Head to Head

I recently had the pleasure of attending the opening of a new exhibition at the Crawford Art Gallery. Launched by Sheila Pratschke and curated by contemporary artist Vivienne Roche, Head to Head brings together selected works of sculpture from the Arts Council and Crawford collections, in addition to new work by Roche herself. Situated within the Crawford’s beautiful sculpture gallery the exhibition is at once a revisitation or continuation of Heads, the Arts Council’s touring exhibition, and a welcome intervention into the gallery space.

Peter Murray (Director, Crawford Art Gallery) chats with artist and curator Vivienne Roche and her nephew, the Munster rugby player Stephen Archer, at the launch of Head to Head.

Peter Murray (Director, Crawford Art Gallery) chats with artist and curator Vivienne Roche and her nephew, the Munster rugby player Stephen Archer, at the launch of Head to Head on 14 May 2015. Brian Bourke’s Portrait of a Girl (1988) can be seen in the foreground.

Arranged on their original pedestals, the sculptures on display mostly date from 1988 when the Arts Council commissioned a number of artists to respond creatively to the head as subject and to engage with ‘the endless pursuit of the ideas, dreams, meanings and feelings that seem to have their seat there’ (Heads 1). Among them are fine works by Kathy Prendergast, Brian Bourke, Conor Fallon, Marjorie Fitzgibbon, Joseph Butler, and Monica Frawley, as well as two pieces each by Roche and the great Joseph Higgins. The impetus for this new exhibition was supplied by Roche’s own Stephen Archer: Tight Head Prop (2014) around which Head to Head has formed.

What is striking about the works on display is not simply the variety of treatment of their subject but also the manner in which they have been arranged in the gallery space. While Joseph Higgins’ two bronzes command the room and operate as dependable, fixed poles, Frawley’s Snake Woman (1988), for instance, appropriately sits close to the restless and sublime Laocoon and His Sons (c.1816), a plaster cast of the Vatican original overseen by Antonio Canova. Likewise, Roche has elected to continue this relational placing of works by siting her own Victim (1988) alongside Samuel Forde’s monumental oil painting Fall of the Rebel Angels (1828).

Victim (1988) by Vivienne Roche and Samuel Forde's Fall of the Rebel Angels (1828).

Victim (1988) by Vivienne Roche displayed before Samuel Forde’s Fall of the Rebel Angels (1828) creates a curious relationship.

Roche’s Victim has its origins in photographs of the Tollund Man and a child killed in the Bhopal disaster (1984). Set immediately in front of Forde’s final work, the two enter into a curious relationship as the blank yet magnetic abstraction of Victim aligns provocatively with a fallen figure at the base of the painting. This figure, one of Satan’s cohorts, is sketched out in umber and was left incomplete upon Forde’s own death from tuberculosis aged 23. Only tonally described, the vague form lacks a head within its helmet as it falls back into the viewer’s space. The resonance with Roche’s piece, an almost featureless study in calm and dignity, is emphasised by this common thread of victimhood and of senseless death.

The dialogue between works within a gallery context can often be serendipitous and perhaps that is the case here between Roche and Forde. The exchange between these two works separated by 160 years and facing off in a space for which neither was intended supplies some of the thrill of such contemporary intervention. Thus, ostensibly an exhibition that (re)engages with a traditional subject, through its careful yet unforced curation Head to Head is more than the sum of its parts.

Head to Head runs at Crawford Art Gallery until 25 September 2015.

Michael Waldron

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Cork Exhibition 1852

A year on from our Visions of Tragedy exhibition at the Crawford Art Gallery and Samuel Forde’s legacy is still being remembered.

Niall Murray

Medal of the National Exhibition, Cork, 1852 (personal collection)

“The Darkest Hour is That Before the Dawn”

As the inscription on the souvenir medal above hints, the aim of the 1852 National Exhibition in Cork was to help lift the country out of the doldrums of the barely-concluded Great Famine, whose effects would be seen and felt for generations.

The event was staged in the corn market at Anglesea Street, with the Corn Exchange building (in later years, Cork Municipal Buildings, destroyed in the December 1920 burning of Cork) converted for use as part of the exhibition venue. image While not quite matching the glazed luxurious surroundings of the crystal palace that a year earlier held the first such grand-scale event, London’s Great Exhibition of 1851, the Cork event did take some inspiration from that pioneering display. With a temporary extension to the Corn Exchange hall, designed by architect John Benson…

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Samuel Forde, ‘an ornament to his native City.’

Over the course of our research for The Samuel Forde Project some of the particulars surrounding the death of the artist himself have eluded us. Most sources agree that his death from tuberculosis occurred on 29 June 1828 at the tender age of twenty-three. Obituaries referred to in these sources, however, do not appear in contemporary newspapers in and around this date. And small wonder, as it has recently come to light that our boy Sam lived for one month longer than previously thought!

Chasing up on our new lead, I recently visited the Local History archive in Cork City Library. The helpful staff arranged for me to view the microfilms for two local newspapers active at the time of Forde’s death: The Freeholder and The Constitution (or Cork Advertiser). Quickly getting the hang of the microfilm reader controls, I felt a bit like Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts in The Pelican Brief (1993) as I scanned through the requested materials. Skimming over Naval reports, columns on female education and rheumatism (unconnected), advertisements for barouchettes and apprentice apothecaries, the movements of Lady Bantry and her Newenham nieces, and transcripts of the King’s speech (in this case George IV, not George VI!), I finally happened on the object of my search: the death notice of Samuel Forde.

'Where's the microfilm, Mike?'

‘Where’s the microfilm, Mike?’ Detective work at the Local History archive of Cork City Library.

The Freeholder, ‘Printed and Published (for Subscribers only) by JOHN BOYLE,’ was the first of the two newspapers to report of Forde’s death. The notice, which appears in the Thursday, July 31, 1828 issue, reads as follows.

We have to announce, and we do it with very melancholy feelings, the death of SAM FORDE, a distinguished young artist, whose short life gave promise of an eminence in his profession at a future period, which would have shed a lustre on his native City, and have immortalized his name.  The picture “The Fall of the Angels,” in the recent exhibition, fully bears us out in our observations, and that picture has now acquired additional value by the premature death of this interesting boy. It is unfinished, and we do hope most sincerely, that the purchaser of that sketch, will never let a brush be put to it—but that it may be preserved as a relic of youthful talent and intellect, seldom or never surpassed. While deploring his early fate, his family have reason indeed to be proud at the name he has left behind.

This announcement, which does not specify on which date Forde actually died, was soon followed by a notice in the ‘Deaths’ section of The Constitution of Saturday, August 2, 1828.

On Tuesday last, at his lodgings, Sunday’s Well, Mr. SAMUEL FORDE, a highly gifted and talented young Artist. Though scarcely arrived at manhood, yet, as a Painter, giving such proof of the wonderful power of his imagination, as the labour and study of years could alone be expected to have developed. His unfinished picture of “The Fall of the Angels” at the last Exhibition—and of which we made distinguished mention at the time—is in itself an almost imperishable record of his genius—sufficient to have placed him in the first rank of his profession, and to give assurance, that had PROVIDENCE spared him, he would have been an ornament to his native City. He was of extremely delicate habit from his childhood—with manners the most retiring and diffident, and a sensibility even to painfulness: his family have truly reason to deplore his early demise.

By far the most prominent obituary in the newspaper (the others featured merely comprising one sentence), this and the previous notice are filled with telling detail and appreciation. While it is still little comfort to note that Forde’s life was tragically short, a fact not lost on the obituary writers of the time, based on these notices we can now confirm that Samuel Forde, the young artistic prodigy born in Cork on 5 April 1805, died in the city’s suburb of Sunday’s Well on Tuesday, 29 July 1828.

Noted in the 1840s as having been buried on the south side of St Finbarr’s churchyard under a stone inscribed ‘Henry Murrough’, Forde’s place of burial still eludes us. While we hope that one day we will find the necessary evidence to confirm where his mortal remains rest, we remember him fondly today on this, the (real) 186th anniversary of his death. As those who remembered him on the days following his passing, his unfinished Fall of the Rebel Angels (as it is now known) remains a testament to his great ambition, skill and vision, the ‘imperishable record of his genius.’ Hanging among the very casts he studied as a boy and untouched but for the conservationist’s brush, this monumental painting is the true artistic masterpiece of Cork’s ‘Golden Age’ and rightfully forms part of his native city’s public art collection at the Crawford Art Gallery.

Michael and Shane

29 July 2014, feast day of Martha of Bethany

‘The Master is come, and calleth for thee’ (John 11:28)

The 'imperishable record of his genius', Fall of the Rebel Angels (1828) in its current location in the Crawford Art gallery amongst the very casts studied by Samuel Forde.

The ‘imperishable record of his genius’, Fall of the Rebel Angels (1828) hanging in the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork.

Samuel Forde: Visions of Tragedy… and that’s a wrap!

It’s been a few months since we posted an update here and what a busy few months it’s been!

Our last blog post looked forward to the Year of Samuel Forde at the dawn of 2014. Since then we have co-curated the first ever exhibition of the artist’s work. Entitled Samuel Forde: Visions of Tragedy, the exhibition ran from 17 January until 22 March at the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork. Complementing this, the gallery played host to a diverse programme of associated events from free guided tours and candlelit drawing workshops to literary themed performances and lectures.

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In addition to these and following the publication of our Irish Arts Review article (Winter 2013/14), we wrote and published a fully illustrated 50-page gallery guide, the first ever book devoted to Forde. Not only that but we were also interviewed for an Irish Examiner arts spotlight and taught a six-week short course of our own design for Adult Continuing Education (UCC). Entitled The Athens of Ireland: Art and Artist’s in Cork’s Golden Age and employing a joint lecture/tour format, it ran alongside the exhibition from 30 January until 6 March and explored the wider world of Samuel Forde and his contemporaries.

Samuel Forde: Visions of Tragedy gallery guide (only €7 at the Crawford Art Gallery shop) and information card.

Samuel Forde: Visions of Tragedy gallery guide (only €7 at the Crawford Art Gallery shop) and information card.

Since 22 March, we are thrilled to note that the Crawford Art Gallery has continued the exhibition in modified form. While many of Forde’s beautiful preparatory drawings and supporting sketches have been quite rightly placed back into conservation storage, his self-portrait, figural and compositional studies, and monumental Fall of the Rebel Angels (1828) remain on display. The modified hang also adjoins a new exhibition of the work of another Samuel born in 1805: Samuel Palmer. After the wonderfully positive responses and exposure we couldn’t be happier to see our own Samuel’s work continuing to be celebrated and interacting with that of other artists!

The Samuel Forde Project began in August 2012 and with the extraordinary support and encouragement of the Crawford Art Gallery over the intervening twenty months we have achieved more than we could ever have dreamed for our boy Sam. It has truly been a passion project for both of us and something that has retained its own magical vibe which continues to excite. Coming into this project neither of us had any major experience of this kind of collaboration or, indeed, curation. We knew, however, that Forde’s story had to be told and his work to be seen!

Encouraged not only by our friends, families, curator Anne Boddaert, director Peter Murray, and the exceptional staff and ‘Friends’ of the Crawford, we also saw in our good friends and colleagues Dr Carrie Griffin and Dr Mary O’Connell an exemplary model for collaborative research. Their approach to the Finding Charles Clark project and their generous advice meant we knew we could do Forde justice! Drawing on our own backgrounds in history, art history, and literature, we researched this project in our spare time despite two very busy schedules. Collaborative research of course brings its own challenges, but playing to our respective strengths we have learned a great deal from others but most especially from each other – from approaches to research and writing to teaching practice and event management.

The Samuel Forde Project has been the greatest of gifts and while our dear boy Sam still enjoys the limelight, it is time for his two assistants to return to their solo projects and individual research. This is not the end of the road, however… The Athens of Ireland Project is too tantalising a prospect with Samuel Forde being just one of its extraordinary players!

That’s (not) all folks!

Shane Lordan and Michael Waldron

Raise a glass to the Year of Samuel Forde!

2013 has been an incredible year for us here at The Samuel Forde Project and for reviving the memory of Samuel Forde himself on the 185th anniversary of his death.  This year we have discovered so much more than we could have dreamed, delivered papers and lectures, participated in the Bealtaine and Heritage Week national festivals, published an article, and even got Forde’s name into a national newspaper! As such we would like to take this opportunity to thank the Crawford Art Gallery, the Friends of the Crawford, Irish Arts ReviewIrish Examiner, RCB Library, Triskel Arts Centre, ACE UCC, and all of you for your wonderful goodwill, continued interest, and valued support as we embark on our next phase!

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We begin 2014 preparing  to launch one of the major goals of this project, the very first solo exhibition of Forde’s work which opens at the Crawford Art Gallery in just a few weeks’ time. We also have associated events and a six-week short course in the works which are designed to run alongside and compliment the exhibition. Ultimately it is our dearest wish that 2014 will also see the creation of a permanent and lasting memorial to one of Cork’s greatest and forgotten sons. So watch this space and enjoy the Year of Samuel Forde!

From me and Shane, and on behalf of our dear boy Sam, very best wishes for a very happy new year!

Samuel Forde's Self-Portrait (Portrait of the Artist). Image: © Crawford Art Gallery, Cork. Photo: Dara McGrath.

Samuel Forde’s Self-Portrait (Portrait of the Artist). Image: © Crawford Art Gallery, Cork. Photo: Dara McGrath.

Dates for the Diary:

15 January 2014, seminar paper – Visions of Milton and Moore in the work of Samuel Forde

17 January – 22 March 2014, exhibition – Samuel Forde (1805-1828): Visions of Tragedy

30 January – 6 March , short course – Athens of Ireland: Art and Artists in Cork’s Golden Age

The mysterious case of Eliza and Mr B—

Over the course of our research a host of background players have emerged into our own growing lexicon of names. We have come to know the likes of William Forde, Edward Penrose, Thomas Deane, William Crawford, James Morgan, William Willes, and William Edward Gumbleton to name but a few. There are, however, those who remain a little more obscure and elusive. One of the joys (and frustrations!) of research is the passing references we find to the partially identified people in the lives of our subjects. For us here at The Samuel Forde Project, there are two such cases, those of Eliza and Mr B—.

From the earliest research we conducted on Forde we came to know of a portrait of his simply entitled ‘Eliza’. He had written about it in his diary in 1826 but no further information has been forthcoming. We speculated that the sitter may well be the daughter or wife of a patron of Forde’s but with the Penroses having only an Elizabeth and a Bessie, we felt we might be searching for a needle in a haystack! That is, until just recently when we discovered the name of another of Forde and his friend Daniel Maclise’s patrons, or more specifically, that of his daughter.

President of the Society of Artists in Cork, Robert O’Callaghan Newenham (1770-1849) was a man of considerable standing who was an architect, artist and banker. His daughter, Eliza Newenham (d.1851), married the architect Sir Thomas Deane (1792-1871), becoming Lady Newenham Deane and bearing three children, including Sir Thomas Newenham Deane (1828-99). The family renovated a Georgian home at Dundanion in the Blackrock suburb of Cork in 1832 – the grounds of which I played in as a child (!) – and commissioned Forde’s classmate John Hogan (1800-58) to provide a sculpture for it. It seems likely, given the artistic leanings of her family, that the Eliza of Forde’s portrait is that of Lady Deane prior to her marriage. This may be one part of the case closed but where is that portrait now? And who is our other elusive figure, Mr B—?

Edward J. Harding (1804-1870): Lady Elizabeth Deane (née O'Callaghan Newenham) (d.1851) and her daughters, Susanna Adelaide (1837-1919) and Olivia Louise (b.1838), before Classical columns, foliage and red drapery.

Edward J. Harding (1804-1870): Lady Elizabeth Deane and her daughters, Susanna Adelaide and Olivia Louise.

In an anonymous memoir written of Forde in 1845 (some seventeen years after his untimely death), the biographer mentions a commission which came to the artist in 1827. This was for the creation of a large-scale triptych for the newly-built cathedral at Skibberreen, County Cork. However, as our biographer relates, it was “the distinguished Mr B—” to whom the church originally turned when seeking an artist. Seemingly an “excellent architectural designer, and a miniaturist painter”, when it came to painting he was apparently “too much a man to undeceive his hospitable friends, or disturb their faith in his abilities.” Our mysterious Mr B—, thus, appears to have subcontracted Samuel Forde for the commission as, no doubt, he had by then gained a reputation for working rapidly in the manner of the theatre but also to an appropriately large-scale.

As to the identity of Mr B— (whom we must thank for his lack of suitability for the task outlined above), a chance glimpse of a name in a list of Cork artists has led us to suspect him to be the younger brother of the portraitist, miniaturist and illustrator Adam Buck (1759-1833). Frederick Buck (1771-1833/1840) was a miniaturist himself of uneven talent, practicing in Cork in this period, and catering to the demands of officers serving in the Peninsular War who were stationed at its busy imperial port. Given the details Forde’s biographer imparts, in addition to his use of the initial ‘B’ to conceal the artist’s identity, it is entirely probable then that Frederick Buck is our elusive Mr B—.

Frederick Buck (1771-1833/40): Miniature Portrait of Joseph Gibson, 68th Light Infantry (d.1816). © Crawford Art Gallery, Cork.

Frederick Buck (1771-1833/40): Miniature Portrait of Joseph Gibson, 68th Light Infantry. © Crawford Art Gallery, Cork.

What has struck us most about these little investigations is the wonderful, obscured web of relationships and ties which characterise a great age in the history of our city. In a place where you can still frequently be asked ‘who are your people?’, ‘where are you from?’, or ‘do you know such and such?’, taking a closer look at the now indistinct lives of those who once walked the same streets as we do today, can offer up very telling nuggets of detail in our quest to better understand Cork’s golden age.

Don’t stop the presses… we’re now available in print!

After just ten months of blogging, tweeting and talking, The Samuel Forde Project has taken its first leap into print! Yes, that’s right, we’re an equal opportunities outfit here and so if you go down to the newsagent’s today, you’re sure to get a nice surprise. We did just that recently where, as expected, we found an article of ours, “A Vision of Tragedy,” making an appearance in the winter issue of Irish Arts Review.

Now available: Irish Arts Review, winter issue (November 2013 - February 2014)

Now available: Irish Arts Review, winter issue (November 2013 – February 2014)

It is absolutely thrilling for us to realise one of the major aims of this project and to finally see Samuel Forde’s artworks adorning the beautifully designed pages of such a high quality publication. And this is just our first step, so keep your eyes peeled for future publications on our golden boy!

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Published four times a year and read by 40,000 worldwide, Irish Arts Review is Ireland’s leading art and design magazine and has just been named ‘Magazine of the Year’ at the Irish Print Awards 2013. The winter issue (November 2013 – February 2014) is now available in major newsagents (including Eason and Porter in the Republic of Ireland). “A Vision of Tragedy” is also currently available to read online as the featured article from the current issue.