Portrait miniatures of the Digweed Family

Object name: Portrait miniatures of Digweed family

Object numbers:
CHWJA:JAH428 (Francis William Digweed)
CHWJA:JAH429 (James Digweed)
CHWJA:JAH430 (Mary-Susannah Digweed, nee Lyford)

Category: Objects

Description: Three oval portrait miniatures, painted in watercolour, gouache and bodycolour on ivory. They depict Francis William Digweed, James Digweed, and his wife, Mary-Susannah Lyford. The portraits are mounted in rectangular frames, wood painted black with a decorative hanging device.

Made: 1811

Context: During Jane’s childhood in Steventon, the Digweed family were some of the Austens’ nearest neighbours. They rented Steventon Manor, directly opposite Steventon church where Jane’s father was Rector, from 1758, and the family gets several mentions in Jane’s letters.

In Jane Austen’s time there were five Digweed sons; John, Harry, James, William-Francis, and (confusingly) Francis-William.

These three miniatures depict Francis-William Digweed, James Digweed, and his wife, Mary-Susannah Lyford. James had become the curate at Steventon in 1798. Susannah was cousin to Giles-King Lyford, the surgeon in Winchester who attended Jane Austen in her last illness.

The artist was George Jackson, who appears to have been an itinerant painter, “cold-calling” in the neighbourhood. He seems also to have painted Mary, the wife of Jane’s brother James, who had become rector of Steventon and was living in the former family home there. Jane’s mother, Mrs Austen, thought the painting made Mary look “sour and Cross”!

On very close inspection of the portrait of James Digweed, there appears to be a deliberate smudge above his left brow, which could be a scar caused by a riding accident. Jane described the incident in a letter to Cassandra in 1798:

‘James Digweed has had a very ugly cut-how could it happen?─It happened by a young horse which he had lately purchased, & which he was trying to back into its stable;─the Animal kicked him down with his forefeet, & kicked a great hole in his head;─he scrambled away as soon as he could, but was stunned for a time, & suffered a good deal of pain afterwards.─Yesterday he got up the Horse again, & for fear of something worse, was forced to throw himself off.’

Jane Austen, Tuesday 18-Wednesday 19 December 1798

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