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Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Windsor Dioramas by Guest Blogger Hester Davenport

A few years ago in Sebastopol in the Crimea I walked around a compelling recreation of a moment in the siege of the city during the Crimean war where the closest figures are almost life-size. This kind of model is called a diorama. In Windsor Museum we have our own diorama of a siege but ours in on a small scale, as are the others which pinpoint moments in the town’s history. They’re like miniature theatres, in glass-fronted cases and lit from above, all of them lively and dramatic, where you almost expects the tiny figures to continue the actions they’ve just begun.

Part of a diorama showing the barons attacking Windsor Castle in 1216
© Windsor Museum

The Windsor dioramas were commissioned in the 1950s from two friends, Judith Ackland and Mary Stella Edwards. They had met when at Regent Street Polytechnic in 1919, where they studied art, and afterwards they set up a home and studio together in a cottage called The Cabin, on the beautiful North Devon coast.

The Cabin at Bucks Mills

For many years they spent the summers travelling, painting landscapes and selling their art, but after the Second World War, perhaps feeling they were too old for gipsy living, they started a new career making dioramas. After meticulous research into their subjects Mary painted the backgrounds, while Judith made the figures. She developed her own way of modelling figures which she called ‘Jackanda,’ using wire and compressed cotton-wool. Remarkably she could not only position her figures in a life-like way, but even on a miniature scale – each figure measures around 10 cms – she could create expression and in the case of historical characters recognisable portraits.

Judith Ackland at work by Mary Stella Edwards

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In Memoriam

George Bryan "Beau" Brummell

7 June 1778 - 30 March 1840

The Darker Side of 19th Century London - The Great Stink - Part Two

In additionn to saltpetre men, night soil men removed human waste that they then sold as fertilizer for crops. It was filthy job that involved crawling through cesspits and sewers or descending into them from ladders. Henry Mayhew describes them in his London Labour and the London Poor. You can read it here.

By 1810, the city's one million inhabitants had to be content with 200,000 cesspits. The pressure on these and the haphazard sewer system caused the pits to overflow into street drains designed originally to cope with rainwater, but now also used to carry waste from factories, slaughterhouses and other activities, contaminating the city before emptying into the River Thames, or into the old London streams - the Fleet, the Wandle, the West Bourne, the Ravensbourne, the New, the Holbourne and many others that had been partially covered. WC's discharged human waste directly into these streams and as most of those on the south side were tide-locked and drained into the Thames only at low tide, the results were catastrophic - much of London's drinking water was still being extracted from the Thames, often downstream from the sewage discharge points.

Whilst the government and various commissioners and officials put forth plans for cleaning up London's cesspits and sewers, the Duke of Wellington forged ahead with action of his own at the Tower of London - he was Constable of the Tower for 26 years. Centuries before, latrines and been built and desgined to empty directly into the moat set into the outer wall of Edward I’s Brass Mount in the north-eastern corner of the Tower. In addition, the moat connected to the River Thames, which washed its foul and putrid self about the Tower at both high and low tide.  In 1830, the Duke of Wellington ordered the silt from the moat be taken to fertilize market gardens at Battersea, but this was not enough to prevent complaints in 1841 that the banks exposed at low tide were ‘impregnated with putrid animal and excrementitious matter … emitting a most prejudicial smell,’ resulting in 80 men from the garrison being taken to hospital. Wellington ordered the moat to be completely drained and covered over, the work being completed in 1845.

Dire problems with London's water supply inevitably took their toll on the City's inhabitants - cholera first struck London in 1832 and again in 1840. In 1854 London physician Dr John Snow discovered that the disease was transmitted by drinking water contaminated by sewage after an epidemic broke out in Soho, but this idea was not widely accepted even by that late date.

The lawyer Edwin Chadwick, secretary to the Poor Law Commision, was one of many to draw attention to London's unsanitary living conditions. In 1842, he produced an uncompromising and influential paper, 'The Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain.' Shocked by the squalor of the slums, he cited 'atmospheric impurities produced by decomposing animal and vegetable substances,' 'damp and filth,' and 'close and overcrowded dwellings" as leading inevitably to disease and epidemics. Chadwick enlisted the aid of Charles Dickens, who personally recorded graphic accounts of the terrible state of reeking graveyards from his brother-in-law, Henry Austin, a leading sanitary reformer.

However, attempts at sanitary clean up were slow, as this letter to the editor of The Times - written in 1849 - shows -

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Darker Side of 19th Century London - The Great Stink - Part One

Ah, falling in love - isn't it grand? You meet that someone special and in the space of a few moments the whole world changes. It's as though the entire planet tilted just the tiniest bit on its axis and now affords you a whole new look at the world. Being in love colours the things we see and tints everything in a new light. We are dazzled, bewitched and God seems in his heaven. All is right with the world! It's the same with our love affair with historic Britain.

If you were introduced to British history through fiction, your love affair with the 19th century might include visions of

a damsel who needs saving

gorgeous gowns

and dashing heroes

Or perhaps you discovered British history through film or television. In that case, chances are that your visions of England include such images as these:

An outdoor tea party in Cranford

glittering Regency interiors

or a cheeky Royal friend

Once your interest in the 19th century has been piqued, you may be compelled to do further research into the period when, inevitably, you'll discover the darker side of London history. Reader, it stank. Literally. Not romantic or genteel in the least. And enough so that books, both fiction and non, have been written about the condition.

And Thames Water even made a film about it, which you can watch here. The Great Stink took place in London in 1858, but of course London had been stinking for centuries prior. In the first half of the 19th Century, London's population was 2.5 million, all of whom ultimately discharged their waste directly onto the streets or into the Thames.  Besides people, there were hundreds of thousands of horses, cows, dogs, cats, sheep, etc. adding their daily contributions to the waste problem.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Yale's Beinecke Rare Book Library

On March 4, 2011, I visited the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library on the Yale University campus with Diane Gaston and her kind DH who drove us up from Washington, D. C. I have written several times in the last month about our visit to the exhibition Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance at the Yale Center for British Art. We didn't have time for a lot more on our visit to New Haven, CT, but we did take a turn around the very fascinating Beinecke Rare Book Library, just a few blocks from the YCBA. Jim Perkins snapped this of the two intrepid researchers on our way across campus.

The Yale campus is renowned for its Gothic architecture, such as this tower, but it also has many modern buildings, some of which are truly masterpieces of contemporary architecture by some of the world's leading practitioners. The neo-Gothic buildings are quite beautiful if hardly practical in today's technological age. 

Peeking through this elaborate gate, one could expect to see dedicated students and brilliant professors in the same rarefied atmosphere of the greatest universities -- it almost could be Cambridge or Oxford's dreaming spires.  Alas, we did not have time to investigate  and any students we  saw were either hurrying along with their phones to their ears -- or practicing jumps on their skateboards. 

Nevertheless, we were a bit disappointed when we came upon the Beinecke's building. While the proportions were good, it looked rather bland, a grid upon a white surface without embellishment.  It was designed by Gordon Bunshaft (1909-1990), of Skidmore Owings and Merrill, a student of the 20th century's greatest architects such as Mies van der Rohe.  Bunshaft also designed Lever House, on NYC's Park Avenue, the Hirshhorn Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C.,  and other iconic buildings. But we quickly changed our opinions when we entered this magnificent structure.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Blair Castle to be Sold by Savills

Copyright Francis Frith
 Blair Castle, one of Scotland’s oldest continuously occupied estates, is for sale through Savills. Set in 1,500 acres near Dalry, Ayrshire, it has been the home of the Blair family since 1105. The current owner, Luke Borwick, a descendant of the founding family, endeavored - a la Monarch of the Glen - to maintain the estate with golfing weekends, weddings, advertising shoots and other commercial activities. During its long history, Mary Queen of Scots, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce have enjoyed hospitality at the castle, which is now to be sold along with its contents.

In addition to the 16 bedroom house, the 670 acre grounds include 12 cottages, salmon fishing and woodlands. From the Savills listing description: "Blairquhan Castle lies at the heart of the estate, overlooking the Water of Girvan which flows for over 3½ miles along the northern boundary of the estate. It is rare to find an estate which affords such privacy. About 670 acres in all, the estate also has 12 further estate properties, a walled garden with glasshouse, ice house, outstanding woodlands, farmland, a Purdey Award winning low ground shoot, roe stalking, trout fishing, and salmon and sea trout fishing. Lord Cockburn, writing as he worked his way around the South Circuit of the Scottish Bench in September 1844, wrote about his stay at Blairquhan: `I rose early…and surveyed the beauties of Blairquhan. It deserves its usual praises. A most gentleman-like place rich in all sorts of attractions – of wood, lawn, river, gardens, hill, agriculture and pasture.'"

Friday, March 25, 2011

Osterley Park, An Adam Jewel

Osterley Park was once a rural retreat but today it is in Greater London, reachable by the tube (look for the Osterley stop on the Piccadilly line).  The original Tudor mansion was built in 1575 by Sir Thomas Gresham, banker and founder of the Royal Exchange.  The old house was built of red brick around a square courtyard.  After considerable alterations in the 17th century, it was acquired by Francis Child, the immensely wealthy London banker, in 1713. His grandson Francis hired Robert Adam to transform the house in 1761 but he died before the house was finished, leaving the house to his brother Robert Child.

 Adam's work was completed in 1780. The center of the west section of the building was removed by Adam and replaced with a giant white Ionic portico.


The elegant portico opens up the courtyard.

The Tudor caps on the corners were left in place.
In many ways, the remodeling is quite similar to the work done on Syon House (see the post of Jan. 16, 2011), which is not very far away, also in the London  borough of Hounslow, once in the countryside but now suburban London.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Visit to Postman's Park by Guest Blogger Jo Manning

Postman’s Park today, showing the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice
aka The Wall of Heroes under the thatched awning.

I first heard about Postman’s Park from my friend and colleague Hester Davenport, the biographer of Fanny Burney and Mary Robinson. She suggested it as someplace different and educational to take my London grandchildren. And, different, it truly is.

This tiny park, a blot of fastidiously landscaped green, elevated above the surrounding streets and tucked out of the way behind high buildings, is named for the site of the former General Post Office. Though only a few streets from St. Paul’s Cathedral, getting there is not so easily accomplished; it behooves one to refer to a map.

Starting at St. Paul’s, orient yourselves with this map showing the cross streets…

As can be seen from this map, it was the site of several former burial grounds connected to a number of churches. In 1898, however, this quiet spot was incorporated as a park, becoming a place for “postmen,” i.e., postal office employees, to take breaks and to eat their lunches.

In 1900, the painter George Frederic Watts selected the location to become a memorial to the altruistic among us, the ordinary, average people who died giving their lives for others. He would name this the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, or the Wall of Heroes. These heroes were individuals who would otherwise never have been remembered, their deaths never commemorated; they were ordinary people, not famous. Watts was a celebrated artist of the Victorian period, a painter, portraitist, and sculptor often called the last great Victorian artist. In fact, the most recent biography of Watts, by Veronica Franklin Gould (who’s also working on a biography of his second wife Mary Seton Watts), has this very same title.

The cover painting is from a self-portrait…

Over and above his artistic talent – often described as “titanic” -- he was an active and zealous advocate of social change who believed art could promote such change and make life better for all. From a working class family himself, he was interested in the elevation and recognition of the often-unheralded common man.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Robert Adam, Designer for the Ages

Victoria here, recently home from an antique show in 2011 Naples, Florida -- where there was a great deal of attention to the designs of an 18th century Scotsman, the renowned Robert Adam. I stopped counting how many tables, chairs, commodes, candlesticks and more were labeled "in the style of Adam." More than 200 years after he lived, Adam's designs are the standard by which all others are measured.

We've had many posts on Adam houses here (3/29/10, 3/31/10,4/3/10,6/5/10, 1/16/11) and there will be more soon.

Robert Adam (1728-92) and his brother James (1730-1794) both gained prominence as architects, though it is Robert who has the more brilliant reputation. Today, Adam style is popular and instantly recognizable, whether in a fireplace, a chair or decorative arts.

Sons of William Adam, a leading architect in Edinburgh, the Adam Brothers were contemporaries of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Thomas Gainsborough, Capability Brown, the great landscape designer, and Thomas Chippendale, whose furniture graces many Adam designs. Adam and his brothers worked in their father's business and also attended school in Edinburgh. The elder Adam was not only an architect; he was a man of learning and his home was the scene of conversations among some of the leading intellectuals of his day such as Adam Smith, Alexander Carlyle, and David Hume. This atmosphere influenced his
sons as they grew up.

The library at Mellerstain House in Scotland is an example of designs begun by William Adam and finished later by son Robert. The firm continued under the brothers after the father died and they had received a number of commissions before Robert Adam left for his Grand Tour of Italy at the age of 26.

Clearly Robert had aspirations as a gentleman and prided himself in letters home on his acquaintances among the British gentry and aristocracy whom he met in Italy. Adam studied with the painter Panini, Piranesi and others who honed his knowledge of classical art. He became a friend and competitor of William Chambers, who gained fame as the architect of Somerset House, the Strand, London.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Wellington Connection - Duels - Part Two

"Gentlemen, are you ready? fire!" The Duke raised his pistol and presented it instantly on the word fire being given; but, as I suppose, observing that Lord Winchilsea did not immediately present at him, he seemed to hesitate for a moment, and then fired without effect.

I think Lord Winchilsea did not present his pistol at the Duke at all, but I cannot be quite positive, as I was wholly intent on observing the Duke, lest anything should happen to him; but when I turned my eyes towards Lord Winchilsea, after the Duke had fired, his arm was still down by his side, from whence he raised it deliberately, and, holding his pistol perpendicularly over his head, he fired it off into the air.

The Duke remained still on his place, but Lord Falmouth and Lord Winchilsea came immediately forward towards Sir Henry Hardinge, and Lord Falmouth, addressing him, said, "Lord Winchilsea, having received the Duke's fire, is placed under different circumstances from those in which he stood before, and therefore now feels himself at liberty to give the Duke of Wellington the reparation he requires." He seemed to pause for an answer, and Sir Henry replied, "The Duke expects an ample apology, and a complete and full acknowledgment from Lord Winchilsea of his error in having published the accusation against him which he has done." To which Lord Falmouth answered, "I mean an apology in the most extensive or in every sense of the word;" and he then took from his pocket a written paper, containing what he called an admission from Lord Winchilsea that he was in the wrong, and which he said was drawn up in the terms of the Duke's last Memorandum.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Wellington Connection - Duels

As Prime Minister, the most compelling point of Wellington's term was the question of Catholic Emancipatoin, the granting of almost full civil rights to Catholics in the United Kingdom. The change was forced by the landslide by-election win of Daniel O'Connell, an Irish Catholic proponent of emancipation, who was elected despite not being legally allowed to sit in Parliament and whose election prompted tempers to flare all around. The Earl of Winchilsea (George Finch-Hatton, 10th Earl) accused the Duke of having "treacherously plotted the destruction of the Protestant constitution" by publishing such in a newspaper of the day called The Standard.  Wellington uncharacteristically responded by immediately challenging Winchilsea to a duel. On 21 March 1829, Wellington and Winchilsea met on Battersea fields. When it came time to fire, the Duke took aim and Winchilsea kept his arm down. The Duke fired wide to the right. Accounts differ as to whether he missed on purpose; Wellington, noted for his poor aim, claimed he did, other reports more sympathetic to Winchilsea claimed he had aimed to kill. Winchilsea did not fire, a plan he and his second almost certainly decided upon before the duel. Honour was saved, restored, etc. and Winchilsea wrote Wellington an apology. However, whether they loathed him or loved him, all those who knew Wellington were shocked that he had gotten himself involved in a duel. Everyone wanted details of the event; very few got them.

We are fortunate enough to glean the full details of the duel in the form of a report known as - Dr. Hume's Report To The Duchess Of Wellington On The Duel With The Earl of Winchilsea. Hume was surgeon to the Duke of Wellington and head of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Saturday, 21st March, 1829. "Les moindres circonstances deviennent essentielles quand il s'agit d'un grand homme.'" ("The lesser circumstances become essential when it comes to a great man.'")

Sunday, March 20, 2011

An Exhibition of Royal Photographers

The Princess Royal and Princess Alice, Balmoral 1856 by Fenton

A new exhibition entitled Roger Fenton and Julia Margaret Cameron: Early British Photographs from the Royal Collection, will be on display at The Arts and Crafts House, Blackwell, Cumbria until April 27 2011.

Both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were photography enthusiasts who kept voluminous photo albums containing pictures of their own family, as well as "art" photographs of models, people and places. At her death in 1901, Queen Victoria's collection numbered an estimated 20,000 photographs. In December of 1853, the Royal Couple attended the inaugural exhibition of the Photographic Society. Roger Fenton, founder of the Society, of which Prince Albert later became a patron, personally showed them the exhibits and was invited to Windsor Castle to photograph the royal children, the beginnings of a large collection of photos he'd take of the family. Coincidentally or not, after Prince Albert's death in 1861, Fenton sold his photo equipuipment and gave up photography to retrun to the practice of law and relative obscurity.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, by Fenton, June 30, 1854

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Yale Center for British Art

Victoria here. I cannot imagine a place I would rather be (on the U.S. side of the pond, anyway) then the Yale Center for British Art. Think of yourself surrounded by wonderful works by Reynolds, Gainsborough,  Stubbs, and many more, not to mention the current exhibition Thomas Lawrence Regency Power and Brilliance.  Here are Diane Gaston (l) and me, keeping company with George IV.  The bust, in white marble, was sculpted by Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841) in the year 1827. To quote the label behind my head: “George IV was greedy, spoiled, manipulative, lecherous, foolish, extravagant, and stubborn. But in his heyday during the Regency period, the king was, perhaps more than any of his Hanoverian predecessors, a bold, daring and brilliant patron of the visual arts and of architecture."

The interior of the YCBA is very comfortable and welcoming. I like a museum where there are lots of seats where one can sit and look at the pictures -- and this gallery has the added advantage of windows to the outside.  The picture in the center is by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), a work with the kind of realistic detail he later eschewed. It is titled Dordrecht, the Dort Packet-boat from Rotterdam Becalmed painted in 1818. I love almost everything by Turner but this particularly engages me.

Here is another view of the galleries, photos attributed to Richard Caspole.  Although I wouldn't mind being the only patron for a few hours, I must say the place has never been empty when I visited.  The building was designed by was Louis I. Kahn (1901-1974), once a professor of architecture at Yale, and a leading American mid-century architect.  The YCBA is immediately across the street from the Yale Art Gallery, also designed by Kahn, now undergoing renovations.

Friday, March 18, 2011

On The Shelf - Discovering New Authors - Part Five

Prolific author Dame Catherine Cookson died in 1998, just nine days short of her 92nd birthday. She had rarely been out of the top ten most-borrowed books in British public libraries, and in 1997, for the second year running, nine out of ten out of the most popular library books borrowed were written by Dame Catherine. Accroding to a February 2010 article in The Guardian: "She dominated the library charts for years – but there is no trace of her among the 100 most borrowed books of 2008-9. She is still, however, the 10th most borrowed author of the decade."

Cookson was born illegitimate in 1906 to an alcoholic mother and grew up in poverty around the towns of Shields and Jarrow in County Durham, now Tyne and Wear, the setting for most of her books. She would use the people, places and experiences of her childhood to draw sypmathetic characters and compelling plotlines that touched many a reader's heart. A few weeks before her 84th birthday, a Sunday newspaper named her as Britain's 17th richest woman with an estimated fortune of £14 million. And in her kindness, Cookson has left each of us a legacy - her impressive backlist of over 100 books, many of which are sagas that follow a single family through darkness and into the light.

Oh, how I love Cookson's books. To describe them, and their effect upon the reader, is to dredge up every trite and hackneyed reviewer's phrase: like curing up wth an old friend, the perfect book for a cold winter's day, a compelling and moving story, etc., etc., etc. However, in Cookson's case, these platitudes are quite true. No matter how dire consequences become for Cookson's characters, we know that all will come right in the end and the journey is pure entertainment.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Windsor Museum Finds New Home

The Windsor and Royal Borough Museum has just relocated to its new home at the Guildhall in Windsor. Above is a photo of our good friend, author Hester Davenport, with two dashing opening attendees. You may recall that Hester gave Victoria and I a personally guided tour round Windsor when we were there in June. If not, you can refresh your memory by revisiting that post here.

The Guildhall, Windsor. Note the "crooked house"
butting up against the Guildhall at left.
The Museum is 'small but perfectly formed', with displays of artefacts from the earliest times, including everything from a mammoth's tooth and mastodon's tusk to objects and ephemera from before Victorian times up to World War II, the 1950s and the present day. In addition, visitors will find lots of interactive displays and a photo-opportunity to get stuck in the pillory and pelted with fruit and veg (the cuddly sort). And, as Hester is quick to remind me, the opportunity to see the very room in which Prince Charles and Camilla wed (staff availability depending).

The Museum is open Tuesday - Saturday 10 am to 4 pm and on Sundays from 12-4. You can visit the Museum website here, and you can see pictures of the Musuem and part of its collections here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Magnificence at Yale, Part Three

I decided to do a separate blog about what I will call the POWER portraits of the exhibition now at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven CT.  It will be on view until June 5, 2011, the second and last venue, so if you can possibly make it there, you will be richly rewarded.  Part two, posted on 3/12/11, could have been called BRILLIANCE.  What poured out of me in the 3/8/11 post covered the things that caught my eye first off.  You see, a perfectly rational way to divide up the spoils of this excellent exhibition.... 

To the right is Lawrence's view of Prince George as Prince Regent, painted about 1814.  George was florid, overweight, dissolute, and flabby, but not in this view, one of the most egregious of Lawrence's flatteries.  It is in London's National Portrait Gallery; some observers say that it is unfinished because it was a study for a coin or a medal, a project which never came to fruition. I'll bet George loved it, for he looks young and vital.

George's sister, Princess Sophia (1777-1848) was never married, though it is generally accepted that she had a child out of wedlock.  The father may have been her father's equerry, Thomas Garth.  Others, perhaps with political motives, said the father of her child was her brother the Duke of Cumberland.
As one of the six daughters of King George III and Queen Charlotte, Princess Sophia's life was constrained by the demands of her parents and court life.  She could not see much of her lover, whoever he was. Not a life I would  wish on anyone. In this brilliant red dress, at age 48, I can almost feel her flirting with Lawrence as she sat for him.  He was quite the ladies' man, having had many flirtations with princesses, actresses, titled married ladies and others, but none of his relationships grew into marriage. On the other hand, he also was very close to some of his male sitters, leading to occasional suspicions in another direction. For more on his love life,see Jo Manning's posts here on January 8, 9, and 10, 2011.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Meet Julian Fellowes

What with all the furor and fun on this site delivered by the broadcast of Downton Abbey, we thought we'd take a closer look at Julian Fellowes, who wrote the screenplay and who is penning the second installment of the series, due at Christmas. As though that wouldn't keep one busy enough, Fellowe's is also writing the pilot for a U.S. period piece called The Vanderbilts and another ITV1 drama series, about the sinking of the Titanic.

Born in Egypt, where his father was in the British Embassy, Fellowes grew up in England and attended Cambridge. In a 2005 interview Fellowes said, "When I was a young man, I came from the bottom end of the landed gentry. Now I get the glad hand; in those days I made up the extra --- the one who gets invited when someone else can't make it. At house parties I had the bedroom next to Nanny with the uncomfortable bed. When you're a minor player, you're in a better position to see people as they really are than if you're a grandee."

After going to drama school, he was a "jobbing actor for ages" and appeared in more than 40 movies and TV shows, including Monarch of the Glen, in which Fellowes played the part of the titled, priviliged and somehow endearing Kilwillie. Other notable acting roles included the part of Claud Seabrook in the acclaimed 1996 BBC drama serial Our Friends in the North. He has twice notably portrayed George IV as the Prince Regent in the 1982 television version of The Scarlet Pimpernel and the 1996 adaptation of Bernard Cornwell's novel Sharpe's Regiment. In 1999, Fellowes played the Duke of Richmond in the Masterpiece Theatre production of The Aristocrats, based on the book by Stella Tillyard. He launched a new series on BBC One in 2004, Julian Fellowes Investigates: A Most Mysterious Murder, which he wrote and also introduced on screen.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Behind the Scenes Tour - Drury Lane Theatre

Through the Stage Door is the UK's first Interactive Theatre Tour at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Directed by Andrea Brooks with three professional actors, the history of The Theatre Royal Drury Lane is brought to vivid life as key characters, writers and actors from the theatre's 300 year old past take you back through time as you look around this famous theatre. Since its construction in 1663 the theatre has triumphed over tragedy, fire, bankruptcy and even murder.

The Theatre Royal in Drury Lane opened in 1663, soon after the Restoration when Charles II returned to the throne. This ended Parliament's puritanical rule which had seen all theatres in England closed, and the destruction of Shakespeare's Globe. Now in a new and more fun loving age, Thomas Killigrew formed the Kings Company and built the first Theatre Royal Drury Lane, an important symbol of Britain's theatrical reinvigoration following the barren years of puritan rule.

Since that first theatre there have been three more theatres built on the site of the original, in 1674, 1794 and 1812. The 1794 theatre was built by dramatist and radical MP Richard Sheridan. This was the biggest of all the Drury Lane theatres. It was in this theatre that an assassination attempt was made against George III . James Hadfield fired two shots at King George who was sitting in the royal box. Both missed their target. The would-be assassin was arrested, and George ordered the performance to continue. The 1794 theatre burned down in February 1809, a disaster which ruined Sheridan. There is a well known and oft told anecdote regarding Sheridan and the night of the fire, the following account is from The Lives of Wits and Humourists by John Timbs:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

More Magnificence at the Yale Center for British Art, Part Two

Victoria here again, effusing about my visit to New Haven CT to experience in person the delights of Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance.  At left is a self-portrait painted in 1787-88, the earliest work in the exhibition, I believe. It certainly shows great technical ability and promise.  Lawrence was only about eighteen at the time. According to the catalogue essay by Lucy Peltz (Curator of 18th-century Paintings, National Gallery, London), he wrote home at the time from London: "Excepting Sir Joshua, for the painting of a Head, I would risk my reputation with any painter in London."  Amazing confidence for one so young.  But he had been a prodigy since early youth, encouraged by his innkeeper father to sketch customers to the extent that young Tom was the family's primary support.  He had occasional stretches of formal education at the Royal Academy, but his career outstripped almost all advice and pedagogy. By 1789, he was painting a portrait of the Queen at Windsor.

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz  (1744-1818) married King George III in 1761 when she was seventeen years old. She bore him fifteen children.  When she sat for Lawrence, rather unwillingly it seems, she was about 45 years old and disturbed by the King's recent bouts of peculiar illness, both mental and physical. The events of 1789 in France did not help. Queen Charlotte had  been painted by many artists, including Allan Ramsay,
Benjamin West, Johann Zoffany, Reynolds, and Gainsborough. Neither the Queen nor the King liked the Lawrence and never paid him. But it was highly praised at the 1790 Royal Academy exhibition and is now in the collection of the National Gallery, London.

Arthur Atherley (1771-1844) was painted in 1792 when he was about age twenty. Exhibited simply titled "Portrait of an Etonian," the painting was said by one reviewer to be comparable to Sir Joshua (Reynolds), certainly high praise for Lawrence, the relative newcomer to the London art scene.