Neo-Classical Darlings: Two Watercolors after Adam Buck

 

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Unknown artist (British). The Darling Awake (detail), ca. 1809–30. After a color stipple engraving by Samuel Freeman (British, 1773–1857), after an original work by Adam Buck (Anglo-Irish, 1759–1833). Watercolor on paper. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum 2006.05

Americans love British imports—the Beatles, tea and scones, Noel Coward, Downton Abbey, James Bond, Hunter wellies. The list is endless. And it was the same in the nineteenth century, when the Brit invasion included Charles Dickens, Staffordshire ceramics, Argand lamps, the poetry of Lord Byron, and Ackermann’s Repository of Arts.

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Augustus Charles Pugin (British, born France, 1769–1832). Ackermann’s Room in the Strand, 1809. Hand-colored etching with aquatint. Victoria and Albert Museum, Given by Miss E. Manson. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Rudolph Ackermann (1764–1834) was a Regency publisher and print seller. From 1809 to 1828, he published Ackermann’s Repository, a highbrow British magazine that featured the newest fashions, arts, literature, politics, and more. This monthly periodical was also available in the United States, where cultured New Yorkers could buy an annual subscription for £4 12s with free postage, and Bostonians could peruse issues at the Atheneum. Ackermann was also the proprietor of a fashionable London shop on the Strand, the Repository of Arts, which sold prints, books, fancy goods, and art supplies. Americans traveling and living abroad could easily visit this elegant emporium to purchase Ackermann’s stylish merchandise.

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Adam Buck. The Artist and His Family, 1813. Watercolor, pen, and ink on paper mounted on board. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. The background objects in this family portrait announce the artist’s passion for ancient Greek vase paintings and their influence on his compositions.

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Tea saucer, ca. 1812–1830s. British. Bat-printed transferware. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. Teaware with Adam Buck’s maternal scenes was sold in Britain and also exported to the American market.

One of the best-known artists whose work Ackermann published and promoted through engravings was the Irish-born portraitist and watercolorist Adam Buck (1759–1833). Like many people of his era, Buck was a keen enthusiast of the Antique at a time when interest in new archaeological discoveries merged with a reaction against extravagant and fussy Baroque design. Buck also collected and studied ancient Greek vase paintings, and their inspiration infuses his work, which includes clean lines, figures in profile, Grecian props, and classical drapery. His “modern” depictions of idealized mothers and children in the classical taste strongly appealed to the market’s craving for contemporary interpretations of antiquity, and Buck’s compositions were widely reproduced in prints and on transferware ceramics.

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Aaron Willard (American, 1757–1844). Mantel clock, 1817. Mahogany, pine, églomisé glass, and brass. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Mrs. Mary D.B. Wilson in memory of Charles H. Wilson of Hingham. This Boston clock was made by Aaron Willard, a member of the well-known Massachusetts clock-making family. The base features a version of Adam Buck’s The Darling Asleep surrounded by a gilt-stenciled border.

Bartow-Pell owns two fine watercolors after Adam Buck—The Darling Asleep and The Darling Awake. These companion pieces hang in the Lannuier bedchamber. They may have been executed by an accomplished amateur artist or perhaps even by a teenaged schoolgirl. The watercolors are copies of color stipple engravings of Buck’s paintings by the London artist Samuel Freeman (1773–1857) that were published by Ackermann in 1809. In both, a besotted mother in a white neoclassical gown and curled hair worn in the latest style gazes upon her “darling.” The figures in The Darling Awake mimic those in other Adam Buck works—I Will Have a Kiss (1800) and The Artist and His Family (1813). The klismos chair and footstool are in the highly fashionable classical style that was popularized by designers such as Buck’s contemporary Thomas Hope (1769–1831). The first quarter of the nineteenth century was also a great age for poetry, and each scene includes some sentimental verse. Although the pictures appear sweetly romantic to our eyes, a viewer in 1809 would have seen these as refined emblems of modern design.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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