A Visit to the Exhibit, The Enchantress: Emma, Lady Hamilton

By Christine G. H. Franck
Institute of Classical Architecture & Art Board of Directors

Emma, Lady Hamilton (by George Romney, circa 1785) used with permission

Yesterday morning I decided to walk down East 60th Street to head toward Central Park, rather than my usual route down 61st Street. I was so happy I did when I spied an exhibition banner at the Grolier Club for “The Enchantress: Emma, Lady Hamilton.” Having long been enthralled by both her story and late 18th century Naples, I couldn’t resist a quick stop.

Inside, on the ground floor gallery, there is an extraordinary exhibit of letters, books, prints, paintings, engravings and more all pertaining to Lady Emma Hamilton and the men whose lives she shaped, including Sir William Hamilton and Admiral Horatio Nelson.

Of note to classicists, Sir William Hamilton, British Envoy to the Kingdom of Naples and the Two Sicilies from 1764 to 1798, was a great collector of antiquities, including many items from the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum. His Greek vase collection was one of the earliest antiquities acquisitions of the British Museum.

Many of you may know the story of Lady Hamilton from “That Hamilton Woman” (1941) starring Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. Or you may have read Susan Sontag’s “The Volcano Lover,” a book I found mesmerizing. My brief glimpse of the Grolier Club exhibit showed a personal side to Lady Hamilton I hadn’t known before. I look forward to returning soon and thought some of my fellow ICAA members might like to visit as well.

From the Grolier Club’s Web site, The Enchantress: Emma, Lady Hamilton, “an exhibition on the extraordinary life and legacy of Emma, Lady Hamilton…feature[s] the Jean Kislak collection of manuscripts, books and art related to Lady Hamilton and her era, including the events that shaped her life and the men she helped shape – most prominently Sir William Hamilton and Admiral Horatio Nelson, Britain’s greatest naval hero.

Among many exceptional items in the exhibit are oil portraits of Emma Hamilton by famed British painters George Romney and Sir Thomas Lawrence as well as the earliest known letter from Lord Nelson to Emma, 13 June 1798, written aboard HMS Vanguard just before the decisive Battle of the Nile, when the English destroyed the French fleet.”

The Enchantress: Emma, Lady Hamilton will be on view at the Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street, New York, from February 16 through April 30, 2011. The exhibit will be open to the public free of charge, Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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