Today’s post is from Emily Macleod, class of 2012 and Art Center student docent.
“When she arrives, all eyes are upon her. When absent, she is the subject of universal conversation. And what we see her wearing tonight, I look forward to seeing the rest of you wearing tomorrow!”
Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, one of Rowlandson’s most memorable subjects, is brought to resplendent life by Keira Knightley in the 2008 film The Duchess directed by Saul Dibb. Also starring Ralph Fiennes as her stoic, unloving husband, the film follows the story of her marriage, political and extramarital affairs of both her and her husband. Winning both the Academy Award and BAFTA Award for Best Costume Design, the film recreates the Georgian era of England to perfection, with wigs and fashion lifted from Rowlandson’s prints of society. With an idyllic landscape reminiscent of Gainsborough, the whole movie looks like an artistic masterpiece.
It is obvious that the Duchess ran in all the same social circles as Rowlandson, as many of the scenes depicted in the film seem to come straight out of his work. Political dinners, campaigns, dances and gambling parties are all featured events treasured by the participants. There is reference to music, theater (particularly Sheridan’s School for Scandal) and art, showing the Duchess laughing gleefully at one of Rowlandson’s own drawings (“The Devonshire” included in the exhibition). But the true story of the film is a deeply sympathetic portrait of Georgiana’s struggle as a bright, charismatic woman ruled by an unfeeling husband in a patriarchal society. In British publicity for the film, they sought a comparison between the Duchess and Princess Diana, her descendent, who also developed a powerful and beloved public persona while living in an unhappy high-profile marriage.
For a glimpse into the world of Rowlandson’s decadent and lavish displays, come see The Duchess, part of the Art Center’s Georgian Film Series, Thursday, April 28th at 5:30PM in Taylor Hall, Room 203.