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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 

ane

J

A

usten

I will explain in some detail what has brought us to this conclusion, and we very much

hope that it will be possible to trace who bought this picture. Sadly Christie’s have lost

the record of the sale and cannot help us, also we have advertised in Kent wondering if

any local family bought it, but have failed to find it. Whoever does have it, is probably

totally unaware of its enormous interest, and, obviously considerable value. It would be

marvellous to see the picture and also to look at the reverse of it as, if it is as we believe, by

Ozias Humphry, he would almost certainly have written all the names on the back.

Edward Knight would have taken this picture, executed we believe at Steventon Rectory,

to Godmersham, when he was formally adopted in 1783.

 

Ozias Humphry had returned from Italy and France in 1779, and in 1780/1781, was busy

with his largest and most famous group of sitters, an oil portrait of six members of the

Berkeley Family (and one other child, a girl of about five years of age). This portrait is a

very fine one, and hangs at Berkeley Castle, Lady Elizabeth Berkeley and her two children

occupy the left side of the composition. Lady Elizabeth Berkeley had married Lord Craven,

and she and her family lived at Hampstead Marshall, not many miles from Steventon

Rectory. Ozias, following his usual custom of staying with his sitters whilst he sketched

them (see Charles Williamson’s life and works of Ozias Humphry RA 1918), was

therefore within easy reach of the Austen Family.

 

My late husband Henry always believed that Uncle Francis Austen had a great deal to do

with Edward Austen’s adoption by the Knight’s. An heir was needed if the Estate was to

be held together, this was his speciality, and also,would be an excellent thing for his

nephews’ son and family. Thomas Knight the first of Godmersham, died in 1780 and his

son, Thomas the second, and daughter-in-law, Catherine, nee Knatchbull, are known to

have visited the Austen’s in 1781. This little picture was, we think, a record of their decision

to adopt Edward, and also, a completely allegorical one. It is brim full of symbolism and

allusion (much beloved by Ozias Humphry). It is also full of puns and quips, equally much

beloved by the Austen Family. In many ways, it could also be regarded as an enormous

‘in-family’ Austen joke.

 

There appear to be several of Ozias Humphry’s monograms on this

picture. However the one behind mrs Austens head on the fireplace

would seem to be very strong evidence.

 

The central figure, a young boy holding aloft a bunch of grapes, holds the

attention of the other figures. We believe him to be Edward Austen,

smiling happily and celebrating his coming inheritance. His mother

looks proudly on, pointing at him, and dressed in her best with peacock

feathers in her cap; a sign of luck and prosperity. Robin discovered a poem

by George Herbert, circa 1633, which makes the connection between a

cluster of grapes and a great inheritance. We have printed the extract

below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane, the little five-year-old, on Edward’s right, is holding aloft a tiny horseshoe nail, and pointing it at her brother. This is an allusion to his coming adoption by the Knight’s. a horseshoe nail is the genogram for an ‘adoptive child’. There are also nails on the plates in front of the other figures, which allude to the same thing, informing whoever looks at the picture, that the adoption has the family’s consent and approbation.

 

To continue this theme, when Edward Austen was painted in large, in oils, the painter also put in a tiny horseshoe nail, beautifully painted, in, miniature, between his shoes, and again pointing at him. These pictures are produced beside this article and can be enlarged. Who but Ozias, first a

miniaturist, then a portraitist, would have done this? What other eighteenth century portraitist would have bothered, or indeed been capable of this? To complete this picture, whilst re-reading Jane Austen’s letters, I came upon the following passage which would seem to clinch the matter.

It is in a letter dated Tuesday 9th, February 1813, and is quoted below. Jane is referring to a Miss Clewes; a new Governess Edward Knight has engaged to look after his children.

 

“Miss Clewes seems the very Governess they have been looking for these ten years; longer coming than J. Bond’s last shock of corn – if she will but only keep Good and Amiable and Perfect! Clewes (sic) is better than Clowes. And is it not a name for Edward to pun on? – Is not a Clew a nail?”

 

Jane was punning on the word ‘Clew’ (or clue) and the old French word,

Clou (de girofle) which in its turn, was derived from the Latin ‘Clovus’,

meaning nail (of the Clove tree). The dried flower bud of the clove

tree resembles a small nail or tack. Of course Edward would have

‘punned’ on it, because of his own very happy associations with a

small horseshoe nail.

 

Both the Austen girls, Jane and Cassandra, have full round cheeks, and

wear the white muslin dresses with ribbon sashes (a higher cut sash in

Jane’s case) usually worn by children at this time. Francis is thought to

be the boy on Edward’s left, James would have been away at school,

Charles was too young to be depicted and Henry, probably also at

school. The ages of the Austen children in 1780 fit these

identifications.

 

The table is also, literally loaded with symbolism. The pineapple, a

prized fruit, was first introduced to England in 1672, and the Duke of

Chandos, Mrs Austen’s great Uncle, was the first person to grow

pineapples under glass. It represents ‘Hospitality, Prosperity and

Abundance’. There is bread and wine on the table; the two decanters in front of each adult are placed

ready for a toast with an unfilled glass by each hand. What appears to be a plum pudding, representing

a plentiful future is also there, and if you look very carefully at the fruit plate, placed before Edward,

a Spaniel can be seen, and also a pheasant, an illusion to his love of shooting and sport. George Austen

holds a missal in his hands, with a silk ribbon draped over his fingers, the only one not looking up at the

grapes. He appears to be giving thanks for the blessings bestowed upon the family by the coming

adoption. It also underlines his role as a man of the cloth and a clergyman. Again, who could have

executed this table in all its minutiae as well as Ozias Humphry?

 

 

The background above and below the table and the central figures also holds significant clues. Professor

Margaret Doody has suggested that the allegorical picture above the fireplace on the right is of the God

Zeus, abducting the handsome, young, Ganymede, to be cupbearer to the Gods, and to be endowed with

immortality and all luxuries. The portrait on the left wall is a copy of the miniature of George Austen as a

young man, which is in the Chawton Museum. He was known as the ‘Handsome-Proctor’ and is

dressed exactly as he is when shown presenting Edward Austen to the Knight’s in the silhouette of 1783.

The small picture below, of a lady in a white dress, could well be of Mrs Austen on her wedding day.

 

Below the table, painted into the centre of the carpet, is a large ‘M’. ‘M’ is another genogram, denoting a married couple, and reinforces the fact that this couple are able to give their legitimate son in adoption, and also that they are happy to do so. To the left of the ‘M’, and slightly above it, is a painted date, which we believe could be ‘1781’, not 1780, again, it would be necessary to see the original to confirm this point.

 

 

Finally, we believe that it is possible that uncle Francis Austen might have asked Ozias Humphry to do this “Commemorative Sketch” to record, pictorially, Edwards’ adoption. We do not think, as many people have believed, that uncle Francis met Jane and Cassandra for the first time in 1788 at the Red House at Sevenoaks. The evidence that he knew the family of George Austen well is to be found in the first paragraph of John Hubback’s book,

‘Cross-currents in a long life’, which is reproducedon this website under the rubric PROVENANCE. It states very clearly that Uncle Francis Austen of Sevenoaks was a frequent visitor to his nephew George Austen's rectory at Steventon.

 

Henry and I never believed that we, or the National Portrait Gallery owned the only two pictures of Jane Austen, someone so amusing, brilliant and charismatic, would surely have been drawn or sketched more than once.

 

We hope that this article will be of interest to the Austen world; we have found it all, not only compelling, but also very exciting. Our grateful thanks are due to Professor Margaret Doody and Professor Claudia Johnson for their interest and support, and also to Jane Odiwe, who encouraged and helped us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane, the little five-year-old, on Edward’s right, is holding aloft a tiny horseshoe nail, and pointing

it at her brother. This is an allusion to his coming adoption by the Knight’s. a horseshoe nail is

the genogram for an ‘adoptive child’. There are also nails on the plates in front of the other

figures, which allude to the same thing, informing whoever looks at the picture, that the

adoption has the family’s consent and approbation.

 

To continue this theme, when Edward Austen was painted in large, in oils, the painter also put

in a tiny horseshoe nail, beautifully painted, in, miniature, between his shoes, and again pointing

at him. These pictures are produced beside this article and can be enlarged. Who but Ozias, first a

miniaturist, then a portraitist, would have done this? What other eighteenth century portraitist

would have bothered, or indeed been capable of this? To complete this picture, whilst re-reading

Jane Austen’s letters, I came upon the following passage which would seem to clinch the matter.

It is in a letter dated Tuesday 9th, February 1813, and is quoted below. Jane is referring to a Miss

Clewes; a new Governess Edward Knight has engaged to look after his children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane was punning on the word ‘Clew’ (or clue) and the old French word, Clou (de girofle) which in

its turn, was derived from the Latin ‘Clovus’, meaning nail (of the Clove tree). The dried flower

bud of the clove tree resembles a small nail or tack. Of course Edward would have ‘punned’ on it,

because of his own very happy associations with a small horseshoe nail.

 

Both the Austen girls, Jane and Cassandra, have full round cheeks, and wear the white muslin

dresses with ribbon sashes (a higher cut sash in Jane’s case) usually worn by children at this time.

Francis is thought to be the boy on Edward’s left, James would have been away at school, Charles

was too young to be depicted and Henry, probably also at school. The ages of the Austen children

in 1780 fit these identifications.

 

The table is also, literally loaded with symbolism. The pineapple, a prized fruit, was first introduced to England in

1672, and the Duke of Chandos, Mrs Austen’s great Uncle, was the first person to grow pineapples under glass. It

represents ‘Hospitality, Prosperity and Abundance’. There is bread and wine on the table; the two decanters in front

of each adult are placed ready for a toast with an unfilled glass by each hand. What appears to be a plum pudding,

representing a plentiful future is also there, and if you look very carefully at the fruit plate, placed before Edward, a

Spaniel can be seen, and also a pheasant, an illusion to his love of shooting and sport. George Austen holds a missal

in his hands, with a silk ribbon draped over his fingers, the only one not looking up at the grapes. He appears to

be giving thanks for the blessings bestowed upon the family by the coming adoption. It also underlines his role as a

man of the cloth and a clergyman. Again, who could have executed this table in all its minutiae as well as Ozias

Humphry?

 

The background above and below the table and the central figures also holds significant clues. Professor Margaret

Doody has suggested that the allegorical picture above the fireplace on the right is of the God Zeus, abducting the

handsome, young, Ganymede, to be cupbearer to the Gods, and to be endowed with immortality and all luxuries.

The portrait on the left wall is a copy of the miniature of George Austen as a young man, which is in the Chawton

Museum. He was known as the ‘Handsome-Proctor’ and is dressed exactly as he is when shown presenting Edward

Austen to the Knight’s in the silhouette of 1783. The small picture below, of a lady in a white dress, could well be

of Mrs Austen on her wedding day.

 

Below the table, painted into the centre of the carpet, is a large ‘M’. ‘M’ is another genogram, denoting a married couple, and reinforces the fact that this couple are able to give their legitimate son in adoption, and also that they are happy to do so. To the left of the ‘M’, and slightly above it, is a painted date, which we believe could be ‘1781’, not 1780, again, it would be necessary to see the original to confirm this point.

 

 

Finally, we believe that it is possible that uncle Francis Austen might have asked Ozias Humphry to do this “Commemorative Sketch” to record, pictorially, Edwards’ adoption. We do not think, as many people have believed, that uncle Francis met Jane and Cassandra for the first time in 1788 at the Red House at Sevenoaks. The evidence that he knew the family of George Austen well is to be found in the first paragraph of John Hubback’s book,

‘Cross-currents in a long life’, which is reproduced below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conversation Piece

During his extensive research into the Rice portrait, my brother Robin Roberts discovered the catalogue of a three-day sale, which had taken place at Godmersham Park in Kent on June 6th 1983. He became intrigued by the many pictures, and their possible provenance and we settled down to discover all we could about this happening.

 

Godmersham Park had been bought in 1936 by a Mrs Elsie Tritton, and had still contained the rump of the Knights’ occupation of it. It had been sold by Edward Austen Knights’ eldest son, also Edward, in 1874 (much to the indignation of Elizabeth Rice, my Henry’s ancestress, it created a rift with her brother which lasted all her life).

 

Elsie and Robert Tritton were avid collectors, and filled the house with pictures Objects D’art, and the most elegant furniture imaginable. Christie’s held this three-day sale on her death, and the catalogue, beautifully illustrated, was most impressive. There were various lots at the end of the sale containing a photograph of Edward Knight and pictures of the family which confirmed

Robin’s view that the Tritton’s had also bought, with the house, the residue of the Knights’ occupancy.

 

One picture in particular attracted Robin’s especial interest. It is described in the catalogue as, ‘belonging to the English school, circa 1780, pen, black ink, and watercolour, measuring 15 and a half by 19 and a half inches’, it shows a gentleman and his wife, seated, with their four children standing around an oval dining table in a small dining parlour. Robin examined the picture closely and we both now believe that this little painting is of George Austen, his wife, Cassandra Leigh, Cassandra his eldest daughter, Jane, Edward and Francis, painted circa 1780 by Ozias Humphry RA as a ‘commemorative picture’ to celebrate the fact that his cousins the Knights had decided to adopt him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OH monogram found behind Mrs Austen within the fireplace. Click to enlarge.

Horseshoe nail at Edward Austen Knight's feet - a genogram for an adoptive child. Please click to enlarge.

janeausten AUSTEN-Family-A janefamily mrsausten pictures george-austen-as-a-young-man

OH monogram found behind Mrs Austen's ear. Please click to enlarge.

The Reverand George Austen as a young man. Copied by ozias Humphey on the wall behind him in the picture. The picture below could possibly be Cassandra Leigh on her wedding. Please click to enlarge.

Edwardnail2 EdwardAusten2

 

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