Dido Belle

September 22, 2019 at 11:06 am (books, diaries, portraits and paintings) (, , , , )

Dido Belle

Click on the picture to see the Wikipedia entry on the painting and its two sitters, Dido Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray (Finch-Hatton).

Although aired in 2018, I just watched last night the FAKE or FORTUNE? episode that identified the portrait’s painter (once thought to be Zoffany) as David Martin. The Mansfield archives even has a ledger, with payment to him – though, of course, NO mention of the work, just his name.

It was while looking at the close-up (above) that I was struck with the thought: Dido Belle must, in many ways, gives clues to the appearance of the last governess of the Smiths, Miss Ashley. There were two west Indian sisters, Sarah and Eliza Ashley. Interestingly, there are book chapters of the grandmother of these girls, known as The Queen of Demerara.

One book is Empowering Women (by Candlin and Pybus); very well-written and quite informative. I came across it because of the chapters on Dorothy Thomas and Mrs. Sala, a performer and music teacher, who, when in London, Emma writes about in her diaries.

The Smith family in general have left a fair amount of letters and diaries.

It is quite obvious that the Smith family’s governess Miss Ashley is Eliza Ann Ashley (cousin George Augustus Sala names her Elise – I have located one letter; the signature almost looks Elize). Her sister, when named, is Miss S. Ashley or in later years just “Sarah”. Her full name being Sarah Edmonstone Ashley. The family, (seemingly anyway), make it easy to differentiate the sisters.

Emma Smith was actually older (by about two years) than Miss Ashley.

(Emma was the third child, of nine; born in 1801.)

Miss Ashley came to the Smiths in May 1824. It is *exciting* to wonder if she traveled from Demerara in company with Dorothy Thomas, her grandmother. How she came to be employed by the Smiths, I do not know. Mrs. Smith (Augusta Smith, senior; the widowed Mrs. Charles Smith of Suttons and 6 Portland Place) has left some diaries, but I’ve not (yet) tracked down anything for 1824.

That these sisters are related to Sala I have no doubt. There is enough in the diaries that reference Mrs. Sala, Mr. Sala’s fatal illness, an unnamed aunt’s death, etc. to confirm they are the women George Augustus Sala wrote about.

What I do not know is whose children they were; whether there were more siblings; and how they were related to Sala – he calls them cousins, which leads me to presume, like Mrs. Sala, they were daughters of a daughter of Dorothy Thomas. But which daughter (and from which relationship)?

Miss Ashley’s tenure with the Smiths was twofold.

She ceased working for the Smiths when the youngest daughter, Maria, “aged out” of needing a governess (late 1830s). There is enough in the letters to put her in the employ of the Duchess-Countess of Sutherland. But by the 1840s she is back. She appears in the diaries of Mary Gosling (Lady Smith), giving music and drawing lessons. After Mary’s death in 1842, Miss Ashley was clearly hired by Mrs. Smith to be the governess with her two now-orphaned granddaughters (children of Sir Charles and Lady Smith). The names of Miss Ashley or her sister occasionally appear in letters over the next three decades, including news of Miss Ashley’s death (1874).

I’ve found Eliza Ann in two census reports. I’ve also located a SILHOUETTE clearly identified as ‘Miss Ashley.’ Emma’s eldest sister, Augusta Smith junior, was well-known for her “heads”; she probably created this group of family silhouettes.

As you might imagine, governesses in general are an important topic to pursue when looking at the history of a wealthy London-based family in the 19th century; it is intriguing, though, to contemplate not only their love for Miss Ashley, but also her influence upon the family, coming from a background so far removed from their own.

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Portraits: Jane Austen & Gilbert White

February 23, 2019 at 4:49 pm (history, jane austen, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , )

An old (May 2017) article on Smithsonian.com by Brigit Katz assesses the “Six Portraits” that were on display during the 200th anniversary year (1817-2017) commemorating Jane Austen’s death. It asks the question, Was Austen demure, sardonic or glamorous? (based on no one portrait looking like any other in the group) while acknowledging that actually the “Six Portraits Deepen the Mystery of Jane Austen.”

NPG 3630; Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen

Without going into the good / bad points of individual portraits,* I will outline the portraits that were displayed:

(*I briefly commented on “the wedding ring” image ten years ago; it continues in heavy usage. I did touch on several portraits, though, in 2013)

  • The pencil and watercolor sketch of Jane by her sister Cassandra Austen (circa 1810) [National Portrait Gallery]
  • the hollow cut silhouette by an unknown artist from circa 1810- 15 [National Portrait Gallery], “L’aimable Jane
  • watercolor of Austen in blue dress, bonnet [rear view], also by Cassandra Austen, circa 1804
  • the 1869 James Andrews watercolor portrait [had been up for auction in 2013] and the frontispiece of her nephew’s biography, A Memoir of Jane Austen, published in 1870, based on the Andrews watercolor
  • portrait said to represent Jane Austen, in album belonging to James Stanier Clarke, librarian to the Prince Regent
  • the ‘Byrne’ portrait

No clue as to why the ‘Byrne’ but not the ‘Rice’ portrait.

The lack of portraits – though not the lack of ‘contenders’ – depicting Jane Austen echoes the story of Gilbert White of Selborne, another late-18th century Hampshire resident.

A riveting 1987 article by J.E. Chatfield actually “summarises verbal descriptions of the Selborne naturalist, the Reverend Gilbert White (1720-1793) by his contemporaries and discusses the background to each of the illustrations which have been suggested as possible likenesses of White.” After citing a group of portraits comes the notice (similar to what Jane Austen enthusiasts might typically read): “The only proven authentic likenesses of Gilbert White are two small pen and ink sketches drawn inside his copy of Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer’s Iliad now in the British Library.”

It was the growing fame of his book The Natural History of Selborne that (naturally) made “further information on [White’s] life and personality” of interest to its readers.

Under Descriptions of White: “There are relatively few recollections of him from members of his own family, in spite of the vast numbers of nephews and nieces which Gilbert White refers to in his journals.” Also mentioned, that at the time of centenary editions of the National History of Selborne (originally published in 1789) “there was no suggestion or knowledge of any portraits or sketch of White.”

Sound familiar?

It was after the sale of The Wakes (White’s home) in 1844 to Prof. Bell, “who was working on his edition of The Natural History & Antiquities of Selborne,” that a White nephew passed on recollections. The “Reverend Francis White who remembered his uncle Gilbert well, although he was only twelve years of age when White died…., provided the information on White’s physical appearance – only 5 feet 3 inches in stature, of a spare form and remarkably upright carriage.”

Nineteenth-century editions of Selborne have included “Recollections of White by older villagers.” If only such a census had been made shortly after Austen’s lifetime! It was this kind of off-hand recollection that James Edward Austen Leigh (Jane Austen’s nephew and my diarist Emma’s husband) that Edward hoped to collate from those nieces and nephews still alive. His sources, however, proved a bit problematic. And some were quite uncooperative.

An interesting comment, from circa 1880, that could so easily be applied to Jane Austen: “‘White was thought very little of till he was dead and gone, and then he was thought a great deal of.'”

I invite you to read the Chatsfield article, look at the Austen portraits as well as Gilbert White’s, and reflect on the highly valid points made.

 

 

 

 

 

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Black Out @ Smithsonian

February 16, 2019 at 12:21 pm (books, entertainment, history, portraits and paintings) (, , , , )

There’s still time, if you act fast, to catch the closing weeks (until 10 March 2019) of BLACK OUT: SILHOUETTES NOW AND THEN, at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery (Washington D.C.).

Having opened in May 2018, there has been a fair amount of press:

  • National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian: Press Release
  • Washington Post: “Before Photography the silhouette helped leave an impression” (Philip Kennicott)
  • Hyperallergic: “An Outline of over 200 Years of Silhouettes” (Claire Voon) [great photos of the installation]
  • “Five Questions” with Curator Asma Naeem
  • Quarizy: “An Enslaved Woman’s Candlelit Shadow” {Portrait of Flora] (Corinne Purtill)
  • Frieze: “Out of the Shadows: A Contrasting History Lesson in Black and White (Evan Moffitt)

Also available: the book BLACK OUT: Silhouettes Then and Now, through the museum store, which helps support the National Portrait Gallery, as well as such exhibitions.

Black Out

ONE resultant article is a fascinating look at Sylvia Drake and Charity Bryant of Weybridge, Vermont! Their portrait images are from the Collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, in Middlebury. [The Sheldon Museum reopens on 2 April 2019.]

Dating from c1805-1815, the engaging pair of silhouettes, “entwined in braided human hair,” lift from the shadows a story of this same-sex couple. A quote from William Cullen Bryant (Charity’s nephew), in 1841, says: “If I were permitted to draw aside the veil of private life….” The Drake-Bryant silhouettes alone have lifted that veil (see below). Being placed on display, especially in such a prominent exhibition, “allow[s] these kinds of stories to be told” (to quote the curator in Roger Caitlin’s article for Smithsonian.com).

The pair of women have also made the local Vermont news:

  • The newspaper Addison County Independent‘s story on Sylvia Drake and Charity Bryant travelling down from Middlebury, Vermont to Washington D.C.
  • Seven Days picked up the story, and through that we learn of Bryant’s death in 1851; and that the Sheldon Museum also has “a wealth of archival materials,” donated by Drake’s family. These include “letters, diaries, poems and other ephemera.” Oooohhh…..

Fascinating to read that University of Victoria (BC, Canada) historian Rachel Hope Cleves, who researched the Sheldon’s collection of Drake materials “and basically made this case that these women were a lesbian couple living together.” Cleves published (in 2014) Charity & Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America.

Charity & Sylvia

The cover will whet your appetite to see the original silhouettes!! And the content, the story of Charity and Sylvia, will make you want to buy the book – which is available through the Henry Sheldon Museum as well as your usual book places.

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Rice Portrait’s Saga Continues

January 24, 2019 at 11:30 am (history, jane austen, news, portraits and paintings) (, , , )

The Guardian (23 January 2019) ran a story discussing a new piece of evidence about a portrait in the Rice family. The Rices have long contended that their portrait – seen as a frontispiece in two Austen-related books – is a youthful depiction of the writer Jane Austen.

The entire history is laid out in the website THE RICE PORTRAIT OF JANE AUSTEN.

ja_rice

I was asked last year if I had *any* idea who might have written a snippet found inside an envelope entitled “History of the portrait of Jane Austen”. Readers of Two Teens in the Time of Austen will know that I deal with Emma Smith – who, in 1828 married James Edward Austen. It was their Austen Leigh children that I searched amongst for a matching handwriting sample. Most were wholly inconsistent; in fact, I told my correspondent at the time that I could more confidently say who had NOT written the history.

Running out of “contenders,” I wondered, while I typed, “Could it be a Lefroy.”

THE RICE PORTRAIT OF JANE AUSTEN came to the rescue: included was a small image of Fanny Caroline Lefroy’s handwriting (from a letter at the Hampshire Record Office), and there was the same handwriting!

The two letters are probably of an age. The snippet is undated. The letter is dated only by Month and date. A mention by F.C. Lefroy (as the letter writer signed herself) of her dashed hopes of having cousin Mary (probably Emma and Edward’s daughter Mary Augusta Austen Leigh) to stay during “the Congress” surely dates the HRO letter to October 1883. The Church Congress, which moved around the country in different years, was held in Reading in 1883 – and Fanny Caroline Lefroy’s letterhead places her at “Uppercross” in a ‘suburb’ outside of Reading.

Some of the most interesting evidence comes under the website categories DRESS and OZIAS HUMPHRY.

I must say, the misattribution of the artist in the 19th century reminds me of the persistence of George Romney as the painter of Mrs. Drummond Smith – later restored to the catalogue of Joshua Reynolds.  Indeed, it hangs in the “Reynolds Room” at Castle Ashby, the estate of the Marquess of Northampton (during Emma Austen’s lifetime, her uncle [1st Marquess] and cousin [2nd Marquess]).

***

EXTRA:

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Putting a Face to a Name

May 2, 2018 at 2:13 pm (diaries, estates, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , )

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to *share* a *find* with Two Teens in the Time of Austen readers! With the amount of material I’ve unearthed over the past ten years, although bits and pieces turn up, a lot of my time lately is taken up with processing what I have. Photography of archival material means that I’ve a backlog of items awaiting transcription.

So a wonderful surprise to find a photograph of someone who plays a small role in the Smith & Gosling history.

Emma’s brother Sir Charles Joshua Smith had two wives. My second diarist (the other being Emma herself) is Mary Gosling, the second Lady Smith. Charles’ first wife (she died in childbirth) was Belinda Colebrooke. She and her younger sister Harriet Colebrooke were the focus of an intense Chancery battle – at one point it even came to blows, at gun-point, on the windswept heath as the sisters approached London in a carriage overtaken by their mother and two hired thugs.

Such actions gave the family pain and heartache, and (of course) made the papers – which is how the likes of historians can learn about so much that took place two hundred years ago.

It is rather a surprised, despite the wealth of the Colebrooke girls, that they were so accepted by “Society”. The crux of the Chancery case concerned which “side of the blanket” they were born on. Thus the odd ages that some materials list for the girls (rounded down to make them younger, and indisputably born after their parents’ marriage). The court case actually pitted family against family (as was so often the case – see for instance Jarndyce v Jarndyce in Dickens’ Bleak House): Belinda’s paternal uncles were on two different sides. Their father, George Colebrooke – son of Sir George and Lady Colebrooke (the half sister of the Smith’s maternal grandmother) – had died months before his father (both in 1809). The baronetcy went to a younger brother, therefore. Legitimate heirs, though, could inherit Mr. George Colebrooke’s fortune; and their mother could claim her share while her children were under-age.

The case went on, in one form or another, for decades. (Even after Charles’ death, in 1830.)

Harriet Colebrooke died in January 1822, after a lengthy illness (heart disease; perhaps consumption). She hadn’t even reached her twentieth birthday. Belinda was inconsolable; their uncle, Henry Colebrooke – who had been overseas, wasn’t even aware of Harriet’s death. He first heard when he landed back in Britain.

A few sentences in a few letters fleshes out Harriet’s life. At one point, she seems to have been attracted to Charles Smith! He seems to have been uninterested. Perhaps he already held out hopes for attracting Belinda – though in the period before her sister’s death, Belinda was already engaged, to a young man of whom the family did not approve. There was more fodder for the courts!

WSumner

William Holme Sumner

It seems, however, that Harriet did have a young man wanting to marry her. A “deeply hidden” sentence in a letter made me take a look at ALL the occurrences (noted in Emma’s meticulously-kept early diaries) of visits by a certain young man named William Sumner.

A Most Frustrating Letter! The important passage, written in light red ink, is crossed against a dark black ink. AND: the paper bleeds through from the other side, giving three handwritings to choose between: strokes of black ink, the shadow of the backside, and the scrawl in red.

IF I read the passage correctly, the sticking point may have been the young man himself: Charles intimates that the “W. Sumner” needed “to make up his mind.” This in a letter, written during Charles’ grand tour, in 1820. William would have been about 22-years-old; Harriet only 16 or 17. Whether Harriet’s illness or the Sumner-heel-dragging intervened, the marriage never took place.

The Sumners – who had purchased (c1770) the estate HATCHLANDS from the widowed Frances Boscawen – were known to Emma’s family. The father, George Sumner, a Member of Parliament, turns up in Smith family letters, and even earlier in diaries of Mrs. Smith and her sister Mrs. Chute. So it was with a bit of _pleasure_ to realize the connection that was developing between the Colebrooke-Sumner children. As more items come to light, I hope to uncover more of their story.

But it’s the photograph of William Sumner (above) that I wanted to mention in this blog post.  Being photography, William would be at least forty years older than the young man who pursued Harriet Colebrooke during the waning years of the Regency.

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A Stitch in Time

February 24, 2018 at 2:28 pm (entertainment, fashion, history, portraits and paintings) (, , )

Several months ago I watched the only episode of A Stitch in Time a certain website had available. Last night I watched FOUR more. A fascinating series of half-hour investigation into clothing from the past.

The fashion-forward hostess, Amber Butchart, a fashion historian, has fashioned a series of garment “tales” from historical portraits. With the able assistance of the very knowledgeable Ninya Mikaila, an historical costumier, the garments take shape. So viewers learn not only about the lives of each portrait’s personage, we also learn about things like today’s wool industry; historical dyes; the precious remains of bygone fabrics from London’s Foundling Hospital, and, of course, everything under the sun about sewing historical fashion.

Six episodes have aired on BBC4 in January and February 2018, focusing on:

  • Charles II
  • the Arnolfini wedding portrait by Jan van Eyck
  • Broughton Castle’s anonymous leather-clad 18th Century “Hedge Cutter”
  • Dido Belle, brought up in the household of Lord Mansfield (Jane Austen fans note!)
  • The Black Prince
  • Marie Antoinette, specifically Vigée Le Brun‘s Marie Antoinette en chemise

Find Butchart’s website here.

Butchart and Robe a la Chemise

And more about the series (and viewer reactions) in this blog post (click the photo).

For those in or visiting England, there is a Stitch in Time Exhibition at HAM HOUSE of the six costumes from the series! Runs until 6 April 2018, open from 12 to 4 PM.

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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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Victoria & Thomas Sully

July 9, 2017 at 1:24 pm (books, british royalty, diaries, entertainment, portraits and paintings) (, , )

Yesterday I watched two episodes of the recent series VICTORIA, with Jenna Coleman in the title role. Episode 2 had a session of the Queen sitting to the portraitist Sir James Hayter (Guy Oliver-Watts) and ends with Victoria “needing help” at the unveiling of his resultant portrait.

Coleman as Victoria

This had me running to fetch my copy of Queen Victoria and Thomas Sully, Carrie Rebora Barratt‘s book that includes Sully’s 1837-38 diary of his stay in London with his daughter Blanche. I remember picking up this book in a newly-reopened Oxfam bookshop in Winchester in 2007. Ooh, they had some good titles then!

Not only does it tell about the MANY portraits the poor Queen sat for – be it miniatures; destined for postage stamps and coins; official portraits; commissions (like Sully’s – destined for the U.S.) – the book also has something to say about Hayter as well as his rival Wilkie — whose portrait the Queen did not think “very like”.

_I_ had to chuckle over her comments (culled from Victoria’s diary) about William Charles Ross – who painted at least TWO of the Smith sisters; Fanny Seymour (which I believe I have found, as a photograph of the original) and Maria Seymour – which was sold at auction, and about which Mamma (Mrs Charles Smith) has left us a letter.

Victoria_Sully

Amazon has a “new” copy – but many “near new” can be found in secondhand book markets. Definitely find a copy with its dust jacket.

Notice, too, of a tiny buried citation in the end credits of “Victoria”: that the series is based on the book by A.N. Wilson. The New York Times said of the book in 2014, “One more foray into a well-thumbed archive inevitably risks diminishing returns. In the absence of some new trove of documents, Wilson’s narrative holds few factual surprises. Rather, its novelty lies in psychological analysis, making his a Victoria for the age of reality TV. A celebrity who craves a private life but also courts popularity through new media technologies.”

A TV series is about as close to “reality TV” as one can get – so perhaps as fitting a source as any of the many biographies of Queen Victoria.

For those interested in “tie-ins”, Daisy Goodwin (series creator) has authored a “Victoria” novel, and Helen Rappaport has PBS’s “official companion book” to the TV series.

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Visit a Portrait: William Ellis Gosling

April 18, 2017 at 10:08 pm (news, people, portraits and paintings) (, , )

William Ellis Gosling

Decommissioned from one museum and long “for sale” at a dealer, the portrait of William Ellis Gosling by Sir William Beechey is a star at the El Paso Museum of Art. Now viewers from far and wide can see some up close & personal views of the young babe who became the eldest brother of my diarist Mary Gosling. Click on the picture to watch a short (2 minutes) film on YouTube.

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William Heathcote of Hursley Park

July 19, 2014 at 12:54 pm (history, jane austen, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , )

Always searching for more, I’ve come across this ENCHANTING portrait at the Metropolitan Museum of Art – which features a cherubic William Heathcote (later the 5th baronet), with his cousins, painted by William Owen c1803.

wm heathcoteThe museum’s write-up about the painting is fascinating: for it proves how wrong a catalogue attribution sometimes can be! The baby in the quartet was, in 1938, thought to be William (born in 1801). This then meant that the children surrounding the baby were all little girls… When you click on the picture to see the ENTIRE portrait (it will take you to the Met, and open in another window) you will see why this is so important a mistake.

  • when at the Met’s website, click under “catalogue entry” for the painting’s full history

William, who was a GREAT CHUM of Edward Austen, was the son of the Rev William Heathcote, vicar of Worting. Jane Austen knew the Heathcotes well; little William’s mother was the former Elizabeth Bigg, daughter of Lovelace Bigg-Wither. Elizabeth returned to her parental home following the early death of her husband. Jane Austen was friendly with all the Bigg sisters of Manydown.

The painter, William Owen, exhibited the work in 1806.

The fascinating part of the history is what happened in 2012 – just two years ago – when a descendent gave the museum access to family history and, based on birth dates, the Met re-evaluated the sitters.

The Heathcote pictures (yes, in the PLURAL) were sold off in the 1930s, by a distant relation who had inherited the baronetcy (as mentioned, Edward Austen’s friend was the 5th baronet). As the website says, the extensive collection “constituted a rather comprehensive record of the appearance of succeeding generations from the late seventeenth century until shortly after 1800“. Breaks my heart to read of families divesting themselves of The Old Family Portraits – but without such divestment these would not be found online now…

Owen’s work has great charm, in the rusticity of the scene presented.

I forgot to mention: William Heathcote’s first wife was Caroline Perceval, daughter of the 2nd Baron Arden — who was related to the Comptons of Castle Ashby (ie, Emma Austen’s Aunt and Uncle Northampton). So, in a way, William “married into the family” even before Edward Austen did! (He and Emma Smith married on 16 December 1828.)

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