The Intimate Type

July 6, 2009 § 1 Comment

I missed the opportunity to post about a remarkable, ground-breaking exhibition that was recently held at the British Museum. As readers who check in on Georgian Image Bookmarking already know, I’m fascinated with Georgian and Regency era painting and drawing, especially portraiture, and this exhibit focused on a particularly interesting type of portrait, the personal likenesses that were carried like photographs or fashioned into lockets and rings. The following is an exerpt from the blurb for The Intimate Portrait:

“Portraits were displayed in public at the Royal Academy exhibitions but behind the scenes, in private sitting rooms, studies and bedrooms some of them served a more intimate role. Miniatures were often worn as jewellery to keep a loved one close; fragile pastels protected by glittering gilt frames were displayed on walls, while drawings were framed or mounted in albums to be shown to friends and family.

Until now, there has never been a serious investigation of these captivating modes of portraiture, and it has largely been forgotten that these smaller, more intimate portraits were also enjoyed by a wider public, and were exhibited in their hundreds at the Royal Academy in London and other public exhibition spaces in Britain. Sir Thomas Lawrence’s magnificent portrait drawing of Mary Hamilton, which will feature in the exhibition, was one of a dozen pastel and chalk drawings he showed at the RA in 1789.

The exhibition features nearly 200 examples in a range of materials, from pencil, chalk, watercolours and pastels to miniatures on ivory. It includes many self-portraits as well as intimate portraits of the artists’ families and friends. Sitters vary from the merchant and middle classes to the aristocracy, actors and celebrities including Lady Hamilton, and political and literary figures such as Sir Walter Scott, the Duke of Wellington and Robert Burns.”

Though the exhibition has closed, the Museum’s online shop offers a beautiful catalogue that supplies images and details for those fascinated as I am by the Georgian intimate portrait.

William Alexander, Self-portrait, 1792–4

William Alexander, Self-portrait, 1792–4

Richard Westall, Portrait of a Woman seated in a Landscape with a spaniel, 1793

Richard Westall, Portrait of a Woman seated in a Landscape with a spaniel, 1793

Archibald Skirving, Self-portrait, 1790

Archibald Skirving, Self-portrait, 1790

Charlotte Jones, The Eye of Princess Charlotte, c. 1817

Charlotte Jones, The Eye of Princess Charlotte, c. 1817

Richard Cosway, Elizabeth Courtenay, later Lady Somerset, c. 1788

Richard Cosway, Elizabeth Courtenay, later Lady Somerset, c. 1788

Sir Thomas Lawrence, Portrait of Mary Hamilton, 1789

Sir Thomas Lawrence, Portrait of Mary Hamilton, 1789

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