- Museum number
- Object: Dido, in Despair!
A bedroom scene. Lady Hamilton, grotesquely fat, but with traces of beauty in her features, rises from a curtained bed, arms and one leg extended in a burlesqued gesture of despair. She wears a nightgown and lace-trimmed cap. Behind her in the shadowed depths of the bed the night-capped head of her elderly and (?) sleeping husband, rests on the pillow. She looks, weeping, towards an open sash-window through which is seen a fleet sailing towards the horizon. In the window (left) is a cushioned window seat on which (besides a stocking) is an open book: 'Studies of Academic Attitudes taken from the Life'; on one page is a nude woman lying in sensual abandonment. On the right against the curtains of the bed is a dressing-table on which, besides toilet-articles, are a flask of 'Maraschino', a 'Composing Draught', and a pot of 'Rouge à la Naples'. On the carpeted floor (right) are objects from Sir W. Hamilton's collection, with an open book: 'Antiquities of Herculaneum Naples Caprea &c. &c.'; on the right page is a satyr chasing a nymph. They include an oval gem, a figure of a squatting monster, headless, the base inscribed 'Pri[apus]', a laughing bust of 'Messalina', statues of a Venus and a Satyr, coins or medals, one inscribed 'Ovid', another 'Tibertius'. In front of Lady Hamilton are the slippers she has kicked off, and a garter inscribed 'The Hero of the Nile'. Below the design:
'"Ah, where, & ah where, is my gallant Sailor gone" ? -
"He's gone to Fight the Frenchmen, for George upon the Throne,
"He's gone to Fight ye Frenchmen, t'loose t'other Arm & Eye,
"And left me with the old Antiques, to lay me down, & Cry.' 6 February 1801
- Production date
Height: 253 millimetres
Width: 360 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- (Description and comment from M.Dorothy George, 'Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires in the British Museum', VIII, 1947)
Nelson had returned to England with the Hamiltons in Nov. 1800 (cf. BMSat 9550), temporarily joining his wife in London. On 1 Jan. 1801 he was promoted vice-admiral, and on 17 Jan. hoisted his flag as second-in-command of the Channel fleet. For the (flattering) representations by Rehberg of Lady Hamilton's famous attitudes see BMSat 9571. Nelson's and Lady Hamilton's daughter, Horatia, was born on or about 30 Jan. 1801. For Sir W. Hamilton's collection see BMSats 9753, 9754.
Grego, 'Gillray', p. 279. Wright and Evans, No. 497. Reproduced, Fuchs, i. 272; d'Auvergne, 'The Dear Emma', 1936, p. 258; Klingender, 'Hogarth and English Caricature', 1944, p. 34.
Text from Ian Jenkins & Kim Sloan, Vases and Volcanoes' BM 1996, cat.189:
When Lady Hamilton arrived back in London in November 1800, she was seven months pregnant. She continued to perform her 'attitudes', most notably at Christmas at Fonthill, when her performance of Agrippina with the ashes of Germanicus was witnessed by Benjamin West, who later based a painting on it, and a long account of the festivities was reported in the newspapers. Richard Cosway's drawing of her from about this time (Bignamini and Postle, 1991, no. 35) records what most people noted: that Lady Hamilton had gained weight and become 'ungainly' since her last appearance in London ten years before, but her face still retained her classic Greek beauty and her ability to take on the character of any figure from myth or history was undiminished. As unlikely as it seems, she managed to keep secret the birth of her daughter Horatia in January 1801.
Certainly there is no indication that Gillray knew of it in the series of caricatures he produced at this time. Instead he merely focused on the 'ménage à trois' that was by then an international scandal. Lady Hamilton, seen here in a classic 'attitude' of despair, watches her lover's fleet in the Channel, while Sir William sleeps on in bed behind her, with caricatures of his antiquities, his own publications and Rehberg's lying scattered in the room around them. Ulrike Ittershagen has kindly pointed out that the composition is based on a painting by G. B. Cipriani of the same title which hung in the collection of the Earl of Orford at Houghton from the time it was painted in 1783 (Christie's, 20 April 1990, lot 56).
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1996, London BM, 'Vases and Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and his collection', cat.189
2001 Jun-Sep, London, Tate Britain, 'Gillray and the Art of Caricature'
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number