The second essay in what I’m only half-jokingly calling my “George Stubbs trilogy” has just been published in the Cambridge Companion to Horseracing. It is titled “The Thoroughbred in British Art,” and the opening paragraph begins:
“The history of art is replete with horses, from early representations in the caves of
Chauvet, to the Bronze Age white horse carved into the hillside in Uffington, England, to the glistening miniatures of Mughal India. The survival of these images speaks to an ancient and enduring desire on the part of mankind to represent a species that has been a partner and a companion across diverse cultures and over many millennia. And yet each culture’s engagement with the horse, and their representation of it, reveals a unique conjunction of cultural forces. This essay examines a particularly dynamic moment in the representation of the horse, which coincided with the creation of the ‘thoroughbred’ horse in eighteenth-century Britain. The development will be traced through Great Britain’s imperial expansion in the nineteenth century to the globalization of its formal tropes and aesthetic premises in the twentieth. It is striking that an intensive process of animal breeding was seen to be coextensive with, or at least highly amenable to, fine art processes of painting, sculpting, and engraving. From the start, the thoroughbred horse was viewed as an achievement worthy of high cultural representation. And while thoroughbred portraiture entered a culvert in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it has
reappeared in contemporary art as a major site of inquiry and contestation.”
My favorite image in the essay is “My horse Phar Lap” by the Aboriginal artist Jimmy Pike:
Rebecca Cassidy, an anthropology professor at Goldsmiths University in London, was an exceptional editor and put together a wonderful collection of essays for what could have been a very lightweight tome on the horse. The novelist Jane Smiley is surely the most high profile contributor to the book, and her essay has been excerpted in The Guardian.
I was recently invited to participate in a colloquium organized by the City of Charlottesville’s Dialogue on Race, which considered the African ancestry of Queen Charlotte and whether her representation in fine art yielded additional evidence. The charming Mario Valdes, who has dug deeply into the genealogical evidence to provide compelling evidence of Charlotte’s African ancestry 9 generations back, opened the panel discussion. I played the skeptical academic, not in relation to Charlotte’s ancestry, which I’m happy to take Mario’s word on, but rather on the question of whether Ramsay’s coronation portrait of Queen Charlotte offered evidence of African attributes dating back 200 years. I was disappointed, although not surprised, to see the nature of my disagreement with Mario misquoted in the paper, because I think that Mario’s genealogical research has a great deal to teach us about the racial hybridity and global intersections common to early modern Europe.
What the panel also taught me were some of the stories related to the reception of Ramsay’s coronation portraits, which were shipped off to every British colony in the world in the immediate aftermath of the Seven Years’ War. Mario mentioned a black regiment guarding Queen Charlotte’s portrait in Nova Scotia, and audience members mentioned a long African American tradition in Charlotte, NC and Charlottesville, VA of discussing Queen Charlotte as the Black Queen. This oral tradition predates Mario’s 1997 geneaological discoveries, I believe, and they may very well have been prompted by Ramsay’s portraits. The painter Ken Aptekar has recently unearthed some of this history in Charlotte, and undertaken an interpretative work based on Ramsay’s portrait. I wish that I had known about this work before the roundtable, because it beautifully frames the questions and problems surrounding the reception of Charlotte’s image today. Aptekar formed a focus group to discuss their response to Ramsay’s portrait of the Queen, and then created a quartet of paintings that address those responses. A video from the Mint Museum goes into further detail.
And while not a response to Ramsay’s coronation portrait, but rather a response to a later coronation portrait of George III, I love the piratical reworking of the King by the Aboriginal Australian artist Daniel Boyd:
So here’s my question: Does anyone have additional leads or evidence for the global reception of Allan Ramsay’s Coronation Portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte over the past 250 years? Any leads would be terrifically appreciated!
I had the pleasure this past academic year of co-authoring a historiographic essay on eighteenth-century prints with a fabulous undergraduate art history major here at UVa, Adrienne Albright. The article appeared in Literature Compass and can be downloaded here. Adrienne graduated with honors and is now off to the Courtauld in London to study medieval art history.
There’s a wonderful, and entirely accurate, story on Rare Book School in today’s New York Times.
I’ve just completed an intensive week at Rare Book School here in Charlottesville, this time in Terry Belanger’s Advanced Book Illustration course. The overall vibe and intensity at RBS is terrific, and I’d recommend the experience to all academics who would benefit from a deeper knowledge of those antiquated objects that some of us still open and read from time to time. Terry’s class provides, I’m willing to argue, the best overview of print processes and the most potent immersion into the hands-on identification of those processes that can be found anywhere. While RBS is upgrading its space on the first floor of Alderman library here’s a quick photo of the ‘studio’ which is the only place that I can imagine Terry’s print packets feeling entirely at home.
Despite egregious op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, dire predictions of a summer of discontent, and the nail-biting that went into the final hours, the Board of Visitors did the right thing and reinstated Theresa Sullivan as President of UVa. Sullivan appeared on the steps of the Rotunda, on a gorgeously cool and breezy afternoon, addressed the crowd who seemed to exhale a collective sigh of relief.
Today, I’m pleased to get back to research and writing, ie… the job I’m paid to do (actually I don’t receive any pay during the summer, but you know…), but I do so with a heightened sense of just how tenuous the position of even a major public University is in 21st century America. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the BOV, ostensible protectors of the University, were laying the foundation to entirely privatize UVa. Rather than using their power and influence, which is not inconsiderable, to lobby for greater public investment in a state university, they were validating America’s ‘market society’ by putting it all up for sale. It’s in their financial and political interest to do so, of course, at least in the short term. Which is why the absurd overlap of corporate boards, non-profit boards, CEO’s, and political donors has become so insidious. I honestly don’t see where any resistance to this trend is going to come from. We’ve helped to check it, at least temporarily, at UVa, but it’s a finger in the dyke.