A Look at Lover's Eyes by Guest Blogger Jo Manning – Part One

Copyright – The Philadelphia Museum of Art

In February of 2012, “The Look Of Love,” an exhibition dedicated to the art of Georgian-era eye miniatures, will take place at Alabama’s Birmingham Museum of Art, curated by Graham C. Boettcher. It will feature the collection of Birmingham residents Nan and David Skier; theirs is perhaps one of the largest collections of this art-cum-jewelry in the world, at some 70 pieces.

I am one of the contributors to the exhibition catalog, though I own but one lover’s eye. Mine is a man’s eye surrounded by seed pearls and set in a gold ring. This ring is shown on page 165 of my biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, My Lady Scandalous (Simon and Schuster, 2005). I do not know who the man was, nor do I know the name of the artist. I also do not know for whom it was intended, but I believe it was a mourning ring.

Copyright – The Ornamentalist

The great majority of eye miniatures fall into this category of nameless subject/nameless artist/unknown owner. Moreover, not much has been written on this hybrid form of painting/jewelry, nor are there significant sources for research into this topic to fill in the gaps. What has been written tends to repeat the same historical anecdotes but does not provide much in the way of new material. This 2012 exhibit promises to change this situation. The three essays I have read recently quote exactly the same material; it is way past time to break new ground!

Portrait miniatures abounded in the time of the English Georges in the 18th century/early 19th century, eye miniatures did not. These miniscule paintings very carefully delineated one eye, one eyebrow, perhaps a some wispy strands of hair falling to one side [one of the ways to differentiate between men and women), but never a nose. It was, to put it romantically, an eye – usually the eye of a lover –floating untethered in space, gazing unabashedly at the beloved.

These miniatures were not meant to be seen by just anyone. Their nature was secret, more clandestine, as it were, not at all public. They were meant to be love tokens exchanged by a pair of lovers…and theirs alone. The owner of the eye miniature could carry it safely, knowing that only those with whom she/he chose to share her/his innermost secrets would know whose eye it was.

Those that were not tokens of a lover’s affection – and there are a fair number of these — fall into the category of sentimental or mourning jewelry and are identified by a single diamond tear falling from the eye, or a surround of seed pearls, pearls being another metaphor for tears or mourning. (Sometimes a tiny lock of hair was placed behind the painting, reminding one of those strange pieces of hair jewelry favored by the Victorians.)

Copyright The Art of Mourning

The eye miniatures were usually painted in watercolor on ivory, vellum, or even waxed playing card, and protected by a glass cover. Average size was barely half an inch across. The eyes not surrounded by pearls were often framed in garnets, amethysts, and other popular gemstones of the period. It has been estimated that only one to two thousand of these pieces were ever made, making them very rare and thus very collectible.

Copyright The V and A Museum

The tear(s) are easier to see here, and, of course, the seed pearls emphasize this is a bereavement brooch.

Part Two Coming Soon!

Sir Thomas Lawrence Arrives at Yale

Opening today, February 24, 2011: Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance will be on view at the Yale Center for British Art until June 5, 2011.

Kristine and Jo Manning both saw the exhibition in its first venue at the National Portrait Gallery in London.  Victoria hopes to be there in a few days…and I will report on my visit.  You can read our previous posts on this blog on 10/20/10, 1/7-8-9-10/11, and 2/2/11.  We find Sir Thomas to be a fascinating subject and the exhibition equally so.

Thomas Lawrence, self-portrait from 1788, right, was born in Bristol in 1769. He was a child prodigy and by age 10, when his family moved to Bath, he supported then with his drawings in pastels.  He moved to London at age 18 and was soon hailed as an up and coming talented successor to Sir Joshua Reynolds, then Britain’s leading portraitist.

One of his fine portraits, of a friend’s wife, Mary Hamilton, is shown in the exhibition, and makes one eager for more of the early pastels. But clients were eager for portraits in oils, and Lawrence excelled here too. He drew Mary Hamilton in pencil, red and black chalk in 1789. The British Museum, which owns the work, writes, “This important drawing of Mary Hamilton is arguably the most beautiful female portrait of its type remaining in this country.”  A detail of the drawing was used as the cover for a 2008 exhibition at the British Museum The Intimate Portrait, below.

Lawrence’s portrait of Queen Charlotte,  wife of George III, brought him fame and eventually fortune. Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1790, the canvas was praised for its detail and its fine brushwork.

The stunning portrait of actress Elizabeth Farren, later Countess of Derby, exhibited at the RA in 1790, is one of the exhibition posters offered for purchase.  For information on the Yale exhibition, the catalogue, posters and more, click here.   Elizabeth Farren (1759-1829) began her London stage career in 1777, appearing in Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer. She became the object of Lord Derby’s affections, and after his first wife died, Farren married him in 1797. She thus retired from the theatre and became a countess, wife of a prominent Whig member of the House of Lords. They were parents of three children.

Jonathan Jones, reviewing the exhibition as shown in London, wrote in The Guardian: “Lawrence is a painter who triumphed in his lifetime, yet was forgotten afterwards. Why was he neglected? The question echoes through this extremely interesting exhibition… It is because he associated with the wrong royal… Raddled and bloated and unpopular, George IV looks out of Lawrence’s Wallace Collection masterpiece as if he knows full well that in centuries to come, people will joke that ‘there are pieces of lemon peel floating in the Thames that would make a better monarch’.”

But Lawrence’s relationship with the Prince Regent, later George IV, was lucrative and certainly added to his fame. The Regent sent Lawrence around Europe to paint the leaders of the allied victory over Napoleon. The paintings hang in Windsor Castle, though many copies executed in Lawrence’s studio, can be seen in palaces, mansions and museums worldwide.

The Duke of Wellington was the real hero of the  battle, but many, including a coalition of European leaders contributed to the long-sought defeat of Napoleon. Lawrence painted the Duke a number of times, including here on the back of Copenhagen, the horse who carried him throughout the day-long Battle of Waterloo.

Victoria has long adored this painting, from the collection of the Chicago Art Institute. As a child, she often stood in front of Mrs.Jens Wolff and wondered what made this elegant lady so sad. The portrait was commissioned in 1802 or 03 by the sister of Mrs. Wolff and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1815.  Isabella Wolff was the wife of the Danish Consul in London; they divorced in 1813. She is portrayed as the

Erythraean Sibyl (similar to the Sistine Chapel version) and she gazes at a book of engravings by Michelangelo. Lawrence and Isabella Wolff may have been romantically involved for some years, though why it took the artist a dozen years to complete the portrait is a good question. They continued to write to one another until her death.

Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance will be on display at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT,  until June 5, 2011.  We will report  again after our visit. For more information on the Yale Center for British Art, click here.

Thos. Lawrence's Countess of Wilton Fetches £1,777,250

In light of the recent posts on this blog by Jo Manning and others regarding Sir Thomas Lawrence, we thought we’d let you know that Lawrence’s portrait of Mary, Countess of Wilton (1801-1858), above, recently sold for £1,777,250 at Christie’s in London.

Of special note is the fact that the Countess of Wilton was the daughter of Edward Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby, and his second wife, the celebrated Irish beauty and actress Elizabeth Farren (1759-1829), whom Lawrence painted early in his career and whose full length portrait won Lawrence name recognition and kudos when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1790. You can read my prior post about the Farren portrait and the Regency Power and Brilliance Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London here.

Elizabeth Farren, later Countess of Derby

Elizabeth (the daughter) married Thomas Egerton, 2nd Earl of Wilton, the second son of Robert Grosvenor, 1st Marquess of Westminster. The Countess of Wilton sat for her portrait in 1829, the year before Lawrence’s death. On the Countess’s death, we have the following:

“At Egerton-lodge. Melton Mowbray, the Countess of Wilton. The deceased lady had been for some time a little indisposed, but fatal results were not anticipated until shortly before her death. The late Countess was very highly esteemed at Melton, both in aristic circles and among the poor, to whom she was endeared by her active charity. The deceased lady was the youngest (and onlv survivor) of the three children of Edward, 12th Earl of Derby, by his second countess (Miss Eliza Farren, the celebrated actress). Her Ladyship was born on the 23rd of March, 1801, so that she was in the 58th year of her age. She was married to the Earl of Wilton on the 29th of November, 1821, and her ladyship leaves two sons and three daughters. The present Earl of Derby (the 14th Earl) stands in the relation of half-nephew to her ladyship, and (being born on the 29th of March, 1799) is two years older than his half-aunt.” —Manchester Guardian.

For full notes and provenance on the Countess’s portrait, visit the Christie’s site here.

Regency Power & Brilliance at the National Portrait Gallery

Hard on the heels of Jo’s wonderful series of posts on Sir Thomas Lawrence, I thought I’d share with you the fact that whilst in London recently I had the chance to take in the exhibition of Sir Thomas Lawrence’s works entitled Regency Power and Brilliance. You can read all about the Exhibition itself in a prior post on this blog by clicking here. This has really been a banner year for me as during my past two trips to London I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen many iconic British paintings in person. My visit to the Lawrence exhibition reminded me just what a brilliant artist he was.

Ironically, the paintings below were hung side by side on the same wall.

Queen Charlotte
Elizabeth Farren, later Countess of Derby
These are each enormous, full length paintings and it was possible to get up really close to each. The detail was stupendous.
The way in which Lawrence rendered Queen Charlotte’s face and the pearls is uncanny, whilst the details of her dress were brilliant – the silk ribbons, the lace overlay on her dress and the airy lace on the sleeves were a sight to behold. The detail on the fur of the muff in the Farren portrait made one want to reach out and stroke it, so life-like did it appear.  Incidentally, I bought the poster of the Farren portrait, but have yet to have it framed.

I also saw two lesser known, but equally stunning, portraits, the first being the drawing below.

This pencil, black and red chalk drawing of Elizabeth, Duchess of Devonshire done in 1819 is just marvelous. Truly, this picture does not do it justice. Suffice to say that I spent many minutes gazing at Bess’s arresting face.

Is the painting above not one of the most stunning examples of male Regency beauty? The sitter is Arthur Atherley, who had recently graduated from Eton College, which can be seen in the background. So who was Arthur Atherley? There’s not much out there on him, he went on to become a M.P. and Wikipedia has a brief bio on him, but there’s not much else to be found on the web. Really, with such a face and air of insouciance, you’d have thought he’d have gone on to be a serious Brummell rival.

But back to iconic paintings – also included in the Exhibit were these two portraits.

The Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV

and last, but never least . . . .

The Duke of Wellington
Lawrence painted the Duke of Wellington seven times in all and, really, each portrait is equally as good as the next. Again, Lawrence’s superb talent for portraiture is evident in the details of this painting – the folds of the cravat, the red ribbon. When standing before this portrait, one really does feel the force of the Duke’s penetrating gaze.
Hats off to the exceptional talents of Sir Thomas Lawrence, and to the
National Portrait Gallery for mounting this fabulous Exhibition, which moves across the pond to the Yale Center for British Art where it will run from 02/24/11 – 06/05/11.

Thomas Lawrence Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery

Princess Sophia

 The National Portrait Gallery in London is staging an exhibition called, “Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance” from 21 October 2010 – 23 January 2011. Thomas Lawrence was the greatest British portrait painter of his generation., and this exhibition, the first to focus on Lawrence’s work in the UK for over thirty years, explores his development into the most celebrated and influential artist in Europe at the start of the nineteenth century. Featuring over fifty works, it showcases the artist’s greatest paintings and drawings alongside lesser known works, drawn from public and private collections around the world. When it closes in London, the exhhibition will move to the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut from 24 February to 5 June 2011. This will be the first exhibition in the United Kingdom since 1979 to examine Lawrence’s work and the first substantial presentation of this artist in the United States. It will present Lawrence as the most important British portrait painter of his generation and will explore his development as one of the most celebrated and influential European artists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. By his untimely death in 1830 Lawrence had achieved the greatest international reach and reputation of any British artist.

A new book called Thomas Lawrence: Regency Brilliance and Power has been published in conjunction with the exhibition, edited by Cassandra Albinson, Peter Funnell, and Lucy Peltz, with essays by Cassandra Albinson, Peter Funnell, and Marcia Pointon.  This important book explores Lawrence’s political friendships and allegiances along with his exceptional role as witness to significant historical events, and contrasts these with his remarkable ability to depict the charm and innocence of childhood. Elected President of the Royal Academy in 1820, Lawrence was instrumental in establishing the status of the artist in 19th-century Britain.

Cassandra Albinson is Associate Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art. Peter Funnell is the nineteenth-century curator at the National Portrait Gallery, where Lucy Peltz is the eighteenth-century curator. To coincide with the publication of the book (October 2010),

In fact, many of Lawrence’s works have become iconic and need no explanation as to the identity of the sitter, like these below:

And our favorites . . . . .

I can only hope that at least one of the Wellington portraits will be on view when I visit the Exhibition in London in December.