Background to Aglio Letters
This article, based on the archived letters found relating to the two Aglios not only gives some further background to their lives and activities but also is an interesting exercise in name dropping.
This is useful in so far as it give some idea of the people that they associated with and for what reasons. With some imagination one can get some idea of the lives of the two artists in the mid 1800’s.
This article is supported by a database of all the letters and facsimiles of the whole set
It is difficult in some instances to identify with any confidence to which of the two Aglios a letter is referring as Agostino was at times happy to be referred to as Augustine and many people did not distinguish between the two.
Dates and topics help with this matter but there
can be no absolute certainty in the case of many letters.
Time line to put letters in context
The significance of
the "Other dates in the Art World" may become apparent in a
Earliest identifiable letter 1828
Latest letter 1879 to John Absolon
The letters are group into six main blocks roughly
associated with periods of time
There is a collection of Italian letters on
notepaper from the Erechthium Club
The Kingsborough Affair
Letters 021 - 035
This was an ignominious business and is well documented elsewhere, on the website and Professor David Hook has researched this in detail and has written on the subject
“Study was to me a source of enjoyment, but the great instability of
my mind was never or could never be conquered, and thus my Classic
Learning without a purpose became a useless, and unprofitable
acquisition. An unfortunate family pride made me neglect and despise all
sorts of business knowledge, which I always considered unfit and greatly
derogative for a gentleman, and I am sorry now to confess that this
fatal prejudice, nay, let me say error has rendered me in the after
times the suffering victim of all designing men, and by the want of proper
caution always lost the benefits of my labours, of my talents and of my
In about 1934 he became bankrupt thanks to the Kingsborough affair and
to mismanagement over the work for Manchester Town Hall
again my ignorance in business played against me,..”
The correspondence starts back in 1828 between Kingsborough and a Sir Thomas Lawrence
Regarding the displaying of an Aglio Painting in the Royal Academy. Despite some serious pleading by Kingsborough on Aglio’s behalf Lawrence refused giving various reasons.
Later letters are between Kingsborough and Aglio from 1934 to 1936 which is a year before Kingborough died in debtors jail, or just out of it, in Ireland. It seems that during some of this time, 1831 to 1834, Aglio and his family were living near Manchester while he decorated the Manchester Town Hall, and Kingsborough endeavoured to get Aglio to send his wife over to Ireland to collect money owed. Judging from letters of that time it was the Assignees (Bancrupcy Administrators) that then had to struggle to get money owed from Kingsborough. At this time Augustine Aglio would have been about 15 -18 years old and probably was helping his father with the work, as he did a few years later with the Olympic Theatre in 1849.
Elsewhere are examples of drawings of Manchester dignitaries done by Agostino Aglio presumably during this period.
It is interesting to note that, at the time, Francis Augustine Walsh, the son of a close friend of Agostino, was working in Manchester as Secretary to the Irish Distress Committee and then as Secretary to the Manchester Board of Health. He married Aglio’s daughter, Emma Walsh Aglio in 1838. The use of middle names in indicatory of the high esteem held been Aglio and Walsh.
Letters 041 – 051
The letters to Augustine Aglio (Junior) in 1840 refer to people being unable to purchase a copy or subscribe to his work with a Vase. Research indicates that this may have been about the production of a copy of a Medici Vase proposed by Augustine Aglio!!
is assumed that these letters were to the son, Augustine, as the
envelopes are marked as such and Agostino has made no reference to doing
sculptor. The young Augustine seems to have been a “Jack of All
Trades”, and at the age of 24,
one can imagine him, as a single young man living at home, with his
parents at 2 Osnaburgh St Regents Park,
having a go at any enterprise, having seen the problems his
father had with his unbusiness like ways.
does not seem to be an unreasonable venture to try, bearing in mind the
number of the facsimile vases of this type one sees around country
houses; however all the letters indicate refusals.
Palace work and Westminster Hall competition
Letters 061 – 096
The Pompeii Room at Buckingham Palace
group of letters between 1841 and 1845 give us tremendous insights in to
Agostino’s activities and relationships with other painters while he
became involved in the work at Buckingham Palace and with the
Westminster Hall Cartoon.
It seems that C.L.Eastlake who was a significant member of the Art Establishment had some significant control over the work at Buckingham Palace work and for Westminster Cartoon Competition.
During this period of time is seems from the letters that there is a bussle of activity over the two ventures involving a number of artists who are doing work for one another. There seems to be a situation whereby Aglio had the know how of Italian Fresco and supplied materials and equipment for the work. Likewise he seems to be the source of information about Encaustic work.
Two rooms were being done at Buckingham Palace in outbuildings. The Summer House and the Pompeii Room
In 1844, sketches were being done by C.Kean. This may have been, although unlikely, Charles Samuel Keene, who worked for the Illustrated London News
W.C.Ross was working perhaps with Aglio on the Fresco in the Summer House and there is discussion about the plaster coating, intonaco and request for marble dust. He later wrote to Aglio regarding the friendliness and goodwill of the Prince (Albert)
During 1843 there were numerous letters from Daniel Maclise rejecting Aglio’s offers of being involved with the Buckingham Palace work. He, like Agli,o was painter of historical scenes and did considerable work for the Establishment.
In about 1844 an Artist, Wehner, wrote to Agostino Aglio asking for a couple of evenings to show him how to do frescos. He had done the cartoon and was planning to enter the Exhibition ( presumably for the Westminster Hall ) and had no experience in that field.
It seems probable that Charles R.Leslie work for a while with Aglio.
There is a strange letter from Leslie to Aglio regard him collecting his “colours” and tin palette. It seems that he entered the Westminster Hall competition. Leslie is an interesting connection as he was a personal friend of John Constable and in fact wrote his biography.
Further Research has turned up enough information to clarify the position at Buckingham and a summary of the story is on another page-
The notes above derived chiefly from the letters and a little from background information from the internet, however research has turn up the fantastic dissertation by Daniel Boeckmann in 1996, based on the Life of Ludwig Gruner, Art Adviser to Prince Albert .
This dissertation and reports in two journals of the time confirm that the Artists listed in letters were involved in the Buckingham Palace project.
Other interesting connections with the art world at large can be seen though the albums of pictures and notes, within the Aglio archive that can be seen at
and in particular the picture painted by G.Sims yet referring to Turner R.A. on the album page.
It will be noted that many of the letters during the 1840’s came from artists living in the area of Fitzroy Square, Street and Charlotte Street. Looking at the history of T.C.Dibdin who was later to become related with the Aglio family through the marriage of his son, William Joseph, to Marian Aglio it is interesting to note that he and his family were also living for a while in that area, before moving to the Polygon in Somers Town.
There is considerable delight to be found in further study of the residences of the family in this area during the 1800’s, an area bounded by the Regents canal, Regents Park, in the north and West and Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury in the South and East.
This seems to have been the dwelling place of many artists in the broadest sense and was the home of the Aglio and Dibdin family for quite some period of time.
The issues of "Artist and Family Residences" will be discussed elsewhere.
There are a number of letters about no work available in country houses in the early years of the 1800’s and one from the Italian Opera, Covent Garden presumably regarding payment for work done.
the end of the work at Buckingham Palace, in July 1845,
Aglio received a personal invitation and encouragement to enter
for the £1000 competition to do a large oil painting presumably for the
Alkali Works in South Shields. (Half of the letter seems to be missing)
This was followed, in December 1846, by a request for confirmation that
Aglio was doing the painting and enclosed was a copy of the original
proposal for the best Oil Painting of the Baptism of Our Lord in the
Biographies indicated that Agostino did this work.
letters, written by Thomas
Bell, was addressed from an Alkali Works in South Shields which was
probably nearer to the docks than the above. Thomas Bell seems to be a
well known dignitary in the Newcastle area however there is uncertainty
as a Thomas Bell, a founder of that industry, died on 20 April 1845 but
there seems to be a descendant of the same name involved with the
are a couple of letters relating to work with Godfrey Wentworth in
Yorkshire in 1855, one of which is a recommendation from Sydney Smirke,
in mind that by this time Agostino was paralysed and that he had already
worked for Wentworth years before it would seem likely that the
recommendation refers to Augustine.
are three letters from someone names Landaur or Sandaur. One letter
refers to a fresco and the Prince ( Albert) and the third written in
1951 while Agostino was ill with a stroke. This seems to have been
signed Princess Landaur or Sandaur, with the same writing as in 1845 and
indicates concern over his condition. There was at about that time a
Princess Alexandra, nicknamed Sander, but the dates do not match.
1857 Eastlake wrote to Aglio but the letter is incomplete.
to Augustine Aglio
the Buckingham Palace work finished in1846 that Augustine, at the age of
30, married Margaret
Absolon, the sister of John Absolon the painter. As to how he met her we
have no record, however it would seem likely that Augustine and John
Absolon met professionally and so the relationship developed. In 1852 he
set up as a photographer in partnership with John’s son Hugh in
Piccadilly. One can imagine that it would have been in 1846 that
Augustine would have moved from his parents home in Osnaburgh St to his
new home at 4 Oval Road a mile or so up the road.
1875 Sam Redgrave wrote to Augustine regarding an update of his
was published a couple of years later:
seems that in about 1863 Augustine and family moved to 87 St Pauls Road,
St Pancras and it would have been here or at Oval Road that he and
Thomas Colman Dibdin and John Absolon would have met up socially. There
is reference in a family write up, to TC Dibdin’s son, William Joseph,
throwing Marian’s cat over the wall to tease her. They were married
after many adventures some sixteen years later.
1870 there is a letter to Augustine regarding his testimony presumably
for a job as Professor of Drawing at Bedford College, indicating that he
did not get the job as it had gone to Mr Eyre Crowe.
It seems that in about 1861 Augustine had done some work for Lady Warwick at the Stables of St James Palace.
It was unexpected to find the letter to John Absolon from Harrison Weir, an artist, other than that, of course, he was Augustine’s brother in law.
A key point not really emphasised in the article is the geographical relationship between the writers of various letters and their recipients. Also bearing in mind the growing development of transport at that time, it is interesting as to how the various parties met up and got to the various venues for work and visiting.
It is proposed that this be explored in a further article.
RG May 2016