Wouldn't we rejoice if we could see London, Hampshire -- ANYTHING -- through Jane Austen's eyes?
Print by Rowlandson, 1796
Of course we can, all due to Austen Scholar and University of Texas professor Janine Barchas and her students. They have recreated digitally the exhibition of 1814 which Jane Austen atttended at the British Institution, 52 Pall Mall, and you can visit too. Just click on the caption above and you will arrive ready to see the display.
U. of Texas Professor Barchas
And how about the plays Jane Austen saw in London, Bath, or even in the barn at the Austen family home in Steventon? We had a taste of these too at the Chicago Spring Gala, presented by William Phillips and the Terra Mysterium Theatre group featuring Debra Ann Miller.
Terra Mysterium Theater Ensemble
First, the art Jane saw. The exhibition we see was a first for London: a one-man show, in fact a retrospective of paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), the first president of the Royal Academy. Jane Austen wrote of visiting several galleries in May of 1814, mentioning this one in particular. But how do we know what she saw?
George III, 1781, Royal Academy, Number 1 in the exhibition
Professor Barchas discovered a catalogue from the exhibition, numbering the pictures and providing the room numbers, sizes, and walls, though not the arrangement of pictures. Next she had to locate the contemporary location of each picture. Some were well-known, beloved and easy to find, such as the renowned portrait below.
Mrs. Siddons as The Tragic Muse, 1784, Huntington Art Gallery
A few paintings could not be located and may have been lost in fires or other disasters. But I think every observer will agree it is an amazing feat to have reconstructed the exhibition. The full story can be found here
Though the building is London is long gone, two additional paintings of the British Institution gave the team some clues to its appearance.
John Scarlett Davis (1804-1845), Interior of British Institution, 1929
Yale Center for British Art
Alfred Joseph Woolmer (1805-1892) Interior of the British Institution
Yale Center for British Art
The two paintings above also show the interior with its arches, center stairway, and in the lower picture, a fireplace, which turned out to be rather important for the arrangement of the pictures.
Professor Barchas's team built the interactive website starting with a Google Sketch-up program and went from there. I can understand HOW they did it and WHY, but could I do it? Assuredly not. However, even non-tekky me has no trouble negotiating the website and learning about the exhibition, the building, the pictures -- all of it. You can too, for it is truly user-friendly. All of the students and faculty are listed here
, if you just scroll down.
The British Institution, 53 Pall Mall, as it appeared in 1851
The building was designed by George Dance the Younger and built in 1788
for the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery.
The UT team has not rested upon its laurels. They are deep into a new project recreating the Shakespeare Gallery as it appeared about 1796 at the same set of rooms that later became the British Institution. On these premises John Boydell (1752-1817) created a gallery of paintings from Shakespeare's plays.
Hogarth's Richard III
Using some of the same template as What Jane Saw, the University of Texas team led by Professor Barchas is recreating a version of the Boydell
Shakespeare Gallery which operated from 1789 to the early years of the 19th century.
Puck, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, appears in both virtual galleries
In addition to charging for admission to the Shakespeare Gallery, Boydell also planned to earn his investment and a profit from selling a book of engravings of the paintings. It was for enjoyment at home, an early "coffee-table" book. Though the gallery ultimately failed as a business venture, the images of Shakespeare's plays and how they were performed were very popular and influenced the way we see the Bard even today.
However, many of the paintings, when sold, were too large to be exhibited in buyer's houses and many of them were cut up, as shown below. Some of the fragments can be located and thus the colors and the original sizes can be ascertained from the black and white engravings, which were all about the same size in the folios.
Engraving of Miranda, Prospero, and Caliban
from Boydell's folio
Only remaining fragment: Prospero
York Museums Trust
Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) Prospero, Miranda and Caliban, 1803
The above three images represent how the pictures have been recreated when only fragments remain, as a combination of good research, detective work , and technological skill.
from Troilus and Cressida, Lady Hamilton as Cassandra
fragment in private collection
This is only one of the myriad problems to be solved in creating the website. In addition, further technological advances and experiments are planned with such things as 3-D goggles and more.
The Shakespeare Gallery from Professor Barchas and her team will debut on the net in December, 2015, to celebrate 2016's 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. A further exhibition will be mounted at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D. C. in the Fall of 2016. Entitled "Will and Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity," it is co-curated by Professor Janine Barchas of the University of Texas, and theater historian Kristin Straub of Carnegie Mellon University. The exhibit will examine the way Shakespeare's work was presented and celebrated in Jane Austen's Day, and it will compare the memorabilia and marketing of that day with the way Jane Austen is marketed today.
After a delicious luncheon, William Phillips presented a talk on "What Jane Saw at the Theatre."
Contrary to the opinion that Jane Austen was anti-theatrical, Philips explained how she enjoyed family productions in her childhood and wrote some fragmentary (and somewhat silly) plays that can be found among her juvenilia.
The enthusiastic response to Phillips' talk and the tidbits performed capped a delightful day at JASNA-GCR (Greater Chicago Region).
Program Chair Debra Ann Miller and GCR Coordinator Jeffrey Nigro
Victoria Hinshaw and Janine Barchas
Thanks to everyone involved for a great program.