Elations and Disappointments

April 18, 2010 at 11:21 am (a day in the life, books, news, people, places, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


Oh, it has been a LONG week — where to start, where to start…

First, a long-standing thank you to Dr. John Chandler, of Hobnob Press. He kindly forwarded a back issue of the truly interesting journal, now-defunct, The Hatcher Review, which published a thorough article on artist Margaret Carpenter. The author, Richard J. Smith, has an abiding interest in Carpenter — I am told he composed her entry for DNB! More on this fascinating subject later, when I’ve taken the time to really peruse the piece.

Belated thanks are also due to Michele, at the Lewes Library (Sussex), for her help in obtaining pages from Charlotte Brookes’ little book, Christie of Glyndebourne: Being Recollections of Her Family. Yes, I finally tracked down ONE copy of this elusive title! Charlotte was the daughter of Langham Christie and Elizabeth Gosling (Mary’s sister and brother-in-law). It was this book’s description of the painting of Mary and Elizabeth, done by Beechey, which at the time of publication (1920) still hung at Suttons, that prompted me to go on a search for the picture — and why I discovered that portrait at the Huntington Gallery in West Virginia.

But: so far, the “gut reaction” is batting ZERO, while the evidence against is mounting. As mentioned in the post below, The Huntington identifies the work as “Ann and Augusta Coventry”. You try doing a search for “coventry”…

(BTW: just noticed: below the portrait, the Huntington ID’s the work as of the “18th century” – surely not!)

UVM’s Hope Greenberg, who gave an insightful talk on Costume in Austen’s Era for JASNA-Vermont in June 2009, dashed away some of my early hopes. When I asked for a brief reaction — 1808 or 1817? — to the Beechey work, her gut reaction was for 1808, which is when Beechey’s sitters’ book gives a listing for an anonymous Coventry daughter or daughters. Hope did a great job in enumerating the little fashion changes of the period (thanks, Hope), but it’s hard to give up my own “hope” for a different pair of sitters in this work.

Then, the more I dug, the more I experienced “elation” ending in “disappointment”. I contacted the Huntington (sending my email addressed to the curator  inadvertently to the administrative assistant I had earlier thought to contact – damn!), and am waiting to hear more about their work.

Then I searched and searched. Rather than contact Sotheby’s (WHO does one contact about a sale that took place in 1958??!), I got in mind to find the auction results.

The citation from the journal Art and Auctions for 1958 was kindly supplied by the Art Reference Librarian at Amherst College. (Gosh, I envy their collection — all relevant texts are ALWAYS in their library; but at four or so hours south, I’ve never been able to visit them, or UMass Amherst). This citation sent me in search of the actual catalogue of the sale. My mistake was in thinking that in 1958 these would include a photograph of EVERY work up for sale. Silly me… But this mistake wasn’t realized until after I contacted the National Gallery of Art, when their reference librarian told me catalogues were “all text, no illustrations”. Still, his kindness in forwarding a xerox of the relevant pages revealed what I had never EVER thought of: The Sotheby’s sale of 19 February 1958 had OTHER family portraits up on the block!

Among the works was one “Emma Smith” — a portrait of Joshua Smith of Stoke Park, Wiltshire. Now this could be Joshua’s daughter Emma = known to the Smith of Suttons siblings as “Aunt Emma”; or, this could be my Emma Austen-Leigh! Impossible to know, especially without seeing the portrait.

It is similar in size to one that also sold in this sale, that one ID’ed as a Gainsborough; so it is possible Joshua’s daughter or grand-daughter copied this work, though changed the color of his clothing. Or, if done from life – Joshua’s age could determine the artist; or perhaps it is signed! Let’s face it, there’s just no way of knowing… BTW, the work sold to “Wiggins” for £5.

The Gainsborough, with its description as “half-length, in blue coat and red doublet in a landscape setting”, started off another “elation” period that ended in “disappointment”: Went up to UVM’s library and looked through EVERY book on Gainsborough, including the so-called catalogue raisonné Waterhouse did in the 1950s (black and white photos! boo…). I could find no trace of “Smith” other than a “John Smith, a draper” mentioned in the text, but NOT reproduced. (Oh, for more NEW books, like the catalogue of Reynolds’ works!) And I thought grandpa Smith would be easy to find, given his famous portraitist. HA!

In the same sale (put up by Sir Thomas Spencer-Smith), was a portrait by Beechey of Thomas Smith of Fonthill and Bersted Lodge (Bognor). And don’t I find that his wife, Susan Mackworth-Praed, was also painted by Beechey, in what must have been a pair of portraits: they both measure 50×40 inches. Hers was up for sale, at Christie’s, in 1901. Thomas Smith was brother to Sir Drummond Smith of Tring Park and Joshua Smith of Erle Stoke Park, and therefore a great uncle to my Emma.

To get back to Mary and Elizabeth Gosling —

I give the full catalogue description of Mary and Elizabeth’s portrait: “three-quarter lengths, seated by a piano in white satin dresses with a blue sash and flowers, signed with initials and dated 1817.” Its size, 49×39 inches. It sold to “Leger” for £280 (outdistancing the Gainsborough, which sold to “Buckley” for £35).

Charlotte Brookes says of this picture: “My mother {Elizabeth Gosling Christie} was a good pianist, and her master, the great Cramer, dedicated a piece of music to her. This she is holding in her hand in the picture of herself and her sister Mary, afterwards Lady Smith, painted by Sir William Beechey and now at Suttons. With regard to this picture Charles lost both his parents when a child, and his good aunt… thought that he ought not to see too much of his mother, for the dresses are cut rather low, so she had frills painted in which still remain, though Charles in later years often talked of having them removed.” [This comment about “seeing too much” brings SUCH a smile to my face!]

You see why I wonder about the Huntington piece — blue sash I can see (especially since, while at UVM yesterday, I looked up the original Early Music issue and could see “The Sisters” in the flesh!); but the reference to “flowers” puzzles me. Will they be in hands? in a vase on the piano? in the hair, or tucked in a ribbon tie or bosom?? So a small strike against “The Sisters” being Mary and Elizabeth — again.

BUT: The Brookes book told a tale never before realized: Langham Christie’s grandmother Elizabeth Lawton (mother to Elizabeth Langham) was the sister of Lord Northampton’s wife Jane Lawton — Jane, Lady Northampton would have been Maria Smith’s mother-in-law, and therefore the grandmother of Spencer, Lord Compton (later the 2nd Marquess Northampton; Emma’s cousin, and brother to Lady Elizabeth Dickins). NO WONDER the Smiths, in letter and diary, mention Mrs Christie and her sons so often and so early! They were “family”!!

So that sent me on a hunt for information on Langham Christie. And that hunt brought me back to a source I found who knows how long ago: that Langham wrote several letters to a Mr John Waldie, which are to be found at UCLA. But who was John Waldie?? Very little digging told me that he was “somebody” by virtue of his massive diary-keeping. His diaries have ended up (for the most part; there are some missing volumes) at UCLA. Prof. Emeritus Frederick Burwick has made available online his typed entries of John Waldie’s theater-going comments from these diaries. There are all the names that Emma mentions in her diaries during the 1810s, and names Mary mentions in her diaries of the 1820s! Waldie even enabled me to correct the spelling of one singer, Begrez — to be precise, Pierre-Ignace Begrez (of Namur), a tenor — whose name I usually guessed, depending on Emma’s writing, as Begrey or Beyrey.

There in Waldie are the Knyvetts (Waldie having some particular comments about William Knyvett…; look them up for yourself!); and there, also, is a certain Miss Sharp — who, I think, has an Austen connection. But I will leave that for a later post all its own. As to John Waldie — Langham Christie accompanies him on at least TWO Continental tours! Nice to know what Langham was up to in those years before his marriage.

So much to do, so little time, so little enthusiasm for anything else.

If Austen’s Emma is a “detective novel” (which P.D. James certainly made a great case for in her JAS talk some years ago), then research is the greatest detective opportunity ever. You pluck at clues, go down blind alleys, get hit over the head with good news — and bad. And in the end amass all intelligence into a coherent whole, that, if not wholly the truth (can we ever really know a person?), then at least approximates the truth from the evidence at hand.

One parting thought: a nice article on the Northamptons and their homes, Compton Wynyates and Castle Ashby, is to be found in the journal The Connoisseur, 1915 (the article begins page 156). Readers of my Persuasions On-line article will appreciate the (albeit brief) description of the interior of Castle Ashby, with its Great Hall and Staircase. Watch for the author’s wonderfully effusive comments, which in a split second turn a bit “backhanded”… BTW, this little jewel of a magazine has such useful things as “Notes & Queries” — where people sent in pictures of portraits and asked readers for identifications! And there are sections on book reviews, and genealogy, never mind antiques and estates. I must find additional copies and put up some links to the issues (bound as several issues in one file).

Must make mention that I found two new portraits — of Charles, 1st Marquess Northampton and his marchioness Maria, Lady Northampton — hers done by her sister, MRS CHUTE! (See the Portraits page.)

A coda: looking for the link to Persuasions On-line I see they’ve posted a new “special” edition — this one is papers not from JASNA but from the New Directions in Austen Studies (for which I proposed a paper on Misters Darcy and Collins). Alice Villaseñor, who was working on the Austen-Leigh papers for references to Mrs Hubback, has her work appearing here: Fanny Caroline Lefroy: A Feminist Critic in the Austen Family. Congratulations, Alice! Can’t wait to read it.

Alice and I met in Winchester (at HRO; her name, though, forwarded to me by JASNA’s Kerri Spennicchia). There are a couple other interesting articles; so I must take a closer look at this journal. Wish JASNA gave an option to download the entire issue as one PDF. Would make it so much easier for those of us getting wireless via public means.

As I observed earlier: So little time… Better get myself a Megabucks lottery ticket, then I would “own” all the time in the world, and could “work” every minute of every day.

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