Rice Portrait’s Saga Continues

January 24, 2019 at 11:30 am (history, jane austen, news, portraits and paintings) (, , , )

The Guardian (23 January 2019) ran a story discussing a new piece of evidence about a portrait in the Rice family. The Rices have long contended that their portrait – seen as a frontispiece in two Austen-related books – is a youthful depiction of the writer Jane Austen.

The entire history is laid out in the website THE RICE PORTRAIT OF JANE AUSTEN.


I was asked last year if I had *any* idea who might have written a snippet found inside an envelope entitled “History of the portrait of Jane Austen”. Readers of Two Teens in the Time of Austen will know that I deal with Emma Smith – who, in 1828 married James Edward Austen. It was their Austen Leigh children that I searched amongst for a matching handwriting sample. Most were wholly inconsistent; in fact, I told my correspondent at the time that I could more confidently say who had NOT written the history.

Running out of “contenders,” I wondered, while I typed, “Could it be a Lefroy.”

THE RICE PORTRAIT OF JANE AUSTEN came to the rescue: included was a small image of Fanny Caroline Lefroy’s handwriting (from a letter at the Hampshire Record Office), and there was the same handwriting!

The two letters are probably of an age. The snippet is undated. The letter is dated only by Month and date. A mention by F.C. Lefroy (as the letter writer signed herself) of her dashed hopes of having cousin Mary (probably Emma and Edward’s daughter Mary Augusta Austen Leigh) to stay during “the Congress” surely dates the HRO letter to October 1883. The Church Congress, which moved around the country in different years, was held in Reading in 1883 – and Fanny Caroline Lefroy’s letterhead places her at “Uppercross” in a ‘suburb’ outside of Reading.

Some of the most interesting evidence comes under the website categories DRESS and OZIAS HUMPHRY.

I must say, the misattribution of the artist in the 19th century reminds me of the persistence of George Romney as the painter of Mrs. Drummond Smith – later restored to the catalogue of Joshua Reynolds.  Indeed, it hangs in the “Reynolds Room” at Castle Ashby, the estate of the Marquess of Northampton (during Emma Austen’s lifetime, her uncle [1st Marquess] and cousin [2nd Marquess]).



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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.


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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New York Times reviews Jane Austen

February 28, 2013 at 8:04 pm (books, jane austen) (, , , , )

real austenClick the picture to go to the New York Times review of The Real Jane Austen.

(for my own review: click here)

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The Real Jane Austen (review)

February 3, 2013 at 9:47 pm (books, history, jane austen) (, , , , )

Jane Austen’s love struck Harriet Smith (Emma) collected trinkets cast off by the Rev. Mr Elton to which no one else would have given much attachment: a stub of pencil and a “court plaister”. Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things attempts to construct “scenes” from the novelist’s life through a series of objects. Some scenes are more successful than others; a few trot out the same stories found in most other Austen biographies.

real austenDespite the cover blurb about the “innovativeness” of examining a life through its objects, a similar context (using the subject’s actual artwork) was accomplished in 2011 by Molly Peacock in her admirable The Paper Garden: Mrs Delany begins her life‘s work at 72. Here, Byrne’s items are less personal, leading to a glossed-over view of the make-up of the Austen household (chapter 1) or the influence of the vivacious cousin, Eliza Hancock (chapter 2). Chapter 4 offers less-typical territory. In reviewing authors and reading matter known to have influenced Austen — evidenced by Fanny Burney’s subscription list for Camilla in which “Miss J. Austen, Steventon” appears — Byrne opens the door to a discussion of other “family” authors, Cassandra Hawke and Cassandra Cooke, as well as Burney herself. The chapter could have developed an in-depth look at the rise of the female writer, positioning Austen within the scope of those whom she admired (or disparaged). Instead, its thrust plays the same card found throughout Byrne’s biography: that Austen was a “born” writer, whose genius simply had to find the right outlet. Such a facile conclusion to many of the concepts fails to dig into the life and times of Austen or her family. The heft of the book is less dependent on the insightfulness of the chapters than to their proliferation (18 chapters; prologue and epilogue).

Those interested in the bicentenaries of Austen publications who may grab at The Real Jane Austen as a “first” biography (being new and readily available) will be rewarded in learning about Austen’s life, the “scenes” allowing for small bytes of information; anyone coming to the biography from the mass of other Austen biographies already out in the marketplace will happily read it, but also notice the well-trod ground Byrne walks. Byrne’s “revealing” method sounded ready to eschew the sameness of other biographies, which is the decided challenge when dealing with Austen’s life.

Despite all the “spilled ink,” there have been few new discoveries since the last Austen biography. Methodological approach, therefore, is all important. As is compelling writing. In the earliest chapters Byrne tends to passive voice, as when describing the objects singled out for contemplation:

“This is a watercolour of Lyme Regis on the southern coast of England… A man and a woman are walking on the beach and a solitary figure is looking out to sea. A rowing boat is on its way out to a ship at anchor in the bay.” [prologue]

“All the faces are turned towards the young boy. He is being passed to one of the two fashionably dressed women with powdered hair who are sitting at the table playing chess.” [chapter 1]

To begin each chapter with “a description of the image that sets its theme,” and then have the image represented opposite in a drawing (by Sara Mulvanny) rather than inserting its plate seems a bit of a wasted effort. (Plates are collected together, four pages at a time, a few chapters away.) It takes until chapter 4 to really “introduce” Jane Austen.

Not all the objects are “personal” items; but each does cause Byrne to narrow her focus. The brothers fare better, with more concentrated treatment; for instance, Henry Austen in Ch. 7 ‘The Cocked Hat’ and “the sailor brothers” in Ch. 14 ‘The Topaz Crosses’.  Sister Cassandra Austen, in the chapter ‘The Sisters’ (the image is a dual portrait of sisters-in-law Charlotte Trevanion [née Hosier] and Georgiana Trevanion), never really leaves the period of Cassandra’s engagement and bereavement. To have looked at Cassandra’s life beyond the lifetime of her sister would have been welcome. Byrne’s assessment of Cassandra donning “widow’s weeds” (as opposed to being dressed in mourning for her fiancé Tom Fowle) leads to the presumption that from that point onwards both Austens pointedly decide to remain spinsters. Byrne heavily associates Austen’s life experiences as coloring her fiction. It is fun to wonder if Austen satirized a relation or sentimentalized a gift, say, of a topaz cross. This mindset does bring insight to certain moments from the novels, but one must tread carefully not to ascribe too much to biographical claim. Or to supposition without supporting evidence.

Reading Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things is like listening to Public Radio lately: always enjoyable, but many performances of the same work. Radio has to contend with tightening fiscal budgets; one assumes finances not a problem for Byrne, or HarperCollins. Perhaps the constraint was time: Get out a biography while the Portrait controversy is still warm. It is puzzling, for instance, that many online sources were accessed in the summer of 2012. The biography in fact cites a Persuasions article about the portrait that is yet to be published (Byrne saves a short mention of her “Jane Austin” portrait till the end — Ch. 17, ‘The Royalty Cheque’). As the chapters progress, the thrust of each becomes more focussed, more probing. Time spent in culling dull phraseology (“Jane Austen loved…”), or in honing the point behind the choice of each object would have produced a tighter argument for the presentation of Austen’s life via the “highly innovative technique” of chapter themes.

The most absorbing chapters fully utilize their objects to explore Austen’s life and, of course, her work. In spite of a few mistakes (including the dust jacket, which IDs the adopted Edward Knight as Jane’s eldest brother), a few over-reaching suppositions, and some little repetition, the themes raised in The Real Jane Austen will entice its audience to give Austen’s own works a well-deserved, and better-informed, (re)read.

three and a half filled ink wells

* * *

The Guardian (UK)

The Independent (UK)

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Kirkus Reviews Real Jane Austen (Byrne)

January 15, 2013 at 12:46 pm (books, jane austen) (, , , , , , )

Two weeks before publication, those of us without a subscription to Kirkus can read a book’s review. Hard to tell, really, whether the unnamed reviewer of The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things is enthusiastic or slightly bored.

real austenWhat makes me say that? The very first sentence: “For Austen obsessives, this latest study offers a few flashes of revelation amid long stretches of minutiae.”

Obsessives?!? {must say, I rather resent such a word}

Long stretches of minutiae?

I wrote of liking the progression through the life of Mary Delany in Molly Peacock’s The Paper Garden (highly recommended!); and really appreciated the idea of a focus on objects as a way to talk about Austen’s life (granted, the “facts” are well-known).

That “she [Austen] was more worldly than many might suspect” elicits an ‘of course’ response from me. Even those stuck in a small village had news from the “outside” – via papers, letters, visitors.  But I must hold judgement in the value of Byrne’s supposition that “the author was ‘a very well-travelled woman’…” VERY well-travelled? Certainly not to the degree of the Smiths & Goslings, with their sometimes lengthy trips to the Continent, never mind frequent travel through much of southern England and several branchings-off into Wales. Young Edward Austen (Emma’s eventual husband, and son of James Austen – Jane’s eldest brother) does not seem to have had half the opportunity of young Emma to learn languages and travel abroad.

In general, how does Byrne measure “well-travelled”?

To comments culled from Byrne that Austen “‘very much enjoyed shopping'” and “was ‘a dedicated follower of fashion’…”, I can only add that I see the same evidence in my Two Teens.

Can’t wait to read more about the “phobia” Byrne saddles Austen with, when it comes to childbirth. I think women held no illusions 200-years ago about childbirth, and just the amount of deaths associated with it within one’s circle of acquaintance should have given any woman pause. But does it really come across in the book as a ‘phobia’? Time will tell, once I’ve read it!

Do _I_ expect revelations? Hardly. The primary materials currently in use typically recycle the same “facts”. A lot about Paula Byrne’s new biography will depend on presentation and writing.

I expect my copy in early February…

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Paula Byrne: The Real Jane Austen

December 15, 2012 at 1:20 pm (books, jane austen) (, , , , , , )

I was planning to read Paula Byrne‘s biography of Jane Austen — how could I not?!? Not after the near-miss of having Jane’s portrait sketched by the likes of Eliza Chute (which I no longer think probable).

But so many biographies! So little *new* information…

However, after reading the following publisher’s description, I’m rather looking forward to it. So enjoyable to think of items and how they illuminate small pieces of a whole – like someone’s life.

Publisher’s preview of The Real Jane Austen (2013)

Who was the real Jane Austen? Overturning the traditional portrait of the author as conventional and genteel, bestseller Paula Byrne’s landmark biography reveals the real woman behind the books, exploring the forces that shaped the interior life of Britain’s most beloved novelist.

Byrne uses a highly innovative technique whereby each chapter begins from an object that conjures up a key moment or theme in Austen’s life and work—a silhouette, a vellum notebook, a topaz cross, a laptop writing box, a royalty cheque, a bathing machine, and many more. The woman who emerges in this biography is far tougher, more socially and politically aware, and altogether more modern than the conventional picture of ‘dear Aunt Jane’ would allow. Published to coincide with the bicentenary of Pride and Prejudice, this lively and scholarly biography brings Austen dazzlingly into the twenty-first century.

I, of course!, can never denigrate the Memoir: there is no denying that James Edward Austen Leigh knew his ‘Aunt Jane’ extremely well; and unlike many of the next generation of Austen offspring, he was in his late teens when she died — old enough to retain memories, and he was a bit of a jotter-down as well.

In applying for the Leon Levy Fellowship in Biography, I cited two books that I find useful in writing biography: The “slice” of life approach that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich used in her winning A Midwife’s Tale — whereby vignettes in Martha Ballard’s life are closely examined. (Martha Ballard left one diary… The Smiths and Goslings have left TONS of material.) And the more recent Behind Closed Doors, in which Amanda Vickery dissects the lives of dozens of letter-writers and diary-keepers in order to open a window on their Georgian World. (I have about as many people – and they’re all one family!) How to “handle” a mass of material is almost as difficult as how to present slimmer pickings… Personally, I can’t wait to read about Austen’s vellum notebook and her royalty check!

Here’s the two covers I’ve come across:


real austen



In mulling over the (presumed) emphasis in The Real Jane Austen this morning, I was rather pleasantly surprised to finally remember where such a treatment had been utilized to great success: The Paper Garden, by Molly Peacock.

Molly Peacock’s device of choosing one “flower mosaic” made by Mary Delany, and discussing its history and her history at a certain point in life, be it youthful marriage or elderly patronage by the Queen of England, was a fascinating way to encounter both the artist and her art. I hope Byrne uncovers her “real” Austen half so skillfully. (By the way, I hope someone at Harper-Collins corrects this notice of the book – whereby Edward Austen Knight has usurped his brother JAMES for the mantle of “eldest Austen” sibling!)

If you wish to read an excellent biography, while awaiting the Austen release, do think about Mary Delaney (1700-1788):

paper garden2

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The Thrill of a FIND: a new Emily Dickinson?

September 9, 2012 at 12:19 pm (fashion, history, news, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , , , )

A quick “share” today of the news that has been making headlines lately — for I can certainly share in the excitement of the finding, even if I could never spend five years trying to authentic said find!

So a couple of quick links to pass the story on:

After spending the weekend in search of a new Smith of Suttons letter, I can say that all finds —  any single find — is important to a researcher. How wonderful that the private collector came forward and revealed this picture to the world!

* * *

NB: some after-thoughts: How wonderful to read that the public is being asked to come forth and maybe provide (for OR against) more information. Even with all the overwhelming thoughts about the sitters, the “experts” still wonder IS this Dickinson?? — compare this “search for the truth” with the publicity surrounding the “Jane Austin” portrait in Paula Byrne’s hands.

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More Jane Austen Portrait News

June 12, 2012 at 3:17 pm (jane austen, jasna, news, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , , , )

Kate in Norfolk sent the following link, about the Rice Portrait: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2156805/The-teenage-Jane-Austen-Fresh-evidence-divisive-portrait-13-year-old-girl-really-loved-author.html

TheDaily Mail’s story undoubtedly gives the family some encouragement about authenticity. Although, it also sheds light on the possible artist!

Read the article, then visit the “Rice Portrait” website. For more on Paula Byrne’s “Austin” portrait, see her website.

Art History News discusses “written” IDs on works, which rather echoes my own thoughts – especially after the Byrne portrait’s incongruous handwriting (see earlier posts on that portrait for a picture of the inscription Miss Jane Austin).

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Who was Miss Jane Austen / Austin

April 15, 2012 at 2:06 pm (fashion, history, jane austen, london's landscape, news, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , , , , , )

In the Times Literary Supplement a wonderfully-informative and well-balanced piece by Paula Byrne entitled “Who Was Miss Jane Austin“.

The beginning tracks some of the Byrne portrait’s “back story” – part of a collection, the purchase by Byrne; some theories and dialogue. The TV program gets a couple mentions.

And then what I was waiting for: MORE!

Readers learn about the precise architecture featured on the right – not only St Margaret’s and Westminster Abbey, but also Westminster Bridge is visible, as is a building on Bridge Street.

A possible 1st-floor window is proposed: one belonging in the premises of a Rev Edward Smedley (1750-1825), evidently (from his letters) an Austen Fan! And his wife was the former Harriet Bellas (1754-1825). A very familiar name…Bellas.


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Pictures worth a 1000 words

January 22, 2012 at 12:00 pm (british royalty, diaries, history, jane austen, news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

This picture isn’t worth only the proverbial “thousand words,” it was also worth a £1000 to the lucky purchaser at a November 2011 Bonhams auction. The sitter: Mamma Smith’s aunt, Susannah Mackworth Smith (wife of Thomas Smith of Bersted Lodge, Bognor).

Emma’s diaries mention a near-yearly visit to Bersted; though very little is said about the Aunt and Uncle found there… AH, joys and frustrations of working with primary materials. You wish people would ‘spill their guts’; instead they tempt you with teasing clues.

You can see the entire Susannah Smith miniature at Bonhams‘ website. If you search for Mackworth Praed you will also find her twin sister (Arabella, Countess of Mayo; a lady attached to the household of Queen Adelaide); and two of their brothers.

Susannah has not been my only *find* recently. Gosh! so many families purging themselves of ancestral miniatures… Don’t know which is more depressing: people selling their ancestors or all those portraits of “A Lady” or “A Gentleman” who could be someone in the Smith & Gosling family and friend tree!

{Hell, there even could be some Austens out there… going through life as unnamed Ladies and Gents.}

Another family member “found” and not yet discussed, although I posted her portrait a short bit ago, is Frances Anne Seymour — who married Spencer Smith. I actually have a photograph of Frances, granted – as photography was a later medium, taken when she was in her late 50s. Still so much FUN to compare the two, young “Bride” Frances and older “Matriarch” Frances. She, too, sold through Bonhams (in 2008). Note that on the website her middle name is spelled Ann; oh, spelling differences just kills me! {And Paula Byrne thinks she has problems with Austin… Try Jelfe/Jelph; Dickins/Dickens; Du Val/Duval; Susan/Susannah/Susanna; and a whole host of others… Never mind, just trying to find people named SMITH!}

Frances and Spencer were the parents of the trio of girls whose miniatures sold at auction I discussed in December. They sold through Christie’s. Mike E., who photographed the album into which Frances and her three daughters were “pasted,” was surprised yet happy that the girls had sold as one lot. May they remain together!

Emma Rutherford‘s Facebook page offers some fascinating reading about the world of miniatures and silhouettes. Let’s face it, for most of my people — even those who lived into older age and photography — these are the types of images that (might) survive. Emma has a new article out in Homes & Antiques Magazine; I’ve unearthed an earlier conversation on miniatures from the same magazine. Her February 2012 article is on silhouettes. Not sure how easy it is to find the magazine in the US. You can read more about Emma Rutherford at her website. Emma kindly alerted Two Teens readers to an article on the Byrne Jane Austen portrait.

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