Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Thomas Hope: Cosmopolitan Visions during the Regency

September 8th, 2010 · No Comments

As a political period in the history of British royalty, the British Regency began when King George III was declared unfit to rule in 1811.  During the Regency, King George III’s son held the powers of the King, until he was crowned King George IV after his father’s death in 1819.  However, art historians oft define the Regency as beginning in 1789, the start of the French Revolution.  Throughout the French Revolution, ideals such as nationalism were promoted through paintings and portraits which glorified famous battles and military leaders such as Napoleon Bonaparte.  But how did these aesthetic changes affect portraiture in non-Revolutionary Britain?

Picture courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw03241/Thomas-Hope?LinkID=…, by Sir William Beechey

This portrait of Thomas Hope was painted by Sir William Beechey and first exhibited in 1799.  Thomas Hope was born in 1769 into a Dutch merchant family, and his personal interests show a marked interest in foriegn culture.  He travelled extensively throughout the Near East, including what is now Turkey and Syria.

In this portrait, Hope is dressed in clothing that was customarily worn throughout the Ottoman lands, but not in Western Europe.  Interestingly, it is noted in the exhibit that Hope coined the phrase “interior design”, and this portrait was commissioned in order to be placed into his home, which also served as an exhibition for his design ideas.

This portrait serves to exalt the oriental aesthetics that Hope used in his own designs, and to portray a cosmopolitanism that was in fashion during this time of expanding world commerce.  It is also important to note that as European colonial powers such as Britain and France increased their influence in lands such as Egypt during the Napoleonic era, interest in exotic products that were produced by these cultures also increased.

Tags: 2010 Tyler · Museums

The Sir John Soane Museum

September 8th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Today, I visited The Sir John Soane Museum, which I must say is not your typical museum.  It is located in the building that its architect namesake built especially to house his collection of priceless artifacts in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.  Like many museums of the time, the owner’s philosophy for museum organization was basically to just cover the entire building in artifacts.  The current museum staff has put a lot of effort into maintaining this philosophy, for better or for worse.  Unfortunately, no picture can do the museum justice (which sounds better than just saying that the museum doesn’t allow pictures, which is an assumption that I made, not a fact), so you’ll have to go to the museum yourself to realize exactly how overwhelming it is.  Every surface is covered in pieces from everywhere from Ancient Egypt and Greece through the Middle Ages.  While this method of displaying art has historical value and is a good way of showing a lot in a small space, I’m not sure I’m a fan of it.  Not only is it overwhelming, but it doesn’t do the art justice.  All over the place are pieces that would normally be by themselves in a case, like the sarcophagus of Seti I, one of Egypt’s early princes.  Instead, they’re all jumbled together, which makes it hard to appreciate them.  Also, the way in which some pieces were displayed, especially ancient clay pots placed around the mezzanine between the ground floor and the basement, was clearly very unsafe, if preservation of the art is the goal, which it should be.  It would be far too easy to destroy a priceless piece of pottery just by accidentally bumping it on your way past.  A painting displayed in direct sunlight also comes to mind as a piece displayed in a unsustainable way.  It’s interesting to compare the Soane Museum to other museums that we have visited in London, because most museums take very good care of their art, locking it in temperature-controlled glass cases.  One of the few things I like about the Soane’s method is that it’s very easy to relate to the art because you can actually feel it if you want to (since there were no signs saying “Do Not Touch”, though that does not mean that I touched anything, because I understand basic preservation techniques) and it’s right in front of you.  Either way, I believe the museum was a very good learning experience, and would recommend it to anyone visiting London.

Tags: 2010 MatthewM · Museums

An Educational Shopping Trip

September 8th, 2010 · 2 Comments

On Sunday I journeyed with Sarah and Emily down to Oxford Street to replace my sorely missed Swatch.  I remembered passing the Swatch store on the Number 10 bus to Royal Albert Hall.  (Incidentally, Royal Albert Hall was where my watch went missing.)  With part of the Central Line closed for maintenance, we decided to take the same bus again.  It dropped us off right outside the Swatch store and I quickly found a new watch I really liked.  I was planning to post a picture of me wearing it with this blog, but one of the links broke today when I took it off to go through the metal detector at the Hindu Temple and I currently cannot wear it.  The city of London apparently does not want me to ever know what time it is.  Fortunately, Swatches come with a two year warranty, and I will get it fixed as soon as I get the chance.

We decided to explore some more of the shops on Oxford Street that afternoon.  There were some stores that I had not heard of in the U.S. and some that I had.  First, we went into Top Shop, a new store for me.  They do operate in the U.S., although it is a British chain, I had just never seen one.  The clothes were similar to what we would see at H&M or Forever 21, but significantly pricier.  Next, we went into H&M, a store I am familiar with in the U.S., although they are based in Sweden.  Although I am familiar with the store, the selection of clothing here was very different from what I am used to seeing in the U.S.  The most striking difference was the lack of color.  Where in the U.S. you can buy sweaters in a range of colors from bright red to royal purple, everything here seemed to come in the practical, muted colors of white, black, grey, beige, occasionally salmon or olive.  It seems that this must be reflecting the English preference for modesty, privacy, and stoicism mentioned by Fox.  Perhaps the English feel that wearing bright colors would draw attention to themselves in public, compromising their method of denying that they or the people surrounding them exist outside the privacy of their homes.  Wearing bright colors may also indicate earnestness, trying too hard, or taking oneself too seriously.  The Importance of Not Being Earnest is a cardinal rule, according to Fox.  I reviewed Fox’s chapter on dress codes, but I did not find it very helpful for understanding this; she mostly talks about street sub-cultures and determining class from dress.  She does say that the English have little style sense plus a lot of anxiety about dressing appropriately.  Perhaps they just sell muted colors to make it easier on themselves.

Another store we ventured into was Primark.  This store was not mentioned in Fox, but it seemed to us like it was the English equivalent of a Wal-Mart, with tables of plain t-shirts and sweaters for 3 or 5 pounds apiece and five pairs of fake pearl earrings for a pound.  The scene in there though, did not allow us much space or time to think about class.  People were dragging around huge mesh Primark bags and just piling clothes and towels into them, taking handfuls of jewelry and socks.  It was unlike any scene I have ever seen in Wal-Marts in the U.S.  It was insane.  There were 10-12 cash registers in each department, with the queues winding their way through the whole departments.  Let’s just say that if I ever go back to Oxford Street, it will not be on a Sunday, but a weekday at, say, 10 am.  Reflecting though, it seems that Primark might be the type of store that English lower classes shop out of necessity, upper classes shop in so they can show off their “great deals” and that the middle classes wouldn’t be caught dead in.

We felt just a little bit guilty at first going shopping on Oxford Street instead of visiting a museum or a park, but it turned out to be quite a London learning experience, and definitely something to blog about.

Tags: 2010 Kaitlin