Regency Painters – Part Three

Painting during the Regency could never permanently leave behind Classicism and its successor, neo-Classicism, until a bridge could be formed to woo the remaining adherents of the old style (read old money) to Romanticism, the new style.

That bridge was provided by the young French painter Theodore Gericault (1791 – 1824).  The legacy left behind by his tragically short career is marked by classical subjects rendered in urgent emotion.  He took the human and animal forms of the old French masters and placed them against burgeoning tapestries that Turner was later known for.  Gericault pitted the orderly and the structured against the unrestrained violence of nature.

Gericault’s work reduced the gulf between the raised swords of David and the suffering of Delacroix.

He certainly looks like a classical romantic, doesn’t he?

A year after the events in Notorious Match, Emma Montgomery came to a momentous decision to travel abroad.  She had never been beyond England’s borders, having grown up the penniless daughter of a sheep herder only to become widowed at age sixteen with an infant daughter she named Vivien, the heroine of Notorious Vow.  Thanks to a timely investment from an unknown benefactor, Emma’s brother reaped a fortune in the wool trade.  This gave her the means to travel abroad, but not the desire to do so.  At least, not yet.  That only came about when her nephew Griffin, the hero of Notorious Match, arrived homeless from France.  She took him in and listening to his vivid descriptions of the France of his youth, she slowly conceived a longing to see it for herself.

It was 1816 and the Bourbon dynasty had been restored in France with Napoleon’s defeat.  It seemed the perfect time to go to Paris and Emma announced her imminent departure for that city, and places beyond, insisting on going alone.  Neither Vivien nor Griffin liked this sudden impulse she had conceived.  But they were helpless to dissuade her.

Emma was quite Determined.

While she was travelling, Emma wrote frequently to her daughter in crisscrossed lines that was her usual fashion to save on postage.  In June, several months after her departure, the letters stopped, the last one not only difficult to read but puzzling as well.  Who was this Medusa?

Then news of a maritime disaster riveted people on both sides of the Channel.  The Meduse was a French frigate that had seen action in the Napoleonic wars.  Much of her artillery had been removed when she was made to ferry officials to the French colony of Senegal in a convoy of ships whose names read like a cast of characters in the Iliad.  Faster than her companions, the Argos and the Echo, Meduse outsailed the other ships and ran aground 50 kilometers off the coast on a sandbank under the cowhanded command of a political appointee.

Her launches were put in the water with as many survivors as they could hold and given the task of towing the remaining passengers–146 men and one woman–on a hastily constructed (and entirely unnavigable) raft.  A gale arose and fearing mutiny, the launches cut the hapless raft adrift.  The raft became a gruesome scene of suicide, cannibalism and despair.

It was a tale of incompetence, cowardice and negligence.  A national disgrace for France.

For Gericault, the Wreck of the Medusa unmasked human frailty that had been heretofore disguised in military glory and order, leaving it bare and naked before the unbridled and destructive forces of nature.

Imagine the horror Vivien and Griffin must have felt, believing Emma had become a victim of shipwreck.

Their only hope of finding her alive rested upon a man whose own disgrace was as monumental as that of France’s.

It is the story of a Notorious Affair.

Regency Painters – Part Two

Young Woman Drawing - Villiers 1801

‘Only–If there did happen to be a gentleman who–who wished to marry me, do you think he would be deterred by that, Freddy?’

‘Be a curst rum touch if he wasn’t,’ replied Freddy unequivocally.

‘Yes, but–If he had a partiality for me, and found I had become engaged to Another,’ said Kitty, drawing on a knowledge of life culled from the pages of such novels as graced Miss Fishguard’s bookshelf, ‘he might be wrought upon by jealousy.’

‘Who?’ demanded Freddy, out of his depth.

‘Anyone!’ said Kitty.

‘But there ain’t anyone!’ argued Freddy.

‘No,’ agreed Kitty, damped.  ‘It was just a passing thought, and not of the least consequence!  I shall seek a situation.’

‘No, you won’t,’ said Freddy, with unexpected firmness.  ‘That’s what you said last night.  Talked a lot of stuff about becoming a chambermaid.  Well, you can’t, that’s all.’

‘Oh, no!’ she assured him.  ‘Upon reflection, of course I perceived that wouldn’t answer.  And also I shouldn’t wonder at it if Hugh was quite at fault, and I might do very well as a governess.  To quite young children, you know, who don’t need instruction in Italian or Water-colour painting.’

‘Can’t do that either,’ said Freddy.

‘Well, really, Freddy!’ cried Miss Charing indignantly.  ‘Pray, what concern is it of yours?’

‘Good God, Kit, of course it’s my concern!’ retorted Freddy, moved to express himself strongly.  ‘You don’t suppose I’m going to have everyone saying you’d rather go for a governess than marry me, do you?  Nice gudgeon I should look!’

Cotillion, Georgette Heyer

No discussion of art during the Regency period can possibly omit the fine landscape painter J. M. W. Turner (1775 – 1851).  I’ve posted an example of his work here on the subject of Crichton Castle in Scotland.  His art, decidedly Romantic, elevated the medium of watercolor.  Without it, one could argue the Impressionist movement would not have been possible.  In any event, he brought about a decided preference for the liberating, poignant strokes of the finely executed watercolor.

It is no wonder that young ladies of the period, already steeped in gothic novels, should try to excel in this aspect of the fine arts. Indeed, in my earlier project, Notorious Vow, the heroine was rather self-conscious that the earl of Northam managed to catch a glimpse of some half-finished examples of her work in the medium.  She could not be certain, but he appeared to be rather amused at the sight of her abandoned canvases stacked neatly in her mother’s conservatory, as if in silent witness to the artist’s lack of focus and direction.  It was not quite the impression Vivien wanted to leave with the handsome earl.

Turner focussed strongly on emotional painting, using weather, fire, shipwrecks and other interactions with nature as primary subjects.  He is often called the painter of light.

Indeed, he was reported to have declared on his deathbed that “the sun is God.”

The Chapter House - Salisbury Cathedral (J. M. W. Turner)