On 20th November, Magdalen College in Oxford held a special talk by T. E. Lawrence’s authorised biographer, Jeremy Wilson, to celebrate the acquisition of the above bust of Lawrence by artist and sculptor, Eric Kennington.
The talk focused on Lawrence and the arts, with special attention given to the portraits that he commissioned for his book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which tells the story of his role in the Arab Revolt.
In conjunction with the talk, Magdalen also had on display a number of papers relating not only to Lawrence but Magdalen Fellow, David Hogarth.
As you can imagine, then, as soon as I read about the talk via the T. E. Lawrence Society’s Facebook page last week I was doubly keen to go! Actually, I was triply keen. I’ll come to that in a minute.
The talk did not disappoint. What Wilson lacked as an art critic he more than made up for in his knowledge of the story of Lawrence’s life as a patron of the arts.
We learnt, for example, that TEL spent at least £150,000 commissioning paintings. Wilson said it had been suggested to him that this might make him one of the most significant arts patrons of the period.
Lawrence preferred contemporary forms of art. Alas, this meant he had to apologise to the wives of sitters for the portrayal of their husbands!
Above is a sketch of David Hogarth by one of Lawrence’s favourite artists (from the University of Toronto), Augustus John. Wilson said Hogarth didn’t like it. I think I can see why. John makes Hogarth’s hair look messy and his moustache gives him a rather monkey-like appearance.
As for the exhibition – it was a joy not only to see original letters by Hogarth but first or early editions of his books, too. As if that wasn’t enough, I briefly met Hogarth’s grandson. And I am sure I detected a resemblance between him and the great man – especially in his upper lip.
Above you can see a letter written by Hogarth to (I think) the President of Magdalen College, Sir Herbert Warren. I’ve heard his name before – in connexion with C. S. Lewis who was a Magdalen Fellow between 1925-1954 (I wonder if he met Hogarth?). This was the third reason why it was a great thrill to visit the college.
The photograph below is a dinner list. I got a bit excited when photographing it and completely forgot to include the right hand side of the page, which is the whole point of it.
If I had photographed it, you would have been able to see how much Hogarth, Lawrence et al weighed when they had dinner at Magdalen that night.
Why were attendees weighed? I wish I knew. If they were weighed after dinner as well, perhaps it was to make sure they did not eat too much!
Below is Lawrence’s application for a demyship. This was an award given to less well off graduate scholars to enable them to continue their studies. I think Hogarth received one after he graduated (with a Double First), and here is T. E. Lawrence’s. As you can see, Hogarth was a referee. The application was successful.
I think it is on the back of the demyship that Lawrence joined Hogarth’s excavations at Carchemish, thus helping to improve our knowledge of the Hittite era, bring numerous objects back to Britain, and – of course – helping to build up his knowledge of the people and places of the Middle-East, which in turn enabled him to help Feisal et al during the revolt.