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After I had written yesterday’s post on the new discoveries regarding the “portrait ” of below, I discovered a dissenting voice about these new findings. I thought you might like to read  these thoughts, written by Dr. Bendor Grosvenor of Philip Mould and Company. This is a renowned art  company which specialises in British art and Old Masters. They have become  famous for discovering sleepers, that is, previously unattributed or misattributed portraits. Dr.Grosvenor  is the author of  the erudite and entertaining Art History News website.

The “Rice Portrait”, which purports to show Jane Austen as a child

 In an article on his site he discusses The Rice Portrait.  You can read the article in full here. He doubts that the new-found  inscriptions will alter the position regarding the painting’s questioned authenticity:

I applaud the owner’s attempts to prove their painting is Jane. But I’m afraid these apparent inscriptions in old photos of the painting, which I have been shown, are (to me at least) not compelling. Nor is this the first time apparently conclusive ‘writing’ on the painting, seen in questionably interpreted and magnified old photographs, has been claimed. For the best critique of the painting’s identity, read former NPG chief curator Jacob Simon’s brief note here. In particular, he deals with the question of the apparent inscriptions written on the painting:

“The [Rice Portrait] website claims that the portrait is signed several times in monogram, inscribed JANE and dated 1788 but, from my lengthy experience of examining British portraits, these apppear to be purely incidental and meaningless markings. They were not noted by Thomas Harding Newman, owner of the portrait in 1880, who attributed it to Zoffany. They do not appear in photographs taken by Emery Walker in about 1910, despite claims to the contrary on the website. They were not apparent to the professional painting conservator who examined the portrait with others at Henry Rice’s request before cleaning it in 1985. They were not apparent to Christie’s experienced cataloguing staff in 2007 when the portrait was put up for sale in New York, despite an earlier report of initials on the portrait”.

All this will, I fear, run and run….No doubt, I’ll be reporting back to you;)

I thought you all might appreciate a post on the latest developments  regarding the  disputed portrait of Jane Austen now owned by Dr. Paula Byrne.

Recently there has been flurry of activity surrounding it, mostly published in the Times Literary Supplement.

The first article was by Paul Byrne, and this reiterated, in the main, the arguments she made for positively identifying the portrait as Jane Austen, and having been taken from life, in her BBC 2 programme, Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait. However, there are a few new points and you might like to hear them. Dr Byrne has  been investigating the view shown on the portrait and seems to have positively identified  it as the view of Westminster Abbey, St Margaret’s Church and Westminster Bridge, which could be seen from one specific place: No.3 The Sanctuary. This house was occupied, in the early 19th century, by Edward Smedley, an Anglican priest who was also senior usher at Westminster School.  Dr.Byrne writes:

He was a man with literary interests, whose published poems included Transmigration (1778) and Erin: A geographical and descriptive poem (1810). He was married to Hannah (1754-1825), the daughter of George Bellas, a gentleman who worked as public notary in the High Court of Admiralty, which dealt with all shipping disputes, and who owned estates in the parish of Farnham on the border of Hampshire and Surrey. Their eldest son, also called Edward Smedley (1788-1836), had serious literary aspirations. He won the Seatonian Prize for English Verse at Cambridge in 1813 and from 1814 onwards he published with John Murray of Albemarle Street. His works with Jane Austen’s publisher ranged from The Death of Saul and Jonathan, a Poem (1814) and The Parson’s Choice, or, Town and Country: An Epistle (1821) to Sketches from Venetian History (1831).

Edward Smedley Junior therefore had the same publisher as Jane Austen, John Murray, and a slight family connection (see below). However, he also appears to have been a fan of Jane Austen’s works from the evidence of his published correspondence:

Pious, antiquarian and serious-minded, the Smedleys seem a far cry from Jane Austen. So it comes as something of a surprise to discover in “Poems by the late Rev. Edward Smedley, A.M.: with a selection from his correspondence and a memoir of his life “(1837) that Smedley Junior was an avid reader of her novels 

In addition Dr Byrne notes that a daughter of Anna Austen, Louisa, married the Reverend Septimus Bellas of Monk Sherborne in Hampshire, who was “a collateral relative of George Bellas”

Dr Byrne poses the question: do we know exactly what Jane Austen did when she was in London negotiating the terms for the publication of Emma? She poses the theory that Jane Austen may have known the Smedleys and may have visited them at No 3 ,The Sanctuary,where the portrait was made , and where it probably stayed in the Smedley family for some time, most probably in an album of drawings as there appears to be evidence of old glue on the reverse of the portrait. Smedley Junior had two daughters, who grew up to be novelists and Dr Byrne considers they were even influenced by Jane Austen:

They both grew up to become novelists strongly influenced by Jane Austen. Menella’s The Maiden Aunt (1849) begins in a very familiar-sounding style – “Emma, the youngest sister of Margaret Forde, married James Ferrars, a captain in the navy, and was left a widow, with two children” – while Elizabeth Anna’s The Runaway (1872) is manifestly a rewriting of Emma (with a mildly lesbian twist). Its publication was welcomed by the Sun newspaper with the announcement that “The future before her as a novelist is that of becoming the Miss Austin of her generation”.

One lead might be interesting, regarding the provenance of the portrait. It was sold to Mr Davids by the executrix of Sir John Forster, Barrister. The executrix, on his instructions, burnt all his papers when she had finished administering his estate. However, Paula Byrne has discovered that it was given to him by his nanny, Miss Helen Carruthers and she is investigating if there are any links between Miss Carruthers and the Smedley daughters. If anyone reading this can help her, please contact me and I’ll gladly send on any information.

She concluded thus:

Until we find another writer who was middle-aged in about 1815, who had a taste for long sleeves and a cap, who was tall and spare, straightbacked, with dark curly hair and facial features bearing an uncanny resemblance to Jane Austen’s brothers, we must keep open the possibility that this truly is a lifetime portrait of the woman who signed her own name on the back of John Murray’s royalty cheque for Emma as “Miss Jane Austin”.

This article prompted  two letters to the Editor. The first was from Roy Davids, the dealer who sold the portrait at auction to Dr Byrne , and was published in the TLS  on the  20th April, 2012. In his letter he defended his catalogue description of the portrait,thus:

Dr Byrne not entirely accurately had me cowering before the formidable Deirdre Le Faye (given the correspondence with that doyenne of the Austen industry which I shared with her). Vendors, it should be said, have an obligation towards a sobriety of tone, balance and judgement that need not constrain an enthusiastic new owner in quite the same way. But, of more consequence, Byrne tends to minimize what was said in the catalogue, which at least hinted at some of her more significant discoveries, when she writes: “Deterred by Le Faye, Davids did no further work on the portrait and it was accordingly given a low estimate in a sale of his literary manuscripts and portraits at Bonham’s in March 2011, where I bought it. The sale catalogue reproduced Le Faye’s opinion, but also noted that Henry Austen’s ‘Biographical Notice’ (1818) of his late sister did not include any specific details of her appearance, so it would have seemed an unlikely source for a portrait”.

A week later another letter was published  from Professor Richard Jenkyns ,who is, in fact, a descendant of Jane Austen’s eldest brother, James. He doubts that the portrait is of Jane Austen. His first objection is the setting:

Dr Byrne treats the picture like a photograph – as though Jane Austen had visited an unattested friend who chanced to live due west of the Abbey and someone snapped her there. But of course portraits were not like that; the backgrounds signify. The sitter is a Londoner: she is at home with her cat beside her. No one would take a likeness of a person with somebody else’s cat. She may have been wife, daughter or sister of a Rector of St Margaret’s or a Dean or Canon of Westminster, or perhaps a literary lady who wrote about Westminster. It seems improbable that this is a view from the window of someone who happened to live at just this spot, because the setting is not naturalistic: note the theatrical column and curtain. The artist could have sketched the churches on site but more likely used an engraving.

He also pointed out that the lady portrayed in the portrait is shown as having light-coloured eyes:

Jane Austen’s eyes were shown as brown  in Cassandra Austen’s sketch-the only authenticated  image of Jane Austen’s face- that is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery:

She was described as having had hazel eyes by people who know her in life, particularly Caroline Austen, her niece. He also disputes that the nose depicted in the “Austin” portrait is an example of The Austen Nose.

The same point about the colour of the “Austin’s ” lady’s eyes is made in the Spring 2012 JASNA newsletter. Dr Andrew Norman who has written a biography of Jane Austen (Jane Austen, An Unrequited Love) wrote to the editor to make the same point about the colour of the sitters eyes: that these are pale and Jane Austen had dark coloured eyes.

On the 4th May, Dierdre Le Faye published her thoughts on the drawing.  Amongst other points, she doubts that Jane Austen would have wanted to be depicted as a writer, a point that has also been made by Claire Tomalin. She points to the lack of books in the portrait: if Jane Austen and wanted to be shown as a proudly, published author, where are her books? She also dismissed the face depicted as being of the real Jane Austen: it is too thin and long , and the eyes are of the wrong hue.

As to the dating of the portrait by the fashionable clothes on show, Le Faye points out that Jane and Cassandra Austen were constantly altering and updating their clothes due to their limited income:

The sitter’s high neck and long sleeves, with copious lace trimmings, suggest rich respectability. is clear from Jane’s letters that as she and Cassandra were far from wealthy, they were constantly altering their dresses by unpicking and dyeing them and adding different trimmings, until finally demoting them to be used as petticoats or linings. No dresses of theirs could ever be precisely dated.

She also comments on the profusion of jewellery on show:

The amount of jewellery worn by the sitter is far more than Jane Austen is known to have possessedEven if Jane had possessed all these items – and surely her brother Charles’s present of a topaz cross would have been shown? – it would be thoroughly uncomfortable to wear four rings while writing. This strongly suggests that the portrait was only meant to be symbolic, emphasizing the wealth of the sitter.

Here you can see the necklaces, numbering three in my counting:

And here you can see the profusion of rings:

She also dismisses the view of Westminster as having any connection with Jane Austen, and thinks the links with the Smedley family are only circumstantial.  She also notes the lack of any documentary evidence connecting Sir John Forster’s nanny with the portrait. The inscription “Miss Jane Austin” on the reverse of the portrait is commented upon:

The title on the verso, “Miss Jane Austin”, also turns out to be a red herring. As it is in ink, it was added at a later date – otherwise, the artist would have written the name in plumbago as s/he finished the drawing. Secondly, the word “Miss” is written in modern style; had it been written in Regency times the ligature of “MiFs” would have been used. Austen’s eldest nephew and nieces, who were taught to write between about 1795 and 1815, all used this ligature for a double “s” till their dying days in the 1870s and 80s. Anyone writing “Miss” was obviously born much later in the nineteenth century. 

Here is an example in Jane Austen’s own handwriting, which demonstrates how the word “Miss “would have been written by any contemporary of her:

This is  a copy of the later she wrote to her sister Cassandra on the 20th February 1807. You can clearly  see that she addressed Cassandra as “MiFs” Austen. The use of the word “Miss” in this form is clear evidence  that this inscription was added much later in the 19th century than in 1816.

She concludes:

As Byrne has not provided any incontrovertible documentary evidence to support her claims, the portrait, even if it does date from the early nineteenth century, cannot be accepted as a genuine representation of Jane Austen.

So..there you are. The controversy continues.

What do I make of it all?

I went to see the portrait recently, for it is currently on show at Jane Austen’s House Museum. What struck me on viewing it was indeed the large amount of jewellery that adorned the sitter. If this really is Jane Austen, where is that jewellery now? And why wasn’t Charles Austen’s quite magnificent topaz cross included, for this must have been Jane Austen’s most grand piece of personal jewellery, and if she was “showing herself to her best advantage” would she not have included that piece ? I do think on close examination that there is some form of pendant hanging from the first, shortest necklace. It is not clear, however, what form that pendant takes, and it may be another brooch, not attached to the chain at all.

The provenance of the portrait is still very uncertain, and seems to end in the 1980s with the death of Sir John Forster.  I am still not convinced that the view,which is very carefully delineated, has any connection with Jane Austen.

The presence of the cat still make no sense to me at all in relation to Jane Austen.

I still feel that this is, at the very best, a portrait of a real life Miss Austin, who had links with Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s, which was made in the early years of the 19th century, but that it is not our Jane Austen. The attribution on the frame, which was made much later, seems to me to have been a case of wishful thinking by a later owner and, until there is any other strong documentary evidence to prove otherwise, I remain unconvinced ( not that my opinion really matters!)

If you would like to see it yourself, then do go to the Museum to see it: I do urge you to go if you can for it is interesting to see it “in the flesh”. I hadn’t realised how prominent the cat was. It certainly cannot be glossed over as it is an important part of the composition. But what does a cat have to do with Jane Austen? And will we ever find the answer? Fascinating.

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.

While I was on my recent Sabbatical a book with which we are slightly familiar came up for auction  again, and I thought you might like to hear about it. The Friendship Book of the Reverend James Stanier Clarke, seen below, who was the Librarian to The Prince Regent, later George IV, went on sale at auction two weeks ago at Christie’s auction house in London.

This book is an amazing document. Correctly titled the Liber Amicorum–  the Friendship Book-  it is a record of Stanier Clarke’s contacts amongst some of the most influential and famous people in Regency England. As a courtier he was continually meeting interesting people at Court, and he took the opportunity his portion afforded him to have them record some souvenirs within its pages. These friendship books were quite common in the 19th century, and I have one which contains drawings, autographs and poems collected by a great-great uncle of mine. Sadly, he didn’t meet as many famous people as did The Reverend Clarke …

The book is bound in gold toothed green morocco and contains more than 100 contemporary paintings, drawings, verses and autographs by notable artists, authors, poets, sculptors and naval characters of the late 18th/early 19th centuries, including George Romney, William Hodges, William Hayley, Anna Seward, Nicholas Pocock, Nelson’s Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy.

The book was found in the 1950s by Richard Wheeler in a secondhand bookshop in Canterbury in Kent. He made a detective study of the book and its contents, studying the watermarks of the paper to build up a comprehensive history of the book, its contents and its original owner. His son recently put the book up for sale after he had inherited it.

Here are an idea of some of the contents:

A verse written by Charlotte Smith, the novelist

“A telescopic appearance of the southern limb of the Moon on 7th August 1787 at 3 0’clock in the morning” by John Russell, the noted astronomer.

A drawing by John Flaxman, the sculptor.

James Stanier Clarke also included portraits he had executed of people in his circle in his Friendship Book.


Here, above, is one of Princess Caroline of Brunswick, dating from 1795.

And this next portrait, shown below,  is the one that has caused all the interest in this tiny book…for it purports to be of Jane Austen, taken when she met James Stanier Clarke on her visit to Carlton House, the London home of the Prince Regent. The negotiations regarding the dedication of Emma to the Prince regent had resulted in her being invited to view the Library there, and her visit took place on the 13th November, 1815.

James Stanier Clarke appears to have been quite smitten with Miss Austen and a correspondence between them lasted for a little while. Till frankly, Jane Austen could endure his suggestions for literary composition no longer. Her frustration with her correspondent took its revenge in her Plan of a Novel According to Hints from Various Quarters(1816).Their correspondence subsequently drew to a halt….

The portrait is not dated or named,but speculation has arisen that it might be Jane Austen, as she appeared on that visit.

Sadly, the National Portrait Gallery- which owns Cassandra Austen’s slight watercolour of Jane Austen, the only authenticated portrait showing her face- have steadfastly refused to authenticate the watercolour as being an image of Jane Austen. But others have been convinced by it. Go here to read a detailed discussion of the similarities between this portrait and the authenticated version. I would love to think that this stylishly dressed woman was Jane Austen, in her glad rags visiting the palace….

But , it seems that the current market is still not wholly convinced and the book failed to sell. It was given a pre-auction estimate of £20,000 -£50,000, and the highest bid received was for £28,000. Obviously, it failed to reach its fixed reserve. Frankly I would love to own this book for all its contents, not just the supposed picture of Jane Austen. And I am slighty puzzled as to why it hasn’t been bought by one of the great London museums bearing in mind it contains so many other interesting and less controversial items.

So, yet again we will have to wait and see what eventually happens to this intriguing book. I wonder if a facsimile edition has ever been considered. An annotated facsimile would be something to behold, don’t you think? I’d buy that in an instant!

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Paul Sandby: Picturing Britain Edited by John Bonehill and Stephen Daniels

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