Melanie V. Taylor - Who is she?

Hi, I'm Melanie Taylor.  I am an art historian and I live in the UK and have another blog where I write and post articles. Click on this link to take you to that website. https://melanievtaylor.co.uk 

A bit about my family history:

What are historians if they are not story tellers of the past, so here is a little of mine.  I come from a colourful family of film financiers, cinema owners and film and theatre producers.  My great grandfather started a travelling waxworks in the northeast of England in the latter part of the 19th century and had the first permanent picture house in the northeast.  His name was George Black (d 1910) and his photograph hangs on my stairwell.  His three sons, another George, an Alfred and an Edward (all named after great kings of England - such cheek for a lowly Newcastle family whose origins are allegedly Italian!) all went into the entertainment industry.  

My grandfather was the son in the middle, Alfred Black (1895-1973).  He built a cinema chain and was a film financier.  His first cinema was built in 1934 in Byker, Newcastle upon Tyne and known as Black's Regal Cinema.  He had served in WW1 being awarded both the Distinguished Service Medal and the Military Cross during the time he was in the Motor Machine Gun Corps in Mesopotamia.  He then became a member of Dunster Force (allegedly) that went into Russia after the revolution.  I have yet to research this part of his history fully.  When he died we found his medals hidden in his desk drawer.  He had never spoken of his time as an NCO in the British army, but he had a tattoo on his left arm that only later did I realise was the Russian imperial eagle.  Unfortunately my mother and aunt burnt all the photographs that he had taken during his time in Armenia. I had argued that these be sent to the Imperial War Museum as I realised they were important documents, but sadly they all ended up on the bonfire.  It was these photographs that made me realise the importance of visual narrative.  

His elder brother, George (1890 - 1945), was, according to family stories, rejected by the army because of his flat feet. He came south in 1928 to rescue the failing variety theatre chain the General Theatre Corporation (GTC), which included the London Palladium.  The youngest brother, Edward (1900-1948) was a film producer and head of Maurice Ostrer's Gainsborough Studios.  'Ted' produced the film Millions Like Us, starring Patricia Roc and Eric Porter and melodramas such as The Man in Grey (starring James Mason, Stewart Granger and Margaret Lockwood). These are just two examples of the films written and produced in order to give everyone an hour or two of total escapism  from the stresses of everyday life during our battle against the Nazi threat.

However, the men in my family had very traditional Victorian ideas and when, aged eight, I voiced my desire to study history at Cambridge I was told very firmly that me this was not an option because educating a woman was a waste of both time and money.  So I turned to my other love. Showing an aptitude for art from an early age, I thought I might be allowed to go to art school instead.  That idea was also quashed and despite my headmistress trying to persuade my mother that a modern woman (it was the 1960s) should be educated to the maximum of her potential, I was sent to the local secretarial school.   I vividly remember my mother telling me to think of all the interesting things that, as a secretary, I would be typing.  I will never forget the look on her face when I hissed at her that I'd rather be writing them! For a short time the stinging slap to my face was reminder that what I wanted, and what I was expected to do, were very different things!  As I've grown older, I have pondered on whether I had touched a nerve and she too had regrets.  I never asked her.

Yes, I did have interesting jobs working for various legal firms and trade associations during the time of the UK's integration into Europe.  Then it was marriage, 2 children, divorce; followed by a return to poorly paid admin jobs.  At the age of 49 I saw an advert in a local freebie newpaper advertising part-time degrees in The History of Art, Architecture & Design at Kingston University.  After several years working full-time, juggling being a single parent and studying, I obtained my Bachelor's degree. An inheritance allowed me to study full-time for a Master of Arts degree in Medieval & Tudor Studies at The University of Kent at Canterbury.  Unfortunately my mother did not live long enough to see me graduate from Kingston, let alone do a Master's degree.

During my Master's year, I explored Medieval Art and Tudor Word & Image and learnt how to decipher the writing on our surviving written records.  It was while I delved into the world of portraiture that I became fascinated with the art of the portrait miniature and early 16th century illuminated manuscripts.  I was researching an essay on the Tudor portrait miniature and  came across the shadowy figure of Levina Teerlinc, who became the subject of my Master's dissertation.  Having become fascinated with the little known histories of women artists and photographers at BA level, I was not surprised to find that Teerlinc had disappeared from the pages of history after her death, even though her career as an appointed artist at the Tudor Court spanned thirty years.  She served four queens and two kings, having a special relationship with Elizabeth I from 1545/6 when Teerlinc came to England, until her death in 1576.  

Teerlinc is considered to be the artist who taught Nicholas Hilliard the art of miniature portrait painting.  He was such a handsome individual and had a unique relationship with Elizabeth I, creating many portraits of her from the 1580s onwards that focussed on her famous clothes and jewellery as opposed to her aging features.  His delightful miniature portraits of Elizabeth I were all part of the propaganda promoting England's Virgin Queen.  After I gained my Master's degree, Hilliard became an obsession and invaded virtually every spare waking moment, so much so that I wrote a novel entitled The Truth of the Line (a quote from Hilliard's 1598 treatise). Now the publishing rights of this novel have returned to me I am currently looking for a publisher who believes in getting their authors' work into book shops as opposed to relying solely on online sales. If you are interested in my books visit: https://melanievtaylor.co.uk/books/


If you have got this far, you are probably wondering how Ashtead Art Lovers came about.  In 2007 some friends asked if I could provide some background information on current exhibitions in London and very specifically on the photographer, Lee Miller, whose work was being exhibited at the V&A.  They knew my BA dissertation had focussed on Miller's WW2 photography and articles as the official war correspondent for Vogue magazine.  It was the memory of my grandfather's harrowing photographs of the Armenian massacres that still resonated with me and drove me to research Miller's wartime career as Vogue's official war photographer.  Miller had recorded the terrible scenes at Dachau concentration camp as she accompanied Rainbow Company when they entered the camp in spring of 1945.  Vogue published her 10,000 word article without changes and reproduced her photographs of what they found at Dachau in the article titled Believe It!  I remember how I was nearly sick with fright before giving this talk on Miller's life to my audience of six!  However, my loyal micro fan base wanted more. Tate Britain were showing the work of the Pre-Raphaelite founder, John Everett Millais and the National Gallery were exhibiting 'Renaissance Siena: Art for a City' so I prepared and gave talks on these subjects, followed by one on Nicholas Hilliard.  This broad start led to regular monthly events providing background information to current exhibitions at the public London galleries.  Since then the group has grown and developed.  You can see all the lectures I have given over the past ten years in the section What we have looked at Before. This November Ashtead Art Lovers will celebrate its tenth anniversary.In addition to the Art Lovers presentations and discussion groups, I lecture on early modern history and art history.  I give study days on various art subjects, and aspects of history (details are on my Study Days page of this site) 

I have recently been closely involved with Sarah Bryson who has written a biography of Mary Tudor (sister of Henry VIII), titled La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor. A Life in Letters. This book has been snapped up by Amberley Publishing and is due for publication in February of 2018.  It is a really thorough examination of one of the lesser known Tudor princesses. Sarah's style is easy to read and I shall be recommending this book to all my students. Mary's character bounces off the page as a woman who was not frightened of grasping opportunities when they were offered and taking charge of her own destiny.  In an age when a woman's duty was to be modest, chaste, pious and most of all, obedient, Sarah's examination of this royal princess shows just how Mary fullfilled these feminine duties, but with conditions!  I have the distinct feeling that Mary and her brother Henry VIII were very similar characters, but she was so much better than he at understanding how to get your own way without bullying. In particular, Sarah's analysis of how Mary outwitted her brother the king, and eventually made him accept that her behaviour after her husband's death was the fulfilment of Henry's promise given as she departed to marry the aged Louis XII of France, demonstrates her depth of research and ability to put herself in Mary's position giving us an unprecedented insight into the mind of this royal princess.    https://sarah-bryson.com is the link to her website and is in various museum bookshops and of course through Amazon. I haven't been into Waterstones yet, but I know the branch on Piccadilly were aware of the publication date back in February.   

So you see I am sort of following the family tradition of entertainment. I hope that my lectures bring art and history to life and interest people in a similar way to how my grandfather and great uncles facilitated films and theatre to boost morale and entertain everyone during the struggles of the first half of the 20th century.  They are a hard act to follow!
 
If you are interested in coming to any of the Art Lover discussions or would like to attend a course, it would be lovely to see you.  Phone me (01372 272235) or email ashteadartlovers@gmail.com.