02 April 2016

Art and Empire at Tate Britain

The "art and empire" exhibition at Tate Britain  (till 10 April) turned out to be surprisingly interesting - I rather expected a chronological  debunking of jingoism, but that shows a certain narrow-mindedness on my part. The exhibition was more rewarding - and I especially enjoyed the first room, with lots of old maps, and Fante flags hanging from the ceiling (video about them is here).

No photography, so the notebook got well used -

Lots of notes of things to look up, especially the commentaries on selected objects, available online - audio insights, they call them. Hope they'll remain online after the exhibition finishes.

The room called Power Dressing included the bare-legged portrait of Captain Thomas Lee, 1594, which Tate Britain usually has in its historical displays. He fought, and negotiated, in Ireland; in 1594 he presented position papers to  Queen Elizabeth  and took the opportunity to have the portrait painted in London.

From the transcription of the audio:
" Captain Lee is standing in the open air. He’s standing by an oak tree which stands for loyalty, stalwartness. We presume that the landscape behind him is meant to signify Ireland in general terms. Of course it’s not a faithful representation. So behind to the left we have hills. Behind to the right we have a stretch of water and little helmeted figures and this seems to obviously refer in general terms to Lee’s, activities in Ireland but also specifically there had been a skirmish at Erne Ford the previous year of which he was obviously proud of his involvement. Everybody looks at the picture and at his bare legs and asks what’s going on, and this is something that we have to try and unpick. One thing that I should mention is that Lee had been widowed the previous year and he was, it’s clear, on the marriage market. So it has been said that he’s actually showing off his assets for potential brides."

Dr Karen Hearn also says:
"The bare legs seem to reflect a number of different strands of Elizabethan thought  ... this is a period in which engravings are coming in, showing classical heroes as individual figures ... we might particularly say that Captain Lee’s pose in general terms reflects that of the Apollo Belvedere. ...

 However there’s another element to the bare legs which is very specific to the Anglo Irish connection. In the mid-sixteenth century we start to get an interest in the costumes of different nations.  ... There seems to be an idea that it was typical Irish dress to have bare legs ... this notion that the Irish had bare legs in order to run through bogs.  ... it’s the sort of misapprehension which I think can be quite common in ideas about national dress. And for instance in the British Museum there is a manuscript collection of such images [by] Lucas de Heere of local costumes ...  between about fifteen-seventy-three to seventy-five and one page does, show Irish people including a young male warrior, with bare legs and in fact the text talks about the ‘wild Irish’. So I think we can presume that people looking at this would see Captain Lee as wearing somehow a form of Irish dress. However this is really nothing like even the fantasy Irish dress in the books."

In the final ("modern") room, I was intrigued by Rita Donagh's "Shadow of Six Counties" -
From Dr David Blayney Brown's commentary:

"Donagh’s map really is a reflection on that history,[of the separation of Ulster], it shows that the territories were disputed that a shadow of history falls across Northern Ireland, particularly focussed around the Belfast the focus of the Troubles in the later Twentieth Century. And many people would feel that history is still problematic and has never really been resolved. And so in the shadow that falls over the map in her rendering, that shadow reads like a dark cloud, a spectre of history that just refuses to go away."

Elsewhere was mention of Mary Impey's aviary in Calcutta, of which 200 birds were painted by  Indian artist Shaikh Zain-ud-Din -
Lady Mary's bird paintings have been exhibited at the Ashmolean, Oxford (via)
And representations of John Burke's Kabul War Album, with the  (very Victorian) tracery augmenting the pages above and below the photographs -

Rachel Pringle of Barbados, who was the owner of a famous hotel in Bridgetown, Barbados. By the time of her death in 1791, she was one of the wealthiest citizens in the town -

Judy Watson's prints from the 1990s, including "Our skin in your collections" -

Thomas Ona Odulate's woodcarvings -

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