Hodgkin at Eton

Venice Evening

Venice Evening, by Howard Hodgkin (1995). Courtesy artist’s estate and Alan Cristea Gallery, London.

On 9 March 2017, the artist Howard Hodgkin died in a London hospital. One of the most significant and influential painters of his generation, Hodgkin is also the most celebrated of the many distinguished Old Etonian artists. His first retrospective, curated by Nicholas Serota, was held at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, in 1976. In 1984, he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale and in the following year won the Turner Prize. He was knighted in 1992 and made a Companion of Honour in 2003.

Hodgkin’s connection to Eton is recognised by the display of two prints, Venice Evening and Venice Night, from the Venetian Views series (1995), each almost two metres wide, which hang in the foyer of the Farrer Theatre. However, he was only a pupil at Eton for one academic year, before his repeated running away led the school to insist he attend sessions with a therapist. He had lived in America as a young child and later claimed that he successfully persuaded the therapist to recommend that he return to the States instead of beginning a second year at Eton. But despite being deeply unhappy as a schoolboy, later in life Hodgkin fondly recalled the time he spent in the Drawing Schools with the then Drawing Master, Wilfred Blunt. He admired Blunt’s willingness to offer a clear verdict on the merits of a work, a quality he feared was being lost, and claimed to have learnt something of how to live as an outsider from Blunt. He held particularly vivid memories of Blunt’s eclectic collection of objects displayed within a glass cabinet in the Drawing Schools. These assorted items were intended for boys to draw or paint from and Hodgkin specifically recalled among them an African sculpture of a dog with an erect penis.

Venice Night~hi

Venice Night, by Howard Hodgkin (1995). Courtesy artist’s estate and Alan Cristea Gallery, London.

Over half a century after his single year as a pupil of Eton, Hodgkin returned for a fleeting visit. In 2002 he was asked to open a new extension to the Drawing Schools and to view his two prints, newly installed in the Farrer Theatre. Current Drawing Master, Ian Burke, remembers meeting Hodgkin during this visit:

He was obviously a very intelligent and slightly detached man, who did not comment on any of the work on display. He seemed relatively pleased that the two prints in the Farrer Theatre had been purchased by his old school.

In his speech, when declaring the new section of the Drawing Schools open, he thanked Eton and the past Drawing Master Wilfred Blunt for encouraging his enthusiasm for painting and art in general. He described Blunt as inspiring and very encouraging to a boy who much preferred painting to games.

The prints can still be viewed in the foyer of the Farrer Theatre at Eton.

By Philippa Martin, Keeper of Fine & Decorative Arts

Meet explorers, Etonians, and pharaohs: Eton’s three museums now open on Sundays

As of last month, all three of Eton College’s museums are now open to the public on Sunday afternoons, from 2.30pm to 5.00pm. Everyone is welcome, there’s no charge for entry, and no need to book.

Over 16,000 specimens can be viewed in Berkshire’s only dedicated Natural History Museum, with unique exhibits including a rare surviving page from Charles Darwin’s manuscripts of On the Origin of Species, and material relating to famous botanist and Old Etonian Sir Joseph Banks, who sailed on the HMB Endeavour with Captain Cook.

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The Museum of Antiquities, housed in the new, purpose built Jafar Gallery, presents rare archaeological treasures, ranging from Ancient Egypt to discoveries from the Thames, including a coffin depicting the deified pharaoh Thutmosis III, classical pottery and Palaeolithic flint hand tools.

Housed in the undercroft below College Hall in the historic centre of the college, the Museum of Eton Life displays the history and traditions of life at the school from 1440 to today.musical-jug-1small

The Natural History Museum and the Museum of Antiquities are on South Meadow Lane, SL4 6EW. The Museum of Eton Life is along Baldwin’s Shore, SL4 6DW. The nearest public car park is South Meadow, Meadow Lane, SL4 6BS. All three museums are a fifteen minute walk from Windsor & Eton Riverside station, and a twenty minute walk from Windsor & Eton Central. From Slough Station, take bus number 60 towards Eton.

Please contact us in advance (Monday-Friday, 9-5) if you have particular access requirements. See details on our contacts page.

A piece of finger and spine

ecr_39-45Certificate of delivery of relics, ECR 39/45bridlingtonSeal of the Priory of Bridlington

When Henry VI established Eton College, he wanted it to be a place of importance. To that end, he granted a vast amount of land and a number of privileges and rights, some not held by anywhere else in England, such as the right to grant Indulgences. In addition, he gave Eton a large collection of holy relics, intending College Chapel to become a place of pilgrimage.

Inventories drawn up over the years describe these relics and the amazing mounts created for them. In addition to the ubiquitous Thorn and piece of the True Cross, there were some more unusual items. One of the first items to be gifted by Henry was a piece of the finger and spine of St John of Bridlington.

Born in 1320 in Yorkshire, St John was commended for the integrity of his life, his scholarship, and his quiet generosity. Recognised as a saint by the Pope in 1401, he would be the last English saint to be canonised before the Reformation. After his death, tales of miracles attributed to him spread throughout the country. Henry V attributed his victory at Agincourt to the intercession of St John of Bridlington and made a number of pilgrimages to the priory there. He was therefore a popular saint for the Lancastrians, and an eminently suitable one for Henry VI’s enterprise.

Henry VI took possession of the relics on 26 June 1445 and gifted them to Eton. An elaborate reliquary of sliver and gilt was built to house them.

The cult of St John of Bridlington was short-lived, and as with many local saints his popularity faded over the years and today he is little known. Under Edward VI, Eton was forced to submit to the ecclesiastical changes being introduced – the images surrounding the altar were pulled down, and the altar frontals sold. After 1551, the Feast of the Relics was no longer celebrated, and the ornamental reliquaries were surrendered.

By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist

A ‘lost’ Christmas carol

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Christmas carol in COLL EST HL 01

Written within a book of accounts kept by Richard Rowden, receiver of the rents for the college at Hanging Langford, Wiltshire, is this carol. Known now as “A Virgin most Pure”, it is thought to have originated in Gloucestershire during the 16th century, and the earliest written version of this carol appeared in 1661 in a book called New Carolls for this Merry Time of Christmas, printed in London. The carol then disappeared from publications until the late 18th century when the words were published by a ballad printed in Tewkesbury. This time it had a new first verse – the now more familiar:

A virgin most pure [unspotted], as the prophets do tell
Hath brought forth a baby, as it hath befell

The form which appears in this book is the original version, with the first verse being:

In Bethlehem in Jewry a city there was
Where Joseph and Mary together did pass

This carol was particularly common in the west of England, especially in Gloucestershire. The book in the archives was begun 1692, and entries continue until 1756, suggesting that even if there were no printed versions of the carol in circulation at the time, it was still being performed and enjoyed in the West Country during these “lost” years.

By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist

The origins of the Field Game

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The first written rules for the game, from the Keepers’ Book, 1847

At Eton, boys were largely left to their own devices when it came to sport, deciding for themselves what games they would play and the rules of those games. These are the first written rules for the Field Game, one of two versions of football developed here. They are from the book kept by the Keeper of the Field, beginning in 1847.

These rules include the size of the goal “the goal sticks are to be seven feet out of the ground…the space between each goal stick is to be eleven feet.” They describe a rouge, the bully, how points can be scored, and other rules of play such as “No crawling on the hands and knees with the ball between the legs is allowed.”

The game was incredibly popular, being preferred to association football because, as one boy wrote, “our Eton game is one of our most cherished institutions…also there is the very important question of slackness and loafing, for anybody who did not want to run about energetically could simply give the ball an enormous kick and call it a pass.” Indeed, there was no separate Association team at Eton until 1930, almost 70 years after the game was founded.

Apart from Eton blue, the Field Game was the first sport or society to get official colours, with the red and blue design dating from 1860. More information on school colours can be found in the current display in the Museum of Eton Life.

By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist

Taking a cold shower

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Image from the Book of the Society of Psychrolutes

In 1828, a new society was founded in Cambridge, dedicated to swimming. Called the Society of Psychrolutes, the qualification for membership was the practice of bathing outdoors between November and March. In 1832, the Eton Royal Philolutic Society was established, for the lovers of bathing in general, with William Evans (of Evans’ house fame) as a leading light. In 1833, they merged to form the Eton Philopsychrolutic Society.

Winter bathing was a recommended treatment for strengthening the body, and the supposed improvements it would bring can be seen in this illustration from the book of the Psychrolutes in which the rivers, lochs and glacial lakes that they had bathed in that year were listed. In addition, it would keep impure thoughts away – the Victorian equivalent of “take a cold shower”.

The Philolutes were supported by Dr Hawtrey, Head Master, who authorised them to do anything that would promote ‘the safe and efficient practice of Philolutism’. Evans worked to regularise the teaching of swimming at Eton and to ensure that no boy went on the river until he could swim. It was therefore this Society, and especially Evans, who placed swimming and boating on an organised footing at Eton, saving many lives in the process.

By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist

A spoonful of brimstone and treacle

From a book held in the College Archives [COLL EST HL 1], dated 1693, a recipe for aches and pains:

recipe
Recipe for curing ache, 1693

 

A reicut to Coore the Eche [A receipt to cure Ache]

A hanfull of box

A hanfull of wormwood

A hanfull of Isope [hissop]

A hanfull of Rewe [rue]

A pound of Lard

Boill it woll to gether

Strain it and take a litell brim stone and store it to gether till its cold

take trekell [treacle] and brim stone for five or six days drive it out well, then take the ointment and nint your self

Brimstone, a form of sulphur, and treacle or molasses were commonly used as a cure-all at a time when medicine was not readily available to the masses. Charles Dickens mentions its use in Nicholas Nickleby, showing that even 150 years after this recipe was written its popularity had not decreased. It is the threat of this treatment that makes Michael and Jane Banks write their definition of a good nanny in Mary Poppins, when their father’s choice and former nanny says “Brimstone and Treacle and codliver oil, liberal doses of each. These are the treats from which children recoil, the lessons I’m going to teach”.

The benefits of sulphur as an anti-oxidant and detox agent have been known for thousands of years. Part of the popularity of spas was the sulphurous content of the water, and modern day diets such as the cabbage soup diet are based on these properties. It has been used to cure skin complaints, as a laxative, and as here, to relieve aching joints.

By Eleanor Hoare, College Archivist