Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Stolen Child

It is quite strange that an era in which sleeping with another man's wife was considered a misuse or stealing of property yet there were no laws outlawing kidnapping.  No wonder people were worried about the gypsies stealing children- they certainly could with little to no legal repercussions.

An unfortunate mother who had to deal with the lack of child protection laws was Mary Davis, a military wife and landlady.  Mary's husband was fighting in Spain, leaving Mary and her six-year-old son alone in their Westminster house, which she rented out to lodgers.  One of the lodgers offered to watch over Mary's son while Mary went to her job as a washer-woman, an offer which the over-worked gladly accepted.  However, when Mary returned from work that night neither her son nor the babysitter could be found anywhere. 

The devastated mother searched high and low for her son, even after she delivered another son a few months after the incident.  Eventually Mary found herself and her newborn at an Inn in Folkingham (over a hundred miles away from London) where they stopped to rest for the night.  Mary was eating dinner at the Inn when the landlady insisted that two young chimney sweeps who just entered eat something as well.  To the dismay of everyone, one of the sooty children looked up from his dinner and jumped into Mary's arms with the joyful cry of, "That's my mother!"

Mary's story was one of the few with a happy ending (despite never finding the woman responsible for her son's indentured servitude) and thankfully, two years later in 1814 a law was finally passed outlawing the theft of children.

Monday, August 29, 2011

(A Reluctant) Out of the Salon

It's been quite a week of natural disasters hasn't it!  Unfortunately the hurricane that swept by my house decided to take the modern convenience of electricity with it which means many things for me, namely no blogging.  But never fear, I will come and gossip with you in person for the small price of your washing machine and dryer.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Yay or Nay? Lady Susan Fox-Strangways

Frizzy hair aside, Mrs Juel won us over with her sunny gown which got a very happy Yay from the panel.  This week we will travel to England for our selection.  A non-frizzy hair selection.

Allan Ramsay paints Lady Susan (1761) in frilly white gown with a delft-blue stomacher.  Yay or Nay?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Charitable Duties

Earlier this week an earthquake shook us inexperienced east-coasters but luckily left no one seriously injured.  However some of our beloved and treasured works of art were badly damaged, specifically the National Cathedral.  I don't like to see any crumbling cathedrals!  So if any fellow art-lovers out there can spare a copper the non-government funded cathedral could really really use it.  It is only American!

You can drop a few virtual coins into the jar here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fat George, Fashion Icon

 "Who is your fat friend?"
-Beau Brummel

George Prince of Wales was not a prince to be taken very seriously and then he became king, he wasn't much of a king to be taken seriously either.  Perhaps the saddest part of this recollection was that he was regent for a mad king, making a hedonistic and incompetent young man the backup for ruling an Empire.  Ah, monarchy!

Surprisingly enough the Prince's hedonism led to some of the famous fashion trends of the time period that was named after him, the Regency era.  The foppish prince was never slender but always enjoyed being rather fashionable.  By the 1790s George's waistline was in serious trouble, earning him the affection nickname, The Prince of Whales.  It was challenging for a egotistical prince to continue in his role as a fashionista with his stomach spilling over his trousers so like the cartoon character that he was, he began wearing a corset.  At one point the corset had to reach around fifty inches of waist and required some strong servants to string him into it.  The corset may have given George a slightly daintier shape but it couldn't cover up the double and triple chins he was sporting so George began wearing high collars -- extremely high collars.  The collars caught on and began to be part of every fashionable male's outfit. 

Overall, George did pretty well in disguising his girth with dark colors, corsets, high collars and whatever else.  Looking back on his portraits from the time you wouldn't exactly call him obese, although flattering portrait painters like Lawrence, could probably be credited for that.  However when the sovereign's head appeared on currency in the traditional roman motif, there was no disguising the king's weight from his subjects....or the fact that they had been dressing in weight-disguising fashions the whole time!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Flushing Your Troubles Away

Normally when the term "toilet" is used in a Georgian context the image of a lady sitting at a dressing table comes to mind.  Did you know, though, that the flushing toilet existed at the time?  It's difficult to picture when we know this was the time period when these were still popular.  But believe it or not, the likes of Thomas Jefferson were sitting upon this flushing water closet.

The flushing water closet is very English.  The first flushing toilet was made for Queen Elizabeth, who was delighted by the new, yet unreliable invention.  I suppose that means "throne" is a rather accurate nickname.  The model obviously didn't catch on, despite Liz's affection for it.  Next, a real Renaissance man, Alexander Cummings took the idea and improved upon it.  He installed a lever on the primitive toilet which you would slide aside and therefore create an exit for the unwanted waste.  New water would come in as the waste would hopefully move into the sewers.  Perhaps the smartest part about the invention was that Cummings got a patent for it in 1775.  It is always good to protect yourself!

Bramah's useful contraption
Three years later a clever locksmith/plumber by the name of Joseph Bramah was installing some of Cummings' patented invention and couldn't help but notice that the water in the toilet would freeze on especially cold days which didn't help anyone.  He replaced the sliding valve with a flap that sealed off the bottom of the bowl.  Now the toilet water wouldn't freeze and as an added bonus: those sewer smells stopped traveling up the pipes and into your house.  The description reminds me a bit of those frightening airplane bathrooms that we so enjoy while in mid-air. 

Of course the modern flush toilet as we know it wasn't to arrive until the following century.  Ironically, the inventor who is responsible for that was named Thomas Crapper.

Monday, August 22, 2011


After someone commented on how dirty her hand was after shaking it,
"What would you say if you saw my feet?"
-Mary Wortley Montague

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Yay or Nay? Mrs Juel

Sorry Wilhelmine Encke Gräfin Lichtenau, the Nay was loud and clear for your pink wardrobe malfunction.  As for those who asked about why her nipple was showing, nipple exposure was not as risque as now, and it wasn't uncommon for ladies' nipples to be exposed.  These were usually covered by fichus. Perhaps some less loud and more delicate, this week?

Jens Juel paints his wife (1791) gazing with admiration at his work while wearing a gauze gown and yellow petticoat.  Yay or Nay?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Voltaire in a Field

It may be hard to believe, but this famous sculpture of Voltaire by the esteemed artist Jean-Antoine Houdon was found tossed in  a cow pasture.  A pasture just outside Monticello no less!

When Houdon sculpted Voltaire in 1778 the racy philosopher had just returned to Paris after another lengthy exile.  It would turn out to be a quite timely modeling since Voltaire expired a mere two months afterward.  The finished sculpture received the highest of praise for its realism and for capturing the essence of Voltaire.  I imagine that sly, smug little smile graced Voltaire's lips plenty of times.  Due to the sculpture's popularity, Houdon experimented with recreating it in different mediums and styles; adding Voltaire's famous wig to the original's nude ancient Roman style.

One of these Voltaire busts found itself in Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello.  The bust was in the the entrance hall to greet guests as they entered the house.  After Jefferson's death Monticello, which was never fully finished, fell into disrepair.  The home's next owner James Barlcay is rumored to be the one whom we can blame for placing Voltaire portraits in field.  Rumor has it that Barclay, a rather unEnlightened individual born in the 19th century, saw the bust, declared Voltaire to be an "antichrist" and flung it into the field.  I'm sure Voltaire would be flattered to know he still has the ability to ruffle feathers fifty years after his death.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Movie Review: Sense and Sensibility (1981)

To conclude my Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge from Austenprose I chose to check out the movie adaption from 1981.  Perhaps the movie is a victim of being dated due to being viewed thirty years after it premiered on Masterpiece Theater.  Or perhaps I am the victim, for I feel it is adaptions such as these that stereotype Austen's work as stuffy and uninteresting because, frankly, that's how this movie came across. 

Many know the story of Jane Austen's 1811 classic, Sense and Sensibility, and those who aren't familiar with it, would do best to avoid this as an introduction.  While the screenplay doesn't stray far from the storyline, with minor exceptions such as there only being two Dashwood sisters, it is is not presented in an engaging way.  It is almost as if there is a wall between the audience and the characters that prevents you from relating to their plights. 

One of the aspects of the movie I did find interesting what the actors' interpretation of the characters particularly Elinor (Irene Richard) and Marianne (Tracey Childs).  Richard's Elinor is not as submissive as she is usually interpreted.  Childs also was more believable as a teenager which I liked.  The sisters also squabbled and butted heads more in this versions than others I have seen. 

As for the superficial elements (hot men and good costuming) those were also a disappointment.  However I did enjoy noticing all the ladies on the screen were given little purses to hold at all times.

My advice is to skip over this one unless you are a true S&S aficionado with some time on their hands and a strong curiosity. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Newport for the Day

The Newport mansions may not be related to the Georgian age, but that doesn't mean they are any less fabulous to go see.  Lauren and I are venturing to see a couple of them today and I am hoping to tweet some pictures to share with all of you.  Stay tuned by following me at @GeorgianaGossip, especially if I can't bring myself to leave the mansions!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Insurance for your Sedan...Chair

I got a nice email from reader, Florence who directed me to an eighteenth-century themed commercial that those like myself in the Colonies may have missed.  Its operatic theme reminds me of those awful JG Wentworth commercials!  If only those had more wigs and sedan chairs.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Finally! An Illustrated Evelina for the Modern Reader

Not too long ago I was bemoaning the fact that it was difficult to come by a hard copy of Fanny Burney's Evelina, particularly one with the fabulous illustrations of Hugh Thomson.  As if reading my mind, Laura at GirleBooks somehow managed to get her hands on the Thomson illustrations and update the GirleBooks version of Evelina into an illustrated edition of the tale.

For those who can't resist having a bit of artwork to accompany a good book I would highly recommend you checking out this deal of an ebook which is a mere $1.  I got a sneak peek of the book and it is quite lovely; keeping the tradition of captioned illustration plates in classic literature.

GirleBook's Evelina Illustrated

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Yay or Nay? Wilhelmine Encke Gräfin Lichtenau

It's difficult to say no to good looking man.  It's especially difficult to say nay to one when they have the good taste of Jacques Cathelineau who earned a starry-eyed Yay from our panel.  All this manliness needs to be countered with a bit of girlishness for this week's selection.

Anna Dorthea Therbusch paints Wilhelmine Encke Gräfin Lichtenau (1776) in a pink gown prone to wardrobe malfunctions. Yay or Nay?

[New Palace, Potsdam]

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Out of the Salon

Pardon my absence, doves, but I must step out of the Salon for a weekend of polo matches and horse races.  Your regularly schedule gossip will continue after I have rubbed shoulders with enough aristos.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My Feathered Head is on the Move

I try to avoid personal matters on this blog unless they correspond to visiting fantastic places or exhibitions (or bad business from Bookmooch, never use that site!) however I feel the need to bring up one that has been looming over my head for a while that has already brought about some changes for the blog.  A month from now I will be packing up two suitcases worth of possession and moving back to the fabulous UK to begin my PhD in History of Art.  With some luck, maybe I'll actually finish it too!

While this by no means I will cast off Georgiana's Gossip Guide, it could possibly mean I won't be updating as much, which has already begun seeing how this summer has found me running around making last minute arrangements.  It also means I will be back in the libraries finding many new topics to gossip about which I am really looking forward to.  Thank you all for bearing with me as I transition to this new phase!

Oh! And if any UK peeps out there has any recommendations for an inexpensive smartphone plan, I would love to hear.  I must continue to have access to blogging/tweeting on the go!

Monday, August 8, 2011

New Gainsborough Self-Portrait?

This weekend I was alerted to this article thanks to M from Alberti's Window.  To summarize: art historian, Stephen Conrad bought a miniature at an auction, struck by the familiar face.  He now believes that he is in possession of Thomas Gainsborough's first self-portrait.  Conrad's evidence is the uncanny likeness and the fact that the miniature is painted in Sudbury around 1736/7 when Gainsborough would have been about ten years old.  Conrad's suspicions seemed founded when on the back in a "childish script" was written, "Gainsboro."  

Now could this sitter be a young Gainsborough? Absolutely.  The facial features are congruent with Gainsborough's self-portraits.  Is this a self-portrait? I highly doubt it.

When I first read the article Gainsborough's 1754 self-portrait immediately popped into my head.  Painted when Gainsborough was in his late teens, this unfinished work shows how Gainsborough's proficiency was still developing.  The skill demonstrated in the miniature seems much more honed than that of the 1754 portrait which was done by a young man who had studied art in London for about five years.

The other peculiar thing about this newly revealed painting is the sitter's eyes.  From what I can tell, they are brown.  If we look at Gainsborough's self-portrait from 1787 two blue eyes are looking at us.  Supposed portraits of Marie Antoinette have been disproved merely by incorrect eye color. 

I am curious to see where this discovery will go.  What do you think?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Yay or Nay? Jacques Cathelineau

Week after week I've come to find out that I can't predict the outcome of our weekly selection.  So is the case of Mrs. Peale, who I assumed would have to simple a dress for everyone's taste.  I was wrong and Mrs. Peale earned a Yay.  This week, let's look at what handsome French war heroes were wearing.

Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson paints Jacques Cathelineau in his dashing outfit fit more for a pirate than soldier.  Yay or Nay?

[Musée d' Histoire et des Guerres de Vendee]

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Grueling Life of a Vicar

While reading Jane Austen's books do you find yourself wondering why so many characters' love interests are either in the clergy or planning to enter the clergy as their career path?  Well, the answer could be as simple as the fact that Jane was the daughter of a rector herself, but I believe it has something to do with most of her books dealing with love interests in the upper classes.

In the age of the aristocrat, younger sons were notoriously out of luck when it came to inheriting titles and lands and all other good things that came with be born into a wealthy family.  That meant they had to get a job.  No, not one where they'd actually have to work, Silly! They were still blue blood after all.  The two common options for these younger sons was a career in the military (like Frederick Tilney in Northanger Abbey) or the clergy (like Henry Tilney or Edmund Bertram from Mansfield Park).  Although the two career paths seem quite opposite, one did not necessarily have to have a strong faith in order to become an Anglican vicar or rector.  In fact, having your own rectory or vicarage was quite easy, hence the blue blood career choice, there were books of sermons which you could read from every Sunday in church (most of England didn't attend regularly at the time anyway so it didn't matter).  Local farmers were forced to pay the salary of the local clergy so quality of work was of little consequence.

It's no wonder so many rich young men chose this "humble" career.  It allowed for a lot of free time in order to pursue other hobbies; hobbies which had nothing to do with being a man of God.  In Bill Bryson's book, At Home, he has laid out what a few of these clergymen managed to accomplish with their free time:
  • Reverend Thomas Bayes (1701-1761) came up with the extremely complex math theorem which is used today to do things like predict stock market behavior and climate change.
  • Laurence Stern (1717-1768) wrote The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
  • Reverend John Michell (1724–1793) taught William Herschel how to build a telescope, which he did and then discovered Uranus.
  • William Buckland (1784-1856) wrote the first scientific description of dinosaurs, and was the one who named Dr Plot's discovery, Megalosaurus.
  • Reverend Jack Russell (1795-1883) bred a new breed of terrier.
  • Reverend George Garrett (1852–1902) invented the submarine
 The list goes on and on. I wonder what sort of hobbies Henry Tilney and Edmund Bertram picked up after their marriage.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cornelia Presenting her Children

Angelica Kauffman was one of the handful of women in the eighteenth century to be an esteemed and respected artist whose talents were sought after.  Kauffman also took a great role in the Neoclassical movement, preferring to place her subjects in a Greco-Roman atmosphere.

Kauffman also had a fondness for painting subjects with a moralistic message, especially when she could use stories from her beloved antiquity, such as her 1785 painting, Cornelia Presenting Her Children, the Gracchi, as Her Treasures. Now before I tell you the story behind this painting I want to selfish show why I enjoy this particular piece so much.  Kauffman not only proves that she can take the wheel in the male-driven world of history painting, but that she could bring in her knowledge of human emotion.  Here we have Cornelia presenting her two sons, with a causal gesture that has a strong impact.  The two sons look both humble and serene as they enter, one holds a book to show that he going places with his knowledge.

As this moralistic tale goes, Cornelia was a Roman matron and the example of virtue.  Romans were great lovers of virtue (in their women, at least) but that didn't necessarily mean that it was filled with the virtuous.  Here, Cornelia's guest, shows off her new treasures, no doubt gifts from a conquering Roman husband.  She then asks Cornelia to show her jewels to which Cornelia calls in her children and tells her that they are her, "treasures."

This is where Kauffman's skill in depicting human emotion, or perhaps females in general, comes into play.  Just look at the matron's face.  The history painting ends here and a more realistic depiction is revealed.  We have all seen that gobsmacked expression before.  I just can't decide if the proper caption would be, "Are you kidding me?" or "What the heck." since those are usually the two things that run through my head at a moment such as this.  I'm sure that's one less superficial Roman matron who will be visiting Cornelia from now on.