Monday, November 21, 2011

The Edgcumbes: Devoted Animal Lovers

Perhaps we are all guilty, at one time or another, for doting on our beloved pets.  Some families even have a strong history of doting on their pets.  The Cavendishes were quite well-known for their breeding of dog-lovers, one being the 5th Duke of Devonshire who much preferred his dogs' company to that of people!

Richard, the first Baron Edgcrumbe was one of the many 18th century men who included his dog in his formal portrait.  That was pretty normal.  However, when the dog died and Richard's world edgcrumbled before him, he did something a little abnormal.  He had his dog's bones mounted and displayed.  I'm sure Lady Edgcumbe loved that!  Rumor has it that he would even talk to the bones and when they were finally moved into the family pet cemetery the dog's ghost would scratch on the door to be let in.

Sir Richard's daughter-in-law was another pet fanatic.  But it wasn't a dog that she set her affections on, it was her pet pig, Cupid.  Lady Edgcumbe and her pig could be seen strolling London, attending to daily business around the house, as well as taking meals together.  Cupid was one of the family.  Sadly, once again, an Edgcumbe was brought face to face with the death of a beloved animal.  But was Emma going to mount poor Cupid's bones in the drawing room? Why of course not! Instead she is said to have buried Cupid below a memorial.  Supposedly Cupid was even buried in a gold casket, but I'm not as keen to believe that.  The king and queen were even said to have visited the memorial on a trip to the Edgcumbe estate.

Now we have no idea where this pig momento mori even is.  But we do have something more lasting, the printed word.  To comfort (or perhaps mock) the countess in her grief, a poet commemorated Cupid in verse;
Oh dry those tears so round and big
Nor waste in sight your precious wind
Death only takes a little pig
Your Lord and Son are still behind.

For more on the search for Cupid's tomb, click here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hannah More on Marie Antoinette's Charges

When news reached England of Marie Antoinette's trial, British citizens, despite their quarrels with the French, were absolutely disgusted.  The opinionated Hannah More, like most women, was especially disgusted when charges were brought against the queen for incest,
"It is so diabolical, that if they had studied an invention on purpose to whitewash her from every charge, they could not have done it more effectively."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

18 Folgate Street Daniel Severs House

18 Folgate street was brought to my attention by Melanie of Madame Guillotine who posted about the museum in July.  Perhaps "museum" isn't the right word.  "Art Instillation" would be much more appropriate. 

Dennis Severs bought the dilapidated Georgian house in 1979 and proceeded to transform it into a time capsule by collecting antiques to tell a story in each room.  But they aren't just placed neatly in a room like a historic home.  Instead they are placed in a way which tells a story.  Take for example the drawing room.  Tea is set up in the center of the room, one of the cups is still half full with tea.  Pearl earrings sit beside the cup as if a woman just took them off after a long night of socializing.  Fans sit on chairs and some careless person actually dropped their teacup in the course of the night and the shattered remains are left on the floor.  The effect really makes you feel as though you have traveled back in time. 

There are a few ground rules you should be aware of before visiting.  When you arrive to what looks like any old home you will see a note telling you to ring a bell.  I still am not sure where the bell is but using the door knocker works just as well.  You also have to arrive during the specified hours, so make sure you plan ahead!  After knocking, someone will come out and explain what you're about to do and then tell you to fork over 10 pounds, so be sure to have cash on hand!  Another thing you should know is that there is no talking allowed, not even whispering.  My art historian friend and I got in trouble for this...but honestly two art historians in this house...there is no way we could just point and make faces to each other!  Getting chastised by the workers is also a bit confusing because they don't have uniforms or name tags.  So the girl in the hallway with a messenger bag telling you to shut up; yeah that's an employee.

There are notes and images around the house to give you a feel for what you're walking into.  A reminder note for George IV's coronation is pinned to the door of a regency bedroom.  So you must always be taking in your surroundings.   I found a black cat on a chair and broke another rule by petting it.  That was the first time an exhibition literally ran away from me!

Next time any of you lovers of the 18th and 19th centuries are in London, this house should definitely be on your to do list!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The First Actresses at NPG London

Every once in a while you hear of an exhibition that is so incredibly geared toward your tastes that you question whether you curated it in your sleep.  Sometimes you even happen to be in the right place at the right time in order to actually see these once-in-a-lifetime shows.  I am counting my blessings that I manged to be around for The First Actresses at the National Portrait Gallery which opened last month.

The exhibition is small but packs a great punch.  Upon entering you are greeted by Nell Gwyn's portraits by Verelst.  The first is one of the more recognizable images of the King's mistress but the second, showing Nell in state of undress, has been loaned from a private collection and shows just how stunning the comedic actress was.  Upon seeing this boudoir portrait you have already made your visit worthwhile.  The rest of the exhibition featured so many portraits that I have included in blog posts I felt like I was actually walking into the Gossip Guide!  The rooms were separated into categories having to do with themes such as Covent Garden and the actresses as a muse.  Who was there? Well, anyone who is anybody, my pet!  Hester Santlow tipping her harlequin cap welcomed guests into the menagerie of eighteenth-century actresses.  Mary 'Perdita' Robinson, Fanny Abington, Dorothy Jordan, Kitty Clive, Elizabeth Linley Sheridan, Sarah Siddons, Lavinia Fenton, Giovanna Baccelli, and Hester Booth are just a sampling of the wide range of ladies seen through the paint and pencil of artists such as Reynolds, Gainsborough, Hogarth, Hoppner, Gardner, and Russell.  Even the beautiful Duchess was there in Gardner's depiction of her, Lady Melbourne and Anne Damer as the three witches- it is the first time in ages that the work has been on public display and now it will hopefully stay that way as a new acquisition for the museum.

While limited, the collection the curators accrued is quiet profound in terms of selection.  My only criticism is the lack of gossip in the exhibition.  I would have liked to see more satirical images; sadly, only a couple of Gillrays were included in the exhibition.  I believe having more satirical images would have captured the actresses' celebrity and the fanfare surrounding them.

The First Actresses will be at the National Portrait Gallery until 8 January so do not hesitate to see the exhibition.  For those who cannot possibly manage to get to the show, the exhibition catalog is currently on sale for £19.50 and has fun essays on things like dancing and celebrity (hopefully I will have a review up in a timely manner).