Lots written about 18th century lad-about-town Buck Whaley of Dublin, son of Hellfire-Club founder Richard ‘Burn-Chapel’ Whaley. In the course of his shortish but highly eventful life Buck squandered a fortune, travelled to Jerusalem on a bet and ultimately died of stab wounds incurred in the course of a brawl between two sisters over his affections. But not before writing some surprisingly readable memoirs.
We do not think of Buck as a family man but he did have a couple of children with a Miss Courtney, shown above, whom he may have subsequently married; the text accompanying the portrait, from the Met, describes her as Mrs Whaley, though that may simply be due to a belated desire for respectability. She and their children followed Buck to the Isle of Man when he left Ireland due to his debts, and lived with him in the house he built there, ‘Whaley’s Folly’, until her death a few years later.
Ms Courtney/Whaley with her protruding eyes, long nose, short upper-lip and long chin, looks a bit like Strongbow, or maybe Princess Di during the pageboy years. No one could ever describe her as pretty; but handsome and imposing may have been more important in an era where the tone tended to be set by a small incestuous group with a distinctive cast of countenance. Like these lads. The swagger.
Indeed that most haughty of characteristics, the complete lack of indent between forehead and nose, was much prized among the British aristocracy and, around 1900 or so, an American lady by the name of Gladys Deacon ruined her looks trying to replicate by paraffin injections what the rest of the Upper Ten Thousand had acquired naturally by inbreeding. The paraffin worked for a time but eventually as wax does, it dissolved; slipping right down the sides of her nose to eventually form unsightly asymmetrical lumps under the skin of her cheeks. This photo of poor Gladys in front of her mirror is heartbreaking, or should I say heartmelting?
Ms Courtney/Whaley’s features, on the other hand, appear to be largely untouched by quasi-surgical intervention, though I hope her early death five years after the portrait was painted (Buck married/remarried to a friend’s sister the following year, almost certainly for money) was not, like that other famous 18th century Irish beauty, Maria Gunning, due to the use of arsenic in her cosmetics.