Pilgrim Trust Conservation Grant – Jane Austen’s House

Jane Austen’s House is an independent museum sited in the house where Jane Austen lived from 1809 until just before her death in 1817. An accredited Museum and registered charity, the Museum preserves Jane Austen’s last home and celebrates her life and work. We hold an important collection of objects related to Jane Austen, including letters written by her and personal effects belonging to her and her close family circle.

This portrait is of Jane Austen’s niece Lady Knatchbull (nee Fanny Knight), 1793-1882, daughter of Jane’s brother Edward Knight. Painted in the mid-19th Century English School, it was presented to the Museum in the 1950s by Lord Brabourne, Lady Knatchbull’s great, great grandson, and was on open display for the following 60 years. In early 2017 it was removed from display due to conservation concerns. In 2019 the Museum received a grant from the AIM Pilgrim Trust Conservation Scheme to conserve the painting and the frame, in order to make them fit for display.

Restoration of the painting and frame were completed in March 2020. As always, conservation revealed more about the painting. In this case, two areas of blanching in the sitter’s dark garment revealed themselves as blistering in the surface of the paint, which may have been caused by heat from nearby candles. An unexplained division in colour in the background remained a mystery, even after cleaning.

Alexandra Walker FBAPCR, an independent paintings conservator and restorer, advised on treatment and undertook the majority of conservation work. Trevor Cumine re-lined the painting and supplied a new oval stretcher as the original strainer and finally The Southbank Art Company restored, lined and built up the frame.

The outcomes of conservation work to both painting and frame are stunning. The painting is revealed as bright and smooth, with a fresh lining and strong, bright frame.

“Our collection explores and celebrates Jane Austen’s work, life and immediate family circle, of which Lady Knatchbull (nee Fanny Knight), her favourite niece, was a key member. Portraits like this help us to ‘fill in the gaps’ and give our visitors a glimpse into Jane Austen’s world. Painted when Lady Knatchbull was in later life, this portrait provides a link to an important person in Jane Austen’s life – and allows us to see her as Jane Austen was never able to.

 After conservation, this portrait will be returned to permanent display in The Family Room – a space dedicated to the history of Jane Austen’s family and friends, using portraits, silhouettes and miniatures to help our visitors picture the family members that Jane Austen describes so vividly in her letters.”  Sophie Reynolds, Collections and Interpretation Manager.

To coincide with the portrait’s return to the House, it will be added to the online collections gallery – a first step towards digitization and an effective tool to reach the House’s international audience.

This project was led by the Collections and Interpretation Manager with assistance from the Director, Chair of Trustees and Marketing and Communications Manager.

Sophie Reynolds,
Collections and Interpretation Manager