Austen Portraits??

JASNA has just recently made Persuasions No. 5  (1983) available online.  An alert Janeite (thanks Arnie!) raises a question on the article by Joan Austen-Leigh titled “Godmersham,”  on the auction of this property once owned by Austen’s brother Edward Austen Knight.  Also auctioned in that sale were two portraits of Jane Austen [reproduced below].  Does anyone know anything about these?  The Jane of the second portrait looks very much like the infamous “Rice” portrait, still questioned as actually being Jane:


Jane Austen - "Rice" portrait

The only two pictures of Jane that are continually bandied about are the two watercolors done by her sister Cassandra:












and this silhouette believed to be her:


Jane Austen silhouette? - circa 1810-1815

Has there been further research into these two mentioned in Austen-Leigh’s article?  They are lovely, the first being exactly as I have pictured Austen (and also seems to be very like the “improved” renditions of the past fifty years.)  Any thoughts appreciated…


Jane Austen - circa 1810, pencil & watercolor



Jane Austen - circa 1810, watercolor


P.S.  When I posted this this morning, I did not do any research and have since had a few comments and done a little detective work and do find a few mentions of these portraits.  See the comments below for more information and citations.  But as I have been out of the loop for a few days and have not been checking the other Austen sites and blogs, I did not realize that Laurel Ann at Austenprose had posted a bit on Austen’s various portraits just 2 days ago!…so please check her site for a great run-through of the many faces of Jane Austen!

13 thoughts on “Austen Portraits??

  1. The portrait above (1810) is in Jane Austen’s House on the wall in the drawing room (last time I went) with a note saying that it was possibly a portrait of Jane’s sister, Cassandra. Having spoken to one or two people there nobody seemed terribly sure and it was suggested that it might be someone younger than either Jane or Cassandra as indicated by the costume. I do think the features fit well with descriptions of the sisters, but it could be any family member. I’d love to hear if anyone knows anything else.


  2. Deb – just read about these two images while researching my post this week on portraits. In the book “Jane Austen in Context”, Cambridge Univeristy Press (2005) they are mentioned in the essay by Margaret Kirkham on page 75 under ‘Other Items’.

    “These two drawings, catalogued as portraits of Jane Austen by Christie’s in a sale of Godmersham House and its contents in June 1983. They disappeared into private ownership, nothing having been published on them since. It is unlikely, on the evidence available, tha the cataloguing was reliable.”

    How fortunate that Joan Austen-Leigh was tenatious enough to pursue copies from the new owners, or they might have been lost to the winds. Scholar Margaret Kirkham must not have known about the Austen-Leigh article in the 1983 issue of Persuasions. ;-)

    It appears that the two portraits have never been researched. One wonders if the Tritton family who purchasd Godmersham in 1936 also purchase its Regency era contents since they aquired the property from the Knight family. Were these two images part of the family posessions?

    On a side note of serendipity, the painting of the Tritton family in front of Godmersham by Rex Whistler is the same artist who did the stage sets and beautiful cover art for the program of the P&P stage production of 1936 in London.

    If the Tritton’s purchased Godmersham in 1936, one wonders if they saw the production and in some way were motivated to own a property connected to Austen’s family. The connection of the Whistler commision and the stage production seems eminent.

    Thanks for posting this Deb. The two portraits appear to be of differnt individuals. I do agree that the second portrait does look like the Rice portrait. The one of Jane sitting at a desk looks like Cassandra’s original sketch.

    Surprised that no further research on the images has been conducted.

    Cheers, LA


  3. Hello Jane & Laurel Ann, I confess to posting this quickly this morning without doing any research [bad idea!]. I was so excited to see the Persuasions No. 5 online (and anxiously awaiting the 1-4!) And of course now that I look at a few things I have, I see in “The Jane Austen Companion” [edited by J David Grey, Macmillan, 1986], there is an article by Helen Denman “the Portraits” that refers to these two watercolors [but no illustrations are provided]: “It is unknown whether these drawings had been at Godmersham since regency times. If they had, there is a chance that they may be authentic records of Jane Austen’s appearance, but they should perhaps be approached with caution. In the opinion of more than one expert, they may well have been painted substantially later in the 19th century. They are judged to be amateur work, and apparently no documentation that might authenticate them has been found. If we want to know what Jane Austen looked like, we must go back to the only real record we have, her sister’s unfinished sketch in the National Portrait Gallery.” [p.344]

    I also have the Todd book and see the article by Kirkham, which is an updated article originally published in 1983. It is interesting that she did not see this “Godmersham” article by Austen-Leigh with the actual portraits when she published the updated essay.

    The connection to the Tritton family is fascinating, so thanks for your sharp eyes on that Laurel Ann! Look forward to your post on the portraits.
    Thanks both for visiting!


  4. I’ve been looking through some of my paraphananlia. The sketch of Jane holding the quill according to Deirdre Le Faye in 2007 Jane Austen Society (UK) report sold for £2,160 at auction 6-9 June 1983, Godmersham sale at Christie’s. She says ‘it is very clearly a modern mock-up: a miniaturised version of the Memoir face has been awkwardly dabbed on to a body and background which is composed partly from a Hugh Thomson illustration showing Ellizabeth Bennet sitting at a writing table (George Allen edn1894) and partly from an HM Brock one of Fanny Price at her writing table (vol 2 Dent edn 1898) and must therefore be dated 1898 at the very earliest.’

    I think looking at the lower half of the gown that the Hugh Thomson illustration might have provided a starting point or inspiration, but I’m not sure I entirely agree with the rest of le Faye’s hypothesis. I wondered if it might have been done by Ellen G Hill, the sister of Constance who wrote Jane Austen, her homes and her friends. The style of the drawing looks later than Brock or Thomson and I do not think looks like a drawing of 1810 – but, unfortunately, I don’t suppose we will ever really know.

    Deirdre Le Faye’s paper included twenty imaginary portraits of Jane – there were a few I hadn’t seen before -very interesting.


  5. For some strange reason when I hit the number eight I sometimes get a smiley face on wordpress – the date of the Dent edition is eighteen ninety eight.


  6. Hello Jane, thanks for all that information! would love to see the whole of Le Faye’s article. Diana Birchall posted your comments about this article and Ellen Hill on the two listservs; and as she says, your view as an artist should be considered and appreciated. [I was not sure from your comment which of the portraits is the one at Chawton, the one with the desk or the other where she appears younger? I am trying to remember myself from the last time I was there, and will check my guidebook to see if it in in there.]

    As far as the smiley face – it comes up in any post whenever you write the number 8 at the end of sentence or in parentheses as far as I can tell. I assume somone at WordPress embedded it in a program and there is no avoiding it! – like an annoying mosquito, it just shows up now and then! …i can go in and edit, but then your next comment will make no sense…

    Thanks Jane for visiting with your excellent and informative comments!

    [and just adding that Laurel Ann at Austenprose just sent me the instructions for turning off the smiley faces! – so that’s the end of them! Thanks Laurel Ann!]


    • Hello Natalie- thanks for letting me know about your walking tours in Lyme! I was there several years ago and did all the Jane Austen stops – one jsut oges right back in time and nearly see Ann and Captain Wentworth and Louisa [and not to mention The French Lieutenant’w Woman!] – next time, I’ll call on you! – an absolutely lovely town – you must feel blessed to live there… [I will post about your tours on the blog soon…]
      Thanks for visiting!


  7. Claire Tomalin, in a biography about Jane, says that Cassandra was quite blonde. So, I don’t think that the portrait of “that girl” who has a round face was really Cassandra. Also, she has her mother’s nose. Did you all read this bio?


    • I wrote this last year, so had to read up on it all again! – so much confusion about all these portraits as we all wish for some substantiated and definitive piece to tell us what Austen and Cassandra actually looked like, as we do have of all the brothers. Yes, I have read the Tomalin biography, which is my favorite of them all out there [my favorite Tomalin biography is her work on Dickens’ mistress: The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, (New York, Knopf, 1991) – a great read.
      Thanks Noelia for visiting!


  8. I note you do not show an image of the James Stanier Clarke portrait of Jane Austen, contained in his Friendship Album. Although 100% proof is unavailable, a lot of research has been done suggesting it does depict Jane. Physiological experts say there is a strong chance that the same person sat for each of the Rice Portrait, the Cassandra Portrait and the Clarke Portrait. In addition there is a very strong similarity with the second Godmersham portrait. My father, Richard James Wheeler, wrote up his very convincing argument for the Clarke Portrait in his book “The Clarke Portrait of Jane Austen”.


    • Hello Mr. Wheeler, Yes, I am familiar with this portrait by Clarke, also the article by your father and Joan Klingel Ray, as well as his book [though alas! I don’t have a copy]. It is an interesting question – it does seem to depict Austen, yet the clothing seems so out of date, and the fact that Clarke did not make a note of who it was, as he did for most of the other drawings in his book, begs the question. I had wondered if perhaps he had drawn the portrait at a later date and the clothing may have been fuzzy in his memory.

      That post I did was done very quickly in response to the Persuasions 5 being posted online – it was not meant to be complete, and I did leave out the Clarke portrait – should do another post on it to put it out there for discussion. Thank you for visiting and letting me know that this portrait should indeed be included, even if it is only speculation!



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