Print Giveaway: She Became a Duchess

I’ll be doing a print giveaway for my email newsletter subscribers only, sign-up if you’d like a chance to win her:

This is the last of my limited edition prints from a batch made in 2010.


Friederica of Vienwray (1804 – 1874)
Born into an old aristocratic family with a predisposition for smallpox, she spent her youth being passed from one distant relative to another (each dying within a year of the next) until age 16 when she was hired by the royal court theater as an actress. She gained the Queen’s favor as an amusing and attractive social weapon; when the Queen’s friendship with a lady in her circle had cooled, Friederica was invited to salons and galas as a replacement, a resounding snub against anyone who had fallen out of favor. Described by men who came to pay her tribute as ‘the highest creature’, it is not clear if they flocked to her for her charm, her acting, or her influence with the Queen. Setting her sights on those of the most eminent condition, she retired from the stage and married the Duke of Lernigo.

btw, the original painting is available at Parlor Gallery

It’s Actually Happening!

Pre-ordering is now live for my book on the Cooperative Press website! These will be available in December thru the usual outlets like Amazon, but I recommend getting in on the action early.

I’m happy to have just about everything in one place to share as one body of work, over 40 portraits, and putting together the family tree nearly made me cross-eyed. When you get it, you’ll see what I mean. There are actually quite a few characters that appear on the family tree that are yet to be painted! Looking through the layout, it strikes me this isn’t just an art book, but more of a fantasy/fiction novel with illustrations. I suppose it could go both ways — couldn’t it?

In case you were wondering, “Lady Justine” ended up as being chosen for the cover. You can view the whole press release here at Lee Joseph Publicity.

Twelve Years of Portraits

The National Portrait Gallery of Kessa: The Art of Arabella Proffer will be coming out this December. It won’t include all the portraits I have done over the last twelve years or so, but well over 40 of them including some family trees. The family trees actually started as a way for me to keep track of all the portraits even though not every character appears in it, but putting it all together did make me go a bit crossed-eyed, in fact, there are many portraits yet to be painted that appear in the family trees. I’ll get around to them eventually.

I think this series started with the idea of ancestor worship — as cultivated by the European aristocracy — because I was really making portraits on fake ancestors for myself in the beginning. I did a lot of peerage research and even tried to read up on the Almanache de Gotha, but it got so out of control that I decided to combine the “rules” of different countries since not all adhered to the same standards. Titles, who could marry whom, and things like the tradition of primogeniture — which gave way everywhere except for England.

I also did a lot of costume research (necklines, sleeves and such) to lend mild authenticity when I combine it with my own punk and goth designs. Really to me, Elizabethan fashion is super goth. I don’t know why goths today insist on Victorian garb, because Elizabethan is just as painful to wear, but embellished and designed more beautifully. And thus, from the Renaissance to the Rococo period, I think the punk and goth styling would have worked out very well for the upper-classes. Let’s face it, tattoos, piercings, hair dye, all cost a lot of money. I think it means something different today than it did in the late 70s and early 80s. The early punks and goths certainly didn’t have mohawks or do these things, but for a while these were symbols that you wanted to be seen as an outcast or a criminal. Now, everyone does it, and it has become almost normal rather than rebellious. So I think nobility and people of importance would have used these as status symbols — the fact they could afford it at all. I think the more tattoos, and the bigger your mohawk, the more influential you or your family are. It would have made sense, and when I started to combine the two in my paintings, I thought it looked right. I didn’t want to over-do it with the piercings and stuff, but I liked little hints here and there (a safety-pin, the ultimate punk accessory, an eyebrow ring, part of a tattoo being visible).

The duties to hold on to a place, a title, or any seat in office, and to responsibility to both the dead and future family members to hold tight and improve upon it.
The whole concept of nobility is something Americans tried desperately to get away from, and today it is sneered at in Europe for what it is: a system that is no longer relevant. It was all tied to agriculture, military, and serving the crown. It is a system that has mutated from the middle ages — being the most opulent and ridiculous in the 1700s — and was on a decline until it took the most heavy blow after the 1st world war. But as an American, I can’t help find it fascinating — as do most Americans. Nobility are hard to come by, almost extinct. Funny enough, through the ages they have something in common with any wealthy, political, or important person: they all are in debt.

When you read about these people there were common themes. They tended to be eccentric, or too serious; they were always unhappy; very rarely did anything end well; and no matter how lavish their lives were, something was always amiss. But in general their expectations and the course of their lives was rather predictable. I think this is why my writings are very often mistaken to be real — they sound like something that could have, or did happen. And that’s the point. I think I tend to make my females more independent and strong, however. I’m more interested in them because back through the centuries women were seen as idiots, gossips, clotheshorses and meant for nothing more than breeding — they had the same rights as mentally challenged people, pretty much. They weren’t even allowed to look after their own children if the father died, the oldest son could have his wardship sold since he would inherited the estate and the title. This was especially true in England.

Portraits instead of family photos are something I wish more people would turn to as something to pass down. Going to Europe and looking through old books, they were what I thought was normal — or should be normal. I asked my mom after my father passed away when we were getting a portrait done of him (in all seriousness) and she laughed telling me what bad taste that would be. I was 9, and didn’t think it was bad taste at all. I guess these portraits started as a way of me having my own little gallery of ancestors past. To me it would be no different from having photos out, and at least it can be considered an heirloom. Then again, having to put up with a huge portrait of a mother-in-law you hate in your home — I could see that being annoying. Again, it all goes back to ancestor worship, which I don’t think many Americans are interested in unless you come from well-to-do east coast stock or are of the old Southern aristocracy, and even then.

It’s a subject I’ll always explore and research for fun, and I don’t see this series ending anytime soon. We’ll see what the next twelve years brings.

Living Beyond Your Means Never Goes Out of Style

An excerpt from Universal Courtier’s Grammar by Denis Fonvizin, published in 1783.

Question: What Verb is conjugated most frequently of all at Court, and in what Tense? Answer: Even as at Court, so in the Captial, no one lives out of debt; therefore, the Verb conjugated most frequently of all is: to be in debt. (The appended Exemplary Conjugation is in the Present, since that is the Tense most frequently used of all.)

I am in debt.

Thou art in debt.

He, She or It is in debt.

We are in debt.

You, Ye are in debt.

They are in debt.

Question: Is the Verb ever conjugated in the Past Tense? Answer: Ever so rarely — inasmuch as no he or she pays his or her debts. Q: And in the Future Tense? A: The conjugation of this Verb in the Future Tense is in good usage, for it goes without saying that if one be not in debt yet, he or she inevitably will be.

Countess Christabelle Redux

I while back I re-painted a part of this piece I had finished years ago; only this week did I get around to photographing it with a better camera…

11×14″ oil on canvas. Christabelle, Countess of Veron (1612 – 1667) Second daughter to the 3rd Duke of Mollawray. Like her sister, Lexia the Marquise of Vienwray, she had a great penchant for spending and would marry late. She wed the Earl of Veron in 1645 who was twenty years her junior. Developing an interest in astrology, séances and the occult, she had her estate redecorated with astrological motifs and even converted her main parlor into a “room for the dead” in which to summon ghosts. She said she found the dead more interesting than the living.

Old Portraits of Young Men: Part Two

Here’s another round of portraits of men I may or may not have slept with had I actually been alive in that century. Perhaps you’ll see a few to your liking as well.

Francis, Duke of Anjou…

Of course, there is this portrait of him. Hmmm, not as appetizing. Quite a difference, no?

The 1st Duc of Guise…


Bernini, a self-portrait. I’d like him even better if I didn’t know what a complete asshole he was…

A young man by Titian…

another ‘Unknown Young Man’, by Titian. Heeello….

Prince Rupert, Count Palatine. I can tell under the hair and mustache he’s a cutie..

Thomas Wriothesley. Again, if only he’d lose the beard…

an unknown man…

here are my previous picks.