Oct 212018
 

Image shown courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

A rather nice  engraving from one of the clan of Dightons who helped illuminate the Georgian era  – this one by Robert Dighton who lived between 1752 and 1814. The version shown is on the Lewis Walpole site  and is also in the British Museum collection where it is described in the following manner:

“The design is partly bisected by a vertical line. The same lady sits (l.) directed to the left, at her dressing-table, wearing only a long chemise or petticoat, and slippers. On the r. she sits, in the same attitude but directed to the right, fully dressed at the same dressing-table. In undress she is almost bald; a wig of naturally-dressed hair is on a stand on the table. She has an over-long neck and skinny arms. On the  table (l.) are her fan, a locket suspended on a ribbon, cosmetic-boxes, and a bottle labelled ‘Wrinkles’.

When dressed her neck is concealed by a lace ruffle on a chemisette, she has long rucked sleeves, in her gloved hand is her fan. She wears a high-waisted gown under which her legs are defined; she wears elaborately embroidered stockings with flat slippers. Her wig seems to be luxuriant natural hair; she wears an ear-ring. On the dressing-table are boxes, a bottle of ‘Lavender’, and tickets inscribed ‘Opera’ and ‘Cards’. She looks young and handsome, the dress (not exaggerated) effectively concealing her weakest points.”

Actually, the Lewis Walpole site attributes the engraving to Robert Dighton Jnr, who lived between 1786 and 1865 but at that time (ie 1800-1810) he was mostly doing illustrations with a military theme and I suspect the whole family made use of the plates, and this one probably emanated from Robert Dighton Senior. Dad led a somewhat chequered career, having been caught pilfering original artworks from the British Museum, but had a good reputation as a caricaturist. He was a fine artist, exhibiting at the Royal Academy, and sold prints and artwork from his shop in Spring Gardens, Charing Cross. Maybe he lacked the bile and viciousness of Gillray, but his gentle satire, as here, can still hit the mark. Above all, it reflects the prevalent view amongst men in the 18th century that women were in some way behaving unfairly by using wigs and make-up to disguise their imperfections – leaving men to find that they had hitched themselves to a balding old maid instead of a nubile young bit of stuff. The men of course had no such imperfections…

I am thinking of including Robert Dighton Snr in my next book which profiles Georgians who have had a raw deal from history – men (and it is generally just men) who played an important part in 18th century history but whose reputations have largely disappeared in the mists of time. We all know of Hogarth and Gillray – but there is a whole panoply of other artists who helped society let off steam by enabling the public to mock, ridicule and above all laugh at the foibles of others. One of those was Robert Dighton – and another was the young Richard Newton. Together they provided a great escape mechanism for public displeasure!

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