Thursday 4 August 2016

Shipbreaking in the Studio

My latest find at the local charity shop that keeps on coming up with big fat art books at knock-down prices (most recently Whistler, Max Beerbohm, Carl Larsson) was Great Painter-Etchers from Rembrandt to Whistler. This handsome volume was originally published as a lavish special edition - with more than 200 plates - of The Studio magazine in 1913. My copy has been rebound, perhaps by the owner whose bookplate reads 'Ex Libris C.A. Lascarides, New House, Ham Common' (with a woodcut of what looks very like a new house on Ham Common).
 Happily the binder retained the 16 pages of advertisements at the front of the volume. These are mostly what one might expect - art dealers, etchers and etchings, suppliers of materials - but one rather more unexpected item caught my eye. This was an advert for Castle's Shipbreaking Co. Ltd, of Baltic Wharf, Westminster, and their range of 'man-o'-war teakwood garden furniture'. Benches and a folding table are illustrated, and around the margin runs a long list of 'some historic ships broken up by the firm'.
 This world of garden furniture made out of wood from broken-up ships - hard oak as well as teak - was new to me, but after a little research I discovered that (a) such outdoor furniture was highly desirable, the wood being proof against any weather and needing no paint or varnish, and (b) there was a brisk market in man-o'-war teak for many years. King George V was one happy customer, buying a quantity of garden furniture made of teak from the cruiser Melampus, which he had commanded when he was the Duke of York. Liberty & Co, when rebuilding their famous store in 1922, made extensive use of oak from two broken-up training ships - and, as it happens, this volume of The Studio carries a full-page advertisement for Liberty's 'artistic Xmas cards, calendars & gift books'.
 And here's an art-historical footnote: it is to Castle's shipbreaking yard that the 'fighting Temeraire' is being towed in Turner's famous painting.

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