Gothic at the Gott 3 – Dark Corridors

Posted by Dr David Annwn Jones on May 30, 2015 in Uncategorized tagged with , , , , ,

They lived for days at a time in the little universe of the engravings for Strange’s book – and these were very odd things indeed. They showed great corridors built more of shadows than any thing else. Dark openings in the walls suggested other corridors so that the engravings appeared to be of the inside of a labyrinth […] There were drawings of a vast dark moor

This is a description of Minervois and Forcalquier’s dark Piranesi-inspired engravings from Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004), the TVseries version of which is currently airing on the BBC:

Some of the dark landscapes of these engravings are also strongly reminiscent of those depicted in prints at the Gott. Again renewing the close association of Northern England and Yorkshire with the Gothic, the BBC shot many scenes from Jonathan Strange in St John’s, Wakefield, only a few streets from the Hepworth.

Clarke and M.R. James have both understood the strong links between engravings and the forbidden: black magic,  usurpation, ‘antient’ grudges and horror. James’s ‘The Mezzotint’ is a remarkable story and his crawling figure of encroaching nemesis, Gawdy, an unforgettable creation yet it is the title’s engraving itself ‘nearly the exact duplicate of it may be seen in a good many old inn parlours, or […] in the passages of undisturbed country mansions at the present moment’, which seems the main site of evil in the story. A weight of dark menace seems inherent in the fact that Mr Arthur Francis, the manor’s interloper owner, is the amateur engraver who originally produced the mezzotint subsequently in Williams’s possession. The making of the print was designed, we are meant to conclude, to consolidate Francis’s ownership of and succession to the estate but, in fact, it bears uncanny witness to the destruction of his bloodline.

It is partly this tension: the roles of these engravings of ruins, halls, churches and castles in conflicting histories of ownership, political power, succession and rule which makes the prints of the Gott collection so thoroughly Gothic in atmosphere, as Gothic in their own ways as Henry Fuseli’s drawings or Johann Wilhelm Meil’s engravings or the engravings of bluebooks and Penny Dreadfuls.

Looking down the hill from that stately residence in green Hanover Square and over the river to his factory at Armley Mills, William Gott could never have imagined the future home of his collection in a great new gallery dedicated to a sculptors’ work but, being himself a keen patron of the arts, he would have appreciated such a connection.

William Gott’s mansion, Hanover Square, Leeds

It is part of the Gott’s strength that it is open to all: a section of a working gallery, not shut away in the wing of a library. Additionally, if the experiences of M.R. James’s collector of prints has not dissuaded intrepid Gothicists, visitors can  buy beautiful, hand-mounted versions of  several of the prints in the collection from the Hepworth gallery shop, including one of Kirkstall Abbey.

Label for the prints on sale

Such a location for the Gott collection additionally also makes new connections possible. Over April and May 2015, the Calder Gallery, one of the Hepworth’s adjacent display spaces, hosted ‘The Follies of Youth’, an exhibition featuring new works by emerging artists, writers and curators in response to Capability Brown’s ‘lost’ West Yorkshire landscapes which were created over the same period as the engravings in the Gott. A number of artists held workshops as part of this display, including Carol Sorhaindo who derives ‘drawings, dyes and marks’ from botanical specimens ‘to explore theories of identity, trade and ruin.’

Carol Sorhaindo at the Calder Gallery, the Hepworth

Gothic spaces and silences come to mind in watching Carol work: in our discussion, we mentioned the legacy of slavery, the textile trade and empire, and the West Indian Gothic. In a wall display at Carol’s side, there are quotations from the New Arcadian Journal edited by Patrick Eyres, perhaps the contemporary writer who has most steadfastly brought new scrutiny to bear on the political and architectural associations of the wealthy estates of 18th century Britain.

The Gott’s Gothic legacy lingers on in other ways too. William Gott’s Armley Mills factory complex is now Leeds Industrial Museum, an institution which hosts art exhibitions and houses amongst its exhibits a number of impressive 19th century magic lanterns, one of them a boldly lettered as a ‘PHANTASMAGORIA’.

It was the showman Philipsthal who first coined this grand word to refer to his own frightening magic lantern spectacles, (a forerunner of all horror films). Philipsthal travelled through Europe in the early 1790s   terrorizing unsuspecting audiences with his projections.   Starting in 1799, E.-A. Robertson, Philipsthal’s rival,  set up his lantern-of-fear show in the setting of a Capucine convent in Paris.  These activities also recall the Marquis de Sade’s famous words in reviewing a clutch of English Gothic novels by Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis:

these new novels in which sorcery and phantasmagoria constitute practically the entire merit

Like the engravings in the Gott collection, the magic lantern was, it seems, Gothic through-and-through.

Engraving from E.-A. Robertson’s depiction of his Phantasmagoria at the Capucine convent

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