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Eleanor Marsden, the Development Officer at Chawton House Library, has kindly allowed us a teaser, a sneak preview of their  new website:

The New Chawton House Library Website ©ChawtonHouseLibrary

It will be launched at the end of July, and looks very different from their current website, below, I’m sure you will agree.

Chawton House Library Website ©ChawtonHouse Library

I’m looking forward to examining it in detail, as I’m sure there are treasures waiting to be found within its digital pages! It will be at the same address, http://www.chawton.org/ so do keep an eye open for it.

Chawton House Library is currently staging an intriguing exhibition entitled, Jane Austen’s Bookshop.

A result of a joint research project by the University of Winchester, California State University Long Beach and Chawton House itself, the exhibition provides a detailed look at the stock of John Burdon’s bookshop in Winchester, which was open for business during Jane Austen’s life time in College Street, Winchester.  As the University of Winchester website tells us:

The exhibition provides, for the first time, a snapshot of a complete catalogue of printed material which was available at John Burdon’s bookshop in Winchester during Jane Austen’s lifetime. Burdon’s was used by the Austen family as well as other influential writers of the period and was based in College Street, now the home of Wells Bookshop.

P and G Wells is a favourite bookshop of mine. They have always stocked rare to find Jane Austen-related material, and in the dark days before the online buying of books was easily transacted, you could always reply on them to send books to you via their excellent mail order service.

P and G Wells Bookshop,College Street, Winchester ©Austenonly

One of those rare survivors, an independent bookshop, P. and G. Wells still offer a fine service to their customers, all over the world, and, of course, an additional link to Jane Austen is that their premises are situated on College Street in Winchester, a few doors away from the house where it is thought that Jane Austen died, below…

Number 8, College Street, Winchester ©Austenonly

and  they are also in the same street as Winchester College, below, where many of Jane’s nephews were educated:

Winchester College,College Street, Winchester. ©Austenonly

The big breakthrough which inspired much of  the research was made by Dr. Norbert Schürer, a visiting Leverhulme Fellow at Winchester who specialises in studying the work of women writers of the eighteenth century.  He found the bookseller’s catalogue which dates from 1807.  As he explains:

I was researching eighteenth-century print culture in Winchester.One of the first things I did was to identify Burdon’s bookshop by putting research from other critics together. Then quite by chance, I discovered that the bookshop had been sold in 1807 with a complete catalogue, giving us the name of every single book in the store.

The catalogue apparently contains details of all the books stocked by John Burdon in 1807 : they include novels, biographies, travel narratives as well as travel guides, journals and periodicals, theological literature, sermons, poetry and a wealth of other reading matter. The exhibition will explore how readers and writers in Winchester shared printed material in the early 19th century, and it focuses on publications made by scholars at Winchester College, annual reports from the County Hospital, and advertisements and reviews in local newspapers like the Hampshire Chronicle.  It is open weekdays, 10am-4pm, from Tuesday 19 June to Friday 6 July.

I am lucky enough to be in Chawton this weekend, and if I manage to get to the exhibition, I will, of course, report back to you, but I should think that many of you in the area will be making plans to visit it. It sounds totally fascinating.

If you are in the vicinity of Hampstead next weekend, you might like to try turning you hand to making a Regency reticule or even a pocket. There will be a Regency Sewing Workshop at the Keat’s House Musuem, below, which was the home of the poet, John Keats from 1818 to 1820, and was, of course, the place where he met the love of his life, Fanny Brawne who was quite literally the girl next door.

Keats’ House,Hampstead © Copyright ceridwen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The workshop runs for one day and you can find all the details here. Who knows, you might end up with an elegant item such as this one, below, “owned” by Elinor Dashwood (played by Emma Thompson) in the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensbility.

Elinor Dashwood’s reticule, as used by Emma Thompson in the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility ©JaneAusten’sHouseMuseumBlog

If you’d rather make a Regency style dress, then there is a four day workshop at the Museum, commencing on the 7th July, which will help you make a delightful confection, perhaps something like this ball gown which was worn by Charity Wakefield (no relation!) as Marianne Dashwood in the BBC’s 2006 version of Sense and Sensbility. Go here to find all the details of the course.

Marianne’s Ball Gown from the BBC’s 2006 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility @JaneAusten’sHouseMusuemBlog

Sadly the workshop where you could have made a Regency Bonnet, like the one  below, worn by Elinor Dashwood (Emma Thompson) to her sister Marianne’s wedding in the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility

Elinor Dashwood’s Bonnet as worn by Emma Thompson in the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility ©JaneAusten’sHouseMuseumBlog

has already taken place,  last weekend. But if you’d like to see more photographs of the Sense and Sensibility costumes which were on show at the Jane Austen House Museum last year to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Sense and Sensibility, then click here to see the hat and the reticule, and click here for the ball gown.

You might also be interested to see this ensemble, which was also on show, and which was worn by both Charity Wakefield and KAte Winslet, in both adaptations of the book.

The ensemble worn by both Kate Winslet and Charity Wakefield in their adaptations of Sense and Sensibility ©JaneAustenHouseMuseumBlog

Click here to see more photographs of it.

Mr Brodnax Moore, the grandson of Mr. and Mrs. George Brook Knight, has very kindly made available to us a PDF. file of the booklet which was produced to mark the unveiling of the Centenary Tablet on Chawton Cottage (now the Jane Austen House Museum) in 1917.

This is the cover of the original booklet:

The Cover of the Jane Austen Centenary Booklet

The booklet, now quite a rare  find in antiquarian bookshops, contains details of the unveiling ceremony, with photographs and the text of the speeches.  Constance Hill, who wrote Jane Austen, Her Home and Her Friends,(1902) and her sister, Ellen G. Hill were the prime movers in the desire to erect a tablet on the cottage, and helped form a committee to raise the necessary funds.  They wished to commemorate the fact that this was the house where Jane Austen had lived and worked.  At that time in the early 20th century the house was still in the ownership of the Knight family and was part of the Chawton estate. It was not open to the public, and the formation of the Jane Austen Society was some decades away. This booklet records, therefore, the beginnings of the interest in Jane Austen’s life, times and works which continues today.

Ellen Hill designed the tablet, shown below, which can still be seen on the house today, and its interesting symbolism is explained in the booklet.

The Jane Austen Centenary Memorial Tablet, in situ at Jane Austen’s House. ©Austenonly

If you would like to read the booklet, or download it to keep on your computer, then you may by clicking on this link, below, which will take you directly to the file.

Jane Austen Centenary Booklet

I’m sure you will all want to thank Mr. Moore for this very kind and generous gift to us. The original booklet was found by him in one of his grandmother’s albums. She and her husband lived at the Great House, now know as Chawton House Library, below, in the 1930s.

Chawton House, Hampshire. ©Austenonly

He very carefully constructed the PDF file directly from it. I am very grateful to him for making this available to us all, and for his thoughtfulness. So, please, do enjoy reading this interesting item.

Literary Winchester is  a fascinating new website, and for anyone who loves the city and is interested in its literary connections, it will prove invaluable. Written- and beautifully so- by Keiren Phelan, it is the repository for his views on the literary figures associated with Winchester and also for publishing parts of his collection of Winchester related books and articles. Eventually he hopes to write and publish a book on this subject and this would be a useful item to own, while wandering around the city.

Jane Austen, of course, receives a lot of attention. His article on her is interesting, and his comments regarding the possibility of her dying in a building other than that normally thought to be her final resting place-Number 8 College Street- are intriguing:

Number 8 College Street, Winchester.©Austenonly

Other literary figures included so far in his site include Charlotte M. Younge,

and John Keats. It will be fun to watch this site grow and grow. I look forward to it, and to the eventual book. I hope you enjoy it too.

Reading Enfilade is one of my regular morning pleasures, along with a bowl of porridge, strong tea and freshly squeezed orange juice. For those of you who are unaware of this wonderful blog, I ought perhaps to explain that it is a marvellous compendium of news about 18th century art and architecture, updated nearly every day. It often acts as a nudge to my memory, to remember to book tickets to see an exhibition or to buy a book. Which is very appropriate for today is the blog’s third anniversary and its Editor, Craig Hanson has requested that we mark it by buying a book, an art book preferably, in order to help safeguard that part of the publishing industry. As he writes with dismaying clarity..

So as a gesture of positive action, I’m asking all of you to buy a book today (and fellow bloggers to spread the word). It’s easy to think that it won’t matter, but it does. Most people are astounded to learn just how small the circulation numbers are for art history books published by university presses. However humbling it may be for those of us who spend years of our lives producing a book, it’s not uncommon for only 400 or 500 copies to be sold. Surpass 1000 and you’re a superstar. There’s a tendency to assume that university presses receive generous funding from their host universities. It’s almost never the case. If they’re not in the business to turn huge profits, they must still be economically viable. Several years ago, I heard Susan Bielstein, executive editor at the University of Chicago Press, give a talk on the nuts and bolts of publishing. How did she begin? By asking members of her audience (almost entirely composed of art historians) to go buy a book. She was entirely serious. So am I.

Therefore…in a spirit of solidarity, I have to announce that today I bought a book.(Those of you who know me well will be shocked by this behaviour, I know…well, I actually bought the book under review on Monday…but I did buy another art book today, so I qualify on all counts. Ahem). The purchased book is a splendid and weighty volume, The London Square by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, published by Yale.

The London Square by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan

It is a history, from the 17th century to the present day, of the development of London’s Square, those lungs of green which have been so beneficial to the aesthetic of London and to the pleasure and convenience of its inhabitants. When I lived in London I lived in an area of small jewel-like squares and crescents-Barnsbury- and I still recall with delight walking around that area, enjoying its peace, set as it was between the impossibly busy Caledonian Road and Upper Street.  Jane Austen knew London well, and, indeed, placed her characters in London with characteristic precision. For example, in Emma, Isabella Knightley lives in the “good air” of Brunswick Square, and  in Pride and Prejudice, the Hursts, wealthy people of fashion, lived in Grosvenor Street, which adjoins Grosvenor Square, at a point in time when it was London’s most fashionable and largest square.

A Map of the Grosvenor Estate in 1723, showing Mayfair, with the Grosvenor Estate shaded in pink.

The development of the squares is explained particularly well. Aristocrats owned the parcels of land- in the Grosvenor estates case a mind-blowingly large parcel of 100 acres- and then leased the land to speculative builders. The book is especially good at winkling out interesting nuggets of information. For example, St. James’s Square-a place of terror in my mind, all related to the employment Appeal Tribunals I used to attend and which were held in what was once Lady Astor’s very grand house-did not at first have a green and secluded garden at its heart, but a large circular basin, filled with water. All as a result of the influence of one of Jane Austen’s ancestors, James Byrdges, the Duke of Chandos, a resident of the square, who had

… an amateur interest in hydraulics, who was a shareholder in the water company. It was in any regard a very practical conceit as it (the basin-jfw) served as a reservoir from which water could be drawn in the event of fire

In addition to being superbly written, this book is, as you would expect from Yale, fabulously illustrated. This illustration, below, of Hanover Square in 1769, for example, is fascinating and repays close inspection.(If you click on it a larger version will appear)

Hanover Square by Elias Martin (1769)

Cows graze in the middle distance, boys tease goats and fashionable ladies walk through it all with their trophies -small dogs on leads ( some things never change). I’m not sure this is exactly the scene Mary Crawford was imagining when she envisaged marrying Edmund Bertram here, in Mansfield Park. Or was it? Food for thought.

The second half of the book deals with the development of squares from the late Regency onwards, and I found the chapters dealing with the struggle to maintain the squares in the 1960s -grand and not so grand –  when we seem to lose our way with regard to retaining the historical spaces of our cities, and London in particular, totally fascinating and riveting reading ( though I understand it is not a primary concern for those of you only interested in JAne Austen’s era).However, even Albert Square, of BBCs soap, Eastenders fame, gets an honourable mention, for Mr Longstaffe -Gowan is equally at home writing with authority of both grand projects and those that are rather more humble; for example, the Victorian squares in Hackney and Hoxton. But then he is the president of the London Parks and Gardens Trust. This is a wonderful book, and I think you would all enjoy it…and may even help establish a very worthy tradition of “Buy-a-Book Day”.

You may be interested to read Mr.Longstaffe-Gowan’s other book about an aspect of London life, The LondonTown Garden 1700-1840, shown below

The London Town Garden by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan

First published in 2001, it has been a well-loved member of my library for over ten years, and I still enjoy reading its intelligent prose and devouring the sumptuous illustrations. Re-reading a book and enjoying it years after publication must be the highest practical praise a reader can bestow.

And finally, may I offer all at Enfilade my very sincere congratulations on your anniversary, and I hope for the continuance of my breakfast peace, more from you all to come for a very long time.

I thought you would all be very interested in Sotheby’s English Literature,History,Children’s Books and Illustrations sale which will be held in London on the 10th July. The reason? There are quite a few items related to Jane Austen..so, get your cheque books ready…

There is almost a complete set of  first editions for sale, all from the collection of Bridget Mary Owen:

Lot 57, Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice, First Edition, ©Sotheby’s


has a pre-sale estimate of £20,000-30,000

Lot 55, Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park First Edition ©Sotheby’s

has a pre-sale estimate of £3,000 – 5,000

Lot 58, Emma

Emma, First Edition, ©Sotheby’s

has a pre-sale estimate of £10,000-15,000, and Lot 56,  Northanger Abbey and Persuasion

Northanger Abbey and Persuasion First Edition ©Sotheby’s

Has a pre-sale estimate of £2,500-3,500.

Continuing the navel themes of Persuasion, Lot 20, is a sea chest owned by George Lewis Browne who served on H.M.S. Victory, Nelson’s flagship, during the Battle of Trafalgar:

Battle of Trafalgar Sea Chest ©Sotheby’s

This has a pre-sale estimate of £15,000-20,000 And finally, Lot 59: a piece to make every Janeite’s heart leap, Jane Austen’s Ring:

Jane Austen’s Ring, and Note from Eleanor Austen née Jackson to Caroline Austen ©Sotheby’s

This has a pre-sale estimate of £20,000-30,000. It has a rather touching history, which is contained in the note that accompanies the ring, shown below:

Note written by Eleanor Austen, Née Jackson to Caroline Austen in 1863 ©Sotheby’s

The ring was Jane Austen’s and on her death it became to property of her sister, Cassandra. Three years after Jane died, in 1820,  Henry Austen, her brother, married for the second time, Eleanor Jackson. She was well known to the Austen family, and was a niece of Mr. Papillon, the Rector of Chawton(who was in turn the subject of a joke: Mrs Knight the adoptive mother of Edward Austen, often wished Jane Austen had married him).

Deirdre Le Faye in the Jane Austen Society’s Report  of 1989 wrote about Eleanor and Henry:

The last of the nine sisters-in-law was Eleanor Jackson, Henry’s second wife. Jane had always expected that Henry would marry again, and before his bankruptcy in 1816 there had been several ladies in his circle of wealthy London friends to whom he seemed equally attracted and on whom he sought Jane’s sisterly opinions. However, his sudden reduction to near-poverty meant that any thoughts of re-marriage had to be indefinitely postponed, and it was only his succession to the Steventon living in 1819,  following James’ (Austen’s jfw) death, which enabled him to support a wife once more. Not much is known about Eleanor, save that she was the niece of the Reverend John Papillon, Rector of Chawton at the time the Austens were living there; her home was in Chelsea, so Henry could have met her in either place. It is not certain whether Jane ever knew her, but it seems probable she is the “Eleanor” mentioned in Letter no. 75 in January 1813.  In 1819 she was referred to in family correspondence as having ‘a very good pair of Eyes”  but no other description or picture of her is known. Persumably she was intelligent- one cannot imagine Henry choosing a dull, stupid woman-and they were married in 1820. Despite her ill-health, (by the 1830s she had developed a semi-crippling ailment, probably something rheumatic,) Henry was devoted to Eleanor:”one dearer to me than life and for whose comfort I am solicitous beyond my own existence “. Cassandra was happy to think that he had found such an excellent wife to support him in his last role in life and an impoverished country clergyman. It is thanks to Eleanor that the miniature of Mrs Hancock, now on display at the Cottage survives; after Henry’s death in 1850 one of Frank’s granddaughters came to live with Eleanor and was in turn bequeathed the little picture( see below- jaw). It descended in that branch of the family until Mr Edward Carptenter was able to acquire  it  on behalf of the Jane Austen Society.

(pp.161-162)

Miniature of Philadelphia Hancock by John Smart

According to the note in Eleanor’s hand, when Cassandra learnt that Henry was to marry Eleanor, she gave her Jane’s ring. Eleanor in turn gave it to Caroline Austen, Jane’s niece, as the note explains. It has since descended through the family: Caroline left it to her niece, James Edward Austen Leigh’s daughter, Mary, who gave it in turn to her sister, Winifred Jenkyns,and it has since descended though that branch of the family .

The ring looks as if it’s stone is of turquoise, but in fact it is odontolite, which was commonly known as Bone Turquoise.It is, in fact a fossilised tooth, that was heat-treated  to turn blue, so that it could be used in imitation of the more expensive semi precious stone, fashionable in the Regency period.

I have then feeling that this ring will make far more than its estimate: I will, of course, watch out for the results of the sale for you, and report back. I confess, this is one item I would love to own.

UPDATE: Deirdre Le Faye has contacted me to correct the information given by Sotheby’s in their catalogue about the date in Eleanor Jackson’s note which accompanies Jane Austen’s Ring:

Eleanor Jackson’s note CANNOT be dated November 1869 (NINE), because she died on 3rd May 1864 (FOUR) and probate of her Will was granted 27th June 1864 (FOUR) – no doubt about that, therefore. The note must be ‘November 1863 (THREE) – with the final figure being written in a very tight, cramped fashion. I have written to Sotheboys to tell them this – too late now that the catalogue is printed, but I trust they will make an announcement in the room when the lot comes up. Best wishes to all interested readers, Deirdre Le Faye

 

Professor Amanda Vickery’s BBC 2 TV programme which was first screened at Christmas in the UK, has now been released on DVD and is available from all the usual outlets.

The Many Lovers of Jane Austen on DVD

This was an enjoyable documentary, which I reviewed on its airing, here. Some commentators have since criticised its approach to the JASNA AGM at Fort Worth, especially as the programme did not show much of the serious presentations held at the meeting. However, if you want to see an interesting history of Jane’s Fame,  then this is  an interesting and enjoyable  hour, in the company of a very engaging presenter. I enjoyed it, and I’m sure most of you will do so too, especially as I understand it has not yet been screened other than in the UK.

After I had written yesterday’s post on the new discoveries regarding the “portrait ” of below, I discovered a dissenting voice about these new findings. I thought you might like to read  these thoughts, written by Dr. Bendor Grosvenor of Philip Mould and Company. This is a renowned art  company which specialises in British art and Old Masters. They have become  famous for discovering sleepers, that is, previously unattributed or misattributed portraits. Dr.Grosvenor  is the author of  the erudite and entertaining Art History News website.

The “Rice Portrait”, which purports to show Jane Austen as a child

 In an article on his site he discusses The Rice Portrait.  You can read the article in full here. He doubts that the new-found  inscriptions will alter the position regarding the painting’s questioned authenticity:

I applaud the owner’s attempts to prove their painting is Jane. But I’m afraid these apparent inscriptions in old photos of the painting, which I have been shown, are (to me at least) not compelling. Nor is this the first time apparently conclusive ‘writing’ on the painting, seen in questionably interpreted and magnified old photographs, has been claimed. For the best critique of the painting’s identity, read former NPG chief curator Jacob Simon’s brief note here. In particular, he deals with the question of the apparent inscriptions written on the painting:

“The [Rice Portrait] website claims that the portrait is signed several times in monogram, inscribed JANE and dated 1788 but, from my lengthy experience of examining British portraits, these apppear to be purely incidental and meaningless markings. They were not noted by Thomas Harding Newman, owner of the portrait in 1880, who attributed it to Zoffany. They do not appear in photographs taken by Emery Walker in about 1910, despite claims to the contrary on the website. They were not apparent to the professional painting conservator who examined the portrait with others at Henry Rice’s request before cleaning it in 1985. They were not apparent to Christie’s experienced cataloguing staff in 2007 when the portrait was put up for sale in New York, despite an earlier report of initials on the portrait”.

All this will, I fear, run and run….No doubt, I’ll be reporting back to you;)

The Rice Portrait,  below, which purports to be of a young Jane Austen, has been making quite a stir this week.

The “Rice Portrait”, which purports to show Jane Austen as a child.

The painting,which is now owned by the Rice family, has been the subject of much debate  since it came to public attention in the late 19th century. The Rice family claim that the painting was made  during a visit that Jane Austen’s family made to the home of Jane’s great-uncle Francis Austen, in Sevenoaks in Kent during 1789.  Jane was 13 when the visit took place. Their story of the origins of the portrait  is that Francis Austen was very taken with young Jane and, while she was staying with him in Kent,  commissioned Ozias Humphrey, an artist he had previously commissioned, to capture her on that visit.

The portrait remained with the Kent Austens  until 1817 when it was then given by Francis Austen’s grandson, Colonel Thomas Austen, to a close friend, Thomas Harding-Newman as a wedding present. The present was apparently made to him because his bride, Elizabeth Hall, was reported to be a keen admirer of Jane Austen’s books. Thomas Harding-Newman is apparently the person who decided this portrait was by Johan Zoffany, and this misattribution caused problems for the Rice family when they were trying to authenticate it, and since the 1940s  its authenticity has been disputed.

Many art, fashion and Austen experts, including those at the National Portrait Gallery, who have the only authenticated image of Jane Austen taken in her lifetime in their collection, have raised objections to this painting, mainly on the grounds that the style of the girl’s dress, hair and the general composition would appear to date the painting to after 1800, when Jane would have been in her 20s, and therefore would have been much older than the girl depicted.

However, the latest news about the portrait is that recent digital analysis of photographs of the painting which date from 1910, and which were part of the Heinz Collection in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection from the 1950s,  have been examined. They appear to show that the portrait has some writing on its surface. Note, as I understand the situation,  the painting has been cleaned extensively over the years, and it is virtually impossible to see this new-found writing on the portrait as it stands.The photographs, taken by Emery Walker in 1910 are the best indication we have of the paintings original state.  The digital analysis has interestingly revealed the following, as reported by The Guardian journalist, Ed Butler:

In the top-right corner of a reproduction of a photograph of the portrait taken before the painting was restored, the name “Jane Austen” is visible. Next to it is revealed in two places the name “Ozias Humphry” – an established portrait painter of the period. He was a member of the Royal Academy, and a friend of other better-known artists of the day, such as Gainsborough and Romney. The words have been digitally enhanced using photographic tools and methods that have been independently validated by photographic expert Stephen Cole of Acume Forensics in Leeds, who has spent more than 20 years analysing photographic evidence in criminal cases. Art critic Angus Stewart, a former curator of an exhibition dedicated to Jane Austen, has seen the evidence and is impressed. “To have all these words revealed on the canvas is very, very strong. I think you’d be flying in the face of reason to deny this,” he said ( See: The Guardian, 8th June, 2012)

If you go here to the Rice family’s own website about the painting you can see the photographs of the writing on the surface of the painting. They were initially discovered by a reader of their website, which prompted the Rice family to investigate further. They are also currently  investigating some more writings, as their website reveals.

Now, of course,  the writing could have been put on the canvas by someone other that Ozias Humphry  or even by a later owner, but as the painting was believed, from around 1818, to have been by the more prestigious artist, Johann Zoffany, it is argued, and quite persuasively it seems to me, that the writing must have been put there during or shortly after Jane’s lifetime but before the unfortunate misattribution was made by Harding-Newman. If the writing was added to the painting  after 1817,  the name which would appear would surely have been of the artist who was then thought to have painted it ; that is,  Zoffany. The fact that the painting is inscribed with Humphry’s name points to it having been inscribed in the late 18th century and not after. An additional reason for the attribution to Humphry being correct is that Humphry went blind in 1797 and , naturally, stopped painting. It  seems now, despite the evidence of the hair, the costume and the composition, very unlikely that the painting was created in the early 19th century. The dates revealed by the digital analysis do support the Rice family arguments regarding the origins and descent of the painting, which they have been making for a very long time.

In an effort to try to establish exactly what has gone on regarding this and the other disputed “portrait ” of Jane Austen, now owned by Paula Byrne, and which is currently on show at the Jane Austen House Museum, see below,

The disputed portrait which may be Jane Austen, now owned by Paula Byrne, and currently on show at the Jane Austen House Museum

a letter was published in The Guardian yesterday, which was signed by Louise West,Curator of the Museum, Professor Kathryn Sutherland, Henrietta Forster and Paula Byrne. It proposed that a debate about both this and the Rice portrait ought to take place at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.  Here is the text of their letter:

We note with interest the latest findings of the champions of the so-called Rice portrait, putatively of a young Jane Austen (A portrait of the artist as a young girl?, 9 June). In view of their renewed confidence in the attribution as to painter and sitter, we very much hope that the owners will support us in calling for an open discussion and exhibition of all the contenders for “portrait of Jane Austen”. We are planning a debate, to be hosted by the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and extend an invitation to all interested parties.

Good idea. I do hope that some art historians appear to give their thoughts. And let’s hope that, as a result, we will finally have some clarity  about the person(s) portrayed in these portraits( though I confess I am still very unconvinced by the portrait said to be of Jane Austen as an older woman!)

Since I read this article last Saturday, I’ve been reading the archive of the Times Literary Supplement on this topic.  For years the Rice portrait has been the subject of much debate within its pages, and, again, I confess  I have been really quite shocked by the tone of the arguments made regarding the authenticity of the portrait. Bad tempered and somewhat personal in nature, I really don’t think this has been the experts finest hour. What is it about these portraits that makes everyone so passionate? A desire to have a professional image of Jane Austen? A fortune? A desire to be correct? A combination of all three? *shakes head sadly*

It would seem  to me that the Rice portrait now has many claims to authenticity, particularly now that these previously undiscovered markings have been found, which confirm the original story given by the Rice family. I send them my congratulations, which I hope are not premature. My friend, Jane Odiwe is to be congratulated too, for she has been certain of the portrait’s authenticity for some time.

Yet again, this is just part of a continuing saga, and  I hope to be able to report back to you about it in due course. Positively, I hope.


We are all very familiar with the miniature portraits of Jane Austen’s family that exist- her father’s, by an unknown artist springs to mind- but possibly the most accomplished miniatures associated with her , and my favourites, are those of her youthful love, Tom Lefroy and of her aunt, Philadelphia Hancock.

Miniature of Thomas Lefroy by George Englehart

This miniature of Tom, above, was painted by George Englehart, (1752-1829) a leading English miniaturist of the late 18th/early 19th century.  The wistful portrait of Jane’s aunt,  Philadelphia Hancock, below, is  by John Smart (1741-1811), and is now part of the collection at the Jane Austen House Museum:

Miniature of Philadelphia Hancock by John Smart

If you would like to learn more of Englehart’s or Smart’s work, or of miniatures in general, then new resource might be of interest  to you. The Cleveland Museum of Art has recently published online part of its wonderful collection of miniatures. Go here to see it all. It is a fascinating and very intelligently organised collection.

The Cleveland Museum of Art Portrait Miniature Collection Online Opening Page

Organised by artist, alphabetically, it is a delight to click on each artist’s entry to discover the holdings in the collection. This, below is the section for Richard Cosway (1742-1821) who  was one of the most accomplished of early 19th century miniature artists, Englehart’s main rival, and an artist who was patronised by The Prince Regent:

The site lists a potted biography for each artist, and the history of each miniature, with information on the sitter, is also given. The digital project is written by Cory Korkow, and he should be congratulated for creating such a well designed and informative site. For example, this miniature by Englehart of Sir Thomas Baring of the famous banking dynasty, has the following information:

Details of both sides of the miniature are included- the reverse includes a plaited lock of hair- and there is also a scale so that you can appreciate the size of the miniature in question.

Then you can access a detailed catalogue entry  which contains the provenance of the picture, bibliography, and details of the sitter. In addition there is a wonderful close up of each miniature in order that we can not only examine the miniature’s exquisite detail, but also the artist’s technique:

Portrait of Sir Thomas Baring, 2nd Baronet (1803) by George Englehart

Here, for example,  you can compare Englehart’s technique with Cosway’s by examining the exquisite detail of his miniature of Louis-Phillippe of France:

Louis-Phillipe, Duke of Orléans, later King of France (1804) by Richard Cosway

Isn’t this marvellous? This is the Museum’s pilot project and deserves to be applauded. It is, in fact, the first stage of the online catalogue to be made available to the public . It currently  includes 54 British portrait miniatures from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Publication of the remaining British works will be ongoing though out the year.

If only all collections were accessible in this way….

The next “Passion for Fashion” sale at Kerry Taylor Auctions takes place on the 26th June, and there are some wonderful pieces to interest us in it. Let’s look shall we?

The first is Lot 72, a French Gentleman’s ensemble which  dates from the early 19th century:

Gentleman’s Ensemble,French, early 19th century. ©KerryTaylorAuctions

This is fascinating: a green wool hunt coat, circa 1810-1820, which has lapels with sharp “M” notches. The coat is cut high and square at the waist. It has pocket flaps concealed in the tails. The breeches are made from soft white leather. The lower legs have “extenders” for wearing inside boots, and have mother-of-pearl buttons. This set is estimated to fetch £3000-5000 at auction.

Detail of a Gentleman’s Ensemble,French, early 19th century. ©KerryTaylorAuctions

Next is lot 74, a Gentleman’s ensemble dating from the late 18th century:

A Gentleman’s Ensemble, late 18th century, ©KerryTaylorAuctions

The coat is made of ivory silk and is lined in mustard twill silk, and dates from 1780-90. The waistcoat is made of striped orange silk, and is double-breasted and has mother-of-pearl buttons. The breeches are made of sapphire blue silk and date from 1760-1770. This ensemble has a sale estimate of £1000-1500.

Lot 75 is a rare find: a French Fencing ensemble from the late 18th century:

A French Fencing Ensemble, late 18th century. ©KerryTaylorAuctions

The jacket is made of padded linen with a chamois leather breast and upper right arm. The breeches are made of tan calico.

Fencing Mask/Helmet, French,Late 18th Century. ©KerryTaylorAuctions

The helmet/mask is made of wire mesh with red morocco leather bindings, and red morocco leather also covers the head brace. This is estimated at £2-3000.

My favourite Lot is Lot 82:

Lady’s Summer Coat, circa 1790 ©KerryTaylorAuctions

is this elegant Lady’s Summer coat.made from “Holland”, a coarse unbleached linen.  This has an integral caplet to the shoulder which is edged in black velvet ribbon. It is lined in flannel for warmth…well, it is a summer coat after all ;) This has an estimate of £800-1000.

The auction contains some wonderful modern clothes, and some of the Alexander McQueen items  are very tempting. If you would like to see the virtual catalogue of all the items then go here, and go here to the main page for the auction.

Back from my Diamond Jubilee jaunts, some to be shared with you later,  I thought you might appreciate a review of a book published only last week by Bloomsbury, written by Professor John Mullan of University College London.

The cover of John Mullan’s new book, “What Matters in Jane Austen”

This is a splendid book. I enjoyed it from cover to cover and  devoured it, in yes, a very greedy fashion. I think you might do so too.

Professor Mullan is an expert on 18th century fiction, and some of you may have been lucky enough to hear him talk about Jane Austen at JASNA conferences. He has clearly  written this book for us. By “us’ I mean  those who  read and re-read Jane Austen, “All Six Every Year”, that old mantra. For yes, it may sound like a truism, but it is the case that something new is to be found on every reading of her works. This book acknowledges that fact and relishes in it. So, if you are new to Jane Austen or have only  a passing knowledge of the plots of only one or two of her works, then this book is not for you. Well, not yet.  It is for the reader who  loves The Six (and the fragments –The Watsons and Sanditon) with a passion, and loves to re-read them, closely.

As Professor Mullan states in his introduction:

This book was written on the firm belief that Austen rewards minute attention, that hardly anything in her novels is casual or accidental. Discussing “Pride and Prejudice” in a letter to Cassandra, Jane Austen adapted a couple of lines from Scott’s narrative poem, “Marmion”:”I do not write for such dull Elves/As have not a great del of ingenuity themselves”  That ingenuity is the subject of this book, and worth examining because Austen hoped ( or is it expected?) that her reader would share it.The self-indulgent purpose of the book has been to convey my own pleasure in reading Jane Austen. Its less selfish aim is simply to sharpen the pleasure of other readers of her novels.

The book is organised into twenty chapters, all based around questions inspired by the texts and the social history points in her books, which if ignored , leave the reader with a diminished experience of Austen’s technique. Professor Mullan helps the dedicated reader “de-code” Jane Austen’s subtle style, for example by concentrating on questions that most readers must have considered while reading her: for example, he examines the games Austen’s characters play, and what it reveals about them, why it is “risky” to go to the seaside in her novels, and what the characters call each other and , more importantly, why.

John Mullan

My favourite chapter was “How Experimental a Novelist is Jane Austen?”, the last chapter in the book. I loved the manner in which Professor Mullan forensically examined Austen’s use of particular words and acknowledged her genius, which he is convinced she acknowledged to herself too. As he writes:

She did things with characterisation, with dialogue, with English sentences, that had never been done before. Is it possible that she had no particular idea of how singular her novels were? Or did she have some hunch that her fiction was unlike that of any of her contemporaries, and would duly outlive her rivals?

John Mullan shares our view that Jane Austen was extraordinary. Virtually self-educated, she was a genius. Unparallelled. Her brilliance has been, for some time, hidden behind a Victorian veil of respectability and a desire by her immediate descendants  ” not to frighten the horses”. But, importantly, he points out that her achievements are made all the more remarkable by the fact that she worked alone, without the criticism, support  and company of fellow authors:

…the widespread resistance to the image of a modest lady has been allowed to obscure an important truth: she as in some ways the most surprising genius of English Literature. She lived in an age distinguished by its literary intimacies and exchanges…Jane Austen knew not a single notable author, even distantly. Her most renowned female predecessor, Fanny Burney, had conversed with men and women of lettres and had been befriended by Samuel Johnson, no less. Her best-known female contemporary, Maria Edgeworth, may have lived in seclusion in Ireland, but when she did come to London she consorted with Jeremy Bentham and Walter Scott….Not Austen.

There are some nitpicking, teeny-tiny errors- for example,  Jane Austen did indeed visit Brighton in 1805 when en route to Worthing with her family and some of her works were known, but admittedly not universally liked, by Maria Edgeworth-but they are negligible and do not detract in any way from the great amount of enjoyment to be gained by reading every chapter. I admired the way Professor Mullan manages to explain her technical genius in a non-threatening non-academic way.(Can you tell that I’ve been reading too many dry, academic books recently?*sigh*).

I loved his approach to her works, for I too have always believed that a close examination of her texts replays the reader in many ways, and is essential for trying to understand her intent. I say “trying” for in many respects, she is still elusive. But I still suspect she may have liked not being able to be caught in the act of greatness. This book confirms that it is, as ever, fun to try…

To conclude, this is thoroughly a readable, enjoyable book, written by a noted academic( though not in an academic style!). Buy it. Do.

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