A Portrait of Jane Austen – right here in Vermont!

There are any number of images of Jane Austen – the one real one we have by Cassandra that all her family agreed was not a great rendering, and the other Cassandra portrait of her sister in bonnet and dress looking out.  Both have only increased one’s wondering what she really looked like… so as it seems in all things in Austenland, if there isn’t something real, let’s by all means make it up! 

The many fictional images of Jane Austen have become almost as much a part of our idea of what she looked like as the one real image we cling to.  In the Jane Austen Society Report for 2007, Deirdre Le Faye writes on these “Imaginary Portraits” [1], listing them in chronological order, and explaining the history and provenance of each one.  [a must-have article for your Jane Austen Library!] – this one perhaps the one we most often see as the “real Jane”:

"Wedding ring portrait" - unknown American artist 1873

 But today, there is only one these portraits that Le Faye mentions that is of interest to us – the painting by Tom Clifford, from Vermont!  This what Le Faye writes:

Tom Clifford, 2001.  Three-quarter length, oil on birch-wood panel, 10×14 inches.  This is a rather stylized, two-dimensional representation, showing JA holding a book and standing in the garden outside Chawton Cottage as it is today, looking away from the viewer into the right distance.  In his article on the website, the artist explains that he tried to combine Cassandra’s sketch with the Austen family features as shown in the various portraits of Jane Austen’s parents and siblings – though the accounts to which he refers are unfortunately quoted inaccurately.  The resulting study is fairly like Cassandra’s sketch, but shows a very static, expressionless Jane Austen.  Clifford used to live in Winchester and often visited Chawton; he now lives in America, and retains ownership of the portrait.

[I will note that the image reproduced in the JAS Report is very dark compared to the original.]

Fast-forward to 2011.  I had been reading this Le Faye article because another imaginary portrait went up for auction in March of this year [see my post here: https://janeausteninvermont.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/on-the-block-an-imaginary-jane-austen/ ], and my thoughts must have been floating around in cyberspace [at least in this high-quality Vermont air!] when I received an email from a Tom Clifford telling me about his Jane Austen portrait – indeed THE Tom Clifford that Le Faye was writing about – so it all came together – an Austen image I was vaguely familiar with, Le Faye’s article, and a Mr. Clifford from Vermont! 

An aside: now Jane Austen herself writes of a Mr. Clifford in her juvenilia – the Mr. Clifford famous for his carriages, and the one clue to alert us to how familiar Austen was with the means of travel in her time!:  

“The Memoirs of Mr. Clifford: and Unfinished Tale” [MW 43],  written between 1787-90, when Austen was 12 – 15 years old:   

Mr Clifford lived at Bath; and having never seen London, set off one Monday morning determined to feast his eyes with a sight of that great Metropolis.  He travelled in his Coach & Four, for he was a very rich young Man & kept a great many Carriages of which I do not recollect half.  I can only remember that he had a Coach, a Chariot, a Chaise, a Landau, a Landaulet, a Phaeton, a Gig, a Whiskey, an Italian Chair, a Buggy, a Curricle & a wheelbarrow.  He had likewise an amazing fine stud of Horses.  To my knowledge he had six Greys, 4 Bays, eight Blacks & a poney.

 [Minor Works, Oxford UP, 1988, p. 43. One more page will show that Mr. Clifford does not get very far and despite his having all manner of carriages, travels at a snail’s pace for many months, is overtaken by a fever, never makes it nearly to his goal of London, and thus ends the tale of Mr. Clifford…]

Well, Vermont has its own Mr. Clifford and he has had no trouble or delay at all in getting from his end of Vermont to our meetings in Burlington! – he has attended the last two, and I had asked him to bring along his prints for sale, your truly very happy to add one to her Austen Library.  Our Mr. Clifford also has a piece of wood from the Winchester house where Jane Austen died, acquired when he lived in Winchester and the house on College Street was being refurbished – so that was an interesting piece for us to actually touch.     

But now back to the portrait, which hangs in a place of honor in Mr. Clifford’s Bed & Breakfast in Northfield, Vermont –  in, of course, the Jane Austen Room!

 [the B&B is called The Elizabethan – you can visit the website here: http://elizabnb.com/index.html ]

Tom writes me that: 

In this room I also have a very special book caddy with books by Jane Austen. This caddy was made from the wood that I obtained from the house in College Street, Winchester, where Jane spent her last days but that is another story…    The link to this room is http://elizabnb.com/jane.html 

So I asked Tom to tell me how he came to create his own portrait of Jane Austen: 

My wife, Rita (a Londoner) and I lived for many years in Winchester, not too far from Jane’s home at Chawton.  It was during that time that the BBC came to Winchester to film a portion of their production of Persuasion. I started to read Jane Austen for the first time, and was hooked. What a pleasant time that was reading the novels in Winchester and being able to visit her home at Chawton. In Winchester, I used to pass the house in College Street many days on my walk into town and also on occasion, visit the Cathedral and stop by her grave . 

All of these things brought me closer to Jane Austen but it wasn’t until we moved to Brookfield, Vermont, that I felt compelled to employ my talents as a painter to create a realistic portrait  of  Jane. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder “…  

The Victorian publishers used their invention of Jane’s likeness which is still propagated today.  I wanted to find the real Jane and spent many hours researching her family.

Reproductions of this painting have been used in various publications and one was presented to Chawton.   

So, Jane Austen can be found right here in Vermont [well, we of JASNA-Vermont know THAT!], and anyone interested in seeing this painting and other Jane things only need to contact me to arrange a visit. 

*You can visit his painting website for an explanation of his research in his effort to make his image of Austen as faithful to the truth as possible: http://www.paintingport.com/Jane%20Austen.html

Somewhere in here are perhaps the “inaccuracies” in the quotes that Deirdre Le Faye refers to: a project for another day perhaps? but I shall not quibble – [one does wish for Le Faye to be more specific in her complaints!] – but in the meantime read his explanation for how Tom Clifford’s Jane came into being, his Jane Austen in her cottage garden at Chawton – she is quite of her time and ours, don’t you think??

Jane Austen by Tom Clifford - giclee on canvas

Further Reading: 

1.  Tom Clifford’s website:  www.paintingport.com 

2.  Deirdre Le Faye. “Imaginary Portraits of Jane Austen.” JAS Report for 2007. [Winchester, UK]: JAS, 2007. 42-52. The 20 b/w and color plates of images are between pages 64-65.

[Images of the portrait are from Tom Clifford’s website and used with permission]

Copyright @2011 Deb Barnum, at Jane Austen in Vermont

4 thoughts on “A Portrait of Jane Austen – right here in Vermont!

  1. Deb,

    How fun to have this connection in Vermont.

    As a relative newbe (less than four years) with all things JA, I continue to be excessively diverted by the individual perceptions I’ve experienced through the various biographies, critical books and essays I’ve read. And participating from the perspectives explored within these listservs and blogs, I am yet presented with even more entertaining and challenging fields of discernment.

    See you in Fort Worth!



    • Yes, Christy, one cannot get enough of JA perceptions through the various bios and critical analyses – what makes her universal is she speaks to so many people on so many different levels – and peeling away those layers lasts a lifetime! – we hav only just begun!

      Looking forward to seeing you in Fort Worth!


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