Carte-de-visite of the week #15

This week’s carte-de-visite is actually a cabinet card, the larger format version (typically ​4 14 by ​6 12 inches) which gradually displaced the smaller cards during the 1870s and 1880s. Over the following decade or so, the popularity of both forms declined as Kodak and others made amateur photography more accessible, thus reducing the reliance on studio portraiture.

This portrait follows on naturally from the previous carte-de-visite image of Canon Vavasour, as it also depicts a scene from Catholic religious life. The back of the card is blank and there is no information to provide any details about the location or the date. A few observations can be made nonetheless.

The portrait shows a young nun sitting with – presumably – her parents, and it is therefore likely that this was taken on one of two special days – either her admission to the novitiate, or the occasion of her simple profession.  There are various stages in religious life, the length and name of which varies between the different religious orders and congregations, but the normal sequence runs along the lines of:

  1. Postulancy (from the Latin postulare, to ask or seek.) Lasts a few months, in which the postulant lives in the community and learns the basics of religious life. This period not only gives them the opportunity to decide if they feel a genuine commitment to such a life, but it also lets the community observe them and decide if they are suitable. When the period of postulancy ends, the community vote on whether or not the postulant should stay, if that is what they wish.
  2. Novitiate. This period usually lasts a year, sometimes too. In female communities, entrance to the novitiate is usually marked by the ‘taking of the veil’ and often a change of name, i.e. the adoption of a religious name, usually that of a saint.
  3. Simple or temporary vows (obedience, poverty and chastity) – this period may last three years or so, sometimes more. Nuns in simple vows are sometimes called ‘juniors.’
  4. Solemn vows. These are lifelong and irrevocable.

The nun in the portrait is wearing a Carmelite habit and the white veil indicates that she is either a novice or in temporary vows. Those in solemn vows wore black veils. There is no difference, I think, between the habits worn by Carmelite novices and those in simple vows, which makes it hard to determine what the occasion was. In the 19th century Carmelites were strictly cloistered and contact with family was extremely rare. When visits were allowed, these would take place in the parlour with conversation conducted through a wooden grille. The fact that this nun is sitting with her family underscores the special nature of the event.

The backdrop is clearly artificial, and at the bottom of the photograph it can be seen that they are actually seated outside, on grass. They were likely photographed in the convent garden, although whether or not the family were actually allowed inside the enclosure is hard to judge.

One interesting feature of this image, however, is that none of the sitters are looking at the camera. This might have been deliberate – an attempt by the photographer to make the scene look natural, as if they were captured in conversation rather than staring fixedly at the lens – or it may have been accidental, the sitters being momentarily distracted by a chance remark just before the shutter clicked.

With regard to the location, there is something about the parents’ dress that suggests they are European, perhaps French. The man appears to be wearing a military jacket, with heavy horizontal braiding reminiscent of the uniform of a hussar. The significance of the white (?) sash and the pinned badge are unclear, so any comments on this would be most welcome.


Close-up of the uniform

Carte-de-visite of the week #14 Philip Vavasour, Canon of Leeds

Canon Philip Joseph Vavasour (1826-87)

As a change from most of the cartes-de-visite featured previously in this series, this week’s CDV is not a studio portrait but rather a nicely-composed photograph that has been taken outside. It shows a clergyman in cassock and biretta, standing by an open door, possibly of a church building. A pencilled scrawl on the back records the name of ‘Revd. Philip Vavasour’ but no other details. However, I am not short of books on Victorian church history, and a little bit of digging soon unearthed some more information about the subject of this portrait.

Philip Joseph Vavasour (1826-87) was actually born Philip Joseph Stourton, but only had this surname for one day! Philip was born on 26 February 1826, the eighth child, and fifth and youngest son of Hon. Sir Edward Marmaduke Joseph Stourton and his wife, Marcia Bridget Lane-Fox.  The following day his father changed his surname to Vavasour by royal license, in line with a testamentary injunction from his late cousin, Sir Thomas Vavasour, 7th Baronet, who had died the previous month. Although the baronetcy became extinct with the death of Sir Thomas, his estate of Hazelwood in the West Riding of Yorkshire, passed to Sir Edward, who was created 1st Baronet Vavasour of Hazelwood in 1828. Sadly, his wife did not live to see this, as she died in June 1826, possibly from complications following the birth of her eight child.

They were a deeply pious family, spending much time in religious devotion and acts of charity. Two of Philip’s sisters became nuns. Tragedy struck again when Sir Edward died while making a pilgrimage to Rome, collapsing on 16 March 1847 at the village of Chanceau in France, where he was buried.

Philip at this time was studying for the priesthood at Ushaw College, and was ordained in 1850. The same year he travelled over to France and spent a week at Chanceau, a journey he made several times to visit his father’s grave. In 1876 he made one final trip, and brought his father’s remains back to be reinterred at Hazelwood.

Philip was chaplain of St Leonard’s, the medieval chapel at Hazelwood, but held another posts around the diocese and was instrumental in raising funds for the construction of St Wilfrid’s Catholic Church in Ripon, where he became the first parish priest in 1862. He would hold this position until his death.

He also helped raised funds to construct a new Catholic church at Tadcaster – near Hazelwood – on land donated by the Vavasour family. A temporary chapel opened there in 1865 with Cardinal Manning presiding at the opening of St Joseph’s Catholic Church four years later. a more permanent structure opening. There is a memorial to Fr. Philip Vavasour there in the form of a stained glass window by the altar.

St Anne’s Catholic Cathedral in Leeds had been established in 1838 on a site in Park Terrace, at the junction of Cookridge Street and Guildford Street. Fr. Vavasour was made a canon of the cathedral sometime in either the late 1860s or early 1870s.

He was elected a member of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society in 1862, and was possibly also a member of the Royal Archaeological Institute, as he exhibited an embroidered medieval chasuble at one of their meetings in 1874. In addition to these scholarly interests, he was well-known in the area for his charitable work, and was prominent among the social events of the local Catholic gentry and aristocracy, including the Marquis of Ripon. He was of course related to many of the well-known Catholic families.

Canon Vavasour travelled down to London in the company of Lord Ripon on Monday 18 April to attend a meeting of the Catholic Poor Schools Committee and also a reception with Cardinal Manning. To everyone’s shock, he collapsed and died the next day while visiting his relative, Miss Langdale, at 52 South Street, Park Lane. He was 61 years old. His body was interred at Hazelwood, where the funeral was carried out by the Bishop of Clifton. A memorial window was installed at St Wilfrid’s, Ripon, the following year.

Where was the photograph taken? The two most probable places would seem to be either a side door at the cathedral, or – more likely – St Wilfrid’s Church, Ripon. Verifying the first option is difficult, as the old cathedral was demolished and replaced by the present building in 1904. I stayed overnight in Ripon some years ago and went to Mass at St Wilfrid’s, but cannot recall this doorway. If anyone can confirm the location, I’d be interested to hear from them. One of the things that struck me about the portrait was the way Canon Vavasour is standing on the step, one foot crossed over the other, leaning back against the pillar of the door. The casual self-assurance, and disinterest in adhering to the stiff formalities of ecclesiastical portraiture, possibly reveal a little of the character of the man.

Anton Artefact #8

Letter from Walbrook to a young fan, October 1943


This is a letter written by AW to a young fan, Miss Beatrice Claire, in response to the script of a play she had sent him. It was written from the Aldwych Theatre on 6 October 1943, where AW had been playing the role of Kurt Müller in Lilian Hellman’s Watch on the Rhine since the previous April.  It would run until December 1943, although the role was taken over by Ferdy Mayne. The title of the play suggested by Miss Claire is unknown, but Walbrook thanked her for the kind thought, adding: ‘It is a fine play but does not interest me as an actor – or shall I say as a [?] Viennese?’

Although I have many signed items in my collection, and numerous copies of AW’s letters from the 1920s through to the 1960s, this is the only original handwritten letter that I possess and one that I treasure.

For previous posts in the series of ‘Anton Artefacts’, see here and here. More should follow very soon!

Paris, a walk through the city – in 1942

This book of Parisian views might at first glance seem like any other compilation of photographs of the French capital, showcasing its architectural beauties, churches, gardens & street scenes, presumably intended as a visitors’ souvenir. Yet, there’s a little more to it..


The front cover of the book

The photographs in Paris, wanderung durch eine Stadt [Paris, a walk through the city] are by Emmanuel Boudot-Lamotte (1908-81) but the text is in German, written by Hans Banger, and it was published in 1942 when France was under Nazi occupation.

The 165 photographs contain no signs of the Occupation, as the images were all taken before the war, originally published in Paris: Cent soixante-cinq photographies de l’auteur (Paris: Paul Hartmann, 1939). There are, however, one or two giveaway references in the text:

Hans Banger was head of Die Zentrale der Frontbuchhandlungen (ZdF) book distribution centre in Paris & the book was published by the Deutschen Arbeitsfront, the vast trade and industry organisation of which ZdF was a part. The flyleaf inscription provides further evidence that the book was intended for the occupying forces, as it has been signed by around a dozen members of Gruppe Mot/Zgkw as a parting gift to ‘Our workmate Hüllingshorst on the occasion of his departure from the Mot / Zgkw group. with best wishes.’

Zgkw. = Zugkraftwagen, or a half-tracked vehicle, but I’m not sure if the ‘Mot’ means that the unit was involved in mechanical repair rather than combat duties.


Inside the book are a few loose aerial photographs of Paris, stamped ‘Photographie Aérienne’ on the reverse but with the words ‘freigegeben durch R.L.M Kontr. No.’ Printed below, indicating that they were released by the Nazi Ministry of Aviation, or Reichsluftfahrtministerium.

It’s a wonderful compilation of images of Paris, the work of talented photographer who saw his views of the French capital published in French both before and after the war, yet the accompanying texts (both printed and handwritten) reveal how his work was appropriated during the Occupation – whether or not this was with his consent would be interesting to know.

Into Thin Air? Movies of disappearance and Denial

What could be more distressing than the sudden and mysterious disappearance of a loved one or family member? Probably being confronted with evidence that they never existed, and having both one’s memory and sanity thrown into doubt. This has been the disturbing premise of a number of films, which I began thinking about last weekend while watching the latest addition to this series – Fractured (2019)– which had just been streamed on Netflix. In this film, Ray Monroe (Jack Worthington) takes his daughter Perry to hospital after they both fall on a building site, and sits in the waiting room while Peri and her mother go off to get a scan. After some hours pass and they do not reappear, his questions about their whereabouts are met with a mixture of confusion, sympathy and increasingly belligerent impatience from different staff members, as the sign-in register, CCTV footage and doctors’ statements all indicate he arrived alone. Is his head injury to blame? Or is there something more sinister going on?

Fractured is a well-executed and fairly enjoyable movie, although anyone attempting to push this scenario in a contemporary setting has to find a way around the ubiquity of mobile phones and surveillance cameras which can easily be produced to prove or disprove basic facts such as these. It is notable for a film apparently set in the present day that no-one is seen using a mobile phone, and the hospital is still using VHS tapes for their CCTV recording in the emergency waiting room. Barnsley Hospital in South Yorkshire, for example, has over 160 surveillance cameras monitoring almost every public area including car parks, entrances, corridors, treatment rooms, offices and wards, and you can be fairly certain that they’re not recording everything on tape! Such disappearance films are more likely to convince if they are either made or set in the past, which is largely true of those listed below:

Unheimliche Geschichten [Uncanny Tales] (Richard Oswald, 1919)

Unheimliche Geschichten [Uncanny Tales] is a German silent film in which five short tales are linked together by a framing story set in an antiquarian bookshop at midnight, in which the figures of Death, the Devil and the Harlot emerge from paintings to tell the stories – similar to the devices used in the great portmanteau films made by Amicus in the 1970s. The first story is based on Anselma Heine’s novel Die Erscheinung [The Apparition], published in Berlin in 1912, which lays out the basic template for most of the films discussed below.

A young couple, played by two great Weimar figures – Conrad Veidt and Anita Berber – arrive at a hotel and check in for the night. He leaves her to spend the evening with friends, returning late – and drunk – to find his hotel room empty with bare walls, but puts this down to his drunken disorientation and sleeps elsewhere. In the morning, however, the woman is nowhere to be seen and his enquiries at the reception are meant with the firm insistence that he arrived alone: which is confirmed by the hotel register. The staff all deny having seen the woman. Who is telling the truth, and if they are lying, what could their reason be?

Conrad Veidt trying to get some answers from the hotel staff in Unheimliche Geschichte (1919)

Midnight Warning (Spencer Bennett, 1932)

A similar scenario forms the setting for this Pre-Code Hollywood film in which Bill Cornish (William Boyd) – a private investigator – arrives at a Chicago hotel, the Clarendon Arms, to see old friend Dr Walcott, who is mysteriously shot through the open window. The hotel management seem very cagey about discussing the matter – and why is there a human ear bone in the fireplace of Walcott’s room? The trail leads Cornish to the apartment of Erich and his fiancee Enid van Buren (Claudia Dell), who checked into the hotel with her brother Ralph two months earlier. The next morning Enid travelled to Salt Lake City to sign some papers relating to an estate she had inherited, but when she returned to the hotel the staff denied all knowledge of their stay, the hotel register is blank and the room is not as she remembers. Distressed and disorientated, Enid is taken to the ‘psychopathic ward’ of the local hospital – is she mad, or is there some truth in her story?

In comparison with the other films discussed below, Midnight Warning (aka Eyes of Mystery) is a very masculine tale, dominated by burly men standing around talking, and the casual misogyny of their attitudes is exemplified in the way that the unpleasant attempts at ‘gaslighting’ are brushed off at the end ‘for the greater good.’ Indeed, one feature that many of these films have in common is the ease with which a lone woman’s voice can be dismissed by powerful men as hysteria, over-imagination, a bump on the head or too many drinks. Sadly, this remains as true today as it did in the nineteenth century setting of the earlier films.

The story for Murder Mystery was written by Norman Battle but – like Unheimliche Geschichten above – it is based on the urban legend of ‘The Vanishing Lady’, also known as ‘The Vanishing Hotel Room’, which seems to have begun circulating in various forms in the late 19th century. It featured in Belloc Lowndes’ novel The End of Her Honeymoon (1913).

Marie Belloc Lowndes’s novel The End of the Honeymoon was published the same year as her novel The Lodger, which Hitchcock made into a film in 1927. Hilaire Belloc was her brother.

The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock, 1938)

Probably the best known version of these stories is Hitchcock’s hugely popular mystery thriller, The Lady Vanishes, which won him an Oscar for Best Director. In this film Iris (Margaret Lockwood) tries to convince fellow traveller Gilbert (Michael Redgrave in his screen debut) of the existence of an elderly woman Miss Froy (May Whitty) who has vanished from the train as they journey through Nazi Germany. No-one believes her, and the only piece of evidence that she was ever there – the trace of her name on the coach window – mysteriously disappears as they pass through a tunnel before Iris can show it to Gilbert – a typical Hitchcockian touch, but one that was retained in the 1979 remake starring Cybil Shepherd and Elliot Gould, which turns the tale into more of a screwball comedy. The BBC 2013 adaptation is perhaps more faithful to the original source material, Ethel White’s novel The Wheel Spins (1936), on which all these versions are based.

So Long at the Fair ( Terence Fisher, 1950)

The plot of So Long at the Fair is rather similar, although the reasons for the disappearance and subsequent cover-up are different, hearking back to the template used in Lowndes’ novel. This film was adapted from Anthony Thorne’s 1947 novel of the same name – the screenplay was co-written by Hugh Mills and Anthony Thorne – and tells the story of Johnny (David Tomlinson) and his sister Vicky (Jean Simmons, above) who have travelled to Paris for the World Fair of 1889. Overnight, Johnny disappears without a trace – to the extent that even his hotel room number is erased. Again, no-one believes the distraught girl until artist George Hathaway (Dirk Bogarde) is drawn into the mystery, and the two begin to investigate (falling in love as they do so.) Jean Simmons is as sweet and delightful as ever, and the film benefits from some wonderful period detail – just look at the costumes and hairstyles! – as well as a fine supporting cast that includes Felix Aylmer, Honor Blackman and Cathleen Nesbitt.

Brother and sister Vicky (Jean Simmons) and Johnny (David Tomlinson) enjoying a relaxed moment in Paris before Johnny’s disappearance: but was he ever really there?

Into Thin Air (Don Medford, 1955) – Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Diana (Pat HItchcock) looking for answers in a scene from Into Thin Air

Hitchcock returned to this theme again in 1955 for an early episode in the first run of the anthology series ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’. The script was written by Marian Cockerell, based on Thorne’s novel, although in this version British visitors to the 1889 Exposition Universelle Mrs. Winthrop (Mary Forbes) and her daughter Diana (played by Pat Hitchcock, the daughter of Alma and Alfred) check into a Paris hotel on their way home. After Mrs. Winthrop falls ill, hotel doctor (John Mylong) sends Diana to his home for medicine, but when she returns there is no trace of her mother and all the staff deny that she was ever there…. The only person who believes Diana is an Englishman from the embassy, Basil Farnham (played by the wonderful Geoffrey Toone).

Bunny Lake is Missing (Otto Preminger, 1965)

Uniquely among the films here, Bunny Lake is Missing is set in contemporary Britain, although it was based on Merriam Modell’s 1957 novel of the same name, which is set in New York. Preminger’s film moves the location to London, where American single mother Ann Lake (Carol Lynley) has recently settled after moving from New York. When she goes to collect her four year old daughter ‘Bunny’ from the local children’s nursery, the child is not there, and the supervisor has no recollection of seeing her. As the police begin to investigate, they discover that there is no ‘Bunny Lake’ on the register, no children’s clothes, photographs or toy at Ann’s house, and that ‘Bunny’ was the name of Ann’s childhood imaginary friend. Unsurprisingly, Ann’s claims seem hard to believe, and she finds herself – like several other distraught females in this post – sedated and taken away for psychiatric assessment.

Every mother’s nightmare… Ann Lake (Carol Lynley) in search of Bunny

But she is fortunate in having diligent detective Newhouse (Laurence Olivier) on the case, who persists in his investigations despite his scepticism about Ann’s story. Olivier is just one of numerous fine actors in the film, which is populated with an assortment of strange characters – an eccentric schoolmistress who claims to collect children’s nightmares (Martita Hunt) , a doll-repairer (Finlay Currie), Ann’s brother Steven (Keir Dullea) and her lasvicious landlord Horatio (Noel Coward), not to mention Anna Massey, Adrienne Corri and Lucie Mannheim.

The Forgotten (Joseph Ruben, 2004)

This film differs a little from the others in that it contains a strong science fiction element, but the same basic strands are all here – the lone woman whose insistence that her child has disappeared is denied by friends and colleagues, leading to her being treated by a psychiatrist: only for the ‘conspiracy’ to fall apart and for the victim to be vindicated – although the film offers further twists after this. It’s all rather far-fetched, but worth watching for Julianne Moore’s performance as Telly Paretta, who is convinced that her son died in a plane crash – despite the denials by her husband and best friend – and the absence of any physical evidence – that she ever had a son. While her psychiatrist continues to treat her for what he sees as an obsessive delusion, she finds support from another man (Dominic West) experiencing the same thing with regard to his daughter. What is going on?

Julianne Moore in The Forgotten

Flightplan (Schwentke, 2005)

Following the recent death of her husband David, an aviation engineer, Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) is travelling on a plane from Berlin to New York with her daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) and David’s body in the hold. After she dozes off during the flight, she wakes to find that her daughter is no longer in her seat. Other passenger deny having seen her daughter – unsurprising perhaps, given the size of the plane and many of them sleeping during the night flight. But when the flight attendants try and persuade Kyle that she was travelling alone, the passenger manifest has no record of Julia, and a doctor in Berlin informs the captain that Kyle lost both her husband and daughter in an accident, the young widow begins to question her sanity….but could there be another explanation?

Following the same pattern as the earlier films mentioned above, with one explicit borrowing from The Lady Vanishes, Flightplan begins well as the suspense builds up and Jodie Foster – like Julianne Moore – puts in a convincing performance as a mother struggling to balance her maternal instincts and memories against the overwhelming weight of contradictory evidence. As the film progresses, however, the elaborate plot strains credibility somewhat, but the confined space of the plane makes Flightplan even more claustrophobic and tense than the hotel and train settings of other adaptations of the story.

Kyle (Jodie Foster) and Captain Rich (Sean Bean) mid-air in Flightplan

The Changeling (Eastwood, 2008)

Although the premise is slightly different, there is a case for at least mentioning Clint Eastwood’s film The Changeling (2008) which starred Angeline Jolie and John Malkovich. Following the disappearance in Los Angeles in 1928 of Walter, the nine year old son of single mother Christine Collins (Angeline Jolie), the LA police carry out an investigation and claim to have found him. At the public reunion laid on to generate much-needed positive publicity for the corrupt and inefficient police force, Collins realises that the boy being returned to her is not Walter. The more she protests, the more evidence is produced to disprove her claims, leading to doubts about her sanity and fitness to look after her son. Although she is incarcerated in a state hospital for assessment, her case is taken up by a pastor (John Malkovich) and gradually the truth is revealed. The film is based on real events that took place in California in 1928.

As mentioned at the start, various versions of this story were published in newspapers and journals towards the end of the nineteenth century and those interested in exploring these should read here: