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 





Stephen Cole

We have been extremely privileged to have had the support of Stephen Cole and his company, Acumé Forensic, experts in the field of digital forensics in our efforts to prove the Rice Portrait. Stephen has carried out many hours of work on this, notwithstanding his extremely heavy workload, simply because he believes this portrait is important for Jane Austen’s legacy and to all those who love her work . This work has all be done without recompense.


The work Stephen has carried out has been on two glass plate photographic negatives of the portrait, taken in 1910 by the eminent photographer Emery Walker.


The portrait at that time belonged to Sir Ernest Rice and he commissioned Walker to take photographs of it for Jane Austen’s descendants William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh, who wished to include an image of the portrait in their edition of Jane Austen: her life and letters, a family record.


Sometime after Walker’s death in 1933 these glass negatives, along with many others, were about to be thrown out (the story is they were going to be thrown into the Thames!) but were rescued by a person unknown who, not wishing them to be thrown away, donated them  - by a strange twist of fate – to the Heinz Archive and Library at the National Portrait Gallery.


In 2010 the Heinz Archive permitted the owners of the Rice Portrait to take the negatives to the studio of photographer Richard Valencia, who developed the plates using original techniques in his own studio and we put the resulting image on our website to show the portrait in its original 18th century frame (the frame was damaged in a house fire in 1920).


A member of the public who was interested in the story contacted us to say that he had seen the image on our website and believed he had detected inscriptions in the top right quadrant. He sent this to us along with an explanation of what he had done to the image – essentially, he had used a burn tool to bring out the lettering.




















Having examined the plates Stephen Cole reached the following conclusion:

We needed to corroborate this discovery and were put in contact by the journalist Edmund Butler (a stalwart supporter of the portrait as was his mother the eminent Austen scholar professor Marilyn Butler) to Stephen Cole.

This time the Heinz Archive refused access to the original Emery Walker negatives. Instead  they supplied Stephen with digital scans of both plates, and it is from those original digital scans that he worked.


The corroboration from Stephen Cole is now famous with Jane-ites around the world and when we first saw the images, we believed the portrait was authenticated.




































Signature of Ozias Humphry for comparison:









Having examined the plates Stephen Cole reached the following conclusion:











However, it was not to be for when presented with these images the National Portrait Gallery responded with the following:


‘to be accepted as valid evidence the analysis would need to be replicated and the reported inscriptions identified by at least one independent and impartial expert. This would imply working under controlled conditions with no prior knowledge of the possible subject of the portrait, the location of any possible inscriptions or the sort of wording being looked for.’


This seems a bizarre requirement and one of course which is almost impossible to fulfil. Normally when authenticating a portrait, one would NOT demand that the expert has no knowledge of the subject. On the contrary, if one wanted to authenticate – a Constable say – then one would ask a Constable expert for their opinion. In this case apparently it needs to be someone who knows nothing about the picture at all and has no idea who the artist might be.


On 10 May 2017, Philip Prodger, Head of Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery wrote a report about the findings in which he said: ‘I do see the squiggles which are supposed to be attribution and signature on both negatives. I see other squiggles in difference directions throughout the plate and find it highly implausible that the squiggles at top right are what is being claimed.’


We find this assessment very odd. While one can perhaps argue that the lettering was not contemporaneous with the portrait, it is ridiculous to claim the inscriptions are not there at all.


In 2017 we decided to revisit Stephen’s painstaking work and we contacted the Heinz Library with a request to come in and take digital photographs of the photographic plates of the Rice Portrait. Once again, we were refused access which was surprising as we only wanted to photograph plates of our own property.


As the negatives were the creative work of Emery Walker who died some 85 years ago, it is doubtful the Heinz Archive hold the copyright for their negatives. Even if they do, refusing access to them for the purposes of research is, in our view, unethical and contrary to the aims and objectives of the National Portrait Gallery (of which the Heinz Archive is part) to spread knowledge and make their collections accessible.  


However, the photographic manager did tell us that he had new and very powerful digital cameras which could capture even more of the detail. He duly sent these to direct to Stephen Cole who informed us that the information was still there but that it would take time to do the sort of photographic analysis that he had done on the original lower definition digital scans.


Just before Christmas he sent us the results and once again, we were absolutely delighted . Interestingly he made sure that whilst working on the new images he did not want to go back to the original work that he had done .







































Now we must leave it to you, the reader, to decide if you can see anything that looks like the words Ozias Humphry or Jane Austen on the work above.

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.




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