Cara/Andrea here, I'm delighted to kick off our regular blog schedule for the new year by welcoming back my good friend and Honorary Word Wench Miranda Neville. Nt only does Miranda craft delightfully smart and sophisticated Regency romances, but as those who have read her books know she also draws on her expertise in period history and art to create a wonderful ambiance of the era. In her latest book, which released just last week, she found inspiration in an unexpected place . . . so without further ado, I shall hand over the pen and let her tell us all about it!
For The Duke of Dark Desires, I used a remarkable creation of the Regency period. One of London’s best art collections is also relatively unknown, probably because it’s inconvenient to reach by public transport. Dulwich Picture Gallery opened in 1817 and is the oldest public art gallery in England. It houses an extraordinary collection of Dutch, French, Italian and Flemish Old Masters including Rembrandt, Rubens, Raphael, Poussin, and Fragonard, as well as English masters like Gainsborough and Lawrence.
The existence of this great museum in a fairly obscure part of south London arose from the career of a pair of eighteenth-century art dealers, Noël Desenfans and Sir Francis Bourgeois. Commissioned by the King of Poland to assemble a ready-made collection of masterworks, the paintings were left on their hands when Poland (not for the first time) succumbed to more powerful neighbors. Failing to find a buyer elsewhere (both the Tsar of Russia and the British government turned it down), the collection was bequeathed by Bourgeois to his old school, Dulwich College, with the stipulation that it be displayed to the public.
Not only was it the first public gallery in England, it was also the first purpose-built gallery in the world. Sir John Soane, one of the most interesting architects of the day, designed the building, including revolutionary roof-lanterns that provided natural top light ideal for viewing art. Adjacent to the gallery space, slightly macabrely, is a mausoleum for Bourgeois, Desenfans, and the latter’s wife.
Before he inherited the title, Julian Fortescue, the hero of my latest book, had to work for his living so he followed his passion and became an art dealer. Though still considered trade, it wasn’t unusual for gentleman to do a little genteel wheeling and dealing, tracking down European treasures to meet the voracious appetite of wealthy Englishmen for works of art. (Sir William Hamilton, Emma’s husband, is a famous example.) Revolutionary Paris offered rich pickings as aristocrats fled the country. Such a story is at the crux of the plot of The Duke of Dark Desires. I also incorporated elements of the Dulwich history into the book, as well as the long, fruitless effort to establish a national collection, which succeeded only with the foundation of the National Gallery in 1824. Best of all, I was able to raid the art galleries of the world to assemble Julian’s collection.
Julian Fortescue never expected to inherit a dukedom, nor to find himself guardian to three young half-sisters. Now in the market for a governess, he lays eyes on Jane Grey and knows immediately she is qualified–to become his mistress. To find the man responsible for the deaths of her family, Jeanne de Falleron enters the Duke of Denford's house as governess Jane Gray. As she discovers more clues about the villain she seeks, she's faced with a possibility more disturbing than her growing feelings for the duke: What will she do if the man she loves is also the man she has sworn to kill?
I’m always pleased when I can tailor real historical events to fit my novels and I especially enjoyed the inspiration of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. I will be thrilled if I encourage a few people to visit this gem. Incidentally, there’s an excellent café!
I am a keen museum goer and I love discovering new ones. Do you have a favorite “lesser known” museum or historic site? Perhaps there’s a hidden gem in your area. If so, I would like to know. One commenter will be chosen at random to win a copy of The Duke of Dark Desires.