Sunday, 6 May 2012

Scandal, the V & A and Feeling Ill

It's been a bit glum round Woolf Villa because T and I aren't feeling well. Today we decided to brave the cold, dreary weather and cycle to the Victoria and Albert Museum, our favourite museum. There's always something new to see.

Today it was a bronze mantel decoration called SCANDAL, made in 1930 by a sculptor called Charles Sargeant Jagger. This faded old magazine photo shows what "Scandal" looked like a fashionable London house in the 1930s. But there is more to it than meets the eye.

Take a close look and you will see it shows a pair of naked young lovers kissing passionately (below)

They are surrounded by spiteful old gossiping ladies, pointing their fingers and throwing up their hands, ugly figures but beautifully done. Look at this old hag's patterned dress.

Or this fat old lady below, with glasses and double chin? And her friend, to the right, gasping in horror.

The work was commissioned by Henry Mond (later Lord Melchett) and his wife Gwen. They had been targets of gossip for living in a three way relationship with Gilbert Cannan, a friend of D.H. Lawrence.

Jaggers also made a fire basket for the Monds with two long-necked art deco cats, a double face (representing two-facedness) and the front view of a parrot (signifying mindless copying prattle).

I found these pieces clever and fascinating yet also rather unpleasant - just as catty as any of the gossips the Monds objected to. I have no problem with people doing anything they like in their private lives as long as it doesn't break the law or harm the vulnerable. So I'm sympathetic to the young lovers. But I kept imagining these rich, privileged people flouting convention, then petulantly hiring an artist at vast expense to show how cross they were at being disapproved of.

Still, two guys next to me were highly amused at "Scandal" and thought the Monds must have been very cool - a feisty, likeable pair of jokers.

What do you think?

After considering "Scandal" T and I looked at other newly displayed sculptures. Some of them look a bit comical to modern eyes, so we amused ourselves by giving them alternative captions. Here's the god of gardening, conquering an intruder in the vegetable patch with his trusty fork

And these angels are surely singing at a karaoke party

Didn't feel like joking about this powerful bust of Oliver Cromwell, who defeated King Charles II in 1650. He was a strong, clever and ruthless man, and I'm still not sure if he was a hero or a villain, but this sculpture has such presence, and look at his clothes - a lion's head on his shoulder

and what does that face on his breast mean? (here's a close up of it, below).

Our plan was to see the British Design exhibition. There's a slew of accompanying events, including a wonderful free photography show with tantalising samples of many famous and less famous photographers.

The "main" show, "British Design 1948-2012, Innovation in the Modern Age" was okay but not up to other recent V & A shows.

Still, it had some good things. I really loved the wonderful designs and models for Coventry Cathedral. This cathedral, like one-time architectural showpiece town of Coventry itself, is currently well out of fashion, and even its website doesn't particularly showcase its architecture. I hope that will change, because I love it. Here's some of the cathedral's silver plate against a magnificent sample of a detail of Graham Sutherland's huge Aubusson tapestry that hangs behind the altar.

Apart from Coventry and some interesting stamp designs by the wonderful David Gentleman, the show contained far too many old chestnuts like the 1973 Hovis ad (once voted Britain's favourite in some poll) and Concorde, which was half French anyway. There were short clips of well known films like "Blow Up" (actually an international movie) and things the V & A was selling replicas of in its shop, like the Patrick Ryland fish toy - charming, but hardly an icon of modern design.

I also blinked at how sponsors Ernst and Young glossed over the demise of manufacturing - design culture had "moved from manufacturing to innovative financial, retail and creative services" they said.

So now we have post-industrial places like Stoke on Trent

photo: Geograph

and Middlesbrough (below) as exciting powerhouses of modern design? Er, not exactly.

Photo: Derelictplaces

In fact, not even powerhouses of creative financial design, whatever that is...

Afterwards, I bought a book at the museum shop and my purchase was put into a carrier bag printed with a vintage 1950s design representing "England". As you see it has a castle, some trees, a huntsman with a horn and a bloke in a top hat brandishing a whip.

So not sure I give a thumbs up to this rather unfocused show ... but we went with our brilliant National Art Pass and got in at a huge discount. And then we had a really excellent scone and cup of tea in the gorgeous Victorian cafe

And both of us felt much better for our visit to the V & A.

I have something to do this coming week, and I won't have much internet access so may not post again for a few days, but I'll try to enable the comments.


  1. I enjoyed seeing the meusem through your eyes. Agreed with you totally . . . what does it say about someone who commissions an art piece based on flaunting life style scandal?

    The tea and tea room looks delightful . . .

    Be well these next days while away . . .

  2. Maybe SCANDAL is funnier if you separate it from the story behind it - I generally object to older women portrayed like this, but the the double-chinned woman reminds me of someone used to I know, and I am shamefully delighted to see her lampooned!

    But Coventry Cathedral - I agree completely. It's a wonderful building, and that tapestry and the stained glass windows are inspiring!

  3. Your photos and commentary make it almost like being right there. Thank you for sharing this.

    The tea room is so beautiful! I imagine one could sit there and chat for hours.

    I do hope you and T are much better very soon.

  4. I enjoyed visiting the museum with you! Hope you both are feeling much better.

  5. I found the sculptures of the gossiping old ladies rather amusing. It's just true to life. I know plenty of old ladies who'll gossip till the cows come home, usually regarding themselves as highly superior to everyone else. I'm sure the gossips are much more unpleasant than the naked young lovers.

    Britain should never have given up on manufacturing - another of Mrs Thatcher's crazy ideas. There's a zillion things we could be successfully manufacturing. I gather the textile industry is having a revival, and is even competing well with China, which is facing rapidly rising labour costs.

  6. Scandal - what an interesting thing to stick on the mantlepiece!

    It's a long time since I went to Coventry Cathedral You're right, the style is out of fashion. Hopefully it won't stay so.

  7. It can be amazing what you see when you really look at things in detail. I'm fascinated by the head on Cromwell's breastplate and I'll certainly look at it closely when I next visit the V&A. One thing I learnt when I did a course about art is that something like that wouldn't be there without good reason. But what? The only thing I can think of is that the goddess Athena (or Minerva) had a breasplate with (by some accounts) the Gorgon's head, complete with snaky hair. If that's the analogy, this head should belong to a fearsome but vanquished enemy. I wonder if anyone knows if it represents a real person?

  8. Great pictures - I loved Scandal! And the bust of Cromwell - a very clever man who insisted on his portrait being painted "warts and all". I think I probably would have liked him :-) x

  9. How interesting the Scandal piece is, thanks for the detail of it! "We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen" D.H. Lawrence (Lady Chatterley's Lover)the old hags did have fine dress patterns going for them though! Amazing artwork! and I agree about keeping private things out of say the audience's attention during an evening play! I think we sat behind a pair of likeable jokers as well, that felt their own show during the play was necessary! Hardly people!So distracting! The lion's head on his shoulder is remarkable too! What a lovely museum to cheer up weary souls! Now I have to go back and finish reading your post! But I had to comment so far.... :)

  10. Oh my yes, what a lovely place to have a cup of tea and something sweet! For me it's not always about the food, but more about what I am seeing! Thanks for a great day at a museum so far from away from me!

  11. Thank you for another very interesting, entertaining and informative post, Jenny! You always manage to get across so much in one single post, I hardly know where to begin with my comment.
    What really made me smile were the captions you gave to the statues.

  12. I love your take on the art! And your photos of the architecture are wonderful. I left you a reply on my post about the Octo-Mom, in case you are interested in learning more about this strange and disturbing woman.

  13. That karoke statue was pretty funny!

    (and btw, and ARC is an advanced reader copy--before the real stuff comes out.) Thanks for stopping by my blog today!

  14. I love the V&A. I used to work a couple of days a week in London and tried to do the V&A one gallery at a time. I never managed it, of course. But at least I didn't try to force it all into one afternoon like so many tourists do.

    A couple of visits ago I went through the sculpture gallery taking photos of hands - and nothing else. It was huge fun!

  15. Isn't it strange how hit and miss exhibitions can be? Then again, sometimes I'm simply not in the mood or I am with the wrong people for a museum (which is to say I'd rather sit down and chat cosily with them than try focus on the exhibits!)

  16. Hope you’re both feeling a bit better.

    My first reaction on seeing Scandal (and especially the fire basket) was one of humour but then I agreed with you that the best way to defeat cattiness is not by more cattiness.

    I am fascinated by the face on Cromwell’s breast. Like you I have never been able to decide if he was a Good Thing or a Bad Thing (as per Sellars and Yeatman). I suspect he was both. But why show a gargoyle like mask on the breast of a man who hated idolatry? Most peculiar.

  17. I love the mantle pieces story! I found it so interesting especially since if it was made during the Victorian era, sex was a taboo topic to the extreme. Would I put it in my own house if I had room? Nope, but still enjoyed it!

  18. I so enjoy museums like this- thank you for taking us along! And I hope you both get to feeling better.

  19. Some shows will be stellar, some so-so, but all give some food for thought.

  20. I've been to London several times and have even driven past the V&A without making it inside. Now you've inspired me to put out more of an effort. I actually love Art Deco and don't see much scandalous in the piece with the two lovers, which reminds me of a modern version of Suzanna and the Elders. Glad you're feeling better.

  21. I always look forward to your posts. I'm learning and having a good time. Never thought that it would happen!

  22. Very interesting! I agree with your thoughts on Scandal. I found the sculptures fascinating. Thanks for the tour.

  23. Very enjoyable post. I'm not sure what to think about scandal, but I suppose rich people can afford to say to hell with every one in a brash way like this. I can only say it quietly.

  24. Yenny, that's fun to see a museum and I loved it, now when I see him go to a different light. Beautiful post. A huge hug and great week.

  25. Great tour. The Cromwell bust is quite compelling and I'm going to look for some analysis of it.

  26. What a fun place to visit! And as for Scandal - it is a good reminder that gossip mongers, scandalous behavior, and such have always been around as long as humans. Whenever I hear about "the good old days" - this kind of stuff reminds me that it really wasn't much different.

  27. I do like the God of Gardening; I could use him here to help with the monkeys :))

  28. I agree that Scandal is a bit of a petty lowering of oneself to the level of their detractors, while still being rather beautifully done.

    You've made me wonder if George Washington used Cromwell as a model for his own choices, or at least wanted to avoid some of his pitfalls. Washington would certainly have been aware of Cromwell, for good and ill.

  29. I'm sad to hear that you both haven't been feeling well. Glad you got out and about a bit. Some fresh air always helps me.

    I really liked the art you showed us; Esp. the one on Gossip and such. I have a passion to stop such talk whenever I can. I saw how it has hurt my son with Aspergers. People who didn't try to understanding him and only wanted to find fault caused a great deal of sorrow and even bullying. Sad and heartbreaking at times, that is for sure. I'm going to see if I can find a print of that display for frame in my office. Thanks for sharing and I hope you both are feeling much better, very soon!!

    Coreen XO

  30. LOL at you giving modern captions to old sculptures!

    And what a small world it is - my former boss is from Stoke on Trent.

  31. Your photos are fantastic!

    I'm glad you had such a marvelous time.

  32. Love the captions, I will steal that idea next time I get the for Scandal, I have mixed feelings. I love the idea of them mocking the gossips but also feel their actions are to garner attention thus creating more gossip, or at least feeding on the scandals they themselves create. Interesting, thought provoking post. Thanks- gives my brain a work out. :D

  33. First of all, I'm sorry you're both under the weather. But next, what better pick-me-upper than a museum visit. I completely enjoyed your highlights, including the re-interpretation of classical figures, and am left pondering as to what the symbolism meant on Cromwell's sculptural garb. I regret never having explored the V&A but hope to on a future trip to England.

  34. Gossipping has been a kind of pastime of people in every age. I don't know who were the Monds but it seems that this mantel piece was a counterattack to hash the noisy lot or to ignite another noise?
    The details of the clothes of Cromwell is interesting.
    The Victorian cafe looks so gorgeous. I'd like to have a coffee in such a place if I had a chance.

  35. Oh many things to see and make comment on.. We went to London, 1981 and our hotel was across from this V and A museum, but we missed it. Too late on our day of arrival, the close the other. Humph.. But thanks for the tour.

  36. I enjoyed your tour of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and it was especially delightful because I didn't have to cycle through damp, dreary weather to get there. I've never heard of the "Scandal", but it was a very whimsical way to put the gossips in their place!
    Great photos, as always!

  37. Love the Art Deco style of "Scandal" and the fire basket. Really quite beautiful. :)

    1. I have so enjoyed this post. It has been many years since I've been to the V & A and have decided it's a must for the near future -- possibly on Thursday when we will be paying a rare visit to London! I liked everything you wrote about, especially Scandal and Oliver Cromwell. What a strange portrait to have on his breast! I totally agree that he is a very difficult historical figure to like or dislike -- but I have always felt from what little I've read that he was incorruptible and that is surely to be admired in any day and age.

      Hope you both are now definitely on the mend and am looking forward to your next post!

  38. I love the V&A. We've definitely been having ideal museum-visiting weather!

  39. I enjoyed the museum tour - thank you! I'd never heard of the Monds - or their scandalous goings-on - but got the impression that they quite enjoyed being gossiped about. A bit like some of today's celebs! Hope the sculptor charged them a good price.

  40. What a thoroughly enjoyable blog post. After reading it and looking at all the photographs, I almost felt as though I had been there with you. Great blogging. And as for "Scandal", I love it.

  41. Hi, Jenny,
    Just discovered your travel site. It's very fun, and sort of subs for a trip to England. Looking forward to reading more.

  42. I like the main figures of Scandal very much but dislike the surrounding figures intensely. The main exhibition wouldn't have appealed to me greatly I'm afraid, innovations in modern design leave me cold with a few exceptions.I enjoyed your alternative captions though especially the Karaoke angels:) Hope you are both feeling much better now.

  43. Jagger was a great sculptor in my mind. Realism as opposed to much that is called sculpture elsewhere. The war affected him and made him seek truth, being wounded 3 times, winning the MC, and serving in some of the worst areas and surviving does that! At Hyde Park Corner stands his Royal Artillery monument. This caused a scandal as he included a dead man ion a stretcher. Some wanted it removed as they din't wish to see that. It's still there however.
    Cromwell is a strange man. Being a lower middle class yeoman farmer reveals some of his ideas to be Thatcher like! I am not sure whether he is good or bad.

  44. I hope the pair of you are over that bug. Nasty thing to have!

  45. Very enjoyable. I can’t get to the V&A these days so this was like a virtual tour.

  46. I like the singing angels. At first glance I thought they were sharing an ice cream cone!

  47. Ooooh, thank you, Jenny again! You know I love your posts :o) Thanks again! Love the angels and Scandal.
    Have a nice day

  48. I'm finally catching up with my favourite blogs after a fairly hectic week at work. Your alternative captions made be grin, Cromwell's face made me shudder, the tea and scones made me drool. ^^

    Hope you've both recovered completely!

  49. I hope both of you are feeling better.

    The Scandal artwork is interesting.

    And I literally ROFL on the karaoking angels. But if angles do sing at karaokes, at least we need not use earplugs whenever they sing! Unlike when some neighbours of mine!

  50. I've often found (if this speaks to your question, and I think it does) that those most in need of getting over themselves are those who tell others to get over themselves. As for the angels, they're quite hermaphroditic. I was somewhat surprised to see the jiggly bits.

    (OK, I'm not sure I added anything to the sum of human knowledge with this comment, but I did appreciate the tour. Thanks!)

  51. The old ladies in the “Scandal” are representatives of too traditional and too conservative people beyond time and space. There have been always someone who act against the norm of the society of the time and those who like to criticize, scandalize, and even ostracize the former. I see individualism versus collectivism. I’d like to have a cup of tea and scone at that Victorian café in person.


  52. I love your description of the V & A. It's missing these places which makes living now in New Zealand a little hard.

    I remember the Hovis ads of the 70s and 80s, my Mum always bought a Scottish Plain Loaf however, saying it was better for us being pure white. So the ad failed in its primary purpose of selling bread. We still enjoyed it though. Very sentimental.

    I workrd in Middlesborough in the 80s, and it was depressing even then. ICI was the biggest empoyer, the biggest chemical company in the British Empire, but it, like everything else in that area was crumbling.


    Mutatis mutandis.

  53. Enjoyed the tour Jenny, but so sorry to hear you're both a little under the weather. Hope you're well soon.

  54. fascinating rainy sure will be quite soon.....must get myself down the V&A and check this out!!

  55. I'm sorry you're both feeling unwell and hope you are on the mend. I. too, love the V&A so thanks for this post.

  56. what fun and interesting things to are fortunate to be able to cycle there!
    hope you are feeling better...
    have a great week.

  57. I watched the cat video you showed but I had to read the English subtitles to understand it, the accent on the French was so pronounced that I could barely understand it – it sounded like an American accent to me, someone who is not very good at speaking French! I am pleased you like cycling I do too but now with bad knees I don’t go on my bicycle anymore. I do keep the first 3 weeks of July off any travel plans as I stay at home and watch le Tour de France live. Having a cup of tea and scone in the Victorian café sounds like bliss.

  58. Yep, my tenpence worth is that I think the Mond's were a wee bit economical with the truth.
    They commissioned a panel showing a pair of lovers.
    Word on the street is that there were three involved...
    If you can't get the basics of the story right you're in real trouble.

  59. Gosh, fancy being able to cycle to the V and A - and have it as your sort of local museum. I love it too. I adore the Jewellery Department - have you seen that collection of sixty rings of all ages near the door as you go in? I also think it's got the best cafe in the whole of London - the scones are the lightest and fluffiest I've had anywhere.

  60. There's something very comforting about the V&A, isn't there? I often take myself off there when I'm feeling a little gloomy or under the weather, and never fail to leave feeling better. Interesting to read about the British Design exhibition - I'd been wondering about going, although it sounds like it might not be the finest of the V&A's recent exhibitions.

  61. You are cute for saying "bloke."
    My BFF's dad called me a duck and I thought it was the best. Her mom caused some problems when she asked for a cornet, duck at Dairy Queen. Her dad offered my dad a fag.My dad said that he liked him and all but he wasn't ready to take the next step.

  62. Where does one start? I started and realised that I was going down a road of no return on the subject of 'Scandal' so I've deleted it all. I have no problem with people doing their own thing in their own homes. I lived with my partner for some years and we never married. Friends who were kindness itself to us but who had strict church views would lambast others and ignore our 'faults'. I would ask why. Oddly they could never give me a satisfactory answer other than our situation was 'different'! Somehow I have a sneaking regard for the cocking a snook at society Scandal represents whilst at the same time thinking just how childish it was.

    Like most of your commenters I would say that Cromwell was both good and bad. Just like many a politician who has ever made such a contribution to society.

    Perhaps Ernst and Young should mull over the fact that without the Industrial revolution there would have been no Empire and Britain would have been bypassed and remained a poor country. Whatever one thinks of Empire with hindsight we would not be where we are today.......and all that!

  63. Excellent fireplace - I've only once managed a fleeting visit to the V&A. It certainly need some more attention.

    Thanks for drawing my attention to the Art Pass. It's borderline what it's value would be up here. I'm likely to visit one or two of the Scottish items and half price on at least a couple of exhibitions but already having my National Trust of Scotland and Historic Scotland (Scottish version of English Heritage) memberships, it's starting to add up to get another. Certainly it would be worthwhile if I was travelling about a bit more in the whole country again.

  64. Cromwell....shudder.....a distant relative was his personal religious advisor. That face on his chest gives me chills.

  65. Oh, poor old gossiping ladies! Did they forget their youth when they had had burning passion in their heart or they had been gossiped by someone else? Are they creating scandal for gossiping?

  66. Sorry you've been ill. Hope you're feeling better now.

    What an interesting museum display! Thanks for sharing.

  67. JENNY et les autres..

    LE scandale cache un autre grand scandale trés made in Scotland.. n'est pas Jenny?

    Mais.. si de cooking on the rocks is the zum thema.. erreur, erreur, erreur! and darknight.. vite, please! dejen de enloquecer y pisen con realidades y no mentiras, hay mucha mucha mentira en todo esto! VERONICA

  68. Thanks for the wonderful tour Jenny - love the gossiping old ladies - they remind me of me! :o]

    Anna :o]

  69. Ah, well, it takes me a while and I may tackle this commenting in two goes, but people DID say some very interesting things which deserve a response. So here goes....

    Jo, I too have encountered women like these,and do agree that even though one doesn't like to see this kind of lampooning of women, there is something rather satisfying about these portrayals. To me they show what a splendid bit of work the sculpture is, that we can relate it to our own lives so well. It doesn't make me love the self satisfied Monds any more though! And ohh, HyperCRYPTIcal, I am sure you are much more good natured than them (the ladies). :)

    Nick, I think there's a whole political question about manufacturing, too, highlighted by Beecroft's report (which was interestingly taken apart on R4's More Or Less by the way). Do you complete by hammering workers like Apple does in China, or by creating good conditions in which they feel valued?

    Dominic R, I am glad someone agrees about Coventry Cathedral.

    Roger T,when looking at Cromwell's decoration I thought of Medusa too. I think you could be right. But WHY is it there?

    Zhoen, I had not thought of the connection between Cromwell and Washington. And yet I should have because I am always in favour of remembering that history was just real life in a different era, NOT some costume drama where people did historical stuff in a vacuum.

    Velvet over Steel, I specially hate gossips when they are spiteful about people with conditions they cannot help, in fact it makes me see red. HOpe you found a copy of the image to put in your office.

    Yes, Oldgraymare, I think it was attention seeking, Hit the nail on the head.

    Cosmos and others who have commented on the cafe, it really IS gorgeous, and well worth trying to get a seat in . The restaurant is often very crowded and it is clear that the Victorians who built the V & A had no concept of the numbers of hungry folk they would be catering for!

    Mary, next time, hope you get to visit.

    Broad, did you make it to London?

    I think this comment is long enough so will continue in another one.

    Interesting quote from D H Lawrence, Karen, don't remember it but then it is a very long time since I read the book. And DHL is another subject I could wax eloquent upon....

    AJ, interesting project taking pictures of hands, I think one could get a few surprises. And hands are always particularly hard to copy, despite their expressiveness.

    Suzanna and the Elders, Stephen. That is a good take on the sculpture.

    Oh, Braja, how I could do with a god of gardening, too. Specially one who really had it in for those things that make leaves curl on plum trees :)

  70. I'm getting in a thorough tangle with this lengthy comment, but I'll persevere

    Adullamite, I was very interested to read the background of Jagger. I have looked up more of his work and find myself wondering why the Monds commissioned him to do this piece. He made a great job of it, but most of his work was military.

    Lina, laughed at your commment !

    Suldog at first I did a double take on your comment, wondering if it was about me. Aagh! Then I realised it was about other people, phew that's ok then. It IS true though :)

    Stardust, I am sure these gossips exist in every time and place. The desire to drag others down is universal, and I am just glad that better human qualities are also universal.

    Twisted Scottish Bastard (love the name) I was never that crazy on Hovis myself. I like the later ads when the little boy gradually runs through time ending up in modern days.

    Vagabnode, I suspected the French was not spoken with a good accent. I can't speak it with a good accent myself but I can hear when someone else is doing it wrong ....

    On to the next comment box before I get snarled up with this one too, like the one above which got split into two in the wrong place haha

  71. Macy, your comment is spot on isn't it!!! I think this hypocrisy is another thing that bugs me about the Monds. (Okay, I am sure if I had met them I'd have thought they were charming. But -!)

    No, Biddy, I haven't seen the rings and actually its really ages since I have seen the jewellery department. I'll earmark that for the next visit. Thanks for reminding me.

    I entirely agree with you, Accidental Londoner, that the V & A is comforting. I might have said that my impossible dream would be to have a little apartment actually IN the museum so I could always have something wonderful to look at if I ever felt blue.

    SonyaAnn, if you think "bloke" is cute wait till you hear me bid you "Cheerio". Some American friends just cracked up when we innocently said that to them when departing.

    GB, it's interesting that you found people disapproving for living together. Even some years ago in London nobody would have raised an eyebrow, so I wonder if that could be a Scottish island thing - or if it would have been the same in a rural corner of England.

    Sandy, one thing I do find is that the Art Pass rather discourages me from getting membership of galleries. But then they might be their own worst enemies for putting the prices up so much in a time of austerity. For instance I considered getting Tate membership (1 plus guest)and it was nearly £100. It really and truly wasn't worth it. I was sorry that I wouldn't be able to use that splendid restaurant at the top of Tate Modern any more but it wasn't worth all that extra money when taking the Art Card into consideration.

    Mybabyjohn, it must be something to have had a relative be religious adviser to Cromwell. How fascinating, actually, and I wonder if they left you any family papers. Wow...


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