Gerald Moira and Frank Lynn Jenkins A painted bas-relief panel, signed,75cm x 107cm
The seventeen bas-relief panels in coloured plaster were created in 1898 by the decorative artist Gerald Moira (1867-1959) and the sculptor Frank Lynn Jenkins (1870-1929). These panels, were originally commissioned by Ernest Hall Watt for the library of his house at Bishop Burton near Beverley. The house was designed by the architect G. F. Unsworth, who had previously collaborated with Moira, and it was evidently at his suggestion that Hall Watt invited Moira and Jenkins to undertake the decoration of the library.
Bas-relief panels such as these were particularly popular as a form of interior in both public buildings and private homes during the late Nineteenth century. Artists such as Robert Anning Bell, Walter Crane, and George Frampton all worked in this medium and they quickly established the bas-relief panel in coloured plaster, a sophisticated form of decorative art in both Britain and France. The most successful results, however, were achieved by the partnership of Moira and Lynn Jenkins who executed several important commissions in this medium. In each of these it was Moira who established the general design of the works and who made the preparatory drawings. These were then passed to Jenkins who translated them into three-dimensional clay models from which the plaster panels were cast. Moira then painted and decorated the panels in oils and metallic paints.
The series was carefully designed not only to decorate the room for which they were originally commissioned but also to complement its function as a library. Harold Watkins in his monograph on Gerald Moira (London, 1922) comments of this particular commission so sombre were the surroundings (of the room) that some special mode of treatment had to be invented to provide in this frieze the set-off to the environing profundity that was desirable". Moira overcame the gloom and provided the required effect of living, luxurious colour by first treating the decoration with gold and silver and then painting with thin stain colours over this base. The result exceeded expectations and the effect of the frieze was almost an illumination, vivifying and beautifying the whole room
The stylistic features of the panels which include stylised forms, sinuous and flowing contours, and a tendency towards flat abstract patterning betray Moiras love of the Art Nouveau style which was then considered both aesthetic and very modern. The literary scenes which the panels depict reflected Hall Watts literary sensibility. Writers such as Shakespeare, Longfellow, Tennyson, Keats, Swinburne and the Rossettis, from whose works the scenes are drawn, were much appreciated by the Pre-Raphaelite painters and subsequently by cultured Victorians such as Hall Watt. In this respect, Moira was an ideal artist to call upon for the execution of this particular commission since he entertained the same literary enthusiasms and was influenced by Rossetti and the second generation of Pre-Raphaelite painters such a Burne-Jones.
The bas-relief panels in coloured plaster which Moira and Jenkins designed became quite famous in their day. Their commissions for the Trocadero Restaurant in London (1896), for the Passmore Edwards Free Library in Shoreditch (1898) and for the Peninsular and Oriental Pavilion at the Paris Exhibition (1900) were discussed with interest throughout this period by both The Magazine of Art and the famous design journal The Studio. Indeed, the panels which were executed for Hall Watt, were considered so artistically important that The Studio reproduced sixteen of the panels as half-plates in the August and September 1898 issues of the magazine. The panels now have a double importance not only since they represent a crucial phase in the history of Nineteenth century art and design but also in that they have been preserved as a sequence in their own right when so many other examples in this medium have been lost.