Monday, February 27, 2012


Art is a passion of mine, having been brought up breathing the smells of varnish and oil paint as my mother pursued her love of painting. The work of two artists makes an appearance in my Georgian romance, THE RELUCTANT MARQUESS. One is Sir Thomas Gainsborough, who paints Charity’s portrait.

A family portrait for the gentry was important in the Georgian period to show a man’s wealth and position in society.  Lands and houses often featured along with favorite pets in a formal studied pose.

Mr. and Mrs. Andrews about 1750 Thomas Gainsborough Lord George Murray, c. 1700
Sir Thomas Gainsborough had a preference for painting landscapes although he began as a portrait painter.

Thomas Gainsborough Le Menage, unknown lady and gentleman in a landscape. Paris, Louvre (dated from the middle 1750's)

Romanticism is a phenomenon which began around 1750 and ended about 1850, coming between Neoclassicism and Realism. There was a marked shift in emphasis from reason to feeling, from calculation to intuition, from objective nature to subjective emotion.

Thomas Gainsborough The Honorable Mrs. Graham, c. 1775
Mrs. Graham is dressed in the more formal, Rococo flamboyance of feathers and brocade, silver and crimson. Pride of birth and station is announced in every detail.  It would have been intended to grace the grand stairway of a great country house.

Gainsborough, Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan c.1785

Gainsborough adopted the Romantic view of life and nature here. The lovely lady, dressed informally, is seated in a rustic landscape faintly reminiscent of Watteau in its soft-hued light and feathery brushwork echoed in her curly hair and the soft leafy scene in which she sits. Gainsborough did intend to add sheep to this painting to create a pastoral scene, but he died before he completed it. Here he seeks to match the unspoiled beauty of natural landscape with the natural beauty or the slight wind which is a sharp contrast to the pert sophistication of continental Rococo portraits.

Thomas Gainsborough Mrs Peter William Baker 1781

William Hogarth, Breakfast Scene form Marriage a la Mode c.1745

The other artist’s work which makes an appearance in THE RELUCTANT MARQUESS – which is a marriage of convenient story, is William Hogarth who scrutinized contemporary life with comic zest with a cynical view of a marriage of convenience in Marriage a la Mode The Tête à Tête 1745. This is the view of a young viscount arranged through the social aspirations of one parent and the need for money of the other, which is just beginning to founder. It is past noon. Husband and wife are very tired after a long night spent in each other’s company. The young nobleman keeps his hat on in his wife’s presence. His hands are sunk deep in his pockets, emptied by gambling, and the little dog sniffs suspiciously at a lace cap that protrudes from his pocket. The broken sword suggests that the master has been in a fight; an overturned chair signifies that the previous evening has been somewhat spirited. A steward, his hands full of unpaid bills, raises his eyes to heaven in despair at what this family is coming to. Hogarth mocks the Classical style of interior decoration telling a story as a writer would.

Resource: Art through the Ages, Eighth edition 1976
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