Whew, having been behind (thank you for the comment Angela, it helped me feel better about being behind!) – I am now going to play catch-up. Are you ready for this? This week’s theme is Letters – as in ones you write to other people and mail. So without further ado, here are the first five images!
I found this fun image on Wiki Commons. It is the envelope of a letter mailed from the Papal States in 1857. In 1857, Italy was not a unified country – it was a number of different city-states ruled by different counts and dukes. Among these were the Papal States, which were under direct rule by the Pope. Italian unification was a long process – though most of it was accomplished by 1871, when Rome became the capital, and the Pope was reduced to directly ruling only Vatican City – which remains a country separate from and surrounded completely by Rome / Italy. All of the states that now form modern Italy were not completely unified until after WWI, and during the inter-war period of 1918-1939 and through WWII, what constituted the state of Italy was in flux.
Next we have a letter, now in the Library of Congress, from the famed (American) Civil War photographer Mathew Brady (who has only one ‘T’ in his name rather than the more common two ‘T’s). Although Brady had previously photographed Lincoln, he did not get a chance to do so as result of this letter. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865. The person to take the last photograph of Lincoln was Alexander Gardner, who photographed the President just four days before he was killed. Gardner had previously worked for Brady from 1856-1862, but by the time of the President’s death had established his own studio.
Continuing on the theme of letters, we come to postage stamps. After all, they are needed to mail the letters! Since we were just talking about Mathew Brady photographing Lincoln, I decided on this stamp. It was issued in 1869 by the U.S. Post Office for 90 cents (for mailing packages rather than letters but hopefully you will let that part slide!). It features an engraving of Lincoln based on one of the photographs Brady took of the President. I found the image of the stamp on Wikimedia Commons.
Next we have an illustration by Sir John Tenniel for the first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1836-1898). This particular copy of the picture comes from an 1898 edition but the illustration was originally made in 1865 for the first edition. Tenniel carved the originals on wood blocks, for woodblock printing. The original blocks are now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England.
The Alice illustrations (including those for the sequel Through the Looking Glass) remain Tenniel’s best known works (and heavily influenced Tim Burton’s 2010 film adaptation). However, he had a long career as a cartoonist for the British political / satirical magazine Punch. He worked for Punch from 1850 until his retirement in 1901. In fact, after Though the Looking Glass, he did no further book illustrations. By the 1890s he was so successful that he was earning the equivalent of $7000 a year producing weekly cartoons for Punch. That may not sound like much, but in today’s money it would be equivalent to an annual salary of about $165,000 – just for weekly cartoons. In the course of his career at Punch, he produced over 2500 cartoons and other illustrations for Punch and Punch’s Pocket Books.
Tenniel was honored with knighthood by Queen Victorian in 1893 “as a national treasure and for his public service”. It was the first time an illustrator or cartoonist was so honored, and his knighting elevated the social standing of illustrators in general in the eyes of British society.
And last today we have a painting by John Wright of Derby (1734-1797) of a young woman reading a letter by candlelight. I’m not sure what is upsetting the young man looking over her shoulder, but the woman is clearly pleased with the letter. Maybe it is a love letter and the young man is the young woman’s older brother? Who knows. One could probably weave a number of stories from this picture.
I especially like how the artist illuminated his subjects, by making point of view from directly in front of the woman. To read the letter, she must hold it on the other side of the candle from herself, and from where the viewer “sits” the letter is between them and the candle. Thus we only see the light of the candle filtered through the letter’s paper and reflected in the faces of the two people.
John Wright was primary a landscape and portrait artist, though he did do some ‘story-telling’ canvases – like The Alchemist in Search of the Philosopher’s Stone. I think Girl Reading a Letter by Candlelight is one of his best paintings.
To see or download any of these images at full-size, please click on the image.
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