Tuesday

Brighton Days Out - Jane Austen at the Royal Pavilion

Brighton's Royal Pavilion and Museum are celebrating the Regency period this year with a few beautifully curated exhibitions.

Brighton Days Out - Jane Austen at the Royal Pavilion photo by modernbricabrac



In April the fabulous Constable exhibition opened in Brighton Museum and now to perfectly complement this, the Royal Pavilion has added another Regency exhibition, Jane Austen by the Sea.

Brighton Days Out - Jane Austen at the Royal Pavilion photo by modernbricabrac


Although I had at some point absorbed the notion that Jane Austen didn't really like Brighton, evidence now suggests that she was actually talking about Bookham in Surrey. The misunderstanding derived from a letter written on 8 January 1799 which it seems has been misquoted in an early 'Brabourne' edition of Austen's letters from 1884. The letter is quoted as saying, "I assure you that I dread the idea of going to Brighton as much as you can do..". This mistake was then repeatedly copied and cited, leading to the perception that Jane didn't like Brighton.

Whether Jane Austen actually liked Brighton, perhaps, is no longer important. What remains, however, are the lasting legacies of the Regency buildings in Brighton and a Regency writer whose work still has the power to resonate today. I'm a huge fan of both, so an exhibition that brings these two elements together was made for me.


Brighton Days Out - Jane Austen at the Royal Pavilion photo by modernbricabrac


The exhibition to a greater extent is contained in one room and is composed of a mixture of pictures, objects and costumes, each so carefully selected that it took a while to take it all in. At the entrance, a mannequin has been dressed in a white pelisse taken from the Museum's own collection. Worn for promenading, the dress although cotton looks like silk and is delicately trimmed in broderie anglaise. It was incredibly petite and a pertinent reminder of just how small the ladies at that time really were.

Brighton Days Out - Jane Austen at the Royal Pavilion photo by modernbricabrac

Brighton Days Out - Jane Austen at the Royal Pavilion photo by modernbricabrac


Inside and in quick succession I took in the lock of Jane's hair, a loan from the British Museum, an example of a writing desk and a mezzotint of Caroline of Brunswick looking supremely majestic. Other pictures on the wall, such as Spornberg's watercolour of the Old Steine depict scenes from the late eighteenth century, that evoke a setting at once familiar and alien.

Brighton Days Out - Jane Austen at the Royal Pavilion photo by modernbricabrac


In particular I loved standing up close to The Pavilion and Steyne aquatint by Charles Thomas Cracklow. Underneath the figures in exceptionally small writing runs a list of names of the personalities included. To the centre rides the Prince Regent himself, while to the farthest left the famous dipper Martha Gunn has also been featured. Considered a highly significant picture because of its inclusion of names, the faces have a photographic feel to them.

Brighton Days Out - Jane Austen at the Royal Pavilion photo by modernbricabrac


Another fascinating inclusion were some library cards from Pollard's and Wilkes's circulating libraries of Marine Parade. From these, I discovered that not only were circulating libraries places to borrow books and meet people but were also venues for a little luxury goods shopping in perfume, parasols, and stationery. The Curator Dr Alexandra Loske told me the library cards on display were from her own collection and I was pretty impressed.

Brighton Days Out - Jane Austen at the Royal Pavilion photo by modernbricabrac

Image supplied by the Royal Pavilion and Brighton Museums
Image supplied by the Royal Pavilion and Brighton Museums

On the other side of the display were more stunning costumes from the Museum's own collection. An ivory wedding dress with obligatory empire line, which had never before exhibited and alongside it the most beautiful white muslin dress. Delicately decorated with a floral pattern, it had capped sleeves, a slight train at the back, and was quite enchanting.

Brighton Days Out - Jane Austen at the Royal Pavilion photo by modernbricabrac


However, topping all of this and the really great Gillray 'Les Invisibles' and the pair of little red pumps was an enormous hand-painted frieze by William Heath. Pictured mid-dance to Lumps of Pudding, a popular country dance tune, was a set of slightly ridiculous dancers. To the far right of the picture stands a man who has taken his wig off to mop his brow, while one lady dances enthusiastically on her wooden leg and another with her dog under her arm. It's all very jolly and the humour is light-hearted rather than searingly vicious often present in other satirical cartoons of the time.

Brighton Days Out - Jane Austen at the Royal Pavilion photo by modernbricabrac

Brighton Days Out - Jane Austen at the Royal Pavilion photo by modernbricabrac

Image supplied by the Royal Pavilion and Brighton Museums
Image supplied by the Royal Pavilion and Brighton Museums


Overall the exhibition conjures a sense of Brighton's Regency world, one that Jane Austen knew in person, whether she liked it or not.

Jane Austen by the Sea, 17 June 2017 to 8 January 2018 in the Prince Regent Gallery at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton

I hope you enjoy it too,

Sarah xx


photo 
Sarah Agnew
Blogger, Modern Bric a Brac
    

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