DUDLEY AND STEPHENS – A VARIATION ON THREE MEN IN A BOAT

raft

This is an old case from the mid-1800s but is interesting because it raises quite a few questions about what constitutes a defence to murder. It also continues a theme I have previously broached on here, which some people may find offensive. It doesn’t bother me much as I don’t eat meat anyway.

After a shipwreck in the mid-Atlantic, Messrs Dudley and Stephens found themselves adrift in a small boat with the 18 year old cabin boy, Richard Palmer (there was a fourth man with them, but he played no part in what happened next, so I’m ignoring him). After a week, they had run out of food and had minimal fresh water left, and there was nothing on the horizon to indicate that there was a chance of rescue. So they decided to draw lots on the principle that the loser would be murdered and eaten, to give the others more chance of surviving. No prizes for guessing who drew the short straw.

So, Dudley and Stephens promptly slit the poor lad’s throat and proceeded to live off him until they were finally rescued about three weeks later. They were near to death when they were picked up and freely admitted what they had done, but claimed they had killed the boy “out of necessity.” Unfortunately, the Court disagreed that it was ever necessary to kill anyone, so Dudley and Stephens were found guilty and hanged.

Now I was thinking about how this principle applied, especially since many years later, the survivors of an air crash in the Andes were acquitted of the same charges in very similar circumstances – but then the penny dropped. The Andean crash survivors hadn’t killed anyone. They survived by eating people who had already died, so they hadn’t committed murder and consequently could not be liable.

Clearly, it seems to be the Court’s way of thinking that in such a situation, a person would simply have to starve, unless they can show that the person they are eating died without their assistance – which could be tricky, given where most of the evidence will end up. That said, it’s worth bearing in mind in case you ever find yourself stranded on a life raft with someone you don’t like very much and you’re miles from the nearest takeaway.

THE WIVES AND LOVES OF MAX ERNST

If I were to ask you what Gala Dali, Peggy Guggenheim, Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fini and Dorothea Tanning all had in common, I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t know; I wouldn’t be surprised if you admitted that you’d not heard of half of them. Each of these ladies were, at the time, well known in their own right in the world of modern art; and each of these women were intimate with the Surrealist artist, Max Ernst. I found myself struck by how so many talented and artistic women gravitated towards him – and much less surprised at how their own skills and talents were eclipsed by his. Well, he is a man, after all.

Not all of the women were artists; Gala Dali (then married to Paul Eluard) is best known for her long and productive marriage to the Surrealist artist Salvador Dali, who painted and sculpted her many times, acknowledging her as his muse and without whom, some say, he would never have been successful. Peggy Guggenheim was a wealthy American with a canny eye for modern art, and her collection became the basis of one of New York’s finest collections. It was down to her efforts that Ernst escaped Nazi occupied Europe; it came as no little surprise that he married her.

The other three women, however, were all very talented artists in their own right, yet their work has predominantly been forgotten. They may each have declined the label “surrealist” in describing their works, yet its influence is apparent and I find distinct similarities between the three which may (or may not) have been down to Ernst’s influence. I have to concede that I find this fascinating.

leonora carrington

Leonora Carrington was a wealthy English debutante when, as a teenager, she eloped with Ernst to Paris, despite him being twice her age and married to someone else. He was later to abandon her (for Peggy Guggenheim and America) which led her to spiral into mental illness and a dreadful period in a Spanish asylum. Carrington’s works often feature human/animal hybrids, occult symbolism and a treatment of landscape and humanity that wouldn’t be out of place in Bosch. Tate Liverpool recently held an exhibition of her work; needless to say, it got very little publicity.

leonora fini

Leonor Fini was an Argentinian artist fond of cats and flamboyant head-dresses. She never completely bought into the Surrealist manifesto to the same extent as Carrington (with whom Fini was great friends) but used her imagination to portray herself as a Sphinx – ever inscrutable and always gorgeous – in a more domestic landscape. Her paintings are harder and more solid than Carrington’s ethereal pictures.

dorothea tanning

Dorothea Tanning was Ernst’s fourth and last wife, and her paintings show the influence of Dali, Ernst, Cezanne and Magritte. I actually find her pictures the more domestic of the three, and less bound by the numinous; she would be more “magical realism”, where magic and reality intersect yet live harmoniously together. Like Fini, there is a finished edge to her work, and like both Fini and Carrington, she is all but forgotten.

I am struck by how closely this story echoes the stories of so many women artists, but the fact that five such talented and influential women have effectively been overshadowed by one man – who was by no means the best in his field – both fascinates and horrifies me. I have only skimmed the surface here. This has the potential to be a wonderful research project for someone with more time and resources than I have. I firmly believe that these women should not be consigned to being a side note in history, an addendum to a male artist’s life. They deserve to be returned to the limelight.

GEORGIA O’KEEFFE AT TATE MODERN

jimson

Having recently read a biography of Georgia O’Keeffe, I was keen to see this exhibition, even though it meant spending time at my least favourite gallery. I don’t know what it is about Tate Modern, but I just don’t like it – although it would be disingenuous of me not to admit that it has a fine collection of modern and contemporary art. The collection does suit the building very well.

Georgia O’Keeffe is best known for her flower pictures, large canvases filled to the brim with one or two oversized, highly detailed blooms. However, there is so much more to O’Keeffe’s output that this, that it seems almost unfair to concede that these works are what she is best remembered for. The exhibition shows artworks, including charcoals, drawings and oils, spanning the entirety of her career and some of these lesser known pieces are as breath-taking as her best known work.

One of her most popular flower pictures (and the one advertising the exhibition) is Jimsonweed. Delicately painted in shades of green and white, the sheer size of the canvas – and consequently, the scale of the flower – is overwhelming. The eye is pulled into the centre of the bloom and it is quite hard to resist a forward lurch as you follow suit. It is a gorgeous picture, but no reproduction can ever do justice to the sheer scale of what you see. It is genuinely stunning.

The idea of filling a canvas with a single image was one that O’Keeffe got from her friend Paul Strand, a photographer who experimented with scale and framing. She did not limit the technique to flowers, however, and her well known clamshell paintings (of which only a few are displayed) are delicate symphonies in shades of white, demonstrating her technical skills and eye for subtle colour work. To see an object which, in reality, is only about an inch and a half at its widest magnified for a canvas that is about three feet by four is stunning.

georgia new york

Yet it is her landscapes that I found I preferred. Her early cityscapes of the New York skyline, painted before her marriage to gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, show stylized skies alongside relatively featureless buildings. The viewer gets a sense of the facelessness of the city that someone from a rural background – as O’Keeffe was – would have felt very keenly. The colours are dark and cool, emphasising a sense of coolness and lack of feeling.

georgia santa fe

Her Santa Fe pictures, in contrast, are wide in scope and brighter in colour; hot reds and oranges and a sense of a never ending space marked only by geology. It is clear that O’Keeffe loved Santa Fe – even her early works featuring the Penitente crosses hint at her changing palette as Georgia’s horizons gradually expanded to take into account her new landscape.

I would have seen this exhibition even without having read her biography but I cannot deny that I got so much more out of the exhibition knowing the background to some of the works. I will admit, however, that nothing prepared me for the scale of the works, and I did feel quite shocked at first. I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to have seen so many of her works together and would thoroughly recommend this exhibition to anyone who loves modern art.

I Want Change

banksy

You can rely on Banksy to make a political point with a dash of humour. I especially like this picture of a street beggar and his sign; the play on words is especially clever. Which is why I’m slightly confused as to whether or not this is actually by him, as it’s also been claimed by Australian street artist, Meek. Either way, it’s a powerful image showing a black and white figure against a vivid red background and holding a sign saying “Keep your coins, I want change.”

Giving a homeless person change (money) is a short term fix; they can use it to buy food or drink, alcohol or drugs, depending on what they want most at the time. The point being made is that it is not short term change – in the form of money – that they really need, it’s fundamental political and social change which will solve the problem. Homelessness increases during recessions, and many people find that without a home they cannot get a job, and without a job they cannot get a home – it’s a vicious circle in a very real sense.

It is pictures like this which illustrate the difference between street art and graffiti. Street art carries with it a message which is at least interesting, sometimes amusing and often aesthetically pleasing; a lot of graffiti, put bluntly, is just an unintelligible mess. Unfortunately, police and council workers struggle to tell the difference. This particular image has been reproduced by a number of homeless charities as part of fundraising initiatives, unfortunately with very little effect in terms of policy change.

There is no simple answer to this question, and it’s huge; offering the spare room to a homeless person would work but it involves huge amounts of trust on both sides and for many people is simply not a practical solution. It shouldn’t be necessary for people to have to live on the streets. The housing situation in the UK is in a very dire situation and a considerable mess. One hopes that our new Minister for Housing has their head screwed on and can promote affordable housing for all – and if that means through Housing Benefit, then so be it.

ART HISTORY CASE STUDY: A PORTRAIT OF SEVENTEENTH CENTURY DUTCH ASPIRATION

bosschaert

Picture: Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder: Still Life with Flowers in a Wan Li Vase (1609-1610)

Unsurprisingly, this little known picture is being used by the National Gallery to promote its exhibition “Dutch Flowers”, on until August 2016. This exhibition features examples from over 200 years of Dutch flower painting, quite a few of which are by Bosschaert and other members of his family. But this picture is important in itself, as it features everything a Dutch merchant of the period would aspire to possess – all the status symbols of the well to do. As such, it is a key document in seventeenth century Dutch social history.

A long standing motif of Holland, the tulips Bosschaert has here portrayed would be recognisable to any contemporary as the most desirable of all tulips at that time. It was the striped petals which set the Semper Augustus tulip apart from its plainer cousins, and the desire for them became so great that it created the first speculative financial boom. Known as Tulipomania, at its height life savings were exchanged for a single bulb in the hope that the flowers would feature the distinctive variegation of the Semper Augustus, and fortunes would be made for successful propagation.

Years later it was discovered that the patterning was caused when the bulb was infected by a virus which, in turn, weakened the plant and often rendered propagation unsuccessful, making it commercially unviable. When the tulip bubble did finally burst in the late 1630s, it did untold damage to the Dutch economy and many families lost everything. Sadly, as we have seen with the dotcom boom and the subprime bubble, history has an alarming tendency to repeat itself. I am told that a film is being made about the Tulipomania, which of course I will go and see, partly because I love tulips but also because it’s a cracking story.

What helped to rescue the Dutch economy is also featured in the painting – blue and white porcelain. The Chinese had, centuries earlier, perfected the creation of highly decorated porcelain which they quickly exported once trade links with Europe were opened in the early 1600s. However, after a diplomatic row the Chinese temporarily ended all trade with Europe, leaving the Dutch (and many other countries) with a market thirsty for a commodity that they could not provide. The potteries at Delft quickly developed their own distinctive take on the highly popular blue and white designs, which proved equally popular and soon gained imitators of their own, most notably Spode in England. The Chinese patterns, however, were always the most coveted and remain popular to this day. A genuine Chinese vase was a prize worth having.

Less obvious, perhaps, are the shells sitting in the foreground, representing the growth in Dutch colonialism. The shells are from both the East and West Indies, showing the spread of European colonial influence at that time. Shells were often prominent features of “wunderkammer” (cabinets of wonders) which many wealthy or intellectual people developed to display the variety of their collections. Shells were natural structures, highly coloured and often iridescent, which came in a large variety of shapes and were virtually impossible to reproduce, so became highly collectible. It even had its own little “mania”, nowhere near as large or as damaging as that for tulips, but certainly any collector worth the name had at least one fine specimen in his collection.

So there you have it – a snapshot of social aspirations in seventeenth century Holland in one painting. I’m delighted it’s being seen by more people; it’s one of my favourites.

Art Crime Case Study – Who Owns My Banksy?

It is increasingly the case these days that cleverly placed, intelligent, attractive and sometimes politically pertinent street art appears on the side of buildings throughout the world; most of these are anonymous, but some street artists, such as Banksy, have become household names and their works have in turn developed a great deal of cachet. But who owns the artwork – and if it’s on the side of a building, can it be sold at all?

Some people have got round this by arguing that the owner of the building owns the artwork on it, and if they choose to remove the brickwork/plasterwork on which the art is situated in order to transport it, they are entitled to do so. A recent case in the High Court, The Creative Foundation vs. Dreamland Leisure Limited, dealt with a similar point in relation to the Banksy mural called “Art Buff”.

art buff

The question the Court had to consider was a narrow one and related primarily to the ownership of the wall on which the mural was painted; the Court at all times considered that the copyright in the image belonged to Banksy. Dreamland were the tenants of the building on which Art Buff was painted, and the Foundation were the landlords. In order to protect the mural, Dreamland arranged to cover it with Perspex but, having been advised that it could be worth a substantial amount of money if it were sold, arranged to have that section of the wall removed in readiness for the artwork to be sold. The landlords sued, arguing that Dreamland were not entitled to damage the fabric of the building despite it being part of their lease, and further that the painting was technically the property of the landlord and therefore Dreamland were not entitled to sell it. After a considerable amount of deliberation, the Court found in the Foundation’s favour, and the artwork was returned to them; they intend to put it on display in Kent at an early opportunity.

But this case raised the question of who actually OWNED the Banksy. Although it seems at first glance that the question has been answered in favour of the owner of the building on which the artwork is found, there are possible exceptions. For example, Banksy famously left a mural on the contentious wall in Israel; presumably, as the owners of the wall, the artwork would belong to the State of Israel, but as the artwork was on the Palestinian side, as long as it’s not removed, can they protect their asset?

The reason why I ask is this – all walls have two sides and most property agreements allow that one side belongs to the tenant and one side to the landlord. What I mean is this – my landlord owns my house, but I’m allowed to decorate the inside how I like as long as I make good* before I leave.** But as long as I am there and not interfering with the landlord’s structure, basically, I can put what I like on the walls. So if I have a Banksy on the inside, on MY SIDE of the wall, as long as I don’t knock the wall down, the landlord doesn’t have to know. Right?

Almost.

I’d be well advised to declare my Banksy as soon as it appeared, because I wouldn’t be allowed to take it with me when I move – as removing it would cause damage to the landlord’s structure and would then be considered by the Court to be their property. That way, the landlord and I could come to some arrangement whereby I could be compensated for the loss of my asset; perhaps a percentage of the income the landlord would get from exhibiting it.*** But if the mural is on the outside of the wall, open to the elements, I really have no claim to it at all.

So going back to the question of the Banksy on the Israeli border wall – what are the chances of the landlords and tenants ever sorting out that ownership question? Personally I would err on the side of the Israelis; and frankly I’m amazed that they haven’t already removed that panel and stuck it in a museum somewhere for wealthy people to gawp at. So much more convenient doing things that way than having to travel to the middle of Gaza.

* “Making good” usually means cleaning, repairing any minor damage and ensuring that the house is in good order. If you have decorated the inside without telling your landlord first, you may be required to redecorate to the landlord’s tastes when you leave.

** If you own a flat in a building which is owned by a third party, the same principles apply although making good is entirely up to you. Your lease will dictate what parts you own and are responsible for.

*** It’s just a thought, if I ever invite Banksy round for tea and get him to leave a calling card in the bathroom or something.

Antiquities Case Study: Clive Cussler’s Mayan Pot

I’m reading a rather late Clive Cussler novel, The Mayan Secrets, which is one of his Fargo series of novels and is co-written with Thomas Perry. It’s quite good fun, briskly written and full of adventure. Just the thing I need during a commute, so I can pretend to be somewhere else. Sam and Remi Fargo are, essentially, treasure hunters, but I suppose they could claim to be archaeologists of sorts, given that they work closely with a variety of museums and archaeologists to verify and preserve whatever it is they’ve found.

One of the artefacts of this novel is a large Mayan pot, into which an intact codex has been hidden, which is discovered buried in the side of a volcano after an earthquake reveals its hiding place. Now the bulk of the novel is concerned with the codex and its contents, but I’m more interested in the pot, mainly because it is a beautiful illustration of a point made in my Antiquities and Art Crime Course that I don’t think I grasped completely the first time – the importance of context. Indeed, Dr Donna Yates used a Mayan era pot as her example. So I was delighted to see that I actually had understood something.

mayan pot

In this novel, the pot is found alongside a mummified corpse in a cave system which is highly decorated and may have been a shrine. Cussler does give the reader a considerable amount of information in the prologue about the identity of the mummy and the importance of the pot, but in the interests of this case study, I’m going to ignore that and view the find as if I were seeing it for the first time. I will, however, point out the things that Sam and Remi Fargo really shouldn’t have done if they were genuinely interested in archaeology.

After a major earthquake, the entrance to a shrine in the side of a nearby volcano is revealed, which had been sealed some years previously by a lava flow. Inside the shrine, which is highly decorated, is the mummified body of a young man decorated with jade jewels, and a large decorated clay pot. In order to “protect the contents” having exposed the site to fresh air, Sam and Remi Fargo post guards at the site until the authorities can step in, remove the mummy and pot from the site with the mummy taken to the nearest mortuary and the pot going home to San Diego with them. In their climate controlled laboratory and in the presence of a professor of archaeology, they unseal the pot and discover the codex inside.

Now, if I were that professor of archaeology, I’d have lynched them for looting the site. Having removed the mummy and the pot, any context for the discovery has been lost, regardless of how wonderful the shrine is. It should have been secured, in situ, immediately and explored carefully, with every item mapped and marked clearly before its removal. This was not done; the argument being that the earthquake (and possible volcanic explosion) meant that the authorities would have better things on their mind, but also because having broken the atmospheric seal in gaining access to the shrine, removal of the artefacts would improve their chances of preservation. The occupants of a local village are told to guard the site until the authorities can take over.

This is all very well, but what has been lost is the context of the find. Even if the mummy and the pot were incongruous to the location, substantial amounts of information have been lost by not having the opportunity to properly see all the items in situ. Context provides information that may not ordinarily be ascertained from a close examination of the artefacts themselves. Dr Yates’ example from the course, showing how an apparently incongruous pot found in a burial site revealed historical alliances previously unknown between distant tribes, reinforces how such crucial information is lost when artefacts are removed. The pot itself would not have told us this and, in fact, may well have provided information that was either incomplete or false, depending on circumstances.

The removal of the pot from its finding place robs us from discovering if there is anything significant about that pot; if there is any relationship between the pot and the codex, or the shrine, or the mummy; or even if the pot is in the right place at the right time and it is everything else that is out of place. If it were not for Cussler’s prologue, we would never know how the pot got there and why – but having that prologue does reinforce the importance of context when dealing with antiquities of any kind. The looting of archaeological sites does more than just damage the sites, it damages history and our knowledge of the past. For that reason alone, it is criminal – and in my opinion, Sam and Remi Fargo must rank with the worst offenders.