Paintings and drawings

The novel has numerous references to paintings and drawings, all of them in relation to Jane and her situation.

Art and personal taste

Bewick's Barn OwlIn the very first chapter of the novel, after being dismissed by Mrs Reed, Jane retreats behind the window-curtain with a copy of Bewick's book about birds (see Jane Eyre synopses: Volume 1, Chapter 1 for a note on this book). The small engravings (vignettes) of other scenes engage Jane's attention as much as the pictures of the birds.

  • Re-read the descriptions of Bewick's engravings in Chapter 1 (Volume 1, Chapter 1):
    • What do they have in common?
    • How might they be relevant to Jane's situation at Gateshead?
      • What do we learn about Jane's personality from her fascination with these pictures?

Significance through art

The most important references, however, are to Jane's own paintings and drawings.

  • For Bessie, when she visits Jane at Lowood in Chapter 10 (Volume 1, Chapter 10), Jane's ability to paint and draw, as well as to play the piano and speak French and do fine needlework, are the signs that she has become a lady
  • Much later in the novel (Chapter 30 / Volume 3, Chapter 4), Jane finds that this is the one respect in which her skills are greater than those of Diana and Mary Rivers.

It is when she meets Rochester, however, that her art work takes on its deepest significance. During their first extended conversation, Rochester questions Jane about her skills and abilities and sees them as no more than average until he begins to look at the pictures in her portfolio.

  • Re-read the passage in Chapter 13 (Volume 1, Chapter 13) beginning ‘these pictures were in water colours' and ending ‘the shape which shape had none'. This is Jane's description of her paintings
    • What do the subjects of these paintings have in common?
    • From Jane's descriptions, what impression do you have of their appearance?
  • Now go on to read the passage immediately following the passage in Chapter 13 (Volume 1, Chapter 13) beginning ‘these pictures were in water colours' and ending ‘the shape which shape had none', in which Rochester questions Jane about the pictures and makes comments on them
    • Why do you think Rochester is so interested in Jane's paintings?
    • What does he think they tell him about her?

These pictures are created before Jane meets Rochester. Later in the novel we see her in the act of drawing and painting, choosing subjects drawn from her life and relevant to events at the time she creates them.

Art as self-discipline

In Chapter 16 (Volume 2, Chapter 1), after Mrs Fairfax describes Blanche Ingram to her, Jane sets herself the task of making portraits of herself and Blanche Ingram:

  • For herself, she chooses the simple material of chalk and tells herself that she must be absolutely realistic in her self-portrayal
  • For Blanche, she chooses fine materials, paints on ivory and produces an imaginary ideal portrait
  • This enables her to cope with the fact that, although she has allowed herself to believe that Rochester is fond of her, ultimately she stands no chance against someone who enjoys Blanche Ingram's advantages.

Art as self-expression

While she is keeping watch at Mrs Reed's deathbed, Jane passes the time by drawing:

  • At first, she produces some small paintings – vignettes similar in size to those in the Bewick books described in Chapter 1 and portraying the same kind of subjects that so interest Rochester in Chapter 13
  • She then goes on to make a sketch of Rochester, which is described in detail in Chapter 21 (Volume 2, Chapter 6) in the paragraph beginning ‘One morning I fell to sketching a face.'
  • Once again this is Jane describing her own work and the qualities she seeks to emphasise in the portrait – strength, determination, flexibility and spirit – tell us a good deal about what Jane finds attractive in Rochester
  • The Reed sisters see the portrait and Georgiana's description of Rochester as ‘an ugly man' says a great deal about fashionable ideas of male beauty and how far Rochester fails to meet them
  • Jane also makes pencil sketches of the sisters, but these are not described.

Art and desire

In the final section of the book (Chapter 32 / Volume 3, Chapter 6), Jane makes a portrait of Rosamund Oliver:

  • She is delighted to have ‘so perfect and radiant a model' and looks forward to completing the delicate colouring required to represent Rosamund's looks
  • The painting also serves another function in that it causes St John to admit to Jane what she already knows – that he is in love with Rosamund – and it is while he gazes at the picture that he allows himself to give way to his feelings for a set period of time – ‘a little space for delirium and delusion', he calls it.


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