Original image

The Last Survivor of the Late Pre-Raphaelites: Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale

Original image

Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale (1871*-1945) died just over 65 years ago, yet her artwork remains popular today. Take a look at her paintings, and you'll see why she was the exception among female artists in her day: successful and praised by critics and fellow artists. As artist G.F. Watts declared: “I feel inclined to throw away my palette and brushes. What are my things by the side of such stuff as hers?”

1. Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale demonstrated an early skill for drawing, studying first under the art critic John Ruskin and then entering the Crystal Palace School of Art at age 17. Yet it took her three tries before she was accepted to the Royal Academy, perhaps due in part to that school's reluctance to admit females, even though they had been allowed since 1860. Her first year* at the Academy, Brickdale won £40 for her mural design in an exhibition.

2. Due to a friendship with the aviator Charles Rolls (co-founder of Rolls-Royce and the first Briton to be killed in a flying accident), Brickdale had a keen interest in “aeroplane technology.” This interest is on display in her 1920 painting “The Forerunner,” which shows Leonardo da Vinci demonstrating his model flying machine to Ludovico Sforza and Beatrice d'Este, the Duke and Duchess of Milan. In the painting, the only member of the audience who exhibits any interest in the machine is the duke's son, Cesare.

3. Brickdale is credited with reviving the Pre-Raphaelite style of painting at the end of the 19th century and was considered “the last survivor of the late Pre-Raphaelite painters.” According to one source, “It cannot be said that Pre-Raphaelitism is dead while Miss Fortescue Brickdale is alive – at least Pre-Raphaelite in the spirit if not in the letter, though in many points also in that.”

4. During her time, Brickdale was lucky to be successful as an artist. She worked as both a commissioned painter and a commissioned illustrator from her studio in Kensington for more than 30 years. In 1902, the same year she opened her studio, she became the first female member of the Institute of Painters in Oils. She was elected a member of the Royal Watercolour Society, receiving the postnominal initials RWS, in 1919, although some sources claim she was a member as early as 1903. She exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and the Royal Watercolour Society and even had 3 solo exhibitions at the Dowdeswell Gallery.

5. In addition to working as a book illustrator and a painter, Brickdale also designed bookplates, painted plaster figurines, and created stained glass windows for Bristol Cathedral.

* While most sources report Brickdale's birth year as 1872 and the year she won her prize at the Royal Academy as 1897, I deferred to Brickdale's obituary in The Times from March 14, 1945, which gave her date of birth as 1871 and the date of her prize as 1896.

A larger version of Brickdale's "The Uninvited Guest" (1906), shown above, is available here.

Fans should check out the collections of her art at the Art Renewal Center and Spirit of the Ages (which includes the above-mentioned obituary); her illustrations from Tennyson's Idylls of the King (1911); and her two watercolours in the Birmingham Museums.

"Feel Art Again" usually appears three times a week. Looking for a particular artist? Visit our archive for a complete listing of all 250+ artists that have been featured. You can e-mail us at with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists. Or you can head to our Facebook page, where you can do everything in one place.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]