Okay, so first of all, I am sorry I haven’t posted in a million months, it was a hard winter and a busy spring. But I am finally getting around to feeling like writing and reading again. With that said, I haven’t been idle; I’ve had several fun projects that I cannot wait to share. However, for my return to blogging I wanted to talk about some big news I read about today on my personal blogging hero’s website, Austenonly authored by J Wakefield. Ms. Wakefield is well read and researched about all things Austen, and her knowledge base really comes through in her writing. Her blog posts cover everything from Austen’s contemporaries, Georgian and Regency England, culture, medicine, fashion and other interesting tidbits even loosely associated with Jane Austen. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of Austen there is something to glean from each and every post.
But what caught my eye this morning was her blog post about the disputed Rice Portrait. Please, please, please follow the link to read the full article. Ms. Wakefield presents a very nice paraphrase of the portrait’s history, along with an argument for its authenticity. However, the short of it is this (the paraphrase of a paraphrase if you will):
The portrait was purportedly painted by portrait artist Ozias Humphry, and was commissioned while Jane was visiting her great-uncle, Francis Austen, in 1789. She would have been 13 at the time. It was passed down in the Kent Austen family until 1817 when it was given to a close friend of Francis Austen’s grandson, Thomas Harding-Newman, as a wedding present. Harding- Newman incorrectly credited painter Johan Zaffany with the execution of this painting. Unfortunately, this caused problems for the painting’s eventual owners, the Rice family, further down the road when they tried to authenticate the painting in the 1940’s. Since that time the painting has been a source of controversy and debate.
Critics argued that the clothes, hair and style of the painting suggest it was painted after 1800- when Jane would have been older than the girl pictured. However, the big news is that recent digital analysis of photographs taken of the painting in 1910 have revealed writing on the painting. Apparently, because the painting was cleaned so extensively over the decades, the writing is no longer visible, and these photographs from 1910 are the best evidence of what the painting looked like in its original state.
When the writing is enhanced the name “Jane Austen” is legible, along with the name “Ozias Humphry” in two places!!! Please check out the images here on the Rice Portrait’s website.
As enthusiastic Jane Austen fans know there is yet another painting that claims to picture Ms. Austen, and it too is hotly debated. Austenonly has several excellent updates regarding this dispute, and I invite you to check these out as well. It is interesting to see what experts have to say about Austen and possibly project on her; it is also neat to read about painting authentication in action!
This takes me back to my undergrad days when I took a class headed by the esteemed Dr. Gura. One day, or perhaps on several occasions, he mentioned to his class that he had in his possession a contested albumen photograph of Emily Dickinson. Currently there is only one known image of Emily Dickinson. Dr. Gura was, at the time, vigorously trying to authenticate the photograph, and to my knowledge he has yet to succeed definitively. However, when you see the image, one must admit it is rather striking; and I have always believed his argument tenable. Please read his full story here. Dr. Gura’s picture is below, but I also want to leave you with Ms. Dickinson’s own description of her physical appearance; “[I] am small, like the Wren, and my Hair is bold, like the Chestnut Bur–and my eyes, like the Sherry in the Glass, that the Guest leaves.”