Friday, July 13, 2018

British and French Print Media's and the Death of Marat

On this day in 1793 a young French woman named Charlotte Corday sought a meeting with the prominent French revolutionary, Jean-Paul Marat, promising information on an future uprising.  After being turned away in the morning, Corday was admitted in the evening to Marat's bathroom, where he conducted business now due to a debilitating skin disease that kept him submerged in his bathtub.  Corday recited the names of dissidents while Marat wrote them down, proclaiming that they would soon be guillotined.  This was Corday's cue; she drew out a kitchen knife hidden in her clothing and stabbed Marat in his chest, killing him almost instantly.  She then calmly waited for the police to apprehend her and was guillotined four days later.

Corday hoped that this act of violence would put an end to the violence of the French Revolution which she felt was now out of hand.  She blamed Marat for the excessive and repulsive bloodshed and she was not alone in this sentiment.  A search in the British Museum's collection of prints reveals a stark contrast in how France and Britain interpreted the assassination. 

Anonymous, 1793

Paul André Basset, 1793

Corday is often portrayed in French prints as a savage (though well-dressed) beast of a woman.
Isaac Cruikshank, 1793

William Holland, 1793

Whereas in British prints she is often depicted as a pretty young woman stabbing a buffoon.  One example is my favourite image of Corday, by James Gillray which portrays her with the dignity and grace of an eighteenth-century heroine. 

There are many depictions of the event by French and British printmakers that survive and of course, not all of them can fit within these two categories.  Notably this French print which is thought to have been printed a few years after the dust had settled and seems to give an accurate representation of Corday's arrest.  She sits patiently, next to victim while men rush in to apprehend her.

Jacques Swebach-Desfontaines, c. 1793-8

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Devonshire Children's Portraits

Henry Howard, Harriet Cavendish, 1798
Henry Howard was a well-known portraitist and history painter in the late- eighteenth and early- nineteenth centuries, who unfortunately doesn't get as much notice nowadays.  Luckily, his visit to the Devonshire family around 1798 resulted in three portraits of Georgiana's three [legitimate] children, Little G, Harryo, and Hart.  Though, I must apologise for the not-so-great quality of the photos of these portraits which now hang in the King William bedroom at Althorp, you can still decipher a certain je ne sais quoi quality to these portraits.  What is it...what is it...oh I know!

Awkward adolescence.

Henry Howard, Georgiana Dorothy Cavendish, 1798
These three portraits were painted when the painfully shy Little G was about 15, the painfully awkward Harryo was about 13, and Hart (who, perhaps, doesn't look totally uncomfortable) was about 9 or 10.  The ages of the daughters, specifically, is of interest because, outside of the rare family group portrait, adolescence is rarely commemorated in portraiture.  Baby and childhood portraits were common enough, and young women were often painted before they were married, or at least when they were in the marriage market.  However, this strange and, somewhat brief, period of youth was rarely portrayed in individual portraits.

 You can almost imagine adult Little G and Harryo cringing every time they passed these portraits; cursing their hair do and choice of headband.  While Little G's posture hints at a discomfort in sitting for her portrait, Harryo's somewhat more confident pose is mismatched with her still childish appearance.  ...and yeah, um, Hart just looks like any elite little boy-heir of the time in his portrait, so I'm just gonna leave that here as a contrast to his poor sisters.  In conclusion, rich eighteenth-century teenagers, they're just like us.  That would make the Devonshires similar to our camera-weilding parents and grandparents, snapping photos of their teenagers out of love, blind to any awkwardness.   When Howard was commissioned with these portraits, by either the Devonshires, or Lady Spencer, the children had already endured a two-year absence of their mother, after she was exiled to the continent by their father upon discovering her pregnant with Earl Grey's child.  It may be safe to say the separation of family members influenced commissioning such portraits.
Henry Howard, William Cavendish, Marquis of Hartington, 1799

If you would like to see these portraits, they are on display in Althorp House, amongst other lovely family pictures of Georgiana and her Spencer siblings as children.  However, if you can't make it to the glorious home, Althorp's website now has an amazing virtual tour.

Monday, August 28, 2017

New Video Detailing the Ritual of Dressing

The Lady Lever Gallery in Liverpool has commissioned a video detailing how well-to-do women dressed in the eighteenth century.  The seven-minute long video produced by Pauline Loven and made by Crow's Eye Productions leaves no one pondering why getting dressed (or undressed) required the help of another person.  To think, it only shows dressing, and not even other daily rituals such as styling hair or cosmetics; it makes me feel much better about how long it takes me to get ready in the morning!

I love this video for its portrayal of a rather mundane activity that is often forgotten about when we look at portraits, such as the Lady Lever Gallery's own Mrs Peter Beckford by Joshua Reynolds. My one critique is that as the narrator begins talking about pockets, the model is handed what looks like a giant popsicle stick and slips it down her stays between her breasts.  Quite a loud omission in my humble opinion!  The item in question is a busk, which added additional structure to the stays.  According to dress historian extraordinaire, Elisabeth Gernerd, they were often decorated with love poems due to being 'worn next to the heart' (I may or may not have questioned her anatomical accuracy was when she told me that).  Busks aside, this is a fantastic video to provide you with a better idea of just how intensive and time-consuming it was for privileged women to dress every day.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Sue Williams A’Court

This blog is guilty of regularly featuring glorious artwork from long-dead artists, but sometimes, just sometimes, it ventures into the land of the living [artist].

Sue Williams A'Court for example, is an artist whose work is very much inspired by those from the eighteenth century.  Her paintings are reminiscent of Gainsborough landscape prints and I am particularly reminded of them when I look at A'Court's pastoral trees.  Her most recent series blends famous portraits with natural formations.  In the spirit of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the sixteenth-century painter who formed heads out of vegetables, A'Court transforms tufts of Arcadian landscape into imagery reminiscent of famous portraits.  See if you can pick out the portraits from these works.

After the Duchess of Devonshire

After the Hon Mrs Graham

After Marie Antoinette

The Escape fro Eden series will be exhibited at START Saatchi Gallery, London, 14-17th of September. Her work is currently on view at 'Only Connect' Curated by Prof. David Remfry RA Royal Academy The Keepers House.