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.

Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman

Mrs Grace Dalrymple

Cincinnati Art Museum: September 18, 2010 – January 2, 2011
San Diego Museum of Art: January 29, 2011 – May 1, 2011

Exhibition includes a selection of Gainsborough’s most iconic portraits of renowned society women of eighteenth-century Britain.

The portraits of Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) made him perhaps the most famous British artist of the late eighteenth century. Nobles, statesmen, musicians and the range of men and women of the period’s merchant class all sat for him. But it is his portraits of notorious society women—widely considered among the greatest of the Western tradition—which attracted the most attention.

Eighteenth-century viewers appreciated these paintings differently than we do today. In his own time, Gainsborough’s portraits of actresses, performers and courtesans were seen as unconventional, if not radical, not only because of the type of woman they portrayed but also because of the unconventional way they were painted.

Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan

“These stunning portraits not only give us a perspective on the history of celebrity, but also on the history of women and of painting. These are provocative women provocatively painted,” explains exhibition curator Benedict Leca.

Organized by the Cincinnati Art Museum in association with the San Diego Museum of Art, Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman is the first exhibition devoted to Thomas Gainsborough’s feminine portraiture, and the first to focus specifically on modernity and femininity in Georgian England from the perspective of Gainsborough’s groundbreaking portraits of women.

Giovanna Baccelli
Ann Ford, Mrs. Phillip Thicknesse

Coinciding with the comprehensive cleaning and restoration of the Cincinnati Art Museum’s iconic Ann Ford (Mrs. Thicknesse), this exhibition unites a choice selection of thirteen paintings from renowned museum collections in the United States and Britain to illuminate the role that Gainsborough’s extraordinary portraiture played in defining new, progressive feminine identities.

 Among others on view at the Cincinnati Art Museum, September 18, 2010 – January 2, 2011 will be Mrs. Siddons (National Gallery, London), Mrs Richard Brinsley Sheridan (National Gallery, Washington), Giovanna Baccelli (Tate Britain), Grace Dalrymple (Metropolitan Museum of Art), Viscountess Ligonier (Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens).

Penelope, Viscountess Ligonier

Anne, Countess of Chesterfield

The exhibition will also feature a small selection of period dresses from the Cincinnati Art Museum’s rich fashion arts and textile collection, thereby further contextualizing Gainsborough’s portraits while affording visitors a view of the material accessories of the “modern woman.”

If Gainsborough’s portraits help us to rethink the place of women in the eighteenth century, they also ask us to look anew at the formal specifics that made his portraits so important to ambitious women and their self-definition in the celebrity culture of the period. In his use of provocative postures and slashing brushwork, Gainsborough’s portraits of notorious women differed from those of his peers: they were the way he asserted his own place as the premier painter of modern life.

Mrs. Siddons

 In the eighteenth century, portraits were part of an active negotiation of social and gender relations, and the exhibition’s thesis is that a special complicity between artist and sitter formed the basis from which both conspired to upend traditional portraiture and calcified gender roles.

The exhibition was conceived by Benedict Leca, the Cincinnati Art Museum’s curator of European paintings, sculpture and drawings. Additional curatorial support for the exhibition’s presentation in San Diego has been provided by John Marciari, curator of European art, and Scot Jaffe, associate director for exhibitions and collections.

After premiering in Cincinnati this fall (September 18, 2010 – January 2, 2011) the exhibition will travel to the San Diego Museum of Art, where it will be on view from January 29, 2011 – May 1, 2011. The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated, full-color catalog published by D Giles Limited, London, featuring essays by Benedict Leca, renowned costume historian Aileen Ribeiro, and art historian Amber Ludwig of Boston University. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.

Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Waterloo Dispatch

David Wilke’s famous painting, Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Waterloo Dispatch, was commissioned by the Duke of Wellington and completed in 1822, when it was shown at the Royal Academy and was so popular that railings had to be put up to protect it. The painting celebrated the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the Duke asked Wilkie for a picture of old soldiers outside a public house. It was Wilkie who chose the Royal Hospital at Chelsea as a setting. Nothing could have been more fitting – by 1815 there were more than 30,000 Chelsea pensioners, soldiers who were discharged as unfit for further duty because of injury. Most received cash payments and did not live at Chelsea. Many had served with the Duke of Wellington, whose body lay in state in 1852 in the Great Hall of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

As the Royal Hospital Chelsea website says: There are few institutions in the United Kingdom with an unbroken three centuries of service and none of them is so close to the heart of the nation as “The Men in Scarlet”, the Chelsea Pensioners, and their home, the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Founded in 1682 by King Charles II and intended for the ‘succour and relief of veterans broken by age and war’, the Royal Hospital, with its Grade 1 listed buildings, still serves its original purpose and intends to continue to further its role well into the 21st Century.

The painting still hangs at Apsley House and is on public display.

Duchess of Devonshire Stolen!

Thomas Gainsborough’s painting, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was auctioned in London, England, nearly 100 years after it disappeared into obscurity. The portrait of Georgiana Spencer, an ancestor of Princess Diana, sold for 10,000 guineas, the highest price ever paid for a work of art up until that time.

However, the auction price it fetched is not the portrait’s greatest claim to fame. The portrait was painted circa 1785 as a whole length portrait by Thomas Gainsborough (1728-1788) and titled Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. In the 1830’s, its owner, an elderly schoolmistress named Miss Anne Maginnis, cut it down to fit over her fireplace. In 1841 she sold it to a picture dealer, John Bentley, for 56 pounds, who later gave it to his friend the collector Wynn Ellis. Ellis died in 1875 and part of his collection went for sale at Christie’s. It was bought by William Agnew, the Bond Street dealer, for 10,000 guineas.

On May 26, 1876, the picture was cut from its stretcher during the night and stolen by an international crook, Adam Worth, alias Harry Raymond. Adam Worth, whom Scotland Yard later called the “Napoleon of Crime,” and upon whom Sir Arthur Conan Doyle eventually based Sherlock Holmes’ arch nemesis Dr. Moriarty, stole the artwork in order to come up with the bail to release his brother from jail. However, his brother was freed without his help, so Worth decided to keep the painting, even in the face of serious consequences.

The painting as it appears at Chatsworth

Adam Worth was perhaps the 19th century’s most masterful criminal. Born in Germany but raised in the United States, Worth joined the Union Army in the Civil War. After erroneously being reported killed in the Second Battle of Bull Run, he spent the rest of the war hopping from one regiment to another, collecting money to join and then immediately deserting. After the war, he made his way to New York, where he joined a gang of pickpockets.

A conviction for robbery resulted in a three-year sentence at Sing Sing Prison. However, Worth escaped after only a few weeks and vowed to be more careful in the future. Using the alias Henry Raymond, Worth took up a lucrative career robbing banks before moving his criminal exploits to Europe. With perfectly planned heists and a consistent forgery operation, Worth avoided all violent encounters and established himself in respectable society.

        Keira Knightley starring as Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire in the 2008 film The Duchess

Yet the theft of the Duchess of Devonshire led to his eventual downfall. His co-conspirators, Joe Elliot and Junka Phillips, were angered by the fact that they weren’t financially rewarded for stealing the valuable painting. When Worth refused to divulge its whereabouts, Elliot and Phillips went to the police and Worth was sent to prison, albeit on other charges. Following his release four years later in 1897, Worth returned to America. After a change of heart, he began negotiations with the Pinkerton Detective Agency for the ransom of the painting.

The film was based on the 1998 biography by Amanda Foreman.

The Duchess of Devonshire was finally returned to England in 1901. J. P. Morgan, Wall Street’s biggest financier, promptly made the journey to obtain the painting for himself. He purportedly paid as much as $150,000 for it. Worth, who had received relatively little for his ransom, died a year later, penniless.

The picture remained in Morgan’s family until on July 13, 1994, when the Chatsworth House Trust in the U.K. bought the portrait at Sotheby’s. By a strange and winding path, the Gainsborough portrait ended up where it had always belonged — at Chatsworth.

The London and Waterloo Tour – Victoria and Albert: Art in Love at the Queen's Gallery

Victoria and I are looking forward to the Victoria and Albert: Art in Love exhibit at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. The Exhibition features 400 items from The Royal Collection including gifts exchanged by Victoria and Albert such as drawings, paintings, sculpture, furniture, musical scores and jewellery and encompasses their mutual love of music and art. The display also touches upon Prince Albert’s work on ‘The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations in 1851’ as well Queen Victoria in the years after Albert’s death in 1861.

Works by the couple’s favorite artist, Franz Xaver Winterhalter, are on display, as are photographs taken of the Royal couple. A German painter first recommended to Queen Victoria by Louise, Queen of the Belgians, Winterhalter came to England in 1842 and subsequently worked regularly for the queen and her family over the next two decades. Winterhalter was granted the largest number of royal commissions and produced numerous formal portraits, including the one pictured above, which Queen Victoria commissioned in 1843 as a surprise for her husband’s 24th birthday. The artist presents the Queen in an intimate pose, leaning against a red cushion with her hair half unravelled from its fashionable knot.

Winterhalter (at left) was born in the Grand Duchy of Baden in 1805. He excelled at painting and drawing as a teen and went to Munich where he studied at the Academy of Arts. By the late 1830’s he drew attention as a painter of royal subjects. He traveled and painted in almost every court of Europe until the last few years of his life. Though art critics were never very enthusiastic about his work, his portraits were well executed and conveniently flattering.

Costumes are also displayed in the exhibit, including Queen Victoria’s costume for the 1851 Stuart Ball  designed by French artist Eugène Lami. The French silk gown is rich in lace and brocade.
You can take a really in-depth video tour of the exhibition here and/or visit the Royal Collection website.

Winterhalter’s The First of May 1851, at right,  shows the Duke of Wellington presenting a casket to his one-year-old godson, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, who is supported by Queen Victoria. Behind these figures and forming the apex of a pyramidal composition is Prince Albert, half looking over his shoulder towards the Crystal Palace in the left background. Both the Duke of Wellington and Prince Albert are dressed in the uniform of Field Marshal and wear the Order of the Garter. The painting derives its title from the fact that both the Duke of Wellington and Prince Arthur were born on 1 May, which was also the date of the inauguration of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park.

 The painting was commissioned by Queen Victoria, but Winterhalter clearly encountered some difficulties in devising an appropriate composition. In the queen’s words, he ‘did not seem to know how to carry it out’ and it was Prince Albert ‘with his wonderful knowledge and taste’ who gave Winterhalter the idea of using a casket, instead of the gold cup the Duke had actually presented to the child. The painting hangs at the Duke’s country home, Stratfield Saye.

Above, Victoria and Albert with their children in 1846, Buckingham Palace