Byrne’s Jane Austen Portrait: By Eliza Chute?

December 26, 2011 at 11:59 pm (chutes of the vyne, diaries, history, jane austen, news, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Jane Austen‘s presumed portrait (at left), c1815, may have caused some hearts to skip a beat; mine skipped several beats for a far different reason: The unmistakable relationship to another portrait, a family portrait, indicating that the artist might be Eliza Chute was staring me in the face!

At the beginning of November, I received the first email from author Paula Byrne, asking about Eliza. Her probing caused only one conclusion: that she had come across a portrait. Answering her queries in the abstract was difficult: I had only a passing acquaintance with work by Eliza Chute — mainly those drawings on display at The Vyne. Not being resident in England, it has been four-plus years since I’ve seen them. And even then: Which belonged to Eliza? Which to her sisters Emma or Augusta?

Dr. Byrne’s first questions concerned Eliza Chute’s whereabouts in 1814. There is no Eliza Chute diary for that year [if you have it, do let me know!], which makes the question harder to answer; that is also the year before Emma’s diaries begin; and the year in which Augusta Smith lost her husband. Dr. Byrne was also curious about the Smiths’ George Street, London residence. She had begun her email stating that she was commissioned to write a new Austen biography; she ended that first message by saying, “I have discovered she {Eliza Chute} was a painter of some repute. Do you know anything about this?”

Thanks to Mike E., I have an engraved portrait of Joshua Smith based on a portrait by Emma Smith (“Aunt Emma” to my Emma Austen Leigh). Mike photographed The Vyne’s copy; another copy exists at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum. Emma had great talent for taking a likeness! What about Eliza??

Ah, so much time could have been saved if Paula Byrne had forwarded a picture of the portrait’s front and identification! But we researchers like to hold our cards close to our chest…

So to answer Paula Byrne’s Question: Where was Eliza Chute in 1814, and what about George Street?

Thanks to Mark Woodford, and the 1798 diary of Augusta Smith, Great George Street was a very well-known address: there is even discussion of the rooms and layout of the place at Victoria History. Alas, Joshua, who grew less in health as 1819 approached, seems to have given up his George Street residence in 1812.

Obviously, Great George Street’s proximity to Westminster (Joshua Smith was a Member of Parliament), was of interest; seeing the portrait, one can see why. But family letters put Eliza Chute, when she was in London, at her sister Augusta’s Portland Place address in these mid-eighteen-teen-years.

As to Eliza’s artistic abilities –,” I replied, “I’ve read in Emma’s diary that the Duke of Wellington was impressed enough to invite her to Strathfield Saye to copy from his Old Masters (this of course a typical “exercise” for artists — male and female — to hone their skills). I have a very small image (culled from elsewhere on the web…) of her portrait of her sister Maria. This comes from a book — A History of the Comptons of Compton Wynyates {another Compton / Northampton property, in addition to Castle Ashby}.”

Once you compare the Maria Compton portrait with the Austen portrait, well, you will understand the excitement!

I have seen neither portrait “in the flesh”, but the positioning of the sitters are very like… And both described as being “Graphite on Vellum” (see the Guardian’s article and also this Peerage link to the online photo of Maria Compton’s portrait).

Paula and I wrote back and forth.

I made the comment, “I will not write at length NOW, but I have thoughts on the supposed “dislike” of Eliza by Austen, based on Austen’s few comments in letters. To put it simply: I think Austen was a great JOKER in letters to Cassandra, and a lot more is tongue-in-cheek than we (outsiders) might think.

Were they great friends, Eliza and Jane or Cassandra? Doubtful. But the Smiths certainly befriended their clergy (was just reading Emma’s 1828 diary last night, and their move to Tring Park brought them to the Rev. Charles Lacy), and would have known Cass & Jane. Thomas Chute owned early editions of Austen’s novels, and I think Eliza would have known she wrote them as word began to get out thanks to loose-tongued people like Henry Austen.

Paula’s response to that observation was heartening: “I quite agree with you about Austen’s supposed dislike of Eliza Chute. I think that Jane adopts the persona of the naughty little sister, who says shocking things to the older, wiser sister. She was indeed a great joker and loved to shock and tease. I think that the Chutes were very important to the Austen family and have been neglected. They all visited the Vyne and seemed to have a great time–even Fanny Knight went and enjoyed it there and when Charles and Francis were home they went along too. It’s very interesting that Tom Chute owned early editions of the novels. Anything else you can think of to further the Chute/Austen connection will be very valuable.

In answer to the Chute / Austen connection I wrote, “I would have thought Austen would have enjoyed the company of the family (which is why I keep mind open about uncovering some reference to Jane in particular, but I’d take Cass. too! I just love her…). Edward Austen Knight joined the hunt; Chute franked some letters; they were all of a similar age. But, socially, the Chutes would have been in different circles (and in some ways their family was their great friend; it’s amazing how people you think were “only friends” turn out to have a family connection!) — and yet, Sarah Smith (mother) mentions Mrs Lefroy. The connections just swirl around them all.

Although Eliza Chute diaries exist for 1813 and 1815, I had done work only up to 1807 (the last extant diary prior to 1813); for that year I could give Paula Byrne a brief rundown of Eliza’s typical movements during a calendar year:

1807 Eliza in London; stays at No. 6 PP with Charles & Augusta [leave for Town 2/12]; Wm seems with her for she mentions “us” dining with the Goslings on 2/20; leaves 3/13; 4/26 Parliament dissolved; 5/29 Eliza in Portsmouth for day, Gosport 6/2; 6/24 London, George St.; a note of the House sitting on 7/6 (Whitbread’s motion, State of the Nation); 7/11 leave London; 7/21 Winchester Races; 10/27 Went to London, PP; Augusta Smith delivers Sarah Eliza 11/11 (the future Lady Le Marchant); 12/10 Basingstoke Ball; Stoke for the New Year

And the prior existing diary, for 1804:

1804 Been at Stoke; Miss Meen accompanies her home on 1/14 (Chute left 1/3); family from Stoke at Vyne, but leave for London: news of illness of Mrs Drummond Smith; 2/7 London, stays 6 PP – Caroline with them; 2/17 notes visit by ‘TVC’ – Thomas Vere Chute (Wm’s brother); following the death of Mary (Cunliffe) Smith (2/27) Eliza moves to their house in Picadilly - Caroline left with the Charles Smiths (6 PP) – Wm Chute sleeps at Picadilly but dined at George St.

Towards the end of our flurry of emails, Paula asked, “Do we know that she definitely knew that Jane Austen was the author of the novels?

A difficult question to answer in the absolute affirmative, but one I had already conjectured upon when writing about Fanny Smith (later Fanny Seymour, Mrs Richard Seymour, of Kinwarton).

  • The Walter Scott Connection: his ward Margaret Maclean Clephane married the Smith’s cousin Spencer (Lord Compton) in 1815. Scott visited the Portland Place household on 16 May 1815. He corresponded regularly with Lady Compton and her family. Scott reviewed Austen’s Emma.
  • The Chutes of The Vyne had James Austen as their clergyman. He and his son (Emma’s eventual husband) visited The Vyne often; as did Jane’s other brothers, her parents, Cassandra and, yes, Jane herself.
  • The Reverend Thomas Vere Chute, whom Jane mentions in her letters, was William Chute’s younger brother; he owned copies of Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. (His name inscribed in the volumes; he died in 1827.)
  • According to Mary Augusta Austen Leigh (daughter of Emma Smith and James Edward Austen Leigh), in 1814 her father “was admitted to the knowledge of a well-kept secret, this being that his Aunt Jane had lately published two books, though he had read these books with a keen enjoyment.” She also revealed that Eliza Smith (Lady Le Marchant; born 1807) remembered Edward ‘at the Vine in my schoolroom days… He was a great favourite with Aunt and Uncle Chute.’
  • In addition to Thomas Vere Chute, Jane Austen knew their sister: Mary (Mrs. Wither Bramston) of Oakley Hall. This branch of Bramstons were relations to the Essex branch of the Bramstons of Skreens, an estate which neighbored Suttons — home of Charles and Augusta Smith.

And, if I had known in early November about the spelling of the portrait’s identification, I might have included the following, which appeared in my article “Edward Austen’s Emma Reads Emma” (Persuasions (no. 29; 2007): 235-240): Of the Austen novels Le Faye has ID’ed as belonging to Thomas Vere Chute, Emma and Mansfield Park are not among the titles. Emma had in her possession a copy of that first novel (Emma) during the period of her engagement to Edward Austen: September 1828. Can we assume this was Emma’s first reading of this novel? Never assume—.

Among the diary items removed from Emma’s 1817 diary are two quotes, from Mansfield Park, which was ID’ed in the article as,

The quotation reproduces part of the conversation between Miss Crawford and Edmund Bertram regarding his becoming a clergyman (“At length, after a short pause, Miss Crawford began” to “the rest of the nation” [MP 91-93]); the attribution is given as “Mansfield Park / Miss Jane Austin“.

The Smiths and Chutes were quite consistent in spelling the name with an ‘i’. In an era of erratic spelling — even within families (think in the Austen family: Bridges and Brydges; in the Smith family: Dickins and Dickens; Devall and Duval). In an 1823 diary, Emma amends the Austin name to AUSTEN — this spelling she then consistently uses to the end of her days! Compelling evidence indeed…

AustenOnly has a fantastic post on the Byrne portrait (complete with Austen family portraits); the above responds to the comment about the “interesting misspelling of Jane Austen’s surname: ‘Miss Jane Austin’.”

I’d also like to mention in response to those who wonder about Paula Byrne’s “fixation” on the nose (see for instance the debate at Jane Austen’s World): the nose is often where I start when tracking down drawings, miniatures or (especially) photos of various family members and in-laws. It is the most prominent facial feature, whether a person is six or sixty.

I’d like to end this exceptionally long post with the recollection of a memory on first seeing the drawings – family portraits (with one exception) – included in the little booklet, Scenes from Life at Suttons, 1825 & 1827. Anyone who has looked through a collection of portraits of one sitter (choose, for example, the multiple portraits of the Duchess of Devonshire [Georgiana Cavendish]), knows that good and bad “likenesses” exist. I have no way of knowing whether Augusta Smith (the future Mrs. Henry Wilder) was a good portraitist — although her family thought her quite adept. Still, leafing through Suttons, tears began to flow as I looked at portrait after portrait: Augusta was there (by another artist); Emma; Charles and Mary – whom I’d never seen any representations of; Mary’s elder sister Elizabeth; even Charles Scrase Dickins! And, as frontispiece, Mamma: Mrs Augusta Smith. It was a heady day!

However imperfect, our a visual society loves pictorial representations. Augusta Smith wrote on her portrait of sister Fanny, that the face was ‘too long’. It currently remains my only representation of Fanny; Freydis Welland has a silhouette of her I’ve not yet seen.

Would Jane Austen have “sat to” Eliza Chute, in London, in 1814/1815? Quite probably not. Did Eliza Chute know what Jane Austen looked like, enough to do a portrait, in some manner related to that of her own sister, Maria Lady Northampton, at least as a remembrance or an homage? Absolutely.

Broadcast Links, Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? (BBC2, 26 Dec 2011):

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It’s a Small Jane Austen World

July 4, 2011 at 12:07 pm (a day in the life, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

In Friday’s post (hurray!) was the 2nd Sarah Markham book — really the one I wanted most because of its subject, which you can glean from its title: A Testimony of Her Times: Based on Penelope Hind’s Diaries and Correspondence, 1787-1838.

A slight aside: Penelope Loveday Benwell Hind was born in 1759 and died in 1846; so the title dates are NOT her lifespan!

When I found mention of this book online – and quickly located a nice (used) copy at a fair price, I awaited its arrival impatiently because of the time period and, also, I’m a sucker for any account based on an English woman’s life. Will say this of the book: EXCELLENT! Locate a copy ASAP, it will NOT disappoint.

There were MANY connections to other diary/correspondence/biography I have collected over the years: there were mentions of the Countess of Ilchester (the Talbot family) mentioned in A Governess in the Age of Jane Austen: The Journals and Letters of Agnes Porter; the Byngs — see the Torrington Diaries – were relations of the Lovedays; the Berrys – ie, Mary Berry of the Walpole correspondence — comes in for frequent visits; Felbrigg Hall comes up once or twice (must admit to boredom so I never read more than the first book about the National Trust caretakers of the estate).  Then came this, on page 85; the Hinds are removing Pen’s sister Sarah to their home in Findon, Sussex:

“The first day’s journey was quite short as they spent the night at SPEEN HILL with a FRIEND, MRS CRAVEN, who had formerly lived at Chilton House…” There is then a footnote explaining about Mrs Craven — though with no mention of her Austen connection; that comes from JA’s Letters. Mrs Craven’s elder son was Fulwar Craven. (I’ll let you consult your own Letters to puzzle out the Fulwars-Cravens-Fowles-Austens.)

Of Mrs Craven, Le Faye writes: “1779 [married] Catherine Hughes, daughter of James Hughes of Letcombe, Berks., and had two sons and one daughter; lived at BARTON Court  and also at Chilton Foliat, Wilts” — which is where the Lovedays would have encountered her. Husband John Craven died in 1804; Mrs Craven in 1839.

Then this morning, MORE Austen connections. A great friend to Pen Hind’s first husband (William Benwell) was the Rev. James Ventris. He continued a friend and “since he had stayed with them [the Hinds] he had been presented to the living of Beeding, not far away, and lived at Beeding Priory. In May 1816 he married Jane Hinton, daughter of the former rector of CHAWTON, whom they liked very much.” Miss Hinton herself appears in JA’s Letters; and the family are in Le Faye’s Biographical Index. Mrs Ventris is the “Jane II” who lived 1771-1856. Her brother, John-Knight Hinton, joined the suit of James-Hinton Baverstock against Edward Austen Knight in 1814 “for possession of his Hampshire estates” (Edward settled in 1818, paying 15,000 pounds).

Mrs Ventris’ sister, Mary, had a daughter – Elizabeth Wells — who married the nephew of Pen Hind! Arthur and Elizabeth Loveday had a son, another Arthur (for Pen also had a brother Arthur). This family, who’s little history is coming up in Testimony, became related to the Lefroys when young Arthur married the youngest daughter of Anna Austen and Ben Lefroy! (Anna, of course, was elder sister to James Edward Austen Leigh and Caroline Mary Craven Austen.)

Have to wonder, with all the letters and diaries that could exist in the Loveday-Hind-Wells-Craven-Hinton etc circle, if there aren’t some uncovered mentions of the Austens… Jane included.

BTW: Happy 4th of July!

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