Wednesday, 5 March 2014

1877 Content Sale

I finally got around to transcribing the scan of the newspaper advert for the 1877 Balintore Castle content sale, as it is not completely clear and hence difficult to read. The original scan in below, followed by my transcription.

Hope you enjoy my electronic emulation of Victorian manual typesetting. Google blogger is not LaTex: that is all I can say. :-) Anyhow, there is a rather good looking form of initial letter "capitalisation" of a word that is already in upper-case. by increasing the font size for the first letter. We have lost that totally in modern type-setting. I have marked errors in the original advert in red. Do not forget the compositors of the day had to work in mirror printing. so they can be excused their errors.

original newspaper scan

MR DOWELL will Dispose of, by Auction, the
whole of the FURNISHINGS of this large Castle, -
all from the best Makers
The DRAWING-ROOMS consist of - Two Choice Maple
Bookcases ; Drawf Bookcase : Satin-wood Circular Card,
Kingwood, Walnut, Japan and Chess Tables ; Lounging
Sofas, Couches, and Easy Chairs ; Handsome Large Centre
Ottoman, with Raised Back ; Silk Window Curtains ; Rose-
wood Cabinet Pianoforte, by Cramer & Co. ; Very Large
Brussels Carpet and Rugs ; Old French Clock ; Portfolio
Stand ; &c., &c.
The DINING-ROOM, of Mahogany, embraces Set of Ex
panding Telescopic Tables, 16 ½ feet long, with Circular Ends ;
Auxilliary Set of Oak Tables : Neat Pedestal Sideboard ; very
fine Turkey Carpet 39 feet long x by 18 feet ; Chairs with
Stuffed Seats, and Backs in Morocco ; Crimson silk Brocade
Curtains ; Dumb Waiters ; Easy Chair  ; Couch ; Assortment
of China, Glass, Cutlery, &c., &c.
The LIBRARY.-Capital Mahogany Bookcase ; Dwarf
Bookcase ; Elegant Rosewood Bureau ; Writing Table
Couch ; Easy Chair ; &c.
The BEDROOMS (Eighteen) are handsomely furnished
with Brass and Iron Beds (Double and Single), with choice
Bedding ; French and Single Wardrobes, with Mirror Doors ;
Chests of Capital Drawers ; with corresponding Toilet and
other Bedroom Requisites; Carpets and  Rugs; Couches,
Easy Chairs, an every other comfort, in perfect order.
The SALOON, HALL, and LOBBY have fine Carved Oak
Tables, with High-Back Chairs. Rich-toned Gong. Double
Royal Stag Horns, several Hall Clocks, Barometer by Hollins.
The KITCHEN is replete with every Requisite, including
Copper Pans, Kettles and Moulds, Ban Marèe Pan, Sauce
and Fish Kettles ; Dish Covers ; Weighing Machine ; Tin
Utensils, &c. ; also Duplex and Oil Lamps, Ice Safe, Mangle,
Furniture for Servants’ Hall and Bedrooms, Larders, a few
Garden Tools, and numerous Miscellaneous Effects.
‘Order of Sale-
         TUESDAY, 1st May, - The whole Furnishings of the Base-
                  ment Rooms, Kitchen Utensils, Servants’ and Attic
                  Bedrooms, Stable Bedrooms, Laundry, and Outdoor
         WEDNESDAY, 2d May.-Crystal, China, Cutlery, Best
                  Lamps, Dining and Drawing Rooms, Library, Prin-
                  cipal Bedrooms and Dressing Rooms, Saloon, Hall
                  and Lobby
    Balintore Castle is 8 Miles from Kirriemuir and 10½Miles
from Alyth.
         Edinburgh, 18 George Street.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Carry on Sargent

"Lady Archibald Langman" by John Singer Sargent (1905)
Recent research by Andrew has turned up a portrait of Lady Langman (née Eleanor Katherine Lyell) who was a one-time resident of Balintore Castle. My understanding is that she spent the summer at Balintore, but resided in South Africa. One day when Lady Langman was not in residence, the house-keeper detected a distinct whiff of her perfume. Sometime later, it was discovered that Land Langman had died abroad on that very same day. This is one of the many Balintore ghost stories!

The portrait of Mrs. Archibald Langman (1878-1963) is dated 1906 and is by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) no less. It is currently held by the Smithsonian Institute. By a very strange coincidence Sargent has recently become one of my favourite painters. I did not like him as a child, but had an epiphany at the National Portrait Gallery in London one evening recently, where an art historian gave us a tour of his favourite works, including a work of Sargent's entitled General Officers of World War I, (1920-22).

"General Officers of World War I" by John Singer Sargent (1920-22)

I then had a delightful surprise during a visit to the Imperial War Museum in London. On the top floor there is a small gallery of the most outstanding war paintings I have ever seen. The most eminent of these. was Sargent’s “Gassed" (1919), which refers back to a Bruegel of 1569. The impact of this picture in the flesh cannot be over-estimated, The figures are almost life-sized, and the atmosphere in front of the painting is amazing - there is no better depiction of the futility of war.

"Gassed" by John Singer Sargent (1919)

The “Generals” and “Gassed” are both khaki-clad depictions of WWI, but they are different in intent. The “Generals" is an exercise in collective portraiture. It succeeds because each individual portrait succeeds: each one is a good depiction of an individual. It succeeds also because it is an important historical document. It fails in the overall composition, as some of the heads look like they have been photo-shopped-in afterwards: perhaps inevitable as all the generals were not all present at the same sitting. In contrast, “Gassed” is not portraiture but figurative, the soldiers do not have names, and the composition is stark and beautiful. It is truly a masterpiece.

The portrait of Lady Langman is not a masterpiece. Sargent made his money by painting society ladies in a way that was miraculously both art and flattering, but here the face is not well executed and there is no engagement with the viewer: Sargent was merely going through the motions. The treatment of the lace and the West Highland Terrier is, however, characteristically masterful. The presumed attachment of Lady Langman’s right hand to her right arm, strains the rules of geometry. :-)

I understand the first indication of dry-rot in Balintore was during Lady Langman's residency in 1957, when a wardrobe fell through the floor. We believe we have found the most likely section of floor, as there is some rare evidence of repair.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Peter Pan and Me

However unlikely this may seem, when I was a young teenager my family went to Dundee for our summer holiday. While this may sound unexciting to most people, I grew up in a family that simply never went on holiday, so Dundee was the business. Little did I think that many years later, I would be working in the city, and restoring a castle in the surrounding countryside.

On that holiday, I recall walking across the Tay Road Bridge and back again, from Dundee to Broughty Ferry and back again. These are feats I have never repeated, despite actually living there!

I remember visiting Glamis Castle (amazing then and amazing now) and the birthplace of J.M.Barrie in Kirriemuir, now my local town. We got shown around by a lady tour guide. I recall that so many elements of “Peter Pan” were present in Barrie’s childhood home, that it seemed almost too be good to be true: a Wendy house in the back court, a stuffed crocodile on the wall, and portraits of St. Bernards, which the family kept.

My father turned to me in the presence of the tour guide on the upstairs landing, and asked “And of course you have read “Peter Pan” haven’t you David?”. I was shocked, my Dad must have known I hadn’t read it. We didn’t have the book in the house, we had never studied it at school and I had never borrowed it from the library.

We did have “The Children’s Treasury of Literature” which had the first chapter of a number of children’s books including “Peter Pan” and “The Hobbit”, and I had read this. So for the first and only time in my life I had to lie. “Yes, I have.” I replied muttering “first chapter only” repeatedly in my head. The whole experience was so traumatic, I have never forgotten it and the shame has stayed with me.

Where I first read "Peter Pan" - well just the first chapter!

One of most memorable aspects of “The Children’s Treasury” were the illustrations for “The Hobbit”. They were sufficiently weird to be disturbing, and the text of the first chapter of “The Hobbit” did nothing to dispell my disquiet. :-) Internet research, reveals Tolkien himself described these illustrations as “vulgar, stupid and entirely out of keeping with the text”.

This creeped me out so much, it was years before I read the rest of "The Hobbit". :-)

As the prospect of restoring Balintore become more realistic, I realised I needed to read “Peter Pan” and once and for all put the ghost of the incident to rest - how else could I hold my head up in Kirriemuir? It was not the classic read I expected, and I was shocked at how badly written the book is. It needs an editor to come-in and sort out the bad grammar, let alone the ugly sentence structures.

The worst part was that there was no magic and that I was not transported. This is not simply an unimaginative adult’s take on a child’s book, as I only read “The Wizard of Oz” series as an adult, and indeed I only read the full “Magic Faraway Tree" series as an adult - and they both worked for me! :-)

What was most alarming was the attitude towards women in “Peter Pan”: if it was not misogynistic then it was seriously disturbed; and I was left with a “chill in my soul” after reading the book.

Sometime later, I continued my researches on J.M.Barrie - and I found out about his childhood. His brother had died as a child in a tragic ice-skating accident. This brother was his mother’s favourite, and Barrie’s mother really did say “I wish you had died instead”. Thus must have done untold damage, with Barrie trying to become his dead brother. I also learned of the real lost boys: five brothers that Barrie adopted when their parents died of cancer. The story of the real lost boys is another tale of high tragedy that legends are made of, and I felt that I could excuse Barrie the flaws in Peter Pan. The book presents a classic archetype from children’s literature to the world, but is not itself a classic book. 

I also managed to catch up with DIsney’s Peter Pan, which is in my view the weakest of the early DIsney films. The tone is not right. In fact the only successful Peter Pan film, in my view, is the 2003 one, though Maggie Smith saves the end of Hook (1991) as an elderly Wendy.

J.M.Barrie was born in Kirriemuir the same year Balintore Castle was built, so I have long wondered did he know the building growing up and did he ever visit the castle? He certainly wrote of the glories of “Glen Quharity” where the castle is situated. And this recently tracked-down newspaper snippet indicates that Barrie did visit the castle with Cyril Maude who was a famous actor manager of the day. The visit is dated the 25th February 1896, before Barrie wrote "Peter Pan". I looked it up on the map, and cycling from Strathtay to Balintore is no mean feat - it's a good 40 miles and not on the flat.

Aberdeen Weekly Journal, Friday, February 28, 1896

Another interesting connection is that the real-life lost boys were the cousins of Daphne du Maurier (one of my favourite authors). Daphne du Maurier knew Barrie as "Uncle Jim", and one wonders if her tales of dark gothic houses come from her Uncle's tales of Balintore. And it was the magic of Mandalay in Hitchcock's film "Rebecca" based on her book, that helped switched me on to such buildings. So the tale could go full circle! 

At least I can now claim J.M. Barrie as the castle's most famous visitor - so far!

J.M.Barrie - Balintore Castle's most famous visitor