John Singer Sargent, the son of an American doctor, was born in Florence in 1856. He studied painting in Italy and France and in 1884 caused a sensation at the Paris Salon with his painting of Madame Gautreau. Exhibited as Madame X, people complained that the painting was provocatively erotic.
The scandal persuaded Sargent to move to England and over the next few years established himself as the country’s leading portrait painter. Sargent had no assistants; he handled all the tasks, such as preparing his canvases, varnishing the painting, arranging for photography, shipping, and documentation. He commanded about $5,000 per portrait, or about $130,000 in current dollars. Following are portraits representative of Sargent’s prolific, and much prized, portraiture featurning British subjects.
Lady Agnew of Lochnaw
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh
In late 1892, Sargent began work on the portrait of Lady Agnew, commissioned by Andrew Noel Agnew, a barrister who had inherited the baronetcy and estates of Lochnaw in Galloway. The sitter was his young wife, Gertrude Vernon (1865-1932).
Hon. Victoria Stanley – 1899
Winifred, Duchess of Portland (Winifred Dallas-Yorke) – 1902
Countess of Warwick and Son (Frances Evelyn ‘Daisy’ Maynard) – 1905
The Countess of Essex – 1906
Theresa (‘Nellie’) Marchioness of Londonderry – 1912
Sibyl Sasson-Countess of Rocksavage (later Marchioness of Cholmondeley) – 1913
Sir Philip Sassoon – 1923 (Sybil’s brother)
Tate Gallery, London
Mrs. George Nathaniel Curzon (Grace Elvina, Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston) – 1925
The Hon. Lilian Maud Glen Coats, later Duchess of Wellington
For a complete online catalogue of the works of John Singer Sargent, click here.
In light of the pop cultural phenomenon of Netflix’s Bridgerton series and its multicultural alternative reality take on the books, Kristine has graciously allowed me to revisit and update this article, originally published in 2011.
I once had a dream, as I devoured Regency romance after Regency romance in my college years. Or more accurately a question. Could I write a Regency with a heroine who was Black? It was born perhaps from being a child of the ‘70’s who remembered the momentous day she first saw a Black actor in a toothpaste ad, as though Madison Avenue had finally realized we used such products too. And also, perhaps, because of a seed planted by a college history class that spoke of Lord Dunmore’s promise to take slaves who fought the British back to England in victory, but never knowing whatever came of it.
The research began telling its own stories. Of Queen Elizabeth I’s unenforceable decree to remove “blackamoors” from England to ease the burden of the poor on the country. Of Black courtiers taken from Portuguese vessels in King James IV Scottish court, including the Black Lady of the Tournament of the Black Knight and Lady. How Lord Dunmore’s promise indeed landed many Black soldiers, not unlike other soldiers without family returning from war, into London’s poorer streets. Of African princes educated at university, of Ignatius Sancho, a shopkeeper who left behind his own unique vision of England’s middling class. Of the blurring of free Black and slave within England itself, highlighted by the tales of Mary Hylas, stolen from her husband because her former masters changed their minds about her freedom, and the famous Somerset Case, a cornerstone in the fight to abolish slavery, presided over by James Murray, Lord Mansfield and Chief Justice. Of Lord Mansfield’s own unique brush with race within his household. Of a queen whose reflection buoyed a cause and spoke to how intertwined we all truly are.
So began an eternal obsession with all things Black in Britain (and in other parts of Europe for that matter). I claim not so much to be an expert as an enthusiast, but like all enthusiasts I can’t help but to talk a bit about a favored subject, one to underscore why I like keeping the idea of Black History Month, and not trying to relegate it to African-American History Month or dismiss it altogether, because there’s so much more to the story than ever happened on American shores.
Many books have been written on the history, the social mores: a fascinating blend of class and race that resembled more 20th-century America’s struggles than the oversimplified, misapplied stereotype of a pre- and post-antebellum South. Far more than one could squeeze into a single blog. So I’ll spotlight some notable men and women, focusing on the Georgian and Victorian eras. A list of books follows for those who may want to indulge their own curiosity further.
Kidnapped from what is now Nigeria and sold into slavery in childhood, he was a slave to a Royal Navy captain and a Quaker merchant before earning the price of his own freedom. He then traveled the world, including in an aborted attempt to reach the North Pole. Coming to London, he became involved in the abolitionist movement which led to his writing and publishing his famous autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African (1789), considered to be the first known English account by an African on his native country.
Her Majesty was not Black in the sense of self-identity, or of one being born of direct or closely mixed heritage. Her ancestry is still debated. Commonly her ancestor, Margarita de Castro e Sousa of Portugal, is identified as the reason for Queen Charlotte’s appearance. Multiple family lines can be traced between the queen and Margarita, who was of Moorish or Mozarabic descent, with the idea that extensive inbreeding among noble houses led to Charlotte’s unexpected appearance. Both of those ethnic religious groups include Berbers, who are native to a broad area of North and West Africa. As for the term “Moor,” by the 1500s, it was used to mean Muslims or anyone with dark skin, though sometimes “blackamoor” and “White Moor” were used to distinguish between the two.
What is documented is that the queen’s “negroid” or “mulatto” features were remarked upon by her contemporaries — including her personal physician — and likely used as a symbol by some in the anti-slavery movement. Sir Allan Ramsay, an abolitionist himself, was the artist responsible for the majority of her portraits and his representations of her were the most decidedly African. He also married the niece of Lord Mansfield and was therefore related by marriage to Dido Elizabeth Belle.
The queen was a patron of the arts, supporting Bach and Mozart, and an avid amateur botanist, taking great interest in expanding what became Kew Gardens.
In 1772, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield and Chief Justice, ruled in the Somerset case that slavery in England had “no binding in law.” It did not abolish slavery in England but made it illegal to remove a slave from England against that person’s will. No record exists of what Dido thought of her great-uncle’s landmark slave case. But surely some of the ramifications crossed her mind as she went about tending the chickens and what other genteel chores were hers in Kenwood, his country estate.
She was born of a West Indian slave, Maria Bell, later spelled “Belle,” and Captain Sir John Lindsay of the Royal Navy, Mansfield’s nephew. Her very existence in Mansfield’s home became a prism of attitudes of the day. Some merely noted her presence. American visitors remarked in surprise when she joined the family after dinner. Scholars have argued whether she was tolerated or beloved family. It was ironic that her great-uncle felt the need to reiterate her status as a free woman in his will, in which he also left her £500 plus £100 per year. This in addition to the £1000 her father had left her in his will.
In 1793, she married John Davinier, a steward, or senior servant, likely of a friend of the Murray household.
Born in east Poland, Bridgetower debuted in Pairs at the age of nine, playing a violin concerto by Giornovichi. Soon after he was taken to England by his father and performed in concert. However, many in Society felt the senior Bridgetower mistreated his son, and in 1791, the Prince of Wales (later George IV) paid the father to leave the country. From that point, Bridgetower was under royal protection. For 14 years he was first violinist in the prince’s private band. He became friends with Ludwig van Beethoven in 1803 while on concert tour in Austria. He accompanied Beethoven in the first public performance of Violin Sonata no. 9, later known as the Kreutzer Sonata, having never seen the piece before. It was originally dedicated to Bridgetower — the Sonata Mulattica — but the dedication was changed after the two quarreled. He was elected to the Royal Society of Musicians in 1807 and would later perform with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
The first American to fight for the London Prize Ring championship, Molineux was a slave who was reportedly given his freedom after winning a match on which his owner had placed a large bet. He sailed to England in 1809 to become a professional prize fighter. In London, he met another Black American, Bill Richmond, a former boxer who became his trainer. He fought his way up the ranks, eventually meeting the British champion, Tom Cribb, on December 18, 1810. He seemed to be winning handily, and in the 23rd round he apparently knocked out Cribb. However, Cribb’s corner claimed he had been fouled, and the long argument that ensued gave the champion a chance to regain his senses. Cribb eventually won by knockout in the 33rd round. It was later discovered at one point in the 30th round that Molineux had fractured his skull.
Born in New York City, Aldridge moved to England in the 1820’s and studied acting. Despite setbacks early in his career in London due to racism, he became famous across Europe for his leading roles in Shakespearean plays including King Lear, Macbeth and Othello (pictured). He returned from his European tours so loaded with honor even the London West End stage could no longer exclude him and he finally played the famed Lyceum. In 1858, Aldridge became the first actor to be knighted when he was bestowed the Royal Ernestinischen House Order by Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Meiningen (now part of Germany) becoming Chevalier Ira Aldridge, Knight of Saxony.
A native of Kingston, Jamaica, she learned her nursing skills from her mother who kept a boarding house for invalid soldiers and from trips with her husband to mainland America and England. In 1854, she asked the English war office to be sent as an army nurse to Crimea. Because of her ethnicity she was refused. Undaunted, she funded her own trip to Crimea where she established the British Hotel, an officers’ convalescent hospital, near Balaklava. On the battlefield she nursed the wounded and was known as “Mother Seacole.”
Black Africans in Renaissance Europe, edited by T. F. Earle, K. J. P. Lowe, 2010 reissue.
Black Victorians/Black Victoriana, edited by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, 2003.
Britain’s Black Past, edited by Gretchen H. Gerzina, 2020.
Freyer, Peter. Staying power: the history of Black people in Britain, 1984, fifth printing 1991.
Gerzina, Gretchen. Black England: Life Before Emancipation, 1995. Also published as Black London.
Kaufman, Miranda. Black Tudors, 2018.
Lorimer, Douglas A. Color, Class and the Victorians, 1978.
Scobie, Edward. Black Britannia, 1972.
Walvin, James. Black and White: The Negro in English Society, 1555-1945, 1973.
by Kristine Hughes Patrone Recently, I was Googling portraits of the Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence (as one does) and the search returned images that were decidedly not Wellington. And I must say, some of the sitters were exceedingly handsome, and some of them were portraits I hadn’t seen before. So I Googled some more and you’ll find the results of my search below. Enjoy!
Portrait of Frederic Lock of Norbury Park, Surrey. Youngest child of William Lock, a London art critic.
William Lock the Younger, elder brother to Frederic, above.
From Yale Center for British Art: It has been suggested that Lawrence’s sensitive portrait of the younger William Lock may be a study for an untraced portrait of the sitter exhibited as the royal Academy in 1791. Lock’s attire and hairstyle indicate a later dating however, and Lawrence did not usually make preliminary drawings for his paintings, preferring to prepare them by drawing directly on the canvas with chalk. . . . The sitter was the son of the connoisseur William Lock (1732-1810), was one of Lawrence’s first sitter and a close friend of the artist. The younger Lock (1767-1847) was a keen patron of the arts and an aspiring artist, but after viewing Rome he lost faith in his talent and gave up painting, though he continued to draw.
Arthur Atherley MP 1772 – 1844
This portrait was painted by Lawrence when Atherley was an Eatonian. Afterwards, he went to Trinity College and went on to stand as MP for Southampton for four terms. He was a founding member of the Fox Club. He also served as a justice of the peace in Sussex and died at Tower House, Brighton.
The finished portrait now hangs in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, but an unfinished sketch of the same subject, above, was recently purchased from a private owner by the Holburne Museum, Bath. You can read more about that here.
John Arthur Douglas Bloomfield, 2nd Baron Bloomfield 1802 – 1879
Astonishingly, Wikipedia tells me that Bloomfield was privately educated and became an attache to Vienna at the age of sixteen. This may have been due, at least in part, to the position of his father, the 1st Baron Bloomfield, about whom Wikipedia says: “He was an Aide-de-Camp, then Chief Equerry and Clerk Marshal to the Prince of Wales and finally was Private Secretary to the King, Keeper of the Privy Purse, and Receiver of the Duchy of Cornwall from 1817 to 1822. One of issues that Bloomfield had to contend with a Private Secretary was King’s extravagant spending.” However, things did not end well for the elder Baron Bloomfield. You’ll find the story here.
Henry Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux 1778 – 1868
Anti-slavery campaigner, attorney to Queen Caroline and one of the first Englishmen to fall in love with Cannes and make it into a popular resort. Like Wellington, Brougham was named by Harriet Wilson in her Memoirs. Unlike Wellington, he caved and paid the hush money her publisher demanded to keep his name out of the book. Brougham’s name is still familiar to us, as a style of coach was named for a vehicle he designed, which was carried on until recent memory as a style of automobile. Find his full biographical story here.
And finally . . . . .
Sir Thomas Lawrence, unfinished self portrait, circa 1825
Once upon a time in England, an alehouse/tavern licence was very expensive and was based upon the size of the premises. Many who sought to open such an enterprise were financially prohibited from doing so until the Duke of Wellington’s Beer House Act of 1830 changed the playing field dramatically. The Act reduced the licence fee to two guineas, permitting the sale of beer and cider only. The main object of the Act was to reduce the consumption of spirits, such as gin and other strong liquors.
As the website Exeter Memories tells us: “During the 18th-century, the production and consumption of gin exploded, especially amongst the poor, causing violence and misery for many. Government attempts to prohibit the production of gin with the Gin Act of 1736 had little effect. Distilling changed from straight gin to “medicinal” spirits to circumvent the Act, and fanciful names such as Cuckold’s Comfort and My Lady’s Eye Water were used to describe the new drinks.
“The introduction of the Beer House Act of 1830 tried a different approach to reducing gin consumption and hence, public drunkenness. Anyone, on payment of 2 guineas to a magistrate could obtain a license to open a beer house. Permission was only granted for six days a week, with Sundays excepted. Only beer and cider could be sold.
“The result was a huge growth of beer houses and beer sellers, many from the front rooms of terrace houses and cottages. Another provision of the act was that existing taverns, inns and pubs could also brew their own beer on the premises. This had a knock effect, for there was a growth of demand for hops and barley for malting, thus bringing a new market for many farmers. Within eight years of the act being passed, 46,000 beer houses were opened, almost equalling the number of existing, pubs, taverns and inns.”
Midlands Pubs picks up the story from there – “Following the 1830 Act, beer production went through the roof. Large common brewers engaged travelling sales people to find new trading locations. These agents actively encouraged householders to open up a part of their property, usually the front parlour, in order to sell beer. They even offered to pay the two guinea licence on their behalf and would offer credit terms to their clients.
“Many of the new beer houses throughout the land named their pubs in honour of the Iron Duke. Their pub signs tended to display Wellington in his military roles and often celebrated his battle achievements that had captured the imagination of the public. However, more often than not, the new publicans were showing appreciation to the man who had helped them set up in business. Not all houses bought their beers from common brewers. Some chose to brew themselves whilst others employed a travelling brewer who would go from pub to pub producing the house ales.
“Naturally, some beer houses were more successful than others. Those who gained a reputation for their ales enjoyed good trade. The licensee would often use the profits to buy the neighbouring cottage into which the family would move whilst the existing house was expanded. Indeed, there are some pubs that have expanded into a full row of a terrace, the rooms being used as separate bar, parlour, smoke room, lounge and family room. The early beer house movement was all very laissez-faire.
“Although many beer houses were eradicated under later legislation, many survived and evolved into fully licensed premises. Accordingly, in addition to beer and cider, they were allowed to sell wines and spirits. 1869 was a key cut-off point, after which it was not so easy to obtain a full licence. Indeed, the 1869 Wine and Beerhouse Act was designed to curtail the number of pubs that were opening around the country. However, pubs that had obtained licences before this date did have a degree of protection in terms of magisterial control.
“Many houses that did not obtain a full licence managed to continue in business providing that the house conformed to all legislation and was kept orderly. These continued to simply sell beer and cider. For example, by 1890 almost half of Birmingham’s 2,178 public houses were beer houses. In fact, beer houses continued up until the 1950’s when finally a full licence was granted to those that had survived.”
There are ten stately homes that have been designated as “The Treasure Houses of England,” and three of them are included on our 2021 Country House Tour – Harewood House, Castle Howard and Chatsworth House.
Edwin Lascelles, 1st Baron Harewood, started building Harewood House in 1759, selecting Robert Adam as architect who, in turn, selected Thomas Chippendale as his furniture maker. This illustrious foundation was built upon once the house was completed, with the Baron filling it’s rooms with only the best. In addition to housing the single best collection of Chippendale furnishings in the UK, Harewood House also boasts a stellar porcelain collection, including many Sèvres pieces once belonging to the French royal family.
The art on display at Harewood House includes works by Turner, Gainesborough, Lawrence, Titian, El Greco and many other masters, but this may be the most famous, and most recognizable, painting in the collection –
Outside, Harewood House is surrounded by 100 acres of gardens set amidst a landscape created by Capability Brown, who may or may not be surprised to learn that Harewood now has a Bird Garden featuring 80 species of exotic and endangered birds.
Click here to watch a video featuring the highlights of Harewood House.