Bye-bye Sir Thomas (- Lawrence, that is). Died T.D.I.H. 1830.

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Jan 072019

 Thomas Lawrence, 1769 – 1830

One of the people I am considering including in my next-book-but-one (about 18th Century heroes who  have missed out on the spotlight of fame) is Thomas Lawrence.    At first sight the inclusion of Thomas Lawrence, knight of the realm, painter in ordinary to His Majesty King George III, and a President of the Royal Academy, may seem somewhat incongruous. But his inclusion is justified just in order to show that the spotlight of fame can be turned off as well as on – Lawrence enjoyed fame in his lifetime but fell out of favour during the Victorian era, largely as a result of his perceived immoral lifestyle. Nowadays, we have come to expect that our painters  lead a bohemian lifestyle – to drink, experiment with drugs, fornicate and generally set a bad example. It is seen, no doubt, as being part of the artist ‘exploring the inner self’. But Lawrence had the misfortune to be followed almost immediately by the moralising Victorians, who tut-tutted at his indiscretions, and deemed him unsuitable and unworthy of praise. And so, the spotlight was turned off, and this magnificent artist has never quite regained his place alongside the British Greats of the world of painting.

Lord Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington

It was not always thus: after Gainsborough died in 1788 and Reynolds died in 1792 Lawrence seemed to have taken over their mantle (although many would argue that he was a far finer portrait painter than Reynolds). He became the artist of his generation, the one commissioned to paint the portraits of all the movers and shakers of the Regency era. And all this from a man who was largely self-taught.

He was born in Bristol on 13 April 1769, one of only five out of sixteen children in the family to survive childhood. His father moved from Bristol to run the Black Bear Inn at Devizes, and the precocious young Thomas was already proving something of an artist and an entertainer. Father would apparently ask the tavern’s customers ‘Which would you rather, young Tom recite a verse or paint your likeness?’

The tavern-keeping venture was a failure and his father was declared bankrupt. This left Thomas, then ten years of age, as the family bread-winner. He moved to Bath, aged eleven, and exhibited a precocious talent for portraiture, charging three guineas a sitting. He was entirely self-taught, using pastels at first before graduating to oils. His reputation soon spread and, still in his teens, he moved to London and installed his parents in a house in Greek Street and opened a studio at 41 Jermyn Street. Not bad for an eighteen-year old!

He enrolled as a student at the Royal Academy but that sojourn did not last long – portrait painting was his only real interest. Over the ensuing thirty years he became the pre-eminent artist of his generation. His portraits of Nelson, Wellington and George IV are iconic representations of some of the great figures of Regency England.

Here are a few more which I admire.  Left to right, Frederic Lock, Margaret Countess of Blessington and Lady Selena Meade:





Lawrence had a fairly alarming habit – at least, alarming for young and impressionable female sitters – of starting a commission by invading their personal space, coming right up alongside them and, from a distance of just a few inches, sketching a specific detail such as the nose or eyes. It must have been unnerving for anyone not used to feeling on their neck the warm breath of an adult male! No wonder half the female sitters look as though they have something very specific on their minds…

And here is Sarah Siddons (a regular sitter, even though he was knocking off both her daughters!) and a splendid portrait of Elizabeth Farren (later Countess of Derby).


With Lawrence it seems that it was not so much a case of falling in love, so much as falling in love too often, famously with two of the daughters of the actress Sarah Siddons at much the same time. He alternated between the two sisters, Sally and Maria, and on different occasions proposed marriage to them both. The affairs caused enormous hurt to the family and at one stage this led him to have a complete nervous breakdown. In all likelihood Sarah Siddons herself held a torch for the charming artist, and certainly Lawrence seemed enraptured by her as well, painting her portrait in at least fourteen occasions. The rumours got so bad that in 1804 Mr Siddons felt compelled to take out an advertisement in the newspapers of the day, expressly denying that his wife was having an affair with Lawrence. It is perhaps odd that the denial came from Mr Siddons, rather than from his wife – or indeed from Lawrence himself. Some years later, Lawrence was to fall head over heels in love with Sarah’s niece, Fanny Kemble, a girl who, more than any other, closely resembled Sarah Siddons in her youth. Curious, n’est ce pas?

Some of the pain and anguish, and burning sadness, appears in the portraits he painted. By and large he seemed to excel at painting beautiful people, male or female. He knew how to bring out the best in good-looking sitters. However, he was hopeless at finishing projects; on one occasion taking twelve years to complete a commission and, on his death, his studio was found to be littered with unfinished paintings, started and then abandoned.

Unfinished portrait of William Wilberforce


Over the years he painted portraits of royalty, including the one on the right of Queen Charlotte. She hated it so much she refused to accept delivery of it and it remained in his studio until he died. Why didn’t she like it? Probably because it captured something of the sadness of the woman behind the royal mask – and maybe she just didn’t like being shown as a sort of Snow Queen, locked away inside her palace.

In time Lawrence was admitted to the Royal Academy, and in 1820 was made President of that august body. He had previously been appointed ‘painter-in-ordinary’ to George III, was knighted in 1814, and travelled through Europe at the request of the Prince Regent painting foreign leaders such as Napoleon ll, the Pope, the Tsar of Russia and miscellaneous Arch-Dukes, Kings and Emperors.

At the time of his death, Lawrence appears to have been at the height of his powers (but was nevertheless heavily in debt). He died on 7th January 1830 and almost immediately seems to have been airbrushed from history. Perhaps it was the Victorian reaction to the excesses and immorality of the Regency era, but the fact remains that from a height of popularity which far exceeded Constable and Turner, he then slumped into relative obscurity. Today, we may know his paintings, but we rarely see his name.

Lawrence was buried two weeks after his death, in the crypt at St Paul’s Cathedral.  The artist Turner was one of the mourners, and he painted this sketch of the funeral from memory. Almost immediately there was a reaction against Thomas and his legacy. He went out of fashion totally, and the repugnance felt by society over his behaviour towards Sarah Siddons and her daughters was re-ignited in 1904 when his personal letters were published. The correspondence shows a highly emotional side to Lawrence, and he writes of his uncontrollable feelings and his anguish, while Mrs Siddons talks of ‘this wretched madman’s frenzy’ and of his ‘flying off in ANOTHER whirlwind’.

On the anniversary of his death, spare a thought for poor Tom: a much underrated artist! Yes, I think he will get a place in ‘Georgian Giants – the unsung heroes of the Industrial Revolution’.  Pen & Sword Books are due to publish it later in the year.

Meanwhile a break from blogging for a couple of weeks – I am off on a  tour to Vietnam via Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand on board the Good Ship Diamond (Princess Line) lecturing on a few more novel aspects of 17th and 18th century history. Well, novel for me: The maiden voyage of the Batavia (a tale of  mass murder, mutiny and rape); Piracy in the Indian Ocean; the race between Nicholas Baudin and Matthew Flinders to circumnavigate Australia and to map the coastline of the entire continent; castaways in the Pacific Ocean; and finally, the true story of William Bligh, captain of the Bounty. Why hello, sailors, here I come!

Jun 032018

Isabella Beetham, born Isabella Robinson (c.1744-1825) was an interesting character. She came from a wealthy family but when she was twenty she eloped with an itinerant Irish actor called Edward Beetham. Her family cut off her maintenance and she was forced to take up portraiture as a way of keeping the wolf from the door. She specialized in making paper cut-outs (we now generally call them silhouettes, but they were then called shades). She then studied with the London minituarist John Smart, and started to paint the silhouette of the sitter (rather than to cut it with scissors). She painted on glass as well as on paper, and some of the results are really beautiful.

Meanwhile her husband continued to work on the London stage. He also invented things – initially the roll-up weighted safety curtain to be used at theatres to prevent fire from spreading. But there was insufficient money to pay to take out a patent and the idea was soon copied by others, and he never made his fortune from it. Another invention – and one which he did patent, was called a “patent Mangle with Rollers”. Basically this was a primitive form of washing tub where the wooden rollers were kept pressed together so that the moisture in the clothes was wrung out. It was a considerable financial success and Edward was able to move in to shop premises at 26 and 27 Fleet Street in London. He sold his mangles downstairs and Isabella did her painting upstairs.

One of the things which make Isabella so collectable, and distinguishes her from the many gifted but anonymous amateurs who did paper cut-outs and painted silhouettes, was that she started backing her creations with a trade label giving her name. From around 1774 her works were backed with a splendidly verbose label of which part reads “By application leagued with Good Natural Gifts Mrs Beetham has enabled herself to remedy a Difficulty Much lamented and Universally Experienced by PARENTS, LOVERS AND FRIENDS.The former, assisted by her Art, may see their offspring In any part of the Terraqueous Globe. Nor can Death obliterate the features from their fond Remembrance. LOVERS the Poets have advanced, ‘Can waft a sigh from Indus to the Pole. She will gratify them with more substantial though Ideal Intercourse by placing the Beloved Object to their View. FRIENDSHIP is truly valuable was ever held a Maxim.…”

OK, so that is a bit over the top, but at least it means her works can be identified!

An advertisement, published in 1792, read:

PROFILES:  Mrs. BEETHAM, who has ever been distinguished as one of the most eminent who ever attempted PROFILE LIKENESSES, continues to execute them with that Taste and Elegance which remains unrivalled. She paints them on Chrystals, ornamented with gold and silver, displaying the hair and drapery in a manner more beautiful than can be conceived till seen: and if not the most striking likeness, no gratuity will be expected. She likewise finishes them on IVORY, COMPOSITION, AND PAPER, for RINGS, LOCKETS, BRACELETS, &c.

Time of Sitting, One Minute

Specimens to be seen at her house, no. 27, Fleet Street”.

In the early 1790s, the Beetham’s oldest daughter, Jane, began working with her mother, and continued to do so until she got married in 1797. A label from that period noted that “Mrs. And Miss BEETHAM” were creating “PROFILE LIKENESSES.” Jane  exhibited several of her works at the Royal Academy between 1794 and 1816, sometimes using the name ‘Beetham’, sometimes dropping an ‘e’ and calling herself ‘Betham’ and occasionally using her married name of ‘Read’








And, just in case I am accused of bias by not showing any male sitters, here are a couple of her portraits of  two splendid-looking gentlemen, courtesy of Bonhams auction house.





(For the biographical information I am indebted to an article by Joy Ruskin Hanes  in the New England Antiques Journal). I have dusted off this blog for re-issue because in the summer I am giving a talk in the West Midlands to a group of antique dealers and collectors – featuring silhouettes of the 18th Century.


Mar 232017
Robert Dighton, self-portrait, 1787 © National Portrait Gallery

Robert Dighton, self-portrait, 1787 © National Portrait Gallery

Robert Dighton, born in London around 1752, was part of a whole tribe of Dighton’s who featured as artists, engravers and art sellers in the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth centuries. He was the son of John Dighton, printseller, and went on to spawn Robert (military portraits), Dennis (general military pictures) and Richard, who succeeded to his father’s business drawing portraits and selling them from his studio.

Robert Dighton senior flourished at a time when “drolls” were in fashion – gentle caricatures of mannerisms, fashion etc (as distinct from the more overtly critical and sometimes savage lampoons of say Gillray, or Cruickshank).

An example is his almost affectionate drawing called “Derby & Joan or the platonic lovers, a farce'” (showing the famous actress Elizabeth Farren, later to become Countess of Derby, and Edward Smith Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby). The relationship between the recently widowed Earl and the famous beauty had fascinated society. This is Dighton’s take, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, published in November 1795:

NPG D9306; 'Derby & Joan or the platonic lovers, a farce' (Elizabeth, Countess of Derby; Edward Smith Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby) by and published by Robert Dighton

And here is Gillray’s picture from 1796 of the same  couple, looking at paintings at a forthcoming auction at Christies:

Dighton v Gillray

Back to Dighton and his drolls, “A Fashionable Lady in Dress and Undress”

Dighton4As an illustration of his skill as an artist and engraver here are a couple of mezzotints courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library and which came out as part of  a whole series of ‘calendar girls’, one per month, in 1784/5. They were sold by Carington Bowles, a popular print publisher of the day.

First, “March or Mars”


Second, “October or Octobre”


I find the fashion  detail – fabrics, styles and so on, fascinating. Carington Bowles especially sold maps, and Dighton enjoyed doing comic maps to amuse the public under the heading of “Geography Bewitched”. Here, copyright of the British Museum, are Scotland:


and Ireland:

Dighton 3

The National Portrait Gallery gives us this 1801 print by Dighton from a book entitled ‘Descriptions of battles by sea & land, in two volumes, from the Kings Library’s at Greenwich & Chelsea’

Droll indeed, but by now the fifty year old Dighton was up to no good. He had opened a shop selling prints and artworks in Charing Cross. In 1806 it was discovered that he was in the habit of visiting the British Museum, chatting up one of the printroom curators by the name of  the Reverend William Beloe, and doing free portraits for him and his family. While the good reverend’s back was turned he would then lift the odd Rembrandt  print from the Museum collection and then calmly walk out with the stolen print hidden in his own portfolio of sketches. Simples! He would then flog them in his shop. When caught he confessed all, and was fortunate to avoid prosecution by agreeing to hand back the unsold items which he had lifted, and to help track down some of the ones he had already sold. The hapless curator was not so lucky and was sacked on the spot.

Dighton was forced to spent a few years lying low in Oxford and Bath, his reputaion in tatters, before returning to London in 1810 to re-open his shop which he ran jointly with his sons. He died in 1814.

To end with, his evocative “Windy Day” showing the outside of  (his?) printshop

Dighton windy day

and my favourite of his calendar girls, August, doing a spot of fishing:

Dighton August

Mar 202017

TG1Sad to see that some nutter with a screw-driver has slashed the canvas painted by Thomas Gainsborough in 1785, generally known as ‘The Morning Walk’. The other title is ‘Mr and Mrs Hallett’ – slightly inaccurately, as the couple had not, at the time of the painting, celebrated their nuptials. The National Gallery describe the painting as representing  “an elegant young couple strolling through a woodland landscape, an attentive dog at the lady’s heel. William Hallett and Elizabeth Stephen were … due to be married in the summer of 1785, shortly after the painting was completed.”

The site continues “William is in a black, silk velvet frock-suit. His apparent carelessness is actually a studied pose. The undone jacket and with one hand tucked into it is a stance seen in many fashionable 18th-centry informal portraits (known as conversation pieces).

If the report in the Daily Mail is anything to go by, the portrait is famous because it features in the background to the scene in Skyfall, where  James Bond, played by Daniel Craig, sits on a bench in Room 34 at the National Gallery. Funny that, I always thought that it had been famous for  many years before James Bond came along…Room 34

Anyway, as a fan of Gainsborough I am saddened to see that the painting has been damaged and hope it will not be long before the necessary repairs can be effected. The painting has had a fairly chequered history – it was bought by Sir N M Rothschild (later Lord Rothschild) in 1884. A subsequent Lord Rothschild then flogged it to the National Gallery in 1954  for the sum of £30,000 with the purchase being aided by a grant from the Art Fund. Nowadays I imagine that it is worth many millions…..

I have always liked the painting, and can do no better than repeat the description on a site known as the Web Gallery of Art:  ” It was surely Gainsborough’s inclination to interpret a formal marriage portrait, for which the sitters probably sat separately, as a parkland promenade. William Hallett was 21 and his wife Elizabeth, née Stephen, 20 when they solemnly linked arms to walk in step together through life. A Spitz dog paces at their side, right foot forward like theirs, as pale and fluffy as Mrs Hallet is pale and gauzy. Being only a dog with no sense of occasion he pants joyfully hoping for attention. The parkland is a painted backdrop, like those of Victorian photographers, yet it provides a pretext for depicting urban sitters in urban finery as if in the dappled light of a world fresh with dew. ”


Feb 062017

Hone 3I have always been a fan of Nathaniel Hone. The Elder that is. Why? Not altogether sure really – for not being The Younger; for being Irish; for being extremely rude to that big-head from Plymouth, Joshua Reynolds; for having the guts to hold (a successful) one man show when the Royal Academy fell out with him – and for painting some rather fine portraits. What other reasons do you need?

When I was choosing images to use for my book “In bed with the Georgians – Sex, Scandal and Satire” I was delighted to be able to use the Nathaniel Hone portrait of the courtesan Kitty Fisher – complete with its double rebus of the cat (ie Kitty) having designs on the goldfish in the bowl (hence, Fisher). It has the added message that Kitty Fisher herself lived her life inside a goldfish bowl, constantly on public view, and reflected just below the rim of the bowl you can see the figures of people staring in from the window at the scene being painted by the artist.The original is in the National Portrait Gallery, so thanks to them for the use of the image:

Hone I, Nathaniel; Kitty Fisher; National Portrait Gallery, London;

I blogged about Hone here – and by chance after an interval of a couple of years I have had a response from someone who saw the blog and needs help identifying the subject of two portraits they were fortunate enough to have acquired at auction – and which are now found to have the signature of ‘N Hone’ and the date of 1742. But who are the subjects of these paintings?

Nat left Ireland in his early twenties, got married  and eventually came to London in around 1742 but I do not have an exact date. Does anyone know when he actually left Ireland?  And is it too fanciful to think that he may have painted the portraits of his Mum and Dad, before he left home, as mementos? Other than that his father was a Dutch merchant who had settled in Dublin, I know nothing of his family background. Has anyone any ideas? Here we have- the unknown lady:hone 1

And at the top of this blog post is the portrait of an unknown gentleman, painted in the same year – here, the signature and date:

hone 2

And if that is not enough of a conundrum, the same auction yielded one other surprise – a portrait of another unknown gentleman, this one painted by the Swedish-born artist called Michael Dahl. He was active in Britain between 1682 and his death in 1743 and he painted a number of members of the royal family, as well as various aristocrats. When Dahl first came to Britain he came into the orbit of Godfrey Kneller, and through him made a number of contacts and subsequent clients. Does anyone recognize the subject in this one?

Dahl 2

I will pass any suggestions on to the new owners of the three pictures – and I am sure they will be most interested to hear your ideas. Thanks!



More on eighteenth century silhouettes: Isabella Beetham and John Miers

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Oct 072016

It is interesting to realize how long a ‘life’ these blogs have: a few years ago I did a post called ‘Isabella Beetham – shady lady (painter of silhouettes)‘ and just recently received an e-mail from Guy Dickinson asking if I could help track down a ‘missing’ silhouette made by Isabella and which profiled his ancestor  Barbara Fitzgerald. She was the daughter of a priest, and  as ‘Barbara Loftie’ had been born in 1768. She eventually went out to India with her family.  There she married Mr Fitzgerald, who had links with the East India Company.  Eventually they returned to England, and Barbara died in 1847.

I say ‘missing’ – it was more a case that the family knew that there was a silhouette in existence but had no idea what it looked like or who owns it. I was able to track down a reference to an unspecified auction of a possible silhouette which took place in the year 2000 but had no idea which auction house was involved. Perseverance paid off and it turned out to be Bonhams – and lo and behold the auction catalogue is still available for purchase. So, I was delighted to be able to point Guy in the right direction. He has kindly lent me the catalogue, and this is the profile of his 4xgreat grandmother:


The Bonhams catalogue states that the silhouette was three and a half inches high (88mm to be precise…) and from what I can gather went for the not unreasonable price of £180. Mind you that was sixteen years ago and some of Isabella’s work sells for ten times that amount. The image is described as being made circa 1795 “profile to the right, wearing bandeau in her curled hair, decollete dress with double frilled collar, with tied laces at her corsage and necklace.”

As with many of Isabella’s silhouettes of the 1790’s it was painted on to glass (in this case convex) and backed with wax – whereas her earlier silhouettes were cut out onto blackened paper. By 1785 Isabella had acquired sufficient skill as a painter – having been trained by the miniaturist John Smart – to open her own studio at 27 Fleet Street and there the clamouring public could have their likenesses prepared with the brush strokes applied direct onto either glass or plaster. Isabella used stippling and often dots/dashes to create the dress and hairstyle fashions of the day. She never made a fortune – her estate was worth some £200 when she died in 1825, perhaps the equivalent of £15,000 today. Nevertheless, Isabella was probably the first woman to have been able to make a living from  producing silhouettes. At least she didn’t have to rely on an income  from her husband, who patented a design for a wooden roller for the new-fangled washing machines which were just starting to appear. Pish! Washing machines, what a silly idea!

As an aside, these silhouettes were popular in the Quaker community – it was considered vain to have your own picture hanging on the wall, but a silhouette –  well, that wasn’t you, it was your shadow….

The catalogue shows that the Barbara Loftie Fitzgerald lot was one of nearly ninety silhouettes forming the Shirley North collection.  I rather like these two, sold as a single Lot but actually by different artists:

silhouette 88L     silhouette 88R








Some of the other Lots featured include some splendid profiles by John Miers, probably the most famous silhouette artist of the day. Here are his husband-and-wife profiles of Henry, 3rd Duke of Buccleuch and Elizabeth. She sports what is termed a ‘banging chignon’ (why don’t we see more banging chignons nowadays?) and a large outdoor hat adorned with feathers and ribbons, while the Duke  has his hair done in a fine queue and wears an open coat with a frilled cravat.

Silhouette57RSilhouette 2 001 - Copy









Another silhouette by John Miers made £1050 and is of an unidentified lady and made some time between 1788 and 1791. It really is rather impressive:

Silhouette Jn MiersMiers was certainly prolific. He had opened a studio in the Strand in 1788 and at the time of his death was believed to have amassed nearly 100,000 silhouettes – all of them as a result of 3-minute sittings.That’s a lot of minutes…

(My thanks are due to Bonhams for the use of these images – and to Guy Dickinson for nudging me into re-visiting this fascinating area of 18th Century art).


Sep 272016

love-at-300dpiFor the cover on my forthcoming book “In Bed with the Georgians – Sex Scandal and Satire in the 18th Century” I chose a print based on a painting by William Matthew Peters. I subsequently acquired an original print of the lady in question, thanks to the generosity of one of the readers of this blog, for which I am extremely grateful.

The Rev W M Peters

The Rev W M Peters

Peters was quite an interesting character. Some books describe him as “ a portrait and history painter from the Isle of Wight” while others ascribe to him an Irish birth and ancestry. His father appears to have been a garden designer working in Dublin and who had originally done work for Lord Cobham at Stowe. As a youth Peters went twice to Italy to study the works of the great Renaissance artists. He returned from the first trip (to Rome) in the early 1760s and then went again to Rome, and Venice, in the early to mid 1770s. He gained the somewhat over-egged title of “the English Titian” – due to a series of portraits of ladies in various stages of undress. He apparently painted them as a tribute to the works of Titian, intending to emulate Titian’s “Venus” by showing modern-day seductresses. However, whereas Titian painted his Venus stretched out full length on her bed, entirely naked, Peters showed only the head, shoulders and breasts. Peters provided his ladies with contemporary night-caps along with familiar names of the period eg Lydia, Belinda, Sylvia (and Lucrece…?).

Lydia. circa 1777 . shown courtesy of the Tate Museum

Lydia. circa 1777 . shown courtesy of the Tate Museum

Described as "a Study for Lydia" - same hat, same breasts... It poses the question: how much study did he really need to do?

Described as “a Study for Lydia” – same hat, same breasts… It poses the question: how much study did he really need to do?!



He may have seen them as tributes to the great Italian Masters, but the public saw them as erotic art which they could buy as pin-ups, and copies appeared in print many times over. Not all the critics were in favour. When Peters exhibited The Woman in Bed at the RA summer exhibition the critic in The Morning Chronicle of 26 April 1777 noted: “We cannot … help thinking that the inviting leer of the lady, and her still more inviting bosom, ought to be consigned to the bedchamber of a bagnio, where each would doubtless provoke a proper effect; in the present situation they serve to prevent the pictures around them from being so much seen and admired as their merits demand, for every man who has either his wife or daughter with him, must, for decency sake, hurry them away from that corner of the room”

Belinda - the basis for the print used on  my book cover

Belinda – the basis for the print used on my book cover, but showing rather less décolletage – and a different hat!

Matthew Peters had trained in London under the portraitist Thomas Hudson and when he returned from his second Italian tour Peters had moved into a house belonging to Lord Grosvenor in Millbank. It was then, presumably urged on by patrons such as Lord Grosvenor, that he began to paint his studies of courtesans. And let’s face it, Lord Grosvenor certainly knew a lot of courtesans… I can just imagine him coming home after a torrid night between the sheets at a local brothel and saying to Peters “Look who I’ve brought for you to paint.”



By the late 1770s Peters, was getting increasingly worried about the damage to his reputation as a serious artist, and so abandoned painting courtesans. This became even more important to him when he decided to become ordained in 1781, Subsequently he was appointed Honorary Chaplain to the Royal Academy, and was highly embarrassed by his quasi-erotoc offerings. According to the Tate Gallery he expressed “a profound regret that he ever devoted his talents to such subjects, not only because they were degrading to his character but [also] from sincere moral regret.” He went on to become rector of Eaton, Leicestershire, then rector of Wolsthorpe, Leicestershire, in 1788, and became Prebendary of Lincoln in 1795 He was also chaplain to the Prince Regent, so we can safely say that he was not just a man of the canvas but also a man of the cloth….

In 1777 he had been elected a full Member of the Royal Academy. He married Margaret, daughter of the Rev John Knowsley and they had various children including a son, Edmund, who took the surname of Turton in order to receive a benefit under the will of Dr John Edmund. He carried on painting – mostly mawkish pictures of young children ascending to Heaven, but I rather go along with the comment on his works which appeared in the Dictionary of Irish Artists in 1913 “Peters’ work as a painter was very unequal; but in his portraits he shows a strength and ease in painting, with good colour, which raises him to a higher level than has hitherto been accorded him. Had he devoted his talents to portraiture instead of wasting them on his historical pictures and his ill-drawn, badly-coloured angels and pious children by which he is best known, he would have been regarded, and taken his place, as one of the best painters of the English school.”

Peters died at Brasted Place, Kent, on 20th March, 1814. I confess that I rather like his seductive nudes with their ‘come hither’ look. Let’s face it, I wouldn’t have any other of his paintings hanging on my study wall…. My book is due to be published by Pen & Sword next month and is available on pre-order at a discount here. I don’t reckon  a shade under £12 is bad for a rattling read through the bedroom antics of Georgian Britain, and I am grateful to the Rev. Peters for providing me with a most suitable cover.


John Smart, miniaturist, Part Two.

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Sep 202016

I came across so many amazing miniatures while researching my piece a couple of days ago about John Smart that I thought I would include a few more, as a supplementary post!

First up, a couple of splendid Indian gentlemen – obviously painted during the artist’s ten-year stint in Madras.

An Indian Prince, 1788, shown courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum

An Indian Prince, 1788, shown courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum





A wonderful be-turbanned gentleman in all his finery

A wonderful be-turbanned gentleman in all his finery

Probably done in India a couple of fine army officers, the one on the right being a Major General in the East India Army. I am not sure about the rank of the other one but  they do look rather imposing.

Portrait of an army officer, courtesy of the Cleveland Art Museum

Portrait of an army officer, courtesy of the Cleveland Art Museum


A Major-General in the H.E.I.A.

A Major-General in the H.C.(E.I.C.).A.










A fine portrait of a lady with hr hair immaculately coiffed:

Portrait of a lady,  1782, courtesy of Cincinnati Art Museum.

Portrait of a lady, 1782, courtesy of Cincinnati Art Museum.

And to end with a miniature of the artist himself, a self-portrait which I came across on the site


John Smart self portrait.

John Smart self portrait.

John Smart – no small talent indeed!

Sep 182016

I have always been fascinated by the skills shown by 18th Century miniaturists, and was intrigued when I saw this one – it is unusual, because it  features a woman in a green outfit. Somehow green s not a common colour, but it suits her.Mrs Russell nee Cox by Jn SmartThe sitter was Mrs Russell, nee Cox, and the artist was John Smart. He painted the portrait in 1781 and used water colours on a piece of ivory. Leonora, illegitimate daughter of Lord Pigot, the disgraced Governor of Madras,was married to Claude Russell  and lived at Binfield Manor House in Berkshire.

John Smart, sometimes designated ‘the Elder’ to distinguish him from his namesake who was a Scottish landscape artist, was born in 1741 and died in 1811. He  first achieved prominence when he came second in a competition held in 1755 by the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. He was pipped to the post by the man who was to be his rival throughout his career, Richard Cosway. In 1756 Smart took up an apprenticeship with William Shipley, the Principal of the Society at his premises in St Martin’s Lane.  After that there was no stopping him and he won the next three competitions, and eventually exhibited his work there in 1762. Three years later he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Artists (FSA) becoming a director in 1772, Vice-President in 1777, and finally President in 1778. He was married, with three daughters, but also fathered a couple of children by his mistress Sarah Midgeley.

In 1785 Smart left for Madras where he spent a decade painting the great and the good, but returned to Britain in 1795 after his daughter died and his wife left him for another man. He operated from his studio in Mayfair and continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy right up until his death. This followed a brief  illness, on 1st May 1811 at the age of seventy.

Smart-Lady-with-pink-hairHere are a few more of his superb miniatures. The first, on the left is shown courtesy of the Philip Mould site and features “a lady” wearing a lilac-coloured dress. She has her hair dressed in pink powder set off with a small white feather.

The one on the right, below, is of Robert, first Baron Clive of Plassey  and is on the Yale Center of British Art site, part of the Paul Mellon collection.


Clive of India

Many of the online images reflect the Indian connection – as here.

A couple more I like:JS1

JS2    JS3

and to end with, I give you …Elizabeth Taylor! She was born as Elizabeth Haughton and lived between 1758 and 1821  and again, her likeness appears on the Philip Mould site.


Taste in High Life: Fashions – in 1742 and 1793. From a lady in red to a lord called Anne…

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Aug 102016
Mary Edwards by William Hogarth, Frick Collection.

Mary Edwards by William Hogarth, Frick Collection.

In 1742 William Hogarth was commissioned to paint  a satirical piece about fashion for a slightly eccentric and forceful lady called Mary Edwards. She got a mention in a guest blog about Hogarth which Michael Dean did for me a couple of years ago, which you can find here. She had been born in 1704 and lived in Kensington. An  extremely wealthy woman, she had suffered at the hands of people who had ridiculed her for her lack of fashion sense – so for her, this was pay-back time.

Miss Edwards had reputedly inherited  a vast fortune from her father when she was 24. He was Francis Edwards, a wealthy merchant who lived in the Leicestershire village of Welham. It was said that she enjoyed an annual income of between £50,000 – £100,000, so it was little wonder that she was a magnet for fortune hunters of the day. One was a young Scottish nobleman called Lord Anne Hamilton (named, apparently, after his godmother Queen Anne). He was handsome, profligate, and at 22 was five years younger than Mary. No doubt she thought that he looked rather gorgeous in his uniform as an ensign in the Coldstream Guards. He was however an utterly unsuitable person for the wealthy heiress to fall for. In 1731 they allegedly went through a ceremony of marriage in the Fleet and the following year she gave birth to a son, Gerard Anne. The marriage was a disaster and when he showed rather more interest in spending her money than in attending to her needs, she decided to discard Lord Anne.

Lord Anne Hamilton

Lord Anne Hamilton

This was easier said than done, but she showed a resourcefulness which was rather remarkable. She  was determined to save her fortune for herself and her son, so she apparently bribed the Fleet chaplains to destroy all records of the marriage. She then placed a notice in the register of her local church of St. Mary Abbots, Kensington stating that she was a single woman. No matter that this made her son appear illegitimate – it was a price she was prepared to pay to offload the unwanted husband. I almost feel sorry for his avaricious Lordship.

I had nearly considered including him in the list of rakes and roués in my forthcoming book “In bed with the Georgians, Sex Scandal and Satire.” *               But somehow he was as much  to be pitied as loathed, so I left him out. There are, after all, others with no redeeming features whatsoever! Lord Anne was completely out-manoeuvred, because he simply had no evidence to show that they ever married. On May 22nd 1734 he accepted defeat and signed a deed returning all Miss Edwards’ property to her and relinquishing all further claims on her. So, she had regained her property empire, her stocks and shares and all her wealth, and when she died on August 23rd 1743, aged only thirty-eight years old,  she left her entire fortune to her son. I will refrain from suggesting that while he may have appeared to have been illegitimate, at least he was a  wealthy bastard…

Lord Anne went on to marry “properly” in 1742, sired a couple of sons and died in France in 1748 at the age of 39.

Mary was a frequent patroness of William Hogarth, and was  arguably the most important supporter that he had in the decade between  1733 and 1743. There is a report that she  purchased Hogarth’s painting of Southwark Fair, and as well as buying his paintings she and those in her social circle commissioned family portraits. Hogarth had  painted a conventional portrait of Mary in 1742, shown at the top of this blog,  in a rather splendid red dress and sporting some suitably opulent jewellery, and shown courtesy of the Frick Collection. It is an undeniably affectionate portrait, reflecting the close friendship between sitter and artist.

Then there  is this picture by Hogarth showing the Edwards family before the split. A detailed analysis of the picture, and the various constituent elements in it, appears in an article by Maisoon Rehani, Picture Researcher at the Paul Mellon Centre, here. I rather like the suggestion that the dog is actually baring its teeth at Lord Anne, while the small boy is washing a toy soldier – cleansing himself of his father’s military connections. Mary Edwards is reading the Spectator while resting her elbow on a pile of books, identifiable by their titles as being suitably educational for the young boy.

The Edwards-Hamilton Family on their Terrace in Kensington

The Edwards-Hamilton Family on their Terrace in Kensington

Hogarth had earlier come  up with this image of the young Gerard Anne in his cradle. It belongs to the National Trust and is on display at Upton House in Warwickshire. I can’t say I am a great lover of paintings featuring small babies, but there you go….

(c) National Trust, Upton House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Mary’s son Gerard Anne (c) National Trust, Upton House

And so it was that in 1742 Mary Edwards commissioned this satirical painting, entitled Taste in High Life,  for the sum of sixty guineas. The version shown below is an engraving made  by Samuel Phillips in 1798, under commission from John Boydell for a posthumous edition of Hogarth’s works, but was not published until 1808.

Taste_high_lifeThe High Life shows two women wearing large hooped dresses, the one on the left with a huge uplift at the rear. The lady in the centre is almost certainly a parody of Mary Edwards herself, sporting patches/beauty spots, while her enormous muslin dress is decorated with overblown roses. She and her male friend are enthusiastically examining a tiny porcelain tea cup, while the man holds the saucer to go with it. The man is thought to be “Beau” Collyer, 2nd Earl of Portmore, a somewhat foppish example of manhood. He sports a ludicrously long queue in his hair, carries  a big muff and a tricorne hat under his arm, and his sword is tied up in his clothing, making his jacket flare like a skirt. In the foreground a monkey is dressed to the nines and is shown as a servant, using a lorgnette to read a list of items recently bought at auction. The lady on the left tickles the chin of a young be-turbaned black servant – reputedly based on Ignatius Sancho. His coat tails are so ludicrously long that there is no way he could stand and walk without tripping over… He may be a slave, but the ladies are also slaves – to fashion.

We can take this as a highly fashionable household of the day, one where the occupants are ridiculed for spending all their time and money on acquiring uselessly impractical ornaments while disporting themselves in clothing which not only looked absurd, but which precluded  free movement.

The impracticality of the  fashions is reflected in the image on the fire-screen which shows a lady trapped in her sedan chair, unable to manoeuvre out of the conveyance. Three of the pictures hanging on the wall are fashion plates, while the main picture emphasises the passing nature of fashion, with a cupid using bellows to burn a bonfire of wigs and hoops. The same picture also features a cut-away view of a lady wearing a hooped dress, in the style of a classical sculpture of a female standing on a plinth.

Beau" Colyear, 2nd Earl of Portmore

Beau” Colyear, 2nd Earl of Portmore

“Beau” Collyer was  famous for his immaculate dress. Born in 1700 he became MP for Wycombe in 1726 and represented  Andover between 1727 and 1730, when he succeeded to the Portmore earldom. Sir Joshua Reynolds did this portrait of him on the right when he was 58. He was particularly successful as a horse breeder, and was also a founding Governor of the Foundling Hospital, dedicated to promoting the welfare of abandoned children.

Hogarth never really liked the High Life and refused to allow any engravings to be made, so the one shown here was executed after the copyright had expired.  And just by way of contrast, let us end (on a bum note….) with a parody of how fashions changed – with a print made circa 1794. As it says, the left-hand image, taken from the picture hanging in the background in Hogarth’s High Life, shows “The Mode” in 1742 as a contrast to  “The Ton” of 1794. Together they are entitled “A section of The Petticoat –  or the Venus of ’42 and ’94”. Note that just as the hoop-skirt has been replaced with high-waisted narrow skirt, so the high-heeled shoes of 1742 have given way to the flat shoes of 1794.


*For anyone interested in my book, it comes out in the autumn and is available on pre-release via Pen & Sword here.