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The debate regarding the supposed new portrait of Jane Austen and the quest for its authentication continues. I am amazed at the sheer number of visitors this topic has attracted to the site. You have come in your tens of thousands to view this one post about the BBC documentary since I wrote it last week. Amazed. So…I thought you all might appreciate a post about very new developments.

Go here for a sight of this thoughtful article written by Bendor Grosvenor, art historian, of Philip Mould and Company . Philip Mould is, of course, famous as an art historian and for discovering “sleepers”, that is, unknown or misattributed portraits. So you can understand why his firm and its employees would have an interest in this authentication process. In his article Dr Grosvenor makes some interesting points as to why he doubts the portrait is of our Jane Austen. I find his comments regarding the style of handwriting of the inscription “Miss Jane Austin “ which can be found on the reverse of the drawing totally fascinating.

Both he and his colleague, Emma Rutherford, who was also in the documentary, Jane Austen : the Unseen Portrait, have recently been sent high-resolution images of the drawing for their further consideration. Emma Rutherford is an expert on miniatures and in the programme explained the use of the plumbago technique and how it fell out of fashion in the early 18th century. You may also recall reading my review of her superb book, Silhouette: the art of the  Shadowhere.If you explore the miniatures on the Philip Mould website you will recognise that many of them were included in the Austen documentary.

If I interpret her tweets correctly, it would seem that Dr Byrne is now appearing to pursue the argument that the inclusion of Westminster Abbey in the drawing may be due to the fact that Jane Austen’s brother, Frank, was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1815,  something she thinks is missed by most Austen biographers. In  Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers( 1905), which was of course written by Frank’s grandson, John Henry Hubback and his daughter, Edith Charlotte Hubback, the award is clearly mentioned:

During these years on shore several honours fell to his (Frank’s-jfw) share. He had been awarded his C.B. in 1815 on the institution of that distinction. In 1825 he was appointed Colonel of Marines and in 1830 Rear- Admiral
(pp. 281-2)

The Order of the Bath is an ancient order of chivalry, the fourth senior order of the British orders of chivalry. It was organised into its modern form by George I in 1725 and during the 18th and 19th centuries it was primarily a military order. (Now senior civil servants are eligible to be honoured by membership of the Civil Division as opposed to the Military Division) The connection with Westminster Abbey is that Henry VII’s exquisite chapel, at the extreme east of the building, is the Chapel of the Order. Sadly from 1812 until 1913 it would appear that the orders association with the Chapel was in name only, for as the Abbey’s website explains:

The Order was enlarged in 1815 and three classes of knights were formed: Knights Grand Cross, Knights Commander and Companions. A small number of distinguished civilians were also admitted at this time and in 1847 a civil division of Knights Commander and Companions was added. As a result of the increased numbers after 1812, due in part to the Napoleonic wars, no installations took place in the chapel until 1913 when George V revived the service and the erection of stall-plates, banners and crests was begun again.

So, if I interpret that correctly,  there would not have been any ceremony for the family to attend at the Abbey,and the association with that particular place would surely be lessened?

I also think we do have to concede that the connection with Westminster Abbey is Frank’s and not his sisters. Would a reference to the Abbey really have been inserted into a portrait of Jane Austen? And why, if this was the connection, was only the corner of Westminster Abbey’s west front shown (together with the tower of St Margaret’s) in the drawing? In any event if  Franks C.B. was the connection/allusion then would it not have been more appropriate to show the exterior of the chapel, which is at the eastern end of the building ( that is, on the opposite side of the Abbbey as recorded in this picture)?  Here is a plan of the Abbey as it was in 1894, from Wikipedia, which I have marked to show the position of Henry VII’s Chapel and the approximate view-point from which view in the drawing was taken. Do note you can click on it to enlarge it.

This morning,(and this something I have only just discovered, having written the last paragraph a few hours ago!) Bendor Grosvenor has slightly altered his original view of this, in light of the information regarding Frank’s honour, but still maintains that a puzzle remains. If the connection is to the Abbey then why is  the view shown in the portrait primarily that of St Margaret’s? Go here to see.

More evidence of the interchangeable nature the spelling of Austen as opposed to Austin has been discovered, for Frank Austen was gazetteered as Francis Austin in the London Gazette when he was awarded his C.B.

Meanwhile, Paula Byrne has appeared to alter her opinion as to who is the possible artist of the drawing, and now seem to consider it can no longer be  Eliza Chute.  It is now thought that the artist is some “low-end professional” and not a friend of Jane Austen’s. He/she would appear to charge 3 guineas for the drawing. This is a reference to marking on the rear of the backing board to the frame, as described in Bonham’s catalogue for the sale of the portrait last year:

Lot No: 6


[AUSTEN, JANE (1775-1817, novelist)]


[PORTRAIT] BY AN UNKNOWN ARTIST, half-length, wash and pencil, highlighted with chalk, on vellum, inscribed on the verso in a small contemporary hand ‘Miss Jane Austin’ (sic) and with the location or inventory number ‘A76’, contemporary gilt frame with attached identification label ‘Jane Austen B. 1775 – D. 1817’, chalk numbers on verso of frame ‘166 8234’ and inscribed on the old backing board in an early nineteenth-century hand ‘Price £3-3s 0d Frame £0 5s 0d.’ and with chalk mark ‘A68’, size of image 5¾ x c. 4½ inches (14. 5 x c. 12 cm), overall size 11¾ x 10½ inches (30 x 27 cm), no date [but ?1818]

Go here to see the full catalogue description and the catalogue’s footnote. It makes for interesting reading.

As you can see all this in unfolding before our eyes on Twitter and on the internet, on a daily and sometimes hourly basis . If you are on Twitter and want to watch the conversation, join in or even help Dr Byrne with any information you can- she was searching for a governess name Helen Carruthers who may be of importance to her theories yesterday – then go here to follow her.Dr Bendor Grosvenor’s Twitter account is here.

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