The Regency World of Jane Austen–and Diane

I’m so lucky to live near Washington, DC. A couple of months ago I heard that The Smithsonian Institution was offering an all day lecture on The Regency World of Jane Austen by Bonita Billman, an Art Historican from Georgetown University. The lecture was scheduled for two days after my Mills & Boon book #5 was due, so the timing was perfect. I decided to indulge myself (the museums in DC are free, but the lecture was a little pricey) and sign up.

The lecture was held in the Ripley Center, the entrance of which is between the Freer Gallery and the Museum of African Art (We’re full of museums in DC). The Center is underground, and the lecture hall is a very comfortable room with theatre seats.

Ms. Billman showed the Regency World of Jane Austen through visual images, slides of the art of the time period, but also photography of the architecture, decorative arts, and fashions. She used the “social Regency” definition (1790-1830) rather than “political Regency” (1811-1821), when the Prince was Regent. I think she slipped a little into the Georgian period, but that was okay. The day was divided into four lectures: The Personalities in Jane Austen’s World; Regency Portraiture; Late Georgian Architecture; and Daily Life, Social Customs, Interior Design, and Fashion.

Billman showed the people of the Regency through their portraits, which was great fun. The Prince Regent, Mrs. Fitzpatrick, Beau Brummell, Jane (of course), Byron, Princess Caroline, and Princess Charlotte–and my hero, The Duke of Wellington.

Next Billman talked about the portrait artists of the time: Thomas Lawrence, Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, George Romney, and some lesser known ones: Hoppner, Beechey, Raeburn–even Stubbs, who is best known for his horses. My favorite was when she showed slide after slide of miniatures, small portraits to keep in one’s pocket.

Cosway was a name I had not known before the lecture. I love miniatures and hope some day to find one I can afford.

The next lecture was about the architecture. She basically just showed classical and gothic architecture–and, of course, the Pavilion.


She talked about William Gilpin, who toured the areas of natural beauty in the British Isles and whose home tour was satirized in Rowlandson’s Tours of Dr. Syntax.

Then last of all slide after slide of furniture, porcelain (not enough of that), interior design, and clothing.

I did not expect to learn new things, but I did. I did not know about Cosway, the miniaturist. I did not know about Gilpin or the Picturesque movement, but my interest was held throughout the whole day.

Another thing about it, I usually go places like this with a friend, but I wound up going alone and, actually, that was good for me. In a way it became more of a respite for me and I could more easily immerse myself in the time period and in the art. It was a day very well spent!

Cheers!
Diane

About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who don’t always act like ladies.
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