Image of the Month – November, 2016

As this is my first ‘Image of the Month’, I thought I’d use this as an opportunity for my readers to get to know me.

Stanmer Church is located in Stanmer Village, a small, quaint village behind Sussex University. When me and my partner lived on campus we would take a walk to the local farm shop, then onwards to the grounds of Stanmer House. (The church is 50 meters from the main House). 

It was like stepping back in time! My ‘Image of the Month’ Stanmer Church is by an artist called John Martin. John Martin is an English Romantic painter who exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1811.

Martin was immensely celebrated during his career, his work even influenced the Pre-Raphaelites. His watercolour (1834) is evidence of artists during this period taking example from Edmund Burke, in an attempt to define and portray the ‘beautiful’, the ‘sublime’ and the ‘picturesque’ in landscape painting.

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John Martin, Stanmer Church, 1834

(In another post I will discuss the satirical take on this exploration of the ‘beautiful’, the ‘sublime’ and the ‘picturesque’, as my first work of art in my personal collection is a print by Rowlandson, which I am dying to discuss).

As you probably already know, Gainsborough was King in popularising the English Landscape which usually featured churches, trees, lakes, villages, inspired by Dutch 17th century landscapes. Even though these images seem like a clich√© within art history, they represent much more than just a ‘typical landscape painting’. They sometimes represented the land enclosures; creating legal property rights to land which was prior ‘common land’; land used by the working poor, cultivated for their survival. However, much of Gainsborough’s work doesn’t seem to represent the suffering caused by the land enclosures. Mr and Mrs Andrews, 1750, shows the happy couple on their estate, satisfied with their enclosed land. Yet many artists were still trying to keep hold of this ancient way of life through their paintings. John Martin was born in a one room cottage in Northumberland and his paintings of the countryside usually feature minute figures in an imposing and sublime landscape, which were typically melodramatic and religious. Martin’s childhood can be arguably seen as an influence in his work.

However, it was not just paintings that represented the social and economic issues of the period, poetry was a common form of representation. John Clare was the son of a labourer, similar to John Martin, and his poem The Mores, written sometime between 1812 – 1831 is a very personal poem. The Mores details the struggle of him and his family during the land enclosures, their lives were rather tragic. Clare struggled constantly with mental health issues, and was committed twice. He died at 71 whilst under the regime of Dr Thomas Octavius Prichard.

The Mores

Far spread the moorey ground a level scene
Bespread with rush and one eternal green
That never felt the rage of blundering plough
Though centurys wreathed spring’s blossoms on its brow
Still meeting plains that stretched them far away
In uncheckt shadows of green brown, and grey
Unbounded freedom ruled the wandering scene
Nor fence of ownership crept in between
To hide the prospect of the following eye
Its only bondage was the circling sky
One mighty flat undwarfed by bush and tree
Spread its faint shadow of immensity
And lost itself, which seemed to eke its bounds
In the blue mist the horizon’s edge surrounds
Now this sweet vision of my boyish hours
Free as spring clouds and wild as summer flowers
Is faded all – a hope that blossomed free,
And hath been once, no more shall ever be
Inclosure came and trampled on the grave
Of labour’s rights and left the poor a slave
And memory’s pride ere want to wealth did bow
Is both the shadow and the substance now
The sheep and cows were free to range as then
Where change might prompt nor felt the bonds of men
Cows went and came, with evening morn and night,
To the wild pasture as their common right
And sheep, unfolded with the rising sun
Heard the swains shout and felt their freedom won
Tracked the red fallow field and heath and plain
Then met the brook and drank and roamed again
The brook that dribbled on as clear as glass
Beneath the roots they hid among the grass
While the glad shepherd traced their tracks along
Free as the lark and happy as her song
But now all’s fled and flats of many a dye
That seemed to lengthen with the following eye
Moors, loosing from the sight, far, smooth, and blea
Where swopt the plover in its pleasure free
Are vanished now with commons wild and gay
As poet’s visions of life’s early day
Mulberry-bushes where the boy would run
To fill his hands with fruit are grubbed and done
And hedgrow-briars – flower-lovers overjoyed
Came and got flower-pots – these are all destroyed
And sky-bound mores in mangled garbs are left
Like mighty giants of their limbs bereft
Fence now meets fence in owners’ little bounds
Of field and meadow large as garden grounds
In little parcels little minds to please
With men and flocks imprisoned ill at ease
Each little path that led its pleasant way
As sweet as morning leading night astray
Where little flowers bloomed round a varied host
That travel felt delighted to be lost
Nor grudged the steps that he had ta-en as vain
When right roads traced his journeys and again –
Nay, on a broken tree he’d sit awhile
To see the mores and fields and meadows smile
Sometimes with cowslaps smothered – then all white
With daiseys – then the summer’s splendid sight
Of cornfields crimson o’er the headache bloomd
Like splendid armys for the battle plumed
He gazed upon them with wild fancy’s eye
As fallen landscapes from an evening sky
These paths are stopt – the rude philistine’s thrall
Is laid upon them and destroyed them all
Each little tyrant with his little sign
Shows where man claims earth glows no more divine
But paths to freedom and to childhood dear
A board sticks up to notice ‘no road here’
And on the tree with ivy overhung
The hated sign by vulgar taste is hung
As tho’ the very birds should learn to know
When they go there they must no further go
Thus, with the poor, scared freedom bade goodbye
And much they feel it in the smothered sigh
And birds and trees and flowers without a name
All sighed when lawless law’s enclosure came
And dreams of plunder in such rebel schemes
Have found too truly that they were but dreams.

 

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