Georgiana Houghton: Spirit Drawings
DESCRIBING herself as “The Sacred Symbolist”, Georgiana Houghton was a prominent Victorian spiritualist whose delicate watercolours are the unlikely subject of an exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery.
Abstract paintings produced by Houghton (1814-1884) could belong to the 1960s rather than 100 years earlier, and they predate Kandinsky et al by half a century.
Drawn mainly from the Victorian Spiritualists’ Union in Melbourne, and London’s College of Psychic Studies, this is the first time her complex paintings have been shown in the UK since a self-financed and near ruinous exhibition in 1871. At that Bond Street show there were 155 works; today fewer than 50 of her innovative paintings are known.
Houghton, a medium, thought the entirely freehand “spirit drawings”, were created through spirit guides. From 1861 she began with “flowers” and “fruits” of specific individuals that grew within spirit realms. She would move on to the more “sacred”, believing spiritualism compatible with Christianity, the works now non-figurative.
One exception is The Portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ from December 8 1862. She dated each work and most also have long, explanatory inscriptions on the reverse, noting the particular inspiration.
So for one she might claim Titian guided her hand or, say, Correggio for The Eye of God (pictured). Subjects range from family and friends to royalty and Shakespeare.
Houghton cited the quality of “such perfect work” as evidence that her “self” was not responsible for them and the Courtauld experts note their “exceptional qualities”.
Yet Houghton worked too with so-called spirit photographer Frederick Hudson and in a book as late as 1882, professed her belief in his work despite his “double exposure” as a fraud.
• Georgiana Houghton: Spirit Drawings is at The Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House, Strand, until September 11, 020 7848 2777, http://courtauld.ac.uk