Friday, July 23, 2010

The Regency World Exactly as it Was

In the years before photography, there was still a need and a desire to see the world exactly as it was. Newspapers, journals, and books all wished to have illustrations of towns, landscapes and buildings to bring the world to their readers.
Chapel of St.John the Baptist, Savoy, 1819

This need gave rise to a certain breed of artists--the topographical, architectural and landscape painter. It is yet another career that technology overtook and made redundant. But the artists of the Regency left a wonderful legacy; they left us a view of their world--exactly as it was. I have discussed some of these artists before: Bonington and Boys, Wilkie, Rowlandson and Cotman.

Grosvenor House from Millbank 1809

But this past week, I found a new artist to admire: George Sidney Shepherd. Thirty years ago Mr. Shepherd was thought to be two artists, George and his son Sidney. Then after sifting through all the evidence, the experts decided that there was only one Shepherd--George Sidney, who lived from 1784-1862. The confusion arose because Mr. Shepherd changed his style considerably in the 1820s, and added Sidney to his name to reflect the change.
A steelyard 1811

Shepherd's career took a conventional path. He lived in France until the Revolution broke out, probably worked or studied with Dr. Munro at his 'sketching academy' (I am actively searching for information on this individual and his school) and was awarded a Silver Palette by the Royal Society of Arts in 1803 and 1804. He worked on books for Rudolph Ackermann and contributed to Britton's famous Architectural Antiquities and Beauties.

This painting shows the Congreve Arms public house in Aldermaston, Berks about 1815

All of the above paintings are by George Shepherd. The two works below are borrowed from the website with many thanks. There are few copyright free versions of Shepherd's later work. These examples are from the later 1820s and 1830s. There is a move away from architectural draughtsmanship and a tendency towards more freedom of line and fancy in his work. Also, there is much more figural work.
Covent Garden Market
London University from Old Gower Mews

There is little more known about Mr. Shepherd. He did help to found the New Society of Painters in Watercolours in 1831 but by 1850 he could no longer pay his dues. He was eventually granted Honourary Membership when he was found to be destitute and bedridden. It appears that his career too was overtaken by technology i.e. photography.

Thank goodness for such artists, and thank heaven that their acute eye was not as clinically accurate as photography. They do not show the Regency exactly as it was--their world view was filtered through the artistic impulse and their creative genius. Their work gives a charm to the Regency world that it probably did not possess, but is nevertheless as real today as anything of the period can be.

'Til next time,



Janet said...

Fascinating, Lesley-Anne! I love old paintings, especially those with people in them. It's a great jumping off point for story writing and writing exercises. I always wonder at them - who they were, what their lives were like. Then, of course, there's the architecture to be admired. Yep, I could spend days in a gallery filled with old paintings (oops, never mind 'could', try 'have').

Thanks for all the research you do for these posts - always enlightened when I come to visit :)

Senra said...

Hi. Nice blog. Google let me stumble here :) I am trying to track down the artist for a specific watercolour, thought to be by G Shepherd, of the Congreve Arms in Aldermaston. I see you have an image of this painting; are you able to confirm this is by G Shepherd?

(ps I am helping to write the George Shepherd article on wikipedia)

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Thanks Janet--I'm glad you enjoyed the blog. I too love the people in the paintings--reflecting on their lives really starts the story-telling. Are you familiar with Victorian painter William Powell Frith? Some of his paintings are dense with people, and the stories to be built from them are myriad.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Hi Senra,

I'm sorry I have no way of confirming Shepherd as the painter of the Congreve Arms. I got the painting from Wikimedia Commons. I am entirely new to the work of Shepherd and am relying on people like you (Wikipedia) for my information. Thanks so much for your work in that direction!