The portraits took pride of place in the home, or were given to others as gifts. This small portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds , for example, is thought to have been commissioned by Lord Edgecumbe as a gift for his lover.
A much larger version was destroyed in the Second World War. As with the selfie today, portraits were also a chance for more self-conscious sitters to be depicted in the latest fashions.
Portraits are a slice of history. For some, portraits are simply beautiful decorative pieces — but when you begin to discover the personal stories around the works, they become far more engaging.
English Traits : A Portrait of 19th Century England
It has a vast archive of portraits, and searching a single name can often pull up your portrait, or other images of the same sitter. Comparing facial features can help to confirm the subject's identity. The challenge can be even greater with artists such as Peter Lely , who devised compositional types that he would re-use — with similar poses, hairstyles or dresses sometimes appearing across portraits. Thus Mrs Ann Johnson might look very like Miss Ellen Smith, if there is little to differentiate their style, and few other known portraits of either.
Though he admired her triumphs he also presciently sensed the demise of a country weighed down by the 'drag of inertia'. And though mesmerised by her literature, he would later encourage American writers to forge a style all their own. Written during a decade of great flux for America, England and for Emerson himself, 'English Traits' illuminates Emerson's visionary thought as much as it vividly portrays 19th century England.
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