Monday, August 3, 2009

The Ladies Waldegrave


Joshua Reynold's iconic painting is probably familiar to many of you. Three heavily-powdered ladies in white sit around a table humming and hawing over their crafts. But before you get up to put the kettle on I'd like to share a bit about this painting.

The Ladies Waldegrave are specifically Elizabeth, Charlotte and Anna Horatia who were each 20, 19, and 18, respectively, when Reynolds painted them. Their mother was the vivacious and enterprising, Maria Duchess of Gloucester. It was she who commissioned this portrait, with a plan in mind. You see, Maria knew marketing and was a good PR rep, especially when it came to making sure her daughters married well, despite their mother's past sins. That's how The Ladies Waldegrave came to be.

The painting contains everything that would lead potential suitors to believe that these are the perfect little wifeys. First of all, they are all dolled up and pretty TO THE MAX. Take it easy on that powder Waldegrave sisters, you don't quite need that much! They are also in white for a reason, they're all virgins. To show that all sisters can employ themselves in a useful manner they are portrayed embroidering. If you saw them all gossiping and playing faro, I doubt that would make you want to jump up and marry them. Men date those girls they don't marry them!

Now exposure was no problem, that was the whole reason for getting Reynolds to create the depiction. Anything that came out of his paintbrush was considered gold and therefore, exposing the single man market to this billboard would not be a problem. It almost garenteed itself a spot at the Royal Academy exhibition where all the fashionable set would be.

Maria's plan worked. Elizabeth married the Earl Waldegrave (marrying your cousins allows you to keep your last name), Charlotte became a duchess when she married the Duke of Grafton (can you say: dark and mysterious hunk?), and Anna married Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour. Not bad catches to reel in with a painting! Art does speak volumes.

15 comments:

  1. Haha, amazing! I love this painting, but didn't knew anything of this backrground information. Thanks for sharing it!

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  2. Wonderful post! I've always loved this painting but didn't appreciate it totally for all these details (which I didn't know!)- Thanks! Now when I look at it I can almost sense the staging..just look at them- it is such an act!

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  3. Fantastic post! And yes, the Duke of Grafton was gorgeous! Nice work for all three girls, Maria. :)

    Question: would Georgiana also have worn white before marriage? Because in the movie, she and the other girls are shown in coloured outfits in the opening scene.

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  4. Not constantly, no. And if I remember correctly, one of the few pictures of her as an awkward teen shes wearing a dress similar to the ones they showed in the movie. The painting by Kauffman of all three Spencer children, she and Harriet are in neutral tones, but not pure white like the Waldegrave girls.

    They just went over the top in this depiction to make sure you knew they were virginal, diligent, and worthy wife candidates!

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  5. Here are the two depictions of Georgiana I was referring to:

    http://georgianaduchessofdevonshire.blogspot.com/2008/11/tart-of-week-harriet-lady-bessborough.html

    http://georgianaduchessofdevonshire.blogspot.com/2008/08/on-duchess-of-devonshire.html

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  6. I love finding out the little known secrets to art (and music), fascinating post, thanks!!

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  7. Thanks for the fun primer on one of the more lavish ways (commissioning the portrait)used to promote daughters in the marriage market.

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  8. That painting actually reminds me of this unrelated painting of the Oliver boys. It also reminds me of the paintings royalty would make of their princesses to send abroad and entice foreign princes. No wonder Maria was successful--it's such a lovely image. And I agree, the Duke of Grafton was quite a looker! But am I the only one who's reminded of Alexander Hamilton?

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  9. I'd like to know more about the yummy duke of grafton...

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  10. I always felt sorry for...is it Anna on the right? Was she plainer than the others, since her face is rather obscured?

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  11. Ha ha! Nice move on mom's part!

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  12. Thanks everyone, I'm glad you like it!

    @Danielle, You're right, Anna is on the right. I had never heard that she was the least becoming of the three; now that's kind of sad knowing it! Charlotte is the one on the left and Elizabeth is in the middle.

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  13. Great story. Like Danielle, I wonder how the youngest daughter felt having only her profile taken. Talk about ranking last!

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  14. Charlotte looks proud and determined. Do you know, was she a firebrand?

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