My dear friend, Jane Odiwe of Jane Austen Sequels fame, is asking for our help in trying to locate a picture which may have intriguing Austen family associations.
She has recently been publishing some very interesting posts on Ozias Humphrey and his paintings,( go here and here to see) and in the course of writing these pieces Jane has become intrigued by the tantalising possibilities that this painting, below, offers:
It is thought by Robin Roberts, the brother of Mrs Henry Rice( the owner of the famous Rice portrait) that this painting may be a conversation piece depicting the Austen family , executed circa 1780. He is of the opinion that it was commissioned to commemorate their son Edward Austen’s good fortune of being adopted by his rich and kind relatives, the Knights. It was once in the collection at Godmersham House but since the dispersal sale held there in 1983, its whereabouts have been unknown.
This is what Jane Odiwe has to say about the history of the painting:
Whilst conducting research into the ‘Rice’ portrait, Mr. Robin Roberts discovered a very interesting picture, which seems to have gone unnoticed in a Christie’s catalogue. The sale of the property of Mrs. Robert Tritton took place at Godmersham Park, Kent, between Monday, June 6th and Thursday, June 9th, 1983. Elsie Tritton and her husband had bought the estate in 1936, and the catalogue notes how she and her husband had lovingly rescued the house, and how Elsie, a New Yorker by birth, wished that after her death, their wonderful collection of furniture and clocks, English Conversation Pieces, objets d’art and textiles should be available for others to buy for their own collections. This is a fascinating catalogue to see, and I think the fact that the painting came out of the sale of Godmersham Park is most exciting! …The painting is described in the catalogue as belonging to the English School, circa 1780, pen, and black ink and watercolour, measuring 15½ by 19½ inches. It depicts a family sitting round a table, the adults at opposite ends, with four children beyond.
If you go here to Jane’s site, you can read all Mr Robert’s speculations on the various allegorical meanings of the painting. He is of the opinion that it may have been commissioned at the same time as the famous silhouette, below, which depicts Edward Austen being presented by the Austens to his new adoptive parents:
My main concern (and remember I am no art historian!)with the painting is the exclusion of the other Austen children: only two boys are depicted. If the family were celebrating their good luck, surely the other brothers would be included in such an important commemorative piece, or only Edward as in the silhouette? And portraiture is not like photography: it does not require that all the people to be depicted to be present at one time and place…But what do I know about it ;)
If anyone is aware of the whereabouts of this panting which was sold from Godmersham during the Christie’s sale of June 1983, then perhaps they would be kind enough to contact either Jane Odiwe via her website, or the Jane Austen House Museum, here. It would be wonderful if it could be found and further investigations carried out to see if there was any Austen family link to it, don’t you think?