David Cox and the artist’s muse

Image of Kenilworth Castle by David CoxMany painters famously have a muse, a model they are inspired to draw over and over again, someone often deeply entwined into their personal as well as their professional lives. Landscape painters, too, may have scenes that they turn to regularly over their career, becoming re-inspired as they interpret the view in a new way.

Birmingham-born artist David Cox (1783-1859) painted a large watercolour of Kenilworth Castle in 1806, the year after he first exhibited at the Royal Academy. This painting is now in Birmingham Museum’s collection and is critically considered his earliest important work. He went on to revisit this landscape throughout his career.

By contrast, this watercolour from the Worcester City museum collection by Cox dates to the very end of his career, just two years before his death. By 1856 his health meant he was no longer able to paint out of doors unaccompanied, but that didn’t stop him returning to the inspiration of his muse landscape. Even as he was suffering from his final bronchial illness in 1859, he still managed to send seven pictures for exhibition to the Watercolour Society.

Other watercolours of Kenilworth by David Cox are held in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Government Art Collection, and more at Birmingham Museums.

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A Thirteenth Century Pottery Puzzle

web-saintonage-pitcher-c-museums-worcestershireIn 1965 construction work was underway in Worcester city centre on the building which would become the Giffard Hotel (now the Travelodge). Henry Sandon, who would in later years, become well known for his work on BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, was then a member of the Worcester City Archaeological Research Group and kept an archaeological watching brief on the construction work in order to monitor the area for any archaeological discoveries that might be unearthed. The area known as Cathedral Plaza was once part of the hustle and bustle of the Roman, Anglo Saxon, and later, the medieval city.
This pitcher was imported to Worcester in the thirteenth or fourteenth century from the Saintonge region in south-west France. The pot’s fabric is a hard, fine, whitish ware with a yellow tone to the outside and a green glaze to the upper part of the body of the pot. The form or shape of the pot, with its three strap handles, belongs to a type that endured for centuries. It’s most likely use was to hold wine. At the time of its discovery, it generated excitement, being one of only seven known examples in Britain.
It was found in a vast number of small pieces in one of two wells which were excavated under the direction of Philip Barker, the then lecturer in extra-mural activities at the University of Birmingham, and a pivotal figure in the development of archaeology in Worcester.
The pitcher is not only fascinating in the story it tells of a wealth that could afford such imported ware in the late thirteenth century in our city but also of the feat of conservation undertaken by staff at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London.
The tiny sherds of pottery from Well 2 were painstakingly reconstructed into a complete pottery vessel that is still a favourite whenever it is displayed or encountered on store tours. It is an object that is examined and talked about as much for its conservation as its archaeological value. More information about this beautiful pitcher can be found on Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service’s Online Ceramics Database.

A Decadent Still Life – Still Life Group, 1972 by Albert Hodder

web-albert-hodder-still-life-c-museums-worcestershireStill life paintings take everyday objects as their focus such as fruit and vegetables, flowers, objects and sometimes dead animals or fish. The choice of objects and how they are shown give clues to the meaning of the artwork.
The tradition of still life painting as we know it has its roots in the Northern Renaissance. Painted in 1872 by British artist, Albert Hodder (1845-1911), this still life group from Worcester City’s collection draws on the history of genre painting and Neo-Classical Italian art with classical columns visible in the background. These fluted pillars and the grapes and vines almost certainly places this scene in Italy, a country known for fine wines and delicious food.
Whereas in some still life paintings, the image of rotting fruit or skulls serve to remind the viewer of the passing of time and the impermanence of material objects, others celebrate life’s pleasures such as wine, exotic food and flowers. Although this painting shows a dead bird, it is not a message of mortality but an image of fecundity: a bounty of vegetables, exotic fruit and game for the table.

The Big Cone Pine, or “Widow-maker” tree

web-pine-cone-c-museums-worcestershireThe Coulter pine or Big Cone Pine (Pinus Coulteri) is a tree native to the coastal mountains of Southern California & Northern Mexico. The species was discovered in 1832 and named after the Irish botanist Thomas Coulter. It is quite rare in the wild but it can be found in arboretums & parks even here in southern Britain.

The cone it produces is the heaviest of any pine, weighing up to 5kg (11Ibs) and covered with hook-like tips on the end of the scales. With this in mind, the tree is often referred to as the “widow-maker”! Foresters, grounds men and owners alike are advised to wear hard hats whilst working under them.

Our particular cone comes from the collection of H R Munro, a former forester of the Witley Court Estate who in 1948 donated his cones, wood samples & fungi to Worcester City Museum.

Garston Phillips

Lea and Perrins – The Original and Genuine

In 1837 a Broad Street chemist shop was managed by Messer’s John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins, who sold their own range of in-house lotions and tonics. Like most apothecaries at the time, medicines were only part of their trade and they sold everything from rose water to flea ointment.
Legend has it that a “Gentleman of the County” asked the chemist to make up a tonic that he had encountered on his travels. Research has identified and subsequently dismissed Lord Sandys as the often-proclaimed source of the recipe, and the Gentleman in question is still as big a mystery as its contents. The chemist made up a large batch of the sauce so that they could sample it.
They found it most disgusting and confined it to the cellar. On the verge of disposing of the batch some time later, they discovered it had matured into something delicious and decided to market it.
Using their reputation for reliability, they included new samples in with their orders. It intensified the flavour of soups and spiced up meat and fish dishes, particularly if the meat was past its best.
Regular orders soon came flooding in and in a matter of years Lea and Perrins were manufacturing more of the sauce than any other product. “Worcestershire Sauce” and its phenomenal success led to new staff, premises and eventually a factory in Midland Road. The rest is history.
There were, and still are, many imitators, but the Original and Genuine Worcestershire Sauce is still manufactured in Worcester.

Bust of Edward Evans (1789-1871) by William Brodie

web-edward-evans-sculpture-c-museums-worcestershireIn the mid-nineteenth century, the talented Scottish sculptor William Brodie turned his hand to create this lifelike bust of Edward Evans. In 1830 Evans, along with William Hill, founded the vinegar makers Hill & Evans, who by 1903 had the largest vinegar works in the world, in Lowesmoor, Worcester.

William Brodie (1815-1887) was born in Banff in Scotland and became a prolific portrait sculptor who, thanks to the verity and technical skills shown in his works, became a member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1859. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a popular way to depict gentry, land owners, politicians and other important figures was to commission well-known sculptors to create marble, bronze and plaster busts. The Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum sculpture collection includes works by Brock, Papworth, Baily and Kirk, in addition to this bust by Brodie which is on display in the museum.

By 1851, Edward Evans was also Managing Director of the Worcester City and County Banking Company. This bust originally belonged to the Worcester Bank, along with the bust of R Padmore by Papworth and we have evidence that both pieces were loaned by the Bank for display at the Worcester Exhibition of 1882. Worcester Bank was taken over by Lloyds and they presented these busts to the gallery in 1902.

worcestershire-exhibition-1882-catalogue-william-brodieGarston D Phillips

Jefferys family portraits by John Russell

A few years ago, Worcester City Museum and Arts Council were bequeathed four portraits of the Jefferys (also spelled Jefferies) family from Kidderminster. Three of which are by the renowned pastelist John Russell RA (1745 – 1806).

John Russell, Portrait of Matthew Jefferys, 1775
John Russell, Portrait of Matthew Jefferys, 1775

Inspired by the work of his master Francis Cotes and Rosalba Carriera, whose work he collected, John Russell worked mostly in oil pastel and would smudge the outlines then add finishing details in black. In 1772, Russell wrote Elements of Painting with Crayons which is available on Google books here. In 1788 he was Elected Royal Academician and went on to be appointed Crayon (pastel) Painter to King George III in 1790. Russell charged 30 guineas for a head portrait such as this and up to £150 for full-length group paintings – prices comparable to Joshua Reynolds PRA. Works by Russell are now held in prestigious galleries across the UK including The Fitzwilliam Museum, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery and Victoria & Albert Museum, among others.

Although best known for pastel portraits, Russell was also an amateur astronomer and mathematician and used a powerful refractor along with his artistic skills to map the moon – Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery hold a wonderful example in their collection.

WorcesterAG-20150303-153
Att. John Russell, Portrait of John Jefferys

The earliest portrait from the collection is a pastel on paper of John Jefferies (1714 – 1785) and is attributed to John Russell (Right). John Jefferys was an affluent corn miller and leased the Kidderminster town mill. With his growing wealth, he bought Franche Hall in 1796.

Along with his son and heir, Matthew, John was among the members of the non-conformist congregation in Kidderminster who broke away become leaders of New Meeting.

The most lavish portrait from the Jefferies family collection is of Matthew Jefferies (1740 – 1814), the eldest son of John Jefferies and was created in 1775 (top). Matthew followed his father’s footsteps and took over the town mill and, building on the family fortune, became one of Kidderminster’s wealthiest residents. He purchased a number of local manor houses and built Blakebrook House in Kidderminster sometime before 1795. In 1769 a Mr Matthew Jefferies of Kidderminster was listed among local dignitaries as a ‘subscriber’ in a book of poetry by the blind writer Pricilla Pointon, which offers some insight into a possible philanthropic nature and an interest in the arts.

John Russell, Portrait of Thomas Jefferys, 1805
John Russell, Portrait of Thomas Jefferys, 1805

The most recent artwork in the collection by Russell is an 1805 oil on canvas portrait of Matthew’s younger brother, Thomas Jefferies (1742 – 1820) (Right). Thomas was a goldsmith and worked from Cockspur Street in London.

Russell is known to have travelled Worcester in 1780 and Kidderminster in 1788, then returned to Worcester and Kidderminster in 1781. But the dates we have (1775 and 1895) do not correlate with these and suggest that the sitters may have travelled to London to have their portrait taken. Thomas Jefferys (1717 – 1785), one of John’s three brothers was a cartographer and map maker to King George III, perhaps Thomas Jefferies met John Russell due to their overlapping cartographic interests and was introduced to Thomas’ brother John’s family? Or as John Russell was also a devout Methodist, perhaps his own and the Jefferys family’s non-conformist beliefs brought them together?

These portraits are not only a beautiful collection of works by a significant artist but also offer a fascinating insight into the financial, social and cultural gentrification of this Kidderminster trade family.

 

Artworks Accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance tax and allocated to Worcester City Council for display at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum, 2010

Gloves made by Dents for Christian Dior, late 1950s

“Day or night, gloves will always provide you with a splash of colour” Christian Dior.


For centuries, Worcester was THE centre of the British glovemaking industry. We know that its history as a leather-making town goes back to Roman times and with the arrival of the Dents glove factory in 1777, it became world famous for its wares. By the twentieth century, fashion houses were commissioning Worcester firms to make their gloves. One firm, Milore, worked with several young fabulous designers including Zandra Rhodes and Manolo Blahnik before he became more famous for his shoes beloved of celebrities.
These gloves from the Worcester City collection were made by Dents in Worcester late in the 1950s, just as the fashion for gloves changed to wrist-length rather than the longer and more formal-looking.
Christian Dior had exploded onto the fashion scene in 1947 with his feminine ‘New Look’. This collection made a sensation and rejuvenated post-war Paris. Each dress was made from a luxurious 20 metres of fabric, very different from war-time restrictions.
Dior was a shrewd entrepreneur as well as a designer. He quickly opened a ready-to-wear boutique on Fifth Avenue in New York and expanded their range so that a woman could buy every piece of clothing – including gloves – she needed just from Dior. He also trained Pierre Cardin and Yves Saint Laurent, with YSL going on to design the collection and taking it to even more radical styling after Dior’s early death in 1957.

The Sidbury Chafing Dish

This beautiful dish is a firm favourite with visitors to our collection stores and has been displayed often in exhibitions about Tudor or post medieval Worcester. It dates to the sixteenth or seventeenth century and was found during excavations in Sidbury ahead of the construction of City Walls Road in the 1970s.
This type of pottery was produced in Hanley Swan in Worcestershire from the late thirteenth to the early seventeenth century in a multitude of different forms (or shapes) and by the time this dish was manufactured, this Malvernian pottery was exported across a large area to the south of Bristol and along the coast of South Wales.
This particular pot is a chafing dish, a portable vessel which was designed to take hot coals or charcoal and was used for the preparation of foods that needed to be kept warm or cooked gently at the table. Metal chafing dishes are also known such as one found in a chest on the wreck of the Mary Rose, used by a barber-surgeon for heating up irons, pitch or wax.
This object’s appeal, though, lies in its unusual appearance: its six large teeth, interspersed with smaller white examples, its applied and pierced decoration, the ring hanging from one of the handles and its vivid orange glaze.