An Elegant Society
16 July – 4 October 2015
The work of Regency portrait and miniature painter, Adam Buck, provides a fascinating insight into the Austen era.
In the 240th anniversary year of Jane Austen's birth the Ashmolean stages an exhibition devoted to one of Georgian England's most sought after portraitists. Buck is well-known among Austen enthusiasts; his work provides an important visual record of the faces and fashions of the period.
Born to a family of silversmiths in Cork, Buck worked in Ireland for 20 years as an accomplished miniaturist before moving to London in 1795 in the hope of furthering his career. His success as a society artist was instantaneous, by 1799 he had already secured a commission to paint a full length portrait of the Prince of Wales in garter robes. In the years that followed he amassed a roster of star clients, including serving officers, members of the aristocratic elite and Royals such as the Duke of York and his mistress, Mary Anne Clarke.
On display are more than 60 of Buck's most elegant pieces, from watercolours, small portraits and miniatures, to decorative designs for porcelain and fans, and a selection of his prints. Their refined and sentimental style were in direct contrasts to the savage caricatures of other contemporary artists such as Thomas Rowlandson and James Gillray.
Two of Buck's key patrons, the Duke of York and his mistress, became embroiled in a scandal when rumours circulated that she had sold army commissions without permission. While he was publicly lampooned, Clarke's spirited defence of her actions turned her into a public heroine – a story that would later appear in a novel by her great-great-granddaughter Daphne du Maurier. Buck's flattering portrayals of Clarke were hugely popular and widely circulated at this time.