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.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Decay of Gordon Castle

Gordon Castle, the seat of the Duke and Duchess of Gordon in northern (and rather remote Scotland) was considered to be the largest building of Scotland in the eighteenth century. Dating back to the 14th century, the castle grew, and grew, and grew.  The home-loving Alexander, 4th Duke of Gordon, husband to Jane, Duchess of Gordon, added to the baronial home considerably until Gordon Castle was more of a Scottish Versailles. However, after his son died without an heir, transferring the Dukedom to the Duke of Richmond (who was quite happily settled in his own massive mansion, Goodwood) the castle gradually fell into disrepair. Leaky roofs forced much of these eighteenth-century additions to be demolished after which the once-grand Castle was all but forgotten. Luckily, after the second World War Lieutenant General Sir George Gordon Lennox, grandson of the 7th Duke of Richmond, took an interest in his ancestral home and began the restoration process which has continued into today. Gordon Castle, as it exists now, is only 1/8th of what existed in Jane, Duchess of Gordon's day. A wing, is now the central house, and the castle's formidable tower remains standing. The castle has been transformed into a hotel (and one that makes gin!) so it is once again open to visitors from afar.