An Exhibit of Lady Caroline Lamb's Visual Art
By: Scott Postulo
Although Lady Caroline Lamb is primarily remembered as a writer, throughout her life she created a significant amount of visual artworks as well. These pieces range from quick sketches to highly detailed watercolours. Despite her evident passion for sketching, drawing, and painting, it does not appear as though any of her artwork was ever professionally sold or published; the exceptions being illustrations of hers that were used as engravings in the third edition of her 1816 novel Glenarvon, as well as an engraving in an 1820 text by Frances Rowden. Otherwise all of the known pieces come from either unpublished private collections or miscellaneous pieces or letters.
For this exhibit, I have tried to organize her different works based on the collections in which they exist. For the miscellaneous pieces, it is harder to draw connections between them and contextualize the work, and so that particular section lacks the cohesiveness of the others. Note that by clicking on the images, and then clicking on them once more in the page that opens up, you are able to zoom into each picture to observe the details of each artwork, should you want to do so.
As a disclaimer, all of the artwork has been sourced from Caro: The Lady Caroline Website, except for: the engravings from Glenarvon and A Christian Wreath for the Pagan Deities, which were taken from the Hathitrust Digital Library; the three portraits of William Lamb from the album for Georgiana, which were taken from a PDF provided to me by Paul Douglass; the pages scanned from the "Book of Poems and Drawings by Lady Caroline Lamb," which were also sent to me by Paul Douglass; and the images from the Julia Conyers album, which were taken from The New York Public Library website. I have taken these images with the intent to share them only for the purposes of this university course. If any copyright terms have been violated, please contact me at email@example.com to have the images removed from Omeka.net.
The pink gallery displays were created by myself with stock images sourced from Google mostly for aesthetic purposes, though also to present the artworks in a manner that I felt was the most cohesive for this project.
While there have not been many articles published in regards to Lady Caroline Lamb's artwork, it is important to mention this 1983 article that was written by Margot Strickland for Country Life. In the article, Strickland provides information regarding Lamb's upbringing and how it fostered her artistic habits, as well as offerering contextual insight regarding several of the sketches included in her book of poems held at the Hertfordshire Record Office, which will be examined in more detail later on. Strickland additionally includes a watercolour painting and two noticably more detailed drawings that she claims are also held in the Hertfordshire Record Archive, although I have not been able to find any additional information regarding their current whereabouts. Like the majority of the artwork in this exhibit, these scans of Strickland's article have been taken from Caro: The Lady Caroline Website.
The first drawing, entitled A Most Confectionate Dog does not seem to have a listed home, and as such I have been unable to determine its current wherabouts. Content-wise, Caroline Lamb's dogs from her childhood are a relatively common theme in her drawings and poems.
The second picture, which Paul Douglass describes as "[Lady Caroline Lamb sketching] herself as Titania, pursued here by demons," was included in an 1805 letter to her cousin William Cavendish, who was to become the 6th Duke of Devonshire (Caro). Douglass further speculates that this letter and drawing would have been composed around Lamb's bethrothal to William Lamb, and therefore the pursuing demons represent Lamb being "doomed to become a mortal bride," to use a phrase from her letter (Caro). According to Douglass, this letter is held in the Chatsworth Archive, which was the home of the Duke of Devonshire (Caro).
The sketches of Caroline Lamb's husband William Lamb and his brother George Lamb sleeping on couches are also included on Caro without any specific information regarding their current location.
The sketch of Caroline Lamb, William Lamb, and their son Augustus is held in the John Murray Archive at the National Library of Scotland (Caro). The sketch captures a tender moment that stresses the importance of family in Lamb's life, a facet of her that often gets forgotten amidst the tendency to focus on the scandalous aspects of her life.
The sketch of Lord Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb is also held in the John Murray Archive (Caro). This is likely just a charming daydream that Caroline Lamb sketched without much thought, which once again displays a more innocent and endearing side of her.
The portrait of Caroline Lamb's mother-in-law, Lady Melbourne is listed on Caro without any information regarding its current location. Most historical records note the animosity between Lamb and her mother-in-law due to Lamb's detrimental effect on William's reputation, which makes it interesting to imagine the circumstances of this portrait being created.
Below is a drawing by Lamb that was reproduced as an engraving by Henry Meyer (the same artist who created Lamb's portrait engraving used by Henry Colburn) and included in the third edition of her 1816 novel Glenarvon (Ling). The illustration included is the present in volume I of the novel, but there are two additional illustrations by Lamb in volumes II and III as well, that I have opted not to include in the exhibit for the sake of space.
Lamb also contributed the design for an engraving in Frances Rowden's 1820 text A Christian Wreath for the Pagan Deities. According to Orlando, Rowden was a former teacher of Lamb's, which likely lead to the opportunity for her to have her artwork featured in the text (Brown et al.).
The piece in the bottom right is, according to Paul Douglass, a "self-portrait as "The Last Rose of Summer," and it is held in the Stansted Collection (Caro). All that I have been able to find connecting Lady Caroline Lamb to Stansted is that a descendant of the Ponsonby family purchased Stansted House in 1924 (Chichester Post). It is possible that the piece was in possession of one of Caroline Lamb’s Ponsonby relatives and passed through the years to the possession of those who later occupied Stansted House.
In what Paul Douglass describes as "her most ambitious [visual art] project," Caroline Lamb created illustrations for Lord Byron's epic poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (Caro). According to Orlando, Lamb "planned to enlist [publisher] John Murray's help in producing a single, unique printed copy of Childe Harold illustrated with her sketches of scenes from the poem," but it does not seem as though this came to pass (Brown, et al.). Only two of the illustrations are known to survive, with one of them being held at the New York Public Library. I have not been able to determine the current location of the second.
An 1807 Book of Poetry, Drawings, Fiction, and Commentary compiled for Lamb's cousin Georgiana (Held at Castle Howard)
Although this collection contains primarily Lamb's poetry and prose, there are also several of her drawings included as well. Caroline Lamb compiled the collection for her cousin Georgiana Howard, who later become the Countess of Carlisle. The collection is held at Castle Howard, which was the historical home of the Carlisle Family.
In the top left is a drawing of a cherub that "appears as the frontispiece" of the collection (Caro).
In the top right is a drawing of a fairy that accompanies a poem that makes reference to various Greek mythological figures entitled, "The Spirit Monalba's Song."
In the middle is a drawing of a cherub writing with a quill that accompanies a poem about opium. According to various sources, Lamb struggled with alcohol and drug abuse throughout her adult life.
At the end of the collection, there are included three portraits of William Lamb, seemingly presented without any other context.
Book of Poems and Drawings by Lady Caroline Lamb (Held at the Hertfordshire Record Archive)
In the Hertfordshire Record Archives, there exists a collection of Lady Caroline Lamb's work referred to as a "Book of Poems and Drawings by Lady Caroline Lamb," catalogued as "D/EL b F64" in their archive. The knowledgable and extremely helpful Professor Paul Douglass was kind enough to send me digital scans he made of this collection, although unfortunately, the scans do not really do the artwork justice, so I have included two pages from it merely for reference. The later images are taken from Douglass's website Caro: The Lady Caroline Website, and are of much better quality—likely taken with a digital camera. The scans do reveal interesting information however, as on the first page in the collection, Lamb writes above her poem "The first verse I ever wrote," implying that she likely copied it from an older manuscript into this collection. On page 5 (included here), she dates a particular poem as having been from 1812. There is only one other page that includes a date, and that is the final page in the collection, which is also dated as 1812. Therefore, it may be reasonable to date this entire collection as having been compiled around 1812.
The illustrations in this collection mostly compliment the poems that they are in conversation with, as opposed to being independent pieces.
In the top left, for example, the tormented putto accompanies a poem about infatuation or heartbreak.
The drawing entitled English Matrons Waltzing, does however, occupy an entire page by itself.
The poem entitled "To A Lanky Cur I Lov'd at that Time" is a charming elegy to a dog that she likely owned in her childhood. The illustration that accompanies it depicts a fairy riding on the back of a dog.
The illustration of the putto dancing accompanies a poem entitled "The Waltze," which appears to be a love poem, though significantly less morose than others in the collection.
The bottom left drawing, which also occupies a page of its own, is a portrait of Lamb's son Augustus at six years old.
The bottom right drawing also accompanies a sorrowful poem and seems to echo a sentiment of heartbreak. Its depiction of a ghostly spirit stabbing a human figure on a rock is particularly striking.
Julia Conyers Album (Held at the New York Public Library)
The final collection (and the most recently discovered) is a private album that was previously owned by Julia Conyers. There is not a great deal of information available regarding Julia Conyers, but what I have been able to locate states that she was "the daughter of John Conyers, a well known sportsman," and that "on 19 May 1819 she married the politician John Wrottesley, who was advanced to the House of Lords in 1838 with the title of Baron Wrottesley of Wrottesley" (New York Public Library). I have not been able to find any information directly linking her with the Lambs nor the Ponsonbys, although the timeframe lines up for her to have been an acquaintance of Caroline Lamb. Beyond that, I am unable to speculate as to how five of Lamb's watercolour paintings came to be in Conyer's possession.
Three of Lamb's contributions are triptychs of miniature paintings, although on one of them, two of the miniatures are seemingly missing from the New York Public Library's digital scan. The lone painting is of her husband William Lamb. The other two triptychs include the puttos that feature so prominently in her work. It is also worth nothing that the painting on the bottom right is not explicitly signed by Lamb, though based on its style, content, and the fact that is directly follows the triptych on the bottom left in Conyer's album, I believe that it is relatively safe to determine that it is one of Lamb's pieces.
In addition to the miniatures, the album also includes two larger-scale watercolour paintings by Caroline Lamb. These two pieces may be the most interesting in the entire ouevre of Lamb's work, in that they are so uniquely morbid and surreal. When compared to the rest of the paintings in Julia Conyer's album, it is remarkable how much these pieces stand in contrast against the pastorals and realistic depictions of rural and city life. It is a shame that, to my knowledge, Lamb did not produce more paintings like the two included here.
As far as I can tell, this compiles the majority of the known visual art of Lady Caroline Lamb. As mentioned earlier, I have omitted the engravings from volumes II and III of Glenarvon, and the "Book of Poems and Drawings by Lady Caroline Lamb" does contain several more sketches that are not showcased in this exhibit, but none of them are as fascinating as the watercolours from Julia Conyer's album.
Overall, it seems as though Lady Caroline Lamb had a great (though possibly unrefined) talent for drawing and painting, and her vivid imagination allotted her some very interesting and haunting subject matter for her artwork. Had she been encouraged to pursue this passion more, perhaps she may have been remembered more for her painting than for her writing. Regardless, Caroline Lamb remains an underappreciated, if slightly eccentric, artist who is deserving of more retrospective analysis.
Brown, Susan, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy. Lady Caroline Lamb, Orlando: Women's Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press Online, 2006. Accessed on 18 October 2021.
Caro: The Lady Caroline Lamb Website. https://sites.google.com/sjsu.edu/caro/picture-gallery/artwork-by-lady-caroline
“Changing Times: Stansted House changes through the years.” Chichester Post. 2018. https://www.chichesterpost.co.uk/2018/01/changing-times-stansted-house-changes-years/
Conyers, Julia. Julia Conyers Album. 1769-1830. Accessed via: https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/79c4597e-dcc1-8413-e040-e00a18066cd4
Lamb, Lady Caroline. Verses and Sketches. Held at the Hertfordshire Records Office. https://archives.hertfordshire.gov.uk/collections/getrecord/GB46_CDELb_1_6_4
Ling, Audrey. "Glenarvon. In Three Volumes." John Murray in 1816. 2016. https://johnmurrayin1816.wordpress.com/glenarvon-analysis-by-audrey/
Strickland, Margot. “A Life of Art and Pain: Lady Caroline Lamb’s Sketches.” Country Life, 1983, pp. 1486-1487. Accessed via: https://sites.google.com/sjsu.edu/caro/picture-gallery/a-life-of-art-pain