4. Ingres and last but not least Chopin.

My interest in these particular memorials is rooted in my admiration for their ‘ inhabitants’ and in truth I was curious to see how representative of them their memorials would be. I Have visited Oscar Wilde’s grave before and never cease to be moved by the outpouring of emotion there is embodied in the small tokens that people have left. I was similarly overwhelmed at Chopin’s Memorial the devotion is both palpable and very visible. I took over 500 photos in Pere Lachaise, collected autumn leaves and ‘arranged’ natural found objects.

Oscar Wilde



A Gothic Odyssey

Detail of a memorial monument
Detail of a memorial monument

A Gothic heart beats in Bradford,  it is eerie, otherworldly and completely breathtaking.

Undercliffe cemetery opened in 1854 coinciding with beginnings of the gothic revival, to which many of it’s monuments display an absolute affinity. Upon the main promenade with it’s spectacular views across Bradford are some fine examples of high Victorian gothic, tall angular buildings with equilateral arches, foliate decoration and mournful verses. It is like being on the set of a vampire film. The sky is overcast and there is the obligatory rain but the weather and darkness of the day suits the cemetery’s aesthetic perfectly and gives it a sense of the unreal.

Sadly the grand Gothic chapels (along with a number of monuments, trees and walls) were demolished in the 1980s when the cemetery was acquired by developers following the liquidation of the private cemetery company. Thankfully Bradford City Council stepped in and the cemetery was subject to a compulsory purchase order thus saving this Victorian gem from complete destruction.

A dramatic Gothic monument
A dramatic Gothic monument

The layout of Undercliffe is more akin to Loudon’s vision of the cemetery than any other I have visited on this trip, plots are laid out on a grid and path and carriageways are more direct and less fluid than those of Kensal Green, whose layout is more decadent in the use of space. Undercliffe has a very ordered feel, fittingly redolent of our assumptions of  Victorian society in general.

Amidst the very ‘pointy’ monuments are some surprises, the Holden family mausoleum has a classical feel, topped by a cupola it is reminiscent of a Roman basillica. Whilst other monuments mirror the styles witnessed in much earlier cemeteries featuring classically dressed weeping ladies in beautifully draped gowns.

Undercliffe Cemetery from the main promenade
Undercliffe Cemetery from the main promenade

A secondary reason for my visit to the county of my birth, was to undertake a visit of a more familial kind. My Mum and I, having discussed my project decided to visit to Dewsbury cemetery to try to locate the grave of my Mum’s grandparents and great grandparents.  My Mum seemed to find it instinctively and was quite overcome with emotion as we discovered that the grave held seven family members in total. Having looked at so many memorials in a detached and analytical way, visiting a family grave I had not seen before was very moving and an experience I’m glad to have had.

Mourning Jewellery: The Victoria & Albert, Pitt Rivers and Pannett Art Gallery

Ladies in Mourning Costume
Ladies in Mourning Costume

Popularised in the Eighteenth century the giving of commemorative jewellery reached it’s zenith in the 19th Century. The decoration of mourning rings evolved from the language of funerary monuments and often depicted urns, willow trees, broken columns or a weeping woman. If the deceased was a married person the ring would be enamelled in black if the person was a child or single the enamel would be white. During the Victorian period the language of mourning and jewellery was expanded, often commemorative pieces would incorporate a lock of the deceased hair or in some cases would be completely manufactured from hair. Later popularised by Queen Victoria after the death of Prince Albert jewellery crafted from Whitby Jet became highly fashionable and sought after.

After doing some initial research I visited the fabulous collections of commemorative jewellery at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, The Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford and lastly the Pannett Art Gallery at Whitby. The latter has an incredible collection of jewellery made of the famous local jet. As Jet1a material jet is light owing to it being the fossilised wood of the monkey puzzle tree. Therefore in accordance with the high Victorian fashion for dark and heavy clothing large Jet provided a material aesthetically suitable for large and ornate jewellery items without the hindrance of being too heavy for the wearer. During the Great exhibition of 1851 jewellery crafted from Whitby Jet impressed dignitaries such as the Empress of France and the Queen of Bavaria, such famous patronage escalated the fashion for Jet jewellery. However it was not until 1861 following the death of Prince Albert that the nations taste began to mimic that of the monarch and the ‘craze’ for jewellery really took off.

Both The Pannett Art Gallery and The Pitt Rivers Museum have good examples of delicate and highly crafted hair work jewellery. The Pitt Rivers has a beautiful collection of elaborate bead necklaces produced exclusively from the hair of the deceased, though not to modern tastes they represent a period when mourning was all encompassing and remberance paramount ‘Whose hair I wear, I Loved most dear’.

'Whose hair I wear, I loved most dear'
'Whose hair I wear, I loved most dear'

In Arcadia – Arnos Vale Cemetery, Day Five


Arnos Vale Cemetery is spectacular. Set over 45 acres with architecturally beautiful lodges and chapels, it also boasts some of the finest funerary monuments I have seen on this trip so far. The cemetery opened in 1839 and is situated beautifully within a picturesque hilly landscape. The well established trees and shrubs softening the architecture and monuments it feels more like the landscaped park of a large country house than a cemetery.

The land on which the cemetery was established having been parkland linked to an estate already boasted magnificent oak and horse chestnut trees, the cemetery designers wisely included these trees in their designs adding additional specimens associated with classical literature such as rowan, cypress and yew to name but a few.  The trees provide a dramatic backdrop for the beautiful mortuary chapels and monuments, although my understanding is that the landscape had been very groomed in it’s Victorian heyday quite unlike the romantic wilderness it has now become.

Floral Wreath

Every style and use of symbolic decoration can be witnessed on the many monuments and it feels like many of the different elements of  both cemetery and monument design culminate here at Arnos Vale, the diversity is astonishing. The Anglican Chapel is in the Roman Italianate style and is incredibly imposing. But like many the Non-Conformist chapel is built in the Ionic style of a Greek temple, it’s structure is less imposing than the aforementioned perhaps as with Kensal Green stressing the implied ‘importance’ of one set of beliefs over another.

As with Both Highgate and Kensal Green Cemeteries the grandest monuments line the main pathways, or are aligned to significant pieces of architecture such as the Lebanon Circle at Highgate and the Julius Beer Mausoleum  (the largest of all the privately occupied monuments in the cemetery) or the monument of HRH Princess Sophia daughter of George III directly in front of the Anglican Chapel at Kensal Green. At Arnos Vale Cemetery the Chattri or tomb of Raja Rammohun Roy is particularly grand. The Raja who was a social reformer and philosopher died on a visit to Bristol in 1833, his tomb is based on a traditional Bengali funerary monument and is visited annually on the anniversary of his death by representatives from the the Indian High Commission.

Foreground Tomb of Raja Rammohun Roy and Ionic Non-Conformist Chapel arnos1

Arnos Vale Cemetery is currently undergoing conservation and restoration work for more details  about the important work that is taking place and how to visit please visit http://arnosvalefriends.org.uk