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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Anonymous said...

I thoroughly loved this post Maggi.
Being a realist artist I think the old masters were so gifted in their talent.
I have only ventured overseas twice (so far) and I spend as much time as possible in the ART galleries.
The Masters told their country's history through their works. I love the dutch artist in particular. You can follow the lives of the everyday people, the royals, their country's wars and conflict and architecture.
Thanks for sharing!

Cassandra Samuels said...

Great post Maggi. All the things I never knew I never knew.

Elle Fynllay said...

What a treasure trove of information we get from the old Masters paintings. In the days before a photograph took a snapshot of society the painters of the day captured the romance, fashion and cultures of the time. Even for my medieval work I look closely at the prints or tapestries available from then. Don't forget to capture your own portraits for posterity.:)

Loved the portrait of the Marriage a la Mode. Great Post Maggi

Cheryl Leigh said...

Loved this post, Maggi. I could look at Georgian paintings all day.

On a visit to Shirley Plantation in Virginia years ago, I heard something interesting. In the eighteenth century, travelling artists would paint several portraits with headless bodies, and then let their patrons choose which body they wanted. The patron's head would then be added to the painting!

Thanks for posting some of my favourite paintings. :)

Maggi Andersen said...

Thanks Elle. I know that more than one artist worked on a history painting, but I hadn't heard that, Cheryl. How interesting.

Maggi Andersen said...

Thanks, Cassandra.

Anonymous said...

Oh Cheryl that is truly priceless.
Just imagine:
"I'll take the Marilyn Monroe pose, the one in the white dress over the air vent, thank you sir."

Having said that it doesn't sound so strange I guess, I've painted many a lake or landscape scene THEN decided which boat or cottage I will put there!

Allison Butler said...

Thanks for the wonderful post, Maggi. I love how Romanticism came to life due to the change from reason to feeling. I also love William Hogarth's 'Marriage a la Mode'. Truly comical:)