Regency Brothers – the Painter

Like his other Regency brothers, John Martin (1789 – 1854) strove to break away from his lower-class background and achieve the notice of the ton.

It seemed he had done so when his drawings became much admired by the Princess Charlotte and the Earl of Warwick. However, the former was not known for her taste in art. Despite having taken out a patent for soap, which the Royal Navy found useful as it would not curdle in sea water, his lordship lived in “penury, mortification and wretchedness.”

John was already supporting his older brother William, another tinker of limited success.

John Martin - from A Memoir

John Martin – from A Memoir

What he needed was a well-heeled patron. Drawings and sepia painting on teacups was only a scrambling sort of business.In order to attract such attention, he would have to break out of the current mold of Romantic painters. Constable and others were producing pastoral landscape themes which characterized a good deal of painting during the Regency. John decided to incorporate his father’s thundering Old Testament discourse, and took the “Picturesque” movement in a whole new direction.

Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion was submitted to the Royal Academy in 1812 for display at Somerset House. When the painting arrived, there was some confusion as to which end of the canvas was the top of the painting. For all the initial difficult it posed in the hanging, Sadak was completely ignored. Dejected, John took it away–one has to believe he carried it upside down. Once in his modest lodgings, he saw a calling card had been left in the dingy foyer. It was from a well-connected Governor of the Bank of England, William Manning, and he wanted to purchase the canvas.

As an amusing aside, John’s new patron was also the MP for Plympton Erle. His seat had been previously occupied by the unpopular Earl of Carhampton. This Irish peer had the indignity of reading his own death notice in the paper. Incensed, he demanded it be withdrawn. The paper complied, under the prominent headline, Public Disappointment.

Manning not only replaced an unpopular peer–his purchase encouraged John to continue his theme of vast, wild nature. In these works, appropriately titled Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still upon Gibeon and Fall of Babylon, humans were rendered insignificant beneath glowering clouds. It was called Sublime.

Critics called it bombastic, the worst sort of populist art.

However, the Regency period was experiencing not just a sea change in the style of its arts, but in the nature of the audience. By the time John’s Belshazzar’s Feast was to be exhibited at the British Institution, he had aroused not only the interest of Whig politicians and the Duke of Buckingham, his work was now commanding the attention of the masses. Feast could not be displayed in intimate, hushed surroundings, to be admired only by the wealthy and privileged. A railing had to be erected, to protect the massive painting from the crowds that came to view it.

Even now John Martin’s paintings command astonishment and awe. Just watch this clip from the Tate Britain’s Museum. It had recently exhibited John’s work, entitled Apocalypse.

Does his work seem familiar? Rock bands use his work for their album covers. Movie makers incorporate his vision in theirs.

Bombastic, perhaps. But altogether unforgettable.

John Martin's Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion (1812)

John Martin’s Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion (1812)

“In this house reign harmony, peace, and love”

Will Kate and Wills have a country house?

Most royal couples have had them over the past several centuries.  Speculation is rife that they will settle in a newly commissioned house to be built in Herefordshire on the Harewood Estate now owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. The most remarkable part of Harewood is its extensive gardens and terraced paths.  They should make a lovely setting for the royal couple’s new home.

Old Harewood Park House

Long gone is old Harewood House, a smaller country house of three stories featuring a porch supported by Tuscan columns.   It had been built on the site of an old Tudor house in 1781.  Some damage from WWII ballistics testing can be seen in the photo to the right.  Harewood House was demolished in 1959.  Information on this and many other lost English country houses can be found here.

Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold also had an English country estate.  Claremont House was a gift to them from an adoring nation.  Happily the house still exists today and the grounds have been restored to their former glory by the National Trust.

Claremont House

The noted classical landscape architect Lancelot “Capability” Brown built the Palladian house with the aid of his future son-in-law Henry Holland to execute the Adam-style interiors.  This site contains a nice collection of images displaying the exterior of Claremont and its extensive gardens.   You can see the classical pediment, the triangular motif so characteristic of the Palladian style, crowning the front of the mansion in the photo to the right.

In 1816, Baron Stockmar, Prince Leopold’s physician and advisor, gives us this account of Princess Charlotte’s life with her new husband at Claremont:

“The Princess in good humour, and then she pleases easily. I thought her dress particularly becoming (September 6th); dark roses in her hair, a short light blue dress without sleeves, with a low round collar,  a white puffed-out Russian chemisette, the sleeves of lace.  I have never yet seen her in any dress which was not both simple and in good taste. The Princess is extremely active and lively, astonishingly impressionable, and nervously sensitive. Intercourse with her husband has had a markedly good effect upon her, and she has gained surprisingly in calmness and self-control, so that one sees more and more how good and noble she really is. She shows many attentions to those around her, but she attributes great value to these attentions, however little she may appear to do so. She never for a moment forgets she is the King’s daughter.

In this house reign harmony, peace, and love— in short, everything that can promote domestic happiness.”

Hurly-burly princess

File:Charlotte and Leopold wedding.jpg

“She seems rather eager, does she not?” Diana whispered behind her fan.

Vivien refused to turn around and look.  She and Diana were among the very few privileged to witness the marriage of Princess Charlotte to His Highness of Saxe-Coburg.  And if she were to crane her neck at the approach of the Regent’s daughter, it would be noticed as vulgar and remarked upon.  Diana, being the taller, had only to turn her head very slightly to see above the heads of other countesses as they sat on cushioned chairs in Carlton House’s great drawing room.

Presently Her Highness came into view and Vivien realized the justice of Diana’s observation.  The princess had a favorable aspect, fair and well-formed, but instead of walking with an upright, measured tread on her bridegroom’s arm, she bustled forward down the aisle, her progress somewhat erratic.  The lovely metallic sparkle of her dress trembled as if irritated, revealing the bride’s almost unseemly pace as they approached the altar where the old Queen and the Regent were ranged alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The heiress-presumptive was a hurly-burly miss.

Vivien noted with approval how Prince Leopold gently squeezed Her Highness’ arm, distracting the princess from her headlong pace.  She paused and looked up in his handsome face in an inquiring way.  Then her face broke into a happy grin as if she had recollected some word of advice. She paused, drawing herself up and proceeded at a decidedly slower pace, in keeping with the regal progress of one who would someday be Queen.

From all accounts, it appears that Princess Charlotte, hurly-burly as she might have been, had a happy marriage.  A wonderful example of how two very different persons together make a better union than if they were separate.  And we rightly suspect Kate and Wills will have the same success that often flows from the union of two very different people, from vastly different backgrounds.

Princess Charlotte of Wales had been largely kept “out of the way’ by her father, the Prince Regent, particularly when his marital discord had given him an unpopular reputation.  No doubt this isolation contributed to the princess’  lack of social grace. Hardly what one would expect from the daughter of the First Gentleman of Europe.

Prince Leopold, on the other hand, was well-traveled and a familiar face in European diplomatic circles, having spent time in the retinue of the Tsar.  With his continental background, Leopold would have immediately discerned Charlotte’s gauche demeanor.  He might have even been repelled by it.  But instead of turning away, witnesses describe Leopold as an affectionate husband who sought to guide his bride with loving advice.

A fair exchange, perhaps.  Her Highness reportedly giggled when the prince, a man as poor as a church mouse, vowed to endow her with all his worldly goods.

Nothing common about a tiara

similar in style: the 1934 Cartier tiara with lotus design


Oh, the tiara!  The most important thing that does so much to elevate one on the BIG DAY.

This site displays a nice array of illustrious figures wearing the 1936 Cartier Halo tiara which Kate wore on her wedding day.

Something borrowed:  the tiara is part of the Royal Collection.

It had belonged to the late Queen Mother, given to her by her husband, the Duke of York, later George VI.  See the trailer for The King’s Speech here.  No tiaras in the film, as I recall, but bloody good dialogue.

Prince William married a commoner.  So did George VI, his great-grandfather.   Yet Bertie’s wife was Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, no mere miss.  Interestingly, British law deems anyone a commoner who is not royalty or a peer. Whether they are the descendant of a coal miner or an earl.

Putting the law aside, one could argue the Queen Mother was someone not quite in the common way.

But we were discussing tiaras.  Princess Charlotte’s tiara was described as diamonds fashioned into a wreath of roses and leaves.  The detail of this crown is difficult to see in the old plate below.

Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold wedding processional

The jeweller who made the princess’ tiara was Rundell, Bridge & Rundell.  The firm was subsequently commissioned to craft her father George IV’s state diadem that evoked similar motifs:  roses, thistles and shamrocks.  This famous crown was worn by Her Majesty for her coronation and gets trotted out for the opening of Parliament.

It is not inconceivable to imagine we see the remnants of Charlotte’s crown in her father’s:

The Diamond Diadem, 1820

Regency Wedding Dress

I shall leave you to judge the nuptial gown the new princess wore.  Some puckering around the bodice?  Possibly–a perfectly sculpted bodice is difficult to execute.

Forget I said that.  The gown was simply gorgeous!

And mostly due to a tiny motif created by a process nearly as old as the Regency: the Carrickmacross lace.  Even Princess Diana’s dress featured this lovely technique of handmade lace pictured here and executed for the new princess at Hampton Court Royal School of Needlework.

Princess Charlotte’s dress featured a tiny motif just as memorable–the bellflowers and shells decorating the edge of the heiress’ bodice and sleeves.  The following web sites do great justice to the intricacy and beauty of her dress for the reasons mentioned: bell flowers, silver lame’, and scalloped shells.

All of which are displayed in the Royal Collection housed in the Museum of London.  This museum used to be housed in Lancaster House, which was once York House that is part of the complex bordering St. James Park.  An interior is shown below:

The Grand staircase of Stafford House (Lancaster House): 19th century

The Regent’s House or God’s – Part One

Westminster Abbey by Canaletto, 1749

Unlike Prince William, Princess Charlotte did not wed in a church or chapel.  In fact, she is the only heir-presumptive to the English throne that I can think of being married in a secular place.   If there are others, they are few in number.

The Regent was in charge of all the arrangements for his daughter’s wedding and thus ordered the ceremony to take place at his palace, Carlton House.  In part two, we shall see that the plot is nothing as humorous as Father of the Bride.   

But for now, it should be noted that Carlton House was extensively rebuilt and decorated at great expense by the Prince Regent. It was admired for its lavish decoration and derided as being inferior to many hotels in Paris.  In front of the palace there was a curious set of columns which perplexed passers-by and inspired the-then famous ditty:

“Dear little columns, all in a row, What do you do there?  Indeed we don’t know.”

Carlton House (those pillars do look odd)

I’m digressing a bit, but the following observation by a contemporary witness is rather amusing:

Then the Duke of York bas been sent, as it would seem, to the Round House, and the Prince of Wales to the Pillory.”

*gales of laughter*

At times the Regent found the Duke of York somewhat trying.  Especially when he believed his younger brother, fond uncle as he was, would get his niece Charlotte into a scrape, or encourage her natural inclination towards rebellious behavior (I wonder where she got that from?).  The Duke of York had his own palace called York House, which stands today as the Scottish office in Whitehall.  You can see its prominent feature–a drumlike circular hall beyond the entrance vestibule.

York House, now Dover House

Regency Wedding

These days it seems appropriate to be discussing royal nuptials.  Therefore, who can resist making comparisons?  I, for one, cannot.  

On this day, May 2nd, 1816, one hundred and ninety-five years ago, HRH Princess Charlotte, the Prince Regent’s daughter, married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.  After revisiting some primary historical sources, I have discovered the rather surprising conclusion that Kate and Wills have much in common with the most popular royal couple from the Regency era.

Of course, we can be reasonably sure of at least two major differences.  I refer to them below using my favorite scenes from Monty Python for purposes of illustration only.

Indulge me.

1)  We know that the heir-presumptive will not have to undergo the rigors of childbirth at the hands of nineteenth century obstetrics.  But if he should want to, please see  I want to be a woman at :22.

2) Kate won’t have to become King of the Belgians.  You see, they’ve already got one!  See the French taunting King Arthur at 1:22.   Well, some Belgians do speak French.

Sorry, sorry!  I just get carried away.

In the coming weeks some curious connections and common paths between the Regency and modern royal wedding will be presented.  Courtship, houses, dresses, manners and other momentous concerns will be examined.  With the help of some characters from my Notorious series.

Will you join me?