Politics and the Creative Imagination 4

In its exterior appearance Newby Hall is not of a different scale from Byrd’s Westover, but once within the house one begins to see the differences. The entrance hall, with its marbled floor, is spacious, its furnishings, which include a handsome chamber organ, solid and elegandy constructed. The staircase is broad and graceful, and the Tapestry Room is different from any¬thing in North America: the Palladian Room of George Mason’s Gunston Hall is a small country parlor in comparison. The hangings in the Tapestry Room were made on order by the Gobelin factory to designs by Boucher; and the chairs were designed and made by Chip¬pendale. But Weddell’s pride and joy—“the admiration of all con¬noisseurs,” a contemporary wrote—was his specially constructed Statue Gallery. Three linked porticoed spaces, it was cun¬ningly designed by Robert Adam to exhibit the contents of nineteen chests of statuary that Weddell had shipped from Rome in the same months of 1765 when the Americans, on the far periphery of his world, were rebelling against the Stamp Act duties. Dramatically placed at the end of the third space were, and still are, his two main treasures, the wonderful Venus, once in the Palazzo Barberini in Rome, for which Weddell paid a great sum—some said £3,500, some £6,000—and the statue of Athene, for which he paid over £1,000.
There is nothing in the American world to compare with this. Weddell too was a provincial Briton, though affluent and well con¬nected. His imposing establishment was built in the midst of rural Yorkshire. Even today the contrast between the small sculpture gallery and its surroundings “comes as a shock. It has the force of revelation.” What distinguishes him from his affluent American counterparts was not his wealth—the estate of the Virginian Robert “King” Carter, at his death in 1732, was reported to include 300,000 acres, 1,000 slaves, and £10,000 in cash; and mercantile fortunes in pre-Revolutionary Philadelphia could reach £80,000. What distin¬guishes Weddell was his cultural awareness, the worldliness of his sensibilities—in a word, his sophistication.
And what of the people, the American aristocracy, the local elite— what of their style, their manner, the images they projected? We know how they presented themselves: many portraits survive. Sometimes they posed theatrically, self-consciously, with somewhat painfully con¬trived elegance heightened by the painters’—especially Copley’s— ambitions. They are substantial, proud, aspiring people, like
* the stolid Jeremiah Lee of Marblehead, Massachusetts, and his equally stolid, somewhat jowly wife, carrying, as she cautiously ascends the stairs, a bunch of fruit, symbol of fertility, in the lap of her voluminous gown,
* Isaac Smith of New York, and the formidable, matronly, no- nonsense Mrs. Smith, also nestling fruit in the lap of her dress,
* Thomas Mifflin of Philadelphia, a wealthy, well-traveled Quaker, later quartermaster general of the American army and governor of Pennsylvania, and his beady-eyed wife,
and a succession of Boston’s shrewdest, most successful men of business:
* Peter Faneuil
* John Erving
* Eleazer Tyng
With what images should these portraits of the provincial, bourgeois elite be compared? Not of course with such worldly, resplendently portrayed magnificos, utterly remote from America, as
* William, Duke of Cumberland, the victor over the Scots in the rebellion of ’45; or
the flamboyant, infamous Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
Nor is the comparison very useful even with the less grand, less Olympian aristocracy who did have direct connections with America:
* the Earl of Hillsborough, for example, whose imperious attitude toward America when he was secretary of state and whose per¬sonal snubs Benjamin Franklin never forgot and never forgave; or
* the graceful, elegant, confident Mary, Countess Howe, whose husband, Sir Richard, would lead the naval forces against America in the Revolution.
The most meaningful comparisons must be with the humbler domestic gentry, people like Gainsborough’s immediate neighbors and friends in the Suffolk countryside, near his native village of Sud¬bury, whom he immortalized in stylized, leisured, witty poses against the background of their property:
* Mr. and Mrs. Andrews—young newlyweds, somewhat supercil¬ious, elegantly clothed, he crosslegged, informal, with gun and dog, she “sitting pertly in her best blue satin dress, the folds of which are loosely and exquisitely modelled”; they face but are not involved in their gleaming, fecund fields,
* Mr. and Mrs. William Hallett, a near-caricature of studied, moody, romantic nonchalance, and
* the roguishly relaxed squire John Plampin, no less stylish and fashionable for all the seeming abandon of his pose.
Again, there is a different level of worldliness and sophistication— not so much a matter of wealth, but of style, and the sense, even if contrived, of what Edmund Burke called the necessary condition of any true aristocracy: uncontending ease, the unbought grace of life.
Two American portraits illustrate the contrasts more precisely. Two leaders of the Revolutionary generation who played key roles in the creative restructuring of public law and institutions came, as it happened, from Connecticut. Both were painted by Ralph Earl when they were at the height of their powers; and Earl—less fash-ionable, less polished a painter than Copley, less dramatic, less artis¬tically ambitious, his work less stylized, more flatly descriptive—was closer to the grain of reality. He captured something of the essential qualities of these provincial public men and something elemental in their culture.
The first is a portrait of Oliver Ellsworth and his wife.

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