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Christmas in Painting and Applied Art: Edward Burne-Jones

Sir Edward Burne-Jones, The Star of Bethlehem, 1890
(Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, UK)

Image credit: Wikimedia.

In 1886, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones were commissioned a tapestry for Exeter College, Oxford, with The Adoration of the Magi being offered as a subject. The completed work, after Burne-Jones’s sketch, was presented to the college in 1890 and has been hanging at the Exeter College Chapel since. The Adoration of the Magi was to be the most commercially successful tapestry produced by Morris and Co: over 10 versions were woven and can now been seen all over the world: at the Hermitage in St Petersburg, in South Australia, and at the Manchester Metropolitan University.

Still in 1890, Burne-Jones had received an opportunity to revisit his design as a full-scale painting, The Star of Bethlehem, which has been presented to, and housed at, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. A photograph from Victoria and Albert Museum archives shows the artist walking up and down the ladder with his easel, while working on the watercolour painting. The watercolour differs from the tapestry design primarily in the choice of colours. The subdued reds and gold of the tapestry become the rich blues and green of the painting.

Exeter College Chapel
The Star of Bethlehem
in BMAG’s hall

When I visited Birmingham in December 2008, I had the chance to take a photo of the painting, as it hangs in one of two Burne-Jones’s halls at the Art Gallery (full-size photo). You can compare it with the original tapestry that can be viewed online, in a virtual tour of the Exeter College Chapel. The image on the right is a screengrab taken during the tour.

Some Flickr Pointers

I noticed that Flickr link in my Lijit widget wasn’t working. I corrected it but I thought I’d use the opportunity to give you a peek at my “private” Flickr life.

I started using the site in 2007, partly because of Robin Hamman‘s paeans. I’ve loved photography already but as with blogging it took overcoming a certain inner hurdle to start putting the photos up for all to see.

I love Flickr; in May, during Futuresonic Festival, I even delivered a talk on Online Photography; and before then in January I wrote a lengthy article on how (not) to use Flickr. Working as a Social Media Manager, I notice, of course, that nobody uses Flickr as they “should”, myself including. But it’s good to strive to use it better.

Flickr is an ocean, deep, beautiful, and sometimes dangerous. They upped security and safety levels, and you can always ask to take you “to kittens” but chances are, you will keep looking. I don’t think it will be totally bad if a young person stumbles upon the imagery of sexual kind. My concern is whether or not there will be a sensible adult with them to explain things.

As for me, I was amazed when last year I got followed by the multitudes of leather fans. I love leather clothes, so this season I don’t even have to try to be fashionable. But to have your own self-portrait in leather pants and hand-made sweater accumulating views and comments was something different.

My experience of Flickr has been great, all the more so because for the second time a photo I took was included in Schmap City Guide. In 2007, one photo was featured in Schmap Liverpool Guide. In 2009, another photo (which you will not find in my personal photostream) got included in Schmap Manchester Guide. It was made at one of the events where I went as my company’s employee, and it is credited to the company.

So, by way of giving a few pointers to what you’re going to find if you visit my Flickr:

All sets, and particularly Knitting and Lake District

Carmarthen Cameos (South Wales)


Bolton (a Lancashire town in Greater Manchester county)


North Wales

Castles (only Welsh so far)

Museums, Art Galleries, Exhibitions (Beck’s Canvas, Liverpool Walker Art Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum)

Concert and Music Events (Tina Turner, Barbra Streisand, Toshio Iwai)

Russian Places (some of my childhood places)

York (I loved the city, will go again some time)

Yorkshire: Leeds and Scarborough

Lancashire: Oldham, Blackburn and Blackpool

Merseyside: Liverpool and Southport

Cheshire: Chester, Altrincham, Warrington, and Stockport

Midlands: Birmingham

Public Lectures (Slavoj Zizek rules!)

Festivals: Futuresonic, Manchester International Festival, Text Festival

The photo above is Cleopatra’s Needle from London 2004 set.

Victorian Art in the Walker Art Gallery

Although I didn’t get the chance last year to attend any events during Liverpool’s residency as a European capital of culture of 2008, I travelled to Liverpool just a week before Christmas for a meeting. And there I finally got to visit Walker Art Gallery, just in time to catch a retrospective exhibition dedicated to John Moores Prize winners of the past years, as well as the John Moores 25 Contemporary Painting Prize.

Before then, in September-October 2008 I was researching into Art and Poverty when I had to deeply delve once again into the 19th c. European painting, and particularly, the works of Pre-Raphaelites. Earlier in December 2008 I visited the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery that had the stunning Holy Grail Tapestries on display, as well as an exhibition of work of Ford Madox Brown. And between November 2008 and January 2009 I went to the exhibition of work of William Holman Hunt at Manchester Art Gallery. Not exactly because I loved it too much, but because twice I went with friends.

(I didn’t have to fill any photography permission forms at the Walker, but this was a requirement in Birmingham. On my Flickr, you can view the Walker set and the BMAG set).

I am posting this photo from one of the Victorian halls at the Walker also with the view to introduce a great blog about Pre-Raphaelites that I found recently: Pre Raphaelite Art. The blog is updated very, very often (something I’d love to do here and elsewhere) and is a wonderful treat to all who love Pre-Raphaelite painting. If you haven’t found it yet, I hope you do now. As for me, I’m grateful to the blog’s author for using a LinkWithin widget; I didn’t know about it.

And to round it off, a cast of William Holman Hunt’s hand from the Walker:

Liverpool - Walker Art Gallery, The Cast of Hand of William Holman Hunt

Museum Photography: Examples from Three Countries (UK, USA, and Russia)

How do museums regulate permissions for museum photography, and is there a conflict between personal photos and official museum merchandise?

Industrial Gallery, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (@Julia Shuvalova, 2008)

In the first week of December I went to Birmingham, and one my destinations was the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery that houses the works of some leading Pre-Raphaelites. Taught by experience, I asked about museum photography. Yes, I had to fill out the form again, but this time the rules were set out in more detail, although once more there is a clause or two that may potentially be difficult to interpret even for the staff themselves:

1. Any copyrights (including publication rights) created in the photographic materials produced under the conditions stated below are reassigned to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

2. Any photography is for personal reference only. No permission for any reproduction rights of any kind is granted or may be assumed. Permission for reproduction rights should be applied for, in writing, to the Picture Library. Each case will be evaluated independently.

3. Any work, which is protected by the artists’ copyright, may not be photographed without the permission of the copyright holder.

4. Any works on loan, including temporary exhibitions, may not be photographed.

5. Flash photography is permitted unless otherwise specified.

6. The use of professional photographic equipment is prohibited. Tripods and monopods may not be used under any circumstances.

7. Video cameras or camcorders may not be used under any circumstances. Filming is prohibited.

Fair enough, reading these rules may put an intrepid visitor off taking pictures in the gallery altogether. However, the first two points just further reinforce what I have highlighted in the previous post on the question of reproduction. The problem is seemingly not only about a picture’s commercial use, but about the multiplicity of such uses. Naturally, if the photo is included in a book, it will be reproduced as many time as the book. For this, it is essential to apply for a permission to a museum.

Regarding the 3rd point, my feeling is that this needs to be discussed with the copyright holder before their work actually gets to be displayed. This is something that many professional artists’ and photographers’ websites tend to lose the sight of. By creating a website and making it public, they by default agree that this information can be shared. It is the same as with the printed word: if it was printed, you cannot stop people from quoting it. This is not to say that their work can be reproduced for commercial purposes by other people, but this should mean that a blogger may wish to not only write about them and give a link to their website, but also to include an image in the post, to illustrate why it would be good to visit the website at all.

Likewise, when an artist is displaying their work at the museum or gallery where photography is generally permitted, they have to be aware that a visitor can upload a taken photo online. It makes every sense to restrict this, on the one hand; but, on the other hand, the world has grown bigger with the Internet, and this potentially means that artists, especially young, may find it more and more difficult to compete with other artists and to assert themselves in the world. Social Media tools, and particularly photosharing, will facilitate this to an extent.

With loaned works and temporary exhibitions, I feel the galleries would need to spare some resources to clearly display the permission signs in such spaces of the gallery. As more and more often galleries intercept the regular display with a temporary exhibition, it is difficult for a visitor to understand where a photography permission ends and where it resumes again.

Regarding the specialist photography permission, this is a good point and the one that I think can be reinforced to avoid the taken photos being reproduced to a commercial end. This is how the Brooklyn Museum defines their stance on photography in the gallery:

Photography and videography are allowed in the Museum so long as the images are taken using existing light only (no flash) and are for personal, non-commercial use. Photography and videography are often restricted in special exhibition galleries.

Add to this also that many paintings are displayed under the glass, hence the photographic image of a painting in the gallery space can be far from ideal for reproduction.

A different take on photography and videography in the museum comes from the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia. As you need to purchase tickets to view the collection, you can also purchase a permission to make photos or videos in the museum. The website explains that there are warning pictograms in the halls where it is not permitted to take photos or to use flash. I did use this permission once myself in 2002, and this was great to show the museum to my parents who happened to have never visited the Hermitage.

The question rises, of course: why would I film, and not buy a video cassette or a DVD? Well, we all count our pennies, and on my memory even 6 years ago it was cheaper to pay for a photography pass rather than to buy a DVD set. I have been taking a notice of what people photograph and film, and I have never seen any of them making a complete record of the collection. If any of the readers have been to the Hermitage, they vividly imagine the sheer grandeur of the place: you would not know what to photograph because there is too much to see, and all too splendid! They say it takes 5 hours to quickly run through the entire Hermitage (i.e. only stopping at a few paintings), so imagine the weight of this on your photo- or videocamera. But what the Hermitage achieving with this is very valuable. On the one hand, they allow people to create a personal record of a visit to this art depository, a historic monument, and one of the most beautiful sights in the world altogether. On the other hand, by asking for a small fee for a photography permit they also bring in money to the museum.

More on Photography and Blogs and Social Media

Birmingham – The City of 2009?

Liverpool has been the European capital of culture in 2008. But astrologically, the year 2008 was the year of Rat. I never actually checked if any world city has had a rat as its symbol. Having visited Birmingham recently for the first time, and seen this lovely sculpture at the Bull Ring Shopping Centre, I think I have found my symbol (and definitely a city to come back to) for the year ahead.

You see, back in Russia I have got a collection of soft toys, all in the guise of one or another character of the Chinese calendar. There is a pretty pair of Sheep, a faithfully looking Dog, an impressively pinky Pig, and a very old and blind Lion, among others (the Lion is the same age as me, and has lost both his green eyes to the Time).

I don’t have this collection with me now, and generally I have done well without it all this time. However, 2008 being a lean year and not entirely enjoyable one for me, I am hoping to brace myself well for 2009 with the help of this ox that looks very determined. Instead of drinking potions offered by MacCartney and Jackson in their famous video, I will look at this photo in the hope that the sculpture will give me “the strength of a raging bull”.

…I can just hear Sir Paul pronouncing “the strength of a raging bull” in that video. What? You don’t know which one?? Oh don’t say, say, say!..

Birmingham – Mr Fish at the Indoor Market

OK, this isn’t the most regular image from me, but I admit, this was the first time on my memory that I came face to face with the game (poultry, that is). I was impressed, although I couldn’t find enough courage to photograph a dead goose that hang at the corner, its severed head being wrapped up in a cellophane bag, resting on the stall’s surface. Apart from a plenty of people on Saturday’s afternoon, this was one of the biggest impressions of visiting Birmingham.


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