Georgian Art (1760-1820): An Introductory Review of English Painting, Architecture, Sculpture, Ceramics, Glass, Metalwork, Furniture, Textiles and Other Arts during the Reign of George III

By Roger Fry; J. B. Manson et al. | Go to book overview

THE MINOR ARTS

By Louise Gordon-Stables

HARDLY less eloquent of their time than the more important works of art are those minor accessories, which at this period completed for men and women of taste the settings given to their homes and their persons. One visualises this era as one in which a rather exaggerated value was placed on such details as might accentuate that impression of the luxurious and the fastidious that loomed so large in the exquisite's scheme of things. To be "in the picture," beaux must have the right snuff-box for use on every occasion, the miniature hung about the neck of their lady or adorning her escritoire must be by an approved hand, his watch-fob and her étui must be impeccable in point of craftsmanship, their tea-table with its lacquer tray and inlaid caddy a vehicle for the display of objets d'art.

MINIATURES. --Among these less significant manifestations of art, that of the miniature [Plate 1, A, B] is perhaps the most interesting. From among a host of miniaturists, most of whom evinced a singular skill in the production of a small portrait, calculated with subtle flattery to add to the amenities of existence, there stands out the name of Richard Cosway, whose style, so exactly suited to the mentality of his day, set the fashion for numerous followers. Greatly skilled in regard to technicalities and seldom erring in point of arrangement, of colour and of the general quality of his work, Cosway owed, no doubt, not a little of his popularity to the fact that he happened to arrive at a time when the miniature had fallen into a state of anæmia.

If Cosway's sitters are made by him to appear a little too hyacinthine about the locks, too scarlet as to the lips, too melting in regard to the eyes, at any rate, such items, even if not strictly veracious, go to make up a pleasing whole. There is, too, a swiftness about his brushwork, which, though probably accounted for by the fact that a multiplicity of commissions forbade too high a degree of finish, gives a certain vitality to his miniatures. If it is a somewhat saccharine romanticism that informs his miniatures of women, those of his men seem instinct with a greater sensibility and individuality, possibly accounted for by the fact that he felt under slighter obligation to flatter them. His portrait of George III gives an admirable impression of that monarch, enabling one to fit in wit the various occurrences of a reign distinguished by blunders of far-reaching effect. But it was his portrait of a pretty woman, Mrs. Fitzherbert, that first attracted to him fame and Fortune, and it is his portraits of pretty women that, to-day, are so much sought after by collectors that in consequence the market is flooded by numerous forgeries. Frequently, however, the faker makes the mistake of inscribing the forged signature upon the front of the picture. This is rarely the case with the genuine Cosway miniature, a signature upon the back being much more usual.

To George Engleheart, the successful contemporary of Cosway, we owe a quaint conceit in miniature-painting. It was his idea to depict for the Prince of Wales merely the eye of Mrs. Fitzherbert, and immediately the notion became the mode, not only among the English é1égantes, but likewise on the Continent. Such miniatures were commissioned to take the place of gems in lockets, rings and bracelets, and the sentimentality of the era liked to back the trinket with a flock of hair belonging to the owner of the eyes. And in this adaptation of miniature- painting to the purposes of personal ornament, we touch upon a number of amusing developments. It is one thing to give as a gage d'amour a tabatière or a bonbonnière, its lid adorned with one's own miniature, another to fasten one's waistcoat with a set of gargantuan buttons, decorated with portraits of the first twelve Roman Emperors

-63-

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Georgian Art (1760-1820): An Introductory Review of English Painting, Architecture, Sculpture, Ceramics, Glass, Metalwork, Furniture, Textiles and Other Arts during the Reign of George III
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface 1
  • Introduction. 3
  • Painting. 11
  • Architecture and Sculpture. 23
  • Ceramics and Glass. 33
  • Furniture. 51
  • The Minor Arts 63
  • Index 69
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