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F. Price, 'Imagining Faces: The Later Eighteenth-Century Sentimental Heroine and the Legible, Universal Language of Physiognomy', British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 6, 1 (Spring 1983), p.9 Celibacy and Marriage that, whilst virtue in a man "is inferred but from conduct and action," in women it is "visible in the sweetness and modesty of her exterior."99 However, for such visibility to be enabled in a portrait and for character to appear in the features, the sitter usually had to be depicted in response to some external stimulus. The valorisation of the sentimental mother rendered the child a particularly ideal prompt as the offspring on her lap could stimulate gestures of attentiveness, tenderness and affection, imbue her features with significant meaning and allow the expression of emotion justified by a proper object. Indeed, as one press review declared: "Beauty always appears most lovely when recommended by the affectionate ties of kindred."loo Third, the issues of display and extravagance in dress and personal ornamentation generated problems concerning the garb of sitters. On the one hand, clothing and jewellery were essential signifiers of class and status, particularly in an age when trends changed so rapidly and when the accessibility of fashion was so widespread that maintaining the appearance of a well-born lady was both timeconsuming and expensive.
useful solution.I° 1 This is not to say that this was the main motivating force behind its adoption. Clearly, it connected the female sitter with the admired Roman Matrons of antiquity, it elevated the portrait by suggesting a certain timelessness and it bestowed a sculptural quality on the figure. However, it also removed the sitter from concerns of display, from the vagaries and whims of contemporary fashion and thus enabled the dignifying of the female form.
The removal of emphasis from the particularities of the individual sitter to the character or type was aided by the rarity of identified portraits on display at the Royal Academy. Such anonymity was somewhat futile as reviewers in the press frequently named sitters for the benefit of their curious readers. Equally, the limited size and intimacy of the bon ton meant that identities would probably be familiar to the elite element of the Royal Academy's visitors who, indeed, may well have already seen the paintings on their own visits to artists' studios. This said, the obscuring of the sitter's name went some way towards solving the problems of display incurred in the exhibition of female portraits. Not only were they thus dislocated from the individual represented, they could be elevated into subject paintings and, more specifically, into generalised icons of motherhood. For example, Reynolds's portrait of Lady Cockburn playing with her offspring was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1774 as Portrait of a Lady and her Three Children. This anonymity allowed the particularity of the portrait to be diffused, the dominant subjects to become the attentive mother and the playful children as opposed to the individuals portrayed, and rendered it of interest to people besides those concerned with the sitters. However, this process of generalisation and elevation was rendered still more explicit when an engraving of the The Duchess of Rutland quoted in R. Wendorf, Sir Joshua Reynolds: The Painter in Society (London. 1996). p.131 image by Charles Wilkin, entitled Cornelia, was published in December 1791. The title was in part due to Lord Cockburn's reluctance to have his wife recognised, indicating the intimacy of the painting, but it also served to negate her individual identity still further, concealing it within that of the mother of the Gracchi who pronounced her children to be her most valuable jewels. 102 Such translation of identity, metamorphosing portraiture into allegory, icon or subject painting, can also be seen in the case of Reynolds's depiction of Lady Melbourne embracing her son, Peniston of 1773 (fig.70). When engraved by Dickinson, this image was published under the heading, Maternal Affection. 103 The new emphasis on character over appearance, on the image of the mother lost in adoration of her child as more commendable than the purely aesthetically pleasing female portrait, was reinforced by late eighteenth-century exhibition reviews.
These continued to emphasise the contribution of likeness to the success or failure of a portrait, but also began to comment on the sitter's apparent moral and, frequently, maternal qualities. lAdy Cockburn and her Three Eldest Sons, for example, was praised for the "tender" behaviour of the mother and for the "sprightly and natural" actions of the children, whilst a critic in The London Chronicle in 1784 wrote of another of Reynolds's portraits; "the maternal feelings of the Lady towards the object of her pride and tenderness are touched with the most sensible delicacy."I04 In the same paper four years later, a painting by John Russell of a mother with her offspring was praised in similar terms, her "countenance indicat(ing) all the tenderness of N. Penny, Reynolds (London, 1986), pp.259-60 M. Postle, 'The Golden Age 1760-1790', in R. Strong, ed., The British Portrait 1660-1960 (Woodbridge, 1991), p.218 104 The Public Advertiser. 28 April 1774; The London Chronicle. 29 April-l May 1784 maternal affection." Indeed, this latter reviewer even thought he could deduce that the depicted child was "the offspring of conscious virtue and innocence" from the "placidity" of its mother's countenance. 105 Identity became less a question of the physical and more a question of the moral.
Physiognomy was thus exploited to enable the assessment of character as well as physical appearance and Reynolds's portraits in particular were praised for capturing the innermost qualities of his sitters. 106 However, the possibility of the breakdown of physiognomic truth, the threat that the scene presented could be one solely formed in the mind and on the canvas of the painter, was occasionally acknowledged. For example, when Belinda and Clarence Hervey are marvelling at Westall's depiction of Lady Anne Percival, the former eulogises; "how much more interesting this picture is to us, from our knowing that it is not a fancy-piece; that the happiness is real not imaginary."107 Some, however, exploited the possibility of falsification to pay further tribute to the domestic morality of the sitters. In his eulogy on Hickey's portrait of the Ruspini family, 'PATER FAMILIAS' asserts: "Some fair original in LIFE, bestows/ Such animation as thy copy shews'! Too bright a subject in
Indeed, his supporters often employed such rhetoric to assert that his work was more than mere portraiture. It was claimed in The General Evening Post, 24-27 April 1784 that Reynolds "delineates the character as well as the features of the person," The Public Advertiser, 28 April 1784 praised his portrait of Miss Kemble with the assertion that: ''Thro' every genuine feature pours the Mind" and T.
Morrison in A Pindarick Ode on Painting addressed to Joshua Reynolds, esq. (1767), ed.F.W. Hilles and J.T. Kirkwood (Los Angeles, 1952), p.ll claimed: "For we not see the outward form alone! In thy judicious strokes defin'dj But in them too---distinctly shown---/ The strong-mark'd features of the mind."
Edgeworth, Belinda, p.223 the draught to fade;/ Too rich to need imagination's aid."108 The expression of domestic bliss and harmonious familial relations is here claimed to be of such a quality that it is clearly real, rather than a product of the painter's imagination.
Thus, a new system of categorisation was formed. Portraitists identified their female sitters according to their conjugal fidelity, their affiliation with nature or their maternal tenderness. However, this not only reflected well on the individuals who could lay claim to such virtues, but also on the artist who was sensitive enough to capture and portray them. One writer in 1783, eulogising over Reynolds's ability to capture the characteristics of infancy, claimed; "we are always pleased to see this eminent artist descend to the amiable subjects of infant innocence, as he is sure of treating them in such a style as to suggest to the mind the agreeable persuasion, that his heart is as much entitled to esteem as his genius is to admiration."lo9 Such praise was even more pertinent when subject and artist became closely intertwined as in Benjamin West's depiction of his family, c.1772 (fig.71). The Madonna-like pose adopted by the artist's wife and the harmony, calm and domesticity of the scene prompted the comment that it "does the artist credit on the score of his feelings."110 It demonstrated his possession and enjoyment of familial bliss, his capacity to appreciate it and his desire and ability to record it.
However, the third figure in the equation was the viewer. Discussion increasingly focussed on the sensations aroused in the breast of the spectator involved in an interactive relationship with the image, enjoying his or her appreciation of the 108 Courtauld Institute Press Cuttings, Vol.I, 1731-1811, p.24. The newspaper is unidentified but dated to 20 June 1775 109 Courtauld Institute Press Cuttings, Vol.1, 1731-1811, p.38. The newspaper is unidentified but dated to May 1783 110 The Morning Chronicle, 25 April 1777 touching scene according to dictates of sensibility. In his Inquiry into the Beauties of Painting of 1760, Daniel Webb argued that art should "melt the soul into a tender participation of human miseries... give a tum to the mind advantageous to society... and quicken us to acts of humanity and benevolence."lll Such precepts lay behind The Morning Chronicle's claim in 1777 that Reynolds was able to give "all his figures such force of expression, that scarce a person looks at them without entering into a kind of colloquy with the picture."112 The exemplars of domestic bliss as depicted in portraits could thus stimulate noble and lofty feelings in their observers and the Ladies Waldegrave as represented by Reynolds could be hailed as "three lovely Graces! who have deign'd to visit the Earth, in order to set an amiable Example of domestic Employment, to an idle, frivolous, dissipated age."1l3 Similarly, a reviewer of a portrait by Nathaniel Hone, portraying a lady surrounded by her children, was able to assert that this and "every Attempt towards diffusing the Charm of Domestick Affection should be favourably received." I 14 The new emphasis on the viewer was partly related to the metamorphosis of portraits into subject paintings, for it was claimed that the process of translation enabled them to be enjoyed by a more general audience than simply the friends, family and acquaintances of the sitter portrayed. One reviewer thus argued that Reynolds's capacity to capture a character and to convey more than mere physical particularities "dignifies portrait painting, and makes it interesting to the stranger," whilst another declared the artist's "eclat" to be "his particular taste in the character and disposition Quoted in E.n.H. Johnson, Paintings of the British Social Scene from Hogarth to Sickert III (London, 1986), p.87 The Morning Chronicle. 25 April 1777 113 The Public Advertiser. 1 May 1781 Stlames·sChronicle. 4 May 1782 of his portraits, which become pictures of themselves, independent of their likeness".1l5 This focus on image over individual, on the general sentiments portrayed over the specific qualities of the sitter, enabled reviewers to deal with the likeness captured and the quality of the painting as a work of art as distinct and separate phenomena. This was particularly fortunate for Reynolds. Mrs Billington could be reckoned to "fail(s) in point of likeness" whilst being praised as "a charming picture" and his portrait of the Waldegraves could be deemed by Fanny Burney, "not a bad picture, but a bad likeness of the ladies."116 A Poetical Epistle to Sir Joshua Reynolds Knt. dwelt on this point in depth in its introduction. It claimed that, whilst in the old manner of painting, portraits would be considered "mere Trash and Lumber" by those ignorant of the individuals represented, the modem "Addition of Character" made them interesting to the stranger, and even to the stranger who cared nothing for the
Of the different sources of Character to which Painters apply to give animation and consequence to their Pictures, Domestic and Professional Life seems to be the most proper, because it is the most natural and best understood. Some of Zoffanij's Family Scenes are delightful; and, in the higher style of Family Portraiture, what an august scene is displayed in Vandyke's Picture of the Pembroke Family at Wilton! No historic or General Evening Post, 24-27 April 1784; Courtauld Institute Press Cuttings, Vol.I, 1731p.38. The newspaper is unidentified but dated to May 1783.
The Public Adveniser, 20 April 1790, quoted in Postle, Sir Joshua Reynolds, p.15; Fanny Burney quoted in The Whitley Papers, British Museum, Vol.lI, f.194 allegorical allusion could add to the splendour which attracts the Eye, and the interest it finds in the Heart of every beholder of Taste and Sentiment.))7 ''Taste'' and "Sentiment" were now deemed the subjects of paintings. Individual women were subsumed into elevated motherhood and their portrayed virtues received more comment than their appearances. Such devices thus reflected well on the sitter, on the artist who could perceive and record such virtues and on the viewer who could respond appropriately and with empathy.