Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Thomas Gainsborough


English portraitist and landscape painter Thomas Gainsborough died this day, August 2nd, in the year 1788.  Despite his renown for painting, it is a house Gainsborough lived in, and a “doctor” that lead to a connection with Sir Walter Scott.  The house is Schomberg House, in London.  The text describing this connection comes from William Whitley’s “Thomas Gainsborough”.

‘Schomberg House, where Gainsborough lived until his death in 1788, was originally the residence of the Dukes of Schomberg. Afterwards it became the property of Lord Holdernesse, from whom it was acquired by John Astley, a painter and a fellow-student of Reynolds. According to a lengthy biography of Astley, published soon after his death in 1787, Lord Holdernesse offered him Schomberg House for £5000, and held to his offer, although he knew before the contract was signed that he could have had £7000 for it from Lord Melbourne. We are told that Astley, who had married a rich widow, spent another £5000 in altering the house. "The centre he himself inhabited, and raised that fine room where Dr. Graham, with such infamy to the police which suffered him, preceded Cosway. There, too, he built an attic story which, for the surprises of scenery in a town like London, should be seen by all who come to it."
Dr. Graham, whose lectures, with their demonstrations of the human figure unadorned, scandalised the town, was the notorious personage whose earth baths and electrical machine were tried upon Sir Walter Scott when a child in a vain effort to cure his lameness. Sir Walter, who thought that Graham had a touch of madness in his composition, remembered him at Edinburgh when he used to attend the Greyfriars Church in a gay suit of white and silver, with a chapeau bras, " and his hair marvellously dressed into a sort of double toupee, like the two towers of Parnassus. Lady Hamilton is said to have first enacted his Goddess of Health." The tradition that Nelson's enchantress posed at Graham's lectures appears to have no foundation in fact, but out of it has grown the legend that Gainsborough painted from Lady Hamilton the picture in the National Gallery, Musidora bathing her Feet. The attractions of Graham's Temple of Health included the reading of lectures by Ann Curtis —to the horror of that embodiment of propriety, Mrs. Siddons, whose sister the lecturer was—but the noisy crowds who flocked to Pall Mall were drawn there by the Goddess of Health, the Celestial Bed, and similar unedifying spectacles. These ultimately brought down upon the head of Gainsborough's next-door neighbour the wrath and the interference of the Bishop of London.’

Dr. James Graham is a subject nearly as noteworthy as Gainsborough; certainly more notorious.  Graham was an early practitioner of sex therapy, and his electo-magnetic technique was used more to promote fertility than to cure lameness.

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