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Elegancy and Decadence: The Age of the Regency is a BBC production hosted by Lucy Worsley, the author of If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home. The video is one hour long. So, sit back and enjoy.

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Inquiring Readers, Carolyn McDowall of The Culture Concept Circle has graciously allowed me to recreate Part One of her Two Part series. Find Part Two of Vanity Fair, but where is Mr Darcy? at this link.

Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously…pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us” … Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, 1811

William Hallett and Elizabeth Stephen by Thomas Gainsborough, courtesy National Gallery at London

By the close of the eighteenth century archaeological investigations in Europe and Egypt were revealing more and more about the ‘antique’ past. The expansion of knowledge about antiquity revealed that ancient artists and writers had been accustomed to free expression in their work, with religion and honour paramount to any society’s daily existence. This revelation began changing the social and moral values and concerns of the many English, American and European societies who were all now ardently in search of truth.

Author Jane Austen lived in one of the most eventful, colourful and turbulent epochs in the history of England and Europe. The scenes of this extraordinary era were well recorded by many talented painters and sculptors of the day. In England this included the renowned painter Thomas Gainsborough.

In 1785, when Jane Austen was just 10 years old, he captured William Hallett and Elizabeth Stephen stepping out in style together for a morning walk. They were an elegant young couple, both 21 years of age and bound by their social status and the rules it imposed. They were due to be married in the summer of 1785.

They epitomize the stylish quality of the people who starred in Jane’s novels. He is discreetly dashing in a well fitting black velvet riding coat, an aspect of a gentleman’s costume that reflected his desire to be seen as ‘informal’, approachable, someone in touch with the political scene and social set of his day. He has the quiet confidence of a compleat gentleman.

She looks lovely in her softly floating silk dress, a smart black band accentuating her small waist and balancing perfectly with the simple black straw hat tied with a ribbon and feathers and placed at a jaunty modern angle on her very bouffant hair.

Strolling happily through a woodland landscape with an adoring dog at the lady’s heel they both appear full of hope in love and eagerly looking forward to a July wedding and a happy life together into the new millennium.

Cassandra's portrait of her sister, Jane Austen. National Portrait Gallery

One of Jane Austen’s peers, renowned Scottish author of romantic novels Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832) said of Jane (1775-1817) that he believed the secret of her success was that she had chosen to write about ‘ordinary people doing things that happen in every day life’.Born at Steventon, Hampshire on 16th December 1775. The seventh child and second daughter of a scholar-clergyman and rector of the small country parishes of Steventon and Deane, Jane Austen’s family were members of the wealthy merchant class on her father’s side and aristocrats on her mother’s side. She was brought up in a country rectory and was, from contemporary descriptions, without pretension, her demeanour more ‘in a homely rather than grand manner’. Another way of saying that she was plain.

Captain Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones)

She and her family enjoyed amateur dramatics in the barn, playing charades, literary readings and musical evenings. While her older brothers hunted and shot game her mother industriously managed a small herd of cows, a dairy and, as a woman of sensibility and of some station in life, looked to the wellbeing of the local poor. Her father, as a rector, was regarded as a ‘gentleman’. He was an affable, courteous man welcomed by all the local landed gentry, and their well off tenants, as was her brother Edward, who just happened to be the heir to his cousin Mr. Thomas Knight’s estates. This meant Jane was able to move comfortably out and about in society and become a respectable observer in the luxurious world of the leisured classes.

A Georgian Rectory

It seems that her family more than likely fell into a category of middling people, a term coined by literary wit and social commentator Horace Walpole on his return from the continent in 1741 “I have before discovered that there was nowhere but in England the distinction of being middling people. I perceive now that there is peculiar to us middling houses; how snug they are” The country gentry actively supported the ruling and upper classes by cultivating an ambience of politeness, a keen, though delicate sensibility, which was always balanced by displaying a great deal of practical common sense.

Their gentrification was reflected in how they dressed, dined, performed and were entertained, in a selection of social settings. They rotated from the socially competitive atmosphere of London’s elegant drawing rooms to the cheerful gaiety of Bath’s assembly’s room and they also enjoyed the more robust attractions of popular coastal resorts like Brighton, which were after 1792 was also frequented by the Prince Regent and his entourage.

They strove for aesthetic perfection urged on by their awareness of the ‘antique’, while striving to emulate the ideal – classical perfection, The classical ideal had flowed over into the landscape during the eighteenth century and small temples originally designed as refuges from the hot Mediterranean sun, became focal points of beauty.

View of the Hall at Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill 1788 Watercolour by John Carte

At the time of Jane’s birth Horace Walpole, for whom literacy mattered, was using decorative ornament inspired by a literary and pictorial interest in Gothic architecture at his house Strawberry Hill.

He and his peers benchmarked standards for excellence in taste and style well recognised by Jane and the burgeoning middle classes, who wished to emulate them.

Horry took what he liked and used it the way he wanted and his character seemingly enjoyed total satisfaction by ‘imprinting the gloomth of abbeys and cathedrals on one’s house.’

Godmersham Park.

Jane’s brother Edward Austen Knight eventually inherited the very gentrified Godmersham Park in Kent and two of her other brother’s Francis and Charles had distinguished careers in the British navy. Francis received a knighthood and the much coveted order of Bath and Jane’s brother Charles bought topaz crosses for his two sisters, going without to purchase them.

In the Christian understanding perfect love makes no demands and seeks nothing for itself, and this was the quality of the people that abounded in so many of the characters in Jane Austen’s life and in her novels. Jane enjoyed what she herself called ‘life a la Godmersham”.

Emma (Gwynneth Paltrow) and Mr Knightley (Jeremy Northam) dance

Her brothers hunted in Edward’s park, played billiards and entertained in a style that amused Jane. Writing from Godmersham in 1813 she commented “at this present time I have five tables, eight and twenty chairs and two fires all to myself”.

The Royal navy were winning great victories on the continent at the time. For the leisured classes in Jane’s novels the war was something that happened in the newspapers or far out at sea. Although her brothers were involved, many of these events seemed very remote and Jane and her peers continued to pursue their daily activities such as music, painting, playing games and writing with great enthusiasm comforted in the knowledge that England had the best navy in the world.

Trafalgar Chair, 1810, courtesy V & A Museum, London

The Duke of Wellington’s victories and Admiral Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar caused a nation to mourn as well as celebrate wildly for twenty years afterward. And all manner of goods were named for him including “Trafalgar chairs”, which along with the sofa table were two very popular pieces of furniture during the Regency period.

Rosewood Regency period Sofa Table c1810, courtesy Mallett Antiques, London

Country houses and their beautiful parks were not simply the expressions of a wealthy ruling class for Jane and her contemporaries. They represented an ideal civilization with a mixture of self-esteem, national pride and uncompromising good taste. For the rest of the population they reflected the unequal structure of a society where a third of the nation’s population faced a daily struggle to survive. From the monarch to the poorest of the land there was a pyramid of patronage and property. At the base of which in 1803 a third were the labouring poor, the cottagers, the seamen, the soldiers, the paupers and the vagrants who lived at subsistence level.

Jane’s letter to her sister Cassandra in 1799 highlights the point, when a horse her brother purchased cost sixty guineas and the boy hired to look after him four pounds a year. Those employed in service counted they lucky, but even in well off household’s service conditions were still fairly primitive. Jane said “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can”. The contrast of the battlefield and the ballroom are apt as a reminder of the powerfully opposed elements that made up the England into which Jane was born and in which she grew to maturity.

Beau Brummell - The Fashionable dress of a Gentleman

George, Prince of Wales, the future George IV was the very active, central focus of the style we now know as the Regency period. His personality was complex and he often indulged in fantastic flights of fantasy.

George, Prince of Wales in 1792

As a young man he had fair hair, blue eyes and pink and white complexion, and a tendency to corpulence. As he grew to maturity he gained considerably in popularity due to his good looks, high spirits and agreeable manners.

He was the darling of the fashionable world. George Bryan Brummell (England, 1778-1840) became the most famous of all the dashing young men of the Regency. He was not of aristocratic birth, but the son of the secretary to Lord North.(George III’s Prime Minister who played a major role in the American Revolution). Educated at Eton, the Beau became known as Buck and was extremely well liked by the other boys. He spent a short period at Oriel College, which has the distinction of being the oldest royal foundation in Oxford, dating from 1324.

Sartorial splendour - shades of Mr Darcy? (Colin Firth)

The Prince Regent was told that Brummell was a witty fellow, so he obtained an appointment for him in his regiment (1794). Brummell became a Captain of the Tenth Hussars and was constantly in the Prince’s company.

Military sartorial splendour...must be Mr Wickham! (Rupert Friend)

In the circles around the Prince he was known as a virtual oracle on matters related to dress and etiquette. As the new dictator of taste he established a code of costume.

A typical Regency outfit for day wear was a jacket cut away in front and with tails at the back. There was no waist seam, a feature present in Victorian coats. The open area around the hip had a distinctive curve pulling slightly around the waist.

Even more notably, the sleeves were particularly long and seated high on the shoulder. There are virtually no shoulder pads. Normally jackets had fabric-covered buttons. An exception was blue jackets with brass metal buttons–an association with military styles.

At night it was all sartorial splendour, rich textiles velvet, brocades, silks, all combined with a great deal of elegance, the costume for a gentlemen including a black coat.

Today we would say the Beau was very well connected, an important part of an influential network and a man to know.

Entrance Hall, Carlton House, 1819 by W.H.Pyn

It was in 1784 when the Prince of Wales took one look at Maria Fitzherbert standing on the steps of the Opera and fell instantly in love with her. He was totally besotted and would only attend parties and events if the hostess assured him Maria would be both there – and sat next to him!

Maria Fitzherbert

Following a dedicated and unsuccessful pursuit of Mrs. Fitzherbert, Maria was surprised one evening by a visit from some of the Prince’s men. They had found him weak and bleeding in his home Carlton House, whose interiors were among the wonders of the age.

They told her the Prince had tried to commit suicide and Mrs. Fitzherbert, accompanied by the Duchess of Devonshire, rushed to his side whereupon he persuaded Maria to marry him. In 1785 George, Prince of Wales Prince married Mrs. Fitzherbert (1756 –1837) a Roman Catholic who had been married twice before. The couple was happy and while society seemingly accepted the unconventional pair the marriage rocked court circles, which could not cope with the thought that a Prince might marry a divorced woman.

Bedford Square Brighton built 1801

Eventually the Prince would be forced to put her aside and it did not help his cause that his friend Beau Brummell, to whom Maria took a pronounced dislike, disapproved of the liaison.

Brighton-Marine-Pavilion

Initially the Prince spent a great deal of time and effort building Maria his bride a house nearby his home Carlton House in Pall Mall and decorating his own home. He ran up such huge debts the only way his father, the King would agree to help him out and pay them was if he put aside Maria and marry Caroline of Brunswick, for political reasons, which he did.

In 1793 George, Prince of Wales visited the seaside town of Brighton, and ordered the subsequent renovation of a small house he purchased from one of his footman. Architect, Henry Holland, well known for his refined Francophile tastes, fashioned it into a splendid marine villa with gentle curving bays, wrought iron balconies and long sash windows, and it was much admired and set a standard for marine villas for many years to come. Mrs. Fitzherbert and the Prince parted company upon the marriage to Princess Caroline, however following the birth of his daughter; the Prince recommenced his pursuit of Maria.

Mathematical Tiles on Regency House, Brighton

Maria was wary, however and upon asking the Pope for guidance she was informed that she was the only true wife of the Prince so she returned to him. Again the couple spent a lot of time entertaining at Brighton and London.

Sea Bathing England C19

Bathing in the sea had become very popular, with the Prince’s own physician recommending he bathe daily and bathing machines were set up especially for that purpose. All over Brighton, rows of small villas were built, echoing the Pavilion’s shape.

Some of the newly popular ‘seaside’ villas in Brighton were glazed with a smart material called ‘mathematical tiles’ which enabled villa houses to be built of less expensive brick and then ‘faced’. Introduced into the English architectural system after 1700 in England they were hung on buildings originally built of timber to give the appearance of higher quality brick walls. Today they are still not easy to recognise and are often mistaken for conventional brickwork. Black, glazed mathematical tiles are easy to discern, however, and may be seen at many locations in Brighton.

Chair designed by Thomas Hope, London in 1807 and made in 1892

Painted furniture and at wall decoration ‘Etruscan style’ at Osterley House. The interiors were designed by Scottish Architect Robert Adam
Interior arrangements whose design focus was based on classical order reached the height of its popularity through the neoclassical style of Scottish architect Robert Adam between 1760 and 1793. The expansion of the neo-classical style was fuelled in the last half of the eighteenth century because of the interests of English Grand Tourists in the new discoveries being made at Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy.

Etruscan room, Osterly House, Robert Adam.

Not only the shapes of the furniture were greatly influenced – for instance in the use of animal forms as supports for tables and chairs – but also the colour and decoration used for painted furniture, which was to be found in grand houses as well as much simpler gentry houses. Much of the charm of collecting such pieces lies in the rather primitive way the decoration was thought out and executed and many examples of very sophisticated simulated bamboo pieces were destined for important rooms.

Adam’s interiors could have easily been the inspiration for those of the formidable Lady Catherine de Burgh. Her country house Rosings in Pride and Prejudice was described by Jane as an interior of ‘fine proportion and finished ornaments’

Vanity fair, but where is Mr Darcy? – Part 2

Carolyn McDowall, April 2011 ©The Culture Concept Circle

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Thomas Lawrence Exhibit, National Portrait Gallery, London. Image @Tony Grant

Gentle readers, if you are lucky enough to be near London you have only a few days to see the exhibit at the National Portait Gallery of the splendid painter, Thomas Lawrence. This is Tony Grant’s (London Calling) review of the show.

On entering the exhibition you are met with the bright gaze from a young Thomas Lawrence.

Self Portrait, Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1788 Image @PRA

Under the title of the exhibition, “Regency Power & Brilliance,” hangs a self-portrait, of oil on canvas, completed in the years 1787 – 1786 when Lawrence was 19 years of age. It is typical of Lawrence’s style that it is new and innovative for it’s time. Lawrence is sitting with his body facing to the right and his head turned to look at you the viewer over his right shoulder. The stare is steady, confident and penetrating. His face is almost illuminated and glows brightly out of the picture.

 

Bristol in the 18th century

Thomas Lawrence was the leading portrait artist of the Regency period. Born in 1769 at 6 Redcross Street, Bristol, he came from a humble background. His father was also called Thomas Lawrence and his mother was Lucy Read, the daughter of a clergyman. Thomas’s father had several jobs, including innkeeper at the White Lion in Bristol. Later became the innkeeper of the Black Bear in Devizes where famous writers and artists, including David Garrick the actor and theatre owner, on their way to Bath, would stay. The young Thomas Lawrence would meet them.

Devices Heritage .orgThe Black Bear in Devices

Thomas was the entertainment in the inn. He would recite poetry and use his natural talent for sketching people to amuse and interest them. When the senior Lawrence became bankrupt, the family moved to Bath where the younger Thomas Lawrence took over being the breadwinner for the family by selling his sketches and miniature oval portraits in pastel and chalk. Some of the wealthy people in Bath commissioned his work. From an early age Thomas had had prodigious natural talents for sketching and reciting poetry. Wealthy people allowed him to study their collections of paintings and Lawrence’s drawing of a copy of Raphael’s Transfiguration was awarded a silver gilt palette and a prize of 5 guineas by the Society of Arts in London. In 1787 he moved to London where he was introduced to Joshua Reynolds. He started exhibiting at the Royal Academy exhibitions held at Somerset House and his career took off.

Royal Academy at Somerset House, Viewing Art, Rowlandson

The period in history that Lawrence came to prominence was also to have an affect on his development as an artist. There was much turmoil and political change. There was The French Revolution and the long wars against France. Once these came to an end, Thomas was able to travel across Europe. He did this commissioned by the Prince Regent, later George IV. He was able to make portraits of many of the great names of the time – generals, Emperors and the Pope. On his return from Europe in 1820 he was elected as the president of the Royal Academy and produced some of the best portraits of the time. Unexpectedly he died in January 1830 and was honoured with a state funeral.

What is evident in this exhibition is Lawrence’s original ideas, his naturalism and his particular use of colours.

Elizabeth Farrren, Thomas Lawrence. Image @Met Museum

One of his early portraits, when he had only begun his career in London in 1790, was of Elizabeth Farren. He was only 21 at the time and this particular portrait attracted peoples interest. It shows a full length portrait of a slender, beautiful young girl caught in the act of walking through a rural landscape of trees and pathways with her dizzy blond head high in the dramatic surroundings of a stormy sky and dressed in a shimmering three quarter length white silk shawl over a long white gauze like garment. With this portrait and with all the others in the exhibition, for all the costume, dress and surroundings they might have, what always stands out, like an illuminated beacon, is the face of the person in the portrait. This is the most important part. It shows the persons character, and personality. Elizabeth has pale smooth skin, bright red lips and eyes that smile at you the viewer.

 

Emilia, Lady Cahir, later Countess of Glengall, Thomas Lawrence

What is evident with all the pictures in this exhibition is that when you are standing looking at one of these portraits, no matter how many other people there are in the gallery, it’s just the two of you. You could almost have a conversation together. The paintings certainly allow you to relate to them in a very personal way. I think this is true of all of Thomas’s portraits. Many of the portraits of beautiful young women, as with the Elisabeth Farron portrait, show them, young, always beautiful but often unmarried. The full title to this particular portrait is, Elizabeth Farron, later Countess of Derby. There are a lot of portraits with the name and then the phrase,.. “later the duchess of…” appended to the end. These portraits must have served an important part of the marriage trade. I certainly felt my blood rising at the sight of some of these beauties.

Three Colleagues, Thomas Lawrence

Thomas Lawrence showed great originality. One of his portraits of 1806, of Sir Francis Baring, John Baring, his brother and Charles wall, shows three businessmen contemplating business. It’s extraordinary. They have their work set out in front of them spread on a table and they are planning, scheming, thinking, working things out. It is an action packed picture. Although they are not walking or physically moving anywhere in the picture, things are happening, great decisions are being made right there in front of you. The different angles and poise of each character is quite disconcerting at first. It is not smooth and elegant. It shows action of thought, creativity and influence.

 

Charles William Vane Stewart, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry

Another thing I noticed and it became a quest for me to find in each portrait throughout the exhibition, was Lawrence’s use of the three colours red, white and black. At first I thought, why would he include these in every picture he painted. They do create very dramatic atmospheres. The Elizabeth Farron portrait has bright red lips, masses of white in her dress and one small pitch black shoe poking from under the hem of her dress but many of the other portraits have great swathes of each of these three colours.

 

Arthur Atherley, Thomas Lawrence

The title of the exhibition is, “Regency Power and Brilliance.” Lawrence paints many of the leading figures of that period from right across Europe. You might think, well how does the power bit enter into portraits of individuals? If you want to see ultimate overarching power embodied in an individual human being you only have to look at the faces in Lawrence’s portraits. All the men show this in their eyes, their demeanour. One small room in the gallery has three portraits of three different men. Arthur Atherley is a youth of about twenty who has just left Eton College, one of the top public schools. He is shown in 1792. The next shows Robert Banks Jenkinson 2nd Earl of Liverpool. This one is painted when the sitter was in his late twenties.

 

Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool

The final picture shows, Edward Thurlow, Baron Thurlow. It was painted in 1802 when he was in his early seventies and he had retired. They are the different stages of a mans life. Arthur Atherley has a precocious energy, a steady stare revealing a sense of utter belief in his powers and where and what he is about to achieve in life. There is no swerving of thought or doubt. He is totally assured of his position and power in life. It’s quite unnerving to see this unwavering belief looking you right in the eye especially from somebody so young. I kept coming back to this portrait. He has long luxurious black hair, a bright red ornate coat and a bright luminous white neckerchief. The three colours work in a very dramatic way in this picture. Robert Banks is a thin spider like creature, slightly twisted and turning his face towards you from the picture, dressed in black from head to foot. A white pale face looking straight at you, looking into your very soul. He looks full of energy. He wants to get things done with his rolls of documents before him. His personality is like a force of nature almost leaping out of the portrait at you. He can get things done. No doubt about that.

Baron Thurlow, Thomas Lawrence

Finally Edward Thurlow, at first looks, benign, very pleasant and friendly and almost smiling but the eyes are piercing and forceful. He is friendly but you couldn’t cross him. He wants talent, imagination, achievement and hard work from anybody who works for him. The three portraits, although of different people, could almost be the same person at different times of their life. In that small room in the gallery it’s quite an encounter. You could almost feel, coming away, that you have been for a tough penetrating job interview.

 

Master Lambton, Thomas Lawrence

Lawrence’s women fall into various categories. He obviously liked women and children too. There are quite a few pictures showing children. The children are active, playing, interacting, sometimes in a precocious way towards their mother or father in the pictures. He shows real children, not posed children.

Mrs. Jens (Isabella) Wolff, Thomas Lawrence

His friend Isabella Wolf, who may have been his lover, is shown in two portraits. He drew and painted her over many years. The painting of her done in 1803 shows her examining some Michaelangelo prints. She was also separated from her husband. So this picture shows an intellectually curious women who also has broken the bounds of society in her personal life. There are also portraits of Queen Charlotte and Princess Sophia. Royalty is a theme that runs through the exhibition.

 

John, Lord Mountstuart, Thomas Lawrence

The picture that is most controversial is that of John, Lord Mountstuart.. He was a young politician and had lived in Spain for a while because he was the son of Britain’s ambassador to Spain. Lawrence painted him in 1795 when he had just returned from Spain. In many ways the picture is shocking. It is a full-length, life size portrait. It is hung so that at eye level you are confronted by a pair of very muscular legs showing all the muscular contours sheathed in very tight black leggings. As you look up you are confronted by a rather large black shining bulge in the crotch area. The top half of his body is swathed dramatically in a swirling fur trimmed embroidered black cloak with a dark jowelled, bright eyed, ruddy cheeked quite beautiful face surmounting the whole confection. It is a very erotic picture to say the least. It has lead to questions about Thomas Lawrence’s sexuality. But if you took one of his female portraits, almost any of them, you can say the same thing. Sensuality and a slight erotic air pervade many of Lawrence’s pictures.

 

George IV when Prince of Wales, Thomas Lawrence

There are fifty-four pictures in this exhibition and each of the people portrayed in them are a delight to be with and a pleasure to spend time with. Some other characters you may care to come across are Arthur Wellesley, The Duke of Wellington, King George IV as King and also as Prince Regent, Field Marshall Blucher, who lead the Prussian forces who pursued Napoleon, Charles, the Archduke of Austria and Pope Pius VII and many more delightful and very interesting people.

Pope Pius VII, Thomas Lawrence

I have tried to give you a taste and flavour of this exhibition. (Click here to see a PDF document of more paintings in the exhibit.) It is not something you can grade from good to bad, give a level to, say you must see it, or not see it, or apply any subjective or objective assessment like that. What I can say though, if you do get a chance to see it, be prepared to meet real people face to face in those portraits. You will have some very interesting encounters along the way. You will learn something about power, personality, individual characters and yes, brilliance.

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Jean Louis Bazalgette, the Prince Regent's tailor

Most of the known accounts published about George, Prince of Wales, and his profligate spending on clothes and luxury items say that his main tailor was John Weston. It is also said that under the influence of young Beau Brummel he patronized other London tailors such as Meyer, and Schweitzer and Davidson. Steven Parissien, in his very interesting book ‘George IV, Inspiration of the Regency’ has a whole chapter entitled ‘Clothing & Militaria’ which lists tailors, bootmakers etc. used by the Prince.

The name of the unknown man who was the Prince’s tailor for 32 years – Louis Bazalgette – shows up in none of these sources. He appears to have started quietly supplying the Prince with all manner of clothes in great quantities in about 1780, and carried on making most of his clothes until at least 1795.

A dandy and his tailor

In 1794, the sixteen-year-old Brummel attracted the interest of the Prince, who under his influence began slowly to change his style of dress, so that by 1795 Bazalgette was making less of the gaudy outfits of which Prinny had been so fond. However, Louis continued to make most of the Prince’s uniforms, and the livery for his servants, until at least 1806.

Louis was the great-great-great-great-grandfather of Charles Bazalgette (r), who is writing his life story. The book contains a great deal of new material; as a foretaste, Charles has started a blog which can be accessed at this blog - http://chasbaz.posterous.com/

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Even as women freed themselves for a short time from the confinement of corsets, the Regency dandy, following the Prince Regent’s fashion, began to constrict himself into a wasp-waisted and broad shouldered look. For men of a certain challenged physique, firm waists and tight stomachs were achieved through laced corsets. The sculpting of wide shoulders, bulging thighs, and fine calves was accomplished by well-placed pads, as the satiric image below shows.

 

Lacing a Dandy, 1819

 

There can be no doubt, indeed, that just as the large cravat resulted from defects in the royal neck, so the stays in later years became necessary to restrain the unwieldy proportions of the royal waist, and assumed by the dandies as an act of compliment to their patron. The caricatures of the day exhibit an Illustrious Personage lifted up and struggling to insert his legs into a pair of “leather”s of a size he was anxious to appear in –  which are securely lashed to the bed posts to give a sort of purchase in furtherance of his efforts – just as in 1784 stories were told of Monseigneur d’Artois, the brother of Louis XVI of France,  needing the aid of four tall lacqueys to put on and off, without creasing, his small clothes of a special make and kind. – Once a Week, Volume 10

 

Prince Regent at his toilet, Hugh Bonneville, Beau Brummell, This Charming Man, 2008

 

Corsets continued to be relatively popular among the ruling and military classes for the rest of the 19th century, and retained a significant following during the first part of the 20th century.

 

1812 Regency a la mode

 

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Readers of the Regency era are familiar with Beau (George Bryan) Brummell’s elegance and sartorial splendor. He was born on June 7, 1778, the younger son of William Brummell, private secretary of Lord North.

William Brummell and his younger brother George, by Joshua Reynolds, 1782

In 1793 George attended Eton, where he met the Prince of Wales. Even back then Brummell was known for his sense of fashion and wit. Tall and fair in looks, he cut a neat and enviable figure.

Beau Brummell as a young man, 1886 illustration

Only 16 when is father died in 1794, George quit Oriel College in Oxford and joined the 10th hussars. Two years later he was promoted to captain. During his service, Brummell fell from his horse, acquiring a broken nose that healed crookedly to the side. The new nose added a harsh element to his soft face, making it less than perfect.

Idealized image of Brummell in a Player's cigarette ad.

While some felt that the Beau’s less than perfect nose added character to his features, others, like Julia Johnstone, a famous demimondaine of the era, felt that it had ruined his looks.

Image from Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style via the London Lounge

According to Ian Kelly, author of Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style, the few sketches and miniatures that remain of Brummell show radically different interpretations of the dandy’s features. Was the broken nose responsible for these inconsistencies?

Interestingly, these two images do not depict a man with a broken nose.

Beau Brummell retired from service in 1798 and shortly thereafter came into his property, a moderate 30,000 pounds that would not go far in supporting his gambling habits. But with his knack for making friends in high places (the Prince Regent and his set) and his sartorial gifts, Brummell reigned supreme as the style arbiter of his era, inspiring generations of men to dress with simplicity, taste, and style.

Brummell in 1815 at Almack's, the year he insulted the Prince Regent. This image must have been made later, for the style of the woman's dress was popular after 1825, when Brummell was already exiled in France.

In 1816, Brummell’s debts forced him into exile in France, where he died in 1840.

Brummell, broken and broke, in Calais

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Book page image from the London Lounge

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Robert Morley and Wendy Hiller, The First Gentleman, 1945 (Image, LIFE magazine)

While researching information for my post about the Prince Regent and his strange marriage to Princess Caroline of Brunswick, I ran across this obscure item – a play in two acts about Prinny named The First Gentleman, written by Norman Ginsbury and performed in London in 1945. Robert Morley played Prinny and Wendy Hiller portrayed the doomed Princes Charlotte (who died in childbirth in 1817, the same year that Jane Austen died). I surmise that Frances Waring acted the role of Caroline of Brunswick, but could not confirm this detail. About Wendy Hiller’s performance, Roberth Morley said:

Wendy Hiller as Princes Charlotte hides under the table

She was never afraid of over-acting when she felt instinctively that the role required her to do so and, as Princess Charlotte, she was in turn so fierce and so gentle that, on some evenings, after she had died in the second act it seemed a waste of time continuing with the play.- Dame Wendy Hiller

The play ran in London’s New Theatre for a run of 654 performances. In 1948, a film of the same name was made. This movie, released in 1949, also remains obscure.

Set Design for The First Gentleman, Columbia, 1948

A theatre programme from the pre-West End touring production in Liverpool’s The Royal Court Theatre was recently for sale online. The play’s cast also included Brown Derby, Wilfred Walter, Guy Le Feuvre, Sigrid Landstad, Una Venning, Christina Horniman, Helen Stirling, Catharina Ferraz, Christine Lindsay, Robert Beaumont, Geoffrey Toone, Amy Frank, Mary Masters, Ian Sadler, Beryl Harrison, Pamela Carme, Martin Beckwith, John Baker, Grenville Eves, Robin Christie, Mary Marshall, Sebastian Minton and Valentine Richmond.

The Prince Regent after Charlotte's death

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