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Newsletter - October 2012


“Great Tarts in Art”

Linda Smith gave an entertaining lecture, with no notes, about Great Tarts in Art; she started with how good looks and charm could enable women into a position of wealth and status. A large number of women were considered, and here we have a selection of the most fascinating.

Charles II, having spent years of exile in France, returned to England with a rather French attitude to mistresses. They were the first to have a status as official king’s mistress, which could be the cause of considerable rivalry especially when it came to the standing of their children. Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, and Louise de Keroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth, were rivals; both painted by Lely, they had the fashionable features of the day, with their sleepy eyes, and faint double chin and were often depicted as shepherdesses.

Nell Gwyn, another of Charles II’s favourites, however was not at home in the palace but on the London stage; since the restoration of the monarchy actresses had taken female roles on stage and the terms actress and prostitute became almost interchangeable. However, her first son did become the Duke of St Albans and she was a really popular with the public. She too was painted by Lely and other famous artists of the day.

Stubbs painting of the Milbanke and Lamb families
Stubbs painting of the Milbanke and Lamb families
Portrait of Kitty Fisher by Nathaniel Hone
Portrait of Kitty Fisher by Nathaniel Hone
Portrait of Elizabeth Armistead by Joshua Reynolds
Portrait of Elizabeth Armistead
by Joshua Reynolds
Portrait of Lady Hamilton as Nature  by George Romney
Portrait of Lady Hamilton as Nature
by George Romney

In the eighteenth century Hogarth caricatured the subject in “Marriage à la Mode’` in a period when syphilis was blamed on the woman, never the man. Beauty patches covered up skin blemishes and became a metaphor in art for a character that was rotten inside.

The Stubbs painting of the Milbanke and Lamb families portrays the joining of aristocracy with new money, Elizabeth, having come from nobility and married the Lamb money. Eventually she became Lady Melbourne and the mistress of George the Prince of Wales.

Kitty Fisher was another prominent courtesan, who was to become very rich because of to her relationships with wealthy men and her beauty. She was painted by many artists but the charming portrait by Nathaniel Hone of her shows her with her “kitty” and her “fish” – punning on her name.

Elizabeth Armistead was a courtesan involved with many aristocrats but after a friendship of ten years, she fell in love with Charles James Fox; it was a love match and he eventually married her to give her social status. She cleverly formed lasting friendships with her gentlemen patrons; her portrait was painted by Reynolds perhaps the most famous portrait painter of the day.

Emma Hart came from a poor background but when she was 26 and her husband was 62 she became Lady Hamilton. Her affair with Horatio Lord Nelson was and is still famous, and her portrayals by George Romney who thought her fascinating, show her in many different guises. She was one of the unfortunate mistresses whose charm and beauty did not give her security in old age, as Nelson didn’t leave her and her daughter Horatia a penny and the government did not give her a pension as he had hoped.     

The lecture closed with a look at more modern women but it was the eighteenth and nineteenth century courtesans who captured the imagination, with their sometimes rags to riches stories.

The Annual General Meeting

With the Committee lined up on stage, unaware that they were seated directly below the lecture title ”Great Tarts in Art” to the amusement of some members, the AGM welcomed the three new committee members, Sue Gray, Liz Kilshaw and Fiona Musters. Geoff Westwell gave the Society a report of our healthy accounts, and Liz Pierce thanked her committee and gave a brief summary of the year’s events.

We all enjoyed a social glass of wine before going into the auditorium to hear the lecture.

The Watts Gallery

Thirty members booked for this visit, and enjoyed the spells of sunshine that made the short walk between the chapel, gallery and tea room enjoyable. A report and photographs will appear on the webpage shortly.