Viewing Jane: Cassandra's Portrait At The Holburne Museum

We wrote a few weeks back about the loan of The National Portrait Gallery’s portrait of Jane drawn by her sister Cassandra to The Holburne Museum in Bath. The loan very happily coincides with The Jane Austen Festival and adds to the celebrations. I was lucky enough to visit The Holburne Museum  and see this rare drawing of Jane after having watched the delightful Grand Regency Promenade, and made a stop at The Jane Austen Centre to see all the things they have been working on recently.

I took what one can only call a truly lovely stroll from The Jane Austen Centre up to The Holburne Museum, witnessing all the charm and splendour of Great Pulteney Street. The road itself dates back to the 18th century and features beautiful Georgian terraced houses on either side of the thoroughfare, creating a very grand feel.

The museum itself is in a light and airy building, with a café on the ground floor for light refreshments. The collection includes several notable paintings, including a portrait of Henrietta Laura Pulteney, the lady who inherited the large Pulteney estate in 1782 and set about developing the elegant Great Pulteney Street I just mentioned with her farther Sir William. It was incredible to see this painting of Henrietta by Angelica Kauffman because not only is it painted with delicacy and a rather lovely colour pallet, but because Kauffman was one of the most favoured artists of the 18th century but has largely been forgotten. She painted much of the British aristocracy and was a well known name within the London art scene, as well as a founder of the Royal Academy of Arts.

Moving on from Kauffman, the piece I was most excited to see was being displayed on the very top floor. The suspense only built and built as I made my way through the collection, slowly ascending. When at last I got to the top floor, I almost missed the drawing! It was far smaller than I had imagined, although this did nothing but increase its loveliness. The drawing is so delicate, with a very light blush on Jane's cheeks and dainty curls escaping from her bonnet. Despite being held behind a large perspex box for its protection and safety, one can still very much appreciate the softness of Cassandra's drawing. If you have been fortunate enough to visit The Louvre and see Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, you will know protective boxes can cause all sorts of havoc when trying to view a precious piece of work. The Holburne Museum is much smaller than The National Portrait Gallery, and so I was able to look at Cassandra's portrait of Jane without being incumbered by crowds or barriers. The tenderness with which Cassandra has approached this portrait of Jane translates to viewers despite the protective box and makes the piece more than a sketch but a lasting view of history. 

The Jane Austen Festival is still very much underway in Bath, and I recommend taking a look at this portrait after paying us a visit at The Jane Austen Centre. It was really quite interesting to compare depictions of Jane, from the wax work at the Centre to the portrait at Holburne, as well as the silhouette thought to be Jane titled "L'aimable Jane", given how little information we really have about her. If you would like to bring a little Jane Austen art into your home, you can purchase a lovely 'Stained Glass' Window Ornament from our store that was inspired by the Cassandra portrait! 

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Words by Hannah England.

1 comment

I have only seen Cassandra´s portrait in books and on the internet, not the real thing, but I think it is wonderful. This is the real Jane Austen, not some prettified picture, but the real author of “Pride and Prejudice” and other great novels. She looks clever – and a little mischievous too.

Una Margrét Jónsdóttir September 20, 2021

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