History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

19 October 2009

Rolinda Sharples

We all know this painting, used on zillions of book covers, and I love it. Technically it may not be the greatest painting in the world but it has a delightful quirkiness and great detail of faces, expressions, clothes. It's Rolinda Sharples' painting of 1817 (probably) of the Cloak-Room at the Clifton Assembly Rooms.
Rolinda Sharples (1793-1838) is a bit of a mystery. Go here, and you'll find her celebrated as an American woman painter. Everywhere else, including the Bristol Art Museum which houses this painting, you'll find she's a Bristol girl. She's a contemporary of the female offspring of the celebrated Peale family of artists, Anna Claypoole Peale, (1791-1878), Margaretta (1795-1882) and Sarah Miriam (1800-1885). I'll talk about them another time.

The Sharples family were, like the Peales, a multi-generational family of artists. Rolinda was the daughter of James and Ellen, both artists. She was born either in New York in 1794 or in Bristol or Bath in 1793; at any rate, the family moved to New York in 1794, where the family business prospered, and then after James died, the family moved back to Bristol in 1811. Rolinda and her brothers George, Felix, and James, Jr. became artists, and successful ones too. Rolinda trained with her mother, seen in this self-portrait and went on to exhibit in major cities, including at the Royal Academy in London.

One of her most famous paintings was the Trial of Colonel Brereton (1834) but I haven't been able to find a reproduction of it online. Answers.com sniffily reports that ... it is, like all her work, devoid of social comment or satire and also epitomizes her meticulous literalism and refers to her as a female provincial artist--that last comment obviously being two strikes against her. (Jane Austen, as we all know, was a female provincial novelist.)

She may, however, have been the first woman artist to have attempted crowd scenes, such as this portrait of the Clifton Race Courses.

In another crowd scene, of a group of people waiting to board a ferry, this detail shows her interest in faces and expressions and clothes, and also some very nice representations of children.

This portrait is allegedly of the young Charles Darwin, already messing about with plants.

I had a female character who was an artist in Dedication, my first book, and I've always wanted to write another. The artist I had in mind then was Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun, portraitist to aristocrats and royalty, but I'm more intrigued now by someone like Sharples, participating in the family art business.

I see a parallel between successful artists like Rolinda Sharples and writers of modern mass fiction, proving that we can be both skilful in our craft and enjoy commercial success. What do you think? And do you have any favorite artist characters in your own or others' novels?

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Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

I'd never heard of Rolinda Sharples before, Janet -- so thanks for the introduction! And I find her work charming and accessible and that's no insult. Contrary to the self-important and nameless editor of Answers.com, I see a bit of whimsy or playfulness in her faces (Austen, anyone?), replete with social commentary.

And the fact that she was a working painter at all in an era of rampant misogyny against females who did anything with their time is an accomplishment in itself.

Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun's portraits of Emma Hamilton are referred to in my novel TOO GREAT A LADY, but the painter only merits a cameo. So, too, does Anne Damer as she (having [historically] dallied briefly with Sir William Hamilton in Naples, breezes out of his palazzo with her luggage as Emma arrives.)

4:28 AM  
Anonymous Jane O said...

She painted wearing that lovely white dress? Didn't she at least have enough sense to put on an apron?

7:11 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Thanks for bringing another artist out of obscurity. One of my favorites is "needle painter" Mary Linwood who had exhibits in London in the early 19th century. Her needlework masterpieces included "Lady Jane Grey in the Tower" and the Gainsborough like "Woodsman in a Storm." I used one of her London exhibits in THE PLEASURE OF HIS COMPANY. Her works have not been well-preserved and her fame was fleeting.

7:52 AM  
Blogger Margaret Porter said...

An advantage of our years in Clifton/Bristol was becoming acquainted with Rolinda Sharples and often visiting her paintings, such charming representations of local scenes. The Clifton Assembly painting has been reproduced so many times it has become iconic!

I look forward to your discussion of the Peales. In a gallery nearby, a favourite painting is this one
a href="http://collections.currier.org/Obj12576?sid=918405&x=378082
of Rosalba Carriera Peale.
The online image, of course, doesn't do justice to the colours or the gloss of the satin gown or the charm of the sitter/artist!

I've recently become fascinated by Mary Beale, the respected 17th century English portraitist.

8:27 AM  
Anonymous Kathrynn Dennis said...

Wow, thanks posting this. As always, I learn so much from the Hoydens!

8:26 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks for a wonderful post, Janet! I agree with Leslie, her work is charming and full of character detail. My mom and my very first published book, "The Widow's Gambit", a traditional Regency, was about three sister. The youngest was a budding artist and she had a romance with another artist (a rather unconventional romance as both were primarily focused on their art).

10:57 AM  
Blogger Caffey said...

I do recall that pic on a book, Just never realized it was used on more books. I love tho finding artists who do this work and loved learning about The Sharples! I love the one with the woman and children (Darwin). I haven't checked on who the artist is of most books I read but now I want to! I do like to look up artists that I'm familiar with, mostly Monet, and Renoir.

Oh I wanted to email someone about any posts or links to terms about the homes during regency times, I was reading a book that used terms that I wasn't familiar with and would love to learn more. Too I'm trying to find the area on the blog here to follow the blog (feed or something, its an orange square thing to press on Blogspot). Thanks. I'd love to remember to come here more. Love it!

12:26 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Posting late (I'm on the road).

When I bought Penguin Jane Austen The Watsons... etc, and I fell in love with this painting, which is on its cover.

What a dumb, dumb DUMB comment from ask.com: devoid of social comment or satire... her meticulous literalism (?!?)

Just another caution to take what you read on the Internet with a heaping tablespoon of Kosher salt. (Or what you read anywhere, when it's dissing a female artist -- unless perhaps it's bending over backwards to defend a female artist... but that's another topic, I guess)

No comment or satire? The painting fairly dances with wit.

How could anyone say otherwise?

6:39 AM  
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2:05 AM  

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