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 






Jane Austen, 18th Century Costume and the Rice Portrait. Are the experts out of date?

The arguments surrounding the dating of the dress of the girl in the Rice Portrait have been rumbling on for years and remain the main reason given by the National Portrait Gallery for refusing to accept it is a portrait of Jane Austen.


As far back in 1941 C K Adams of the National Portrait Gallery said: "The style of dress with narrow ribbon round high waist, and slightly puffed half sleeves is of the period c1805. In a search I have not found a similar dress on a dated portrait before 1803 when Jane was 28."


Where C K Adams searched we do not know but it is worth remembering that this was at the height of the Second World War in an era pre-internet, pre-television and pre-mass communication.


More recently, in 1995, Professor Aileen Ribeiro of the Courtauld Institute said that the Rice Portrait "cannot be earlier than c1800 and therefore cannot be Austen as a young girl." She was not always so certain, as she acknowledged - "When asked to comment a few years ago, I noted that this type of costume, as worn by young girls, could range in date from the late eighteenth century to the early nineteenth. Now I am sure a date in the first decade of the nineteenth century is right."


These days searching for pictures is easy and a search on "Pinterest" shows pages of portraits of children in white muslin dresses.


I am not a fashion expert. But to my untrained eye, many of the dresses in portraits dated before 1800 share common features with the dress of the girl in the Rice Portrait including puffed sleeves, narrow ribbons and high waists.

I am therefore at a loss to understand how the dress in the Rice Portrait can be so categorically dated to after 1800. Here are some examples which I have found searching online:

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Stephen Cole, Director of Acume Forensics

Stephen Cole has an international reputation and his firm, Acume, has long experience and trusted expertise in the highly specialized field of photographic imaging. Acume regularly undertakes far more important work than this on the international stage, whose significance so dwarfs our own concerns that we hesitate to compare them. See the 'Enquiry Link' below.


As a world leader in the identification and analysis of photographic images, Stephen Cole himself  is valued as a distinguished witness and collaborator by three of the most eminent advocates in the United Kingdom, not to mention the Secretary General of the United Nations.




Detail from The Oddie Children

William Beechey, 1789


Eliza Hall Allies

jane-austenprettiedup austen-jane-andrews-james CassandraAusten-JaneAusten(c.1810)_hires

The Lizars Engraving

The Andrews watercolour

The Cassandra sketch

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 17.23.05

Edward Austen Knight's Portrait and the Rice Portrait

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 20.38.08 Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 20.33.39 Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 20.34.02 03OddieChildren craig

Portrait of an Unknown Girl

William Marshall Craig


05 WillettChildren

From Portrait of the Willett Children. George Romney



Detail showing sleeves


Mary Sheppard. John Russell 1792


Small girl presenting cherries

John Russell. c1780

09 shepherdgirl

Shepherd Girl  (Little Bo Peep)

George Romney. 1778


Detail of sleeve


Portrait of a Girl. William Beechey



"Pinkie" Sir Thomas Lawrence



Detail showing half sleeve


The Little Gardener. John Hoppner

c 1790


Detail from Charlotte Grenville with her Children by Joshua Reynolds c 1778



Detail from Mr and Mrs John Cunstance of Norwich and their daughter Frances William Beecheyc 1786


Boy and Cat. John Russell



Portrait of a Young Girl. John Russell

c 1780


Unknown Girl. Louis Ami Arlaud-Jurine c1790



Princess Amelia. Sir William Beechey. 1797


Princess Sophia. Sir William Beechey. 1797


The Romps. William Redmore Bigg


Collectors and experts on Eighteenth century costume Lillian and Ted Williams thought that the dress could date to the eighteenth century:


Having carefully examined the actual portrait, as opposed to its reproduction, we find several elements that clearly suggest eighteenth century dating starting in the late 1780s. We ourselves have owned several eighteenth century gowns similar to the one pictured in the Rice Portrait. In the Rice Portrait, we note the fullness of the cut of the dress with substantial distribution of its fabric around the bodice rather than trained in the rear in the later Empire style. Furthermore, the gauze gathered around the neckline – which is not discernible in many photographic reproductions – is consistent with late eighteenth century garniture. Finally, the shoes and certainly the parasol with its fringe of cut green silk are consistent with the same period. As far as dating is concerned, the width of the ribbon at the bodice is of no consequence one way or the other in our view.


In 1993 Richard Walker of the National Portrait Gallery wrote in a letter to Deirdre Le Faye that "I think the costume experts have been over-confident and the dress she wears could be of the 1790's"


Having looked at the these portraits I think that he is right - what do you think?


Written and Researched By Ellie Bennett. You can read more on Ellie's blog here: http://janeaustenportraits.blogspot.co.uk/


Lillian Williams'

18th Century shoe collection