Thursday, February 16, 2012
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Since I'm currently working on a new series of novels set in England the 1760s (more about those soon, I promise), I've been looking at many of the wonderful prints of the Georgian era for inspiration. Prints were popular in 18th c England, a relatively inexpensive piece of art that could be pious, political, patriotic, educational, amusing, or outrageously bawdy.
Last month I shared the "My Daughter Ann" and "My Son Tom" prints, and the print, left, is another I especially enjoy. The Favourite Footman, or Miss well Mounted is based on a painting by John Collet (1725-1780), an artist known for his genre low-life subjects. (Click the image to enlarge.)
Collet's works are often filled with amorous ladies and gentlemen, sly servants, and double-entendres galore. The Favourite Footman is no exception. The title sets the scene: an expensively dressed young lady is out riding with her footman as an escort. Footmen were often chosen for their height and handsome faces, and having good-looking footmen in well-fitting livery was as important as having a matched team of spirited horses to draw one's carriage. This footman in his spurs is clearly a "Favourite," since he's been given the honor of helping the lady onto her horse, with the dog there to represent his loyalty.
But exactly how many other favors has the lady granted? She's certainly giving him an extensive view of her leg (remember, 18th c. women's clothing usually did not include under-drawers), and their pose and expressions imply intimacy.Their horses echo their interest, too, with her mare's tail suggestively raised for his stallion. And if anyone seeing the print missed all these broad hints about what was going on, the second half of the title – Miss well Mounted – doesn't leave much doubt.
There's an extra level of subversive amusement in the print that 18th c viewers would have understood. The woman is in charge because of her wealth and social status, while he, as her servant, must obey her orders – a topsy-turvy arrangement that would have been seen in the 18th c as going against the "natural" order of males in control. But equally unnatural would be the notion of an upper-class woman, proud of her station, debasing herself with a servant of a much lower social class – even if, like this lady, she's ready to guide him with her tasseled whip.
Of course, there's always the possibility that the "miss" is the mistress of a wealthy man – which means she's giving away to her footman what her protector is paying for. Take note, Fanny Hill.
One more note about this print: Collet was an excellent chronicler of clothes. You might have recognized the lady's riding habit, recently recreated here, by Colonial Williamsburg tailor Mark Hutter.
Above: The Favourite Footman, or Miss well Mounted, after John Collet, 1778, published by Sayer & Bennett, London. The British Museum; © Trustees of the British Museum.