Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Thomas Hope: Cosmopolitan Visions during the Regency

September 8, 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.

Categories: 2010 Tyler · Museums

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