Between glamour and gloss: Adam Buck (1759-1833)

The Nine Youngest Children of Richard Bagot, Bishop of Bath and Wells
1825 – Watercolor on card. The Morgan Library Museum NY

De deur openduwen van de Engelse ‘Regency-tijd’ met een portret-tekenaar, miniaturist, die negen van de twaalf bischoppelijke kinderen beetje ordeloos maar fraai gekostumeerd heeft gepenseeld, kan naast een bekoorlijk portret ook een heus statement zijn voor een boeiende tijd die wij via Jane Austen en menig grootschalige televisieserie herkennen. Het begrip ‘elegantie’ is inderdaad een overkoepelend begrip, onmiddellijk aangevuld met ‘vermogend’, of ‘upper class society’. Ene Constance Hussey in haar blog ‘A different time, a different place’ vat het tijdperk samen:

In 1811, King George III, being subject to mental instability,  was deemed unfit to rule. His son, the Prince of Wales, ruled by proxy  as Prince Regent until he became George IV on the death of his father.  Although this time period is the actual length of the Regent’s rule, the  term Regency Era often refers to the years between 1795 and 1830. The  period we think of as the ‘Regency’ was a time of glamour and gloss; a  glittering world renowned for its elegant entertainments, haut couture,  achievements in the arts, sciences and architecture, and characterized  by distinctive trends in fashions, politics and culture. For the  aristocracy, or the ton, as the highest level of society was  known, it was a time of excess; elaborate balls and routs, sumptuous  dinner parties and weeks-long entertainments at splendid stately homes. 
Adam Buck (1759-1833)
Portrait of a Young Gentleman
Watercolour, 13 x 12cm (5 x 4¾”)
Signed and dated 1829
Born in Cork to a family of Irish silversmiths, Buck specialised in painting miniatures from an early age and soon progressed to larger watercolour portraits.  His 1787 family portrait of the Edgeworths includes Maria Edgeworth, Jane Austen’s main rival as a novelist of contemporary manners.  After working in Ireland, Buck emigrated to London in 1795 at the age of 36 and began a long and prolific career as a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy for over 30 years, with over 170 exhibits.
The Edgeworths family
At the centre of the composition is Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817) an engineer and inventor from Edgeworthstown, Co. Longford. He faces his eldest daughter, the famous novelist Maria (1767-1849), as he points to a drawing on the table. Richard's third wife, Elizabeth Sneyd (standing holding a baby), and numerous other children look on.
Adam Buck (1759-1833)
Portrait of a Lady, Seated at a Desk
Watercolour and crayon on wove paper,
In 1798, Maria and her father published a two volume treatise, 'Practical Education', which became an acclaimed manual for child-rearing. Key ideas included encouraging hands-on learning and experiment. Above all, children were to be encouraged to 'learn from their own experience a just confidence in their own powers.'

De concurrentie, met name Jane Austen beschreef ook een druk familie-tableau in Persuasion, hoofdstuk XIV.

“On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard, in spite of all the noise of the others. (…) Mr Musgrove made a point of paying his respects to Lady Russell, and sat down close to her for ten minutes, talking with a very raised voice, but from the clamour of the children on his knees, generally in vain. It was a fine family-piece”.
Regency Christmas by Cruikshank

In 1795 emigreert Adam Buck naar Londen; zesendertig is hij dan.

‘Buck’s entry into London Society was meteoric.  He soon enjoyed favour with both the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York.  He was particularly associated with depicting Mary Anne Clarke (1776-1852), the scandalous and intriguing mistress of the Duke of York.  Her life story has been told with affectionate wit by her great grand-daughter, Daphne Du Maurier.

Mary Anne Clarke (Thompson)

Buck’s love of the Antique, especially the art of Greece and Rome, inspired his life-long project to record images from Greek Vases, resulting in 157 large drawings now preserved in Trinity College Library, Dublin.  His own designs, inspired by classical pieces such as these, were adapted for the decoration of contemporary ceramics and were popular as prints.’

The expiation of Orestes 1812
He came from a family of silversmiths, but began as a miniaturist, along with his brother. The technical skills and focus on detail required for silversmithing were readily transferable. The small scale of his pastels and watercolours and the lack of prestigious history paintings in his oeuvre meant that his many attempts to become an Associate Member of the Royal Academy between 1802 and 1829 were unsuccessful, although he exhibited 160 portraits at the Academy throughout his career. His work demonstrated too much of the ‘mechanic’s’ decorative craft, and not enough of the underlying bone and muscle understood through the life class, too much of the particular and not enough of the universal. The introductory wall panel notes that ‘Even when painting more ambitious subjects, he remained a miniaturist at heart’. (BSECS British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies)
Robert Southey with Daughter and son, Adam Buck

Lees ook:

Of hij de strengheid van BSECS verdient, laat ik aan de lezer over. Hij was een man wiens werk geliefd was in een tijd waarin gegoede jonge vrouwen met miniatuur portretjes van Lord Byron op hun tasjes rondliepen, tijden waarin een auteur op ‘warme verering’ kon rekenen. En of de heren van de Royal Academy hem niet lusten een standaard ter beoordeling mag zijn zal ik met alle plezier in het klassieke midden laten. Zijn werk werd door talrijke uitgevers als ‘prent’ verspreid, een popularisering die alvast voor enig inkomen zorgde, ook al stierf hij vrij berooid zoals dat heet. Ik zie hem vooral als getuige van een merkwaardige tijd waarin hijzelf het liefst terug in het Oude Griekenland wilde leven en werken.

Het was een tijd waarin ‘celebrity’s’ zoals Marie-Antoine Carême astronomische bedragen voor haar diensten vroeg en goed verkopende kookboeken schreef die door Napoleon en de Prince Regent werden gebruikt. Een tijd waarin het £15 kostte -het jaarloon van een stielman- om een balzaal met waskaarsen te verlichten voor één avond. Een tijd waarin plaatsen waar een moord was gebeurd als vermaak bezocht werden, zelfs nog voor de politiediensten ter plekke waren geweest en dus het lichaam mee naar de dichtsbije pub werd genomen tot de lijkschouwer het zou op halen. Een merkwaardige tijd die inderdaad wel eens aan deze tijd doet denken.

Fictional character, the beloved of the wife of Tom Jones, hero of Fieldings novel ‘Tom Jones’