About Me

My Photo
San Francisco, California, United States

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Windsor Fire

Crimson Drawing Room - 1993

In 1993 Alexander Creswell was commissioned to make watercolors of the fire-damaged interior of Windsor Castle. Then in 1999 he was again commissioned to make watercolors of the restorations.

Crimson Drawing Room - 1999

State Dining Room - 1993

State Dining Room - 1999

Grand Reception Room - 1993

Grand Reception Room - 1999

St. George's Hall - 1993

St. George's Hall - 1999

St. George's Hall, Gallery - 1993

The Private Chapel - 1993

Green Drawing Room - 1999

Kitchen - 1999

The watercolors are preserved today in the Royal Collection.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Royal Favor

Joshua Reynolds
When George III was asked by Lord Eglinton to sit for the most fashionable portrait painter of the day, Joshua Reynolds, he replied: ‘Mr Ramsay is my painter, my Lord.’ Reynolds tried to gain royal notice with two speculative ventures – a portrait of George III as Prince of Wales and an oil sketch for a depiction of his marriage to Queen Charlotte – both of which remained on his hands. Reynolds was knighted by George III, made first president of the Royal Academy and Principal Painter to the King upon Ramsay’s death in 1784, but never asked to paint anything. 

Jacopo Amigoni
Frederick Prince of Wales
This portrait was painted for the Prince's friend, George Bubb Dodington (1691-1762); the artist was paid forty guineas for it in 1736. As is appropriate for a friend's portrait this one shows the Prince in an informal and affable guise, as patron of the arts. An admirer of the poet Alexander Pope, the Prince is shown holding a book inscribed Pope’s Homer, alluding to Pope’s famous recently-published translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Cherubs fly above the Prince holding a lyre (the attribute of Poetry) and a snake biting its tail (the attribute of Eternity, the duration of a true poet's fame).

Peter Oliver
Alexander the Great
c. 1630
Peter Oliver was trained as a miniaturist by his father, Isaac Oliver, and became court limner to Charles I. He produced portrait miniatures in an increasingly free and naturalistic style until c. 1630 when he began to focus primarily on producing limned copies of Old Master paintings from Charles I's collection. 

Jean Clouet
Man holding a volume of Petrarch
c. 1530-35
The sitter in this arresting portrait remains unidentified. In his ungloved hand he holds a small volume by the celebrated fourteenth-century Italian poet Petrarch, though the inscription ‘Petrarca’ is on the back cover of the volume rather than the front. The laces of the binding are undone, as if the man has just stopped reading the volume. 

Domenico Fetti
A Bishop-Saint Writing
c. 1620-22
Here a bearded middle-aged figure, with a halo, is shown in profile to the left. He is holding a pen in his right hand and a paper in his left. He wears a green and yellow cope with a jewelled clasp and his mitre is in the background, indicating that he is a bishop saint, possibly St Augustine or St Ambrose. Both bishop saints were Fathers of the Church and popular figures in painting, who were frequently shown writing.

Giuseppe Macpherson
Portrait of Camillo Boccacci
c. 1772-80
This miniature is one of the collection of copies of 224 self-portraits by artists in the Uffizi Palace, Florence, that Lord Cowper, the art collector and patron, commissioned from Giuseppe Macpherson (1726-1780). He presented the miniatures to King George III in two batches, in 1773 and 1786. Macpherson followed the original self-portraits quite closely, but copied only the head and shoulders.

Hans Holbein
Portrait of Derick Born
The inscription on the stone ledge at the lower edge suggests that the portrait appears to be so lifelike that you would doubt whether it is painted (by the artist) or is in fact the real living person (the child created by the father): DERICHVS SI VOCEM ADDAS IPSISSIMVS HIC SIT / HVNC DVBITES PICTOR FECERIT AN GENITOR / DER BORN ETATIS SV AE 23. ANNO 1533. "If you added a voice, this would be Derich his very self. You would be in doubt whether the painter or his father made him. Der Born aged 23, the year 1533"

Antonio Canova
Mars (detail)
The full length sculpture of the Roman Gods ‘Mars and Venus’ was carved from a single marble block. It was commissioned by the Prince Regent for Carlton House in 1815 during Canova's visit to London to see the Elgin Marbles. The work was intended as an allegory of War and Peace after England’s victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

George Stubbs
John Gascoigne (d. 1812) with a Bay Horse
George IV's Hunting Groom (later Head Groom) is shown with a chestnut horse, which has been identified as 'Creeper', which George IV acquired in 1791. The horse is approached from the right by a groom in a grey coat and black top hat, holding out a seive; fence and barn visible in the middle ground.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Portraits with Comments

John Riley
Bridget Holmes
Bridget Holmes was a ‘Necessary Woman’ at Court who lived to the age of one hundred. Her period of royal service began during the time of Charles I and continued into the reign of William III and Mary II. She is shown brandishing her brush, playing a game with a Page of the Backstairs.

Anthony Van Dyck
Margaret Lemon
Margaret Lemon was Van Dyck’s mistress and is unfortunately known to us today only through contemporary tittle-tattle. A fellow artist of Van Dyck, Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-77), described her as violently jealous, even on one occasion attempting to bite Van Dyck’s thumb off. It is believed that this portrait was left unfinished because of the artist’s marriage in February 1640 to the more respectable court beauty Mary Ruthven.

George Stubbs
Laetitia, Lady Lade
Laetitia, Lady Lade, was the wife of Sir John Lade. She was a notorious adventuress and renowned as a skilled rider. Her reputation for using bad language made her unpopular among the fashionable ladies at court, but she and her husband were both friends of the Prince of Wales. 

Sir Edwin Landseer
Queen Victoria on Horseback
c. 1837-39
Landseer described Queen Victoria as a ‘very inconvenient little treasure’; the Queen described the artist in similar terms. Their relationship was close, fruitful and fraught; Landseer was inspired in fits and starts; the Queen enthusiastic but also meddlesome and as concerned with the banality of a likeness as with the brilliance of an artistic idea. This work is an oil sketch for an ambitious equestrian portrait which failed to materialise after thirty years of trying and as many false starts.

Jan Steen
Woman at her Toilet
A young woman is shown partially undressed, with an unlaced jacket, putting on a stocking. A lapdog lies on her unmade bed, by which there is a chamber pot, and her shoes are scattered on the floor. The figure is alluring and looks straight out at the viewer with an inviting expression. Seduction is her intent. 

Pieter de Hooch
Courtyard in Delft at Evening
c. 1656
A Courtyard in Delft, acquired by George IV in 1829, is one of de Hooch’s earliest treatments of the theme, dating from c.1657-8. It is also one of the most atmospheric in the portrayal of the shadows filling the foreground. Thus, de Hooch contrasts the seated figure seen in shadow with the standing figure who is walking from the sunlight into shadow. On the vertical axis there is a similar shift from the bright blue sky overhead to the darker tones in the lower half.

Saint Catherine Reading
c. 1530-32
According to the Golden Legend, St Catherine of Alexandria was a young girl of royal birth who was desired by the Roman Emperor Maxentius (AD 306-12). She refused either to marry him or renounce her Christian faith, and he ordered her to be tortured to death on a spiked wheel, but it shattered miraculously. Maxentius then had her beheaded. Catherine was particularly known for her learning: here a broken fragment of her wheel provides a convenient resting place for her book, while she holds a martyr’s palm in her other hand.

Giulio Romano
Margherita Paleologo
c. 1531
This portrait by Giulio Romano depicts a fashionable noblewoman in a magnificent black dress. She is probably Isabella d’Este’s daughter-in-law, Margherita Paleologo (1510-1566), at the time of her marriage to Federico Gonzaga, 1st Duke of Mantua, in 1531. The sitter wears a black overdress created from interlaced bands of black fabric (perhaps a heavy silk) edged with gold over a pale crimson undergown, and on her head an elaborate zazara (headdress). In the room behind her, a maidservant greets three visitors: two fashionable ladies and a nun.

Jacopo Tintoretto
Esther Before Ahasuerus
c. 1546-47
King Ahasuerus’s second wife, Esther, learns that the King’s chief minister is plotting to have all the Jews in the Persian Empire massacred. Esther intercedes with the King and eventually he grants her request to spare her people. The intense colours create an impression of exotic splendour, while strong light heightens the drama. 

Palma Vecchio
c. 1522-24
Inspired by Titian’s 'Flora' (Uffizi, Florence), the seductive but idealised female half-length was one of Palma’s specialities. This woman’s appearance may have been inspired by the look of Venetian courtesans at the time, and also reflects descriptions of erotic beauty in literature.

Style of Francesco Albani
Woman Listening to a Satyr Piping
c. 1650-80
In a wooded landscape a woman, perhaps a nymph, is half reclining with her head on her right hand. She rests her left hand on the pink red cloth in which she is half-draped as she listens to a satyr at the left, piping. Behind the satyr a cupid aims a bow at the woman.

Peter Paul Rubens
Assumption of the Virgin
c. 1611-12
The subject comes from various early church fables collected by Jacobus de Voragine in his Golden Legend of c.1260. The apostles were brought by angels to the Virgin’s death-bed and assisted in her burial in a tomb in the Vale of Josaphat; there she was assumed (that is, ‘carried up’), body and soul, into heaven, ‘great multitude of angels keeping her company’. St John of Damascus (c.675–c.749) called the Virgin the ‘font of true light’ and likened her assumption to the sun appearing after an eclipse. Rubens uses a similar metaphor, creating a heavenly glory around the Virgin in the likeness of the rising sun. Rubens departs from usual practice in including the sisters, Sts Mary and Martha, symbols of the active and contemplative life, with the apostles round the tomb.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Association Bindings

Binding of Queen Alexandra - 1908

These several delectable bindings from the Royal Collection originally came to be distinguished and retained because of the eminence of their owners, not because of their own intrinsic merit. Bindings seldom come to be collected for their own sakes. They are the lovely thing that tags along when collections are formed for all kinds of other reasons.

Binding of Queen Mary - 1912

Binding of Queen Elizabeth I - 1578

George III patriotic binding - 1793

French binding on an early printed book

Binding of George II - 1734

Binding of George III - 1804

Prince of Wales binding - 1743

Prince of Wales binding - 1723

Binding of Prince Henry Benedict Stuart, Cardinal York - 1780

Binding designed by Robert Adam - 1764

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Eight Hands


On a visit to the Danish court in 1883, Alexandra, Princess of Wales joined her mother and sisters at two grand pianos side by side to play arrangements for eight hands.


In 1861 Queen Victoria had selected Alexandra as the right wife for her difficult eldest son. The ceremony took place in 1863.



Alexandra's attire on the great occasion owed a great debt to her powerful mother-in-law's love of embellishment. The design, as worn, resembled an enormous confection of pastry, sufficient to feed thousands.

But soon enough  as a young married woman free to choose for herself  the new Princess of Wales grew to be much admired by the public for her stylishness.



She was admired by the Queen for her watercolors. Those below include decoupage-work with family photographs.






Above, Alexandra in domestic costume with daughter Maud. Below, a somewhat less convincing image of maternity in a day-dress of velvet and lace with flounces descending in heavy cascades.



When the Shah of Persia visited the Prime Minister at Hatfield House, the Princess of Wales wore a gown cut with daring novelty to exploit a border-print  the fabric quite possibly Persian in origin. Her husband the wayward Prince is at far left, a tribute to his tailors. The pair of them taken together succeed in making everybody else look rumpled.


By the 1890s Alexandra had permanently assumed a demeanor of rigid elegance. The daughters were said to be very much in her thrall.