Sunday, June 25, 2017

What Story Is This 18thc Painting Telling?

Sunday, June 25, 2017
Susan reporting,

Earlier in the year, I posted this painting on Instagram along with close-ups of various details. The painting is so intriguing that I'm going to assemble my rambling observations here as a blog post as well - please feel free to offer your own interpretations! (And, as always, click on the images to enlarge them.)

The artist is Louis Rolland Trinquesse (c1746-1800), a Frenchman who specialized in creating titillating scenes like this that his wealthy patrons craved. With that in mind, I doubt that the title the painting has now - An Elegant Interior with Two Ladies and a Gentleman - was what it was originally called. I'm sure it went by something much more suggestive and saucy; that's just the kind of picture it is.

The gentleman is clearly a good "friend," and has been granted the intimacy of being here in the boudoir of the woman in pink while she dresses. We'll call her the mistress of the house, and I'd guess that she may be (or has been) his mistress as well. This could be an expensively appointed room in their love-nest, or it could be the house she shares with an absent husband. She's wearing a sheer white dressing robe to protect her gown as she arranges her hair and make-up - another sign of intimacy.

But while the man is doing his best to press his advantage - he's leaning into her, his foot nearly touches hers, and his hand is almost on her knee - the  mistress doesn't seem entirely pleased that he's there. She's paying more attention to repairing her somewhat mussed hair and cap than to him. Her tiny feet it seductively high-heeled mules do point towards him, but her legs are firmly crossed at the knee.

Meanwhile, the maidservant (and despite the painting's current title, she is definitely a servant from her dress) seems to be watching the other two with sly interest. She definitely Knows Things, and has probably Seen Things, too, and she'd be perfectly happy to tell them. Note how familiarly she's leaning on the back of her mistress's chair. She's probably wearing her cast-off clothing, as was a common practice among lady's maids, and her cap is nearly as impressive as the one her mistress is wearing. But the front of the maid's pinner apron seems loose, even rumpled, and without that flat, straight front that 18thc stays gave to every woman's torso. Has she left off her stays? Is her body uncorseted, and agreeable available beneath her gown? Maybe she's plotting to take her mistress's place in the man's attentions and his bed - or perhaps she already has.

Outside the window, the sun is either setting, or rising. Does it signify the beginning of an affair, or the end of it? Is the the aftermath of a nigh-long dalliance that the mistress is already regretting, or is she wrestling with her consciences, and wondering whether to give in to the man's persuasive seduction? Consider how she's holding that elaborate cap on her equally elaborate hair with one hand, while taking a pin from the pin cushion with the other (she would have used ordinary straight pins to anchor the cap to her hair.) Would she use one of those pins to jab his wrist if his hand creeps too close?

The fluttering pages of the open book in the background imply an unfinished story. It also appears as if the green drape around the mistress's looking glass on her dressing table has been pulled to cover the glass entirely. Is her conscience so unsettled that she doesn't want to confront her own reflection?

One final thing to note: the large incense burner (the peculiar item on the tripod stand int he foreground) is smoking: richly, luxuriantly, fragrantly. And where's there's smoke....

So what story do you see when you look at this painting?

Above: An Elegant Interior with Two Ladies and a Gentleman by Louise Rolland Trinquess, 1776, The Wadsworth Atheneum.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of June 18, 2017

Saturday, June 24, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
Kate Warne, the first female detective in the United States.
Jane Austen, war novelist and worldly businesswoman.
• A rare deposition from the Salem Witch trials that helped sentence an elderly widow to death is to be sold.
Image: Stunning 1856 photo of Queen Victoria with George III's daughter Princess Mary (Minnie.)
• Changes on the land: 19th American photography east of the Mississippi.
• An 18thc tartan frock coat that may have been worn by Bonnie Prince Charlie himself.
• How a fragment of Chinese wallpaper at Uppark can be a piece in a continent-wide puzzle.
Image: An early 19thc view of Sadler's Wells Theatre.
Spy techniques of the American Revolution.
• Protection and punishment: beliefs about angels in Tudor & Stuart England.
• The painted leg: liquid stockings of the 1940s.
• Mud, sweat, and fears: the making of a Japanese kimono.
• Architect Mary Colter was "a surly woman who cursed with abandon" - and designed pioneering National Park structures that blended into the environment.
• Striking portraits of ancient people in this collection of Fayum portraits.
Image: Surely this "Mosco Silk" shawl was unusual in 1804 Portland, Maine.
• How Tories used money and influence to win an election...in 1816.
Rayon, an epidemic of insanity, and the woman who fought to expose it.
• The comforts of home on the battlefield: an 18thc folding camp bed used by General George Washington.
Umbrella etiquette and manners in the 19thc.
• Remembering Bingo, a trench dog and mascot of World War One.
Mary Katherine Goddard, the printer of the first broadside of the Declaration of Independence to list signers.
Image: Just for fun: Civil status, according to Jane Austen. And while we're at it, how about these hints on achieving a Regency Beach Body.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Video: Behind the Scenes at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Friday, June 23, 2017

Susan reporting,

Consider this both a Friday Video, and a super-duper Breakfast Links.

Recently Google launched a new project through their Arts & Culture program. Called "We Wear Culture: The Stories Behind What We Wear" - the landing-page link is here - the program features scores of links to videos, articles, and on-line exhibitions that highlight fashion, material culture, and clothing, both past and present. Links will lead to museums, collections, and institutions from all over the world, and cover everything from modern fashion trendsetters to the most ancient of textile crafts. There is so much to explore - be prepared to spend some time!

The video, above, is a taste of what you'll find. This is a short behind-the-scenes look at the Conservation Laboratory of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, and features several garments that presented special challenges. A hint for viewing this video (and it took me a few tries to figure this out!): use the navigation tool in the upper corner to go right and reach each new segment. I remember seeing the Worth gown on display as part of last year's "Masterpieces" exhibition, and the solution to the gown's issues was wonderfully unobtrusive, and a sympathetic way to present a still-beautiful, if damaged, garment.

If you receive this post via email, you may be seeing an empty space or black box where the video should be. Click here to go directly to the video.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Wallace Collection

Thursday, June 22, 2017
Loretta reports from London:

Though I had already put the Wallace Collection on my list of must-sees, the enthusiasm of our guide on a Marylebone walking tour led us to seek it out sooner rather than later.

As we came through the entrance, I think my head snapped back, and I had an image of myself with my eyes popping out of my head like a cartoon character. I've been to quite a few stately homes and museums, but I must say that none quite matched the visual impact of this. Though no photos can fully capture the experience, these will, I hope, offer a sense of the house. I also urge you to explore the website.

Meanwhile, we have our fingers crossed that time and circumstances will allow us to go back before we have to leave London.






Tuesday, June 20, 2017

When the Other Army Triumphs: The Benjamin Ring House & the Battle of Brandywine, 1777

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Susan reporting,

Wars are fought by armies, soldiers, and generals, but too often civilians in the path of battles suffer, too.

Earlier this year I wrote about Gideon Gilpin, a Quaker farmer and his young family living near present-day Chadds Ford, PA. In 1777, the Gilpins found themselves in the middle of the Battle of Brandywine, the largest land battle (in number of men) of the American Revolutionary war. As a Friend, Gilpin followed his religious beliefs and refused to choose one side over the other in the conflict, and was distrusted by both the British and Continental Armies. When the battle was done, his farm was destroyed because of his pacifism, and he'd lost all his crops and his livestock as well.

The Gilpin family's nearest neighbors, also Friends, made a different choice. Benjamin Ring was far more prosperous and established than Gideon Gilpin. Not only did he own a 150-acre farm, but also three mills: a fulling mill (for woolen cloth), a tannery, and a sawmill. The Rings' house was nearly double the size of the Gilpin's home, and more elegant, too, with more and larger rooms and handsome woodwork. The Ring family had six children, and the household also included two indentured servants.

But when the Revolution began, Benjamin Ring decided to go against his beliefs as a Friend, and side with the Continental forces. Both he and his two older sons were on the local militia rolls, meaning that they were willing to bear arms. For this, Ring and his sons were read out of their Meeting (banished from their Quaker congregation). When Commander-in-Chief General George Washington and his officers came to reconnoiter the area near the Ring farm in anticipation of a major battle, Ring welcomed them into his home, offered them hospitality, and supplied them with information. Soon after, in early September, 1777, Washington returned with his army, determined to stop General Sir William Howe from taking Philadelphia. The Continental forces numbered about 11,000 men, facing approximately 15,000 British and Hessian soldiers.

The Ring house became the general's headquarters, and Mrs. Ring's parlor was the army's central office and the site of terse Councils of War. The general's tent was pitched behind the house, and the rest of the army camped nearby. (Among the youngest of the officers: Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, and the Marquis de Lafayette, recently commissioned as a major general.) For two days and nights, Mrs. Ring cooked for the general and his officers; the receipt (this is a copy, above right) for the payment for the six meals for thirty men still exists. On the morning of September 11, 1777, the day-long battle began.

While Mr. Ring and his older sons were with Washington's troops (and eventually advised the general on the best path for the army's retreat), Mrs. Ring and the younger children remained at the house. As the fighting drew closer, she decided to flee to the safety with her children, loading boxes of valuables and gold into a carriage. But she'd waited too long, and the road was now blocked with soldiers. Abandoning their carriage and belongings, they fled on foot across the fields to the relative safety of the nearby meetinghouse.

Meanwhile, fighting surrounded their now-empty house. The kitchen gardens were rutted and churned, stone walls were pitted by shot, and a cannonball left its mark on one of the gables. But more indignity followed after the Americans retreated, and the British claimed victory. The Ring property was singled out as the home of a traitor who'd supported the rebels. Everything inside it was either stolen or wantonly destroyed. All the farm's livestock was taken or slaughtered, and the orchards and surrounding fields of crops were burned. The contents of the three Ring mills were also destroyed and made unusable.

When the British finally left after three days and the Ring family returned, only the shell of their house remained. The Rings applied to Congress to be compensated for their losses, and were paid in near-worthless Continental bills. More heartbreaking sorrow came when their youngest daughter sickened and died from an illness left by the armies.

Yet Ring family tradition states that Benjamin Ring claimed to have no regrets about having aided Washington and the Continental cause. Standing in the ruins of her home with a dying child, I wonder if Mrs. Ring felt the same.

After the Battle of Brandywine, the house was repaired, and over time served as a tavern, hotel, and tenant farmer's housing. In the early 20thc, it became a tourist attraction as Washington's headquarters, operated by historian, teacher, and preservationist Christian C. Sanderson. In 1931, the house suffered a devastating fire, and fell into overgrown ruins. Eighteen years later, the State of Pennsylvania purchased the property, and rebuilt the house to reflect its appearance in 1777. It is now open to visitors as part of Brandywine Battlefield Park, which this fall will be the center of a major reenactment of the battle.

Coming next week: A first-person recollection by one of the Rings' younger sons who watched the battle - and the destruction of his home - from the branches of a nearby peach tree.

Many thanks to Andrew Outten, director of education & museum services at Brandywine Battlefield Park, for his excellent tour and additional information for this post.

Photos ©2017 by Susan Holloway Scott.
 
Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket