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The Zoffany exhibition has now opened at the Royal Academy and I shall be (D.V.) going to see it in the next few weeks, and will, of course,  be reporting back to you here. The catalogue/book accompanying the exhibition  arrived with a thump on my door mat a few weeks ago and I thought you might like to hear my thoughts on it. Mary Webster’s magnificent monograph  on Zoffany has to be the main reference point for those wishing to delve into the minutiae of his life and works, but it is rather an expensive volume. If you have less cash to spare you might want to consider  this book as a more than acceptable alternative.

The book is, as you would expect of a Yale publication, superbly illustrated throughout. But the essays that make up the first part of the book are, in my very humble opinion, outstanding. Martin Postle’s opening essay on Zoffany’s life and reputation is fascinating, beautifully written and appropriately illustrated, and draws this  interesting comparison with Hogarth:

Zoffany’s art is often appreciated for its technical accomplishment and keen eye for detail. As with Hogarth it  is also distinguished by its incisive social commentary and irrelevant brand of humour. It provides a sophisticated and often guileful commentary, which challenges the parameters of hierarchical structures, national boundaries and social mores. Zoffany, was like Hogarth, temperamentally unsuited to follow the conventional career of the compliant “society” painter. However, like Hogarth, Zoffany proved two be a consummate painter of society 

Robin Simons’ chapter on Zoffany and the theatre is fascinating, providing the reader with tremendous detail of the workings of the 18th century theatres in London and the provinces,, which, with its patent theatres and performances censored by the Lord Chamberlain, was so different from our theatrical experience today. One of Zoffany’s earliest patrons was the actor David Garrick and this association guaranteed him many, many theatrical commissions. These theatrical portraits now can seem rather stilted and staged, to excuse a pun, but by careful study of the them and the scenes they are meant to represent it is clear that Zoffany took this genre by the scruff of its neck and developed it, becoming one of its greatest exponents and chroniclers. His portrait of Thomas King as Touchstone in As You LIke It from 1780, below, is a tour de force.

Zoffany’s great conversation pictures, like this one below of the Sharpe family, have become so ubiquitous we now rarely notice the details. But if you look closely enough there seem to be indications of something other than mere representations of family life being recorded. Kate Redford’s chapter on Zoffany and British Portraiture is, as ever, a wonderfully considered piece of writing, and places Zoffany’s work in its proper context, explaining that his conversation pieces were exception pieces of work, often employing subtle narrative devices which,when decoded, illuminate the witty,sometimes bawdy nature of 18th century society in England.

The Sharp Family, painted between 1779-81 shows the comfortably-off family  during one their Water Scheems, when they performed on their boats and barges. This family, one of whose members was Granville Sharp the abolitionist,  were renowned among society for both the expertise of their musical performances and  their conviviality.

However, in this central section, Zoffany plays visual jokes, an “in-joke” if you like, something that the Sharps, in common with many 18th century families indulged in. For example, they often signed letters using the musical notation for  “sharp” instead of writing their names .This word play was taken up by Zoffany, and interpreted visually.  Below, we can see Granville Sharp holding  his double flageolet, a difficult instrument to master, behind his brother’s, James’ head, so that it resembled the form of a cuckold’s horn.

James’ nickname was Vulcan, the farrier to the gods and husband of Venus, who cuckolded him after she fell in love with Mars.

Sitting above  are the wives of two of the brothers. James wife, Catherine wearing  a lilac dress and a black shawl and William Sharpe’s wife. Neither were very fond of music, and can be seen comforting each other rather in the manner of golf widows: they had musically obsessed husbands and paid the price ! This is all very clever, and the in -joke  was hopefully enjoyed by the Sharp family but as Kate Redford keenly remarks, this is an artistic approach that also had its dangers:

The appeal of these narrative devices probably relied on raillery; equivalent to a light-hearted banter that showed the sitter’s modest ability to laugh at themselves and that fitted the relatively more informal and lively milieu of the conversation piece tradition .Zoffany’s patrons no doubt enjoyed the wit of his clever juxtapositions and narrative conceits, although, on occasion, he must surely have sheen sailing close to the wind….

Luckily for Zoffany he was a friend of the Sharpes and  most probably enjoyed their clever company and conversation. He was also a keen musician who also took part in similar water parties and knew many professional musicians. The joke, which was at James Sharpe’s expense in a possibly offensive way, was probably allowable because Zoffany was part of their circle- a fact indicated by the presence of his dog, Roma, sitting in the foreground of the picture, to represent the artist. He was not so lucky with other, very prestigious clients and compositions. More on this after my visit to the exhibit.

So, to conclude, if you are unable to visit the Royal Academy to see the exhibition for yourself, tout are fascinated by these portraits and what they reveal about the nature of late 18th century society  in Britain (and beyond), I do hope you will purchase this fascinating, beautiful and very readable book. Zoffany’s appeal for me lies more in the canvasses he completed in late 18th century India, with all its Austen associations, and I am so looking forward to seeing many canvass that  are normally only on show in India.  Society Observed indeed.

The Brighton Museum Press Office has just announced that a new exhibition on the short life of Princes Charlotte, is to be held in the sumptuous surroundings of her father’s seaside pleasure place/folly, The Royal Pavillion at Brighton. She was, of course, George IVs only legitimate child and heir presumptive to the English throne until her premature death in childbirth in 1817. As the Press Release reminds us:

A feisty, headstrong tomboy as a child, Charlotte became very popular with the public, unlike her father, and was referred to as the Daughter of England. She married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg Gotha and the couple were happily married for just a year and a half until tragedy struck. She gave birth to a stillborn son in November 1817 and died shortly after the birth. Charlotte’s death and the death of her son changed the course of royal history. Charlotte would have become Queen had she outlived her father and grandfather and Queen Victoria is unlikely to have succeeded to the throne – there would have been a ‘Charlottian’ age rather than a Victorian one.

The exhibition will be held for a year, from March 10th 2012 until March 10th 2013 in the Prince Regent Gallery. This is the Pavilion’s new exhibition space and was where some of the items in the Dress for Excess exhibit were on show( my last post on that exhibit will hopefully be published next week!). The exhibit will focus on the life and tragic death of the Princess through a range of exhibits including personal items such as two of her gowns, her handwritten music book, along with paintings, prints, ceramics, jewellery and glassware

Allow me to quote David Beevers, Keeper of the Royal Pavilion:

“The exhibition is about a princess who has fallen off the radar. Most people now have no idea who Princess Charlotte is – and yet her death hit Britain like a thunderbolt, the effects were extraordinary, the country closed down for virtually a week and everything was swathed in black. The closest equivalent is the outpouring of public grief after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

 “The Royal Pavilion, where the Princess spent some happy times, is the perfect place to bring Charlotte’s story to life and provide an insight into the fascinating and charismatic person she was.

 “For the first time in a generation, the Royal Pavilion and Museums’ extensive collection of material relating to the Princess will be displayed, along with items on loan from the Royal Collection, museums and private collections. It will highlight a fascinating royal story during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Year and enable people to learn more about the royals who stayed at the Royal Pavilion.”

We have discussed the life, wedding and death of this poor Princess and her admiration for Sense and Sensibility before, here. The press release tell us that viewing the exhibition will be an opportunity to see some of the most important surviving items of clothing associated with Princes Charlotte:

Exhibits in the new exhibition include a Russian-style dress which belonged to Princess Charlotte, on loan from the Royal Collection;(which can be seen in the portrait below-jfw),

(Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, George Dawe, 1817, copyright National Portrait Gallery, London).

Her silver and white evening gown, on loan from the Museum of London;

a bust of Princess Charlotte, from Manchester Art Gallery; a baby’s shift she wore as an infant, from the Pavilion and Museum’s own collection, plus a nightshirt made as part of a layette for the baby she was expecting.  These two gowns, above, will be on display for the first six months of the exhibition, but they will be replaced in mid September

for the second half of the exhibition with Charlotte’s wedding gown, above, on loan from the Royal Collection. 

It sounds fascinating, and you know that the Royal Pavillion, with its over-the-top Chinoiserie decoration is one of my favourite places. This new exhibition will be a powerful draw to Brighton, yet again, though I’m doubtful I will be able to get there to see it in person this year due to other commitments. If any of you do go please let us know your thoughts!

I read in the media today that, with the forthcoming release of two new films inspired by Bronte novels, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, that  this was the year of the Brontes and Jane Austen ought to move over for her time in the limelight was over.  Indeed? Well, someone should have told museum curators that, because I can report that yet another exhibition that concentrates on fashion in Jane Austen’s era has been commissioned and it  opened  yesterday at Fairfax House Museum in York. It will run until the 31st December.


Entitled Revolutionary Fashion, the clothes on show,some from the famed Olive Matthews Collection at the Chertsey Museum, demonstrate how fashion changed dramatically for both sexes during this era. For women, wide hooped skirts were no longer an option (save for court dress) and the slender columnar silhouette with a high waist became the order of the day. For men change was equally dramatic, with the adoption of simple, well-tailored clothes, in predominantly dark colours, a departure from the embroidered silks of all colours worn during the first three-quarters of the 18th century.

Go here to read a description of the exhibition on the museum’s most excellent blog. I do like the fact that the clothes are not only on show in the museum’s exhibition space,but are also to be seen in context, on display within its beautiful rooms. The cost of the exhibition is included in the normal admission price.

I may be able  to see it: sadly, on my day in York a couple of weeks ago the museum was closed, and this exhibit had not yet opened. But in the meantime here is a link to a six-minute long video of a tour of the the exhibition ,produced by the Yorkshire Post newspaper, which I know will only partially satisfy you, but I afraid it is the best I can do at the moment.

I do hope you enjoy it, and I think you might agree with me that the time is not yet ripe for Jane Austen to move out of the limelight, no indeed.

If anyone was in doubt of Jane Austen’s continuing appeal, they only have to look at the proliferation, this year, of costume exhibits that try to recreate the clothes of her era. Here at Austenonly we have seen part of Dress for Excess exhibit at the Brighton Pavilion, and Fairfax House in York  is also to hold an exhibition of “Revolutionary” clothing in the autumn.

Now visitors to Liverpool’s Sudley House Museum are in for a treat- they are staging a costume exhibit which will feature men and women’s  fashion from 1790- 1850. The exhibit,  which is free to all visitors, will be held  from  8th July  2011 to the 7th  May 2012. IThe Museum hopes the exhibit will appeal to readers of Jane Austen and Mrs Gaskell…..from the photographic evidence, I don’t doubt it.

The Curator of the exhibit,  Pauline Rushton,  seen above with two dresses from the 1840 and 1850s, and below with a dress dating from 1810, said of the exhibit:

“We cover the period from 1790 to 1850 so it’s about a 60 year span and during that time there were a lot of changes in costume in terms of the style, as you would expect. There were political changes going on, economic changes and many social changes where people were rising through the social levels and fashion was filtering down for the first time.”

Liverpool was of course one of the great West Coast ports associated with the triangular Slave Trade, and the city amassed much wealth from the profits of that trade. The costumes on show reflect that wealth, proudly displayed by its citizens.  I often wonder if the heiress that got away ,Mary King in Pride and Prejudice, had any associations with the trade, her  uncle hailing from Liverpool as he did…..

If you go here you can see six more examples of the dresses on display : I adore the black evening dress made of net….I do hope some of you are able to visit this exhibit which looks lovely. And is free!

This week, in order to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the First Publication of Sense and Sensibility, I’m taking a slightly different tack and am writing not about an edition of the book, or about literary criticism or illustrations( my main emphasis thus far) but about Dorset, a county that features in the book.

(Do remember you can enlarge all the illustrations in this post by clicking on them)

Jane Austen clearly had mixed feelings about the county. She appears to have despised the fashionable sea-side town of Weymouth, made famous by the visits of the Royal Family, in particular George III who visited the seaside resort to recover his health:

(This marvellously gaudy photograph of George III in Weymouth is reproduced here by kind permission of my Twitter friend Patrick Baty, the renowned Historical Paint Consultant)

Weymouth is altogether a shocking place I perceive without recommendation of any kind and worthy only of being frequented by the inhabitants of Gloucester…

(See Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 14th September 1804)

But she liked Lyme Regis immensely:

They were come too late in the year for any amusement or variety which Lyme as a public place, might offer. The rooms were shut up, the lodgers almost all gone, scarcely any family but of the residents left; and as there is nothing to admire in the buildings themselves, the remarkable situation of the town, the principal street almost hurrying into the water, the walk to the Cobb, skirting round the pleasant little bay, which in the season is animated with bathing-machines and company; the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better. The scenes in its neighbourhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation; the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme; and, above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest-trees and orchards of luxuriant growth declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again to make the worth of Lyme understood.

Pesruasion, Chapter 11

She certainly approved if its country estates, for it is in Dorset  we find that Colonel Brandon lives, in Sense and Sensibility. His delightfully old-fashioned home, Delaford, is situated in that country. Mrs Jennings tells Elinor Dashwood and, of course, us of its quiet , old-fashioned charms:

Delaford is a nice place, I can tell you; exactly what I call a nice old fashioned place, full of comforts and conveniences; quite shut in with great garden walls that are covered with the best fruit-trees in the country: and such a mulberry tree in one corner! Lord! how Charlotte and I did stuff the only time we were there! Then, there is a dovecote, some delightful stewponds, and a very pretty canal; and everything, in short, that one could wish for: and, moreover, it is close to the church, and only a quarter of a mile from the turnpike-road, so ’tis never dull, for if you only go and sit up in an old yew arbour behind the house, you may see all the carriages that pass along. Oh! ’tis a nice place! A butcher hard by in the village, and the parsonage-house within a stone’s throw. To my fancy, a thousand times prettier than Barton Park, where they are forced to send three miles for their meat, and have not a neighbour nearer than your mother…

Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 30.

The Delaford living is eventually given to Edward Ferrars and this is, of course, where he settles with his new wife, Elinor. A few months later, the marriage of Marianne Dashwood to the deserving Colonel Brandon reunites the sisters to live within a very small distance of each other:

Between Barton and Delaford, there was that constant communication which strong family affection would naturally dictate; and among the merits and the happiness of Elinor and Marianne, let it not be ranked as the least considerable, that though sisters, and living almost within sight of each other, they could live without disagreement between themselves, or producing coolness between their husbands.

Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 50.

Dorset therefore becomes the home county of four of the leading characters in the book. What did their new home  county look like? What did their neighbours look like? Was Dorset then a sleepy backwater or a hive of intellectual and industrial achievements Well, these questions are more can be answered by visiting an exhibition that is currently on show at the Dorset Country Museum in Dorchester, Georgian Faces: Portrait of a County, curated by Gwen Yarker.

The exhibition attempts, and succeeds, in delineating a portrait of the county as it was in the 18th century. The idea for the exhibit resulted from the purchase of George Romney’s portraits of the Rackett family in 2008.

As Gwen Yarker comments in the preface to the exhibition catalogue:

I became aware , whilst researching the life of the Reverend Thomas Rackett and his extensive circle of friends and acquaintances, of just how formative the century (the 18th century-jfw) was in shaping the county and its institutions not least the Dorset County Museum itself.

The backbone of the exhibition is the Reverend John Hutchin’s History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset first published in 1774. The book contained detialed descriptions of 18th century Dorset. Hutchins surveyed and recorded  the country parish by parish. He wrote about the history,  the people and the topography of the county.

The exhibtion shows that

… Dorset was not an isolated rural county, but was aware of the latest thinking, ideas and intellectual developments coming out of London. This included rural centres such as Blandford Forum, where a circle of natural philosophers were based. They in turn returned to the capital with their local discourses in natural philosophy, antiquarianism and archaeology.

The portraits are grouped along social lines, downwards from the King and powerful landowners, through to the county’s prosperous merchants, the merchant princes of Poole with its lucrative trade to and from Newfoundland, the members of the Dorset Volunteer Rangers , a corps of light cavalry who were founded in 1794 to defend the county against French invasion, the scientists and antiquarians of the county, right down to rare portraits of servants and gamekeepers.

Only sitters who lived in or regularly  visited Dorset are included in the exhibition. Many of the portraits have  rarely been seen before in public, and the curator was successful in persuading a number of private collectors to agree to their portraits being shown to the public for the first time.

The Digby family group of portraits are one example of this. All save one had their portraits painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. They amply illustrate  the fate the 18th century assigned to them due to their birth order and potion in society, and the pattern of their lives represent exactly the society about which Jane Austen wrote.

The eldest, Edward 6th Lord Digby,  inherited the tile and estates, and employed Capability Brown to landscape the garden of the family seat in Dorset, Sherbourne Castle. Charitable  and kind he caught a fever whilst visiting the family’s estates in Ireland and died prematurely at the age of 27.

The second son,Henry, became an M.P.He succeeded to the ownership of the estates on the death of his eldest brother.The third son, Robert, entered the navy to eventually become  a Rear Admiral of the Red in 1780.

William the fourth son held the family living of Coleshill in Warwickshire. ,Stephen the fifth son was commissioned into the Army. Charles, the six son also went into the church and was given another family living in Somerset.

The exhibition is fascinating, and I thoroughly recommend it . For lovers of the 18th century it provides wonderful and detailed  insights into the people who lived in Dorset at this time, their homes and their occupations,

Interestingly, the research for the exhibition was begun on a budget of £1000 only,and unpaid volunteers did a lot of the ground work.What an innovative way to involve the local community and to beat budget cuts. Bravo to all concerned.

If, however, you can’t get to Dorchester to see it, then the catalogue of the exhibition, produced in paper back form is a very readable and interesting book in its own right. It is available to order by post from the Dorset Country Museum in Dorchester.

This is a great year for lovers of Thomas Rowlandson’s works (of which I am one). Here he is, above ,shown at the age of 58 in 1814, at the height of his popularity. An  exhibition of his work is currently available to view in the USA: and interestingly it will be on show at two venues . It is currently at the  Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University in Chicago until the 31st March, and then it will move to the Frances Lehman Boeb art Centre at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY state, where it will be on show to the public from the 8th April until the 11th June of this year.

Sadly I have no hope of seeing the exhibit at either venues( how I do despise the Atlantic!) and so I’m  pleased to be in receipt of the book that has been published to accompany the exhibit, and it is that book I am going to review today.

Rowlandson has been somewhat dismissed in the past as a prolific but crude and lewd artist. Immediately after his death his works fell into a critical decline. As Professor Vic Gatrell writes in his essay Rowlandson’s London which is contained in the book:

Manners were changing fast in the 1820s and by the time of his death in 1827 his robust humour was out of fashion. Thanks to the increasing assertiveness of the evangelical and upwardly mobile middle-class opinion makers, more domesticated and respectable tastes were gaining ground. So only one obituary noticed his passing and only Ackermann, Bannister and Angelo are recorded at his funeal.For half a century thereafter barely a handful of collectors even remembered his name.

This exhibition and book attempts to re assess Rowlandson and his work, as not only someone who was humorous, but who depicted social life in late Georgian england  with a satirical but nevertheless accurate eye. Someone who had a talent for spotting and reproducing the telling details of the raw side of life in the taverns,  streets and theatre of Georgian London.

Jane Austen certainly knew of Rowlandson’s works. In her letter to Cassandra Austen of the 2nd March 1814, she refers to his character Dr Syntax:

There are no good places to be got in Drury Lane for the next fortnight, but Henry means to secure some for Saturday fortnight, when you are reckoned upon. Give my love to little Cassandra! I hope she found my bed comfortable last night and has not filled it with fleas. I have seen nobody in London yet with such a long chin as Dr. Syntax, nor anybody quite so large as Gogmagoglicus.

Dr Syntax was, of course,  Rowlandson and William Combe’s satirical attack on William Gilpin and his books on the picturesque. The tours of the hapless Dr Syntax mimic Gilpin’s tours around the British Isles : Jane Austen appears to have been a reader and possible admirer of both. And of course if does have to be admitted that  Dr Syntax had a rather long chin….

The exhibition and the accompanying book edited by Patricia Phagan attempts to re-assess Rowlandson’s reputation, as an accurate depicter of social phenomena and the Georgian habit of mixing of social classes at entertainments in England :

The exhibition is organized around the chief forms that social life assumed in Rowlandons art: high society and politics; encounters in the street ,taverns and clubs, outdoor entertainments,the arts and sexual and romantic tangles and attachments.

He recorded a world, especially  of that  in London,that Jane Austen knew well, living as she did occasionally with Henry Austen at his home in Henrietta Street ,Covent Garden:

Rowlandson’s art emerged from a culture bound by a sense of irony, and independent minded society where social ranks mingled in public areas such as royal parks, pleasure gardens and in the theatrical and artistic realm of Covent Garden,but in which a hierarchy remained.

Patricia Phagan also notes that:

Rowlandson’s observations on society’s indulgent pleasures also vibrate with social tension and personal irony and it is this edge , along with his deft drawing style, that gives the artist’s work its commanding intrigue.

An essay by Vic Gatrell,author of City of Laughter (a marvellous book, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the prints of this era and which deals in part with Rowlandson’s satirical prints, gives great insights into Rowlandson and his intimate relationship with Covent Garden in  London.

Hhe also makes this plea which is at the heart of the exhibition and book:

The truth is that Rowlandson needs tobe rescued from the immense condescension of posterity. Critics and collectors over the past couple of centuries have always liked his watercolor drawings, but because they have been largely concerned with aesthetic  effects and conventionally reputable genres. They have generally ignored his comic prints and deplored his ‘coarseness’. The more snobbish have sniffed at the fact that much of  his market came to lie amongst people more vulgar than themsleves. Commcerically minded, indeed low-minded, Rowlandson rejected the artistic postures that would have enabled such people to approve of him more easily…

The exhibition  concentrates on Rowlandson prints, including his political ones.But does not cover in depth his landscape and topographical subjects, though  some , like his depiction of Winsor, below, are included.

The book includes very fine reproductions of 72 of his prints, all reproduced in full colour and having interesting and illuminating commentaries attached.

Sadly, there are few concrete facts surrounding Rowlandson’s life and the compilers of both the exhibition and this book acknowledge that did not have access to the latest research,  a new publication on Rowlandson’s life which was written by the acknowledged experts, Matthew and James Pyne. Entitled Regarding Thomas Rowlandson: His Life, Art and Aquaintance I will be writing about that book very soon.

I ought to warn that some of the images in the exhibition catalogue are, as is to be expected, explicit. But then the age in which he and Jane Austen lived was a far more robust  era than those that followed. Something that readers of Jane Austen find disconcerting sometimes; But if, like me, you find in Rowlandson’s drawings and prints an immediacy,which conveys something of what it was like to live in the late Georgian era, then this book is for you.

I leave you with Rowlandson’s view of Oxford undergraduates, men Jane Austen knew quite well, having two brothers, James and Henry, who were educated there ;)

I thought you might be interested to learn the  details of a talk to be given by Diana Shervington at the Lyme Regis Philpot Museum on Saturday 12th February, at 2.30p.m. It will be on the subject of Jane Austen and her two naval brothers, Frank, below

and Charles, also shown below.

The talk promises to be fascinating as Diana Shervington is a descendant of Jane Austen, and is also a patron of the newly formed South West branch of the Jane Austen Society.

If you do go you might be interested to also see the Museum’s new winter exhibition which is about Mary Anning , the great finder of fossils, who had as we have learnt , a slight connection to Jane Austen. The exhibition is entitled Mary Anning and the Men of Science and according to the museum’s website…

explores Mary’s relationships with the great men of science of her day – William Buckland, William Conybeare and Henry de la Beche. It includes unique Mary Anning material on loan from other museums and features the newly-conserved coprolite (fossil dung) table owned by Buckland.

For fun, there is a 3-D re-creation of de la Beche’s famous vision of ancient Dorset Duria Antiquior, created by artist Darrell Wakelam in partnership with local children.

It all sounds fascinating, don’t you think?

I was lucky enough to  receive this book as a gift at Christmas, and since then I’ve been savouring its marvellous detail. Though it covers a longer period than the Long 18th century, there is ample information to interest us within its pages.

The book is in fact the catalogue of a new exhibition which is currently on show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The exhibit celebrates the acquisition by the museum of a major collection of European men’s, women’s and children’s clothes and accessories. I have no hope of getting to Los Angeles to see it ( the exhibit runs untill 27th March, 2011) and so it is truly wonderful to be able to pore over the very good photographs- highlighting some wonderful details- and the interesting text, including a very intriguing Preface by fashion’s current enfant terrible, John Galliano.

Let’s have a look at some of the items that interest me. First a waistcoat which would surely have appealed to Mr Knightley, though it is actually French-  Shhh! Don’t tell him- as it’s subject matter is so rural:

Is this Harriet’s own dear welch cow?

And look at this beautiful dress form 1818, the overdress made of handmade lace, “Bucks” so-called because it was made in Buckinghamshire, a traditional area for bobbin lace making.

Here is a close-up detail of the lace:

In fact I am reading this book  it in conjunction with the Museum’s marvellous and most excellent website: some of the items in the book are available to view in greater detail on the internet. Let’s do it together now….

This is a gentleman’s three piece velvet suit dating from 1800. The close-up of the embroidery is breath taking. Some areas of the embroidery are padded slighty to add a raised area and  texture to the embroidery, almost like stumpwork. The dandelion heads are padded in this way.

If you go here however you can see more images of the suit and can zoom in on the details.

This beautifully detailed Spencer dating from 1815 is also available to view online here

So even if you can’t get to the exhibit, the museum’s excellent website and the book are beautifully presented and allow those of us sadly separated from it by thousands of miles to enjoy these wonderful clothes at one remove.

A final note: the website actually includes a wonderful free gift to talented needleworkers: free downloadable patterns which have been created from some of the garments in the collection. Go here to see. I love the banyan.

Some events at the Foundling Museum have just been announced, and as they are being held in conjunction with the famed Threads of Feeling exhibition, I thought you might like to know about them.

First, a talk on the subject of Bonds of Love and Affection at the London Foundling Hospital in the Eighteenth-century by Dr Alysa Levene:

In conjunction with Threads of Feeling, Dr Alysa Levene explores the emotional experiences of the children left at the Foundling Hospital. Over 18,000 babies and young children were left at the Foundling Hospital between its opening in 1741 and the end of the eighteenth century. We know almost nothing about the emotional experiences of any of them .

However, we can tease out something of the emotional bonds that existed between these children and their parents by examining the letters and tokens left with them. Very few of these children were ever taken back by their families, but this was not the end of their experiences of family life. Most were sent to be wet nursed in foster homes in the countryside, and here too, we can see some evidence of their experiences via the letters written by the inspectors of nurses back to the hospital. Not all of these experiences were happy, but this talk will illustrate how much the Foundling Hospital records can tell us about mothering, nurture and the model of childhood in the eighteenth century.

Dr Alysa Levene is a Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and author of Childcare, health and mortality at the London Foundling Hospital, 1741-1800: ‘left to the mercy of the world’ (Manchester University Press, 2007). She was also the general editor Narratives of the Poor in Eighteenth-Century England (Pickering and Chatto, 2006).

This talk will be held on Tuesday 25 January, 7pm- 8.30pm (doors 6.30pm, includes pay bar) Tickets will cost  £12, concessions: £10.

On the 16th February renowned costume designer and historian Jenny Tiramani will give a talk on how Georgian women dressed. Here are the detials:

Here are some details of Jenny Tiramani’s work to entice you….

She was the Director of Theatre Design at Shakespeare’s Globe, London until 2005. She received the 2003 Olivier Award for her costume designs of TWELFTH NIGHT with that company. From 1979 – 1997 she was Associate Designer at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, London. Jenny Tiramani has worked with director Mark Rylance and composer Claire van Kampen since 1991 – starting with their Phœbus’ Cart company production of THE TEMPEST at the Rollright Stone Circle, Corfe Castle and on the foundations of Shakespeare’s Globe. During Mark Rylance’s period as Artistic Director at the Globe, Jenny Tiramani worked with him researching into the original practices of Shakespeare’s actors, their clothing, properties and the possible decoration of the theatre itself.

Jenny Tiramani is currently completing an academic book on Elizabethan costume and is visiting professor at the University of Nottingham.

It sounds a tremendous evening…..I’m considering going, very seriosuly…but will the never-ending snow permit? Here is the link to the Foundling Museum should you want to contact them to buy tickets.

Good news for fans of the Foundling Hospital tokens in the US. The wonderful Threads of Feeling exhibition catalogue written by the curator of the exhibit, John Styles, is now available to purchase in the US direct from Burnley and Trowbridge, making considerable savings on mail order costs. . Go here to order it: you won’t regret it ;0

You might remember my recent post on the Founding Museum’s current exhibition, Ribbons of Feeling.

In it I drew your attention to one particular fabric “token”  on  show, that donated by the mother of Florella,a child admitted to the Foundling Hospital in 1758:

Inspired by this fragment,  the London Print Works Trust  recreated lengths of it for the exhibition, and some of it was made up into an example of an 18th century working class woman’s bedgown:

And sample lengths of the material are on sale in the Museum shop.

If you go here you can read about the processes involved in recreating the fabric, a type of rough linen that may have been worn by the likes of the poor whom Emma visited in order to provide them with some useful and practical charity. I think you might find the article interesting.

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.

(Sir Thomas Lawrence, unfinished self portrait circa 1825 )

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)

(W.M.Turners sketch of Sir Thomas Lawrence’s funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral in 1830)

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:

She wrote:

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.

(page 246)

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.

I visited this exhibit on Wednesday, which is being held at the Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square until the 6th March, 2011.  Brunswick Square was the home of the original London Foundling Hospital, a ground- breakingly original institution which cared for abandoned and illegitimate children who would otherwise have been left in the gutters to die. Founded in 1739, though the original building no longer exists in  Brunswick Square, the foundation  still performs sterling work in the form of the charity Coram,named after the Hospital’s founder, Thomas Coram.(More on the museum and the Hospital when I next post)

The children were deposited at the hospital by their desperate mothers (and,in an echo of Harriet Smith’s experience at Mrs Goddard’s school in Emma, sometimes by their fathers). Their parents knew that their child, once accepted, would have been given the best possible start in life (though the infant  mortality rates were still alarmingly high even for this section of society).

The Hospital tried, ab initio, to keep the most detailed records of the babies in its care. The billets, or registration documents which recorded the admission of a child to the hospital, often contained a token  left with the hospital by the mother as a meansof identifying her child should her circumstances improve and she could attempt to reclaim her child. In reality few managed to do this: between 1741 and 1760 only 152 children were reclaimed out of the 16,282 admitted to the institution’s care.

The tokens were sometimes tiny items of little worth:

But they could also take the form of a piece of fabric-a cap, or sleeve of a babies dress, or a piece of fabric from a gown owned by the mother. And it was the discovery of these fabric token which intrigued Professor John Styles.  He realised that it was an invaluable archive of working class fabrics and clothes, from which it was possible to make deductions about the type of clothing worn by the poor of the mid 18th century. Clothing of the poorest in society, is rarely, if ever, preserved. Worn till threadbare then used as rags, very little survives in clothing collections. So the archive of swatches of fabric collected in the ledgers of the Foundling Hospital Museum was in fact a mine of information awaiting discovery and interpretation. And this is what the exhibition, Threads of Feeling, curated by Professor  Styles sets out to do.

Housed in the basement exhibition area of the Museum, the  billet ledgers are displayed in  block display cases, the reverse sides  of which are decorated with large-scale reproductions of some of the pages of the ledgers…

together with comprehensive explanatory notes…whilst the other side of the cases

provides detailed note on all the fabric tokens in the exhibit ( there are over 6o tokens on display)

The billets and tokens are divided into different sections: ribbons- the love token of many a girl who had been taken “advantage of” and succumbed to the charms of  some swain at a fair. This flowered silver ribbon had attached to it a slip of paper with the inscription”This Silver Ribbon is desired to be preserved as the child’s mark for distinction”

Baby clothes-here is an example of a cockade made from silvered cotton dating from 1751. Emma Woodhouse, you will recall drew her nephew George wearing such an ornament(more on this in a later post) in Chapter 6 of Emma;

Here is my sketch of the fourth, who was a baby. I took him, as he was sleeping on the sofa, and it is as strong a likeness of his cockade as you would wish to see. He had nestled down his head most conveniently. That’s very like. I am rather proud of little George. The corner of the sofa is very good….

And this is a baby’s cap made of the linen material traditionally used for diapers, dating from 1753,a quite pathetically moving piece of clothing.

Some mothers left scraps of needlework-some fine,  some basic,but all most probably worked by themselves. Above is a piece of a sampler-that piece of work undertaken to prove above all that the child who had worked it was a “good”, industrious,religious soul- dating from 1759 which accompanied a boy into the care of the hospital.

Contrasting with the last token is this crudely sewn piece of blanket,edged in blanket stitch.

A lot of mothers donated tiny scraps of fabric  printed with buds, birds, acorns or other symbols of new life. This tny scrap shows a multicoloured flower. The scrap of paper accompanying it reads:

Florella Burney Born June 19th 1758. In the Parish of St Anns SoHo.Not Baptiz’d, pray Let particulare Care be taken’en off this Child As it will be called for again…

This tiny but colourful piece of  fabric was used as a template for a piece of clothing inspired by the exhibit. On the First Floor of the Museum, this outfit was on show:

It, in its turn, was inspired by the print The Female Orators by John Collet of 1768, showing street sellers in action.

The main character wears a short bedgown made of  material with a sprigged pattern, possibly printed onto a cream or yellow linen ground.

Close-up of the spotted fabric…..

Close-up of Florella….and below, a close up of the bright red underskirt…which all goes to prove, as Professor Styles assets here and in his book, The Dress of the People that  clothes for the poor of the 18th century were not monochrome and dull. They were as vibrant as any high street copy of couture clothes we see/buy today.

An installation by Annabel Lewis of the ribbon suppliers V V Rouleaux was also on display.

It began in the roof space of the stairwell of the museum just behind the bust of Handel,an original patron of the Foundling Hospital.

and hung down the stairwell…

right down to the ground floor….

….where it surrounded the statue of a foundling.

Very thought provoking.

The Florella fabric is on sale in the Museum shop

I bought some as a memento….

A wonderful way to remember this fine exhibit.

If you can’t make it to the exhibit then I recommend you buy the catalogue that accompanies the  exhibition which is available by mail order from Paul Holberton Publishing, all the details here. And if you want to read more on the subject then I can highly recommend Professor Styles’ book, The Dress of the People.

I should like to express my sincere thanks to professor John Styles for all his help in arranging for me to take photographs of the exhibition to share with you, and also to the Staff of the Foundling Museum for all their kindness.

This is a marvellous, thought provoking, once in a lifetime exhibit and experience. I can’t praise it highly enough. Go and see it: you will not regret it.

And a note to all frontier type re-enactors reading this post: thanks for visiting. Your comments have been very educational ;)

…but with a catch.  The exhibition at the Bodleian Library is open for one day only.

If you can make it to Oxford on Monday 25th October, you will be able to see a selection of Jane Austen’s manuscripts to include Volume the First (shown below),

which includes most of her very early writings and the manuscript of  Sanditon. Also on display will be Edward Knight’s set of his sister, Jane s novels.

The display is to coincide with the official launch of the Jane Austen Ficiton Manuscripts website which we have discussed before. This site will be fully operational and open to all from Monday, so even if you can’t travel to Oxford to see the manuscripts, etc, you can luxuriate in studying them from the comfort of your own computer, wherever you are in the world. I must confess I am already fining this site terribly useful for my own research, and  am so pleased it has been brought not existence before the advent of the culture of  vicious budgets cuts  in which we now seem to live .

Professor Kathryn Sutherland of Oxford University is the curator of the exhibit.  She writes:

Being able to view Austen’s original manuscripts reveals fascinating details about the mechanics and quirks of her handwriting. Her famous description of her way of working – “the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour” is borne out by the tiny homemade booklets into which she wrote – her style is obsessively economical, in her formation of carets from recycled elements of other letters, and her layered punctuation (the merging of a caret with the down stroke of a ‘p’ and a semi-colon with an exclamation mark), and her near compulsive use of the dash to maintain a material connection between her thoughts and the paper.

She has given some interesting interviews recently to coincide with the launch of the website. The article in the Telegraph, though ever-so-slightly incorrect and with its misleading  and slightly sensational headline is of interest for it demonstrates that a close reading Jane Austen’s surviving manuscripts reveals her to be a very different person than usually portrayed, and certainly completely different from the carefully crafted image presented to the world by Jane Austen’s Victorian descendants, a process of “beatification” begun by Henry Austen in his Biographical Notice of  his sister, published posthumously in December 1817 in the first edition of Persuasion. view two exhibitions, Threads of Feeling at the Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square

and Thomas Lawrence , Regency Power and Brilliance at the National Portrait Gallery.

I will of course be giving reports of my impressions of the exhibitions and their respective catalogues when I return, so I do hope you will then “virtually” join me  to talk about them in depth.

As you know, the Threads of Feeling Exhibition at the Foundling Museum curated by Professor John Styles opens this week. Concentrating on the collection of 18th century fabrics preserved in the ledgers of the Foundling hospital, tokens left by foundling’s mothers, it throws a very revealing light on the type of clothing worn by ordinary people in that era, as was disclosed in Professor Styles wonderful book, The Dress of the People.

I thought you all might be interested in two recently published articles which give a little more  detail of the exhibition. The first, accessible here is published by the Arts and Humanities Research Council,who helped fund the exhibition.

(A fascinating “Playing Card” printed fabric, ©Coram)

The second, is a fabulous interpretation of the exhibition by historian Kathryn Hughes, the  author of two great books,The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton and The Victorian Governess. Go here to access it

And here is a photograph of a section of the specially re-printed cotton to be used for recreating a garment in the exhibition.

This is called Florella after the child who was deposited with the original scrap of material.

Above is an image of the original ledger from the Foundling Museum showing the linen / cotton printed with dots and red flowers. The Foundling, a girl, was given the number 8959 and was admitted to the Hospital on the 19th June 1758:

The written inscription reads:

Florella Burney Born june the 19: 1758: In The Parish off St Anns SoHo. not Baptize’d, pray Let partiuclare Care be Taken’en off this Child, As it will be call’d for Again; …’

I find it fascinating to think that this might be the type of fabric worn by Harriet Smith’s unknown mother, or by the poor of Highbury who are visited by Emma,or even Hannah, the servant at Randalls who could shut doors with exquisite quietness…I have been very kindly invited to the opening of the exhibition on Wednesday but sadly cannot attend due to other commitments, but I promise to give a full report of the visit I am going to make to it  later in October.

So, on the presumption that you  done all your duties for today and have  either  queued up at the Estate Office to  pay your rent to your landlord, or have settled with the agent that you are to take Netherfield after all, depending on your whim…’s time for a little catching up re Amanda Vickery’s doings.

Throughout the summer she has been entertaining us on Twitter with snippets of information of the filming of Behind Closed Doors for the BBC, which has now been completed (above is the clapper board which was given to Amanda by the film crew as a present at the end of filming).Those of us who follow her on Twitter have virtually followed her to Ditcheley Park, designed by James Gibbs in the 1720s, shown below….

(© Adam Middleton and The Ditchely Foundation)

…where a lot of the filming has taken place, and also at

less grand surroundings such as houses in Spitalfields, above, and

the  Almshouses at the Geffreye Museum;as Professor Vickery noted, it was neat but frugal.

We have also met some of the actors playing the real life characters in the book, and discovered that, for actresses playing period women’s roles, The Gentleman’s Daughter also written by Professor Vickery has become an essential part of their research,a handbook to explain the lives their characters would have led in the late 18th /early 19th century. I’m glad about this as for years I have described it as required reading for anyone who wants to know more about  the background to the female characters in Jane Austen’s works. It’s nice to know that professional actresses agree!

Professor Vickery and I have been jealously coveting some of the hats on display…….

Do look at this fabulous creation worn by “Lady Margaret Stanley” seen with Professor Vickery in modern garb, above……It’s been great fun keeping up with it all. So do join Professor Vickery on Twitter  for as the broadcasting date nears there will be more snippets of information being bandied about I’m sure. At the moment there is a  debate at the production company as to want to call the series; Behind Close Doors sounds fine to me but an official alternative suggestion has been put forward , The Georgians An Intimate History…I confess I’m not keen on that one. Why not let Professor Vickery have your thoughts on the subject via Twitter?  No dates as yet from Professor Vickery as to when the series is to be broadcast but I promise to let you know the moment I’m made aware of them.

On to publishing.

Yale, whose London office are shown above, in a photograph taken by Professor Vickery while filming Behind Closed Doors, -and I would like to thank her for permission to use all these images- have now issued a paperback edition of  Behind Closed Doors in the UK (the USA paperback edition is to follow soon I understand)

This is a bargain. If you were wary of buying the full price hardback book, then  please do buy this version. It is a great read as well as being very informative. My review  accessible here might persuade you if you are wavering.

Professor Vickery is also to give the 2010 Royal Historical Society/Gresham College Annual Lecture on 11th November at Gresham College in London, entitled, What Did Eighteenth Century Men Want?, which promises to be fascinating. It may be made available as a podcast, and if so I will of course alert you all. In the meantime, here is another of Professor Vickery’s talks and this is one which IS available as a podcast now: go here to download her talking about  the role of the home in the long 18th century. Her talk is entitled Out of the Closet: Love, Power and Houses in Eighteenth Century England. You will enjoy it I’m sure.

I’ll post again when details of the broadcasting times for Behind Closed Doors are available and I will also be  reporting back soon from the exhibition curated by Professor John Styles, Professor Vickery’s husband, entitled Threads of Feeling which will open soon at the Foundling Hospital Museum in London.

The Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square is to hold a fascinating exhibition entitled Threads of Feeling. The Foundling Museum was established as an independent organisation in 1998 by the childcare charity the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, which is today known as Coram. Coram is the successor organisation of the original Foundling Hospital.

I confess I’m very excited to be going to see this exhibition and I will of course report back in late October, but I thought you would appreciate advance notice of what is to be on show.

Its curator is Professor John Styles who has written about the Coram Foundation’s collection of rare 18th century fabrics in his magisterial book, The Dress of the People which I reviewed here.

The exhibition will showcase some of the thousands of pieces of 18th century fabrics in the Coram Foundation’s collection and will also  put on show some garments specially made to recreate the type of garments from which these scraps were taken.


The story behind these scraps of fabrics is intriguing. When a mother left her baby in the care of the Foundling Hospital (see here for a little of its history) they often left a token with the baby, to be kept as an identifying record. In a few cases the babies- if they survived-were later claimed by their mothers and this identifying token assisted in the reunion process, especially if the mother was illiterate.

Sometimes the token was an object, such as these  also in the Coram Foundation’s collection:

But often it was a small piece of fabric taken from the clothing worn by mother of the child which was then affixed to the child’s registration form and was subsequently bound in ledger, as shown below

Flowered Cotton(©Coram)

Or the token could merely have been some ribbons which had once been attached to the mother’s dress, as in this example here:


As Professor Styles comments:

The process of giving over a baby to the hospital was anonymous. It was a form of adoption, whereby the hospital became the infant’s parent and its previous identity was effaced. The mother’s name was not recorded, but many left personal notes or letters exhorting the hospital to care for their child. Occasionally children were reclaimed. The pieces of fabric in the ledgers were kept, with the expectation that they could be used to identify the child if it was returned to its mother.

And  this where they have been preserved for over 200 years, and now form the largest surviving collection of textiles worn by the ordinary people of London in the 18th century. Historically they are very important, providing fascinating insights into the type of fabrics and clothing worn by ordinary people, clothes which rarely survived more than a few years before being recycled into children’s clothes, cleaning cloths and rags etc.

The exhibition will be held in the Foundling Hospital Museum which is in Brunswick Square. Which was the foundations original home and also note, the home of John and Isabella Knightley in Emma on account of its good air ( which was an important part of the decision in assessing the  location of the Foundling Hospital too) and was also the home from which the foundling Harriet Smith was reunited with Robert Martin.How appropriate.

The exhibition runs from the 14 October 2010 until the  6 March 2011, and I do hope some of you will be able to visit it.

Peckover House in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire is currently hosting Austen Attired, an exhibition of costumes from various Austen TV and Film adaptations, and the exhibition runs until the end of the month. If you can possibly get to it ,then do! I was kindly given permission by the National Trust and CosProp ,the owners of the costumes, to go there and take photographs to share with you and entice you to come to the Fens to see both the costumes, the house and its magnificent gardens.

The costumes are dotted around the building, so let’s begin our virtual tour of them and the house…..Do note that all  my photographs were taken at Peckover House and Garden, owned by the  National Trust. The Costumes are the property of CosProp Ltd.

The fisst costume is to be found in the magnificent staircase hall. It is the riding habit as worn by Billie Piper in ITV’s production of Mansfield Park (2007)

This riding habit was designed especially for the production by Mike O’Neill, who also designed the costumes for the BBC’s recent adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North And South.

It was decided to reflect Fanny’s lowly status by giving Fanny’s costumes a “hand-me-down” feel and to make her clothes in cotton and wool and in dull colours to contrast with the more fashionably attired Bertram sisters.

This riding habit was based on designs  of the 1790s and would have been out of fashion by the time of publication of the novel(1814)

On into the Dining Room,where three costumes from Emma Thompson and Ang Lee’s marvellous adaptation of Sense and Sensibility were on show.

A selection of costumes worn by Elinor, Margaret and Marianne Dashwood…

The first a very simple dress and apron which was  worn by Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood: this is worn by her  throught-out the film until the point where she is finally assured of Edward Ferrars’ affections.

I adored the way the apron was attached by two tiny fabric covered buttons….

The mourning cape of lace worn by Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood was a sign that the Dashwood ladies would still have been in mourning for Mr Dashwood….

Here it is, together with the silk dress, as worn by Kate Winslet in the film.

The small reticule was beautifully finished…..

Margaret Dashwood’s dress was also simply delicious…

Next to the Library where two of the most magnificent costumes were on show: the wedding attire of Colonel and Mrs Brandon

Colonel Brandon is resplendent in his regimentals…..but it was his wife’s attire that was so wonderful when seen in close-up.  The outfit consisted of a one piece cream dress made of  mesh fabric with a straw work standing collar and long trained skirt bordered with open work straw braid, and heavy gold and silver beading.

All worn over a cream gauze underskirt studded with tiny silver stars. Exquisite.

The dress was designed to be symbolic of the happy marriage now commencing for both Brandon and Marianne. The dress has the sparkle and joy of someone entering a new life in which she is confident and which is based on love. The use of straw work was to represent  fecundity- wheat being a fertility symbol.

A lace bonnet trimmed with tiny white flowers completes her ensemble.

The regimentals were very fine……

And even Colonel Brandon’s fob seal of intaglio carved citrine was included.

Next onto the magnificent drawing room with its very elaborate carved Rococo mirror where we encountered a costume worn by Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet in the BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

These costumes were designed by Dinah Collin who was awarded an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Costume for a Min-Series for her work on the adaptation.

I have always adored the detailing on this pale duck egg blue spencer….

Dinah Collins made the decision to give each character their own “wardrobe ” of clothes which coud be mixed and matched throughout the scenes in the adaptation

Sadly the blue colour has faded slighty (the adaptation did have problems with colour fastness didn’t it?!)

The delightful straw bonnet was worn by Elizabeth in many scenes but most especially during The Second Proposal.

Upstairs via the magnificent plaster decorations of the staircase hall to the Bedroom: here we encountered a costume from Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow…

Sadly this beautiful costume was the one Emma wore on the fateful trip to Box Hill where she insulted Miss Bates. Badly done, Emma.

It was designed by Ruth Myers, and is made of white patterned voile over pale green silk, with a green silk bow at the centre front …

and a narrow braid at the neckline.

The sleeves were also prettily gathered along the side seam.

And here ended the costume exhbit..but that is not all Peckover House has to offer. The remaining rooms in the house are fascinating many with information/learning aids  that are there to be touched and played with.We enjoyed examining in great detail the proddy rug in the servants hall…And then  there are the magnificent gardens..

Two acres of them…with rose gardens

Borders designed by Graham Stuart Thomas….

An Orangery….

..and magical bowers…..

…and a wonderful cafe in the Old Barn which would not be out of place on the fifth floor of Harvey Nichols(one of my favorite watering spots ever).

The welcome to be found at Peckover House is also execptional. The Room Stewards offer everyone the greatest and most friendliest welcomes I have ever encountered in a National Trust proeprty.Especial mention ought  to be made of the gentleman who welcomes you to the house- he was perfect, genial and ttruly welcoming.  And Ben Ricketts, the House and Visitor Services Manager, was kindness itself.  And it was all such fun. Do go if you can: you will have a wonderful time. With or without the costumes….

As many of you know Fairfax House is one of my favourite museums, being the restored 18th century Georgian town house of Lord Fairfax, in York. The house has been very involved with the history of food and research into that topic, primarily through the wonderful research work and exhibitions organised by Peter Brown, and so it is entirely appropriate that this autumn Fairfax House is sponsoring  two  Georgian Food extravaganzas in September to be hosted by my favourite food historian, Ivan Day of Historic Foods, seen here at work in his marvellous 18th century kitchen in Cumbria.

The first of these events, Death By Chocolate, will beheld at Fairfax House on the 18th September at 7 p.m. and will be an exploration of the history of chocolate.

This is a picture of Ivan’s very own 18th century chocolate pot,

complete with tea bowl and saucer of 18th century Batavian ware, both of which I am sure will be used by Ivan during his demonstration. The evening looks fascinating and there will be a chance to taste Ivan’s chocolate confections during it. I do wish I could go but am sure that Ivan’s illustrated talk and demonstrations will be as wonderful as ever.

The second event is to be held on Sunday 19th September but this time in the glorious surroundings of Middlethrope Hall, just outside York, where Ivan will be demonstrating the art of making ice cream Georgian style. The ticket price includes an opportunity to take afternoon tea at the hotel, and if a taste of Ivan’s ice cream is also included then the afternoon is a bargain ;-)

(Yummy Strawberry Ice Cream served in the Georgian manner at Wrey Farm)

As some of you know, I’ve made ice cream in the Georgian manner with Ivan on three occasions now and each time it has been a miraculous event, producing the ice cream the best I’ve ever tasted. And all done without the aid of a refrigerator. Like Jane Austen I was above vulgar economy on those days!

If you can’t make it to Fairfax House for the food events, then do try to get to see their current exhibition, Dress to Impress: Revealing Georgian Fashions, a small exhibit of Georgian era clothes on loan from various collections including those of the Castle Museum in York and Leeds museums and Galleries which runs until the 21st November.

There will also be three lectures on fashion to accompany the exhibit. The first, Dirt and What it Reveals, The Revelations of Conservation, will take place on Thursday 21st October at 7pm and is to be given by Mary Brooks. The second, Shaping the Style is to be given by Josie Shepherd, Curator of Textiles and Costume at the York Castle Museum, examines just how a lady dressed in the 18th century, from the niceties of style of the practicalities of wearing the dresses and corsets and, finally, on the 16th November “ Soe Neer Your Sidewill be  a talk by Barbara Burman on the intriguing subject of pockets, that hidden but indispensable article of women’s attire during the long 18th century. The cost of the tickets, £12, include a glass of wine or soft drink.

And finally to the candles. On the 27th and 29th October at 7pm  special tours of the house, Fairfax House After Dark,  will be given when the house will be lit entirely by candlelight. You will be guided though the house by Lord Fairfax and members of his household staff to give you a glimpse into the life of the 18th century house, in appropriate(and rarely experienced) lighting. Sounds fascinating and an opportunity not to be missed!

If you would  like to book a ticket to any of these events then please contact Fairfax House through the link above or telephone the Gift Shop on 01904 655 543.

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