Anne Seymour Damer
Born the only daughter of Field-Marshall Henry Seymour Conway and Lady Caroline Campbell daughter of the 4th Duke of Argyll, Anne Conway spent much of her childhood at Park Place, Remenham near Henley-on-Thames. Her parents being abroad for much of the time, her cousin Horace Walpole assumed some responsibility for her care as guardian. Walpole was very fond of Anne and admitted to his friend Horace Mann: “I love her as my own child.”
Although attracted to the stage early on, she embarked on a career as a sculptor, encouraged by David Hume, her father’s under-secretary during 1767, and with some instruction from the sculptors Giuseppe Cerracchi and John Bacon, as well as taking an anatomy course from William Cruikshank.
She married, on 14 June 1767, the Honorable John Damer, eldest son of Lord Milton, who managed to spend much on gambling and clothes. The marriage floundered after seven years and, having squandered his fortune, Damer terminated his life with a pistol in the Bedford Arms, Covent Garden on 15 August 1776, leaving his widow childless and the proprietor of a wardrobe which fetched no more than £15,000 at auction.
In 1781, Anne travelled to Europe. While in Rome, she rekindled her love of sculpture and spent time studying techniques in France and Italy.
“Mrs Damer, daughter of General Conway, has chosen a walk more difficult and far more uncommon than painting. The annals of statuary record few artists of the fair sex, and not one that I recollect of any celebrity. Mrs Damer’s busts from the life are not inferior to the antique; and theirs, we are sure, were not more like. Her shock-dog, large as life, and only not alive, has a looseness and softness in the curls that seemed impossible to terra cotta; it rivals the marble one of Bernini in the royal collection. As the ancients have left us but five animals of equal merit with their human figures, namely, the Barberini goat – the Mattei eagle – the eagle at Strawberry Hill- and Mr Jennings’s, now Mr Duncombe’s dog – the talent of Mrs Damer must appear in the most distinguished light.” Horace Walpole in 1980
When Walpole died in 1797, he bequeathed a life tenancy of Strawberry Hill with an annual endowment of £2,000, making her the executrix of his will. She moved in and continued with her other love: theatre, staging and appearing in plays in the house. However, the 47 acre estate was more than she could manage and in 1810 she passed the property to the Countess Waldegrave and returned to London.
Her work reflects the Neoclassicism of the period which helped to gain her many allegorical commissions such as the heads of Isis and Tamesis which still grace the keystones of Henley Bridge today. Her friendships that developed between actresses Sarah Siddons and Elizabeth Farren also earned her some theatrical commissions including reliefs for Boydell Shakespeare Gallery. By 1784 Anne was an honorary exhibitor at the Royal Academy and remained so until 1818.
A noted Bluestocking, Anne’s accomplishments included a romance novel – Belmour, in 1801. Amongst her notable friends Anne counted Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire, Parliament leader Charles Fox, Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne, Caroline, Princess of Wales, author Mary Barry. During her numerous travels abroad she socialized with Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson and Napoleon.
Anne died a happy old lady in 1828. As requested, she was buried with her sculptor’s tools and apron as well as with the ashes of her favorite dog.