Anne Wagner’s friendship book contains entries made between 1795 and 1834. The handcrafted cover includes its creator’s name and the book’s title: Memorials of Friendship. “The swirls of blue here look like waves and fit well with the cut paper anchor and shell,” says Jessica Pigza. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Felicia Dorothea Browne (later Hemans), Wagner’s niece, contributed this page of artwork and verse. Felicia Browne’s first collection of poetry was published two years later, when she was 14. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

This collage includes ink drawings, wood engravings, rice paper, and gilded paper. “Some of the images of what appear to be seaweed and algae remind me of Anna Atkins’s cyanotypes of British algae. The women’s interest in capturing the natural world, including botany, is also reminiscent of the earlier cabinets of curiosities, which held such natural history items as rocks, shells, plant life, and even animal relics. In a way, Wagner’s album is like a two-dimensional cabinet of curiosities,” says Jessica Pigza. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection    More information

After her marriage, Felicia Dorothea Browne became known as Mrs. A. Hemans. This collage of wood engravings and pressed flowers incorporates her bookplate. Bookplates, many of which were custom-engraved, were popular in England. This one resembles those of well-respected wood engraver Thomas Bewick, who is known for his images of birds and other aspects of natural history. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Anne Wagner’s sister Felicity D. Browne — Felicia’s mother — inscribed her message in 1795, the year Wagner started to fill the pages in her book. Very few of the 200 or so pages in the album are blank. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Images of feathers complement Isabella Boardman’s words, which begin with “Friendship is the joy of reason…” and conclude with “Friendship without bounds delights.” NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Anna Maria Blaquiere, daughter of the Baron de Blaquiere, became Viscountess Kirkwall when she married Lord Kirkwall (John Hamilton FitzMaurice) in 1802. He served as a member of Parliament in the first two decades of the 19th century. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

The writing on this page, dwarfed by the regal silhouette, begins with the words “Shh! The shadow mocks our hearts!” “Silhouettes, whether drawn or cut, are such permanent icons of handmade art today that it’s easy to forget about their lengthy history. Immensely popular in 18th- and 19th-century England, silhouettes were known as an easy-to-create means of capturing likenesses of friends and became associated with women’s domestic arts. Today, silhouettes still hold a prominent place in popular art and design, as evidenced by numerous features in magazines and blogs that provide instructions for how to make the elegant portraits,” says Jessica Pigza. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection    More information

This braided lock of hair is enclosed between two pages. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

On this page, presumed creator Elizabeth Venables echoes the shape of her intricate braided hair lock and its blue ribbon with a blue-themed design in the lower right-hand corner of the page. “The hair is one of the most moving elements of this album. At once intimate as well as formal, a lock captured within an album’s pages acts as a memorial of the person providing it. Locks of hair also find their way into plotlines of fiction of the period. In Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, for instance, the powerful symbolism of a lock of hair becomes poignantly clear when Marianne Dashwood gives hers to the cad Willoughby,” says Jessica Pigza. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Shells appear repeatedly throughout Wagner’s album, both in her work and that of other contributors. “This is one of my favorite pages in the album. Like a piece of delicate jewelry, this string of paper shells reveals the central role that stitching played in women’s lives,” says Jessica Pigza. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Wagner’s exquisite watercolor reveals this shell’s beautiful contours and mottled colors. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

The words that accompany the colorful painting of “The Minute Kingfisher” pay tribute to the “the beauty of its glowing azure! It is comparable to a gem of the finest lustre.” NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Both this delicate black swan and the kingfisher are signed with the initials “C.H.W.” Although his or her identity is not known, perhaps the “W” indicates another member of the Wagner family; Anne Wagner and her sister Felicity had a third sister and two brothers. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

This crowded page is the only one in the book that references maps. “The visual power of maps is always so striking, and on this page there’s an added element of the layering of cartography over text,” says Jessica Pigza. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

The back cover features the rare use of gilded paper and intricately snipped paper cutouts on the same blue painted background Wagner attached to the front cover. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

The largest of Lamb’s five pieces in Conyers’s album, this Gothic image shows a nude woman being stabbed in the heart by Cupid with the specter of a skeleton observing — or directing — the scene. According to Elizabeth Campbell Denlinger, curator of The New York Public Library’s Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle and co-curator of Shelley’s Ghost, Lamb’s painting is in keeping with the style of art at the time, particularly the work of Henry Fuseli, a Swiss painter who settled in England. His most famous painting, The Nightmare (1781), shows a sleeping young woman in a white gown reclining on a bed; her head and one arm hang over the side, and an incubus (a male demon) sits on her stomach looking out at the viewer. (In mythology, male demons sat on women in order to have intercourse with them.) A horse’s head appears from between dark curtains draped in the background. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley portrays Victor Frankenstein’s wife’s death similarly: “She was there, lifeless and inanimate, thrown across the bed, her head hanging down and her pale and distorted features half covered by her hair.” In the 1931 film version of Frankenstein, Elizabeth doesn’t die when the Creature attacks her, but director James Whale lingers on the image of her limp body on the bed before Frankenstein rushes into the room to revive her. Denlinger also notes that Lamb may have been influenced by William Blake, who she knew, and by Gothic literature by authors such as Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis. Lewis visited Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley in Geneva in the summer of 1816, the period during which Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Lady Caroline Lamb, depicted in this print that appears near some of her artwork in the album, is credited with saying that Byron was “mad, bad and dangerous to know.” In addition to Glenarvon, Lamb published the novels Graham Hamilton, Ada Reis, and Penruddock before her death at age 42 in 1828. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

This page with vignettes by Conyers and Lamb focuses on babies: Lamb’s baby with two bird, a baby waving, and Conyers’s putto holding the moon. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Lamb married her husband William, the subject of her watercolor portrait, in 1805. He later became Lord Melbourne and served as prime minister under Queen Victoria. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Lamb’s fifth and final work in the sketchbook depicts a woman with children, sky spirits, and a putto in the water. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Dancing skeletons, women and children in silhouette, and a baby with a dog form an unusual trio of images. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

This silhouette identified as Lord Rivers shows the full figure of the subject rather than the more common head or upper-body pose. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Conyers’s sketchbook includes a number of canine portraits, including the two here (top and bottom). NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Conyers’s portrait of Mop dominates this page, which includes an additional image of that dog and a miniature of Damon. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Romantic Remix: Ladies’ “Friendship” Albums

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The “Real” Story of Everyday Life

A Memorial of Friendship

An Intimacy with Fellow Creators

Hair Apparent

Displays of Artistic Training

A Connection to Lord Byron

In her novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelley explored creation by chronicling how Victor Frankenstein developed new life out of disparate, “remixed” body parts. Off the page, she created an intellectual life and career for herself — and helped to establish the new literary genre of science fiction. Other women who lived in England in the early 19th century were less independent than Shelley, but many expressed their creativity in other ways. NYPL’s Pforzheimer Collection houses a number of unusual and intriguing women’s “scrapbooks” that offer another perspective. In the two we focus on here, the primary artists along with their family and friends assembled separate pieces to form a cohesive whole. Beautifully handmade and touchingly personal, these albums serve as invaluable examples of an earlier era of remix.

The Library’s scrapbooks were created by Anne Wagner and Julia Conyers, who had connections to the literary and social circles surrounding the Shelleys and Lord Byron. For women who didn’t have careers or lives that offered independence from their husbands and families, the opportunity to shape one’s own narrative was alluring. Just as many political and journalistic writings present the public world of men in the 18th and 19th centuries, women’s letters, diaries, scrapbooks, and artwork tell an equally vivid account: the “real” story of their everyday life.

What we think of as a scrapbook today, a bound book or album filled with mementos and photographs that document an individual’s or family’s history, first became popular during the 1800s. An extension of the commonplace book, the scrapbook evolved during the second half of the 19th century following the development of commercial printing and advent of photography. NYPL’s albums can be considered precursors to this scrapbooking tradition.

One of NYPL’s librarians has a special interest in handmade things. Jessica Pigza, assistant curator of the Rare Book Division, educates her colleagues and patrons about all kinds of crafts and the Library’s rich resources. She hosts a regular Handmade Crafternoon event and writes an NYPL blog called “Hand-Made.” Captivated by the Wagner and Conyers scrapbooks, she delved into them and shares her observations in the following pages.

Only three inches tall and five inches wide, Wagner’s Libri Amicorum, or Memorials of Friendship, contains her watercolors and collages as well as writing and artwork by friends and family members, including her niece Felicia Hemans. During the early 19th century, the popular Hemans was Lord Byron’s main rival for the bestselling poet of her generation. In 1816, when she was 14, she published her first poetry collection and 900 subscribers bought the book; one of them was Percy Bysshe Shelley. Later, after her husband abandoned her, Hemans wrote to support her five sons.

In her aunt’s album, a 12-year-old Felicia Browne filled a page with intricate artwork and an affectionate inscription, while at a later date, she or someone else secured a bookplate for “Mrs. A. Hemans” on a page augmented by dried flowers and other decoration. The name Felicia Dorothea Browne appears on a few additional pages that feature charming collages.

Anne Wagner’s friendship book is a hybrid of sorts, part commonplace book and part scrapbook. Commonplace books, which date back to the mid-17th century, generally served as single volumes of miscellaneous quotes, poetry, and other writing collected by an individual. Scrapbooks, which dominated the Victorian era, gathered such printed material as periodical clippings, paper ephemera such as tickets, calling cards, and dance cards, and photos of friends into a large-format album designed to represent a person’s history or one aspect of their life. Scrapbooking regained popularity in the late-20th century and helped garner interest for its more modern cousin, mixed-media art.

In keeping with the book’s intended purpose, many of its inscriptions and artwork are the contributions of Anne Wagner’s friends and family, a number of which pay tribute to her and her friendship. The messages serve as a record of who visited Wagner and what words of wisdom or artistic talents they furnished. Looking at the communal effort, Jessica Pigza notes that it’s hard not to feel the intimacy of the creators and contributors as they interpreted friendships, discoveries, and emotions on each page.

Saving the hair of a loved one, a long-held tradition, is evident in the lives of the Romantic poets and the broader society. Mary Shelley’s mother, the feminist author Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, died shortly after giving birth to the future author of Frankenstein; as a remembrance, Mary Shelley’s father, William Godwin, preserved locks of his wife’s hair. Later, they were made into a necklace adorned with two lockets, each of which contained hair, with the initials “MWS” (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley) and “PBS” (Percy Bysshe Shelley). Before Lord Byron’s daughter Allegra — her mother was Mary Shelley’s stepsister Claire Clairmont — died at age five, she wrote her father a letter from the Italian convent where she lived. The correspondence included locks of the child’s blond hair. Wagner’s album contains several samples of hair, adorned with ribbons, which have been secured to the pages.

During the 19th century, many women of the upper classes received education that focused on such skills as drawing, painting, sewing, playing musical instruments, and learning foreign languages. Jessica Pigza observes that domestic arts such as embroidery, quilting, and decorative crafts were considered important skills. “So many of the pages of the album show evidence of the importance of artistic training and skill for young women of a certain class,” she says. “Shells, feathers, branches, birds, and plants abound on these pages. The creator’s interest in the visual emblems of natural history acknowledges women’s increasing activities as naturalists, collecting, studying, and categorizing a variety of natural curiosities.”

The scrapbook owned and partially created by Julia Conyers is a de facto sketchbook, which contains pencil-and-ink-wash drawings, watercolors, and silhouettes from 1769 to 1830. Mounted to the leaves of the 9 1/2-by-12-inch bound book, the single sheets and smaller pieces of art range from copies of old masters to portraits to scenes from domestic life. Conyers became Lady Wrottesley when she married John Wrottesley in 1819. Wrottesley was a member of Parliament who was elevated to the House of Lords in 1838. They were then known as Baron and Baroness Wrottesley.

Like Wagner’s communal album, the Conyers sketchbook includes artwork by her and by others, most notably her friend Lady Caroline Lamb. Lamb, a prominent member of society and an author, pursued an affair with Lord Byron after reading his poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” in early 1812. Although he ended the relationship in November of that year, the two continued to correspond and remained presences in one another’s lives. Her first novel, Glenarvon, published in 1816, is considered a roman à clef in which the title character is a stand-in for Byron. Although she was thought to be emotionally unstable, Lamb was a prolific writer and artist.

 

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