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Classical Art

Classical Art Quick Draw

Austen meets Austin

What Jane Saw



When people say the love books… do they mean they love reading books? Was it the books they were read as children or the story that took them outside of themselves and spun them off into another world. Or do they mean they love the books themselves? The comfort of having it nearby, our forever companion. A solid keeper of ideas and tales in weathered yellowed pages and faded cracked spines.


Do they love the smell of books? The international League of Antiquarian Booksellers says the smell of old books has just a hint of vanilla.  In 2009, a study found that as old books age, they release a  complex scent described as “A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness.”



In the 18th century, personal libraries were both an indulgence for the collector and for the financially well off bibliophile. The new wealthy merchant class was able to obtain books that personal libraries that previously were the exclusive domains of royalty and the church.   

“From antiquity, rulers have controlled knowledge in order to establish social, religious, cultural, and political power. Their private libraries served as archives that held documents of royal families, genealogical charts, private medical records, military histories, and other personal records of the king/ruler. Thus almost all libraries until the nineteenth century were private libraries owned by kings, temples, and other individuals/institutions, and were usually restricted to nobility, aristocracy, scholars, or priests. (University of Idaho)





Public Libraries which came into being in the 19th century were magnificent buildings to house the multitude of written words on  human knowledge, law, experience, literature and poetry. Their inspiring architecture pays homage to their revered tomes 


The Boston Public Library contains over 2,700 volumes collected by John Adams, second president, during his lifetime (1735-1826) as well as hundreds of additional books later donated by his family members. One of the greatest private collections of its day, the Adams Library remains one of the largest original early American libraries still intact. This remarkable collection of 3,510 books spans the fields of classics, literature, history, politics, government, philosophy, religion, law, science, mathematics, medicine, agriculture, language and linguistics, economics, and travel.


Thomas Jefferson’s personal libraries, held more than 6,000 books and was sold to Congress in 1815.



Even in the digital age, we will always find a reason to have books in a home. We will have them for ourselves and our children. We will have them to fill up a room. We will collect them. We will have them because they are old friends and because if we give them up, we may never find them again. We will have them because we like the way they look, the way they smell and all their fades colors. They are old world comfort, they are tangible joy. Personal Library Book.001




The portraits of Blue Boy and Pinkie are the ultimate iconic images that mirror the saying, “Blue is for boys and pink is for girls”. Though gender identification was not Gainsborough’s motivation for painting little Jonathan Buttall in a blue suit. The intense gaze of his subject in his brilliant electric blue costume was Gainsborough’s statement of defiance against his rival Joshua Reynolds. Reynolds’ dictate about the correct use of colors was to declare that blue should never be the dominant hue in the foreground of a painting. Pink.008

In ancient Greek and Roman times, boys were swaddled in blue to protect them from evil spirits who could not see the color blue and thus the baby was protected. Girls were favored with pink as that was the color associated with the earth. Since malevolent gods would not deemed them worthy of abduction, no additional defense was necessary.

This practice of gender color disappeared and was nonexistent in the18th century. Gainsborough also painted a young boy in pink. Pink.002


It appears that the cultural preference for using specific colors as gender appropriate is a recent introduction in the history of children’s wardrobes. Changes began in the early 1900‘s and speculation is that marketing played a role in this color shift. If one color was for boys and another for girls, then more product could be sold.  It is a surprise to modern day parents to learn that white was the most common color for infants in the 18th century as the clothes could be more easily bleached. White cotton gowns were worn by both boy and girl babies as a unisex practical option.  Examples are seen in the pictures of young boys below. 


Boys remained in this dress until about age 5 when they were “Breeched” and dressed in breeches similar to adult men. Pink.004

The Georgians didn’t shy away from color and pink was used in clothing, interiors and all forms of household decoration.Pink.006Pink.009Pink.010

Blue Boy and Pinkie, had no association between them until Henry Huntington acquired  them in the 1920’s. The notoriety surrounding the purchase of these artworks could also have inadvertently reinforced color stereotypes for girls and boys. Paintings of young boys in pink is not a about the color but the overall finery of their apparel and a symbol of their stature and future position. 


Pink was dominant fashion color for both sexes. It was the favorite color for both Madame Du Barry and  Madame PompadourPink.011Pink.012Pink.013Pink.014And we have come full circle…



Untitled.003Our modern neoclassical minds are bewildered when confronted with classical art images as they were originally displayed during Roman and Greek times.

Vibrant colors and ornate designs decorated temples and sculptures. The antiquities of the ancient world are embedded in our psyche as relics in white symbolizing the western ideal of high art. Their brilliant appearance could be considered gaudy and garish or playful and simple like a child’s toy. But to many, the original colorized images do not reflect the grace and design of great art. 


The colorless austerity of ancient ruins has become synonymous with sophistication and there is enough support in art history to keep us tethered to this concept. 

Michelangelo accepted the bare stone being excavated during the 16th century as part of the original artist’s intention. The artisans of the Renaissance emulated what they considered the true ancient aesthetic and in turn were copied by the 18th century sculptors as they rediscovered classical art, their interest being aroused by new excavations in Greece and Rome in the 1700’s. The lack of additional colorful embellishment, eliminates any distraction except for the beauty released from stone. Form and line has become the dominant focus.Laocoon.001

The Georgians loved color and used strong reds, blues and greens. Robert Adam, the 18th c. architect and designer who redefined neoclassical, introduced soft yellows, creamy blues and frothy pinks with an abundance of white accents to frame a room.

White on white design is often used in contemporary interiors, though Robert Adam effectively used it the Syon House Great Hall, the library at Osterley Park Hall or the ceiling at Croome Court. Robert Adam.003Robert Adam.002Robert Adam.001

The light and airy Georgian rooms gave way to the depressing gloom of the Victorian era. Thank goodness for Elsie de Wolfe who brought white and light back to interior design. Her watch words were “simplicity and suitability” and “white, whiter, whitest”. In what might be taken as her artistic credo, she wrote, “I believe in plenty of optimism and white paint, comfortable chairs with lights beside them, open fires on the hearth and flowers wherever they ‘belong,’ mirrors and sunshine in all rooms.”

We have never looked back. White and classic design endure in perfect harmony. 

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The great debate of the 18th Century was not artistic value of antiquities but whether or not one should  imitate the Greeks or the Romans. Mount Vesuvius had sealed the fate and art of both Pompeii (Roman) and Herculaneum (Greek). Gradually, the supremacy of Greek art was acknowledged.vasemaina.003



Noted art historian Johann Winckelmann wrote in 1755, “The only way for us to become great lies in the imitation of the Greeks.


Vases were small, portable and intact relative to statues and buildings.

The magnificent vase collection of Sir William Hamilton spurred the intense interest in the need to own an antique vase or a replica. Vasemania took hold and captivated those in fashionable society who wanted to emulate the le gout grec or Greek taste.

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 The vase became the quintessential motif for all things neoclassical.


As neoclassical style and imagery permeated paintings, sculpture, furniture, and decorative arts, the central element of design in all these art forms was the vase. Robert Adams, acclaimed British neoclassical architect and deisgner, repeatedly used the vase pattern in furniture.


Wedgewood capitalized on the vase obsession with their rendition of the Portland Vase. The portland vase was the famous vase acquired by the Duchess of Portland. It believed to date from AD 1-25, possibly BC. It is one of the finest examples of  glass cameo, a technique discovered around 50 BC.


Sèvres, the porcelain works of the French monarchy, shows that neoclassicism could be considerably messier in France, where it often mingled with its seeming opposite, the wonderfully light but indulgent Rococo, as well as Baroque and Chinese influences.


Nothing has done more to shape Western civilization than the culture of classical Greece. The appeal of the greek vase in its classical form or reinterpreted, remains popular in the 21st century. 






Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound.
The summer sun is faint on them —
The summer flowers depart —
Sit still — as all transform’d to stone,
Except your musing heart.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, The Autumn


“No Spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.”  John Donne

autumn.006autumn.007“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it,

and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth

seeking the successive autumns.”

George Eliot


There is a harmony
In autumn, and a lustre in its sky,
Which through the summer is not heard or seen,
As if it could not be, as if it had not been!

Percy Bysshe Shelley


Designers want me to dress like Spring, in billowing things. I don’t fell like Spring. I feel like a warm red Autumn. 

Marilyn Monroe

autumn.012autumn.013All day I have watched the purple vine leaves
Fall into the water.
And now in the moonlight they still fall,
But each leaf is fringed with silver.

Amy Lowell, Autumn


Now the autumn shudders
In the rose’s root,
Far and wide the ladders
Lean among the fruit.

Now the autumn clambers
Up the trellised frame
And the rose remembers
The dust from which it came.

Brighter than the blossom
On the rose’s bough
Sits the wizened, orange,
Bitter berry now;

Beauty never slumbers;
All is in her name;
But the rose remembers
The dust from which it came.

Clear Dot Edna St. Vincent Millay, Autumn Chant


The trees are in their autumn beauty,   
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water   
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones   
Are nine-and-fifty swans.
William Butler Yeats, The Wild Swans at Coole
autumn.018autumn.019 SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness, 
        Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; 
    Conspiring with him how to load and bless 
        With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; 
    To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, 
        And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; 
            To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells 
    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, 
        And still more, later flowers for the bees, 
        Until they think warm days will never cease, 
            For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store? 
        Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find 
    Thee sitting careless on a granary floor, 
        Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind; 
    Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep, 
        Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook 
            Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers: 
    And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep 
        Steady thy laden head across a brook; 
        Or by a cyder-press, with patient look, 
            Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? 
        Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,— 
    While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, 
        And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue; 
    Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn 
        Among the river sallows, borne aloft 
            Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; 
    And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; 
        Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft 
        The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft; 
           And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
John Keats, To Autumn




What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

Romeo & Juliet – Shakespeare 

The rose has been the inspiration for poets and artists and the symbol of kingdoms. Regardless of it’s familiar appearance in today’s homes and gardens, it remains the most aristocratic of flowers. Empress Joséphine’s quest to amass the largest and most diverse collection of roses evolved into the cultivation and creation of the modern rose. What began as an enthusiastic interest, blossomed into a passion and became an important moment in the history of horticultural and style. Her floral legacy lives on in gardens around the world. Joséphine’s reign has been called ” The Renaissance of the Rose”.

Josephine by Vital Dubray 

Born Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, she was known as Rose before marrying Napoleon Bonaparte, who favored the name Joséphine. Joséphine understood how to convey the image of empire and used her beloved Château de Malmaison as the stage for promoting the flower whose popularity could not be deterred by war or by the distance of remote foreign lands where new species thrived. Malmaison.001

Her patronage of roses gave them an imperial allure and heightened their popularity. Joséphine’s influence was felt across the channel, as well, as many British aristocrats joined the frenzied competition for the newest blooms. The rose’s popularity continued as an inspiration for decor, clothing and portraits. 

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 Roses embellished the elegant clothing of the French court.

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While Napoléon waged war against Britain, Joséphine was spending vast sums collecting new varieties of roses for the gardens of her estate. She even enlisted her husband’s aid in the pursuit of her horticultural hobby. At the height of the war in the early 1800s, Napoléon was sending money to England to pay his wife’s plant bills, and the British Admiralty was allowing ships to pass through its naval blockades to deliver new types of roses to Malmaison.

This wall hanging with borders of satin, silk, chenille and taffeta is from a salon in Versailles.

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In the late 18th century, few European roses bloomed more than once in a blooming season. Repeat blooming roses from southern China and central Asia were just being introduced.  One of the most important roses to arrive from China was the first true red-flowered rose, ‘Slater’s Crimson China,’ an image of which appeared in Curtis’ Botanical Magazine in 1774. This early remontant, or repeat-blooming rose, is the parent of all modern red roses.

Roses added an enchanting and sensual allure to portraits.

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Daring adventurers such as Robert Fortune spent years wandering China in search of rose specimens and was also smuggling tea plants for the British East India Company. Fortune and other plant collectors were aided by the invention of the Wardian case. It was the forerunner of the modern terrarium and revolutionized the transportation of live plants during long sea voyages.

Wardian case.001 

Joséphine further elevated the stature of the rose by having her flowers immortalized. She commissioned Pierre-Joseph Redouté, former court painter of Marie Antoinette, to paint a series of flower portraits. These were later published, after Joséphine’s death, in Les Roses, which the artist dedicated to his patroness’ memory. The collection of 170 stipple-engraved colored plates, is universally acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful and important rose books ever produced. The popularity of Redouté’s breathtaking images endures to this day.

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Spurred by the intense demand for new roses that Joséphine and Redouté had helped create, 19th-century hybridizers began crossing repeat-blooming Asian varieties with the hardier, more fragrant European natives. There was a lot of trial and error, but in a period of just 60 years, between 1840 and 1900, more than 4,000 hybrid remontant roses were introduced.

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Although Joséphine died decades before any of these successful hybrids were produced, the continued popularity of roses, throughout the 19th century and beyond, can be seen as the natural legacy of her passion for these glorious flowers. 


There is a timeless appeal to the elegance of 18th century design. Its essence lingers in our home like the scent of evening lilacs wafting through the open door. It is ever present like an often quoted poem. Faded Grandeur .009

Contemporary interiors are interwoven with the faded grandeur of period pieces. Rustic urns and moss covered sculptures recall ladies with lap dogs, dressed in chemise, their necks ringed with ribbons, who gossiped and laughed through manicured gardens.Faded Grandeur .011

The refined beauty of artist’s creations adapt to all tastes. The subtly and grace of classic design effortlessly complements the minimalist modern form, the esthetics of chinoiserie and the natural hand in glove comfort of traditional style.   

Faded Grandeur .010 New 18th Century.004Iconic and enduring objects evoke old world European grace. Rooms echo ancient whispers of intrigue  and dangerous liaisons. Beguiling smiles and eyes peering over fans beckon coconspirators to explore the dark hidden coves and vacant spaces behind screens.  New 18th Century.001

Faded Grandeur .004Worn woodwork, collections of rare and unique objects and restored furniture invite a perfect moment of intimacy. The comfort of an antique chair closes the distance between the secrets of the past and the reality of  present day. 

New 18th Century.002New 18th Century.005It is all a reminder of a charmed and royal existence. Of things imagined, of fairy tales written, of quiet moments when we thought the world was made of golden light and courtly etiquette.

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The 18th century was the golden age for letters and letter writing. Letter-writing manuals taught elite and commoner alike how to craft a wide variety of letters. Readers felt a sense of intimacy by reading the Epistolary novels of private correspondence.

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An ever-wider range of individuals participated in this literary culture, writing letters to families, friends, business partners, and fellow intellectuals.


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Inkstands date back thousands of years. The growing wealth of aristocracy and merchant class allowed them the opportunity to indulge in elegant and sophisticated inkstands that became symbols of affluence and education. Artists crafted designs from gold, bronze, porcelain, ivory, silver, brass, and art glass.



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Elaborate inkstands contain a wide variety of accessories, such as a taper stick (a candlestick to hold small tapers), pounce box (for sprinkling pounce, a powdered gum that fixed ink to paper), wafer-box (to hold wafers used to seal letters), a penknife, and quills.

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“From the mid-1600s onward, Europeans began to import larger quantities of porcelain from China and Japan. In the 1700s, dealers of luxury goods called marchands-merciers purchased the porcelain at auction or from the East India companies and passed it to metalworkers to decorate. The porcelain was often modified to take gilt bronze mounts, sometimes creating completely new forms.
A marchand-mercier commissioned French craftsmen to add a lacquered base and gilt bronze mounts to Chinese porcelain wine cups and figures, creating this inkstand. The two outer cups contain an inkwell and a sand shaker. The central cup once held a sponge for wiping the pen nib. In the 1700s and earlier, writers sprinkled sand on wet ink to speed drying.” Getty MuseumAntique Inkwells 2.010

“This ingeniously complex inkstand may have been presented to Pope Pius VI to commemorate completion of the Quirinale Monument in Rome in 1786, just across from the Pope’s summer palace. As seen in the inkstand, the monument incorporates an Egyptian obelisk unearthed near the Mausoleum of Augustus and two ancient Roman sculptures of horse tamers. The horse tamers swing out with the press of a lever, revealing an inkwell and sander. The sphinxes’ headdresses conceal candle holders and the center drawer contains an assortment of trompe l’oeil engravings, including Coaci’s trade card. The two doves can be made to kiss by means of a lever located under the fountain.”  Minneapolis Institute of ArtsAntique Inkwells 2.011


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Castlereagh Inkstand


Published on August 25, 2013, in 18th Century Art.



Thomas Gainsborough could hardly imagine when he painted Countess Howe in 1764 that one day the portrait would tour a part of the world that Georgian England only knew as a vast unexplored wilderness.  From the city of Bath, where painter and subject met, the portrait would be exhibited almost 250 years later in the country Lord Howe fought to defeat. Mary, Countess Howe is one of Gainsborough’s undisputed masterpieces.

Both Gainsborough and the Countess had ambitions. He moved to Bath in 1759 from Ipswich proving his determination to not remain a provincial painter. The Countess, a aristocrat by marriage and not by birth, arrived in Bath with her husband, the future 1st Earl Howe, so he could recuperate from gout.  Mary and Richard Howe’s  fortunes would dramatically rise, when his brother died leaving Richard to inherit the title of Viscount Howe.

Gainsborough’s portrait of the Countess shows his admiration for Anthony van Dyck in terms of it’s scale, 8ft tall, and the sitter’s pose. Gainsborough’s Countess conveys van Dyck’s signature aristocratic reserve and has similarities to van Dyck’s piece Elizabeth Howard, Countess of Peterborough. The dignified and elegant manner is also captured in van Dyck’s painting of the Pembroke family, a piece that Gainsborough studied.

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Mary has the same direct and confident gaze though she is sporting chic contemporary dress instead of the heavy costumed period look favored by van Dyck. Mary’s stance is bold with stiff upright pose and jutting elbow. 

According to Sir John Barrow’s Life of Richard, Earl Howe, Richard was blessed with an irreproachably meek and compliant wife, “watching over her lord in all his illnesses, accompanying him wherever he went…” though Gainsborough’s portrait suggests otherwise. In their matching portraits, Mary is subject that captures our interest while the companion piece of Earl Howe is static by comparison.

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One can only imagine the flirtation between Gainsborough and Mary. 

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The portrait is part of the Kenwood House collection that is making it’s final stop at the Arkansas Center for the Arts before returning England. Like any sensible inhabitants going through a remodel, the art collection packed up and left town while the Kenwood House renovation was being completed. The collection of 48 pieces, includes portraits and landscapes by English, Dutch and Flemish masters. 


Here is a brief history of how they got from there to here.

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