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!

9 comments:

austenonly.com said...

Fascinating, Jane. I so look forward to reading the next exciting installment. I've followed this story for years, and would love for it to be resolved happily.

Jane Odiwe said...

Yes, me too! I really hope it will all turn out well for all concerned.

Teresa said...

So interesting and well-researched! I look forward to reading more.

Jane Odiwe said...

Thank you, Teresa. I've enjoyed putting these posts together very much.

Alexa Adams said...

I want a look at that possible Austen family portrait! Waiting with bated breath for your next post!

Jane Odiwe said...

The portrait is gorgeous - to see it as I did was a dream!

Laurel Ann (Austenprose) said...

Jane Odiwe, author and art detective in action. Thank you for sharing Jane. This is so exciting.

Jane Odiwe said...

I'm glad you're enjoying it, Laurel Ann!

Lily said...

I have a few books on Jane Austen's life and the times she lived. I have been to her house, Bath and even visited several of the places where the 2005 movie Pride & Prejudice was filmed. It is always good to hear more! Thank you.