Each year, the first-year module ‘Exploring the School of Art Collection’ has a new topic for the students to research. This year it was ‘Architecture’. The students are free to choose any image from our collection which they think would work well with the theme and write a short piece about them. Below, you find the result.
Modern Education, Frederick Charles Richards, etching, 1917, PR1609
Welsh artist Frederick Charles Richards (1878-1932) channels his frustration, fear, and scrutiny into his etching Modern Education (1917). A respected intellectual and artist, Richards creates a world within this etching that reflects his attitude to early twentieth century- education. He depicts a young nude boy smoking in the foreground of the scene. The youth is surrounded by a selection of neglected, fungi-covered books, some satirical, some more academic. The viewer’s eye is drawn to the large box at the bottom left of the scene labelled “Ancient Methods.” Previously tethered to the young boy’s ankle, the connection has deliberately been cut and the scissors responsible lie by the box.
Behind him lies an idyllic city – an architectural treasure chest filled with structures built in gothic, renaissance, classical and modern designs. Within the city are representations of the Parthenon, St. Peter’s Basilica, and a Roman arch resembling the Arc de Triomphe. The arch symbolises the threshold between the outside world and the land of education and opportunity. Glorified, the city is depicted as an intellectual and cultural hub, towards which a procession of scholars gravitates. Yet the youthful boy is oblivious, his nudity illustrating his ignorance as well as his inability to comprehend responsibility or consequence regarding his education.
The threshold to the city is straddled by downward paths that lead to a dark abyss, ambiguous and uncertain. The young boy sits in a place between the two on the brink of either proper education or potential ruin. During WWI, public education survived on little money and arts education endured on even less. Richards, an advocate for artistic education, doesn’t blame the young individual in the etching; he blames the public that the boy simply doesn’t know any better. The importance of art education is equivalent to the significance of culture, history, and legacy in our world today. On reflection, I consider myself lucky to live at a time in which the city of wonders Richards imagined through this piece is more palpable than ever before.
Building the Festival Hall, Tom Keating, oil on canvas, 1950, OP253
Tom Keating (1917-1984) was a prolific art forger, as well as an art restorer. He used the skills he learned as a restorer, bringing life to damaged and old paintings, by transferring them to a profession that was much more profitable. His forgeries are expertly painted in the style of the original artists, and their value amounts to almost $10,000,000 in total today. Keating did not rush his forgeries. He first studied the painters and chose his materials carefully before attempting to fake their style. But did he put the same amount of care into his own works?
Building the Festival Hall makes a good example. It was painted early in Keating’s career, before he started forging art. Workers are taking a break during the construction of the Festival Hall while it is enveloped in scaffolding, imprisoning it in a colourful cage. The foreground of the painting depicts everyday figures.
While most figures in the foreground are captivated by the building of the hall, one is leaning against a wall, seemingly unconcerned with the development happening behind him. If Keating wanted to highlight the importance of the construction of the building, why is the scene so mundane? This calls into question the motivation behind this piece: Was the artist a fan of concerts, desiring to capture the creation of a venue that would host one of his favourite pastimes? Or was it the construction itself that drew his attention? Was he fascinated by architecture and decided to capture the form of the building in its raw unfinished state? Or was he simply passing by the building site one day and decided to take up his brush on a whim? That question will never be answered. However, does the painter’s intention truly matter, when we can appreciate the piece perfectly well on its own?
A Distant Ship, Penny Brewill, etching, PR3145
As the title suggests, A Distant Ship depicts an abstract composition of various nautical objects to create a maritime scene. In the foreground, we first notice two sheds raised on stilts that seem to resemble beach huts. A dark shadow at the bottom left indicates the presence of a submarine, and a hut with an open window and two portholes is detailed just above it. A large windmill stands behind a three-faced triangular sign to the right of the image. The background shows a large windsock blowing in the wind above the left shed, as well as a vast body of water, with two white shapes that resemble ship funnels along the horizon line.
This etching was created by Penny Brewill, who used various lines and methods such as cross-hatching and potentially foul biting to create detail in her work. Brewill’s work is based on a deep interest in model-making, plans, and machinery. Therefore, printmaking, particularly etching, appears to be a very suitable artistic medium to support her personal style and interests. The amalgamation of both, the serenity of the seawater depicted in the background and machinery in the foreground, allows us to possibly question the effects that machinery has on the environment. A sense of modernity is thus abundant in Brewill’s seaside etching.
Condotto Dell’Acqua Vergine (Virgin Water Conduit), Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s, etching, 1836-1839, PR2773
Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s (1720-1778) etching Condotto Dell’Acqua Vergine (Virgin Water Conduit) (1836-1839), shows an old Roman building beginning to fall into ruin. Outside of the building, six figures are placed alongside its walls. Letters from A to D that correspond with the Italian annotations at the bottom of the print, are scattered throughout the image. When translated, these annotations explain various aspects of the image as well as telling the viewer that the monument is now buried and no longer fully visible.
Piranesi was an Italian printmaker and architect who had a particular fascination with antique Roman buildings, often creating dramatic and highly detailed prints of both ancient and modern buildings throughout Rome. Many of the ancient monuments Piranesi depicted were either in ruin or buried, and, as such, he would use his knowledge of antiquity to give them a new life and represent them in his etchings.
Throughout the 18th century, many aspiring artists or wealthy nobles would travel around Europe to further their education as well as to see many of the great wonders of the world on what was called the Grand Tour. Rome was one of the major cities that were part of the Grand Tour. Piranesi’s etchings were purchased by these nobles as souvenirs to remember their travels upon returning home.
Much like the nobles of the past on their Grand Tours, now in modern times we can use Piranesi’s etching to experience Rome as it would have been experienced during antiquity. Although I personally have never visited Rome, by looking at this etching I get a sense of what it is like there.
Tin Building, Moundville, Alabama, Summer 1936, Walker Evans, silver print on Kodak gloss paper, 1936, PH504
Tin Building, Moundville, Alabama, Summer 1936 is an image by American photographer Walker Evans (1903-1975). He is best known for documenting the Great Depression, and a lot of his work shows seemingly ordinary landscapes and buildings; however, it is the stories that lie beneath the surface of these images that need focusing on.
This photo was part of a project called the Farm Security Administration, an organisation that tried to reduce the effects of the Great Depression. Involved photographers such as Evans documented the struggles of the destitute rural population during that time.
Tin Building, Moundville, Alabama, Summer 1936 depicts an old building made of corrugated iron with a decaying sign on the front saying ‘Richard Perkins – Contractor’. A pile of rubble or dirt is placed directly in front of this old building, further emphasising this idea of decay and disregard for things that once were.
Like a lot of Walker’s work, this image is used to portray the issue of poverty. As indicated in its title, this photo was taken in Moundville, Alabama, in the mid 1930s. During that time, the state was going through a major depression and suffering from the highest rate of unemployment in any of the southern states at the time. People could not work nor nor pay their bills, which is why buildings like the one photographed would have to be shut down and left for years without being used.
This photograph is used as a form of historical record of the Great Depression. Its purpose is to remind us to try preventing such a situation reoccurring in the future – as much as we can in any case. People at the time – especially in the United States – were suffering from events they were unprepared for; they were swept away by the consequences of the stock market crash and problems such as oversupply and overproduction.
Casa di Pescatore, Chioggia, Elio Ciol, silver print on Kodak Mural matt paper, 1961
In this 1961 photograph by Elio Ciol (born 1929), a dilapidated fisherman’s house in Chioggia, Italy, sits empty, though the human presence in the scene is evident. Clothes hang drying outside, a fishing net is hung across the downstairs window to dry, and a single-wheeled cart sits on the cobbled street outside. I was drawn to this photo because of the way the house was clearly lived in, and the way it poses several questions: Who were the inhabitants of the house? Why aren’t they in the photo? Why did Elio Ciol choose this particular house to photograph?
Chioggia is a coastal Italian town south of Venice that’s primarily known as a fishing town, although they are known for their lace-making as well. Chioggia is sometimes referred to as ‘Little Venice,’ as there are some canals that run through the town. All of these reasons could be contributing factors as to why Ciol chose to photograph this fisherman’s home and Chioggia in general. As a photographer, Ciol was mainly interested in documenting Italy’s architecture, landscapes, and culture. His photos are usually devoid of people, so it may just be a preference of his to not include them in his work.
By photographing this old and dilapidated terrace house, with its clothes on the line and fishing nets on the windows, Ciol was able to capture an authentic image of the way the locals lived and the town of Chioggia overall in 1961, without staging anything or distracting from the architecture by adding any people. The subject of the picture is the architecture itself, and how the humans who live in it have made it their own and adapted it to suit their needs.
Veduta degli avasi dell’ Anfieatro Dallas parte interna, Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s, etching, 1836-39, PR2799
The ruins of the Colosseum, a Flavian amphitheatre, dominate the foreground in Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s (1720-1778) etching Veduta degli avasi dell’ Anfieatro Dallas parte interna, particularly the archway in the centre. It is an interesting divider: To the left of the archway are solely the ruins with the odd figure walking among the structure; through the archway to the right, is a small, more contemporary churches built into the walls of the amphitheatre. This area is busier and demonstrates a contrast between historical and modern uses of ancient architecture: Originally it was an amphitheatre, home of gladiator battles and other gory spectacles, later sacred ground and a place of worship. This contrast, and the significance of the archway, is what drew me to this print.
During the decline of the Holy Roman Empire (800/962AD-1806AD), amphitheatres in Rome were seen as nothing more than a source for building materials, which people took full advantage of plundering. However, this was stopped by Pope Benedict XIV in Piranesi’s time. He declared the Colosseum a site of a Christian martyrdom – a claim, which has since been proven false. This explains the presence of the small churches on the right and could also account for the presence of the people on the left-hand side of the archway, walking through the ruins, perhaps combing them for resources.
Piranesi is most famous as an architect, which might explain why he chose to record this scene. His choice might also suggest that he saw the Colosseum as a metaphor for the social and religious changes happening in his lifetime. Furthermore, his career as an architect explains his use of letters as a key to label different aspects of the scene. Written in Italian, the annotations read translated into English for example: “E: sign of the stairs to the top floor.”.
Although the original etching was created circa 1756, this edition dates from around 1836-1839.
Meina Corita, Lombardia 1961, Elio Ciol, silver print on Kodak Mural matt paper, 1961, PH419
This photograph shows a courtyard in Meina, Italy, in 1961. It depicts homes in the village, specifically the exteriors of houses with focus on the railings and stonework. The way it was taken makes your eyes naturally wander up the staircases and around the scene.
It was shot by Italian photographer Elio Ciol (born 1929), who is a documentary and landscape photographer. He started doing photography after watching his father working in his own darkroom as a young boy. I chose this image, because I like its composition. There is something to look at in every corner. The detail in the old stonework, for example, is very intriguing. The image’s composition makes you feel as if you were there; it draws you in and makes you want to take a closer look, to walk around and explore it for yourself.
The image was taken during a phase of economic and population growth and while Italy was still recovering from the impacts of WWII. Ciol would often take photos of ordinary, everyday scenes and refrain from documenting the negative events happening during his career as a photographer. With the situation pretty much the same everywhere in Italy during the 1960s, there is nothing in this image that indicates why he was in Meina at this specific time. We can only speculate as to why was he so interested in this particular village and its buildings, and whether it had any special significance to him.
Old Houses on the Arno, Florence, Frederick Charles Richards, etching, 1916, PR1601
Frederick Charles Richards (1878-1932) was a Welsh artist who enjoyed travelling to different countries and, although he was never academically acclaimed, created 190 etchings and 470 pencil drawings, which made him popular among those in Newport who knew of his work. The preliminary sketches that he made for his etchings were published as sketchbooks in the early 1900s. Among these publications were Oxford (1913), three showing Italy in 1914 (Venice, Rome, and Florence), and Windsor & Eton in the same year.
This print by Richards comes from a design in the Florence sketchbook and shows a row of houses along the river Arno in Florence, Tuscany. A gondola floats on the river, with a passenger sitting on the left and a man standing using an oar on the right. Beyond the gondola, three figures are standing on a staircase that leads from the houses to the water. Other figures are placed in windows at the centre of the image, along with clothing lines strung out on balconies and windows. Most of the etching’s details are in the centre, with the edges of the print remaining empty or with minimal detail.
Two signs appear in this image, reading ‘AGIACCHERI’ and ‘BASTONI PASSEGGIO’ respectively. The latter translates to ‘walking sticks’ while the former does not appear to have a direct translation into English and so might be a family name displayed outside their home.
What I find particularly interesting about this print is that, through his prints, Richards aimed to show the beauty of whatever city or country he was in. Yet, of the whole of Florence, he chose to depict this closely packed, intimate section of houses along the Arno. He reflects this sense of intimacy by etching small, personal details of the buildings and leaving large sections empty.
The Tower of Babel in Pieces, Anne Desmet, wood engraving and linocut, 1999, PR3454
Anne Desmet (born 1964) became fascinated with towers in ancient Rome and medieval Italy that represent human aspiration. This led to her interest in the Tower of Babel, as the story tells us not only about human pride, ambition, and skill, but also about how God always controls our destiny.
The tower was theoretically built by the Babylonians in Shinar (present day Iraq) after the mythical flood described in the Bible’s Book of Genesis (11:1-9). The flood created a people with one language who wanted to create a name for themselves by founding a massive city (Babylonia) and eventually started building a large tower which was meant to reach the heavens. As the tower got taller and taller the people started feeling more prideful. This led to God wanting to put a stop to this undertaking. He gave all the people different languages so they would struggle to understand each other, making it impossible for them to build the tower. The Babylonians eventually stopped the project and began venturing away from one another to various parts of the Earth because they could not live together harmoniously any longer.
This is a story that aims to explain how the different languages evolved.
This print is split into four parts and depicts the Tower of Babel in ruins. A few figures are included to show the scale of the structure. This split can represent how humans were separated by the creation of multiple languages. We get to see some of the interior as well as the exterior of the building. The tower is depicted in a beige colour, because the Babylonians built their structures using mud bricks. We also see a few trees on the balconies of the tower, because they often placed trees and shrubs on the balconies of their big structures.
Dark Stairwell, Victoria Baths, Manchester, Anne Desmet, linocut, 2007, PR3455
This linocut by Anne Desmet (born 1964) gives an aerial view over a balcony railing into the dark stairwell below. The staircase’s banister cuts across the image towards a column supporting two arches. Below the arches is a darkened hallway. Above the hallway, two windows set among decorated tiles overlook the scene. The patterned tiles on the floor fade from view into the darkness of the corridors. Shadows and highlights contrast sharply around the banisters and pillars. The blend of olive green and black ink on the white paper provides a small tonal range and contrast in all the right areas.
Anne Desmet, an artist from Liverpool, created this piece as part of a large series titled Victoria Baths. It was featured in the Urban Evolution exhibition, which took place after a large restoration of the Victoria Baths in Manchester. The exhibition ran from 2008 to 2010 and was said to be about deterioration and renewal. The eeriness of the image adds to the feeling of decay and the absence of human life – only stones and tiles of years past remain. This is part of the story of an old building told in a modern way. It would not have been depicted as such when first erected, as this print was made as a ‘before’-image, prior to the beginning of the restoration of the baths. The elaborate design shows that this was a costly building when it was constructed, and the details are still there to be admired over 100 years later. It is easy to imagine people in Desmet’s scene, milling about and going to the baths. I see this as an apt representation of deterioration and renewal, of bringing life back into a historical building. The artist created an enticing picture which makes one want to see these beautiful baths for oneself.
Villaggio di Treffes – Kenya, Elio Ciol, silver print on Kodak Mural matt paper, 1960-1977, PH454
The image I chose to research is by Italian photographer Elio Ciol (born 1929). It is (probably) called Villaggio di Treffes – Kenya; there appears to be no other title than this note written on the margin of the picture. This Italian inscription roughly translates to ‘a village to meet’ in English. The silver print from the 1960s or 1970s shows a small Kenyan farming village. There are two white horses in the foreground that seem to be making their way to the village. They lead the viewer’s eyes into the main subject of the image. The place consists of several wooden huts with thatched roofs and a tin shed. There are fenced-off areas that separate the village from the plains. A few chickens are roaming around the huts, which suggests to me that this is a farming village. Some people are also depicted in the scene, but they are difficult to spot among the huts. The dwellings are examples of vernacular and functional architecture, which are constructed with the resources of the land. They are built with the weather, terrain and function in mind. At first, I struggled to understand why Ciol chose to photograph this particular village, until I found an interview with Paolo Mattei in the Italian Ways magazine, in which Ciol talks about his attraction to the lives his farmer friends had when he was younger. He mentions “the charm in the poverty of farmers’ lives” and how he enjoyed capturing it. This makes me believe that Ciol chose to photograph this village, because it was another example of a simple farming community, but from a different culture. I believe the reason he took this image wasn’t to focus on the people specifically, but to document what their everyday lives looked like through the eyes of a person who had never seen or lived that life before.
Billboards and Frame Houses, Atlanta, Georgia, March 1936, Walker Evans, silver print on Kodak gloss paper, 1936, PH501
Billboards and Frame Houses, Atlanta, Georgia, 1936 is a snapshot of a street in Atlanta, Georgia, United States. The picture was taken by famous photographer Walker Evans (1903-1975). During most of his career, he captured people in the United States affected by the Great Depression. By doing so, he put a face to the despair that people were reading about in the newspapers. Interestingly, we see no people in this image, so that intention is perhaps less obvious.
The photo was taken in 1936, near the end of the Depression. It shows the view of two ‘frame houses’ from across the street. Directly underneath the houses are billboards promoting the latest Hollywood movies to be released soon. These help us date the work to around March 1936. This image stood out to me, as there is a stark contrast between the hastily built houses and the commercial billboards. Even in monochrome they “pop out” of the photo.
Evans worked for the Resettlement Administration (later known as the Farm Security Administration, or FSA) during the time the image was taken. He was hired to document small-town life and how the government was aiding the rural communities during the Depression. One of his tasks was to record the way people were housed, which could explain why there are dwellings but no people in this photograph.
The houses in the background are near identical, apart from the curtains hanging in one of the windows of the house on the left – the only sign that someone actually lives there. Evans has managed to really drive this point of uniformity home by including an equal amount of space on the sides of the photograph, as well as “framing” the houses with the tram wire above.
These houses were most likely built as part of the public housing program in Atlanta, which started in the early 1930s. They were constructed as a substitute for middle-class families who had lost their own property/homes due to the Depression.The movement, started by real estate developer Charles Palmer, took heavy inspiration from European housing schemes.