Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Farington, painter and diarist

Joseph Farington, a British landscape painter and an active member of the Royal Academy from its inception, was born 270 years ago today. His forte, according to modern biographers, lay in the accurate topographical drawings he prepared for engravings of British views - of the Lake District, for example, and the River Thames. However, he is probably better remembered today for the detailed diary he kept over a period of more than 30 years. It provides a vivid picture of late 18th and early 19th century London, particularly its art scene, as well as the places he visited on his travels in Britain and abroad.

Farington was born in Leigh, Lancashire, on 21 November 1747, the son of a local vicar. After studying in Manchester, he moved to London to train with the landscape painter Richard Wilson, and won several prizes, awarded by the Society of Artists, for landscape drawings. He joined the Royal Academy when it was founded in 1769, and remained an active member for most of his life. In 1776, he married Susan Mary Hamond, a relative of the Walpole family, but they had no children. When she died, in 1800, Farington suffered a breakdown, and was unable to draw or paint for some months.

It is difficult to make a real appraisal of Farington’s paintings, Evelyn Newby says in the Oxford National Dictionary of Biography (log-in required), as they are scattered in many private and public collections, and rarely appear in art sales. But, she adds, Farington’s forte lay in the careful and accurate topographical drawings he prepared of British views for engravings which proved popular among tourists. Having lived in the north of England in the latter part of the 1770s, a first folio of such works, published in 1785, was titled Views of the Lakes of Cumberland and Westmorland. A decade later came History of the River Thames in two volumes. He also contributed to other series of artworks, notably Britannia depicta and Magna Britannia, neither of which, though, were ever completed due to excessive costs. He died in 1821. Further biographical information can also be found at Wikipedia. (See also Farington on Dance.)

Farington is particularly remembered today for his diary, which he started writing in 1793 and continued until the day of his death. It provides a vivid picture of the London art world in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and much else besides - society, politics, literary events, and his journeys in England and abroad. According to Newby, Farington wrote a diary for his own amusement and as an aide-mĂ©moire. The manuscripts were passed down through the artist’s family until sold at auction in 1921 to the Morning Post (a conservative newspaper published in London from the 1770s to 1937 when it was acquired by The Daily Telegraph). They were then edited by the newspaper’s art critic James Greig for serialisation, before being published by Hutchinson & Co between 1922 and 1928 as The Farington Diary in eight volumes. In 1934, the originals were gifted to George V, and are now housed in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle - the Royal Collection Trust website provides a considerable amount of information about the original manuscripts. Between 1978 and 1984, Yale University published the diaries in 16 volumes; and, more recently, in 1998, it issued a 1,000 page index of those volumes compiled by Newby.

The following extracts are taken from the first and second of the Hutchinson volumes (and can also be found in Brighton in Diaries).

24 February 1800
‘This day the greatest calamity that could fall upon me I suffered in the death of the best, the most affectionate, the most amiable of woemen, my beloved wife. Unexpected indeed was the blow, long had I reason to consider her delicate frame with apprehension, but as she had encountered the severity of many winters so I fondly hoped she might do this and that a more favorable season would restore Her strength. The time was now come when this hope was to be fruitless. Yesterday evening she was declared to be better, but in the night a change took place & at 3 o’clock this day I witnessed the departure of what I held most dear on earth. Without a sigh, with the appearance of only gentle sleep, did my beloved expire, to be received by that God to whom Her duty had been exemplary. May He in his mercies dispose my heart to follow the example of Her who discharged every duty so as to excite the love & respect of all, so that those remaining years which it may please God to allow to me may be devoted to His service and I may be rendered fit to hope for the mercies of my Creator through the mediation of Jesus Christ our blessed Lord Saviour.’

3 April 1800
‘This day I added this continuation of my journal, which I could not do before since that period when I was deprived of the great blessing of my life.’

11 April 1800
‘Mr Crozier called on me this morning and strengthened my mind with conversation and advice suited to my situation. He told me the consequence of continuing in the desponding way I have been in wd. be mental derangement or a nervous consumption. Both in a moral & religious view He shewed it to be my duty to get the better of my grief and that must be by having recourse to Society & to exercise & amusements - that medicine wd. do little for me.’

10 October 1802
‘At ¼past four oClock we dined & at Ten at night went on board the Packet which soon got under way. There were 15 people Passengers. In the Great Cabin there were 12 Bed places in two rows; the lowest very near the ground. I got an Upper Bed place & abt ½past 10 laid down, as did most of the Passengers. The night passed comfortably enough as I did not suffer the least inconvenience from the motion of the vessel. At eight oClock in the morning we were well on our way. A Calm of three Hours had delayed us in the night, but we now proceeded at the rate of 5 or 6 miles an hour. The Weather was Cloudy, but pleasant.

I had some conversation with one of the Passengers a Scotch Gentleman who was returning after having made a tour in France and Italy. He said when He arrived at Calais from England He purchased a Horse and rode the whole way from that town to Genoa where He disposed of his Horse & went on by other conveyances. He noticed how very generally the land in France was in a state of Agriculture, but He thought the people appeared to be but indifferent farmers. He mentioned how detested the French are by the Italians, and the English respected. He had coasted along part of the Shores of Italy in one of their Coasting vessels which He described as having subjected him to greater endurance than He had ever before suffered. It was the most disagreeable situation that can be imagined. He travelled from Genoa to Pisa, 150 miles, on Mules & had very bad accommodation on the way. The weather in Italy in the Summer was extremely hot.

We arrived off Brighton abt. a quarter past 2 oClock in the afternoon, when a Custom House boat came along side & took out all our Baggage, and the Passengers, and landed us at Brighton at three oClock. The fare from Dieppe to Brighton was a guinea and a half for each person, and two shillings 6d. to the Crew. We were conducted to the Custom House Office and our Trunks were more strictly examined than they had before been at any place. Some painting Brushes which I had brought over were detained. We each paid 3s. 6d. for this examination and our Trunks were then carried to the Old Ship Inn which we made our Head-quarters. On going to the Custom House Office again after their hurry of business was over, we found them disposed to let our Brushes pass with. paying duty as being articles of little value, nor did we pay any additional fee.

When I landed on the Beach John Offley was standing before me. Seeing a Vessel coming in from France He walked down to meet it thinking it possible that I might be a Passenger. We also met Mr Sharpe, who had been with us at Paris, and had lately brought his family to Brighton. Fuseli, Halls and myself dined together at the Inn & Sharpe came to tea. Fuseli’s anxiety & impatience to be in London had now so encreased that not being able to procure places in the Coach for tomorrow morning He & Halls at Eleven oClock set off in a Post Chaise. He said “His mind was in London” and He must go. He was there at breakfast the following morning.

Our excursion was thus completed. Our absence from England had been but short and I could not have expected that on returning any very sensible impression would have been made upon my mind. I had not prepared myself for any other than what France would make upon me. It proved otherways. I felt on my return a difference the most striking; it was expressed in everything; and may be explained by saying that it was coming from disorder to order. From Confusion, to convenience: from subjection to freedom. I no longer saw the people covered with the patches of necessity, or the ridiculous mixtures of frippery imitations of finery with the coarse clothing of poverty. All appeared appropriate and substantial, and every man seemed respectable because his distinct & proper Character was consistently maintained. What must be the nature of that mind that would not feel grateful that it was his Lot to be an Englishman; a man entitled from his Birth to participate in such advantages as in no other country can be found

Such a state for man must naturally have an influence upon the manners of a people. It certainly was manifest to me that the difference in the deportment of the English when compared with the French, is as great as the causes which produce it. I could not be insensible to that Air of independence bordering upon haughtiness, which is manifested in the English Character, but is little seen among the people I had left. Wealth, and Security, and the pride of equal freedom, together habituate the mind to a conscious feeling of self importance that distinguishes the people of England from those of other Countries. But if this effect is produced, if there is less of what is called the Amiable, it is amply made up by a quality of a much higher kind, which is integrity. That is a word which the English may apply to their character by the consent of the whole world more universally than any other nation that exists in it.

The American who was at Dieppe rendered the panegyric of an Englishman unnecessary. He had been an inhabitant of France; Had traversed Germany; and was acquainted with Italy. He had experienced the varieties of each Country, and formed his judgment upon it. His decision was, “that each of the Countries had something to be admired, and something to be approved; But that there was but One England in the World.” ’

14 October 1802
‘Went to breakfast at Mr Kirby’s, the Marine House [Brighton] where I engaged to board at 2 guineas a week. After breakfast walked upon the East Terrace. Saw the Prince, also Lord Thurlow & his daugr. Mrs Brown, and Lord Elenborough to-day. The Prince is much abt. riding & walking. His established companions are Admiral Payne, who has an apartment in the Pavilion, in which, being much a valetudenarian, he has a fire even in July; Trevies, the Jew; Day, who was formerly in India; and Cole Coningham. When the Prince is invited to dine out at Brighton it is usual to ask those persons also.’

20 October 1802
‘While we were walking, the Prince with Mrs Fitzherbert were also on the Steine together, and called on Lord Thurlow. Lord & Lady Elenborough were also there. She of rather a tall size, and her aspect is mild & agreeable. Lord Elenborough is abt. 52 years of age. He was at Cambridge and took his degree when Mr Keddington did. Lord Thurlow has now all the appearance of an old man, being very gouty & infirm.’

13 September 1803
‘In conversation this evening Mr Evans mentioned the singular circumstance of a countryman of his, who gained a fortune by being mistaken for another man. Bob Wilson, as He was called by His friends, had a property of about £400 a year, which being gay and a man of Show, He was supposed rather to have diminished. He came to England, and went to Brighton, with a view to try what confidence & dressing well would do. A short time before He went to Brighton there had been a Mr Wilson, an Irishman, there whose person was remarkably handsome, and who had been proclaimed by the Ladies to be the most captivating of his Sex. The reports of him reached other places and Miss Townshend, a daughter of the Countess of Dalkeith by the late Right Honble. Charles Townshend, had heard his praises, at a time when she was preparing to go to Brighton. On her arrival there she went to the rooms, at the very time that Bob Wilson first made his appearance there, and after the much talked of Mr Wilson had left the place.

Bob was the best dressed man in the room, and his air & manner easy & confident, but his face remarkably plain. It happened however that Miss Townshend heard his name, and Her imagination doing the rest, she fancied she saw in Bob all that she had heard in praise of Mr Wilson. Bob saw the attention with which she regarded him, was introduced to Her danced with her, and in Ten days or a fortnight ran away with & married Her & got £10,000; and Her Brother dying, an estate said to be £3,000 per annum.’

20 July 1804
‘[Porden, the architect, said] He was rapidly proceeding with Lord Grosvenors House at Eaton. The Stone is excellent & it is procured at 10 miles from Eaton. The pinnacles (it is a Gothic design) are executed in Cast Iron, which He said is more desirable than stone & He gets that for 14 shillings which wd. cost in Stone, £9. The frames of the windows are also of Cast Iron. He sd. the mine discovered on Lord Grosvenor estate brings him in £30 or £40,000 a yr. He was building stables at Brighton for the Prince of Wales, of a Circular form in imitation of the famous Corn Market at Paris which was burnt in 1803. The Prince at present takes much interest in building. [The stables are now the Hall known as the Dome which adjoins Brighton Art Galleries and Library.]’

The Diary Junction

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