Sunday 26 October 2014

William Hogarth and Miss Mary Edwards

William Hogarth (London, England, 10th November 1697 – London, England, 26th October 1764) 

On this day in 1764, one of the most iconic painters in the history of English art, William Hogarth, died. Beloved of court and public, Hogarth turned his hand to portraiture, caricature and satirical prints. His subjects ranged from the street vendor to his own beloved pug and, as we shall see today, the most noteworthy names in Georgian society.

Miss Mary Edwards of Kensington was a most singular sort. One of Hogarth's favourite portraits, the eccentric heiress inherited a fortune in her early twenties and she and the artist enjoyed a fruitful, close friendship as she brought commissions and inspiration to his door including a portrait of her own infant son and caricatures of society types who had once mocked her somewhat unorthodox approach to life.

Miss Mary Edwards by William Hogarth, 1742

When the time came to paint Mary herself in 1742, she was thirty seven years of age and had lived an eventful life, including marrying and then casting aside a most avaricious and scheming husband, Lord Anne Hamilton, whom she believed intended to relieve her of her fortune. In this oil painting Hogarth captured his adored patron perfectly, his brush picking out a kindly, playful and undeniably appealing face, the central figure of Mary in her vibrant red dress shining out against a formal dark background.

Behind Mary a globe and bust suggest wisdom and artistry respectively and she rests her hand on the head of a loyal, adoring dog, marking her out as a most dependable sort. Her clothes are fine yet not overly extravagant, the jewellery around her neck likewise ornate but not quite dazzling. As we can see from Mary's decision to leave her marriage rather than lose her fortune and place in the world, she loved and valued freedom and independence and the scroll at her elbow bears testament to this, reading:
Remember, Englishmen, the Laws and the Rights.
The generous plan of Power delivered down
From age to age by your renown’ed Forefathers. . .
Do thou, great Liberty, inspire their Souls!

This portrait is not simply that of one more sitter in the appointment book, it is a friend captured forever on canvas, Hogarth's brush showing us how highly he thought of this most illustrious lady. One year after Hogarth completed this lovely painting the lady was dead yet she lives on even now, vibrant, happy and adored, in this remarkable painting.


Sarah said...

I think that the remarkable thing about Hogarth is that he must have continued to love humanity despite all that he saw. His caricatures can be quite biting, but his other portraits are often very kindly, and indeed, even some of his satirical paintings show a degree of sympathy to human weakness. His most vicious caricatures are, I would say, of the avaricious, and I wonder if his feelings about the erstwhile husband of Miss Edwards have anything to do with this, that it became personal...

Catherine Curzon said...

I would agree with that in so many ways; I think that more than anybody (for me, at least) , he could capture both the most beautiful and most ugly facets of humanity, in terms of spirit and behaviour, not just outward appearance. Whether he was inspired by the rather unpleasant husband of Miss Edwards we can't know, but I can't imagine he helped matters!

Debra Brown said...

Oh dear, she died young and with so much to live for. :/

Stephen Barker said...

Mary Edwards portrait is now hanging in the Frick Collection in New York. A contemporary portrait is that of Captain Corum the founder of the Foundling Hospital who is wearing a bright red coat.
Mary Edwards was unusual as a patron as women in that period did not normally commission paintings from artists. Apart from family paintings she also purchased Hogarth's painting of Southwark Fair.

For a while I lived in the village of Welham in Leicestershire. The village had been purchased by her father who made his money as a merchant and had married a Dutch woman. The village was largely rebuilt by Francis Edwards in the early 1720's as part of his scheme to bring the road south from Leicester through the village before going on to London, his plan was rejected by the county. The village was described in the Eighteenth Century as having a Dutch appearance on account of it's neat gravelled road and the ornamental canals that flanked the road opposite the houses in the village.
Mary Edwards erected a handsome marble monument to her father consisting of a pyramid surmounting a chest tomb, this originally stood in the churchyard and was surrounded by an iron railing, in the corners there were columns with an urn on top. In Nichols County History of Leicestershire it is reported that the monument cost £1,500. The monument was moved to the north side of the church and enclosed in a brick built mausoleum around 1800-1810, as it was not weathering well and suffering from the attentions of small boys.

Francis Edwards had remodelled the church as part of his work on the village, but most of his work was swept away by a Victorian restoration. He also paid for a new building for the nearby Kibworth Grammar School. His father had been rector at Kibworth.

Mary Edwards relatively early death was hastened by a fondness for Gin. Her inherited wealth which made her one of the wealthiest women in England does not appear to have lead to a happy life.

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you for that addition; information, how fascinating! I must admit, I do love the line that it was "suffering from the attentions of small boys" - some things never change!

Catherine Curzon said...

I know; another sad tale!

Anonymous said...

Always interesting to hear about powerful women! Thank you for a fascinating article.

Catherine Curzon said...

My pleasure!

A P said...

"When the time came to paint Mary herself in 1742, she was thirty seven years of age ... "
"One year after Hogarth completed this lovely painting the lady was dead yet she lives on even now, vibrant, happy and adored, in this remarkable painting."
She was ~ 38 - 40 y o ?

And what was the cause of her untimely death, please?