L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Portrait of Margaret Kemble Gage, by John Singleton Copley, 1771

Margaret Kemble Gage (1734 - 1824) was the American-born wife of General Thomas Gage, the commander-in-chief of the British forces in North America who went on to lead the British army during the American Revolutionary War. The great-granddaughter of mayor of New York City Stephanus Van Cortlandt, she was the daughter of Peter Kemble, a well-to-do New Jersey businessman and politician. She married Gage in 1758, and together they had eleven children. Their first son, the future 3rd Viscount Gage, was born in 1761.

It has been rumored that, out of sympathy for the Revolution, she provided information to the American side regarding her husband's raids at Lexington and Concord, the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War. There was only circumstantial evidence of her being an informant, though it appears her husband was convinced of her betrayal, and on his orders she was sent to England a few months later. Gage remained in America for another year, until he was recalled, being replaced by General Howe. The couple were reunited in London, but were now completely estranged. Gage was considered a failure for his performance in America, and his health soon declined. He died in 1787. His wife remained in England for the remainder of her long life, dying there - nearly thirty-seven years after her husband - at the age of ninety.

The thirty-seven year old sitter is dressed in a vaguely Turkish costume of the sort very popular for portraits of the time. (I've discussed the Turkish vogue a bit in my posts about the artist Liotard - and here.) The drapery is perfect, and I love the way the pattern of the pearls decorating her turban-like headdress and sleeve is continued in the sofa's nailhead trim. The painting shows Copley at the height of his powers; the cool, high contrast lighting and precision of line are exemplary of his "American period". From a family of Royalists, in 1774 he left for England. Soon followed by his family, he would spend the rest of his life there. Most feel his work began to deteriorate after this point.

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