Margaret Sarah Carpenter – Theobald Sisters

12 May

There are two reasons why I decided to write about this female Victorian painter. Firstly, she was active in the 1840s, and her paintings match the aesthetics of my story. Secondly, she painted in the manner of Sir Thomas Lawrence, and I really admire his portraits.

1840. Miss Theobald - Margaret Sarah Carpenter1840. Miss Theobald (1825-1841) by Margaret Sarah Carpenter

Margaret Sarah Carpenter (née Geddes) was born in 1793, in the city whose cathedral has been immortalised by the Romantic painter John Constable – Salisbury. Although fairly unknown today, Margaret was a renowned painter in her time. She was taught art at an early age by a local drawing-master, and her first art studies were those of a Longford Castle. In 1814, Margaret moved to London where her reputation as a fashionable portrait painter was soon established.

Miss Carpenter painted in the manner of Thomas Lawrence, but her portraits have a more feminine and fanciful aura around them. Delicacy and wistful nature of her sitters is probably what allures me the most. I’ll take the portrait of ‘Miss Theobald‘ for example. The dusky background and the lady’s gaze reveal to us the style of Thomas Lawrence.

Margaret painted three portraits for the Theobald family from 1839 to 1850, and one of them, this, is thought to be Frances Jane Theobald. Now, even before I tell you more about Frances Jane, looking at her portrait might reveal even more. At first sight, she seems delicate, fragile, melancholic and dreamy. She’s obviously very young and innocent, with rosy cheeks, pale skin, and soft blonde hair centrally parted and arranged in a fashionable low bun. Her dress is white and simple, and she’s holding her pet spaniel. This portrait is also called ‘The Morning Walk‘; we can assume that this sweet Jane went for a morning walk with her darling spaniel. But look at her eyes, how reconciled and contemplative they seem? Her gaze isn’t direct or proud. She gazes into the distance, into something unknown to us. Frances Jane died of consumption only one year after this portrait was painted, in 1841, aged only sixteen. The contemplative nature of the portrait is one of its greatest qualities.

I wonder what was she really like? Sweet and delicate, seeing only good in people like Jane Bennet? Or, a thoughtful creature, shy, but an excellent piano player? Perhaps she had the voice of the lark? Perhaps every morning she went out for a walk with her spaniel, she laughed, picked flowers and smelled roses, her dress and petticoat swaying and rustling….. we’ll never know.

1850. Mrs Charles Sabine Thellusson - Margaret Sarah Carpenter1850. Mrs Charles Sabine Thellusson (née Georgiana Theobald, 1828-1883) by Margaret Sarah Carpenter

The portrait above shows Jane’s younger sister Georgiana who was just thirteen when she lost her sister. Tragic, but not uncommon at the time. The face we see is more mature and more serious, but the golden curls are the same. Ten years had passed since the last time Margaret Sarah Carpenter painted a member of the Theobald family. I wonder was Margaret saddened by the news of Jane’s death? Was it strange to paint one sister, knowing that the other one is now lying in a cold grave?

The portrait of Georgiana was painted in 1850, the year she got married to Charles Thelluson, but the absence of the ring indicates that she was still Miss Theobald when the portrait was painted.

Jane is in my thoughts the entire day, had she lived, what would become of her? If she had lived, she’d probably be married and surrounded by children. Nothing exciting awaited her anyways. Still, the heroine of my story (set in 1842!) is sixteen years old. A thought crossed my mind; what if she died of consumption, right now, I can write it, it’s my story. Well, she’d miss out on the fantastic life I have created for her, and her love interest would have to find another lady. Just the thought makes me sad, and I’m talking about a character, and Jane was a real person, living real life, how sad.

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