Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Painting of the Day: A Portrait of Lady Anne Hamilton By James Lonsdale, 1815

Lady Anne Hamilton
James Lonsdale, 1815
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Since the early Seventeenth Century, portraiture has been one of the most important historical genres of painting in Britain, allowing us a look at people who were lost centuries ago. Even if those looks are idealized, we are able to study the development of human appearance, priorities and fashion throughout history because of the existence of portraits such as this one. 

Painted by James Lonsdale in 1815, here we see Lady Anne Hamilton (1766-1846). Lady Hamilton was the eldest daughter of Archibald, 9th Duke of Hamilton. Anne Hamilton famoulsy became lady-in-waiting to the Princess of Wales (1768-1821), the future Queen Caroline, and remained at the Queen’s side until 1813, staying loyal to Caroline through her many troubles with her husband, the Prince Regent (later King George IV). 

Lady Hamilton continued to be a dedicated friend after the future Queen Caroline left England in 1814 after becoming separated from her husband, the Prince Regent. Just before the coronation of King George IV, Queen Caroline returned to England to claim what she thought was her rightful place as Queen Consort. Of course, the new King was not eager to see his wife—barring her from the coronation in July of 1821. Queen Caroline took up residence with Lady Hamilton in Portman Street, Portman Square.

Eleven days after enduring the humiliation of not only being banned from the coronation, but also taunted and hissed by the assembled crowd, Queen Caroline began to suffer from abdominal cramps while at the Drury Lane Theater. By August, she was dead. Lady Hamilton accompanied the Queen's body to Brunswick for burial after her death in 1821. The only legacy that Lady Hamilton received after her tireless service to the Queen was she received was a portrait of Caroline.

The painter, James Lonsdale (1777-1839) exhibited two portraits of Lady Anne Hamilton at the Royal Academy. One in 1805 and a second in 1815. Based on her dress, this one is thought to be the one exhibited in 1815.

Lonsdale shows Lady Hamilton seated on a plush settee, wearing a dress of black velvet with a high empire waist and a gold belt, possibly of silk, which matches the gold edging on the square neck and puffed sleeves. She also wears a large plumed black hat, adorned under the brim with a band of jewels.

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