Category Archives: Staff picks

Art Book of the Month, October 2017

The Vernon Gallery of British Art Volumes 1-4 London: g. Virtue, 1850  

Buried deep in the stacks of Westminster Reference Library we uncovered the four volume set of the Vernon Gallery of British Art.

This collection lists in delightful detail all of the 152 paintings donated by Robert Vernon on the 22 of December, 1847 to the National Gallery. Each work is shown in full detail with an accompanying description that helps to set the scene as to how the work was viewed at the time.

All of the images are preserved by a thin sheet of grease proof paper that ensures the fidelity is not lost.

The collection donated by Robert Vernon consisted of works by notable artists of his time, such as Turner and Constable. It provided a huge boost to the then newly established National Gallery. While the works have since been split up and some now reside in Tate Britain the value of the collection still remains.

Anyone is welcome to visit the Westminster Reference Library and staff are always happy to retrieve any books from our stacks. If you would like to see this set of books, please do visit us.

Nick
Nicholas Alexander
Collection Services Officer

PS – and if you’re interested to know what was Art Book of the Month last month 

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My favourite things

One of the main reasons for starting this blog was that there was so much to tell – as the very first post said: “It’s about the life of the Libraries & Archives”. There are so very many facets to a public library service; I wanted to help bring more of what we can offer into the light.

After eighteen years in Westminster Libraries (a brief interlude in comparison to the tenure of Malcolm and many others, of course), I’ve rounded up a selection of wonderful things and, with apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, persuaded my library-fan children to spare you my singing voice.  As I move on to pastures new, one of the things I will miss the most is editing this blog (I look forward to being a reader from now on). It’s been a privilege.

So long, farewell…

[Ali]

Art Book of the Month, February 2017

Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook by Stephen Tennant

Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook by Stephen Tennant
Hamish Hamilton, 1986
(First published by Secker & Warburg Ltd, 1929)

Stephen Tennant, “the brightest” of “The Bright Young People”, was twenty-three years old when Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook was first published.  The notebook tells the story of the Rev Felix Littlejohn and his quest to convert the heathens to the light and in the process is exposed to all sorts of outrageous, horrifying and hilarious behaviour by natives, sailors and other characters.

from: Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook by Stephen Tennant

It is in some ways a book ahead of its time, as the story is told in graphic novel format with drawings by the author who was also an artist as well as a socialite and a quintessential English eccentric.

from: Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook by Stephen Tennant   from: Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook by Stephen Tennant

Stephen’s life is as interesting as any book if not more so.  The son of British nobility, as a young man he is supposed to have ‘resembled the youthful Shelley’ and was the inspiration for Cedric in Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate. Stephen’s friends ranged from Virginia Woolf to David Hockney and his surrealist poses are a frequent feature in Cecil Beaton’s photographs of the 1920s and 1930s.

Dedication in Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook by Stephen Tennant

Stephen’s niece was British novelist and editor, the Hon. Emma Tennant who sadly died last month.

[Rossella]

Art for Everyone’s Sake

Art books collage 1

Westminster Reference Library, home of the specialist Art & Design Collection, now has art books for loan. Visit us at 35 St Martin’s Street and browse through our growing collection of inclusive, engaging and expertly written books on a wide range of art interests. The publications shown here are just some of our most recent additions:

Hieronymus Bosch; The Complete WorksHieronymus Bosch; The Complete Works combines new research with superb reproductions to celebrate this unique and visionary painter. His fantasies, grotesques and drolleries, set in natural surroundings, appear as fresh and eloquent today as they were 500 years ago.

Menswear illustration, by Richard KilroyFashion students! The explosion of international sales in menswear means that drawing is no longer dominated by women’s fashions. Menswear Illustration is the first survey of this new trend and features 40 innovative illustrators of contemporary styles in menswear.

Natural histories: extraordinary rare book selections from the American Museum of Natural History library, by Tom BaioneNatural Histories presents selected masterpieces of scientific art from 16th century zoologies to 20th century treatises. Essays by experts in their field explain how these scientifically significant, richly illustrated studies played integral roles throughout the history of natural sciences.

The Craft Companion by Ramona BarryBeautiful or bonkers The Craft Companion offers 170 projects to learn 33 crafting techniques, with inspiration from 150 contemporary artists. Try working with traditional materials (wood, leather, gold leaf) or turn to page 378 and make a recycled Terrarium for your plastic dinosaurs.

Art photography, by David BateArt Photography provides a fascinating introduction to the crucial role of painting in the invention of photography, and the importance of photography in the development of modern art. Visual examples from the 19th – 21st centuries illustrate how global this field of art has become.

Bernard Leach by Edmund De WaalBernard Leach is the first biography and critical monograph of this renowned 20th century potter whose ceramics, writings and teaching hold a central place in the international history of the decorative arts.

 

Making sculpture from scrap metal by Peter ParkinsonMetal workers have recycled broken tools and other scrap since the Bronze Age, but only in the 20th century did artists start using such items to make sculpture. Making Sculpture from Scrap Metal puts this artistic practice into context, describes the concerns and techniques involved, and illustrates these with the work of contemporary sculptors.

Looking at pictures: an introduction to art for young people through the National Gallery collection, by Joy RichardsonWhat are paintings for? This and other topics including colour, light, symbols and techniques are discussed in Looking at Pictures, the National Gallery’s excellent introduction to art for young people. Don’t let this put you off: it’s an illuminating mini-history of European painting.

Contemporary design Africa by Tapiwa MatsindeContemporary Design Africa is the first book on the innovative and sophisticated uses of traditional crafts taking place across the continent.   Over the past 100 years communities have used manufactured “rubbish” to make footwear, household goods, even toys. This practice, alongside the cultural use of natural materials, is an inspiration for any designer.

Alfred Wallis by Matthew GaleAlfred Wallis fisherman and marine stores dealer, is now recognised as one of the most original British artists of the 20th century. In the light of new research, this book traces the development of his painting from when he started 1925, until his death in 1942 at the age of 87.

If you want to borrow these or other art books, bring in your membership card; or bring proof of your home address and join the library for free. We are off the south side of Leicester Square, behind the main wing of the National Gallery. For more information, contact the library.

Art books collage 2

[Philippa]

Art Book of the Month, December 2016

Title page from 'Shelter Sketch Book' by Henry Moore

Shelter Sketch Book by Henry Moore
London: Marlborough Fine Art, 1967

Limited Edition 80 facsimile collotype, each copy of which contains one specially designed lithograph by Henry Moore, pulled on the hand-press J. E. Wolfensberger, Zurich on handmade paper under the artist’s supervision, signed by the artist and numbered 1 – 180. This is No. 31.
Originally published as a portfolio of loose plates, now mounted and bound together.

Henry Moore (1898-1986), the son of a Yorkshire coalminer, is of course the most important British sculptor of the 20th century. But his expressive drawings of sleeping people in underground stations and air raid shelters during the London Blitz of the Second World War are an equally important part of his oeuvre. Moore produced them when he was appointed official war artist in 1940-42.

'Shelter Sketch Book' by Henry Moore

In the 1930s Moore had established himself as an avant-garde sculptor, but the horror of war changed the focus of his art. The war’s images of destruction and brutality would provide inspiration for many British artists. Kenneth Clark, then chairman of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, tried to invite Moore to join the scheme. Clark was probably hoping to keep artists he cherished such as Moore, Graham Sutherland and John Piper in work and prevent them from being killed.  Sadly a few had already died or vanished.  Eric Ravilious was lost at only 39, while flying over Iceland, Albert Richards had died in Normandy and Thomas Hennell in Java.

Moore at first declined, feeling that he had seen enough of war during his spell at the front in 1917. But one night, during an air raid, he was trapped in the London underground. He was very moved by what he saw and began drawing the extraordinary scenes of people huddled together on the platform. The sight had been a revelation. He returned over the course of a year, producing 300 sketches. These would become known as the Shelter Drawings.

Since the Luftwaffe did not generally bomb London by day, Moore would sometimes spend an entire night in the Underground on his visits to London, returning to his Hertfordshire home at dawn, his mind seething with material. He soon became a connoisseur of Underground stations:

“Liverpool Street extension was the place that interested me most.  The new tunnel had been completed, and at night its entire length was occupied by a double row of sleeping figures”
– Roger Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore

Moore also visited and recorded the ‘Tilbury’ shelter, part of the Liverpool Street goods station under Commercial Road and Cable Street. The officially designated shelter area rapidly became full and an adjacent warehouse was requisitioned. This damp complex eventually accommodated up to 14,000 people crammed beneath the railway arches in appalling conditions. As one employee of the government-backed Mass Observation project described it:

“There were thousands of people lying head to toe, all along the bays and with no facilities.  At the beginning there were only four earth buckets down the far end, behind screens, for toilets … The place was a hellhole, it was an outrage that people had to live in these conditions.”

In the early days of the Blitz, assailed by the terrible stench and wading through the effluvia of overflowing latrines, many refuge-seekers could not stand the primitive conditions in the shelters and preferred to return home. (Antony Clayton Subterranean City: Beneath the Streets of London, p.139)

To have openly drawn people dressing or sleeping would have been to intrude on their privacy and also to invite abuse or hostility. So Moore made a few notes in discreet corners. He spoke about the experience in a BBC interview:

“I had to make surreptitious notes in a little note book, and then next day when the sight of the scene was fresh in my mind, I began drawing from the note book.”

If anxious to retain a particular scene, he would walk past it several times, imprinting it on his excellent visual memory.

“What I was trying to show was my reaction to this dramatic suspense, the situation that you get of a tension between people and something about an impending disaster, impending doom, there‘s a drama in silence more than in shouting.”

The shelter drawings were a turning point for Moore. You can see in the drawings the beginnings of the themes that come to dominate his work in the years after the war, the mother and child and the family group. Antony Gormley said:

“Moore… believed that you could make art that talked to people universally, irrespective of creed, language and race and maybe invite them to look at the world in a new way.”

With their strong sense of compassion, these drawings are more than a documentary of suffering endured; rather they portray the ordeals of the victims of war as a whole. The sleeping women and children might be anywhere in 1940s Europe – and because of their actuality, in today’s war-torn Syria, the Gaza strip or Ukraine.

'Shelter Sketch Book' by Henry Moore

You can view this book in the Art & Design Collection at Westminster Reference Library.

[Rossella]

Art Book of the Month, November 2016

Chinese Natural History Drawings selected from the Reeves Collection, 1974 - title page

Chinese Natural History Drawings selected from the Reeves Collection
Corporate Author: Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History)
Edited: PJP Whitehead and PI Edwards
London: BMNH, 1974. Limited Edition 41/400

John Reeves (1774 – 1856) was an English tea inspector for the British East India Company who spent several years in and around Canton.  His impressions of China were not very favourable (‘…and we have been disputing for months past with the villainous Government of this vile country…’ he wrote to his sister in 1814); but this mood did not last and he soon developed an obvious enthusiasm for collecting Chinese animals and plants, though specimens from all over Asia appear in his collection.

Chinese Natural History Drawings selected from the Reeves Collection, 1974 - Pineapple Chinese Natural History Drawings selected from the Reeves Collection, 1974 - Slow Loris

An early 19th century Sir David Attenborough, Reeves was a keen naturalist.  He took to documenting animals and plants and commissioned Chinese artists to paint them in the Western scientific tradition.

He sent living specimens of beautiful Chinese flowering plants back to England, and was responsible for the introduction of many attractive garden plants to the West, including chrysanthemums, azaleas and wisteria. His name, reevesii, was applied to nearly 30 species of animals, and a plant genus.   .

Reeves’s son, John Russell Reeves, shared his father’s enthusiasm for natural history and eventually became a well-known naturalist in China for scientists in England. On John Russell’s death in 1877, his widow presented the drawings he had inherited from his father to the British Museum’s natural history department.

Chinese Natural History Drawings selected from the Reeves Collection, 1974 - Scarlet Macaw

Twenty stunning selected drawings from the Reeves Chinese Collection, divided equally between animals and plants, made mostly on large sheets of cartridge paper, are reproduced in high quality in this beautiful volume.  John Reeves lived to see the birth of photography – which made possible the collotype reproduction used here – but it is doubtful that his artists knew about cameras.  Many of these pictures were not drawn from the subject and in some of the most delightful examples too much artistic licence has been taken.  It must have been tricky to capture a realistic likeness while the animals moved about.  In some cases the drawing is a composite of leaf, flower and fruit from three different plants grafted on to the same stem!  Similarly, the insect drawings contain an amazing amount of detail and observation, but the insects are often purely imaginary.  But it is perhaps for these reasons that these beautiful drawings both show what the actual animal looks like and provoke a response in humans.

Chinese Natural History Drawings selected from the Reeves Collection, 1974 - Pineapple and Butterflies and a Dragonfly around Morning Glory

The drawings are pleasing aesthetically and still important scientifically; almost two centuries later, they represent a real tribute to the energy of John Reeves of Canton and the skill of his artists.

[Rossella]

What are you reading today?

It seemed like a good time to ask this again – your library staff and their reading habits have been left uninterrogated for too long. So here is a snapshot of answers to the question – a broad spectrum of themes and genres, as you might expect. Click on the links or the cover images to find out where they’re in stock in Westminster Libraries:

Calamity in Kent by John RowlandBritish Library Crime Classics

I’ve been working through the ‘British Library Crime Classics’ series – reissues of long out-of print crime novels from the Golden Age of crime writing 1920s-50s.  I have recently read Calamity in Kent by John Rowland and Serpents in Eden: country crimes edited by Martin Edwards (a collection of rural mysteries).
[Malcolm]

Theft by Peter CareyTheft, by Peter Carey

A book about fraudulent art and the love between two brothers who can’t stand themselves, and can’t live without each other.  It keeps me chuckling on the train.
[Ruth]

Web series, by Mary Balogh
I’m currently re-reading Mary Balogh’s Web series, which covers the lives and loves of two families.
The older brother marries the sister of the other family (The Gilded Web), the twin brother meets and marries the widow of his best friend when that friend is killed and he is injured during the battle of Waterloo (Web of Love). The vegetarian by Han KangThe twin sister marries the brother of the woman that married his older brother (Devil’s Web).
[Gill]

The vegetarian, by Han Kang

It’s weird, beautiful, dark and intense. I can’t compare it to anything I have read in a while.
[Zsuzsanna]

The girl with all the gifts by MR CareyThe girl with all the gifts, by MR Carey

This is a cross between Never let me go and 28 weeks later. A virus has turned the people of Britain and possibly the world into flesh eating zombies…
I don’t usually read sci-fi books but this is classed as fiction and really got me hooked – I love it.
[Michaela]

Innocent Eréndira and other stories, by Gabriel Garcia MarquezInnocent Eréndira and other stories, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A book of short stories decorated with the vibrant and vivid images that are typical of Marquez’s novels. The book begins with The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother. The ease of reading these tales and the length of each makes this a wonderful collection to read alongside a longer and more difficult book, or to read with someone else.
[Michelle]

Birdsong by Sebastian FaulksBirdsong, by Sebastian Faulks

This is my current book club read and I am near the end now. If you want a powerful sense of the insanity of WW1 and the way it broke just everything, this is the book for you. I will be cheering myself up with some Terry Pratchett.
[Anon]

The professor, the banker and the suicide king: inside the richest poker game of all time, by Michael Craig
This is a book about an American banker and entrepreneur called Andy Beal, who took it upon himself to challenge the best Texas Hold’em poker players to a series of heads-up/one-one-one matches in Las Vegas in the early 2000s. He ended up losing several millions after initially being ahead. It’s a great read as it gets into the psyche of the professional poker player, and demonstrates just how precarious a living being a professional gambler really is.
[Steve]

The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, by Alex RossThe Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, by Alex Ross

A very readable history of music from the early 20th century starting with Mahler, Strauss and Wagner, the development of classical music in America, music under Nazism and Communism etc.
[Hilary]

My Brilliant Friend by Elena FerranteMy Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

I’m currently reading volume three (there are four volumes in total) of this trilogy. A masterpiece! An epic tale of two women and the powerful nature of their friendship throughout their lifetime. But it’s also the transformative story of a neighbourhood, a city and a country in its violent and intellectual political and historic contest.
[Debora]

[Ali]