Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Men Behaving Well: Horace Walpole & Women Artists

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Loretta reports:

One of the things I like about Horace Walpole, (1717 1797), 4th Earl of Orford, was his friendships with and support of women artists.

Thanks to the Strawberry Hill exhibition, I discovered the sculptor Anne Seymour Damer (and was able to place in context a caricature I’d stumbled on (above left--I’ve filed it under Misogyny, 18th C).  Modern online biographical material is skimpy, but here's an early 20th C bio. The Anthony & Cleopatra scene at right is by Damer--who might not have embarked on an artistic career at all if Walpole hadn't so extravagantly praised her early efforts.  He saw something no one else did.

Another discovery was Lady Diana Beauclerk.  (After her divorce from Lord Bolingbroke, she married a great-grandson of King Charles II.)  She created the beautiful inlaid drawings on a magnificent ebony cabinet I swooned over.  Here’s the bodkin case that was in the show.

Among the items sold at the 1842 auction of Strawberry Hill were the following:

  A series of seven drawings, by Lady Diana Beauclerk, scenes illustrating the Mysterious Mother, in black and gilt frames. 17th Day, Lot 32. 131. 13*. Col. the Hon. D. Darner, M.P. —Horace Walpole's Tragedy of "The Mysterious Mother," was printed at Strawberry Hill, in 1768. In his Description of the house he mentions that the hexagon tower, built in 1770, and named the Beauclerk Closet, " was built purposely for the reception of seven incomparable drawings, by Lady Diana Beauclerk, for scenes in the Mysterious Mother:—these sublime drawings, the first she ever attempted, were all conceived and executed in a fortnight." Lady Diana afterwards furnished the designs for her nephew, Mr. W. R. Spencer's translation of Burger's German poem of Leonora, published in fol. 1796; and for a splendid edition of Dryden's Fables, in fol. 1797. Mr. Dallaway remarks, " these will confirm Mr. W's. partiality, by proofs of an elegant and fertile imagination." (Pref. to Anecd. of Painting, 1827, p. xviii.)

From Lady Diana Beauclerk's Closet were also sold—A copy of The Mysterious Mother, with manuscript notes by the Author. 4l. 10s.; and a Portrait of Lady Diana Beauclerk, by Powell. 81. ISs. 6d.—Both bought by the same party.

Gipsies telling a country girl her fortune, a drawing by Lady Diana Beauclerk, and considered her chef d'oeuvre. 22d Day, Lot 101. 6J. 10». Gage.

A Masquerade Scene, by Lady Diana Beauclerk, and a Landscape by the Rev. Mr. Gilpin, 1782. 17th Day, Lot 35. 31. 15». Cain, for Col. the Hon. Dawson Darner, M.P.

In other words, women artists' work was prominently on display at Strawberry Hill.  In a historical world I often find infuriatingly misogynistic, it was a joy to find Horace Walpole. 


Ingrid said...

Interesting post, Loretta!
I always get the impression that Horace Walpole was rather class conscious. These women artists were aristocrats, that may have been part of the attraction for him.

I can recommend a novel about Anne Seymour Damer: Life Mask by Emma Donoghue.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Ingrid got to it first, but I was also going to recommend the Emma Donoghue novel. There is also a biography of Lady Diana Beauclerk as well. I discovered her when I saw an exhibition on late 18th century and early 19th century women at the NYPL. I find Walpole to be one of the most fascinating figures of the 18th century.

Loretta Chase said...

Ingrid, Elizabeth, thank you for the book suggestions. Ingrid, the English were and are class conscious, but he was definitely considered a snob, even then. (That he behaves unusually well in some ways doesn't mean he was without fault or flaw.) But I'm really not at all sure the social status of the artist would influence his taste. I'd have to let the art historians address that one. How many non-aristocratic women artists were around at the time? Anybody know?

Margaret Porter said...

I also recommend the Lady Di Beauclerk bio as well, it offers a good dilenation of divorce and scandal and artistic endeavour. And for biographical hist fic Life Mask does a fairly good job incorporating art, theatre, aristocracy, lesbianism, and politics. (I did, however, prefer the author's much darker novel Slammerkin!)

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