The Corner

Art Bleg

I’m begging for help from all you Art History majors out there.

Here’s the thing. I’m doing a piece for another magazine on William Hazlitt, the 19C English essayist. In his very peculiar book Liber Amoris Hazlitt, who is in the grip of a hopeless infatuation, has this to say in a letter to a friend:

Do you know I saw a picture, the very pattern of her, the other day at Dalkeith Palace (Hope finding Fortune in the Sea) … and the resemblance drove me almost out of my senses.

A.C. Grayling, in his 2000 biography of Hazlitt, says:

At Dalkeith Palace she [Hazlitt’s wife, whom he was trying to divorce, and from whose journal Grayling is getting this] unexpectedly encountered Hazlitt again …  Hazlitt was amazed by one of the pictures at Dalkeith, Truth Finding Fortune in the Sea by Luca Giordano, which contained a nude that looked exactly like [the object of Hazlitt’s infatuation].

Curious to get a look at that picture, I did some googling. Here is Giordano, who painted fast and often. Here is Dalkeith Palace, which seems now to belong to the University of Wisconsin, though oddly there are no slabs of cheese visible in this virtual tour.

But what about that darn painting? I googled up, I googled down, I googled left, I googled right. With Senator Obama’s injunctions in mind, I googled in Italian, French, and German. No sign of the darn thing.

After a day at the NR offices yesterday I went up to New York Public Library, which has a splendid Art Room containing catalogues raisonnés for every person who ever set brush to canvas. Sure enough there was one for Giordano, in three volumes by a Signor Ferrari. Unfortunately I’d arrived just 20 minutes before closing time — not long enough for me to locate a picture in 1,000 pages whose text was all in Italian, a language I know only very sketchily from opera librettos. So I went home last night still not having seen this painting.

There are a number of possibilities:

  • I really need to work on my googling skills, at least in so far as art objects are concerned.
  • Both Hazlitts, husband and wife, got either the name of the painting, or the name of the painter, wrong. This is unlikely. Hazlitt was very knowledgable about art, and earned part of his living as a portrait painter. At age 24 he’d spent three months in the Louvre making copies of masterpieces. This guy knew his pictures. The wife too, I’m sure — she was a very cultivated woman.
  • The painting has disappeared into some private collection that doesn’t post reproductions on the web.
  • Dalkeith Palace suffered a fire at some point between 1822 and the present, in which the Giordano painting was lost.
  • I am nuts to obsess about a tiny sidebar point like this for the sake of an essay that will be read by a few hundred people, if I’m lucky — almost as nuts as Hazlitt was to obsess about his landlady’s bird-brained daughter.

Any help would be much appreciated.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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