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
An abundance of interesting new facts have come to light concerning the portrait of Jane Austen, largely as a result of research into family history. The first concerns a full-length photograph taken at the behest of Morland Rice, at the time when he inherited the portrait from the Rev. Doctor Harding-Newman in 1883. We discovered in January 2015 the original print of this photograph, dated 1883, in the Heinz Library of the National Portrait Gallery. To our amazement this print bears on the back the stamp of Emery Walker – the very same Emery Walker who 27 year later took the now-famous 1910 photograph for Admiral Sir Ernest Rice, Morland Rice’s younger brother. The detailed background for this is as follows: Jane Austen’s eldest brother, James Austen, was born in 1765. His son (Jane’s nephew) James Edward Austen, was born in 1798, when Jane herself was 23 years old.
James Edward inherited money from another aunt, Mrs Leigh-Perrot, in 1837. In the same year, out of respect and gratitude, he adopted his benefactor’s name, becoming James Edward Austen-Leigh.
James Edward had known his increasingly famous aunt Jane Austen very well and published a memoir in which he stated this fact in 1870-1871. His eldest son, Cholmeley Austen-Leigh, was born in 1829. Cholmeley was followed by a daughter, Mary Augusta, in 1838, and another son,
William, in 1843.
1859 saw the death of Colonel Thomas Austen. The colonel had been the owner of the portrait of Jane Austen before entrusting it to his friend Colonel Harding-Newman and his bride Elizabeth Hall on their wedding day in 1818. Elizabeth Hall was a motherless distant cousin who had been
in the care of Mrs Thomas Austen nee Margaretta Morland at Kippington Hall , “She was a great admirer of the authoress”
Colonel Harding-Newman died in 1856, whereupon his son, the Rev. Doctor Harding–Newman, a don at Oxford University, inherited the portrait and eventually hung it in his rooms at Magdalen College.
Meanwhile, the Austen seat of Kippington Hall at Sevenoaks was inherited by Colonel Thomas Austen's nephew, John Austen, who promptly sold it and built himself a brand new Italienate villa called Capel Manor, in Horsmonden, Kent.
On account of these mid-century upheavals, the portrait dropped out of the immediate family and out of sight – though not out of mind.
Morland Rice, great nephew of Jane Austen, was born in 1823. A distinguished classical scholar, he read for his Greats degree at Oxford and became friends with Dr Harding-Newman. As a consequence of this friendship, Harding-Newman bequeathed his portrait of Jane Austen to Morland Rice in 1883. 'You should have the portrait of your great aunt,' he wrote to him.
This bequest, though it was not specified in Dr Harding-Newman’s will, was honoured by the don’s principal heir, his nephew Benjamin Harding-Newman, who ‘to his great credit’ had the picture delivered to Morland Rice by a Dr Bloxham.
(NB: Full details and texts of all the letters quoted here may be seen elsewhere on our website).
Edward, 1st Lord Brabourne; Morland Rice’s first cousin, and like
him a great-nephew of the authoress, was also an Oxford graduate. In
1884, he completed his biography 'Life and Letters of Jane Austen'. Aware
that the portrait had re-entered the family and wishing for a
frontispiece for his book, Brabourne wrote to his publishers, Bentley
and Sons, to the effect that his first cousin had a portrait ‘said to be of
He then wrote to Cholmeley Austen-Leigh to enquire further about the
portrait. Cholmeley replied that ‘the portrait, if genuine, must be of a
girl of 14 or 15’.
Lord Brabourne then asked Morland Rice, without direct reference to
Cholmeley's comments, about his picture. Morland replied ‘..that it is
of a girl of 15’.
Lord Brabourne informed his publishers that in his opinion ‘the
portrait is a True Bill’ i.e. authentic, and duly placed a photograph of
the TOP HALF of the portrait in his book as frontispiece. Copies of his
book can be seen today in the British Library and in other collections.
The crucial fact here is that from his exact description of the portrait,
Cholmeley Austen-Leigh (1) knew from his father, James –Jane Austen’s
nephew- of its existence and (2) knew of Jane’s exact age to within one
year, at the time it was executed.
So here we have the head and shoulders of a portrait of Jane Austen, photographed by a photographer to whom Lord Brabourne refers: ‘Morland Rice having employed (him) to operate upon his portrait in 1883’.
So much for the early wanderings of the portrait. Now for the new evidence.
A book was completed in 1895 by Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh, Cholmeley's younger sister and Jane Austen’s great-niece. It was not published until 1920, following the Great War.
As a frontispiece, this volume presents a full length black and white photograph of the Rice Portrait. The image is of reasonable quality.
Mary Augusta directly asserts in her book ‘it is of my great Aunt Jane Austen’ (we are putting up a copy of the relevant page). Mary Augusta also states that she has obtained the photograph from, and is publishing it by kind permission of, Richard Bentley, son of the Bentley who published her father’s memoirs and Lord Brabourne's letters.
In other words, this photograph is the WHOLE of the one Lord Brabourne used in 1884; Lord Brabourne, it will be recalled, featured only the upper part of it.
It is not, as previously thought, copied from the famous Emery Walker photograph taken in 1910.
It is also highly interesting because it appears to show the signature
Humphry faintly written slanting upwards across the bottom right
hand corner of the portrait by Jane’s left foot. If you zoom in you can see the
writing. The clearest discernible letter is a ‘y’; this may or may not have led to
the mistaken Zoffany attribution.
The next family member to set pen to paper on the subject of Jane was James
Edward Austen-Leigh's youngest son William, another great nephew.
William, in collaboration with his own nephew Richard, wrote Jane Austen:
Her Life and Letters. A Family Record. This memoir came out in 1913 and as a
frontispiece the publisher used the 1910 Emery Walker photograph taken by
permission of Admiral Sir Ernest Rice, Morland Rice's younger brother, the
current holder of the portrait.
This photograph has Emery Walker’s name printed under it. The photograph
used by Mary Augusta, William’s older sister, does not: see the two versions
juxtaposed here. It will be noted that Emery Walker’s photograph also seems
to show the signature Humphry by Jane’s left foot.
The key point here is that we have another of James Edward Austen-Leigh’s
children, the youngest one William, reaffirming that Jane’s portrait is correct,
in the certainty that what his father -Jane's own nephew- had told him, was no more than the truth.
Fanny Caroline Lefroy, daughter of Anna Lefroy née Austen, the family historian, saw the photograph of the Rice portrait in 1883 (she died in 1885). She had asked ..‘if Mr Rice would be kind enough to have a photograph taken, as she would very much like to see it’. When she did see it, ‘she recollected a family tradition about it and pronounced it genuine’, (see Claudia Johnson’s new book Jane Austen's Cults and Cultures) . Miss Lefroy also said that “she believes the date ON your picture is 1788 or 1789” She was correct we have found these dates .
Mis Lefroy was correct – there is a date, 1788-9?, on the front of Jane's canvas, now confirmed by Stephen Cole's image analysis. Miss Lefroy had seen it herself, or someone else had seen it and told her about it. The single word ON tells us so. In the latter year, Jane was not quite 14.
It will now be clear that the full-length photographs we are putting up today are versions (half length and full length) of the very same original Miss Lefroy saw and pronounced upon in 1883.
Cholmeley Austen-Leigh also assured his cousin Morland Austen, Colonel Thomas Austen's nephew and the younger brother of John Austen who inherited and sold Kippington, that ‘there is no picture of the authoress except the one taken at the beginning of her life’.
We have wondered why James Edward Austen Leigh did not use the portrait for his own 1870/71 memoir, published 14 years earlier than Lord Brabourne's 1884 effort. The answer is simple: although James Austen–Leigh knew of the picture’s existence as did his children, he didn’t know where to find it. It had vanished from family view firstly to Nelmes, the Harding-Newman family home, and thence to a don’s rooms at Magdalen College, Oxford, where it remained until 1883, the year of Dr Harding-Newman’s death.
As the family thought the sketch by Cassandra of her sister Jane too ugly to use, they employed a Mr. Andrews of Maidenhead ‘to pretty it up’. James Edward used the result as his frontispiece in 1871. He died in 1874; he never lived to see the portrait returned to the family, as his three children did.
We are now placing the reproduced 1883 photograph - both versions of it - on this website.
The original can be seen among the rare books in the British Library, in the first edition of Mary Augusta-Leigh's book Personal Aspects of Jane Austen. We are also putting up the page that explains how the photograph was supplied by Richard Bentley, not by Admiral Sir Ernest Rice. The net result of all this is to take the photographic record of the portrait back a full
twenty-seven years - from 1910 to 1883.
A final, very strong addition to the family’s assembled recollection of the Rice portrait is the
Admiral Sir Francis Austen was Jane’s brother. His daughter Catherine Austen married a
barrister named Hubback, who went mad and was committed to an asylum; whereupon
Catherine and her son John Henry Hubback, born in 1844, returned to her father’s house.
This is confirmed by contemporary census records.
Thus John Hubback lived with his grandfather, Jane Austen’s own brother, for the first 20
years of his life, and among other things the elderly admiral taught him to play chess (see
John Hubback’s book Cross currents of a Long Life).
In the 1930s, just before his death, John Hubback told the National Portrait Gallery, ‘that
his cousins the Rices owned the only portrait of the authoress’. (See voluminous extant
correspondence at the NPG).
In short, the testimony of this man, who was 90 years old in the 1930’s, confirms the
earliest primary evidence we have of the Rice portrait’s authenticity. We repeat: it comes
from a man who lived for twenty years with Jane Austen’s brother. We would venture that
this fact carries some weight.
In conclusion, we would like to reiterate in the strongest terms our conviction that family
belief and published recollection concerning the Rice Portrait can no longer be disregarded .
Lord Brabourne's 1884 version, published by Bentleys. Click on an image to enlarge.
The 1883 Picture, taken by Morland Rice's photographer. Click on an image to enlarge.
Jane Austen 1910 photograph showing the older frame. Re-photographed by Richard Valencia. In possession of the National Portrait Gallery. The original was taken by Emery Walker in 1910
Written by Professor Claudia Johnson – Professor of English at Princeton University
“If one were to contend that the portrait is not Jane Austen, one is dealing with the following scenario”.
“That Colonel Thomas Austen, who knew Jane Austen personally and was a member of her family, gave the portrait as Jane Austen, but knowing that it was not, while innumerable people who personally knew Jane Austen were still alive, to a person who either knew Jane Austen personally or greatly admired the novelist, who accepted it as being of Jane Austen (even though it was not) and who was married to Thomas Harding-Newman who knew Jane Austen personally and may have proposed to her and who presumably accepted it as Jane Austen (even though he knew it was not); all this at a time when innumerable people who knew Jane Austen personally were still alive.
That she (Elizabeth Hall) gave it to her stepson The Rev. Dr Thomas Harding-Newman, a don at Magdalen College Oxford, who knew many people who had known Jane Austen personally and accepted it as being of Jane Austen (even though it was not) and that he gave it, via another don, to a member of Jane Austen’s family.
That in 1884 the historian of the family whose mother had lived in the same house as Jane Austen for ten years (and had only died twelve years before 1884) had INDEPENDENTLY CORROBORATED the identity of the sitter as Jane Austen, but she must have been mistaken. (“She knew before of the painting in your possession”).