Trafalgar Square 1879 continued

February 28 2015

Yesterday’s post was supposed to be a few lines about a minor but interesting Victorian painting, and turned into a classroom exercise: “What is going on in this picture, and what has changed between then and now?”

The answer kept growing and is in the comments. Now I’ve checked what Kenneth McConkey says in his book on Clausen.

McConkey tells us that the flower girl theme was “frequently addressed in sentimental potboilers by Augustus E Mulready”. He doesn’t show us any sentimental Mulreadys, but here is one, Little Flower Sellers, from 1887:

Augustus Edwin Mulready, Little Flower Sellers

It was, I suspect, a fashion all over Europe. Not much gritty social realism in Clausen’s picture either, you might say, but it was on the way. (Though it was not to be his permanent manner.) And there is an objective and deadpan quality in the Clausen which was consciously modern. McConkey doesn’t comment on the newspaper shown in The Flower Seller, but I think he’d agree that it is a telling detail.

Trafalgar Square was the very “hub of creation”: McConkey cites AR Hope Moncrieff, London, A&C Black, 1910. Here’s the full passage in Moncrieff (1916 edition):

“Parthians and Medes and Elamites may at every hour of the day be found in Trafalgar Square, along with the pig-tailed Chinaman, the negro, unheeded even by street-boys, the Red Indian stolidly dissembling his amazement, the mild Hindoo jostling sahibs with a new-found strut, the almond-eyed Japanese Jack on shore knocking up against a burly Russian tar, the Egyptian wondering at monuments where no one pesters him for bakshish, the Italian sighing for the sun of dolce far niente, the Alpine mountaineer lost in admiration of so many tall chimney-pots, the Parisian twirling a critical moustache, the German professor studiously conferring with his Baedeker, and, conspicuous among the throng, the frequent figure of Uncle Sam, one eye cocked in complacent comparison with his own sky-scraping Babels, the other moistened by sentiment for the old home of his race.

“Apart from its magnetic character, in Trafalgar Square more foreigners are likely to turn up than in other parts of London, since close at hand, about Soho and Leicester Square, is the headquarters of our Continental colony.”

One wishes artists had painted more of this and fewer flower girls. I commented on two possible tourists in The Flower Seller.

A reporter in The Graphic, McConkey tells us, thought that the proliferation of flower girls was (in McConkey’s words: the date of the piece isn’t clear in his notes, but perhaps June 22 1872) “a direct result of the development of the railways and the fact that fresh flowers could now be brought to the city centre cheaply – creating a new underclass of street sellers, and at the same time, a fashion for buttonholes and posies among city-clerks and shop-workers”.

Whence, I suppose, carnations worn at weddings and, until fairly recently, by shopworkers at Fortnum and Mason and pretentious Harley Street doctors.

He shows an illustration from The Graphic by Frank Holl. Surely this is also about the ambiguity of the flower girl’s profession in that part of London. She might be a prostitute.

I referred to Mayhew in the last post. One can mention also Toilers in London; or, Inquiries concerning Female Labour in the Metropolis, By the “British Weekly” Commissioners, Hodder and Stoughton, 1889.

McConkey doesn’t identify Clausen’s (lower?) middle-class model, used in a series of “street” paintings, saying only that she had “strayed from the leafy precincts of Hampstead and Regent’s Park”. Is that just a guess? Clausen was living at 4, The Mall, Haverstock Hill. McConkey compares her to Tissot’s Mrs Kathleen Newton.

He calls The Flower Seller experimental. It is anyway the first of the street paintings, which were a bridge between Clausen’s Dutch phase and his earliest English rural pictures:

The Flower Seller (1879), private collection (last post)

A Winter Afternoon (1880), private collection

In the Street (1880), private collection

Schoolgirls (1880), Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

A Morning Walk (1881), private collection

A Spring Morning, Haverstock Hill (1881), Bury Art Museum, Manchester.

All oil, the last the largest and most ambitious. All but one, In the Street (which is practically a miniature), show stark class contrasts. In the last two, rural workers seem to have wandered into the city. At the end of 1881, Clausen moved to the country (Childwick Green, Hertfordshire).

McConkey mentions William Logsdail only in passing, as a Clausen contemporary. He was a few years younger than Clausen and died in 1944, a few weeks before him. But a few days ago I saw his St Martin-in-the-Fields (1888) at Tate Britain: another flower girl in Trafalgar Square, with the artist looking towards St Martin’s Place and St Martin’s Lane.

The Tate reminds us that Trafalgar Square had been the scene of Bloody Sunday the year before. Logsdail’s tour-de-force is popular, but he is a limited painter. The girl is Bastien-Lepagish if not Clausenish.

On June 1 1881 Clausen married, at King’s Lynn, Agnes Mary, the sister of a friend, Alfred George Webster, who, from his mid-twenties in 1877 until his death (not in the war) in 1916, was Principal of the School of Art in Lincoln. That is where Logsdail had studied – presumably under the slightly older Webster.

William Logsdail, St Martin in the Fields

Logsdail, St Martin-in-the-Fields

Clausen, In the Street

Clausen, In the Street; she is carrying flowers


National Gallery, starting March 4: Inventing Impressionism: The man who sold a thousand Monets, an exhibition about Paul Durand-Ruel. I hope it is pleasanter to visit than their recent crowded, exploitative Rembrandt.

National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, on already: Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends.

Durand-Ruel had, from 1870, a gallery in London at 168 New Bond Street under the management of Charles Deschamps, of which Clausen wrote: “Our favourite was Deschamps’ in Bond Street. He was, I believe, the first to show the works of Millet, Degas, Manet and others of that time. There was always something good to be seen there, and we were cordially welcomed for he was really interested in art, and most encouraging to us students.” Autobiographical Notes, Artwork, no 25, Spring 1931.

Old Clausen post: A universal face.

3 Responses to “Trafalgar Square 1879 continued”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    I have now looked at McConkey’s catalogue notes for a sale of The Flower Seller at Bonham’s on September 29 2010.

    He mentions Henry James and Gustave Doré.

    “In 1888, a little more than a year after the Free Speech Riots, Henry James described the square as a ‘grimy desert’, using Joseph Pennell’s atmospheric illustration of a typical wet evening to make his point.” Referring to Henry James writing in The Century, December 1888.

    “[…] Gustave Doré’s London, A Pilgrimage (1872), a work that brought the teeming city of Little Dorrit and Edwin Drood graphically to life. Here the flower sellers, huddled on the pavement, are shown as little more than beggars.” This was a book of 180 engravings with a text by the English journalist William Blanchard Jerrold.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    All the Great Powers of the day jostle each other in Moncrieff’s description, and a few unfortunate others. Let us assume that the German professor is doubling up for Austria-Hungary. Or perhaps the Alpine visitor is Austrian.

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