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Tracing The Missing Isandhlwana Paintings
Colin


Joined: 22 Nov 2017
Posts: 184
Location: U.K.
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Iíve been convinced for many ŷears that specific paintings of Isandhlwana were prevented from being displayed in museums or art galleries for various reasons, post-Zulu War 1879...due to not matching in with the official, heroic take on events.

In my opinion, as with media interference in 1879 by authorities to censor stories getting out telling the truth, or depicting illustrations of similar, these unknown/unseen paintings are lying undiscovered in museum storage or archives.

My theory has been considered fanciful by some, but nevertheless, there is evidence, or should I say, noticeable lack of evidence that they never ever existed, in a way the very scenes and participants being excluded so visibly, there could only be a likely theory on why anything depicting the battleís failings or the rout taking place on Fugitives Trail and Fugitives Drift, which are incidents artists would have thrived on due to the drama and excitement...or the other heroes who were present.

As an example albeit tenuous and hard to prove, I feel that this painting by Lady Butler was initially a depiction of the start of Fugitives Trail, but was altered to suit a different later campaign -

https://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/a-yeomanry-scout-galloping-with-despatches-in-the-boer-war-42676

Notice how the whole painting even in the foreground seems faded and painted earlier, yet the rider is almost standing out too clearly, that it looks like a new, very detailed later addition.

I did try and start topics on this subject on FB, but I recall also being disrupted slightly to prevent in-depth discussion, which I think was a massively missed opportunity.

Programmes about Art Detectives and Art Historians searching gallery archives and storage facilities, finding unknown treasures, convinced me that the subject was worth pursuing

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Alan
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Joined: 30 Aug 2005
Posts: 1456
Location: Wales
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I must say I've never heard this before. Obviously Isandhlwana paintings would have to be careful
how it portrayed that event and the sacrifices. As well as that, there weren't as many witnesses
who could provide first hand accounts to verify accuracy, as was the case with Rorke's Drift.

As to the Lady Butler painting and Fugitives' trail, it would never have occurred to me. Although
the trail I walked has changed since 1879, the image in no way is representative of the terrain.
If she was to feature the trail, I would have thought she would have chosen someone like
Melvill and Coghill who would appear as heroes.

I'm not sure that it really matters anyway if there was a conspiracy. I didn't think that museums
or galleries displayed works until they became an aspect of society which was to be preserved
and available to the public.

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Colin


Joined: 22 Nov 2017
Posts: 184
Location: U.K.
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Alan

You are of course correct in your viewpoint, as in, that is the take of many others, which without proof is understandable, but no less could be the truth.

The terrain around Isandhlwana was always a dilemma apart from the mountain, everything else seemed guesswork in prints/paintings.

A case of - get the heroic version out there and let it be absorbed.

There is absolutely in my opinion, but not a conspiracy, more damage control, that if any artists known or unknown tried to depict incidents that went against the official version of events, they would have indeed suffered censorship.

When Chelmsford was presenting his case, it wouldnít have done to have heroic images of the man he blamed, or tragic scenes of the camp defenders fleeing down the Fugitivesí Trail or being killed in the water at Fugitivesí Drift.

Unfortunately such things did go on then and even now, but it is getting others to accept this may have happened, instead being put down to conspiracy theories and fantastical ideas.

I heard a wonderful bit of dialogue in a film - Do I believe in conspiracy theories ? No. Do I believe in conspiracies ? Yes. If it isnít a theory do I believe it ? Yes.

Itís up to the individual to open their mind to alternatives


Last edited by Colin on Thu Apr 09, 2020 12:31 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Alan
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Joined: 30 Aug 2005
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In the case of Lady Butler, she was a stickler for accuracy as her use of actual participants in her
Rorke's Drift painting shows.

Since the terrain was such a major factor in the escape along the Fugitives' Trail, I would have
credited her with avoiding the subject if she had insufficient confirmed details about it. Magazines
like the Graphic or the Illustrated London News used a lot of artistic licence but that was because
of deadlines and the temporary nature of the media.

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Colin


Joined: 22 Nov 2017
Posts: 184
Location: U.K.
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Thatís what is so interesting about the painting by Lady Butler I included the link for...apart from the horse and rider, the rest looks like a work in progress, unfinished.

Therefore, if it was adapted for to show a scene from a later campaign, the terrain was less important as no longer needing to accurately depict the area around Isandhlwana, being another imagined location.

Though I canít help but think that is still the mountain at the back

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Alan
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Looking like a work in progress and unfinished could be a description applied to many of J.M.W.Turner's works.

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Colin


Joined: 22 Nov 2017
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Indeed. Watched both a documentary and film about him last year.

I figure that even if the British artists avoided depicting anything forbidden (for want of another word) by anyone seeking to maintain the Isandhlwana story given to the British public, that any artists living in Natal at the time, related to or on friendly terms with those who were killed in the Colonial Volunteers at Isandhlwana, might either paint a depiction of their last stand or be commissioned by family/friends of the fallen.

I guess I include Shepstone in this, perhaps a painting portraying Georgeís stand on the Western slope...

Iím wondering that the British at home were more keen to romanticise the battle, whereas those in Natal may have been too close to the war in Zululand, that the losses incurred of their fathers, sons and brothers would have been too raw, and the war too real to portray heroic images, especially when the dead were left on the field for so long before burial.

Plus of course, any criticism aimed at the Colonials role in the engagement, even though they fought and died in the forefront of the fighting, when they could have fled on horseback.

Itís quite sad in my opinion tbh, that it reminds me so much of how everybody remembers the Spartans at Thermopylae, but not the other Greeks who died with them, forgotten in the same way as the Colonials and Native Units, specifically in military art.

It is interesting that the dominant red of the Spartans and the 24th are so prominent in depictions too...anyone with them muted and unseen.

I understand art has its place, but at the same time, has the ability to immortalise a specific group at the expense of others disappearing from visual history.

As it is, I still believe there to be Isandhlwana paintings still undiscovered that have been lost over time, stored away in dark corners, nobody realising what they are or what they are depicting as time has passed.

This lack of art regarding the others in the British forces has always intrigued me, as they are missing while mostly the 24th and the Zulus themselves are prominent, still being painted this way today, hundreds of them.

I had hoped things would change in 2020, but now being able to see topics and responses in the AZW Facebook pages, have seen recently there and other places an absolute saturation of said too common images, both paintings and re-enactment that it is like seeing and reading the same posts over and over again.

I believe this will be the case always, anything new to change the status quo unlikely, as it is now set in stone...

Thanks for allowing me to post here Alan, but this virus lockdown has at least let me realise about prioritising what is worth pursuing and what is at an end.

Iím moving on to a new Interest as this for myself is now finished.

Take care of yourself

Regards

Coll

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Alan
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Joined: 30 Aug 2005
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I think it would be fairly obvious that the British public wouldn't be too happy about many aspects of Isandhlwana and that any works would only contain the heroic or romantic aspects like Fripp's last stand, including the drummer boy or De Neuville's Last Sleep of the Brave (Melvill & Coghill). I think that all paintings would have to contain the general feeling of patriotism and loyalty. Many artists would require patrons or connections in society which would normally only accept works which followed the national feelings.

It is also the case that certain figures were more likely to have their sacrifices or heroism made public because of their connections, e.g.Shepstone, Durnford with the Colensos and his brother and later Melvill & Coghill's relatives.

The extra attention given to the 24th. is in part due to the fact there were both battalions involved which was unusual practice. They also composed the greater part of the Imperial forces there.

As to your moving on to pastures new, it's understandable in that as far as the academic study of the war goes, I think most aspects have been covered. There may still be areas where there is no definitive acceptance, despite so many authorities having debated them over the years. What we have here now, is a debating chamber which has reached a stage where people will make up their own minds which version they believe, unless some brand new information emerges.

You have contributed a great deal towards that debate and you will also be one who has made his decision as to the truths of the matter.

Over the years you have engaged with many authors and experts, sadly a few are no longer with us. I hope you have enjoyed your time with us Coll, and I wish you the very best of luck for the future, in everything.

Very Best Wishes,


Alan.

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Tracing The Missing Isandhlwana Paintings
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