This exceptional collage forms part of a sequence made in the mid-nineteenth century by John Bingley Garland. In their ambition, conception and execution, the Blood Collages rank as some of the most remarkable graphic works made by an amateur hand in the nineteenth century. The hallucinatory compositions are carefully constructed with layers of cut-up prints, both old master and modern, coloured papers, passages copied from the Bible and contemporary poetry all embellished with large drops of blood in red ink added by Garland. 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.
This collage is the most polychromatic of the group we have. Garland has placed the text, a sequence of quotations from the Bible and contemporary spiritual texts, in an engraved page of marginal drawings from Durer’s Prayer book of Emperor Maximillian. To the left Garland has cut out a seventeenth-century engraving of the seated figure of the muse Urania, colouring her drapery red and adding gold stars. Above two angels proclaim ‘behold ye the works of the lord’ (videte opera Domini) bursting from a clump of large, printed flowers, each with its stamen replaced by a red ink crucifix dripping blood. At the foot of the sheet Correggio’s St Mary Magdalene is surrounded by a layered group of conchological engravings, probably from a scientific publication. This distortion of scale – St Mary Magdalene has an enormous butterfly perched on her head - underscores the surreal nature of the compositions, a quality further emphasised by the profusion of obscure iconography. Garland’s work evidently emerged from the fashion for decoupage that was hugely popular in Victorian Britain. Further research may well reveal that Garland combined old master prints with specially printed 'scraps' of the kind that could be purchased to fill the scrapbooks. The many nineteenth-century scrapbooks that survive attest to the craze for 'scrapbooking', while the elaborate Victorian photograph albums and visitor's books, where collages of photographs are set into often whimsical and amusing watercolour settings point to the wide-spread popularity of the activity. But whilst Garland’s work comes out of this tradition, the potency of his images raise broader questions about his intentions as an artist and the more specific meaning of his collages. Garland apparently had no formal training or artistic pretensions and yet he produced a sequence of visually arresting designs using collage that effectively anticipated the use of the medium into the twentieth century.
The Victorian parlour hobby of collage was later to inspire artists in the twentieth century, from the searing mock propaganda of the German John Heartfield, to the Surrealist confections of Max Ernst and Roland Penrose. Collage has played a central role in Post-War art, notably with Richard Rauschenberg in America, and the Pop artists Richard Hamilton and Peter Blake in Britain. The 'Blood Collages' of John Bingley Garland are, in their delicacy, and sophistication, in their use of images cut from expensive illustrated books, and with their mysterious watercolour and manuscript embellishments, far removed from the nursery screens and parlour scrapbooks of Victorian Britain. They are remarkable and thought-provoking works of art, and as such worthy of further research and serious study.