On Sunday the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow programme highlighted two picture which have echoes of Sense and Sensibility for us, and so I thought you might like to see them.
They were early 19th century silk needlework pictures, circa 1800, set in mounts which were made of filigree work.
Here are close-ups of the figures in the picture on the right…
If you enlarge the image by clicking on it, you will see details of the embroidery, typical of the period.
And also note that the faces and arms of the figures are painted onto the background material, which is possibly of silk too.
The mounts are filled with filigree work, where the patterns are formed by massing together rolled pieces of paper to give a similar effect to filigree work made from strings or threads of precious metals such as gold or sliver, hence its name.
For more detail on filigree work and how it was made, go here. It was, of course, this type of work that Jane Austen referred to in Chapter 23 of Sense and Sensibility:
.“Perhaps,” continued Elinor, “if I should happen to cut out, I may be of some use to Miss Lucy Steele, in rolling her papers for her; and there is so much still to be done to the basket, that it must be impossible, I think, for her labour singly, to finish it this evening. I should like the work exceedingly, if she would allow me a share in it.”
These crafts were the type of “accomplishments” that were taught in the fashionable ladies academies. Such as the one that Jane Austen’s sister-in-law,Elizabeth Bridges, who married Jane’s brother, Edward Austen Knight, attended. In Jane Austen: A Family Record by Deirdre Le Faye, we learn that
She (Elizabeth-jfw) and her sister are all graceful, brown-haired beauties, who had been educated in London at the “Ladies Eton”, the boarding school in Queen Square, Bloomsbury run by the Misses Stevenson exclusively for the Daughters of the nobility and gentry. The academic content of the curriculum was minimal and the pupils learned little more than French, music and dancing while strong emphasis was placed on social etiquette- an old coach was kept propped up in a back room so that the girls would practise the art of getting in and out of it in a modest and elegant manner.
Here is a trade card for one such school, this time in Chelsea, dating from 1797:
This is the type of establishment that Charlotte Palmer no doubt attended, and her silk picture landscape, hung in her old room at Mrs Jennings’ town house, is the only tangible result of all her “efforts” there:
The house was handsome and handsomely fitted up, and the young ladies were immediately put in possession of a very comfortable apartment. It had formerly been Charlotte’s, and over the mantlepiece still hung a landscape in coloured silks of her performance, in proof of her having spent seven years at a great school in town to some effect.
Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 26.
Clearly, Jane Austen had a low opinion of such schools, and much preferred the type of “honest” education that she experienced at the Reading Ladies Boarding School housed in the old Reading Abbey. This was the model for Mrs Goddard’s school in Emma. Mrs Goddard’s school was certainly not one of these smart seminaries. I often do wonder what Jane Austen’s sister-in-law made of Jane’s barbed attacks on the type of establishment she attended, for she repeated it in Pride and prejudice too: the Miss Bingley’s were also “educated’ at one of these places.
The edition of the Antiques Roadshow, the tenth in this series, filmed at Bletchley Park, is available to watch on the BBC iPlayer, here – for another five days. The items appeared approximately 20 minutes into the show and were valued at £2000 for the pair.