Sunday, 7 September 2008

A long-lost Comper commission?


Great Haseley, Oxfordshire, originally uploaded by Vitrearum.

The chancel of the glorious church at Great Haseley in Oxfordshire has an 'English altar'. You know the sort of arrangement I mean, one that is enclosed on three sides with curtains, the side curtains hung between 'riddel' posts supporting figures of angels. It is rather a fine arrangement all told.

Great Haseley, Oxfordshire

The dorsal curtain is decorated with some sublime embroidery, including a figure of the resurrected Christ (above) and a figure of St Peter, the patron of the church (below). Between them and around them are stylised daisies executed in silk and laid gold work. The background material of the dorsal is Comper's 'Van der Weyden' damask in the famous shade that has become known as 'Comper Rose' or 'Comper Pink'. The quality of the design and embroidery is particularly high, the figures are medieval in derivation but not slavish and the embroidery is very similar to much of the high quality work that the Sisters of Bethany produced for Sir Ninian Comper. The question is, is this in fact a long lost Comper commission? It is not mentioned in any of the literature, including the gazeteer of Symondson and Bucknall's recent volume on the designer. It is possible that it is the work of one of the other extremely competent early twentieth century Gothicists, such as F E Howard or perhaps Christopher Webb, who was responsible for a rather fine window in the church. Who knows. I would be very grateful if anybody can shed any light on it.

Great Haseley, Oxfordshire
St Peter

Great Haseley, Oxfordshire
One of the angels on the riddel posts.

Here's the context of the altar, the vast early fourteenth century chancel:
Great Haseley, Oxfordshire

Great Haseley, Oxfordshire

6 comments:

dave said...

I hope you can find an answer to this mystery. It bears all the hallmarks of Comper, yet is perhaps even a bit more "polite" than much of his work.

Allan Barton said...

Yes I agree it is perhaps a little stayed to be Comper's work. F E Howard is probably the answer I suspect.

Anthony Symondson SJ said...

This fine work at Great Haseley in Oxfordshire is indeed Comperian but it is not by Comper. The designer was one of his closest followers, Geoffrey Webb, brother of Comper's painted glass pupil, Christopher Webb, both nephews of the Edwardian architect, Sir Aston Webb. There were two followers of Comper whose work almost achieved his own standards. Foremost was Geoffrey Webb (who used the Sisters of Bethany to execute his embroidery) and the other was W. Ellery Anderson. Webb always used Comper's textiles and his painted glass is the closest to Comper's not only in draughtsmanship but colouring. He bought glass from Chance Brothers, the same firm that carried out Comper's experiments in glass-making. Earlier the chancel of Great Haseley was restored by Thomas Garner and that explains why Webb's work fits so well in the setting. If you would like to know more write to me at symondson@googlemail.com.

Allan Barton said...

Thank you Fr Symondson. My thoughts were heading in the direction of F E Howard, but I am very interested to hear that it is Geoffrey Webb. That makes sense given the presence of a window by his brother. Presumably this was a Warham Guild commission?

Anthony Symondson SJ said...

This commission had nothing to do with the Warham Guild. Geoffrey Webb worked independently and had no association with commercial enterprises. Apart from anything else, he was a convert to Roman Catholicism and much of his work was done for the Church in England, but he was also used, as here at Great Haseley, by the Church of England. Because of his conversion F. C. Eeles would have nothing to do with him, nor with another Catholic designer of Gothic altars, Tolhurst (cf Woodbridge in Suffolk). You should try and track down 'The Liturgical Altar' (1933), by Webb. It was an invaluable work for encouraging Comperism in the Roman Church and had considerable influence at the time. By then he had become persuaded by Comper's later theories.

F. E. Howard was not as accomplished as Webb and his work was less finished and more sentimental. He was also unable to achieve the finishes that characterize Comper's and Webb's work, as you see in the most extensive example of his furnishing skills at Southwold, Suffolk. Compare that with Lound and the problem becomes quite raw.

Just another thing. Some time ago on your Comper flickr site some became excited by an embroidered banner of Our Lady photographed in Leicester, perhaps in the cathedral. It was not by Comper but by Geoffrey Webb, executed by the Sisters of Bethany. It shows how close he was to Comper's own work.

Unlike his brother, Christopher, his painted glass was much closer to Comper's and, at times, is almost indistinguishable. But he did not have the strength and delicacy of line possessed by F. J. Lucas, Comper's glass painter. If you want to make a comparison go to St Cyprian's, Clarence Gate. Some years ago some over-enthusiastic, but ill-informed, young men thought they had found some panels of glass by Comper in a shop in the Portobello Road. They did not use their eyes but simply read the dealer's labels. They were bought at great expense and, after being 'authenticated' by the London DAC, were installed. One panel is by Geoffrey Webb, the other by Shrigley & Hunt. If you compare the drawing on Webb's panel with that on the Comper windows you will see the difference. They disfigure the church and should be removed.

Toby Garfitt said...

Geoffrey Webb had in fact designed the Lady Chapel at St Peter's Great Haseley first, in 1924. The work involved restoring the altar, installing figures of Our Lady and St John, and erecting an oak screen under the chancel arch. The window above the altar was by Burlison & Grylls (1906), but in 1927 Webb was commissioned to create a Tree of Jesse design for the window at right angles to it. As it turned out, the light shining through it deadened the colours of the altar, and the window had to be removed to the next bay. - Once the Lady Chapel was finished, the High Altar looked poor in comparison, so Webb was commissioned to do the work described in your blog. The old reredos was removed and used in the reconstruction of the Theological College Chapel at Dorchester Abbey. - St Peter's is fortunate to have examples of some of the best stained glass designers of the period 1830-1930: as well as Webb's window in the south aisle, the great East window is by John Hardman, the associate of Pugin; and there are two windows by Burlison & Grylls (used by Bodley and Garner). Other windows are by Charles Gibbs.

Toby Garfitt (St Peter's PCC)