Hans Baluschek and the Small Universe of European Art

If one is a long-time follower of this blog or a fan of the European arts prior to the Postmodern era, then he should now be aware, if he wasn’t before, that that world was often a fairly small and insular one.  Many of the most notable artists knew each other well, or at least knew of each other.  It could be said that much of what was recognized then as the cream of European arts and letters really became so because of the fact that a goodly number of these folks were friends and acquaintances, and I would not argue the point . . . much.  It’s true that before Postmodernism changed the creative landscape, a great deal of what registered on critics’–and by extension the public’s–radars obtained its esteem by virtue of these relationships.  Of course, whether it remained there or not in perpetuity depended on many factors which had more to do with the quality of the art and the fickle tastes of high society, but it cannot be denied that many decent artists remained unknown or ignored in their own time due to a lack of the right social connections.  This type of class elitism was hardly confined to the creative fields, of course, but it certainly existed strongly there.

Consequently, the biographies of seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century men and women of the humanities often reads like an episode of Jame Burke’s wonderful television series Connections (which Ron has mentioned here before), a chain of creativity reaching back into the Middle Ages, fostered largely by wealthy patronage and by the academies.  Even those artists who sought to change this unfair system through their work or through their social standing were still necessarily a part of it.  Such was the case with Hans Baluschek, a German painter and graphic artist associated with the Symbolists and especially the Berlin Secession.  Like many of the artists of that movement, Baluschek identified with the working class to some extent and sought to empower them, using his art to portray what he perceived as both the inherent dignity and the terrible conditions of the working class.

Hans Baluschek - Dancing on the Roof Garden (1926)

Hans Baluschek – Dancing on the Roof Garden (1926)

Hans Baluschek – Lost (1920)

Hans Baluschek – Transient Workers (1926)

Hans Baluschek - The Locomotive (1921)

Hans Baluschek – The Locomotive (1921)

Hans Baluschek – Working Family (1920)

Hans Baluschek - Cologne in Summer (1909)

Hans Baluschek – Cologne in Summer (1909)

Hans Baluschek - Summer Night (1928)

Hans Baluschek – Summer Night (1928)

Although Baluschek preferred to depict the working classes in his drawings and paintings, he wasn’t opposed to presenting the higher classes either, particularly in contrast to the poor, such as in the work Berlin Fairgrounds.  Note the lower class boy smoking in the foreground of the image.

Hans Baluschek - Berlin Fairgrounds (1914)

Hans Baluschek – Berlin Fairgrounds (1914)

I mentioned earlier how many of these artists were connected, if not directly then at least through third parties.  Such was the case with Baluschek and noted German Expressionist painter and sculptor Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.  Although Kirchner was never a member (officially anyway) of the Berlin Secession, he and his group of artists and architects known as Die Brücke were associated with it, and Baluschek and Kirchner had another connection through the person of Dr. Oskar Kohnstamm, a psychiatrist whose children became the stars of their own play and children’s book, Peterchens Mondfahrt (often tranlated into English as Peter and Anneli’s Journey to the Moon) which Baluschek illustrated.  Kirchner was a patient of Kohnstamm, whose sanitarium treated those with chronic depression.  The play’s and book’s author was Gerdt von Bassewitz, and Peterchens Mondfahrt proved to be his most–indeed, his only–successful work.

Hans Baluschek – Image from ‘Peterchens Mondfahrt’ (1915) (1)

Hans Baluschek - Image from 'Peterchens Mondfahrt' (1915) (2)

Hans Baluschek – Image from ‘Peterchens Mondfahrt’ (1915) (2)

But one of Baluschek’s most interesting paintings–to me at least–is uncharacteristic of his work in a number of ways.  First, while most of Baluschek’s paintings had urban settings, this one presents a sparse country scene.  Secondly, while the allegorical context of many of his artworks tended to be subtle, this one (called Death) is a fairly obvious Symbolist comment on a major social problem of his day: the abuse of opiates.  Opiates were fully legal in Germany in the late 19th century when this piece was created and were sold as an over-the-counter remedy for a number of ailments, even for children.  But here the children represent both the naivete many people had about the medicine’s dangers and the sort of child-like feelings of carefree bliss that opiates can sometimes induce.  Another factor which sets this piece apart from most of his later work is the odd, simple composition.  In fact, it is because of the simplicity of the composition–Baluschek relies on a handful of small, light elements at the right of the picture to balance out the heavier, darker elements on the left–that one can discern that it isn’t quite successful overall.  The left side is too heavy.  However, this is somewhat mitigated by the strange buoyancy of the poppy flowers.  The flowers appear to be almost consciously seductive, and we can see the children have fallen under their spell, with one of them, the little girl lying in the background, already presumably dead.  No doubt the boy will suffer the same fate soon enough.

Hans Baluschek - Der Tod (Death) (1895)

Hans Baluschek – Der Tod (Death) (1895)

Wikipedia: Hans Baluschek

German Cards: Hans Baluschek

Post Split! Otto Lohmüller

I remember when I was little and someone explained to me about stocks and how sometimes they did this amazing thing called a split because they had become so valuable.  Likewise, when I posted a couple of random postcard images, the response was amazing and now I feel there has been so much supplemental information that this artist and those in the previous post (Pierre et Gilles) deserve their own separate posts.

The following image is a painting by Otto Lohmüller and when researching this artist, I was amazed to discover that he drew and painted mostly boys—both clothed and nude. However, there are a few charming examples of girls as in this image and another I found online. I do confess that after studying this image, I pick up a bit of gender ambiguity—not so much in the subject’s physical appearance but in her attitude.  The Russian title for this piece was “France” so I am assuming at the moment that this piece was done during the artist’s short time in France.

Otto Lohmüller – Gaelle

Otto Lohmüller was born in Gengenbach, Germany in 1943. (I’ve noted many times how 1943 seemed an auspicious year for artists—most notably Graham Ovenden and Robert Crumb.) He was a figurative painter, sculptor and book illustrator featuring mainly images of early adolescent males. Apart from the examples presented here, his portraits and sculptures included people of all ages from his town, from his travels to India and Southeast Asia and a few public figures. Lohmüller joined the the Boy Scouts in 1952 and his artistic interests at the time included Michelangelo, classical Greek works and the Boy Scouts illustrations of Pierre Joubert. After living in Paris for a short time, he began an apprenticeship in Offenburg in 1961 as a printer, and took an interest in Caravaggio. He began working on sculpture in the 1970s and eventually returned to his hometown with his wife and two sons. Since then, he has illustrated songbooks, publications of poems, and books for the local Boy Scouts—an organization with which he became devoted. In 1984 he joined the Deutscher Verband für Freikörperkultur (FKK, German Association for Free Body Culture). Lohmüller like so many before him has received grief for his portrayal of nude adolescents. This illustrates not only the ignorance and intolerance of law enforcement—this time German—but that having strong personal relationships with the models and their families means that they become vehement defenders of the artist in court.  He founded the publishing company Zeus Press to produce art volumes of his work and his published works are listed in the Catalog of the German National Library.

Otto Lohmüller - (title unknown)

Otto Lohmüller – (title unknown)

As always, if anyone can provide proper titles and/or dates to these works of art, the effort would be much appreciated.

Otto Lohmüller (Wikipedia)

Friends of Otolo (official Lohmüller fansite and museum)

Soviet Postcards, Part 6: L.F. Mileeva

This item comes from a series featuring artists from Ryazan. This oil painting is entitled “Natasha”.

L.F. Mileev - Наташа (Natasha) (1929)

L.F. Mileeva – Наташа (Natasha) (1929)

Lubov Fedorova Mileeva (1894-1930) was born in Ryazan, but worked in Leningrad. the Ukraine, the Caucasus and Central Asia. She graduated from the Art School Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts in 1914 and collaborated on two prominent Soviet magazines. She participated in ethnographic expeditions and in 1926, created a series of works devoted to the peasants of Ryazan. In addition to being a painter, she was also a skilled draftsman and noted illustrator of children’s books. She won numerous awards during her short career including a gold medal at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1925 and a posthumous solo exhibition of her work was held in Ryazan in 1936. Collections of her work can be found in the State Russian Museum and the Ryazan State Regional Art Museum.

Soviet Postcards, Part 4: V.P. Efanov

Today’s postcard is from a series entitled: “Soviet Russia” Art Exhibition. The sensitivity of the composition strongly suggests this is a more personal work, perhaps the artist’s own daughter.

V.P. Efanov - Marinka (1959)

V.P. Efanov – Маринка [Marinka] (1959)

Vasily Prokofevich Efanov (1900-1978) studied at the studio of D. N. Kardovsky in Moscow from 1921 to 1926 before teaching at the Moscow Surikov Institute of Art (1948-1957) and then the Lenin Moscow Pedagogical Institute from 1960. He is known for his work in portraits—including formal ones of prominent Soviet figures—but his narrative pieces tended to be group compositions. During his distinguished career, he received a number of awards and medals for services to the state including the Order of the Red Banner of Labor and was formally given the title of People’s Artist of the USSR in 1965. Like many of the Soviet artists being covered, there is little about him in English and I could find nothing about his personal life. I would certainly like to know who Marinka was, so once again, anyone having more extensive information about this artist is encouraged to come forward and share.

Soviet Postcards, Part 3: Thomas Couture

As you may have guessed from his name, Thomas Couture (1815-1879) was not a Soviet artist. In fact, he had come and gone well before the Bolshevik Revolution. The reason one of his works appears on a Soviet postcard is that it is one of a massive collection of art works housed at the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Pip already did a post here featuring this image, but I wanted to add this supplementary information.

The State Hermitage (Госуда́рственный Эрмита́ж) is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world, founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great. Its collections currently comprise over three million items, including the largest collection of paintings in the world. The museum also boasts several exhibition centers abroad. There is quite a bit online about this institution including video, but you can find the most general information here.

This piece translates as “The Little Bather”.

Thomas Couture - The Little Bather (1849)

Thomas Couture – La petite baigneuse (1849)

It is apropos that Thomas Couture’s work should be so highly regarded by a foreign institution as he always felt he was not adequately recognized for his innovative technique in his native France. Once he became a success, he opened an independent atelier, accepting his own students, in an attempt to challenge the École des Beaux-Arts. In 1867, he published a book on his own ideas and working methods. You can read more details here.

The State Hermitage official website (English)

Mark Lancelot Symons: A Symbolist Painter Reborn

British artist Mark Lancelot Symons was something of an anamoly.  His work is highly accomplished but resoundingly original, though certainly not without precedent (one can see the influence of earlier Symbolist painters such as Leon Frederic).  Yet Symons never felt that art was his true calling, only beginning to paint heavily and present his work publicly late in life, and then mostly at the behest of his wife.

A lifelong Catholic, Symons considered being a minister (unordained–he was able to marry and have children) his raison d’êtreAs a result of his deep religious faith, his paintings are often thematically Christian, either overtly or more subtly; however, he invited massive controversy among his fellow believers in his native country by placing some of the Biblical scene paintings in “worldly” contemporary settings.  Of course, despite the apparently easily offended Edwardian Brit sensibility, no one seems to have raised any objections to Symons using nude children in his work (not unlike Frederic, in fact).  Ah, how different things are today.  Can you imagine a Catholic priest offering paintings of nude children to the public in 2014?

Mark Lancelot Symons – A Fairy Tale

Mark Lancelot Symons – Ave Maria

Jorinda and Jorindal (or Jorinde and Joringel) is an odd choice for a tableau painting.  Paintings based on Grimm’s fairy tales certainly aren’t unheard of, but this is pretty obscure as far as they go, and not really one of their better ones.  The story concerns a pair of youths who are in love.  When the girl is captured by a witch–transformed into a nightingale and imprisoned in a birdcage–the young man dreams of the means to break the witch’s spell and free his beloved.  Pretty much your standard damsel-in-distress tale, in other words.  The decision by Symons to present the characters as modern children is an interesting one.  Place this piece in context of the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, of whom Symons was a follower.

Mark Lancelot Symons – Jorinda and Jorindal

Again, notice the Pre-Raphaelite influence here, particularly Millais and Burne-Jones.

Mark Lancelot Symons – Madonna and Child with Angels (1925)

Mark Lancelot Symons - Molly in the Garden

Mark Lancelot Symons – Molly in the Garden

Mark Lancelot Symons - Molly in the Pantry

Mark Lancelot Symons – Molly in the Pantry

Mark Lancelot Symons - My Lord I Meet in Every London Lane and Street

Mark Lancelot Symons – My Lord I Meet in Every London Lane and Street

Mark Lancelot Symons - The Day After Christmas

Mark Lancelot Symons – The Day After Christmas

Mark Lancelot Symons - (Title Unknown)

Mark Lancelot Symons – (Title Unknown)


Graffiti & Girls

I am pleased to present another submission from one of our guest writers, Ami. It is a challenge when editing someone else’s work to preserve the style and personality of the contributor while making sure the language is concise and clear. It is because of the dedication of fans like Ami that Pigtails can offer a broader perspective than Pip and I could by ourselves. Although we may not completely accept the world view of any particular writer, I think Ami’s contribution is worthy of exposure on this site. Enjoy, -Ron

Banksy is maybe the only graffiti artist ever to achieve household name recognition. His anonymous anti-establishment black & white stencil pieces have been spotted around the world. He boasts legal exhibitions, with his stuff going to people like Kate Moss and John Travolta for upwards of a quarter-million pounds, and there’s a movie about him: Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010).

Banksy - August, 2005

Banksy – August, 2005

Totally subaltern, it makes sense that one of Banksy’s landmark pieces is of… a little girl—the most hard-core rebellious tag that any subversive could identify with. So it was very apt, when on August 5th, 2005 the Global Community awoke to find a little girl had appeared, written by Banksy, on the 700 kilometer Security Barrier that is rapidly dividing the pariah Palestinians from the Israelis. Braided—maybe an allusion to Astrid Lindgren’s little anarchist heroine Pippi Longstocking—the small girl holds on to eight balloons that lift her off. She has an almost impossible lightness in a place noted for being very weighty, in a sometimes heavy world.

Another artist has also tweaked the graffiti art genre to achieve some legitimacy for the otherwise criminal art. Kevin Peterson, based in Houston, Texas, transferred wild-style scripts, tags and “bombed-out” urban spaces to canvas, and used it with corrugated metal as a background for the wickedest rebel icon: little girls… posing, strolling, gently smiling or just chillin’.

Kevin Peterson - Discompose (February, 2011)

Kevin Peterson – Discompose (February, 2011)

Kevin’s style is photo-realistic, causing one critic, Arseny Vesnin, to compare his work to Jacques-Louis David. The exquisitely rendered and vivacious little girls against a backdrop of rough street-art, urban decay and industrial metals offers a big contrast between the purest innocence and the trashiest breakdown. Kevin writes:

“It’s about growing up and living in a world that is broken. These paintings are about trauma, fear and loneliness and the strength that it takes to survive and thrive. They each contain the contrast of the untainted, young and innocent against a backdrop of a worn, ragged, and defiled world.”

Kevin describes himself in an interview with Michelle Markelz as having a soft spot for kids and it shows. We can easily tune in and empathize with the inner worlds of the girls in his figurative foregrounds. Each girl is solo, alone on the canvas, sometimes melancholy with perhaps a few hesitant smiles. Kevin says, “My work deals with isolation, loneliness and longing teamed with a level of optimistic hope.”

Kevin Peterson - Alone II

Kevin Peterson – Alone II

“Issues of race and the division of wealth have arisen in my recent work. This work deals with the idea of rigid boundaries, the hopeful breakdown of such restrictions, as well as questions about the forces that orchestrate our behavior.”

Recognizing his precise vision of innocence juxtaposed against hardness, Kevin makes reference to Banksy’s iconic Security Barrier girl many times in his work.

Kevin Peterson - from Graffiti Girls series

Kevin Peterson – from Graffiti Girls series

“A person who decides to go out and paint illegal graffiti and ‘deface’ other people’s property was once an innocent child as well but something happened along the way and they developed into someone who was willing to break laws and social norms to express themselves in such a way.”

…And sometimes that person who is willing to “break […] social norms to express themselves” still really is a child! If the image of a small graffiti girl is rebellious, a lil’ girl who writes graffiti must be revolutionary…

Solveig Barlow - November 29, 2007

Solveig Barlow – November 29, 2007

Called the “New” or “Female Banksy” by British media, the ten-year-old schoolgirl Solveig Barlow writes legally on wastelands around her Brighton home. While supported by her (magazine) writer father Paul and mother Heidi, she isn’t coached by them. Speaking of her muse Solveig told The Sun, “I’m not sure where I get my inspiration. I must just have a good imagination.” Solveig, which means “sunbeam” in Norwegian, uses SOL as her tag.

Solveig Barlow - March 23, 2009

Solveig Barlow – March 23, 2009

In the spirit of Banksy a year-and-a-half earlier, SOL gets up to the Berlin wall.

Solveig Barlow - November 27, 2007

Solveig Barlow – November 27, 2007

Graffiti is a subversive art—frequently anonymous, the expression of the alienated and disaffected. Its messages tend toward anti-establishment in form and content. But the most dissident piece or artist of all, turns out to be… the little girl.

The ultimate dissident philosophy is cute, fun, colorful, playful and readily forgives; it’s vulnerable, fragile, sincere and cries easily. That is what is most threatening to the heaviness of the world. That is what is most defended against, poked fun at and even called a crime.

Kevin Peterson - Into the Light

Kevin Peterson – Into the Light

Out-of-doors artist and social activist Keith Haring’s “radiant babies” are referenced by Kevin in his “Into the Light”. Openly gay, Keith was outspoken on gender and sexuality issues. He died of AIDS-related complications quite young, just 31.

Kevin Peterson - Hope

Kevin Peterson – Hope

”Kevin Peterson has a way with color that is so magnetizing and utterly perfect that at your first glance you see a photograph, at second glance you begin to realize it’s truth, by the third you are right in the middle of his brilliantly executed contrasted world of struggle and hope. Peterson has a clear depiction of the struggles of life … but it is his undertone of optimism and vulnerability that has kept our attention.” -Erin Leigh

The little girl in “Hope” is Ruby Bridges, after Norman Rockwell’s integration painting: “The Problem We All Live With”; she is a symbol of overcoming, reminding us that the dreams of movement and acceptance from earlier periods of art history still have hope and are found living in the same media today. While at the time, six-year-old Ruby represented the breakdown of racist segregation, today such a little girl might point to the equally powerful and punitive ageist and sexist rhetoric that maintains the norms and taboos of a contemporary capitalist patriarchy. Norman’s painting was printed in Look in 1964, since he had ended his contract with The Saturday Evening Post the previous year due to their unwillingness to accommodate his political expression.  Kevin says today, instead of trying to help solve social problems, he prefers to portray them in paint. “I’ve always enjoyed painting the figure…”

Kevin Peterson - Teddy

Kevin Peterson – Teddy

Long ago hardened against the glyph of the adult face and figure, every form of psychological defense thrown up against its affective expressions, the little girl still evokes for us our ultimate humanity, sensitivity and impermanence in an infinitely tender Universe.

Banksy - (untitled) (1)

Banksy – (untitled) (1)

Egoistic consciousness, meshed with the machinations of the big world, hates and despises what is sweet and soft and warmhearted. Kindness and caring melt the ego and its defenses. That’s why a harmless little girl is the most threatening icon to the System: she is trans-political and dissolves the vast, hard defenses of the statist war-machine and its cogs. Unlike ordinary signs, little girls are not absurd and dead arbitrary signifiers; they disarm everyone universally and immediately, being natural symbols of gentleness and goodhearted irreverence.

Banksy - (untitled) (2)

Banksy – (untitled) (2)

“As far as I can tell the only thing worth looking at in most museums of art is all the schoolgirls on day trips with the art departments.” -Banksy

And Solveig Barlow is definitely one schoolgirl worth taking a looking at….

Solveig Barlow - April 14, 2009

Solveig Barlow – April 14, 2009

In and through Solveig Barlow there is a radical going-over of the traditional subject/object dichotomy in Western art history. The little girl who had appeared as an image in the outsider art of graffiti writers, standing for the total subversion of all egoistic and worldly defenses, comes to life off the concrete walls and corrugated metal and writes for herself those anti-establishment images and graffiti.

Solveig Barlow

Solveig Barlow

For more images from these artists you can read Ami’s unedited article here and here.

SOL official website

Banksy official website

Kevin Peterson official website

An Artist’s Idyll: Norwood Hodge MacGilvary

When I was invited to join Pigtails, I was proud to have a lot of interesting material to share but unless I did better research, I would only be offering a perfunctory presentation based on a little text and personal speculation. I needed to have contact with people who were in the know in order to bring readers reliable and insightful information. When I learned that Graham Ovenden was alive and still producing art, I knew I had to reach him somehow; there was no one else I could think of who had the kind of information on antiquarian photography I wanted. I managed to get his number and screwed up the courage to call him. I was pleased to discover that he was quite personable, and despite my difficulty with his accent, I did my best to hang on his every word. I knew it would take a plethora of phone calls to collect this information, so I paced myself and just let him talk about whatever he wanted to in the beginning. In our first conversation he mentioned an image he regarded as the most idyllic portrayal of a girl child. I was intrigued and later tried my best to find out more, but there was little out there and certainly not the image he described. I hoped someday to get a look and share that discovery with other Ovenden fans. Unfortunately my timing was bad, and he was preparing for court and did not need the distraction of meeting someone new, so I broke off contact out of respect. On the positive side, I did establish some connections with those who know him well and that allowed me to get under the skin of the Ovenden case and now thanks to the Leicester Galleries, we can all have a look.

Norwood Hodge MacGilvary - The Garden of Childhood (c 1922)

Norwood Hodge MacGilvary – The Garden of Childhood (c 1922)

Norwood Hodge MacGilvary was born in Bangkok, Siam (now Thailand) in 1876, a son of American missionaries. At age fourteen, he came to the United States to be educated at a private boys’ school in Virginia and then graduated from Davidson College in North Carolina. He had no formal art training until after college but was later to be called an artist-philosopher. He studied art and philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley and art at the Mark Hopkins Institute in San Francisco and Académie Julian in Paris. He became a resident of New York and Providence, where he worked as a freelance illustrator for magazines such as Harper’s, Cosmopolitan and Pictorial Review. MacGilvary joined the faculty of the art department at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh where he taught from 1921 to 1943. He is considered a member of the American Realist and Tonalist movements, and his landscapes and figurative painting often contain Symbolist and philosophical elements. In his paintings, he embraced the subjects of evolution, human survival and the impermanence of individual life. He exhibited in Paris, New York, Chicago and San Francisco and was a member of the American Watercolor Society, the Boston Art Club and the Salmagundi Art Club. His works can be found in many important collections including the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. He died in Pittsburgh in 1949 and was honored by a memorial show at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.

This is one of his works with a philosophical bent. Quite a few of his images featured female nudes.

Norwood Hodge MacGilvary - Birth of an Idea (c 1920)

Norwood Hodge MacGilvary – Birth of an Idea (c 1920)

He was just as adept at portraying children as he was young women, and he sketched and painted a number of family groups that included children as well.

Norwood Hodge MacGilvary - Portrait of Child by Water (date unknown)

Norwood Hodge MacGilvary – Portrait of Child by Water (date unknown)

His portraiture naturally extended to his own family and I was fortunate to find this one featuring his daughter Winifred.

Norwood Hodge MacGilvary - Winifred (date unknown)

Norwood Hodge MacGilvary – Winifred (date unknown)

It is lamentable that more of his images are not available on the web and I have deliberately included the names where his work is exhibited in the hope that one of our readers may take the initiative and get us a better look at this fascinating artist’s work.

Leicester Galleries official website

Graham Ovenden: Fall from Grace? (10th revision)

*On September 17th, the Court of Appeal agreed to conduct a hearing to determine the status of Ovenden’s request for an appeal on what he and his legal team insist is a false conviction. At the same time, it agreed to respond to a request from the Attorney General—prompted by so-called child advocates—to review Ovenden’s sentence which the mainstream press has largely characterized as unduly lenient. The hearing overseen by Lord Chief Justice Thomas along with Justices Henriques and Blake took place on October 9th. The Court rejected the defendant’s bid for an appeal and described the original verdict as “safe” allowing the original trial judgment to stand. The Court did however succumb to political pressure and changed the original suspended sentence handed out by Judge Cottle to a term of imprisonment of 27 months.

According to Justice Thomas, one of the justifications for this change is that the defendant had not shown a “shred of remorse” for his actions. This creates a predictable and intractable problem for a defendant who, knowing he has been unjustly prosecuted, would naturally express outrage at his conviction rather than remorse. In the face of public scrutiny, this kind of tactic is an easy way for authorities to punish any defendant who might challenge his guilty verdict. Interestingly, one mitigating factor Judge Cottle took into account when sentencing Ovenden was that the artist’s reputation had been severely damaged by the proceedings. The Appeals Court, however, did not find that a valid basis for leniency.

Given how events transpired, it seems that the Crown Prosecution Service was determined to make an example of Ovenden—never mind that chaperones were present at photo sessions or that the models continued to visit Barley Splatt and have their photographs taken by the artist many years later. After being better informed of many details of the case, it seems the prosecution had a weak case, but made strenuous use of every bit of legal maneuvering possible to get the conviction. Most egregious of all was their reinterpretation of the 1960 Act so that the mere act of photographing a nude child is considered child abuse per se. Obviously, supporters of the artist and his work are concerned about the chilling effect this will have on future legitimate use of child nudes in art. However, a more important lesson in political reality (and human nature) is when the rules do not suit those who have power, they will manipulate them to their satisfaction. After numerous failures to convict Ovenden, prosecutors finally found a way to get a guilty verdict using a novel application of a statute never intended to apply to taking photographs. With a highly complacent and consolidated mainstream media interested in sensationalism, it was easy for the CPS and the Attorney General to generate the kind of public outcry that allowed the rule of law to be conveniently contorted here.

I was planning to write an essay called Respect and the Starving Artist while a high-profile trial was taking place in the U.K. But the facts of the case turn out to vividly illustrate many of my points more clearly than I had hoped. When any artist dares to cover subject matter involving the images of naked children, the conventional wisdom has become that there must be some sinister intent. Such a patent conclusion says a lot about the ignorant observer who finds solace in blindly observing his society’s paradigms. But it does not offer any useful insights about an artist who is compelled to follow his heart and explore the sometimes convoluted mysteries of human existence. An injustice is being perpetrated and it is my intent to push past the mainstream media’s rhetoric and the showmanship of pundits to offer a clear-eyed view of the situation and afford one particular artist a fair public hearing.

Many who have seen Graham Ovenden’s work with young girls would have to agree that he is a knowledgeable and skilled master of our generation, yet people forget that he is actually a modern day Renaissance Man suffering from a disproportionate emphasis on his nude girl art. He is a painter, photographer, photo historian, collector of Victorian photography and architect. In 1973, he moved with his family to Cornwall where he embarked on the building of Barley Splatt, an estate that remained a work in progress in the decades that followed. Ovenden was also a founding member of the Brotherhood of Ruralists in 1975 along with a number of fellow artists of note. As this essay’s intent is to focus on recent developments, readers not already familiar with Ovenden are urged to get a good overview here.

Graham Ovenden - The Lovers (undated)

Graham Ovenden – The Lovers (undated)

Ovenden began his photographic work in the late 1950s shooting street scenes in his youth on the East Side of London–some of which were published in Childhood Streets. By 1970, he and Peter Blake put together a series of paintings and photographs on the theme of Lewis Carroll’s Alice. Though Blake moved on to other subjects, Ovenden delved deeper into the prepubescent psyche, producing numerous paintings and photographs of children—both naked and clothed. Among them were commissioned portraits of the children of distinguished parents, and now since the ambiguous Protection of Children Act 1978, his former clients could be subject to prosecution. The Act states that, “It is an offence for a person to take, or permit to be taken, any indecent photograph of a child.”

Graham Ovenden - Stepney Kids (1964)

Graham Ovenden – Stepney Kids (1964)

Graham Ovenden - Peter and Juliette Blake (1976)

Graham Ovenden – Peter and Juliette Blake (1976)

Graham-Ovenden - (Tate #P04732) "She-kept-on-growing" (1970)

Graham-Ovenden – (Tate #P04732) “She kept on growing” (1970)

In 1991, as States of Grace was being published, a set of proofs and a photograph for the book were seized by U.S. Customs and held for over seven months. In February 1992, the U.S. Department of Justice claimed that the work depicted “sexually explicit conduct” which was illegal to import, sell or own. In a hearing one month later, the prosecution narrowed its focus to a single page. A hearing in May was attended by the girl depicted in the image–then 18 years of age–and eminent photo-historian and critic A. D. Coleman. Both were prepared to testify and had written statements. The government withdrew its case and returned the photograph and the proofs. Two months later the book was imported into the United States. The model’s statement was included in the book:

“I have known Graham Ovenden as a family friend for fourteen years—since I was four years old. I have modeled for Graham on numerous occasions—in fact, too numerous to count—for both his photographs and paintings. I have modeled for him both clothed and fully nude, both alone and with other children… The portrait which the United States has charged as indecent is a portrait of me as I was eight years ago. I am not acting in a sexual way in the picture and Graham never asked me to be sexual or treated me as a sexual object. The accusation that the image is ‘obscene’ is, to me, an accusation that I am ‘obscene,’ something to which I take offense.”

Graham Ovenden - (Untitled - Maud Hewes in States of Grace) (1984)

Graham Ovenden – (Untitled – Maud Hewes in States of Grace) (1984)

In March 1993, officers from the Obscene Publications Squad of the Metropolitan Police burst into Ovenden’s house and took 28 boxes of negatives, 67 videos and a large quantity of photographs. They quickly announced that they had “smashed” an extensive pedophile ring that had been carefully built up for over 20 years. The videos in this impressive-sounding confiscation were all BBC and Hollywood produced films and the materials containing photos included things like a physical education manual issued by the Ministry of Education that served as a standard reference in the British school system for two decades. The indiscriminate search did not yield any charges nor were any apologies offered.
In response, luminaries in the art world signed a petition that was instrumental in persuading the police to return the photographs. Upon their return, the confiscated materials were put on display in an exhibit called The Obscene Publications Squad Versus Art in a London art gallery, enabling the public to judge for themselves. Gallery owner Nicky Akehurst said, “I’m going to be showing the stupidity of it all.”  What they took was part of the extensive collection of Victorian photographs that Ovenden and his wife had assembled over a period of 20 years. “The police have targeted photographers,” Akehurst said. “Artists are so vulnerable. And it’s never just one person. There’s got to be a ring.”

In 2009, after an investigation involving officers from the Metropolitan, Devon and Cornwall Police forces, Ovenden was charged with sixteen counts of creating and two counts of possessing “indecent” photographs or pseudo-photographs of children. The images are all versions or stages of sixteen artworks that Ovenden had deleted from his computer well before the time his home was raided in November 2006; the police restored the images using forensic software to use as evidence. In October 2009, after less than two days of trial, the jury was discharged and a new trial date set. On April 9, 2010, after a five-minute hearing, the case was thrown out by the Truro Crown Court as two key prosecution witnesses–officers Tapper and Lemon from the original raid–failed to appear in court. Judge Christopher Elwen ruled that these serious failures of the prosecution would hinder a fair trial for the defendant and he had no option but to discharge the case. The judge’s reprimand was humiliating for prosecutor Ramsay Quaife who declined to launch an appeal. Speaking after the hearing, Ovenden accused the police of being ”transfixed by childhood sexuality”. He added, ”A lot has been made of my young nudes work, but it is really a small part of my output.” The artist had hoped a full trial would reveal the nature of his work, clear his name, and address issues regarding the behavior of police investigators. Some of the work seized in the raid has since been returned.

Graham Ovenden - Maud (1981)

Graham Ovenden – Maud (1981)

Graham Ovenden - Camille (1977)

Graham Ovenden – Camille (1977)

On April 19, 2010, the Western Morning News reported that the Child Abuse Investigation Team of the Metropolitan Police was investigating Ovenden over allegations of sexual abuse. In March 2013, Ovenden (age 70) went to trial at Truro Crown Court accused of nine charges ranging from sexual abuse to taking indecent photographs of four women when they were children. The three-week trial resulted in convictions on five charges related to Ovenden’s photography, two of indecent assault on a minor and acquittals on two charges of gross indecency with a minor. The prosecution withdrew three sexual abuse charges during the trial, replacing them with three charges based solely on photographs after two of the witnesses had testified they were never abused by Ovenden. Despite having successfully fought off past accusations, the timing of this case may have worked against Ovenden. Revelations regarding Jimmy Savile’s activities had just come to light and investigators and prosecutors had a public image to repair after egregiously overlooking an avenue of investigation that might have genuinely served the public.

The four alleged victims and two of their mothers testified in court. The women—ranging in age from their late 30s to 50—had posed for Ovenden when young and the police claim they made formal complaints in the late 2000s. Though Ramsay Quaife of the Crown Prosecution Service rather recklessly announced that the defendant is a pedophile, Ovenden vehemently denies any assault charges which allegedly took place between 28 to 40 years ago. One woman testified that when she was 6, he got into a bathtub with her and another girl and asked her to wash his “John Thomas” with a washcloth. She also alleged that he cupped his hands over her fully-clothed chest when she was 10; the jury convicted him on both counts. Ovenden is dismayed by the strenuous efforts of the prosecution to coerce witnesses and manipulate evidence to create this false impression.

Two of the remaining charges of sexual contact involved testimony from one woman who said she was asked to wear a Victorian nightdress and had her eyes covered with a black sticky tape blindfold as part of an elaborate ritual. She also claimed that she was locked in a room with Ovenden on three occasions. Obvious inconsistencies in the evidence compelled the jury to acquit Ovenden of these two charges. Photographic exhibits showed that the door in question did not have a lock or a bolt and the girl wore a white blindfold and was accompanied by a chaperone. The photo and others like it were produced as studies for reference in a commissioned work entitled: “Justice, pregnant with the spoils of Mammon, lead the Innocents to slavery.”  Due to the technicalities of courtroom procedure, only the image of the chaperone below was admitted into evidence during the trial so this is the first time the public has seen these images.

(blindfold exhibit) (1)

(blindfold exhibit) (1)

(blindfold exhibit) (2)

(blindfold exhibit) (2)

(chaperone exhibit)

(chaperone exhibit admitted into evidence)

(blindfold sketch)

(blindfold sketch)

There were two other “specimen” charges for the act of taking indecent photographs, but it is not clear if these images are related to the three deemed indecent by the jury or to other photographs. None were ever published by Ovenden, but it was the police that made reproductions of these images to serve as evidence. Two were of Maud Hewes, which apparently shows her somewhat more open-legged than in her States of Grace image. She clarified the nature of her participation in the photo sessions with a quote published in The Village Voice, “When I modeled for Graham, I’d make up the poses and he’d shoot them…He never asked me to be sexy and I never tried to…he’s been a family friend since I was four years old.” The third photo was also a variation of a photo of another model that appeared in States of Grace but with her genitals visible. The two complainants pictured in the photographs continue to affirm that they were never touched or mistreated by Ovenden and fully support their published images.

Graham Ovenden - (Untitled from States of Grace) (1973)

Graham Ovenden – (Untitled from States of Grace) (1973)

The difficulty in defending against indecency charges in the U.K. is that the standard is subjective. Whether a photograph is “indecent” is determined by whether “right-minded” people think it is. There are no standards or specific factors to consider. A prosecutor doesn’t have to justify why they are indecent, just convince a jury that they are. Art is not a consideration and the sensible notion of considering the image-maker’s intent is irrelevant.  [This applied only to the rule of the 1978 Act which was not used here and explains the prosecutions presentation of "scandalous" collages to set the tone for their verdicts even though the collages were not the bases for any charges.]   In reality, when assessing the character of an artist, intent is everything and the significance of the unpublished photographs is that no one ever viewed them except Ovenden (and now the police and trial attendees.)

Toward the end of the trial, Ovenden took ill and was hospitalized. As a result, he was not present for the verdict after the jury’s three-day deliberation. He had been waiting years for a chance to get his day in court and clear his name, so perhaps it was a blessing that he was not present.

Graham Cottle ordered Ovenden released on bail; sentencing will be scheduled on a later date. As the media have callously published his address, he can no longer find sanctuary at home.  Appeals have been filed but no information is yet available on the specifics or if any basis is due to police conduct.

Ideally, I like to present clear facts about the artists I write about. Usually, the only obstacle is reaching the people who are “in the know” and can offer reliable information. In this case, however, the problem is that recordings of the trial are not readily available to the public. Certainly a good read through the trial transcripts would clarify many things. But the U.K. is not like some other countries; one cannot just order up a copy, because they are not considered public records. Also, a distinction needs to be recognized between a court of law and justice; there are unjust laws just as there are unjust men, and a properly functioning court can still convict a man who has committed no offense in the eyes of reasonable people. The following are a few irregularities I noticed that require explanation.

The women who testified against Ovenden spoke from behind a screen, presumably to protect them from intimidation and perhaps public scrutiny. Courts have denied defendants eye-to-eye access to their accusers before, but the reason has usually been to protect the witness(es) from violent offenders. The use of the screen here sends a signal to the public and the jury that Ovenden remains some kind of threat to these women even into their adult lives.

Christopher Quinlan, who represented Ovenden, asked one of the women why she had waited so long to come forward. She said she blanked out her childhood memories but recalls telling her mother she did not like being photographed by Ovenden. The perplexing thing is that she returned to his home about ten years later—as an 18-year-old—and had her picture taken again by Ovenden. Presented with that image of her smiling, she was asked why she went back, but the woman could only offer “I don’t know.” She then added, “You’re not going to break me. I’m sticking by my story.” The quote “sticking by my story” caught my attention immediately because it is a clear sign of coaching. Witnesses and defendants naturally review their testimony, as they are bound to be nervous in a formal proceeding; but this kind of patent and awkward language suggests she was drilled repeatedly about how the defense will try to tear down her story and how she should stick to the agreed script. Rehearsed testimony interferes with justice in two ways. There may be mitigating circumstances that the prosecution would prefer did not come out, and a competent cross-examination might reveal inconsistencies with the testimony of others. The suspicious statements did in fact get noticed and the question of collusion came up in court, which the judge permitted the jury to take into consideration.

(exhibit of witness [left] smiling)

(exhibit of witness [left] smiling)

The prosecution was thrown off-balance when two of the witnesses scheduled to testify declined to state that they had been abused by Ovenden. The result was a withdrawal of three assault charges that were then replaced by three photographic charges during the trial. The prosecution’s eagerness to embrace a theory not warranted by the photo evidence and the addition of new charges mid-trial are disturbing developments. On the surface it may have appeared that collusion was limited to two of the women; but the modus operandi of criminal investigators would suggest that they were instrumental in helping the women rehearse and even advised them on what charges to file in the first place. The court later got a fuller explanation of why the woman waited to speak out, “It’s only when you get older you realise. It is unnatural, weird, scary, and I didn’t want to do it.” Certainly we have all done things in our past we regret, and then we move on and learn from the experience. Possibly the stigma of posing nude played a role, but realizing later that something is unnatural is a subjective cultural judgment. Is the latter judgment really more valid than the earlier? What makes her testimony lack the ring of sincerity is that she couched her words in a language indicative of victims who suffered horrific abuse. And assuming her description of events were accepted at face value, her experiences would not even approach that level of trauma. There appears to be a timeline problem as well, since Ovenden’s records show that she agreed to pose nude again a year after the alleged incidents, not the action of someone who found the experience “scary.”

A distressing development is that Ovenden’s own son Edmund (Ned) had been helping investigators since about 2006 and is even friends with one of them. Every family has its problems, but this betrayal is hard to fathom without a critical piece of information. Around the year 2000, the younger Ovenden was given a one-third share in the Barley Splatt property and began to borrow heavily against the estate. In 2008, while his father was hospitalized, he and Ovenden’s estranged wife Annie took advantage and removed a substantial amount of artwork and Victorian photography and apparently sold it off. The resulting financial predicament compelled the selling of the estate later that year and the elder Ovenden moved to in an outbuilding—called “The Garage”—where he continued to live until the end of the trial.

Lucinda Lambton - Barley Splatt NE Facade (c1985)

Lucinda Lambton – Barley Splatt NE Facade (c1985)

The Tate Modern has removed works by Ovenden from public view, saying his conviction “shone a new light” on his work. The thirty-four prints the national gallery owns were removed from its website and will no longer be available to view by appointment while the Tate Gallery Board conducts a proper review. The Tate has faced a controversy relating to images of nude children before and the Crown Prosecution Service has issued numerous warnings about American photographs that the U.S. authorities would not consider prosecuting. In 2009, a single work from Richard Prince’s Spiritual America—an appropriation piece made from Garry Gross’ nude photograph of a 10-year-old Brooke Shields—was removed from view after a warning from the Metropolitan Police that the image might break obscenity laws. The Tate then took it upon itself to pull the works of Ovenden from its website at the same time. All the prints in question were part of a large acquisition donated in 1975 and the Tate may not remove, donate, sell or destroy works from its collection per the Museums and Galleries Act 1992 except under specific circumstances. The exception that might apply here is “…unless the disposal is of a relevant object [work of art] which, in the Board’s opinion, is unsuitable for retention in their collections and can be disposed of without detriment to the interests of students or other members of the public…” Thus, it is the Board’s admittedly subjective mandate to make such decisions, which will undoubtedly reflect the character of the Board members serving at any given time. In the event that any images are legally deemed indecent by the courts, the Tate may be forced to destroy the work, as it is no more legal to possess than to display “obscene” material, nor could they be legally sold or donated. However, it is important to note at present that none of the girls pictured in the Ovenden prints at the Tate were complainants in the recent trial and none have yet been ruled indecent. We can only hope that this voluntary removal was simply a precaution made out of ignorance and not a sign of guilt that could serve as an invitation for an overzealous Obscene Publications Squad to cleanse the museum’s holdings. After the first removal of Ovenden’s work, a blog called Not The Tate was established for viewers to see some of the work and judge its merit for themselves. As of now, no decision has been made to deaccession Ovenden’s prints from the Tate’s collection.

Graham Ovenden - (Tate #P04742) The Brigitte Doll (1972)

Graham Ovenden – (Tate #P04742) The Brigitte Doll (1972)

Graham-Ovenden - (Tate #P01270) Lolita-Vanitas (1974-5)

Graham-Ovenden – (Tate #P01270) Lolita Vanitas (1974-5)

The behavior of the Tate is really only a symptom of a more fundamental problem. The fact that law enforcement involves itself in the affairs of artists means that art in its purest sense cannot serve its proper function. Real artists challenge society’s belief systems and make people think deeply about their world and what shape it should take. Throughout history, there has been a kind of dance between the shaman-artist and those upholding societal norms, and much of the time the establishment dominates until such time our humanity exerts itself from under the heal of oppression and gives us all a degree of liberty once again. Our society–and Great Britain especially–needs men like Graham Ovenden because he is showing us a new truth that many are fighting tooth and nail not to hear. However, with luck it may yet open the door to a more compassionate and noble humanity.

So, what is Ovenden teaching us? For one thing, he is having us look at ourselves in a mirror and realize that we have become obsessed with sex and yet we remain willfully ignorant of the reality it represents. He presents us the image of a whole person in a moment of time in her own right, as he explains in States of Grace:

“Whether I create a painting or photograph, the media is immaterial. In terms of aesthetics, there is no difference. Focusing on sexuality is not the point of my work at all. Sexuality is merely another attribute of the person. Because of this moment of childhood which is so fleeting a strong moral obligation actually to hold and make concrete such imagery. ‘Sexuality’ is part and parcel of the organic and spiritual self; inseparable from it.”

Or from an interview recorded by the British Library in 2000:

“I’m aware of the sensuality of these young girls; I’m moved by their angelic side as well as their demon side; they have a total wonder in them. As an artist, I wish to explore that. Children are beautiful but I don’t flatter them; I draw them with an edge.”

We should count ourselves fortunate that such an artist has shared his beatific vision with us, but Graham Ovenden has his faults like all human beings. He uses his intelligence and education to challenge himself and the rest of us, sometimes in a mischievous way. Confidence in his abilities and disregard for conventional attitudes make him appear arrogant. And he wholeheartedly follows his heart and has done so to a greater degree than most of us, and that evokes envy. History continues to teach us that appeasement offers only temporary and limited benefits and that a greater price must ultimately be paid. British history demonstrated this clearly with respect to Chamberlain and Hitler before World War II, and it is encouraging to know that there are still courageous people like Graham Ovenden fighting for a more beautiful, more spiritually sensitive and more intellectually stimulating world for all of us. Thank you, Graham.

Graham Ovenden - The Three Graces (1981)

Graham Ovenden – The Three Graces (1981)

An Update: Desperate People

Although neither Annie (Ovenden’s estranged wife) nor Ned (his son) testified in court, they were instrumental in the complaints that were lodged by at least two of the four former models of Ovenden (now adults) who testified in court as well as one of the mothers. One of the models is a long time friend of Ned and married to Ned’s best friend. Annie is a long time friend of said model’s mother. In addition, the same model owns, administers and is the technical contact for Annie Ovenden’s website since its inception in September 2010. As to the other model, Ned visited her in 2009 in all likelihood to prevail upon her to file a formal complaint against Ovenden. It is unknown what they discussed or what information Ned gave to the police about her, but when she testified at trial she denied ever being touched by Ovenden and claimed only that looking back to her childhood, she found the two photographs—that were never made into prints—distasteful now at age 38.

The emotional intensity of the family rift was further exacerbated by Annie and Ned’s borrowing which precipitated the sale of Barley Splatt when housing prices collapsed then compound the offense by removing valuable antiquarian photographs and artworks to raise more funds. Though it seems indecorous to air a family’s dirty laundry, I felt it important that readers know the context and largely what drove Ovenden’s prosecution and offer some clarity.

Desperate people are the most dangerous people and it is upsetting that time and time again throughout history, such people have no qualms about ruining a person, a community or even a society.

More Updates:

When I began work on this piece, I was told that those who really knew Graham Ovenden wanted to establish a site where the information about the man, his art and the trial could be discussed in a clear-headed fashion.  True to form, the mainstream media has propagated ignorance and sensationalized the matter.  The site has just gone online and can be seen here.

The two images of Hewes—kept as negatives—that were presented in evidence in this trial were also taken in the 1993 raid.  At that time, they were not presented in evidence and were eventually returned to the artist.  They were taken again in the 2006 raid along with two other images that were kept in a kind of reference portfolio.  Those other images were not presented at trial and the police are now denying they have them.

I used a little deduction to ascertain that the “specimen” charges were not photographs.  That may not necessarily be the case.  It turns out that Ovenden’s artwork may have been used as evidence to “inform” jurors about the kind of work the artist produces but were not the basis of actual charges.  UK law states that instead of showing the jury one image at a time, the prosecution can select one image from a batch and claim it is representative of the batch.  By doing this, the prosecution can select what they regard as the most damning image and the jury makes one ruling that convicts or acquits on multiple counts even though they have not seen the rest of the images.

A witness to the end of the trial stated that Judge Cottle demonstrated prejudice in this case by the tone of his instructions to the jury.  The judge seemed to be expressing a kind of self-righteous anger as though shaming the jury into convicting.  To the jury’s credit, they did deliberate for 2½ days and may have rushed to a compromise due to the impending Easter holiday and the jurors’ desire to get back to their normal lives.

A startling revelation is that after the trial a woman—who said she was a frequent visitor at Barley Splatt during the late 1970s—told defense counsel that based on her experiences there, the stories told by the alleged victims cannot be true.  This new evidence will undoubtedly be helpful in an appeal regarding the most serious of the convictions.

A number of Ovenden’s friends are claiming they were threatened by Ned into assisting in the prosecution’s investigation or warned at least to stay away.  Details are still coming in so more on this will be available soon.  The complication is that many associated with the Ovenden family are close friends with either Annie, Ned or Graham and being asked to take sides in this situation.  A few are trying to keep their distance as they are still friendly with members on both sides of this fight.

A reader has suggested that the choice of images here does not help Ovenden’s case.  1) Those who know him well know unequivocally that there is no question of his being a pedophile and I would not have written this post otherwise.  2) Mr. Ovenden has been very open about the kind of art he produces which is absolutely inconsistent with someone who needs to lie low about his activities.

Novel Activist has written two interesting articles about issues associated with the Ovenden case: one about the public hysteria that has developed about child pornography (here) and another about how law enforcement interrogates models to get them to cooperate (here)..

Sentencing took place at Plymouth Crown Court on June 4th.  Ovenden was given a 12 month suspended sentence.  That means that unless the court deems he has committed a new infraction within two years, he will not be serving any jail time.  If he does, he will have to serve the full 12 months.  It is clear to me that a farce is taking place between public officials and the media with Ovenden as a convenient pawn.

Two related developments have come to light worth mentioning.  Pigtails endeavors to provide accurate information but due to the secrecy of the courts, some pertinent information was not available that would have cleared up some confusion.  It turns out that Ovenden was convicted under the Indecency with Children Act 1960 which has different standards
than the Protection of Children Act 1978.  This was done partly because some alleged events took place before the 1978 Act was in place and for the remaining charges, it appears the prosecution did not believe they could get a successful conviction under the standards of the 1978 Act.  The consequence is that the prosecution managed to get convictions on some counts but a more lenient sentence.  In response, Attorney General Grieve has requested a hearing to review the sentence which was scheduled for July 26th and then rescheduled for October 9th.  This is little more than grandstanding to appease the public but for more details and analysis visit the Artist on Trial Blog.  Since Ovenden has filed for an appeal, the court decided to review the sentencing pending the outcome.

Other places to see Graham Ovenden art:

Peter Nahum at the Leicester Galleries (here): Gallery that sells Ovenden’s paintings.

Not The Tate Blog (here): Shows 28 of the 34 images posted at the Tate.

I AM A CHILD (here)

baby art blog (here and here)

Ironic Idolatry, et al.

One would be hard-pressed to find any historian who regards little girls as big players in the course of history, yet when one looks closely, they make their presence known. One of the earliest landmark television series on art and history had some of these interesting anecdotes. It was a thirteen-part series called Civilisation, hosted by Kenneth Clark and aired in 1969.

Kenneth Clark, Peter Montagnon & David Attenborough – Civilisation: The Great Thaw (1969) (1)

In the second episode, called The Great Thaw, I was startled to find a few minutes dedicated to a story about the cult of a little girl. It seems that during late Roman times there was a girl who refused to worship idols as a Christian and remained obstinate in the face of persistent social pressure and thus was martyred. Her relics began to work miracles and the cult of Sainte Foy (Saint Faith) began. In the 10th Century, the story of one miracle in Conques, France reached the bishop of Chartres, who then sent Bernard of Angers to investigate. It seems a man’s eyes had been smitten by a jealous priest and he was blinded. Later, when the man visited the shrine of Sainte Foy, his vision was restored. Witnesses claimed that the eyes were taken up to heaven by either a dove or a magpie so that they might be restored. The bishop was satisfied with Angers’ report and ordered that a Romanesque church be built at the site, an important stop on several pilgrimage routes.

Kenneth Clark, Peter Montagnon & David Attenborough – Civilisation: The Great Thaw (1969) (2)

The relic in question was installed in a golden statue studded with gems inside the church. It’s ironic that a little girl who refused to worship idols should be commemorated in this way.

Kenneth Clark, Peter Montagnon & David Attenborough – Civilisation: The Great Thaw (1969) (3)

Kenneth Clark, Peter Montagnon & David Attenborough – Civilisation: The Great Thaw (1969) (4)

Except for it’s small stature, it is hard to imagine this figure represents a little girl. As a matter of convenience, the mask of a late Roman emperor was used to make the face.

Kenneth Clark, Peter Montagnon & David Attenborough – Civilisation: The Great Thaw (1969) (5)

I was pleased to see Kenneth Clark pay attention to the lives of ordinary people during these times, and sometimes that included children. Another notable artwork was a painting by Joseph Wright of Derby. He made a number of paintings that seem to glorify the Age of Reason and the early Industrial Age, but each hints at something more disturbing and foreboding. An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump was a painting illustrating how gentlemen of leisure would conduct scientific experiments, this time studying the effects of removing the air on a hapless cockatoo. As one examines the center of the scene, we see two elegant and tender-hearted girls showing distress at this spectacle. One gentleman seems to be explaining to them the necessity of such endeavors while another seems to be expressing doubts.

Joseph Wright of Derby – An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768)

The creation of the Civilisation series is itself a remarkable story, and I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in European history or art. The U.S. was conducting early experiments with color television in the mid and late sixties, but the results were garish and simplistic. U.K. critics were questioning whether color was really worth the effort. In 1965, David Attenborough was put in charge of BBC2 and his mandate was to make the network innovative; he decided to introduce color and better image resolution as its mainstay. Kenneth Clark was a historian and a popular figure in British media but, approaching age 70, he had yet to learn the subtleties of presenting in a TV format. Attenborough and other producers felt that BBC2‘s color debut should be something really stunning, and it was decided to do a series on Western European art and to actually bring the relevant architecture, sculpture, paintings and music directly to the TV audience. Because this series was an ambitious endeavor, budget costs were understandably high, but Attenborough felt the series was of such high quality that it could be shown twice a week, effectively halving its air-time budget. As few had color televisions, many people organized Civilisation parties each week so that friends could share the experience.

Another innovation was the use of the subtitle “A Personal View,” used by the BBC many times hence. The problem was that Clark had an interesting but subjective view of history, and this phrase was added in anticipation to the inevitable scholarly objections. Clark had difficulty integrating the Spanish contribution to art and simply decided it was easier to ignore it. To Attenborough, it made perfect sense to use art history as a showcase for color, but he had a background in zoology and caught some flak from his associates, who felt his first major venture should have been about natural history. He made up for this by producing The Ascent of Man and then Life on Earth shortly thereafter. These successful series established the BBC’s reputation and style for the coming decades.

More about Civilisation

Wikipedia: Kenneth Clark

David Attenborough – The Life Series (Official Site)

Wikipedia: David Attenborough