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 






The Late Brian Sewell and the Rice Portrait.




Brian Sewell, a brilliant writer and longtime art critic for the Evening Standard, died on the 19th of September, 2015.  Always outspoken and fearless in his views, Sewell was revered and feared in equal measure by the British art world. Many of the foremost figures in that fraternity have paid tribute to his influence, in the aftermath of his death.  


When the Rice Portrait was on display at Olympia in 1994 -  the only time it has ever been exhibited to the general public in London - Sewell spent several hours carefully scrutinizing the picture. What he saw and concluded on that occasion is reflected in this short piece, written after the failure of the Christie’s auction in New York, in April 2007.  


It should be pointed out that no representative of the National Portrait Gallery has viewed, or asked to view,  the Rice Portrait since before the Second World War. Anne Rice’s invitation to examine it at Eva Schwan’s studio in Paris, where it was being restored in 2011-12, was firmly rebuffed.  



Ozias Humphry: Portrait of Jane Austen


Eight days ago Christie’s failed  to sell at auction the only painting that has a credible claim to be a portrait of Jane Austen, darling of the commissioning editors of television channels, darling of the literati of Islington and Kensington, and darling, one must presume, of the men of letters of New York, for it was thither that Christie’s sent it to be sold. Perhaps that was a mistake, for had the picture been on view in London for some weeks the debate about its authenticity could have been wide open and the obstreporous doubters sent empty away. As things happened, for it to

have been sent abroad for sale seemed the clearest possible indication that the National Portrait Gallery, guardian of the nation’s iconography, had no interest in acquiring it and supported the few who have clamorously (and in one case mischievously) claimed that it does not depict Jane Austen.


The NPG has no formal portrait of this best-loved of all women novelists – only an anonymous silhouette hesitantly catalogued as “probably”her profile, and a far from finished amateur watercolour by her sister, Cassandra; both are tiny. Thus the sane man might suppose, the NPG should have snatched the opportunity to buy the only known portrait in oils, on canvas, full length and of a decent size, of the author of Sense and Sensibility. Why did it not?


To this the answer is that self-celebrated experts in the history of costume have sworn blind (the perfect idiom for them) that the dress Jane wears could not have come from the needle of any English dressmaker until five years or so into the 19th century, by which time she was thirty – and in the portrait she is still a girl of between 15 and 20. This evidence is nonsense, proved so by other British portraitists of other British girls painted in the 1790’s; even so, it seems to have been the killer blow as far as the NPG and other potential bidders were concerned.


The provenance, however – the history of ownership – is impeccable. The portrait still belongs to a descendant of the Austen family, its first recorded owner, Jane’s cousin, Thomas Austen, born in the same year, 1775, who within two years of Jane’s death gave it to another relative, describing it as of “Jane, the novelist”. For it not  to be of Jane implies both a deliberate deceit on his part and the total gullibility of all the many members of the wider family who knew her. The authenticity of any painting by Botticelli, for example, with such an unbroken provenance, would be the more highly-prized for it and accepted without question.


The portrait is too important to ignore. It should return to London, be put on view at the NPG  and be the subject of orderly debate rather than shrill innuendo from shameless costume historians who demonstrably know much less than they should.   If  it is then satifactorily argued that the contrary evidence is flawed, that the provenance is indisputable, and that the girl in Ozias Humphry’s painting is indeed Jane Austen who, at  15, was precocious enough to write Love and Friendship, a delightful skit on Richardson (could this portrait celebrate that achievement?), then it should be secured here as a national treasure.

Proof of the Authenticity of the Rice Portrait

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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.