Sunday, February 5, 2012

Emma; Lady Hamilton, Muse of Artist George Romney late 18th Century

Since I was a young girl, one of my favorite pastimes
was to indulge in the romance and elegance of
historical re-enactment and style of days gone by.
The romance and beauty of that era is unmistakable as
we gaze upon timeless works of art by the great
masters depicting lovely ladies painted in repose and
dashing gentleman standing stoic for their
"close ups" captured in commissioned portraits from
the great artists of their era. My favorite painting
has always been "Emma: Lady Hamilton" by the fame
portraitist George Romney. It hangs in the gallery at
the Huntington Library in Pasadena (or is it
Monrovia?:) Before my days as an art model (a
profession that I treasure and value daily with GREAT
humility) I would stand for hrs in front of this
painting fascinated by the coyness of the lovely lady
radiating from the canvas. I wondered who she was,
what her life was like, and created stories in my
head. I fancied her a young coquette, a dynamic
creature who had captured the artist heart and perhaps
was the inspiration for so many of his great works.
Perhaps she was a married lady, unattainable except
within the confines of the canvas. His passion and
desire for this muse could only be captured by his
great talent to tell the stories of his heart and soul
with the paintbrush and the clear vision that only
truly great painters see with. It was a fun thought.
A romantic one that I tried to depict as I posed for a
photographer 15 yrs ago at the Huntington Gardens. I
never dreamed I would have the opportunity to hold
this glorious role on a daily basis. To be called
upon to inspire, invoke beauty, and collaborate with
many talented seers is an awesome experience. It is
something I treasure and when I work I consider each
offering of myself as a humble gift, given in love and
gratitude to the artists who inspire ME unfailingly
with their talent. It is an amazing journey for both
artist and model and when they truly find themselves
in the heart of a genuine collaboration, the truth of
that union speaks in vibrant colors and spirit on the

Enjoy Emma's story below and my you all be inspired by
the beauty of the amazing woman as Romney and I am.


Emma, Lady Hamilton George Romney's Muse and one of
the original Art Models

(born 1761; baptized April 26, 1765 – January 15,
1815) is best remembered as the mistress of Lord
Nelson. She was born Amy Lyon in Neston, Cheshire,
England, the daughter of a blacksmith, Henry Lyons,
who died when she was two months old. She was brought
up by her mother, formerly Mary Kidd, at Hawarden,
with no formal education. She later changed her name
to Emma Hart.

Early life

Details of Emma's early life are sketchy, but at age
12 she was known to be working as a maid at the
Hawarden home of Doctor Honoratus Leigh Thomas, a
surgeon working in Chester. Although this employment
provided an escape from abject poverty, she was sacked
after just a few months, presumably for poor work. She
headed for London. There she worked for the Budd
family in Chatham Place, Blackfriars. There she met a
maid called Jane Powell, who wanted to be an actress.
Emma joined in with Jane's rehearsals for various
tragic roles - Jane is known to have played parts in
local theatres. Emma and Jane enjoyed city life, but
their excursions into London's unsavoury nightlife,
and particularly their likely liaisons with young men,
soon led Mrs Budd to sack the pair.

Emma went back to her mother, who was at this time
living in comparative squalor near Oxford Street.
Inspired by Jane's enthusiasm for the theatre, Emma
started work at the Drury Lane theatre in Covent
Garden, as maid to various actresses, among them Mary
Robinson (poet) (see below). However, this paid
little, and she supplemented her income by working
Drury Lane as a prostitute. She soon gained employ in
a local tavern/brothel. It was here that she became a
strip tease artiste, a performance that involved
striking lewd poses for the viewers. This act she
would later refine by removing the nudity and
lewdness, and developing it into what would become her

At about this time, Emma also began to pose for the
artists George Romney and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Many
hundreds of works were painted of Emma, particularly
by Romney. The Royal Academy had great difficulty in
finding models, as the work was considered unbecoming.
Emma therefore undertook such work under various
pseudonyms, such as "Emma Potts", "Emily Potts", "Miss
Emily", "Warren", "Bertie" and "Coventry". One of the
most famous of these is "Thais", by Sir Joshua
Reynolds, which hangs in the drawing room at Waddesdon
Manor, in Buckinghamshire, England. It shows Emma as
Thais, mistress of Alexander the Great, holding aloft
a flaming torch and encouraging Alexander to burn down
the Temple of Persepolis.

Emma next worked as a model and dancer at the "Goddess
of Health" (also known as the "Temple of Health") for
James Graham, a Scottish "quack" doctor. The
establishment's greatest attraction was a bed through
which electricity was passed, giving paying patrons
mild shocks. This supposedly aided conception, and
many infertile couples paid high prices to try it. One
patron (for pleasure rather than conception) was the
18-year-old Prince of Wales (later George IV), who
sampled the bed with his mistress, Mary Robinson.

From there Emma moved to "Madame Kelly's", which was
an exclusive brothel beside the Ritz Hotel. A woman
looking very like Emma was reported in Town and
Country Magazine to have set up there - the magazine
referred to the establishment coyly as "Santa
Carlotta's Nunnery". There, Emma began refining her
lewd postures for the more refined clients she would
have received.

One customer at this brothel was Sir Harry
Featherstonhaugh. Emma, then still only fifteen years
old, was hired from Kelly's for several months by Sir
Harry, as host and entertainer at a lengthy stag party
at Sir Harry's Uppark country estate in the South
Downs. Sir Harry took Emma there as mistress, but
frequently ignored her in favour of drinking and
hunting with his friends. Emma soon formed a
friendship with one of the guests, the dull but
sincere Honourable Charles Francis Greville
(1749–1809) - second son of the first Earl of Warwick,
and an MP for Warwick. It was about this time (late
June-early July 1781) that she is thought to have
conceived a child by Sir Harry.

Sir Harry was furious at the unwanted pregnancy, but
is thought to have accommodated Emma in one of his
many houses in London. Emma tried to secure a
relationship with Sir Harry, but he chose to ignore
her advances. Instead she turned to Greville.
Desperate for an income but spurned by Sir Harry, Emma
became Greville's mistress. When the child (Emma
Carew) was born, it was removed to be raised by her
grandmother in Wales. Emma was at Greville's mercy,
and agreed to change her name to "Emma Hart", so that
her sordid past from London would not follow her to
taint Greville's reputation.

As a young woman, Emma Carew saw her mother reasonably
frequently, but later when her mother fell into debt,
Emma Carew was forced to leave the country to work
abroad as a companion or governess (and probably died
not long after her mother).

Greville kept Emma well away from her past associates,
in the backwater of Edgeware Row, but he was in love
with her and, wanting a painting of her, sent her to
sit for his friend, the painter, George Romney. Romney
painted many of his most famous portraits of Emma at
this time. Indeed, Romney maintained a lifelong
obsession with her, sketching her nude and clothed, in
many poses that he used in paintings he made in her
absence. Through the popularity of Romney's work, and
particularly of his striking-looking young model, Emma
became well-known in society circles, under the name
of "Emma Hart".

In 1783, Greville needed to find a rich wife to
replenish his finances (in the form of
eighteen-year-old heiress Henrietta Willoughby). Emma
would be a problem, as he disliked being known as her
lover (this having become apparent to all through her
fame in Romney's artworks), and his prospective wife
would not like it.

To be rid of Emma, Greville persuaded his very wealthy
uncle, Sir William Hamilton, British Envoy to Naples
(since 1764), to take her off his hands. Greville's
marriage would be useful to Sir William, as it
relieved him of having Greville as poor relation. To
promote his plan, Greville suggested to Sir William
that Emma would make a very pleasing mistress,
assuring him that, once married to Henrietta
Willoughby, he would come and fetch Emma back. Emma's
famous beauty was by then well-known to Sir William,
so much so that he even agreed to pay the expenses for
her journey to ensure her speedy arrival.

Greville did not inform Emma of his plan, instead
suggesting the trip as a prolonged holiday in Naples
while he (Greville) was away in Scotland on business.
Emma was thus sent to Naples, supposedly for six to
eight months, little realising that she was going as
the mistress of her host.
Emma Hamilton, after the portraits by George Romney
Emma Hamilton, after the portraits by George Romney

[edit] Marriage to Sir William Hamilton

Sir William was smitten with Emma and, to Greville's
shock, married her on September 6, 1791 at St.
George's, Hanover Square, London. Before this, as Sir
William's mistress, Emma developed what she called her
"Attitudes". This seems to have evolved through Sir
William discovering her lewd abilities during their
relationship, with Emma using Romney's idea of
combining classical poses with modern allure as the
basis for her act. This eventual cross between
postures, dance, and acting, was first revealed in
Spring 1787 by Sir William to a large group of
European guests at his home in Naples, who quickly
took to this new form of entertainment - guessing the
names of the classical characters and scenes which
Emma portrayed.

For her "Attitudes", Emma had her dressmaker make
dresses modelled on those worn by peasant islanders in
the Bay of Naples, and on loose-fitting garments such
as she wore when modelling for Romney. The performance
was a sensation across Europe. Using a few shawls, she
posed as various classical figures from Medea to Queen
Cleopatra, and her performances charmed aristocrats,
artists such as Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun,
writers — including the great Johann Wolfgang von
Goethe — and kings and queens alike, setting off new
dance trends across Europe and starting a fashion for
a draped Grecian style of dress.

It is interesting to note that gossip publications at
the time suggested that Emma might have learnt her
posing abilities from a brothel. Indeed, the term
"Attitudes" was used at the time to refer to lewd
poses struck by courtesans. Whether they had made the
connection between Emma and her past is debatable, but
Sir William seems to have been ignorant of, or
oblivious to, such suggestions.

[edit] The meeting with Nelson

Lady Hamilton became a close friend of Queen Maria
Carolina, wife of Ferdinand I of Naples. As wife of
the British Envoy, Emma welcomed Nelson in 1793, when
he came to gather reinforcements against the French.
He returned to Naples five years later, on 22
September 1798 (with his eighteen-year-old step-son,
Josiah[citation needed]), a living legend, after his
victory at the Battle of the Nile in Aboukir. However,
Nelson's adventures had prematurely aged him: he had
lost an arm and most of his teeth, and was afflicted
by coughing spells. Emma reportedly flung herself upon
him in admiration, calling out, "Oh God, is it
possible?", as she fainted against him. Nelson wrote
effusively of Emma to his increasingly estranged wife,
Lady Fanny Nelson. Emma and Sir William escorted
Nelson to their summer home - the Palazzo Sessa.

Emma nursed Nelson under her husband's roof, and
arranged a party with 1,800 guests to celebrate his
40th birthday. They soon fell in love and their affair
seems to have been tolerated, and perhaps even
encouraged, by the elderly Sir William, who showed
nothing but admiration and respect for Nelson, and
vice-versa. On Nelson's recall to Britain shortly
afterwards, Nelson, Emma and William meandered back to
Britain via Central Europe (hearing the Missa in
Angustiis by Haydn that now bears Nelson's name in
Vienna in 1800), and eventually arrived in Britain
later in 1800 to a hero's welcome. The three then
lived together openly, and the affair became public
knowledge, which eventually induced the Admiralty to
send Nelson back to sea, if only to get him away from

Emma gave birth to Nelson's daughter Horatia, on
January 31, 1801 at Sir William's rented home in
Clarges Street, 23 Piccadilly, London. By the autumn
of the same year, Nelson bought Merton Place, a small
ramshackle house on the outskirts of modern day
Wimbledon. There he lived openly with Emma, and Sir
William (along with Emma's mother) in a ménage à trois
that fascinated the public. The newspapers reported on
their every move, looking to Emma to set fashions in
dress, home decoration and even dinner party menus.

Sir William died in 1803 and Nelson returned to sea
soon after, leaving Emma pregnant with their second
child. She was desperately lonely, preoccupied with
attempting to turn Merton Place into the grand home
Nelson desired, and frantic for his return. The child,
a girl, died a few weeks after her birth in early
1803. Emma reportedly distracted herself by gambling,
and spending lavishly.

[edit] The final years

After Nelson's death in 1805, Emma (who had quickly
exhausted the small pension Sir William had left her)
fell deeply into debt. (Nelson had willed his estate
to his brother; he gave Merton Place to Emma, but she
exhausted her finances by trying to keep it up as a
monument to him.) In spite of Nelson's status as a
national hero, the instructions he left to the
government to provide for Emma and Horatia were
ignored. (They showered honours on his brother

Emma was to spend a year in debtor's prison (Horatia
was with her at the time), before moving to France to
try to escape her creditors. Turning to drink, she
died in poverty of liver failure in Calais in January
Lady Hamilton as a Bacchante, by Marie Louise
Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1790–1791. Vesuvius, an
interest of Sir William's, is in the background.
Lady Hamilton as a Bacchante, by Marie Louise
Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1790–1791. Vesuvius, an
interest of Sir William's, is in the background.

Horatia subsequently married the Rev. Philip Ward, and
lived until 1881. She had ten children: Horatio Nelson
(born 8 December 1822); Eleanor Phillipa (born April
1824); Marmaduke Philip Smyth (born 27 May 1825); John
James Stephen (13 February 1827–1829); Nelson (born 8
May 1828); William George (born 8 April 1830); Edmund
Nelson (1831); Horatia Nelson (born 24 November 1833),
Philip (born May 1834) and Caroline (born January

The Italian dessert Zuppa Inglese (English Soup), a
more alcohol-laced version of the English trifle, is
claimed to date from Lady Hamilton's time in Naples.

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