Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lady Harpists

The harp is a very ancient and beautiful instrument. It is also not the easiest one to master. One of the many ways a young woman of good breeding would "refine" herself was to learn how to play the harp so she could entertain in the evening. Georgiana was supposedly very skilled at the harp, although I'm sure faro games grew to take over practice time. Here are some paintings I've found of lady-harpists.

Francesco Bartolozzi, Assumed to be Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire

Francois Guerin, Mme. de Genlis Playing a Harp, 1791

Rose-Adélaïde Ducreux, Self-Portrait with a Harp, 1790


  1. so is it a fact that lady Harpists must be beautiful women???

    (( I think Mrs. Rat is wearing my Halloween costume ))

  2. I am impressed with the self portrait. It proves the suppression of the fine female artist in preference to the male. Women were expected to be accomplished in the 'lighter' elements, like reproductions of flowers. This woman was also a rebel of her time.

    I wonder how accomplished the harpists were? The instrument is certainly a lovely one to be depicted with.

    I suppose anyone who could get a reasonable tune out of a harpsichord had a good chance of playing a harp, though not always a full sized one. They are so wide that some of the ladies would not have had the long arms that could stretch the width.


  3. Ducreux was a striking woman and her self portrait is my favorite of the three. I love the dress - really could be a yay or nay contestant - and her pose, which seems proud, sincere and coquettish all at once. The striped over skirt and even something about the art style seems like a slightly later period. She had a short life, from what I can tell. Here is a link to a painting of her by David, who I also think painted 'The Death of Marat'.


  4. They all look so feminine and surreal. I really love the self-portrait- Beautiful.

  5. So elegant, all of them. The harp really makes a girl look good. Have I ever seen that portrait of G?
    I don't think it's even in G's World. Drat those private collections!

    And thanks for adding the Ducreux portrait--it's always been a favorite.

  6. Self Portrait With Harp is my favorite painting in the history of the world!!! And the stupid Met has to have it displayed not in a proper gallery but in the back of that dark room. I guess they knew if I got too close I would drool all over it. I'm a woman on a mission to find teal and white striped fabric so I can recreate the dress.

  7. I can assure you all that playing the harp requires more than a little bit of muscle, and from a seated position, more than a little bit of good balance to be able to display such fine form.
    thank you for the beautiful pictures -
    warmest regards

  8. Ah, one of my favorite themes! I actually stumbled on a pile of new-to-me Georgian & Regency harp portraits, I should get those posted soon...

  9. Marie Antoinette even composed on harp! Cést mon amie for example. A japanese artist sings her songs:
    here you can listen them!