G Engleheart Pinxit 1805: A year in the life of George Engleheart by John Webley
|G Engleheart Pinxit 1805: A year in the life of George Engleheart by John Webley|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: George Engleheart was one of the leading, most prolific portrait miniaturists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He recorded the names of all his clients, into a 'fee book', and this volume focuses on those he painted during the year of 1805. With its brief biographies of every sitter, plus something of a mystery trail in the last one (previously a case of 'mistaken identity'), it provides a useful and interesting if somewhat specialised work on Georgian history, society and art, a labour of love on which the author should be congratulated.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 124||Date: June 2018|
|Publisher: John Webley [Amazon: Independently published]|
George Engleheart was one of the leading portrait miniaturists of Georgian London, with a career lasting from the 1770s to the Regency era. He was also one of the most prolific, painting nearly 5,000 works altogether (over twenty of them being of King George III). Throughout most of that time he carefully recorded the names of each of his clients, and subsequently transcribed them into what is referred to as his fee book.
As the title suggests, this is not an overview of his full career, but rather a spotlight on one year from the fee book. For Britain, 1805 was a pivotal year in the wars with France, largely due to the battle of Trafalgar. Elsewhere, the nation's role in India was expanding, as was trade with the East and West Indies. In the military, maritime, economic and commercial spheres, it was a period of considerable activity for the country on all fronts, and several of the people who played a role in these feature in the book. What could so easily have been little more than a list of names accompanied by potted biographies has been developed into a fascinating look at those from the high society of the day, casting a spotlight on Regency patronage of the arts. Only a few of these names may be well-known to specialist historians of the period, and many are largely forgotten today. This does not detract from the interest or the value of the book.
Our roll-call of Engleheart's clients includes a vivid cross-section of society. Members of the aristocracy, military officers, and naval captains of the Royal Navy predominate. Others include the mercantile service of the East India Company, and contemporary captains of industry such as merchants, bankers, industrialists, slave owners (shortly before moves were made to outlaw slavery), and actors. The author has clearly researched far and wide to tell us something about the sitters, their lives and family background, even if portraits (either the artist's own miniatures, or those by other artists) are unavailable for reproduction. For example, in 1805 Robert Hankey was senior partner in the family bank, trading at Fenchurch Street. He and his family lived there in the winter, and at the imposing Putney House the rest of the year round. The grounds of the latter included livestock, from which a man was charged with stealing eleven pigs the following year, found guilty and instead of being imprisoned or fined, was allowed to become either a soldier or a sailor. Another interesting life, another sitter who clearly did well for himself, was the lawyer Richard Shawe, who had defended Warren Hastings in his seven-year-long impeachment trial. Though Hastings was financially ruined despite being found not guilty, Shawe was left comfortably off and bought a large plot of land in Dulwich on which he, too, was able to build a splendid country house.
Perhaps surprisingly, Engleheart's own portraits in this book are somewhat few and far between. As mentioned above, in some cases the author has been able to supply somebody else's likeness of the sitter, or another relevant image, such as their house, ship or coat of arms from other collections.
The book ends with a mystery. One portrait by Engleheart from 1805, sold at Sotheby's in 1974, features a young man whose identity is subject to question. At the time it was wrongly identified from the artist's records as being of someone else. Webley has followed a convoluted trail, studied other contemporary portraits, and named a different sitter altogether with convincing evidence to support his theory.
This is a useful and interesting if somewhat specialised addition to the bookshelf of anybody interested in Georgian history, society and art. The entries make fascinating reading, and the whole is laid out with very high quality reproductions, mostly colour. It is nothing less than a labour of love on which the author should be congratulated.
For further reading, we can recommend Sir William Knighton: The Strange Career of a Regency Physician by Charlotte Frost, a study of one of the foremost medical names of the period. A Royal Affair: George III and His Troublesome Siblings by Stella Tillyard gives an interesting account of the sovereign and some of his more difficult relatives, while for an overview of England in the early years of the nineteenth century, 1815: Regency Britain in the Year of Waterloo by Stephen Bates does the job very well. We can also recommend The Glorious First of June: Fleet Battle in the Reign of Terror by Sam Willis.
G Engleheart Pinxit 1805: A year in the life of George Engleheart by John Webley is in the Top Ten Self-Published Books 2018.
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