The Thrill of a FIND: a new Emily Dickinson?

September 9, 2012 at 12:19 pm (fashion, history, news, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , , , )

A quick “share” today of the news that has been making headlines lately — for I can certainly share in the excitement of the finding, even if I could never spend five years trying to authentic said find!

So a couple of quick links to pass the story on:

After spending the weekend in search of a new Smith of Suttons letter, I can say that all finds —  any single find — is important to a researcher. How wonderful that the private collector came forward and revealed this picture to the world!

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NB: some after-thoughts: How wonderful to read that the public is being asked to come forth and maybe provide (for OR against) more information. Even with all the overwhelming thoughts about the sitters, the “experts” still wonder IS this Dickinson?? — compare this “search for the truth” with the publicity surrounding the “Jane Austin” portrait in Paula Byrne’s hands.

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Who was Miss Jane Austen / Austin

April 15, 2012 at 2:06 pm (fashion, history, jane austen, london's landscape, news, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , , , , , )

In the Times Literary Supplement a wonderfully-informative and well-balanced piece by Paula Byrne entitled “Who Was Miss Jane Austin“.

The beginning tracks some of the Byrne portrait’s “back story” – part of a collection, the purchase by Byrne; some theories and dialogue. The TV program gets a couple mentions.

And then what I was waiting for: MORE!

Readers learn about the precise architecture featured on the right – not only St Margaret’s and Westminster Abbey, but also Westminster Bridge is visible, as is a building on Bridge Street.

A possible 1st-floor window is proposed: one belonging in the premises of a Rev Edward Smedley (1750-1825), evidently (from his letters) an Austen Fan! And his wife was the former Harriet Bellas (1754-1825). A very familiar name…Bellas.

 

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Byrne’s Austen Portrait, Part II

December 27, 2011 at 9:13 pm (chutes of the vyne, jane austen, news, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , )

A kind friend sent a screen shot of the backside of the Byrne Portrait:

The “M” is curious: almost looks like a “tail” was added to the beginning stroke. Miss is not written as I might have expected: with the double-s written as an Esszet (as I call it after having had German lessons). Here is Mary Gosling / Lady Smith’s diary from 1829, citing the name Miss de Grey (her step-mother’s sister), with the double-s I expected:

Is is possible that the Miss was added? The one thing against that notion is that Eliza Chute (for instance) would have referred to her formally: Miss Austin would have been Cassandra; Miss Jane (or J.) Austin would have indicated the younger unmarried daughter. Eliza’s capital “M” typically began at the top of the left side, with a slight curl before the decent of the downstroke.

Eliza Chute’s capital “J” typically were shorter on the top, longer on the bottom (the opposite of the letter seen above). Her word-ending “e” typically was closed, as in Mary’s “de” above.

AUSTEN, on the other hand, could be akin to the way Eliza noted the name in her 1799 diary, reproduced in Tomalin’s biography Jane Austen: A Life.

My first thought was a shaky hand (possibly because of infirmity?).

Inconclusive conclusion, for I’ve no one about whom I would say, “This is so-and-so’s hand.”

* * *

Charlotte Frost, author of Sir William Knighton: Regency Physician, has sent me an informative series of “thoughts & reactions” on viewing the program (thanks, Charlotte!), so there will be more to come.

Because the Chutes of The Vyne (or Vine) are so well-known, I’ve made little mention of them in this blog. Obviously, there are diaries missing in the Hampshire Record Office series, including the one which Paula Byrne thinks the “crucial” year: 1814.

Dear Blog Reader: If you’ve a diary, quite probably kept in a pocket book (typically red in color, but I remember one green-covered book) entitled THE DAILY JOURNAL, OR, Gentleman’s, Merchants’s and Tradesman’s Complete Annual Accompt Book — these were a series of pre-printed diaries, with left-side available for memoranda and the right-side kept for accounts (debits and credits), but sometimes not used for that purpose — and you recognize some of these names, please-please-please contact me! (see Author, at right, for contact info.)

I make no claim to “world authority,” as Paula Byrne’s tweet claims, but I certainly have a deep interest in Eliza and all the family. So allow me to lay out a few words about Miss Eliza Smith of Erle Stoke Park and Mrs William Chute of The Vyne:

Gwyneth Dunstan, a former steward connected to The Vyne, was someone I contacted after finding notice of her talk, on 16 July 2009, at the Willis Museum in Basingstoke. Her talk was entitled, “Eliza Chute: A Gentlewoman in local society in Jane Austen’s Day”. It is from her talk’s poster that this silhouette of Eliza Chute was posted on this site, on the Portraits page:

The same appears in A Day in the Country; as companion silhouette for William Chute exists, the set must have been made prior to 1824 (when William died).

past posts:

      • Eliza Chute – it’s 1793 and Eliza has just married
      • Eliza Smith – writes of reading Madame de Sevigne
      • Lady Cunliffe – notes about her portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds

I bring up Lady Cunliffe — mother to Eliza Cunliffe, who, only a few days after Eliza Smith married William Chute, married William Gosling (she eventually gave birth to my diarist, Mary Gosling) — because so much of Eliza Chute’s early “history” is tied up with her BFF Eliza Gosling. Lady Cunliffe and her daughters were known to James Boswell, who was a friend to the likes of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mrs Thrale, and Samuel Johnson. Boswell wrote to Reynolds about Lady C and her daughters…

I hate to leave readers dangling, but it’s been a long day, I’m tired…. So more tomorrow!

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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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