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Austen meets Austin

What Jane Saw

 
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Published on July 16, 2013, in Jane's Journal.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 10.24.53 PMIt’s difficult to imagine that in the future, the auction house Christie’s will have intense bidding on the emails of the famous, fabulous and notorious. Sigh! The art of letter writing is slowly fading into the 20th century sunset. No more songs like Elvis’s Return to Sender or Please Please Mr Postman. The anticipation of a love note in the mail has been replaced by impersonal ecards and text messages.

URT1 🙂  –  “Oh, that will be so lovely to reread when we are old and gray!”

Much of what we know about the Jane Austen’s life, her personality and innermost  thoughts come from the intimate letters to her sister Cassandra and other family and friends. Her missives are gossipy, humorous and richly observant about English life. “Behold me going to write you as handsome a letter as I can. Wish me good luck.”- Jane Austen

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You can easily imagine her nimble hand writing in every corner and across paragraphs in the opposite direction. Paper was an expensive commodity and poor Jane, she had more words than paper. “Oh! dear me!—I have not time or paper for half that I want to say. ” – Jane Austen

The art of letter writing flourished in the 18th century. Letters were not just a way to transmit vitally important information but a means of keeping in touch with loved ones through written words of affection. The popularity of personal letter writing in turn created a market for instruction manuals teaching the proper way to execute a letter. The rockin’ and sexy bestseller of the time was the 1740 epistolary novel Pamela or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson. The is story told through Pamela’s correspondence which gives it a unique intimacy and immediacy. And isn’t that what letters are all about?Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 10.20.00 PMScreen Shot 2013-07-16 at 10.18.30 PM

 

The familiarity and thoughtfulness of personal correspondence is not going away. They embody personal effort, sentiment and reflections in a tangible physical form. Cards are all the more valuable as they become increasingly rare.

 

 

How delighted I was to receive a birthday message within a whimsical note card chosen by my fashion forward sister. It was a sweet glittered piece of paper confection from TOKYOMILK. They have a whole array of original and wickedly funny cards. I love the 21st c lingo and the 18th c images. Even Jane would laugh! TMCourt.001

TKhair.001

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I feel inspired to write someone!

There is so much more to TOKYOMILK but what a great calling card introduction.

TOKYOMILK

 
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Published on July 12, 2013, in Jane's Journal.

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“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, Jane Austen is still relevant today!”

 

That’s what Jane said. Well, maybe not the last part but she did write, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times”.  It doesn’t get more everyday than that… unless you also happen to say, “dirt cheap”, “dog-tired”, “brace yourself” or “dress a salad”.  All these phrases that are part of our modern day lexicon thanks to Jane Austen. 

Jane Austen is quoted 1,640 times in the most recent edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Entries include 321 phrases from her 1815 novel Emma, which includes “dinner-part”’.  Professor Charlotte Brewer has called her, “The mistress of the ordinary”.

Hmm? Now what would Jane say to that? 

 

 
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The Pemberly estate of Mr. Darcy that Jane Austen imagined would most likely be a country house designed in the Palladian manner. A fashionable style with design elements based on the principals of classic Roman architecture. The halls and rooms would have been filled with Greek and Roman sculptures.Screen Shot 2013-07-07 at 9.08.11 AM

The Grand Tour, a rite of passage among the young and wealthy to broaden their understanding of classical art and literature, inspired private collections of antiquities.

The enthusiasm for Greek and Roman art has never diminished. 

 

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To see these images from in a new and particularly 21st century perspective is both invigorating and necessary. It stimulates the discussion of what art means to us and invites a look back at the timeless attraction of antiquities. 

Leo Caillard and Alexis Persani give a whole new meaning to Hipster in the Street Stone series. 

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The stone is lifelike and subjects more approachable than ever. 

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 Sui Jianguo similarly transformed the classical Greek “Discobolus”.

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The Roman copy of the bronze 5th c. original is displayed at British Museum.

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Sui Jianguo said of this piece, “I wanted to show how through self-reflection I have come to throw off the bonds of the education I received at the Art Academy and its socialist ideology. Instead of these I have created a ‘way of art’ all my own.”

When I first saw this sculpture I couldn’t help but think of the current world economy and balance of power.  The iconic image of Mao’s suit enveloping the symbolic figure of Western ideals reflected not so much Mao’s quest for world dominance but the economic clout of modern China vs. the crippled Greek economy. Hey, It gets us talking. Regardless of the interpretation, in the end, when the Cultural Revolution died, art won. 

Another Chinese artist, Bai Yiluo, created a large piece entitled “Civilization. It is both disturbing and intriguing. 

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A mixed media work that challenges our reverence for classical busts and the artist’s vision of ruling power and enslavement of the those who work the land. Each dependent on the other for survival.

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“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” – Aristotle

 
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“Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.”  Benjamin Franklin 

All American school children learn the phrase, “No taxation without representation”, but the passion behind these words was lost on the British. Maybe that was because Parliament had previously achieved some success from inflicting injurious and inane taxes on royal subjects. Fortunately, the colonists had thousands of miles separating them from the crown and making enforcement more difficult. The ingenious English population found their own way to avoid payment.  In 1696, England’s answer to the unpopular idea of an income tax was the Window Tax. It was based on the number of windows in a house. The idea was that the bigger the house, the more windows it would have and the more taxes the owner would have to pay. You didn’t need to be a Sherlock to tally up the total as it was a relatively easy tax to access with most windows visible from the street. However, it proved to be painful enough that homes and buildings began boarding up their windows. A successful but bad design solution. 

Screen Shot 2013-07-04 at 11.09.43 AMThe homes and buildings with bricked up windows are sad mournful images. This was a tragic result for the people that lived in them and an abomination to esthetics of elegant Georgian design.

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Though this was meant to tax the wealthy, it hurt mostly the middle class and poor. Servants, who already had a punishing life, were doomed to live in airless dark rooms. This tax was also found in Scotland and France. 

 

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By 1718, the revenue from the Window Tax had declined due to windows being blocked up and new homes were being built with fewer windows. To make up for this lack of cash, the Glass Act was enacted in 1746. This was a tax based on not the number of windows but the weight of the glass within them. Consequently, this led to thin and weak glass during the Georgian era. Crown glass was the most common glass of this period. The distinctive bull’s-eye marked the place where the blower’s tool was attached to the glass. This imperfection would be cut out in favor of using only the relatively flat glass that surrounded it. Bull’s-eye panes became popular because this mark was considered a flaw and not taxable. Cheaper inns, businesses and the backs of private homes used this glass. Hmm? A creative solution to bad taxes.

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Not always considered a flawed product, artisans have exploited the distinctive appearance of bull’s-eye glass. It is still used today as decorative  art.

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Complaints on this tax, as “a tax on air and light” led to it’s repeal in 1851. 

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Published on June 30, 2013, in Regency Dining.

Screen Shot 2013-06-30 at 11.52.59 AMThe French deserve props when it comes to food. As a culture they have elevated the most simple ingredients to exquisite forms of culinary art. Under Louis XIV, the rules of formal dining were dictated by an elaborate court protocol known as le service à la française. It was a coordinated display of Baroque excess. Stylish but not necessarily practical.

Screen Shot 2013-06-30 at 8.12.56 AMAll courses were served at the same time in prescribed locations on the table. Guests would serve themselves from the dishes at hand without moving them. This didn’t guarantee a satisfying meal, nor did this ensure dishes remained at their appropriate serving temperature. But who was going to argue with the arbiters of elegance and style? Maybe hungry people, that’s who!  This ritual was replaced with service a la russe, “service in the Russian style”, which reflects the modern dining custom of individual food courses being brought to the table in sequential order. The Russian Ambassador was credited with introducing this to the French court in the early 19th century. This dining style lent itself to emphasizing each individual course with elaborate place settings of tableware, silver and glassware and a variety of new serving dishes.

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English Bone China was was developed by Thomas Frye at his Bow porcelain factory and was further refined by Josiah Spode in the late 1700s. Stoke-on-Trent has been the the location of some of the most well known manufactures such as Spode, Royal Doulton, Wedgwood and Mintons. In recent times, many these of companies have merged, fallen into receivership or shipped production overseas.

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A well set table will always be an invitation for delicious food and stimulating conversation. This will never go out of style. Just as cuisine and entertaining evolve, imaginative tableware provides a wonderful complement to enhance today’s dining experience. The Georgians would have been shocked by the sight of skull with a crown on their bone china, but we can’t resist this clever artistic image. Who would have thought a vulture could be so charming?

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Melody Rose’s innovative creations are available in bone china made in Stoke-on-Trent or by recycling vintage ceramics with whimsical designs. The great innovators, Josiah Spode and Josiah Wedgwood would certainly approve of this fresh twist on their classic wares.

http://melodyrose.co.uk

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Published on June 29, 2013, in PUG.

Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 2.22.27 PMAn animal psychic on the radio was describing the various qualities of favorite breeds. When she came to the pug she said, “Oh, the poor pug! He suffers from an inferiority complex because people make fun of the way he looks. Fortunately, the pug owner more than makes up for this with their fierce loyalty and devotion. They love their dogs like no other owner.”Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 2.26.07 PM

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Mrs. Bertram in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park is the perfect example of an indulgent pug owner with her beloved “pug”. She was lacking in imagination when it came to naming her four legged darling though a regal moniker would hardly matter to the pampered pet. High on the list of pug requirements is to be loved and fed and to have this routine repeated often.

The pug was an extremely popular breed in the 18th century and became a English court favorite. The sturdy little black faced dog of today has gone through several incarnations which have left it with deep wrinkles and a much shortened muzzle that only adds to its breathing problems and delicate nature in hot weather. Fortunately, its affectionate demeanor and clown-like behaviorhas kept the breed a favorite among dog lovers.Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 2.26.38 PM

For royalty, who are always in need of a trusted and fashionable companion, the pug was the ultimate lap dog. In ancient China, they were revered for the way their wrinkled brow resembled the Chinese character for “Prince”. Pugs became the royal mascot of the House of Orange after alerting the prince to an impending attack, they warmed the lap of Madame de Pompadour and woefully accompanied Mary, Queen of Scots, to the scaffold and waited with Marie Antoinette during her final days. In Italy, they sat by the coachmen of the wealthy wearing matching jackets and pantaloons, Josephine’s pug “Fortune” bit Napoleon on their wedding night and Queen Victoria initiated her own pug breeding program.

 

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These are a just a few of the aristocrats that fell under the spell of the charming pug. It is not surprising to find so many animal lovers among the rich and famous who can’t be faulted for being suspicious of two-legged friends and hangers-on. The fidelity of a devoted dog is a comfort most needed. Perhaps the pug, with its quizzically cocked head and sad longing eyes provided them with a little creature who needed their protection as much as they sought its unconditional love.

 

 
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Published on June 18, 2013, in Empire Art.

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198 years ago today, Napoleon surrendered at Waterloo. The battle left over 50,000 dead and wounded, brought a swift and final end to Napoleon’s imperial rule. He was exiled until his death to St. Helena in the South Atlantic. The windy barren island covered in volcanic rock was removed in every way possible from the elegance and sophistication of Paris. Though Napoleon never saw France again, his reign inspired great art and the gloriously rich Empire style which is still popular today. Based on neoclassical design, the symbols of war and victory such as eagles, palm leaves and laurel wreaths were used to reflect the glory of ancient Rome and authority of the Napoleon’s regime.

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Women dressed like Greek goddesses, coiffed with tendrils and draped in tunics. Caesar styled hair was all the rage for men.

French artisans and craftsmen benefited from Napoleon’s trade ban with England. The government encouraged and supported manufacturing and the decorative arts which gave birth to golden period for exquisite French craftsmanship.  Napoleon employed strategy, not only on the battlefield, but also as a modern day “Mad Man” by using art to feature the images of ancient power to seduce and advertise his own heroic image.Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 9.19.46 PM

Napoleon would be extremely satisfied to know that Empire design has been exported around the world and even decorates the White House interior.

He also might like that the fact that he was the subject of a hit pop song… though he probably wouldn’t like the title…Waterloo.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sj_9CiNkkn4

 
 
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Published on June 7, 2013, in Modern Media.


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On May 24, 1813, Jane Austen went to a crowded art gallery on Pall Mall in London, looking for Mrs. Darcy.

“I dare say Mrs. D. will be in yellow,” Austen wrote that morning to her sister, referring to the romantic heroine whose happy ending she had sketched out in “Pride and Prejudice,” published four months earlier.

She came back disappointed, having failed to spot a ringer for the former Elizabeth Bennet among the actresses, aristocrats, royal mistresses and assorted well-married ladies on the gallery walls, which were covered with portraits by Joshua Reynolds. “I can only imagine that Mr. D prizes any picture of her too much to like it should be exposed to the public eye,” Austen wrote jokingly later that evening. (See NYTimes article)

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/25/books/what-jane-saw-is-an-online-trip-for-jane-austen-fans.html

Jane would approve of this clever use of modern media to make a 19th century gallery tour tangible to a 21st century audience. Kudos to Janine Barchas and the University of Texas for giving us this delightful walk through time.

http://www.whatjanesaw.org