ART AND WRITINGS OF ELLEN GASKELL’S HUSBAND GEORGE ARTHUR GASKELL
GEORGE ARTHUR GASKELL
Not to be confused with the American Professor George A Gaskell, born 1844. See the V&A catalogue at www.vam.ac.uk/nal which has William E Henning’s, An Elegant Hand: the Golden Age of American Penmanship and Calligraphy published 2002, about Professor Gaskell and others.
UPDATE JULY 2021
Thanks are due for this update to Grace Newton, who contacted me a shameful amount of time ago after inheriting a work by George Arthur Gaskell. She couldn’t find the painting (or it may be a print) in the list below, so she sent me a photo of it. I hadn’t come across it before so I was glad to add it to the small number of works by Gaskell that I know about. It didn’t have a title, so Grace suggested ‘Collecting Shells’.
GEORGE AS AN ARTIST
Most art websites persist with DOB and DOD of 1871-1900, which they ought to have worked out for themselves are quite ridiculous. The dates must originally have been ‘fl’ dates because they fit reasonably well with the dates of paintings exhibited by George at the major art galleries.
This seems to be his earliest known work: seen at website askart and at www.arcadja.com where there were more details:
1873 Portrait of a Rabbi Holding a Book. Oil. Signed and dated. Last sold Bonhams San Francisco 2009. According to www.mutualart.com the price it fetched in 2010 was $10,000.
Some online lists of George’s later works, with some paintings listed several times and others only once.
Website www.askart.com had this list of works by George in a list of recently-sold paintings:
1874 Checking for Thorns
1894 Playing on a Breakwater
Child playing on (sic) a beach
1897 Ladies playing in the sea
Maidens stranded on the beach
are these 2 titles actually the same painting?
1900 The Cat Cradle
1901 Tea time
no date The Parasol
1910 Washing the Plant
At a list www.artnet.com some of the same works have slightly different titles
1874 Checking for Thorns. Pencil and watercolour; dated.
1875 He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. Oil; dated.
1894 Playing at (sic) a Breakwater.
1900 The Cat’s Cradle. Watercolour and bodycolour; dated.
1910 Cleaning the Rubber Plant. Watercolour; dated.
Website www.artrenewal.org had
1897 Rising Spring. Had a ‘last sold’ date of 2002; now in a private collection.
Website www.invaluable.co.uk had
1897 Ladies Playing in the Sea. Watercolour. Signed and dated.
1901 Time for Tea. Watercolour. Last sold at Bonhams Knightsbridge 2001.
A work not known either from contemporary exhibitions, or from later sales. It has been owned by the same family for many years and may have been a commission.
1901 given name of Collecting Shells June 2021 by Grace Newton, the current owner.
Either a print or a painting. No title; signed and dated bottom right. No sign
that it had ever been exhibited.
This seems to be George’s last known work, seen at www.arcadja.com but with more details at www.christies.com
1910 A Basket of Lilac signed “G A Gaskell 1910". Sold July 2010 for £875.
Website www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings lists four paintings definitely by him and three attributed to him. They are all portraits and were all painted in the late 1880s. The sitters were all male; none of them have any connections with the GD that I know of. All the paintings roughly same size and in oils so they may have formed a set. All seven are now in the collections of the Bradford Museums and Art Galleries. The four definitely by George are:
* Abraham Holroyd. Accession number: 4/1887.
* Benjamin Watson. Accession number: 6/1887, donated by the artist.
* James Hanson. Accession number: 7/1887, donated by the artist.
* William Byles. Accession number: 5/1911, donated by F G Byles.
The three probably by George, though clearly not signed as such, have only recently been found in the museum’s basement. All the sitters are men; none of them have been identified. They are all dated 1887. Accession numbers: 2007-025; 2007-025; 2007-039.
Mentions of George in the standard reference works; which don’t always agree!
The Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1940 gets its listings from contemporary exhibition catalogues. On p194 George Arthur Gaskell with fl dates 1885-1900. Painter of figures and domestic scenes. Addresses: Bradford 1885; Brighton 1894; London 1897. Works exhibited: 3 at the Royal Society of Artists Birmingham; 4 at the Walker Art Gallery Liverpool; 3 at Manchester City Art Gallery; 4 at the Royal Academy; 1 at the Royal Society of British Artists.
Dictionary of British Art volume IV Victorian Painters 1: The Text. By Christopher Wood for the Antique Collectors’ Club 1995 p188 George Arthur Gaskell w fl dates 1871-1900. Exhibited 10 works at the Royal Academy between 1871 and 1900. The titles of 2 of them are given, neither of which figure in any of the online lists of his works: A Young Archer; and See My Kitties! Also exhibited at the Society of British Artists 1872-93. Based: London
George’s exchange of letters with Darwin: see the University of Cambridge’s web pages at www.darwinproject.ac.uk but I got my details from A Calendar of the Correspondence of Charles Darwin editors Frederick Burkhardt, Sydney Smith and David Kohn. 1994. Catalogue numbers
- 11744 to Darwin from George Gaskell 13 November 1878
- 11745 is Darwin’s reply written at Down 15 November 1878
- 11752 a reply from George to Darwin 20 November 1878.
George had two letters published in The Malthusian, the magazine of the Malthusian League. I haven’t found evidence that he was actually a member of it, but I imagine he was.
- letter of 26 January 1879 printed in the issue of 2 March 1879
- letter published in the issue of March 1884 when George was living in Bradford, commenting favourably on a recent issue of the Bradford Observer in which a decline in the death-rate in the city was interpreted as the result of use of birth control.
George subsequently wrote two pamphlets for the Malthusian League - The Cry of the Poor, on sale by October 1884; and Social Control of the Birth-rate and Endowment of Mothers, on sale by June 1891. A prime mover in The Malthusian League was Dr C R Drysdale who had strong connections with the British Vegetarian Society, some of whose members advocated birth control via chastity, rather like Ellen Gaskell did.
Eugenics Review volume 21 April 1929-January 1930 published quarterly for the Eugenics Society by Macmillan and Co. Eugenics Review volume 21 number 3 issue of October 1929 p238 in the letters section: George writing from 8 Parkmore Terrace, Dyke Road Drive Brighton,
querying a review by Marie Stopes which had appeared in the ER’s July issue. On pp238-39 was her reply.
George’s last work was A New Theory of Heredity published London: C W Daniel and Co 1931 and reviewed in Quarterly Review of Biology volume 6 1931 p350.
Modern mentions of George’s views on eugenics:
The Origins and Growth of the English Eugenics Movement 1865-1925 by Lyndsay Andrew Farrall. New York and London: Garland Publishing Inc 1985.
Demography and Degeneration: Eugenics and the Declining Birth-rate in 20th Century Britain by Richard A Soloway. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press 2nd edition 1995. This mentions a reply to George’s first letter in The Malthusian, made by Edward Aveling (see wikipedia for more on him). Aveling was a member of The Malthusian League, as was Annie Besant for a while before she discovered theosophy; so George may have known both of them.
GEORGE AND WESTERN ESOTERICISM
Theosophical Review volume 30, March-August 1902; edited by Annie Besant and G R S Mead: p33 begins George’s article: Green Spiritual Philosophy.
George’s denunciation of the current leadership of the Theosophical Society was published as a pamphlet: Exeunt Mahatmas! London: Watts and Co 1907.
Books by George:
The Gospel Drama: Its Symbolism and Interpretation original edition published under the pseudonym John Mysticus; later editions published under the correct name. Published 1916 by C W Daniel.
There was a real person called John Mysticus:
The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus and His Reign by Steven Runciman. Published Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1963; p68 in chapter Romanus’s Government at Home: in 925, John Mysticus was appointed successor to John the Rector as a minister at Romanus’ court.
Muslim Perceptions of Other Religions by Jacques Waardenburg. Published New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press 1999; p132 in the chapter Mediaeval Times: John Mysticus probably met the historian and geographer al-Masudi in Damascus in 946. Al-Masudi wrote of him as a monk by training, very learned and “rather familiar with their [philosophical] systems” - by which he meant the philosophy of Greece and Rome.
The Archetypal Man: As Foreshadowing a New Scripture Exegesis published 1922 Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Fenwick and Wade. This was reviewed in Occult Review volume 40 number 1 July 1924 p64 by regular reviewer H S Redgrove. It consisted of two essays, one trying to reconcile the concept of the archetypal man with modern science; and one arguing that as all sacred myths contain a hidden symbolic meaning, readers should not concern themselves too much with detail.
A Dictionary of the Sacred Language of All Scriptures and Myths. Published 1923, London: George Allen and Unwin. It got a rather disaparaging review by T Besterman, in Occult Review volume 38 number 4 issue of October 1923 p253: he disliked it on several grounds, but mainly that it was difficult to use as a reference work; and fell between two stools being not really a dictionary because it didn’t define things; nor an encyclopaedia because it didn’t explain things. George objected to Besterman’s criticisms and his riposte was published in Occult Review volume 38 number issue of 5 November 1923 p303.
Finally a series of books all published by C W Daniel:
Genesis Interpreted Through Undermeanings Disclosed by the Language of Symbolism published 1925. This was reviewed in Occult Review volume 41 number 6 June 1925 p398 by the regular reviewer identified only as “E.M.M.” who described the results of George’s years of study as: a conviction that “all Scriptures are written in a common symbolic language of cosmic origin and contain a common universal wisdom”; and a belief that Jesus had not been an historical person but something George called “the indwelling Saviour of the Soul”.
George’s letter The Gospel Story as Allegory was published in Occult Review volume 41 number 3 March 1925: pp186-87. In it he argued that it wasn’t necessary to reject large parts of the Bible as “incredible” provided that you took its stories as allegory not history.
Egyptian Scriptures Interpreted through the Language of Symbolism published 1926. This was reviewed in Occult Review volume 43 number 5 May 1926 pp 354-55 by long-serving reviewer and contributor Regina Miriam Bloch who was more positive than either Redgrove or Besterman about George’s work, describing it as “valuable spadework” in its attempt to “elucidate the universal meanings” of ancient Egyptian texts.
Gnostic Scriptures Interpreted published 1927.
Hellenic Scriptures Interpreted published 1930.
Copyright SALLY DAVIS
24 February 2015
1 August 2021
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