Nov 202019

An interesting Gillray print which came out on this day in 1804. It shows a group of men who appear to be vying for the favours of the only lady present, presumably a wealthy widow. It is entitled ‘Company shocked at a Lady getting up to Ring the Bell’ and it appears on the Lewis Walpole site at Yale University, which quotes the British Museum online catalogue: ‘There is  violent disturbance in a luxuriously furnished breakfast parlour. The only lady present has risen from her chair to pull a bell-pull. The frantic efforts of five elderly men to stop her have produced a sequence of disasters. An urn overturns and pours boiling water on a fat man who puts a large lump of food speared on his fork into his eye. A man behind him, rushing to seize the bell-rope, spears the former’s wig with his knife. Crockery cascades to the floor, the contents of a tea-pot falling on a dog, who bites the knee of a man in regimentals; he leans forward, planting his toe on the gouty foot of a man behind. The latter, about to fall, grasps the officer’s pigtail, flourishing a knife, his mouth choked with food. A fifth man stands behind the table with raised hands and shrugged shoulders. The fare is boiled eggs, bread, and muffins. Over the chimney-piece is a picture of a fat Cupid firing his bow; his quiver is reversed, and one leg is transfixed with an arrow. The walls of the room are ornamented by gilt pilasters in the shape of palm-trees . Between them are empty candle-sconces decorated with palm-branches.

I like the scene of chaos at the breakfast table and the detail – of the wallpaper, the carpet and the fireplace. It is also the idea of – Shock, Horror! – a lady calling for the servant by ringing the bell pull – clearly a man’s job in a well-run household. It was published by Hannah Humphrey  exactly 215 years ago.

Nov 122019

As I have mentioned before, my ancestor Richard Hall believed that ‘toilet’ (as in getting yourself ready to present to the world, applying your make-up, adjusting your wig and so on) was pronounced ‘twaylet’ or even ‘twilight’.

Caricaturists often showed ladies at their toilet, but one poor lady seems picked upon more than any other – the never-so-fragrant Lady Archer. No, not that one, but Lady Sarah Archer.

The finishing touch, by James Gillray, shown courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Lady Archer was renowned for her heavy use of make-up – and she must have been mortified when Thomas Rowlandson let rip with his ‘Six stages of mending a Face’ – dedicated to the good lady.

Lady Archer was born in 1741 as Sarah West, the daughter of a Warwickshire landowner and MP. When she was twenty, she married the Honorable Andrew Archer, and seven years later when his father died he became  the 2nd Baron Archer of Umberslade. She was not considered pretty, but dressed confidently and resorted to rouge and face powder to hide her plainness. Some time after her death, she was described by The Hon. Grantley Berkeley as “a celebrated amazon of that time.”). Cartoonists tended to exploit her weakness for gambling – and cheating at cards, but the make-up caricatures are rather splendid.

Next up, a trio of  Gillray caricatures, all on the Lewis Walpole Library site, showing  a lady at her toilet:

And to end with, something to redress the imbalance between the genders, a print showing ‘an Exquisite’ [i.e. a dandy] at his Devotions’. It was published in 1825 and the site describes it as follows: “An effeminate dandy, elongated and with very thin arms and legs, leans back in a chair, one thin arm drooping to the ground, the other curving over his head, his fingers caressing a curl on his forehead. He gazes sideways with a languishing smile at his reflection in the toilet-table glass. He has a thread-like moustache, blue tail-coat with high collar and sleeves, a rose in the button-hole, a white collar and cravat, white waistcoat with a long gold watch-chain round the neck, long light pantaloons, tight from the knee, full at the waist; low pumps with very-pointed toes. On the dressing-table are brush and comb, stoppered bottle, &c, and long tube-like bottle (of Eau de Cologne). ”

I love the monkey at the back, mirroring the pose of the dandy, admiring itself in a hand mirror. The print maker was Alfred Crowquill and the publisher E King of 23 Chancery Lane.

Nov 052019

I came across this mezzotint on the Lewis Walpole library site entitled ‘Lady Friz at her toilet’, dating from around 1780. According to the description on the site: ‘In an elegant bedroom a young woman sits at her dressing table looking at her reflection in the mirror. At her side is a barber with combs in his apron who gestures at her image which shows the elaborate high hair of the fashion.’

I rather like the way these prints show what the bedroom furnishings looked like – the embroidered curtains over the canopied bed; the blinds which are furled half way down over each window; the sash-like net curtains tied with a bow atop the mirror glass, framing the lady’s image; the patterned wallpaper and carpet. The verse underneath is somewhat uninspiring: ‘Ma’am Friz at her toilet is sat in full view/Surveying her head dress by Monsieur Frizeau/Cosmetics are lying with Powder and Puff/In an hour or two she’ll be handsome enough’.

The print was made by William Humphrey at 227 Strand. William was the sister of Hannah Humphrey, always associated with James Gillray, and when she started out as a print-maker she too operated from that address before establishing herself in Bond Street. William was a fine engraver who eventually moved into dealing in older prints, with a line in portraits which he imported from the Continent. He had a brother George who specialised in natural history curiosities (shells, fossils and the like). Together the Humphrey family say a lot about the way that  people in the 18th century were prepared to buy household ornaments and pictures. Meanwhile the Oxford Dictionary of National Biographies tells us that William ‘died probably about 1810, and apparently in pecuniary difficulties’.

Perhaps ten years earlier Robert Sayer had produced a print entitled ‘The Toilet’. It too shows a lady seated at her dressing table, putting a piece of jewellery in her hair while looking in a mirror, but this time there is no French primper alongside her. Again, it is interesting because it shows the wall decorations (carved oval mirrors) and the ornamental wall-sconce, as well as revealing the large  amount of material adorning the lady’s dressing table.

And finally, Robert Sayer went on to publish another print entitled ‘The Toilet’ in 1786, also shown on the Lewis Walpole site. Again, it is interesting because it reveals the striped wallpaper, the patterned carpet and all the paraphernalia which was needed before a lady was ready to present herself to her admiring public – the powders, the hairpins and so on.

Drawing young ladies sitting in front of a mirror seems to have held a particular fascination for male artists – but I like them mostly for the way that they almost inadvertently show us exactly what  was fashionable in terms of fabrics, soft furnishings and so on.