A picture claimed to be the only oil portrait of Jane Austen is to be sold in America because opposition from the National Portrait Gallery which refuses to support its authenticity makes it harder to sell in this country.
Henry Rice, the owner of the disputed portrait and a sixth generation descendant of England's favourite woman novelist, said yesterday that it was "a scandal" that the picture would be lost to Britain. He also said that he was fed up with "effectively being called a liar" by those who questioned the painting's origins.
The portrait purportedly shows Austen at the age of 13 or 14 in 1788 or 1789, looking a little chubby with a joke playing about her lips in a flowing white dress and holding a green parasol. It is thought to have been painted by the British society painter Ozias Humphrey who has placed his subject walking in fields near her family home in Hampshire.
The portrait, measuring 5ft by 3ft, passed down to Mr Rice through generations of the family Jane Austen's brother, Edward. It only came to prominence in 1884 when it featured as the frontispiece of the first published collection of Austen's letters and for 60 years after, it was accepted as the most important image of the novelist.
The National Portrait Gallery attempted to buy it from Mr Rice's father in the 1930s but then in 1948 came a bombshell when Dr R W Chapman, a prominent Austen scholar, dated the dress in the picture to 1805 when Jane would have been aged 30. It was also suggested that Jane's father, an impoverished country vicar, could not have afforded such fine clothes for his third child and that it was possibly a portrait on Jane's distant cousin, Jane Motley Austen.
Since, experts' opinions have raged back and forthand on five occasions, Mr Rice offered to sell the picture to the NPG but the gallery declined.
In 1998, Jacob Simon, a curator at the NPG, revealed that during a restoration, the lining of the picture had been removed and revealed a tax stamp paid by the canvas supplier - "Wm Legg, High Holborn, London". Mr Simon said that Legg was recorded as working in Holborn for only four years from 1802, which would put Jane in her late twenties, not at all like the young girl in the portrait.
Mr Rice claimed yesterday that fresh research in the last 10 years - notably by Professor Claudia Johnson of Princeton University and Brian Southam, chairman of the Jane Austen Society - backed his claims that the portrait was genuine. He said that the date of the tax stamp was "not reliable"and that it had been found that Jane had a cousin at the court of Marie Antoinette in France who sent fashionable cloth to the Austen family for dresses.
Mr Rice said: "This picture has never left out family and has always been a portrait of Jane. Effectively we have been called liars.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Another Jane Austen Story
From the Telegraph: