Monday 5th March 2018 to Wednesday 21st March 2018
Venue: Chawton House
Pens, Paintbrushes & Pioneers: Portrait of a Woman Writer
‘She had amused her solitary hours by drawing, in chalks, a portrait of features indelibly engraven on her recollection.’
– Mary Brunton, Self Control (1811)
The pages of Chawton House’s 10,000 works by women are full of memorable pen portraits of their female characters. Frances Burney’s Evelina admires her newly-‘frizzled’ hair as she prepares for a fashionable evening’s entertainment in London. Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet traipses across a field, getting her petticoats dirty, whilst Mary Crawford sits posed, near a window, with a harp as elegant as herself. Mary Shelley’s spectral Caroline Frankenstein appears to her deranged son, grave worms crawling in the folds of her shroud. Maria Edgeworth’s Harriet Freke rests her bold, masculine arms on a coach door and laughs loudly.
Chawton House is also home to a number of painted portraits of women, including examples by famed artists George Romney and Joshua Reynolds. Countesses, literary characters such as Frances Burney’s fainting heroine Camilla, and the Knight family women―including Austen’s niece Fanny―all reside in the ‘Great House’, side by side with a number of prominent eighteenth-century women writers.
This exhibition draws together portraits held at Chawton House – paintings, frontispieces, and written pictures – creating its own composite portraits of four influential and pioneering women writers: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Maria Graham, Mary Robinson, and Jane Austen.