Art collecting has been going on since the first cavemen figured out how to draw horses (although their drawings weren’t very portable). But the Regency collectors took their efforts to new extremes. Some of this was borne out of a necessity to fill the walls of their lavish new townhouses and country estates. Some stemmed from a more serious interest in antiquities – the Georgian period, and the Regency period in particular, saw the early precursors to what we would consider serious historical study (although their archaeological methods left much to be desired). And some, of course, was the result of vast shifts in wealth that created in a newly-rich upper class that wanted all the trappings of aristocrats’ homes even if they would never have their titles.
Any Regency house party worth its salt would have the opportunity to peruse the owner’s art collections, often in picture galleries. The biggest houses might have a purpose-built ‘museum’ to house their collections.
Because of this interest in antiquities and art, some of the best homes built during the Regency were designed as showcases for their owners’ hoardings. Sir John Soane’s house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, is a prime example (one that you can still visit in its original state today! It’s a must-see for any Regency-lover who visits London).
Soane started off as the son of a brewer, but he became a highly skilled architect and designed the Bank of England, his own homes in London and the countryside, and a wide variety of other public and private buildings. His house, which is really three townhouses that he combined over the span of thirty years, was constantly remodeled to accommodate his growing collection. He wasn’t above knocking out a wall to be able to get a statue into the house. And when he acquired the sarcophagus of Seti I, he held a three-day party with almost nine hundred guests to celebrate his triumph.
Soane, like many of his contemporaries, opened up his home for public viewings. His collection is a jaw-dropping hoard of some 3000 catalogued objects spanning an insane variety of styles and time periods. He collected vases, urns, sculptures, paintings, a whole series of famous images by Hogarth, spoils taken from the fall of Seringapatam in India, a whole bunch of memorabilia related to Napoleon (including a lock of Napoleon’s hair in a gold ring), first editions of books by Shakespeare and Milton, two copies of the Decameron from the 16th-century, and tons of other stuff. Soane, disappointed that his son was a reprobate who didn’t care for architecture, got an Act of Parliament passed to disown him and donated his house and its contents to the nation as a museum upon his death.
Soane wasn’t the only hoarder of his day. Christie’s auction house was founded in the 1760s, and by the Regency it was possible to buy many different kinds of art via public and private sales. And there were more infamous collectors circling through London, peddling artistic goods that had often been looted (see the Elgin Marbles) or fabricated entirely. So if you were living in the Regency and had a steady supply of income, you could outfit your house to look like a Grecian temple, an Egyptian fantasy, a Chinese dream, or some weird amalgamation of all those decorating schemes.
The reason I’m thinking of Regency art collectors is because the fourth book in my Muses of Mayfair series, The Earl Who Played With Fire, comes out later this month. It features Miss Prudence Etchingham, a proper spinster who is responsible for some of the best antiquities forgeries in London. Read on for the description, and one random commenter will get an ebook copy of the book when it comes out!
A woman courting ruin…
No one would suspect prim, proper Prudence Etchingham of lusting after her best friend’s brother. Nor would anyone guess that she’s responsible for dozens of the best forgeries in London’s antiquities markets. But if her love for Alex is doomed to fail, she must raise enough money to escape the marriage mart. She just needs one last, daring forgery to set herself up for life…
A man evading disaster…
Alex Staunton, the rich Earl of Salford, lives a charmed existence. No one knows that he’s dangerously attracted to his sister’s best friend. Nor has he revealed that he suffers from an ancient curse — one that has given him everything, but prevents him from marrying the woman of his dreams. But when an enemy from his past takes an unseemly interest in Prudence’s future, Alex must find a way to break the curse…or risk losing her forever.
A love they’re destined for…
Every seductive encounter brings them closer together — but their secret, smoldering desires will inevitably burn them. And when Prudence’s illicit forgery collides with Alex’s desperate search, more than their hearts are at stake. Can they break Alex’s curse and save Prudence from her unwanted suitor? Or will their love become a weapon that will destroy them both?
Sara Ramsey writes fun, feisty Regency historical romances. You can usually find her in San Francisco, drinking Champagne while trying to keep her tiara on straight. Her next book, The Earl Who Played With Fire, comes out in November. Find out more at www.sararamsey.com.
A proper duchess doesn’t fawn over anyone, but I shall break all protocol and shamelessly fawn over today’s guest – Joanna Bourne, the award-winning and much beloved author of The Black Hawk. She’s written several romance novels set in Regency/ Revolutionary/ Napoleonic France and Britain, and her series is packed with dashing heroes and intrepid heroines. And spies – everyone loves spies!
If you’ll allow me to fawn a moment longer, I must also mention that Jo won the 2009 RITA (Regency historical) for My Lord and Spymaster, and was a finalist for the 2009 RITA (historical) for The Spymaster’s Lady and for the 2011 RITA (historical) for The Forbidden Rose. She’s also made all sorts of reader/trade lists for best romances, and the accolades keep rolling in for her lastest book, The Black Hawk.
So it’s with great pleasure that we welcome Joanna Bourne to the blog! Onward, dear Reader, as Joanna answers all sorts of questions about her books and writing. And there’s a giveaway at the end – stay tuned!
I am thrilled and delighted to host the lovely Leigh LaValle, whose debut book THE RUNAWAY COUNTESS comes out tomorrow! COUNTESS has already earned great early acclaim, including:
- 4 stars from Romantic Times: “LaValle’s debut is exciting and action packed, with a hero and heroine who play well off each other.”
- A blurb to die for from Tessa Dare: “Leigh LaValle weaves an enthralling tale of passion and deception, laced with charm and wit…a captivating new voice in historical romance.”
- Another blurb to die for from Courtney Milan: “an enchanting debut, full of passion, angst, danger, and the promise of true love.”