«A Thesis Submitted for the Degree of PhD at the University of Warwick This thesis is made available online and is ...»
statistic of 50% for all children under twelve. 42 However, more specifically, later eighteenth-century writers continued to discuss poor birth rates amongst the aristocracy. This suggests that contemporaries were either not aware of or were not convinced by demographic improvement. Their discussions usually took the form of diatribes against the licentious lifestyles regarded as characteristic of this class.
Buchan condemned the libertine who not only passed his property, but also his diseases to future generations. He recommended that aristocrats adopt the lifestyle of "the better sort of peasants" as only then would they cease to "have cause to envy their poor vassals and dependants the blessing of a numerous and healthy offspring, while they pine in sorrow for the want of even a single heir to their extensive domains."43 Equally, Smith claimed in a gloating passage on the pernicious habits of the patrician ranks: "What numbers of debauchees, in different climes and ages, worn out by guilty intemperance, mournfully lament their cursed fate, in not being blest with an heir to succeed to their half-ruined fortunes!"44 Finally, pictorial references to infant mortality continued well into the later 1700s, changing subtly as the elevation of domesticity became increasingly apparent.
Early eighteenth-century portraits incorporated significant attributes such as flowers, fruit, clocks, butterflies, mirrors and cards to infer potential death and decay.
However, such exterior symbols were increasingly replaced by references inherent within the depicted narrative, by a new emotional ethos. Rather than depicting children on their own, surrounded by token emblems, artists came to incorporate the 42 H. Smith, Letters to Married Women on Nursing and the Management of Children (1767) (London, 6th edition, 1792), p.66; W. Buchan, Domestic Medicine; or, A Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases by Regimen and Simple Medicines (1769) (Dublin, 3rd edition, 1774), p.1 43 Buchan, Domestic Medicine, pp.6-7,434-5 44 Smith, Letters to Married Women, p.169 transient child into the imagery of the mother in pictures such as Reynolds's Recovery from Sickness, an Allegory of 1768/9 (fig.98) or Philip Hoare's Mother and Dead Child, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1781 (location unknown). In the former, a woman embraces her child as its guardian angel wards off the retreating figure of death. It is now the mother's concern with the actual or threatened loss of her offspring that is featured and her reaction dominates the picture, demonstrating the sensibility of the artist and calling that of the viewer into evidence in his or her suitably moved and emotional response.
* * * * * A third way in which it is possible to demonstrate the continuation of 'traditional' concerns of familial lineage throughout the eighteenth century is by reconstructing, as far as is possible, those original contexts for which portraits were commissioned and in which they would have been hung and viewed. Such contextualisation is a fairly recent development in British art historical thought, promoted by scholars such as Marcia Pointon and Shearer West. 45 The latter, in particular, has pointed to the boom in country house building in the early decades of the eighteenth century as critical for the meaning of family portraits. Together with its surrounding grounds, the family seat was key in establishing membership of the elite classes. It enabled a certain lifestyle; providing land, lakes and woodland for a variety of noble sports, a well run estate to show virtuous and competent administration and a Pointon, Hanging the Head. p.17; S. West, 'Patronage and Power: The Role of the Portrait in Eighteenth-Century England', in J. Black and J. Gregory, eds., Culture. Politics and Society in Britain 1660-1800 (Manchester and New York. 1991), pp.132, 135 house in which to entertain and provide hospitality. It demonstrated history and familial continuity, signified by the convention of referring to families by titles such as 'The Spencers of Althorp.' Most of all, however, it demonstrated power, wealth and the fruitful dissemination of that wealth through the mediating quality of taste.
Whilst this element of display had always been inherent in the country house, the new wave of and enthusiasm for touring round such dwellings in the summer months highlighted its importance. Most of the great houses allowed some sort of access, whether by request, referral or ticket, and the absenteeism prompted by the burgeoning passion for spa and seaside resorts in the summer months meant that servants could develop thriving trades in showing visitors the family home and heirlooms in their owners' absence. Guidebooks were written and, in the case of Henry Hoare's house and grounds at Stourhead, accommodation was provided. 46 Collections of family portraits within those houses were intended to reinforce such messages of wealth, power and continuity. Visitors were supposed to admire paintings of the contemporary generation as well as images of that family's ancestors.
For example, when John Loveday visited Belvoir in 1735, he admiringly asked, "what family can show so fine a series of portraits belonging to it?"47 A coherent set of successive portraits was clearly a source of pride. In The Art of Painting, published in English in 1738 and reissued in 1778, Gerard de Lairesse deemed it right and proper that noblemen should commission portraits as "being descended from great families, 46 Stone, An Open Elite?, pp.l1, 69 and Part III: Houses; West, 'Patronage and Power', p.135;
J.H. Plumb, E.1. Nygren and N.L. Pressly, The Pursuit of Happiness: A View of Life in Georgian England (New Haven, 1977), p.1O
the lustre of these ought to shine, to encourage their successors to keep up their glory, and to prevent sullying it by unworthy actions."48 The reaction intended by the display of family portraits is further suggested by conversation pieces in which depictions of progenitors are featured behind the posed sitters. Reinagle' s portrait incorporates paintings of previous members of the Congreve family, rendering the genealogical message of the picture even more explicit. Equally, Johann Zoffany's George, Prince of Wales and Frederick, later Duke of York of c.1765 (fig.99), supposedly depicting "children enjoying their own imaginative space" and "a new sensibility towards childhood," defines those children through the portraits that adorn the walls. 49 Images of George ill and Charlotte contextualise the children as the offspring of the King and Queen and thus emphasise their relevance as the heirs to the royal dynasty. The sense of genealogical continuity is reinforced by the Van Dyck portraits of The Eldest Children of Charles I and The Villiers Brothers and thus, "lineage and parentage (are) melted into one set of harmonious associations." Indeed, developing the impression of inexorable succession still further, a picture of the infant Christ by a follower of Maratti completes the collection, an ideal prototype for the portraits of the children and a reference back to older notions of the monarch as in a direct line to God. The significance of these paintings is clearly deliberate as none of them appear to have been hung in the room in Buckingham Palace in which the Princes play, and so have been either invented or deliberately painted in to convey these messages. 50 48 G. de Lairesse, The Art of Painting, in all its Branches (1738, first Dutch edition 1709) (London, 1778), p.265 C. Saurnarez Smith, Eighteenth-Century Decoration: Design and the Domestic Interior in England (London, 1993), p.221 50 S. Schama, 'The Domestication of Majesty: Royal Family Portraiture 1500-1850', in R.1.
Rotberg and T.K. Rabb, eds., Art and History: Images and their Meaning (Cambridge, 1986), p.l71;
* * * * * When seen within such contexts, collections of family portraits thus demonstrate underlying meanings that are often not immediately apparent in their iconography. A particularly interesting case is the collection at Belton House in Lincolnshire (fig. 100). The family portraits reveal formal affiliations and thus emphasise dynastic continuity. For example, in 1783, George Romney depicted Frances, wife of Sir Brownlow eust, in a whole-length format, seated with her son resting against her lap (fig. 101). Whilst this painting, on display in the breakfast room, immediately locates itself within the depictions of sentimental and idealised motherhood for which Romney was particularly known and thus is very much a product of the second half of the century, it partners this contemporaneous meaning with a more traditional function. In the boudoir hangs a portrait attributed to Thomas Hudson, probably painted some thirty years earlier, which depicts Sir Brownlow eust as boy, leaning against the knees of his mother in much the same manner as his son was later to be shown by Romney (fig.102). This pictorial reference emphasises the succession of eldest sons and thus replicates, to some degree, the patrilinear progression of a family tree.
Second, a large and remarkable portrait of Anne eust (Sir Brownlow's grandmother) with her children, painted by Enoch Seeman in 1743/4 (fig.103), hangs R. Paulson, Emblem and Expression: Meaning in English Art of the Eighteenth Century (London, 1975), pp.140-1. Another example of sitters as defined by friends, relations, ancestors or exemplars is The Reverend Streynsham Master and his Wife by Arthur Devis (1742/4, Paul Mellon Collection) in which Master's brother and sister-in-law are incorporated in two prominent pendant portraits behind the sitters. Mrs Master gestures up towards the female portrait whilst the sitter in its pendant reaches an outstretched hand down towards the cleric.
at the bottom of the west staircase. The familiar emphasis on the eldest son is once again apparent as the widowed matriarch is seated next to the successor to the family name and estate, Sir John Cust. The future passage of Belton through him to the next generation is implied by the miniature in his hand, which depicts his new wife and prospective mother of the subsequent heir. However, not only did this union proffer the possibility of direct inheritance, but it also brought considerable lucre and prestige into the family as Miss Etheldred Payne, the erstwhile fiancee, was a wealthy heiress.
Not inconsiderable difficulties had been overcome in order to secure her hand and fortune for the Custs, for the Paynes deemed themselves a superior family. It did not bode well when her Uncle wrote a blunt letter in order to point out that he did not think Sir John's fortune equal to the £60,000 of his niece. sl However, her wealth and person were eventually secured, confirmed and proudly advertised in the Seeman portrait.
Above a group of three daughters, appropriately seated with their mother at the tea table, hangs an oval head and shoulders portrait of a young boy. This image is notable in its isolation against the sparse background of the portrait and chroniclers of the Belton House collection have thus persistently attempted to identify its sitter.
Whilst the guidebook merely refers to it as "a portrait of an unidentified (deceased?) boy," Lady Cust's records of the family suggest that it is likely to be of Sir Richard Cust, the deceased patriarch of this family groUp.52 This theory is certainly validated by analogy with a slightly later portrait by George Knapton of the family of Frederick, Lady E. Cust. Records of the Cust Family, Series II: The Brownlows of Belton J550-1779 (London. 1909). p.20 1. Mr Folkes to Lord Tyrconnel. 11 January 1742/3 52 A. Tinniswood. Belton House, Lincolnshire (London, 1996), p.75; Cust. Records of the Cust Family, p.302 Prince of Wales (1751, Royal Collection, Windsor Castle) in which Frederick, although dead by that time, is included in the form of a large portrait, clad in full robes of state with one hand on his hip and the other directing the viewer's attention down to the scene of his widow with their brood. s3 However, the problem highlighted by this comparison is the fact that Sir Richard, if the identification is correct, has been depicted as a boy and not as he was at the time of his death.
The explanation for this appears to lie in a whole-length portrait, by an anonymous artist and dated to the end of the previous century, that also hangs on the west staircase (fig. 104). This is known to represent Sir Richard in his infancy and bears a striking resemblance to the child depicted at the back of the Seeman. Whilst truncated in the later painting, the arrangement of the hair, the features and even the garb are so similar as to suggest that the artist drew on this portrait in order to portray the absent patriarch. Such a practice was not uncommon and, indeed, had been done earlier in the history of Belton when a portrait of Richard Brownlow had been used as a model for the effigy on his tomb in the church. On the one hand, the fact that the sitter is incongruously depicted as younger than all his nine children may simply have been an insurmountable problem if then, as now, the portrait of him as a boy was the only one in the house. However, it could well be argued that the transposition should be viewed in a more positive light. It effectively integrates the Seeman portrait into the collection of portraits as a whole and thus, once again, emphasises familial continuity.54 C. Lloyd. The Quest for Albion: Monarchy and the Patronage of British Painting (London.
1998), pp.14-5 54 Many thanks to Shelley Fielder and Rosalie Grice at Belton house for their help in analysing this picture.