Could This Be the Only Existing Image of Jane Austen as a Teenager?

Today's tidbit of ladynews: A long-contested portrait may in fact be the only image we have of Jane Austen as a teenager. Learn more about it here!

Could This Be the Only Existing Image of Jane Austen as a Teenager?

Today’s tidbit of ladynews: A long-contested portrait may in fact be the only image we have of Jane Austen as a teenager. Learn more about it here!

-Lucia Peters

Teenage Jane Austen

Today in neat-o ladynews, we bring you this: Jane Austen’s works are known far and wide. What she looks like, however, is not. In fact, one of the most intriguing things about the Regency-era novelist who brought us Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and so many other glorious stories, is that she very rarely posed for portraits. Only two pictures are known to exist—until now.

Thanks to the magic of digital photo analysis, a new image of the incomparable Miss Austen has quite possibly been found. A recent article in the Guardian detailed that the top right corner of a reproduction of a photograph taken of a canvas (convoluted? A little, but work with me, here) featuring a young teenage girl revealed the names Jane Austen and Ozias Humphry. Humphry just so happens to have been one of the era’s known portrait painters. Could the teenage girl depicted in the portrait in fact be Jane Austen as a young woman?

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The portrait is owned by the Rice family, who are direct descendants of one of Jane’s brothers. It first surfaced in the late 19th century, and ever since then, its legitimacy has been questioned. The Rice family states that it was painted when Jane was 13 during a family visit to her uncles home in 1789; since the 1940s, though, art experts led by London’s National Portrait Gallery have noted that “the style of the girl’s dress and the general composition date the painting after 1800.” If this were the case, Jane would have been 20 years old and therefore significantly older than the girl shown in the portrait.

Ozias Humphry’s signature may be the thing that finally proves the portrait’s validity, however. The photo of the portrait was taken somewhere around 1910; that was when photographer Emery Walker was appointed to snap shots of a collection of Jane’s letters. Because of this fact, it’s impossible to know whether Humphry actually signed the portrait himself of whether a later owner did; but, because the painting is by a known artist (allegedly, at least), it’s likely that during his—and Jane’s—lifetime, it was attributed to him. In the words of Professor Claudia Johnson of Princeton University, “Whether Humphry’s name was signed by himself in the 18th century and/or by some other hand later, the attribution must be contemporaneous with Austen’s lifetime or by people who knew Austen when she was alive.”

Even in spite of the question still surrounding the portrait, it’s pretty neat, right? We think so!

Tell us: What’s your favorite Jane Austen novel?

Lucia Peters is BettyConfidential’s associate editor.

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