An Artist’s Eye for Detail

YBACAndrea here, musing today about art. Yes, I do that a lot, as it’s something near and dear to my heart. In case, my thoughts have to do with research and how art can be an unexpected source of wonderful details for an author of historical novels.

GoatsI recently had the opportunity to attend a special exhibition JMW Turner watercolors in the Study Room of the Yale British Art Center. They have an amazing collection in their archives, and many are rarely shown in public. What made the experience truly amazing what that they up the painting on display tables and placed a magnifying glass by each one. We were all allowed to get “up close and personal” with the art!

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Home Sweet Home

Regency-1Cara/Andrea here, As I sit here amidst piles of unpacked boxes and stuff to be sorted into its new places, I am breathing a sigh of relief that the ordeal of moving from one home to another is over. I’m usually able to stay on an even keel through all the inevitable storms and squalls that spring up in the course of Life. But this was House 2-7incredible stressful. There is, of course, the physical process of sorting through your belongings and deciding what to keep and what is merely weighing you down. That can be emotional. However, far more emotional is both leaving a familiar place, where all your things have a regular place and surround you with a sense of order and continuity, and finding a new place where you feel you can create a sense of “home.” In some ways, change is good! It challenges you to reassess a lot about yourself things, and see things in a new light. But in some ways it’s also absolutely terrifying.

Regency-3Which got me to thinking about moving in the Regency, especially for women. It suddenly occurred to me that “home” and the prospect of losing a secure place in the world, plays an integral part in many of Austen’s novels. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion—actual displacement from a familiar place or fear of losing it play a central role in the stories. Mansfield Park also has a strong theme of “home” as Fanny struggles to figure where and how she fits in.

Young_Ladies_at_HomeWhere is your place in the world? I had the freedom to decide I was ready for a change and then take independent action to make it happen, but for our Regency sisters, it wasn’t quite so simple. For one thing, few ladies had the financial means to make such decisions on their Imagesown. Unless they were lucky enough to have received a bequest from some rich relative of property or money, they had little hope of establishing themselves in their own place. Of course, if they were married, the situation became even stickier, as the legalities of the time made them little more than a husband’s property, like his horses and his hounds.

6450In the higher circles of English society, there was also the worry of a husband passing away without a male child, leaving his widow and daughters at the mercy of the heir, who by rights can toss them out on their ear. In this light, Mrs. Bennett’s obsession with marrying off her daughters—especially to a rich man who will take care of the rest of them—becomes Regency-2a tad more sympathetic. Worry over the future was no trifling matter. Austen shows us this in Sense and Sensibility. The Dashwoods must make the best of being forced from their home when Dashwood’s son by his first marriage inherits the house. They are offered a cottage by distant relations, and must establish a new life. Their story, of course, has a happy ending, but I imagine that many real-life situations did not. Slowly sinking into genteel poverty was not uncommon. The sense of dislocation and helplessness must have been frightening and frustrating.

1813-ackermann-regency-morning-dress-2So ladies were pretty much dependent on making a making a good match or the goodwill of their family to care for them as spinsters or widows. Now, family dynamics likely haven’t changed much over the centuries. Relationships are, say we say complicated, and it’s the rare family whose interactions are nothing but sweetness and light. Conflicts and resentments can arise, making the hierarchy even more complex. A brother’s wife may resent the crowding and extra mouths to feed, or expect an unwed sister to serve as a Regency-13nursery maid. An imperious grandmother may treat a poor relation as an unpaid servant, there to do her bidding at every hour of the day. Any female with spirit or a lively intellect could very feel stifled and frustrated by a lack of independence. For a gentry girl, an option could be seeking a position as a governess or paid companion, but that was in a sense simply jumping from the frying pan into the fire. For an aristocratic lady, there wasn’t even that choice—if she didn’t marry, she would likely find herself confined to world where the horizons were ever shrinking rather than expanding world.

BoatSo as I settle into my new digs, and surround myself with all the little things that are meaningful to me and create a sense of “home,” I reflect on how much as I love the Regency, I am glad to be living in the here and now. (But hey, I brought my oil lamps with me from the old house . . . there is something to be said for the best of both worlds!

So how about you? Have you ever moved, and did you find it as stressful as I did? What would you dislike most about living as a poor relation in a household? I would miss the privacy and the quiet time to read and reflect.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words


Art gallery

Cara/Andrea here,
I love research. Learning about all the little everyday details that help create a scene from the Regency world—a ball, a prize fight, an art exhibition at the Royal Academy, a coaching stop at a country inn, a rural barnyard—is fascinating. I have shelves of books on esoteric subjects from the era in my writing room, and I’m constantly reading to get a picture of how things looked and felt. (above is a scene from an art exhibit—notice how the pictures are crowded on the wall and go nearly to the ceiling.)

But there is an old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words . . . and I couldn’t agree more! Written descriptions are all very well, but there’s something very wonderful about studying drawings and paintings from the time, where one can actually SEE what the clothes and the scenes look like. Some of my favorite resources are the watercolor sketches of Thomas Rowlandson, who had a very sharp—and sometimes cynical—eye. Best known for his satirical cartoons, he was also a very observant artist, who made numerous drawings and paintings of everyday life in the late Georgian and Regency era.

In keeping with the phrase above, I’m going to keep my commentary short and simply share a selection of his art that I find particularly fascinating. (all art courtesy of the Yale British Art Center)

Bath Ball
A ball in Bath (notice the musicians and the chairs with the watchful chaperones)

Ball
A ball at Scarborough (Notice the gallery for the musicians and the architecture of the room)

Bath Concert
A concert in Bath (Notice the arrangement of the chairs and the stage for the singer.)

Covent Garden Market
Covent Garden Market (Notice all the details of clothing and the stalls)

Barnyard
A country barnyard (Notice the sprawling barns and sheds)

Potter
A country potter taking his wares to market. (Notice the cart and harness), and the house)

Gardening
Gardening (Notice the dogs and the bare feet)

Stage coach
Loading a stage coach. (Notice the outside passengers and the design of the coach and driver's box.)

Traveling coach
Traveling through the countryside (Notice the details of the whole scene, like how all the horses have docked tails)

Prize Fight
A prize fight (Notice the whole set-up)

Horse auction
Horse sale in Hopkins's Repository, Barbican (Notice the auctioneer and the crowd)

Boat raceThe Annual Sculling Race for Doggett's Coat and Badge (Notice the shapes of the rowing boats and the spectator vessels)

So, I hope you enjoyed this little portrait portfolio of Regency life by an artist of the time. Did you see anything that surprised you? Delighted you? I was struck by how many sketches show dogs as pets. Seeing what a "mill" actually looked like was also wonderful—! hadn't envisioned the carriages crowded so close to the ring. And having read about the race for Dogget's Coat and Badge, I just loved seeing an eyewitness image of what the boats and racers looked like, as well as getting a great feel for the ambiance—one can just sense the ruacous excitement of the spectators. What about you? Please share your impressions!