Jeunesse Dorée by Gerald Leslie Brockhurst

Jeunesse Dorée by Gerald Brockhurst

Yesterday I visited the Lady Lever Art Gallery on the Wirral peninsular in order to stand face to face with Holman Hunt’s painting The Scapegoat as this was going to be my featured painting.  Of course, whilst I was there I went around the gallery, half of which is taken up by fine art paintings, mainly from British artists, and the other half was set aside for tapestries, sculptures, furniture and porcelain.  It was an interesting gallery and I can thoroughly recommend you visit it if you are in the vicinity.  The reason I mention all this is that I was mesmerised by one of the paintings on display.  I kept having to return to it and try and work out in my own mind what was the magnetic attraction of the work.  It still haunts me even now as I put my thoughts on paper.  Unfortunately the gallery shop could not offer met a print of it or even a postcard which was very disappointing.  My Daily Art Display today is this exquisite painting entitled Jeunesse Dorée by Gerald Leslie Brockhurst, who was one of the outstanding English artists of the twentieth century and a renowned portrait painter.

Gerald Brockhurst (Self Portrait)

Brockhurst was born in Edgbaston, a suburb of Birmingham, in 1890.  His father, a coal merchant, deserted the family and went to America.   He attended a number of local schools but found it hard to settle down to school life.  This was exacerbated by recurring ear infections he frequently suffered from and which often left him bedridden.  The young lad had an aunt who lived in India and he would frequently send her illustrated letters and it was this that got him interested in art and he was determined to become a painter.  His artistic talent was recognised at the early age of twelve and he won a place at the Birmingham School of Art where he remained for five years.  It was here he began to fall in love with portraiture.  He won many awards at the Birmingham School of Art and later the Royal Academy Schools, the oldest art school in the country, which was founded through a personal act of King George III in 1768. 

In 1912 Brockhurst was awarded the prestigious Gold Medal and Travelling Scholarship.  Two years later he used this scholarship to travel with his new wife Anais to Paris and Italy.  During his travels he studied the works of the “Old Masters” of the 15th and 16th centuries and these were to have a lasting impact on his art.

Anais Brockhurst first wife of the artist

Brockhurst and his wife Anais Folin went to live in Ireland and remained there for five years.  It was during those years that he created many etched and painted portraits of his wife.  From them, we can see that he was truly in love with her and was mesmerised by her beauty.  It was during this period of his life that he first met the portraitist, Augustus John who introduced Brockhurst to his circle of friends.  In fact, it was Augustus John who persuaded him to stage two major exhibitions of his works at the Chenil Gallery, London in 1916 and again in 1919.  These launched his career and Brockhurst, who had moved back to London in 1920, started to enter some of his etchings and drawings to the Royal Academy.  It was in the 1920’s that he established himself as an outstanding and flourishing portrait painter, and also strengthened his reputation as one of the exceptional printmakers of his generation

Teaching in the Royal Academy Schools was undertaken by a system of lectures delivered by Professors and Royal Academician ‘Visitors‘, and in 1928, when Brockhurst was thirty-eight years old, he was appointed a Visitor to the Royal Academy Schools.  During this time he met the sixteen year-old artist’s model Kathleen Woodward.  Brockhurst was immediately besotted by her youthful beauty and she was to become his lifelong model.  He renamed her Dorette.  Their relationship led to the break-up of Brockhurst’s marriage to Anais and a protracted and bitter divorce case, much sensationalised in the press.   The adverse publicity from this divorce together with the onset of World War II led to his decision to leave England with Kathleen ‘Dorette’ Woodward in 1940 and emigrate to America.   Brockhurst and Kathleen eventually married in 1947.

In New York Brockhurst became both famous and wealthy and lived out his life supported by a number of loyal patrons who loved his portraiture.  During his career, he carried out over six hundred portraits including portraits of the rich and famous such as the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson, J Paul Getty and Marlene Dietrich.  He died in New Jersey in 1978 at the age of 88.  Kathleen Dorette Woodward died in 1996.

And so to the painting which captivated me yesterday.  Jeunesse Dorée, meaning “gilded youth” in French, is a term applied to wealthy and fashionable society people.  It was painted by Brockhurst in 1934 and exhibited at that year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.  It was purchased for £1000 by Lord Leverhume, for his Lady Lever Gallery on the very first day of the show.  The buyer’s determination to have the painting stemmed from his disappointment the year before when he tried to buy Brockhurst’s etching Dorette, but his Gallery Trustees dithered on funding the proposed acquisition and it was bought by the Harris Museum and Art Gallery of Preston.

Like myself yesterday, many people have been captivated by this wonderful painting.  The Daily Mail of the day reported on the painting and its admirers stating:

“…again I saw people yesterday standing before the picture trying to fathom the secret of those curiously haunting deep-blue eyes…”

Let us look at the painting in more detail.  It is a half-length portrait with an almost two-dimensional stark and rocky idealised landscape along with an immense sky as the background.  There is a lack of depth to the background of this painting, which in a way projects the young girl towards us.  This setting was consistent with his many portraits of the 1930’s and 1940’s but which was in contrast to the works of other portraitist who preferred to use realistic three-dimensional settings.  He has used sombre colours.  The girl stares straight at us almost daring us to blink. As you look at her you wonder what is going through her mind.  Her eyes are penetrating as if she is looking into your very soul.   There is no hint of a smile on her full-red lips.  Hers is an inscrutable expression as she fixes her gaze on us.  Having said all that, in my mind, there can be no doubting her beauty and her alluring sensuality.  Her plain-coloured cardigan, echoing the shades of the background, clings tightly to her body.  Her full breasts strain against the material and the buttons of the cardigan which hold them captive.   It is no wonder that Brockhurst was seduced by her beauty and fell in love with her.  I think I too was lost in her enigmatic loveliness.

The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt

The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt (Lady Lever Gallery) 1854

Normally I try and publish my daily blog in the morning but today I am late, but for a very good reason.  I think we all agree that to stand in front of the actual painting is vastly more satisfying than looking at it on the internet or in a book, so although I had made notes for today’s blog I decided that I would go and see the actual painting before publishing my thoughts.

My featured artist today is William Holman Hunt, the English Pre-Raphaelite painter.  In 1854 he had just completed The Light of the World,  which to this day, remains one of the best known religious paintings of the 19th century.  Hunt wanted to carry on painting religious subjects but decided that any future paintings involving biblical subjects should be painted in the very places where they happened.  So in 1854 Hunt decided to journey to the Holy Lands.  This was typical of Hunt’s thoroughness, and also typical of the rational, scientific spirit of the age.     Another reason for the journey was that it was also at this point in his life when he was suffering a crisis of religious faith and he believed that such a visit to the Holy Lands may bring him a better understanding of his faith.  However, his move away from his friends, Millais and Rossetti effectively marked the beginning of the end of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood which they had founded six years earlier.  

The subject of today’s featured painting in My Daily Art Display is entitled The Scapegoat and the subject is derived from the Talmudic tradition of driving a sacrificial white goat out into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).  A strip of red wool was bound to the goat’s horns, in the belief that it would turn white if the appeasement was accepted.  This also harked back to the Book of Isaiah 1:18:

Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.

Hunt regarded the Old Testament scapegoat as a forerunner of the New Testament Christ whose suffering and death similarly expunged man’s sins.

Hunt travelled first to Jerusalem in June 1854 and then in the October on to Oosdoom, a place on the southern edge of the salt-encrusted shallows of the Dead Sea.  In his diary Hunt described this setting as:

 ‘“…never was so extraordinary a scene of beautifully arranged horrible wilderness. It is black, full of asphalte scum and in the hand slimy, and smarting as a sting — No one can stand and say that it is not accursed of God…”

Hunt saw the Dead Sea as a ‘horrible figure of sin’,  believing as did many at this time, that it was the original site of the city of Sodom.    Here he remained painting the landscape, the mountains of Edom, and the lake which would become the background of the painting.  He also made preliminary sketches of the goat.  However the goat proved to be a “fidgety model” refusing to stand still.  Bad weather forced Hunt to head back to Jerusalem.   He had not completed the picture of the goat so brought it, some Dead Sea mud and stones back to his studio in Jerusalem so as to complete the work. However, on the journey back the goat died.  Hunt bought another goat and proceeded to have it stand in a tray of salty Dead Sea mud and stones which he had brought back to his studio and continued with the painting.  To complete the details of the painting he bought a skeleton of a camel and the skull of an ibex both of which he incorporated into the painting. 

The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt (Manchester Art Gallery) 1854

He made two copies of the painting, one (above) of which is a smaller version with a black goat and a rainbow symbolising hope and forgiveness of sins and this can be found in the Manchester Art Gallery, and the other (at the top of the page) hangs in the Lady Lever Gallery, Port Sunlight.  

Inscription along top of frame

The Lady Lever Art Gallery painting has an inscription engraved onto its frame, which was designed by Hunt himself.   It was intended to compliment the painting.  The seven stars at the top may have come from the apocalyptic text mentioning the seven stars that fell on the day of wrath or it may indicate the Book of Revelation’s “ancient” Christ who held seven stars in his right hand.   On the top of the frame, as wel,l is the inscribed a scriptural text from Isaiah 53:4:

” Surely he hath borne our Griefs, and carried our Sorrows:

yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of GOD, and afflicted. “

and on the bottom part of the frame are the words from the Book of Leviticus 16:22:

“And the Goat shall bear upon him all their Iniquities unto a Land not inhabited.”

 Hunt submitted the painting to the Royal Academy exhibition of 1856 where it was greeted with puzzlement and derogatory remarks.  The landscape colour was described as “lurid”.  Hunt was not put off by that comment and the purple colour of his mountains subsequently became the hallmark of much of his landscape painting.

John Ruskin, the foremost art critic of the time, commented:

‘…This picture, regarded merely as a landscape, or as a composition, is a total failure.   Mr Hunt …in his earnest desire to paint the Scapegoat has forgotten to ask himself first, whether he could paint a goat at all…’

His Pre-Raphaelite Brethren commented differently.  Dante Gabriel Rossetti said of the painting:

“…a grand thing, but not for the public…”

Ford Madox Brown wrote in his diary:

“….Hunt’s Scapegoat requires to be seen to be believed in. Only then can it be understood how, by the might of genius, out of an old goat, and some saline encrustations, can be made one of the most tragic and impressive works in the annals of art….”.

You must make up your own mind about this work of art.  I side with Ford Madox Brown. I stood in front of the painting this afternoon and was moved by the tragic and heart-rending depiction of the goat as it stumbles alone along the salt-encrusted shoreline, to what we know will inevitably culminate in its lonely death.  

I love the way in which Hunt’s use of colour to depict the Jordanian mountains in the background.    This was certainly one of the most original painting by Holman Hunt.  Maybe one should say it was one of his most peculiar works of art.  People are divided in their views.  Whilst some admire the painting for its exceptional and powerful image in such an unusual setting, others dislike it and wonder why the artist spent so much time and effort on such a gloomy subject.

I will let you be the judge.

The Mirror of Venus by Sir Edward Burne-Jones

Mirror of Venus by Edward Burne-Jones (1898)

 The featured artist in My Daily Art Display today is the English painter Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones.  He had close connections with the later phase of the  Pre-Raphelite movement and had close links with the textile designer and artist William Morris.  Burne-Jones was born in Birmingham.  His father, Edward, was Welsh and worked as a frame-maker.  His mother, Elizabeth sadly died   just six days after giving birth to Edward, who from then on was brought up by his father and the family housekeeper.

From the age of eleven Burne-Jones attended the King Edward VI Grammer school in Birmingham and at the age of fifteen transferred to the Birmingham School of Art.  In 1852, aged 19, he attended Exeter College, Oxford where he studied theology and it was here that through his love of poetry he first met William Morris, a similar devotee to the written word.  These two poetry-lovers along with some of their friends formed a close and intimate society which they called The Brotherhood.  In 1856 Burne-Jones founded the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine.  It was at that time that Morris and Burne-Jones decided to seek outside contributions to their magazine and approached the poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  The ensuing meetings between Burne-Jones and Rossetti was to change the former’s life forever, for he had set his heart on becoming a church minister but Rossetti persuaded him, and William Morris, to become artists.  Soon afterwards Burne-Jones put university life behind him and began a new life as an artist.  It was not just that Rossetti had inspired the two university students, but both Morris and Burne-Jones had made an impact on Rossetti himself, for some time after their first meeting Rossetti told his friend the poet and artist, William Bell Scott, about the encounter, writing:

“…Two young men, projectors of the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, have recently come up to town from Oxford, and are now very intimate friends of mine. Their names are Morris and Jones. They have turned artists instead of taking up any other career to which the university generally leads, and both are men of real genius. Jones’s designs are marvels of finish and imaginative detail, unequalled by anything unless perhaps Albrecht Dürer’s finest works…”

In his early days as an artist Burne-Jones was heavily influenced by the works of Rossetti and it was not until he travelled to Italy with John Ruskin that his style changed and he became his own man.  In 1877 he was persuaded by a group of his friends to submit some of his oil paintings at the opening show of the Grosvenor Gallery, a newly established venue which was a rival to the well-established Royal Accademy.  Over the early years the gallery, founded by Sir Coutts Lindsay, was to become vital to the Aesthetic Movement for it gave them an opportunity to showcase their works, the like of which was often scorned and rejected by the conservative Royal Academy.  One of those paintings put forward by Burne-Jones is my featured painting of the day, entitled The Mirror of Venus.  The exhibition was highly acclaimed and his career as an artist took off.

There followed an honorary degree from Oxford in 1881 and the following year he was made an Honorary Fellow.  In 1893 Prime Minister Gladstone was instrumental in him being created a baronet.  On his death five years later, the Prince of Wales intervened and insisted that the death of Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones should be honoured with a memorial service at Westminster Abbey.  This was an outstanding honour as he was the first artist to be recognised in such a way.

This painting is a mix of the traditions of Pre-Raphaelitism and Italian Renaissance culminating in a new aesthetic style.  We see in front of us ten women peering at their own reflections in a small pool of water.  The landscape is quite barren almost like that of a lunar landscape.   Burne-Jones often used this type of background and of course his reasoning may have been that it does not detract from the scene in the foreground.  In fact it is a complete contrast.  By the title of the painting we are to believe that the elegant young woman standing is in fact Venus and the other nine females are her handmaidens.  The bright colour of their dresses and their dream-like mood is consistent with Pre-Raphaelite paintings but the grace and style of the figures themselves leans towards the Italian Renaissance style and especially that of Sandro Botticelli, whose work had always inspired Burne-Jones.

There is no background story to this painting.  This is not part of a tale from Greek or Roman mythology.  There is nothing in the painting which needs to be interpreted.  There is no hidden symbolism to discover.  What you see is what you get, and what you get is a group of beautiful young ladies sumptuously dressed in clothes of varying colours.    The women look rather wistful and do not seem particularly happy as they stare down at their own reflections.  I wonder what is going through their minds.  I wonder what is causing them to be anxious.  Maybe my inquisitiveness is just what the artist wants.  Maybe he wants me to decide what the painting is all about.  The painting, to my mind,  has a romantic element to it.  There is a definite sense of beauty to the painting , similar to that which we see with most Pre-Raphaelite works.

On painting in general,  Burnes-Jones said:

“…. I mean by a picture a beautiful romantic dream of something that never was, never will be – in light better than any light that ever shone – in a land no-one can define, or remember, only desire….”

It is a painting I would love to hang on my wall.

Marriage à la Mode: The Lady’s Death by William Hogarth

Marriage à la Mode: The Lady's Death by William Hogarth (c.1743)

We have finally arrived at the final chapter of this set of six satirical paintings by the English artist, William Hogarth, entitled Marriage à la Mode.  This final canvas in this moral drama is entitled The Lady’s Death and this of course gives away the final twist in the pictorial story.  When I gave you the first of the six paintings on May 4th I had intended it has a “one-off” in case you got bored if I had gone through all six of the paintings.  However,  I became so fascinated by them I thought that my fascination would be transferred to you and so for the last six days we have followed the life of the Earl and Countess of Squander through the eyes of Hogarth.  Sit back and enjoy the dénouement.  For those of you who have not seen the earlier paintings in my blogs I suggest you head back to My Daily Art Display of May 4th where the story starts.

Yesterday in My Daily Art Display we witnessed the scene at the bagnio, the death of the Earl at the hands of his wife’s lover, Silvertongue, the family lawyer.  Now we are transported to the home of the Countess’ father the rich merchant who had arranged his daughter’s marriage to the Earl, paid a sizeable sum of money to the groom’s father and in return, achieved entry in to the world of nobility.  The decor of the room is not like anything we saw earlier in the house of the young noble couple.  This has a bareness and frugality to it.  There is no sign of aristocratic profligacy we had seen in the earlier paintings.  The floors are bare.  This is not because of the owner’s lack of wealth but more to do with his business-like bourgeois miserliness.  Unlike his daughter and his son-in-law, he was careful with his money.

The Grieving

So let us look carefully at this final scene.  In a chair we see the tragic figure of the dying countess.  She has been informed that her lover, Silvertongue, the family lawyer, has been hanged at Tyburn for killing her husband.  She is wracked with guilt and inconsolable and has taken an overdose of poison.  Hogarth has piled on more tragedy by showing the nursemaid bringing the Countess’ child to the dying woman for one last cuddle.  The nursemaid is wracked with grief, tears streaming down her cheeks.   Sadly, it should be noted that this maid’s expression of grief is the only one we can see on the faces of the people in the room.   The small child puts her lips to her mother’s face to give her one final kiss.  Once again Hogarth has signified, by painting a black spot on the child’s cheek that the child is suffering from syphilis, almost certainly passed on by the father who we knew was suffering from that sexually-transmitted disease. It probably also means that the future health of the child looks extremely bleak.    If that was not bad enough, we can see the poor young thing has legs strapped in callipers, possibly caused by rickets…

The Mercenary Deed

We see the father of the countess standing next to the chair his daughter in which  she is lying slumped.  He has hold of her right hand.  Is this a touch of tenderness from the heart-broken father?   I fancy not as we can see his sole intention seems to be to remove the gold wedding ring from his daughter’s finger before rigor mortis sets in.   He is aware that this sordid episode will prove financially disastrous to him as in cases of suicide the property and possessions of his daughter will revert to the State, which of course means he will lose the considerable dowry he put up as part of the marriage contract.  His best-laid plans have fallen asunder.  Do I hear a cheer of delight from my readers?

The Remonstration

 To the right of the dying woman we see the apothecary reproaching the foolish servant for allowing this all to happen, for it was the servant, who had been persuaded by his mistress to go out and procure some laudanum from the apothecary.  Now the apothecary will be blamed and his rage at the servant is probably to deflect such onus of blame from himself for allowing the poison to enter the household.   The empty bottle lies on the floor by the feet of the countess with the label “Laudanum” still attached.  Next to the empty vial we see a handbill reporting the notice of execution at Tyburn of Silvertongue and recording the dying words of the convicted murderer.  It is probably these tragic last words of her lover that tipped the countess into a suicidal depression.

Let us now look at some of the minor details of the painting that Hogarth has tantalised us with.  Through the open door from which the doctor is leaving we see a row of leathern buckets hanging on the wall.  These were the normal accoutrements of a merchant’s house and were, before a fire engines came into being, in case of fire. Once again we see an overturned chair, this time by the table.  Hogarth used this to symbolise disagreement and conflict.  On the table, we see a pig’s head, which presumably was to be part of a meal, being dragged off by an emaciated-looking dog.  This sort of unappetising meal woulds probably cost little and is a direct reference to the frugality of life in the miserly merchant’s abode.

The paintings on the wall are Dutch genre showing satirically the life of the common people.  In one, we can just make out a woman lighting her pipe using the heat from a drunken man’s nose.  In another, a still-life, we see a pile of dirty dishes lying untouched in a sink and in another we are presented with a drunken man urinating against a wall. 

Old London Bridge

The window to the right of the painting bears the St George’s Cross, the City of London coat of arms. In the upper right quadrant we see an upturned sword which is indicates that this house is situated north of the Thames.  Looking out of the open window we can see the old London Bridge with all its old dilapidated houses built along its entire length.  Art historians tell us that this view was one Hogarth would have witnessed from a window in his uncle’s house. 

So that is finally the end of Hogarth’s satirical story depicted in his six paintings.  I hope you liked them.  When they were first shown to the public around 1743 they received poor reviews, much to the artist’s disappointment considering the amount of time he had put into them.  His peers denigrated his efforts saying that they were merely caricatures.  Hogarth had started preliminary work on what was to be another set of paintings entitled The Happy Marriage but probably, after the poor reception he received for Marriage à la Mode, he decided to shelve the project and now only a few unfinished sketches exist.  In my opinion they were much more than just caricatures.  The paintings give us a very human story and although we may take pleasure in the downfall of the Earl, his wife and the lawyer, I believe Hogarth wanted to draw from us a condemnation of the two fathers who, for financial gain, forced the two young people into an arranged marriage.

Hogarth sold his paintings for a mere twenty guineas and after changing hands a few more times became the property of the British Government and are part of the collection of the National Gallery in London and where they reside today in Room 35.  I will certainly be heading there the next time I visit this great gallery.

Marriage à la Mode: The Bagnio by William Hogarth

Marriage à la Mode The Bagnio by William Hogarth (c.1743)

My Daily Art Display for today will look at the fifth painting in a set of six by William Hogarth, entitled Marriage à la Mode.  Today’s painting is subtitled, The Bagnio.  For anybody who has just come to this page, I suggest you flick to My Daily Art Display of May 4th as that looks at the first painting of the set and as the six paintings are telling a story in chronological order that is where you should start this pictorial soap opera about the Earl of Squander and his young bride.  The title of the Hogarth painting today is The Bagnio.  In England, bagnios were originally used to name coffee houses which offered Turkish baths, but by 1740, which was around the time Hogarth painted these pictures, they signified places where rooms could be hired “with no questions asked”, later they became houses of prostitution.

Yesterday we looked at the fourth painting in the series, subtitled The Toilette and we learnt for the first time that the relationship between the Countess of Squander and her lawyer, Silvertongue was not as pure and business-like as we first believed.  They were arranging to go to a masquerade together and we learnt that the anonymity that these soirées provided guests, allowed them to behave as flirtatiously as they liked without fear of their identity being known. 

The scene of the painting today is set in a dimly lit room in the Turks’ Head Bagnio, which actually existed in London at the time of Hogarth, in Bow Street, Covent Gardens.  Hogarth identifies the establishment by showing a bill on the floor next to the upturned table in the far left foreground of the painting.    Silvertongue and the Countess did go to the masquerade but instead of her returning home she has decided to accompany her lawyer to the bagnio to consummate their sexual desires.  We know they attended the masquerade as their masks lie discarded on the floor.  The floor is also strewn with discarded clothes, the two masques and their bags and it is obvious the two lovers were in great haste to make love.  However for the lovers the night of passion turned out to be an unmitigated disaster as somehow the Earl of Squander, her husband, had found out about their secret assignation and had burst in on them whilst they were carrying out their dastardly deed.   It makes you wonder whether the Earl himself had been using the bagnio for his own forbidden pleasures and the landlord had said something like “I see your wife and her lawyer are here tonight”.  Ok, that is stretching the imagination too far, but somehow he found out about this tryst.

Begging forgiveness

An ensuing sword-fight broke out between Silvertongue and the Earl.  Unfortunately for the Earl, whose life had been spent gambling, drinking and fornicating, fencing had not been his forte and the result of the short-lived duel ended with him receiving a fatal wound to the heart.  Silvertongue now fearing the consequences of his action drops his bloodied sword, which we see on the floor, and decides to vacate the room through the window without stopping to get dressed.  The Countess racked with guilt, falls to her knees at the feet of her dying husband begging forgiveness.  The sound of the commotion has alerted the landlord of the establishment who bursts through the door with the Night Watch to investigate.  This is the scene we now see before us.

As ever, I get great pleasure in looking at the detail in paintings rather than just standing back and having a cursory glance at a work.  I think we owe that to the artist, who has spent so much time on the details and shouldn’t we try and get into the head of the painter and try and rationalise the details he has meticulously added to his masterpiece? 

The lover makes his escape

We are given a rear-view of Silvertongue in the left background, disappearing out of the window in his night shirt.  There is something quite comical and ludicrous about his pose and maybe it was Hogarth’s intention to cast him as a fool.

On the rear wall hangs a tapestry.  It is a woven depiction of the Judgement of Solomon, which if you remember tells the story from the bible which was about his judgement on the parenthood of a baby between two women claiming the infant as theirs.  His judgement was that the baby should be split asunder, giving half to each mother.  Hogarth probably added this as a backdrop to this painting as a reference to the destructive split of the marriage between the Earl and the Countess due to their self-centred life choices they had made which resulted in the ruin of both their lives.

The humour of Hogarth

Hogarth must have had a sense of humour for look on the back wall at the framed three-quarter length picture of a prostitute, which has been placed on the tapestry in such a way that the legs from part of the tapestry scene look to be those of the prostitute!   The bedclothes lie ruffled on the bed which leads us to believe that the Earl had entered the room and caught the lovers in flagrante delicto.

From what Hogarth depicted in this painting, we can have no doubt that the final painting, which we will look at tomorrow, is not going to have a happy ending.

Marriage à la Mode: The Toilette by William Hogarth

Marriage a la Mode The Toilette by William Hogarth (c.1743)

This is the fourth day of My Daily Art Display which looks at the set of six Hogarth paintings entitled collectively as Marriage à la Mode.  To follow the story in chronological order you should start at my blog of May 4th.  Today we are at Episode Four of this pictorial soap opera, a veritable tragic-comedy about a doomed marriage.  Today’s painting is the fourth in William Hogarth’s series and is entitled The Toilette. 

There has been a passage of time between the happenings in the first painting in the series when the two young people became husband and wife and the setting for this fourth painting.   We are in the house of the Viscount and his wife.  We are in the ante-chamber of her boudoir as she prepares herself for the trials and tribulations of the coming day.  What is happening is a morning ritual that the nobility copied from the life of the monarch and which was developed in the French Court.  It was known as the lever du roi.  The royal morning toilette unfolded in two phases. The king was joined for the petit lever by his most senior officials, who gave him the day’s news. While they talked to him, the king was given his dressing gown, was shaved and powdered, and relieved himself on his commode. This was followed by the grand lever, a more public morning reception, during which the king took his chocolate, was given his wig and dressed.

If we look above the pink-curtained alcove we see a coronet which signifies the Viscount has become an Earl and means he has inherited the title from his late father.  The Viscount is now the new Earl of Squander and his wife is now Countess of Squander.   This painting is bursting with all the characters Hogarth has added.  Let me introduce them to you.  The now Countess of Squander is the lady on the right, wearing the yellow and silver morning gown sitting at her dressing table.  On the back of her chair, tied to a red ribbon is a child’s teething coral so we know that she has become a mother.  She has her back to her guests with the exception of Silvertongue, the lawyer, who she is in animated conversation with.    Silvertongue is the lawyer whom we saw in the first painting as he carried out the duties of an adviser to the late Earl and consoled the unhappy viscountess.  Behind her stands her hairdresser who is testing the heat of his curling tongs. 

The invitation

The lawyer seems to have become very “close” to the Countess and seems to have made himself quite at home as he lies full length on a sofa.  In his right hand are some tickets – but for what and why?  If we look at his left hand, it is pointing towards a folding-screen which is illustrating a masked company and we can assume that his conversation with the Countess involves inviting her to come with him to some sort of masquerade. As people wore masks at these events they could not be identified and any dubious behaviour carried out by the revellers was done so without the fear of identification.  Such masquerades in those days often went on right through the night and often the men and their partners would slip away to a bagnio, which was a place where rooms could be hired with no questions asked, and where lovers could “consummate their relationship”.  We now begin to realise that the lawyer, Silvertongue, is not just the Countess’ legal adviser.   Another hint at the sexual nature of their relationship is the book which lies against the back of the sofa on which he lies sprawled.  It is La Sopha a 1742 libertine novel by French author Claude Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon.  It is a story concerning a young courtier, Amanzéï, whose soul in a previous life was condemned by Brahma to inhabit a series of sofas, and not to be reincarnated in a human body until two virgin lovers had consummated their passion on him.  It became the favourite reading of all, male and female alike, who enjoyed indulging in erotic fantasies.

The entourage

To the left, on the sofa we have a singer, probably a castrato, a type of male singer which was very popular at the time.  He is sumptuously dressed with his silken waistcoat which is somewhat spoiled by his corpulence.   He wears rings on his ear and all of his fingers.  His profession has brought him great wealth.  Look at his diamond-encrusted tie pin and the buckles on his shoes and on his knees.  The Countess will have paid dearly for this “morning serenade.  Her female companion is mesmerised by the singing and seems about to fall to her knees in homage to the singer.  At the opposite end of the sofa to the fat singer we see a strange looking man with curl papers in his hair.  We know it is not the husband as we have seen him in the three previous paintings and from what we know of his character we know he was unlikely to give up his time to be with his wife at her petit leve.   Behind the sofa we see a very thin flautist who accompanies the singer.  In the background we see two other gentlemen, part of her ladyship’s entourage.  One holds a cup with what looks like a chocolate biscuit dunked in it.  He has the cursed black patch on his lower lip which could mean he is yet another person carrying a sexually-transmitted disease.  Looking at his facial expression, he too seems much enamoured by the singer’s rendition.  His companion, seated behind him, on the other hand, seems less taken by the music as he is sound asleep albeit still clutching hold of his riding crop.

In the background of this painting we see a black servant handing out a cup of possibly tea or hot chocolate to the Countess’ companion.  On the floor, in front of the countess and Silvertongue we see a small black boy wearing an Indian turban.  It was very fashionable in those days to have at least one coloured servant or pageboy and by the way this small child is allowed to be present at the petit leve  he must have been one of the household. 

The Indian boy and Actaeon

It is interesting to note that he is smiling as he holds a figure of a naked man who is wearing antlers on his head.  This symbolises a cuckold – a deceived husband.  The figure is almost certainly Actaeon, the mythical hunter who surprised the goddess Diana while she was bathing naked and who was turned into a stag in punishment and torn to pieces by his own dogs.   This must have been bought at auction by the countess as it still has the lot number affixed to it.  More erotic items can be seen in the basket the boy is rummaging through – the picture on the tray also recalls forbidden erotic pleasures: the married Zeus, in the shape of a swan, approaches the similarly married Queen Leda. 

Scattered on the floor are various invitations received by the Countess along with a number of ugly ornaments, similar to those we saw on the mantelpiece in the second painting of the series.  On the walls there are a number of paintings which we can recognise. Such as Lot and his Daughters, which was a Biblical reference to incest and Jupiter and Io, a Greek mythological tale of seduction concerning Io who was a river goddess.  Jupiter fell in love with the beautiful maiden, and one day, as she rested on the banks of the River, he changed his shape into that of a cloud, and embraced her. He whispered words of love to her, and then planted an immortal kiss upon her upturned cheek.  However the strangest painting on the wall of the Countess’ room is a portrait of Silvertongue himself!   I wonder how she explained that away to her husband!

There are so many things in this painting which leads us to believe that the Countess has or is about to be unfaithful to her husband.  Prior to this painting, we have just looked at the first three paintings in Hogarth’s six piece cycle and we have surely felt sympathy for the young wife.   Let us examine her lot in life.   Forced into a marriage by her father, who was willing to do anything to join the nobility.  Married to a wastrel who we learn was suffering from a sexually transmitted disease and who spends his evening in the company of whores.  However after examining today’s painting, the fourth episode of the story, maybe we are having doubts about our unconditional love for the young woman.  Can we justify her actions by saying it is purely an act of revenge on her wayward husband?

Marriage à la Mode: The Inspection by William Hogarth

Marriage a la Mode The Inspection by William Hogarth (c.1743)

For anybody who has just clicked on to this page, be warned, we are now almost half way through William Hogarth’s pictorial saga entitled Marriage à la Mode and I suggest you click on to the May 4th blog which is the starting point to this cycle of paintings.  This is painting number three in the cycle and is entitled The Inspection.  In My Daily Art Display on the two previous days we looked at the coming together of the young couple and then the onset of the deterioration of the relationship.  Today things take a turn for the worse in the marriage saga.

Today, the setting for the painting is not the Viscount and Viscountess’s house but the consulting rooms of the French doctor, M. De LaPillule.  In the surgery we see the doctor to the left, the Viscount, with his young mistress, who stands on his left hand side and in the centre a rather large woman in a voluminous maroon hooped dress.  There is no sign of the Viscountess and as the story unfolds you will know the reason for her absence.

In the two previous paintings in the cycle we have noted that the Viscount has a black patch on his neck, a way Hogarth signified that the Viscount has contracted the sexually transmitted disease, syphilis.  It is for that very reason that he now appears at the doctor’s surgery.  The Viscounts voracious sexual appetite has been the undoing of him and now he is paying the penalty for his many indiscretions and sexual liaisons.  He, however, seems unabashed by his predicament.  In fact he seems quite good humoured, which is in stark contrast to the worried look on the face of his very young mistress.  She is but a mere child.  They have come to the doctor for a cure for his ailment.  He had originally been prescribed mercury tablets, which at the time were the only known cure for the disease, but they have had not achieved the desired effect so we can see the Viscount handing back the pill to the doctor and asking for an alternative medication.  I say “asking” but we see that in his left hand he is brandishing a cane.  Is this a threatening move on his part towards the doctor?  Is it his belief that his confrontational action will get him a more potent and successful remedy?

I am not sure how much faith I would have in a doctor who looks like the one in the painting.  He looks unclean and unshaven and is dressed in shabby brown clothes.  Maybe he is what was termed a “back-street” doctor.  Maybe the Viscount dare not go to his regular physician in case his plight became known to his social circle.  The surgery, like the doctor, is dirty and full of masks and bones and on the table next to Doctor La Pillule is a skull.  In the cupboard at the rear of the painting we see a skeleton which almost appears to be groping the genitals of a musculature model or is it an embalmed body !!!!   If we look to the side of the cabinet we can see a narwal tusk which is a classic phallic symbol.  On the cabinet we observe a plethora of pill boxes, a scalloped-sided bleeding basin, a glass urinal, a giant plaster head with a huge femur behind, an alchemist’s tripod for holding flasks over burners, a broken mediaeval comb, a tall red Jacobean hat, two mismatched mediaeval shoes, a spur buckler and a sword and shield, all of which are covered in dust.  So what does this tell us about the doctor and his practice?   Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, the German scientist and artist wrote in his book entitled Hogarth on High Life. The Marriage à la Mode Series,

“…The Doctor’s collection, commenting as it does both historically and prophetically on his career, might be interpreted as follows: he began as a beard trimmer; graduated to piss-analyst; barely skirting the gallows (by virtue of his curative powers) he grabbed for himself a doctor’s hat; and is now counting on a knighthood, if he has not one already…” 

Hardly a resounding recommendation on the good doctor’s ability to cure the Viscount and his mistresses.

The large irate lady at the centre of the painting, which we are presuming is the young mistress’s mother, has similar black patches on her face and we can only surmise that she too is suffering from syphilis.  It is thus a matter of conjecture as to whether the lady is purely the mother of the Viscount’s young mistress or is she the mistress as well, as the Viscount seems to be very relaxed in her company and not fearful of the consequences of having given her young daughter a sexually transmitted disease.  Also, if she was the child’s mother would she and the child be standing together?   Maybe they are not related and they are just two females of vastly different ages plying the same trade.  I am not sure whether, if I was the Earl, I would be feeling relaxed as him,  especially as in her hand we see her opening up a clasp knife as she stares down malevolently at him. 

We look at the young girl.  She is but a child.  She looks worried and sad knowing what has befallen her.  It is a pathetic sight.  For a supposed mistress she seems so young, too demure, too prim and proper but we see her dabbing a sore on her mouth with a handkerchief and this is probably the early signs of the onset of syphilis.  In her other hand is a pill box.  Maybe she too is seeking an alternative remedy to her illness.

That’s the end of Episode Three of Marriage à la Mode.  Tomorrow we will take a look at the next part of the Hogarth’s saga, entitled The Toilette.

Marriage à la Mode: The Tête à Tête by William Hogarth

Marriage à la Mode: The Tête à Tête by William Hogarth

For those of you who have just alighted on this page, I would suggest you start by looking at yesterday’s offering, which is the first in a series of six paintings by William Hogarth, which together were entitled Marriage à-la-mode.  My Daily Art Display today is the second painting in the series entitled The Tête à Tête.  The six paintings tell a story, in chronological order, (hence my suggestion to start at yesterday’s blog) of the consequences of an ill-conceived marriage.

In the painting we see four characters.  The newly married Viscount and his bride, the Viscountess,  and two servants, one who is just taking his leave of the couple and the other we can spot in the ante-room.  The setting is the drawing room of their palatial home.  If we look above the Viscount’s head we can see a clock showing a time of 1:20 and this has generated two lines of thought as to whether we are viewing this scene in the early afternoon or in the early hours of the morning.  I will leave you to decide.

The Viscount - Lost in thought

The Viscount sits slumped in his chair with his hands stuffed in his pocket.  He is disheveled and completely lost in thought.  It is as if he has just returned from a night out with the lads and is now feeling ill from the onset of a hangover and a night of debauchery.  He looks exhausted and maybe his night out was not just a tour of the inns with his male friends but maybe his fatigue has been brought on by their visiting a brothel.   So maybe 1:20 in the morning is a better bet!  

He pays no attention to his wife who sits across from him in a separate chair.  A dog can be seen at his side.  It is quite animated as it sniffs at something sticking out of his pocket, possibly a woman’s lace cap which he obtained as a “trophy” during his sojourn in the brothel. Once again, we see in this picture a large black patch on the Viscount’s neck, which Hogarth used to signify that the Viscount has contracted syphilis.  It should be remembered that this patch was there in the first picture and therefore he had this affliction prior to his marriage.  However Hogarth has cast doubt on the Viscount’s sexual prowess as lying by his feet is his sword still in its scabbard but the tip has broken off which alludes to the fact that he may be impotent.

The Viscountess - Contented look of pleasure

So let us take a look at the Viscountess.  To her right we see some playing cards scattered on the floor.   In front of her, on the ground, is the book entitled Hoyle on Whist suggesting that her evening entertainment has been simply playing cards, but maybe the question we should be asking ourselves is, with whom?  Am I adding intrigue when there is none to be savoured?  Observe the young woman more closely.  Her pose lacks dignity.  She sits with her legs apart,  a not very lady-like pose. Her arms are outstretched and she is lost in thought.  In contrast to her husband’s thoughts, her thoughts seem to be very pleasurable.  Look at her dress.  Look at the stain or damp patch on it.  Why has Hogarth painted it like this?  What is the artist trying to convey to the viewer?  Her facial expression is one of contentment and joy and we know that this is not the result of a happy marriage or the fact of being left at home alone, whilst her husband is off gadding about.  She is probably aware of his womanizing, so what has brought about this expression of happiness?  There is something sly and devious about her expression as she furtively peeks under eyelashes at her husband.  Take a look at what she is holding above her head in her right hand.  It is a mirror.  Maybe she is using it just before she stretched out her hands or maybe she is signaling to somebody just out of picture – maybe her lover with whom she has spent an evening of pleasure?  Maybe that is what has put the contented expression on her face.  Hogarth has given us one other clue to a possible meeting of lovers.  Look on the floor in the foreground.  We see an upturned chair and an abandoned musical instrument and sheets of music.  Was the lover of the Viscountess seranading her and on hearing the arrival home of her husband, dashed out of the room, knocking over the chair in his haste? 

The frustrated steward and the unpaid bills

We see the steward just about to take his leave of the couple.  He does not seem best pleased.  He is portrayed by Hogarth as a pious Methodist and in the pocket of his coat we can just see a book sticking out with the title “Regeneration” a book on Christian theology.  A quill pen is behind his ear.  In his left hand he is grasping a stack of unpaid bills and a ledger is tucked under his arm.   Hanging from the little finger of his left hand is a spike upon which are the paid bills.  Alas, there would appear to be only one, which fades into insignificance if we contrast that to the sheaf of unpaid bills.  It is quite obvious that the young Viscount likes to spend and is treading the same perilous path his father took – the road to financial ruin.    The steward is leaving them with his right hand thrown upwards in a sign of despair that neither of the couple will take their financial situation seriously.

Mishmash of ornaments

Over the fireplace we see a painting of Cupid amongst ruins playing what looks like a set of bagpipes.  This symbolizes the inharmonious and flawed state of the young couple’s marriage.  Below the painting of cupid we see a bust which has, at one time, had its nose broken off and this once again this symbolizes impotence – maybe alluding once again to the impotency of the Viscount.  On the mantlepiece there is a terrible mishmash of ornaments, jars, statuettes and figurines.  This probably alludes to the chaotic existence of the couple’s lifestyle.

That painting !!!!

Do you know what amuses me the most?  It is is in the other room.   Look at the paintings on the wall.  We can see three paintings, portraits of the apostles, but look at the fourth painting, the one to the right.  A green cover almost hides the subject from view but we can see a naked foot.  I will leave you to decide what the rest of the painting was about.  It had to be something too risqué for us to see!

We are left in no doubt by this second painting that the marriage of the Viscount and the Viscountess is heading for the rocks and you will have to wait until tomorrow to see the third “episode” of this pictorial soap opera to find out what happens next!

Marriage à la Mode: The Marriage Settlement by William Hogarth

Marriage à la mode: The Marriage Settlement by William Hogarth (c.1743)

A couple of days ago I featured a portrait of a couple by Thomas Gainsborough.  The type of portrait was known as an “outdoor conversation piece” with it being a group portrait of real people in a landscape setting.  Today I am going to introduce you to another form of art known as “the modern moral subject”.  This form of art was developed by the English artist William Hogarth.  Hogarth had a great desire to be an English painter of grand manner history subjects.  He wanted to break the foreigner’s monopoly in high art. However, unlike the up and coming portrait painter, Joshua Reynolds, he rejected the idea of travelling to Rome where that manner was to be acquired.

Hogarth believed there was enough evidence of the “foreigners’ work” in England without him having to make them pilgrimage to Italy.  The Raphael cartoons, which were considered to be among the greatest treasures of the High Renaissance, were in England.  They had been painted by Raphael as designs for the tapestries that were made to cover the lower walls of the Vatican Sistine Chapel had been brought to England in 1623.  There were also many engravings of great art at hand in England and Hogarth considered travelling through Europe to study High Renaissance art was unnecessary.  Hogarth had created a different role for himself, painting narrative series of “modern moral subjects”.  The novelist and dramatist Henry Fielding called them “comic history paintings”.

My Daily Art Display for today is The Marriage Settlement, the first painting of a set of six entitled Marriage à-la-mode which Hogarth painted between 1743 and 1745.  It is a moralistic warning, which gives us a clear vision of what happens as a result of an ill-conceived marriage, which only took place for financial reasons and not for love.  Art historians believe that this project of Hogarth was his finest.   It is a finely crafted story divided into six parts and I like to consider it as a six-episode pictorial soap opera.

The main protaganists

So now let me introduce you to the characters that are all assembled in this, the first painting of the series.  Seated at the far right of the foreground we have the Earl of Squander.  The index finger of his left hand points to an unfurled parchment depicting his family tree, which shows his family being direct descendents of William, Duke of Normandy (William the Conqueror).    Hogarth has cynically incorporated a broken branch in to the family tree, which was indicative of  a prior marriage, but one outside the nobility and was thus disowned, hence the break from the main tree.  Obviously one would not have shown such a thing on a real family tree but it is reminding the viewers that this great noble’s set of descendents were not quite as noble as the earl would have us believe!   Although titled, the man is almost penniless and heavily in debt due to his foolish ways and needs urgently to replenish his wealth.  Despite his poverty look at the luxurious and costly clothes he is wearing.  There is an arrogance about the man.  He has surrounded himself with symbols of his nobility.  There are coronets everywhere.  If you look carefully you can see how Hogarth has painted them on his foot stool, on the canopy above his head, and even on the head of his crutches.     Observe how Hogarth has painted him with his right foot resting on a stool which is a tell-tale symptom of gout, and which is often associated with overindulgence in alcohol and rich foods.

Sitting across from the Earl, in his red frock coat is The Alderman.  He, unlike the Earl, is extremely rich.  He is what we would now term, the nouveau riche.  However, he is not of the “noble class” and all he wants is to become the grandfather to a noble son.  He has what the Earl needs – money.  The Alderman has what the Alderman needs – nobility and so they have hatched up the plan of a marriage between the Alderman’s daughter and the Earl’s son.

Bride and groom with Silvertongue the lawyer

We can see the bride and groom sitting in the background.  Note how they are not looking at each other, which is Hogarth’s way of illustrating that there is no “love” in this union.  The young girl looks despondent but resigned.  Her clothes are quite plain in comparison to those of her new husband.  She is fiddling nervously with her handkerchief through which she has threaded her wedding ring.  We feel a little sorry for her.  Next to her stands Silveretongue, the lawyer.  He has a somewhat fawning appearance as he is outlines the terms of the marriage to her.

On the other hand, there is nothing about the groom’s appearance and demeanour that we can possibly like.  The young man, the Viscount, has a foppish air about him.  He sits with his back to his new wife.  He is dressed expensively in a French-style wearing a powdered wig with a black bow in the back of it.  His high heeled shoes and open spindly-legged posture give him a distinctly effeminate look.  There is a black spot on his neck which some believe indicates that he may have syphilis or scrofula.  He vainly stares at his reflection in the mirror in a narcissistic manner.

The tethered couple

On the floor at the feet of the Viscount we can see two unhappily-looking animals tethered together, a bitch and a dog.  Despite being tied together, they seem to be ignoring each other.   This is how Hogarth cleverly insinuates and compares pictorially the entrapment that the marriage has brought to the newly-married couple.  It is a tethering together of the man and the woman in a loveless arrangement.  The arrangement is purely something the Earl and the Alderman wanted. For the Earl it would be a future heir and for the Alderman it would mean and entry to the noble class.

The sixth character in this composition is the man standing looking out of the window, between the Earl and the Alderman.  He is the architect.  He holds in his hands a set of architectural plans and as we look through the window we can make out an un-finished building the cost of which has probably bled the Earl dry of his money.  The architect in a way is part of this ill thought out marriage as he needs the Earl to have his coffers refilled so that he can get back to work on this grand building project.

The final player in this scene is the man leaning over the table handing back to the Earl his mortgage papers which have been signed in return for the bill of exchange provided by the Alderman, which was his daughter’s dowry.  On the table we see a pile of gold coins which the Earl has just received from the Alderman.

Hogarth has amusingly given us one more clue that this marriage is doomed to failure.   Around the room he has added a number of paintings all of which depict scenes of devastation, tragedy or martyrdom.  We see David killing Goliath, St Lawrence being burnt at the stake, The Massacre of the Innocent, Cain slaying Abel and Judith decapitating Holofernes.

Obviously the artist has no doubt as to how this story will unfold!

Tomorrow we will look at the second painting in the series and see how the tale unfolds

Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough

Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough (c.1750)

Have you ever thought that you might like to have your portrait painted by an artist?  Maybe just you or maybe you and your partner.  How do you visualise your pose and the setting for this great work of art?   What do you want to portray to the viewers about yourself and your partner.  Obviously you want to be seen in the best light and bring out all your beauty but how will you get the artist to communicate to us, the viewer,  your status and wealth?  Should the background of this portrait be just a simple plain coloured background so that it in no way detracts from your presence in the painting.  You of course will wear the most expensive clothes to give the air of wealth whether it is true or not.  Maybe you will be a little more daring and have your prized possession in the background of your portrait.  You could be painted standing by your expensive car or you could stand in front of your house but of course if your house is of little value then it may detract from your image, for remember even though the camera may never lie, the artist and his paintbrush can certainly mask the truth.

So that brings me nicely to today’s My Daily Art Display which is a portrait of a wealthy couple on their huge estate.  The portrait is simply entitled Mr and Mrs Andrews and was painted by the great English landscape and portrait Thomas Gainsborough in 1749.  This was one of Gainsborough’s earliest portraits.  The subjects of the painting are the English country squire, Robert Andrews and his wife Frances Mary, née Carter who he had married a year earlier and this work by Gainsborough was commissioned to celebrate the marriage.    Both bride and bridegroom came from wealthy families.  Robert’s family owned land on the Essex-Sussex border around the town of Bulmer.  Frances was the daughter of William Carter a wealthy cloth merchant who owned a large estate in the parish of Bulmer and the joining in matrimony of the two meant the coming together of two large estates.  This is a portrait, which not only celebrates the coming together of the young lovers, but demonstrates that this union has brought about the considerable wealth of property they now jointly owned.

This delightful portrait of the pair posing on their country estate in the summer sunshine is full of charm.  The church in the background is St Peter’s, Sudbury, and the tower to the left is that of Lavenham church. The gold and green of their fertile fields and their well-kept estate is beautifully painted.  It is interesting to note that this type of portraiture was known as “outdoor conversation pieces”.  The term was given to portraits showing two or more full length figures engaged in conversation or other polite social activity and were generally part of a domestic or landscape painting.  This idea of having a country scene as a backdrop to a portrait probably came from the French and their fêtes galantes, which was a French term used to describe a type of painting which first came to prominence with Antoine Watteau but unlike outdoor conversation pieces, they normally featured fictional characters.

Let us now have a close look at the painting.  The first thing that strikes me is that although it is a portrait, the landscape take up more than half of the space of this oil on canvas painting.  Maybe the couple wanted to subtly highlight their wealth by having their vast estate featured as a backdrop to their portrait.  This you must remember is not an idealistic landscape concocted to enhance the painting.  This is the real thing.  This is their own estate which was a joining together of the two lands of their parents.  This vast estate was now a celebration of their union.

Robert Andrews stands straight.  His faithful gun-dog at his side looking lovingly up at his Master.   There is an air of relaxed nonchalance about his pose.  He looks to have “not a care in the world”.  His hand is in his pocket but even so it is a somewhat formal pose.  His frock-coat is unbuttoned at the top and by the way he holds his hunting gun under his arm, is to have us believe he has just returned from a shoot.  He is, by depiction, one of the landed gentry and the way he is at ease shows he is happy to show off his good fortune and his possessions, namely his large estate and of course, his wife.  We can have no doubt of his standing in society.  His character and future are like the well established oak tree which they shelter under – solid.  It is easy for us to understand that his wife will want for nothing

The genteel Mrs Andrews sits primly next to her husband on an ornate Rococo-style bench.  She was about eighteen at the time of this portrait.  She is dressed in her finest clothes and her demeanour, like that of her husband, oozes wealth and respectability.  She, in some ways, appears doll-like in her bright blue hooped skirt and pointed silver-coloured shoes.  I am sure the couple didn’t pose for the artist in the fields of their estate and this painting is likely to have been carried out in the artist’s studio and Gainsborough may have used tailor’s dummies to hang their clothes on and then later gone out to study the landscape of their estate.  Still I am sure the couple were happy with this work of art and it would have pleased them to see how it portrays them and their land.  There has been some conjecture as to whether the original intention was to have Mrs Andrews hold a book or maybe a brace of pheasants which her husband had just shot as there seems to be a space on her lap left unfilled.  It was also surmised that the space was left empty in order that, at a later date, one of her children may have been added, sitting on her lap.

So the couple had everything.  Sadly however, after giving her husband nine children, Mary Andrews died at the relatively young age of forty-eight.  Robert Andrews went on to re-marry and lived a long life surviving to the good old age of eighty.  They now rest together, side by side, in the graveyard of Saint Andrews in Bulmer.