Monthly Archives: September 2013

Old-Timer Marriage

In among the usual dismal round of war, diplomacy, and murder, the Ipswich Journal of August 28, 1736 reported an unusual marriage:

Last Week a very extraordinary Wedding was celebrated at Maelsfield in Sussex, where the Ages of the Bride, Bridegroom, and the Horse they rode upon to be married, amounted to 214 Years; the Man was 96, the Woman 94, and the Horse 24. As they did not care to be married where they were known, they set out secretly for a Church at some Distance from their Habitation, and in their Way thither, the Bridegroom fell off his Horse, but by the help of a friendly Gate, made shift to mount again: As they were coming back, the Bride had the Misfortune to slip off the Pillion behind, and the Bridegroom’s Senses not being very perfect, he never miss’d her till he had jogg’d on some Miles, and was at last forced to return, with some Assistance, to bring her home.

So much for marrying in secret! Let us hope that the rest of their married life went more smoothly.

‘Maelsfield’ was presumably Maresfield. The parish registers of Maresfield are held at the East Sussex Record Office. If anyone has a chance to visit, it might be interesting to look them up. If you do, please let me know.

Kirby’s Suffolk Map

John Kirby’s 1736 map of Suffolk was embellished with 129 coats of arms of local nobility, clergy and gentry.  Here is the list, in the order they are presented on the map. The list gives a fairly comprehensive snapshot of the landed class at the time. John Blatchly’s John Kirby’s Suffolk: His Maps and Roadbooks has more detail.

A Supplement to the St. Martin’s Lane Academy Membership

In 1988, Ilaria Bagnamini published a very useful check-list of members of the St. Martin’s Lane Academy in Volume 54 of the Walpole Society. Bagnamini’s list is compiled from Vertue’s notebooks, the subscribers to first edition of Kirby’s Method of Perspective, and Wine and Walnuts (1823). Kirby’s second edition, published in 1755, contains many more subscribers, including more members of the Academy. Here is a supplemental list of names indicated in the second edition that did not make it onto Bagnamini’s list.

Mr. Allen, Painter

Mr. Thomas Carter, Statuary

Mr. Francis Coates, Painter

Mr. John Eccardt, Painter

Mr. Thomas Gainsborough, Painter (Bagnamini does include Gainsborough, but says he is on `no list’)

Mr. Thomas Major, 2 Books

Mr. Benjamin Radcliffe (this is presumably the R. Ratcliffe from 1823)

Mr. Peter Roberts, Chaser

Mr. Benjamin Wilson, Painter and F.R.S. 4 Books


Bagnamini, I. 1988. George Vertue, art historian and art institutions in London, 1689-1768: A study of clubs and Academies. The Volume of the Walpole Society, Vol. 54, 1—148.

More Kirby Live!

I am giving a talk at the upcoming conference of the Northeast American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies annual conference at Yale University on October 4. A substantial number of Thomas Gainsborough’s early portrait sitters in Suffolk were people known to Kirby from his earlier work. I explain who they were and how he knew them. Here’s the abstract:

Gainsborough’s Suffolk Sitters: The Kirby Connection

Joshua Kirby (1716-1774), a painter known for his book on perspective, was a long-standing, intimate friend of Thomas Gainsborough.  When the young Gainsborough returned to Suffolk from London in need of portrait commissions, Kirby had already developed an extensive network of connections, centered at Ipswich, as evidenced by the subscriber list to his 1748 publication of the Twelve Prints and accompanying Historical Account.  Kirby’s strengths were in local gentry, Ipswich and East Suffolk politicians, lawyers, and especially the clergy.  These overlapping groups provided the bulk of Gainsborough’s portrait commissions during his decade in Suffolk, before his removal to Bath and then London enabled higher prices and richer patrons.  Both John Hayes and John Bensusan-Butt have called for investigation of the social circles of those Gainsborough painted in the 1750s. Social network theory provides tools for analyzing such social relationships.

Social network analysis emphasizes the importance of nodes of high degree (individuals with many connections, in this context), especially those acting as bridges.  I argue that Kirby performs this role for Gainsborough, providing connections to several key Suffolk cliques (subgroups with many internal ties).

Eighteenth Century Aphorisms

I like this quote from Gainsborough’s friend William Jackson of Exeter. Jackson (1730-1803) was the organist at Exeter Cathedral and late in life published a book called The Four Ages, which also included essays on various subjects, including one on wit. He felt that previous attempts at defining wit were unsuccessful, and gave his own:

A wit is a juggler in ideas—a punster is a juggler in words. (1798, 122)

Charles Catton

Charles Catton the elder (1728—1798) subscribed to the first edition of Kirby’s Method of Perspective, where his name is starred as a member of the Academy of Painting. Catton in some ways had a career that paralleled Kirby’s. Where Kirby was from Suffolk, Catton was from Norwich in Norfolk. They were both coach painters, Kirby leaving that work when he moved to London, while Catton went on to become coach-painter to George III, although sadly not in time to work on the famous Gold State Coach. Coach painters had to paint the coats of arms on the doors of the coach, and Catton introduced an innovation to this kind of heraldic painting with naturalistic animals such as lions as the supporters, instead of the simpler ‘heraldic’ style of animals (note the lion in his self-portrait).

In the 1760s he was a regular exhibitor at the annual exhibitions of the Incorporated Society of Artists, but the political in-fighting of the late 1760s that saw the foundation of the Royal Academy saw him as a founding member, nominated by George III. He also went on to become Master of the Painter-Stainers Company in 1783.

Norwich Museum recently acquired a bound sketchbook of Catton’s containing 143 drawings.

One significant difference between Catton and Kirby, is that Catton was reportedly one of 35 children.

Here is a Norfolk landscape of Catton’s, now owned by the National Trust.

A self-portrait by Catton is at the Yale Center for British Art.

Yale also has a less-serious, but rather fun, late print of his called The Margate Hoy.

Whitley on Van Aken

W.T. Whitley, in his Artists and Their Friends in England 1700—1799, has some more to say on the practice of Joseph Vanaken. Whitley’s quotes are in turn from George Vertue.

Joseph Vanaken…was a native of Antwerp who settled in London when a young man and remained there until the end of his life. “A man of good round face, shortish stature, and a small cast with one eye,” he was indispensable not only to such men as Winstanley, but to fashionable London artists such as Vanderbank, Hudson, Ramsay, Whood, Davison and others. “Mr. Vanaken,” says Vertue, “having an excellent, free, genteel and florid manner of penciling silks, satins, velvets, gold lace, etc., has worked hard for several painters for dressing and decorating their pictures, which without his help and skill would make but a poor figure… They send their pictures, when they have done the face, to be drest by him, in which he has a very ready talent and more merit than anyone living since the time of Baptist, who painted in that way for Sir Peter Lely. It is a great addition to their work, and indeed puts them so much on a level that is is difficult to know one hand from another.”

The Redgraves, in A Century of Painters, say that Vanaken was retained by two artists who paid him a joint salary of eight hundred guineas a year on condition that he worked for no one else; but this does not agree with the account of Vertue, who mentions the names of six or seven men at least who were assisted by the Antwerp artist. There was, however some kind of ring or combination to control his services, as Robinson of Bath discovered when he came to London…

Robinson…calculated on the assistance of Vanaken, but was unable to obtain it, as the drapery painter’s regular customers threatened to leave him if he worked for the new-comer. It is not clear why Vanaken gave way to them, as he must have known that he was indispensable; but he gave way, as he did before when the same group prevented Vanloo from making use of his services. Vanaken, who made a great deal of money, and collected pictures for his own pleasure, seems to have been destitute of ambition, for he is said to have been a good painter both of portraits and history.

As for the unfortunate Winstanley, here is the combination of Whitley and Vertue on his painterly skills.

Hamlet Winstanley, the pupil of Kneller at the Academy and the first teacher of that fine painter George Stubbs, had a considerable practice in portraiture in Lancashire and other northern counties, but he could do nothing beyond the faces of his sitters. The figures and draperies were beyond the powers of his brush and the painting of a group or composition out of the question. He was obliged, therefore, to invent a method “quite new and extraordinary.”

“Winstanley travelled about and drew pictures from the life in oil colours—often on small pieces of cloth, only the face; pasted them when sent to London on larger cloths; one, two three or more whole family pieces he did in this manner; only did the faces, sent them to town to Mr. Vanaken an excellent painter of drapery. He stuck the, on large strained cloths as he pleased an made postures and draperies, and so made them complete pictures. This sort of trade Winstanley pursued.”

And here, for your viewing pleasure, is a portrait of John Blackburne `by’ Winstanley.

See Also:

Rouquet on Drapery Painting