Category Archives: Art

The Foundling Hospital

Although the prints in this post are much earlier, the Foundling Hospital would have been well known – and in fact a fashionable place to visit – right through the 19th century. It was founded in 1742 by the man in the portrait below, Captain Thomas Coram, master mariner and shipwright, who was appalled by the plight of the homeless children he saw on the streets of London when he came there to live.

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Coram worked hard for almost twenty years to alleviate the plight of orphaned children, or those abandoned by their parents “to die on a dunghill” before he secured sufficient support from ladies of “Nobility and Distinction” to provide a permanent home for them and a charter from George II in 1739.

After an unsatisfactory beginning in Hatton Garden a large plot – 56 acres – was bought in Lamb’s Conduit Fields, then open fields close to the road to Hampstead and Highgate villages. Work began on a grand hospital to the designs of Theodore Jacobsen and the first children – the boys – moved into the east wing in 1742. The west wing, for the girls, was ready by 1745.

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The image above is a detail from “A View of the Foundling Hospital” published soon after the building was finished. Such magnificence might seem a waste of money that could have been better spent, but it was essential to attract the patronage of as many fashionable and wealthy people as possible and this fine and eminently respectable building became not only a place to visit but also one of worship in its chapel. Hogarth, and then other major artists, contributed paintings which were also an attraction to visitors who, once they were inside, could be solicited for donations.

Handel was another major benefactor. He donated an organ in 1750, gave concerts there, trained the choir and raised over £7,000 by performances of his Messiah.

The children were, at first, accepted as and when there was room on a first-come, first-taken basis but this proved unworkable because the numbers seeking admission were simply too great. Instead it became a lottery with mothers drawing a ball from a bag. White gave the child immediate admittance, providing they passed a medical exam, red put them on a waiting list and black was rejection. Amongst the most harrowing objects to see in all of London are in the collection of tokens mothers left with their child in the faint hope that one day they could come back to claim them. You can find out more about them at the Foundation’s website.

Once the children reached the age of fourteen they were apprenticed, joined the army or were found positions as domestic servants. Only  tiny handful were ever reunited with their mothers.

In 1926 the hospital moved to Redhill and then to Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire, where its buildings are now Ashlyns school. A smaller building was put up on part of the site and it retains one of the staircases and many of the furnishing and paintings from the original. Even part of the perimeter wall and gates can still be seen – have a look on StreetView at the junction of Guilford Street and Guilford Place, looking north, and you will recognize the centre front feature in the print above, although without its ironwork.

 

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The Statue of Charles I – a London landmark Jane Austen would have known

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Standing on the southern edge of Trafalgar Square, facing down Whitehall, and in the midst of a permanent traffic jam, stands the bronze statue of Charles I, looking down towards the place of his execution as he has done since 1675. The surroundings have changed beyond recognition, but every Georgian Londoner and visitor would have been familiar with the statue which appears in numerous prints.

The statue was created by Hubert le Suer in 1633, but it was not erected immediately and by the time of the Civil War it had become a target for the Parliamentarians. It was sold to John Rivett, a brazier, in 1649 on the strict instructions that it was to be melted down. Rivett, obviously both a shrewd political forecaster and a businessman, buried it in his garden and made a great deal of money from small souvenirs allegedly made from the bronze. Charles II acquired it on his restoration and it was erected, more or less on the site of the medieval Charing Cross, in 1675. It can be seen on the map, just below the R of Cross. Behind it is the King’s Mews and the Golden Cross Inn, now occupied by Trafalgar Square. The bulk of Northumberland House is to the east, below the final S of Cross.

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The pedestal is said to have been designed by Wren and carved by Grinling Gibbons.

This print of 1811 from Ackermann’s Repository, shows the view east past Northumberland House and down the Strand.

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The statue was obviously a familiar landmark that enabled artists to locate their images. The 1823 print of ‘The notorious Black Billy “At Home” to a London Street Party’ (drawn by Samuel Alken, published by Thos. Kelly) shows it surrounded by lively street life. Despite being shown as white, “Black Billy” Waters (c. 1778–1823) was black and is said to have been a slave who escaped by joining the British navy and who lost a leg in a fall from the rigging. Whatever the truth, he was a popular street entertainer with his characteristic feathered hat and violin.

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By the middle of the 19th century street life was rather more decorous and this undated Victorian engraving shows a pristine Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery (with columns recycled from Carlton House).

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Today the traffic around the statue is unrelenting, and so often jammed solid, that bus and taxi passengers have ample opportunity to study Charles in all his melancholy glory!

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A Classical Gold Rush – The Fagan Marbles

The Mediterranean lands in the 18th and early 19th centuries must have been like the Klondike – only this semi-lawless stampede was not for gold but for Classical antiquities. Wealthy collectors and aristocrats vied to own the most beautiful marbles, ceramics and precious metals created by the Greeks and Romans and numerous adventurers were only too happy to provide them by fair means or foul – and certainly by methods that bring modern archaeologists out in a cold sweat.

I knew about the early excavations at Pompeii (where plundering the finest art works was the aim) and about Giovanni Battista Belzoni who ruthlessly uncovered so many Egyptian antiquities ( using explosives while he worked). On the receiving end of these treasures were men like Sir William Hamilton, husband of Nelson’s Emma and a prolific and discerning collector. His collection was famous and his vast array of vases included the famous Portland Vase, copied by Wedgwood and still reproduced today. (A Wedgwood copy, below) Lord Elgin, who secured the Parthenon’s “Elgin Marbles”, was another immensely rich collector.portland

In the Museo Archeologico Regionale Antonio Salinas in Palermo, Sicily I came across Robert Fagan (c.1761–1816), an Irish artist and excavator responsible for many early digs and for amassing a substantial personal collection.

Fagan moved to Rome in 1781 and ingratiated himself into aristocratic and court circles and began dealing in antiquities as well as painting portraits of wealthy visitors. (His portrait of Miss Emily Manley, below) With backing from British patrons he started excavating sites around Rome and in 1793 had the good fortune to come to the attention of the visiting Duke of Sussex, Prince Augustus Frederick. The Royal Duke secured permission from the Pope for Fagan to export antiquities which he obtained by dealing and by excavation.

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The French occupation of Rome meant that Fagan had to flee to Naples in 1797, then to Florence, but he returned to Rome and managed to retrieve his art works. In 1807, in financial difficulties, he moved to Sicily where he rapidly gained favour with Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples and Sicily. In 1809, he was made British Consul General in Sicily.

In 1812 he began excavating at the necropolis of Tyndaris, much to the alarm of the custodian who was fighting to keep the finds from the site intact and in Sicily and who had heard rumours of Fagan’s unscrupulous methods.

faganFagan (above, in a self-portrait with his second wife Maria Ludovica’ Flajani depicted  ‘à la Greque’ 1803) eventually fell out of favour with the court and found himself increasingly in debt. He returned to Rome and in 1816 committed suicide by jumping from a window. His widow managed to sell his Roman collection to the Vatican museums but in Sicily the authorities seized his possessions to prevent their export. In 1819 the “Fagan Marbles” were purchased by the Museum of the Royal University and remain as an intact collection, now in the Palermo museum. As the display in the museum today notes, this was a turning point in awareness of the importance of retaining materials from different sites together and raised the consciousness of Sicily’s archaeological treasures.

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It was fascinating to see the collection of an individual all together, but it is very noticeable to modern eyes that all that was deemed worthy of collection were art works, not everyday or utilitarian objects. (A few of the objects from his collection, above.)

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Bats on the Shelf

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No, this is not a belated Hallowe’en post but one about a collection of mine – bat printed china.

Bat printing, also known as black printing, was a technique for transferring engraved designs onto china and porcelain that was invented around 1766. It was used by many of the great English china producers including Spode and, although quite a fiddly technique, it was far cheaper than hand-painting.

Rather than try and explain it myself there is a clear description of the process here.

Bat printing meant that many middle class families who had never been able to afford the exquisite hand-painted sets of dinner and tea wares could own a substantial number of matching pieces, printed in very fine detail. The wares were all the rage between 1800-1820 after which, probably because of the complex nature of the technique, it was almost entirely abandoned.

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This certainty about dates makes bat printed wares an ideal collecting area for anyone interested in the late Georgian/Regency period and items are surprisingly affordable for antiques of the period – tea cups or decorated saucers can be picked up for around £20.

The designs are fascinating. There are floral designs, but mainly they are pictorial, showing scenes of stately homes and parks, mothers and children (usually from Adam Buck’s paintings) and country life. I began buying bat prints when I discovered this one, a wide, shallow dish. pic039 At first I thought the gentleman was presenting his lady with a flower, but if you look carefully, it is a cutting with the correct slanted cut at one end. I can’t decide whether she is as fascinated by horticulture as he obviously is, or disappointed with the offering!

My next one was a bowl with an elegant young gentleman lounging in the garden with a book. He seems to be sitting rather too close for comfort to a bee hive. As you can see from the crack, I collect for the designs and not for perfection. I also have the same gentleman on a tea cup.

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The other illustrations are all from my collection and show country scenes, stately homes and parks and mothers and children. (And don’t you just love the one with the startled shepherdess and the guy in a kilt with the trumpet?)

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A Set-to at the Fives Court

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“FIVES-COURT. A place distinguished (in addition to the game of fives) for sparring matches between the pugilists. The combatants belonging to the prize-ring exhibit the art of self-defence at the Fives-Court with the gloves; and it is frequently at this Court where public challenges are given and accepted by the boxers. The most refined and fastidious person may attend these exhibitions of sparring with pleasure; as they are conducted with all the neatness, elegance and science of FENCING. Admission, 3s. each person. It is situated in St. Martin’s Street, Leicester-fields.”

(Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, revised and corrected…by Pierce Egan. 1823)

I was comparing the first, 1785, edition of Francis Grose’s Vulgar Tongue with the 1823 edition edited by that aficionado of ‘Boxiana’, pioneer sporting journalist and creator of Tom and Jerry, Pierce Egan, when I came across this reference to the Fives Court, obviously added by Egan.

The print at the top of this post is from my collection and I had wondered where the Fives Court was located – it was obviously a very large structure, judging from the light streaming in from a high window. It was built as a court for the game of fives, a sort of hand-ball, or hand-tennis, originally thought to have been played against church buttresses, but then adopted at the public schools of Rugby and Eton and refined. Like Real (Royal) tennis it is played on an indoor court with high walls and various slopes and ledges.

In 1802 a sparring exhibition was held between Mendoza and Bill Warr – two boxing superstars. It was held on the floor of the court, not on a removable platform ring as shown in my much later (1823) print, that was introduced at the suggestion of black pugilist Bill Richmond.

Initially the admission was two shillings or two and six pence up to three and six, but, as Grose states, it was soon standardised at three shillings. Vincent Dowling, another sports writer, noted that there was a small dressing room at one end that had a window looking down on the Court and this was set aside for “…some dozens of noblemen and persons of high rank, whose liberal contributions (many of them giving a guinea for a ticket) added greatly to the receipts of the beneficiary.”

Bill Richmond (left) & Dutch Sam - two boxers whose physique drew artists to the Fives Court

The quote reminds us that most of these exhibition bouts were benefit performances for one of the pugilists who would stand at the door with a collecting box soliciting further donations in advance of the bout. Bill Richmond (shown above, left), like many retired pugilists, owned a pub. His was the Horse and Dolphin, located strategically next to the Fives Court, and tickets for bouts were sold there as well as in other sporting taverns.

The Court could accommodate an audience of up to 1,000 and, if full, admission might raise £200. The chief beneficiary would have to pay a fee for the court and to the referee and Master of Ceremonies. Lesser fighters, who would appear earlier on in the programme as warm-up acts, also got a payment from the takings. The great ‘Gentleman’ Jackson controlled who could have bouts at the Court and appears to have done so with few complaints, although in 1821 he refused the application of his bitter rival, Mendoza.

The bouts were for exhibition purposes, which is why gloves were worn, and Richmond was the first to strip to the waist, sparring without vest or shirt, so that his musculature could be admired by the fans. This display attracted artists including Benjamin Haydon, Joseph Farington (President of the Royal Academy) and John Rossi the sculptor who ‘much admired Dutch Sam’s [shown above, right] figure on account of the symmetry and the parts being expressed.

The 1823 print at the top of the post, ‘ “A Set-to” at the Fives-Court for the benefit of “One of the Fancy”’ is by Samuel Alken. The crowd is orderly and the gentlemen to either side in the foreground are very fashionably dressed. Respectably-dressed tradesmen can also be seen – one in an apron is in the audience sitting up on the right. The central figure facing us wears an apron and his arms are full of what look like giant cream horns. Close inspection shows that the contents are within conical containers stitched up the side – my guess is that these are some kind of bread roll, perhaps with a filling. I’d love to hear any other suggestions.

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The Fives-Court operated as a boxing venue from 1802 until it closed in 1826 and was demolished as part of the redevelopment of the Royal Mews area into what became Trafalgar Square. The site is now under the northern edge of the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery and it is possible to pass this rather dreary location without the slightest inkling that it was once one of the sporting hot-spots of London. It is marked on the map in red.

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The Regency Print Room – DIY Decoration and Early Scrapbooking

On a recent visit to Blickling Hall in North Norfolk I was delighted to see an example of one of my favourite kinds of Regency interior – the Print Room.

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These were usually small rooms with painted walls on which the homeowner would paste prints, surrounding them with fancy borders made to resemble picture frames and perhaps with tromp l’oeil ribbons and cords to ‘hang’ them from.

Print rooms were attractive projects to undertake for a number of reasons, especially since the selection and arrangement of the prints themselves served to demonstrate your personal taste and discrimination, to be admired by friends and visitors. It was a form of satisfying collecting to track down and assemble the prints and, very importantly, it was a craft skill that was perfectly acceptable for ladies to carry out, involving nothing more than a pair of sharp scissors, a ruler, a pot of flour paste and a footman with a step ladder.

Illustrated books were popular conversation pieces, to be handed round and discussed in the evening and many would have been sacrificed for their prints of classical antiquity, foreign lands or plant and animal life. Gentlemen on the Grand Tour might buy prints on their travels and come home with them for their mothers or sisters to use to create a large-scale souvenir of the journey.

Contemporary journals, such as Ackerman’s Repository always contained prints of fashionable ladies of the day or of interesting scenes, and print shops abounded in London and the larger towns.

The prints used in the more formal print rooms seen by visitors were usually black and white or sepia and not the hand-painted coloured types.

Rudolph Ackermann was the foremost artistic supplier to the well-off amateur as well as to professional artists. He was born in Saxony in 1764 and opened his shop at 101, Strand in 1797. His portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, a mark of how successful and influential he became. He sold paints and colours, other supplies for artists, illustrated books, journals and prints.

He even sold prints of his own shop – excellent publicity, of course. This one shows customers browsing through the prints and hints at the size of his stock. As well as buying the actual prints, anyone creating a print room could also buy borders in lengths to cut to fit, and the other decorative details to create the impression of a collection of hanging pictures.

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The two photos from Blickling show how the entire room was designed as whole, with a border around the doors and windows to match the ‘frames’ on the pictures. The detail shows one wall with prints mainly from the Grand Tour – the large one in the centre at the top is the Pantheon in Rome – and also shows the variety of ribbon bows available.Blickling 2

Ladies might also decorate the inside of closets or their dressing rooms – places that were private and not on display to visitors – in more of a ‘scrapbook’ style, building up the decoration as they found something that appealed. An extreme example of the desire to cover any available surface is the interior of the lid of this 18th century chest that I own – it has amateur drawings and watercolours, a print of the Battle of Vittoria, newspaper cuttings and even Moses with the Ten Commandments.

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I’m sure Regency ladies would have loved the modern craze for scrapbooking!

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It’s June and the Pictures Are On the Wall

JuneFor the first of June here is another of Cruickshank’s delicious drawings of London life month by month. It shows the Royal Academy’s Summer Show with the gawping crowd of connoisseurs, fashionable types and sightseers, all jammed in to look at the pictures hung floor to ceiling in the fashion of the time. This was one of the major events in the London Season and has been held every year since 1769.

Here is Henry Alken’s view of the same event, drawn in  1821. Summer showThe Royal Academy was initially located in Pall Mall, then moved in 1771 to the first completed wing of New Somerset House, in the Strand. In 1837 it occupied the east wing of the recently completed National Gallery in Trafalgar Square and in 1868 it moved to its present location, Burlington House, Piccadilly. The plate below from Ackermann’s Repository for May 1810 shows the “Hall at the Royal Academy, Somerset House” with an artist sketching one of the plaster casts of Classical statues.

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