NEWS following on from my 4th Post, “Portrait of a Family”
The immediate provenance of this picture is still not known, and at the moment there is no more detailed information as to when the painting left the Dalbiac family’s ownership. But I am very excited recently to have tracked down its whereabouts: it is now safe in a private collection in the New York City area.
Hartwell House topiary
However, an interesting comparison has been brought to my attention that may help make sense of part of the painting: this is to the extraordinary paintings of the gardens of Hartwell House, near Aylesbury, which were painted in 1738 – around the same time as the Dalbiac portrait. The paintings can be seen through this link to the Bucks County Museum website. The similarity is in the high topiary arcades in the gardens of Hartwell House, which I understand were only in existence for a relatively short space of time as the gardens were redeveloped in the 1750s, as it says on this website, “in the more ‘natural’ style of Capability Brown”.
In the Dalbiac painting, there is a slightly mysterious looking high hedge and then arcade to the right hand side which make much more sense when looked at alongside the topiary in the paintings of the gardens at Hartwell House. The best images are the paintings in the link above but this engraving below shows the topiary arcades over to the right and also just behind and beyond the house. The Dalbiac picture also has a small figure over to the right which is similar to all the industrious gardeners included in the Hartwell House paintings.
Two items of note in the painting are the peacock at the top left and the orange tree, bottom right.
The peacock was often a Christian symbol of resurrection and immortality so may refer to the strength and importance of the family’s Christian faith.
The little orange tree:
As Huguenot refugees, the Protestant religion in England was all-important to the families who were forced into desperate and dangerous journeys in search of sanctuary abroad when having to flee the traumatic Roman Catholic persecutions in France around 1685. The Dalbiac portrait was painted a good 40 years after the family first arrived in England and it is interesting to note, even after the passing of several decades, how determined they were to spell out their religious and political loyalties. Following the Glorious Revolution in 1689, when the House of Orange secured a protestant throne for England, Ireland and Scotland, the little orange tree in the Dalbiac portrait represents the family’s Protestantism and also their loyalty to their adopted king and country. See picture here of the future king of England, William of Orange, as a child next to a similar small orange tree.
I would love to go and see the Dalbiac portrait and perhaps that will happen one day. Until that time, I am continuing to research the diary and the family history and hope to post more soon!