BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Armistice and the Aftermath: The Story in Art’

84. ARMISTACE AND ART

BOOK REVIEW

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  The Armistice and the Aftermath: The Story in Art

Author:  John Fairley

Total Number of Pages: 192

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7½

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When describing this volume’s content,  a note on its dustjacket states that ‘…The Armistice and the Aftermath…brings together in one book a superb collection of the most epic paintings of the [World War I] era. The result, with informed and perceptive commentary is a unique record of those momentous days…’ It is an accurate summary of what is to follow.

The volume consists of 40 Chapters, these appearing immediately after the two page Contents section. There are none of the usual introductory sections one would expect to find within such a volume as this. While each Chapter nominally contains at least one full-page art work, in at least one instance (The Wartime Leaders, Chapter Forty), the image is out of sequence and appears before the section rather than within it. As it loses a certain relevance by doing-so, the reasons for this ‘displacement’ are unknown. While the majority of art works within the volume are from British, French or American artists, pieces by German artists also appear. The works displayed are in a variety of media, and are accompanied by an informative narrative. By this means, the reader is taken through the last year of the War, the first years of the Peace, while being introduced to important individuals, groups and occasions while so-doing. Where appropriate to the narrative, eyewitness descriptions also appear. It must however be noted that in some instances (and again for unknown reasons), the author of this volume does not consider it necessary to specifically name each plate within the text which accompanies it. In such situations he prefers to allude to it rather than name it specifically. Chapter 12 (Peace in the Mediterranean) is a case in point. Although four images appear within that Chapter, at no time are they specifically named; referred-to certainly, but not actually named. In addition, in several instances, the images that appear within a specific Chapter are not even mentioned within the text that supposedly relates to them.  They are instead used as vehicles to present the artist’s thoughts on the events which prompted their eventual creation. The images of HMS Mantis on the Tigris and The Navy at Baghdad  which appear in Chapter 11 (Peace in the Middle East), are but two such examples of this practice. Neither image is mentioned within the text, but the wartime reminiscences of their creator (David Maxwell) are. On the basis of the above, a reader expecting a detailed description of the individual images and their creation is likely to be disappointed. Most, but not all, of the images are captioned, the information provided tending-to consist of the individual piece’s title and the name of the creating artist. It was however noted there were several exceptions to this rule. An Appendix (The Armistice Terms) follows Chapter 40. Its title is self-explanatory. The Appendix is in turn followed by the volume’s final section titled Picture Credits. The title is self-explanatory but while naming the sources of the images, it also lists the pages within the volume on which they appear. This book contains neither Maps nor Index, and aside from the previously-mentioned Picture Credits section, the Contents pages contain no mention of those images which appear within the volume. Numerous unsourced Quotes appear throughout the work. Without supporting citations, their authenticity is inevitably under question; they might just as well be imaginary. A Glossary would have been of value: what for instance is Post Expressionist Painting (page 169)?

While this is a most-informative volume, for this reviewer it is let down by the total absence of an Index. As a result, a reader has no way of knowing which artists and individuals are mentioned within the book; which artistic works are represented, which geographical locations are mentioned, or which military actions have been recorded or commented-on. In the absence of such information, he believes it is both unreasonable and time-consuming to expect a reader to have to search through the volume’s 192 pages in a possibly-fruitless attempt to locate a specific individual, piece of art, geographical location or event. In his opinion this is a major failing, which serves to significantly-reduce the volume’s usefulness. The lack of Maps is also unhelpful as it gives a reader neither context nor location for the events mentioned within the narrative. Although the lack of citations for Quotes has been previously-mentioned, the presence of undefined terms is also unhelpful. What (for example) is ‘…The local Murdoch newspaper (page 165)? Who / what, was ‘Murdoch’? Why is he / it associated with a newspaper? In the absence of clarifying detail, such a statement is, at minimum, baffling, and to many, the reasons being unexplained, probably totally incomprehensible.

As the focus of this volume is on art, the works appearing within its pages are likely to be of interest to aficionados of such matters, while Historians and ‘Generalist’ readers with an interest in World War I may also find it of interest. As they portray contemporary military machinery, it is also possible that military modellers might find some of the images useful as reference material.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7½.

It should have been much higher.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Armistice and the Aftermath: The Story in Art’

Book Review: ‘Narrow Gauge Railway Stamps’*

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Narrow Gauge Railway Stamps*

Author: Howard Piltz

Total Number of Printed Pages: 64

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 6

* The title is disputed

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The Introduction to this work contains a subsection titled Coming Together with Works of Art. Within the latter, the author notes ‘…That in stamps one could find the wonderful combination of transport history told within a glorious gallery of miniature works of art’. It is a fair summation of what is to follow.

An Introduction appears behind the Contents page. Within the former the author uses subsections to provide details about himself; the reasons behind the creation of the work and the volume’s format and content. An interpretation of relevant philatelic terms is also given.  Confusingly (and at a point seven pages into the Introduction section) a separate four page section titled Narrow Gauge Railways appears. Bearing the page numbers 13 – 16, it is in turn followed by pages 17-20 of the Introduction section. As the Contents page indicates that a section titled Narrow Gauge Railways starts on page 13 and is in turn followed by another section titled The British Isles on page 20, some confusion results. The volume contains no Chapters per se’. There are instead nine un-numbered Sections (including the Introduction) which fulfil that function. Six of these Sections form the focus of the volume. Placed in its centre, these are arranged in respect of geographical land masses, with The British Isles, Asia and The Americas being but three such examples. Subsections within each geographical area name specific nations, provide images of their stamps, then precis’ their postal history and that of their railway systems. A final section (titled Collecting) is placed at the rear of the volume. This discusses the rationale behind stamp collecting (albeit with a focus on the specific topic of Railway stamps), and is accompanied by a subsection titled Looking after Stamps, the latter’s title being self-explanatory. No Index, Bibliography or Maps appear within the book. As one would expect, the volume is illustrated by images of all sorts of trains on postage stamps. The range is wide and includes examples from all parts of the globe and both ‘working’ units and those that have been preserved. Some stamps appear individually, some as part of a larger set. With one exception (on page 25) none are captioned and the Contents page carries no mention of their existence.

Regrettably, if asked to describe this volume on one word, this reviewer would have to say ‘Confused’. In addition to the previously-noted ‘Insertion’ of one section within another, the author of this volume is seemingly unable to decide its purpose. Is it a book about stamps? Is it one about trains, horses (as per the image appearing on page 25), or is it in fact something else – and if so, what? To compound this ‘difficulty’, the volume also appears to have an alternative title, albeit one which may in fact hint at its actual purpose. While both the Cover and Title pages state unequivocally that the volume is called Narrow Gauge Railway Stamps, the Page Header on the left-hand (even) pages throughout the volume inform the reader that the title is in fact Narrow Gauge Railway Stamps – a Collector’s Guide. Which is correct? There is no way to know, although the reviewer suspects that the Header-title may be the more accurate of the two available options. The images of pristine envelopes, First Day Covers and proof blocks of stamps with which the volume is illustrated would seem to reinforce the possibility.  The lack of both an Index and a Map also adds to the confusion; the reader having to both guess where specific nations actually might be, while having no certainty that they have even been included within the work. Readers seeking images of specific trains are similarly doomed to what could be ultimately-fruitless searching. Railway ‘Enthusiasts’ interested in technical specifications or seeking a ‘learned treatise’ on motive power etc. will also be disappointed.  And the previously-mentioned, horse?  Apparently a winner of an ‘English’ horse race (the ‘Grand National’) in 1983, it was named after a lighthouse located at Corbiere on the island of Jersey (appearing as a background within the stamp). Although Corbiere was the terminus of a now-extinct narrow gauge railway, the connection between animal and railway is (at best), very tenuous.

Although Philatelists are its primary focus, readers interested in the more exotic permutations of ‘trains’, may also find it of interest, with even children perhaps getting pleasure from viewing Thomas’ relatives. Despite the images being stamp-centred, readers who just want ‘nice’ pictures of trains might also find it worthy of their attention. Artists with an interest in ‘Things railway’, might also find the volume a useful resource.

On a Rating Scale where Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 6.

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Book Review: ‘Narrow Gauge Railway Stamps’*

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Ashley Jackson: The Yorkshire Artist. A Lifetime of Inspiration Captured in Watercolour’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Ashley Jackson: The Yorkshire Artist. A Lifetime of Inspiration Captured in Watercolour

Author: Ashley Jackson

No. of Pages: 156

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 9

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In this volume’s Introduction, the author writes the following: ’The Yorkshire moors have always pulled at my inner world …I can honestly say I have grown deeper in love with her. For she is a woman to me; with her soft and wild nature, the perfumed scent of heather blowing around you and her voice; the wind blowing in your face. How can you not paint her beauty when she enthrals you?’ A beautiful book, about a beautiful part of England, by an artist who is in totally besotted with his subject. As a visual declaration of his adoration, it can have few peers.

The work opens with a Forward, this being placed behind the Contents page. A Dedication follows, and is in turn followed by a Preface by the author’s daughter who has acted as complier and motivator for the volume. An Introduction follows. Within it the author sets-out his rationale for the book. The 62 colour plates which comprise the bulk of the volume then follow. Although they are originally watercolour, they have reproduced well and convey the many moods of the moors and their environs. These images are placed on the odd-numbered pages within the section, with the image’s title, description and several lines of interpretative text appearing on the opposite (even numbered) page of the work. Where necessary, photographs also accompany this narrative. The author is rightly considered to be a local treasure and unsurprisingly, the object of media attention. Within this volume, this takes the form of two pages of colour photographs in the centre of the book where-in three photographs show the artist at work while being photographed by a television crew. All concerned are in wet weather gear and sheltering under umbrellas, reinforcing the narrative that only the most ardent lover would pursue such a path in his adoration for his subject. A four-page Biography that commences on page 140 uses both photographs and text to provide background to the author’s life and artistic endeavours. It is followed by a section titled  Final Words from Ashley, within which the author pays tribute to his wife, accompanying this with a painting which above all the others holds special significance in that relationship. An Index of Paintings is place after that section. Surprisingly, this is not a list of the paintings appearing within the volume (the latter appearing on the Contents page). It is rather a list of pieces that are ‘Available to View in the Gallery’, and which may presumably be purchased at that location. The final section of this volume is titled Appendix. Within it are listed various important dates in the artist’s career, Television programmes which have featured or included him and  lists of books that he has either published or which are concerned with his art. The Appendix also includes n awards sub-section (termed Accolades). This lists academic and social awards bestowed upon the author in recognition of his status as an artist of the Yorkshire moors. A separate list appears on the final page. Titled Photograph Credits, its title is self-explanatory.

On several pages, and in addition to the explanatory texts, the author has included personal thoughts relating to the specific painting being viewed. It should be noted that the volume contains no maps of either Yorkshire itself or Great Britain. This is an omission which this reviewer finds odd, believing that it may limit the volume’s usefulness and confine sales to only those who know the area intimately. Foreign readers (and even those within the greater United Kingdom), looking to find the location of the paintings (and perhaps to even visit them), may find the lack frustrating. Finally, only the odd-numbered pages of the volume have been allocated numbers. The reasons for this are not known.

As previously noted, this is a beautiful book. The details listed above notwithstanding, this volume will undoubtedly appeal to all and any native of Yorkshire, irrespective of where they may be located; it says ‘Home’ in a way that only they will understand. The quality of the images may also appeal to those who appreciate fine art and unique water-colours. Students of meteorology may also find the depictions of Moor weather to be of interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume 9.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Ashley Jackson: The Yorkshire Artist. A Lifetime of Inspiration Captured in Watercolour’