The Flirtations of Croquet
It is unclear whether this album already contained photocollages when the twenty-one-year-old Constance Cochrane-Baillie gave it to her younger sister Amy, or whether it was a blank album to be filled by Amy in the years to come. Whichever is the case, multiple hands are evident on its pages.
The album’s scenes of country-house life and London cosmopolitanism seem alternately to validate and to parody the aristocratic society in which the girls grew up. With a quirky sense of humor and an affinity for the bizarre, the photocollages often function as tongue-in-cheek jokes about their social milieu.
Croquet had recently emerged as an amusing pastime. Originally played on the lawns of country estates, it implicitly signaled wealth and land ownership. It also provided ample time for men and women to mingle while participating in a sanctioned activity; poems, stories, and articles of the day explicitly linked croquet and flirtation. A spoof on the history of the game noted:
to serious flirtation;
and is, generally,
a very fair excuse
for an hour or two’s trifling
on a hot summer’s afternoon.”
February 2, 2010–May 9, 2010
The Howard Gilman Gallery
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Sixty years before the embrace of collage techniques by avant-garde artists of the early twentieth century, aristocratic Victorian women were already experimenting with photocollage. The compositions they made with photographs and watercolors are whimsical and fantastical, combining human heads and animal bodies, placing people into imaginary landscapes, and morphing faces into common household objects.
Such images, often made for albums, reveal the educated minds as well as the accomplished hands of their makers. With sharp wit and dramatic shifts of scale akin to those Alice experienced in Wonderland, these images stand the rather serious conventions of early photography on their heads. The exhibition features forty-eight works from the 1860s and 1870s, from public and private collections.
Image: Constance Sackville-West (English, 1846–1929) or Amy Augusta Frederica Annabella Cochrane Baillie (English, 1853–1913) Untitled page from the Sackville-West Album, 1867/73 Collage of watercolor and albumen silver prints; 9 5/8 x 11 13/16 in. (24.5 x 30 cm) Courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film
A post-modern interpretation of croquet — as luxurious sport — can be found here in this perfectly enchanting glimpse of linens and whites showcased in the long languid days of summer taken at the Fairfield County Hunt Club’s croquet tournament, Fairfield, New England, 1991, by Slim Aarons.