While my time might better have been spent at the beach, during the quiet period this summer I’ve taken the opportunity to do some housekeeping on the online Dictionary of pastellists. Many of you won’t notice: that’s a good thing, as radical changes of occasionally used websites are a growing nuisance for us all. A dictionary in which the additions are immediately obvious cannot have been much good in the first place. But while language lexicographers have developed a marketing patter that seems to revolve around the twenty most trivial, irritating or ephemeral neologisms spotted during the year (the latest being something of a damp squib), the art history dictionary-maker (particularly one specialising in times past) has even less opportunity to demonstrate his industry without revealing his prior failings.
We’ll come to some of those later. But first I should explain that I’ve addressed something that’s been niggling me for some time. The entries in the printed dictionary (2006) could be cited by the time-honoured page number. That could be refined to include column and even which image in the column (so p. 339Ci takes you straight to the Getty Liotard of Mountstuart). But the online articles keep being updated, and the layout changes; so unless you have the exact version of my article another author is using you won’t be able to follow the citation. I’ve now dealt with that by introducing individual numbers which will allow them to be identified rapidly. I ought to call them “digital object identifiers” or something equally highfalutin, but you get the idea: they take the form J.123.4567, appear at the start of each entry, and are invariant (once assigned, the numbers won’t change).
The digits are a double decimal system, each element (.artist.pastel) infinitely subdivisible so that new items can be slotted in anywhere – there is no limit to the number of decimal places, and the numbers indicate sequence only (so, for example, J.123.46 follows J.123.455 and precedes J.13.51 – which is by a different artist). Unlike the cardinal integers which typically appear in catalogues raisonnés, this system has no sense of finality or completeness: which is just as well.
These J numbers are readily searchable online using Google or at the search box on the home page of the Dictionary. You can try Googling “J.49.1175”: this should go straight to the Getty Mountstuart (you shouldn’t even need the quotes, but whether you get to the entry in one click depends on how your browser/Acrobat are set up; you should get immediately to the pdf, but may have to reinput the number in the search box within that document). So citation is simple: Dictionary of pastellists online, J.49.1175.
You’ll see the numbers at the start of each entry in discreetly small blue type, to compensate for what some will see as the gross immodesty of the chosen prefix. Believe me reader, I resisted: I needed to find a distinctive letter that people wouldn’t forget, that wasn’t P (too many responses to Google searches for P numbers) or a symbol like ψ, as people can’t type this directly into search boxes (I tried all those first before adopting J numbers).
My penance was rapidly imposed: I thought I could make all the changes automatically with an ingenious macro, but more tedious manual intervention was inevitably required (there is a bug in the interface between Word and Acrobat which neither Microsoft nor Adobe can cure). It doesn’t solve the problem of where the pastels should go, but it does solve the problem of where did I put them.
You’ll see too at the end of each entry a summary of the Dictionary’s view on attribution and identification which hitherto has depended on reporting the views in the literature and noting dissent somewhat cryptically; now the Greek letters (the full explanation is set out in the abbreviations tab) make this clear. I’ve also noted where of interest which pastels I have personally examined in case this affects your confidence in my assessment. These symbols were largely generated automatically from my hidden notes: I have of course seen many more pastels (almost everything for example sold in London since the late 1980s) which are not noted as such. But none of us has ever seen enough.
I’ve also taken the opportunity to update almost every article, mostly with minor but new biographical details. You can check the overall progression by comparing individual articles now online with the original Dictionary, or with the UK Web Archive six-monthly snapshots of the site. As a rough indicator of the expansion of the Dictionary, the 2006 print edition included nearly 600 pages of artist articles (including anonymous articles); laid out continuously in the same format without gaps, the articles online in 2016 would occupy some 2150 pages. (Before you complain, remember my publisher’s advice in 2006: add any more, and the book will be unpublishable in printed form. And reflect on the 80:20 rule: the print edition has most of the important stuff, in far more convenient form.) These files include records of more than 36,000 pastels, of which roughly 16,000 are known at least from photographs. But there is also a great deal more biographical information, often about completely unknown artists: there was never a need for the Dictionary to repeat information about well-known artists who happen to have turned once or twice to pastel, although of course major pastellists get comprehensive coverage, but sometimes entirely new findings about very minor artists will look disproportionate.
Where has this material come from, apart of course from new pastels coming onto the market? There is a rapidly increasing amount of genealogical material accessible online, comprising not only original documents but records of others that would previously have been impossible to find and for which paper copies can now be ordered. The Archives nationales are now better indexed online, although the delays for getting documents copied has increased proportional to the ease of identifying the documents in the first place. A vast number of parish registers outside Paris are now fully digitised. And in England the instant availability of most wills has transformed the work. (Conversely the explosion of amateur genealogy has led to a proliferation of guess-work and fancy that may not always be obvious: but then, as I showed in a recent post, the old standard works were not error-free either.) Of course this mostly relates to minor artists whose entries no one is likely to consult. And each of these “discoveries” will seem of little significance unless you happen to have a particular interest in that artist.
Since there are several hundred such changes in the last update alone, I’m not going to list these individually trivial changes. Thus for example we now know the dates of La Tour pupils like Montjoie or Vernezobre, who sat to him and made pastels. Mlle Navarre has acquired her correct forenames: Antoinette-Geneviève – but only because her brother’s mysterious disappearance triggered notarial attention. Some of Labille-Guiard’s nine pupils emerge (at least partly) out of the darkness: Mlle Frémy, etc.; some, for example Mlle Verrier, now have forenames (Angélique-Louise), while others (including the elusive Jacques-Charles Allais) now have dates. I’ve even had to move Victoire Davril from d’A to D to accord with contemporary documents. Among the stories with a whiff of scandal, see Victoire Clavareau.
With others the inventaires après décès provide a snapshot of their lives. Mlle de Briancourt, for example (who strictly speaking I should have moved to Oyon, but after a life of total obscurity, can I sentence her again to further oblivion?) was, despite her social condition, reduced to painting fans. But the Davesne family, whose potato suppers Vigée Le Brun so cruelly cites as evidence of their penury, were actually rather comfortable: the pastellist had already bought some of the series of pension annuities that figured in his inventaire. Perhaps he was a miser; or perhaps his pupil was once again gilding the story of her own progression. Step by step the artist Léon-Pascal Glain is emerging from the darkness, although I still haven’t found the proof that Vigée Le Brun was godmother to his daughter Louise-Élisabeth born in 1774.
Nor are the discoveries confined to the pastellists themselves. Much of the story of their interconnections is revealed only in the genealogies, to which I’ve added more (but still incomplete) hyperlinks. The sections on collectors and that on inventors, suppliers &c. (which didn’t appear at all in the 2006 edition) are greatly expanded (I suspect these sections are underused, and have toyed with the idea of integrating them in some way: suggestions welcome). Does it matter that we now (as of last Monday) know Jean-Claude-Gaspard Sireul’s date of birth? (It does of course matter that he was the great patron of François Boucher, whose 1761 pastel of him is above; its authenticity was once questioned, but not by me. It’s J.173.214, if you want more information – although you may need to help Google by putting this in quotes, as it happens to resemble an IP address.) Or that he was related to Lempereur? If you think not, the question of whether he should have been described as “écuyer” in his catalogue de vente will be of even less interest: but for some of us these matters give a particular window into the way art was commissioned or collected at the time. Likewise I at least am pleased to know that Sireul’s father made the extravagant “habits éblouissants de richesses & de diamants” that the duc d’Orléans and the duc de Chartres wore to the audience of the Persian ambassador at Versailles in 1715 (Saint-Simon tells us that the king’s outfit cost 12.5 million livres), although you may think this is many removes from what belongs in a dictionary of pastellists. But is it? It was after all the passion of people like Sireul that led to the creation of these works, and what influenced his taste and trained his eye are I think a proper part of the prosopography of the phenomenon.
All these examples are French, but there are many more from other countries. (I sent a list of last year’s significant English changes to the Oxford DNB which they have so far ignored.) But that’s enough for this post.
My mother would be 100 today – if she hadn’t died 30 years ago. Today she is completely forgotten. I hadn’t intended to write anything until, after our recent referendum, my thoughts turned to how and why the result would have horrified her. I still take up my pen with great reluctance: I may spend my time writing the biographies of artists who are “oubliés ou dédaignés”, but I’ve never regarded my own family as a proper target for research. And anyway a child is the worst possible biographer, open to the most profound biases – and even when conscious of these, prone to overcompensating adjustments. I share neither my mother’s politics nor her view of painting as an intellectual tool, and I have retained none of the materials a biographer would normally draw upon, still less a hidden cache of her work. (I don’t even have a reproducible photograph of her, so the alleged self-portrait above will have to do.) But I am also conscious that she deserved more, and that no one else will do it. And that the story will only illuminate her work if I tell you more than I might otherwise want to.
So here is a brief and flawed account of her life and a few images of her work (mostly from ancient family snaps of lamentable quality that do the œuvre no favours, further filtered by the tendency for an artist’s worst pictures to be those that remain unsold).
Marian Bragg was born in 1916 in south London. Her father came from a Cumberland family with no social pretensions, but with some intellectual credentials: among his cousins (I have never determined the exact degree of consanguinity) were the Bragg father and son who won Nobel prize for their work on x-ray crystallography. Grandfather was however largely self-educated: a product of the late Victorian civil service examination system which secured him a position in the Post Office, and allowed him the leisure to read voraciously. He had complete sets of everything produced by Everyman or Tauchnitz (the Penguins of their day, at a time when people struggled to afford books) – and he had read them all, as one can tell from his autodidact’s annotations. Successive moves after he retired diminished his library as fast as Lear’s retainers, but a few volumes survive. His tastes included English essayists such as Hazlitt and Lamb, as well as writer–artists from Blake to Morris. A lifelong atheist, his ethics were strictly Roundhead. I have before me his Ruskin (the Routledge Universal edition, which is still better produced that many books today), and cannot help but wonder what sort of conversation he might have had with Proust about their mutual hero, seen from such radically different perspectives. But of course they never met.
Marian’s mother was from a similar family, the Collars, and although she died shortly after my mother was born, her widower – Marian’s father – soon after married her sister. There were no other children in the family, but for much of her childhood my mother was brought up with her Collar cousins (first this time), among them another mathematician, Roy Collar – who as Senior Wrangler in Cambridge had got a better degree than William Bragg, and went on to a distinguished career in aeronautics.
Despite this background my mother was not in the least mathematically inclined. From an early age she knew she would be a painter. And so she went to Blackheath School of Art, and then (in October 1935) on to the Slade, where she was trained to draw by Randolph Schwabe. Allan Gwynne-Jones taught her painting, and the legendary figure of Tancred Borenius was in charge of history of art. What sort of work was she doing then? My recollection of some of the student drawings she had kept were that they showed the characteristic assurance of line that remained throughout her work, and that they showed a receptivity to the movements of the day. Here for example are a couple of very early (possibly from Blackheath?) watercolours that come close to Edward Burra – perhaps mixed up with Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (a film which enjoyed considerable popularity in my mother’s circles at the time):
After her diploma in Fine Art (1938) she progressed to the Courtauld to study history of art, where she was taught by Anthony Blunt. At various stages of her career a fascination with old masters – from Jan van Eyck to Rembrandt and Velázquez – emerged into her own painting, though not always obviously (one of the more direct visual quotes will be found below). The influence of some modern masters is more apparent, as you will see from some of the work below. But she always had a blind spot for the French dix-huitième, regarding it as frivolous and unworthy of attention: a view she told me had been instilled in her at the Courtauld, and which she imposed upon me with equal rigour. I bought my first eighteenth century pastel soon after she died: but that is another story. And although Marian read widely I don’t recall Proust appealing to her any more than he did to her father: she would prefer Zola or Dostoyevsky.
Blunt had nothing to do with my mother’s interest in politics. That came not only from her family background, but also from her affair with a man I shall call T, whose parents were important members of the Fabian Society. T was also a Cambridge mathematician, and in the world he (and Blunt) inhabited, left wing ideas were the blindingly obvious necessary response to the growing threat of Fascism. My mother took part in the Battle of Cable Street, and the scenes were permanently etched in her mind as a reminder of the dangers and horrors of right-wing populism. For the rest of her life she would be committed to that struggle, one way or another.
Her painting continued meanwhile. Of course the war dominated everyone’s lives, but there is no doubt that for many – my mother included – the febrile atmosphere was immensely stimulating. With the Blitz came Myra Hess concerts at the National Gallery, and both had a powerful effect on my mother’s imagination. Here’s an architectural study of wartime destruction (1944), with echoes of Graham Sutherland:
I don’t need to spell out the imagery of the straight-edged stone and the molten lead guttering. It was not until much later that she began to incorporate images from the Holocaust into some of her paintings: these are too dark to show here.
Things with T did not however develop as she had expected: they did not marry, but the understanding was broken off abruptly for reasons that must remain secret (but were far from the common story). This left Marian greatly shaken; and soon after she made a hasty and unwise marriage to E. This was in 1940. She didn’t see her husband for the rest of the war, but realised her mistake when he returned in 1947. The following year my half-sister Clare was born. They were living in Devon in 1949 at a time when a strong wave of anti-communism took hold. E lost his job in the civil service; and at a public meeting arranged to seek E’s reinstatement, George Jeffares – bravely or foolishly – spoke in E’s favour, thus revealing his own political affiliations.
This had calamitous consequences. My father-to-be, who was then a lecturer at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth with a promising academic future, was in turn dismissed (the circumstances ensured that he would never again hold proper employment). My mother decided to leave E and run off with George. A divorce ensued: but English family law then was cruel, and Marian was denied access to her daughter for the rest of Clare’s minority. Until recently I neither understood nor even thought about just how painful this must have been for mother and daughter. I can remember once a year Clare was allowed to write to her. But the girl had a deeply troubled childhood, and, despite a level of IQ that promised as much as her brainiest cousins, never realised her potential. I met her only twice, many years later, when eccentricity had developed to an extreme level. Her travels in Afghanistan and Tibet in her youth led to a volume of poetry and, just a few years ago, a play on Radio 4 (in which her part was taken by Harriet Walter) which might have been interesting had I not been furious at what I saw as the misrepresentation of my mother’s role in the account of an understandably unreliable witness.
But back to Devon in 1949, with a lot of people suddenly out of a job and with nowhere to hide. Since my father was Irish, that seemed the only direction to turn; and with a grim inevitability of the choices she had taken, a woman who had been brought up in a vibrant London ended up in the country which she disliked but where she would spend virtually the rest of her life.
But not before one further adventure, which was crucial for the development both of her politics and of her art. In 1952 my parents decided to go to China. The communist revolution had very recently taken place, and this was long before the cultural revolution. My parents saw China as an exciting place with enormous potential, and they were happy to contribute to its reconstruction. My father taught languages while my mother worked with great intensity, capturing everything she could of Chinese culture on canvas and in sketchbook. She painted Chinese buildings and drew an impressive series of Chinese workers and engaged in traditional occupations. Here for example: a craftsmen applying a lacquer, a girl folding laundry and a child in traditional clothing:
Such exquisite drawings reveal just how talented she was, and how successful her work was when its object was direct representation. The politics were confined to the fact of her being there, not what she then put on the sheet.
But after two years it was time to come back – probably the thought of giving birth to me in primitive conditions was a hint. So armed with a portfolio of exotic canvases and drawings she returned to Dublin.
It is impossible to exaggerate just how grim Ireland was in the 1950s. Local colour was no doubt provided by the likes of Brendan Behan, whom my parents knew well; but a culture based on drink, Celtic mysticism and peasant ignorance was dominated by an institution of which my mother had a life-long abhorrence: the Catholic church. In particular, my mother, who was a feminist to her core, objected to their role in the subjugation of woman: by imposing the views of the Catholic hierarchy on all citizens, divorce, abortion and even contraception were illegal in Ireland, and astonishingly have remained so until very recently. Today we read of the scandal of the religiously run Mother and Baby programme, and the appalling treatment meted out to unmarried Irish women whose illegitimate children were the consequences of these laws. But it was my mother who sought to expose this in letters to The Irish Times, which were simply ignored. I think she viewed the hierarchy as equivalent to Mosley, the difference being that they enjoyed the support of 95% of the population.
Meanwhile she continued painting. She had already shown in the annual Irish Exhibition of Living Art (from 1950 on), and from 1957 she was included in the Oireachtas Art Exhibitions, with paintings with titles like “An Bhean i Sráid Sheáin Mhic Dhiarmada” or “Vótaí do Mhná”. These titles must have been provided for her (perhaps by my father) as my mother spoke not a word of Irish: yet this was the language in which her strident feminism had to be described to appear in Dublin’s equivalent of the Royal Academy summer exhibitions.
Her Peking Courtyard was shown at the Leicester Galleries in their 1957 exhibition of Artists of Fame and Promise, alongside work by artists who are now far better known, among them Louis Le Brocquy, Keith Vaughan and Ivon Hitchens:
Soon however she was taken up by one of the leading Dublin dealers, the Ritchie Hendriks Gallery. She held a number of solo exhibitions there (1956, 1958, 1960 &c.), and participated in a group exhibition in San Francisco in 1960: the reviews were largely favourable, if occasionally baffled. For example, The Irish Times critic (December 1960) praised one of her heads:
which “had the sculptural force of a Chinese Buddha achieved by the use of surface tones which suggest stone rather than flesh”, noting that she “pursues her simplified cubist course through a number of landscapes and still lifes”; but then added “surprisingly she makes little concession to the misty atmosphere of Ireland”.
But her work did not sell to a conservative audience that largely wanted just such views of Galway or Connemara.
The difficulty my mother faced – with commendable perseverance – was what she felt as a complete cultural vacuum in Dublin in the visual arts. Most of the practitioners were content to produce exactly what the market wanted; my mother would not do this. She found herself increasingly isolated, and even her closest friend – Anne Yeats – while supporting her in some ways, nevertheless had a quite different idea of what it meant to be a painter (Anne’s uncle Jack, for example, produced paintings which were and remain very popular). It’s easy to see both sides of this, particularly since my mother’s concept of art as part of the class struggle had become bogged down in a version of what can only be described as Socialist Realism. What had worked in China ceased to have any real interest when applied to drab 1950s Dublin.
Curiously the old lady in Sean MacDermott Street (1958) turned up at auction a few years ago (I had never seen it); it’s her Burra-type surrealism recast in the style of Harry Kernoff (an execrable painter who was highly regarded in Dublin at the time), and it’s so bad I’m not going to reproduce it. Most of her work was better than this example.
She turned with some interest to lithography which she practised at the Graphic Studio in Dublin, run by the talented printmaker Patrick Hickey. Here, as an hommage à Picasso, she worked up The Cock in wax crayons, and printed a simpler, less angry version in an edition of 70:
Out of this struggle – in which she drew heavily on inner resources – emerged a more sophisticated art in which the bleaker aspects of modern life, and in particular the predicament of women, emerged:
There are hints perhaps of R. B. Kitaj and Richard Hamilton in some of these canvases:
While she was very familiar with Bacon’s work and admired what he did with Velázquez, she never set out to follow him directly. Rather, taking Piero della Francesca as her model, she recast the Flagellation of Christ in a picture called Two Worlds expressing how she thought women were treated at the time:
Others use the vocabulary of Otto Dix, updated to 1970s Ireland:
Who knows how she might have developed had she still been working in London? She started to exhibit again in the 1970s: again the critical response was more favourable than the market’s. Her final solo show, at the Lincoln Gallery, took place in 1981: it was a broad retrospective including early, transitional and recent canvases. The critic in The Irish Times was not unfair in noting that the middle period work was “intricate ad heavily symbolic with echoes of Rivera-type realism and surrealism”, concluding that this section was “confused and rather laboured.” She was more positive about the new direction shown in “far stronger” recent pieces: a girl looking into a mirror with a blank face, and a man in a dead, featureless room: they “amount to a careful study of anomie”.
The word I have consciously avoided so far is alienation, and if you wanted to pursue the intellectual roots of her world-view, you should start with Antonio Gramsci and his Prison Notebooks. But I think these paintings should be left to speak for themselves: you know the themes by now.
A few years after this last show, a lifetime of smoking and drinking caught up with her, and she died of cancer, just short of her 70th birthday. I don’t know how many marks out of ten she would have given her life, to reduce this account to the lowest type of journalism. She knew she had made bad choices, and had paid the price; but she was never one for the easy path. Whatever you may think of her views, her sincerity was not in question, and you may even feel that there was something noble in her sacrifices. Her background ensured that she would have made the same choices again; events which were not within her control defined a fate which was neither inevitable nor inescapable, but was nevertheless for her unavoidable.
She had lived to see her socialist ideals disintegrate: first as China fell into the darkest abyss; then as Russia too revealed its ugliness by invading Hungary – for which the Left tried to find excuses – and then Czechoslovakia – for which it couldn’t. Although she wasn’t around to see the fall of the Berlin wall, she would by then have welcomed it. She probably thought the world had been rid of fascism as well, and would have regarded that as a fair trade-off (which is why she would have been so distressed by the resurgence of populism today). For much of her early life she would probably have been appalled to learn that her son would give up mathematics and become a merchant banker: but she bore this, when it came, with equanimity.
But she would never have been happy with the developments taken by contemporary art: not so much its vacuity and continued divorce from serious content, although this would not surprise her; but its reduction to trophies for the superwealthy at prices puffed by a small cadre of élite dealers (all artists hate dealers). Many of her attitudes to these developments were echoed in the articles of Brian Sewell (he was 15 years younger), although not of course his views on women artists. Of my mother’s pictures however no one could say (in Reynolds’s phrase) that they “are just what ladies do when they paint for amusement”.
The full horror of Gove’s legacy has yet to strike most people, although what we did on 23 June was so monstrous that many of us remain in shock, unable to work through our feelings on social media in any coherent way. There has however been some excellent journalism in response to the national auto-da-fé, and in such volume that there has seemed little point in adding to it.
One area that is beginning to dawn on people (although in fairness UKIP pointed it out years ago, and I’ve been tweeting about it for some time) is just how disadvantageous to Britain’s position are the terms of the exit procedure under Article 50. The 2 year deadline to the abyss is appallingly asymmetric. It was of course designed thus, to make exit through this procedure highly unattractive. Lord Howe’s remarks about sending in the batsmen with their bats already broken by the team captain come to mind. No wonder Europe has made it clear that they won’t commence negotiations until we invoke Article 50: otherwise we could ensure we have a fair and balanced deal before the fuse is lit – with the walkaway option which many in Europe think we are sensible enough to want up our sleeve.
But one recent initiative, however well intentioned, seems curiously misconceived. A number of different groups of lawyers are seeking to force the House of Commons to vote before Article 50 is invoked. The idea is that the prime minister (contrary to what David Cameron has said) does not have the authority (under the Royal Prerogative) to serve notice under this article for a number of technical reasons which are analysed at great length (perhaps too great length, as certainties rarely require such detailed exposition) in several legal opinions and open letters which are now circulating on social media.
But what are these groups seeking to gain? By forcing the Commons to vote now they hope to have the referendum reversed. Wishful thinking. What politician would dare to participate in a vote to overturn the will of the people only weeks after it was expressed? And while legal steps might compel the Commons to hold a vote, it is hard to see any compelling legal argument as to why that should be a free vote. Which of the Tory leadership hopefuls would dare to suggest that the vote not be whipped – and enforce the new Government policy, which they have all acknowledged must be to execute the will of the people?
The result of this intervention, even if successful, will be to ensure that the Article 50 notice served within a few months is properly lawful.
Here’s a better idea. Let the new PM serve the notice without the vote. Give it two years to see how the negotiation develops. If to our satisfaction, let us take the result. If not (as many of us believe is inevitable), let us then point out that the notice was ultra vires. Hold the Commons vote then (end 2018), by which time the mood in the country will surely have changed so that both law and politics will permit the only way back I can conceive. Europe won’t be happy: but since Article 50 will be deemed not to have been triggered they will have no say in the matter.
I’ve used the same e-mail account for nearly 20 years (it was provided by my ISP, and advertises their name as well as mine). Not just for e-mail: but as a pass, user or account name on perhaps 150 different resources, from bank accounts to utilities of every kind. It would be practically impossible to list them. And the task of changing them all would require perhaps a week’s work. But not changing say half of them would multiply the permutations I have to try when I can’t get into an account and have to try various passwords. Continuing the address is a practical necessity.
So when after two years of poor service on my broadband connection (which five BT Openreach engineers have failed to rectify), the idea of switching to a fibre optic service seemed attractive. (I didn’t at that stage realise that the optical fibres don’t actually come into your home: they get to the box at the end of the street, and use the same 100 yards of copper wires whose rotten insulation is the reason my broadband drops when it rains.) But if you switch ISP, there is no obligation on the original firm to forward your e-mails. And no one else can take over that hosting role without their agreement. So a service that is normally offered for free, and is available retail for £1 per month for other e-mail addresses, is priced at their whim (in this case £6 per month, but with nothing to stop them doubling this whenever they choose).
There is no longer an OFT to complain to. The fix is simple: force ISPs to offer indefinite free forwarding of emails to any departing customer – otherwise they aren’t free to leave. The Competition & Markets Authority weren’t terribly interested, and I’m not expecting Ofcom to take it up either. (I completed their online complaint form, but at the final stage their anti-robot software decided I couldn’t tell the difference between a milkshake and some other unspeakable foodstuff, and then reverted to rivers which seemed to me indistinguishable from canals….)
Meanwhile my wife and I decided to rev up our backup Gmail and MSN mail. They worked easily enough on webmail, but the interface with Outlook (why is software called a client?) proved problematic. That’s an understatement. After four hours repeatedly keying in the correct POP3 and SMTP servers, ports and security settings for Gmail, I gave up and called in a consultant. He couldn’t do it either. Then I discovered that as part of a recent security upgrade, you now have to permit access to POP3 via a different route. So when my wife found she could no longer access MSN mail, I assumed the same had happened, but could find no route for doing so. Nor could an IT consultant, who like the first tier tech support at MSN advised me there was no such requirement. Finally after three hours on the phone to Microsoft, I was finally escalated to the professional support team after I had paid a fee of £65, who promptly reset the account to permit POP3 access.
Les portraits sont une chimère, comme tout le reste.
Voltaire to d’Argental, 16 June 1758
One might easily imagine that Voltaire and the medium of pastel were ideally suited: the embodiment of the Enlightenment embodied in the material which reflected more light than any other painting medium, and whose ability to represent human faces with unequalled verisimilitude sparked a popularity that coincided with Voltaire’s own career. Within two years of François-Marie Arouet becoming “Voltaire”, Rosalba Carriera had arrived in Paris; by the Revolution the vogue she inspired had come to an abrupt end. But iconography is never quite so neat, as we shall see.
The earliest pastel portrait of Voltaire is also the most important, and it has been the subject of an immensely thorough study by Hervé Cabezas. Although the original pastel by Maurice-Quentin de La Tour is lost, some idea of its appearance may be formed from the numerous prints and copies, among them the pastel copy now in Ferney:
While it is tempting to posit some historical inevitability to the circumstances which led Voltaire to commission his portrait from the then virtually unknown artist, a far more mundane explanation is more likely: Voltaire’s agent in Paris, the abbé Moussinot, was a neighbour of La Tour, then based in the hôtel Jabach. The sittings took place in April 1735; the portrait and its engravings transformed La Tour’s reputation. The autograph préparation today in the musée Lécuyer, Saint-Quentin, conveys with some immediacy the vigour of the encounter between these two personalities:
A rather different préparation, now in Stockholm, has a less direct relationship with the final portrait and may have been an early exploration of the face:
As Cabezas has noted, a letter from Voltaire (24 August 1735) describes a portrait of his friend Thieriot holding the Henriade, so the book in Voltaire’s hand may have been the writer’s suggestion. But if so La Tour was happy to re-use the idea in quite a number of his later pastels.
La Tour remained in communication with Voltaire for many years (a letter from Voltaire to La Tour on 24 July 1775 survives), but no subsequent portrait was made. The prince de Ligne evidently exaggerated his powers of persuasion when he wrote to Voltaire on 1 June 1766 “J’ai persuadé, il y a quelques jours à M. de Lattour, Le grand maitre en pastel, d’aller vous faire sa Cour, et de nous la faire, par un portrait meilleur que tous les autres.”
But from the correspondence in the months and years immediately after the portrait was made, we can trace more about how Voltaire viewed the function of the image as well as the mechanics of a successful portraitist’s practice. Voltaire repeatedly commissioned repetitions, and inevitably complained about the price: “Aujourd’hui, La Tour, peintre en pastel, demande 4800 livres pour deux copies qui valent 10 écus.” Possibly this was why so many (and all the surviving) versions were not autograph. In July 1738, when the portrait was to be lent to an engraver, Voltaire wrote to Berger: “On ne veut point envoyer mon portrait en pastel; mais M. de La Tour en a un double; il n’y a qu’à y faire mettre une bordure et une glace. Je mande à M. l’abbé Moussinot qu’il en fasse les frais.” From this we learn that La Tour not only kept a studio version at the ready (a common practice among portraitists) but that it was unframed (a hazardous state for a pastel, however carefully it was handled).
La Tour’s great rival seen from today’s perspective was Jean-Étienne Liotard. But while in 1735 La Tour was at the start of a brilliant career in Paris, Liotard was digesting his rejection by the Académie royale who, three years previously, had deemed his submission unworthy of any prize. As a last-ditch effort to gain recognition, he announced prints of Voltaire and Fontenelle in the Mercure de France (June 1735, pp. 1392f), claiming that his technique of colour printing was a “genre de peinture [qui] peut avoir la fraîcheur du Pastel et la force et la durée de la Peinture à huile.” It is unlikely that he had taken the portrait of Voltaire from life (but see below).
Voltaire’s experiences with pastellists were mostly at a rather less glorified level. Sometimes they involved the amateur talents of his friends and relations, gifted to varying degrees. Thus we learn somewhat cryptically that Mme du Châtelet may have been an amateur pastellist from Voltaire’s letter of 26 March 1740 to the long-suffering abbé Moussinot:
Je vous écrivis hier pour demander encor un autre exemplaire de ces éléments [de Newton] avec une petite boete de crayons à pastel.
Un portrait promptement fait, et à bon marché est toujours ce que je demande de la part de madame du Chastelet.
Greater persistence as a pastellist was displayed by his niece, Mme Dompierre de Fontaine (later marquise de Florian), whose talents Voltaire oversold in his letters of 4 December 1753 and 20 January 1754 in both of which he called her “une Rosalba”, later (16 December 1755) suggesting that “vous l’emportez sur Liotard.” Graf Zinzendorf did not agree, likening her pastel figures to “morts qui ont mis du rouge, tant la chair est verte.” There is however no record of a portrait by her of Voltaire: his demands seem to have been less proper, as when he asked her (8 January 1756) “aimez-vous toujours à peindre de beaux corps tout nus…?”
Some of these amateurs were of the highest rank. Friedrich der Große made pastels in his youth (but not of Voltaire), while his sister Wilhelmine Markgräfin von Bayreuth assembled a collection of pastels at Bayreuth around 1750 which included a somewhat pedestrian pastel of Voltaire whose author is not known:
By far the most gifted of the royal pastellists was Caroline Luise von Baden, as demonstrated by the wonderful recent exhibition in Karlsruhe. That makes it all the more frustrating that no trace remains of the portrait she was making of Voltaire when she wrote to him on 17 August 1759:
Votre pastel est en train. Jamais je n’ai travaillé avec plus de plaisir. Je m’abandonne à l’idée charmante que cela vous empêchera d’oublier une personne qui vous est tout acquise. C’est peut-être une illusion, mais ne me l’ôtez point, monsieur, j’en suis trop charmée.
One of La Tour’s closest friends was the abbé Huber, whose nephew Jean Huber was to become one of the writer’s most devoted worshipers. Abandoning a military and political career, when Voltaire arrived in Geneva in 1754 he resolved to dedicate the rest of his life to illustrating his idol’s life in media ranging from oil and pastel to découpage (at which Zinzendorf thought he was more capable). La Tour’s 1768 will promised him the pastel of his uncle. Voltaire recommended him to Mme du Deffand (letter of 10 August 1772). In pastel, his most interesting image shows Voltaire playing chess with a friend (unlikely to be Rousseau as tradition has it, nor the père Adam whose sole duty at Ferney was “remuer de petits morceaux de bois”: Huber also painted him thus, in oil), their friend Moultou reading from the great man’s works (Lausanne, musée historique):
One of the difficulties for Voltaire portraiture was the remoteness of Geneva and Ferney from Paris, which meant that few professional portraitists made the journey (although the pastellist was probably more ready to travel than the oil painter). The identities of some of those that did are sometimes obscure, and often confused. A case in point is the curious figure of the charlatan Mathias-Antoine de Wyl. Several letters describing this Lausanne pastellist sent by Voltaire to d’Argental (5 January 1758) and his niece Mme Dompierre de Fontaine (10 January 1758) have been erroneously assumed to refer to Liotard. The letters envisage that the original pastel would be sent to d’Argental and that copies would be made in oil in Paris, to be presented to friends. Voltaire initially enjoyed “jouer la comédie à mon âge, et de souffrir qu’on m’envois de Paris des habits de Zamti et de Narbas” (10 January 1758).
He was however horrified with the result, writing to d’Argental (8 May 1758) to whom he sent the portrait by coach: “Un gros et gras Suisse, barbouilleur en pastel qu’on m’avait vanté comme un Raphaël, me vint peindre à Lausanne il y a six semaines en bonnet de nuit et en robe de chambre.” Despite this, a version is in the Schloß Charlottenburg (how it got there is uncertain); and a pastel and chalk copy by the architect and amateur artist Béat-Antoine-François de Hennezel in 1766 reverses the direction, suggesting that a contemporary engraving may have been made. Mme Denis also apologised (7 June 1758) for allowing the de Wyl portrait to get to d’Argental: “Mettez le au grenier. C’est bien malgré moi qu’il vous est parvenu”, and announced that Liotard would do a portrait next week: “cet homme atrape la ressemblance à merveille.”
On 16 June 1758 Voltaire added another comment on “ma triste figure. Je vous jure que je suis aussi laid que mon portrait. Croiez-moy. Le peintre n’est pas bon je l’avoue, mais il n’est pas flatteur. Faites en faire mon cher ange une copie pour l’Académie. Qu’importe après tout que l’image d’un pauvre diable qui sera bientôt poussière, soit ressemblant ou non. Les portraits sont une chimère, comme tout le reste.” He does not mention a session with Liotard, and it seems most probable that Mme Denis merely reported a vague intention of trying the better artist, who had just arrived in Geneva.
It is perhaps surprising that Liotard did not make a surviving portrait of Voltaire. Perhaps the key to this is found in Graf Zinzendorf’s account of his visit with Liotard and François Tronchin to Voltaire on 8 October 1764; apparently the great writer “parla de son portrait qu’il disoit pas fait pour être peint.” Presumably Voltaire relented (and the length of this post undermines his sincerity), as a small chalk drawing (not a pastel), “dessiné d’après nature en 1765”, was exhibited by the artist in Paris in 1771 (his own collection, so he hadn’t persuaded Voltaire to take it).
Among the steady stream of visitors to Ferney at the end of 1764 was the young chevalier de Boufflers, travelling incognito as a portraitist. Boswell was there at the same time and had eyes only for the “ingenious” artist’s “most frolicsome little” model, but he also drew Voltaire, sending a copy to the prince de Ligne. The philosopher wrote to Mme de Boufflers that her son “n’a pas encore tout à fait le pinceau de Raphaël. Mais il a les grâces de l’Albane et plus d’esprit que les écoles italiennes, flamandes et françaises fondues ensemble. La Suisse n’a jamais rien vu de pareil; et je crois qu’à Paris et à Versailles il y a peu de peintres qui riment comme lui et peu de rimeurs qui peignent aussi bien.” Voltaire mentioned his discovery in a number of letters to friends, and addressed him adulatory verses.
Back in Paris, Voltaire’s absence did not reduce the demand for his portraits to appear in public exhibitions. An interesting example is offered by the pastel exhibited by Simon-Bernard Lenoir at the Académie de Saint-Luc in 1764:
If at first the attribution surprises, this may be because Lenoir was unaccustomed to working from other portraits (evidently it owes not a little to the La Tour). The pastel seems to have been commissioned by Voltaire’s friend, the actor known as Lekain: Lenoir had exhibited his portrait, “d’après nature”, in 1762; the Voltaire pastel descended through the family of the actor’s niece Geneviève-Adélaïde Cain, Mme Charles Marteau; and the preceding exhibit in the salon was Lenoir’s monumental pastel of Lekain in the role of Orosmane in Voltaire’s Zaïre (a version of this was recently acquired by the Louvre). So it is likely that Lenoir was the artist referred to in a contemporary letter from Voltaire to Lekain (30 June 1764):
Vous me parliez d’un jeune peintre qui est vôtre ami, je ne mérite assurément pas l’honneur qu’il veut me faire, mais j’y suis très sensible. Aureste, vous saurez qu’on ne veut point de portrait en pastel à l’académie; nous pensons tout différemment à Ferney. Je vous prie de lui dire que je suis plein de reconnaissance pour lui, et que je m’intéresse à ses talens et à ses succez.
Voltaire and Lekain came together again in the œuvre of a more obscure pastellist, Pierre Martin Barat. In 1773 in Lyon he made a portrait of Lekain of which Voltaire managed to obtain a version through d’Argental; this he kept over his bed.
Two years later Barat went to Ferney and made portraits of Voltaire (and other members of his household):
Voltaire reported his new protégé to Catherine the Great (28 June 1775):
Un très bon peintre, nommé Barrat, arrive chez moi: il me trouve écrivant devant vôtre portrait; il me peint dans cette attitude, et il a l’audace de vouloir mettre cette fantaisie aux pieds de Vôtre Majesté Impériale. Il l’encadre et la fait partir. Je ne puis que vous suplier de pardonner à la témérité de ce peintre. C’est un homme qui d’ailleurs a le talent de faire en un quart d’heure ce que les autres ne feraient qu’en huit jours; il peindrait une galerie en moins de temps qu’on y donnerait le bal. Il a surtout l’art de faire parfaittement ressembler. Je ne lui connais de défaut que sa témérité de prendre Vôtre Majesté Impériale pour juge de ses talents. Peut-être aurez vous l’indulgence de faire placer ce tableau dans quelque coin, et vous direz en passant, Voilà celui qui m’adore pour moi même, comme les quiétistes adorent Dieu. Vos sujets sont plus heureux que moi, ils vous adorent et vous voient.
Voltaire repeated the same plea on 4 September 1775, and again apologised to the Empress in a mock-confession of 18 October 1775: “Je demande pardon d’avoir laissé partir le tableau d’un peintre de la ville de Lyon.” Voltaire also ordered a version for Johann Rudolf Sinner, who, Constant d’Hermanches had told him, was collecting portraits of authors for his library. Others were less enthused; while recognising that Voltaire’s face was “full of vivacity and spirit”, Henry Matthews (Diary of an invalid, London, 1820, p. 359) thought Lekain “a wretched performance in crayons”. There are numerous versions of the Voltaire, some even being published as by Jean Huber; it is unlikely that all are original, although the quality of the autograph repetitions must have been variable.
* * *
In this necessarily abbreviated review of the extensive body of portraits of the great man in pastel, three conclusions seem to emerge. First, as with so much portraiture of “great men”, aesthetic merit is rarely commensurate with the subject’s importance. Second, Voltaire’s exile from Paris for much of his life prevented his contact with many of the leading portraitists: the written word travelled better in those days than the painted image. Third – and there is no diplomatic way to put this – Voltaire had no eye. His visual judgment was so conspicuously unmatched to his other talents as to attract scathing comments from contemporaries: the prince de Ligne noted his “manque de goût pour les beaux-arts”, while the great connoisseur François Tronchin commented that in these areas “il manquait sur tous ces objets de connaissances et de goût.” This is abundantly evidenced in his mercurial correspondence where there is no correlation between the strength of his enthusiasms – or depths of his disappointments – and the skills of his various portraitists he encounters. There is a strong sense of what-might-have-been, but also I hope a lively picture of the great man’s responses to such a wide range of talent.
 On the optical properties of pastel and its superior “pigment volume concentration”, see the short discussion and references cited in my Prolegomena to Pastels & pastellists, p. 20. There too (chapter IX) will be found a discussion of the vogue for pastel and the various social reasons for the phenomenon. Hyperlinks in the online Dictionary of pastellists provide further details for each artist and the pastels mentioned in this post. “Voltaire” entered in the Dictionary’s search box, yielded 106 results (8 May 2016), indicating just how significant the writer is in any project connected with the eighteenth century.
 “Voltaire, ses portraits, par Maurice-Quentin de La Tour et Joseph Rosset…”, Bulletin de la Société de l’histoire de l’art français, 2009, pp. 175–202. The literature on Voltairean iconography is vast, but Jacques van den Heuvel’s pocket-sized Pléiade album (1983) is often useful, despite the tiny images.
 This was not among Voltaire’s possessions, but rather acquired after the auction in Paris, 22–23 December 1834, Lot 71.
 Voltaire, Sottisier, Œuvres complètes, Paris, 1880, xxxii, p. 597, as 1800 livres; Œuvres complètes, Oxford, 1968–, lxxxi–lxxxii, p. 450, as 4800 livres.
 The Dictionary lists some three dozen copies in various media, as well as numerous engravings. Among those that are not widely known let us cite the oil copy acquired by the British Museum in 1760, as of “Voltaire drawn by Mr Gardel, a young painter of Geneva”. Théodore Gardelle (1722–1761) was an enamellist whose sensational trial for the murder of his landlady the following year involved the testimony of Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, whose trip to England was not the high point of his career.
 At Dr Théodore Tronchin’s, which he visited on 9 December 1764, the day after his visit to Ferney with Liotard and François Tronchin (unpublished, but to be included in the forthcoming edition of his diaries, ed. H. Watzlawick & G. Klingenstein, to whom I am very grateful for sharing the information).
 “Séjour chez M. de Voltaire”, Le Musée des variétés littéraires, 1822, t. i, p. 105.
 Henri Tronchin, Le Conseiller François Tronchin et ses amis, 1895, p. 299.
We are told (often enough to believe it) that what you read on the internet cannot be relied upon, while what is printed in books can. We should know better; and sometimes we get to find out which printed authors are unreliable. Thus the standard book on Daniel Gardner (1921) by G. C. Williamson (who wrote so many monographs that suspicions of his thoroughness must have occurred to the most gullible) tells us that Gardner’s marriage took place in 1776 when in fact it was two years earlier; and that he bought his colours mostly from Roberson and Miller (a firm only recorded from 1828 in the NPG database of British artists’ suppliers). Perhaps these minor instances prepare us for the fact that although he prints “Dr” before his name on the title pages of this, and many other of his books, Williamson held no such degree.
But we assume this cannot occur with reputable works of reference, such as the Betham’s Baronetage of 1803, which prints the following for Sir William East, the subject of a family piece by Gardner (above) which was not known to Williamson at all:
And you will find the same in New Baronetage of 1804:
followed in Collins, Burke and all the other standard genealogies since. (You may recall that the Baronetage was Sir Walter Elliot’s favourite book.) So when we come to Daniel Gardner’s wonderful East family, we have a problem. The pastel, which is in a private collection (I am most grateful to the owners for letting me reproduce it), was last seen in public in 1980, when the Burlington Magazine justly described it as “remarkably ambitious”. It is indeed one of Gardner’s happiest works: its combination of vibrant colouring, clever, geometrical composition and social interest in the sitters’ activities convey a joie de vivre rarely found in the portraiture of the day. It is also remarkably early in Gardner’s career (aged 24). The owners have delightfully found a couple of examples of Sir William’s amateur painting (miniatures of two of the children) of which there was otherwise no trace (apart from an entry in his wife’s diary, noting “Sr Wm begun to paint Abelard” as his first action after recovery from illness: did he base this on Gardner’s own gouache, engraved by Watson in 1776?). All this demonstrated a concreteness to Gardner’s imaginative choice of accessories. So too does the garden urn, which I think is no longer to be found at Hall Place, now taken over by an agricultural college, much of the gardens having now been built over: but happily a photograph from an old issue of Country Life shows the same piece:
Gardner’s arabesque was made in 1774, but there is no easy reconciliation of the dates and ages of the children with the Baronetage. The girl’s age is clearly between her brothers, and if she is the legitimate daughter of the second Lady East (and the daughter who married Sir William Clayton less than 17 years after her own parents’ marriage) the discrepancy is beyond the limitations of Gardner’s representational skills or any tolerable level of flattery.
While delving into this I came across a Ph.D. thesis online, The effect on family life during the late Georgian period of indisposition, medication, treatments and the resultant outcomes, where some of Lady East’s diaries are discussed – in the context of her husband’s frequent indispositions from gout (perhaps that should not surprise us: his father had made his fortune as commissioner for wine licences under George I). The diaries examined are the volume (numbered 4 on the cover) dealing with 1791–92, in the Berkshire Record Office, and one covering 1801–3, in a private collection, with 14 on the cover. Dr James had earlier published a paper in which he thought that the Lady East who wrote the diary was Hannah Casamajor; but unfortunately, no doubt having consulted the standard genealogies (was this a supervisory intervention?) the author “corrected” the thesis, resulting in a thorough confusion of the two ladies. He still gives Miss Jackson’s forename as Hannah, and her year of birth, 1742, is the same as Hannah Casamajor’s: so this looks more like confusion than coincidence. He also mentions the Gentleman’s Magazine entry in 1768 announcing the marriage of Sir William with “Miss Jackson, of Downing Street”, which seems to be the evidence of the second marriage (with the date 28 July 1768), although of course it is now in all the standard genealogies from Betham on.
This is all somewhat mysterious, the more so since on checking the Gentleman’s Magazine for that year, the reference is actually to “Sir William Best”:
Now that may well be a misprint (I can’t locate a Sir William Best, Bt of marriageable age at that date). Nor indeed is there an obvious family of Jacksons in Downing Street at the time, but that is less curious. But combine that with the awkward dates about the second Mary who married Sir William Clayton very young and one wonders what is going on.
One plausible explanation is that Sir William East had a liaison with Miss Jackson before their marriage. The absence of records of births often points to such irregularities.
But the Ph.D. thesis also tells us Lady East refers to Harriet Casamajor as her sister – although it also correctly notes that such terms were often used fairly broadly in the 18th century.
I turned then to Sir William East’s own will. It’s an extremely long document, and doesn’t seem explicitly to mention the Gardner (but I wouldn’t expect it to). In it I found references only to one “late dear wife”, and I also found the following:
I give to Harriet Casamajor sister of my late dear wife any two of the pictures painted by myself which she shall select out of my whole set…
…to the before mentioned Harriet Casamajor for the great kindness and unwearied attention to me and to her sister my late dear wife for upwards of forty years during her and my illness the sum of five thousand pounds in addition to what I have hereinafter bequeathed to her.
There are also smaller bequests to two of Lady East’s sisters, Maria Clemenza widow of the late Reverend Mr Bryan and Elizabeth widow of Robert Goodwin: both these turn out to be Casamajor sisters. You can see my Casamajor genealogy here; remember also that Gardner painted Hannah’s relative Mrs Justinian Casamajor and eight of her twenty-two children in a pastel now in the Yale Center for British Art:
There is also a passage relating to the marriage settlement with his wife and in consequence of her death during Sir William’s lifetime provisions for the income from the funds to be paid to his daughter Mary, Lady Clayton.
So I searched diligently for the marriage of any William with a Miss Jackson on 28 July 1768 in parish registers. And I found (and attach) the one which must be the cause of the whole confusion. Plain William Bess [sic] married Elizabeth Jackson on that day in St Margaret’s Westminster (she is “of this parish” – and it is where Downing Street is located).
All of this demonstrates that there was no second marriage to a Miss Jackson (at least not for Sir William East), and that Hannah Casamajor was the only Lady East, dying in 1810 after the long illness discussed in the diary and referred to in the will. And so only one Mary too. We simply find it so hard to imagine that Burke and Debrett are wrong, but they are, from time to time. Here is the correct East genealogy; I trust Sir Walter will annotate his copy accordingly.
I have now managed to track down an earlier volume in the sequence of Lady East’s diaries, which is now in the Lewis Walpole Library whose staff have most generously provided me with access to it. Numbered 2 on the cover, this volume covers the period from 1776 to 1785 (presumably No. 1 covers the date of the pastel, but is sadly still missing). Their account of its contents, which has now been corrected, previously catalogued the author of the diary as the former Miss Jackson. There are indeed copious references not just to Hannah’s sister Harriet, but a number of other siblings in terms which put her identity beyond doubt.
For the most part the diary is of mainly domestic significance and its content factual (if not matter-of-factual) rather than discursive. As with the volumes analysed by Dr James, health is a major consideration: Lady East’s concern for her husband’s gout is amply demonstrated, as with the later volumes, consistent with Benjamin Franklin’s rather antiquated “Rules & maxims for promoting matrimonial happiness” which have been painstakingly copied out in full (presumably from the reprint in the Lady’s Magazine for 1770). The document also contains a full transcription (I think from the London Magazine for 1767) of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s refutation of La Rochefoucauld’s cynical maxim, “That Marriage is sometimes convenient, but never delightful.” The overwhelming impression from the pages of diary 2 is one of a happy marriage, and even when noting Sir William’s long walks with Lady East’s sister, there is plainly no inkling of the conspiracy between Sir William and Harriet to control and disempower Lady East as develops in the later volumes analysed by Dr James and reinforced by the terms of his will: Sir William every bit the Bad Baronet of a Gothic novel. Perhaps further volumes of Lady East’s diary will emerge to complete the narrative (or is this a challenge for a new Wilkie Collins?).
Apart from medicine and marriage, the document mainly concerns the round of social visits at Hall Place following the sale (by Mr Christie) of the house in Leicester Fields; their subsequent visits to London include staying in lodgings in Bond Street they dislike enough to move from immediately. But the lure of sights such as Mr Lunardi’s balloon at the Pantheon cannot be ignored, even if Mrs Casamajor’s lateness at breakfast meant that they missed the start of Blanchard’s ascent a few days later. Back home in Hall Place, precipitation is recorded with frequency, if not meteorological precision; much tea is drunk, and the odd ball is held (arriving home at 6 am after one of these). The London theatre plays a big role: they see Henderson as Falstaff, and return a few days late to see him in Hamlet, supping with him afterwards. Mrs Siddons is noted, while Mrs Wells imitates her to perfection. Back in Berkshire, it is amateur dramatics: Lady East “acted Jane Shore to the common people”, with five subsequent performances over the next days to various social groups: the shopkeepers, some servants and the neighbours.
If all this conjures up the world of Jane Austen, that may not be so surprising – the elder son, Gilbert East, was sent to board with Jane’s father, the Rev. George Austen: so we know quite a lot about the boy’s dislike of Latin and preference for dancing (perhaps that is already evident in the Gardner, where the boy’s feet take up a classic fourth position pose), and that Sir William was sufficiently grateful for the Austens’ care of his heir that he presented the tutor with a portrait of himself (was it too by Gardner, or could it have been a self-portrait?; we do not know, although, according to her letter to Cassandra of 3 January 1801, it was to be given to Jane’s eldest brother James when the family left Steventon for Bath; but it is not mentioned in James’s will).
The diary has plenty of material for the social historian about the servants. Several times in diary 2 the arrival of new liveries was recorded. We learn that a new butler was engaged, one William Lambert, at £30 per annum. The housekeeper’s wages were £20. The cook and the coachman got married. Some of others are mentioned – a postillion received a mere £5 10s. a year. The job was not without risk: one fell while accompanying their carriage, and broke his spine. When he died some months later, Lady East recorded the misfortune – along with a more detailed account of the latest episode of Sir William’s gout.
This brings us to the sixth person in the pastel: the black servant in the background, wearing the smart black and red livery with silver lace. The family were able to tell me only that his name was York, and that he arrived in Hall Place in 1767 and died in 1783. Indeed Lady East’s diary does have these entries:
Thu 8th May 1783. York, the Black Servant died in the might or rather morning at two o’clock of a consumption
Sun 11th. York bury’d at Hurly in the afternoon
But while I was reviewing the entries in the parish records for Hurley, Berkshire (which are in fact complete for the East family), I found three entries for the surname “York”: they are for the baptism of a “Fitz-William York” on 6 April 1782; of a daughter, Mary Anne York on 19 June 1783, the parents being Fitz-William York and Elizabeth York; and, just a month later, on 13 July 1783, a “John York or Hancock” with the parents Fitz-William York and Elizabeth Hancock. These entries are, to say the least, curious. While “Fitzwilliam” is most memorably the Christian name of Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy, its appearance here suggests not so much the inheritance of a vast estate but the euphemism for illegitimacy consistent with the presumably adult baptism preparatory to the registration of two irregular births which were presumably not of twins as they were a month apart. Pure speculation of course, for now at least.
Michael Gove’s vision of an Albanian future for Britain outside the EU was described in a tweet by Jacob Rees-Mogg as “eloquent”. Hardly in the category of Patrick Pearse’s graveside oration, but a good enough indicator that this battle will be fought not on Gradgrindian facts or the economy, but on the far more dangerous territory of emotional fears and concerns. So an idea so daft that only a Blackadder scriptwriter would be equipped to find a suitable description has, because of primal xenophobia, a material (if as I hope still remote) chance of throwing this country into the wilderness that (a large part of) Ireland chose a century ago, and from which it has never emerged. And against it the (not quite so large part of the) Government of this country has sought to counter this vision with Osborne’s own dodgy dossier, in which the spurious algebra is no more convincing than Euler’s humiliation of Diderot over another rather tricky issue.
Everyone here is looking foolish, most especially David Cameron for miscalculating the UKIP risk and calling for the referendum at all. There are good reasons why our form of democracy does not often resort to this device: Boaty McBoatface tells you why. (For a more serious demonstration, look at the ballot paper for the London mayoral election: what choice do voters really have if you don’t think bicycles are safe or that public money should be wasted on garden bridges?)
Cameron’s second blunder was in allowing his MPs to make individual decisions. It may have been an inevitable consequence of his first, but for me the astonishing thing is the number of Tories who have allowed ideology to triumph over common sense. And it is that chilling prospect (and the no more enticing one offered by the loony left opposition) which is the real reason to support the EU just as we have it, with all its muddles, inefficiencies and confusions. Those are our best defence against extremism and ideology. The EU could and should be our best weapon for tackling multinational tax avoidance and for regulating obscene levels of executive pay; but even where it fails, its very incoherence, its innate contradictions, its point de zèle offer by far the better outlook for a quite nice, not terribly important country to muddle through as best we can.
Let us congratulate the Scottish National Portrait Gallery on its recent purchase of the Allan Ramsay painting of Bonnie Prince Charlie – and Bendor Grosvenor, who recently identified it in his television programme: for an account of this see his blog. In his 2008 article in the British Art Journal, Grosvenor finally sorted out a long-standing confusion between the two pastels by Maurice-Quentin de La Tour of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his brother Henry, Cardinal–Duke of York, and it is these images that relate to what I want to discuss here. I shall refer to the sitters as Charles and Henry rather than as Charles III or Henry IX (or in the Stuart vocabulary of the time the Prince (of Wales) and Duke (of York)), but Grosvenor’s re-identification of the SNPG’s (slightly less) recently acquired pastel of the former as the latter raised a controversy almost as heated as British regnal numbering. The fact is that both brothers looked like one another (despite the difference in age) to within a tolerance below the inaccuracies of eighteenth century portraiture, and the identification requires evidence, not perceived resemblance.
The National Galleries of Scotland have now conceded the point, and the pastel appears on their website as of Henry (James’s “youngest” [sic] son). There is no need for me to repeat the careful and detailed arguments in the 2008 article; in the response by Edward Corp the following year (link for those with JSTOR subscriptions); or indeed in the original Corp article in the Burlington Magazine in 1997. There are also well known Stuart iconographies, among them Nicholas 1973, Sharp 1996, Nicholson 2002 to which I refer below (full details in my bibliography). Further there is a relevant, if very brief, footnote on pp. 312f of Laurence Bongie’s 1986 excellent study of Prince Charles in France (on which see also my article on Mlle Ferrand). But even a bibliography of Jacobite iconography is too vast a subject for this post.
I need only remind you that the SNPG pastel of Prince Henry was exhibited in the Salon of 1747 (among the “Plusieurs portraits au Pastel, sous le même No ”, although “Monsieur le Duc d’Yorck” was identified by the critic abbé Le Blanc). This itself is a little curious, because the pastel shows the prince in military guise, although Henry had already (25 May 1747, three months before the Salon opened) reached Rome having decided to abandon such a role in favour of the Church: he was created a cardinal weeks later. It was likely to have been made after Henry’s arrival in Paris, shortly after the victory at Prestonpans in September 1745, while he was trying to raise support for the Jacobite rebellion, but before his departure for Boulogne in December that year.
A pastel of Charles was exhibited in 1748 but is now lost:
(Charles was called prince Edouard in France because they already had a prince Charles – de Lorraine.) The numerous copies show that the portrait must have been extremely similar to the earlier pastel, with which it has been repeatedly confused (it does however seem that all the contemporary copies relate to the portrait of Charles rather than his brother). Its timing too was curious: when the salon opened, Charles was to be expelled from France under the terms of the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (although not signed until 19 October 1748, its terms were already known). One minor curiosity is that both pastels are reminiscent of La Tour’s portraits of Louis XV: that of Henry, with the raised arm reminiscent of Rigaud, closer to the 1745 pastel of the king, while Charles follows the more conventional pose of the 1748 pastel – the parallel with which would not have escaped visitors to the salon, or those who looked at the livret (the progression of type, from all caps for the king, to cap and small cap for his queen and heir, to cap and lower case for the foreigner was not however accidental).
Apart from Charles, all of these portraits will be found in the La Tour articles in the Dictionary. For Charles we have to content ourselves with the copies in other media, of which perhaps the most reliable is the slavish engraving by Michel Aubert. Since Aubert died a few years later and the print created while artist and sitter were still alive, its documentary value is indisputable, and I think this is enhanced rather than diminished by the fact that he didn’t reverse the sash of the Garter: my guess is that he thought it was the Saint-Esprit as worn by the Dauphin, which he also engraved after La Tour in 1747.
One puzzle raised by Corp is easily disposed of: the green ribbon of the Order of the Thistle in the Edinburgh pastel has faded to blue simply because that was what happened to mid-eighteenth century green pastel. The colour was notorious (and the reputation of the famous Swiss pastel maker Bernard Stoupan rested on his ability to produce a stable green): it was usually made by mixing blue and yellow pigments, but while the former was stable, the latter was a vegetable extract from the buckthorn tree which was sensitive to light. My Twitter followers will remember some of the other examples, among them Liotard’s portrait of the maréchal de Saxe, whose green uniform now appears blue. And I shan’t begin to speculate as to the significance of the tide marks visible around Henry’s head, which possibly relate to alterations made by La Tour (don’t go there…).
But in the discussions of these Stuart portraits a vital role is played by the various copies that were made at the time. Jacobite portraiture, for obvious reasons, is both highly complicated and of greater interest to British scholars than to French specialists, and perhaps that is why several confusions have arisen which should be addressed (even if the outcome is to restore rather than to remove question marks). Indeed not all these copies have survived, and the hazard of discussing ill-documented lost copies of lost works (which may indeed be after quite different portraits) is obvious. But I would direct readers in particular to Corp’s entirely justified health warning about the reliance placed on the typescript notes assembled by Clare Stuart Wortley in the 1940s, a document which she was unable to complete before her death and which includes several tantalising references to correspondence which cannot be verified. Perhaps like Fermat she was right; but let us hope the letters are found with less effort than a proof of his theorem.
One of the difficulties is where a copyist is named in the source, but a later commentator supplies a forename, often from the nearest reference book. Thus (I suspect) when we are told that in September 1747, Prince Charles sat for a miniature portrait by Georges Marolles, can we rely on the “Georges”? I am not aware of any miniaturist of this name, and I suspect the reference should be to Antoine-Alexandre de Marolles, a well-known miniaturist who worked for the French royal family and is represented in Chantilly (see Lemoine-Bouchard 2008 for more).
One of the engravings derived from the La Tour portrait of Charles is by Petit fils (not Gilles-Edme, but Gilles-Jacques Petit) after Mercier (1753). Corp 1997, who reproduces it (fig. 36), judiciously puts a ? before the predictable identification of “Philip Mercier” which now appears without qualification in most sources (the same picture is evidently the source of the Ab Obici Major mezzotint). But it is biographically and stylistically improbable that the English Huguenot painter (born in Berlin) would have made a copy after La Tour for the Irish Jacobite Colonel O’Sullivan to be engraved in Paris by Gilles-Jacques Petit. It seems to me far more probable that the artist concerned was Claude Mercier, the pastellist who might well have spent some time in La Tour’s studio. His work, which is entirely French, is usually signed “C. Mercier” and inevitably given to Charlotte Mercier, Philip’s daughter, despite the absurdity discussed in my article on him. It is not improbable that the unknown man now in Mapledurham was another Jacobite. As for Mercier’s copy of the La Tour, that (like so many of these works) is lost: O’Sullivan later fell out with Charles, not over the colonel’s incompetence on which many blame the disaster of Culloden, but over a mistress.
But a particularly important piece in the jigsaw is a miniature (with various repetitions) which has caused great confusion. One of these (whether it is the “primary” version can be debated) is apparently signed “J. Kamm 1750” on the reverse. It belonged to Donald Nicholas who reproduced it in his 1973 iconography on the prince. It, and all the related miniatures (which although unsigned appear to be by the same hand), now appear as by “John Daniel Kamm” (sometimes as Jean-Daniel Kamm, and with various dates for his birth and death almost always wrong), and immediately provoked my suspicion as to whether this is the right Kamm, or simply the one found in the first reference book that came to hand.
Here is what we know about Johann Daniel Kamm. Like his father, Johann Peter Kamm, he was a potier d’étain (a somewhat grander profession than it sounds following Louis XIV’s decree that solid silverware be surrendered to the treasury, but not an orfèvre). Johann Peter’s wares included highly decorated objects of museum quality (e.g. Kunstgewerbemuseum, Dresden). Johann Daniel specialised in commemorative medals, of which one of the best known (signed I D KAMM) marked the exhibition of Clara, the Dutch rhinoceros, in Strasbourg in 1748 (you may know her from Oudry’s painting, the centrepiece of a Getty exhibition in 2007). Far later (1779) he issued a medal to mark the inauguration of the mausoleum to Maurice de Saxe (signed D KAM: note the D again). His last known work was dated 1790. He died in Strasbourg in 1793, having married there in 1758, and his career seems to have been conducted in that city.
There is however some evidence that he visited Paris, most readily found in Johann Georg Wille’s journal. This is particularly relevant since the other important portrait of Charles at the time of the La Tour was by Tocqué (given it is said to his mistress the princesse de Rohan, née Marie-Louise-Henriette-Jeanne de La Tour d’Auvergne (1725–1781)), and it was engraved by Wille at around the same time as the miniatures were produced; further there is a signed miniature by Kamm after the Tocqué (reproduced in Piniński’s recent biography, fig. 3, detail on the cover shown here). Wille’s journal refers to visits of his friend Kamm to Paris in the 1770s. Although it is the editors who supply Kamm’s forenames, Wille refers to exchanging medals etc. (supporting the identification as Johann Daniel), and evidences Kamm’s links with Silbermann the organ builder. The Silbermann-Archiv has numerous references to this Kamm: he was in Paris in the 1750s and made a sketch of the organ at Notre-Dame for Silbermann.
But despite this I can find no evidence that Johann Daniel Kamm was a miniaturist or even a portraitist (although the engraved portraits on medals requires some drawing skills). Wille doesn’t refer to him as an apprentice or as an engraver.
I confronted essentially the same problem when cataloguing Perronneau’s work. In the Salon de 1750, he exhibited a lost pastel described simply as:
I decided in 2006 that this was more likely to be the portraitist and miniaturist Jean-Frédéric Kamm, who was reçu at the Académie de Saint-Luc in 1759 (when he lived in Paris, rue du Colombier). When Dominique d’Arnoult published her catalogue raisonné on Perronneau recently, she followed this identification, and unearthed entries in the Chantilly accounts for Kamm’s work for the maison de Rohan-Soubise, at the same time that Perronneau worked for them:
Peintres en portraits: Kamme – De celle de onze cent quatre livres payee au Sr Kamme peintre du Roy de Pologne sur les ordres par Ecrit de S.A. pour des portraits par lui faits Sçavoir : 3 mars 1752 600 l.t. ; 28 juin – 504 ; 1104 l.t.
It may not be coincidence that Prince Charles had close connections with the Rohan family, and his mistress in 1748 was of course the princesse de Rohan: but even more suggestive is the reference to J. F. Kamm in 1752 as “peintre du roi de Pologne”, i.e. Stanisław Leszczyński. This is because, soon after the liaison with the princesse de Rohan, Charles Edward turned his attentions to the princesse de Talmont – who had previously been Stanisław’s mistress (and was closely related to both her lovers). And it was she who badgered George Waters, Charles’s banker, to borrow the La Tour pastel so that it could be copied. Only three days would be required, she pleaded, for a copy to be made by M. Le Brun (not identified in the Jacobite sources, but surely Michel Le Brun, brother-in-law of Jean-Baptiste Van Loo). In fact she had the portrait for far longer. The Le Brun copies are not known, if they ever existed; and there is every reason to suspect that she might have engaged the services of the peintre du roi de Pologne.
But how, you may ask, do I explain how Johann Friedrich Kamm copied Tocqué’s portrait when it was Johann Daniel who was so close to Wille? The copy of course was probably made from the painting, not the print; but probably while it was in Wille’s studio. But in fact we can demonstrate that Wille knew and supported Johann Friedrich as well as Johann Daniel Kamm. This comes from an announcement in the German journal Wochenstück, 24. Mai 1756, S. 161 :
This reports J. F. Kamm’s appointment as an honorary member of the Kaiserlich Franciscianischen Academie freier Künsten und Wissenschaften in Augsburg. Just a month before (29 April 1756), it was Wille himself who was appointed “als ein Ehren-Glied, und Consiliarius Academicus” – and impossible to imagine that his academic advice had not extended to recommending his protégé.
So, in contrast to Johann Daniel, there is clear evidence that Johann Friedrich Kamm was a talented miniaturist who worked for royal houses and was in Paris at the right time. One would have thought that he was obviously the “J. Kamm” who signed both miniatures. But it isn’t quite that simple.
Several sources cite, with not a little confusion, a letter from Waters to the prince, written we are told in 1749, referring to miniatures by one Kamm. Most recently Corp 2009 notes that the letter is not to be found where it is supposed to be in the Stuart papers, and cannot be located. This is particularly frustrating since the description of it given by Clare Stuart Wortley is as follows:
In the year 1749, George Waters writes to Charles about copies of his portraits being made by Jean Daniel Kemm. Copies presumably from the La Tour portrait.
If “Daniel” appears in the Waters letter, then evidently I am wrong – but not if it is Stuart Wortley’s gloss. The misspelling of Kamm looks as though she is quoting directly (unlike Nicholas, who refers to John Daniel Kamm). But until the letter is located the issue cannot be resolved.
There is one further question to be asked. How were these Kamms related? It’s not as simple as you might think. The matter is complicated by the existence of a third artistic Kamm: Jean (tout simple) Kamm, who is recorded as a pupil of Doyen enrolled in the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris from June 1767 (aged 19 years 9 months, so born in September 1747), “from Alsace” (which usually means born there). He was still on the books two years later, but is otherwise completely unknown. However two further details are recorded: in 1767 his address was “chez M. du Plessis médecin rue du Colombier vis à vis l’hôtel d’Holande”; while in 1769, it was “chez M. Cadet chirurgien rue du Maille. ”
The significance of the first address is not so much that “M. du Plessis” was a well-known freemason, Nicolas Huet-Duplessis, since at that time everyone was, and it doesn’t mean he was a Jacobite, but that the “rue du Colombier” is the same address as that recorded in the registers of the Académie de Saint-Luc when Johann Friedrich Kamm was reçu in 1757. Coincidence perhaps? But the second address is even more interesting: Aglaé Joly, the wife of Claude-Antoine Cadet, de l’Académie de chirurgerie, was a miniaturist and pastellist, while their daughter Henriette-Thérèse married the important enamellist and pastellist Jean-Baptiste Weyler (Strasbourg 1747 – Paris 1791), the son of another strasbourgeois butcher and his wife, née Maria-Salomé Kamm.
All of which suggests that Johann Friedrich and Jean were very closely related. And indeed the Nouveau dictionnaire de biographie alsacienne tells us that they, and Johann Daniel, were all brothers. But curiously they do not provide the dates for either Johann Friedrich or Jean, and having spent some hours among the parish records I fear that the statement may be overconfident.
Kamm may not be a common name outside Strasbourg, but the family of butchers who lived there at least from the seventeenth century were very numerous. Almost all the boys were given the first name Johann, followed most often by Daniel, Michael, Christoph etc.; all the girls were called Maria (don’t ask me what sect of Lutheranism this was), followed by Salome, Ursula or Catharina. So creating a reliable genealogy turns out to be far trickier than normal. (Here‘s where you start.) This compounded by the fact that there were rather a lot of different parishes in Strasbourg, and the fact that (for me at least) the German handwriting of the period is sometimes tricky. Here for example is Johann Daniel’s baptismal entry (which is much easier to read than most of the other entries):
Suffice it to say that (as far as I can see) none of the Johann Friedrichs share these parents, nor does Johann or Jean born in September 1747. And since Johann Daniel’s mother was born in 1690, it seems rather improbable that Jean can have been a full brother.
But then Jacobite enthusiasts always like a note of mystery. I note that the Royal Archives at Windsor are to close for several months for refurbishment. Is it too much to hope that some of Clare Stuart Wortley’s documents will resurface?
I read Lord King’s new book with curiosity and puzzlement. Since I’m not a professional economist (and it’s as much about economics as it is about banking – and it becomes clear just how different those disciplines are), I’m not going to “review” it, particularly since you have seen or will soon see plenty of column inches devoted to it. Most will take the usual tack of summarising it, which I shan’t. Because what’s most interesting is what’s not there.
Before I go further let me state that I think the book is admirable in many ways. As a summary of the problems in banking, finance and economics, it is accurate, readable and informative. Unlike so many books about these subjects it doesn’t patronize, and although it avoids mathematics the ideas are explained with far more nuance and sophistication than in most popular accounts: so it can be read with profit (although in view of its message perhaps not with pleasure) by everyone. And there is added a wealth of cultured references which I certainly enjoyed – going beyond sport, the usual pool from which financial writers draw, to T S Eliot, Brecht, Swift and Hegel. An 1839 volume entitled The Political Pilgrim’s Progress proved particularly rich in parallels with the mess we are now in.
As I’ve said I’m not going to take you through the author’s argument. Alchemy is the transformation of maturities (where a bank lends long but borrows short) which he sees as the root of the instability that causes crashes of increasing frequency and amplitude. And he identifies the factors that exacerbate this, including “radical uncertainty” (which he refrains from calling unknown unknowns), and several other such concepts that will be familiar to anyone who follows this area: disequilibrium, the prisoners’ dilemma, and trust. He questions whether there is a fundamental weakness in economic thinking (and comes up with many), and whether we can preserve the benefits of capitalism but abolish alchemy.
It is what he says along the way that will be of most value to readers, offering intelligent and incisive discussions of many of today’s most important debates, such as what people mean by secular stagnation and whether lowering interest rates can create demand. He’s very good on the cognitive errors that persist around finance, and the deficiencies of economics as an intellectual discipline. But it is all the more surprising that when he comes up with suggestions they seem almost naïve.
Thus his prescription for ending alchemy consists in replacing the central bank’s role as lender of last resort (for which he introduces the acronym LOLR, making me wonder if my social media skills are current) with that of “pawnbroker for all seasons”. The key feature of PFAS is essentially that each bank pre-agrees its assets with the central bank, as well as the level of “haircut” to be applied to each class of asset, so that there is a committed but normally undrawn facility from the central bank which is able to cover liabilities maturing within the next 12 months. He sees this as the panacea (rather than additional equity, which is merely desirable). But there is no discussion of whether in practice the central bank would be able to deal with a market panic where all commercial banks needed to draw these lines at the same time; nor what happens at the end of 12 months (an odd omission given that the last crash took far longer than that to unwind); nor what happens to the astronomical derivatives positions that are not reflected on the balance sheet; nor whether the collateral would actually be delivered (he does not discuss the widespread concern about the bankruptcy analysis of rehypothecation as it is increasingly practised in the City).
And the concept seems to remain focused within the central bank’s perspective: a mere tweak of the Bagehotian formula of lending on collateral. Even though King is sound on the arithmetic of collateralised lending (in the one example in the book that comes close to numbers), he fails to draw the obvious inference that any secured borrowing destabilises a bank’s position by making it impossible to borrow unsecured except from stupid or uninformed depositors.
King also fails to grasp the nettle of uninsured depositors and the rate of interest they should require: while seemingly acknowledging politically that such depositors would have to be bailed out, not in, next time, and while being fully conscious of the moral hazard and other implications of saying so, he does not seem to feel strongly (or at least not explicitly) that the current ambiguity is outrageous.
That in essence is my puzzle with this book. It is too civilised; too well written; too elegant. He describes a mess far deeper than most commentators or politicians have acknowledged, and is realistic about the chances of rectifying the situation before the next crash, but where is the anger?
Perhaps the answer is at the back of the book. Lord King is now a knight of the Garter, whose motto, you will recall, is Honi soit qui mal y pense. He has lifted up the skirts and found the indescribable. The true alchemy here is the distillation of the sæva indignatio into a courtier’s polish. One which will allow politicians to do with this book what they would anyway – ignore it.
“The first duty of a critic is to lavish unalloyed praise”, Lawrence Gowing is said to have told the young Brian Sewell (according to an article Sewell wrote for the December 1990 edition of The Art Newspaper: it was entitled “This ‘profession’ has much in common with prostitution”, and it won’t surprise you that he did not share Gowing’s view). The words came to mind some six months ago, after I had visited the first leg of the Liotard exhibition in Edinburgh and was keen to compare my views with others’. I penned a first draft of this post, but shelved it in order to wait for a more complete picture of the state of British journalism.
What do you want from art criticism, at least in the form in which it appears in the newspapers? Perhaps you are content to be told whether or not to go to an exhibition: for that a simple star rating should suffice. Maybe you want a little hint at what you will see, in case the title doesn’t give enough away. Maybe you need to be enthused: this artist is important; you will never get another opportunity to see this again; and so on. Or maybe you expect something more: analysis of the exhibition, new angles and insights that enhance your enjoyment and deepen your experience of the works to be seen. And perhaps a critical assessment of how well it has been put together: did the organisers choose the best examples, arrange them with intelligence, light them with skill and design the displays with taste? (Ideally of course, did they find new, convincing additions to the oeuvre?) Was the artist “contextualised”, in the jargon – that is, compared with his contemporaries and placed in the cultural environment? Was the catalogue well written, informative and accurate? Were the attributions correct?
Perhaps you want to leave the last of these questions to specialist journals: the Burlington Magazine, for example, has frequent displays of scholarship (Pierre Rosenberg’s review of the Poussin exhibition a few months ago is exemplary), often in the small print notes at the end of many of its reviews, which you wouldn’t expect to find in the Guardian (although let us remember that Brian Sewell never dumbed down his contributions to the Evening Standard). But I think you will probably expect more that a rewritten press release.
In the immediate aftermath of my visit to Edinburgh (July–August 2015), I saw four reviews: in the Sunday Times, the Financial Times, the Observer and the Spectator. All were unanimously enthusiastic, and perhaps one should ask for no more. Although none stooped to awarding stars, it is clear that a full, or nearly full, complement would have been earned, and the target of attracting visitors no doubt achieved. But in reviews of up to 1200 words each, one craves more.
Here is just what we want, from the Financial Times:
In Edinburgh, a bust-length 1738 portrait of James Nelthorpe shows the young man in an extravagant white-and-scarlet turban and robe lavishly trimmed with black fur. Rippling through furrows of darkness and ridges of shimmering colour, this tour de force of stroke-making testifies to how effortlessly pastel can lend itself to opulent surfaces.
This is impassioned writing, informing us of the author’s aesthetic response to a picture, making us want to go and see it for ourselves and see whether we experience it in the same way. There’s only one problem (and perhaps a second – see below): the picture of Nelthorpe wasn’t shown in Edinburgh (it only joined the exhibition in London in October: we don’t know how the journalist reacted when, as I hope, she eventually saw the picture in London). Nor was this reviewer the only culprit: the Observer too mentioned the pastels of the Thellusson couple, who were also not to be seen in Edinburgh.
The critic in the Sunday Times didn’t make this mistake. Instead he devoted much of his space to a rather silly play on the names of Liotard and Lyotard, the literary theorist who invented the concept of “metanarrative” into which the writer promptly attempts to slot the pastellist. In a tweet promoting his piece, he claimed to be the first to put together Liotard and Lyotard: sadly this is untrue, as a rather clever footnote in a 1998 colloquium of Michel Butor notes “Comme le a de différance, la différence entre Lyotard et Liotard (qui va revenir) est, dans la communication performée, muette.” But this wordplay didn’t really tell us much about Liotard, not least because most Sunday Times readers probably won’t know much about Lyotard (or Butor or Derrida, or indeed différance), if I’m allowed to patronise in turn.
All these reviewers seem to have accepted without challenge the claims in the organisers’ publicity that Liotard is the greatest artist of the 18th century whom nobody knows. One critic, better known for his interest in contemporary art, told us in a national newspaper that his “expectations were low [as he had] never heard of the subject of the show.” Another tells us that “no country has taken it upon itself to celebrate [Liotard] as a national treasure” (ever been to Geneva?); a third that “for anyone not schooled at the Courtauld, Liotard is likely to be as obscure as Bailey [the photographer, on show at the same time] is recognisable”; a fourth that Liotard is lost in between Watteau, Boucher and Mme de Pompadour: but this is the metanarrative of the Wallace Collection. (In fact the Courtauld isn’t too enthusiastic about pastellists either.) So effective has the RA publicity been that I even had a number of strangers come up to me in the exhibition to tell me they had never heard of Liotard. Does this happen at say the Francis Towne exhibition? Normally we are embarrassed by ignorance, not prompted to convert it into a boast that combines John Bullism with the real secret of this exhibition – that Liotard is the pastellist liked by those who don’t like pastel.
The trouble with all this is that it ignores the fact that Liotard is actually extremely well known to anyone genuinely interested in eighteenth century art, and not just to Marcel Roethlisberger and Renée Loche who have devoted lifetimes of research culminating in a brilliant catalogue raisonné. Curiously the FT critic noted that Liotard had been the subject of exhibitions in Zurich (1978), Paris (1985), Geneva (2002) and New York (2006) (to which one might add Utrecht and Amsterdam) – but didn’t seem to draw the obvious conclusion. And while the Sunday Times critic may go on and on about Ramsay and Raeburn, but never hears about Liotard, that isn’t reflected in the literature: Liotard has more entries in the International Bibliography of Art than Ramsay and Raeburn together. And, although it is a relatively recent phenomenon (dating to the purchase in 1986 by the Houston Museum of Fine Art for a spectacular sum), Liotard is also the darling of the salerooms.
What I look for from art criticism is a broader wisdom. Not an acceptance of the press releases, but a challenge to the assumptions brought either by the organisers or by the public. I want to be given an international perspective and to be told that in Geneva and in Amsterdam there is a profound respect for this artist, and brilliant examples that cannot travel. I want to have the contentions in the catalogue challenged by people who bring a deeper knowledge of the subject, not those to whom the subject is a surprise – let alone a complete mystery. I want to be provoked into scholarly debate, perhaps pointing to new facts and discoveries. And I want to know whether the exhibition works: is it just as a group of pictures put in a room, or does a coherent message emerge that amounts to more than the sum of the parts?
That is as far as I got six months ago. In fairness we did get in Apollo in October an informed, accurate and balanced account of the Edinburgh show (from Stephen Lloyd, a specialist: it shows, notably in understanding the different media included), albeit severely limited by the space allotted, but with an acknowledgement of the difficulty of borrowing pastels (so that the finest collections, in Amsterdam, Geneva and Dresden could not be included) rather than an acceptance that the problems of transport had been solved. I’ve written about that in a different post.
When the exhibition switched to London, I hoped we would see more of what I was looking for. Instead we got a flood of reviews (the RA press machine is certainly not to be faulted in its efficiency), but almost all covering exactly the same things (and with exactly the same deficiencies) as the initial flurry. We had it is true contributions from a wider range of backgrounds. One critic, who is a practising painter with an artist’s visual sense, announced the resounding “blare of intense copper-carbonate blue”, which immediately makes us pay attention to such wisdom. But numerous pigments, many copper based (not necessarily copper carbonate) can give rise to these blues, and the paper conservators who specialise in Liotard pigments are unable to make this determination without spectroscopy. Another artist–reviewer devoted just over 100 words to the exhibition catalogue, which it suggested “surveys the artist’s pastels” and provided “succinct but thorough information about each of the 82 exhibited items”, without any indication that fewer than half were pastels.
A different approach was taken by the writer Julian Barnes, who in fairness wasn’t reviewing this exhibition at all. His piece was about the exhibition on prostitution at the musée d’Orsay, which interested him (and about which he wrote with fierce intelligence), and about the Vigée Le Brun at the Grand Palais, which did not (and that comes across in his singling out for praise the worst, and least typical, painting in the show). But as a put-down, he included this comment:
Compared to, say, Liotard she [Vigée Le Brun] seems hidebound. The Swiss painter had a similarly peripatetic life and well-born clients. But set Alexandrine-Emilie Brongniart beside Liotard’s Princess Louisa Anne of 1754: Le Brun shows us what we might prefer to imagine childhood to be like; Liotard gives us the existential lostness of a little girl in a dress too big for her and a lace cap that looks silly not stylish.
I should have liked more of this sort of analysis. It makes one think, and makes one want to go back and look differently. And that’s certainly a valid contribution. But I’m not sure that it constitutes art historical scholarship.
For that we have had to wait, sadly until after the show is about to close, as it would have been useful to have the challenges set out while there was still time to march round the exhibition with the review in hand. (I’m not referring to my own blog post: a list of errata is not a review, whether you dismiss it as the rantings of a Beckmesser or agree with the cumulative weight of those observations.) But at the same time, one recognises the advantage of waiting for a good exhibition to mature; one goes back again and again (more than a dozen times in my case), and one sees things one hadn’t observed at first: so a reviewer’s first thoughts are rarely the last word.
The piece I allude to is indeed in the Burlington Magazine (February edition), and it is written by Alastair Laing: uniquely placed to do so, by virtue of his profound knowledge of both British and continental art of the eighteenth century, of his acute eye and of his track record of challenging accepted assumptions. His review of the 1992 exhibition of Liotard drawings was a major contribution to correcting the errors in that show. I haven’t yet received my copy of the magazine, but I glanced at it very hurriedly this afternoon in a bookshop, and I can alert you to the fact that it raises questions of attribution of several pictures, among them the Nelthorpe discussed above and David Garrick. I’m posting this article now so that as many of you can see it, and get back to the exhibition before Sunday, to look at the items in question.
I’ll leave my considered views on these specific points for a later post. But it is this kind of debate that has been so conspicuously lacking to date.
Postscript – 1 February 2016
Alastair Laing observes that the catalogue has not attempted to go into detail about the exhibited works in view of the recent appearance of Roethlisberger & Loche (for my review of which the Burlington curiously fails to follow its normal convention of footnoting), but he nevertheless suggests that the curators should have “devoted greater consideration to the individual exhibits” – while falling short of outright rejection for Nelthorpe and Garrick. (He does however reject the Duncannon oils, as I discussed in my errata post.) Garrick merits a fuller discussion, but doubts about Nelthorpe are I think misplaced.
Visually of course this is far less accomplished than the great Liotard pastels we normally expect to see. But it is far earlier than most of his work, was probably made in Constantinople where he didn’t have the materials he would later use (so that the colour range is restricted – a little less so had we been allowed a glimpse of the blue cummerbund concealed by the later gilt slip); the pastel is on paper, and is in poor condition (the work was transferred onto board some years ago, with losses and restorations whose extent is a matter of guesswork).
Who else would have done it? Knapton, perhaps, might be suggested, particularly because, among the few things we know about Nelthorpe was that he was a member of the Society of Dilettanti. But he joined after that club had introduced a rule saying that the portraits members had to offer were to be in oil. So presumably the narrative becomes: Nelthorpe commissioned Knapton to do his portrait for the Society, but the pastel was rejected. If so you would expect the pastel to have remained in Nelthorpe’s collection: but not only did it not figure in his posthumous sale, nothing like it did either (Nelthorpe had a vast collection of engravings, but doesn’t seem to have commissioned original portraits). It is I think more probable that this is the “Mr Nelthorpe in Turkish costume by Liotard” recorded in Sir Everard Fawkener’s collection. And it is not so very different in quality from the equally flat, but signed, comte de Bonneval, which has never been questioned.
There are two specific, but telling, weaknesses in the Nelthorpe pastel. The first is the rather poor treatment of the fur, with a central section of completely flat lighter hue. At first sight this looks like the efforts of an inept restorer. But as you went round the Liotard exhibition, you found exactly the same effect in several other works – e.g. William Constable and Lady Guilford. A busy restorer – or a particular incompetence of this artist?
The second passage is the intersection of the nose with the more remote eye. It is certainly an extreme example, but there is repeated evidence throughout Liotard’s career of his difficulty in this passage: this may perhaps explain his predilection for the lost look, where the problem is avoided. But in other cases (perhaps the most obvious cases in the exhibition were Lady Anne Conolly and Isaac-Louis de Thellusson), Liotard has a tendency to divide faces vertically, with the two halves occupying different planes. The effect is Picasso-like, but gives his sitters a distinctive, geometric feel. I think the Nelthorpe error is an early manifestation of this. For all these reasons, I have retained the attribution.
PPS – 4 February
I’ve only just seen this review in a Swiss online journal. I think it provides an interesting international dimension to the British commentaries. Etienne Dumont, an art critic from Geneva, is troubled by the inevitable gaps in the coverage, notes that the English public liked the show, but concludes that “Du peintre, ils ont un aperçu. Un aperçu seulement.”