This extraordinary and almost hallucinatory collage was made by John Bingley Garland, a successful merchant, pioneer Canadian politician, public servant and mysterious ‘outsider’ artist. Garland is responsible for one of the most ambitious and remarkable sets of collages produced during the nineteenth century, the so-called ‘Victorian Blood Book’ a manuscript formerly in the collection of Evelyn Waugh and now in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Garland developed a technique of combining cut-outs from architectural and old master prints with natural history engravings, passages of poetry, decoupaged papers and ink crosses of various forms into bold and bizarre images which he then elaborately and copiously decorated with drips of blood in red ink. It is the addition of the blood which transforms these eclectic collages from the Victorian common place book to proto-surrealist works of extraordinary power, in turn, they transform Garland from a Victorian merchant and colonial administrator to one of the most remarkable ‘outsider’ artists of nineteenth-century Britain.
John Bingley Garland was the son of George Garland Snr, the head of a well established family firm, Garland and Son of Poole, Dorset, engaged in the fish trade with Newfoundland. John Bingley Garland was sent out to Trinity, Newfoundland, to manage the family's business interests, where he became a Justice of the Peace and erected a church, St Pauls, in the town. He returned to England in 1821 and served as Mayor of Poole in 1824 and 1830 With his brother, George, he inherited the family trade in imported salted cod after the death of their father. He went out again, with his wife and children, to Newfoundland in 1832, entering politics, becoming the first Speaker of the Newfoundland Parliament. He returned to England in 1834 and ran the family firm until his death, in 1875, at Stone Cottage, Wimborne, Dorset, at the age of 83. A mention in John Bingley Garland's will of 'all the mythological paintings in the Library purchased by me in Italy', is the sole indication that he had any artistic interests.
Nothing in Garland’s biography prepares us for the strange collages he created in the decades after his return to England. Garland’s most ambitious surviving artistic project was the large album acquired by Evelyn Waugh in the 1950s. It contains forty-one collage pages in a landscape format, made up from engravings carefully cut out from early nineteenth-century illustrated books, heightened with gouache and gold paper. Drops of blood in red India ink and extensive religious commentary have been added to the images, many of which are drawn from the natural world (flowers, birds, animals and reptiles, especially snakes), while others appear to be taken from luxurious books about religion and travel. Waugh's Blood Book bears an inscription from John Bingley Garland to his daughter Amy, dated 1 September 1854: 'A legacy left in his lifetime for her future examination by her affectionate father'. The album was probably intended as a wedding present. The first page of the book includes a table of contents under the heading of 'Durenstein! ', the Austrian castle in which Richard the Lionheart was held captive, and the theme of many of the plates are the spiritual battles Christians encounter on the road to Salvation.
This collage combines text from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Religious Musings with a dizzyingly complex sequence of images. The text is contained in a discreet box on the right of the page with the concentration of collaged elements on the left and beneath, working in a similar way to the illumination in a manuscript Book of Hours; indeed, Garland has actually set the text in an engraved page of marginal drawings from Durer’s Prayer book of Emperor Maximillian. Garland shows the risen Christ standing in a burst of gold paper, below is a print of Mary Magdalene after a painting by Pompeo Batoni above her head is a blue paper silhouette of the Holy Spirit dripping blood. Garland uses a sequence of botanical and entomological prints to introduce an unsettling dislocation of scale. Mary Magdalene is menaced by an enormous snake, whilst a large moth and caterpillar crawl up the sheet.
- For Waugh’s Blood Book see https://hrc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15878coll16/id/46/