Out of Chaos – art that makes you think

Guler Ates (2) blogOne of the important things in our lives is our idea of who we are and where we belong. But our settled sense of identity can be uncomfortably challenged by new situations and places. Güler Ates’ photograph dramatically conveys the feeling of a surreal collision of two worlds. The artwork records her performance piece, titled Home (2014, © the artist), which she presented in in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. She drags a small hut, an emblem of the early life that shapes us as a person, but the fabric draping her figure obscures her individuality. The action takes place in front of massive railway arches that add to the sculptural qualities of the forms in the scene while also bringing to mind the long journeys that migrants and refugees make, sometimes knowing nothing of the place they might end up. Güler Ates was born in in Eastern Turkey and has been living and working in London for the past 17 years. Her photograph is one of the contemporary artworks in the exhibition Out of Chaos, currently on display at the Laing Art Gallery. The exhibition is full of powerful and thought-provoking art, both historical and modern.

BREAK (2)blogThe movement of migrants and refugees across Europe is currently headlining many of our news broadcasts. Edwin Mingard has addressed the personal story of an individual migrant in his fictionalised film Break (2015, Ben Uri Collection) set in a London restaurant (the photo shows a snapshot from the video on display in the exhibition). In the film, the character Yousef is shown on the point of physical collapse as he struggles to make a living in London. At the same time, Yousef attempts to keep life going by phone with his family in Egypt. Film-maker Edwin Mingard is a Fellow of Teesside University’s Digital Cities programme (and also recently made a film of Byker Metro).

Herman - RefugeesMany people have felt forced from their homes to escape poverty. Others have fled desperate danger. The cat gripping a mouse in its jaws in Josef Herman’s painting Refugees provides a vivid image of the plight of people fleeing persecution the world over. The picture was painted during the Second World War after the artist fled Poland, eventually arriving in Glasgow in 1941. Tragically, Herman subsequently learnt that all his family had been killed in the Warsaw Ghetto. The beautiful blue colour that Herman used in Refugees (about 1941, Ben Uri Collection, © the artist’s family) was a hymn to the night skies over his home city of Warsaw. In his new country, Herman’s art added energy to the development of Scottish Colourist painting.

Kiss sculpture (3) blogLike Josef Herman, Edith Kiss’s life was turned upside down by the Second World War. Her career as a sculptor in Hungary came to a halt when, as a Jew, she was arrested by the Nazis in 1944, and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany. After a period as a forced labourer, she made a desperate escape from guards during a march. She was eventually able to make her way back to Hungary. Though traumatised by her experiences, she re-established her career, and her untitled marble sculpture (Ben Uri collection, © the artist’s family) is on show in the exhibition.

abdulla blog xMore recent conflict caused artist Behjat Omer Abdulla to flee Kurdistan in 1997. The two massive drawings in the exhibition are from the artist’s In Limbo series of portraits of Kurdish refugees. These pictures raise the issue of the impossibility of capturing a person’s identity in an ID-photo. Yet, says the artist, ‘The desire to reduce a person to only their photographic image is widespread.’ Our Customer Services Assistant Mark is pictured admiring the detail in the drawing In Limbo: Hajy Khalil (2010, © the artist/ Counterpoint Arts). Sadly, a note on the back of this portrait records that the elderly man was refused asylum in Sweden and was subsequently killed on his return to Iraq.

The Out of Chaos exhibition is full of big themes and interesting narratives, resulting in a fascinating exhibition with impressive artwork. As well as tours, there is a lively programme of talks for the exhibition. These take place in the Laing Function Room, 12.30-1.15pm. They can be booked in the Gallery or online.

David Bomberg and the Whitechapel BoysFriday 11 November, £4. Sarah Richardson, Keeper, Laing Art Gallery discusses art by the Whitechapel Boys, including David Bomberg, Mark Gertler, Jacob Epstein, and Clare Winsten, with special reference to the Out of Chaos exhibition.

Exile and the Jewish imagination: understanding Jewish cultural displacement and migration in the twentieth century. Tuesday 22 November, £4, students free. Ian Biddle (Senior Lecturer in Music and Cultural Theory, Newcastle University) discusses the special Jewish understanding of ‘exile’ and shows how this helps us understand the works being shown in the Out of Chaos exhibition.

The Psyche, the Artist, and Aesthetics as Spaces of Refuge. Thursday 26 January, £4, students free. An illuminating talk by Dr Dariusz Gafijczuk, (Lecturer in Sociology, Newcastle University) explores Sigmund Freud’s concept of art as a space of refuge as it relates to artworks in the Out of Chaos exhibition.

Diaspora and post-war painting.  Thursday 23rd February, £4, students free. Stephen Moonie (Lecturer in Art History, Newcastle University) discusses issues of Jewish identity and displacement in relation to the painting of the post-war period, including important works by R B Kitaj, Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach.

The Charlton Brothers and the Hancock Museum – A Guest Post by Ashleigh Jackson

My name is Ashleigh Jackson. I am a History undergraduate student at Edinburgh and this summer I completed a placement with the Natural History Society of Northumbria in their archives at the Great North Museum: Hancock, looking at the effect of the Great War on the Society and its members.

John MacFarlane Charlton and Hugh Vaughan Charlton were the sons of the renowned Northumbrian artist John Charlton (1849-1917). Their association with the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne began when John Charlton Snr moved to the North East in 1901 and applied for membership of the Society in January 1903.

Sadly, the brothers’ lives were tragically brought to an end in the ‘Great European War’ in 1916.

The Natural History Society annual report for the year 1916-1917 records: “Several of the younger members of the Society, men of promise and ability, have made the great sacrifice during the year under review. Of these, mention may be made of…Lieutenant Hugh V. Charlton, a gifted artist and naturalist, whose brush cleverly depicted bird life, and his younger brother, Captain J. M. Charlton, a good ornithologist, who though not actually a member was a frequent visitor to the Museum, to which he presented specimens from time to time“.

Lieutenant Hugh Vaughan Charlton (1884-1916)

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© Northumberland Archives

Hugh was born in London in 1884 and moved to the North East in 1901 with his family where he was to become a skilled naturalist and artist. Before the war, Hugh followed in his father’s footsteps as an artist, focusing on birds. In 1912 his work was exhibited in the Royal Academy.

The Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN) possesses original paintings by Hugh Vaughan Charlton, perhaps most interesting is his watercolour drawing of Barras Bridge from the grounds of the Hancock Museum, indicating the Charlton family’s strong connections to the museum and the society. From the archive collections at the NHSN, we have found that Hugh was elected a member of the society in April 1905.

Hugh was educated at Armstrong College in Newcastle, and this is where he joined the Officer Training Corps. He enlisted in August 1915 and left for France on 13 March 1916. Hugh was the Second Lieutenant of the 7th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers. Hugh was struck by a bomb from a trench mortar on 24 June 1916, near Wytschaete, Belgium, just a week before the death of his brother, Captain John McFarlane Charlton. Hugh is buried at La Laiterie Military Cemetery in Ypres, Belgium, while his brother is buried in France.

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The above painting of a Tawny Owl was gifted to the Natural History Society of Northumbria by Lieutenant Charlton in May 1914 before the onset of war.

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The above watercolour drawing of a Herring Gull, is another piece within the archives of the NHSN more proof of the Charlton brother’s love of nature.

Finally, the watercolour drawing below depicts the grounds of the Hancock Museum and was completed in 1914. This image serves to highlight further the important connection between the Charlton brothers and the museum, and the special interest that the brothers had in both the museum and in the Natural History Society.

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The Hancock Museum curator’s report for 1917-1918 discusses how the Charlton brothers had bequeathed to the museum their entire natural history collections. This included over fifty birds and mammals in mounted cases, numerous skins primarily of birds. Joseph J. Gill the acting curator during this time, paid tribute to the brothers “whose death in their country’s service has deprived natural science of two most ardent and promising votaries”.

Captain John McFarlane Charlton (1891-1916)

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© Northumberland Archives

John McFarlane Charlton died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The 1st July 1916 also tragically marked Charlton’s 25th birthday.

Born in London in 1891, John relocated to the North East of England in 1901 with his family. In 1903, he was awarded a special commendation in the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne’s Hancock Prize competition for his essay ‘A Trip to the Farnes in 1903’. He was only 12 years old at the time but his submission showed so much skill in observing and portraying birds that one of the judges, Canon Tristram, awarded him a special prize out of his own pocket. John was deeply interested in nature, and would go on to become a promising ornithologist. It is alleged that a close relative described his taxidermy skills as rivalling those of even John Hancock, the famous Newcastle ornithologist. At school, John was secretary to the Natural History department and he was described as having ‘a wonderful knowledge of birds’. In 1910 he received a bronze medal from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, going on to write a series of articles, forging his way into the field of ornithology.

John enlisted in October 1914, soon after the beginning of the Great War. After initial training with his battalion, the 21st Northumberland Fusiliers in 1915, John and the rest of his battalion left for France in early 1916.

The Journal of British Birds paid tribute to both Charlton Brothers in the 1st September 1916 edition. The journal reveals John’s final words, which were spoken to his orderly, allegedly ‘Is that you B—? For God’s sake, push on, I’m done.’ The orderly quickly rushed to aid his captain, only to find he had died after being fatally shot in the head. On 13th November 1917 John was ‘Mentioned in Despatches’, acknowledging his sacrifice at the Somme. He had also been recommended for the Military Cross, further highlighting his distinguished role in the war.The Northumberland Fusiliers aided the attack on La Boiselle, a village near Amiens which became a crucial backdrop as part of the Battle of the Somme. The attack was ultimately a failure, and La Boiselle was captured by the Germans on 25th March 1918. John had successfully assisted in the capture of the 1st and 2nd lines in German trenches at La Boiselle, and was soon to advance on the 3rd line.  As Captain, John led the advance on the morning of the 1st July 1916. At 7.30am John and his men ‘went over the top’ onto No Man’s Land despite the heavy fire from the Bavarian Infantry Regiment. Notably, the No Man’s Land at La Boiselle was particularly narrow, further complicating the mission. Along with several other men, John was stuck in a crater which narrowly shielded him from the continued firing. Later, the men were able to advance after obtaining a machine gun with which to defend themselves. However, the advance was thwarted when the gun became jammed at a crucial moment and John was shot. By midnight on the 3rd July some 200 men remained from the 21st and 22nd battalions. As a result, the brigade for while John served was pulled from the line after such heavy losses.

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© cumbrianwarmemorials.blogspot.co.uk

John is remembered at Thiepval Memorial in Northern France, as well as a memorial in Lanercost Priory, Cumbria. There is a further memorial to the two brothers in St Cuthbert’s Churchyard, Cleveland.

My Top 10 Pincushions (part 1) – A Guest Blog by Zoe-Marie Dobbs

My name is Zoe-Marie Dobbs and I am a volunteer with Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. For the past few weeks, I have been photographing and researching the collection of pincushions in the costume store at the Discovery Museum. The pincushions in the collection span across a wide variety of different time periods and demonstrate whichever embroidery technique was in fashion at the time.

Pins in some form or another have existed since the prehistoric era and as long as pins have been in existence there has always been the need for receptacles to put them in, whether they serve a purely utilitarian purpose or are more decorative.

During the Early Modern era, pins were a very expensive commodity. For the poor they were considered to be a great luxury. In A History of Needlework Tools and Accessories, Sylvia Groves states,  “In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a large and well-filled pincushion was an essential toilet accessory for every woman of rank. The Queen herself received, among her New Year’s gifts in 1562, an elaborately embroidered pinpilllow”.

The Countess of Southhampton

The Countess of Southampton

In the above painting of the Countess of Southampton (one of Elizabeth’s maids of honour), a large pincushion filled with pins is presented on a table beside a case of jewels – this demonstrates the high value placed on a lady’s pincushion and her costly supply of pins.

During this time, on the eve of New Year or on New Year’s Day, it was customary for women to receive presents of pins or the money with which to buy them. This is where the expression ‘pin money’ comes from. Before the 16th century, the best quality pins had to be imported from France.

This is my countdown of my top 10 pincushions in the collection:

10 – George V heart-shaped pincushion, 1911


Object number – TWCMS : G10712

Apart from serving as purely functional objects, pincushions were also used as keepsakes and mementos. Many were created to mark a historical event or special occasion, such as this one to commemorate the coronation of George V, made in 1911. Heart-shaped pincushions were extremely popular throughout the 19th century and the early 20th century. This highly decorative example features a blue and red silk satin front, a burgundy pom-pom fringe and is decorated with two pictures of George V in coronation robes. I found this particularly interesting as it is the only pincushion in the collection at the Discovery Museum which is decorated with photographs.

9 – Blue silk crocheted pincushion, 19th century


Object number – TWCMS : J13104

This pincushion and cover dating from 1800-1899 are blue silk and decorated with beautiful hand crochet work. Crochet was especially popular during this period and features in many Victorian garments such as shawls as well as pincushions and other items. After receiving a gift of intricate Irish hand-worked crochet in the 1840s, Queen Victoria began enthusiastically adding crochet to her dresses and bonnets.

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Queen Victoria crocheting

The well-to-do ladies of Victorian England soon followed suit and the demand for crochet skyrocketed. The publication of crochet patterns became widespread with magazines offering instructions on how to make a variety of crochet items including babies’ bonnets, doilies, evening bags and parlour clothes as well as trims for clothing. Crochet was often used as a cheaper alternative for more costly lace.

8 – Maternity pincushion, 1913


Object number – TWCMS : 2007.5444

This pincushion from 1913 is known as a maternity or layette pincushion and was traditionally given as a gift to new mothers to celebrate the birth of a child. This type of pincushion was particularly sought after between 1770 and 1890 but was still produced long after this period. This type of pincushion was given after a baby had been born due to a superstitious belief that pins could cause birthing pains – “For every pin a pain” was a well-known phrase. Layette pincushions were given as gifts in the same way that we would give congratulatory cards today. Several examples of this type of pincushion are found in the collection at the Discovery Museum. This pincushion is of cream silk satin and is edged with matching cream silk fringe. The front is decorated with a border of pale lilac velvet ruched ribbon. With Layette pincushions the pins are often arranged to spell out good wishes for the baby. With this pincushion, pins form the inscription – ‘Welcome Sweetbabe’. This type of pincushion was almost purely decorative as the pins would not usually be removed. The act of forming the words out of the pins demanded great skill and attention. Mistakes could damage the fabric and the design was usually made out in pencil first before pins were stuck in.

7 – Flat mother of pearl pincushion, 19th century


Object number – TWCMS : J11794

This pincushion is comprised of a flat pincushion sandwiched between two carved mother of pearl discs which depict an eastern countryside inspired scene. One side of the intricate carving displays the image of two men surrounded by trees and the other side features a dog and cat sitting in a field beside a tree and several houses. Pins would have been stuck around the outside of the pincushion. This example dates from 1800-1899. Pincushions of this type first appeared in the 18th century were often made with two pieces of elaborately carved ivory stitched onto a flat cushion encircled by silk ribbon. These were worn suspended from the waist by a loop. In the 19th century pincushions were produced in larger number than ever before. With the mass manufacture of pins there arose a higher demand for pincushion which were now seen as mandatory household items. The Ladies’ Work Table Book (1858) decrees that: “A large pincushion, having two covers on it should belong to each toilet table”. Pincushions were made in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, using different materials such as ivory bone, wood or patchwork with stuffing. Mother of pearl cushions were commonplace as well as small animals and shoes made of base metal.

6 – Pinball pincushion, 1801


Object number – TWCMS : J11784

This pinball cushion dates from 1801 and was probably purchased at a souvenir from the Ascot horse race of that year. Pinball pincushions were usually covered in knitting and crochet and were worn suspended from the waist. These are typically emblazoned with a date and the owner’s initials. Pinballs were often made in two pieces, stuffed with cotton wool and joined together with stitching or braid. This pinball pincushion is covered with red, green, cream, pink and blue silk thread. The front bears the inscription: ‘Ascot not forgot 1801’ with the image of two horses on either side in cream thread. The back is inscribed with the initials S L. This type of pincushion was favoured 18th century when fine silk knitting was in fashion.

Stay tuned for the final countdown in part 2, coming soon…

A mini-museum inside Haven Court – South Tyneside’s brand new NHS integrated service hub for older people

Haven Court, located at South Tyneside Hospital is a purpose-built and innovatively designed facility, which provides integrated health and social care services for older residents, their carers and families in South Tyneside. The state of the art facility brings together key health, social care and voluntary sector services to improve the range, quality and co-ordination of care and support, especially if you have dementia, to enable you to live independently in your community for longer.

The vision for Haven Court is for it to become a hub for the local community, providing person-centred care and support. Whether you need access to residential services, respite care or simply want to meet in the café, the centre will provide a ‘haven’ for you.’



Some of the household objects in the display

Haven Court opened in August and it looks great – such a nice community space. A lovely environment for older people.

To include local and historical inspiration into the design of the new space South Tyneside NHS approached South Shields Museum and Art Gallery to help provide objects to go on display. I work throughout Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums on the Platinum Programme – for people over 55, so the task of finding suitable objects was passed to me.


Me with the objects on display. The images were created by another company – they look great!

It seemed perfect for me to work on this, as I was based in South Shields Museum and Art Gallery for 5 years. I even moved to South Tyneside! I was aware of a number of museum objects that could be put on display. Objects that we have doubles of and were not being used. Objects that I know local people will recognise. Items such as an old Shields ferry ticket, old postcards and a Wrights biscuits coaster with the familiar little boy logo.


South Tyneside objects including A South Shields police badge, Westoe brewery beer labels and an old ferry ticket.


A part of the ‘Memory wall’ showing the South Tyneside objects, a miners lamp, a sewing machine and an old telephone.

As well as local objects we set out to find objects that would generate conversation with older people and bring back memories. An old rotary dial telephone is great for showing to both old and young people. Youngsters try and press the dial – like buttons and don’t understand it, whilst people who can remember such telephones like the sound and action of something that was once so familiar.


A Bakelite radio and an old copy of the Radio Times

‘The displays all look amazing, there have been so many positive comments already and tonight several residents came along to look at them and they sparked a great deal of conversation between them.’

Lesley Dowson – Care Manager for Haven Court:


Zoe helping with one of the displays

We have lots more South Tyneside images to share with the centre and I’m looking forward to going back soon to share them and do some workshops with the residents.

Chaïm Soutine, misfit artistic genius in 1930s Paris

Soutine, Chaim, detail

Could anyone have better fitted the 20th-century archetype of an artist than Chaïm Soutine (1893–1943)? He was a temperamental social misfit who painted in a frenzy when inspiration struck him, at the same time creating an important new expressive style. Plus, he suffered years of poverty for his art before being discovered by an American collector. And he was capable of reckless eccentricity – for example, blowing much of a financial windfall on a 400-mile taxi ride from Paris to the south of France.

Soutine, Chaim, La Soubrette -In his figure paintings, Soutine was known for depicting servants – people from the same kind of Paris life as the artist himself – and he continued to choose these models even when his powerful colour compositions had become successful. One of his finest paintings from the height of his career, Waiting Maid (about 1933, Ben Uri Collection), can be seen in the Out of Chaos exhibition at the Laing Art Gallery from October 15th. (The young woman is a maidservant in a home.)

maid photo 2Soutine energised his pictures with colour and texture, and also introduced semi-abstract form. The blue line curving around the front of the young woman’s apron doesn’t seem to have much to do with her body – the fabric appears to form a bowl-like shape, and hangs strangely compared with a real-life maid’s clothing (photo). However, it does give a suggestion of 3D form and space in a fairly abstract way.

A_Woman_Bathing_in_a_Stream_by_RembrandtPerhaps this element of Soutine’s picture owes something to a painting by Rembrandt, Soutine’s artistic hero. Soutine had earlier painted a version of Rembrandt’s Woman Bathing in a Stream (© National Gallery, London), where draped fabric creates curving 3D form and establishes space in front of the woman’s body. More generally, Soutine’s use of glowing hues, abstract smears of paint and textured brushstrokes is, in part, a development of Rembrandt’s late technique – but reinterpreted in bold, 20th-century colour, influenced by artists like Van Gogh.

La Ruche 1During his early career in Paris, Soutine lived and worked in the ramshackle artists’ studios known as La Ruche (‘the Beehive’, photo). Soutine’s artistic circle included Marc Chagall, Jacques Lipchitz and creator of abstract ‘visual poetry’ Sonia Delaunay. They were all Jewish-Russian artists who had left their home country to find artistic freedom in Paris, and are also represented in the Out of Chaos exhibition – Chagall’s Apocalypse en Lilas, Capriccio, 1945/7 and Sonia Delaunay’s Greeting Card for Galerie Bing, 1964, are pictured below (both are Ben Uri Collection, both © The Artist’s Estate).

chagall, apocalypse









Soutine self-portraitSoutine painted this self-portrait (not in exhibition, Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation) in 1918, five years after he arrived in Paris. He had reached the city after a demanding 1,000-mile journey from Russia, arriving with very little money or knowledge of French. Soutine had to struggle to become an artist. He was the son of a poor clothing mender and was one of 11 children. In his Orthodox Jewish community, artistic representation of people was forbidden, and he was badly beaten after secretly sketching the village rabbi. However, compensation money for this assault later made it possible for him to travel to study art in the city of Vilna (now Vilnius). He subsequently left for France, where he changed his surname from Sutin to the French-sounding Soutine.

Soutine remained almost penniless until 1922 when the American collector Albert Barnes visited his studio and purchased 52 paintings – the occasion that resulted in the extravagant taxi ride. Following this breakthrough, Soutine’s reputation started rising sharply. “Everyone is running after Soutine,” said an envious fellow painter. However, in 1940, the Second World War invasion of France by the German army put the lives of Soutine and all people of Jewish heritage in the country at risk. Soutine fled from Paris and went into hiding, sometimes having to sleep out in the forest. Not surprisingly, his stomach ulcer worsened and began bleeding badly. He made a risky journey to Paris for an operation, but it failed to save his life.

Auerbach Mornington CrescentAs well as his impact on French art, Soutine’s expressive style influenced later artists in London, including Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach, both represented in the Out of Chaos exhibition. The picture on the left is Auerbach’s painting Mornington Crescent, Summer Morning, 2011 (Ben Uri Collection © Frank Auerbach courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art).