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You will recall I wrote previously about the watercolour and its history here
This afternoon, at auction at Sotheby’s in London, the watercolour was sold for £135,000, which when VAT and buyer’s premiums are added comes to a total sale price of £164,500.
No news as yet on the identity of the purchaser. Sotheby’s are reported to have stated that it was bought by an anonymous private collector.
According to the BBC News website, The Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire, did not bid because it could not raise the funds so soon after buying a ring that belonged to the author for £149,000 in September. If/when I hear anything I will of course let you know.
As we suspected the watercolour image of Jane Austen which was commissioned by James Edward Austen Leigh and was then engraved for use in his Memoir of his aunt will go on sale in London at Sotheby’s on 10th December, in their English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations sale
Lot 283, described as the Property of a Lady has this description:
watercolour over pencil heightened with gouache on card, depicting the author with brown curly hair and hazel eyes seated and facing towards the right, in a white frilled bonnet with light blue ribbon and a white dress with a dark blue ribbon under the bust, a small section at the bottom of the portrait apparently unfinished, oval, 143 x 100mm (overall sheet size 170 x 125mm), 1869, series of pin-holes at the top and bottom of the card, pencil markings probably by the engraver, mounted, framed, and glazed, frame size 327 x 247mm, the frame being a reused lid from a casket or box, French or German, probably eighteenth century, walnut inlaid with boulle-style marquetry of flowers and scrollwork in brass, silver, ivory, and mother of pearl, loss to surface of portrait probably due to insect damage, mostly affecting the dress, slight discolouration at edges seemingly where previously mounted in a rectangular frame
The estimate is £150,000 to 200,000. Hmm…..
This image, though approved by those who knew Jane Austen, was not of course taken during her lifetime and is seen as controversial by some. It was based on Cassandra Austen’s sketch of Jane Austen which now is owned by the National Portrait Gallery in London. Will this join it on display there? We will have to wait and see.
I’ve put the date of the sale in my diary. And you can too for it will be available to watch online from 2.30 GMT onwards.
Watch this space for further developments.
Its been a long time, baby, to quote the Blessed Fat Boy Slim, but here we are, once again gracing the book-strewn halls of Austenonly. Sufficiently recovered to be able to access my computer once more, I thought it was about time we made our re-acquaintance. I hope you have been well and happy in my absence. Many, many Jane Austen-related news items have come and gone while I’ve been recuperating, so, if you don’t mind, over the next few posts, I’m going to take a look at some of them.
The first news item of great note and import was that an image of Jane Austen was to be featured on a new Bank of England banknote.
The date for issue of the note is not too far in the future, 2017, fittingly the year of the 200th anniversary of her death.
Here is a video featuring Chris Salmon, the Chief Cashier of the Bank of England explaining why she was chosen:
I was very surprised by the absolute torrent of misogyny that this announcement generated. Campaigners who had lobbied for a female image to be included on a Bank of England banknote on Twitter were met with a series of unbelievably violent, personally abusive attacks. What would Jane have said? Something cutting no doubt.
The prison reformer and Quaker, Elizabeth Fry was, amazingly, the only woman to be featured thus far, on our banknotes, apart from The Queen, who, of course, always appears on our currency. It is time for more women to be celebrated in this way, IMHO. I am therefore highly delighted that Jane Austen, one of our greatest authors ( I refuse to qualify her in any way as merely a “woman” writer, and all that implies ) is to be commemorated in this way.
The design elements of the banknote, in general, make sense, and include an adaptation of an illustration from a 1976 edition of Pride and Prejudice, shown below from my copy, of Elizabeth Bennet re-reading her sister, Jane’s letters.
The original illustration was by Isabel Bishop, the American illustrator.
However, certain aspects of the design do nag at me a little. And very notably at others who have been most vociferous in their opposition. The first and most noisy debate surrounds the image of Jane Austen on the banknote. Of course, the use of any of the images purporting to be Jane is problematical because we really do not have a good, clear and authenticated portrait of her which was taken in her lifetime. The watercolour image owned by the National Portrait Gallery and painted by Cassandra Austen, which is the only authenticated image we have, was obviously thought to be inappropriate, and, indeed, it might be that it was difficult to render it as an engraved image. This is a pity as I rather prefer this image, with all it faults, to any other. The Bank has decided, instead, to use the Lizar’s engraving of James Andrew’s watercolour portrait of Jane, which was commissioned by Edward Austen-Leigh to be included in the famous memoir he wrote of his aunt and which was published in 1870.
This Victorian image of Jane exercises some people greatly. I don’t mind it, but then I don’t read into it the message that it makes Jane Austen look like a passive, sanitized doll figure. But others take a very different view of it. Look at this account of a debate on last Thursday morning’s Today programme, broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Click this link to to read about it all. Dr Paula Byrne clearly detests this portrait and hated the fact it was chosen to adorn the banknote. Elizabeth Proudman of the Jane Austen Society took a contrary view. Their conversation, which became quite heated, certainly enlivened my breakfast on Thursday morning.
My big gripe however, is with the decision to include an engraving of Jane Austen’s rich brother, Edward Knight’s home in Kent, Godmersham Park. This element is obviously based on the Halsead engraving of 1797 ( my copy is shown below):
and I truly do appreciate that having an engraving of a property which has links to Jane Austen to copy must be a boon for the designers of the banknote. But, for me, it sends all the wrong signals to the general pubic. Jane Austen did not live in such splendour. She was allowed only ever to visit Godmersham. All her life she lived under the protection and on the charity of others: first, her parents and then, after her father’s death in 1805, her brothers. Apart from the income she received from her books in the last years of her life, she had no personal income at all. She lived in much, much less exalted places than her brother’s grand home. Using the Godmersham image seems to reinforce, quite wrongly, the impression some seem to have that she lived in the midst of a very privileged sphere and wrote only about the rich, forgetting that she could and did write about poverty, and, indeed from 1805 onwards lived a precarious life financially. Her depiction of the poor in Emma and moreover the ghastly details of the squalid home and lifestyle of the Price family in Portsmouth in Mansfield Park are details that only someone who had experience of this type of life could have described. Using this rather grand image blurs her real achievement of writing these incomparable novels in the face of some adversity, and reinforces the Quality Street, saccharine view some have of Dear Aunt Jane and her works, in my humble opinion. I would far rather have seen am image of Chawton Cottage. This was a humble dwelling, and moreover one which Jane didn’t ever own, but despite all this, was the safe haven which became the cradle for her creativity.
I am also disappointed in the choice of quotation. The Bank of England has chosen a quote from Pride and Prejudice but one which is uttered by Miss Bingley (of all people!) when she is trying so very desperately to attract Darcy’s attention:
Which sounds great, until you read it in context: here is the expanded quote from Chapter 11:
Miss Bingley’s attention was quite as much engaged in watching Mr. Darcy’s progress through his book, as in reading her own; and she was perpetually either making some inquiry, or looking at his page. She could not win him, however, to any conversation; he merely answered her question, and read on. At length, quite exhausted by the attempt to be amused with her own book, which she had only chosen because it was the second volume of his, she gave a great yawn and said, “How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book…
I would much rather have preferred the Bank to have used this quote, from a letter Jane Austen wrote to her niece, Fanny Knight, on the 13th March 1817.
Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor…
Which is something I think, may still hold true today, but in any event, using it would have brought into focus Jane Austen’s own situation ( and one that she wrote about so eloquently when depicting poor Miss Bates in Emma.) It may have been too controversial a choice, but would, in my view, have been a better reflection of Jane Austen’s own very clear-eyed assessment of the financial worth of her characters and the role money ( or the lack of it) played in her life.
However, I am still rather pleased she will be honoured and look forward to the day my ATM delivers it to me.
To turn to a slightly different topic, the images we have of Jane Austen may again come under some scrutiny for the water-colour made by James Andrews, which was based on Cassandra Austen’s sketch and approved by those who knew her ( with, it must be admitted, a few reservations) is to be sold at auction at Sothebys in the near future.
Go here to The Guardian site to read all about it. I will, of course, keep an eye on developments. I wonder who will purchase it? The National Portrait Gallery seems the obvious choice, but I daresay the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton would treasure it. But may they have exhausted potential donors goodwill after the recent purchase of Jane Austen’s turquoise ring …? What a fascinating situation, and certainly one to watch. Which brings me rather conveniently to the subject of my next post: that ring and Kelly Clarkson ;)
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.
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;)
The Rice Portrait, below, which purports to be of a young Jane Austen, has been making quite a stir this week.
The painting,which is now owned by the Rice family, has been the subject of much debate since it came to public attention in the late 19th century. The Rice family claim that the painting was made during a visit that Jane Austen’s family made to the home of Jane’s great-uncle Francis Austen, in Sevenoaks in Kent during 1789. Jane was 13 when the visit took place. Their story of the origins of the portrait is that Francis Austen was very taken with young Jane and, while she was staying with him in Kent, commissioned Ozias Humphrey, an artist he had previously commissioned, to capture her on that visit.
The portrait remained with the Kent Austens until 1817 when it was then given by Francis Austen’s grandson, Colonel Thomas Austen, to a close friend, Thomas Harding-Newman as a wedding present. The present was apparently made to him because his bride, Elizabeth Hall, was reported to be a keen admirer of Jane Austen’s books. Thomas Harding-Newman is apparently the person who decided this portrait was by Johan Zoffany, and this misattribution caused problems for the Rice family when they were trying to authenticate it, and since the 1940s its authenticity has been disputed.
Many art, fashion and Austen experts, including those at the National Portrait Gallery, who have the only authenticated image of Jane Austen taken in her lifetime in their collection, have raised objections to this painting, mainly on the grounds that the style of the girl’s dress, hair and the general composition would appear to date the painting to after 1800, when Jane would have been in her 20s, and therefore would have been much older than the girl depicted.
However, the latest news about the portrait is that recent digital analysis of photographs of the painting which date from 1910, and which were part of the Heinz Collection in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection from the 1950s, have been examined. They appear to show that the portrait has some writing on its surface. Note, as I understand the situation, the painting has been cleaned extensively over the years, and it is virtually impossible to see this new-found writing on the portrait as it stands.The photographs, taken by Emery Walker in 1910 are the best indication we have of the paintings original state. The digital analysis has interestingly revealed the following, as reported by The Guardian journalist, Ed Butler:
In the top-right corner of a reproduction of a photograph of the portrait taken before the painting was restored, the name “Jane Austen” is visible. Next to it is revealed in two places the name “Ozias Humphry” – an established portrait painter of the period. He was a member of the Royal Academy, and a friend of other better-known artists of the day, such as Gainsborough and Romney. The words have been digitally enhanced using photographic tools and methods that have been independently validated by photographic expert Stephen Cole of Acume Forensics in Leeds, who has spent more than 20 years analysing photographic evidence in criminal cases. Art critic Angus Stewart, a former curator of an exhibition dedicated to Jane Austen, has seen the evidence and is impressed. “To have all these words revealed on the canvas is very, very strong. I think you’d be flying in the face of reason to deny this,” he said ( See: The Guardian, 8th June, 2012)
If you go here to the Rice family’s own website about the painting you can see the photographs of the writing on the surface of the painting. They were initially discovered by a reader of their website, which prompted the Rice family to investigate further. They are also currently investigating some more writings, as their website reveals.
Now, of course, the writing could have been put on the canvas by someone other that Ozias Humphry or even by a later owner, but as the painting was believed, from around 1818, to have been by the more prestigious artist, Johann Zoffany, it is argued, and quite persuasively it seems to me, that the writing must have been put there during or shortly after Jane’s lifetime but before the unfortunate misattribution was made by Harding-Newman. If the writing was added to the painting after 1817, the name which would appear would surely have been of the artist who was then thought to have painted it ; that is, Zoffany. The fact that the painting is inscribed with Humphry’s name points to it having been inscribed in the late 18th century and not after. An additional reason for the attribution to Humphry being correct is that Humphry went blind in 1797 and , naturally, stopped painting. It seems now, despite the evidence of the hair, the costume and the composition, very unlikely that the painting was created in the early 19th century. The dates revealed by the digital analysis do support the Rice family arguments regarding the origins and descent of the painting, which they have been making for a very long time.
In an effort to try to establish exactly what has gone on regarding this and the other disputed “portrait ” of Jane Austen, now owned by Paula Byrne, and which is currently on show at the Jane Austen House Museum, see below,
a letter was published in The Guardian yesterday, which was signed by Louise West,Curator of the Museum, Professor Kathryn Sutherland, Henrietta Forster and Paula Byrne. It proposed that a debate about both this and the Rice portrait ought to take place at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Here is the text of their letter:
We note with interest the latest findings of the champions of the so-called Rice portrait, putatively of a young Jane Austen (A portrait of the artist as a young girl?, 9 June). In view of their renewed confidence in the attribution as to painter and sitter, we very much hope that the owners will support us in calling for an open discussion and exhibition of all the contenders for “portrait of Jane Austen”. We are planning a debate, to be hosted by the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and extend an invitation to all interested parties.
Good idea. I do hope that some art historians appear to give their thoughts. And let’s hope that, as a result, we will finally have some clarity about the person(s) portrayed in these portraits( though I confess I am still very unconvinced by the portrait said to be of Jane Austen as an older woman!)
Since I read this article last Saturday, I’ve been reading the archive of the Times Literary Supplement on this topic. For years the Rice portrait has been the subject of much debate within its pages, and, again, I confess I have been really quite shocked by the tone of the arguments made regarding the authenticity of the portrait. Bad tempered and somewhat personal in nature, I really don’t think this has been the experts finest hour. What is it about these portraits that makes everyone so passionate? A desire to have a professional image of Jane Austen? A fortune? A desire to be correct? A combination of all three? *shakes head sadly*
It would seem to me that the Rice portrait now has many claims to authenticity, particularly now that these previously undiscovered markings have been found, which confirm the original story given by the Rice family. I send them my congratulations, which I hope are not premature. My friend, Jane Odiwe is to be congratulated too, for she has been certain of the portrait’s authenticity for some time.
Yet again, this is just part of a continuing saga, and I hope to be able to report back to you about it in due course. Positively, I hope.