Executed by Ozias Humphry R.A in 1788.
A portrait, its provenance and history...
Executed by Ozias Humphry R.A in 1788.
A portrait, its provenance and history...
The Rice Portrait of
A Literary Portrait Re-Examined. Jane Austen and Mary Anne Campion. Part Two.
In 1996 Deirdre Le Faye published an article in The Book Collector titled A Literary Portrait Re-Examined. Jane Austen and Mary Anne Campion. Having summarised the history of the portrait in the first part of her article. Faye then criticises and rejects the suggestion that the portrait may have been commissioned by Jane's Great-Uncle Francis Austen and proposes her own theory - that the portrait is of Mary Anne Campion and painted by Revd Matthew William Peters.
Le Faye notes that it is on record that Jane Austen's parents took Jane and Cassandra to Sevenoaks in 1788 "to introduce them to Mr Austen's uncle and benefactor, Francis Austen". But she argues that it was unlikely he commissioned the portrait because he was "a stickler for primogeniture" - an assessment based on a remark later made by Jane's brother Henry. Le Faye also notes that Francis Austen left bequests to his nephews but nothing to his nieces. From this she argues that he would have been more likely to commission a portrait of one of the men, such as Jane's father George, or her eldest brother James rather than the younger daughters.
Her reasoning confuses different aspects of English society in this period. Transferring wealth to the males of the family was usual practice. But wealth, position and the application of the rules of primogeniture in the granting of an ecclesiastical living are very different scenarios to the commissioning of a portrait. Wealthy members of the merchant and professional class like Francis Austen commissioned portraits frequently and for many reasons - to record status and achievement, to mark special occasions and often - simply because they could. It was a physical statement to demonstrate their success in society. "The mayor, the soldier, the banker, the cleric and the politician - together with their respective wives and sometimes children - all required a brush with immortality." (Philip Mould). It is a ridiculous argument to claim that because women and girls were not entitled to inherit wealth that their portraits would not be commissioned - the NPG and other galleries are full of portraits of various female relatives of wealthy individuals.
Furthermore it was not only Jane who had her portrait painted. Edward Austen Knight's portrait was probably
commissioned to mark his 21st birthday in 1788.
And there is some evidence that there was also a portrait painted of Jane's sister, Cassandra. In 1952 a Mrs
May Harrison wrote to Austen academic Robert Chapman from her home in Grasse, France, advising him that
she owned a portrait that she thought might be of Jane Austen, enclosing a photograph and asking for his
opinion. Mrs Harrison was the great-granddaughter of John Austen, the third son of Francis Motley Austen;
he inherited the family home of Kippington from Colonel Thomas Austen. Chapman consulted with Richard
Arthur Austen-Leigh, grandson of James Edward Austen-Leigh who concluded that the painting could be the
same girl as in the ‘Zoffany’ portrait as the Rice Portrait was then known:
"Indeed, as it comes via Mrs Harrison from the Kippington (or Capel Manor) stable, the Zoffany one belonged
to a Kippington Austen, there seems quite a possibility of it and the Zoffany being the same person," Arthur
Leigh wrote. As they had decided the Zoffany/Rice Portrait was not Jane Austen, it never occurred to the two
of them that this could have been literally a sister portrait. Mrs Harrison left no descendants and the
whereabouts of this portrait is now unknown. But it remains an intriguing possibility that this was a portrait
By referring to Jane as "an unknown little Hampshire cousin" and "a hitherto unknown great-niece", Le Faye
seeks to distance Austen from her great uncle Francis Austen. But as she implies in her reference to him as
a "benefactor", Francis Austen was much more than a distant relative. When Jane's father George and his
two sisters were orphaned by the death of their father William in 1737, Francis Austen who by then had
become a wealthy and successful lawyer, stepped in and acted in loco parentis, using his money and
influence to help his brother’s family along. He arranged for George Austen’s schooling at Tonbridge and was
instrumental in providing him with clerical livings; the living in Steventon which was presented to George
Austen by Thomas Knight was made available by Francis Austen offering the incumbent, George's cousin
Henry Austen, the living of West Wickham. Later, Francis Austen also purchased the living of Deane to give
to George Austen.
Francis Austen was no distant relative, he was very much part of the Austen story and a major influence in the
life of George Austen and his family. While we have no record of Jane Austen visiting her great uncle before
1788, her father's progression in life was very much due to the influence of his Uncle Francis. Commissioning
a portrait of his young great-niece (or nieces) would have been a perfectly natural thing for Francis to do.
Le Faye claims that Jane Austen was "far from being a charming child" and argues that he would therefore not
have wanted to commission her portrait, quoting Philadelphia (Phylly) Walter, a cousin, who was meeting
Jane for the first time and who later described Jane as "not at all pretty & very prim, unlike a girl of twelve...
whimsical and affected." Le Faye, from this comment, transforms the young Jane Austen into "a tiresome ugly
duckling". Three years later, when another of Jane's cousins, Eliza Hancock, is writing to Phylly, she refers to
Jane and Cassandra as "perfect beauties" who were gaining "hearts by the dozen". Either the ugly duckling had
turned into a swan, or perhaps Phylly Walter was expressing her personal dislike of Jane; she certainly
disapproved of the Austen theatricals which she had refused to attend at Steventon the previous Christmas.
Le Faye asks why, if the portrait had been commissioned by Francis Austen, did it not return to Steventon either at the end of the visit or after his death. She argues that Francis Austen's descendants would have no desire to keep the portrait or to hang it at the large family home of Kippington which his son, Francis Motley Austen, moved into in 1796. But why not? Kippington was a very large house, and would have had many portraits hanging there. The Motley Austens were very wealthy. In his will Francis Motley Austen left property in six English counties. This portrait would have been just one amongst many.
Moreover, if the portrait is by Ozias Humphry then the commission may have been as much for his benefit as Jane's - Humphry had not long returned from India and was out of pocket and in low spirits after the Nabob of Oudh had refused to pay him for a large commission. (Chasing this payment consumed Ozias Humphry for the rest of his life.) Francis Austen knew Ozias Humphry, who had painted his portrait a few years before. Perhaps he wanted to assist Humphry by offering him this commission.
Le Faye claims that that no-one in the Austen family ever mentioned the picture: "How could it possibly be that all of them - including Jane herself - never made any reference to the existence of the picture, in all the years to come?" But Le Faye cannot possibly know this. Cassandra and other family members destroyed most of Jane's letters and and only a handful survive some of which are heavily censored. We cannot possibly know from this paltry evidence what Jane or her family discussed. As Caroline Austen wrote to her brother Austen-Leigh when he was preparing to write his biography of Jane Austen - "I am sure you will do justice to what there is - but I feel it must be a difficult task to dig up the materials, so carefully have they been buried out of our sight by the past generat[ion]". There is no mention of the portrait in the very few letters that survive - that is all that can be said. (There is also no mention of the Cassandra sketch now held by the NPG in the family letters but Le Faye apparently has no problem in accepting this as being genuine.)
Having discounted Jane Austen as the subject of the portrait, Le Faye proposes her own theory - that it is a painting of Mary Anne Campion, the eldest daughter of Jane Austen's cousin, also Jane, who married William Campion. She bases her suggestion on a set of miniatures privately owned by a an Austen descendant. The collection includes miniatures of various members of the Austen family, mostly unidentified, but one of the portraits has written on the back "Jane Austen who married William Campion". Also stuffed into the back of this miniature was a piece of paper with W.S. Lethbridge on it.
Among the miniatures are two of unidentified women. Neither of the miniatures has any clue as to the identity of the sitter of the artist. Nevertheless, Le Faye in her article, without any evidence, labels both of them definitively as being portraits of Elizabeth Austen and Frances Austen respectively, the sisters of Jane Campion.
In the collection of miniatures there is also a portrait of a young girl, described unequivocally by Le Faye as being "Jane's daughter Mary Anne Campion". But she has no evidence of this. The portrait is unsigned, undated and the sitter unidentified. She could be any member of the Austen family.
Le Faye also states as a fact that "These miniatures were painted by W.S. Lethbridge,
who visited Canterbury in 1805." But this is by no means proven. These miniatures
may have been painted by W S Lethbridge, they may have been painted in 1805 and
they may depict members of the extended family of Francis Motley Austen. But there
is no evidence that this is the case.
Le Faye speculates that Mary Anne Campion was a favourite of her grandmother
Elizabeth Motley Austen and that Mrs Austen, unhappy with the unflattering
miniature, had a full sized portrait commissioned of her eldest grand-daughter.
She remarks that "it will be noted that the girl in the so-called Jane Austen picture
wears a dress almost exactly like Mary Anne Campion's i.e. definitely 1805 onwards".
There exists a miniature portrait of an unknown girl painted by William Marshall
Craig, held at the V&A. It is signed - and it is dated 1794. You can see it on their
website HERE. This dress is very similar to the one worn by the girl in the miniature
portrait - and it is painted eleven years before Le Faye says is possible. She too has
short hair in a similar hairstyle to the girl holding a birdcage. Given this evidence, Le Faye's certainty regarding the date is mis-placed. The portrait of the un-named girl holding the birdcage which Le Faye claims to be Mary Anne Campion may have been painted after 1805 - or it may have been painted before. It is by no means definitely 1805 onwards as Le Faye asserts.
According to Le Faye the bigger portrait is "more tactfully posed and delineated" by which she presumably means that it is "tact" on the part of the artist that results in the girl in the oil painting looking nothing like the girl in the miniature. But isn't it more likely they look dis-similar because they are not in fact the same child?
Having come up with Mary Anne Campion as the subject, Le Faye is now in need of a
possible artist. Her suggestion is Revd (Matthew) William Peters. (Peters used his
second name rather than his first.)
Peters was born in 1742 and achieved some fame and notoriety as an artist, known
primarily for his risqué portraits of half-naked women. He was undoubtedly a talented
artist but after taking holy orders he turned to more religious subjects with
considerably less success than he had previously enjoyed and for the most part he
stopped exhibiting his paintings publicly. Appointed as chaplain to the Prince of Wales,
Peters resigned from the Royal Academy in 1790 and in that year he also married
Margaret Knowsley, daughter of Revd. John Knowsley of Burton Fleming. Peters and
his wife lived at the Rectory at Knipton in Leicestershire. According to his biographer,
Victoria Manners, the entries in the parish register are almost invariably signed by
him, suggesting he was seldom away from home. In 1808 or thereabouts Peters moved
to Langford in Oxfordshire and he appears to have remained here until 1811 when,
according to John Hodgson in his book The Royal Academy and its Members 1768-1830
(1905) a scandal erupted involving Peters and:
"we find him in dreadful trouble and agony of mind, which well nigh brought him to his end. He had continued
practicing his art, probably only as an amusement, when a certain sketch and the incidents connected with it aroused
the indignation of the British matrons of his parish. As we gather, the storm was so violent that he had to fly before it,
taking refuge at Brasted Place in Kent, where he lived his troubles down, supported and encouraged by a good wife, who
had, in 1811, been his partner for twenty-one years, and who probably understood all about the customs of studios and
thought nothing of them"
There is no corroboration for this story. But we do know that in 1810 Peters' fourteen year-old son Edmund
inherited Brasted Place in Kent which would explain why the family moved there in 1811. William Peters was
now around sixty-nine years old and he died at Brasted Place three years later on March 20th, 1814.
According to Deirdre Le Faye, "there were many social and family connections to link the Kippington
Austens with Revd Matthew William Peters." The first she notes was that "while in Lincolnshire Mr Peters
had met the baronet family of Welby, who were intermarried with the Cholmeley baronets, also in the
same area, and Penelope Cholmeley of the latter family married into the Kippington Austens in 1805." So
Peters had met someone whose family had intermarried with another family, one of whom had married an
Austen - not a very compelling connection!
The second connection was the fact that the celebrated physician Dr Turton bequeathed his home at Brasted
Place to young Edmund Peters. William Peters' wife Margaret Knowsley was the niece of Dr and Mrs Turton,
her mother was Mrs Turton's sister. Brasted Place was not far from Sevenoaks or from Kippington, the home
of the Motley Austens. Le Faye writes that the Austens "must have been well acquainted with Dr Turton and
his artist nephew for many years past." But while the Austens probably knew Dr Turton, there is no evidence
that they knew William Peters. Le Faye states that Edmund Peters inherited Brasted Place in 1806 on the death
of Dr Turton, but as Mrs Turton had a life interest in the estate he did not actually inherit until her death in
1810. In her will Mary Turton gave permission to her niece Mrs Peters to live at Brasted Place rent free. At the
time Mary Turton wrote her will in April 1807, William Peters is still described as living at Knipton in
In her Chronology Jane Austen and Her Family 1600-2000 Le Faye records for the year 1806:
"Probably this year that a full-length portrait of Mary Anne Campion [1797-1825] is painted in oils."
At the time Mary Anne Campion was eleven, younger than the girl in the Rice Portrait appears to be, and Revd
Matthew William Peters was living in Leicestershire, having resigned his membership of the Royal Academy seventeen years previously. There is no evidence whatsoever that he travelled to Kent to paint this portrait. Le Faye appears to have picked the year 1806 because she thought Peters had moved to Kent in that year but in this she appears to be mistaken.
Stylistically, Peters is unlikely to be the artist. Jacob Simon of the National Portrait Gallery, generally effusive in his praise of Le Faye's work, was doubtful. In a letter to Le Faye, written prior to publication of her article, he wrote: "My only reservation is the artist. Peters is a good idea but unless you provide more stylistic evidence it may be wise to advance the idea as a possibility deserving fuller study rather than a conclusion."
As far as I am aware, no art expert has ever endorsed the theory that Revd Matthew William Peters is the artist responsible for the Rice Portrait.
According to Le Faye's theory, the portrait then remained at Kippington until the death of Elizabeth Motley Austen in 1817 when her son, Colonel Thomas Austen, took up residence. According to Le Faye, Colonel Austen was anxious to "clear the house of his mother's possessions" and "his siblings were either dead or dispersed by marriage from the Kippington area, and he would have no reason to consult any of them for information regarding the contents of the house, as these were bequeathed to him alone."
This is not true. Many of Colonel Thomas Austen's siblings were alive and still living in Kent or nearby. His sister Jane, now Mrs Campion was living at Danny near Hurstpierpoint. Brother John Austen had inherited the family home of Broadford, Kent in 1807. Another sister, Elizabeth Austen, now Mrs Cooke, was living just down the road at Ashgrove on the edge of Sevenoaks. His brother George Austen was still living in Sevenoaks, as was his sister Frances Austen, now Mrs Holcroft.
It is nonsense to suggest there were no family nearby. Furthermore, as Le Faye knew very well, Colonel Austen would also have needed to discuss the disposal of his mother's property with the named executors of her will, his brothers-in-law William Campion and Christopher Cooke, who had also acted as executors of his father Francis Motley Austen's estate two years previously. There are over 90 documents in the Campion archive at the county record office in Brighton which relate to William Campion's duties as executor for Francis and Elizabeth Motley Austen.
(Christopher and Elizabeth Cooke's son, John George Cooke, later entered the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth and in his memoirs he records meeting Admiral Sir Francis Austen and Captain Charles Austen - "own brothers to my beloved Jane Austen whose works I know by heart".)
Le Faye speculates that Colonel Thomas Austen visited his friend Thomas Harding Newman in Essex, where "the new young second wife" (she was actually 28) "had mentioned to him her interest in Jane Austen the novelist" and that he then took the opportunity of giving to her a portrait "unwanted by him but valued by the recipient."
But if Le Faye is arguing that this is not a portrait of Jane Austen, why would Colonel Thomas Austen give it to
Thomas Harding-Newman's wife? Le Faye offers two alternative explanations:
1) Colonel Austen mistook his niece Mary Anne Campion for his second cousin Jane Austen
2) He merely pretended the portrait of his niece was a portrait of Jane Austen.
So how likely is it that Colonel Austen would not have known the difference between his niece and his second
cousin? Although it was true that he had been away in America and more recently in Ireland with the army,
Colonel Austen was not estranged from his family. He had been in England in 1803 for he married Margaretta
Morland in April at Walcot Street in Bath and is described as being a resident of Bath at that time.
Thomas Austen's mother died on February 17, 1817 and Colonel Austen resigned his position in the army at Dublin
just over a month later, on 24 March, 1817 having inherited the family wealth. On his return he had extensive
dealings with the two executors for his parents' extensive estates one of whom was Mary Anne Campion's father.
Thomas Harding-Newman did not marry his second wife, Eliza Hall, until 31 December, 1817. So according to Le
Faye's theory, Colonel Thomas Austen, despite having spent months dealing with his brother-in-law William Campion to sort out his parent's estate, failed to recognise a portrait of Campion's daughter and mistook her for Jane Austen. The painting, according to Le Faye,was less than ten years old at this point and yet we are asked to believe that Colonel Austen thought it was a portrait of his recently deceased relation, Jane Austen.
Le Faye evidently knows this is not a strong argument for she proposes an alternative - that Colonel Austen did know the difference between his niece and his second cousin but that he pretended it was a portrait of Jane Austen in order to please the new Mrs Harding-Newman, as Le Faye put it - "taking the proverbial view that a nod's as good as a wink to a blind horse" being "secure in the knowledge that she would never know the difference".
Le Faye is in error in supposing that Mrs Harding Newman would not know the difference between Mary Anne Campion and Jane Austen. Le Faye describes Eliza Hall as "from a Midlands family" presumably in the mistaken belief that she was a relative of Hugh Kirkpatrick Hall of Hollybush Hall in Derbyshire. In fact she was from a different branch of the Hall family. Eliza(beth) Hall was the daughter of Thomas Hall of Egham in Surrey and his wife Elizabeth Humffrey. The latter had died when Eliza was young and at the time of her marriage in 1817 Eliza and her father were recorded as living at Cumberland Street in London.
By 1817 Eliza Hall's aunt, Ann Humffrey, had already been married for over thirty years to Sir Henry Hawley of Leybourne Grange in Kent and Harley Street, London. Henry Hawley had one son, Henry, and three daughters, Dorothy, Harriot and Charlotte, from his first marriage to Dorothy Ashwood and four children from his second marriage to Ann Humffrey. The Hawleys were definitely known to Jane Austen for she mentions the older Hawley daughters in her letters:
"We are to meet a party from Goodnestone, Lady B [Dorothy], Miss Hawley [Harriott] & Lucy Foote." Jane Austen wrote to Cassandra in 1813. Charlotte Bridges, Jane noted, preferred Emma to all Jane’s previous novels.
Dorothy Hawley married Brooke William Bridges, heir to Sir William Bridges, she became his second wife in December 1809 and Charlotte Hawley married William’s brother Brooke John Bridges in 1810. Their sister Elizabeth Bridges, of course, was married to Jane Austen’s brother Edward Austen Knight, who was also a close friend of the younger Henry Hawley.
Brooke Edward Bridges was particularly friendly with Jane Austen and may even have proposed to her. Jane Austen knew all the Bridges family very well indeed and by extension probably knew the Hawleys well too. It is very likely therefore, that Eliza Hall's aunt Mrs Ann Hawley knew Jane Austen personally, and quite possible that Eliza Hall had also met her. At the very least we know that the new Mrs Harding-Newman moved within a social circle of people who had known Jane Austen. And yet we are asked to believe that not one of them noticed that the portrait was not in fact of Austen but of a child 22 years younger than her and from another branch of the Austen family.
Furthermore the number of people who would have to have been involved in this deception makes it even more implausible. Colonel Austen's wife, Margaretta, for example, and other family members living nearby, including Mary Anne Campion's own parents apparently all went along with the plan.
One might think that the girl's father or mother might have objected to the portrait of their daughter being given away under the pretext it was someone else. Mary Anne Campion died young, in 1825, aged 27. If this was really a portrait of her and not Jane Austen, wouldn't the Campions have wanted the portrait of their daughter retrieved?
Nevertheless, Le Faye's article gained the enthusiastic approval of Jacob Simon at the National Portrait Gallery. On 24 September he wrote:
"Your article is brilliant – just what is wanted – and must be published. Do keep me informed."
What did Jacob Simon mean, the article was "just what is wanted?" Wanted by the National
Portrait Gallery? Why? It is obvious that the NPG were not behaving impartially in the debate
over the Rice Portrait. The previous year Jacob Simon had been urging Aileen Ribeiro to write to
the press about the portrait and now here he is again, actively supporting Deirdre Le Faye and her
specious theory. After her article was published in The Book Collector, Jacob Simon again wrote
to Le Faye, on 21 January 1997 saying that he was:
‘Delighted to see your article on Jane Austen in its published form. Congratulations.
I shall make sure that my colleagues are aware of your excellent work. And it will be available to
future enquirers of course.’
Le Faye continues to assert as a statement of fact that the Rice Portrait is a portrait of Mary Anne Campion. But for her theory to hold up, the arguments are so convoluted and the scenarios so unlikely that the only surprise to me is that it has not been seriously challenged more often in the twenty years since she proposed it. Applying Ockham's Razor and supposing that the simplest answer is more likely to be the correct one, isn't it more likely that Colonel Austen gave the portrait to Eliza Hall because it really is a portrait of the novelist?
Thank you for reading. I would very much appreciate any feedback or comments you would care to make about my research. You can contact me via this blog or via my email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Written and Researched By Ellie Bennett. You can read more on Ellie's blog here: http://janeaustenportraits.blogspot.co.uk/
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Jane Austen's Great-Uncle Francis Austen. Commissioned by the Duke of Dorset Painted by Ozias Humphry 1780
Portrait identified on the back as
"Jane Austen married William J Campion"
Described by Le Faye as
Elizabeth Austen (1780-1858)
Described by Le Faye as
Frances Austen (1783-18??)
No signature and no date
Unknown Girl by William Marshall Craig signed and dated 1794
Left - unknown child with a birdcage Right - girl in the Rice Portrait
"Lydia" by Matthew William Peters
Revd Matthew William Peters
The NPG have not been impartial