Saturday, August 2, 2014

A. ALL SAINTS, THORNEY HILL -context for a Traquair mural

Whenever you are in England, I recommend a trip south of London two hours by car to a place just beyond the New Forest in Hampshire, to the village of Thorney Hill (near Avon Tyrrell/ Bransgore/Christchurch.)  Call before you go to get permission to see the church of All Saints there:
This blog is the first of three I am devoting to Phoebe Traquair, the artist of the altar mural in All Saints, Thorney Hill. For references I have used three books by Elizabeth Cumming on Phoebe Traquair and a book on All Saints and the Manners family by Canon Patrick Elkins and Janet Burn. (See full references at end.) All photo images are mine unless otherwise stated.
       My own interest in this church and its mural began when a drawing was brought to my sister and her husband, Elizabeth and Jeffrey Parker, at their art gallery in Nova Scotia, Canada: Lyghtesome Gallery in Antigonish. They saw Phoebe Traquair's signature on the drawing and wondered whether I might like to find out more about her.  (For my research on the drawing alone, see the third blog entry, C. PREPARATORY DRAWING BY PHOEBE TRAQUAIR.)  I made the connection of the drawing to the painting in All Saints, but then I was curious about the painting, the chapel, and the female artist who painted there in the 1920's.
These three blog entries attempt to introduce the chapel as a work of art and to show the importance of Phoebe Traquair's drawing and painting to it:
A.  ALL SAINTS, THORNEY HILL - context for a Traquair mural
C.  PHOEBE TRAQUAIR's TE DEUM - a mural in All Saints, Thorney Hill

A.  ALL SAINTS, THORNEY HILL - context for a Traquair mural

       On the edge of the New Forest in Southern England in 1905, two aristocratic parents, John Thomas, Baron Manners, and Lady Constance Manners, commissioned the church of All Saints, Thorney Hill from the English architect Detmar Blow (1867-1939).
Walkway up to All Saints, Thorney Hill
Finished and dedicated in 1906, the quasi-Renaissance All Saints was erected as a chapel to commemorate a beloved daughter, who died at age 17 of cholera in 1904 when the family was in India. Detmar Blow mixed together Neo-Classical motifs from various Italian monuments of the 15th and 16th centuries to create his church design. The exterior door is pedimented with symmetrical paired scroll moldings similar to those in Michelangelo's Laurentian Library (1524-34):

 In the bays on either side of the door are identical rectangular windows with marble frames like those in Palladian windows.


Andrea Palladio, Villa Barbaro, Veneto, Italy, c.1560.
(Photo Wikipedia)

Above the entrance door at All Saints is an oculus hanging under a rounded arch similar to the oculi under arches in San Lorenzo in Florence, with two differences: 1) All Saints has dentil molding decoration within the arch that continues in the cornice around the building, and 2) All Saints has a stone angel face with wings added to the oculus at the top in memory of the Manners' daughter.

Filippo Brunelleschi, San Lorenzo,
Florence, Italy, 1422-70.


The paired scroll moldings at the base of the arch repeat and double the scroll moldings on either side of the entrance door. The lead roof has at the right end a small dome bell tower that complements the rounded apse on the left exterior, where the mural is painted on the inside.
       The church has two other features that make it unusual; it is orientated north-south, rather than the usual east-west, and the altar is made of marble rather than the traditional wood found in most Anglican churches. The Traquair mural is thus on the south side and is a rounded wall painting following the lines of the apse shown above. See website for measurements of the building.
      Even in the interior of the church Detmar Blow continues the Italianate theme, with Doric columns and pilasters in white Caen marble. The elaborate entablatures at the top of the columns and pilasters resemble Brunelleschian cushion entablatures for columns in Santo Spirito in Florence. The resulting space is light and airy with legible pillar support for the arched windows and white plaster on the groin vault lifts.
Brunelleschi, Santo Spirito, 1428-87.                          Detmar Blow, All Saints, Thorney Hill,1906.
To honor their daughter Lord and Lady Manners placed a marble tribute on one of the back walls of the church. At the top of this marble monument, bas-relief angels hold the family coat of arms with the French motto in a banner: Pour y Parvenir (So that it may happen). Beneath these elements a long inscription in red capital letters is carved into the stone of the wall by the sculptor Eric Gill (1882-1940):

        The interior wood doors have wooden sculpted heads of angels with Mary Christine's face. No document has been found directly specifying Eric Gill as the carver of the heads, but since he carved the monuments' inscriptions and angels, and he sometimes worked in wood, the assumption is made that he also did the wooden angel portraits of Mary Christine, whose family nickname was Molly. (For more on Eric Gill, see biographies by Malcolm Yorke (1981) and Fiona McCarthy (2011), as well as the catalogue raisonne' of his sculpture by Judith Collins (1998)).
      In both inscription and carved seraphim the parents paid tribute to their daughter and turned their grief for her into a monument to her beauty. 
The sculpted faces of Molly resemble photos
of her that the family kept after her death.
                                                                          Photo of Molly Manners - courtesy of Burn and Elkins 
As if losing one child were not enough pain for the family to endure, the Manners' beloved son, John, died age 22 in France. He had signed up with the Grenadier Guards in 1913, went off to World War I in 1914, and died September 1 of that year. Once again the parents turned their grief into art. They commissioned a recumbent bronze statue of their son from the Australian sculptor, Sir Bertram MacKennal (1863-1931), and placed it in All Saints with another Eric Gill inscription above it. The sculptor made a plaster figure first; the bronze was not actually cast until 1917. The bier lies under the window across the nave from the entrance door.

The boy lies on his own faux-tomb decorated with three family coats of arms. The left coat of arms is the combined coats of both father and mother; the three gloves of the mother's family are inserted into the coat-of-arms of Baron Manners which has the lions of the English monarchy (traced back to Edward III) and the fleur-de-lys of the French monarchy. The family title, then, is longstanding and eminent. On the far right the Manners family coat of arms is repeated with the addition of a white ermine beret cap on top of the shield and directly beneath the bronze head of John.  This "cap of maintenance" signifies the coat of arms of the "heir apparent" since John was his father's first son but died before assuming his father's title. The third coat of arms on the faux-tomb, the one in the center, represents the wife's rank inherited from her sister, Christine Hamlyn-Fane, the children's aunt, who gave her property (including the land for the church and the Avon Tyrrell estate as well as the Clovelly estate) to her sister, Lady Constance Manners, when she died. The coats-of-arms, then, are signs of rank and title, but also stamp onto John's bier the "signs," for those in the know, of the patrons for the art work.
       The father's money came from a bet he had made on the Grand National horse race that he could buy, train, and ride a horse to victory in 1882. The horse was not a proper thoroughbred, Lord Manners not a proper jockey, and yet he won the Grand National on a snowy day with a horse that went lame towards the end. The odds were so much against his winning that with his "miracle" win, he financed the Avon Tyrrell house and the building of the church of All Saints. The mother's money came from her sister through inheritance, as we have said. 
           John's coat-of-arms on his bier presents the hopes the family had in their heir, especially after his older sister had died. The catafalque above and behind all the coats-of-arms is supported, both physically and financially, by the family on behalf of the son.
        In the beautiful MacKennal bronze effigy John is dressed as a Grenadier lieutenant asleep ("at peace") on a replica of the mat he would have used in France. His haversack is his pillow, and a bronze shield-like hat guarding his feet has on it an exploding grenade in bas-relief, insignia of the Grenadier guards.
His sword lies beside him sheathed with an unexploded grenade hanging from it, and his boots are still laced. His eyes are closed, but the gentle gesture of his right arm touching his belt buckle suggests that at any moment he might awaken and breathe again.
Another inscription by Eric Gill decorates the wall behind his tomb. It reads:

The words, "The Forest," lie just above John's name and face and near the hands of the angel and remind the viewer that John's bronze substitute lies in the church setting near another forest, the forest of John's birth, the "New Forest."

           Neither child is buried in the church. Mary Christine's body was brought back from India and interred in a churchyard in Clovelly, North Devon, and the body of John Manners was never found. Mary Christine is remembered in the sculpted heads with wings that suggest her parents imagine her soul in that angelic state after death. The angel heads are slightly idealized, but they capture the youth and beauty of the girl as if she were asleep, too, with eyes closed, lips parted.

       The bent bas-relief angels framing the inscription of her brother silently proclaim the grief of the parents at this second death. John's closed eyes and short gentle curls connect his portrait to those of his sister, but his features are more generalized than those in his photographs. 
 photo courtesy Elkins and Burn

John was an extraordinary child, educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, part of a group of students succeeding academically while excelling at rugby, equestrian sports, rowing, tennis, and cricket. His name is mentioned in C.E. M. Joad’s book On Education when the writer is describing the talented generation of young men who lost their lives in WWI. Canon Elkins (Burn and Elkins, 151) found this mention of John in T.S. Eliot’s “Notes towards a Definition of Culture”(1948) where he quotes from Dr. C.E. M. Joad’s essay on education. “At Balliol in 1911 there was a group of young men centring upon the Grenfells and John Manners, many of whom were killed in the last war, who took it for granted that they should row in the College boat, play hockey or rugger for the College, or even for the University, act for the Oxford Union Dramatic Society, get tight at College Gaudies, spend part of the night talking in the company of their friends, while at the same time getting their scholarships and prizes and Firsts in Greats. The First in Greats was taken, as it were, in their stride; what is more, it was taken for granted that it should be taken in their stride. I have not seen such men before or since.” The original quotation is in C.E.M. Joad, About Education, (London:  Faber and Faber, Ltd., 1930), 113.
        Chris Smith, a wonderful writer of two blogs on cricket, has kindly provided a reference to John Manners' cricket skills in a new book edited by Andrew Renshaw:  Wisden and the Great War, The Lives of Cricket's Fallen 1914-1918(London:  Bloomsbury, 2014), p. 88: "In 1910 he (John Manners) was in the Eton XI...It was his very plucky partnership with Lister Kaye in Eton's second innings of the game with Harrow which enabled Eton to win in sensational style by nine runs after following on...Manner's fine hitting paved the way.  He was an excellent field and in March last won the singles championship in the military rackets tournament." Not just a champion batsman, then, but a champion on the rackets court, too.
        No surprise, then, that his parents wished to commemorate his greatness and his youth in this exquisite recumbent portrait. Actually, a total of 4 portraits were made of John during his lifetime; the other three are: a painting by Sir John Millais when he was 4(1896), a sculpted wax head by Sir Alfred Gilbert at age 11(1903), and a posthumous painted portrait in a large Sir William Rothenstein 1916 mural triptych (central portion at Southampton University Senate House, wings now in Taplow Court, Maidenhead). See book jacket of Jeanne MacKenzie’s Children of the Souls (London: Chatto and Windus, 1986) for the Rothenstein mural image.See Burn and Elkins, pp. 65,155-161. For MacKennal’s oeuvre, see Noel Hutchison, Bertram MacKennal, Great Australians (Oxford:  Oxford Univ. Press, 1973). 
     The John Everett Millais portrait (1896), now in a private collection, depicts him, age 4, sitting on the ground with badminton racket in right hand and shuttlecock in the other, looking ready to play and worried by the restraint of the velvet suit and pose requirements of the portrait.

The MacKennal portrait is of a young soldier of rank, reclining in cold weather gear with weapons in repose.

His battle dress exhibits the two "pips" on his epaulets to indicate his rank, Lieutenant. The bronze portrait includes imitations of cloth, hair, skin, metal, and woven sacking, all sculpted with great accuracy, and the beauty of the young boy is rendered in live, heroic mode. While Sir Bertram MacKennal produces a sculpted recumbent image within the tradition of English medieval and Renaissance tomb effigies, he also produces a figure of a slain boy preserved as if not dead, an idealized young man in keeping with Italian Renaissance standing bronze heroic statues such as those of the Davids made by Donatello and Verrocchio in the fifteenth century. Since John's body was never brought back to England, as Mary Christine's was, this bronze is the only life-size effigy the family ever had to remind them of his youthful and gifted athletic body.
Lord and Lady Manners desired that their children not be forgotten, and they brought together in one place the exquisite presentations of several artists to celebrate their memory. The church is not a mausoleum, then, but the documented deaths of two young people make it a personal reverential space for the family. The artistic creations in the chapel suggest the parents' story (as well as their personalities) had an inspirational effect upon the artists they hired.
        The wife of the couple, Lady Constance Manners, died of an illness six years after her son's death, in May of 1920.  Lord Manners felt her memory should be honored in All Saints, too, with a painted art work in the apse. The mural, which extends from the floor of the altar area to the ceiling, is visible to the left as one enters the chapel, then completely viewable from the front of the altar.

  For the artist of the apse wall mural Lord Manners chose Phoebe Traquair (1852-1936), an Irish artist living in Scotland. He paid for Traquair to come down from Edinburgh to the Manners family estate, Avon Tyrrell, while she painted the mural in All Saints over the course of 2 years, 1920-22. The result is a wall painting full of life-size figures, some portraits, in a landscape background, whose ostensible subject is the Anglican church prayer, the Te Deum. The mural presents the two dead children again, as well as their twin siblings, baby brother, and parents. The patron's family, the Manners, are celebrated in an English landscape, with a vision of God enthroned in a gold sky above them. The memento mori of the two children's monuments on the walls of the church continues into the radiant painted image behind the altar.
  Phoebe Traquair begins the wall painting in the year of Constance's death, 6 years after John's death, and 16 years after Molly dies. The painter takes into account the religious space of All Saints and honors the three family members who have died by restoring them to two-dimensional life on the wall of the apse in the same way that the sculptors had given the two dead children three-dimensional life on the door and tomb. We shall discuss the mural, its portraits, and its meaning in the next blog entry, B.  PHOEBE TRAQUAIR's TE DEUM - a mural in All Saints, Thorney Hill. The All Saints chapel, with its Italianate echoes, provides a fitting setting for an Italianate mural depicting the Manners family in a display reminiscent of a Nativity play. Though the family's intent was to honor their dead, the art and the light in the chapel reveal a celebration of English aristocratic life.
           *Elizabeth Cumming's books on Phoebe Traquair are:
Elizabeth Cumming, Phoebe Traquair 1852-1936, (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1993); catalogue for the exhibition held Aug. 6 – Nov. 7, 1993, National Scottish Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.
Elizabeth Cumming, Phoebe Anna Traquair (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 2005) 
Elizabeth Cumming, Hand, Heart, and Soul, The Arts and Crafts Movement in Scotland,  (Edinburgh: Birlinn, Ltd., 2006).
I would like to thank Elizabeth for her generous and wise scholarship in conversations and emails relating to this article.  Her most recent book is on the Scottish colorist J.D. Ferguson (1874-1961), 2014.
                * For excellent information on the chronology of the Manners family history as well as on John's death in France, see Canon Patrick C. Elkins and Mrs. Janet Burn in their private publication, The Annals of Avon, The Story of the Avon Tyrrell Estate 1891-1947, (Ringwood: Pardy & Sons, Ltd., 2006), produced on the occasion of the centenary of the All Saints Church in Thorney Hill.
All three of these kind scholars have given me generous and invaluable help in understanding the church and its monuments and the mural by Phoebe Traquair. They are not responsible for any errors.

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