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BLOG: Gainsborough~The Reluctant Portraitist


Art history fascinates me. It shows what people wore, what they ate, how they furnished their homes, and even what animals they preferred as pets. When I was working on my Antonius Trilogy, I learned how there was an abrupt shift in art during the late Republic and early Empire. Republican art revealed the wrinkles, scars, and warts on someone's face. It didn't matter if it was a wealthy senator or haughty matron; the depiction was veristic and EXACTLY how the person looked in life.


All of that changed with the ascension of Octavian Augustus. His very early pre-Princeps busts show the realistic styles of the old Republic. But once he became Augustus--the first emperor? He led the way for Roman art and portraiture to change dramatically. His rule was full of symbolism, and other noble Romans followed suit. Works from Augustan Rome show plenty of mythological analogies, and it's really fun to pick them out. It actually screams "Augustan Art"! Once ascended to emperor, Augustus's own marble busts became smooth-skinned, handsome, and lofty-looking-- for he considered himself a god. He modeled himself in togas--often with his head draped in the garment, showing piety as the Pontifex Maximus. In other poses, such as the spectacular Prima Porta Augustus, he's shown in full military regalia.


It's no wonder then, that seventeen-hundred years later, people of landed wealth, wanted the same type of treatment in their portraits!


This week, join me in welcoming Heidi Eljarbo to the Journal. Heidi's book, The London Forgery is a delicious dual-timeline journey that deals with 18th century portraiture and one of England's foremost artists of the time: Thomas Gainsborough.


Though he created numerous portraits and was highly in demand, Heidi shares what his true passions were. Check out her blog below, because history often repeats itself--even in art!


Read ON, everybody!





All About the Book



1973. Art historian Fabiola Bennett sees herself as a prudently observant deer who becomes a daring and even mischievous lioness if the situation calls for it. And that’s exactly what’s required when greedy criminals steal, forge, and tamper with treasured artwork. When the crooks add murder to their list of crimes, the chaos is complete.


A mysterious note is delivered anonymously at the door of the National Gallery in London, and the director immediately calls Fabiola’s office in Oslo and pleads with her to come without delay. The message is confusing, but it seems one of her favorite eighteenth-century portraits is in trouble.


Fabiola hops on the first plane and meets up with her vibrant side-kick Pippa Yates and the ever-loyal Detective Inspector Cary Green from New Scotland Yard. But she is not naïve enough to think untangling the purpose and meaning of the mysterious note will be as simple as a walk in Hyde Park. These things never are.


1750. Newly married Robert and Frances Andrews, members of the landed gentry of Suffolk, England, hire young and talented Thomas Gainsborough to paint their wedding portrait. Their desire is a lovely conversation piece showing their wealth and class, an artwork to remember them by for generations to come.


Little do they know the gifted artist portrays their personalities exactly how he perceives them, and the artistic symbolism is not as flattering as they’d hoped for. Even the looming clouds in the distance promise a troublesome future.


This is the first book in a new dual timeline series by Heidi Eljarbo—an intriguing spin-off from the much-loved Soli Hansen Mysteries.


Fans of Lucinda Riley, Rhys Bowen, Kathleen McGurl, Kate Morton, and Katherine Neville will love this cozy historical art mystery, which takes the readers back to the nostalgia of the groovy seventies and the classical Georgian era of the eighteenth century.





The Reluctant Portraitist

By Heidi Eljarbo


In the description for the historical mystery and dual-timeline novel The London Forgery, we read:

1750. Newly married Robert and Frances Andrews, members of the landed gentry of Suffolk, England, hire young and talented Thomas Gainsborough to paint their wedding portrait. Their desire is a lovely conversation piece showing their wealth and class, an artwork to remember them by for generations to come.


Little do they know the gifted artist portrays their personalities exactly how he perceives them, and the artistic symbolism is not as flattering as they’d hoped for. Even the looming clouds in the distance promise a troublesome future.


Throughout the centuries, sitters have asked artists to paint portraits that would not only give them a flattering appearance but also showcase their wealth and status. The British painter Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) is known for his wonderful depictions of aristocrats, singers, poets, statesmen, politicians, and even the royal family. Painting portraits was not his favorite kind of work. He much preferred being outside in the country, capturing the beautiful British landscape with his paintbrush.


After spending several years in Bath where wealthy and influential people stood in line to have him paint their portrait, he said, “Though I’m a rogue in talking upon Painting & Love I can be serious and honest upon any subject thoroughly pleasing to me… I am sick of Portraits and wish very much to take my Viol da Gamba and walk off to some sweet Village where I can paint Landskips and enjoy the very End of Life in quietness and ease.”


To compensate this dilemma and combine the two, he sometimes placed the sitters outside among trees and hills and with a domestic animal by their side. But for some, that was not enough. People wanted their livestock in the background, their expensive clothes, their class, and status portrayed. After all, this was their way of being remembered in the future.

In The London Forgery, a famous painting in the National Gallery is in trouble. We follow art historian and sleuth Fabiola Bennett as she tries to solve the mystery. The secondary chapters of the novel, tells the story about Thomas Gainsborough when he is commissioned to paint Mr. and Mrs. Andrews. Like many before them, this young couple wanted to flaunt their riches and place in society. Gainsborough does this elegantly by placing them outside on their vast property, animals in the background, neatly tied golden sheaves of grain next to a reaped field on the side, and straight rows showing Mr. Andrews had invested in the latest farming methods. He’s just home from hunting and casually stands there next to his belongings; his wife, his dog, and his land. Mrs. Andrews wears an enormous dress of shiny blue silk and tiny silk shoes. This tells us she was placed in that portrait by Gainsborough and did not walk there by herself.


Gainsborough used his knowledge of fine materials when he painted portraits. He brought the focus into the pictures with the complementary colors and textures. He left no doubt that Mr. and Mrs. Andrews belonged to the landed gentry of their time.


Even though The London Forgery is a work of fiction, the chapters about Gainsborough and Mr. and Mrs. Andrews are based on their lives. Today, the portrait hangs upstairs in room thirty-five in the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square in London. Go see it. It’s amazing.



All About Heidi


Heidi Eljarbo is the bestselling author of historical fiction and mysteries filled with courageous and good characters that are easy to love and others you don't want to go near.


Heidi grew up in a home filled with books and artwork and she never truly imagined she would do anything other than write and paint. She studied art, languages, and history, all of which have come in handy when working as an author, magazine journalist, and painter.


After living in Canada, six US states, Japan, Switzerland, and Austria, Heidi now calls Norway home. She and her husband have fifteen grandchildren—so far—in addition to a bouncy Wheaten Terrier.


Their favorite retreat is a mountain cabin, where they hike in the summertime and ski the vast, white terrain during winter.


Heidi’s favorites are family, God's beautiful nature, and the word whimsical.



Connect With Heidi




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