What’s in a Frame?

Rosalind Countess of Carlisle

This painting hangs in the conference room at our headquarters in Solihull and depicts Rosalind, Countess of Carlisle. She was president of the National British Women’s Temperance Association from 1903 to 1921. Although our archives don’t seem to hold any information about the painting, I’ve been told that it is the work of George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle (and the husband of Rosalind).

 

George Howard (1843–1911) had a typical aristocratic upbringing, taking over the Liberal seat for East Cumberland from his father in 1879. He moved in and out of politics for several years and inherited the earldom from his uncle in 1889. However, Howard preferred art to politics or titles. He studied in Italy and at the Kensington School of Art, leaving the management of the estate to his wife.

The Earl of Carlisle was never really a famous or prolific artist but seemingly continued painting and drawing for the enjoyment of it. A review of a recent George Howard retrospective in the Telegraph by Richard Dorment speaks of his uneven output. His watercolours of Italy are said to be inspired, but other landscapes are less remarkable. However, his pencil sketches of his family and friends have lasted well as he captures people in their less guarded moments. Several of these sketches are in the National Portrait Gallery.

 

Howard became friends with and patron to many artists, including several of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, Arts and Crafts movement and early aesthetic artists, notably Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris and Edward Lear. I discovered in researching this article that Edward Lear, who is, perhaps, now most famous for The Owl and the Pussycat and the Book of Nonsense, was also a renowned zoological illustrator and landscape painter.

 

George Howard

Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon

Burne-Jones and Howard were good friends. Howard commissioned Burne-Jones’ Arthur in Avalon for Naworth Castle, the seat of the Earls of Carlisle. Burne-Jones and Howard shared an affinity for the legends of Arthur. Burne-Jones worked on Arthur in Avalon for 17 years and it is considered to be his masterpiece. Howard realised along the way that his friend was extremely attached to the painting and relinquished his claim upon it.

 

William Morris too, was a close friend of the Howard family, as were many of the artists associated with Morris & Co. (Morris’ furnishing and decorative company). Morris & Co. and associated artists provided furnishings, textiles and paintings for three of the Howard residences – Naworth Castle, Castle Howard (North Yorkshire) and 1, Palace Green, Kensington. The Kensington residence was commissioned from Phillip Webb (an architect and partner in Morris & Co.) and interiors were designed by Morris & Co.

A local expert in frame and picture restoration, Nicholas Aston (of Gale & Company, Birmingham), has examined the portrait of Rosalind, Countess of Carlisle which hangs in our Headquarters. He has told us that the frame is in the style of William Morris. Maybe it was even supplied by Morris & Co.? At first glance, the impressive gold frame can seem overwhelming, but a closer look shows some beautiful detail. I think this shows a Green Man – a figure motif found in folklore around the world and characterised by a face surrounded by foliage.

 

The Green Man can be traced back to British pagan myths and examples have been found from the 2nd century AD to Iraq and Nepal, and from the 8th century AD in India. British myths, such as John Barleycorn, Puck, the Arthurian Green Knight and Robin Hood are thought to be related to the mythology of the Green Man, who can be thought of as a sort of Father Nature and often symbolises rebirth. Examples of the Green Man in church architecture (usually carved from wood or stone) are found from the 5th century AD through to the 20th century. The Green Man seems to have made more appearances in the 19th century; the motif was popular with Arts & Crafts architects and designers, such as William Morris!

A close-up of the frame