Thursday, June 21, 2018

Friday Video: Was This Jacket Worn at the Battle of Waterloo?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Susan reporting,

"Provenance" is an important word among museum curators, and refers to the history of an artifact or artwork. Sometimes the provenance is detailed and indisputable, a sure trail from one owner to another. More often, however, facts become a bit hazy, particularly with historical garments. Family traditions and wishful thinking often contribute to create breathless stories about how "this dress was worn by my great-great-great-grandmother when she danced with the Marquis de Lafayette", and are often taken with a big grain of salt by curators.

The uniform jacket featured in this video had a tradition of having been worn by Sir Thomas Noel Harris, Brigade-Major, at the Battle of Waterloo. He danced at the Duchess of Richmond's ball before being called to join his regiment, and then fought unscathed until the last day of the battle. A musket ball - or perhaps two? - pierced both his arm and his side, severely wounding him.  He lay among the dead and dying on the battlefield overnight, until he was discovered by a searching family member and taken to a dressing station. There his arm was amputated, but he did survive and recover, and continue to serve in the army.

But was this really Sir Thomas's jacket, and was it in fact worn by him at Waterloo? This video shows the different scientific tests used by the Cranfield Forensic Institute to answer that question. It's a fascinating mix of CSI-style forensic examination plus the known history of the jacket, the wearer, and the battle.

If you received this post via email, you may be seeing only a black box or empty space where the video should be. Please click here to view the video.

Monday, June 18, 2018

From the Archives: Intrepid Women: Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler: Painter of Battles & Soldiers

Monday, June 18, 2018

Since this week is marks the commemoration of the Battle of Waterloo (the battle was fought on June 18, 1815), this painting and its celebrated artist seem like the perfect subject to share again.

Susan reporting,

Being a professional painter in Victorian England was a difficult path for a woman, but for Elizabeth Southerden Thompson (1846-1933), left, success came swiftly, and with unexpected subjects.

Born in Switzerland to wealthy English parents who believed in travel as a form of education, Elizabeth began her art training in Italy and London as a teenager, concentrating on religious subjects. While studying in Paris, she first saw the work of French painters chronicling heroic battle scenes. Inspired, her first military history painting, Missing, earned her admission to the Royal Academy in 1873.

But it was Calling the Roll after an Engagement, Crimea, or The Roll Call, right, (click on the images to enlarge) painted in 1874 when she was only 28, that made her a celebrity. Showing the haggard survivors of a battalion of Grenadiers answering the roll call after a battle, the painting was an enormous success, drawing such great crowds that a special policeman was hired to keep order. In an unprecedented move, the painting was even removed from the Academy wall and carried to Buckingham Palace so Queen Victoria could view it privately. Her Majesty was as impressed as everyone else, and bought the picture for the royal collection.

Miss Thompson next turned to Waterloo for inspiration, completing The 28th Regiment at Quatre Bras, below left, in 1875, another popular success. Her large, detailed canvases were the equivalent of big-screen extravaganzas that fed the imagination and patriotism of the British Empire, then at its pinnacle. But she also focused on the suffering of the ordinary soldier, emphasising the cost of war as well as its glory. Her battle pictures are also unusual because they most often depict the scene from the (doubtless intimidated) enemy's point of view, who are seldom shown. She was fastidious in her research, having replica uniforms made for her models. More military-themed paintings followed, and she became one of the most acclaimed artists of her time.

The public was not only fascinated by the art, but Miss Thompson herself. How was it that a young and attractive English lady could paint such vivid scenes of heroism and suffering that Crimea veterans praised their accuracy? Even the influential art critic John Ruskin was impressed by Quatre Bras - in spite of his determined preconceptions:

"I never approached a picture with more iniquitous prejudice against it than I did Miss Thompson's; partly because I have always said that no woman could paint; and, secondly, because I thought that what the public made such a fuss about must be good for nothing. But it is...the first fine Pre-Raphaelite picture of battle we have had; profoundly interesting, and showing all manner of illustrative and realistic faculty. Of course, all that need be said of it...must have been said twenty times over in the journals; and it remains only for me to make my tardy genuflexion, on the trampled corn, before this Pallas of Pall Mall."

In 1877 she married Sir William Francis Butler, and her career fell behind not only that of her husband, an officer in the British Army, but her new role as a mother. She joined her husband on his posts around the world – Egypt, Zanzibar, South Africa, as well as his home in Ireland – and bore and raised their six children. While her artistic production diminished, she still continued to paint military scenes, including the heroic Scotland Forever!above, in 1881. Regarded as her finest painting, it's also undeniably her most dramatic, depicting the start of the charge of the Royal Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. (To show how cinematic this painting is - and the influence it had upon later movie-makers - see this clip of the same charge from the 1970 movie Waterloo.) She also painted and drew scenes from her travels.

But the most lasting blow to Lady Butler's career is one that many artists face. By the beginning of the twentieth century, tastes in painting had changed, and her meticulously detailed history paintings were seen as hopelessly old-fashioned in the face of new, more abstract movements like Cubism. Even more damning was the shifting perception of armies and battles after the modern horrors of World War One. The grand heroic warfare with patriotic gestures and splendid uniforms of the past no longer had a place in the public imagination, and in 1924, the last painting she submitted to the Royal Academy was rejected. She died in 1933.

In addition to her paintings, Lady Butler also wrote three books, including her autobiography. It's available to read or download for free here; her illustrations, like the one lower right, are included and are wonderful, full of excitement that matches the life she lived.

Top: Scotland Forever!, 1881, Leeds Art Gallery.
Upper right: Calling the Roll after an Engagement, Crimea, (or The Roll Call), 1874, The Royal Collection Trust.
Upper left: The 28th Regiment at Quatre Bras, 1875, National Gallery of Victoria.
Middle right: Self-Portrait by Elizabeth Southerden Thompson, Lady Butler, 1869, National Portrait Gallery.
Lower right: "Got it, Bravo!" illustration from An Autobiography, 1922.

Being Elsewhere

Loretta reports:

I have no report. With apologies, there will be no Nerdy History Girl blog post from me today, because it's too late at night to pretend to be intelligent about history. This is because I didn't come back soon enough from where I was away to. Instead I offer all the preceding prepositions in places some people will say are wrong.

And the pictures are from where I was late coming back from, on the Maine coast in paradise. So maybe you won't blame me for not hurrying back.


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of June 11, 2018

Saturday, June 16, 2018
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• A cup of tea, made the 18thc way.
• The rebozo: fashion, feminism, and death.
• Lily of Liberty: Amelia Bloomer at 200.
• Thomas Bewick's cat.
Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, 17thc poet - and perhaps a pre-Romantic?
• Face of a suffragette: previously unknown footage of Emily Wilding Davison discovered.
Faith Trumbull: the artist was a young girl.
Image: The Silver Streak Iron, c1946 may be the most beautiful iron ever made.
• Did 18thc heiress Mary Blandy poison her father's oatmeal?
• Rainbow-colored beasts from a 15thc Book of Hours.
• Murder on the Titanic: the nightmare one survivor from Rhode Island never forgot.
• Blue moons, honeymoons, and moons made of green cheese: lunar language.
• Early Modern memes: recycling and reusing 17thc woodcuts in popular print.
• Catching up on Beatnik fashion.
Image: "The latest style of ladies' muff is provided with a pocket for the owner's pet dog" 1895.
• When Connecticut led the nation in the production of pins.
• An x-ray of a Civil War wound? A hapless re-enactor accidentally shot himself with an 1860s gun.
• Might we interest you in a dog-powered velocipede?
• Quick quiz: can you match these archaic names for animals with their modern names?
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday Video: Wilma Rudolph, the Unstoppable

Friday, June 15, 2018
Wilma Rudolph wins in Rome 1960
Loretta reports:

My husband, who also is a Nerdy History Person (although suffering from a less virulent form of the disease), sent me this article: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman. Not being a Sports Person, I had only recognized her name—something to do with Olympics? That’s as far as it went. Then I read her story, and kept on looking for more and more. She survived and conquered ordeals that would have crushed many of us—well, me, definitely. How about polio and poverty, to start with?



Biography Channel Video: Mini Bio: Wilma Rudolph

You can find many bios online, including this one and this one.

Image: Image: Rudolph convincingly wins the women's 100 meter dash at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be. To watch the video, please click on the title to this post (which will take you to our blog) or the video title (which will take you to YouTube).
 
Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket