I have been gratified and amazed at the response to my article last week about the 1975 Commemorative Issue Jane Austen Stamps, issued by the Royal Mail. You see, they are very familiar things to me and I hesitated to write about them, thinking they would be “old news” but your emails and responses to the post suggest that they are quite the opposite.
One of my email correspondents wanted to know more about the illustrator, Barbara Brown, and I am happy to oblige, though the information I have about her is limited. However ,I do have some more Jane Austen inspired illustrations by her which I thought you might also like to see.
Barbara Brown was born in Surrey, and lived and works in London. She attended Hornsey College of Arts and Crafts, and then the Royal College of Art where she studied graphic design and book illustration.
She was well-known as an illustrator of children books and also undertook designs for Halcyon Days enamels under the stewardship of Susan Benjamin. In 1970 Halcyon Days revised the art of enamelling these delightful “toys” -mostly small boxes for comfits or snuff. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries these boxes had been made at Bilston in the West Midlands or in Battersea. Mrs Benjamin had been an antiques dealer specialising in collecting and selling these boxes for some years,selling her wares form her delightful shop in Mayfair. She decided to revive the art,due to demand for the items, commissioning many special pieces from favoured artists. Here is one of Barbara Brown’s designs for her, which illustrated the children’s nursery rhyme, Oranges and Lemons.
I have collected these boxes for nearly 30 years now, and prize some of Barbara Brown’s designs amongst my favourites. Here are two of her egg designs, the first a reinterpretation of an 18th century favourite: a box with the sentimental motto
When this you see, Remember me
and this, another egg, decorated with her versions of Bewick’s Birds illustrations…
…her inspiration for the wren and the robin taken from his woodcuts in his History of British Birds, a book so beloved of Charlotte Bronte and her creation, Jane Eyre.
Barbara’s illustrations for the Jane Austen commemorative set of stamps are lovely and include tiny period details. My favourite is Catherine Moreland from Northanger Abbey, carrying her horrid book by her Gothic screen….
The card insert for the presentation set of mint stamps has more of Barbara’s illustrations(as well as a cogent and good general view of Jane Austen’s life, works and reputation written by Alan Martin Harvey with none of the mistakes that are to be found in his card accompanying the First Day Covers of the stamps.)
They show Jane Austen, Barbara’s version of the famous sketch by Cassandra Austen, Jane’s sister, (the original is now in the National Portrait Gallery in London )…
and Jane Austen’s House at Chawton, now the Jane Austen House Museum.
The card also includes scenes from the novels: from Pride and Prejudice we are shown the moment where Mrs Bennet scandalised by Lizzy’s refusal of Mr Collins disturbs Mr Bennet in the library
From Mansfield Park we are given The start of the journey from Mansfield to Southerton: Lady Bertram and Mrs Grant seeing off Henry Crawford’s coach party
We are also given one of Barbara’s illustrations for one of the novels that was not included in the set of stamps, Persuasion.
Henrietta Musgrove and Anne Elliot walking on the shore at Lyme
But Sense and Sensibility was not included at all, and no illustrations from it appear. How puzzling.
Barbara Brown died in 2005. I would have loved to had seen her illustrate a whole edition of Jane Austen’s works, for I like her illustrations. And I’m so pleased to find that some of you do so too. Because of the response to these posts I’ve decided to add a spare set of these stamps, complete with card insert illustrated by Barbara Brown, in the forthcoming Austenonly 2nd Anniversary Giveaway, which, incredible as it may seem, is only a few weeks away….do watch out for the announcement!