Portrait: Which Mrs. Gosling?

December 2, 2017 at 12:33 pm (people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , )

Last year I was contacted by someone with a portrait purporting to be “Mrs. Gosling” painted (in oils) by Margaret Carpenter. The idea was that it could be a portrait of my diarist, Mary Gosling. But, as she was “born” a Gosling, I discounted that idea straightaway.

That left the possibility that she represented a spouse. The probability of “Mrs. Gosling” being SOMEHOW related hung on the idea that she had come to South Africa through Houghton family connections: Elizabeth Houghton (born 1739 or 1743; died June 1811) was William Gosling’s mother, wife of Robert Gosling and sister-in-law of Sir Francis Gosling.

Mrs Gosling_Carpenter

As you can see from the auction “ad” from 2006, the auction house placed the painter “in the circle of” Margaret Carpenter. There is no denying, however, that Mrs. Carpenter painted many members of the Smith & Gosling family – including Emma Austen, James Edward Austen, even Augusta Wilder and Spencer Smith.

I have never seen the “indistinct signature and date” that is supposed to be in the right lower corner. But I have seen the labels on the rear – which, of course, may not be contemporary with the painting.

One label queries a date – 1835? 1855? When I asked Hope Greenberg of the University of Vermont (and a fellow member of JASNA Vermont), she put the dress of the sitter to around 1840. The Gosling ladies would have been on the cusp of fashion; never a decade behind.

LOOK at all the bits and pieces that are up in the air: painter; sitter; date of the painting. Plus it made its way from England to South Africa. On the plus side that it was connected (at least anecdotally) to the Houghton family.

Also on the plus side, that it seems to have an “exhibition” (?) label, designating the painter as at an address truly associated with Margaret Carpenter (also known as Mrs. William Carpenter):

Mrs W:m Carpenter
3, Nottingham Gate
York Gate, Regent’s Park

Exhibition catalogues or Mrs. Carpenter’s own catalogue of sitters (a copy at London’s National Portrait Gallery exists) could help; at present, I have no access.

The sitter is on the younger side – so the Hon. Mrs. Gosling (née the Hon. Charlotte de Grey), William’s widow who died in October 1839, should be discounted.

So the next place to turn is the dress of the woman – who is very fashionably dressed, indeed! The hairstyle, and the jewelry, are also of interest.

It’s the long chain, VERY prominent, that made me wonder: Is it Georgina Vere Gosling? She was Mary’s sister-in-law, the only sister-in-law of the family; only Robert Gosling, the second son, ever married – William Ellis Gosling died young, unmarried; Bennett Gosling and half brother Thomas George Gosling lived longer lives, but never married either.

There is a photograph from 1865 of Georgina Vere Gosling, which I’ve seen elsewhere than online, in which she is wearing just such a chain, though it is not quite so “displayed” around the body, as on the portrait.

But Georgina (born Georgina Sullivan) was born in 1804 – and that is where another label comes into play: it seemingly claims the sitter to have been born in 1810. For the label which (in another hand) claims:

Signed Right/Hand lower/Corner.
By/Margaret/Carpenter/1835? 1855?

— each two line written on either “end” — states, in a large, beautiful, and prominent hand, the obvious intent of the label:

Mrs. Gosling
1810 —  

If we go with the birth date of 1810, that leaves out several wives of the Gosling cousins, for instance Richard Gosling married Maria Elizabeth Gregg in 1820; his wife would not have been a 10-year-old.

But the date does pose an interesting possibility: Born in 1809 was the youngest Gosling sibling, Charlotte Gosling. As Cassandra Austen once wrote that she was taking “brevet rank” — indicating that she now chose to be addressed as “Mrs. Austen” in the place of “Miss Austen,” due to her age, it’s possible that this “Mrs. Gosling” was in fact an unmarried woman, who thought herself past the age of being a “Miss”.

If she was exhibited, her title was merely “Portrait of a Lady” (again, according to the rear label). That the family did lend their private portraits to public exhibitions, at the behest of an artist, IS borne out by one letter (from 1830), in which Mary writes: “I can only sanction its being exhibited on one condition, that Mrs Carpenter should put it into another frame, as I am sure it would get knocked about, and that my Sister would not like it to be exposed to the risk.

To anyone with further thoughts or information, the comment box awaits!

 

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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.

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A Richard Seymour Sighting!

February 17, 2011 at 3:52 pm (news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

In “conversation” over email with Charlotte Frost (see the post on her new biography of Sir William Knighton), it turned up that Ms. Frost had seen a photograph of the Rev. Richard Seymour — husband of my dear Fanny Smith — among a group of family photos!

Now, the Warwickshire Record Office has the not-very-good photo of a portrait of a young Richard (see portraits page), but can you imagine: seeing, “in the flesh”, a photo of someone you only know through his words and deeds? Quite THRILLING!!!

Richard has a nice “following” in Warwickshire, thanks to the talks given by Alan Godfrey. Alan had kindly invited me to offer a talk on Fanny Smith when I was in England in 2007. Seems a lifetime ago. We had a great turnout that Friday evening — thanks in no small part to Alan’s organization skills. I was able to have in hand a drawing of dear Fanny, probably done by her eldest sister Augusta, but maybe done by her sister Emma. This was done when Fanny was in her 20s and reminds me of the work of Mrs Carpenter — very likely, as that artist was commissioned for a number of pieces in the Smith family, which means the girls had the opportunity to watch her work, as well as study her methods.

By the way, Richard is described by Ms. Frost as “a man in his 60s, seated at a desk”. How wonderful if the same holding turns up a picture of … Fanny!

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Dearest Aunt…

January 11, 2011 at 11:26 am (people, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Emma, writing to Aunt (Mrs Judith Smith, sister to Emma’s deceased father Charles), 10 Oct 1831:

“Our party here is very tiny only four; five I ought to say for Miss Corbaux is still with us – She has made a most charming water colored drawing of Mamma for me which is (Aunt Northampton says) amazingly like. She is seated on a Sofa in a black velvet gown with her hands crossed and her head rather on one side in a reflecting mood & so much like the attitude of the head in yr picture that it must be characteristic of her – The maids think it so much like [Missis?] sitting at Prayers. Then Miss Corbaux has taken a drawing of Miss Ashley for Charlotte which is very nearly as like as Mamma’s – I am going to indulge myself with having a likeness of Edward taken as the one by Mrs. Carpenter is not satisfactory – The children we do not mean to have taken considering it too great an extravagance…”

Can’t you just SEE Mamma: her dress, her demeanor, her attitude and look: oh, what’s happened to this drawing?!

I will post later some information on the artist.

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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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