Uncompromising women: the fight for the vote

2018 marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act; a law which gave the vote to certain women in Britain, as long as they were over 30 and met a property qualification. Ten years later, women achieved the same voting rights as men. We are also celebrating the 40 year anniversary of female undergraduates being admitted to Trinity College. To honour this landmark year of anniversaries, we have compiled a display highlighting a few of our items relating to women’s suffrage drawn from the Pethick-Lawrence Collection.

Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence

Vehement socialist, Emmeline Pethick met Trinity alumnus, Frederick Lawrence in 1900.

peth9_128-front

After Emmeline denied him marriage a number of times due to her deeply rooted socialism, Frederick began to move left in his political view. The pair married in 1901, combining their names, and soon became major figures in the fight for women’s suffrage.

The Pethick-Lawrences got involved with the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), an organisation founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters in 1903. However, the WSPU tended towards an extreme and violent approach to attaining the vote for women, which led to the incarceration of both Pethick-Lawrences.

This letter from Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence to the WSPU, written from Holloway prison, emphasises her pride in the union, and describes how comforting it is that her prison uniform is green and white, and her library card “faintly purplish”, the same colours that represent the suffrage movement. The choice of these colours for the organisation is attributed to Emmeline.

 

 

Constance Lytton

Lady Constance Bulwer-Lytton (known as Constance Lytton) was an influential British activist and writer in support of suffrage, prison reform and birth control. She is best known for revealing class prejudice in the treatment of imprisoned suffragettes.

Lady Constance was well treated in prison, but when incarcerated under the pseudonym ‘Jane Warton’, a less wealthy suffragette, she had her teeth broken, and was forcibly fed to the point that permanent damage was done to her heart.

 

This note written by Lady Constance highlights her passionate opinion on the necessity of violent protest.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Millicent Garrett Fawcett, suffragist and political leader, who was recently immortalised as a statue that faces Westminster Palace in London, was pioneering in the fight for the right to vote. At 20 years old, Millicent was deemed too young to sign the 1866 petition, but went on to dedicate the rest of her life to attaining votes for women. She died in 1929, only a year after women achieved the same voting rights as men.

In this letter to Lady Constance, Millicent suggests that she is trying to enlist the help of influential men in her campaign for suffrage, such as soon-to-be Prime Minister, David Lloyd George.

 

 

Christabel Pankhurst

Daughter of known radical Emmeline Pankhurst, Christabel Pankhurst wrote this letter to Lady Constance, criticising various powerful men for not doing more to help the cause. She comments on the indignation of suffragettes being incarcerated and abused for such things as “inciting speeches”, while the militant movement in Ulster cost thousands of lives, but the men responsible were walking free.

Christabel’s final words of this letter embody her lively and forthright personality, and confidence in the suffrage movement:

“Thank-goodness we can win without [men] anyhow […] Women winning their own freedom. Glorious thought!”

 

Bindings in the Spotlight (5)

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Jean de Gonet (1950-) is one of the best-known modern French binders.  His work represents a revolution in traditional modern binding featuring visible sewing structures and the use of unusual materials, including metals, rubber and plastic.  On display are a number of examples taken from the Kessler Collection.  As an example of an unusual material, the bindings for Ulysses and Appogiatures use ‘revorim’, de Gonet’s own purpose-designed moulded plastic for book covers.

Nicholas Kessler (matriculated 1958) both bought and commissioned bindings by de Gonet, with whom he had meetings on several occasions.  In notes made by Mr Kessler at one such meeting, de Gonet explains his binding method:

  • Book to open properly
  • Leather or other material on spine separated from cover so that repeated opening of the book will not destroy the join between cover and spine
  • Make the bands on the outside of the spine functional

Mr Kessler recounts their first meeting in 2004 in his own inimitable style, referring to himself as NEK:

‘A meeting was therefore arranged at 3 o’clock on Monday April 26th in Paris.  His studio, in the basement of a building in an inside courtyard, is locked but visitors are instructed to “frappez fort”.  NEK did this.  No reply.  Uncertain, in case JdeG had reverted to the recluse mode, NEK struck the glass portal again and the door opens.  NEK introduces himself and a welcoming smile crosses the face of the door opener who also introduced himself.  “Sorry”, he says, “but there is a psychiatric clinic next door and our door is constantly having to be opened to their patients who mistake our studio for the clinic.  Hence the locking”.  NEK said that he was mad enough to buy expensively bound books but had otherwise, at least to date, not been certified.[!]’

 

 

A Botanical Watercolourist at Trinity: Clarence Bicknell

Trinity College has seen many notable botanists pass through its doors, perhaps most famously John Ray and Francis Willughby, whose magnificent busts by Roubiliac adorn the entrance to the Wren Library. A small exhibition running until 4 July 2018 celebrates the botanical paintings of Clarence Bicknell, a student at Trinity in the 1860s who spent most of his working life in the Italian Riviera, where he died 100 years ago on 17 July 1918.

After graduating from Trinity, Clarence Bicknell followed a familiar path into the church, serving as a curate first in Newington, Surrey then Stoke-on-Tern in Shropshire, where he joined the Brotherhood of the Holy Spirit. This semi-monastic community was founded by another Trinity man, Rowland Corbet, a leading light of the Oxford Movement whose beliefs were contrary to those of the Unitarianism of Clarence’s father. In 1878, perhaps inspired by Corbet’s own visits to the Italian Riviera, Bicknell accepted a one year appointment as deacon of the Anglican church in Bordighera.

Clarence came from an artistic family: his father Elhanan Bicknell, whale oil magnate and art patron, collected works of art by renowned British artists such as Turner, Gainsborough and Landseer, while his mother, Lucinda Browne, was the aunt of Phiz, the illustrator of Charles Dickens’s books. In 1878 Clarence gave up his role in the church to concentrate on botany. He developed considerable skill as a botanical artist: within five years he had painted over 1,100 botanical watercolours and had published Flowering Plants and Ferns of the Riviera. He donated over 3,300 of his botanical plates to Genoa University and another 1,100 are in other museums and collections. Clarence was a driving force in a network of many of the leading botanists of the day such as Emile Burnat in Switzerland, Augusto Béguinot in Genoa and Harold Stuart Thompson in the UK, with whom he exchanged samples and correspondence.

Bicknell’s Flowering Plants and Ferns of the Riviera (1885) beside his copies of kaleidoscopic versions of the same flowers (c.1910)

Clarence started going up into the Maritime Alps behind Bordighera in the 1890s to extend his botanical research from coastal specimens, and also perhaps to escape from the stifling atmosphere of the summer heat and the vie mondaine of the summer visitors on the coast. From 1897 onwards he became more and more absorbed by the study of the prehistoric rock engravings that he had been told existed in the Mont Bégo area, now in the Parc du Mercantour, a French national Park about an hour’s drive north of Nice. He and his helper Luigi Pollini discovered, logged and made rubbings of 11,000 rock engravings and published in 1902 The Prehistoric Rock Engravings in the Italian Maritime Alps.

Clarence’s artistic talents flourished when he could let his creative and design skills come to the fore, when he was not restricted by doing meticulous botanical and archaeological recording. This manifested itself in the creation of hand-painted vellum-bound albums that he did for friends and relations. His niece Margaret Berry gave him a blank album every year which he then returned to her completed. The albums represent the height of Clarence’s artistic talent with a delightful blend of Victorian whimsy and design skill, clearly influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement. At least fourteen are known to exist, seven of which were donated to the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1980 and two of which are on display in the Wren Library.

A Children’s Picture Book of Wild Plants is carefully designed and colour-coordinated, with four plants illustrated on the right often with a frame, and on the left a description of each plant. Clarence, in this and many of the albums, delighted in taking the colours and details of flowers as motifs for the frame and for decorative capital letters.

A Children’s Picture Book of Wild Plants, Bicknell family collection

The Book of Guests in Esperanto provides potted biographies of several of Clarence’s friends in Esperanto. His notes are on the left page with their initials illuminated and a flower in a matching border on the right. Clarence was a great believer in the universal language Esperanto and felt it could be a formula for world peace. He attended international congresses, taught it to friends and wrote poems and hymns. There are pages ranging from eminent botanists and archaeologists to three dogs in the family. This page is for his nephew Arthur Berry, lecturer in mathematics at Cambridge and sometime Vice-Provost of King’s College.

The Book of Guests in Esperanto , Bicknell family collection
Signatures from the Casa Fontanalba Visitors’ Book, Bicknell family collection

The Casa Fontanalba Visitors’ Book was created for Bicknell’s home in the mountains, the Casa Fontanalba, which he built in 1906, adorning it with frescoes of mountain scenes, wild flowers, friezes, initials of visitors and proverbs in Esperanto. The visitors’ book has a wild flower in an arts-and-crafts border on the right and signatures of about 250 visitors, including famous archaeologists, botanists, writers, Esperantists, soldiers and politicians.

 

 

A new film about Clarence Bicknell is available here

See more of  Clarence Bicknell’s paintings in the exhibition ‘Floral Fantasies’ at the Fitzwilliam Museum until 9 September 2018

Marvels: The Life of Clarence Bicknell by Valerie Lester, a new biography, is published in June 2018. For more information see www.clarencebicknell.com.

 

 

Wifredo Lam : Livres d’artiste [2]

Giorgio Upiglio, Wifredo Lam and Ghérasim Luca working on Apostroph’Apocalypse, Milan, 1965

In an earlier post we looked at Wifredo Lam’s collaboration with Antonin Artaud and Aimé Césaire. Here we consider his work in producing books with the writers Ghérasim Luca, René Char and Jean-Dominique Rey.

Apostroph’Apocalypse

Apostroph’Apocalypse, title-page, designed and printed at Giorgio Upiglio’s studio, Milan, 1967 (Milan: Grafica Uno, 1967) Kessler.bb.33 (copy no. 73 of 135)

Wifredo Lam’s grandest and most complex book is the remarkable Apostroph’Apocalypse, a collaboration with the poet Ghérasim Luca (1913–94). In 1952 Luca had fled his native Romania via Israel to Paris, where his work was already known in Surrealist circles through his pre-War publications and his correspondence with André Breton. His poems often involve sophisticated word-play, and Apostroph’Apocalypse is based around the conceit of an apostrophe which breaks words into atomic particles and thereby causes apocalyptic destruction.

Apostroph’Apocalypse, the first page of text with forebodings of nuclear desctruction

The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 provides one of many backdrops to this publication, which was eventually completed in 1967.

Apostroph’Apocalypse was recently described in Le Monde as ‘one of the finest books of the twentieth century’.

Wifredo Lam and Ghérasim Luca travelled to Milan to work on their ambitious publication, in order to take full advantage of the skills available there. The paper was specially manufactured for this edition by Filicarta of Brugherio, with a watermark consisting of the title of the book. Luca’s text presented considerable complexity for its typesetter, Luigi Maestri, in the placement and format not only of each word, but even of individual letters within a word.

The greatest sophistication, however, was reserved for the 14 plates which Lam contributed to the book. In this work he was greatly aided by Giorgio Upiglio, the greatest Italian art printer of the second half of the century. Upiglio devised a method to allow Lam to draw freely on bitumen powder spread on copperplates, which were then heated to fix the drawings before they were bathed in acid. This novel technique enabled a heightened granular texture to the impression of the plates, which gives a more visceral appearance in direct light.

René Char

René Char (1907–88), the great poet whose name is associated as much with the Surrealists as with the Résistance, first discovered Lam’s work at the Galerie Pierre in 1945. The initial shock of the violent forms of Lam’s paintings and the life represented in them was mitigated by the warmth and refinement of the artist’s personality when they met the following year. Their first formal collaboration came in 1953 with Le Rempart de brindilles (The Battlements of Twigs), a brief meditation on the nature of poetry to which Lam contributed 5 etchings.

Char and Lam worked together on a grander scale many years later in Contre une maison sèche (Against a Dry House), a book presenting 17 aphoristic verses by Char alongside 9 large etchings by Lam. The images are in dialogue with the poems, intended not as illustrations so much as ‘illuminations’. Char’s concise texts aim for the re-establishment of ‘a sovereignty within language’. Each page confronts stark images of a freedom present within the material world with enigmatic reflections on history and the corruption of human consciousness. Lam’s plates meanwhile convey explosive movements, fulgurances or metamorphic bolts of lightning.

René Char, Contre une maison sèche, eaux-fortes de Wifredo Lam (Paris: Jean Hugues, 1975 [1976]). Kessler.bb.24 (copy no. 46 of 175)
As with Apostroph’ Apocalypse, Lam worked on the plates at Giorgio Upiglio’s workshop in Milan. The book was published in Paris by Jean Hugues in a luxurious edition on vélin de rives paper in a raw silk-covered folder and slipcase. The typeset portions were printed at the Imprimerie Union in Paris before the sheets were taken to Milan for the printing from plates. The plates are etchings with aquatint in colours, and unusually are cropped to fit the already large pages (380 x 550 mm): the copperplates used for the publication extended a little beyond the edge of the page.

A mock-up of Contre une maison sèche was first displayed in 1971, but it was not until 1976 that the publication was eventually completed. In 1972 Char wrote to Lam to encourage him to finish his work, looking forward to the publication of the book and writing that otherwise the ‘dry house’ of the title would not only dry out but also (financially) ‘dry him out’:

Il serait bien pour moi que tu achèves notre livre. Cette “maison sèche” va, sinon, completement sècher et me sècher!

In a pamphlet issued for the exhibition of the publication of Contre une maison sèche in 1976, Char explains some of the inspiration that lay behind Lam’s vivid plates. He describes his first sight of Lam’s paintings, in the Galerie Pierre Loeb in Paris, in 1947 or 48:

Deux toiles noueuses, agressivement surgies de terre, dégageaient leur violent et lancinant arôme de forêts réconciliées avec personnages imminents (pieds et mains y tentaient une apparition) [. . . ] Les couleurs des cubistes étaient les seules qui convenaient à leurs ouvrages ; les seules couleurs aussi que les œuvres superbes de Lam exigeaint ce jour-là.

 Two knotty canvases, aggressively erected from the ground, released their violent and haunting aroma of forests reconciled with imminent characters (feet and hands were trying to make an appearance) [. . .] The colours of the Cubists were the only ones that suited their works; the only colours as well that the superb works of Lam required on that day.

L’Herbe sous les pavés

At the end of Wifredo Lam’s life he formed a new collaboration with the poet, art critic and writer Jean-Dominique Rey (1926–2016). Their joint publication L’Herbe sous les paves was Rey’s first collection of short stories, a genre in which he was to become well known, and was Lam’s last work, published only weeks before his death.

Jean-Dominique Rey, L’Herbe sous les pavés, eaux-fortes de Wifredo Lam
(Paris: Imprimerie Mérat; Milan: Giorgio Upiglio, 1982). Kessler.a.68 (copy no. 35 of 122)

The title of the collection, L’Herbe sous les pavés, refers to a saying from the revolutionary events of May ’68, ‘there is grass growing under the cobbles’. This was later adapted more famously as ‘sous les pavés la plage’, a reference to the piles of cobblestones forming barricades placed on sandy ground. In both forms there is a direct resonance with the underground movement.

Each of the five short stories in the book is accompanied by an etching. The final plate, a very simple etching in three colours with three dogs, accompanies a story beguilingly entitled L’Aube et puis… (Dawn, and then…). Lam drew on the copperplates in his apartment in Paris. The plates were heated in his kitchen oven by Giorgio Upiglio and then etched at the studio of George Goetz. The text was printed in Paris and the plates in Milan. Lam signed all the copies in July 1982, and a notice of his death (on 11 September) was added in a second colophon.

The exhibition Wifredo Lam: livres d’artistes closes to the general public on 12 June 2018 and to members of college on 14 June, but the collection of books illustrated by Lam remains available for consultation by readers in the Wren Library.

Further Reading:

https://europeancollections.wordpress.com/2018/06/04/wifredo-lam-and-aime-cesaire/#more-12444

http://pluton-magazine.com/2018/06/12/wifredo-lam-a-cambridge-university/