Soane’s Life & Times 1812-13; Part IX: The Arts
2013 marks a significant date for Sir John Soane’s Museum, as it heralds the 200th anniversary since Sir John and his family took up residence at No.13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. This blog series has been celebrating this important milestone in the Museum’s history by exploring aspects of Soane’s life during 1812-13. A fascinating and glittering period, the year that Soane established his now world famous house museum was also one of political, economic and social turmoil both in Britain and abroad. As 2013 begins to draw to a close, we bring you the penultimate look at this siginificant period in Soane's life.
To read the previous blog posts in this series, please click here
The Italian Count (Ezzelin Bracciaferro, 'Iron Arm', Musing over Meduna, Destroyed by him for Disloyalty, during His Absence in the Holy Land), by Henry Fuseli, c.1780
Many painters were active in this period. JMW Turner and Henry Fuseli; American-born Benjamin West (who with Joshua Reynolds founded the Royal Academy); William Westall (watercolourist and book illustrator); Philippe de Loutherbourg, a talented scene-painter employed by David Garrick at Drury Lane Theatre (for whom Soane, as mentioned, designed a monument in Chiswick churchyard after his death in 1812); William Beechey (painter of Royal portraits); David Wilkie (who painted Blind Man’s Buff for the Prince Regent in 1812); Sir Henry Raeburn (The MacNab, 1813), and Benjamin Haydon. James Gillray, the leading political cartoonist for many years, was lapsing into insanity in 1811 and George Cruickshank who started out as a cartoonist, later made his mark as a book illustrator for Charles Dickens and others.
Admiral Van Tromp’s barge at the Entrance to the Texel by JMW Turner, 1831
Turner and Soane
JMW Turner painted the celebrated Snowstorm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps in 1812. Soane knew him well. They had become lifelong friends around 1790 and in 1812 were both Royal Academy professors, Soane of Architecture, Turner of Perspective. Turner borrowed architectural drawings from Soane, ostensibly for practicing perspective, and they are likely to have exchanged artistic ideas. Turner was a frequent guest in Lincoln’s Inn Fields and shared Soane’s love of fishing. In 1813 Turner designed and built Sandycombe Lodge in Twickenham, whose designs show strong Soanean influence, as a suburban retreat.
In 1813 Eliza bought two watercolours from Turner and in 1831 Soane bought an oil, Van Tromp’s Barge at the Entrance to the Texel. Both men were fascinated by Napoleon: Soane collected memorabilia, and Turner painted scenes from the Napoleonic wars.
View of Sandycombe Lodge, J M W Turner’s villa in Twickenham by William Bernard Cooke, 1814, engraving (Courtesy of the British Museum)
Trash for silly girls
Writers George Byron and Jane Austen were publishing works to great acclaim. The first two stanzas of Byron’s autobiographical Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage were published in March 1812 by John Murray and brought the author immediate public attention. The first 500 copies sold out within three days and Murray brought out five editions in 1812 alone. Soane owned a copy.
Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, which first appeared in January 1813, also sold out and a second edition was published in November. Soane told his son John: ‘I was never fond of romance … such works I was early taught to look upon as trash for silly girls.’
Jane Austen, coloured engraving (Courtesy of the Portrait Gallery of the Perry-Castañeda Library)
Playwright, poet and novelist Robert Southey was appointed Poet Laureate in 1813. A copy of his Life of Lord Nelson (1813) is in Soane’s library. Southey and the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who married Southey’s sister-in-law, were guests at Soane’s Sarcophagus viewing party in 1825.
Music & Dancing
On 24 January 1813 a group of professional musicians formed the Royal Philharmonic Society, the first organisation of its kind in England, which commissioned works and engaged leading conductors. The Society famously commissioned Ludwig van Beethoven to write a new symphony which became Beethoven’s 9th, the Choral, premiered in Vienna in 1824.
Destitute of grace, delicacy and propriety
Almack’s Assembly Rooms in King Street, St James’s were famous in the early 1800s. One of its balls was attended by 1,700 people. Sought-after admission was guarded by a committee of female patronesses ‘whose smiles or frowns consign men and women to happiness or despair’. Even the Duke of Wellington was refused entry when he appeared in black trousers instead of formal knee breeches, white cravat and chapeau-bras. It was at Almack’s that the waltz, which first appeared in London ballrooms in about 1812, began to replace Scottish reels and English country dances.
At first, few ventured to whirl around the salons, yet, one observer said: ‘Baron de Neumann was frequently seen perpetually turning with the Princess Esterhazy.…’ Requiring a close-up face to face position, with the gentleman’s arm round the lady’s waist, the new dance drew much criticism and was described as ‘disgusting . . . a practice . . . equally destitute of grace, delicacy and propriety’.
Specimens of Waltzing, satirical print by George Cruikshank, 1817, hand-coloured etching (Courtesy of the British Museum)
Naturally the waltz caught on fast. Lady Caroline Lamb could be found ‘any morning along with the rest of the smart set of the period … practising her steps in the painted ballroom of Melbourne House to the strains of Ah du lieber Augustin’ a Viennese song in typical triple time. During their brief affair in 1812, Lord Byron could not bear to see her waltzing in the arms of another. Jane Austen would have the heroine of Emma (1815), leading off a waltz to ‘irresistible’ Country Waltz music with ‘genuine spirit and enjoyment’. But her dancers moved in traditional side-by-side sets as waltzing was still thought shocking.
Lord Byron in the dress of an Albanian by Thomas Phillips, 1835, oil on canvas (Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery)
Tomorrow, read the final part of the series, Part X: In Sickness and in Health
This blog has been reproduced from "Soane's Life and Times 1812-1813" by Gisela Gledhill and edited by Philippa Stockley, which can be purchased from our online store or from the Soane Shop. We are grateful to Gisela and Philippa for allowing us to feature their work in this way.