ANNE DAMER, née Conway, was an English sculptor who died on this date. Once described as a ‘female genius’ by Horace Walpole, she was trained in sculpture by Giuseppe Ceracchi and John Bacon. Influenced by the Enlightenment movement, Anne was an author, traveller, theatrical producer and actress, as well as an acclaimed sculptress.
She exhibited regularly at The Royal Academy from 1784 to 1818. She was a close friend to members of Georgian high society, including Horace Walpole (to whom she was distantly related) and the Whig politician Charles James Fox.
Anne Conway was born in Sevenoaks into an aristocratic Whig family. She was the only daughter of Field-Marshal Henry Seymour Conway and his wife Caroline Bruce, born Campbell, Lady Ailesbury. Her father was a nephew of Robert Walpole, Britain’s first prime minister. Walpole’s son, Horace Walpole was her godfather, and Anne spent much of her childhood in his home in Strawberry Hill which she inherited from him on his death.
In 1767 she married John Damer, the son of Lord Milton, later the 1st Earl of Dorchester. The couple received an income of £5,000 from Lord Milton, and were left large fortunes by Milton and Henry Conway. Damer was described as a poor businessman, who had a taste for expensive clothing. The marriage was not a successful one. The couple had no children and separated after seven years.
Even during her marriage, her likings for male clothing and demonstrative friendships with other women were publicly noted and satirised by hostile commentators such as Hester Thrale and in the anonymous pamphlet A Sapphick Epistle from Jack Cavendish to the Honourable and most Beautiful, Mrs D— (c.1770). A romance between Damer and Elizabeth Farren is the central storyline in the 2004 novel Life Mask by Emma Donoghue.
In 1789, Horace Walpole introduced her to Mary Berry (the author and playwright, not the Bake-Off woman), and they became exceptionally close. Anne acted as intermediary in the engagement of Mary and General Charles O’Hara, which ended unhappily in 1795 when O’Hara returned to his post as Governor of Gibraltar. Anne and Mary visited Paris in 1802, and met Napoleon, who made them a gift of a snuffbox encrusted with diamonds. They were also granted an audience with Boney’s dear old mum. In return, Anne gave him a portrait bust of Francophile Charles James Fox, and another of the scourge of the French fleet, Horatio Nelson.
In 1775, Anne was included in a painting titled The Three Witches form Macbeth by Daniel Gardner (c.1750–1805), which can be found in The National Portrait Gallery, London. The work shows her next to other ladies of high society: Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne and Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
Anne’s husband committed suicide in 1776, leaving considerable debts. As a widow, Anne benefitted from a prenuptial agreement whereby her father-in-law was obliged to pay her £2500 a year. This money allowed her to be financially independent, and continue her artistic career. Whilst immersing herself in sculpture, she still found time for a full social life, on a more intellectual plane than that of her earlier married years.
Anne was a frequent visitor to Europe. In 1779, she had watched from the deck, a four-hour running gunfight between a French privateer and the cross Channel packet boat on which she was travelling. During one voyage she was captured by a privateer, but released unharmed in Jersey. In 1790–91, she travelled alone through Portugal and Spain and back through revolutionary France. She visited Sir Horace Mann in Florence, and Sir William Hamilton in Naples, where she was introduced to Lord Nelson.
In 1801, she published a novel, Belmour, a book she had written in Lisbon. It ran in three editions and was translated into French.
When Horace Walpole died in 1797, he left a life interest in Strawberry Hill to Anne. She had the job of recording the contents of Strawberry Hill for the Berry family, who had moved into an adjoining property. Anne used Strawberry Hill as her country house until 1811, which she maintained alongside her central London home in Upper Brook Street. In 1818, she returned to Twickenham, buying York House. She directed in her will that her correspondence by destroyed and that she be buried with the bones of her dog and her sculpting tools.