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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 

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A Literary Portrait Re-instated

In 1996, Miss Deirdre Le Faye published an article in the ‘Book Collector’ in which she stated her opinion that the Rice portrait of Jane Austen by Ozias Humphry R.A is not of the novelist, but of a distant cousin of hers, Mary Anne Campion. She also announced that the portrait was painted by the Reverend Matthew William Peters(1742-1814.) In support of this theory she published three miniatures which she stated categorically were of Jane, Elizabeth, and Frances Motley Austen, Jane Austen’s second cousins, in addition to a fourth miniature of ‘a young girl holding a bird cage’ whom she identified as Mary Anne Campion.

 

At the time this article was written we did not take it seriously; there is no likeness whatsoever between our painting of Jane and that of ‘Mary Anne Campion’. Both pictures are reproduced below. However it seems that other people did believe Miss Le Faye, so we asked her for the whereabouts of these miniatures so we could check her information.

 

In May 2011, unassisted by Miss Le Faye, we finally located the miniatures,  which are owned by distant Austen cousins of  the late Henry Rice. The owners kindly gave us and a family friend, Jane Odiwe, complete access. We were permitted to examine and photograph the miniatures at leisure.

 

These pictures had been given back to the father of the present owners by a cousin who emigrated to France in the 1950s. Her name was Charlotte Marianne Harrison; she was the last in the line of the Kippington Austens. Her only son had been killed in the war, and having a strong sense of family, she wished her collection of family miniatures to remain in England when she moved abroad. We were able to see all the correspondence relating to this gift, and also Mrs Harrison’s notes, stating who she believed the subjects of these miniatures might be.

Only one of the five miniatures of females we examined had any identification at all. This was the eldest Motley-Austen daughter, Jane, who married William Campion of Danny in Kent. Her picture had a slip of paper attached to the back, which reads ‘Jane Austen, who married William Campion’. It also bore  W.S. Lethbridge’s name, and an address in the Strand in London, which was not Lethbridge’s studio (although he did work from the Strand). . The other three women and the child had no identification on them, or in them – there was only a  date, 1802, on one picture unused by Deirdre Le Faye.

 

Miss Le Faye had stated as fact that all these miniatures were by Lethbridge.

 

We could find no evidence for this, no signature of any artist, and no dates.

The miniature which Miss Le Faye states is ‘Mary Anne Campion’ was described by Mrs Harrison only as ‘A little girl holding a birdcage’. Deirdre Le Faye  also says the girl’s dress is an ‘almost exact’ (her words) copy of the Rice portrait’s. This statement is incorrect, Jane’s dress is frilled around the neckline, ‘Mary Anne Campion’s’ dress is plain.

 

Having fitted names and dates to  all these miniatures, Miss Le Faye published them.

 

They could be any members of the extended Austen family. Francis Lucius Austen had two daughters, Jane Campion nine children; there are a great many possibilities. The only thing that is certain about them is that they are Austen family miniatures.

 

Miss Le Faye went on to make the completely unfounded conjecture that Mrs Motley-Austen, Mary Anne’s grandmother, was so disappointed with ‘Lethbridge’s miniature of her granddaughter’ that she employed the Rev. Matthew William Peters to ‘pretty her up’ in a large painting in oils – namely, The Rice Portrait.

 

The Rev. Peters was chiefly a pastellist (see Neil Jaffares, Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800). Peters was notorious for his  risqué paintings of  nude young women; he resigned from the Royal Academy in 1790, officially producing only ‘religious and historical paintings’ after this date. Surely he was an odd choice for a loving grandmother to paint her young granddaughter? Peters died in 1814, having officially given up painting in 1800.

 

Miss Le Faye,  as we know, has long been a bitter antagonist of the Rice Portrait. Her lifetime contribution to the more general  study of Jane Austen has been immensely valuable, and we salute her in particular for her astonishing Chronology of Jane Austen and her  Family 1600-2000), published by Cambridge University Press in 2013.

However, in the case of the Rice Portrait, so strong is her conviction that the girl in the picture is not the kind of girl she has decided Jane ought to be, that she has all too often fallen into the trap of special pleading.

 

For example, in the Chronology entry for February 1, Sunday 1818,she explains how she thinks the portrait came to be known in the family as Jane Austen as follows:

 

‘Kippington. Soon afterwards CA (Colonel Thomas Austen), gives the portrait of his niece, Mary Anne Campion (see 1806) to his friends the Harding-Newman family in Essex. They believe it to be a portrait of Jane Austen the novelist in her girlhood’.

 

The truth is, the portrait was given to Elizabeth Hall, who was engaged to Colonel Harding Newman, because she was a great admirer of the novelist, in the year after the novelist’s death.

 

If it had not been a portrait of the novelist, her ‘great admirer’ would not have wanted it, or thought it was she.

 

What is so regrettable is that Miss Le Faye states all this  in her Chronology as if it were absolute, proven fact; as if  the sole circumstance of her formidable and otherwise entirely deserved academic reputation made it so.

 

But it is not fact: it is conjecture.

 

A second example of  such opinion-held-as-truth appears in Miss Le Faye’s Chronology entry for 1806:

 

‘Danny (the country seat of the Campion family). Probably this year that a full length portrait of Mary Anne Campion (1797-1825) is painted in oils (see February 1818)’.

 

We ourselves have been guilty in the past of presenting conjecture as fact,  and it has not helped – quite the reverse. We hope that the recent revision of our website has banished it from our work, and we devoutly hope that Miss Le Faye will  follow suit in future editions of her invaluable Chronology.

 

 

Website Design by Aimee Bell at at www.authordesignstudio.com.

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Our thanks to the Tate Gallery for allowing us to use this image, where the original may be seen.