Le Faye’s JASA Article: “Not Jane Austen’s Portrait”

June 16, 2013 at 5:52 pm (books, history, jane austen, jasna, portraits and paintings) (, , , , )

A few weeks ago I received the last issue of Persuasions, the Jane Austen Journal. Only today did I catch up with some reading! But I’ve a quick favor to ask of readers.

austen by elizaDeirdre Le Faye has written an article which appears in the JASA (Jane Austen Society of Australia) publication Sensibilities. Entitled, “Black Ink and Three Telltale Words; or, Not Jane Austen’s Portrait,” it is a lengthy article (pp. 18-30) which obviously propounds Le Faye’s thoughts against the portrait. I’d love to read it! If somone could forward a digital copy of the article, I’d be grateful. Otherwise, I’ll have to inquiry whether JASA has a copy of the publication available and snail mail it here to the States.

Readers of Two Teens in the Time of Austen might remember that there once was a possibility (early on…) that Eliza Chute — yes, Emma’s Aunt Chute — could have wielded the graphite stick and paintbrush:

I admitted to being a bit surprised that Paula Byrne could cite an upcoming article in her book on Austen hastily released in January (2013). It’s this very article, by Deborah Kaplan (Persuasions: “‘There she is at last’: The Byrne Portrait Controversy”), which in turn cites Le Faye’s article. From the article title (and, frankly, my memory of Byrne’s use of the article), I expected an out-and-out endorsement by Kaplan of this picture.

The Persuasions’ article isn’t as black and white as all that. In fact, Kaplan’s discussion is less on the portrait and more a critique of the BBC special cited above, “Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait?”. On the whole she makes some well-placed points about the TV program. Proponents for either pro or ante will find Kaplan’s thoughts of use.

{an aside: Kaplan is the author Jane Austen Among Women, which has its own lengthy discussion of Eliza Chute and her circle of acquaintance!}

I have long thought Byrne would have an uphill battle at any authentication of her portrait as portraying the Jane Austen. Why? The Eliza Chute Connection. If she had Eliza Chute as artist there was a chance that this portrait could have been done from life, could have been something few within the family remembered by the late 1860s, when Edward Austen was looking for a portrait of his late aunt to grace A Memoir of Jane Austen.

But the more I compared the “Austin” portrait with a known portrait done by Eliza Chute, the more I had to conclude that Eliza was not Byrne’s artist.

paula-maria

Anyone watching the BBC special that Christmas in 2011 would not have realized the portrait seen in the screen, sharing space with Byrne’s own face (above), WAS the reason Byrne contacted me a few months before the show aired.

Maria Lady Northampton

This is the portrait, on vellum, by Eliza Chute of her eldest sister Maria Lady Northampton. A similarity – in pose, for instance, is there for anyone to see. The execution, however (even though I have never seen EITHER portrait in the flesh), seems much more accomplished than that of the “Jane Austin”. As much as I had _hoped_ my Eliza had drawn her neighbor Jane Austin (and she did spell the family name this way), I think her a better artist, even if she might have become rusty by c1814.

If anyone can supply the Sensibilities article, please see email contact information under About the Author.

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