A lady of pictures: the connoisseur in caricature

May 11, 2009
A lady composed of pictures

A lady composed of pictures

This female connoisseur holds her lorgnette at the ready, poised to prove her aesthetic sensibility and fashionable taste. Yet her own body is composed of the very miniatures, prints and portraits upon which she would train her quizzical gaze. On her broad skirts hang an assortment of landscapes, cameo portraits, popular prints of romantic figures such as Byron and Napoleon, and animal paintings, while she is crowned with a number of intimate miniatures in place of a hat. Even her feet appear to have been replaced by prints.

The image plays light-heartedly with ideas of what it means to be an individual, and about the power of things to represent the self. Teasingly, the paintings bestow meaning and animation on the connoisseur even as she pretends to define their own worth. They make up her identity; without the art there would, quite literally, be no connoisseur.

A composite picture, ‘The connoisseur’ lies in the tradition of Giuseppe Arcimboldi (1527-1593), the Italian painter best known for his curious portraits composed entirely from fantastical arrangements of vegetables, fruit, fish and beasts. Designed by George Spratt, she belongs to a series of whimsical lithographs called ‘Twelve original designs’, published c. 1830 by Charles Tilt (1797-1861).  Her unusual companions include, amongst others, an ‘Antiquarian’, his body made up of medieval fragments and pieces of stained-glass window, a ‘Conchologist’ composed from her collection of rare and beautiful seashells, a ‘Mineralogist’ constructed from a selection of polished crystals, marbles and other minerals, and an ‘Entomologist’ with limbs formed from a living tangle of beetles, butterflies and grasshoppers. – Amanda Flynn

Image:

The connoisseur. John Johnson Shelfmark: Trade in Prints and Scraps 2 (1).  ProQuest durable URL

Copyright © 2009 Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Reproduced with the permission of ProQuest. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Comments are welcome for sharing with other users, but regrettably the editors of Curators’ Choice are not necessarily able to respond to enquiries.

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Bitter pills and blood-letting: 19th century medicine in satire

May 6, 2009
A patient undergoes bloodletting, or the euphemistically termed 'breathing a vein'.

A patient undergoes bloodletting, or the euphemistically termed 'breathing a vein'.

Medicine, in the early nineteenth-century, was not a pleasant experience for the patient. It was an age of “heroic” medicine that consisted of “copious bleeding and massive doses of drugs.” In 1804, James Gillray produced this series of satirical etchings that brilliantly charts the progress of disease in one unlucky patient…

In ‘Breathing a vein’ the patient stoically begins his treatment with a course of bloodletting, or phlebotomy. Beloved by both physicians and quacks in the early nineteenth-century, it was a standard medical practice (and, indeed, one of the oldest, dating from classical antiquity). It entailed drawing blood from one or more of the larger external veins, such as those in the forearm, in order to ‘cure’ a disease and restore the body’s natural balance —frequently physicians would take so much blood in one sitting that the patient would be left faint and swooning. Gillray plays with cruel wit upon the contrast between the title, ‘breathing a vein’, which suggests a light and pleasant experience, and the reality, as indicated by the fountain of blood gushing from the patient’s arm and his glum expression.

The patient awaits the effects of his purgative emetic...

The patient awaits the effects of his purgative emetic...

His condition not having improved, the patient is shown in the second print trying a ‘Gentle emetic’ instead—a dose intended to cause a bout of (anything but gentle) vomiting. The pale-looking patient sits beside a waiting bowl, while the physician holds his head in readiness. 

The patient swallows his bitter tasting medicines.

The patient swallows his bitter tasting medicines.

In the third of the series, ‘Taking physick’, the patient—looking ever more wretched—screws up his face against the sour taste of his medicine. Few effective drugs existed, and those that physicians did prescribe were sometimes more harmful than helpful—and the effects they produced were ripe for caricature. In this case the man is probably taking a laxative intended to purge the system of deletrious material. A labelled bottle is clutched in his hand, and two others stand waiting on the mantelpiece. Physicians would often prescribe drugs to be taken repeatedly, many times over in a day, and the patient’s unshaven, dishevelled state suggests that he has been subject to this treatment for some time. Indeed, Gillray’s sly depiction of the man’s unbuttoned trousers and trailing shirttails suggests that he has spent much of his treatment in close confinement with his chamber pot.

In celebration of his recovery, the patient joyfully tucks into dinner.

In celebration of his recovery, the patient joyfully tucks into dinner.

In the fourth print, ‘Charming well again’, the patient is finally recovered (probably despite rather than because of his treatment), and beams with delight. His relief seems due not just to feeling well again, but also to having exchanged his noxious doses for a hearty meal of roast chicken. Clearly, he hasn’t wasted a moment of his recovery on such trifling matters as changing out of his sick clothes and nightcap; having paused just long enough to tuck a napkin under his chin, he has launched straight into dinner.  – Amanda Flynn         

1Lois N. Manger, History of Medicine, New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc., 1992, p. 205.

Images:

Breathing a vein. John Johnson Shelfmark: Trade in Prints and Scraps 8 (64). ProQuest durable URL

Gentle emetic. John Johnson Shelfmark: Trade in Prints and Scraps 8 (70). ProQuest durable URL

Taking physick. John Johnson Shelfmark: Trade in Prints and Scraps 8 (73). ProQuest durable URL

Charming well again. John Johnson Shelfmark: Trade in Prints and Scraps 8 (67). ProQuest durable URL

Copyright © 2009 Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Reproduced with the permission of ProQuest. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Comments are welcome for sharing with other users, but regrettably the editors of Curators’ Choice are not necessarily able to respond to enquiries.


Exporting to the Empire: labels of the British cotton trade

April 30, 2009
A bolt label destined for the Indian market

A cotton label destined for the Indian market

The John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera holds many thousands of rare advertising labels representing every imaginable product. Among the most visually striking are these chromolithographed labels produced by British companies for the export of cotton cloth.

Cotton as a commodity was of great importance to the British Empire of the 19th and early 20th centuries; the cotton industry had experienced massive expansion during the Industrial Revolution and by the mid-1830s cotton textiles accounted for more than the half the total value of all British foreign exports.

"East meets West" was a popular theme among sellers

"East meets West" was a popular theme for exporters

Raw cotton was brought to mills in Scotland and the North West where it was processed into bolts and bales of cloth. Before leaving the mills each bolt was stamped with the mark of the exporter and a colourfully-decorated paper label was often added. These labels, also referred to as tickets, were attached to the ends of the bolts and acted as trade marks, identifying a particular mill or producer’s product in the marketplace. They were designed to be visually appealling to the cloth buyer and individual labels were often created to target a specific market. Bright, colourful designs were instrumental in selling British cotton to far-off markets in India, Africa, China and Japan.

As bale and bolt labels were supposed to catch the eye of the shopper, they often employed local scenes or symbols which would be familiar to intended buyers. The example below is one of many produced for the Indian market which show scenes of the state visit by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, in 1875-6. Edward returned from India with four Asian elephants for London Zoo.

A delightful label of 1901-1910

"For the King": a delightful label from the early 1900s

One of the earliest references to the labelling of cloth is mentioned in Wadsworth and De Lacy Mann’s The cotton trade and industrial Lancashire 1600-1780. Describing the textile trade with Africa in the late 17th century, the authors talk of fabric “packed in a stiff paper cover with a gaudy picture of an elephant , the device of the Royal Africa Company on the outside.” The gaudy elephant is probably an early version of the bale label, not too different from the one shown here. – Ken Gibb

Images:
Indian prince. John Johnson Shelfmark: Labels 17 (8) (ProQuest durable URL)

Rug merchant. John Johnson Shelfmark: Labels 17 (28) (ProQuest durable URL)

Elephant. John Johnson Shelfmark: Labels 17 (10) (ProQuest durable URL)

Copyright  © 2009 Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Reproduced with the permission of ProQuest. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Comments are welcome for sharing with other users, but regrettably the editors of Curators’ Choice are not necessarily able to respond to enquiries.


To hell and back: surviving the gallows

April 17, 2009
A broadside reporting Mary Green's execution and revival

A broadside reporting Mary Green's execution and revival

In 1819 Mary Green was found guilty of using counterfeit banknotes, a capital offence. Sentenced to death by hanging, Mary was executed on the morning of 22nd March on a scaffold constructed in front of the notorious Newgate Prison.

After “hanging the usual time” she was declared dead and her body released to friends for burial. To their astonishment, the “deceased” began to show signs of life. A doctor was quickly summoned and Mary was soon brought back to her senses.

Surprisingly, Mary appears to have suffered few lasting effects from her unfortunate ordeal. She is believed to have taken another name and started a new life in Canada. She died for the second, and final, time in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1834.

There are several other recorded instances of surviving the death penalty, the most famous tale being that of John “Half-hanged” Smith, hanged at Tyburn on 24th December, 1705. Capitally convicted for robbery, Smith was granted a reprieve while he was actually hanging on the scaffold. Having hung for 15 minutes or more, Smith was cut down and returned to life.

When asked what it felt like to be hanged, Smith reported seeing “a great blaze or glaring light that seemed to go out of my eyes in a flash and then I lost all sense of pain.” The pain, it seems, was reserved for his return to the living: “After I was cut down, I began to come to myself and the blood and spirits forcing themselves into their former channels put me by a prickling or shooting into such intolerable pain that I could have wished those hanged who cut me down.”

John Smith's story retold in an 1830s broadside

John Smith's story retold and updated for an 1820s broadside, complete with details of a fictional second hanging.

Smith apparently failed to learn his lesson – he was indicted for housebreaking at least twice more, narrowly avoiding the gallows each time.

Not every gallows survivor was as lucky as Mary Green or John Smith. A Mrs Cope of Oxford also lived through her death sentence in 1658, but this time the unsympathetic authorities simply insisted on mounting a second, more successful, attempt the following day. – Ken Gibb

Images:
An account of the extraordinary life and execution of Mary Green. John Johnson Shelfmark: Harding B 9/1 (30)(ProQuest durable URL)

A singular character. John Johnson Shelfmark: Harding B 9/1 (40) (ProQuest durable URL)

Copyright © 2009 Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Reproduced with the permission of ProQuest. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Comments are welcome for sharing with other users, but regrettably the editors of Curators’ Choice are not necessarily able to respond to enquiries.


Fruit crate labels

January 21, 2009
The fruit crate label is one of the most vibrant and iconic examples of American advertising art and is closely linked to the development of lithographic printing in the United States. 
A 1920s peaches label

A 1920s peaches label

Crate labels originated in California in the late 19th century, when completion of the transcontinental railroads had made coast-to-coast shipping of fruit and vegetables possible for the first time.

Jazz Brand fruit label

Jazz Brand fruit label

As the produce was transported in wooden crates, labels were necessary to identify the contents and place of origin, as well as to attract the eye of potential buyers. In East Coast fruit markets and auctions halls these labels quickly became the growers’ most important advertising device and the more vivid and attractive the illustration, the more effective it could be.

Between the 1880s and the 1950s, millions of crate labels were produced for fruit and vegetable growers. Countless designs were printed by immigrant German lithographers who brought their skills to the United States.  As the fruit trade grew, so the fledgling lithographic industry grew with it.

Crate art reflects American social and political history through the years. Early images of luscious fruit and local orchards were replaced with illustrations encompassing nearly every theme imaginable, from the Old West, Gold Rush and dramatic landscapes to politics, music, children and beautiful women.

Crate label for Polkodot Brand citrus fruit

Crate label for Polkodot Brand citrus fruit

Paper labelling ended abruptly in the mid 1950s, when advances in packaging technology produced the more economical preprinted cardboard box. Large quantities of labels remained unused in packing sheds and printing houses, and these have formed the basis of a thriving collectors’ market. – Ken Gibb

Georgia peaches. John Johnson Shelfmark: Labels 11 (5) (ProQuest durable URL)
Jazz brand. John Johnson Shelfmark: Labels 11 (35) (ProQuest durable URL)
Polkodot brand. John Johnson Shelfmark: Labels 11 (22) (ProQuest durable URL)

Copyright  © 2009 Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Reproduced with the permission of ProQuest. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Comments are welcome for sharing with other users, but regrettably the editors of Curators’ Choice are not necessarily able to respond to enquiries.


James Norris – an insane American.

September 18, 2008
the insane American

James Norris: the insane American

“Rivetted alive in iron, & for many years confined, in that state, by chains 12 inches long to an upright massive bar in a cell in Bethlem.”

 

The sad tale of James Norris (mistakenly called William by the press) captured the attention of the public in 1814 when he was discovered in Bethlem Royal Hospital, mechanically restrained and in poor health, having been confined in isolation for more than ten years. Norris, a seaman from America, was originally incarcerated in ‘Bedlam’ for an unnamed lunacy and was, after a number of violent incidents, restrained in this extraordinary device designed specifically for him. No less than six members of parliament visited Norris during 1814, each maintaining that he was rational, quiet, and capable of coherent and topical conversation.

As a result of the publication of this image and the interest it generated in asylum reform, Norris was released from his restraints in 1814, yet remained confined in Bethlem. However, the conditions he had endured for more than ten years had so weakened his constitution that he died within a few weeks of his release, of either pneumonia or tuberculosis. The case of James Norris, and the public interest it created, was instrumental in the creation of the Mad House Act of 1828, which sought to license and regulate asylums for the insane, and to improve the treatment of the insane.

Three men were responsible for exposing the plight of William Norris, and eventually gaining his release: Edward Wakefield (1774-1854), member of parliament, reformer, and philanthropist, William Hone (1780-1842), political writer and publisher, and James Bevans, architect. These men were concerned by the condition and ill-treatment of patients in lunatic asylums and thus formed a committee with the aim of visiting asylums around the country and making reports on what they found. The illustration of Norris and its subsequent publication was part of an orchestrated drive by these three men to bring the issue of asylum reform to the public. The number of times the image was copied by different artists pays tribute to the vision of the committee. This particular etching by G. Cruikshank, was published in 1815 by William Hone, sketched from life by G. Arnald in 1814. – Liz Mathew

 

William Norris – an insane American

Human Freaks 4 (39) Proquest durable URL

 

Copyright © 2008 Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Reproduced with the permission of ProQuest. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

Comments are welcome for sharing with other users, but regrettably the editors of Curators’ Choice are not necessarily able to respond to enquiries.


A brief guide to broadsides

August 22, 2008

From the 16th to the mid-19th centuries, the general public looked to the broadside for news of the latest sensational crimes, murders and executions. As one of the most popular forms of street literature, broadsides were the tabloid newspapers of their day, selling near the gallows on execution days for just a penny. Public hangings were virtually a form of entertainment, attracting large crowds eager for a grandstand view of the proceedings, and the broadside vendors were ready to shout their news the moment the accused was “launched into eternity.”

  

The execution of John Akrill

This example, entitled Some particulars of the execution of John Akrill, is typical of the broadside format. A single sheet of paper printed on one side, the broadside usually included an account of the crime, a woodcut illustration (in this example, a scene depicting the execution), a description of the convict’s final hours and his last dying confession. The latter was often given in the form of a cautionary verse, emphasising the sorrow of the convict and warning readers of the dangers of drink and bad company. John Akrill, the unhappy subject of this particular broadside, was sentenced to death in 1827 for the crime of horse stealing, one of nearly 500 offences at that time punishable by death.

 

While many thousands of broadsides were printed, the market was dominated by only a few printers. Profits depended on the printer’s ability to produce and sell broadsides quickly and cheaply, and production costs were kept to the bare minimum. Woodcuts could be reused as the occasion demanded, and stock illustrations of the gallows even had a removable section designed to accommodate the required number of hanging bodies!

The gallows

 

Broadsides were often prepared far in advance of the execution date and were notoriously unreliable, containing numerous printing errors and inaccuracies of all kinds. Many, if not all, of the gallows speeches and confessions reported were completely fictional, while some printers even reused entire texts, changing only the names.

 

 The John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera contains several hundred crime broadsides, all of which are being catalogued and digitised as part of the joint Proquest and Oxford University project, The John Johnson Collection: An Archive of Printed Ephemera. – Ken Gibb

 

Images:

Some particulars of the execution of John Akrill. John Johnson Shelfmark: Crime 1 (4) (ProQuest durable URL)

 

The last dying speech and confession of Thomas Howard. John Johnson Shelfmark: Crime 1 (97) (ProQuest durable URL)

 

Copyright © 2008 Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.  Reproduced with the permission of ProQuest.  Further reproduction prohibited without permission

Comments are welcome for sharing with other users, but regrettably the editors of Curators’ Choice are not necessarily able to respond to enquiries.