Friday, May 5, 2017
REGENCY IN COLORADO: The Denver Art Museum
Sheri Cobb South
When one thinks of Regency England, I’ll admit that Denver, Colorado doesn’t exactly leap to mind. Still, while it’s no substitute for a trip to London or Bath, the Denver Art Museum contains sufficient pieces from the period to keep Regency aficionados happily engaged for a few hours—and with an admission charge of ten dollars per person, the price is certainly right.
The Denver Art Museum comprises two buildings; those interested in its Regency and Georgian holdings will want the North Building, specifically the sixth floor. Here you’ll find one room of the gallery is dedicated to the “Golden Age” of British portraiture, generally considered to encompass the 1720s to the middle of the 19th century. (Please note that most, perhaps all, of these portraits are part of the very extensive Berger Collection, on long-term loan to the museum, and the ones on display are rotated through the gallery; therefore, different paintings may be on display at the time of your visit. If there is a particular painting or paintings that you especially wish to see, it might be a good idea to contact the museum first.)
One of my favorites was this portrait, Master Roger Mainwaring, by Henry Thomson, RA, from about 1810. A nearly life-sized representation, it shows young Roger at about eight years old (give or take a year or two) ready to go fishing, with his rod in his hand and his creel at his feet. The museum’s information panel notes, charmingly, that the rod is too big for him—as is the balustrade he’s trying, not entirely successfully, to sit on.
Another I especially liked was Master Page, Anne Page, and Slender, by John Downman, ARA. This painting, also from about 1810, depicts a scene from one of the amateur theatricals that were a popular entertainment at house parties. In this case, the play being performed is William Shakespeare’s The Merrie Wives of Windsor. Because this painting came to the Berger collection from the descendants of the sitters, we know exactly who is portrayed here: John Dawkins (left) is playing the part of Slender, with his sister Susannah in the role of Anne Page and her husband, lawyer Sir Edward Dodsworth, as Master Page. There’s certainly no question as to who is having the most fun, is there? “Slender” appears to be having a blast, while poor Sir Edward looks like he’s just praying for the curtain to fall!
A doorway leads from this gallery into a large room where Georgian and Regency furniture is on display. The star of the show, at least in my opinion, is this gorgeous chaise longue from about 1810, but other pieces are well worth a look, including this gracefully curved chair from about 1825
and this work table from about 1820.
According to the information panel, the raised center section of the table could be removed to reveal a chess board beneath, or lowered for use as a writing desk. The silk bag hanging below provided a place for ladies to store their needlework. There are more pieces, of course, but space doesn’t permit me to show them all.
Take the elevator down to level four, and you’ll find a collection of Spanish Colonial art, which includes several pieces from the Regency period (although of course the Spanish didn’t call it that!).
Here you’ll find more home furnishings, including this 18th-century settee. Unlike the green chaise longue we saw earlier, whose silk upholstery was a modern reproduction, this one still has its original silk damask cushions, hence its rather worn appearance.
There are also paintings in the Spanish Colonial collection, including this Portrait of Francisco Javier Paredes by Francisco Aguirre from about 1800. Its subject was a Spanish gentleman who served as a colonel stationed in Mexico. The information panel cites his luxurious accessories: a diamond ring on the little finger of his right hand; numerous gold buttons on his double-breasted waistcoat; the elaborate medal and chain pinned to his hat; the sword he wears, the hilt of which is just visible; and the walking stick he carries.
The Portrait of a Lady by an unknown artist is from Argentina or Chile, and dates from the 1820s or 1830s, but the gold jewelry she wears reflects the earlier Neoclassical style favored by the Empress Josephine Bonaparte. I confess, when I saw this painting I immediately thought of the Marchesa in Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy!
Finally, one of my favorite items in the Spanish Colonial collection was this fan. Although it depicts people in 18th-century dress, the panel cites a date in the 19th century, so this was apparently a “historical” scene at the time it was made. The sticks are made of mother-of-pearl, and although it’s part of the Spanish Colonial exhibit, the panel says it is probably of French manufacture. I couldn’t help wondering how it traveled from France into the hands of some long-ago lady living in what is now South America. That, to me, is what museums are for: telling (or at least hinting at) the stories of those long gone, as revealed by the things they left behind.
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Sheri Cobb South is the author of the John Pickett series of Regency-set mysteries, as well as the critically acclaimed Regency romance The Weaver Takes a Wife. For more of her unique stateside take on the Regency, see her blog entry “Regency in Alabama” at http://lesleyannemcleod.blogspot.com/2011/08/regency-in-alabama-vine-olive-colony-of.html?m=1