Why John Contable’s Mary Freer
Cover picture depicting Mary Freer (b. 1796), painted in 1809
by John Constable.
Oil on Canvas, 762 x 635mm (30 x 25 inches)
Yale Center for British Art
Paul Mellon Collection
Mary Freer is much more than just a sublime cover choice for the first of TBNLA’s ‘Classic Companions’; the painting and the painter have, in fact, several uncanny things in common with Merits and Mercenaries. The latter was coincidentally begun in 1996, two hundred years after Mary’s being born in 1796 (and the same year Jane Austen’s most ‘sparkling’ child was conceived, i.e. Pride and Prejudice), and not unlike Constable’s lovely pale-skinned, hazel-eyed, young sitter, revolves around a similarly depicted ingénue, Katherine Huntley, who is also a ward to her aunt, Lady Myriam Rostings. Mary Freer was, at the time of this painting, a young (13-year-old) ward to doting widower, Henry Greswold Lewis.
Additionally, John Constable was, most notably, a landscape painter, and this association together with his lesser-known work in portraiture, presents an ideal artistic analogy to the ‘portrayal’ of the physical and moral landscapes of both place and person in Merits and Mercenaries. As a further note of interest, Mary Freer was ‘stumbled upon’ quite by chance by the author, and thirteen years after Merits and Mercenaries was first conceived and drafted.
Lady A~ would like to extend her most grateful thanks to The Yale Center for British Art for granting her permission to use the enchanting Mary Freer, from the Paul Mellon Collection, on the cover of this, her first ‘Bath Beauty’.
In as much as every word is painstakingly ‘crafted’ in each of The Bath Novels, the marriage of (Georgian) fine art of this caliber, and by such an artist, is what exquisitely completes each ‘Bath tale’. Lady A~ dearly wishes, then, that such hallmarks of quality will encourage the discerning to cherish and collect all of her unique period pieces as seven consummate companions to Jane Austen’s sovereign six ‘mistresspieces’.