The 19th century and especially the latter half of the century is known for its obsession with ghosts, spirits, morbid things, and the subconscious. In fact, talking with the dead, being inspired by them or guided by them, as well as spirit photography and ouija boards were a big fad around the 1850s.
One artist interested in spirits was Georgiana Houghton. She began producing ‘spirit’ drawings in 1859 at seances. This is what she said about the process:
“the execution of the Drawings my hand has been entirely guided by Spirits, no idea being formed in my own mind as to what was going to be produced…” She explains that the spirits were definitely those of dead people, and after having heard of such possibilities of communication as early as 1859 set out to “obtain mediumship” by holding hands with her mother at a small table for some months on end waiting for contact—which of course she says happened. Sundays worked best, “as we should then be less disturbed by evil influences”
In 1871 Houghton rented a gallery and showed her watercolour drawings in London.The exposition was met with mixed reviews, and only one painting sold.
These days though, we can appreciate her paintings for what they are: beautiful, colourful abstract paintings, full of movement. Houghton was a pioneer in paingting, choosing this abstract and free-flowing way of working instead of meticulously working out historical paintings. For the first time in 150 years, these works will be presented to the public, so don’t miss out!
Georgiana Houghton: Spirit Drawings is at the Courtauld Art Gallery from June 16 to September 11 2016. Admission £9. Open 10am – 6pm daily.
A very interesting book of spirit photography by Houghton can be viewed here: http://www.keithdelellisgallery.com/Exhibitions/Spirit/Spirit2index.html