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 





Robert Legg                                   =               Elizabeth (1727) Married

of St Mary's, Reading - Born 1705

Legg Family Tree

Elizabeth 1729

St Mary's, Reading

Mary 1731

St Mary's, Reading

John 1733          =  

St Mary's, Reading


Mary Smith

M. 1748

George 1734    =  

Baptised St

Clement Danes


Coach Builder

Barbara Barker


1736 (Died)

Baptized St

Clement Danes

William (The Uncle)

1740 - 1798

Baptized St

Clement Danes

John 1752

Samuel 1754


Javis 1755

Isaac 1758

Suzannah 1760

John 1756

Martha 1760

William (The Nephew)    =     Ann

1760 - 1823

St Mary, Reading


















Here is a summary of the origins of William Legg (1740-1798), tallow chandler, upholder and draper, mostly culled from research by Thomas Woodcock, the current Garter King of Arms.


William Legg was born in London in 1740, the youngest son of Robert and Elizabeth Legg, who were originally from Reading. William, christened at St Clement Danes in 1740,  is first recorded as working in the tallow trade in the Parish of Mounthall close to the Tallow Chandlers Hall.


In 1756, at the age of 16, William Legg married Elizabeth, the widowed daughter of Samuel Walker, a draper and upholder residing at 51 Snow’s Hill, Holborn.  At this time William was recorded as helping a young nephew, Samuel Legg, to become an apprentice to his father-in-law.  (Long afterward, in 1813, Samuel Legg was elected Master of the Upholders’ Livery Company).


Elizabeth’s father died in 1769, making her sole heiress to his upholding business. William Legg combined this with his business as a tallow chandler, moving with his wife from Snow’s Hill to another establishment in Tottenham Court Road, Holborn, in 1784  (see Land Tax Records and Bailey’s Directory).


The couple were childless.


It is noteworthy, in the context of the Rice Portrait, that during the 1780’s the new Legg shop on Tottenham Court Road was located within walking distance of Ozias Humphry’s studio at 25 Newman Street (Land Tax Records).


During these years William Legg was a tallow chandler supplying oil and soap at his Tottenham Court Road location. This business clearly complemented his wife’s already existing upholding concern. Prior to the patenting of bleaching chlorine powder by Charles Tennant in 1799, which changed the industry forever, bleaching involved the use of soaps and bleaching fields.

Among other uses, hard soap was needed for bleaching canvases - and the painters of the new Royal Academy, many of whom lived and worked in the Holborn area, needed  canvases. The Legg establishment provided them.



Following William Pitt’s 1785 Act, which finally regulated the duty on linen, canvas ‘remnants’ of the kind supplied by William Legg became liable for excise tax.


This remnant tax was levied for many years thereafter on all artists’ canvases. It was payable in addition to the tax paid on the original complete rolls of linen from which the remnants were cut. The duty was collected in each tax district by Excise Officers who made their rounds from shop to shop, visiting tradesmen and manufacturers like William Legg. Whether these tradesmen and manufacturers were drapers, printers or tallow chandlers, if they were involved in selling remnants of linen in any form, the Excise Officers were authorized to collect tax from them and stamp the linen excise mark or seal on each piece taxed. As proof that duty had been paid, the name of the tradesman, his district, and his district’s number had also, by law, to be applied to the piece.


Hence the William Legg, High Holbourn 1, Linen stamp on the back of the Rice Portrait of Jane Austen.



The following extract from trial proceedings at the Old Bailey goes some way toward explaining the function of the Excise officer in regard to bleached (or bleaching) cloth.


OLD BAILEY ONLINE: ABRAHAM GODIN, THOMAS GOLDFINCH, SAMUEL ROBERTS, Theft > theft from a specified place, 11th May 1785.




I laid in wait for these men; my masters are callico-printers, this is their bleaching-ground; I saw Gordon first come over the stile, Goldfinch next, and then Roberts, they had bundles on their heads, when they came within twenty yards they observed us, they pitched their bundles and ran off; I could swear to Gordon nine yards off; I have no doubt of their being the persons, all three; I picked up the bundles, and carried them home in this apron to Messrs Adams and Co. there was a piece in each handkerchief; I'll swear to the piece, I marked them with a private mark, the initials of my name.

Were there goods of this sort lost or missed from the bleaching-grounds on this night.


Yes, Sir, there were; they were all wet and dirty when I found them, here is a mark 3338.




Here is the Excise-Office book, here is the corresponding mark on the piece; there are six different numbers on the six different pieces of each, they are running numbers, here is 3365, 3416, 3368.


Mr. Baron Perryn. These numbers you have spoken of, and which are inserted in that book, might not they apply to other pieces of cloth, as well as those? - No, Sir, we have officers that survey this work, and no others.


Court to Kirmon. These are the very sort of callicoes? - The very same.


Verdict: GUILTY. Sentence: DEATH.



















William Legg, The Uncle (1740-1798)

THE BRITISH BIBLE of academic reference to colourmen, canvas makers and the like, is the National Portrait Gallery’s British Artists' Suppliers, 1650-1950. 3rd edition October 2011, researched and written by Jacob Simon (1st edition 2006, 2nd edition 2008).


This site contains a detailed discussion of the canvas stamp on the back of the Rice Portrait, which amounts to the official line of  Britain’s National Portrait Gallery, explaining its rejection of the Rice Portrait as a genuine likeness of Jane Austen.


The NPG article begins with the words: “William Legg led a long and varied career…’


He had ample opprtunity to do so, as we now know that there were at least three of him, or three people who might have been him, and probably more.


In 2013 we wrote to the then Director of the National Portrait Gallery, Sandy Nairne,  in response to British Artists’ Suppliers, 1650-1950. Here is the gist of it.


‘….Mr Jacob Simon states the following, in his remarkable work of research, British Artists' Suppliers 1650-1950, which is published on the Internet:


The information from Land Tax records enriches our knowledge. But it remains the case that canvases were produced marked on the reverse, 'WM. LEGG, High Holborn, LINEN', or in some cases with a variant stamp commencing, ‘W & J LEGG’. It also remains the case that Wm Legg was recorded in High Holborn in London directories from 1803 to 1806. The reality is that the new information does not alter our understanding which is that there is very strong evidence that the 'WM. LEGG, High Holborn, LINEN' canvas stamp is early 19th century and that William Legg the colourman at 163 High Holborn can be identified with William Legg of Reading and William Legg the coach maker, ....


Mr Simon's  remark above …. ‘It remains the case that canvases were produced marked on the reverse Wm LEGG High Holborn Linen’ is wholly misleading.  


The only known canvas stamped with Wm Legg’s name alone, is the Rice Portrait. There exists none other.


Moreover this excise stamp or seal of antiquated design, which we believe was placed there in the 1780’s by a local stamping or sealing  officer using a stamp or seal ordered and devised in accordance with the 1785 Act, reads Wm Legg, High Holbourn 1 Linen, not “WM. LEGG, High Holborn, LINEN” as Mr. Simon, the NPG’s author, states.


If the Gallery intends to debate this matter of the stamp, its representative might perhaps begin by finding out what it actually says.


Moreover, Mr Simon has made this same spelling mistake - Holborn for Holbourn – ever since his original, apparently game-changing Rice Portrait letter to the TLS in 1996, in which he ‘eliminated’ all possibility of the sitter being Jane Austen on the basis of a canvas stamp he had never seen. He compounded this error at the time by writing that the stamp read ‘London’, not ‘Linen’.


To the best of anybody’s knowledge there exists no tax record, voting registry, directory entry, parish record or any other official reference to High Holborn after the 1780’s, that uses the old spelling of HIGH HOLBOURN with a ‘U”.


This old spelling belongs to a different era, predating James Legg’s arrival at 163 High Holborn by 15-20 years. I fail to see how or why it should suddenly have been revived as a one-off in 1803, in an officially-made and applied linen stamp, whereas a perfectly adequate stamp – W and J Legg, High Holborn 1, Linen, - had just been manufactured for the purpose of stamping linen merchandise for sale by the very same firm, and was in use (at least two examples have survived).



Land Tax Records and Directories


We have re-visited the Guildhall Library and have re-checked the various directories, both for Mr Simon's 19th century William Legg (163 High Holborn) and for our own 18th century William Legg  (Tottenham Court Road) who was, as the attached family tree shows, HIS UNCLE.


We have also re-checked the Land Tax rolls for William Legg The Uncle and duly found him present and trading as a tallow chandler/draper in the Holborn district in the 1780's.


I am sure you will agree that artists – or anyone else - were just as liable at that time or at any time in the 18th century to buy a piece of linen from a tallow chandler or a draper (both of which William Legg the Uncle was) as from an artist’s supplier or colourman; indeed we have found several insurance records that speak of individuals trading as tallow chandlers and colourmen.


From my reading of the Land Tax  records, James Legg, as occupier, was paying 7 shillings a year from 163 High Holborn.  


So if William Legg wasn't listed as paying the tax as an occupier and head of a family, he wasn't an occupier.


Furthermore William Legg the Uncle is listed both in directories and in Land Tax Rolls, while Mr. Simon’s William Legg  the Nephew is confined to directories.


At this juncture, instead of pointlessly butting heads over which source is the more reliable, it occurs to me that we should consider a more consensual scenario that would assume BOTH sources on the Legg(s) of 163 High Holborn to be correct.


I hope you will agree that this is the scenario that is most likely to be the true one.


If we do this, we can open up the debate and draw the following conclusions:


1. James Legg was assessed for Land Tax as occupier of 163 High Holborn in  1803-6 because it was his place of abode in the period after he took over from Poole.


2. William Legg (the Nephew) is listed in the Directories as 'colourman to artists' for those 3 years, at 163 High Holborn, because he was in partnership there with James Legg, who was the official tenant and hence 'occupier' for tax purposes, as the Land Tax records show.


3. William Legg  (the Nephew) was NOT assessed for Land Tax  at 163 High Holborn because it was not his place of abode. William Legg (the Nephew) resided somewhere else in London. However, he was duly listed in the London directories as trading from 163 High Holborn.


4. All taxation of individuals, then as now, is based on the individual's place of abode.


5. All taxation of businesses, then as now, is based on the address from which the business trades.


6. The Linen Tax was levied on businesses. The Land Tax was levied on owners and tenants of land or premises.


7. Payment of Linen Tax was confirmed by an Excise stamp with the name of the tradesman, and his place of abode, placed on the product, whatever it was.


8. It follows that William Legg (the Nephew), assuming he was in partnership with James Legg in a colourman's shop at 163 High Holborn, was obliged by law to stamp the name of his business 'W and J Legg' on ALL linen remnants that he sold.  


9. It would have been against the law for William Legg (the Nephew) to stamp linen with his own name alone, giving the address in High Holborn, because that address was not his place of abode.  It was the place of abode of his  (supposed) partner, James Legg.


10.  Thus, to avoid breaking the law and going to prison or being  heavily fined or being transported to Australia (such were the penalties for falsifying tax stamps), any stamp on any piece of linen sold by the Legg establishment would have to include the name of James Legg. Hence the W and J Legg, High Holborn linen stamp, of which two examples have been found. These stamps would indeed date from the period 1803-1807.


11.  And it follows from this, that the linen stamp on the back of the Rice Portrait, which says 'Wm Legg, High Holbourn 1, linen' cannot date from this period.


If it did, it would have been illegal and highly dangerous to the seller of the canvas.


Yours faithfully,


Anne Rice



1 - On the subject of the Land Tax, the following web pages may be of interest:






Of particular relevance may be the following:


- "Only heads of households, as either landlord or tenant, are listed in the assessments."


- "The order of entries depended on the route taken by the assessor which varied as he moved from main street to side street to alley and back to main street. This means that entries for a single street are often spread over 2 or 3 pages."


The first of these points is, if it is correct, of some interest to our case, for obvious reasons. The second seems to confirm that the assessors did indeed visit each property, rather than simply obtain information from the landowner.


Based on the first point, it might be suggested that someone like William Legg the Nephew, who had a large family, would have been most likely to be named as the head of the household if he was in fact living at the property.


Based on the second point, I disagree with Mr. Simon's rather less reasoned speculation (if I understand him correctly) that it was the landlord of 163 High Holborn who provided incorrect occupancy information.


Based on Mr. Simon's own assertions it could also be pointed out that:


As far as we are aware there is no reason to suppose that William and James Legg were the same person, and it is really for Mr. Simon to establish that they were, if this is really his opinion.


Mr. Simon refers to the Poor Rate books and says rather carefully that "..it would appear that John Legg was recorded in 1803 and perhaps before". However he does not say that William Legg was recorded.


If this is the case, then two sets of official records have failed to show that William Legg the Nephew was residing with his wife and family at 163, High Holborn.



William Legg, The Nephew (1760-1823)


William Daniel Legg (1743-1806)

By Ellie Bennett

In 1985 the Rice portrait was relined and the process revealed a stamp on the back of the old linen

canvas. Duty was payable on linen in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and each piece of

cloth was required to be stamped with the supplier’s name and district of residence. In 2007 the

portrait was relined again and the stamp was again revealed to read: Wm. Legg High Holbourn I



There was an artist’s colourman named William Legg who traded from High Holborn for a short

period at the beginning of the nineteenth century. He appears in Kent’s Annual London Directory

for the years 1803-1806 and in Holden’s Triennial Directory and the Post Office London Directory

for 1805. However prior to 1801 William Legg was trading in Reading in partnership with his

brother John as a coach maker, painter and glazier. If the Rice portrait was indeed painted by

Ozias Humphry then it could not have been painted as late as 1801; Ozias Humphry ceased

to paint in 1797 when his eyesight, which had been deteriorating ever since a riding accident in

1771, failed him completely. It has been argued on the basis of this evidence that Ozias Humphry

could not have painted the Rice portrait. But there is another possibility of course - that William

Legg the colourman from Reading was not the William Legg that supplied the linen for the

canvas. Could there possibly have been another William Legg trading out of High Holborn and

supplying artists with linen canvas at an earlier date?


Such a proposition is not so unlikely as it may first appear. Because William Legg from Reading

was only trading as a colourman in High Holborn for a few years there are only two known linen

stamps attributed to him, both of which read W & J Legg/High Holborn/LINEN. These stamps are

therefore not the same as the stamp on the back of the Rice portrait; the spelling of ‘Holborn’

differs and there is no “J’ included on the Rice portrait stamp as there is on the other known stamps

of William Legg. It is not clear whether the ‘J’ on the stamp refers to William’s brother John. Poor rate records refer to a ‘John Legg’ at High Holborn in 1801 (pencilled in), in 1802 and 1803, but the land tax assessments record the previous occupant James Poole until 1803 and then a James Legg for 1804 and 1805. The identity of James Legg is not clear, there is no record of William and John having a brother called James. William Legg’s name does not appear in either the land tax or the poor rate books for 1801-1806.


So is there any evidence for another William Legg who might have traded in linen from the High Holborn area during the late 1780s? I have discovered one man who may indeed have done so, a certain William Daniel Legg.


William Daniel Legg was born in 1743 and baptised at St Sepulchre, Newgate Street, Holborn, London. His parents were Thomas and Mary Legg. A Thomas Legg married a Mary Thursby at St Sepulchre on 19 February 1739, probably then, this is William’s father and mother. Thomas Legg was a printer, stationer and carpenter from Deptford. In 1755, when he was fourteen years old, William Daniel Legg was apprenticed for seven years to John Norris of the Haberdasher’s Company. Norris is variously described in the records as a haberdasher and as a joiner. (Merchants in the eighteenth century were commonly pluralists utilising a variety of skills.) John Norris owned property at Cherry Tree Alley, Bunhill Row in London and traded as a ‘ready made linen draper’ at Cornhill, but his property was sold when he went bankrupt in December 1785.


William Daniel Legg had a brother, Thomas John Motley (sometimes Mottley) Legg, born in 1745. Motley is not a particularly common name. It also happens to be the name of the first wife of Jane Austen’s great uncle Francis Austen, the man responsible for commissioning the portrait. Anne Motley was the daughter of Thomas Motley of Beckenham, Kent . It is possible that Thomas Legg senior had a friend named either Thomas or John Motley and named his son after him. Naming a child after a valued friend or patron was common practice. It is also worth noting that Thomas Legg later mentioned in his will some property in Beckenham Lane, Bromley, not far from Thomas Motley’s Beckenham estate. This may, of course, be nothing but coincidence.


Thomas John Motley Legg was apprenticed in 1760 to the printer Halhed Garland. Garland had himself been apprenticed to the printer turned novelist Samuel Richardson who was so greatly admired by Jane Austen. As a young girl Jane may have borrowed Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison from Francis Austen’s second wife Jane (born Chadwick, later Lennard). Thomas John Motley Legg died suddenly in 1778. His father Thomas was now living at Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, Mayfair in the parish of St George Hanover Square. He, along with Alexander Grant of Mount Street and Robert Grant of White Rose Court, Coleman Street, London, are named in a document of the same date in which Thomas Legg applied for administration of his son’s property. Thomas John Motley Legg was buried in the family vault at St Paul’s, Deptford.


Like John Norris, William Daniel Legg is variously described as a haberdasher and joiner. He also had an interest in architecture, which at that time required no formal qualifications or training. He apparently obtained the patronage of Brownlow Cecil, the 9th Earl of Exeter and there are several building projects at the Earl’s estate at Burghley and at nearby Stamford attributed to him dating from the 1780’s onwards. His father’s will, written in 1790, describes him as ‘William Daniel Legg of Stamford in the county of Lincoln surveyor and architect’.


However William evidently also continued to trade in London as on 17 June 1797 he temporarily took over the apprenticeship of John Walters from the latter’s father Thomas Walters, a prosperous merchant in Shadwell, East London, who traded in ship’s biscuits, Irish provisions and sail cloth. (Sail cloth was made from the same or similar linen canvas as that used by artists for picture cloth. For more information on picture cloths see the National Portrait Gallery’s website.)


William Daniel Legg died in 1806 at Stamford and like his brother was buried in the family vault at St Paul’s church, Deptford. His father Thomas Legg had died five years earlier in 1801. William apparently did not marry or have children and I have not yet traced a will for him. But on 23 May 1806 the Stamford Mercury advertised an auction of his possessions to take place on 26 May 1806 and for five following days, which included over 400 books, a similar number of prints and ‘too great a variety of other valuable and good furniture to insert in an advertisement.’


Could William Daniel Legg have traded out of High Holborn in the 1780s? It is possible. His connections and origins were in the area and the streets of Holborn and High Holborn were one of the main trading areas for drapers in the late eighteenth century; the National Archives hold records for dozens of linen drapers trading here at the time. He was apprenticed for seven years by a haberdasher who traded just down the road at Cornhill and, despite his interests in Stamford, William Daniel Legg continued trading in London until at least 1797.


More research needs to be done. But the possibility cannot be discounted that in concentrating on the colourman from Reading we may have been looking at the wrong William Legg.


Ellie Bennett is a writer and researcher. She is currently writing a book on the portraits of Jane Austen.

The presence of an Excise stamp on the back of the Rice Portrait, reading Wm Legg,

High Holbourn 1, Linen, was first revealed when the painting was relined in the 1980’s.


Over a decade later, in 1996, the stamp was seized upon by Mr Jacob Simon of the

NPG, author and assembler of the NPG’s monumental British Artists’ Suppliers



Although he had not seen it and misquoted what it said, Mr Simon took this stamp

to be proof positive that the portrait could not represent Jane Austen, or be by Ozias



This was because he (Simon) could identify only one William Legg selling artists’ supplies in High Holborn in the period, and that was in 1803-1806 – when Jane was too old and Humphry was stone blind. Because of this objection, which was assumed by potential buyers to be the NPG’s official position on the Rice Portrait, the picture failed to sell at Christie’s New York in April, 2007.


We now know that there were at least two other William Leggs who could have been selling taxed linen in High Holborn in the 1780’s, when Ozias Humphry was working nearby and Jane Austen was in her early teens.


Indeed there were probably more.


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