Watercolour painting of Sterne’s Maria, by Cassandra Austen

Object name: Watercolour painting of Sterne’s Maria

Object number: CHWJA:JAH183

Category: Object

Description: Watercolour painting of Sterne’s Maria, by Cassandra E. Austen, signed with initials and dated 1808.

Made: 1808

Context: Laurence Sterne (1713-1768) was an Anglo-Irish novelist and clergyman best  known for his novels The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy.  Jane Austen was familiar with the novels; she uses a quote from A Sentimental Journey in chapter 10 of Mansfield Park when Maria Bertram exclaims:

‘….that iron gate, that ha-ha, give me a feeling of restraint and hardship. ‘I cannot get out,’ as the starling said.’

The enormous popularity of A Sentimental Journey inspired many artists to paint images of one of the characters, a melancholic young shepherdess called Maria. The tragic Maria meets Yorick, the protagonist of the book, when in mourning for her late husband ‘sitting under a poplar.. with her elbow in her lap… and her head leaning on one side…dressed in white’. She is usually depicted with her dog Sylvio.  Maria became so popular that Wedgwood produced a cameo of her which was used on brooches and shoe buckles.

Cassandra’s painting, which she has signed C.E.A and dated 1808, is a copy of John Russell’s  pastel portrait of Maria which is part of the Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor. It was donated to the museum by descendants of Jane’s brother Admiral Sir Francis Austen.

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