Monday, March 21, 2011

Is this a portrait of the Austen family in 1781?

The ‘Conversation Piece’.
Is this a portrait of the Austen Family?
Is this a portrait of the Austen Family in 1781?

Whilst conducting research into the ‘Rice’ portrait, Mr. Robin Roberts discovered a very interesting picture, which seems to have gone unnoticed in a Christie’s catalogue. The sale of the property of Mrs. Robert Tritton took place at Godmersham Park, Kent, between Monday, June 6th and Thursday, June 9th, 1983. Elsie Tritton and her husband had bought the estate in 1936, and the catalogue notes how she and her husband had lovingly rescued the house, and how Elsie, a New Yorker by birth, wished that after her death, their wonderful collection of furniture and clocks, English Conversation Pieces, objets d’art and textiles should be available for others to buy for their own collections. This is a fascinating catalogue to see, and I think the fact that the painting came out of the sale of Godmersham Park is most exciting! Click on the pictures to see a larger image.

The painting is described in the catalogue as belonging to the English School, circa 1780, pen, and black ink and watercolour, measuring 15½ by 19½ inches. It depicts a family sitting round a table, the adults at opposite ends, with four children beyond.
I think what’s so interesting about the picture is that the more you study it; the more the details become fascinating. It appears to be a wonderful allegorical puzzle, full of the humour and charade that the Austen family loved, reflecting so much of what we know about their family history, and finances, with all the literary symbolism they would have enjoyed so much. There are some significant allusions connected with the Austen family, and I am thrilled to share Mr. Roberts’ thoughts and discoveries with you.
Silhouette to commemorate Edward Austen's adoption 
He wonders if it could possibly be a work by Ozias Humphry painted to commemorate the adoption of Edward Austen by the Knight family who were childless relatives, and executed at a similar date as the commemorative silhouette.
 What could be the monogram symbols of Ozias Humphry appear to be scattered in several places about the painting, on the figures, in a curlicue above the mantelpiece, and there is a possible signature in the right hand corner, though it is difficult to be certain without seeing the original, and unfortunately, it is impossible to show all the small details on a blog.

If we assume that this is a painting of the Austen family, the central figure shows a young boy who is most likely to be Edward Austen. The family all have their attention turned towards him, and more importantly, their eyes are concentrated on the bunch of grapes, which he holds high up in the air, as if being presented to the viewer. You can almost hear him say, “Look at me, am I not the most fortunate boy in the world? Look what I have!”
Surely the grapes represent the good fortune and wealth that Edward is about to inherit, and the whole family who look as pleased as punch are celebrating with him.

George Herbert makes the connections between grapes, fruit, and inheritance in his poem, The Temple.

From The Temple by George Herbert, 1633
An extract from The Bunch of Grapes:

Then have we too our guardian fires and clouds;
                            Our Scripture-dew drops fast:
We have our sands and serpents, tents and shrowds;
        Alas! our murmurings come not last.
        But where’s the cluster?  where’s the taste
Of mine inheritance?  Lord, if I must borrow,
Let me as well take up their joy, as sorrow.

But can he want the grape, who hath the wine?
                            I have their fruit and more.
Blessed be God, who prosper’d Noahs vine,
        And made it bring forth grapes good store.
        But much more him I must adore,
Who of the Laws sowre juice sweet wine did make
Ev’n God himself being pressed for my sake.

The horseshoe nail at Edward's feet
As we observe the painting, the small girl with round cheeks to the left of Edward must be Jane Austen herself! This is also one of the most significant parts to the puzzle. She appears to be clutching what could be a horseshoe nail in her hand, which she points towards Edward, her arm held high in the same way as he holds his grapes aloft. This is where it gets most exciting, and where another connection to Edward Austen is made. On the painting of Edward Austen at Chawton House, there is most distinctly, a horseshoe nail on the ground pointing towards Edward’s feet. Mr. Roberts tells me that this little nail is a symbol, an allusion to the fact that the Knights adopted him. Most interestingly, Jane makes reference to the horseshoe nail in a letter dated Tuesday, 9th February, 1813. She is talking about Miss Clewes, a new governess that Edward has engaged to look after his children.

Miss Clewes seems the very Governess they have been looking for these ten years; - longer coming than J. Bond’s last Shock of Corn. – If she will but only keep Good and Amiable and Perfect!  Clewes & (sic) is better than Clowes. And is it not a name for Edward to pun on? – is not a Clew a nail?

Jane was punning on the word clew (or clue) and the Old French word, clou (de girofle), which in its turn was derived from the Latin, clavus, meaning nail (of the clove tree). The dried flower bud of the clove tree resembles a small nail or tack. Of course, it was a name for Edward to pun on because of his own associations with a small horseshoe nail. 

Painting from the Christie's catalogue of the Godmersham Sale
Now we turn to the gentleman on the left of the painting who is dressed exactly as Mr. Austen in the silhouette attributed to Wellings of Edward’s presentation to the Knight family. He is seated, hands clasped together as though offering up a grateful prayer for their good fortune. Within his grasp it appears he is holding a prayer book, or missal, the silk ribbon of which is draped over his fingers, an indication perhaps of his status as rector, and a man of the cloth. Interestingly, he is the only figure whose eyes are not concentrated on the bunch of grapes, but perhaps this is to indicate he is more concerned with offering grateful thanks in his role of clergyman.

In between Mr. Austen and Jane is Cassandra who rests her hand protectively on her sister’s shoulder, whilst also providing an excellent compositional device leading the eye along through to Jane’s arm to the tip of the Golden Triangle where the bunch of grapes are suspended. The painting follows the traditional composition based on a triangle for optimum placing of the main interest of the work. I also think it interesting to note that the girls’ dresses are of the simple muslin type usually worn by children at this time. Mostly white, they were worn with a ribbon sash, at waist height or higher as in Jane’s case.

On the other side of Edward, it is thought this child most likely to be Francis. James would have been at school at this time, and Henry could also have been away. Charles was too young to be depicted, and would still have been lodged with the family who looked after the infant Austens, as was the custom.

To the far right, as we look at the painting is the formidable figure of Mrs. Austen dressed for the occasion with a string of pearls and a ribbon choker around her neck, complete with more than one ‘feather in her cap’, which must represent her pride and pleasure at the whole event, and by extension, the symbols of nobility and glory. She is further emphasizing Edward’s importance by pointing in his direction, and I think it would be hard to imagine a more pleased mama, in her elegant air, and her smile.

On the table is a further connection with Mrs. Austen. The pineapple, a prized fruit, representing health and prosperity, was first introduced to England in 1772, and the Duke of Chandos, Mrs. Austen’s great uncle, was the first to grow them. The symbolism of the pineapple represents many things, not least the rank of the hostess, but was also associated with hospitality, good cheer, and family affection.
Other dishes of food illustrate further abundance, wealth, and the spiritual associations of Christian values. There is bread and wine on the table: Christian symbols, which represent not only life, and the Communion, but also show there is cause for thankfulness and celebration. The glasses are not yet filled, but there are glasses placed before the adults for a toast. Nearest to us in the foreground, there is another fruitful dish, perhaps plum pudding, representing not only the wealth to come, but also a plentiful future. Placed before Edward, another dish, which also appears to suggest the image of a spaniel dog, may be an allusion to Edward’s love of hunting.

The background to the painting holds its own clues. It’s been suggested that the painting above the mantelpiece could be Zeus abducting Ganymede to the Gods, another reference to the luck of young Edward who has been adopted by the Knight family, and on the opposite wall, could this be a reference to the miniature portrait of George Austen, the handsome proctor, even if this appears to be a larger portrait? In the carpet, the patterns suggest the date may again be replicated, and also an M to symbolize the fact that the couple in the painting are married. Above the looking glass is a crest with what appears to be the date. It would be lovely to have a look at the original to see everything in more detail!

Unfortunately, there appears to be no record of the sale of the painting, and I know that Mr. Roberts, and his sister, Mrs. Henry Rice, would be interested to learn more about the painting. They've asked me to make an appeal on their behalf for any information, and if anyone knows of the painting’s whereabouts or can tell us anything about it, please do get in touch with me or with Jane Austen’s House Museum.
My contact details are at the top left of the page.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog as much as I’ve enjoyed hearing all about this little painting from Mr. Roberts and Mrs. Rice, and I'd like to thank them for sharing their discovery. 
I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ozias Humphry and the Austen Family: Part Two

Identifying Ozias Humphry's work is not always easy, especially when his signature is not always to be found on a piece of artwork. And even when it is there, it's often so lightly painted in as to hardly be seen. This is certainly the case in the Craven and Granard portrait, which can be found in Berkeley Castle, seen on the left here. Fortunately, it is recorded on the top right hand corner that the artist is Humphry, but he also signed the portrait just under the hem of Lady Craven's skirt. Although I have a blown up picture of this signature, it is difficult to see, being almost exactly the same tone as the stone underneath her feet, and is too small to show on this blog. This is a stunning oil painting with a dramatic sky that features so often in Humphry's work.

This next drawing is of the artist Gavin Hamilton, and is a perfect example of how easily Humphry's work has been overlooked. This was previously thought to be a self-portrait, but has now been recognised as a Humphry drawing. At first sight one might think there is nothing to distinguish it, but one of Humphry's favourite identifying marks was a symbol, or monogram, made up of his initial letters, O and H, the H being found in the O. Here's the link to the website where you can see a larger version of the drawing, but if you have good eyesight, you should be able to see the O with a slanted H within it to the left of the knot of his neckerchief.
Humphry was well known for his stunning miniature painting, which was very fine. As I stated on Monday, he eventually had to give up this type of work when his eyesight failed from 1772 forcing him to work on larger projects in the main, in oils and pastels. It is thought he may actually have suffered with cataracts, which led to his becoming completely blind by 1797.
This beautiful miniature of Lady Elizabeth Berkeley executed in 1770 shows the OH symbol down on the right. Again it's very clear on the Museum website on a larger image. Note also that this H stands upright, whereas in the last drawing it slanted at an angle. Both examples can be found in other paintings.
I've included this portrait of Edward Austen because I wonder if this was painted by Ozias Humphry. There has been a suggestion that the painting was executed in Rome in 1788 when Edward was on his Grand Tour, and I can see why the conclusion might have been made because of the inclusion of the 'roman' relief, and the ruined temple in the background. However, the landscape appears to be entirely English; the trees are not of mediterranean appearance, nor is the grey, typically English sky, and I would go so far as to say the tree in front, against which Edward is shown is an English oak, painted to show Edward's roots as a land-owning gentleman. Although there has been doubt expressed about the identity of the artist, I can see that Humphry has left his usual monogram in the bole of the tree just to the left, and above Edward's right elbow, (left, as you look at the painting). The H is a more painterly one to be found in an O which is part of the tree. Humphry has even cheekily added leaves pointing in its direction in case we might mss it. As for the ruins and the relief, I think they were included to show that Edward was well travelled, an indication of his status as an educated gentleman. These devices were often included in paintings at this time, and it's possible that they are allegorical symbols, not necessarily representing any particular piece of work or real building.
Interestingly, 1788 was the year Edward turned 21. Might he have returned for a time halfway through his tour, perhaps to attend a party given in his honour to celebrate his coming of age, and might not this painting be a record of having reached this important milestone?
Now we come on to the portrait of Jane, also believed to have been executed by Humphry in 1788 or thereabouts, perhaps even at the same time. As I said last time, this is the only full-length image we have of the original painting, which was presented as a frontispiece engraving in Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters, by William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh. Please take a look at the picture here and look at the blown-up, largest image, so that you can make sense of, and see what I'm going to mention next. Again, Humphry has left his monogram on the tree almost level with Jane's elbow. His signature, Humphry, is in the right-hand bottom corner, which is too difficult to see on the internet, but another monogram on the left can just be seen. If you follow the line down from the tip of the parasol you should just be able to see it, though it is quite dark. The pièce de resistance, and just where you'd expect to find a miniaturist's monogram is on the edge of the locket containing the miniature. It's very small, an O with a slanted H inside.
I have been lucky enough to see the newly cleaned painting in Paris, stripped back to its original 18th century paint, and it is utterly beautiful!

Here is another example of Humphry's monogram in this
painting of Charlotte, the Princess Royal painted in 1769
from the Royal Collection. Do look at the link because the OH symbol is very clear.
Can you find it?
Finally, this portrait shows the characteristic stormy sky Humphry often used in the background of his sitters. I hadn't appreciated quite how magnificent the one in the 'Rice' portrait is until I saw it with my own eyes, but more of that next week with photos of yours truly!
This portrait of Captain Constantine John Phipps is in the National Maritime Museum, and this time, the OH is concealed as a button, third one down on the left flap of his coat as you look at it.

I hope you've found this as fascinating as I have, and can see why it's difficult to sometimes identify Humphry's work. He was a prolific artist, and emulated the work of his peers like Romney and Reynolds, often copying their paintings in order to improve his own technique. This has led to further confusion at times, as he was such an excellent copyist.
 He signed his work in different ways, as well as his surname Humphry, he used his initials and the OH monogram, often hiding it in different places, as seen here in the background, in a button, on a stone step, in the hair, (as in the case of Great-Uncle Francis Austen) or on the bole of a tree, which has further added to problems with identification.
 If you'd like to see more of Humphrey's work, here is an excellent link. On the Christie's page at the bottom is a fabulous painting of a woman in white, Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun, which is very reminiscent of the style of the painting of Edward Austen.

Next time I have an exciting watercolour to share with you - a possible portrait of the Austen family, not published before on the internet!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ozias Humphry and the Austen Family: Part One

Ozias Humphry, Self-Portrait
I don't think it's any secret that I've always been a great admirer of the 'Rice Portrait', so when I was contacted recently by the owner, Mrs. Henry Rice, I was incredibly thrilled. She and her brother, Mr. Robin Roberts, have been working tirelessly in their quest to find out more about the painting, to reinforce its existing provenance as the only known oil portrait of Jane Austen painted by Ozias Humphry. Over the next few weeks I shall be bringing news of their exciting discoveries, as well as a painting believed to be of the Austen family that could well be described as a 'Conversation Piece'!

I thought it best to talk a little first about Ozias Humphry himself, to give a little background to the artist's life, and to show his connections to the Austen family. On Wednesday, I will be showing you some of the different types of work he produced, looking in particular at examples of his varied artwork including drawings, miniatures, oil paintings and pastels.

Ozias Humphry was born in Honiton, Devon, on 8 September 1742. He was the son of a wig-maker and lace-maker. In 1757, Humphry studied drawing in London, lodging with a Mrs. Baker in Cannon Street and joined John Smart, Richard Cosway and Richard Crosse, who were also training at Shipley’s Art school, which at that time was in St. Martin's Lane. He also worked in the Duke of Richmond's gallery in Privy Gardens, and studied under Pars in Beaufort Buildings, Strand. Following the death of his father in 1759, Humphry was apprenticed to the miniature painter Samuel Collins in Bath, where he lodged with Thomas Linley, the musician and composer, becoming a great friend of his daughter, Elizabeth, who was then only a child. Unfortunately, it seems Collins ran up great debts, absconding to Ireland. Humphry had only completed two years of his three year apprenticeship, but the Mayor and Corporation of Bath helped to put an end to the engagement, setting him free from obligation. He met Joshua Reynolds whilst in Bath who encouraged him in the copying of his own work before persuading him to return to London. In 1763, Humphry set up in business as a miniature painter quickly establishing a large circle of clients.
After a riding accident in 1772, Humphry sustained some damage to his eyes and was finding the painting of miniatures increasingly difficult, which forced him to start working in a larger scale. He travelled out to Italy in 1773 with his great friend George Romney, staying first at Knole, near Sevenoaks in Kent, where the Duke of Dorset commissioned several works from him.
Jane Austen's great-uncle Francis was a wealthy solicitor who lived at The Red House in Sevenoaks, acting as agent to the Duke of Dorset at Knole, and was also Clerk of the Peace for Kent.
From a book of watercolours, Ann Kearn's Sevenoaks, text by Patrick Harper, Foxprint, 1992.
Henry, Jane's brother recalled: All that I remember of him is, that he wore a wig like a Bishop, and a suit of light gray ditto, coat, vest and hose. In his picture over the chimney the coat and vest had a narrow gold lace edging, about half an inch broad, but in my day he had laid aside the gold edging, though he retained a perfect identity of colour, texture and make to his life's end - I think he was born in Anne's reign.
The picture that Henry is talking about is one of two that were painted by Ozias Humphry. One is still housed in The Red House, which is still a solicitor's office today, and the other can be seen in the Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield. The Duke of Dorset commissioned the painting of Francis, and there is a letter from Francis to Ozias Humphry still in existence, written on 11th July, 1780, which expresses his delight and gratitude to the Duke. However, it seems likely that the Duke commissioned them only in order to please his agent, as he paid for them, but didn't ever collect them.
Jane Austen's great-uncle Francis Austen of Sevenoaks, Kent

Humphry spent four years in Italy visiting Rome, Florence, Venice and Naples, amongst other places. Upon his return to England in 1777, his failing eyesight meant that he started to work on life-sized oil paintings. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1779, and was a frequent exhibitor. Humphry struggled to earn enough money as a painter in London and hearing of the success of artists in India like Zoffany, he decided to travel there. He stayed in Calcutta, Benares, and Lucknow, visiting the courts of many Indian princes painting miniatures once again between 1785 and 1787, but returned home to London after achieving little success in 1788.

Francis Austen had always been generous to his nephew, George Austen, sponsoring his education and presenting him with the living of Deane to add to that of Steventon presented by the Knights. We know that Jane and Cassandra visited their great-uncle with their parents in the summer of 1788, and it is possible that sittings for portraits were arranged during this visit and executed shortly afterwards. I've included this picture of the 'Rice' Portrait because this is the earliest full-length image of the painting that we have. It appeared as a frontispiece engraving in a book, Jane Austen, her life and letters, written by descendants of the Austen family, William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh in 1913. As we shall see in the next blog post, validating Humphry's work is not always easy until you know what to look for, and the owner at that time, the Reverend Thomas Harding-Newman wrongly attributed the artist to Zoffany.

Humphry became a Royal Academician in 1791, and in 1792, was appointed Portrait Painter in Crayons to the King. Five years later, he went completely blind, the portraits of the Prince and Princess of Orange were the last he exhibited in 1797. Between 1799 and 1805 he lived at High Row, Knightsbridge, and the RA Archive has a quantity of his correspondence with fellow artists. Humphry knew William Blake and commissioned copies of some of his illustrated books. Humphry’s miniatures of Queen Charlotte (1766); Charlotte, Princess Royal(1769) and Maria, Duchess of Gloucester (1769) may be found in the Royal Collection. His pastels Joseph Strutt; Francis Haward (1794) and Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope (1796) may all be found in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London. Humphry died at Hampstead on 9 March 1810. In 1918 George C Williamson published his memoir The Life and Work of Ozias Humphry, RA.
I hope to see you all again on Wednesday with more of this fascinating history!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Competition Winner! Mr. Darcy's Secret

Thank you to everyone who entered the competition to win a signed copy of Mr. Darcy's Secret. The winner is:


Congratulations Emilee - could you please contact me with your address details and I'll put your copy in the post.

Thank you to Laura Hartness for a lovely review over at Calico Critic Blogspot. I am enormously grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read and review my book; it really means so much to me.

Don't forget to tune into the Austen Twitter Project tomorrow Last week's chapters are posted up for our delight along with the next twist in the plot. If you've ever been tempted to try your hand at writing a novel inspired by Jane, now is your chance. Come and join in, it's a lot of fun and it's open to everyone!