Monday, 12 September 2016

The most complete set of illuminated windows in the colonies: Clayton & Bell at Ellerslie

Alfred Bell (1832-1895) for Clayton and Bell, Predella detail of [The ascendant Christ] (1884). The central red escutcheon is emblazoned
with a paschal lamb and banner proclaiming victory over death.
Christ Church, Ellerslie, gift of Alfred Bell, 1885
Courtesy of the Parish of Ellerslie and Mount Wellington. Photograph: Luke Carpenter
In a memoir of his time in New Zealand, William Garden Cowie (1831-1902), the first Anglican bishop of Auckland (1869-1902), recorded a ride 'to Christ Church, Ellerslie, another of our beautiful suburbs'. Describing the church as 'a very small building of wood, like most of our Auckland churches', he noted it was 'adorned with a series of painted windows, the gift of Mr Alfred Bell, of the well-known firm of Clayton and Bell, through his old friend Mr Albin Martin, a resident in the district.'  <W Cowie, Our last year in New Zealand 1887 (London: Kegan, Paul, Trench , 1888), pp. 5-6>. Cowie was far from being the only contemporaneous visitor to the church to note the windows, but he was probably the most impressed; certainly no other church in his diocese was so spectacularly illuminated.

Installed in Christ Church in January 1885, the gift by the stained glass artist Alfred Bell (1832-1895) of thirteen stained and painted glass windows (comprising thirty lights) is now the most significant surviving set of English gothic revival stained glass windows to be found in New Zealand. Not only were they designed by Bell specifically for the newly erected church – it was dedicated on 22 December 1883 – but they were also a personal acknowledgement of the role the artist Albin Martin (1813-1888) played in catalysing Bell's career as both one of the nineteenth-century's more pre-eminent designers of stained and painted glass and co-owner of Clayton and Bell, at the time probably the most prominent stained glass workshop in England. The circumstances of how the windows arrived in New Zealand are intriguing not only for the personal connections they reveal but also in the way they demonstrate how art and design was deployed to integrate the frontier settlement of New Zealand into the cultural hegemony of empire.
James D Richardson, Exterior of Christ Church, Ellerslie (1928)
George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries (4-4121)
The decision to construct a church in the recently developed, semi-rural, suburb of Ellerslie was made in 1881 when the Anglican diocese of Auckland acquired land – partially by gift – on Bella Street (now Ladies Mile) <Pamela Stone, With memories filled: a history of the parish of Ellerslie ([Auckland: the church, 1983]), p. 4>. It was the second church to manifest in the suburb and was financed and built by local parishioners at a cost of £600 (the equivalent of $108,500 today), a decade after the opening of the Auckland to Mercer railway line that had encouraged the formation of what was one of Auckland's first railway suburbs.

The church was designed by the Irish-born civil engineer, surveyor and erstwhile architect Robert McFarland (1832-1901) in what was described as the 'Early English' style; a more contemporary classification would be Antipodean gothic revival. It was not McFarland's first church. In 1868 he had designed the first, neo-classical, iteration of St James Presbyterian church in Thames (it survives as the church hall) and in 1876 he devised his first gothic revival structure, the Thames Congregational Church, which also survives – albeit in mutilated form – as the Thames Baptist Church. Neither church now acknowledges McFarland's role as architect.
Unidentified photographer, Congregational Church, Thames (1902)
Cyclopedia of New Zealand 
In all probability the designs of both of McFarland's gothic revival churches, with their pointed arches, lancet windows, false buttresses and steeply pitched roofs, were taken from, as yet, unidentified pattern books. As Jonathan Mane-Wheoki points out, the Anglican diocese of Auckland had an extensive library of architectural books, most of them collected by George Augustus Selwyn (1809-1878), first – and only – Anglican bishop of New Zealand – and most, if not all, reflected his distinct preference for 'the original, true style' of the gothic revival. <J Mane-Wheoki, 'Selwyn the ecclesiologist – in theory and practice', in A K Davidson, ed, A controversial churchman (Wellington: Brigid Williams Books, 2011, 128-145, p. 137>. Selwyn's espousal of the gothic revival not only  influenced colonial ecclesiastical architecture but was also ubiquitous and lingering. As Bill McKay notes in his recent history of New Zealand church design, 'Perhaps because of the number and familiarity of Gothic Revival churches in New Zealand, large and small, we think this is the natural style of church architecture' <W McKay, Worship: a history of New Zealand church design (Auckland: Godwit, 2015), p. 187>.

As G A Bremner observes, colonial bishops deployed architecture not only to exert discipline on their sometimes wayward communities but also 'to enhance the physical presence of the Church, thus asserting both its dignity and identity' in an increasingly pluralist religious world. Christ Church was one of a number of substantial – if spatially and decoratively modest – timber built Antipodean gothic revival churches erected during Cowie's time as bishop. These included St George's, Thames (Edward Mahoney, 1872),  St Luke's, Mount Albert (Pierre Burrows, 1872-1883), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Khyber Pass (Edward Mahoney, 1880-1881), Christ Church, Kihikihi (Philip Walsh, 1881), St Jude's, Avondale (Edward Bartley, 1884) and St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Parnell (Benjamin Mountfort, 1884-1898).
James D Richardson, Interior of Christ Church, Ellerslie (1928). The church's original internal configuration, with the congregation facing east and the altar raised to ensure visibility, conformed to ecclesiological principles.
George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries (4-4125)
Christ Church was distinguished from the other churches by what a nineteenth century reporter described as 'a share of luck that rarely falls to a colonial church'. Newly resident in Ellerslie, Albin Martin was a member of building committee formed to oversee the construction of the church. He was not only an artist but also a sometime farmer and politician. Martin, who migrated to New Zealand in order to farm in 1851, was the son and brother of Anglican clergymen who, from the age of 16, lived in the Dorset village of Silton where his father, Harry (1772-1832), was rector of the parish. In March 1833 he followed his elder brother – another Harry (1812-1864) – to Cambridge where he matriculated at Jesus College. Unlike his brother he abandoned his studies and in 1834 became a pupil of the landscape painter John Linnell (1792-1882) in London <Una Platts 'Albin Martin 1813-1888', in Albin Martin (Auckland: Auckland City Art Gallery, 1988), p. 9>. Una Platts speculates that Martin's decision to forswear Cambridge was prompted by his coming into money, an assertion supported by entries in the British censuses for 1841 and 1851 where he is described as being of independent means and as a landed proprietor, residing in Silton.
John Linnell (1792-1882), Portrait of Albin Martin (1835).
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki on loan from a private collection (L1940/1/2)
Between 1834 and 1851 Martin spent much of his time in London and Italy but his family retained their connections with Silton. In the 1841 census, the Rev Harry Martin is recorded as being in residence there with his wife Anne, two female and one male servants, along with a guest and her son; as there is no other clerical listing for the parish this suggests that Harry Martin was acting as its curate and thus responsible for the care of the aged, infirm and poor. In the same census an eight year old boy, Alfred Bell, is recorded, along with his father, Jeremiah – an agricultural labourer, his mother, Leah, and two brothers. Bell's great grandson, Peter Larkworthy, suggests it was Harry Martin 'a man of discernment and an accomplished amateur artist' who was responsible for promoting Bell's talents, but this account ignores the substantial reality of Bell's gift of the glass to Christ Church and Albin's two accounts of the connection, of which Larkworthy was, apparently, unaware <Peter Larkworthy, Clayton and Bell, stained glass artists and decorators (London: Ecclesiological Society, 1984), p. 6>. It is evident though that sometime between 1841 and 1851, despite long absences in Italy and London, Albin Martin, probably through his brother, encountered and instructed the young Bell. Forty years later Martin recalled that
[He] had recently returned to England from Italy [possibly in July 1844], many years before he came to Auckland, [when] he met, on visiting a friend's house, a little boy whose aptitude for drawing attracted his attention. The boy was poor, but [he], thinking there was something in the lad, gave him lessons in the art of drawing and painting. The boy, whose name was Alfred Bell, progressed with such rapidity that Mr Martin was fairly astonished and [...] resolved to do what he could to give the young lad a push.
In another account published in the Auckland-based Church Gazette in March 1885 Martin was more specific in his description of how he and his brother promoted Bell's talent, he allowed it was Harry who effected Bell's critical encounter in 1847 with the architect George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) then completing a church near Silton, St Martins (1842-44) at Zeals <A Martin, 'The donor of the Ellerslie windows', Church Gazette (2 March 1885), pp. 27-28>. Martin recalled how he later visited Scott's studio 'to see how young Bell was getting on and to thank Sir Gilbert for taking him into his office; but Sir Gilbert said that so far from any thanks being due to him, he had to thank me for sending him a youth possessed of such power of drawing.'

Scott, like the Martins, had a clerical background, was a convinced mediaevalist and, arguably, the pre-eminent English architect of the age with over eight hundred projects credited to his practice including the Foreign and Colonial Office in Whitehall (1861), St Pancras Station and its associated Midland Hotel (1865), the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park (1872) and, not least, a series of schemes for Christ Church cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand (1858-1873), later adapted by the New Zealand-resident architect Benjamin Mountfort (1825-1898). Scott was evidently impressed by Bell, recalling that 'His productions at that early age were most remarkable, and, during the whole time he was with me, nothing he had to do seemed to present any difficulty whatever to him.'<G G Scott, Personal and professional recollections, ed by G G Scott jnr ([London]: Sampson, Low, 1879), pp. 217-224>. Bell's work as a designer of mosaics, murals and stained and painted glass featured prominently in Scott's projects, both during and after his time in his studio.
Unidentified photographer, Alfred Bell [about 1880?].
From Peter Larkworthy, Clayton and Bell, stained glass artists and decorators (London: Ecclesiological Society, 1984)
It was in Scott's studio that Alfred Bell met John Richard Clayton (1827-1913) who joined it around 1850. Clayton, who had trained at the Royal Academy Schools as a sculptor, had been a pupil of Anthony Salvin (1799-1881), reputed for his work as a repairer of medieval buildings rather than a builder of new. Bell and Clayton began designing stained and painted glass for Scott's projects in accordance with his preference for the English geometrical decorated gothic style as promoted by the Cambridge Camden Society in its journal The Ecclesiologist. In keeping with their status as architects, their early designs were produced by other London glassmakers: Heaton & Butler, James Powell & Sons and Lavers and Barraud but, in 1855, with Scott's encouragement, they established their own workshop at 311 Regent Street in London's West End.

Clayton and Bell succeeded in their enterprise both for the quality of their workmanship and the popularity of their designs. Reviewing a now destroyed window in Westminster Abbey, the Tractarians at The Ecclesiologist declared its lights to be 'an epoch in glass painting, from their size, their merit and their locality.' <Ecclesiologist, vol. 9 (1858), p. 41>. By the end of the 1860s they allegedly had some three hundred employees; they also expanded their repertoire. In collaboration with the Anglo-Italian glass factory Salviati & Co (established in 1866) they produced glass mosaics, the best known of which are those on Scott's Albert Memorial. They also exported widely: Clayton and Bell supplied the extraordinary set of fourteen stained and painted glass windows (124 lights) commemorating great scholars for the Great Hall of the University of Sydney (Edmund Blackett, 1858); it seems likely that this set of windows was the first secular cycle produced during during the nineteenth century revival of the technique.

New Zealand – particularly the Anglican-driven settlement of Christchurch – was the destination of a number of Clayton and Bell windows. In her catalogue raisonné of the stained glass windows of Canterbury, Fiona Ciaran identifies thirty from Clayton and Bell. <Fiona Ciaran, Stained glass windows of Canterbury, New Zealand (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 1998), p. 218>. In numerical terms the firm wasn't the most popular; other London makers, Powells and Lavers and Barraud, held that distinction. Explaining this relatively low ranking for Clayton and Bell works, Ciaran cites the animus of the chapter of Christ Church cathedral who, in 1881, dismissed the firm notwithstanding its association with the building's original architect. It's unclear what caused this rupture but the chapter accused the firm of 'negligence' in carrying out the commission. However it seems that Clayton and Bell's apparent tardiness was due more to the imprecise nature of Mountfort's instructions rather than a disinterest in the commission <Ciaran, p. 113>. Nonetheless, Clayton and Bell produced three of the cathedral's 17 windows including – for the reduced sum of £200 – its now destroyed decafoil rose window, The lamb of God and the hierarchy of angels (after a design by Mountfort, c. 1881-82) <Ciaran, pp.111-112>. Added to this, a sense that Clayton and Bell windows were perceived as unfashionable may also have been a consideration. Martin Harrison observes that by the 1860s the design of Clayton and Bell windows were becoming formulaic; their tones were increasingly harder and metallic and the purist Gothic Revival was being supplanted by the less rigorously mediaevalist arts and crafts style espoused by the like of, the increasingly fashionable, William Morris.
Clayton and Bell after Benjamin Mountfort (1825-1898), The lamb of God and the hierarchy of angels (about 1881). The now destroyed decafoil rose window in Christ Church cathedral, Christchurch. Mountfort's design of the window was based on that of Christ Church, Oxford.
Again, through Scott, Clayton and Bell had other New Zealand connections. From the firm's point of view, probably the most important were the stained and painted glass windows installed by George Selwyn in the 'unsightly' chapel he had built for his bishop's palace following his translation from New Zealand to Lichfield in 1869 <A B Clifton, The cathedral church of Lichfield (London: George Bell, 1900), p. 34>. One of the windows alludes both to the alleged life-saving actions of Hēnare Wiremu Taratoa at Gate Pā and, with its three gold stars on a blue ground, to the heraldic achievement of the Anglican diocese of New Zealand, arms later assumed by the Auckland diocese. Clayton and Bell were also responsible for the west window (1869) and the mural decoration surrounding Selwyn's tomb in the lady chapel of Lichfield Cathedral.

It's possible that Bell's gift to the Ellerslie church was an attempt at rehabilitating Clayton and Bell's reputation amongst the Anglican community in New Zealand following the fiasco in Christchurch, however the reported circumstances surrounding the gift suggest otherwise. In an interview Martin gave around the time of the donation, he asserted he had written 'to his old pupil to learn whether any pieces of painted glass could be obtained cheap'. Bell's response was to request the patterns of the windows and it seems that he was sent the architectural drawings for the church, enabling him to not only ensure appropriate dimensions for his glass but also to conceive of an appropriate narrative programme. In October 1884 Clayton and Bell despatched the set of windows to Auckland on the SS Coptic; unfortunately the ship was diverted to Wellington from whence they were forwarded arriving in the third week of December; they were installed in early January under the supervision of John Lorraine Holland (1839-1917) late of the local decorating firm Holland and Butler.They were first exposed to public scrutiny on 17 January 1885.

In September 1884 Bell wrote to Martin advising him of the imminent despatch of the windows, enclosing a diagram indicating the placement of the windows and explaining he had 'taken upon me to treat the whole series of windows thus securing a certain rhythm and unity throughout not otherwise easy to obtain'. As a new built church, Bell, as designer of its most prominent decorative feature, could conceive of it as a tabula rasa. He described the programmatic cycle as 'illustrating the attributes of Christ and the general character of His mission on Earth', noting however that 'As I have avoided for the most part the an historical aspect of Our Lord's life there remains abundant material [for others] to work on' <Christ Church Archives, Letter from Alfred Bell to Albin Martin, 24 September 1884>. Bell's concern that others would object to the completeness of his contribution to the decoration of the church were groundless.
Alfred Bell (1832-1895) for Clayton and Bell, S Matthew; S Mark: S Luke: S John (1884). Christ Church, Ellerslie, gift of Alfred Bell, 1885
Courtesy of the Parish of Ellerslie and Mount Wellington. Photograph: Luke Carpenter
The narrative Bell developed reflected the beliefs promulgated by the Oxford Reform Movement of the Church of England and adopted by followers of the Cambridge Camden Society (later the Ecclesiological Society) as to how the Christian faith should be manifest to its adherents. The set of thirteen windows is comprised of thirty lights and organised in three sections: the west end or baptistery; the nave; and the chancel or sanctuary. The cycle is initiated in the eighteen light western window that depicts the teachings of Christ made known by the evangelists, Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John who are shown in four geometrically traceried lancet windows, the two central panels surmounted by a pentagram-traceried roundel within an arched timber moulding, the points of the pentagram symbolising the five wounds of Christ. 
Alfred Bell (1832-1895) for Clayton and Bell, I am the light of the world (1884). The text is from John 8.12, which recounts Christ's sermon on the Mount of Olives.
Christ Church, Ellerslie, gift of Alfred Bell, 1885.
Courtesy of the Parish of Ellerslie and Mount Wellington. Photograph Luke Carpenter.

The nine lancet windows flanking the nave – in ecclesiological terms, ‘the Church Militant’ – depict events in the life of Christ as recounted by the evangelists: ‘Emanuel God with us’ (Matthew 2.1, the nativity); ‘This is my beloved son’ (Matthew 3.17, the baptism); ‘Ye must be born again’ (John 3.7, encounter with Nicodemus); ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (John 11.25, meeting with Martha); ‘I am the good shepherd’ (John 10.11); ‘I am the light of the world’ (John 8.12, sermon on the mount of Olives); ‘I ascend unto my father and your father’ (John 20.17, Mary Magdalene at the tomb); ‘I that speak unto thee am he’ (John 4.26, meeting with the woman of Samaria); and ‘Of such is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 19.14, blessing the little children). 
Alfred Bell (1832-1895) for Clayton and Bell, Christ is risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept (1884). The running text is from the epistle of Paul the apostle 1 Corinthians 15.20 (1884). The figures depict (from left to right, Saints Peter and John, Christ ascendant and the two Marys. Christ Church, Ellerslie, gift of Alfred Bell, 1885
Courtesy of the Parish of Ellerslie and Mount Wellington. Photograph: Luke Carpenter
The principal window in the former chancel – the part of the church representative of ‘the Church Triumphant’ in the symbolism of the ecclesiologists – is comprised of three elaborately decorated lancet lights, with elaborately painted canopies and a running text quote from I Corinthians 15.20 – ‘Christ is risen from the dead’ (Saints Peter and John); ‘And become the first fruits’ (Christ ascendant); and ‘Of them that slept’ (The two Marys). The chancel lights were originally flanked by two smaller lancet windows – ‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6.35) and ‘I am the true vine’ (John 15.1). This sub-set celebrates the ritual of holy communion. Appropriately for the most sacred space in the church and the focal point of worship, these windows are most richly decorated and the three central lights are the only windows in the set with elaborately painted predellas of escutcheons depicting: a pelican and her piety, symbolic of Christ’s sacrifice; an apostolic lamb, symbolic of Christ’s victory over death; and a lion guardant and haloed, symbolic of the majesty of Christ’s victory. To emphasis their liturgical significance and to reiterate the unifying concept of the Trinity, the three lights are set within a tripartite moulded architrave supported by four roseate corbels.

Given his involvement in devising their theme, his personal connection with Martin – the mediator of the gift – and the assuredness of the painting, it is highly likely that Bell was responsible for more than just supervising a sketch of the designs, a procedure that appears to have been the convention at Clayton and Bell at this stage of its history <Ciaran, p. 196>. Unlike much of the stained glass of the period, the imagery does not appear to have been based on the work of other artists, although the figures exhibit the stillness and flat colouring associated with the Nazarene movement. Harrison notes that 'Bell's forte was always said to be architectural canopy-work <Harrison, p. 31> and such canopies feature in those windows intended for the chancel – the three traceried lights forming the east window and the two windows 'The true vine' and 'The bread of life' intended to flank the east window –  as well as on the four major lights of the eighteen depicting the Evangelists of the west window. Both the chancel and west windows resonate with the heavy blues and reds that characterise the firms later work.

By contrast, the lights of the nave windows have been designed to provide sufficient daylight for a darkened space with the narrative image confined to a central rectangular panel delicately painted in the flat planes. Each window is framed by a band of undulating vines around diamond patterned leading. These are painted with an alternating pattern of stylised flowering campions and laurel-like leaves. The windows have their identifying texts painted along their bases.

 Alfred Bell (1832-1895) for Clayton and Bell, I am the bread of life and I am the true vine (1884). Bell intended the windows to flank the altarpiece, 
emphasising the dignity of the sanctuary and the significance of the ritual of holy communion. The texts are from John 6.35 and John 15.1. 
Christ Church, Ellerslie, gift of Alfred Bell, 1885 
Courtesy of the Parish of Ellerslie and Mount Wellington. Photograph: Luke Carpenter

Reporting on the installation of the windows, the New Zealand Herald speculated that they were 'worth considerably over £1000' (in today's terms $182,500), that is more than the cost of erecting the building. While the Herald's conjecture was probably hyperbolic, it reflects the impact the windows had on viewers. Another report effused that 'The light of the day as it shines through the painted glass becomes so rich and mellowed that we may fancy it to be an earthly resemblance to that heavenly light which shall cast its rays on faster, emerald, and ruby of greatest lustre'. All reports agreed with the Auckland Star's assertion the gift would 'render [Christ Church] the most attractive little tabernacle in the colony.' At a service to commemorate the installation of the windows, The Cambridge-educated Cowie observed 'in the matter of adorning her houses of prayer, the Church of England has been returning during the last thirty years to the point which our forefathers had reached four hundred years ago'. This architectural hiatus, he opined, was due to the malign influence of 'the Bishop of Rome' on the English peoples and the emergence of a society that asserted 'Architecture and painting and sculpture were supposed to be of the earth, earthy; and not to be cultivated as handmaids of religion.'

But for all the enthusiasm displayed by the clergy, congregants and reporters in 1885, the miracle of surviving a fire in 1928, and the best efforts of generations of churchwardens to preserve its features, the church and its windows have fallen into obscurity. This is not just the result of an increasingly secularised society that has prompted a falling off in religious adherence and a concomitant loss of income to the parish but also changing patterns of observance. By the 1980s Anglican services had become less ritualised and worshipers – both clergy and congregations – were finding the older liturgy and its associated furnishings too formal. In 1990, in order to facilitate a connection with a newly constructed adjacent 'parish lounge' and to enable a more relaxed style of worship, a new entrance was inserted into what had been the chancel, the floor plan of the church was reversed, with the altar and its associated furnishings relocated under the western window, and the original, now darkened, shellac finish of the interior woodwork stripped to provide a more contemporary feel. The reconfiguration diminished the visual impact of Bell's windows, disassociated their symbolic narrative from the functional roles of the spaces, effectively rendering it meaningless. The left flanking window of the now redundant chancel – designated 'I am the bread of life' – was clumsily inserted into the right terminal wall of the nave.

Bell's generosity to the parish did not go unacknowledged: a brass plaque was mounted in the church recording his gift and in September 1885 parishioners determined to present him with a casket of New Zealand woods made by the distinguished Auckland cabinetmaker, the Bohemian-born Anton Seuffert (c. 1814-1887). It was an elaborate affair; the New Zealand Herald reported that 'the designs in inlaid work of the different [New Zealand] woods are illustrative of Maori life and New Zealand ferns and shrubs.' An inscription was 'engraved on a silver shield:– "Presented to Alfred Bell, Esq., by the Vestrymen of Ellerslie, in grateful recognition of his magnificent gift of eighteen painted windows to Christ Church, Ellerslie, New Zealand. Auckland, January 17, 1885."' Shortly after, the casket was forwarded to Bell on the SS Arawa along with an exhortation from Martin that he should consider exhibiting it at the forthcoming Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London. Bell response was delivered through Martin who published an excerpt from his letter in the New Zealand Herald:
The beautiful present came safe and sound in all respects. What a magnificent thing it is! Everybody is interested and full of admiration. I will certainly do as you suggest, and endeavour to get it prominently exhibited at the May Exhibition of Indian and colonial products. It deserves to be seen–not only for the design, but the workmanship is so admirable–and the variety and beauty of the materials so remarkable.
Alfred Bell exhibited an unattributed 'memorial casket of New Zealand design and workmanship' at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in May 1886; amongst a range of other furniture, Anton Seuffert also exhibited a number of caskets in the New Zealand court at the exhibition, some borrowed from English-domiciled owners. It is possible Bell was unaware of the name of the maker of his 'beautiful present' but it seems most probable that what he displayed at the exhibition was his Ellerslie casket. In November 2009 the New Zealand Herald  reported the casket had been sold that month at Christies in London, allegedly to a New Zealand buyer.

Bell's glass transmogrified a modest timber structure into a jewel box of a church, endowing a newly-built colonial building with a simulacra of metropolitan verve and, with its mediaevalist imagery and colouring, adding a deeper historical and aesthetic dimensions to its thinly rendered Antipodean gothic revival form.

Thanks to the Rev Harvey Smith, priest in charge, Pamela Stone, people's warden, and Murray John of the Parish of Ellerslie and Mount Wellington, for their care of the windows and assistance in researching this post. 

The Christ Church Clayton and Bell windows feature in a forthcoming Auckland Heritage Festival event 'Ellerslie heritage walk and the stained glass windows of Christ Church' to be held at 2pm on Sunday 9 October 2016. Bookings required: (09) 579 5033 / /

Thursday, 21 April 2016

The floating world of Captain Humphreys-Davies

Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳 (1797-1861), Nagato no kuni Akama no ura ni oite Genpei ôg assen Heike ichimon kotogotoku horobiru zu (In the great 
battle between the Minamoto and the Taira in Akama Bay in Nagato Province, the Taira clan is utterly destroyed). Woodcut, about 1845. 
Formerly in the collection of G A W Humphreys-Davies.
Connoisseurship – the visual analysis of objects based on formal considerations, or 'expertise in the matter of taste' as the Oxford English Dictionary currently and narrowly defines it – has a pejorative status nowadays. In academic circles this combination of historically-informed visual and theoretical scholarship is derided as elitist, conservative, qualitative and uncritically empirical. In the museological world it is now relegated to obscure corners of the institutional basement as a quirky sort of pedantry. Public disinterest is palpable; for those directing popular taste through the media, connoisseurship is rarely acknowledged and, when it is, it's usually projected in a populist format such as the BBC's long-running series 'Antiques roadshow' where arcane knowledge is greedily equated with hidden fortunes. Awareness of of the arts in this neoliberal climate is increasingly determined by the whims of celebrity, the buzz of a bargain, the ubiquity of easy information and the thrill of chimerical spectacle. Leading auction houses now promote sales glossily 'curated' by minor celebrities whose acquaintance with the objects being sold is more often than not limited to expressing a sort of aesthetic preference.

The diminution of connoisseurship in the academic and museological worlds has prompted a reaction of sorts, which usually reflects the ideological leanings of the perpetrator. A recent article in the Observer quoted Brian Allen, former director of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and a trustee of the British National Portrait Gallery, bemoaning the fact that universities are 'no longer training historians to tell their William Hogarth from their Francis Hayman'. Allen attributes this failing to the fact that students are 'more likely to focus on some aspect of the sociology of view painting in 18th-century Europe.' He opines 'the best scholars coming through in the field of British art are from Italy, where [...] they're better equipped to deal with the rigours of older art where you have to know languages, classical mythology, Greek and Roman history.' This deficiency is also applicable to Britain's national art museums, which he claims have few real experts left. Noting that Tate Britain has recently made three of its specialist curators redundant, Allen declares 'There's hardly anybody left.' While there's a smack of the reactionary in these observations, their substance isn't in doubt and it's not the first time that the problematic has been raised: historical visual knowledge – specifically the reading of an object from the viewpoint of a trained individual, if you will – is significantly less regarded both academically and museologically.

Similar trends have been observed in New Zealand although, given the systemic poverty of resources committed to both the academic study of art and design history and public collections of the same material, this degradation is difficult to measure. It is telling, though, that art history no longer has departmental status at the University of Auckland and will shortly lose its only professorial chair, a situation already prevailing at the University of Canterbury. The University of Otago intends closing its Department of Applied Science, which includes its design school. Institutionally the Auckland Museum gives every appearance of further downgrading the status of its remaining curatorial staff in favour of a management-heavy cohort of Taylorised technocrats; it doesn't even bother listing its acquisitions in its latest annual report. Te Papa has also endured a renewed bout of managementitis with the appointment of a chief executive with no museological experience let alone a scholastic background, but 'an exceptional track record in senior executive roles'. Te Papa's most recent annual report lists no acquisitions of any note in the fields of art and design and, with a couple of notable exceptions, exhibits an absence of publications of any significance by its staff in the same fields.

Perhaps the most visible local manifestation of this national dearth of institutional learning came in 2013 when, acting against the advice of external expertise, the Alexander Turnbull Library acquired at auction a portrait of Hamiora Maioha allegedly painted by Gottfried Lindauer (1839-1926). Subsequent forensic examination has proven it to be a forgery. While the library admitted its failure, it justified its stance by suggesting that the disputed attribution had merely been a disagreement of experts. It failed to acknowledge that its own, anonymous, 'experts' evidently had no claim to the designation, certainly in respect of the work of a well-known, well-documented, locally-based, painter.

While they may now be institutionally disregarded, connoisseurs have been critical in developing many of New Zealand's public collections, usually at their own expense. In the field of books and manuscripts George Grey (1812-1898), Thomas Hocken (1836-1910) and Alexander  Turnbull (1868-1918) are pre-eminent. All three also collected ethnographical material, art and decorative arts although their activities in the latter fields are usually unrecognised. Other significant New Zealand connoisseurs might include the members of the extended de Beer family who made a series of extraordinary gifts to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and the expatriate James Tannock Mackelvie (1824-1885) whose accumulations bequeathed to Auckland in 1885 are now held between the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and the Auckland Museum.
Press (27 May 1935), p. 20
Less well known is George Arthur Wenham Humphreys-Davies (1880-1948) one of New Zealand's earliest art curators. That his was an honorary appointment and made thirteen years after the first professional art curator had been employed at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery was a reflection of the lowly status enjoyed by art and design collections in Auckland.

Between 1936 and 1943 Humphreys-Davies developed what was probably the most significant collection of Asian art formed in New Zealand at the Auckland Museum. The collection was based around a series of donations made by Humphreys-Davies and his first wife Ethel. Yet, so completely has he been airbrushed from the museum's institutional history that the little biographical information it provides about him not only ignores his scholarship and the exhibitions he organised during the 1920s and 30s, but mistakes the date and place of his birth, exiles him from his adopted country for significant periods of time, diminishes his war record and eliminates his wife from the credit lines of the pieces that she gave jointly with her husband.

Only two critical evaluations of Humphreys-Davies' cultural activities have been published: a passing notice of his role as one of a number of New Zealand collectors of ukiyo-e in an article by David Bell in 2008; and an informed analysis of his 1937 'Exhibition of Chinese art' by James Beattie and Lauren Murray in 2011. Both papers suffer from knowing little about the man, his background and the material he collected. This post provides a preliminary biographical overview and focuses on Humphreys-Davies as a collector of ukiyo-e.

Humphreys-Davies was born in Newport, Monmouthshire, Wales, the second son and second of four children of the Guernsey-born Mary Rosalie Dutch Satterley (1847-1920) and George Humphreys Davies (1848-1915), a surveyor, valuer and co-author (with Edward Boyle) of The principles of rating practically considered (London: Estates Office Gazette, 1890), a text deemed recently to be an 'admirable account' and 'invaluable mine of information' concerning English local taxation. Davies was a fellow of the Institution of Surveyors and a successful businessman who ultimately established an architectural and planning office in the City. By 1891 the Davies family had moved to the Old House, Brooke Green, Hammersmith in London.

Humphrey-Davies matriculated at Pembroke College in Oxford but while taking terms from 1899-1901 did not graduate. Coming down from Oxford, he was commissioned in December 1901 into the 30th (Pembrokeshire) Company, 9th Battalion of the Imperial Yeomanry, a volunteer cavalry regiment, raised in 1900, that was despatched to South Africa to fight in the latter stages of the Anglo-Boer War. He appears to have had an active time there and was awarded clasps to the Queen's South Africa medal for service in Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Transvaal. He also appears to have contracted pneumonia, typhoid and bacillary dysentry, afflictions that had a lasting impact on his sporadic military career.

In September 1902 Humphreys-Davies relinquished his commission and for the next six years nothing is known of his activities although there are suggestions he may have worked in Malaya; he wrote a 157 page illustrated, unpublished account of his travels in the region in 1930, delivered a lecture on the development of the Malay peninsular to the Auckland Museum in 1932 and subsequent press interviews are sprinkled with references to '35 years of fossicking in out of the way places – Malaya, Bali, Sumatra [and] Celebes'. However in 1908 he caught black water fever and was repatriated to England. It was most likely a medical response to this debilitating disease that prompted him into emigrating to New Zealand in 1909. He took up sheep farming: in the supplementary roll of the Taumarunui electorate for 1911 he is listed as a farmer, living on the Meringa Station, some 22 kilometres north east of Taumarunui. Shortly after he seems to have acquired a property 'Glenalvon' at Rangataua near Ohakune that, in April 1912, he allegedly on-sold to a Jane Solloway, the Taumarunui-domiciled wife of a builder who converted an existing building on the property into a boarding house. By January 1914 he had taken up the lease of a farm 'Arawata', on newly opened land near Ohura; at that year's Ohura Agricultural and Pastoral Association show at Niho Niho he won the first of many prizes for champion sheep.

With the declaration of war in August 1914 Humphreys-Davies, rather than enlisting in New Zealand, rejoined his regiment in England. It is possible that this decision was precipitated by a court action against him lodged in April by Mrs Solloway who sued him for damages amounting to £1044/1/9  in the Hamilton Supreme Court <Archives New Zealand (Auckland) BCDG A1492 14616 Box 9 A196>. She alleged he had failed to provide proof of ownership of the Rangataua property, which had led to her eviction by the former landowner. The action appears to have lapsed. Departing Wellington on 21 August 1914, Humphreys-Davies arrived in San Francisco on 17 September where, four days later, he married Ethel Dorothy Patton (1879-1938), a trained nurse and the daughter of a mining engineer who had spent part of her childhood in New Zealand. The newly married couple proceeded to London – probably the last time they travelled 2nd class – where Ethel worked as a nursing sister first in Dieppe with the French Red Cross and later at the Life Guards Military Hospital in Regent's Park, London.

Ethel Patton was independently wealthy and this may explain Humphreys-Davies' decision in 1915 to dispose of his leased farm in remote Ohura. Humphreys-Davies' father who died in 1915 left an estate valued for probate purposes of £40,000 (the equivalent of £1.4 million today); he was bequeathed a £5000 trust fund, suggesting that his earlier New Zealand farming venture may have had a paternal subsidy. Following his mother's death in 1920 he seems to have had little contact with his family.
Army Medal Office, World War One medal index card for G A Humphreys Davies. Humphreys-Davies was issued with a 1914-15 star by the War Office for service in the 2nd Life Guards in Flanders and with a British War Medal and Victory Medal by the Air Ministry for Service in the Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force. These would have been worn after his Queen's South Africa Medal issued by the War Office in 1902 for service in the Imperial Yeomanry during the Anglo-Boer War.
While Humphreys-Davies held a commission in the Imperial Yeomanry (disbanded in 1908), he served with the 2nd Life Guards in France from August 1915 (Battle of Loos) to November 1916 before being placed on sick leave having been diagnosed with Myocarditis. After an extended period of leave he was placed on light duties at the London District Command Depot in Seaford. In 1917 he was made temporary captain and attached to the Royal Flying Corps as acting adjutant with no 189 (N) Training Squadron, a night-flying training unit based in Ripon. Ignoring pleas from his flight commander that he remain with the squadron, Humphreys-Davies was then posted on health grounds as acting adjutant of no 36 (India) Squadron in Risalpur on the North West Frontier of British India. It was not an ideal location for a semi-invalid and he returned to Britain shortly after the declaration of Armistice. Following a further medical board inquiry he was deemed unfit for further service, discharged and promoted to the substantive rank of captain, a title he employed for the rest of his life. Effectively a retired territorial officer, Humphreys-Davies' experience of the war was typical of that experienced by many Anglo-Boer war veterans and, despite his enthusiasm and notwithstanding initial front line duties in France, he spent much of it invalided by a pre-existing medical condition in administrative positions.

The Humphreys-Davies' returned to New Zealand in July 1919. Ethel purchased a large, well-worked in farm, 'Freshwater' at Kawakawa Bay, near Clevedon. Aside from a tragic accident in 1923 that saw Ethel's visiting sister killed when a bus she was travelling in collapsed into a river, the couple led a comfortable life for much of the 1920s. Humphreys-Davies bred championship Corriedale sheep, showing his livestock at the Clevedon Agricultural and Pastoral Association Fair. He was also involved with a number of 'patriotic', ex-officers' organisations such as the British Legion and the Household Brigade Old Comrades' Association. The local press reported the activities of the dapper Captain Humphreys-Davies and his wife: he had received a message of thanks from the Queen for a donation he had collected on the occasion of her birthday from the first class passengers on RMS Tahiti; he was a member of the Northern Club; he was entertained by fellow members of Auckland's Oxford Society on his return from one of his overseas excursions; they were the generous donors of 135 acres (54.6 hectares) of 'uncut bush' on the Kawakawa-Orere road to the nation; and in regular attendance at Auckland social gatherings throughout the 1930s. To all appearances, the Humphreys-Davies' led the sort of life enjoyed by affluent sheep farmers around the country, except for the fact that Auckland was a short distance away – they usually travelled to Auckland by motor launch – making their rural retreat somewhat less isolated than that enjoyed by most of their peers. Seemingly affectionate, the marriage was nonetheless childless.

From 1927 the Humphreys-Davies' public profile underwent a major shift. From being regarded as a well-travelled bon vivant George emerged as a connoisseur, a collector of antiquities and an expert on South East Asia; Ethel effectively disappeared from public gaze. On 17 May, the Auckland Star reported Captain C (sic) Humphreys-Davies had given two academic studies by David Wilkie (1785-1841) plus £1 for framing to the School of Architecture at Auckland University [College] and on 25 October an exhibition of 120 'Japanese colour-prints' from the collections of Mr H S Dadley and Captain G Humphreys-Davies opened at the Auckland Art Gallery in a recently renovated space that had previously contained the Russell donation of plaster casts (now partly held at the Auckland Museum). The exhibition was accompanied by a 30 page part-illustrated catalogue and extensively reported in the Auckland press, employing information provided by Humphreys-Davies who also delivered two public lectures. The exhibition was intended to run for four weeks, but having attracted an unexpected 4,000 visitors, it was extended for a further ten days and Humphreys-Davies delivered a further lecture.
Title page and frontispiece of Catalogue of a loan collection of Japanese colour prints: owned by Mr H S Dadley and Capt G Humphreys-Davies ([Auckland]: Auckland City Council, Library Committee, 1927).
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
Humphreys-Davies involvement in the exhibition was incidental. In April 1927 the printmaker Thomas Gulliver (1891-1933) suggested to John Barr (1887-1971), city librarian and part-time director of the Auckland Art Gallery, that 'one or two exhibitions of prints and drawings' could be held over the forthcoming winter. Barr favoured the proposal and, given the deficiency of the gallery's collection, suggested through the local press that he would be 'glad if persons having suitable original etchings would communicate with him, giving him particulars of the etchings they possess'. Barr received a number of responses including one from G Humphreys-Davies (Capt) stating he would 'be only too glad to assist by lending some of my things' <Auckland Art Gallery Archives, Exhibitions 1927, letter from G Humphreys-Davies to J Barr, 1 May 1927>. Attached to the letter was a list of sixteen pre-1800 European prints including five Piranesi etchings along with a number of French and Flemish works. As well, he noted, his wife had a Nicolas Poussin, 'which I expect she would lend' and he also had 'a few Persian and other rugs which lend themselves to being exhibited, also some silver and Sheffield plate and a little china of various kinds'. Almost as an aside he mentioned he owned
a number of Japanese colour prints, enough almost to make a show in themselves, and if you would like them I have a ms of a pamphlet about them which could be printed, also about 20 films which I had done through a colour screen, and possibly an illustrated catalogue could be made and sold. I myself would contribute and buy £5 worth. There are other collectors of Japanese colour prints, Mr Dadley is one, who I am sure will assist.
It was evident that Humphreys-Davies was no ordinary collector. Moreover, the collection of ukiyo-e formed by Harry Sproston Dadley (1862-1933), an Auckland shoe merchant, was part of an extensive collection of South Asian art formed over forty years that included Chinese and Japanese ceramics, Chinese snuff bottles in glass, porcelain and jade, and tsuba, along with 'a very large and representative collection of old English china, metalwork and furniture'. Part of Dadley's Asian collection had been deposited on loan with the Auckland Institute and Museum prior to World War One, and a part was bequeathed to the museum although, as with Humphreys-Davies, institutional recognition is now non-existent. Significantly, and unlike many contemporary collectors of Asian objects, Dadley had travelled extensively throughout the region; his obituary in the New Zealand Herald noted he visited Japan eight times.

Barr responded to Humphreys-Davies' offer with some alacrity; five prints were borrowed from him for the etchings exhibition and, following an inspection of the two ukiyo-e collections, it was decided to defer the proposed exhibition of drawings in favour of one devoted to Japanese prints <Auckland Art Gallery Archives, Exhibitions 1927, letter from J Barr to G Humphreys-Davies, 2 June 1927>. In accepting Humphreys-Davies' proposal, Barr noted that Gulliver would undertake the hang and would supplement the prints with 'some other wood block prints to round off the exhibition'. In the event the other prints were restricted to a display case of wood blocks and impressions, demonstrating the technical aspects of the wood block printing process. Barr was also keen to publish Humphreys-Davies' manuscript, declaring that the gallery intended 'doing the best possible within the financial limitations which unfortunately exist'. This was a bit of an exaggeration given that both Humphries-Davies provided the text and images gratis, along with £5; Dadley made a donation of £7 which more than covered the cost of printing.

By contemporary New Zealand standards, the catalogue was sophisticated in both appearance and content. It is evident that Dadley and Humphreys-Davies not only owned significant collections of ukiyo-e but also the latter had an authoritative, if Eurocentric, knowledge of the subject. The tenor of Humphreys-Davies' introductory essay is surprisingly radical, emphasising the point that ukiyo-e should be seen as an art, 'essentially popular in their origin and purpose', emphasising the fact that 'The pictures dealt with the subjects of everyday interest and were sold in the streets of old Tokio in large numbers at a very low price'. It demonstrates an interest in the technical aspects of production. It anticipates the patronising reaction of a local audience in attempting to explain the absence of perspective. And it contextualises the images into recent western cultural history, explaining that the prints 'have exercised a great influence over modern Western art, and men like Monet, Degas and Whistler came under it to a marked degree'. Few visitors to the exhibition would have little knowledge of, let alone sight of works of art by Monet, Degas and Whistler.

In the Auckland Art Gallery's archived copy of the catalogue there are a number of pencilled annotations to the catalogue entries. These are, according to a note initialled by Barr on the inside cover, 'the work of a visiting Japanese who had studied Japanese colour prints'. On the outside back cover of this catalogue there is a further, semi-erased, pencil, inscription: 'Mr I Kitakoji / Glad to see / [Knows it ... has been interesting] / Representative / Nothing like it outside of London / Arrangement good'. The 'visiting Japanese' was the aristocratic poet Isamitsu Kitakōji 北小路功光著 北小路, 功光, (1901-1989) who was appointed lecturer in Japanese at the University of Sydney in 1926. Notwithstanding his literary distinctions and his relationship with the Showa emperor – he was a cousin – he resided in Sydney briefly; his 1927 visit to New Zealand was made on his return to Japan. 

As well as praising the exhibition's content and presentation, Kitakōji, who claimed a degree in aesthetics, attributed a number of works that were either unidentified or misidentified and corrected some of the translated texts. Kitakōji was not alone in his flattery of the exhibition. Barr was obviously won over by the exhibition's success, mediating retrospective notices in Art in Australia and the British magazine, Connoisseur that noted the generosity of the lenders, comparing the largesse of 'these two New Zealand connoisseurs' to 'the generosity of American collectors to their museums'.

Title page and frontispiece of Catalogue of a loan collection of Japanese colour prints: from the collection of Capt G Humphreys-Davies ([Auckland]: Auckland City Council, Library Committee, 1934).

Between September and October 1934, the Auckland Art Gallery held a further loan exhibition of 103 of Humphreys-Davies ukiyo-e. In the seven years since the earlier exhibition Humphreys-Davies' collection had expanded both in terms of its size and chronological scope; the catalogue was a little more revealing as to provenance; he noted he had acquired pieces from other collectors including Basil Stewart, whose Guide to Japanese prints and the subjects they illustrate (London: Kegan, Paul, Trench & Turner, 1920) remains, even today, an useful reference work. Kitakōji's unexpected approbation may have been a factor in his decision to expand his collecting of ukiyo-e. The connection – it would have been uncharacteristically curmudgeonly for Barr not to have put the two men in contact –  may also have been a factor in prompting him into visiting Japan: between April and June 1933 he, along with his wife, visited Japan and China for the first time, returning to New Zealand with a number of Japanese catalogues to express his astonishment 'at the very large sums paid to-day by Japanese collectors for prints' <G Humphreys-Davies, Catalogue of a loan collection of Japanese colour prints ([Auckland]: Auckland City Council, Library Committee, 1934), p. 8>

Harry Dadley died two months prior to the Humphreys-Davies' departure for east Asia leaving an estate valued at some £80,000 (the equivalent of $9.5 million today). There were two bequests: his collection of Asian art was left to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which would receive 'such of the curios as the curator may select as suitable' and the remainder was 'set aside on the determination of certain life interests as an endowment fund for the establishment and maintenance of a home for crippled children'. By default, Humphreys-Davies became involved in the selection of Dadley's 'curios' for the museum's collection, a process that in December 1935 saw him appointed honorary curator of Chinese art – a position shortly retitled honorary curator of the oriental collections.

Curiously Bell's 2008 paper fails to acknowledge the existence of Dadley's collection while in 2013 Mathew Norman observed only that 'Dadley died in 1933 and his collection did not feature in the 1934 exhibition where, again, the catalogue enables us to identify works from Humphreys-Davies's collection which are now in the Gallery's collection (sic).' <M Norman, 'From the collections: historic Japanese woodblock prints', in Fragile beauty: historic Japanese graphic art (Auckland: Auckland Art Gallery, 2013), 13-23, p. 23>. A close reading of the two Auckland Art Gallery exhibition catalogues suggests he may have acquired up to five of Dadley's prints –  including works by Chōbunsai Eishi 鳥文斎 栄之 (1756-1829) Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川 国芳 (1797-1861) and Toyokuni V Kunisada III 歌川国貞 (1848-1920) – although this, obviously, cannot be confirmed without supporting documentation. Moreover, the Auckland Art Gallery's collection of ukiyo-e, with the exception of twenty-nine prints given by the estate of Thomas Gulliver – who also died in 1933 – is comprised almost entirely of the collection Humphreys-Davies sold to Mackelvie Trust in December 1946 <Auckland Libraries NZMS895 Series 9 Folder 2>.

Humphreys-Davies' exposure to the reality of imperial Japan evidently shocked him, probably more than his discovery that ukiyo-e were no longer sold cheaply on 'the streets of old Tokio'. Interviewed on the day of his return he declared it 'the most highly-organised, efficient and industrious nation that has ever existed' that it was – as an Auckland Star headline writer put it – a 'danger to the [British] empire and that the Japanese 'envisaged the possibility and probability of war'. Even as he was travelling through east Asia Japanese military forces were surrounding Beijing following Japan's annexation of Manchuria in 1932 and its subsequent withdrawal from the League of Nations. The extended press coverage given to Humphreys-Davies' opinions on his return, while in keeping with the tenor of contemporary New Zealand reporting of Japanese issues, was extraordinary given that hitherto it had restricted itself to reporting his quotidian activities. His comments on the growth of Japanese militarism and the concomitant expansion of its trade were not only published at length in the Auckland newspapers but also reported in Wellington and Christchurch press, although not without criticism. An anonymous letter to the editor in the Wellington Evening Post ridiculed Humphreys-Davies' apprehensions, suggesting that Captain Humphry Davis (sic) had got it all wrong, ingenuously quoting Emily Lorimer's benign observation that the Japanese 'savours poetry, as everyone sincerely loves Nature, and friends invite each other not to bridge but to a cherry viewing [...] not to talk golf but to make verse.'

Direct experience of Japanese culture, or perhaps, more accurately, an awareness of the recent availability of significant numbers of Chinese artefacts, augured a change in the focus of Humphreys-Davies' collecting; he now turned to collecting Chinese decorative arts in earnest. The Japanese invasion of north China had released a flood of looted objects onto the market. In a 1935 interview, Humphreys-Davies addressed what was described as 'the moral aspect of collecting', observing that 'the history of nearly all the most valuable objects d'art in the world has been one of robbery, cheating and violence. If the collector went to deeply into the history of any object of the kind he would never start his collection.' Humphreys-Davies' collecting of ukiyo-e was a part of the final stage of the diaspora of Japanese art and design that had begun with the arrival of Europeans in the 1540s and effectively finished in the interwar period as Japanese reasserted their right to control their cultural heritage. Seen in this light, the 1934 exhibition seems more of a sales promotion than a celebration of Humphreys-Davies' connoisseurship in the uncomfortable context of what culturally was still a European settler outpost.
A selection of Humphreys-Davies' ukiyo-e can be seen framed on the rear wall.
Press (29 May 1935), p. 18
Humphreys-Davies was certainly selling ukiyo-e in the aftermath of the Auckland Art Gallery exhibition. A selection from his 'collection' formed a component of the Oriental Art exhibition that opened in Christchurch on 28 May 1935. His involvement in the exhibition occurred when the organising committee 'came across a catlogue (sic) of Captain G Humphreys-Davies's collection, and when we wrote to him we found that he was not only willing to help with his experience, but to place his collection at our disposal and be present at the exhibition. This was our crowning stroke of luck.' In September that same year he lent a 'small collection of Japanese colour prints, showing examples of the work of the most famous artists from about 1630 to 1830' –  that included works now in the Mackelvie Trust collection – to the Loan Exhibition of Antiques, held in High Street, Auckland; once again, Humphreys-Davies was prominently involved in organising the event.

But from 1933 Humphreys-Davies’ collecting focus was on Chinese objects; he asserted he had been collecting this material since his youth and regaled journalists with stories that ‘He found his first collection piece in an old shop in Bayswater, London. It was a valuable sacrificial wine jar, on which the markings were emblematic of eternal life.’ During his travels in east Asia in 1933 he acquired some seventy-five pieces from China and ‘Chinese merchants living in Japan’, a number of which he subsequently placed on display at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. The combination of an institutionally-endorsed exhibition along with a slew of press interviews in which Humphreys-Davies emphasised his connoisseurship and eye for a good bargain proved an effective marketing tool not only for the exhibitions but also for sales, which were conducted with a degree of discretion. Aside from Dadley who evidently had his own sources of supply, there were other collectors of ukiyo-e in Auckland – not least Gulliver – including Gordon Minhinnick, the staff cartoonist of the New Zealand Herald who, through Humphreys-Davies, lent a print to the 1935 Christchurch exhibition. It is known that Humphreys-Davies sold at least one print, Hishikawa Moronobu 菱川 師宣 (1618-1694) Picnic under the cherry trees (c. 1680) to the Christchurch collector Gordon McArthur; there were, undoubtedly, other sales.

Notwithstanding his newly-awakened enthusiasm for Chinese ceramics, which would culminate in his extraordinary 1937 'Exhibition of Chinese Art,' Humphreys-Davies retained and probably enhanced his ukiyo-e collection. However his circumstances changed markedly the following year. On 29 December 1938 Ethel Humphreys-Davies died, 'unexpectedly'. While she left her 'beloved husband' a life interest in her trust, her real estate – notably the farm in Kawakawa Bay – was left to her Californian nieces <Archives New Zealand (Auckland) R9393673/BBAE/1570/A645/42/P34/1939>. The property was put up for sale, Humphreys-Davies resumed his role as honorary curator of the oriental collections at the Auckland Museum and, rehearsing the patriotic fever of his comfortable days, opened an office under the aegis of the British Legion to recruit former officers back into military service in anticipation of the 'inevitable' war. It was a short-lived venture: two months later he left New Zealand for Europe, arriving some five weeks before the declaration of war. Notwithstanding his official connections – his nephew was private secretary to the British prime minister Neville Chamberlain – Humphreys-Davies' services were not required and he returned to New Zealand in November having visited Paris where he 'renewed his acquaintance with M René Grousset, director of the Cernuschi Museum'.

On his return and on behalf of the British malacologist J R le B Tomlin and his wife he presented the Auckland Museum with part of an intended gift of English porcelain. But soon after, apparently frustrated at being excluded from the war, he once again sought to be involved in the conflict. The New Zealand Herald announced he was leaving in March to take up permanent residence abroad with the intention of offering his services to the War Office but 'If his application is not successful, he will proceed to France, where he has plans for opening a rest home for pilots of the Royal New Zealand, and French Air Forces'. He arrived in London, appropriately enough, on ANZAC day 1940, France surrendered in June leaving Humphreys-Davies' plans for a French rest home in tatters. It is unclear how he was occupied between April 1940 and 17 October 1943 when, describing himself as a sheep farmer, he departed Liverpool for New Zealand on the MV Port Alma.

Back in Auckland he lodged at the Northern Club and resumed his work at the Auckland Museum with a directed sense of vigour. In December 1943 he began the process of donating his remaining collection of Chinese art to the museum, including examples acquired recently in Britain, notably pieces from the Charles Rutherston collection, a Gandhara stone head and a large wooden Lohan that he stated had recently been exhibited in Nottingham. In early 1944 he purchased a six-roomed bungalow on half an acre of ground in Manukau Road, Epsom but soon after disposed of it and purchased a house divided into two flats in Gillies Avenue, a tonier part of the same suburb. Later that year he remarried a Frances Sophia Leslie née Maclean (1909-?), apparently a demonstrator at an Auckland appliances store.The marriage was not a success and by 1946 the erstwhile wife was living at Castor Bay and Humphreys-Davies was, once again, moving abroad. The Gillies Avenue flats were sold, along with their contents, the collections gifted or sold for what appears to have been token amounts and on 15 January 1947 he left New Zealand for the last time.

Humphreys-Davies retained the bulk of his collection of ukiyo-e until December 1946 when, through Barr, he sold 184 prints and nine 'illustrated books' to the Mackelvie Trust for £250 (the equivalent of NZD20,000 today) <Auckland Libraries NZMS895 Series 9 Folder 2>. The disposal seems to have marked the end of his collecting activities.

George Arthur Wenham Humphreys-Davies died aged 68 on 10 December 1948 at the Anglo-American Hospital at Petit Juas in Cannes. In his will – his estate was valued for probate purposes at £6000 in New Zealand and £3370 5s 2d in England – he left £50 to his former housekeeper, £500 to the Auckland Museum 'for the publication of his catalogue of Chinese art, or any other purpose' with the remainder divided between three Auckland and one Christchurch-based women. His catalogue of the Auckland Museum's collection of Chinese art remains unpublished.

Grateful thanks to Jo Upton, Sylvia White and Richard Meager for archival assistance in England and Caroline McBride and Ron Brownson of Auckland Art Gallery/Toi o Tāmaki for assistance and advice.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Design: the wallflower of Australian galleries

[Unidentified painter 3] for Maioliche Artistiche Cantagalli Firenze. 'Piatto Urbino' (c. 1895).  Reproducing a dish probably from the Fontana Workshop in Urbino, the image depicts Scipio Africanus receiving the keys of conquered Carthage. The dish forms part of a large group of reproduction maiolica selected from an 1895 catalogue by the British artist and designer Walter Crane for the Art Gallery of NSW.
Art Gallery of New South Wales (2133)
The collecting of designed objects – the things commonly designated as decorative and applied arts – has long been part of the activities of Australian art galleries. The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne began developing its collection of decorative arts in 1859 with the purchase of a collection of plaster casts of ‘the choicest statues, busts, and alto-relievos […]; of coins, medals and gems’. In Sydney, the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) also collected reproductions of well-known European decorative arts during the 1890s, including plaster casts of the architectural features of Europe and an extraordinary collection of copies of European Renaissance maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware) dishes made in Florence under the direction of Ulisse Cantagalli and selected for the gallery around 1890 by Walter Crane. These acquisitions, based on best contemporaneous practice, were solid bases for future collecting activities.

When the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra – then known as the Australian National Gallery – opened in 1982 it also displayed a significant collection of decorative arts and design, both local and international.  Indeed decorative arts were essential to the vision outlined for the NGA by its first director, James Mollison, and he was largely responsible for the acquisition of its extraordinary holdings of Russian revolutionary ceramics and nineteen works by the so-called ‘pioneer of modernist design’, Christopher Dresser. At a time when most major international museums adhered to the modernist idiom of displaying works of art ­– understood to be primarily painting and sculpture – on bare, white walls and had relegated decorative arts and design objects to storage, this was a bold and far-sighted decision.

The fortunes of these three collections have varied over the years. As Terence Lane explained in 1980, during the nineteenth century the NGV’s collection was ‘essentially a didactic one’ and the focus was on reproductions: copies of maiolica, electrotypes of hoards, fictile ivories and plaster casts; but there were also unexpected acquisitions of collections of historical Italian glass, as well as glass, ceramics and metalwork from contemporary makers, some purchased at the international exhibitions during the 1870s and 80s.  The advent of the Felton Bequest in 1904 meant the gallery had access to significant funds for acquisitions outside the purview of politicians and was also able to draw on a crop of, generally able, European-based advisers, starting with Jean-Jacques Marquet de Vasselot of the Musée du Louvre and including Sydney Cockerell of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and Kenneth Clark of the National Gallery in London. As Ann Galbally observes, 'Felton's bequest transformed the NGV from a small regional picture gallery into one of international standing.'

Adolf Loos (1870-1933) (designer). Long case clock and panelling from the Langer apartment, Vienna (c. 1903).
National Gallery of Victoria, Presented through the Art Foundation of Victoria by Mr Alfred Muller, Governor, 1994
Quality attracts quality and, since the advent of the Felton Bequest, the NGV has attracted not only other notable funding sources such as the Art Foundation of Victoria but also significant and important donations of decorative arts to complement those purchased including the Connell Collection (1914), the Andrews Collection (1925), the Howard Spensley Bequest (1939), the Templeton Bequest (1942), the Biddlecombe Bequest (1954), the Collier Bequest (1955), the G Gordon Russsell collection acquired by the W & M Morgan Endowment (1968), the Everard Studley Miller Bequest (1975) and, during the 1990s, the Keith and Norma Deutscher Gifts. These bequests have been supplemented by a series of judicious acquisitions by the museum’s curatorial staff including but not least the remarkable suites of furniture and fittings designed in Vienna by Josef Hoffmann about 1912 for the Gallia family (1976) and Adolf Loos about 1903 for the Langer family (1994).

Unidentified Delft pottery. Garniture of tin-glazed earthenware (c. 1700).
National Gallery of Victoria, Felton Bequest, 2015
The evidence of its current displays and exhibitions suggests the NGV’s commitment to collecting and displaying international decorative arts and design remains strong. The gallery continues to acquire important pieces in the collecting area and there are significant exhibits drawn from the gallery's collection of European and Asian decorative arts and design in its St Kilda Road venue. Currently the NGV International is the venue for two decorative arts and design focussed exhibitions, both also based around objects from its collection: 'Eighteenth century porcelain sculpture' and 'Blue: alchemy of a colour'. While these exhibitions are relatively esoteric in their subject matter, they are a refreshing sign of the NGV's attention to not only scholarly research but also its willingness to promote its own collection.

Sadly, the same commitment cannot be seen for the gallery's collection of Australian decorative arts and design. Nominally these should be displayed with Australian art at the gallery's Ian Potter Centre on Federation Square, but they're not. A search of the NGV's collection database of Australian decorative arts reveals the endless message 'Not on display'. Instead four galleries in the Ian Potter Centre have been appropriated for 'Two hundred years of Australian fashion', celebrating 'Australia’s unique voice and impact on the fashion industry internationally, showcasing the work of contemporary designers such as Dion Lee, Ellery, Romance Was Born and Toni Maticevski alongside key designs from the past 200 years, including exquisite examples of historic design.' While this promotional spin suggests a strong commercial imperative, the exhibition is likely to be popular.

The situation at the AGNSW couldn’t be more different. Until recently – with, since 1978, the exception of Asian decorative arts – the AGNSW held the dubious reputation of being the only state gallery in Australia that didn’t collect or display decorative arts and design. In terms of allocating state resources, responsibility for collecting the field seems to have passed to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) in the late 1920s when the AGNSW Board of Trustees rejected a gift of ‘contemporary applied arts’ that had been assembled by its president, the architect and planner John Sulman during a European tour he made in 1924. The gift was eventually made to MAAS who, failing to appreciate its significance, deaccessioned a number of items as being unfashionable some twenty years later. In fact, notwithstanding a brief flush under the remarkable Charles Francis Laseron, officer in charge of applied arts between 1926 and 1929, MAAS had neither the expertise nor the resources to actively collect decorative arts until the 1970s. Its curator/director from 1927 to 1955, Arthur Penfold, was not only ignorant of the field (he was an industrial chemist) but maintained an animus against collectors of decorative arts. As a consequence, the AGNSW was in 1952 the recipient of a generous bequest of eighteenth century English porcelain from the estate of Dr and Mrs Sinclair Gillies, but it languished in the basement, where it may still remain although it is not listed in the gallery’s collection database. The gallery deaccessioned further items – including the plaster casts ­– as late as the 1980s.

The James Fairfax Galleries at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
A part of the promised Kenneth Reed bequest underwhelms showcases along the centre of the space 
Times have changed. In 2010 a retired Sydney lawyer, Kenneth Reed, announced he intended bequeathing the AGNSW ‘a substantial collection of old master paintings, Italian Maiolica and European 18th-century porcelain’, valued for insurance purposes at $7 million. The gallery’s interest was driven primarily by the twenty-five old master paintings forming a part of the gift but it also seems to have recognised that the maiolica and eighteenth century European porcelain could be used to decoratively enhance the gallery’s existing, somewhat paltry, holding of old master paintings. Until such time as the bequest is executed, its ceramic component was conveyed to the gallery on loan and subsequently catalogued. Table-top show cases were acquired for the gallery exhibits while the rest of the collection is displayed in a dark foyer near the gallery’s research library in the basement. Two impressive neo-classical painted and gilded porcelain vases – one of Sèvres origin, the other from the Royal Porcelain Manufactory (KPM) in Berlin, acquired for the gallery from the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition, flank the library entrance, but there seems to be a certain reluctance on the part of the gallery to acknowledge its other decorative arts holdings; the two vases also don't appear on the gallery's collection database.

The objects comprising the Reed loan, while domestically scaled, are of a notably high quality, particularly for an Australian private collection, but, as currently displayed, neither enhance the paintings they are set against nor convey any sense of why the decorative arts were an integral part of pre-modern European art and design. There’s a sense of desperate oddity in that the gallery shows only pre-nineteenth century European ceramics with the implication that later productions somehow or another, are deficient in their sense of artistic integrity. The AGNSW’s highly conventional display of this loan material lacks any critical rigour and, ultimately, seems employed as a decorative fore drop for the more serious things hanging on the walls. Moreover, the absence of any examples of Australian decorative arts and design in those galleries devoted to Australian art reinforces the sense of a stunning national cultural deficit.

Meanwhile the New South Wales state collection of decorative arts and design held by MAAS languishes in that under-threat museum’s Ultimo basement, for the most part, unseen, unappreciated and, for the best part, forgotten by the public for whom it was collected, although a number of objects from its extensive collection of costume are currently on display, but in Melbourne. It’s unclear what the future holds for this collection. The current state government proposes reconfiguring the museum into more of a child and entertainment-focussed science and technology centre and and moving it to Parramatta, a transformation that would, inevitably, lead to the institution's demise as Australia’s last remaining museum of manufactures and the diminishment of its decorative arts and design collections.

But if decorative arts and design are underappreciated in New South Wales, the situation prevailing at the NGA in Canberra is, perhaps, even more disheartening. The NGA recently rehung its permanent collections; in doing so it moved its international and Australian displays with the former relocated from the monumental galleries of the ground floor to the more intimate spaces of the first floor. While there may be a compelling nationalist rationale for this shift, it’s not all that effective as, until the 1980s, most Australian works of art were invariably modestly proportioned whereas many of the overseas paintings  acquired by the gallery during its formation were, quite deliberately, grandly scaled.
Illuminated signage at the NGA for its Wedgwood Tea Room.
The background display would appear to be a detail of the decoration on a ceramic object produced by the eponymous British-based pottery
This reconfiguration would seem the ideal opportunity to show the NGA’s long-concealed collection of international decorative arts and design. But, aside from a token display of the constructivist elements of the gallery’s important collection of Russian revolutionary ceramics and an Henri Matisse-designed costume for the Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev the opportunity has been ignored. In fact the only reference to international decorative arts and design in the NGA comes with a poster for the gallery’s Wedgwood-sponsored tea room, which apparently has ‘stunning views across the lake’; there is certainly no example of any of the work of the eponymous pottery on display.
Paul Arden (1940-2008) and Jeff Stark for Saatchi & Saatchi. Poster for the V&A (1988).
V&A E.515-1988
With the exception of a small case of craft produced from the 1970s through to recent days located on the outer perimeter of the entrance foyer, a similar situation prevails in terms of Australian decorative arts and design, notwithstanding the fact that the NGA has, over the past forty odd years, assembled what, in terms of its scope and quality, is probably the single most important collection of this material anywhere. The NGA may well, in the words of the 1980s V&A advertising campaign, have an 'ace caff' but there's not much design in the 'quite a nice museum' attached to it.

These are not the only Australian institutions collecting and displaying designed objects in Australia: the state art galleries of Tasmania, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia collect – or have collected in the recent past – designed objects, as have many of regional galleries and organisations such as the various state branches of the National Trust of Australia and the awkwardly titled Sydney Living Museums, formerly the Historic Houses Trust of NSW. Recently a number of publicly accessible private collections of decorative arts have emerged including the Johnston Collection in Melbourne, the David Roche Foundation House Museum in Adelaide and the short-lived Clyde Bank museum in Sydney. These private institutions have emerged largely because there is a perceived deficit on the part the state and federal institutions when it comes to collecting and exhibiting design and the decorative arts. The reactionary drive behind the private galleries is revealed in the way the historical commodities forming their collection bases are displayed: there's an emphasis on form and fashionability rather than a critical analysis of the material cultures that enabled their production, mediation and consumption.

With the notable exception of the NGV there is an ideological constant emerging in the way design and decorative arts are approached institutionally in Australia. It represents a shift from a progressive, pedagogical and, at times, scholarly view of material cultures to one that places greater emphasis on form and appearance, on decoration and fashionability. The AGNSW's decision to selectively employ designed objects to decorate its galleries and the NGA's excision of designed objects from its displays while using a designed commodity brand to market a catering service seem to be apposite distillations of this partial and uncomfortably exclusive reading of design history.

Thanks to Andrew McNally for facilitating this overview.