Today I had a very successful time researching a toy manufacturer. It was one of those frustrating jobs where you suddenly hit a bit of good luck and all becomes clear. Not that I want to blog about the complexities of the Bassett-Lowkes Ltd history.
I could blog about the fact that the fire alarm went off shortly after I arrived and we all had to evacuate the building by the nearest exit, not using the lifts and head half a mile up the road to the Albert Memorial.
While different enough to report, and given the fact I’d never been that close before, it was all a bit mundane, really. We left, we sat around on stone steps, we walked back to work. There was plenty of speculation as to the cause but no-one really knew for sure and no-one bothered telling us afterwards.
At lunchtime I popped over to the V&A and had a long hard look at the miniature portraits upstairs. On the way, setting up at the end of the sculpture gallery, was a 3 piece band – not something you see every day! They started playing some South American style rhythms by the time I came back down and had attracted quite an audience. They were pretty funky, especially the old guy on the piano and vocals who looked like a stand-in from an amateur musical society but performed like a young man in his prime.
But the band came later as I was heading upstairs where the V&A collection of miniature paintings lives. And they are, simply, incredible. Some of them are so small, it seems impossible that someone painted them. They are very affected by light so the cases have little illumination and what there is, fades after a while, returning only when someone approaches the cases.
In one of these cases, I discovered the amazing work of Susannah-Penelope Crosse (nee Gibson). There isn’t a lot evidence about her birth but it’s estimated she was born in around 1655 possibly in Buckinghamshire. Her father was a miniaturist and tended to move around a lot so, although he was based in London, primarily, he was probably in Bucks when Susannah-Penelope was conceived/born.
Her parents were both dwarfs and had appointments at court – I’m not sure if this is why he started painting tiny portraits. Susannah-Penelope and her siblings however, were of average height. Obviously Susannah-Penelope learnt much from her dad but she also studied the works of another miniaturist, Samuel Cooper. When I say she ‘studied’ Cooper, she actually just copied his works, teaching herself his techniques in this way. Her works show the same techniques as Cooper…apparently.
She married the jeweller son of a jeweller, Michael Crosse. His father was very successful, well in with the well to do at court, and, subsequently, well off to boot. This meant that Susannah-Penelope wouldn’t ever have to work to support herself. This fact makes her work all the more amazing because she just did it for herself or family or friends.
Her miniatures feature a lot of influential figures of the day which she would have mixed with socially, given her family’s court connections, and, similar to today, probably just wanted to take a few snaps for the family album.
She died in 1700, roughly 45 years old.
It was time to go back to work, all too soon so I bade farewell to tiny, little Susannah- Penelope and headed back to my basement desk, returning to the world of model ships.
And some interesting news…this blog was typed on Mirinda’s iPad on the train home. I may not like Apple much but I’m rather taken with the iPad when it comes to document handling and typing. Though it does take a bit of time getting used to a virtual keyboard.