Favorite decades: 1910's, 1800's, 1870's
Favorite artists: Anthony van Dyck, Giovanni Boldini, Henry Fuseli, Thomas Lawrence
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Miss Eliza O’Neill as Belvidera in Thomas Otway’s ‘Venice Preserved’ by Arthur William Devis, 1816-22, Wolverhampton Art Gallery
Portrait of a Lady with an Ostrich Plume Hat by Joseph Clover, date not given (ca late 1810’s?), Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery
Walking dress, 1817-20 UK, the Victoria & Albert Museum
Echoes of military uniform give this walking dress a masculine flourish. The curving satin bands applied to the front of the spencer are reminiscent of the parallel lines of braiding which extended across the breast of many uniforms. Passementerie in the form of crescent-shaped moulds, looped cord and balls covered in floss silk replace the gilt or silver buttons on some regimental coats. The tassels on the collar ends and cuff bands evoke the tassels adorning boots, hats, sashes and cap lines of military accessories. In place of epaulettes, puffed oversleeves composed of linked bows emphasize the shoulder line.
The infusion of military styles into fashionable dress in Britain was largely due to the influence of the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815). Among other factors, contact with foreign troops had a strong impact on civilian as well as regimental dress, and military ornament was translated into stylish trimmings on women’s hats, bodices, spencers and pelisses. The uniforms worn during this period were some of the most elaborate in the history of military dress, and their bright colours, frogging, braid and tassels fuelled the imagination of fashion for years to come.
Although this walking outfit is not based on any particular uniform, some garments closely followed certain styles. The uniform of the hussars, who were light cavalry, was particularly flamboyant as it was derived from Hungarian national dress. In her memoirs, Elizabeth Grant describes the admiration she received when she ‘walked out like a hussar in a dark cloth pelisse trimmed with fur and braided like the coat of a staff-officer, boots to match, and a fur cap set on one side, and kept on the head by means of a cord with long tassels’.
The Nathason Family by C W Eckersberg, 1818 Denmark, Statens Museum for Kunst
The merchant Mendel Levin Nathanson and his wife are greeted by their children after having had an audience with the Queen.
With this family portrait Nathanson marked how the simpler lifestyles and values of the middle classes now set the tone in Denmark.
The family parade themselves and their bourgeois
The children seem to have been interrupted mid-dance, but in truth this scene does not depict a random moment. The family parade themselves and their bourgeois ways almost as if on stage.
Nathanson had another, personal objective: He would have wished to show that he, being Jewish, was fully integrated in society. A leading figure within the integration of Jews in Denmark, he was also a great patron of Danish art and culture. During the years 1812-20 he was Eckersberg’s most important patron
All movement has been carefully positioned and captured in this painting. The figures have been arranged in a line like in the reliefs of Antiquity, even though there is ample space on the floor. Their gazes catch all diagonals in the space – and your eye, too. Father, mother, and children will all be together in a moment, either prior to or after having been apart. Here, a happy, well-integrated Jewish family – the Nathansons – present themselves as upright Danish citizens. They sponsored Eckersberg. To repay them he captured them in paint and held them up before our gaze. Their eyes scrutinise each other – and us, before we look at them. Who has power over what we see here? Eckersberg does; he who is known as the father of Danish painting. Father looks at us through all the gazes. Is the stove looking too? We bow to his gaze and authority with a smile. This is what the good family is like; this is what the good father is like until we disobey his demand for calm and order.
Henrik Holm, Research Curator
On the other hand:
The merchant Mendel Levin Nathanson commissioned this family portrait from Eckersberg, and he had a very definite concept in mind. Eckersberg really wanted to show the family engaged in a pleasant private moment, and in one drawing he depicted the children and adults performing a circle dance. But Nathanson wanted a painting with a rather more public quality to it. So here, only the children are occupied with music and dancing. They are interrupted by their parents entering through the door. The occasion is not randomly chosen. The couple have just been in audience with the Queen. The event marked the acme so far of Nathanson’s career. Having arrived in Copenhagen as a poor Jewish immigrant at the tender age of 13 he very quickly became a successful businessman and grew into a major patron of Danish culture. With this family picture he wished to demonstrate his new position.
Kasper Monrad, Senior Research Curator
Mrs. James Pulham Sr. (Frances Amys, born about 1766, died 1856) by John Constable, 1818 England (Woodbridge, Suffolk), the Met Museum
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The sitter, an amateur portrait painter, was the wife of James Pulham, an attorney in Woodbridge, Suffolk. In a letter to Constable of April 30, 1818, Pulham referred to this painting as “the Compliment which you have so handsomely bestowed on her.” Portraiture was a minor but remunerative part of Constable’s practice. This is one of his liveliest works, with varied brushwork and glinting highlights played off against the sitter’s matronly calm.