«A Thesis Submitted for the Degree of PhD at the University of Warwick This thesis is made available online and is ...»
consciousness and had at least some bearing on readers' lives. Such notions could not have been entirely alien. Authors were informed by debates and discussions in contemporary society and could only present arguments that were likely to have some appeal to some section of the market. The tracts that went into so many editions throughout the century simply could not have been so popular if they did not strike a chord somewhere. It is equally reasonable to argue that such texts possessed a certain moral and social authority. Whilst individuals experienced a variety of familial relationships, the discourse of the prescriptive and fictional writers was compelling in its presentation of the ideal. This argument is supported by cases such as that of Thomas Gainsborough and his discomfort when his wife's control over his finances induced her to assume the role of "the head" of the household. 12 Whilst such blurring of gendered boundaries, mutual negotiation of household roles and responsibilities and shifts in power relations were probably far from unusual, the authority of S. Tillyard, Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox 1740-1832 (London, 1994), p.lOl 12 The Letters o/Thomas Gainsborough, ed. M. Woodall (London, 1963), p.83. See chapter 2, p.123 patriarchal discourse rendered such dynamics a source of unease.
It was the ethical authority of mainstream discourse that forged the connection with the realm of the visual. The very act of cOmmissioning a portrait was predicated on the desire for display and commemoration, dominated by a need for both private and public approbation in the present and the future. This connection was heightened by the common structures of sensibility. Sensibility was founded on the idea of suitably sentient reactions to external stimuli, on the excitement of compassion and emotion through displays of virtue and piety. Thus, portraits that embodied new domestic norms reflected well upon the sitters, the artists who were perceptive enough to record them and those spectators who were suitably moved by them. The importance of such reactions is reflected in newspaper reviews. These frequently judged portraits according to standards derived from the discourse of affective domesticity. Images of mothers tenderly caressing their children were thought moving and admirable, displays of female virtue were deemed capable of inspiring similar piety in those who beheld them and representations of childlike children in endearing and loveable poses were widely praised.
Sensibility additionally supplied the moral parameters within which the activities of elite figures embroiled in criminal conversation, divorce and bigamy trials might be condemned. Prints, both those featured in the associated pamphlets and published independently, reviled sexual infidelity, unchastity and marriages entered into under constraint and without ties of affection. Thus, they reinforced the glorification of loyalty, sexual honesty and loving and freely elected wedlock in prescriptive and fictional literature. The activities of the Worsleys, the Cumberlands, the Grosvenors and the Kingstons and the grip they had on the public imagination also had a 'knock on' effect with regard to the reception and commissioning of their portraits. People who had purchased or at least been aware of the publications prompted by the adultery of Lady Ligonier could have seen Gainsborough's portraits of her and her husband in the Royal Academy at the very moment that marital relations were being legally severed (figs.46 and 47).13 However, the iconic power of portraiture and the dominance of social norms and stereotypes could also be exploited by individuals vilified for their transgressions. They could commission artists to portray them as individuals of social and moral probity and as worthy of accordant respect. Men accused of illicit sexual relations could thus advertise their subsequent marriages to virtuous young women of good families and women such as the Duchess of Devonshire, condemned for neglect of domestic responsibilities, could exploit the popularity of Reynolds's portraits of maternal affection and engaging infancy to counter such attacks.14 Social norms and ideals thus constituted a negotiable body of values, brought into play if and when required and capable of manipulation and exploitation.
However, as shown throughout the dissertation, the sentimentalisation of the domestic sphere itself had to negotiate more practical and persistent concerns. The cult of sensibility may have aided the elevation of the domestic roles of women and suggested a new position of autonomy for the child, but those developments had to be accommodated to a continuous and overarching patriarchy. The father may have gained a new role within the household and come to be portrayed as engaged with and interested in the wider family unit, but artists still had to emphasise his control of that unit. Private virtues became central to the definition of ideal masculinity, but they were never intended to threaten ultimate male authority. The patriarch still governed
14 See chapter 6, pp.282-90, 300-7 the household and his gaze, whilst increasingly directed towards his dependants and away from the viewer, remained essentially supervisory.
The constancy of the patriarch's position at the summit of the household inevitably produced a hierarchy amongst the remaining family members, conforming to their various relationships with him. Children were persistently identified by their age and sex, masculinity was ranked above femininity and maturity held sway over infancy. Moreover, although writers came to recommend indulgence of childhood and emphasised its joys, the relevance of offspring to the family and society as a whole could not be ignored. Certainly, the representation of infants in loose clothing, indulged and cosseted, engaged with a selection of the new toys, games and books on offer, was critical in defining parents as both modem and virtuous. However, the implicit identities of those children as future wives and mothers, as prospective patriarchs, professionals and public men, meant that references to their anticipated adulthood were both constant and inevitable.
Such anticipation also produced a continuing emphasis on dynasty. The male heir was and would remain key in landed families and, threatened by the high mortality rates that peaked in the early decades of the eighteenth century, was brought more sharply into focus. This resulted in a persistent pictorial emphasis both on the eldest son and on his relationship with his father. Equally, portraits, and the affective ideals of family relations portrayed within them, came into contact with real concerns of genealogy when situated within the country house. Seen as purely iconographical and divorced from the intended site of display, a later eighteenth-century portrait of a mother closely attending to the needs of her son is most easily located within new, sentimental ideals of motherhood and childhood. However, when viewed alongside portraits of previous generations, of male ancestors with their mothers, the underlying emphasis on dynastic succession is apparent. Similarly, portraits of mothers such as Lady Cockburn (fig.6), hung anonymously at the Royal Academy and engraved under mythological titles, conveyed reified and abstracted virtues. IS However, once within the family home, such images regained their specificity and functioned accordingly, conveying successful continuation of a particular family line.
However, I do not want to suggest that the traditional and the modem were in tension, that their co-existence was uncomfortable or that the two came into explicit conflict. Scholars have recently emphasised that the development of new ideals of love and privacy did not mean that older values were immanently swept aside.
Developmental models do not have to be constructed on the precept that one constellation of values has to be eradicated before a new body of beliefs can take its place. Rather, older traditions persisted as the new took a tentative hold. Indeed, it can be argued that continuity is inherently bound up with change. Development entails the mutation of ideals rather than their replacement by entirely new belief systems. The transformation of domestic values in the eighteenth century was an incremental process. The sentimentalisation of cultural attitudes became progressively predominant in a mounting body of literature read and discussed by an increasingly wide audience. However, change was also culturally stratified and dominated by flux as different social groups in different areas were influenced at different rates and to different degrees. Thus, patrons such as David Garrick were at the forefront of the adoption of new pictorial modes of self representation whilst sitters from the provincial gentry were necessarily more loathe to depart from traditional conventions for emphasising possession of land, wealth and status. I6 Thus, Naomi Tadmor has Seechapter3,p.166-7
emphasised that issues of hierarchy and dynasty were redolent throughout later eighteenth-century novels, despite their ostensible narratives of familial affection and intimacy.I7 And, equally, Eileen Spring and Margaret Hunt have shown that the eighteenth-century concern with love and affection in wedlock was not incompatible with the insistent focus upon the existence and maintenance of patriarchy. IS This harmony can be illustrated by analysing critical responses to Sir Joshua Reynolds's large and famous portrait of The Marlborough Family of 1777/9 (fig.S).
J.C. Steward sees this painting as undermining patriarchal and dynastic concerns through its new emphasis on the child, familial interaction and affection. The conventions of grand style historical portraiture and the formality of the Duke's pose (which recalls that commonly used for seventeenth-century dignitaries and noblemen) are subverted by the compositional dominance of the Duchess and by the playful and mischievous behaviour of the children.l 9 However, as the press reviews show, no such tension was felt at the time. Indeed, it can be argued that these potentially disruptive elements are successfully incorporated within the overriding traditional structures of the painting.
Its basic composition is essentially formal. Critics commented on the elaborate and grand architecture, on the swirling drapes and accoutrements of nobility that form the backdrop to the figures. They noted the dominant presence of the statue of John,
especially chapters 6 and 7; Tadmor, 'Dimensions of Inequality among Siblings,' especially pp.304-18 E. Spring, 'Law and the Theory of the Affective Family' Albion 16 (1984), p.17; M. Hunt, IS 'Wife Beating, Domesticity and Women's Independence in Eighteenth-Century London' Gender and History 4, 1 (Spring 1992), p.16 le. Steward, The New Child: British Art and the Origins of Modern Childhood 1730-1830 (Berkeley, 1995), pp.21-3 Duke of Marlborough.20 They observed the way in which the Marlboroughs are organised into distinct groupings. On the left, the Duke (wearing the collar of the garter) presents a cameo of the Emperor Augustus to his eldest son and heir, a gesture which unites them in masculine connoisseurship and dynastic progression. 21 On the right, the Duchess carefully watches over their daughters and younger son who are thus segregated according to age, sex and consequent ranking within the familial hierarchy. However, such dynastic concerns are not incompatible with an indulgent view of private life. As well as showing his son the cameo, the Duke also gestures across to the scene of play on the right, to invite his perusal. The patriarch is thus at once aware of the importance of his heir and a tender father who can indulge the antics of his younger offspring. The mother's role in the sentimental aspect to this portrait is particularly important. As a softening influence on her husband and the supervisor of his domestic affairs, it is she who, as one paper noted, touches the Duke gently on the arm "as if to draw his attention towards a beautiful group of children."22 Conversely, the inclusion of the younger son within the antics of his sisters may be typical but is here countered by that boy's gesture towards the cameo, already revealing a sense of the masculine world to which he is to belong.
Critics praised both elements without perceiving a conflict between them. The General Evening Post noted the "great dignity" of the Duke and, together with The
21 N. Penny, Reynolds (London, 1986), p.279 22 The General Evening Post, 25-28 April 1778. Even though in the sketch dated to c.1777 (The Tate Gallery, London), the Duchess is seated in her central position between her husband and her children and does not touch his arm, she still fulfils this uniting role. The slope of her body draws the eye from the Duke down towards the younger son who plays at her feet.
General Advertiser, his absorption in his eldest son. 23 The Public Advertiser proclaimed it to be "a Picture for a Palace; and... a considerable Ornament to the Duke's princely Seat at Blenheim," even suggesting that the Royal Family should commission a similar portrait. However, this paper closely allied the financial wealth and social power of the family with the domestic worth and private virtue of its members: "Few fortunes...can afford to purchase such Pictures as the one abovementioned; and few Families possess so many excellent Subjects for a Portrait Painter as the Marlborough."24 Thus, reviews not only noted the rank of the sitters but also the characteristics of the sitters themselves. The General Evening Post continued its critique of the picture by praising the "truth" and "nature" evident in the depiction of the children, in particular eulogising over the "arch" and "pretty" countenance of the child who grasps the mask.25 Critics acclaimed the painting's lack of artifice and proclaimed its emotionally stirring quality, appealing to contemporary sensibilities with statements such as; "we never have been struck, pleased and affected, in the same Manner, by any other Family Picture of the greatest Artists."26 Thus, affection and hierarchy, intimacy and genealogy, segregation and unity were all compatible, compounded in a portrait form in which Reynolds specialised. Paintings such as The Marlborough Family clearly appealed to a society in transition, a society characterised by the complex interplay between the traditional and the novel.