Sunday, March 24, 2013

Portrait of a lady

Or should that be Regency wild child instead of lady?

It's a long time since I did any portraits. I was reading about the Shelley entourage again recently and this was the result - inspired by some cuttings I happened upon in my bits and pieces box and by Claire Clairmont, teen runaway who threw in her lot with Shelley and her half sister Mary when they decamped for France.
Then threw herself at Byron and ended up pregnant and deserted.
Here she is, older, wiser and still poor, as a governess in Russia where she did her best to distance herself, geographically and metaphorically, from her scandalous past, though judging by her letters and recently discovered memoir (in which she rages against Byron and Shelley's conduct)she retained her splendidly fierce independence of spirit, in contrast to Mary Shelley whose somewhat prim and proper life-after-Shelley always seems a bit of a disappointing anti-climax.
Had she been born a hundred years later I think she would have made a wonderful suffragette.

Monday, March 18, 2013

36 Craven Street

So here it is finished...

Dr Franklin is looking out of his first floor rooms, occupied by himself and words. Words being so important to him. I found a clipping featuring eighteenth century typesetting. Oddly enough and quite by coincidence the text was part of a poster advertising slaves for sale. And slaves lived in No 36. Ben Franklin's slaves.
I have to say I found it surprising to learn that the enlightened great man owned quite a number.
Two of whom, Peter and King, came to London with him.

I moved Peter, apparently the more "competent and loyal", out onto the street where he is seen bringing in a parcel addressed to Dr Franklin, possibly one of the regular packages sent by his wife Deborah in Philadelphia. King is upstairs, with the other servants, planning his escape.
Within a year of his arrival in London King had absconded. He was eventually traced to Suffolk of all places where, it appeared, a lady had take it upon herself to take him in and "gentrify" him, teaching him music and literacy. Franklin didn't pursue the matter further and left King to it. I'd love to know what became of him.
Polly is on the front door step in welcoming mode, while Mrs Stevenson is upstairs in what looks suspiciously like party mode. I have added in one of Polly's daughters who in reality would have been younger than she is seen here.
But I'm allowing myself, as ever, to concoct convenient time shifts, artistic licence and all that.
I think this is one of my busiest collages to date. Maybe I felt the need to people the house which must be one of the barest museums ever. The inside is stripped back to the bare original minimum, no furniture, and the tour is conducted by an actor. Which probably sparked the theatrical idea here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Finishing off Dr Franklin ...

Down to details ... what is it they say? That the devil is in them? Well it could well be, they certainly take a lot of patience and a bit of swearing - especially when some tiny piece falls on the floor and gets lost amidst the off cuts under the table.
Should be finished today though.
Mmmm that cat needs a tweak or two too......

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Ben Franklin & Co

Well I said I'd be back on this one.
Sorry about the convex look, still haven't figured out how to correct that on my camera.
I have largely finished the main bricky part of the facade and am now down to the stuccoed ground floor, entrance basement and pavement ...
I said there must have been a buzz at No 36 with all these (and oh so many more) occupants and visitors and goings-on and I hope I am managing to convey that. It puts me in mind of the eighteenth century comedies I used to study. All periwigs, New Ideas and comings and goings.
Anyway, I have had to squeeze Dr Hewson in in the ground floor window though where exactly his anatomy school was situated within the building I'm not sure. He is looking a bit Hamlet-like with that skull.
And thereby lies the tale I promised to tell ...
During restoration work in the basement (which was formerly the garden), a pit was discovered which contained 1,200 pieces of human and animal bones, the detritis of the anatomy school.
Here's a couple of quotes referring to that gruesome find which get the imagination racing:
"Dr Hewson had a rich source of subjects at hand: the resurrection men could deliver bodies stolen from graveyards to the Thames wharf at the bottom of Craven Street, while there was a weekly public execution at the gallows on the other side of the garden wall ..."
"A significant find in the pit gave a direct link to Hewson's school was a portion of turtle spine and mercury. In an experiment conducted in 1770 at the Royal Society, Hewson showed the flow of mercury through a turtle to highlight the lymphatic system."
Mmmmm .... thinks .... can I fit a turtle in there somewhere?
Hewson, as I already said I think, was married to Polly, the daughter of the landlady. Their marriage was not a long one. Just four years. He died a victim of his profession. In 1774 he contracted blood poisoning after carrying out a dissection and died aged just 34.
Dr Franklin paints a vivid picture of the sad time in a letter to his wife:
"Our family here is in great Distress. Poor Mrs Hewson has lost her Husband, and Mrs Stevenson her Son-in-law. He died last Sunday Morning of a Fever which baffled the Skill of our best Physicians. He was an excellent young Man ... belov'd by all that knew him. She is left with two young Children, and a third soon expected. He was just established in a profitable growing Business, with the Prospects of bringing up his young Family advantageously."
Polly eventually moved with her children first to Paris then to Philadelphia to be close to Franklin after the end of the Revolutionary War.
Golly, this is a long post.
Sorry about that.
Will continue anon with the identities of other personages on the Craven Street scene.