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A Very Special Visit to The Jane Austen Centre

An engagement at the Jane Austen Centre

Visitors come to the Jane Austen Centre in Bath for many reasons. Some come as part of a tour they are doing of Jane Austen locations across the UK, some stumble upon us while visiting Bath, some visit us on specific family outings, or on school trips. The list of reasons goes on. However, we were recently visited by a gentleman who had a more unusual reason for coming to see us.

Last week one of our visitors came to the Jane Austen Centre to propose to his girlfriend. And we’re delighted to say that she said yes!

It was a very special moment for the couple, and we wish them many years of happiness.

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The new Jane Austen Portrait by Melissa Dring

New Jane Austen portrait

The New Jane Austen Portrait using source material and forensic methods

Introduction:

Melissa Dring - new Jane Austen portrait artist
Forensic Artist Melissa Dring

In 2001, Melissa Dring* was commissioned by David Baldock, the Director of the Jane Austen Centre, Bath, to produce a new portrait of the author, as she might have appeared during her time in Bath, 1801-06.

Combining the insights of the professional portrait painter with those of the police forensic artist, Melissa was uniquely qualified to accept this challenge.

David Baldock had heard of her work on a speculative likeness of the Venetian composer Antonio Vivaldi. A film producer, wanting a likeness to use as a casting aid for a proposed film biography of the composer, and feeling it was a job for a forensic artist, had approached Scotland Yard, who recommended Melissa.

The difficulty with both commissions was their shared lack of reliable contemporary portraiture, although a wealth of written eye-witness accounts survive in both cases.

Melissa Takes up the story…

My new speculative likeness of Jane Austen fills the gap left by the paucity of authenticated representations of the author. As I hope it will come to be accepted as a good portrait of her, despite being made 185 years after her death, I will describe the research and working methods I used, so that it can be seen how it is based almost entirely on solid fact, and how little guesswork was needed.

There is a tiny pencil and watercolour sketch of her, in the National Portrait Gallery in London, by her amateur artist older sister, Cassandra, and a steel engraving made from it years later, which attempts to soften Cassandra’s dour account, but according to one observer, Jane’s face was never so broad and plump. Cassandra, somewhat unhelpfully, also painted a back view of Jane, and there are two silhouettes, so popular in her day, one of which is said to be a self portrait. Tantalisingly, there are no other undisputed likenesses of Jane.

We have her parents portraits and all but one of her siblings, including no less than three quite good portraits of her young brother, Francis, of whom an interesting daguerrotype also exists, showing him as an old man.

The natural starting point, then, had to be Cassandra’s sketch, which I reversed, as I decided to have Jane looking the other way, and also I needed to make her look a few years younger. Cassandra drew Jane at 35, and I had to make her aged 26-31, during her years in Bath. Above all, though, I wanted to bring out something of Jane’s lively and humorous character, so evident in her novels and all contemporary accounts of her. Cassandra’s drawing may have been quite like Jane physically, but has failed to catch her sparkle.

‘We cannot ever know exactly what she looked like, and the likeness has to remain, in part speculative, but I feel that there’s a distinctly sporting chance that I can’t be too far wrong.’ Melissa Dring

Cassandra Austen
Cassandra Austen

For the New Jane Austen portrait, I have given Jane the Austen family look which all her siblings shared, the bright eyes, long nose, small, narrow mouth. She has the brown curly hair, so like her father’s at her age, also his hazel eyes, small mouth, the family nose and healthy complexion. A nephew described her as a clear brunette with a rich colour, and another observer her doll like rosy cheeks. Incidentally, at this point in Bath, Jane was still mercifully years away from the onset of the Addison’s disease which eventually killed her. The skin discolouration which she suffered as one of its symptoms can be completely eliminated from the equation. Her brother Henry wrote that she had true elegance, so I am convinced she held herself well, with slim upright posture, though this was unkindly referred to as poker like by one acquaintance.

The verifiable elements of the new Jane Austen portrait, the costume, desk and writing equipment are all authentic. The cap was, as Sue Ralph of Bath’s own Museum of Costume told me, “essential undress wear” and it is known that Jane was rather old fashioned in her ways. Austen Leigh recalls Jane at Chawton in 1808, saying that, “she was never seen, either morning or afternoon, without a cap”. He also thought that both Jane and Cassandra had, “taken to the garb of middle age earlier than their years or looks required”. This sounds a touch old-maidish, and yet Jane took a keen interest in fashion, writing to her sister for instance, whilst on a visit to their brother Henry in London that she had, “watched for veils as they drove through the streets, and had the pleasure of seeing several upon vulgar heads!”

The precise type of cap and the pattern for the style of muslin dress, fashionable at the time, I found at Berrington Hall in Herefordshire with the kind help of Althea MacKenzie, the curator of the National Trust’s collection of costumes housed there. In a darkened room, she opened box after box of fragile C18th dresses for me to see, all of the right period for Jane’s time in Bath. I chose a blue spotted muslin dress because I wanted one that I could adapt easily to Jane’s own choice of fabric, detailed in another of her letters to Cassandra, “I was tempted by a pretty coloured muslin and bought ten yards of it, but at the same time, if it should not suit you, you must not think yourself at all obliged to take it, the pattern is a small red spot”. Althea also advised me about the style of corsetry Jane would have worn to give her the right degree of, literally, straight-lacedness and ramped up bosom so typical of her times.

Jane Austen Portrait
New Jane Austen Portrait

The topaz cross on the gold chain can be seen at Chawton, and was one of a pair that the youngest of the naval brothers, Charles, bought for his sisters with his prize money after taking part as lieutenant on the ‘Endymion’ in a successful engagement with a privateer ‘La Furie’. Jane wrote to thank and scold him, telling him, “of what avail is it to take prizes, if he lays out the produce in presents for his sisters?”, adding that they would be now, “unbearably fine!”

The new Jane Austen portrait shows Jane at the time she lived and worked in Bath, suffused with a gentle ambient glow of pale golden Bath stone. The lighting is classical eighteenth century; indoors, mellow, lit from top left, suggesting a tall Georgian window just out of sight to her side.

Poised at her desk, her pen and spectacles to hand, this is Jane in her writing environment. The actual mahogany slope she always used is in the Treasures Gallery in the British Library, where I was able to make sketches and calculate measurements. It was fascinating to see, not only her spectacles in the half open drawer, but where she had evidently absent mindedly stabbed her pen at the inkwell, and missed, leaving multiple tiny inky holes in the wood beside it.

The Victoria and Albert Museum helpfully supplied the information that steel pens were not invented until 1839, so of course Jane wrote with a quill. It would most probably have been a goose feather, with all unnecessary fletching stripped away. Jane wrote on small loose sheets of paper and would hastily hide them if anyone approached. Which brings us on to discussing her character, an understanding of which is so vital for a lifelike portrait.

She was a very private, secretive person. The graphologist, Patricia Field, is convinced she had “a reclusive nature which she deduces from the tight page filling, and that she was “an obsessive compulsive” from the “extreme connection of her writing”, and had a “preoccupation to safeguard secrets”, using her “wit and wisdom” as weapons for her self-protection. Jane was also extremely practical, apparently giving instructions that the squeaky door beyond which she customarily sat writing, should never be oiled.

She was a romantic, but not at all sentimental. There was an earthy, unsqueamish realism about Georgian England, and the George on the throne was ‘Farmer George’, and Jane herself knew all about killing the family pig, brewing beer, and her nieces’ fleas, all mentioned in her letters.

Francis Austen
Jane’s brother Francis

Her nephews and nieces described what fun they had with Aunt Jane and she clearly adored all her family, being particularly close to her sister.

From the start, though it was a slow and difficult process, I have tried to take all this into consideration and to incorporate all the relevant threads of the story into one whole. Her expression is therefore a complex one, of delightful, private amusement. She is going to poke fun at some pomposity somewhere, or she’s planning to send Marianne off with Willoughby or some other deliciously mischievous plot. She is still, but underneath that cap she is seething with ideas, although she has also a serene, dreamy, inward looking quality. Jane’s was not a loud voice, and this is a quiet little picture, but it has strength, like hers, and is subtle and complex.

As to the authenticity of the detail, everything that could be verifiable, I have researched and used. It only seemed appropriate, for after all, Jane herself went to great lengths to ensure all her details were accurate, even asking, for instance, “if there were hedgerows in Northampton”, when researching ‘Mansfield Park’. She was also a keen art gallery visitor, searching along Pall Mall and in Spring Gardens for portraits that could be models for her own characters, saying of one, triumphantly, “I was very well pleased, particularly, with a small portrait of Mrs Bingley”, saying it was, “excessively like her”.

Well, let’s hope that this portrait would meet with her approval too. I’ve done my best to please her.

We cannot ever know exactly what she looked like, and the likeness has to remain, in part speculative, but I feel that there’s a distinctly sporting chance that I can’t be too far wrong.

The Austen Family

Biography

*Melissa Dring was trained at the Royal Academy Schools, London as a portrait painter, and as a Police Forensic artist by the FBI in Washington, USA. She is a member of The Pastel Society UK, showing her work in the annual spring exhibition at the Mall Galleries, London. She has a B.Sc. Hons. in the Psychology of Facial Identification and works freelance for police forces throughout Britain. She has also worked as a courtroom artist for TV news programmes.

Jane Austen waxworkA full-size waxwork has been made and is on display at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. The waxwork was a collaboration by sculptor Mark Richards and Melissa Dring and was presented to the public in July 2014.

Reaction was overwhelmingly positive when the curtains were parted. The waxwork is now on public display. Developed from a forensic portrait of the author by Melissa Dring, the waxwork has been over 2 years in the making. Members of the team behind her creation, especially brought together for the project, were in attendance at the event, – the internationally-renowned sculptor, an FBI-trained forensic artist and a Bafta and Emmy award-winning costume designer.

April 2019 – Exciting plans are underway to create a bronze statue to be situated in Bath of Jane Austen. The bronze will be sculpted by Mark Richards.

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Governor Phillip meets Jane Austen

Governor Phillip

By Heather Clarke
Did Governor Phillip meet Jane Austen in Bath?  It is quite possible.

Governor Phillip
Captain (later Admiral) Arthur Phillip RN (11 October 1738 – 31 August 1814) was the first Governor of New South Wales.

Arthur Phillip retired to Bath in 1793 to recover his health after five years as the governor of the colony of New South Wales.  While on occasions he was obliged to live elsewhere, the elegant city of Bath continued to be his favoured place of residence for the rest his life.

Jane Austen first visited Bath in 1797 and dwelt there with her family between 1801 and 1806.

Jane loved dancing and attended balls in many places across the south of England: – Basingstoke, Deal, Lyme, Canterbury, Ashford, Faversham and Southampton. She specifically mentioned the annual ball hosted by the Dorchesters of Kempshott Park to which all their Hampshire neighbours were invited (1799), the Earl and Countess of Portsmouth’s ball (1800), and a ball in Southampton (1808). All of her novels feature balls or dancing.
Jane loved dancing and attended balls in many places across the south of England: – Basingstoke, Deal, Lyme, Canterbury, Ashford, Faversham and Southampton. She specifically mentioned the annual ball hosted by the Dorchesters of Kempshott Park to which all their Hampshire neighbours were invited (1799), the Earl and Countess of Portsmouth’s ball (1800), and a ball in Southampton (1808). All of her novels feature balls or dancing.

Bath was at the cultural heart of Georgian and Regency society.  The most fashionable people flocked to Bath in the season to enjoy the curative powers of the mineral waters and to consort with the fine company gathered there.  Central to this were the splendid Assembly Rooms, “the most noble and elegant of any in the kingdom”2.  Together with card-playing and concert-going, dancing was a key element to the experience.  Dances were held every night, with at least two balls given each week during the season.  These enchanting affairs were presided over by a master of ceremonies with the strictest decorum; however, the dances themselves encouraged a certain degree of flirtation.  Balls began with minuets, followed by country dances, cotillions and reels.

Both Governor Phillip and Jane Austen are known to have attended balls – did their paths cross?  They certainly would have danced the same fashionable dances of the season.  Every year collections of the latest dances were published; these invariably bore the inscription As they are performed at Court, Bath, and all Public Assemblies, highlighting the pre-eminence of Bath and the significance of dance in genteel society.

Jane, aged 21, visited Bath for the first time in 1797. She may have danced Captain Cook’s Country Dance from Corri, Dussek & Co’s Twenty-four New Country Dances for the Year 1797.
Jane, aged 21, visited Bath for the first time in 1797. She may have danced Captain Cook’s Country Dance from Corri, Dussek & Co’s
Twenty-four New Country Dances for the Year 1797.

Comparing the lives and places Arthur and Jane frequented, it is clear they both trod in the same places, moved in similar circles and perhaps had a number of mutual acquaintances.

Although Phillip was mostly not a permanent resident in Bath at the same time as Jane (1801-1806), he did spend a considerable amount of time there and upon retiring in 1805 purchased “a large and commodious house at No 19 Bennett Street”.  As befitted a person of Phillip’s standing, this was situated in one of the most prestigious areas of the city, a handsome new Georgian dwelling, just above the Assembly Rooms.

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Jane Austen Waxwork

Jane Austen Waxwork

We had a great time unveiling our new Jane Austen waxwork to the assembled media folk on Wednesday 9th of July.

L to R. Andrea Galer, Mark Richards, David Baldock, Jane Austen and Melissa Dring
L to R. Andrea Galer, Mark Richards, David Baldock, Jane Austen and Melissa Dring

Reaction was overwhelmingly positive when the curtains were parted. The waxwork is now on public display. Developed from a forensic portrait of the author by Melissa Dring, the waxwork has been over 2 years in the making. Members of the team behind her creation, especially brought together for the project, were in attendance at the event, – the internationally-renowned sculptor, an FBI-trained forensic artist and a Bafta and Emmy award-winning costume designer. (See their biographies below) The novels of Jane Austen are known throughout the world, her heroes and heroines have been brought to life in many adaptations, and the industry which has built up around her name is significant. So whilst people happily associate Jane Austen’s characters with the actors who portray them, perhaps most famously Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, there remains a real desire to possess a likeness of the writer herself.

Uncovering the Real Jane Austen (taster) from Grace Productions on Vimeo.

The only verifiable image of Jane Austen is a small watercolour painted by her sister Cassandra but it has been acknowledged by experts as a poor attempt and was described by her niece as ‘hideously unlike’ her aunt Jane. However, there are many contemporary descriptions of her by friends and this is where the Jane Austen Centre enters the picture. The chance reading in 2002 of an article about forensic artist Melissa Dring’s work in creating a likeness of the composer Vivaldi from eye-witness accounts spurred David Baldock, Director of The Jane Austen Centre, into action. David contacted and commissioned Melissa to create a new portrait of Jane. And then a year later, David engaged handwriting expert Patricia Field to reveal further aspects of Jane’s character through a ‘blind’ study of handwriting samples.
waxwork head and shoulders (low res)
Inspired by the overwhelming positive response to these additional pieces of the jigsaw that is Austen’s life and to address the continuing, near insatiable demand for further revelations, David has now taken this process one step further and commissioned a three-dimensional, life-size wax figure. waxwork with real person (low res)The Jane Austen Waxwork is based on the 2002 portrait and its creation has been undertaken by internationally-renowned portrait sculptor Mark Richards. The figure has been dressed in authentic-period costume by Bafta & Emmy award-winning designer Andrea Galer, while the finishing touches have been completed by ex-Madame Tussaud’s hair and colour artist Nell Clarke. The figure is to be displayed at a specially created space within the Jane Austen Centre, in Bath. As the popularity of her work and interest in her life has never been greater, and the modern-day Jane Austen fan (or Janeite) can be very opinionated to the point of over-protectiveness, with some going so far as to see themselves as the self-appointed guardians of her image, this figure is almost certain to provoke controversy. Ultimately though, the Jane Austen Waxwork will hopefully take admirers of her work that one step closer to finally revealing exactly what Jane Austen looked liked.

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Adrian Lukis Interview

Adrian Lukis

Elle Interviews Adrian Lukis

On a lovely sunny day, we were making the new Jane Austen Centre film with Adrian when during a break we took the opportunity to grab a few minutes to interview the ex Mr. Wickham.
You will see for yourself that Adrian is such a charming gentleman.

“I love playing cads. They’re more interesting and so many of them seem to have a special kind of power and aura about them.”
Adrian Lukis ought to know. With his dark good looks and easy charm, he has often been cast in the role of attractive rogue or upper-class bounder. “He has charm in spades,” wrote Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph in a 2000 review of Lukis’s performance of Beach Wedding at the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton.

 

Mr Wickham

Adrian Lukis, born in 28th March 1957 in Birmingham, is an actor who has appeared regularly in British television drama since the late 1980s. He trained at Drama Studio London. His most recent notable appearances have been as Sergeant Douglas ‘Doug’ Wright in the Police drama series The Bill, and as Marc Thompson in the BBC legal drama Judge John Deed.

He was a regular, playing Dr David Shearer, in Peak Practice between 1997-99. He also played Mr. George Wickham in the BBC’s 1995 adaption of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Adrian had appeared in the ITV1 one-off drama Back Home and in the BBC rural drama series Down to Earth.
He had previously appeared in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (as Bennett in The Creeping Man), Maigret, Miss Marple and Prime Suspect. Adrian Lukis played Simon Avery in Silent Witness Series 15 Episode 2, Death Has No Dominion.

He is currently appearing as Carter in Bull at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.

Lukis is descended from the Channel Islands archaeologist Frederick Lukis.

Continue reading Adrian Lukis Interview

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Cravats, Tail Coats and Breeches

Regency Dress for Gentlemen

Towards the end of the 18th Century the tail coat appeared: a style based on the English riding coat. This was made of good wool cloth and gradually became the fashionable garment for men in Europe and America.

Tail Coat The tail coat on display at the Centre is made from 100% English wool doeskin, and is fashioned after a style current about 1810. Notice how few seams there are – just one on each side of the centre back seam. A waist seam to give a better fit to the body was first seen about 1820 and the underarm seam appeared between 1820 and 1830. The tails of the coat at this time finished just above the knee and if you look carefully, you will find that each tail has a pocket concealed in its central seam.

The tailcoat was usually only partially lined and that lining was the same fabric as the body of the garment. The cloth was so tightly woven and heavily milled that most of the edges of the garment were left raw and finished with a row of hand stitching all the way around. Here it is possible to see this detail on close examination. This practice survives in top-quality tailoring with the “hand pricked” finish only on the lapels.

The waistcoat shown here is in a fancy fabric suitable for an evening occasion: for day wear, the fabric would be plainer and of a sober colour – cream, buff, or grey. Only the fronts are in the fancy fabric, the back being made of a plain cotton cloth; a gentleman never removed his coat in company so it would not be seen. The stand collar was very popular for both day and evening. The back is adjusted by means of lacing rather than a buckle.

Tail Coat Breeches were very popular and did not completely fall out of fashion for day wear until about 1825, thereafter still being required for court dress, riding and country wear. The waist is high and the braces were worn to support them. They were often embroidered by the females in the family. The rear of the breeches is quite full to ensure comfort in the saddle, and the waist is adjusted by lacing. The fabric from which the display breeches are made is 100% cotton moleskin.

Following the example of Beau Brummell, a gentleman and his valet would spend a great deal of time and effort in the morning, in search of the perfect arrangement for the cravat- discarding several along the way. Most shirts and cravats were made at home, again, by female relatives. In a letter of January 1799, Jane wrote to Cassandra, “When you come you will have some shirts to make up for Charles [brother]; Mrs. Davies frightened him into buying a piece of Irish [linen] when we were in Basingstoke.” The next year she wrote, “I have heard from Charles, & am to send his shirts by half dozens as they are finished. One set will go next week.”

Costume researched, designed and constructed by Yvonne Roe, Gloucester. Special to the Jane Austen Centre, Bath.

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