Art in Georgian/Regency England

The Exhibition room, Royal Academy of Arts

My heroine, Jane, is in London in 1804. She likes to paint and draw, but hasn’t done either in the year since her husband died. Also, I need her to re-meet and fall in love with Miles Keegan, in order for this story to have the necessary genre romantic elements.

While I was in Ireland, away from my laptop, I brought a notebook with all of my notes for anything related to my fictional Georgian/Regency Keegan universe in it and told myself that I was going to figure out how Jane and Miles run into each other in London and what, exactly, Jane is doing while she’s in London besides “figuring out what she wants to do with her life after her year of mourning is up.”

Because that’s vague.

I had an idea that maybe Jane, unable to resist art, goes to see the latest exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. The summer exhibition at the gallery was a staple of the London Season; it was even featured, briefly, in Downton Abbey.

Or as I told my cousin Liz one night in Limerick, “I need them to get together and I had this idea that either she runs into him after buying a lot of art supplies–I wonder if they had art supply stores back then?”

“Nah, I don’t think so. Can’t they run into each other somewhere else? It’s London, right? What is he doing in London? How long is he there for? What’s she doing in London? What do they like to do?”

“Maybe something like the portrait gallery? She likes art, he’s sort of attending those kinds of snooty events.”

And Liz nodded. This is why brainstorming things with other writers (Liz writes Castle fanfiction) is supremely helpful.

When I returned to my laptop and Googled the National Portrait Gallery, however, I realized I couldn’t use it because that gallery opened in 1856. So then I did a bit of Google-digging and found the Royal Academy of Arts and its annual summer exhibition at Somerset House on the Strand. That’s where the Academy was in 1804.

So, good. Now I have a specific place for Jane and Miles to see each other again and actually start something.

But then I wanted Jane to pick up painting again. She’s pretty good for an amateur and watercolors was definitely a thing in those days (see: Jane Austen novels, where at least Emma Woodhouse paints in watercolors). But did amateur painters have to grind up the pigments themselves? Did she go to the apothecary shop and buy pigments to grind up? Where did they buy their paints?

Ackermann’s art shop. From Regency Redingcote

I found an article on Regency Redingcote about colormen, who made paints by the late eighteenth century. They mixed pigments with oils–usually linseed oils–to make oil paints! They also made watercolor paints. There were several known watercolor and paint sellers, according to Regency Redingcote, and colormen’s shops also began to stock more art books and art supplies as well.

I guess it’s like a Georgian era Michael’s or Hobby Lobby or what-have-you.

2 thoughts on “Art in Georgian/Regency England

  1. This is exactly why I like to brainstorm out loud sometimes, and also why I like talking about it to another person. It's really hard for me to bounce ideas off myself. Haha. I can totally see Miles at a snooty event. 🙂 But dude! I freaking love that old-school arte shoppe. ^_^


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