Museum Exhibitions to Keep You Busy on a Cold Day

White leather boot c. 1845

When the cold weather hits, I’m always looking for interesting things to do indoors.Here are a few museum exhibitions that caught my eye. If only I had my own private plane, I would lace up my boots and visit each one.

IN GREAT BRITAIN:

Wedding Dresses, 1775-2014 at the V&A

Now through March 15, 2015, visit the V&A in London to see romantic and iconic wedding dresses.

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/wedding-dress-1775-2014/

The Lost Art of Writing also at the V&A

For anyone who still enjoys putting pen to paper, this is for you. This small display explores some of the objects used in writing, from a medieval penner to an ingenious 18th century globe inkstand. This exhibition runs through April 19, 2015.

http://www.vam.ac.uk/whatson/event/2885/the-lost-art-of-writing-4256/

Bonaparte and the British at The British Museum

This exhibition at The British Museum in London, focuses on the printed propaganda that either reviled or glorified Napoleon Bonaparte, on both sides of the English Channel. It explores how his formidable career coincided with the peak of political satire as an art form.

http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/bonaparte_and_the_british.aspx

Georgians – Dress for Polite Society at The Fashion Museum

The Fashion Museum in Bath holds a world-class collection of contemporary and historic dresses. Now through January 1, 2016, you can see over 30 original 18th century outfits and ensembles drawn from the museum’s collection.

http://www.fashionmuseum.co.uk/events/georgians

Waterloo Life and Times at The Fan Museum

2015 marks the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo and The Fan Museum in Greenwich, London has an exhibition that includes fans printed with portraits of heroic figures like Nelson and Wellington. The exhibition runs through May 10, 2015.

http://www.thefanmuseum.org.uk/exhibitions/waterloo-life-and-times

IN THE UNITED STATES:

Cosmopolitan Consumption: New England Shoe Stories, 1750-1850 at the Portsmouth Athenaeum

This is a great exhibition for anyone with a fondness for footwear. The Portsmouth Athenaeum in Portsmouth, N.H. is presenting an exhibition on the process of how shoes were made, sold, and worn in New England. Some beautiful shoes are included in this exhibition. It runs through June 5, 2015.

http://portsmouthathenaeum.org/exhibits.html

Downton Abbey Comes to the Biltmore Estate

If you love Downton Abbey, you’ll love this exhibition. The curators at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. have installed 47 costumes from the television series throughout the rooms of the house. As you wander the halls, you will see both the upstairs and the downstairs portions of life from Downton Abbey. The exhibition runs through May 25, 2015.

http://www.biltmore.com/media/newsarticle/downton-abbey-costumes-at-biltmore

An Intimate History of the Silhouette at the Bard Graduate Center

This exhibition examines the extraordinary ways in which women and men have shaped their bodies into distinctive silhouettes in the name of Fashion. The Bard Graduate Center is located in New York City. This exhibition runs from April 3 through July 26, 2015.

http://www.bgc.bard.edu/gallery/gallery-at-bgc/fashioning-the-body.html

Masterpieces of American Furniture 1700-1830 at the National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. has one of the largest and most refined collections of early American furniture. This exhibition is now part of their permanent collection.

http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/exhibitions/permanent/kaufman_furniture.html

UPCOMING:

Luminous Worlds: British Works on Paper, 1770-1870 at Legion of Honor

The Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco will present an exhibition that reflects the 18th century vogue of portraiture and caricature, and the rise of landscape painting. This exhibition will run from July 18, 2015 through November 22, 2015.

http://legionofhonor.famsf.org/exhibitions/luminous-worlds-british-works-paper-1770-1870

If there are other exhibitions you are excited about seeing, please let me know. And if you are lucky enough to catch any of these exhibitions, I’d love to hear about it.

Note: Thank you to Dr. Kimberly Alexander, who is co-curator of Portsmouth Athenaeum’s shoe exhibition, for providing me with the photograph of the white leather boot I used in this post. In case you’re wondering, it is c.1845. Kimberly writes a wonderful blog entitled Silk Damask, where she discusses historical costumes. Here is the link to her blog: http://silkdamask.blogspot.com/

Discovering the Life of a Regency Era Gentleman at the Winter Antiques Show

Once again January rolls around, and I find myself at the Winter Antiques Show in New York City. It is one of America’s premier antiques shows, and it provides curators, established collectors, dealers, design professionals, and first-time buyers with opportunities to view, learn about, and purchase lovely pieces showcased by the exhibitors. For me, on a cold day in January, I can’t think of a better place to be with one of my dearest friends.

This year I went with the intention of purchasing another miniature portrait to add to my collection. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any that caught my eye. I did, however, see a few items that were beautiful, intriguing, and/or just plain fun. It wasn’t until I began looking through my photographs that I discovered I’d been given a glimpse into the life of a Regency era gentleman. Let me show you what I mean.

Portrait of Anthony Groves by James Peale, c. 1810

The first portrait that caught my eye, was of this handsome gentleman showcased by Schwarz Gallery. This portrait was painted in 1810 by the renown American artist, James Peale (1749-1831). The sitter is Mr. Anthony Groves, who was a prominent Philadelphia merchant. One of the things I like best about this portrait, is the charming dimple Mr. Groves sports on his left cheek.

Stickpins from Wartski

On the lookout for stunning pieces of jewelry, we stopped by Wartski’s exhibit and saw this selection of stylish stickpins to adorn a man’s cravat.

George III Secretaire Bookcase

Over at Hyde Park Antiques, where I could easily live if they’d let me, I found this rare Thomas Weeks Cabinet. It is a George III stainwood and mahogany secretaire bookcase attributed to George Simpson for Thomas Weeks c.1805. The best part of this piece, to me, was discovering a complete men’s dressing drawer above the fold out desk. Those stickpins would fit quite nicely into that drawer. I liked this piece so much, that I plan to devote an entire blog post to it in the coming weeks.

First Edition of Emma

And what novel would be a wonderful addition to that bookcase? I think the first edition of Jane Austen’s Emma would fit nicely behind those glass doors. Emma was the last novel Jane Austen published in her lifetime. It was first printed in 1816 in London as a three-volume set. This set is offered by Bauman Rare Books. Perhaps a gentleman might store the volumes inside his bookcase for his wife.

English Four-Barrelled Flintlock c 1810

If you read or write books about Regency era spies, you might find this piece fun. It is an English four-barrelled flintlock “Duck’s Foot” type volley pistol, by Lea of Mansfield. It was made around 1810 and is showcased by Peter Finer.

Wine Cooler or Cellaret, c. 1810

And after a long day of spying, a gentleman might just need a drink. This is a very fine English Regency wine cooler or cellaret made of mahogany (c.1810) from Georgian Manor Antiques.

Regency gilt bronze and marble cassolettes c. 1815

If he’d like to enjoy his drink by candlelight, a gentleman could have used this gilt bronze and marble casolette (ca.1815) to hold his candle. This piece was also showcased by Hyde Park Antiques. The top portion flips over, revealing a candleholder that rests back into the base.

"The Ruined Girl" 1800 by Joseph Allinson

And finally, if a gentleman wasn’t really a gentleman, he might find himself with a ruined girl. I adore this piece, from Nathan Liverant and Sons. It’s a watercolor and ink on paper by the artist, Joseph Allinson. It is either English or American and is dated 1800. The title of the piece is “The Ruined Girl.”

At the bottom it reads:

“Oh! fatal Day when to my Virtuous wrong, I fondly listened to his flattering Tongue, But oh! more fatal Moment when he gained, That vile Consent which all my Glory stain’d.”

I hope you enjoyed taking a short tour of the Winter Antiques Show with me and getting a peek at some of the objects that a Regency era gentleman might have used. I’d love to know which one is your favorite.

 

A Peek Inside the Dining Room of Historic Lansdowne House

Lansdown House 1800s

One of the sad parts about researching historical places, is discovering that a beautiful building had been torn down. I was recently reading about Berkeley Square in London and became intrigued by one of the late Georgian era’s prominent homes, Lansdowne House. It was designed by renowned Scottish architect Robert Adam and located on the southwest corner of Berkeley Square.

lansdowne_house_greenwood%27s_map_london_1830_edited

A fun fact about the house is that it was situated sideways, giving Devonshire House a direct view of Berkley Square through the gardens of both homes.

Lansdowne House was originally designed for Prime Minister John Stuart, the 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1792). Lord Bute was a tutor and a friend of the young Prince George. Upon George’s accession as King George III, Lord Bute was made Secretary of State. In 1762, he became Prime Minister.

In 1765, Lord Bute sold the unfinished property to William Petty-Fitzmaurice (1737-1805), the 2nd Earl of Shelbourne. Lord Shelbourne was also a Prime Minister and was in power during the end of America’s War of Independence. The house was completed from Adam’s designs in 1768. In 1784, Shelbourne became the 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, and the house became known as Lansdowne House. Lansdowne was a leading Whig statesman and his house became a meeting place for Whig social and political circles in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne

William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne

The central block of the house stills stands at the corner of Fitzmaurice Place and Lansdowne Row. In 1930, two of the wings of the House were demolished, and it was converted into a club. The dining room, or “Eating-room” as Adam labeled it, was in the south wing and was bought by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Owing to the restrictions of the space, the long walls were reversed when they were installed in the museum. I have been lucky enough to visit this room on two recent trips to The Met.

Shelbourne_House_1765 later Lansdowne House

The dining room is the lower left room.

The ceiling was designed by Adam and created in plaster by Joseph Rose.

Ceiling of Dining Room of Lansdowne House

The carvings were executed by John Gilbert and the marble chimneypiece was supplied John Devall & Co., London. The oak floor in the room is original.

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

The niches originally held nine ancient marble statues acquired by Lord Lansdowne in Italy from the artist Gavin Hamilton. Unfortunately, they were sold off individually during the Lansdowne sale of 1930. The niches in the museum have been filled with plaster casts.

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

Sadly, the original furniture that was designed by Robert Adam for this room and executed by John Linnell, no longer survives. However, thanks to museums like The Metropolitan Museum of Art, we are still able to take a peek at a room that would have been lost to us long ago.

Update:

Victoria Hinshaw, from the wonderful historical blog Number One London, was kind enough to let me know that the Drawing Room of Lansdowne House is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. After visiting the Dining Room, I now have an itch to see the Drawing Room.  To continue with my love of Lansdowne, Victoria’s blog has posts on Lansdowne Club in London and Bowood, the Lansdowne’s country home. Check out her blog and search for these subjects: http://onelondonone.blogspot.com

Resources used include:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/20499/lot/35/

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shelbourne_House_1765.jpg

http://www.gov.uk/government/history/past-prime-ministers/john-stuart-3rd-earl-of-bute

http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait.php?search=apnpgno=3938&eDate=&1Date=

 

Mourning Pictures – An Expression of Grief in the Georgian Era

Portrait of Catherine Lorillard, ca. 1810

I confess, I have a fascination with mourning customs of the Georgian era. I’m not sure how this interest developed, but I do know that I am drawn to objects that helped people express their grief at the loss of those they loved.

Recently, I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to see their exhibition entitled, “Death Becomes Her.” This exhibition focuses on the history of mourning attire from 1815 to 1915. There were a number of items that intrigued me. The portrait above was one.

This portrait is of Catherine Lorillard, who was the daughter of the New York City tobacco magnate Peter A. Lorillard. She was born in 1792 and, according to family history, died from cholera while in her teens. The portrait is dated ca. 1810.

Most early nineteenth century silk embroideries illustrate scenes from mythology or pastorals, copied from prints. Memorials, usually called mourning pictures, often included full-length figures standing at grave sites in landscapes appropriately featuring weeping willows. Catherine’s portrait is also a memorial, but in a different, possibly unique form.

It was almost certainly painted posthumously, because the drape over her head is a symbol of death. Her head and neck were painted by a professional artist, perhaps based on a portrait from life. The embroidery was probably by one of her female relatives.

Her expressive portrait, painted in oil on silk and embellished with silk and silk-chenille threads, is unlike any other needlework picture I have seen. What intrigued me most about this memorial, was that it focused on Catherine and not on the images of those she left behind, mourning her at her gravesite. I could understand her family wanting to have this piece as a way to keep Catherine close to their hearts. And for me, it gave me the opportunity to look into the eyes of the girl who must have been missed terribly by her family and friends.

Resources:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York

A Fashionable Georgian Address: Grosvenor Square

“My aunt,” she continued, “is going tomorrow into that part of town, and I shall take the opportunity of calling in Grosvenor Street.”

Jane Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

Since the Georgian era, the Mayfair district has been one of London’s most prestigious places to live. And Grosvenor Square was one of the most fashionable addresses.

Grosvenor Square

This garden square surrounded by residential buildings was designed by Sir Richard Grosvenor, the 4th Baronet, who is an ancestor to the modern-day Dukes of Westminster.

220px-Sir_Richard_Grosvenor,_4th_Baronet_of_Eaton

During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the estates in London were being developed. In 1710, Grosvenor designed a plan for a large garden square at the center of his estate. It was intended to be the finest of all the then existing squares. The area was to have uniform houses, with stables behind them. Construction of Grosvenor Square began in 1725. The engraving below shows how the original plan was altered over time. On the far left side, the houses are identical. The further you travel along the street, the houses look different.

Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square

I visited Grosvenor Square during my last visit to London, to see for myself what it looks like. While some of the original buildings remain, the majority of them have been rebuilt over the years.

Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square

In the early 18th century, most of the garden squares in London were designed so that the central parkland was reserved for the exclusive use of the square’s residences. Grosvenor hired William Kent to design his garden. Originally a brick wall was constructed to enclose it. Later, this wall was replaced with iron railings, which gives the area an open feel.

Today, the general pubic is allowed into the garden and in the eastern end there is a memorial dedicated to the British victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Grosvenor Square 9/11 Memorial

Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square is not cut off from the rest of London. To give you an idea of the surrounding streets during the late 18th century, here is a portion of the Horwood map of London, which was completed in 1799. The southeastern section of Grosvenor Square is in the upper left corner of the map.

Horwood Map of London 1799

If you are familiar with stories set in the Regency era, you’ve probably read about English aristocrats driving along Rotten Row during the fashionable hour. This portion of Christopher and John Greenwood’s map of London from 1827, shows how close Grosvenor Square is to Hyde Park.

Christopher and John Greenwood's Map of London 18276a00d8341c84c753ef0168e7420e96970c-800wiThere were a number of those notable aristocrats who resided in Grosvenor Square over the years. In 1739, a writer for Gentleman’s Magazine wrote, “the centre house on the east side of the square was raffled for, and won by two persons named Hunt and Braithwaite. The possessor valued it at £10,000, but the winners sold it two months afterwards for £7,000 to the Duke of Norfolk.”

The 11th Earl of Derby hired renowned architect Robert Adam to build him a residence at Number 23. It was regarded as one of Adam’s finest works. Unfortunately, it was demolished in the 1860s. The only image I was able to find of the earl’s residence is this engraving of the Third Drawing Room.

Earl of Derby's Third Drawing Room

The Duchess of Kendal, George I’s mistress, lived at Number 43 from 1728 to 1743. Her former residence is still standing.

Duchess of Kendall

The 3rd Duke of Dorset (1745-1799) lived at Number 38.

The 3rd Duke of Dorset

The 3rd Duke of Grafton (1735-1811), the Prime Minister who was famous for his indiscreet private life and racing stables, also called Grosvenor Square home.

The 3rd Duke of Grafton

Other notable residents include: John Wilkes, Esq. who was Alderman and Chamberlain of the City of London; the Marquis of Rockingham; and Lord North, the 2nd Earl of Guilford, who was the Prime Minister during the American Revolutionary War.

Grosvenor Square has other ties to America, which can still be seen today. In 1785, the first American Minister to the Court of St. James, John Adams, took up residence at Number 9 Grosvenor Square. His daughter, Abigail, was married from that house to Colonel William Stephens Smith. In 1788, Adams returned to America and became the second President of the United States. The building Adams lived in still stands on the corner of Duke and Brook Streets.

John Adams House Grosvenor Square

Today, Grosvenor Square looks different than it did in the Georgian era. When I was there, I sat in the park on a warm June evening and three teenage boys road their skateboards past me. On the grassy lawn to my left, a father was teaching his little girl how to dribble a soccer ball. At the time, I couldn’t help but wonder what Sir Richard Grosvenor would have thought of the changes to his elegant corner of the world.

Resources used include:

Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice

Gentleman’s Magazine, 1739

Greenwood’s Map of London, 1827

Horwood’s Map of London, 1799

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=45202

http://www.georgianindex.net/London/Squares/grosvenorsquare.html

http://thethingsthatcatchmyeye.wordpress

http://wordwenches.typepad.com/word_wenches/2012/02/a-good-map-is-a-joy.html

 

What’s Inside the Traveling Studio of an 18th Century Miniature Portrait Artist?

Miniature Portrait Painter's Box. Probably United States ca. 1790s. Mahogany with brass fittings.

Miniature Portrait Painter’s Box. Probably United States ca. 1790s. Mahogany with brass fittings.

This late eighteenth century artist’s box is like a portable portrait studio. It’s believed to have belonged to an unknown American traveling artist and contains all the tools and materials they would need to paint portrait miniatures on ivory with either powdered color or watercolor. I came upon this treasure when I went to see the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection of portrait miniatures. It’s an area of the museum that isn’t very big, but I could spend a great deal of time there simply admiring the faces of the past.

Miniature Portrait Painter's Box

Inside this artist’s box are two palettes, one in ivory and one in porcelain. There are gums for binding pigments or glazing, and brushes that have quill ferrules and bone handles. Also housed within the drawers are slivers of ivory cut into ovals and squares, pieces of paper, a brush rest, sponges, chalk, and galipots for water. The box also contains drawing instruments for the artist to accurately measure the small panels; two pairs of compasses, a wood rule, styluses for tracing, and agate burnishers to seal the edges and backs. Some miniature portraits could be as small as 40mm x 30mm, so the artist also kept an eyepiece to magnify their work and help them create the intricate details.

Miniature Portrait Painter's Box Lid

Since the portraits were so small, the artist was able to use the lid of the box as an easel, which could be raised to an angle with brass struts. The ivory would have been secured on the baize with common pins, and a container of them can be found in this box. And finally, several completed ivory portraits were kept within the box to showcase the miniaturist’s skill to prospective sitters.

James Peale Painting a Miniature by Charles Wilson Peale, ca. 1785

A similar box is depicted in the portrait above. It is by the well-known American portrait painter Charles Wilson Peale (1741-1817) and shows his brother, the famous American miniaturist James Peale, at work (ca. 1785).

Resources:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

A Shocking Way to Entertain Guests During the Regency Era

 

Electrifying Machine

When you’re entertaining, you want your guests to have a good time. While good conversation over a meal and then cocktails afterwards can be the makings of an ideal dinner party, sometimes we have an urge to do something a bit more memorable. Our Regency era counterparts were no different. And, in the early nineteenth century, you could make an impression on your guests with an electrifying machine.

Electricity was a hot topic in the Georgian and Regency eras. Benjamin Franklin completed his famous experiment with lightning, Luigi Galvani was studying the reactions of muscles to electricity. By the later half of the eighteenth century, friction machines were used for generating electric shocks to amuse spectators at public exhibitions. In England, popular interest in electricity led to arguments about the propriety of demonstrating these effects in public. A political controversy arose along party lines in Parliament, with the Whigs championing the scientific demonstrations and the High Tories claiming that it was blasphemy to expose God’s secret before an “ignorant populace.”

By the early nineteenth century, electrifying machines became hugely popular and eventually cheap enough to find their way into the homes of the gentry. Scientific experimentation was one of the few areas of Regency life in which women could participate on something approaching an equal footing with men. Therefore, using an electrifying machine was an ideal activity to entertain both the male and female guests during an evening at home.

The watercolor painting at the top of this post shows a fun glimpse of Regency life. It’s dated May 25th 1817 and was painted at Dynes Hall in Essex, England, by a young English woman named Diana Sperling. Diana enjoyed capturing scenes of everyday life. This painting depicts an evening after her brother-in-law, Henry Van Hagen, had purchased an electrifying machine, possibly to entertain his family and friends.

He is shown cranking the machine to create friction, which would carry an electric shock through the string. His wife is behind him, apparently having no desire to take part in the experiment. Henry’s mother starts the chain of guests and has the honor of holding the machine’s string. When enough friction was created, all the guests would receive a shock. I suppose this was considered a novel way to have fun. My favorite part of the painting shows Diana’s sister Isabella, leaning against the wall. It appears as if she is either swooning or cannot believe her family has convinced her to take part in this odd experiment.

I recently held a dinner party for a few friends and I think they would have been shocked if I suggested we have a go at running electrical current through our bodies for amusement. I think enjoying cocktails and amusing conversations, probably was entertaining enough.

References used include:

Longford, Elizabeth, Mrs. Hurst Dancing and Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823, (c. 1981)

Jago, Lucy, Regency House Party (c. 2004)