Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Damer, Anne Seymour

DAMER, ANNE SEYMOUR (1749–1828), sculptress, was the only child of Fieldmarshal (Henry Seymour) Conway [q. v.], by his wife, Lady Caroline Campbell, daughter of the fourth duke of Argyll and widow of Lord Aylesbury. She was from infancy a pet of her father's friend, Horace Walpole, and soon showed literary and artistic talent. David Hume reproved her when a child for laughing at the work of an Italian street sculptor, telling her that she could not do the like. She immediately modelled a head in wax, and in a further challenge produced one in stone. She afterwards took lessons from Ceracchi, worked in Bacon's studio, and studied anatomy under Cruikshank. On 14 June 1767 she married John Damer, eldest son of Joseph Damer, Lord Milton (afterwards earl of Dorchester), and heir to a fortune of 30,000l. a year. By 1776 her husband and his two brothers had contracted a debt of 70,000l., which their father refused to pay. Damer shot himself on 15 Aug. after a supper with a blind fiddler and worse company at the Bedford Arms, Covent Garden. His wardrobe was sold for 15,000l. Mrs. Damer was left with a jointure of 2,500l. a year, and devoted herself chiefly to sculpture. She was in a packet which was captured by a privateer in 1779, and was allowed to proceed to Jersey, where her father was governor. She passed some winters in Italy and Portugal on account of her health, and Walpole, introducing her to Sir Horace Mann at Florence, says that she ‘writes Latin like Pliny and is learning Greek. She models like Bernini, has excelled moderns in the similitudes of her busts, and has lately begun one in marble.’ She had also ‘one of the most solid understandings’ he ever knew. Her chief performances were the two heads of the rivers Thame and Isis, executed in 1785 for the bridge at Henley, near her father's house at Park Place. Her father chiefly designed the bridge. She also executed two kittens in marble and an eagle, upon which Horace Walpole, adopting an inscription at Milan, placed the (superfluous) statement ‘Non me Praxiteles finxit, at Anna Damer.’ Darwin, referring to her busts of Lady Elizabeth Foster, afterwards Duchess of Devonshire, and Lady Melbourne, says:—

Long with soft touch shall Damer's chisel charm,
With grace delight us and with beauty warm;
Foster's fine form shall hearts unborn engage,
And Melbourne's smile enchant another age.

(Economy of Vegetation, ii. 113.)

Mrs. Damer was a staunch whig in politics. She helped the Duchess of Devonshire and Mrs. Crewe in canvassing Westminster for Charles James Fox in the famous election of 1780. She had made the acquaintance of Josephine when Mme. de Beauharnais. On the peace of Amiens, Josephine, as wife of the first consul, invited her to Paris and introduced her to Napoleon. She promised to give him a bust of Fox, and fulfilled her promise during the ‘hundred days,’ when she saw the emperor in Paris. He presented her in return with a diamond snuff-box with his portrait, now in the British Museum. Nelson was another friend, and sat to her for his bust after the battle of the Nile. She presented a bronze cast of this bust in 1826 to the king of Tanjore, who, under the advice of her connection, Sir Alexander Johnston, was trying to introduce European art and sciences. Another bronze bust of Nelson was finished just before her death for the Duke of Clarence, and placed upon the stump of a mast of the Victory in his house at Bushy. She also made a statue of George III for the Edinburgh register office. She presented a bust of herself to the gallery at Florence. Another, engraved in Walpole's ‘Anecdotes,’ was in the collection bequeathed by Payne Knight to the British Museum.

Under the will of Horace Walpole (Lord Orford), who died 2 March 1797, Mrs. Damer was his executrix and residuary legatee. She also had Strawberry Hill for life, with a legacy of 2,000l. to keep it in repair. She lived there till 1811, when she parted with it, according to a provision in the will, to Lord Waldegrave. She saw many friends, especially the Berrys, and gave popular garden parties. In 1800 she produced ‘Fashionable Friends,’ a comedy by Miss Berry [see Berry, Mary], described as ‘found amongst Walpole's papers.’ She recited the epilogue, written by Joanna Baillie. It was produced at Drury Lane on 22 April 1802, but damned by the public (Genest, vii. 535). In 1818 Mrs. Damer bought York House, Twickenham, where she brought together a large collection of her own busts and terra cottas, and her mother's worsted work. She bequeathed these heirlooms to the wife of Sir Alexander Johnston, the daughter of her maternal uncle, Lord William Campbell. Her studio is the conservatory of the present house. She died at her house in Upper Brook Street on 28 May 1828, and was buried at Sundridge, Kent. The church contains monuments by her to her mother and to several of her mother's relations. Her papers, including letters from Walpole, were burnt by her directions. Her working tools, apron, and the ashes of a favourite dog were placed in her coffin.

The merits of her works were chiefly perceptible when proper allowance was made for her position as an amateur fine lady. It was whispered that she received a good deal of assistance from ‘ghosts’—in the slang of sculptors. Allan Cunningham, who criticises her severely, admires her courage in persistently trying to refute Hume's doubts of her powers.

[Walpole's Letters (Cunningham), i. 283, ii. 75, vi. 366, 368, viii. 76, ix. 28, and passim; Annual Obituary for 1829, 125–36; Allan Cunningham's Lives of the Painters (1830), iii. 247–73 (with portrait after Cosway); Walpole's Anecdotes (Wornum), i. xx–xxi (list of her works); Dallaway's Anecdotes, 410–12; Redgrave's British Artists; Thorne's Environs of London, 586, 593, 630.]

L. S.