Tales of Noses & Ears: Portrait Mysteries

January 5, 2012 at 8:44 am (portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , )


In the midst of all the changing thought on Paula Byrne‘s “Austin” portrait, I thought I would write a few words on my own little mysteries. It is because of these “thoughts” that I can commiserate with Paula! and why also I found the show, Jane Austen: the Unseen Portrait? a great viewing experience. Let me explain, from “a beginning”.

When I first began working with these diaries and letters, I was — of course! — presented with really NO images of anyone. I came across a photograph taken of Emma Austen Leigh in older age (6os), then began to find early drawings and silhouettes of her. All were identified — so problem solved! Or so you might think. At least once (an oil painting, seen in a photo), I found an image that looked unlike the others. Just a bad artist? Just more like her than the others? How to answer that question??

While watching the Amanda Vickery show about The Many Lovers of Jane Austen (which I also enjoyed; quite returned me to Fort Worth! But am I alone in thinking the show deserved a bit less-titillating title??), there flashed up on the screen a COMPLETELY new image of James Edward Austen Leigh; I can’t say (having seen a photo, again taken when he was in his 60s) it looks like some of the drawings I have, although it quite seems an off-shoot of another drawing.

Here is the Vickery special’s picture:

There’s just something about it, between the “wind-blown hair” and the “glum” look that makes him look less-than-sober! (Sorry, Edward.) Anyway, except for its identification as “Jane Austen’s nephew, James Edward” I’d not quite recognize him. No clue who has this image. The more I stare at it, while typing… perhaps it’s meant to look “Byronic” or “Romantic”. Will have to look through the letters and diaries. There was ONE image Emma mentioned (by Mrs Carpenter, I belive) that she criticised as “not very like”. But I thought that one covered by an image in Life in the Country! (ie, the book of James Edward Austen Leigh silhouettes, with Jane Austen quotes.)

Today, I was delighted to get a photograph, thought to have been taken in the 1860s, of a Seymour brother. The archive and the person who sent me the photo are unwavering that it represents Sir John Culme Seymour. For several reasons (which I won’t go into here), I believe that — yet wonder: Could it be a different Seymour brother?

So tonight I was looking at the EAR. I’ve a later photo (definitely 1867) of John Seymour, though he is facing the OPPOSITE direction. Oh my! While the lips seem a bit downturned in the ’67 photo, and upturned (a smile?) in the ’60s photo; I’ve long looked at the noses; and now also the ears. The ears do seem to match — rather smooth, as opposed to one brother who has a bit of a pendulous lower lobe.

The reason I bring these things up?? To outline, if briefly, that one DOES compare noses — and other bits and pieces!

Of the Seymour family, I’ve four photographs: three brothers and one sister. Do they look alike?? I can’t say they do!

I once was in church with a family of 8 or 9 siblings. There were short ones and tall ones; thin ones and fat ones; and facially, they really didn’t resemble each other either! Yikes! (I have no brothers and sisters; but I’ve cousins who rather resemble, in small ways, each other.)

When I first found the image of Emma — a photograph, remember — one of my first thoughts was: How much did she and Charles, her brother who died in 1831, look alike?? Did he have her nose? Yes, I found myself asking that Paula Byrne question!

When I first saw an 1860s photo of Mary’s brother Robert Gosling, again my thought was: How much did Mary look like him? — hard to say, looking at a very “Victorian” Gent in a stove-pipe hat! (Frankly, all I could think of was Abe Lincoln.)

Then there’s the REAL puzzle of the Beechey portrait — discussed in the post I’ve Found My Girl!?! — Oh, that one is difficult. The West Virginia museum that has it obtained it BEFORE the portrait at Suttons was sold at auction. That is the hard hurdle to get past. I can believe the costumes were perhaps “old” (c1803) to emulate their mother, who died in 1803. But this tale supposes there once was TWO portraits… And that’s hard to get around.

And yet…

And yet…

The Gosling girls are said to be 3/4-length, seated at a piano, with music in the hand of the elder and a frill painted (for modesty, it was painted years later by that same elder sister!) along the neckline of the younger sister. All those elements are there. You can view the Early Music magazine cover here. (It’s a PDF).

The hunt is on — but while Paula Byrne has one portrait to authenticate — and Sir Roy Strong may be correct in his prognostication that her chances are “Nil” — I’ve, let’s see… Two sets of parents, nine Smith siblings, seven Gosling siblings, four grandparents, a “Smith of Stratford” aunt, three “Smith of Erle Stoke” aunts, three uncles on the Smith side, and an uncle-in-law on the Gosling side, two Smith cousins, a handful of Gosling cousins, numerous in-laws, some children…

Ah! Exhausting just writing about them all. I do hope you’re not exhausted reading about them all.

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