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Researcher Stories: Mining a Royal Collection

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The following is an interview with researcher Kate Heard, Senior Curator of Prints at Royal Collection Trust.

Melissa: Thank you for participating in this interview. We always enjoy having you in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room, and we’re delighted to have this opportunity. Could you start by describing where you work?

Kate: I’m Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at Royal Collection Trust. This is the charitable trust that looks after the British Royal Collection, one of the most important art collections in the world, and manages the public opening of the official residences of Her Majesty The Queen. The Royal Collection comprises almost all aspects of the fine and decorative arts and is spread among some 15 royal residences and former residences across the UK. 

Les incommodités de Janvier 1786, Publish'd as the Act directs Feby. 20th, 1786, by H. Humphrey, No. 51 New Bond Stt., Etching by Inigo Barlow. //
Les incommodités de Janvier 1786, Publish’d as the Act directs Feby. 20th, 1786, by H. Humphrey, No. 51 New Bond Stt., Etching by Inigo Barlow. //

Melissa: We see you in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room at least once a year. What brings you to the Library as a regular researcher?

Kate: A large number of the satirical prints in the Royal Collection were sold to the Library of Congress in 1921 – this included all the works by James Gillray, the Cruikshanks and other major eighteenth-century satirical artists, as well as seventeenth-century and Victorian examples. Satirical prints are a particular research interest, and I have enjoyed spending time in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room over the past few years studying the satires. I am studying how the collection was formed – which members of the royal family purchased which satires, and so the backs of the prints, with their inscriptions and remains of paste and mounting, are often as interesting to me as the pictures on the fronts. My time in the Reading Room has informed my understanding of the collecting of satirical prints by the British Royal Family in the eighteenth century – research which will be reflected in an exhibition on George IV at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, later this year.

Melissa: Do you have a favorite work from the Library’s British Cartoon Print Collection?

Kate: One of my favourite prints in the collection is Florizel and Perdita by an anonymous artist. When George IV was Prince of Wales, he had a very public affair with the actress Mary Robinson, who played Perdita in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. He rapidly gained the nickname ‘Florizel’, the name of Perdita’s lover in the play, and this print ridicules the pair. Amazingly, this impression was purchased by George himself in 1790, quite some time after the affair ended. He clearly wasn’t offended by the image, even though it is not at all complimentary.

Florizel and Perdita, 1783. Published by B. Pownall, No. 6 Pall Mall. //

I have a soft spot for medley prints, which are designed to appear like a pile of prints scattered on a table. They were often used as eye-catching advertisements for print shops and publishers. One of these is called The May-Day Country Mirth after a ballad sheet which is included among the prints shown. The mixture of fine art and ephemeral prints which the artist has chosen to include are fascinating, and I love the trompe l’oeil insects which have ‘landed’ on the paper: a fly, a moth, a beetle and a dragonfly. This is a wonderful taste of the sorts of prints which would have been available to buy in a London print shop at the turn of the eighteenth century.

The May-Day country mirth: or, The young lads … , 1709. Composite of engravings by W. Hollar, I. Callot, John Sturt and others. //

Melissa: Has a particular drawing stood out from this visit?

Kate: Lots of satirical prints are deliberately cruel and vicious, but Drink to me only with thine Eyes by the wonderful Richard Newton is charming. It doesn’t poke fun at an individual, but rather laughs affectionately at a couple who are toasting each other shyly, but with great delight. Newton was a brilliant draughtsman, who manages to convey all the charged emotion of the moment in his fluent and confident lines.

Drink to me only with thine eyes. And I will pledge with mine!, 1797. Hand-colored etching by Richard Newton.

Melissa: It’s nice to see an example of a print in the collection that doesn’t have such a hard edge! Thanks again for highlighting some of your favorites, and for sharing your expert perspective with us.

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