Painting & Poetry: DecemberIn the last month of their residency, Ella and Zahra created stunning new works inspired by our winter exhibition - Six Winters: Scenes from Jane Austen's Life & Imagination - and by Jane's letters to Cassandra, and their sisterly relationship.
Ella: This biscuit set has two sources of inspiration: the ‘Six Winters’ exhibition currently on display at Jane Austen’s House, and the material culture of Jane’s lifetime.
The design of the first biscuit (top left) is based on the block-printed cottons that were popular in Europe during the Georgian and Regency eras. The buildings pictured in the biscuit design are Steventon Rectory (where Jane was born during the winter of 1775), St Nicholas Church in Chawton (based on a painting in the Jane Austen’s House collections), and Chawton House. Painted onto the second biscuit (top centre) is an illustration for Mansfield Park by Hugh Thomson, showing Maria and Mr Crawford caught in rehearsal. The third biscuit, inspired by the balls and assemblies Jane attended in her youth, features an extract from the author’s handwritten music book.
The three biscuits on the lower row link to winter moments from Jane’s later years. The design on the left (taken from an 1802 fashion plate) represents the author reading part of Pride & Prejudice aloud to the Austen family’s neighbour, Miss Benn. The blue pattern on the central biscuit recalls Regency styles of ceramic tableware, perhaps similar to what would have adorned the festive tressels at Uppercross in Persuasion. Finally, the biscuit on the right is inspired by the fashions of the London season, as described in Sense & Sensibility and a letter Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra in 1813.
All six biscuits were painted by hand using food colouring gels and vodka. I drew on the gingerbread recipe in Martha Lloyd’s Household Book when making the dough: the ingredients included ginger, nutmeg, treacle, and a generous glug of brandy.
If you’d like to see Ella’s source material, you can explore our winter exhibition online. Visit Six Winters: Scenes from Jane Austen’s Life & Imagination.
Zahra: I was reading through the collection of letters between Jane and her sister, and couldn’t help but think of Cassandra – after Jane’s passing. This poem came from my reflections on our legacies, what we leave behind and who curates how we are remembered. I’ve tried to use short, staccato lines in this poem to reflect the fragmentary nature of grief.
My Sister’s Keeper
Lose the last of your words to fire –
your quips, endearing names
for family no one will find out.
Left with a lock of your hair.
No sound of your laughter
in the hallways.
Not the insistence of quill
against paper – spooking
your characters to life.
Your children, revered
and shelved. I keep
thumbing them open –
half expecting you to walk in,
tell me over my shoulder
what Mr. Darcy should’ve done instead.
Listen to Zahra read her poem 🎧
To find out more about Jane Austen’s letters, you might like to visit our online exhibition: Jane Austen’s Artful Letters.
As their residency draws to a close, we want to say the most enormous thank you to Ella and Zahra for their wonderful creations over the last three months. As with all our residents, they have surpassed our highest expectations – Ella supplying us with wildly beautiful biscuits to enjoy (and eat!) and sharing her process with us at our online Birthday Party, and Zahra writing exquisite poems and co-leading an inspiring poetry workshop.
And that’s it! We’ve had a wonderful year of creativity with our brilliant poets and artists of all kinds, who created inspiring new works in response to Jane Austen’s life, works and legacy, the House itself and our collections. We are hugely grateful for their time, talent and skill!
We are hoping to work with many more inspiring creatives in the future – watch this space!
If you enjoyed this, why not look back at our year of Painting & Poetry…