Robert Seymour, 19th-Century Political Cartoonist

Robert Seymour, cover design for Volume One of The Looking Glass, 1830. Seymour depicts John Bull, the archetypal Englishman, turning his head to us and smiling gleefully at the rout of the Tory government by the jubilant Whigs (or Liberals). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Huntington possesses a trove of images from the golden age of British caricature—most notably by artists Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827) and Isaac Cruikshank (1764–1811). It also owns some gems by Robert Seymour (1798–1836), an illustrator whose fame grew around the time of Rowlandson’s death. Today, Seymour is probably best known as the illustrator of the first two installments of Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers (1836), but in his own time, Seymour was a leading political cartoonist.

Seymour benefited from the rise of the caricature magazine, a new format publishers created to appeal to an expanding market of readers who wanted value for money. His best work was for Thomas McLean’s The Looking Glass (1830–36), the most successful and impressive of this new kind of visual satire. The Huntington owns a unique, complete, colored version of this magazine.

Robert Seymour, “The Colossus,” The Looking Glass, Oct. 1831. Seymour shows Lord Brougham (whose name sounded like “broom”) as a colossus who is about to strike the Tories with his giant broom if they do not vote for reform. The scene is funny but also disturbing, as it implies that the new government could become tyrannical. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Looking Glass was published monthly and cost three shillings uncolored or six shillings hand-colored. The method of reproduction was lithography, a printing process in which the drawings were etched on long-lasting stone rather than soft metal. The price of the magazine was not cheap, but each four-page, quarto-size issue included 20 to 30 large and small images. By comparison, a single Rowlandson print in color could cost three shillings or more. This was clearly good value.

One of the factors that boosted the magazine’s success was the quality of the artwork, both in terms of Seymour’s artistry and his political insights. In Seymour’s design for the first bound volume, we see politics as an enjoyable show. He depicts John Bull, the archetypal Englishman, turning his head to us and smiling gleefully at the rout of the Tory government by the jubilant Whigs (or Liberals). Like John Bull, we are spectators gazing into the magical mirror of the political cartoon. Politicians may have power in government, but the magazine cuts them down to size.

Robert Seymour, “The Birth of Political Sin,” The Looking Glass, Nov. 1831. Seymour shows the Duke of Wellington, the hero of Waterloo and the leader of the Tories, as a character from Greek myth. Titled “The Birth of Political Sin,” the scene re-enacts the creation of the goddess Pallas Athena from the head of Zeus. The joke is that Wellington’s stubborn resistance to change had turned public opinion in favor of reform, which he and his party had opposed. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The second factor in the magazine’s success was good timing. The Looking Glass appeared during a period of political turbulence in Britain and Europe. In the wake of the French Revolution in 1830, the new Whig government in Britain introduced a modest Reform Bill designed to give more of the middle-class the vote and abolish “rotten boroughs,” where Members of Parliament could be elected by just a handful of voters. This was fiercely resisted by the Tories, who were led by the Duke of Wellington, the hero of Waterloo.

The political turmoil provided great material for Seymour. In a host of large and small cartoons, he shows Wellington and his Whig opponent Lord Brougham in various slapstick and fantastical situations. The fact that both men had large noses was another gift for Seymour, as was the pronunciation of Brougham’s name, which sounded like “broom.” In one full-page image from 1831, Seymour shows Brougham as a colossus who is about to strike the Tories (including Wellington) with his giant broom if they do not vote for reform. (The Tories did refuse to vote for reform and sparked a series of riots). The scene is funny but also disturbing, as it implies that the new government could become tyrannical.

Robert Seymour, The Schoolmaster Abroad, Plate 1, 1834. Seymour mocks Lord Brougham’s role as a leading figure in working-class education. Brougham’s attempts to convert the British people to his gospel of “useful knowledge” fell on deaf ears. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

About a year later, Seymour showed the defeated Wellington as a character from Greek myth. Titled “The Birth of Political Sin,” the scene re-enacts the creation of the goddess Pallas Athena from the head of Zeus. The joke is that Wellington’s stubborn resistance to change had turned public opinion in favor of reform, but the image is also impressively crafted. Although Seymour parodies Renaissance painting, he also borrows its beauty and compositional balance.

Seymour was a prolific comic illustrator, and The Huntington has several other very rare examples of his superior artwork. One of my favorites is The Schoolmaster Abroad (1834). Brougham is the target again. In this instance, Seymour is mocking Brougham’s role as a leading figure in working-class education. But what strikes me is the energy, vividness, and joyful inventiveness of the cartoons. The first image in this book shows Brougham riding what can only be described as a 19th-century motorcycle powered by steam, his books perched perilously close to the exhaust system. Below him is a horseless stagecoach, a comic example of technological and industrial progress that resembles an object from science fiction. Needless to say, Brougham’s attempts to convert the British people to his gospel of “useful knowledge” fall on deaf ears.

Robert Seymour, front page of Asmodeus; Or the Devil in London, June 30, 1832. Seymour reached out to a working-class readership who could afford to pay just one penny for a monthly installment of this series. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

I also admire the short-lived series Asmodeus in London (1832). It shows Seymour reaching out to a working-class readership who could afford to pay just one penny for the monthly installment. In order to achieve this very low cost, Seymour turned to wood engraving, which allowed images and text to be printed cheaply on the same page.

Seymour was a gifted and astute political cartoonist. Sadly, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1836, before he had even reached the age of 40. We are lucky to have so many examples of his fine work.

Related content on Verso:
A Decidedly British Approach to Humor (Aug. 21, 2015)
A Satirical Look at Georgian Society (Jan. 28, 2015)

Ian Haywood is professor of English Literature at the University of Roehampton in London and a 2016–17 short-term fellow at The Huntington. His books include Romanticism and Caricature and The Gordon Riots: Politics, Culture and Insurrection in Late Eighteenth-Century Britain (co-edited with John Seed).

Fairy Hunting at The Huntington

A fairy door located along the western edge of The Huntington’s Rose Garden. Photo by Kate Lain. The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

The next time you walk through the faux-bois trellises along the western edge of The Huntington’s Rose Garden, see if you can find a small door, carved in miniature at the base of a tree trunk, with a pathway to it resembling a fallen leaf. The door is easy to miss, but it rewards careful observers. Children especially seem to delight in this tiny doorway—as if they expect a fairy to step out at any moment.

While young visitors might seek fairies in The Huntington’s gardens, I search for them in the Library’s collections on the history of science and technology. The Library may seem like an odd place to go fairy hunting. But as a scholar writing a book on the miniature and Victorian literature, I’ve learned this: miniature things have a habit of creating enchantment in the most unexpected places. And, despite the seeming unlikelihood of such a pursuit, I again and again find fairies in the pages of popular scientific literature.

An orange-tip butterfly, depicted with human features, from “The Disguises of Insects” (1867) in Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip: An Illustrated Medium of Interchange and Gossip for Students and Lovers of Nature. The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

Take this example: I was recently reading through a bound collection of a 19th-century periodical that is promisingly called Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip: An Illustrated Medium of Interchange and Gossip for Students and Lovers of Nature. As I skimmed through articles on the movement of diatoms and on the Great Exhibition of Paris, I came across an article by the naturalist Arthur R. Wallace on “The Disguises of Insects” (1867). An illustration shows an orange-tip butterfly with a human face hiding amidst the foliage of a tree. The butterfly is, in fact, a fairy.

Wallace’s illustration is part of a 19th-century scientific tradition of describing the natural world as fairyland. Henry Slack, who later became president of the Royal Microscopical Society, described a group of protozoa in 1861 as “a tree from fairy-land, in which every leaf has a sentient life.” Charles Kingsley, a naturalist and children’s author, explained in an 1846 lecture on “How to Study Natural History” that, “in the tiniest piece of mould on a decayed fruit, the tiniest animalcule from the stagnant pool, will imagination find inexhaustible wonders, and fancy a fairy-land.”

These authors aren’t actually describing the natural world—who knows what a tree from fairyland looks like anyway? Rather, they are telling us how we should perceive nature—with a tingling sense of enchantment. This, we should think as we gaze at the natural world, is fairyland.

Richard Doyle, illustration of “The Fairy Queen Takes an Airy Drive in a Light Carriage, a Twelve-in-hand, drawn by Thoroughbred Butterflies” from In Fairy Land: A series of pictures from the elf-world by William Allingham (1870). The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

Let me pause here to give a brief history of the miniature fairy. The idea of miniature fairies is a relatively new one. In folklore and superstition, fairies are typically described as child-sized, perhaps three feet in height. Most scholars agree that Shakespeare was the first to imagine miniature fairies in Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech in Romeo and Juliet (1597). In 1798, the artist Thomas Stothard depicted fairies with butterfly wings for the first time in his illustrations for Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock. Popular tradition says that a friend had suggested to Stothard that he paint Pope’s sylphs with butterfly wings. Stothard supposedly replied, “That I will, and to be correct, I will paint the wing from the butterfly itself.” Then, he ran out into his garden.

After Stothard, images proliferated of butterfly-winged fairies dwelling in flower buds and acorn cups. Artists and illustrators painted fairies in detailed natural landscapes. In fairy literature, children were transported to magical worlds adjacent to our own. In Jean Ingelow’s novella Mopsa the Fairy (1869), the child protagonist “Captain Jack” discovers a nest of three tiny fairies in a tree and then is whisked away to fairyland atop an albatross. The child reader might have felt a similar sense of transport as she turned the pages of a book filled with fairy images.

Victorian fairies were always associated with nature, but not always with the most pleasant parts of the natural world. In this Arthur Rackham illustration for Puck of Pook’s Hill by Rudyard Kipling, fairies swarm across the natural landscape in invisible multitudes, causing disease. The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

Science educators in the Victorian era believed that the popularity of fairies could be used to lure young people into the study of the natural world. In works such as Fairy Know-A-Bit (1866) by Charlotte Tucker (known by the pen name A.L.O.E.), fairies guide children through the marvels of the natural world. Nature, in these works, contains greater wonders than fairies. Arabella Buckley, in her popular and widely reprinted book The Fairyland of Science (1879), teaches her young readers how to enter the fairyland of nature. There is only one condition: “Like the knight or peasant in the fairy tales, you must open your eyes” to the wonders of nature. Fairyland, she suggests, is all around us.

So I urge you: go fairy hunting at The Huntington. Start with the fairy door in the Rose Garden or another in the Children’s Garden and then wander on to other parts of the grounds. I can’t guarantee that you’ll see fairies. But you’ll certainly find fairyland here—if you open your eyes to look for it.

Cover of The Fairyland of Science (1879). The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

Laura Forsberg is adjunct professor of English at Concordia University Texas and a 2016–17 National Endowment of the Humanities Fellow at The Huntington.

Folded Wonders

Barn Owl, Opus 538 is one of 25 works by physicist and origami master Robert J. Lang. Photo by Kate Lain.

What happens when you take a single sheet of paper and apply the ancient principles of origami coupled with computer-generated folding patterns? In the hands of physicist and origami master Robert J. Lang, the result is a masterpiece of paper artistry.

Don’t miss examples of this talent in “FlORIlegium: Folded Transformations from the Natural World by Robert J. Lang,” an exhibition of 25 such wonders inspired by the flora and fauna of The Huntington. The exhibition is open on weekends only, through Jan. 29, 2017, in the Brody Botanical Center.

The astonishing nature of Lang’s art is evident even before you enter the exhibition gallery. Walk through the doors of the Botanical Center’s entry hall and look up. You’ll see five paper herons streaking across the ceiling. There’s also a stunning group of black crows in flight on the wall facing the stairwell.

Daffodil, Opus 687, by Robert J. Lang. Photo by Kate Lain.

Inside are more delights. An orchid, a barn owl, a cactus, a rattlesnake, and a rose all induce jaw-dropping double takes. It’s hard to believe they were achieved by folding a single square of paper—with no cutting or glue.

“My goal is to bring about a conflict in the viewer’s mind,” says Lang, “where the beliefs of impossibility and the knowledge of achievement are simultaneously present in equal measure.”

An engineer and distinguished alumnus of Caltech, Lang is one of the pioneers of the cross-disciplinary marriage of origami with mathematics. The principles of origami—folding a flat surface into a smaller area—can also help solve real-world problems. Lang has used origami folding techniques to devise ingenious scientific solutions ranging from tiny collapsible heart stents to expandable space telescopes.

Visitors to the exhibition will find a table outside the gallery for impromptu origami folding. Photo by Andrew Mitchell.

Just inside the gallery, find a case filled with crawly creatures—a tarantula, a scorpion, a praying mantis. They highlight the uncanny skill required for going from big to small. It’s hard to imagine how Lang achieved such anatomical detail without cutting the paper—though he did use a pair of tweezers to make the minute folds.

Look at the back of the gallery where you’ll find a cactus (Cactus, Opus 680) modeled on one from the Desert Garden. It, too, was fashioned from a single sheet of paper, a different color on each side. A diagram of Lang’s method hangs near it. Both are mesmerizing. A few feet away is the barn owl, one that Lang says posed perhaps his greatest challenge. Going from concept to realization occupied seven years.

“FlORIlegium” demonstrates the wonders of nature through intricate folding patterns that create line and form. The exhibition’s title is Latin for “a gathering of flowers” and refers to illustrated books of botanical art from the 17th and 18th centuries, the horticultural Age of Discovery. It’s also a play on words because part of the word, “ori,” means to fold in Japanese.

Cactus, Opus 680 was made from a single sheet of paper. Photo by Kate Lain.

“FlORIlegium: Folded Transformations from the Natural World by Robert J. Lang” is on view in the Brody Botanical Center Saturdays and Sundays only through Jan. 29, 2017.

Robert Lang will give a gallery talk about the exhibition on Jan. 28, 2017 at 2 p.m. in the Botanical Center. Free; no reservations required. A book signing will follow the program.

The exhibition and talk are part of a yearlong exploration of origami made possible through the support of Toshie and Frank Mosher.

Related content on Verso:
Into the Fold (April 4, 2016)

Linda Chiavaroli is a volunteer in the office of communications and marketing.

Knowing the Earth, Then and Now

Orbit Pavilion is on view on the Celebration Lawn (across from the Celebration Garden) through Feb. 27, 2017. Photo by Kate Lain.

We denizens of the 21st century have numerous ways to learn about our planet: seismographs, submersibles, and airborne snow observatories cover every continent. Some of the most remote Earth science instruments are the satellites that circle our globe to gather data about droughts, hurricanes, and tectonic shifts. NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Orbit Pavilion, currently on display at The Huntington, brings these far-away vessels back to Earth, but with a twist.

After wending our way into the shell-shaped structure, we are immersed in the sounds of a wave crashing, a frog croaking, and wind tangling with tree branches—each of which corresponds to the mission of one of NASA’s 19 Earth science satellites. While wrapped in the Orbit Pavilion’s aluminum-and-steel frame, we rediscover the world not with our eyes but with our ears.

In 1851, spaceships were mere fantasies and our delicate blue dot couldn’t be captured in a photograph. But John Wyld, a prolific map publisher and honorary geographer to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, wanted to give people the world—and demonstrate how much the British Empire knew about it. As London prepared for the Great Exhibition of the same year, Wyld constructed a “Colossal Globe” right in the middle of Leicester Square. This 60-foot orb stood in that very spot for 10 years. Gawkers did not admire the Alps or the Indian Ocean by gazing up at the monument. Instead, they were encouraged to journey inside to the center of the Earth and see how Wyld had turned its outsides in.

Image of John Wyld’s globe from Illustrated London News, vol. 18, Jan.–June, 1851; June 7, 1851, page 511. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Visitors entered the globe from a small opening in the Pacific Ocean. From there, they could choose to marvel at the world’s physical geography from four loggias. An image from an 1851 issue of the Illustrated London News—held in The Huntington’s collections—shows visitors climbing four interlocking staircases to view the globe’s enormous relief map. The highest peak of the Himalayas was a mere 1.5 inches tall, and the United States was 23.3 feet wide. Volcanoes and snow-capped mountains rose and fell; deserts and craters appeared as deep depressions on the map’s surface. All this topography was rendered in plaster, paint, wood, cotton wool, and small white crystals.

Victorians were curious about the natural world. Alongside progress reports about the building of Wyld’s globe, fashionable periodicals updated readers about new demonstrations that made the rotation of the Earth visible. They devoted precious column space to the minutes of The Royal Institution, the nation’s premier organization for public engagement with science. And many periodicals ran lavish advertisements for telescopes, microscopes, and chemistry textbooks. Literate women and men had grown so familiar with contemporary scientific research that Punch, London’s satirical magazine, could joke about competing theories concerning the composition of the Earth’s inner core: “Mr. Wyld has made a grand discovery. He has satisfactorily proved that the interior of the globe is not filled with gases, according to Agassiz; or with fire, according to Burnet; neither has he filled it, like Fourier, with water. No, Mr. Wyld has now shown us that the interior of the globe is occupied by immense strata of staircases.”

Illustration of John Wyld’s globe under construction from Illustrated London News, vol. 18, Jan–June, 1851; March 22, 1851, page 234. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Despite these controversies, Victorian geologists understood that the Earth was millions of years old. They knew that layers of rock and soil were the residue of different epochs. And they were beginning to learn that many creatures had come, gone, and evolved as the Earth aged.

Still, there was more to discover. No one had stepped foot on Antarctica. Few could have pictured that oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium comprised the Earth’s crust. And artificial satellites were a century away.

If Wyld’s globe gave Victorians a static world, frozen in time, NASA/JPL’s Orbit Pavilion helps us consider its changes in the here and now. As we ring in the New Year, this sounding nautilus provides us with an unusual opportunity to reflect on our planet—to hear its diverse wonders, and to consider how we learn about our home, now and in the years to come.

Related content on Verso:
Hearing NASA’s Earth Science Satellites (Nov. 15, 2016)

Melissa Lo is Dibner Assistant Curator of Science, Medicine, and Technology at The Huntington.

Some of Our Favorite Things

A collage of some of our Verso favorites from 2016.

As 2016 winds to a close, we invite you to take another look at a dozen stories plucked from the more than 80 we’ve published this past year on Verso.

We start off with a meditation on the symbolism of medieval lists by Martha Rust, a 2015–16 National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at The Huntington, accompanied by exquisite images from a Book of Hours in our collections. Read “Symbolism in Medieval Lists.”

One of our most popular posts marked the 10th anniversary of the death of science-fiction novelist Octavia E. Butler, whose papers reside here. We announced a project called “Radio Imagination,” sponsored by Clockshop, a Los Angeles–based arts organization that partnered with The Huntington and other local institutions to provide a yearlong series of events celebrating Butler’s life and work. Read “Celebrating Octavia Butler.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used this hand-colored lithograph—Abandonment of the whalers in the Arctic Ocean Sept. 1871—to announce a major archaeological discovery. To learn more, read “A Whale of a Discovery.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

We were pleased to report that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used a Huntington lithograph of ships trapped in ice to publicize a major archaeological discovery—the hulls of two out of 33 American whaling vessels that had sunk in the Arctic Ocean in the late 19th century. Read “A Whale of a Discovery.”

We told you about students from one of The Huntington’s partner schools, Esteban E. Torres High School in East Los Angeles. Students from their Engineering and Technology Academy enjoyed a class taught by Manan Arya, a Ph.D. candidate in aerospace engineering at Caltech, who helped them understand the scientific principles behind origami. Read “Into the Fold.”

In light of the drought in California, we provided you with a list of 10 water-wise plants to grow at home, selected by Scott Kleinrock, The Huntington’s landscape design and planning coordinator. He helped design the Frances and Sidney Brody California Garden. Read “Top-10 Water-Wise Plants.”

You can read about drought-tolerant plants, such as this beautiful Salvia clevelandii ‘Winnifred Gilman’, in “Top-10 Water-Wise Plants.” Photo by Kate Lain.

We shared stunning views of the newly installed permanent exhibition of Greene & Greene architecture and design in the Dorothy Collis Brown Wing of the Scott Galleries. Read “Greene & Greene in Context.”

Criss Cross Spelling Slips, a Victorian-era entertainment, served as the subject of a playful video that we posted. To provide context, we also included a Q&A with David Mihaly, The Huntington’s Jay T. Last Curator of Graphic Arts and Social History. Read “LOOK>> Spelling Slips.”

Chelsea Ngoc-Khuyen Trinh, who served as curatorial intern in the Art Collections at The Huntington before joining The Broad in Los Angeles, gave us an in-depth look at abstract artist Emerson Woelffer and his dynamic painting Yellow Poem. Read “A Pure Act of Painting.” 

You can explore the bold strokes of Emerson Woelffer’s Yellow Poem in “A Pure Act of Painting.” Yellow Poem, 1960, oil on canvas. Gift of Adam Mekler in honor of Ariel Gabriella Mekler and Daphne Lane Beneke. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

We explored the themes of “Gardens, Art, and Commerce in Chinese Woodblock Prints,” a major international loan exhibition in the Boone Gallery. It’s still open through Jan. 9, 2017. Read “Chinese Poetry, Painting, and Gardens.”

Nicole Alvarado, a college intern in The Huntington’s conservation lab, offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how she carefully unrolled and flattened 20 panoramic photographs belonging to the Homer D. Crotty collection. Read “Unrolling a Long Past.”

The opening of the new Jonathan and Karin Fielding Wing of the Scott Galleries in October included an inaugural exhibition of more than 200 works from the Fieldings’ magnificent collection of 18th- and early 19th-century American paintings, sculpture, furniture, ceramics, metal, needlework, and other decorative arts. Read “Becoming America.”

We published a Q&A with Dan Goods and David Delgado, visual strategists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, about the Orbit Pavilion, a large aluminum structure in which visitors can hear sounds representing the movement of the International Space Station and 19 Earth satellites. Read “Hearing NASA’s Earth-Science Satellites.”

Check out our Q&A with the visual strategists behind NASA/JPL’s Orbit Pavilion in “Hearing NASA’s Earth-Science Satellites.” Photo by Dan Goods.

Thank you for reading our blog. We hope you’ll return in 2017 for more great stories about our astonishing library, art, and garden collections.

Kevin Durkin is editor of Verso and managing editor in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

Recent Lectures: Nov. 22–Dec. 13, 2016

Home to gorgeous gardens, spectacular art, and stunning rare books and manuscripts, The Huntington also offers an impressive slate of lectures and conferences on topics and themes related to its collections. Below are audio recordings of four recent lectures.

Aerospace in Southern California (Dec. 13, 2016)
The history of the aerospace industry in Southern California and its intersections with contemporary culture are the focus of a panel discussion, presented in conjunction with the exhibition of NASA’s Orbit Pavilion (on view at The Huntington through Feb. 27, 2017). Panelists are Peter Westwick, aerospace historian; William Deverell, director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West; and Daniel Lewis, senior curator of the history of science and technology at The Huntington.

 

You Don’t Know Jack (Dec. 8, 2016)
In recognition of the centenary of Jack London’s death, The Huntington’s Sue Hodson, curator of literary manuscripts and former Jack London Foundation Woman of the Year, speaks about Jack London as a novelist, sailor, journalist, social activist, photographer, and adventurer, as well as about the importance of The Huntington’s 50,000-item Jack London collection.

 

Sex in the City (Dec. 7, 2016)
Margo Todd, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania and the Fletcher Jones Foundation Distinguished Fellow, examines the campaign of the mostly lay judiciaries of the Calvinist Scottish kirk, or church, to impose a strict and highly invasive sexual discipline on their towns in the century following the Protestant Reformation. This talk is part of the Distinguished Fellow Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

The Huang Family of Block Cutters: The Thread that Binds Late Ming Pictorial Woodblock Printmaking (Nov. 22, 2016)
David Barker, professor of printmaking at the China National Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou, considers the important contributions made to Chinese pictorial printing by the famous Huang family of artisan block cutters. This lecture is presented in conjunction with the exhibition “Gardens, Art, and Commerce in Chinese Woodblock Prints,” on view in the Boone Gallery.

Find more audio recordings of Huntington lectures and conferences on SoundCloud and iTunes U.

Finding Harmony in Battle

Medieval manuscripts curator Vanessa Wilkie in Battle, England, standing with visitors from France dressed as Norman soldiers, at the commemoration of the 1066 Battle of Hastings. Photo by Allan Millham.

I wrote my first serious history paper in 7th grade on the Battle of Hastings—the epic scene in 1066 when Duke William II of Normandy invaded England, defeating the Saxon King Harold. After the battle, England was ruled by a foreign king, court, and legal system.

Being a Hermione Granger type of student, I asked my mother to take me to the public library so I could do “real research”—no mere junior high textbook would do! For the first time in my young scholarly life, I read military histories, political histories, and books about the cultural clashes of Normans and Saxons.

I read about the victorious William, dubbed “the Conqueror,” and how he became the first Norman-French King of England and founded Battle Abbey on the site of the Battle of Hastings to celebrate his victory and pay respect to his fallen enemies. Hastings was the closest village, about seven miles away, so people started using that name to describe the battle. But, as Hastings referred to an established village, the town which grew up around the abbey was simply named Battle. It was in studying the events of 1066 that I first learned how one moment could impact the next, sending ripples through centuries.

A page from a volume of 13th and 14th century abstracts of charters, granting authorities in the County of Kent. Battle Abbey Collection, BA 29, ff. 144v–145. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Fast forward to 2016. As the William A. Moffett Curator of Medieval Manuscripts and British History at The Huntington, I am the curator for the Battle Abbey Collection. It’s my professional (and personal) honor to be its steward. Scholars from around the world come into our archives to delve into this material. Henry E. Huntington, the founder of our Library, purchased the collection in 1923, and it quickly became one of his most famous holdings. It’s composed of 3,000 manuscripts, representing the monastic archive for the abbey, including original deeds, court rolls, and account rolls.

In the medieval period, Battle Abbey was an important Benedictine abbey, controlling vast lands throughout the region. The monks were landlords, and the abbey became a seat of feudal power. The collection contains three cartularies (books of charters) from the 13th through the 15th centuries that include early copies of royal, papal, and episcopal charters.

In the 1530s, Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church, dissolved monasteries, and sold the abbey lands to the Browne family. The Webster family purchased the lands in the 18th century. Ultimately, in the 19th century, the Websters sold large portions of the medieval records from the abbey. The collection also includes some of the family papers for the Brownes and Websters, the other part of which resides in the East Sussex Record Office in the United Kingdom, placed on deposit there by descendants of the Webster family.

“Confirmation of Grant in Free Alms,” granting the abbot and convent of Battle control of certain lands, circa 1200. Battle Abbey Collection, BA 42/1503. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Huntington’s collection offers deep understanding of the feudal practices of a medieval abbey and paints a detailed picture of the environmental landscape of these fertile lands. It also provides detailed financial accounts and serves as the founding documentation of the village that grew up on the site of one of the most famous battles in Western history. Earlier this year, this same collection, which draws so many scholars to it, pulled me away from it.

I was invited to the village of Battle to represent The Huntington and this collection during the commemoration—on Oct. 14, 2016—of the 950th anniversary of The Battle of Hastings. The group that organized the festivities, led by Chairman Simon Alexander, called the event Concorde 1066, using the word “concorde” to refer to “an agreement between like-minded people with a willingness to come together for a common cause.”

The event was a lovely reminder that The Huntington’s collections are relevant beyond our own beautiful gardens or the remarkable books published by our readers. The Battle Abbey Collection contains the medieval records for lands upon which people live today. Battle is a thriving community, and the abbey is now home to a school. The Huntington’s collection tells the origin story for this place.

“Cartulary for the Properties, Tithes, and Liberties of Battle Abbey,” an early 13th century charter issued by the sacristan granting administrative powers in lands owned by the Battle Abbey. Battle Abbey Collection, BA 30, ff. 90v–91. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Concorde 1066 was a day of secular and religious services, parades, luncheons, receptions, and public displays. The guest list hinted at the wide range of people impacted by the Battle of Hastings: ambassadors to Great Britain from France and Denmark, the Home Secretary, Members of Parliament, the Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex, the High Sheriff, the Bishop of Chichester, the Band of the Corps of Royal Engineers, and most importantly, the families who live in the village of Battle.

Battle Abbey sits majestically in the center of their town. They go to school there, attend local festivals and gatherings there, and enjoy tourism as a major part of their local economy. Battle residents are acutely aware of the historic significance of the site upon which their village sits. They are proud of this legacy and are generous hosts to the throngs of tourists who visit Battle every year.

At a time when Britons were debating their place within Europe, people from all walks of life gathered in this village to reflect on what it meant when the Normans conquered the Saxons, what the legacy of that is, and what it means for English-speaking people around the world. On that special day in October, political figures from Great Britain and the European continent, residents, and one American curator gathered to explore a shared past.

Schoolchildren in medieval dress parade in front of the gatehouse of the Battle Abbey. Photo by Paul Hollinghurst.

Vanessa Wilkie is William A. Moffett Curator of Medieval Manuscripts and British History at The Huntington.

Preserving Parks for People

William R. Leigh, Grand Canyon (1911), as adapted for Fred Harvey Service dining car menu, 1950. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Used with permission of the BNSF Railway Company.

“Geographies of Wonder: Evolution of the National Park Idea, 1933–2016,” an exhibition in the Library’s West Hall, examines how the idea of national parks evolved over time.

Two images at the entrance bookend the history of the park system, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. One is a full-color rendering of the Grand Canyon. Back in the late 19th century, awe-inspiring images like these made the case for preserving America’s scenic landscapes. The other image is a recent map of the proposed “Rim of the Valley” expansion of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a modern-day effort to preserve some of the last wild lands and historic sites in the greater Los Angeles area.

The exhibition’s nearly 100 items include maps, advertisements, illustrated guide books, travel narratives, promotional brochures, scientific surveys, reports, and correspondence. Taken together, they illustrate the paradox the National Park Service faces—how to make the lands under its management available for public enjoyment while preserving them for future generations.

People have streamed to the parks, since their inception, in ever-growing numbers. (An exception was the period during World War II, when the rationing of gasoline and rubber curtailed recreational travel and the parks were shut down.) In 2015, more than 300 million people visited the parks.

Burlington Route, United States Map and Vacation Guide, cover, 1938. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Burlington Route, United States Map and Vacation Guide, cover, 1938. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Railroad companies fostered national park tourism with enticements such as the Burlington Route’s “The National Park Line—Everywhere West.” Enthusiasm for travel by personal automobile was extolled in such advertisements as “Trails and Automobile Drives” in the Grand Canyon. The advent of air travel presented a pivot point, according to exhibition curator Peter Blodgett, H. Russell Smith Foundation Curator of Western Historical Manuscripts.

The headline from a 1936 United Airlines advertisement promises “14 Days in Yellowstone on a 2-Week Vacation!” A Western Airlines advertisement 10 years later ups the ante with a full-color photo of Bryce Canyon’s tall, slender rock spires, the so-called “hoodoo formations,” that neatly linked the breathtaking panorama with plane travel.

Observes Blodgett: “Americans wanting to immerse themselves in the wild relied on the epitome of transportation technology in that moment.”

Western Air Lines, “’Flight Seeing’ Spectacular America,” advertisement, 1946. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Western Air Lines, “’Flight Seeing’ Spectacular America,” advertisement, 1946. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

By the 1940s and 1950s, post-war prosperity brought hordes of vacationers that tipped the scales—putting extreme pressure on aging park facilities and threatening wildlife habitats. In the March 1949 issue of Harper’s Monthly, historian and conservationist Bernard DeVoto warned of the federal government’s failure to adequately fund the National Park Service: “the situation is shocking and it is becoming critical.”

Notre Dame University senior Robert Browne used his time as a Huntington intern this past summer to flesh out parts of the exhibition materials, including those related to the growing ecological movement. He examined the 1968 book Desert Solitaire by radical environmentalist Edward Abbey, who complained about automobile access to these protected landscapes. Abbey scorned the “indolent millions born on wheels and suckled by gasoline” who demanded that the parks accommodate their “industrial tourism.” Abbey’s words impressed Browne with their forcefulness. He also noted that the writer still seemed “at peace with himself because of how connected he was with the natural world.”

The very definition of national parks evolved over time. By the 1930s, locations once considered desolate and forbidding, such as California’s Death Valley and Joshua Tree, became national monuments. In the 1960s, the Park Service began protecting seashores, lakeshores, wild and scenic rivers, and historic trails.

Federal Writer’s Project, Death Valley: A Guide, cover, 1939. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Federal Writer’s Project, Death Valley: A Guide, cover, 1939. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The 1970s and 1980s brought the creation of national recreation areas adjacent to major urban areas, such as the Gateway National Recreation Area in New York City and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. President Barack Obama may one day be remembered as the president who protected more public lands and waters than any previous president—265 million acres at last count.

In Blodgett’s view, these protections should not be taken for granted. Parks have remained a subject of contention throughout American life: “Like the protection of liberty, the protection of park spaces requires eternal vigilance,” he says.

What’s your view? Comment books in the entry hall are available for visitors to register their thoughts. Do you think it’s important to preserve parks for people?

“Geographies of Wonder: Evolution of the National Park Idea, 1933–2016” is on view in the Library’s West Hall through Feb. 13, 2017. The first part of this two part-exhibition, “Geographies of Wonder: Origin Stories of America’s National Parks, 1872–1933,” ran from May 14–Sept. 5, 2016.

Linda Chiavaroli is a volunteer in the office of communications and marketing.

Ben Jonson’s Readers

Detail of the title page of The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, showing the inscription of Sir Henry Cary. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Detail of the title page of The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, showing the inscription of Sir Henry Cary. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The poet and playwright Ben Jonson (1572–1637) was exceptionally concerned with literary posterity. His most ambitious publication was the folio collection of his Works that appeared 400 years ago this year. Through this monumental book, Jonson attempted to ensure that future generations would read and appreciate his plays, poems, and other writings.

How successful was that attempt? How did readers regard the book in the years after it appeared? What do their responses tell us about why Jonson was more celebrated than Shakespeare in the century or so after his death, only to be gradually eclipsed by his great rival? These are among the questions that I was able to explore through The Huntington’s outstanding Jonson holdings—which include more than 30 of Jonson’s 1616 Works, each one unique.

Fortunately for us, the early moderns were not afraid to write in their books. Many of The Huntington’s copies of Jonson’s Works carry in their pages the names of their owners. Sir Henry Cary (1575–1633), for example, inscribed his name right in the middle of the title page (see above), making it clear that the book no longer belonged to its author but to him.

Cary was 1st Viscount Falkland and Lord Deputy of Ireland. His primary interest in the volume may have been the poem of praise to him that begins: “That neither fame nor love might wanting be / To greatness, Cary, I sing that and thee . . .”

The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, page 840, with note reading “Mary [Jones] Hodge trew hyme Exclently pend by Mr Ben Johnson.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, page 840, with note reading “Mary [Jones] Hodge trew hyme Exclently pend by Mr Ben Johnson.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Other notable owners of Jonson’s Works in The Huntington’s collection include the essayist and poet Joseph Addison (1672–1719) and the great Victorian poet Robert Browning (1818–89). Most of the copies show evidence of having had multiple owners and readers. Some copies even record such circulation: one, for example, bears the inscription “S. Ruthin my Book Left me by a freind.” There are early female owners and readers, too, some of whom were not afraid to express their opinions. One Mary Jones Hodge, for example, singled out the poem “To Heaven” for praise as a “trew hyme” (see above).

Another reader, Abiel Borfet (1632/3–1710), wrote detailed comments on almost every page of his copy—and this in a book spanning more than 1,000 pages. He adds information, clarifies meanings, and records his responses. At one point, he identifies deeply with a speech about friendship and testifies to this moment of reading by adding his name and the date (see below).

Some of these early readers engage with Jonson’s writings by identifying his sources. Jonson’s writings are steeped in his knowledge of Horace, Ovid, Martial, Juvenal, Seneca, and other great writers of antiquity. Some of his early readers shared some of that knowledge and took it upon themselves to write quotations and references in the margins.

The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, detail of page 142, with note reading “True! True to this day, May 18. 1696. Witness my hand, A. Borfet.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, detail of page 142, with note reading “True! True to this day, May 18. 1696. Witness my hand, A. Borfet.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

One copy of Jonson’s Works contains nearly 250 of these source identifications, an impressive total which may include the contributions of more than one reader. The process of identifying Jonson’s sources was not straightforward. In one instance, you can see that a reader has underlined three lines and written a reference to the poet Juvenal. Then someone—either the same reader at a later time or a second reader—has added the relevant quotation and crossed out some of the underlining (see below). Are we witnessing one reader having second thoughts or two readers disagreeing about which lines exactly constitute the allusion?

Such close engagement requires from the reader what Borfet at one point refers to as “patience.” Borfet and other early readers recognize that a full appreciation of Jonson’s mastery comes from going beyond the immediate enjoyment of his art to having meaningful encounters with the classical texts that he reworks. Growing impatience among later readers may have been one factor in Jonson’s decline in popularity.

Exploring The Huntington’s copies of Jonson’s Works also invites us to reflect upon the nature of books. For early readers, a book such as this was a valuable and durable item. These readers knew that they were the custodians rather than truly the owners of their books, which would in time be sold, given away, exchanged, or bequeathed.

Seeing these copies brings home that a book is not just a vehicle for conveying a text. It is a significant artifact in itself that accretes new meanings as it moves through time and can give intimate insights into the thoughts of generations of readers. That is what sets the printed book apart from Kindles and other modern devices and makes it still so vital.

The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, detail of page 353, with a marginal note giving a reference to Juvenal’s Satire 7 and a quotation from that poem: “qui facis in parva sublimia carmina [cella,] / Ut dignus venias hederis et imagine macra,” which may be translated as “you that are inditing lofty strains in a tiny garret, that you may come forth worthy of a scraggy bust wreathed with ivy.” The corresponding lines in Jonson’s text, which rework Juvenal’s words to suggest how hard Jonson himself has labored in order to be worthy of literary recognition, have been underlined. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, detail of page 353, with a marginal note giving a reference to Juvenal’s Satire 7 and a quotation from that poem: “qui facis in parva sublimia carmina [cella,] / Ut dignus venias hederis et imagine macra,” which may be translated as “you that are inditing lofty strains in a tiny garret, that you may come forth worthy of a scraggy bust wreathed with ivy.” The corresponding lines in Jonson’s text, which rework Juvenal’s words to suggest how hard Jonson himself has labored in order to be worthy of literary recognition, have been underlined. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Related content on Verso:
Ben Jonson’s Works at 400 (Sept. 12, 2016)

Jane Rickard is associate professor of 17th-century English Literature at the University of Leeds. She is the author of Writing the Monarch in Jacobean England: Jonson, Donne, Shakespeare and the Works of King James and Authorship and Authority: The Writings of James VI and I.

Viewing Sam Francis in Another Light

Sam Francis’s Free Floating Clouds, 1980, acrylic on canvas. Gift of the Sam Francis Foundation. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Sam Francis’s Free Floating Clouds, 1980, acrylic on canvas. Gift of the Sam Francis Foundation. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

I grew up in Southern California and have loved The Huntington since I first visited it on a high school field trip. Being an intern this past summer in the American art department was a dream come true. One of the first works that struck me on an early visit was Free Floating Clouds, a painting by Sam Francis (1923–1994), located in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art.

You don’t have to be an art history buff to be intrigued by this postwar piece. Its size alone demands attention. It’s the largest painting in the American collection, taking up an entire wall, and measures 125 by 254 inches—or roughly 10 by 21 feet. Its contrast of mainly dark blue splatters against a white background forms a loose grid-like pattern. The abstract nature of the work doesn’t offer me any obvious clues to its meaning or make a connection to the title.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Like me, Francis was a California native: he was born in San Mateo and received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UC Berkeley. When he was 21 and a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps, he suffered a spinal injury, followed by spinal tuberculosis. During his hospitalization, he began to paint to distract himself from his illness. He had been studying medicine but eventually gave that up to pursue a career in art.

During the 1950s, Francis began making the fluid and dripping shapes that would appear in his later works and throughout his career, notably in Free Floating Clouds, completed in 1980.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

By then, Francis’s painting had become more structured. He adopted a grid or matrix pattern that gave his work an underlying composition—a technique many of his contemporaries were also using. Photographs and films of the artist at work reveal that he would lay the canvas flat on the floor of his studio and prime the surface with white gesso. He would then sketch his composition onto the canvas with a sponge, brush, or paint roller, applying a thin wash of color that would organize the canvas into vertical and horizontal axes. These washes are still visible on the outer edges of the painted areas. Then he would build on the composition, using successive layers of color.

When I first looked at Free Floating Clouds in high school, it seemed like random drips and splatters that anyone could have painted—a common critique of abstract art. As I read more about Francis and spent time looking at the painting, I realized that the underlying grid provides a sense of structure, producing a balanced and harmonious feeling. By using the grid as the anchor of the painting, the artist could explore color and action on his own terms. As the artist and art collector Nicholas Wilder explained, Francis could “marry many different colors with different qualities . . . and make it appear that it happened spontaneously, all at one moment . . . the results are not fortunate accidents, but carefully conceived compositions.”

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Similarly, at first glance, the artist seems to have layered just blue paint on a white background. But closer inspection reveals a rainbow of colors—reds, purples, greens, and pinks among the blues—in different thicknesses and washes. Francis used all acrylic emulsion paints on Free Floating Clouds; as in most of his works, he often used unmixed pigments directly from the tube to create intense, undiluted colors.

One of his more unusual techniques was using Photo-Flo, a wetting agent for developing film, which gives the surface a watercolor-like quality. Applying Photo-Flo caused the colors to run together and merge in varying ways, producing unexpected shapes and designs from a seemingly random technique. With Photo-Flo and other means, Francis varied the surface texture and the degree to which it reflects light. Some areas are glossy, others matte; some smooth, others richly textured.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

I didn’t know any of these technical details when I first saw Free Floating Clouds, but I responded immediately to its dark, intense colors and Rorschach-like blots. Learning that Sam Francis was a pilot helped me read the title into the painting, imagining how the artist’s early experiences above the clouds may have informed his perspective.

Technical details can help us appreciate abstract works of art, enabling us to understand how and why a piece was created and what it is supposed to mean, if anything at all.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Related content on Verso:
A Pure Act of Painting (Aug. 10, 2016)

Nicole Block is part of an ongoing undergraduate internship program that places art history majors from UC Irvine in the American art department of The Huntington’s Art Collections division. Her thesis project will be on Sam Francis.