Thursday, May 9, 2013

MD HISTORICAL SOCIETY MOUNTS EXHIBIT OF “NOTORIOUS BELLE OF BALTIMORE”

MdHS Header

Portrait of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, George D'Almaine after Gilbert Stuart, 1856, Maryland Historical Society, Gift of Mrs. Charles Joseph Bonaparte, xx.5.78

The Maryland Historical Society Presents

Woman of Two Worlds: Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte and Her Quest for an Imperial Legacy

Known as “the Notorious Belle of Baltimore,” socialite and landowner Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte was an important female figure in 1812 society

WHEN: June 9, 2013 - June 9, 2014
WHERE:
The Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument Street, Baltimore

With hundreds of objects and reams of documents, the Maryland Historical Society is the official keeper of Elizabeth's memories. The "Woman of Two Worlds:" Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte and Her Quest for an Imperial Legacy exhibit marks the first time the Maryland Historical Society has featured a exhibition exclusively devoted to a historical female figure.

The Dramatic Life of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte
Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, born in Baltimore in 1785, was the oldest daughter of thirteen children. Her father was William Patterson, an Irish shipping merchant and one of the wealthiest men in Maryland. Elizabeth attended Madame Lacombe's Academy and studied history, culture, mathematics and French, a skill that would later prove useful. She grew into a great beauty - a woman of dainty stature and an ivory complexion and a celebrated bosom. Her taste for the latest European fashions inspired her to wear gowns considered risqué by American standards. (Above: Portrait of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, George D'Almaine after Gilbert Stuart, 1856, Maryland Historical Society, Gift of Mrs. Charles Joseph Bonaparte, xx.5.78)

Her beauty, coupled with her sharp wit, charm and fierce independence, made Elizabeth one of the most desirable women in Baltimore. She declined many marriage proposals from wealthy, powerful men on both sides of the Atlantic. She once stated in a letter to her father that "Nature never intended me for obscurity." Indeed it hadn't, for it blessed her with the beauty and allure that mesmerized Napoleon's younger brother Jerome and thrust her into a love affair that would forever change her life.

About the Exhibition
The exhibition includes silver, porcelain, paintings, textiles, jewelry, manuscripts and furniture associated with Elizabeth and her descendants. Of particular note are a collection of extraordinary French porcelain purchased by Elizabeth in Paris around 1815, forty examples of silver used by Elizabeth and her descendents, Elizabeth's pearl and garnet tiara and other jewelry, and one of her "scandalous" dresses in the French-style. In total, more than 100 objects will be on view in the exhibition.

In addition, one of the jewels of the show is a portrait of Elizabeth by Gilbert Stuart that remains in private hands. The breathtaking painting will be on loan to the MdHS for the duration of the exhibition.

Garnet Tiara worn by Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, circa 1803-5, Maryland Historical Society, Gift of Mrs. Charles Joseph Bonaparte, xx.5.295The exhibition emphasizes the “two worlds” that Elizabeth inhabited. On one side of the gallery space is the American world, with portraits of the Patterson family, a dress owned by Elizabeth's beloved mother, Dorcas Spear and even the French dictionary she used as a girl. On the other side of the gallery is the European world, which displays the elegant accoutrements of Elizabeth's life after her 1815 divorce from Jerome. Although her frugality moved her to devote most of her money to her son's education, Elizabeth always had a taste for elegant fashion and accessories. Her silk and cashmere shawls, velvet turbans, finely wrought lace cuffs, exquisite jewelry and elegant gowns attest to a woman who spent her money wisely and maintained an elegant appearance at all times. Her account books attest to the expenditures she made on shoes, gowns, jewelry, and beauty products throughout her lifetime. Even in her later years, Elizabeth's beauty was central to her persona and celebrity. (Above: Garnet Tiara worn by Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, circa 1803-5, Maryland Historical Society, Gift of Mrs. Charles Joseph Bonaparte, xx.5.295)

"This exhibit and its fascinating story give visitors an opportunity to see the War of 1812 era in a much larger context," says Burt Kummerow, President of the Maryland Historical Society, "Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte brought Napoleonic Europe to Baltimore along with the celebrity that reminds us of a modern day jet setter."

"Few historical figures I have studied intrigue me as much as Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte," says Chief Curator Alexandra Deutsch. "Every time I read her letters and account books I discover another twist in her very complex story. Too often she has been remembered for her marriage, but in fact, her relationship with Jerome Bonaparte only lasted three years. She went on to live another seven decades, charting her own course, amassing her own fortune and making a life on her own terms. Elizabeth's story transcends time because it is the story of a strong-minded woman who shaped her own destiny despite the limitations society and her family tried to impose on her."

We are deeply grateful to the many funders who have made this project possible, including The Von Hess Foundation.

Related Collaborations
During the War of 1812 Bicentennial, we are partnering with Ft. McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, the Maryland 1812 Bicentennial Commission and the Baltimore National Heritage Area. One of the lifelong learning programs associated with the Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte exhibit will be an exploration of 1812 fashion in partnership with the Baltimore National Heritage Area Education Committee and the Baltimore Fashion Alliance in November 2013.

Online Resources
For a sneak peek into Elizabeth's life, and the fascinating behind-the-scenes-details of the exhibition making process, Chief Curator Alexandra Deutsch has started a blog entitled "Woman of Two Worlds." You can access it by visiting this link:
www.mdhs.org/betsy-bonaparte

Publication
A 32 page issue of MdHS News, comprising essays on the life and family of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte and her tremendous collection of silver, accompanies exhibition. Published by The Maryland Historical Society, it's free for all who visit the exhibition.

Hours/Admission
Museum hours are Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. General admission to the Maryland Historical Society is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, $4 for students and children ages 3-18 and free for children under 3. For more information, visit www.mdhs.org