ALEXANDER MANN’S GNATS: SEQUENTIAL NARRATIVES 1850-1895

Alexander Mann’s ‘Gnats’: Sequential narratives in art before film 1850-1895
Shaun Belcher

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Abstract
Alexander Mann (1853-1908) landscape and genre painter was an early adopter of
photography and his sequential narrative in etchings ‘Gnats and other hindrances to the
landscape artist’ of 1884 may reveal an awareness of both early photography and
contemporary narrative sequences in illustrated magazines. This paper explores the
background to the production of this folio and relates it to the wider discourse and
dissemination of sequential images via the railway. It also examines the role artists took in
spreading ‘new technology’ and asks how significant their attitudes and production and
engagement in creating ‘mythical landscapes’ in rural locations through ‘art colonies’ was to
that spread. It forms part of a wider investigation into technology, art and modernism in the
Thames Valley 1850-1950. Through primary and secondary research, including field
research, the paper explores the territory delineated above and draws tentative conclusions
about the role of the artist and the influence of sequential narratives in the emergent
illustrated magazines of the period. It concludes that the area of sequential narrative in
magazines and artist’s responses is a neglected area which may produce significant new
understanding of some of the content of the ‘early cinema’ period of 1888 to 1910.

Keywords: Early photography, early cinema, sequential narrative, landscape and genre
painting, etching, provincial modernism, illustrated magazines, comics.

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Introduction
Alexander Mann (1853-1908) landscape and genre painter was the son of merchant and art
collector James Mann and studied at Glasgow School of Art and then the Academie Julian
Paris. He was strongly influenced by Jules Bastien-Lepage and The Hague School. From
1883-93 he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and the Fine Art Society and was a
member of the New English Art Club and Society of British Artists, through this he came
into contact with James Whistler the society’s first president in 1886. He maintained contacts
with Paris and was friendly with John Lavery and the Glasgow Boys and indeed features
occasionally in histories of that group although not a key member. He travelled widely and
spent the years 1890-92 in Tangiers. His oblong folio edition of etchings ‘Gnats and other
hindrances to the landscape artist’ of 1884 was a commission for the Fine Art Society. It
consists of 17 etchings bound together with a comic ‘Apology’ by ‘N.G. which was a limited
edition of 250. The suite of 17 comic etchings depict the problems encountered by a poor
landscape painter who must deal with rain, insects, cumbersome easels and umbrellas in
pursuit of his open air ‘view’.

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Two etchings from ‘Gnats and other hindrances to the landscape artist’ of 1884: Alexander Mann

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My attention was drawn to this folio of etchings whilst conducting field research for a wider
investigation into the dissemination of both technology and artistic ideas through the
geographical area of the Thames Valley ( West of London). Researching the development of
artist communities linked to the railway I discovered that Alexander Mann lived at Kings
Holme, West Hagbourne (close to the then recent station of Didcot on the Paddington-Bristol
line) and also had connections to the ‘artist’s village’ of Blewbury close by. Further
investigation led me to his house and the present occupant, an antiquarian bookseller, who
allowed me to photograph his copy of Mann’s ‘Gnats’ which a rarity. I was immediately
struck by the ‘modern’ nature of the drawings and their sequential nature and begun to look
more closely at his work and influences. I was already familiar with his body of paintings but
was also intrigued by a statement made in his obituary in The Studio by friend and fellow
artist Norman Garstin (1909)
If one desires to seek what Alexander Mann wrought with greatest success I think
undoubtedly it was his panel sketches, his habit being to do several of these every day during
that part of the year in which it is possible to work out-of-doors….. In looking through the
vast number of these panels that he has left, one sees, as in a cinematograph, the sliding
pictures of his days. (p.302)

Herein lies the connection with the curiously here named ‘cinematograph’ which as Andre
Gaudreault (2011) has pointed out was not a fixed term at this point. Indeed the Cassel
Cyclopedia of Photography of 1911 still refers to’Kinematography’ not ‘Cinematography’
which was derived from the name of the Lumiere Brother’s invention not Edison.
Here was the first suggestion that not only had the ‘new’ invention impacted directly on an
artist’s work but also that it should be used to describe a working method ‘en plain air’. A
great deal of excellent work on artists’ relation to cinema post 1900 has been conducted by
Lynda Nead (2008) however my subject was working through the ‘pre-cinema’ period

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mostly. The folio is dated 1884 before Mann moved to his country ‘retreat’. Indeed the
probable landscape depicted in the etchings is not rural Berkshire which he lived in from the
late 1880’s but appears from the architecture of the dwelling illustrated and the title ‘Gnats’
to be Scottish in inspiration. It might more properly have been titled ‘Midges’ as Mann
regularly visited the Scottish East Coast, especially Fife, in the summer months (Hopkinson
1985). My intention in this paper is to try and trace the influences on this single suite of
etchings rather than speculate further on his later painted panels which is another
investigation which may also relate to ‘cinematography’. His entire life 1853-1909 is almost
directly aligned with the period of early photography and the development of what Gunning
(1986) refers to as ‘the cinema of attractions’. His travelling and inherited wealth meant that
he certainly was aware of the latest technologies and his artistic connections meant he would
have heard and seen many of the latest developments as they occurred. I hope to show
through his own work and contemporary artist and illustrators work how this may have
impacted on his particular swarm of ‘Gnats’. Mann went sketching with Lavery.(ref required)

2.

John Lavery – Sketch for a pupil of mine oil on panel 1883 and Mrs Lavery sketching -oil on canvas 1910

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Photographic traces.

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Carte de Visite detail – photographer ‘en plein air’. Anonymous -date unknown. Image of Alexander
Mann with the Gow sisters – anonymous date unknown.

Alexander Mann was born in 1853. By 1853 the new art of ‘Photography’ was well
established. According to Aaron Scharf (1974) by 1847 half a million photographic plates
were taken in Paris alone and the commercialisation of ‘Cartes de Visite’ meant that already
the business of fine artists painting ‘portrait miniatures’ was on the wane (p.42)

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Photographs by T.Annan Glasgow and Edinburgh of Alexander Mann and David Livingstone

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As if to demonstrate this fact this photograph of Alexander Mann is undated but was taken by
T. Annan of Glasgow. In 1864 T. Annan lived next door to the explorer, David Livingstone,
whom he also photographed. Thomas Annan then sold cartes de visite of Livingstone for a
shilling each proving that the commercial aspect of portrait photography was thriving. Annan
first worked with Fox Talbot’s calotype process then with the collodian process. In the photo
Mann is at least in his twenties therefore probably dates from 1870-80 when Annan had
relocated to Edinburgh and was producing photographic versions rather than engravings of
artist’s work which may explain his connection with Mann. It is therefore possible that Mann
had first-hand experience of the new techniques of reproduction at a point where the
‘massification’ (Chanan 1980) of popular culture and dissemination of reproductions was
gathering pace.
Annan produced reproductions of David Octavius Hill’s ‘The Disruption’ and indeed appears
in the painting. Hill was well regarded as a photographer using the calotype process and
Whistler was reported as finding Hill’s work ‘curiously attractive’. Mann can be traced
through his sketchbooks as being at Newburgh, Fife in 1879. A sketch from approximately
1884 shows a similar subject to the etchings. It possibly shows his artist friend Thomas Millie
Dow painting outdoors.

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Illustrations from Alexander Mann sketchbook 1853-1908

The illustration above from 1883 probably shows a tonal range that curiously similar to that
of photographs yet it is unlikely that Mann carried an ‘instantaneous’ camera with him at this
point. Eastman Kodak was not founded until 1888 and the era of ‘box brownies’ and

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snapshots for all was still several years away. If Mann did have access to a camera or a
photographer helping him at this point then it would have required specialist equipment and
knowledge. Later evidence points to him photographing extensively. Correspondence with
his wife Kate about a trip to Walberswick (one of Mann’s locations and an early artist
colony) reveals he did carry one as she states ‘ Didn’t we mean to have a filter to take to
Walberswick?’c.1900 (Hopkinson, 1985). By this point the effect of photography is clear
both in his subject matter and in the way that subject matter is cut off in his paintings. By
1887 when he moved to West Hagbourne he had certainly seen but maybe not taken
photographs. Christopher Newall (1983) states,
Like many artists at this time, Mann took photographs, which he classified carefully
and used to assist his memory of a subject when working in the studio: these
photographs range from animals – especially sheep – to landscapes, people and
buildings.
And in the same catalogue…
He evolved a delicious sketch technique. Generally on small mahogany panels these
paintings are often exquisite for their light and colour, and, combining a fondness for
plein air effects with an interest in the common place scenes of daily life, they have
an immediacy and freshness which is compelling. (introduction 1983)
It is these panels that Garstin (1909) refers to as ‘cinematographic’. Without access to either
the sequence of panels or Mann’s own experiments with photography it is hard to establish
exactly the depth of influence it had on Mann’s technique but later paintings certainly reveal
a ‘photographic’ awareness of light and framing. Like many other artists of this period the
use of photographic ‘aide memoires’ and using photographs directly in producing paintings
was sometimes hidden and not discussed as being ‘beyond the artistic pale’. After initial

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enthusiasm a reticent Ruskin turned on the ‘photographic art’ although according to Scharf
many involved in the Aesthetic and Pre-Raphaelite movement not only relied on photographs
but actually earned part of their living from retouching photographs (1974 p.335). Having
established that Mann was familiar with photography we can return to the actual etchings and
possibly surmise that some photographs may have been taken at the same time but there is no
hard evidence. What we have are individual ‘shots’ like the figure falling backwards which
suggest something more ‘instantaneous’ may be influencing the drawing but we must not
forget that this is 1884 not 1900.

It could however be the influence of second-hand knowledge. Marey and Muybridge’s
‘chronophotography’ may have influenced the sequence all be it subconsciously.
Muybridge’s images had been presented in London at the Royal Academy (filled to
overflowing) and the Royal institution in 1882 and received a great deal of publicity and
comment especially amongst the artistic community. Indeed amongst the subscribers to
Muybridge’s ‘Animal Locomotion’ volume of 1887 were several acquaintances of Mann
including Whistler and Sargent and ironically Ruskin. In fact even Wilhelm Busch had
revealed the influence of ‘chronophotography’ in a ‘cartoon’ about photography from 1871.
The crossovers and competition between photography and the finer art had been strong since

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its very beginnings.

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Comic illustrations of battle between art and photography by Nadar .

Illustrative traces
In Hopkinson (1985) we find another thread which may well have influenced the etchings.
Between the years 1870-76 whilst studying at Glasgow School of Art Mann entertained
thoughts of becoming an ‘illustrator’ and his ‘juvenile’ drawings reflect this. His later work
also includes this drawing from 1882 which appears to come from one of his visits to the
French capital as the verso has an address in Paris on it. It uses a cross-hatch technique
familiar from contemporary woodblock illustration which appears to have had a significant
influence on Mann.

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Alexander Mann – Village School pen and ink Auckland Art Gallery 1882

The complete sequence of 17 etchings as well as being eerily ‘pre-filmic’ in nature in fact
have more in common with concurrent developments of sequential images and ‘comics’ in
the illustrated press than in the then contemporary fine art world. Through the following
examples I intend to show that the Gnats sequence actually draws its inspiration from the
illustrated weeklies that were hugely influential and gained mass readership at the time. It is
my thesis that the mass reproduction and distribution of these images outweighed the fine art
influences in this particular folio and as it was a limited edition it did not afford Mann any of
the problems that such material would have caused if exhibited publicly. I also hope to show
that this ‘hidden’ strand of artistic caricature actually was more widespread and the influence
of the ‘popular press’ was striking deeper into the artistic psyche through an example from
another artist of ‘cartooning’.

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Photographic Pleasures by Cuthbert Bede London 1855 (Photo: University of Glasgow Library)

Before the new ‘art’ of photography had time to fix its images properly there were caricatures
and lampoons of its development. J.J.J. Grandville’s book Scenes from the Public and Private
Life of Animals of 1842 was a brilliant skewering of artistic pretention and commercial
acceptance of the new technology and Cuthbert Bede’s ‘Photographic Pleasures’ was
published in 1855.

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Wilhelm Busch – Der photograph- 1871 (source Scarf 1974)

Daumier and Hosemann also were quick to prick the artistic balloon whilst Nadar, as well as
literally riding in a balloon to produce the first aerial photograph, produced brilliant
caricatures of the nascent relationship between photography and the finer arts. Mann would
certainly have seen and heard the arguments depicted throughout his career. Wilhelm Busch
in his ‘Der Photograph’ sequence of 1871 had even gone as far as to suggest aspects of
chronophotography in his cartoons. As for illustrations of artists they had been fair game
since Hogarth, Gilray and Cruickshank had wielded their sharp pens.

10. Even the penny post was not immune to cartoons of artists - Illustrated postcard – Anonymous-1860.

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Into a market-place for printed literature fuelled literally by steam-power came two important
factors. One the railway system and its bookshops on platforms (W.H.Smith) and its
conjunction with advances in steam printing which meant that illustrated magazines could be
cheaply produced and mass circulated. Michael Chanan (1980) reports,
The massification of publishing in the nineteenth century came about through
improvements in the means of both production and distribution: the development of
rapid printing techniques using the steam press, and the advantages for distribution,
both of speed and geographical dispersion, provided by the railways (p.23).
A new breed of publishing barons exploited this conjunction and one of the first was George
Newnes who’s ‘Tit-Bits’ of 1881 which set a fairly low bar for this type of magazine. Like
the Sunday Papers born in the 1820’s Tit Bits reflected the popular culture of old i.e.
chapbooks, ballads but in a new format but with similar content as before i.e. murders,
strange happenings and almanacs maybe with a dash of witchcraft and devilry.

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11. Cover image (unknown author) from Louis James, English Popular Literature 1819-1851, 1976.
The circulation was immediately huge compared to previous publishing techniques with TitBits hitting 900,000 weekly (Chanan 1980 p.25). Chanan (1980) also correctly identifies in
my opinion the significance of this for the development of early film…
The earliest applications of the film camera to contemporary scenes followed in large
part the principles recently established by the illustrated news magazines (p.15.)
In other words the ‘cinema of attractions’ was a Tit-Bits of ‘living pictures’. My interest is
not just in the political ramifications of the development of the ‘gutter’ press but the

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significance of this mass distribution of ‘illustrated’ material for artists and early film.
Although the market was predominantly middle-class it still relied as much on the image as
the word rather like the Church had done. According to Winston (1996, p. 31) ‘it was the
audience which ‘invented’ the cinema in the mid 1890’s’. The urban mass audience schooled
on illustrated magazines and the ‘penny dreadful’ were a new and lucrative market for
popular spectacle so all these various influences….music hall, photography, fairground
illusions and magic lanterns fed into its birth. This may be true in general but how did the
illustrated magazine itself affect the particular, or in my case Mann’s set of etchings? It is
certain that Mann made use of the railways to travel. One of his sketchbook notes mentions a
railway journey and he writes of awaiting a letter brought by train to Didcot, the nearest
station to his rural idyll of West Hagbourne (Hopkinson, 1985). The following sets of images
suggest that not only the subject matter but the formats already existed within the ‘illustrated
press’ and that Mann simply gave rein to his illustrative tendencies and transferred a ‘comic
strip’ from one genre to another. Presenting the sequence as a Folio edition and high art when
in fact it nothing of the sort…and all the more interesting for that. Mann was not the only
‘fine artist’ who read and was influenced by the illustrated press. Millais had illustrated
stories for Good Words (1864) and The Graphic (1869) and Burne Jones and Morris both
drew ‘comic sketches’. The interesting fact is that Mann did not pursue Millais’ more
‘commercial’ direction nor drift into ‘aestheticism’ or the symbolic fog of a rural
‘pictorialism’. His later images painted in London are ‘fresh’ and almost photographic realist
representations of the Berkshire landscape.

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12. Alexander Mann – Burning Couch Grass –oil on canvas- 1902

13. Alexander Mann – The road to Wittenham Clumps near Oxford – oil on canvas - 1901

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SEQUENTIAL IMAGE GALLERIES

The following images are all sequential narratives from the period 1860-1890. They are either
from early Sunday Paper ‘comics’ (the word not usually attached to illustrated magazines
although Thierry Smolderen’s thesis in Naissances de la bande dessinée de William Hogarth
à Winsor McCay, 2011 does challenge this.) or directly from Illustrated Magazines such as
The Strand (1891), Illustrated London News (1842), Punch (1842 ) or the ‘penny tablet’
Funny Folks which launched in 1874. From the 1880’s the illustrations gave way to
photographic reproduction. This can be clearly seen in The Strand’s ‘Picture Magazine’
supplement of 1895 where early photographs exist alongside cartoons and woodblock
illustration. By 1900 full blown photo-journalism had replaced the illustrated story. Jared
Gardner (2012) revises USA comic theory by including F.M. Howarth and F.B.Opper (see
below) but does not include the European ‘comic’ illustrated magazines and shows a more
American-centric approach. Both he and Smolderen (2011) however do link the illustrated
magazines to early film.

The following image galleries attempt to link themes across disciplines.

ALEXANDER MANN’S GNATS: SEQUENTIAL NARRATIVES 1850-1895

Sequential thematic traces in the popular press (UK) 1850-1895

Bushey Sketching Club - The Graphic – 1890 below a Cuthbert Bede sequence

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‘Painting outdoors’ May 9th 1858 Illustrated London News Supplement

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Sketching and photographing on board ship – The Graphic 1890

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The artist and the lovers – ‘comic’ strip from Picture Magazine (The Strand supplement) July 1895

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The Graphic 1895 – The trails of an artist in Tangier (Mann there 1890-1892)

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Sequential thematic traces in the popular press (international) 1850-1895

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F.M.Howarth- Funny Folks ( presented as folio edition like Mann’s Gnats’) 1899.

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ALEXANDER MANN’S GNATS: SEQUENTIAL NARRATIVES 1850-1895

Opper in Puck USA

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Scribners USA

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Photography as subject matter illustrated press 1850-1895

The Photographic Times August 17th 1888 – showing linked themes of back to nature and art and photography.

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Photographing a dog 1890 – The Graphic

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Opper (USA) on Photography in The Picture Magazine July 1895

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George Roller in Pick Me Up magazine 1890 shows influence of Muybridge’s sequential photographs.

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Artistic Echoes and cross-fertilization 1850-1895
Alexander Mann is aligned variously in different art histories with The Glasgow Boys,
Scottish Impressionism, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. This is to be expected as he
did not really fit neatly into any category. His early Parisian tuition at Academie Julien
brought him into contact with the Impressionists but the greater influence was from CarolusDuran who also taught Sargent. Mann enrolled in 1881 and was taught to paint direct to
canvas and absorbed current styles from The Hague School (which in turn was influenced by
the 1830s Barbizon painting school of back to nature ‘realism’). The invention of portable
paint tubes in the 1840’s and design of portable easels helped develop the movement. This
‘en plein air’ attitude was to stay with Mann all his life. By the 1880s a full blown ‘back to
nature’ movement in literary and artistic circles spawned the birth of ‘art colonies’ across
Europe and inspired Mann’s moving to West Hagbourne in 1887 and later to the artist’s
village Blewbury. This ‘movement’ was of course reflected and ridiculed in equal measure in
the popular press as some of the illustrations show. The artists themselves fed into this
mythology with their own paintings of themselves painting as if to perpetuate the myth with
‘reportage in paint’. Here are a few examples of painted versions of the painter painting.
There are also some photographs from Victorian Art Colonies of the period and beyond
showing the popularity of the rural retreat and the ‘Sketching Club’.

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Winslow Homer –Artists Sketching in White Mountains 1868 – Oil on Panel

Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood by John Singer Sargent. oil on canvas, 1885.

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The Sketchers by John Singer Sargent oil on canvas 1914

Sir Alfred J. Munnings - Laura Knight painting 1911

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Johann August Malmstrom - At the easel (date unknown - Sweden)

A Lady at the Easel – William Penn Morgan USA (1826-1900) Not so much ‘plein air’ as set piece.

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Pierre Renoir - Monet painting in his Garden in Argenteuil-oil on canvas -1873

Claude Monet - In the Woods at Giverny: Blanche Hoschedé at Her Easel with Suzanne Hoschedé Reading
Oil on Canvas 1887

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Photographic traces of ‘En Plein Air’ movement 1850-1895 and beyond.

Photograph of artists at Grez, 1877, from Will Hicok Low ‘A chronicle of friendships, 1873-1900, re-presented
in Nina Lubbren, ‘Rural artist’s colonies in europe 1870-1910. It is possible that Alexander Mann is one of the
un-named artists present as he visited Grez-sue Loing.

Dame Laura Knight painting at Runswick.

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Plein Air Art School Shinnecock Hills USA 1891

Old Lyme Artists’ Colony USA
Just how long we will stay will depend largely upon the mosquitoes. If they do not drive me away…I would like
to stay into September. --Bessie Potter Vonnoh to Florence Griswold, 1908

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Postcard showing painters at work in Katwijk aan Zee (From Nina Lubbren – Rural Artist’s Colonies in Europe 1870-1910)

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KINEMA and the ‘theme’ 1896-1910
Finally all these themes come together in the 1903 Biograph film ‘The Artist’s Model’ and
reverberate throughout Georges Melies ‘illusions’

The Fate of the Artist’s Model,
Georg William Bitzer, American Mutoscope & Biograph, É-U, 1903, 250 ft.
Low and Manvell’s ‘The History of the British Film’ 1896-1906 catalogues early British
films of which two have art as subject or artists as protagonists.
R.W.Paul’s Come Along,Do!(1898)
and W.Haggar’s The Rival Painters (1905).
Finally an image by Burne Jones not known for his cartoons but showing that Mann was not
the only artist mixing high and low art. The gap between Melies (photograph below) and
early film….Mann and Burne Jones and Comic Art is really paper or rather canvas thin…

ALEXANDER MANN’S GNATS: SEQUENTIAL NARRATIVES 1850-1895

Image source : McCarthy, F. (2011) . The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian
Imagination. London: Faber & Faber.

Shaun Belcher Nottingham England July 2013

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References
Chanan,M. (1980). The dream that kicks:The prehistory and early years of cinema in England. London:
Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Garstin, N. (1909). Obituary, Studio,46, 300-5.
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University Press.
Gaudreault, A. (2011). Film and attraction: From kinematography to cinema. trans. Timothy Barnard. Urbana,
IL: Illinois University Press.
Gaudreault, A. (1982) (dir.), Cinéma 1900-1906. Filmography/Filmographie, Bruxelles: FIAF. Retrieved from:
http://cri.histart.umontreal.ca/grafics/fr/proj-artist-films.asp

Gunning, T.(1986, Fall). The cinema of attraction: Early film, its spectator and the avant-garde’. Wide Angle,
8,3- 4.
Hopkinson, M.(1985). Alexander Mann: Sketches and correspondence with his wife and family. London: Fine
Art Society.
Jones, B.E. (1911). Cassell’s cyclopedia of photography. London: Cassell and Co.
Lubbren, N. (2001), Rural Artist’s Colonies in Europe 1870-1910.Manchester: Manchester University Press.
McCarthy, F. (2011). The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination. London:
Faber & Faber.
Mann, A. (1884). Gnats and other hindrances to the landscape artist. London: Fine Art Society.
Nead, L. (2008). ‘The Haunted Gallery: Painting, Photography, Film c. 1900. London: Yale.
Newall, C. (1983). Alexander Mann, 1853-1908 The Fine Art Society. London: Fine Art Society.
Scharf, A. (1974). Art and photography. London: Pelican books.
Smolderen, T.(2011). Naissances de la bande dessinée de William Hogarth à Winsor McCay. Bruxelles: Les
Impressions Nouvelles.
Winston,B.(1996). Technologies of seeing. London: British Film Institute.

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