Marking the 225th Anniversary of Gainsborough’s Death

Posted in anniversaries by Editor on August 2, 2013

When Valerie Hedquist, who’s finishing a book on the reception history of Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, recently pointed out to me that today will mark the 225th anniversary of Gainsborough’s death, I was happy to invite her to contribute a posting, even happier that she agreed. And thus here, for a brief moment, she leads us alongside the painter’s coffin towards Kew . . .CH


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Born in 1727, Thomas Gainsborough fell ill in April 1788 and died of cancer several months later on Saturday, 2 August — 225 years ago today.

According to newspaper accounts, his death brought together “some of the most brilliant characters of the age.” Among the fifteen “few select friends” named in the obituary notice of the Whitehall Evening Post was Jonathan Buttall, regarded until recently as the subject of The Blue Boy. Along with men with connections to art, music, and theater, Buttall joined the procession of black-shrouded mourners traveling with the Gainsborough one last time as they accompanied his casket from the artist’s Pall Mall home westward to his burial plot at the Kew Green churchyard of St. Anne’s. While these individuals lived and worked in diverse London neighborhoods, their residences mostly concentrated in and around the artistic center of Soho, in contrast to the upscale West End, where Gainsborough had resided since 1774.

Who were these mourners? The surgeon and anatomist John Hunter and his neighbor, Sir Joshua; Thomas Linley and the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan; the American Benjamin West and the Swedish-born Scot, Sir William Chambers; the ‘father of English watercolour’ Paul Sandby; the wax portraitist Isaac Gosset and the stipple engraver Francesco Bartolozzi; the miniaturists Samuel Cotes and Jeremiah Meyer; the brother-in-law of the critic and newspaper publisher Sir Henry Bate Dudley, William Pearce; and Gainsborough’s nephew, Gainsborough Dupont, who, according to recent work by Susan Sloman, may be the actual sitter for Blue Boy.* Writing in his diary, Joseph Farington claimed it was Pearce at the artist’s bedside when he spoke his last words: “Vandyck was right.”

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* The most complete argument is made in Susan Sloman, “Gainsborough’s Blue Boy,” The Burlington Magazine 155 (April 2013): 231-37. Also see, Sloman, “ ’A Divine Countenance’: Gainsborough’s Portrait of His Nephew Rediscovered,” The Burlington Magazine 146 (May 2004), 319-22; and Sloman, in the exhibition catalogue Van Dyck in Britain, ed. by Karen Hearn (London: Tate Publishing, 2009).

Exhibition | The Taste of Diderot

Posted in anniversaries, exhibitions by Editor on July 31, 2013

This upcoming exhibition at the Musée Fabre de Montpellier marks the 300th anniversary of Diderot’s birth (5 October 1713); today, incidentally, is the anniversary of his death (31 July 1784). From the museum’s programme brochure:

Le Goût de Diderot
Musée Fabre de Montpellier, 5 October 2013 — 12 January 2014
Fondation de l’Hermitage, Lausanne, 7 February — 1 June 2014

Le goût est sourd à la prière. Ce que Malherbe a dit de la mort,
je le dirais presque de la critique; tout est soumis à sa loi.
Diderot, Préface du Salon de 1765


Etienne-Maurice Falconet, Pygmalion et Galatée, 1761, marbre ©RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Hervé Lewandowski

Le musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération et la Fondation de l’Hermitage de Lausanne s’associent pour célébrer le tricentenaire de la naissance de Denis Diderot (1713–1784), une figure majeure des Lumières françaises.

Philosophe, romancier, dramaturge, encyclopédiste, Diderot a également joué un rôle pionnier dans le domaine des arts, en rédigeant à partir de 1759, pour la Correspondance littéraire, les comptes rendus des expositions publiques de peinture et de sculpture que l’Académie royale organisait tous les deux ans dans le Salon carré du Louvre. Ces textes serviront et servent encore de modèle et de référence à la critique d’art.

A travers une sélection de peintures (Boucher, Chardin, Vien, Greuze, Vernet, David…), de sculptures (Pigalle, Falconet, Houdon…), de dessins et de gravures, l’exposition propose un aperçu de ce qu’était l’art au temps des Lumières auquel Diderot fut confronté, et de la manière dont il développa et exerça son goût propre. Sa culture visuelle, plastique, architecturale se développe progressivement, ses Salons deviennent au cours des années 1760 la rubrique fétiche de la Correspondance littéraire. Dans les années 1770, il est sollicité comme courtier par Catherine II lors des grandes ventes des collections privées françaises. Goethe lit ses Essais sur la peinture en Allemagne, ses idées esthétiques et sa dramaturgie influencent de façon décisive le courant Sturm und Drang.

Mais ce qu’on retiendra surtout, ce sont les mises en relation audacieuses qu’il propose, où genres, modes, médiums se rencontrent : Greuze avec Boucher, le vrai faux moral et le faux vrai libertin ; Deshays et Doyen avec Homère, Vien et Falconet avec Anacréon, pour que le peintre soit aussi un poète ; Vernet le paysagiste avec les verres et les fruits de Chardin, pour la magie de l’art. L’exposition proposera au spectateur de faire l’expérience de ces rencontres, guidé par la verve inimitable de Diderot.

Note (added 31 March 2014)The original posting failed to note the mounting of the exhibition in Lausanne.

Happy Birthday, Sir Joshua!

Posted in anniversaries by Editor on July 16, 2013

Joshua Reynolds, Self-portrait, ca.1747-49 (London: National Portrait Gallery). Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Joshua Reynolds, Self-portrait, ca. 1747–49 (London: National
Portrait Gallery). Image from Wikimedia Commons

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To mark the birthday of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–92), who would turn 290 today, I draw readers’ attention to this blog posting from the material culture seminar series organized by CRASSH at the University of Cambridge. Katy Barrett summarizes presentations made by Matthew Hunter and Mark Hallett on June 11, each of whom addressed Reynolds’s output under the larger rubric of ‘painted things’. Audio is available here»

The Slave Owner, the Cook, His Sister, and Her Lover

Posted in anniversaries, books by Editor on July 4, 2013

Published last September, Craughwell’s book underscores Jefferson’s complicated attitudes and debts to slavery. On, this, the day of the United State’s birth and Jefferson’s death, that strikes me as useful. It’s certainly fascinating to see the American introduction of macaroni and cheese as part of a trans-Atlantic story involving both Europe and Africa. Happy Independence Day.CH

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From Quirk Books:

Thomas J. Craughwell, Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brûlée: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America (Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2012), 256 pages, ISBN: 978-1594745782, $20.

Book Review Thomas Jeffersons Creme BruleeThis culinary biography recounts the 1784 deal that Thomas Jefferson struck with his slaves, James Hemings [brother of Sally Hemings]. The founding father was traveling to Paris and wanted to bring James along “for a particular purpose”— to master the art of French cooking. In exchange for James’s cooperation, Jefferson would grant his freedom.

Thus began one of the strangest partnerships in United States history. As Hemings apprenticed under master French chefs, Jefferson studied the cultivation of French crops (especially grapes for winemaking) so the might be replicated in American agriculture. The two men returned home with such marvels as pasta, French fries, Champagne, macaroni and cheese, crème brûlée, and a host of other treats. This narrative history tells the story of their remarkable adventure—and even includes a few of their favorite recipes.

Abram Barkshian reviewed the book for The Wall Street Journal (14 September 2012).

Exhibition | Anton Graff: Faces of an Era

Posted in anniversaries, books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on June 28, 2013

The exhibition opened last weekend on the two-hundredth anniversary of the artist’s death (22 June 1813). From the Museum Oskar Reinhart:

Anton Graff: Gesichter einer Epoche
Museum Oskar Reinhart, Winterthur, 22 June — 29 September 2013
National Gallery in Berlin, 25 October 2013 — 23 February 2014

coverAnton Graff, who was born in Winterthur, was the most important portrait painter in the German-speaking world around 1800. He influenced the image of the bourgeoisie and nobility and the image of poets and thinkers on the brink of Modernism like no other. When he died in 1813, he left behind around 1800 portraits depicting a panorama of transitioning European society.

In celebration of the 200th anniversary of his death, the Museum Oskar Reinhart in Winterthur and the National Gallery in Berlin are honouring the work of Anton Graff in a comprehensive exhibition for the first time in 50 years. After a first stop at the Museum Oskar Reinhart from 22 June to 29 September 2013, the exhibition will be able to be seen in the National Gallery in Berlin between 25 October 2013 and 23 February 2014. The exhibition and the richly illustrated catalogue, which will be published by the Munich-based Hirmer Publishers, came about thanks to the cooperation of both institutions.

Marc Fehlmann and Birgit Verwiebe, eds., Anton Graff: Gesichter einer Epoche (Munich: Hirmer Publishers, 2013), 336 pages, ISBN: 978-3777420509, 40€.

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From Berlin’s Alte Nationalgalerie:

Bis in das Innere der Seele“ zu schauen, darin bestand, den Worten des Philosophen Johann Georg Sulzer zufolge, die Meisterschaft des großen Porträtisten Anton Graff. Der überaus produktive Künstler zählt zu den herausragenden Bildnismalern des späten 18. und frühen 19. Jahrhunderts. Sein größtes Verdienst war, die Berühmtheiten seiner Epoche zu porträtieren. Ihm ist das Panorama des deutschen Geistes zu danken, das die Bildnisse der bedeutendsten Dichter und Denker umfasst, wie etwa Lessing, Nicolai, Mendelssohn, Sulzer, Wieland, Gellert, Herder und Schiller.


Anton Graff, Self-portrait with the Green Eye-shade, 1813 (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie)

Graff wurde 1736 in Winterthur geboren und nahm dort seinen ersten Kunstunterricht. In Augsburg, Ansbach und Regensburg bildete er sich weiter. 1766 – 30jährig – wurde er in Dresden kurfürstlich-sächsischer Hofmaler und Mitglied der Akademie. Regelmäßig führten ihn Reisen nach Berlin, Leipzig und in die Schweiz. Gegen Ende seines Lebens wurde Graff gleichsam zu einer Symbolfigur für den Kreis junger Romantiker in Dresden. 1813, mit 76 Jahren, starb der Maler.

Graff hat seine Zeitgenossen nicht im Gestus der Repräsentation festgehalten. Vielmehr lag ihm daran, das Wesen des Einzelnen auszuloten, seine Individualität zu entdecken, seine seelischen und geistigen Qualitäten wiederzugeben. Auch heute noch spricht die innere Gestimmtheit der aufgeklärten geistigen Elite in Deutschland unmittelbar aus Graffs meisterhaften Werken. Mit Bildnissen von Königen und Fürsten, vom aufstrebenden Bürgertum, von Staatsmännern, Gelehrten, Künstlern, Kaufleuten, Geistlichen schuf er eine Galerie der deutschen Gesellschaft an der Schwelle zur Moderne.

Ein halbes Jahrhundert hat es keine Ausstellung zum Werk Graffs gegeben. Nun, anlässlich des 200. Todestages, wird sein Werk wieder umfassend präsentiert.

Die Retrospektive „Anton Graff. Gesichter einer Epoche“ entstand in Kooperation mit dem Museum Oskar Reinhart, Winterthur. Dort sind rund 80 Werke vom 22. Juni bis 29. September 2013 zu sehen. In der Alten Nationalgalerie Berlin wird die Ausstellung anschließend in erweiterter Form mit rund 140 Werken vom 25. Oktober 2013 bis 23. Februar 2014 gezeigt.

Huguenots of Spitalfields Festival

Posted in anniversaries, lectures (to attend) by Editor on March 28, 2013

Thanks to Emma Barker for noting this upcoming festival with events taking place across London:

Huguenots of Spitalfields Festival
London, 8-21 April 2013


Christ Church, Spitalfields, London

2013 is the year of two significant anniversaries in the intertwined history of the Spitalfields district in London and the silk weaving industry created by Huguenots (French Protestant refugees who fled Catholic France from the 16th century). It is the 250th anniversary of the death of Anna Maria Garthwaite (1690-1763), an outstanding English textile designer who played an important part in the story of the Spitalfields silk weavers. It is also the 415th anniversary of the signing of the Edict of Nantes, on 13th April 1598. This decree by Henry IV of France served as a guarantee to the Protestant Huguenots that their rights to worship would be respected. However, it was revoked by Louis XIV in 1685 with the result that large numbers of French protestants fled to England to escape persecution. Over twenty thousand settled in Spitalfields where there was already an established weaving community.

Come and spend the day in Spitalfield, take a walk and browse around the Market, call in at Christ Church Spitalfields, the finest Baroque church in the country; visit Dennis Severs’ House, drop into the Town House
for coffee and delicious cakes. There is so much to see
and do — you will not be disappointed.

Silk panel, 1748-1750 Spitalfields silk courtesy of the Museum of London

Silk panel, 1748-50 Spitalfields silk (The Museum of London)

Programme of Events

Supported by the Huguenot Society and the Spitalfields Trust

Between 8th and 21st April 2013, a series of activities to commemorate these two anniversaries will take place at different venues in Spitalfields. The celebratory programme will include

Daily Walks – The Immigrants’ Story, Historic Spitalfields, The Silk Weavers of Spitalfields

Talks by experts at the Bishopsgate Institute, Guildhall Library, V&A Museum, London Metropolitan Archives & The Natural History Museum


• Thanksgiving Service on Thursday 11th April at Christ Church, Spitalfields
• Extended opening hours for Dennis Severs’ House
• At Home With Anna Maria: a fundraising soirée on 16th April in Fournier Street with Clare Browne, curator of European textiles at the V&A and Dan Cruickshank
•  Tours of Sandys Row Synagogue and Bisopsgate Institute
• The Big Weave: Saturday 13th April, which is an arts & crafts fair in Spitalfields Market. Stitches in Time will be hosting weaving workshops

The Popol Vuh: An Eighteenth-Century Manuscript Copy

Posted in anniversaries, books by Editor on December 20, 2012

With the December 21st solstice marking the end of a 5,125-year cycle of the Mayan ‘Long Count’ calendar, a posting on the oldest copy of the Mayan sacred text, the Popol Vuh, seems appropriate. The manuscript was produced in 1701-03 and is now part of the collection of the Newberry Library in Chicago.

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From The Newberry:

Popol Vuh

Title page, Popol Vuh. 1701-03 (Chicago: The Newberry Library, Vault Ayer MS 1515)

The Popol Vuh, which has been translated as Book of the Council, Book of the Community, Book of the People, and The Sacred Book, is the creation account of the Quiché Mayan people. It contains stories of the cosmologies, origins, traditions, and spiritual history of the Mayan people. It is considered by many Mayans as their equivalent to the Christian Bible and is held in deep reverence by them. In an effort to make it more widely available and reduce non-essential handling of the text, an important digitization project is underway and almost complete. It includes the complete conservation of the manuscript.

The Newberry’s manuscript of the Popol Vuh is one of the most widely known and possibly the earliest surviving copy. Quiché nobility probably wrote the original manuscript of the Popol Vuh in the mid-sixteenth century, in the Quiché language, using Latin orthography. The Newberry’s Popol Vuh was most likely copied from this original manuscript (now lost) in 1701-03, in the Guatemalan town of Chichicastenango, by Dominican Father Francisco Ximenez. His copy includes the Quiché text and a Spanish translation in side-by-side columns. In addition to the Popol Vuh, the manuscript also contains a Cakchikel-Quiché-Tzutuhil grammar, Christian devotional instructions, and answers to doctrinal questions and other material by Ximenez.

Conservation preparation and treatment are major components of the Popol Vuh digital project. With increased handling of the delicate manuscript during the filming and scanning process, it is absolutely critical to stabilize the paper and inks. A multi-disciplinary group of curators, librarians, conservators, and other experts reviewed the Popol Vuh’s condition and created the following procedure to provide appropriate conservation of the document.

The group decided that the binding, which was not original, should be removed and the ink checked under a microscope and stabilized. Removal of the binding included: separation of the covers from the text, cleaning the glue and paper linings from the spine, cutting the sewing threads, and separating the pages. By removing the old binding, the pages laid flat for filming. After the text was digitized, the manuscript was mended, page-by-page. Mending rejoins tears and strengthens any weak areas of the page, such as loss from insects, moisture damage, or wear from use. After additional consultation, a new binding style was chosen that was sympathetic to the Popol Vuh’s history, and a custom fitted enclosure created to house the Popol Vuh.

The new electronic versions of the Popol Vuh make the manuscript more accessible to a larger number of readers. In order to preserve the item for future generations of researchers, access to the actual sacred text of the Popol Vuh is available by appointment only. To make an appointment, please contact John Brady, Director of Reader Services, at bradyj@newberry.org.

Visitors to the Newberry may access the new electronic versions of the Popol Vuh in the Reference Center on the third floor. Ohio State University has recently released a digital version of the Popol Vuh. In addition, Brigham Young University’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Texts (formerly the Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts) produced a DVD-ROM of the Popol-Vuh. This DVD is available for use in the 3rd floor reference area and is also for sale in the Newberry Bookstore. A facsimile of the work is also available in the Reference Center.

More information is available here»

Happy Thanksgiving

Posted in anniversaries by Editor on November 22, 2012

On this Thanksgiving Holiday (at least a holiday for Americans), I thought readers might enjoy a bit of history of the turkey in North America. Bonny Wolf recently reported on wild turkeys at National Public Radio for Weekend Edition Sunday (11 November 2012). The final sentences stood out for me:

Tureen with Cover in the form of a Turkey, Florsheim Factory, Germany, ca. 1750, Tin-enameled earthenware, 6 x 10 inches (NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Oddly, the ancestors of most supermarket turkeys are from Mexico. The Spanish took them to Europe in the 1500s, and the birds became popular all over the continent. When English settlers came to America, they brought turkeys back to the New World. Those are the turkeys that were developed into today’s commercial varieties, completing the turkey’s roundtrip.

The linked source for the claim comes from a 2010 article, “Ancient Mitochondrial DNA Analysis Reveals Complexity of Indigenous North American Turkey Domestication,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Fascinating. Global eighteenth-century indeed.

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I’m in no position to vouch for the scholarly credibility of the following article, but it’s also interesting. James Earl and Mary C. Kennamer and Ron Brenneman provide a “History of the Wild Turkey in North America,” for the NWTF Wildlife Bulletin (yes, of course, there’s a National Wild Turkey Federation) . . .

The Europeans were familiar with guinea fowl, and peafowl, but then their explorers found a New World bird similar to, but not exactly like, what they were used to seeing. Those early explorers often wrote of finding guinea and peafowl–type birds. Their descriptions though were later determined to be of a new bird soon known as the wild turkey. Even Linnaeus, who proposed the scientific name Meleagris gallopavo in 1758, used names reminiscent of the earlier confusion. The genus name Meleagris means “guinea fowl,” from the ancient Greco–Romans. The species name gallopavo is Latin for “peafowl” of Asia (gallus for cock and pavo for chickenlike). Linnaeus’ descriptions, however, seem to be based primarily on the domestic turkey imported to the U.S. by Europeans. He also described a Mexican subspecies from a specimen taken at Mirador, Veracruz, but which is probably extinct today. . .

Happy Thanksgiving!


Display | 700th Anniversary of Edward III

Posted in anniversaries, exhibitions by Editor on November 13, 2012

While hardly an obvious inclusion for Enfilade, this small exhibition at Windsor includes several eighteenth-century sources. The coat of arms of Edward on display, for instance, comes from the sketchbook of Henry Emlyn (1729-1815), the architect and supervisor of George III’s restoration of the chapel (SGC M.172). John Anstis’s 1724 Black Book, or Register of the Order (SGC RBK DL.13 volume I) is also on view. These and similar items serve as reminders of the historiographical and antiquarian importance of the period. -CH

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From the College of St George:

King Edward III Anniversary
St George’s Chapel, Windsor, 19 June 2012 — 3 January 2013

St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle

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2012 marks the 700th anniversary of the birth of Edward III at Windsor Castle. Born on 13 November 1312, the first son of Edward II and Isabella of France, Edward III became King of England at the age of fourteen, in January 1327, on the abdication of his father.

His reign, lasting fifty years, was dominated by war with Scotland and France, which has led to him being chiefly remembered as a warrior. However, it also saw great building projects, the evolution of the English parliament, the establishment of English as the official language and the longest period of domestic peace in Medieval England. Edward III had a long and close relationship with Windsor. Having been born in the Castle, he was baptised here on 16 November 1312, in St Edward’s Chapel, built by his ancestor Henry III in around 1240 and subsequently rededicated by Edward III to St Mary the Virgin, St George the Martyr and St Edward the Confessor. Several of his children were born at Windsor, and it was here that his Queen Consort, Philippa, died in 1369.

In commemoration of the 70oth anniversary of Edward III’s birth at Windsor, an exhibition of documents, rare books and artefacts from the St George’s Chapel Archives and Chapter Library will be on display in the South Quire Aisle of the
Chapel from 19 June 2012 to 3 January 2013.

The four exhibition cases and explanatory panels cover the following themes:

• Edward III as King
• Edward III and Windsor
• Edward III and St George’s Chapel
• Edward III and the Order of the Garter

Together they illustrate key aspects of the life of this great English king and explore his relationship with Windsor, which he was to make the spiritual home of his new chivalric order, the Order of the Garter, founded here in or shortly before 1348.

Jewish High Holidays

Posted in anniversaries, on site by Editor on September 25, 2012

On Site

With Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) beginning this evening at sundown, it seems like an appropriate time to note an exceptional piece of eighteenth-century English architecture: the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London, the oldest synagogue in Britain, with a history of continuous worship stretching back 311 years. I was one of 2000 fortunate people to visit the building on Sunday in conjunction with London’s annual Open House weekend.

Joseph Avis, The Bevis Marks Synagogue in London, 1701

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A short walk from the Aldgate Tube stop and historically just north of the actual gateway, the Bevis Marks Synagogue was completed in September 1701, the work of Joseph Avis, a Quaker carpenter who had previously worked with Christopher Wren on St Bride’s in Fleet Street. With a few exceptions, the interior and furnishings of this Grade I listed building are original. Some of the benches, in fact, date to the middle of the seventeenth century, when the community met in the upper floor of a house in nearby Creechurch Lane.

It was under Cromwell that these Spanish and Portuguese Jews–many of whom had strong ties to Amsterdam–were legally recognized and allowed to practice their faith openly (in addition to the right to a space for worship, they were granted permission to establish a cemetery). Services today are carried out almost entirely in Hebrew, though there are two exceptions: announcement are made in Portuguese, and prayers for the Queen are said in English.

Architecturally, the building relates to contemporary dissenting traditions and corresponds to the rebuilding of the fifty-one churches by Wren. One of the points I took away from the visit was simply how easy and useful it would be to include the Bevis Marks Synagogue when teaching Wren and the reconstruction of London following the Great Fire. It would provide a physically tangible way to engage the history of Jews in England, looking both backward and forward. One could, for instance, address the arrival of Jews with William the Conqueror, the expulsion under Edward I in 1290, and the migration of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula after 1492. Looking forward into the eighteenth century, I would like to know more about The Board of Deputies of British Jews, which was formally established on the accession of George III to the throne in 1760. With the synagogue, the character and limits of religious tolerance in the period are nicely introduced.  As I’m really just thinking aloud here, I’m sure many of you who teach have already been doing
this and doing it well in your classes–so by all means feel free to chime in
with suggestions.

To all those keeping the fast, G’mar Tov.