Rarely seen portrait is a late addition to The Mysterious Miss Austen

28/04/2017
News

A rarely seen 1869 watercolour portrait of Jane Austen by James Andrews is a late addition to the exhibition The Mysterious Miss Austen, which opens on 13 May 2017 (until 24 July) at The Gallery in Winchester Discovery Centre.

The work is currently in a private collection. The likeness that will feature on the new £10 note from July 2017 is based on this portrait.

The portrait was commissioned by Jane Austen's nephew, the Revd James Edward Austen-Leigh, and was the model for the engraved plate used as a frontispiece to accompany his biography, A Memoir of Jane Austen, published in 1870. The likeness is based on the only confirmed portrait of Austen made during her lifetime – a sketch by her sister, Cassandra in 1810, which is in the National Portrait Gallery and which will also feature in the exhibition. This is a rare opportunity to see the two works together – the last time is thought to be more than 40 years ago. The show will also extraordinarily feature four other portraits of the universally admired author, all together under one roof for the very first time.

2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, and Hampshire Cultural Trust is coordinating a yearlong series of events to celebrate her creativity and talent, with the centrepiece being The Mysterious Miss Austen

Presented in partnership with Jane Austen’s House Museum, this landmark exhibition will explore Jane’s life, work and her relationship to Hampshire. The county was not only Jane Austen’s birthplace (and where you can visit her grave today), but its people, landscape and the society in which she moved provided inspiration for her novels, classics such as Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility.

The exhibition will include around 50 items – paintings, watercolours, prints, illustrations, manuscripts, letters, clothing and other objects – all generously loaned from private and public collections in the UK and abroad.

The centrepiece of The Mysterious Miss Austen will be the six portraits of Jane. The pencil and watercolour sketch by Cassandra Austen (circa 1810) and the hollow-cut silhouette by an unknown artist from circa 1810-15 will be familiar to many from their usual home in the National Portrait Gallery, London. However, the other portraits, all from private collections, will probably not be known to visitors: one has not been seen in public for more than 40 years.

Among other treasures on show in The Mysterious Miss Austen will be the manuscript of an alternative ending to her final novel Persuasion, in her own hand, on loan from the British Library. Persuasion, which deals with love lost and second chances, was written in 1815-16 when Austen’s health was failing (it was published posthumously in 1818). The two chapters which will be on display in Hampshire are unique as the only surviving manuscript pages of a novel Jane Austen planned and completed for publication. She subsequently became dissatisfied with this first ending and rewrote the chapters in the published form we have them today. But this first ending offers visitors a chance to glimpse in intimate detail the novelist at work.

Another manuscript on loan from The British Library is a volume of teenage writings, entitled by Austen Volume the Second and written when she was just 15 years old. Among the items in Volume the Second is the spoof History of England, a comic account of England from Henry IV to Charles I as told by ‘a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant historian.’ This parody of published history books includes coloured illustrations by Jane’s sister Cassandra.

There are only a handful of items that survive today which actually belonged to Jane and can be traced directly back to her – and Hampshire Cultural Trust is fortunate to have three in the collections it cares for. The exhibition will feature her silk pelisse coat – a twill weave with a small repeated pattern of oak leaves in a golden straw colour on a warm brown background (the design dates it circa 1813-15). The Mysterious Miss Austen will also include one of her purses, which is usually on permanent display at Winchester City Museum.

Other fascinating loans include a rare, photo-illustrated copy of American writer Oscar Fay Adams’s The Story of Jane Austen’s Life from 1897 which is travelling to Winchester from Goucher College, Baltimore along with other items from its Jane Austen Memorabilia Collection. A Friendship Book belonging to the Revd James Stanier Clarke, the Librarian of the Prince Regent (later King George IV), and an acquaintance of Jane’s, contains an 1815 portrait some believe to be of the author. First editions of her works and fascinating personal letters, early illustrations for her works, plus items of the kind Jane would have experienced in her day to day life, will all complete this fascinating survey of the renowned writer.

Bringing a contemporary view, Grayson Perry’s Jane Austen in E17 ceramic vase (2009, Manchester City Art Gallery) is evidence of her lasting legacy and influence on the arts.

The Mysterious Miss Austen is jointly curated by Louise West, former curator of Jane Austen’s House Museum and chair of the Jane Austen 200 working group, and Professor Kathryn Sutherland from Oxford University, a leading Austen scholar.

Louise West says "The bringing together for the first time of 6 portraits of Jane Austen will, we hope, provoke reaction and excite argument, about the mysterious Miss Austen. This is a new way of exploring Austen’s identity and we are thrilled to be sharing this opportunity with the public."

Professor Kathryn Sutherland says "If you think you know Jane Austen, think again! Jane Austen is our most intimate writer – the writer we each feel speaks to and for us – and yet we know so little about her. What we do know is built upon ambiguities, contradictions and paradox: even how she looked is something of a mystery. ‘The Mysterious Miss Austen’ will celebrate and challenge the reputation of our best-known, unknowable writer."

During 2017, there will also be smaller scale, sister exhibitions on the life and works of Jane Austen in Hampshire at the Gallery at Gosport Discovery Centre and the Sainsbury Gallery at Basingstoke’s Willis Museum.

Janet Owen, Chief Executive of Hampshire Cultural Trust, says "Jane Austen has been a much-loved figure worldwide for more than two centuries, so we are pulling out all the stops to celebrate her life and works here in Hampshire. Whether you are a Jane Austen scholar or have just enjoyed one of the many TV or film adaptations of her works, these exhibitions are an ideal way to explore and celebrate her legacy."

These exhibitions are just a small handful of the events taking place in Hampshire for Jane Austen 200, for the latest news and information visit the events section on our website.

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