Despite this blog’s subtitle, Douglas Lloyd Jenkins and Peter Wells decorate an Edwardian house, there doesn’t seem to be too much going on around here that’s Edwardian – well not recently. Things seem to have settled into a period around 70 years earlier during the reign of Edward VII’s great uncle William IV.
This has been created in part by a dearth of any great Edwardian splendor in this neck of the woods and the altogether not infrequent appearance of ‘early Victorian’ objects, which fly much more under the radar than do Edwardian works which tend to come with grand names attached – Dolton, Minton, Brangwyn or Orpen etc.
I thought a little more about this the other day when I spied two little portraits at an auction house in Wellington. I took a liking to them and knew from experience that no one else was likely to be particularly interested. A friend kindly attended the auction and they were mine for a minimal outlay. Now I’ve finally got them at home and in front of me they seem lovely enticing examples of their period of art and design.
My guess is that no one wanted them because there is little or no hope of knowing whom either the sitter or the artists were, because the frames are bashed up and because the works themselves will need a clean and a few judicious repairs. Yet perhaps the real reason no one wants them because they’re neither Georgian nor Victorian.
Strangely, of the two, it was the woman who sustained my attention between the viewing and her arrival at home. Looking at the not so good cellphone picture I’d taken over the intervening week, I came to like the delicate representation of the ties of her bonnet as it falls across her black dress, highlighting their wispy pattern, it suggested to me an amateur artist with a skilled hand.
Now I have it in front of me I notice the delicate gold chain that hangs around her neck is clasped in a sensitively drawn hand. It terminates in a small gold locket pinned to her dress. Her black dress has deep dark folds particularly noticeable in her voluminous sleeves. On top of her head the bonnet culminates in hundreds of silken tassels while little rolls of curls frame her forehead.
She sits in front of that same ubiquitous red curtain that flutters in every early nineteenth century portrait but an added extra is that in the gloom of the background there is a classical column and if you really peer you can see that a single tassel hangs from the curtain.
Her husband, I assume they are a couple though of course they might be brother and sister (both have large kind eyes), caused some discussion at the viewing as to his attractiveness. I had two friends with me one of whom wasn’t a fan. Nor was Peter. However I decided he wasn’t being seen in the best light as he suffers slightly more than she from a degraded surface. The painting surface seems at one time to have been splattered in some foreign substance, has eaten away at or at least disfigured some of his face. This gave him a slightly hair-lip sort of appearance which I needed to look past and a rescue package developed.
His setting is more severe than is hers. There is only the slightest hint of red curtain or chair back. He however has that wonderful severity of this period of costuming – a nipped in waist, strong if to our eye curvy shoulders and an immaculately tied white neck scarf.
I assumed by their costume at they were from the 1830s, that perfect storm after the last of the George’s but before the onset of Victoria. There is of course no sign of a signature but on the back are the labels of the makers of the artist boards on which they are painted.
She proudly sports a label from Rowney & Foster, Artist’s Colourmen of 15 Rathbone Place, London. This label tells me that the painting is on a Flemish Ground Milled Board. However Google tells me more importantly that Rowney & Robertson had shut up shop by 1832. Now unless an artist had the board hanging around this dates my little portrait at the beginning of William’s reign. The man’s board comes from an altogether different supplier. Roberson & Miller of 51 Long Acre London operated from 1828 to 1839. So I’m guessing that these two portraits come from the early part of the decade and they are, it seems, confirmed William IV period portraits.
William IV is definitely a style that travels under the radar. In part because the serious collectors of Georgian antique consider it a step too far and the collectors of Victorian excess consider it too restrained. In the Connoisseur Period Guide – the Early Victorian Period (1830-1860) there is a lot of regretful coming to an end stuff. Witness this book on architecture – ‘Most respectable guides to architecture end at or about 1830,’ or on furniture ‘the thirty years from 1830 to 1860 are the most neglected in the whole history of English furniture.’
That book was written in 1958 and a lot has changed since then. However a lot remains the same and it seems that William IV doesn’t translate for most people into something either recognizable or desireable.
This is perhaps then why in recent months we have rescued a lovely Sheffield plate teapot dating from the 1830’s and a silver tray of similar period – both from box lots. I’ve found three William IV dining chairs for another project for less than the cost of the most basic new chair, while a friend scored two beautiful William IV dinning chairs in a general sale for half as much again. Then there are my little portraits – Mr. & Mrs Subjects of William IV, straight from early Dickens which like me are happy to make the connection between two of Britain’s jollier Kings – bookends to the rather humourless Victoria.