The Daring Lady Di

Lady Diana BeauclerkNicola here. A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk and a tour at Lydiard House on the subject of Lady Diana Beauclerk, an 18th century aristocrat who was very unusual in her time for working as a professional artist. Born Lady Diana Spencer in 1734, the daughter of the 3rd Duke of Marlborough, she was for a while Lady St John, mistress of Lydiard House and wife to Frederick, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke. Lady Diana’s life story is extraordinary both personally and professionally but the bit I wanted to focus on was her undoubted talents as a painter and the way in which these had been downplayed because she was a woman and a scandalous one at that. It was a particular pleasure to be giving the talk at Lydiard House, where we could follow in her footsteps in the house and garden and see the influence that her life there had on her art. In the “Diana Room” at Lydiard we also have the largest collection of her work in the UK.

Lady Diana Spencer was the eldest daughter of the 3rd Duke of Marlborough. She was born in 1734 and spent some of her childhood at Blenheim Palace. There was a great deal of fine art there to inspire her; one of her earliest childhood drawings was a pastel of a baby based on a Rubens painting that hung there and chubby Rubenesque cherubs remained a motif of her drawing all of her life. This was how she initially learned to draw and paint, through seeing artistic images and creating her own versions of them.

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Out in the Georgian Country Garden

PheasantNicola here. The recent hot weather in the UK (3 hot days and a thunder storm, as the old adage suggests) has given us lots of lovely opportunities for being outside, whether sitting reading a book, eating, or doing some much needed gardening. Two hundred years ago if I had been sitting in this spot it would probably have been a vegetable garden and pen for the pig. The cottage would have been newly built, two rooms up, two down. It looked out across a rough track rather than a paved road, and there was a stream that ran down the side of the road and into a pond at the bottom of the garden. The villagers dumped their waste there; lots of pottery has been found in the dried out pond bed.

In those days people living in this sort of worker’s cottage had precious little time for leisure or for growing flowers for pleasure. Garden They grew food and kept animals to live on, and their existence in the village was a communal one with one well (now in the garden of Spring Cottage.) You would need to go further up the social scale to find a cottage or “villa” where there was a garden designed for relaxing in. The doctor and the vicar would have that sort of house in this sort of village; their wives and daughters did not need to work and the garden was a social space. Those houses look pretty big to us today and cost a fortune to buy but in the Georgian era they were the homes of the lesser gentry and though there might be time to sit around drawing or growing flowers, the lady of the house would still learn all about seed planting and making herbal medicines alongside her other house hold duties.

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