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!
“We worked at our muffs, drew and did the same as when Mama is at home”.
Beyond making muffs and drawing, Susannah doesn’t list the activities that comprise what they do “when Mama is at home” but Mama (her Stepmother) presumably oversaw Susannah and Lucy’s education taking on teaching the girls what they needed to know. And what they needed to know was how to write, how to read in order to study the Bible and other suitably improving books, plus some arithmetic so that, as they got older, they would be able to record their own as well as the household expenses.
Girls of her social level would also be taught other accomplishments such as needlework, music, drawing and dancing. Apart from these, fresh air and exercise were part of their daily activity and, luckily for them, there seem to have been a number of games to be played and entertainments to be enjoyed as well (all covered in next post). It may also be that what they did when Mama was at home was part of a daily morning routine (like going to school – why bother to mention it?) and the exciting part of the day was later on: visiting and taking tea with friends and cousins.
Susannah’s diary entries show that their father valued their education as by the age of 14, she had been taught how to read, how to write and how to do maths. Susannah’s handwriting is generally wonderfully neat although there are weeks when her writing gets messier – I suspect that she sometimes wrote the diary the following week so was trying to remember what had happened – causing some crossings out and smudges! Her spelling is excellent – though she sometimes struggled with surnames as there are various spellings for the same people e.g. Mr Hage and Mr Hauge who presumably is in fact Mr Hague.
Susannah noted that on Sundays when they didn’t go to church, they read sermons instead, or Mama read a sermon to them. On Sunday January 28th 1776 she wrote,
“We keep Church at home. Read a sermon in the morning. The text was “The History of Jacob Consider’d”. I wrote what I understood by it. We read another sermon in the evening. The text was “The Rich Man and Lazarus”.
There seems to be a slightly laboured tone in “I wrote what I understood about it” which is hardly surprising as, having noticed that her references to sermons seemed to be very specific, I searched online for the sermon they read on Sunday January 7th 1776 which she calls “Felix’s behaviour towards Paul explained”, and quickly found that they were reading from a volume ofLaurence Sterne’s “Sermons of Mr Yorick”. On other Sundays, as well as going to church, they cover Sterne’s sermons on The Prodigal Son, The Rich Man and Lazarus, Pride, Humility and The Advantages of Christianity to the World and again Susannah wrote on a couple of Sundays, “I wrote what I understood of it“.
Laurence Sterne, now more famous as the author of the novels Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey was very well-known at the time for his sermons. Having myself read “Felix’s behaviour towards Paul explained”, I can state with some authority that it is not a light or easy read!
The Huguenot’s Protestant faith would have followed the tenets of John Calvin, believing in salvation through individual faith without the need for the intercession of a church hierarchy (unlike the Roman Catholic church) and on the belief in each person’s right to interpret scriptures for themselves, and this would have been in tune with Laurence Sterne’s Latitudinarian theology (see link for definition). By Susannah’s day, she and her family attended the local Anglican parish churches although her parents and grandparents were baptised, married and buried at the French churches in London, established following the Huguenot influx of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. For example, her father was baptised at the French Artillery Church in Spitalfields in 1726 and returned to his Huguenot refugee roots to be buried in 1808 in Christchurch, Spitalfields.
Susannah wrote down the titles of two other books: firstly, she noted twice that Mama read to them from a book she calls “Cyrus”. Cyrus, I have deduced, refers to a hugely popular French novel published in 10 volumes at the end of the 17th century as Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus written by Mademoiselle de Scudéry.
The book is considered the original Roman à Clef and is loosely based on classical figures and classical tales. The 10 volumes amounted to around 1,954,300 words but presumably they just dipped into it!
On Thursday 2nd February, Susannah says “Lucy read Les Journes Amusant” and I picture Lucy reading it out loud to her sister.
This will be Madame de Gomez’s Les Journées Amusantes (the amusing days) which was another huge European bestseller in the early 18th Century. An English version by Eliza Haywood was available soon after the volumes were published, but as Susannah writes the title in French, I think they must have been reading this and Cyrus in the original French. As they travelled to France later in the year and Susannah then wrote her entries in French, 90 years on from her Great Grandfather’s arrival in London, their French heritage must still have been of great importance to this Huguenot family.
(c) M. Nairne 2017
At the end of The Ladies Annual Journal or Complete Pocket Book for the year 1776 there are Tables of numbers for help in accounting which seem quite complicated to me in our age of the calculator! Also, on each diary page the right hand side is devoted to “Account of monies” with columns for noting L S D (Pounds, Shillings and Pence, the LSD standing for Libra, Solidus and Denarius) and money “Received” or money “Paid or Lent”. Susannah was probably encouraged to keep an account of any money that she had and she does occasionally make entries in the right hand side accounts section:
Susannah has £2.80 cash in hand in January. If you put this into an inflation calculator today, this apparently gives her approximately £300 spending power compared to today – I wonder if that can really be true. She does spend some of her money: she writes down when she has given “To a poor woman” several times and she buys presents, such as a doll for Harriet, her little sister.
and, I am sorry to say, she spends money (both winning and losing) gambling in card games (Piquet and Quadrille) in May and June!
I imagine that Susannah’s father encouraged her to write in her diary each day and to start keeping her accounts where she could. He will have been aware that the year 1776 was going to be an eventful one for all of them with moving house, a new baby and a long trip abroad. But, in the longer term, he would also have been keen to ensure that both his two eldest children were educated and accomplished enough to find themselves husbands when the time came and there is no doubt that both Susannah and her sister were very privileged to have such a caring and nurturing father.
“Portrait of a family all standing in a garden” 1730s, attributed to Charles Phillips.
My aunt passed on this black and white copy of a family portrait painting along with the names of those depicted. Unfortunately she does not know where she first got it from and, up until recently, I had no idea if the original painting still existed and, if so, where it might be.
In what seemed likely to be a fool’s errand of an attempt to track the painting down, a couple of months ago I posted the black and white picture on Instagram. Thanks to the quick attentions of a friend who understood better than me a trick of the internet, a “Google Images” search instantly produced a coloured version of the painting! Suddenly Susannah’s father’s family were brought to life in front of me – with their lively pet spaniel – Amazing! Along with the colour picture came the information that it was sold by Sothebys in New York in 2004 as “Portrait of a family all standing in a garden”.
This slightly naïve portrait depicts my 6 X Great Grandparents and their children – dating from the early-1730s – all looking a little stiff, formal and pointy, standing in front of quite a grand landscape. Susannah’s grandfather, James (originally Jaques – see signature below), who came over in the hamper, is on the right and his wife, Louise de la Porte, is sitting down with a protective arm round her youngest daughter, Martha. Susannah’s father is the smaller boy standing in the middle.
James Dalbiac Senior and his two sons became highly successful silk weavers and silk and velvet merchants. They are all wearing wonderful early 18th century clothes and, if the Dalbiacs specialised in silks and velvets, here they all are wearing gorgeous examples.
Charles Phillips, the painter to whom it is attributed, painted a number of family portraits (see here: https://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/search/actor:philips-charles-17081747/page/2), placing the families in landscapes attached to their properties. Although at around this time the Dalbiacs were living in 7 and then 20 Spital Square, London, it is possible that they owned a house in the country at this time which I have yet to track down. It is a large painting and it is easy to imagine it hung over the fireplace in a panelled drawing room in their Spital Square house. The National Portrait Gallery website says that Charles Phillips was “a successful portrait painter who was popular with the nobility” and their employment of Phillips is therefore symbolic of the Dalbiac’s climb to success and social integration in the English capital.
It did feel amazing to have tracked the painting down to this century – but also a bit strange to think that someone has this painting and has no idea who all the people are.
If you don’t know who the picture shows, you cannot know what lay ahead for them. James and Louise had at least 28 grandchildren, but to us the number who died can only seem shocking as many of them did not survive to adulthood. For example, Susannah’s uncle James, the taller boy, had at least 9 children; 5 were boys, but out of these 5 sons, only one seems to have had children and they were all girls.
Susannah’s Aunt Louise, on the far left of the picture, who was married to Jean Lagier Lamotte for 57 years (!) and lived in Wanstead, north east London, had 12 children, 5 of whom died and only two of whom produced families. And, of course, Susannah’s father’s first child, Pierre, died as a baby and his first wife, Susannah’s mother, died at the age 35, quite possibly in childbirth, when Susannah was 6.
What lives they led and what griefs they bore.
For what it’s worth, I have been in touch with Sothebys in New York to see if they can contact the purchasers of the painting in case they are interested in having further information about the portrait and the people it portrays.