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Is this a Portrait of Jane Austen?

April 23, 2012

Until September 2012 this early nineteenth century portrait, above, will be on show to visitors to the Museum.  It is here, temporarily on loan, courtesy of Dr. Paula Bryne, who is currently writing a new biography of Jane Austen.

Dr. Bryne, who owns the portrait, is investigating as to whether it really could be a depiction of Jane Austen. Currently, many art history and Austen experts are discussing its virtues, and are deciding if it is another portrait of her. At present there is only one authenticated full-face portrait of Jane Austen, and this is her sister Cassandra’s sketch of her which is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London, and which you can view by clicking on this link here.

You may have seen a recent BBC documentary about Dr Byrne’s portrait, which was screened on BBC2 on Boxing Day 2011, and so you might be curious to see it “in the flesh”.

We would love to know what you think about it. Could this be a portrait of Jane Austen ? Is this how you envisage she would  have looked, or not? We would love to hear your views, and hope that lots of you will come to the museum to see it. Do note that there is a book available at the Museum where you can record your thoughts and comments on the portrait, as we are very interested to know what our visitors think of it. And of course,  if you can’t get to the Museum to see it, you can always leave your comments here.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. cathyallen permalink
    April 23, 2012 3:28 pm

    Julie, I’ve been following the debate about this picture (notice I do not use the word portrait, which means it is taken from life) ever since you brought it to our attention on your own blog, AustenOnly. I am skeptical, for a lot of the reasons I’ve read, there, and elsewhere. I’ll add my own, prosaic and unscientific reason: the lady in the picture is so homely! It’s my understanding that Cassandra’s sketch was considered by their niece to be like Aunt Jane, but not pretty enough. This picture looks to me like someone, probably long after her death, took Jane Austen’s brothers’ portraits and sort of “feminized” them, and created a “portrait” out of that. Who knows? It’s very interesting, and I’d like to be able to see it in person, but that’s not likely. Thank you.

  2. garmard permalink
    April 23, 2012 3:44 pm

    The portrait shows a lady of professional standing by her demeanour alone, she is holding a quill by a writing desk which would suggest a writer….This has got to be a depiction or an actual portrait of our Miss Austen…hasn’t ti?

  3. garmard permalink
    April 23, 2012 4:02 pm

    The demeanour of which the lady in the portrait is sitting suggests to me a person of a professional standard; as she is by a desk holding a quill she is obviously a writer of some description? I followed with an open mind the documentary last Boxing day, and came to my own conclusion then that this was Miss Jane Austen, she has the Austen aquiline nose; and evidence of the canvas and materials used points to the early 19th Century, as well as the attire.
    The only draw back i hold is that I have always carried a profound romantic picture in my head of Jane Austen, one of dark cascades of curls about her shoulders and deep far-away eyes, the lady in the portrait looks straight-laced and plain-spoken and somewhat like headmistress material.

    I would love to know what others determine this portrait as?

  4. Lila permalink
    April 23, 2012 4:22 pm

    Hmmm… this is certainly mind-boggling. 🙂 …an intriguing discovery… Thank you for sharing this with those who are too far away to visit.

    But what makes you connect this portrait with Jane Austen? Was it found in the cottage?
    Is it not signed at all?… ahh…
    Ok, I can say, that the woman is definitely pleasant-looking. Sweet, intelligent and delicate features… At first I thought : “No, it’s not Jane!” But now I don’t mind it being her 🙂
    I compared this portrait with the silhouette of her, which was the first thing that came to mind, and I thought the nose of the silhouette looked smaller… Now, after studying the authenticated portrait as well, I think that it *could* be her. Younger her…

    But how can anyone be sure? The scrutiny of portraits unconfirmed by facts is of little use, right?… :}

  5. April 23, 2012 5:52 pm

    I think it’s Jane Austen but not done from life. I doubt she would have posed for a portrait with her pen.

    • garmard permalink
      April 23, 2012 8:38 pm

      Could the portrait been done purposefully for a novel maybe PoohBear?
      Maybe an early form of bio pic that introduces the reader to the author.
      Or am I just grabbing at straws?

  6. garmard permalink
    April 23, 2012 8:46 pm

    Could the portrait be her idea of projecting herself more as a writer?
    Maybe for her next novel even PoohBear?

  7. jfwakefield permalink*
    April 24, 2012 2:04 pm

    Thank you,Cathy, garmard,Lila and QNPoohBear for you thoughts on the portrait. They are fascinating. It certainly encourages discussion 😉

    • Lila permalink
      April 25, 2012 1:32 pm

      Oh, well, I obviously am not knowledgeable on the subject, so could I have said anything clever? :o) I haven’t seen that documentary and I know nothing of this portrait’s history, nor have I met Jane… 😀 So…

      Well, *today* I’m *not* inclined to think it *is* she…

      “mystery” will remain a “mystery”.

      I would love to read a bit more about this portrait though…

  8. janeaustensequels permalink
    May 10, 2012 4:56 pm

    I don’t think this is drawn from life, but what I find fascinating is that the eyes, as in both Cassandra’s portrait and the Rice portrait have a slight ‘boss-eyed’ appearance. This trait becomes more apparent if you trace the features on tracing paper. Henry Austen said in his biographical notice of the preface to NA and Persuasion that ‘Her features were separately good.’ This is a statement that’s always puzzled me slightly, and I wonder if perhaps her eyes were not quite in line with the other.
    I wonder if the artist knew Jane Austen, and it is their interpretation – perhaps a close friend or admirer of her books.
    I’ve always thought that the portrait of Anna Austen, Jane’s niece, is very close to how I imagine the grown-up Jane Austen would have looked.


  1. That “Portrait ” of Jane Austen: a round up of the latest news « Austenonly

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