I love research. Learning about all the little everyday details that help create a scene from the Regency world—a ball, a prize fight, an art exhibition at the Royal Academy, a coaching stop at a country inn, a rural barnyard—is fascinating. I have shelves of books on esoteric subjects from the era in my writing room, and I’m constantly reading to get a picture of how things looked and felt. (above is a scene from an art exhibit—notice how the pictures are crowded on the wall and go nearly to the ceiling.)
But there is an old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words . . . and I couldn’t agree more! Written descriptions are all very well, but there’s something very wonderful about studying drawings and paintings from the time, where one can actually SEE what the clothes and the scenes look like. Some of my favorite resources are the watercolor sketches of Thomas Rowlandson, who had a very sharp—and sometimes cynical—eye. Best known for his satirical cartoons, he was also a very observant artist, who made numerous drawings and paintings of everyday life in the late Georgian and Regency era.
In keeping with the phrase above, I’m going to keep my commentary short and simply share a selection of his art that I find particularly fascinating. (all art courtesy of the Yale British Art Center)
A ball in Bath (notice the musicians and the chairs with the watchful chaperones)
A country barnyard (Notice the sprawling barns and sheds)
A country potter taking his wares to market. (Notice the cart and harness), and the house)
Gardening (Notice the dogs and the bare feet)
Loading a stage coach. (Notice the outside passengers and the design of the coach and driver's box.)
Traveling through the countryside (Notice the details of the whole scene, like how all the horses have docked tails)
A prize fight (Notice the whole set-up)
Horse sale in Hopkins's Repository, Barbican (Notice the auctioneer and the crowd)
The Annual Sculling Race for Doggett's Coat and Badge (Notice the shapes of the rowing boats and the spectator vessels)
So, I hope you enjoyed this little portrait portfolio of Regency life by an artist of the time. Did you see anything that surprised you? Delighted you? I was struck by how many sketches show dogs as pets. Seeing what a "mill" actually looked like was also wonderful—! hadn't envisioned the carriages crowded so close to the ring. And having read about the race for Dogget's Coat and Badge, I just loved seeing an eyewitness image of what the boats and racers looked like, as well as getting a great feel for the ambiance—one can just sense the ruacous excitement of the spectators. What about you? Please share your impressions!