Wednesday, 14 October 2009

I Dream of Janey

Edward Haytley
The Brockman Family At Beachborough c.1744
Temple Pond with Temple in Right Foreground
oil on canvas
The Brockman Family At Beachborough c.1744
Temple Pond with Temple in the Distance at Left
oil on canvas

Edward Haytley was an English portrait and landscape painter of the 18th century. He was first recorded working as a flower painter and also produced some life-size portraits; however, his skill proved to be for carefully observed topographical landscapes. Few of his works survive, but he appears to have specialised in the "conversation piece" form popular with the landed gentry of mid-18th century England: a group portrait against an idealised backdrop of the subjects' estates.

In 1743 he began preparatory drawings for two outdoor conversation pieces which show the Brockman family relaxing in their ornamental garden, whose design is enhanced by the landscape surroundings and more distant rolling hills. (He was also employed by the family for miscellaneous tasks such as picture mending.)

These two delightful pictures by the little-known Haytley are among my favourite pictures at the NGV. I know they were painted forty years before Jane Austen was in her heyday, but they could have served as illustrations for one of her elegant and slyly satirical comedies of manners, depicting as she did minor landed gentry, country clergymen and their families.

The paintings show the Brockman family estate at Beachborough in Kent, with members of the family enjoying a pleasant afternoon in the gardens with friends and neighbours. Thanks to Mrs Elizabeth Robinson who was in the habit of writing gossipy letters to her daughter, we know who those friends and neighbours are:

"Mr Haytley is come back from my Neighbours where he has been drawing a landskip from ye life: it is a veiw of his pond & his Temple that is to be built … with some figuers to adorn it the principle of which are ye Squire and Miss Molly. She is sett on a stool and drawing & he is smiling very graciously on her … all this to be put into a Picture and painted by Mr Haytley."

At the time that Haytley painted these "veiws", the Temple had not yet been built – he put it in from the architect's drawings. The Squire was very proud of his "temple" which is modelled on the Rotunda in the magnificent gardens at Stowe.

Mrs Robinson's quaintly-spelled letter goes on to identify all the other "figuers" for us: the Squire's cousins Mary and Elizabeth Brockman (Miss Molly and Miss Betty); the local parson, the Rev Edmund Parker; Miss Susanna Highmore and Mr and Mrs Henckle with their little daughter. A very suitable cast of characters for a Jane Austen novel!

Miss Molly and Miss Betty Brockman were the daughters of the Squire's uncle, Henry Brockman, who lived at Cheriton Manor nearby. In the painting which has the temple in the right foreground, Henry Brockman is seated between his daughters.

In the other picture, we see Miss Molly, who kept house for her bachelor cousin at Beachborough, at her easel, where she is painting the famous "temple". Beside her are the Squire and Mrs Henckle, whose husband is walking beside the pond on the left of the picture.

The lady walking with the parson is Miss Susanna Highmore, the daughter of the painter Joseph Highmore. In a previous WASP we discussed Highmore's work, including his self-portrait and a portrait of that same Susanna, which are both in the NGV. Little Miss Henckle is animatedly talking to Miss Betty Brockman whose elegant blue riding habit indicates that she may be planning to take her horse for a canter.

The Brockman family has a long history as "Squires" in Kent. They were armigerous gentry and entitled to use the "esquire" title. (Isn't "armigerous" a cool word? I have always wanted an excuse to drop it casually into the conversation! It means being entitled to a coat of arms from the Royal College of Heralds.)

Three and a half centuries before these two pictures were painted, John Brokeman was a staunch supporter of King Richard II in his power struggle with John of Gaunt. In 1390, the King granted Brokeman arms, a motto, a grant of land and made him Collector of Customs for the Cinque Ports (the five port cities in Kent immediately opposite the upper French coast). Within one generation the name had changed from Brokeman to Brockman.

The Brockman family featured prominently in the social and public life of Kent. John's descendant Henry Brockman bought Newington Manor, Cheriton Manor and Beachborough Manor around 1500. The Brockmans served as magistrates, parliamentarians, sheriffs and soldiers: Sir William Brockman was a notable combatant against Cromwell in the English civil war.

Branches of the family emigrated to other countries where they also distinguished themselves: in the USA, they became a powerful Democratic political family in the South. Actress Talullah Brockman Bankhead was a descandant on the distaff side – her father was Speaker of the House of Representatives and her uncle a senator.

The Brockman family also have a long and distinguished history in Western Australia, to which three of their scions emigrated in the early 1800s. Their number include pastoralists, poets and politicians: author and historian Henrietta Brockman, Brigadier-General Edmund Brockman who was a veteran of both World Wars. He served with distinction at Gallipoli, later became a Senator in the WA parliament and finally Chief Justice of the arbitration court in WA. Sir Thomas Brockman K.B., D.F.C. was also a long serving Senator and a minister in the Fraser Government.

The Squire in the paintings was the last male heir of the Brockmans of Kent – he died unmarried in 1767. He bequeathed his estates to his cousin, the Rev. Ralph Drake, on condition "that Drake took the Arms and Surname of Brockman".

If only Squire John were a Jane Austen character, he would have died surrounded by a loving wife and numerous progeny – remember the opening lines of "Pride and Prejudice" : It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.

"Painting and Sculpture before 1800" – NGV Publication

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