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.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Portrait Pricing in Regency England

January 3, 2012 at 10:37 am (jane austen, jasna, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , , )

The end of my 2011 JASNA AGM paper, “A House Divided? How the Sister Arts Define the Dashwood Sisters,” briefly examined the discrepancy between the earnings of Musicians and Artists, in an effort to illustrate that — in keeping with their interests — Marianne Dashwood’s naming a competence of £2000 could only cause an outcry by Elinor for the sum to signify wealth to her.

In my research, with its attempts to track down portraits and miniatures mentioned in Smith&Gosling letters and diaries, it’s sometimes possible to place a price-paid upon a work: for original sums are sometimes recorded.

In the program Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? it is mentioned that 30 guineas might have been asked for a miniature, 300 guineas for an oil portrait. Surely, those are high-end amounts.

To illustrate:

In her 1820 diary, Emma mentions that she and elder sister Augusta go “with the Goslings to Sir Wm Beechey’s”.

Beechey’s account books, published in 1907, has a notation for payment on 26 March 1820: “Of Mrs. Gosling, for Mr. Robert Gosling (last half)… 26£ 5s 0d”

Earlier (and later) notations of payments are then found:

1817 -

1 April: “Of Mrs. Gosling (as half), for a half-length of her two daughters and three-quarter of her own…105£”

8 August: “Of Mrs. Gosling (as last payment), for the Miss Goslings, and three-quarter of Mr. W. Gosling…105£”

[Question: Was Charlotte's own portrait given over to William Ellis, her eldest step-son? Or is there a payment missing?]

1818 -

21 April: “Of Mr. Gosling (first half)… 26£ 5s 0d”

[Question: Did Robert's portrait really wait two years (until 1820) for payment? Mr Gosling should be William Gosling, the father; Mr W. Gosling, the eldest son William Ellis Gosling; Robert and Bennett Gosling the remaining two elder brothers]

1823 - Beechey’s prices have risen, a bit:

24 February: “Of Mrs. Gosling (as half), for Mrs. Bennett Gosling… 31 £ 10s 0d”

Even a rudimentary bit of math comes up with sums well under 300 guineas per picture. Typically, “half portraits” cost less than “three-quarter” lengths.

Sir William Beechey, having painted the Royals and been knighted in 1798, would not have been an unknown itinerant artist.

Blog readers who live in London, can visit the National Portrait Gallery and view the Sitters Book of artist Margaret Carpenter. One Carpenter-Wilkie Collins-Charles Dickens researcher did just that, and found that Mrs Carpenter received a mere 4£ 4s 0d from Dickens, “whether of him or someone in his family isn’t clear”. The same reader notes that Mrs Carpenter was “patronised by most of the more prominent personages”.

{note that readers reply on that website wondering if the sitter is the Charles Dickens — never thought about it: 1820, the sitter could be my Charles SCRACE Dickens!}

My intention here, is to bring forward the notion that not all portraits were made for engaged couples, or exceptionally pricey. Emma herself writes in an 1825 letter,

“Augusta has told me about Mary Gosling’s picture but I should really extremely like to pay for it and have it {my conclusion: Mamma was willing to pay; or else, Mary was offering her friend this, paying for it herself} – I am sure I could very well afford it for you know many expences are cut off this year & it would be a great treasure to me — I will write to Mary Gosling tomorrow–“

So family are not the only contenders for the purchase or the acquisition of a portrait: friends might also have received a memento!  But: As I’ve written before, there are so many pieces out there merely titled “Portrait of a Lady”… Some gift of Jane or Cassandra Austen to, say, Alethea Bigg, may be out there, yet never properly ID’ed.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Amanda Grange: Jane Austen’s Unseen Portrait

December 28, 2011 at 12:43 pm (jane austen, news, portraits and paintings, research) (, , )

Writer Amanda Grange has an excellent summation of her thoughts, doubts, and questions, after viewing Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? Check our her blog, http://historicalromanceuk.blogspot.com/2011/12/jane-austen-unseen-portrait.html

Permalink Leave a Comment

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):

Permalink 16 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 221 other followers