Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tea with Emma

Acrylic on gessoed hardboard,
12 x 12'', 2010, #186
Continuing my authors series, I wish to shine some light on Jane Austen (1775-1817). Regrettably, I haven't been able to devote much time to reading in recent years, but my wife who is an avid reader has read a few of her novels. I have however seen several of the films that were adapted from her books. The first being Sense and Sensibility in 1995 for which Emma Thompson earned an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay.

Jane Austen was born in Steventon, Hampshire England, the seventh of eight children. She was educated mainly by her father and older brothers, and began writing during her early teenage years with parodies and sketches meant for the amusement of her family. From 1811 to 1816, with the release of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816), she achieved success as a published writer. She wrote two additional novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published after her death in 1818.

Finding desirable suitors (husbands) while maintaining social standing and economical security is a common theme in most of her novels. She died quite young at the age of 41 and ironically never married. The film, Becoming Jane, starring Anne Hathaway explores her own journey of finding love as a young adult. At age twenty, she would have been romantically involve with a Thomas Lefroy. He had just finished a university degree and was moving to London to train as a barrister. However, he was financially dependent on an uncle, and since neither had money, their prospects were grim. Their plans to elope were shattered when Jane learned that his own family also depended on Tom financially. She would later receive another marriage proposal which she declined. Entering a marriage because of financial arrangements between two disinterested parties was an appalling concept for her. The parallel between the heroines in her novels and herself is that they would only marry for love. Her novels all have fairy tale endings. Sadly in her own life there were no Mr. Knightley or Mr. Darcy to sweep her off her feet.

She took a revolutionary stance when she said she wanted to become a writer. Employment opportunities were very limited for women at the time. Her first novels were even published anonymously, which spoke grimly of her own actual situation and for that of woman in general. Her books and film adaptations have all received critical acclaim. She appeals to Pop Culture and to the most serious scholars, because she understands human condition. They are eloquently written, witty, intelligent, articulate, melodramatic and of course sentimental and romantic. Her novels provide a biting social commentary of that era and are comedies of manners.
Last weekend as I painted away, the film ''Emma'' starring Gwenth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse who thinks of herself as a romantic matchmaker, ran a total of three times during a 24-hour period on the Bravo network. This week, I rented ''Becoming Jane'' and listened to the director and producers commentaries describing each scenes as I continued painting. ''Pride and Prejudice'' a film I have viewed many times finished off my week. Keira Knightley gives a ''tour de force'' performance, especially in the scene when she first rejects Mr. Darcy marriage proposal( played by Matthew MacFadyen) .

The book in this painting was published by Barnes and Noble, with a Pre-raphaelite genre painting on it's cover entitled ''Il y en a toujours un autre'' (''There will always be an other''), 1882 by British artist Marcus Stone. It's unfortunate that the saucer covers almost all of the image.

When we visited the south of England this past spring, we had a chance to spend a few hours in Bath. A city she lived for a few years after her father retired. The photo on the left is of my son Jean-Luc at the front door of their house at 25 Gay Street. The photo on the right of my wife Suzanne a bit further down that same street at number 40, site of the Jane Austen Center. Due to time restraints on our bus tour, we only had enough time to venture off on our own to find these locations.

On a personal note, this painting is a tribute to my mother, whose name was also Emma. She died four years ago on November 17. Her beautiful spirit lives within me still. Her simplicity and gentile heart were her most endearing attributes and I loved her immensely. The tea cup and saucer (Windsor, fine bone china) belonged to her and was a wedding gift they received when she married my father in 1958. My own artistic abilities is a gift I've probably received from him. He had amazing manual skills and could practically do anything. It left an indelible impact on me. He preceded her to the grave in 2003.
Currently on exhibit at the Fog Forest Gallery's Christmas Showcase.