A rare 19th-century photograph by British photographer Roger Fenton (1819-1869), has been saved from exportation by a fundraising campaign by the National Media Museum and a £49,000 contribution from The Art Fund. Pasha and Bayadère, which depicts a dancing girl performing before a high ranking official (pasha) was taken in 1858 and, despite looking as though it was taken during Fenton’s travels, was actually a carefully staged tableau photographed in Fenton’s north London studio. Interestingly, Fenton himself plays the role of the pasha.
In Lincolnshire, three large plaster paintings dating back to the 1920s have been discovered in a storeroom at a shopping centre. The paintings were created on a plaster base with a horsehair gauze binding them together, and were originally hung in the ballroom of Grantham’s former George Hotel, which closed in the 1980s.
Another discovery that’s come to light this week was that of boxes containing more than 400 photographs, which shed new light on the excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship burial in 1939. The images, many of which are in colour, were found in a storeroom at the Sutton Hoo Visitors Centre and give an invaluable insight into how the dig was conducted and the tools used. Remarkably, one photograph shows the team working with a turkey baster and a pair of kitchen bellows.
Meanwhile, parts of handheld guns thought to date back to the 15th century have been unearthed at a North Yorkshire battlefield known to have been the site for one of the bloodiest conflicts of the War of the Roses. Experts believe that the fragments, found at the site in Towton, near Tadcaster, shed light on the use of guns by medieval troops and contradict the idea that guns were only used to attack castles during the period.
Making the history headlines in Wales this week is a letter signed by Adolf Hitler, which is to go on display at Bangor University. The letter was sent to Theodor Lewald, a man of Jewish descent who helped organise the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, to thank him for his work. However, the tale behind the letter reveals that Lewald had only been permitted to stay in the post following pressure from the International Olympic Committee and on the proviso that he left immediately after the games.
Another document now on show to the public for the first time is a wartime letter written by nursing heroine Florence Nightingale informing a Crimean gunner’s sister of the “sad certainty” of her brother’s death, and asking her to pass on the news to the soldier’s father. Part of the message, dated 20 May 1856, reads “I have never had so painful and unsatisfactory a letter to write”, and hints that the soldier’s death may have been due to desertion. The letter is on display at Chester University.
In auction news, a rare Chinese calligraphy scroll thought to date from the Tang dynasty between 618 and 907 has sold for £29 million, the second highest amount paid for an artwork at auction in China. The silk scroll contains four lines of characters and is a copy of ancient Chinese calligrapher Wang Xizhi’s work.
Elsewhere, a signed copy of the earliest book written about television, discovered in an Oxfam bookshop in Edinburgh, has fetched £1,440 at auction. Television written by Alfred Dinsdale and signed by one of the founding fathers of television, John Logie Baird, tells the story of the medium up to 1926 and was sold to an anonymous bidder.
It’s been a busy week for auctioneers as another big sale hit the headlines in the form of letters written by children’s author Beatrix Potter. The two letters, written in 1938 and 1939, lament declining traditional trades in the Lake District, the area from where Potter took much of her inspiration, and discuss spontaneity in art. The papers sold for £4,000, half the sum they were expected to make.
In North Wales, volunteers are being sought to stand on the summit of 10 hill forts and use flares and torches to signal to each other in a bid to identify how Iron Age people would have communicated from their hilltop homes 2,500 years ago. The experiment will take place on Sunday 5 December and volunteers are invited to register online at the Heather and Hillforts website.
And finally, two letters written by Horatio Nelson ten years apart are to go on show at the Wellcome Collection in London on Friday 26 November. The earlier letter was written with Nelson’s right hand while the later document was written with his left. Why was this? Nelson’s right arm was shattered by a Spanish musket ball on Tenerife in 1797 and was subsequently amputated. Reportedly, the naval commander was back at work half an hour after the operation and signing orders with his left hand just a few hours later.