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A very dear Austrian friend bought this to my attention today, and I found it so fascinating, I thought you’d like to see it.
This literary map was designed and made by Geoff Sawyers and is for sale via The Literary Gift Company. It is really charming: intricate and beautifully penned. I loved searching for my favourites, and checking that my local notables-John Clare and Fanny Burney- are included.(They are.)
I have to confess it took me an age to find Jane Austen as I had expected her to be in Hampshire, not far from the Isle of Wight. She is in fact to be found near Bath, which I suppose she might have objected to, and the inhabitants of Hampshire will probably be most aggrieved at this placing:
But at least she is “there”. There are other maps available: Wales
Needless to say….one has now been ordered, and I do look forward to others. Perhaps Eire might be next?
Many of you were intrigued by the post on Mrs Eleanor Coade’s house, Belmont, in Lyme Regis, which I wrote last week. I thought you might like to know of this very reasonably priced book, published by Shire, which gives a very good over view of Mrs Coade’s life and works. Her “stone” ornaments were used extensively by Georgian architects and there are many, many examples of her works still surviving today- although because of their resemblance to stone it has sometimes been difficult to attribute them to her manufactory!
This book is only 48 page long but it is packed with information about Mrs Coade and her manufactory, dispelling some myths along the way. In particular, the story that Mrs Coades formula for her stone or Lithodopia,as she termed it, was a secret:
The formula for Coade stone was never a secret, as has sometimes been claimed. The architect, David Lang(1174-1856) who used Coade stone, described its composition in a book (1818) on his Custom House in London:”[Coade stone is] a material which, although composed of various ingredients, may be described as a species of terracotta. It combines in one mass pipe-clay, flint, sand, glass and stoneware that has already passed the furnace. These are ground to provide a very fine powder and are mixed in the proper proportions and the whole is kneaded together by means of the addition of water. In this stage it forms a kind of paste which has the ductility of clay usually employed in modelling”
The modelling procees used by Mrs Coade is explained, as is her use of sculptors, notably John Bacon and Joseph Panzettta. But what is most important and interesting to me is the second half of the book which is a gazetteer of the many of the Coade stone pieces that are still extant and are relatively easy to access. Among the examples listed are this amazing statue of George III at Weymouth, below. George III and and his family, Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax in Emma used to visit this seaside resort (though not at the same time!) and the statue dates from 1809. This photograph is reproduced with the very kind permission of my Twitter friend, Patrick Baty of Papers and Paints. Do click on it to examine the intricate detail of the piece.
Another very interesting example of Coade stone is the intricate and beautiful pediment in King William Court at the Old Royal Naval College Greenwich which was designed by one of Jane Austen’s favourite artists, Benjamin West. Joseph Panzetta modeled the piece, and a detail of the central section can be seen on the cover to the book at the beginning of this post. It depicts Britannia, representing Britain, receiving the dead body of Nelson from the sea-god, Neptune. Nelson’s body lay in state at Greenwhich when it was returned to England in 1806 after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21st 1805.
This was erected in 1813, and was one of the Coade factory’s largest and most ambitious commissions. It is 40 feet long and ten feet high. The Coade factory also made other Nelson monuments including the statue of Nelson for the Nelson column erected in Great Yarmouth in 1819.
If your appetite for more information on Eleanor Caode and her wares has been whetted by the post on Belmont in Lyme Regis, then I can throughly recommend this astoundingly reasonably priced book( £5.99) to you . I am keeping a copy in my car so that I can seek out Coade stone examples on my travels.
Watching this programme, aired on Boxing Day on BBC2, was an odd experience for me. I’ve very deliberately not rushed to judgement on it and have, in fact, viewed it thrice now, in an effort to try to understand my reaction to it and to be fair to it.
I have to say, from the outset, that I do feel rather uncomfortable with the grand claims made during the programme, which I think can be fairly summarised, thus: if it can be proved that the drawing Dr. Paula Byrne bought in the summer at Bonhams, (which is set in a frame marked “Jane Austen 1775-1817” and is inscribed “Miss Jane Austin” on the reverse), is a portrait of Jane Austen made from life, then it will “revolutionise ” the way in which we consider her. We will no longer be influenced by the James Andrew portrait of her, which was commissioned by her family to be inserted into The Memoir written by James Edward Austen-Leigh, published in 1870. In the words of Dr Paula Byrne this portrait makes Jane Austen appear “pretty, prim and dim”.
My problem with this argument is that I think the “Dear Aunt Jane” view of Austen hasn’t prevailed for a long time (expect perhaps, from the evidence presented at the beginning of the programme,with its presenter, Martha Kearney). And surely anyone who reads any of Austen’s works cannot seriously think the author was not a critical observer, an intelligent woman of the world, astute and enough of a genius to be able to take on her society and its ills and wrap her critique of it up in some of the most enduing novels in the English language? Do we still look at the Andrews portrait and its derivatives and think that it compels us to think, as a matter of course, that the woman portrayed was a domesticated booby? Or do we recognise the Victorian pretence behind it? Do we have to have a portrait of her at all? Not as far as I am concerned…but, apparently, I am in a minority here, for the evidence from the programme is that many of us want and need a portrait of Jane Austen, but just not the Andrews’ version.
Though the programme did show the only authenticated portrait of Austen taken during her lifetime by her sister, Cassandra and which is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, it seemed to gloss over this image and concentrated instead on the Andrews image, which, of course, was not taken during Jane Austen’s lifetime, and its derivatives, all of which were held collectively responsible for our “current perception” of Jane Austen as a saintly, domesticated aunt with not a professional thought in her head.
My opinion, for what it is worth, is that the NPG portrait, with all its faults, cannot be described as portraying someone who is dim, pretty or prim. Someone who is angry, annoyed and strong-willed might be more a reasonable description, though I admit that assessment of art is rather subjective. For, in my very humble opinion, the drawing under current discussion merely portrays a pleasant-looking, nicely-dressed woman of the 1810s in the action of writing something – not necessarily a novel- on a sheaf of paper. With a cat. In front of Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s. If it is of her,taken during her lifetime, then what is on display doesn’t add much to our knowledge of Austen and it is still, clearly, an amateur drawing with all its attendant limitations. I am a little suspicious of the grand claims being made for it, which, I suspect, could possibly say more about those who make them and their perceptions of Austen than they ever will for the drawing under discussion
Others certainly think differently. And that is obviously why this programme was made. Paula Byrne’s back story for the portrait -or so it appears to me- is that Jane Austen would have liked to have been portrayed in a portrait as a professional writer. Therefore, she may have sat for this portrait in London between the years of 1813-15, and may have done so secretly, not letting her family know of her desire to be thus portrayed. Hence its failure to be mentioned by the Austen family at all, and this especially explains why they didn’t refer to it in their search for a suitable image to be used in the Bentley editions and in the Memoir. One main candidate for authorship of the drawing is Eliza Chute, of the family who owned The Vyne, and who were friends and patrons of the Austens, in particular of Jane’s oldest brother, James. At one time Eliza Chute lived in George Street Westminster, within sight of Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church, where, indeed, she was married. The view in the drawing appears to have been the view she had from her home. She was also known to have been a gifted artist and consistently spelt Jane Austen’s surname name as “Austin”. Go here to see some very interesting information about her on Kelly McDonald’s excellent site.
The investigation into the picture as reported in the programme, revealed some points in favour of Dr Byrne’s contention, and some which, to me, do not appear to help at all. I will attempt to summarise them for you.
Forensic tests were made on the vellum and ink used and it was dated as being drawn between 1811 and 1869, the year before the publication of James Edward Austen-Leigh’s Memoir, which contained the infamous engraving derived from the Andrews portrait. The white highlights on the drawing were shown not to be of Zinc White paint, which would have dated it into the late 19th century and onwards, but, instead, showed them to have been made with barium sulphite. This was known commercially as “Constant White” and was superseded by Zinc White in the mid to late 19th century. The ink used in the inscription on the rear of the drawing was thought to be consistent with the composition of inks used in the first part of the 19th century.
The clothes worn by the figure in the drawing were thought to be consistent with fashionable clothing from 1813-15. The woman depicted in the picture was also thought to be tall, and this would tally with Anna Austen Lefroy’s description of Jane Austen. Anna, Jane’s niece, described her as ” tall slender and not drooping”. Anna’s description was relied upon very much throughout the course of the programme. The programme also referenced the Silk Pelisse held in the Hampshire Museum Service’s collection to support the contention that the woman depicted was tall. It was considered that the owner of this item of clothing would have been above the average woman’s height for the era. That was quoted as being 5 feet 5 inches. The woman who wore this pelisse could have been 5 feet 8 inches tall, much taller than average. However, I ought to point out in the interests of fairness that the Hampshire Museums services, who have the pelisse in their collection, are scrupulously fair when describing the provenance of the article. Go here to see. The doubts expressed by them was not as far as I could hear or see, recorded in the programme.
The provenance is problematical, for its existence only became known in the early 1980s. Roy Davids, the dealer who sold the manuscript at Bonham’s in the summer, bought it from the executrix of Sir John Forster M.P and Q.C, a man whose amazing reputation I knew of in the 1980s when I practised law in London. The drawing apparently formed part of his estate. Unfortunately, it would appear that his executrix, who sold the drawing to Mr Davids, destroyed some of Sir John’s private papers (go here to see an account of his fascinating career and this fact) and so the trail to discover the whereabouts of the portrait prior to the early 1980s has now gone cold and may be further hampered by this fact. An appeal was made during the programme for anyone with any information to come forward, which I repeat here.
The style of the portrait was also called into question. According to the art historians and experts consulted, the plumbago technique- applying graphite on vellum- went out of favour circa 1720. This was not explored any further in this programme.
The family resemblance- the Austen nose and Jane Austen’s asymmetrically placed eyes- was subject to modern techniques used to identity criminals from CCTV footage and photographs. I was a little uneasy about this technique, for surely the success or not of using it depends on the skill to the artists involved? A portrait is not as accurate a depiction of a person as a photograph, surely? Can an amateur drawing really be considered a scientific and accurate representation of someone’s feature?
However, the Austen nose was called into question, as Anna Austen, upon whose description the programme relied upon, clearly states her aunt to have had a “small nose”. The silhouette of “L’aimable Jane” also in the NPG’s collection shows this to be the case. Sadly, it was not referenced in the programme. Paula Byrne also debated whether the use of the word ”small” meant the same in the18th century as it does now. However, I noted that the programme did not dispute the terms “tall” and “slender”, though perhaps that was edited out. These words were also used by Anna Austen in her description of her aunt.
The misspelling of Austen as Austin was discussed. The Chute family and Eliza Chute in particular were shown to have always used this spelling. As did the Countess of Morely and others. And so, it would appear, did Jane Austen herself , at least once, given the evidence from the endorsement on the reverse of a royalties cheque made out by her publisher, John Murray’s office to “Miss Jane Austin” and which is now in the John Murray archive.
Would Jane Austen have wanted to be portrayed as a writer? Both her biographer, Claire Tomlain and Professor Judith Hawley of Royal Holloway doubted she would have wanted this. The anonymous default position of writers of novels was discussed, for writing novels, as opposed to writing religious tracts, poetry and plays carried with it a slightly disreputable association. Being depicted in a portrait as a writer of novels might not have been quite the thing.
The execution of the portrait was thought to have been made by an amateur who had received instruction from a master. Apparently the arm of the figure is drawn too long and the head does not sit well enough on the body to have been executed by an expert artist. However, the inclusion of the swag of drapery and the columnar depiction of Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s suggested grandeur, a grandeur beyond the social milieu in which Jane Austen found herself as the relatively poor spinster daughter of a gentry family. The column/swag devise is an artistic concept used by artist from Van Dyke onwards in aristocratic and royal portraits. Thus it might be seen to have been included in this drawing as some sort of tribute. Or could its inclusion have been ironic- an in-joke? Interestingly, one of the art historians remarked that the inclusion of such grand buildings as St Margaret’s and Westminster Abbey would have been included in the portrait as some symbolic reference with significance only to the sitter. The woman who may have been the artist, Eliza Chute, had many associations with that part of London (see above). However the commentary by Martha Kearney, slightly later in the programme, suggested that the symbolism could apply to both sitter AND the artist. This discrepancy annoyed me though, to be scrupulously fair, it may have been accidental.
I didn’t really like the way that the documentary presented the fact that Jane Austen lived with Henry Austen, her brother in London at Hans Place and Henrietta Street( note Upper Berkeley Street was not mentioned) almost as a revelation. Anyone who reads her novels must surely realise she had a fantastic working knowledge of London and its intimacies, and could only have written about that from her own knowledge, built up by visiting it frequently, over a number of years. Even the most basic biographies of her note she visited London often. The programme seemed to me to try hard to convince us that the world sees Jane Austen as the innocent, uninformed spinster, a constant inhabitant of the small, enclosed Hampshire village of Chawton, and of course we do know –many of us-that was not the case. This was another irritant to me.
No one explained away the presence of the cat on the table in the drawing or what it might represent.
A final set piece was shown partly to us where Paul Byrne presented her findings to a panel of Austen experts: Deirdre Le Faye, Claudia Johnson of Princeton University and Kathryn Sutherland of Oxford University. I’ll try to present what I think they thought of the drawing. Deirdre Le Faye was clearly unimpressed with the presentation and maintains her stance ( which has been reported since 2007) that this is an imaginary portrait of Jane Austen not taken from life. She also disputed that the Chute connection was as close as Dr Byrne was suggesting, in that she thought Jane Austen may have visited Eliza Chute when in London and had her portrait taken then. Kathryn Sutherland thought the image portrayed was similar to the authenticated image of Austen held in the NPG and that she would be happy to see this as an another image of Jane Austen if it could be authenticated, as, for her, it would refute the “Godmother of Chick Lit” status that she felt was currently applied to Jane Austen. Claudia Johnson agreed that she would like this to be an image of Jane Austen but interestingly made the point that Le Faye’s argument that the Chutes were not close friends of Jane Austen added weight to the argument that the drawing was made by someone who knew of Jane Austen, but who was not in her immediate social circle and that is why the portrait has been unknown, particularly to the Austen family, until the 1980s.
They all agreed that further research had to be undertaken. I do have to say, that for me, this part of the programme was most uncomfortable to watch.
I have the suspicion that this is not the last programme we shall see on this topic. There are, as you can see many, many more questions to be answered, many that have been raised during the course of this film. There is of course a lot at stake especially for Dr Byrne, and the financial implications are huge. If another film is to be made, perhaps Dr Byrne herself could be persuaded to be the presenter. I found Martha Kearney’s manner of presenting the programme rather arch and none too serious and I think it set the wrong tone, as it was at odds with some of the evidence being set before us. Ironically, for me, it rather reinforced the impression of Dear Aunt Jane Austen at the head of a cozy heritage industry, and didn’t help the argument that the drawing under discussion depicts her as a professional writer. But as I say this may be merely my reaction.
I have to admit the brouhaha about this new “portrait” has made me think rather deeply about my own responses to the images we have of Jane Austen. I suppose I was lucky in that I was half way though reading the novels in the early 1970s as a 12 year old, before I saw an image of her, and that was the sketch in the NPG. Truth be owned, I like Cassandra’s sketch, and I also like the fact that it sits amongst the massive bow-wow strain of Regency portraits ( mostly of men) in the museum’s Regency Galleries. For, to me, it makes a rather interesting point that, though these sitters were considered important enough to be immortalised in oils by great artists during their life times, Jane Austen, whose fame eclipses nearly everyone portrayed there, is only known to us by this slight, incomplete and amateur sketch. One which cannot, due to its execution, give us much idea as to her real image. The contrast between it and the other portraits is immeasurable. She is as ever, elusive. And I have a suspicion she might just have preferred our impression of her to remain that way.
I do however, sincerely wish Dr Bryne all the luck in the world with her quest for authenticity. I do hope she is not discouraged by the robust assessment of the drawing by Sir Roy Strong in the programme, for it would be rather pleasant to add another authenticated image of Jane Austen to the tiny collective, even if I’m not as convinced as others as to what more this drawing can tell us about Jane Austen, the professional writer, than can be divined by reading her works.
A post I wrote about the Jane Austen Exhibition in Winchester Cathedral recently has been very popular, and I thought you all might like to know a little more about the artist who created the watercolours for it. So I asked Laura Haines, if she would mind giving us an interview about them and her attitude/thought processes regarding the work. Laura very kindly agreed to be inexpertly interviewed by me, and so here it is. (Her responses are italicised).
When I spotted the light boxes containing your wonderful illustrations in Winchester Cathedral recently I was very impressed. Can you let us know some more about the process of creating them? Can you let us know what was the brief from the Cathedral?
The overall brief was to create four illustrations highlighting different points in Jane Austen’s life – starting with the Steventon church of St Nicholas, moving on to Bath, Chawton and later College Street, Winchester. I completed preparatory sketches to give myself an idea of the composition of the images. The text and pictures would then be laid out by a designer and placed inside the light boxes, and set out as 3D displays, hopefully having more of an impact than flat display boards.
2) Do you know why you were chosen?
I had done previous heritage themed illustration work for the Cathedral in a display about pests in the Cathedral library (hungry things like clothes moths, carpet beetle and silverfish!). Part of the display involved an interactive element where visitors could design their own bugs, and there was a competition for the children to do this – which was very hard to judge as they were all good! I have a real love for old buildings (especially from the 18th and 19th century) and local history and have previously done paintings for Kingston Museum in London, recording old buildings of historical note before they were demolished or renovated. I also have a love of writing and reading and I was really keen to get to know Jane Austen’s work better and to do some research about her life and the places where she lived.
3) Can you describe the process you underwent when creating these pictures?
I generally create preparatory sketches where I can work out the composition before completing the final image. I created the separate parts of the image on watercolour paper (painted using acrylics, pencil, conté crayon and watercolours) which were then scanned in and placed together on Photoshop – this meant that changes could be made easily and components taken away or added. This is also better as it means I am quicker with my work, and I find that painting quickly makes the images more successful than when I take too long on them.
4) The illustrations are 3-D. How did this make the creative process different from creating two-dimensional pictures?
The images were designed almost a little like a pop-up theatre as it makes them stand out more to the viewer (literally!). The various paintings were created separately and then parts were cut out on Photoshop (for example the people), rather than creating images that were all on one page and then put onto a flat display. It is harder to create a 3D display as it is tricky to picture it until it has all been completed. I didn’t use miniature pop up models in this case, but they can be useful sometimes to work out the composition.
5) How did you research the four places- Steventon, Bath, Chawton, Winchester- used in the exhibition?
I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Steventon, Chawton and Winchester with Elizabeth Proudman, (a Winchester City Guide specialising in Jane Austen tours-jfw), who gave me some fascinating background information and Charlotte Barnaville of Winchester Cathedral who drove us to the various sites. Elizabeth wrote the text for my illustrations. I used to live near Bath and so I had been to the city many times and had some old photos I could use as inspiration. I took new photographs from different angles of the various buildings (all except Bath) such as Steventon Church and then used my imagination to create the rest and to compose the scenes of different elements. It was great to be able to see the site where Jane Austen first lived at Steventon and quite poignant that the house was no longer there.
6) What research into Jane Austen’s life did you undertake before and during the commission? Did you read (or re-read) any of her works? If so, which ones?
I became very interested in Jane Austen’s work and read ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Northanger Abbey’, which I both thoroughly enjoyed. I haven’t read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ but am very familiar with the story from television adaptations and films, though of course these sometimes stray from the original story! I hope to read more Jane Austen in the future!
7) Were you a fan of Jane Austen before the commission? If not, are you now?
I was a fan of Jane Austen beforehand, but I was not very familiar with her work. My sister studied her at school for her English GCSE, but we mostly looked at Shakespeare! I am definitely now a fan having read some of her work. I found it very witty and uplifting and I looked forward to reading it in the evenings.
Thank you so much, Laura for taking such trouble with your replies. I found reading them fascinating for the detailed insights into your working process. Laura’s work is very fine,and I confess to be hankering after her painting of Silbury Hill. Do go and look at her paintings on her website as I’m sure you will enjoy them. And it is lovely to know she is a convert to Jane too ;)
The National Portrait Gallery in London’s new exhibit, The First Actresses opens tomorrow and runs until the 8th January 2012. I hope I will be going to see it soon. I will ,of course, then let you know my impressions of it( you would be hard pressed to restrain me!). But today I thought you might like to read about the book that accompanies the exhibition, and you might consider purchasing it, especially if you cannot visit the exhibit in London in person.
The exhibition seeks to examine how these first actresses were portrayed, not only in the large-scale portrait but in caricatures, in prints and on such diverse goods as china figures and tin glazed tiles, and how perceptions of their reputations changed as a result. The book contains interesting essays on the lives of these early actresses. Of course, it has to be remembered that it was only after the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II (my hero!) in 1660 that women were allowed to become professional actress and appear on the stage. The way in which their reputations, good or ill, have been portrayed by artists is certainly an intriguing subject to examine in detail. Many actresses were associated with lax morals and, indeed, outright prostitution. During Jane Austen’s era Sarah Siddons sought to establish a more serious, responsible and respectable persona for the female branch of the profession. But, of course, she shared the stage with actresses like Mary Robinson, shown above on the cover of the book, who was The Prince of Wales’ mistress, and Dorothea Jordan, shown below in a portrait by John Russell dating from 1801. She was famous for her marvellous pair of legs, revealed to the adoring public in “breeches roles” where cross dressing was allowed, even encouraged. She was also the long term mistress of the Duke of Clarence, the Prince of Wales’ brother, who pretty swiftly disposed of her servicesin the race to produce a legitimate hero to the throne after the death of George IV’s only legitimate child, Princess Charlotte in November 1817, but only after she had bourne him ten children and supported him financially.
The great serious portrait , executed by an aspiring or famous artist and exhibited in public was one way in which actresses sought to convince the public that they were to be taken seriously. John Hoppner’s portrait of Mrs Jordan as the Comic Muse, below, failed miserably in this regard as the attitude in which she was painted was thought to be too salacious and many hostile reviews resulted. The great portrait was, for both parties involved, a two-way street. If it worked, not only did the actress enhance her reputation but the artist gained fame and possibly more commissions as a result of portraying a celebrity successfully. Plus ca change….
The book contains potted biographies of the sitters included in the exhibition. The portrait of Mrs Inchblad, below, attributed to John Hoppner, is new to me and I think it is fabulous. She was, of course, not only an author in her own right but was also the translator of Kotzebue’s play, Lover’s Vows, which Jane Austen used to spectacular and revealing dramatic effect in the Private Theatricals episode in Mansfield Park.
The Chapter entitled Star Systems Then and Now written by Gill Perry is perhaps my favourite section of the book. As well as considering actresses now and how they are portrayed by artists and photographers, Gill Perry examines how non-professionals who took part in The Itch for Acting– private theatricals – an itch which infected the society in which Jane Austen lived, were portrayed by artists and the media of the day.
The painting by Daniel Gardner of The Three Witches from Macbeth, shows Elizabeth, Vicountess Melbourne, Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire and Anne Seymour Damer, as they appeared at the Richmond House private theatricals which were hosted by the Duke of Richmond at his London home in a specially built theatre, and where its aristocratic cast were coached by the professional actress Elizabeth Farren. She went on to marry one of them, the Earl of Derby.
Jane Austen loved the theatre and was an acute critic of performances she attended in London and in Southampton.She would have enjoyed this book tremendously I’m sure, casting her critical eye over the many portraits, making caustic comments on them no doubt.
You ought to know that the NPG is currently offering the book at a reduced price currently: here is a link to the website should you wish to buy it from them directly, and take advantage of this offer. If you are interested in the theatre of Jane Austen’s era, then I am sure you will want to do so.
There are quite a few examples of talented female artists in Jane Austen’s novels. Georgiana Darcy in Pride and Prejudice is portrayed as a girl who could both play instruments and execute good paintings and drawings:
The picture-gallery, and two or three of the principal bedrooms, were all that remained to be shewn. In the former were many good paintings; but Elizabeth knew nothing of the art; and from such as had been already visible below, she had willingly turned to look at some drawings of Miss Darcy’s in crayons, whose subjects were usually more interesting, and also more intelligible.
And in Sense and Sensiblity it is Elinor who is the artist. Marianne plays the piano with passion, but the more emotionally restrained Elinor paints. Her drawings decorate the walls of the sitting room at Barton Cottage, and she, very kindly given all the circumstances, painted some screens for her dreadful sister-in-law,Fanny, which were nastily dismissed by the equally foul Mrs Ferrars:
Before her removing from Norland, Elinor had painted a very pretty pair of screens for her sister-in-law, which being now just mounted and brought home, ornamented her present drawing room; and these screens, catching the eye of John Dashwood on his following the other gentlemen into the room, were officiously handed by him to Colonel Brandon for his admiration.
“These are done by my eldest sister,” said he; “and you, as a man of taste, will, I dare say, be pleased with them. I do not know whether you ever happened to see any of her performances before, but she is in general reckoned to draw extremely well.”
The Colonel, though disclaiming all pretensions to connoisseurship, warmly admired the screens, as he would have done anything painted by Miss Dashwood; and the curiosity of the others being of course excited, they were handed round for general inspection. Mrs. Ferrars, not aware of their being Elinor’s work, particularly requested to look at them; and after they had received the gratifying testimony of Lady Middleton’s approbation, Fanny presented them to her mother, considerately informing her at the same time, that they were done by Miss Dashwood.
“Hum” — said Mrs. Ferrars — “very pretty,” — and without regarding them at all, returned them to her daughter.
So…the question naturally arises, what might these painting, by these accomplished ladies, have looked like? We have some examples that have survived from the early 19th century before us to examine. First, Diana Spurling’s quirky watercolours of life with her family in Regency Essex, as collected in the book, Mrs Hurst Dancing. Here we see her mother, Mrs Spurling and her accomplice , the maid, murdering flies:
And we have the evidence of a talented child’s efforts in the book, A Picture History of the Grenville Family of Rosedale House, which contains the work of Mary Yelloly. She documented the lives of the members of her fictional family, the Grenvilles. Mary painted these interesting watercolours from the age of eight to 11 years. Astonishing.
But there were more technically gifted examples, and I do like to think that both Elinor and Georgiana were artists of the more professionally accomplished kind. Certainly Georgiana would have and the opportunity of being instructed by the best masters while living in Town. her brother would no doubt have seen to that. And possibly this would have been the situation with Elinor, until the Dashwood’s wealthy life style ended with the death of their father. Some examples of the best possible watercolours executed by accomplished ladies is currently on show at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. It is a small but exquisite display of botanical watercolours by Pierre-Joseph Redoute and his pupils, the kind of small but perfectly formed event that Fitzwilliam excels at producing on a regular basis.
Redoute is of course well-known for his watercolours of roses and lilies, commissioned by the Empress Josephine, and it is interesting to note that he was also patronised by Queen Marie Antoinette prior to the Revolution. His works have become almost ubiquitous, and his Rosa Mundi rose, seen below, has been used on countless greetings cards and framed on many a bed and breakfast/hotel wall. As a result it is very easy to no longer “see” them as the exquisite works of art they are. Familiarity does indeed breed contempt.
However , the opportunity to rediscover these paintings by Redoute redresses this jaded view: his works on display in this exhibit are simply breath-taking. The skill on display is astounding. But I was most intrigued to discover that, in addition to producing such beautiful watercolours, he also ran a school of painting in Paris. In 1822 he became Paintre du Roi, and began teaching members of the d’Orleans family as well as other students from Paris and from overseas. His school was based in the sale de Buffon in the Jardin des Plantes, and you can see him teaching, standing in the centre of the illustration below:
Note the overwhelming number of women students…Some were members of the Royal family or were aristocrats. This watercolour of a bunch of summer flowers is an example of the work of Eugenie-Adelaide-Louise d’Orleans, the sister of King Louis-Phillipe:
But some students were more ordinary souls. This delicate watercolour of camellias was executed by one Sarah Bray:
Sarah was an Englishwoman. Born in Sunderland she exhibited watercolors of flowers at the Royal Academy in 1821, but by 1835 she was the headmistress of a boarding school at Chaillot where she died in 1842.
If you can get to this exhibit, which closes on October 30th, then do. Entrance to it and the rest of the museum is free. A small but exquisite catalogue of the exhibits, with fascinating biographical details of the artists is available from the museum’s shop. I would have happily paid to see these rare and exquisite examples of the work of amateur men and more importantly, women from nearly all classes who were painting, like Elinor Dashwood and Georgiana Darcy, in the early 19th century. It was a rare opportunity to discover exactly what sort of work they may have been capable of producing.
The Metropolitan Museum in New York held a really interesting, small exhibit earlier this year, and while the exhibit has closed( it ended in July this year) its catalogue is still available to purchase, and that is the book under review here today. The title of the catalogue (and the exhibit) is self-explanatory: Rooms with a View: the Open Window in the 19th Century . The exhibit still has a page on the museum’s website, accessible here, and here is a page of images from the exhibition and catalogue. And now a confession. Prepare yourself for something truly dreadful. While these picture have much artistic merit, I throughly enjoy looking a them for not only do the majority of them date from our period ( 1800-1829) they also give us tantalising glimpses of what homes of the period looked like. I am by nature a very nosy person ( not with malicious intent, note!) and glimpsing the interiors of homes as I pass by, on foot or when travelling by trian or bus, is one of my secret pleasures. You are probably appalled by this confession, but I love that moment in the year when darkness falls and people illuminate their homes but don’t pull back the curtains, as then I can sneak a glimpse of other rooms and other lives….. This exhibit allows us to do the same , but in rooms similar to those that Jane Austen and her characters would have known, and without any attendant accusations of voyeurism. I will show you a few of the pictures contained in the exhibition and the catalogue: the catalogues is 204 pages long and has detailed critical entries on 70 paintings, 115 illustrations including 110 in full and sumptuous colour. The first one I find fascinating for the view it gives us of the effect of candlelight in a room. This painting, Man Reading by Lamplight, is by the German artist Georg Friedrich Kersting and it dates from 1814. The chap’s room is lit by a Bouillotte lamp which was first developed in the late 18th century in France to illuminate card players tables in the dark evenings.This chap is using his for a much better purpose, for reading. His room and its furniture is fascinating. Look at the bookcase with its attached reading stand. He has a green window blind. Jane Austen would no doubt approve… The next picture is also by Kersting but is nearly a decade later in execution, dating from 1823. It shows a woman embroidering by the light of an Argand lamp. Argand lamps were popular from teh late 18th century onwards because they produced a very bright, even light and no smoke. They were powered by oil. Perfect for our seamstress/embroideress here. This painting also by Kersting shows Louise Seidler,the artist. She is embroidering at an open window, the light good enough for the task but her privacy is screened by the plants growing on the windowsill. I am intrigued by the painting on the wall festooned with ivy(?)…and I love the window dressing. We move to Paris for the next paining, executed by Louise -Adeone Drolling circa 1820. it is most probably a self-portrait of the artist in the studio she shared with her brother, the artist, Michael Martin Drolling who also had pictures in this exhibition. I like to think this may be the type of activity Fanny Price may have attempted in her room of her own…tracing a flower by holding it against the pane of glass in the window. The final picture puts me in mind of Anne Elliot and Captain Harville in Persuasion, shown during their vital discussion at the White Hart Inn: Again by Kersting its date is exactly in keeping with Persuasion, 1817. This is a wonderful catalogue, I have found myself looking thought it again and again since it arrived in the post, wondering whether the rooms were like those inhabited by Mr Knightley and Emma, Fanny Price and Anne Elliot. I can highly recommend it to you.
Yesterday was the anniversary of Sarah Siddons birth in 1755. She is shown below in a portrait by Opie, and so it is an appropriate opportunity to give you advance notice of an exhibition that would surely appeal to Jane Austen. The National Portrait Gallery in London will be staging The First Actresses: from Nell Gwynn to Sarah Siddons from the 230th October 2011 till the 8th January 2012.
The exhibition will examine the portraits and careers of actresses from the Restoration, when they were first legally allowed to appear on the professional stage to the early part of the 19th century. So, the exhibition will present information on and portraits of actresses such as Nell Gwynn, the Covent Garden orange seller, comedian and royal mistress of Charles II, through to Sarah Siddons, the most famous actress of the Georgian era, whose performances were said to be so intense that a co-star was once said to have been rendered speechless, while members of the audience fainted in awe. Jane Austen would have loved to have had the opportunity to do so: she was desperate to see Mrs Siddons perform but never quite managed it…though she was close on a few occasions.
The exhibition will feature portraits of 52 actresses, including Dorothea Jordan, renowned for her sweet nature, fabulous legs (she was famed for her “breeches ” roles, that is playing boys and young men) and for bearing 10 children by the Duke of Clarence, the future William IV. She is shown below,
and she was a favourite of both Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra:
I think you judge very wisely in putting off your London visit, and I am mistaken if it be not put off for some time. You speak with such noble resignation of Mrs. Jordan and the Opera House, that it would be an insult to suppose consolation required…
(Letter to Cassandra Austen dated January 8, 1801)
It will also feature Mary Robinson, the actress and poet and yet another royal mistress, this time of the Prince of Wales, shown below in a portrait by John Hoppner, which is now owned by Chawton House Library;
© Chawton House Library, Hampshire
and Elizabeth Inchbald, who retired from acting and became a successful playwright, and whose version of Kotzebue’s Lovers Vows was used spectacularly by Jane Austen in Mansfield Park to highlight the essential nature and ambitions of the main characters in her novel.
The portraits will include works by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Hogarth and the caricaturist Gillray, so it will be a visual feast. I cannot wait to see it, for I am, as you are only too well aware, as enamoured of the 18th century theatre as was our Miss Austen.
This exhibition will have many resonances for readers of Jane Austen’s novels and letters, so once I have visited it I will be reporting back, of that you can be assured.
This has recently become one of my very favourite books. I received it from the publishers about six weeks ago and I have read it, and re-read it, since then. It now resides on my bedside table and I frequently take it up when insomnia strikes. It is simply one of the most well written and engaging books on Mrs Delany I have ever read. But it is so much more than that…but before I get carried away in my enthusiasm, let’s first deal with the basics.
In this book, Molly Peacock, the esteemed poet (shown above)has written a very detailed, readable and affectionate biography of that most accomplished woman, Mrs Delany. You will recall that last year I wrote about Mrs Delany, her accomplishments and her legacy to us of her copious and fabulously detailed correspondence, a boon for anyone studying domestic life of the 18th century, here
Mrs Delany is of course, now best remembered for her paper mosaiks of horticultural subjects. These amazingly accurate and detailed paper collages, now kept in the British Museum, were the work of her old age. She began making them when she was 72 and planned to complete 1000 of them. Sadly, her eyesight failed her and she put aside her work in 1783 having completed 985 of these astoundingly beautiful and accurate pieces of work.
The book is an exploration and appreciation of Mrs Delany’s life in Georgian England and Ireland. We learn all about her two marriages, the first an arranged loveless thing; the second, to Dean Swift’s friend, Dr Patrick Delany, below, which was a happier, fulfilling and companiable relationship. And then the years of her long widowhood and how her artistic gifts enabled her to live a life that was, despite the absence of her beloved Dr Delany, fulfilled and satisfying.
Molly Peacock has a immediacy in her writing so that in her company we swiftly and seamlessly time travel to the 18th century,taking in delicious details of coronations, the perils of 18th century travel,the world of the Bluestockings, and the last , productive years of the life of Patrick Delany’s widow, sympathetically befriended by George III and his wife Queen Charlotte.
But the book is also part memoir, a journey into Molly Peacock’s own life, both professional and personal. We learn of its parallels with Mrs Delany’s and how Molly’s fascination with these bewitching images has shaped the course of her life since she discovered them in the 1980s. More importantly, perhaps, she reveals to us how researching these images has affected her own attitude to life, her family, work and art. Without intending to sound too sentimental ( for this book most certainly is not prissy or sentimental at all) it is one of the most uplifting books I’ve read in years. Positive and creative. Attitudes that both Mrs Delany and Molly seem to share, and which ought to be examples to us all. To be frank I’m reminded of Miss Bates’s excellent attitude to life, as Jane Austen portrayed in Emma.If only she had had some artistic talent and a comfortabel pension….then she would not have been overlooked or patronised by anyone in Highbury society, and even our heroine might have paid her more due.
In less talented hands this could have been a disjointed, difficult book to read. But we travel effortlessly between detailed appreciations of the paper mosaiks, on to reminisces of Molly’s life, family and her journeyings(both mental and physical ); then to the minutiae of life in 18th century England and Ireland on to philosophical musings on the nature of modern life and contentment. It is an entirely satisfying and stimulating experience.
The book is also beautifully produced, reproducing 35 of Mrs Delany’s marvelous mosaiks in full colour. Link Beatrix Potter’s perfectly proportioned books, it sits perfectly in the hand and is very tactile: even the hard cover has been embossed poppy in its corner.(see above) I have adored living with this book it.
The publishers were kind enough to send me a copy, for it has already ben published in the U.S.A. but I had already ordered my own and it will be delivered when the book is published in the UK in July. As I am sure you will love this book I’m putting the publishers copy into the pile for the next Austen Only Annual Give Away in October. In the meantime,if you can’t wait for that, I urge you to buy it and savour every beautifully written word.
The most excellent Yale Centre for British Art, more correctly the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, has recently launched a new website.
If you go here you can access it. You can now search the marvellous online collections and find the most wonderful treasures there, like this portrait of the artist, George Romney’s brothers…
or George Morland’s slightly sentimental view of The Squire’s Gate, circa 1790:
The date vase is searchable by many different terms-artist, time period or relevant subjects, i.e. house, poor, landscape etc. .
And what is even more wonderful, in a stunning act of generosity, all the images there are now considered to be in the public domain and can be freely used on websites etc provided accreditation to Yale is given.
How wonderful, what a boon to non-profit website all over the world, and I would love other institutions to follow their lead.
As it is Holy Week I thought it would be appropriate to write a little about Jane Austen related religious topics this week, and today I’d like to consider two religious paintings by Benjamin West which Jane Austen admired.
Jane Austen was a quietly devout Anglican. The daughter of a clergyman, George Austen, she came from a clerical family and two of her bothers were ordained as Anglican ministers-James and Henry. In addition, her maternal grandfather and great-uncle were both Anglican ministers,as were her godfather, an uncle and four of her cousins.
Her attitude to her faith was rarely expressed directly by her either in her novels or in her letters. Some of her prayers still exist and reveal her faith to have been sincere and deeply held. Her famous comment about the Evangelical wing of the Anglican Church, made to her niece Fanny Knight who was considering marriage to a religiously serious man and wondering if this was the right thing to do,was probably influenced by her admiration for the work of the the Evangelical Abolitionists,than anything else, in my view:
As there being any objection from his Goodness, from the danger of his becoming even Evangelical, I cannot admit that. I am by no means convinced that we ought not all to be Evangelicals and am at least persuaded that they who are so from Reason and Feeling must be happiest and safest.
(See Letter to Fanny Knight dated 18th November 1814)
It is apparent that she very much disapproved of the religious attitude of certain Evangelicals, most noticeably, her cousin, Edward Cooper, shown below,
a noted Evangelical preacher and publisher of sermons. Below is the frontispiece of one of his collections of sermons, published in 1825:
Writing to her sister, Cassandra after the death of their sister-in-law, Elizabeth, Edward Knight’s wife who had died after giving birth to her last child, Jane Austen clearly disapproved of Edward Cooper’s habit of writing letters to the newly bereaved that, while they were consistent with his beliefs, could cause distress:
I have written to Edward Cooper, and hope he will not send one of his letters of cruel comfort to my poor brother
(See letter to Cassandra Austen, dated 15th October, 1808)
In a letter to Martha Lloyd written from Henry Austen’s home in Hans Place, London on the 2nd September 1814 we have some of her most interesting comments on religion, made on seeing some of the religious works of the American born artist, Benjamin West:
I have seen West’s famous painting and prefer it to anything of the kind I ever saw before. I do not know that it is reckoned superior to his “Healing in the Temple” but it has gratified me much more and indeed is the first representation of our Saviour which ever at all contented me. His Rejection by the elders is the subject. I want to have You and Cassandra see it.
So that you can fully participate in appreciating Jane Austen’s opinions of them, I have traced copies of these painting for you and reproduce them here. Below is a black and white reproduction of Christ Rejected, which was Jane Austen’s favourite:
And below is Christ Healing the Sick, which is the other painting by West that Jane Austen mentioned in her letter to Martha Lloyd.
Christ Healing the Sick was a very large work by West and it was completed in 1811. It’s history is interesting, for it was created at the request of the officers of the Pennsylvania Hospital:
…the officers of the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia …wrote to him in 1800 soliciting the gift of a painting. West consented to their request, and in 1801 he exhibited a sketch of ‘Christ Healing the Sick’ at the Royal Academy identifying it in the catalogue as for a large picture to be painted for the hospital. Despite this prompt and positive response , it took him a full decade to produce the large painting, doubtlessly because a work for which he did not expect to be paid had a low priority among his commitments. Ironically, however, when he finally completed it in 1811, he was paid and paid well, accepting an offer of 3,000 guineas for the picture from the directors of the British Institution. This meant that the Pennsylvanians still did not receive the painting they and asked for in 1800, but West did promise to paint a second version, and he eventually did complete a slightly larger and modified replica in 1815. After two more years of delay, it went off to Philadelphia in August 1817.
(See: The Paintings of Benjamin West by Helmut von Erffa and Allen Staley, page 142)
Christ Rejected (by the Elders in the Temple) was begun in 1801 and Benjamin West exhibited a sketch of the picture in that year. He didn’t finish the painting until 1811. Both paintings were exhibited by West in London and casued quite the sensation. It is clear that Jane Austen saw them both on her visits to her brother, Henry Austen from the contents of her letter to Martha Lloyd. As Helmut von Etrffa and Allen Staley write:
The sum of 3,000 guineas that West received in 1811( for Christ Healing the Sick-jfw) was not only more than he had previously received for any other single work, but at the time the highest price known ever to have been paid to any artist for any work and, coming from a public institution, which intended the purchase to be the commencement of a national gallery, it provided concrete recognition of West’s stature in the profession. The price which was not kept secret, guaranteed the painting’s public success when it went on view in April 1811 at the British Institution, which made a profit on its investments from paid admissions and it inevitably led the artist to think of appropriate sequels. By July 1811 he had prepared an oil sketch for the even larger ‘Christ Rejected’ which he completed three years later, to be followed in its turn after three more years by Death on the Pale Horse, his last major work. These two painting he did not sell, although he was reported to have declined staggering offers for Christ Rejected and he exhibited them himself in special exhibitions at 125 Pall Mall a former home of the Royal Academy.(as above page 142)
Jane Austen therefore must have seen Christ Healing the Sick at the British Institution,and then three years later would have gone to Mr West’s Rooms to see Christ Rejected. Both these exhibition rooms were in Pall Mall, and my copy of The Picture of London for 1818
has this to say about The Gallery of the British Intuition:
This Institution was established in 1805 under the patronage of his Majesty for the encouragement and reward of the talents of British Artists and exhibits during half the year a collection of the works of living artists for sale; and during the other half year, it is furnished with pictures painted by the most celebrated masters for the study of the academic and others in painting.
Mr West’s Rooms are described as follows:
Mr West’s Pictures at the East end of Pall Mall
Mr President West here exhibits the chefs d’oeuvres of modern art in his superior pictures of Christ rejected by the Jews and another of Death on the Pale Horse of inferior though of great merit. It is well known by his fine sketch which has been before the pubic some years in the original rooms of the academy…The rooms are also hung with some sketches and minor pictures of this unrivalled painter. The admission is one shilling.
Benjamin West, shown below in a magnificent portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence,
was, of course, the first American born artist to achieve international fame and stature. He was born in the then British colony of Pennsylvania in 1738. He rose to become Historical Painter to King George III and succeeded Sir Joshua Reynolds to serve as second president of the Royal Academy in 1792. During his lifetime his reputation was almost unrivalled. He was the most prominent artist in the English-speaking world untill his death in 1820 at the great age of 81 years. He even achieved fame in France:
…the French artists held Mr West in the highest esteem of an Artist and ..when David spoke of him..he was quite moved to tears. For other British artists they have no applause.
(See: The Paintings of Benjamin West by Helmut von Erffa and Allen Staley, page 1)
I love the fact that this tiny paragraph in her letter reveals Jane Austen to have been not only someone capable of sensible art criticism,but someone who was bang up to date with the latest developments in the art world. The image of her as a domestically minded spinster,content to stay at home occasionally writing the odd novel is far,far from the truth, to my mind. She was terribly interested in the latest developments in the world, be it the latest fashions, poems or the latest artworks. I also find it vastly interesting that this is the image of Christ that most appealed to her.
After posting about the lack of distinction in colours in 18th century/early 19th century children’s dress last week in the post about Emma’s nephew’s cockade, I’ve had a few emails expressing astonishment and one, complete incredulity that the colours pink and blue were not assigned exclusively to girls(pink) and boys(blue) in the long 18th century. So I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to write a little more about it just to attempt to clear up the lingering doubts some of you clearly have.
All the illustrations in this post are all taken from the exhibition catalogue produced by the wonderful Holburne Museum in Bath for their 2005 exhibit, Pictures of Innocence: Portraits of Children from Hogarth to Lawrence. Below is the cover, showing Thomas Gainsborough’s beautiful and enigmatic double portrait of his daughters, The Painter’s Daughters chasing a Butterfly, circa 1756
The first portrait I am going to refer to dates from 1767 and shows Queen Charlotte, wife and Queen Consort of George III, holding her fourth child and first daughter, the Princess Royal. This is a pastel and is beautifully executed by Francis Cotes, with the Queen raising her finger, warning the approaching viewer to be quiet and not wake her sleeping baby. You can clearly see that the trimmings on the child’s predominantly white clothing are blue and not pink,as we might expect given the child’s sex.
The next portrait is of the eminent Victorian writer and artist, John Ruskin as a boy. Born in 1819, this portrait was made in 1822 when he was 3 years old. It was painted by James Northcote. Clearly not yet breeched, he wears blue shoes and a blue sash and his white long dress has blue trimmings upon it.
Below is an earlier portrait by Arthur Devis of an unknown boy in a landscape circa 1745.
The unbreeched boy wears a mixture of colours: a blue trimming to his hat and a blue sash to his white dress, yet he wears red shoes, though he clutches a crop or switch, presumably to delineate his masculinity.
This full-sized portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds of the Lamb Children c 1783 shows the three sons of the first Viscount Melbourne. Peniston on the left is the oldest boy at 13 years old. Nearly grown up and a scholar at Eton, he wears a sober coloured gentleman’s suit with knee beeches, buckles and white stockings though his immaturity is shown by his hair not being dressed. William, on the right, is shown cheerfully steadying his baby brother. Later to become Prime Minster,and a favourite of the young Queen Victoria William is dressed in a skeleton suite, the loose trousers of which were inspired by the hard-wearing and loose clothing of labourers and sailors. Perfect wear therefore for lively little boys. The unbreeched baby Fred is shown wearing a white dress and pink sash,and a very elaborate hat.
This portrait, above, by Johan Zoffany of George, Prince of Wales and Frederick, later to be the Duke of York ,the sons of George III, was completed circa 1764-5. The Prince of Wales wears a deep pink dress with blue sash,whereas Frederick wears a blue dress with deep pink sash. Clearly here there is no allocation of these colours to a child’s sex : both boys and girls wear pink and blue, and indeed a mixture of these colours. It was only in the mid 20th century that the allocation of pink for a girl and blue for a boy was made.
Next time you find yourself in an art gallery, or grand house, you might care to seek out portraits of children from the long 18th century and try to discern when the colours pink and blue became associated with one sex. Hint- it was certainly not in our time period!
The lovely portrait of Edward Knight, shown above, which was thought to have been commissioned in Italy and painted in Rome in early 1790 while he was completing his Grand Tour of Europe, has hung for many years in the the Jane Austen House Museum. It is a familiar and lovely sight, the fashionably dressed Edward standing among classical ruins, in a leafy glade compete with grotto, a sight that would surely have pleased both Henry Tilney and Catherine Moreland.
The portrait has now been restored and conserved and is going to return on loan to Chawton House, which is now the Chawton House Library and the Centre for the Study of Early Women’s Writing, and, of course, was once Edward Knight’s Hampshire home.
The portrait used to hang in the dining room of Chawton Great House but it was sold in the 1950s and was eventually purchased by the Jane Austen Society and put on show to the public at Jane Austen’s House. That cottage also once formed part of Edward’s estate and was the home he offered to Jane, Cassandra and Mrs Austen and where they lived, with Martha Lloyd, from 1809.
The portrait has been restored and conserved and will be officially unveiled in December in the week that commemorates the 235th anniversary of Jane Austen’s Birth. How lovely and appropriate.
All this information has been brought to my attention by reading the latest copy of The Female Spectator which is the quarterly published newsletter of the Chawton House Library. I love receiving my newsletters and have been in receipt of them since the first edition, published in autumn 1995…I really need to have them bound…
This quarter’s edition, as ever, has some fascinating articles: a comparison between the writings of the philosopher Mary Astell and Jane Austen, and how girls learnt musical skills in Jane Austen’s era, in addition to fascinating news of developments on the Chawton estate-the article on the restoration of the Rose Garden is great ( but is much too short!)
You can subscribe to the Female Spectator on-line here or can receive it if you become a Friend of Chawton in the UK or a Friend in the US . The Chawton House project is admirable: the house has been restored magnificently and the library is well established. I’ve been lucky enough to visit it many times,and have seen it “rise from the ashes ” of its restoration in 2002 to its wonderfully restored state. I am always impressed with the house and the grounds and of course the contents of the magnificent library, and the dedication of the staff. It’s a worthy cause so very closely associated with Jane Austen’s life, happiness and family, so if you can join, do;)
I was lucky enough to be able to visit this exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in London last week. It is a relatively small exhibit- certainly when compared to the blockbuster exhibits of the past few years in London-the Reynolds, Gainsborough,Hogarth exhibitions for example -but a fascinating exhibit none the less.
For people interested in the personalities of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portraits are familiar works of art. When I first began to take note of the fashions in the art world it was with some uncomprehending dismay that I discerned he was rather despised. After a flash of brilliant popularity in his life time, after his death, Lawrence’s works were quickly and completely disparaged by fashionable society and art critics, most notably by Thackeray in Vanity Fair.
…The ladies of Gaunt House called Lady Bareacres in to their aid, in order to repulse the common enemy. One of Lady Gaunt’s carriages went to Hill Street for her Ladyship’s mother, all whose equipages were in the hands of the bailiffs, whose very jewels and wardrobe, it was said, had been seized by those inexorable Israelites. Bareacres Castle was theirs, too, with all its costly pictures, furniture, and articles of vertu–the magnificent Vandykes; the noble Reynolds pictures; the Lawrence portraits, tawdry and beautiful, and, thirty years ago, deemed as precious as works of real genius
(Vanity Fair, Chapter XLIX)
How he dammed Lawrence by this unfavourable comparison to Van Dyke and Reynolds…..As a result of his works suddenly becoming unfashionable and unacceptable, many were sold from English collections, finding homes in American collections and further afield.
Michael Levey, the late Director of the National Gallery, who made a lifelong study of Lawrence’s works and life, wrote about Lawrence’s sudden fall from grace as follows:
Sir Thomas Lawrence is an artists who has suffered a most unusual fate. His was a story of phenomenal talent as a portraitist, first revealed and recognised in early childhood; and during his lifetime he enjoyed phenomenal success- not only in Britain but all over Europe from Vienna to Rome. No British artist before him had travelled and worked so widely on the Continent or enjoyed such a warm reception at the courts of Europe. Highly intelligent, unusually literate and outstandingly handsome, with manners polished to a degree, he was almost as admired and successful personally as were his portraits. And yet from the moment of his sudden death in January 1830, reaction set in-reaction which bordered on revulsion and which has-at least in England never entirely vanished…
(See: Sir Thomas Lawrence by Michael Levey, page 1)
The current exhibition at the NPG seeks to address this situation and to re-establish Lawrence as an artist of the first rank. The 545 works on show are mostly bravura works of art, massive portraits in the swagger tradition, but there are also quieter pieces which demonstrate very clearly that Lawrence was a fine draftsman capable of conveying great tenderness. In fact, I was drawn to these quieter exhibits far more than the bow-wow strain of the larger works, to paraphrase Sir Walter Scott (whom Lawrence painted, below, but who is not included in this particular exhibit.)
But before I get too carried away…what has this to do with Jane Austen? He never painted her and moved in much more fashionable circles than even Henry Austen could aspire to, so why should Lawrence’s works interest us? Well, many of the people Lawrence painted were household names and Jane Austen would have been wholly familiar with them and no doubt interested to view their portraits painted in such a vibrant manner. But something else connects Austen and Lawrence. Quite simply, he was one of her greatest admires, knew Sir Walter Scott (also an admirer)and received advance copies of popular novels from her publisher, John Murray. Here is an account of his literary tastes by Miss Elizabeth Croft which was contained in Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Letter Bag published in 1906:
From the year 1810 to 1821, Sir Thomas was in habits of the most constant and intimate intercourse with me and my friends in Hart Street, dropping in at all hours, and especially of an evening when too much tired with the labours of the day to accept the invitations of gayer and more exalted friends…Frequently he would bring with him the novel or periodical of the day-and who ever read like him! Most of Sir Walter Scot’s works we had the delight of hearing from his lips and I can never forget the charm of his reading “Marmion” to us. They were all sent to him and a few other chosen friends by the author before they were published, and at the same time that a copy was sent to George the 4th. Thus we were enabled to laugh in our sleeve at persons who roundly reported that Walter Scot was not the real author…Many of Miss Austen’s novels he also read to us, and she was one of his favourite writers.
Miss Croft, you may care to note ,was the sister of Sir Richard Croft, the unfortunate accoucher to Princess Charlotte,who died in childbirth in 1817 when he was attending her. After attending another difficult birth in February 1818 he killed himself, and here he is recorded by Lawrence,
…the sketch taken as he lay in his coffin. The drawing was done by Lawrence in an attempt to console Miss Croft for her sudden and terrible loss.
Back to the exhibit…..
Lawrence was a talented child,whose father was quick to exploit his talents, showing him off to visitors to his inn, the Bear Hotel at Devizes, most of whom were fashionable society folk who were en route to or from London or Bath. Fanny Burney mentioned him in her diary, for example. The family eventually moved to Bath where he began to establish his reputation as a portraitist. On moving to London he began to attract large commissions, and in 1790 exhibited two great works at the Royal Academy: Miss Farren the actress who was to become the Countess of Derby (see the picture at the head of this post, advertising the exhibit) and above, Queen Charlotte. Recognising a precious talent, George III pressed the Royal Academy to elect Lawrence as a member,and eventually he was admitted when of age, and, in turn, became its president in 1820
A dispute between Caroline of Brunswick and the Prince of Wales about the right to posses Lawrence’s portrait of Lord Chancellor Thurlow( included in the exhibit) seems to have alienated the Prince of Wales and set him against commissioning further work from Lawrence. But that changed with Lawrence’s magnificent portrait of the Prince in the Garter robes, and eventually the Prince was one of Lawrence’s most important patrons. He commissioned the portraits of the political and military leaders concerned in the downfall of Napoleon which were to be hung in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle and this enabled Lawrence to travel across Europe, something no British artist of his stature had been able to do for years due to the wars and the attendant difficulties of travel. Below is his portrait of Tsar Alexander I (not in the exhibit).
And while these large, imposing portraits are mightily impressive, I found I was more drawn to the more domestic and intimate of Lawrence’s works. Below is his pastel of the poet Elizabeth Carter which I found exquisite.
His portraits of women are very sympathetic, and Lawrence had a reputation of being rather a ladies man, becoming romantically involved for example with the actress Sarah Siddon’s two daughters, much to her distress. His portrait of Rosamund Croker, below, is stunning.
And while he is famed for his portraits of children, I confess they mostly leave me cold (low be it spoken). But I do like this portrait of the Marchioness of Londonderry and her son Viscount Seaham because to me she looks ever-so-slighty fed up with her young son’s antics….
The exhibition catalogue, shown below, is published by Yale and is sumptuously illustrated and is also a very good read. Here, on the cover, is Princess Sophia, George IV’s favourite sibling, who had a tragic clandestine love-life in the stultifying atmosphere of her mothers court, giving birth to an illegitimate son in 1800.
But also to be recommended is Michael Levey’s outstanding work on the artist, also published by Yale and shown below. Full of incredible detail, and again sumptuously and comprehensively illustrated I can highly recommend it for anyone wanting to increase their knowledge of the man and his works.
The exhibit is small (and I hated the way the continuity of the exhibition was broken up by the presence of a shop between two of the main rooms) but it is worthwhile making the trip to London to see it ( or to New Haven when the exhibit moves there in 2011) It is wonderful to be given the opportunity to see and reassess Sir Thomas’s works en masse. They are magnificent, sensitive pieces of work, and he deserves to be rehabilitated, in my very humble untutored eye and opinion.
My review of the exhibition can now be accessed here.
From 21st October until 23rd January the National Portrait Gallery in London will be staging the first major exhibition to be held in 30 years on the Regency portraitist, Sir Thomas Lawrence.
Entitled,Regency Power and Brilliance, the exhibition will explore his development from being the son of a Bristol Excise officer to becoming the most celebrated and influential artist in Europe at the start of the nineteenth century.
It will feature over fifty works of his works , drawn from public and private collections around the world, like this magestic portrait of Jane Austen’s admirer, Sir Walter Scott.
I do hope my favourite, Elizabeth Farren, the actress who became the Countress of Derby, will be there, all the way from the Metropolitan Museum in NYC…
I will most certainly be going and will report back.
As I understand it the exhibiton will also be on show at the Yale Centre for British Arts, New Haven, so I hope many of you will be able to visit it, which ever side of the pond you reside.
I recently attended this fascinating exhibition which is being staged at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I say staged for it is a magnificent theatrical evocation of all Walpole’s interests, which were many and varied, collecting together, sometimes for the first time in over 100 years, objects associated with Walpole and his Gothic confection of a house at Twickenham, Strawberry Hill, here depicted by Paul Sandby. (and please note you can enlarge all the illustrations here merely by clicking on them)
Horace Walpole (1717-1797) was the youngest son of George II’s powerful prime minister, Robert Walpole. He was an MP for over 20 years but it was not his political causes which remain of interest to us, but his artistic endeavours.
For anyone who studies the 18th century, encountering Horace Walpole is inevitable. He was a prolific author of many fascinating letters(collected in 48 volumes!) full of waspish comment; he moved among the highest social circles and his impressions of his world and the many, many people he encountered are engagingly reflected in his papers. He was an avid art collector and an antiquarian, an amateur architect and landscape gardener , and importantly for admirers of Northanger Abbey, was the father of the Gothic Novel, being the author of the first of the genre, The Castle of Otranto.
The exhibit, which is contained just in a series of ten sections all dealing with different aspects of Walpole’s life and interests is fascinating. I am even considering revisiting it as I don’t think I really managed to see and appreciate everything despite spending a long time there( luckily my companion is as interested in the 18th century as I!)
His house at Strawberry Hill– which is undergoing a thorough and needed restoration and will re-open in the autumn -and its contents is at the heart of the exhibit.
of The Vyne in Hampshire, were very influential in reviving interest in the aesthetic aspects of the Gothic era. Indeed a common name for this revived architectural style is Strawberry Hill Gothic. The Chute family – though the next generation on from Horace’s friend, John, were friendly with the Austen family ( especially Jane Austen’s eldest brother James who was vicar of Sherborne St John, the parish in which The Vyne is situated )
Horace consulted them closely on all aspects of the exterior and interior decoration of his house. Here, as an example of the interior, is the wonderful gallery complete with papier mache fan vaulting
If you go here you can view a short video of the exhibit and Strawberry Hill’s restoration, which I hope you will enjoy.
It is difficult to isolate pieces in the exhibit for mention here they were so many and so magnificent: a locket containing Mary Tudor’s hair, a Cardinal’s hat believed to have been owned by Wolsey…..many wonderful things: so I’ve decided to show you a few items that I found particularly interesting.
Horace Walpole was fascinated with the romantic aspects of the past: his collection of 17th century miniatures included these of the Digby family, Sir Kenelm Digby and his wife, Venitia. They were Catholic supporters of Charles I and Sir Kenelm is now remembered as the author of one of my favourite antiquarian cookery books The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby kt Opened(1669)
Another article I found fascinating was this cabinet, decorated with panels drawn by Lady Diana Beauclark,whose scandalous divorce from Visccount Bolingbroke after her adulterous affair with Sir Topham Beauclerk made her a sensation and outcast from her class.
The relationship between Horace and disgraced women like Diana Beauclerk is an intriguing part of his personality . He never married and speculation on his sexuality rages today.
His home in the fashionable village of Twickenham was derided by the purist Gothick admirers of the 19th century, most importantly and prominently, Augustus Pugin. But recently it has regained its rightful place as part of the history of design. If you cannot visit the exhibition which ends in July, then I strongly recommend the sumptuously illustrated catalogue of the exhibition edited by Michael Snodin the director of the Strawberry Hill Trust, published by Yale.
I recently went to the Victoria and Albert Museum to see one of their current exhibitions, Quilts 1700-2010.
It was a fascinating exhibit not concentrating so much upon the mechanics of quilt making, but on the history and inspiration behind the older quilts, together with some inspiring modern quilts, some especially commissioned for the exhibit. As someone whose hand quilting days are over (and does not really approve in a very unreasonable and irrational way of quilting by sewing machine) I found some of the old quilts quite moving and admirable. However, I also loved the floral Liberty print quilt, consisting of pastel floral union jacks,called Liberty Jack by Janey Forgan and which was made in 2008
If you cannot visit the museum for the exhibition, which runs until the 4th July of this year, then I do recommend the accompanying book/catalogue by the curator of the exhibition, Sue Prichard.
The quilts I found most interesting were those from our period (now, there is a surprise, I hear you say ) and I’d like to share some of the details of them with you now, if you’ll allow.
Women and politics is a theme very much in vogue in academia at the moment and this exhibition was no exception.The quilts I was most intrigued by were not only from our era but they also expressed, with however small a “p”, political thoughts by the women who made them.
The first was made in 1799 and shows George III inspecting his volunteer troops in Hyde Park.
The centrepiece was clearly inspired by a print of the event made by John Singleton Copley.
As the catalogue states:
This seemingly inconsequential and unheroic event was in reality a vital display of domestic military strength during a period of perpetual threat of invasion. In 1799 Britain had been at war with France for six years. ..The scene at Hyde Park represented represented not just the physical protection of the king and his subjects against French aggression on home soil but the preservation of the British settlement and the body politic.
Around the edge of the quilt, as you can see ( and do remember you can enlarge this and all the other illustrations in this post merely by clicking on them) are scenes representing military and naval events: the whole quilt is a piece of home propaganda if you like, supporting the armed forces and volunteers protecting the nation in time of war.
I’m sure Anne Elliot would have approved…
Another of the quits which was intriguing was a bedcover dating from around 1820
and which has as its centre piece a printed cotton portrait of Queen Caroline of Brunswick, the wife of George IV.
Jane Austen was of course a supporter of Queen Caroline in all the Royals well-publicised disputes and wrote about her as follows in her letter to Martha Lloyd dated 16th February, 1813:
“I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband — but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself “attached & affectionate” to a Man whom she must detest — & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad — I do not know what to do about it; but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first. –“
No doubt she would have approved of this bedcover too…..
These type of block printed commemorative panels were very popular in the early 19th century. Here is one commemorating Princess Charlotte’s marriage to Prince Leopold of 1816:
And here is a purely floral one dating from 1816:
This is similar to the centre piece of Jane Austen’s own quilt, which is still on display at the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton:
This is the quilt that she made as a project with her mother, Mrs Austen, and with her sister, Cassandra. Here she is writing to Cassandra about it in her letter dated 31st May 1811:
Have you remembered to collect pieces for the patchwork? We are now at a stand-still.
No imagery of political leanings here, sadly: but that may have been due to it being a shared project. After viewing these politically inspired quilts, I would loved to have seen what Jane Austen might have embroidered, left to her own devices……
Paul Sandby was the English watercolourist supreme of the late 18th/ early 19th century. A recent exhibition of his works, held to celebrate the bicentenary of his death has been held at his birthplace, Nottingham, and this will soon transfer to the Royal Academy in London, where it will be on show from 13th March to the 13th June. The catalogue of the exhibition however has been made available as a hardback book, edited by John Bonhill and Stephen Daniels, the research for which was conducted with the help of generous aid and support from the Paul Mellon Centre for the studies of British Art . It is full of marvellous images of late 18th/ early19th century England, many of which have great relevance to incidents/references in Jane Austen’s novels , not least his depiction of ruined abbeys
and ancient castles which would set Catherine Morland’s heart a-beating, and views of army encampments fit enough to enrapture the hearts of Lydia, Kitty and even Mary Bennet.
(Note: Please do enlarge all the illustrations in this post by clicking on them: the wait while they load will replay dividends!)
Paul Sandby and his fellow artist and elder brother, Thomas began their careers apprenticed to the Nottingham surveyor Thomas Peat. After this Thomas Sandby was engaged as a military draughtsman in the Tower of London. In 1747 Paul Sandby submitted specimens of his work to the Board of Ordinance and after the establishment of the military survey in Scotland in September 1747 he was appointed draughtsman to the survey. This was of course a time when the ability to draw, survey accurately and to make maps was an essential skill of the military. No satellite scans or photographs were available to make surveying the land an easy task.
Paul Sandby, as a member of this survey, was ordered to make maps of the Scottish highlands as part of the Hanoverian campaign to restore peace in Scotland after the Jacobite rising of 1745. Sandby worked for the survey for four years producing not only excellent maps
and surveys of buildings
but also landscape drawing and figurative studies which are now of great interest to us for the details of everyday life they reveal. For example, just look at the detail captured in this scene of a hanging of a soldier John Young, whose offence was to forge banknotes, taken in Edinburgh in 1751.
Sandby returned to live in London in and then for some years he lived in Windsor with his brother Thomas and his family. During this time he made many studies of Windsor Castle , immortalizing it as it appeared when it was the home of George III and his family and before George IV and is architect, Jeffrey Wyatville remodelled it in the 1820s, into the show castle/palace we can still visit today. In Sandby’s sketches and watercolours of Windsor we see it as would have Mr Churchill –Franks Churchill’s “adoptive” father in Emma- when he lived in Windsor, just after Mrs Churchill’s decease.
The majority of Sandby’s Windsor watercolours were collected by Sir Joseph Banks but the Prince of Wales was also fact an admirer of Sandby and collected some of his pictures. This is one from the Royal Collection, of the Duke of Cumberland ‘s page:
That he was a favourite of the Prince of Wales would not had endeared him to Jane Austen. But we will simply have to overlook that ;-) His works are breathtakingly beautiful- and I love to examine them closely for the intimacy of life in that era that they reveal. The studies of women working in kitchen and laundries are among some of my favourites. This is one, again from the Royal Collection, of a cook making a pie.
I love to discern the detail of her surroundings.
Here is his picture of Turkey Mill and Vinters the home of Susannah Whatman, (whom we met along with her husband, last week in our first Housekeepers post, ) which I’m sure you will agree is exquisite.
Paul Sanby was also an acclaimed drawing master and was patronised by some of the most influential men of the era. As the article about him in the Oxford Dicitonary of National Biography by Luke Herrmann records:
From early in his career Sandby was also busy as a drawing master, counting several of his patrons, such as Lord Harcourt and Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, among his pupils. In 1768 he was appointed chief drawing master at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, at a salary of £150 per annum, a post that he retained until his retirement in 1796, and when there he lived in lodgings at Old Charlton in Kent. Officers in the Royal Artillery and the engineers were trained at Woolwich, and Sandby was able to introduce a wide range of the sons of the aristocracy and gentry to the practice and appreciation of landscape drawing. Through some of his Woolwich pupils Sandby’s influence spread as far afield as Canada.
The pictures of army encampments contained in this book are fascinating. This picture shows a detail of his record of the encampment in St James Park in – you can see the towers of Westminster Abbey clearly visible across the park.
This aquatint dates from the time of the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots in 1780 ,when rioting, which began in St Georges Field on the south bank of the Thames wreaked havoc across the capital, and was so memorable that when nearly 20 years later Jane Austen was writing Northanger Abbey , the very mention of rioting in London was enough to strike horror into the tender heart of Eleanor Tilney:
“Miss Morland, do not mind what he says; but have the goodness to satisfy me as to this dreadful riot.”
“Riot! What riot?”
“My dear Eleanor, the riot is only in your own brain. The confusion there is scandalous. Miss Morland has been talking of nothing more dreadful than a new publication which is shortly to come out, in three duodecimo volumes, two hundred and seventy–six pages in each, with a frontispiece to the first, of two tombstones and a lantern — do you understand? And you, Miss Morland — my stupid sister has mistaken all your clearest expressions. You talked of expected horrors in London — and instead of instantly conceiving, as any rational creature would have done, that such words could relate only to a circulating library, she immediately pictured to herself a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood, a detachment of the Twelfth Light Dragoons (the hopes of the nation) called up from Northampton to quell the insurgents, and the gallant Captain Frederick Tilney, in the moment of charging at the head of his troop, knocked off his horse by a brickbat from an upper window. Forgive her stupidity. The fears of the sister have added to the weakness of the woman; but she is by no means a simpleton in general.”
(Northanger Abbey, Chapter 14)
Paul Sandby married Anne Stogden and they lived in Dufours Court, Broad Street, Carnaby Market in London. They had three children The elder son, Paul, was an officer in the army and died at Barbados in 1793. The second son, was also an artist and succeeded his father as drawing master at Woolwich. His friends recorded that Sandby was a man of great friendliness and generosity. He had a strong sense of humour and wrote and conversed fluently and effectively.
Here he is, depicted sketching from a window in his house in Bayswater, by his fellow artist, Francis Cotes.
He was a founder member of active member of the Royal Academy, and remained an active member of the Academy all his lifeand became a popular and very influential figure in London’s artistic and literary society. Thomas Gasinborough thought highly of him especially with regard to his landscapes, and described him as
the only Man of Genius … who has employ’d his pencil that way
In 1772 he and his family moved to his final London home, 4 St George’s Row, Bayswater, close to the Bayswater turnpike on the Oxford Road, with fine views over Hyde Park. He had a studio at the end of the garden, probably designed by his brother, and this was used for teaching and for his weekly meetings where he
drew round him a circle of intellectual and attached friends, comprising the most distinguished artists and amateurs of the day. His house became quite a centre of attraction … when, on each Sunday, after Divine Service, his friends assembled, and formed a conversazione on the arts, the sciences and the general literature of the day.
(See: The life of James Gandon, esq.(1846) edited by T. J.Mulvany )
Sandby died at home at 4 St George’s Row on 8 November 1809, and was buried at St George’s, Hanover Square.
I can thoroughly recommend this book to you: the illustrations I have included here in this post are only a tiny amount of the total contained in this fine book.
The detail in the watercolors and aquatints is amazing and gives an accurate idea of what like was really like to live in London and the English countryside of Jane Austen’s era .It is quite possible to lose oneself within them , imagining that many of her characters, Emma and Mr Knightley, for example, might saunter into the frame at any minute…….