American nineteenth century burlesque provided strong-minded women with a means of expressing themselves on the stage - and in many ways such acts can be seen as part of the fight for equality, refusing to be prissy and prim at home and often proclaiming political views.

The following series of photographs have been collected by Charles H McCaghy, a professor emeritus at Bowling Green State University, Ohio. They were taken in the 1890's and, by some historical accounts, the sight of these ample bosoms and thighs drove men into frenzies of passion, whilst those of a more restrained character considered that such actresses were little better than prostitutes.

But, the VV might dare to speculate that the most likely fun going on after shows involved the somewhat less scandalous vice of copious eating and drinking - going by the buxom shapes that appear in the following display.



In Britain, in March 1901, this brief scene was captured on film. Entitled The Death of Poor Joe - Joe being based on the crossing sweeper in Bleak House - it is now thought to be the earliest moving image reflecting a scene from a Dicken's novel.

This footage (created in Brighton and directed by the film pioneer George Albert Smith with Smith's wife, Laura Bayley, playing the part of Joe) has only recently been rediscovered in the vaults of the British Film Institute by the curator Bryony Dixon.

The VV rather likes the shining beam of the watchman's torch which appears to have a life of its own, and must be one of the very first examples of 'special affects'.

Until the discovery of Poor Joe the earliest known film relating to Dickens' work was Scrooge, or Marley's Ghost, this having been created in November 1901.

This film was directed by Walter R Booth, a magician and master of trick photography.Lasting just over six minutes it shows a scene from Dickens' 1848 novel entitled A Christmas Carol. However crude such techniques may now seem when presented to our jaded eyes the special affects of superimposed imagery - such as in the case of the face on the doorknob - were really amazing at the time - so much so that the film was played at a Royal Command Performance at Sandringham House in December 1901. 

Sadly, only three minutes of this important historical footage now remains intact. But if you have an interest in such films then these and other fascinating clips will be shown at a Dickens' special event to be held at the BFI Southbank on March 23rd. 

                                            A still from The Pipwick Papers. 1913



Ena and Betty, Daughers of Asher and Mrs Wertheimer 1901 - now owned by Tate Britain

Some years ago, when the VV found a postcard of this painting by John Singer Sargent she was stunned by the resemblance it bore to her mother, Barbara, and her mother's sister, Hazel.

It is in fact a portrait of Ena (Helena) and Betty (Elizabeth) Wertheimer, the daughters of a dealer who helped to secure comissions for the artist for, despite his youthful enthusiasm for painting the sea and all things marine, Sargent actually went on to find his fame when creating such glamorous portraits as this.

In Tate Etc, the Tate's online magazine, I found Josh Lacey's description of his first impression of this painting -

"One afternoon I was wandering through Tate Britain and noticed a full-length portrait of two women, hanging so high that I had to walk back and look up, straining my neck. I was entranced by their animation, their intentness, their openness, the force of their personalities.

They are two of the daughters of Asher Wertheimer, a successful Jewish art dealer who had a gallery in Bond Street. I imagine him as wealthy and successful, but always insecure, always conscious that he was, to some extent, considered a foreigner. He commissioned John Singer Sargent to paint twelve portraits of himself, his wife and their children. Jacques-Emile Blanche, who knew both the artist and the family, wrote that Sargent “was excited when he did the Wertheimer family, the father whom Rembrandt would have painted with a turban, the daughters with their gypsy complexion”. The portraits forged a friendship between the enigmatic American painter and the big, bustling brood of Wertheimers. Soon, Sargent was a constant visitor at their house and a place was always kept for him at their dinner table.

I’ve now seen all twelve, but this remains my favourite, mainly because of the passion and vitality in Ena’s face. She’s standing on the right, one hand resting on a vase, the other looped around her younger sister’s waist. Sargent sketched and painted her several times. In some way, although no one knows quite how, he fell for her. And, via him, I did too."

I'm with Josh. Those girls look like fun, just as Barbara and Hazel Harris were - and still are - and hopefully will be for many years to come.

ADDENDUM: Thanks to the lovely author Liz Fenwick and her comment below, I have now discovered this glorious portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner. Isn't it striking! It makes me love Sargent's work even more.