Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Beloved Patron: Hogarth and Miss Mary Edwards

by Catherine Curzon

Beloved of court and public, William Hogarth was an icon of the Georgian art world and a man whose work endures to this day. In his time he  turned his hand to portraiture, caricature and satirical prints. His subjects ranged from the street vendor to his own beloved pug and, as we shall see today, the most noteworthy names in Georgian society.

Miss Mary Edwards of Kensington was a most singular sort. One of Hogarth's favourite portraits, the eccentric heiress inherited a fortune in her early twenties, and she and the artist enjoyed a fruitful, close friendship as she brought commissions and inspiration to his door including a portrait of her own infant son and caricatures of society types who had once mocked her somewhat unorthodox approach to life.


Miss Mary Edwards by William Hogarth, 1742

When the time came to paint Mary herself in 1742, she was thirty seven years of age and had lived an eventful life, including marrying and then casting aside a most avaricious and scheming husband, Lord Anne Hamilton, whom she believed intended to relieve her of her fortune. In this oil painting Hogarth captured his adored patron perfectly, his brush picking out a kindly, playful and undeniably appealing face, the central figure of Mary in her vibrant red dress shining out against a formal dark background.

Behind Mary a globe and bust suggest wisdom and artistry respectively and she rests her hand on the head of a loyal, adoring dog, marking her out as a most dependable sort. Her clothes are fine yet not overly extravagant, the jewellery around her neck likewise ornate but not quite dazzling. As we can see from Mary's decision to leave her marriage rather than lose her fortune and place in the world, she loved and valued freedom and independence and the scroll at her elbow bears testament to this, reading:

Remember, Englishmen, the Laws and the Rights.
The generous plan of Power delivered down
From age to age by your renown’ed Forefathers. . .
Do thou, great Liberty, inspire their Souls!

This portrait is not simply that of one more sitter in the appointment book, it is a friend captured forever on canvas, Hogarth's brush showing us how highly he thought of this most illustrious lady. One year after Hogarth completed this lovely painting the lady was dead yet she lives on even now, vibrant, happy and adored, in this remarkable painting.


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Glorious Georgian ginbag, gossip and gadabout Catherine Curzon, aka Madame Gilflurt, is the author of A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. When not setting quill to paper, she can usually be found gadding about the tea shops and gaming rooms of the capital or hosting intimate gatherings at her tottering abode. In addition to her blog and Facebook, Madame G is also quite the charmer on Twitter. Her first book, Life in the Georgian Court, is available now, and she is also working on An Evening with Jane Austen, starring Adrian Lukis and Caroline Langrishe.
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6 comments:

  1. Both the painting and the post make the lady someone I want to know.

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    1. She lived a remarkable life; I think Hogarth's portrait really captures her spirit and his friendship with her too!

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  2. Excellent post. I had no idea Hogarth painted oils!. I thought it was all prints
    Many thanks!

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    1. Thank you! Hogarth's works are so diverse, I never tire of them. :-)

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  3. She is buried in the village of Welham, Leicestershire. She had erected a very fine marble tomb to her father who had bought the village and manor of Welham. Elizabeth's name is inscribed on the monument.

    As well as the portrait by Hogarth, Elizabeth had purchased Hogarth's painting of 'Soutwark Fair' and had commissioned 'Taste in High Life' in 1742 as a riposte to those who attacked her old fashioned clothes, the painting satirised the Frenchified Taste of High Society. Mary Edwards also features in a family painting portraying her with her husband and their child.

    Her early demise is attributed to her fondness to a glass of gin. For those interested in Mary Edwards relationship with Hogarth I can recommend the following essay 'An Un-married Woman: Mary Edwards, William Hogarth, and a case of Eigthteenth Century British Patronage' by Nadia Tscherny. I have it in 'The Other Hogarth, Asthetics of Difference' edited by Bernadette Fort and Angela Rosenthal, Princeton University Press. 2001.

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