A Regency Bicentennial:   The Day Henry Bone Broke the Bank

A Regency Bicentennial cross-post from The Regency Redingote, originally published in April 2011:

For Henry Bone, 15 April 1811 was a red letter day. But for the bank of Marsh, Sibbald, Stracey & Fauntleroy, it was a black day indeed. Over £2,000 shifted from one end of Berners Street to the other that day, and very nearly shuttered the bank forever. It is possible the events of this day also led one of the bank’s officers into a life of clandestine crime which, when it was exposed, would ultimately end with his execution.

How an artist from Cornwall rocked the foundations of a London bank, two hundred years ago, today.

First, it is necessary to know a little about Henry Bone. He was born in the prosperous town of Truro, on the southern coast of Cornwall, on 6 February 1755. His father was a skilled carver and cabinet-maker, who moved the family to Plymouth, in the county of Devon, in 1767. Here, in 1771, young Henry, who displayed artistic talent, was apprenticed to the Quaker minister, pharmacist and inventor, William Cookworthy. Cookworthy had discovered how to make kaolin, or what was then known as china clay, out of Cornish granite. With a ready supply of the materials needed to make hard-paste porcelain, Cookworthy established the Plymouth China Works. In 1772, Cookworthy expanded north to Bristol, where he established the Bristol Porcelain Works, which Cookworthy put into the charge of Richard Champion, a relation by marriage. The young Henry Bone removed to Bristol, where his apprenticeship was transferred to Champion. There he remained until 1778. Henry worked six days a week, from 6:00am to 6:00pm, painting the decoration on the china pieces which were manufactured at the Bristol Porcelain Works. An ambitious young man, he spent his nights studying drawing, in order to improve and expand his skill. Bone had been apprenticed to Cookworthy and Champion for a term of seven years, but in 1778, the last year of his apprenticeship, the Bristol Porcelain Works failed. Bone was released from his service, and left to make his own way in the world.

At loose ends, the young man decided to try his luck in London. With his life savings, a single guinea, and an additional five pounds which he had borrowed from a friend, he traveled to the great metropolis. With so few funds, it is most likely that he walked much of the way, hitching a ride when the opportunity offered, in order to conserve his resources. Bone’s study of drawing stood him in good stead in London, where he first found employment as a painter of fans. Soon, he also got additional work enameling small items, including wine-labels, snuff boxes, lockets and other jewelry, watch dials and cases. Unfortunately for Bone, the fashion for enameled jewellery suddenly began to wane and he had to find other work. Gradually, he was able to supplement his income painting miniature portraits, some in watercolor, many more in the luxury medium of enamel.

Enamel painting was not an easy medium in which to work, but it had the very important benefit of great durability. Enameling could only be done on a metal support, which, from the 1740s, was most often copper. Bronze was often used, and both silver and gold were sometimes employed for very special deluxe work. Before the painting could be begun, the metal base had to be prepared by annealing, that is, heated to red hot, then immediately immersed in an acid bath, which was known as pickling. This process would remove all grease and oxides, which would have impeded the bonding of the enamel to the metal base. Some metals can slightly change the enamel color during firing, as they react chemically with the metal base. Therefore, after annealing and pickling, the metal support is often treated with a flux, which will promote fusing, prevent oxidation, and help to maintain the expected colors. The enamel "paint" required a great deal of effort to prepare. The enamel, which is a special opaque white glass, imported from Venice in the form of round cakes, was ground to a very fine powder, then it was washed in clean water and allowed to dry. The clean dry enamel powder was mixed with the correct metal oxide which would produce the desired color, then with water, or more often a volatile oil. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, spike (oil of French lavender), was the preferred oil used by artists to mix their enamel "paint." The powdered glass and metal oxide mixed in oil was then painted onto the treated metal plate. Once the painting was complete, it would be fired for several hours, at temperatures of between 575º F. and 1560º F., depending upon the types of enamels used. This firing would fuse the powdered glass and metal oxide suspended in water or volatile oil to the metal plate while the water or oil evaporated in the extreme heat. Different colors of enamel would fuse at slightly different temperatures, which meant some areas of the painting could buckle or crack if great care was not taken during the firing process. For this reason, most enamel work was done on very small pieces to reduce the risk of deformation during firing. But if the firing was successful, the finished enamel painting was the most durable form of painting. It would not fade or flake, nor could it be scratched or damaged by moisture. These small enamel paintings were considered luxury items, and were most often commissioned by wealthy patrons.

Two years after his arrival in London, on 24 January 1780, Henry Bone married Elizabeth Van der Meulen, a descendant of Peter Van der Meulen, who was battle painter to King William III while his brother, Adam Fans van der Meulen, was painting battle scenes for Louis XIV. By all reports, it was a happy marriage, and in that year, he painted a portrait of his bride in enamel, hoping to enter it for exhibition at the Royal Academy. The following year, 1781, the painting, an unusually large enamel for that time, was accepted by the Academy, and exhibited as a "portrait of a lady." He followed this with a self-portrait in enamel, in 1782, which was also accepted and exhibited as a "portrait of a gentleman." Both paintings were received with such high approval that Bone was encouraged to cease painting miniatures on ivory and devoted himself completely to enamel painting. He had made a detailed study of the use of metal oxides which were necessary for the different enamel colors and he became an expert colorist with enamels.

By 1789, Bone had added history painting to his repertoire and in that year he exhibited his "Muse and Cupid" at the Royal Academy. Enamel painting was most commonly used to make durable copies of more traditional paintings, but in this case, the "Muse and Cupid" was an original work. It was also the largest known enamel painting yet to be executed and received wide acclaim. In 1794, Bone exhibited a highly admired copy of The Sleeping Girl by Sir Joshua Reynolds. This was followed in 1798 by his portrait of the Earl of Eglintoun, which caught the eye of the Prince of Wales. The Prince not only purchased that portrait, but he became one of Bone’s most important patrons. Over the course of the next few decades, the Prince commissioned Henry Bone to paint a number of miniature portraits in enamel. Those of the Prince’s closest friends were to be seen decorating his bedchamber at Carlton House.

Henry Bone’s work was steadily rising in the public’s estimation. In 1801, he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy. In that same year, he was appointed Royal Enamelist to King George III. Henry Bone would be appointed the royal painter in enamel to both George IV and William IV. Bone began to exhibit regularly at the Royal Academy, and he once again returned to paintings with historical and mythological themes. He produced a number of enamel copies of the work of the great Renaissance and Baroque masters. He was able to sell many of these works, since such subjects were popular in the early nineteenth century. He also continued to receive a steady number of commissions from the Prince of Wales and several other aristocratic patrons for enamel miniatures.

By 1802, Bone was able to afford to move his growing family from his small house on Hanover Street, to a larger house at 15 Berners Street, in the area east of Mayfair, which is now known as Soho. Henry Bone and his wife Elizabeth had at least ten children, seven of whom survived to adulthood, six sons and one daughter. Bone was, by all reports a loving and supportive father, who worked hard to ensure his children were all educated to help give them a good start in the world. The Berners Street house was large enough that he could also have space for a studio and exhibition gallery where he could showcase his work and entertain potential patrons.

At about this same time, Bone also began experimenting with larger and larger sizes for his enamel paintings. Prior to Bone’s ambitious efforts to push the medium of enamel painting, most enamels were, at most, only a couple of inches across. In fact, almost all enamel work up to that time had been for jewelry or miniatures. One of the primary reasons enamels were kept small was because of the risk of malformation during firing. With constant experimentation with fluxes and firing, as well as tweaking of his enamel paint formulas, Bone was able to develop enamel paints which would all fuse reliably and true to color, within a fairly narrow heat range. Thus, he was able to produce larger and larger paintings with clear, true colors and fine details which were not deformed when they were fired. No other enamel artist of the time could produce such large, high quality works. Bone came to be known as the "Prince of Enamelers," as his enamel work has seldom been equalled.

Early in 1811, Bone set out to create the largest enamel painting ever produced, a masterpiece in enamel. He chose a mythological subject for this painting, basing his work on the Bacchus and Ariadne by the Venetian artist, Titian. Bone was remarkably successful with this work, creating an enamel tour de force which was 18 by 16 inches, far and away the largest enamel painting ever produced to that time. Word of his success quickly spread through the community of art connoisseurs of London, and Bone decided to exhibit his work in the gallery in his home on Berners Street. It was estimated at the time that well over 4,000 people viewed the work while it was on display in his private gallery.

On Monday, 15 April 1811, Henry Bone learned that he had been elected a full member of the Royal Academy, just ten years after he had been elected an associate member of that august body. Later that day, the new Royal Academician received an offer for his enamel painting, Bacchus and Ariadne, from Mr. George Rushout-Bowles, Esquire, of Cavendish Square and Wanstead. Bowles was the younger brother of the Second Baron Northwick, who was also a well-known art collector. Bone accepted Bowles offer of £2,200 for his masterpiece, and Bowles apparently wrote him a cheque for the full amount on the spot. The cheque was drawn on Bowles’ bank, Marsh, Sibbald, Stracey & Fauntleroy, which was located at 6 Berners Street, near the intersection with Oxford Street. Henry Bone walked down the street to the bank with his cheque that afternoon and cashed it. He later told one of his sons that he did so because he wanted to show his wife, Elizabeth, the vast amount he had received for his now famous painting in good coin of the realm. Unbeknownst to him, he had cleaned out the bank that afternoon.

The following morning, Tuesday, 16 April 1811, bank customers arrived to find the bank closed. The bank had already been experiencing some financial difficulties, primarily of the cash-flow variety, and Henry Bone’s exceptionally large withdrawal tipped them over the edge. They had to suspend payments for several days while they sorted things out. The bank of Marsh, Sibbald, Stracey & Fauntleroy had been founded in 1796, and in 1797, Henry Fauntleroy, who had been a clerk to a banker in the City, became a new partner. In 1807, Henry Fauntleroy, Jr. succeeded his father as the managing partner of the firm. In 1814, Fauntleroy began forging powers of attorney which would enable him to sell various stocks and bonds held by bank customers. He used the proceeds of these sales to keep the bank solvent when the Bank of England began to refuse to pay their bills of exchange. He managed to hide his activities for a decade, and he was not exposed until 1824, accidentally discovered by one of the bank trustees. In September of that year, Fauntleroy was arrested in the parlour of the bank, which was still located on Berners Street, and taken to prison. At that time, Fauntleroy was accused of using the money to support an extravagant and decadent lifestyle, though he repeatedly denied that throughout his trial. He consistently maintained that he had only forged the powers of attorney in order to sell stock when the bank was short of funds. Curiously, Fauntleroy had kept accurate accounts of all the forgeries he had committed, which were found at the bank soon after his arrest. Fauntleroy was found guilty of forgery and sentenced to death. Despite many pleas for clemency, he was hung on 30 November 1824. One can only wonder if the fund shortage which the bank experienced when Henry Bone cashed his large cheque in April of 1811 might have first turned Fauntleroy’s mind to this clandestine life of crime to save his bank. The bank was re-established in 1824, after Fauntleroy’s arrest, but closed its doors for good within a few weeks.

Henry Bone continued to paint in enamel, though he never achieved the same level of success with a single painting as he had with his large Bacchus and Ariadne. He continued to supply enamel miniatures and other paintings to the royal family and wealthy and aristocratic patrons until nearly the end of his life. The Bacchus and Ariadne remained in the Rushout-Bowles family, since the George Bowles who purchased it, though a younger son, was the father of the Third Baron Northwick. The boy was born only a few short months after his father had purchased the painting, and would eventually become its owner. Though the third baron did not have any children, the painting descended in the Rushout family, until it was eventually donated to the National Gallery.

And so, two hundred years ago today, on quiet Berners Street, in central London, one man reached the pinnacle of his artistic and technical career, and another had the apparently solid foundations of the bank he managed rocked beneath him. It was, perhaps, barely a ripple in the bustling life of the metropolis, but I consider it a Regency Bicentennial worthy of notice.

© 2011 – 2013 Kathryn Kane, Kalligraph
Originally posted at The Regency Redingote
Posted at The Beau Monde by permission of the author.

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