Monday, October 31, 2016

A review of The Last Days of Leda Grey by Essie Fox

During the oppressive heat wave of 1976 a young journalist, Ed Peters, finds an Edwardian photograph in a junk shop in the Brighton Lanes. It shows an alluring, dark-haired girl, an actress whose name was Leda Grey.

Enchanted by the image, Ed learns Leda Grey is still living - now a recluse in a decaying cliff-top house she once shared with a man named Charles Beauvois, a director of early silent film. As Beauvois's muse and lover, Leda often starred in scenes where stage magic and trick photography were used to astonishing effect. 

But, while playing a cursed Egyptian queen, the fantasies captured on celluloid were echoed in reality when Beauvois suspected a love affair between Leda and her leading man. A horrific accident left Leda abandoned and alone for more than half a century - until Ed Peters finds her and hears the secrets of her past, resulting in a climax more haunting than any to be found in the silent films of Charles Beauvois.

Paperback, 360 pages
Expected publication: November 3rd 2016 by Orion
Title:  The Last Days of Leda Grey

Theda Bara

Since, The Last Days of Leda Grey by Essie Fox is soon to be published it makes my review a bit difficult. I cannot go into as much detail as I want to. It will be hard to hold myself back but understand in order for the reader to completely get lost in this gorgeous story, I must refrain from gushing. It will be a first for me!~   

 Theda Bara

 'Leda Grey' is told from the male perspective of journalist, Ed Peters who in 1976 walks into a shop to look around when he sees an old photograph of a silent film actress. He falls instantly in love with this coal black eyed, raven haired beauty. When the store owner tells him that Leda Grey is still alive and living nearby in a cliff-top house called, White Cliff he is off in a shot to find his enchantress.  

There is much more to the store owner and his relationship with recluse, Leda Grey. As for Ed Peters, well, his curiosity to find this beauty, now old, grey haired and withered by time, will change both their lives forever. 

 Theda Bara

What I just adored about this story was meeting old recluse Leda Grey.  What must have happened during this young, teenage girl's short film career to result in her locking herself away for years? Why would a young woman choose to live alone, isolated in her crumbling abode with rarely any human contact instead of venturing out into the real world? Even with the past of a brief acting career, some secrets should be left alone undisturbed only to be viewed on celluloid or on a movie screen in a crowded movie house stinking of stale oiled buttered popcorn with nothing but the echoes of the hum of the projector running upstairs in a locked room. 

 Theda Bara in The She Devil, 1918

Author, Essie Fox has done something truly impossible. She has taken the persona of a well-known movie actress, transported her back into 1976 aged and mentally effusive. Having three male counterparts, one an old ghostly lover, Charles Beauvois to tell aspects of her film career.  It is brilliant I tell you.  Also, Leda Grey herself unlocks her past secrets through clues hidden within her silent films made with Charles Beauvois. Journalist, Ed Peters is along for the ride as he pieces together this once beautiful woman's hidden past. Now, what is discovered and what occurs is beautifully written through journalistic interviews between Ed Peters and Leda Grey. 

The Last Days of Leda Grey is Essie Fox's best written work yet!  I cannot convey this enough how much I fell in love with her characters, the setting, the music of the nineteen seventies, her descriptions, her words, the story is ethereal in nature, Gothic in tone and dripping with gorgeous prose.   

Theda Bara film

To purchase your copy of The Last Days of Leda Grey in the United Kingdom,  Amazon UK

If you live in the U.S., and want to buy The Last Days of Leda Grey visit,  Book Depository


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Visiting Kate Keown and May Prinsep: Sitters to Julia Margaret Cameron: Swann Galleries Auction

Swann Galleries is a small auction gallery on the Upper East Side of New York City. On Tuesday, October 25th, 2016 two photographs by nineteenth-century photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron will be included in this auction, Art & Storytelling: Photographs & Photobooks, an auction featuring examples of the medium from its inception in the early nineteenth century through contemporary works.

I was lucky enough to be able to visit Swann Galleries yesterday on my lunch break at work before the gallery closed. I expected to see  Kate Keown's albumen print by Mrs. Cameron. However, I was happily surprised to see May Prinsep dressed as Cenci staring right back at me. Well, we meet again future, Lady Tennyson! 
        From Art & Storytelling: Photographs & Photobooks catalogue.

Portrait of Kate Keown. Circular albumen print, the image measuring 11 3/8 inches (28.9 cm.) in diameter, the mount 20 3/4x16 7/8 inches (52.7x42.9 cm.), with a gilt rule and an embossed Colnaghi stamp on mount recto. 1866

Estimate $50,000 - 75,000

From the Neikrug Gallery, New York, New York; to Frances and Donald Werner, New York, circa 1975.

A stunning print by Cameron in a scarce circular format. Cameron's circular prints were known as "tondos" (from the Italian rotondo or "round") and reference both Renaissance work and the Pre-Raphaelite paintings of her contemporaries.

This poetic work was the one of the first "life-sized heads" Cameron executed with a new larger-format camera and trimmed to the circular shape. Although Cameron's pictorial style continued to embody an inherent romanticism, this enlarged print size allowed her to render a subject more dramatically and pursue an investigation of the effects of sculptural lighting on her subject's faces. Her reliance on soft focus, intimate perspective, and slight movement imbue these portraits with startling life and spiritual resonance. She wrote in 1866, "I have just been engaged in that which Mr. Watts has always been urging me to do. A Series of Life sized heads--they are not only from the Life, but to the Life, and startle the eye with wonder & delight." (Cox 64-65).

In Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs (J. Paul Getty Museum, cat. no. 875), scholar Julian Cox locates a carte-des-visite version of this portrait, a reduced albumen print in the Isle of Wight County Council Miniature Album, a print at the Yale University Beinecke Library, and a large-format print in the Gilman Collection (which is now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).
A Study of the Cenci. Albumen print, 
the image measuring 14 1/4x11 5/8 inches (36.2x29.5 cm.), 
flush mounted to the original board. 1870

Estimate $3,000 - 4,500

From the Neikrug Gallery, New York, New York; to Frances and Donald Werner, New York, in 1975.

Interesting to note that the gallery does not include any mention of the sitter by name.
She was May Prinsep a niece, on her father's side, of photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron.

To learn more about the young woman posing as Cenci, you can read my article on, May Prinsep Tennyson

 Guido Reni painting the portrait of Beatrice Cenci at prayer in prison
by Achille Leonardi (Italian, 1800-1870)
Oil on Canvas

Cameron based the pose, drapery, and sad expression of her model on a painting attributed to Guido Reni. The subject is the 16th-century Italian noblewoman Beatrice Cenci who was executed for arranging the murder of her abusive father. One review admired Cameron’s soft rendering of ‘the pensive sweetness of the expression of the original picture’ while another mocked her for claiming to have photographed a historical figure ‘from the life’. (Victoria and Albert Museum)

When in Rome, in 1819, a friend put into our hands the old manuscript account of the story of The Cenci. We visited the Colonna and Doria palaces, where the portraits of Beatrice were to be found; and her beauty cast the reflection of its own grace over her appalling story.
--Mrs. Percy Shelley

Julia Margaret Cameron often directed female models to represent tragic heroines whose sorrow made them beautiful. Cameron composed this image around the sitter's downcast eyes and scrolling hair--which spills out from under a turban. Cameron's niece, May Prinsep, plays the role of Beatrice, the central figure of Percy Bysshe Shelley's play, The Cenci (1819). Prinsep's sorrowful expression conveys the character's resignation to her fate.

Beatrice Cenci, the daughter of a Roman count, lived in Florence during the late 1500s. After Beatrice conspired with her mother and brother to have her father killed, the trial brought to light his cruelty, which included an attempt to rape her. Although the story won public sympathy, the family was nonetheless executed. Cameron was fascinated by this true story and made several photographic studies based on it  (Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California). 

To learn more about the entire auction and photographers, Swann Gallery

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Happy U.S. publication day and review of Julia Margaret Cameron By Herself, Virginia Woolf And Roger Fry

This book reprints Virginia Woolf's witty and moving biographical essay of her great-aunt, and Roger Fry's pioneering study of the photographs published together in 1926 under the title Victorian Photographs of Famous Men and Fair Women. To these are added Julia Margaret Cameron's own auto-biographical fragment, Annals of the Glass House, and her only surviving poem, On a Portrait. They are introduced by Tristram Powell. Tristram Powell is a film-maker and historian of photography.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), a central figure of the Bloomsbury Group, is best known for the nonlinear narrative of her novels, and for her feminism.

Roger Fry (1866-1934), painter and critic, was another member of the Bloomsbury Group. He was a leading champion of Post-Impressionism.

Daguerreotype portrait of Julia Margaret Cameron and her daughter, Julia Hay Cameron by Unknown, 1845, National Media Museum

The photographer is unknown but it is possible that the image was made in Calcutta as both mother and daughter were there until January 1845, after which 'Little Julia' returned to England for three years. The case is inscribed by the daughter 'Feb 10th 1845. This for me to keep', and probably at a later date by her mother 'Given to my Julia by her request - her own choice.' Julia Hay Cameron died in childbirth in her early 30s, at which point the portrait appears to have been returned to her mother. (This portrait is now housed at Dimbola Lodge, Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight, home of Julia Margaret Cameron. This image is not included in the book. I added it because its beautiful)

At the age of forty-eight, Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) was given a camera by her daughter when she moved to the Isle of Wight:  'It might amuse you, Mother, to try to photograph during your solitude at Freshwater.' The gift was to begin Mrs.Cameron's short but prolific career as one of photography's first great artists.

Cameron's long exposures and softfocus portraits were criticised by photographers of the time as lacking skill, but these evocative manipulations were in fact early realisations of photography's true poetic potential. Such expressiveness was something more readily understood by the Pre-Raphaelite painters with whom Cameron became associated, and who gave her encouragement.

Her portraits capture some of the most famous intellectuals and artists of the Victorian era, all made to follow Mrs. Cameron's famously exacting direction.

Julia Margaret Cameron By Herself,Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry
128 Pages, 4.5 x 5.75
Formats: Trade Paper
Trade Paper, $16.95 (US $16.95) (CA $22.95)
Publication Date: October 2016
ISBN 9781843681212
Rights: US & CA
Pallas Athene (Oct 2016)

 In a letter to Sir Edward Ryan she says, 'Lastly as to spots, they must, I think remain. I could have them touched out, but I am the only photographer who always issues untouched photographs and artists for this reason, amongst others, value my photographs. So Mr. Watts and Mr. Rossetti and Mr. du Maurier write me above all others'. (Julia Margaret Cameron's letter, pg. 18). 

Dear Reader, if you are in search of first-hand accounts from Mrs. Cameron herself, her family members, closest friends, scholars, and the like then look no further.  For this small booklet is quite intimate and charming.  There are myriads of biographies on photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron's life and work. However, I am so in love with this beautiful yet introspective look beyond the lens into Mrs. Cameron's world in Ceylon and Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight. 

It is as if her closest friends have gathered together all of Mrs. Cameron's surviving writings (Annals of the Glass House), excerpts from her letters to colleagues, family, and friends, as well as critiques of the day written by family members and scholars of photography and history. There is no better research than personal artifacts from the subject. Yes, we have her photographs but there was so much more to the woman behind the standing box camera lens. 
 Julia Margaret Cameron with sons Henry Herschel Hay and Charles Hay, 1857-8
by an unknown photographer, Harry Ransom Center

I was shocked when I read the story of Julia's father in his coffin returning home with his widow and young children (including a very young child named Julia Margaret) when his coffin exploded with him in it!  Apparently, James Pattle was something of a liar and a scoundrel with a temper!  There are several fascinating stories about young Julia Margaret Pattle's childhood and family; yes, she was born  a Pattle before marrying Charles Hay Cameron later in life and having her family.  So many wonderful mentions of Mr. Cameron, his viewpoint on living on their coffee plantation in Ceylon, his thoughts on his wife, Julia Margaret, their life together, etc. It is worth the money for learning about that rare aspect of her personal life alone!  

If you want to learn more about the poets and scholars of Freshwater Bay on the magical Isle of Wight, all her friends are gathered within these pages. Focus is put on the famous laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson but deeper exploration into Julia Margaret's earlier friendship with great men such as poet and essayist, Sir Henry Taylor and astronomer, chemist, polymath Sir John Herschel just to name a few!  Wonderful descriptive stories of dinners and parties at her sister Sarah Prinsep's Little Holland House. I could have stayed there forever.  

There are fifty of Julia Margaret Cameron's photographs numbered and labeled as plates. Next to each photograph is a story and anecdote of that particular friend and sitter. However, some wonderful stories of the famous visitors who met Mrs. Cameron and didn't exactly like or get on with her! Very funny tidbits indeed. 

One of my favorite quotes from the book is one I often remember and know to be true even to this day. I should know because I am blessed to have visited Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight and most of my very dear 'friends' remain there...

Everybody is either a genius, or a poet, or a painter or peculiar in some way. 

Is there nobody commonplace?  


I am forever grateful to Trafalgar Square Publishing, Independent Publishers Group as well as Pallas Athene for mailing me a beautiful hardcover edition of, Julia Margaret Cameron By Herself, Virginia Woolf and Roger Fry for review. I will cherish it always. 

Now published in the United States and available for purchase, Amazon US

Already published in the United Kingdom and available for purchase, Amazon UK


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