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|Letter 29: The Pictures.
Written by JulieW
(9/16/2007 9:30 a.m.)
As to our pictures, the battle-piece, Mr. Nibbs, Sir William East, and all the old heterogeneous miscellany, manuscript, Scriptural pieces dispersed over the house, are to be given to James. Your own drawings will not cease to be your own, and the two paintings on tin will be at your disposal. My mother says that the French agricultural prints in the best bedroom were given by Edward to his two sisters. Do you or he know anything about it?
The Battle-piece picture was remembered by Anna Lefroy, Jane's niece
as the painting that used to hang in the rectory dining room at Steventon.
It apparently, according to Le Faye's notes to this letter (see page 373: The Letters) depicted a battle between the Swedes and the Poles in 1565.
It had a sad end.
James Austen , when he moved into the Steventon Rectory ,did not appear to want or value it. He gave to his father's old bailiff , John Bond. He hung it in his cottage at Steventon till the cottage burnt down in March 1808, when the painting also perished (See A Chronology of Jane Austen and her Family , Le Faye page 258) .
Le Faye speculates that the paintings of "Mr Nibbs" and "Sir Wm East " were family nicknames for paintings given by these gentlemen in
appreciation of Mr Austen's successful tutoring of their sons into university
(See pages 373-4 : The Letters)
The "paintings on tin" may have been "toleware" paintings similar to this example from the late 18th century , below :
Le Faye speculates they could also have been small portraits painted by an artist such as John Downman.
John Downman (1750-1824) was a portrait draughtsman and painter and had an interesting history.
He was, for an artist, unusually well-born. His father was a lawyer and his mother the daughter of a private secretary of George I. He studied briefly at Liverpool, then at the Royal Academy and under Benjamin West. In 1773, he travelled to Italy with Joseph Wright of Derby. Returning to England in 1775, he developed his reputation as a portrait painter in Cambridge, London and Exeter. He settled in London in 1779 and gained a fashionable reputation as a portrait artist, undertaking a succession of royal commissions in the 1780s.
His particular speciality was in chalk drawings, and he faced considerable challenges in getting these exhibited properly. He also created history and allegorical paintings, whose relationship with his theatrical portraits is not always clear. After 1800 he became, once more, itinerant, travelling the country in search of commissions. He died at Wrexham in Wales in 1824.
He was famous for his portraits of the participants in the Duke of Richmond's private theatricals which were held at Richmond House,Whitehall in London in the late 18th century.
Here, out of interest , are two examples of his works:
Belwo,one miniature on tin, and , above , one chalk portrait.
Le Faye suggests that the "French Agricultural prints" may have been collected by Edward Austen Knight, when he visited France on his Grand Tour.
As part of his education as a gentleman he was sent on a Grand Tour of Europe by his "adoptive " parents the Knights.
Here is a picture of one of Edward's travel journals:
Here is a map of Edward's travels:
It was very common for Grand Tourists to send and /or bring home souvenirs of their tours. Some souvenirs were very grand, viz the classical statuary and mosaics brought home by Coke of Norfolk, now housed at Hokham Hall. Others were more modest, and I think Edward's agricultural prints my have fallen into his category ;-)
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