two books on global displacement remind us of the value of welcoming refugees
With the continued displacement of millions of people around the world, two publications remind us of the value of welcoming victims fleeing war and persecution, as well as the global nature of these populations – whether transitory or permanent, past and present – who have taken up residence in the United Kingdom.
Europe divided by Tessa Murdoch, former senior curator of collections and research at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, is an in-depth, scholarly and lavish book on the art and culture of the French Calvinist Protestants or Huguenots, a significant minority in the early 17th century century and abundant in artists, creators and artisans. They began to leave their homeland for good during state-sponsored violence and forced conversion under Louis XIV, culminating in 1685 with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the 1598 law that had granted them a religious protection in a predominantly Catholic country. The Sun King at sea (reviewed in The Journal of the Arts, January 2022) noted that Huguenots were among the slaves who manned the king’s Mediterranean galleys.
Murdoch’s book is clearly the work of a lifetime. In 14 chapters, including a pithy introduction, it explores the global “Huguenot diaspora” over several centuries, including their welcome and integration into the British Isles from the 1680s – reinforcing the quality and diversity of craftsmanship here, while by weakening it in France – their role “as educators” (in language as in arts) and as practitioners (the bulk of the book, divided into disciplines). Throughout this time, they maintained their Huguenot identity through family, cultural, and religious networks.
From silk – the weaving sheds atop early Georgian houses in Spitalfields still survive – to metalwork, ceramics and furniture, from engravers and salesmen to watchmakers and jewellers, even prominent in the Armed Forces and Bank of England. ‘England, Europe divided clearly shows that Huguenot expertise and experience influenced all areas of British life, as well as the production of luxury. Famous figures include Louis-François Roubiliac, whose life-size marble by composer George Handel as “Apollo” (1738 V&A) transformed public portrait sculpture in his adopted country; the Soho goldsmith Nicholas Sprimont, who founded the Chelsea factory around 1744, the first major porcelain producer in England; and the goldsmith Paul de Lamerie, who employed William Hogarth as an engraver in the 1720s.
Or Europe divided presents the material culture created for the middle and upper elites, Mudlark’d– a stunningly beautiful and poignant book – details the bits and bobs of every man and woman, accidentally or deliberately left behind, or stolen, only to be found decades or centuries later. For Malcolm Russell, mudlarking is also the labor of love of a lifetime. Originally a 19th century term for the poor who roamed the Thames foreshore in search of items to sell or exchange for food, modern mudlarkers are closer in spirit to antiquarians of the romantic period. Here, narration, anecdote and facts – divided into broadly chronological themes such as “Slaves and Immigrants”, “Believers”, “Artists”, “Traders” and “Fighters” – highlight evidence the myriad items that Russell and his companions pulled from the mud of the river: a Roman hairpin, medieval pilgrim badges, 18th century physical jars, Bay Company trade beads from Hudson, a moldy human molar, possibly extracted by a traveling 19th-century tooth-puller, a Charlie Chaplin brooch, World War II munitions. No matter how humble they are, each is artfully photographed against slimy green stones or driftwood. In effect mud lark‘d is both an incentive and a guide for any budding time traveler. As trade unionist and MP John Elliott Burns mischievously declared, in response to an unfavorable comment by his American companion and quoted by Russell: “The St. Lawrence is nothing but water. Missouri muddy water. The Thames is a liquid story.
•Tessa Murdoch, Europe Divided: The Art and Culture of Huguenot Refugees,V&A, 320pp, 250 color illustrations, £40/$55 (hb), published in the UK 9th December 2021 and in the US 18th January 2022
• Malcolm Russell, Mudlark’d: Hidden Stories of the ThamesThames & Hudson, 223pp, 417 color illustrations, £25 (hb), published 28 April 2022
• Jacqueline on horseback is a book publisher at The arts journal