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Archive for July, 2010

Breastfeeding mother, Marguerite Gerard

French artists Marguerite Gerard (1761-1837) painted this domestic scene of a mother about to breast feed her child.  The subject is unusual in that breasfeeding one’s baby was unfashionable for aristocratic and upper classes,  and the act had become associated with the poor and lower classes.

Generally, wet nurses were paid to feed the babies of the wealthy. Much thought and care went into their selection, and their milk was examined for texture, color, viscosity, and taste. Some thought that aspects of a wet nurse’s personality could be passed through her milk, and therefore her character had to be impeccable. Cassandra Austen, Jane Austen’s mother, sent all her children to the nearby village of Deane to be nursed in their infancy.  Although Cassandra Austen visited her babies daily, they did not return to the family fold until they were around 18 months of age.

The popularity of wet nurses stemmed from the fact that royalty often wanted large families. Wet nurses were hired to feed the newborn so that the royal mother would soon regain fertility and become pregnant again. When royals stopped breastfeeding their children, other women from wealthy families soon followed suit and began to farm their babies out to wet nurses.  This practiced continued until the end of the 19th century, when it largely died out.

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Repton's design for the gardens for the Royal Pavillion, Brighton

Sir Humphry Repton (1752-1818), who was mentioned in a previous post about the paint color Invisible Green was a famous landscape designer during the end of the 18th century and early 19th century. “In his day, [he]was equal in stature to Capability Brown or Gertrude Jekyll, but is now often-overlooked. However, he was once favoured by the Prince Regent (later George IV), drawing up plans for the Brighton Pavillion, as well as working at Woburn, in Londons Bedford Square, Sherringham in Norfolk and Ensleigh in Devon.”

This 1991 film about Repton’s career, which I found on YouTube and whose title I could not find, features Sir Michael Hordern as the narrator and John Savident as Repton. The special showcases Repton’s magnificent drawings for the redesign of many famous properties; some of his work can still be observed in their natural settings.

About the name: Is it Humphry or Humphrey? I have seen both spellings. The BBC spelled the name as Humprhey, whereas the National Portrait Gallery, Morgan Library, and the majority of sources use Humphry.

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Consider this recipe for a modern Austenesque mystery: Take a familiar and beloved novel, Mansfield Park, with characters whose motives and actions we know intimately, and tear the book up. Throw the pages inside a bag, shake vigorously, and let the characters and plot fall where they may. Add a writer who has cooked up a complex plot for a delicious murder (or two or more, who knows?), and you have Murder at Mansfield Park, a truly hearty and satisfying new mystery novel.

Lynn Shepherd, the chef of this roman à clef, has by dint of her imagination turned  Jane Austen’s classic novel topsy turvy. The characters’ names are familiar, the setting is the same, some of the action as originally described by Jane Austen has been retained, and yet Ms. Shepherd has managed to create something new, refreshing and different.

I must admit to disliking mysteries in general, as many regular readers of my blog know. And I tend not to review Jane Austen sequels. But this novel is different. Oh, I was skeptical at first, slogging through the first chapter, trying to wrap my mind around the changes in the characters. And then I got caught up in the plot and became absorbed to the point where I could not put the book down.

Some red herrings are thrown into the mix, but not so many as to make the reader angry. The plot’s denouement was more than satisfactory and made logical sense. I suppose a true mystery fan might have guessed the killer sooner. Truth be told I held off guessing, for I wanted to be surprised, and so I was.

That Murder at Mansfield Park is Lynn Shepherd’s first novel is most surprising. Her writing style is lovely and effortless as she weaves several plot elements into a seamless whole. Rather than copy Jane Austen, Ms. Shepherd uses Mansfield Park as a take-off point. This novel is intelligently written and assumes that the reader has some command of the English language and enough background knowledge in history, Jane Austen, and other subtle historical and social references to understand the numerous references that crop up.

I give Murder at Mansfield Park six regency fans, my highest rating ever.

Post script: Gentle reader – If you are curious to learn more about Lynn’s novel after reading my review, be forewarned. Many reviewers have spoiled the plot by giving away too much of Lynn’s changes while gushing about them. Honestly, does no one take Review a Novel 101 any more? One irresponsible reviewer of a major online news publication even gave away who was murdered, ignoring the fact that half the fun of this mystery is guessing who the victim will be. So be careful, wary reader, of careless reviewers who do not even bother to place *Spoiler Alert* at the top of their reviews.

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Inquiring reader: This is the second post by historical paint expert Patrick Baty of Papers and Paints, who has carried out extensive research into the use of pigments in architectural and decorative paintings. He has kindly answered a question about the paint color “invisible green,” which was left on his previous post, Painting a House During the Regency Era.

Invisible Green was a favourite of Humphrey Repton, the famous landscape designer of the Georgian/Regency eras. (The image above shows his trellises painted in a dark, rich green.)

William Mason, in his poem “The English Garden” published in 1783, provides us with a very early reference to the Picturesque treatment of fences and to the colour that became know as “Invisible Green”. He describes in verse the preparation of a dark green oil paint based on yellow ochre and black with white lead. Great care was required in mixing the right colour:

‘Tis thine alone to seek what shadowy hues
Tinging thy fence may lose it in the lawn…”

and he concludes by saying:

the paint is spread, the barrier pales retire,
snatched as by magic from the gazer’s view”.

Patrick Baty, Green Schemes, Garden Door, Scottish Estate

In 1808, James Crease, the Bath colourman, described “Invisible Green” as a dark green:

so denominated from its being proper for covering gates and rails in parks, pleasure grounds, etc. by rendering them in a measure invisible at a distance on account of its approximation to the hue of the vegetation”.

In 1829, T.H. Vanherman, the London colourman, described Invisible Green as follows:

“The Invisible Green is one of the most pleasant colours for fences, and all work connected with buildings, gardens, or pleasure grounds, as it displays a richness and solidity, and also harmonizes with every object, and is a back-ground and foil to the foliage of fields, trees, and plants, as also to flowers.”

One of my early projects was at Uppark, where the young Emma Hamilton is alleged to have danced naked on the dining room table.  The wonderful Lucy Inglis has written very well in her blog Georgian London about the concept of prostitution in the eighteenth century in Frances Barton – Alimony and Acting: The Life of Nosegay Fan.

More information on this topic:

Second image by Sir Humprhy Repton of a garden building for the Royal Pavillion at Brighton. The design was not used.

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The cast of Appointment With Death

Appointment with Death is the last new Hercule Poirot mystery to be shown on PBS for Season X. David Suchet and a sterling ensemble cast reenacted Agatha Christie’s tale in Syria – or did they?

Lord and Lady Boynton, the victim, and Sarah King, right

Big changes were made to the original storyline, which Christie had originally set in Petra. Lord Boynton, a famous archeologist, now searches for the head of John the Baptist. The cast of characters differed from the novel, and when the murder was finally solved in a dramatic (and unbelievable) way, I could scarcely believe what I was watching.

Two Boynton children and Dr. Gerard
What could possibly be wrong with Dr. Gerard?

Many readers feel that Appointment With Death was one of Christie’s weakest novels, and tinkering with the story has done little to improve the plot. There is an undercurrent of cruelty in this adaptation  (Mrs. Boynton is a worse child abuser than Mrs. Norris in Mansfield Park), which has not been adequately explained. And while Lady Westholme (Elizabeth McGovern) had much to lose, her role in this plot has changed it beyond recognition.

Hercule Poirot and Dame Celia Westholme

Oh, dear. This episode was not a good way to end the season. The only positive thing I can say is that once again the actors are superb. Tim Curry, Elizabeth McGovern, Christina Cole, Tom Riley, and Angela Pleasance make for a sterling cast.

Let's hope the next Poirot season ends with a bigger bang.

Appointment With Death was filmed in the exotic locations of Casablanca and El Jadida in Morocco, and the UK.

Tim Curry….. Lord Boynton
Christina Cole….. Sarah King
Tom Riley….. Raymond Boynton
Cheryl Campbell….. Lady Boynton
Zoe Boyle….. Jinny Boynton
Emma Cunniffe….. Carol Boynton
Angela Pleasence….. Nanny
Paul Freeman….. Colonel Carbury
Beth Goddard….. Sister Agnieszka
Christian McKay….. Jefferson Cope
Mark Gatiss….. Leonard Boynton
John Hannah….. Dr. Gerard
Elisabeth McGovern….. Dame Celia Westholme

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St. Johns Catholic Church, Richmond, Australia

What are the odds that two Richmonds a world apart would boast two historic churches named St. Johns? St John’s in Richmond was built in 1837 and is the oldest Roman Catholic Church in Australia (actually, Tasmania). The structure is situated near the oldest bridge, built between 1823 and 1825 by Australian convicts over the Coal River, and was used by military police and convicts between Hobart and Port Arthur.

St. John's Episcopal Church, Richmond, Virginia

St. John’s Episcopal Church was built in Richmond in 1741. In 1775, Patrick Henry, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, Peyton Randolph and other important Virginia delegates met in the church for the Second Virginia Convention of the House of Burgesses, where Patrick Henry delivered his famous speech: “Give me Liberty or Give me Death.” The delegates were  so impressed by the speech that they decided to organize a Virginia militia, which led the way to Revolutionary War.

Coincidentally, both St. John churches were built on top of hills.

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Inquiring readers, One of the perks of overseeing a blog is getting to know the fascinating people one encounters while researching a topic. One such individual is Patrick Baty of Papers and Paints. Mr. Baty has carried out extensive research into the use of pigments in architectural and decorative paintings. Recently I asked him the following questions:

Image of painters from Papers and Paints

“If Sir Walter Elliot from Persuasion decided to paint the door to the carriage house at Kellynch Hall, how would this be accomplished? Would he keep a painter on hand or hire one? Were paints made from scratch from a tried and true formula, or did each painter have a formulaic secret? What were the typical colors used for exterior doors and window casements, and wooden structures?”

Mr. Baty: “It is likely that [Sir Walter] would have hired a painter, unless he was tempted by some of the literature of the time, for example T.H. Vanherman’s “Every Man his own House-painter and Colourman“, 1829. One hundred years earlier there was this revealing passage in a work of 1734:

“Painters Work being very expensive, and this being the only part in Building wherein a Gentleman can be assisting either by himself or Servants, it being almost impossible for any Gentleman to do either Masons, Bricklayers, Carpenters, or Smiths Works; whereas it is well known and daily experienced since the Advertisement of ALEXANDER EMERTON, that several Noblemen and Gentlemen have by themselves and Servants painted whole Houses without the Assistance or Direction of a Painter, which when examined by the best Judges could not be distinguished from the Work of a professed Painter.”

If his house/estate were big enough he might have had a handyman/painter. Otherwise he would have called upon the services of a firm like Messrs Moxon & Carfrae Ltd, painters and decorators, Edinburgh, whose day books survive from the 1770s.

Paints were generally made from ready-mixed paste bought at a colourman’s shop as can be seen in this quote of 1747:

“Methods practised by some Colour-Shops; who have set up Horse-Mills to grind the Colours, and sell them to Noblemen & Gentlemen ready mixed at a low price, & by the help of a few printed Directions, a house may be painted by any common Labourer at one Third of the Expense it would have cost before the Mystery was made public”

Different painters might have had slightly different recipes, but the general mixes would have been very similar.  (The Methods and Materials of the House Painter in England: An Analysis of House Painting Literature 1660 – 1850, thesis by Patrick Baty.)

Boodle's St. James's. Papers and Paints performed the colour survey.

The sort of colours being sold by a Bath colourman of the period for exterior use were:

Olive brown paint in casks of 30lb & upwards, per lb 3d

Oil Paints

  • Lead colour 4 1/2d
  • Chocolate colour 4 1/2d
  • Invisible green 4 1/2d
  • Stone colour 5d
  • Black 6d
  • Garden green 8d
  • Rich bottle green 1 0
  • Deep Sardinian green 2 0
  • Light ditto, ditto, 2 0
  • Rainbow green 3 6

Windows, normally, would have been a pale stone colour (off white).

More about Patrick Baty:  Since carrying out a research degree which focussed on The Methods and Materials of the House-painter 1650-1850,Patrick has been running a consultancy that advises on the use of paint and colours in historic buildings.  Buildings have ranged in size and type from Royal palaces; country houses and cathedrals to museums; a wartime RAF station and London housing estates.

Visit Patrick’s sites at the following links: Papers and Paints website; Colourman Blog, the Papers and Paints blog; and Papers and Paints Twitter Account.

More on the topic:

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