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
Mr Jacob Simon and the Rice Portrait
As anyone who has followed this story is aware, relations between my family with those at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) - and particularly with the previous chief curator Mr Jacob Simon - have not been particularly positive or constructive.
I have been asked by many people, supporters and detractors alike, why the NPG would have anything other than an impartial approach to my portrait.
Since making a Freedom of Information request to the NPG in 2013, a lot of communications have become available which have shed some light on this.
All the communications I allude to or quote from in this article are either in the ‘Notes on Sitter’ file in the NPG, can be obtained from the NPG, or can be requested from me.
The story began in the 1930’s when the NPG was searching for a portrait of Jane Austen.
In 1932, Mrs. Angus Graveson was asked by Sir Henry Hake (the then Director of the NPG) to find a picture/portrait of the novelist. She contacted John Hubback, the grandson of Admiral Sir Francis Austen, who was Jane’s brother. Hubback was 90 years old at the time, and had lived the first 20 years of his life with his grandfather, Sir Francis, who was his guardian.
Hubback told Mrs Graveson that there was only one portrait of Jane and it belonged to his cousins, the Rices of Dane Court, at Tilmanstone in Kent.
Sir Henry Hake approached the portrait’s owner, Mr Henry Rice (my husband Henry’s grandfather) with a view to purchasing the portrait for the NPG. Henry Rice had no wish to sell the portrait but did offer a copy of it - and a first refusal if it should ever be sold; he made his son and grandson aware of this.
The NPG continued to search for a likeness and eventually found the sketch made of Jane by her sister Cassandra.
Shortly afterwards, The Times published a short paragraph in which they quoted the NPG’s announcement that they had acquired “the only likeness of Jane Austen”.
My husband, Henry Rice, sold Dane Court after his father’s death and in 1975 we moved as a couple to Guernsey, taking the portrait with us.
In Guernsey, Henry had all his property valued for insurance by Christie’s. Their appointed valuer - Conal Macfarlane - examined the portrait and pronounced it signed with initials by Ozias Humphry. He was clear that it was not by Johann Zoffany, as had been believed by the previous generation.
In 1985, Henry and I returned to England, moving to East Ilsley Hall in Berkshire. There, the portrait of Jane was hung above the fireplace in Henry’s study. Henry gave me the picture by Deed of Gift in 1990.
In 1999, Henry and I reluctantly decided that we needed to sell the portrait. Mindful of his grandfather’s promise, Henry duly made an appointment to meet with Mr Jacob Simon, Chief Curator at the NPG, to offer the gallery a first option to buy it.
I was not present at the meeting but when Henry returned, it was clear it had been an unmitigated disaster. Mr Simon told him that having consulted with Miss Deirdre le Faye, a leading Jane Austen academic, he had decided the picture was not of Jane Austen and had probably been painted in the early 1800s, not in 1788 or 1789 as we believed. The meeting grew acrimonious and in the course of the argument that followed, Henry informed Mr Simon that his expertise “lay not in paintings, but in Picture frames and Doorknobs.”
As it was now clear that the NPG was not interested in buying the portrait, we applied for an export licence, which was granted. The picture was therefore taken to Christie’s in New York, who pronounced it genuine. Much research was done on the areas of concern previously highlighted, namely the dress and the artist’s identity.
Christie’s, having felt that all outstanding concerns had been answered in the accompanying sales catalogue, set the sale for the 19th of April 2007.
The NPG, having washed their hands of the picture but knowing that it was up for sale, had numerous internal communications in which they discussed their organisational position as far as the upcoming sale was concerned.
The two main points were:
1. They did not make public comments on any picture whilst on the market because it might affect the outcome and
2. This picture was not their business
Various quotes from the NPG archive referred to this situation:
• Chief Curator NPG (Mr Jacob Simon), 23rd March 2007:
“I thought that we had agreed not to answer questions. I have no recollection of an approach from Christie’s .....the message should be that we are quite open about the past history but that we do not comment on portraits while on the market.”
• Curator NPG (Dr Lucy Peltz) 18th century collections 24th March 2007:
“We feel we cannot say anything further at this point as our institutional comments could prejudice the outcome of the sale”
• Chief Curator NPG (Mr Jacob Simon) 29th March 2007:
“I would not answer questions relating to the sale of the portrait which is not our business”
As is now well documented, the sale failed - although two private offers were made at the reserve price after the sale. I refused these offers. After the sale, Mr Jacob Simon wrote an article in the Times Literary Supplement in which he stated that the portrait failed to sell due to a lack of confidence in its authenticity.
However, despite the NPG’s assertions that they do not comment on private sales, which were ‘not their business’, from the FOI request (made in 2013) asking for all information in their records on this portrait from the 1930s to the present day, an email came to light.
This email had been sent by Mr Jacob Simon directly to Peter Hall, of our sales agent Christie’s, on the 12th of April at 16.47 in the afternoon.
The email was not sent to me, (the owner), it was not solicited by Christie’s, and it was entitled: Jane Austen.
It read as follows:
Dear Mr Hall,
William Legg is mentioned in the catalogue entry of your forthcoming Old Master Paintings sale on 19th of April of the portrait described as the Rice portrait of Jane Austen, lot 120. I would like to draw your attention to new research on William Legg which is now publicly available as part of the Directory of artists suppliers and colour men, 1650-1939 on the gallery website at the National Portrait Gallery/research/Artists Suppliers/Directory. The text of the entry is given below. I propose to communicate this research to the Times Literary Supplement where previous discussion has taken place on the dating of the portrait and its impact on the putative claims of the portrait to represent Jane Austen.
I am copying this e-mail to Piers Davies.
National Portrait Gallery
So seven days before the sale, my agents received an unsolicited email from the curator of a British art institution challenging the veracity of my portrait.
I was unaware that this had happened so had no opportunity to counter-research this new information, to write an addendum to the sales catalogue or withdraw the picture from the sale. I remained unaware that Mr Simon had done this until my FOI request revealed the fact in 2013.
The information referred to by Mr Simon has now been challenged by our research (see file correspondence).
Sadly, Christie’s did not inform me that they had received this email.
Thereafter a lengthy email exchange took place between myself and the NPG. My intention was to find out how this had been allowed to happen, what decision-making process was used (the portrait was not their property, and the sale was overseas), who had signed off on the decision to send the email, and what did the NPG expect would be its impact on the sale (see file in the NPG).
There was no information on the decision-making process. There was no meeting where this was discussed, and there was no entry in the gallery risk register. The director, Mr Sandy Nairne, could not respond to my concerns, to my satisfaction.
After this protracted and unsatisfactory email exchange, I decided to make a formal complaint to the Chairman of Trustees at the NPG. (Any interested reader may need to request specific sight of the two-part complaint and the NPG response). I have it on my files and will be happy to share it.
The NPG’s choice of adjudicator for this complaint, was a figure who had been an active trustee at the NPG in 2007 when these actions took place, and who would himself have shared final responsibility for any and all actions of NPG staff members at that time.
I do not know if it is normal for a public institution to choose someone to adjudicate on an action for which they themselves might have been ultimately responsible.
It is now 2018 and the NPG have still not made public this intervention, or made public the fact that this intervention had a bearing on the ‘lack of confidence’ in the authenticity of my portrait, which was the reason given for the failure of the sale.
After the 2007 auction, and being unaware of the NPG’s role in its outcome, we continued to research the picture and pass our discoveries on to the NPG. The most significant of these discoveries was made by a member of the public who had been following the story (I will call him Beagle, as he wishes to remain anonymous).
In 1910, the eminent Victorian photographer Mr Emery Walker was recording important British paintings around Britain. He visited Admiral Sir Ernest Rice and photographed the Jane Austen portrait then in his possession. The two glass negatives of Walker’s photographs survive today in the Heinz Library at the NPG. These two glass plates have been themselves re-photographed by Mr Richard Valencia of A C Cooper and the images are on our website, www.JaneAustenRicePortait.com.
Beagle contacted us and said he had found inscriptions on these glass plates that might be consistent with our assertion that the portrait represented Jane Austen.
These discoveries were endorsed by Mr Stephen Cole of Acume Forensics. When the pictures were taken in 1910, the names of both the artist, Ozias Humphry and the sitter, Jane Austen, were inscribed in the top right hand quadrant. Further, these inscriptions are present on both photographic plates (again, see our website).
In April 2018, the NPG once again sent new digital images taken with higher resolution cameras to Stephen Cole - he is still working on these but we have already been assured that the information is still there and even more plain to see (more on this shortly).
When Stephen originally endorsed Beagle’s findings, we gave this information to the NPG, fully expecting them to finally endorse the picture.
This endorsement was not forthcoming (all the lengthy correspondence on this is on the file).
Over the last 20 years there have been some notable detractors of my portrait. The freedom of information request also revealed some of the communications that Mr Jacob Simon and others in the NPG had with these detractors.
Anyone reading the files in the NPG will get a feel for the institutional attitude of that organisation to this portrait.
We were not given access to all of the communications on file, as some communications were redacted; so we cannot know to whom they were sent, but the following excepts are all on file.
The main critics of the portrait are:
Miss Deirdre le Faye
Miss Henrietta Foster
Professor Kathryn Sutherland
From the FOI request there emerged some excerpts from communications with Mr Jacob Simon and others from these individuals.
Sent September 5th, 2013
From Ms Henrietta Foster to Sandy Nairne (director of the NPG):
“Dear Sandy I am sorry to bring up the misery that is the Rice portrait again ......”
Sent 13th April, 2012
From Henrietta Foster to Robin Francis (NPG):
“Dear Robin, I hate to bring up the dreaded Rice portrait ....”
Thank you again
Sent 28th of June, 2007
From Ms Deirdre Le Faye to Mr Jacob Simon:
“Jacob have now read through your Q and A and think it very suitable indeed ...”.
“One or two suggestions for slight changes in wording...”
All good wishes
Deirdre Le Faye
Sent 31st October, 2013
From Dr Lucy Peltz (Curator 18th Century Collections), to Ms Deirdre Le Faye:
“From reading the voluminous correspondence about this vexed painting......”
Sent September 1st, 2013
From Mr Jacob Simon to Ms Deirdre Le Faye:
“Thank you so much for consulting. It is of course your letter but were you to make any changes I would be wondering about the following revisions. I know why you have chosen your sentence structure immediately following “It speaks for itself “but I wonder if the sentence should be turned round to read something along the following lines ....xxxxxx (redacted)
All of this is of course entirely up to you, As you know we will be holding back,”
This story continued in 2017, when we experienced another hostile article on the portrait, this time from Miss Ahuja, a journalist from the Financial Times, the evidence for which I have not been allowed access to or to photograph. However, Mr. Jacob Simon has been allowed full access to this information and has backed and corroborated it.
Website Design by Aimee Bell at at www.authordesignstudio.com.
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.
Sir Henry Hake, Director of the National Portrait Gallery 1927-1951
National Portrait Gallery card holding an image of the portrait with NPG date stamp 1987. Date is given as c.1790