What Jane Saw has launched!
Posted: May 6, 2013
British Institution Gallery
What Jane Saw
On 24 May 1813, Jane Austen visited an art exhibit at the British Institution in Pall Mall, London. The popular show was the first-ever retrospective of the works of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), England's celebrated portrait painter. On 24 May 2013, two centuries to the day that Austen viewed the 141 paintings in that exhibit, this site opened its doors as a public e-gallery, offering the modern visitor a precise historical reconstruction of that long-lost Regency blockbuster.
Find out more about the work that went into the site and the significance of the 1813 Reynold's exhibit in the New York Times and Guardian articles:
- "Take the Janeiac Quiz," New York Times.
- "Seeing Art Through Austen's Eyes," New York Times.
"New website displays celebrities of Jane Austen's youth," The Guardian.
Professor Janine Barchas on the upcoming launch of What Jane Saw
What inspired the What Jane Saw project? How did it get started?
In truth, after first identifying the 141 paintings in the Reynolds retrospective, I was rather proud of a slideshow in Powerpoint that I thought showed just what Jane Austen had seen on 24 May 1813. My bubble burst when a wise friend said: “That’s a very nice slideshow, Janine, but it would be so much better as a website where you could actually “see” the paintings hanging on the walls.” I responded, rather lamely, that I wrote books and articles but did not know how to make such a website. He kindly pointed out that I worked at a large university with talented folks who did know and that I should get with the program and write a proposal.
What has your role been in the creation of this website?
Although the historical research behind the site is my contribution, the website’s construction is the work of the technology wizards at Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services (LAITS) who first said yes to the project in 2011. LAITS took the plain historical facts I provided (e.g. the specific 141 paintings in the original show, the architectural dimensions of the gallery, records of the British Institution’s interior design, newspaper accounts from 1813, etc.) and shaped those dry details into a visually innovative interactive digital format.
Have students been involved in the website’s design?
Yes, and at every level of the site’s development. In the early days of the metadata research about the paintings, I worked for a term with a COLA Undergraduate Research Apprentice and English major, Michelle Lawrence. I then spent the following summer working with Megha Vaidya, an LAITS Student Technology Assistant and Architecture major, just “hanging” the pictures on the virtual walls of the Google Sketchup model that she created out of the dimensions from the historical record. Next, designing the website’s elegant navigational features involved a large cadre of further STAs (each is named on the credits section of the site where specific roles are acknowledged). All in all, this may be as close as I will ever come to teaching at Hogwarts. These are young people with serious technical skills and, it seems to me, magical artistry!
What do you believe this website will offer people? Who do you think will it be most interesting or helpful to?
Hopefully anyone interested in being transported back in time to an art gallery in 1813 will come and visit “What Jane Saw” on the web. Although the project’s title takes advantage of a Jane Austen connection (she attended the show on 24 May 1813), this website is not just for Janeites. The original 1813 exhibit was arguably the first museum blockbuster and certainly the first one-man museum show as well as the first-ever retrospective of the great portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds. We hope that the website will therefore have wide appeal. We also hope that the site will inspire others to create further historical reconstructions of, possibly, gardens, shops, or playhouses that are similarly lost to time. A digital toolkit can allow humanities scholars to rebuild, literally, the historical context into which a literary work was born.