Austen and Portrait Artists of Her Time

Sir Joshua Reynolds

There are many people who have purported the idea that Austen presenting the Pemberley housekeeper the name of “Reynolds” in Pride and Prejudice is a reference to Joshua Reynolds, the most widely known artist of the late Georgian era. After all, Mrs. Reynolds leads Elizabeth and the Gardiners to the infamous portrait gallery, where Elizabeth returns again and again to Darcy’s portrait, essentially surrendering to her attraction to him and eliminating all her doubts regarding the man. There are some who also suggest that another housekeeper, Mrs. Hodges who is employed at Donwell in Emma could refer to William Hodges, a well-known painter of “exotic” lands, for he travelled with Captain James Cook on Cook’s second voyage to the Pacific Ocean. 

William Hodges

Hodges’ painting of HMS Resolution and HMS Adventure in Matavai Bay, Tahiti

However, there are more overt references to painters of the time. For example, in Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland’s (the heroine’s) younger brother is George Morland. The painter George Morland was known for his images of rural life. Morland’s unassuming style and rural subjects match quite well with the fictionalized Catherine Morland, whose charm can be easily found in her lack of pretentiousness. 

George Morland at an easel

George Morland’s (26 June 1763 to 29 October 1804) early work was influenced by Francis Wheatley, but he came into his style during 1790s. He came by his talent naturally. His father Henry Robert Morland was an English portrait painter, best remembered for a portrait of King George III. Meanwhile, his grandfather, George Henry Morland, was a British genre painter. Morland began to draw at a very young age, some say as early as three years old. At the age of ten, his name appears as an honorary exhibitor or sketches at the Royal Academy. Later, he exhibited at the Free Society, the Society of Artists, and, again, at the Royal Academy. 

The Cottage Door

It is said that his father shut young George up in a garret to make drawings (copies of the paintings of others), etc., to sell for the family funds. It is also said young George hid some of his drawings and sold them for his own devices (usually something involving self-indulgence). His father set him to copying pictures of the Dutch and Flemish masters. He was introduced to Sir Joshua Reynolds and obtained permission to copy Reynolds’s pictures. His originality became evident in his The Angler’s Repast. His work appeared in a lively print trade; he supposedly had some 4000 paintings and drawings accredited to him. George Morland was celebrated for what was called “cottage door” style paintings, depicting sentimental homecomings. Is it ironic that the character of George Morland in Northanger Abbey is one of those who meet Catherine upon her return from her stay at Northanger Abbey. “Her father, mother, Sarah, George, and Harriet, all assembled at the door, to welcome her with affectionate eagerness.” More ironic is the fact that one William Collins wrote a biography of Morland’s life, which was said to have been full of reckless self-indulgence and dissipation. 

Remember Austen originally sold the manuscript of Northanger Abbey to Crosby & Co. Her brother Henry bought it back, and in 1816, Jane Austen added this disclaimer to it: “those parts of the work which thirteen years have made comparatively obsolete.” Unlike Persuasion, there was no revision of Northanger Abbey because Jane’s illness took her too soon. It was published as it was originally written. 

The Alehouse Door

We do know that Jane Austen was familiar with George Morland’s career (and likely his fall of shame) because her sister Cassandra did watercolors of Morland’s The Alehouse Door and The Alehouse Kitchen. Later, Cassandra did another watercolor of Morland’s Pedlars

Do you recall the scene in Northanger Abbey where the Tilneys are on Beechen Cliff. The Tilneys are describing the landscape. “They were viewing the country with the eyes of persons accustomed to drawing, and decided on its capability of being formed into pictures, with all the eagerness of real taste. Here Catherine was quite lost. She knew nothing of drawing—nothing of taste—and she listed to them with an attention which brought her little profit, for they talked in phrases which conveyed scarcely any idea to her.”

Charles Hayter

Charles Hayter is another artist of the time, whose name you might recall as belonging to one of the characters in Persuasion. Hayter, the artist, specialized in portraits of navy men and their families. Hayter (24 February 1761 to 1 December 1835) was the son of an architect and builder, who, initially, trained with his father, but soon his ability to draw images of family members sent him down a different path. He attended the Royal Academy Schools in London, entering there at age 25, much older than the average student. He made his living as a painter of portrait miniatures, creating some 113 images between 1786 and 1832. His two sons, Sir George Hayter and John Hayter, along with his daughter Anne, were all successful artists.

He taught “perspective,” of which he was considered an authority, to Princess Charlotte, King George IV’s daughterm to whom he was later appointed Professor in Perspective and Drawing. He also dedicated to her his book An Introduction to perspective, adapted to the capacities of youth, in a series of pleasing and familiar dialogues, first published in 1813 in London. He later published A New Practical Treatise on the Three Primitive Colours Assumed as a Perfect System of Rudimentary Information (London 1826), in which he described how all colours could be obtained from just three.

Portrait of an Unknown Woman and Two Children, about 1800, watercolour on ivory

Like Morland’s work, Hayter’s pieces were also available in the form of prints. We know that miniatures were excessively popular during Austen’s life time. The average size of a miniature became three inches. Hayter was especially skilled with the use of watercolors on ivory, the medium preferred by those seeking miniatures made. The small, compact portraits were quite popular with naval officers, allowing them to take an image of their loved ones to sea with them. If one recalls the tale in Persuasion, Captain Benwick had had his image done up in a miniature for Fanny Harville. He asks Captain Harville to have the portrait “properly set” for Louisa Musgrove. The need for a new setting likely indicates that the original image held an inscription meant for Harville’s sister, Fanny. That would need to be removed before it could be presented to Louisa Musgrove. Even Austen mentions “the little bit of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush” in one of her letters. 


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
This entry was posted in British history, British Navy, Georgian England, Georgian Era, history, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, real life tales, Regency era, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.