Detail Red Cross-Knight 1907

Of je na zo’n rijk leven als muurschilder, boekbindster, illustratrice, ambachtsvrouw, juwelenontwerpster, stoffendecoratrice tussen de plooien van de geschiedenis kunt verdwijnen? Ja, dat kan nu je als ‘vergeten kunstenares’ wordt beschreven en de meesten onder ons wellicht nog nooit van haar hebben gehoord. Geboren een jaar na de Great Exhibition in het Crystal-Palace, opgegroeid in een doktersgezin in Dublin en Wicklow in een wereld tussen vooruitgang en moderniteit waarin het zoeken naar nieuwe authenticiteit met de Art & Craft’s beweging en personaliteiten als William Blake en John Ruskin je blijvend inspireren om de dromers van de Prerafaëlieten (Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood) niet te vergeten.

Mural: The awakening, from the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, South Chapel
Traquair was born in Dublin in 1852, the third daughter of physician  Dr William Moss and his wife Teresa Richardson. Phoebe Anna Moss  attended art and design classes at the Royal Dublin Society; as a  student she was assigned the task of providing fossil fish illustrations  for the young Scots palaeontologist, Ramsay Heatley Traquair, then  keeper of the museum at the Royal Dublin Society.
 Moss and Ramsay Traquair went on to marry in Dublin in 1873. The  following year, Ramsay Traquair was appointed Keeper of Natural History  at the Museum of Science and Art in Edinburgh (known today as the  National Museum of Scotland) where they subsequently moved and remained  for the rest of their lives. Phoebe Anna Traquair continued to provide  detailed illustrations for her husband’s research papers until his  retirement in 1906. (National Galleries Scotland)
Shepperd Boy (National Galleries Scotland)

In 1880 werd ze lid van de Edinburg Social Union (ESU). Dat was een filantropische vereniging die het leven van de arbeidersklasse door middel van kunst trachtte te transformeren, een van de illustere dromen van de Arts & Craft-beweging. De eerste opdracht van de ESU was een regligieuze muurschildering te maken op de muren van de mortuarium-kapel van het Royal Hospital for Sick Children (1885). Later zouden muurschildeirngen volgen voor de zangschool van de St Mary’s bisschoppelijke kathedraal (1888-92) en haar meest ambitieus en glorievol succesvol werk, werden de schilderingen in de katholieke apostolische kerk in Mansfield Place (1893-1901). Hier enkele ‘overgebleven’ schilderingen uit de kapel van het hospitaal voor zieke kinderen.

Phoebe Anna Traquair, Three Studies for the Decoration of the first Mortuary Chapel, the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh
Bij het uitwijken naar een nieuwere kapel werden een aantal van de muurschilderingen 'overgebracht'. Dat gebeurde helaas met weinig zorg.
Momenteel is het hospitaal verkocht, ook de kapel 'to property developpers'. Dat er geen betere foto's van de oorspronkelijke muurschilderinge bestaan is een letterlijk 'teken aan de wand'.  Maar nog aanwezig in The National Galleries Scotland een fragment van een muurschildering uit de Mortuary Chapel, the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh:
Laten we daarna de zangschool bezoeken, nog steeds in gebruik, niet alleen door jongens maar heel eigentijds ook met meisjesstemmen aangevuld. We hebben een mooi filmpje om je rond te leiden: Song School, St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral:

Op deze merkwaardige muurschildering in de zangschool worden de zangertjes begeleid of omringd door persoonlijkheden uit die tijd. Vooraan AlfredTennyson(dichter) in ’t rood, daarachter Robert Browing (dichter) en Dante Gabriël Rosetti.(dichter) Verder Holman Hunt (schilder), Thomas Carlyle (historicus), Noel Patton (schilder) en George Frederic Watts (schilder en beeldhouwer). Het hele koor van toen is naar levende modellen op de schilderingen aangebracht. (1888-1902) Er is zelfs een ‘father Damian’ bij, door de Schotten ‘een controversial priest’ genoemd.(en een aantal koloniale ‘helden’)

Een mooi filmpje laat je van alle muurschilderingen genieten.

She was also asked in 1892 to decorate the interior of the Catholic Apostolic Church in Mansfield Place, designed by Robert Rowand Anderson in 1872. Once completed in 1897, this massive church was almost instantly recognised as an outstanding work of modern decorative design by critics. In these murals Traquair demonstrated the influence of Italian Renaissance painters including Sandro Botticelli and Fra Angelico, exploring their rich colour and primitive style; the work is often still referred to as ‘Edinburgh’s Sistine Chapel’

In 1900 National Gallery of Scotland director James Caw wrote in The Art Journal that Traquair ‘wrought direct upon the walls … she waits until an idea shapes itself in colour and line in her mind’s eye, and then transfers it to the walls at once, thus retaining the vividness and freshness of the conception.’ The scenes in the nave were worked particularly quickly over a rougher plaster finish than found elsewhere.
Traquair’s use of colour and texture give the decoration a vivid, ‘musical’ quality. Her oil paints were diluted with turpentine, which, when applied to the dry, white-painted plaster surface, gave the colour a translucency parallel to that of watercolour on paper. The final beeswax coating was burnished by hand to give a silky soft sheen and protect the paint from the climate. Where gesso was also applied, it sometimes contained rough string to provide additional texture and vitality.
Phoebe Traquair’s murals, Catholic Apostolic Church, Edinburgh east end’s_murals,_Catholic_Apostolic_Church,_Edinburgh_(east_end).JPG
Tropetting angels detail from the chancel arch.
According to Frank Morley Fletcher the paint was “oil colours in tubes, thinned by a medium of beeswax dissolved in turpentine”. In addition to colour, Phoebe Traquair applied metal leaf and raised work, or pastiglio, to the surface, which, combined with the lively roughness of the preparatory layers, gives the decoration a richly textured quality. ‘Silver’ gilt is, in fact, aluminium leaf. According to Morley Fletcher: “The varnish used was of a good copal carriage variety; finally a wash of wax and turpentine was applied and polished by hand to a dull eggshell finish”. Discoveries during the restoration work showed that this description is accurate with the exception of the preparatory layers which were found on analysis to be lead white, not the zinc white described by Morley-Fletcher.
The speed at which Phoebe Traquair worked may be seen in her painting of the timber framing mouldings. Here the paint has been put on quickly, with little concern for neatness of finish, since the overall effect is all that would be seen from the ground. There are several instances where the artist “touched up” her painting. The most obvious cases are where she has blocked over areas in white paint. This may be seen clearly on the lilies on the south side of the south chapel ceiling.
Pigments identified by analysis in 1999 included terre verte, viridian, ultramarine blue, iron oxide earth pigments, carbon black, possibly vermilion. Some pink, red and yellow lakes were tentatively identified. Further samples taken at the beginning of the restoration confirmed these results, and a cobalt blue has also been identified. The paint is so transparent that it is possible to see how the artist sketched out the design onto the surface before painting, and how frequently she altered the design slightly in the final painting. In one instance on the ceiling of the south chapel she sketched the arrangement of two figures on a small scale before painting over the sketch.

Je merkt de verschillende invloeden die einde van de negentiende, begin twintigste opgeld maakten aansluitend bij de neo-romaanse atmosfeer van de kerk. Er zijn de heldere lijnen die vanuit de middeleeuwse en de vroege rennaissance ook Keltische naast Byzantijnse invloeden tonen. De eenvoud van de grote meesters, de details van het verhaal die het hemelse toch op de aarde zetten.

Er klinken trompetten, er is gezang, uitroepen van pijn en vreugde. De harp speelt zachtjes, al zal de massa harpen achter de heiland best gehoord worden. Je voelt de wind over het hemelse en het aardse landschap. Er zijn geen duivels, geen hellevuur: de boodschap vraagt licht en eenvoud zonder wereldvreemd te worden. Er is vooral veel tederheid aanwezig.

In een brief aan haar neef schrijft ze:

“To the artist, be he the poet, painter or musician, the world is a great treasure house, stored with endless material for him to use, teach yourself to match the beauty of red-lipped buds, sunlight through green leaves, the yellow gorse on the hill, the song of the wild birds, so on, step by step, the world opens out. This is life. This is to live, the perfection comes when one’s own life is in harmony with this beauty.” 
“Every moment some form grows perfect in hand or face; some tone on the hills or the sea is choicer than the rest; some mood of passion or insight or intellectual excitement is irresistibly real and attractive to us, — for that moment only. Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end. A counted number of pulses only is given to us of a variegated, dramatic life. How may we see in them all that is to seen in them by the finest senses? How shall we pass most swiftly from point to point, and be present always at the focus where the greatest number of vital forces unite in their purest energy?"
Traquair, Phoebe Anna; Cupid’s Darts; The National Trust for Scotland, Kellie Castle & Garden;

In een volgende bijlage laten we je nog graag kennis maken met haar werk waarin stoffen, verluchte handschriften en juwelen, triptyches en doosjes net zo goed een middel waren om zich met kunst bezig te houden. Er bestaat geen onderscheid tussen kunst en zgn. toegepaste kunst. Of met haar eigen woorden uit de reeds geciteerde brief:

While all melts under our feet, we may well grasp at any exquisite passion, or any contribution to knowledge that seems by a lifted horizon to set the spirit free for a moment, or any stirring of the senses, strange dyes, strange colours, and curious odours, or work of the artist’s hands, or the face of one’s friend. Not to discriminate every moment some passionate attitude in those about us, and in the very brilliancy of their gifts some tragic dividing of forces on their ways, is, on this short day of frost and sun, to sleep before evening. With this sense of the splendour of our experience and of its awful brevity, gathering all we are into one desperate effort to see and touch, we shall hardly have time to make theories about the things we see and touch…”
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